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Fanfiction Pokemon: Flames of Victory Reawakened

Discussion in 'Literature Library' started by Flyg0n, Sep 22, 2020.

  1. Flyg0n

    Mojave
    (Trapinch)
    Level 26
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    Pokémon: Flames of Victory Reawakened
    (comments welcomed!)

    Welcome to my rewrite of the Unova League! I've always been annoyed by BW league. Not only was Ash incompetent for most of the series, but the league was... disappointing. It was over to quick, didn't have proper buildup, and featured one of the worst rivals ever, Cameron. I mean, HOW did a boy who believed 5 Pokémon was a full battle beat Ash????

    Anyways, I'm not here to rant, I'm here to write. I have this story posted elsewhere, but I figured I'd share it here. I will be posting it in probably three batches - Pre league, during league and... the rest.

    Admittedly, the early chapters are not my best work, but I did originally begin it as a stress relief project. And in my professional opinion, it gets better further in.

    Like I mentioned, comments are welcome and appreciated! Feel free to comment, review, or discuss the story on this post!


    The Kanto Festival has come early this year. With the return of Ash's fiery friend, Charizard, Ash begins to see things in a new light. His fire is reignited and he has one goal - victory.With the Unova League only a couple months away, he vows to make this a League to remember.

    Hello everyone! This is a quick fic I'm toying with, a Unova league rewrite. I'm working on this as I work on my real project, Pokémon Legendary Adventures! I encourage everyone to check out that story as well.

    The premise is simple. The Kanto festival is held early this year, and Ash and Co run into it just a couple months before the league. The festival brings back plenty of fond memories, and sets Ash on a new path. This story will not include N, as it takes place earlier. This is a simply an AU look at what might happen if Ash approached the Unova league a little differently. The very beginning will be similar to the Charizard episode of Unova, but will quickly diverge.

    "So what's Charizard up to now?" Iris gushed.

    "I must confess, I am surprised to hear you wouldn't still be traveling with such a reliable companion," Cilan added.

    Ash chuckled awkwardly. "See thing is, right now Charizard is off training in a place called the Charicific Valley." Even as he spoke the words, a familiar warmth flared through him. He leaned back slightly in the booth he and his companions sat in. They had all taken a much needed break from the festivities of the Kanto Festival, and he'd just finished regaling them with the story of how he'd met Charizard.

    "Charicific Valley?" Iris asked, her voice tinted with confusion.

    Ash resisted the sudden urge to call Iris a kid. It was odd, he reflected, realizing how much he knew about Kanto and several other regions. It was easy to forget that Iris and Cilan only really knew about Unova.

    He fondly explained what Charicific Valley was, and how Charizard had come to train there. Just remembering how he'd left Charizard brought a lump to his throat. It had been one of the hardest things he'd ever done. But even now, looking back, he understood it had been the best. Back then, he simply didn't have the experience necessary to train Charizard and bring out his full potential.

    "But Charizard came back to help me lots of times!" Ash continued, grinning as he recalled everything he'd gone through. He began explaining everything they'd overcome together. The Battle Frontier in particular brought a smile to his face. Charizard had brought down an Articuno. A Legendary Pokémon. That memory was a particularly warm one. "Charizard's always been there for me," Ash continued. He glanced out the window, briefly losing himself in the memories. "I tell you, it would be really great to see Charizard again," Ash murmured. Even as he spoke the words, an idea began to form in his mind.

    "That would be so cool if we could all meet him!" Iris said loudly.

    "I agree," Cilan commented. "Your Charizard already creates a spicy aroma in my mind's eye."

    Ash mostly ignored Cilan's comment. Most of the things the gym leader said didn't really make sense to him. Besides, he was distracted by the idea that had begun to shape in his mind. "And you all will get to meet him!" Ash declared.

    xXx

    "Okay, all set!" Ash called, clutching the Pokéball in his hand. It hadn't been hard to decide to send Unfezant to the Professor. He knew she would appreciate the chance to play with his other bird friends he'd made over the years, such as Swellow and Staraptor. He glanced down briefly at the ball in his hand, reveling in its familiar warmth. The ball bore faint nicks and scratches from his time traveling.

    "Would you hurry it up already?" Iris said, bouncing up and down, her eyes shining with excitement.

    "Me too," Cilan agreed. "I'm tingling all over!"

    Ash ignored Cilan's odd word choice once more. He was too focused on seeing his friend again. He took a deep breath and tossed the Pokéball. It arced through the air then opened, spilling a familiar white light out. The light quickly formed the familiar silhouette of a Charizard - no, his Charizard.

    In a flash of light, Charizard emerged on the Pokémon Center battlefield, threw back his head, and roared. Shockwaves of pure energy rippled through the air, whipping everyone's clothes and sending dust flying. Finally, he stopped, grinning.

    "Charizard!" Ash shouted happily. "It's so good to see you!"

    Charizard responded in typical turn, bathing his face in a stream of flames. Ash cringed, then laughed, patting his friend's side. "That's Charizard for you," he said, chuckling.

    Charizard rumbled in agreement. Pikachu gave an excited cry, leaping onto the shoulder of his old friend. Charizard gave him a greeting, then flashed a 'thumbs up' to everyone else.

    Ash chuckled again and held out his fist. Charizard bumped it with a fist of his own and gave a cheerful growl.

    "Amazing," Iris breathed. Since he had emerged, she had not taken her eyes off Charizard. She quickly grabbed her four pokeballs and released her team. "Come on out and meet Charizard!" she shouted. Her team materialized around her; first Emolga, then Excadrill, and finally, Dragonite.

    Almost instantly, a crackling tension filled the air. Charizard's demeanor shifted instantly, his eyes taking on a dangerous gleam.

    Somehow, Ash didn't need to look to know what his friend was staring at. Dragonite. The powerhouse of Iris' odd little team, and a nearly unrightfully strong Pokémon she had somehow befriended. He recalled how easily Dragonite had swept through the Junior Cup tournament, defeating almost every opponent with a single blow, tanking multiple ultra-effective hits and displaying immense power. It had taken the evolution of his own Krookodile to take it down.

    Iris stared in surprise at her Dragonite, awed by its shift in attitude.

    Ash, however, felt unfazed. A slow grin crept across his face. He didn't need to speak the language of Pokémon to know what Charizard was thinking. His friend's spirit for battle had been ignited. He thought he heard Cilan make a comment, but he was so focused he didn't hear it. "We should have a battle!" Ash declared.

    A small cry of surprise slipped from Iris and her jaw dropped slightly. Ash thought he saw her pale briefly, but he wasn't sure. "Battle?" she asked.

    "Sure," Ash said, a familiar confidence returning to him. "If they want to fight, the best way to settle it is with a battle!"

    An eager grin began to form on Iris' face. "Whaddya say Dragonite?" she asked, turning to her partner. "How bout we show those two how we do it in the Unova region?"

    Dragonite answered with a bold roar.

    Ash couldn't help but notice Charizard seemed unfazed by the display. "Let's go!" Ash said, clenching his fist eagerly.

    A minute later, Ash stood across from Iris, on one end of the battlefield. Charizard and Dragonite stood in front of their respective trainers, staring each other down. He quickly scanned Charizard with his Pokédex and updated himself on his new moves. Flamethrower, Wing Attack, Dragon Pulse, Seismic Toss. "Awesome! You've been training hard, huh buddy?"

    Charizard growled and nodded, glancing back at his trainer with a proud grin.

    "Are you ready, Iris?"

    "Oh yeah!" She called back. "I'll go first. Dragonite, Flamethrower! Full Strength!"

    Ash grinned. Nothing like a good power matchup. "Charizard, you use Flamethrower too."

    Dragonite and Charizard both reared back, launching matching blasts of fire at each other. The two streams of fire collided and a brief struggle ensued. Then the attacks exploded in a blaze of embers and wind, casting up a cloud of smoke.

    When it cleared, both Pokémon stood, unharmed. Iris smirked triumphantly. "Not bad, huh?" she said. Dragonite huffed and grinned, proud of its power.

    Ash grinned back. "Not bad!" he called. But not enough he thought. He could tell Charizard hadn't needed to go all out to match Dragonite. After all, while Iris had used a 'full power' Flamethrower, Charizard had simply used a powerful blast. Not full strength. "Now, up in the air!" He could feel his blood boiling with excitement, and he felt his old energy returning. He'd fought together with Charizard so much...

    Charizard launched himself high into the air with a single flap of its wings.

    "You too, Dragonite," Iris called. Iris had hardly finished speaking before Dragonite launched itself into air after Charizard.

    The two ensued in a brief aerial chase, dipping and swooping artfully through the air. At first, it seemed Dragonite had gained the advantage. It displayed impressive maneuverability, seemingly matching Charizard at every turn.

    "Thunder Punch!" Iris shouted.

    "Wing Attack!" Ash responded.

    The two dragons danced around each other midair. The roles reversed, Dragonite chasing desperately after Charizard. Dragonite's claw began to crackle with electricity, and it swung wildly up at its opponent. In a sudden surge of speed, Charizard shot further ahead, its wings glowing white with energy, then spun midair and struck Dragonite. The force of the blows sent both Pokémon spiraling backwards.

    Ash grinned as he stared up, unsurprised to see Charizard recover first. Dragonite caught itself a second later, panting slightly. "Now, Dragon Pulse!" he called. He'd been waiting to test out Charizard's new move. A blazing beam of purple energy erupted from Charizard's jaws.

    Dragonite's eyes widened. "Dragon Rush!" Iris shouted quickly. Blue aura cloaked it, taking on the form of a dragon. It surged forward, towards the Dragon Pulse, colliding with the attack and pressing against it. Slowly, inch by inch, it began to force the beam of energy back. Then, as it was just yards from Charizard, Charizard opened its jaws even wider, increasing the power of the blast.

    Energy and smoke exploded outwards, briefly hiding the two combatants. Then a figure shot from the smoke, shooting towards the earth. Ash grinned when he saw the figure was Dragonite.

    "Dragonite, no!" Iris screamed. Moments before smashing into the ground, Dragonite flared its wings, catching itself. It huffed, panting more as it glared angrily upwards. From his place high in the sky, Charizard glared down triumphantly at Dragonite. Ash could see his friend was winded, but far from spent.

    "Ice Beam!" Iris called.

    "Flamethrower," Ash responded confidently.

    The crackling beams of icy energy shot up at Charizard and were swiftly met by Charizard's Flamethrower. The resulting collision created a burst of steam in the center.

    "Now, Thunder Punch," Iris called. Dragonite surrounded its claws in a cloak of electricity and shot into the cloud of steam. "

    "Meet that with Wing Attack." Charizard's wings took on a white glow and he shot into the mist as well. The first clash of the two moves dispersed the steam, revealing the two Pokémon locked in intense, close-quarters combat. They matched Wing Attack against Thunder Punch, blow for blow. Then, Charizard swept sideways. Dragonite's Thunder Punch missed, and Charizard seized the opportunity. He swung his glowing wing straight into Dragonite's face, sending it shooting towards the ground. It smashed into the earth, kicking up a cloud of dust.

    "Dragonite!" Iris shrieked, her voice bordering on whiny. Dragonite slowly stood up from the crater that had formed on the ground from its impact. Numerous small cuts and scrapes covered its body and its breath came in heaves, but the fire in its eyes hadn't died.

    Ash grinned. The battle was nearly over. He had to admit, Dragonite's sheer power was impressive. But he had utter faith in Charizard. He'd been training for so long, and he could not only match Dragonite's power, but he held more stamina.

    "We can still win this, Dragonite. Let's finish this with Dragon Rush!" Dragonite grinned and narrowed his eyes further. Blue draconic energy cloaked his body. He launched himself up at Charizard in a burst of speed.

    "Up!" Charizard shot higher into the air, Dragonite close in pursuit.

    Thanks to Charizard's greater speed, he managed to put some distance between him and Dragonite.

    Ash couldn't help but shout his next attack. "Let's finish this! Seismic Toss!" He didn't even have to see Chrizard to know he would be wearing a devious grin.

    In a skillful aerial display, Charizard came to a near full stop midair, swept sideways, and let Dragonite pass by him. Dragonite's cloak of energy faded and it paused several feet above Charizard, stunned that its attack failed. In a blur of motion, Charizard shot upwards, disappeared, then reappeared behind Dragonite. He locked his claws around Dragonite, who growled in shock, then launched himself even higher into the sky.

    "Oh no!" Iris cried. Her eyes were clouded with fear and surprise.

    The two Pokémon faded from view for a second, but Ash knew what was happening.

    Charizard twisted midair, aiming himself straight at the ground, then shot downwards in a blur of speed. They rocketed towards the ground like a comet, a mere blur of orange and gold.

    "No!" Iris screamed.

    Then, mere yards from the ground, Charizard flipped himself and hurled Dragonite straight into the ground. The ground exploded, dust flew, and energy surged outwards. Ash threw his arm in front of his eyes to shield them as wind whipped around him.

    As everything settled, he looked across at the battlefield. Charizard had landed, breathing hard, though far from spent. He smirked down at Dragonite, who lay in a huge crater, its body limp and unconscious.

    Silence fell for a moment. Then Charizard threw his head back and roared in triumph. "You did it!" Ash cheered, charging across the field. "That was awesome, buddy," he said. As he stared up at his Charizard, memories flooded over him. He'd accomplished so much together, with all his Pokémon friends. But now the league was fast approaching, and he realized how lax he'd become about training. Something began to stir deep inside him. Like a fire awakening. He'd been content to relax and take it easy while he'd been in Unova. But he couldn't, simply couldn't keep doing that. Not after he'd come so far, experienced so much. He owed it to his Pokémon to win the upcoming Vertress Conference. He wanted to win. And he this time, he would.

    So what does everyone think? I would love to hear your comments on how everything is going.

    That said, did you enjoyed the completed battle between Charizard and Dragonite? I was always annoyed by how they ended it like that... obviously Charizard would have won though. He was way stronger and more experienced. Dragonite was just a super OP Pokémon they handed to Iris, who did nothing to earn it. I really dislike BW anime...


    Here's part 2! We will catch a glimpse of Ash's training and what he has in mind. Like I mentioned, if you want more content, feel free to check out Pokémon Legendary Adventures on my profile as well, since I hope to work on both stories.

    Ash crested the hill and stared happily at the sight that lay before him. Vertress City, home of the Unova League. He and his companions had arrived early at Vertress City - specifically, about three weeks early. His companions had been shocked by his sudden drive and excitement, but they'd supported him in the end, and helped him get to the city quicker.

    "Are you excited Ash?" Iris asked. Ever since her loss to Charizard, he noticed she'd mellowed out quite a bit. He wasn't sure why it happened, but he was happy about it. She hadn't even called him a kid once during the trip here.

    Iris would never admit it to him, but after meeting Ash's Charizard, she'd discovered a newfound respect for the kid. He was still a goof off sometimes, but he was a strong trainer she realized. He'd worked hard to get as good as he was. Heck, she'd even been inspired to work more with her Dragonite and Axew.

    "Sure am," Ash declared, pumping his fist. "I can't wait for the Unova League! I'm going to win this time for sure!"

    For a brief second, reflex made Iris want to call him a kid, then she held back. She was beginning to understand his enthusiasm and almost naive levels of belief were a large part of the reason he was so strong.

    "I smell a recipe for success!" Cilan declared.

    "Let's get going!" Ash crowed. Without waiting, he sprinted down the hill towards the city. The fire he'd felt since his battle alongside Charizard had only grown in the time it had taken them to get here. He was excited to begin training, and even some special training. He wanted to work more with his Unova team. He felt like he'd really neglected some of them. He glanced back at his companions, who were following at a more sedate pace. "Hurry up!" he shouted. Then he turned back and ran even faster. "Unova League, here I come!"

    xXx

    Day 1

    "All right everyone, who's ready for some special training!" Ash cried out. He'd registered for the league, and now stood on one of the training fields, his Unova Pokémon arrayed in front of him. Apparently, special regulations allowed trainers to keep up to twelve Pokémon on them, as long as they didn't leave the city. So all his Unova Pokémon, plus Charizard and Pikachu, of course, stood in front of him, with looks of excitement in their eyes. One Pokéball rested on his person. He already had lots of cool plans for training running through his mind.

    "The Vertress Conference is in three weeks, and we're gonna have to work really hard to get ready, kay'?" He grinned at his Pokémon, a sense of pride filling him. He believed in them a lot, and he was sure he could help them get much, much stronger. He had 21 days to really get into shape. And he had a good idea where to start.

    "Aren't you going to use some of your old Pokémon?" Iris asked. She and Cilan sat on one of the benches, curious to see Ash's new training. "I thought you said you had lots of really strong Pokémon from your travels in other regions?"

    "I do," Ash said. "But I also worked so hard with these guys, I gotta give them a chance to fight. It wouldn't be fair to just switch them out after they all worked so hard."

    His Pokémon gave happy cries of approval. And it was true. He did still plan to use some of his former Pokémon, but he wanted to make it through the preliminaries. He was confident in his current Pokémon. There was no way he was going to give up on them. "Once I make it to the quarter finals, I think I'll bring back some of my old friends."

    "Now that is a strategy that brings a blend of tasty flavors together!" Cilan declared.

    Iris frowned at him. "Sounds to me like you just like the sound of your own voice," she muttered under her breath.

    Ash smiled to himself, then set aside the squabbles of the two. He had training to do. "Alright, Oshawott. How do you feel about going first?"

    Oshawott grunted happily and stepped forwards, tapping his shell confidently.

    "Great!" Ash fingered the one Pokéball that remained on his person. "I've got an old friend here who's going to help you train, got it?"

    Oshawott nodded again, his eyes gleaming.

    Ash patted Oshawott, then stepped back. He took the Pokéball and tapped the button, releasing the familiar form of an old friend - Squirtle. "Everyone, meet Squirtle! He's one of my friends from way back in Kanto!"

    Squirtle gave cries of greeting to all the Pokémon, waving happily at them. Oshawott in particular looked interested, and an eager gleam appeared in his eyes. Ash watched them, pleased to see how they all got along so well. He was quite glad he'd already taken a moment earlier to greet Squirtle alone. Charizard in particular looked delighted to see his friend, greeting Squirtle with a roar. Pikachu waved to Squirtle, who waved back.

    "Wow Ash, is that the Squirtle you told us about?" Iris asked.

    "Sure is," Ash replied. "He's really awesome. He's the leader of a special squad of other squirtle, and they call themselves the Squirtle Squad."

    Iris grinned. "Awesome!"

    Ash turned back to his Pokémon. "Okay Oshawott, Squirtle. You two are going to have a practice match, got it?"

    Oshawott faced Squirtle and grinned, tapped his scalchop and staring cockily at Squirtle, a smirk plastered across its face Squirtle grinned bag, full of smug confidence.

    "Ready guys?" Ash asked. The two water-types stood several feet apart on the battlefield, staring determinedly at each other. They gave matching grunts of approval. The rest of Ash's Pokémon sat on the side of the battlefield, watching intently.

    "Now, Oshawott, Aqua Jet!" Oshawott cloaked himself in water and launched himself at Squirtle.

    Squirtle, unfazed, simply grinned and lowered his head. His skull gleamed. Then, at the last moment, he leaped forward, intercepting Aqua Jet with Skull Bash. The attack shattered Oshawott's Aqua jet, striking him to the floor easily. Squirtle landed nimbly and crossed his arms. He smirked and gave a smug cry, daring Oshawott to stand.

    Oshawott slowly picked himself off the floor, trembling. He glared furiously at his opponent, his pride hurt. He'd never been defeated so easily. With a cry, he withdrew his scalchop and brandished it. "Okay Oshawott, use Razor Shell!"

    He charged across the field at Squirtle, his scalchop held high. A glowing blade of watery energy emerged from the end and he swung it viciously at the turtle Pokémon. In a flash, Squirtle shrunk into his shell and used Withdraw. Oshawott began to batter at the shell, but the attacks clearly did nothing. "Oshawott, jump back and use Hydro Pump."

    For the first time Ash could remember, Oshawott ignored his command. He kept striking Squirtle with Razor Shell, his blows glancing uselessly off the turtles shell. Then, in a flash, Squirtle emerged and opened his jaws wide, smashing Oshawott point blank with a Hydro Pump. The attack sent Oshawott shooting across the field, where he crashed into the ground, unconscious.

    Squirtle pumped his tiny claws like a fist, then crossed his arms. Pikachu and Charizard cheered happily, as did the rest of Ash's team. "Good job, Squirtle." Ash called. He crossed the field and knelt next to Oshawott who had just opened his eyes. "Hey Oshawott."

    Oshawott stood up, and hung his head, giving a cry of sadness.

    "Don't feel bad Oshawott. Squirtle is super tough, and he's been in a lot of battles. But if you work really hard, you can get strong too."

    At that, Oshawott looked up excitedly. "That's why I asked Squirtle to come help train you, 'kay?"

    Oshawott nodded excitedly and cheered. Ash grinned and patted his head. "Now, Squirtle is going to help improve your power and accuracy, so you do whatever he tells you, ok?" Oshawott nodded again, then tottered over to Squirtle. The two began to exchange cries, clearly communicating. Ash smiled proudly, then stood up. There was still lots of work to do

    There you have it! I wanted to bring back some old to mix the new as well as strike a balance. I can't see Ash just tossing away anyone of his Pokémon, so he won't be making switches yet. Fear not though, you will see some of his older Pokémon continue to show up!

    Here is chapter 3!

    As you can see, I chose Squirtle to return and help teach Oshawott. I always HATED Ash's Oshawott. It would pop out all the time, only to lose a battle. And for some reason, it never evolved! It really made me upset, so this is my attempt at fixing things. Squirtle knocked some sense into that dense little otter last chapter, and now we will see the results of their training.

    Day 1, Evening

    Ash sank to the ground, panting. His Pokémon mirrored his actions, all equally exhausted. They were tired, but proud. Ash had been working with them all day. Unfezant had spent much of it with Charizard, who'd been helping the bird improve her flying skills. Iris and Cilan had turned in early, but he chose to stay out a bit longer to finish training. He sat up and yawned. It was getting late, and his Pokémon were tired. But before he turned in, there was one thing he wanted to do.

    "Hey Oshawott, Squirtle." The two water types sat up, looking at him curiously. Ash was proud of how far those two had come. Particularly Oshawott, who had gotten much stronger. "You guys think you can handle one last battle?"

    The two nodded eagerly, Oshawott looking particularly determined. Ash wasn't surprised. The little otter Pokémon hadn't taken his loss to Squirtle well at all. He knew full well Oshawott was eager to prove himself again. Once more, the two Pokémon squared off on the battlefield.

    "Okay Oshawott, Aqua Jet." Water surrounded Oshawott and he shot across the field, nearly twice as fast as he had before. Squirtle only had a few moments to tuck himself into his shell and dodge the attack. Aqua Jet slammed into Squirtle, knocking him back several feet. Squirtle popped out and grinned. Oshawott grinned back. "Now, Razor Shell!" Oshawott unsheathed his scalchop and charged.

    This time, Squirtle fired a Water Gun at his opponent. Oshawott sliced the attack down the center, splitting it to either side of him. Now in front of Squirtle, he began to swing his glowing scalchop at Squirtle repeatedly. Squirtle stepped and sidestepped, deftly dodging each swing. Then he fired another Water Gun, striking Oshawott point blank and knocking him back several feet. Oshawott caught himself midair and landed, panting.

    Still grinning, Squirtle extended his claws in a beckoning motion, taunting Oshawott. Oshawott threw his head back and howled, crying out his frustration and determination. His body began to glow and he became shrouded in a blue light. Ash's eyes lit up and he grinned. Finally! He'd long since suspected that Oshawott hadn't evolved because he lacked motivation. He'd hoped that introducing him to Squirtle would drive him to greater heights. He watched with delight as Oshawott's form shifted, growing taller and leaner. His stubby paws spounted into long ones, and his ears became more prominent. With a final swirl of energy, the light faded, revealing a Dewott, standing proud. He gave a loud cry and leered at Squirtle.

    Squirtle grinned, clearly pleased. Then he lowered his head, his skull gleaming. It took on a hard sheen and he charged across the field with Skull Bash. Dewott remained absolutely still.

    Ash waited. He could sense Dewott was up to something, and he knew he didn't need to give him a command. Just as Squirtle was about to collide with Dewott, a reddish aura flared across his body. Skull Bash connected, but Dewott only slid backwards a few feet. The red aura flared and he seized Squirtle, who gave a cry of shock. With a deft twist, Dewott hurled Squirtle across the field with a loud cry. Squirtle crashed to the ground and slid, barely catching himself. He stood up, panting. He gave a nod to Dewott, who nodded back.

    "Yeah!" Ash shouted. He recognized the new technique Dewott had utilized. "Dewott, you learned Revenge!" Dewott grunted happily and nodded. He reached down, ready to take off his dual scalchops and attack again, but Ash held up his hand. "That's enough." Despite Dewott's evolution, he knew the outcome of the battle would be the same. Dewott was strong, but not stronger than Squirtle, not yet. Besides, all his Pokémon were exhausted and needed a good rest.

    Dewott lowered his paw reluctantly, then walked across the battlefield to Squirtle and held out his paw. Squirtle evaluated it for a second, then nodded approvingly and shook it. The two traded grins and nods of respect.

    "You were amazing, Dewott," Ash said. Dewott cheered, tapping his dual scalchops proudly. Ash chuckled at the gesture. He supposed Dewott hadn't really changed that much. "Now, how about a nice big dinner?" Ash asked. His Pokémon all cheered happily, and followed him as he headed inside the Pokémon Center.

    There we have it. That sad Oshawott finally evolved! And Dewott learned Revenge! The move made sense, given how badly Oshawott lost before and how he desperately wanted a revenge of his own. Though it would still never be enough to beat that super cool boi, Squirtle.

    So what do you guys think?

    We now get chapter 4. We shall see some more training of course, and return of another old friend. As a side note, I have to say, Unfezant is an ugly Pokémon imo. Honestly. The first form is just a bird. A plain bird. Ugh. I just rewatched Unova anime, and it KILLS me. The dialogue, the battles... it's a huge step down from Sinnoh, that's for sure. Oh well. That's what fanfic writers are for, right?


    Day 2

    "So Oshawott finally evolved into Dewott?" Iris asked over breakfast next morning.

    "Uh huh," Ash mumbled around a mouthful of food he'd crammed in his mouth. He gulped and swallowed, taking a big slurp of water. "Pretty cool, right?"

    "Yeah!" Iris agreed.

    Cilan held up a finger. "I bet Oshawott just needed to taste the sweet spice of battle."

    Ash chuckled. "Sort of." He glanced down at Dewott, who was greedily cramming a huge bowl of food into his mouth. Of course, given his performance yesterday, Dewott had more than earned it. "I think Dewott just needed a good rival. My Squirtle really helped a lot."

    "Well, I always say a good rivalry is the key ingredient to success," Cilan declared.

    Iris rolled her eyes. "Just have to have the last word, don't you."

    Cilan laughed awkwardly and looked away.

    "So what will you do today, Ash? There's lots of fun stands and things to explore! I hear there's even a CasteliaCone stand opening today. Cilan and I are gonna go check it out. Wanna come?"

    "Nah," Ash replied. "That sounds tasty, but I have a little more training to do first. Maybe later."

    Iris shrugged. "Suit yourself. Don't expect me to save you any though."

    "Yeah ok," Ash said, laughing. "But don't expect to beat me if we battle again." He grinned at Iris, who pouted slightly.

    "Well Dragonite can still beat the rest of your Pokémon," she protested.

    "Except Krokorok," Ash retorted. This made Iris frown more.

    "Hmph," Iris grumbled. "Fine. Anyone else then."

    Ash just chuckled. For now, he thought. He had lots of plans for today.

    xXx

    First thing was first. He had to make a trip to the transfer station in the Pokémon Center.

    "Hi Professor Oak," he said, waving at the Professor as his cheerful face appeared on the screen.

    "Well hello, Ash. How's the training going?"

    "Awesome," Ash declared. "Oshawott evolved into Dewott last night." Dewott clambered up his back and peered over his shoulder. He grinned at the screen and waved.

    "Excellent," Oak replied. "I'm glad to hear that. Now, who did you want me to send over today?"

    Ash quickly explained his plan to Oak, who nodded. "That sounds like a great idea. I'll send over the Pokémon you requested immediately. Since you already sent Squirtle back, you still have one slot on your team."

    "Thanks, Professor!" Ash replied.

    xXx

    Not much later, Ash stood on the battlefield once again, his Pokémon surrounding him. "Charizard, can you take Pignite aside and help him with his fire moves? With your help, I'm sure Pignite can get super strong."

    Charizard grunted and nodded. He gestured to the fire pig with one claw and started to walk away. Pignite's eyes lit up and he followed eagerly. Ash grinned. He'd seen how Pignite had idolized the fire dragon from the moment the two had met. He was sure they were a perfect training match. With that settled, he quickly singled out Unfezant. "I have something special for today, Unfezant," Ash said.

    Unfezant gave a loud caw in response and flared her wings.

    Ash grinned, then released the Pokémon Oak had sent him. Staraptor emerged in a burst of light, flaring his wings and shrieking loudly. Ash stroked him gently, causing him to coo happily. "Hi, Staraptor! It's so great to see you again." Staraptor cooed again. Ash faced the rest of his team. "Everyone, meet Staraptor! Staraptor, this is my new team!" They gave cries of greeting, while Pikachu bounced excitedly on the ground, then leaped onto Staraptor's back. The gray bird turned around and nuzzled Pikachu, who squeaked happily.

    Unfezant watched Staraptor with interest. Starptor stopped playing with Pikachu to size up the other bird. "Unfezant, Staraptor is my good friend from the Sinnoh region. I know you practiced with Charizard yesterday, but Staraptor is a really good flier, and he can show you some new stuff, 'kay?"

    Unfezant nodded and cooed softly in understanding.

    Staraptor chirped to Unfezant, then took off. Unfezant spread her wings and took off after Staraptor, kicking up a gust of wind. The two began to dip and weave through the sky.

    "Awesome job, Unfezant!" he called, seeing her dodge a strike from Staraptor.

    For the next couple of hours, Ash watched the two birds, calling out encouragement and suggestions. Unfezant showed great improvement. Though she couldn't match Staraptor's power, she displayed surprising aerial grace. As he watched, the two birds began to spar, dipping and dodging, striking fast then flying away. They traded blows and strikes, their battle growing more intense.

    Unfezant got knocked back by an impressive series of Quick Attacks and was forced to catch her breath. Ash watched anxiously. Unfezant was being pushed to her limit. Staraptor hovered a good distance away. As Ash watched, he began to glow with a powerful aura. He was charging up Brave Bird. With a loud cry, Staraptor dived through the air, cloaked in blue light.

    "Don't give up Unfezant!" he clenched his fists, willing her to stay strong, not to give up. He knew she could do this... Her body began to glow with a white fire. A wide grin spread over Ash's face. Unfezant was learning a new move! The glow changed from white to orange and gold, crackling with power. With a loud shriek, Unfezant hurled herself at the approaching Staraptor, using Sky Attack. The two birds and two attacks collided, creating a small explosion.

    The two backed off, panting. Ash could see the telltale crackle of Brave Bird's recoil damage. Unfezant looked equally exhausted, but pleased.

    "Great job Unfezant!" Ash shouted. She shrieked happily and did a twirl in the sky. "You too, Staraptor. You guys are both awesome!" Staraptor gave a happy caw.

    The two began practicing again. Ash was about to join in, when a loud cry in the distance drew his attention. He glanced over to see Pignite and Charizard, both blasting Flamethrower attacks at each other. The two streams of flame danced back and forth in a struggle for dominance. Despite Pignite's spirit, he could see that it was being easily overpowered by Charizard.

    "Give it all you've got, Pignite!" he hurried over to be closer to his Pokémon. Pignite gave a loud cry and poured more energy into his Flamethrower. It doubled in size and pressed back against Charizard's briefly. Charizard narrowed his eyes. Ash could detect how impressed Charizard was, even as Charizard poured a fraction more energy into his own Flamethrower.

    Charizard's fire easily overpowered Pignite, disperse the flames bathing Pignite in a stream of fire. Suddenly, from deep with the flames, white light erupted. Charizard's eyes widened and he closed his mouth, ceasing his attack. Ash held his breath and watched the events transpire. Pignite's body became wreathed in the familiar light of evolution. He grew, doubling in size. His arms grew large, as did his body. The light exploded outwards as he roared happily, sending a stream of flames from his snout. There before Ash stood not Pignite, but Emboar,

    "Yeah!" he shouted, jumping up and down. He raced over to Emboar, taking his claws in his hands. He and Emboar danced in happy circles, Emboar snorting happily. Finally, Emboar stepped back, snorting another burst of flames into the air. The fire pig Pokémon took a few steps away and stood in front of a tree. He grinned, then raised his arm. It glowed white with energy and he smashed into the tree reducing it to splinters. "Wow," Ash breathed. "You evolved and learned a new move!"

    Emboar grunted and nodded proudly, putting his fists on his hips. "Awesome!" Ash crowed. He held up his hand, and Emboar gave it a high five. He turned to face the rest of Pokémon, who had stopped their training to watch Emboar.

    "Hey everyone, how about we head into town and get a treat. You've all been working so hard."

    His Pokémon all gave a chorus of happy cries.

    "CasteliaCones are on me!" Ash called.

    xXx

    A half hour later, he and his team, along with Cilan and Iris, were gathered in the park, munching on the sweet deliciousness of CasteliaCones. As Ash licked his cone, he gazed at his team. Pride filled him. His Pokémon were all so awesome. He'd come so far with them.

    "Wow Ash, Pignite evolved too?" Iris asked, taking a bite of her cone. "That's so cool."

    "Indeed! I guess all your training has paid off. Nothing like a recipe of training to create a masterpiece." Cilan declared.

    "Yup," Ash said. "And he even learned Hammer Arm."

    Iris stared at Emboar with newfound respect. "That's so cool. I guess it was a good thing that you spent all that extra time training this morning." She fell silent for a second. "You know what? I'm gonna train extra hard too!" She declared. Axew gave cry of shock at her sudden outburst, tumbling into her lap.

    "Sounds cool," Ash said. His mind was already far off, thinking of what kind of training he would do next.

    "Wow Ash, I can smell the gears whirring in your head from here," Cilan joked.

    Ash chuckled. "Yeah. I guess I'm thinking about Emboar. I'm not sure what kind of training I wanna do next."

    Cilan smiled and held up his finger. "I've got it! Emboar is a Fire and Fighting-type, right?"

    Ash nodded.

    "So, with a spicy combo like that, you should teach some powerful attack moves. I would recommend another fighting type move."

    Ash nodded thoughtfully. For once, Cilan had a point. Another fighting type move would be pretty awesome. At the very least, he needed a good sparring partner. And when it came to bringing out Emboar's full strength as both a fire and fighting type, he knew just who could help.

    So Emboar evolved, at Unfezant learned Sky Attack! Ash is making great progress.

    So chapter 5. The Pokémon returning this time is none other than... Infernape! Not that it was surprise, lol.


    Day 4

    Ash stared happily at the Pokéball in his hands. He'd sent Staraptor back to the Professor yesterday and had one of his other Pokémon sent to him - Infernape. He stood alone on the battlefield, only Pikachu for company. He grinned and pressed the button on the Pokéball. "Go, Infernape!"

    The familiar fiery ape emerged and did a little dance, pumping his fists and hooting happily. "Hey Infernape!" Ash said. "It's great to see you again."

    Infernape gave a cry of agreement and smirked. He tensed, causing the flames on his head to blaze higher. "I bet you're raring for a fight, huh?" Infernape nodded.

    "Good," Ash said. He bent down slightly to look into Infernape's eyes. "I need your help. You're super strong in fighting and fire type moves. Think you can help me train another friend?"

    Infernape nodded.

    "Great!" Ash said. He released Emboar, who gave a happy cry before his gaze settled on Infernape. He grunted and snorted flames. Infernape grinned and gave a bark in response and thumped his fists against his chest. Emboar mimicked the gesture, then held out his fist. Infernape tapped his own fist against Emboar, and two traded grins. Their gazes were locked, and Ash could detect a fierce blaze of rivalry behind the amiable looks they exchanged.

    Perfect. He'd spoken to the Professor about his idea, and he'd approved. Both Tepig and Chimchar had known how it felt to be rejected for their perceived weakness. Their shared anger would ignite a fire within them, and push them both beyond their limits, he was sure. He chuckled to himself. It was odd, he reflected, how similar his fire Pokémon were. Although at least Paul hadn't lied the way Tepig's trainer had. As much as he often disagreed with the raven haired boy, he'd come to respect Paul. Putting aside thoughts of his old rival, he refocused on the task at hand.

    "Okay guys, we got some special training to do." Both Infernape and Emboar pumped their fists, giving matching grins of excitement. Ash chuckled. "Infernape, can you help Emboar work on his fighting moves? Right now he knows Hammer Arm. I want him to get really good with it, so he needs a strong sparring partner." Infernape nodded in understanding, turning to Emboar. He hotted and gestured to the fire pig.

    The two began trading blows, both focusing on their physical moves. Ash watched them carefully. He wanted to get to know Emboar's fighting really well, so he would be ready for the tournament. Occasionally, Infernape would pause to explain something to his training partner, then they would resume.

    After watching them for some time, Ash decided they had practiced enough. "You guys wanna have a practice battle?" he asked.

    The two gave matching cries of excitement and nodded.

    "Ready?" Ash asked. They nodded. "All right Emboar, use Hammer Arm! Infernape, use Mach Punch."

    Infernape lunged across the field no more than a blur. He appeared before Emboar, fist glowing white, just as Emboar raised his arm to strike. Infernape struck him in the stomach, but Emboar was able to swing his fist down at Infernape's head and land a glancing blow. Infernape leaped nimbly back before he could strike again. "Okay Emboar, try Fire Pledge!"

    Emboar swung his fist down, slamming it into the earth and sending plumes of fire erupting from the ground.

    "Infernape Dig!" Ash called. Infernape responded with his typical impressive speed, diving into the ground moments before flames consumed the area where he'd been standing. Emboar snorted, annoyed. A moment later, Infernape emerged from the ground, unscathed.

    "Emboar, use Flame Charge! And Infernape, counter with Flamethrower."

    Emboar cloaked himself in flames and charged across the field. Despite his increased speed, Infernape leaped out of the way and blasted Emboar in the side with Flamethrower, causing him to stagger. Emboar huffed and narrowed his eyes. Ash could see his friends' frustration.

    "Flame Charge, again!" Emboar growled as he cloaked himself in fire, then sprinted across the field once more. This time, Ash allowed a tiny delay before giving Infernape a command. "Dig!" he called. Infernape burrowed into the ground, dodging Flame Charge easily. A moment later, he erupted from under Emboar, causing him to fall to the ground.

    Emboar gave a squeal of rage and stamped his foot. "Hey Emboar, just stay calm, 'kay? You can do this." Emboar huffed and nodded. His breathing was heavier and he looked exhausted. Inwardly, Ash's mind was fumbling. He could sympathize with his friend's frustration, because he'd been worried about this very thing. Emboar was tough and had lots of spirit, but he was simply not as fast as Infernape. Flame Charge would help, but it would take time to build up speed. But he also trusted Emboar completely.

    "Now Infernape, Mach Punch." Infernape lunged forward and struck Emboar soundly.

    "Hammer Arm," Ash said calmly. Emboar brought his arm down on Infernape, but at the last second, Infernape caught the attack. Emboar gave another squeal of rage and snorted flames. His eyes narrowed and he growled. Then he took a deep breath and snorted out a massive cloud of purple smoke.

    Infernape inhaled and gagged, his eyes widening in shock. He released Emboar and staggered back, coughing. His body took a faint purple sheen, and tiny purple sparks danced across his body.

    Ash grinned and pumped his fist. "Awesome Emboar! You learned Smog!" That was unexpected. Then again, Pignite had always been one of his most determined Pokémon. He wasn't that surprised that he'd learned the damage dealing Poison-type move. It would be perfect to deal with enemies who got close, plus it would slow them down.

    "Flame Charge again," Ash called. Grinning, Emboar sprinted forwards once more. This time, he crashed into Infernape hard, sending the monkey flying.

    "Use Dig," Ash commanded as Infernape landed. Infernape grunted and burrowed underground.

    "Fire Pledge." Emboar smashed his fist into the earth. The ground erupted in flames, sending Infernape flying into the air.

    "Hammer Arm!" Ash cried. Emboar lumbered across the field as Infernape fell through the air. His arm glowed and he struck Infernape hard, sending him reeling backward. The monkey barely caught himself as he landed. Now Infernape looked almost as tired as Emboar, and Ash could see poison taking its toll.

    He held up his hand. "Okay guys, that's enough." The two Pokémon relaxed, and Ash hurried over to them, handing a Pecha berry to Infernape and an Oran berry to Emboar. He was glad Cilan had been kind enough to give him a bunch of berries for his training.

    They happily consumed their rewards and Ash smiled at them. "You guys were awesome! Thanks so much for your help, Infernape." Infernape nodded and gave a thumbs up. Emboar gave a grunt of thanks as well.

    Ash took out their poke balls. "Now, how about you guys take a good rest." He returned them both and put the poke balls away. Just then, Iris and Cilan entered the training field.

    "Hi Ash!" Iris called.

    "Hello! How's the training going?" Cilan asked.

    Ash turned to face his companions. "It's awesome! Emboar learned Smog. It'll really help him fight opponents who are fast and slow them down. My Infernape was a big help."

    Iris' eyes widened. "That's so cool that you have an Infernape too. Can I meet him?" she pleaded.

    "Sure," Ash said. "Let me just take them to the Pokémon Center first. They're really tired from battling."

    xXx

    "Mr. Ketchum?" Nurse Joy's eternally peppy voice broke the quiet of the Pokémon Center as she approached. "You're Pokémon are all healed up."

    Ash grinned and took his pokeballs from her. "Thanks!"

    Nurse Joy smiled and nodded before striding away. Ash faced Cilan and Iris, who sat across from him. Iris leaned forward eagerly, her brown eyes shining with eagerness, while Cilan sat, looking calm as ever, though he looked ready to insert a cooking related comment at any moment.

    Ash released Infernape, who gave a cry of greeting and did a little dance.

    Iris' eyes went wide and she knelt in front of Infernape. "Awesome!" she cried. She reached out to grasp him.

    "Wait!" Ash called.

    Iris paused, her hand inches from Infernape's face. The monkey was eyeing her slightly nervously.

    "Try to be gentle," Ash said, chuckling and rubbing the back of his neck.

    "Right," Iris said. She laughed awkwardly, then began to stroke Infernape gently.

    Cilan watched thoughtfully. "You know, it's quite the tasty treat to see the strong bond you and Infernape share. I can smell the aroma of the trials you've overcome."

    "Or maybe you're just smelling your own breath from talking so much," Iris retorted.

    Cilan gasped in shock and fell silent.

    The Pokémon Center doors slid open and a familiar figure strode inside. She wore a light green blouse and had long, blond hair that cascaded down her back and nearly reached her knees. Her frame was slender but strong, and she had sharp gray eyes. Ash would have recognized her anywhere. "Cynthia?" he gasped.

    Iris and Cilan gave loud gasps of shock as he uttered the name. The woman turned towards them and smiled. "Ash!" She called. She walked over and Ash stood up quickly.

    "It's good to see you, Ash. I wondered if I might see you here. Professor Juniper mentioned you were planning on entering the League."

    "Yeah! I'm gonna win this time," Ash said eagerly. "So what're you doing here?"

    "Well, I like to take a vacation now and then, and when I do, I come to Unova." Truthfully, the real reason for this was that Unova was the boondocks and full of weak trainers. It made for a great vacation spot. "Besides, I come to watch the Unova League too."

    Something moved in the corner of Ash's eye and he glanced over to see Iris standing nearby, eyeing Cynthia with a mix of nervousness and anticipation. "Excuse me, Cynthia?" she asked, her voice going up in pitch.

    "Yes?" Cynthia asked, still wearing her friendly smile.

    "If you could, do you think I could have a battle with you? I mean, with Axew?" she stammered. Axew popped out of her hair and clutched Iris' shoulder. "You see, my dream is to become a dragon master. And I think battling your Garchomp would really help."

    A flicker of surprise graced Cynthia's features, then she nodded. "I accept."

    Aha! A cliffhanger (of sorts). I really can't resist. Here we see Emboar learn an unexpected move - Smog. He has also formed a bond with Infernape over their shared experiences.

    Author's Notes: I just gotta say, I despise how they handled Iris as a whole. (I also despise a lot of things about BW, you may notice). Like, she says she wants to be a Dragon Master. But she never TRIES to do anything to further this. She never actively goes out to pursue a dragon-type and catch it, unless someone TELLS her 'oh looks there's a Dragonite going crazy.' (And she got handed that on a silver platter too, ugh)

    She's a horrible trainer. Her Axew is incompetent and useless. For a huge chunk of the show it only knew TWO moves, one of which didn't even work. The rest of her Pokémon don't even listen to her half the time. Its crazy. Ugh. Anyways, I'm rambling. I'm trying to incorporate a whole Unova fix-it, so I'm trying to fix Iris (if thats even possible lol).

    Day 4 - Afternoon

    Ash stood on the side of the battlefield, still surprised. The last thing he suspected was that Iris of all people would challenge Cynthia. Despite her talk of being a Dragon Master, he never saw her do anything to further her dream. This would be interesting.

    "Axew, use Scratch!" Iris shouted.

    Axew nodded determinedly and charged across the field, one of his claws glowing.

    Garchomp simply stood and waited, and Cynthia remained silent. Axew leaped into the air and began to batter it with a flurry of Scratch attacks. Garchomp moved with the blows, utterly unfazed.

    Iris gritted her teeth. "Alright Axew, Dragon Rage."

    Axew landed and began to charge up blue draconic energy. Opening his jaws wide, he threw back his head and let loose. Blue energy arced from his jaws and crashed into Garchomp. A quick burst of smoke was kicked up, then cleared. Garchomp still remained standing, seemingly unfazed.

    Iris frowned.

    Cynthia smiled. "Garchomp, Dragon Rush." Garchomp roared and raced across the field, his body cloaked in energy. He smashed into Axew hard, sending the tiny dragon flying. Axew barely managed to catch himself.

    "Now, Draco Meteor," Cynthia said calmly. Garchomp rumbled in acknowledgement, then shot an orb of energy upwards. It exploded, raining meteors onto the battlefield.

    Axew screeched in terror and began to run about, frantically trying to dodge. He managed to escape a couple, then one smashed into him and exploded. Axew was sent flying and hit the ground hard.

    "Oh no, Axew!" Iris cried. "Come on, get up," she pleaded.

    A couple seconds passed. Ash wondered if this was it. He was surprised Axew even lasted one hit, though he suspected Cynthia's Garchomp wasn't using its full strength. Then, to his surprise, Axew forced itself to its feet, panting and gasping for breath. Ash was sure the little dragon was nearly spent.

    Then, blue light enveloped Axew. Ash's eyes widened and Iris gasped. Energy swirled around Axew's form as he grew taller and the spine on his back lengthed. His tusks grew larger, as did his arms. Within the glow, his eyes shined a bright red. Then the light faded, revealing a Fraxure.

    With a loud roar, he charged across the field. As he ran, his claw became enveloped in green energy and doubled in size. He leaped in the air, slashing Dragonite across the face with a powerful Dragon Claw attack.

    For the first time, Garchomp flinched, just barely. The corner of its mouth crooked in a grin, showing it was impressed. Fraxure landed and smirked back.

    "That's amazing!" Iris shouted. "Fraxure, you evolved and learned Dragon Claw."

    "Your bond with Axew has deepened," Cynthia declared, smiling. Her expression became serious. "Now, Garchomp, Brick Break."

    In a blur of motion, Garchomp vanished, then reappeared halfway across the field directly in front of Fraxure. He swung one glowing claw down towards Fraxure's head, stopping short of striking him. A palpable wave of energy surged outward and Ash shivered. That kind of power was incredible. Iris gasped and Fraxure gaped upwards.

    "I think that's enough," Cynthia declared. Garchomp lowered its claw and stepped back. He grunted and gave a nod of respect to Fraxure.

    Iris ran across the field and wrapped Fraxure in a big hug. "You were amazing!" Fraxure growled happily, and Ash smiled as he watched the two. It was nice to see Iris get just a little closer to her goal.

    Seeing the battle reminded him - he had training of his own to get to. He bid his companions farewell and returned to the training grounds.

    xXx

    "So what will you do now, Ash?" Cilan asked over dinner that evening.

    "I'm gonna do some super intense grass-type special trainin'", he declared with a grin. He shoveled another forkful of food into his mouth. His Pokémon, who had all been training earlier, were enjoying their well-earned meal. Iris had even brought some tasty ripe berries to mix in with everyone's usual food.

    "Ah! There's nothing like a well-balanced grass-type. They're like a dish that's both tasty and flavorful."

    Ash pushed aside yet another of Cilan's nonsensical comments. "I'll send Unfezant back to the Professor for now." He grinned to himself as he thought about the training that lay in wait. He couldn't wait to see two of his old friends again. "I'm gonna go talk to the Professor right now!" Ash decided. Cramming the rest of the food into his mouth, he sprinted over to the computers.

    "Ah Ash," Professor Oak said as his face appeared on the screen. "So who will it be today?"

    Ash hurriedly swallowed the last of his food and gulped. "I'm sending you Unfezant. Can you send me Sceptile and Bulbasaur?"

    Oak nodded. "A good choice. I'll miss Bulbasaur, but I know he will be happy to see you. I'll send them right over."

    A few minutes later, Ash held the two pokeballs in his hands. "Alright guys, come on out!" he called. Sceptile and Bulbasaur emerged. Pikachu hopped off Ash's shoulder and squeaked a joyful greeting, first to Bulbasaur, then a wave to Sceptile, who acknowledged them with a nod.

    Ash grinned widely. "Hey Sceptile, Bulbasaur, it's so good to see you. The League is coming up, and I'm gonna need everyone's help."

    Sceptile smirked, and Bulbasaur gave a grunt and nodded. Ash smiled proudly at them. Tomorrow would be a good day.

    Day 5

    "Okay everyone, who's ready for more training?" Ash was met with loud cries of excitement from all his Pokémon. Currently, he still had his whole Unova team, minus Unfezant, who was with the Professor. Charizard, of course, was still with him. The day was early, and Ash was excited to get in a full day of training. Iris had left yesterday to visit the Village of Dragons for the day, and Cilan had gone with her, stating the amazing 'conisseuring' opportunities available visiting the Village of Dragons. They wouldn't be back until tomorrow evening.

    "Krookodile, today you get to train with Charizard. You're really tough, and I think he can help you get even stronger." Krookodile growled eagerly and leered at Charizard, who snorted a puff of flame.

    Ash turned to the rest of his Pokémon. "I've got some special training in mind today. Everyone, you guys can do your regular training amongst yourselves. Snivy, Leavanny, are you ready?"

    They both nodded. Ash grinned and released his last two Pokémon. Bulbasaur and Sceptile emerged from their pokeballs. Sceptile immediately crossed his arms and smirked, the twig in his mouth twitching. Snivy regarded the lean reptilian grass-type intensely, a hint of awe in her eyes.

    Meanwhile, Bulbsaur greeted Leavanny first, and she eagerly returned the gesture, clearly happy to meet the gentle grass-type. Then Bulbasaur turned to Snivy and gave a cry of greeting. He extended a vine to her. Snivy eyed the vine. Then she gave a small snort and crossed her little arms, clearly not impressed. Bulbsaur frowned. He flicked a vine at Snivy, who batted it away and turned her nose up. She stepped closer to Sceptile, who regarded her coolly. Leavanny made an anxious whine as she looked at Snivy, then Bulbasaur.

    Ash chuckled at the antics of his grass-type Pokémon. Bulbasaur was definitely his most mature and easy going Pokémon. Snivy was similar in that respect, as she tended to be the one to keep her teammates out of trouble. However, he also knew she had exceptionally high standards. It wasn't exactly surprising that she wasn't impressed by Bulbasaur. After all, she probably had no idea how strong Bulbasaur was.

    He knelt in front of Snivy and looked into her eyes. "Do you wanna fight Sceptile, Snivy?"

    Snivy nodded, her gaze still fixed on Sceptile. "Well, tell you what. Beat Bulbasaur in a battle, and I'll let you battle Sceptile. I really need Sceptile's help for Leavanny, 'kay?"

    Snivy frowned, but nodded reluctantly.

    "Great. Thanks Snivy!" Ash said. "Okay Bulbasaur. You're going to battle Snivy today, does that sound good?"

    Bulbsaur gave an eager nod, and a determined grin spread across his old friend's face.

    Ash took up a battle position, with Bulbsaur and Snivy facing each other. "Leavanny, Sceptile, you two watch, ok?" They nodded and sat on the side of the field.

    "Alright Snivy, let's do this! Vine Whip! You use Vine Whip too, Bulbasaur."

    The two grass-types began to exchange blows, their vines extended. In seconds, Bulbsaur managed to snake his vines around Snivy's and yank her off balance. He slipped past her defense and began to batter her with his vines. She gave a cry of pain and leaped back, just out of range.

    Ash glanced at Bulbasaur. "Can you handle it from here?" Bulbsaur grinned confidently and nodded. Ash focused his attention back on Snivy. "Okay Snivy, Leaf Storm!"

    She summoned up the powerful twister of leaves and fired it at Bulbasaur. Bulbasaur remained still, a grin on his face. The leaves crashed into him, battering him briefly, though Ash knew the attack had barely fazed his friend. Bulbasaur was super tough, after all.

    "Leaf Blade!" Ash called. Snivy's tail glowed bright green. She sprang nimbly into the air and spun, bringing her tail down towards Bulbasaur. When she was just a couple feet away, Bulbsaur's bulb glowed white, and he blasted her with a Solar Beam. She was tossed aside, though she managed to catch herself, barely.

    She growled in frustration. Turning to face Bulbasaur, she winked at him, sending a wave of sparkling pink hearts towards him. Bulbsaur's vines extended and he easily battered the hearts away.

    Ash considered his next move for a moment. He really wanted Snivy to win, but he was sure she needed to train a lot more before she could. "Alright Snivy, Leaf Blade."

    Once again, Snivy charged Bulbasaur. This time, Bulbsaur responded by firing a barrage of Razor Leaves.

    "Dodge!" Ash called quickly. Snivy leaped out of the way and swung her tail into Bulbasaur's side. He grunted and stumbled, but remained standing. His vines snaked out and seized Snivy, wrapping her up tight. He slammed her into the ground several times, battering her mercilessly. Ash grimaced. He had to do something... "Leaf Blade, on the ground!" he called in a hurry.

    As Bulbasaur started to swing Snivy into the ground again, she twisted, smashing her glowing tail into the earth. The blowback shook her free, and she landed neatly on the ground, breathing hard.

    Bulbasaur, however, seemed unfazed.

    Ash frowned. He was sure he was doing something wrong, he just couldn't put his finger on it...

    "Leaf Storm," he called. Snivy summoned another barrage of leaves, firing them towards Bulbasaur. Bulbsaur jumped, dodging most of the hit, then fired a series of small seeds from his bulb. They landed around Snivy, sprouting up and wrapping around her. She let out a shriek as the Leech Seed sapped her strength.

    Bulbasaur landed, then fired a barrage of Razor Leaves. The attack struck Snivy, battering her. She squirmed, struggling to break free from the seed. After a moment, she managed to get free. She growled, ready to attack again. Then she staggered forwards and collapsed, unconscious.

    Ash sighed. "Awesome job, Bulbasaur!" Bulbasaur cheered happily at the praise. He walked over to Snivy and knelt next to her. "Hey there," he murmured gently. Snivy opened her eyes, then immediately frowned. She cast a glance over to Bulbasaur. Ash knew her pride had been rubbed the wrong way. She had always been one of his most serious battlers, so she took losses seriously too. Especially in this case. They both knew Snivy had underestimated Bulbasaur, and that had contributed hugely to her downfall.

    Something else was bothering Ash as well. Watching Bulbasaur battle reminded him of something. He remembered how Paul's Torterra had taught Grotle how to fight after he evolved. Grotle had to learn how to use a new battle style. Ash was beginning to worry he hadn't done enough training with Snivy's speed and power. He'd witnessed her capabilities before. But now he wanted to go even further.

    "Hey Snivy. I'm sorry we lost. Don't worry though, I know we can get lots stronger. Bulbasaur is going to teach you for now, then I promise I'll let you battle Sceptile."

    Snivy nodded, setting her pride aside for the time being. She had learned a respect for the hardy little grass type. But Ash could tell her longing remained. Her destiny was different then someone like Torterra or Bulbasaur, who could be quick at times, but were designed to take hits. She wanted to become strong and fast, like Sceptile. To her, Sceptile represented something, a goal. A lofty one, to be sure. But an attainable one. Sceptile was the paragon of power blended with speed. Ash could sense the desire in Snivy's heart to become like him. To master her body and abilities, become faster and stronger than ever.

    In that moment, Ash made a silent promise. He would help Snivy reach that goal, and he would do it before the Unova League.

    There you have it. Axew evolves (finally!) and back by popular demand, its dat boi Bulbasaur! Snivy has found herself an idol. It will take a lot of work for her to match him. With Bulbasaur's help, I'm sure she can do it.


    So folks, we have chapter 7. Snivy has dreams of becoming powerful, like Sceptile. But first, she must learn strength from Bulbasaur. But can she?

    Day 5 - Late Afternoon

    Snivy soared through the air and crashed to the ground, hard. She pushed herself to her feet, glaring at her opponent, Bulbasaur. She panted heavily, and Ash watched her, concerned. He wanted her to grow strong, but he also didn't want her pushing herself too hard. Bulbasaur had been training her and battling her for a few hours. So far, despite her training, she hadn't won a single match.

    Bulbasaur watched her, his eyes narrowed in determination. Snivy stared back and uttered a growl. Suddenly her body became enveloped in white light. She grew taller and her body lengthened, the crest like projections on her sides growing as well. When the light faded, Servine stood, tall and proud. "Snivy! You evolved! That's awesome!" Ash cheered. Servine didn't look at him, remaining focused on Bulbasaur.

    She shrieked, then charged Bulbasaur, her tail glowing. He flicked out his vines to stop her, but she leaped up, then right, masterfully weaving between them. Just as she was a few feet away, he aimed his bulb and fired a Razor Leaf at her. She cried out as they struck, but still managed to lash out with Leaf Blade and catch him on the side. The strike actually sent him airborne, but he caught himself with his vines, then landed. His feet barely touched the ground before he lashed out with Vine Whip, striking Servine across the face. She staggered from the impact, then collapsed, unconscious.

    Ash's brow creased in worry and he crossed the battlefield and knelt next to Servine. He'd actually begun to lose count of the practice matches she'd had against Bulbasaur. Despite all her attempts, she'd lost each time. Even her evolution hadn't given her the edge. Bulbasaur was hardy, quicker than many gave him credit for, and an absolute pro at utilizing his vines in combat. Not to mention, Bulbasaur simply possessed much more fighting experience.

    He held out an Oran berry to Servine, who was just beginning to get up. "Hey Servine, you were amazing. How are you feeling?" She took the berry and ate it silently, not looking at him. Ash could feel her frustration. Her gaze was focused on something else... Oh. She was glaring at Bulbasaur, who was busy 'talking' to Leavanny.

    Ash let out a sigh. Her attitude was beginning to worry him. Every time she lost, she didn't take it well and seemed to only grow more and more bitter to the kind-hearted grass-type. He doubted losing after evolving would make things better. She listened to his tutoring when it came time to practice, but outside of that, she was cold towards him. It was downright worrying, considering how she was normally tolerant and gentle with the others. In fact, the only time she'd showed hostility was towards Iris' Emolga. And that was because Emolga had deserved it.

    Servine finished her berry and stood up. Her gaze shifted to Sceptile briefly, and she seemed to have a look of longing. Then she glared at Bulbasaur and started to walk towards him. "Servine, wait," Ash said. Servine paused and looked back at him. "I wanna tell you a story." He sat down, cross-legged, and patted the ground beside him. Servine sat beside him, still frowning.

    "A long while ago, when I first became a Pokémon trainer, I met Bulbasaur. Back then, he was a protector of a group of abandoned Pokémon. He looked out for all the Pokémon in the forest and protected them. He even tried to attack me," Ash added, laughing at the memory. "It took time, but eventually he trusted me enough to join me. I learned a lot from Bulbasaur." A smile crossed his face as he remembered all the battles he'd had with Bulbasaur. Servine continued to remain silent and listen.

    Ash continued. "Well one day, Bulbasaur was getting ready to evolve." At that, Servine looked at him curiously. Ash supposed she must have assumed that Bulbasaur was simply not that strong. "There was this big ceremony for all the Bulbasaur in the area, and they were all going to evolve! Well, they really wanted my Bulbasaur to evolve too. But he didn't want to, so he challenged a Venasaur! That was when I really understood Bulbasaur. How he wanted to be strong his way, not just through evolution." He turned to look at Servine. She tilted her head and made a noise of confusion as if asking why he was telling her the story.

    "Well Servine, I wanted you to understand Bulbasaur better. He's really awesome because he fights so hard to be strong his way. You're super strong too, but in your way. But I think..." Ash struggled to find the words. "You can't be mad at Bulbasaur. I told you the story because I want you to understand him too. I think if you do, then you can get really strong too!" Ash grinned down at her. "But if you stay mad, then you'll never get stronger, ya know?" She stared back at him, then a slow grin crept across her face. She nodded in understanding. Ash sighed happily. "Great!

    After that, Servine approached her training with renewed vigor. However, she no longer carried the bitterness she one did. She held newfound respect for Bulbasaur. Bulbasaur trained her well, showing her how to utilize her vines, and how to increase her attack power. How to take a hit, and block them. There were more training matches, which she lost, but Ash could tell she was growing strong. Bulbasaur was being pushed to his absolute limit to beat her. He left her to continue her training and decided to check up on Leavanny.

    Meanwhile... In the Village of Dragons

    Iris skipped along the road, Fraxure skipping alongside her. They were close to the Village of Dragons now. She glanced down at Fraxure, still in awe. Her mind kept replaying the battle with Cynthia. Axew getting hit, but still getting up. Him getting hit again and still fighting. Fighting for her! And then... then it happened. Right before her eyes, her little Axew, whom she had raised since just days after hatching, evolved. She'd never felt like this. It felt like her heart was racing and she couldn't sit still. Like she could run a hundred miles and climb a mountain, all without stopping. She loved it.

    "Yeah Fraxure!" She shouted, leaping into the air. Fraxure mimicked the motion with a cry of joy.

    Cilan piped up from behind her. "Well, you're certainly fired up!"

    "Of course!" she cried. She looked down at Fraxure, who grinned back at her. "I can't wait to show Elder how strong Fraxure is."

    A short time later, Iris caught her first glimpse of the village. "Yay! Come on, Fraxure, let's race!" She sprinted down the hill and along the winding path to the village of dragons. Fraxure raced alongside her, and she held out herms, reveling in the feeling of the winds and the air. It was odd, not having Axew in her hair, but then, it was rather nice to have him racing alongside her.

    Mere minutes later she arrived in the Village. She waved to all the familiar faces and dragons as she headed for the Elder's house. A few minutes later she arrived. She was about to knock on the door when a voice from behind her spoke up.

    "Ah, so I see your Axew has finally evolved," Elder said.

    Iris whirled around and grinned widely. "Yeah! We challenged Cynthia and her Garchomp! She was amazing. I've never met anyone so strong. Axew fought really hard during the battle and evolved!" she gushed. Fraxure growled and threw a few air jabs, as if remembering the fight.

    Elder smiled softly and knelt to peer into Fraxure's eyes. "I am very proud of you, Iris. You are finally on the path to becoming a Dragon Master."

    "I thought I was always on the path," Iris said, tilting her head curiously.

    Elder chuckled. "No, my dear. The path to success requires actions. Only then can you make progress."

    "What about believing?" Iris protested.

    "Belief is important." Elder said, smiling. "But you cannot succeed on belief alone."

    "Can't succeed on belief alone?" Iris repeated. She stared at Elder, trying to wrap her mind around the statement.

    "Tell me, why do you think your Axew evolved?" She regarded Iris with an amused gaze.

    "Because I believe in Axew!" Iris stated firmly.

    "Is that all? Did Axew just evolve out of nowhere one day because you believed it should?"

    Iris frowned. "No. I fought Cynthia and Garchomp."

    Elder stared intensely at Iris. "Precisely. It took action. If you wish to accomplish your dreams, you must act on them."

    Iris stared at Elder, dumbfounded. Act? It made sense, she guessed, but for some reason she'd never really thought of it that way. She'd always just believed the more she spoke about being a Dragon Master, and traveled places, she would. All of a sudden, she felt very, very stupid. Like she was such a kid.

    "Iris!" A loud shout drew her attention and she looked over to see her old friend, Shannon, running towards her and waving.

    "Hi Shannon!" Iris called. She glanced back towards Elder, but the woman waved her away.

    "Go see your friend. There will be time later to reflect." With that, she walked off.

    Iris turned back to Shannon and gave the girl a quick embrace. "It's so good to see you!"

    "You too!" Shannon replied. "How about you come over for lunch and we can catch up?"

    Just then, Cilan staggered up, panting and sweating. "Lunch... sounds... great," he wheezed. He glanced up at Iris and chuckled awkwardly. "You're like a well-prepared meal - you disappeared fast!"

    Iris laughed. "Shannon, this is my friend, Cilan. Cilan, this is an old friend of mine from the Village of Dragons, Shannon!"

    "A pleasure to meet you, Shannon," he held out his hand, and she shook it. "Now, if you're talking lunch, I can help you prepare!"

    xXx

    An hour later, they were all seated around the table in Shannon's house, enjoying a tasty meal prepared by Cilan. "You're a really good cook," Shannon said shyly.

    "Yeah!" Iris agreed heartily, taking another bite. The good food helped distract her from Elder's words about dreams.

    Just then, there was a loud roar from outside.

    "Oh no!" Shannon cried. "That sounds like Zweilous!"

    "I hope it's not in trouble!" Iris said, standing up. Earlier, Shannon had introduced them to her two Zweilous, though one was acting a bit strange

    She, Shannon and Cilan all raced outside just in time to see one of the Zweilous finish evolving. Hydreigon looked around, as if confused.

    "Oh my!" Shannon said. A big smile grew on her face. "You evolved!"

    Hydreigon growled. Suddenly it began to thrash wildly about. It roared and launched a Draco Meteor attack into the sky.

    "Oh no!" Cilan yelped. "It looks like Hydreigon is going wild. Take cover!"

    The three of them darted about, frantically dodging the falling meteors. As the last of the meteors crashed into the earth, they peered out from behind a bush to see Hydreigon, still thrashing about.

    "Oh no..." Shannon murmured. Tears began to gather in her eyes. "I'm an awful trainer! And breeder. Hydreigon evolved and its not even listening and I don't know what to do!" she wailed.

    Sympathy welled up in Iris. "Don't say that. You have to try. Come on, I'll help calm Hydreigon down."

    xXx

    An hour later, Iris flopped on the grass, exhausted. It had taken a lot of effort to calm down Hydreigon, and was thanks in part to Dragonite that it was even possible.

    Shannon stood nearby, stroking Hydreigon, who rumbled happily. She faced iris, her eyes shining. "Thanks so much, Iris! I don't know what I would have done if you weren't here."

    Iris waved her off. "It's ok. I'm sure you would have figured out something," she said with a chuckle.

    "Oh, I don't know about that," Shannon said.

    Cilan held up his finger, posing. "You shouldn't underestimate yourself. You've got all the ingredients to become an amazing breeder one day. It takes a lot of skill to raise dragon-types."

    Shannon laughed uncomfortably. "Thank you... Still, I wish there was some way I could thank you Iris... Oh, I know! Hang on a moment." She trotted off, and Iris watched her go curiously.

    A few minutes later, she returned, cradling an egg. The egg was dark blue on the base and black on top, with small reddish flecks. She held it out to Iris. "Here! It's a Deino egg!"

    Iris took it, staring at it in awe. "Wow! I... Thank you so much!" she said. She stared at the egg, a mixture of emotions filling her. She remembered Elder's words. If you wish to accomplish your dreams, you must act on them. She looked at Fraxure, who was staring at the egg with wide eyes. She grinned at Fraxure. Perhaps it was time to take action.

    Meanwhile, back at Vertress City

    Ash approached Leavanny and Sceptile. It was time to check in on them. Before he'd continued training with Bulbasaur, he'd instructed Sceptile to try teaching Leavanny Leaf Blade. The grass-type technique would be perfect for her, he was sure. And he couldn't ask for a better friend to help him do it.

    "So how are you doin, Leavanny?" Ash asked, approaching the two grass-types.

    Leavanny, who had been swiping her 'hands' through the air experimentally, greeted him happily. Sceptile gave him a nod of acknowledgment. "Is she ready?" Ash asked Sceptile.

    Sceptile gave a nod.

    "Okay Leavanny, try using Leaf Blade on that big rock over there!" Ash gestured to a large boulder a fair distance away. Leavanny faced the rock and a determined gleam sparked in her eyes. Her arms glowed vivid green and took on a blade-like shape. She took two strides forwards, then blurred across the field, appearing in front of the boulder in a mere couple seconds. She slammed the attack into the boulder. It exploded in a shower of rubble.

    Ash stood in shock a moment, then cheered. "Leavanny that was so awesome!" he shouted.

    Leavanny threw her hands into the air and cheered with him. Ash turned to face Sceptile. As he gazed into the eyes of his friend, he became momentarily lost in memories. The most vivid was of his battle, not so long ago, at the Lily of the Valley Conference. Just thinking about it made him shudder. He'd been so close... he hurriedly pushed the thoughts away. That was then. This time would be different. He believed in his friends so much, and they'd all fought and trained so hard for him. He was not gonna let them down again. Besides, this time there was no Tobias to worry about.

    He smiled at Sceptile. "Thanks so much, Sceptile. You did an awesome job helping her out." Sceptile grunted, then gave him a smirk, the branch in his mouth twitching.

    Ash glanced back towards the training field, where Servine and Bulbasaur were sparring as well. A wave of pride filled him. He had the best Pokémon a trainer could ask for.

    And there's chapter 7, folks. Servine learns more about her trainer, and grows to understand him better. Sceptile did a great job teaching Leavanny some techniques.

    I really skimmed over the Iris/Hydreigon bit because its basically just the same as the episode in the actual anime. The main point was that this time, she received a Deino egg! Its not much, buts its a small attempt towards fixing her. I have a few other plans in mind for her as well. I am hoping to use some growth with all the characters to add to Ash's growth.


    Day 6 - Afternoon

    Ash wiped a bead of sweat from his forehead. The late afternoon sun beat down on him, and he felt thirsty. Still, if his Pokémon were working hard, he wanted to work hard too. Currently, Servine was continuing her training against Bulbasaur. She had gotten much stronger since she gained her newfound understanding of him. Several times during their training matches, Bulbasaur won only by a small margin. Ash knew the day would come when Servine would succeed and beat him. It wasn't that surprising, he supposed. Servine had always taken battles quite seriously, nearly as much as Pignite - no, Emboar - he corrected himself.

    "Okay Servine, I've got some more special training," he called.

    Servine stopped her sparring and looked to Ash. Ash motioned for her to follow, then set off into the sparse woods near the Pokémon center. "Okay Servine, you've gotten really strong and tough. But now we gotta really get fast, 'kay?"

    Servine nodded determinedly.

    Ash walked until they reached a small clearing. He had a lot of ideas he'd been thinking about for Servine, some of which were inspired by his battle with Trip. He realized Servine, like Sceptile and Leavanny and Torterra, all had unique battle styles. He really wanted to develop one of his own for her. "Watch me, okay?" Ash said. He lowered his head and began doing his best to duck and weave across the clearing. He stood up when he reached the other side. "See, Servine?" he called. "We're gonna try working on your dodging and weaving."

    Servine smirked and nodded confidently. She darted across the field towards him, weaving fairly well. She reached him, then poked her nose in the air and grinned, as if to say 'how about that'.

    "Awesome! Let's keep practicing!" Ash said.

    xXx

    Ash ended up spending longer than he expected training. It was a lot of fun, working with Servine, and helping her learn to duck and weave. She was way better at it than him, of course, but he always did love training with his Pokémon. It helped him see how strong they were. And he could tell Servine was getting lots stronger. Soon she would be able to defeat Bulbasaur.

    Then, during one training match, it happened. Both Bulbasaur and Servine were tired, but still going strong in the fight.

    "Servine, Vine Whip!" Ash called. She lashed out with her vines, catching Bulbasaur.

    Bulbasaur retaliated with a Vine Whip of his own, his vines whipping out towards Servine.

    "Dodge!" Ash called. "Weave between the vines!" She dodged out of the way, then lowered her head, sprinting forwards and weaving around the vines. Ash grinned. He couldn't be prouder.

    Bulbasaur fired a Razor Leaf at her, and she leaped in the air, twisting around the attack before dashing close to Bulbasaur.

    "Now, Leaf Blade!" Ash cried. She whipped her tail around and slammed it into Bulbasaur's side, sending him tumbling across the ground. As he struggled to get up, Ash called out the next attack.

    "Leaf Storm!" Servine summoned a whirling cone of leaves and shot them at the downed Bulbasaur, kicking up a cloud of dust. When it settled, it revealed Bulbasaur's unconscious form.

    Ash cheered and ran over to Servine, taking her little hands in his own and dancing in a circle. "Servine that was awesome!" She cheered as well, before pulling away and collecting herself. She approached Bulbasaur, who had just stood up, then bowed her head to him and extended a vine. Bulbasaur extended a vine of his own and shook it.

    A great big grin spread over Ash's face at the sight. He was overjoyed to see that Servine had finally learned -

    his thoughts were cut short. A glow began to encompass Servine's body and his jaw dropped. It was happening again? He watched in awe as her body grew long and lithe, like an Arbok's. When the light faded, she had become like a true serpent, her long, curved body full of speed and power.

    She held her head high, regally surveying her surroundings. Ash gaped. He never expected her to evolve so soon. His excitement bubbling over, he pulled out his Pokédex to scan his new friend.

    Serperior, the Regal Pokémon and the evolved form of Servine. Serperior's glare can halt its opponent's movement. It increases the solar energy it absorbs.

    "Wow Serperior! You really evolved!" Ash cheered. He patted her on the side, and she smiled proudly at him. Pride flowed through Ash. He'd come so far in such a short time. His Pokémon had come so far for him. All their hard work... he was sure this would be a league to remember.

    "Alright everyone! Let's take a break!" he called happily. They'd more than earned it.

    xXx

    Day 6 - afternoon

    Ash sat by himself, enjoying lunch with his Pokémon. He realized it had been some time since he'd last had lunch alone. Or rather, without any human companions. It was odd. Part of him missed some form of friends present since he'd always thought journeying with friends made things more fun. He glanced at the clock. Iris was set to be back soon from the Village of Dragons, along with Cilan. He knew she had been excited to show off her newly evolved Fraxure. Looking back on it, Axew's evolution was still a shock to him. He chuckled to himself. There had been times he had doubted that Axew was even capable of evolution.

    Iris was getting stronger, he realized. A sudden thought occurred to him. There were some of his Pokémon Iris would probably love to meet. He quickly got up. It was time to pay another call to Professor Oak.

    Day 6 - Evening

    Ash stood just inside the Pokémon center, tapping his foot impatiently on the ground. Pikachu clung to his shoulders. He made a noise of concern, and Ash patted him. "I'm just looking forward to seeing everyone again." Which was mostly true. He was also excited about the Pokémon he'd had the professor send him.

    Just then, the doors slid open. Iris walked in, accompanied by Cilan.

    "Hey Ash!" Iris called. Cilan waved, and started towards him. Iris skipped up to him, an excited gleam in her eyes.

    "Hey Iris, Hey Cilan," Ash said. He grinned at them. "How was your trip?"

    "It was awesome!" Iris gushed. "Seeing the Village again was so cool! I even got to see a Zweilous evolve!"

    Ash's eyes widened. "A Zweilous huh?" He considered that for a moment. He was sure he'd heard of that Pokémon before... "Is that the one who evolves from Deino?"

    "Uh huh!" Iris said, smirking. "It was awesome! It evolved into a Hydreigon. But then it got really scared and started to panic." She quickly related the rest of the story of how she tamed the Hydreigon and calmed it down.

    "Wow," Ash said, genuinely impressed. He was almost a bit sorry he'd missed it. When he recalled Snivy's dramatic evolution, however, he didn't feel nearly so bad.

    Cilan held up a finger knowingly. "Iris was like an experienced chef in a fully stocked kitchen! She truly brought together a mix of flavorful experiences."

    Iris rolled her eyes. "And you're just like a little kid who likes being the center of attention."

    Ash and Iris both laughed as Cilan cringed and chuckled awkwardly.

    "So how did your training go?" Cilan asked, changing the subject.

    A huge grin spread across Ash's face. He released Serperior, as well as Sceptile and Bulbasaur.

    "Wow!" Iris cried. She knelt down in front of the new Pokémon. "Snivy evolved all the way to a Serperior!" She gently stroked Serperior's head and she smiled at the touch, looking as regal as ever. She looked at his other two Pokémon. "And I didn't know you had a Bulbasaur and a Sceptile!"

    "Yeah, they're super amazing. Sceptile even showed Leavanny how to use Leaf Blade!"

    "Now that's what I call a perfect recipe!" Cilan declared. "Leaf Blade is the perfect move for a Pokémon like Leavanny."

    "I also have another Pokémon I think you'd like to meet, Iris." He couldn't help but grin slightly deviously.

    "Who is it?" Iris asked, practically squealing like a little kid.

    Ash pulled out another Pokéball, smiling at it fondly before releasing the Pokémon within.

    The temperature in the room dropped several degrees as Glalie emerged and uttered a low, howling cry.

    The look on Iris' face changed from excitement to horror and fear and she yelped, wrapping her arms around herself and scrambling backward several feet. "I. Hate. Ice-types!" she wailed. Fraxure patted her side comfortingly as she glared furiously at Ash.

    Ash couldn't help but laugh at the display, as did Cilan. Iris continued to glare furiously at both of them.. "Ash Ketchum, you are such a kid!" she declared, stamping her foot. Fraxure stamped his foot as well, mimicking her.

    Still chuckling, Ash patted Glalie, then returned him. "I think you're the real kid, getting scared of a Pokémon like that."

    "Oh yeah?" Iris protested. "Well how's this for a kid?!" She reached into her hair and whipped out a Pokémon egg. She held it out and smiled quite smugly.

    Ash gaped in shock at the sight. "Awesome! You got an egg?" he reached out and gently took the egg, admiring it.

    Iris smiled proudly, placing her hands on her hips. "I'm on my way to becoming a real dragon master. My friend Shannon gave it to me."

    The three of them crossed over to a table in the lobby and sat down.

    "When do you think it will hatch?" Ash asked as he took his seat.

    Cilan leaned forward to examine the egg. "Hmm... I believe it is quite close to hatching."

    "And how would you know?" Iris snapped, frowning. She took the egg back, cradling it gently.

    "Because," Cilan said, gesturing dramatically with one hand on his chest. "I am also an egg connoisseur!"

    "Of course you are..." Iris muttered. She focused back on Ash. "So you see, I'm on my way to becoming a real dragon master. I'm going to evolve it all the way to a Hydreigon!" The egg shifted slightly in her hands. "Wow, it just moved!"

    Ash grinned. "Oh yeah? How long will that take?" he said playfully. "As long as Axew?"

    Iris crossed her arms. "Axew evolved when he was ready." Fraxure crossed his arms as well, giving a cry of agreement. "At least I have a dragon type." She added a note of smugness in her tone.

    At that, a devious sort of grin spread across Ash's face. He couldn't resist turning his nose up slightly and smirking. "Oh yeah?" He pulled out the second of the two pokeballs Oak had sent him, and released the Pokémon within. Gible emerged in a flash of light and snapped his jaws in greeting.

    The look on Iris' face was absolutely priceless. She looked ready to froth at the mouth with jealousy. "You have a Gible!" she practically screeched. "That's so cool!" She held her hand out to Gible. Gible promptly leaped into the air and bit her head.

    "AHHHG!" she yelped. Ash chuckled. "Come on Gible... we talked about this." He reached out and seized Gible, trying to pull him off. After several seconds of struggling, Gible suddenly released his grip, causing Ash to fall unceremoniously onto the ground.

    Gible snapped his jaws and gave a dubious cry, as if he didn't understand what the big deal was. Ash shook his head and sat back down, holding Gible in his lap.

    Iris' hair looked like a mess, though she couldn't drag her gaze away from Gible.

    "So Ash, what are you going to work on now?" Cilan asked.

    Ash chuckled, rubbing the back of his neck. "You see, I actually haven't decided yet." It was true, he wasn't sure what he wanted to do next. He still wanted to train with a couple of his other Pokémon, like Palpitoad and Boldore. And Krookodile. There was still Scraggy as well, he realized. It felt a little overwhelming, to be sure, but he liked that. He was sure he could do it, if he worked super hard. There was only about two weeks left until the conference, he realized.

    "Hey, I have an idea! How about we have a battle?" Iris asked.

    "A battle?" Ash asked.

    Iris bounced in her seat. "Sure! Fraxure vs Gible." She glanced down at Fraxure, who grinned eagerly. "I bet Fraxure can beat Gible."

    Ash grinned. He was always down for a battle. "Oh yeah? You're on!"

    xXx

    A few minutes later, Ash and Iris faced each other down on the battlefield. Cilan stood at one side, refereeing. Ash could feel his heart pumping with excitement as it usually did when he got in a battle. He couldn't wait to see how good Iris and Fraxure had gotten. Though he was completely confident in Gible. He had fought with him in the Sinnoh League after all.

    "Alright," Cilan said. "This will be a one on one battle! The battle will be over once one Pokémon is unable to battle. Please send out your Pokémon."

    Gible scampered onto the battlefield, just as Fraxure did. "Ready Gible?" Ash asked. Gible gave a growl.

    "Battle begin!" Cilan said.

    "Alright Gible, use Dragon Pulse!" Gible opened his jaws wide and blasted a beam of green energy at Fraxure.

    Iris stared, wide-eyed, frozen for a moment. Then she seemed to gather her wits. "Fraxure, block with Dragon Claw!"

    Fraxure nodded and summoned a claw of green energy and slashed the Dragon Pulse just in time, deflecting most of the damage.

    "Now, Dragon Rage!" Iris called.

    "Dodge it and use Dig!" Ash said calmly. In a flash, Gible burrowed into the ground. Fraxure's Dragon Rage passed harmlessly above.

    "Uh oh! Keep an eye out Fraxure," Iris said as she glanced around the battlefield. Fraxure's eyes darted about and Ash could see his trainers' nervousness reflected in its behavior.

    The ground right underneath Fraxure shook, and Gible burst from the ground, launching Fraxure into the air. Fraxure wailed in surprise and flailed midair. "Fraxure!" Iris yelled in a panic.

    "Awesome Gible! Now use Dragon Pulse!" Gible snarled and unleashed a blast of energy from his jaws, smashing into the airborne Fraxure and dealing massive damage. Fraxure collapsed to the ground, stunned.

    "No, Fraxure, get up!" Iris wailed. Then something shifted in Iris. She remembered her battle with Cynthia, as well as her other battles alongside Axew. She calmed the panic in her heart. "Alright Fraxure, I know you can do it." She said calmly. Fraxure's eyes shot open and he growled, pushing himself to his feet. "That's it!" Iris cheered. Suddenly, a shimmering glow wreathed Fraxure's body. Then he flew across the battlefield, cloaked in a powerful aura.

    Ash gaped, momentarily caught off guard by the sudden attack. Gible's eyes widened a moment before Fraxure made impact, sending him tumbling across the ground.

    Iris' eyes lit up. "Wow Fraxure! You learned Giga Impact! Yeah!"

    Gible slowly pushed himself up, panting. Ash grinned across the field at Iris. "Awesome Iris! Fraxure learned a new move!" He set his mouth in a firm line and stood up tall. "But that's not enough to stop Gible and me!"

    "Now Gible, Draco Meteor!" Ash actually saw Iris jaw drop at the mention of the ultra powerful dragon-type technique.

    Gible tilted his head upwards, orange energy gathering in his jaws. He shot an orb of golden energy into the sky. Fraxure followed the trajectory with his head, his jaw still hanging open. The orb exploded, raining down a hail of meteors.

    "Try to block with Dragon Claw!" Iris said. Fraxure nodded, grim determination in his eyes and he summoned a claw of green energy. The meteors arced through the air towards him, plummeting at an alarming rate of speed. Fraxure began to frantically bat them away. One, two three -

    There. Just as he knocked away the third meteor, one crashed down on his head, sending up an explosion of white smoke. When it cleared, Fraxure lay on the ground, unconscious.

    Cilan held up his hands. "Fraxure is unable to battle! The winner is Ash!"

    Ash smiled. "That was awesome Gible!"

    Iris frowned and knelt next to Fraxure, who opened his eyes and made an apologetic rumble. "You did great, Fraxure." She looked up at Ash. "Wow Ash, Gible is really strong! I can't believe it knew Draco Meteor."

    Ash chuckled. "Yeah, it took him forever to learn it though," he laughed recalling the many times poor Piplup had born the brunt of their training. It brought back many fond memories of traveling through Sinnoh, learning so much and meeting lots of new Pokémon.

    "Well, that was an impressive battle young man," a voice said.

    Ash whirled around to see an older man walk onto the battlefield. He wore a dress shirt and pants with suspenders, though his most noticeable feature was his white hair and beard that gave him a dragon-like appearance.

    "Thanks," Ash said, confused. He glanced back at his companions. Cilan gaped at the man, while Iris wilted and started to edge away. Why were they acting like that? He had the distinct feeling he'd missed something once again as if he should know this man. "Um, who are you?" he asked.

    The man chuckled loudly, whilst Cilan looked visibly shocked. "Ash! That's none other than the leader of the Opelucid Gym, Drayden!" Cilan said.

    Ash turned back to the man, his eyes shining. "Wow, you're a gym leader?" he gasped. A familiar thirst for battle welled up in him. He remembered now. Opelucid Gym. A Dragon-type gym. He'd been planning to battle it, but then he'd found out it was closed and had to fight Roxie instead. The thought of the battle against Roxie made him cringe - it had been one of the many battles he knew he could have done much better in.

    "Indeed I am. Though I am surprised to hear Iris didn't tell you about me," Drayden said, turning his gaze upon Iris. His eyes looked stern, though not unkind.

    Iris, who had been trying her best to edge away, chuckled awkwardly.

    "Huh? Iris, you know him?" Ash asked.

    "Yeah," Iris admitted. "Remember how I told you I lost that battle with Excadrill? Well I actually lost to Drayden."

    Determination welled up in Ash. So this was the strong trainer Iris had fought, as well as a powerful gym leader? He knew exactly what he wanted to do. "I challenge you to a battle!"

    Drayden turned his gaze upon Ash, considering him. Ash stared back intensely, his gaze not wavering. Finally, Drayden nodded. "Very well, I accept." He turned his gaze to Iris, who was looking more and more uncomfortable by the moment. "Noon tomorrow, I will meet you here, and we shall battle."

    Ash nodded, grinning in anticipation. His mind was already running wild with excitement at the prospect of fighting Drayden. He couldn't wait to try out some new Pokémon. He was absolutely sure that his training would pay off.

    So there it is folks. Chapter 8. A lot happened here. I'm trying to weave some more story based growth into this fanfic. So I'm trying to use Iris and other events as a springboard to test Ash's growth.

    Here we see Snivy reach her final form. Hooray! I decided that she should evolve fully before the league. Although thats not to say there might not be some evolutions during the league. Ash is also now trying to help her really work on that serpentine fighting style.


    So here we are at Chapter 9. Ash challenged Drayden. They will be fighting, but first, his reappearance has caused a certain wannabe dragon-master to reconsider her poor life choices. Not to mention, Ash has some work of his own he wants to do.

    Day 7 - very early in the morning

    Ash lay splayed out on his bed at the Pokémon center, snoozing peacefully, his dreams filled with the cheers of the crowds as he won his first Pokémon league. As he stood in the stadium, holding his trophy, he turned to grin at Pikachu, who was perched on his shoulder. "We did it buddy!" The little electric mouse squeaked at him and then proceeded to headbutt him, hard.

    "Ow! Pikachu, what was that for?" he cried indignantly.

    Pikachu glared at him crossly. Then he gave a frustrated cry and zapped him. Electricity shot through Ash's body and he spasmed. His eyes shot open to find himself not in the stadium, having won the league tournament, but back in the dark bedroom at the Pokémon Center. Pikachu stood an inch away from his face, tiny sparks dancing across his cheeks.

    "What is it, buddy?" Ash grumbled, yawning.

    Pikachu squeaked urgently and nodded towards the balcony. Ash groaned and rolled over, squinting towards the balcony. Outside, he could see a figure leaning on the railing. Of course, it was hard not to recognize that bushy bunch of purple hair. Ash sat up and peered at the clock on the wall. It wasn't even six! He couldn't fathom why anyone would wake up so early. Even Iris wasn't the type to wake this early.

    Still groggy, he got out of bed and strode towards the balcony, Pikachu trotting behind him. "Hey Iris," he muttered as he stepped into the cool early morning air.

    "Hey Ash," she said, her voice surprisingly lacking any of her usual pep. She held the Deino egg in her hands, stroking it absentmindedly.

    "What are you doing out here so early?" he asked.

    "Just thinking," she replied, her gaze locked on the horizon.

    Ash frowned. He wondered if everything was ok. Iris wasn't exactly the 'deep thinker' type. Maybe it had something to do with Drayden? She'd acted awfully strange yesterday after the gym leader had arrived. "Is it because of Drayden?" he asked on a hunch.

    Iris glanced at him. "Yeah," she murmured. "You see, I used to go to his school, a school that was all about dragon-types. But I never felt like I fit in there. So I left to go on a journey instead."

    "So? Lots of trainers go on journeys," Ash said, shrugging. "What's the big deal?"

    "The big deal is that I never told Drayden I was leaving!" Iris wailed. "I'm sure he came here to make me come back because I'm a failure and a bad trainer!"

    "Oh..." Ash murmured. "Well you're not really a failure," he said after a moment. "I mean... your Axew evolved. And you caught Dragonite." He didn't mention the fact that Dragonite had already been ridiculously strong when it joined Iris. And the fact that until about a week or so ago, she hadn't been a very impressive trainer. People just progressed at their own pace, he always believed. "Plus you have that egg!"

    Iris sighed. "But Dragonite was already really strong when he joined me! And Axew only just evolved." She sighed again and rested her chin on her hands. "When I visited the Village of Dragons, Elder told me something. She said that if I want to make my dreams come true, I have to act on them. But I haven't acted on them at all! I've just been acting like such a kid."

    That surprised Ash. He never imagined he'd hear the day that stubborn Iris admitted to acting like a kid.

    Iris put the egg into her hair (how on earth did she do that? Ash wondered), then leaned against the railing. "I'm pretty sure once Drayden realizes what an awful job I've done becoming a Dragon Master, he'll make me return to the school."

    Ash frowned. It was true, he'd never been particularly impressed by Iris' aptitude as a trainer. And he'd never seen her try to catch a dragon-type. But he did know she cared a lot about dragons. That counted for something. Plus, he'd always had faith in his friends, Pokémon or human. Dawn hadn't believed she could make a great coordinator, and Brock had his doubts about being a doctor. But he always believed his friends could do anything, as long as they believed in themselves. "Well, you can't give up!" Ash blurted. "Not if you believe in your dream."

    Iris stared at him curiously. Ash continued. "If you lose, or mess up, you just gotta keep trying!" he grinned and pumped his fist. "And you'll keep getting stronger! That's all," he declared confidently, putting his hands on his hips.

    A grin crept across Iris' face. "What a kid," she said, tossing her hair. "Well, you're right! I'm not giving up!" The first rays of sunlight crept over the horizon. Her grin grew even wider. "And I know exactly what I'll do next!" she shouted, bouncing excitedly on her toes.

    Ash backed away, surprised by her sudden excitement. "What?"

    "I'm gonna go out and catch a dragon-type Pokémon!" she cheered. Suddenly, her hair began to glow. Ash backed away further and stared nervously at her. "Uh, Iris..."

    "What?" she demanded.

    "Your hair is glowing."

    "AHHH!" she screamed in shock. She recovered after a moment and slipped the egg out of her hair and stared at it in awe. It glowed and pulsed every couple seconds. "Wow! It's hatching."

    Fraxure, who had been sleeping inside, came racing up and gave a happy cry of excitement.

    Ash, Pikachu, Iris, and Fraxure stared at the egg in awe as it glowed even brighter. Cilan raced up to them wide-eyed. He started to open his mouth, but Iris shushed him. The light shone so brightly that Ash could hardly bear to look at it. Then the light faded, and a young Deino lay in Iris' arms.

    "Wow..." she breathed. Deino yawned, then looked up at Iris. It gave a soft rumble and nuzzled her. Iris laughed happily.

    "Awesome!" Ash said. He reached out and stroked Deino's head, and it gave a sound almost like a purr, but much deeper.

    Iris stared at Deino silently for several seconds. "I'm going to be a dragon-master!" she said, eyes shining with determination. Deino gave a loud growl of agreement. "Starting today, I'm going to accomplish my dreams! And I'm going to start by catching another dragon-type!"

    Ash grinned. That was better. "Sounds awesome!"

    xXx

    Day 7 - Morning

    "Hurry up Cilan!" Iris shouted. She skipped easily along the steep path up the mountain. Ash scrambled after her, unperturbed by the rugged terrain. Cilan, however, lagged behind, panting. The sun barely peeked over the horizon as they climbed the mountain. Deino and Fraxure leaped nimbly after their trainer, utterly at home.

    It had been Iris' idea to climb a nearby mountain in hopes of finding a dragon-type. Iris had said it was the perfect home for something like a Druddigon. Ash had decided to tag along because he hoped to have the chance to fight a strong Pokémon. Plus, he was always curious to meet new Pokémon, and he knew his Pokémon could use a break. They'd all been training super hard, so he had let most of them stay at the Pokémon center.

    Currently, only Pikachu, Gible, Krokorok, Serperior, Boldore and Palpitoad were with him. The six Pokémon carry limit still applied, since he'd left the boundaries of Vertress City. He was hoping for the chance to get in some training with his other Pokémon while he was here. Few things could beat a battle against super-strong wild Pokémon if one really wanted to gain experience. Plus, seeing a dragon-type in battle would give him ideas for fighting Drayden.

    "I'm... coming..." Cilan wheezed. "I don't think I was prepared... for this recipe."

    Ash and Iris rolled their eyes. For a gym leader, Cilan didn't really impress.

    Iris pointed further up the slope, to a spot where the land seemed to even out. "Look! I see a cave!" She accelerated and scrambled onto the flat spot. Ash quickly followed. They emerged onto a flat patch of land in front of a wide cave mouth. Iris scanned the area. "This looks like a Druddigon cave!" she declared.

    "How can you tell?" Ash asked curiously.

    "See those big claw marks on the walls?" She pointed to deep gouges etched into the walls around the cave mouth. "That's how Druddigon mark their territory!"

    "Cool," Ash murmured.

    "Alright, let's catch a Druddigon," Iris cheered. Fraxure cheered, and Deino gave a happy rumble. Iris smiled at him and knelt down. Deino hopped into her arms, and she held him close as she started into the cave. Ash followed, quite excited by the prospect of meeting another dragon-type.

    It didn't take them long at all to find the Druddigon. In fact, they had barely entered the cave before a loud roar made the walls shake. A shadow moved in the darkness, and loud footsteps walked towards them. A moment later, a large Druddigon emerged from the gloom.

    Iris gaped at it. Ash stared in awe. He'd seen a Druddigon once before, but this one looked even more intimidating. It was rugged, tough, and exuded strength. He released Serperior, who appeared by his side. "I want you to watch real carefully, 'kay?" Ash said to her. "I want you to help me fight Drayden today, so watch how dragons fight." Serperior nodded solemnly.

    "Alright Ash, stay back!" Iris called. She gently set Deino down. Fraxure took up a position on her other side. "You two stay back as well," she murmured to the two dragons. Then she pulled out a Pokéball. "Go, Excadrill!"

    Excadrill emerged onto the field with a growl, facing down the much larger Druddigon. The two Pokémon glared at each other, each sizing the other up. Druddigon growled and lowered its head.

    "Excadrill, use Dig!" Excadrill burrowed into the ground nearly faster than one could blink. Druddigon's eyes widened slightly in surprise. A second later, Excadrill erupted from under Druddigon and knocked it back. Druddigon snarled, and its claws glowed bright white and doubled in length.

    It lashed out with a powerful Slash attack, cutting Exacdrill and sending it skidding back. Excadrill recovered and growled. "Drill Run!" Iris shouted.

    Excadrill wasted no time shifting its body into a drill, then launching itself across the cave at Druddigon. Druddigon growled and its jaws glowed with dark energy as it prepared Crunch. It held up its claws to block. Excadrill slammed into Druddigon, forcing the dragon backward several feet. Then Druddigon sank his jaws into Excadrill. Excadrill howled in pain as Druddigon tossed Excadrill aside.

    "Oh no!" Iris said. Her mind flashed back to her disastrous battle against Drayden so long ago. "Excadrill, are you ok?" as she spoke, she took out his Pokéball, ready to return him. Nothing was worth breaking the trust she fought so hard to forge. Excadrill forced himself to his feet and glared at Iris. He shook his head, then faced Druddigon. Iris nodded in understanding. He wanted to go down fighting. "Alright, Excadrill. Use Focus Blast!"

    Excadrill began to form the sphere of glowing blue energy between his claws. A moment later, he hurled it at Druddigon, knocking the dragon back. Druddigon roared angrily from the hit.

    It panted, and Ash could see it looked tired. "Don't give up Iris!" he shouted.

    Iris nodded. "Excadrill, use Dig!"

    Excadrill burrowed beneath the earth. A deep scowl grew on Druddigon's face. Anger sparked in its yellow gaze. Its body began to glow with a terrifying red aura. Iris gaped and Ash blanched. He knew that aura -

    Excadrill exploded from under Druddigon, slamming it in the jaw. In a terrifying blur of motion, Druddigon seized Excadrill and smashed it in the face with its fist. The Excadrill shot across the cave and smashed into a wall, sending rocks and debris flying. As the dust settled, Iris made out the unconscious form of Excadrill. She sighed and returned him. "You did awesome," she murmured to the Pokéball.

    She faced Druddigon, who roared triumphantly and leered at her. Iris glared at it. She wasn't giving up yet. Her hand slid to Dragonite's Pokéball. Fraxure growled and looked at her urgently. "You're right," Iris conceded. Dragonite was strong, but she needed to learn to not rely on him too much. Her other Pokémon needed to grow. "Alright Fraxure, you're up."

    Fraxure growled happily and leaped forwards. "Now Fraxure, Dragon Claw!" Fraxure scampered forwards, claws glowing green. Druddigon's claws glowed green as well. The two Pokémon clashed, both pressing against the other.

    Druddigon took a step forward, forcing the smaller Fraxure back. "Come on Fraxure!" Iris yelled. She clenched her fists, her eyes blazing with determination. This was it, she realized. This was what Elder had meant. One needed to believe, and take action. And right now, she was doing both. She was truly taking the first steps to becoming a dragon-master. "I believe in you!" she shouted.

    Fraxure roared and pressed back. Druddigon's eyes widened. Step by step, Fraxure reclaimed his position. With a final roar, he hurled Druddigon back with a flick of his claws. Druddigon slammed into the cave wall, denting it. Before he could move, Fraxure opened his jaws and blasted a focused beam of dragon-type energy at Druddigon, further smashing it in the wall. Iris grinned happily. "Yeah!" she cheered, hopping up and down. "Fraxure you learned Dragon Pulse. That's so amazing!"

    Fraxure grinned at her and did a little dance.

    Ash cleared his throat. "Iris, you know you gotta throw a Pokéball at Druddigon, right?"

    Iris' eyes widened. "Oops!" she chuckled awkwardly and quickly grabbed a Pokéball. She tossed it at the stunned form of Druddigon. It rolled once, twice, then dinged. Grinning madly, she charged over to the Pokéball and scooped it up. "Yeah! I caught a Druddigon!" Deino and Fraxure both roared happily, and Ash grinned. That battle had been awesome. It also gave him some ideas for fighting Drayden. He knew Drayden had a Druddigon of his own. He would need to be tough to beat it.

    Iris released her newly caught Druddigon. It stared at her intensely for a few moments, then dipped its head in respect. She sent out the rest of her Pokémon, who greeted it eagerly. As introductions were made, he contemplated. He'd learned his lesson about overthinking, back when he faced Elesa. But that didn't mean he didn't want to give a little bit of thought. He wanted to find a strong Pokémon to train against before he left the mountain. Serperior needed some experience against a tough Pokémon.

    "Alright, now it's time for me to find a battle!" Ash declared eagerly. "I really want Serperior to have a proper battle, now that she's evolved." Training battles were one thing, but they were not at all the same as a battle against a fierce opponent, or a trainer.

    "Okay!" Iris agreed.

    Ash led the way out of the cave, walking confidently. Serperior slithered beside him, her gaze focused.

    They wandered around the mountain for another hour. He had the chance to battle a few weaker wild Pokémon with Palpitoad and Boldore, though to his disappointment he didn't meet anything particularly strong.

    It was getting late, and he was beginning to think they would have to return to Vertress City soon. He didn't want to miss his battle with Drayden. It was pretty fun though, being back out on the road, traveling, and seeing wild Pokémon.

    A loud roar drew Ash's attention. In the forest a short distance below, he saw a large shape moving. "Man, that sounds like a really strong Pokémon!" The sound was quickly followed by two cries of fear. Serperior shot forwards, down the hill towards the woods. Ash ran after her.

    Serperior vanished into the trees. "Serperior, wait!" Ash called, running after her. He entered the woods and slowed down. Where had his Pokémon gone? Pikachu's ears twitched. "Do you see her buddy?" Ash asked. Pikachu glanced around, then flicked his ears to the left slightly. Ash headed in that direction. He heard another roar and picked up his pace. A moment later, he emerged into a clearing.

    Serperior stood on one side, close to Ash. Her body was angled protectively in front of two young Teddiursa. They were curled up on the ground, trembling with fright. Glaring them down was a positively humongous Rhydon. Its red eyes blazed with anger and it opened its jaws, letting out another roar.

    "What's going on?" Iris asked, emerging from the woods behind Ash, Cilan in tow.

    Ash shrugged, watching warily. Serperior seemed to be engaged in some kind of staredown with Rhydon.

    "Hmm..." Cilan mused. "Rhydon are known to be fiercely territorial. I'd wager that those Teddiursa got lost and wandered into Rhydon's territory. Rhydon probably got upset and tried to attack them. And Serperior seems to be protecting them."

    Rhydon growled and took a step towards Serperior. She met its gaze calmly, her head held high. The two Teddiursa gazed nervously at Rhydon.

    Pikachu gave an urgent cry and hopped to the ground, cheeks sparking, ready to fight. "Hang on Pikachu," Ash said softly. Not only was Rhydon a ground type, but he wanted Serperior to have a chance to handle this.

    With a roar, Rhydon's horn began to glow, and it fired a rapid barrage of rocks at Serperior. She deftly twisted out of the way each rock, utilizing the techniques Ash had worked with her on. She leaped gracefully to the side and smirked at Rhydon. Rhydon, unfazed, grinned maliciously. Then its gaze shifted to the unprotected Teddiursa. In Serperior's attempts to dodge, she had moved several feet away from them.

    Rhydon's horn glowed again. Serperior's eyes widened as she realized its intentions. It fired another barrage of rocks straight at the Teddiursa. Serperior shot across the battlefield, intercepting the rocks at the last moment, using her own body as a shield. The rocks crashed into her and dust exploded outwards.

    "No!" Ash cried. But as the dust cleared, he saw something incredible. Serperior's body was tightly coiled, forming a shield in front of the Teddiursa. Her eyes shone and her entire body pulsed a light purple.

    "Wow! That technique is Coil!" Cilan gasped. "It raises the user's attack, defense, and accuracy."

    "Awesome!" Ash gasped, wide-eyed. Serperior's gaze hardened and Rhydon scowled. Its arm began to glow white, and it charged across the clearing, arm raised and ready to strike.

    "Oh no! That's Hammer Arm!" Cilan shouted.

    Ash ignored him and grinned. Serperior could handle this. Rhydon swung his fist at Serperior. She used Coil again, her body tightening further and glowing again. Rhydon slammed its arm down on her, but the attack barely fazed Serperior. In a single fluid motion, she uncurled and smashed Rhydon across the face with a Leaf Blade attack.

    Rhydon roared in agony, staggered, and collapsed. Ash cheered, a mad grin spreading over his face. "Serperior, that was amazing!" he called. Serperior relaxed and smiled briefly at him. The two Teddiursa gazed at her in awe. Rhydon started to get up, glaring furiously still at Serperior. She slithered up to him, head held high, and glared right back at him. Rhydon flinched and looked away, then it turned and shuffled away, trying to maintain some semblance of dignity.

    Once it had gone, Serperior relaxed. "That was awesome," Ash said, walking up to her. "You learned Coil to protect those Teddiursa."

    Just then, an Ursaring emerged from the woods. When it saw the humans and Pokémon gathered around the Teddiursa, it began to growl. The two Teddiursa however, eagerly scrambled forwards and made a series of noises, presumably explaining everything and gesturing animatedly to Serperior.

    Cilan's voice piped up from behind. "That Ursaring must be their mother!"

    After a moment, the Ursaring's gaze softened. She scooped up her two babies, and gave a nod of respect to Serperior. She nodded back, watching as Ursaring returned to the woods.

    Ash watched the exchange, still grinning madly. He was happy about how amazing his Pokémon were. They had all grown leaps and bounds ever since he started really training. Especially Serperior. His battle with Drayden was going to be awesome.

    Speaking of which... "Cilan, what time is it?" Ash asked.

    "11:21."

    Ash's heart nearly skipped a beat. "Oh no! I gotta get back! My battle with Drayden is soon!"

    As they sprinted out of the woods, Ash saw Iris rolling her eyes. "Some things never change," she said. He ignored the comment. Serperior had been able to help the lost Teddiursa, and she'd learned a new move. No matter what, it had all been worth it

    xXx

    Long author's note ahead:

    So writing this has made me realize something. Iris is stupid in the anime, but she was an awesome concept for a character. An aspiring Dragon-master traveling with an Aspiring Pokémon master? Thats cool! She's rambunctious and adventurous, and honestly if you strip away the annoying qualities, should have been cool. So there's a bit more of her than i originally planned in this chapter, but i hope it was still enjoyable to read. I actually think she had potential to be a really fun character, which is why I am trying to fix her. Hopefully have her be more like the one from generations. And less annoying. I am trying to create a reasonable (but fast) evolution for her character arc. She is far from being a a great trainer, but I think this chapter got her a little closer?



    Boy, this chapter is way longer than I planned. But I wanted the whole battle with Drayden in one chapter.

    Anyways, I hope everyone enjoys the battle!

    Day 7 - afternoon

    "Who's ready to battle?" Ash asked eagerly, surveying his Pokémon. Most of his Unova Pokémon, as well as Gible and Sceptile, were arrayed before him. He was set to meet Drayden quite soon. He'd been informed that the rules would be traditional three-on-three. So now he had the difficult choice of deciding who to bring.

    "Krookodile, I want you to be in the battle," Ash said, after only a moment's thought. "I haven't really had a chance to see you, but I know you've been sparring with Charizard a bit, and I want to see how strong you are," Krookodile smirked and nodded, his eyes glinting behind his sunglasses. Ash singled out Gible, who was chewing on a rock. "You too, Gible. It'll really help you to fight another Dragon-type." Gible gave an ambiguous cry. Ash chuckled to himself. Sometimes he wondered if Gible had any idea what was going on. Turning his attention to the rest of his Pokémon, he frowned thoughtfully. That just left one more. He briefly considered Glalie, then discarded the thought. He knew his old Pokémon were more than tough enough for almost anything. No, his new team deserved the chance to fight.

    Pikachu leaned forwards on his shoulder and gave a questioning squeak. Ash shook his head. "Sorry buddy, not today. I think you're strong enough to fight Drayden. I want to give my other Pokémon a chance." Pikachu frowned but nodded, understanding in his gaze. Ash took in the rest of his team - Leavanny, Dewott, Emboar, Boldore, Palpiatoad, Scraggy, and Serperior.

    "Serperior, do you want to battle?" Serperior slithered forwards and dipped her head. It was subtle, but he could detect a fiery glint in her eyes. She wanted to prove herself. She cast sideways glance over at Sceptile, who nodded at her approvingly. Ash grinned. Those two would have to have a battle soon.

    "It's settled then." Ash declared, putting his hands on his hips. "Krookodile, Gible, and Serperior, you guys will fight Drayden."

    Iris trotted beside him, glanced furtively about, then settled her gaze on his Pokémon. "Oh wow, are those the Pokémon you'll use to fight Drayden?"

    Ash nodded. "Yeah!" He glanced at her. Her newly caught Druddigon followed her, and she carried Deino in her arms. Fraxure stood loyally at her side. Ash had to admit, she was finally looking like a proper dragon-type trainer. "Are you going to watch?"

    "Sure!" Iris said confidently. "I may have made some mistakes, but I'm going to show Drayden that I'm getting stronger." She grinned and patted Druddigon's side.

    "Great!" Ash said. He took one last look at the three Pokémon in front of him. Krookodile had more than proved his strength when he was the only Pokémon to take down Iris' ridiculous Dragonite. Gible, who was oblivious at times, but had a good heart and was a powerful battler. And Serperior, whose determination had earned her newfound strength. He nodded approvingly. This was going to be a great battle.

    xXx

    "This will be a three-on-three battle. When all Pokémon on either side are unable to battle, the match will be over," the referee said. "In addition to this, the gym leader will not use substitutions."

    Ash grinned, his blood tingling from excitement. Finally. The battle with Drayden arrived. He had a chance to test his skills. He stood on a battlefield, facing Drayden. With the League conference still two weeks away, they had been allowed to use one of the smaller fields for their match. Far across the field, opposite Ash stood Drayden, arms crossed and looking confident as ever. In the stands, Iris and Cilan sat watching, along with Pikachu and Sceptile.

    The referee spoke again. "Contestants, please send out your first Pokémon."

    Without hesitation, Ash released Gible. A moment later, a Zweilous materialized at the other end of the field. Both Pokémon growled as they faced each other.

    "Battle begin!" The referee called.

    "Gible, start with Rock Smash!" Gible growled as one of his claws glowed red. He charged across the field, faster than expected considering his size.

    "Zweilous, Headbutt!" Drayden called. Zweilous lowered its heads and charged. The two Pokémon crashed together, their attacks colliding. Then they were tossed apart by an explosion of energy. Gible flipped through the air, then caught himself.

    Drayden's eyes narrowed. "Zweilous, use Work Up," Zweilous growled. Its entire body began to glow red and began to stamp wildly from one foot to the other, roaring in anger.

    "Be careful Ash!" Cilan shouted from the sidelines. "Work Up is a move that-"

    Ash tuned out the rest of what Cilan was saying. He knew exactly what Work Up did. It raised a Pokémon's attack powers. Which was just fine by him. He preferred an all-out attack style anyway. "Gible, use Dig!"

    Giblle burrowed underground in a flash. Zweilous frowned and began to look around frantically. Ash waited silently. A half-second later, Gible emerged from behind Zweilous and slammed into it, sending it sliding.

    "Dark Pulse!" Zweilous whirled and fired a stream of swirling dark energy at Gible, striking him hard. He crashed to the ground.

    "Gible no!" Ash cried. It had been a hard hit, he could tell, plus it was powered up thanks to Work Up.

    "Now, use Headbutt," Drayden commanded. Zweilous lowered its heads and charged.

    Ash grimaced. "Gible, get up!" he cried. Slowly, Gible pushed himself to his feet. His eyes widened at the sight of the approaching Zweilous. He tried to spring out of the way but was too late. Headbutt crashed into him and sent him flying. He smashed into the ground hard, creating a small crater.

    Annoyance flickered briefly in Ash. He took a deep breath. Now more than ever, he needed to stay calm, for the sake of his Pokémon. Drayden was a powerful trainer, and he couldn't be taken lightly, Ash realized. He had to be smarter. "Okay Gible, use Dragon Pulse!"

    Gible fired an orb of green energy at Zweilous.

    "Dodge," Drayden said. Hardly had the words left his mouth before Ash gave his own command.

    "Dragon Pulse, one more time!"

    Zweilous leaped out of the way of the first one but was caught square in the chest by the second Dragon Pulse. The dragon-type staggered caught off balance.

    "Now, Draco Meteor!" Ash called. Gible began to focus the dragon-type energy in his body. Then he tilted his jaws upwards and fired a sphere of energy into the sky. It exploded, showering meteors onto the battlefield.

    Zweilous began to panic and dash around the field, clearly terrified. Several meteors struck it, damaging it severely. When the attack ended, however, it was still standing.

    Drayden crossed his arms. "A good attack. But you will need more than that to beat me, Ash."

    A scowl grew across Ash's face. Drayden was stronger than he expected. So were his Pokémon. Still, there was no way Ash was going to give in. He had come too far to lose now. "Gible, use Dig!"

    "Work Up," Drayden said. Zweilous repeated the early attack, glowing even brighter this time. Ash grit his teeth. Not good.

    Then, inspiration struck Ash. He remembered Iris' story about Hydreigon. He also recalled the times in the past when she exposited the many merits of various dragon types, particularly highlighting how temperamental some could be. "Gible, use Dig to confuse Zweilous."

    Drake's eyes widened slightly when he heard the command. Then Gible enacted the plan. Still using Dig, he popped up a couple of yards in front of Zweilous.

    "Headbutt!" Drayden snapped. Zweilous lunged forward, slamming his heads towards Gible and -

    Connected with air. Gible vanished underground again. Zweilous growled. Gible popped up again, only for Zweilous to try Headbutt and fail. Gible managed to repeat the gimmick several more times, each time Zweilous grew more frustrated. It began to stamp about snarl as its rage increased.

    "Now Gible!" Ash said. Gible shot out of the ground, opened his jaws, and fired a beam of draconic energy.

    "Dragonbreath!" Drayden called. Zweilous recovered, faster than Ash expected, opened twin jaws, and fired a stream of purple flames. Dragon Breath collided with Dragon Pulse, and the two moves clashed, sending out terrific waves of power. Gible's attack began to edge closer to Zweilous. Suddenly, Zweilous snarled, pouring more power into its attack. Its Dragon Breath began to overwhelm Gible, pushing his attack back.

    Ash gritted his teeth. Determination surged through him. "Gible!" he screamed. "Don't give uuuuppp!"

    A roar shook the battlefield. Gible's body became encased in swirling blue energy. Still pouring energy into the Dragon Pulse, he began to grow in size, doubling in height. His stubby claws elongated into fins, and his body grew lean. His legs grew longer until he stood fully upright. Energy exploded outwards. Gabite poured an enormous surge of power into his Dragon Pulse attack, forcing Zweilous's attack back. Dragon Pulse smashed into its body, sending it flying backward and into the stadium wall. With an audible groan, Zweilous slumped to the ground, unconscious.

    Ash stared, dumbfounded. Slowly, a grin spread over his face. "Gible, you evolved!" he cried happily. Gabite turned around and grinned at him, waving a claw. "Awesome!" Ash said. He quickly scanned his new Pokémon with the Pokédex.

    Gabite, the Cave Pokémon. It loves sparkly things. It seeks treasures in caves and hoards the loot into its nest.

    Drayden returned Zweilous and nodded thoughtfully. "That was some impressive tactics. I am particularly impressed by your creative use of dig."

    "Thanks!" Ash replied happily. "But it didn't work as well as I hoped..."

    "Don't discount yourself. Against a lesser Pokémon, that tactic would surely have been effective. Especially on a Zweilous or Hydreigon. They are known to be very temperamental. That said, Zweilous was only my training Pokémon. You'll have to go all out to beat my next one!" With that, Drayden tossed out a Pokéball.

    A Druddigon emerged onto the field with a roar. Ash shuddered. This one looked even more terrifying than the wild one Iris had caught. There was a certain gleam to its eyes and confidence in its stance that said it had won many battles.

    "Will the challenger substitute?" The referee asked.

    Ash looked at Gabite. Despite his evolution, he was panting heavily and looked pretty battered. No doubt he could probably go on a little more, but he doubted it would do much against a fresh Druddigon. "Gabite, I know you're excited because you evolved, but take a rest, ok?"

    Gabite nodded and trotted to his side. Ash didn't have to ponder his next choice. "Serperior, come on out!" he called. He tossed her Pokéball out. Light spilled out and Serperior emerged on the battlefield. She curled into a neat circle and regarded the Druddigon calmly.

    "Battle begin!"

    "Dragon Claw," Drayden said calmly. Druddigon charged across the battlefield, one claw raised and glowing green.

    "Guard with Coil," Ash said. Serperior wrapped her body tightly. It glowed purple just before Druddigon slammed his claw into her. He pressed against her, but she remained firm.

    "Now, Leaf Blade!" Ash called. In a blur, she lashed out, catching Druddigon across the face with her tail. The dragon staggered backward from the force of the blow.

    "Double Team," Drayden said. Druddigon recovered and blurred, multiple copies of it appearing all around the battlefield.

    Ash frowned. Double Team was always tricky. Yet... A slow grin spread over his face. "Coil, one more time!" he shouted. Serperior narrowed her eyes and wound her body into a tight, dense knot. The familiar glow filled her body.

    "Now, Leaf Storm!" Serperior's eyes darted about the battlefield, taking in all the copies of Druddigon dotted about the field. Suddenly, her eyes locked onto one. She flicked her tail and summoned a massive cone of glowing leaves. They shot across the battlefield and crashed into Druddigon. Its copies instantly disappeared and it howled in pain.

    "Flash Cannon!" Drayden commanded. Druddigon shook off its pain and growled. It opened its jaws and fired a beam of silver energy at Serperior.

    "Dodge!" Ash called frantically. Serperior looped into a circle shape, and the attack passed right through her body. A grin spread over Ash's face. The training had paid off.

    The two Pokémon paused on opposite sides of the battlefield, briefly evaluating each other.

    "Your Serperior is impressive," Drayden called. "I can tell you have trained with her a lot."

    "Thanks!" Ash said happily. "We worked really hard on dodging."

    "Let's test that." Druddigon's eyes narrowed and it growled in anticipation. "Dragon Claw, siege attack!" Druddigon blurred forwards, both claws glowing.

    "Dodge!" Ash shouted.

    What began was an elaborate game of tag. Serperior weaved and danced around Druddigon's blows. A few would glance off her hide, though it didn't do a lot of damage. As fast as she was, Druddigon proved nearly as tough. She would slip in blows with Leaf Blade, but they barely glanced off his scaly hide. Ash couldn't help but grimace briefly. This couldn't go on forever. He could see both Pokémon beginning to tire. Druddigon's blows grew wilder, Serperior's dodges grew sloppier.

    Then it happened. Druddigon swung just a little too wide with one of its blows. Serperior lunged under its arm, slipped behind it, and sliced across its back with Leaf Blade. Druddigon roared and fell to one knee. Serperior smirked triumphantly. Then Druddigon whirled around, its tail glowing blue. It slammed a Dragon Tail attack into Serperior, sending her skidding across the field. She slumped to the ground, nearly exhausted.

    "Now, Flash Cannon!" Drayden roared. Druddigon opened its jaws, silver light gathering within.

    Time seemed to slow. "Jump!" he cried. There wasn't enough time to give more directions. He could only hope she understood what he wanted. And she did. In a split second, she coiled her body into a spring-like shape and launched herself into the air, over the Flash Cannon attack. Her tail glowed bright green and she brought down one, final, Leaf Blade on Druddigon's head. It collapsed under the blow, slamming into the ground hard and sending dust flying. The dust cleared, revealing Serperior, utterly exhausted, but curled regally over Druddigon's unconscious form.

    "Druddigon is unable to battle. Serperior is the winner!"

    Ash whooped. Settling down, he smiled at Serperior and gave her a nod, which she returned. Then he pulled out her Pokéball. "Take a good rest." Once he had returned her, he grinned at Drayden.

    Drayden nodded approvingly. "Good job. Now let's see how you handle my final Pokémon."

    With a flick of his wrist, he sent out his last Pokémon. A massive olive scaled reptile appeared. Two blade like appendages protruded from its jaws, and its talons gleamed ruby in the sunlight. Ash scanned it with his Pokédex.

    Haxorus, the Axe Jaw Pokémon. The evolved form of Fraxure. Their sturdy tusks will stay sharp even if used to cut steel beams. These Pokémon are covered in hard armor.

    Awesome. He glanced at the sidelines. All his Pokémon watched, as well as Cilan and Iris. Fraxure sat by Iris' side, utterly enraptured by Haxorus. Iris, on the other hand, looked nervous. Ash recalled how she told him about Excadrill's loss to Haxorus. He glanced briefly at all his Pokémon. Pikachu let out a cheerful cry and did a little dance. Ash grinned. He wasn't going to lose today. This Pokémon would be tough. But he knew someone tougher.

    "Krookodile, I choose you!"

    Krookodile burst onto the battlefield with a roar.

    "Battle begin!"

    The words barely left the referee's mouth before Ash sprang into action. "Krookodile, Stone Edge!"

    Krookodile opened his jaws wide. A swirling vortex of sharp stones began to swirl around his body. He snapped his jaws shut and the stones shot across the battlefield towards Haxorus.

    "Rock Smash." Drayden said.

    The blades on the side of Haxorus' mouth glowed red. It swung its head and deftly deflected the barrage, showring the battlefield in shards of rock and dust.

    "Now!"Ash called.

    Krookodile charged into the dust cloud, a shard of rock clutched in each claw. Just as Haxorus deflected the final piece of Stone Edge, Krookodile struck. He erupted from the dust cloud, barely more than a blur of red scales. Before Haxorus could react, Krookodile sliced Haxorus twice across the chest.

    Haxorus roared in agony and staggered backwards. Krookodile landed and smirked gleefully. He glanced back and grinned at Ash. Ash nodded at him. "Great work!" Krookodile had known exactly what he wanted. The technique was one he borrowed from his match at the ice-type gym.

    The force of the blow had sent Haxorus to one knee. Ash stared, wide-eyed. He hadn't expected that much damage, even from a surprise attack.

    "Incredible!" Cilan said. Ash glanced at the bleachers. Cilan was watching with a look of awe. "What a tasty attack, Ash! A delicious dish, served with a side of surprise! And you earned a critical hit." he turned to Iris, who looked rather sick of his speech already. "You see, Stone Edge is a move that has a very high chance of scoring a critical hit. Critical hits do-"

    Ash tuned him out and grinned at Drayden.

    "Very good. I wasn't expecting a surprise attack, Mr. Ketchum. Haxorus, use Dragon Dance!"

    Ash grimaced. Not good. He recalled that Dragon Dance could raise a Pokémon speed and attack. "Krookodile, Dig!"

    Krookodile doved into the earth and vanished. Seconds later he erupted from the ground behind Haxorus.

    "Dual Chop." Haxorus whirled with terrifying speed, its twin blades glowing, and struck Krookodile. Once, twice. With the second hit, it smashed Krookodile into the floor hard. Krookodile grunted in pain as his face was slammed into the floor.

    "Now Rock Smash," Drayden said calmly. Haxorus raised its head again, its blades glowing red.

    "Block it!" Ash snapped. Krookodile recovered, and at the last second, raised his claws and blocked Haxorus' strike. Ash couldn't help but grin. It looked like all of Krookodile's sparring with Charizard had paid off. Krookodile snarled and rolled out from under Haxorus.

    "Crunch!" Ash said. Krookodile lunged forwards, his jaws glowing obsidian. He only succeeded in dealing a glancing blow before Haxorus dodged away. Krookodile stopped and Haxorus moved, putting distance between itself and its opponent.

    "Giga Impact!" Drayden shouted.

    "Aerial Ace!" Ash responded.

    A shining aura enshrouded Haxorus. It lunged across the field, looking like a golden comet. Krookodile spread his arms and threw himself forward to meet Haxorus midair. The attacks clashed and the two reptiles began vying for dominance. A second later, an explosion of energy sent both Pokémon flying. Krookodile tumbled backwards and caught himself. Haxorus slid several feet and fell to its knees briefly, before pushing itself up. It growled and narrowed its eyes. Sparks crackled over its body and it grunted.

    Ash grinned. Krookodile looked tired, but he knew his friend wasn't done yet. And now Haxorus would have to recharge. "Stone Edge!" This time, Krookodile raised on claw and slammed it into the earth. A line of sharp stones rippled across the earth and erupted under Haxorus, knocking it off its feet. It tumbled onto its side and roared.

    "We aren't done yet!" Drayden roared. "Haxorus, Dual Chop." Haxorus shoved itself to its feet. Its blades glowed green. It sprinted across the field.

    A sudden, crazy idea occurred to Ash. "Dig! Trip it up." In a blur, Krookodile vanished underground. As Haxorus took its next step, its foot sank into the earth. It roared in shock as its body pitched forwards.

    "Crunch!" Ash said. Krookodile popped from the ground, directly under Haxorus's falling body. He watched with absolute glee as Haxorus fell straight into Krookodile's open jaws. He snapped them shut on Haxorus, eliciting a final roar. Then Haxorus fell limp. Krookodile tossed it aside and grinned as he crossed his arms.

    Drayden nodded. "Impressive." He said simply. He took out a Pokéball and returned Haxorus. Then he looked across the battlefield at Ash. "You and your Pokémon performed excellently. I am sure you will do well in the conference."

    "Thanks!" Ash said, still grinning. All his Pokémon had done so awesome! Serperior had shown off her skills, Gabite had evolved, and Krookodile was stronger than ever. "My Pokémon deserve all the credit," he said honestly.

    "True. However, you displayed the ability to think on your feet. That is no easy feat for some trainers."

    Ash nodded, accepting the praise. Iris and Cilan walked up to him, both smiling. "Great job Ash!" Iris said. "I can't believe your Gabite evolved!"

    Ash swore he detected jealousy in her tone.

    Cilan started to open his mouth, but Drayden started speaking first. "Now Iris. Do you have something to say to me?"

    Ash looked over at Iris, surprised. She took a deep breath, clenched her fists, then blurted everything out. "Drayden, I know I left without saying anything but before you make me go back to school you should know I've been working really really hard to be a great dragon tamer! I-"

    Drayden held up his hand. "Let me see your Pokémon," he said sternly. Iris' face fell slightly and she nodded. One by one, she released each of her Pokémon. Fraxure, Excadrill, Emolga, Deino, Druddigon, and Dragonite. Drayden surveyed them all with an experienced eye, then nodded to himself.

    "Well Iris, it is clear to me that you have only just recently caught most of these Pokémon. Correct?"

    "Yes," Iris mumbled, hanging her head. "I got the egg yesterday and I caught Druddigon this morning. Fraxure evolved a few days ago."

    For a moment, Drayden said nothing. A tense silence filled the air. Ash looked back and forth between Drayden and Iris. He almost felt bad for her (but really, it was her fault, being such a kid and all).

    "But, I can tell you worked hard to befriend all your Pokémon. The fact that you went out this morning, just to catch a dragon Pokémon, proves to me that you are taking action."

    Iris looked up at Drayden, shocked. "Does this mean... I don't have to go back to school?"

    At that, Drayden burst into a deep, throaty chuckle. "Iris, I didn't come out here to force you to return to my school. I came because I was concerned. As I recall, you were quite upset when you left. Elder asked me to check on you." He reached out and scratched Druddigon under the chin. "Fortunately, it appears you have learned your lesson."

    "Oh," Iris said. She began to smile, then laugh in relief. "Thank you!" she squealed. She hugged Drayden, who seemed uncomfortable. Ash chuckled. Well, that was good, he supposed.

    Iris stepped back and smiled, new confidence filling her. "I know what I'm gonna do next!" she declared.

    "Really? What?" Ash asked. Was Iris finally making actual progress?

    Iris put her hands on her hips. "I'm entering the Unova League!"



    Chapter 11! Ash beat Drayden, Gabite evolved and Krookodile showed off his skills! I absolutely love Krookodile by the way. Anyways, this chapter is a bit on the parody/humor side, so it won't be quite so serious, but will be fun! Enjoy!

    For those wondering how Iris will be able to get all the badges in time and how that will be handled. Fear not, all will be explained in this chapter!


    "What?!" Ash gawped at Iris. Cilan stared at her wide-eyed, equally surprised by her statement. Even her Pokémon looked shocked (Fraxure in particular). In fact, only Drayden didn't seem too surprised.

    "Sure! It'll be great training to become a Dragon Master. I know I've got a long way to go, but it will really help my Pokémon grow," Iris said.

    Ash shrugged. He couldn't really disagree with that. "But... there's just one problem Iris."

    "Huh? What's that?" she asked.

    He deadpanned. "You gotta have 8 badges to enter." Unable to resist, he added, "if you weren't such a kid you would know that."

    Iris laughed awkwardly. "Oh yeah..." She frowned. With only two weeks until the conference, there was nowhere near enough time to get eight badges.

    Cilan stepped forward and held up his index finger in a dramatic pose. "If you can't earn all eight badges, you could consider the Pokémon League Admissions Exam."

    "What's that?" Iris asked.

    "Oh yeah!" Ash said. "I remember that. In the Kanto region, there's a special school. They give you a bunch of weird tests and then you have a practice battle. If you pass, you can enter the Indigo League. But isn't that just in the Kanto region?"

    "Not at all!" Cilan said. "There's one in every region."

    A smile returned to Iris' face. "Then I'm gonna take the tests and pass them all! Then I'll come back and enter the Vertress Conference." She pumped her fist.

    "Sounds awesome!" Ash said. "But I'm still going to win it!" he declared.

    "Oh yeah? Maybe I'll win it first!" Iris shot back. Her eyes sparked with defiance.

    Ash frowned. Now that was ridiculous. "Dragonite couldn't defeat Charizard, so what makes you think-"

    Cilan stepped in between them. "Hey why, both of you-"

    "Quiet!" Both Ash and Iris said at the same time, whirling to face Cilan. Cilan gulped and took a step back.

    Ash and Iris' eyes met again. Then they both chuckled.

    Iris spoke first. "I don't know if I can win, but I'm going to try my hardest anyway!" She smiled happily.

    Ash rubbed the back of his neck and grinned back at her. "Good luck, if you're entering. League conferences are super tough."

    "Thanks!"

    Ash sighed inwardly in relief. Deep down, he knew he had nothing to worry about from Iris' Pokémon. With all the training he'd been doing, she didn't stand a chance. Plus there was a strong chance they might not even battle. The real question was what the rest of the trainers would be like. In Sinnoh, he'd managed to reach the finals. But plenty of times before that he'd failed. Still, this time would be different, he was sure of it. Nothing could stand in his way.

    Drayden cleared his throat. "Ash, excellent battle. You were a worthy opponent, and I believe you can go far during the league tournament. Now if you will excuse me, I must make some preparations." He peered at Ash. "Will you be here this evening? I have a matter I wish to speak with you about."

    Ash cocked his head to the side. "Uh... yeah. I'm gonna be training here so I should be around the Pokémon center."

    "Excellent. Goodbye for now." He turned to gaze intensely at Iris. "And Iris, I trust you will continue to pursue your dream of becoming a Dragon Master?"

    Iris nodded emphatically. "Yeah!"

    "Good. And you are always welcome to come to me for advice." With that, he turned and strode swiftly away.

    Ash turned to his Pokémon. Sceptile came over to stand nearby. He released Serperior and Gabite, who growled in greeting. "We did it guys!" he cheered. "Gabite, you were amazing! You evolved." Serperior made a trilling noise of congratulations, and Krookodile offered a fisted claw. Gabite gave a toothy grin and bumped it before turning to Ash. In a flash, he pounced on his trainer and proceeded to gnaw on his head.

    "Ahhhg! Gabite no!" he wailed. With Gabite's size increase, the force was more than enough to knock Ash flat on his back. Sceptile rolled his eyes, then trotted over and pulled Gabite off. Ash stood up and dusted himself off, chuckling. "Thanks, Sceptile." The grass-type nodded and backed away a few paces. Ash turned to Serperior. "You were awesome too, Serperior! I think we're nearly ready for the league."

    Serperior rumbled happily, then turned to Sceptile. The two stared at each other intensely. Then, Serperior dipped her head. Sceptile mimicked the motion and the two shared a brief, faint smile. Ash, on the other hand, smiled widely. Serperior had finally acknowledged Sceptile's strength. In turn, Sceptile had acknowledged her growth. He was proud of Serperior. She had finally gotten to the point where she didn't feel the need to prove herself. She had her own strength, just as Sceptile had his own.

    "So what will you do now, Ash?" Iris asked curiously.

    Ash frowned thoughtfully and tapped his chin. "Well, I really wanna do some more training with the rest of my Pokémon. Palpitoad, Boldore and Scraggy haven't gotten the chance to train a lot."

    Cilan stepped forward. "Any plans for how you will train them? Those three Pokémon are quite an odd combination."

    Ash nodded. "I have some ideas who could help," he said proudly. He would need to pay a visit to Professor Oak again.

    xXx

    Day 8

    "Everyone, meet your new training partners!" Ash tossed out three pokeballs.

    Currently, Palpitoad, Boldore, and Scraggy were his only Pokémon out. Charizard watched from nearby, along with Pikachu. Otherwise, he was alone, since Cilan was in town and Iris had left early in the morning so take the Pokémon League Admissions Exam.

    Three beams of light flashed, revealing Totodile, Bayleef, and Quilava. Ash grinned, waving at all of them again. A second later, he was tackled by Bayleef, who nuzzled him affectionately. Quilava trotted over and butted him with his head, then Totodile bounced over to jump excitedly around Ash. Ash laughed as he petted his old friends. It was good to see them again. In all his excitement to travel to new places and meet new Pokémon, he realized he often forgot how much he missed his old friends too.

    After a few minutes, he finally managed to squirm out of the grasp of his Pokémon. Charizard walked over, calling a greeting to them. Ash gave them all several minutes to catch up. As he watched his Pokémon play together, he reflected on his time spent with them. He'd given the training of his last three Pokémon some thought, then decided on his three starters from Johto. Partially because he missed them, and partially because they were all awesome Pokémon (technically all his Pokémon were awesome though).

    They were strong but would be good sparring partners for Palpitoad, Boldore, and Scraggy. He was sure Totodile could probably teach Palpitoad some tricks. Bayleef would be good training for Boldore, giving him the chance to train at a disadvantage. And Quilava... well, he'd never gotten a chance to properly spend time with him since he evolved before the Lily of the Valley conference. Plus, he boasted awesome reflexes. Scraggy and he would have tons of fun.

    xXx

    Scraggy and Quilava did not have lots of fun. At first, they got on well enough. Quilava and Scraggy trained together, and Scraggy worked hard on his attacking and reflexes. Totodile and Palpitoad worked well, though he suspected Totodile did more playing with Plapitoad than training. Boldore and Bayleef got along well. Both Pokémon seemed to be of like mind and enjoyed each other's company greatly. The real trouble with Scraggy and Quilava started during a break from their training.

    He'd given each of his Pokémon a dish of special food that Cilan helped him make. He'd even added extra berries on top to help his Pokémon recover quicker. Scraggy had finished his berries first and reached over to take a bite of Quilava's food when he wasn't looking. Unfortunately, he wasn't quite fast enough and got himself a face full of fire for his trouble. The flames torched all of Scraggy's remaining food to dust. The two had immediately started squabbling; Scraggy was furious over his lost food, Quilava was angry Scraggy tried to steal.

    "Guys, stop that!" Ash cried.

    Scraggy leered at Quilava, causing the fire Pokémon to retaliate with a Flamethrower attack. Scraggy shook off the fire and growled. Scraggy hands glowed with reddish-black energy. He lunged at Quilava and struck him hard. Quilava growled in response, ready to attack again. Ash stepped in, snatching up Scraggy. "Come on Scraggy, you gotta stop!"

    Quilava backed off, still scowling. Pikachu trotted up beside him, nuzzling him and trying to calm him.

    Scraggy began to squirm less, so Ash sat down, though he still held him. "Scraggy, you can't just take another Pokémon's food."

    After a few seconds, Scraggy fell still. Ash set him down and looked him in the eye. "Scraggy, you gotta apologize to Quilava, ok? He's your friend." Scraggy grunted, then nodded in understanding. He turned around and trotted over to Quilava, clutching his loose, scaly skin as he toddled over to Quilava.

    The two Pokémon began to exchange grunts and cries. Finally, Quilava grinned and nodded. He stood up on his hindlegs and extended a paw to Scraggy, who shook it.

    Ash let out a breath of relief. Good. His Pokémon were learning. And best of all, it looked like Scraggy had learned a new move! A quick check with his Pokédex revealed that the new move was something called 'Assurance'. Apparently it could deal extra damage if Scraggy had just been hit with a move. Something like that would definitely come in handy. "You learned Assurance, Scraggy?"

    Scraggy nodded.

    Ash patted his head. "Good job." He chuckled to himself. The circumstances had been odd, but he could never be upset about learning a new move. "But next time, don't steal food, kay?"

    Scraggy grinned and nodded.

    Satisfied, Ash stood up. "Who's ready to start training again?"

    His Pokémon replied with a cacophony of excited cries.

    xXx

    Ash spent the rest of the afternoon training. By the time he turned in for the evening, both he and his Pokémon were tired, but satisfied. It hadn't been much, but he was sure all his Pokémon had made improvements. Palpitoad had improved his agility a bit. Boldore's defenses had gotten better, and Scraggy had boosted his power. Needless to say, he was pleased. Now all his attention was focused on whatever Drayden had wanted to talk to him about.

    He found the gym leader waiting for him in the lobby of the Pokémon Center. He approached the man, a hint of nervousness fluttering in his stomach.

    "Hello Ash," Drayden said. "I'm glad you're here."

    "Yeah, of course!" Ash replied. "What did you want to tell me?"

    "It's simple. During our battle I made some observations about your team, particularly your Serperior. Tell me, how long have you been travelling?"

    "A while. I've travelled through Kanto, Johto, Hoenn and Sinnoh regions."

    Drayden nodded. "I thought as much. It is clear you are an experienced trainer. So I have some recommendations for you."

    Ash leaned forward slightly. Any advice from an experienced gym leader like Drayden was sure to be valuable.

    "You must consider teaching your Pokémon more diverse moves."

    "More... diverse moves?" Ash asked, perplexed.

    "Yes," Drayden said. "For example. Your Serperior knows mostly grass-type moves to attack. But what if she has to fight a fire type? You should consider seeing if your Pokémon can learn moves of other types to help during battle."

    Ash had never given much thought to purposely teaching a Pokémon a move. Not since... well maybe not since helping Turtwing learn Energy Ball, back in Sinnoh. Mostly he'd been happy letting his Pokémon develop at their own pace. Maybe it was time to really teach them some moves. "Where do I start?"

    xXx

    Day 9

    The next morning, Ash left the Pokémon Center, deep in thought. Drayden's lecture last night had been educational, to say the least. He had explained how Pokémon could learn moves during battle, from other Pokémon, or through rigorous training. With that in mind, Ash had decided to do some special move training. And he had decided to start with Boldore. Drayden had told him that the rock type could learn Solar Beam. So he'd asked Cilan to have Pansage show Boldore the move.

    Pikachu's ears twitched and he gave a questioning squeak. Just then, two trainers approached him. Both wore friendly smiles. One appeared to be a man with spiky blue hair, glasses and wore a leather jacket. The other, a woman, had long flowing reddish-pink hair that fell in waves down her back and wore a pair of long robes that reached the ground. She also wore an odd hat, perched low over her head. A Kadabra stood between the two of them, though it looked a little small.

    "Hey there trainer," the man said. His voice seemed oddly high pitched and forced, like he was trying hard to sound cool. "The name is Jame-" his eyes widened and he stuttered. "Jambo!" he chuckled awkwardly and rubbed his hands together.

    "Hey?" Ash said, a little confused.

    The woman spoke up. "My name is Jesselle." She spoke as if she was drawing out each word in an attempt to sound more mysterious. She folded her hands in front of her. "We came to ask for your assistance."

    "My assistance?" Ash asked, still puzzled. "What do you need my help for?"

    Jesselle gestured to the Kadabra that stood between them. "This here is our dear sweet Kadabra. It dreams of one day becoming an Alakazam. But to evolve, a Kadabra has to be traded."

    Jambo tagged onto her sentence. "So we need to find a good, trustworthy trainer to trade with."

    "I'm trustworthy!" Ash said with a grin. Pikachu squeaked in agreement. He was always ready to help a fellow trainer. "You can trade Kadabra to me and I'll trade him right back!"

    A toothy smirk stretched across Jesselle's face. "Perfect! Just trade over that Pikachu of yours and-"

    Ash immediately shook his head. "Nah, I'll never trade Pikachu. He'd hate it! But I have my Boldore."

    Jesselle frowned. "Oh, we don't want to trouble you, you can just use Pikachu instead, really," she protested.

    "Nah, it's no trouble!" Ash said happily.

    Both trainers frowned and glanced at each other. "One moment please!" Jesselle said in an overly chipper voice. She grabbed Jambo and dragged him a few feet away. The two began to whisper urgently to each other.

    What was going on? Ash wondered. "Everything ok?" he asked.

    They scampered back over to him, grinning widely. "Oh yes!" they said in unison. Jambo continued. "It would be... super cool if you traded with us. To help us evolve Kadabra here."

    Ash couldn't fathom why they were acting so strangely. Then again, lots of trainers had odd personalities. He didn't want to judge them. "We can go back to the Pokémon Center right now and trade."

    "Nonsense!" Jambo said in a hurry. "No need to walk all the way back there. We have our own special trading machine set up nearby."

    Ash frowned and glanced behind him. He could still see the Pokémon Center. It was like... a thirty-second walk away.

    As if sensing his thoughts, Jesselle spoke up. "We're uh... very particular, you see. Kadabra here only likes to use our machines. Isn't that right Kadabra?" she glanced down at it and nudged it sharply with her foot. Kadabra's eyes widened and it nodded its head quickly.

    "Alright..." Ash said. He supposed it didn't really matter. As long as he helped the trainers evolve their Pokémon he was happy. He'd never witnessed a Kadabra evolve into an Alakazam before. It would be fun. "Let's go then!" he said excitedly.

    A few minutes later, he stood with Jesselle and Jambo in front of a large contraption. It was set in a small clearing of the forest not far from where he'd met them. Pikachu hopped off his shoulder and began to sniff the machine curiously. It looked like a large box with two tubes on either side. The tubes connected to two large dome-shaped containers. The Kadabra sat inside one of the domes.

    "Alright just place your Boldore's Pokéball right here." Jambo gestured to the other dome. "Then I'll flip this switch here-" he gestured to a large switch on the main box, "-and Presto! One Alakazam!"

    "Sounds awesome!" Ash said. He took out Boldore's Pokéball, then paused before he set it inside the dome. "One Alakazam evolves, I'll just send him back, right? And you'll send me Boldore?"

    Jesselle nodded her head emphatically. "Yes yes, now go ahead and put the Pokéball inside. You wouldn't want to keep poor Kadabra waiting, would you?"

    Kadabra made a huge frown.

    "Of course not!" Ash said. He placed the Pokéball inside.

    Jambo smiled and flipped the switch. The two domes began to glow brightly, so much that Ash couldn't see the Pokémon inside. Then it began to shake and rumble. After several seconds, the light faded and the machine stopped shaking. The Kadabra now sat in the dome closest to him, while Boldore's Pokéball rested in the opposite one.

    Suddenly, smoke began to pour from the machine. The smoke filled the whole clearing, making it impossible to see anything. Ash coughed and gagged. "What's going on?!" he cried.

    The smoke cleared after a short time. Kadabra remained, but Boldore's Pokéball was gone. And several yards in the air, a very familiar balloon hovered. A balloon shaped like a giant meowth. Inside the balloon stood none other than Jesselle and Jambo. A second later they tore off their disguises, revealing Jessie and James.

    "Team Rocket!" Ash yelled angrily, disgust rising inside him. In a cage beneath the balloon, Ash could see Boldore, banging away at the bars, to no avail.

    Team Rocket began to spout their motto, but Ash ignored them.

    "Pikachu, use Thunderbolt!" Pikachu sprang off his shoulder into the air. Suddenly, Kadabra moved. It tore off its disguise, revealing Meowth holding a net launcher. Before Pikachu could launch his attack, he fired it, wrapping Pikachu in a net.

    "Pikachu!" Ash cried out. He lunged for Pikachu, but both he and the net were yanked upwards.

    He looked up in shock to see a cord attached to the balloon. He watched helplessly as Mewoth rode on the net, pulled up by Jessie and James.

    "Give my Pokémon back!" he shouted furiously. Boldore smashed against the bars of its cage again, and Pikachu tried to shock the net. Both attacks failed utterly.

    "Ya think ya can break thru these? You're wrong!" Meowth said menacingly. "These are our new ultra-powerful unbreakable super capture devices! You're never gonna get out."

    Boldore growled in frustration and smashed himself against the cage.

    "Boldore!" Ash yelled. Suddenly, Boldore's body began to glow vividly. He became a shining silhouette. Then he began to grow. His body doubled in size, forcing the bars of the cage to bend.

    Team Rocket's eyes all went wide with terror. "That cage is unbreakable, right?" Jessie asked.

    Meowth nodded. "Uh huh."

    James took a step back. "Then... how come it's breaking!?" he screamed.

    With a roar, Boldore shattered the cage. He fell down to the earth, but easily caught himself, landing on his new legs.

    Ash gaped at his friend. "Boldore, you evolved!" A quick check of his Pokédex revealed that his new form was called Gigalith. "Awesome!" he said.

    Jessie and James' faces turned white. "Uh oh. I think that's our cue to leave!" they said in unison.

    "Mewoth, thats right!" Meowth began pouring extra fuel into the balloon's fire. It started to raise higher into the air.

    "Oh no you don't!" Ash said. Pikachu was still trapped on the balloon.

    "Gigalith, use Flash Cannon!" Gigalith made a loud grating roar. He turned and faced the balloon. A silver beam of energy shot outwards and pierced the balloon, sending it spiraling down. Pikachu, still trapped in the net, plummeted from the balloon.

    "Pikachu!" Ash wailed. He sprinted towards the falling Pokémon, and jumped up, catching him at the last moment. He landed and sighed in relief before freeing him from the net. Then he focused on Team Rocket, whose balloon was rapidly sinking.

    "I'm not letting you steal any more Pokémon! Pikachu, Thunderbolt! Gigalith, Stone Edge!"

    Pikachu charged up and Gigalith summoned a flurry of razor sharp stones. The two Pokémon launched their attacks. Electricity streamed through the air and fused with the stones. The combined attack slammed into Team Rocket, creating a giant explosion. Team Rocket shot into the air and sailed through the sky, growing smaller and smaller as they moved further away.

    Suddenly, a bolt of orange shot through the sky.

    "Charizard?" Ash said. He watched with surprise as Charizard shot through the air towards the rapidly disappearing Team Rocket. He caught up to them easily, grabbed all three in his massive claws, and used Seismic Toss.

    Team Rocket was slammed back towards the earth at absolutely insane speeds. They crashed into the ground hard enough to create a huge crater and send up a giant cloud of dust. Rather conveniently, they happened to land right next to Officer Jenny. Who wasted no time arresting them, and hauling them off to a very secure jail. Of course, they probably couldn't have escaped if they wanted to, considering they were very injured by Charizard's attack. Nurse Joy said it would be a couple weeks before they could move again. Which was no more than they deserved.

    Charizard returned to Ash and landed next to him. He grinned proudly and huffed a burst of flames.

    "That was amazing Charizard!" he said. Gigalith rumbled happily. Pikachu squealed happily from his spot perched on Gigalith. "You guys were all incredible!" His Pokémon cheered happily. It had been a weird day so far, but Ash couldn't be prouder. "Now, let's get back to training! We've still got lots of work to do."

    xXx

    Day 19 - evening

    "I passed the exam!" Iris shouted, sprinting through the doors of the Pokémon Center.

    Ash and Cilan both looked up from their meal. Ash grinned at Iris and waved. "That's great news!" he said as Iris skipped up to them and plopped down at the table. Fraxure scampered after her and flopped on the ground next to her chair. Iris proudly held up a small, red octagonal badge with a 'P' symbol etched on the front. "I'm registered for the league and everything!" She squealed happily. "It was really hard. And the questions were super weird! The first time I took the test, I failed."

    Ash chuckled. "Did you have to name Pokémon based on a silhouette?"

    Iris nodded. "Yeah, there was this one really weird one that looked like a circle. I thought it was an Electrode. Turns out it was just a Foongus from above."

    "I remember that!" Ash said. "When I took the test, they had the same question. Except when I took it, they said it was a Jigglypuff from above."

    Iris and Ash broke into laughter. "I never knew you took that test," she said.

    Ash rubbed the back of his neck. "Yeah. It was a really long time ago. But I decided it was more fun to travel and earn badges my way."

    "Yeah," Iris said, a note of sadness in her voice. "Now I really wish I'd battled the gym leaders! It was lots more fun traveling than doing a test." She stuck out her tongue and crossed her arms.

    'Maybe you still could," Ash offered. "After the league I mean. Start your journey over proper. It's tons of fun! You meet all kinds of Pokémon and gym battles are even better in person! You could even travel to a new region!"

    Iris nodded along with his words, a twinkle of excitement growing in her eyes. "You're right, Ash!" There were two words Ash never thought he'd hear Iris say. She continued, her voice increasing in pitch. "After the league, I'm gonna travel my own way from now on! I'll battle in gyms and get stronger. The experience will be great for Deino and everyone else!" Fraxure chirped in agreement.

    "Awesome!" Ash said happily. He was glad to see that Iris was finally finding her drive. Traveling and earning badges was the only way to do it, in his personal opinion. Books and tests were just... boring. You had to experience things for yourself.

    "So are you ready for the league?" Iris asked.

    Ash nodded. "Yeah! All my Pokémon have been working real hard," he replied. He absentmindedly scratched Pikachu behind the ears. The little electric rodent lay splayed out on the table, tummy bulging and eyes half closed.

    The last ten days had been very, very long. He'd mostly worked on teaching his Pokémon new moves. Cilan had helped, and Ash had also had plenty of his old Pokémon help too. Progress had been so slow and boring. Apparently, teaching Pokémon movies was a much lengthier process than them learning it on the fly. Most of his time had been spent on drills, practicing the moves over and over again, and spending late nights with his Pokémon. And worst of all, research.

    He'd hated it. Spending time with his Pokémon was fun, but he wasn't a fan of pouring over the books Cilan and Drayden had given him, not to mention long lectures from Professor Oak about the scientific intricacies of teaching Pokémon new moves. His mind felt absolutely burned out.

    But he supposed it had been worth it, in the end. His Pokémon had learned a lot of new moves that would help for the league conference. Serperior had even learned Aqua Tail, which he wasn't even aware was possible.

    "What about you Iris?" he asked. "Did you have time to train?"

    Iris grinned. "It was hard, but I did manage to train in between studying. I think I'm ready."

    Ash just nodded and gazed at Pikachu, who had fallen asleep. Nearby, Charizard lounged against one of the chairs, relaxing. To think, this had all started a few weeks ago because of Charizard's return. Now the Vertress Conference was two days away. And he had never felt more ready.

    So I apologize if the chapter felt a little rushed, but I had gotten to the point where I felt like Ash had accomplished all the training necessary. And I don't know about you, but I wasn't interested in writing 'And then Ash tried teach Serperior Aqua Tail. And he had her use the attack . And again. And again.' At this point the main thing to do was just tweaking his Pokémon's movesets. And honestly with the amount of move tweaking I was planning it would definitely have become monotonous. So yeah. Timeskip.

    I hope everyone enjoyed the journey so far. I really wanted to go for a realistic, believable approach to Ash's training and growth. And Iris. As you can see, even though she took that exam, she's still got a long way to go. Thanks to Ash, she's been inspired to begin a journey of her own.



    This is just a fun filler before the league, purely to be a parody.

    Day 20

    Ash lay in bed, wide awake. Despite his best efforts, he couldn't sleep. The opening Ceremony for the Vertress Conference was tomorrow. Tomorrow, the beginning of hopes and dreams would be realized. What if all his training wasn't enough? Maybe he was just destined to lose. Was there some kind of malevolent god of the world that didn't want him to win? Maybe that was why at the Lily of the Valley tournament-

    Pikachu squeaked in concerned and nuzzled his cheek. Ash rolled over and smiled at him. "Hey Pikachu," he whispered. Pikachu stared into his eyes and squeaked again.

    "I bet you think I should stop worrying, huh?"

    Pikachu nodded.

    "You're right," Ash said, moving to lie on his back. "I've been training super hard. There's no way I'm not gonna win this. No way."

    xXx

    Ash walked towards the stadium. The conference was starting yet for a while but he figured he might as well get there early. Iris and Cilan followed him, and they walked in silence. Ahead, a boy walked, followed by a strange little yellow dinosaur Pokémon. He wore a weird red visor-like cap with spikes on it and a red sleeveless hoodie. He also wore a set of yellow jogger pants and had red fingerless gloves.

    "Hey there!" the boy called. "That's a really weird dinosaur you got there," he said, gesturing to Pikachu.

    Ash blinked. His voice sounded so... weird. Yet familiar. "Uh... its not a dinosaur... its a Pikachu."

    Pikachu waved at the boy. Ash stared at the Pokémon that stood by the boy's side. It stood on four legs and had a crest on its head with three horns. What kind of Pokémon was that?

    Iris and Cilan however, stared. "I've never seen a Pokémon like that before!" Cilan exclaimed.

    "It's so cute though!" Iris gushed. "Is it a dragon?"

    "This is Chomp!" The boy said. "He's my best friend."

    "Cool," Ash said, grinning. The boy's voice was still super weirdly familiar, in a deja vu kind of way. "This is Pikachu! He's my best buddy."

    "Awesome! My name is Max by the way."

    "Ash Ketchum," Ash said.

    Suddenly, a loud roar split the air. They both looked towards the noise and saw...

    A gigantic bipedal reptilian Pokémon stood, its head higher than the trees surrounding it. Ash's jaw practically hit the floor. It was huge! And it looked... really, really, weird. Maybe like a Rampardos, except lots bigger. And its scales seemed so... defined. And realistic?

    "Awesome!" Max shouted. "Another dinosaur."

    Ash frowned. What was Max talking about? And what did he mean by dinosaur? Wasn't it a Pokémon?

    Iris and Cilan both stared at it in shock. "AHHH What is that?" Cilan shouted.

    "Get that dinosaur!" A voice shouted. Ash froze. He knew that voice. It was Jesse, from Team Rocket. A strange flying contraption came into view, helmed by a woman with... green hair? That wasn't right. Jesse had pink hair. And her face looked different. A lanky man and a rather pudgy man flew on the machine with her. "Don't let it get away!" she screeched. Despite the visual difference, there was no mistaking that voice.

    "Come on!" Max shouted. "We gotta get to that dinosaur!" he raced towards the beast.

    Still confused, Ash ran after him. Max stopped a short distance from the giant Pokémon.

    Ash could only stare. How did anyone even fight something that big? Max held up a strange device on his arm and whipped out a trading card. What the heck?

    Then he swiped the card. Chomp began to glow brightly. Then he doubled, then tripled, growing in size until he was nearly the size of the first Pokémon. "Now Chomp, attack!" Max shouted.

    Ash could only watch, frozen as Max began to fight the giant Pokémon by... swiping a trading card? Max didn't call any attacks, instead, the two Pokémon just brawled each other. And then all of a sudden it was over. The Pokémon was defeated and turned back into a trading card. And so was Chomp. A thousand thoughts reeled through Ash's head. Why did the boy's voice sound like deja vu? Why did that woman sound like Jesse from Team Rocket? And why was using Pokémon so complicated? A trading card, attacks with cards, a device on your arm? And the device was powered by some kind of stone?

    "Everything ok?" Max asked. Ash was jerked from his thoughts to see Max standing in front of him, holding Chomp. "You don't look so good."

    "What kind of Pokémon were those?" Ash shouted. "And what's that thing on your arm? And how did it grow so big!?"

    Max quirked his head to the side. "Huh? What's a Pokémon?"

    Ash screamed.

    Blinking, Ash found himself standing on one end of the battlefield in Vertress Stadium. Opposite stood his first league opponent. For a brief second, he was confused. Had he had a weird dream about a kid who looked just like him?

    "In our first match of the Vertress Conference we have Ash from Pallet Town versus Tai!" The crowd roared. Ash refocused his attention. The battle was starting.

    Ash eyed his opponent. 'Tai' didn't seem very impressive. He looked maybe ten, wore a blue shirt and goggles on his head. A strange Pokémon stood next to him. It looked an awful lot like a Charmeleon, but its scales were a yellow color instead of read. Maybe it was shiny?

    Ash took out his first Pokémon. Might as well start off the league with a bang. "Go Charizard!"

    Charizard roared onto the battlefield and spewed fire into the air. Ash winced at the heat.

    "I got this!" a voice shouted. The yellow Charmeleon ran onto the field. It almost sounded like Charmeleon spoke, except that was impossible.

    "It appears the match is starting!" the commentator cried.

    "Pepper Breath!" the voice said. The yellow Charmeleon opened its jaws and spat a fireball.

    Ash panicked. Everything was happening so fast. "Flamethrower!" he shouted. The fireball clashed with the stream of flames, but was quickly overwhelmed. Charizard's flames struck Charmeleon. The yellow Charmeleon yelled in pain.

    "Nobody hurts Agumon like that!" Tai shouted. He ran across the field. The sun glinted off a weird device he held in his hand. "Agumon, Digivolve to Greymon!"

    Suddenly, swirling light shrouded the Charmeleon. Ash's heart raced and panic shook him. Had the boy somehow evolved his Pokémon on command?

    The Charmeleon grew until it was easily triple Charizard's height. Its form had changed, becoming more bipedal, until it vaguely resembled that of a Rampardos, though with much larger arms and more balanced proportions, plus a powerful tail. A brown skull-like crest covered its head and spikes protruded from it.

    "Charizard attack!" Ash shouted in a panic. Charizard leaped at the beast. Before Ash could think of another command, something slammed him to the ground. He yelled in surprise as he hit the dirt. When he looked up, he was staring into the enraged eyes of Tai.

    "Don't touch my friend!" Tai yelled.

    Before he could react, Ash was assaulted by a series of blows from Tai. He tried to shove the boy off him, but despite Tai's smaller size, he was fierce.

    Next thing Ash knew, he was laying on the sidelines, Charizard splayed out next to him, unconscious and beaten.

    Tai stood in the middle of the field, next to the thing he'd called 'Greymon'. The judges were handing him the trophy. He heard the announcer's voice over the speakers. "Tai and his incredible Charmeleon have won the Vertress Conference! Give them a round of applause!"

    Ash sat up and stared. Tears gathered in his eyes. This was it? He'd lost again? Did this mean there really was some malicious cosmic force out there destined to make him lose? Just like when he could have won in Sinnoh region and then some freak trainer showed up with TWO legendaries and swept his whole team? Was that even legal? And why did this force seem so determined for him to lose? What were they afraid of? And more importantly, could he ever win-

    Ash gasped and sat up. His heart pounded in his chest. He looked around, wide eyed. He was still in his room at the Pokémon Center. A quick peek at the clock told him it was early in the morning, the day of the Vertress Conference. He frowned. What had woken him? He'd had a dream of some kind. A really weird one, he was sure, but he could only remember snatches of it. A boy who sounded just like him. Being pursued by a squad of three criminals led by a woman who sounded like Jesse. And something about a combative boy and a shiny Charmeleon.

    Pikachu nudged his hand and Ash looked down. The little yellow mouse's eyes were filled with concern. He smiled. "Don't worry Pikachu. Just a weird dream." He laid back down, still smiling, stroking Pikachu with one hand. There was only one dream he was focused on right now. And that was winning.

    I hope everyone enjoyed this bit of wacky fun. This was just something I wrote on whim to have fun. If you know the Dinosaur King series from a long time ago, you may know that the main character, Max, was voice acted by the same person who used to do Ash. Veronica Taylor. The show also featured a female villain named Ursula who was basically Jesse. Same voice actor too. I recently watched a few episodes of it and thought that was funny. The kid even had a plucky yellow companion. The show was clearly trying to capitalize on Pokémon's success.

    Naturally, as long as I was having some fun, I figured I'd slip in some Digimon stuff as well. I imagine seeing Digimon would really shock Pokémon trainers, since the vibe of each show is completely different. Plus the kids tend to fight alongside their digimon more.

    And then of course it led Ash to have a mini existential crisis questioning if it's even possible for him to win lol.

     
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  2. Flyg0n

    Mojave
    (Trapinch)
    Level 26
    Joined:
    May 2, 2016
    Posts:
    135
    PokéPoints:
    ₽161.8
    Since there's no comments yet, I'll post 'Arc 2' here.

    Welcome to the start of the Unova League (for real this time lol). Enjoy!

    Vertress Conference - Opening Ceremony

    Ash stood in the middle of the main stadium. 127 other trainers milled about the battlefield, waiting for the Ceremony to begin. Iris stood on the field with him. Her eyes were wide and she kept glancing around nervously.

    "You okay, Iris?" he asked.

    She nodded solemnly. Fraxure clung to her leg and glanced anxiously about. "It's so many people..." she said.

    "Yeah, but you've been in lots of other tournaments," Ash pointed out.

    She nodded, though her expression still remained uncertain.

    He turned to face her fully. "Hey, don't worry about it! Whenever I get really nervous, I just focus on my Pokémon. As long as we're together, we can do anything!"

    Iris grinned and relaxed slightly. "You're right. We're ready for this, Fraxure!" she turned and smiled at Fraxure, who separated himself from her leg and grinned at her. He pumped his claw and nodded in agreement.

    Satisfied, Ash took a look around. He spotted a lot of his friends he'd met on the way. Stephan, Bianca and Cameron. He also spotted Trip, but he steered clear of him for the time being. Then he saw another familiar face with an Eevee perched on his shoulder.

    "Hey Virgil!" he shouted. Virgil glanced towards him, then smiled and waved. Ash waved back as he jogged towards the other trainer. "How are you doing?"

    "Hello Ash!" Virgil said. Eevee chirped a greeting from his shoulder. To which Pikachu replied with a happy squeak and wave. "So are you ready for the League?"

    Ash grinned and nodded. "Sure am! Pikachu and everyone else have been working really hard!"

    "That's great! I hope we get the chance to battle."

    Before Ash could anything else, the sound of a helicopter filled the stadium. He looked up and saw a helicopter hovering high above the stadium. Suddenly, the door slid open and a man leaped out. The crowd gasped and Ash watched in shock as the man plummeted down. Then a parachute erupted from a backpack he wore. The man glided to the announcers seat, releasing the parachute at the last moment to land in front of the announcer's booth. He seized a microphone and spun around with a dramatic gesture.

    "Greetings! Freddy the Scoop is here and ready to roll! And so, it's my great honor to welcome you all to the Unova League!" The crowd broke into excited whoops and cheers.

    Ash cheered with them, the excitement contagious.

    Freddie spoke again. "Now if everyone will please turn your attention to the Flame Cauldron, Vertress City's very own officer Jenny will light the Unova League flame!"

    Ash turned to gaze up at the giant torch at one end of the stadium. He could just make out Officer Jenny, holding a large torch. She touched the torch to the cauldron. A huge, shimmering flame blazed forth.

    No matter how many times Ash saw it, the sight still filled him with awe. It reminded him of a Moltres's fire.

    Freddie's voice filled the stadium. "Alright, before our main battles, we will hold our qualifying rounds! Only those trainers who win will advance to the main events! Each trainer is allowed one Pokémon in our preliminaries."

    Ash frowned in concentration. So the first round would be one on one. He'd expected that, since Cilan explained the basics to him. Freddie continued. "Up on the big screen, out qualifying matchups!"

    Ash focused on the screen, wondering who he would get. The faces on the screen shuffled, and a hush fell over the crowd as everyone waited to see the matchups. They finished shuffling and Ash breezed over them, searching out his face. A moment later he found it. His first opponent would be...

    Bianca. He blinked a few times, staring in surprise.

    "Oh wow! I'm facing someone named Mikael," Iris said. "And wow, you're facing Bianca right off the bat!" she added.

    Ash nodded. "That'll be a fun battle!"

    "Sure will!" A voice piped up.

    Ash spun around to see Bianca. She smiled and waved to him. "Looks like all I gotta do is beat you!" she said cheerfully.

    "Oh yeah? Well I'm not going easy on you!" Ash replied, smiling back at her. He felt utterly confident in his ability to win. Bianca was no pushover, but he was absolutely confident in his Pokémon.

    Bianca laughed. "I can't wait!" she squealed.

    Ash grinned and faced Pikachu, who perched on his shoulder. "We gotta win this, buddy. That way we can move on to the main event." He pumped his fist. No way was he going to lose.

    xXx

    The first rounds passed quickly. Ash saw Cameron win his first match by using Ferrothorn. Stephan and his Zebstrika defeated a trainer named Radley, and Trip beat his opponent in a rather impressive display of agility with Serperior. Mostly though, he was distracted by his Pokémon and training, only catching bits and pieces of the matches. The only match he really watched was Iris. She had a tough fight against a trainer named Mikael and his Watchog. It proved to be a challenge for her Excadrill, but the two managed to come out on top in the end. He also noted Virgil won his battle with absolutely no trouble. Which just left his match.

    "Now on the red field, the fourth battle of the qualifying round, Ash versus Bianca!"

    The crowd cheered. Ash smiled at Bianca, who smiled back. "Let's make this a great battle, Bianca!"

    "Yeah, let's!" Bianca.

    Meanwhile...

    In the stands, Iris sat beside Cilan watching the match. "Oh man..." she murmured. "I wonder which Pokémon they're going to use?"

    "I'm sure Ash has something planned," Cilan said confidently.

    Stephan, who sat a row behind them, spoke. "Who are you guys rooting for?"

    "Well I can't really decide," Cilan said, shrugging. "They're both our friends-"

    Iris interrupted him. "Ash, obviously! Bianca's such a kid! Plus she keeps knocking Ash into the water whenever we see her. She's kinda mean if you ask me."

    On the battlefield...

    "You ready Ash?" Bianca shouted. She took out a Pokéball, determination glinting in her eyes.

    "Oh yeah!" Ash replied, selecting his own Pokéball. Ever since he'd seen it was Bianca he'd be battling, he knew exactly who his first choice would be. Technically, he'd made his choice even before he saw his opponent, but knowing it was Bianca only cemented his decision.

    The referee raised his hand. "Battle, begin!" he shouted.

    "Go Emboar!" Bianca shouted, tossing out her Pokéball.

    Ash couldn't help but smile. The matchup couldn't be more perfect. He tossed forth his own Pokéball. "Go Palpitoad!" The blue frog erupted onto the battlefield and rumbled happily.

    He began to sway and hope from one foot to the other, in an odd dancing like motion. Ash chuckled. He'd definitely picked that up from Totodile.

    From the stands

    "Wow! Ash is starting with Palpitoad," Iris said. "I thought for sure he'd start with Pikachu."

    "Obviously Ash has finally learned how to make the most of his advantages," Cilan said proudly.

    Iris shook her head. "I don't think that's it, actually. I bet he picked Palpitoad way before the match started because he knows Palpitoad has a lot of different moves and can handle a variety of Pokémon."

    Cilan nodded. "You have a point. Ash couldn't have known for sure that Bianca would choose Emboar."

    Battlefield...

    "OOo what a cutie!" Bianca squealed. She shook her head and patted her cheeks. "Focus!" she snapped to herself. "Emboar, Flamethrower!" Emboar reared back and spat a torrent of fire towards Palpitoad.

    "Palpitoad, use Scald!" Palpitoad opened his mouth and shot a stream of steaming water at Emboar. The two attacks clashed and erupted into steam.

    "Okay Emboar, use Attract!" Emboar winked, sending waves of floating pink hearts towards Palpitoad.

    For a brief second, Ash hesitated. Was Bianca's Emboar a female? Then he remembered. It wasn't. Which meant... "Palpitoad, run forwards and use Supersonic!"

    Palpitoad sprinted into the hearts breaking them harmlessly as he collided with them. Once he was just a few feet in front of the shocked Emboar, he opened his mouth and let out a loud cry. The sound waves washed over Emboar, making the large Pokémon grunt and stagger.

    "Oh no!" Bianca wailed. "Emboar are you ok?"

    Emboar grunted and shook its head as it staggered around the field woozily. Ash grinned. His plan had worked. "Now Palpitoad, use Scald one more time!"

    Palpitoad proceeded to douse Emboar in another blast of hot water. Emboar squealed and shook off the attack.

    "Don't give up Emboar! Arm Thrust!" she shouted. Fighting past the confusion, Emboar lashed out, slamming Palpitoad in the chest with his fist and sending him flying. Palpitoad wailed as it was launched across the field. At the last second, he spun and managed to catch himself and land on his feet. Ash silently thanked Totodile for helping Palpitoad with his dexterity.

    "Palpitoad, Earth Power!" he shouted. It was another of the many techniques he'd worked on during his research. The new technique was significantly stronger than Mud Shot. A golden glow surrounded Palpitoad and a crack rippled across the battlefield.

    "Emboar no! Get out of the way!" Bianca called. Emboar tried to shuffle out of the way but ended up stumbling in a circle. A cone of ground-type energy erupted from under Emboar, unbalancing the fire-type and sending it to the ground.

    "Yeah! Awesome Palpitoad!" Ash called. Palpitoad croaked happily and bounced on his toes.

    "No!" Bianca shrieked. "Come on Emboar, you can do this!" Emboar shoved himself to his feet and shook his head. "Okay, now use Hammer Arm!" Emboar squealed and stormed across the field towards Palpitoad.

    "Palpitoad, use Sludge Wave!" With a flick of his long tongue, Palpitoad summoned a stream of noxious sludge that shot towards Emboar. Emboar slammed straight through it, arm glowing white. Palpitoad stared wide-eyed as Emboar pressed through then swung his arm down at Palpitoad.

    "Dodge!" Ash cried. At the last second, Palpitoad danced out of the way, only getting glanced by the attack. Emboar's fist slammed into the ground and sent up a shower of debris.

    "Arm Thrust!" Bianca yelled. Emboar turned and hurled his fist at Palpitoad.

    "Scald!" Ash said. Palpitoad blasted water at Emboar, stopping his fist midair.

    Bianca stamped her foot. "Power through Emboar!" Emboar squealed in rage and pressed harder, forcing his fist through the water and managing to strike Palpitoad, sending it skidding across the ground.

    Emboar panted heavily, glaring fiercely at Palpitoad. Palpitoad glared back with equal determination, his chest heaving. Ash frowned. Emboar was strong. And tough. Despite how many hits it had taken, it was still going. Even with his type advantage.

    "My Emboar's really tough, isn't he?" Bianca called.

    Ash nodded. "Sure is! But that won't stop us, right Palpitoad?" Palpitoad looked back at him and nodded. Suddenly, his body began to shine brightly. His whole body glowed with blue light. His body grew, sprouting arms and legs and growing in size. Ash watched in awe as the evolution took place. Finally, the light faded, leaving behind his evolved form, Seismitoad. Ash grinned. "Seismatoad, you evolved!" Seismatoad croaked loudly, then glared at Emboar.

    "Oh wow, that's so cool!" Bianca squealed.

    "Thanks," Ash said. "Seismitoad, use Sludge Wave!" Seimitoad fired a huge stream of purple sludge at Emboar. The goo washed over the fire pig, eliciting a squeal. It staggered from the blow, though still remained standing, shaking off droplets of sludge. Purple sparks danced across its body and it stumbled briefly before righting itself.

    "Alright Emboar, let's finish this quick! Hammer Arm!" Once again Emboar charged across the field, arm raised and glowing white.

    "Scald!" Ash shouted. Seismitoad took a huge breath, opened its jaws and blasted water at Emboar. The force of the move didn't just stop the Emboar in its tracks. It launched it across the field, into the opposite wall and caused an explosion of water so large it completely drenched Bianca.

    The referee raised his hands. "Emboar is unable to battle. Ash is the winner!"

    Across the field, Bianca picked herself up off the field. Her clothes were soaked through and damp strands of hair clung to her face." She looked down at herself and frowned. "I hate being wet!" she cried.

    Ash burst into laughter. He didn't consider himself a vengeful person at all. But there was a certain sense of irony in Bianca finally being the one who got soaked for once. A miserable look overtook her face. She stared at the ground, refusing to meet Ash's eyes. Without a word, she returned Emboar and left the field.

    Still smiling, Ash returned Seismitoad and walked off the field, exiting through the tunnel behind him. Iris, Cilan and Stephan were waiting for him at the end. Iris ran up to him. "That was so cool Ash! Your Seismitoad evolved!"

    Cilan stepped up. "Truly a tasty experience," he added.

    "Yeah Ash, that was a totally awesome battle," Stephan agreed.

    "Thanks guys," Ash said, chuckling. "It was a really fun battle! I knew Palpitoad could win, but I didn't expect him to evolve. I'm super proud of him."

    "That training was really worth it," Iris said. "And it was kinda funny seeing her get soaked. Now I'm super excited for my next battle. I can't believe we all made it past the qualifiers." A frown flickered on her face. "I hope Bianca isn't too upset though."

    Ash nodded. He didn't have any regrets about his battle, but he supposed it couldn't hurt to check on her. Though he still maintained that she rather deserved what happened. "We could try to find her," he suggested finally.

    "Good idea!" Iris said. "Let's go!" she turned and sprinted out of the tunnel. Ash grinned and raced after her, leaving Cilan and Stephan shaking their heads.

    xXx

    It took some time, but they finally found Bianca sitting in a quiet spot near the Pokémon Center. She sat by a small fire she had seemingly built for herself, drying her clothes. She wore a spare set of clothes - a green skirt and orange blouse.

    When she looked up and saw Ash, she quickly looked away.

    "Hey Bianca," Iris said cheerfully.

    "Hi Iris," Bianca said. Her voice wavered for a second. Finally looked up at Ash, her eyes watering. "Ash, I'm really sorry for everything! I was so clumsy and didn't pay any attention to what I was doing and every time we met I just kept running into you and knocking you over and getting you soaked and its not right so I'm really really sorry!" She stared intently at the fire.

    Ash glimpsed tears gathering in her eyes. He was always annoyed by her recklessness and he usually got the short end of that stick. But at least now she realized it. Plus, soaking her in the battle, even if it was accidental, had felt good. "Hey, don't worry about it," Ash said finally. "Just try to watch where you're going from now on, 'kay?"

    She nodded. For a few moments, she was silent. "You know, battling with you today made me realize how much work I still have to do. Your Pokémon was super strong! But Emboar is the only Pokémon I have that's strong. So I've decided that after the league is over, I'm gonna keep training. I need to make my whole team as strong as Emboar is! Then I'm gonna come back and win the Unova League!"

    "That's great!" Iris replied.

    "Where are you headed now?" Bianca asked.

    Ash considered for a moment. "I'm going to take Seismitoad to the Pokémon center and make sure he's ok after that battle."

    "Great!" Bianca replied. "Good luck in the rest of the league!"

    "Thanks!" Ash said. He waved, then turned and headed for the Pokémon center.

    He and Iris hadn't been walking for long when a familiar face appeared. "Well if it isn't the wannabe Dragon-master," a voice sneered.

    They both turned around to see Georgia, arms crossed and a smug grin on her face. "What are you doing here? Came to watch me win?"

    Iris growled and stamped her foot. "No way! I entered the Unova League too."

    Georgia's eyes bugged out slightly. "Hah! That's rich. I bet you didn't even pass the preliminaries."

    A confident grin spread over Iris' face and she smiled at Georgia. "For your information, Excadrill and I won the first match."

    "Excadrill?" she made a dismissive wave of her hand. "That's almost as bad as yours Axew."

    Iris put her hands on her hips. "Actually, I have a Fraxure now."

    For the first time, Georgia seemed to notice Fraxure, who stood behind Iris. "Wait, is that thing really that same Axew?"

    Iris growled. "Yes, he is. And we're going to beat you in the league."

    "Hah!" Georgia scoffed. "You mean your Dragonite will. I still don't count that win back at the Junior Cup, by the way."

    "I can beat you without Dragonite!" she shouted. "If we get matched up in the early rounds, I'll prove it to you!"

    "Oh yeah? Well, I'll beat any dragon you have!" Georgia shot back. The two girls clenched their fists, engaging in a terrifying glaring contest.

    Ash grimaced and slowly edged away. Perhaps it would be best to let the two hash that out on their own. With a final nervous glance, he turned and hurried for the Pokémon Center.

    xXx

    After he had turned Seismitoad over to Nurse Joy, he found a spot in the lobby to wait. From what Cilan had told him, there were multiple Pokémon centers set up. This one appeared to be one of the quieter ones. He only saw a couple other trainers milling around. One of them he thought he recognized from one of the Clubsplosion tournaments. He had spiky reddish hair and wore a gray vest. Ash couldn't remember his name, but he wasn't concerned with the competition. He could handle anything.

    "Hey there Nurse Joy! Could you heal up my Sandslash for me?" A familiar voice sounded from the front desk. It was rough, and had a slight twang to it. Ash knew that voice from somewhere...

    He turned in the direction of it. A young man stood at the front desk, no more than a few years older than Ash. He had close-cut black hair in the back, which changed to a spiky mess of green hair at the front. His skin was tanned a couple shades darker than Ash's own, and he wore a black and red shirt with the collar turned up.

    Nurse Joy took a Pokéball from the boy and murmured something to him, then handed it off to Chansey. The boy swaggered towards the waiting area. As he turned, his gaze settled on Ash and their eyes met. "Well if it isn't Ash Ketchum!"

    Then it struck Ash. Now he knew where he remembered him from. A gym, all the way back in Kanto region, run by a confident boy and his Sandshrew. A trainer and his partner who were aiming for the lofty goal of 100 consecutive wins before they set out on their journey. He smiled as he called out to the boy. "Hey AJ!"

    And thats all folks! I hope you enjoyed the two of my first surprises for the league. Georgia is in the league (something I had in mind from as soon as Iris joined), and our surprise competitor, AJ!

    Some of you may remember the kid from episode 8 of the original series. He ran a gym of his own and had a Sandshrew. Ash had a huge spat with him because he thought the boy was mean, but eventually came to learn that everyone has different training styles, and he cares for his Pokémon and his Pokémon love him. Just as much as Ash does. I really liked AJ's character and his Sandshrew. I feel like his unique raining style would make him a fun addition to the league. Plus I really wanted to do some stuff to spice things up

    Now for some battle discussion. Ash vs Bianca. I decided to lead with Bianca because she's strong, but also not like, super strong. She was a decent trainer, but also lets be realistic. She's not that great. I don't even think she has six Pokémon idk. But I also hated Bianca. She was rude, ditzy, and downright mean to Ash, considering how she constantly ran into him and knocked him into water. I DESPISE that gag. She's also a disservice to her game counterpart, who was actually interesting!

    Palpitoad evolved! I always thought the Seismitoad line were all kinda... ugly. So I don't want them in the rest of the league and wanted to get it out of the way so yeah, lol. Plus I have lots of other fun matchups I want to fit in.

    Ash has moved on to the Qualifiers! Next up are the 2v2's! Who will Ash face next? And more importantly, AJ is here to participate! Will Ash have the chance to face him during the league?

    Enjoy!

    Unova League - Day 1 (later afternoon)

    "Yo, how you doing?" AJ said, shaking hands with Ash. Pikachu waved wildly from Ash's shoulder, eyes shining with delight at the return of an old face. "Man, has your Pikachu been working out? It looks super tough and lean!"

    Ash paused at that. He hadn't really thought about it before, but he supposed Pikachu had changed..."Yeah, Pikachu and I have been on a lot of adventures," he replied. "He's gotten really strong!"

    "Nobody's stronger than me and Sandslash," AJ stated, pointing a thumb to his chest. "He's traveled with me to every region."

    "Wow, that's awesome!" Ash said. "So your Sandshrew evolved?"

    "Sure did," AJ replied. "Way back when I was fighting at the Cerulean gym."

    "You used your Sandshrew at a water type gym?" Ash asked, eyes wide.

    AJ smirked. "Course I did! My one and only Sandshrew isn't afraid of a little water."

    "Oh right, I remember now. That's so cool!" His battle against AJ had been so long ago, but talking to AJ brought back plenty of fond memories. Traveling with Misty and Brock, seeing all kinds of sights and meeting all kinds of people. He hadn't gotten along with AJ at all when they first met. But once he saw how much AJ's Pokémon cared about him, he'd learned a valuable lesson. "So are you in the Unova League too?"

    "Sure am," AJ replied. "Me and Sandslash are gonna go all the way!"

    "Awesome! Maybe we'll get to battle." AJ would be a fun opponent for sure. And if they did fight, Ash couldn't wait to see how his Pokémon measured up to AJ's.

    "I could use another win under my belt," AJ said casually.

    Ash scowled. "Hey, what makes you think you're going to win? I've come a long way since our battle."

    "A long way from nothing is still nothing," AJ retorted.

    Ash blinked. "Yeah? We'll see about that!" he spluttered. The sharp retort caught him off guard. He'd forgotten how brisk AJ was.

    "Have you won any leagues yet?" AJ asked.

    Ash chuckled awkwardly and rubbed the back of his neck. "No... I came really close in Sinnoh though! I got all the way to the Semi-finals!" Just thinking about the Sinnoh league put a bitter taste in his mouth.

    "Oh yeah?" AJ, taunted. "Well, I'll have you know that Sandslash and I beat the Indigo League!"

    "What?" Ash cried "You won?"

    "Sure did." He puffed out his chest. "It took us two tries, but we finally did it. After that, I traveled to Johto. I didn't end up winning, but we made it to the top 8."

    "Wow..." Ash murmured. He felt a little jealous, although now that he thought about it, if he traveled back to the other regions he'd been through, he was pretty sure he could win at least one league. "How many Pokémon do you have?"

    "I've got a bunch of wild Pokémon back home, but right now I just got twelve that I use for battle."

    "What kind?" Ash asked eagerly.

    AJ barked out a laugh. "Like I would tell you! You're the competition, remember?"

    "Oh yeah..." Ash said. His cheeks flushed slightly from embarrassment. The twelve Pokémon definitely explained how AJ was so strong. Another twinge of jealousy rose up in Ash, but quickly faded. He had no regrets about his choices. Traveling the world had been fun, and so had meeting tons of new Pokémon. He wouldn't have it any other way.

    "AJ?" Nurse Joy called. AJ glanced towards the counter. "Your Sandslash is all ready! He's in tip top shape. My cousin in Kanto wasn't kidding about how healthy your Pokémon are."

    "Thanks Nurse Joy." AJ started towards the counter. He paused after a few steps and looked back. "Say Ash, you feeling ok?"

    Ash tilted his head. "Yeah, why?"

    "Nothin'. You sound different from last time I saw you, that's all." With that, he walked to the counter and picked up his Pokéball. "I'll see you later, Ash! I got more training to do!"

    Setting aside the comment on how he sounded different, he called back to AJ, "Yeah! See ya!" He grinned madly. The Unova League was definitely shaping up to be the awesomest ever.

    xXx

    Unova League - Day 2 (Qualifiers)

    "Ash, look! They're finally announcing the matchups for the Qualifying rounds!" Iris pointed at the tv in the Pokémon center. Ash and Pikachu's head both shot up and focused on the screen. Freddie's voice sounded throughout the building.

    "Trainers, please check the nearest screen to see the matchups for the first round of Qualifiers. The qualifiers are divided into three portions consisting of Single battles. The first two sets of battles will be two on two matches. The third portion will consist of three on three matchups. Trainers who make it past the Qualifiers will move on to compete at the Finals." Excited murmurs rippled through the crowd. "Now, here are the first round matchups!"

    A series of names and faces appeared on the screens. Ash scanned for his own face, but ended up spotting Iris first. Her matchup was apparently Georgia.

    "Oh wow!" Iris said. "I'm facing Georgia already." A confident grin spread across her face. I can't wait! We'll show her what a budding Dragon Master looks like, right Fraxure?" Fraxure growled and nodded.

    "What about her Ice-types? Aren't you still afraid of them?" Ash asked.

    Iris shot him a dirty look. Ash held up his hands. "Hey I was just asking!" he protested. She continued to glare at him for another second before her gaze softened. "I actually learned something when I was at the exam that I'm going to use! It's my special surprise!"

    Ash cocked his head. "Special surprise? Cool!" he said with a grin. "What is it?"

    Iris rolled her eyes. "I'm not going to tell you. That's why its called a surprise!"

    Rolling his eyes, Ash turned his attention back to the screens and sought out his own face. He found it a moment later, and quirked his eyebrow. That was a face he wasn't expecting. Katharine. The only reason he really remembered her was for her Gothita, who acted more like the trainer than Katharine did. It was weird. That, and the fact she had tried to goad him into trading her his Scraggy. He shuddered at the memory. He kind of wished he'd handled that whole debacle differently. Then again, he'd still beat her easy enough back then.

    "Looks like you're one of the first matches Ash," Iris commented. "Who will you use?"

    "It'd be fun to use Scraggy, I think. He's definitely ready for a real battle." His mind turned back to his first meeting with Katharine. What other Pokémon did she have? He remembered something about a Mandibuzz. "Not sure who else yet," he said finally. "Maybe if I finish my match quickly, I can watch your match against Georgia."

    Iris grinned. "That would be awesome!"

    Ash took out Scraggy's Pokéball and released the little reptile. He knelt in front of it so he could look into Scraggy's eyes. "Hey Scraggy, remember that girl with the Gothita?"

    After a second, Scraggy nodded. "Well, she's our next opponent. What do you say to battling her?" Once again, Scraggy nodded, a determined glint in his eye. Ash patted him. "Awesome! Maybe you'll even be able to battle her Gothita." He had a suspicion that Scraggy would like the opportunity to impress the girl and her demanding Gothita. Scraggy rumbled in agreement. Ash returned him and stood up. This would definitely be an interesting battle.

    xXx

    "Our next battle of the Unova League is Katharine vs Ash!" Freddie's voice carried over the stadium, projected by the speakers.

    Ash stood confidently on his side of the battlefield facing Katharine. He was still surprised to find out that the purple haired trainer had chosen to join the League, but then again, it was practically a rite of passage for any trainer to challenge the league at least once. A Gothorita stood beside Katharine, prim look on its face.

    "Hi Ash! My Gothita evolved, see? After I beat you in this battle, maybe you'll consider trading me that Scraggy?" Katharine called, a smile on her face.

    The only response Ash could muster was rolling his eyes and groaning. Apparently she would never learn. "Didn't you lose the last two times we fought?"

    Katharine's face switched to a pout. Gothorita wore one to match.

    Before either trainer could say anything else, the referee blew his whistle and raised his hands. "Battle begin!"

    "Come on out, Unfezant!" Ash called, tossing out a Pokéball. Unfezant emerged and twirled through the skies.

    On the opposite end of the field, Katharine sent out her Pokémon, Mandibuzz. The corners of Ash's mouth twitched into an excited smile. So this would be an aerial battle.

    "Alright, Quick Attack!" Ash called. Unfezant looped through the air and disappeared into a blur. She smashed into Mandibuzz before it could move, sending it tumbling through the air.

    It shrieked loudly, catching itself midair. Gothorita smacked its trainer on the leg and glared. Katharine looked at it and nodded. "That's right! Mandibuzz, use Dark Pulse."

    Mandibuzz opened its beak and fired a swirling beam of dark energy at Unfezant.

    "Dodge!" Unfezant spiraled through the air, ducking and weaving as Mandibuzz tracked her through the sky with Dark Pulse. Her newfound aerial mobility honed from her practice with Staraptor was really showing. At a command from its trainer (or maybe it was Gothorita, Ash could never tell who was in charge with those two), Mandibuzz switched to using Air Slash. With a flick of its wings, it sent blades of air at Unfezant.

    Perfect. Now Ash could try out a new tactic he'd worked on with Unfezant. "Spiral Steel Wing!"

    Unfezant's wings glowed white and she shot towards Mandibuzz. She spun herself into a tight corkscrew, battering away most of the blades of air. A few still managed to land, but it didn't do as much damage. She crashed full force into Mandibuzz, sending the other bird reeling. "Fury Attack!" Katharine called. Mandibuzz flipped once, caught itself, and surged toward Unfezant, its talons glowing. It landed a series of harsh, vicious jabs, managing to catch Unfezant with several strikes.

    Unfezant screeched and backed away, glaring. "Steel Wing!"

    "Fury Attack!"

    As Unfezant's wings glowed, Mandibuzz's talons glowed. The two birds shot into the sky and began a complex aerial dance, weaving through the skies. For every strike Mandibuzz managed to land, Unfezant retaliated with two of her own. Her lessons had clearly paid off, and he could tell Manidbuzz was tiring faster. Still, at this rate, Unfezant couldn't last much longer either. She had never been the best at taking hits. Best to end this battle quickly.

    "Air Cutter!" Ash shouted. With Mandibuzz hot on her tail feathers, Unfezant shot upwards, looped in a tight spiral and expertly positioned herself behind Mandibuzz. Her wings glowed light blue and she shot a focused stream of wind, slicing into Mandibuzz. The dark bird screeched in pain, faltering midair.

    "Now, fly up and use Sky Attack!" Unfezant raced away from Mandibuzz, flying even higher into the sky until Ash could barely see her. Unlink Brave Bird, he knew Sky Attack could take a few seconds to charge. Hopefully, her strike with air cutter had given her enough time.

    Mandibuzz shook its head and cawed loudly, gaze turned upwards as it searched out its prey. From Katharine's side, Gothorita urgently gestured to its trainer. "Mandibuzz, Brave Bird!"

    Blue energy cloaked Mandibuzz. It opened its beak and let out a loud screech. Then it flared its wings and shot upwards towards Unfezant. At the same moment, Unfezant let out a defiant shriek. Cloaked in energy, she shot down like a golden comet. The two birds streaked towards each other. Gold met blue as the two collided. In a head-on clash, Ash thought that Mandibuzz might have had a chance at winning the clash, given its bulk. But Unfezant had the high ground.

    She powered through and the two birds, both cloaked in energy, rocketed towards the earth as a single, swirling vortex of color. They slammed into the earth, cracking the ground. The force of their impact shook the stadium. Energy exploded and two figures were hidden in a large cloud of smoke.

    "Mandibuzz no!"

    Ash glanced anxiously at the battlefield. "Unfezant, are you ok?"

    Slowly, the smoke cleared, revealing the two birds, both propping themselves up with their wings. They Pokémon struggled to rise, their bodies trembling. "Come on Unfezant, you can do it!" Ash shouted. Unfezant forced herself to stand and flared her wings, throwing her head back with a shriek.

    Mandibuzz stood halfway, trembled, then collapsed. The referee raised a flag. "Mandibuzz is unable to battle! Unfezant is the winner!"

    Ash returned Unfezant and gazed happily at the Pokéball. "Take a good rest, you did great."

    Gothorita trotted onto the battlefield of her own accord. "Oh, you want to fight next? Okay..."

    Ash wasn't surprised. At this point he was beginning to wonder if maybe Gothorita would make a better trainer. Without hesitation, he selected Scraggy's Pokéball. This was the moment he'd been waiting for.

    "Scraggy, I choose you!"

    Scraggy landed on the field and growled, narrowing his eyes and glaring at Gothorita. She winked at him and smiled, but Scraggy was unfazed. "Ready Scraggy?" Scraggy nodded his head, his gaze still locked onto Gothorita.

    Gothorita made a taunting trill at Scraggy. "You know, if you ever change your mind, Gothorita and I will still trade for Scraggy," Katharine offered.

    "No way!" Ash shouted. When would she get the hint?

    Gothorita made an exaggerated pouting face. "Fine! Then we'll just have to beat you. Right Gothorita?" She nodded, eyes narrowing with determination.

    "Battle, begin!" The referee shouted.

    "Gothorita, Hidden Power!" Gothorita summoned an eerie swirling orb of energy and hurled it at Scraggy.

    "Scraggy, block with Assurance!" Ash said. Scraggy's hands glowed black and he threw them in front of his face. The move shattered when it connected, only sending Scraggy sliding back a couple inches. That actually surprised Ash. Scraggy seemed much stronger than Gothorita. Maybe it had only just evolved...

    Gothorita stamped her foot and said something in Pokémon to Scraggy. Scraggy let out an annoyed growl. He threw his head back and growled. Ash's jaw dropped as shimmering light suffused Scraggy's body. He grew taller and his limbs grew longer. A crest formed on his head like a mohawk and a scaled cloak formed on his neck.

    As the light faded, Scraggy's final form was revealed, Scrafty. Ash stared. Scrafty had really evolved? "Yeah!" he shouted.

    Scrafty growled, then beckoned to Gothita with one claw, a leering smirk on his face. He said something that Ash guessed Gothorita didn't approve of because a second later, she summoned several small Hidden Power orbs and began tossing a flurry of them at Scrafty.

    Ash opened his mouth, ready to tell Scrafty to dodge, then stopped. Perhaps he could end this battle with a bang. "Scrafty, jump and Focus Blast!" Scrafty jumped into the air, hurling a sphere of blue energy. It slammed down onto Gothorita, smacking her into the ground and creating a small crater. Scrafty landed nimbly on his feet. "Now, get in close!" Scrafty darted forward right in front of Gothorita, who had just gotten to her feet.

    "Gothorita, Hidden-!" Katharine stopped as Gothorita shot a glare at her trainer and gave a demanding cry. "Double Slap!" Katharine said quickly. Gothorita's hands glowed white.

    Perfect. Hidden Power or Double Slap, it made no difference. His plan was about to work perfectly. "Quick, use Leer!" Ash called. Scrafty leaned until his face was an inch away from Gothorita and narrowed his eyes. A reddish glow shone and Gothorita shuddered briefly and looked away.

    "More Double Slap!" Katharine shouted.

    "Block it with your skin," Ash said. Scrafty pulled up his skin just as Gothita unleashed a flurry of blows.

    Katharine's voice carried across the field. "Keep hitting, Gothorita!"

    Gothita continued to strike, over and over, making Scrafty grimace with each hit. He continued to weather the blows, however, only barely getting knocked back with each hit. He was taking damage, but not enough to take him down, not yet. Then it happened. For a brief second, Gothorita paused to catch her breath. "Assurance!" Ash roared. Scrafty dropped his skin, both fists glowing with deadly black energy. Then he slapped his hands together, striking Gothorita simultaneously on either side of her head.

    The psychic type collapsed instantly, fainted.

    "Gothorita is unable to battle! Scrafty is the winner!" the referee said. "The winner of the first round of the qualifiers is Ash Ketchum."

    Ash jumped in the air, pumping his fist and Scrafty mimicked the motion. "We did it!" Scrafty trotted to Ash's side and gave him a friendly headbutt. The crowd cheered, and Ash managed to single out Pikachu, waiting with Cilan in the stands. He waved to them happily, then exited the stadium.

    His heart raced as he followed the tunnel out. Not only had he won, but Scraggy had evolved! So far, the Unova League had been a blast. First, Palpitoad, now Scrafty. He supposed it had to do with the fact that these were the first proper matches they'd had since training. Professor Oak had given him a very long lecture about how training could only do so much, Pokémon had to participate in battles in order to properly grow. Honestly, he didn't remember any of the lectures, except for the bit about battling in real matches. Seeing it in action was lots more fun.

    Cilan and Pikachu waited for him at the exit. He noted Iris' Deino resting in Cilan's arms. Pikachu greeted Scrafty, then leaped into Ash's arms. He squeaked indignantly and gave Ash a cross look. Ash rubbed him behind the ears. "Sorry buddy, I know you're really excited to battle. But I really want to give everyone the chance to be in the league. I promise you'll get to be in lots of battles later though, 'kay?"

    Pikachu huffed, then nodded.

    "That was quite the aromatic battle, Ash!" Cilan said.

    "Thanks, Cilan?" he wasn't sure how a battle could be 'aromatic' but he guessed that meant it was good, at least.

    "I have to say, I wasn't expecting Scraggy to evolve. And using Assurance like that was quite the combo. I daresay you've grown a lot these past weeks. Like a well-matured dish."

    Ash smiled at the praise. He supposed he had learned a lot, even if most of the reading and studying didn't stick. "Oh! Is Iris battling soon? I promised to try and watch her match."

    Cilan shifted the sleeping Deino and peered at his watch. "Iris should be going on in a few minutes. I'm sure we can catch her."

    "Great!" Ash said. He returned Scraggy to his Pokéball to rest, then looked up. "Let's go!"

    xXx

    "So are you gonna use that Dragonite of yours again?" Georgia taunted. Beartic stood in front of its trainer, a calm look on its face.

    Ash peered at the field anxiously as he took a seat. Cilan picked a spot beside him and sat down. Deino squirmed in his arms until it stood, gazing intently in the direction of the battlefield. "Remember Deino, Iris wants you to pay close attention to the battles," he said.

    "Aren't Deino blind?" Ash questioned, glancing at the little dragon-type briefly before returning his attention to the battlefield.

    "True," Cilan began. "But they can still sense the world around them to some degree. As Deino grow, they develop and fine-tune their senses. So you 'see', in a way, they can still see." He grinned to himself at his own 'pun'. Deino rumbled in agreement.

    "Huh," Ash mused. It looked like Iris still hadn't released her Pokémon yet. She held two pokeballs in her hand, seemingly indecisive. Fraxure stood by her side, watching her anxiously.

    Ash couldn't help but feel a little worried on Iris's behalf. Why hadn't she chosen yet? Was she still afraid of ice-types? He peered closer. No. Something looked different about Iris. She wasn't hesitating out of fear. And Fraxure's gaze wasn't anxious. It was curious. Satisfied, he leaned back in his chair and crossed his arms.

    This would definitely be a match to remember.

    Without futher ado, 15.

    "So are you gonna use that Dragonite of yours again?"

    Georgia's voice barely registered to Iris. Instead, she focused on the pokeballs in her hand. For once, she didn't feel panicked at the sight of her ice-type opponent. Beartic's intimidating glare meant nothing to her. Like Ash said, all she needed to do was focus on her Pokémon. And right now, it was just a matter of how she would beat Georgia. Not if. For once, she had absolute confidence in her Pokémon. Because this time, she had worked for this. She had taken action. Seeing all of Ash's training had inspired her own, and this battle would be the culmination of it.

    A second later, she put one of the pokeballs away and stood confidently. "Not this time," she retorted. "I'm going to show you the power of a Dragon Master! Druddigon, I choose you!"

    xXx

    In the stands...

    Druddigon burst onto the field in a shower of light and roared, lashing its tail back and forth. Georgia's visibly flinched in shock, a sight which Ash relished. He'd always found the Dragon Buster rather abrasive. And if Iris' newfound confidence was anything to go by, this would be a very, very satisfying battle.

    "Huh. So you finally went out and caught a real dragon," Georgia called. "That just means beating you will be even more fun."

    "Battle, begin!"

    Georgia pointed at Druddigon. "Beartic, freeze that thing with Blizzard." Beartic flexed its arms and roared before firing a massive, swirling stream of ice towards Druddigon. Iris called something out. Druddigon's body blurred and then several copies of it appeared on the field. The blizzard washed a few away, though the remaining ones leered at the Beartic threateningly. Beartic ceased its attack, glancing between the clones in confusion.

    The Druddigon clones raised their heads and fired a massive burst of orange energy into the air. A gigantic blazing orb formed high in the sky, beaming like a mini-sun. Searing sunlight filled the stadium, making Beartic squint. The temperature in the stadium increased, and Ash felt a trickle of sweat gather on his forehead and neck. He leaned forwards in anticipation.

    "Ice Beam!"

    "Heat Wave!"

    Beartic blasted an arc of icy blue energy at the Druddigon clones. As one, the Druddigon opened their mouths and summoned a wave of searing hot wind. It burned through Ice Beam, washing over Beartic and causing the ice-type to roar in pain. It fell to one knee, catching itself with its claw.

    Ash laughed out loud. So this was her strategy for ice-types! Double Team to dodge attacks, then use Sunny Day to heat up the battlefield. And follow that up with Heat Wave... he shook his head in wonder. Now that was an awesome combo. Iris had really grown.

    Georgia clenched her fits. Her face contorted with rage and wounded pride. "Beartic, destroy those clones with Blizzard!" Beartic forced itself to its feet. It roared out another stream of ice, sweeping it across the battlefield, tearing through the clones.

    "Heat Wave!" Blizzard wiped out the last of Druddigon's doubles, finally striking the real one. It staved off the worst of the damage by throwing up its arms in an 'x' shape. As Beartic let up, panting, Druddigon dropped its guard and let out another burst of superheated air that swept across the battlefield, driving Beartic back. The ice-type stumbled backwards, overwhelmed, then collapsed onto its back. A hush fell over the battlefield. Beartic did not get up.

    "Beartic is unable to battle! Druddigon is the winner!" Ash cheered as the referee raised his arms.

    Georgia stared at the unconscious form of Beartic for several seconds. Slowly, she raised her arm and returned it. Ash even swore he saw her hand trembling. She put the Pokéball away and selected her second Pokéball.

    On the battlefield...

    Iris' heart thudded in her chest. She'd just won her first match! She'd worked so hard to plan the strategy and teach Druddigon the new moves. She'd worked day and night while preparing for the exam. And it had definitely paid off. Whatever Pokémon Georgia picked next, Bisharp or Vanilluxe, she could handle it.

    Georgia tossed out her Pokéball. "Go Azumarill!"

    Iris did a quick double-take as a blue rabbit-like Pokémon with white spots and belly emerged onto the field. It bounced on its toes and made a happy squeak, waving wildly to... her? Then it turned around and waved to Georgia as well. The red-head rolled her eyes. "Focus Azumarill!" she grumbled. "This is an important battle!"

    Azumarill's countenance shifted and it turned back to Druddigon with an eager smirk.

    "Battle begin!" the referee called.

    Iris grimaced inwardly. A water type would complicate her plan, but only slightly. Druddigon could still dodge or attack with Dragon Claw.

    "Azumarill, Aqua Tail!" Azumarill waggled its orb-like tail, forming a cone of water around it. then it bounced across the field, skipping towards Druddigon. It moved erratically, first one direction, then another. "Dragon Claw!" Iris yelled.

    Azumarill slammed the tail into Druddigon's side, causing it to stagger, then landed neatly on its feet, still smiling. Druddigon unsheathed glowing green claws and lunged. Azumarill didn't move and Georgia gave no commands. As Iris watched, Druddigon's claws passed harmlessly through Azumarill. She blinked, her jaw hanging open. Her mind fumbled. What just happened? Druddigon stared at its own claws, eyes filled with confusion.

    The announcer's voice boomed over the stadium speakers. Up until now, Iris had ignored the announcer commentary, focusing instead on her battles, but now she tuned in. "Well this is a first, folks!" Freddie the Scoop shouted. "We have our very first fairy-type here in the Unova League!"

    In the stands...

    "A fairy-type?" Ash asked, his voice tinted with disbelief. That was new. "So fairy-types aren't affected by Dragon-types?"

    "Exactly!" Cilan said. "Although I must say I'm very surprised. Unova doesn't usually get many trainers using fairy-types. It's only been discovered very recently."

    "Huh..." Ash mused. Fairy types sounded cool. Facing one in battle would be challenging though. Pikachu squeaked questioningly from his shoulder. "Maybe we'll get to fight a fairy-type. That would be awesome, right?" Pikachu gave a nod of agreement.

    Meanwhile...

    Panic seized Iris. A fairy-type? She was sure she'd heard the term before, somewhere. At the admissions exam, perhaps? She frantically tried to recall everything she'd studied. A lot hadn't stuck, but... Then it came back. Fairy types were something only recently discovered, mostly prevalent in the distant Kalos region. Unova didn't exactly have any fairy-types, so the lesson on them had been nothing more than a footnote in a book she read. Hearing that there was something immune to dragon-type moves had been scary, until one of the other students pointed out that fairy types were basically nonexistent in Unova. She'd pushed that to the back of her mind, preferring to ignore it. At the time, she'd assumed she wouldn't have to face a 'fairy-type' unless she traveled to a new region.

    "Scared?" Georgia called. She grinned cockily. "Now Azumarill, use Play Rough!" A pink glow rippled across Azumarill's body. She sprang forward and struck Druddigon in a series of rapid blows. Druddigon roared, stumbling backwards.

    "Druddigon, no!" Iris shouted. Azumarill pressed the assault, driving Druddigon back further. "Dragon cla- No, use Heat Wave!" she cried. Druddigon tried to back away. He opened his jaws, heat gathering within. A wave of flaming hot wind poured out, but Azumarill remained unfazed. I slammed itself relentlessly against Druddigon. A moment later, the mighty dragon gave a roar and collapsed.

    Iris stared at his fallen form, dumbfounded. Azumarill glared at it, breathing a little heavy, but looking proud. Its paws and body appeared bruised. She realized with a jolt that Druddigon's Rough Skin ability must have hurt it a bit. Not nearly enough to damage it much though. Hands shaking, Iris raised her Pokéball and returned Druddigon. "I'm sorry Druddigon," she murmured. Uncertainty picked at Iris. "Now what do I do..." she whispered to herself. She felt something tap her hand and looked down to see Fraxure looking up at her. His red gaze shone with confidence. He clenched his claws and growled.

    "You want to fight?" she asked. He nodded. A hint of a smile tugged at the corners of her mouth. "Alright, let's do this! Even if we don't win, we'll give it our all!" Fraxure grinned and darted onto the battlefield, snarling a challenge. Azumarill growled in reply. The referee raised his arms.

    "Battle, begin!"

    Before Iris could contemplate her next move, Fraxure took a step. He clenched his claws together, hugging them to his body. A blue glow formed in his chest. It almost looked like Dragon Rage, except... the glow surrounding him increased. He raised his claws upwards and the lights danced around his form, shifting between blue and purple. Then the light condensed around his body and faded. Fraxure smirked at Georgia. Iris grinned in delight. "Fraxure, you figured out how to use Dragon Dance!" She'd read about the powerful dragon type technique before, but she'd never expected Fraxure to learn it. Maybe she could still win this.

    "Tch! Dance all you want, you won't win! Ice Beam!" Georgia shouted. Azumarill blasted a stream of icy energy towards Fraxure. "Block with Dragon Claw!" A plan began to form in her mind. The ice energy crashed against Fraxure's raised claws. He slid backwards, blocking the worst of the damage.

    "Now, use Dragon Dance again!" Iris called. Fraxure once more drew energy into himself.

    Georgia growled and crossed her arms. "Ice Beam!" Azumarill shot the icy beam once again.

    "Dodge!" Fraxure tried to scramble out of the way, but the beam still caught him in the side, sending him staggering in a circle from the impact.

    "Play Rough!" Azumarill raced in, body and paws shimmering pink. It slammed Fraxure before it could move, knocking it to the ground. As it lunged to attack again, Fraxure rolled out of the way, causing Azumarill to strike the ground instead. Fraxure darted backwards, speed enhancements causing him to move faster than usual.

    "Don't stop, keep attacking!" Georgia shouted, pointing towards Fraxure.

    Iris grimaced. She wasn't giving up now. "Use Dragon Dance and dodge!" With a gesture of his claws, light surrounded his body. As Azumarill was about to strike, he sidestepped. Azumarill overshot its attack and flew past. With a growl it whirled and attacked again. Once more, Fraxure danced out of the way. Iris saw Georgia's face contort into scowl and couldn't help but smile. But as Fraxure dodged a third time, Georgia said "Now quick, use Ice Beam!" Azumarill spun deftly and fired an icy beam, striking Fraxure in the chest and sending him reeling.

    Fraxure roared in pain. A thin patch of frost formed on his chest. Not good. His breath was stilted, and he trembled slightly, though his gaze remained fierce. He was nearly spent, Iris could feel it.

    "Let's end this Fraxure! Laser Focus!" It was one of the techniques she'd worked on for Fraxure. If she could pull off her strategy she could end this battle. If it failed... well, it didn't matter. This was her only option.

    In the stands...

    Ash frowned. He wasn't sure he'd heard of that move before. He turned to Cilan to ask the gym leader. As it turned out, he needn't have bothered. Cilan was already expositing. For a split second, Ash found himself wondering if he'd been unconsciously tuning out Cilan's comments this whole time. "-tasty technique! Laser Focus is a special move that allows the user to lock on to the opponent's weak spot! That way their next hit will always result in a critical hit!" Ash nodded in understanding and focused on the battle.

    Trainer and Pokémon shared a nod. Fraxure took a fighting stance. His eyes shimmered with power and he narrowed them, his irises becoming slits. Azumarill flinched for a second, uncertainty in its gaze. Iris grinned. This was it. Dragon Dance had boosted Fraxure's power and laser focus would be the finisher.

    Georgia frowned. "Whatever! Finish this with Play Rough, Azumarill!" Azumarill bounced forwards, ready to strike.

    "Giga Impact!" Iris shouted. Fraxure's scales shimmered silver. Energy wrapped around his form, first white, then silver, dancing with blue and gold. A massive spear-like projection formed around his form. Fraxure dipped his head, aiming directly for Azumarill, and lunged.

    Georgia shouted something frantically, perhaps calling for a dodge or simply crying out in shock, but it was too late. There was nothing more than a silver blur as Fraxure leaped to meet Azumarill. Giga Impact struck Azumarill directly in the chest and launched it across the length of the battlefield and into the opposing wall. Silence fell. Georgia gaped and blinked in confusion. A full three seconds later, she turned around and stared at her Pokémon, who had created a Azumarill-shaped dent in the wall. "Wha...t?"

    Ash blinked, staring between Fraxure and Azumarill. The announcer didn't say anything for a good couple seconds. Cilan simply sat, his mouth slightly open and arms limp at his sides. Only Deino made a noise, jumping about and growling in delight.

    Cheers erupted from the audience. The referee spoke, though his voice was utterly drowned out by the crowd's applause. All Ash could see was him raising his flag, indicating Iris had won the match. He cheered and applauded with the crowd, his cries matched by Deino's and Pikachu's. On the field, Iris scooped Fraxure into her arms and swung him around. And in that moment, Ash wasn't sure he'd ever felt prouder to see someone else win a match.

    xXx

    Iris left the battlefield in a daze. She found her way to a bench just outside the stadium and sat down. She still felt in shock. She'd really won! But not just won, she'd proved once and for all the power of Dragon-types. Even she had to admit that her win against Georgia at the Junior Cup felt empty. Dragonite had won it. Not her.

    This time was different though. She'd actually worked for this, and then reaped the results of her work. Even though she missed out on the gym challenge, the experience she'd gained at the academy had been critical to her success. After failing the first time, she'd spent so much time forcing herself to study, she'd also managed to formulate new tactics. When one of the teachers noticed her aversion to ice types, she'd suggested Sunny Day. Everything had fallen into place after that, she realized. And even though the fairy-type was unexpected, she'd managed to overcome it, with the help of Fraxure.

    She looked down at Fraxure, who had flopped on the bench beside her and was resting peacefully. "We did it! We really beat Georgia." Fraxure blinked at her and chirped happily. "We trained and won, thanks to our hard work. And thanks to you." She smiled at Fraxure, and the dragon smiled back at her.

    The sound of footsteps made her look up. She was surprised to see Georgia standing in front of her.

    "Hey..." the red-head began. "That was actually a really good battle. You actually beat me, fair and square." She narrowed her eyes. "So good job, I guess. Don't let it go to your head or anything though," she added quickly.

    Iris stared at her, surprised. That was definitely unexpected. "Thanks," she said finally.

    "Good luck with your... being a dragon master or whatever," she said.

    "Yeah well..." Iris fumbled for something witty to say, then shrugged. "Good luck to you too. That was a great battle."

    For a brief second, a smile flickered across Georgia's face. A real, genuine smile, not a smug one or a cruel one. Then it was replaced by a look of feigned indifference. "I guess I'll just have to train harder and beat you next time!" she held out her hand.

    Iris grinned, the fire of excitement fluttering in her heart. "I look forward to it!" She shook Georgia's hand. The red head nodded, then turned and walked away, giving a brief wave of farewell before disappearing into the crowds of trainers in the area. Iris watched her go then leaned back on the bench. "We're gonna do it, Fraxure. I just know it. One day, I will become a Dragon Master."

    I know this chapter is short, but I wanted it to just be this, really nice triumphant chapter for iris. I know this story isn't about her, but once I started trying to fix her, I started to really enjoy writing her, even as a side character.

    This battle was way more fun than expected too. I decided it would be really fun to make Iris a combo/strategy battler. Taking two moves that can work well in tandem. And setting up things like stat boosters. I realized it would be more fun to give her a different battling style than Ash's, who tended to be more of an attacker / creative type. I can barely fathom the theoretical power that a multiple Dragon Danced plus Laser Focus a Giga Impact could do. Yowch.


    "That was awesome!" Ash cheered happily, grinning wildly at Iris. He raised his palm to the air, and she gave him a high five. He'd found the two a short way outside the stadium, resting on a bench. His own heart still felt like it was racing from watching her battle. It had definitely been unexpected, especially with Georgia using a Pokémon that was apparently a 'fairy-type'.

    "Thanks!" she replied. Fraxure bounced up and down, delighted as well.

    Ash waved to Fraxure, Pikachu mimicking the gesture. "You were great too, Fraxure," he added. "It's awesome that you're going to move on to the next round of the qualifiers."

    "Yeah! Maybe I'll even get to go to the finals," she replied. "That would be really awesome!"

    Ash nodded.

    "So what are you two going to do now?" Cilan asked, walking up to join the two. Deino hopped from his arms into Iris's waiting arms, nuzzling her happily. She scratched under his chin, and he rumbled in delight.

    "I don't know..." Iris said.

    Cilan continued, "There's still plenty of matches happening the rest of the day. I hear there's even a trainer with some exotic Pokémon. I'm planning on watching all of them! Seeing the variety of combinations between Pokémon and trainer is truly a delightful buffet of flavors."

    Ash frowned, thinking. Watching matches would be a lot of fun, but... "I dunno. I think I want to practice a little more. Gigalith is still having trouble mastering his new battle style. I want to use him in the next match, so I think I'm just gonna go practice more."

    "Awww..." Iris frowned. "Well, I guess I'll join you, Cilan! I haven't had a lot of time to spend with Deino. Can we stop by the Pokémon Center first though? Druddigon and Fraxure both need a good rest."

    "Sure!" Cilan replied. "We'll see you later then, Ash?"

    "Yeah! I'll meet you at the Pokémon Center."

    "Sounds great," Iris replied cheerfully. She stood up, and Fraxure stood as well. "Ready Fraxure?" the dragon nodded. Ash watched as Cilan and Iris faded into the crowds, then peered at Pikachu. "What do you say we find a nice spot to train?" Pikachu nodded and squeaked in agreement.

    xXx

    "Okay Gigalith, I've got a new partner for you to train with." He'd found himself a quiet spot in the woods surrounding Vertress where he could practice without being bothered.

    Gigalith, who stood in front of him, eyed him curiously. Or at least, Ash assumed it was curiosity, though it was a bit hard to tell. Smiling, he tossed out a Pokéball, someone he'd asked Professor Oak to send over not long ago. Torterra emerged in a flash of light and rumbled a greeting. Pikachu bounced off Ash's shoulder and onto Torterra's back, letting out a squeak of delight.

    Torterra grinned and growled in reply, then turned to face Gigalith. "Torterra, this is my new friend, Gigalith! He just evolved. Do you think you could help show him your battle style?"

    Rumbling in agreement, Torterra motioned to Gigalith with his head. The two took up positions several yards apart, then Torterra roared. With a stamp of one stony leg, Gigalith sent a wave of spiked stones surging towards Torterra. The grass-type didn't move until the stones were nearly upon him. Then long white claws surged from his front feet. He raced forwards, climbing over the Stone Edge attack to strike Gigalith in the chest. Gigalith grunted and slid back a foot. Torterra landed and grunted something to Gigalith, who nodded in acknowledgment.

    "Great job guys, keep it up," Ash called. The two glanced at him, blinking in acknowledgment. Ash found himself a good spot to watch and give suggestions from. There was a lot of training he wanted to get done.

    xXx

    "Aa-ash!" Iris called. Ash's head jerked up and he whipped around. He'd dozed off while training, leaning against Gigalith, who was equally worn out. He blinked rapidly, trying to remember where he was. It was dark out, and he was still outside. Iris stood above him, hands on her hips, frowning.

    "Honestly Ash!" she chided. "Cilan and I have been looking all over for you. You were supposed to meet us for dinner, remember?"

    "Oh yeah..." Ash mumbled. He chuckled awkwardly, rubbing the back of his neck. Gigalith shifted next to him, rumbling something resembling a yawn. Torterra, who lounged a few feet away, blinked sleepily at Iris. He stretched and yawned, then stood up. "I guess I dozed off after training... whoops."

    Iris rolled her eyes. "You missed dinner, by the way."

    Ash frowned and his stomach rumbled in protest. He'd skipped lunch and dinner. Lunch was bad enough, but he'd just planned to have an extra big dinner to make up for it. "Aww man," he grumbled.

    Iris grinned proudly and picked up a plastic bag that rested next to her on the ground. "But I saved you some! Here you go!" She thrust it at him.

    Ash took it without hesitation. "Wow, thanks!" He eagerly opened it up to find a tasty smelling dish of noodles and veggies. He sat down and dug into it, shoveling the food into his mouth in heaps. As he ate, Iris examined his Torterra. "Wow, you sure have a lot of Pokémon..." she murmured. "Does this mean you're using Gigalith in the battle tomorrow?"

    "Sure am," Ash choked out his reply, after swallowing a huge mouthful of food. He swallowed, with some difficulty. "Back when I traveled through Sinnoh, Torterra and I worked really hard to develop a battle style for him. So now he's helping teach Gigalith."

    "Wow! That's so cool."

    "Uh huh," Ash said. "So what about you Iris? Who will you use tomorrow?"

    "Well, I don't know who I'm fighting, but apparently I'm one of the first battles in the morning! I want to use Fraxure again, and Dragonite!"

    "That sounds awesome! I can't wait to watch." He polished off the last bite of his meal and flopped back against a tree. He glanced briefly at Torterra and Gigalith. "How about we go back to the Pokémon Center and get you guys some food? You both did great today."

    Torterra gave a rumble of agreement and Gigalith nodded. Ash stood up, dusting off his pants. Iris started walking. "I'm going to turn in for the night. I want to be really well rested for tomorrow!"

    "Alright," Ash replied. "I'll catch up with you tomorrow then." He returned Torterra and Gigalith to their pokeballs.

    Iris waved him goodbye, then skipped off. Ash followed at a more sedate pace, his muscles aching. Sleeping leaning against Gigalith had not done him any favors, that was for sure. A good night's rest in a proper bed sounding awfully appealing right now. But first, his Pokémon deserved a proper meal.

    By the time he made it back to the Pokémon center and given all his Pokémon a hearty meal, the moon had risen high into the sky. He retired to bed that night tired but satisfied. Tomorrow was a brand new day and a brand new battle. He'd win, and be one step closer to achieving his goal.

    xXx

    The next morning, he was awoken by an anxious Cilan, shaking him roughly. Ash blinked and sat up. "Huh?" he grumbled.

    "Ash, come on! You've overslept. If we don't hurry we'll miss Iris's battle!" Cilan said. He was frowning severely, and already had his backpack one and stood halfway to the door.

    Ash shot up, wide awake now. He hurriedly got dressed and grabbed his backpack and pokeballs. "I'm ready!" he cried anxiously, panting. He followed Cilan out of their room and they hurried to the stadium. A vague sense of annoyance filled him that he'd slept in again. He hadn't even had time to see who he would be battling later, but there would be plenty of chances to do that. He'd checked yesterday and found out he was one of the last matches of the day, so he wasn't worried.

    When they arrived, it was already packed full of people. "Aww man, all the good seats are going to be gone!"

    Cilan glanced back and gave him a knowing grin. "Not quite! Follow me!" He led the way through the packed stadium, weaving through the throngs of people expertly. He waved to someone, and Ash looked to see who he waved to. Virgil sat in one of the front rows, waving back at them. "I asked Virgil to save us some seats!" Cilan said.

    Ash squirmed down the row and sank into his chair, breathless. The match was just about to begin, Iris already stood in the trainer's box on her side. Hot excitement pumping through his veins, he looked to see who her opponent was.

    His blood turned to ice. The world faded and sounds grew muted. All he could hear was the anxious beating of his own heart. Sweat gathered on his forehead and he unconsciously clenched his fists. The man who stood on the field, opposite Iris, was none other than Tobias.

    "Ash, are you alright?"

    Ash barely heard Virgil's voice. Pikachu squeaked anxiously from Ash's shoulder. The announcer said something over the loudspeakers, then the referee gestured. Iris sent out Dragonite, who roared arrogantly, its face locked into a glare. On the opposite side of the field, Tobias regarded the Dragonite with an expression of absolute calmness. He tossed out his Pokéball almost nonchalantly. Ash's heart skipped a beat when Darkrai emerged.

    A growing sense of horror filled him as the battle began. His heart raced. Dragonite rushed forward with a powerful Dragon Rush attack. A few feet from Darkrai, it was struck with a sudden wave of dark energy. It powered straight through Dark Pulse and crashed into Darkrai. The only indication the attack did damage was Darkrai's slight shift backward. It shook its head, seemingly unfazed. At a command from Tobias, it raised its hand and fired an orb of shadowy energy at Dragonite.

    Ash instantly recognized the technique as Dark Void. As Dragonite prepared a Thunder Punch, Dark Void struck and dropped Dragonite to the ground. A hush began to fall over the crowd. Iris shouted. Tobias gestured, and Darkrai raised a hand, blasting the sleeping Dragonite with an Ice Beam. Dragonite slid across the field, instantly unconscious.

    "I can't believe it... what power..." Virgil murmured. "I've never seen anything like it."

    "Me neither," Cilan mused. "This Tobias must be a strong trainer. That was an impressive strategy, putting Dragonite to sleep first and then attacking."

    A lump formed in Ash's throat and he swallowed. It didn't go away. Why was Tobias here, now?

    "Ash?" Virgil questioned.

    Ash blinked and glanced over to see both Cilan and Virgil giving him concerned stares. He shook himself. "Sorry," he chuckled. "I guess I was just really surprised. You see, I met Tobias before in the Sinnoh League. He's the trainer who beat me in the semi-finals," he murmured, his mind still ruminating over the fact that Tobias was here in Unova.

    Cilan and Virgil both watched him with a look of awe. "You've battled him before?"

    Ash nodded. "Sure have. He was really tough. It took almost my whole team just to beat his Darkrai."

    Virgil's eyes widened. "Really? He must be very skilled then. What other Pokémon did he have?"

    An uncomfortable knot grew in Ash's stomach as he recalled his battle. "Dunno. I mean, I know he has a Latios. But I never got to see the rest of his team." As much fun as that battle had been, he still was disappointed he didn't win.

    Virgil and Cilan gaped at him. "You've fought a Latios?" they both shouted, voices filled with shock and awe.

    Nodding, Ash glanced briefly at the battlefield. "Yeah, but by then I only had Pikachu left-" his voice trailed off as he focused on the fight. Iris had just sent out Fraxure. He could practically feel the grim determination etched on Iris' face. She had to be worried, with her Dragonite having been taken out so easily. He could sympathize all too well.

    Cilan and Virgil both focused their attention back on the battle. Virgil's gaze was calculating and thoughtful, clearly, he was wondering how he would go up against such a tough opponent. Iris quickly called out a Dragon Dance. Fraxure complied, and not a moment too soon. Darkrai fired an ice beam at Fraxure. The dragon attempted to dodge out of the way, but even with the speed boost, was still nicked and sent reeling. Another Ice Beam caught it in the chest, sent it stumbling backward.

    Fraxure attempted to rush forwards with Dragon Claw, only to be tossed mercilessly backward by a swift Dark Pulse. Fraxure collapsed, panting. A sick feeling grew inside Ash. The battle was so one-sided. Darkrai wasn't even going all out. The referee peered at Fraxure, who lay on the ground, unmoving. He raised his hand, preparing to call the battle.

    Suddenly, Fraxure moved. Slowly, bit by bit, it pushed itself to its feet. Despite the numerous scratches and dirt covering its body, it glared down Darkrai, defiant. Throwing its head back, it roared at the sky. Light encompassed its body.

    "I don't believe it!" Freddy's voice roared from the speakers. "We are seeing another evolution here at the Unova League! This year is full of surprises. But will it be enough to take down Tobias?"

    Fraxure's body enlarged, growing leaner and taller. Two blades sprouted from his jaws, and a powerful tail formed at his back. His stubby arms grew long and thin, growing fierce-looking claws. The light faded, revealing a Haxorus. It snarled viciously, its red eyes narrowed in fury.

    Ash cheered, but inside he felt hollow. Nothing stood a chance against that Darkrai. He hadn't stood a chance. Even with Fraxure's evolution, it wouldn't mean a thing. A fact which made him feel a strange mixture of emotions he couldn't place. Anger, fear, excitement, pride...

    Haxorus charged, claw raised. Darkrai fired an Ice Beam. Once, Twice, Haxorus managed to narrowly dodge both. It slammed its claw into Darkrai, actually making the dark-type reel back briefly. It quickly recovered however and used Dark Void. Despite Haxorus's best effort, it was swiftly struck and put to sleep. A third Ice Beam ended the battle quickly.

    Turmoil bubbled up inside Ash. Tobias was every bit as strong as he had been in the Sinnoh League. Pikachu nuzzled his cheek comfortingly, and Ash reached up to scratch behind his ears.

    "I can't believe Iris lost so easily..." Virgil mused. He glanced at Ash, who was oddly silent, his gaze narrowed. "Are you alright?" he asked.

    "Yeah," Ash said after a moment. "I gotta go," he said quickly. Standing up, he turned and quickly strode out of the stadium.

    Once outside, he slowed his pace slightly to think a little. Truthfully, he wasn't sure what he was. Some part of him felt excited, yes. Excited at the prospect of a heated battle against an old rival. And another part of him felt bitter anger. Iris had worked hard to come this far. He wanted to see her make it past the qualifiers, at least. But beneath all that, there was another emotion. One he almost never felt - fear. After how he'd lost before, how could he hope to match Tobias? He didn't want to lose another league. After all his training, he'd thought this league could be the one he won.

    Pikachu leaned forward to peer at Ash and gave a questioning squeak, tone filled with concern.

    "You guys worked so hard. I can't let you down." He sighed, making his way further from the crowds and into the quieter parts of the city. But the thoughts of facing Tobias again did make him nervous. He wanted to win this league, and show the whole world how awesome his Pokémon were.

    Forget that, he told himself. Right now, his friend probably needed him. He'd come out here to find Iris, so that was what he would do.

    xXx

    It took him almost an hour to find her. She was perched high in the branches of one of the tallest trees, just outside the city limits. "Hey Iris," he called, standing beneath the tree.

    She didn't respond, her gaze locked in the distance. Ash frowned. He knew exactly how she felt. The sting of crushing defeat hurt. Knowing you tried your hardest only to lose like that... It was an emotion he'd learned to deal with since he'd been traveling and battling for so long. But Iris had only just begun her training in earnest. Without a second thought, Ash scrambled up the tree, climbing it as easily as a Mankey. He pulled himself into a branch next to her.

    "Hey," he said quietly.

    "Hey," she replied, her voice devoid of its usual pep.

    "So... That was a pretty awesome battle," Ash began.

    Iris whirled to face him, her face pulled into a bitter scowl. "No it wasn't!" she spat. "Don't lie to me." She turned around and pulled her knees to her chest, resting her chin on them.

    "I'm not lying," Ash protested. "You tried really hard and you didn't give up." Before he could say more, Iris spoke again.

    "So?" Iris muttered. Her tone was filled with defeat. "What's the point of trying if you just lose anyway?"

    Ash fell silent for a moment, not sure what to say. He wanted to make her feel better, not worse.
    "Tobias is a really strong trainer," he began. "He was actually the Sinnoh League Champion last year."

    "Really?" Iris asked, surprised. She glanced at him briefly.

    "Yeah," Ash said. "I actually battled him. It was pretty awesome, but he still ended up beating almost my whole team with just Darkrai." Ash fought back a brief surge of bitterness. He'd enjoyed the battle, but even so, his Pokémon hadn't been prepared to face two legendaries.

    "Wow, he's that strong?" Iris asked, curiosity replacing the bitterness in her voice. "So what Pokémon did he use after you beat Darkrai?"

    A slight grin tugged at the corners of Ash's mouth. "Latios." That almost made Iris fall out of the tree. She had limited knowledge of other regions, but she did know her dragons. There were only a few of those in the entire known world. "Tobias has a Latios too?" she gasped. "Wow..." for a brief moment, wonder filled her voice.

    Ash nodded solemnly. "Even I couldn't beat him."

    "Is that supposed to make me feel better?" she muttered, scowling. She looked away.

    "I guess. I mean yes. Or no." Ash said uncertainty. He wanted to make her feel better, not worse. "You did really good!"

    "But not good enough." She sighed. "I never should have entered," she muttered.

    "Don't say that!" Ash protested. "Winning isn't everything." As soon as he blurted the words, he regretted them.

    "So what's the point then? Why even bother battling if it doesn't matter who wins or loses?" she retorted.

    Silence fell. Ash squirmed. A minute dragged by, then another. "It does matter. But you can't let losing stop you from trying to achieve your dreams. Just because you lost doesn't make you a bad trainer. It sucks, but if you give up, then you'll be letting everyone down. You... and your Pokémon. You know? Fraxure evolved today because you believed in him. You told me that Axew always dreamed of being a big strong Haxorus, and you helped him achieve that dream. Tobias was just a super strong trainer. It happens to every trainer at some point. Just because you lost today doesn't make you a loser."

    Iris turned to face him, her eyes wide. "You really believe that?"

    "Sure!" Ash said, grinning. "I just know that you'll be a super awesome Dragon Master one day. You've come super far."

    Iris brightened. "That's true. Haxorus did really awesome." A wide smile suddenly broke over her face, as if it just dawned on her that she now had a Haxorus. "You're right! I owe it to Haxorus and all my other Pokémon to keep training! We'll never give up on our dreams." She pumped her fist enthusiastically.

    "Yeah! That's the spirit!" Ash said.

    "Don't you have a battle of your own to get back to?" She asked suddenly.

    Ash nodded. "Yeah. I still have some time though. I better get going anyway. I want to see who I'm fighting this round." He carefully slid down the tree, followed by Iris.

    "I'll see you later Iris, 'kay?"

    She smiled and nodded. "I'll be cheering for you," she declared happily. Ash started to walk away. "Hey Ash?" she called.

    He glanced over his shoulder at her. "Yeah?"

    "Thanks."

    He grinned and waved. "Its what friends are for!" he said happily. With that, he turned and jogged away. Despite his words to Iris, however, a tiny knot of fear wormed its way into his stomach. What would happen when he eventually faced Tobias?

    xXx

    "Our next battle is Ash from Pallet Town vs Dino from Driftveil City!" Freddie called. "Dino showcased some impressive skills in his previous rounds, while Ash has proved himself with some spectacular combos. Who will win? Let's find out!"

    Ash stared across the field, eyeing Dino. He felt pretty confident. He vaguely recalled the spiky haired trainer from a few previous tournaments, and while he was certainly strong, it was nothing Ash couldn't handle. Not like Tobias... Just thinking about the Darkrai made him shiver, both with anticipation and nervousness. Maybe if he got lucky, someone would manage to defeat him before the finals? Then Ash wouldn't have to face him. As soon as the thought crossed his mind, he realized it was ridiculous. He doubted anyone here was tough enough to take down that Darkrai. Much less Latios...

    "Contestant Ketchum, please send out your first Pokémon!"

    Ash jerked out of his thoughts. Dino frowned at him, a Galvantula already standing on the field in front of him. Flushing with embarrassment, Ash grabbed a Pokéball and released the Pokémon within. Leavanny emerged onto the field and twirled elegantly before taking a battle stance.

    The referee cast him a glance before calling the match. "Battle, begin!"

    Time to focus. A Galvantula. Those were bug and electric types. Not a good match, but Leavanny could handle it. "Leavanny, Double Team," Ash called.

    Leavanny's form blurred and a ring of copies surrounded Galvantula.

    "Pin Missile," Dino shouted. "Clear them away." White energy surrounded Galvantula's pincers. It quickly began firing white needle-like projections at the copies.

    "String Shot," Ash retaliated quickly. As Galvantula picked off the doubles, Leavanny shot a string of sticky web at Galvantula, swiftly turning it into a cocoon.

    "Leaf Blade!" Ash said. Leavanny darted forward, her blade-like arms glowing bright green. She sprinted past Galvantula and slashed it, cutting it through the webbing.

    "Electro Ball." Galvantula tore free of the web and fired a ball of electric energy at Leavanny, striking her in the back. She staggered but regained her footing.

    "X-Scissor," Ash snapped. Leavanny whirled around and danced forwards, blades held like an 'X' in front of her.

    Dino waved his hand. "Pin Missile," he said. Galvantula skittered backward and fired another series of white darts at the approaching Leavanny. She deftly dodged, first one side, then the other. Then she lunged forward and slashed at one of Galvantula's legs. It chittered angrily as the blades struck.

    "String Shot!" Ash shouted. Leavanny understood his command perfectly. She shot a single thin but strong line of web at Galvantula's leg, ensnaring the spider Pokémon. At the same moment, she lunged backward as it fired an Electro Ball attack that glanced her in the side.

    "Pin Missile, don't let up," Dino commanded. Galvantula fired another wave of white at Leavanny. This time, the attack hit home, battering her, though she still managed to slip sideways and dodge the bulk of the hit.

    But Ash wasn't worried. He had begun to form a plan since his previous command to use string shot. "Now, up and over!" Dino's eyebrows raised in surprise at the odd command. Leavanny reacted instantly, her speed honed by practice. On her limber legs, she skipped forward and sprang gracefully over Galvantula's head, landing gracefully on the other side. The web, which still remained attached to Galvantula's leg, now ran over its body and to Leavanny. Before Dino could give another command, she yanked the web hard. Galvantula's leg was jerked into the air and it was deftly flipped onto its back.

    "X-Scissor!"Ash cried. With Galvantula briefly stunned and unable to move, she rushed in, executing a perfect X-Scissor on Galvantula's stomach. It chittered in rage and after a second of struggle, regained its footing and moved a safe distance away. Its eyes glistened with exhaustion, and Ash could tell it was tiring.

    Ash couldn't help but smile slightly. Leavanny was winded a bit from the brief attack she'd endured, but she could still fight. And her X-Scissor had done a lot of damage to Galvantula. A few more good hits and he could win this. Then... After this, it would be the last round of the qualifiers. Then the finals and... Tobias would be there. He would have to fight him again. How could he? Unova was supposed to be his chance to start over. A chance to win this time. To-

    Leavanny uttered a cry. Ash snapped back to reality just in time to see a thin bolt of electric energy ripple across the field and strike Leavanny. Sparks crackled over her form and she froze up, paralyzed by the Thunder Wave attack. He clenched his fists. His lack of focus had just cost Leavanny a bad hit. If he'd been paying attention, he could have tried to dodge. Instead, she'd been waiting for him to give and order and he'd let her down.

    "Energy Ball!" Dino said. Galvantula wasted no time in firing the swirling green orb at the frozen Leavanny. Unable to move at all, the attack struck her directly in the chest.

    "Oh no. Come on Leavanny, don't give up! Use Energy Ball!" Leavanny cringed and started to open her mouth. Her body shuddered with the effort as she attempted to use the attack.

    Dino didn't hesitate to press his advantage. "Pin Missile!" Galvantula fired five bursts of white needles. "No Leavanny!" Ash cried. Every single one struck her dead in the chest. With a final wail, she collapsed, unconscious. "No!" Ash cried. As he raced out onto the battlefield, the referee called the match.

    "Leavanny is unable to battle! Galvantula is the winner."

    Kneeling next to her, he slid his hand under her head. "Hey, Leavanny." She opened her red eyes and blinked at him, then made an apologetic cry. "No Leavanny, I'm sorry. I really let you down back there. I let myself get distracted during the battle and you paid the price."

    She nodded in acknowledgment. Ash pulled out her Pokéball and returned her. "Take a good long rest." He put the Pokéball away and stood up, crossing back to his side of the field. He pulled out his second Pokéball. He could still win this. Leavanny wouldn't lose in vain. "Go, Gigalith!"

    Gigalith emerged with a loud rumble.

    Renewed confidence filled Ash. No more distractions. No matter what happened in the future, all that mattered was here and now. He wouldn't let his Pokémon down, no matter what. The stone titan gave a nod, which Ash returned. "Let's win this buddy!"

    The referee raised his flags and called for the match to begin.

    Excitement filled him. "Stone edge!" he called.

    A powerful Stone Edge surged across the battlefield and erupted under Galvantula, launching the spider in the air. It was unconscious before it struck the ground. Dino returned his Pokémon and frowned.

    Ash, however, cheered happily. "Awesome, Gigalith!" He'd managed to take down Galvantula with little difficulty thanks to Gigalith. Now all that remained was Dino's final Pokémon.

    With a flick of his wrist, Dino tossed out his final Pokémon. A Sawsbuck appeared. It stamped its hoof against the earth and shook its head.

    A slight frown crossed Ash's face. Sawsbuck were grass-types, he was pretty sure. That would make things a tad more challenging. Which also meant more fun.

    "Double Kick!" Dino commanded. Sawsbuck charged across the battlefield in a blur. Just before it reached Gigalith, it reared up and lashed out with its front hooves.

    "Iron Defense," Ash snapped. Not a moment too soon, a silvery shine rippled across Gigalith's body.

    Sawsbuck's strikes collided, but Gigalith didn't flinch. "Again!" Dino cried. Sawsbuck planted its front hooves, spun, and struck out with his hind legs. As its kicks landed, Gigalith stepped to the side, allowing the kicks to just graze Gigalith's body. A glow gathered on Gigalith's horns on its head.

    Once again, Sawsbuck struck out with its hooves. "Now Gigalith, Solarbeam!" Gigalith's eyes glowed and it fired an intense beam of searing golden energy, hitting Sawsbuck in the chest and throwing it across the stadium. It landed and skidded, barely managing to catch itself.

    Dino grimaced, but remained ultimately unfazed "Horn Leech!" Sawbuck's horns shimmered gold and it charged.

    "Just wait..." Ash said calmly. Sawsbuck drew nearer. Ash waited. Just as it was nearly upon Gigalith, Ash gave his command. "Body Press!" Gigalith reared upwards. A shocked Sawsbuck ended up under Gigalith, who promptly proceeded to drop his entire body on top of it. Dust and energy exploded outwards. Sawsbuck brayed in pain.

    The dust settled. Sawsbuck managed to squeeze out and stagger a few feet away, panting. "One more Body Press!" Ash cried. Gigalith lumbered towards the weary Sawsbuck. He lunged to attack.

    "Dodge with Bounce," Dino said, crossing his arms. Sawsbuck sprang high into the air. As it was airborne, Ash saw a golden glimmer on its horns. It twisted, aiming its horns straight down in an attempt to use Horn Leech from above.

    Gigalith would have trouble dodging the attack from above... unless... "Use Stone Edge on yourself!" Ash shouted.

    Without hesitation, Gigalith stamped its foot on the earth. A glowing spire of rock erupted underneath him, throwing him into the air. Sawsbuck passed by a mere few inches and landed just below Gigalith, swaying from exhaustion.

    "Now, Body Press!" Gigalith hurtled downwards and slammed on top of Sawsbuck, crushing it underneath him. Dust covered the battlefield. It settled several seconds later, revealing Gigalith standing proudly over the unconscious form of his opponent.

    "Sawsbuck is unable to battle, Gigalith is the winner. Ash Ketchum wins the match!" The referee shouted.

    Ash whooped happily and ran onto the field and embraced Gigalith. At that moment, everything felt perfect. As long as he had his Pokémon by his side, there was nothing he couldn't do.


    Ash managed to defeat Dino, though not without a couple little hiccups. But now he's more ready than ever to face whatever comes. There will certainly be some unexpected occurrences here...

    Thank you, and enjoy! :)

    Ash stepped off the battlefield into the relative safety of the exit tunnel. He let out a long sigh and leaned against the wall. That battle had been harder than necessary. He felt like he'd let Leavanny down. Galvantula was a rough matchup, sure, but he was sure she could have won it. Instead, he'd allowed himself to be distracted. But Gigalith had helped him save the match. And in the end... he'd had fun, he realized. After all, even the best trainers could make mistakes. But he would learn from his.

    Pushing off the wall, he headed straight for the Pokémon center. His Pokémon deserved a nice rest. He hadn't made it far before Iris jogged up to him. "Hey Ash!" she called.

    "Oh, hey Iris," he said as he continued walking.

    She fell into step beside him. "You seemed kinda distracted during your match. Are you ok?"

    "Ah yeah..." Ash said uncomfortably. "Was it that obvious?"

    "No, but I've seen you battle before. I could tell something was off."

    Well that was a relief. At least he hadn't looked too bad out there. "Yeah. I started thinking about battling with Tobias, and got distracted. I'm still not sure what to do when I battle him again."

    "Well, it's like you told me, right? You just gotta focus on your Pokémon."

    Ash chuckled. "Yeah, you're right."

    "Do you have any other Pokémon you could use? I know you've got a lot of really strong Pokémon! Plus you've got Charizard and Sceptile!" Pikachu squeaked indignantly from Ash's shoulder. Iris smiled. "You too, Pikachu! Since you've fought Tobias before, doesn't that mean you know his battle style really well?"

    Ash nodded. "Yeah, I guess I do." He hadn't exactly considered it like that before. Last time he'd used Torkoal. But now that he knew Tobias's battling style a little better, he could prepare. Pikachu was stronger too, so were Charizard and Sceptile. And he had other Pokémon who might be able to help him fight Tobias. This time, he wouldn't be unprepared. "Thanks Iris, you're right!"

    She grinned at him. "Just figured I'd return the favor. Anyways, I'm gonna go do a little bit of training with Haxorus. I'll see you later!"

    "Bye!" he called. Smiling, he continued to the Pokémon center. Her encouragement had put him in a pretty good mood. As he handed off his Pokémon to Nurse Joy, he heard someone approach from behind him.

    Ash turned around to see AJ walking up. "Hey Ash! Congratulations on your win."

    "You too!" he replied, grinning at the older boy. AJ stepped up to the counter, greeting Nurse Joy. "Are Raticate and Sandslash ready yet?"

    Nurse Joy smiled pleasantly and nodded. "Yes they are. I'll be right back." She darted into the back, and AJ turned back to Ash. Before he could say a word, another trainer approached. Ash immediately recognized Trip. The blonde wore a trademark nonchalant look. When he saw Ash, he frowned slightly.

    "Hey Trip!" Ash said amiably.

    "Tch. Well if isn't Ash Ketchum. I'm surprised you even made it to the final round of the qualifiers."

    Ash tried his best to ignore the disparaging comment. "AJ, this is Trip! We battled a few times. Trip, this is my friend, AJ. He's from Kanto."

    Trip snorted. "Oh great, another trainer from the boonies."

    "Excuse me?" AJ snapped, taking a step towards Trip and glaring down at the other boy.

    Trip turned away. "You heard me."

    "You better watch your mouth, before I show you just how us trainers in Kanto fight." AJ's voice grew louder and he loomed over Trip, who seemed unfazed.

    Anger burned in Ash at the comment. He'd tried to be amiable before to Trip, but the boy refused to show a shred of decency. He was getting tired of it. A fire ignited in him. "What's your problem? Are you afraid you'll lose?" he taunted.

    "Against you? Hardly. You've never beat me before, remember? It won't even be a challenge if we fight." Trip shrugged. "Everyone knows nothing good comes out of Kanto."

    Ash moved towards Trip. AJ lunged at Trip, but before either of them could really do anything, Nurse Joy stepped in.

    "Boys!" she shouted. AJ stopped with his fists clenched around Trip's jacket. "No fighting!" she said insistently, frowning fiercely.

    AJ reluctantly let go of Trip, who looked a good deal more nervous than before. Ash clenched his fists. He longed to show Trip up. He was worse than Paul, in some ways. Before he or AJ could say anything else, the announcement system flickered to life.

    "Attention Trainers! We will now be announcing the matchups for the final round of the qualifiers! The final rounds will be held the day after tomorrow. Please check your nearest screen to see who your opponent will be."

    They paused and turned their attention to a screen just outside the Pokémon Center. AJ was facing off against some trainer Ash didn't recognize. Ash quickly searched out his own face. Directly next to it was... Trip.

    Trip snorted. "Well, looks like I get to knock you out before you even get to the finals." With that, he turned and strode arrogantly away. Fists clenched, Ash was nearly ready to chase after the boy, when AJ put a hand on his shoulder.

    Ash turned around in surprise. AJ wore a dark scowl on his face, and his eyes burned. "You gotta destroy him, Ash. Not just beat him. Wipe that smug grin off his face for good," he growled. "Nobody gets to talk trash about Kanto like that and get away with it."

    Relaxing slightly, Ash nodded. "Yeah, you're right," he grumbled, glaring in the direction Trip had left. He'd tried to be friendly, but Trip was too full of himself. No one talked like that about his home and got away with it. Some of his best and oldest friends were from Kanto. A sudden, wild idea occurred to him. One that was so crazy, it probably would never work, but if it did... "I gotta go!" he said. "Thanks, AJ!" He sprinted away, leaving behind a very perplexed AJ.

    Ash, on the other hand, felt brand new excitement coursing through him. Trip believed Kanto was the boonies? Then, by Arceus, he would show him exactly what the boonies looked like.

    xXx

    "Hey Cilan, have you seen Ash?" Iris asked. They both sat in the Pokémon center cafe, having finished their meals some time ago.

    Cilan shook his head. "No. I haven't seen him since his last battle."

    Iris frowned. That wasn't right. Usually, they would meet up after the battles were over, just to talk or hang out. Maybe he was training? Ash had been unusually determined as of late. But he hadn't even said anything, which was weird for him. "Do you know who he's battling next? It's... It's not that Tobias guy, right?" she shivered just thinking about him.

    Cilan shook his head. "Apparently he faces Trip the day after tomorrow."

    "Trip?" Iris said. "Wow, already? I guess he went to do more training. I sure wish he'd told us though." Some instinct told her he wasn't just 'training' though. She was sure Ash was up to something. But what?

    xXx

    Qualifiers, Final Round - Morning

    As it turned out, she didn't see Ash the next morning either. Or the morning after that. His bed didn't look slept in, either. According to Nurse Joy, she was pretty sure she hadn't noticed him return. He'd picked up his Pokémon and disappeared. Disappointed, Iris decided to head to the stadium to watch the final rounds. No matter what, she knew Ash would show up for his battle against Trip.

    Cameron managed to best his opponent using Ferrothorn, Samurott and Riolu. She found herself rather impressed by him. He could get distracted, but his Pokémon were pretty strong. Virgil really impressed her though. She'd never really thought of the Eevee line as being 'strong', but seeing them in battle made her realize they were a force to be reckoned with. Virgil was a masterful trainer, who clearly had trained his team well. He had a wide variety of tactics at his disposal and easily won his match. Iris found herself wondering if he might go to the finals.

    After that, Stephan was up. To Iris' disappointment, his opponent ended up being Tobias. She sat forwards slightly as Stephan sent out his Sawk, curious to see how Stephan would handle this battle.

    Sawk tightened its belt, facing Darkrai unflinchingly. Darkrai gazed back, its expression unreadable.

    The referee called for the battle to begin.

    "Alright Sawk, Bulk Up!" Sawk tightened its belt more and its body glowed red, its muscles bulging as it built up strength.

    "Darkrai, get close and use Dark Pulse!" Tobias called. Darkrai zigzagged across the field, barely more than a blur, and appeared in front of Sawk. It raised its arm and fired a close-range Dark Pulse. The sheer force knocked Sawk to the ground. Dust clouded everyone's view for a moment. Stephan gasped. "Sawk, no!" he shouted. A moment later, the dust settled, revealing Sawk, still standing, but only barely. Its body seemed to tremble with the effort, but it glared at its opponent, determination blazing in its eyes.

    "Wow!" Iris said. "I can't believe Sawk was able to withstand that attack."

    Cilan frowned, eyeing the blue Pokémon thoughtfully from their place in the stands. "I believe Sawk must have the special ability Sturdy. It allows it to endure a potentially fatal attack, just once."

    "Oh yeah! I remember reading about that," Iris mused. She mentally thanked her training at the Admissions exam. She'd gained quite a lot of knowledge there, she realized.

    "Alright Sawk, Reversal!" Stephan cried out, gesturing dramatically. Orange energy rippled across Sawk's body and it surged forward with unnatural speed and strength. It slammed into Darkrai, literally launching the dark-type halfway across the field. Darkrai visibly cringed from the blow, barely catching itself. It shook its head, its eyes narrowing as if evaluating its opponent more carefully.

    Tobias blinked, then smiled. Iris thought he seemed impressed. "Not bad. Darkrai, finish this. Ice Beam." Darkrai put its arms together and fired arcing beams of blue energy. Sawk made a valiant effort to dodge, but its exhaustion slowed it too much. Ice Beam hit home, and Sawk collapsed, unconscious.

    Iris sat back as Stephan sent out his second Pokémon. That had certainly been an impressive start. The Reversal trick had damaged Darkrai more than anyone else so far, she was pretty sure. The rest of the match, however, ended up fairly one-sided. Darkrai was injured, but not enough to slow it down. Even Zebstrika's speed proved to not be enough. She could only watch with sympathy as Tobias managed to defeat Stephan's last two Pokémon with only Darkrai.

    On the battlefield...

    Stephan sighed sadly as he returned his Liepard.

    "Wow folks, what a battle!" Freddie shouted enthusiastically. "Once again, Tobias has managed to win with his Darkrai alone! Trainer Stefan put up a good fight, but even he couldn't stand up to the might of Darkrai. Just how far can Tobias go?"

    Stephan groaned. "Oh come on... can't anyone get my name right?" He shook his head, rubbing the back of his neck as he chuckled to himself. "No matter, I guess." The announcer was right about one thing. Tobias was strong, that was for sure. He'd guessed he might lose though, as soon as he saw who his opponent was. It had been a great match anyway. Smiling, he crossed the field to Tobias. "That was an great match!" he said cheerfully. "Your Darkrai is impressive." He offered his hand to his opponent.

    Tobias smiled and nodded as he shook Stephan's hand. "Thank you. You did excellent as well, Stephan."

    Stephan's jaw dropped and his eyes began to water. "You pronounced my name right! Finally!" he cried. He began to weep dramatically. He didn't even care that he lost anymore. Someone had actually pronounced his name correctly.

    Tobias could only stare at the weeping trainer before him, perplexed. What an unusual boy...

    xXx

    Iris expected Stephan to be upset when he joined them in the stands to watch Ash's match, but he seemed happier than ever. Everyone handled loss differently, she supposed. When she asked him about it, he simply said something about someone saying his name right, then just started grinning wildly. She shrugged it off, simply pleased that he was pleased.

    Finally, the time of Ash's battle arrived. Iris sat anxiously on the edge of her seat, wondering where he'd been. She was sure he would show, no way would he miss the opportunity to battle his rival. Trip stepped onto his side of the field, standing lazily with a slight frown on his face.

    "Will contestant Ash Ketchum please enter the battlefield," the announcer called.

    Murmurs rippled through the crowd. Ash didn't appear. "Contestant Ash Ketchum, you have 1 minute to arrive or you will be disqualified."

    Iris clenched her fists. Where was he!? All of a sudden, Ash sprinted onto the field. He was panting as if he'd run all the way to the battlefield. "I'm sorry," he said, still gasping for breath. Gathering himself, he stood up tall, facing down Trip. "I'm ready to battle now!" He clutched a single, worn Pokéball in his hand. What on earth was he up to?

    On the battlefield...

    A moment later, Trip sent out his first Pokémon. Serperior appeared, coiling itself into a neat circle and gazing imperiously at its opponent. "So Ash, how will you face my Serperior?" Trip taunted.

    Ash grinned. His blood raced with excitement and he could barely sit still. It had taken him all night and yesterday to arrange everything, but it had been worth it. His heart lightened as he recalled the event that had taken place just a short time earlier. "I asked a good buddy to come help me today!" he shouted. He clenched the Pokéball in his hand tightly, a warm feeling filling his chest. This was a long time coming. And he couldn't think of a better time to see his old friend.

    With a flick of his risk, he tossed out the Pokéball. Light poured out, coalescing into a winged form he hadn't seen in a long time... As the Pokémon took shape, he called out four words that he hadn't said in what seemed like years. "Pidgeot, I choose you!"


    Now presenting, Ash vs Trip, the Smackdown of the Century!

    "Pidgeot, I choose you!"

    Pidgeot flared her wings and gave a loud, triumphant shriek. The sun glistened off her golden brown feathers and as the feathers of her crest caught the sun, they seemed to glow like living fire. Trip blinked, taken aback, then regained his composure.

    Ash ignored his opponent utterly, taking joy in seeing Pidgeot again. He remembered the day he let her go so clearly, with a promise to return. And now he'd fulfilled that promise. Getting back to Kanto hadn't been easy, sure, but it was worth it. Professor Oak had pulled a lot of favors to charter two special flights for him. That had left him with barely a day in Kanto to search out Pidgeot.

    He'd found her not at all far from where he'd left her. He hadn't even needed to explain anything, she gladly returned to him. From there, it was another harried rush to catch the flight back to Unova. Now, after all this time, he would see her battle again. And prove to Trip once and for all that he was wrong.

    "Ready Pidgeot?" he called, a child-like joy in his tone. She shrieked in acknowledgment.

    Trip snorted. "Doesn't make a difference to me. Serperior and I will win this."

    Ash just grinned. Right now, nothing else in the world mattered. Just him and Pidgeot, together again.

    The referee raised his hands. "Battle begin!"

    "Quick Attack!" Ash called.

    Almost the instant the words left his mouth, Trip called his command. "Dodge!"

    Pidgeot became nothing but a white streak. Serperior never even had the chance to move. Pidgeot slammed into it, sending it tumbling haphazardly across the battlefield.

    Trip gasped, visibly shocked at the display of speed. "Get up Serperior," he snapped. Serperior recovered, regaining itself and taking up a defensive stance. "Energy Ball!"

    Serperior summoned a large orb of swirling grass-energy and shot it at Pidgeot.

    "Dodge and use Aerial Ace!" Ash called. Pidgeot turned into a blur, flitting through the air. Instead of dodging Energy Ball, however, she rammed through it, slicing it clean in half and striking Serperior with her razor sharp beak. Serperior wailed in pain, slithering quickly away from Pidgeot, who hovered high in the sky with a predatory gaze.

    Trip grit his teeth. "Fly around all you want! We're not losing this to some pathetic bird from the boonies. Serperior, bring it down with Frenzy Plant!"

    "Dodge and use Quick Attack!" Ash cried. Pidgeot became a silvery blur once more as several vines erupted from the battlefield, all writhing to strike her. She weaved expertly through them, spiraling and looping through the air with a keen skill borne of years of defending her flock against intruders. One vine managed to catch her in the side, but she shook off the attack and rammed herself into Serperior again.

    This time, however, Trip was ready. "Wrap!" Serperior reacted in an instant, snapping upwards and managing to coil itself around one of Pidgeot's talons. She shrieked as Serperior wrapped itself tighter, pulling her back to the earth. She flinched, then fixed a gaze of pure fury on Serperior. Ash actually saw the snake-Pokémon flinch from the harshness of the gaze.

    In that moment, Ash knew exactly what Pidgeot was thinking. No better time to try at her new attack than now. "Hurricane!" he called triumphantly. Pidgeot actually smiled. A loud shriek pierced the air. Her wings still free, she beat them fiercely. A second later, a huge gale was summoned around Serperior and it was yanked into the sky. With absolute ease, Pidgeot tore herself free reared back and whipped her wings forwards, letting loose two massive crescent-like blades. Serperior was struck twice. The winds died down a few moments later Serperior was dropped unceremoniously onto the battlefield, out cold.

    Trip frowned and returned Serperior to its Pokéball. "Hmph. You may have defeated Serperior, but you won't have such an easy time with my next Pokémon! Go Vanilluxe!"

    Ash smirked. "We got this, right Pidgeot?" he called. She shrieked an affirmative, seemingly unfazed by the presence of the ice-type.

    Trip, however, seemed supremely confident. "You got lucky against Serperior. But you won't do so great defeating an ice-type."

    The comment barely registered to Ash. In the skies overhead, Pidgeot dipped and swooped through the sky, displaying her impressive agility.

    "Battle begin!"

    Wasting no time, Trip shouted his next command. "Icicle Spear! Knock it out of the sky."

    Vanilluxe emitted an odd howl, summoning several wickedly sharp needles of ice. Tilting its head upwards, it fired them with machine-like speed towards Pidgeot.

    "Dodge it," Ash called. Pidgeot slipped easily into a complex aerial dance, weaving and twisting around the icicles. Two managed to strike blows, but they were glancing at best. "Now Pidgeot, Steel Wing!"

    Pulling off a tight loop, she shot down towards the earth like a rocket, skimming across the battlefield and kicking up a cloud of dust behind her.

    "Ice Beam!" Came Trip's frantic reply. Vanilluxe barely had time to form the beginnings of the attack before Pidgeot rammed it with her wings, sending the cone-shaped Pokémon somersaulting backward. She pulled up and swerved back to Ash's side of the battlefield, eyeing the dazed Vanilluxe with absolute delight.

    A deep scowl formed on Trip's face. "Vanilluxe, Blizzard!" The temperature on the battlefield dropped a couple degrees as a massive cone of wind howled towards Pidgeot. She shot upwards to dodge, but Trip must have anticipated, because a second later, Vanilluxe managed to get off a second Blizzard attack above Pidgeot, sending her reeling. Tiny ice crystals formed on her wingtips and her crest.

    Vanilluxe let up, panting from exertion, while Trip beamed. "How'd you like a taste of our ice-attacks?"

    "Not bad!" Ash called back. "But it'll take more than that to stop us, right Pidgeot?" Landing, Pidgeot glanced back at him and shrieked in acknowledgment. "Use Quick Attack!" Spreading her wings, Pidgeot launched herself forwards, striking a solid blow that sent Vanilluxe spinning. "Again!" Ash cried.

    Once more, Pidgeot looped around and dove at Vanilluxe. Then Trip surprised him. "Icicle Spear and keep spinning." With a cry of acknowledgment, Vanilluxe began spinning faster, spewing several daggers of ice. Pidgeot jerked back, though not quite fast enough to avoid getting stuck in the chest by one.

    Ash frowned slightly, then grinned again. "Not bad, Trip!" Getting close would be a bit of a challenge now. He glanced up at Pidgeot, who had moved back a safe distance. "Quick Attack, one more time!" he shouted. Pidgeot shrieked in affirmation and slipped into a white blur. At a command from Trip, Vanilluxe wasted no time spinning and firing several more Icicle projectiles at her. Which was exactly what Ash hoped for.

    "Grab them!" Twisting mid-air, Pidgeot snatched two icicles, one in each talon and spiraled away.

    Trip's face contorted in frustration. "Ice Beam!" With surprising swiftness, Vanilluxe switched immediately to Ice Beam, firing the blue energy at Pidgeot.

    "Now, block it!" Ash cried, smiling. Pidgeot held up the two icicles in an 'x' formation, diverting the worst of the attack. On top of that, getting hit with ice actually made the two spears even larger.

    "What will you do now? You can't dodge forever," Trip called. "And you can't get too close or I'll freeze you."

    "Oh yeah? Pidgeot, up in the air with Quick Attack." In a rush of wind, Pidgeot flew high into the sky, so high she was a mere dot in the sky. "Do it!" Ash said confidently. Even after all this time, he and Pidgeot still understood each other. In the air, Pidgeot shot downwards, her speed enhanced with Quick Attack. A long distance away from Vanilluxe, she flicked her talons, hurling the two huge icicle spears downwards with frightful force.

    Vanilluxe hardly saw it coming. The two spears crashed down on its body, knocking it to the ground and stunning it.

    "Steel Wing." A half-second after the icicle's impact, Pidgeot followed her wings shining with energy. When the dust cleared, the outcome was evident.

    "Vanilluxe is unable to battle! Pidgeot is the winner."

    Trip's jaw dropped and he gaped at the sight of his ice-type, unconscious. With a small frown, he returned Vanilluxe. For a second, he hesitated, then selected his third Pokéball. He smiled to himself briefly before hiding the expression behind one of indifference. "Go, Conkeldurr!"

    A giant, hulking brute of a Pokémon emerged with a growl. It carried two huge stone pillars with it picked up with ease and slammed into the earth. Ash scanned it with his Pokédex, though he already had a strong suspicion that Trip had evolved his Gurdurr. The reading from the Pokédex confirmed his hypothesis. "Wow Trip, your Gurdurr evolved! That's awesome."

    The only response from the other boy was an eye roll. "Only you would see that your opponent is stronger and think its 'awesome'."

    Ash shrugged off the comment. "Hey Pidgeot," he called. "I know you're excited, but I want to give someone else a chance to battle." Pidgeot nodded in understanding and flew down to land next to Ash.

    A visible look of surprise crossed Trip's face. "What are you doing? Why would you recall your Pidgeot when you have the advantage?"

    Ash just chuckled. "I wanted to give one of my other friends a chance to battle. He really wanted to." Reaching back, he took out his second Pokéball and released the Pokémon within. Bulbasaur emerged with a growl of delight, narrowing his eyes when he saw his opponent.

    "Hah!" Trip guwaffed. "A Bulbasaur? You didn't even evolve it."

    "Bulbasaur wanted to evolve when he's ready," Ash replied simply.

    There was no more time to talk, as the referee called the battle a moment later. "Battle begin!

    "Okay Bulbasaur, let's try Leech Seed," Bulbasaur grunted in understanding, narrowing his eyes in determination. Angling his bulb forward, he wasted no time launching a barrage of tiny seeds that landed all around Conkeldurr. They sprouted instantly, thin vines wrapping around Conkeldurr's feet.

    The massive muscular Pokémon grunted and stepped forward, tearing itself free, though several more small vines sprouted again, worming towards it. "Bulk up!" Trip shouted, gesturing to his Pokémon. Planting its two pillars into the ground, it flexed its muscles, causing them to bulge and glow with energy.

    At nearly the same moment, Ash called his next command. "Bulbasaur, use Razor Leaf!" Bulbasaur hurled a swirling storm of razor sharp leaves at Conkeldurr. They slammed into its tough hide, making it flinch slightly. It seemed to shake off the damage fairly easily, however, causing Ash to frown. This thing was definitely tough. Clearly it was Trip's backup plan.

    "Now, Strength!" Conkeldurr growled, lifting its two pillars easily as sticks. In a surprising display of speed, it rushed forwards, pillars poised to attack.

    "Dodge," Ash cried. Bulbasaur darted to the side, but Conkeldurr moved as well, swinging its pillars in a wide arc. They smacked into Bulbasaur, sending him tumbling across the battlefield. He managed to catch himself and land upright, grunting in displeasure while Conkeldurr eyed him with a triumphant smirk. Leech Seed's tiny vines latched onto its feet, draining a small amount of energy, causing Bulbasaur to glow slightly. Ash grinned at the sight, while Trip seemed unimpressed.

    "Leech Seed won't stop us. Conkeldurr, Strength, again!"

    Well, if Trip was going to try for a power assault, he wouldn't let up either. "Vine Whip!" Rushing forwards, Bulbasaur summoned dual vines, lashing out at Conkeldurr, battering its chest and arms. Conkeldurr lashed out with a powerful one-two strike, the second blow managed to glance off Bulbasaur, causing him to stagger.

    "Stone Edge!" Came Trip's command. Conkeldurr shifted, lumbering backward, at the same moment lifting its two pillars and slamming them into the earth. A rush of spiked rocks surged towards Bulbasaur, who still had his vines extended.

    "Dodge!" Ash snapped. He grinned with delight as Bulbasaur propelled himself expertly backward with his vines, deftly avoiding the surging line of stone. As the last one erupted from the ground, Bulbasaur wrapped his vines around it, swung himself in an arc, and threw himself towards a shocked Conkeldurr. "Razor Leaf." Even as Ash gave the command, Bulbasaur sensed his intentions, already shooting out the barrage of leaves. They struck Conkeldurr soundly, this time doing real damage. It winced visibly and cringed, fixing a furious glare on its opponent. Again, the tiny vines of leech seed sprouted up and latched onto Conkeldurr, sapping a tiny amount of its strength.

    "Rock Tomb," Trip said, still confident. With a stamp of its pillars, a multitude of rocks appeared above Bulbasaur, then dropped down.

    "Destroy those with Razor Leaf!" Ash cried frantically. Bulbasaur frantically started hurling the leaves, but even as they destroyed a few of the oncoming rocks, more seemed to appear, raining down on his Pokémon. "Vine Whip! Shield yourself!"

    Just as the rocks crashed down, Bulbasaur threw up a desperate shield of vines over his body. They slammed on top of him, briefly burying him under rubble. Dust shrouded the area. A tense silence over the stadium as the whole crowd seemed to hold its breath.

    Rocks exploded outwards, sending up a cloud of dust. As it cleared, Ash saw Bulbasaur, vines arched over his body in a protective shield. He was breathing heavily but still facing Conkeldurr triumphantly. He appeared battered, sure, but far from spent. "Great job, buddy," he called. Bulbasaur gave a happy rumble, then refocused on his opponent.

    A small frown crossed Trip's face. "Very well. Let's end this. Bulk Up." As Conkeldurr began charging the technique, inspiration struck Ash.

    "Bulbasaur, get ready to use Solar Beam." With a nod, the grass-type planted himself, his bulb beginning to glow as it charged energy.

    "Now, Strength!"

    Ash grimaced inwardly. Bulbasaur still needed more time to charge- Conkeldurr surged forwards, pillars raised high in the air. Bulbasaur's eyes widened. Then Conkeldurr brought its two pillars slamming down on Bulbasaur. The two blows cratered Bulbasaur into the battlefield. Growling, Conkeldurr raised the pillars again, bringing them crashing down in a brutal followup.

    "Bulbasaur!" Ash cried. Dust had covered the battlefield from the force of the impacts, shielding the Pokémon from view.

    Smirking, clearly pleased, Conkeldurr took a step back. Confidence radiated from Trip as he relaxed and grinned across the battlefield. Ash clenched his fists and peered deeper into the cloud of dust. He knew that it wasn't over yet, he could feel it.

    Slowly, the dust settled, revealing a crater several feet deep. As Ash watched, the dirt and rubble shifted. Two vines emerged over the top of the crater, and Bulbasaur pulled himself out, then shook himself, sending small pebbles flying. Ash grinned from ear to ear as Bulbasaur smirked back at Conkeldurr and growled, clearly indicating he was ready for more.

    Conkeldurr, for its part, seemed shocked, gaping awkwardly at the tiny grass-type, as if unable to believe how such a small Pokémon was still standing. It's expression mirrored its trainer, who seemed equally perplexed and frustrated.

    In that moment, Ash felt surprisingly calm. He knew beyond a shadow of a doubt Bulbasaur could win this fight. Would win. Trip didn't know how far he'd gone with Bulbasaur. The trials they'd fought. The challenges they'd faced. Trip assumed he already knew everything about Pokémon and battling. Which Pokémon were the best. Which region was the best. A huge, wild grin spread across Ash's face and he stood up a little straighter. It was time to show Trip how trainers from the boonies fought.

    "Alright Bulbasaur, get in close!" Bulbasaur rushed forwards.

    Conkeldurr raised his pillars in anticipation. "Strength! Finish it!" Conkeldurr tried to bring its two pillars down on Bulbasaur again, but this time the starter was ready. With a deft vine-whip, he shoved himself backward, just out of reach. Just as he landed, the same vines shot out, snatching the two massive concrete pillars from Conkeldurr's grasp.

    In a single, swift motion, Bulbasaur raised the two pillars high and brought them crashing down on Conkeldurr's head. His vines lashed furiously as he battered the shocked Conkeldurr once, twice, three times, then four. With a cry of triumph, he tossed the two pillars aside. They crashed to the ground, rolling to the far sides of the stadium.

    Conkeldurr stood in the middle of the stadium, dazed. "Finish it!" Ash shouted triumphantly. "Solar Beam!"

    The attack was charged with a few moments.

    "Dodge!" Trip shouted. Conkeldurr shifted and blinked, then seemed to realize the trouble it was in. Unfortunately, it was far too late. A bright beam of energy shot from Bulbasaur's bulb, striking Conkeldurr directly in the chest and knocking it to the ground.

    Across the field, Trip stared, dumbfounded, at his fainted Pokémon. The referee raised his flag.

    "Conkeldurr is unable to battle! Contestant Ash Ketchum is the winner! He will be moving on to the finals."

    Grinning Ash couldn't resist calling out to Trip, "Hey Trip, how's that for the boonies?"

    xXx

    Still grinning madly from his win, Ash trotted out of the stadium with a bounce in his step. He'd won! And not just won, but he'd really shown how amazing his Kanto Pokémon were. Best of all, this meant he'd made it to the finals. That meant he was... he did an arduous mental calculation. Top 8! He gave a low whistle to himself. Top 8 in all of Unova... The next three rounds would be 6 on 6 battles if he remembered Cilan's explanations right.

    Halfway to the Pokémon Center, he saw someone approach out of the corner of his eye. Turning to face the figure, his eyes widened in surprise.

    "Hey Trip," he said. Admittedly, he was surprised to see his 'rival'. What on earth could Trip want? He didn't seem to be the compliment giving type.

    Trip stared at him for several moments before speaking. "I need to know something." His tone seemed forceful, but not condescending as it usually was.

    "What's that?" Ash asked.

    "Who was your third Pokémon?"

    Ash blinked. "Huh?"

    Trip seemed to grow more agitated, though his frustration, for once, seemed directed elsewhere than Ash. "Other than Pidgeot and Bulbasaur, who else did you bring to the match?"

    At that, Ash chuckled and rubbed the back of his neck. "I didn't actually bring anyone else, honestly. I was going to let Pidgeot do all the battles, but Bulbasaur really wanted a chance to battle again too."

    "You're saying you only brought two Pokémon?" Trip demanded. "To a three on three match?"

    "Sure did! I didn't need anyone else."

    Trip gaped, then shut his mouth. "How could you know?!" He cried.

    Ash simply shrugged. "I dunno. I guess I just know my Pokémon really good. I believe in them no matter what, you know?"

    Blinking, Trip could only stare at Ash, pure confusion written on his face. He slowly shook his head, a frown tugging at his lips. "You're crazy," he said finally. Frowning and still shaking his head, he turned and walked away.

    Ash shrugged, then resumed his trek to the Pokémon center. His friends had agreed to meet him there, and he was eager to rejoin with them, as well as Pikachu.

    xXx

    Healing his Pokémon turned out to be a quick affair, and before Ash knew it, Nurse Joy had given him back his pokeballs. He turned around to look for any sign of his companions and spotted them walking through the doors of the center.

    Pikachu broke away from them, scampering up to him and jumping into his arms. Ash laughed happily, scratching Pikachu's head and hugging him. Pikachu let out a series of congratulatory squeaks, nuzzling into him.

    "Ash that was incredible!" Iris gushed, racing over to him.

    Cilan's eyes shone with pure delight as he approached. "Indeed! That was truly a battle to be savored!"

    "It was pretty fun." Ash admitted, grinning from the praise. "Thanks guys!"

    "I didn't know you had Pidgeot, Ash!" Iris added. "It was beautiful! And super strong! You took down that Vanilluxe so easily," Even as she spoke the name of the ice-type, she shivered. Ash resisted a smile at the sight, even after her win against Georgia, some of her fear still remained.

    "Yeah, I've got a lot of great flying types," Ash admitted. Now that he thought about it, he was pretty sure he'd caught a bird in every region... At this point, it was practically a tradition.

    "And your Bulbasaur is like a Master Chef!" Cilan cried. "He truly brought a new and sensational flavor to the battle."

    "Thanks! All my Pokémon are pretty awesome," Ash admitted. "Especially Bulbasaur. He's been with me a really long time." Just then a rumbling noise sounded from somewhere. It took him another good two seconds to realize the sound came from his own belly. He chuckled awkwardly. "Man, I am hungry though. I barely had a chance to eat..."

    "Well let's go now then," Cilan suggested. "I know a delicious place we can get some food at."

    At that moment, nothing sounded better to Ash than food. "Sounds awesome! Let's go!"

    xXx

    A short time later, Ash was wolfing down a huge pile of food they'd bought from a local cafe. Pikachu sat on the table with him, raiding the ketchup bottle on the table, while Cilan and Iris sat across, eating their food at a much more sedate pace. Iris, naturally, had opted to simply order a plate of raw berries, while both Ash and Cilan had ordered local dishes.

    Halfway through his meal, the announcement system dinged. Ash immediately looked up, eyes fixating on a nearby TV. The matchups for the finals were about to be announced.

    Freddie ran across the usual announcements, congratulating trainers who had made it this far, then explaining how the finals would consist of full battles. A few moments later, the matchups appeared on the TV screens. Ash scanned the faces, taking stock of who had made it this far.

    With a note of surprise, Ash saw he was up against Cameron. That would be fun for sure. Tobias, AJ and Virgil had all made it, and were all battling other trainers he didn't recognize. He glanced down at Pikachu, who had finished off his ketchup and had flopped down contentedly on the table. "Hey, Pikachu, ready for a battle tomorrow?"

    Pikachu shot upright with a cry of eagerness, all tiredness forgotten. Ash chuckled and patted his head. "No matter what, I promise you'll be the first Pokémon I use. 'Kay?" Pikachu smirked and nodded, his eyes glowing with determination and his cheek pouches sparking.

    "So do you have any plans for the rest of your team, Ash?" Cilan asked. "I'm sure your Pidgeot would be an excellent match for Cameron's Riolu."

    "Nah," Ash said easily. "She would, but I promised she could go back home to keep an eye on her flock. Besides, I really want to battle more with some of the Pokémon I caught in Unova. They worked hard and its only fair to give them a chance."

    Cilan nodded in understanding. "I wouldn't expect anything else from you." He said as he smiled knowingly. He stood up, picking up his plate of finished food. "Now, I think this calls for a celebration. I'm going to get us one of their famous Vertress Cakes for desert. I'll be right back!" Cilan strode swiftly away.

    Ash's eyes lit up in anticipation at the thought of dessert. Then he glanced over to see Iris regarding him with a curious look. "What?" he asked, confused.

    She shook her head and grinned cheerfully. "Ash Ketchum, you are full of surprises."

    "Huh?"

    "First you bring back a super strong Charizard, and now it turns out you have a bunch of really cool Pokémon from all over? And you even have a dragon! Not to mention an amazing Pidgeot." She shook her head, still wearing her friendly grin. "I always thought you were... well you know, a kid." She chuckled. "But you're actually kinda cool."

    Ash's eyes widened and Pikachu cocked his head, as if unable to believe his ears. A light smile grew on Ash's face at the unexpected compliment. "Thanks Iris. And you know, you've really learned a lot. I mean, you went from an Axew who could barely use an attack to a Haxorus!"

    "Heyyy," Iris grumbled, putting on a fake pouting face. "Axew was always strong. He just had... hidden strength." She smirked and planted her hands on her hips.

    "Yeah sure, whatever you say Iris," he teased. "It was so hidden it kept blowing up in his face all the time."

    She crossed her arms and scowled. Then she broke out into a laugh, and Ash laughed as well. Their laughter finally petered out as Cilan approached, carrying a sizable and beautifully decorated cake. "Well, I'm glad you two are getting along." He set the cake on the table, and both Ash and Iris leaned forwards in anticipation.

    In a few swift motions, Cilan produced a knife and neatly sliced the cake. Just as Ash was about to dig in, Cilan held up his hand. "Before you eat, there's one more thing to do." He flashed a huge smile, did a dramatic pose and cried out, "It's evaluation time!"

    Iris and Ash simultaneously rolled their eyes and took a slice of cake, even as Cilan continued to ramble, utterly oblivious to the fact that two trainers had already begun eating. As Ash polished off his piece, sliding half to Pikachu, he sat back feeling satisfied. Not just from the food, but his company too. He had made it to the finals of the Unova League, with some of his best friends by his side. And he was confident he could win the next match. After that, he would be one step closer to becoming a Pokémon Master.

    Six on Six battles are exhausting to plan and write. But I think my first 6 on 6 went well! I hope everyone enjoys. Without further ado, Ash v Cameron!

    "On the red side, we have Cameron from Mistralton City. And on the green side, we have Ash Ketchum from Pallet Town, in Kanto Region! The first match of the Unova League finals is going to be an action-packed full-battle between these two talented trainers!" Freddie's voice boomed. "Cameron has shown off impressive skills with his Samurott and Riolu, while Ash has shown he has plenty of unexpected Pokémon and unconventional tactics. Who will emerge victorious? Let's find out!"

    Ash bounced lightly on his toes as he took his spot on the battlefield opposite Cameron. Cameron grinned widely at him and adjusted his headband. His Riolu stood at his side, tossing a few air jabs and making eager cries.

    "Well Cameron, this is it!" Ash called. "The first match of the finals."

    "Sure is! So are you ready to see my secret weapon?" Cameron asked, his voice brimming with confidence.

    "We sure are. Right buddy?" he turned to gaze down at Pikachu who wore a look of determination. Sparks danced across the electric mouse's cheeks and he grinned.

    "Trainers, release your Pokémon!" The referee called.

    Pikachu exploded forwards with a cry of excitement and took up a battle stance. Across the field, Cameron selected a black Pokéball with green spots. "Lets, gooo!" With a smile, he pressed the button and tossed it onto the field.

    A massive three-head dragon with black and blue scales exploded onto the field. All three heads shrieked simultaneously before the two on either side snapped at the center one. The center one retaliated with a warning snarl and the Pokémon settled down, fixing a beady-eyed glare on Pikachu.

    Ash's eyes widened at the appearance of the dragon. Thanks to Iris, he recognized it very well - Hydreigon, the final evolved form of Deino. It was regarded as being among the strongest of Pokémon, matched only by other dragon types like Salamence or Garchomp. How on earth Cameron had managed to catch and evolve one was beyond him. "Wow! So your secret weapon is a Hydreigon," Ash said.

    Cameron nodded proudly. "Get ready to see some secret weapon power."

    A moment later, the referee raised his flags to call the match.

    "Pikachu, Quick Attack!" Ash shouted. Pikachu became a white blur and streaked across the field, slamming into Hydreigon's chest and causing it to reel back.

    "Now Hydreigon, Tri attack!" Cameron called. Pikachu had barely landed before each of Hydreigon's heads summoned spheres of energy and shot them at Pikachu.

    "Dodge!" Pikachu leaped to the side, the initial bolt of electricity missing him. He sprang backwards again, dodging the second strike, but the third, a blast of fire energy, struck home. Pikachu tumbled across the battlefield but quickly caught himself and faced Hydreigon.

    "Thunderbolt!" Pikachu loosed a bolt of lightning, shocking Hydreigon before it could move.

    Hydreigon snarled, then shook itself, as if barely affected by the attack. Ash grimaced. Hydreigon would be a tough opponent.

    Cameron gestured dramatically, "Hydreigon, quick, Dragon Pulse!" All three heads fixed their attention on Pikachu. They reared back, then each head fired a separate blast of energy - one fire, one ice, one electricity.

    Ash frowned. "Dodge with Quick Attack." Pikachu dashed forwards, narrowly missing the initial blast. A second exploded in front of him, causing him to trip and fly forwards, then the third smashed into him, sending him flying. He crashed to the ground hard, kicking up a cloud of dust.

    "Pikachu!" Ash shouted, then he paused. Something told him Pikachu was waiting for him, ready to attack. "Electro Ball, up in the air!" Before the dust settled, an orb of electricity shot from the cloud and struck Hydreigon's head. It snarled angrily as the dust settled and Pikachu landed on all fours. Ash grinned. "Awesome, Pikachu!"

    "Man, you were able to command Pikachu even when it couldn't see? That's awesome!" Cameron crowed.

    "Thanks," Ash called. He focused his attention back on the battle. A strategy of sorts began to form in his mind. "Quick Attack, zig-zag Pikachu."

    Nodding in affirmation, Pikachu scampered forwards, zipping back and forth.

    At Cameron's command, Hydreigon began firing Dark Pulses at Pikachu. The first several attempts missed, just as Ash hoped. However, with each strike, the three heads got closer and closer and adapted to cornering Pikachu. Just as one struck, another would be waiting to strike and force Pikachu to dodge again. One Dark Pulse hit Pikachu, then another. Ash gritted his teeth. This wasn't good. Hydreigon's three heads were more troublesome than he anticipated.

    "Get under it and use Thunderbolt!" In the blink of an eye, Pikachu complied. He rushed under the floating dragon, then loosed a powerful bolt of electricity straight up. Hydreigon shrieked as it was shocked.

    "Give your best Dragon Rush!" Cameron said. A cloak of blue energy formed around Hydreigon's body as it shook off the electricity. It dove straight down at Pikachu.

    No time to dodge. "Iron Tail!" Pikachu tail glowed as he sprang into the air and slammed his tail into the approaching Hydreigon. The two Pokémon vied for dominance for a tense few seconds. Then energy exploded outwards, a brief cloud of smoke obscuring the combatants.

    It faded after a few seconds, revealing both Pokémon panting from exertion. Cameron growled in frustration. "Man your Pikachu is so strong!"

    "Yeah? Get ready for some more!" Ash said. "Thunderbolt!" Pikachu fired a blast of electricity towards Hydreigon.

    "Dark Pulse!" Cameron called. The three heads fired the pulse in unison, and darkness and electricity collided. Then Thunderbolt sliced through the Dark Pulse, forcing it back before shocking Hydreigon again. It roared angrily and shook its heads. Ash scowled. Pikachu was tiring, and while Hydreigon was too, it was weathering the hits better than Pikachu. Pikachu could hit it, yes, but doing enough damage before Hydreigon hit back would be hard. Plus its three heads gave it an advantage. Unless...

    "Ready Pikachu?" he called. Pikachu turned to face him and nodded, understanding passing between them.

    "Okay Hydreigon, let's finish this. Dragon Pulse, full power!" Cameron shouted.

    "Okay Pikachu, Quick Attack, again!" Pikachu raced forwards as Hydreigon charged the attack. Then, without warning, Pikachu darted under Hydreigon. Two heads whipped around to attack, just as Pikachu stopped short, leaped into the air, and landed on the middle head. Instantly, the two heads turned, facing the center head, and unleashed their attacks.

    Blue energy exploded across the battlefield. Dust flew everywhere. Ash shielded his eyes with his arm, struggling to catch a glimpse of the Pokémon. This time, it took several seconds for the dust to settle. When it finally did, Hydreigon lay slumped on the ground, seemingly unconscious. Ash anxiously glanced around, but he saw no sign of Pikachu. The referee stepped closer to the dragon. The crowd fell still, as if collectively holding their breath.

    Then Hydreigon's center head moved. It shifted again, and a furry yellow head poked out, followed by two black-tipped ears. The ears twitched, then Pikachu squeezed out from under Hydreigon's body and looked back at his opponent.

    The referee raised his flag. "Hydreigon is unable to battle! Pikachu is the winner!"

    Wild cheering exploded throughout the stadium and Pikachu trotted wearily but proudly back to Ash. "That was awesome, buddy!" Ash cried, scoping Pikachu into his arms. Pikachu squeaked, clearly pleased with himself.

    Cameron frowned and returned Hydreigon. "Oh man, I can't believe you took down my secret weapon already! I was sure I could defeat at least three of your Pokémon first. That's just like your Pikachu I guess."

    Ash chuckled at that notion. "Thanks! That Hydreigon of yours was pretty cool too." He smiled down at Pikachu before setting him on the ground. "Take a good rest, kay? I might need you later." Pikachu nodded and flopped down beside Ash, panting happily.

    Ash selected his second Pokémon. "Go, Scrafty!" Scrafty emerged with a grunt, eyeing Cameron dispassionately.

    Cameron's smile returned and he selected another Pokéball. "Alright, if you're choosing that Pokémon, then this is going to be my choice! Go Ferrothorn!" He tossed out his Pokéball, and light emerged. Ferrothorn emerged with a hollow cry. Its metal body glistened in the sun, and its spiked body glinted dangerously.

    Ash eyed the Pokémon. He remembered it was part steel-type so that would give him a slight advantage. The referee raised his flags and called the match.

    "Okay Ferrothorn, time to try our new move! Ingrain!"

    Ingrain? What was that? For once, he wished Cilan were here to exposit to him...

    Ferrothorn slammed its 'arms' into the ground. Thick, sturdy vines extended form it, burrowing deep into the earth. Ash narrowed his eyes. He wasn't sure what Ingrain did, but he figured it was best to do this battle like he approached all battles. Head on, full power.

    "Scrafty, Focus Blast!" Scrafty held his hands together, gathering an orb of energy between them. He hurled the orb forward. It shot across the field and collided with Ferrothorn. It flinched back, but remained unmoved, its roots still planted. The roots glowed bright green, then Ferrothorn's body glowed as well.

    Ash frowned. Did Ferrothorn just restore its health? No matter, if he could attack hard enough, it wouldn't matter.

    "Ferrothorn, Pin Missile!" Cameron called. The spikes on Ferrothorn's body glowed bright white, then it fired a barrage of darts at Scrafty.

    "Use your skin!" Ash cried. Scrafty yanked up the folds of his skin just in time. Even so, the force of the attack still caused him to stagger. Ferrothorn didn't seem mobile, so maybe... "Scrafty, Hi Jump Kick!"

    Scrafty snatched up his skin, holding it as he darted across the field. Then he leaped high into the air, his foot glowing orange. Ferrothorn's eyes darted up in worry as Scrafty bore down on it.

    "Oh no! Do something!" Cameron yelled. Ferrothorn grunted in reply, clearly perplexed by the command. Then Scrafty slammed onto it. It grunted, sagging under the force of the impact. At the same moment, Scrafty gave a cry of pain and fell to the ground, falling to one knee.

    "You okay?" Ash called anxiously. What was that? Had Ferrothorn managed some kind of counterattack? The roots glowed again, and Ferrothorn's body glowed as well as a portion of its energy returned.

    "Pin Missle, again!" Ferrothorn quickly fired a barrage of needles at Scrafty, dealing a solid blow. Scrafty shook off the attack and narrowed his eyes.

    "Okay Scrafty, use Assurance!"

    Scrafty nodded determinedly, its hands glowing with dark energy. It rushed the opposing Ferrothorn, striking its body hard. Ferrothorn grunted, and Scrafty staggered back with a cry of pain. He clutched his hands to his chest, clearly distressed.

    "Metal Claw, Ferrothorn." In a blur, Ferrothorn raised one of its claws and lashed out, catching Scrafty in the face and sending him tumbling backward. He stood, shaking himself, and glared at his opponent. He panted slightly, minute scratches showing on his scales. Ash stared frowned. Somehow, Ferrothorn was hurting Scrafty whenever he used physical attacks. "Focus Blast!" Scrafty began charging the attack.

    "Uh oh. Ferrothorn, Thunderbolt!" Cameron shrieked. Sparks cracked over Ferrothorn's form and he blasted a bolt of electricity at Scrafty. Still charging his attack, Scrafty didn't have time to dodge, and instead fired the focus blast early. The weak orb of energy was blasted apart by Thunderbolt, which struck Scrafty.

    Scrafty grunted in pain and fell to one knee. "Scrafty!" Ash called. Scrafty stood up trembling. "Can you keep going?" Scrafty nodded determinedly. "Okay, let's try getting close with Leer!" Scrafty darted forwards, stopping a short distance away from Ferrothorn and narrowing his eyes, shooting the steel-type a dark glare. Ferrothorn flinched slightly. "Now, Focus Blast!"

    Scrafty charged the orb, then threw it. It struck Ferrothorn, but even as it did, the roots returned energy to it.

    Cameron grinned. "Metal Claw again!"

    "Get back!" Scrafty attempted to scramble backward, but it wasn't fast enough. Ferrothorn's long arm caught him and sent him tumbling across the earth.

    "Finish this with Thunderbolt!" Cameron crowed.

    Ash's eyes widened. There was no time to dodge. "Block it!" Weakened, Scrafty pulled up his scales just in time. The force of the electricity caused him to slide backward. Scrafty shook with exertion, trying to deflect the attack. Exhaustion overcame him and he faltered. A powerful surge of electricity shocked the fighting type and he was thrown backward. He slammed into the earth hard, not moving. "Scrafty?" Ash called uncertainty.

    Scrafty's body shuddered, and he pushed himself halfway upright. Then he grunted and collapsed, unconscious.

    "Scrafty is unable to battle!" The referee called. "Ferrothorn is the winner."

    Cameron pumped his fists. "Oh man, I'm so stoked! This is going awesome!"

    Ash sighed and returned Scrafty. "Take a good rest. You did awesome," he murmured to the Pokéball. That had been rather disappointing, he reflected. Looking back on it, Scrafty was simply not a good match for a Pokémon like Ferrothorn. It was exceedingly tough, and it seemed to be able to injure anything that made physical contact. Plus it had put down those roots... He shook his head. Well, he would learn from this. If he'd switched, one of his other Pokémon could've handled Ferrothorn.

    Selecting his second Pokémon, he threw out the Pokéball with no hesitation. "Go Emboar!"

    The fire pig landed on the battlefield and flexed his arms, then snorted a puff of flame as he stamped the earth.

    Across the battlefield, Cameron simply grinned, seemingly unfazed. "We've got this, Ferrothorn," he stated.

    The referee called for the match to begin. "Emboar, Flamethrower!" Emboar reared back and spewed a stream of blazing fire at Ferrothorn. The flames washed over Ferrothorn's body and it grunted and slumped to the ground unconscious.

    "Ferrothorn is unable to battle, Emboar is the winner!"

    Cameron stared, as if dumbfounded. "What! I can't believe it!" he protested. "I thought for sure I could win that one..."

    Ash chuckled awkwardly as Cameron returned Ferrothorn. "Uh... You know fire types are really strong against steel types right? And grass types."

    "What!?" he yelped. He shook his head. "I totally knew that," he declared with a grin. "Okay, Swanna, you're up next!" he tossed out a Pokéball and Swanna emerged, flaring her wings and giving a graceful cry.

    Emboar snorted a puff of smoke at the sight of his opponent. Ash grinned. Emboar could handle this.

    "Battle, begin!"

    With no hesitation, Cameron called his attack first. "Bubblebeam!"

    Swanna opened its beak and fired a concentrated stream of bubbles across the battlefield.

    "Block it!" Ash called. Emboar threw his fists up and the bubble struck it. He shook his head and snorted as the bubbles broke against his arms, damaging him, but only slightly. "Flame Charge!" Ash cried. Cloak himself in fire, Emboar stormed across the field.

    Swanna gave a shriek and flew into the air, narrowly dodging Emboar, who was moving even faster now. Ash didn't miss a beat. "Flamethrower!" Emboar skidded to a halt, aimed upwards, and shot a burst of fire straight up. Swanna, caught off guard, was struck by the attack and sent spiraling through the air.

    "Oh no, Swanna!" Cameron squinted hard as if concentrating. "Air Cutter!" he called. Swanna righted herself in the air, then flapped her wings hard. A series of blades shot forth, pelting Emboar hard. Grunting, Emboar shook off the attack.

    "Wing Attack, go!"

    "Hammer Arm!"

    Emboar's arms glowed white, as Swanna swooped towards him, her wings glowing. Emboar swung his arm hard just as Swanna twisted and threw her wing forwards. The two attacks collided, then Swanna was tossed backward. She tumbled once, then managed to catch herself, landing on her feet and fluttering her wings. "Now Emboar, Smog!"

    Taking a deep breath, Emboar blasted a huge purple cloud of toxic smog towards Swanna. The dust-coated her feather and she flinched back.

    "Shake it off Swanna," Cameron called. "Use Pluck." Swanna shook her head, then flew into the air, hovering low above the ground. Her beak began to glow, and she dove at Emboar.

    She struck him hard in the chest, making him slide back an inch. "Grab on and use Flame Charge!" Ash cried. Emboar reached down, seizing Swanna by her wings. She shrieked in surprise. Then an aura of flames exploded around Emboar. Still holding her, he threw his whole body forwards, smashing her across the field. She crashed into the earth hard, then lay still.

    The referee took one glance at the downed bird and held out his flag. "Swanna is unable to battle, Emboar is the winner!"

    Cameron groaned and slammed his hands against his head. Then he grabbed his headband with one hand, stretching out away from his head before letting it go. It snapped back with an audible crack, and Cameron's eyes shot open. "Okay, I've got it! Go Samurott!"

    White light splashed onto the field as Cameron tossed out his Pokéball. The water-type emerged, shaking his head and eyeing his opponent with an air of confidence. Ash took a deep breath. He could switch to Pikachu, but if Cameron had another really tough Pokémon, he wanted Pikachu as backup. "Okay, Emboar-"

    Before Ash could say another word, Emboar looked back at him and shook his head. "You want to keep battling?" he asked.

    Emboar nodded, and Ash grinned. "Alright then, let's go for it!"

    The match began.

    "Flame Charge!"

    "Aqua Jet!"

    The two Pokémon shot towards each other in simultaneous streaks of blue and red. They collided in the center of the field, creating a burst of steam. The steam cleared a few seconds later, revealing Emboar on one knee, panting, while Samurott still stood, seemingly unfazed.

    "Okay, use Smog!" Ash shouted. Standing up, Emboar snorted out the toxic cloud. The smog covered Samurott, and it barked out a cough.

    "Don't worry about that. Just use Hydro Cannon." Cameron gestured wildly. A giant burst of water shot from the cloud and struck Emboar, knocking him onto his back.

    Ash's eyes widened. "Emboar, get up!" he called. Emboar started to rise, slowly. Then, with a loud cry, he stood up fully, the flames around his neck flaring. "Awesome, Emboar. Now use Hammer Arm!"

    Arms glowing, Emboar charged forwards, speed enhanced by his earlier flame charge.

    "Uh oh. Try Aqua Jet, Samurott," Cameron said. Samurott formed the cone of water around itself and lunged forwards. At the last second, Emboar stepped to the side and brought his fist crashing down on Samurott, dealing a solid blow and stopping it mid-charge.

    "Razor Shell." Samurott leaped aside, drew the scalchops from its front legs, and struck Emboar. The fire-type seized up, then dropped to the ground like a stone.

    Ash stared, stunned. Then he shook himself and grinned. "Your Samurott is really strong!" he called as he returned Emboar. Strong opponents made the battle much more fun, he always thought. And Samurott was really tough. Emboar had fought well.

    "You bet he is," Cameron replied. "This is my Samurott, after all."

    After a few moments of consideration, Ash selected his next Pokémon. "Go Serperior!" She emerged with a loud cry, eyes blazing with determination once she saw her opponent. The two warriors sized each other up for a moment, evaluating each other.

    "Battle, begin."

    Ash and Serprior lunged into action. Serperior struck first with Leaf Blade, though Samurott managed to deflect with Razor Shell. It struck again with Razor Shell, but Serperior rapidly used Coil, the attack merely glancing off.

    The two Pokémon danced around each other in a blazing flurry of attacks, each a formidable fighter in their own way. Whenever one landed a hit, so did the other. When one dodged, the other was able to deflect. The back and forth continued for a good couple minutes.

    "Leaf Tornado!" Ash cried. Twisting out of the way of a Hydro Cannon, Serperior wove around the attack, then flicked her tail and sent a flurry of leaves at Samurott, striking it hard. It staggered back and grunted as it drew in ragged breaths.

    "Aqua jet!" Samurott burst forwards. Serperior twisted to the side, but Samurott turned, still maintaining the attack and came around, striking Serperior from behind.

    "Leaf Blade." Even as she was knocked back, Serperior landed, twisted, and struck Samurott's leg with her glowing tail. Samurott yowled and flinched back, limping slightly. Serperior darted out of range of any kind of retaliation, moving back to Ash's side of the field. Both Pokémon panted as the battle lulled briefly, each equally tired. Sweat gathered under Ash's cap and trickled down his back.

    One more attack... "Okay Serperior, let's end this! Leaf Blade, one more time!"

    "Samurott, Mega Horn! Full Strength!" Samurott gave a passionate cry and raised its head. Its horn doubled in length and shone bright green. It charged, and Serperior charged to meet it, her tail shining. In a blur of motion, both Pokémon struck. Energy exploded from the two attacks and a cloud of dust shielded both Pokémon.

    Ash and Cameron both squinted as the dust cleared, staring surprise at the sight that met their eyes. Samurott's horn had struck Serperior in the neck, but her tail had struck its side. Both Pokémon stood like that for a moment longer. Then their eyes rolled back and they collapsed.

    The referee held up two flags. "Both Pokémon are unable to battle. The match is a draw!"

    Ash let out a long breath. "Great job, Serperior. I'm really proud of you," he said as he returned her.

    Across the field, Cameron returned Samurott. He looked down to his side, where his Riolu waited patiently. "Alright Riolu, you're up!" Riolu gave a deep growl and darted onto the field.

    Ash contemplated for a moment, then selected Dewott's Pokéball. "Alright Dewott, come on out!"

    Dewott emerged and growled, brandishing his dual scalchops before crossing his arms and smirking. Ash chuckled at the display. Dewott sure had gotten a lot more determined ever since he'd evolved. Riolu took a fighting stance.

    As soon as the referee called the match, Ash gave his command. "Razor Shell!"

    "Copycat!" Cameron yelled. Riolu's body glowed, then it summoned two blades of its own. Dewott slashed first, but Riolu deflected the initial attack. Dewott followed it up with a blazing fast second strike, hitting Riolu's legs and knocking it on its back.

    "Razor Shell again," Ash called. Dewott swung down with his scalchops.

    "Riolu, use Circle Throw." Riolu reached up, grabbed Dewott arms, and rolled backward, flipping Dewott over its head. Dewott slammed into the earth and lay stunned for a moment.

    "Okay, now use Vacuum Wave." Riolu bounced to its feet. Wind swirled around its body, then it threw its hands forwards, shooting a concentrated blade of wind at Dewott.

    "Dodge and use Aqua Jet!" Dewott shot out of the way, body cloaked in water, and circled around to strike Riolu.

    "Force Palm." Riolu thrust its palm out. Dewott slammed into it just as energy exploded from its outstretched hand. Dewott and Riolu were thrown apart. Both flipped midair, Riolu landing on its feet, and Dewott landing on all fours.

    "Now Dewott, Blizzard!" Dewott held his scalchops, together, and summoned a blast of freezing, snowy air. It roared across the field, coating Riolu in ice crystals and causing the small Pokémon to shiver as it tried to weather the attack.

    "We'll use that!" Cameron called, pointing. "Copycat!" Riolu stood up sharply, an aura rippling across his body. His eyes shimmered, then he placed his paws together and fired an identical blast of icy wind directly at Dewott.

    "Dewott, use Aqua Jet straight forward," Ash shouted. He could sense Dewott's confusion, but the water-type obeyed without hesitation, hurling himself straight into the blizzard with Aqua Jet. The water around him froze over as he shot across the battlefield.

    Riolu gaped in shock as Dewott's improvised ice-aqua jet soared through the air and crashed into him. Riolu slammed into the ground and Dewott crashed behind him, the ice shattering from the impact. Dewott landed awkwardly, then caught himself. He shook his fur and stared in round-eyed shock, first at the stunned Riolu, then at Ash.

    "Awesome!" Ash cried, pumping his fist. He couldn't believe the improvised ice aqua jet had actually worked.

    "That was so cool!" Cameron cried. "I didn't even think something like that was possible."

    "It's a trick I came up with back in Sinnoh," Ash said proudly, fondly remembering his Buizel. Riolu pushed itself to its feet, shivering intensely and glaring at Dewott. Dewott glared back with equal determination.

    "Riolu, Force Palm!" Riolu sprinted forwards, then jerked to halt a foot away from Dewott, palm outstretched.

    "Dewott, deflect it with your scalchops." Dewott raised his two shells just as Riolu put out his palm. Energy exploded and Dewott slid back a foot. "Now, Revenge." Red energy surrounded Dewott and he lunged for Riolu, striking it across the face and sending it reeling. "Razor Shell!"

    "Copy Cat!"

    The two Pokémon sprang into a flurry of close quarter attacks, matching each other blow for blow. "Alright Riolu, Vacuum Wave!" Riolu did a neat backflip, escaping the range of Dewott's Razor Shell, then fired a blade of energy from midair, striking Dewott in the arm. It dropped one of its scalchops and growled.

    "Now, Force Palm," Cameron yelled. Riolu lunged, placing his palm against Dewott's chest. Energy exploded, and Dewott was tossed backwards.

    "Land and use Aqua Jet!" Just as Dewott landed nimbly, he burst forward again and crashed into Riolu, hurling it across the stadium. It slammed into the earth and slid several feet before coming to stop. For a moment, it didn't move. Then, slowly it rose to its feet, panting, its tiny tongue lolling out.

    Dewott scampered over to his fallen scalchop and quickly grabbed it. His chest heaved, but he didn't waver. Suddenly, Riolu's body was encompassed by a bright glow. Its silhouette began to grow, getting taller and leaner. "Hey, what's going on?" Cameron cried.

    "Oh man," Ash said. "Riolu's evolving!"

    The light faded, revealing a Lucario, standing tall and wearing a confident smirk. A small flicker of nervousness passed through Dewott's eyes and he edged backward. "Don't worry Dewott, evolution or no evolution, we got this." Dewott grinned and nodded.

    Lucario growled, narrowing its eyes. "That's awesome Riolu, way to go! There's no doubt in my mind, it's our battle to win!" Cameron declared.

    "Oh yeah, well Dewott and I aren't giving up. This is our battle to win!" Ash shot back.

    Lucario stepped forwards, then held its paws by its side. A glowing sphere of blue energy began to form between its paws. With a flick of its wrists, it hurled the ball at Dewott. Dewott's eyes widened and it threw up its scalchops in an attempt to block. The sheer power of the move knocked him back still, and he fell to one knee. Cameron's eyes lit up. "Wow Lucario, you learned Aura Sphere."

    Ash grimaced at that. This battle just got a whole lot tougher. And more fun. Smiling, he called his next attack. "Dewott, use Aqua Jet." Dewott blasted off.

    "Dodge it!" Cameron called. In a bur of motion, Lucario flitted out of the way. Dewott altered course midair in an attempt to hit it again, but it dodged a second time. Once more, Dewott twisted in the air, shooting towards Lucario.

    "Circle Throw!"

    Lucario twisted nimbly to the side, seized Dewott as he passed, and tossed him through the air. Dewott flipped landed and staggered. "Okay Dewott, use Blizzard." Recovering, Dewott spun and fired a stream of freezing air at Lucario.

    With no time to dodge, Lucario shut its eyes and threw its arms up to ward off the worst of the blast. Suddenly, inspiration struck Ash. "Use Blizzard on your Razor Shell." Understanding dawned on Dewott. He drew one of his scalchops and a blade of water formed on it. As the freezing air struck the blade, it froze into a glistening sharp 'ice-blade'.

    "No! We can't lose Lucario! Aura Sphere, now!" Lucario stood and formed the sphere of energy and fired it just as Dewott charged. With his ice blade raised, Dewott swung it at the aura sphere. The blade split the attack in half, parting it around Dewott, he struck Lucario twice in succession.

    Lucario grunted, clutching where it had been hit. Then it swayed and collapsed, going limp.

    The referee peered closely at the fighting-type before raising his flag. "Lucario is unable to battle! Dewott is the winner!"

    Ash cheered, while Dewott collapsed, panting heavily but proudly. "You did it, Dewott!" he called. Dewott raised a single scalchop and gave a cheer. A sense of apprehension still remained, however. Who was Cameron's last Pokémon? Dewott was pretty tired, and while Pikachu was still strong, he was still tired from battling Cameron's super strong Hydreigon. Well, they would just have to be enough.

    Cameron sighed, his shoulders sagging, and returned Lucario. "Aww man. I guess it's over. All my hopes were on Lucario."

    Ash blinked and tilted his head in confusion. The referee's voice echoed across the stadium. "Will contestant Cameron please select his next Pokémon."

    "Next Pokémon?" Cameron said, confusion in his gaze. "But round 4 is a full battle, so it's five on five, right?"

    Ash's jaw dropped. "No, a full battle is six on six! Don't tell me you only brought five?" he cried.

    "WHAAA?"

    The announcer's voice sounded over the confused murmur of the crowd. "Uh oh," Freddie said. "It looks like Cameron has only brought five Pokémon to this full battle."

    More murmuring came from the crowds. There was a brief moment of silence, as a second league official raced onto the field, whispered something to the referee, then hurried away. The referee raised his flags, and a hush fell over the crowd. Then he gestured towards Ash's side of the field.

    "As Contestant Cameron is out of usable Pokémon, Ash Ketchum is the winner!"

    Freddie's voice boomed over the roar of the crowd once more. "Well folks, we have our winner for round four of the Unova League! It is Ash Ketchum of Pallet Town! And let that be a lesson to you. Pokémon battling is more than just powerful attacks, it's also about reading the official league guidelines." On the screen, Freddie gave a friendly wink.

    The crowd broke into chuckles, as Ash stared, stunned. Cameron laughed awkwardly and rubbed the back of his head. Unable to help himself, Ash began laughing as well. Still smiling, he walked out to the center of the field to meet Cameron. He held out his hand and the other boy shook it. "That was a fun match," Cameron said.

    "Sure was," Ash said. "Your Pokémon were really strong."

    "Yours too!" He chuckled. "I probably would have lost even if I had brought six Pokémon. It would be pretty ridiculous for me to beat you with only five."

    "Yeah, it would be crazy," Ash said, smiling. The battle had been tough, but he won. He was one step closer to winning the Unova League.

    "Since I lost, that means you gotta win," Cameron declared with a pump of his fist.

    Ash nodded firmly. "I will."


    Did I mention how hard 6v6 battles are? Anyways, enjoy chapter 20!

    "So Ash, what's your plan for battling AJ?" Iris asked over an early breakfast the next morning. "He's really tough, and if he made it this far, he must be good."

    Yesterday had been a busy day after Ash had beat Cameron. He'd had just enough time to catch part of Virgil's match against a trainer named Antonio. Virgil had won the match by skillful use of his moves and tactics. He hadn't watched Tobias match, but he did know that the mysterious trainer had won. And with only the use of Darkrai. After that, AJ had defeated his opponent. That evening they had announced the matchups, and Ash learned he would be facing AJ next.

    Ash hummed in thought as he chewed his food. "I dunno. But I'll just have to make sure I'm even stronger!"

    Iris rolled her eyes. "Come on, that's not a strategy. If there's one thing I learned from that exam, it's that you gotta plan your fights. You can't just rush in and expect to win."

    "I made it this far, didn't I?" Ash pointed out, smiling. He adopted a more serious gaze. "But I just can't battle that way, planning everything out in advance. I like to get to know my opponent on the battlefield. That's the best way to learn!"

    "Even if you lose?" Iris challenged.

    "Losing just means you get even stronger next time," Ash said, shrugging.

    Iris slammed her hands on the table. "You wouldn't have to lose if you actually prepared!"

    Ash narrowed his eyes. "Oh yeah? Well maybe I-"

    "Guys guys!" Cilan's voice interrupted Ash and he held up his hands in a peaceable gesture as he hurried over to the two trainers. "You're both right. Planning and learning is important, Iris." he turned to face Ash. "And so is thinking on your feet. A truly great trainer, like Champion Cynthia, learns to master both."

    Ash and Iris both relaxed slightly.

    "Sorry for doubting you, Ash," Iris said. "Now I'm the one acting like a little kid. I forget how much you've traveled and how many leagues you've competed in."

    "It's ok," Ash said, offering her an apologetic grin. "I know I still have a lot to learn. I guess planning ahead a little isn't so bad either." It had been a disaster back during his gym battle against Elesa, but that time he'd just been overthinking.

    Cilan smiled widely. "That's what I like to hear! Two aspiring masters learning from each other." He held up a large platter with eggs, pancakes and breakfast foods on it. "Now, who wants seconds?"

    "Me!" Ash and Iris cried in unison.

    xXx

    "Good luck out there, Ash." Cilan said, as they stood by the entrance tunnel to the battlefield.

    "Yeah, we'll be cheering for you!" Iris added.

    "Thanks!" Ash said, grinning. He started down the hallway that led to the battlefield. This was it. Today marked only the second time he'd ever made it to the semi-finals at a league. If he won here, he'd make it farther than ever before. Without further hesitation, he stepped onto the battlefield.

    "Welcome to the semifinals of the Unova League!" Freddie called. "On the green side, we have Ash Ketchum, who comes all the way from Kanto! He has been the trainer to watch this year. His Pokémon and strategies are unpredictable. On the red side, we have another trainer from Kanto Region, AJ. His tactics are clever, and his Pokémon are rough, tough and ready for a fight. Neither are to be underestimated. Who will be the winner? Let's find out!"

    Ash took a deep breath, standing tall as he faced AJ. The boy grinned at him, then selected a Pokéball, tossing it up and catching it again. Ash selected a Pokéball of his own.

    The referee stepped forward. "Trainers, release your Pokémon."

    Ash and AJ tossed their pokeballs at the same moment. A Beedrill emerged onto AJ's side, while Emboar burst out of Ash's Pokéball, stamping his hoof and snorting a puff of flames. Emboar smirked at the side of his opponent and took up a fighting stance.

    In the stands...

    Iris stared as she saw AJ's Pokémon. She hadn't watched any of his previous battles, though she had heard he used almost all Kanto Pokémon. Still, a Beedrill? "Ash really has the advantage," she mused out loud.

    Cilan stroked his chin. "Normally I'd agree. But remember, AJ is smart. If he has a Beedrill on his team, he must have picked it for a reason."

    "You mean he has some kind of secret strategy?" Iris asked, glancing briefly at Cilan.

    He nodded. "AJ wouldn't have made it this far if he didn't know what he was doing."

    Iris turned her attention back to the battlefield, leaning forward. She couldn't but feel a little worried. What tricks did AJ have up his sleeve?

    On the battlefield...

    The referee swished his flags. "Battle begin!"

    "Emboar, Flamethrower!" Emboar reared back and blasted a stream of fire from his mouth.

    AJ crossed his arms and smirked. Beedrill dipped out of the way nothing but a yellow blur. "Beedrill, get that thing with Toxic."

    Beedrill shot across the field towards Emboar. "Flamethrower again!" Ash cried. Emboar aimed a jet of fire at it, but it had already darted upwards. It paused for a half second and fired twin streams of poison at Emboar, striking him in the chest. Emboar grunted, squeezing its eyes shut as poison took hold. Ash scowled. He had to end this quickly now. "Flame Charge!" he shouted.

    Shaking his head, Emboar wreathed himself in fire and charged at Beedrill. Beedrill zipped out of the way, once again displaying absolutely shocking speed. Emboar shot wide, missing Beedrill. "Alright Beedrill, Venoshock," AJ said calmly.

    Beedrill raised its stingers and fired a concentrated blast of poison at Emboar, striking him in the back. Emboar staggered forwards with a grunt.

    "Don't stop Emboar! Flame Charge!" Emboar could still do this, Ash was sure. If he could just get a little faster... Once again Beedrill flitted out of the way, though this time the margin was much smaller. As Emboar halted his charge, he paused, panting. His body spasmed as the toxic poison chipped away at his health. Ash set his mouth in a grim line. "You okay, Emboar?"

    Emboar grinned and gave him a nod a thumbs up. "Now, Flame Charge!" Emboar exploded across the field towards Beedrill. At the last moment, Beedrill darted to the side, then spun to face Emboar as he thundered past.

    "Venoshock!"

    "Hammer Arm!"

    Beedrill raised its stingers and fired twin streams of poisonous liquid, striking Emboar in the back. At nearly the same moment, Emboar twisted to face Beedrill, raising one glowing arm high above its head. In a swift motion, he struck Beedrill hard. As Beedrill was thrown back, Emboar staggered, steadying itself with one arm.

    AJ raised his hands and snapped his fingers. "Fell Stinger."

    Beedrill recovered, shot upwards, and aimed its stingers at Emboar.

    Ash's eyes widened. "Block it!" he called urgently.

    Beedrill placed its stingers together, generating a swirling orb of luminescent purple energy. Then it fired. Emboar threw his arms up in front of his face. The orb struck him dead center, causing him to stagger backwards.

    "Now, Flamethrower!" The flames around Emboar's neck suddenly flared, turning white. He opened his jaws and with a loud squeal, fired a massive cone of flames at Beedrill. The shocked bug had barely any room to dodge, even with its impressive speed. The flames struck its side, causing it to spiral wildly through the air. Then Emboar's eyes rolled back and he collapsed.

    AJ grinned confidently even as Ash stared in shock. He'd thought for sure he could have beaten Beedrill. But now, looking at AJ's Beedrill, he realized it still had a fair amount of strength left. Hammer Arm hadn't done much, and it had only gotten half hit by Flamethrower. Gritting his teeth, he held out the Pokéball and returned Emboar.

    "Your Beedrill's pretty awesome, AJ," Ash called.

    "It's all the special training we been doin'," AJ replied with a smirk. "This Beedrill's been helpin' me almost as long as Sandslash. I worked day and night to get its speed real high."

    Ash nodded, then turned to look at Pikachu, who stood eagerly by his side. "Ready buddy?" he asked.

    Pikachu squeaked and nodded, then bounded forward.

    In the stands...

    "Wow, AJ really is good! I can't believe his Beedrill defeated Emboar," Iris said.

    "Indeed," Cilan murmured, stroking his chin in thought as he watched. "Comboing Toxic and Venoshock together is an excellent strategy. It looks like AJ is even stronger than I expected. And his Pokémon are in tiptop shape, so he must care for them very well."

    Iris nodded. Recalling her studies at the League exams, she knew Venoshock was a deadly poison type move that could deal extra damage to a poisoned enemy. It was a combo that made her jealous.

    Back on the field...

    "Battle, begin!"

    "Pikachu, Quick Attack!" Ash snapped. In a blur of yellow, Pikachu zigzagged across the field and launched himself into the air. At a shout from AJ, Beedrill jolted to the side, the attack narrowly missing. Ash didn't waste his breath. "Quick Attack, again!" Pikachu landed, spun and leaped up again. This time, the attack collided with Beedrill, sending it buzzing backwards.

    "Fell Stinger!" AJ shouted. Beedrill fired the purple orb towards Pikachu.

    "Dodge and use Thunderbolt!" Pikachu rolled effortlessly to the side, the fired a bolt of electricity across the field. Beedrill jolted to the side, narrowly dodging, and Pikachu followed it up with two more. Both missed, though only by a hairbreadth.

    AJ pointed across the field. "Alright Beedrill, get it with Toxic!" Beedrill buzzed into the air, then fired a blob of poisonous sludge towards Pikachu.

    Uh oh. "Quick Pikachu, spin and use Iron Tail!" Pikachu's tail glowed white, then he flipped onto his back and spun in a tight circle, creating a whirling sphere of light. The poison glanced off the spinning shield harmlessly and Pikachu sprang back onto his feet, grinning cockily.

    "Not bad, Ash. I guess you've been doing some training of your own, huh?" AJ asked.

    Ash nodded, taking the moment to evaluate the battle. This wasn't working, he realized. He needed a new strategy. Back in Sinnoh, he'd lost to Paul because he'd allowed himself to be overconfident. He'd underestimated Paul as well, and let his tactics overwhelm him. But he wouldn't make that mistake again. Pikachu was tough enough to beat Beedrill, yes. But it would no doubt exhaust him to keep up with Beedrill's speed.

    And there was something else. Something AJ had said to him some days ago... He'd won the Kanto league with Sandslash, and gotten top 8 in Johto. All with only twelve Pokémon. Not to mention his Sandslash's unusual resistance to water. Which meant all his Pokémon were extremely tough and had more experience than a lot of Ash's current Pokémon, Pikachu excluded. A new strategy began to form in his mind, a way to take the edge off AJ's more experienced Pokémon.

    "Okay buddy, come back," he called. Pikachu's ears shot up and he turned back, squeaking in confusion.

    "Just trust me, 'kay?"

    Pikachu's stance relaxed and trotted reluctantly back to Ash's side. He sat down, and Ash patted his head. "I know you could beat him, but I need you for later." Pikachu gave a nod of acknowledgement. Ash grinned at him, then selected his next Pokéball.

    "Go, Gabite!" He tossed the ball and Gabite emerged with a snarl, narrowing his eyes at the sight of the bug.

    A tiny frown crossed AJ's face. Ash tensed. Would it work?

    "Beedrill, Toxic," he stated calmly, crossing his arms as he spoke. Beedrill launched the blob of liquid at Gabite.

    "Dig!" Ash cried. In a flash, Gabite burrowed into the earth, the poison striking the ground harmlessly before sizzling and disappearing.

    "Watch o-" AJ began. Gabite never gave the boy a chance to finish as he launched from the earth like a torpedo, aiming straight for Beedrill.

    AJ, however, appeared unfazed. "U-turn!" Green energy shrouded Beedrill and it shot towards Gible. The two collided in an explosion of energy and dust. The Ash saw a flash of blue light and Beedrill disappeared. For a second, he was confused, until he remembered. U-turn was a move that allowed a Pokémon to attack, then quickly return to its trainer.

    The dust settled, revealing Gabite, mostly unhurt, watching AJ warily. "You won't get me that easily," AJ taunted. He reached into his pocket, selected a Pokéball, and tossed it out. A massive avian Pokémon emerged onto the field with a piercing screech.

    Ash blinked, eyes wide. The Fearow was the prime of its species, a massive thing with glossy brown feathers and a shining crimson crest. Gabite cocked its head to stare up at it, narrowing his eyes. Without hesitation Ash took out Gabite's Pokéball and returned him. Gabite had done his job well.

    In the stands...

    "Wait, why did Ash send out Gabite, only to return him?" Iris asked, turning to CIlan. "Wouldn't it be better to leave Gabite out to fight Fearow?"

    "I'm not sure," Cilan replied. "But my guess is Ash is saving Gabite for later. It is one of his strongest Pokémon. Ash could have been trying to force AJ to switch Pokémon."

    Iris' eyes widened slightly as she turned back to face the battlefield. Was Ash actually... strategizing? Impressive.

    On the field...

    "Go, Buizel!" The water-type appeared on the field with an eager cry, then made a beckoning motion with his paw. Fearow narrowed his eyes at the taunt. With a shout, the referee started the match.

    "Sonic Boom!" Ash called. Buizel sprang nimbly into the air and flicked his tail, sending a wave of energy towards the bird.

    AJ snapped his fingers, and Fearow spiraled to the side, the blade passing harmlessly by it. "Focus Energy." Fearow shrieked and flared its wings, a golden glow beginning to form around it.

    Ash snapped out a command. "Aqua Jet!" Buizel gave a ferocious cry, then surrounded himself in water and launched himself into the air in a streak of blue. He slammed into Fearow's chest before it could move, knocking it back. Then Buizel flipped backward and landed on his feet.

    Undeterred, AJ called for Fearow to use Focus Energy again. This time, it managed to complete the attack, the golden orange glow surging across its body. "Alright, knock it out with Aerial Ace!" Fearow folded its wings against his body.

    "Buizel, counter with Water Pulse!" Buizel gathered a swirling orb of water between his paws, just as Fearow dove towards him. Buizel hurled the sphere. It shot through the air towards Fearow. The flying type blasted straight through the attack and struck Buizel, sending him tumbling.

    Catching himself, Buizel recovered and shook his head, a grimacing on his snout. Aerial Ace had hurt, Ash could tell. "Alright, Sonic Boom!" Buizel rapidly flicked his tails, sending two blades at Fearow and striking one of its wings. Fearow gave an indignant shriek.

    "You good?" Ash called. Buizel grinned and nodded. "Let's try Water Pulse again!" Buizel began to charge the attack, then threw the sphere.

    Across the field, AJ smirked. He snapped his fingers, and Fearow dodged. "Roost." Fearow dropped to the ground, landing hard enough to kick up a small dust cloud. It folded its wings to its side tightly, and its entire body glowed blue.

    Ash gritted his teeth. He remembered the technique, it was a way for flying-types to recuperate some of their strength. "Quick, Aqua Jet." Buizel shot across the field and hit the grounded Fearow, causing it to stagger.

    "Drill Run!" Fearow screamed and gave a single flap of its wings. It lunged, throwing its body into a spiral and surging towards Buizel.

    "Counter!" Ash cried. "Ice Punch." Buizel drew its paw back, white light gathering around it. Fearow's beak collided with Buizel's chest just as Buizel slammed his fist into Fearow's head. Energy surged outward and both Pokémon were tossed backward. Buizel crashed hard, sliding across the dirt. Fearow struck the ground as well, sending up a cloud of dust.

    "Can you go on Buizel?" Ash asked. Slowly, grunting with effort, Buizel stood. "Awesome!" he cheered, pumping his fist. "Now, Water Pulse!"

    Before Fearow could recover, Buizel tossed a sphere of water at it, nailing it in the chest. Fearow gave a labored cry and stumbled, blinking rapidly and glazing about. Ash cheered. Water Pulse had managed to confuse Fearow.

    "Get into the air!" AJ demanded. Fearow flapped its wings, rising into the sky. "Now, Aerial Ace!" Feaorw became a blur, slicing through the air and sweeping by Buizel, striking him in the side. Buizel reeled, struggling to stand. "Again!"

    Fearow wheeled midair and turned around for a second strike. Then it proceeded to peck itself in the wing. It gave a sharp shriek at the self-inflicted injury. It fluttered awkwardly in the air, trying to regain its bearing from the confusion.

    This was his chance... A sudden idea struck him. It was a risky maneuver, but with Fearow in a vulnerable state, it could end the match. "Now Buizel, charge your Ice Punch." Buizel gathered the icy energy into its paw. "Use Aqua Jet!" Buizel instinctively understood and used Aqua Jet, holding his fist forward. He soared across the battlefield, the point of the Aqua jet beginning to freeze over. With a grin, Ash realized it wasn't that far off from Ice Aqua Jet.

    A second later, Buizel made contact with Fearow, knocking it out of the sky. It plummeted to the ground, crashing and creating a small crater. Buizel landed, crossing his arms and smirking proudly.

    The referee leaned forwards. "Fearow is unable to battle! Buizel is the winner!"

    "Yeah!" Ash shouted. Buizel gave a satisfied growl as AJ returned Fearow. "Great job Buizel! I knew I could count on you." One down, five to go. He'd lost Emboar, but he had a strategy now. He could beat AJ, he was sure of it.

    "Not bad," AJ said. "But you're a long way away from beating me." He tossed out his next Pokéball. It burst open and light spilled out, revealing a large rodent Pokémon.

    "A Raticate?" Ash mused. AJ certainly had some unusual choices for his team so far. Fearow, Beedrill, Sandslash and now a Raticate. The Raticate chittered fiercely, glaring at Buizel. Ash took out his Pokéball and returned Buizel. "Sorry buddy," he murmured to the Pokéball. "But I'll need your help a little later." He turned to Pikachu. "Alright, you're up!"

    Pikachu grinned and bounced onto the field.

    The referee swished his flags to signal the start of the battle.

    Now began the next part of Ash's strategy. No doubt Raticate had been with AJ for a long time, by the looks of it. Perhaps almost as long as Sandshrew, given that he remembered seeing a Rattata at AJ's 'gym'. He'd have to wear it down a little first. "Ready Pikachu?" Pikachu squeaked in response. "Let's do this!" Ash called. "Quick Attack."

    Through a combination of Quick Attacks and Thunderbolts, Pikachu dipped and dodged around Raticate. He wasn't able to do a lot of heavy damage, given Raticate's toughness, but Pikachu did land a few solid strikes without getting hit too much. Which was exactly what Ash needed. With Raticate panting from exertion, Ash called Pikachu back.

    AJ quirked an eyebrow. "Not gonna try and finish it?" he taunted.

    Ash grinned back. "Nah, I got something else for this. Come on back Buizel." He threw Buizel's Pokéball out. The water-type gave an eager cry, then took a deep breath, gathering his strength. Ash took the moment to gather his thoughts as well. "Okay, use Aqua Jet!" Buizel launched across the field and struck Raticate.

    Raticate streaked across the field, retaliating with Quick Attack and slamming into Buizel. Buizel flipped backwards, landed, fired off a lightning quick Water Pulse at Ash's command. The attack nailed Raticate in the face, drenching it.

    It shook its fur and gave an angry snarl. The in a flash, it burrowed into the earth with Dig. Before Ash could think of a command, it popped out to Buizel's left. It's teeth flashed white, then it sunk them into Buizel. "Buizel!" Ash cried.

    Buizel broke free, flinching back from the force of the Hyper Fang attack. He panted heavily, facing Raticate, who remained halfway in the ground still.

    "Ice Fang on the ground!" Ash blurted. Buizel reacted near instantly, slamming his fist into the earth. A line of icy crystal surged across the ground and knocked Raticate out of its hole. "Now, Aqua Jet!" Just as Buizel began to charge the attack, AJ pulled out a Pokéball and recalled Raticate.

    "You didn't think I'd make it easy did you?" AJ called. He tossed out a Pokéball and Beedrill emerged.

    Buizel gave a battlecry, unfazed by the change of enemy, while Ash scowled. AJ was devious, that was for sure. He clearly had a strategy of his own. "We're not giving up, right Buizel?" Buizel nodded and took up a battle stance. "Okay, use Water Pulse." Gathering up his energy, Buizel began forming the water between his paws.

    AJ pointed dramatically at Buizel. "Finish it, Beedrill." Beedrill practically disappeared, leaving dust in its wake, then reappeared behind Buizel, placed behind its stingers together and fired a purple sphere into Buizel's back. Buizel shrieked as he was tossed forward, then hit the ground and lay still.

    Ash paled slightly. Man, Beedrill was really strong! Although Buizel had was worn down from its battle with Fearow, and Raticate. He returned Buizel and smiled proudly at the Pokéball. "You did awesome, Buizel. Take a good rest." He tucked the Pokéball away. "You're up again Pikachu, 'kay?"

    Pikachu gave a nod and trotted forward. AJ grinned. "Going with Pikachu again, eh?"

    "Sure am!" Ash replied. "He's my number one buddy."

    "Battle begin!"

    AJ crossed his arms. "Okay Beedrill, U-turn!" Beedrill's body became encased in a sphere of green energy and he shot towards Pikachu.

    "Dodge!" Pikachu flipped to the side, narrowly avoiding the attack. Beedrill returned to its Pokéball and Aj selected another.

    Ash tensed. Who would AJ use next? Raticate again? Or someone else? A moment later, his question was answered as a Hitmontop appeared on AJ's side of the field. The fighting type flipped easily onto its head and spun in place; a blur of brown and blue. "Wow, you have a Hitmontop!?" Ash asked.

    AJ nodded proudly. "Hitmontop and I worked hard, for many weeks, until his attack and defense capabilities were perfectly balanced."

    Just as Ash suspected. Another Pokémon who'd been with AJ a long time. "Alright Pikachu, come on back." Pikachu bounded back to Ash's side as he selected his next Pokéball. "Go Serperior!"

    The regal serpent appeared, eyeing the Hitmontop coolly. She coiled herself into a neat circle, her gaze never leaving her opponent. Ash narrowed his eyes as well, evaluating Hitmontop. He was halfway to his goal, halfway to the finals. Once he defeated Hitmontop, then his other Pokémon could surely take Raticate. "Ready, Serperior?" A tiny smile crept across the grass-types face, and she nodded. Ash smiled back and took a deep breath.

    Once more, the referee raised his flags, then brought them down. "Battle begin!"

    Long A/N ahead:

    Man, writing 6v6 battles is CHALLENGING. Working out how it will all play out, who wins, trying to keep them fair and keep a sense of tension. AJ in particular was challenging, more so than Cameron. I had a frame of reference for Cameron, but AJ I had to make up entirely. I decided to go with a strategic style for AJ, and lots of Kanto Pokémon. Unlike Ash, he has a very small, focused team.

    Boy was it hard though. I hope this battle was enjoyable for you guys to read.

    I broke it up into two parts, because... well because it was too much for one chapter. Next up, Ash's Serperior vs AJ's Hitmontop

    AHHGG finally! This took forever to write. Anyways, on to the good stuff! Ash vs AJ, the epic conclusion!

    Ash took in the Hitmontop quickly. It spun lightly on its head, whirling in a neat, precise, circle. Obviously it was highly trained, just as all AJ's Pokémon were. He gritted his teeth. "Get ready Serperior."

    Serperior gave a small nod. A second later, the referee called for the match to begin. For a brief moment, stillness reigned over the battlefield. Neither trainer moved, each testing to see who would call the first attack. Ash had no problem taking the bait. "Serperior, Leaf Blade!"

    The grass serpent shot across the field, tail glowing.

    "Triple Kick!" AJ shouted. Just as Serperior lashed out with her tail, Hitmontop cartwheeled forwards, around Serperior and onto her back. With a twist, he flipped and spun, driving his feet into the back of her head. Once, twice, and then on the third strike, he struck hard enough to slam her head into the dirt. Hitmontop flipped deftly away, its face a mask of perfect calmness. It took a second for her to stand back up, and when she did, she shook her head, slightly dazed.

    "Leaf Storm!" Ash commanded. Letting out a loud cry, Serperior summoned a swirling flurry of leaves and shot them at Hitmontop.

    AJ snapped his fingers. "Double Team with a spin." Hitmontop flipped onto its head and spun rapidly. A second later, several cones flitted into existence, surrounding Serperior. The barrage of leaves slashed through one of the copies, destroying it. Serperior paused to eye the others, trying to discern which was the real one.

    "Mind Reader." Simultaneously, the copies stopped spinning and flipped into a standing position, their gazes fixated on Serperior. Their bodies shimmered and their eyes glowed yellow for a moment.

    That wouldn't be good. "Serperior, get rid of those copies with Leaf Storm." Serperior gave a sharp nod, already obeying his command before he finished saying it. She whipped up a swirling burst of leaves and swept them in a wave towards the Hitmontop.

    The leaves swept through the copies, wiping them out, just as AJ called his next command. "Hi Jump Kick."

    Three copies remained, and all three leaped into the air, leg raised. Their eyes flickered yellow for a split second. "Dodge!" Ash cried. Serperior whipped side to side, zigzagging away from the Hitmontop. Even as she moved, Hitmontop shot through the air towards her, adjusting its course midair. Ash tried to call a warning, but it was already too late. Hitmontop drove its foot into the side of Serperior's face, knocking her to the ground.

    Just as before, it flipped back onto its head and spun out of range, maintaining perfecting balance as it did.

    Serperior picked herself off the floor, panting even as she glared at the Hitmontop. This wasn't going well. He could switch now, to one of the other Pokémon he'd brought back but... no. It wasn't time yet. Serperior could win this if they could just overcome Hitmontop's unerring balance and dexterity. He stared at it for a moment, watching it spin so precisely - There. A smile crept across his face. At his side, Pikachu gave an inquiring squeak, as if asking, 'What? Did you figure it out?'

    "I sure did, buddy. Serperior, hang in there! You can do this." Serperior glanced back and saw his smile, and flashed him one of her own. "Now, get ready with Aqua Tail." Serperior twisted her tail rapidly, summoning a swirling vortex of water around it.

    "We won't let you attack us like that. Hitmontop, Triple Kick!" Hitmontop grinned, then spun even faster than before, whirling towards its opponent.

    "Now," Ash cried triumphantly, "Use Aqua Tail on the ground." She immediately understood. The water around her tail grew in size, and she swung it through the air before slamming it into the earth. A burst of water surged across the battlefield, turning it to muddy slush around Serperior.

    Hitmontop spun straight into the circle of mud and began to spin wildly. Ash seized the opportunity. "Aqua Tail." Serperior lashed out with her tail before Hitmontop could recover, sweeping it off its feet and flinging it into the air. "Coil, then Leaf Blade!"

    Serperior gathered herself into a tight coil, gathering energy, then launched herself after the airborne Hitmontop, tail shining.

    "Double Team!" AJ shouted frantically. Flailing, Hitmontop managed to produce a few copies of itself, but Serperior reacted quicker, swinging her tail in a wide arc and striking them all at once, hitting the real one as she did. Hitmontop was launched towards the ground and slammed into the mud, sending up a splash. Serperior landed neatly on the ground a second later.

    AJ clenched his fists. "Come on Hitmontop, get up!"

    "Serperior, Coil," Ash said calmly. As Hitmontop pushed itself to its feet, wobbling unsteadily, Serperior tightened herself into a circle, gathering even more power.

    "Alright, now use Triple Kick." Shaking itself, Hitmontop attempted to flip into its usual spin, but slipped up once again, wobbling unsteadily on the muddy earth.

    "Now!" Serperior surged across the ground and slashed the unbalanced Hitmontop with a well-placed Leaf Blade. The blow sent the Hitmontop tumbling across the ground, where he slid to a stop a few feet away from AJ, unconscious.

    The referee took one look before raising a flag. "Hitmontop is unable to battle. Serperior is the winner!"

    Ash grinned and whooped. "Awesome Serperior!" he called. She trilled happily. "You did it."

    Nodding, AJ returned Hitmontop. "That was pretty impressive, Ketchum. I haven't trained Hitmontop as long as some of my other Pokémon, so turning the stadium to mud was a lucky break. But impressive, I guess." He tossed a Pokéball into the air and caught it, still wearing a cocky grin. "But you've got a long way to go before you beat me. Beedrill, let's finish this!"

    Beedrill emerged, letting out an insectoid chattering noise when it saw Serperior. Serperior narrowed her eyes, her red gaze flashing with determination. She cast a swift glance back at Ash and gave an insistent cry before looking back at Beedrill once again. Ash knew the look well. All his Pokémon has done the same at one point or another. Serperior wanted to stay in the fight. But the question was, should he let her?

    He eyed her closely. Despite her poise, he could see that she was breathing hard, and her body was trembling slightly from exertion. Hitmontop had dealt devastating blows to her. But he couldn't deny her the chance at a parting blow. Returning her now wouldn't do much good, he was pretty sure. "Alright Serperior, we'll go down fighting."

    "Battle, begin!"

    "Aqua Tail."

    "Fell Stinger."

    Beedrill's stingers became encased in green light as Serperior summoned water around her tail. The two Pokémon raced towards each other, attacks ready. Serperior swung her tail just as Beedrill struck Serperior. The attacks collided midair, sending out an explosive wave of energy and smoke. As it cleared, Ash saw Beedrill hovering in front of AJ, beady red eyes gleaming proudly. A shimmer of power rippled across its body as the boost from Fell Stinger kicked in. In the middle of the field, Serperior lay splayed out, unconscious.

    Ash returned her, smiling at her Pokéball. "You did great, Serperior."

    "Not bad," AJ called. "Your Serperior actually managed to land a blow on Beedrill."

    "Serperior's pretty great, right?" Ash called, grinning. He quickly selected his next Pokéball. Now he was confident which of his friends would be perfect to handle whatever challenge AJ could throw. "Come on out, Swellow!" He tossed out the Pokéball, smiling as he did. It had been a long time since he'd battled with this particular friend of his. He still fondly remembered their time at the Battle Frontier, and beamed with pride as she emerged onto the field with a shriek.

    "Wow, you have a Swellow?" AJ commented. "Pretty cool. But can it keep up with my Beedrill?"

    Ash just grinned. Swellow glided calmly overhead, her eyes never leaving Beedrill.

    In the stands...

    "Wow!" Iris cried. "Ash even has a Swellow? I wonder why he didn't just bring Unfezant for this fight though. Or his Pidgeot."

    Cilan tapped his chin. "I'd guess his Swellow must be really strong. Knowing Ash, he has some kind of special strategy in mind."

    "Like how he used Serperior's Aqua Tail to unbalance AJ's Hitmontop?"

    "Sort of," Cilan replied. "But that was just Ash thinking on the fly. No, I think he had another reason to bring his Swellow."

    "I guess we'll just have to wait and see," she mused, sitting back in her seat. Unconsciously, she tapped her feet on the floor, waiting for the next round to begin.

    Then, a second later, the referee called for the match to start.

    "Swellow, Aerial Ace!"

    "Toxic!" With blinding speed, Beedrill fired twin shots of poison at Swellow.

    Swellow spiraled out of the way of both shots, soaring upward. Then she pulled a tight spiral, looped around, and shot towards Beedrill like an arrow, leaving a white streak in her wake. Even Beedrill was powerless in the face of the blinding fast attack. One moment Swellow was high in the air, the next she crashed bodily into Beedrill, sending it careening wildly into the dirt. A crater was formed from the impact, creating a cloud of dust.

    Swellow shrieked, as if daring the Beedrill to rise. Ash watched, tense, wondering the same thing. To his shock, Beedrill began to move. It shifted, then fluttered its wings, slowly rising into the air. Then, without warning, it collapsed, slumping back to the ground and laying still.

    "Yeah!" Ash shouted. Swellow gave a happy cry, doing few acrobatic loops in the air.

    "I saw that coming," AJ admitted, returning Beedrill. "Beedrill did exactly what I needed." He put its Pokéball back, then selected another. "Come out, Magnezone!" He tossed out another Pokéball, which produced a shining silver Pokémon. It gave a strange, metallic cry as it hovered above the battlefield.

    "Whoa, you have a Magnezone?" Ash asked.

    AJ nodded. "I caught this while I was at Kanto's old Power Plant. We had to travel out to Sinnoh just to evolve it to a Magnezone."

    "Cool!" Ash exclaimed. He glanced up at Swellow, gliding above. "Ready Swellow?" She shrieked an affirmative.

    "Not gonna switch, Ketchum?" AJ asked, a note of a taunt in his voice.

    "Nope."

    In the stands, anxiety grew in Iris. What could Ash be thinking? A flying type like Swellow was a terrible match against an electric and steel type like Magnezone. She couldn't think of any reasonable way Swellow would be able to handle Magnezone. Even if it could manage to dodge electric attacks, it was still at a severe disadvantage. What plan could he have?

    "Alright Swellow, use Double Team!"

    With a shriek, Swellow flared her wings and created a slew of copies, all around Magnezone.

    "Quick Magnezone, get rid of them with rapid fire Flash Cannon!" Magnezone's single eye darted rapidly around, taking in the positions of the copies before firing several small silver orbs at them. The attacks blasted through the copies in quick succession, wiping them out.

    "Now!" Ash shouted. From some hidden position behind Magnezone, Swellow shot down in a white streak, nailing it with Quick Attack.

    Unperturbed, AJ called his next attack. "Magnezone, Electric Terrain." The magnets on its body spun, electricity crackling across them.

    "Aerial Ace!" With a loud cry, Swellow swooped upwards, then dove down towards Magnezone.

    The electricity gathered to a point, then it fired it straight down. A surge of electricity covered the entire battlefield, making Ash's hair stand on end. A second later, Swellow's Aerial Ace collided, pushing Magnezone back. What attack was that? Swellow, now gliding overhead, didn't seem adversely affected. But he also knew AJ had used it for a reason. He had some kind of trick up his sleeve.

    Magnezone gave a loud beep, gaze still locked Swellow, high above. "Okay Magnezone," AJ said. "Rain Dance!" Magnezone gave a loud metallic cry, raising its magnets skyward and doing a sort of 'dance' midair. The clouds overhead began to darken, turning from white to blue to an ominous black. Rain burst forth, soaking the battlefield, pounding into the earth, and drenching the two trainers.

    Ash blinked up at it, then quickly refocused his attention on Swellow, who looked fairly annoyed at the sudden downpour. Fortunately, she wasn't unused to adverse conditions. "Don't worry Swellow." Swellow shrieked back at him, and their gazes met. "Quick Attack!" he called.

    She slipped into a blur and raced towards Magnezone. AJ said nothing, and Swellow struck Magnezone. Almost immediately, she slid off its slick metallic body, only landing a glancing blow with the attack.

    "Flash Cannon," AJ snapped. With machine-like precision, Magnezone whirled around and fired a silver sphere of energy after Swellow, striking her in the back and sending her careening wildly from the force of the blow.

    With a start, Ash realized she was heading straight for the ground. "Hang in there!" he shouted above the pounding rain. Swellow flared her wings and pulled up at the last second, swooping back into the sky. He let out a breath of relief.

    AJ snapped his fingers. "Magnezone, time to end this. Thunder."

    In any other circumstance, hearing that command would have given Ash cause for concern. But not with Swellow. "Get ready Swellow!" he shouted.

    Magnezone's entire body danced with electricity. The sparks on the ground from the electric terrain earlier surged upward, gathering into its body. Blinding light lit the stadium. Electricity surged up into the clouds, punching a hole through them. A split second later, an even larger surge of lightning split the air and crashed down onto Swellow. Thunder boomed across the stadium as the electricity surged across the flying-type, the attack super-charged thanks to the effects Electric Terrain.

    Nearly as soon as it began, the attack ended. The electricity stopped flowing and the hairs on Ash's arm stopped tingling. Swellow hovered over the battlefield, feathers shining with golden light. Gasps and cries of shock and confusion erupted from the crowd. "Now Swellow, Quick Attack!" A golden comet of light shot through the sky, almost faster than the eye could track. She slammed into Magnezone, sending it spinning wildly through the air. Before it could recover, she swung around and struck twice more.

    Frustration and confusion contorted AJ's expression. "Flash Cannon!" he shouted. Magnezone caught itself in the midst of its wild tumble and fired off a swift blast at Swellow.

    It was time to end this and try Swellow's new move. "Ready Swellow? Use Reversal." Orange energy wrapped around her golden form then coalesced in front of her beak. She flew straight at the Flash Cannon, crashing head first through the attack before coming out the other side and driving her beak into Magnezone.

    The blow generated an explosion of energy that sent Swellow reeling back. She recovered, breathing heavily, the golden light fading from her form. Magnezone crumpled to the ground, out cold. AJ stared, utterly dumbfounded for the first time since their match started. "What kinda training have you been doing with that Swellow?" AJ demanded.

    Ash couldn't help but smirk. Catching AJ totally off guard felt great. "My Swellow is just super special. It's great at shaking off electric attacks." Looking back and remembering how he'd beat Tate and Liza brought a wave of nostalgia. He'd had so many awesome battles...

    "I'll say," AJ muttered, shaking his head in disbelief. As the referee announced the results, he scowled for a moment longer, before resuming his usual cocky smile. "Come on back, Raticate!" With a toss of a Pokéball, his Raticate re-emerged onto the field, clicking its teeth together threateningly.

    Ash straightened the hat on his head, staring the Raticate down. "Let's do this, Swellow."

    "Quick Attack!" Both trainers cried simultaneously.

    Instantly, the two Pokémon streaked towards each other, nothing more than blurs, and collided in the center of the battlefield. Both were thrown backward, Swellow catching herself in the air and Raticate skidding across the field.

    "Aerial Ace." In a single fluid motion, Swellow turned and dove at Raticate. At a swift command from AJ, it near-instantly burrowed underground, leaving Swellow to swoop harmlessly above the hole. A moment later, Raticate exploded from the ground, higher than Ash thought possible. Its fangs shimmered white and it sank them into Swellow's wing. She shrieked and flinched midair as Raticate continued to cling on. Sinking its claws in deeper, Raticate scrambled halfway onto her back, causing her to tilt wildly in flight.

    "Oh no! Swellow, shake it off!" Ash cried. Even as he spoke, Raticate sunk its fangs into Swellow again, making her shriek in frustration. Swellow began to swoop, dive twist, and spiral wildly, in a frenzied effort to shake Raticate free. Unfortunately, her efforts seemed to be in vain, and he could see she was quickly tiring. Ash gritted his teeth. He couldn't, no he wouldn't let Swellow lose, not like this. "Swellow, spin, and dive at the ground!" he cried. High in the sky, the blue speck that he knew was Swellow turned and angled herself at the ground. She dropped like a stone, spinning madly as she did, heading straight for the ground.

    AJ caught on immediately. "Get that thing under you!" he shouted.

    A mad midair scramble began Raticate nipping and scrambling over Swellow as it attempted to force the bird under him, while she spun faster and faster towards the earth. Mere yards away from the ground, Raticate managed to scramble over Swellow and spring into the air before plunging straight down again in a brash attempt to use Quick Attack and knock Swellow to the ground.

    Instinct took over for Ash. "Reversal!" Raticate streaked down with Quick Attack. Swellow struck out with Reversal, even as she fell toward the ground. The attacks met just as the two slammed into the earth, sending an explosion of dust. Both Pokémon were tossed haphazardly to either side of the battlefield, where they lay still.

    A hush fell over the stadium. Swellow twitched, then Raticate. Both Pokémon slowly began to rise, trembling as they tried to push themselves to their feet. And then they collapsed. Cheers and gasps erupted from the crowd and the referee leaned forwards examining the two Pokémon. After a moment, he raised both flags.

    "Both Raticate and Swellow are unable to battle. The match is a draw."

    Ash returned Swellow, and AJ did the same for his Pokémon. "Great job Swellow," Ash murmured as he tucked the Pokéball away. "You were incredible." He took a deep breath. The match was nearly done now. AJ only had one Pokémon left, while Ash had two, although Pikachu was tired already. Unfortunately, he knew exactly who AJ's last Pokémon was.

    He watched with a mix of excitement, determination and a touch of nervousness as AJ's Sandslash emerged onto the field. AJ's star Pokémon, his trump card. He still remembered how that Sandshrew had jumped in the water as if it were nothing, and the power it had displayed. And it had only grown stronger since that day, so long ago. This was sure to be a fun battle.

    "Ready Pikachu?" he asked without looking down. Pikachu gave a loud cry and sprang onto the field.

    "Gonna go with Pikachu huh?"

    Ash nodded. "Sure am!"

    Sandslash eyed Pikachu calmly, looking almost as if this weren't even a battle. This was it. Pikachu and Gabite. If he could win now, he could compete in the finals.

    "Sandslash, use Slash!"

    "Pikachu, use Iron Tail."

    A white glow encompassed Pikachu's tail and he bounded across the field to meet Sandslash, whose claws shone white as well. Pikachu swung high, aiming at Sandslash's head. It ducked and jabbed Pikachu in the stomach. He stumbled and retaliated with a swift blow to Sandslash's side before dodging a swipe to his head.

    So began an elaborate but extremely brief dance as the two Pokémon blocked, parried, and struck at each other, matching blow for blow. Then, with a swift feint from Sandslash, it struck Pikachu and sent him skidding backward.

    At a call from Ash, Pikachu recovered and sprinted forwards with Quick Attack. With equal speed, Sandslash disappeared underground a hairbreadth of a second before Pikachu struck. Pikachu froze, his ears twitching. "Get back!" Ash cried. Pikachu tried to spring backward, but Sandslash was already emerging from the ground and knocked Pikachu in the chin. The electric-type stumbled away and landed on his feet.

    "Quick Attack! Get under it!" Pikachu surged forwards, perfectly in sync with Ash's command. Before Sandslash could burrow underground again, Pikachu ducked under its stomach, striking it into the air a couple of feet. "Iron Tail." With lightning-fast reflexes, Pikachu swung his glowing tail upwards, slamming Sandslash in the side and knocking it to the ground.

    "Get up and use Sandstorm," AJ commanded. Sandslash leaped to its feet and growled, then crossed its arms and spun rapidly, kicking up a massive, swirling veil of sand.

    In the span of a moment, the sandstorm grew to cover the entire battlefield. Ash grimaced. This made things much harder. Even now, he could barely see Pikachu's yellow form through the sand. Making out Sandslash's tan hide was impossible.

    "Slash!" AJ's voice sounded through the storm.

    All Ash saw was the faint, telltale glow of white, several yards away from Pikachu, then all of a sudden, it was right on top of Pikachu. Pikachu gave a squeak of shock as Sandslash delivered two blinding fast blows, knocking him back. "Pikachu!" he cried. Somehow, Sandslash had moved even faster than before. Which seemed impossible unless - Sand Rush. He didn't know if it was Cilan, Brock, or someone else who had mentioned the ability, but it came to him now. Sand Rush increased a Pokémon's speed during a sandstorm. So that was AJ's plan.

    "We're not giving up, right Pikachu?" he shouted. Pikachu nodded determinedly, taking a fighting stance. "Wait for it..." Pikachu tensed up, eyes darting around for any sign of his opponent. A flicker of white caught Ash's attention. "There! Iron Tail!"

    Pikachu whipped his tail out just in time to land a solid blow on Sandslash, stopping it in its tracks.

    "Dig."

    In a blink, Sandslash disappeared underground. Ash tensed again. "Alright Pikachu, get ready.." he said as he peered into the storm. To his shock, Sandslash reappeared again second later, several yards behind Pikachu.

    AJ's voice rang confidently from the opposite end of the stadium. "Come on Sandslash, let's end this. Fissure," he called.

    Through the storm, Ash caught a glimpse of Sandslash before it was once again obscured. It gave a loud cry, then sprang into the air, curling into a ball. It slammed into the ground. He could barely see as a shockwave of white energy shot across the stadium, creating a massive crack and splitting the battlefield in two. "Dodge it!" he yelled.

    The sandstorm pelted Pikachu mercilessly. He pawed at his face, trying to clear the grit, and opened them again just in time to see the shockwave. He tried to leap to the side but was a moment too late. The ground opened underneath him swallowing him completely. Dust, rubble, and energy exploded, shaking the entire battlefield.

    "Pikachu!" Ash cried. The sandstorm raged on for another few moments before slowly dissipating. Several seconds later, the dust settled, revealing Pikachu, laying on the field in a daze. He jogged onto the field and knelt next to his partner. In the background, he heard the referee calling the match in AJ's favor, but he didn't listen. "Are you ok Pikachu?"

    Pikachu opened his eyes slowly, then blinked wearily at him before giving a tired grin. "Thanks, buddy," Ash murmured, rubbing his head gently. Scooping up the exhausted Pikachu, he carried him back to his side of the field. From his arms, Pikachu squeaked apologetically. "It's ok. I couldn't have made it this far without you. You were the one who helped wear down all of AJ's other Pokémon, remember?" That seemed to cheer Pikachu up a bit. He set him down carefully before selecting his final Pokéball.

    Taking a deep breath, he tossed it onto the field. "Alright Gabite, let's finish this!"

    Gabite emerged with a snarl that grew into a roar. Sandslash brandished its claws, staring Gabite down. Ash could see that the fight with Pikachu had taken a toll. Taking a deep breath, he steeled himself for the final fight.

    "Okay Sandslash, let's get im with Dig."

    "Gabite, you use Dig too," Ash called.

    In a flash, both Pokémon disappeared underground.

    Ash felt his own heartbeat. A bead of sweat trickled down his forehead. His whole body was tensed as he stared at the battlefield to see which Pokémon would emerge first. Come on Gabite, he silently willed his Pokémon. The ground in the center of the stadium suddenly exploded. His heart skipped a beat. Then Sandslash launched from the hole with Gabite clamped onto its tail. It landed awkwardly on the ground, then spun around with a loud cry.

    "Get that thing off with Slash!" AJ shouted. Sandslash's claws lit up and he struck Gabite across the head, jostling it slightly, though the stubborn Pokémon still held on.

    "Great job Gabite! Now, use Dragon Pulse." A vivid blue glow began to spill from Gabite's jaws.

    Sandslash's eyes bugged open as it felt Gabite charge the attack. It struck frantically with its claws, landing three more blows in rapid succession. Gabite squinted his eyes shut, weathering the blows admirably. A half a moment later, Sandslash exploded from his jaws, rocketing across the stadium. It tumbled haphazardly across the floor before stabbing its claws into the ground to halt its slide a few feet from the stadium walls.

    Gabite leered proudly at his handiwork, though his breaths came heavy, and the scales on his head shone dully from the blows he'd received.

    Sandslash stood up, shook itself, then hissed, as if daring Gabite to try that trick again. Fortunately, that was a mistake Ash didn't plan to make. They'd gotten lucky with Dig that time, but neither Sandslash nor AJ would let it happen again, he was sure of that. But he could also see the blast had done solid damage. Sandslash was looking even more tired now, especially after fighting Pikachu. Not that Gabite looked much better, unfortunately.

    "Not bad, huh?" Ash called, grinning.

    AJ shrugged. "It was okay. Sandslash, Fissure." Sandslash brandished his claws.

    Instinct seized Ash. "Gabite, Draco Meteor!" Gabite whipped his head skyward and spat a massive sphere of energy. It rocketed into the air and exploded, just as Sandslash slammed into the earth. A hail of golden meteors dropped towards the earth. A surge of white energy split across the stadium toward Gabite. "Climb!" he shouted frantically.

    Gabite leaped into the sky just as the shockwave passed under him, then sprang off a meteor and onto another. Then another and another, grabbing each meteor and lunging ever forward, staying airborne above the fissure attack, and working his way towards Sandslash.

    Sandslash sprang nimbly from side to side, dodging the meteors as they rained onto the field. Just as it rolled to the side, dodging one, another crashed on top of it, knocking it to the ground. Another exploded almost on top of it, throwing it to the side. Then, almost as soon as it had begun, the attack ended. The last meteor struck, the cracks from the fissure rumbled shut, and Gabite landed back on solid ground, panting.

    The two Pokémon stood only a few yards apart new the middle of the battlefield. Ash was only slightly surprised to see Sandslash still standing after Draco Meteor. It was AJ's very best Pokémon, after all.

    "Rock Smash!" Ash shouted. Gabite's claws glowed with red energy and he lunged for Sandslash.

    At AJ's command, Sandslash attacked as well, claws glowing white. It rushed Gabite, then at the last second, dodged to the right and slashed at Gabite's back. Gabite roared, whipped around, and slammed his claw into Sandslash's face. In a flash, Sandslash dove underground.

    "Watch your step," Ash called. Gabite panted, his eyes darting wildly as he tried to figure out where Sandslash would emerge. Hardly two seconds passed before the earth just behind Gabite trembled. Gabite whirled to attack but was a moment too slow. Sandslash shot out, crashing into Gabite's chest and sending him skidding backward. Gabite crashed into the ground hard and lay still.

    The referee peered at the fallen dragon. Ash blinked. No. This couldn't be over now. He was so close - Gabite twitched, then opened his eyes. Slowly, limbs trembling, the dragon began to rise to his feet. Inch by inch, he pressed on, until he stood tall, eyes burning with raw determination. The sight made Ash's heart soar. After the beating he had taken, Gabite was still ready to fight. He almost couldn't believe it, especially considering the large power gap between the two Pokémon.

    Throwing his head back, Gabite let loose a sky shaking roar. A light glistened on his forehead, then began to grow, until his whole head gleamed with a silver aura. With another roar, he lowered his head and erupted across the field like a bullet. Sandslash tried to throw up its claws at the last moment to defend itself. Then Gabite smashed into him.

    For a moment, Sandslash seemed to hang still, as if glued to Gabite's head. Then, with explosive force, it shot across the field, past AJ, and slammed into the wall. It slowly slumped onto the ground, leaving a Sandslash shaped dent in the wall.

    Ash gaped at the sight, staring between Sandslash and Gabite. Gabite had learned a new move! He couldn't help but grin. No way Sandslash could get up after a hit like that - To his utter shock, Sandslash started to move. It rose, pushing itself halfway to standing. The audience held their breaths. He held his breath. AJ clenched his fists even tighter. Then Sandslash collapsed.

    Thunderous cheers erupted from the audience. Gabite smirked, then slumped to the ground, exhaustion winning over. Ash barely heard the referee over the roars and cheers. He sprinted out onto the field, dropping to his knees beside Gabite. A second later, Gabite blinked open his eyes and peered wearily at Ash. "You were awesome," he whispered. "Take a good long rest." He took out a Pokéball and quickly returned Gabite before standing up. His heart hammered wildly in his chest and he couldn't stop smiling.

    "I have to say, Ketchum, that was pretty impressive. I didn't think you had it in you. Especially that last attack your Gabite pulled off. That was Iron Head, right?" AJ said.

    Ash looked up and nodded. "Yeah, I guess so. Man, that sure was fun, getting to battle you again."

    AJ shrugged. "Yeah, I gotta admit, you were pretty good." He held out his hand.

    Ash shook it. "Told you I wouldn't lose next time we battled."

    AJ barked out a sharp laugh. "You did. You sure made good on that promise," he said. "Guess I'll be watching you battle in the Finals then."

    Ash gave a determined nod, fresh excitement growing in him. He'd finally done it. For the first time ever, he'd made it to the finals of a Pokémon League Conference.


    Coming Up Next: The League Finals!
     
  3. Flyg0n

    Mojave
    (Trapinch)
    Level 26
    Joined:
    May 2, 2016
    Posts:
    135
    PokéPoints:
    ₽161.8
    Welcome to the Final Arc, the League Finals! Will Ash emerge victorious?

    As always, comments are welcome on this thread :D

    Ash walked out of the stadium in high spirits. He made a beeline straight for the Pokémon center, and after getting his Pokémon healed, was almost immediately bombarded by Iris.

    "Ash, that was incredible! How did you do that thing with Swellow?" she demanded.

    Cilan approached as well, eyes glistening with excitement. "I must admit, I am curious how you pulled off such a tactic. Normally a flying-type should have been knocked out by such a powerful attack."

    Despite his calm voice, Ash could see Cilan was practically shaking with curiosity. He shrugged. "I don't know. It was something Swellow and I pulled off way back when I traveled through Hoenn."

    "Wow!" Iris continued to stare at him. "So does that mean you knew AJ was going to use Magnezone?"

    He shook his head and chuckled. "Not exactly. But I knew Swellow was super tough, and I did think he might bring an electric type. It was just a hunch though."

    "Wow," Iris murmured again. "So cool. And what was that last move that Gabite used? It was incredible!" she squealed.

    "Oh, that?" Ash said. "It was actually Gabite's Iron Head. He really surprised me with it too. But it's sure going to be awesome for the battle tomorrow."6

    A light ringing sound echoed through the Pokémon Center, and an announcer came on the speaker system, reminding everyone of the upcoming match between Virgil and Tobias. It would be held tomorrow, and the day after that, Ash would face whoever won that match. It gave him chills just thinking about it.

    "Who do you think will win?" Iris asked, glancing away from the TVs to look at Ash.

    "Virgil is awesome, but..." something inside told him it wouldn't be Virgil he was facing in the finals.

    "Yeah," was Iris' only reply. For a second, grim silence fell. An odd feeling grew between the three, not of fear, but of a sort of excitement, blended with cool determination. Ash's gaze drifted between his two friends, and a tiny smile tugged at his lips. It was nice to remember that no matter what, he had two good friends who would be cheering for him tomorrow.

    xXx

    The next morning, after an early breakfast and another brief training session, he found himself in the main stadium, with front row seats that Cilan had managed to acquire. As he had put it, the 'main course' required only the best seating arrangement.

    While most of the crowd seemed excited about the match, Ash couldn't bring himself to feel quite as happy. Some part of him sympathized with Virgil. He remembered all too well the despair he had felt back when he faced Tobias in Sinnoh. Ash wasn't sure what kind of chance Virgil stood. He was good, yes. But Tobias and his legendaries were on another level. So far no one had even gotten past his Darkrai. It made Ash curious what other Pokémon Tobias even had...

    His thoughts were drowned out by the announcer's voice.

    "Welcome to the second semi-final match of the Unova League!" Freddie shouted. "Today we have the master of Eeveelutions, Virgil, vs the master of darkness, Tobias. So far, Virgil has displayed power, ingenuity, and incredible tactics. Meanwhile, Tobias has proven himself a force to be reckoned with, sweeping through the entire league with just his Darkrai. Can Virgil come out on top?"

    Ash leaned forward. He wanted to pay close attention this time, seeing this battle could give him more inspiration for tomorrow. To his surprise, Virgil led with Umbreon. He'd expected one of Virgil's other Pokémon, given Umbreon didn't possess a distinct type advantage. Then again, he realized, neither did Tobias.

    The battle was quick but heated. Both dark-type Pokémon traded a flurry of attacks, with Darkrai mostly relying on Dark Pulse and Ice Beam. It ended swiftly, however, once Umbreon was hit with Dark Void. His Jolteon was next. It performed well, though eventually was swiftly struck down. Virgil seemed unfazed by his quick loss, however, and sent out his next Pokémon. Espeon emerged onto the field, calm determination in its gaze.

    Now that made Ash curious. Psychic types were at a disadvantage, so what could Virgil be planning? The answer was quickly revealed. After dodging a few Ice Beam's and blocking a Dark Pulse with Light Screen, Darkrai tried to use Dark Void. The shadowy orb shot across the stadium, but Espeon made no attempt to dodge. The attack struck it, then suddenly ricocheted off, back at Darkrai, hitting it dead on.

    Darkrai's eyes widened as it was struck with its own attack. Then its eyes shut and it slumped to the ground. The crowd gasped in shock and Ash stared with wide eyes. How?! He instinctively looked to Cilan, who looked impressed.

    "That was Magic Bounce!" Cilan declared. "Truly a magnificent way to season a battle. You see, Magic Bounce is a special ability certain Pokémon can possess. It allows them to reflect back moves that normally cause a status condition, such as Dark void. Virgil must have been planning this from the start!"

    Iris gasped. "Wow! So he used Umbreon and Jolteon to help wear down Darkrai, then sent out Espeon because of her ability. He's really good."

    "Uh-huh," Ash agreed. Pikachu gave a squeak from his lap as well, eyes shining with eagerness.

    With Darkrai down for the moment, Espeon wasted no time striking with two swift Dazzling Gleam attacks, dealing severe damage. Before it could unleash a third, Darkrai jolted awake, then swiftly retaliated with a Dark Pulse. Espeon was knocked out instantly. After that, Flareon fell, followed by Glaceon.

    To Virgil's credit, Darkrai was looking severely weakened. The final match began in earnest, with Eevee trying its hardest to dodge attacks and strike back, and though it did well, its attacks didn't seem to do a lot of damage. Even so, Ash could tell Darkrai was weakening. Then it happened. Some unspoken bond between Virgil and Eevee seemed to conspire, and a familiar blue glow surrounded Eevee's form.

    "I don't believe it, folks! This league is just full of surprises. It seems Virgil's Eevee is actually evolving!"

    Ash gaped as Eevee's form began to change, growing taller and leaner. When the evolution ended, a Pokémon he had never seen before stood on the battlefield.

    "That's a Sylveon!" Iris practically screeched, leaping out of her seat and pointing. "Amazing! Virgil's Eevee evolved into a Sylveon."

    "Huh?" Ash said. "A Sylveon?"

    "Yeah!" she gushed. "A Sylveon is the Fairy-type evolution of Eevee. It's really rare. They're a little more common in Kalos region, but still super uncommon."

    "Wow..." Ash stared in awe at Sylveon. It had light pink fur, shining blue eyes, and long ribbon-shaped extensions around its neck and ears. The battle restarted in earnest, though now Eevee seemed to be faring much better. And then it happened. Sylveon dodged two Dark Pulses in a row, lunged close to Darkrai, and shot a full power Moonblast attack.

    Darkrai was thrown to the ground and didn't get back up. Cheers and gasps of shock burst from the crowd. Ash jumped to his feet and cheered as well, followed by Iris and Cilan.

    "Virgil has done it!" the announcer raved. "He's the first trainer of the Unova League to defeat Tobias Darkrai!"

    Ash felt pleased with that, at least. There was no way Sylveon could defeat five more of Tobias' Pokémon, but at least she had defeated Darkrai. He didn't have to be close to Virgil to tell that the boy was incredibly proud. He turned his attention to Tobias, who looked quite pleased and impressed. He briefly wondered who Tobias would send out next. Would it be Latios? Or one of his other 4?

    His question was quickly answered by the appearance of the familiar white and blue dragon. He felt just a tiny bit disappointed. It would have been useful to know at least one of Tobias' other Pokémon. Oh well, surprises were just as fun.

    Next to him, Iris nearly fainted at the sight of Latios. Ash chuckled inwardly, wondering how she would react if she knew about the time he'd seen Dialga and Palkia...And Giratina. He turned his attention to the battle. Sylveon, already tired from her clash with Darkrai, was faring poorly now. Tobias called for Latios to use Giga Impact.

    Just like that the battle was over. The trainers returned their Pokémon, and the spectators slowly began to make their way out, chattering about the battle. Ash followed his friends out, aware of their discussion about Tobias, though not really paying much attention. Seeing today's battle made him even more determined than ever - and it gave him some ideas.

    xXx

    With the prospect of facing Tobias again on the horizon, Ash made plans with his friends to meet for dinner, then left to get in some more training. He made a brief stop at the Pokémon center to retrieve some Pokémon, and settle some business, then made his way out to a quiet clearing just outside one of the stadiums.

    He sent out Krookodile and Charizard first. There was no doubt in his mind Charizard would be among the Pokémon fighting in the finals, as would Krookodile. They both greeted him with roars of excitement, and Charizard with a burst of fire, as usual. He coughed out some soot and chuckled. "Good to see you too, Charizard." He patted Charizard, then turned to Krookodile.

    "So, you guys have been practicing together a lot, right?" Krookodile smirked and nodded. "Alright, let's see what you got."

    For the next several minutes, Krookodile demonstrated his new power, using several rocks in the area as dummies. By the time he was done, only rubble remained.

    Ash grinned. "Great job, Krookodile." Now that he'd seen a glimpse of Krookodile's power, he had a few more Pokémon to check in with.

    For the next couple of hours, he spent some time with his Pokémon. He trained, focusing especially on Charizard, Pikachu, Krookodile, and Gabite.

    Just as he was taking a short break, he saw a figure approach. He got to his feet, recognizing the person immediately - it was hard not to after all, given that the person was none other than the Sinnoh League Champion, Cynthia. "Hey Cynthia," Ash called amiably, waving. Over the past several days, he'd been so busy with the league and training, he had barely seen her, though he knew she was busy with league business.

    She waved back and strode towards him. "May I speak to you, Ash?"

    "Uh yeah, sure," Ash replied, surprised. He was always delighted to have the chance to talk with Cynthia, but her expression looked unusually serious.

    "Walk with me," she said simply. She started back in the direction of the stadiums. Ash returned his Pokémon, save for Pikachu of course, and followed her curiously. "So you're in the finals. How do you feel?" she asked.

    Ash immediately grinned. "Excited! Last year, I only made it to the semifinals! I can't wait to battle in the finals this time."

    She nodded thoughtfully. "And are you worried at all about facing Tobias?"

    Ash frowned slightly. "I was at first I think. Tobias is really tough, and his Darkrai is super strong. I didn't want to let my Pokémon down."

    Cynthia nodded thoughtfully. "Actually, he's the reason I have to speak to you. Yesterday, Alder, who as I'm sure you are aware, is Unova's champion, and I had a meeting. According to the rulebooks, there are apparently certain Pokémon that are 'banned' so to speak, from official matches. Both Tobias' Darkrai and Latios are on that list."

    "Oh," was all Ash could think of to say. He'd always had some form of respect for Tobias as a trainer. He'd never been rude or cruel as far as he was aware. "Does that mean Tobias broke the rules?"

    "That depends."

    Ash cocked his head. "What do you mean?"

    "Since those rules haven't been observed in several years, it's considered a gray area. We've spoken to Tobias about it, and I truly believe he was unaware of this rule."

    A bit of relief came over Ash at that. He'd hate to think a rival of sorts would intentionally break a rule. He frowned, considering everything she'd said. "So what do you need me for?" he asked finally.

    "Alder believes that he should be banned from using those Pokémon. Now that we are aware of the old rules, he believes we should observe them. A number of other officials agree. However, I convinced them that since you will be one battling, we should leave the choice up to you. We can have Tobias disqualified if you agree. Or he can be allowed to battle with his current team."

    Ash blinked. "That would mean I would win?" he stammered. He stopped walking and stared at her.

    Cynthia paused, then nodded.

    A swirl of confusion rushed through Ash. He felt caught off guard by the whole situation. He'd been thinking so long about his battle with Tobias he'd never considered any other options. Much less being given such a choice. Before he could muster a reply, Cynthia spoke.

    "You have time to consider it. I have some other business to take care of, so you can contact me later-"

    Ash blinked and shook his head, quickly gathering his thoughts. "No," he blurted.

    Cynthia raised an eyebrow and regarded him with curiosity, though he thought he also detected approval in her gaze.

    He continued. "I want to fight Tobias at his strongest! He probably worked really hard to catch those Pokémon, and I bet he's got a lot of other really strong Pokémon. It's not fair to stop him from using them."

    A faint smile played across Cynthia's lips. "I thought you might say that. In that case, I'll go inform Alder of your decision." She moved as if to leave, then turned back around. "You have the heart of a Champion, Ash Ketchum. I look forward to your match." She held out her hand.

    Slowly, Ash reached out and shook it. He smiled, pleased at the compliment. "Thank you, Cynthia."

    She nodded, then strode away. Ash watched her go, then walked slowly away. It was beginning to dawn on him what he had just decided. He just gave up a chance to become a League Champion, now. But then, he knew if he'd agreed to have Tobias disqualified, then he never would have felt satisfied with his win. More than anything, he wanted to battle alongside his Pokémon and earn the win.

    "Ash!"

    He whirled to see Iris racing towards him. "I just saw you talking to Champion Cynthia. What were you talking about?" she asked breathlessly.

    "Hey Iris," he greeted. He quickly explained Cynthia's offer.

    Iris gaped at him, wide-eyed. "You said yes, right? Does that mean you're Champion now?" she practically shouted, bouncing on her toes from excitement.

    "Actually.." Ash laughed and rubbed the back of his neck. "I told her no."

    "You what?"

    Ash clamped his hands over his ears. "Jeez, you don't have to yell," he grumbled.

    "How could you say no?" Iris shouted. "You could have been a champion!"

    "But it wouldn't really be a proper win."

    "So?" Iris said, still nearly shouting. "I thought your dream was to be a Pokémon Champion."

    "I want to be a Pokémon Master," he pointed out.

    She frowned. "Aren't they the same thing?"

    Ash blinked. "Yeah but... I mean no, not exactly." He scowled slightly, trying to work out his thoughts.

    Iris, however, seemed to only be growing more annoyed. "You know, you're such a-"

    "It was my choice!" Ash interjected before she could finish the sentence. "I'm not going to win a match just because I got my opponent disqualified! It means nothing."

    Iris wrinkled her nose, her mouth deepening into a scowl. She stamped her foot and spun away. "Fine! Go and lose, see if I care!" she shot over her shoulder before storming away.

    Ash blinked, staring after her in confusion. Pikachu nuzzled his cheek comfortingly, and he hesitantly reached up, rubbing the little mouse on the head. He couldn't help but feel bothered by what Iris had said - did she really think he would lose tomorrow?

    xXx

    Dinner was a tense and quiet affair. Cilan tried a few times to pry some kind of response out of either Ash or Iris, but neither trainer spoke. Ash didn't really feel like talking to Iris at the moment, nor did he have any idea why she was so upset. It wasn't like she was the one who had to battle Tobias tomorrow. As soon as he finished his dinner, he quickly excused himself and hurried away.

    Once he was outside, he headed for the practice field behind the Pokémon center. Nothing helped clear his mind like peace and quiet, and quality time with his Pokémon. One by one, he released each of the Pokémon he'd brought back - all the new friends he'd made in Unova, as well as his old ones - Swellow, Bulbasaur, Buizel, Gabite, Charizard, and Sceptile. They all greeted him, and Pikachu hurried forwards to greet his old friends as well, before standing beside Charizard.

    "Guys, I just wanted to thank everyone here. Tomorrow is the finals match, and I couldn't have made it here without all of your help. I know I can't take all of you to the battle tomorrow, so I just wanted to let you know how awesome you all are."

    Gabite almost immediately pounced on him and began gnawing his head. Ash gave a cry of protest and pried him off, before gazing at each of his Pokémon, who grinned back at him in their own ways, showing their gratitude. "Charizard, Sceptile, I'm taking both of you with me." The two Pokémon stepped forwards, Sceptile looking particularly determined. "Krookodile, Gabite, I want you guys too." Krookodile's practice with Charizard had helped him grow in leaps and bounds. Plus he was already one of his strongest Pokémon in Unova. Gabite had proved his grit before as well. "Of course, it goes without saying Pikachu will be there too." Pikachu squeaked proudly, before scampering over to Ash and climbing onto his shoulder.

    He took a moment to survey the Pokémon standing before him. Pikachu, Charizard, Sceptile, Krookodile, Gabite. Together, they were some of his strongest, toughest Pokémon. Krookodile aside, they also all had experience fighting legendaries. Pikachu sprang off his shoulder, then gestured to the empty space beside Gabite, looking up at Ash questioningly. He could almost hear the electric types question: But what about the 6th member of the team?

    Ash chuckled. "Don't worry Pikachu. I have someone extra special in mind. A secret weapon of our own."

    Pikachu cocked his head and peered at Ash, clearly wondering who. Ash just shook his head and chuckled. "It's going to be a super-secret surprise." Just thinking about it made his heart beat a little faster. Tobias wouldn't be the only one with surprises in this league.

    "This is it, everyone." Ash declared, placing his hands on his hips. "Tomorrow, you face Tobias. He's one of the toughest trainers I've ever battled. But I believe we can do it." At that, all his Pokémon gave growls and shrieks of agreement. Then, Ash's other Pokémon, the ones from Unova, gathered around the 5 Pokémon. They gave growls, chirps, and varied cries of encouragement.

    Emboar stepped up to Charizard, giving him a nod and a fist bump. Dewott swaggered up to Krookodile and smirked, then walked over to Pikachu and patted his head. Serperior dipped her head to Sceptile, who nodded back. The two shared the briefest of smiles. Leavanny darted frantically between each of the five Pokémon in an almost motherly fashion, while Gigalith butted heads with Krookodile.

    The sight made Ash smile, and his eyes even watered, just a bit. Pride swelled in his chest, and a renewed sense of determination began to fill him. Tomorrow would not be a repeat of the Sinnoh League. He would make sure of that. Even if he didn't win, he would at least defeat Latios and Darkrai. And he would at least see Tobias' third Pokémon. Though with the surprise he had planned, he figured he might get farther than that.

    After giving his Pokémon a little bit more time to spend with each other, he returned each of them. They would need plenty of rest for tomorrow. He turned back towards the Pokémon center, ready to turn in for the night when he spied Iris standing a few feet away.

    "Hey Iris," he said slowly.

    Iris stared at the ground, drawing circles in the dirt with her shoe. "Hey," she mumbled. She took a deep breath. "Ash, I'm sorry."

    He cocked his head to the side. "Huh?"

    "I was acting kinda silly earlier, blowing up at you like that. And I didn't really mean what I said. About you losing I mean."

    "Oh. It's alright," Ash added, giving a half-hearted chuckle. "I know you didn't."

    Iris nodded, and the silence grew. "But... Why didn't you just have Tobias disqualified? I mean, those legendaries are kinda unfair, aren't they?"

    "Well, for starters, that's no fun," he said with a wry grin. "But I don't think it's unfair. Strong Pokémon like the ones Tobias has wouldn't listen to him unless they respected him. If he worked hard to capture them, then I want to fight him at his best, you know? That's the only way to battle - when both trainers are at their best!" he pumped his fist enthusiastically.

    She shrugged, then chuckled. "You would say that."

    "Besides," Ash added, "if he got disqualified now, then they ought to redo the whole league. That wouldn't be right to all the people he beat."

    "True," she admitted. "But if you had said yes, you could finally be a League champion. Isn't that what you want?"

    "Well... Kind of. I really want to win a league. It would be super awesome! But my ultimate goal is to be a Pokémon Master, you know?"

    She blinked and tilted her head. "Isn't being a Pokémon Master about winning leagues?"

    "I don't think so, not exactly. It's hard to explain," he added after a moment.

    "How do you not know?" Iris protested.

    "Oh yeah? Then what does it mean to be a Dragon Master?" he taunted in return, giving a triumphant look.

    She placed her hands on her hips. "That's obvious. A Dragon Master is... well... it's like, you... a Dragon master... is a trainer who..." she huffed and stamped her foot. "Fine!" her scowl changed to a grin and she laughed. Ash laughed as well, then shook his head. It was true, he realized, even he didn't fully understand what it meant to be a Pokémon master. But that wouldn't stop him from pursuing his dream. And no matter what happened tomorrow, he had a feeling he would be one step closer.

    xXx

    A clear blue sky shone overhead, and a gentle breeze ruffled Ash's jacket. The whole of the main battlefield lay spread out before him, looking larger than ever. And at the far end stood Tobias. The man, the myth, the legend. His mind traveled back to that day so long ago, standing in the Sinnoh league stadium and facing Tobias for the first time. Back then, he'd been filled with naive determination. He hadn't realized that Tobias had both a Darkrai and a Latios.

    But this time would be different. This time, he was ready for Tobias. He has his strongest friends with him, and he was going to show the whole world how strong his Pokémon were. Starting with this particular friend. His secret weapon. He glanced at the Pokéball in his hand, a wild grin on his face. Then, with a triumphant shout, he threw the Pokéball onto the field and called, "I choose you!"

    Yay, finally! I needed a quick break from writing 6v6 battles, and Ash did too, so this is my in-between chapter. Naturally, I had to end on a cliffhanger - just who is Ash's secret weapon?

    Also, this is not an 'evil Tobias' tale. I've read some nice stories where that was the case, but I decide not to do that direction for my story. Nor will it be a 'Tobias has a bajillion Legendaries.' I actually read it very good fic with that already, so that won't be the case here. Although that doesn't mean he's weak either. Hehe.

    And here we are! As you will soon see, Ash leads with his secret weapon for a very good reason...

    Light exploded on the field, then faded, revealing the form of Primeape. He immediately let out a screech and pumped his fists in the air, causing the crowd to cheer in excitement, before leveling a confident gaze on his opponent.

    Ash smiled at the display. Primeape had definitely changed from back when he'd sent him to train for the P1 Grand Prix, he realized. For starters, he seemed calmer. Not by much, but enough that Ash could tell. The fighting type also stood with absolute confidence, unfazed by the sight of his powerful opponent. And apparently, he'd also developed a taste for the crowd's affection, too. He chuckled.

    Even though he hadn't had a chance to practice at all with Primeape before the match, since getting him sent back had taken time, he felt confident. Primeape had changed, yes, but he was also the same Pokémon Ash had bonded with all that time ago. The memory of their brief conversation before the battle was still fresh in his mind.

    ...

    He pressed the button on the Pokéball without hesitation. There was a burst of light then a familiar shape emerged of a round, simian Pokémon. Standing upright, he stood nearly as tall as Ash now, cream fur glistening. His once wiry frame now looked denser and more muscular, especially his arms. Primeape immediately began to bounce up and down happily, giving excited screeches. Pikachu sprang off Ash's shoulder and greeted Primeape, who replied by lifting Pikachu into the air and tossing him jubilantly several times. Then he set the electric type down, ruffling his head as he staggered dazedly about.

    "Hey Primeape!" Ash said enthusiastically. "It's great to see you again!" Primeape screeched again and in a flash, snatched the cap off Ash's forehead. He placed it on his own head and smiled proudly. Ash chuckled. "So Anthony said you've been training hard, huh?"

    Primeape's expression changed into one of pure, confident pride. He nodded seriously.

    "Think you could help me with this battle then? There's this guy named Tobias with a super tough Pokémon. But I know with your help, we can win."

    Ash didn't even finish speaking before Primeape gave a sharp nod, then plucked Ash's hat off his own head and placed it back on Ash's. He held out a fist.

    Ash made a fist and gave him a fist bump. "Thanks, Primeape."

    ...

    "Ready buddy?" he called. Primeape nodded, not looking back. Even though it had been so long, he still felt the familiar bond with Primeape.

    Across the field, Tobias' expression remained cool and unchanged. "A fighting type. I see. Get ready, Darkrai."

    With a swish of flags, the match began.

    Ash sprang at the chance to call the first move. "Primeape, Cross Chop."

    Primeape raised his fists, an orange glow spreading over them, and charged across the stadium.

    "Dark Pulse." Tobias delivered his command calmly, almost emotionlessly. Darkrai zigzagged across the battlefield, nothing more than a shadowy blur. One moment it was there, the next moment it flitted away before reappearing behind Primeape. It raised one arm and fired a beam of dark energy.

    Even as Darkrai fired the pulse, Primeape ducked, appearing as a cream blur, the motion too fast even for Ash's experienced eyes to follow. The beam shot over Primeape's head, missing by less than an inch. "Mega Kick!" he shouted. The words hardly left his mouth before Primeape whipped his foot out in a clean, powerful strike, nailing Darkrai in the chest and sending it reeling.

    Tobias' eyes widened ever so slightly. Ash had to hold back a gasp of shock. He knew his Primeape was good, but man the power and speed he'd displayed exceeded Ash's expectations.

    "Your Primeape is impressive," Tobias called, his voice low yet carrying easily across the field.

    Ash nodded appreciatively. "Yeah! Primeape's been the reigning P1 Champion for the past 5 years," he called back. "So he's super skilled!"

    "Good." Tobias' replied evenly.

    Meanwhile...

    Iris blinked and tilted her head when she heard Ash's statement. "Wait a second... How could Primeape be training for 5 years? Ash must have caught him when he was 10, but he's still 10..."

    Cilan laughed. "That's Ash for you. Full of spicy surprises!"

    Iris could think of no reply. "Uh ok... I'm just gonna watch the battle."

    ...

    Ash glanced around the battlefield. He could tell that Primeape's Mega Kick had done solid damage too. Darkrai now hovered several yards away from Primeape, eyeing him carefully. "Okay Primeape, Cross Chop, again."

    The fighting-type wasted no time charging the attack and springing across the field towards Darkrai.

    "Ice Beam." Darkrai quickly raised both arms, a blue orb forming at the end. It fired the orb, sending arcing beams of energy at Primeape and striking his raised arms, halting him in his tracks. Primeape tried to press forward for a moment, but Darkrai quickly pushed more power into the attack, generating a small explosion of energy and throwing Primeape back.

    He rolled backward into a neat handspring and back onto his feet. Then he charged Cross Chop again and lunged for Darkrai.

    "Dark Void!" Tobias called. Darkrai generated a swirling orb of dark red light between its hands and shot it at the approaching Primeape.

    Not slowing down even slightly, Primeape charged straight through the orb, shattering it before bursting out the other side. The look of shock on Darkrai's face was priceless. Primeape made sure to savor it before he smashed both arms into Darkrai's face.

    Ash cheered. "That was great, Primeape!" Excitement rushed through him. The strategy had worked flawlessly. He'd successfully caught Tobias off guard and gotten an edge in battle.

    Tobias blinked, the slightest flicker of surprise coloring his features. "I see," he stated, dipping his head. "Your Primeape has Vital Spirit?"

    Still grinning, Ash nodded. The tactic was even better than Heracross using Sleep Talk. With Primeape unable to fall asleep, he was effectively immune to two of Darkrai's best attacks. It was the perfect trump card. And he owed his friends for thinking of it. A few weeks earlier he was sure he would have simply rushed into this battle, gung ho, and probably gotten beat again. Thanks to all the time he'd spent with his friends though, plus seeing Iris' strategies, he decided to make one of his own. And now this strategy had given him a fighting chance.

    In the stands...

    Iris beamed as she saw Ash's Primeape shatter the Dark Void attack and deal a blow to Darkrai. Ash hadn't told anyone what his super-secret strategy was, but now she understood. "Ash's Primeape has Vital Power, doesn't it?" Iris asked, turning to Cilan.

    "Vital Spirit," Cilan corrected, "But yes, you are indeed right! I must say, Ash has truly become the master chef of this fight. He is using strategy and his natural instincts to bring out the full spice of the battle."

    Rolling her eyes, Iris turned back to the battle. Now Ash had a real chance. Not only was his Primeape exceedingly strong, but he had put a dent in Tobias' strategy.

    "Ice Beam." Darkrai fired off the attack lightning-quick, striking Primeape and causing him to slide back.

    "You ok?" Ash called. Primeape smirked and nodded, shaking himself and sending a few tiny ice crystals fluttering to the ground. "Alright, then let's try Close Combat."

    Primeape clenched its fists tighter, a red-orange aura surrounding his body, then leaped towards Darkrai.

    "Use Dark Pulse." Darkrai zigzagged forward once more before suddenly appearing behind Primeape. It raised its arm to fire a Dark Pulse. Primeape lashed out with his foot, but this time Darkrai was prepared. The strike passed under it, and Darkrai fired Dark Pulse, hitting Primeape directly.

    Primeape rolled with the strike and back onto his feet, snorting in annoyance. As he did, Darkrai floated backward a few yards, closer to Tobias' side of the field. Ash grinned, an idea forming in his mind. A way to even the odds further. "Primeape, stay close ok? Darkrai isn't great at fighting close range." Primeape gave a nod of understanding. "Now, use Cross Chop!" This time, Primeape charged in, keeping his stance low. Almost immediately, Darkrai began retaliating with several Dark Pulse attacks.

    Weaving expertly around them, Primeape continued his charge, drawing ever closer to Darkrai. Darkrai began to move backward, even as it continued its attack. Primeape never wavered, dodging each attack skillfully, sometimes so close Ash could see his fur part for the speed of the attacks. With any other Pokémon, the idea would have failed, he was sure. The distance Primeape had to close was great, and the amount of focus it required to dodge the oncoming Dark Pulses was intense. In fact, he was absolutely certain it was only Primeape's P1 training that allowed him to succeed.

    As Primeape drew within yards of Darkrai, Tobias smoothly uttered his next command. "Darkrai, Ice Beam!"

    In the blink of an eye, Darkrai stopped Dark Pulse and fired off the blue beam of energy. It struck Primeape in his chest, staggering him backward. Darkrai didn't stop there, however. With a flick of its wrist, it bathed the battlefield in-between them with ice, freezing the earth.

    Primeape shook off the Ice Beam and glared across the icy expanse. Slowly, he took a step, placing his foot gently on the ice. As soon as he put weight on it, his foot slid and he pulled back to stand on solid earth, letting out a snort of frustration. Ash frowned. Primeape needed to get close to land a hit. But to do that, we needed to cross the ice first. But how?

    A second later, inspiration struck. "Primeape, Mega Kick on the ice!" With a grin, Primeape raised one leg high in the air, then brought it crashing down on the ice. The ice cracked, then exploded upwards, sending several shards and large chunks into the air.

    "Now, hit those chunks with Close Combat!" Primeape's fists glowed orange and he unleashed a flurry of punches, striking the falling ice. The chunks were sent flying from the impact, straight towards Darkrai.

    "Dodge it," Tobias called. With precise, skillful movements, Darkrai began to duck and weave around the flying ice, causing all but one to miss; the largest. Darkrai quickly fired a Dark Pulse, shattering the last one midair, making it explode in a shower of ice crystals and smoke.

    And from that smoke, Primeape burst out, right on top of Darkrai. Using Close Combat, he unleashed another lightning-fast barrage of strikes, hitting Darkrai multiple times.

    The blows hammered Darkrai back, causing it to recoil sharply. It threw its arms up, in a seemingly desperate attempt to block the blows. Then, just as Primeape landed his final strike, Darkrai's arm whipped out and he seized Primeape by the leg before shooting into the air.

    "Primeape!" Ash cried. His Pokémon now dangled several feet above the battlefield, tight in Darkrai's clutches and unable to land a solid blow with any of his limbs.

    "Now Darkrai. Dark Pulse."

    Ash's eyes widened. Before he could think further, Darkrai raised its other arm and began firing Dark Pulse after Dark Pulse, pummeling into Primeape, with blow after blow before blasting him off with a final strike.

    Eyes closed, Primeape shot away from Darkrai, then hit the ground and skidded across the battlefield.

    Ash almost leaped from his trainers box. "Primeape!" he shouted, fists clenched. "Don't give up!"

    As he tumbled across the field, Primeape's eyes suddenly snapped open. He slammed one fist into the earth, slowing his slide.

    "Alright, now use Mega Kick and go get Darkrai," Ash cried. Primeape's feet glowed and he kicked off the ground, cratering it as he threw himself forward.

    At Tobias command, Darkrai fired a rapid Ice Beam blast at Primeape. The beam shot across the stadium towards Primeape.

    Just as it did, Ash spat out his next command. "Primeape, use Cross Chop on the ground." Both Primeape's fists glowed and he plunged them into the earth, ripping up a chunk of earth and throwing it up just in time to block Ice Beam. The chunk of rock froze over as it was hit.

    "Grab that rock and get in there," Ash called impulsively. Seizing the rock in both hands, Primeape raced towards Darkrai, holding it like a shield.

    "Darkrai, blast it away with Dark Pulse." Holding out both arms, Darkrai fired twin Dark Pulses at Primeape. The attacks struck the rock, drilling into it. Primeape pressed onwards still, gaining momentum with each step he took.

    "Don't let him get you!" Tobias called. Darkrai poured more power into its Dark Pulse. Primeape dug in and pressed forwards, now only a couple yards away. Suddenly, the makeshift 'shield' exploded with a blast of smoke. The smoke cleared a second later and-

    Primeape was gone.

    For a moment, Tobias seemed genuinely surprised. Then his gaze narrowed. "There!" he called urgently. Darkrai's head jerked back and he looked up just in time to see Primeape above him, coming down with a Close Combat attack. It raised its arms, dark energy crackling across them. Then Primeape crashed down on the dark-type with vehement force, causing both Pokémon to slam into the earth. Dust exploded outwards, covering the area completely.

    Tobias threw his arm forward in a wild gesture. "Dark Pulse!"

    "Mega Kick!" Ash blurted.

    Both trainers paused, hearts beating and breaths held, waiting for some kind of signal from within the cloud. Unable to see, Ash knew he had nothing else to rely on but faith in his Pokémon and their skill. A vivid flash of dark light split the dust, followed by a sudden, audible WHAM!

    Several more seconds later, the dust finally settled. A huge crater now marked the battlefield. And in that crater stood... Primeape. Beside him, just a few feet away, lay an unconscious Darkrai.

    Ash jumped into the air and cheered. Primeape crawled out of the crater, then stood tall at the edge, fists raised eyes and eyes burning with triumph. He pumped his fists several times, basking in the cheers and praise from the crowd, then strode towards Ash's side of the field. He made it all the way to Ash before he sank to his knees, panting heavily.

    "Hey, Primeape... You were... you were amazing," he breathed. Looking now, he could see the battle had taken almost everything Primeape had left. The P1 champion had just been too proud to show it. "Rest now, Primeape." The bold fighting-type managed a weary nod. Ash grinned, pulling out his Pokéball and returning him. Gazing a fondly at the ball for a moment, he let his victory sink in.

    His plan had actually succeeded. By using his strategy with Primeape, he'd defeated Darkrai and overcome Tobias' first Pokémon... with only one of his own. He really had grown since the Sinnoh League. Although he had a feeling that Tobias Pokémon would only get harder from here on out. He couldn't let his victory get to his head.

    Tucking Primeape's Pokéball away, he looked up. Tobias had returned Darkrai and now stood gazing across the field. His face remained a mask of calm, though Ash detected a smile as well. "I have to say, that was an incredible match, Ash Ketchum. You've improved greatly since last year. I haven't had anyone push Darkrai like that since I battled the Sinnoh's Elite 4."

    Ash's eyes widened, and he blinked upon hearing the praise. "Well, Primeape did all the hard work," he said with a chuckle.

    "Indeed," Tobias replied, a hint of amusement in his voice. "Still, don't expect the rest of this battle to be so simple."

    Ash gave a sharp nod of determination and set his jaw. "I don't," he replied confidently.

    Tobias selected his second Pokéball and released the Pokémon within. Latios emerged with a draconic cry before blasting across the battlefield fast enough to generate a loud roar before swooping back to Tobias' side of the field.

    He stared at the blue and white jet-like Pokémon as it hovered in the air. Memories of his previous battle against it returned to him. It had defeated both Sceptile and Swellow with ease, even managing to stop the latter from landing a single blow. But this time would be different. Taking a deep breath, he let a smile play across his lips. One down, 5 to go.

    "Go Charizard!" Ash called. Charizard burst from his Pokéball, and roared. The crowd went wild at the sight of the dragon-like fire Pokémon, applause ringing through the stadium. He spat a column of flames into the sky, then looked at Latios and smirked, snorting a small puff of smoke as he did. Latios narrowed its eyes at Charizard, a faint growl rumbling in its throat. Ash grinned. This would be interesting.

    Back in the Sinnoh League, he hadn't had a chance to bring back Charizard to fight Latios. At the time, Charizard had been indisposed dealing with an incident at Charicific Valley. So he'd chosen certain other Pokémon, like Swellow. Now he knew that as tough as Swellow was, even she wasn't strong enough to match Latios. But perhaps Charizard could.

    In the stands...

    "Wow", Iris murmured. "So Ash is gonna try and use Charizard to beat Latios."

    Cilan nodded, his gaze serious. "It would seem so. After all, it is his only Pokémon right now that can fly."

    "Do you think it will work?" Even though she'd seen first hand the power Charizard had, Latios was much much stronger than her Dragonite.

    "Perhaps..." was his only reply.

    As the referee called for the match to begin, Iris quickly focused on the stadium.

    ...

    "Now Latios, Giga Impact." With an eager cry, Latios shot across the stadium, shrouded in a white aura.

    "Counter with Wing Attack!" Ash called. Charizard's wings began glowing white and he launched himself across the stadium to meet Latios.

    A moment later, the two Pokémon collided, Charizard driving his wing into Latios, who pressed back with Giga Impact. For a moment, the two clashed, each vying to get the upper hand. Then, with a cry, Latios pressed harder. A blast of energy exploded and Charizard was forced back. He caught himself easily, growling and shaking off the blow.

    In the stands

    "Oh no," Iris murmured. "Does that mean Latios is stronger?"

    "Not exactly," Cilan replied. "I don't think its that simple. See how they didn't quite clash in the center of the stadium?" he pointed towards a spot just off center of the stadium, a few yards closer to Ash's side. "Latios speed allowed it to reach Charizard before he could read his top speed."

    "So it wasn't that Charizard's power was weaker, but it was because Latios was a little faster?"

    He nodded. "Exactly right! Although..." he paused. "This fight may be hard. Charizard is powerful, but he lacks the raw speed Latios does. The two are like distinct dishes prepared with similar yet contrasting flavors."

    "Uh-huh." Iris turned to watch Ash, her concern growing. What would he do?

    ...

    A frown of concentration briefly crossed Ash's face. Latios was fast. Even faster than he expected, and possibly even a little faster than at the Sinnoh League. Up in the air, Latios seized up as the energy drain from Giga Impact kicked in. "Charizard, Flamethrower!" he called.

    Charizard opened his jaws wide and let loose a massive jet of fire.

    "Light Screen," Tobias called, just as the flames washed over Latios. At the last second, Ash caught the telltale flash of the pink barrier. Then Latios was engulfed in flames. A couple of seconds later, Charizard let up, taking a breath. As the flames faded, they revealed Latios, covered in a transparent pink barrier, looking unharmed.

    In the stands...

    "Oh wow!" Iris said. "Latios managed to use Light Screen just in time, so Flamethrower did nothing."

    Cilan quickly shook his head. "Not exactly. Light Screen only halves the damage, so I'd say Latios is definitely feeling the heat."

    ...

    Tobias spoke his next command calmly. "Latios, up." Rumbling in acknowledgment, Latios flew up, high into the sky.

    "After it, Charizard," Ash called. With a growl, Charizard flapped his wings and shot after Latios.

    "Dragon Claw," Tobias said. Latios became a blue and white blur, as its claws doubled in length and shimmered with green energy. One moment it was there, a few yards away from Charizard, then it vanished, reappearing suddenly above him. He lashed out with his claws, knocking Charizard through the air with a powerful strike.

    "Quick, Wing Attack," Ash commanded. Charizard caught himself instantly, and with a single flap of his powerful wings, shot upwards after Latios, wings glowing. As he lashed out at the dragon, Latios managed to dodge at the last moment, and Charizard only landed a glancing blow.

    Before he could strike again, Latios flew away, widening the gap between them more. "Okay Charizard, get it with your Dragon Pulse." Immediately, Charizard opened his jaws and blasted a powerful purple beam at Latios.

    "Dodge," Tobias said. Latios spiraled upwards and looped through the air, out of the way of the beam. Undeterred, Charizard tracked him with the beam, sweeping it through the sky. As Latios twisted out of the way, Charizard jerked his head upward and nicked Latios wings, causing it to falter briefly.

    "Now, Luster Purge." Latios recovered quickly, then opened his jaws. Sparkling light gathered in front of his jaws. An instant later he fired a powerful beam of pink energy.

    Ash reacted almost faster than one could blink. "Charizard, spin and use Wing Attack." Charizard threw himself into a tight spin even before Ash finished saying his command. He became a whirling sphere of light just before Luster Purge struck. It hit a moment later, slamming directly into Charizard before glancing off and smashing into the ground below, leaving Charizard mostly unharmed. He smiled. Counter-spin had worked. Charizard pulled out of the spin gracefully and smirked at Latios, who appeared slightly winded.

    The two Pokémon paused, hovering around each other with narrowed eyes, watching each other's every move. Ash stared up, watching the two, his mind racing. Charizard was powerful, that he knew. And he felt certain that given the chance, Charizard might be able to win the battle. But the cost would be too high. Latios was built like a jet engine and possessed speed that surpassed that of Charizard. No, he wanted to keep Charizard fresh for later. He had a feeling he would need the fire-type's strength.

    That said, some instinct told him Charizard still had more left to give. Then it struck him. Latios had raw speed, yes. But Charizard won in agility. A plan quickly began to form. "Charizard, get out of there and put some distance between you and Latios!"

    Up in the air, he caught Charizard give him a sharp look as if asking 'how dare you ask me to run from my opponent?' Ash just smiled. Charizard obeyed, darting away from Latios, higher into the sky, putting distance between them.

    Tobias eyed Charizard for only a moment before nodding. "Pursue it." Latios burst after Charizard, quickly closing the gap. "Now, Giga Impact." Latios began charging the attack, the white aura forming around its body. Within seconds, it quickly began to draw close to Charizard. Ash gritted his teeth. Not yet... He had to time this perfectly otherwise it would fail.

    "Faster Charizard!" he shouted. Charizard edged faster, though it seemed it hardly made a difference to Latios' speed. 20 yards, 15, 10, 5 - now. "Brake and use Seismic Toss!"

    Charizard understood absolutely. Time seemed to slow. He flared his wings, jerking to an abrupt yet graceful halt midair. Latios never had time to realize what was happening. In one fluid motion, Charizard reached down and snatched a shocked Latios as it passed under him. It jerked to a stop, caught in Charizard's grasp. Tightening his grip, he looped through the air twice, building momentum. Then he dove straight at the ground, still holding Latios tight.

    "Now, Flamethrower!" Ash shouted, his heart racing.

    As the two plummeted towards the ground at frightening speeds, Charizard opened his jaws and let orange fire pour out. The two Pokémon became cloaked in flames as they fell, turning into a massive flaming comet, swirling orange and red and yellow. The fires of the comet intensified, bathing the stadium in flickering light. Then it smashed into the earth with explosive force, shaking the entire stadium.

    Ash staggered, barely catching himself, and Tobias threw out his hands for balance. Smoke mixed with debris and dust oozed from the middle of the field. Ash recovered his balance to stare into the cloud.

    Moments later it dissipated, revealing a deep crater, which Charizard hovered above. Latios lay in the center, stunned. As Ash watched, a faint pink wall flickered out of existence around Latios. Then it opened its eyes, blinked, and rose into the air. Soot and ash covered its white body and it gave a furious growl. Its flight was slightly unsteady, but it still appeared determined.

    Ash smiled. Even with Latios' last moment light screen, it hadn't blocked the majority of the damage. Charizard, who seemed unfazed, peered proudly at his opponent, clearly satisfied with outmaneuvering it. Ash took out a Pokéball.

    "Alright Charizard, return." Charizard gave him a look but relented. The familiar red light poured out, pulling Charizard back into his Pokéball. "Thanks, Charizard. You did exactly what I needed." He tucked it away before selecting another.

    "Come on out, Sceptile!" he shouted, tossing the Pokéball. Sceptile emerged in a flash of light, then took up a fighting stance when he saw Latios. As Latios realized who his next opponent was, Ash swore he detected a bit of a smirk from the dragon. "Ready Sceptile?" he asked eagerly. Ever since the Sinnoh league, some part of him had wanted a rematch for Sceptile against Latios. Pikachu had proven himself by defeating Latios, but Sceptile hadn't had the chance. He'd been too exhausted from fighting Darkrai. But this time would be different.

    Today, Sceptile would get his revenge.

    So there we have it. It's quick, but came out good, I think. I genuinely believe Charizard might be able to take out Latios, but I also 100% believe Latios is faster. I mean, that thing is modeled after a jet engine. But I wanted to let Charizard pull off a sweet maneuver. The move he pulls is also a not exactly subtle reference to a movie, I wonder if anyone can guess which one?

    And next up, Latios vs Sceptile! There's a multitude of reasons I picked this. I feel like Sceptile's speed and power is really the best bet, plus I wanted to give Sceptile a chance at a fair rematch.

    As for Tobias team, its not gonna be a thing where is like... a bajillion legendaries, like I mentioned. I'm curious to see if anyone can guess his team though.

    Here we go! Sceptile vs Latios, the rematch!

    "Latios, use Dragon Claw," Tobias called. Two glowing green claws formed on ends of Latios own claws and it brandished them with a loud cry before flying across the stadium towards Sceptile.

    "Block it Leaf Blade," Ash cried. The two glowing green blades formed on the end of Sceptile's arms. With precision timing, he threw them up in front of his face, blocking the blow. Pressing back against Latios he shoved forwards, then twisted to the side, using Latios' momentum to shove the dragon past him.

    Ash couldn't resist a proud smile. Sceptile had gotten even faster since his battle in the Sinnoh league. Now, it was time to test out one of the moves he'd trained in particular for this battle. "Now Sceptile, use Agility!"

    Sceptile's body blurred slightly as he darted back and forth across the field, leaving behind afterimages of himself.

    In the stands...

    "Wow, so Ash must be planning on countering Latios speed by using Sceptile's speed!"

    "It's a good plan, I must say," Cilan commented.

    "Yeah. Ash told me Sceptile was the one who defeated Darkrai at the Sinnoh League," she said.

    Cilan's eyebrows rose. "Really? Sceptile must be very strong."

    ...

    "Latios, Giga Impact." Tobias gestured calmly towards Sceptile, who had stopped and stood waiting tensely all the way at the other end of the stadium. Latios gave a loud cry as a white aura gathered around it. It shot across the field, straight for Sceptile.

    Ash waited for a second, watching Latios. "Now Sceptile, dodge with Quick Attack!" Sceptile became a white blurred as he zigzagged out of the path of Giga Impact. Latios shot past Sceptile, missing by a couple yards. Before he could celebrate, Latios flew up, twisted around in a sharp u-turn, and shot back towards Sceptile. A split-second later, Latios slammed into his back, making him stagger and fall to one knee.

    "You good Sceptile?"

    Sceptile quickly stood and shook itself, the twig in its mouth twitching. Ash grinned. "Great. Now, use Agility." The grass-type repeated the move from earlier, darting across the field and becoming a green blur as his speed increased. "Leaf Blade!" Sceptile became a green and white blur as he dashed across the field towards Latios.

    "Dodge!" Tobias commanded. Latios started to move away, but still recovering from Giga Impact slowed it down. Sceptile struck with vehement force, sending Latios reeling backwards. It recovered, albeit slightly slower, then shot away, putting significant distance between them. "Luster Purge."

    Once again, white light gathered in front of Latios jaws, then it fired a shimmering pink beam down at Sceptile, hitting his chest and sending him sliding backwards a few feet. Sceptile shook his head and growled at Latios.

    "Now, Quick Attack!" Sceptile lunged upwards in a streak of white light, hitting Latios before it could escape again. Ash grinned. Finally. Now Sceptile's already superb speed was on par with Latios.

    Latios howled furiously, then flew into the sky, out of range of Sceptile's attacks. At a command from Tobias, it fired another rapid-fire Luster Purge beam at Sceptile.

    "Block with Leaf Blade!" Ash yelled. Sceptile summoned the glowing blades swung them forward. The beam struck Sceptile's Leaf Blade and split on either side, smashing into the earth.

    "Dragon Claw."

    "Quick Attack."

    Sceptile lunged across the stadium. Latios flew to meet him, claws shimmering green. The two met in the center of a field for a split second before shooting past each other in the blink of an eye and pausing at opposite ends of the stadium. At the same moment, both Pokémon visibly cringed, Latios faltering and Sceptile swaying and nearly falling over.

    Stands...

    "Wow," Iris murmured. "They're both so fast! Both Latios and Sceptile got hurt from that."

    ...

    Once more, Latios started to fly upwards to escape the range of Sceptile's attacks.

    "Don't let it escape, Sceptile. Use Leaf Storm."

    With a flick of his tail, Sceptile fired a swirling storm of leaves shooting above Latios. The dragon screeched as it slammed into the attack, and quickly brought up a Light Screen to deflect some of the damage. "Quick, Leaf Blade again!"

    In one nimble move, speed enhanced by agility, Sceptile leapt up and slashed his Leaf Blade in Latios chest, eliciting a furious howl from the dragon. But the instant Sceptile's feet hit the ground, Latios shot down, body glowing white, and smashed into Sceptile full force, sending him tumbling across the battlefield.

    "Sceptile no!" Ash shouted. Across the field, Latios flinched, seizing up as the kickback from Giga Impact sapped his energy again. Sceptile, meanwhile, lay on the ground, trembling as it struggled to rise.

    "Dragon Claw," Tobias said. With frightful speed, Latios flew across the field and struck Sceptile with one of its claws, knocking it back to the ground. This time, Sceptile was slower to rise.

    Ash clenched his fists tighter as Sceptile tried to get back up. It had hardly made it halfway to its feet before Latios whirled around to strike again. "Sceptile, don't give up!" he shouted. New energy surged through Sceptile. He shoved himself upright and danced to the side, Latios' swipe missing him by less than an inch. Latios soared once more back into the air, content to use the high ground as its advantage.

    Back on the ground, relief and frustration flowed through Ash. He couldn't be more proud of Sceptile for dodging the blow, but he also knew Sceptile couldn't keep going like this for much longer. He needed a way to get the advantage over Latios...

    Maybe... "Do you trust me, Sceptile?" Sceptile glanced back and gave a sharp nod. Ash grinned. "Alright! Then use Leaf Storm on yourself!" Whirling his tail, Sceptile began to summon a storm of leaves. The leaves began to swirl in a circle and gather around Sceptile's body, kicking up a powerful gust of wind and dust. Then, just as Ash hoped, the wind grew so intense, it lifted Sceptile right off the ground and launched him up into the sky.

    Ash watched in awe as Sceptile flew through the sky straight towards Latios, carried by the force of its own attack. Then, as he watched, two shimmering purple blades began to form on Sceptile's arms. It almost looked a bit like Leaf Blade, but different. In one swift move, it swiped downwards with the two blades. Latios formed a quick Dragon Claw in an attempt to counter, but Sceptile twisted to the side just in time to avoid the blow. Then it brought its blades crashing down on Latios head, once, then twice, knocking it straight down towards the ground.

    Seconds before it hit the battlefield, its eyes blinked open and it jerked to halt, panting, only inches off the ground. Before Sceptile could land, it shot a swift yet weakened Luster Purge that glanced off Sceptile, causing it to land awkwardly. Still, Ash felt pleased. He recognized the move now that Sceptile had used - Dual Chop, a fairly strong dragon type move.

    "Quick Sceptile, Leaf Storm again!" Shaking himself, Sceptile gathered his strength, then fired another Leaf Storm at Latios. Ash could tell this one was weaker than the others thanks to Leaf Storm's added effect of weakening each time it was used, but that didn't matter right now. The only chance they had to win was to give it everything they had.

    At his behest, Sceptile hurled the leaves at Latios, surrounding it in a thin, swirling veil of leaves. Almost immediately, Tobias called for it to use Light Screen. Ash didn't care, that didn't change his plan. "Now, hit the ground with your tail and kick up some dirt. Sceptile swept his tail across the battlefield, kicking a cloud of dirt into the storm of leaves. The dust and leaves blending together into one swirling tornado, completely obscuring everything inside.

    Tobias' eyes widened slightly. "Break out now with Dragon Claw."

    Ash caught a faint flash of green from within the storm. Outside, Sceptile panted heavily, nearly exhausted. "Give it all you've got Sceptile! Dual Chop!" he cried pumping his fist in the air.

    A second later the tornado of leaves shattered, dissipated by Latios Dragon Claw. As the dirt and leaves disintegrated and fell to the ground, it revealed... nothing. Sceptile had seemingly vanished. With a blur of green, Sceptile reappeared a yard above Latios, arms glowing vivid purple. It brought both blades down simultaneously on Latios back just as it swung out and struck Sceptile in the chest. Both Pokémon were thrown backward, Sceptile digging his claws into the earth as it slid back.

    Latios spun through the air, barely righting itself seconds later. By now, both Pokémon were breathing heavily. Both had been pushed to their limits, and beyond. Yet still, Latios glared ferociously at Sceptile, determined not to falter. Sceptile glared back with equal intensity, even as he struggled to stand. Ash panted as well, wondering if Sceptile could handle much more.

    Tobias frowned. "Latios, -" before he could complete his command, Latios swayed in the air, then crashed to the ground, unmoving. The referee stepped closer, then waved his flags. "Latios is unable to battle! Sceptile is the winner."

    Roaring applause filled the stadium. Ash let out a breath and nearly collapsed with relief, and Sceptile relaxed, a faint smile on his face. He blinked. He'd really done it. Sceptile had really beaten Latios.

    In the stands...

    Iris leaped to her feet, cheering and clapping. Ash had really done it! He'd actually defeated both of Tobias' legendaries. Even if he did lose now, at least he'd made it farther than he had last year. "Sceptile defeated Latios!" she shouted, turning to Cilan.

    The gym leader had risen to his feet and was clapping along with the rest of the stadium. "I can't believe it. Truly, Ash has mastered the fine cuisine of battling Tobias. Though no doubt it was thanks to that amazing maneuver Charizard pulled."

    Iris nodded fervently in agreement.

    ...

    A smile of approval grew on Tobias' face. "Well well well, Ketchum. You really have grown since Sinnoh. Excellent work. I never expected you to be able to beat both my Latios and Darkrai. No one else has ever done that." he took out a Pokéball and returned Latios.

    Ash grinned. "Thanks! My Pokémon have all been training really hard." And it was true. He'd trained harder this year than ever before, and it was paying off. But there was still a long way to go. Tobias still had 4 Pokémon, and he was sure they would be strong. With Sceptile and Primeape exhausted, he couldn't afford to relax yet.

    "Get ready, Sceptile." Sceptile gave a nod, taking up a fighting stance once more.

    "This battle is going to be interesting," Tobias mused. With a smooth flick of his wrist, he tossed out his next Pokémon. As the light faded, it revealed a peculiar looking bug with a hard brown-orange shell, stiff wings on its back, and a white halo-like symbol above its head. Strange swirling dark orange marks adorned its wings and part of its body.

    What Pokémon was that? He stared at it, confused. It looked like it might be a bug type. Frowning, he took out his Pokédex and scanned it.

    'Shedninja, the Shed Pokémon. Shedinja is a peculiar Pokémon. It seems to appear unsought in a Poké Ball after a Nincada evolves. It is believed that this Pokémon will steal the spirit of anyone peering into its hollow body from its back.'

    'That's odd. It doesn't look quite like the one in the picture,' Ash mused.

    "Admiring my unusual Shedninja?" Tobias asked. "You see, I caught it some time ago on an expedition to the Orange Islands."

    "Wow!" Ash said. "That's awesome! It must have been Valencia Island, right?"

    Tobias tilted his head. "I see you know your regions. You are correct, I did catch him at Valencia Island. To my knowledge, it is a one-of-a-kind Shedninja."

    Ash stared in awe. "SUGOI!" he cried. He glanced down at his Pokédex again. So it was a Bug and Ghost-type. Sceptile was at a disadvantage, but he also didn't want to waste the speed boost he'd gotten from Agility. Perhaps he could deal a good blow before returning him.

    Facing Tobias, he stood tall as the referee called for the match to start.

    "Alright Sceptile, Leaf Blade!" Sceptile surged across the field towards Shedninja.

    "Get ready," Tobias murmured.

    Shedninja didn't move. Something flashed purple, then Sceptile collided with Shedninja, slashing his Leaf Blade attack across its body. It did nothing.

    Or at least, as far as Ash could tell, it did nothing. Shedninja hardly moved, and it seemed utterly unaffected. Suddenly, purple flames surged around Sceptile's form, causing it to cry out. He fell forwards and collapsed.

    "Sceptile!" Ash cried. Dismayed, he pulled out a Pokéball and recalled the grass-type.

    In the stands...

    Iris's shoulders sagged. "That was a Will-o-Wisp, wasn't it?" she asked. She recalled the technique from her tests. It was usually used by ghost-type Pokémon to generate a flame that would instantly induce a burn upon contact.

    "It was," Cilan replied gravely. "But Tobias used it particularly well. He waited until Sceptile was too close to escape to use it."

    "But how come Sceptile's attack didn't hurt?" she said.

    "Hmm..." Cilan mused. Suddenly he snapped his fingers. "That's it! It must be Shedninja's special ability."

    "What's that?"

    "Wonder Guard. It prevents any damage from moves that aren't super-effective," he replied.

    "Oh no. That's not good..." she murmured.

    ...

    "You did amazing, Sceptile," Ash whispered to the Pokéball before clipping it back on his belt. That was his first loss of the match, he realized. He'd hoped to do more damage, but Sceptile had already done so much. But what worried him more was how Shedninja hadn't gotten hurt by Leaf Blade. Was it possible it had dodged the attack without him realizing it?

    No matter. He could only focus on the battle ahead now, and his next Pokémon. After a few moments consideration, he selected his next Pokéball. "Go Krookodile!" he called with a grin. The croc appeared on the field and snarled, flexing his claws in anticipation.

    Shedninja hovered calmly above the battlefield, its gaze utterly unreadable.

    The referee's voice rang out, sharp and clear. "Battle, begin!"

    Finally! There we have it. Sceptile vs Latios, the grand showdown. Hopefully, it was an enjoyable match. Sceptile learned Dual Chop to give him the edge. Sceptile got to put up an amazing fight, and get retribution by defeating Latios, though it was no easy fight.

    Shedninja unfortunately defeated him easily with a single Will-o-wisp.

    And I am aware that officially, there was no Nincada on Valencia island, but given the prevalence of bugs and grass-types, it seems possible, plus it fits with my plan for Tobias team.

    Side note, did you know Shedninja effectively possesses more immunities than any other Pokémon, being immune to 13 out of 18 types? That's a lot.

    Shedninja was also ridiculously weird to acquire in the old games, requiring you to have an extra Pokéball and some other mumbo jumbo. Not at all easy to acquire, but cool.

    You might also be wondering about the 1 hp thing. I won't observe it strictly, given that the anime seems to play fast and loose with stats, but I also wont have Shedninja be a tank.


    Here we go!

    Krookodile gave Shedninja a leering smile, peering at him over the top of his sunglasses.

    Shedninja remained as unmoving as ever, giving no indication of what it felt.

    "Alright Krookodile, Crunch!" Ash shouted. A dark aura morphed around the crocodile's jaws and he charged Shedninja. To Ash's surprise, Shedninja made no attempt to move as Krookodile drew near. Just as he was nearly on top of Shedninja, Krookodile snapped his jaws shut... On empty air.

    Suddenly, Shedninja appeared, just behind Krookodile.

    "Bug Buzz." Shedninja fired a beam of red light from its eyes, hitting Krookodile squarely in the back of his head.

    Krookodile staggered forwards from the impact, then snarled.

    "Now, Will-o-wisp." Purple fire gathered in front of Shedninja's body.

    "Dig!" Ash shouted. In a flash, Krookodile burrowed into the earth, moments before Shedninja fired the ball of fire. The flames struck the ground, then dispersedly harmlessly.

    A second later, Krookodile popped from the ground under Shedninja and crashed into him. Once again, however, the attack seemed to do nothing. Ash stared in confusion. How could both Dig and Leaf Blade be completely ineffective against Shedninja? It should only be invulnerable to fighting and normal type moves. Unless... Hadn't he fought something like this before?

    As Krookodile moved a distance away, Ash's mind raced. Tobias hadn't bothered dodging Dig or Leaf Blade. But he had dodged Crunch, which meant some moves were effective. But when had he seen this before- Then it hit him. All the way back when he'd traveled with May and Max. Wonder Guard. It protected a Pokémon from attacks that weren't super effective! A smile crossed his face. Now that he knew what was happening, he could counter it

    "Phantom Force," Tobias called calmly.

    "Stone Edge!" Ash cried. Krookodile let out a loud snarl, then punched his fist straight into the earth. Glowing blue stones surged across the battlefield toward Sheninja.

    Shedninja vanished unexpectedly. A moment later, the stones passed through where it had been. It emerged directly behind Krookodile, from his shadow, and slammed into Krookodile hard, sending him stumbling.

    Panting, Krookodile whirled on Shedninja, only for it to dart away. Ash, however, was concerned was something other than Shedninja's incredible speed. Krookodile was already looking tired, despite only having taken two hits. Krookodile was one of his toughest Pokémon from Unova, especially when it came to taking a hit. Clearly, Tobias' Shedninja was both fast and incredibly powerful. He had to act quickly.

    "Okay Krookodile, Crunch, one more time." Krookodile lunged at Shedninja. Yet once again, it slipped to the side at the very last moment, then fired another close-range Bug Buzz attack. This time, the blow knocked Krookodile into the ground, stunning him briefly.

    "Now, Will-o-wisp," Tobias said. Shedninja charged the purple fireball.

    "Block it, with Stone Edge," Ash called. Just as Shedninja launched the fireball, Krookodile struck the ground. A single stone shot up, shattering the fireball before it could hit him.

    Tobias frowned. "Phantom Force." Shedninja's body melted into shadows and it disappeared.

    Ash tensed up, and Krookodile's head jerked from side to side as it tried to see where Shedninja would appear from. It emerged suddenly just a few feet behind Krookodile.

    "Dig!" Krookodile dove underground just in time to avoid getting hit by another Will-o-wisp. This time, however, Krookodile emerged a good distance away from Shedninja, his head poking from the ground as he glared at his opponent.

    Ash gritted his teeth together. This battle was not going well at all. Krookodile hadn't even gotten one hit! And he'd taken some heavy damage. If the fight continued like this, Krookodile would be defeated. He couldn't let that happen. But how could he fight Shedninja like this? It was fast, skilled at close quarters and dodging, and hit incredibly hard. How could Krookodile land a hit? He stared at Shedninja. It had beat Sceptile by burning him, and Tobias seemed determined to hit with Will-o-wisp. It was the one very consistent thing about Shedninja, it seemed.

    "That's it!" Krookodile jumped slightly at his shout and glanced at him. "I've got a plan, Krookodile. Ready?" Krookodile smirked and nodded, flashing his teeth.

    "Shedninja, Bug Buzz." Shedninja's eyes shimmered red, and it fired a beam of red energy straight at Krookodile.

    "Dodge!" Ash shouted. Krookodile moved nimbly to the side, the beam missing his head by a couple inches.

    "Will-o-wisp!" A ball of purple fire shot across the field at Krookodile.

    Ash grinned. Perfect. "Alright, Krookodile. Take that Will-o-wisp and Crunch right through it!"

    Eyes glimmering in delight, Krookodile leaped into the ball of flames, dark jaws open wide. For a second, he seemed to vanish. Then his jaws burst from the fireball and, still cloaked in the ghostly fire, snapped shut around Shedninja.

    Shedninja shifted and jerked wildly in Krookodile's grasp, but the ground-type held it tight.

    "Now!" Ash shouted. "Finish it with Stone Edge!" Krookodile placed his jaws against the ground, then struck it with his claws. A massive stone erupted from the earth and into Shedninja, sending both Pokémon flying into the air. Krookodile recovered and landed, panting lightly but standing tall. Shedninja careened wildly towards the ground. A moment before it hit, red light encapsulated it, and it was drawn back into its Pokéball.

    "The battle was over," Tobias stated calmly.

    "Shedninja was unable to battle. Krookodile is the winner," the referee declared.

    In the stands...

    Cilan shook his head. "How strange. Ash had Krookodile attack right through the Will-o-wisp, even though it burned him."

    "I get it!" iris said excitedly. "Ash must have known Shedninja was too good at dodging to keep attacking regularly. So he let Krookodile take the hit and use the fire as cover to counterattack."

    "I see. A clever, but dangerous strategy," Cilan replied.

    Iris just smiled. "Ash knows what he's doing," she said calmly.

    ...

    Tobias smiled faintly. "I have to say, I didn't expect you to have Krookodile attack like that. Not many people have managed to overcome Shedninja's agility and speed. Using my own own attack as a shield? That's a bold move."

    "Thank you," Ash replied earnestly. He gazed proudly at Krookodile. "Your Shedninja was incredible. It really was the only way for Krookodile to land a hit."

    Flames suddenly erupted around Krookodile's body, making him growl and squeeze his eyes shut as the burn damage kicked in.

    Ash grimaced at the sight. It had been necessary, but now the battle had gotten a lot harder.

    Tobias withdrew his next Pokéball, one with an orange top and yellow patches, and tossed it. "Go!" he cried. Light and sparkles flashed from the Pokéball as its inhabitant emerged.

    The Pokémon that appeared was like nothing he had ever seen. A tall, lean white reptile with a slender body and whip-like tail stood on the battlefield. Rich purple scales covered its belly and pink markings traced the sides of its body. Its eyes gleamed lavender and its pure white scales seemed to shimmer in the sunlight.

    "Who's that Pokémon?" Ash gaped.

    Fortunately, the announcer filled in the blanks.

    Folks, we've got ourselves an honest to goodness exotic Pokémon here at the league! That is a Salazzle, a Pokémon only ever found in the far off islands of Alola. This species is unique in that only the female is capable of evolving. Not only is it impossible to find anywhere else, but this particular Salazzle is also shiny! The odds of finding a Pokémon like this is... well let's just say you may never see another for your whole life."

    Ash blinked, then glanced up at the screen as the default image of a Salazzle appeared on the screen. Instead of pure white scales, he saw that they normally possessed smoky gray scales. "Whoah..." he breathed.

    Ooo's and aah's filled the stadium as they took in the shiny Pokémon. Truly, the Salazzle was gorgeous to behold.

    "Are you ready?" Tobias asked, smiling confidently. Ash stared at the Salazzle, who flicked her tongue out and eyed Krookodile, not unlike a Spearow eyeing a Caterpie. She looked dangerous, for sure. He'd have to be careful.

    "Krookodile-" he began. Krookodile and growled and glanced back at him, then shook his head. "You can keep fighting, Krookodile?" he asked. Krookodile flashed a toothy grin and nodded. Ash chuckled to himself. Honestly, he expected nothing less, especially from Krookodile. "Let's do this then."

    Krookodile turned his gaze back to Salazzle and snarled. She hissed in return, her hiss shifting into a throaty cackle. A grin spread across her narrow snout. Then the match began.

    Flames wrapped around Krookodile's form and he grimaced as his burn sapped his strength.

    "Gunk Shot," Tobias called. Salazzle jaws opened wide, wider than Ash thought possible, and she spat a massive, gooey blob of poison across the field. It arced through the air, headed straight for Krookodile.

    "Dodge it with Dig!" Ash called. In a flash, Krookodile burrowed into the earth. A half-second later, the poisonous heap of sludge hit the earth and sizzled threateningly. Krookodile burst from the ground just feet behind Salazzle. "Superpower!" Ash shouted. An aura of energy flared around Krookodile then gathered into his claws, turning them vivid orange. He struck in rapid succession, landing a powerful one-two strike on Salazzle.

    "Fire Lash," Tobias said coolly. Salazzle lunged into the air with unexpected grace, and spun swiftly. As she spun, flames sparked up all along her tail, doubling its length.

    "Get outta there with Dig," Ash said.

    Krookodile lunged toward the ground again, but Salazzle acted quicker. She landed, whipped her tail out, and slashed Krookodile across his chest. A roar of fury erupted from his jaws, as he was thrown aside. He tumbled across the battlefield, leaving a cloud of dust. As the dust settled, and he pushed himself to his feet, Ash could see a line of soot across Krookodile's scales where he'd been hit. Krookodile dusted his scales off, straightened his sunglasses, and snarled back at Salazzle, determined to show his strength.

    "Salazzle, its time for Nasty Plot."

    A smirk played across the lizards maw. Her body swayed nearly hypnotically, a red aura pulsing around her form. The aura spiked and surged around her and her eyes flashed briefly as her power increased.

    "Krookodile, use Stone Edge now." Krookodile slammed his claw into the ground, sending stones straight at Salazzle.

    Moments before they struck, Tobias called his command. "Breaking Swipe." Salazzle's tail flicked side to side, a red and blue glowing forming all around it. She sprang elegantly into the air, then twisted herself into a rapid spin and brought her tail crashing against the stones. Each and every stone shattered the instant they made contact with her tail. She slashed her way through them in a moment, then, as she broke the final one, she whipped to a stop, opened her jaws, and fired a powerful Gunk Shot straight at Krookodile.

    The acidic ooze splashed Krookodile directly in the face, eliciting a furious snarl. He fell backward, clawing the ooze of his face. Flames surged across his body once again, and he howled furiously.

    "Crunch!" His fury gave him an edge, and Krookodile snapped his head forward and bit down on Salazzle's tail. The fire-type hissed in rage.

    "Get it off," Tobias commanded. She lifted her tail high into the air, Krookodile still clinging on, then whipped it back and forth in the air. The sheer force of her movements flung Krookodile off, sending him flying towards the ground.

    "Use Stone Edge into the ground!" Ash cried. Krookodile righted himself in the air and landed, claw first, sendings spikes of stone flying towards Salazzle. One erupted directly underneath her, making her stagger. She recovered and twisted smoothly with the hit before slithering forward. "Breaking Swipe!" In a single motion, she twisted, then swung her tail at Krookodile. The motion happened as nothing more than a blur, followed by a sharp, audible crack as it connected with Krookodile's body.

    The blow sent Krookodile sliding several feet and elicited a cry of shock from the ground-type. Ash could see the scuffs on his scales from where Salazzle had hit him. Maybe it was time to call him back-

    Suddenly, blazing red light shrouded Krookodile. His form turned almost luminescent, and his claws and jaws seemed to grow longer. Throwing his head back, he opened his jaws and let out a roar. Silence fell across the entire stadium for a full five seconds. Ash's jaw dropped.

    A surge of flames washed across Krookodile's body, but he shook it off, his eyes glowing pure red. Energy literally poured off Krookodile, so much so that Ash thought he could feel it even from where he stood.

    In the stands...

    "What is that?" Iris yelped.

    "Incredible! That's Anger Point in action!" Cilan replied, eyes gleaming with delight.

    "That maxes out a Pokémon attack when they're hit by a critical, doesn't it?" Iris asked excitedly.

    Cilan nodded. "This may be just the edge Ash needs."

    ...

    A wide grin spread across Ash's face. A quick check with his Pokédex had revealed the cause - Anger Point, a special ability that Krookodile's could have. Apparently, it maxed their attack when they were hit by a critical hit. "Awesome Krookodile! Your Anger Point maxed your attack! Let's use that." Krookodile roared in agreement.

    "Dig, but stay close to the surface!" Giving a sharp nod, Krookodile dove into the ground. For several seconds, he didn't emerge, and Ash smiled. Krookodile knew exactly what to do. Seconds later, he popped out of the ground, this time several feet behind Salazzle.

    "Fire Lash," Tobias snapped out the command quickly. The familiar fire grew along Salazzle's tail and she stepped forwards. She sank halfway into the earth immediately, dirt smothering out flames on her tail. A hiss of utter shock escaped her jaws.

    "Now! Superpower!" The red aura that surrounded Krookodile flared, doubling the size of his claws and turning them bright orange and red with power. He exploded forwards and slammed Salazzle mercilessly with a series of rapid slashes before leaping away before she could counter.

    Salazzle threw her head back and let out a howling hiss. She writhed about and yanked herself free from the dirt, eyes blazing, and poisonous saliva gathering in her maw.

    More flames surged around Krookodile and he snarled, faltering. His breath came in gasps now, and Ash could see him trembling. Despite the boost he'd received, he was ready to collapse. One more hit might end it. This time, Ash didn't hesitate. "Krookodile, return." He took out the Pokéball and returned the ground-type. He gazed fondly at the Pokéball. "Sorry, Krookodile. But you've done more than enough for now. Thank you."

    And it was true. Krookodile had defeated Shedninja and had done serious damage to Salazzle. Even if had taken all his strength, Krookodile had really given his all. That was all he could ask for any of his Pokémon.

    Stands

    "Oh man, Tobias' Salazzle is so strong," Iris murmured, worry in her tone. "Even after that hit Krookodile landed, it's still standing."

    Cilan nodded seriously in agreement. "I have to say, I expect no less from such a masterful trainer. His way of blending strength and skill is like a perfectly seasoned roast."

    "Yeah... sure."

    ...

    Tobias relaxed slightly, then nodded approvingly. "A good choice. No need to lose any more Pokémon." Salazzle however, looked extremely disappointed, unlike her trainer.

    Ash didn't reply. He was more concerned with choosing who to send next. Even after the blows Krookodile had dealt, Salazzle was still looking as strong as ever. Clearly, it was incredibly powerful. And that tail of hers was dangerous too. He looked down at Pikachu, who waited patiently by his side.

    "Ready buddy?" Pikachu's eyes lit up and he gave an excited squeak, sparks flaring on his cheeks.

    Salazzle swayed side to side, her disappointment replaced by a predatory gaze at the sight of the small mouse Pokémon.

    Confidence filled Ash. He still had three of his Pokémon left, and he'd managed to defeat three of Tobias Pokémon. Maybe he could do this. "Alright Pikachu, let's do this!"

    HAH HA! Another chapter, done! I'm very satisfied with this one, I think. I like the idea of Tobias having a strange Shedninja that excels with close quarters movements. And uses Wonder Guard. In the end, the only way for Ash to get the upper hand was to do the last thing Tobias would expect - take the hit, get burned, and deal a powerful blow.

    Then we see Tobias 4th Pokémon an albino Salazzle. Yes, I decided to give him exotic Pokémon because I feel like he would have them. And I also think if Pokémon had the chance to be a cohesive universe, we would see more Pokémon outside the current region.

    And boy is it strong! A bolt of inspiration made me decide to give Krookodile Anger Point. Yet even with that awesome boost and the hit, Salazzle is still standing. I hope you all enjoyed this one.

    Also, did you know the odds of finding a shiny female Salandit in SM are like... crazy low? One in 3/25600.

    If anyone is wondering why ash says he has three Pokémon left and not 5, its because Both Primeape and Krookodile are severely weakened and basically out for the count. But not technically 'fainted'.

    How will Ash defeat this Salazzle?

    "I'll let you have the first move," Tobias said, gesturing.

    Ash didn't intend to waste the opportunity. "Pikachu, get moving with Quick Attack."

    A white streak followed Pikachu as he burst forwards, darting back and forth around Salazzle, yet staying out of reach. Salazzle's head whipped back and forth as she followed his movements.

    "Gunk Shot," Tobias called. Poison gathered in Salazzle's jaws, then she flicked her head side to side, sending a spray of sludge scattering over the field. Pikachu darted to the away, still in Quick Attack.

    "Now, Thunderbolt," Ash called. Pikachu sprang to the side again, avoiding the rest of the gunk, and slid skillfully across the field. As he was sliding, his cheeks sparked up and he fired a powerful Thunderbolt directly at Salazzle, catching her off guard and shocking her.

    She snarled and shook her head, glaring furiously at Pikachu, as if insulted how such a small creature managed to land a blow on her. "Salazzle, Fire Lash."

    A smirk appeared on her jaws. Lightning fast, she slithered across the field and flicked her tail out at Pikachu.

    "Get back!" Ash called.

    Pikachu danced backward, dodging the initial whip of her tail. Unfazed, she whipped it back even faster, snaking it around Pikachu's body and flinging him into the air. Flames erupted across her tail and she whipped it upwards, knocking Pikachu even higher.

    A squeak of alarm came from Pikachu as he flew through the air.

    "Now, Gunk Shot."

    Salazzle's lavender eyes narrowed and locked onto Pikachu as he flailed in the air. Her jaws opened and she spat a massive ball of purple liquid directly at him.

    "Electro Ball!" Immediately, Pikachu righted himself midair, electricity coalescing on his tail. In the blink of an eye, the electricity had formed a sizable orb. He spun and threw the orb at the incoming poison.

    The two moves met in the air, purple pressing against yellow, then exploded, the attacks canceling each other out. Pikachu landed on all fours, undamaged. "Thunderbolt." Instantly, Pikachu fired off a rapid bolt of electricity.

    "Dodge." Salazzle twisted her body in some strange contortion, narrowly avoiding the bolt, which crashed harmlessly into the floor. "Breaking Swipe." She spun and darted forward, tail glowing, and swung it across the ground at Pikachu.

    Ash's eyes widened. "Jump!" Pikachu leaped high into the air, the tail sweeping under him.

    Then she spun in a full circle, arced her tail upwards, and smashed Pikachu into the ground. Pikachu squealed and tumbled across the field. He lay still for a moment, then shakily began to rise.

    Tobias smiled in satisfaction. "Excellent. Now, use Nasty Plot."

    An aura of power surged over Salazzle, further boosting her.

    "Come on buddy, you can do it! Get up," Ash called. Pikachu jumped up, shook his head, and gave a cry of determination. "Awesome. Now, use Quick Attack again."

    Pikachu grinned, then raced toward Salazzle.

    "Gunk Shot," Tobias stated calmly. This time, the orb of poison was nearly twice the size of the previous ones.

    "Don't stop Pikachu, and use Iron Tail!" Pikachu put on an extra burst of speed, his tail taking on a white glow. Then he spun into a front spin, turning into a whirling sphere of yellow and white, slicing straight through Gunk shot, out the other side, and smashing his tail down onto Salazzle's head, knocking her to ground. Then he flipped and sprang backward, to Ash's side of the field.

    "Awesome job buddy!" Ash called.

    Pikachu stood up and held his head high, beaming with pride. Across the field, Salazzle picked her head out of the ground and gave a malevolent hiss. He dropped onto all fours and growled right back, cheeks sparking.

    "Wait Pikachu," Ash called. While Pikachu was surely strong, much like Charizard he didn't want to wear out all his Pokémon early. Tobias still had two unknown Pokémon left. Plus, as fast as Pikachu was, he couldn't take hit like some of his other Pokémon. "Take a break, 'kay?" Pikachu gave one last glare to Salazzle, then scampered back to Ash's side. He selected his next Pokémon with no hesitation.

    "Gabite, come on out!"

    Gabite appeared from his Pokéball and bared his teeth in a snarl.

    Salazzle gave him one look and turned her head aside, giving a disdainful snort. A small smile crossed Tobias' face, and he shook his head. "Easy, Sal. This one is not to be underestimated." In a louder voice, he called, "I see your Gible evolved since last time we fought."

    Ash nodded. "Sure did! It's thanks to all that training we did before the league."

    "I look forward to this battle then," he replied.

    Moments later, the referee called for the match to begin. Tobias wasted no time calling the first attack. "Salazzle, Breaking Swipe."

    She slithered forwards, tail shining with dragon-type energy.

    "Dodge that with Dig," Ash called. Gabite dove underground just before she could get in range.

    Tobias however, was unshaken. "Gunk Shot, into the hole." Salazzle threw herself forward and crammed her jaws into the hole Gabite had disappeared into. Seconds later, Ash heard a loud snarl of pain. Ash winced for his Pokémon -with all the power Salazzle had been building up, he was sure that attack had done good damage. "Gabite, use Dragon Pulse!"

    A beam of blue energy burst from underground, cutting wildly through the earth and swirling erratically around. Salazzle gave a screech of surprise as the beam jerked about, then slammed into her, knocking her onto her side. Then Gabite popped out of the ground, shaking a few drops of poison off his scales.

    Salazzle picked herself up, her eyes blazing. "Fire Lash," Tobias commanded. She didn't hesitate to whip her burning tail at Gabite, smacking him across the cheek before suddenly slithering further away, putting distance between them.

    "Get close, then attack with Iron Head," Ash said. Gabite lowered his head and charged forward, a shining grey projection forming across the top.

    "Counter with Breaking Swipe." Salazzle struck the approaching Gabite with her tail, halting him mid-charge. He dug his claws in, pressing forward, while Salazzle pushed back with her tail. Energy crackled where the two moves met, then exploded, sending both Pokémon sliding away from each other.

    Almost immediately, Salazzle slithered a few more yards away, collecting herself.

    "After it with Dig!" Ash cried. Gabite dove headfirst into the ground. A second later he shot out, headfirst. Salazzle twisted away, though not quite fast enough to avoid a glancing blow from Gabite.

    "Hit back with Gunk Shot." Salazzle whipped her head around almost 180° and hurled a glob of poison.

    "Dragon Pulse." With barely any time to prepare, Gabite managed a weak burst of dragon-energy. The blast managed to dissipate the poison, though it failed to do any more than that.

    Before the dragon-type could attack again, Salazzle slithered away, putting too much distance between them. Ash scowled. At this rate, the battle could go on forever. Salazzle was weakened from fighting Pikachu and Krookodile, but not tired enough. It was time to end this.

    "Alright Gabite, its time for Draco Meteor." Gabite grinned eagerly. Golden energy gathered around him and he tilted his head back. Then he fired a shining orb of energy straight into the sky.

    "Now!" Tobias shouted.

    Ash flinched. What-

    Salazzle practically flew across the field, then sprang into the air like a coiled spring, flying above the Draco Meteor. Her tail flashed and she knocked it right back at Gabite. Gabite's jaw dropped. Then the orb smashed into his face and cratered him into the ground. A cloud of dust flew into the air and spread over the battlefield.

    Ash stared, stunned, as he realized what had happened. Tobias had used his own Draco Meteor against him. "Gabite!" he shouted. He peered through the dust. There, in the center of a foot deep crater, Gabite had pushed himself to his feet. Dirt covered his scales and he looked scuffed and battered, but he was still standing. Ash jumped up and cheered. "Awesome, Gabite!"

    Gabite brandished his claws and glared at Salazzle, who was beginning to look impressed.

    Tobias smiled. "Your Gabite really is something else. But you didn't expect me to let you use that Draco Meteor of yours, did you?" he asked.

    Ash gritted his teeth. "Oh yeah? Well, we won't lose easy either! Gabite, use Iron Head!"

    Gabite charged again, though Ash noticed his speed was slightly slower. He was tiring, no doubt.

    "Still coming for more? Fire Lash!"

    "Get back!" Gabite stopped short then leaped backward, Salazzle's flaming tail missing his chest by an inch. "Alright, Draco Meteor, one more time." Gabite danced backward, golden energy gathering once more.

    In the stands...

    "What's Ash thinking?" Iris cried. She stood up, eyes wide. Even though she knew Ash must have his reasons, she couldn't imagine what they could be. Salazzle could just counter the move again.

    ...

    "I won't let you use that move, Ash," Tobias called calmly.

    Gabite tilted his head back and fired the orange-gold orb. Salazzle leaped into the air above the orb again, then hit it back with her tail.

    Ash grinned. Exactly what he'd hoped for. "Gabite, eat it!" Gabite cranked his jaws open wide, jumped, and bit it out of the air.

    Tobias jaw dropped. Salazzle's croaked in shock. Iris yelped. The stadium gave a collective gasp.

    Golden energy pulsed in Gabite's throat and his eyes widened even as he kept his jaws tightly shut. The energy flowed across his whole body, turning it into a golden silhouette that quickly shifted into a shining blue one.

    This time, Ash's jaw dropped. Gabite was evolving.

    The glowing silhouette morphed, doubling in size. His arm fins grew longer and his tail lengthed, followed by his body growing leaner. Light burst from his forming and faded, revealing the dragon of dragons, Garchomp. Garchomp opened his jaws, the golden light of Draco Meteor still shining faintly within, then unleashed his Dragon Pulse. A titanic beam of gold and blue energy erupted from his jaws, wider and taller than a Snorlax.

    It completely engulfed Salazzle, knocking her through the air and sending her tumbling over the ground, where she slid to an unceremonious halt a few feet in front of Tobias. After a couple of seconds, she shifted, pushing herself halfway to her feet, swaying unsteadily as she did.

    Garchomp stared in awe of the feat he'd managed to pull, blinking at the sight of the downed Salazzle. Ash blinked too, equally stunned. He hadn't known what to expect after having Gabite-no, Garchomp, pull a trick like that. This was more than he could have hoped for. Though something told him what he'd witnessed was once in a lifetime - it could probably never be repeated.

    In sync, Garchomp and Ash narrowed their eyes. "Ready to finish this, Garchomp?" Garchomp rumbled and nodded. "Go!" Garchomp charged, then leapt gracefully into the ground. Salazzle's eyes widened and she scrambled frantically as she struggled to compose herself.

    Garchomp couldn't have been under for than a second before he shot out again a few feet in front of Salazzle and flew straight up. Her head jerked back instinctively to track him, causing her to stare directly into the midday sun. With a frantic hiss, she tried to cover her eyes.

    "Iron Head," came Ash's command. In the air, Garchomp paused, then angled himself downwards. Head gleaming silver, he plunged straight down into Salazzle. An explosion followed that shook the earth and punched a crater into the field.

    Garchomp flew out of the crater, soaring back to Ash's side of the field, and landed, panting but standing proud.

    "Tobias' Salazzle is unable to battle. Garchomp is the winner!"

    Yet another chapter completed. As much as I have enjoyed this, I am also excited to conclude this fic, as I wish to focus my attention on other stories. That said, this was probably my second favorite fight yet! (1st of course, if Primeape v Darkrai). Building into Gabite fighting Salazzle and evolving in this absolutely RIDICULOUS manner was just so much fun. Is it overkill? Maybe. But I like some overkill. Plus overkill is like, a staple of anime. SO no apologies here.

    Like how does this logic even work? They did the 'eat it' trick in DP but it makes no sense. But who cares, lol.

    Not much else to say here. Salazzle is pretty darn strong, as you can tell. Defeating it was a bit of a group effort.

    As Tobias returned Salazzle, Garchomp roared his dominance for the whole stadium to hear. Even Pikachu looked shocked. In the stands, Iris was nearly frothing at the mouth with jealously, while Cilan was shocked speechless. The announcer raved wildly about the tactics and powers displayed, while the crowd applauded mightily. Truly, this fight had been incredible to witness so far.

    Excitement and nervousness raced through Ash, as he stared at the evolved form of his Pokémon. It was hard to believe that a few weeks ago, that same Garchomp had been a tiny Gible, small enough to hold in his arms. Now he was practically large enough to ride. Some strange feeling, beyond the usual joy he felt at a win, began to bubble inside him. These were the moments he loved. Getting to see his Pokémon progress and grow...

    "That was a superb match, Ash Ketchum." Tobias shook his head to himself. "You continue to surprise me with what you are capable of."

    Ash chuckled. "Honestly, I surprise myself! I wasn't even sure if that trick would even work."

    Tobias raised one eyebrow (or at least, Ash assumed it was one, given that the other was hidden behind his hair). "Oh?" He chuckled very faintly. "Exactly what I would expect from you. Now let's see how you deal with this." In a single smooth motion, he tossed out a Pokéball topped in black and gold.

    Light spilled from within, forming a silhouette that seemed to keep growing and growing. Then the light faded, revealing the form of an absolutely massive winged gray reptile. Ash recognized it almost instantly as an Aerodactyl. Except this Aerodactyl was nearly twice the size of any he'd ever seen.

    Ash gasped and even Garchomp's eyes widened at the sight of the massive Pokémon. By his estimate, it stood over 10 feet tall, each wing alone spreading even wider. It scales gleamed a silvery purple in the sunlight and opened its jaws to let out a grating screech. It soared over the field before circling back to land on the ground surprisingly calmly.

    "You are one of the few trainers with the privilege of battling my Aerodactyl," Tobias spoke, pride evident in his tone. "For you see, this is no ordinary Aerodactyl. It is what I like to call a titan. A one of a kind, apex of its species. It wasn't revived from a fossil, instead, I captured it myself after an intense battle. I cannot fathom how long it must have roamed the mountains before I bested it in combat."

    "Whoah." It was the only thing Ash had to say. Seeing such Pokémon up close was incredible. And if it was anything like the rest of Tobias' Pokémon, it wasn't just for show. "Ready Garchomp? This guy isn't gonna go down easy." Garchomp gave a low rumble.

    "Battle, begin!"

    "Iron Head!"

    "Double Edge!"

    Both commands were shouted simultaneously. A glowing white aura surrounded Aerodactyl, while a silver one shimmered across Garchomp's head. In perfect sync, both Pokémon launched themselves across the battlefield towards each other, in a silver streak and white streak. They met in the center of the battlefield with an explosive BANG that sent of a wave of wind rushing outwards.

    For a full five seconds, both Pokémon vied for dominance, each pressing against the other. With a final 'crack!', both Pokémon were thrown backward and slid several yards.

    In the stands...

    "Oh man, Tobias' Aerodactyl must have Rock Head, right? That's why it didn't take any recoil damage?" Iris asked.

    Cilan nodded as he stroked his chin. "That's absolutely right. A perfectly seasoned combination if you ask me. Although I daresay both Pokémon took damage from a hit like that."

    ...

    "Get up in the air, Garchomp!" Ash cried.

    "You too, Aerodactyl," Tobias called.

    Both Pokémon exploded upwards leaving nothing but a blur and a puff of dust in their wake.

    "Aerodactyl, Rock Slide." Aerodactyl flapped its wings, rising above Garchomp, then summoned several large rocks and shot them down at the dragon.

    "Dodge it!" Ash cried. Garchomp twisted, turned, and jerked out of the way of most of the rocks, though one managed a glancing blow. As the final one came hurtling towards his head, Garchomp swung his arm and knocked it back, right into Aerodactyl's head. It glanced off its skull, causing it to screech furiously.

    "Quick, Dragon Pulse!" Garchomp opened his jaws and blasted a beam of pure dragon-energy, hitting Aerodactyl in the chest.

    "Sky Drop."

    Aerodactyl shook off the Dragon Pulse, then dove at Garchomp, energy rippling over its body. In the blink of an eye, it snatched up Garchomp from behind and shot straight into the air, so high Ash could hardly make out more than a dot in the sky.

    Then Aerodactyl dove back down, white energy forming around the two Pokémon. Ash tensed as he saw Garchomp jerk around in Aerodactyl's grasp. Unfortunately, the prehistoric Pokémon seemed to have a grip of stone. If he didn't break free and they hit the ground like this... There was no more time to think as the two streaked down like a comet. Yards above the battlefield, Aerodactyl released his grip and flung Garchomp towards the ground.

    There was only once chance. "Dig!" Ash shouted. Dirt exploded everywhere as Garchomp hit the ground. Barely a second later, the dirt faded to reveal nothing more than a large crater and a hole in the ground. Aerodactyl blinked, as if puzzled.

    With a roar, Garchomp exploded from the ground, speed increased tenfold by his fall. "Iron Head!" As Garchomp shot up through the sky like a jet, his skull gleamed silver and he smashed straight into Aerodactyl's chest, eliciting a roar from the Pokémon as it was knocked back.

    "Followed it up with Dragon Pulse!" Ash called triumphantly. Garchomp fired a blue beam right at Aerodactyl.

    "Double Edge!" Aerodactyl dove straight into dragon pulse, then began to press through it. Garchomp's eyes widened and he poured more energy into Dragon Pulse. Yet Aerodactyl remained undeterred, driving back with even greater force. Slowly but surely, Aerodactyl pressed back, then finally struck Garchomp, sending him careening back towards the ground. "Now, Rock Slide."

    Aerodactyl was all too happy to oblige, sending a flurry of rocks pelting down at Garchomp, battering him further. Garchomp shrieked as he crashed into the ground. He rose slowly, pushing himself to his feet, panting. Dirt and scratches covered his scales. Ash frowned. As much as he hated to admit it, fighting Salazzle and Aerodactyl had taken a lot out of him. And getting hit with his own Draco Meteor earlier had done a lot of damage. "Okay, Garchomp. One last Draco Meteor."

    Garchomp gave a satisfied grin a the command. The familiar gold energy gathered in his jaws, then he fired it upwards. This time the orb flew up twice as fast as it had when he was a Gabite.

    "Get up there," Tobias called. Aerodactyl flew up as well. Then the orb exploded. Giant meteors began to rain down onto the battlefield. Except... Aerodactyl seemed to have disappeared.

    Both Ash and Garchomp glanced through the skies, but there was no sign of Aerodactyl anywhere. How?

    The ground shook as meteor after meteor crashed into the ground. As the last of the meteors fell to the ground, one fell near Garchomp. Just before it hit the ground, Aerodactyl revealed itself from where it was clinging behind the meteor and leapt off. With a titanic roar, he used Double Edge and collided with Garchomp almost point-blank. The force of the blow exploded into Garchomp and launched him across the field into the opposite wall.

    "Garchomp!" Ash cried. The dragon dragged himself off the dented wall, gave a single groan, and slumped to the ground. Smiling sadly, Ash walked over to him. He knelt next to him and patted his side. "That was amazing, Garchomp. I never would have defeated that Salazzle without you." Taking out his Pokéball, he returned him, then walked back to the trainer box.

    "That was pretty awesome!" he called to Tobias. "Having Aerodactyl hide behind Draco Meteor like that."

    "Thank you. Only my Aerodactyl could have executed it," Tobias replied. Aerodactyl smirked, puffing its chest out at the praise.

    Ash's smile faded as he concentrated. He now really only had Pikachu and Charizard left. Technically Primeape and Krookodile hadn't fainted, but he also knew they were still tired. However, Tobias only had two Pokémon left as well. His Aerodactyl, who had already taken some damage, and someone else.

    But Tobias' Aerodactyl was very strong, evidenced by how he'd managed to defeat Garchomp so skillfully. There was only one Pokémon he trusted to fight something as strong as Aerodactyl, and one Pokémon who would want to. "Alright Charizard, come on out!"

    He threw the Pokéball back out, releasing Charizard. As soon as the fire-type emerged and saw who his opponent was, his gaze began to burn with such intensity it would have made any lesser Pokémon flinch. Even though it wasn't the same Aerodactyl, he knew Charizard would be eager for the chance at revenge.

    "Battle, begin."

    The two Pokémon leapt into combat, Aerodactyl with Rock Slide and Charizard with Dragon Pulse. Rocks met energy and the two attacks exploded, canceling out. Charizard lunged with Wing Attack, roaring as he flew at Aerodactyl.

    "Thunder Fang." Electricity crackled over Aerodactyl's jaws. Then Charizard reached Aerodactyl. and struck it with one of wings. The rock-type responded by sinking his teeth into Charizard's other wing. With a chilling snarl, Charizard flipped himself through the air, flinging Aerodactyl off and into the ground.

    "Flamethrower!" Charizard spewed a blast of fire right into Aerodactyl, bathing it flames.

    With a ferocious roar, Aerodactyl launched itself at Charizard, its body cloaked in the familiar aura of Double Edge. It rammed Charizard in the chest, sending him flying backward.

    Flaring his wings, Charizard caught himself. "Seismic Toss!" Ash called.

    "Sky Drop!"

    Both Pokémon exploded towards each other. Charizard grabbed Aerodactyl by the body while Aerodactyl used his dexterous claws to seize Charizard's neck. Both Pokémon streaked into the sky, grappling as they flew upwards. With a twist, both Pokémon began their plunge to the ground, still fighting. As they drew near to the ground, Ash could see no clear winner.

    "Get out of there!"

    Ash and Tobias' commands were spoken simultaneously. Yet neither Pokémon broke free, each far too determined to be victorious. BOOM!

    The ground shook as they made impact. The resulting explosion hurled both Pokémon to opposite ends of the field, where they managed to land on their feet; digging their claws in as they slid backward. Both came to a stop a nearly the same moment, and roared at each other, the light of battling burning bright in their eyes. Both Pokémon were breathing heavily but both determined not to give the other any ground. And both Pokémon were still more than ready to keep fighting.

    Tobias relaxed his stance slightly. "I must say, your Charizard is truly one of a kind." He paused, his left hand moving towards his head. "It wouldn't be right for me to give it anything less than my full power." He slowly tucked the strands of hair that normally hung in front of his eyes behind his ear.

    A small object glinted on his earlobe, catching Ash's attention. It was hard to make out, but it appeared to be some kind of luminescent stone. Tobias brushed his fingers against the stone. Something flashed, and Ash's eyes were drawn to Aerodactyl. On its tail, a harness held a similar gem in place. The gem began to glow brightly, pulsing with many-hued light.

    A hush fell over the audience. Tobias' voice rang across the stadium. He cast his arm outwards in a dramatic gesture. "Look upon the prehistoric ruler of the skies and despair! Erupt with fearsome power! Aerodactyl, Mega Evolve!"

    Both stones flashed, then began to glow, pulsing with rainbow light. Tendrils of pure energy grew from Tobias' stone and Aerodactyl's. The energy tendrils linked up, merging into each other and growing even brighter. Then, before Ash's eyes, Aerodactyl began to glow with the telltale light of evolution.

    Blazing rainbow light gathered around Aerodactyl and in it, a strange swirling symbol flashed for a brief second. The swirling orb of light exploded a moment later, revealing Aerodactyl's new form. Jagged spikes covered most of its body, growing from its horns, chin, and wings. Several also covered its tail, and a single large one grew from its back. Its size also seemed to have increased slightly, giving the prehistoric Pokémon an even more frightening appearance.

    "I can't believe it!" Freddie was practically screaming at this point and had stood out of his chair. "A mega evolution! Tobias has actually mega-evolved his Aerodactyl! Take a look at that, that is the prehistoric king of the skies!" His voice calmed, but only slightly. "For those unaware, mega-evolution is a phenomenon first discovered in Kalos. Despite the term, mega-evolution is not a permanent form of evolution, but a special form the Pokémon is able to use during battle. I never thought we'd get to see one today!"

    The stadium roared and cheered with delight. In the stands Cilan had nearly fainted, while Iris had screamed in shock and now stood, leaning against the railing, staring at Aerodactyl in awe and wonder. The thing was an absolute monster.

    Ash simply stood, jaw hanging open, his brain struggling to even comprehend what he was looking at and what he heard. Mega Evolution? By listening a bit more to the announcer's ravings, he started to understand. Mega Evolution was a power that allowed certain Pokémon to temporarily boost their power and change into a new form. The transformation required intense training and the use of the two stones he'd seen - one for the trainer and one for the Pokémon.

    It was crazy to even think about, although it also made him burn with excitement. More than anything, he wanted to travel to this 'Kalos' region and see more of this 'Mega-Evolution'.

    The fossil Pokémon hovered above the field, its large frame casting an imposing shadow on the ground below. Charizard set his jaw and snorted out a burst of fire. Ash gritted his teeth, trainer and Pokémon's expression's mirroring each other. This fight had just gotten a whole lot harder.

    And a whole lot more exciting.

    So there's another piece of the battle for you! And another member of Tobias team revealed. It's an Aerodactyl, but not an ordinary one. Similar to how throughout the anime we see larger than ordinary Pokémon, Tobias captured a 'titan' Aerodactyl. And he can Mega Evolve it.

    In the end, I went with Aerodactyl because a) he's a cool fossil mon and b) having a Charizard vs Aerodactyl grudge match is awesome and c) I wanted a Mega.

    There wasn't proper time to do a good mega for Ash, but like I mentioned earlier, I feel like Charizard for sure would be too stubborn to do it.

    More importantly... Can Charizard defeat Mega Aerodactyl?

    We are nearing the finish! Here we go, chapter 29!

    The two Pokémon faced each other, standing eerily still. Neither so much as twitched, and Aerodactyl could have easily passed for a crowd noise died down, then changed to murmurs of confusion. Nearly 30 whole seconds had passed, and neither Pokémon had made their move.

    Ash took a shallow breath. The referee glanced between the two Pokémon, then up at the screen, where Freddie could be seen. Freddie glanced at the other announcers then down at the field. Still, the Pokémon remained motionless-

    Something shifted. Something undetectable to all but Tobias and Ash, a change the air, a slight tensing of muscles. The standoff had ended. The battle had begun.

    "Double-Edge." Aerodactyl burst higher into the sky, then dove at Charizard like a stony comet.

    "Now, Spin Dodge!" Ash called. Charizard flew to meet Aerodactyl, folding his wings tight and spinning his whole body.

    "Open your wings!" At the last second, Aerodactyl flared its wings, grazing Charizard hard. Even so, the momentum from his spin pushed him past Aerodactyl, allowing him to remain mostly undamaged. Aerodactyl halted its flight, spun around, and glared at Charizard with narrowed eyes. Ash just smiled slightly. He owed a lot to his journey through Sinnoh, he realized. A regular dodge would never have worked so well against an opponent like this 'mega' Aerodactyl. At least this way he managed to deflect the worst of the attack.

    White sparks of energy burst across Aerodactyl's form making it flinch. Ash tilted his head slightly and frowned. Huh... Did Aerodactyl just take recoil damage? Perhaps this 'mega evolution also changed their abilities... Which meant Rock Head no longer protected it. He smiled.

    "Alright Charizard, get in there!" he shouted.

    With a roar, Charizard flew at Aerodactyl again. The two clashed mid-air, then burst apart again, fury etched across their faces. Then they attacked again. Ash understood implicitly that this wasn't the time for commands - Both Pokémon would go head to head to test their strength. He just needed to wait for the perfect opening.

    Charizard fired a stream of flames at Aerodactyl, who spiraled around the fire then shot a flurry of rocks at Charizard. The rocks battered into Charizard, briefly obscuring him. Undeterred, he flew across the field, wings glowing, and hit Aerodactyl twice. Aerodactyl snapped electricity cloaked jaws into Chairzard's stomach, making the fire-type roar and blast Aerodactyl with another face full of fire.

    The two dipped in and out, matching each other flawlessly, blow for blow, strike for strike. For every powerful hit Aerodactyl landed, Charizard struck with two of his own. And with every strike of Charizard, Aerodactyl retaliated with a devastating blow.

    Aerodactyl shot into the air, away from the fire, then dropped a pile of boulders onto Charizard, covering him completely. With a furious roar, the rocks exploded apart and a beam of blue energy uppercutted Aerodactyl. Yet it hardly acknowledged the attack, switching immediately back to Thunder Fang, diving down and sinking his jaws into Charizard's neck. Another burst of flames washed over Aerodactyl. It reared back with a snarl before dodging around to grab Charizard by the base of his wings. Then it shot up into the air, dragging the fire-type with him.

    Charizard writhed in the larger Pokémon's grasp, trying to jerk free. Unfortunately, Aerodactyl's talons had a grip of stone. He twisted his head, angling to attack with his jaws, but Aerodactyl wrapped its own, much larger, jaws around Charizard's neck to hold him in place.

    Now Charizard was truly immobilized, Ash realized. His wings were mostly free but seemingly useless against Aerodactyl's bulk, and he couldn't turn his head to attack either. His thoughts raced.

    Aerodactyl turned and dove towards the ground head-first, picking up speed. Fierce winds tore past the two Pokémon as they approached the ground at an alarming rate.

    There. This was his opening. "Charizard, use your Charicific training and turn this around!"

    Still locked in Aerodactyl's grasp, a dastardly smirk grew on the Charizard's maw. He reached up and grabbed Aerodactyl's ankles with his claws, digging in tight. Then he angled his tail and wings downward, catching the wind and forcing the two into a flip, pulling Aerodactyl under him and angling the rock-type straight at the ground.

    Aerodactyl gave a shriek of shock and instantly released Charizard, flaring its wings wide in a desperate attempt to halt its fall. Charizard pushed off it with his hind legs and threw himself forwards, opening his wings and skimming over the ground.

    Behind him, Aerodactyl tumbled in freefall, as it struggled to right itself. Unfortunately, gravity was not in its favor. Its increased weight combined with the fact that it was going far to fast meant stopping was completely impossible. It spiraled wildly through the air, unable to slow. A split second later, Aerodactyl's cry was cut short as it smashed headfirst into the battlefield.

    Dust flew up shielded the mega-evolved Pokémon for a moment. As it settled, Ash saw it push itself to its feet, looking dazed. It shook its head, pushing aside the exhaustion with some difficulty.

    Ash couldn't help but wonder how much longer both Pokémon could continue.

    "Double Edge. You know what to do." Hurling itself forward, staying low to the ground, it surged toward Charizard.

    "Dodge again!" Once more, Charizard flew forwards and spun. Aerodactyl flew straight past him toward the wall. Then, tucking its head in and angling its wings, it somersaulted tail over head, planted its feet into the wall, and launched off. A white aura flared across its body as it soared upside down like a streak, twisted right side up, and rammed Charizard in the back.

    Charizard smashed into the ground, skidding forward as Aerodactyl soared up, hovering above him.

    "Finish this. Rock Slide." Aerodactyl gave a grating screech and flared its wings. Rocks formed in the air around it and plummeted down at Charizard, battering him further in and burying him under a heaping pile of stones.

    "Charizard!" Ash's heart skipped a beat.

    Aerodactyl grimaced and tensed as it was struck with the recoil. This time, the blowback seemed to hurt even more, and Ash saw it falter briefly before catching itself. Its eyes could barely stay open, and Ash recalled that the recoil they got was based off how much damage they'd done to the opponent. But if they recoil was that bad, then how was Charizard faring?

    On the field, nothing could be seen of Charizard beyond a pile of rubble. "Charizard!" Ash shouted. "Remember everything we've been through! Don't give up now, I know you can do this! You can win this!"

    Aerodactyl landed, jaws hanging open as it panted, though it looked very pleased with itself. Tobias gave a sort of pitying smile. "This was an impressive match, but I'm afraid no Pokémon can stand up to a hit like that-"

    Deep, orange light began to pulse from within the pile of rocks. The glow grew brighter and brighter, turning from orange to burning red. Then the rocks began to melt. Slowly, a puddle of magma began to form until the rocks were gone entirely. And in their place lay Charizard, crouched on all fours and wrapped in a tight cloak of fire. His eyes burned a vivid white through the flames, and he appeared to be made of pure lava.

    A shiver rippled down Ash's spine as he realized what he was seeing. Something that until now, he'd never seen activate for Charizard. Something he'd always wondered about, but never seen in action, save for Infernape. It was Charizard's Blaze.

    Magma dripped off his hide. His eyes burned as he opened his jaws and blasted a wave of flames right at Aerodactyl. Aerodactyl screeched and formed a barrier of rocks in front of it. Fire struck the rocks, but they began to melt. A moment later they collapsed disintegrated and Aerodactyl screeched as it vanished under a wave of vivid orange.

    Still burning with energy, Charizard closed his jaws, flames spewing from its snout with every labored breath. Aerodactyl lay on the field, hardly moving. Then, to Ash's shock, it began to rise, swaying unsteadily. Its jaws formed a weak snarl. Limbs trembling, it tried to take a step forward, only for it to collapse, its eyes rolling back.

    A burst of light surged from his form and returned to the form of a regular Aerodactyl.

    Stunned, it took Tobias a second to withdraw his Pokéball and return Aerodactyl. The blazing light that Charizard had been giving off faded slightly, subduing into white flames pulsing from his tail and fire flaring around his body.

    "Absolutely stunning." Tobias smiled widely. "In any other circumstance, I would beg you for a trade, but I can see your Charizard and you belong together. The bond you share is like nothing I've seen, just as the bond you share with all your Pokémon." His gaze drifted to Pikachu, who stood beside Ash's eyes wide with wonder at the power Charizard was giving off. "Especially your Pikachu. You and your Pikachu are truly of one heart and soul."

    Ash's heart was still racing from the fact that he'd actually won. He managed a half nod, still awed by his Charizard.

    "I have to say, I never believed this battle would go so far." He shook his head and chuckled before continuing. "But here we are. I am down to my very last Pokémon." He took a finall ball from his belt, a worn, scuffed looking Pokéball. It was plain in appearance and looked like it had seen many years of use. "And I have never been happier. You gave me the chance to show off some of my greatest accomplishments some of the rarest Pokémon of this world. And now... Now you have pushed me to place I haven't been in for a long time. Thank you."

    "T-thank you?" Ash stammered.

    Tobias nodded. "Of course. Because of you, my closest companion will get a chance to battle. A proper battle, against an equal. Ash, I would like you to meet my starter." His thumb brushed fondly over the Pokéball in his hand, and he gazed at it with a surprising degree of fondness. Then the moment was gone. He looked up, the light of battle once again burning in his eyes, more intensely than ever before. Standing in a relaxed pose, he casually threw the ball onto the field. "Get ready for battle, old friend."

    EDIT: Fixed Charizard's maneuver to hopefully make his technique clearer and easier to understand!

    YIKES. Jeez. This chapter was really really hard to write. I hit a major case of hardcore burnout. But I pressed through, and hopefully the result is satisfying. And I cant help myself, I had to end on a cliffhanger of sorts, teasing the reveal of the Pokémon we've all been waiting for. Because if Tobias was able to catch/raise rare and powerful Pokémon, he had to start somewhere. And if he's been training, then what Pokémon does he have thats that strong? Who has journeyed with him this whole time, and is his oldest friend. Who is Tobias' starter?

    All that aside, one has to wonder. If Charizard's ability is Blaze, why haven't we seen it? Does that mean Charizard has never truly properly been pushed to his limits? Well, now we know. His Blaze is edgier, more hardcore, and more extreme and over the top than even Infernape.

    Yeah I know it might be a bit overkill but also heck its fun. I like doing cool stuff. Besides, if Infernape can do it in canon, why not charizard?

    Also, I know many people were expecting a double KO, but I actually decided to let Charizard win. Normally, Aerodactyl would have, save for two VERY key factors.

    1. Garchomp. He dealt a solid bit of damage to Aerodactyl before going down. This whole battle has been a team effort.

    2. Aerodactyl got stronger but lost Rock Head. So no more recoil protection. So he hurt himself bad.

    Although I think it goes without saying, Charizard wont be fighting much more after this at all. Poor thing is basically spent.

    For those who may not have realized the connection, my version of Tobias is a collector of rare/unique Pokémon. He's not really after legendaries, he caught them because they are rare and one of kind type Pokémon. This is why his team doesn't have a ton of legendaries.


    The light of the Pokéball seemed to fade in slow motion. A Pokémon stood on the field, but it definitely wasn't any Ash had ever seen before. It stood roughly 6 feet tall and had a vaguely humanoid shape. It seemed to be covered entirely in very dark purple hair, save for its face, feet, and belly, which had green skin. Long, pointy ears protruded from the sides of its head and a pointy nose poked from its sharp face. It flexed its claws, which seemed to be covered in hair as well oddly enough, and flashed a leering grin at Charizard.

    Who's that Pokémon? Ash wondered.

    "Ash, meet Grimmsnarl. My most faithful companion. I've had him since I was just a boy."

    Ash stared at it in awe a moment longer, then pulled out his Pokédex.

    Grimmsnarl. The Bulk Up Pokémon. With the hair wrapped around its body helping to enhance its muscles, this Pokémon can overwhelm even Machamp. It is native to the far off Galar region, and is known for being quite mischievous.

    "Wow! So he's your first Pokémon?" Ash asked eagerly. "And he's from the Galar region..." the name didn't ring a bell, but then again he wasn't great with geography.

    Tobias nodded.

    "That's so awesome! You two must be really close."

    "Indeed."

    Ash glanced at Charizard. Heat poured off the dragon-like Pokémon in waves, and his tail burned with a pure white flame. He didn't have to say anything to know Charizard had no plans of returning now. He was going out on his terms. "Okay, Charizard. We do this your way."

    Through the flames coating his body, Charizard nodded.

    With a shout, the referee called for the match to begin.

    Grimmsnarl held out his claw and beckoned Charizard.

    Charizard never hesitated. The flames wrapped around his body flared up, then began to move, swirling and gathering around his mouth. Within a second, the flames had faded completely from his body. The white fire on his tail dimmed. The air stilled, and the heat that poured off his body seemed to dissipate. His eyes smoldered briefly, flickering like live coals. He swayed for a moment, ready to collapse. Then he steeled himself, dropped onto all fours and opened his jaws. A torrent of fire streamed from them, tore across the field, and slammed into Grimmsnarl, forcing the odd Pokémon backward.

    The attack seemed to go on for an eternity, yet really only lasted a few moments, as Charizard poured every ounce of his remaining strength into his fire. The attack flickered out, and Charizard's tail flame shrank, then reverted to its usual color. The fire-type managed one last glare at his opponent, then collapsed, utterly exhausted.

    "Charizard is unable to battle! Grimmsnarl is the winner."

    "Return, Charizard." He held out the ball, smiling softly as the red light enveloped his friend. He glanced up, trying to assess Grimmsnarl. To his dismay, it didn't seem nearly as fazed by the powerful attack as he hoped. It stood tall still, though the hairs on its body were singed. Clearly, this 'Grimmsnarl' was powerful. And with Charizard down, he really only had Pikachu. He opened his mouth, ready to call out his buddy.

    A burst of light shot from one of the pokeballs on his belt. Primeape emerged, punching his fists together and grinning. "You want to fight, Primeape?"

    Primeape nodded confidently. "Alright then. Pikachu, rest up, cause you're next." Pikachu cried eagerly and nodded. Then Primeape strode onto the field. Despite that he was more than tired from fighting Darkrai, he stood tall, glaring at Grimmsnarl. Grimmsnarl narrowed his eyes, evaluating his opponent. Then he nodded, respect in his gaze.

    Ash took a deep breath. Primeape only had the strength for one more attack. Which meant he had to make it a good one. "Okay Primeape, use Focus Blast!"

    Primeape shifted his stance and moved his arms, holding his palms a few inches apart. A glowing sphere of light began to form between his hands. The Focus Blast began to form, turning into a dense ball of energy.

    "Grimmsnarl, use Spirit Break."

    Grimmsnarl flexed his claws. His dark hair uncurled from his claws then formed them into a single whip like protrusion that glowed vivid pink. It whipped towards Primeape. Just inches before it hit him, Primeape rotated to the side, narrowly dodging the attack.

    Keeping his arms locked in place, he leaped lightly forwards, landing on Grimmsnarl's outstretched arm. Then, with uncanny precision borne from his long time training, he danced lightly forward and ran right up Grimmsnarl's arm, charging Focus Blast as he moved.

    Grimmsnarl cocked his head, as if curious. Then he narrowed his eyes. Growling, he jabbed at Primeape with his other arm. Primeape vaulted over the strike like a hurdle and landed on Grimmsnarl's shoulder. With a determined cry, Primeape unleashed his Focus Blast straight into Grimmsnarl's face.

    At nearly the same moment, the hairs on Grimmsnarl's body tensed and spasmed, throwing Primeape to the ground.

    In the stands...

    "Wait, I don't get it," Iris said. "How could Primeape still use Focus Blast like that? I thought that move has to be charged up and it won't work if they move."

    "Hmm..." Cilam stared with narrowed eyes, contemplating. Then he snapped his fingers. "That's it! Focus blast requires the user to hold its arms perfectly steady to charge the attack. Despite moving his legs and body to dodge, Primeape never broke its concentration. Clearly he is so skilled with his footwork from training with Pokémon like Hitmonchan and Hitmonlee for the P1 Grand Prix."

    "Whoa."

    ...

    Grimmsnarl blinked, half blinded from the blast, and staggered back a step.

    "Spirit Break." Through half closed eyes, Grimmsnarl aimed his arm and shot it out like a spear, jabbing Primeape and spiking him across the field.

    Primeape thudded into the floor and rolled a few feet before lying still. Ash already had his Pokéball ready, and returned him. "Great job Primeape," he said.

    Ash took a breath to steady his racing heart. Grimmsnarl had recovered from Primeape's hit and now stood calmly, eyeing Ash with a dangerous curiosity. So. Now it had come down to this. Pikachu vs Grimmsnarl. His first Pokémon vs Tobias'. No matter what, he could walk out of the stadium today knowing he had given it all. Win or lose, he'd had the chance to show everyone how strong his Pokémon were.

    Out there in the stands, Iris and Cilan and the rest of his friends were cheering for him. And back home, he had no doubt his mother and Oak were watching as well. Probably his Pokémon at the corral were all crowded around the TV in the lab, cheering for him. He wouldn't let them down. Today, he would give everyone a fight worth watching.

    Reaching up, he slowly turned his cap backwards. Then he looked down at Pikachu, a gaze of calm confidence on his face.

    "Pikachu, I choose you!"

    Pikachu gave a sharp cry and took one massive leap, landing halfway to the center of the battlefield. The little mouse threw a few air jabs and danced from one foot to the other before dropping to all fours, cheeks flashing and a grin of pure excitement plastered on his face.

    Grimmsnarl grinned back and took up a fighting stance, his hair flexing and whipping the air as excitement gleamed in his eyes.

    "Get ready, Pikachu," he murmured. "We gotta be ready for anything."

    Without taking his eyes off his opponent, Pikachu nodded.

    "You can have the first move," Ash called.

    "So be it," Tobias replied. "Grimmsnarl, Power-Up Punch!" The hair on Grimmsnarl's claws formed into glowing orange fists. Then he took a leap forward and extended his arm across the field, fast as a bullet, towards Pikachu.

    Ash and Pikachu tensed simultaneously, in perfect sync, waiting. Just as Grimmsnarl's fist was a yard away, Ash shouted, "Now!"

    Pikachu threw himself backwards and landed several yards behind where he'd stood. Grimmsnarl's fist stopped short an inch from Pikachu's nose. "Thunderbolt!" Ash shouted, punching his fist in the air. Pikachu's cheeks flashed and he unleashed a blast of lightning at Grimmsnarl's fist before it could retract, shocking him. Pikachu managed to sustain the attack for a full three seconds, causing the fairy-type to spasm wildly.

    As Pikachu let up, Grimmsnarl's face twisted into a grimace and he shook his head as he withdrew his arm. "Spirit Break." In a blur of motion, Grimmsnarl sent a spear of pink glowing hair shooting at Pikachu.

    "Dodge it!" A split second before the spear struck, Pikachu sprang to the side, leaving it to jab harmlessly into the earth. Grimmsnarl followed it up with two more frighteningly fast strikes. Pikachu reacted equally fast, springing first to the left, then lunging forwards as another strike passed right between his ears.

    "Quick Pikachu, Iron Tail!"

    "False Surrender."

    Pikachu's tail flashed white and he took two leaps forward before launching himself into the air and slamming his tail into Grimmsnarl's chest.

    Grimmsnarl howled and staggered backward, head bowed and hand clutched to his chest where he'd been struck.

    For a brief moment hope flared in Ash. Had he gotten a critical -!

    The hair on Grimmsnarl's head suddenly twisted into a long, thick whip wrapped in black and red energy. It flicked out at Pikachu and slashed him across the face, launching him halfway across the field. Pikachu gave a screech of pain and shock as he hit the ground and slid several feet before recovering.

    "Power Up Punch." Grimmsnarl quickly stood, its hairs curling into fists.

    "Get up!" Ash cried.

    Before Pikachu could gather himself, Grimmsnarl launched two rapid strikes, hitting Pikachu twice and sending him staggering. An aura of orange power pulsed across Grimmsnarl's body. Tobias smiled, pleased. "Now, Power Whip." Grimmsnarl's fists changed to glowing green vines that lashed toward Pikachu's stunned form.

    "Dodge it Pikachu, with Quick Attack." Pikachu's eyes flashed open and he slipped into a blur, narrowly dodging the attack. Visible as no more than a white streak, he shot across the field, a half-step ahead of Grimmsnarl's whips, and headbutted Grimmsnarl in the leg. It grunted and shifted its weight slightly. "Iron Tail," Ash called.

    Pikachu landed. His tail flared white again and he spun, striking Grimmsnarl with two rapid hits before ducking between its legs. Almost instantaneously, Grimmsnarl retaliated with a swift Spirit Break.

    "Jump and dodge!" From his spot behind Grimmsnarl, Pikachu leaped into the air. Spirit Break missed his legs only barely. "Now use Electro Ball." In midair, Pikachu gathered an orb of electricity on the edge of his tail, then flipped forwards and threw it, striking Grimmsnarl in the back.

    Pikachu landed, panting.

    "Spirit Break." Tobias called again. This time, the hair on Grimmsnarl's leg whipped out and jabbed Pikachu in the chest.

    With a squeak of shock Pikachu fell back and swayed on his feet. "Thunderbolt," Ash snapped out the command. Falling to all fours, Pikachu fired a shot of electricity, shocking Grimmsnarl briefly.

    Pikachu paused, gasping. He blinked in shock, as if confused, and Ash mimicked the expression. Compared to his earlier Thunderbolt, Ash could clearly see this one was weaker.

    In the stands...

    "Hey Cilan, isn't Spirit Break one of those moves that can weaken the Pokémon's attack power?"

    Cilan nodded. "You are exactly right, Iris. Spirit Break lowers the Pokémon's Special Attack, very different from their Attack. There are actually FOUR categories of power for a Pokémon. Attack, Special Attack, Defense and Special Defense," he stated, holding his index finger up. "A fact the writers of the show constantly seem to forget," he added.

    "The who?" Iris asked, confused.

    Cilan chuckled. "No matter, this battle is sure to be a dish to remember!"

    ...

    Ash considered for a second. Spirit Break had to be one of those moves that could damage a Pokémon and weaken it. He'd seen those before. This wasn't good, if he kept hitting Pikachu, Pikachu would grow weaker and weaker.

    "Power-Up Punch," Tobias called.

    "Quick Attack!"

    As Grimmsnarl launched his fist, Pikachu darted forwards. The two collided, then bounced backwards, Pikachu sliding a few feet. Another surge of power flowed through Grimmsnarl.

    "False Surrender." The hair on Grimmsnarl's arm gathered together and glowed red as it swung at Pikachu.

    "Dodge and use Electroball." Pikachu leaped up just as the initial strike passed under him, then swung his tail and sent a ball of electricity flying at Grimmsnarl. At nearly the same moment, the hairs split and one section flicked up, catching Pikachu and knocking him to the ground. A split second later, Electroball smashed into Grimmsnarl's face.

    To Ash's dismay, It seemed to shake off the attack with fair ease. Pikachu on the other hand, was looking fairly battered. The few blows he'd received had struck hard.

    "Spirit Break!" Tobias shouted again. The spear of hair shot at Pikachu.

    "Spin and dodge it!" Pikachu jumped up and spun, spinning past the bolt of hair and landing again, grinning fiercely.

    "I applaud your Pikachu," Tobias called. "Very few Pokémon are able to dodge so many of my Grimmsnarl's strikes."

    Ash gave a nod, a hint of pride growing in him. "Thanks," he called.

    Tobias offered a brief nod of acknowledgement before turning his gaze back to the battle. "Power Whip," Tobias said calmly. Grimmsnarl grinned, then flexed its claws. Each of its six fingers grew into green vines, which it sent surging towards Pikachu.

    Doding that would be too much, even for Pikachu. "Fight back with Iron Tail," Ash shouted. Pikachu ran to meet the atack, his tail glowing. Just as he batted back two of the vines, two more appeared, landing stinging blows on Pikachu's face. Pikachu fought past them, smacked another away, and swung his tail as hard as he could into Grimmsnarl's arm. This time, it gave a pained howl and jerked away, holding its arm.

    Ash smiled. Another good hit.

    The tiniest of frown's formed on Tobias' face. "Power-Up Punch." In a blur of motion, Grimmsnarl's fist shot out and struck the tiring Pikachu in the face, sending it flying. Pikachu managed to land on all fours, but swayed dizzily.

    Not again. At this rate, Grimmsnarl's attack power would be through the roof. Pikachu now stood just a few yards in front of Ash, facing Grimmsnarl. The fairy-type had barely moved from its starting position on Tobias' side of the field.

    Ash could see Pikachu's body trembling from exhaustion. He'd put all his speed into dodging, but there was only so long he could keep it up. Grimmsnarl was incredibly fast, and it had taken all of Pikachu's strength to dodge those blows. This battle needed to be ended. Except... Grimmsnarl was strong. Either it was skilled at hiding its exhaustion, like Primeape, or it wasn't tired. Not that he was surprised. It was Tobias' first Pokémon, after all. The best way would be to try and end this with a physical strike.

    Ash set his jaw. Grimmsnarl smirked at them, the hairs on his body rippling as he awaited an attack.

    "Pikachu, Electroball, straight across the ground." With a cry of determination, Pikachu charged electricity on his tail, then spun and flung it, sending it skimming over the ground. "Use Quick Attack and run after it!" Ash called. Pikachu bolted forwards, streaking after the ball of electricity. In a split second, he caught up, racing behind it.

    The electricity from the Electroball began to crackle across his body. Pikachu ran faster, pressing his head forward. The electricity merged into Pikachu's Quick Attack and fused into it, cloaking him in a sparking yellow aura. His speed spiked and he exploded forwards.

    Grimmsnarl lashed out with Power Whip in an attempt to stop him, but Pikachu weaved in between the two whips, then slid to a dead stop just under Grimmsnarl. Still cloaked in electricity, he launched upwards.

    At the same moment, Tobias cried out, "False Surrender!"

    Pikachu smashed into Grimmsnarl's chin just as Grimmsnarl hairs flashed out and stuck Pikachu. Both Pokémon cried out simultaneously and fell back, landing heavily on their backs. An instant silence fell over the stadium. Spectators leaned forward in the chair. The referee peered closely. Slowly, both Pokémon began to move. Grimmsnarl started to push himself up.

    Pikachu rose shaking. His eyelids drooped, but he forced them open. Grimmsnarl sagged forward but then recovered, managing to stay upright. Then Pikachu pushed himself to all fours as, across the field, Grimmsnarl rose to his hands and knees. Ash clenched his fists tighter, his heart drumming in his ears. Come on...

    Pikachu tensed briefly, then swayed to the side and collapsed.

    A collective gasp rose from the crowd. Grimmsnarl raised his head and smirked, a tired but proud glint in his eyes as he caught sight of the downed Pikachu.

    "Pikachu is unable to battle. Grimmsnarl is the winner!" Came the referee's call.

    Ash's heart sank. Quietly, he walked onto the field and retrieved Pikachu, who was thoroughly and utterly exhausted. He carried him gently over to his side of the field and set him down. The mouse Pokémon's eyes opened briefly and he stared up at Ash. Ash gently patted his head. "It's all right, Pikachu. We really gave them a good battle." With a sigh, he looked back up. He'd given it his all today, and so had his Pokémon.

    But he wasn't done yet. He calmly retrieved his final Pokéball. He stared at for a second, eyes closed. Then he opened his eyes and tossed the ball straight up into the air. "Krookodile, come on out!"

    As the Pokéball soared into the sky, light poured out. It formed into Krookodile's silhouette midair. The crocodile Pokémon landed and planted one claw on the ground, then looked up and gave a determined growl, glaring over the rim of his sunglasses at Grimmsnarl. His chest heaved and fell, and soot covered his scales from his burn. He was barely able to remain standing, and Ash knew he didn't have much strength left. Watching him, Ash couldn't help but smile proudly, however. Despite everything the ground-type had been through, he still remained determined.

    Krookodile glanced back, and he and Ash locked eyes for a moment.

    "We go down fighting, right buddy?" From the sidelines, Pikachu gave a cry of encouragement, as if to say 'I warmed him up for you.'

    Krookodile gave a sharp nod, then turned back to Grimmsnarl and roared.

    Grimmsnarl, who'd stayed on his hands and knees, rose up to his full height. He stared condescendingly at his opponent, then let out a disdainful snort before dusting himself off and holding his head high.

    Rage contorted Krookodile's features at the gesture. Reaching up, he snatched his sunglasses off and flung them across the field at Grimmsnarl. They flew through the air, end over end, then hit Grimmsnarl in the center of his forehead. The fairy-type blinked once. Then his eyes rolled back in his head and he fell backward in a dead faint.

    Wild screams exploded from the audience. The announcer began yelling animatedly, while the referee stared, his mouth hanging opening and arms dangling limply by his sides. Tobias was frozen, while Ash stared, confused. Krookodile's eyes were as big as Watmel berries and his jaw hung slack. Then he began to emit a throaty, cackling laugh. Still chuckling, he walked across the field, picked up his sunglasses, the put them back on. Crossing his arms, he flashed a bold smirk, his teeth glinting in the sunlight.

    Amidst the still wildly screaming audience and raving announcer, the referee managed to raise a flag. "Grimmsnarl is... unable to battle. Krookodile is the winner. Tobias is out of usable Pokémon, so that makes Ash Ketchum the victor of the Unova League."

    Somehow the audience got even louder. Ash stared up at the widescreen as his face flashed across it, with the bold print words below it; Winner.

    "I... won?" he stammered. He looked across the field at Tobias, who had recovered from his shock. The trainer chuckled and shook his head. "That's Grimmsnarl for you. I could tell that last attack from your Pikachu did a lot of damage. But it seems that it did even more than I realized. I suspect Grimmsnarl was ready to collapse before you even sent Krookodile out."

    Ash let out a half-chuckle. Everything still felt surreal. He looked down at Pikachu, who was staring at Krookodile, clearly as surprised as Ash. Pikachu looked up, then met Ash's eyes. Then he gave a cry of joy and sprang up into Ash's arms. Ash hugged Pikachu and laughed, spinning in a circle before flopping onto the ground. Krookodile trundled over and roared happily, wrapping Ash into a hug. His eyes grew just a little bit misty as he looked at his Pokémon. After all this time... he'd really made it. He had taken his Pokémon all the way to the top, and emerged victorious.

    After a minute, Ash pulled himself free. Tobias walked onto the field flanked by Grimmsnarl, and Ash rose and walked out to meet him, Krookodile following. He held out his hand, and Ash shook it. "That was truly the greatest match I've ever had the pleasure of taking part in. Grimmsnarl thanks you as well."

    Ash smiled up at Grimmsnarl. "Thank you too, Grimmsnarl! That was an awesome battle!" Krookodile gave a rumble of agreement. The hairs on Grimmsnarl's claws retracted, revealing the smooth green skin underneath. He held his claw out to Krookodile, and the two shook hands. Then he shook Pikachu's paw.

    "I could not ask for a more worthy opponent. We'll have to battle again someday."

    At that, Ash grinned even wider. "Definitely!"

    xXx

    Everything seemed to happen in a blur after that. He was ushered off the field and his Pokémon taken to the private healing center. A short time later, he was brought back onto the field. A podium had been set up, and Alder stood there, along with Cynthia and Freddie, and a few officials. To his surprise, he noted Iris and Cilan were present as well. When they saw him, both smiled and waved.

    Ash waved back and jogged onto the field, Pikachu perched on his shoulder. A lot happened at once. He was congratulated profusely by a very excited Iris, commended by Cilan on his spicy strategies, and applauded by Cynthia and Alder. They presented him with an official League badge that signified his victory. After that, another official showed up and passed off a golden trophy to Alder. With a beaming smile, Alder presented the trophy to Ash.

    Trembling with excitement, Ash took the trophy, then held it high.

    Then Alder's booming voice announced words Ash had always dreamed of hearing. "I present to you, Ash Ketchum, your Unova League Champion!"

    xXx

    After everything had died down, the ceremony had ended, and most of the spectators had left, Ash retreated once more to the outskirts of the league grounds. A large grassy hill overlooked the stadiums, and it was this spot that Iris had asked him to meet her. In the distance, the sun was just beginning to set on the western horizon. The distant chirps of bird Pokémon and faint cries of bug-types could be heard.

    All around him, the Pokémon who'd fought in the Unova League with him sat on the hill, enjoying the peace. Pikachu snoozed on his lap, Emboar sat near Charizard, while Swellow and Unfezant perched together. Snivy and Sceptile sat in silence, neither speaking, but comfortable nonetheless. Dewott played with Palpitoad, and his other Pokémon enjoyed their well-earned rest.

    As he rested in the presence of his friends, he lay on his back and gazed up at the sky. Vivid orange and pink streaked through it, dotted through with indigo clouds. The world was so big, he realized. He'd explored so much and traveled so far, yet he still hadn't seen it all. He looked around him, at all the Pokémon he'd befriended. It had been a dream for so long to win a league.

    Now that he'd done it, he had a strangely happy feeling that this didn't have to be the end.

    The sound of rapid footsteps approaching made him look up. He saw two figures running up the hill towards him. Or rather, one was running while the other staggered behind. Iris ran easily up the hill, Dragonite soaring above her and her Haxorus following, carrying a large basket.

    "Surprise!" Iris shouted, smiling. "I planned a picnic!"

    Cilan arrived a moment later, huffing.

    Iris continued, "I was going to just bring the best kind of food, which is raw berries. But Cilan insisted on bringing some other dishes."

    Ash let out a sigh of relief. He never did understand how Iris could eat nothing but uncooked berries. Within a couple minutes, a blanket had been laid out, food distributed, and Pokémon food portioned out for all the Pokémon present.

    "Alright everyone," Cilan said with a smile. "Dig in!"

    Everything was, of course, delicious. Ash and all his Pokémon ended up having thirds, while Iris seemed content to eat all the berries she'd picked freshly earlier that day. As they ate, Ash told Iris and Cilan very animated stories of the adventures he'd gone on previously, with Iris being especially curious about what the other regions were like. And particularly, what kinds of dragons one could find.

    The evening wore on happily, and before Ash knew it, nighttime had arrived. Cilan set to cleaning, insisting he didn't need any help. After all, it was the least he could do for the Unova League Champion and a League Competitor.

    So it was that Ash and Iris found themselves sitting a short distance away, with only Pikachu and Haxorus for company. Pikachu rested on Ash's lap, while Iris leaned back on Haxorus, the large dragon curled around her. They sat in silence for a long time, each lost in their own thoughts. Overhead, the stars twinkled and the moon shone brightly.

    "So what's next?" Iris asked, breaking the silence.

    For a moment, Ash remained silent. It had been a question in the back of his mind all day, and even before that. Now that he'd won the Unova League, where would he go? Back to one of the other regions to compete? His mind returned to his battle with Tobias. "I think I'll go back to Kanto. I want to see my mom and all my other Pokémon again. And after that, I'm gonna go to Kalos. I want to see more Mega Evolutions for myself," he said finally. "And there's more gyms over there to battle in and a new league to compete in."

    "Wow, that sounds like so much fun! I guess now you'll be bringing a lot of your old Pokémon with you too?" she asked.

    That made Ash pause. He glanced over. In the distance, he could see Charizard sparring with Dragonite. Garchomp and Krookodile seemed to be explaining something to little Deino, and Swellow was playing tag with Unfezant and Emolga. "I don't know. I had so much fun traveling to a new region and making new friends. Bonding with all kinds of Pokémon..." he paused. "I want to keep doing that. Keep meeting different Pokémon and getting stronger and stronger." He scratched Pikachu gently. "I think I'll try to catch some brand new Pokémon in Kalos."

    Iris nodded slowly. "I think I understand what you mean."

    "So what about you? Where are you going to go now?" he asked.

    She grinned. "That's easy! I'm gonna keep training to be a Dragon Master! And first on my list is traveling to Johto and battling Clair."

    Ash's eyes lit up. "You're gonna battle Clair? Awesome! She's really tough."

    Iris nodded. "And after that, I want to catch more dragons! Like a Bagon and a Gible. And I'll keep training Druddigon and Deino, of course."

    Ash chuckled and nodded. "Good luck then," he said earnestly. He paused. "Hey Iris?"

    "Yeah?"

    "What do you think being a Dragon Master means?"

    "Well," Iris began slowly. "I'm not really sure, honestly. I think part of it means getting to know all kinds of dragons, and becoming friends with them. But I don't think that's all it is either, you know?"

    "I know what you mean," Ash replied. "Being a Pokémon master is about meeting and bonding with all kinds of Pokémon, all over the world. But I feel like there's more to it too."

    Haxorus gave a rumble of agreement. "Maybe... maybe being Dragon Master isn't just my dream. Axew's dream was to evolve and become a Haxorus. And I helped him do that." She stroked Haxorus under the chin, making the dragon purr.

    Ash nodded. "Charizard always wanted to be powerful, so I knew I had to let him stay at the Charicific Valley to train."

    Pikachu gave an emphatic squeak. Ash ruffled the fur on his head and smiled. "And Pikachu wanted to win on his own terms, without evolving. By working together, we were able to defeat Lt. Surge."

    Iris spoke again. "And I think... I think Dragonite wanted a trainer who would try to understand him. He wanted a friend."

    Neither one spoke for a while after that. A new sense of peace fell over both of them, an unspoken understanding shared between two budding masters - one of dragons, and one of Pokémon. The goal of a master wasn't one shared only by a trainer, but his Pokémon. It wasn't just about winning every battle or having a perfect strategy. To be a Master meant to be selfless, to know the heart of a Pokémon intimately, and to open your heart to Pokémon.

    Every battle and every new Pokémon would be a step closer to that goal. Becoming stronger was still important to him, and he doubted it would never not be. Yet there was so much more to his dream. Now he understood that becoming a Pokémon Master wasn't something he would ever be 'done' with. It was a pursuit that he intended to go after his whole life. Winning the league today was important, but it was far from the end of his journey. It was just the beginning.

    xXx

    Several days, and one filler filled cruise ship journey later...

    Ash stood in the train station beside Iris and Cilan. The train would be arriving in just a few minutes, taking Cilan and Iris to the Johto region. Cilan planned to travel on his own and learn more about the different cuisines around the world. Given that all he talked about mostly was cooking, and cooking analogies, it only made sense that he decided to hone his chef skills further. Iris on the other hand, planned to travel to Blackthorn City to battle Clair. After that, Ash would leave Vermilion port for Pallet Town, to see his mom again.

    He'd miss his two friends, he realized. They'd traveled so far, and done so much together. He'd gotten to see Iris get closer to her dreams and help Axew evolve all the way to Haxorus. No one spoke as they stood together on the platform. In the distance, the train's horn sounded.

    Just a few moments later, it cruised smoothly to a stop in front of them. The doors slid open with a faint hiss. "All aboard!" a conductor called, leaning out of one of the cars.

    "I guess this is goodbye, huh?" Iris asked.

    Ash nodded. "Good luck in Johto. Be careful with Clair. She'd a handful."

    Iris chuckled. "I will. I'm already working on some strategies."

    With a low growl, Deino popped out of Iris hair and gave a loud cry. Ash and Iris both laughed. "Deino is going to help me too," she added.

    "Good luck in Kalos!" Iris said cheerfully.

    "And be careful of mega-evolutions," Cilan warned. "They can change a Pokémon in unpredictable ways, so stay on your toes."

    Ash chuckled again. "You know me! Pikachu and I are ready for anything."

    The conductor called out again, and Cilan and Iris moved towards the car. Iris turned back to Ash and held up her hand, to which Ash eagerly reached out and gave her a high five.

    "Next time we meet, let's have a battle," Iris declared. "Dragon Master versus Pokémon Master."

    "Yeah! I know Charizard would love a rematch. Of course, he'd just win again," Ash added.

    Iris snorted. "We'll see! I'm gonna be training hard."

    The train's horn sounded again. Iris and Cilan hurriedly boarded. They selected window seats, of which the windows were already open.

    The train began to pull slowly away from the station. It began to pick up speed, moving away from Ash. Ash began to jog after it, waving goodbye.

    "Bye Ash!" Iris called cheerfully.

    "Farewell!" Cilan waved, smiling brightly. "Best Wish-"

    Iris clamped her hand over Cilan's mouth. "Don't. You. Dare."

    "See you again!" Ash called back. Pikachu cried in agreement, waving a paw as the train pulled out of the station and sped away. Once it had faded into the distance, Ash turned to look at Pikachu. "How about buddy? Ready to go home?"

    Pikachu gave a happy cry. With one last look in the direction of the train, Ash turned and headed toward Pallet Town.

    The End

    Wow. Finally. This is done. 30 chapters and 5 months later. I never imagined this story would get so big or be so long. It was supposed to be short! Lol. Things got out of hand I guess.

    This is the ending I always planned to reach, where Ash grows a better understanding of what it means to be a Pokémon Master. I've always believed it was much more than winning a league.

    Next, Tobias and Grimmsnarl. LOOK at Morgrem and Grimmsnarl and TELL ME Tobias wouldn't have one of those? Its perfect for him, imo. Also, a Dark/Fairy type should give you a big clue as to how Tobias caught Latios.

    And finally, that ending to the battle. Ha ha! I wanted to have some fun and really do something unexpected. I wanted both Pikachu and Krookodile to shine. So I decided to do it so Pikachu technically scored the finishing hit. But Krookodile also gets to be the last mon standing. And I wanted something a little ridiculous. Plus, a Unova Pokémon deserved to win.

    To be clear though, between Charizard's Blaze/Flamethrower, Primeape's Focus Blast, and Pikachu's Volt Tackle, Grimmsnarl was destined to go down. Not easily though. Not easy at all.


     

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