The path I walk now is the hardest since my trek began, but that’s no surprise. On this journey every road is harder than the last, as it should be. Without struggle and conflict we cannot grow, without hindrance we cannot overcome. The path is steep and gritty.

It’s been weeks since I’ve been able to replenish my supplies, so my food and water rations are less than half of what I’d gotten used to, moving between cities. The cold mountain breeze sweeps the narrow pass and chills the sweat on my brow the moment the hot sun creates it. While my skin freezes my blood runs hot. I can feel the swelling of a blister forming on my lower lip and try my best to keep from licking it. With each step I take however, my resolve grows that much stronger. My team and I have traveled the greater breadth of this country and tested ourselves again and again. Now the greatest violence this land has to offer is at the end of this road and we have only one hurtle left to overcome but we’re ready. It’s what I’ve trained for since the day I left home. All roads lead here. I’m not usually sentimental but today as I steadily place one foot in from of the other, I can’t help but think about what it took to get this far.

In the days leading up to my departure, my father suddenly spent more time with me than he ever had. This isn’t to say that he was uninterested in me but he was always very engaged in the issues of the day and had a great deal of work. The whole of my last week in his house, he woke me at dawn, spent the days showing me everything I needed to survive, and the evenings with my mother. If he did any work at all it was while I was asleep. The day before I had to leave, he woke me up told me to get dressed and meet me out front. I did as he said and we walked to the next town to get some supplies.

I thought he was going to buy the entire store. He bought me a pack, a tent, a sleeping bag, a thick coat, a pair of cargo pants, a pair of thermal pants for sleeping, a new pair of leather boots and gloves, a pan, a canteen, some food and a few medical supplies. Even after he gathered all of this he combed the store three more times before resigning to purchase what he had found.

We walked home in near silence. The supplies were not so heavy as I thought they might be when they were in a large pile in the store. He explained that once I left, I would have to carry everything that I own, so it would have to be light and that it would seem more than heavy enough before long.

When we got home, we took a short break for a drink of water before going to the front yard and splaying out all my new supplies. He showed me how to assemble the tiny tent and had me practice until I couldn’t forget and then showed me how best to disassemble and efficiently store it all in my pack. After that he showed me how to make a few basic meals and what each of the herbs and spices were for. He showed how to balance certain meals so that they would be hearty and nutritious without being heavy. This way I might keep my energy up without becoming sluggish.

“Don’t eat too much of that,” he said as I delved into a particularly tasty stew. “You’ll have your fill of road food soon enough. Let’s see what your mother has for us.”

So we went inside and sure enough my mother had prepared a delicious meal that broke all of my father’s rules about balance. When we finished eating we all sat in the living room too stuffed to move. We chatted and laughed. I explained to my mother everything that my father taught me. She said that if there were more time she would have given me a proper cooking lesion but my father’s bumbling would have to do. Eventually my father dragged me off to his office for what he called my final lesson. Over the past week he taught me training methods and survival techniques. He taught me the rules of engagement and the rules of the league, as well as laws specific to each area. Though many of these lessons were forgotten, I will always remember what he said on that last night.

“Son, I know that you’re young. In truth I think too young to go on this pilgrimage. All of you are, but if there was ever a boy ready to face the trials ahead, it’s you son. I have faith that you will return as the very best the league has ever seen. Just remember not to shy away from the hard road. Take every opportunity to make yourself stronger. Face every opponent you can find and learn from them. Without struggle and conflict we cannot grow, without hindrance we cannot overcome.”

He grabbed a piece of paper off his desk and unfolded it gently. It was a map, hand drawn in great detail. The creases were thick and white and edges were worn but the pictures were still clear, as was a newly drawn route upon its surface.

“I bought this map when I went on my journey,” he said. “It’s a little faded but it should do fine. Now this route I’ve drawn here is just a suggestion, once you’re out there you can go wherever you please but this is the route I took. When you leave tomorrow, you’re going to follow the path out of town and then anywhere you want in the whole world. Teach them to remember the name Matis.”

“Thank you.” I said accepting the map and his embrace.

After that he gave me the rest of the day to walk about the town and say goodbye to all of our friends and neighbors before coming back for dinner. I wanted to stay up with them on my last night but he wouldn’t let me.

“If you want first pick tomorrow you’re going to have to get up early.”

It took me a while to fall asleep but when I finally did, it felt like only seconds had passed before he was waking me up again. I looked out the window and saw that it was still dark outside. He helped me put on my new pack and walked me down to the kitchen. There my mother was crying in a bathrobe. She didn’t say anything but gave me a hug and a very wet kiss on the cheek. My father shook my hand and wished me a final good luck.

“Goodbye” I said for the last time and walked out the door.

It was colder than most nights. The dew that had collected in my mother’s garden glistened in the small light of the stars. I took my time as I walked across town. It was so peaceful at night. I thought about how I would never see it again and a shiver ran down my spine that had little to do with the cold. I realized I had no idea what time it was and wondered how long it would be before sunrise. As if in answer to my musings, the western horizon began to glow just a little bit.

By the time I had made it to the lab, the first rays of sun were already poking over the horizon. I pulled on the door but it was locked. No one was in yet, so I had to wait. Eventually one of the lab assistants let me in and instructed me to wait in the professor’s main study until he arrived. I did as I was told. I don’t think time has ever passed as slowly as it did on that morning. Although I know that I couldn’t have been there more than an hour or two, it felt like half the day passed as I sat in that cold marble room. I began to wonder if they had sent me two the wrong place, if I would have to choose last or even worse, not get to choose at all.

Finally, when I was just about to go mad from the suspense the professor arrived with his grandson. I jumped to my feet. He was a grey haired man with a very stern face. His lab coat was bleached to a perfect white, as was the mug, which steamed lazily in his hand.

“Alfred Matis.” He said tiredly. “My assistant told me you were waiting in here.

“Yes sir. Will we be choosing soon?” I asked.

“Just as soon as the other two candidates arrive.”

I returned to my seat and wrung my hands with anticipation.

“Relax,” said the professor’s grandson. “It’s not like anyone’s actually expecting anything from you. I’ll bring this town the respect it deserves. Trust me. You don’t need to worry about anything.”

I ignored his taunts and began to recite my father’s teachings. Then the next boy arrived. I had seen him before but knew little about him except that his family had moved to town only recently. After him we waited and waited but the last boy still hadn’t shown. The tension was becoming too much.

“Let’s go,” the professor’s grandson said impatiently. “We could be here all day waiting for Ash. I want to get going.”

“Alright,” the professor agreed, “he had his chance. Alfred. You were here first, you get first choice.”

“What!” his grandson shouted.

“It has to be fair Gary. You can choose next.”

I got up and approached the professor. He grabbed a case from his desk and opened it to reveal three orbs, half red and half white with a little button on the front. They were identical in every way except for what was inside.

“So Alfred, which will it be?”

“Please sir, call me Red.”

“Alright Red, Which one do you want?

This was the most important moment of my life. It was the beginning of everything my father prepared me for, the start of my journey. That decision has affected every choice I have made ever since and I am proud to say that I didn’t hesitate for a second.

“I choose Charmander.”

“Charmander, the fire Pokémon. Are you sure that’s the one you want?” Professor Oak asked.

“Without a doubt,” I answered. I held the warm metal poke ball gingerly, wondering if it would be appropriate for me to let my new companion out then and there.             I didn’t get the chance though. Nearly as soon as the ball was in my hand Gary shoved past me and took the next one over.

“I’ll take Squirtle,” he said without looking at me or the professor, “and yes, I’m sure.”

“Alright.” Oak said with an amused grin. “Treat it well.”

The next boy stepped up to the desk and waited timidly for Gary and me to stand aside. When we did he reached out and took the last ball from the case, looking at it sternly.

“Don’t look so blue,” the professor said clapping the boy on the shoulder. “Bulbasaur is a fantastic Pokémon. I’m sure you’ll do just fine.

“Now here are a few empty poke balls and more importantly, you’re pokedex.” The poke balls looked the same as the one I had just taken but the pokedex was new. It was a hand-held, red case with a camera on the back and a little panel that opened to a screen “They are extremely valuable so don’t lose them. They record and monitor information on any Pokémon you capture or encounter on your travels. They will give you tips and battle information as well as a variety of other useful information from my personal database. When your journey is complete, I expect you to return and add new information to my collection. Good luck.”

With that the professor closed the case and left the room signaling for us to follow with his mug. As we walked out, poke ball in one hand and pokedex in the other, it felt different than it had on the way in. My pack seemed both lighter and heavier at the same time. I tucked the pokedex into my pocket and held the orb in both hands. It generated mellow warmth that felt good in my cold hands. I did it, I thought. I got my first Pokémon.

When we got outside the boy who I didn’t know took off immediately. Gary looked around as the town started to wake up. He turned to me and asked if I wanted to battle to see who’s Pokémon was stronger but I refused. I knew that before I started my training it would be pointless to test my strength. Besides, I did not want my Charmander’s first impression of me to be battle. Perhaps it should have been, maybe that would have given him some indication of what trials awaited. As it was however, I still retained a bit more of my childish nature. My father was right as usual though. Ten years old is much to young to leave home.