The Grand Festival dressing rooms were alive with chatter, as all of the hopeful coordinators put the finishing touches on their outfits. Most of the girls wore beautiful dresses, accessorised with big statement necklaces, thick bangles, and earrings. Most of the guys wore suits and ties, or custom-made costumes, to go with their performances.
Daniel looked over at his rival, Sophie, who was applying lip gloss at a vanity table near him. Today, she wore an especially grand dress; it was purple, with a satin, bell shaped skirt, and green ruffles. Silver chandelier earrings hung from her ears, and she even wore a little silver tiara on her head.
Daniel gave his hair a last brush, put a simple, purple hat on his head, and then put burst seals on Honchkrow and Plusle’s pokeballs. Now, he was ready.
“My, my, how plain!”
Daniel wheeled around. Sophie was there, along with her meowstic.
“Is that seriously what you’re wearing?” she sneered.
“Yeah,” Daniel answered. Aside from his purple hat, Daniel didn’t have anything particularly spectacular on. Just a long, white cloak, which covered him from his neck down to his feet.
Sophie chuckled at him as her meowstic jumped into her arms, to receive a scratch on the head. “I know that we’re not the ones being shown off here, but I can’t believe that you’re not at least getting dressed up! This is the Grand Festival, you know!”
Daniel rolled his eyes. “Did you come over here just to make fun of my outfit, or did you have something more important to say to me?”
The black-haired coordinator gave him a villainous smile. “Oh, that’s right!” she trilled, “Listen here, Wheels. In a week’s time, it’ll be me who leaves as Top Coordinator...You’ve beaten me twice already, so, I think it’s high time that I beat you!”
“In that case, may the best coordinator win,” he said coolly. He was in no mood to engage with Sophie right now, not when the biggest event of his life was about to begin.
The presenter did her introduction, as always, and then there was a speech by all of the judges. And then it was revealed that Palermo, the former Kalos Queen, would be this year’s special guest judge.
Performance after performance after performance. And then it was Sophie’s turn to go up on stage.
“I can’t wait to see your pathetic crying face, when you fail to pass the first round!” Sophie jeered as she walked away.
Daniel rolled his eyes as he saw her disappear from the dressing room, and then reappear on the screen in the lounge.
Sophie’s roggenrola had evolved into boldore, and it performed alongside her and her emboar, garnering applause, as always. Sophie made sure to play to the crowd lots afterwards, blowing kisses, declaring that she loved her fans, even begging the judges to drop the battle rounds and just give her the ribbon cup already.
The camera cut to the crowd. Bella was there, with Ashlynn sat on her lap. The two wore dresses identical to the one that Sophie had on.
Talk about living through your children, Daniel thought. Bella had gained a lot of weight since Daniel had last seen her. It was quite comical, seeing a forty-plus year-old woman in a dress which was clearly meant for a young girl...
“Entry number 17, it’s your turn, so get ready to go on stage!”
Daniel looked down at his entry number. It was his turn at last.
For today’s performance, he would need his wheelchair, but only for the first half. He stashed his pokeballs in his pockets, and wheeled his way onto the stage, making sure that the cape didn’t catch in his wheels.
“Can our inspirational coordinator pull off a big win? Next, it’s Daniel, from Accumula Town!”
Ignoring the usual idiocy of the presenter’s inspirational label, Daniel threw two pokeballs. Popping bursts of flame emerged first, and then the two pokemon whom he was counting on for the performance; Plusle and Honchkrow came second.
“Plusle, use spark! Honchkrow, you use dark pulse!”
Honchkrow spat rings of purple energy up at the ceiling, as Plusle launched a crackling red spark alongside it. The two attacks collided at the top of the stadium, launching glowing rings all over the stage.
Daniel undid the seatbelt of his wheelchair, and pushed himself to stand upright just in front of it. If he just stood in the correct position, he’d get this trick right, and he wouldn’t get hurt...
He inhaled sharply. “Honchkrow, come here,” he commanded.
Honchkrow did as he was told, hooking his sharp claws through the material of Daniel’s cape.
“Plusle, use swift!”
Plusle fired golden stars, straight at Daniel. The sharp points of the stars shredded the fabric. And then...
“Is... Is that...?”
The white fabric fell in ribbons, down to the floor of the stadium. The crowd gasped as they saw what was beneath the cape. Daniel wore a purple, long sleeved shirt, with a fluffy white collar, and purple trousers, to match the top. From the side, it was evident that Daniel’s hat brim had been carefully cut and styled, to resemble the hat-like cranium of his pokemon. And with Honchkrow’s huge wings spread out behind him, he looked just like a human honchkrow.
Honchkrow flew Daniel around, and then down to the ground, so he could reach out and grab Plusle, before the three flew around the stadium.
“Like watching a Honchkrow catch its prey...” the presenter gasped.
“Now, Honchkrow, use payback! And Plusle, use attract!”
Plusle fired off waves of shimmering pink hearts, which turned purple, and then burst as they were hit by Honchkrow’s payback. Pink heart shards and purple glitter covered the stadium as Honchkrow landed Daniel and Plusle safely on the ground, Daniel ending the routine stood upright. The applause was deafening.
Daniel sat backstage in his wheelchair, watching the other performances. Now, it was time to see if all of his hard work had paid off...
After what seemed like forever, the twenty-four coordinators who had passed round one were announced.
Sophie’s profile appeared. The a few others. Then more. And eventually, there was only one spot left. This was it. Daniel was done for. All of those years of training had gone to waste...
But then, his profile appeared. So he hadn’t lost in the first round! He could leave Kalos with the title of Top Coordinator!
Daniel looked over at Sophie. She glared at him as she gave her makeup a touch-up, and exchanged her small, silver tiara for a bigger, more heavily-bejewelled white gold one.
Battle after battle after battle. And once again, it was Daniel and Sophie in the final round.
Serperior and Plusle were up. No particular reason why, except for that...Somehow, it felt right to use those two.
Daniel looked where Sophie was looking as she scanned the crowd. Her mother was shrieking expletives at her daughter, or at least, that’s what it looked like from Daniel’s side of the stage.
“Emboar and Minun, you’re up!” she finally decided, and the presenter gave the signal to begin the battle for Top Coordinator.
“Serperior, use energy ball, and Plusle, use swift!” Daniel ordered. With Sophie having a partial type advantage, this was not going to be an easy win...
A pulsing green ball was surrounded by stars as it flew towards Sophie and her pokemon.
“Emboar, use fire blast! Minun, you use helping hand!”
Minun gathered two blue pom-pom like balls of energy on his paws, and then cheered for Emboar as he blew huge flames at Serperior and Plusle’s combined moves. The fire blast caused the energy ball to explode, as the stars fell to the floor, costing Daniel a big chunk of his points.
“Now, Minun, use fling!” Sophie commanded, “And Emboar, use hammer arm!”
Minun threw what appeared to be an iron ball, straight at Plusle.
“Serperior, use frenzy plant, and knock it out of the way!”
Serperior did as he was told, and sent up huge, thorned vines from the ground. They worked like baseball bats, smacking the ball around for show, before they sent it flying right back into Minun.
Daniel looked up at the point counters. He was trailing a little, but at least he was starting to catch up now.
But he’d he’d completely forgotten to deal with Emboar’s hammer arm, and it was seconds away from hitting Serperior. The added effect of frenzy plant meant that, for this turn, Serperior was out of action.
Think, think, think...
“Plusle, use spark on that hammer arm!” he ordered, “And make it snappy!”
Plusle made a huge leap up to Emboar, but she didn’t quite get there fast enough. Down went Serperior, after a massive punch to the gut.
Glancing up at the point counters, Daniel noticed that he was now trailing by a long way. He’d lose, for certain, if he didn’t hurry up and turn this around...
“Serperior, use mega drain, and Plusle, use attract!” were Daniel’s next orders. He didn’t know the genders of Sophie’s pokemon, but hopefully, the attract would work on one of them...
Serperior glowed as he sucked the life out of Minun, and the points of Sophie’s point counter. Plusle shot hearts at Emboar, who was coming at her with a mean flare blitz.
In mid-air, Emboar stopped, crashing to the ground as the hearts hit him. His flames went right out, and he got up quickly, putting on a goofy smile as he approached Plusle.
“Emboar, snap out of it!” Sophie cried as her point counter went down once more, “Smack that little rat out of here with hammer arm!”
Deaf to her cries, Emboar teetered about on the ground, hiding his face with embarrassment as Plusle got closer, her paws crackling with electrical pulses.
Meanwhile, Minun was struggling to get away from Serperior, but he would not let him go until he’d had his fill of the blue plusle-counterpart’s energy.
“Minun, use thunder punch! You have to get away from Serperior!”
Daniel smirked. “Fat chance! Serperior, use frenzy plant again!”
As Minun attempted to punch Serperior in the gut, the big grass snake uncoiled itself gracefully as it let the electric type go. Minun’s freedom lasted about five seconds, though, since it was quickly hit by thorned vines.
“Do it! Do it, you useless brat!”
Sophie’s eyes turned away from the battlefield, to the crowd, as did Daniel’s. Sophie’s mum and Ashlynn were the ones shrieking those things at her.
Both coordinators were about even in terms of points now. And with ten seconds left on the clock, it was do or die time, for them both.
“Minun, use spark! Emboar, use focus blast!”
“Plusle, use swift, and Serperior, use leaf blade!”
Serperior cut the focus blast in two, resulting in two clouds of blue glitter forming either side of the stadium.
The smoke cleared. Serperior and Plusle stood together, as did Minun and Emboar.
The point counters were so close and yet...
“The winner of the grand festival, and our newest top coordinator is...”
Serperior wrapped his tail reassuringly around the panicking Plusle.
“Daniel Diaz, from Accumula Town!”
Daniel was completely numb, for about five seconds. And then his pokemon came rushing over to him, along with the presenter, who took his arm, and held it up.
“Wow...We really did it...”
Palermo and the other judges showered him with congratulations as the ribbon cup was placed in his lap. Plusle sat in the cup, while Serperior coiled around Daniel, hiding his wheelchair, as the three posed for the cameras.
He smiled as he looked up at his mum and uncle in the crowd, cheering like they were trying to make themselves hoarse...
Daniel went back the lounge, to get some pokepuffs for Plusle and Serperior, and then he thought about going to get changed back into his street clothes...But instead, he decided to pay Sophie a visit. There were a few last things that he wanted to say to her.
Sophie was sat looking in the mirror, with her dress on the floor. Her hair had been taken down, and she had replaced her grand dress with a simple, sleeveless black one.
“You...Beat me...Again...” she growled, with her back to Daniel.
“I did,” he confirmed, “So, what do you think of me now?”
Sophie’s eyes widened. “What do you mean?”
Daniel’s expression was completely neutral. “The first time that we met, you thought that I was helpless. You thought that I couldn’t do anything by myself,” he explained, “The second time we battled, you took me seriously, even though you hated me. So, now that I’ve beaten you three times, I’m asking you, what do you think of me now?”
Heh. What a question. Whether she cared to admit it or not, Sophie knew very well that Daniel was no run-of-the-mill coordinator. He’d earned his spot in the Grand Festival because he was a talented coordinator, not because people pitied him for needing a wheelchair.
Sophie looked down at her contest pass, eyes fixed on the section which held her ID number. “I don’t know what to think of you. You’re a talented coordinator, I’ll give you that, but...You keep humiliating me, time and time again,” she said plainly, “I came this close to my goal, and you snatched it away from me.”
“But you really gave me a run for my money out there today,” he told her, “I wasn’t sure that I was going to win.”
Finally turning to face Daniel, Sophie revealed that all of her accessories and makeup, save for a small, black choker had been taken off. “What about you?”
“What do you think of me?”
Daniel reversed a little, so that he was parked in the doorframe. “You’re spoilt, and snobby, and annoying,” he answered, “That’s what I thought of you at first. But now, I’m not quite sure either. Do I feel bad for you, because I think that your mum’s living through you, or do I continue to hate you, because of everything that you’ve said to me? Oh, and you tried to steal my plusle. You’re lucky that I didn’t go to Officer Jenny about that.”
To his surprise, all Sophie did was give him a weak smile. Unlike before, when her smile had radiated malice, and glee at the thought of humiliating him, it only radiated quiet defeat now. “So, you figured it out.”
“My mum was so miserable after Ashlynn was born,” she continued, “She cried every time there was a contest on T.V. When she gave up being a coordinator to raise us, it was like she had given up her very soul. So, instead of becoming a performer, like I wanted to, I let her train me to be a coordinator, just to make her happy again.”
A trickle started to fall from her eye, but no sound came out. “I thought that if I beat you, my mum would be happy. I thought if I got your plusle for Ashlynn, she’d be happy. But all I’ve done is fail, and in the process, I’ve hurt you. I’m sorry, Daniel. I’m so sorry about everything.”
“Do you really mean that?” he enquired.
She nodded. “I wouldn’t be saying it if I didn’t. I don’t expect you to forgive me, or anything, but...” she stepped back, unused to feeling this vulnerable, “I just want you to know how I feel now.”
Daniel shook his head, and motioned for her to come to him. She bent down, so that he could hug her.
“You’ve spent too much time trying to please them,” he said plainly, “You wanna be a performer, so that you can become the Kalos Queen, right?”
“Yeah,” she sniffled.
“Then, give me your contest pass.”
Hesitantly, Sophie gave him the small plastic card. And he snapped it in two, before throwing it in the bin nearby.
“W-what the hell was that for?!” she shrieked.
“You don’t need that anymore,” Daniel said cheekily, “You’re a performer, so all you need now is a chain to hang your princess keys from.”
Sophie wiped her eyes, and stood back up. “Thank you. We’ll meet again someday, won’t we, Top Coordinator Daniel?” she said as she turned to grab her things.
“Sure we will,” Daniel agreed, “Kalos Queen Sophie.”
And he turned away.
After changing back into his street clothes, Daniel returned all of his pokemon, and inhaled sharply, before he went outside, to greet his mother and his uncle.
“Daniel, darling, you were incredible out there!” she praised, hugging him hard, “Oh, we knew you could do it!”
Daniel chuckled as he was trapped in a flurry of hugs and kisses, from his uncle and mum. “I’m finally Top Coordinator, huh? Pinch me, someone, because it still doesn’t feel real!”
His uncle wept as he ruffled his nephew’s hair. “My dear Daniel, Top Coordinator!” he gushed, “You’ve made us so proud!”
Daniel thought back to his first day as a coordinator, when he was ten years old. Though his mother had protested and told him that travelling would put too much strain on his fragile body, he’d left the house that day on his crutches and leg braces, with his new snivy in tow, smiling as he promised, “I’ll be alright, mum.”
He’d grown from a shaky beginner to a confident and capable winner, and now that he had the title of his dreams under his belt...There was only one thing that he could pursue now.
“So, what’s next?” his uncle asked.
“Isn’t it obvious?” Daniel responded, “I’ve become top coordinator in Kalos, so now, I’m going to become top coordinator in Alola!”
“But before that, how about coming home for a little bit, baby?” his mother suggested, “We’ve missed having you with us!”
Come to think of it, Daniel had missed his own bed...And his mother’s cream stew...And the yache berry cake from the bakery in Accumula Town...So what better option than to go home for a bit? Maybe he’d go home for a week. Or a month. Or until he was ready to Alola, and take on the best coordinators that the tropical region had to offer.
“Ok, mum,” he agreed, letting her take control of his wheelchair.
And after a celebratory feast, the family flew back to Unova, so that Daniel could prepare for the next exciting chapter of his pokemon career...