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Fanfiction The Redwood Saga

Discussion in 'Literature Library' started by Sahqoreyth, Mar 2, 2019.

  1. Sahqoreyth

    Arthur
    (Kirlia ♂)
    Level 21
    Joined:
    Mar 2, 2019
    Posts:
    62
    PokéPoints:
    ₽697.6
    Dawn Stone ★★★★
    Preface


    The story you are about to read is a prologue to the following chapters, which are set quite a few years in the past, at the beginning of this saga, but that does not make the upcoming story the end. Just the first glimpse of a larger tale.

    Old readers should know that as of April 2022, much of the early parts of the story have been re-written, and in my opinion, improved. New readers should know that, due to time constraints, new chapters usually take a minimum of a month or two to write, edit, and publish. It might also take much longer. They're ready when they're ready.

    It is important to note that while I will attempt to make everything as 'canon-friendly' as possible in this story, I will not always succeed. If you notice any errors in my 'lore' that clash with what's generally established in the Pokéverse, feel free to PM me and let me know, all feedback is appreciated. Also note that much of this is headcanon, and is subject to change if Nintendo ever gives us information on areas of the world mentioned in the story.

    The world featured in this story is meant to be a fusion of our Earth, set many, many thousands of years in the future from our current era, and the Pokémon world, with all the familiar faces you would expect, as well as faces from other anime/stories, but with Pokémon. Categorically, I would classify this tale as a crossover/adventure saga, but it will Always stay set, primarily, in a slice of the Pokéverse. Later chapters may see us hop universes/dimensions, but again, we will always circle back to Pokémon. Also note, the usual Pokémon protagonists are all quite a bit older in this Pokéverse. This will be elaborated on in the future, but for now, go forward understanding that some of the people, regions, and names may be identical or similar to the real world's. For example, Kalos may sometimes be referred to as 'France' as well, but the people living in that region don't quite remember why. ‘Japan’ is typically used to refer to the regions based on real Japan, from the Sevii Islands to Sinnoh.

    Also important to note, much of the information about the 'ancient world' and the time before Pokémon is only available to these characters because of the 'PokéNet', a similar and futuristic version of the internet. When it was created again, much of the data from the 'ancient world' was lost, but not all, and between books and several websites, the people of this time know a bit about the planet's ancient history. To them, humanity's cataclysmic fall, and then rise with the arrival of Pokémon and the Earth being restored to balance by Arceus himself, is somewhat common knowledge. Again, it will be elaborated upon. Eventually.

    When it comes to 'fakemon', I take the same approach I do with the lore. If it makes sense, and is likely to pop up in wherever the story is centered, you may see some headcanon friendly versions of Pokémon enter the story, but as a rule I try to avoid making entirely new Pokémon, with the only notable exceptions usually being Mega Forms, and one or two Legends. Regional variants, gender variants, etc. are all potentially fair game as well, but again, I tend to stick with what is released by default. Names, traits, etc. of these Pokémon are subject to change when/if Nintendo gives us info on them.

    One final note; the content of this story is probably not safe for a work environment. So, read it openly and obviously at your own risk. Most of the 'mature' content will be relating to 'drugs', termed in the story as 'Leaf'. I shouldn't have to tell you what it's based on. It's kind of obvious. Any overtly sexual scenes will be with my short stories on Fanfiction.net. As of writing this, there are a few moments and not-so-subtle innuendo that probably is not appropriate for people under 16. There are also a few rather gory moments, though I typically leave most of the unnerving details of such things to your mind's eye.

    And if you're interested, here's a map of the world, circa Chapter 1. Ish.
    [​IMG]

    Without further ado, enjoy.


    Prologue

    The Gohara Desert – Plateau in Central Eurafricasia

    He'd underestimated the locals when they'd told him how high the plateau was. Even with all his skill, it had taken most of the day to finally reach the top of the massive plateau, known in these parts as the 'Master Plateau'. There was a reason nobody climbed up here. The wind was too strong for most flying types, and though several of his teammates had been eager to test that, he had ultimately decided to test himself against nature instead.

    Nature, for her part, was pushing back. The wind almost reminded him of Norstad, but it lacked the bitter, freezing cold. Looking around, he didn't see or sense anything for miles. He was alone, on the top of the world. He stared at the fiery sunset on the horizon for a moment, and then turned his deep blue eyes back to the barren emptiness around him. This was, as promised, the ideal place to train his team. At their level, a sparse field in a forest simply wasn't going to work. They were too destructive, if they wanted to train seriously.

    The wind gusted suddenly, and the man growled in irritation, one large hand clamping his black and gold hat down against his head before it could fly off. The hat itself was a throwback, to several years earlier. Most Trainers would recognize the style as Unovan. It was an ordinary Trainer hat, really. Black in front, gold in back, with the symbol of his homeland in the middle. The symbol of eternal balance, a Taijitu sphere of black and white.

    His dark brown curly hair, as always in a constant state of 'needing a trim', curled up from under the edges of the hat, and was being windblown by the absurd speed of the wind on this treeless, deserted plateau. He hated when the wind messed with his hair, but there were more important things to deal with. Training in this kind of wind was going to be a problem for most of his team.

    At a height of 6,5, the Trainer usually towered over most people he met. He wasn't fat persay, but if his clothes were baggy enough, he could appear that way thanks to his body type. His current attire was the opposite of baggy however, as it fit his form with a tightness he wasn't used to, and highlighted his musculature far more than what he usually wore, but only when he moved. Human-made fabric simply wasn't as comfortable as what the Dragon had given him early in his training, but one simply did not turn down the attire one earned at the World Tournament.

    The black and gold robe whipped wildly in the fierce wind. The symbol of the Original Dragon that was on his hat was on the back of his garment as well, and underneath, he wore a plain black shirt with a green Pokéball symbol upon it. His black and white pants, he'd kept unchanged, as he saw no reason to change them out, and he still enjoyed wearing the otherworldly material around his more…sensitive regions. They were black going up to his waist and crotch, as well as along his inner thigh, but the outer edge was a stripe of white all the way down on both sides. As his robe was usually tied, nobody really saw his pants.

    Black flames contrasted with the gold coloring of the robe around its bottom edge, and its sleeves, which he'd been told was called a 'Haori' back in Japan. Given the nature of the World Tournament, and its most recent victor, the Japanese attire hadn't really surprised him. The Japanese Leagues were incredibly popular, and easy to watch. He did genuinely like the garment, which came down to his ankles, or would have, if not for the wind, flaring it out behind him. He would've felt epic if he was battling like this.

    While mostly gold, by request, he'd asked for the black flamelike pattern on the bottom of his relatively new attire to be added once he'd earned it. An obvious homage to a certain anime protagonist, and a subtle reference to his not-so-secret weapon. The wind gusted again, and as he felt even his large form lifting from the ground, he decided enough was enough as he stamped his stupidly large feet firmly onto the plateau. He focused his mind, and let the breath build within his lungs, but before he could do anything, the wind suddenly ceased. He exhaled softly, somewhat disappointed. He liked clearing the skies.

    Ceased was the wrong word, for the wind still moved his attire with a light breeze, a credit to its strength, given that Air Lock was supposed to remove all weather effects. He looked up to see the long, snake-like form of his Rayquaza, arcing through the clouds. He was, as far as he knew, the longest Rayquaza on record. It made sense, for he was also apparently the first, and therefore the oldest. Or so the Legendary dragon had told him. He gave the Rayquaza a nod of thanks, and he could've sworn the dragon was smirking at him. He had no earthly idea as to why, but the ancient dragon had surveyed his training before, and he didn't mind. He tended to have useful insights, and the man considered him a friend and an ally, free to roam the skies as he pleased until he was needed.

    After he adjusted his hat, the Trainer once more surveyed the area, and began mentally setting up locations for where his team would train, and with whom. As he reached for the camouflage patterned Pokéball, as always, in point position, a voice interrupted him mid-throw. "Hello there!" The Trainer turned, and stared the intruder down, slowly raising an eyebrow at what his eyes revealed. To all appearances, a perfectly normal looking human.

    Normal, in this case, was a term he applied to the general masses of humanity that had yet to awaken their psychic potential. Even amongst them however, this man would've stuck out. The shape of his body was round at the bottom, and thin all the way up. His first thought, was how similar his shape looked to a bong, a glass instrument used in the smoking of Leaf, a herb this Trainer was particularly fond of, but not reliant on. Trainers the world over, particularly those with grass types, often shared it at Pokémon Centers, and the man was, at his core, a lover of grass types in general.

    "Well well." The strangely shaped man said, "It seems the rumors are true after all. Unova's Rayquaza has a new Tamer." Alexander Redwood raised a brow at the man approaching from about a Pokéfield length behind him. He'd had his Rayquaza for years. Most people who followed Trainers with his kind of record knew that, though he supposed it was possible the man simply hadn't heard before. He didn't really use Rayquaza for battling, as he was more of a friend and advisor. Rayquaza appeared in the clouds again, and the ancient dragon coiled his massive body in the air, resting on said coils, and watched the pair from his lofty perch. Alex knew that through that dragon's eyes, his other mentors were likely watching him as well. Bunch of old crotchety bastards. He did like them, even if their sage wisdom occasionally left him more confused than anything else.

    "He found me worthy." Alex said as the man across from him stopped, and put his hands on his hips. His attire didn't help his oddly shaped body. His bag stuck out from his overly round hip, not unlike the slide one filled with Leaf before smoking it. Alex resisted chuckling, despite the absurdity. There was something off about this Trainer and his appearance here, but he couldn't quite figure it out. His own psychic senses again confirmed the man was, seemingly, a normal human but Alex knew there was something special here.

    He wore a robe similar in style to Alex's, so similar in fact, that it was uncanny. It was white, rather than gold, and a swirl of artfully woven red lines moved to Alex's right around the bottom. When the garment shifted, they appeared to swirl, almost like water, or smoke. His shirt was a plain, smokey gray, and his pants were white cargo shorts, several years out of style. Even his head fit the uncanny similarity to a bong, for his hat was white with an open top, which revealed an entirely bald head underneath.

    The symbol on the hat was green, but rather than the normal leaf symbol, or even the spiky variant found in Grassium crystals, this leaf symbol had five prongs, each looking slightly serrated. Alex shook his head, and bit his tongue. His eyes were probably red as well, and though it was hard to see at this distance, he knew that look, the look of someone who was enjoying the highs a bowl of the Leaf gave. This had to be a prank. He was about to tell the tourist to kindly piss off, when he noticed a familiar stone on the strap of the man's bag. A legitimate Trainer, apparently, despite his appearance.

    "I assume you're here for a Battle, then?" Alex smirked. The fact that he hadn't sensed this man at all had piqued his interest, something many Trainers unfortunately failed to do these days. Being in the world's top tier of Trainer could be boring at times, and after the World Tournament, many people recognized him, but only a few actually wanted to battle. He couldn't really blame them.

    The man nodded. "My name is Clarence. Grass type user. The best grass type user, I'd wager. I've beaten all the others that are of note. All except you." Alex nodded, understanding. Of course. He was here for Terra. Everyone wanted a piece of the fabled 'Yggdrasil', and his legendary defense.

    "I'm not strictly a grass type user." Alex said, flaring his robe open as he began reaching for the power, deep within. He kept his eyes from flaring blue though, he had just enough mental power for a battle connection with his first Pokémon. Trainers with his kind of abilities had been allowed by the League, provided they stayed in their own heads, and verbally issued orders. Said orders did not have to be moves, though. Clarence eyed the collection of balls on his belt with a cursory examination, but his focus was on the camouflage patterned one still in Alex's hand.

    "I'm aware…your team is rather impressive, I admit, but I've seen plenty of impressive teams. You heard me, Redwood. I didn't come to this Arceus-forsaken wasteland for the rest of your belt. I want your Torterra." The man was smirking, but Alex pinched his brow, and sighed.

    "Everyone thinks they can handle my Torterra." He said, looking up again, and then gestured at the field. "But, you're in luck. This is actually a battlefield that could handle his punishment. He might only break half the plateau."

    The smirk disappeared, and what replaced it was hard to make out. Fear, perhaps? Constipation? "Break half of the Master Plateau? You're overselling, Redwood. I'm ready to buy, too much, and I'll lose interest. And then who will be left to challenge you? Who would take the risk?"

    The smirk left Alex's face as well. "You incorrectly assume that the rest of my team is as wild as Shruikan. He's a dragon type. Honestly, it's like you people forget what Salamence are best known for. Ferocity. Everyone loses control, sometimes. That's why we have our friends to bring us back to our senses." The mood had shifted, at least for Alex and his team, who were connected by a series of mental links, stemming from their Trainer and forming a mental web of sorts through which they could share thoughts, feelings, and words. They did not take kindly to people who insulted members of their family. Alex kept their anger in check, however. There would be time to use it.

    Before more words were exchanged, Clarence drew, and threw his own Pokéball. "Brute Root! This is the Trainer. Prepare for battle!" The Venusaur let out an impressive roar as the flash of green light that accompanied its arrival faded. It was certainly one of the stronger male specimens Alex had seen, and unique in that the ten serrated-edged petals atop his tree were a deep forest green, rather than pink. Moreover, there was another stone upon its thick trunk stemming from its back, a Venusaurite. It had been a while since he'd met a Trainer who didn't use his method to reach a Mega Form.

    A quick glance told Alex that this Venusaur, for whatever reason, was a pure grass type. There was no poison typing with it, which only further increased the strangeness of this Trainer. Pure grass type Venusaur weren't unheard of, but they were usually ancient, wild, or responsible for breeding many Bulbasaur. Such offspring would then go into the world, and usually acquire the poison typing from the pollution human cities still produced, despite their best efforts to stymie it.

    "Impressive," Alex said, nodding at the Venusaur. Old memories of his own Venusaur, who had also been a pure grass type, filled his mind. His time as a League Pokémon had made him more of a breeder than a battler, which meant he stayed home at the Lab, these days. "I still don't think he can handle Terra, though…recall him. I don't want to hurt such a unique Venusaur. They're a favorite of mine…"

    Clarence's expression shifted to a grin. "I know." Before Alex could ask what that meant, the Trainer opposite him pressed two fingers to his Key Stone, and Alex sighed. Evidently, this battle was happening, despite his warning. Oh well. He'd tried.

    "Respond to my heart, Key Stone! MEGA EVOLVE!" Clarence shouted, as his Venusaur climbed to the next level of power in a long, drawn out sequence that really wasn't needed. Lines of Infinity Energy connected the Trainer and his chosen partner, as they slowly advanced Brute Root to his Mega Form.

    "Are you done?" Alex asked, once the Venusaur was finished. It certainly looked impressive, and he had to admit he was curious as to why it radiated a familiar Stunky-esque scent from its newer, larger petals, but he still knew it was no match for Terra. Then again, he'd been wrong before.

    "Saaaauuuur!" The Mega Venusaur roared a challenge that one didn't need psychic powers to interpret. Alex glanced down at his hand, feeling a twitch from Terra's ball. He'd been called out by a fellow grass type, and was more than willing to put this Venusaur in its place.

    Alex shrugged. "It seems Terra wants to accept your challenge. Very well." Clarence raised a brow as his opponent gave the ball an underhand toss high into the air, and in another flash of green, a large Torterra appeared on the barren, rocky field.

    Terra was everything one expected a titanic earth turtle to grow into. Like his Trainer, he had grown larger over the course of their adventures, and had to be pushing, in Clarence's estimate, eight hundred pounds. Minimum. His legs were not dissimilar to the species of tree in his Trainer's surname. Large, thick, and sturdy with large but well-maintained rocky toes on each leg. His shell was massive, easily large enough to ride, or camp on. The Ash tree on said shell was set in the center, and was large enough for a pair of Decidueye to roost comfortably, and the massive spikes on the right side of the shell were mirrored by three more on the left. That, more than anything, set Terra apart from his species, though such growths weren't unheard of in Torterra that lived long enough. With tending and care, Trainers could help keep their grass turtles from becoming unbalanced by their trees, and often, more stone spikes would grow to compensate, as said trees shifted to the shell's center. Moss covered each rocky spike, and gave the massive turtle the appearance of a Pokémon in his prime.

    Despite all of that, Clarence appeared undeterred, as did his Venusaur. As impressive as Terra was, he was still just a Torterra. Terra looked back at his Trainer once he took stock of his opponent, and was seemingly unimpressed. "Torterra?"

    Alex shrugged. "If you want. There's no reason to restrict yourself. This time."

    "Terra." The earth turtle nodded, and then began to glow green, as a green aura surrounded his titanic form. The green almost metallic looking square affixed to his shell just above his head flared with the Infinite grass typed energy that he could use to power his evolution, and strengthen his attacks. With that, the already massive Pokémon began to evolve.

    His form shifted as streams of green light arced up and behind Terra into the air, while similar streams of Infinity Energy from Alex's own Key Stone did the same, emanating from somewhere on his hand. They met in the air, and catapulted his Torterra to the next stage of his species evolution at a much faster rate, compared to the Venusaur. The white horns on either side of his head grew longer, sharper, and the green that usually covered his head became white, connecting to his new head spikes, and forming a helmet of sorts. His tail lengthened as well, and a pair of deadly looking spikes on either side of the now clubbed tip shot out, just as long and sharp as the pair on his head. Each of the stone protrusions from his shell were humming with power growing the Torterra further in size, until he'd finished changing. The massive Torterra roared, and slammed the ground with his tail as the light faded, and his aura pulsed through the ground.

    "Last chance." Alex said, smirking as the entire plateau seemed to shake. "I really don't want to injure your Venusaur. Now you know I'm not overselling. Recall him, and we'll enjoy a bowl of Leaf instead. Something tells me you'd like that." He couldn't help chuckling now, this was too ridiculous.

    Clarence's hand moved, by pure instinct at the offer of Leaf, towards his Venusaur's ball, and then it stopped. He grinned. "Fascinating. No command…it just changed on its own...and so quickly. I didn't believe it. I guess Plates can cause Mega Evolution."

    Alex raised a brow from under his hat. "This isn't exactly new information…people have been using Plates and crystal shards that made from said Plates for Mega Evolution for…years, now. Have you been living under a rock?"

    Clarence stiffened, and his Venusaur looked back at him. "Something like that… years, eh? Hmmm…let's just say that, where I come from, Mega Evolution in general is…a touchy subject."

    Alex nodded. With the explosion of new Mega Forms the Plates had revealed, had come new problems. That much Infinite Energy coursing through a Pokémon, could have damaging side-effects. Without proper mastery and control, the Mega Forms could go berserk, and long-term usage could even, if wielded improperly, cause fatal injuries, or retire them from battling altogether.

    As Alex had something of a hand in making Mega Evolution so easily available through Plates and their shards, Alex had also taken steps to find a solution to that particular issue. It hadn't been easy, but the results spoke for themselves: a world in which a Trainer, once they had a proper bond, could Mega Evolve their beloved partner without worrying about killing them. Normally, the influence of one Trainer wouldn't have much of an effect, but after it was discovered that his method actually worked better than just pointing and pumping Infinity Energy into one's partner, many Trainers chose to learn it, rather than risk hurting their Pokémon. Those were the people he gladly taught the technique.

    Those who only cared about using their Pokémon as a weapon, with unlimited access to the most powerful evolution phenomenon yet discovered, and there were many, had not been taught the technique. He had suspicions a few had found ways around that, but for the most part, the scum of the earth was kept from limitless power. Pokémon were tools to them, but those tools would die, and need replacing, if they used Infinity Energy too often. Many countries had still opted to forbid Mega Evolution in their Leagues, but Alex hoped that someday, they'd change their minds. He'd travel to all of them, if he had to. Everyone deserved to battle on the same level, if they could handle such a thing.

    "I understand." Alex said, finally, "But where I come from, it's been found to be harmless, now that we understand it." The problem with energy overload had been a uniquely Plate based phenomenon. Several Kalos Trainers had discovered that using Mega Stones limited the amount of Infinity Energy pouring into their partners, to the point that it could be safely ignored if their bond was strong and their hearts were one. That method of reaching the next evolutionary form had, if he was being honest, been what led Alex to his own discovery of keeping the power of Arceus from damaging his creations. Either way, Mega Stones were still nowhere near as useful as the Plates. They could evolve any Pokémon that had the same typing as the crystal or Plate in question, and the only thing a Trainer needed was a Key Stone, and a bond strong enough to handle the sheer power of Mega Evolution.

    "I will admit…" Clarence said, eyeing Terra, "I was seriously tempted to take your offer. That Torterra is…well, look at him!" Terra slammed the ground again, though whether it was for effect or a result of impatience, Alex couldn't tell. Probably a bit of both.

    "Impressive as you both are, it's not important. I don't care how many Badges you have, or how many regions worship the ground you walk on, oh future 'Tamer of Arceus'." Clarence said through a smirk as he used finger quotation marks, "I will have the Battle I came for!"

    "Saaauuuur!" To Alex's ears, Brute Root echoed his Trainer's sentiment.

    Alex sighed again. They really weren't backing down. "Alright. Fine." He said, finally giving in. He turned his hat backwards, the Meadow and Earth Plate crystal shards that were a part of the strap that held the hat in place and adjusted its size, became much more noticeable. He gave his usual smirk as he spoke. "Don't say I didn't warn you."
     
    #1 Mar 2, 2019
    Last edited: Jan 15, 2023
  2. Sahqoreyth

    Arthur
    (Kirlia ♂)
    Level 21
    Joined:
    Mar 2, 2019
    Posts:
    62
    PokéPoints:
    ₽697.6
    Dawn Stone ★★★★
    The Redwood Saga


    Chapter 1: The Final Semester

    "It's the final Battle! Who will bask in the glory of the Championship!? …And there's the Flamethrower!" The announcer shouted, as the Charizard responsible inhaled, and let out a torrent of fire.

    A young Alexander Redwood stared in awe, as Leon, the current World Champion, faced off against Alain, the reigning Champion of the Kalos League, in an all out Charizard vs Charizard brawl from the carpeted floor of their TV room. The two Champion level teams had traded off KOs throughout the match, which had taken most of the evening, and Alex, along with his brother and younger cousins, were all watching, spellbound, as their eldest cousin Geralt idly mastered becoming a Berry Ninja via an app on his Xtransceiver. Despite his aloof attitude, he too was watching with some interest. Not enough to pull him from his game, though.

    "A clash of Dragon Claws in this fiery, white-hot brawl!" The announcer continued. Leon smirked then, and Geralt sat up, for the finale. "Here it comes, kiddos. Watch."

    The little humans looked at their cousin, and then at the TV. "Charizard! Thunderpunch!" Leon gave the command, and the pair of fire lizards entangled in a Dragon Claw clash struggled, only for Leon's to duck low, and bring Alain's partner with him. His Mega Form had faded after a previous round, but Leon's was also tired from battling and expending its signature G-Max Wildfire on Alain's Metagross. At that moment however, it was clear which fire lizard had more fuel left in the tank.

    As Alain's partner was dragged down with Leon's, his right claw drew back, sending Alain's Charizard into the ground, where its Dragon Claw stuck fast. Then, came the counter. A thunderous uppercut, right to the jaw, sent Alain's Pokémon sailing onto his back. Their moves faded, and Leon's partner was panting hard as it stared down its opponent. Alain's Charizard raised its head, growled, and then fell, fainted, and out of energy.

    The announcer sound very hyped as he shouted into his mic, "What a strike! That's what a Battle is all about! It's completely unpredictable! Once more Galar's Unbeatable Champion claims victory from the fires of this white-hot Battle!"

    It was as Alex took in the Unbeatable Champion of Galar striking his iconic pose that he knew what he wanted to be. What he wanted to do. The same thing literally every child in their Pokémon-focused society wanted: to be the very best. To climb to the peaks Trainers like Lance, the Dragon Master, and the Unbeatable Champion Leon had. To protect the world, alongside Pokémon, travel with them, live with them, and train alongside them. His tiny mind already knew he wanted a Charmander.

    Unfortunately, fate had other plans. At that moment, his father came into the room, shut off the TV, and scolded Geralt for letting the little ones stay up so late. Never mind that not one of them had gone to bed when Alex had defied the tweenager's orders, and stuck by him in solidarity. That night, Alex's dreams were filled with images of him, standing before the living wildfire that was a Gigantamaxed Charizard, wielded by arguably the best Trainer of his time. He was older though, confident, smirking. He turned his hat backwards like Ash Ketchum did in the ever-popular Pokémon cartoon series, and sent his own Charizard in to battle Leon's.

    When he awoke, it was to his parents telling him they were driving south, to Unova proper, to see a doctor. He was told to behave, and while he planned to, he also constantly babbled about Pokémon on the way down. His parents had to remind him almost every five minutes that he'd get one when he was older, but clearly, the youngster was eager to start. While this behavior was normal in other regions and families, for whatever reason, Alex's preschool teacher had convinced his parents it was somehow abnormal, and combined with his tendency to be mild, shy, and aloof with other kids, she deemed it a sign of some kind of deficiency but one that, Praise Arceus, could be studied and cured by the wonderful technology of the Arcean Church, a powerful and influential religious cult led by their self-proclaimed Prophet, that essentially controlled the entire western half of the States, and was based in the Fornia region's capital of Sacreus.

    Alex's father, Frederick Redwood, was not an Arcean himself, nor was he an unintelligent man. He knew what the Arcean's Prophet was, and didn't really care one way or the other. He was more concerned that his firstborn son, who would become the Redwood Ranch's owner if he had his way, was far too obsessed with Pokémon training. His teacher had convinced them that the renowned Doctor Frank Ein could provide the guidance young Alex needed, and so, it was to Doctor Ein that he was brought.

    Being the tender age of seven, Alex didn't have much of an attention span for adult talk, and he would live to regret not paying attention to what Doctor Ein said as he dazzled his parents with his degrees, and clear knowledge of Pokémon, human psychology, biology, and several other fields of study. That the man was well-learned, nobody could deny, and his flashing of degrees was enough to convince the Redwoods to let him examine their seven year old in the same manner Fornian parents did, when 'maladaptive tendencies' were detected early in life. Such 'deficiencies' would be measured on a device known to members of the Church, as a Pokémeter.

    Once alone with the boy, Doctor Ein explained in child-friendly terms how it worked, and within those soundproofed walls, claimed the device could measure the latent potential in a person, to see how good of a Trainer they could become. This was not what he'd told his parents it did, but in this instance, the truth would be more appealing to the child, and Alex hadn't noticed the discrepency.

    Alex did as he was instructed, taking hold of the two almost unnaturally silver canisters attached by long wires to the machine. He dropped them, as they buzzed in his hands, but on the second grab held firm. Ein had been preparing to suggest that Alex's parents enroll him in Arcean based classes that would refine his behavior and his potential as a Trainer, when the machine registered something odd. A sleeping source of power in the child, that pushed the Pokémeter's needle into the red.

    What this actually meant, had long been lost. Pokémeters had once been used by the first Tamer of Arceus himself to try to find a worthy successor, but nobody in the modern era knew this. Not even Doctor Ein. All that meter readers like him knew, was that if they found someone, especially a child with that unnatural potential, they were to do everything in their power to keep them from becoming a Trainer.

    Not being entirely heartless, as Ein could tell the boy adored Pokémon, he decided to make a call, to his superiors. Over several minutes, the call made its way to the Prophet of the Church himself, when Ein skillfully argued, in the privacy of his office adjacent to the meter room, that the boy could be a useful tool. Caleb Pravus however, had other plans, and ordered the rules to be followed in this instance. Had he but asked the boy's name, things might've turned out very differently, but the callous nature of the Arcean Prophet shielded Alex from the sins his granduncle, one Professor Gilroy Redwood, had committed against the Arcean Church in the past.

    Ein told Alex his results were good. On Leon's level, even, which had made the boy's eyes shine with hope. The doctor had then turned around and crushed that hope into despair, when they returned to his parents in the waiting room, one that convincingly appeared to be Ein's office, but wasn't. The doctor had reversed his kind words entirely, with a smile on his face no less, showing his parents bar graphs (which had no labels for what was being measured) to illustrate his point that, according to their readings, their son was mentally unfit to handle Pokémon as a proper Trainer, and would likely never be capable of safely controlling a Pokémon in battle. Alex had, naturally, called him out on this, by explaining what had transpired in the few minutes he'd been gone, but the Doctor had refuted him with words that had more syllables than he could count, and could only guess the meaning of. With the power of logic, Doctor Ein had convinced his parents that their eldest child simply couldn't handle the power of a Pokémon safely.

    Thus, his parents had been convinced he'd never become a Trainer. Pokémon were too dangerous for those with the 'mental disabilities' Ein had labeled the young boy with. Alex's granduncle was the only one in his corner, as when the three had returned home, he was the only family member to react to the news with what Alex saw as the right response. Utter disbelief, and several vulgarities comparing Ein's findings to Tauros dung. Of all the young Redwoods growing on their ranch, the Professor had noted that Geralt and Alex had the most raw potential for training and using Pokémon. That wasn't to say the others lacked it, those two simply had a connection with the creatures that went deep, and made for excellent Trainers. Geralt had gone on to become a Pokémon Ranger in the years that followed, and had excelled, becoming a Top Ranger on their continent in the space of a few years and the Professor had similar hopes for Alex.

    Though his granduncle had tried to convince his father otherwise, or at the very least have a different doctor test him, the decision had already been made. Alex would work on their ranch as a farm hand, and that was the end of it. Eric would take over eventually, and together, the two brothers would build a 'legacy'. Alex had other ideas though, and despite not having a Pokémon of his own, he'd managed to convince wild ones to battle alongside him. Sometimes. The Redwood line had produced several Pokémon Rangers over the years, and his family was quite good at bonding with the creatures. Each of them, usually, had a knack for it, but wild Pokémon were, at their core, wild. Thus, he had made it to the age of twenty four with some decent battle experience, but no team of his own.

    Derrion Town - Northern Unova Region

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    The alarm rang, and Alexander Redwood growled awake, smashing it with his oversized fist, swearing into his pillow as he heard and felt it break under the careless pressure his large limb exerted. He always underestimated how hard he could hit those damn alarms. It was a problem in every region. It was either that, or use his Pokégear, which was unreliable at best. At least when it came to alarms.

    He smelled breakfast, even from two floors up, and outside of his slightly ajar window could already hear his mother's shrill tones asking where he was. As expected, nobody had taken care of the Miltank and Tauros, but as of today, that was no longer his job. Alex rolled out of bed, half awake, and stumbled into the too-small shower in his room. It was a little cube, and he was a large man, both in height and unfortunately, weight. But that changed today.

    Once showered, brushed, and de-odorized, he grabbed his green-brown hat and hooded jacket and pulled them over his black undershirt, then pulled on his dark blue jeans. The hat fit well over his black, curled hair, even though he was desperately in need of a trim, as the hair by his ears curled up around the edges of the Trainer hat. Today would finally be the day. In this region, on the north-eastern coast of the largest continent in this part of the world, his journey would finally begin. He'd been waiting two decades for this. Though he knew he was starting way behind his own generation, he was ready.

    Most of the people in Derrion Town spent their lives preparing to one day take over their family business, and contribute to society as a whole. But not Alex Redwood. Being denied access to Pokéballs and his own partner had turned him increasingly more bitter the older he'd gotten. It was only to be expected in a society like theirs, that almost constantly emphasized that humans and Pokémon were meant to work together to live in harmony, and enjoy the utopian society they'd built together after rising from the ashes and ignorance of the Dark Times.

    Becoming a steady Leafhead at around the age of seventeen, Alex had shirked his chores as often as possible, and done jobs that actually paid around their town, as he combined that, with his monthly allotted allowance, to save up for the items he would need on the journey he fully intended to one day take.

    Despite his parents, he'd still managed to earn his Trainer Card alongside a Bulbasaur who'd grown into a Venusaur by the time the weeks long examination had concluded. He'd done better than his brother, but not even that had been enough to convince his parents that Doctor Ein was wrong. If anything, his defiance of them to take the exam anyway only demonstrated he was irresponsible, unruly, and unfit to be a Trainer. His Bulbasaur had stayed with his examiner, but his Trainer Card he had kept. Many times had his parents tried to find it, but much like his Leaf stash, it was hidden in places they simply couldn't reach, and once he'd filled out to his adult height of six foot two, he had stopped worrying they'd ever find either of the treasures in his most precious stash.

    Working on the ranch had been hard, filthy, grueling work, and after finally getting tired of shoveling Tauros dung, Alex had had enough. When he'd turned eighteen, he declared he was simply done. He'd strode into his father's office to make said declaration, and the entire Redwood Manor shook as they argued. It was a fight that, in the opinion of most of his family members, was decades in the making.

    Alex knew that if he'd but had the chance to be a Trainer, he could be the best. He'd burned with the desire for a chance to prove himself for years. Finally, after two decades and several hours of arguing, his father had accepted his intentions. Being an eighteen-year-old, and by their laws, a man, he could no longer legally stop his son from purchasing his own Pokéballs. He already had several, but had resisted using them, as his father had once promised to 'get rid of' anything he attempted to capture on his own. As he had been about to enter Unova University, and thus complete the final stage of his general education, they'd agreed that if he managed to pass the Trainer course at the University, without a team, he would have their blessing to finally become a Trainer. Things hadn't been so simple, though.

    Currently, he had one more year at the Unova University to finish, and to finish it, he needed a Pokémon. Now, finally, Alex's father had acquiesced to letting him have a partner. Only one. He'd said that it was a 'probationary period' and if he proved himself capable, he could get more. Victory was bittersweet though, as even at eighteen he'd been far behind his contemporaries.

    After years of saving and spending his hard-earned cash, the only benefit of being trapped on a ranch where his relatives were forced to pay him a wage or be hit with child labor laws, was that he was now armed with hundreds of balls, potions, protein pills, and other gadgets that would help him in Unova, to the south, and beyond. Alex intended his journey to last his entire life, as was the case for serious Trainers, and he'd stockpiled as much as he could. He'd packed his bigger-on-the-inside bag, a gift from his granduncle, with enough items to last a lifetime. Or so he assumed. His father had no idea about his stash, but it had been impossible to hide the six custom Pokéballs he'd prepared for his main team. He'd had to keep them empty, but now, he retrieved them and shoved them in his pack.

    Alex looked in the mirror by the entrance of his room once he was dressed, and sighed. He was tired of seeing this fat incarnation of himself. The past few years at University had been relatively easy, as he had all but memorized the Pokédex, and without a team to train or a ranch to take care of, he'd grown fat over the long years there without working on the ranch. With nothing much else to do besides study, enjoy a bowl of Leaf, and play video games day in and day out, his lack of physical activity had caused him to grow wider. Fun as it had been, he was tired of it. He'd had more than enough lounging about to last a lifetime.

    He'd understood early on that to be the best Trainer in a world full of claimants to that title was a long, uphill climb. But, he had studied every Champion he'd been able to find information on, and watched more Pokémon League matches than anyone in his household, perhaps even his whole town. They were mostly farmers, this far north, and many of his peers had made the 'Unovan circuit' as it was called, and had returned once they'd found a Gym Leader they could not surpass. He'd long since studied his own region's leaders though, and he was ready to start his journey. Now all he needed was a Pokémon. That was where his granduncle, and strongest supporter of his decision to be a Trainer, came in. As always, he'd promised to help his grandnephew when he'd heard that he was, finally, going to get a partner.

    The elderly Professor knew that if Alexander Redwood was to be a top tier Trainer, he'd need the right starter Pokémon. The Professor had pulled his strings, and the renowned elderly Professor Juniper, from Unova proper, transferred him three of their starters common to Unova's capital, namely Snivy, Oshawott, and Tepig. Each a Pokémon that anyone in Unova or otherwise would love to have. Their region had produced many Champion level Trainers, and most of them had begun their own journeys with one of those three.

    His granduncle was waiting in the lab adjacent to the main house when Alex arrived, and the old man knew as soon as their eyes met, that this was it. The day had come to finally test just how hot the fire in those blue eyes could burn. Professor Redwood was an older gentleman, though to call him that would be kind. Almost two hundred years of age had caused him to slump a bit as his spine was perpetually curved, the top of his head was bald, but he had wild, gray hair sticking out from the back and sides of his head.

    He looked like a mad scientist, and with the official Professor coat, he basically was one. He got his aide's attention with a snap of his fingers, and everyone watched as the Professor's favored relative walked into the lab, towering over everyone there as he strode past. Most Trainers weren't so large width-wise, but the training he had in mind for his last year of University would take care of that.

    The Professor gestured to a briefcase on a table by the lab's back wall. "Snivy, Oshawott, Tepig, this is Alex." The three Pokémon appeared as they were named, and eyed the new Trainer, who examined them in turn.

    "Hmm." Alex said after looking them over, and confirming his suspicions. He had nothing but respect for Professor Juniper, but he was well acquainted with the kind of Pokémon the Victory League gave to new Trainers. He didn't need babies or inexperienced Pokémon to learn with, as he did not define himself as a rookie Trainer. He needed a partner with some measure of life experience, and of course, potential. "These three are not for me." The three starters, doing their best to look pleasing to the eye, all pouted, visibly deflating at his choice.

    "It's okay." He patted each of them, and the three young Pokémon smiled. "I have a feeling I'm not supposed to be your Trainer. You may have noticed I'm a bit old for you...but we will meet again, I think. Go back to your home, and you will find the ones you're destined to bond with. Then, one day, challenge me. When you're ready." The three starter Pokémon shared a look, then looked back at Alex, and nodded. The fire burned in each of their young eyes, and he knew, the challenge was accepted.

    Shrugging, the ancient Professor called them all back, hiding a smirk. "Well lad, I didn't expect that. Unova Trainers are renowned for their starters." His sly gaze shifted to his grandnephew. "Why, even that girl next door has a Snivy." Alex's passive face was typically hard to read, but his older relative knew how to see past the stone-faced expression that was his default. His eyes always gave him away. They were on fire today, and at the mention of their neighbor, they'd become just a bit shinier.

    Alex nodded in agreement keeping his face impassive and his cheeks cold. "That she does." He glanced at the Snivy's ball again, but shook his head. Copying her would get him nowhere, and, both the Snivy before him and hers were female. There were other ways to gain her notice, though.

    Jessica Gladstone was, in a word, beautiful. He'd been crushing on her since they'd met during his Trainer Exam to get an ID, and once she'd moved to town, he'd wondered if fate was actually favoring him. He'd always carried a torch for her, but then, so had every other boy within their small town who had an interest in women. He had a small advantage though, as he lived 'next door', though over a mile of land separated their homes, something not uncommon in a farming town. She often ran barefoot through the fields of her family's land with her Snivy, and her red hair was always easy to spot. It was the color of a Charmander, as were most of her outfits, but despite that, she and Snivy made a good pair. Their eyes were almost identical.

    Despite being neighbors, they rarely spoke anymore. With so much distance between the properties, the only way he'd ever even had a chance at talking to, let alone befriending a girl so gorgeous and rich, was because of her older brother, Connor. He was a good friend who, like Alex, had shared a love of Leaf, video games, and Pokémon. They'd agreed to one day be rivals, when Connor learned why Alex had no Pokémon, and had pitied him. Then, on a seemingly random day and for no particular reason Alex was aware of, he'd encouraged the would-be Trainer to study, as without years of battling experience, knowledge was the only way to close the distance between himself, and the rest of the Trainers their age.

    As the years had passed, Connor had decided to get a leg up on his rival-to-be, and to that end he had gone overseas to Kalos a few years back. Now, Alex didn't see much of Jess, or her family, outside of their yearly Festivus gatherings.

    Connor Gladstone had always been obsessed with Greninja, and getting a Froakie on this continent was challenging, to say the least. His family was rich, richer than Alex's, but their father had just gotten into the Tauros ranching business after years of owning a ranch estate, but not using it. He'd decided to partner with Alex's father, and the two business minded men had agreed on splitting the profits of the cheese and milk their Miltank produced on their combined ranching land.

    After generations of breeding, the number of Miltank had slowly increased, as did the quality of their milk, but they were more of a side-effect, as the Tauros who sired them were worth more money. Still the stronger the Tauros, the better milk its daughter made. It was this aspect of society that the Redwoods had grown rich on over the past few years, but Alex knew he would never take up his father's work. It would pass to his brother and his cousins, who also worked on their Pokémon ranch and laboratory.

    Alex had always envied Connor for being able to leave on a journey, but without a team of his own, he'd never be able to travel beside him. Choosing his starter while knowing his chosen rival's choice, as well as a few of his other team members, gave him an advantage, and as Alex recalled the Trainer Exam, he briefly contemplated trying to find Saur again.

    They had been a powerful team once Saur had fully evolved during the test, and his record of wins and losses against the other novices had been impressive enough to get him into that year's top percentile. Unfortunately, his record had been scrubbed several years later, after the League got an anonymous tip, suggesting that he'd cheated. Evidently, it claimed he'd been boosting his partner with Rare Candies, and given his tendency to hide in bushes during the test, the tip appeared credible.

    Ultimately, the League had scrubbed his win/loss record, but allowed him to keep the ID, as Professor Redwood threatened to make a scene if they forcibly tried to reclaim it. Given his friendship with John Crimson, legendary anchor of the Pokémon News Network, the threat had been enough for a small victory. Alex had remained Pokéless throughout his high school years, always burning for the chance to properly train his own Pokémon, and show that he was the reason they were strong, not Rare Candies. Without his granduncle's intervention though, he knew none of this would've been possible.

    Despite the long years of being an odd, pitied, socially awkward outcast, he'd finally made it. He'd known since he was little that he wanted to be a Trainer. Today was the day he began to change his reputation for being too 'slow' to handle a Pokémon. His father had never had an issue telling everyone what the League had done, loudly, and in public. His mother had, since he'd been born, seemed to be primarily focused on his brother Eric, and she too never hesitated to explain why their eldest son, a clear and obvious natural with Pokémon to whoever saw him with them, was not a Trainer. The resulting embarrassment had created more than a few feelings of resentment between Alex and his family, but then, he'd never really been close to either of his parents. What good memories he had of them were faded and few, and he was more than ready to leave 'family business' to them, to start his own journey.

    "I've made up my mind, Gruncle." Alex said, using his nickname for his favorite relative, and looking quite pleased with himself. "I want a Turtwig." A chuckle went through the room. They'd had bets that he'd choose a turtle of some kind. Eric had trained a Blastoise over the years, and the aides were well aware of this Trainer's desire to prove his competence. As his granduncle had counseled, demonstrations would go further with his father than words ever could.

    This had, logically, led to Alex thinking that if he trained a bigger, better, turtle he'd undoubtedly prove who was 'competent enough to be a Trainer' and who was not. He didn't dislike his brother overmuch, he had his own parental burdens to deal with as well, but after over twenty years of waiting, he needed to make the most of this chance, or he would remain without a Pokémon until he buried his father, and by that point, he had no illusions about becoming a Pokémon Master if he waited decades before starting. He didn't know how he knew, but he was convinced that waiting that long would be too long. No Champion in history, that he was aware of, had started training when they were over thirty. Most humans, by that age, either found a job, joined a Gym Leader, or became a Gym Leader by applying to the League. Alex intended to shoot for the Victory League's Champion title, and if he failed to dethrone N, which he knew was very likely going to be the case, becoming a Gym Leader was a good backup plan. Plenty of them still regularly journeyed around, in between having matches.

    The Professor burst out laughing at his response, and a few of the aides smirked behind their glasses in the background. "Turtwig! Hah! Very well lad, if you want a Turtwig, you'll get one. Though, you'll have to go out and catch it yourself."

    Alex smirked. "Like I'd do it any other way." For Alex, the choice of starter was simple. His favorite clothes matched Turtwig's color scheme, and it had a type advantage over a Blastoise, like the one his brother owned. More than that, Torterra was a strong defensive battler, and no slouch with heavy hitting physical attacks. Speed would be the main issue. He was a turtle, after all. He was also a grass and ground type, meaning their main weakness would be ice. They'd figure out a way to deal with that though. Torterra were known for their sturdiness and defensive abilities. He knew in his heart that his would be able to take an Ice Beam or three, if they trained hard enough.

    The Professor pressed a button on one of the lab's walls, and a doorway opened on the back-right side of the lab. Once Alex wandered into the small room, looking around, the Professor turned to his assistants, "Pay up." He said, smirking.

    He knew his nephew well. Those who'd bet correctly on his choice had won a great deal of Pokédollars. Half had been expecting him to choose Squirtle instead, so he could prove who could raise a Blastoise better, and no one had bet that he would take the Unova starters, young as they had been. The Professor had insisted on testing him with them anyway. Returning them was as simple as pressing a button, after all.

    He followed his great-nephew into the side lab, and flicked the light on. "From here, I can talk to an old friend. He owes me a Turtwig..." The Professor stepped past his relative, and made the call.

    He spoke softly, "John, it's me. I know I'm interrupting your favorite meal of steak, waffles, french fries, and of course Scotch, but I need a favor. Ask your people to find out where the Turtwigs are today, up in my neck of the region."

    There was audible sighing in the call's background as Gilroy Redwood's contact ordered the PNN's radar people to scan for Turtwigs in their area, not too far west of Bostonia. They had satellites around the world, over every civilized country, which made tracking Pokémon easy. Once a familiar image appeared on the screen a few seconds later, he hung up the phone.

    A map of the local area was on the screen. The old man pointed a gnarled finger at a forested area a few miles north of their small town. "There. Past the ranches, and into the woods by the orchards, is where you'll find your Turtwig."

    Alex was already out the door, and the aides had to stop him. "Hold up lad." Professor Redwood wheezed, hobbling over to his great-nephew on his cane. "A true Trainer needs a Pokédex. And-"

    "And balls. Yes Gruncle, I know. I have the balls. And I was making my own Pokédex…"

    "Nonsense." The Professor interrupted, several seconds after Alex had stopped speaking. "You'll have a Redwood Pokédex, and that's final. I've improved on Juniper's design. Every known Pokémon from every known region is listed here, and it updates as new regions are catalogued. I expect you to catalogue at least one region. Unova hasn't been finished yet you know, though we pretty much know what lives here by now. Go catalogue it. Heh. Do my job for me!"

    The old man cackled and wheezed through another laugh as his relative took the Pokédex with a sigh and a sarcastic tone. "By the time I fill it, you'll have probably fossilized."

    His granduncle's only aspiration was making sure his Leaf jar was over seventy five percent full, and he'd never been invested in fully furnishing a Pokédex. As Alex looked the device over, he was still somewhat impressed. It would remain to be seen if the 'improvements' were actually beneficial, but he doubted they would get in the way. Once the genius known as Bill had figured out how to link every Pokédex the world over via the PokéNet, the database of known Pokémon had quadrupled in a night, as Trainers across the planet linked up. New information on more than a few species entirely foreign to Unova, and most League friendly regions, had flooded in, and had only kept growing. Alex could use his own creation once it was finished, but this would do. For now.

    Alex was out the door again, Pokédex in hand, as he power-walked towards the woods, and soon found himself damp with sweat in the summer heat, as he was wearing a heavy jacket suited to colder weather. He pushed on though, as being sweaty was going to become a regular thing. That was how it had been with Saur, and that was how training would be with whoever he found in the woods. He was a large man, many would say fat, but that was only because he'd spent so long on the sidelines, learning and eating and lounging. He knew his future would be full of intensity…so he had taken this brief time in his life to relax. Now, he would finally prove himself, and lose weight in the process.

    After over twenty years of watching the Pokémon world advance to ever more ridiculous forms of competitive battle, he had, of course, planned his team for his own challenge. He wasn't a kid, and he didn't bother going after the first Pidgey or Starly he saw. He had a focus, today.

    In other countries like Japan, ten-year olds might have been cautioned against going into the areas where Pokémon lived alone, but this was not necessary for one who had been educated at the regional University. The fact that he'd often played in these woods also helped. The Pokémon he passed as he finally made his way into the natural forest glanced at him curiously, but otherwise ignored the human.

    Even Beedrill avoided him. The first thing he'd been taught was how to walk through the woods without angering a Pokémon, and even if you did accidentally wander into the territory of a mean one, they usually softened once you offered a berry, and then quickly left. This didn't always work, but none of the wild ones here bothered him today.

    Despite what some might think, wild Pokémon were very clever. As long as one didn't anger them, they would typically ignore or avoid humans. Especially if they sensed said humans had no Pokémon of their own with them. Alex had never had a problem with these woods, and he knew many of the Pokémon in this forest, even some that were considered meaner by the locals.

    As a child, he'd often played here when he'd helped out at the Torterra orchards, to the east. The Torterra had always let him climb their shells to pick fruit, even the grumpy old ones who didn't like to be bothered. They were kind, but also powerful. They had once even driven off a gang of thieves, who were obsessed with stealing fruit for some reason, that had all used fire types.

    Their combined power in the form of a massive Earthquake had awed Alex, who until that point had wanted a fire type as his first Pokémon. He still did, just not as his first. He'd find a Charmander eventually, they were absurdly popular requisitions on the Trading Network after all, but he would start with a Turtwig, and train him to be as powerful as the Torterra in the orchard had been. The very earth had shook with their power. That was the kind of Pokémon he needed on his team.

    To the Pokémon of this forest that might have considered leaping out and joining him, as they spied the previously lacking bag and Pokéballs, it was obvious that this human had a focus, and no matter how badly he wanted that Nidoran pair, or the healthy green looking Caterpie he saw on a nearby log. He went deeper, ever deeper, until he discovered a place, a round, bare hill, where he found his prize.

    Lying beneath an enormous Oak tree were several sleeping Turtwigs. "Finally…" he said, panting from the hard hike and the summer heat, and now properly, thoroughly, damp from sweat. He'd underestimated just how out of shape he'd gotten in the three years of no farm work. As he uttered the words, he knew what he would awaken. Their mother. While it was true some Pokémon liked to live on Torterra's shell, the females usually kept theirs empty, for their eggs. It was the easiest way to determine an adult's gender.

    The mound rose from the ground, and slowly one massive, unmistakably female eye met his gaze, and looked him over. He bowed low, fist to palm, in the Unovan style. "Great Mother Torterra. I wish to train one of your young ones. I need a partner for my journey."

    He stayed perfectly still as the great beast regarded him, and he didn't flinch as hot air was expelled over him, almost knocking his hat loose as she snorted. Then, finally, she went back to sleep, shaking the very forest around her as she burrowed into the ground. Once more there was only a great tree on a round hill, the rest of her was completely underground, giving her more nutrients than she could ever find by grazing at her size and speed.

    The young Turtwigs huddled around her tree ran towards him then, all eager and understanding that this was their chance to be trained, and not given out in a lab either, caught in the wild itself. Very rare, for a new Trainer, but not unheard of in parts as rural as 'northern Unova'. Alex scratched their chins and gave their shells many pats as he subtly checked their health, but as he looked them over, he knew immediately which one would be his.

    He was the largest Turtwig, and the only one to have walked over to him patiently, before regarding him, and nodding, agreeing that he was worthy. Alex smirked, even as he consoled the others. They were all a bit young still, but not the larger one. He was ready to be trained.

    The small turtle had watched, and waited to judge whether Alex was a worthy Trainer or not. The others were adorable, and he gave each one another friendly scratch, but he knew the large one would be his. This was his partner.

    Alex knelt from his lofty height and offered the green and brown camouflage patterned Pokéball he'd picked specifically for his Turtwig, at no small expense to his personal cash. He had a ball for each of his future party members, and gathering them all had taken most of his life. Luxury Balls, and the tools to recolor them were expensive after all, and he'd been given a lecture about finances after buying each one of them, despite using his own money. Now he would make his family see why they'd been worth it. Before today, his parents had considered them a waste, since he would 'never own a Pokémon under their roof'. That was fine with him. He was eager to leave.

    He'd obtained five Luxury Balls and had spent an entire weekend preparing them for their future occupants with their color schemes in mind. The result was a ball with water designs, one with fire, a purple looking one that would hold his psychic type, and a Timer Ball that would hold his dragon type. His proverbial Ace in the hole when his future Torterra couldn't cut it. As Unova had many dragons, and he'd had limited cash, he'd decided on an all but guaranteed catch for his sixth ball, assuming his team could last long enough while battling whatever he decided to pursue.

    The small turtle nodded, pressed the center button with his large nose, and swirled into it in a flash of green light. It shook once, and then the button faded from its blinking red to a plain white. He stared at the ball for a long time, not quite believing what had happened. He finally had his own Pokémon. It was two decades overdue, as he'd literally been asking for one since he was four.

    Finally, the attempts at bullying would end, the strange looks, mixing between pity and disgust. He knew he was still weird, one did not simply change a lifetime of exclusion, and the habits it had formed, in a day. But it was a step in the right direction. One he'd been itching to take. A wide smirk appeared on the passive face as he stood, and tossed the ball. It came right back to his hand, with the accuracy of a homing Pidgey.

    Alex smirked as the Turtwig formed from the emerald colored light, glanced around, and then blinked. Evidently entering and exiting was weird, but he didn't seem adverse to the ball, at least. "Well done. I name thee Terra. Together, you and I will be the best. Like no one ever was." He smirked, recalling the line from one of his favorite shows as a kid. "Are you with me?"

    Terra had, up until this moment, been a lazy Turtwig, unwilling to do much more than sleep and eat and learn from his mother. Watching over his siblings had always been tough enough, especially in the wild, but he'd always felt as if he was destined for something more. He'd had little interaction with humans, as his mother had warned him to stay away from them, but this one, she had liked the scent of. She had never, to his knowledge, given a human more than an uninterested glance before moving on and ignoring them entirely.

    This human was different though. Similar to his kind, in some ways, but there was more to this new sensation than a matching color palette. As soon as Terra had entered the ball, he knew they were bonded. Now, he felt this human's fire, his drive to climb to the very top. Their bond would last the rest of their lives. They were both big, and a bit overweight, but together they would grow into something truly powerful, as their adventure carved their power from their pudgy starting forms. Terra nodded. He could picture himself as the mightiest of his kin, and this was the Trainer who would take him to that height. Every instinct he had confirmed it.

    "Very well." Alex nodded, smirking. "Someday, you will be regarded as the strongest Torterra on the planet…but for now my friend, we train. It's a long road, a hard road, full of ice, fire, and obstacles you won't be able to handle alone. Are you sure you want to do this?"

    "Twig!" was the reply he got from the large Turtwig. He hadn't hesitated in answering, and Alex didn't need N's abilities to understand a yes when he heard one.

    With that, they said their goodbyes to the grass turtle's family, and headed for home. As they walked, Alex reassured his stoic friend; "Now you know the way to your mother from your new home. If you can get to our home, you can go find her. Whenever you wish. Just let me know beforehand, hmm?"

    That made the little turtle grin, and nod. He hadn't looked worried, but the reassuring tone had helped ease his nerves. Anyone would be nervous leaving home, but it turned out that he wasn't really all that far from the home he knew.

    His new home wasn't bad either. He'd have to grow truly massive to feel cramped in a place like this, and he liked the way his Trainer and his family smelled. He could tell what his mother had sensed with one sniff, now. Each of the humans had an inherent kindness to them, though as he met the older ones, he sensed their kindness had, for whatever reason, dulled. He avoided those humans in his usual aloof manner. There were too many faces to remember at the dinner table that first night, but the other Pokémon that were allowed in the house were friendly as well. He didn't notice how quiet the humans were, nor did he think it abnormal, as this was his first real interaction with them. His Trainer kept smirking at them, so he assumed all was good.

    The only Pokémon that hadn't been friendly towards him was the Blastoise that eyed him the entire time they ate, not with malice, but with something that seemed like high expectations. Beyond staring though, the cannon turtle did nothing. He could tell when another Pokémon wanted to battle, though. Someday, he guessed, they would both have the chance. He looked forward to it. It was clearly a powerful Pokémon.

    Terra spent all night playing with the others, as all but one of the humans he sniffed and greeted quietly admired his size, and when they were done, he followed his new Trainer to his room, all the way to the top of the house. Stairs were a new experience for him, and he knew immediately that he would come to loathe them. Then again, they would only be an issue for as long as he remained small. When he was grown, he could crush them at his leisure with feet as big as his mom's. Everyone in the house soon knew when Terra went up, and when he went down, as he practiced stomping on every single step.

    Alex had shown him a place on the floor to sleep, no doubt comfortable, but Terra waited until his Trainer was in bed, and then joined him. Alex didn't mind. Grass types preferred warmth, and the soil on his Pokémon's back smelled wonderful. He cuddled his Turtwig close, and even though he woke up with dirt stains on his sheets, he didn't mind. He had a Pokémon. Nothing could ruin his good mood. Indeed, even his cousins were astounded at the shift in personality. He'd avoided most of his family as a rule, preferring to either climb atop their barn and 'cloud gaze' or 'star gaze' as the case sometimes was, but now, the passive face bore eyes that didn't stare at the world with irritation. Instead, they were on fire.

    Weeks passed, and summer soon began to end. The new pair had trained hard in the brutal heat, but sunlight was something grass types loved, and Alex had let his little turtle absorb as much of it as possible. It was going to be a hard winter, and the local water type Trainers gave them quite a bit of practice. He didn't take their money though, as the only Trainers with Pokémon on Terra's level were still in grade school.

    Then, finally, his final year at University began. Alex quietly trained his new Turtwig over the winter months. Having obtained him in August of that year, their combined training took place in the coldest months, in one of the coldest parts of the northern continent. Their training was, in a word, intense. Most Trainers didn't push their partners so hard, but Alex had explained his situation to Terra. They'd both agreed then, they would need to work so hard, they'd feel like they were on the verge of death after each session. It was the only way to advance as far as they needed to, as fast as possible, though naturally they balanced this extreme exertion with well-earned days off sprinkled in between.

    They did everything together, he and Terra. Schoolwork, what little was left to be done, and then graduation of course, where he was likely to be the only Trainer in his year not to have a fully evolved starter, or a full team. His parents had been furious when he was told he'd have to pay for another year to finish two classes that required at least one Pokémon, but Alex didn't mind. He wasn't paying, the government was, though there was quite a hefty fine for needing more time to finish a degree than the University said was needed. That money typically came from either students or their families. As much of an allowance as he'd been given, six digits were yet out of his range. As it was his parent's own stubborn refusal in allowing him a single Pokémon that caused this unnecessary extra semester, he felt the fine was well earned karmic justice.

    As expected, once he had a partner of his own, he excelled at battling. He'd started at the bottom as Terra, while large, was still young, and needed to train. Naturally, the twenty-four year old showing up to challenge teenagers on the campus' high school, had seemed more than a bit odd, though the awkwardness had lessened once their teachers saw how well he battled, and of course, heard his reason for visiting them in the first place.

    He subtly toured the entire town surrounding the University's buildings for the highest levels of learning, and as he beat Trainer after Trainer, it didn't take them long to reach the level of people his own age, though when they had fire or ice moves, there was little he could do if their initial hit wasn't enough for a win. Once at University, the matching pair focused mostly on battle tactics, like coded commands that made it hard for an opponent to guess their moves. Terra learned them easily, as he and his Trainer could communicate with about 90% accuracy. The training had helped with that, though. The turtle had learned that humans often needed a very obvious nudge in the right direction for comprehension, but once they understood, they could usually grasp whatever he was trying to tell them.

    Alex had never talked much at University in the years he'd gone, never made many friends outside of classes really, or rivals for that matter. He was just the tall, dumpy looking kid with the equally large and dumpy looking Turtwig. He didn't battle publicly to show off, always bowing, then walking off after a win, or a loss. He didn't boast, and stayed as low key as he'd been every other year while they slowly grew stronger. Most of the time, even with his size, he went unnoticed entirely in the sea of students.

    He'd rarely bothered raising his hand in class, unless the teachers demanded an answer of him. He usually answered right, and yet remained quiet all the same. Once they'd battled enough Trainers to understand their weaknesses, they switched to training alone, in the woods around the campus almost every day, always leaving his spot and moving deeper into the great forest whenever he heard other Trainers his age approaching. He knew avoiding battles for the moment was best, now that they knew where Terra needed to improve.

    Terra had, over the course of endless hard hours of training during the long semester, become a powerhouse. They had started the day he caught him, and hadn't stopped. The road had been long, and cold, and there were plenty of times one of them had wanted to quit, but they had managed to come through it stronger, strong enough to start rumors around campus. Naturally, anyone with a full team was eager to beat a Turtwig. Once he'd learned a ground typed move however, their win to loss ratio shifted dramatically, as few Pokémon could handle an Earthquake.

    He and his Trainer had taken multiple vitamins each day, and over the remainder of his school year, the both of them grew physically strong as they replaced fat with muscle. Their bodies grew harder from the training and vitamin regimen his friend Nick had given him to follow, and Alex found his old clothes began to fit again, as the excess from lounging about and getting PokéBell every weekend burned away. Terra did not evolve, though he could have gone straight into a Torterra if he so desired. They spent the rest of the year, until graduation, primarily focusing on using ground moves, and in their travels into the mountains north of campus, had come across a Tyranitar that had, with persuading, many pets, and a pile of berries, eventually agreed to show the tiny Turtwig how to perfect his Earthquake. When the armored giant used it, mountainsides shattered. Terra didn't quite reach that level, but he could set off a landslide, with enough focus.

    When they did battle those persistent Trainers, who sought them out after hearing the whisper of a rumor about their supposed strength, they always won, or at least ended things with a draw when their opponent had a type advantage. Alex had figured out early on how to counter for fire moves, at least. Ice remained a weakness, and he knew as Terra grew bigger after evolving, and slower, they would be even harder to dodge. For the moment though, the lighter form of a Turtwig made dodging Ice Beams much easier.

    When they won, instead of taking their opponent's money, pride, or Pokémon, he made them swear not to tell anyone else where he trained. Many blabbed anyways of course, to their girlfriends, or boyfriends, as the case sometimes was. It was hard to track him down twice though. He and Terra often moved miles away from the campus. Having only two classes meant several days off in a row, and often, they could go leagues away from anyone, and train as hard as they dared. Having grown up in a place that was little more than fields and forests, he was quite used to camping as well. Having a bag that was essentially bottomless also helped.

    Though he very obviously walked into the woods with his Turtwig, and came out hours later, exhausted and sweaty, nobody made the connection between him, and the supposedly 'super strong' Trainer in the woods. Mostly because most people wouldn't even consider that a kid that large with just a Turtwig could be that strong.

    The people who oversaw his dorm knew about his training habits, but they respected his wish for privacy and stayed tight lipped, or at most, pointed the more insistent Trainers into the woods. Even as a dorm student he was quiet, content to sit around and play video games, and watch TV with the volume low when he took an occasional day off.

    He never disturbed anyone, never had parties, occasionally invited unregistered guests, but they were always respectful, and were Alumni themselves. What friends he did have it seemed, were older and already had jobs in their chosen fields, their dreams of journeying around the world crushed by the hard reality of financial concerns. Alex had always flown under the radar, but he knew he would eventually be thrust into the spotlight once they had a stadium watching them. The graduation exams for Trainer majors were always public. His would be no different.

    It was when he overheard rumors of a 'strong Trainer in the northern woods' as he devoured hash-browns in the Mess Hall that he knew he needed to stop battling the few people who managed to find him. Someone had talked, despite his asking otherwise. For what he had in mind, he needed to stay relatively unknown until graduation. The more people who knew how strong he and Terra had become, the harder their test would be. The faculty pretended to be above the local campus gossip, but he'd been at Unova University long enough to notice the difference in difficulty during Final Exams for Trainers with a reputation. His examination needed to be as easy as possible, since he only had one Pokémon.

    Though the strength of this 'mystery Trainer' was supposed to be impressive, he was glad when nobody seemed to believe it. Every Trainer claimed to be strong, and those who didn't were often ignored. His teachers had an inkling of course, they could spot talent and strength when they saw it, but he never showed off, even in class. Mostly because he was always exhausted after his days of training, such was its intensity.

    Though his original plan hadn't called for them, Alex had added weight vests for both himself and Terra after they had stopped a rampaging Tyranitar, the very one they'd trained with, from devastating the campus, and still managed to remain incognito. Their strength had plateaued, and they still needed to be stronger for what lay ahead. The weight vests never came off, even in class. Terra wore them too without complaint, though not at all times, as he was still growing. The added strain on their muscles would be worth it soon enough. Though the training had a positive effect on Alex's weight, the vests made him seem just as heavy as he'd always been. He didn't care. He needed to reawaken his muscles, and push them to be stronger. Everything he felt, he knew Terra felt just as much, if not more. In time, they hardly noticed the vest anymore, and eventually, Terra traded his vest out for Power Bracers on his forelegs. They slowed him, but Alex knew the boost to his attack power would be enough to claim victory once they came off.

    The final exam of the University, for Trainer majors at least, consisted of an intense test that forced the studying Trainers, and their partners, to go through a rigorous set of exams with their Pokémon team, to demonstrate what they had learned. When Alex had shown up to his advisor's office with only a pudgy Turtwig in his party at the start of his final year of University, his advisor had actually facepalmed.

    His parents had been consulted. The Dean was informed. According to his parents, he wasn't 'allowed' to fail University. The Redwood Lab would be even more disrespected. He was, apparently, his family's chance to erase the 'stain' his granduncle's reputation had left on their name in the science community. In his father's opinion, it was the only good that could possibly come from him being allowed to become a Trainer. If he could manage to discover something, anything really, that other Trainers had missed in regards to Pokémon, that would be enough. His mistake was in assuming his son would return, once he'd had a few adventures.

    Eventually, at a meeting of all interested parties, Alex had told them all to, quite literally, piss off. He stated that he would pass any test given to him with his Turtwig, and just his Turtwig. As his father had demanded when they agreed he would finally be allowed a Pokémon. He felt more satisfaction than he should have when he saw the patriarch of the Redwood clan turn red with anger. None of the University staff had known that little factoid, nor had they realized just how long Alex had gone without a Pokémon. It was embarrassing, to say the least. What kind of parent denied their own flesh and blood a Pokémon partner after all?

    His advisors and the Dean were against his decision, but his teachers supported him. They had watched this young man show up to every class for almost six years without a single ball on his belt, or even many friends. He had a knack with Pokémon that was obvious to anyone with eyes, and they were all aware of the role he'd played in calming a certain rampaging Tyranitar. He'd done that with naught but a Turtwig, and all in his first year of actually having a Pokémon. He could handle the exams with just one, though certain caveats would have to be made to make passing possible.

    His parents had remained quiet, letting the educators bicker. Alex knew his father expected him to fail, he'd said as much, and had only the lowest of expectations. Alex intended to smash through them with the ferocity of a Woodhammer, and not look back. Though, in the face of his son's evident skill, the elder Redwood's preconceived assumptions about his son's ability to handle a Pokémon were finally starting to shift. The University's educators were some of the best trained mentors in the world. If they were impressed, his firstborn must have been good. For the first time since Alex was a child, his father quietly wondered if he'd made a terrible error in trusting Doctor Ein's words.

    It was one such teacher, who had been responsible for dealing with the repercussions of the Tyranitar that had wandered onto the campus several months past, that spoke up for Alex, and managed to ultimately sway the Dean's mind.

    In the end, it was decided that Alex would face the test with just Terra, and the young Redwood intended to have the entire University watch in awe as he beat every single challenge he faced. His only stipulation for the trials was that during and after each one, he could give his Pokémon a potion of unrestricted strength, and an Elixir to restore his moves' power.

    His request was granted, and with it, Terra demonstrated how strong he was. Alex had been stockpiling supplies for years bit by bit, and in this final series of Trainer tests, his patient use of his allowance was helping him tremendously. Terra grew rather strong during the examination, as the tests were fairly difficult for a Pokémon without Vine Whip, Ember, or even Water Gun. The Trainers who'd balanced their teams of six with moves of pretty much every type did the best, and both Alex and Terra had watched carefully at how they'd moved, before cracking on with their own test.

    Despite being forced to take the slowest route through whatever course they had him moving through, Alex made good use of his early education from his granduncle, namely by way of utilizing the wild Pokémon present on the courses with neither Ranger Styler nor Pokéballs. Most were persuaded to help with multiple berries. They made up for what Terra simply did not have, but Alex knew once his team was assembled, and trained, a test like this would be nothing. He'd studied up on what he'd need to be a Trainer since the time he learned to read. He'd watched every League Champion match, from Lance's first to Leon's 'last'. He was prepared.

    He ran the obstacle courses, and Terra was right along with him, as the crowd watched in disbelief. Nobody could fathom how a Turtwig could do so much, and with such heavy bracers on his tiny feet. He swam, jumped through hoops of fire, endured man-made blizzards, simulations of pouring rain, swamps, grassy plains, etcetera, until finally, the two of them made it through to the end.

    The course was designed to simulate every possible terrain Trainers might encounter in the world, and he had passed through each of them, Terra never wavered either. There was a fire burning in their eyes that not even the coldest ice could blow out.

    Finally, the time for battle came. Needless to say, by this point, those who already competed had left. But those who stayed seemed impressed. His trials certainly took longer than most others, but the judges waved the need for a time limit, given that all he had was a Turtwig. Terra's unassuming appearance had done much to get them this far. Nobody expected him to be strong.

    Going in with only one unevolved Pokémon was hard enough, they had decided early on. But now, that was over. No more items. No more elixirs. Terra was given one more chance to heal completely, and an hour's rest before the final battle. That was normal, however. The final battle was, more or less, what Trainer majors were graded on most harshly.

    Terra took two hours to recover, but the crowd's enthusiasm for seeing him reappear died off once it became clear he hadn't evolved. They really wanted to see him become a Grotle, at least, but Alex knew forcing him to adapt to a new body mid-challenge was a bad idea. It simply wasn't yet time to evolve him. He had a plan, after all.

    His opponent was selected from the heads of the department that oversaw the student's training in a specific aspect of Pokémon. Breeding, cooking, battling, contests, assessing the quality of a Pokémon's bond with its Trainer with naught but a glance, whatever a person wanted to one day be, their final test was given in the setting that would best test them and their abilities.

    When asked what his 'focus' was going to be, Alex had simply written, on the first day he had come to the University without a team, 'Pokémon Master'. His first counselor had thought that was a joke. So had the second, and third. The fourth took him seriously, but passed him on when he refused to capture a full team, only stating that he 'couldn't' yet.

    It had taken him a total of six counselors over the course of his education to finally help him focus on what he would need to be a master. Four out of six of them had simply said, "He needs Pokémon." Before passing him along. Thus, the head of the Trainer Department had become his counselor in his final year, and had sighed in relief when he finally presented his Turtwig.

    At least he had brought one Pokémon. That was an improvement. Though the Department Head felt some guilt in judging him once he'd learned of the strange circumstances the boy had grown up with. Not allowing someone so obviously talented to have a Pokémon was sheer stupidity, in his opinion. He'd called Gilroy Redwood the night before to ask about it, and had gotten a proper tirade from the old man. He'd tried, evidently, to help the boy, but risked eviction in doing so. Out of curiosity, the older man had looked up the scrubbed League record Alex had earned in his Trainer Exam, and that had been the final nail in the coffin. There was potential here. A Trainer like Alex was rare, and only came along once or twice in a generation. He'd been certain that after the Hero twins Hilbert and Hilda, as well as Nate and Rosa two years after them, that Unova had produced its last Champions for a time. But this Trainer, with proper guidance, would likely reach the same heights. If given the chance to excel, and, if that fire in his eyes stayed burning. The fact that it had survived a childhood that must have been an ordeal was a good sign.

    It was the opinion of most of the Trainer department staff that Alexander Redwood would never graduate, when they saw he'd brought only a Turtwig to the challenge. Yet there he was, clad in the filthy robes of a graduate who'd made it through the first half of the challenges on foot. He handed the customary robes off to the University staff as he entered the final stadium beside his Turtwig. He was in his training clothes now, and to call them worn would have been generous. But, he'd started the year with them, and he would be damned if he wasn't going to finish it in them as well. He smirked, and gave the crowd a small wave, before letting his weight vest fall to the ground. Moments later, Terra's Power Bracers joined his weight vests. They shared a look as they stretched, and nodded. It was time to test just how far they'd come over the better part of a year.

    As Alex stepped onto the final battle field, his counselor did the same. He was an older gentleman, a silver fox some would say, and he had also been the man to replace Grimsley, back when he'd left Unova's Elite Four. Today, he wore the robes befitting the Head of the Trainer Department. He'd even shaved, and trimmed his mostly gray beard short. He addressed the crowd. "This has been…without a doubt, one of the more...interesting challenges our University has had. A year ago, young mister Redwood came to me, without any sort of Pokémon, and claimed his major was in being a Pokémon Master."

    The crowd laughed. Alex adjusted his green and brown hat to hide his face, waiting patiently. The advisors always gave a little speech, but he knew his would be long and embarrassing. You didn't fly in the face of tradition without getting gently mocked.

    "But then, Arceus be praised, he told me he had 'a plan'." The Counselor continued, using air quotes, "A 'plan' that consisted of finding the ideal team that could take on and react to any type of Pokémon his opponents would use, and counter them with super effectiveness. Obviously, I was skeptical. I thought he would be another failure, another lost cause, education wasted on a rich child with a famous name. Then, after we decided to trust each other, he told me exactly what he was aiming for."

    This had the audience's attention now. Especially the staff's, many of whom were his former counselors. They had always wondered why the head of the Trainer Department had taken on that lost cause personally. He hadn't fought at a graduation challenge in years.

    Men his age, with his position, usually stayed retired. And most students avoided them, because they were likely to have powerful teams. "I decided to trust what he told me. You can see the fire in his eyes, and I saw it too. So, I gave him a chance. I trusted in his vision, because in it, I saw the same fire that his granduncle possessed when he came through this University with the rest of our contemporaries. And now…young Redwood has beaten all of our expectations. One test yet remains."

    Silence filled the entire campus. Anyone who paid attention to school goings on was watching now. Either from the bleachers, or the common rooms, the cafeterias, and even most dorm rooms. This battle would be on all of them. Department Heads rarely, if ever, battled.

    They were considered at the Elite Four's level, and often the Elite Four of a League would retire to universities like this one, there were always exceptions of course, like past Champions, but generally the strongest Trainers took to teaching the next generation once they were over a hundred years old. Humans lived much, much longer than they had in the past, and passing on the previous generation's knowledge only became more difficult as their race's lifespan increased.

    The counselor looked across the battlefield, a standard, league official affair, that had no rocks, trees, or other environmental hazards. It was designed for exceptionally powerful Pokémon, so they could fight their hardest and duke it out with their opponent blow for blow without fear of ruining the stadium. The old man pointed at Alex from his lofty perch across the stadium's field. "Young Redwood, are you ready to complete the first part of your 'plan'?"

    The old man's smirk reminded Alex so much of his granduncle's. He was quite tired of old men underestimating him. This was the start of his journey, the first step that would prove to all of them that they were wrong…or crush his dreams of being the best to dust. He'd waited twenty years for the chance to own a Pokémon and prove he was more than capable of being a Trainer. He would not lose.

    Alex had a mic too, though he hadn't wanted it. He answered the old man with a smirk. "I was born ready. This is my first step…I've waited too long to waste this chance. I want to thank you, sir. When I become the world's strongest Trainer, I'll make sure everyone knows the Fist of the Earth started me on that path."

    The crowd murmured softly. It was one thing to claim to be the best, anyone could do that. Coming from someone who had just soloed a Final Exam with a Turtwig, it was almost believable. Most in the crowd smiled softly, shook their heads, or chuckled. He was a good Trainer, nobody watching could deny that, but World Champions were on an entirely different level. Some did see what the Department Head saw, however.

    This Trainer had the drive, the fire, the iron will needed to climb to that highest of peaks, and at that moment, it is said, he gained his first followers. They didn't yet know it, of course. They thought they were alone in their appreciation of his fighting spirit, but over time they would find each other, and unite, as many humans in their world often did, around the appreciation of a famous Trainer.

    His counselor responded, pulling a Heavy Ball from his own robes. "An admirable goal, as I told you before. But before you can attain it, you must go through me…and with naught but that Turtwig. Come, young Redwood. Show me your strength! Go! Tyran!"

    The crowd stared as the largest Tyrantrum they'd likely ever seen was called onto the field. He was massive…but noble. He had a dignified bearing, worthy of a king. And, he was colored blue and white, which only made him look even more impressive. Unique coloring usually indicated a powerful Pokémon. When owned by a skilled Trainer, anyways.

    Alex swore quietly. As Terra trotted onto the field and took his position, the massive dinosaur looked at his partner as if to say, 'Really?'

    His Trainer nodded. "Yes Tyran, you are fighting the Turtwig. Don't worry, it's stronger than it looks. Do not restrain yourself…because he won't." The great beast nodded. A Charizard might have hesitated in unleashing its power on a smaller, and probably weaker, Pokémon but Tyrantrum had no such reservations.

    It had been a king in the ancient world, a force of untamed destruction. A force on par with a pseudo-legendary, at least in ancient times. Alex, for his part, knew all about Tyrantrum after having a fascination with them when he was younger, like literally every other child.

    In this era, they were of the rock type, like all revived fossil Pokémon. But back then, they had been full dragons. The additional typing hadn't really weakened Tyrantrum as a species…but it did make their number of vulnerabilities increase.

    But Turtwig didn't know any ice moves. It didn't have to. Alex smirked as he'd seen the Tyrantrum, and shiny or not, the fact that it was weak to ground moves put the advantage in their favor, assuming it didn't know moves capable of crushing a grass type. The two Trainers shouted simultaneously, "Head Smash!" "Energy Ball!"

    The massive Tyrantrum charged the ridiculously small Turtwig, its head glowing with the power of the old world. But Head Smash was a rock type move, and even with the lack of recoil damage, it was still weaker than grass. Terra's Energy Ball stopped it cold as the dense sphere of condensed, swirling grass typed energy forced the charging predator to a halt, and as with most move locks, the type advantage won with an explosion of power.

    The king of the prehistoric Pokémon went down hard, and got up slowly, unable to use its tiny arms to aid in standing. Still, this was a Pokémon that had seen many battles. He had been the Department Head's first Pokémon. The massive dinosaur eyed the small turtle with new respect. He'd seen Pokémon that were small and powerful before, and that Energy Ball had hit him hard. He would not underestimate this one again.

    Alex's final challenge was listed as a 1v1, no substitutions, no items. Just two starter Pokémon, and the Trainers who raised them. Having a type advantage had been sheer luck for Alex, but even if this had been an Aurorus, Terra would've strove to win. They needed to win here. Everything they'd practiced for culminated here. Losing was not an option.

    They had trained almost hourly for the better part of a year, in one of the coldest areas on the continent. Ice bothered him less after enduring it for so long, though it still did quite a bit of damage. The key to this victory would be the powerful moves Terra had learned quicker thanks to putting off evolution, and the speed, namely in evading attacks, that they'd practiced since day one.

    "Again!" Alex shouted, and another Energy Ball slammed into the rising giant, but it seemed to not affect him at all. The crowd gasped. Tyran's eyes were glowing red. He was a king, a power unmatched. Leader of a team that had been in the Elite Four, and had held that prestige for many years, before retiring to this position. An alpha like him would not be outdone by this whelp with a simple thing like type advantage.

    Tyran roared, and the entire campus shook with the force of it.

    Terra winced. Tyran's roar had actually been Hyper Voice, a powerful attack from any Pokémon, but not nearly as damaging as their opponents hoped it would be. "Now Terra! Razor Leaf Barrage!" Terra nodded.

    His job was now to avoid taking damage, and use his considerable Pokémon power, enhanced by his Trainer's carefully hoarded stock of PP Max, to unleash a steady stream of Razor Leaves at his opponent. He had plenty of power for this beast. The first flurry seemed ineffective, but both Alex and Terra saw that they were indeed cutting the large Pokémon deep. His counselor attacked, then.

    "If Razor Leaf is the best you have, you'll never be a World Champion. Ice Fang!" Tyran was already attacking, but for the benefit of his student, the old man called the move anyway. That too was a part of the tradition. Graduates always got to hear what move their superior opponents would be using, even if said opponents didn't need to give commands to battle. In this way, they had a chance to beat them, and thus the next generation would become stronger than the last. As it had always been.

    If Alex felt a twinge of dread, he didn't show it. This Tyrantrum had not been revived then, he had been bred. That was the only way he could know a move like Ice Fang. Dragons, especially part rock types, did not do well with ice normally. Tyran's fangs glowed a frosty pale white. Alex did the math. Accounting for level and type advantage, plus the inherent strength his dragon typing gave him, this move would almost certainly take Terra out with one hit.

    "Scenario Gamma!" He shouted, and Terra nodded. Coding patterns of attack or defense with key phrases wasn't unheard of…but only serious Trainers ever managed it successfully. You had to have a smart Pokémon to do it, and that Pokémon had to remember the plan exactly.

    Terra had studied each of their patterns for almost a full year now. He knew what he had to do, as they had expected this kind of thing to happen. Surprise ice type moves had been one of the many things they'd readied for. Despite that, one hit from this much larger opponent, and he was done. This was the moment all the evasion training paid off. But he needed more than just evasion, he needed an edge.

    The plan Alex had called for relied on Terra's judgment as well, so he used a different move from the ongoing Razor Leaf barrage. The earth shook, and the entire stadium field was crushed and made unstable as Terra dodged the icy fangs of his opponent by leaping into the air, and then ruined the terrain with an Earthquake as he landed just in front of the Tyrantrum's snout, and gave the enraged dragon a dopey smirk.

    Both Trainers, seeing what was happening, were raised into the air on metal platforms. They avoided the Earthquake, but one accidental hit to the supports, and they would go down hard. Now it was a real challenge.

    Tyran's charging speed was now useless, and he had to smash through boulders that crumbled under his weight just to move effectively. The blue scaled beast snarled, growling low as he eyed the tiny turtle once more. He decided then that he'd had enough of playing around. The ice he'd used had locked his fangs together, as it always did when he missed, but it cracked as he angrily forced his jaws to open, and readied another Ice Fang.

    Terra, for his part, had no such movement problems. His smaller form was faster, and he jumped through the debris with the skill of one who had run through the woods many times, dodging roots, trees, rocks, and generally speeding through the harsh mountainous terrain.

    Tyran was effectively trapped in one area, and he was not happy about it. His fangs tore through rock uselessly in his rage, giving him something stable to stand on, if one could consider gravel stable.

    "Enough!" his Trainer called. Tyran had wasted many valuable Ice Fang uses on the environment. Without that move, he could very well lose. "Crush the rest of the area around you with your feet. Let him come to you!"

    A novice Trainer with a newly evolved Tyrantrum might've been ignored with a beast that angry, but Tyran and his master were not novices. The great beast began crushing the large upended boulders around him, making the immediate area flat enough to stand on. All the while, Razor Leaves slammed into his rocky hide, launched from the still moving tiny turtle. He ignored them.

    That was what Alex counted on. The practice of gauging a Pokémon's health with bars on a screen had been discontinued several years back, and now gauging how much damage was being taken was left to the Trainer's Pokédex.

    A far cry from several decades earlier, nowadays every Trainer had an encyclopedia of Pokémon knowledge. Any new information was added from thousands of sources, and the vast number of known Pokémon species was always growing. With so many Trainers cataloging them, many Professors believed they would soon, at the very least, have a visual record of all of the non-Legendary species in their world. The Department Head's eyes weren't on his Pokédex however, and Terra's leaves were easy to miss, small as they were.

    Switching to long range once more Tyran roared, and another Hyper Voice slammed into the Turtwig, who shook his head and looked a bit wobbly. "Terra!" The Turtwig snapped to attention, the damage ignored now. He'd just been brought to half health, by Alex's Pokédex estimate. "Finish him."

    The Turtwig nodded, stopping his ceaseless dodging through the field of boulders, and charged at Tyran. The great beast let him come. His fangs glowed with frost once more, and one way or another, both Pokémon knew this would be the deciding moment.

    Terra charged, eyes closed, at the great beast as the ball of green energy formed in his maw. Tyran lunged, and roared in frustration as he missed yet again. Terra had leapt under the massive Pokémon now, and Tyran had expected him to jump back, or to the sides, not under him. Terra's Energy Ball swelled as he wove the power into a condensed ball like Tyranitar had showed him with his own Dark Pulse, and fired it, slamming it into the giant dinosaur's throat. Tyran flinched, tiny arms reaching in vain at the painful wound as the dense ball of effective energy spun itself into a weak spot on the rocky dragon's hide.

    "Frenzy plant!" Both Tyran and his master blinked. There was no way a mere Turtwig would know that kind of move, but Terra had already stomped his little feet into the ground, drawing the power of one of the 'elemental Hyper Beams' into his body. It wouldn't be as strong as, say, a Torterra's, but with all the damage Tyran had taken thus far, this was the end.

    The crowd watched, amazed, as a series of massive vines rose from the shattered ground at the Turtwig's command, and slammed directly up into Tyran's body. The massive dinosaur went flying, falling before his master on the other side of the field. Everyone watched it struggle to rise, twice, only to finally fall. If he'd been able to use his arms, he might've gotten up again. As it was, he was too drained to move, and gave in, fainting. The damage from the Razor Leaves had added up.

    The platforms lowered once more, and Alex made his way through rocks, vines, and rubble to his advisor, on the other side of the field. Terra met him halfway. The two opponents shook hands amidst the roars of the crowd, and those roars only grew as he took his diploma, and raised it, victorious. Students who lost, and they usually lost, were judged on their battling technique, and given a pass/fail rating that was lenient for most majors, except anything to do with battling.

    Facing the challenge with only one Pokémon had all but guaranteed a failure in the judge's rating of battle strategy. Students who won, however, not only automatically graduated, but went on to do whatever they had studied for with a battle record that counted one official League recognized victory on their Trainer Card. The examiners here were considered some of the best, and many had served in Unova's Elite Four under N at one point or another. Such a victory could get a Trainer a spot in almost any gym in Unova.

    Yawning wide, Terra slumped against his Trainer's leg, and Alex smirked down at him, patting his head. "You were amazing. I told you, and now I have proof. Together, we cannot be stopped."

    He recalled Terra for the first time in weeks, letting him rest in his ball for once, and left the stadium. The murmuring crowd of his peers met him with cheers, handshakes, phone numbers, and challenges to battle. He returned what handshakes he could, and refused almost everything else. Several random numbers ended up in his Holociever anyways, and he didn't rightly know how they got there.

    The heat of the new summer finally faded into the coolness of the night, and after dropping Terra off at the local Pokémon Center, he attended what must have been maybe his fifth actual 'Uni party' at the behest of the small circle of friends he'd made, namely fellow Leafheads, or other Trainer majors. It was the last party of his last year. He figured he might as well go.

    It was exactly as it had been the last four times. Music that drowned out the chance of any intellectual conversation. Men and women who were so drunk that, if you paid attention long enough, you could guess their major based on intoxication alone. People who enjoyed grinding on each other, and called it dancing.

    He'd never really seen the appeal of any of it. The obnoxiously loud music did nothing to stir a beat in his oversized feet, and while he could actually dance, he simply didn't. If he had a decent song on, he could easily move with it, but the loud, obnoxious music here, a favorite of his generation for some reason, did nothing for him. The lyrics were garbled, repetitive, and derogatory of Rangers, a profession he had nothing but respect for.

    He didn't quite know how he'd remained anonymous at the party after his apparently awe-inspiring victory, but his natural tendency to avoid eye-contact had helped. That is, until some idiot found a microphone. He knew the voice, and groaned into his cup of what he hoped was alcohol of some kind. It tasted more like fruit punch than alcohol, but that only hid how powerful said alcohol was. He'd hidden himself rather well by a fake tree planter in the back of the crowded room, and kept to himself. Given the lack of light and plentiful beverages, he'd expected to stay anonymous. At least until the Leaf circles started popping up. But those always came later.

    Jon was also a Trainer major, and thus had many of the same advanced classes with Alex. He had a thing for black and yellow Pokémon, and was almost the entire reason that Alex intended to find a golden Shinx, somehow. He wanted a Luxray on his team, and he'd get one someday soon if he was lucky. Thankfully, Shinx was an absurdly popular Pokémon even with those who didn't train professionally.

    Jon liked Pokémon, and they shared many opinions on them. He was generally pleasant to be around, but alcohol can make an idiot out of even the brightest mind.

    "Heyoooo!" He slurred into the mic. Boos followed as it shrieked, and he waved them away. "I jusht, I jusht wanna shay, Redwood, man…wow. What a match. Give it up. He'sh back there in the…the corner…being all aloof. Give it up!"

    After a few attempts at pointing, he finally singled Alex out, who took one last look at the window, before being mobbed once again by handshakes, phone numbers that were usually missing digits, and requests to battle.

    "I can't battle, Terra is resting now." He kept repeating, explaining multiple times to blank, drunken faces that yes, he really did only have the one Turtwig, and no other Pokémon. They either didn't believe him, or found that 'totally lame'. These were his peers. The future.

    The rest of the party was a blur of much of the same, and despite his attitude towards such gatherings, he did eventually have fun before he left. He found a group of grass Trainers as he wandered away from the Pokémon Center with his rejuvenated Turtwig, and spent the night enjoying the hallucinogenic Leaf smoking that grass Trainers so often enjoyed together while Terra frolicked with the other grass types.

    The next day he made his way home, after packing his car, alone, as Terra rested in the sun. He was pretty sure the little Turtwig was fine, but he let him rest anyways. They'd had a long year. Now they would go home, and their real journey would begin.

    Meanwhile, back on the Ranch…

    The Snivy picked her head up, glancing out the enormous ranch-style window of her Trainer's house as a flash of green light caught her gaze. "Ivy." She squeaked, getting her Trainer's attention.

    "What is it Serpi?" The flame haired head of her Trainer appeared next to her, looking out the window. Her Trainer had the same eyes she did, the superior look of a Snivy. It was why they had bonded. She too came from a line of her species that was considered to be one step from royal. There was no doubt that she would one day be a Serperior. Thus, she had been named for that eventuality.

    "Char!" The more annoying and more recent addition to her master's team, a female runt of a Charmander from the Charicific Valley in Johto, jumped up next to them as well. She was the same shade of red-orange that her master's hair was, and they matched perfectly together, as her master often dressed in flamboyantly red colors as well.

    Serpi was jealous of their newest team member, but knew deep down that their bond was stronger. She was the first. She always would be first. Across the field, at the smelly neighbor-boy's farm, there was a commotion. Jessica blinked slowly, staring out the window. Another green flash lit the area, and Serpi's eyes narrowed. Much like how electric types could speak over distance with their element, grass types had similar methods of communicating through nature itself. The pudgy Turtwig was trying to get their attention, for some reason. She'd met the unimpressive grass turtle near the end of last summer, and only briefly.

    The flame haired woman was younger than twenty-four, but looked to be graduating early, thanks to her father's influence at the University. Right now, however, was her summer break. She had, of course, been against coming to such a remote part of the region for a whole summer, as their family usually went to places like the Kalos region or Alola. It was as she squinted across the grass that she saw one of her neighbors. Then, she saw the familiar hooded jacket, despite the summer heat. It was Alex, then. According to his brother Eric, he'd been obsessed with little more than training since he'd gotten his Turtwig.

    He had, in actual fact, just finished University. She'd seen the battle of course, but hadn't quite believed it was the same overweight, quiet, shy kid she'd lived next to for so long. He was a good friend, fun to talk to, but he always smelled of Tauros, and was a bit too overweight for her tastes. Kind as she was, like most women, appearances mattered, and were often deal breakers, or makers.

    Or at least, that's what she'd thought. She watched him again, with a Turtwig just as large and a bit pudgy as him at this distance, fire another Energy Ball at an old stump that he had moved into his yard years ago, claiming it would be where he trained his first Pokémon, a Turtwig.

    It seemed the 'master plan' he'd shared in part with her over a bowl of Leaf was finally becoming reality. Before her Pokémon could blink, she was up and racing across the hills towards him. There was something in his stance, the way he ordered an attack, that had her intrigued, and after watching that battle…well, what girl wouldn't be interested in a Trainer like that if they were right next door? She wanted to know how finally getting a Pokémon had changed him.

    She needed a closer look, in person, and not on a screen. As she got her improved view, she gasped lightly. From a distance, he had looked as overweight as ever, but she had failed to recall exactly when he'd gotten his first partner.

    They had trained for almost a full year, and now, Turtwig was strong enough to have mastered another grass type moved entirely, one derived from their Energy Ball, but had a bit more physical power, something his species line excelled in. The unfinished seed-based move exploded against the stump each time, but to the Snivy, she could tell the Turtwig was holding back, and both of the males had been not so subtly watching her Trainer as she came towards them.

    They had both been training hard it seemed, and after that battle, their strength was obvious. With that strength came muscle, and it was no longer fat that filled out his brown-green shirt, torn and dirty from constant activity and training. He didn't have the toned body of a rancher anymore, but anything was better than being comparable to a Snorlax.

    Alex's Turtwig was similarly changed. Where once he'd been pudgy, he now radiated bulk that was, to an experienced eye, muscle. His head leaves had grown large as well, and his shell was deep brown, and cool to the touch. As Alex saw the flash of red running towards him across the stretch of mowed grass that separated their houses, he smirked. This, was the other moment he'd spent his life waiting for. The moment where he showed the girl next door that he was actually a decent Trainer. Unlike her brother, Jess had never quite believed that he would make a good one. Thankfully, she knew when she was wrong. Taking down an Elite Four level Tyrantrum with a Turtwig had to require some measure of skill. And luck.

    He and Terra shared a look as she and her Pokémon came closer, and after a moment, Alex nodded. For this particular moment, they'd put their training vests back on, as neither had been sure the Snivy would see their moves from such a distance. They let the vests drop with a satisfying thud into the dusty ground of the ranch as the girls came closer. Over the years, science had finally condensed the many weight-training items into one perfected item that could raise every stat with the potency of a final evolution. The drawback was a loss in speed and movement, as well as power. Attacks were weaker, but could be used more often. It was perfect for training.

    Alex glanced towards the flash of red racing over the grass towards them, and after a brief stretch, he nodded at his partner. "Now Terra! Seed Bomb!"

    Terra responded instantly, and this time, the sphere of dense grass energy was surrounded in an aura of green as it exited his mouth, and hit his target with unerring accuracy. The stump blasted apart, just as Jessica's Charmander and Snivy caught up to her, panting. A life of luxury had left them with little real endurance, as their Trainer would rather dress them up than battle with them, most of the time.

    They stared in awe at the Turtwig before them. He was so strong, so bright, he almost glowed…then they noticed, he was glowing. Light shone forth from within him, and he cried out as the blinding spiraling power of evolution took over, finally transforming his child form into that of a Grotle. It was almost as large as a Torterra, and just as deep voiced.

    But Alex didn't seem to notice. "Well done Terra!" He ran and hugged the enormous beast, who shared his enthusiasm. They had followed his plan then. Train until he'd learned Seed Bomb, and then evolve. Even the name Alex had picked was the same. But recalling the battle, Jess wondered. If this Grotle knew an attack like Frenzy Plant, he must've mastered Energy Ball a long time ago. From what she'd heard, and seen, they should've been strong enough for a Seed Bomb during the exam. In reality, they'd agreed that using Razor Leaf would be smarter once they saw their opponent. It could critically hit rather often, and Terra had more than enough leaves for a single opponent.

    "You really did it…" she whispered, "You're…actually following your plan?" Turning as if just now noticing her, he smirked, and gave a nod. As always, he was covered in dirt, though that was to be expected when one was training an earth turtle. Up close, that intensity in his gaze awoke something inside her that had been sleeping for all the years they'd been neighbors.

    He would've always been perfect if he'd just lost a bit of weight and gained some much-needed social grace, but now…now he was holding her eye contact. This was not the same person she'd grown up next to. Who'd been a friend of her brother's, more than her. While the Leaf-smoking gamer had been amusing to tease, teasing was all she'd done. She'd assumed it was harmless. It wasn't like he was secretly pining for her, or anything. Passive as his face was, she could usually tell when guys were interested.

    Evidently, finally getting a Pokémon partner had changed the former ranch hand more than she'd expected. At the very least, he had her attention, which of course had been the point of their little light show.

    She grinned. "Well, if I recall correctly, the next stop is for Leo, the Luxray."

    A smirk cracked Alex's normally impassive expression, and Terra nodded. "Aye. Now we find him. At Mall Town. There's usually alternate colors there." He arched a brow to Spockian heights. "Care to join me?"

    She smirked at him, then shrugged. "Why not. Lead the way."

    And lead he did. For once, from behind, he didn't look like a lumbering Snorlax. There was purpose in his long stride, and a straightness to his back. Definitely not the same Alex. Gone was the awkward ranch hand. Now, he was a Pokémon Trainer.
     
    #2 Mar 2, 2019
    Last edited: Jul 22, 2022
  3. Sahqoreyth

    Arthur
    (Kirlia ♂)
    Level 21
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    Dawn Stone ★★★★
    Chapter 2: Assembling the A Team

    Redwood Ranch Barn (Several years before Chapter 2) - Northern Unova Region

    Alex, his brother Eric, his friend Connor, and Connor's sister Jess had gathered again in the Redwood's barn for another Leaf smoking session. The stench of the Tauros and Miltank dung kept any authority figures from smelling what they were up to, but the Pokémon were in their somewhat spacious stalls in the building beside the barn, which was primarily used for storing their feed. Obviously, the group stayed far from the flammable food source while they padlocked the door, and enjoyed the effects.

    Now, each of them knew the risks and potential damage to their brain that could come from smoking the herb at under the age of twenty five, but like most teenagers, they were stupid enough to sacrifice a bit of their seemingly limitless youthful vigor for a brief bit of fun. None of the other three partook as often as Alex, and upon learning of the recently studied effects of the herb by their society's scientists, he had cut back his own consumption to toking on a single bowl, twice a day. It had taken some willpower, but over time, it had become more than enough to enjoy the effects, and, hopefully, not ruin his thinking organ.

    Jess spoke then, as Connor took his friend's bong, and ripped it skillfully. "So Alex…you've never actually told me why you want a Pokémon so badly. Or why you can't have one."

    Beside her, Connor practically coughed up a lung. "Arceus…Jess, the one thing I told you not to bring up!"

    "It's fine." Alex said, cutting in. There wasn't much he wouldn't tell Jessica Gladstone, smitten as he was by her face, eyes, body, everything really. He didn't offer much, but when she asked, he always answered. He noted his brother was quietly watching as well, to his left. He was sitting across from Jess, as he'd made the mistake of being beside her before in such Leaf circles and had regretted not being in her line of sight. "I won't get into why I can't have one. My parents won't let me…let's leave it at that. As for why I want one…?"

    He paused, looking up at the rafters for several moments as he remembered the day he decided that, more than anything, he wanted to be a Trainer. Finally, he said, "Who wouldn't want one? You all have one. You know better than me how precious that bond is…and there isn't a single day I don't miss Saur. But it's more than that. I want to be the very best Trainer."

    Before he could elaborate, Connor laughed at him. "Like no one ever was?"

    That made the others laugh, but Alex fixed his friend with a hard stare from the intense blue, and now also slightly bloodshot, eyes. "Exactly." The chuckling faded, and he took a breath. "I have a plan, you see. An ideal team. Maybe not the best ever assembled…but they could be, if I could just train them hard enough-"

    Connor had passed the bong to Eric then, who had ripped it, and exhaled. He chose then to interject. "But you can't train them, Alex. You'll never be able to. That's what the Doctor said." His brother's words cut deep as he essentially repeated their father, and Alex winced. Connor smoothly changed the topic then, and Alex let it go. Sleep claimed Eric first, and then Connor soon after. Leaving them to their hay bales, Alex and Jess climbed to the barn's top level, and then the roof, to smoke some more.

    Had he been more suave, Alex might've realized the starry sky unclouded by city lights or inclement weather was a rather romantic setting, but he was still dealing with his brother's words. Something Jess could tell. As Alex took his hit, she spoke. "So…what exactly did this Doctor say, anyway? I've never heard of one keeping someone from using a Pokémon. It's…cruel."

    Alex explained then, what he remembered of his trip down to central Unova. What Doctor Ein had said, the machine he put him on, how he'd claimed his potential was like Leon's, only to then turn around and destroy any chance of his parents letting him train. "They declined to take any Arcean courses or enroll me in any, but when it came to his 'diagnosis', they trusted his word over even my Gruncle's."

    Jess exhaled her own toke, as she processed this information. Not even her father had known why Frederick had kept his eldest son from having a partner when it was so obvious he had a connection with Pokémon. Whether it was the ranch's Tauros and Bouffalant, or her father's Arcanine, Alex always got along with them. They enjoyed his scritches. Even wild ones were unnaturally comfortable with his presence, despite how high he tended to tower over them. "You said you had a plan? Tell me."

    And so, Alex did. Or rather, he told her the parts he currently had figured out, and left out the parts where wooing her became important, almost integral, even. "...and then once I graduate, Terra and I will blow apart that stupid stump down there with Seed Bomb. That'll be the last chore I ever do on this Arceus-forsaken ranch. After that, I want a Shinx. A wild one, ideally. Luxray have amazing eyes, did you know? Their Attack and Special Attack stats are also pretty balanced. Very versatile, if not the fastest of electric types."

    Jess chuckled. "Shinx are adorable. What about the rest? I assume you want a Charmander. I know how you and my brother obsess over Leon."

    Alex nodded, setting the bong down, as by this point, it was ash, and they were simply enjoying the effects as they talked well into the night, under a waxing crescent moon. "Well, unlike your brother, I do actually want a Charizard eventually. It has to be the right one, though. One that won't shy away from the thought of facing down a Gigantamax Charizard. For my water type, I was thinking of a Mudkip. Swampert are pretty strong, and if I train it right, as versatile as a Luxray. I haven't figured out my psychic type yet. I know I don't want a Solosis. Maybe an Abra, or an Espeon. I'll have to see what's around."

    "Will you have an A team and a B team like Nate or Hilda?" She asked.

    "Hmm." He pondered, wondering if he could ever feasibly train twelve Pokémon at once. "Will I have a B team…I want to focus on getting a single team together, first. I'll worry about more partners once I train the ones I want. Besides, Nate didn't start making his until he was Champion."

    Jess smirked at him. "I think you'd do well with an Espeon. But I'm biased, I love the cute Pokémon. What about your last one?"

    Alex glanced at her, smirked confidently, and then stared at the moon. "My dragon." He said quietly. "I want it to be my ace in the hole. Someone I can bring out against other dragons, or when Terra gets tired. I don't know which type yet, but I like the idea of a Salamence. I know there are Bagon around Draconis Mons, along with Axew and other species, so I'll have to look there."

    Jess arched a brow at him as she listened. Draconis Mons was a peak just north of central Unova, and the Victory League's man-made plateau. It was historically significant to Unova once, but in modern times had become home to truly ferocious dragon types. "That mountain is off-limits for a reason, you know."

    Alex smirked at her. "I know. But when has that ever stopped Trainers?"

    Jess sat up then, and Alex's high self hadn't realized just how close she'd gotten over the course of their conversation. "I mean it, Alex. The Pokémon up there are ferocious. Untrainable. Don't be stupid."

    He blinked at her, as he realized she was actually concerned. It felt nice, and his cheeks warmed. He was glad it was dark out. "I'm not an idiot." He said, flatly, and Jess winced, as she realized how that might sound now that she had context. "I'll hunt around the base." He continued, seemingly not caring about her faux paus, "There's usually young dragon types on their own down there. I'm sure I can find at least one who will come with me. There won't be a need to go near the summit."

    "Mm. Alright then. We should head down and sleep." She said, stretching under the faint moonlight. Alex shamelessly took her in, and had to shake his head free of the thoughts that had both plagued men and simultaneously driven their race's survival forward for hundreds of thousands of years. He'd accepted that he was going to have them, but he refused to let them control him. He'd seen guys who didn't tame their urges, and he had no intention of becoming like them.

    As she descended, he dumped the bong water over the roof edge, packed his Leaf jar and his equipment away in the barn's rafters, and joined the others in sleep. Unfortunately, this would be one of many Leaf-fueled conversations that slipped his memory, until it was too late to recall it.

    Present Day, Mall Town, Southwest of Bostonia City - Northern Unova Region

    The mall was crowded with hundreds of people, and the two rich kids blended well among them. Or rather, Alex did. Jessica stood out completely thanks to her hair and her looks, drawing the attention of literally everyone who saw her.

    He had forgotten how noticeable she could be among normal people. He saw her confused look as she noticed the various and multicolored Unovans walking past them staring at her, and he leaned in to whisper in her ear, and explain. "They're not used to seeing someone as alluring as yourself. Though it could be the fiery hair." He had a newer shirt on now that was brown, with a green Pokéball on it, under a black jacket that had a useful, but thin green hood. It was proper travel attire for a Trainer, warm in the winter, breathable in the summer. A graduation gift from his Gruncle.

    "I think you're imagining things. People attractive enough to catch an entire mall's attention only exist in dreams." She said, smirking as she scratched her Charmander under her chin.

    "Then may I never wake." Alex muttered, as he looked around for the store he'd driven down here to find.

    His new color scheme more or less matched his future Torterra, and with a few more battles, he'd finally have one. There was no reason to hold off evolving anymore, as he'd caught Jess's eye and successfully asked her out, more or less. Just as he planned. He'd imagined this a thousand times, actually experiencing it was something else entirely. He still couldn't quite believe it had actually worked. The hot day had an almost ethereal quality to it, as if this was yet another of his daydreams. He expected to wake up at any moment, and realize he was still a Pokéless outcast.

    They'd come to this town, a fair number of miles south of their home, for the enormous mall that served as a hangout, movie theater, and shopping center for the many sparsely populated towns north of Unova, but too far from Bostonia to make a day trip. Thankfully, in their society, business tended to thrive, and Mall Town was no exception. It was a place to do business, and had enough 'rural charm' to entice city folk from the south and the east into making the trek to Mall Town. The result was the massive mall they were now strolling through. If you couldn't find what you were looking for here, it was fair to say it probably didn't exist, such was the variety of stores.

    His purpose here was multifold. Find the Shinx he'd seen on the Pokéstore's site, train up his Grotle into a Torterra, get his Shinx some experience if possible, and impress the girl next door who, as she looked around at the many shops, holding her Charmander, took his breath away for a moment. It was as she looked back at him and smiled, that he realized he was staring. Her Charmander blinked up at him, and made a soft noise. He scratched her chin, and the small red-orange Pokémon shivered in delight.

    The poor thing had been a runt, rejected by her mother, and given to the Charicific Valley's keeper to hand to the Professor of Kanto. But they hadn't wanted such a small Pokémon for their potential Trainers, and so eventually, Jessica's father had been convinced to buy the small burning lizard while they were on vacation that year in Johto, living in their Goldenrod City apartment complex, or so Jess had told him. She'd originally wanted a Torchic or Fennekin, but after seeing the fire lizard on the adoption site, she knew she had to help.

    It had either been that, or releasing her into the wild where the laws of nature would have likely seen her dead before long. Such things were avoided these days, however. The world was connected like never before, for Pokémon at least, and there was always a sympathetic heart in the world that would take in a runt or a stray who needed a home. Transportation only required a Pokéball.

    Hearing how she'd saved the little Charmander was what had made him realize that this neighbor of his was the one. Sure, he had eyes for her long before that, any guy would've, but her kind heart on top of her top tier beauty was the proverbial nail in the coffin.

    "She really likes that when you do it." Jess said, frowning slightly. "Like, more than when I scratch her. Why do you think that is?"

    He winked. "Magic fingers." She rolled her eyes, but the faint blush was there, on the pale cheeks. Before he started awkwardly staring once more at perfection incarnate, at least to his smitten eyes, he forced them elsewhere...and they landed upon exactly what he'd been looking for. For a moment, he put the ever-distracting thoughts that had driven human procreation in the back of his mind.

    "There." He stopped, and touched her arm, fighting down the instinctual thrill in his pants from feeling her skin. He might've been a bit loopy from the Leaf they'd had before coming in, but he could've swore he felt a slight buzz of...something where his rough fingers met the soft, warm skin. If she had a similar reaction, it didn't show. He pointed across the way at the Pokéstore, where they sold unwanted and highly desired Pokémon alike. There, in the window, was a bored looking Shinx, colored gold and black. Just as the Pokésite had promised.

    A quick PokéGoogle search on the PokéNet for a special Shinx had given him the store's location, and he had been lucky to be close enough to make the trip in a day. It was fitting for today though, as it was quickly becoming the luckiest day he'd ever lived. When Jess had heard how near his next partner was, she hadn't backed out, and the car ride had certainly been pleasant. He wished he could've let Terra out, but there was no way he would ever fit in a car again, so big was he after putting off evolution for so long.

    As far away as the mall was, it wasn't really that unusual for the people of his town to go there, as their town was pretty small and remote. It didn't even have a PokéMart, as it was primarily ranches, which meant a few local stores trying to ignore the technological revolution, and a train station that charged absurd prices for tickets, because they could.

    He hadn't wanted to use the train though, he knew the reaction to his companion would be similar, if not worse on a crowded metal tube where the scum of humanity tended to appear. He knew her Charmander wouldn't like it either.

    Jess hadn't seemed to notice, but he could tell the little fire lizard hated cramped spaces. The entire car ride, she had been twitchy, until he'd managed to calm her by scratching her under the chin, a sweet spot that most Charmander shared.

    The bored looking Shinx was licking his paw when he looked up suddenly, on instinct, and met his new Trainer's eyes. And from that moment on, they knew they were bonded. The cat gave him what seemed like a smirk. Alex returned it. Yes, this was definitely the one.

    Alex didn't even blink at the exorbitant price tag on his new Shinx, who'd had been reserved for another, until Alex offered a sum four times larger, that he would pay right then and there.

    His deal was graciously accepted. He could tell his father it was a charity donation, which it essentially was. Any Pokémon store could run itself on what he'd paid for years, and open additional branches as well, but they could easily afford the cost. Plus, after years of being denied a Pokémon and used for nearly free labor on the ranch, he was more than due a few thousand. His allowance had been pitiful, especially compared to his relative's, but it had been enough for Trainer items. After changing out his ball and Original Trainer ID, as he was technically the first human to 'own' this Pokémon, the Shinx was his. He lifted the electric kitten into the air, and eyed him, before setting him on his shoulder. The cat purred against his Trainer's neck, and his hair flared under his hat as electrical current moved through it.

    Jess watched, amazed, at how easily he'd bonded with a new Pokémon. The ones from the store usually had an issue of some kind after being mistreated by their Trainers. The only real problem their world faced was people who abused Pokémon. That hadn't changed. All it took was a mindset that viewed them as tools, or 'lesser' beings because their brains weren't as 'advanced' as humanity's, and people could justify using them for anything. And because Pokémon were trusting by nature, as Arceus had made them, often they would follow even the harshest Trainer, if it meant potentially getting the praise they so desperately desired.

    But for every Ghetsis, there was an Alex, it seemed. This Shinx did not have a defect however, as he was one of the store's ideal Pokémon, with a price tag only the rich could ever hope to afford. He was proud, and already strong enough to make sparks of his own. The little Shinx took great pleasure in sparking Alex with them, and he sighed. A naughty nature. Useful for battle, potentially irritating to live with. Still, the cuteness won him over.

    He was put inside Alex's custom Luxury Ball in black and gold colors, and appeared in a flash of blinding light that made him sparkle when he was called from it. The entire mall watched, noticing the display. Just as he'd planned. Someone would surely want to battle a Shinx like his. He knelt down to the gold and black cat, petting its fur, and then checking his hand.

    "I'm going to call you Leo. What do you think? Do you like the name?" The Shinx blinked at him, then tilted his head, and nodded once. It would work. "Good!" Alex said, standing and looking around the crowded mall intersection. All he needed was to lock eyes, after all. They were surrounded by people and stores. There was no way he'd go unchallenged.

    "Yo, bro! Jess!" A voice called out, and Alex suppressed a grimace. His brother. Eric. The brothers had always been rivals, and unlike Alex, he'd gotten a Squirtle when he was young, and had grown up alongside it. Alex had no illusions about who the favored son was, and he'd decided that he didn't really care. He'd show his parents his worth as well, eventually, but it wasn't his main goal, more like a byproduct of the heights he knew his growing team could reach. Buying a Shinx with their money was more than enough of a snub to them, especially with that many zeroes on the price tag. They'd be furious, and he'd definitely lose access to the family bank account now, but he had no intention of calling them or heading home anytime soon. It would take a few days for his father to notice the transaction anyway.

    Alex looked back to his brother, and knew that though he only had primarily water types, he was a skilled Trainer, and had been battling much longer than Alex had. Still, water types were weak against both electric and grass types, and Alex knew that though Leo was young, he'd still be a valuable partner after he'd benefited from a few Technical Machines.

    Eric primarily trained against the other water types their cousins had, and those in town while Alex had trained Terra in the harsh northern mountains to grow a resistance to his weakness. Now, the brothers would see which training style paid off more.

    "Eric." Alex said, meeting his brother's gaze, "My new Shinx and I, along with my Grotle, would like to Battle you."

    "Aha." Eric responded, sarcasm creeping into his voice. "The plan is in motion then?" His eyes darted from his brother, to their gorgeous neighbor, and Alex nodded.

    His brother was his opposite in every way, short where he was tall, deathly thin where he was literally big boned, straight hair where his own was wavy and curled at the edges. The younger brother had caught Jessica's eye for far longer than the elder brother had. Yet he had never pursued her.

    A love of Pokémon was one thing they had in common, but Eric was always busy researching on the few occasions the Gladstone siblings had wanted to hang out and enjoy a bowl of Leaf. Alex knew his childhood had been no picnic either. Being the favored son destined for greatness was almost as rough as being the futureless, mentally deficient farm-hand.

    Almost.

    From the day they'd been old enough to talk, they'd been rivals. In video games. Sports. School. Friendships. They clashed over and over, and often Alex was the one who would lose. Thus, Eric had become the more popular brother with an affinity for water types, and a Squirtle to go with it. He also tended to be the best Trainer in his class. If Alex wanted to prove he was legitimately a Trainer now to those who'd claimed he'd never amount to anything, he would be hard pressed to find a better opponent to beat.

    Eric was studying to become a Professor, and even their granduncle was impressed by his scientific mind. He claimed Alex had a similar mind, but Alex was too focused on his grand plan for the future to bother with contemplating what he might do if he ever achieved his lofty goal of becoming the next World Champion. But his granduncle had always told him to aim high.

    Being able to even make it to the Superior Sixteen of the World Tournament was an ordeal on its own, or so his granduncle had told him. But it was one he was willing to endure. Nothing could be worse than living in a world of magical creatures, and not being able to bond with one as a proper partner.

    Eric was thin, thinner than most because of an eating disorder that plagued his stomach. He didn't even have muscle on him, which once more made his brother look fatter by comparison. He was garbed similarly, but in blue, and together, the three of them in green, blue, and shades of orange and red on Jessica's part, represented the three starting type colors quite obviously. People were staring.

    Alex raised his voice, and Leo's new ball towards his brother. Leo watched his Trainer with sharp eyes.

    "I said I challenge you, Eric Redwood, to a Battle. Outside. Bring as many Pokémon as you like, and substitute as many times as you wish. I will do the same, and I will beat you." Eric raised his eyebrow to Spockian heights.

    "With two Pokémon, you're going to beat my entire team? Yea right, bro. Fine. I'll meet you outside. Smell ya'." With that, he walked off, and some of the milling crowd watched with interest, following the younger Redwood outside. The majority of the others watched him and Jessica, but mostly Jessica. She was gorgeous, after all. The Charmander only added to her charm.

    Her looks were unmatched, but she had, at least to his knowledge, never really used them. The boys had certainly tried, of course. But trying to tie her down was like trying to tame the wind. There was only one way to attract a free spirit like hers, and that too, was part of his ultimate goal.

    "Are you sure about this, Alex?" She asked, frowning. She doubted his chances. Eric had always been better at battling. Alex was good at calming Pokémon, but he was a new Trainer. "You know you'll probably lose, right? This is your first Battle out of school. Against a full team. Maybe you shou-" He cut her off.

    "No. This is perfect. I couldn't have scripted it better if I was in a play. The showdown that was always meant to be. Nothing makes a good Battle like sibling rivalry!" He smirked. "I've waited a lifetime for this battle. I worked hard for my power, and my team. Now, I'll take them on the first step to the Victory League!" A few people sarcastically applauded his enthusiasm in the background, but a show was exactly what he wanted to put on. Nothing spread gossip faster than a performance, after all.

    Jessica nodded. "If you're sure…" Now she felt confused. He had certainly impressed her with the battle against the Trainer Department Head, and his Turtwig evolving on schedule, but Eric had been training far longer. His Blastoise was surely much stronger than any Grotle.

    "And I'll lead with Leo." That got everyone's attention.

    "You're leading a rival Battle with the Pokémon you just got?" She said, staring in disbelief.

    He nodded. "Leo is my partner now, I trust him completely. I have the proper TMs for him, too. He won't let me down." With that, he strode off, and began loading the disks into the Technical Machine.

    A few minutes later, after stopping by a small training area in the mall and with encouragement from Karate Man Janus who ran it, Leo had learned how to focus his Sparks into ranged attacks. His physical moves would always be stronger, but his special attacks weren't weak, either, and would give him much needed versatility, given the lack of useful physical electric moves with significant power. As the golden Shinx strode into the hot parking lot, he knew many moves now. How to manipulate electricity in ways he'd never known, but knew were far stronger in terms of damage than his Sparks had been.

    "Are you ready Leo?" His new Trainer asked.

    The young Shinx came to grips with his newfound knowledge. He had the power. He would use it, even if he ended up fainting. There was something about this human, something that made him want to fight with all he had. If he did that, he knew he would still feel satisfied, even if they ended up losing.

    He nodded at his new Trainer, and growled at the figure in blue as sparks flared along his beautiful fur. Eric spoke then, "Really? Are you sure you want to lead with the one you just bought?" Alex nodded.

    "Fine!" Eric called, drawing his own ball, a blue affair covered in water drops. "Don't whinge when dad finds out you spent that much money on a painted Pokémon."

    Alex rolled his eyes. He had, of course, checked for paint on the Shinx, but had found none. He seemed to genuinely be golden furred. Fate, it seemed, was with him. He eyed Eric's ball and sighed at its similarity to one of his own. He didn't have a Mudkip for his yet, but the swamp in which they lived was close.

    "Go! Draking!" A Kingdra appeared across the small battle field, to the side of the parking lot. Dozens of townies were watching now, and there were a few laughs as they saw the formerly fat, awkward kid with his tiny Shinx walk up to battle a well-known water-type expert. He'd seemingly trimmed down again, but everyone in the know was well aware that Alex Redwood didn't know how to battle. At least, that's what they assumed.

    The assumption wasn't entirely without basis. He had tried to battle before, alongside wild Pokémon, but even those he'd become good friends with had run away after taking damage. A life or death situation was one thing. Battling for sport without the bond a Pokéball created was entirely another.

    "Even with type advantage, he has no chance." Someone whispered. "I know" came a reply. "The dragon typing will make it too tough for a Shinx. But Alex Redwood never listens. He'll learn the hard way. Amateur."

    "I don't know, didn't you hear how he graduated?" "Later. You shouldn't buy into rumors."

    Jessica sighed, looking down at her Charmander. "At one point Chari, I would've said the same thing." She said, speaking too softly to be heard. After spending most of the afternoon with her neighbor, she was slowly realizing that this was who he'd been all along. She should've listened to her brother when he'd said he had potential. Connor had an eye for those kinds of things.

    "Charmander. Char?" Came the response from the bundle in her arms. Jess grinned. "You're right. Let's do it." She looked up, grinning, and Chari raised her little arms as well, waving them frantically for her Trainer, as she was holding her up with her own hands. "Go Alex! Go Leo! You've got this!"

    Alex and his new partner turned at that, and the crowd quieted. He met her gaze from under the hat, where she saw the last hint of his hesitation fade. She was cheering for him. Her. The girl he dreamed about constantly. She believed in him, and that was all he needed. He smirked, and turned the hat backwards. Eric rolled his eyes, but some of the more enthusiastic gawkers whistled. There was fire in the amateur's eyes, and the veteran Trainer was coming off as entirely too confident. At the very least, it would be fun to watch.

    Leo felt his master's surge of confidence, and sparks radiated further from his fur. He'd battled before, but this…connection he felt now was new, exciting, and most of all, powerful. He was ready to give this battle everything he had. He had to prove he was strong too, if he was going to face down his sire someday. With this Trainer's help, he knew he could do it.

    He growled at the much larger, much stronger Kingdra, and even the water dragon shivered at the look of ferocity in his eyes as his attack was lowered. Not that it mattered, for Draking was a special attacker. Leo knew he might go down…but these humans would remember how strong he had been against a superior opponent. Alex nodded to his oldest rival, and the battle began. Eric shouted at the same time his brother did.

    "Hydro Pump!"

    "Thunder!"

    The crowd gasped. These two certainly weren't using novice gloves.

    The Kingdra sprayed at the Shinx, but to no avail. It dodged the water stream easily, taking only minor damage, and getting a bit wet. Which, of course, only made its attack stronger. Electricity bristled over its fur.

    "Shiiiiinx!" Thunder burst down from the sky, and hit the water and dragon type head on. It winced, taking significant damage, and began panting. Leo grinned, baring his tiny fangs. The crowd, and especially Eric, looked stunned.

    "Again!" Eric shouted, eyebrows narrowing as his attack was dodged and countered with too much ease. His brother's Shinx was moving with speed his species just wasn't supposed to have.

    "Dodge!" Came the cry of Alex, and Leo did so, his small, nimble form helping him miss the water completely. "Thunderbolt!" There was another cry from the small lion-like creature as a flash of golden electricity arced towards the Kingdra, hitting it squarely on the chest. It winced again, but powered through the hit.

    "Smoke Screen!" Eric shouted, and Alex smirked as the area filled with dark clouds, pouring from the Kingdra's snout, and obscuring all vision of the fight in seconds. The crowd mumbled, displeased.

    "Wait for it Leo…" Alex said, softly, "Use your ears…and then dodge." The Shinx obeyed. Someday, his eyes would be able to pierce clouds like this with ease, but for now, he relied on pure battle instinct and his other sharp senses. There was a deep inhale, followed by the sound of a torrent of water.

    Leo jumped, dodging it once more as the Smokescreen also worked against the Kingdra who'd summoned it. "Now, Thunderbolt the direction it came from!" The little Shinx responded immediately, as if he and his Trainer had been partners for weeks instead of minutes. The Kingdra cried out in pain, and as the smoke faded, the mighty water type fell, fainted.

    There was a stunned pause, before Eric shouted, "Draking! Return!" Alex's smirk widened. He had checked the Shinx's recorded level, and discovered that he had been kept from evolving for quite a while. They would need that power boost in this battle, and as Leo glanced at him, he nodded. The time was now, it seemed.

    The crowd's eyes were on Leo. He was growling, panting, and electricity sparked across his form. Now the fun began. "Do it!" Alex shouted as Leo cried out again, and evolved before their very eyes with bright spiraling double helix shaped energy that always appeared when Pokémon evolved. "Luuux…iooo!" Came the new, deep roar.

    The little Shinx was gone. In its place now stood a fearsome looking cat that looked ready to keep fighting. And keep fighting he did, taking down two more of Eric's water types, a Gyarados with a severe type disadvantage, and a Poliwrath. By the end of that round however, Poliwrath's fighting type had drained the newly evolved Luxio with a swift low-kick that nearly knocked him out. The only way he'd even managed to weaken Wrath was with Thunder Wave, and several lucky rounds of paralysis. He was panting hard after using his fourth Thunder to finally bring the martially skilled water type down.

    "Take a breather, my friend, and well done. You, are going to be one of my strongest." Alex said, genuinely impressed by his new partner. Leo had dodged like an expert, bunching his muscles with electricity, and then leaping. It hadn't always worked, but it had worked often enough, in this battle. Looking tired and proud, Leo returned to his ball, and rested, satisfied that he had demonstrated his worth to this blue Trainer, and the crowd.

    Pokémon were a lot smarter than many people realized, and when someone insulted one by claiming it was overpriced and weak, one had to expect it to try and prove you wrong. Even if the win against Wrath had been mostly luck and timing, taking down a Kingdra and a Gyarados was nothing to sneer at.

    Eric called out from across the field, and his voice had a tinge of anger to it. He hated losing, especially to Alex. "Now you have my final three to deal with, Brother! They will beat you, and your novice Pokémon!"

    Alex smirked, and raised the ball holding Terra. "A novice am I?" The calls came out simultaneously. "Terra!" "Aurora!"

    The Grotle appeared, in all his large, earthy glory, and across the way, an Aurorus, a prehistoric and revived rock and ice type, appeared across from him. The crowd made an 'ooo' sound. Ice beat grass. Hard. Eric smirked, some confidence returning to his stance.

    Terra didn't flinch, but his Trainer did. He hadn't expected an ice type yet. Oh well. He was part rock, too, just like Tyran had been. Terra would adjust the plan as required. "Terra. Just like last time."

    The Grotle nodded, and waited for the inevitable. He wasn't as agile as he'd been this morning, but his legs were much stronger. He just had to keep moving, and remember his footwork. He'd likely only manage one jump this time, though. He was much heavier.

    "Ice beam!" The long-necked creature shot forth a powerful beam of frost that was sure to one-hit poor Terra. Or rather it would've, if he hadn't sprung to the side at that moment, and slammed the field with his feet as he landed, causing a massive Earthquake.

    The entire parking lot shook, and the field was in chaos, as was Aurorus, whose Ice Beam had been disrupted by the massive attack. The damage it took wasn't the issue, it could've followed Terra with its attack and ended this quickly, but now it was dazed, struggling to recover its footing. It had never been in a battle like this, and Alex realized this must've been the newest addition to his brother's team.

    "Do it!" Alex called, "Seed Bomb!" The Grotle's mouth glowed green, and the condensed ball of grass power, at least twice the size it had been when he was a Turtwig, surrounded the seed he produced and smashed the frilly dinosaur with a hard explosion. It whimpered once, before fainting. The crowd whooped. Though part ice type, the rock typing of the young Aurorus made it weak to grass moves. There was a reason Alex had wanted Seed Bomb. Being essentially the strongest physical grass move that didn't injure his partners, as he despised using such moves, he knew it would be Terra's best move.

    Eric had counted on a difference in type giving him the win, but had forgotten his opponents type advantage, as well as his level. He had no excuse either, as he had been around to watch most of their training at the end of last summer. The crowd cheered. Eric however, was red-faced and rapidly losing his patience. When had Alex gotten so good? And how had a turtle Pokémon dodged an Ice Beam?

    "Vapor! Come!" Eric shouted angrily after hurriedly recalling his ace in the hole that was supposed to take down Terra with its special attack power. Vaporeon was a water type that could learn ice moves, but it was still a water type. Eric wasted no time. "Aurora beam!"

    To which his brother responded, "Energy ball!" The two attacks met in mid-air, and the aurora beam pushed through, but was skewed by the sheer power and density of the Energy Ball it had collided with, the spin of so much condensed grass type energy altered its trajectory, and it slammed into the ground beside Terra, a credit to the strength of this Vaporeon.

    Terra's attacks had been trained against genuine blizzards of the north and a fully grown adult male Tyranitar, but a type advantage was a type advantage. "Razor leaf!" The follow-up was quick and brutal, as roughly thirty razor sharp leaves came through the smoke of the attack collision, and hit the Vaporeon hard.

    "Acid Armor." Eric said, regaining some measure of composure. Alex hadn't used Frenzy Plant to one-hit his Vaporeon, something he had to do if he wanted Terra to have enough power for Blastoise. Now, he played it careful.

    "That won't work. Razor Leaf Barrage!"

    "What!" Eric growled. Hundreds of leaves shot from Grotle's back, twice as many as he had made when he was a Turtwig. Each of them slammed home against Vapor's Acid armor, whittling it down to nothing.

    Terra, meanwhile, never looked healthier. In the water, Acid Armor was very hard to beat…but on land, especially a parking lot battlefield in the summer, water types were at a disadvantage. In this much sun, grass types were incredibly strong.

    Alex finished the Vaporeon with a swift Energy Ball follow-up that smashed through his brother's hastily chosen Hydro Pump. Had he gone with Ice Beam, he might've won right there, but he wasn't on his game anymore. He never lost to Alex, not like this.

    As Eric reached for his trump card, Terra began to glow. The entire crowd, save for Jessica, but Eric included, shouted "Oh, come on!" One evolution was rare in a battle. Two was just unfair…but this battle never specified against that in the rules.

    And now a completely healthy, freshly evolved Torterra would face off against a Blastoise. Eric's predicament did not look favorable…until he realized that ground was also weak to ice. Looking across the field, he knew Alex knew it too. One Ice Beam…and that would be enough to finish this Torterra.

    It would be the attacking power of Blastoise against the natural defense of a Torterra, with type advantage. No, things were definitely not set in stone. Torterra could endure fire, but not ice, when freshly evolved. His shell was still new. As a Turtwig he'd been able to resist moves like Icy Wind or Powder Snow. Weak ice moves had been tough, and Ice Beam had ended their win streaks more than once. It would take time, years even, to train his new shell to withstand that kind of cold now that his weakness was quadrupled.

    "Alright Squirt! Ice Beam!" Eric called, confirming his brother's fear that, yes, he had indeed taught his starter that attack. Terra was too big to dodge now, too unused to his bulk. He was massive, even for a member of his species, and while that was a sign of his strength, it would also make him unable to move quick enough to dodge. He was a defensive tank now, and with Seed Bomb in their arsenal, that descriptor was even more accurate.

    "Take the hit!" Alex shouted as the Blastoise powered up the attack in his maw. He got a few glances from the crowd. That was just cruel, forcing his Pokémon to struggle against its major weakness.

    "Terra! Scenario Alpha." The giant tortoise Pokémon nodded, and trusted his Trainer. He hunched down to brace himself, watching the Blastoise as it powered up the attack. He'd glared at the grass turtle for months. Finally, they had a chance to battle properly. The Ice Beam launched, arcing across the field, and slammed home. It was too fast to dodge, even if he'd still been small.

    They waited. The entire parking lot was silent. Finally, shivering, Terra stood, and snorted through the smoke of the colliding moves. He was seemingly untouched, and smirking at the Blastoise, as was his Trainer. They had planned for this, of course, and as planned, learning Protect had been a smart choice when he'd evolved earlier.

    His attributes were maxed from all the pills and vest training, and he had only just become a Torterra. The heights he would reach with his new strength were limitless. All their hard training was finally paying off, it seemed. Terra would never be as quick as he had been that morning, but the trade-off was worth it, as his power now exceeded the strength of his brother's Blastoise by quite a margin. His type advantage all but assured a victory now, and the counter-attack was his.

    "Now…Frenzy Plant!" The massive earth tortoise stomped on the ground, and the battlefield shook under his feet. He was larger now, a few inches taller than most Torterra on record, by the Pokédex's calculations, and Eric knew he was done if an attack like that hit.

    "Dodge!" he cried in vain, but his Blastoise was too slow and defense heavy, like Torterra, to dodge. And unlike this Torterra, he had never been trained to take grass attacks, let alone the most powerful grass attack a starter could learn. He had spent his days fighting other water types.

    To Squirt's credit he grabbed two the giant roots as they slammed into his claws, but the flood of other massive vines overwhelmed the cannon turtle, and knocked him back onto his shell, sending him crashing through the chunks of debris upended by the roots to the feet of his Trainer, fainted.

    Blastoise didn't actually weigh all that much, but his bulk was deceptive. Terra on the other hand, now a full adult, had to be pushing six to eight hundred pounds. There was a low buzzing murmur through the crowd until Jessica blinked in time with Chari.

    "He…he won…HE WON!" She shouted after whispering. She cheered loudly, and the rest of the crowd followed suit. "He did it!" "I don't believe it!"

    "I guess he did have a solid plan after all." "Seems the rumors from the University were true." All the remarks he knew he'd hear and more filled his ears, and Alex smiled at his partner, giving him scritches under his new armored chin.

    "Amazing, as always, my friend. Rest now. You've earned it." He put his first Pokémon's ball away, only to find himself face to face with the girl whose eyes made his heart stop for an entire five seconds.

    She was grinning ear to ear, and he couldn't help but blush. He mumbled something, scratching the back of his head, and seeming for a moment like his old self. Jess raised an eyebrow, and he became increasingly more aware of the crowd around them.

    "I couldn't have done it without you." He managed. A few catcalls came from the peanut gallery, as well as a few whistles. She blushed as well, and let her hair hide her face. Her Charmander looked up in confusion. Her cheering really had helped…so why was she suddenly so shy?

    Jess looked up again, but Alex was already walking towards the car, whistling to himself. Off to, if she remembered correctly, find a Mudkip. Everything else had gone according to his plan. Why wouldn't he stick to it now?

    The words "Could they BE any more obvious?" came to her ears from the dispersing crowd, but she paid no mind. Eventually only she and Eric were left. It was rapidly becoming obvious to both of them as to which brother she preferred. That, and Alex was her ride out of here.

    Her own brother had always said that it was likely she'd end up with one of the Redwoods after their fathers had become so entwined in business and PokéGolf. She blinked and shifted her gaze down, somewhat embarrassed. She'd always said she'd preferred Eric…but now, she was realizing that she had been more focused on his appearance, cool demeanor, and reputation, rather than who he was as a person. Something she often did when it came to men, it seemed.

    She made a note to change that, with Alex at least. Even if he did become a Champion among Champions, she had to remember the person under all the fame that would no doubt follow him. In the span of two days, he was going from a complete unknown in this area to a respected Trainer. She could only imagine where he'd be in another year, at this pace.

    "I…I knew he would do it this time." Eric looked up, sighing first at his fainted Blastoise, who he had mistakenly named 'Squirt' when it was just a Squirtle. He'd gotten Squirt ages ago. He should've been able to beat a Torterra.

    He looked up at Jessica. He'd never really pined for her the way he knew his brother had, but seeing her preference now only disheartened him more. "He had that look…the same look he had the day he came up with that plan of his, and chose his team…I was just a stepping stone on the way to his real goal."

    The fire-haired girl blinked at the boy her age, clad in blue. "Real goal? What goal? The Victory League?" Eric looked at her, then nodded slowly. He hadn't told her yet. That part had changed.

    "Well, yea he does want to be Champion, but what Trainer doesn't? There's more than one goal on his mind. It's the reason he fights so hard." Eric stood, brushing his knees, and recalling his fallen two hundred pound turtle. "The reason he gets up in the morning. The reason he ran with his Turtwig through rain, heat, and apparently even snow. The reason behind his drive to be a Pokémon Master." Eric smirked, and patted her shoulder as he headed back into the mall, and then the Pokémon Center.

    Jessica stood silently, holding her runt of a Charmander, and watched her neighbor stride away with his camouflage pattern ball holding Terra, surrounded by new admirers peppering him with questions. He was rapidly becoming used to it.

    Had she been younger, she might've mistaken Eric's words, or denied them, but this was too obvious. Had he really been in love with her this whole time, Jess wondered. She would need to review everything they'd done or said. He was quiet, so she figured that meant what little he had said must've been important. She had no idea how right she was.

    She put Chari back in her ball for the ride home, choosing instead to pet Leo, who certainly didn't mind it. After a potion and an elixir, he was feeling much better, and Alex decided to let him spend some time free of confinement. He knew that those stores were usually cramped, even though they did their best to accommodate the many strays and abandoned Pokémon they ended up with.

    As Leo felt the female's soft hands, he purred loudly, and rolled on his back, in her lap, offering his belly for a rub. Human standards of beauty were foreign to most Pokémon, but even a Magikarp would gladly be touched by a girl like this one. The clever cat eyed his master as he steered the strange machine that ran faster than he could. If this was the mate he was after, Leo certainly didn't mind her. She smelled wonderful.

    And to emphasize that point, he purred against her lap the whole ride back, not noticing that she was fighting down a blush under the crimson locks hiding her face. Leo wasn't used to his strengthened electrical current yet, and he was tickling her with his purring in all the right places. Despite herself, Jess kept petting the Luxio. Once they got back to the Redwood's combined ranch and lab, Alex recalled his newest addition, not noticing Jess' flushed face either.

    "Seems he likes you." She yelped, and nodded, hurrying out of the car into the cool night air of summer. Alex blinked once, and then shrugged. He'd understood a long time ago that trying to figure out everything women did was, at best, a hopeless battle. There were some things men just simply could not grasp. This was not one of them, but as usual, he was too distracted by her presence to pay attention to the flush in her face, or the discolored damp spot on her skirt.

    "S-so," she stammered, before realizing that he hadn't noticed what she'd been doing the entire car ride. A thick skulled Torterra really was the perfect partner for him. "What's next? A Charmander? Mudkip?"

    He stretched, yawning. "A nap. And then maybe a Mudkip tomorrow. There's a small swamp out to the west that supposedly has some. Which means mud, bugs, and tons of Wooper hitting me with Water Gun, for fun."

    She giggled. "I think I'll skip that adventure then. But you'd better come show me once you catch it!"

    He shrugged. "I wasn't planning to come back here for a while. I was going to challenge the Unova League this summer. I'll be leaving tomorrow."

    She blinked. "The Unova League? As in…facing all eight gyms, and then the Elite Four?" He nodded, as if that was a perfectly normal thing that normal people did against the hardest League in the world.

    Most Trainers challenged a few gyms to prove they could battle well, and then found a position in a gym with a steady paycheck, and a team with a specific type. Almost nobody went the whole way, and for good reason.

    The Elite Four of Unova were notoriously strong, with varied teams, and even Legendary Dragons. Or so the rumors said. She believed them. Champions earned their titles, and Unova had five, with one of them reigning currently and the others hanging around to defend Unova. Jess shook her head, brushing her hair from her face. The flush was gone now, the cool night air had done its job.

    She rolled her Serperior-like eyes at him. "Only you would think you could run around the entire Unova region in one summer."

    Alex shrugged, saying, "It's been done before. I could do it in a week, with a flying type. The capital isn't that large."

    She nodded. The Trainers who'd brought down Team Plasma for good had done it in a similar period of time, and became Champions for good measure. Hilda had raced her twin through Victory Road, and Hilbert had taken his sweet time. By the time he made it through the Elite Four, she had already smashed Alder with her Emboar, and had been waiting for her brother in the old Champion's Chamber of the Victory Plateau.

    Hilbert had claimed the title then, countering his sister with type advantage in a battle that Alex, Eric, Connor, and Jess had all watched live, while having a sleepover in the Gladstone's mansion. They'd only done that a few times, and instead of impressing her, Alex's juvenile self had thought thrashing Jess via video games was the smart choice. His cockiness hadn't gone over well though, and both she and Eric had retired early that night, while Alex and Connor had continued to smash each other, randomizing the characters they played, and the stage they used, well into the night. At least until their father's Arcanine had come into the massive basement, and growled a warning.

    Alex yawned again, remembering how tired he'd been after what had been a good six hours of intense button mashing. "Well…I have an early start tomorrow. Thanks for coming with me. I guess I'll see you around. Maybe at the end of summer, I can catch you before your last year at the University."

    "Yea, maybe..." She couldn't tell if he was just tired, or not interested anymore. She had noticed the numbers many of the girls were giving him back in the parking lot. It was the thing to do when you met a Trainer with obvious skill.

    He surreptitiously watched her, the words of both his Gruncle and his friend Nick coming back to him then. Naturally, they had given him womanly advice. Play it aloof, he thought, Play it aloof. Not too aloof. Just the right amount of aloofness.

    "Or, you could come with me." He smirked as he decided to trust his instinct, and say what came naturally, as he'd done all day.

    She blinked. What. "What?" she asked, but he was already strolling into his garage, ducking under the door before it fully opened, and then closing it again. She sighed, and began the walk to her house. No way was she going to let him start a journey on a note like that.

    Nameless Bog, One Day Later - Northern Unova Region

    Another Mud Slap followed the first, but it might as well have been a raindrop for all the damage it caused Terra. "Gently now…ram it with your head!" Terra rolled his eyes at his Trainer. How did one 'gently' ram something with a head like his?

    He did what could, and held back, but the Mudkip still went flying, skipping across the swampy water, and whimpering once he stopped. Alex was already swimming to it, ignoring the stink and the grime. He recalled Terra at the last minute.

    "Should've used Leo…" He mumbled, taking the sinking form of the fainted Mudkip into his arms. Its family watched him with muted anger in their eyes, as their heads broke the water around him. "I'm going to heal him!" He told them, hoping they understood. "I'm going to fix him up, and then I'll be back to return him. You have my word."

    They let him leave the muddy waters of their swamp, and Alex sprinted towards the nearest Pokémon Center, knowing that hearing the little Mudkip wheeze was not a good sign. He fed it a Max Revive. It seemed to breathe a little easier, but stayed fainted.

    "Hang in there, little guy. The nurse will fix you right up." And once Alex arrived at the Pokémon Center, he ran straight to the desk. So focused was he on the Mudkip, he didn't see the flame-haired girl waiting for her tray of balls next to him. "Nurse! This Mudkip! He's hit a bit too hard from a Battle."

    She set the tray down behind the counter, and took the young Pokémon from the man's muck-covered arms. "What did he Battle against?"

    "My Torterra…" He said, somewhat guiltily. "I told him to go easy, but…I guess he's too strong now. I…I miscalculated. I'm sorry." The nurse sighed, and took the Mudkip into the back part of the center. He saw a hand out of the corner of his eye, reaching in vain for the tray of Pokéballs.

    "I've got it…" he mumbled, grabbing the tray with his long arms, and sliding it to whoever was just out of his vision. He was laser-focused on the doorway. Did it usually take this long?

    "You always had a longer reach than me…but given that you're covered in swamp, I could've gotten it myself…"

    Alex blinked, just realizing how nasty he was. Jumping in a swamp wasn't very hygienic, and his stupidly large feet had left a trail through the Center. He knew that voice though, and could pick it out of a crowd with ease. He turned, and immediately felt his face heat up. "Jess! I-I... I didn't know you were out here. Today." He took a deep breath as he tried to remain calm instead of nervous. He hadn't expected that seeing her would unnerve him this much.

    "Well…" She twirled a lock of hair, and batted her eyes at him obviously. She found the whole situation a little amusing. The Mudkip was essentially a baby, but of course Alex would still try to catch it. Another influence from her brother, who had the same idea. Pokémon raised from near-infancy ended up stronger. "After you invited me yesterday, I had to follow you…" She paused, her own face turning crimson. "In a totally friendly, not stalker-ish kind of way. I'd like to see Unova. With you. If you'll have me." She grabbed the tray with her balls as she spoke, and avoided the large swampy hand print.

    There was a third ball with the others now, and she busied herself with putting them back on her belt, her long shoulder-length hair hiding her face.

    "I could think of worse traveling companions…" He blinked, as he didn't quite believe what was happening. She stared at him for a long moment, and he stared back. If he was going to say it, he was going to stand by it. Couldn't backtrack now, even if he wanted to. The doors to the back of the center opened again with a familiar ding.

    "Your Mudkip is resting. The bones are set and healing. He should be ready by tomorrow morning. Will you be staying the night?" Alex nodded, attention once again drawn to Pokémon and not Jess.

    She couldn't really blame him though; the worry was evident on his face still. It made her wonder if his Torterra was seriously that strong. Most Pokémon who were made to faint in the wild were usually caught, but that Mudkip had been seriously hurt…and hadn't he said Terra was going easy?

    "Very well." The nurse said, pretending to be unaware of the obvious attraction between these two. They seemed shy, despite their age, which made some sense. Most of the novice Trainers around here were big on the knowledge one gained from years of study from the University, but had far less experience in real life situations on the road.

    "Since you two are...friends, then? I can have you share a room. Is that alright?" she continued. They both nodded absentmindedly, before they realized what they'd just agreed to.

    "I-I mean, uh, that is, if you want to share…" Alex mumbled quickly.

    Jess smirked at him. "It's fine…just like when we were younger, and we stayed in the barn with the Tauros and our brothers."

    He smirked, and nodded at her. "I remember. Sleeping on hay, smoking on top of the barn. Good times." He found he liked being able to hold her gaze this long.

    "There will be no smoking in our lodgings, understand? Keep it outside. Please." She sighed. While most Leafheads weren't too bad, things could get…rowdy with them around. "We're almost booked up for rooms. Lots of Trainers around here." That piqued both of their interest.

    "Trainers? Any looking to Battle?" Alex asked, as his tone failed to hide his eagerness.

    The nurse nodded. "Just a tournament for newer Trainers. Nothing a team like yours could fairly compete in." She said, focusing on Alex. Her eyes shifted to Jess then. "Hers could. But there's other Trainers around closer to your skill levels."

    As the last stop between the north-eastern region of the country and Unova, this Pokémon Center was indeed a hot spot for new Trainers who were heading south, to Unova, or coming north from there, usually in search of Pokémon, or the University campus.

    Trainers from Unova were usually in their early teens, but the mixing of older and younger people often led to book smarts being exchanged for knowledge of the road. Most Trainers from their home didn't know what kind of Pokémon were around here, but the younger Trainers often did, as their youthful energy gave them the drive to constantly scour the woods, lakes, and grass for every type they could catch. Alex's thoughts were on the local Trainer's Pokémon, and on Terra, and his power. Probably better to use Leo.

    "So how about it, Pokémon 'Master'?" He looked up, to see Jess put on a fiery red Unova style hat, and turn it around with a smirk. "How about we have some Double Battles?" He blinked once, twice, a third time, then nodded.

    "Terra is a bit strong for this crowd…but Leo could use the exercise." She nodded as well.

    "I'll be using all of mine. Including my new Piplup." He raised a brow at her departure from fire types. "What?" she said innocently. "I like Piplups. They have happy little feet."

    He smirked, and turned his own hat backwards. "Alright. Luxio and Piplup. What a team. Let's do it." It wasn't long before they found opponents, and Alex left Jess to challenge them.

    Alex took the chance to clean himself of swamp grime in the center's bathroom as the newbies gathered around to watch the forming double battle. Bug lovers, couples, grass Trainers, and even a small troupe of bikers ended up being their opponents. Leo's intimidating glare had kept the bolder male influences in the crowd away from the perfect ten redhead, while he'd scrubbed the muck off his clothes.

    Alex had lost his angst years ago thankfully, and already knew how to battle as well as, he liked to think, an Elite Four member. An old Elite Four member. Given his unbroken win record since leaving University, and against Trainers on the road out here, he thought that was a fair assessment. Alex came up beside the redhead and her Piplup, and gave Leo a thorough chin scratch that set him purring. Once Alex stopped, the cat stretched, then looked at his Trainer.

    "I'm sorry I ignored you most of today, my new friend…but Terra was on a roll." "Luxio!" Was the response. "I think I can make it up to you, though. How would you like to Battle alongside Jess?" The Luxio grinned, and sparks flared over his gold and black fur. "Perfect. We'll train you up, and we can also help Piplup grow too, alright?" Leo glanced at Jess and her partner for a long time, examining them with those smart, intense golden eyes. He finally nodded, and she released the breath she hadn't realized she'd been holding. There was something about big cats that set her instincts on edge, when they looked at her like that.

    "I thought for sure he'd refuse…he's a bit of a loner, you can see it in his gaze…you know, his eyes are as intense as yours lately..." Jess spoke quietly. Ignoring her for once, Alex instead petted his friend's golden fur, smirking at the soft buzz of electricity that went through his hand as he did. He didn't mind it anymore.

    "Together, we will be unbeatable." Jess couldn't tell if he was talking to her, or his Luxio. Or both. He cared for Pokémon, all Pokémon, it seemed, almost as much as he supposedly cared for her, according to his brother. Now that she looked, the signs were a bit obvious. Yet somehow also endearing.

    She had recalled the times he had saved her bacon in the past, from a rampaging Tauros charging at a Miltank it wanted to breed, to saving her from a pair of malicious Poliwags. One of which his brother had captured. "Do you still have that scar on your arm? From Wrath's Peck attack?"

    Alex blinked at the seemingly random change of topic, but smiled at her anyways. "Umm. Yes. It's a scar. Those don't heal, you know."

    She shrugged. "Stranger things have happened."

    "I never thanked you, did I?" She said, putting a hand on his shoulder. She blinked at it in surprise as she felt a very noticeable buzz.

    It was probably just Luxio's current of low energy running through him to her now, but just touching his shoulder seemed to set her entire body abuzz, much as she had been on their car ride home. Her thoughts turned lewd, and her gaze grew distant. Something about Leo's electricity just felt…really nice. Or maybe it was his Trainer. It was probably both.

    "You did, actually." He said, smirking. "But I appreciate the sentiment all the same." She blinked, trying to clear her head as he spoke. This was not the same boy she'd slept next to as a ten-year-old. He was grown now…and so was she. How would they ever share a room?

    "Our first opponents are coming…" She said, half distracted.

    He nodded, glancing up into her eyes, and seeing the same low, golden glowing spark of electricity there as well. In an unexpected show of boldness, he took her hand, and then stopped petting Leo. The low hum of his electricity flowed between them still, back and forth. They were connected. She smiled at him, and didn't pull away. He reconsidered a thought from the previous day. This was rapidly becoming the luckiest day of his life. Though he was more of a rational-minded man, he offered a small prayer to Arceus that his luck didn't end any time soon.

    The Luxio and Piplup strode onto the battlefield, one of many around the Pokémon Center that was little more than a few lines in the grass and dirt. Personality wise, they appeared similar, despite the difference in gender and species. Both proud, both loners, but both respectful of the other's strength once they won the first round with a pair of one-hit KOs on a Roggenrola that wasn't very sturdy and a rather surly Hoppip. The team of electricity and water was able to cover for their partner's weaknesses.

    Hands still clasped together, the two Trainers battled together flawlessly against every pair they managed to find around the Pokémon Center, which wasn't all that hard of a feat. Most of their opponents were younger Trainers, and as they won more battles, the pair of Pokémon who had both been given Lucky Eggs by their rich female Trainer only grew stronger. Seeing they were on a streak, those who'd lost the local newbie tournament also tried pairing up to battle them, and other pairs around the building. The battling lasted long into the day outside of the Pokémon Center, before Alex and Jess retired to their shared room.

    At his advising, Jess had used the Experience Share harness in her bag, which she hadn't known the function of, to give her Piplup, Empolia, power as she watched Serpi battle, once the little penguin had run out of energy. Having evolved her the night before with a pair of Rare Candies, Serpi was now a magnificent, if a bit small, Serperior. She might have been freshly raised, but that changed with each battle, and Alex noted a Lucky Egg in her ferns as well as one on Chari when she later came out to gain some battle experience against a pair of bug catchers. He'd eventually asked Jess how many she had, and that answer, had been twelve. Alex had just stared at her, and laughing, she'd offered him six, and then asked if they were rare. He'd asked to see what else she'd brought then, and found tons of cash, more healing items than he had, in numbers approaching a thousand, and various items her father and mother had given her for her partners. He had no doubt Connor had also gotten a sendoff package. Not for the first time, he wished his own parents were as cool as hers.

    Everything from Charcoal to an Expert Belt was in there, and Alex stared with envy. She offered him his choice of items, but he resisted. They were gifts for her, and therefor hers. His team would be holding the Lucky Eggs for a while anyways, as they trained to reach the heights Terra already had.

    Alex had retrieved the Mudkip as well, finding the little mudfish had healed perfectly thanks to the nurse. The fractures had been serious enough to need a Mega Blissey's Heal Pulse, but seeing as how Alex already felt bad about overestimating his Torterra, the nurse kept that to herself, as she led the pair to the small cabin they'd be sharing for the night. Being a remote Pokémon Center, there was only so much space in the main building, with all the storage space they needed for treatments and recovery rooms. That meant Trainer housing, which was free to those with a Trainer Card, was scattered around the building in the woods, where Trainers had their privacy, and a small cooking area outside the cabins.

    Alex and Chari worked on roasting their dinner, hand-made Redwood Ranch hotdogs, while Jess showered. Alex worked with her on controlling a small but constant flame, and the little runt of a fire lizard squee'd with joy when they came out as a fine golden brown, by which point her Trainer had rejoined them.

    As the girls celebrated her flame control, evidently, the smell of the meat and the cries of a female member of the species was enough to attract a second first stage fire lizard to their cabin's site. Alex, and Jess, as well as their Pokémon raised their heads as they heard something making its way through the heavily forested area around the clearing that housed their cabin.

    As Alex glimpsed a familiar red orange, and a similarly colored tail sporting a small flame, he tried to keep his excitement in check, but his rapidly tapping right toes gave him away as they shifted in his stupidly large shoes. Charmander were more common to the south-west of their current spot, near Draconis Mons. Finding one here was unlikely, and it probably had a Trainer. Still…it was a chance, and he'd been absurdly lucky lately. He'd noticed his unusual streak of luck so far, and hoped that, right now, it wouldn't end. He'd dreamed of finding a Charmander. Literally. Two of the strongest Champions he knew of had a Charizard, and like every other kid who'd watched Leon win battle after battle, for years, he'd dreamed of one day testing his own against them.

    While it was true that the little Charmander male that now watched them had indeed had a Trainer, he had lost to the power of Alex's Luxio, and its partner, the female runt of a Charmander.

    His latest Trainer had abandoned him after losing, deciding to give up on training entirely, so now this Charmander once more sought a new Trainer, on his own initiative after breaking his Pokéball with the move he'd inherited from his sire: Dragon Tail. It was not the first time he'd done such a thing, either.

    He sought a Trainer who would light him with the fire he'd seen in that Luxio. The power of the evolutionary spiral. The power that catapulted their species' evolution forward, constantly. He needed a Trainer who would make him as strong as possible. He needed to find a human whose fire would not dim so easily, as all the others had. And the fact that this one apparently knew a cute but deceptively strong female Charmander made put these humans at the top of the potential replacement list.

    As he looked over the two humans, the larger one caught his eye. The Luxio beside the male one grinned, and bristled with electricity, as he had when they'd fought. Like an Electrike, the thunder cat had charged his muscles to compensate for his comparatively slower speed. His Trainer had a similar look, and was approaching the Charmander slowly, a red Pokéball in hand.

    As the Charmander fearlessly met the human's gaze, he knew. This was his Trainer. This was a Trainer who fought with everything he had. He'd had a bad run of luck in choosing a worthy one, but he had a good feeling about this human. Even his partner's eyes were on fire, and after the thrashing earlier, the little fire lizard had no doubts about his competence or skill level.

    The Charmander wandered over fearlessly, expertly navigating his tail through the remaining brush without starting a blaze. "That is what you are…" Alex said softly, watching, and then looking around for someone who would claim such a rare Pokémon. "A Blaze. And a Blaze you shall be."

    Jess chuckled behind him. "More like you'll use him to 'blaze' up."

    Alex winked at her, as she wasn't wrong, and then offered the crimson, fiery red Pokéball in his hand to the Charmander, who eyed him for a long time. "Charmander, Char?"

    "Yes. I'll make you into one of the strongest Charizard in the world. There are many claimants to that title though, and the road will be long and difficult. Are you sure you want to join us?" As he spoke, Terra popped out of his ball beside them, and his rumbling cry shook their immediate area. Naturally, the Charmander had faced a few Turtwig in his time, but seeing a Torterra was a new experience, and the power of the part ground type made the tiny fire lizard retreat a step on instinct. Still, he knew something was off. This Torterra towered over the tiny fire lizard like his first Trainer's Rayquaza had. His presence wasn't quite as intense as the crimson scaled Legendary dragon had been, not yet anyway, but he was much further along than the Luxio or the Mudkip. The fire lizard nodded. This was the Trainer's first Pokémon, then.

    Blaze glanced at the two large Pokémon, especially at Terra, who was almost as tall as the nearby shack, counting his tree. This Trainer could back up his promise. He was sold. He entered the ball willingly as he booped it with his snoot. Alex stared at the ball as it dinged shut, still somewhat dazed as his Pokédex began reciting the entry he knew by heart automatically. Years of misfortune and toiling in Tauros dung seemed to be paying off now, because he had never been this lucky his entire life. Alex bit his thumb, hard, and Jess gave him a look.

    "Just making sure this is real…" He muttered, thumbing the release on his newly filled ball. Once released again, Blaze, his new Trainer, and his Trainer's allies, all enjoyed their feast of classic Unovan style hotdogs, well into the morning. Meat was cooked, hallucinogenic Leaf was shared, and as the effects kicked in, the two humans kept eyeing each other. Eye contact was a new thing from her awkward neighbor, but Jess didn't seem to be minding the company.

    Tired and blazed as they were, the usual awkwardness that tinged their conversations had evaporated, and once more the cautiously optimistic 'rookie' Trainer let instinct take over. Mutual leaning on each other led to hesitant kissing, and before long, the two humans had begun kissing like a Kalos couple within the privacy of the cabin, until they'd fallen asleep. After his offer to 'truly demonstrate his skills', and her smirking acceptance of it, they had eventually collapsed on the rug before the unlit hearth within their cabin, her in orgasmic bliss, him, still with his head resting on her thighs. It was in that early morning time that Alex roused himself, and carried his 'lover' to bed, then cleaned up their mess.

    He recalled the Pokémon, who had long since fallen asleep, and put them to rest in their balls. He grabbed their clothes, and hung those within the cabin as well. Then, he returned to the room he'd put Jess in. She reached for him as he rejoined her, their session earlier had certainly changed their dynamic. Or at least, that's what she thought. Alex felt his cheeks heat up again, but it was impossible to tell in the darkness of the room. They'd drawn the curtains against the glare of the rising sun.

    "Did…you, umm, enjoy that earlier?" There was a giggle, and he felt her lips on his again as she pushed him onto his back, and began straddling him in the dim light of the morning. Normally her smaller frame would have trouble moving his, but he let this happen and rolled with her.

    "Yes…" She whispered, as she pressed into him. "I'll pay you back for that, Redwood." She yawned, and then put her head on his chest. "But notrightnow…" she mumbled tiredly. His arms wrapped around her, and they stayed like that until they both woke up.

    When they finally rose, it was at the same time, and since she'd showered the night before, Alex went first, as he very much needed one. Then, they had their breakfast, and over time, with more talking, the awkwardness gradually faded. They decided on their next destination; Bostonia, where Alex intended to finally cash in on the many Heart Scales he'd collected in Alola, when his family vacationed there. They were fairly common on the beach, but in Bostonia, there were Tutors who could teach his partners useful moves, or help them remember useful moves. For just one Heart Scale. Jess revealed a similar, and larger, pile of her own from her own family vacations, and seemed just as eager to get there. First though, they agreed they needed to train their Charmanders.

    The first route towards the eastern coast saw many grass Trainers lock their eyes with the pair, and they'd taken to walking on opposing sides of the route, where possible. Their winning streaks continued, though not without the need for potions, elixirs, and several Max Revives in between matches. Chari evolved early in the morning, and continued to grow as she kept winning with her newer, stronger form. Jess eventually let her cool down, and brought out her Piplup instead. Being a quick girl, and knowing Ice Beam thanks to her mother's borrowed Technical Machine, she also made short work of grass types.

    For Alex's part, he was all about his Charmander, though Leo got some exercise too, namely against water and flying types of which there were many, both wild and in Trainer battles. As with the day before, these Trainers tended to be young, but everyone grew from the battles, and Alex parted amicably with each of his opponents. It was Jess who had an issue with one of hers.

    He was a biker of some gang Alex didn't recognize. Chari had Flamethrowered his Breloom into an OHKO, not unexpected from a fire type against a grass type, but the angry bald man had lost his cool, and then, loudly, roared down the route towards Bostonia in the distance on his motorbike.

    Jess raised a specific finger towards him as he left her and Chari coughing, and the Charmeleon snarled with more rage than Alex expected from her. He'd provided the Flamethrower TM, as that one had come from his Gruncle, who'd known he'd need it for his Charizard eventually. Blaze turned out to be a modest little fire lizard, with a bit of a vain streak after winning so consistently. It was a nice change, having a Trainer who understood how types worked.

    Around twenty minutes past four, after a timely toke on the bong from both aspiring Leafheads, Alex brought the Mudkip back to the swamp from the day before, as they were close to it. Jess had continued on towards Bostonia alone, and he'd intended to catch up to her.

    Once at the edge of the swamp, Alex gave the tiny Mudkip a choice. "You can either go home to your family and live your days there, my little friend…or you can come with me, and become more powerful than any of them." The little blue Pokémon tilted its head at him. "Mud…kip?"

    Alex chuckled. "Yes, even stronger than Terra, once you learn a few Moves." The tiny Mudkip, then named Hydrus, said his goodbyes to his seemingly grateful kin who were glad to know he was alive and willing to let him live with a genuinely kind human. Hydrus rejoined his Trainer inside his ball as they left the swamp. Alex eyed the four balls on his belt now, grinning. "Two to go…" He said quietly.

    He continued his training then, now actually using Hydrus. The mild Mudkip proved adept with his Ice Beam, though Alex only brought him out, for now, when he was sure the little mud fish could win. It helped that being bashed by Terra had made him determined to get stronger. As they continued, they didn't run into Jess.

    Alex began to worry when she didn't pick up her Holociever, and when they spied it off to the side of the route, dirty and on the ground but thankfully still intact thanks to the durable case, he knew something was wrong. He stopped idling then, and ignored eye contact with people as he sprinted towards Bostonia. Years of being a loner finally had some use, as he made good time down three separate routes, with the aid of a Max Repel, and finally arrived at Bostonia, wheezing hard, but hopefully in time. He rested his partners at the Pokémon Center, one of many across the large harbor city, and then made his way to the Police Department.

    He found one of the off duty officers, and after a friendly battle, asked him which group of thugs in the city had Giratina's head on their jackets. The biker who'd lost hard to Jess had worn one, and Alex figured they'd be the most logical culprits. As far as he was aware, Jess hadn't pissed off anyone else. The officer told him to stay away from them, and refused to mention where they polluted the air with their presence, so instead, Alex found a more central Pokémon Center, and asked the Leafheads there where one might find them. From them, he got a far better answer, though it took way too long for his liking.

    Eventually, after about three hours apart from her, he found the nest of bikers, inhabiting an old Bostonian canal that, in summer, was dry and empty. They were circling something, loudly, under one of the bridges, and Alex' eye twitched as he saw a very pissed off Jess surrounded protectively by Serpi, who refused to attack the bikers. Chari was in her arms, already hurt, and he assumed Empolia was still in her ball. She was too fresh for this many opponents at once.

    Alex raised Terra's ball, and gave it a shake as he enlarged it. "Wake up, bud. We have trash to take out." He felt the ball shake in response, and nodded. Bikers tended to favor poison types, and while he wasn't personally a fan of inhaling petroleum gas, garbing himself in black leather, and riding around being a general obnoxious nuisance to polite society, he opted to give the bikers a chance to demonstrate that they weren't complete trash. He didn't have high hopes given their excessive tattoos, body piercings, and attitude, but appearances could deceive.

    He threw Terra into the middle of the bikers, and several swerved away, before coming back to a stop in a circle around the massive earth tortoise. Alex ran up next to him as they'd parted, and now faced them down, fixing them with a look he only reserved for those who'd pissed him off. "That's enough. You've had your fun. Now leave. Her. Alone." The primarily rotund, pale skinned, and bald men chuckled at his words, and as they did, Alex glanced at Jess. "Did they hurt you?"

    She shook her head. "Serpi came out once we stopped…the one from earlier grabbed me right off the Mukking road…" She seemed more irritated than traumatized, which Alex was glad for. It meant she'd be able to help, if they overwhelmed him.

    One of the bikers, the leader, Alex guessed, walked forward on his bike, and sneered at them. "An' who the hell're you s'posed t'be, mate? Her whoite knoight?" Alex cringed at the mix of Galarian and Bostonian accents, before fixing the man with a glare.

    "I'm the one whose responsible for her safety while she travels with me." Alex said, looking around the circle of bikers. "Now which one of you is the piece of trash that decided kidnapping a woman off the street in broad daylight was a good idea?"

    "Oho! Somewunz angry. Come now, mate. We're jus' havin' a bit o' fun with'er." The lead wasteproduct said, with a grin.

    "Yea." Another one said, sliding forward on his own vehicle. "I didn't take'er fah. She was rude. I figured she could do with a bit of rough play…and once she learned'er manners, I wuz gonna bring'er right back."

    "Oh, you're about to learn some manners, Mukstain." Alex growled. "Terra. Mud Shot." He pointed at the biker responsible for the crime, and called the special attack. Terra didn't condense it as much as he would for battle, just enough to bruise the human, and blast him off his bike, which he did. The other bikers made noises like 'Oi!' or 'Hey!' as he gave the order, but he'd stopped caring. "Now Stomp!" Terra took a few thunderous steps towards the fallen biker, glared at those around him, daring them to attack, and then crushed the machine with a single foot. It exploded with a minor blast, but the earth tortoise covered it up, and absorbed the hit without so much as flinching.

    Alex glared at the group, as they each reached for their own magical monsters. "I have no issue with you. Just the imbecile who committed a crime. Let us go, and I won't crush your bikes too."

    About twenty lights from Pokéballs flared then, as a host of poison, dark, fighting, and water types surrounded the pair further. Their leader spoke again. "Nah, mate. Afta' that display, yer gonna' pay too."

    "Dragonite! Use Dragon Rush!" "Dratini, Dragonbreath!" "You too, Glaedr! Dragonbreath!"

    Alex blinked, as he and Terra watched a rotund orange comet sail past their faces, bowling over the bikers in front of them with speed that only a truly powerful Pokémon had. He watched as the Dragonite arced its Dragon Rush, and blue flames from the pair of Dragonbreaths made a circle on the concrete, keeping anyone from running. Not that the bikers or their partners were in a state to run after being smashed by a dragon type move that strong. Most of their partners had fainted with a single hit.

    Then, their timely savior's Trainers appeared or rather, their Tamers. Alex recognized Lance, the long retired former World Champion, and legendary Champion of the Indigo Plateau. Beside the ancient Dragon Tamer were a pair of what seemed to be novices, with blue hair. The woman had the Dratini, and the boy had a Fraxure, who he'd apparently given a nickname. It was uniquely colored, too and had a shine to it.

    "I am Lance, of the Pokémon G-Men." The old man said from the incline of the canal, his glaring, grizzled features taking in the group of bikers. "Under the deputization of the Bostonia PD, I am placing every member of the Gira Grinders at this scene under lawful arrest. Surrender, and come in peacefully."

    The majority of the bikers had been tossed from their rides by the Dragonite's attack. Many of their bikes were now damaged, or seriously scratched or burned by dragonfire. The bike gang's leader glared at Lance. "Arrest!? Whose gonna' arrest you fer destroyin' our bikes!?"

    Lance walked down the incline carefully, leaning on a thin black cane as he did. His spine was bent with age, but the ferocity in his eyes hadn't lessened at all. From the opposing side of the Dragonbreath flame wall, he glared at the man. "Your gang is responsible for a kidnapping. Did you think no one would report you? Be glad you have your lives. You can always buy new bikes."

    "You mean you can pay fer our bloody bikes!" One of the other bikers shouted. Lance's glare intensified, and his Dragonite flew to him, hovering above him as he stared the gang down.

    "I'm not paying you people anything. Criminals don't get to make demands. Now put your Pokémon away. Last warning."

    Blue and red flashing lights appeared from the bridge over the canal, and the biker grimaced at Lance. He knew it was over. He recalled his Nidoking, and the other bikers followed suit. The one who'd been hit with Mud Shot tried running as he saw that, but the Dratini tripped up his legs, and then Wrapped him.

    Lance approached Alex then, and gave him and Jess a nod. "Are you two alright?"

    Jess answered first, having healed and recalled all but Serpi now. "Yes, sir. Thank you. We're glad you arrived when you did."

    Lance just shrugged. "I owed your dad a favor…happened to be in the city…and I despise scum like this. Taking people off the street in broad daylight…" The old man mumbled something about crazy Unovans, and then fixed his gaze on Alex. "You did well, having your partner hold back, kid. If we hadn't shown up, that Torterra of yours could have probably taken most of them."

    Alex chuckled, and scratched the back of his neck. "Maybe one on one…but not all at once. Thank you. Sir."

    Lance nodded, and then hobbled away. To his assistants, he said "Process them." Before he began the steep and slow climb to the police atop the bridge, his Dragonite still by his side.

    The girl took Jess's statement, and the boy took Alex's. Once that was done, the two began chatting, as Alex brought out Leo, and he and the Fraxure, Glaedr, stared each other down. Alex learned the lad's name was also Lance, and that he was a relative of the Dragon Master himself. He asked to see Alex's Trainer Card, and seemed to frown, but handed it back promptly.

    They continued chatting, and Alex learned he also had a Bagon which he'd caught around Draconis Mons, to the west. The boys exchanged numbers, agreeing to battle someday, while Jess and her assigned processor were far more professional. Alex took her for dinner then, and over time, she gradually became her cheery self again.

    When they returned to the closest Pokémon Center, Jess already had a call waiting from her father, which she took privately, on the nurse's own line. If Nurse Joy found that odd, she didn't show it, as she took both their teams for a well earned rest. Alex kept Leo with him, as he'd remained fresh, and he wanted the Luxio's sharp senses guarding them as they slept cuddled up together. He no longer trusted the city.

    The next day, they hit the local Battle Stadium before heading west towards central Unova, for more training. Hydrus lost several battles in a row, and while Alex kept him healthy, he seemed to feel bad for breaking his Trainer's streak. Alex didn't care though, as long as Hydrus had enjoyed the contest of strength. It took some explaining, but eventually the little mudfish understood that battles weren't about winning or losing, but competing honestly, and having fun while he did it. He was smiling again after that, and it was his turn with the Exp. Share once Jess's Empolia became a Prinplup. Unlike Hydrus, she kept her Trainer's win streak going, and evolved as a result.

    Then, it was Blaze's turn.

    The Charmander was in rare form as he dodged, sprang into the air for aerial Flamethrowers with the aid of his Dragon Tail, and in a few short battles, all of which he won as Hydrus watched on, the little fire lizard roared in victory.

    "Chaaaaaaar!" The Charmander shone brightly with the power of the evolutionary spiral, and began shifting his form to the next stage of his growth as Infinity Energy surrounded him in a double helix pattern. He doubled in size, and gained muscle, and power, trading it for the speed his child form had had. "Meeeleon!"

    The new Charmeleon stomped the ground, and snorted flames. He was feeling the high his new master felt, the drive to 'be the very best' as he'd called it. Blaze saw his Trainer eyeing him for signs of uncontrollable rage, and the Charmeleon gave him a clawed thumb, pointed upwards, the signal they'd agreed on for determining if he could go on battling once he evolved.

    When asked if he wanted more, the Charmeleon's tail flame shifted to blue, and his roar echoed through the stadium. They battled there for half of the day after that, Jess with Empolia and Alex with Blaze. As before, they teamed up for several double battles, but resisted holding hands this time. Once they had lunch, it was back on the road they went, and Alex was glad Jess had seemingly returned to her usual self, the one that despised walking anywhere.

    He'd tried telling her heels weren't suitable Trainer shoes, especially away from the city, but she had stubbornly insisted on 'looking good while battling'. He'd told her she already did, and would even if she went shoeless, but she'd persisted anyway.

    It was a boring pair of days they spent heading west and training as they did. Hydrus gained more wins, and more experience, finally growing larger as he won. He hadn't been a runt, just a late bloomer when it came to size, and it wasn't long before he got his own Lucky Egg as well.

    "Look…there's our first Gym stop." Alex said two days later, as they trekked up a large hill, and then spied Undella Harbor and the eastern coast of central Unova below them.

    He pointed, and she checked her map. "Humilau City? You want to take on Marlon first? That Gym is usually the last one people challenge! Marlon would turn you into chum."

    Alex smirked as they began walking again. "It'll be nothing, for Terra. It's exactly his level, and Leo might even evolve if he can win against Marlon's underlings. I'll get the eighth badge first, and then the other Leaders won't treat me like some novice. Besides, our goal is Driftveil City. Humilau is on the way."

    She blinked, and chased after him on the downward sloping path. "Eww, Driftveil? Really? I thought nobody in Unova willingly crossed the river to…that part of the region. Isn't their shore full of violent surfers?"

    Alex chuckled. "You're thinking of the coast further south. The north shore isn't nearly as bad."

    The Driftveil Shore was notorious for having obnoxious surfers riding the waves of the river. That in itself wasn't a bad thing, it was the culture of tanning their skin to the point of being orange, and the culture of fighting, with fists not Pokémon, that gave the shore such a bad rep with Castelianites and Unova at large.

    "Move tutors. Move deleters. TM sellers. And of course…the old World Tournament building. Basically, everything we need in order to get our teams the last few Moves they need." He met her gaze evenly, listing the many reasons they needed to visit the city on one hand.

    She pouted again. "But I like my team's Moves."

    Alex shrugged. "I have two more Pokémon to catch, and Draconis Mons' base is on the way, too. Just north of Humilau. East of the Victory Plateau. We're technically already in its range, but we'll need to go farther to find a Bagon."

    His companion rolled her eyes, the strain of hiking so far and so long was showing on their sweaty brows, and after days of travel her precious heels were wearing out, but their conversation had carried them far and distracted them from the time it was taking to get somewhere civilized. "What is it with you and Bagon, anyways? Why not Dratini, or Deino? There are plenty of Deino here."

    He nodded. "True, but Hydreigon is a real pain to train, most dragon types are, but especially that one. Besides, plenty of Trainers have a Dragonite already. No, I finally decided a while back that a Salamence would be the perfect secret weapon if Terra ever failed. And, their flight speed is unmatched. If I want to get around the world quickly, a Salamence will do it the fastest. They love flying, and they're aerodynamically built for it."

    She shrugged. "I just think something more your style would be better. Like a Goomy."

    "Hey!" She was already running ahead, laughing. He rolled his eyes, and kept walking. He didn't chase. Not on long journeys that required stamina, anyways. Let her run, he thought, she'd be exhausted later.
     
    #3 Mar 2, 2019
    Last edited: Apr 27, 2022
  4. Sahqoreyth

    Arthur
    (Kirlia ♂)
    Level 21
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    Dawn Stone ★★★★
    Chapter 3: Humilau Gym

    Draconis Mons Base - Directly North of Humilau City, Unova Region

    "Are we theeere yet?" Jess whined in his ear. He liked her better when she was too distracted by his tongue to form coherent words. She had indeed run herself out of energy, first running ahead quite far, getting lost, and then running back.

    She'd been expecting to be chased, and as much as he would've liked to catch her and pull her into the bushes, this was the Unova region. There were quite a few impressionable children on the road, and he was going to do his best not to traumatize them.

    All this had happened whilst in her heels as well, a type of shoe that confounded Alex and defied all logic. If it hurt, why wear it? If you were going on a journey, why wear heels? She'd insisted that they 'made her feel pretty', and had kept complaining of sore feet, which he had been nominated to rub when they stopped to rest.

    They'd been traveling for several days now, and she'd run ahead of him several times, only to limp back with sore feet an hour later and ask for a ride on his back. The monotony of walking like a normal person on a road was evidently too boring for her to deal with. Some might've found that annoying, but he could see she was happy. She'd even caught a Mareep, and this latest jaunt ahead had seen her return with a Swablu as well.

    Now however, he was once more carrying her shoes, and she was on his back. They weren't thin heels, but they were apparently just painful enough to cause sore feet. This was yet another thing he would never understand about the fairer sex. His own shoes were perfect. Black and white and made for travel. He'd had to wear his backpack reversed to make room for her, and now he felt more like a camel than a Trainer. He would've ridden his Torterra, but he was still sleeping almost twenty four hours a day, and he figured that it would be best to let him rest before the gym match. Once that was over, he'd have a proper break in the warm summer sun of Undella Bay.

    Looking at her shoes, a thought drifted into his head, and he asked, "Are you planning on staying with me this summer? Through the whole journey? You might not be back in time for school. I'm good, but journeys take time. Especially the first one." He could feel her sigh against his neck, and then his vision was obscured as she yanked his hat down.

    "What a question!" she said, dramatically. "Of course I'm coming with you! It'll be a good chance to prepare my team for my final exam."

    In truth, she was sick of school. The monotonous memorization of tests, the endless hours spent discussing various type pairings. It bored her to sleep. Her father would be furious if she missed the start of the half a year long semester. She'd always avoided taking the summer one.

    The campus was oppressively hot in the summer months, and taking the final exams in the fall was even harder. Most students only went for the winter months, when being home with family, trapped indoors, was liable to make many of these maturing adults go stir crazy.

    Alex pushed his hat up by blowing hard at the rim, repeatedly. Just enough to see the trail. "Are you ever going to tell me what you specialized in?"

    He could feel her giggle against his back. Not an unpleasant sensation, for two C sized reasons. "You'll find out. And you had better be at my graduation, Mr. Redwood."

    He looked up at her, a hard thing to do with his hat so far down. "I wouldn't miss it."

    She giggled again, and stole his hat, then turned hers to the right and put his on, facing the left. "Ahh…now the sun can't burn my face." She sighed, letting her chin rest on his head.

    He smirked, eyes on the road ahead as Humilau came ever closer. He'd thought it was a small town, but that was because they'd been so far away from it. They were close to the Unovan coast now. "You look ridiculous with two hats on."

    She swatted at one of his cheeks. "You're supposed to say I look beautiful no matter what. Who taught you how to be a lovesick puppy anyways?"

    He snorted. "Puppy? If anything, I look more like a turtle. Which fits I suppose, Trainers are supposed to match their Pokémon aren't they?"

    She laughed, and dug her chin into his head, trying not to sneeze as it was surrounded by wavy, dark brown hair. "Fine. You're a lovesick turtle."

    That brought another smirk, one that faded slightly as he saw a group of people on the road ahead. "Can't argue with that logic."

    The group ahead of them came closer, and as Jess finally noticed, she grinned. "Look! Preschoolers!" She jumped down off his back, sore feet forgotten, and ran towards them, all smiles.

    Most people from Unova were inherently suspicious of strangers, as anyone from such a highly-populated region would be, but out here among the gorgeous waves and scenic mountains, people were more relaxed.

    Free of his giggling burden, Alex stretched his back with a satisfying crack, and adjusted his backpack once more. He threw her shoes in it for good measure, and was zipping everything up when he heard shouting. "Oi! Turtle-boy! Come say hi and stop being shy!"

    He was already moving towards her, close enough to hear the teacher say, "Turtle boy?" To which Jess shook her head. The kids loved it though. The girls, anyway. The boys were young, but they were still boys, and as a rule, thought girls were annoying and icky. But this new one was prettier than their teacher, despite the fact that she looked silly wearing two hats that clashed with one another.

    Once Alex made it down the road, he snatched his hat back from her before she could say anything, and put it on again as he turned to the teacher. "Sorry for interrupting your class. I can't take her anywhere."

    The teacher had to be around their age, with black hair and an average build. She wasn't necessarily unattractive, but next to Jess, every woman was less attractive. She had a sort of nerdy look about her that, had he not already been smitten, might have piqued his interest.

    "Oh, it's quite alright." She said, smiling. "Jess was just telling us that she was starting her journey as a Pokémon Trainer. I'm guessing that means you two are from up north?" Alex nodded, glancing at his partner, who was playing with the kids, as he had an adult conversation.

    She was enamored with the girls, and even the boys had come up now. They were, of course, talking about Pokémon, each one telling her with childish enthusiasm what they wanted, or had at home, or their older siblings or parents had, all while mispronouncing their names. It was adorable.

    "Yes, our town is pretty far north of the Pokémon Center in the mountains. But it's small, nothing but ranches really. And apples." The teacher looked ready to respond, when a smaller boy with black hair and a red shirt that had a Emboar on the front of it came up to him, and tugged on his jacket.

    "Do you have Pokémon too? Can we see them? Pleeaaase?" The boy's teacher looked embarrassed, but Alex nodded. Nobody could resist that cuteness.

    "I suppose I could let them out." The entire class cheered, but he held up a finger. "You have to be careful around them though. They don't like to be hit, or tugged on, and while they won't attack you if you annoy them, you might get shocked, or burned, or splashed with water. You have to promise to be gentle." He emphasized the word gentle. He might as well have told the sea to stay calm and never turn stormy.

    "We promise!" they said in unison. Someday, far in the future, he would be wise enough to figure out how kids behaved, but at that moment, he was not wise, and decided to take them at their word, not yet understanding that children that age kept promises for about five minutes. He shared a look with Jess. The cuteness was blinding both of them, and even their teacher.

    "Alright then." He grabbed Terra's ball. Out of all of his growing team of Pokémon, Terra might've been the strongest but he was also the most like Alex. He wouldn't have to worry about the kids being in any kind of danger with him. Like his Trainer, he was a gentle giant.

    "Terra! Come on out!" He threw the ball into the air, and it burst open before zooming back to his hand. Terra appeared in a flash of green swirling light, and yawned, then looked around him, blinking slowly at the children.

    "This," Alex began, "Is my first Pokémon. His name is Terra."

    One of the girls spoke up now. "Does he like warm hugs?" Alex shared a look with his Pokémon, and shrugged, not getting the reference. The mountain turtle answered for him. "Terra!"

    Even the children could tell that was a yes. Despite his size, the children were climbing on him almost immediately. Since just one of his legs was taller than most of them, he lay down, and let them use his large shell as a playground on the grass to the side of the road.

    The trees had lessened now, this close to the ocean, and grassy plains with the occasional house were what surrounded them now. It was a perfect place to relax, or take a field trip.

    About five seconds passed before the same boy as before ran back to Alex. The other kids watched him like a pack of Wingull watched another of their kind who had just caught a tasty fish. Perched on Terra as they were, the similarity was quite accurate.

    "Do you have a fire type?"

    He sighed. Most kids loved fire types, as they were, ironically, the coolest in almost every region, from Sinnoh to Unova. Even he had liked fire types when he was younger, only preferring grass types later on, when he understood how a Pokémon's type often affected how they interacted with the world around them.

    Grass types brought peace and clean air, but underneath that calm exterior was a power as strong as the earth itself. Fire types, and their Trainers, often had to go to areas without any vegetation to train. Fire was hard to control, most of the time, and fire type Pokémon were no exception. But Blaze was different, and so was the rest of his species. They had a sense of honor that was admired world-wide, and had helped the popularity of their species soar. He wouldn't intentionally harm weaker opponents, let alone children.

    "I do actually. So does Jess. She copied me when I chose mine." Jess looked at him as he spoke, and made a face, like she was about to protest, when Alex threw the rest of his balls into the air, somehow managing to catch all three when they zoomed back to him. Blaze, Leo, and Hydrus appeared in a burst of light matching their color.

    The children stared, eyes wide as Alex pointed at each one. "This is Blaze. A Charmeleon. Do. Not. Yank. His. Tail." Quickly grasping the situation, Blaze nodded, snorting flames for emphasis. He moved on.

    "This is Hydrus. His fins are sensitive, so if you pet them, do it gently, and he will love you for it. Yank on them, and he will get you wet." Hydrus, the youngest of his team by far, was inspecting a bug on the ground, not able to decide if he wanted to eat it or not. At that moment, one of the larger kids in the group burst from behind the others, a Mudkip on his blue shirt.

    "Mudkip!? I LOVE MUDKIPZ!" Hydrus blinked, recognizing his species' name, and then yelped, running as the large kid began chasing him. Knowing Hydrus could easily outrun the boy, Alex continued, patting Leo as he walked up to him.

    "Last but not least, Leo. You might feel a slight buzz if you pet him. Don't worry, it won't shock you." "Lux." The gold furred cat purred, immediately moving towards the kids. They pet him gently, and babbled excitedly as they felt the current of his electricity under their hands. The cat looked at his Trainer and tilted his head questioningly. Alex nodded. Suddenly, most of the children had their hair stretched completely straight in random directions. The boys found it hilarious. The girls immediately let go of the cat and pat their hair down frantically. They wandered back over to Jess then, as she'd brought out her own starter but Alex didn't mind. Serpi had their attention now, as she was, he had to admit, quite a lovely grass type.

    Blaze was by far the most popular, and he didn't quite like being the center of attention. "Mak'im do a Fire Blast!" One kid shouted.

    Alex shrugged, and looked at Blaze, who sighed a puff of smoke, and tilted his head to the sky. With a roar, a ball of mighty flames shot above them, bursting into a five-pronged star and flying even higher before finally exploding high above them.

    The kids stared in awe, and despite his reluctance, Alex could tell his partner enjoyed showing off for them. A few kids were still on Terra, the Mudkip boy had finally managed to coax Hydrus to come over, and was stroking his fins gently. Judging by his wet clothes, he'd tried yanking on them first. The boys began shouting eagerly for more moves, many of which Blaze simply didn't know, or couldn't do without hurting someone.

    "Meleon." Blaze said to his Trainer, as he was obviously tired of entertaining children, and wished to go back into his ball. Alex couldn't really blame him. As he disappeared, the boys all made an 'awwww' sound, and Terra opened one eye from where he was snoozing. Most of the kids had moved on from playing on him, but he was enjoying the sunlight all the same.

    He lifted his head then, and opened his mouth as if to yawn, but instead, green light swirled towards him, forming a ball of energy in his mouth. Unlike his usual Energy Balls, this one was being drawn from the land, not himself, in small amounts from what the land could give. Once he had it large enough, several kids started to notice.

    The gathered energy was inhaled then, filling Terra with green light. He closed his eyes again, and soon after, the green light appeared again, around the massive tree on his shell. Most of the class was watching now, Alex included, and after about a minute, tiny apples began to form on the branches of his tree.

    "I don't believe it…" Alex whispered, "I didn't know he knew how to grow fruit yet. Who taught him that?"

    The teacher walked up then, and pushed the rim of her glasses up with two fingers. "Some things can't be taught. Pokémon know how to do more than just what you teach them, especially grass types. Growing fruit for a Torterra is as easy as say, a Snivy controlling vines, or a Bulbasaur tending flowers. You have a Pokédex, right? Many Pokémon, in the wild, use Torterra's shell as a home. Torterra is often kind enough to share its shell, and if a Pokémon is wounded and needs shelter, it can provide food and safety."

    Alex nodded, recalling several Pokédex entries. Some varied by region, but most gave similar information. "I remember…one of the reasons we have wild Turtwig at home is because we have farmers who grow entire orchard's worth of fruit using Torterra's trees. I used to help out at several of them when I was younger. I always liked how kind they were, and often I found Pokémon that needed treatment at our town's center, hiding on their shells. I guess growing fruit is something they do naturally."

    By now, the apples were bright red, and looked delicious. The children needed no prompting, and ran over to grab them. Not long after, another would grow in to replace what had been taken, such was the amount of energy Terra had gathered. In an environment like this, that got plenty of sunlight, he had been able to draw quite a bit of energy.

    They decided to have lunch then, all of them, and even Leo and Hydrus had a few apples. Blaze was called out again, and munched on several himself before returning to his ball. That left Chari as the center of attention, and the only fire type. Unlike the boys, most of the girls had just wanted to hug her, rather than make her breathe fire. Eventually, the time came to return everyone to their balls.

    The teacher approached the two Trainers as the kids got ready to continue again on their field trip. It was just past noon. "We're going to continue on the trail a bit further, so we can see Draconis Mons, from a safe distance of course. Are you two headed into town?"

    Jess answered, nodding. "Alex is going for the gym badge there. As his first badge in the Unova challenge."

    The teacher blinked. "You're choosing Marlon as your first opponent? Willingly?"

    Alex nodded as well. "You saw my Torterra. I could use him and him alone and sweep this gym. But I want to train Leo on the other Trainers under Marlon as well."

    The teacher gave a small smirk. "Well, I wish you luck. Marlon knows how to handle electric and grass types, they'll have to be quite strong to face him and win. There's a reason League Challengers save him for last."

    Alex smirked. "Good. It's been too long since I faced a decent water type user. Thanks for letting us show off our teams. I think the Pokémon enjoyed it as much as the children did."

    The teacher gave a slight curtsy then. "Any time. Feel free to visit if you ever come through Humilau again." With their goodbyes handled, Alex and Jess began making their way to town again.

    Five minutes later, they stopped and called out Terra, as Jess remembered that her feet were killing her. Terra didn't seem to mind, but he looked tired. "Wake up my friend," Alex said, patting his shell. "We have our first gym battle coming up. Once we win, I'll let you rest as long as you like."

    "Terra." Was the grumble he got in response. Jess hid a blush under her hair. The deep rumble of Terra's voice made the shell vibrate in all the right ways.

    "We should ride Terra more often." She said, smirking.

    "He's my friend, not my car." Alex grumbled. Still, he supposed it would be good training, riding cross-region on Terra would make his endurance grow even further, but something didn't seem quite right. Terra still looked tired, and not just because his eyes had changed upon evolving. He yawned often as they traveled, and every few steps he would yawn again.

    Over time they became less frequent, especially once they entered town, but he made a note to be sure to have the local nurse check him out once they beat the gym. Finding the gym was easy, and the locals stared at him as he rode past at Torterra speed, lumbering through the town.

    There were smirks on their faces that unnerved him. Anyone with eyes could tell they were heading to the gym, and after an unnecessarily complex series of ramps that led them up and down and up again, they made it.

    "Yo, Marlon!" A man in a too-tight swimsuit called as Alex and Jess entered the building sans Terra, "We got more challengers!"

    Alex raised a brow at Jess. "Are you going to try your luck too? Serpi might beat him. She's gotten a lot stronger after all those battles on the road."

    Jess shook her head. "I might have a battle or two with the other Trainers, after you, but beating teams of Caterpie didn't give her enough experience to face the eighth gym of Unova right out the gate."

    Alex shrugged. "Whatever you say. It just means we'll have to come back here again." She elbowed him forward as the man who must've been Marlon walked towards him, his fellow gym Trainers flanking him. They reminded him of the University's swim team. He even recognized a few faces from alumni, though of course, they had no idea who he was.

    "I wanted to see the kids again anyways. Now go pull another victory out of thin air." He winked at her, and then shook his head. Type advantage would do all the work here. Had this been an ice gym, he would've just skipped it and started at Striaton, like most Trainers.

    "Yo!" Marlon waved, and Alex took a minute to take in his unique appearance. Most adult men he met didn't wear pants with fins on them. It wasn't wrong, it was just…unusual. Jess seemed more occupied by his upper half as he glanced at her. "I'm Marlon, head of this gym. Which of you fine folks is challengin' me?"

    Alex stepped forward, and turned his hat backwards, grinning. Marlon spoke before he could say a word. "Oh ho ho! I see! Judgin' by that hat you're from the northeast, yea? So, you must just be starting out! That's cool bro, we can take all types here! Everyone's welcome at the Humilau Gym!"

    It was hard not to like Marlon. His appearance was a bit…odd, but once you got past that, he had a chilled-out vibe that seemed like it would be more at home in Alola, not Unova.

    "Thank you for accepting my challenge, Marlon. But I'm no beginner, despite coming from the northeast. This is my first gym challenge, but I didn't walk over mountains to face your line up for novices." Marlon raised a blue eyebrow, and Alex met his gaze evenly, allowing a smirk to cross his normally impassive features. "Treat me like you would if this was my last gym, and after, I'd be facing the League."

    "You sure, my man? My team is pretty strong." Deciding that showing, rather than telling, would be the quickest path to a match here, Alex thumbed the release on Terra's ball. He came out with a yawn, and blinked at Marlon, then looked around the gym. Despite the type advantage, grass and water types got along well, for obvious reasons, and he could tell Terra liked this gym's setup.

    "Well now…I see! You must be him! The Trainer who beat ol' Tyran, and his Trainer up at the University." He turned to his protégés. "Grab your strongest, boys and girls. If this Torterra is the end result of that Turtwig, we've got quite a challenge ahead."

    The gathered water Trainers grinned, and as they took their places in the gym, out came the flying and water types. Terra seemed to smile, and he and his Trainer shared a look. They strolled casually up to their first opponent, at which point a white Pokéball flew into the air, and produced a Luxio. A smirk appeared under the northern styled hat. "Thunderbolt."

    As promised, type advantage took care of a need for strategy, most of the time. One by one, he could see the swimmer's respect for his skill as a Trainer grow. Leo grew as well, finishing strong as he took down the last swimmer's Pokémon, an Azumarill. That had been the last obstacle before Marlon, and as the other Trainer recalled the fainted Pokémon, Leo began to glow with a blinding white light in an increasingly familiar double helix pattern.

    Alex kept him from evolving during the harsh gym battles for one reason: Thunder Fang, arguably the signature move of Luxray. Leo had figured it out after the first Trainer they faced, and had honed it throughout the other battles. He'd finished Azumarill with that very move, and now, he ascended to the final stage of his evolution, growing larger, and gaining sharp claws as well as a large, flared mane.

    Leo grinned at his Trainer once the light faded, looking quite refreshed as electricity sparked over his fur, and made the mane flare out even further. It was large, fluffy, and impressive, and his intense red and gold eyes had a feline fierceness that suggested nobody should mess with him. In earlier forms, it was often hard to tell if a Shinx was male or female, but Alex had known Leo was male from the start, and now, his mane proved it.

    The female's of his species had manes that were shorter, smoother, while the males were larger, and flared out more. A trait shared by their counterpart, Pyroar, in Kalos. Jess had gone with Marlon to the final battlefield, a series of wooden platforms with circular platforms dotting the water. They didn't look like they'd hold Terra.

    A section of sturdier wood was provided at his request once he mentioned just how heavy his titanic earth turtle was, and several strong platforms were provided for his side of the field coming up from the bottom of the gym. Terra wouldn't be able to dodge, but then, he was a tank that fired condensed grass energy now. Dodging was a thing of the past.

    Terra was rested and ready to go, despite his yawning, and his defense was second to none. Alex had no doubt that if they could block ice attacks, they'd have a pretty easy win. Leo got a Max Elixir and a Hyper Potion for the final battle, and he was ready as well. Electricity bristled over his shiny black and gold fur, and mane. He was itching to try out his new body.

    "I should mention..." Marlon said, after hopping across the numerous lily pads and wooden platforms that littered the Gym Leader's field, "There's a new League Challenge rumored to be starting soon. The other Gym Leaders were given special badges, and everything. I'm technically not supposed to tell anyone about it yet...but you seem like the kinda' guy who'd be interested in such a challenge."

    Alex raised a brow from under his backwards-turned hat. "A new challenge? What makes it different?"

    Marlon stretched as he spoke, and as Alex glanced towards Jess again, he saw her watching with undisguised interest. As did many of his female gym Trainers. He quietly lamented his lack of abs, then focused as Marlon spoke again, "Well, for one thing, there's no Conference this time. This challenge is so hard, anyone who manages to beat it will have proven themselves worthy of going straight to the Victory Plateau."

    Alex felt a smirk tug at his mouth. A chance to avoid being taken out by some foreigner with an overpowered mythical partner before the Elite Four. "Consider my interest piqued."

    Marlon put his hands on his hips as he explained the rules, "Gym Leaders, as you know, usually have a specific team of Pokémon they use for battles. Their teams are allowed to have one 'ace' on them, but the other Pokémon have to be relatively new, or at least match the skill level of our challengers." Marlon grinned at him. "This challenge lets us use the teams we had when we were traveling Trainers, like you. The Victory League is even harder."

    "And that's why it's so difficult..." Alex finished. He looked down, and stroked his bare chin as he pondered whether or not he could really succeed in such conditions. The Gym Leaders of Unova were quite strong, and if they were using their best lineup for this, he needed to train even harder. Two seconds later, he looked up. "Right. I'll face your team, and gladly enter this challenge."

    He had no idea what exactly he'd signed up for, or why it was being held in the first place, but at the moment he didn't care. This was an obvious way for the League to see who the standout Trainers among this year's crop were, and he planned to be one of them.

    Marlon wasted no time, and soon both he and Alex had their Pokémon out, ready for battle. Terra's weight managed to be held by the wooden platform, and Marlon's Jellicent was at home in the water. With type advantage and field advantage, they were evenly matched. Marlon gave a flourishing bow. "The first move goes to the challenger! Give me your best! You'll need it..."

    The knowing smirks from the townspeople and now Marlon's swimmers bugged him, but if this was a trap, he was going to spring it. "Alright. Terra, Energy Ball!"

    Jellicent replied with a Shadow Ball, and the two moves canceled out in an explosive cloud of smoke. Alex and his partner blinked. Evidently, he was not the only Trainer to have figured out the many advantages in layering spherical energy attacks. Terra followed up with a Razor Leaf that hit Jellicent hard, and then two more Energy Balls, the first being deflected by another Shadow Ball, while the second hit home. Jellicent went down, and the ref, one of Marlon's people, called it. Next up was Mantine.

    "Wing Attack!" Marlon said, taking the first move now, as he was the one who'd changed Pokémon.

    "Energy Ball, Terra!" Terra tried to attack, but then stopped, shaking its head. Alex blinked, and then swore as the flying type move slammed into Terra. "Razor Leaf!" He shouted quickly, not wanting to lose the advantage.

    "Keep hitting them with Wing Attack! They can't retaliate with Energy Ball thanks to Jellicent's Cursed Body! Get in close!" Mantine bashed the leaves away with its glowing white fins, the flying type move batted them easily out of its path as it charged Terra. Mumbling under his breath about annoying abilities like Cursed Body and Sap Sipper, Alex switched strategies.

    "Terra! Catch its fin on the next attack with Crunch!" Despite the pain he took from the move, Terra did as he was ordered, clamping down on Mantine's glowing fin with his sharp mouth. "Now, hit it repeatedly with Razor Leaf!"

    Unable to block the swarm of sharp leaves that flew from Terra's Ash tree with Wing Attack as it had done before, Mantine took the hit directly, and fell into the water, fainted. Next came Carracosta, a fellow turtle Pokémon. Had it not been part rock type, Alex would've used Leo. Terra stayed in, looking just as determined as ever, despite the multiple Wing Attacks.

    "Shell Smash!" Marlon called the move, and Terra braced for an attack. Instead, the other turtle dove into the water after stretching, and causing bits of its rocky shell to fall away, freeing up its movement, and increasing its speed.

    "Razor Leaf." Terra fired at the blue turtle, but to no avail, the surface of the water made a poor environment for that kind of attack. The crafty water type used his advantage to leap out of the water and slam Terra's head with an Aqua Tail. More Razor Leaves followed, but were similarly useless.

    Finally, when Carracosta jumped to use another Aqua Tail, Terra was ready. "Woodhammer!" Alex called, and Terra answered by letting the grass energy build in the spikes on either side of his head, and not unlike a Fraxure, hammered the rocky turtle as it tried another Aqua Jet. After weathering so many attacks, Marlon had hoped to lower Terra's defenses, but the grass tortoise remained looking as strong as ever.

    In reality, he was limited in moves and mobility. Frenzy Plant required earth to be truly effective, Earthquake was useless on water, and Energy Ball was still disabled. As Marlon brought out his next Pokémon, Alex switched Terra out.

    It was good he did, because the Walrein that came out next looked strong, and knew primarily ice moves. Leo's Thunder Fang met its Ice Fang numerous times, forcing the agile cat to leap from platform to platform, before paralysis finally took hold, and Leo was able to call down a Thunderbolt from a safe distance.

    As Marlon recalled his Walrein, he pulled out a final ball. "This is it. Roshi, go!" A Samurott appeared on the single platform before Marlon then, and he shivered as he met Leo's eyes.

    Alex felt a shiver go down his spine as he realized that this had to be Marlon's starter, no doubt received from a Professor, and second only to his Jellicent. He imagined that together, they were quite difficult to beat. "Razor Shell!" At Marlon's command, the large Samurott drew a pair of sharp shells from each front forearm, and then dove into the water.

    Alex smirked. He'd need to do better than that. "Leo, keep your eyes on him..." The golden furred Luxray watched, his gaze laser-focused on his target. A Luxray's eyes were superior even to targeting computers, and were a large part of his newfound accuracy with ranged attacks. He could be dodged, but it was not often that he missed. Leo snarled, a warning to his Trainer that the Samurott was coming up for his attack. "Thunder!"

    Leo's roar, now one that well suited his lion-like form, echoed through the gym as the electricity shot into the air...and then came down hard on the emerging Samurott. The masterful swordsman cut through the attack with one shell, and the other was thrown towards Leo.

    "Catch it with Thunder Fang!" Alex ordered, taking a page from Terra's tactics. Leo caught the shell sword, and then tossed it outside the field, where it landed next to Jess and the onlooking swimmers who trained at the gym. They were certainly getting a show.

    Roshi dove back under the water, and Leo watched him once more. With only one shell-sword, he'd be limited to defense, but Alex knew Samurott were renowned for their sword skills, and were almost on par with Gallade in that regard.

    "Hydro Pump!" Alex swore as he heard Marlon call the move, but Leo was able to dodge, as he saw it coming.

    "Luxray!" He growled once he'd found a new platform. He'd lost sight of Roshi, but Alex knew where the Samurott would strike. It was where he would've struck, had he been in Marlon's place. "Razor Shell!" Marlon called again.

    A shift in movement below his thunder cat confirmed his suspicions. "He's below you, Leo, hiding under the platform!" Leo jumped to another, trusting his Trainer to be his eyes as he dodged the blue slash of energy that tore the platform apart. Alex kept track of his Pokémon's position, as well as the swift blue form of Roshi.

    "Keep moving!" he called, swearing as Leo was put on the defensive. Roshi continued slashing through platforms and lily pads, and Alex knew Terra wouldn't be able to pull this off if Leo went down. Blaze would do poorly against a fast water type, and this Samurott appeared to have mastered its physical moves. Hydrus wouldn't last long either, young as he was, and with only the outer ring to stand on, Terra would be a sitting turtle. They had to win here.

    "Wait for it..." Alex said, and Leo nodded, jumping between the last few surfaces on the water field. "Now! Thunder Fang!" Leo landed hard on the last wooden platform, then turned completely around as only a feline could, and leapt over the open water, right as Roshi came up again. The two crossed in the air, and Leo went into the water, snarling in discomfort, as Roshi landed on the platform, sword extended, and still glowing.

    Marlon looked triumphant, and crossed his arms, preparing to declare his victory...until he took a second look at his Samurott. With a sigh, Roshi collapsed. Blocking Thunder with a water type move had mitigated some damage, but not enough to take a direct Thunder Fang from a fellow physical attacker. Leo crawled out of the water onto the square wooden platform that ringed the field, shaking himself free of as much water as possible.

    Marlon took most of it, but didn't seem to mind. Leo trotted back to his Trainer, and despite his dampness, gave a toothy grin. "Well done, Leo. You've grown more than I could've imagined, and in so short a time." Growling in agreement, Alex recalled his Pokémon, and knew the ball's interior would dry him. After a long argument about ethics in the wake of Team Plasma's second attempt at domination and at Champion N's request, the Pokémon League had decided to give all Pokéballs a 'Luxury Ball level' of comfort within. The older model balls had been phased out, as trade-ins were free, for balls with occupants. Over time, reports of ball-hating Pokémon lessened, though there were always those who preferred to wander outside.

    Riding the lily pads they'd been standing on back to the wooden slats surrounding the field, Marlon fished out a badge from his odd pants as he walked over to Alex.

    "Well done my man, this Wave Badge is yours. Enjoy it, because the other gyms won't be nearly so easy. I can tell you've been practicing on other water types." Alex chuckled, thanking him for the badge.

    It hadn't really been an easy fight per say, Terra was worn out and Leo had barely managed to take down that much stronger Samurott, but in the end, it was worth it. He pinned the badge to the inside of his jacket, and he and Jess left the gym to find the sun was already setting, and the sky was almost as red-orange as her hair.

    "So." She said, as they headed for the town Pokémon center, "How did you like your first gym experience?"

    Alex shrugged. "Don't get me wrong, it was intense, but it seems like doing that eight times could get a bit…repetitive. It's definitely a great way to train though, assuming you have enough of a type advantage and a high enough skill level."

    She sighed. "Well I hope my first time is as easy as that looked."

    He raised a brow. "You call that easy? Terra was essentially reduced to one move for most of the battle. If that Mantine had known Ice Beam, Terra would've gone down, and that Samurott...it almost had us."

    She shrugged as they entered the Pokémon center. "I guess after seeing Terra beat a Tyrantrum, a bunch of water types isn't as exciting as I thought it'd be. Though I did like Leo's finishing move. That cat has style."

    Alex smirked. "He has class, too."

    He shook his head, chuckling, and then got them a room. As he waited for their key, he replied, "Don't worry, there's more to life than gym battles. But I'll try to make the others more appealing."

    "Oh, it was definitely appealing. Not a shirt to be found in that gym." She said with a knowing smirk.

    "Nope," Alex agreed, smirking as he recalled the female swimmers. "Nothing but swimsuits." He could play the jealousy card too. She pouted as their room key was handed over.

    "I'll meet you there, I'm going to leave my team here." She shrugged, already heading off towards the rooms, and Alex addressed the nurse.

    "My Torterra has been acting a bit strange lately. I mean, I know he's supposed to be big and enjoy a good nap, but he sleeps all the time and can barely go five minutes without yawning. Even in battle. Could you take a look at him?" She nodded, taking Terra's Pokéball.

    "I'll see what I can do. One moment, please." One moment turned into five minutes, and then five turned into ten. Finally, the nurse returned. "Your Torterra is recovering from an imbalance of power in his body. Did you keep him from evolving for a long time without an ever stone?" Alex nodded. "I see. He's not in any danger, but he needs about three weeks of rest, preferably somewhere sunny, where he can sleep in peace."

    Thanking her, he headed towards their room, swearing silently at the fact that his strongest Pokémon would now be out of it for almost a month. There were worse things, though. He could focus on training the others while Terra recovered. He needed the gap in their respective power levels to lessen. Arriving in their shared room, he saw his flame haired companion, already asleep and with minimal clothing. Evidently, she'd tossed her clothes, and dropped into the bed.

    He slid in next to her after doing the same, but there was no lewdness. It had been a long day, and he didn't mind playing big spoon.
     
    #4 Mar 2, 2019
    Last edited: Apr 27, 2022
  5. Sahqoreyth

    Arthur
    (Kirlia ♂)
    Level 21
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    Dawn Stone ★★★★
    Chapter 4: Draconis Mons, Part 1

    Humilau City - Unova Region

    The next morning came swiftly, and while Alex let Jess admire his shiny new badge, he went to retrieve his team at the front desk. He then put in a call to the Redwood Lab. Surprisingly, his granduncle answered the phone for once. That was unusual, as he usually made his aides talk to people.

    "Oho! Alex! You've been gone a while my boy, almost a week! I expect you've beaten the Unova League by now, Mr. Fame and Fortune." Alex suppressed a laugh. He hadn't really let himself miss being at home, but not having his long talks with his granduncle was definitely leaving a hole in his life. Luckily, Jess was filling that fairly well.

    "Not quite Gruncle Red, but I did just beat Marlon at the Humilau Gym yesterday. I'd show you my badge, but it's being admired because it's shiny." His granduncle gave him a knowing smirk, not missing a trick.

    "I see, I see. And is that badge the only thing that's been getting polished?" Alex snorted with a hard laugh, and yanked his hat down to hide the flush in his cheeks as his granduncle's loud laughter filled the lobby of the Pokémon center.

    "Honestly…there are children here." He mumbled, trying not to laugh. The crude sense of humor was something they often shared, but the rest of the family found it childish and lewd. Not them though, they'd spent hours over the years sharing such jokes, and their conversations were saturated with innuendo. But doing so over the phone was another matter entirely. The old man finally ceased laughing, wiping a tear from his eye.

    "Oh. Ho ho. Next time choose your words more carefully, lad, you set that one up for me. Now then, what do you want?"

    Alex gave his favorite relative a look. "Want? Can't I just call my family to see how everyone's doing? Make sure you haven't turned to dust while I've been gone? That's what happens when fossils like you get too much sun, you know." He couldn't hide his smirk.

    "HA!" his granduncle shouted again, and again he drew looks from other people using the phones. "It'll take more than age to kill me, boy. And I know you. Unless you needed my help, you wouldn't have called until you beat the Unova League. Now out with it."

    Alex explained the situation with Terra, and then outlined an upgrade to his Pokéball that he thought might help the situation. Sitting in one place, lounging in the sun all day wasn't good for a Trainer like him, with a team that needed to get used to battling. If he let them relax too much this early, they'd become lazy.

    Thus, he asked his granduncle to modify Terra's ball so that the internal habitat was one that would trick his body into thinking it was getting enough sunlight. It would genuinely filter in said light to him through the solar panel slots he outlined for his granduncle, just at a steady rate rather than high amounts of it for a few hours a day.

    "Hmmm." His granduncle murmured once he'd finished explaining, "Tricky…but I think I could do it. You know, you could just leave him here on the ranch."

    Alex shook his head. "Unlike some wrinkled fossils, I actually worked on that ranch. Not even Terra could get more than a few hours of real rest there. Sun, sure. Peace and quiet? No chance."

    The old man chuckled again, nodding. "Alright. Send him and his ball over anyway. It'll be done by tomorrow." Alex nodded, placing the ball in the teleporter. He didn't bother calling Terra out to explain all this, since the poor creature had been sound asleep since the day before, and nothing could rouse him. He'd had enough power to battle, but now he slept.

    Alex had decided to simply let him rest. "Just let him sit outside the lab while you work on it, eh? That way the Tauros and Miltank won't bug him. They hate the smell of your stale Leaf."

    The old man snorted. "My Leaf is of the finest quality, as you well know, you curly haired mooch." The Professor waved his hand again. "Stop worrying about your bloody turtle and go find that redhead of yours. Savor every second you have with her. Terra will be fine. Go. Shoo. And be here tomorrow."

    "Oh, and one more thing," Alex said, sensing the call was ending. "I need a similar setup for Leo and Hydrus' balls. Leo's can't handle his new electric power as a Luxray, and Hydrus keeps flooding his, somehow."

    His granduncle sighed as Alex loaded the balls into the teleporter. "Fine, fine. I'll fix your whole damn belt. Lazy boy. In my day, we fixed our own balls."

    "Thank yo-" The line cut out after the balls were transported, and Alex sighed. With Terra and most of his team gone, that left him with Blaze as his strongest and only Pokémon. It felt strange, not having Terra with him. A year might have seemed like a short time, but he'd grown used to always having him within reach. Now, he wasn't. It was an odd feeling.

    He decided to let Blaze walk with him, and they headed back to the room, where he found his bag and his badge were missing. He sighed, grabbing his jacket and then noticed a note that read:

    Dearest Turtle, I've gone out to train Empolia (Piplup) against the other water types around Humilau. One of our handsome neighbors told me that Draconis Mons has a lot of Bagon around lately, so you should go there and catch one. Take all day.

    He sighed, as she'd added a 'wink face' after that, but there was more.

    P.S. I took your bag because it has vitamins and stuff. I left you your dragon ball though, so go catch a Bagon! I expect you back by lunch after I've beaten this pretty boy senseless. Hurry up.

    -Jess

    He sighed again, hoping that whatever fool had hoped to impress her with his 'skill' would survive a battle with her. One of the reasons Serpi had grown so strong was because other men were always trying to show her how strong they were, and she usually beat them. That had only become easier now that Serpi had evolved, and gained backup from a Charmeleon and a Piplup.

    "Looks like it's you and me, Blaze." He said, folding the paper and sliding it into an inner pocket where it would be safe. He grabbed the customized Timer Ball, and soon they were on the road north to Draconis Mons, on the same road they'd seen the preschoolers on.

    Reaching the giant mountain that lacked a pointed peak wasn't hard exactly, but there was a good mile of dense forest full of young or even middle evolution Pokémon that kept humans away. Alex and Blaze managed to trek through most of it rather quickly thanks to Blaze's sharp claws and Alex's lack of a heavy backpack. It was nice not having to lug around all that stuff. Maybe he would actually make it back for lunch.

    His hope of lunch faded as they reached the rocky base of the mountain proper, and still hadn't found any Pokémon at all. Deciding to risk traveling up, figuring that his uncanny lucky streak, and the fact that he had a Charmeleon to vouch for him, would keep him from any real harm, he headed up the mountain itself. It wasn't all that difficult, as there was only one footpath.

    He noticed a lack of human prints however, but hoped that his own would go unnoticed. Large as his feet were, that was not to be the case. By about two hours past noon, he'd climbed to the top of the mountain, which he discovered was a large crater, with a lake at the bottom. He was quite high up, but the trail had been easy enough for someone who had long since mastered the art of running uphill.

    Blaze was panting by the time they reached the top, and so was Alex. It was quite a climb. Once they got to that point however, Alex realized why they hadn't seen any Pokémon today. Before him, throughout the valley, hundreds of fully evolved dragon types, and Charizard, lined the walls of the crater that made up the center of the mountain's peak, along with just as many middle and pre-evolutions as well. It was one of those rare scenes, a gathering of Pokémon that was supposed to be for them, and only them.

    None seemed to notice him yet, and he decided stealth would be a good idea here. In the middle of the crater, high above the lake where he could see several Dratini and Dragonair, was a rocky outcropping that looked structurally unsafe, connected as it was to only two sides of the mountain crater by bridges of natural stone that seemed to have been carved out by way of claws. Judging by what was happening on top of the circular rocky bridge, it could handle plenty of weight.

    Two Charizard were dueling atop the rocky arena, in a test of grappling strength, rather than fighting with fire or in mid-air. Claw to claw. He blinked as he looked closer, and noticed that the larger of the pair was actually as black as obsidian, and had a downright nasty look to him. His wings were ragged, and pale scars covered his body.

    This was an old Charizard, and likely the top dog around here. Realizing that any Pokémon that could become the strongest among dragon types that even included Salamence, several of which he could make out perched on the cliffs, could kill him without a thought, he decided that leaving quickly was a good idea. He stank of sweat from the climb, and this fight wasn't going to last much longer.

    The black Charizard bit his opponent's neck then, and the spectators all roared in outrage at the apparently illegal move, but the contest continued, despite the open and bleeding wound of the smaller Charizard who, by his estimate, was still larger than any he'd ever seen.

    The black one gave a mighty roar then, and pushed his opponent back repeatedly with Dragon Claws, seconds later, it was over the edge, plummeting towards the water hundreds of feet below. The black Charizard was not done however, as it took flight now, and followed him down, slashing at his opponent the whole way.

    Once it landed in the water with a giant splash, the black one flew back up above the natural arena, and roared again, establishing its dominance over the others. Every Pokémon in the crater bowed its head, and he seemed to look at each one, making sure there was no defiance.

    Distracted as he had been by the fight, Alex had failed to notice that Blaze had crept closer for a better look, and was now near other wild Pokémon. He blended in well enough, but there was just one problem…he wasn't bowing his head, and the black Charizard had noticed. Alex swore under his breath as the obsidian scaled lizard snorted blue fire, a sign of its rage at rebellion from a Pokémon that wasn't even fully grown.

    Suddenly sensing the amount of trouble he was in, Blaze scurried back towards his Trainer, and the two bolted for the ledge that led down the mountain…only to have the enormous black Charizard land in front of them. If he'd been mad before by Blaze's defiance, his rage intensified when he discovered that the transgressor had a human with him.

    Raising both hands, Alex swallowed his pride, and got on both knees before the beast, which seemed to keep it from outright killing him. He wondered why, as by all accounts, humans were K.O.S. to these Pokémon.

    "Blaze…" he spoke softly, but before he could say anything else, tell his Charmeleon to translate for him, apologize for trespassing, or even ask for mercy, a powerful black tail came out of nowhere, and slammed directly into his chest.

    The last conscious thought Alex had before fading out was him wondering whether that loud crack he'd heard and felt was his ribs, or the sound of his lucky streak being split in half. With his Trainer sent flying, Blaze snarled at the larger Charizard, only to be bathed in a torrent of blue fire at point blank range. He fell to one knee, glaring at the stronger Pokémon, who snarled.

    A warning for him to stay kneeling. Knowing he was beaten, and that his friend was likely hurt after a hit like that, Blaze stayed down, but didn't avert his glare. Seemingly satisfied, the large fire lizard took off again, flying towards the largest peak that looked over the crater, and was on the northern part of the bowl-shaped mountaintop.

    The two land bridges connecting to the rocky platform connected to the eastern and western edges, and the southern edge was the one that held the footpath for those who could not fly. The black Charizard perched on the tallest northern peak then, and curled up on it, keeping one eye on the Pokémon below. They were angrier about his dishonest fight, and his harsh treatment of a Charmeleon, than they were about the human.

    Blaze however, was plenty worried about his Trainer. Most other Pokémon warmed right up to him, but the ones who lived on this mountain apparently did not care for humans at all. He limped towards where he smelled his partner, increasing his pace as he scented blood, and found another human kneeling over his friend's body.

    He snarled, but knew he was in no condition to fight, as the black Charizard's flames had been enough to almost make him faint. Still, this human didn't look all that threatening. His skin was bronzed and wrinkled with age, his hair was white, and his back had a permanent curve to it, making him constantly hunched. His clothes were little more than rags, and he stank of Pokémon droppings.

    "O-oh…you're his Pokémon, aren't you…brave little thing. Don't worry, he'll be alright…once I set his bones. Help me carry him." Alex had been slammed into a nearby boulder, and how his spine hadn't been shattered by the force of impact was a mystery, at first glance.

    As Blaze stalked closer, he saw that one of his Trainer's arms looked out of place, at an odd angle. It seemed he'd actually hit the boulder on his side, not his back. Still eyeing the old, smelly human with suspicion, Blaze grabbed his Trainer's feet, and helped him move his injured friend into a nearby cave that smelled like the old man. Judging by the various trappings and odd trinkets, this was where he lived.

    Blaze's opinion of the old human dropped further. No self-respecting creature would live in filth like this. The old man handed him a berry, and then shooed him away from his Trainer. Deciding it was better than nothing, Blaze chomped down on the tough, bitter piece of fruit, and then sat by the entrance to the hovel, keeping an eye out for the black Charizard, or any one of the hundreds of other powerful Pokémon that lived here. They seemed to tolerate the old man's presence, but Blaze had a feeling that if they discovered his Trainer was not yet dead, they would take steps to correct that.

    The only Pokémon that did eventually show up was a Chimecho, who drifted past a snoozing Blaze. Once he heard it ring through the cave however, the Charmeleon snapped awake, and leapt to his Trainer's side, growling at it.

    "Calm yourself, Charmeleon." The old man spoke now with an odd accent the fire lizard didn't recognize. "This little one is going to heal him. Otherwise, he would take months to recover." Still eyeing the two with some degree of suspicion, Blaze stepped back, ready to intervene if they tried to hurt his Trainer. Now that he'd rested a bit, Blaze could tell just how badly Alex had been hurt.

    "Healing Wish, Chimey." The little Pokémon glowed with a light pink aura, and it soon spread to Alex's form. His arm popped back into place, and the angle it was bent at wasn't so awkward. His abdomen was repaired as well, filling out more under the ragged bandages that had been torn from his shirt and pants. He grunted in his sleep, and Blaze could hear his breathing become a little easier.

    "There…" the old man said as the Chimecho tolled softly, utterly exhausted, and floated down into his arms. "The bones are set, and he's been healed a bit. It'll take a few weeks, but after that, he should be fine. Thank you, Chimey."

    Blaze glanced at the two, and then his Trainer. "Char." His own guarded thanks was given as well. He headed for the cave entrance then, and the old man just sighed, knowing what the Charmeleon would face out there.

    Pokémon that had Trainers were about as unwelcome as humans, but they were shunned, not killed. Blaze headed for the mountain ledge calmly, ignoring the other Pokémon on his way, only to be stopped as a Tyranitar stepped in front of him, and growled. He tried to walk past, but to no avail. It seemed that he wouldn't be allowed down the mountain, given that he was new, and worse, bonded to a human. Letting him leave would likely draw more humans, from experience, and the Pokémon atop the mountain were willing to knock out a Charmeleon, if it let them live in peace.

    He received a similar reception from most of the older Pokémon, and eventually returned to the old man's smelly hovel after getting water and finding more tough berries. None of the others seemed to care what he did, and except for the occasional snarl from one of the fully evolved Pokémon, he was ignored.

    Three days passed, with Alex getting a few more Healing Wishes from Chimey. Eventually, it floated off and did not return, looking quite ragged. It would need to rest at the mountain's base for quite some time after using so much power, but after expending it, the little Chimecho had almost certainly saved Alex's life. His body at least, was healing correctly, but he still had not awoken.

    Blaze was out of his mind with boredom at first, until he discovered that the cave the smelly human lived in was connected to a series of tunnels that went deep into the mountain itself. The old man, when not tending to his secret patient, spent most of the day cleaning the dung in the larger caves, and being snarled at or attacked by the larger Pokémon with anger in their eyes.

    Their moves always missed him however, their aim wasn't faulty, they just simply could not kill the human. The black Charizard had ordered him kept alive for some reason, and so the others contented themselves with scaring him. Blaze spent most of his time exploring, and replaying the moment they had been trapped here in his head, over and over.

    His Trainer had knelt before the black one, something Blaze had never thought he'd do. He could see the sense in it though. That creature was fueled by hate, and lashed out at humans and Pokémon alike. Every day it loosed blasts of fire at anything that got in its way, from rival Charizard to newborn Dratini. It was a menace, but none of the Pokémon that lived on this mountain, strong as they were, could match his power.

    Five days of being stuck on the mountain had driven Blaze to finally explore the tunnels under the mountain, in the hope of finding a way out below. That way, he could find Jess and get help for his Trainer. The Torterra he used would certainly be welcome here, and along with the Luxray, they might just have a chance of freeing their Trainer. Blaze did not find a way out of the mountain, however. He found hundreds of unevolved Pokémon instead, training in a deep cavern that was lit by flowing pools of magma.

    Full grown Pokémon like Magmar kept an eye on them, and more importantly, kept them from digging through the mountain itself. Long ago it had been an active volcano, but it had been kept from erupting for centuries thanks to the fire types that understood it better than any who lived above on the crater. They knew where to release pressure when necessary, and could even guide the lava flows when they needed to.

    It was a full-time job, and they allowed the younger Pokémon from the crater to train down here, but otherwise they didn't care who or what ruled above them. Once fully grown, these Pokémon were far too large to ever fit back down here, and when one of the larger ones tried burrowing down, they were swiftly repelled by the likes of Magmar, Magcargo, and other Pokémon who loved the constant heat the mountain provided.

    The best part was that down here, Blaze was no longer an outcast. Granted, those from the crater were wary of him, especially those who were middle evolutions, but they let him train alongside them, despite the fact he had a Trainer, and none of the adults above could do anything about it. If they tried, he could always vanish into the labyrinth of tunnels for a while, and then find another Pokémon to help him get back to the surface.

    Those who lived down here weren't necessarily fond of humans, but they didn't mind them, either. Only one or two humans had ever found these secret places in the mountain, and they were forced out soon after finding them, the entrances they made were closed, and melted shut.

    Blaze found himself spending almost all of his time below, returning above only to drink, check on his Trainer, who had still not awoken, and rest after hard bouts of sparring. He could feel himself growing stronger, and knew that if he so desired he could become a Charizard himself, but that would not have been wise.

    The black one had no qualms about killing rival Pokémon it saw as a threat, and he had already refused to kneel once. He wouldn't get the chance to refuse again, and he knew evolving would be enough to catch their black scaled overlord's attention, and demand a show of submission. It was something he did often to the other Pokémon, and every so often, one of the prouder ones would refuse. They paid for it, sometimes with their life. So he continued to train underground, knowing that once his Trainer awoke, indeed, if he ever did, they could usurp the black one together.

    Another week of hard training passed before Alex finally woke. The first thing he saw was the old man, and recognized him as being from Kanto, judging by his features. He knew one did not bring that up in polite conversation however, but he soon found he couldn't remember where he had learned that, or indeed, who he even was.

    All he had were vague images. Upon noticing his newly conscious state, the old man scurried over, offering a carved rock with a bit of water in it, and a berry that looked weak and dead. He consumed them regardless, finding he was ravenous. "You have been sleeping for two weeks now. After Lizardon attacked you with his tail, I thought you were a goner. You are very lucky."

    Alex grunted, examining his left arm. It felt strange for some reason, a dull ache. He felt the same in his abdomen as well, but couldn't recall why, exactly. He looked at the old man. "Lizardon?"

    The old man chuckled, and spoke once more in heavily accented Common. "What you call in this region…Charizard. Wings. Fire at the tip of the tail. You don't remember?"

    Alex shook his head. "I can't remember anything…except a few vague facts…but I don't know how I know them, nor who I am. Do you have any clue?" The old man reached for a dark green and black jacket, and pulled out a note.

    Taking it, Alex noticed a familiar aroma. It made a thrill rush through him, insisting on being remembered, but he couldn't, nor could he understand why the scent affected him. "My name is…Turtle?"

    The old man chuckled again and spoke in a voice that was soft from lack of use. "Mm. Yes. I've been calling you Kame. Good a name as any, since you can't remember your own."

    Alex was busy trying to remember why the name Jess sounded so familiar…he wouldn't be able to sleep, so insistent was the urge to remember whoever this Jess was. Yet every time he tried, he met with failure.

    It was like he was on the edge of remembering after the smell on the note and the name, but something was blocking him. At that moment, there was the sound of heavy footsteps by the entrance to the dirty cave. Looking up, Alex saw a red creature, with a flame burning on its tail. It looked tired, and his first instinct was to reach into his bag and heal it. He blinked. He didn't have a bag, nor did he know this creature.

    "Char!" It ran at him, and he grunted in pain as it tackled him to the floor in what he felt was a hug. "Char! Charmeleon. Char, meleon. Char." Charmeleon…right. The name sounded familiar, and he struggled again to remember why as the old man shooed the creature away.

    "This is your Pokémon, boy. He came with you up the mountain. Was seen by Lizardon. Clumsy. Didn't bow before him, and then he found you. Then he attacked you. He's been waiting for you to awaken for some time." Alex blinked. Pokémon. Of course. It came flooding back, the years' worth of information that he had spent memorizing. Battle tactics. Strategies. Move types. He remembered learning them, though where he'd done so was always vague in his recollection. A room of some kind, but wherever it was, he knew he was far from it.

    "Right…" he managed, meeting the fire lizard's gaze. Its intensity was so familiar. "Right." He said, more sure of himself. "My Charmeleon…I…always wanted one." The Charmeleon looked at the old man, confused. "Char?"

    "He doesn't remember who he is, my friend. Nor how to understand you, I think." The old man answered, sighing. It was a talent every Trainer had to some degree, but if you couldn't remember that you were a Trainer, what chance did you have of understanding a Pokémon?

    "I can…grasp the gist of his words." Alex grunted, standing now. The cave was barely big enough for him to stand at full height. "We should get back to the nearest town…someone there will probably remember me."

    The old man nodded. "Humilau. But you can't go back. The path is guarded by Lizardon's minions. They fear him more than any human. If they see you, they'll likely kill you. They think you're dead already."

    Alex sighed at the old man then. "So what do I do? I need to eat…I need a real doctor…Blaze looks exhausted, he needs rest too."

    The old man opened his squinted eyes. "Blaze? A nickname?"

    Alex blinked. "I…just called him that out of reflex…didn't even think about it."

    "Charmeleon! Char!" Blaze looked at him, hope returning to his gaze. That was the name his Trainer had given him, if he could remember that, he could remember everything else.

    "Come to think of it…" Alex said, finally examining the old man properly. "What do I call you?" The man was wrinkled, like the berry he'd given Alex, and had a permanent curve in his back. He shuffled around fairly quickly, but it was obviously a struggle. More than that, he had bruises all over him.

    He waved a wrinkled hand. "Don't worry about me. Not your problem. Worry about Lizardon. These caves carry sound, the more we speak, the more chance he hears us. We both dead, if he finds you."

    Alex stared at him, suddenly guilty for putting him in so much danger. "So…so what do I do? I'm trapped here, dead if I leave and dead if I stay."

    The old man shook his head. "No, there is a way. You must beat Black Lizardon. Use your Blaze. Battle him, Pokémon and Trainer. Together, he will never beat you. Your Blaze has grown strong in past few weeks. Almost enough for victory, but only if you face Lizardon together. Beat him, and you can leave Draconis Mons."

    Alex thought for a moment, the name ringing in his head, but with far less information to recall. "Draconis Mons…the dragon mountain…in the Unova region. Forbidden to go there, full of Pokémon that hate humans enough to kill them…home for those abandoned by their Trainers. Home to some of the strongest wild Pokémon… on the continent."

    He shook his head. "There's no way I can beat the strongest wild Charizard around when I can barely remember how to battle."

    The old man grinned, showing old, yellow teeth that not even brushing could clean. "So learn! You have your Pokémon. What more do you need? You have your chance for freedom. Go into the mountain tunnels, battle together the Pokémon there, grow strong, evolve, and then face Black Lizardon. Free the mountain from his tyranny."

    Alex stared at the old man in disbelief. Still, he had mentioned other Pokémon below. If only he had… "Old man, let me see my jacket. Did I have any Pokéballs with me?"

    The old man grinned. "Ahh. Yes, two. Was luckily in right side pocket. Whatever was in the left was crushed." He gestured to a pile of broken machine parts that upon examining, he found looked familiar.

    He sighed. "A Pokédex. Looks like I'll need a new one…I'll worry about it later. Give me the balls." The old man shuffled through the cave, and moved some rocks, then shuffled back and handed him a ball with a flame pattern, which he assumed was Blaze's, and a dirty white and red ball with a pointed red arrow on the top of it.

    "A...Timer Ball…perfect." Random chance wouldn't help him here, he needed certainty, and a strong Pokémon. The longer he battled whatever he decided to catch, the more of a guarantee he'd have that he could catch it. With two Pokémon, he felt he might just be able to beat this…Lizardon. But first, he needed to see his opponent.

    He knew the old man wouldn't show him, he had seen the fear evident in his entire form when he'd mentioned the black beast. He was terrified of it, for good reason of course, but there was more to this old timer than he was willing to reveal. Humans weren't supposed to be on this mountain. Especially not ones who lived in squalor. "Right…with this, I can catch some aid against Lizardon. Then…we might have a chance."

    "Meleon!" Blaze snorted fire in agreement. He felt they could've done it alone, but after remembering the fight they'd seen when they arrived, the Charmeleon felt as his Trainer did. Any aid, no matter how small, would be welcome.

    "Go on then!" The old man said, shoving him towards the back entrance into the tunnels. "Get down there and train. And don't come back until you're ready to face Lizardon!"

    Before Alex could respond, a large boulder was moved in front of the tunnel entrance. A few seconds later, there was a thunderous stomp from the other side of it. Alex glanced at Blaze, and listened.

    There was snarling, and the sound of stomping came closer, accompanied by the muffled sound of a powerful nose inhaling hard. Nothing of his had remained in the cave, but his scent no doubt lingered. Alex had an idea of what was on the other side of the rock the old man had put in front of the entrance. Given his frailty, that rock probably wasn't large enough to hold up for very long under a Charizard's flames which, he recalled in that moment, could indeed melt boulders. "Blaze. Move. Into the tunnels, now."

    They hurried down as the rock covering the hole glowed red, but by the time it was smashed through, they were long gone, deep in the tunnels that forced Alex to crouch to Blaze's height, and kept the larger Pokémon from entering them. Still smelling the unfamiliar, but unmistakably human scent amidst the slave's cave, the black Charizard roared in frustration, and his fury echoed through the tunnels for the first time.

    It was the cry of a creature that wanted blood, almost berserk with fury. But he couldn't reach the heart of the mountain, large as he had grown fighting other Pokémon on the peak. He gave up its search for the moment, and returned to his perch. The human needed to eat and drink, and to do that he would have to scurry from his hole eventually. That was when he would be pounced on, and ended.
     
    #5 Mar 2, 2019
    Last edited: Apr 27, 2022
  6. Sahqoreyth

    Arthur
    (Kirlia ♂)
    Level 21
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    Dawn Stone ★★★★
    Chapter 5: Draconis Mons, Part 2

    Humilau City - Unova Region

    "Has there been any word?" The words of Alex's granduncle, Professor Redwood, came through the other side of the Pokémon Center's Holociever.

    Jess had only spoken to him a few times, as her father had warned her to stay away from him. He had apparently been brilliant, once, and then for a reason nobody would talk about, fell from grace among the scientific community.

    The resulting infamy had damaged the Redwood's reputation, hurting sales so much that, eventually, Alex's father had come to hers to ask to share their land. Combined, it was quite large, stretching for miles. The amount of Pokémon they could effectively raise there had nearly quadrupled, and the profit had been great indeed.

    After agreeing to a fair share of the future profits, the fences had been extended, and the Redwoods had managed to grow enough to avoid bankruptcy. Her own house was still left with a large yard, and that had been divided with trees rather than fences. Curious Tauros and other ranch Pokémon would often roam through the tree line, but thankfully, they all went back at their master's call.

    Still wondering at what exactly had made the old man so infamous, she shook her head. "No…nothing. Something must've happened, three weeks is too long for him to be gone without calling."

    The old man sighed, and scratched his head. After a long pause he said, "You don't think he'd be stupid enough to climb that mountain without his team, do you?"

    Jess began to shake her head, then paused. "Well…he was on a bit of a lucky streak, and he and his Charmeleon are pretty close…given the high spirits he left in, he might've chanced it…but Professor, if he went up there, that means…"

    The old man sighed. "It means he's dead, and his charred bones are lining the nest of a Charizard. Fool. I told him a thousand times not to chance angering fully grown wild Pokémon, especially those that live on that mountain!"

    Jess shrugged, thinking aloud, "Well…there was that time at school with that Tyranitar…he told me all about it. Said he and Terra had kept it from rampaging across the campus…he might've thought he could handle it."

    The Professor shook his head, sighing once more. "The Pokémon on that mountain are some of the most violent in the world. And nobody can understand why, because everyone who's gone there has ended up dead or seriously injured. All kinds gravitate there, usually those abandoned by their Trainers. But they don't attack people at the base…just the top. He must've climbed up, for whatever reason."

    Jess' eyes widened suddenly, and she looked down. "It was me…I told him to go catch a Bagon…he must not have found one, and thought going higher would help…"

    The old man looked at her from across the phone's screen as he saw the first signs of tears in her eyes. "Now don't start blaming yourself, lass. He made the choice to go up there. If that is even where he went. A thousand things could've happened out there. Highwaymen, a sprained ankle, a sudden and unexpected forest fire started by his Charmeleon, we simply don't know…"

    Jess nodded absently. She hadn't been listening to the old man's words, her mind already convinced that none of those things would keep him this long. She briefly remembered the letter she left him, and cringed inwardly. Teasing men to keep them jealous and interested was a bad habit of hers, and now, it was the last thing Alex had heard from her. The guilt swelled within her. She hoped Blaze was strong enough to handle anything the wild could throw at them…but even he'd have trouble against fully evolved human-hating Pokémon. She suppressed a groan. Up the mountain was exactly where Alex would've gone. She knew him.

    "I'll let you know if there's news, Professor." They gave their courtesies, and then hung up.

    Jess headed to her room, and surveyed her Pokéballs, lying comfortably on the bed. She had taken Leo and Hydrus back from the Professor after he'd fixed their balls, but Terra was still asleep on the large plot of land outside the lab, put aside for the other Pokémon Alex intended to catch. The Professor and his aides, as well as several of the younger kids in the family, were in charge of keeping those residing in the PC happy and healthy. Even the Pokémon of other Trainers who had started from that lab were kept there. Not many Trainers chose the Redwood Lab to start from these days, not since the Professor's fall to infamy, but her brother Connor had visited the Professor once to attempt to find a Froakie, and the Pokémon he tended to catch ended up there too.

    Unfortunately, the only frog Pokémon around this region were Croagunk, Tympole, and Poliwag. Kalos, and the surrounding countries, were where Froakie tended to live, so that was where he had gone. Yet another Trainer in her life who didn't call much. He did pay attention however, enough to know that she had gone to Humilau with Alex on foot, and that Alex was missing.

    He'd called as well, during the first week. The media had been abuzz about the grandnephew of the infamous Professor Redwood going missing, but as usual, had since moved on to something else when nobody could figure out where he'd gone. But she had an idea now…she at least had to look. But not without a proper defense.

    With her Pokémon and Alex's, that left her with seven in all. More than enough, especially since Alex's Luxray was also strong. He and Chari had been the first to notice the absence of Alex and Blaze, but Hydrus had figured it out as well, eventually. Still, young as he was, she had kept him busy by training him against her new Prinplup. She grabbed Leo and Chari's balls, letting them out. They looked at her, eagerly.

    "I might know where Alex and Blaze went. Alex might be hurt, but Blaze should be fine. We need to get him back, at least. But to find them, we'll need your eyes, Leo." He responded with an agreeing tone. "Luxray."

    She had tested his sight ability since training with him, a task he wasn't all that fond of given that she wasn't his Trainer, but after a good grooming, he'd listened to her well enough. Now, she could use his ability for something useful.

    She offered him the badge. "Smell this, both of you, track his scent if you can. We'll start at the base of Draconis Mons. See what we see."

    They both nodded in agreement, and she recalled them, then headed out of the Pokémon center, only to run straight into the larger form of her brother, literally, as she had been thinking about, and trying to ignore, the potential mortal peril she was about to be in.

    "Hello sis." Connor said, smirking as she bounced off him. He was built like Alex, big boned, but not nearly as tall, and his glorious full beard was a far cry from Alex's bare face. His reddish scarlet hair was straight, under a blue Trainer's hat that looked more like a beret from Kalos. Only in the day could one see his hair's coloring, otherwise it looked like a normal brown. "Going somewhere?"

    Jess looked up at him, still processing the fact that he was even here at all. She had never, not once, in all the time she had lived, been able to lie successfully to her brother. Now was the chance to change that. "Yes. I was going to train with Alex's Pokémon. So they're fit when he comes back." The two siblings stared at each other for a long time, before he shrugged.

    "Alright. I just came from beating the gym here, now that I have my team together, I figured it was time to try to beat my home league. Kalos was…on another level." His clothes weren't all that different from Eric's, being mostly dark blue and white, the largest distinguishing feature was his long purple scarf, wrapped around his neck. It seemed he was going for the Greninja look.

    "Well, I still have to train," Jess said, sticking to the lie, "I'll come back once we're done. We'll catch up." She hurried off, heading north out of town. Connor hadn't beaten the gyms in Kalos without picking up a few tricks however, and as usual, could tell when his sister was up to something.

    "Gren." He said softly. The lithe form of his Greninja appeared beside him, seemingly out of nowhere. He bowed his head, slightly. "Watch her. Make sure she stays out of trouble, find Alex if you can…and stay unseen." The Trainer spoke, and the loyal Pokémon nodded again, grunting an affirmative as he disappeared.

    The trip out of town was relatively easy for Jess, who called out Leo and Chari once they were on the road. After so many weeks however, they would be lucky to find anything. Leo did manage to find the path Blaze had carved through the woods however, which led them all the way to the base of the mountain itself.

    After climbing the trail a bit, they found an imprint of a familiar looking shoe pattern, but it was more the size of the print that gave away what they were looking at. Only one Trainer around here had feet that large. Jess was convinced that Alex had climbed up further now, but as she made an effort to do the same, a Greninja appeared in front of her.

    She scowled. "You're my brother's Pokémon, aren't you? He sent you to follow me." The Greninja nodded, and Jess sighed. "You're not going to let me up, either." The blue frog nodded again, arms crossed.

    She sighed again, and pulled her fiery orange hat down as weeks of frustration built up suddenly, and all at once. "Fine…just…just do me a favor and find out if he's alive or not. I need to know. Will you do that?"

    Connor's Greninja had been able to figure out who this human was, to his Trainer. They had a similar scent, and he had seen pictures of her as a Froakie. He'd also seen her once or twice when his master used the phones at the Pokémon Center, something he rarely did. He could also see the tears dripping slowly from under the hat.

    His master had explained why they were here after the gym battle, and given his typing, he hadn't been used for that challenge, and thus wasn't tired. Connor had instructed him to search the town for this 'Alex' but he'd found nothing. Now, his master's sister had found a trail, but he could tell this was a place for powerful Pokémon, not humans. There was something about it that attracted the strong.

    "Gren." He said, replying positively to her request. He made a show of running up the trail, before disappearing again with another high jump. Climbing a mountain wouldn't be too hard for him, but it was still a mountain. It would take time. He paused once he'd gotten high enough to be out of her sight. His master had said to make sure she was safe after all, and if she went up anyway, she wouldn't be. Eventually, she recalled the Luxray and her Charmeleon, then turned back. It was a wise move.

    Only certain species of Pokémon lived here. A Greninja would be out of place, but he could go unnoticed. A Luxray would be more obvious, however. Gren continued his climb, hoping that these Pokémon wouldn't outright attack a stranger, and fellow Pokémon. There was no way they could know his species wasn't native to this region, after all.

    Down below, Jess made her way back through Alex's trail alone, ignoring the wild and rare Pokémon around her. They made no move to attack her, as she looked distressed, and these youngsters, while wild, weren't quite yet nasty enough to jump out at a crying, lone woman walking through the woods without disturbing them.

    She'd been forced to turn back, but still, she had managed to find some trace of her missing friend, and now her brother's starter Pokémon was searching for him.

    She had no way of knowing how well he'd been trained, but she knew her brother. He would've raised his Greninja well. He'd always wanted one, after all. Eventually, she made it back to town and began training with Leo, Hydrus, and the rest of her team, as she had said she would.

    Tunnels Within Draconis Mons - Unova Region

    The first night in the tunnels had been rough for Alex and his Charmeleon. His dreams were plagued by images he couldn't place, names he knew he should remember, but couldn't, and the ever-present hunger of having not eaten more than a rough berry for a number of weeks. He'd lost quite a bit of weight, and his cheeks were looking gaunt and dirty.

    The heat of the mountain made him sweat constantly, a feeling he despised, and what he really needed was a good bath. But the only water they had found down here had been boiling. Eventually, unable to awkwardly crawl in the tunnels any longer in the ever-increasing heat, Alex had sent Blaze to find food, or help. They would need it if he was going to survive down here.

    During his training, Blaze had made several allies down here, but when he communicated that he needed help for his Trainer, each one had refused. They hadn't been abandoned, but their parent's hatred of humans had influenced them. Eventually, Blaze found one of the Magmar in charge of maintaining the tunnels and asked for help.

    Reluctantly agreeing, if only to get Alex's large form out of the tunnels, he helped Blaze drag him to a significantly cooler chamber that was actually pretty high up in the mountain. The crater above had a small leak in it, and over time, water had dripped into the large cavern below. Now, it played host to many water and ice types who kept that area of the mountain cooler. Many Dratini and Dragonair lived down here, along with another rare Pokémon species that was often abandoned.

    Amaura and Aurorus were relatively new fossil Pokémon, but due to their many weaknesses, inadequate Trainers often released them into the wild, in a world they no longer belonged in. Those that managed to survive were drawn to this mountain, like so many others, and now they had a home.

    Unlike the dragon and fire types above however, these Pokémon were inherently kind. After having the situation explained to the largest of the Aurorus by Blaze, they allowed the human to drink and rest. The older Pokémon avoided him, but the younger Amaura were rabidly curious.

    Alex managed to come to consciousness after Blaze splashed him a few times, and after drinking his fill, he found the little ice types adorable. But he had come for a Bagon, and had only brought the one ball. Before he left, he decided to approach one of the older Aurorus, and bowed low, fist to palm, in the Unovan style.

    His memory had slowly improved, enough at least to remember why so many rare species lived on this mountain. He didn't know why, but he felt he had to try to apologize for what they had suffered at the hands of his kind. The older long necked Pokémon eyed him suspiciously, but didn't outright attack. It had watched him with the younger Pokémon, and judged him to be kind. For a human.

    "I'm sorry that you ended up here…abandoned. I can't imagine what that must've been like for you. You don't belong in this time, your species has only been revived because of human meddling, and it was humans that abandoned you. We're not…we're not all like that. Thank you for not giving away my location…the Pokémon above are…not nearly as kind." The large head of the tundra Pokémon lowered to press against the human's dirty hat.

    "Aurooor." Looking up, he didn't quite know how he knew, but it seemed that the older Pokémon understood the heart of what he'd said. He continued, daring to press his luck.

    "I may be down here for a while…and I can't survive in the constant heat. Might I stay here until I'm able to leave?" He had Blaze translate this for him. It was too important for miscommunication.

    The larger Pokémon met his gaze again for a long moment, and he stared right back. Finally, it nodded, and then spoke to Blaze. The Charmeleon then grabbed his master, and led him to a back part of the cavern, far from the Aurorus and their young, and gestured to a small pile of dried leaves, and several berries.

    It seemed his Pokémon had already set up a living arrangement for him. He nodded, biting into one of the berries, which must have been picked from the forest below, given the size of them. Blaze ate too, and while it didn't completely satisfy his burning hunger, Alex felt a lot better.

    When they were done, he stood, and went to the water's edge. There, he spent the next hour or so washing, and then with Blaze's help, drying his clothes. A few of the Dratini watched curiously, but swam away when he went to pet them. When everything was finally ready, and properly washed, he put his hat on, and nodded at Blaze.

    "Right. Enough stalling. We need to train…and we need to find a strong Bagon. Have you met one down here?" Blaze nodded an affirmative. After several attempts, they'd managed to agree on what species they needed to catch. The Charmeleon was aware of what they'd come here for in the first place, as he was very much behind getting a Salamence on their side. What a sparring partner. It had taken a few weeks, but he'd found the perfect ally, and rival.

    The tunnels that led from the ice cavern were large, large enough for an Aurorus to fit through, so Alex no longer had to crouch. Indeed, it seemed that many of the other tunnels within the mountain itself were made for larger Pokémon, while the smaller ones were used to keep the more powerful fire and dragon types at bay.

    Finally, Blaze and his Trainer arrived at the magma-filled cavern, where hundreds of pairs of first and middle evolutions trained daily. Every single one of them stopped as he entered, and a few growled. Most of them were Charmeleon. He coughed, awkwardly.

    "Translate for me." Blaze nodded. "Pokémon of Draconis Mons…I come in peace. I'm not here to disturb your habitat, or get you in trouble. The black one doesn't know that I'm here. Or if he does, he cannot reach me. I came here to train with my partner…" He paused, and a few of the scowls had lessened slightly. These were Pokémon who had, for the most part, been born here, not abandoned. The human spoke of peace, so they saw no reason to attack him. Yet. They had all come to appreciate his Charmeleon's fighting spirit, and when asked how he'd gotten so good, he gave his human credit where it was due. He'd never have been able to become this strong on his own. Not so quickly, anyways.

    "If any of you would like to test yourselves against a true Pokémon Trainer…this is your chance. I guarantee you that it won't be like battling by yourselves. I can also guarantee that you'll get stronger."

    A few of them roared at that. These species lived for such challenges. They could accept the human's, and drive him off when they beat him. More than a few of them were confident that they could.

    "However." He held up his Timer Ball, and many of them recoiled, snarling. "I'm here to do more than just train. I have a goal. I am going to beat Lizardon, and to do that, I'm going to need the aid of a Bagon. I wouldn't dream of catching one that isn't willing to battle for its freedom, so if you find the idea of becoming the strongest of your kind distasteful, don't bother stepping up. I'm going to free this mountain of its oppressive ruler, and then I'm going to become the strongest Trainer that ever lived. Challenge me! I welcome all of you."

    As he finished translating, Blaze loosed a Flamethrower into the air, and the gathered Pokémon roared in response. Alex walked to the center of the cavern then, and drew a rough interpretation of a standard battle field with his heel, and Blaze's help.

    His flame marked the path his heel carved in the hot dirt, and when he was finally done, he took his place on it along with his Pokémon. Many of those gathered had never seen such a stage, and watched, curious. This was an opportunity wild Pokémon rarely got to see. A genuine battle against a Trainer that wasn't chucking capture spheres at them after weakening or incapacitating them.

    "Let the first challenger come!" He shouted, and Blaze roared. This felt right to him, being here on a proper battlefield. He knew he'd done this before…but not with this Pokémon. Not nearly as often as he had with…the memory was there, but he couldn't recall it. The image of the black Charizard's tail coming at him always interfered as soon as he tried to remember something. At least he'd managed to remember how he'd been hurt.

    Their first opponent was a Shelgon that looked fairly close to evolving, given its size. But he had come for a Bagon. Training a Pokémon from its earliest stage was the oldest method of getting the strongest final evolution. That was basic Trainer knowledge. The battle was over quickly, as Blaze's Dragon Tail took down his slower opponent with ease, using it both to dodge and attack.

    The gathered Pokémon stared, not quite believing what they were seeing. That Shelgon was nearly unbeatable, and even Blaze had trouble against him in the past…but battling with a Trainer was like having eyes in the back of your head.

    It took five more battles before a Bagon finally stepped up, walking onto the field, and roaring. Blaze looked at his Trainer and nodded. This was the one then, the one that would be his. He examined the small dragon type, and liked what he saw.

    He was large, of course, and looked close to evolution himself, but he was also young. The fire that burned in his eyes was not unlike Blaze's. He was indeed ideal. The two Pokémon butted heads before taking their positions, and Alex realized they'd battled before. They were rivals, but friends as well.

    "Flamethrower." The torrent of fire was met with a similarly powerful Dragonbreath, and then the little Pokémon charged. Usually Blaze caught him when he did this, but this was an entirely different battle. The Charmeleon smirked.

    "Dodge high, then Flamethrower again!" He leapt with the aid of his tail, and the fire came down all around the Bagon, who growled in irritation at his new burn. Using Dragon Tail might've ended the battle quicker, but Alex wanted to test the measure of this Pokémon's strength. So he kept to fire type moves.

    As soon as Blaze landed, the Bagon leaned backward and jumped into a spinning headbutt that hit the fire lizard square in the stomach. He bounced back after the hit, and unleashed another Dragonbreath that Blaze barely countered in time with a Flamethrower.

    Seeing that this Bagon was about to press his advantage, Alex decided it was time to use their new move. Learning what moves Blaze knew had taken less time than he'd thought, and it was this newest one that didn't seem familiar.

    "Heat Wave!" Blaze opened his mouth and the air around them grew even hotter. Usually, this wouldn't affect a dragon type too badly, but even dragon types could suffer heat exhaustion, especially in the bowels of a volcano. This move made the local temperature nearly unbearable.

    Alex was sweating hard, and he finally signaled for Blaze to stop after ten seconds of it. The Bagon was panting hard too, and the heat certainly hadn't helped with its burn. It was time to end this.

    "Flamethrower." The Bagon looked back at him, and then at Blaze, who loosed another torrent of flame at him. Jumping into another Headbutt, he used the move to dodge quickly, and countered with his Dragonbreath, just in time to meet another Flamethrower. The two moves clashed, but Blaze was in better shape, and eventually his fire overwhelmed the Bagon.

    It collapsed to its rear, panting. The fight was over. Alex approached the small blue Pokémon, who eyed him warily, until he saw that he was being offered a berry. This one just happened to cure burns, and heal. He had figured the Bagon they battled might end up burned, and there was no Pokémon Center here, so he'd saved one of the berries from his stash in the ice cavern. Swallowing his pride, the Bagon ate it, sighing in relief as the burn faded. Alex knelt to his level then, and offered the Timer Ball.

    "I was originally going to battle the strongest Bagon I could find down here until this would guarantee a catch…but I know the Pokémon here don't like humans. You look like you have a family, a life, here. I'm not going to snatch you away from it against your will. I'm going to offer you the chance to join me. If you do, I promise, you will one day be regarded as the strongest Salamence the world has ever known."

    The Bagon looked at Blaze, who nodded subtly, and then at the human. It blinked, seeing the same fire in his eyes that was in his partner's. They were linked, and he knew that if he accepted, he would feel that fire as well. This human was unlike anything his mother had told him of. Unlike most, she didn't hate humans, but she had warned most of them were vile creatures that deserved their rage. This human had eyes like a dragon. The young Bagon knew what he had to do, and his instincts agreed with him.

    "Bagon." He nodded, and his little arm pushed the strange ball's button. It opened, and he entered it willingly, finding the inside to be not at all unpleasant. Once it stopped blinking, Alex let him out again, and he returned in a flash of black light, ringed with white. Alex blinked. That was unusual, but then, this whole situation was strange.

    He felt that the light should've been a different color, but decided to ignore it. His memory was still gone after all, though he'd managed to recall his name after seeing it on his jacket. For all he knew, that was the right light Timer Balls emitted. "Welcome to the team…I suppose you need a name, hmm?" He thought for a long moment, struggling to remember what he knew of dragon types. Fragments of legends came to his mind, as dragon types were, in their own right, legendary.

    "How about…Shruikan? I can't quite remember where it's from…but it sounds fierce, and powerful." The Bagon nodded in what seemed like agreement. He liked it.

    "Alright then…let's rest up. Then tomorrow, we'll return here for more training." He looked at Shruikan. "You're going to need to evolve if we're going to have a chance at beating that black beast." The Bagon nodded again.

    That was another reason he'd accepted. His mother, a Salamence, was often attacked by Lizardon with no provocation. His father had been felled by it, one of the many victims of the black one's rage. This Trainer seemed like his best chance of avenging his sire's death, and his mother's mistreatment at the Charizard's claws.

    He felt he could evolve already, but tomorrow he would finally try to. The time seemed right…one more night as a Bagon wouldn't hurt though. He examined his form as they walked through one of the larger tunnel exits. It wasn't weak per say, but not overly strong either. As a Shelgon he would have a much better chance of surviving a fire attack from the black beast that ruled over them, and be one step closer to achieving the ability to soar through the skies. He just had to trust that his new Trainer knew what he was doing. According to Blaze, he did, which was primarily the reason he'd accepted being bound by a Pokéball.

    The next two days were intense training for Blaze and Shruikan both, but no matter how hard they trained, Shruikan couldn't evolve. He did however have the unique advantage of being able to sneak down the mountain, and after convincing other Pokémon to help, he managed to smuggle armfuls of berries in for all of them.

    He even got one of the Magby to open, and then close, a hole in the mountain for them. Alex contemplated leaving of course. He had his Bagon, fulfilling the task the mysterious note had told him to, but he couldn't just leave these Pokémon under the rule of that Charizard.

    That species tended to outlive their Trainers, and that one had lost none of his youthful vigor. It could be centuries before he was weak enough to be overthrown, or passed naturally. He hadn't gone to visit the old man either. There would be time enough to pry information from him if and when he defeated 'Lizardon'.

    Just as Shruikan finished his latest battle with his newest move, Zen Headbutt, there was a tutting sound from beside the makeshift field Alex had created. The Pokémon here had kept it, enjoying the challenge of staying in bounds while battling, though not one of them obeyed the rules of a ring out. The tutting sound came from the old Kanto man, who had somehow appeared without even Blaze noticing. He'd been on the sidelines, watching.

    "You will never evolve him that way. This Bagon needs fire…same fire that burns in his eyes…take him to Morty. Yes, Morty will be enough. You battle him…you evolve them both. They are ready. Two more days to get used to their bodies…" A dark look appeared in the slightly opened, but perpetually squinting eyes. "Then, you fight him."

    Looking at him closer, Alex saw his bruises had only gotten worse. Mottled green now mixed with the purple where new bruises covered the old. It seemed Lizardon had taken his anger out on the old man when Alex had failed to resurface.

    Before he could say anything about them however, the old man began walking towards the largest tunnel exiting from the large training chamber. It was one Alex had never gone down, and had been kept from entering by a Magmar that had risen from the lava pool by the entrance. The same Magmar reappeared now, and then nodded upon seeing the old man. He sank back into the lava, and Alex and his team followed him.

    "You better heal them." He said in his foreign accent, strangling the R sounds. "This will not be an easy battle." The other three shared a look.

    "Can I use Blaze as well as Shruikan?" Alex asked quietly.

    The old man stopped in place. "Shruikan? The black dragon of destruction? Why would you ever name him that?"

    Alex blinked twice, the information slowly coming back to him, and he relayed it to his partners. It had happened quite a few decades back, supposedly a black scaled Rayquaza had gone berserk in the Hoenn region, and the Champion of said region, who had tamed a Groudon, had been forced to stop it. He hadn't been strong enough however, so the story went, and the woman who tamed the seas, and Kyogre, had helped him finally end the black Legendary Pokémon's rampage. They hadn't tamed it though, for once it was stymied by two Tamers, it had returned back to the skies, and flown in a northerly direction.

    The media had nicknamed the beast Shruikan, due to its tendency to form a spiked circle and slam into opponents when it used Dragon Tail. They had meant Shuriken, an ancient Japanese weapon that actually resembled the spinning dragon's attacks, but by the time they admitted that, the name had become too popular.

    Most of the footage of the event had mysteriously vanished, and now many people his age considered it to be nothing more than a fanciful Hoenn myth, but that didn't really help him, as he couldn't remember his age either. He looked at his Bagon, then shrugged.

    "He'll grow into it. For now, Shruikan is his name. Let all who remember it know his strength." The tiny dragon growled in approval of the story, and the name. "Bagon!" Sharing a name with a Rayquaza was an honor for any dragon type.

    The old man shook his head and continued on further. They walked in that tunnel for what seemed like ages, it connected with many other smaller tunnels that smaller Pokémon, like Aron, had carved out of the mountain, but the few they saw ignored the two humans as they made their way to the chamber at the end of the tunnel.

    It was large, but not nearly as large as the training cavern was. Large enough to have a battle in, certainly. In the back was a massive statue of a Magmortar that looked to have been carved in great detail from the stone, but by who was a mystery. It was missing key elements of the Pokémon Alex vaguely remembered learning about. The old man shuffled right up to it.

    "Hi there Morty, sorry to wake you. There's a Bagon here that needs some help evolving. Think you could help out?" Alex and his two Pokémon shared a look again.

    The old man continued talking to the statue for a good minute, before Alex spoke up. "Umm…old man, I think that's just a statue of a Magmortar."

    The old man laughed loudly, hands on his hips. "A statue! You hear that, Morty? He thinks you're a statue! Oh wow. Lizardon must've hit you harder than I thought if you really can't tell a live Pokémon from a statue! Ha! Haha!" He turned back to the statue as he began coughing, ignoring Alex and his raised eyebrow.

    "Come on Morty, this is serious! This young man intends to battle Lizardon, and his Bagon needs to be a Shelgon to do that. His Charmeleon needs a proper boost as well! Otherwise they'll probably be killed." Alex sighed, turning to leave as the old man began pounding on the solid rock.

    "Come on you two…we've wasted enough valuable training time…" Alex muttered as he turned to leave with a sigh. Hermits were always crazy. He had no idea why he'd expected this one to be different from the ones in what stories he could remember.

    He'd taken one step out of the cavern, when he felt a tremor. A slight tremor, but a tremor all the same. He didn't quite know why, but it felt familiar, the shaking of the ground. Like he'd ordered it done before in a battle…a lot... but Blaze and Shruikan didn't know Earthquake. Another tremor followed the first.

    He turned, and saw the old man grinning. "See? He's finally waking up. Morty always was lazy…come on now! Get up!"

    The cavern shook harder, and Shruikan jumped before his Trainer, growling at the statue. Alex swore inwardly. The old man had been right. Rocks slowly broke from the form of the Magmortar, and it gurgled over and over.

    It took Alex a minute to realize it was coughing. It stared at the old man, and then shifted its' impassive gaze to him. It coughed again, hard, and rocks shot out of its cannon arms, slamming into the ground. He'd thought it a statue because the head and shoulders lacked flames, but as the massive Pokémon rose, they burned to life again.

    It raised its arms to either side, and two Flamethrowers shot out, clearing any excess debris. The old man dodged the one near him skillfully, like he didn't even try, and had moved on reflex. The sudden burst of graceful movement only mystified him further. Surely he'd been a Trainer, his facial features seemed slightly familiar, but without his memory, Alex couldn't place him.

    "Easy now, Morty. Lizardon is still alive…but these three can take him down. With your help. Battle the Bagon." The Magmortar looked at the old man, then growled, turning to finally look at Shruikan and then Blaze as well.

    It raised one arm, pointed at Shruikan. "Mortar!" Shruikan growled in response, and Alex saw the light within its arm begin to build. The battle had started, it seemed.

    "Dragonbreath!" Shruikan's blue flames cut the larger Pokémon's torrent of orange ones in half, saving both himself and Alex from their fire. Blaze didn't mind them much, but moved to stand by the old man all the same.

    The old man began whispering to Blaze, but another Flamethrower from 'Morty' drowned out his words. Both Shruikan and Alex had to dodge. "Zen Headbutt!" Before the hit could land, it met with yet another Flamethrower. This Magmortar launched them easily, but this one held its stream continuously.

    "Look out, lad! Move!" Alex lost sight of Shruikan within the flames as they surrounded his move, but instead of exploding, as most move collisions did, this one began to glow impossibly bright, the white light filling the room. Morty covered his eyes with his free arm, but kept the stream going. Finally, the light faded, and the Flamethrower increased. Shruikan slammed into the back wall of the cavern, but was unharmed.

    He rose slowly from the rubble on four stubby legs, legs that looked too small to support the shell covering his entire body. He roared, and it was much deeper now. Morty raised his second cannon arm, and now two Flamethrowers shot towards Shruikan.

    Only to be met by a Dragonbreath that was stronger than anything he'd used as a Bagon. Stronger than anything other Shelgon had used themselves. It overwhelmed the flames, shifting in mid-air into a blue colored pulse that slammed into Morty, and sent him back into the hole he'd left when he'd awakened with a thunderous crash.

    The large Pokémon grinned at Shruikan. The battle was over. A proper contest would see the cave destroyed. Alex stared at his new Shelgon, and smirked. "Brilliant…Dragon Pulse…we have a chance at beating him now…we hit him with…maybe four of those, and Blaze can grab the win." Blaze and Shruikan met each other's gaze.

    As rivals, they were obviously eager to test the other's strength. Evolution changed a lot in a battle, but now wasn't the time. They were so intensely focused on each other's gaze that Blaze failed to notice Morty standing over him. He snorted in surprise and backed up when he finally did.

    "Mag. Mortar." With that, the giant Pokémon left his cave, and Blaze followed, motioning for the others to come with him. As Morty walked down the tunnel, each heavy footfall echoed throughout the many smaller tunnels that connected to his. Smaller Pokémon everywhere got out of the way, but many Magby stared in awe at this example of their final evolution, a stage many Magmar never advanced to. Not without a Trainer.

    They didn't know that however, so their hope of one day becoming that powerful was kept alive. Finally, they reached the training chamber. Once more, each of the dueling Pokémon stopped as Alex and his band of companions entered. He wondered if they were getting tired of the interruptions.

    They didn't have time to complain, as Morty strode across the cavern with the confidence of a being that is fully aware it's the strongest one in the room. Alex wondered, briefly, if he shouldn't have saved his Pokéball for this one instead.

    He banished the thought then. Doubting his team would certainly lead to failure, and he had a feeling this Magmortar wasn't completely done with them yet. At the wall opposite Morty's tunnel, a large pool of lava sat, ignored by all, save the Magmar who stood on the lone pillar of rock in the middle of it.

    Morty stared it down. "Mag." He growled.

    "Mar." The other responded, hopping off the pillar. Alex had only seen him do this once before, when a pair of battling Pokémon had gotten too rough while sparring. It seemed his purpose was to keep order, as well as stand guard over…whatever Morty was reaching into the lava for. There was a loud whooshing sound as the right cannon arm drew in tons of molten lava like it was nothing. Suddenly, he stopped, and three barely visible claws that acted as this Pokémon's hands lifted out of the pool, holding a shining red crystal. He turned to look at Blaze.

    "Magmortar!" He tossed the stone back into what lava remained in the pool, and then focused both arms on it. The lava he had taken in poured out faster than it should've been able to, given that it was molten rock, not water. Alex attributed it to the power this Pokémon held. They could alter nature in ways man would never truly understand, and they could do it on a whim.

    Blaze glanced at his Trainer, and then at where the crystal had gone. Alex hadn't felt the power radiating from it, or if he had, he'd been too distracted to notice. But every fire type in that cavern had felt it. It was old.

    No more than a shard of something that had once been unimaginably powerful, the essence of fire itself, long broken into pieces that had been buried and crushed in the ground, or disintegrated upon colliding with the land…all except that one. It was the heart of Draconis Mons, a source of the power that drew powerful fire Pokémon here, Pokémon that otherwise would've found different mountains to occupy.

    Every Pokémon on the mountain had felt it surface for that brief moment, but only the fire types could truly crave it. Up above, Gren watched from his place of hiding as the black Charizard that clearly dominated this mountain's crater roared with a fury that he had rarely achieved before. Pokémon scattered at this roar, even the stronger ones like Tyranitar and Salamence. When the black one got this angry, you got out of his way, or you likely ended up dead.

    Down below, Morty looked up, as did many others. The roar had gotten their attention, but Blaze kept his gaze on where the crystal had disappeared. Lizardon's roar only spurred him on to do something he imagined was unwise, but in his core, felt right.

    The only one who saw him start to run full tilt towards the large pool was Morty, and the large Pokémon grinned as the smaller red one leapt using his tail, over the Magmar who noticed him a second too late, over Morty's head, and finally over the ridge that separated the smaller Pokémon from the lava.

    Not even Magby were allowed in this pool, but Morty made no move to stop him. The lava ceased flowing from his cannons, and he stepped back, avoiding the Flamethrower the Magmar had unleashed seconds too late, as Blaze dove into the lava, parting it in a way that shouldn't have been possible.

    Morty turned on the smaller Magmar, and smacked it across its face with one of his cannons. The smaller Pokémon blinked, and then they both turned their attention to the pool. Alex had run up now, just tall enough to have a view of the surface. He'd seen his Charmeleon as he leapt over Morty, but had no chance of stopping him. He looked up at the Magmortar, but the larger Pokémon shook his head, and pointed with a cannon arm.

    The pool seemed unusually red... because it was unusually red. It was glowing now. As the glow faded, the tips of four familiar looking orange points rose out of the pool. Wings appeared beneath the outer two on either side, the familiar dark blue of the flaps came next, followed by the eyes, which now radiated the same red color as the crystal that rose above the lava, supported by one large, orange claw. Clutching his prize tight, Blaze glared at where the furious roar from above had originated, and flapped free of the burning magma, into the air before inhaling, and loosing a roar of his own hat shook the mountain in turn.

    It echoed through the chamber, shaking it with the force his new throat could produce. Many Pokémon had to cover their ears, as did Alex and the old man. Morty watched, unblinking, the ever-present smirk unchanged. Blaze flapped once, and landed outside the pool's edge, right in front of Morty. Magmortar usually towered over most Charizard, but Blaze had held off on evolving for weeks now, and his size had carried over. For his species, size usually indicated strength, and now, Blaze was a head taller than Morty.

    Alex struggled to remember how large Lizardon was, then stopped himself. He was being too analytical. He had a Charizard! Morty stepped back as Alex strode up to his fully evolved partner, grinning wide. Blaze lowered his head, and while his eyes may have stopped glowing with the power of the strange gem, they still held the same fire that bound Pokémon and Trainer together. Alex put a hand against his partner's cheek, noticing that despite having been in lava, it was hot to the touch, but not searing. "Only you could make lava diving look cool."

    The old man chortled behind them. "Ha! Lava diving! Cool! Because it's usually so hot! Getit?" Morty gave him a look, then began stomping back towards his cave.

    "Well someone has to have a sense of humor on this mountain!" The old man turned to Alex and his Charizard. "Don't worry lad, I got the joke."

    He and Blaze shared a look as well, before looking back to the old man. "Thank you, mister… I still don't know your name."

    "Don't worry about it! Heh heh. Tell ya what, you beat Lizardon, and I'll tell you my whoooole life story. Deal?" Alex nodded, then shook his head in disbelief. This old man was straight out of a comic book. Though he couldn't remember which one.

    "Deal…" He turned back to Blaze, who was offering him the crystal. Alex took it and with it in his hand, properly touching his skin, he knew, without knowing exactly how he knew, that he was holding a piece of Creation.

    The symbol used to represent fire types was visible within it, and he marveled at it, before moving to return it to Blaze. The Charizard shook his head. "Char."

    "You want me to keep it? But you can use it in the battle…" The fully evolved Pokémon growled, shaking his head again. He meant Alex to have it. Alex shrugged, deciding not to argue with his Pokémon's instincts. "If you insist… let's go back and rest… soon, we take on Lizardon, and free this mountain."
     
    #6 Mar 2, 2019
    Last edited: Apr 27, 2022
  7. Sahqoreyth

    Arthur
    (Kirlia ♂)
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    Dawn Stone ★★★★
    Chapter 6: Draconis Mons, Part 3

    Crater Atop Draconis Mons - Unova Region

    She opened one lazy eye as another loud smash echoed throughout the crater atop the mountain they all called home. The black beast that ruled over them, a Charizard that looked twice his age, but had the passionate fire of one who had just evolved, had been slamming his tail into the wall of his perch on the northern edge of the crater for two days now, out of sheer frustration.

    They had all felt the power that surfaced, the power that drew their overlord into a rage that had, by all appearances, cooled. She wasn't convinced however. She could see the smoldering embers of hate in his eyes, always looking below, searching desperately for any sign of the Charizard that had roared back at him in open defiance. He had killed for less. But there was nothing.

    For two whole days, the tension in the crater had been high. She had been preoccupied, however. She was a Salamence, one of the stronger species that lived on this mountain. She didn't necessarily hate humans, as so many of the other full-grown Pokémon did. Her human had passed a long, long time ago. In a far away region. She couldn't even recall his face now, just the kindness he'd shown her, the battles they'd won.

    But those days were long gone. She'd flown far away from that place, found a suitable mate, and settled here on this mountain. There had been many good days…until the day a golden Charmeleon emerged from the tunnels that led into the mountain, and evolved.

    In the course of a day, the Charizard he had become beat and mercilessly killed many of the strongest Pokémon that had lived on the mountain, and refused to submit to him. Her mate had been among them. After that, the Pokémon who maintained the tunnels had shut them all, barring the black one's rage from entering the core. Now, the black one was furious, and to top it all off, one of her offspring was missing.

    He'd gotten old enough to begin to burn with the desire to train, grow stronger, evolve, and finally achieve flight. That was fine, every mother expected her young to leave the nest at some point. Many of her past clutches had done just that, choosing to roam far away. But it was still too early for this latest son of hers to have been gone for so long.

    She worried about that Bagon. The skies had been so loud, they'd even annoyed their black scaled ruler the night his egg hatched. The storm raged for hours, only ending when the shell was finally broken. Even Pokémon had legends, and Salamence were no exception. Dragons had long lives, and longer memories. She'd heard, once, what that omen foretold, but she didn't entirely believe it.

    Worse, he was missing at a time when she and the others could feel a change was coming to the mountain. Many Charizard and other species had challenged the black one for dominance…but there was something about that roar that had them all on edge. It hadn't been like the others, it had almost reminded her of their ruler's, but his was pure rage.

    This one had something else fueling it, some other power that had made the very mountain shake with the force of it. She shifted again, making sure to turn her gaze from the black Charizard as she did. He noticed everything that moved, thanks to the state he was in, and had been shooting Flamethrowers at any who looked at him and met his gaze. He hadn't slept, either. Something about that defiant roar had him on edge.

    Down below, under tons of seemingly solid rock, the source of Lizardon's rage had been training relentlessly for two days straight. The point of said training had been to get his team used to their new bodies, but a problem soon presented itself.

    Blaze didn't quite know how to fly, and though the instinct was there, the confusing air currents and lack of experience in the hot mountain had kept him consistently crashing into the ground. He desperately needed time in the air, under the open sky. Down here, the most he could do was flap aimlessly around the training cavern, like a Noibat trapped in a house.

    Over the course of two days however, in heat even fire types found oppressive, Blaze had slowly, and painfully, learned to move with the curve of the air. At first, he simply stayed aloft on the warm currents of air, and didn't crash into the ground. In the same day, once he'd mastered that balance upon this 'wind', he began doing tricks, flips, all sorts of aerial maneuvers.

    He slowly learned what he would need to beat Lizardon. That he seemed born to the air, a true flying type, only helped. Even in this hot cavern, large though it was, he managed to learn to soar, and knew that under the open sky, he would be even more impressive. Provided no unknown wind patterns disrupted him.

    Once the crystal had been given, the old man and Morty had vanished, far, far below the fiery cavern where their chance at freedom from Lizardon trained almost to exhaustion.

    At the old man's request, Morty had opened a large tunnel in the base of the mountain, and other types, like grass and water, that lived in the forests around the mountain, once more found their own ancient caverns within. There was room for every known type, and several as yet undiscovered by humans, scattered throughout the enormous natural structure.

    They came from the woods and forests nearby, for the sole purpose of seeing a place of such power freed from the grasp of a tyrant at last. The power that slept under the dragon mountain drew them all. None could imagine it would be a Trainer that freed them though.

    Far above Draconis Mons, a pale white clone of the Alpha Pokémon, Arceus, had his attention drawn to the world below. He knew of what transpired atop the mountain where once man and dragon had trained together to achieve a new level of power, but those days had long since passed. What drew his focus now, was a piece of one of his Plates, one that yet held a spark of power from his own realm within it. This is what set it apart from other shards of his Plates, for while they could boost the attacks of a Pokémon holding them, most Plates had long since lost their light. This one, though had retained it, sustained by the energy of a volcano that, without his creations, would have long since erupted, and decimated the region around it. Arceus kept his gaze upon the peak, curious as to what the human who now held the awakened shard would do with it.

    The cavern of ice types rested under the topmost crater, where the dragon types lived. This kept them from attempting to dominate the other types, as their inborn nature commanded them to try to do. While Lizardon had certainly been a menace, the fury of the abandoned dragon types had also been kept in check.

    Had humans not interfered, he could have kept the dragons in line for centuries. He would have eventually died however, but surely in all those long years, he would eventually birth a proper successor, no? There would be peace and fairness. Eventually. Once all these...rebellious attitudes...were excised. This was Lizardon's reasoning, his motive behind his claim to power. The ramblings of a tyrannical mind, justifying its actions.

    The Shelgon, now called Shruikan by the strange Trainer, had watched the human and Charmeleon train together in awe. A Pokémon that had been raised from its first stage by a Trainer was a new sight to the Shelgon. Now, he watched the Charizard called Blaze slowly learn how to dodge, duck, dip, and dive through the cramped cavern, and the fire in his eyes became truly envious.

    He needed to fly as well. He would be the greatest of his species with this Trainer by his side. Someday, he would ascend to the status of Legend among all of them, for this was the Trainer who could make him into such a dragon. Or so his instinct said.

    For now, however, he had to deal with his hard shell of a body. He was stronger yes, strong enough for a normal Salamence to evolve after such intense training with Blaze, but Shruikan knew he was no normal Shelgon. He needed fire to evolve, as Blaze had required magma.

    But not just any fire would do. So, he would continue to train, reaching the highest level he could in just two days. As the old man had said, it was enough for them to reach new heights of strength. With the intensity of their battles, they might just be strong enough, together, to have a chance of beating Lizardon.

    Eventually, Shruikan mastered moving quickly with this new body, forgoing his stubby limbs entirely, and simply rolling towards his opponents. He trained against the Charizard, and slowly, painfully, learned their fighting style.

    Always the wings were an advantage, but one Shruikan eventually overcame. Once he and Blaze could only cause a stalemate between them, the old man had stepped in, and told them to rest.

    The cavern of the grass types in the base of the mountain welcomed them, and for the first time in just over a month, they slept soundly, far from the ever-present malice of the beast above. Alex marveled at the grass types, who wholeheartedly shared food and played with him. Even the larger ones were kind.

    He wondered briefly why he hadn't picked one of them when he became a Trainer. He was especially fond of the Turtwigs. Several fell asleep in his lap as he dozed off as well. They liked him on instinct, and there was something comforting and familiar in their presence. He slept soundly on the back of their mother, a Torterra, who was just as kind, and had almost seemed to recognize him for some reason.

    Even then, the names nagged at his brain. Jess. Terra. An image of a different mountain, with a different Trainer who both was and was not him, and a different Pokémon, mastering Energy Ball to a degree only the most skilled reached. He knew these were his memories, but he couldn't place them. Always the image of that black tail slamming into him kept them barred.

    Finally, the third day dawned. Another echo in the Ice Cave under the crater signaled Lizardon's impatience, the force of which shook the mountain itself, even the fire cavern they had returned to.

    Alex looked to his two Pokémon, wondering if this was the path his regular self would take. He knew the strength of his partners, but he yet doubted he could beat Lizardon. That monstrosity was in his own weight class, one that could rival dragon types.

    He shook his head, and met his partner's gazes. They were ready. They knew it. He took strength from their confidence. Morty, a powerful Magmortar whose strength could not be underestimated, had bored a hole to the upper levels large enough for a Charizard. He had been the one who'd trained the black Lizardon, now, he righted his mistake, and released another Charizard to face him, armed with an awakened piece of the Plates that contained the very essence of the Alpha Pokémon in the hand of his Trainer. Only a few areas of the world had such rare crystals, though shards of them were easy enough to form. Some people had been able to reforge them into Plates, but they had only ever boosted a Pokémon's typing. Alex could recall having touched such an artifact once at a museum, but the power in the shard he held now felt different. Awake.

    Morty had been charged by a pale clone of the Alpha himself to guard this mountain, and the powerful crystals within. Over time, the Pokémon that lived here had forgotten what had drawn their ancestors in the first place. But the shards of the broken Plates remained, and Morty was only one of the Pokémon who had stood guard over them. The night before he'd evolved, the golden Charmeleon had slain the other guardians. Now, only Morty remained, and he'd given up one of the crystals he'd been bid to guard.

    It would finally right this imbalance, with the aid of a human. It was overdue. The mountain had not always housed abandoned Pokémon. Once, humans had been allowed to hike up here, and gaze upon the world, battle on the natural ring suspended over the crater, and share the company of dragon types. There was one glaring difference in the modern era though. The Unovan Dragon was not around to keep them all in balance. Still, he remained split.

    But that had been ages ago, before dragon types were rare enough to sometimes be called legendary. Morty watched the human and his partners leave before beginning the process of resealing the upper mountain caverns, which was easier than boring through them, for him anyways.

    There was something about that human, that Morty had sensed was unique. He wasn't like the old man, who had long since given up hope of beating Lizardon, with good reason. He fought on, and had the fire to keep going, all the way to the top. If anyone could remind the Pokémon here that not all humans were so cruel, it was a Trainer like that. He also had no other choice, if he wanted to see this mountain freed.

    Up above, the black Charizard roared with fury when he smelled the challenger approach… beside the human he'd killed weeks past. And a Shelgon. One of their own. A traitor. He spread his wings, when one of the Salamence on the mountain roared at him with a rage that halted even his eternal fury.

    Normally, she would die for such an act, but she moved from his path immediately, and pointed with her long head. They were climbing to the arena. They sought a proper challenge.

    Lizardon's red eyes burned with hate as he weighed his choices. He ignored the Salamence, for she had several Bagon to nurture. He disliked killing females, even more so those with young, but if they challenged him for dominance, he treated them as males. Other Salamence and grown dragon types roared, as she had, and he knew if they all attacked at once, he might not survive to retaliate. At the very least, there would be none left alive to lord over, and he did not want that. He'd been alone enough.

    This one had merely pointed out the situation. The Charizard with the human was impressive, to say the least, more than his last challenger, but he was walking, not flying. Shackled to a mere human.

    The human held his gaze the longest. In the past, he'd thrown them from the mountainside, which wasn't necessarily a death sentence, if they were strong. Other times, he'd had loyal Tyranitar scare them away. Killing too many humans provoked a response from them, but injuring a few and having them spread tales of the mighty mountain Pokémon had seemed to work as a better deterrent.

    Then this human had arrived, Charmeleon in tow. Maybe it was the fact that, but for a twist of fate and time, he could've been that Charmeleon. Maybe it was that familiar fire burning in the human's eyes. Maybe it was the hat, so similar to his former Trainer's own, save the color. Something had ignited his rage, and urged him to end this human's life.

    He'd instructed the servile human to get rid of the body…but it seemed this weak, hairless ape had the strength to survive one of his attacks. He snorted blue flames, his fury ignited once more. A worthy challenger, then. He flapped once, and landed hard on the suspended arena. It had taken far heavier landings, and stayed intact.

    Some force held it in place, much to the joy of the Pokémon who had once battled for fun atop it. Now, it was the site of many a slain challenger to the might of Lizardon. He spewed blue flames around the arena as the challengers approached.

    Alex stared in disbelief at what Lizardon wrought with his fire. A true classic arena, from the days when official Pokémon battles were still mostly unorganized. It was shaped like a Pokéball, with two rectangles on either side for the Trainers. Lizardon stood in his, and then stepped forward. He was his own master.

    Blaze stood beside his Trainer in his own rectangle, which was still smoking from the heat that had renewed the carved shape. Maybe this was what had inspired the first arena fields. It was certainly old enough. All Lizardon had done was renew the ancient borders.

    "Shruikan." The Shelgon stepped forward, growling at the much larger Charizard before it. The black one scented the Shelgon, and cast an eye towards his mother, the same female Salamence that had stopped him earlier. Now it made more sense. He snorted blue fury again.

    If her clutch was as rebellious as their fallen father, they would go down as well. The flame on his black tail shifted to blue as his rage swelled. His eyes grew pure red. Such rebellion was commonplace these days. Always they defied him. If he gave an inch, they took a mile. No more. He could stand being alone if it meant not having to deal with constant attempts to usurp his authority. He'd dealt with this kind of irritant for decades now. This latest act of defiance had been the straw that broke the Camerupt's back.

    He roared his intent, to burn every one of them until he alone ruled the mountain. All the dragon types began to gather now, at the entrances to their caves. Their ruler had just declared his intention to burn them all out of their homes.

    If this human failed, they would sacrifice everything to finally bring him down. They could not know however, that if this human did indeed fail, Lizardon would gain a power that would ensure his rule lasted well beyond a normal span of years.

    A Fire Blast shot from the maw of the black Charizard, huge and unrelenting in its fury.

    "Into your shell!" While Shruikan did know Protect, he could only use it so often. Still, the instinct remained, and it would take more fire than this to end him. The blast met his shell with fury, the blue five-pronged figure slamming into it hard. Shruikan struggled to stay rooted to the ground, even as his Trainer did the same.

    "Now, let go and use Dragonbreath!" Shruikan had stopped wondering where his Trainer's battle instinct came from, and had learned to, sometimes quite literally, roll with it. As he did now. He let his shell be tossed into the air by the flames, and then, once he spun in the right direction, he shot his Dragonbreath at the ground, spinning him further into the air, and turning him into a cannonball of blue dragon flames.

    Lizardon's eyes were on his own attack, searching for his opponent in the smoke that had erupted from the impact. He never saw the furious ball of flame coming in just above his field of vision. It hit him square in the head, and his entire form shook, both with anger, and the new paralysis the critical hit had given him. His skull throbbed with pain.

    "Dragon Pulse!" Another attack, another hit, directly to his stomach, as Lizardon was unable to move. He shrugged off the pulse however, fighting through the paralysis. The red eyes shifted to look towards his perch, lined with berries that could heal such wounds.

    "Blaze, if he makes a move for his berries, burn them all." The Charizard shot into the air in response, and hovered right above the ledge on the northern side of the crater. Landing on it would've drawn the black one for sure, but his hovering only threatened.

    "I have no items!" Alex shouted, pointing at Lizardon, "You won't be using them either." The black beast snorted blue flames, and inhaled to Roar at the human, and send him scurrying. Without aid, the Shelgon would fall easily. "Zen Headbutt!" He'd taken his eyes off the Shelgon as he'd readied the move, a rookie mistake, as the human had distracted him long enough for the insolent whelp to roll in close, and ram his stomach.

    With a single flap, Lizardon took to the air. Blaze hovered closer to the berry stash. Without the old man's aid, Lizardon might've cured his weakness, as Alex would've never learned where they were.

    He hoarded the berries of the mountain, staying strong while forcing others to eat weak, unwanted berries to survive, or expend energy hunting. Either way, the others were kept too weak to rebel successfully.

    The old man had seen the stash however, and had warned them of it. The stash was not the black one's target, though. A claw of purplish-blue energy formed around his black claw, and he swooped down towards the Shelgon. This was it. Dragon Claw, combined with flight.

    "Protect!" There was a grating shriek as claws of energy wore away, and Lizardon's real claws ran across the shell. He roared in fury, as he hovered in the air, and then unleashed a deluge of blue flame at the Shelgon's form with a Flamethrower. Blue flames covered Shruikan's vision, but he'd need fire much, much hotter than this for evolution.

    "Dragon Pulse!" As planned, the fire did little against Shruikan, but it was beginning to wear on him. His shell was smoldering, though it cooled once he rolled his face opening towards his opponent, and expelled the attack at close range.

    Lizardon slid back, pushed across the arena by the powerful dragon type attack. Another Flamethrower followed, and Shruikan winced. A normal Flamethrower was hard to resist, but this one was powered by pure rage, and burned all the hotter for it. Seeing he was about to be burned badly, Alex reacted, trusting his Trainer instinct.

    "Shruikan! Alpha maneuver!" The Shelgon nodded, and a Fire Blast of his own pushed back slowly against the Flamethrower's continuous stream. Lizardon had forgotten that Fire Blast was self-propelling however, and so when Shruikan again came down on him, hitting his head once more, he was even more surprised. A quick Dragonbreath-aided jump into the air and another rolling descent scored another critical hit.

    Lizardon reeled, clutching his skull, and roaring in pain. On the southern cliff face of the mountain, the Greninja known simply as Gren sat motionless. He'd watched for two days, moving only when nature urged him to eat or void his bowels. Now he was witnessing a true battle between a Trainer with natural skill, and the strongest Charizard nature could possibly create. It was a spectacle, for sure, but the mood shifted suddenly.

    A foul stench filled the air. Every Pokémon knew then, the battle was about to get serious. Lizardon looked up at the Shelgon, blood dripping from the head wound. His vision was already questionable after two days of constant vigilance and no sleep. Now, the blows to his head made his vision swim. He realized he might actually lose this. The human was clever, as humans tended to be.

    It wasn't fair. He should've been this Trainer's Charmeleon. Or at least had a Trainer worthy of his power, but no. He'd been given a coward, and then had been abandoned. It wasn't fair.

    It wasn't fair that he'd had to fight to survive in the wild, abandoned, young, and alone. It wasn't fair that he'd had to learn how to battle all by himself, no parents, no guardians. He'd achieved power on this mountain, and in his mind, ruled fairly. After all, what leader would've tolerated the insubordination he'd put up with for so long?

    Now, his rule looked to be toppled by this upstart Shelgon and his human. They couldn't have been bonded for more than a few weeks, and already, their power was enough to give him a challenge. It was unnatural. Dragon types could never grow so strong so quickly.

    It wasn't right. It wasn't fair. It would not stand. The blue flame around his tail burned hotter as his blood fell to the ground, and the Pokémon watching could only look at their mighty ruler with pity.

    He was roaring his frustration now, screaming to the heavens in his own roaring tongue about how none of it was fair. A fair creator would not subject him to this life. He demanded the power that was his birthright.

    And the power was given.

    The clone of Arceus that now watched the mountain had, like its inhabitants, come to loathe humans, at least the ones who treated Pokémon like that black Charizard so badly. So, he intervened, though he knew he shouldn't.

    The bright golden light of Arceus shone down from the sky, surrounding the black Charizard, giving him the energy needed to advance along his species' evolutionary path, a power that should have been his, would have been his, had he not been abandoned, had the humans of the region remembered the importance of bonding through battle, win or lose.

    His form grew more monstrous, more grotesque, his surroundings changed his very typing to match that of the Pokémon that lived in this crater. He became a true dragon type then. The means to keep his power were now his. This Trainer was also, at the same time, being tested.

    Arceus was naturally well aware that his memory was gone. He was battling on instinct alone right now. This would test his mettle. Two birds with one stone. The heavens stopped glowing, and Lizardon stood before Shruikan, fully Mega Evolved.

    "Zen Headbutt!" Alex had glared at the sky, as if to say 'Really?', but this was still a battle. He had to win it. The headbutt was obeyed by Shruikan, who took strength from his master's confidence. Someday, he too would evolve like this Charizard. But he would do it the right way, through a bond, not pure rage, desperation, and an Act of Arceus.

    Lizardon caught the headbutt with ease, the skin of his claws sizzled as they grabbed the hot shell of his opponent. He did not care, for fire could not truly harm a dragon like him. He was unnaturally black in this form, retaining his scale color upon evolving. He flew into the air, and Alex lowered his hat. This was it for Shruikan. He ordered a counter anyways, refusing to give in.

    "Roll in his claws!" Shruikan struggled to obey, and rotate as he had done in Blaze's claws, but these were different. Stronger. Lizardon's grip was iron, like his desire to win. Higher and higher they flew, and Shruikan knew a fall from this height would end him.

    Lizardon circled then, and in a true demonstration of aerial grace that only Shruikan saw, and burned into his mind, the newly evolved Charizard threw the weakened Shelgon at the ground. Shruikan fell like a meteor, and Lizardon followed him, fully intending to finish this whelp and crack the already weakened shell. When he fought, it was to the end.

    Before impacting, Alex raised Shruikan's Pokéball, and the unusual beam of black light hit his falling form, recalling him into the ball. The force of his impact shook the ball in his hand as the inertia was canceled out, but these balls were designed for such stress.

    Alex held it steady. "Well done, my friend…well done. We hit him harder than we thought we could…now we-" He was interrupted as a furious roar broke the sky.

    Lizardon shot down from the clouds at speeds only a Mega Form could handle. He swung in mid-air, bringing his tail around. It glowed with the purplish-blue energy his claws had, and Alex knew he wouldn't survive this hit.

    But this was not his first time on this mountain. He had a true Charizard with him now. A similarly glowing orange tail met black, and Blaze roared in pain as he took the furious hit for his partner with Dragon Tail. The sheer force of the impact would've normally broken it, but the typing advantage from the move canceled it out, and more damage was done to Lizardon. He was unused to his new typing, and was using his new form on pure instinct.

    "Dragon Claw! Finish him!" Blaze met Lizardon's own Dragon Claw, and the two battled on the ground, the younger Charizard slowly pushing the older one back with pure force, or so it appeared.

    At the last second, Lizardon's heightened perception let him lock his Dragon Claw with Blaze's. He spun, slamming his heavy tail into the younger Charizard, and followed that up with a Fire Blast, as blue and intense as the first had been.

    Blaze was shoved back. He'd caught the tail's impact again, more than ready after training so long with Magmar, and catching its tail. The Fire Blast however, was too much to block. His claws pushed against it, and he roared for help from his Trainer. Alex, for his part, was momentarily awed by the power of the Fire Blast, as it towered over him by many feet, but Blaze's cry for help jolted him back to reality.

    "Let it hit you! Absorb the heat!" He knew the max temperature of a Charizard's flames. Even with a Mega Form, they could only burn so hot without igniting the atmosphere itself. Blaze had withstood lava, he could take this. He hoped.

    Wings flared, Blaze did as instructed, and the flames surrounded him. Lizardon snarled through a dark grin, but faltered. The fire burned around his opponent now, in a manner that was unnatural. Alex looked at his hand. The red crystal shard was glowing with power…he needed to do something, but what? He looked at his Charizard. He was waiting…for something. For him.

    Alex raised the crystal, and a red light shot from his clenched fist, hitting his Charizard. "Do it! Do it now!" He wasn't entirely sure exactly what Blaze would do…but this felt right. He trusted his instinct, and his trust was rewarded.

    The flames around Blaze shifted to red-orange, and then soared as he roared, the sheer power of his voice filled the air. Even Lizardon winced. Finally, the fire faded away, leaving nothing but a scorch mark on the stone. Blaze stood in the center of it, with a Mega Form of his own. But he was different.

    Where Lizardon had become fierce, horned, and fueled by intense rage, Blaze had become what one might expect a Charizard to evolve into. He had three horns now, a wider wingspan, wing-like fins on his arms, and spikes along his tail. He was slimmer than Lizardon, but no less imposing. He almost looked like a crowned king, strongest among his brethren. Blaze looked back at his Trainer, and smirked, giving a thumbs up.

    Alex blinked, as the gesture almost brought back memories, recent ones, or so he felt. "You…you want to handle this by yourself?" Blaze roared an affirmative, and his Trainer smirked. "Alright…you know what to do. Win!"

    Blaze snorted blue flames of his own, and the color of the one on his tail shifted to blue as well, out of sheer intensity. Both parties were at their peak strength now. This would be a show of power this mountain hadn't seen in an age.

    The two titans clashed loudly, slamming into each other with Dragon Claws on each paw. Their aerial battling was fierce and almost impossible to follow, such was their speed. Alex let a dazed Shruikan out to watch. The envy of the Shelgon only grew as he watched the aerial display, and munched on one of the Sitrus Berries they'd saved for the battle.

    He could've won, if he'd been able to fly. Of that he was sure. The two Charizard soared ever higher into the sky, trading Flamethrowers as well, now. As they ascended, they became a faint speck in the sky, with an occasional streak of blue, high above the already tall mountain.

    Alex would not see the rest of this battle for a while, but Blaze would remember every moment of it. The satellite responsible for monitoring and recording this area of Unova caught sight of the fight, and streamed it live, and many would count themselves lucky for having been able to watch it in real time. That wouldn't diminish those who would watch the scene later, however. This fight was about to go down in legend.

    Blaze knew it on an instinctual level, and so, he demonstrated his skills, almost able to feel the eyes of the world watching with envy. He was the one responsible for dragging Lizardon this high.

    He'd hurled insults with every roar, taunts with every Flamethrower, and always met his enemy's Dragon Claw. They'd scored multiple hits on each other, but after taking so much damage, Lizardon was feeling the strain.

    And now, far above their planet, the rage of his flames was burning out what little oxygen there was to fuel them. Alex had explained to Blaze, after their first day of training with his flight, that flying too high outside would cause his tail to go out.

    If it did, he'd have to fall and re-ignite it, or he would certainly die. Now, the clever fire lizard had lured his tired opponent to this height. He just needed to stay on top of him, and his plan would work. A final Flamethrower hit Blaze square in the chest, but sputtered almost immediately. The air had run out. Breathing was impossible, and as their flames went out, both Charizard began to plummet.

    Blaze forced himself to stay conscious however, his link to his Trainer pushing him to win. Without it, he would've passed out like Lizardon. But this was one fainting from which this tyrant would never awaken. He inhaled through his nose, and let the frigid air warm in the center of his body, where his flames dwelt. As he exhaled, his tail re-ignited.

    Blaze stabilized himself with his larger wings and arm fins, but their speed was only increasing. Exhausted, but still willing to fight, he came into view of Alex as he cartwheeled in the air, and hit the unconscious Lizardon with the full force of his Dragon Tail. The attack was pure instinct, but it hit the black one directly in the stomach.

    The new spikes upon his tail pierced the black beast, and blood flowed freely as his massive form shot towards the platform with a loud boom that cracked the air, such was the force of the hit.

    Blaze hadn't aimed for the platform however. He'd let his eyes guide his tail, and Lizardon clipped the stone structure with a wing, breaking it and sealing his death, as he plummeted to the crater lake below.

    There was another loud crash as the impact of his large body hitting the water, which was hard as concrete at that speed, echoed throughout the mountain. Blaze landed on the rock platform soon after, as blood filled the water for the last time. He roared, letting the entire surrounding region know; it was now free. The mountain was safe again.

    The female Salamence immediately flew over. She'd waited until the two titans had stopped battling, before moving to nuzzle her offspring. She kept a wary eye on the human, but largely ignored him. Those upon the mountain who had been like her and outlived their Trainers could tell this human was, as they termed it, a good egg. Besides, what harm could a lone human pose a dragon?

    Shruikan explained everything to his mother in a series of growls, and Alex let him as he stood beside Blaze at the platform's edge, looking down into the dark scarlet water.

    The power faded from Blaze's form, returning him to normal. He growled softly, lamenting the fall of a worthy rival, and Alex nodded, understanding. "That he was."

    He raised his head then, noticing the dragon Pokémon watching him expectantly. Once more, he let instinct guide his actions, not with battle, but words. He knew they could understand him. Most had known the human tongue once.

    His voice cracked from disuse at first, but he cleared his throat, and forced himself to orate loud enough for every Pokémon in the crater to hear. Luckily, the acoustics of the arena helped him with this.

    "Lizardon…was a menace. That much is true. But he was a menace that humanity created. His Trainer abandoned him, probably after assuming he was weak, despite his unique coloring. Every Pokémon starts out weak. You need to train to be strong. Humans understood that, once. These days though…we'd rather abandon them than train them to their full potential. Store them away in favor of something stronger. It isn't right." Many of the gathered dragons nodded, once, in agreement.

    There was something about this human…they felt a connection, like he could understand their pain, and gladly shouldered it. He almost seemed like one of them. Shruikan's mother glanced toward Lizardon's cave, and blinked, confirming that it was indeed glowing a deep bluish purple. Not for her offspring, or either Charizard…it had started when the human had spoken. She eyed him again as he continued, genuinely curious now as to where exactly he'd come from.

    "I'm sorry many of you were released. Abandoned, or left without a partner for whatever reason. But you need to let us help you remember how to be kind again. Let humans come to this mountain top. You will see that we are not all bad, and maybe, you'll find a Trainer that IS worthy of having you." There were mixed grumbles throughout the crater. Prejudice and old hatred was not so easily erased, but suddenly, Alex sensed a large presence behind him.

    He looked up at the neck of a female Salamence looming several feet above him, and she roared at every one of them, as if telling them to come to their senses. The Tyranitar by the path down the mountain roared back, and stepped out of the way, deciding he'd had enough of playing guard dog. The way was clear, and would stay that way. Alex looked up at the large dragon type in awe. She looked down at him, winked one large eye, and backed up, lowering to his level. He pet her snout as he admired just how strong she was.

    "Thank you for raising such a fine Bagon. I'll make sure he becomes a truly legendary Pokémon. Keep an eye on the TVs around Castelia City. If you can make a suitable nest there, you will see him. Eventually." The female Salamence eyed the Trainer, very clearly understanding his words, and nodded. She lifted off again, revealing Shruikan behind her. They nodded to each other.

    "Alright Blaze, fly us home!" Alex said, patting his Charizard. Blaze responded by yawning, and tapping the Pokéball button for Shruikan's ball, then his own, each disappearing in their own black and red-orange lights respectively. The message was clear. They'd be walking, after such a hard fight.

    Alex sighed, and began heading towards the mountain path down, giving respectful nods towards each dragon type he passed. They nodded in return, seemingly impressed. But dragon types were hard to read. At least they weren't trying to burn him and eat his flesh. While many would never forgive humanity, this one had overcome adversity, and freed them from a tyrant. He'd earned his freedom.

    Seeing all he'd needed to, Gren leapt from his hiding spot, catching Alex's gaze for only a moment, before vanishing.

    Alex was still trying to figure out why what looked like a Greninja would be here of all places, when he noticed the old man by the path down the mountain. "Old man. Are you going home too?"

    The Kanto man shook his head. "I'll stay here. Make sure tourists don't flood the place. Only Trainers will come up this mountain. Real Trainers. I'll have a hut. Make it a true wildlife preserve."

    Alex nodded. "I'll see about getting Humilau to send some people out to help you." The old man nodded, gave Alex's waist a pat, which at 6,2 was all the old man could reach with his stoop, and then shuffled back towards his cave.

    "Hey! Wait!" Alex called, "You promised to tell me your story. Why are you here?"

    The old man looked back at him, and gave a sad smile. "I had a Charizard once, like you, and like you, I thought to climb the Dragon Mountain. I thought the Pokémon up there could give us the strength we needed to battle and surpass my greatest rival. I'd heard they hated humans. I wanted to change their minds. When I got to the top, Lizardon was waiting for us. He killed my friend…and I refused to leave until I got his bones. They're in his cliff nest."

    Alex stared at the man, heart wrenching for his loss. It wasn't quite his life story, and there was still no name, but losing one's partner was always tough. "I'm sorry, I can help get them ou-" The old man cut him off.

    "No. His bones will stay there, in a place of honor, no longer a prison. He is free now. And has you to thank for that." He bowed low, and formal.

    Alex scratched his head. "It's no problem…any Trainer would've done it. All I did was follow my instincts…I still can't remember anything."

    The old man gave him a long look, then grinned for the first time, revealing far too few teeth. "You will. Go. Back to civilization. Oh, and one last thing." He turned, shuffling back, and offered a hand with a green crystal in it. "The Torterra from below gave this to me, for you, as thanks for saving our mountain home. You earned it."

    Alex took the crystal, eyed it, and saw a leaf symbol etched within its center. Like the fire one, it too was giving off immense, but subtle power. He'd need a grass type to properly use it. "Don't lose that lad. Those crystals are more precious than anything." Alex nodded, and made his way down the mountain, still wondering at what exactly these Plate crystals were. They looked familiar, but his damned memory was still befuddled.

    He knew they weren't Mega Stones, but they could make Pokémon mega evolve, so they had to be unique. He knew Mega Evolution used Infinity energy, but what exactly that was, and how to tap into it, was something that was for the moment beyond his knowledge. He placed the grass crystal next to the fire crystal in his inner pocket within his tattered, dirty jacket, and made the climb down the mountain.

    The old man watched him go, then looked out at the horizon, to the south west. The sun turned the entire sky a familiar orange as it began to set.

    "Rest in peace now, Zippo." The old man whispered, then turned, and shuffled back to his hovel. He would bathe, and return to civilization just long enough to make sure the fools running this region didn't abuse the mountain now that Lizardon had fallen.

    As Alex wandered down the mountain, pondering the mysterious crystals still, he forced his mind to other matters. Like who he was, where he was from, the mystery behind the names on the edge of his consciousness.

    He once more let instinct guide him, and headed in the direction of the town he'd seen from the trail, what could only be Humilau City, to the south.

    As he walked however, his nagging memories became more insistent. With the threat of losing his life gone, and the stress that came with it, he was struggling to remember. He pulled the note again from his pocket, wrinkled and torn now after so many times reading it.

    All of a sudden, for no explainable reason, he looked up from the note, and stopped dead. Before him, standing on the path, was a Ralts. The note was pulled from his hand via telekinesis, and the Ralts examined it for a moment as it hovered before the tiny Pokémon's covered eyes. Then the Ralts looked away from it, and walked up to him.

    "Ralts!" it said, reaching its stubby arms towards him. Alex didn't quite know why, but he felt the sudden urge to kneel down to this Pokémon's level. He raised an eyebrow.

    "Why?" The Ralts tapped its strange horned head with one stubby hand, then lifted the other hand towards his own head. Despite his wariness, Alex knelt.

    The Ralts came closer, rising higher on its legs until the large red horn on its head touched the human's. Alex's eyes rolled, and his memories came flooding back, the image of Lizardon's tail was finally moved, now nothing more than a memory, half remembered. He...felt...somehow, that the Ralts had gained something in the contact as well, though what it was, he could not tell.

    Alex knew who he was now, more certain of it than ever after his actions while he'd had amnesia. Blaze and Shruikan appeared in a flash of red and black light, and they both glared at the Pokémon interfering with their friend's mind. They'd sensed Pokémon power emanating from him, affecting their Trainer, and had responded. After their hardship together, the bond between them was quite strong.

    The growls increased in volume, causing the Ralts to slowly back away, until their Trainer raised a hand. It would take a while to sort everything into its proper place, but he managed to stand, at least.

    "Calm…calm down you two. My memory is back, and this Ralts is responsible." The little Pokémon chirped again, smiling. He could tell it was happy to have helped. The Ralts looked once more at the note then, and read it, staring for a long time at the name the note gave this human. Alex tilted his head. Before, it had looked at the paper in confusion. Now, it seemed like it could actually read it. He knew psychic types were intelligent, but for one so young, understanding the intricacies of written Common should've been beyond him. He smirked. Unless he'd borrowed the knowledge from another mind.

    The young Ralts had been told that his path would cross with a turtle of some sort. He examined the human with his senses. He seemed different somehow, and the Ralts realized that his kind act had accidentally awakened something. There was power in this human. Familiar power.

    Alex looked for a long time at the small Pokémon, still not quite believing it. He'd felt his lucky streak was over, that had been the source of his constant dread and stress while in the mountain, he was subconsciously convinced that his being attacked would kill him, slowly, if not outright.

    But now, with the finding of the last member of his ideal team, the team he'd dreamed about once, long ago, he knew there was more to his path than luck. Things like this simply did not happen by coincidence. These events were too coincidental. He found his ideal psychic type, who restored his memories, just after he happened to free a mountain full of Pokémon from a tyrant? No, there was more to this path he was walking. For now, he decided to trust where it led.

    The little Ralts' demeanor changed then, suddenly, as he looked up at Blaze and Shruikan, as if properly seeing them for the first time. They weren't unfriendly, but they did have a lean fierceness to them after their ordeal. Their Trainer wasn't the only one that was malnourished after so long without decent food, and such intense training in sweltering heat.

    The Ralts started to back up slowly again, away from the larger Pokémon, when it bumped into Alex, who had moved behind it. The little psychic type jumped, startled, but Alex gently patted its horn, which could allegedly sense emotions. "It's okay…they won't hurt you. Nor will I. You're actually a Pokémon I've been looking for. I don't have your Pokéball on me, however. If you come with us, I can go get it, and we can complete our team."

    The Ralts' horn quivered at his touch, and he smiled. He turned towards Blaze and Shruikan each, and while he still seemed hesitant about Shruikan, he found Blaze as friendly as his Trainer.

    "Ralts!" It said happily, pushing the return button on both of their balls with a small, controlled burst of psychic energy. Somewhat surprised, the two Pokémon were recalled, and then, the little Pokémon put its stubby limbs on its new Trainer's hand, and in an instant with little more than a 'bamf' sound, they were back in the room he'd stayed with Jess in. Her stuff was still here, as was his backpack, on top of which, was his badge.

    He sighed with relief, and then searched his bag for the purple ball he'd chosen for his psychic type. He tossed it at the Ralts, and the ball flipped, capturing the Pokémon within it immediately, before it had even hit the ground.

    He picked it up then, and smirked, before putting it on his belt beside the other two. Leo and Hydrus' balls weren't here either, nor was his spare hat, that he alternated to keep both from getting too dirty.

    He still had spare clothes though, so he began to scrub over a month's worth of hard living off in the shower unit. Once that was done, he saw his reflection, and did a double take. Gone was the lingering fat from his face, replaced now with a thick, dark brown, unruly beard. It wasn't as majestic as his friend Connor's, and there were still a few patches that seemed singed off, but with some trimming and growing, they would fill in. His hair was in desperate need of a cut, and his eyes were sunken, from so many restless nights without remembering who he was.

    He did what he could with a comb, and then breezed out of the shower, bumping into the unmistakable form of Jessica, who'd just entered the room, and had moved to investigate who was showering in it. They stared at each other for a good fifteen seconds.

    She was sweaty, unusual for her as she preferred to lounge around all day without lifting a nail, and she was wearing his hat, which was filthy, damp, and covered in sand. Just like her clothes.

    For his part, his muscles stood out clearer now, though he looked a bit ragged. He was nude, save for a towel, but he hadn't yet quite realized it. She was stuttering, he realized, and he moved in to hug her, sighing contently.

    It certainly felt right, though at that moment, he became fully aware that the cloth separating his nudity from her could fall easily. He pulled away slightly, bringing the towel up, but she stopped him.

    He adjusted it as she met his gaze, smirking. "Wow. I really do like the beard." Seven words had never hit him so hard, and he made a note to throw out his razor. For the first time, he dropped his guard around her and gazed at her the way he'd always done from afar.

    Jess felt her face heat up as she returned his gaze. His eyes were as intense as Leo's and had a similar fierceness to them. They were still much the same, however, changed only slightly by…whatever he'd gone through. Still just as kind, still just as blue.

    His instincts had been…alive, since regaining his memory, and right then, they were insisting that he kiss her. He couldn't have ignored them if he'd tried.
     
    #7 Mar 2, 2019
    Last edited: Apr 27, 2022
  8. Sahqoreyth

    Arthur
    (Kirlia ♂)
    Level 21
    Joined:
    Mar 2, 2019
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    Dawn Stone ★★★★
    Chapter 7: Aftermath

    Domain of the Alpha - Arceus' Dimension

    A reality away, in another dimension entirely, the golden form of the Alpha Pokémon slept soundly, waiting with eternal patience for the One to rise again. He had awareness through the many eyes of his pale white copies, who monitored his favored worlds, and all who lived on them, for instances where his power would be needed by Sentient and Pokémon alike.

    He waited for the One that his last Holder had prophesied would one day appear. The Trainer who could control his power, and was worthy of doing so. The Trainer who would, so he'd claimed, propel both their species to heights neither could properly imagine. Being all but omniscient, Arceus could imagine quite a bit. The human had laughed when he'd said as much, and promised that the next one to tame him would, at the very least, pique his interest. It wasn't as impressive as the rest of the prophecy, as it was self-fulfilling. Of course Arceus would be interested in another human that could handle his power. Sentients like them, creatures born of the universe's natural evolutionary processes, usually couldn't even properly fathom his existence, let alone tame it.

    With a sudden jolt, the red eye of the true Arceus opened for the first time in millennia. His near-omnipotent senses confused him, for an instant, as he felt the combined psychic potential of many Trainers who could end up taming him upon the world he watched most closely. The world he himself had saved from catastrophic imbalances in the natural cycle that had allowed life to appear and flourish. Though the humans had, at first, repulsed him, the Alpha Pokémon had come to see that they were indeed worthy of being saved. The one he'd granted his power to had shown him that, and their accord was not yet fulfilled. For now, the Earth was worthy of his gaze, and attention.

    After a moment, he understood. One of the potential Trainers who could handle his power had just been awakened in a rapid manner, at the behest of a psychic type. Aside from dragons, they were some of the strongest Pokémon around. For a brief moment, that Trainer's mind had almost unlocked its latent psychic abilities. Almost. Now, at best, he was aware of them, but unable to use them. For now.

    Still, it was more promising than the thousands of others Arceus had sensed over the long millennia, and that particular Trainer's latent power had been strong enough to jolt his own senses. He took a longer look at the planet through his third eye, and then realized just how long he'd slept. Humanity had evolved, since last he was awake. There were thousands with that same psychic potential, and more besides without it that could, in the right circumstances, also prove worthy. It was a far cry from the war-loving brutes they'd become once his Holder had fallen prey to his mortality, despite the Alpha's best efforts.

    The challenge, the true hidden purpose of the Pokémon Leagues, established by himself and his human, had never been tougher. He could sense it. The time for his next Holder to appear was fast approaching, and eventually, one of them would rise atop the others. He stayed awake, watching the world from his dimension of infinite Light, even as his clones monitored the Earth.

    They were one, and yet weren't, and many wondered at what his awakening signified. More than a few had developed skewed personalities, but now that the original was conscious once more, they were slowly erased, and molded back into the single entity that was Arceus.

    His patience was also infinite. He could wait a little longer for the next Holder to rise. He'd stayed awake, and waited two whole Earth centuries last time, which in his realm, was much, much longer. He could do so again, if needed. He'd made a promise, after all.

    Sensing the potential within this latest batch of Trainers, the Alpha Pokémon sent a psychic message to the ones who would test the potential Pokémon Master's latent power. There were many such Pokémon who lived on the world, that could test the candidates. Of all of the differing species, very few were alive when he last was Tamed. Though the Sages all had psychic potential, some were simply shorter lived species.

    Now, they all received the message, the call. The time was approaching. His awakening signified a change in their world, one that would only appear evident as his handiwork over time. Soon, the trials would begin again. He could feel the Sage's inherent excitement at training the One. They would all be disappointed before the end though, all but one. Only one of their protégés could Tame him, after all.

    All across the world, the Psychic Sages shivered as they felt Arceus, the real Arceus, call them to action. They needed to stop being picky, and uncover the potential of as many Trainers as possible. This time, one would be chosen.

    Sage's Isle - The Great Swamp, Floria Region

    On the Unovan side of the northern continent, there was one psychic type who received the message, and sighed. He lived south, far south, in a massive swamp that extended from what was once called Floria thousands of years past, to Jinia Town, a home of rather superstitious and fearful humans that rightly avoided his home. It was rather dangerous, if one was not prepared.

    When Arceus had bid Regigigas to shift the continents of the planet that hadn't been drowned under rising water levels, much in the old world had changed. New Tork City now bordered an ocean, and the new coastline was home to many ancient cities, long since looted, destroyed, or abandoned in humanity's downwards spiral. About halfway down this coast, the land became swamp. The continent had once, long ago, been home to many humans, but now, it was overrun by ocean, and much of the southern half had become a salty swamp filled with Pokémon and rumors of deadly misfortune that befell any who dared to enter.

    The Pokémon in charge of testing the candidates was, on this continent, the Foggy Swamp Sage. Oranguru. He was old, not quite old enough to have sensed the last time the Alpha Pokémon awakened, but old enough to know that it was his own father who had trained a human candidate for the last cycle of awakening. He was younger than his father had been, but in his wise opinion, far stronger.

    His father's chosen protégé had not succeeded in the last test. The candidate from central Eurafricasia had, but that had been a long time ago, and that candidate had failed to Tame the Alpha Pokémon. Now, the process would begin again. Now, there was a chance to prove that he could train a worthy human to become the Holder of Arceus, and succeed where his forebear had failed.

    Over ten millennia had passed since the true Arceus had been conscious, and influenced the world in wonderful ways. Humans had forgotten, and while some of them knew Arceus existed, many had simply categorized him into their 'National Pokédex', another number on a list that grew every year.

    While he never interacted much with the planet, save for when humanity and Pokémon alike were doomed before a natural catastrophe, like a meteor. Arceus had appeared all over the world at one time or another. Or rather, his pale white clones had. They sacrificed willingly, to keep the planet from being obliterated by disturbingly frequent meteors, and with each loss, the world was littered with yet more broken Plate shards. Luckily, it was easy for a new clone to form from the Alpha's dimension, and take the fallen one's place.

    Only one region painted his myth with Arceus as he truly was, golden as the sun, and only one story contained the tale of this golden Arceus. But it had been twisted and misused by lesser men in the long millennia since his last appearance. Now, in the modern world, it was seen as a fantasy, a tale believed true only by those under the control of the Arcean Church, who many in the eastern States disliked for their disdainful outlook on their modern societies, and the morals that ran them. Oranguru sighed again.

    Such things would need to be dispelled and prevented against, if the One truly did appear again. Once, Arceus' name had spread the world over, spoken in reverent tones of peace and gratitude. He had healed thousands, his power bolstered by the bond to the human who had Tamed him. In response, naturally, humanity had named Arceus their deity, ever-grateful for his aid in healing the planet. Nevermind that said healing had upended entire nations with the shifting of the world's continental plates, the planet had survived, and that was what was important, for it once more gave hope to a race that had lost theirs, and accepted their impending doom brought on by their uncaring ancestor's mass polluting of the air, water, and land.

    With the introduction of Pokémon into the animal and plant kingdoms, humanity had, true to form, abused the new, magical creatures in their midst, and it did not take long for them to start using them as weapons. Arceus put an end to that, in a conflict known historically as the Judgement War, and once the parties responsible had been Judged unworthy of continuing to exist, humanity had managed to thrive. At least, until the Holder of Arceus had succumbed to mortality.

    The cult that had formed around the Holder and the Alpha Pokémon had grown powerful in the years they'd served faithfully. Once the Holder passed on, it had taken less than a year for the cult to fracture, and war to erupt once more on the supercontinent, namely in what was known today as Eous. The fractured cults, each with diverging beliefs, were what sparked the period of turmoil and strife now known to modern humans only as the Dark Times.

    The Foggy Swamp Sage had not lived through the Dark Times, his father had experienced them though, and had shared psychic visions of the atrocities humans and Pokémon alike had committed in the absence of Arceus' Holder. It had taken far too long to climb out of that downward spiral, and the only thing the Pokémon in charge of training the next Holder agreed on was that it had to be avoided again. Humanity had grown so far on its own, even now, and that progress could not be lost. It was their job to choose one who would be strong enough, wise enough, to keep that from happening again.

    Slowly, word began to spread to Gym Leaders, and the Pokémon Leagues all around the world from Alola in the west to Sinnoh in the east. The challenge was on again. The Leagues had, originally, been formed to administer a test to find remarkable Trainers, and send those Trainers to the Sages, in an effort to find the next human capable of Holding the Alpha Pokémon. In the modern era, many Trainers had held Champion status in multiple regions, and many regions had more than one Champion, if they were large. Very few ever went to the Sages, even if they were asked to.

    Many of the older League members were skeptical. To become worthy of being trained by one of the Psychic Sages, a Trainer had to beat at least five of the leagues around the world. A feat not unheard of, but one that was rare enough. The only other way to prove one's worth was by Taming a Legendary Guardian, and preventing a disaster of some description. Humans who managed to bond with, and successfully use, Legendary Pokémon were assumed by the Sages to have the same potential as a Trainer who could best five regional Leagues. Trainers capable of five League victories often spent their days enjoying their celebrity status, before retiring to a University to teach, and live off a fat League paycheck until they passed. The more they taught, the more they earned.

    Nobody alive knew what happened after Champions went to the Sages, because the last challenge hadn't gotten past that point. In the end, none of the candidates had been deemed worthy, and the Alpha Pokémon had remained untamed. That had been centuries ago however, before Pokéballs had existed, and the few old timers who still knew about the challenge assumed it couldn't be beaten. The Sages had a habit of rejecting anyone they felt was even slightly unworthy.

    Trainers had changed over time though, mainly thanks to Pokéballs. While the civilizations in the time of the Holder had possessed similar methods of carrying their partners about, it had taken a long time for them to be rediscovered. It was still relatively new technology, barely two centuries old, but it had revolutionized modern training of Pokémon.

    In this era of scientific achievement, Trainers could measure a Pokémon's strength with statistical data, some Trainers even picked through hundreds of the same species just to find one worthy of training. Others bred them for their strength over and over until they were satisfied. With all this effort, needless to say, being a professional Trainer was harder than ever.

    Most of the Leagues were excited, despite the skepticism of the older generation. Many still believed that there was a Trainer out there who would remind the world of what was actually important when it came to training Pokémon, of what really mattered. This challenge, from what little they knew of it, would separate the unworthy from the pack, and hopefully one of the chosen Trainers, should they be judged worthy, would prove to modern Trainers the world over that there was more to it all than statistics and protein maxing.

    The Foggy Swamp Sage looked out over his peaceful island, and sighed for a third time. He was putting it off, and he knew his rivals were already summoning those with potential in their own regions. He knew he had to do the same. With a thought, he summoned the human in charge of gathering the worthy. Once she'd arrived and hopped from her Dragonite, he explained the situation, and she was off again just as quickly. Oranguru watched her go as he loaded his wooden pipe with crushed Leaf, and with a flash of pyrokinesis, started yet another smoking session. He stared up at the sky as he exhaled the foul smelling smoke, remembering this calm, and knowing that it would be centuries before his home would be this quiet again.

    Humilau City - Unova Region

    Alex's abrupt return had stirred the local media into a frenzy. The first thing he'd done was tell his family he was alright, and recover his Torterra. The Professor had said that Terra had slept almost the entire time Alex had been gone, awakening abruptly about a day ago.

    He told his granduncle then about what had happened on the mountain, and afterwards, with his new Ralts, who was at that very moment examining the local book collection in the Pokémon Center. He hadn't decided on a nickname earlier, so Alex left it up to him to choose. After a bit of training, he was smart enough to read on his own, and was therefor deemed capable of picking his own name.

    Alex had just finished telling his uncle the whole story when, after several long moments, he said "We already know about the battle, lad. And by 'we' I of course mean most of the world. Two Mega Evolved Charizard going at it that high in the atmosphere catches attention. Nobody knows, yet, who the victorious Charizard's Trainer is though. Your hat was blocking your face. I suppose the local media might recognize it. It was pretty dirty though."

    Alex took a moment to ponder that information. "So…I should tell them? But there's no way they'll believe me. I bet half a hundred Trainers have already stepped forward to claim that they were the ones who battled."

    His granduncle nodded. Unfortunately, there were many Trainers looking to leech fame off the exploits of their betters. They rarely succeeded, but like any leech, they were hard to pry off once they attached.

    "There is one way, of course…" the Professor said, a gleam in his eye, "You have your Charizard Mega Evolve again. I wouldn't mention how the black one did it though. That'll only make the Arceans crawl out of the woodwork. The last thing we need is to give them an excuse to grab power."

    Alex shrugged. The Arceans were the leftovers of the cultish group that claimed to have formed around the last man to tame the Alpha Pokémon, almost ten thousand years prior. Whatever they had been when they'd started, time and human greed had corrupted them in the absence of their leader.

    Now, they were mostly based in the Fornia region, but a few had migrated to Unova in recent years. They were notorious for latching on to any excuse to claim doom was coming, and unfortunately, they could convince many people what they said was true…if the proof behind their words was good enough. Fear could drive people to believe almost anything.

    A similar incident had happened in Sinnoh a few decades back, and to this day, many in that region were convinced that Arceus had a fierce and vengeful temperament, which made them perfect recruits for the Arcean Church. Now, their latest claim to superiority was having 'bases' on two continents, something no other organized cult could claim.

    That was due to the strong scientific following prevalent the world over, though. Many technologically superior regions had traded fairytales and myths for laboratories and research centers. They weren't always moral, but many agreed they were better than the thousands of cults that had warred during the Dark Times. Those wars had brought low almost every civilization on the planet. Many would do anything to avoid having that scenario occur a second time.

    Thinking about it, Alex could see how whatever power made Lizardon mega evolve could be tied to Arceus. For all he knew, it was Arceus who had given the tyrant Pokémon that power, for whatever reason. There were other examples of Pokémon reaching their Mega Forms on their own, a fact his granduncle stressed early in their conversation, but given that said examples were of Rayquaza, a Legend, and Mewtwo, a product of human bioengineering, he didn't think people would care to be reminded. What Lizardon had done was different, for with his temperament, he would've never reached that form on his own.

    "Fine." Alex said finally, "I'll play it vague. Just like you taught me. Now send Terra back."

    The old man held up his Pokéball, and put it in the transporter. "He'll be happy to see you. He was very disoriented when he woke up. I'm just glad he recognized me before he started to rampage."

    Alex shook his head, taking the ball as it materialized. "Terra would never rampage. He's a gentle giant." At his words and the sound of his voice, the newly materialized ball opened on its own, and Terra freed himself, looked around the Pokémon Center for a moment, then all but tackled his Trainer.

    Large as he was, very few beings could be tackled by such a strong Pokémon and hold their ground. "Ah! Terra, Terra, stop! I know, I missed you too." Alex grabbed his Pokémon's head spikes, and was lifted up and over onto his shell, covered in Torterra drool. He grabbed a branch on the large turtle's Ash tree, and wiped his face clean on the soft leaves.

    He turned then, and settled on the white, raised hexagon just above Terra's head as he retried the Holociever. His granduncle grinned. "Gentle giant. Right."

    Alex was focused on his partner, however. "How would you like to battle, hmm? I hope your Energy Ball isn't out of practice."

    "Terra!" The large Pokémon rumbled. Seemed he was eager.

    "Very well, return." Alex recalled Terra, landing carefully as his seat was suddenly gone, and then focused on the phone. The Professor seemed to have something important to say, but was holding back until his relative's attention was refocused.

    "I should tell you, by the way, there's a rumor going around. Remember that super-secret elite Pokémon League challenge I told you about once?" Alex nodded, vaguely recalling it through the hazy smoke-filled memories of their long basement talks. He'd thought he was being pranked at the time. It sounded made up.

    "It's on." The Professor said, quietly. "League members and Gym Leaders worldwide have already been notified…and Trainers are already starting. Do you remember what I told you about joining?"

    Alex nodded. "Beat…umm…four or five League challenges…and then…" He paused, clearly forgetting the rest.

    "And then find one of the Psychic Masters to train you, and hopefully deem you worthy. Honestly lad, pay attention." His granduncle crossed his skinny, wrinkled, lab coat covered arms and shook his head in mock disapproval.

    "I am paying attention!" Alex said, knowing it didn't sound half as convincing as it needed to, "And I already started with Marlon." The Professor shook his head, and sighed.

    "Are there any other ways of proving worthy? Preferably faster ones? Beating over thirty more gyms doesn't sound too appealing." With a Charizard, he could probably finish relatively soon, as there were a number of Pokémon Leagues in the States, across the continent Unova shared with them.

    He knew however, that traveling with Jess would limit how fast he could beat them, if indeed he could. He'd never admit it, but Marlon almost had him in that last battle, and he intended to do some serious training with the rest of his team. He was still behind everyone his age, more so now that he'd lost so much time to the mountain.

    The old man scratched his chin, which seemed to be perpetually covered in gray stubble. "Well...you could always stop a disaster, or accomplish a heroic feat that benefits the world as a whole...but to my knowledge, Unova is fine right now." Alex sighed, looking disheartened.

    "Don't get discouraged, lad." His granduncle continued with a sly wink, "If there's trouble around, you'll probably stumble into it."

    Alex rolled his eyes before changing the subject. "By the way, did you manage to figure out what those crystals are?"

    The Professor's face grew more serious, and he nodded. "Remember those Plates that I told you about? The ones that are said to boost a Pokémon's typing considerably? It seems that these fragments are indeed made of the same stuff, and have the same inherent power. My colleague in Hoenn had a Plate given to him by a Trainer, and we compared the energy readings they give off. His was a Fire Plate, but your little crystal was giving off levels of Infinity Energy we've only measured in Mega Stones. When I touched your crystals to the Fire Plate, it became active too. I had a group of fire types huddled by my window, drawn by the power it was giving off. True to the name, the energy they're both radiating seems infinite."

    He stroked his scruffy, gray beard before continuing, "If it really is a piece of the Alpha Pokémon, we hypothesized that someone must have taken a crystal like yours, and hammered it down into a Plate sometime in the past. We're not going to try that however…as these crystals are rare."

    Alex nodded, stroking his own beard in thought. After a trim and a shower, it actually looked somewhat respectable, if patchy. "I understand. If I find one I don't need, like ice or something, we can try to turn it into a Plate."

    He looked away from the screen, smirking as he spotted an unmistakably familiar shade of red coming from the hallway leading to the center's guest rooms.

    As usual, Professor Redwood missed nothing. "Seems my own blood would rather talk to a pretty redhead than listen to me ramble on about science! Bahaha! I'll let you know if anything new happens with our research lad, now go to her. And use protection! Ha!"

    The line cut out before Alex could respond, and he was once more left flushed red, standing in front of a phone, on a call that he knew most of the surrounding callers, and their contacts, had overheard. His Gruncle was nothing, if not loud.

    He tilted his hat down, and fussed with his belt as he adjusted Terra's place on it. Blaze's ball was right behind Terra's now, followed by Hydrus, then Leo, Shruikan, and his to-be-named Ralts. He'd let his Ralts out earlier that morning after rising to discover he was sore in places he'd never been sore before. Sleeping on primarily hard stone for weeks on end left a mark, but he hadn't slept much until the sun had risen.

    Thus, by the time he'd revealed his presence to the Pokémon Center, who then passed the news on to the local media, and after calling his granduncle, it was now high noon. He knew that he was being watched, as Humilau's 'open and free' center design had large windows on the front.

    The local news crews had been taking constant pictures throughout his phone call, but he'd forced himself to ignore them. Thankfully, he'd had the phone closest to the windows, so the main irritation from the flashing was on him, and not his fellow callers.

    Of course, there were eyes in the Pokémon Center as well. Hiding from those eyes was a male Ralts that nobody seemed to notice. He'd been shown how to use the PokéNet by his Trainer, and given his typing and stubby hands, had been able to look up whatever he liked on his Trainer's travel laptop. But the problem with that was that he had no idea what he wanted his name to be.

    His Trainer had, hurriedly, shown him his final evolution, and explained that once he became a Kirlia, he'd go straight into a Gallade, thanks to the stone Alex had given him.

    However, when the female who shared his Trainer's room saw that, they'd resumed their heavy-panting-mouth-sucking, and the young Ralts had been summarily ignored. Had he been anything but a psychic type, this would've gone over his head, but he understood a lot of what his Trainer had said.

    He'd also understood why. In his Trainer's mind, the young Ralts had seen that he wanted every Pokémon to have their own unique name, just as humans did. To him, there was no reason not to. Calling his Ralts 'Ralts' would be like someone referring to him as 'Human', and thus the young psychic type had grasped the need for a nickname.

    In the wild, there was no need for such a thing. Pokémon could always tell each other apart, more or less, but every name he found on the PokéNet thus far had been unacceptable.

    With the understanding of names, the young psychic type had also understood that this was something he would be referred to by everyone. He couldn't explain why, but even his Trainer's other Pokémon, who he'd briefly met, now referred to each other by their nicknames. They had become them, and each of them fit like a glove. Especially the one called Shruikan.

    Thus, he had been given access to the PokéNet, failed to find anything, and had then found himself wandering the building he was in while his Trainer made a call. Whatever that was. Nobody seemed to notice him, not even other Pokémon. He moved silently on his hidden legs, Teleporting into various rooms past locked doors until he discovered one filled with strange square objects that had hard covers, but soft insides.

    The runes within them were understandable though. Since unclouding his Trainer's mind, and borrowing his knowledge of their runes, reading them had become ease itself. Granted, he hadn't seen many examples of Common before that, but when he had, they'd been unimportant gibberish.

    Now, they seemed to rearrange themselves into something he could understand, though when he deciphered them, it was his Trainer's voice that echoed in his mind, and explained their meaning to him. He might've been awed by that, had he not been engrossed in the tome he'd grabbed.

    It was the first he'd touched, several isles into the room, and it had drawn him, somehow, by pure instinct. Humans had long since ignored their instincts, and thus they'd become dull, but Pokémon trusted theirs constantly. This allowed them to prepare for, and sometimes prevent, natural disasters, as well as accomplish other amazing feats their human counterparts usually had no idea they were capable of.

    The instincts of those with psychic power were, arguably, the best-attuned. They could even, sometimes, alter fates. This young Ralts' instinct had drawn him to this specific book on this specific shelf for some reason, one that became evident as he deciphered more and more of the text. It was a story about a king, a beloved king in a time far, far in the distant past.

    Ralts quickly found that reading with his hands was far less efficient than using his powers, and soon, he'd found a dusty old couch to recline on as he held the book before him in the air, and scanned through it, reading at a speed that no human could match without the aid of a machine.

    The king was called Arthur, and as he read on, the young Ralts found himself admiring the character more and more. He was kind, fair, just, and above all, a hero. He fought witches, monsters, evil kingdoms, and was surrounded by powerful, loyal friends who all treated each other as equals.

    It rang through the small Pokémon's very being as he finished the book, which had been a treasure hoard of information on the king's legend. All anyone knew at this point, so many thousands of years ahead of the time in which this man had lived, was that there had probably once been a king named Arthur, who had ruled over a kingdom that might have been called Camelot. It was good enough for Ralts.

    He understood that this was a story, for Pokémon had them too, and while most stories were complete nonsense, they usually carried a hint of truth. Or rather, the ones his mother had told him had seemed to. He sat quietly, still levitating the book, as he struggled to recall her.

    All he really had was images, and it made him sad to remember them. He focused on the book again, recalling what Arthur would've done in the face of such sadness, for he too had, supposedly, lost his mother. He would've continued on, focusing on his quest for the betterment of his people. That was what the young Ralts vowed to do as well, and then, he smiled as he knew what his name would be.

    The trick then, was getting his human to understand. In his limited experience, getting humans to understand anything was like trying to make a Geodude bathe. His Trainer was clever though, or so he'd sensed. It would probably be obvious if he saw the book. Pokémon had little concept of what 'property' was, and a Pokémon that wasn't territorial, like Ralts, had no experience with it.

    Thus, he felt no guilt as he left the room, book in hand, and hurried towards where he sensed his Trainer, and the red female he seemed mentally, and often physically, attached to.

    Jess had just finished lecturing him about being shy about showing her affection in front of so many watchful, knowing eyes, and in response he had done the only logical thing. The young Ralts, who now thought of himself as 'Arthur', came upon the two, wrapped up in each other in a kiss that was definitely not meant to be seen by the public.

    In Alex's mind, it was necessary. She had insinuated that he was too shy for her, and now he was proving otherwise. As usual, she could do little to resist his affections, falling into each one of them eagerly after a second of hesitation. Such was the power of newly discovered lust. Had Alex not felt his Ralts tugging at his spare, and now only jacket, they might have gone further right there in the main entrance area of the center.

    Reluctantly breaking the kiss, which had prompted the media circus just outside to bombard the interior with seemingly endless flashes of light, Alex looked down to his newest Pokémon, as his newest lover was left with a distant smile on her face.

    He hadn't had much experience kissing, but it seemed good enough for her. He'd found that trusting his instincts had always been the smart move, when it came to her. He blinked the thoughts of lust away as he felt a book being shoved into his hand by a psychic force. Looking down, he read the title, and smirked.

    He gave Jess a subtle pinch on her rear, bringing her focus back to reality, and showed her as well. She giggled, just as amused as he was at a joke his Pokémon could tell he'd been missing out on.

    "Ralts." He said, pointing at the book, wondering if his Trainer had understood. He seemed distracted by this female, and could not understand why his book was so funny.

    Finally, Alex nodded, and handed the book back. "Very well. I'll call you Arthur." He began to laugh as well then, and the small psychic type finally had to speak up. "Ralts?" The questioning tone was universal, even to Pokémon, but his Trainer seemed to understand.

    "It's not a bad name. We're laughing because, after I gave you the laptop this morning, Jess suggested I name you after Arthur Pendragon, or one of his knights. She said it fit you, but I was stubborn, and wanted you to choose for yourself." That made Arthur smile as well, and his opinion of the female did a 180.

    She'd seen what he'd felt, that the character and the Pokémon were really quite similar, even if his appearance didn't suggest it yet. Arthur turned to look at her then, and smiled, touching her consciousness with his thoughts of happiness, approval, and admiration for her ability to understand him.

    It came off as emotions to her, of course, but Arthur noticed that she seemed to understand him as well as his Trainer did.

    He decided to ponder what that might mean later as he yawned, and poked the ball button on his Trainer's belt, once more entering the new pocket dimension that he now called home. It was certainly cozy, and he could tell it had been made for a Pokémon like him. He radiated a sense of satisfaction, even from within his ball. He had a Trainer, a comfortable home, and now a name. He was finally fully part of their little round table, and by his reasoning, he'd just appointed himself the King.

    Arthur's sense of satisfaction spread to his Trainer, manifesting as confidence, renewed after being literally shattered by his trials on the mountain. He had the girl he'd dreamed of for years, he had the makings of his team, and already three of them were fully evolved and powerhouses in their own right.

    He could handle addressing the media circus. He met Jess's gaze again, and nodded, as he adjusted his hat. She'd insisted on giving his hair a trim, and he wasn't yet used to the shortness. "Right. I think we've kept the jackals at bay long enough. Are you sure you don't want to join me? After that kiss, they're going to want to hear from you, I think."

    She waved his words away, laughing nervously. "Ahaha…no. I'll be in enough trouble for that kiss. If not from mother, then definitely from father. And Connor might be annoyed as well…no, I'm in enough trouble already without adding a bunch of media rumors. They'll probably assume I'm pregnant already as it is. All they do is make up baseless rumors…I'm rambling. Go get'em, Pyroar."

    He stared at her for an awkward ten seconds, before laughing. "You should've gone with 'tiger'."

    She turned red, cheeks flushing crimson, matching her hair. "I know, but you don't wear tights."

    "I mean, even Luxray would've been better. Y'know, because I have one." He was biting his lip now, sensing that laughing might get him in trouble.

    She shoved him. "Go! Before they push in here out of desperation. I'll be in the room." She added her seductive tone to the end of her sentence, and narrowed her eyes while twisting a lock of her hair. Day two, and she already knew how to stoke the flames.

    She turned and left before he could think of a properly clever rebuttal, and Alex shook his head, muttering under his breath. "You chose well, Redwood. You chose well…" With that, he strode out of the doors into a barrage of intense camera flashes that, in broad daylight, were completely unnecessary. At this point, with their advanced recording technology, the flashing lights were literally just decorative, and annoying. But the news hounds didn't seem to care.

    It was a good-sized crowd, just large enough to be a nuisance to the regular Humilau foot traffic, but not as large as something say, a Champion would've drawn. The only reason it was that big was because the Redwood name was famous, even in Unova proper. He knew why, of course.

    Every Redwood knew the secret family shame, but to speak of it was to give it life. As his granduncle had predicted, nobody important now remembered exactly why he was considered infamous. They just knew that the once honorable Professor Redwood had been disgraced.

    Now however, the media had once again begun sniffing around for dirt, in the long absence of anything newsworthy pertaining to the missing Redwood. They gnawed at whatever source they could, like a Houndoom at a bone that had been picked clean years ago. With the barrage of light came a barrage of questions, that blurred into an incoherent babble of nonsense noise.

    After weeks of relative silence, it stunned Alex, and as he shouted at the crowd for quiet, his calls were drowned out, each one only making the mob of babble grow louder. Finally, there was a flash of red light, and a deafening roar tore through the babble as Blaze appeared beside his Trainer, and glared at the crowd. A few more lights flashed, but soon were stilled as he followed his roar up with a deep, menacing snarl.

    Each of his Pokémon had disliked the noise, truth be told, but Blaze was the first who did something about it. He had enough sense to know that these other humans probably wanted information on him. He'd caught a glimpse of a satellite, after all, not that he'd understood what it was, but he knew human tech when he saw it by now. It was little more than an instinct, a feeling of eyes on the back of his neck in the middle of a battle, but he followed it regardless.

    "Thank you, Blaze." Alex said, recovering from the barrage of noise and light. The Charizard snorted flame in response, eyes still glaring at the crowd.

    He put on his best public face, a face his father had coached him on long ago, when he'd been little more than a toddler. When his granduncle had been disgraced. They'd had to go on TV for some reason. He still couldn't remember why exactly, though he knew the bare details, he never pried. He knew his Gruncle was a good person, a bit crotchety, prone to bouts of sad silence, but truly and genuinely kind.

    It didn't matter what his Gruncle had done, he was family, and family stuck together. Whether they wanted to or not, no matter how many branches separated them on the family tree. A Redwood was a Redwood. Or so the old man had said. It didn't matter that the aged Professor and his father didn't get along. He'd always stressed the importance of family.

    "Please, I know you have many questions, and I will gladly answer them. But one at a time. I'm sorry about the wait, but it's over now. Let's have a little respect for the town, eh?" To his surprise, the reporters shared guilty looks.

    They had caused quite a stir, and more than a few locals were still glaring through their windows at the source of the disturbance. An elderly gentleman stepped forward then, and Alex had to blink. He was, arguably, the most famous person there. It was a testament to the severity of the light and noise that Alex hadn't even noticed him.

    His tone was deep and baritone as he spoke for the crowd with their unspoken and ungiven permission. "John Crimson, Poké News Network. I apologize for my colleagues Mr. Redwood, but we are a bit excited. You've been missing for months, after all. I suppose the question to start with is… where have you been?"

    It was weird to be called 'mister' by the man he'd watched anchor the most famous global news network on the planet for years. He resisted the urge to address him informally. This was a time for questions, after all, he could show his appreciation for the Crimson Fox's appearance afterwards. He was more of a silver fox these days, though no less desirable, judging by some of the looks the female reporters were giving him.

    He decided to keep to the formal tone, something he would not regret in the future. "Well Mr. Crimson, it's a long story…but I suppose I can summarize. When I first went missing, I'd been hunting a Bagon around Draconis Mons, to the north. I didn't find any, or any other Pokémon in the forest. Seeing that as odd, my Charmeleon and I climbed the mountain to discover the source of this strange lack of Pokémon, and we found that the mountain was under the rule of a tyrannical black Charizard I ended up calling 'Lizardon'. I stumbled upon him as he was defeating a rival Charizard. He noticed my Charmeleon, and before we could escape down the mountain again, for we were barely off of the path to the top, he landed in front of me, and slammed his tail into me, severely injuring me after I crashed into a nearby canyon wall."

    He paused for effect, and suppressed a smirk. Connor was right, he really did have a flair for the dramatic when the moment came, and though he was new to having an audience, he had them captive. He could sense the questions building, but the only sound was of writing implements scribbling furiously as they took notes on his story.

    He could tell more than a few of the newer ones were thankful for his pause, but he continued all the same. After all, they'd never be good reporters if they relied on pauses.

    "I was…nursed back to health by an old hermit, whose identity I will keep anonymous. All you need to know about him is that Lizardon kept him captive, and treated him like a plaything. He was old, bent, and covered daily in new bruises. But despite the risk, he saved my life. And yes, he is still on the mountain. I think that more or less covers where I've been."

    There was more scribbling, and when no more questions came forth, John Crimson spoke again. "I see. I suppose we'll need a formal interview for the full details, but for now, my next question is this: How did you escape from this...Lizardon?"

    Alex met the old man's curious but intense gaze. He could see the question he really wanted to ask still beneath the surface. He knew, more or less, what it would be about. His Charizard had all but made them blurt it out, but nobody dared interrupt a legend like John Crimson.

    Alex allowed himself a confident smirk then, a smirk he'd practiced for hours while wearing his hat backwards. He knew it was a stereotype straight out of a cartoon, but honestly, he had stopped caring years ago. He knew what kind of Trainer he wanted to be, and if he ever did achieve true fame, he wanted that look to be obvious, and consistent.

    He put off realizing that this was likely the start of his entire career as a Master, for such Trainers were almost always popular with the media. He didn't need that pressure. He instead nodded towards Blaze, who had the same smirk his Trainer did.

    "Blaze here was the only Pokémon I'd brought with me onto the mountain that day. I left my bag at the Pokémon Center as well, thinking I wouldn't need to lug all that weight around, as it's a relatively short trip to the mountain…Blaze stayed with the hermit, and once I was healthy again, we began to train."

    He tapped Shruikan's ball, and the Shelgon appeared in a flash of black light, staring at the crowd, and then looking up at Blaze and his Trainer. He grasped, more or less, what was going on.

    Blaze had explained to him, once they'd returned to the center and rested, that he'd felt their battle had been seen by other humans. Shruikan had no idea what that had meant however, this entire scene being completely foreign to him. He followed his friend's lead, and looked over the crowd, like he was superior to them. Easy to do, as a dragon.

    His appearance put any doubts of Alex's story to rest. He'd been in the area, seen on satellite, vaguely, and had both Pokémon who'd been in the battle. He was the real deal, and the few fame leeches who were watching live knew it. Most of them had a Charizard, but none of them could be put in Humilau at the right time, and none of them had a Shelgon. Even a con artist can tell when a jig is up.

    John Crimson smirked, and both he and Alex knew what question was next, but Alex continued answering for the sake of posterity. "I caught Shruikan here as we trained, luckily the ball I picked for him wasn't smashed, like my Pokédex was, and eventually, the time came to face Lizardon." He crossed his arms, hoping he looked as cool as he thought he did. "We won."

    The reporters rumbled again, but John Crimson's deep baritone cut through the growing chatter like a hot knife through butter. "I see. So would I be right in assuming that the battle that's still being broadcasted and watched worldwide was fought by you?"

    Alex nodded. He'd seen it of course, as Jess had shown both he and Arthur, the only one of his team, save perhaps Terra, that hadn't watched it live, or participated in it. She had certainly appeared impressed when he told her the whole story, and what had happened next was not appropriate for him to be thinking about while the media was grilling him for information.

    "I know several imposters have already claimed to be that Trainer. I can tell you with total certainty, that they are lying." He held up the red crystal then, which got everyone's attention, especially John Crimson's.

    "This crystal is something I found in the mountain that was given to me after completing my training. Given by a Magmortar, who lived deep in the caverns within the mountain. Blaze retrieved it, and gave it to me…and when it became evident that Lizardon could also somehow Mega Evolve, I...activated it, which made Blaze Mega Evolve as well. I'm not quite sure how…"

    He paused again, this time less for drama and more for weighing whether or not he should mention his granduncle. "My granduncle, Professor Redwood, examined it this very morning, the source of my delay, and told me that it's giving off similar power to a Mega Stone, though he theorized that it could be used on any fire type, thus eliminating the need for race-specific crystals."

    He flipped it in his hand, and then appeared to pocket it, instead hiding it within his black Trainer glove. He had no doubt somebody would try to pickpocket it before the day was over. This kind of power always drew out a criminal element, and a crystal that could make any fire type mega evolve was going to be highly sought after.

    "I was given that crystal shard because the Pokémon of that mountain needed my help to free them of their tyrannical ruler. Now that they are free again, I want to make it perfectly clear that they need to be left alone. No government, no tourists, no power seeking amoral Trainers. As he spoke, his pocket began to glow with a familiar red glow, and he raised his fist, appearing to draw the stone from said pocket.

    "Anyone who decides to ignore this warning and desecrate that mountain…" Blaze's form grew and shifted as the red light enveloped him, "Will answer to us!" The Mega Charizard beside him let out a powerful Flamethrower in unison with Shruikan's Dragonbreath, crossing in the air above him.

    Alex was impressed, and proud. He couldn't have choreographed it better. He knew, of course, that there would be idiots who decided to defy him on this, and that this challenge would only draw them like flies to Muk, but they would've come regardless. Now, the public would keep an eye on that mountain, and anyone who did decide to desecrate it, and was caught doing so, would never recover from the stain on their reputation. It was the ones who didn't care about reputations that he had to worry about.

    The babble of questions rose up again, but a growl from Blaze, mega evolved as he was, and a raised hand from the legend, John Crimson, kept them in check. Sensing that this…whatever it was… had gone on long enough, Blaze let the power flow back into the crystal from whence it came, and Alex recalled his Pokémon.

    John Crimson's voice rose again quickly, sensing their time was nearly spent. "Before you go, Mr. Redwood, one more question, if you'll take it." Alex nodded.

    One did not simply defy a question from John Crimson. To be interviewed by him was a dream for any Trainer worth a damn. The fact that he was here at all was unusual, to say the least. As far as Alex knew, he hadn't been live in the field in decades.

    "Your story is…interesting, to say the least. The legal implications alone…" He whistled, and a chill went up Alex's spine. He'd hoped everyone would conveniently forget that going up on the mountain was illegal, but now he'd just admitted to doing it on live TV. Given that he'd made the mountain 'human friendly', he hoped that little factoid would be forgiven, or at least forgotten.

    "I know I have a lot more questions for you, as I'm sure many other people do, so I'll get ahead of the flood and make this a two-parter. Will you consent to an interview in the near future? And what's next for you? After your exam and 'tournament' victories, and of course this mountaintop duel, what are you doing next?"

    Alex let out a small chuckle, not surprised that they'd tracked his every move since leaving home. He might have been John Crimson, news legend, and owner of a mustache so glorious his own scraggly one shivered in envy just by being this close, but at his core, he was still a reporter.

    "Well Mr. Crimson, I can say I'll gladly schedule an interview with you in the near future. I would be honored, in fact. As for what's next…I have a certain League Challenge to complete…several badges to win…and then after that, who knows. I may drop off the map for a while and find a mountain to train on." His smirk widened, and he took note of those who chuckled at the obvious reference to Red.

    The old reporter nodded, making it clear he was done, and as the other lemmings surged forward, desperate not to be outshone by the famous old-timer, Alex quickly shouted, "No more questions, thank you!" and ducked inside the center again.

    A few looked ready to storm the building, but getting on the bad side of a Pokémon Center was never a good idea, for any profession, and the local nurse had already warned them to stay outside. She was kind to Alex, and his travel companion, but he knew her nerves had to be wearing thin after dealing with him so long. For free.

    After explaining that it was probably a better idea to find a new town to make love in to his scantily clad and clearly ready-to-go redhead, he eventually relented to her persuasions, and thus, they ended up finally leaving after dinner.

    They got looks the entire time they ate, but when he told her, she'd simply shrugged and said, "I've been getting those looks my entire life, Alex. That's jealousy. They're jealous of my wealth, my looks, my clothes, my…boyfriend." She batted her eyes at the last bit before breaking into giggles, and he found himself nodding in agreement out of reflex.

    That was that, then. He'd been wondering how to ask her, but it seemed she already considered them to be…a 'them'. A couple. "You're getting stares too," she said, unfazed, and seemingly not caring that the staff in the small dining area could very much hear her, "You're practically famous now. That battle of yours has been the most watched in recent memory. As if that wasn't enough, you discovered a new kind of Mega Stone. Just wait. You'll be getting mobbed before you know it. By reporters, by Trainers, by girls...but they can't have you. You're all mine."

    As if to emphasize that fact, she snatched his hat and put it on, forgoing manners entirely, and shot daggers at the comparatively cute waitress who had apparently been watching him all through dinner. He hadn't even noticed. That left him in a thoroughly good mood through the rest of the evening, despite the glares he got from the other staff, particularly the men.

    Pokémon Centers were free because the Pokémon League had, since its inception, funded them. The Elite Four and Gym Leaders kept the chaos of a world full of superpowered magical beings from upending society, and for that, they were compensated by the local government. That compensation went to two places: Trainers who beat the Elite Four, and the Pokémon Centers.

    While the centers were required by the Leagues to take in all injured Pokémon, and anyone that needed a place while on the road, they typically despised 'freeloaders' who stayed for weeks on end.

    He decided to tip generously for their dinner, as Jess didn't, and when they left out the back of the building to attract less attention, he felt the goodbye the nurse gave them was actually genuine. Which was good, because nurses talked. Bad behavior at one center led to low quality rooms and food at others. It was a very good idea to not end up on their bad side. Thankfully, getting on their bad side was difficult.

    Blaze managed to fly them halfway to Undella Town, though the ride was a bit 'comfy' on his back, and the weight of two people was a bit more than he could take. Alex made a note to figure out their combined weight, and double it. He'd then make Blaze fly with that weight, every day, for every mile they had to walk.

    It seemed harsh to Jess, but Blaze had risen to the challenge after Alex had explained that once he could be swift with the weights on, taking them off would make him much faster, and stronger. They needed to build up his wing strength, and quickly. Carrying them would also be a breeze, but he knew it would take his Charizard a while to get to that point.

    He wasn't the only one with intense training however. Hydrus got some much needed battle experience against other water Trainers on the road into Undella Town, eventually evolving into a Marshtomp. He might've been stronger, but he kept his playful attitude. He'd missed his Trainer, and though he'd grown to like Jess as well, Alex was the one who'd promised to help him grow. And grow he did.

    He had Terra train Leo in evasion, by dodging as many Razor Leaves as possible, and that task kept the two busy for several hours. Once Hydrus had evolved, it was Arthur's turn to battle the random Trainers on the route south of Humilau, and eventually, he learned several new moves that helped him one-shot the many fighting types they came up against.

    During the last battle before arriving in town, he finally evolved, and then evolved again into a Gallade, thanks to his Dawn Stone. Alex wanted him to have as much experience with his amorphous body as possible. It was also good to evolve Gallades immediately, so their physical attack strength wasn't unbalanced by a Kirlia's affinity for special attacks.

    He was taught to use Psychic, Shadow Ball, Night Slash, and Brick Break. With those moves, he became better at winning battles, even though he was relatively new at using them. Type advantage did most of the work.

    Shruikan continued to train against Blaze, despite his training weight handicap, but once Blaze used his new weight as a weapon, they became evenly matched again, more or less, as after flying so far with two humans on his back, he could barely flap into the air during their sparring match.

    They took the long way to Undella town, and eventually the forest on the other side of Humilau and Undella Bay gave way to a mountainous region that only helped him train his team further.

    Jess wasn't idle either, having trained her Mareep, which she'd named Amphi, while he was trapped on the mountain, and using her to great effect on the many, many bird Trainers. She'd also gotten the Fennekin she'd asked Connor to bring her from Kalos, and had named her Delphi. It was fitting, given what the little fox would one day become.

    She had properly trained her team as well, and had even challenged Marlon's elite team, as Alex had. The badge she received was the same as his, similar to the regular one, but not. Her Mareep, after evolving into a Flaaffy, had helped her beat his gym, and then her Serperior had finished the rest, proving to be quite adept at swimming, unlike Torterra. Her team's training was a bit less intense, but it wasn't long at all before the two humans had used both teams to train as effectively as possible. As a result, her partners rapidly grew as well.

    Despite their sparring, there was never an actual battle between the two humans. Though their Pokémon wanted one, the two had always smirked, and shook their heads. The Pokémon never got an explanation as to why, but as they trained, watching the others learn new moves and grow stronger, strong enough even to win their matches against Alex's team, the boys were driven to get stronger as well, and so they did.

    Terra already had a year of such training under his shell, the sole reason he'd won every battle since graduating University. Blaze's experience in the mountain had certainly strengthened him, but while his fire power was intense enough, his flight skills had been noticeably lacking. He'd been able to learn enough to fight Lizardon, but it was mega evolution that had allowed him to keep pace in the air, combined with his natural talent that came from typing.

    After facing a particularly tough Pidgeot however, he was shown that his flight skills were definitely lacking, for a partial flying type. That was another reason he endured such hard training. All in all, the trip to Undella Town took around five days. Alex certainly hadn't minded, and though he'd expected Jess to complain, it seemed she'd changed quite a bit in the weeks he'd been gone.

    Getting filthy while training no longer bothered her, she could sleep on the road without complaining, and when all they had was a thin bag between them and the hard rock terrain, she found sleeping atop his chest was quite a bit more comfortable. Once they found grass again, they continued to share a sleeping bag, and they used hers as extra padding, as it was incredibly fluffy, and high quality.

    As they arrived in Undella Town, they found that the main thoroughfare was blocked. On either side the local townsfolk, who were really just rich tourists experiencing the Undella Bay's sunshine for fun, as it was still summer, watched the lone figure in the road from behind barriers of hard brown mud that acted as fences.

    They were high enough to be difficult to climb over, and one could not do so without getting their outfit covered in dirt, something these elite snobs would never dream of doing. Both Alex and Jess recognized the lone figure, and as a look of irritation came over the redhead's lovely features, Alex stopped her, one hand on her shoulder.

    "Let me. I've been expecting this since you mentioned he was back. I'll be the lightning rod for his anger. I can take it. This is the battle I've really been training for..." He already had Terra's ball in hand, as he stepped up towards Connor, his oldest rival, save for his brother. A makeshift arena had been carved into the sandy path, and as Alex took his position, he knew already what kind of match this would be as he saw a new, but familiar look in his friend's eye. He'd always been rather protective of his dear sister. He'd need to vent quite a bit of rage before he'd come around to accepting reality.

    Connor shouted out the rules anyway, for the benefit of their small crowd. "One on one, Redwood! Your starter against mine. And if I win, you cease staining my sister's genes, and reputation." Alex could feel the tirade his lover was about to launch from behind him, likely about freedom to choose who she wished to be with and such, a rather touchy topic among the ladies of Unova, who were finally free of oppressive Imperial traditions and serving roles. More than a few of the women in the crowd shot looks at Connor, as his remark bordered on sexist.

    Alex knew it was more a result of his upbringing than anything, but Connor had always controlled his words well in the past. Well enough to avoid offending women, at least. Something was definitely off. He'd expected anger, but this seemed more like something that had been simmering for some time. Apparently Kalos had not gone well. Glancing at the Greninja, he could guess why. It was to other Greninja what Terra was to other Torterra. Larger, stronger, and given the species, more than fast enough to strike his slow turtle twice in a row. He'd definitely used the ninja frog quite a bit, enough at least for the rest of his team to be much weaker. Alex had a similar issue, though he had to admit the others were closing the gap rather fast. Arthur, Hydrus, and Shruikan had all proven to be decent battlers, and with a few more gyms, they'd be good enough for the Elite Four.

    Connor himself was big, though not as big as Alex, as he stood a few inches shorter, but they shared a similar body type. His primarily blue outfit and purple scarf, with hints of white, made it obvious as to which starter Pokémon he'd chosen. His Greninja was right next to him, after all.

    Alex called Terra onto the field, and immediately the crowd began to rumble. Grass beat water easily, and that Torterra was larger than any they'd seen. A few even recognized his Trainer from the news, and their disbelief began to turn into irritation, but Alex knew better to fall into the comfort of type advantage. This was his old friend's first Pokémon, and if he knew him at all, he knew their training had been just as long and intense as Terra's had. Finally, a worthy opponent.

    "Alright, I agree." Alex said, turning his hat backwards. He felt the growing irritation turn to him, but the only opinion he cared about was Jessica's. He turned to glance at her, and winked.

    The growing temper faltered, as her eyes widened. Alex continued, smirk wide on his face. "But when I win, nobody in your family objects to us. Not your father, not your mother, and not you, old friend. I had planned on doing this honorably." He resisted smirking, recalling her insistence. "...but circumstance forced my hand. Are the terms agreed upon?"

    Connor's eyes narrowed, but he nodded, ultimately not caring to argue. He was going to win anyways. "They are." He was cocky, for a rookie with one badge. Now he'd see what three years on the road did for one's power. The thought that his neighbor might win wasn't even considered.

    Terra stomped the ground, and the fire in his eyes matched his Trainer's. The battle was on.
     
    #8 Mar 2, 2019
    Last edited: Apr 27, 2022
  9. Sahqoreyth

    Arthur
    (Kirlia ♂)
    Level 21
    Joined:
    Mar 2, 2019
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    62
    PokéPoints:
    ₽697.6
    Dawn Stone ★★★★
    Chapter 8: All the World's a Stage

    Undella Town - Unova Region

    The crowd ducked again as the fierce impact of the Water Pulse and Energy Ball shook the small resort town with their collision. By sheer willpower, the Pokémon had managed to guide the stray balls of energy purposefully into the ground.

    The road was littered with craters, but it was a dirt footpath, and the Pokémon knew that if they were going to destroy things, as was inevitable in a battle at this level, the humans would rather have to fix the dirt road than their houses. This knowledge didn't stop the locals from being angry however.

    It was far past the point of no return, as that point had arrived rather quickly. Gren's first Water Pulse attack had bounced apart from Terra's Energy Ball in a collision of energy, and hit the dirt and sand road on either side of the crowd, effectively trapping anyone who didn't want to get dirty behind the barricades, which in this crowd was everybody. Not one article of clothing there was priced under a thousand units of their currency.

    This was how confident they were that the local facilities, which amounted to a Pokémon Center at most, could fix the roads in time for them to get home for dinner without ruining a good set of clothes. The few sensible rich folks, like Alex and the sibling's families, had already dirtied their clothes to get the hell out of this battle's path, though they watched from the sturdier stone path up the hill, right in front of the aforementioned Pokémon center.

    Connor had summoned both families when he'd learned, or rather, heard, what Alex and his own darling little sister were doing behind thin doors. While the parents were shocked at first, after a talk with their daughter by way of Holoceiver, even the Gladstones agreed eventually that there were worse arrangements. As long as the two stayed together, there wouldn't be an issue of honor.

    Connor had not accepted that, however. His sense of what was and was not honorable had shifted over the long months spent in the oriental communities sequestered within the borders of Southern Kalos, a region known as 'Gaulia'.

    He'd gone there to train his Froakie into a Greninja, and as the two had matured, Gren and his Trainer had become masters, streamlining the Water Pulse technique into a form so powerful, Gren couldn't be beat. Not by the villagers anyways.

    So, Connor had left, conquered each of Kalos' Gym Leaders with his Greninja's speed and ultimate technique, then returned to Lumiose City in time for the Pokémon League that year.

    He'd lost, however, beaten in the final round by a superior Sceptile. It had been a six on six battle, but Connor had only entered Gren, as his other Pokémon were still too weak, and after five difficult opponents, including a Charizard, Gren had finally fainted. Nobody could solo the Kalos League. Not anymore. The Champion, Alain, was too powerful.

    Connor had returned to Unova then, still with his skewed idea of justice, to train his other Pokémon, and challenge the Victory Plateau. While Kalos was difficult, the Elite Four of the Victory Plateau were the hardest Elite Four team in the entire League, which basically meant the world. Their latest Challenge was considered ridiculously hard, as it required Trainers to take on the Four, one of the other Champions meaning Hilda, her brother, Nate, or Rosa, and then the reigning Champion and Hero of Unova himself, N. Both Champions were using one of the Unovan Dragons, and according to rumor, N used the other Legendary Dragon. The final match with him required a Challenger to be able to use the dragon they faced previously in a Pokémon battle.

    This year, the Victory Plateau was the hardest to beat, or so the rumors had said, and Connor had risen to the new Challenge as his sister and rival had. To even enter the Victory Plateau, one needed to beat the starting line-ups of eight Gym Leaders in Unova, and receive the right badge. Normal badges were still being given out, but namely for the League challenges tailored to younger Trainers.

    With his new ideals, warped by a culture that had been transplanted into Kalos, or France, as some called the whole area spanning both Kalos and Gaulia, Connor had surfed southward, and ahead of them quickly via his Greninja's swim speed to set up his challenge. He knew Alex would want to start at the beginning of Unova on his quest for badges, and would have to pass through Undella town. With Hydrus and Empolia, the pair could have easily crossed the short way, and hit their first stop, Black City. It was in his 'plan' after all.

    Connor had heard about it too, though he'd only gotten an early draft by letter, asking his opinion on Alex's chosen team, but his friend's plan had not included his little sister. Upon returning home to find the two of them gone, he'd spoken to Eric, who was training like a madman, and learned the rest of Alex's 'plan'.

    Thus, he now knew exactly where they'd be, and he could take his sister home. He felt confident that Gren could beat any of the six Alex had mentioned before. The Luxray would be hard, but not impossible. Everything else should've fallen to their Water Pulse.

    If the rumors were to be believed, the pair had been seen on the route to Undella several times, in the throes of passion, not caring who might hear them. In Connor's mind, the punishment for such brazen acts was total humiliation, thus he'd summoned their families, and enlisted their aid in setting the scene.

    But it wasn't playing out right. Instead of being neutral to water, Terra seemed to enjoy the Water Shuriken that hit his tree, and sank into the bark harmlessly. Seeing that his grass typing was being used as defense, Connor had waited for the ground type offense, to counter with a water attack.

    Unfortunately, the Earthquake had been far too powerful for Gren to block completely with his streamlined Water Pulse that formed an orb of condensed water energy, in true Kalos style. It had made a swathe of untouched ground around Gren and his Trainer, but to the rest of the coast and into the ocean, the earth had been shattered.

    It hadn't been an issue for Gren though, not like it had for Squirt and Tyran. His nimble feet jumped from each large boulder easily. At 88lbs, they barely shifted in the mass of rubble. Terra had then planted his trunk like feet into the soft sandy dirt, and launched a massive ball of swirling green energy right at his opponent.

    As expected, the blue frog had leapt high enough to dodge, but could now only fall aimlessly, as he'd strained himself getting to that height. He needed to land and recover his leg strength, but before that could happen, his eyes widened as another ball of green energy, but clearly one more condensed and powerful than the one he'd just dodged, shot towards him from below.

    Terra was firing off Energy Balls like a cannon, crushing the rubble under his feet with the force of the push-back. Gren barely had a chance to raise a defense as it hit him, hard, but surprisingly to Terra and his Trainer, not hard enough for a K.O. Gren was clearly looking rough, but he could still win.

    For the past four minutes, he and Terra had exchanged attacks constantly. Normally, Water Pulse would win because it could be used more, but not only had Terra become capable of surpassing his limit, by about five, which would leave him quite drained, Gren's streamlined attack took up a lot more power. At least five hits worth. Doing the math, the two Trainers met the other's eyes, and their Pokémon stopped as well, sensing a pause.

    "Impressive, Redwood. I expected to crush your Torterra. You've only had him for a year. He's easily strong enough to solo the Kalos League."

    Alex just smirked as he fixed his hat, "You have no idea, my friend. This isn't even his final form."

    Connor's eyes widened at the claim. While no longer shiny and new, mega evolution was still a bar by which Trainers were judged. If you could battle a Mega Evolved Pokémon with one of your own, you were taken seriously by pretty much anyone in the Pokémon League. If you could make a Pokémon without a previously documented Mega Form attain that level, you were in a league of your own. Literally, as all such capable Trainers would soon find out.

    Connor's eyes burned, his issue of honor momentarily forgotten. This was a proper rival. Alex was seemingly every bit as competent a Trainer as Alain, and his Torterra was at the same level as Alain's Sceptile had been. If not higher. Thus, in his mind, Connor slowly forced himself to focus.

    This was, from his perspective, his chance to redeem his loss in Kalos. If he could beat Alex, he would go back, challenge the gyms again, against their true teams just to avoid monotony and repetition, and then all but solo the League. With that much experience, the rest of his team would probably be strong enough to at least not be taken out by a single bloody Leaf Blade.

    "Enough fooling around, Gren." Connor spoke softly, his deep voice barely louder than the waves hitting the ruined beach behind him. The fire in the Greninja's eyes flared, and like their opponents, they became linked.

    Alex's own fiery gaze seemed to increase as well. "So…you got him to do it too?"

    Connor smirked, "I may not be the first…but since nobody but him has ever done it…that's my claim to fame. Certainly better than beating a Charizard with a Charizard."

    "Oh, I'm about to be famous for another reason entirely." Alex said, smirking. "I've found Torterra's Mega Form."

    After dinner on that first day back, Alex had examined his two crystals, and theorized that if the fire one had made Blaze evolve further, the grass one should do the same for Torterra. Theoretically. Once he'd figured out that to use the crystal's power, he had to have a clear, focused mind, it became easy for Terra and Blaze to mega evolve.

    Arthur had helped with understanding that, and Alex had shown his entire team the power Terra and Blaze could achieve. He promised to get all of them to that level, and their bond became even stronger. They were truly a team now, with a unified goal: to be the very best. They'd trained with impressive intensity ever since, and now Hydrus, Leo, Arthur, and Shruikan were rapidly closing the gap between them and his Torterra.

    At his opponent's words, Connor made a cross with his pair of pointer and middle fingers, and Gren copied the stance, his form shifting like water, and glowed a deep blue. Meanwhile, all Alex did was smirk as his pocket glowed green, and his Torterra shifted form, becoming armored around his head.

    Three more massive spikes grew from the other side of his shell, and the tree on his back became heavier, older, and moved to the center of his back. His tail had grown longer, and formed a club on the end of it, and said club slammed the ground, causing the debris on the field to shudder. Without a word, battle was joined again, but now only Connor could see Gren move, such was his speed.

    "Ice Shuriken!" He shouted, and from seemingly every direction, spinning stars of ice slammed in Terra simultaneously, and evaporated into a mist after hitting his hide, so cold were they. Terra yawned, and gave a smirk towards his opponents that mirrored his Trainer's.

    Seeing Connor's confused look, Alex spoke up, taking on the tone of one who thinks they know more about Pokémon, and is about to demonstrate that fact. It was something he'd learned to mimic ages ago, and was to be expected when your mentor was a Pokémon Professor. "Like most Mega Evolutions, he gained a new ability upon evolving. He's easily over a ton now. And his Thick Fat has adapted to ice."

    Connor's face tightened. "I see. Well that's irritating. I guess we're back to plan A." At those words, Gren formed another Water Pulse, and met Terra's countering Energy Ball full force. The two balls bounced off each other, further damaging the ground. Connor hid his emotions, but his tight expression was slow to fade.

    Gren should've been able to handle any grass type after he'd learned to make his shuriken into ice. He supposed that if any grass type were to have Thick Fat, it would need to be similar to Venusaur, who had the same ability and thus defense against ice, in body type and species. Torterra was lucky, it seemed, as he was also a ground type. And now his weakness to ice was gone. On top of his species' natural affinity for defense, he was now, in short, very hard to beat.

    Despite the damage from earlier, Gren kept fighting, but unfortunately, mega evolving was only straining what little stamina he had left. Knowing he had but one shot left in this state, Gren landed, and faced Terra head on.

    He raised one finned hand over the other, and his arms curved around to his waist as the energy began to form. The giant Water Shuriken on his back faded, and reappeared between his hands, spinning fast between them as the rest of his power was channeled into this one move. Gren's new form was almost identical to the only other Greninja that had ever achieved this level of power, save for his fins.

    They were a deep scarlet, the color of his Trainer's hair, with a strike of black, but the crest on his head remained the same bright red. The rest of him also remained not that different from a normal Greninja. It was a far cry from Terra's change.

    Moss had appeared under his chin, looking like a beard as he'd finished changing. He looked almost nothing like a normal Torterra. It was as this water attack was being prepped that Terra drew deep from the resort town. Once more, he was lucky.

    This place had enough sunlight this time of year to match Alola, and the amount of energy he could use from the local flora right now was nearly unlimited, after an entire season's worth of sunlight. He drew enough to finish this frog off, swirled it, condensed it, and made it stronger. Just as Tyranitar had shown him.

    The two Pokémon fired, and this time, type advantage won out. Their Water Pulse could deflect Terra's ball with enough time, but this shuriken had tried to bisect it. With the amount of power in this Energy Ball, that was never going to happen. Thus, the grass attack won out, pushing through the shuriken, and slamming into Gren, finishing him. He tried to recover, but fell, losing his Mega Form as he hit the ground.

    "I think that's enough." Alex said, crossing the ruined ground. He nodded at Terra, who began repairing the terrain by slamming each foot into the ground, and pulling it back together. Something he could only do in this new form, or so Alex thought. The ruined coastline slowly came back together, and it took Terra's entire focus to keep it like that as he guided the earth in mending itself.

    Alex stopped short, as he noticed Connor move for his belt, shouting, "Dammit! Dragon Rush!" A Garchomp appeared in a flash of light, and sighting Alex as his target instead of Terra, due to his closeness, he prepared to fire the attack. Had he been a Charizard he might've hesitated at the mere idea of attacking a weak human, but his Trainer had ordered a command, and he had to obey.

    Connor was halfway through the word "Wai-" as he'd realized that Alex was the chosen target, not his Pokémon, when a burst of black light appeared in front of Alex, taking the super effective attack.

    Enraged and unharmed thanks to Protect, Shruikan retaliated with the kind of Dragon Pulse only a truly angry dragon could produce. This outsider had attacked his friend, with a dragon type move, and not the Torterra. Now, Shruikan was taking revenge.

    The attack hit the Garchomp point blank after his Dragon Rush, and he went down with a crash, but was slow to rise. Shruikan turned his furious gaze on Connor then, reasoning that his Trainer had been attacked, therefore Garchomp's Trainer deserved no less. It was a draconian punishment, for sure, but more than that, it was sweet revenge supported by a rage he'd had since he'd father had been killed by Lizardon.

    He resented not being able to take that monster down, and now his fury had no outlet but the human in front of him. He opened his mouth to attack Connor, but instead found himself soaring through the air, before crashing into the sand several feet away. He'd felt a slight tickle on the right side of his shell, and when he rose from his hard landing and looked at his attacker, he saw the new Gallade, arm blades extended in a fighting stance, protecting the blue clad human.

    Shruikan snarled. That arrogant psychic type was rapidly starting to irritate him. He didn't hesitate, a powerful train of blue fire burst towards Arthur, and the crowd behind him. Arthur crossed his arms, and using Psychic, forced the flames from the crowd, or their homes.

    The path was ruined even more though, parts of it turned to glass by the power of the fire. Arthur refocused his Psychic attack, turning it on Shruikan then, levitating him into the air, and facing him towards the sky, where he couldn't hit anyone with his flames.

    This made the dragon furious, as he struggled against the psychic hold. He'd closed his eyes and prepared to counter with Zen Headbutt, when suddenly, he was forcibly returned to his ball. The normally stone faced Alex looked furious as he eyed the Timer Ball, which had been strangely warped by the trip to the dragon mountain. Apparently, it didn't matter what badge he had, the eighth one received would always be the one that earned him total control.

    As it stood, he had one. He needed to move faster, but first he had to deal with Connor, and their families. He nodded at Terra again, and the earth walls were shattered as well, allowing the townsfolk to move into the sturdier part of town, and get on with their day. Alex had won again. It was almost unbelievable, for a supposed rookie with only one badge.

    He walked with heavy steps over to his rival, and sighed. "That was low. Your Garchomp would've ended me without a thought. What was that you always told me about 'being in control of a force of nature'? Garchomp is probably the only ground type that can handle a Torterra evenly, but he was aiming a Dragon Rush at me. I might've survived a Rock Slide, but no, you ordered the most destructive move he has." Alex looked down at his rival, who had fallen to a seated position. Connor mumbled softly, realizing what he'd done.

    "I didn't…I didn't mean…" Ordering your Pokémon to attack a fellow Trainer was unheard of, and now, he'd done it to one of Unova's alleged 'rising stars'. Who was supposedly his friend, no less, in front of a crowd of witnesses. Not even team members sunk that low. They'd use harmless moves like Smoke Screen or Supersonic, but never an attack move like Dragon Rush.

    Alex noticed a familiar looking crystal pinned to his rival's jacket. The symbol of water types was within it. He reached down, and snatched it before Connor could blink or protest.

    "So. You figured it out too. Well, clearly, you're not ready for one of these. This is my 'prize money' for winning. You can have it back when you beat me. These should be a last resort, not a crutch." With that, he turned on his heel and headed for the Pokémon center.

    As he passed Jess, he spoke quietly. "Your turn. Once you're done, tell me, and we'll move on. Clearly some of my team needs training still." He switched Shruikan to the sixth slot on his belt, behind Arthur. His last resort, until his dragon could control his rage. He went out of the town, and the two worked out the dragon's frustration as Jess handled her relative.

    Jess took several hours to chew out her brother, deflect their family's inquiries, and heal her own Pokémon who were tired from road battling. Alex and Shruikan agreed they needed to keep an eye on his temper, but given he was a dragon type, and an adolescent at that, one outburst was easy enough to forgive. Nobody had been hurt, thankfully. They all got a needed rest from the constant training, and left early in the morning, surfing down the side of the road on their water Pokémon for strength training. Eventually, they passed the edge of the White Forest.

    The forest had been small once, but over time it had grown in size from the coast of the river, to the coast of the bay, the forest was enormous. A Trainer could spend a month in there if they left the path. It was heavily warned against, but Trainers often left it because they spied a rare colored Pokémon, and chased after it endlessly. That was the trap of the forest. It tempted you with what you wanted most, and kept you lost and wandering for weeks if you didn't pay attention. That said, it did contain hundreds of rare Pokémon, namely starters given out in labs. Nobody knew why there were so many, but it was a good place to find foreign favorites for Unovan Trainers just starting out.

    It was rumored that some of the remnants of Team Skull had come over from Alola several years back, after being beaten out of their home region by a pair of thirteen-year olds. Rather than run this team out however, the local Gym Leaders and top Trainers of Unova trapped them within the Black City, after forcing them into the White Forest. Indeed, remnants from Team Rocket, Galactic, and especially Plasma also called Black City home. It was the one city on the continent that had no laws, and only the strongest survived. For all their power though, they were infuriatingly contained by the magic of the forest, and the powerful Gym Leaders of Nimbasa and Castelia, who could fly over and subdue them even if they managed to escape.

    The few who could escape the forest had been forced to stay in, to serve the time for being a sentenced Team member, but when their sentence had ended, they typically didn't want to leave again. The haven of crime and lawlessness was ideal, and more than a few of the local Trainers preferred living in Black City to living in society.

    Thus, Black City had become a haven for undesirable types, and due to the enormous forest surrounding the city, they had all become a bit…strange, as isolation from society tended to have that effect. The forest itself had adverse effects on evil minded people as well, but neither Alex nor Jess were worried it would repel them. If their hearts were tainted, their Pokémon wouldn't have warmed up to them so quickly. In either case, the locals of Unova typically avoided the city and the forest, often by surfing around or flying over them entirely.

    Despite the numerous warnings, Alex had declared that he had a number of Pokémon to catch now that his team was finally assembled, and catch them he did as they entered the forest. They spent a full three days among the trees, as Alex used his Luxray's incredible eyesight to track what he was after by scent and print, and to keep sight of the road. A quick Thunder Wave usually made the young Pokémon weak enough to capture, and it got repetitive after a while.

    He knew he was taking on a larger responsibility with so many new faces to train, but they would be well looked after back at the lab. He could find time to take them out, one by one, and train them up once Blaze adjusted to flying. He caught each of the starters he was after, namely, Squirtle, Chikorita, Cyndaquill, Torchic, Treecko, and many of the Pokémon normal Trainers caught as well, like Pidgey, that he had skipped over thus far.

    He also had a list from his younger cousins, who he had conspired with just before leaving. Their parents restricted them to one partner, but if Alex just happened to catch one they wanted, and by total coincidence it bonded with them as they took care of it every day while giving it a break from the PC storage, what cold-hearted parent could deny a bond between child and Pokémon? While Alex's parents had certainly had issues with Pokémon seeing them as little more than tools, his relatives had always been sympathetic, but ultimately unwilling to risk the roof over their heads, and lack of rent, to give him a Pokémon. He had a feeling their own children having more wouldn't be too much of an issue. They were older now anyways, and he sympathized with their losing streaks. Most kids wised up and gained full teams early on, if they intended to go on a journey. That made victory over people with one partner much easier.

    He had Ultra Balls, so the going was easy, the hardest part was always navigating the ever-changing maze of a forest. He'd also found an entire nest of Eevee, and after capturing their eldest brother, convinced the rest to come along in balls of their choosing. He'd described a good place on his farm they could reside, and in time, he would make them strong. They'd each agreed, after he convinced them that he did indeed know how to make each of them into the form they desired. He used the fire, thunder, water, ice, and leaf stones first, giving those Eevee a chance to start adapting to their bodies posthaste.

    The others would change with time, and friendship, and he intended to carry his future Umbreon and Espeon around for a bit as they traveled Unova's Trainer rich roads. Those two had agreed to protect his home, from whatever threatened. His father had been reluctant to train guard Pokémon for their ranch, and had instead left it to the Arcanine belonging to Jessica's father. He was getting older though, and while it was sad, defending the herds had to fall to a new generation.

    He had enough for every eeveelution but Sylveon. Jess wasn't idle either, as she'd caught the remaining Eevee, a lone runt from a different litter, and agreed she was destined to be a Sylveon, if she had her way. Ultimately though, they agreed to let the Eevee pick their own forms. Alex's only caveat was that none of them became identical, which was apparently fine by them.

    As the days slipped by, Alex was growing ever more impatient at his lack of progress in the Unova League, and thus he caught Pokémon at an alarming rate, often running through the forest, zapping ones he picked with Leo, and then throwing balls, staying just long enough to be sure they were caught. They teleported to the lab soon afterwards, but by the time they were transported to his Gruncle's lab, he was already onto the next one.

    Jess also managed to train her Flaaffy, alongside Alex's Marshtomp, and once they were strong enough, they decided to move on to Black City. Home to TMs of every kind, rare Pokémon trading, specific battle types, and a bunch of other modern Trainer crap Alex didn't care for.

    They even sold mass-produced Rare Candies, though the only place to get them was from street dealers, who would rob you just as soon as they'd sell to you. They were very much the out-of-place rich kids in a city full of criminal elements.

    He had one goal for Black City; get his TMs and Get Out. Because of what running aimlessly through the forest did to people, the residents of Black City were a little...off.

    The remnants of Team Skull had not been the only criminals to end up in this unique prison. Several groups of former team members from Team Plasma, Galactic, Flare, and many others, had inhabited Black City. In response, many strong Trainers had come to the forest, to make sure the criminals stayed put. Over time, they decided to make the forest their home, and had even made the White Forest grow somehow, to be a thousand times larger than it had been in the past. Now, it was common sense for Trainers to avoid it, lest they lose themselves to chasing imaginary rare Pokémon. To help with that, the forest Trainers provided flight training for flying types who had yet to learn how to carry a human at both ends of the forest. The one they had passed had claimed Blaze was well on his way to handling a large Trainer, and even both of them at once. With time, he'd grow larger, and it wouldn't be an issue, or so the flight master had claimed after battling him without the training weights.

    As bad as the city was however, the people who lived in the forest had become the kindest on the continent, and had managed to, allegedly, cure the team members who came to them of their desire to do violence. They also directed Trainers who dared to chase the forest's Pokémon to the exit of the forest, but there were too few of these strange, nature-loving folks to help every Trainer who got lost.

    To call the city creepy was an understatement. This was definitely a 'counter-culture' type of place, except it was full of scum. They were almost immediately set upon by the locals, and the two Trainers battled at least ten such thugs before Alex finally unleashed Terra, hopped on his back with Jess, and stomped off. None of them dared to test their Zubat and Woobat against a beast like that, especially once he'd mega evolved.

    The Pokémon Center at least, seemed like a haven of sanity in a strange city, but the local nurse looked tired. She perked up when she saw them however, glad to see a pair of comparatively normal Trainers, instead of the usual punks who hit on her constantly. She had black hair, and make-up that probably wasn't approved by the League, but she was genuinely cool, as she'd been mid bong-rip when they'd entered to the familiar stank of the grass Trainer's favorite herb. She demonstrated that not all in the city were bad. Just most. They convinced her to join them for another bowl of Leaf, before going to bed.

    At her advising, they spent the night in the room with Hydrus blocking the door with his weight, and Leo watching the window with his eyes. Their room was almost broken into twice, but both times the would-be robbers ran away with searing electrical burns, and a bite mark. Leo was very protective, and while he was silent, the yelping locals were not. Eventually they seemed to understand that their room was inhabited by badass Pokémon. From the noise, it seemed they simply moved on to others.

    The rest of the trip to Nimbasa City was spent much the way their last time on the road had been. Alex had managed to find weights that Jess had sewn into vests for their teams during his re-supply. It was convenient, as Black City had almost anything a Trainer could want, but no massive crowds to slow him down. Just the occasional biker thug who thought a Koffing had any kind of chance against his team.

    He was challenged to battle, of course, and he let Hydrus, Arthur, even Shruikan battle on their own against these wannabe Trainers, the only aid he gave them was, "Use what moves you think I would tell you to use, and you'll win. Be clever, and above all, stay in control." He'd glared at Shruikan after that until the dragon averted his gaze.

    He'd been embarrassed by his rage in Undella Town, but had since calmed down. He and Arthur had gone around the city, fighting double battles together, and had repaired their budding friendship, to a degree. They would always be rivals, a knight against a dragon, but even they admitted that together, they were hard to beat. Alex imagined that once Shruikan had wings, they'd be even more powerful.

    The vests had paid off, though they'd made every Pokémon but Terra pause at first with the added weight, eventually, each of them became used to it thanks to the constant training on the road. They sacrificed progress for training time, but eventually, they reached Nimbasa City. The whole trip through both sides of the forest had taken four more days, and the trip down the route to Nimbasa took another eight, thanks to their constant training.

    Alex had planned to skip Nimbasa and hit it when he looped around again, but fate had other plans. Elesa happened to be at the Pokémon Center when they arrived, and after speaking in some strange woman language about clothes and shoes, Jess told him that she had challenged them both at her gym.

    He'd shrugged it off, but then the television in the relatively high-tech Pokémon Center turned on with a loud announcement from a TV show that, evidently, had nothing better to do than spew information about current events. He missed the old style text-based terminal messages, but there was ad revenue to be gained from the program that had apparently replaced them in recent years. He sighed, as they overzealously delivered the latest piece of ultimately irrelevant news: Alex Redwood was in the area, and Elesa had 'thrown down the gauntlet'. There was no ignoring a call out like that, not when an entire borough of New Tork City saw it on the numerous giant screens scattered about Nimbasa. When a Gym Leader issued a taunt, everyone heard it.

    The local 'news' station then ran thirty minutes of a strange program that highlighted his journey so far, for those who hadn't heard of him yet, and he began to grow irritated at Elesa, who was narrating in a taunting tone.

    Many of the facts were wrong. He'd once tamed a herd of rampaging Tyrantrum with only a Turtwig. He'd gone to every party that school year, instead of catching more Pokémon. He'd run off and eloped with his rich neighbor's daughter three months ago, and she was now somehow six months pregnant.

    It was, in short, the kind of fake news experience one usually expects from a town obsessed with fashion and aesthetics. After another examination of his so called 'deeds' was scheduled for the next half hour, he decided enough was enough, and marched over to the gym, a smirking Jess in tow.

    He realized on his march over there that the show had probably been a ploy to lure him in for a match. Jess had probably mentioned his plan to simply pass through, but Elesa wasn't having that. Elesa was a bit old to be a model, but no less attractive, really. Too flashy for his tastes, but certainly not ugly. She had been the Gym Leader of Nimbasa for decades, and was just as loved in New Tork City as Burgh was.

    The two were old enough to be grandparents these days, but neither one seemed ready to retire, and indeed few in Unova could even imagine their city without Elesa or Burgh as the Gym Leaders of the northern and southern halves of it.

    As he entered the gym he suddenly found himself on a catwalk, surrounded by thousands of eyes. Female eyes. He sighed, swore quietly, and kept his face passive, as he ignored the mix of jeers and cheers as he approached his target, only to be stopped by an attendant who forcibly attached a mic to his jacket's collar as Alex silently glared at him. The giant monitor in the back of the gym showed his uncomfortable face for a moment, before it switched to Elesa.

    "Welcome, Mr. Redwood!" Elesa spoke, and her fans of both genders drowned out the sound in the arena gym with their cheering. That was going to get old fast, he thought, as the sound became so loud he couldn't think straight. But then, this was what battling in a stadium would be like, and there would be far more people, in one of those.

    He waited for the cheers to die down, and then spoke quietly and awkwardly into the mic. "I'm, uh, here to battle you." Though she'd once dyed her hair black, the once more blonde woman laughed at him, and then gestured to the arena they were standing on.

    "I guessed that much." She was baiting him, but it took more than that to make him forgo his easygoing nature and lose his composure.

    He gave her his smirk, turned his hat backwards, and drew Hydrus' ball. The crowd made an 'ooooo' noise. "With your true team, miss Elesa. Not the one you use on amateurs." That made her blink, before she returned his smirk.

    "I see. Very well, Challenger. I'll use my own team." The crowd cheered again, and he tried not to wince as the sound overloaded his ears with the high frequency of the primarily female crowd. Hydrus winced as well, and growled, as he grew irritated.

    "Hydrus...wait. I'm removing these, for this match." Alex walked up to his partner, and took away an item, leaving him with only a small, shiny egg. The Marshtomp grinned, hid it away, and crouched as he faced down the Emolga Elesa had summoned across the field.

    The mud fish had grown significantly since he left his swamp, despite his Trainer's temporary absence. The training they'd done had worked the best on Hydrus, who showed the most improvement and maturing of his whole team. He battled constantly against Terra. Evidently, he hadn't forgotten how pitiful their first encounter had been. They almost reminded Alex of himself and his own brother now. Before favoritism had separated them.

    After taking his weighted vests off, Hydrus surprised the entire crowd by moving almost fast as Leo had, as he evaded Elesa's attempt to attract him, and likely follow with an aerial ace, since nothing in her arsenal could easily handle such a bulky water type that was immune to her strongest attacks. Leo had battled her understudies with his own vest on, but his dark coat hid it well, still, he seemed slow, but managed to win. Nobody lasted long, close to his fangs, and his eyes let him dodge pretty much every ranged attack. The resulting illusion was that this Marshtomp was as fast as a Luxray, for he managed to hit the Emolga as he shifted on the limited floorspace of the catwalk, and nailed the Emolga with an Ice Beam.

    No doubt the illusion would spawn another ridiculous rumor, but this one he had on video, as Elesa had a habit of recording all her gym battles. Showing N's, and the other Champion's from back in the day, was always amusing. Hilbert and his Serperior had not liked the pair of Emolga she used on them, and even Hilda had struggled, though when she came back with a Flame Charging Emboar, the flying electric squirrels hadn't lasted long.

    Alex was the only one who wasn't surprised when Hydrus decided to evolve after taking down her Zebstrika with a similarly well aimed Mud Shot, fired after avoiding the opening Wild Charge. He'd taken little damage, and upon becoming a Swampert, it affected him less. He was much, much larger now, which meant more stamina in battles, and a legitimate chance at matching Terra's strength. The new bulk only made him slightly slower, and as he matched her Ampharos' Thunder Punch with a newly learned Hammer Fist, he instantly regretted lowering his speed. The damage done had been enough for a knockout, at least.

    Elesa's first Pokémon had been a Blitzle, and she'd caught a Pichu on the same day. She had switched to Emolga soon after starting her journey, when she saw how tricky they were to beat, and now, she brought out her fully evolved Raichu, who had long since grown too strong for regular gym battles. The arrogant mouse beat its chest as it stared down yet another Swampert.

    The two powerhouses fought it out, shaking the entire arena with their colliding Bulldoze and Mega Punches, but eventually, a continuous series of follow-up Mud Shots slowed and blinded the poor thunder mouse enough to finally make it faint with a direct hit. Thus, Alex won his Jolt Badge.

    The very public win only helped the small flame of his fame rise and spread through the region like a wildfire. Every once in a while, a genuinely strong Trainer would appear, and word about them would spread through Unova in a day. It helped that most of the region was connected to Castelia. Unova was one of the most technologically advanced places on the planet, and had the largest population by far. Only northern Kalos came anywhere near them technologically, and that was primarily because of Clemont.

    The Lumiose Gym Leader had done more for that entire region than any other, after returning from a long journey around the world. He was on Alex's list of Gym Leaders he wanted to battle. Only a few had that kind of fame.

    As he and Jess left Nimbasa and began traveling down the Join Boulevard, it took him a minute to realize they were getting looks. Well, more looks than usual. If he was honest, he'd won half of his random road battles thanks to them being distracted by Jessica's looks. That applied to both genders.

    Elesa had, at his request, personally admitted to making up the rumors from the last broadcast, but hadn't given them any new information on this Trainer either. Thus, the local hotshot Trainers in the city decided to keep an eye out for him, if only to see if the hype was real. As they walked further down the absurdly large Boulevard leading to Castelia, packed to the brim with shops for literally everything, the going was slow.

    Like most women, his was not immune to the lure of shopping, and given that she'd coaxed a certain black piece of plastic from her father, her spending was wild. Naturally, Alex ended up shoving half of it into his bag. It was bigger on the inside, a 'secret Redwood tech trick' as his Gruncle had called it, but even it had a limit. He didn't mind the extra weight, though. She'd resisted her womanly impulses in Mall Town so he could focus on his Luxio, the least he could do now was carry her stuff.

    The Join Boulevard had once been a small passage on the long road from Nimbasa to Castelia, but after years of support from Unova's many Champions, it had grown massive. The twins, Hilbert and Hilda, along with Nate and Rosa, all had entire sections of the boulevard devoted to merchandise they specifically supported.

    Now, you could go from Nimbasa to Castelia without so much as sand in your shoe, the only downside, was the slow moving throngs of people. All along the Join Boulevard, Alex and Jess were challenged regularly by Trainers with actual teams, not just six Magikarp in a row. The experience was tough on their less experienced members, but no tougher than training with their weight vests had been on the road to Nimbasa.

    Now when they took them off for battle, the effects were already beginning to show, and keeping them on too long could end up weakening them. There was a limit to how high one could boost one's partner, but both Alex and Jess had agreed to balance the training with rest, and Unova had no shortage of luxury available for those willing to spend. They had eventually been forced to loop back to Nimbasa for several days, as there was no Pokémon Center on the Boulevard. They were enjoying the local fame, and then Jess had challenged Elesa as well, winning handily with her Charmeleon.

    She too had purchased TMs in Black City, and now her team was rapidly becoming a challenge to his. They didn't battle however, not officially, as each of their teams considered the other a part of their road-bound family by now. Battling them seriously was just unthinkable, to most of them. They would spar and practice moves, of course, but an actual battle simply never occurred, as their Trainers had them improving specific skills with specific moves, usually, for skills they'd made errors with during battles.

    After a few days of battling genuine Trainers on the massive Join Boulevard, which had actual motels now that had once been homes, they reached Castelia City, a borough of New Tork that never slept. Alex was eager to challenge the local Gym Leader that very night.

    He was stopped however, right in front of the gym, by an aide from the Poké News Network. John Crimson wanted an interview that night, and Alex agreed, saying, "Right after I beat Burgh."

    The aide mumbled something about make-up and checked his watch constantly. He'd been told to collect Alex within two hours by John Crimson himself, but Alex was already inside the gym.

    He and his team knew the drill by now, and he had Hydrus get used to using his Ice Beam on rather fast bug types that belonged to Burgh's warm up Trainers. It made Hydrus stronger, too. He'd been battling a lot lately, to try and bridge the gap between Terra, Blaze, and the rest of his team. They all needed to be that strong if they were going to take on the Victory Plateau. For the battle with Burgh himself, Alex's choice was different.

    Blaze had begun to get twitchy, and while Alex knew Hydrus needed to train, his Charizard needed to battle strong opponents. Blaze had given his Trainer a look when he saw a bunch of bugs from Burgh, and he'd burned through them rapidly, but after a hard Metal Claw from Burgh's rather evasive Scizor, a member of the team he had once journeyed with, Blaze got into the fight.

    He took down four of the bug types, relatively easily as he could use his flames or his wings to fight them. Either way, he was at an advantage. Seeing he was sated with those easy but no less intense battles, and that his next opponent was part rock, Alex switched Hydrus in.

    Another two Ice Beams ended Crustle, and then finally, out came Leavanny. Her Leaf Blade was nearly enough to take Hydrus down, but his retaliatory and doubly effective Ice Beam at point blank range did what her blades had been unable to. Thus, Alex won his third badge.

    Burgh himself was a decent guy, and they had a chat over a bowl of Leaf before they returned to the bottom floor of the strange gym, only to find that Jess and the aide for PNN were still waiting. The aide had, upon hearing who she was, wanted Jess to interview as well, but he was denied yet again when she challenged Burgh herself.

    The aide was a few years older than them at most, but his forehead already had signs of wrinkling. He wore a navy-blue uniform that seemed strange in public, and had no belt of Pokémon either.

    He looked like a corporate drone, but corporate drones had name tags. Jess was telling him that she planned to battle Burgh next, and could interview some other time. She wasn't going to fall behind Alex. Burgh agreed to take her to the local Pokémon Center, and then battle her, while Alex went for his interview.

    Deciding one Trainer was good enough to keep his job, the aide gave in, and brought Alex to the station, where he refused attempts to have make-up dumped on him, and offers to trim his scraggly beard that still had a few patches of lighter fuzz in it. He also got an offer for a new wardrobe, and though he was seriously tempted with going black and gold, he kept his clothes as they were. He'd managed to get another spare outfit in Nimbasa, and switched to the clean one.

    Burgh's gym had been quite warm, as his Pokémon loved heat, and even on a cool summer night like this, Castelia City might as well have been an oven. He handed over his dirty undershirt and pants, letting them be taken to be washed after the people assigned to make him presentable insisted he do so.

    It seemed that keeping their jobs depended upon them aiding him in some way, and they told him as much, when he asked. It made his stomach curl, but he stayed polite, knowing it wasn't the aide's fault they had to act like this. Their usual clientele was probably a lot different than he was.

    Their world didn't have many problems, it was true. Once, supposedly before Pokémon ever came to be, humans had been forced to deal with issues of water shortage, air pollution, violence, etcetera. It was said that the old world had eventually collapsed in a very large war, only rising again when Pokémon appeared, and solved many of these problems.

    Energy, water, food, pollutants, there were Pokémon to combat every negative aspect of human existence. Some people claimed Pokémon had always lived with humans, but his granduncle had disagreed.

    Like the skeptic he was, Alex had asked for evidence from the Professor, as he too had thought a world without Pokémon simply impossible, and in response, had been shown stories in truly ancient books, now only existing on the PokéNet, that didn't contain a single mention of Pokémon, but had plenty of animals that had long since gone extinct. It was hard to believe, since everything in the world he'd known had some tie to them, but the stories he had been shown when he was younger contained no trace. Just humans with the aforementioned problems, and many others in addition.

    The ancient fairytales about King Arthur or the notorious archer of Galar, Green Hood, were good examples of tales without Pokémon, but most people saw them as just that: tales. Pokémon had been around longer than anyone could remember, and a few fairy tales from pre-history would not be enough to convince the Poké obsessed humans they had once never existed on this planet. Most simply said it didn't matter, they were here now, and were worth bonding with. After a very long time since their initial contact with humanity, Pokémon and their Trainers had become an integral part of any advanced society, as they were immensely superior to most firearms, though that hadn't stopped those with darker agendas from advancing projectile weaponry anyway.

    Some problems still remained in their all but utopian society of peace and plenty, with the largest being, as always, human greed. Money controlled many aspects of the 'real world', as Alex's father had called it. It was fine for Pokémon Trainers to run around on the road, eating for free, and battling for fun. But, he had been told, society needed currency to function.

    That was one point his granduncle and his father intensely disagreed upon. The aging Professor had insisted that many of the issues they did face would disappear if humanity gave up currency. They existed in a society capable of supplying them with whatever they could possibly need easily fabricated, and it wouldn't take that technology long before it could do food, as well.

    He'd claimed that as long as greedy humans had some kind of currency to hoard, they would do whatever they could to hoard as much as possible. Far too many simply didn't care what they had to do to achieve a comfortable lifestyle, even if that meant ascending to disgustingly wealthy levels by stepping on the backs of their fellow man.

    His father had responded by saying new issues would rise to replace those that had been solved. Alex had done his best to remain neutral in this debate that he, as he'd gotten older, realized was at the core of the separation in their family.

    But now, looking into the faces of total strangers who all but begged to serve him, lest they lose their job and their access to currency if they failed to do so, he started to understand why his granduncle was so passionate about defeating human greed. If these people just relied on Pokémon instead, they could be just as well off, but no, they needed currency like a crystal addict needed dust. Crystal was one of the 'harder' substances available in shadier places, that had similar effects to Leaf, but far worse consequences. It was also highly illegal, mostly because it was so dangerously addictive, and damaging.

    For his part, Alex didn't really see the issue with jobs in their world, as most gave more than enough to live somewhat modestly. In the now famous League Court case against three members of the now disbanded Team Rocket, evidence had been presented that showed, on numerous occasions, the criminals in question had scraped together funds for hundreds, if not thousands, of giant robots designed to catch Pokémon.

    They obtained these funds, supposedly, by working at menial jobs. Apparently, they paid just as well as Pokémon battles, and were far more reliable for income. The cost of living in this modern age was low, thanks to Pokémon.

    As Alex subtly watched and spoke briefly to the numerous aides flitting about the dressing rooms of the PNN building's lower floors, he realized these poor people were essentially slaves to whatever 'celebrity' happened to be entertaining their audience that night. It was a business, and like every business, some parts were considered more important than others.

    The aides assigned to him were obviously on the bottom of this business totem pole. They didn't even have name tags, and as he looked closer, more than a few had bruises. He felt Arthur's ball shake, as he waited to be called onto the stage for his interview.

    He thumbed the release. "You sense it too, don't you." It wasn't a question.

    "Gallade." The response was solemn and understanding, but under the surface, Alex sensed the same fury at this ridiculous workplace setup. It helped that the psychic fighter had a strong nose for dark intentions, and Alex decided that while some jobs were probably fine, preferred even, the majority of humanity's potential was simply wasted on ones like the aides found themselves in. He also doubted most people wouldn't mind not having to work them, in favor of doing literally whatever they wanted.

    That wouldn't be true for everyone, of course, but if there was some way of assigning the right people to the places they were needed most, he was sure the reliance on Pokédollars would diminish further. He didn't have a better alternative for distributing currency. He knew others had been tried before, only to succumb to power hungry tyrants.

    This current currency based system had eventually beaten all the others, and his Gruncle had warned him that speaking against it, especially in public, would make you a pariah. One simply did not question the system.

    The door opened, and the younger male aide from before, who had to have been around ten or twenty years older than Alex, came in. He had the strange navy-blue uniform on still, the PNN logo was sewn into the chest of it, but otherwise, it was little more than a bland suit.

    No name tag, no Pokémon belt. Even the man's features were unremarkable. Brown eyes, dark hair that was cut short, a clean-shaven face. Each of the aides assigned to him had looked this way.

    "Mr. Crimson is ready for you, sir." He said, looking hurried.

    Sir. Alex had never been called 'sir' before he'd left home, but as he'd traveled, he noticed that amongst the few who'd heard of him, he was regarded with more respect. They'd called him 'sir' too. 'May I have a battle, sir?' 'Might I have your autograph, sir?' 'Please sir, keep your Torterra from defecating on the grass.'

    Was that what he had to look forward to? A future where, eventually, he stopped even noticing aides like this entirely? He noticed Arthur staring at him, and the Pokémon smiled, sensing his emotions, and put a hand on his shoulder. Confidence filled him. He knew that his Gallade would keep him honest, if nobody else did. Alex nodded, smiling back, and then recalled him to his ball.

    "Thank you. What was your name? I didn't catch it." The aide blinked, and Alex could tell, nobody had ever asked him that question. His face betrayed a hint of nervousness, and Alex understood. He wasn't supposed to have people ask him his name. Judging by the beads of sweat forming on his brow, he thought he was in trouble.

    Which meant that his superiors were either listening, or he thought he'd somehow offended this guest, which was, he assumed, an offense that resulted in being fired. Alex put a hand on his shoulder.

    "Relax, you're not in trouble. I just wanted to know your name." If the younger man had looked put-off before, he was doubly so now. A Trainer with enough fame to be interviewed by the legend, five-time Pokémmy award winning reporter John Crimson, taking notice of him? Unlikely, if not impossible, or so he'd come to beleive. And yet, it was happening.

    Alex gave the shoulder a squeeze, and the aide finally stammered a response. "I-I'm Joey."

    Alex gave what he hoped was his best comforting smile. It needed work. "Well Joey, I need you to do me a favor, and it's going to sound unusual." The man's eyes faded back into the practiced neutrality he maintained as part of his job. Eyes that were dead, with no spark of hope whatsoever. He hadn't been noticed, this was just another celebrity with a fetish or something.

    Even his response was robotic. "Of course, sir. Whatever you need, PNN will provide."

    Alex had expected such a response, you couldn't undo programming like this with a few sentences after all, and he was due to be on the air. "After I'm done, when I come back for my things, please bring in the other aides that were assigned to help me. Can you do that, Joey?" The man blinked again, wondering what new perverted hell awaited him and his coworkers now. You could never tell with famous Trainers.

    "Of course, sir." He said, not betraying a hint of worry. "We'll be waiting here once you and Mr. Crimson are done. Now if you please, we really should be getting upstairs."

    He was shown to the stairs leading up into the studio where he'd be interviewed, and before he could utter a word of thanks, Joey was off. Putting the man from his mind, and focusing again on his public face, he wandered onto the studio.

    "Ahh, there he is. Mr. Redwood! Over here." Being waved over in such a friendly manner by a legend like John Crimson was going to take getting used to. He began walking over, and did a double take when he saw who the legendary reporter was talking to, over a shared dinner of steak, waffles, french fries, and of course, Scotch.

    Professor Gilroy Redwood. His granduncle. He broke into a smile. If John Crimson was someone his Gruncle could stand to talk to, he couldn't be all bad. From the way they were sitting, close, friendly, and with a pair of Scotch glasses, they seemed like old friends. He'd always assumed the old man had been full of it, when he'd mentioned he had connections.

    John Crimson offered a hand as he made his way over. "It's nice to properly meet you, lad. Your granduncle and I go way back, and you're the only relative he ever talks about favorably."

    Alex returned the handshake, smirking at his Gruncle, and then the reporter. "I usually go by Alex. Only this old fart calls me 'lad' anymore."

    Alex grunted as he felt a hand slam into his back. He gave his Gruncle a look, and the old man shrugged. "What? I had to be sure you were really back. And that this crimson fox didn't take advantage of your naivete."

    The aging reporter feigned offense. "Take advantage? Me? I'd never do that, Gil. You're practically family, and he's your grandnephew, which makes us…"

    "Very distantly related." Alex said, smirking. The blood tie to his favored relative was already thin enough, he had enough trouble remembering all his cousin's children, let alone all the family more closely related to his granduncle. He often mused at the irony. Redwoods were a particularly large species of tree. It was fitting his family tree was just as large.

    At a hand signal from one of the crew, who were similarly garbed as Joey had been, but did actually have name tags, at least, John Crimson led Alex onto the stage. It was a simple setup. Two chairs, a table, and glasses of water. There were of course, many ways to interview people.

    John Crimson however, liked to say he was 'old school'. For a reporter, Alex supposed this was as old school as it got. He took his seat, the old reporter took his, and the countdown began. Alex knew the drill, as he'd told them earlier that he'd seen plenty of these interviews before. Mr. Crimson would start them off, but it soon became obvious he was reading directly from the holoprompter, thanks to his squinting, and failing eyesight.

    "Tonight, on Poké News Network, we have a story from our home region of Unova! I, John Crimson, will be reporting on and interviewing one of the newest hotshot Trainers in our region; Alex Redwood, a supposed rookie with a winning streak, an epic adventure, and even an Elite Four level win on his record already. There's been a lot of talk about his exploits lately, and as always, we're here to separate fact from fiction. Shit from seed."

    Hearing the intro for his own interview was almost surreal, and Alex wished he'd actually done more before agreeing to it. Three badges was nothing. That wish faded as one of the crew mumbled into their ear pieces, "Stay on script John. We're live. And manure is actually used to fertilize crops."

    "Well that is disgusting." Crimson said, loud enough for the mic to pick it up. "Script!" came the voice again. The old reporter turned his focus on Alex then, and he put on his trademark smirk as he desperately tried not to burst into laughter.

    "So Alex," he said, dropping formality as he'd requested, "Hows life? Two badges and a string of victories from here to Unova University. Not many people would believe it, from a rookie Trainer."

    He let his smirk grow appropriately, before answering. John Crimson was stroking his moustache very obviously as he spoke, and he seriously considered a career in acting as he managed not to laugh.

    "Three badges, actually." He managed in a weak tone. He coughed, and spoke stronger, louder. "Burgh was kind enough to allow me a challenge before I came here tonight." He paused, enjoying the look of surprise on the old reporter's face. Interviewees didn't usually drop a brand-new story at the start of an interview, but it seemed like John Crimson was more interested in the badge itself.

    "Can we see it?" Alex stared for a moment, then shrugged, and nodded. The old man stared at it openly and spoke not-so-subtly, "Ooooh. Shiny. But wait, that's not a standard Burgh badge, is it? It looks different."

    Alex blinked, wondering if he'd meant 'bug badge', despite the fact that the official name for it was 'Insect Badge'. "Erm. No, it's not. It's part of the League's new challenge. You ask the Gym Leaders to battle you with their original teams, and in return, you get a special version of their badge, showing you beat them."

    The silver fox nodded, still very obviously stroking his moustache. "Interesting. You know, I battled Burgh once. Great guy. Great Trainer. We made a bunch of happy little clouds after the battle. Good times." Alex blinked. Did he just imply that he too had shared Leaf with the bug training painter? It didn't seem too hard to believe. His gym was right across the street.

    "As for how I am?" Alex continued smoothly as the crewman shouted "SCRIPT!" through their earpieces once more, "Well, I've watched your show since I was five. I never thought I'd be on so soon…not before beating the Victory Plateau, at least. It's exciting. Thank you for having me."

    John Crimson tried to sip his water smoothly, but ended up taking too much at once, and began coughing. "Ugh! What is this...tasteless garbage? Vinny, who was in charge of getting the Scotch out here?" The old man looked back at the stage as his crew manager grabbed a piece of white cardboard and wrote 'SCRIPT' on it.

    As the crewmen tried to keep from laughing while on the air, John Crimson eventually recovered and found his voice again after sliding the glass of water away in disgust, and turning back to squint at the prompter, "So...who was the herdest...oh, oh, hardest...who was the hardest leader you've faced, so far?"

    Alex paused a moment, stroking his patchy beard, and biting his lip hard as he tried to focus, and not laugh. "Marlon. His Mantine had my Torterra at a field advantage, and a type advantage with Wing Attack. Terra was really hurting after that fight, but we managed to pull it out in the end."

    "Always a good idea to pull out, lad." The crew burst into giggles and heavy sighs, but John Crimson continued, unfazed. They'd given up on shouting 'script' over and over.

    "Terra…so I'm guessing that's the one you beat that Tyrantrum with at the start of the summer?" John asked again, this time apparently reading from a folder full of scripted notes that he'd failed to secret away before recording started. It seemed the prompter's script was too small for his old eyes.

    Alex nodded, smirking. "Aye, I took the University's final test with a bit of a handicap, but we made it through." Mr. Crimson adjusted his seating then, and Alex felt the tone shift.

    A look of competence came over John Crimson, and Alex saw a spark of what had made him so famous flare to the surface for a moment, and he sat a little straighter. "The last time we spoke, you'd just returned from Draconis Mons after a fairly harrowing experience. I know that I, and many of our watchers have been eagerly waiting to hear the full account."

    Alex let his smirk fade, and then sighed, nodding. "I don't know about the full account, that would take quite a while, but if you have questions, I'll answer them with as much detail as I can."

    John Crimson nodded, and continued, flipping very obviously through his folder and tossing cards he'd already read behind him while the crew tried not to laugh. "Very well…let's see...ah!"

    He underlined the holo prompter's words with a finger in the air as he read them. "What we saw on that video was quite an aerial display. Many have been wondering; how exactly do you give commands to a Pokémon that's in the atmosphere?"

    Alex chuckled, and wrung his hands out of reflex. "You don't really. What you need to understand is, at that point, we'd been living in that mountain for weeks. It was hot, uncomfortable, and what little food we could get was usually pretty nasty. Blaze couldn't leave the mountain, and I had to appear dead so that Lizardon wouldn't have a reason to attack him."

    Alex paused, for a moment, then continued, "Blaze and Shruikan were doing whatever we could to beat that monster, and free not just ourselves, but the entire mountain. He was dominating all of them, even the dragon types. I told Blaze that, if he flew high enough outside in the sky, he'd eventually run out of air. I guess he remembered that, and figured he could get the advantage on his larger, healthier, and more experienced opponent if he fainted from lack of oxygen. But I didn't command him to do it. Once they Mega Evolved, they were fighting on instinct."

    The old reporter grinned, and Alex knew what question was next. "I see," he said in his smooth baritone, "So I guess the next question is…how did a wild Charizard Mega Evolve?"

    Alex gave a mirthless smirk, and then looked into the camera directly behind John. "Well, there are a number of ways. We've seen it before, but only in Legendary Pokémon, and only with a stone containing Infinity energy. My granduncle and I theorized that Lizardon must've had a stone like mine somewhere nearby, and used it on his own. I think he could've been classified as a legendary Pokémon, more or less. His speed was clocked at matching known Latios and Latias, and he was, at heart, half dragon. He lived among dragon types, and literally dominated them. He was a unique case, to be sure, but he lived in a unique environment."

    John Crimson gave him his best attempt at a knowing look. "I see. A good answer that, but I assume you've heard that many are starting to claim that this transformation was an Act of Arceus, as the same sattelites that caught your battle also caught a familiar outline in a nearby cloud, according to the Arcean Church. Would you agree with that assessment?"

    Alex sighed, "No. And even if it was, I couldn't really blame Arceus for bestowing the power. That Charizard was a product of our society. Some rich snot probably thought he'd be the next Leon because he had daddy buy him a unique colored Charmander. He probably lost a few battles, and went back to doing whatever it is rich snots do, abandoning his Charmander."

    Alex looked down at the floor then. "I've never seen so much rage in a Pokémon before, and when I started to beat him with my Shelgon, he was roaring at the sky in frustration. Even I pitied him then. You didn't have to be a Pokémon to understand that he was asking why he couldn't have been the Charmander who got a skilled Trainer. I don't think he wanted to end up on that mountain, powerful and alone."

    He looked up at the camera again, staring it down. "But of course, none of the Arceans claiming Arceus gave this power on purpose to wipe out humanity or something, were actually there. They didn't see that part of the battle. I did. And while I pitied him, truly, he was too far gone to ever be reached by a human. In the end, his rage consumed him. Act of Arceus or not, the deed is done, and Lizardon is a threat that Unova won't have to deal with. The Dragon Mountain is free again, and as long as humans have enough sense to stay away, it will remain free."

    John Crimson sat, listening, fingers entwined as he let his interviewee speak. "I see. Bold words from a strong Trainer." He gave a slight smirk then, his deep tone taking on a humorous tint. "So, how is it you know the mind of the Alpha Pokémon so well?"

    Alex chuckled, and shrugged. "I don't claim to, I want to make that clear. But, if I were in his position, with the power to help that abused, vengeful Pokémon in his hour of need, I would've done the same thing. Blaze was going to Mega Evolve anyways, as I planned to use the crystal, somehow, just not that early. We wanted to damage him more, then finish him quickly, but fate had other plans. All his evolution did was balance the scales, and Blaze came out the victor."

    John Crimson nodded. "I see. It's getting late now, and I need a Reuben, so we should wrap this up. A few final questions. What's next? What should your fans be on the lookout for?"

    Alex blinked, speaking before thinking. "I have fans?" He knew he'd been asked for battles, autographs, Holociever numbers, but he always assumed that's just what you did when you met a strong Trainer. Fan clubs were for Champions, no?

    John Crimson nodded, pointing at words only he could read within the folder. "Quite a few it says here, after that video of your battle. All around the world, in fact. What a surprise. People like a strong Charizard."

    That was when it finally hit Alex. He was on, live, with arguably the most famous news man on the planet, being watched by uncountable numbers of eyes, in an uncountable number of countries. He resisted shivering as he felt a cold chill up his spine.

    PNN had a presence everywhere, and TV sets sold cheap these days. Then of course, the PokéNet would have this interview on it tomorrow, too. There was a whole playlist of John Crimson interviews that was always growing. He was on a stage, and a good portion of the Trainer world was probably watching him, either live or in the future. He took a deep breath, trying to ignore the sudden feeling of millions of eyes on him. His voice came out shaky, and he had to clear his throat several times.

    "Wh-what's next…let's see... I'll be hitting the rest of the gyms, of course. Then…uh, Victory Road, and on to the Unova League. I'll challenge the Elite Four, so…I guess I would tell them to keep an eye on the next Champion of Unova." He spoke with what he hoped was confidence.

    John gave his 'I'm-going-off-script-look' to Alex, and said, "Whooooee. Boys got some balls. Where does this confidence come from, eh? What training method makes you so much better than all the rest?"

    "Well," Alex said, smirking, "I want to be a master, and I have the skills to be number one. But, I admit freely, that without my friend Nick's training plan, I wouldn't have a chance."

    John Crimson tilted his gray head. "Nick?"

    Alex waved his question off. "A friend from University, from my home town in fact. My first year there, he helped me devise a training regimen for my future Pokémon team. Diet, vitamins, exercise method, everything. It was his goal to be a Gym Trainer, although, not in the Pokémon sense. He trains people, mostly. I followed his plan to the letter, for months, and my Turtwig reached a level of power that beat a Tyrantrum. It's not for everybody though. In fact, you'd have to be insane to follow the same regimen he does…but I managed to survive intact, and so did my partner."

    In actual fact, the plan had called for even more workouts than Alex had done, no days off, and a diet of strictly vegetables. He'd had to change it up a bit, as he would always be an omnivore at his core. Meat was as much a part of the 'circle of life' as any vegetable, and after raising a grass type, he didn't see a difference between killing animals or vegetables for food. It always came down to survival. You either ate something once living, or you died. Just like his Gruncle had said.

    His response made the old reporter chuckle, as he clearly understood about a fraction of what he'd just said, and then he closed out the show with his usual catch phrase of 'Stay Classy Castelia'.

    Before Alex left the set with his granduncle, John Crimson stopped him and said, "Lad, I hear from my loyal man, Danny, he's right over there behind the camera, that you have quite a lovely lady traveling with you." The old five-time Pokémmy winner handed him a dark bottle that was black, light blue, and streaked with gold. "Musk up with this before you see her. It's Luxray Musk. Illegal in nine countries. Makes women crazy."

    Alex stared at the old man with the glorious mustache that was offset by his crooked bottom teeth, for a long time. Then, he pocketed the bottle, and said, "Thank you. I don't really need it though. I actually own a Luxray."

    "Getting it from the source. I like that. It's smart. But trust me, sixty percent of the time, it works every time." John Crimson winked, as he watched the Trainer leave. Alex shook his head.

    "He took the bottle." Professor Redwood said, grinning, and the two old timers laughed for a good minute before their aged lungs forced them into a coughing fit.
     
    #9 Mar 2, 2019
    Last edited: Apr 27, 2022
  10. Sahqoreyth

    Arthur
    (Kirlia ♂)
    Level 21
    Joined:
    Mar 2, 2019
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    Dawn Stone ★★★★
    Chapter 9: Unova, Part 1

    Basement Level of PNN's HQ - New Tork City, Unova Region

    Alex thought long and hard about what he was about to say, ironically, more than he'd thought about what to say in an interview on live TV. He considered this next conversation one that was far more important.

    He was on his way to his dressing room, where he'd left his bag, when he was suddenly tackled from behind, though the smaller form didn't move his larger one very much. Feeling a familiar press against his back, he smirked, even as dainty hands covered his eyes.

    "There you are…so…how did I do?" He felt Jess giggle against him.

    "You're wasting time. Do you know how many Trainers he interviews weekly? You could be in Opelucid by now." Her tone was teasing, but true. He'd been dragging his feet a bit since coming back from the Dragon Mountain, and it became obvious why when he'd battled Connor.

    Now he was dragging again, hoping to run into his friend and travel with him, the way they'd wanted to since they were ten, envious of Trainers in places like Kanto who started so early, usually without an education.

    "I have one more thing to do here. Wait for me at the Pokémon Center. I won't be long, and then we can get to Driftveil." He felt her nod, and then slide off of him.

    "I'm going to challenge Burgh, and then fly to Nacrene, and get that badge, while you waste time." She bopped his nose, then walked away, swaying her hips on purpose. He shook his head, then continued on down the hallway, stopping when he heard a creepy noise from a dark adjoining hallway, leading down presumably to the basement, or sewers.

    "Muuuuuuuuuuuuuuk." Alex blinked, watching as a literal herd of poison type sludge monsters came towards him. "Mmmmmmmuuuuuuuuuukkkkk!" They cried continuously.

    Then he understood why, and brought out the bottle of Luxray Musk. They stared at it, their sludge-eyes forming into hearts as they saw it. Finally creeped out, he threw it down the hallway, and he was pretty sure the Muk it landed on was devoured by the others.

    Alex was just about ready to leave the city, after that display. The scent of a Muk was what gave people cancerous tumors in their lungs. If you left it in a sewer, and not open air, at least. This wasn't the first time he'd seen strange places for Pokémon to live while in the city. It was definitely a unique place, with unique people. You couldn't walk down the street without seeing someone his rural townies back home would call 'abnormal'.

    He stopped again, before descending to the lowest basement where the dressing rooms were. There was a…nagging sensation in his head, like a voice, but not, urging him to come towards it. Normally, his skeptical nature would make him ignore such a strange thing, but he could tell this one was tinged with worry, loneliness, fear, and many other negative emotions.

    He followed the directions, and instead went to the penthouse of the building. Once he met the source of the nagging sensation, it guided him to another floor, where he surmised the employees of the PNN building lived. Living at work was illegal for many reasons, but only one group got away with it, claiming that their 'beliefs' would be infringed upon if it wasn't allowed.

    He didn't have to guess which group was using freedom of belief to hide behind and abuse their workers. It was a play straight from the Acrean's own handbook, a titillating read that his Gruncle had a copy of, and had let him peruse once.

    Fuming inwardly after what he'd discovered in the two upper floor rooms, he once more descended to the basement, and the dressing rooms, two Pokéballs heavier. Several of the gathered aides were female, and rather attractive, but there was one blonde in particular who, in his opinion, came rather close to Jess in looks. A 'perfect ten' as the numerous male influences in his life would 'rate her'. She was very obviously holding a can of some kind of spray he had a feeling was made specifically to repel creepy men. She was about to say something, as she saw his eyes, drawn by pure instinct to her generous attributes, when Joey appeared between them.

    "Oh, hello Mr. Redwood. Welcome back. We're here, as you requested." They were all very obviously still on edge, and eyed him expectantly.

    He was almost tempted to try to poke fun at them, just to see the reaction, but then he remembered the conditions he'd found upstairs. He sighed instead, saying "What have these zealots done to you people?"

    The tension bled from the room, and the blonde lowered her can. Finally able to tear his eyes from her glorious cleavage, he closed his eyes, letting the pause grow as he calmed himself.

    This took about half a second as he looked back up at all of them this time, saying "I called you all here because I saw the conditions you're forced to work in, and wanted to help...but then I discovered the conditions I can only assume you're forced to sleep in, as well." The group shared nervous looks. They'd been expecting some strange sexually oriented request, but his tone was veering towards rebellion against their employer. At a normal job, loyalty might have kept them from considering it. At this one, it was fear, and terrible living conditions, that kept them in line. The blonde girl, despite her looks, was no idiot. She knew a way out when she saw one, and this Redwood had sway with John Crimson himself.

    The blonde was definitely gorgeous, easily on par with Jess, but his momentary distraction was based on instinct as old as the human race, and those instincts had been controlled years ago, by pure willpower. His eyes did not wander as he met the eyes of each person gathered. The blonde raised a brow at him. They all did, as if they didn't quite believe what he said.

    Alex turned to Joey then when nobody spoke, "I found your... 'apartment'. I'm guessing they gave you that 'room' because you're in charge? Well, the door was unlocked, and there were some shady people in there, stuffing your Pokéball into a bag, as there was nothing else of value in there except a sleeping mat." Alex held out the Pokéball. "You shouldn't leave home without it. It's dangerous to go alone." Joey took the ball, and it shook, opening, and revealing a Raticate in a flash of white.

    Joey knelt down to his friend. "I'm sorry…" He looked up at Alex, "You're right…my Raticate is the best, in the top percentage of Raticate actually, and he should always be with me. But…" He looked back down at his Pokémon, "The higher ups don't allow us to let them out, or have them on us. This building is owned by the Arcean Church, you see…and they don't allow Pokémon they don't control on their property...and since we all essentially live here and work fourteen hour shifts…we have no choice but to leave them in their balls."

    The blonde spoke up, then. "Even our bosses don't have Pokémon, but John Crimson doesn't work enough to miss his Ninetales these days. I know that during your interview, he didn't have his Ninetales on him though. Like Joey said, they're...strict."

    Alex had a good guess as to what she meant by strict. He was familiar with the Church's not-so-subtle punishments, and knew what employees like these risked by asking for a raise, let alone bringing in their Pokémon. The disciplinary actions given out by Arceans were well documented. The Church, of course, denied any such actions were ever given out. They denied any negative allegation, loudly and publicly. Even when hard evidence to the contrary was readily accessible. It was a good bet that if they denied something oddly specific, they were responsible for doing it. Often, one could accurately guess what they were guilty of, as their denials were usually focused on a single misdeed, instead of vague ones.

    More than that, they accused the people who reported these incidents of being the worst kind of scum. Pedophilia, thievery, drug use, any seemingly negative, and usually baseless, accusation they made was a total fabrication. Little more than an attempt to slander people. And yet, many humans bought into it.

    When a large group of people picketed your neighbor's house and told you they were a pedophile, most people were gullible enough to buy into the lie. It was an effect of being in crowds. He'd written a report on it, once, back in University.

    Alex considered the blonde woman's words. "That means he doesn't have it with him now. Joey. Let's go pay your 'boss' a visit."

    Joey nodded, and the two left the room, and headed back up into the shooting studio. Arthur appeared alongside Joey's Raticate, acting protective over all of them. He'd had trouble forming his arms into swords, hence his use of Psychic and not Psycho Cut, but it didn't seem to be an issue now that he needed them.

    He was readying a Night Slash, and as their group reached the studio, a pinkish white energy appeared within the dark energy on his arms, swirling into a Taijitu symbol on each arm.

    Neither Alex or Joey seemed to notice the swirl of energy, but their audience did. Most of the vacationing elite of Castelia were still there, partying in the now vacated studio, but John Crimson was in a corner, with an ominous older gentleman, clad in a large cloak that looked like it had been purchased from a movie involving one of those classic stereotypical villain types. Alex and Joey walked over to them, with both of their Pokémon out.

    The older gentleman was wearing a badge upon his chest in the shape of Arceus' symbol that very obviously insinuated that he was a 'holy man' of the Arcean Church. What was strange, however, was the fact that he was wearing a hood, indoors. A flash of red gleamed from beneath the hood as the man raised his head to examine the two youths approaching him.

    "Can we help you?" He asked, looking at Joey for an instant before moving his gaze to focus on Alex. Judging by the stoop in his back, and his voice, the man was older than he seemed. There was something familiar about him, in a manner Alex couldn't quite place. The cut of the robe's style, the gold and white mantle that surrounded his shoulders and almost looked like a castle parapet.

    Alex was still smirking as he eyed the man, despite his growing feeling of unease, "No, not really. We have no need for any guidance in 'holy' matters. We're here to speak with Mr. Crimson." Alex pulled out another Pokéball that wasn't his own, an Old School crank turn type design that was as fiery as the Pokémon inside it.

    Ninetales had led Alex into John Crimson's home, and Alex had figured out that the Pokémon had guided him there because 'Tailsy' as he was called, knew that his owner would soon need him thanks to a psychic premonition. He'd guided him to Joey's Raticate as well. Alex knew better than to question a premonition of a Pokémon with latent psychic power. The ball opened on its own, and the Ninetales within appeared in a flash of fiery red light. He wrapped his tails protectively around John Crimson, and snarled at the strange old man.

    The old man glared at the aging reporter. "Crimson...how dare you...you know the rules. Pokémon are not allowed at work, where they can be pushed around, and mistreated...you remember what happened the last time we allowed them. Leaving them at home is for their benefit."

    John Crimson looked down at his Ninetales, who looked at him at the same time. It was obvious where Tailsy preferred to be.

    "Can you confidently say there is no truth in what I'm telling you?" The old man limped towards the reporter, and that was when Alex noticed he had a cane in his left hand, though he couldn't get a good look at it, the familiarity only increased, nagging at his brain to remember why this man looked so familiar.

    "Pokémon contain unlimited potential..." He continued, in his gravelly but charismatic tone made hoarse by age, "They do not belong in human buildings, confined to wandering small spaces for hours at a time, every day. You may think leaving them behind is cruel, but is it not more cruel to have them be bored? Or worse, abused by some stranger when you're distracted? At least their balls can be infinitely entertaining, and keep them safely in one place."

    The old reporter kept his eyes on his fire fox. "I...I don't..." He was clearly struggling to argue against the relatively sound logic coming from the man.

    That was when Alex realized who this old man was, as it all clicked in an instant. "Ghetsis…" He hissed quietly. He finally remembered. Long ago, when he'd been younger, he'd watched a video of the notorious villain, taken by way of camera phone, as he gave his first known public address, back when Team Plasma had appeared honorable, knightly, even kind. Their idealistic claims had drawn many to their cause. At first.

    He'd used almost exactly the same words now, and Alex too had once thought that he'd had a point, even though he'd been young. It had taken his Gruncle to set him straight by reminding him of one simple truth that every Trainer shared, and as he remembered that lecture, he started to repeat parts of it.

    "Some people have them as pets...others use them to battle...at times we play together...other times, we work together..." The cloaked Ghetsis, Joey, and John Crimson were now looking at him, and Joey was grinning ear to ear. Every kid heard this speech at one point or another. Professors the world over went to classrooms all the time, making sure the next generation understood the world they lived in.

    Alex stepped next to the old reporter, and put a hand on his shoulder as he quoted his granduncle, "But the most important thing to remember about Pokémon, any Pokémon, is that they're our friends." He turned his glare to Ghetsis then, and Arthur joined him in standing between the man and John Crimson. "There are no bad Pokémon...just bad Trainers."

    "Nonsense!" The shout from Ghetsis drew the small crowd's attention to their little corner once more, and murmurs filled the air as they noticed the Gallade with the shining arms, and the strange symbol. Gilroy Redwood, who'd been chatting up several older ladies who were gray, but still far too young for him, also noticed the symbol, and stared at it in awe.

    Few remembered now what the sign of the Unovan Dragon had been, long, long ago in Unova's golden age, but the Professor was a learned man with a specialty in ancient and unique Pokémon, and the myths surrounding them. He eyed his relative with a new respect. Perhaps he would be the one to do it...that would make the effort of setting this stage for him worth it. He didn't quite know what Ghetsis had on his belt these days, but given the rumors coming from the Victory Plateau, he had a good idea. He'd maneuvered his idealistic grandnephew here knowing that seeing the Church's working conditions would set him on the path to the truth of what was going on in PNN's headquarters. He was bonded to a Gallade, after all. If this kind of thing didn't tweak his sense of justice, nothing would.

    Ghetsis continued, devolving into a rant as he slammed his cane into the mahogany floor of the studio. "Pokémon are meant to be used not played with! They're incredible sources of energy! Friends...pagh!" He spat on the floor then, glaring at the arrogant Trainer from under his hood, oblivious to the looks he'd drawn.

    Alex turned his hat backwards, but did not smirk. This was too serious. "I knew this 'No Pokémon' rule was tied to Plasma filth..." He said, glaring right back, "The rest of Unova has accepted that Team Plasma was wrong, hypocrite. Your son helped dismantle your organization years ago. Move on already."

    Arthur's eyes glowed with Psychic energy then, and the robes on Ghetsis' ancient body flared up, revealing a full-size team of six Pokémon on his belt. He glared at Alex furiously as the rest of the room noticed this literal hypocrisy.

    "I'll meet you outside, boy…I will not be humiliated by some random Trainer from who-knows-where..." He thumped out of the studio, and down the stairs, muttering, "Not again..."

    The room went silent, and all eyes shifted to him. Alex understood then and nodded to himself. Nobody here was actually good enough to beat Ghetsis, a man known for abusing his Pokémon, and attacking civilians. They knew he was a criminal, but none of John Crimson's guests were willing to ruin their night by involving the police. He'd forced them all to follow his absurd rules through fear. Yet another Arcean tactic, straight from their 'Prophet' and his 'playbook'.

    Alex hurried down to meet him outside, emerging to his Cofagrigus' Shadow Ball as soon as the building's doors opened. Luckily, Arthur was there with his Night Slash from his glowing, swirling arms. A second slash followed the first, slashing right through the tomb Pokémon's ghostly body. It fainted in a single hit, but Ghetsis already had his Bouffalant and Bisharp out. Blaze joined Arthur as Alex threw his ball, giving them the type advantage, as they'd practiced.

    A pair of double Brick Breaks from Arthur into the charging Bouffalant and his partner damaged the Bisharp, but took down the bull Pokémon completely. Blaze finished off the Bisharp with a timely Flamethrower that was launched so fast mid-flight, it couldn't have been dodged.

    Their training weights were off now, and they were benefiting from the long hours of wearing them in so many battles with Trainers on the road into Nimbasa, and then the Avenue to Castelia.

    As Ghetsis recalled his Pokémon, Alex did the same. This slippery bastard would claim the battle was unfair if he'd left them out during the next round. His notorious Hydreigon appeared, and Alex brought out Shruikan without hesitating.

    Shruikan had been training solely for the Opelucid gym, and the battle against the Gym Leader, Iris, and now his weights were off as well. His minor temper flare during the battle with Connor had been smoothed out, and now his sole wish was to evolve. Anything that would help him get experience, he did willingly, trusting his Trainer to lead him on the right path to attaining flight. All he could do now to honor his fallen father was prove that the strength he'd inherited was worthy of recognition.

    It was clear Shruikan was unusual somehow, his granduncle had muttered something about 'Pokérus' when he'd examined his ball, but hadn't explained what that meant, exactly. Alex figured that only flames from a Legendary Pokémon like a Moltres would be strong enough to evolve his Shelgon, so he'd been listening carefully to the world news, waiting for a Tamer of such a Legendary Pokémon to appear within his reach. For now, a fight against this Hydreigon would be a good test of how much stronger he was after so many battles.

    Dragon Trainers were common in Unova, and Shruikan had seen some serious battle time. They traded furious Dragon Pulses, and Shruikan rolled out of the way of them, firing back when he could, but both of the arm-heads on the fierce dragon type would launch Dragonbreaths as well, whenever he stopped. Ghetsis wasn't obeying League rules, and Alex adjusted accordingly. Shruikan's Dragon Pulse was, by now, a ball of dense energy, similar to his teammate's Moves like Energy Ball and Mud Shot or Water Pulse, but Ghetsis' Pokémon used a stream of that energy, wild and uncontrolled when it spewed from one of three mouths.

    When Shruikan's attack blocked his Dragonbreath so easily, it infuriated the barely tamed Hydreigon, and all three heads attacked at once. Shruikan used Protect, taking the hit, and then retaliated with another dense, swirling Dragon Pulse, scoring a direct hit on the other dragon. It went down slowly, but Shruikan followed up with another Ddragon Pulse, and ended the round.

    Ghetsis' Drapion met a similar fate at the hands of Terra's Earthquake, and the old man laughed, then, in disbelief. "I didn't expect to need him for this. This was a routine security check for the building…it should've taken five minutes, and now I'm battling a boy in the middle of a street whose pushed me to this..."

    It was a summer night, and the foot traffic on the Castelian street had stopped to gather around the two Trainers duking it out. The crowd had only swelled when it heard Ghetsis was involved, his hood now fallen, many people recognized him.

    What nobody could believe was that another Trainer was beating him, and he wasn't even a Champion. Ghetsis had evaded capture for years because of his power, and now, he was being beaten in public by a relative nobody.

    He hadn't intended this battle to last past that first surprise Shadow Ball, but he'd forgotten about the glowing Gallade. The crowd gasped then, as he called out his ace, and Alex stared in horror at the monstrosity they had all heard was long gone. A forced fusion of Reshiram and Kyurem, by way of machines, the DNA Splicers. Man's last attempt to reunite the Original Dragon had only resulted in a forced fusion with either Zekrom or Reshiram, never both.

    Alex knew what he had to do then as he recalled Terra, and brought out Shruikan once more. As hot as White Kyurem's Ice Burn was, Shruikan could handle hotter when he used Protect, and countered with a Dragon Pulse, hitting the abomination hard enough to stop it in its tracks.

    Flames burned bright as the body of Kyurem connected to Reshiram's power, and it became apparent that Shruikan had merely stunned the Legendary Pokémon. As it readied another Ice Burn, it gave Shruikan time. The white half of the Pokémon seemed to be reluctant to listen, as if Reshiram was yet within, and aware of his chance at freedom. Kyurem had zero issues taking down a Shelgon, though. Even if it was at Ghetsis' order. The human was strong, and dragons respected strength.

    The fused dragons had been slowed long enough for Shruikan to aim an attack at the DNA splicer forcing the two together, breaking them apart. His Dragon Pulse turned red as he condensed the energy before his mouth, and fired the sparking ball of dragon power at the 'wings' on the ice dragon's backside, as he gave the Dragon Pulse the necessary spin to curve in the air, and hit where it needed to hit. As soon as that happened, Reshiram was freed, and the monstrosity that was Kyurem roared, freezing the feet of every nearby human before it stomped off to the north, through the city, leaving a trail of icy terrain in a line straight to the Giant Chasm.

    Life had just begun to return to the chasm, but now, it would surely vanish as the product of man's desire to war with each other, which had split the Unovan Dragon apart, returned with an icy vengeance.

    Reshiram examined Alex for a long moment, and a noble, strong telepathic voice echoed in his skull, and his alone, "Come to the Victory Plateau...the time has finally arrived...come..." It gave him a last look over, then blasted upwards as its tail propelled it easily through the air, and headed north as well, but towards the Pokémon League, to his Tamer. The Champion.

    Ghetsis stared at the shattered DNA machines. "You fool…what have you done? You've ruined any chance of uniting the Dragon!"

    Alex just shook his head. "My truth is stronger than your skewed ideals. You only want the Dragon for power, but the more you take by force, the less you will truly have. Over and over you have been shown this lesson, by each of Unova's many Champions. It ends here. You will never have the chance to cause strife like this again."

    Arthur held Ghetsis in place with Psychic as Alex freed most of his team from their balls. Cofagrigus and Hydreigon stayed, but the rest left with Trainers from the onlooking crowd. Not even prison was able to split up Trainer and Pokémon, which meant the guards of their prisons had to be serious Trainers, lest they be overwhelmed. The police arrived with their various partners, as Castelia was quite diverse, and Ghetsis was finally taken away in cuffs. Hopefully he'd stay there this time.

    With the PNN crew now outright demanding the allowing of Pokémon teams in the building from their Arcean overlords, Alex decided to move on, assuming that their issue with the Arcean's rules was over.

    Beating one of their enforcers made it clear that he was ready and willing to back them up against any threat they received from Church members, and with Pokémon of their own, he hoped the employees would be able to avoid feeling threatened. The Church backed down against public displays like Pokémon Battles like the one he'd just had. Under no circumstance was it okay for an Arcean owned building to be visited by police. Their image could not be tarnished.

    Alex met up with a worn out Jess again several hours later at the Pokémon Center, and the two began the long trek to Driftveil as he explained what she'd missed. They spent most of the journey battling, as always. When they finally crossed the bridge into Driftveil, they headed for the Pokémon Center, and the next morning, were ready to hit the Gym.

    Or rather, Alex was. Jess went into the Clay Tunnel to train her Serperior, while Alex and his grass and water types, both of whom were quite at home surrounded by earth, steamrolled through Clay's miners. It didn't take the Underground Boss long to realize this latest challenger was taking out all of his Trainers, on purpose, before coming to the Leader.

    Clay muttered to himself. "Smug little…"

    The Swampert got a Potion and Elixir, before the black and white clad Trainer finally approached Clay's platform, which then lowered into the mine, descending into a truly massive cavern, at the bottom of which was a standard ground themed battlefield, with the League approved layout.

    Hydrus had honed his Water Pulse against the ground types, and his Mud Shot against the steel types, until the two Moves were at equal strength. By the time they reached Clay, Alex felt confident they could pull off a dual type Move, if they had to.

    The Underground Boss looked over his challenger, as the lift descended. "You 'aint here for a regular ol' Battle, are ya son?"

    Alex shook his head, and Clay nodded. His giant white hat nodded with him, and Alex resisted smirking as he continued. "In that case, I'm goin' ta hafta get my oldest friend to wake up...I saw how you rumbled my Miners. This here field of mine can handle any Moves you have, so don't be worried about lettin' 'em loose. It's my job to make sure yer ready for what lies ahead. From here on, the Gym Leaders will be usin' a special kind o' Move."

    Alex nodded. "Burgh mentioned something about that. We've been practicing a kind of dual typed Move...but once I see yours, I'm sure we can replicate it."

    Clay chuckled. "Them there Plate crystals you discovered from the Dragon Mountain, we've always known they were somethin' special. Unovan Gym Leaders have been perfecting these kinds o' Moves with such crystals fer years. Yer the first to try'em for Mega Evolution, but whoo nanny, boy, you've started a trend."

    Alex shrugged, as they finally reached the bottom of the mine. "I just pointed it at my Charizard...he did the rest."

    Clay looked him over for a moment, then sighed. "Yer more involved than ya know...but once you master yer dual typed Move, you'll understand. It takes two, fer that kind o' power up."

    Clay took his side of the field, and Alex waited patiently on his for the older Gym Leader to hobble on over to his spot. Once in the box, his posture straightened, and the pickaxe he'd been using as a cane was swung around effortlessly, before being slammed in the ground.

    He drew his first Pokémon, and Alex saw a full team, waiting for him. Clay was usually regarded as a hard Gym Leader to beat, with how effective his 'double Earthquake' strategy was, for Trainers gullible enough to accept a Double Battle with the Underground Boss, but in a one on one, Alex assumed his strategy would probably shift. He reached for Hydrus' ball, and smirked, as he saw what Clay threw out first, true to form.

    A massive Krookodile appeared across the field, and as the two ground types locked eyes, Alex knew, the Battle had begun. Hydrus looked at Alex, and made a pleading face, but he shook his head. He wasn't going to use Connor's crystal for mega evolution. He did intend to return it, it was vital for Gren's power after all. "You can handle this, Hydrus. Get close with Aqua Jet, and then use Water Pulse!"

    Water surrounded the Swampert's entire body, and the usually slow on land mudfish sped through the air, as his hands formed his Water Pulse. Clay wasn't one to just sit and take a Move like that, though.

    "Krookodile...counter it with yer Dark Mud Shot!" The dark and ground type made a similar motion with his claws, and between them, a projectile of dark energy and ground energy swirled together in a pattern that while familiar to Alex's eyes, he knew precious little of. He knew it represented balance, typically, but seeing it in a Move was a first for him.

    Hydrus' Water Pulse was dense enough to meet the dual typed projectile, and then cancel it out with type advantage, and an explosion. Both Pokémon slid back to their sides of the field, as their Moves collided.

    Alex changed tactics then, to a Move that probably should always have been classified as dual typed. "Muddy Water!" Hydrus inhaled, and then spewed a Water Gun at the ground. He raised his hands then, and the wave of water and mud surged towards Krookodile.

    "Sand Tomb!" Clay said, as the Krookodile buried itself in its own Move. "Now while yer under there...rock'em with an Earthquake!"

    "Hydrus, Earthquake as well!" Alex countered, and as the Krookodile popped up from the damp sand it had used as a shield, the two ground typed Pokémon built up the energy in their hands, and slammed them down. The entire mine rumbled, as pieces of earth smashed into other pieces of earth, but ultimately, it was Hydrus who got the lucky hit, as one of his jutting rocks nailed the Krookodile in the stomach. Alex capitalized on the opening. "Now Aqua Jet!"

    Hydrus barreled into the dark ground gator, driving him across the field with what was essentially Tackle, but with water involved. Clay wasn't giving up though. "Krookodile. Tie it down with Grass Knot!"

    "Ice Beam, now!" Alex said, and as the Krookodile tried summoning the grass energy, Hydrus froze him solid with a beam of ice to the face, at a very close range. "Boss Clay's Krookodile is unable to Battle! The round goes to the Challenger, and his Swampert!"

    Hydrus roared as the Miner referee called the round, but Clay didn't waste time. "Seismitoad! Yer up!"

    Alex grimaced as he saw the Gym Leader's choice, and knew that if he wanted Clay to play into his plan for this match, he needed to switch. "Hydrus, well done, take a rest." He said, as he called the mudfish. He seemed almost disappointed, but Alex wanted to draw out the Underground Boss' secret weapon. "Terra! Start us off with Seed Bomb!"

    Terra appeared in a flash of green, opened his mouth, and drew in the grass energy, instead of condensing it. From the ash tree on his back came several oar shaped seeds, limned in grass energy. They began perforating the field as they came near the Seismitoad.

    Clay had only a second to counter, but that was all he needed. "Hyper Voice!" The burly water and ground typed toad opened his mouth, and with nothing but sound, turned away most of the Seed Bombs.

    A few managed to get through though, and Alex spoke again. "Seed Bomb! Bombard it until it falls, Terra."

    Clay grimaced. "Dodg'em with Rain Dance! Then hit it with Ice Punch!"

    The Seismitoad managed to dodge most of the projectiles with its odd dance, and as water began drizzling over the field, the Seismitoad got faster. Then, it charged at Terra, leaping across the field, its right fist encased in ice energy.

    Alex smirked. It was a quadruple weakness for both sides, the winner would be whoever managed to hit harder. "Just before it strikes...Wood Hammer!" Terra crouched low as the relatively slow toad came for it.

    As the Seismitoad punched, Terra whirled in place as he caused a circle of the earth beneath him to spin rather than try moving his massive bulk. The rotating turtle dodged the icy fist, and brought his green glowing armored head around to hammer his opponent with Wood Hammer. Terra had a slight bruise where he'd slammed the Seismitoad, but otherwise, he was still fine. Clay however, was less fine. His eyes were wide as his Seismitoad was sent hurtling across the field from what was arguably Terra's strongest move, aside from Frenzy Plant. Alex hadn't wanted Clay to take advantage of temporary exhaustion, and thus had gone with the self-damaging move instead. As Terra was still fresh, it hadn't hurt too much.

    Clay recalled his Seismitoad, and glared across the field at his smirking opponent. "I think it's about time someone knocked you off yer high horse! Mamoswine!"

    Alex gave the command as soon as the ice mammoth appeared. "Seed Bomb!" Terra didn't waste time, and in the perpetual light drizzle, his grass moves seemed stronger. A storm of green oar shaped seeds hammered the bulky mammoth, and it groaned, one front leg bending, as the super effective onslaught hurt it, but didn't bring it down. Alex hadn't expected a KO, as Mamoswine was a tank like Torterra. All they had to do now was survive.

    "Mamoswine! Shake it off, an' then use Icicle Crash!" Clay gestured at the Torterra, and his Mamoswine began charging, as the bone-white tusks became encased in ice.

    Alex and Terra kept their smirks consistent. "Protect." A barrier of energy kept the Icicle Crash from landing, as the Mamoswine struggled against it. Once the Moves ran out of power, Alex called his counter. "Wood Hammer!"

    The rebound off the Protect had left the icy pig mammoth open, at which point Terra headbutted it. It didn't sail like Clay's Seismitoad, but Alex's starter once more brought down a member of his team.

    "That Torterra o' yers is somethin' else, son. I admit, y'all have quite a bit o' power on yer belt...but it'll take more'n power to win in my Gym! Golurk! Yer up!" The Underground Boss tossed his next contestant, and he was quick to go on the offensive. "Take it out! Ice Punch!"

    Alex grimaced, as he learned the hard way that Clay did in fact have a TM for that particular Move. The Golurk rocketed forward, one fist extended, and clocked Terra right on the jaw. He winced, but weathered the hit, and readied himself for the counter attack. "We can't let it hit twice! Frenzy Plant!"

    "Toooorrrterra!" Green energy radiated from his grass tortoise's shell, and then, rapidly, it surged into the ground. Once more, the mine shook, and the onlooking Miners had semi-traumatic flashbacks as they recalled the last time their precious mine had been filled with vines, by the soon to be Champion, Rosa. That had also been around the time Clay had acquired his icy TM.

    Golurk had been one of several on Clay's team who had been on vine clearing duty, and it was for this moment that Clay had gotten them used to punching through a Frenzy Plant. He only made one miscalculation, and that was the difference between a Serperior's vines, and a Torterra's.

    Golurk found itself inexplicably stuck against the disturbingly sturdy dark green vine, but before its simple brain could process what had happened, the Move hit, and took the ghostly ground type down.

    "Return, Terra." Alex said, as he gave his battle worn partner a rest. Clay recalled his fallen automaton as well, and shook his head. "You shoulda kept 'im out, son. Yer Swampert ain't goin' ta fare well 'gainst what's comin'."

    Before Alex could draw his ball, Hydrus popped free, onto the field, and slammed it with nothing but his bare fists. The mine shuddered, not quite as hard as when Earthquaked, but still enough to be impressive. "Swaaaaaamp!"

    "I wouldn't underestimate my Pokémon, Leader Clay. They can hear you. I know what's coming, and so does Hydrus. This was always the plan." Alex said, with a smirk. He turned his hat backwards.

    Clay arched an eyebrow, narrowed his weathered orbs, and threw his next ball. "Big talk. But talk is cheap, son. Come on an' try backin' up yer words." What appeared next was a Flygon, and the lingering rain shifted to sand, and then mud, as Flygon appeared, but failed to summon the Sandstorm. For the moment.

    Hydrus wouldn't have minded it either way. He liked rain, and sandstorms. "Ice Beam!" Hydrus fired the second his Trainer finished saying 'ice', and the Flygon had little time to dodge. One wing froze, dropping it to the ground, as it struggled to right itself.

    "Flygon, use Giga Drain!" Clay said, as he grimaced and gave the command. The temporarily grounded Flygon raised its tail, and from it radiated the vampiric grass typed energy meant to damage, and heal. Hydrus winced as he weathered the hit, and like Terra, fell to about half his strength.

    "Delaying the inevitable. Ice Beam!" Hydrus fired, right as the Flygon freed itself and dodged, but the mudfish kept firing, and two beams later, it struck the ground dragon once more with its quadruple weakness, and sent it crashing to the ground, fainted. The ref called the round, and Clay brought his last ball out.

    "It's been a minute since I've had cause to call on this here Excadrill...time to wake up, ol' friend! We have a serious Trainer, fer once." At his words the unmoving sleeping form of the Excadrill opened, and glanced at Hydrus. Slowly, it rose to its full height, putting them at eye level to the other. Excadrill flexed his claws, and Clay called the first strike. "Start us off strong, an' don' let up! Drill Run!"

    "Dodge! Hit it with Water Pulse once it gets close!" Hydrus nodded, and formed the dense sphere of water, as the still Drill Running Excadrill continued to whizz past Hydrus, into the ground, and then up again.

    Hydrus crouched low, and waited for the earth to tell him where the violently spinning Excadrill was coming from. Then, he turned, and whammied its face with the condensed water, sending it sliding across the ground back to Clay's feet. "Right then." Clay said, as he looked down, and then at his challengers. "It's about time we got serious. Ground on the right, steel on the left. You know the drill! Crush Claw!"

    Alex's brow furrowed, and then he realized what was coming. The problem, was that Hydrus needed a moment to charge his own dual typed Move, and Clay's was the kind of attack that took focus to dodge, with how fast it was. The Excadrill came for Hydrus, claws limned with differing energy types, as he charged forward.

    Alex resorted to his usual strategy, as he needed to buy time. "Earthquake! Then start charging." Hydrus nodded, and responded immediately, once more shattering the underground battlefield. He saw quickly that the Excadrill was barreling through the jutting rocks coming for him with his dual claws, but in the upended chaos of the field, Hydrus had stealthed away behind a larger boulder, and began fusing his Mud Shot and Water Pulse into a single, balanced sphere of energy.

    "There! See the glow, Excadrill? Crush Claw that boulder, an' anythin' behind it!" Clay crowed with triumph in his voice, but Alex was ready.

    "Hop back, Hydrus. Then fire it." Clay's triumphant expression faltered, but it was too late. Excadrill crushed the rock with ease via its steel limned claw, and the ground typed one surged forward, only to meet a similarly dual typed Move, an impossibly dense sphere of water and ground typed energy, that the Swampert had tossed up, and then punched in his opponent's direction.

    There was a boom, and a cloud of dust covered the field. When it cleared, the field was in one piece again, Hydrus stood, damaged but victorious, and Clay's strongest Pokémon lay unconscious on the ground. The Underground Boss recalled him then. "Well done, ol' friend. Ya did good."

    Clay grabbed his pickaxe, and then hobbled to the center of the field. Alex met him halfway, and gave Hydrus a Hyper Potion. "Well done, son. You an' yer team 'ave got a lotta potential. What dream are ya aimin' for that gives you an' yer partners such drive?"

    Alex scratched Hydrus' under chin as he answered. "The top, Leader Clay. I'm going to try to become Unova's latest Champion...and then, I'll be entering the World Tournament."

    Clay smiled, at that. "I remember the World Tournament. Brought all kindsa folk on down to Driftveil, back in the day. It's been a minute since we hosted it, but now yall have that fancy new buildin', I guess ya don't need ol' Driftveil."

    Alex shook his head. "Your TM vendors and Move masters are second to none in Unova, and the old PWT building is still battle worthy, isn't it?"

    Clay shook his head. "Not since Nate and Lance had a go, and their dragons all but tore it down in the process. Listen, son if you plan on winnin' the World Tournament, yer gonna need to do a lot more trainin'. I've seen Leon battle, an' he aint alone in usin' Moves to keep his partners from bein' damaged. You've gotta master that, an' with only four allowed, get a win. Still think yer World Champ material?"

    Alex nodded. "We're just getting started. The latter half of Unova will take my team to where it needs to be for the Elite Four, and two Champions. I'm sure I'll find ways to get stronger after that, too. Red did. Maybe I'll hang around the Clay Tunnel's deeper levels for a bit, once I'm at the top."

    "You become the Champ, an' you'll be welcome in my tunnel whenever ya like. Here's your Elite Quake Badge. I'd give you an Earthquake TM, but yer already stocked up, from what I've seen. Good luck against Skyla, an' a word of advice...don't try usin' rock types against her. She's ready for'em. She'll never admit it, but she's less ready fer electric types."

    Alex nodded again. "I have one that can sweep her Gym...he's due for some training anyways. Thank you for the Battle sir, until we meet again."

    Alex took the elevator up to the top level, just in time to see a certain fiery redhead walk into the Gym, a bit muddier, and she looked like she'd just crawled through a cave, but otherwise, as beautiful as ever.

    He waited in the stands as she and Serpi rumbled Clay in a similar manner Alex had. He did eventually bring Serpi down, and that was when Empolia stepped in, and won her Trainer the Gym Badge with a timely evolution into an Empoleon.

    Before they left Driftveil, Alex and Jess paid a visit to the southern part of the city, and acquired the TMs for their teammates that they yet lacked. The two spent several minutes loading up their balls with the TMs instructional video guides on how Moves worked, and it was only once they were done, that Alex noticed a trio of figures by the old Pokémon World Tournament building.

    A trio of older gentlemen were battling in the old World Tournament building's main hall, as the stage was long since broken by the ferocity of the matches there. The new stadium was shaping up to be much more impressive. Still, this old building was used for battling by Driftveil's less than upstanding members of society, but today, the famous Triple Trouble Trio were offering a prize before they each finally retired.

    Alex approached the men, and when he asked about the challenge, they revealed that they'd been battling all day, giving out their old elite versions of the Trio Badge, from their predecessor's era. The last ones had never all been given out, as the challenge had ended abruptly, and now these spares were offered by the League as counting towards the current challenge, until they ran out at least. They had one left, the pair discovered, and Jess sighed. Alex wanted it bad, she could tell, and his team was itching to battle strong opponents again.

    She'd finally outpaced Alex in badges, but she saw the look in his eye, and knew he couldn't resist battling them. It was the perfect chance to train every part of his team. The trio accepted his challenge, offering him their final badge if he could beat them in three six on six gauntlets, one battle against each of them.

    Alex agreed, and Cress was up first. He demanded a double battle, and so Terra and Leo teamed up to effectively wipe out his line up with a few Seed Bombs and Thunder Fangs. Leo covered for Terra's ice weakness by hitting those who might know ice moves first, and his Seed Bomb was strong enough to finish off most of them as well.

    Cilan also wanted a double battle, which meant that Blaze and Shruikan were up. With a pair of Flamethrowers, Cilan's team didn't even have a chance. That left Chili, and his fire types, who wanted the glory that came with a one on one battle.

    Such battles also came with humiliation, as Hydrus smashed down each of them with Water Pulses and Mud Shots. Blaze had been watching Chili's match, as he had wanted to battle other fire types, and he was instead astounded to see the little Mudkip he'd never seen as much of a threat, or ally, prove how strong he'd become after their last three Gym Battles.

    Chili then questioned Hydrus' strength, saying that only Rare Candies could've gotten him to such heights. Alex denied his accusation, and flashed his recently acquired badges. Between road battles and his weight training, Hydrus had become a legitimate threat, and a key battler on his team. Eventually, the hotheaded brother withdrew his accusation, at insistence from the other two. Accusing a Trainer of using such things was serious, and incidents without proof were not taken lightly. One could end up in just as much trouble for falsely accusing a legitimate Trainer.

    On the other hand, the police and the League had methods to test for such things. If a Pokémon received more than ten candies at once Trainers were issued a fine, and lost their ID, which effectively trapped them, for life, in their region. Trainer IDs were the only way to travel freely between areas connected by the League.

    With the pair several badges heavier, they set off for Mistralton City, and their next Gym Badge.

    The path took them through the Chargestone caves, and they found that even coming slightly close to the humming electric crystals made them zip away. The only thing the crystals didn't shy away from was electric types, and rocks, and Alex found out why, when he finally cornered one, and poked it. It was burning hot, and he marveled at the energy within, amazed that someone hadn't already found a way to harness it.

    Compared to Clay, the scientists and hikers within the caves were extra experience for the two Trainer's less used Pokémon, and Arthur began seeing some battle time as well, for after Skyla, would come Brycen, and it would be up to the Gallade and the Charizard to give Alex and his team the second to last step on their road to the top of Unova.

    Alex wasn't concerned about the flying type loving Gym Leader in Mistralton. By all accounts, Skyla was a bit of an airhead, who had almost lost her Gym license back in the day for handing out Badges in what she'd called 'air battles'. The rumor, was that an aspiring Trainer had set her straight when she'd claimed he'd lose against her, and he insisted on a real Battle anyway, and scored a win.

    When they exited the Chargestone Caves, Alex and Jess opted to camp outside this time, as most of their teams were still fresh. Jess had been training up her Flaaffy with her Iron Tail against the rock types in the caves, and once they found a spot to camp out, they began working on their electric Moves. Leo helped, and got in some practice as well. He'd been taking out Unova's various flying types throughout their road battles, and Alex had promised the Mistralton Gym would make him genuinely powerful. He was also the only one still wearing the weights, and he snarled, willing to Bite whoever tried removing them. His coat had grown long enough to cover them with his fur, and it was unimpeded enough for electricity generation, and conduction. The weights were designed to raise his attack and special attack simultaneously, the only downside was that he was much, much slower.

    As the sun set, the humans decided on a movie to watch via their available devices, and while Jess had several romcoms, Alex had insisted that they study Brycen, and his Beartic, which meant the movie of choice was Enter the Beartic. Alex and his father hadn't had many things in common, but the explosion of martial arts movies back in the day had been one thing they'd shared a love of. One movie became a marathon, and though Jess made it through The Way of The Beartic and Fist of Ice, she was asleep for the finale of Brycen's four-part kung fu saga, the long awaited Game of Ice.

    Seeing she and her Pokémon were well and truly conked out, Alex found his primarily nocturnal Luxray, and the pair descended into the town. They came across a Pokémon Battlefield on the outskirts, where they found two Trainers going head to head. To Alex's eyes, one was using a freshly evolved Magnezone, while the other was struggling along with a tiny Joltik.

    The Trainer with the Magnezone had red hair, a thin build, and confidence in his step, while his opponent seemed stressed by the imminent loss in his future. He had glasses, the same haircolor as most of humanity, a similarly thin build, and it was then that Alex realized these two were newbies, fresh Trainers who weren't completely green, but still had several shades to go before they lost their green entirely. Alex knew he also had areas to work on, but he could tell these Trainers were fresher than he was in many ways. Most of his experience had come from an education, but these two seemed like they were taking advantage of the summer to train and travel Unova.

    Alex watched quietly, his arms crossed, as the Magnezone claimed victory with stronger Moves. Not long after their victory, the thin redhead Trainer waved at Alex and Leo from where they were watching, and greeted them with a cheery hello. Alex stepped forward then, and addressed the victor of the match.

    "Hello there. I take it you're training your electric types for Skyla, right?" The redheaded teenager nodded, and then his eyes widened as he saw what Alex was standing next to.

    "Holy Heracross! Is that a Shiny Luxray!? Wooow! So cool!" The excitable Trainer ran over, and offered his hand for Leo to sniff. Leo, as usual, seemed disinterested, but that didn't dissuade the Trainer. "Can I petim?"

    Alex shrugged. "He doesn't bite...but you'll know if he doesn't want you touching his fur." The Trainer appeared to take his vague answer as a yes, and while Leo did enjoy the scritches, his sharp eyes were locked on the Magnezone, who was still on the field. Leo trotted away suddenly then, and took his place on the opposing side of the field. Electricity bristled through his fur, as he snarled at the Magnezone, who spun up its magnet arms in response. The air crackled as the two electric types revved up.

    The redheaded Trainer watched, and then grinned. "Seems like he wants to Battle." He turned to Alex then. "I'm Rick. Rick Astley. Me and my friend Drake here are traveling Unova, to try to become stronger, and stop Team Plasma!"

    Alex arched an eyebrow. "I'm Alex Redwood. Team Plasma was disbanded, Rick. Nate, Hugh, and Rosa took them out rather effectively years ago."

    As he spoke, the other Trainer, Drake, approached, and pushed up his glasses. "Actually, we ran into them up in Bostonia. They almost stole our Pokémon, but we managed to win in the end. We came down here with one of Interpol's Agents, but he's gone to see the Champion now, so we're just getting Gym Badges at this point."

    Alex nodded, and his eyes shifted to the other Trainer. "You probably found a training camp, if they were as far north as Bostonia. Skyla is pretty good at blocking electric Moves...and bug types are weak to flying types. Are you sure a Joltik is the best choice?"

    Drake shrugged. "It's all I have with a type advantage right now. That, and my Carkol."

    At that moment, the two Trainers turned their heads as Rick action swirled into his Trainer box on his side of the field. "I'm ready for more training! Let's do this!"

    Alex nodded, and trotted over to his side of the field, when he noticed Leo scratching uselessly at his back. His eyes narrowed as he saw the aforementioned Joltik attached to Leo's back, leeching strength from his Luxray. "Oi! Drake, was it? Recall your Joltik."

    Drake raised his Pokéball, then paused. "But eating electricity makes him stronger!"

    Alex's eyes narrowed. He could remove it himself. "Leo. Thunder Wave. Aim upwards." The paralyzed Joltik fell off shortly, and Leo snarled at the tiny bug, sending it, and its fresh Trainer, running away. Drake had his Pokéball out, but the agile and tiny Pokémon dodged the recall beam, and seemed to be enjoying itself, despite its paralysis and the effort it was taking on its Trainer.

    Alex looked back at Rick. "I'll let the fresher Trainer strike first." "Lux. Ray." Leo added, sounding rather impressively sarcastic for a Pokémon. The Magnezone spun up its 'hands' quicker, and sparks now flared over it, as well. Unlike Leo's golden ones, they were blue and white, with their intensity. Being a steel automaton, Magnezone could charge up as much as it wanted without fear of overloading. It made the final evolution of the Magnemite line rather intimidating in a Battle.

    "That mistake will cost you. Magnus! Use Flash Cannon!" The Magnezone began charging the strong steel typed move, and its electricity formed the outer layer of the dense sphere of steel energy.

    Alex took the opportunity to get his primarily physical attacker closer to the floating steel type. "Close in while it charges! Double Team!" Leo charged forwards, splitting himself into several mirror images, as the Magnezone prepared to fire. The cyclopic orb shifted between each of the five thunder cats, fired, and then realized it missed. It began charging another Flash Cannon, but it was too late, by then. As Leo closed, Alex shouted, "Fire Fang!"

    Flaming fangs sank into the lower leveled steel type, and as it was building up energy, it lost control of the heavy Flash Cannon, and its center of gravity, as it began spinning in the air. Rick tried to stay calm, and gave an order. "Right yourself! Switch to Thunder!"

    By the time Magnus righted itself and dispersed the steel energy, Leo was already in position for his reacquired Move that he'd learned from his sire, but had forgotten since leaving the breeding ranch. With a Heart Scale, it had been remembered in Driftveil City. "Finish it, Leo. Double Kick."

    The Luxray shifted under the electric discharge of the off-balance Magnezone, and aimed both kicks upwards, simultaneously, sending Magnus high into the air before it came crashing down again, fainted.

    Rick recalled his Magnezone with a sigh. "I guess I need more training."

    "I'd say we both do." Drake said, as he returned, Joltik in hand, and safely in its ball.

    Alex nodded sagely. "I can see how you survived Clay, but Skyla, while a bit of an airhead, is not an incompetent Battler. Did you guys train in the Chargestone Caves?"

    Rick and Drake looked down, and then away from Alex. Rick spoke first. "Yea, I mean, we trained on the wild Pokémon...then came out here."

    Alex nodded. "Go back and find the Trainers you missed along the way. That will get you where you need to be for this Battle. If you manage to catch up, I'll be on my way to Icirrus City after my Battle tomorrow. Keep training. Maybe I'll see you on Victory Road."

    The two newbies retired for the night then, and Alex did the same, as battling the Magnezone had given his Luxray a bit of experience. The next day, Jess challenged the Mistralton Gym first, evolving her Flaaffy on Skyla's warm-up Trainers. Her hair was thoroughly mussed after all the wind turbines and air cannons she'd ventured through, but she emerged from the Gym one Elite Badge heavier.

    Then, it was Alex's turn. As he walked in, he heard an exasperated sigh. "Another one!? Already?"

    Alex set his eyes on the speaker, and found it to be Skyla. She was a bit older than her Poképedia page displayed, and lines of silver were woven into her red hair, or what he could see of it from under her flight helmet and goggles. "I'm here for a challenge, Leader Skyla. Against your best team."

    Skyla sighed, as she'd been about to climb into what appeared to be some kind of plane, though it was heavily modified, and customized. "My team is resting. Come back at noon."

    At that moment, Leo decided to burst from his Pokéball, and he roared at Skyla. Her Pilot and Bird Trainers murmured at the sight of the dazzling gold and black Luxray, and even their Gym Leader seemed impressed. "Interesting. Seems your Luxray is as eager as you are, unfortunately, you can't get an Elite Badge until my team is ready, and I have time for a flight before they're done resting. Just come back later."

    Alex shook his head, as Leo did. "We'll wait right here. Don't take all day, I want to get to Brycen today too."

    Skyla let out a deep sigh, hopped in her plane, and flew away as one of the walls of the Gym opened to admit her and her flying machine through. Alex and Leo ended up waiting an hour and a half, right next to the Gym door, before Skyla and her Trainers finally came back inside.

    "Wow. You really sat here the whole time. You're either very patient, or very boring. Oh well. Let's get this over with. I want to squeeze another flight in before dinner." Skyla's far too cocky tone caused Alex and Leo's eyes to narrow slightly, as she hopped in a cannon, and glided via wingsuit to her spot at the far end of the Gym.

    Mistralton's Gym setup was similar to the others Alex had experienced, and as with Marlon, Leo's ferocity tore through the flying typed Trainers with ease. Alex switched in his Charizard for a few of the tougher looking fliers, but as usual, healed and revitalized his partners before they reached Skyla, and her battlefield. The platform she waited on rose upwards once they landed on it, and they were brought to the Gym's upper level, where she had an entire field at the ready. The sky was clear above them, and the roof was still open from the Battle she'd had up here earlier.

    Jess watched from the Gym stands alongside a few other Trainers, as Alex had during her own match. The locals of Mistralton rarely got to see Skyla battle so often in the same day, and Alex wondered how such a lackadaisical person had become a Gym Leader. It was obvious she preferred being a pilot.

    Alex threw Hydrus out first, and Skyla grimaced, before throwing her own ball. As with Burgh, Elesa, and Clay, he'd done his homework on Skyla's partners, and was not surprised to see her grass and flying type come out in response. She took the initiative as well, and called the first Move once their referee was done announcing the two Trainers. "Alright Jumpluff, Energy Ball!"

    "Water Pulse, Hydrus." The Swampert grinned, and charged up his attack. The water energy became half ground typed, and the two swirled into a pattern similar to the one Clay had used. Alex had done some reading, and recognized it as the old symbol of Unova's long fallen Dragon Empire. He found it fitting, for Moves that were dual typed, and as the sphere of dense double energy hurtled towards the Energy Ball, and the moves collided, canceling out as type advantage did its work, and caused an explosion.

    That, was when they countered. "Hydrus! Use Dig!"

    "Fairy Wind!" Pink sparkles filled the air, and Alex grimaced as it washed over him, as well. The Move missed his partner, but it did clear the area of the smoke and dust.

    "Hiding, are we?" Skyla said, mockery in her tone. "You can't stay down there forever."

    "Actually, we can. But...now, we don't need to." Alex smirked, and then pointed at the Jumpluff. "Ice Beam!"

    From directly below the Jumpluff, the earth opened, to reveal the hidden Swampert. Ice formed in his maw, and it nailed the Jumpluff with a critical hit, giving Skyla's latest challenger an OHKO. Hydrus jumped back up onto the field then, and slapped his fins together as he readied for more. Alex spoke up, then. "Return, Hydrus."

    His mudfish looked back at him, seemingly disappointed. "You'll come out again. Now return."

    "Swamp." He muttered, as his ball converted his matter to light, and then shifted him to his own personal pocket dimension.

    "Mandibuzz! Fly with me! "

    "Leo. You're up."

    The Luxray and Mandibuzz appeared simultaneously, but this time, Alex moved first. Leo's weights had finally come off, and the thunder cat was more than ready to rumble. "Let's go with Thunderbolt!"

    Skyla smirked. "Protect." The barrier of energy summoned to shield the vulture Pokémon was black in color, and the Thunderbolt smashed uselessly against it. "Don't let it strike again! Air Slash!"

    "Dodge, and use Thunder!" Alex said, countering as she had. Leo dashed skillfully out of the way of the rapidly fired Air Slashes, and once the Mandibuzz paused her assault, he roared, and struck back by bringing down a massive bolt of plasma from the sky. The move hit the Mandibuzz hard, and the difference in level between her and Leo became obvious as the Mandibuzz fainted. Alex smirked. "I wonder if I can get a single hit on your whole team...Leo! Let's find out!" The Luxray mirrored his Trainer's smirk, and Skyla's eye twitched, as Alex purposefully poked her last nerve.

    "I'll show you a single hit! Archeops, use Earthquake!" As Skyla switched, so too did her opponent, and once more, Hydrus took the field.

    "Show them what a real Earthquake looks like, Hydrus."

    Both Pokémon raised their fists, infused them with ground energy, and then brought them down. It was immediately evident that the Swampert's was stronger, and the Archeops leapt backwards into the air awkwardly as it dodged the roiling mass of earth.

    The dust built up, as the tremors finally stopped, and then from within the cloud, there was a loud thump. "Ice Beam!" Light blue energy burned a path through the dust as Hydrus planted his fists, aimed for the noisy gliding Pokémon with his fins guiding him, and fired.

    Once more the icy beam struck home, but Archeops held on, despite a frozen wing. She was forced to land amidst the rubble of the field, but she seemed to be just as quick on the rocky terrain as she was in the air.

    She hid behind a boulder, and Skyla grimaced, as she saw the defeated look in her Pokémon's eye. "We're not done, Archeops! Agility!" Her Trainer's voice brought her focus back, and her eyes flared with a brown aura, as she used her predator's mind to increase her speed.

    "Muddy Water." Alex said, from the other side of the field. Hydrus once more hammered the field with his fists, and water erupted from the broken earth. It surged up rapidly, and while Archeops tried dodging, one could not simply avoid a wave like that. The damage caused the faint, and the Pilot referee called the round.

    "Ready another Ice Beam, Hydrus." Alex said, smirking.

    Skyla's eyes narrowed, and she threw her next ball. "Drifblim. Get in close."

    The oversized blimp Pokémon closed the distance easily, spinning past Ice Beams. Alex expected a grass Move then, perhaps something outlandish like Vine Whip, but Skylaa's next command only brought fear, for Hydrus, as Alex knew it was going to hurt, and he couldn't stop it.

    "Explosion!"

    The Drifblim blew itself up without a second thought, and since it had a lot of HP, that damage transferred to Hydrus, taking him down with the Drifblim in a single Move.

    When the smoke finally cleared, Alex chuckled, but there was little mirth in it. His Swampert remained standing, hiding behind a hastily constructed, and now melted, wall of ice from the readied Ice Beam that had taken the brunt of the damage, and left just enough health for Hydrus to hang on to consciousness with. He'd shielded his head with his forearms while firing, and they still smoldered, as silence fell over the field.

    The crowd watching them was silent this time. Murmurs began soon after though, and the referee broke the silence. "Drifblim is...unable to Battle. The Challenger from Derrion wins the round!" The two Trainers recalled their partners, as a new round began.

    "All the versatility of a dual-type...and you just blow it up." Alex's eyes narrowed as he once more switched Hydrus for Leo. "This is your best team, right? They all seem...younger...than Clay's or Elesa's or Burgh's teams."

    "And compared to them I'm also the youngest. Only Marlon is as fighting fit as I am." Skyla said, as she flourished her next ball. "Braviary! It's your time to fly!"

    "Thunder." Alex said, as Skyla called for a dodge. Evidently, her knowledge of electric types was lacking, or she would've never tried to dodge a Luxray. Leo's golden eyes stayed fixed on the brightly colored bird, and with a roar, once more the heavens boomed, and a bolt of plasma struck the flying type.

    Leo arched an eyebrow, as the wounded, but still raring Braviary cawed, and Skyla called her counter. "Thrash!"

    At his Trainer's command, the Braviary's eyes gleamed red, and his rage was unleashed upon Leo. He dove in fearlessly at the thunder cat, cawing as he struck and slashed over and over. Leo took several hits, before Alex called their own Move. "Thunderbolt!"

    From that range, the hit was inevitable, and type advantage once more did its job, as the Braviary let out a final caw, and then fell to the field. Leo panted, and then roared, placing a triumphant paw on the fallen war eagle. His intelligent eyes fixed on Skyla, as if he knew what Pokémon she had left on her belt, and was more than ready still to face it, even after a thrashing.

    "It's up to you, Swanna!" Skyla said, as she threw her final ball. "Use Aqua Ring!"

    Alex rolled his eyes, as she set up her electric defense early and obviously. "Thunder." Leo roared, and a massive bolt of plasma shattered the shield. The air hummed with electricity, and the Swanna seemed panicked, as it sensed the oncoming storm that was the Luxray below.

    "Stay agile!" Skyla ordered, "Sky Attack!"

    "Thunderbolt."

    Leo filled the air with electricity, but the swift Swanna was hard to hit, and Leo realized that it had figured out his attack pattern. He smirked, and purposefully let up on the Thunderbolts, appearing to be out of breath as he did. Skyla perked up. "Charge it now!"

    Swanna curved in the air, and then came in rapidly towards Leo. Alex smirked. "Thunder Fang."

    Leo leapt, and delivered a single, perfect bite as his electricity surged through his fangs. He crossed the Sky Attacking Swanna's path with his leap, and the water and flying type landed behind him, before crashing to the ground.

    The Pilot monitoring the match spoke up. "Swanna is-"

    "Wait!" Skyla said, as the injured, but still conscious flying type struggled to its feet. Leo looked at the ref, and rolled his eyes. The Pilot shrugged, and then motioned for the Battle to resume. "This is it, Swanna! Hurricane! Then combine it with Scald!" The scorched bird flapped weakly into the air, but seemed strong enough still to Battle as it raised its wings towards Leo.

    A ferocious tornado of wind appeared around Leo, and the Luxray snarled, as the flying typed Move hit him. The weakened Swanna had enough power left for a Scald as well, and soon, the tornado was a hot, watery prison.

    By the time the attack faded, Leo was panting hard, and seemed to have been burned. Skyla clenched a fist in victory as she saw the condition, but Alex's smirk simply widened. "Oh, you've gone and done it now. Focus your rage, Leo...Thunder Fang!"

    His strength was undiminished by the burn, as Leo felt a surge of power from his guts. His electricity flared over him as he summoned the power for a final strike. All at once, it shifted to his fangs, and the thunder cat was a blur, as he zigged, then zagged, and then leapt for the Swanna, who hadn't flown all that high from where she'd almost fainted. He burst through the wind wall of the Hurricane with a roar.

    This time, Leo brought her down, and he blinked several times with the Swanna's neck in his jaws, before his Trainer saying his name got through to him. He blinked again, and spat out the Swanna, who was caught by Skyla, and fed a Revive. Her more serious injuries lessened, and the Gym Leader applied a Potion as well, before recalling her ace.

    She stood then, and turned to the challenger, as he gave Leo a rare Full Restore. After stocking up on everything else, the expensive cure-all was something he only had so much of. "You played on my temper...and it cost me the chance to whittle down your Luxray. A little more, from my Drifblim perhaps, and our dual typed Move would've finished you."

    Skyla tossed Alex the Elite Jet Badge, and he caught it, before placing it with the others. "I still had an entire team behind Leo. Not to mention my Swampert. Have you actually gone on a journey with your partners?"

    Skyla nodded. "Yea, we flew all over the world for a few months, before coming home."

    Alex arched a brow. "No, I mean like...walking. From town to town. In a place you've never been, with just your Pokémon next to you. Maybe try that, if you find yourself losing too much in the near future."

    As Skyla pondered his forewarning, Alex departed the Gym, and met up with the other Trainer to beat Skyla today, leaving the crowd to murmur as they also departed. The hour was late, and everyone who knew Mistralton's Gym Leader knew she would be flying well into the early evening after a day with two losses in a row.

    After getting so far in one day, the pair decided to rest in Mistralton before the long hike to Icirrus, and while they enjoyed sleep and dinner, Connor spent the night catching up to them after detouring to Virbank City, for the Elite Toxic Badge, and some necessary training for his Garchomp.

    Gren had handled Clay, and now Tonitrus, his Elektross, had swept Skyla's gym as well. She remarked that she hadn't seen so many strong Trainers in one season since Team Plasma first formed, and when Connor asked her to elaborate, he learned that he had finally caught up to Alex and Jess.

    They were away from the Pokémon Center, sparring against each other, alongside their Pokémon, and a pair of younger Trainers he didn't recognize, with what seemed to be their own teams. They barely knew the basics of martial arts, but they had once taken such lessons simultaneously at their home town's dojo. Though they sparred hard, their movements were sloppy, compared to a professional, and lately sparring together rather than training specific team members had become more enjoyable, as it often led to other things. After the martial arts saga that was Brycen's movies, they had both been eager to try out several of his more useful moves.

    Each of their Pokémon was having a battle south of the Mistralton Pokémon Center, atop the large hill above the Chargestone Cave's exit. Their Trainers were fighting each other too, and Connor didn't know what to make of the strange sight. He'd never seen a Torterra and a Serperior coaching a Gallade and a Braixen as they battled each other.

    It was fortunate that Alex and Jess noticed his presence, as the two had been eye-locked for the past minute, and the amateur karate sparring was devolving into something else. Any later, and her brother would've likely stumbled on something that would have probably started another grudge match between him and Alex.

    "Connor…you finally caught up, hmm? Are you after your water crystal, then?" Connor smirked, and shook his head before responding to Alex.

    "I have a new one. Keep yours. You'll need it more than I will." Alex felt slightly guilty at taking it now, as he had intended to return it. He hadn't even let Hydrus use it, though his Swampert clearly wanted to. Alex scratched his hat, and then turned it forward.

    Connor continued, "Each Trainer only needs one Plate crystal…usually…and they can Mega Evolve any Pokémon of a matching type. At least, that's how they do it in Gaulia. Kalos is catching on, but they still rely on Mega Stones. So really, keep it. I don't mind."

    Alex listened, shrugged, and then smirked. "Good, you know, I'm glad you'll let me keep it. I learned about these Plate crystals when my family vacationed in Alola for a few weeks, and since then, I've been trying out some new...techniques...with them."

    He held up a crystal like Connor's then, but instead of blue, it was brown, had the ground symbol within it. "I was actually given this by Kahuna Hapu…even though I didn't have a Pokémon, and made it clear I wanted a fire type. At the time. Or maybe even a grass type. She just shrugged, and gave me this. I knew it wasn't a Z-Crystal, but I didn't realize what it was until I came back from Draconis Mons. I convinced the Professor to send it to me when I passed through Undella."

    Connor's face had regained the similar look he'd been wearing in their last battle, a persistent frown, as Alex had spoken. "Wait, so one of the Kahunas just gave you a crystal?"

    Alex smirked, "No, I helped her hatch a Mudbray. In fact, I spent several days of my vacation helping her out, so that was my reward." He'd been too young to Battle, and had accepted the crystal regardless of the fact that he was unable to use it. His Gruncle had liked it, so he'd let the old man hang on to it. Until now. Evidently it was not a Z-Crystal, or so the Professor had told him, which probably explained why the Kahuna had given it away relatively easily. His Gruncle had theorized that Z-Crystals might also be capable of triggering a mega evolution, but these Plate crystals were different. They came from a much stronger source than Necrozma.

    Connor crossed his arms. "Well, go on then. Show me this 'new technique'." He was clearly skeptical that Alex had created anything truly new. Finding undiscovered Mega Forms was one thing, but new Pokémon Moves were an entirely different trick.

    Alex chuckled, and responded by summoning Terra over to them, and after mega evolving, the giant grass turtle used the crystal's power to combine grass and ground energy into a single, balanced ball, turning his Energy Ball into a dual-typed attack.

    Connor just stared. "That can't be legal…"

    Alex shrugged. "Clay did something similar against us." He smirked, lifting his hat slightly. "After that, I found out that anyone participating in the League's new challenge is allowed to use whatever Moves they wish, in whatever manner they please, as long as they stick to four per Battle. Technically speaking, what I just showed you is classed in the same strength bracket as a Z-Move. Something the Alolan Trainers do. Mine just don't seem to require interpretive dance to use."

    Connor's frown deepened. "Those moves require motion to unlock them…so how are you bypassing that?"

    Alex smirked. "It's not about motion, for mine. It's about balancing energy, and combining Moves that work well together. The Professor gave me some insight about this League Challenge back when I was learning. He said that it was unlikely that it would ever start up again, but wanted me to know what his master had taught to him anyway. I combined that with the dense energy technique, the one you use too, and that's the Move. I asked Clay about it, and he said anything goes in this League Challenge. Only the strongest Trainers have a chance of beating it."

    Connor recalled his Greninja, and left for the Pokémon Center, still not accepting that in such a short time, his rival had gotten so far ahead. Then he recalled the plan, and rightly surmised that since getting his full team together, Alex had begun battling as many people as possible, and trained by himself constantly.

    Since returning from the mountain, Jess had joined him in said training, and her team had gotten stronger as well. She left Alex atop the hillside that overlooked the town to train, and went to prove it to her brother. They were long overdue for a match, and she needed to practice using these new dual typed moves as well.

    The next morning, as they were leaving Mistralton, and getting ready for another day of hard Trainer battles, Connor joined them again. "I owe you two an apology. I've been acting strange since I got back."

    He looked at Alex. "I forgot a long time ago, about our promise to travel together…but you're right, we're rivals second and friends first. Teach me what you know. Both of you. Help me catch up." Evidently, Jess had finally, and literally, beaten some sense into her brother.

    Alex accepted his request for help immediately, as did his sister, and in the first battle they came across, Alex used Hydrus, and mega evolved him for the first time. Awed by how strong his combined water and ground type Water Pulse was, Connor asked again how legal this could be.

    This time, Alex's opponent explained. She was partaking in the new League challenge as well, it turned out, and ever since the battle against Lizardon had gone viral on the PokéNet, Trainers with such crystals had been using them as Alex had, with varying degrees of success, the world over. The trend was catching on, Professors were scrambling to record all the new Mega Forms being discovered, and as the Plate crystals grew more popular, it seemed they would be even rarer.

    As Connor continued to watch Hydrus, who stayed mega evolved for most of that morning, he noticed something about their dual type attacks. Other Trainers used them as well, but they looked different from Alex's. That was when Alex decided to stop for lunch, and explain what he and Jess had discovered about those kinds of attacks.

    Only Pokémon of a dual typing could do them without a partner, and when in a double battle alongside another Pokémon of similar strength, a Pokémon with only one type, like Luxray, could combine attacks as well.

    With these new attacks, Alex was usually unstoppable. That was largely because his Pokémon had each learned a Move that formed their energy into a sphere. Each of them had learned how to condense it into something more powerful, with Terra's instruction.

    In Terra his Energy Ball had gotten stronger with the ground type, and now in Hydrus, his Water Pulse had as well. Blaze had been practicing forming his Flamethrower into a condensed sphere, but without a flying type move that could form a sphere, it remained a single typed attack. As far as Alex knew, only a move like Aeroblast would suffice, but they didn't have a Lugia around to teach that to Blaze.

    Leo also remained without a dual-type move, though with his strength and speed powering his Thunder Fang, he didn't seem to need one. He'd considered combining Leo and Blaze as fire and lightning, but balancing two spherical moves from two Pokémon was beyond them. For now.

    Arthur was a walking symbol of his typing balance, even if he didn't know Psycho Cut yet, and Shruikan wouldn't be one until he evolved. His Dragon Pulse remained as strong as ever though. Arthur had focused on trying to make his Shadow Ball a physical move by condensing it, but ghost energy was hard for him to control.

    His orb was smaller than the others, but seemed to do more damage than an ordinary Shadow Ball, at least. It left him wide open for a counter attack though, as Delphi, Jess' Braixen, repeatedly showed him.

    "You know," Alex said after pausing to eat lunch, "Nobody ever examined Greninja's new form for a change in type. Judging by those shuriken, I'd say he was part ice."

    Connor raised a brow at him, "Oh, and your Torterra was examined?"

    Alex nodded. "The Professor examined both him and Hydrus, and both remained part ground upon Mega Evolving."

    Connor looked at his Pokémon, then shrugged. "I would think the dark typing would make more sense."

    Alex smirked. "So try teaching him Dark Pulse, and find out."

    Connor glanced at his starter. "Gren, Dark Pulse." The Greninja sighed, and then formed a ball of dark energy in his palm. He continued to eat with his free hand.

    Alex chuckled. "Weak. Very weak. You need his full focus for combining the types, he's still mastering this Move." Hearing him, Gren's eyes narrowed, and the ball of swirling energy tightened, forming into one similar to his Water Pulse.

    "I think he's saying he knows how to do that." Connor said, mockingly.

    Alex's smirk widened. "Alright, now combine Dark Pulse and Water Pulse in one single attack." Gren stared at him for a long moment, then looked away. "That's what I thought." Alex said, still smirking.

    Connor sighed, "His ice shuriken are just…a trick he knows. They're not a dual-type move."

    Alex nodded. "They're an ice type move. Meaning he used ice type energy to turn the water into ice. If he balanced that energy with water, then they'd be even stronger. Perhaps make the edges ice, and the inner bits water?" Alex looked at his sleeping starter. "Terra. Show him how it's done."

    The large turtle rose with a yawn, and then began stomping away beside Gren, to find a spot that could handle the destruction this training would cause. Connor was busy examining his Pokédex, and then made an 'aha' sound as he displayed the page on the only known Greninja capable of mega evolving. It was only slightly different to how Gren appeared in that form, and the largest difference was evidently based on the Greninja Trainer's hair color.

    Alex shrugged. "Maybe you're right. In either case, combining darkness and water should be quite strong...if you can manage to do it."

    It was Connor's turn to smirk triumphantly now. "Watch me." He joined Terra and Gren, and had his Pokémon focus on Dark Pulse instead of his Ice Shuriken.

    They came to Icirrus later that day, around noon, exhausted from the constant battling on the previous route. They rested at the Pokémon Center then, and Alex left at dusk to challenge the local Gym, not wanting to wait until the next morning. He found Jess and Connor already outside Brycen's Gym, and another challenger was already battling his Beartic. To Alex's eye, it was the same Beartic that had starred in Brycen's smash hit martial arts movies, and he felt Blaze's ball shake with anticipation. He too had watched the movie marathon, acting as one half of a heated 'pillow' for the humans, and time had only made the ferocious ice type that much stronger.

    "Icicle Crash!" Came what looked to be Brycen's final Move, and it slammed into the Trainer's Serperior, knocking it out with a single hit.

    "The Challenger from Aspertia is out of usable Pokémon! Sifu Brycen is the victor!" The crowd around Icirrus cheered, and Alex turned to Jess, who seemed to have just noticed him, as Brycen was inundated with fresh challenges from eager Trainers who had managed to crush every Gym Leader up to Skyla, but found Brycen to be an indomitable ice wall. The aged movie actor had a cane to get around these days, but the fire in his eyes was as intense as it had been in Enter the Beartic.

    "Brycen has been using only his Beartic for his Battles." Jess said. "Nobody has been able to beat him so far. Alex watched as the Gym Leader healed up his partner with an Elixir and Potion combo.

    When he was done, the old ice typed master turned to the crowd. "For those just arriving, I will repeat the rules! I have one Elite Freeze Badge left, from the last time this challenge was around. Once it is won, I will retire. All further Battles will be against my son, who will be taking over as Gym Leader." The ice typed Pokémon Master then tossed his cane, and dropped into some kind of martial arts stance. "Who among you has the power to take me on!?"

    Alex and Connor stepped forward immediately, as did several other Trainers, but it was Connor who Brycen selected. "We will have a one on one Battle. Your name, Challenger?"

    Connor raised Gren's ball as he answered the oldest Unovan Gym Leader still in action. "Connor Gladstone, of Derrion Town."

    Brycen let out a near-invisible flurry of punches, that ended with a swift roundhouse kick-twirl, and his Beartic's ball being sent soaring onto the field. "Well Connor...I hope you choose wisely. My Beartic is more than ready for fire types!"

    Connor smirked, and summoned Gren to the field. The two Pokémon locked eyes, and Connor moved first. "Double Team. Then close in for Brick Break!"

    Brycen nodded, as if he expected this. "Beartic...Play Rough with them."

    The polar bear roared, and its fists began glowing with a sparkling pink energy, swinging through the various clones of Gren as they came close, and missed their strikes. Brycen mirrored his Beartic's movements, and the two were in perfect synch as they diverted the real Gren's Brick Break with a simple paw movement, before the Beartic hammered the lithe Pokémon through his guard in response, with a super effective Move of his own.

    Connor countered, wincing as Gren was sent skidding backwards on the temporary Pokémon Battlefield. Another one of those, from Brycen, and Gren would either faint, or be close to uncoscniousness. "Rock Tomb!" Gren made a sign with his fins, and four boulders came crashing down on the Beartic, but Brycen was just as quick to counter.

    "A taste of their own medicine, then. Brick Break!" With a flurry of movement, the Beartic smashed each of the boulders, and seemed unfazed by the damage it had taken. "Now close in with Aqua Jet, then use Superpower!"

    "Gren, use Mat Block!" Water surrounded the Beartic as it charged forward, and Gren redirected the Aqua Jet with his Mat Block. Once the energy faded from the frog ninja however, the Beartic began radiating an intense aura of fighting energy.

    With a roar, it brought both paws down on Gren, and the watery ninja frog fainted. Connor stared at his ball for a long time, recalled Gren, and then left, heading straight out of town. Alex was the first one up next to take the Trainer box. "Well now, someone is eager. A moment, while we recuperate. And what is your name, Challenger?"

    "Alex Redwood. Also of Derrion Town." He said, as he readied Blaze's ball. He could feel the heat his Charizard was giving off already, and he was glad that this Battle would be a one on one. Blaze didn't really need warm-up Trainers at his level, all he wanted, was a challenge. He recognized a fierce warrior in Brycen's Beartic, and was eager to conquer him.

    "Another from northern Unova. Interesting. More and more Trainers keep coming down, and with such strong Pokémon…" Brycen grinned, as he nodded towards the ball in Alex's hand. "I can feel the heat from here...why don't you let your fire type out, before its ball breaks?"

    Alex smirked. "Blaze." He spoke, and tossed the ball. His Charizard appeared in a flash of red light, and as he stared across the way at the rejuvenating Beartic, who was nomming a Sitrus Berry or three, his tail flames turned blue. That shift in color drew the ice bear's attention, and their eyes locked. Brycen glanced at his partner, and chuckled.

    "Seems your Charizard has caught the eye of my Beartic...interesting. Perhaps this will be our final Battle. We are ready to begin, if you are." Brycen said, bowing in unison with his Pokémon as it once more took the field. It was a standard battlefield, icy of course, but a temporary affair, set up in the middle of Icirrus Town. Both Brycen and Beartic bowed, and then fell into a fighting crouch, gesturing for the fire lizard to come for them.

    Alex and Blaze shared a look, and nodded simultaneously. The Charizard glowed red, as he ascended to his Mega Form. "Stay in the air...then Heat Wave!"

    Brycen stayed calm and focused, as the temperature in his normally chilly town rose rapidly under the combination of Drought and Blaze's strongest Move. "Beartic...keep it cool with Icicle Crash!" The polar bear roared, and icy slabs of frost surrounded him like a shield, keeping the ice type from the worst of Blaze's heat.

    Alex smirked. "Bathe the field. Flamethrower!"

    From his aerial position, Blaze flew over the field thrice, torching it with flames hot enough to turn rock into slag. Brycen quickly realized his ice type would be burned if he stayed on the field too long, and shifted strategies. "Take to the air as well! Aqua Jet!" Water surrounded the Beartic, and it rocketed into the sky, higher than Hydrus had ever been able to lift his bulk. Alex made a circle motion with his finger, and Blaze stayed away from the water shrouded ice bear, circling it in the air. "Now, Rock Slide!"

    The water faded from the Beartic, and was replaced by shards of empowered rock appearing from seemingly nowhere, before hurtling towards Blaze. Alex, like Brycen, stayed just as cool, but his hat did get turned backwards as the Battle began in earnest. "Dodge in close! Then Seismic Toss!"

    Blaze maneuvered expertly through the rock shards, and then grabbed the Beartic. With an impressive aerial flair, he circled, and with his momentum brought the heavy ice type up and around, before he sent the Beartic hurtling towards the ground. The entire stage rumbled as Beartic landed from the super effective Move, and got up slowly. It shook its head, and then growled.

    "Rock Tomb!" Brycen said, as he solidified his fourth Move for the Battle. Instead of going for Blaze, the rocks encased Beartic this time, providing a shield from any more flames. "Now, from your bunker, fill the air with Rock Slide!"

    "Dodge, Blaze." Alex ordered, and the Mega Charizard used his speed to stay ahead of the rapidly fired stones. He smirked down at the Beartic, and roared, which caused the Beartic to snarl in response.

    "Wait, Beartic! Don't get-" But Brycen's words were too late, as the angered ice bear hurled one of the Rock Tomb boulders at Blaze, who dodged it so easily with his Mega Form's speed, he did an unnecessary loop around it, before coming down, rapidly, towards the Beartic.

    "Finish it off, Blaze! Blast Burn!"

    The Mega Charizard landed, punching the field hard, and a horizontal arc of fire burned towards, and through, Beartic's hiding spot. The Rock Tomb became molten lava, and the ferocity of the ultimate fire move ended both Beartic's and Brycen's careers as Pokémon Battlers in a spectacular eruption of flame.

    "And so the wheel turns." Brycen said, as he recalled his Beartic. "The next generation burns to the top with all the fury of a phoenix...but be careful, Trainer. Never forget who brought you this far. Concentrate too much on your goal, and you will miss out on the glory that awaits a Champion."

    Alex bowed in the Unovan style, clenched fist to open palm, and he felt proud as Blaze mimicked him, as his Mega Form faded away. "We will take your words and your lesson with us, Brycen. All the way to the top."

    Brycen smirked, and then threw something shiny towards Alex. When it became clear the throw was less than perfect, Blaze flapped into the air, caught it, and then handed it to his Trainer. Alex nodded, as he examined the Elite Freeze Badge, and the last of its kind, according to its former owner. Evidently the new Leader's badge would look different.

    Jess had left after the epic final showdown with Brycen, staying just long enough to watch the Icirrus Gym Leader pass the mantle to his son, before walking off into the sunset beside his Beartic on what was likely their last journey. She unintentionally followed Brycen for a while, but lost him as he headed north onto a snowy mountain just north of Icirrus.

    While tromping around on the base, she found a lost female Snorunt, and after convincing her to come along, named her Lassi, gave her several TM related lessons, and then evolved her into a Froslass with her remaining Dawn Stone. She got the finest Exp. Share money could buy, as Jess would require her skills for the Opelucid Gym. They would have to train hard, to even stand a chance against a Leader like the Dragon Tamer.

    The route between Icirrus and Opelucid provided much in the way of experience. Even the wild Pokémon were strong, and by the time they arrived in the city, the trio's respective partners were all ready to challenge the Dragon Master, Iris.

    Several Hours Later - Opelucid City

    Opelucid City at sunset was an awe inspiring blend of hydroponics alongside modern and ancient styles of housing. The older buildings tended to be white and carved of stone, while the newer ones were more modern, and typically black, or a dark gray made from modern materials.

    The Gym stood over the city, like a twin headed draconic guardian. The dragon's heads were identical, one black, one white, and they depicted the Original Dragon, or so the locals of the city said. The interior had even been remodeled to incorporate two more dragons, and the Dragon Tamers dueled atop their moving limbs, as they trained under the current Gym Leader, and former Champion, Iris.

    Shruikan made effective use of Double Edge and Dragon Claw on the narrow limbs of the white and black statues. Iris' Dragon Tamers all paused, as Alex and his rapidly rolling Shelgon took down the first Dragon Tamer, and then his counterpart, solely for the experience. A Potion and an Elixir, and the pair were ready for the next level, and once more, they rolled through the Dragon Tamers, ignoring their mastery and strategy with nothing but pure ferocity. Iris smirked, as she watched from above. "This Trainer is…"

    Before long, he was at the head of the dragon, and the forehead of his white dragon statue slammed into her black one with all the force of a true challenge. Every single Tamer in the Gym had underestimated the unassuming Shelgon, and had fallen to his merciless onslaught. When Shruikan had been on his back legs, Hydrus had stepped in for a few rounds, and made good use of his Ice Beam. As a Mega Swampert, not even dragon types could withstand him.

    The warm-up Trainers never saw what else lay within his belt, and Blaze was thoroughly disappointed that none of them had a Dragonite. Or a Flygon. He smoldered from within his ball, and his opinion of the Gym lowered, as the only one with genuine flight-capable dragons was the Gym Leader herself, who started off strong with a Hydreigon. When Alex had asked for her strongest team, the Gym Leader that kept the unworthy from Victory Road had retrieved only four balls.

    She called the first Move, and seemed eager to Battle. "Hydreigon! Use Dragon Pulse!"

    "Show them a real Dragon Pulse, Shruikan." Alex said, smirking from under his hat's brim.

    Shruikan's dense sphere of deep blurple energy rolled through the wide area of the Hydreigon's attack with ease, and hammered it in the chest. Unlike Skyla's Pokémon, Iris' were strong enough to take several hits, and Shruikan's only seemed to make the Hydreigon angrier. Iris' partner had a much higher stat total, but given what Shelgon's was, Alex was confident they could pull out a win.

    "Use Hyper Voice!" Iris ordered.

    Alex countered with, "Into your shell! Then roll in close and Brick Break!"

    All three heads of the Hydreigon roared, and the entire Gym shook in response. The air seemed to crack with thunder, but only Shruikan remained unaffected by the noise, as he sheltered from it. Once the damaging reverberations stopped, he shifted into a forward roll, and as he built speed, his shell began to glow an intense brownish orange.

    The Shelgon bounced himself once, and then sent himself straight into the Hydreigon's jaw, belonging to the main head. "Now Dragon Claw, Shruikan!" Alex said, and the Move finished the round, as Shruikan rolled back to his side of the field.

    "A Shelgon is an interesting choice...but there's something about yours that's...special." Iris said, with a tilt of her head.

    Alex shrugged. "Actually, he's one of my most average...compared to the rest of his species. He's not the biggest, but he's definitely the most determined to evolve. I've seen him run down his energy many times, and he still hasn't evolved. You might be right, but I don't think I'll know for sure until the time comes for him to reach the final stage."

    "Let's see if we can push him over the edge, then. Salamence! It's your turn!" Iris tossed her second ball, and the male dragon type snorted, as he saw his opponent was still a Shelgon. "Use Dragonbreath!"

    "Dragon Pulse, Shruikan." Alex replied.

    Blue flames engulfed the Shelgon, or they appeared to, at first. "Now fire!" Alex said, smirking. Iris was about to chide him, and say his Shelgon was likely down already, but then her Salamence's flames rippled, and parted, and that strange sphere-like version of their Dragon Pulse burned through the weaker attack.

    Salamence poured even more flames against it, and it eventually spun out of energy, just before Salamence ran out of breath. The Dragon Pulse had kept the Shelgon from the worst of the dragonfire.

    "Shruikan! Dragon Dance, get some air, and then use Rollout!" The armored ball of dragon growled an affirmation, before curling into his shell, and becoming rollable. He rolled himself in an infinity pattern, glowing as he grew stronger, and when he faced his head towards the floor, he used Dragonbreath of his own to propel him upwards. He activated the next Move his Trainer had called, bringing him down on the taller dragon type's head with the type weakness he would one day also be vulnerable to. "Keep on rolling! Dodge whatever they try next!"

    Iris' mouth was a thin line. "Dodge this. Imperial Rage!" Her slightly damaged Salamence was in the air in moments, and from his angle, he bathed the field in far more intense dragonfire. Iris watched the Shelgon eagerly, hoping the heat would be enough to finish it, or evolve it.

    Today was not Shruikan's time, and as he kept himself covered in building rock typed energy, he used it as a shield against the dragonfire. It hurt with about normal effectiveness, which for this improved version of Outrage, was a lot, but Shruikan was tanky enough to take the hit. Another would end him.

    "Into the air again! Before the next wave! Rollout!"

    Shruikan burned into the air towards the Salamence, who smirked at the ground bound Shelgon, knowing well from experience just how high one of them could get with a Dragonbreath boost. What he didn't expect, was Shruikan's flames to be hotter than his Dragonbreath had ever been, as a Shelgon. The Salamence's eyes went wide, as the rolling ball of rock energy hammered him out of the sky, and rolled him all the way to the 'floor' that was the two foreheads of the dragon statues.

    From above, atop a carved Haxorus head, one of the other Dragon Tamers shouted, "Master Iris' Salamence is unable to battle. The round goes to the Challenger!"

    Iris' face was unreadable, and the woman still in the prime of her life, if a bit more wrinkled, watched as yet another Unovan steamrolled past her. She recalled her Salamence, and then threw her third ball. "Dragonite! Put this Shelgon in its place."

    Alex smirked, as with a roar, and a flash of red, a very impatient Charizard took the field. The Dragonite's resting rage face solidified as he locked eyes with the fire lizard, and remembered a different Battle, cut far too short. The chance for another match like that was more than enough to motivate him. Blaze nodded at the Shelgon, who turned to his Trainer. Alex recalled him, and shrugged at Iris. "He refused to battle any of the other dragons here...maybe he was waiting for one who could fly." Blaze snorted blue flames in approval, but his eyes were still locked on the Dragonite's. He'd been wondering if the battle with the Beartic had made him improve, and this Dragonite was the bar by which Pokémon in Unova were measured, before they even got close to the Victory League.

    The male specimen of the Dratini line narrowed his eyes at the fire lizard pretending to be superior to a dragon type, and looked back at his Trainer. He nodded once, and Iris looked at Alex. "Have him Mega Evolve. You'll need to, if you want to stand a chance."

    Alex raised the flame crystal, but nothing happened. Blaze gave him a backwards side-eye, and shook his head. The Dragonite snarled from across the field, and got into a battle crouch. Blaze smirked, and readied himself for an aerial duel against a dragon type worth fighting. "Looks like we're keeping things even."

    Iris shrugged. "You'll regret not taking the chance now. Thunder Punch!"

    "Dragon Pulse." Alex said, and Blaze gathered the power in his maw. It was different than Shruikan's, and Iris' eyes widened as she saw the condensing orb turn red with the ferocity of a Move fueled by a fresh rivalry. The difference between Shruikan's and a fully evolved special attacker like Blaze was shocking to experience.

    "Dragonite, hit the orb instead! Don't let it land!" The angry looking dragon side eyed his Trainer in the midst of a Battle, and by the time his eyes were back on Blaze, the sparking orb of dark crimson draconic energy was already within striking distance. The Dragonite heaved, and had to burn more power, as he slowly managed to shift the orb away from him.

    The Gym shuddered, as the Move dissipated into a wall, but the Battle continued. "Speed up with Dragon Rush, don't let it aim!" Iris' Dragonite growled an affirmative, and bluish purple energy surrounded it as it zipped around the still ground bound Charizard, whose eyes kept tracking it as it moved.

    Alex nodded. They could play the distance game. "Heat Wave!"

    Iris didn't look worried, as her Dragonite's untarnished scales and superior typing kept it from being harmed much. "When it's not looking, close in and Thunder Punch!"

    "Be patient, Blaze...Heat Wave!" The Charizard nodded, and stayed in his same readied position that he'd fired the Dragon Pulse from. As the air became even hotter, he stopped tracking the Dragonite, and waited for the attack to come. He'd expected it from behind, but his respect rose for this dragon type as it came from his front.

    Blaze was the member of their team who enjoyed Battle the most, and he lived for matches like the one he was currently in. Essentially, he was in his ideal zone, and as the Thunder Punching Dragonite moved the superheated air with his resistant bulk, Blaze felt where he was coming from, and with a much faster shift in movement, dodged the Move entirely.

    He leapt into the air and away from the electric attack, as the counter came, all in the space of a few moments. "Dragon Pulse!" This time, the sphere of super effective energy was not red, but it was still dense enough to boom as Blaze launched it, and as the Dragonite tried to catch it and hurl it away, the rotating sphere began to spin the dragon type, before it sent the oddly proportioned flyer hurtling into a lower part of one of the stone dragons.

    A few moments later, it zipped up to the battlefield again, bruised and battered, but still ready to fight. "Using the heated air to feel out our attack...that's clever. You're going to do well at the League...assuming you can survive the rest of my team."

    Alex gave her a deadpan look. "Oh, I came prepared for your Haxorus."

    Iris sighed, and tried to shrug nonchalantly, but Alex could tell he was touching a nerve. "This is the problem with being so famous. Everyone knows what you use, and can exploit your weaknesses." She met Alex's eyes then, looking far too confident for someone with one Pokémon left. "Maybe you'll show us one we haven't covered yet."

    "Blaze." Alex said, returning his focus to the round at hand. "Get ready to counter hard, with that new Move of yours." The Charizard grinned, and with a motion straight out of Enter the Beartic, he fell into a fighting crouch reminiscent of Brycen's style of kung fu.

    Iris blinked, as Ash's Charizard had never done anything like this, and Charizard Trainers weren't exactly common, in Unova. "Once more Dragonite! Dragon Rush around it!"

    "Heat Wave!" Without shifting from his position, Blaze intensified the air again, and the Opelucid Gym became truly hot within. Oddly enough, neither the aspiring Dragon Tamers, nor Alex, minded the heat. The stands from this Gym were well protected, and doubly reinforced, but the shift in temperature was gradually increasing even in the nosebleed seats.

    Iris smirked. "Let's end this, Dragonite! Whirlicane!" The dragon type ceased his movement behind the Charizard this time, and raised his arms. With a combination of Whirlpool and Hurricane, it sent a storm of wind and water hurtling upwards around the fire type. "Thanks for the shift temperature. Now the Whirlicane can get bigger!"

    Blaze remained still, as he resisted some aspects of the Move, and was damaged by others. Whirlpool was not the strongest water attack though, and he was expecting the Dragonite to attack through its own Move once he was blind to what it was doing outside the vortex.

    "Now, Dragonite!"

    "Get ready, Blaze." Alex said, still smirking. He couldn't see his Charizard at the moment, but he wasn't worried. The two Trainers shouted the same Move at the same time. "Thunder Punch!"

    Dragonite came barreling through the wall of wind and water, fist shining with electricity, as he went straight for the Charizard's stomach. Blaze took a page from Terra, and flared his wings just enough to ride the circular current of the wind, dodge the punch, and land his own. Electricity sparked up the Whirlicane, and Alex shouted a follow up attack, hoping his Charizard was still up. "Dragon Pulse!"

    Within the tornado of wind and water, the two Pokémon were locked claw to claw as they used Thunder Punch on both claws. As Alex called the Move, Blaze opened his maw, and once more a dense sphere of crackling red dragon energy formed. Iris wasn't done yet, though. "Dragonite! Once you have it, Dragon Rush up through the Whirlicane!"

    Blaze continued charging the Move, and the dense sphere of energy came close to the Dragonite's face, as it did as it was ordered. Blurple energy shrouded both Pokémon as they ascended up through the vortex. Iris' voice came again through the roar of wind. "Seismic Toss!"

    The Dragonite took the Move it had learned from the last Charizard he'd faced, and began trying to throw his current opponent. It was at the apex of their flight that Blaze was finally ready. "Finish it, Blaze." Alex said from below, and before the Dragonite could make the throw, there was an explosion.

    The Whirlicane's top blew away and the dual typed Move faded as the power of the Dragon Pulse blew both it, and the Dragonite who'd made it, away. The dense red orb rotated the Dragonite all the way to the floor of the battlefield, and though he fought it, trying to use Dragon Claw to toss it away, it spun him once again, and the impact left him smoldering. Blaze landed then, and roared, shaking the Gym with the force of it.

    No call for the round came though, and as Alex looked around expectantly, his gaze was drawn back to the Dragonite rising from the crater the energy sphere had made on impact. He roared back at Blaze, and then fell, fainted.

    "Master Iris' Dragonite is unable to Battle! The round goes to Charizard, and his Trainer!" Came the ref's voice, and Blaze's wings slumped, as he heard it. He was panting hard from that one, something he did not do too often these days. He gave his Trainer another side-eye, and then nodded. Alex nodded as well, and recalled his truly badass Charizard.

    Iris stared at him, as she did the same. "I hope you brought your best for my Haxorus...he won't go down easily."

    Alex pulled a green and brown ball from his belt this time, and Iris' brows furrowed. She'd noticed the color scheme this Trainer had with his Pokéballs, and this one signified a grass type, by her guess. "Your Haxorus is probably the strongest Pokémon out of all the Gym Leaders in Unova, and according to my research, your starter." He leveled Terra's ball at her. "I brought my starter as well. It won't be an easy Battle, you're right...but you will go down."

    He finally turned his hat backwards, as he tossed the ball. "Terra! You're up!" His earth turtle appeared in all his grassy glory, stomping the field as he took it. "I only really needed him for Marlon's Gym...he's had a bit of a vacation up until now...though if I'm honest he trained harder than most of my team all along the way. Try not to break the Gym, bud. These statues are pretty cool."

    "Terra." He replied, with a snort.

    "It's down you, Haxorus! Start us off with X-Scissor!" Iris said, as she threw the ball. Alex grimaced, as he'd hoped she wouldn't have anything for a grass and ground type, but alas, that proved not to be the case. The axe-headed dragon roared, and then charged Terra, as his face blades began glowing with bug typed energy.

    "Earthquake!" The Haxorus' eyes went wide as it heard the counter, and Terra rose up, before bringing his massive legs down on the field. The entire Gym rumbled, and while the armored Haxorus tried to dodge, Terra only let him think he'd dodged, before ground energy infused rocks rose up from both sides, and hammered him in the head, and the legs. The Haxorus spun in the air, and then fell, as he lost focus on his Move.

    By the time the axe headed dragon was up again, Terra had closed the distance. "Wood Hammer!"

    The Haxorus tried to strike again with X-Scissor, using its claws this time, but Terra shifted the stone beneath them, and made his bulky form dodge as he rotated in place, and brought his thick head around for the Move. The Haxorus was properly hammered, and sent flying back towards Iris, skipping across the field.

    "Woah...someone ate their vitamins as a Turtwig." Iris said, eyeing the grass turtle. She shifted her gaze to Haxorus then, who was damaged, but still ready to Battle. As he rose, she gave their next move. "We're not done, Haxorus! Dragon Dance!" The Haxorus made an infinity symbol pattern where it stood then, as its body twirled, spun, and then increased its power.

    "Start charging it up, Terra. One good hit will end this." Alex said, and his partner rumbled an affirmative, as he began weaving and condensing ground and grass energy into a sphere. Out of all of his Pokémon, Alex was aware that Terra had the best understanding of how to form such energy, and layer it so it did the most damage possible.

    Iris' eyes widened as she watched the symbol appear within their opponent's attack. A symbol of a long forgotten empire, and the Original Dragon, as well. "We're out of time, Haxorus! Rush it, and use X-Scissor!"

    Alex grimaced, as he knew his slow, and still charging earth turtle would be taking the hit. He also knew Terra's defense was more than tanky enough to weather at least one super effective hit. The empowered dragon charged them once more with a roar, swinging its axe head as it did.

    Terra's tail twitched, as he nonverbally showed his Trainer he was ready. "Wait for it…" Alex said, as the Haxorus closed. It leapt, and with a twirl, brought its head down towards Terra. "Now Terra!"

    Terra didn't need to be told twice as he launched the dense energy sphere and withstood the recoil like the earthy turtle cannon he was, when using this Move. As the bug infused blade of the Haxorus met the balanced sphere of grass and ground energy, there was a stalemate of power. Type advantage and blades capable of slicing steel struggled to overcome the sheer power and density of Terra's attack, but in the end, all it ended up doing was blowing up the dual typed sphere in Haxorus' face.

    The dragon was slow to rise, and Alex saw it had enough fight left for another Move, thus, he called one of their own. "Seed Bomb!" Oar shaped seeds flew from Terra's tree, and pounded the dragon back into the crater. He fell onto his back, tongue lolling as his eyes became poliswirls.

    Iris recalled her starter Pokémon, and then crossed the somewhat rumbled battlefield to her challenger. She handed him the elite version of the Legend Badge then. "That was...an interesting Battle. Perform like that at the Victory League, and you might even be a challenge for N."

    Alex thanked her, and departed, only for Jess to arrive next. She performed slightly worse against Iris than Alex had, with two faints on her own team. Chari had not been able to handle her Dragonite like Blaze had, but Empolia had humbled the dragon with a quadruply effective Ice Beam moments later. Her match actually went quicker, but the end result was the same as Alex's. The fiery redhead strolled out of the Gym with a win, and much needed experience for her teammates.

    That, only left Connor. Unlike Alex or his sister, he only used Gren and his Ice Shuriken for this Gym. Gren easily swept the warm-up Trainers, all of them, and then managed to dance and dodge Iris' Moves while whittling her dragons down with their ice Move.

    As she and Connor departed the Gym for the Pokémon Center, Iris saw the trio regroup down the block, and realized that all three of her latest victors were traveling together. In them, she saw a familiar sense of friendship that mirrored her own, back when she'd been younger. The northern Unovans kept a subtle eye on her, as she made a call in the Pokémon Center to what Connor said had appeared to be Marshal, the fighting typed specialist of the Elite Four, and former Champion Alder's strongest apprentice.

    The three didn't think too much of it at the time, but when Nurse Joy turned up the Pokémon Center's communal TV as a news broadcast aired with breaking information, their eyes widened. Alex recognized Haley, the blonde from PNN, as the one giving the report, and he was glad that, apparently, the formerly underutilized interns had gotten a promotion.

    "A new story breaking now, out of Opelucid City, home of Dragon Master Iris, longtime Gym Leader of the Opelucid Gym. We're told that, just moments ago, she gave an address to her Challengers and fellow Dragon Tamers in the Gym. We'll play that for you, now."

    The screen shifted, and they saw Iris in what looked like vacation wear for somewhere warm, addressing her Gym. "When Leader Drayden asked me to take over the Opelucid Gym, I didn't think I was ready. He asked me many times, before I accepted and I only did so after Haxorus and I climbed to the top, and became Champions. Today, I saw the rise of the next generation first hand...and it occurred to me that I don't want to spend my golden years constantly losing to hotshot Trainers who know what's on my team with a five second Poogle search. That's why I'm currently stepping down as the Opelucid Gym Leader. All challenges will be postponed until the Pokémon League can send someone qualified to stand in for me. I wish you all good luck with your training."

    The screen shifted back to PNN, and Alex kept watching, thoroughly hooked now, as apparently, there was more. "A shocking and upsetting retirement from one of Opelucid City's strongest Trainers. More in this hour, we have news from the Victory League as well, in a similar vein, as longtime Fighting Pokémon Master, Marshal, also announced his retirement from the Elite Four of Unova. His departure leaves Shauntal, prolific author and Ghost Type Pokémon Trainer as the new longest standing member of Unova's Elite Four. Our sources say he did pick a replacement, unlike Iris, but the new member of the Elite Four declined an interview."

    The camera shifted to John Crimson then, and Alex smirked, as he spied a bit of leftover steak, hanging about in the glorious moustache. "Sources close to Elite Four Marshal claim that he and Iris shared a call today, and reached this decision to retire early together. There have long been rumors around Alder's strongest student and the Dragon Master who once reigned as Champion, and it seems that today...the rumors have more fuel for the flames."

    Jess chuckled, and drew the boy's attention away from the screen. "I guess...we did that. Think they know which Trainers are responsible?"

    Alex shrugged. "It's PNN, so probably."

    They glanced back at the screen, as Iris returned to it. "Sources from Opelucid City say that lately, only a few Trainers have made it past Iris to reach Victory Road." Haley continued, "It seems that just an hour ago, the third Trainer in a row to sweep Iris' team today finished their Battle, and prompted the retirement. No word yet on who these Trainers are, but we will continue monitoring the story, for the potential rise of a new Champion from among these promising Challengers."

    Connor finished the last of his meal then, and grabbed his bag. "We should move. Now. Before the reporters find us, and swarm us. They can't get onto Victory Road without Badges, so we should be safe if we camp there. I don't need media distractions right before a League match."

    Alex and Jess shared a look, then nodded in agreement. They'd been eager to have a room to themselves, but Connor had a point. The Victory League was no longer a goal on the horizon, but the step right in front of them. In a few minutes, they were packed up, and on their way out of Opelucid City. They passed through the Badge Gate, and as it rose behind them, they turned towards the maze of caverns, hidden lakes, and mountainside cliffs that made up Unova's Victory Road.

    On Victory Road, Arthur got the most use, as Alex intended to try to sweep the Elite Four with his Gallade. He had grown strong enough to match Terra and Blaze, and him tanking each Elite Four member would leave his Ice Beam cannon and his armored ball of dragon fresh for Whichever of Unova's former Champions he ended up facing.

    As they traveled the sparsely populated mountain, Alex finally shared with Connor and Jess the theory behind his variation of a dual typed attack, and what Professor Redwood had known about it. It was as Alex was explaining the concept behind the balanced pattern of energy referred to in ancient times as a Taijitu Move, his voice ringing throughout their chosen cave in the mountain, that a figure appeared by their camp.

    He was getting on in years, but his hair was still a red mahogany color, streaked with gray. He wore a lab coat, under which he had a blue shirt, and between the edges of the coat, a crest could be seen hanging from a thin rope around his neck. It was the very symbol Alex had been describing.

    "So, you think you know about Taijitu Moves, hmm?" The man's voice was dripping with sarcastic wit. "What makes you think you kids are strong enough to handle Moves like that?" They held up their collection of badges within their badge cases, and the man scoffed.

    "Right. Badges. There were eight to get in Kanto. I earned ten." He shook his head. "I know you, Alex Redwood, and I know your granduncle. He hasn't told you everything about this Challenge, has he? Just enough to be dangerous. Of course."

    Alex eyed the stranger, who'd invited himself to their fire. He seemed familiar, but Alex couldn't place him in the dim light. "And who are you then, if you're smarter than my granduncle?"

    The man grinned. "I'm Professor Oak, one of the people who first discovered that combining Moves was even a thing Pokémon were capable of doing." He looked around, and then lowered his voice. "I'm going to educate you, as I can't erase the knowledge you already have. So pay attention, because none of you are supposed to know this yet."
     
    #10 Mar 2, 2019
    Last edited: Apr 27, 2022
  11. Sahqoreyth

    Arthur
    (Kirlia ♂)
    Level 21
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    Dawn Stone ★★★★
    Chapter 10: Unova, Part 2


    Victory Road - Unova Region

    Professor Oak had the three Trainers spellbound as he told them of his adventures as a Pokémon Master. He had caught so many Pokémon, and cataloged so many regions, he considered himself a Professor, like his grandfather had been. Like his grandfather, Gary Oak was considered a 'brilliant mind', compared to Professors like Redwood, who were rumored pedophiles.

    He went on and on about his superior child-free pedigree for a full minute before Alex's irritation boiler over, "So you know about Taijitu Moves too? Knowledge is power, but a demonstration is more effective in this instance."

    Gary Oak smirked at the challenge, and avoided the Trainer's gaze entirely, looking as smug as ever. "Right. You get the point, good job, Redwood. I was talking about this Challenge, and how you knew just enough about it to be dangerous. Courtesy of your relative."

    Alex rolled his eyes. After that tirade, he couldn't let the insults stand. "I wonder how much you truly know, if you're gullible enough to buy into baseless accusations on the word of a cult. Where's your evidence, Professor?"

    Alex waited, patiently, as Connor and Jess smirked. Both of them had seen Alex's skills from his granduncle's debating lessons first hand by that point, and this so-called 'Professor' was talking big enough that they were legitimately doubting his identity. Gilroy Redwood was no pedophile, and in actual fact, the idea of combining energy in an ultimate attack was brilliant.

    Professor Oak continued anyway. "This League Challenge is designed to test your potential as a Trainer. N knows what he's looking for. Usually, Trainers need to beat five or six regions before they start messing with dual-typed Moves, because that experience is usually required for their proper use. You're from Unova though, a region where Trainers start when they're older. I saw you in Castelia against Ghetsis, and at each of your Gym Battles since. I've watched all three of you. You're all worthy candidates."

    The three Trainers shared looks as this famous Professor told them how great they were. They focused again as he mentioned the League Challenge, and their Gym Battles. Alex raised a brow expectantly.

    The Professor continued. "Young Redwood, you'll find your next step after beating the Victory Plateau. It's the hardest League in the world, and a Champion from there is considered to be at a level all their own. If you beat N's Challenge, you will be worthy of asking him about what lies in the Foggy Swamp, south of Transylveticut. You will need to go there, next, if you succeed here."

    The Professor turned to the siblings then. "Connor, your destiny remains in Kalos. Practice what Alex has shown you, until he completes the challenge here. Then return to Kalos and prove yourself. You'll be worthy of your own special training by that point, I've seen your moves. Have Alain tell you about the Psychic Sages, if you manage to beat him next time."

    He turned to their redhead then, "Jessica Gladstone...you have another year of learning ahead of you. You'll find your path as well, but the boys will likely beat you there. Once the summer ends, you need to focus on honing what you have learned, and by the time you graduate, you'll be ready to join them."

    The siblings thought on what the Professor had said, and they both replied, "Alright. But we're staying and challenging the League after Alex." "We didn't work for these badges for nothing."

    Professor Oak shrugged. "That's your choice. A win at the Victory League on your Trainer Card is nothing to sneeze at...but there can be only one Champion, and Redwood is the best suited among you to go first. If he fails...then Jessica, you should try. If you manage to become Champion instead, I'd bet you could probably skip your final year, if being Champion appeals to you." Jess made a face as she pondered silently, and Connor was expressionless.

    Alex pondered the hill before him that he was being told to climb. After talking with several Trainers on Victory Road, he knew exactly how the Victory League was structured for this particular test, and he was planning on relying heavily on Arthur and Shruikan to counter the ghost, dragon, psychic, and fighting types the Elite Four would use. Once he made it through them, he needed to face down one of the four former Unovan Champions, who would be using one of the Legendary Dragons. If he could win, he would take the defeated dragon, hopefully after a short rest, to face N, the reigning Champion, who would be using the opposite dragon to the one he would ally with.

    If one could beat N while wielding Reshiram or Zekrom, the League would recognize them as worthy of the Champion title. Hundreds of Trainers had already tried by now, and all had been soundly defeated, unable to control the power of Reshiram's truths or Zekrom's ideals against N, who had mastered both.

    Alex had an idea of what he needed to do to beat N, but Gary Oak didn't need to know that. So he played along with feigned ignorance.

    Seeing the disbelief in the 'leader' of this little trio, Gary grinned. "Let me see your Pokémon, if you don't mind. All of them."

    They appeared simultaneously, as each of them had been watching the scene from within their balls. The Oak name was a legend to Pokémon, as all who listened to Celebi's stories knew of his grandfather, Samuel Oak and the Trainer who joined him from the future to save the time traveling Forest Guardian's life.

    The Professor eyed each of them, from Alex's Torterra to Connor's Garchomp. He nodded then, finding only a few who had yet to become Alphas of their species. "As I suspected. All three of you are indeed capable of becoming candidates for the trials of the Psychic Sages who will oversee the next stage of your training, when and if you become Champions. Under them, you'll find real power, and a path to becoming a Tamer of Legendary Pokémon. If you have what it takes. Follow what I've shared with you, and you won't regret it."

    The aging man got up and left, then, and the journey through Victory Road continued. Arthur saw the most use, and had by this point become as physically strong as Terra or the others, but still had a weakness in being limited to using Psychic or Zen Headbutt, which lacked the versatility of Psycho Cut. Once they arrived at the Victory Plateau's building, Alex went in first through the gates. The three had agreed to heed the Professor's words, even if he'd come off at first as a bit of a Mudbray.

    As the doors closed behind him with finality, and he took stock of his dwindling supply of items, he turned his eyes to the four paths of Unova's Elite Four. One eyebrow slowly rose, as he saw Pokémon type symbols above each one. Ghost, dragon, psychic, and fighting. The path to the fighting types was closed by thick metal bars, however, and Alex's eyes narrowed, as he had expected a free choice, in Unova of all regions. No place claimed to value the rights of the people more, but he supposed it was part of the challenge, or something. He'd wanted to take them first, as Arthur would be at his peak.

    He headed for Shauntal's pathway first. He ignored the spoopy ghost vibes from the spirits trying to levitate his larger frame. He ascended the spiral staircase on his own power, passing right through them, as he suppressed a shudder. He came upon the Ghost Type Pokémon Expert, as she seemed to be reading from a scroll on the desk in her room. It was emanating a silvery light, and Shauntal was limned in it. "Clad in the bones of dragons, he brings change wherever he goes…" Shauntal turned then, as one of the ghostlights, a Chandelure, manifested beside her, and whispered something. "Interesting. It's been a while since someone picked me first. Welcome, Challenger. I've been keeping an eye on your story, ever since John Crimson mentioned you were rising like a Draco Meteor. I'm genuinely looking forward to this."

    Alex smiled, for once, the sardonic smirk exchanged for a far more pleasing expression. "Shauntal of the Elite Four...your books are awesome. All of them. N's. All the Champions, really."

    "Really!? You think so? Some people don't care for Rosa's…" Shauntal replied as she fought down the flush in her cheeks.

    Alex shrugged. "Some idiots on the PokéNet don't care for strong female characters, but from what I've read of the situation, Hugh and Nate would've been up a creek without Rosa's timely arrival on the Plasma Frigate. One could easily argue she played a vital role in saving Unova."

    Shauntal sighed, with what seemed like relief. It was rare that she got challengers who were humans with culture. This one's eyes were on fire, and she wondered if it would be enough to relight N's. "Finally. Someone who does their due diligence. Welcome to the Elite Four, Challenger Redwood. Let's begin, shall we?"

    Alex threw Arthur's ball, and his Gallade appeared in a flash of light. He was the picture of calm, with the kind of focus only fighting and psychic types could usually achieve. Dark typed energy burned up his arms, and formed into dark blades, as he readied his Night Slash, and smirked. "We're going to need Night Slash the most, Arthur...so plan accordingly."

    "Gallade." He answered, dropping into his fighting crouch.

    Shauntal gulped, and suddenly regretted not bringing Disable. She went for type advantage, and shouted, "Drifblim! It's time for a new chapter...Acrobatics!"

    Arthur was already moving. At his level, and with his speed, he was a blur compared to the ghostly blimp. He vanished from the Drifblim's sight, and reappeared moments later behind the floating ghost balloon, then he struck it twice. The tanky health of Drifblim kept it going, but Shauntal had a visceral reaction as she saw how much damage her friend had taken. That didn't stop him from using Acrobatics again, as he drifted after the Gallade.

    "Save your energy, Arthur. Aerial Ace, stay defensive. Then counter."

    The Gallades blades faded, as the dark energy did, and his arms became imbued with flying typed energy. He only aimed to hit the Drifblim's similarly empowered limbs, and the two Pokémon danced around the room as lightning flashed in the window behind Shauntal.

    "Drifblim! Use Shadow Ball!"

    "Now, Arthur!"

    As the Drifblim charged the Shadow Ball, the Gallade bamfed in behind it with his far superior speed once more, and struck twice with Night Slash. With a wheeze, the Drifblim's eyes became Poli patterned, and Shauntal recalled her partner, before bringing out her next Pokémon. Since being qualified as a referee was part of the prerequisites for an Elite Four member, they didn't need referees in the Elite Four's chambers.

    "You're next, Golurk!" Shauntal shouted as she flung the ball. "Use Shadow Punch!" The ground and ghost type dropped into a crouch, and once more, dark energy swords formed up the Gallade's arms, like it would if he could form them into swords. Alex had hoped that this much use, at an Elite Four level, would help his Gallade figure out that ability. It would lead them to Psycho Cut.

    The two circled each other slowly, and Alex noted that this seemed to be the most intelligent Golurk they'd yet faced. Most of them were thick in the head, but this one seemed more alert, and aware that this very strong physical attacker was readying a super effective move. Other ghost golems had charged right into their demise after being given a punch move to execute, but this one was waiting for an opening.

    "Arthur...don't give away which direction you're going...and watch the counter to the strike. This one is...smarter." Alex spoke, his Gallade nodded, and Shauntal smirked. Not many Trainers noticed the difference between her Golurk, and others, but then, not many remained who understood Golurk at all.

    Arthur moved, suddenly, vanishing from sight, and the Golurk spun its head around as it tried tracking the Gallade. It managed to do so, and its body whirled in place, bringing around the ghost golem's Iron Fist straight into Arthur. The ghost energy made him shiver, as he skidded back towards his Trainer, still ready to fight, but heavily damaged.

    Alex mumbled his next order to his partner, and the Gallade smirked again. Moments later, he vanished, but Shauntal wasn't worried. "Shadow Punch again, Golurk! Nobody sneaks up on you!"

    Once more the golem's head spun rapidly as it searched out the Gallade, but this time, it found nothing, and began whirring in heightened anticipation, even worry, as it failed to find the attacking target. It was a smart Golurk, but it was still a Golurk. It hadn't thought to look upwards. Arthur placed his arms together above the ghost golem, and formed them into a single Night Slash. He spun as he came down fast, and hammered the tanky ghost.

    He flipped away from where he landed, arms crossed, and turned with an elegant half turn back towards the Elite Four member, and her Pokémon. "Golurk! Use Shad-" She stopped halfway through the command, as she realized her partner was fainted. It fell over then, and she recalled it, eyes wide. "Only Champion N ever took it out in a single hit before...and that was with Zekrom...who are you, exactly?"

    Alex applied a Max Potion, as the Battle hit a lull, and Shauntal retrieved her next ball. "Alex Redwood. The next Champion."

    Shauntal's Cofagrigus and Froslass met similar fates to Arthur's Night Slash, and suddenly, she was down to two, and her challenger hadn't even called out another Pokémon. She planned to change that, or at the very least, weaken the Gallade enough for her Chandelure to handle. She refused to be swept again. "Gengar! Use Shadow Ball!"

    Her second strongest partner appeared, and started launching sparking Shadow Balls at the Gallade with superior speed. Then, Shauntal placed something on the end of her pen, and raised it. Ghost type energy shot into the Gengar, and it ascended to the next stage thanks to a Plate shard, from a Dread Plate. Despite this, and with the same persistently cool-under-fire demeanor that reminded her of Nate, and how easily his Lucario had swept her, her latest challenger seemed unfazed.

    "Double Team, and Night Slash." Arthur did as ordered, and soon, the hectic room of floating papers, books, ghost lights, and Shadow Balls became inundated with Gallades. Shauntal's Mega Gengar fired off Shadow Ball after Shadow Ball, but soon, it began to tire. That was when the Gallades who remained, shifted from dodging, to striking. The Night Slash was almost enough to end the Gengar, but as it was in its Mega Form, it weathered the hit.

    Shauntal changed tactics, as she saw how damaged her partner was. Once again, this Gallade proved to be at a higher level. "Hypnosis!" Shauntal ordered, and with surprising accuracy, Gengar hammered the Gallade with his psychic eye beams. Arthur's eyes closed, but he continued smirking, even as they closed. "Now use Dream Eater!" The Gengar closed its own eyes, and an opaque version of itself charged quickly for the Gallade.

    Alex grimaced, and shouted, "Dodge, Arthur!"

    As the spirit Gengar's mouth opened wide for a large bite, the Gallade leapt back at the last moment, frowning as he slept, and the Gengar's teeth came down on nothing but air. It winced, as that seemed to hurt it, and it tried Dream Eater again, only for the graceful Gallade to keep dodging.

    Then, suddenly, he was awake, and Alex gave the order. "Now Night Slash!" The Gallade dropped low, swirled in place, and severed the tether between Gengar's Dream Eater, and its body. The spirit rushed back into the ghost Pokémon, and it panted, looking furious as the smirking Gallade readied another Night Slash.

    "Once more, Gengar! Hypnosis!" Shauntal ordered, and her Pokémon obeyed, as the angry eyes focused on the Gallade. Arthur was ready this time however, and he backflipped over both circular beams, before landing, and charging in hard for another Night Slash. "Don't let it hit! Shadow Punch!"

    The Gallade leapt, and struck, at the same time as the Gengar, and the two landed harder than they meant to after they crossed in the air. The Shadow Punch had burned up Arthur's left arm, but his right had been the blow that ended the round. He rose, as he heard the Gengar's gasp, but not its fall. He leapt back to Alex then, and fell into a fighting crouch.

    Shauntal recalled her partner then, and sighed. "I had hoped Gengar would weaken it more...come Chandelure! Let us write the final chapter in this intense Battle!" The ghost type in question was much, much stronger than the rest of the team, bigger, higher leveled, and Alex guessed that it had fed well on its Trainer's life energy. He also assumed Shauntal knew the price of being a Litwick line Trainer.

    Alex took the initiative this time. "Start us off with Shadow Ball, Arthur!" The Gallade nodded, and began forming and condensing the ghost energy between his hands. It was smaller as it got denser, but still just as damaging. If it managed to hit. Arthur had yet to perfect landing this particular Move, at close range. At a distance he could usually hit.

    "Fire Spin." Shauntal said, and as the Shadow Ball approached, the Chandelure spun itself, rather than spewing flames. It burned right through the ghost attack, which evaporated behind it. "Now that's disappointing. I'd heard your ball attacks were harder to cut through."

    Alex shrugged. "Arthur is still working on that one...I've been trying to get him to learn something like Shadow Claw or Shadow Punch, but he's determined to get the ball attack right." The Gallade glanced at his Trainer, and then charged up another. He poured more energy into it, making it bigger, more dense, and then fired it again.

    "Same thing, Chandelure! Fire Spin through it!"

    As the ghost chandelier Pokémon tried bisecting the ball again, this time, it exploded in her face, and damaged her to about the same level as Arthur. They were both far from done, though. "Fire Blast!"

    "Dodge through the...legs, then Night Slash!" Alex ordered. Arthur did as instructed, and his Trainer flinched, as the barrier protecting his side of the field was tested by arguably the strongest fire type move in the Elite Four's arsenal. Arthur was as graceful as ever as he slid through the bottom part of the Fire Blast on his knees as he leaned backwards, and then leapt above the Fire Spinning Chandelure as he landed yet another hit.

    Shauntal winced, and then desperately cried, "Dark Pulse! Drive it back!" The Chandelure acquiesced, and Arthur had to leap back, as any forward momentum threatened to get him hit. By his measure, he had two hits left that he could endure. "Don't stop! Dark Pulse!" Once Arthur hit the back of the room though, something changed. He zigged ahead of the Dark Pulse as it tried cornering him, and then kept ahead of it. His right arm was the only one that formed a Night Slash this time, and as he ran, he kept it 'sheathed' as his free arm readied to shield him.

    The next wave of Dark Pulses came, and were met by a normal sized Shadow Ball, an uncondensed version of the move, and one wide enough to stop the Dark Pulses via type advantage. Shauntal's eyes went wide, as she realized what came next. Arthur came dashing through the smoke of the colliding moves, and in the space of a second, leapt, slashed, and then landed behind her Chandelure.

    Up close, she got a good look at the psychic and fighting type. That he was at a high level was obvious, but there was more to his power than training. Her author's intuition was convinced. She made a note to dig up information on the Gallade, as she was sure now that there was a story behind those sad, but determined eyes.

    She fell to her knees as her Chandelure did, and recalled her partner. "You all did excellently...even though we were swept with one Pokémon that only needed one Potion to finish us. We'll have to train harder!" She felt Chandelure's ball shake, weakly, but it was enough acknowledgement for her. She stood then, and nodded at Alex. "You've climbed the first rung on the path to the Champion. Proceed to the next room...I'm interested in seeing how this story ends."

    Alex nodded. "I hope you'll be as entertained as I was, when I finished your stories. I think I'll take on...Will, next. He's the psychic type that replaced Caitlin, right?"

    At the mention of the handsome, book loving psychic type master, Shauntal flushed. Hard. "Oh, uh, Will? Yea. He's uh, been here for a while now...he's so handsome, and strong, and well read, and handsome…"

    Alex smirked. "You said handsome twice."

    Shauntal turned a shade more crimson. "That was out loud!? Ohhh…" With that, she quickly jumped into the telepad that led to the Pokémon Center, and because it was the Victory League, it was the nicest Pokémon Center in Unova. Built into the mountain, it had room for eating, training, and there was even a field lower down for Battles. The rooms were all singles, as Unova didn't do Double Battles in the Victory League, and challengers were expected to prepare alone, with their teams.

    Alex smirked, and looked around the chamber. His eyes were drawn to the desk then. The scroll Shauntal had been reading when he came in was glowing with a whitish light, and as he stepped towards it, he heard two very distinct, and yet almost identical male baritones thunder in his skull at the exact same time. "Don't…"

    When a spoopy ghost room told you not to pry further, smart people resisted the urge, and Alex turned, stepping hurriedly into his own telepad, that brought him just outside Shauntal's room. The gate attendant gave him a sympathetic look, as he saw Alex's expression. As the ones who had to clean Shauntal's room after combat, they knew how creepy it could get. Especially if they got curious.

    Alex gave Arthur the max variants of a Potion and Elixir, made sure he was ready for the dual types Will was renowned for using in both Japan and Unova, and then headed across the room towards the domain of the Victory League's resident psychic master.

    As he entered, a nonsensical floating cube surrounded him, and dragged him up to the platform meant for battling. Will's decor was a far cry from the obnoxiously lavish bed Caitlin had levitated in, and out, during her stint as an Elite Four of Unova. All the area seemed to have around it was constantly swirling cubes, which were easily ignored. The battlefield itself was flat, bare, and reminiscent of the ones used in Japan.

    A light purple haired man wearing scarlet and black formal clothes, with hints of gold, spoke as Alex landed, and was deposited by the cube. "Welcome, Challenger. I am Will, a Master of Psychic Types, and a lover of fine novels. I see I am the second on your rise to the top...and I sense...hmm." Will's eyes shifted closed beneath the opaque mask covering them. He smirked, slightly. "A good question. Why don't you ask it?"

    "Why is the Fighting Type Master's door barred to me? This is unheard of." Alex muttered, with an appropriate amount of salt.

    "In Unova, maybe, but in many Leagues, there is an order to the Challenges Trainers must face. The new replacement is still preparing, apparently, and requested that he go last, if you were the one who challenged the Elite Four next. You are the first Challenger since Marshal retired a few days ago, so we apologize for the inconvenience." Will snapped his book closed, and Alex caught the cover, in standard Times New Imperium font. It read: Tusk Love, and there was a Walrein on the cover, roaring, white luscious mane flaring in a breeze, and looking impressively chiseled for a typically chonky Pokémon. "I sense much power...in you and your partners...this is going to be fun. Let us begin!"

    Will sent out an Exeggutor with the common grass and psychic typing. Arthur once more took the field, and smirked, as his brain brought up all the choices he had for super effective hits. He wished he wasn't limited to four Moves. "Same deal as before, Arthur. Night Slash and Shadow Ball. But for this one...try an X-Scissor first." Alex smirked, as he made full use of the TM Burgh had given him.

    Bug type energy hummed in Arthur fists as he readied the move. For a moment, Alex wondered if they would form blades as well, but unlike Night Slash, the energy remained in his forearms. Will's brow furrowed, as he heard the quadruply effective move, and having just seen Shauntal's encounter with this challenger, he had no intention of getting swept. "Exeggutor! Use Reflect!"

    The psychic heads of the undersized tree Pokémon roared in unison, and a barrier of reflective psychic energy formed between them, and the charging Gallade. Arthur's smirk widened, and he vanished from sight, then reappeared behind the much slower Pokémon, landing his X-Scissor behind the Reflect. "Stomp!" Will said, taking advantage of the closeness, but by the time the psychic grass type turned and stomped, Arthur had already zipped back to his side of the field.

    "Brick Break! Then X-Scissor!" Alex said, and Arthur readied his arms for the fighting move, before charging in at the Exeggutor once more. He leapt, spun gracefully in the air, and then brought his rolling momentum down on the Reflect, as he smashed through it. The follow up spin into another strike from his other hand,was bug typed, and Arthur brought the Exeggutor down on the second hit. Tanky as it was, a quadruple weakness was hard to withstand more than a single hit with.

    Will called out his next Pokémon then, "Let's try you next! Bronzong! Go! Use Reflect!" The psychic gong appeared with a toll, and then it swung its body the other way, and a Reflect barrier appeared on all sides of it.

    Alex chuckled. "Don't waste the Brick Break, Arthur...it's stronger than the Exeggutor. Slip through the Reflect, and then use Night Slash!" Will stayed ominously quiet, as the Gallade charged, arms out to either side as the blades of dark energy formed once more. He flipped over the Bronzong, and noticed a horizontal Reflect screen atop it as well. That left using his lithe figure to slip in between the series of psychic shields. He landed behind the Pokémon, twirled in through one of the slim spaces between the five-sided Reflect, and then struck with Night Slash.

    Arthur immediately covered his ears, as the Bronzong donged in response, and then, Will called his counter, looking far too confident. "Payback." The Bronzong didn't even turn, it whirled in place, hammering Arthur with the dark energy, into the Reflect barrier, and then once more with dark energy. The Gallade was tossed around the five-sided death trap, purposefully left open enough to slip through, so the counter attack would be all but final.

    "Arthur! Get out of there! Drop and roll!" The Gallade kept his block up as best he could during the assault, but the damage had been done. When next he fell to the floor, he rolled quickly out from under the levitating Pokémon and its five barriers, and hopped up, panting, bruised, but conscious. Alex grimaced. One Potion was allowed in these Battles, and only to the challenger. He'd wanted to save his, but another Payback, or psychic move, would end them, and their solo streak.

    Arthur came close enough for the Max Potion, and once it took effect, Will countered. "Use Psychic!" Arthur tried dodging, but soon found himself levitating in the air.

    Alex countered quickly, before their Potion was made useless. "Break out of Psychic, then Double Team! Charge it, and use Brick Break into Night Slash!" Arthur saw the plan in his Trainer's head, and went with it, as he could not think up a better one at that moment. He used his Psychic on himself to break free, before charging in at the Bronzong again.

    "Shadow Ball!" Will ordered, but the Gallade was already dividing himself into clones, and each of them went for a Reflect screen, smashing it. Then, one somersaulted high in the air, and brought a double Night Slash down the Bronzong's back side. "Bronzong!" Will said, as he saw it hang on just enough for a counter. "Use Psychic!"

    "Brick Break." Alex said, and as the psychic gong's eyes lit up, Arthur did a half turn from where he'd landed, and sent the steel type skipping across the battlefield, fainted. Will recalled his Pokémon then, and brought out the next.

    "You know, at first I thought Shauntal was just weak...but after seeing you Battle up close, I understand better why she seemed to go down so easily...that Gallade of yours is something. Grumpig! Come on out!" Will made his remark and threw his ball with the same panache all of his movements possessed.

    Alex smirked, and his Gallade eyed the psychic pig, who had entered a battle stance, and growled a challenge. "Shauntal is more than strong enough to rank here…and she had nothing but praise for you...though after seeing your line-up so far...I'm not that impressed, honestly." Alex said, as he instinctually defended the last 'classic Unova' member of the Elite Four. Those who'd reigned in the Champion's childhoods, Grimsley, Shauntal, Caitlin, and Marshal, were considered one of, if not the best four the Victory League had in its modern history. That said, it was only the current Elite Four, with the exception of the new fighting type specialist, that had been ranked as the hardest in the world by the Pokémon League.

    "Let's see if we can't shift your opinion of us. Grumpig! Use Teeter Dance!" The Grumpig nodded, and with a snort, began gracefully dancing. Arthur, who was on the other side of the field once more, simply shielded his eyes with a blade-arm, though his smirk was still visible.

    "Night Slash until it falls, Arthur." Alex said, and the Gallade let out a yell, as his arms once more burned into dark arm blades. He charged forward again, and then vanished as he used his speed to move beyond the psychic pig's perception, and get behind it. The Grumpig's eyes looked towards its back, but before it could so much as turn, the Night Slash landed, and the Gallade leapt away again, as graceful as he always was.

    "Grumpig! Don't let it close again! Shadow Ball!" Will said, as he pointed. The Grumpig formed a truly massive, sparking Shadow Ball, and fired it like a cannon at Arthur. She had gone for dumping more power into it, rather than condensing what was there to make it more damaging, and that, left it open to being bisected.

    "Straight through Arthur! End it!" The Gallade charged forward towards the Shadow Ball, and leapt through the bisected pieces of ghost energy as they were cut in half by Night Slash. They exploded, but Arthur was already beyond them, and used his remaining Night Slash to land the final hit. Dust from the explosion obscured the field. Will gestured, and it vanished, revealing the Gallade once more behind the Grumpig, but facing Will, arm out from where he'd left it after landing the Night Slash. The Grumpig collapsed, and Will's eyebrow twitch was all that gave away his annoyance at being swept. His Xatu had a very similar fall, and like his Grumpig, only required two hits to faint.

    By the time he was on his final two, Will was losing his composure. The mask had slipped slightly on his face, after he'd facepalmed so many times, and his frustration was obvious. Then, he took a deep breath, realigned his mask, and flourished his ball. "This one will not be so easily brought down. Slowbro! Go!"

    "A question, Will, if I might?" Alex said, holding up a hand. Will nodded, as Slowbro was still realizing it wasn't in its ball anymore, and was on a battlefield.

    "By all means, Challenger. I'm familiar with League rules in multiple League affiliated regions. Ask away." The psychic user tilted his head as he spoke, wondering what question might be asked. He'd heard many in his time. Most, had been rule clarifications. Alexander Redwood did not break the trend.

    "The four Move limit...is that per Battle, or per round? I could never find a solid source on it from Nurse Joy, or the Victory League rules." Alex said. As he spoke, Arthur tried waving at the Slowbro, but she just stared at him with the same unfocused, derpy eyes she'd had since appearing. It did respond with 'Bro' though, so the Gallade took that as a hello.

    Will held his chin as he pondered. "A good question. In the Indigo League, I know it's four for the entire Battle, but in Unova, you're all about freedom and intensity. As challenging, and fair, as possible. In that spirit, I would say four per round. Only the most remarkable Pokémon can remember more than four Moves. Battles are always more fun, when they're less predictable."

    Alex bowed, in the Unovan style. "Thank you, Psychic Master, for the clarification."

    Will bowed in return, looking far more elegant as he flourished. "My pleasure to inform. Knowledge is power, after all."

    Alex smirked. "I agree. Arthur! Show them what you and Blaze learned from watching Leon's Charizard."

    Arthur's smirk became downright maniacal, as he recalled watching the Undefeated Champion, at his height, using the move on the World Champion's (of the day) red Gyarados, via the Technical Machine's built in screen. Will made the first move though, and said, "Withdraw, Slowbro!" The dopey psychic water hippo didn't even notice as the Shellder leeching off of it grew, and covered most of its back. Suddenly, the eyes widened, and the air rippled, as the Slowbro woke up.

    Arthur meanwhile had been bringing the thunder, in a pair of Thunder Punches, and as they landed, the Slowbro's eyes widened in pain, at which point, Will countered. "Disable!" The air cracked, and suddenly, Arthur could remember nothing of what the TM had shown him. The other battles involving Galar's Champion and his starter remained, but even those with Thunder Punch were hazy, around the parts where it had been used, blocked temporarily by powerful psychic interference. "Now use Psychic!"

    Arthur barely had time to process the loss of a move, before he was surrounded by absurdly powerful psychic energy, from a much stronger Pokémon compared to the others he'd faced so far. It seemed Will had saved his strongest for last. The Gallade was tossed around like a ragdoll, as the Slowbro moved it with only its eyes, and then, as suddenly as it began, it stopped, and the Pokémon winced in pain for a moment, then went blank again, as each eye stared off in a different direction. It was damaged, but getting close to hit would result in another Psychic thrashing.

    Arthur lowered his stance then, and brought his arms by his waist, as he began empowering the Shadow Ball. He left nothing to spare, this time, and it grew rapidly as he condensed it between his 'hands'. It was smaller than the ones from Shauntal's Pokémon, but for a fast physical attacker with a truly garbage special attack, it wasn't bad. Will only had one thing to shout as he tried to counter, "Amnesia!"

    Alex's smirk shifted to a grimace, but Arthur fired anyway, and the Slowbro took the hit, as its move made it forget where it even was. By Alex's reckoning, it was almost done, but Will seemed to intend to get every drop out of his psychic water hippo before it fainted. "Now Slowbro! Psychic once more!"

    "End this, Arthur. Thunder Punch!" Alex countered, and a wave of psychic force rippled past the Gallade as he gracefully spun into a dodge, and then readied his own move in response. Lightning crackled over the Slowbro as he hit, but it stayed standing, as it fainted. Will sighed, and recalled his oblivious Pokémon.

    "Now it comes down to her...I've never used her in this League, you know. I only joined a few years ago after all. During my time spent in Hoenn I found a rather special Pokémon...one your Gallade may find too much to handle." Will said as he readjusted his mask, and flourished a Pokéball with psychic power.

    "Arthur is ready for anything. Bring it." Alex said, confidently. His Gallade responded in kind, with a battle-yell, and a drop into his fighting stance. His arms readied a Night Slash, as they knew whatever Will had left would likely be weak to it. The Elite Four's Psychic Master tossed the ball, and Arthur's arms lowered, slightly, as he saw a Gardevoir.

    Unlike the response Will expected, Arthur seemed to be lost in a haze of memory, rather than lust, but it didn't matter. The first move was theirs. "Gardevoir, Dazzling Gleam!"

    The Gardevoir narrowed her eyes at the seemingly stunned Gallade. "Gar. Devoir." Arthur blinked, shook his head, and focused back into his fighting stance. There weren't many Ralts in Unova, and the last Gardevoir he'd seen was his mother. As his focus returned to his present, the final round against the second of the Victory League's Elite Four, the red eyed Gardevoir raised her arms, and bathed him in fairy typed light.

    There was a blur of darkness in the fairy light though, in the moment after the attack, as her arms were still raised, the Gallade struck with Night Slash, and landed behind her. It was around that moment that both Arthur and his Trainer remembered that fairy types beat dark types, and a psychic fairy type would not be weak to Night Slash.

    Arthur didn't let up though, and Will continued to call moves, as Alex let his Gallade handle things. "Charge Beam!" The Gardevoir's arms moved in a specific but untraceable pattern, and then came together, to fire a line of intense plasma at Arthur. Once more, he tried to counter, but he missed, as the Gardevoir spun out of the path of his slash and dodged him with almost no effort.

    He barely dodged her next Charge Beam, but he could tell it was making her attacks stronger. One Shadow Ball now, and he was done. As if Will read his mind, he gave that exact order. "Gardevoir! We will not be swept by one Pokémon! Shadow Ball!"

    "End it, Arthur." Alex said, and his Gallade nodded. The Shadow Ball came for his face, so he went low, running like a ninja along the floor as his arms once more burned to life with dark type energy. Then, he vanished, reappeared by the Gardevoir, and struck with critical success. Arthur walked slowly then back to his side of the field, as she fainted, and let his arms return to normal. He was all but out of Night Slashes, and more than that, after two intense battles against the Elite Four, he was drained. The Max Elixir and Potion helped, but Alex knew he needed a rest.

    "Well done, Challenger…" Will finally managed, as he looked at his Pokéball, and then recalled his Pokémon. "You have bested me, and with a psychic type no less. I have...never been wholly swept by a Challenger's first Pokémon...it is...an interesting feeling." He walked towards the center of the battlefield, as he spoke.

    Alex shrugged. "Arthur fought hard, and so did your team. So did Shauntal's. We competed fairly, and found out who was stronger. In my opinion, all Battles should be so fun."

    Will stroked his chin, then. "And how did you get so strong, might I ask?"

    Alex nodded at his Gallade. "Arthur is responsible for that...he saw the gap in strength between him and the rest of my team, and he closed it in a matter of weeks. When the others sleep, he's training. While they focused on perfecting dual typed Moves, Arthur was busy learning more than four. Only a few of mine can do that...but the rest are getting there."

    Will nodded at his words. "There has been an awakening...a few weeks back, a great power returned to conscious thought, and that event has begun a shift in our Pokémon friends. Long ago, in ancient times, Pokémon Battled with as many Moves as they could, and the strongest was usually the person ruling over the people. These...Dark Times were poorly recorded. Entire civilizations rose and fell within that period, and by the end of it, most Pokémon could only manage to recall four Moves."

    Alex pondered Will's words for a moment, then smirked. "Read that in Tusk Love, did you?"

    If the Elite Four blushed, his mask hid it. "Not quite. That tidbit I discovered while researching the Judgement War. The last major recorded conflict before the Tamer of Arceus's death plunged our burgeoning societies into renewed chaos."

    Alex nodded again, but the smirk remained. "You know, Shauntal is quite a prolific author. And a history buff. You should speak with her about this."

    Will tilted his head. "Is she? Interesting. I haven't really had time to talk to the others. I'm still pretty new here, and Champion N made it clear that we are here to find the strongest Trainers, and send them his way. Not fraternize."

    Alex waved his words away, as they moved towards the pair of telepads at the furthest edge of the platform. "There've been plenty of people who have...fraternized...in the Elite Four. In many regions. You should speak with Shauntal, she's in the Pokémon Center as we speak, you know."

    "Perhaps I will…" Will said, as he stared at the pad. Alex was about to leave, when he spoke again. "You know, I'm not all that good with women. I prefer books."

    Alex arched a brow. "But your entire team is female…"

    Will chuckled. "Pokémon are a different story entirely. I saw that redhead you arrived with. The thoughts coming from your minds were...distracting. Any advice for someone whose never initiated that kind of conversation?"

    Alex blinked, as he realized several things about Will, all at once, and wondered just how old the man was. Then again, some people just didn't care for romance or sex enough to constantly pursue it. Will definitely came off as someone driven towards other goals, but if this was to be his first foray, the least Alex could do was give him what advice he genuinely believed would be helpful. It'd worked for him, after all.

    "Honestly? You don't need much. You can open with something simple. A greeting. Just have somewhere to go after. Don't expect 'hello' to be enough for a conversation, because she will say it back to you, and then there will be an awkward pause. Mention books or something, and you'll do fine." Alex pondered for a moment then, and the pause lingered as he continued to think. "Aside from that...eye contact. Very important. You won't have a problem speaking with Shauntal, call it a hunch, but I think she's into you. Maybe take the mask off when you chat, though."

    "Right...simple conversation...eye contact. No mask. How hard could that be?" Will said, as he strode towards the telepad, and was bamfed to the Pokémon Center. Alex was bamfed back behind the Gate of Victory, and once more, the fighting type master's door was barred. He sighed, and then headed for the dragon typed specialist.

    Damon had been on the Elite Four since Grimsley departed, replacing their dark type focus with a focus on dragons that had been sorely missing from the Victory League after Nate knocked out Iris from the Champion spot, and into the role of Gym Leader. By all accounts, it was Damon and Marshal who had crushed the most aspiring challengers, and more than that, was the fact that his team was largely unknown. Most people only ever saw his Hydreigon, and he didn't allow the footage of matches that went beyond his first Pokémon to air publicly.

    As Alex entered, he wished he had a Salamence, or a special attacking water type with annoying Ice Beam coverage. Hydrus' was good, but against an Elite Four Dragon Tamer, he expected it to be countered. Hydrus, Blaze, and Shruikan would give Arthur a much needed break, and Alex intended to make the battle a longer one, so his Gallade was as rested as he could be, for the final showdown with the fighting typed specialist.

    The staircase leading to Damon was simple, straightforward. One side was covered with menacing bone-white spikes, reminiscent of the claws Grimsley had in this very room. The other side of the path was lined with the same claw structures, except they were jet black, and gleamed with menace in the torchlight of the chamber. As he ascended the stairs, the claws folded back for him, and as he reached the top, he got a good look at the style of brazier holding the torches that were giving the unusually dark chamber its light.

    The battlefield was an old style Pokémon field, used in the earliest days of Unova, back when it was known as the Dragon Empire. The ball pattern was more of a square, and that same pattern was repeated on Damon's clothing, as he stepped into the torchlight. Most of his attire was covered by a lengthy black cloak, and the aforementioned pattern upon it was, naturally, white. The entire room had the black and white theme going, from the floor to the Dragon Tamer's own hairstyle, which had apparently been dyed half black, and half white. The clothes beneath the cloak appeared to have the same pattern, a belt, pants, etcetera, save that they were mainly white, and their pattern appeared to be black.

    "Welcome, Challenger, to my domain. I am Damon, Dragon Master of Unova. My people have lived in this region for thousands of years, guarding the Oath Woods with our dragon types. I saw your Battles with my contemporaries. I must say, I am impressed. Out of all the Challengers we've had for this latest League Challenge... I believe you're the one most likely to beat it. Your obvious love for your Pokémon is matched only by the power they put out for you. If you can replicate that in your future Battles, you might just unseat Champion N. But first...you must defeat me."

    Damon snapped his fingers then, and one of his balls opened. Alex grimaced, as he stared down a Hydreigon. One look told him it was well trained, and monstrously powerful. He had only heard rumors about the People of the Woods, as Unovans collectively called Damon's tribe. Supposedly, they had once been immigrants who had lived in the Desert Resort, before Reshiram's flames had burned it to nothing but sand and memory.

    "Shruikan!" Alex said, as he tossed his ball and took the first move, "Use Dragon Pulse!"

    As the sphere of dragon energy charged up, the eager to battle Shelgon condensed it, and turned it black and red before he fired it. The dense sphere of sparking dragon energy roared towards the Hydreigon, and with the same calm, but confident monotone as his challenger Damon countered it. "Stop it, with Hyper Voice."

    The air within the chamber cracked like a boom of thunder, and Alex could've sworn that he heard the Hydreigon say something other than its name, but it was drowned out by the boom, and resulting explosion, from their Dragon Pulse. When the smoke cleared, Damon's Hydreigon was untouched, and Alex swore. Now it would be a defensive battle. Hydreigon could rarely be stopped once it got going.

    "Ice Fang, Hydreigon." Damon said, and the dark dragon surged forward faster than Shruikan could ever hope to be, the fangs on its main head encased in ice.

    "Start rolling, Shruikan! Then Brick Break!" Alex said, hoping his Shelgon could counter. The Hydreigon's jaws snapped shut with an echoing thud, but Shruikan was already rolling. If he gained enough speed he could outpace the Hydreigon, which was not very maneuverable but could cover a wide area of effect with its moves. Damon had a bemused expression on his face, as he watched. It faded, as fighting typed energy surrounded the Shelgon's shell. With a Dragonbreath powered leap, Shruikan managed to hammer the Hydreigon in the back, between its wings.

    The damage was nowhere near enough for a faint though, and Damon's counter was swift. "Turn, and cover it in Dragon Pulse!"

    Before Alex could react, the massive dark floating dragon whirled in place, opened all three mouths, and covered his Shelgon in super effective energy. When it finally faded, Shruikan was barely standing, but standing he was. "Brick Break! Keep rolling to dodge the counter! Don't get hit!" Shruikan gave his Trainer a look, and then once more leapt, and hammered the Hydreigon. It countered without Damon's order, with another Dragon Pulse, but Shruikan was already rolling away past the edge of it. The field burned with blue dragonfire as the Hydreigon set it ablaze.

    Damon's eyes widened as the Shelgon rolled near him. "Your Shelgon...did you carve a pattern upon its shell!?"

    Alex blinked. "No...I mean...that probably wouldn't hurt him...might even look cool...but no. I'm no craftsman, I wouldn't risk accidentally weakening his shell like that."

    Damon nodded, but stayed quiet. The marking had been clear enough to his eyes at least, and he had a feeling it was the intensity of the Dragon Pulse that had revealed the mark's existence. If they were there naturally, he was very glad that he was not facing this Pokémon in its evolved state. There were legends around Shelgon with marked shells, dark legends, usually from other regions, about how unnaturally powerful they were, and when they evolved, they had been compared to death itself. He wondered how such a Pokémon would end up, bonded as he was to a Trainer with the skill to sweep two of the Elite Four with one Pokémon.

    "Faster, Shruikan! Brick Break!" Somehow, the rolling ball of dragon propelled himself quicker, and once more, the Hydreigon struggled to track him, even with three heads. His pattern was too chaotic, and as Shruikan saw how the Hydreigon's tracking worked, it was easy to make the heads bump into each other.

    Suddenly, he rolled under the levitating dark dragon, and as the main head leaned down to blast him with another wide area Dragon Pulse, Shruikan rolled to the right, summoned the fighting energy and came around on the back of the Hydreigon's head. He rolled through, slamming it fast enough to make the six-winged dragon type rotate in place and become dazed. Alex capitalized on that. "Into the air! Get as high as you can, Shruikan!"

    The Shelgon abruptly stopped, faced himself downwards, and then exhaled, as he propelled himself high into the air with his flames yet again. Damon stared, somewhat in awe, as the Shelgon rose like a Draco Meteor. The move that was called though, was arguably worse, since it was a physical move not a special one, and wouldn't weaken the Shelgon after its use. It was one they'd been working on perfecting though, and it required a stunned target to be used effectively. It also needed enough gravity to be as damaging as the move their version was based upon.

    At the apex of the Shelgon's climb, Damon spoke up. "Hydreigon, ready a Hyper Beam. Aim upwards." All three heads formed dense balls of intense dark energy, as they focused on the Shelgon.

    "Now, Shruikan! Dragon Hammer! And give it a spiral!" Alex called the order, and Shruikan enveloped himself with dragon type energy, before plummeting downwards. The Hydreigon rocked in the air with recoil as it fired the Hyper Beam, and as the attack missed, Damon stared in disbelief, as he watched the Shelgon use Dragonbreath to guide his trajectory down, as well. His shell skirted the Hyper Beam, but his Dragon Hammer stayed on target, and hammered the Hydreigon with all the force of an Alolan Exeggutor.

    The armored ball of dragon rolled back to his side of the field then, panting slightly, but eyes aflame, as he felt his experience grow, and roared from within the confines of his irritatingly heavy shell. From across the clearing field of dust, Damon stared, looking somewhat unnerved by the sound. "Impressive...not many Challengers get past my Hydreigon...I've never seen a Shelgon fight like that. Where did you find him?"

    Alex smirked. "Draconis Mons...he was a Bagon, but he evolved pretty quick. Once he figured out how to roll, and make himself faster, he became a terror on the battlefield. He trained hard to keep up with my Charizard. Once you see the bar by which he measures himself, you'll understand why he's so strong."

    "Fascinating...most Shelgon I've seen just Protect, and then counter with a bite or a claw attack. We shall have to Battle again, once he evolves." Damon said, as he drew his next ball from beneath the patterned black cloak.

    Alex nodded. "By the time he evolves, I'll be your Champion. I look forward to sparring together, Damon." Shruikan affirmed his words with a growl, and that, brought a rare smile to Damon's fierce countenance.

    "Go, Haxorus!"

    Meanwhile… - Victory League Pokémon Center, Unova Region

    Jessica and Connor Gladstone had watched patiently as their neighbor Night Slashed his way through two of the Elite Four. Connor was rapidly losing interest however, as he knew how Damon's Pokémon would match up to the combination of Blaze and Shruikan. Even now, the rolling ball of armored dragon was encircling the newly summoned Haxorus, whose Dual Chops kept missing.

    Connor glanced at his sister, who was one hundred percent focused on the match, as usual, and then he turned his gaze elsewhere. It was around that time that Will strode into the common area of the Pokémon Center, apparently after depositing his team for a proper rest. He glanced at the siblings, before his eyes fell on Shauntal, and at that point, Connor realized his mask was off. There was forced confidence in the Elite Four's stride as he walked over to his contemporary, who'd been reading quietly in a corner, at least when Will hadn't been on the viewscreen.

    He heard Jess whoop again, and looked up to see Shruikan had landed a hard hit on the Haxorus. By his estimate, Damon would lose this round too. Shruikan might last for a third, but he only had so much Dragonbreath to keep propelling himself around. The PP Max helped, but even those had limits.

    Next up for Elite Four Damon was a Kommo-o, and judging by its size, Connor expected it to be the one to take down Shruikan. Kommo-o were fierce even for dragon types, and the fact that Damon had one, as well as a Hydreigon, spoke to his skill as a Dragon Tamer. Connor stood then, and went to the Pokémon Center's nurse, as Shruikan again started rolling around.

    "Something I can get you, Challenger?" Nurse Joy said, with her typical cheery tone.

    Connor nodded. "Nacho chips, and some of that 'cheese' to go with them."

    Nurse Joy nodded once. "I'll let the kitchen know to bring it up. Do you need anything else?"

    Connor nodded. "Are my Pokémon ready?" The nurse held out a hand for his Trainer ID, and he handed it over. She scanned it, and after a few moments of silence, spoke again.

    "They are. Your team is in peak physical condition...we did find some mutated Pokérus cells on them, but the infection seems to have passed. I'll bring your balls up now." Nurse Joy said, as she typed on her desk computer, tabbed out of PokéCraft, and transferred them up.

    Connor arched a deep crimson eyebrow as he took back his ID. "Pokérus cells? Like a virus?"

    Nurse Joy nodded again. "It's a strain of bacteria that seems to benefit Pokémon, rather than hinder them. No examples of it being dangerous or having negative long term effects have been found. In fact, many Trainers want their partners to catch it. Ultimately, it has been proven to increase a Pokémon's strength."

    Connor thought for a moment, and then glanced at the viewscreen Jess was still watching. "That Challenger there...did his Pokémon have it too?"

    Nurse Joy nodded. "His had a stronger strain, but they also had it at least several weeks ago. They have long since gotten over the infection."

    Connor glanced at Jess then, and back to the nurse. "My sister's Pokémon...do they have it?"

    Nurse Joy shook her head. "Not anymore. Their infection seemed to match the one found on that Challenger's Pokémon."

    "I see." Connor said, as he took his balls, and set them on his belt. "Gar. Gren." His Garchomp and Greninja appeared from their balls at his word. "I want you both to watch, and learn from Alex's match. Don't underestimate that Shelgon...some day, it's going to be a real pain, and knowing Alex, he'll send it out to counter you, Gar."

    The two Pokémon nodded, and then joined Jess in watching the match. Connor looked around the room again, mostly out of boredom, until he noticed Will and Shauntal were seated now, and their eyes were locked, almost creepily on the other, as they discussed something in a whisper.

    After seeing Will's mannerisms, Connor had expected he and Shauntal to have a thing. To his relatively inexperienced eyes, it seemed their romance was just kicking off. He returned to their table as the nachos arrived, and set his eyes on the screen. Kommo-o was staying in one place, as the rolling Shelgon tried striking it, and Connor soon saw Damon's plan. The Shelgon would tire long before a defensive warrior like Kommo-o.

    Chamber of the Dragon Tamer, Victory Plateau - Unova Region

    Both Alex and Shruikan felt the frustration, as the Kommo-o's guard was as impenetrable as the scales it guarded with. He didn't want to use Dragon Hammer on a Pokémon famous for uppercuts, but it seemed that was exactly what Damon was driving them towards, with his tactics. Either way, Shruikan would tire out before the Kommo-o did. "Alright Shruikan, once more, into the air! Then Dragon Hammer!"

    Damon let a faint smirk break his generally serious features. "Clanging Scales." As Shruikan reached the apex of his Dragonbreath assisted jump, powerful vibrations infused with dragon energy rocked him, and as he was in his shell, the thunderous noise that somehow penetrated it made him lose focus on his move. "Good, now end it! Sky Uppercut!

    The air rippled as the Kommo-o hunched, and then leapt. Fighting type energy propelled it higher, high enough to hit, or that's what it looked like. Shruikan's trajectory had shifted after the powerful and super effective move, and the Kommo-o, not an air battler, had greatly misjudged his rising fist. As both Trainers realized the uppercut was going to miss, they tried to counter, and play off the upwards momentum, with the same move.

    "Kommo-o, quick, Dragon Claw!"

    "Shruikan, use bursts of Dragonbreath to dodge, then counter with Dragon Claw!"

    The falling ball of armored dragon did as ordered, blue flames rocketing from his mouth as he attacked with his rear, or tried to. The Kommo-o dodged the hurtling Shelgon, and then suddenly, they were face to face in the air. The two dragon type's eyes met, and as their Dragon Claws collided, there was an explosion of power, and the usual accompanying cloud of dust and smoke from the collision. The Trainers heard two thuds, and Alex looked down at the floor, as he heard the jangling.

    Once visibility returned, it revealed Shruikan fainted, and the Kommo-o only slightly worse for wear. His Sky Uppercut had gone about as poorly as it possibly could, but he'd made up for it with the Dragon Claw. Alex kept his head downturned, hat covering his eyes as he recalled his Shelgon. "Well, I almost swept all Four with one Pokémon...but that's not what matters. We're strong enough to win it all, as a team. Blaze! Avenge your teammate."

    The Charizard appeared with a flash of red, and a roar, and as his eyes met the Kommo-o's, Alex felt his pocket start to hum. He raised the fire aspected Plate crystal, and his Charizard drew the beam of crimson energy into him as he ascended to his Mega Form with a roar that shook the chamber.

    "Get ready Kommo-o! Sky Uppercut!" Damon said, expecting the fire lizard to start flying.

    "Into the air, Blaze. It's almost done...pepper it with Air Slash and finish the round. Save your dragon Moves...we'll need them." The Mega Charizard snorted white hot flames as his Trainer gave the order, and he flew into the air as the clanging dragon type from Alola charged him.

    With respect to the Kommo-o, his Sky Uppercut was indeed perfect in form, but a Mega Charizard was not the kind of Pokémon to pick an aerial battle with, if one could not fly. Blaze let the fighting energy infused fist come tantalizingly close, even though it wouldn't have done much damage, and then suddenly he moved away from the Kommo-o with a single backwards wing flap. His wings glowed white with flying energy, and it scythed forwards into the fighting and dragon type, who was unable to dodge mid air.

    Blaze continued the barrage as his opponent fell, and then landed two more Air Slashes besides, once it was on the floor and surrounded by dust and smoke. Blaze returned to his side of the field with a roar, and one wing flap revealed to his Trainer that the Charizard had indeed won the round.

    Damon kept his eyes upon the mega evolved fire lizard, and reached for his next ball. "Noivern. You've handled Mega Forms before...take the field, and Boomburst!"

    "Dodge, Blaze. Then ready your Dragon Pulse." Alex replied, and Blaze was already moving by the time his Trainer gave the order. The booming bursts the Noivern continued firing disrupted the air quite a bit, and it didn't take long for the flying bat dragon to realize what the Charizard was doing, to dodge his moves.

    As the Noivern ceased booming, Damon gave his next order. "You as well, Noivern! Dragon Pulse!"

    Blaze's eyes narrowed, and his flames shifted to a whitish blue color as he condensed the energy in multiple layers, and formed a sparking red sphere in his maw. Noivern's move didn't look half as impressive, and as the two Pokémon fired, Blaze's Dragon Pulse tore right through the wide area spray of the other, and landed with critical effectiveness as the Noivern and his Trainer both watched in disbelief.

    As the dust cleared, the Noivern stayed standing, and Blaze snorted. It was hanging on by a thread of stamina. "Finish it, Blaze. Heat Wave!"

    "Use Hurricane around yourself! Stay shielded!" Damon called, and the weakened flying and dragon type did as ordered, calling up a circular wind wall just in time to avoid the worst of the heat. "Now, fly into the darkness above, and hide!"

    There was a shifting shape within the wind vortex, and as the Hurricane dissipated, the Noivern was not inside. Alex grimaced, as he hadn't wanted to use more moves ending a Pokémon that was essentially done. "Blaze! Use Smokescreen."

    Damon chuckled, as the field became a haze of darkness and smoke. "That...was a poor choice. Noivern is unmatched in the dark. Use Psychic!"

    Blaze felt himself be lifted, and tossed about like a ragdoll as the Psychic attack hit, but through the gloom, he spied the glowing eyes of the Noivern. He growled to his Trainer as the Psychic ended, and he stood up, slightly worse for wear. "Dragon Pulse. But stay moving."

    The Charizard snorted, and did as he was instructed. He moved, but not to dodge. Once more the sparking ball of dragon energy formed in his maw, but he flew towards the Noivern's glowing eyes, using the darkness and Smokescreen to come from behind with an almost noiseless gliding maneuver. All the Noivern had for a warning was an ominous dark red glow, before there was an explosion.

    Once more, Blaze had somehow landed a critical hit, and this one caused the batlike dragon type to fall, fainted, to the field. Blaze flew back into the Smokescreen, and hovered near his Trainer, as Damon summoned his next Pokémon.

    Next up for the Victory League's Dragon Tamer was a Garchomp that was more blackish gray than blue in scale color. Blaze's eyes narrowed, as the ground typed shark dragon effortlessly tracked his position through the Smokescreen, and roared. "Now Garchomp!" Damon said, as he brushed aside the cloak and raised his right hand, revealing a Mega Cuff. "Mega Evolve!"

    Unlike most other Trainers in recent months, Damon was still using Mega Stones, and while Alex couldn't see where the Garchomp's was, he knew this would become a true clash between two Pokémon in their Mega Forms. He felt the heat behind and above him increase, and he knew that his Charizard's flames had shifted to blue once more. Despite being a ground type, Garchomp were expert fliers, though they lacked the maneuverability Blaze had in his Mega Form.

    "Dragon Rush!"

    "Keep ahead of it, Blaze...dodge, then Dragon Pulse!"

    The Charizard did manage his dodge, just barely, as he stayed ahead of the Garchomp. His mouth opened, and began sparking as he formed the Dragon Pulse, and his wings flared, suddenly, which had thus far been the best method to lose the aerial land shark. The Garchomp Dragon Rushed ahead with his momentum, and Blaze rocked in the air with recoil as he floated in place, and fired.

    The Dragon Pulse landed, hard, but the Mega Garchomp wasn't done yet. It flew around back to Damon, and landed. Blaze cleared the lingering Smokescreen as he did the same, and the two Pokémon glared at each other. Without commands from either Trainer, they each readied a Dragon Claw, and then charged. The entire room, and likely the building itself, shuddered as they collided.

    Both Dragon Claws landed and dealt damage, and the two mega evolved Pokémon traded several blows, before Damon shouted, "Enough, Garchomp! You won't win like that. Fall back, then Dragon Rush!"

    Alex smirked. "Well done, Blaze. Are you still good to go?" The Charizard let out a roar that made the very air vibrate with its intensity. Alex winced at the sound, blinked twice, and then smirked again. "Good. Smokescreen." The Charizard exhaled through his mouth, and the room became impossible to see in once more. "Now into the air, and dodge it! Dragon Pulse once it's open!"

    The Garchomp followed the wingbeats of Blaze, but the Charizard knew its tricks by now. He flapped loudly several times, and then flew upside down, skirting the battlefield floor, as he waited. Just then, Damon shouted, "He's luring you in, Garchomp! Don't fall for it!"

    Unfortunately for Damon however, in the next moment, the Garchomp Dragon Rushed right above Blaze, looking down just in time to see the ominously dark red tinged smoke part in the ferocious wake of the Dragon Pulse. Once more the insanely lucky Charizard landed a critical hit, but even that did not fell the Garchomp.

    The smoke blew away from the impact of the Dragon Pulse, and with an injured scythe-wing, Garchomp wouldn't be flying anymore. "Finish it from above, Blaze! Dragon Pulse!" Instead of listening however, Blaze landed as well, glanced at his Trainer, and then looked back at the Garchomp. Alex chuckled. "Always after a fair Battle...fine, then. Dragon Claw!"

    That command, Blaze happily obeyed, and the respect he saw in the Garchomp's eye as he too had landed was worth disobeying a direct order. Alex wasn't too strict about it, as long as such disobedience didn't cost them the match.

    "You can do this Garchomp! It's weak as well! Dual Chop!" Damon gave the order, and to its credit, the Garchomp charged rather rapidly towards Blaze, who flapped into the air just above the field, and stayed low, as he charged as well. His physique was nowhere near as good for running as Garchomp's, and he preferred flying fast and low anyways.

    Alex winced, as the Garchomp landed both Dual Chops, but Blaze countered hard with Dragon Claw, and that, finally made the Mega Form vanish from the land shark. It collapsed with a soft growl, and Blaze met its faltering gaze, nodded once, and then it fainted. The Charizard roared triumphantly, and then walked back towards Alex, as his Mega Form faded away.

    Alex smirked. "Tired, eh? I don't blame you. Get a good rest, we may need you for the next Battle. Hydrus! You're up!" He recalled Blaze, and in his place, came the fresh, eager, and burly Swampert. He was a far cry from the tiny Mudkip he'd caught at the start of the summer, and Alex knew he would only grow stronger.

    Damon raised a bushy black eyebrow, and unlike his hair, both of those were black, as he saw the challenger's choice. "All I have left is you, Flygon! Do your best!" The Flygon appeared, floating in the air with an ominous hum as it did. "We may not have the power to beat this Challenger, Flygon, but we will make a good showing all the same!"

    "Fly! Gon!" It answered in response, and Hydrus let himself smirk, as his Trainer did.

    "Hydrus. Mega Evolve." Alex raised the Splash Plate shard, and Hydrus drew the energy into his body, as he ascended to the next level. "Now use Rain Dance!" The overly burly mudfish pounded the field as he finished his transformation and a light rain started to cover the field, but if the Flygon was scared, it betrayed nothing.

    "Flygon! Use Sand Tomb!" The Flygon sped into the air, and then spewed forth sand at Hydrus, meant to slow him down.

    Alex wasn't worried about their speed though. "Tank the hit, Hydrus." The mudfish nodded, as he was aware of the plan, and a ground type move would do little to a water and ground type. His arms shielded his eyes and chest as the sand surrounded and trapped him.

    Damon's eyes narrowed, but when Alex didn't press the counter, he struck again. "Flygon! Use Dragon Claw!"

    Alex's smirk widened, as Damon went for more STAB, for all the good it would do him against what was coming. "Hydrus...let them close in." The Mega Swampert flexed, and broke free of the Sand Tomb, arms raised in a battle stance as the Flygon's sharp tail lit up with blurple dragon energy, and got ready to slash the mudfish. As it came within four feet, Alex gave the order. "Avalanche!"

    The bulky mudfish raised his fists, faster than the Flygon expected, and they glowed with ice energy as he formed the water from the Rain Dance into a flood of icy rocks. The Flygon managed to dodge the first larger few, but then, he dodged right into a particularly large one, and was buried by the quadruple effective move in a pile of rock and ice.

    "Boomburst!" Damon shouted, and a wave of ultrasonic force blasted the ice and rock apart into nothingness. "Now Fissure!"

    Alex winced, as he waited. The Flygon radiated ground energy, and it came very close to working, but the field did not split, and Flygon was left open for a harsh counter. One Hydrus was already poised to deliver, as he loomed over the depowered sand dragon.

    "Hydro Cannon." Alex said, with a tone of finality, and Hydrus raised his fists. While the folds on his water cannons usually rolled up so they could propel him forwards, this time, he aimed them at the Flygon, and the side closest to his clenched fists rolled up instead. The most powerful water move available to a Pokémon like him hammered the already damaged Flygon, and beneath the red coverings, its eyes turned to Xs.

    Hydrus let the power from the Plate crystal fade, and he helped the Flygon limp over to its Trainer, as it regained consciousness, and sought relief from its weakened state. Damon applied a Max Potion, and gave the mudfish an under chin scratch. "You have my thanks, Swampert."

    "Swaaamp!" Hydrus answered, before lumbering back to his smirking Trainer. Alex handed him a Sitrus Berry, and then recalled him so he could rest, and eat.

    "Go and face the final member of the Elite Four, Challenger. Apparently, you know him, hence all the...drama...around his barred door. You should now find it open to you. I wish you luck on the heights you have yet to climb." Damon spoke with a grim monotone, but it seemed he accepted the loss, and was glad he hadn't been swept like Will and Shauntal.

    Alex stepped on the telepad, and bamfed back to the main hall. As he looked around at his series of conquests, he found the fighting type door was indeed open. He called out his team, and climbed on Terra's shell, as he fed them, and gave them a rest. Making whoever was waiting, wait longer, seemed a just punishment to the still somewhat salty Trainer.

    It wasn't unusual for challengers to take their time between battles. Some Elite Four members had time limits, but the popular opinion was that those seeking to be Champion should be given all the time they need between matches, so each Battle would be as intense as possible. Smart Trainers healed, but typically didn't start camping in the middle of the hallway leading to each of the Elite Four. He wouldn't have done it had he been in Kalos, but this was a special circumstance. Arthur had taken several poundings all morning, some of them rather intense, but his Gallade seemed in top form, as his Trainer watched him punch the air before him, and then dodge.

    Once he'd learned that mental image training was apparently a thing, Arthur had developed his own kind of semi-constant practice, as only a psychic type could. He knew every fighting type Pokémon species, that was in the Pokédex, and he imagined sparring against each of them fist to fist, as the party ate and recovered. Most of it was guesswork, as Unova had very specific fighting types, but the hardest he imagined was by far a fellow psychic and fighting type, known as Medicham. The similarly typed Pokémon had piqued the Gallade's interest one time as he'd been browsing the PokéNet, and it's fluid style of martial arts, especially in its Mega Form, made it hard to beat.

    Eventually, the Gallade ate as well, and Alex took his time packing up, before finally approaching the door. The steel cage that Marshal had held his matches in remained, and much of the room was still the same. It was dark though, and the spotlights hanging above the field were missing. Alex climbed the stairs to the top, seeing no one, but as he stepped into the Trainer box of the half a field, he felt it rumble, and from below, the other half of the field rose, revealing his old friend and rival from University, Nick, sitting in a classic 'Bruno pose'.

    It had been some time since they'd seen each other, as two years into Alex's stint on campus, Nick had graduated, and left on his journey to train his team, and expand his knowledge firsthand through travel. By the time Alex had graduated, Nick had returned to Unova, but he stayed in the city, and taught humans and Pokémon tips for wellness and maintaining one's physical form.

    Alex stared, in disbelief as his friend rose and spun in place all at once. He was also clad in black and white. His sparring helmet covered his forehead and had a Pokéball of a similar color pairing covering each ear. Around his shoulders was a worn black and white scarf that he'd gotten the day he'd graduated, as Alex remembered it. His attire was that of a fighter, with forearm coverings and gloves as well. "You're kidding me. N picked you for the Elite Four?"

    Nick smirked. "Apparently my name was on a list the Champion was given when we needed a sudden replacement for Marshal. In the end, he picked me to be here. I'm glad my first match is against you. I know how much you want to be Champion, but I'm sorry bud...your ascension ends here."

    Alex smirked back. "The last time you saw me, I had no Pokémon, no Badges, and almost no experience in Battle. I'm a lot different now...I'm finally doing what I've always known I was meant to. You don't have the power to stop me! I'll push past you as well, old friend." With that, he threw Arthur's ball, and the Gallade took the field, looking rested and refreshed. Alex felt slightly more guilty about making Nick wait, but he'd earned it by not facing him at his team's peak. Arthur wasn't the only one to have taken hits, and Alex had no idea if sweeping his old friend was a possibility. His team was a complete unknown, but he was aware of what his friend had started with.

    It wasn't a Chesnaught that Nick summoned to the field, but a Heracross. Both Trainers shouted the same move, as the battle began. "Aerial Ace!"

    Arthur's forearms lit up with flying energy, while the Heracross readied one of the few super effective moves it had for a Gallade with its long horn. The two Pokémon charged forward, and while the Heracross managed to go strike for strike at first, it took Arthur only two rounds of blows before he got under the fighting bug's defenses, and landed a critical, and quadruple effective hit, which the Heracross managed to stay conscious through.

    "Press the advantage, Arthur! Don't let up!" Alex said, and his Gallade continued hammering the Heracross, who looked to his Trainer, as the powerful and still somewhat damaging strikes became harder and harder to block. By the time Nick countered, Arthur landed a second hit with Aerial Ace, and sent the Heracross sliding backwards against the stretchable ring ropes that were surrounding their battlefield.

    "Swords Dance, Heracross! Then beat it back with Pin Missile!" Nick said, and the Heracross obeyed, flying into the air and looping in a pattern that raised its attack power. Then, from the spiky forearms came the bug energy fueled missiles that the Gallade gracefully dodged. Arthur made it look effortless, but his Trainer could tell he was tiring quickly.

    "Finish it, Arthur. Aerial Ace!" The Gallade nodded, then zigged, and zagged past the remaining Pin Missiles as he charged forwards. As he leapt, he vanished from the fighting bug's sight, only to hammer it from behind in the air. The force of the hit knocked out the Heracross, and sent it skidding across the field, before Nick recalled it. The Gallade gave the opposing Trainer a smirk, and then flipped backwards through the air back to his starting position.

    "Bruce." Nick said, as he stared Alex down. "You're up." He tossed his ball then, as a Hitmonlee popped from it, and did an unnecessary flip, before landing. The Pokémon's movements weren't excited though as he wasn't bouncing on his feet. Instead, the Hitmonlee was calm, confident, and prepared his hands as well as his feet, for the bout that was about to come.

    Silence reigned over the field for several moments, so Alex struck first. "Once more, Arthur! Aerial Ace!"

    Nick smirked. "Double Kick."

    The Hitmonlee's frankly absurd leg reach smashed into Arthur, who blocked the foot with one arm wreathed in flying energy. Not losing a beat, Bruce brought the other foot around, and this time dragged the Gallade closer to him, as he blocked with Aerial Ace. Arthur hammered the fighting type in stomach, only for the move to fade, and for Bruce to be more than ready to keep going.

    "One Inch Mega Punch!" Nick shouted, and faster than Arthur could blink, the Hitmonlee's arm extended his fist, and punched him in the jaw, sending him flying back towards his Trainer as he rolled several times before he stopped, and slowly rose again.

    Nick stared at the seeming lack of damage, and at that moment realized just how much higher leveled the Gallade was. He'd need to weaken it significantly, or he too would be swept. Then, it was Arthur's turn to counter, and while Alex would've preferred Psycho Cut, he used what he had available, and used their next best option. "Get in close, Arthur." Arthur bounced on his feet, eyes locked with the Hitmonlee's, when suddenly, he shifted his form and vanished. "Now Zen Headbutt!"

    Bruce's eyes moved as Arthur did, as they were able to follow the Gallade, but his body wasn't as quick to match. He was brave by nature, which made him absurdly powerful, but slow. He shifted just in time to give the Gallade an opening on his midsection. A Double Kick was incoming, but even Bruce knew it was too slow. Arthur hammered him, and sent him sliding across the ring, but Alex gave another command, eager to finish the round before the Hitmonlee countered again. "Aerial Ace." With another step, Arthur was over Bruce, and he brought his flying typed fist down on the damaged fighting type, ending the round.

    Next up was a Poliwrath, and since Alex had trained both Arthur and Leo in the art of dealing with that kind of insane strength, because his brother also used one, Arthur was prepared for Nick's. Or at least, that was what he assumed.

    Their opening attack was quick, and brutal. "Close Combat!"

    "Block with Aerial Ace, then Thunder Punch!" Alex responded, even as Arthur was already blocking with flying energy, and blunting the insane power coming from the burly pollywog. Finally, an opening in the Poliwrath's guard appeared, and Arthur fired a Thunder Punch through it, and while he landed, the Pokémon stayed standing. This one seemed as strong as the Hitmonlee, if not stronger.

    "Hypnosis!" Nick countered, and since Arthur was so close, the attack managed to land, despite being inaccurate.

    Alex had time to give his Gallade an order before the swirling pattern on the pollywog's belly fired its sleep rays. "Alright Arthur! Dodge! Just like last time!"

    Arthur nodded, and his arms became like limp noodles as his eyes closed, and sleep took hold. He stayed standing, and relied on his unconscious mind's danger sense to dodge for him, while he was temporarily incapable of fighting. Nick did not waste time in countering. "Dynamic Punch!" This close to the target, the Elite Four member expected a hit, but Arthur's lithe form shifted at the last moment, and Nick could've sworn the sleeping Gallade was smirking as he dodged. "Smug little...Close Combat!"

    Arthur dodged the first two furious fists from the Poliwrath, but the rest landed, pummeling him and knocking him back across the field. When he rose again however, the intense eyes were open once more. Alex was also smirking. "You know what to do, Arthur."

    The Gallade nodded, and then jump-stepped towards the Poliwrath. It scanned the field for the Gallade, and its gaze was drawn upwards, as it felt the electricity in the air. Arthur had one fist pulled back and sparking as he came down on the Poliwrath. "Submission!" Nick yelled, and as the thunderous boom indicated a hit, there was a small explosion from the collision of moves as well.

    "Aerial Ace." Alex said, before the cloud even cleared, and from within, the burly pollywog came hurtling out as the Gallade hammered the weak but still standing fighter with yet another fist. This one finally brought the bulky Pokémon down, and Arthur panted, as he returned to his spot. Alex gave him their single Potion for the battle, and he perked up immediately, which made Nick grimace.

    He didn't expect to beat Alex at this point, not down by three and with his whole team in reserve. He had watched the match with Damon, and knew his protége's Pokémon to be just as ferocious as this Gallade was. "Chesni. Spiky Shield, then Seed Bomb!" The Chesnaught that Nick brought out was one Alex had known as a Chespin, which had evidently evolved in the years since. He smiled as he reformed in this dimension, and saw Alex. He gave a single nod, then did as his Trainer had commanded. Their species wasn't impossible to find in northern Unova, but they were rare enough that Nick had been the only graduate in his year to have one as his starter Pokémon.

    The massive grass and fighting typed tank eyed the Gallade, within its shield. The four larger horns atop it glowed green, and from them, the air filled with massive, green Seed Bombs. Having seen Terra's in action several times, Alex was mildly annoyed that these somehow seemed bigger, but he knew his patient grass turtle was watching with interest from within his ball, and probably learning.

    "Dodge, Arthur! Focus on not getting hit!" Alex ordered.

    It was Nick's turn to smirk then. "Keep them coming, Chesni. Don't let it get close."

    Arthur managed to dodge well enough, and as he did, he made his way towards the hunkered Chesnaught, and that was when Alex called the move. "Aerial Ace!"

    Arthur knew Aerial Ace usually didn't miss, but then, he was usually much better at attacking. As he closed in on the Chesnaught's shell, he reared back to punch, realizing too late that the Pokémon within the shell was watching, and waiting, for an opening in his guard. He got one, and Nick countered hard. "Shadow Punch!"

    The Chesnaught was standing before Arthur could blink, and he countered with a ghost energy infused limb that hammered Arthur, and once more sent him skipping across the field. Having never been hit so hard so many times in one Battle, the wear was starting to show on Arthur, who at this point in the challenge had soloed the vast majority of their League challenge.

    "Shake it off, Arthur. There's three more to go, and then, you get to sleep." Alex said, and his Gallade responded by lighting up his arms with another Aerial Ace. "Watch your guard, and hammer it with a flurry of Aerial Aces!"

    Arthur began running, blinked out of sight, but by this point, Nick was wise to his tricks. "In the air Chesni! Seed Bomb!" The Chesnaught once more hunkered down, and fired the large triangular Seed Bombs, only to have the svelte Gallade gracefully dance past them in air, before bring down not one, but two Aerial Aces.

    "Keep it up, Arthur!" Alex shouted, and the Gallade nodded, staying close as his flying enhanced fists powered up for more. He danced behind the tanky Pokémon's shell, thinking that would gain him an advantage.

    "Wood Hammer, Chesni!" Nick countered, only to watch in disbelief as the Gallade leapt over the low sweep of the burly Chesnaught's arm. He hammered the shell with four Aerial Aces this time, all in rapid succession, and the Chesnaught fell over then, fainted, as his quadruple weakness proved to be the chink in the otherwise impenetrable armor.

    Nick recalled his starter then, and pulled out what looked like, to Alex's eyes, a Master Ball. "I was hoping you'd be weaker by the time I needed this one...and since it's more of a myth than a Legend, the Victory League has allowed me to use it. Mars! I choose you!" Nick hurled the ball then, and it opened to reveal a Pokémon that both Alex and Connor, along with most of the scientific world, had deemed simply did not exist. Some Alolan legends claimed they were in fact real, and sometimes foul tempered, sometimes exceptional builders, but most Professors had claimed the 'sightings' of Marshadow were all hallucinatory, likely caused by something else in their shadow. The prevailing theory had been that Gengar was responsible, as they so often were, but the Marshadow was standing before them, impossible to deny.

    "You actually found a Marshadow...and named it Mars." Alex said, as he shook his head. "You would."

    "Once you see it fight, you'll understand why it has earned the name of the old god of War. Ready, Mars?" Nick said, as the Marshadow looked at him, and nodded. Their shadows stretched, and met each other, forming together in the harsh lighting of the room. Alex saw now why Nick had kept the lights. Nick fell into a fighting crouch, and so did his Pokémon.

    "Alright Arthur...psychic, ghost, and flying typed Moves are what we need...be careful. You haven't seen Nick's fighting style, and that's who you're fighting this time, essentially." Arthur nodded as his Trainer spoke, and readied himself. "Alright, go!"

    The Gallade charged forward, but before he could bamf, Mars was already there. It immediately became apparent who was faster, as Nick shouted, "Shadow Punch!" Arthur tried blocking with his prepared Aerial Ace, but the punch did not come from where he expected it to, and it hit him across the face, hard, as he struck, and missed.

    "Double Team! Then use Zen Headbutt!" Alex said, and Arthur leapt backwards, one arm vertical, while the other crossed it horizontally. Clones of the Gallade appeared around them, and as the Zen Headbutts started coming, Mars dodged them effortlessly, as Nick did. It copied its Trainer's movements, and then countered when he called the same move again.

    The Shadow Punch met the Zen Headbutt, only to find it was a clone. The real Arthur hammered Mars from behind, and the fighting ghost turned mid-hit to counter with a Shadow Punch, once more to the face. Both Pokémon were slow to rise after a critical hit from each, and Arthur smirked. "Gal...Gal, lade."

    The ghost nodded, once in what seemed like agreement with whatever Arthur said. "Marshadow."

    "Close Combat!" Nick said, as he started shadowboxing on his side of the field.

    "Block with Aerial Ace! Counter with another Zen Headbutt!" Alex replied, and Arthur did as instructed, keeping both the Trainer and the Pokémon in his sight, so he could better predict their moves. The further Mars was from his Trainer, the slower the shadow copying movements were, and the clever Gallade drew Mars back towards Alex, seemingly unable to counter the flurry of fighting typed fists coming at him.

    Yet, none landed, and when the Marshadow, or rather, its Trainer, finally paused for breath, Arthur countered, hammering it with the psychic energy infused head spike that was part of his helmet. He sent Mars sliding all the way back to Nick. It looked at its Trainer, nodded, and then glared at the Gallade, as the smoke surrounding it shifted colors, and the Marshadow entered its Zenith. Nick grinned. "Now you've done it. It's time, Mars. Seven Star Strike!"

    Alex looked down, as he knew Arthur didn't have anything, yet, that could stop a move like that, powered by Z Energy or not. To his credit, the Gallade didn't fight the inevitable, but rather stood tall, and closed his eyes before the seven ghost typed strikes hammered him into unconsciousness.

    Alex knew how long his Gallade stayed fainted for, usually, and tossed a Max Revive after the allotted time had passed, in silence. The Gallade's arm caught it, popped it in his mouth, and chewed. He sat then, panting hard as Alex recalled him into the comfort of his pocket dimension. "Well done, Arthur. Doing this well without Psycho Cut, without your swords, is genuinely impressive...you're going to be unstoppable once we figure that out." He met Nick's gaze then, and the Fighting Type Specialist of the Elite Four flinched. His old apprentice's eyes were burning.

    "Blaze. Air Slash!"

    The Charizard appeared the second he was called, and his assault was relentless as his wings immediately sought to avenge his teammate. "Dodge." Nick said, not worried, and Mars did so, shifting vertically as his Trainer moved him horizontally. It took a deep level of coordination to Battle the way they were, but there was a reason Nick had been chosen for this post. Mars danced away from each exploding blast of flying energy with ease.

    Then, the Elite Four countered. "Rock Slide. Then punch the rocks at it!"

    Alex grimaced, as a quadruple weakness hit now would make whatever his old friend had saved for last that much harder. He wasn't too concerned, but his only Potion use had been on Arthur, as planned. "Blaze! Mega Evolve!"

    Nick chuckled. "That won't help your speed difference. Face it, Redwood. Your League Challenge ends here!"

    Alex smirked, and his raised fist glowed crimson as his Charizard ascended to the next level. "Famous last words. Keep dodging Blaze, and counter with Air Slash!" Nick shook his head, and guided Mars in hammering the Rock Slide made manifest at the flying fire lizard with what should have been perfect aim. Over and over though, the smirking Charizard dodged the rocks, as they perforated the dome of the room. "Now, Blaze!"

    Suddenly, the Charizard zigged in front of the intense lights, and the Marshadow winced as its enhanced eyes tracked it automatically, into the blinding glare. Its shadow broke from Nick, as it covered its eyes in vain attempts to stop the pain. It felt more pain, as the Mega Charizard hammered the fighting ghost with multiple Air Slashes, two missed, but the final two hit, and sent Mars flying back across the field.

    Alex wasn't done, though. "Heat Wave! Focus on the air around you!" Blaze obliged, and the air rippled as the unaffected fire lizard turned it hot. Almost hot enough to ignite the very atmosphere, but Blaze knew from experience how far he could safely push this kind of temperature. "Now Air Slash!"

    The Charizard roared, and fired a blast of superheated air at the Marshadow, who managed a close dodge, but was unexpectedly burned as it hadn't accounted for the heat. As the pain made it hesitate, the unerring aim of the Charizard hit home several more times, leaving the Marshadow panting, and on one knee.

    "Mars! Reconnect!" Nick said, as he realized just how much damage his mythical Pokémon had taken. The Marshadow nodded, and once more, they were bonded by shadow. Nick shifted at the same time as Mars, and suddenly, Blaze's aim was dodged. The faster Pokémon was readying a counter, as it dashed over to the part of the field that was still superheated. More bullet-like Rock Slide boulders kept Blaze on the move, that is, until Nick called their next move. "Rock Tomb! Punch them at the Charizard!"

    The Marshadow leapt, and both Trainer and Pokémon struck, several times, sending the massive and already melting rocks towards Blaze. The Charizard ducked, dodged, and dove around the burning boulders, coming out from under the last one at a speed that was, in fact, enough to match the Marshadow. Nick realized someone had eaten their vitamins as a Charmander, and while he expected an Air Slash, what he got was a game ender.

    "Blast Burn!" Blaze hammered the field hard as he landed, right in front of Mars, and the eruption of flame that followed was enough to send the damaged mythical Pokémon into unconsciousness. Blaze circled back to his side of the field, having only taken a few grazes from the Rock Slides, and roared loud enough to shake the air itself.

    Nick chuckled, and poked his eardrum. "I take it you kept them to the training schedule I gave you...is your whole team like this?"

    Alex's smirk widened. "You should see my Torterra. Blaze is faster though, and loves Battling a lot more. Terra is more...defensive."

    Nick blinked. "Well yea. It's a turtle." He shook his head then, and called out his final Pokémon. "Shifu! I don't want to lose to a Charizard. Let's win!"

    "You're not going to get past him." Alex said with a knowing tone. "Air Slash!" The Charizard began firing, and the Medicham put his hands together, and dodged the first three, but then found itself shifting into the fourth, as Blaze read its dodging pattern. He got two more hits, before the Medicham again dodged, and then countered.

    "Shifu! Keep Meditating!" Nick said, as the Medicham's hands consistently glowed brighter. Its dodges became stiffer, and closer, and Blaze was gaining his measure, but was also running low on Air Slashes to pepper him with. As Blaze slowed in the velocity of his attacks to save power, Nick countered.

    "High Jump Kick for air! Then Thunder Punch!" The Medicham dashed towards the Charizard, and kicked into the air, bringing his feet up and turning upside down in the air as he did, using the momentum to go even higher. Then, came the Thunder Punch.

    "Match it, Blaze." Alex said, knowing his Mega Charizard, despite being a special attacker, was still in a different weight class than Medicham. His Charizard focused the electric energy, condensing it for safety, and by instinct around his clenched claw as the pair of fists met, and caused an explosion of energy.

    Blaze rocketed away from the sparks, only to find that Shifu was following up with the other fist, as Arthur had consistently done throughout their battles, striking with both limbs. "Air Slash!" Blaze hammered the Medicham guiding the wind blade around the fist that might've stopped or halved the damage. He scored a hard enough hit to kill the Medicham's momentum, and send it dropping back to the floor.

    To avoid injury, Shifu needed a forward roll, and it was as he was forced into a single direction for that roll that the follow up Air Slashes finished the match, right as Blaze ran out of them. He landed, panting hard, wings drooping from all the use they'd gotten. A Max Elixir perked him right up though, and he nodded at his Trainer when asked if he could handle more that was yet to come.

    Nick recalled his partner, and sighed, crossing his arms as he did. "I can't believe it...but you smashed through me easier than you did Damon." Alex started to say otherwise, but Nick held up a hand, convinced. "It's fine...clearly, we need to train harder. And invest in more vitamins."

    Alex smirked. "Training weights help too. You know, the ones that boost all skill growth, but halve speed? It was worth taking a few hits to be strong enough for this challenge."

    Nick nodded. "I see...interesting. I hadn't considered weight vest training…" His eyes widened. "You do the schedule I gave you with those on!?"

    Alex nodded, and Nick stared at him. "Your Pokémon must adore you."

    "My Pokémon want to be the best, and will do what they have to, to reach that level. I promised to help them as best I could. I like to think I have...and a victory here will prove it." Alex said.

    Nick nodded again. "I think it's time someone toppled N. Good luck against the first Champion you have to face. You drew Hilbert."

    Alex thought for a moment about which Champions were reputed to use which Legendary Dragon, and then smirked again. "So he's giving me Reshiram?"

    Nick laughed, at that. "You assume you'll even get past Reshiram."

    Alex's smirk grew, and he turned his hat backwards as he walked towards the telepad, and the second-to-last match of his challenge. "I brought a pair of Earthquake machines. I can get past it." He gave his friend a side-eye as he bamfed back to the main room. "You'll be calling me Champion before we're done."

    Nick shook his head as he watched his protege leave. Then, he saw the damage caused to the partially melted and seriously perforated ceiling of his room. "I think I believe it." He sighed again, and then bamfed to the Pokémon Center, for some needed heals.

    On to the Champion he went, as he stepped onto the center most platform in the first chamber of the Victory League. Alex went down, and somehow, came out before a set of stairs that led upwards. Around him, he saw the once-ruined and blown out remnants of the Champion's Hall, from the days when Alder and then Iris had, briefly, reigned as Champion.

    The back part of the room where Hilbert and N had reportedly briefly faced off had a new set of stairs ascending from it, up to the plateau, for which the League was named. In the old days, such a vast space had, evidently, been required for their matches. In the modern era, a raised man-made pyramid and stone structure had been what contained the Champion level battles held within. The redesign had followed N's second ascension to the Victory League, when his final match with Nate had leveled the building again. Rather than rebuild, the League had opted for the cheaper solution of battling on the same field as the ancients had, for Champion title matches.

    Before that however, was Hilbert. What was left of the original Champion's chamber was supported by stone columns and had a grand feel to it. Large, spacious, and lacking much, or any, decoration. There were marks on the white stone, both from flame and something much more focused, and hotter in temperature.

    "Welcome, Challenger. You've done well to climb this high...if you defeat me, only Champion N, and Zekrom, stand between you and the title of strongest Trainer in Unova. I've seen your matches so far...some day, you and I are gonna have to test our psychic types in Battle. My Alakazam wishes to face your Gallade...but only at his strongest."

    Alex nodded. "I understand. I'm sure Arthur would enjoy it as well."

    Hilbert nodded in return, and there was a pause, as Alex felt the Champion Trainer's eyes bore into him. The fire of the man who had single-handedly faced down N, Zekrom, and Team Plasma in their darker early days, and won, was measuring his worth.

    "Shiro. It's time." Hilbert said, as he crossed his arms. From Hilbert's left, came the roar of Reshiram's Turboblaze, and the White Yang Pokémon burned his way into the chamber. The Overdrive flames kept it aloft behind Hilbert, as he smirked.

    Alex nodded, hat still backwards as he drew Shruikan's ball, and threw it. It was in his hand before he'd even reached for it, but focused as he was on the Battle, he didn't notice. The much smaller, seemingly unassuming Shelgon stared up at the fiery dragon god of the Unova region, one third of what was once the Original Dragon, progenitor of all dragon types.

    Shruikan growled, and rock energy built around his shell. Alex called the move at the same moment. "Rollout!"

    Hilbert's tone was as cold as the flames that were about to engulf the field. "Dragon Pulse." A wide area spray of dragon typed energy in the form of blue flames, from a Legendary Pokémon, bathed the field, as Shruikan got rolling. He winced, and tried to Protect, but the intensity of the dragonfire was too much, and it caused a single hit knockout.

    Alex grimaced, and recalled his middle evolution. He could guess how well Hydrus would do, against a floating dragon, and while Terra would tank one, maybe two fire attacks, he wouldn't do enough damage to be worth enduring that kind of pain. That only left one option, an attempt to match the Legend, and fight fire with fire. "Blaze!" Alex said, as he pointed at Reshiram. "Mega Evolve! Dodge what comes with Dragon Dance!" Alex's hand glowed crimson then, as Blaze drew from the Plate crystal in his hand, and once more took his Mega Form. Of all his team, only his Charizard had ever been able to battle all day, multiple times, and still come in later as fresh as ever. Alex was convinced it was a species trait, as that tireless stamina would go far in explaining both Champion Leon and Alain's winning streaks.

    Hilbert frowned, as in one move, Alex took the advantage in speed and special attack power. "Fusion Flare!" Shiro roared, and the entire building shook as blue-white flames followed the speeding fire lizard as he dodged and weaved through the columns and the sky both in and outside of the hall in his attempts to dodge.

    Once the flares began to fade, Alex countered. "Dragon Dance, once more! Do not stop dodging!" Blaze roared in acknowledgement, and once more, a draconic aura surrounded him, and enhanced his already ridiculous power even further.

    "Dragon Pulse." Hilbert ordered, but even Reshiram's ability to rotate and hover couldn't keep up with the Mega Charizard's speed now. The counter was theirs, and it came swiftly.

    "Dragon Pulse in return!" Blaze arched his head as he countered while moving, and a dense sphere of deep crimson dragon energy hurtled towards Reshiram, as it cut a swathe through the field of dragonfire, and landed with critical effectiveness on the massive white Pokémon's stomach. Reshiram's Overdrive turned blue as it roared from the hit, and Alex gave another command. "Dragon Dance! Don't get hit by this!"

    "Blue Flare!" Hilbert shouted, and Shiro leaned forward, roaring as he filled the air with white hot flames, damaging even to a fire type from their sheer power. Blaze kept ahead of them flying upside down with his stomach to the ceiling as he did. The flames left a noticeable trail of black as they burned across the ceiling.

    "Once more, Dragon Pulse!" Alex ordered, and his Mega Charizard responded again with an even stronger sphere of draconic energy. It moved so fast, even Shiro had trouble following it, but he did not have trouble feeling the impact, as it hit him again. The damage was beginning to show, and Hilbert, like the Elite Four, was starting to wonder if this would be the Trainer to dethrone N, who'd reigned as Unova's Champion since his return several decades earlier.

    Hilbert did not intend to make it easy, though. "Use Psychic!" Shiro's eyes glowed an intense blue, and Blaze's momentum stopped, as psychic power held him in place, and hammered him against the ground. "Now Stone Edge!"

    "Blaze! Use Dig!" Alex countered, as Reshiram landed, and caused the earth to rise at its command. Blaze summoned the ground energy, and used it to burrow, before the Stone Edge could land. "Dragon Dance beneath the field!"

    Shiro's eyes appeared to follow Blaze, as he grew even stronger, and faster. "Shiro, bathe the field in Blue Flare once the Charizard pops up." In response to Hilbert's orders, a ball of intense blue fire formed in the White Yang Pokémon's mouth. Before it could burn the field though, Blaze rose from the ground, behind the white fire dragon, who'd taken his eyes off the subterranean dancing fire lizard to charge up the Blue Flare. Alex had watched Reshiram closely, noting how he'd attacked, and how long it took to do so. He expected Zekrom, under N's command, would be even faster. He and Shiro would need to match them.

    Blaze hammered Shiro with the Dig, and then in the blink of an eye, was once more zipping around the room. A deep crimson glow lit the chamber once more, while Reshiram empowered his Blue Flare with even more strength.

    Alex called the move, as Blaze fired it. "Dragon Pulse!"

    The condensed dragon attack was stymied by the ferocity of the Blue Flare, and the two moves collided in an explosion, as neither proved to be superior. Then, from out of the smoke, came the hurtling form of a Mega Charizard, both claws alight with dragon energy. "Finish it Blaze! Dragon Claw!"

    "Shiro, Fire Fang!" Hilbert countered, as he knew the STAB from a Legendary Pokémon would make up for the resistance to fire that the Mega Charizard possessed. Blaze landed the first Dragon Claw, only to find his tail being bitten, and then used to throw him, as he tried zipping by again. He should have been much faster than Reshiram by this point, after so many Dragon Dances, but it seemed the Legendary Dragon was a legend for a reason.

    As Blaze went flying back through the air, Hilbert capitalized on the counter. "Fusion Flare!" Shiro's tail burned into Overdrive once more, as Blaze righted himself, and brought the second Dragon Claw around for another hit. He and Shiro crossed in the air, and as both attacks landed, moments later so did the Pokémon. Shiro gave a final cry, and fell, with enough force to shake the hall. Blaze roared, triumphant, and then fell on his bottom, panting, and genuinely exhausted.

    Hilbert clapped slowly, as Reshiram raised his head, and was given a Max Revive. Hilbert examined Blaze, who had let the power from the crystal go as the battle ended. The two fire typed Pokémon eyed each other, and Reshiram glowed then, as his tail's flame surrounded both of them. It shifted to a deep blue color as the heat intensified, and Alex started to speak up before he saw his Pokémon's face.

    "Fire types aren't always injured by Blue Flare." Hilbert said, approaching Alex. "In fact, Shiro can heal them with it, if he chooses to do so." Alex nodded, staying silent, choosing instead to watch the two.

    Hilbert continued. "You've won the right to use him now, for your battle with N. He'll be using Zekrom. If you can defeat N, you will be the newest Champion of Unova." The Trainer smirked, shrugging. "We had so many Champions already. We needed to make things more difficult, for this."

    Alex smirked as well, and then shook Hilbert's hand as it was offered. "I'd expect nothing less from the Victory Plateau. It's been an honor battling with you. We should have a proper six on six some time." He said, as he offered the approaching white dragon a Max Elixir as well.

    Alex needed him at full strength for the duel with N. He gave a small wave towards his spectators via the remote camera drones who were recording the matches, and then proceeded further up the plateau, to the very top.

    He could understand now why the Champions had beaten Team Plasma. If Hilda was as strong as Hilbert, no team of gangsters would be able to stand against them long. N was, since returning to Unova, supposed to have surpassed them both, in terms of strength.

    As he reached the top of the stairs and looked around the flat plateau, Alex saw the familiar green mane of hair of Unova's strongest Trainer standing on the other side of the battlefield. His castle had long since been deconstructed, and the remnant materials had been used to rebuild the chamber below several times, before they had run out. Weathered columns dotted the sides of the ancient plateau, and judging by the fire and lightning scoring upon them, the battles up here were just as intense.

    "Alexander Redwood." The voice was as charismatic and strong as it had sounded on the TV, where Alex had first heard it so many years ago. "Welcome, to the Victory Plateau."

    A Trainer like N was, of course, famous and loved by the Unovan people, and he'd had many region-saving adventures, often stopping rampaging Pokémon, or shady people from abusing the power of Unova's many Legendary Pokémon.

    "It's about time you got here. I must thank you for freeing Shiro…I'd been looking for Ghetsis for months, after Kuro and I discovered Kyurem was missing. When Shiro went missing too, I had a feeling he was trying to fuse them all again."

    Alex shrugged. "It wasn't that difficult…Ghetsis is not the Trainer he used to be...and Shiro was as eager to be separated as Kyurem." He looked up at Shiro, and smirked. "I'm glad I was able to help the embodiment of truth."

    N nodded. "I can sense the conviction behind your personal truth… impressive…you might actually prove challenging."

    Alex hadn't bothered with shoving Reshiram into a ball, yet, and had instead freed him entirely of the one Hilbert had used. This only seemed to make the white dragon like him more. He'd even spoken, using his latent psychic powers, to thank him for keeping him out of such a confined space. After that, Alex had given his team a brief rest, during which, he focused on teaching Reshiram what he would need to use to beat Zekrom. At the end of their break, the white dragon of light seemed confident they would win, and that was enough for Alex.

    His granduncle had been right about Legendary Pokémon. They were simply too strong to keep confined to a ball. Trying to shove a force of nature into a pocket dimension was just a bad idea.

    To this day however, Professors could not explain why some Legendary Pokémon seemed to appear in multiple places. For example, the breeding habits of Moltres, Zapdos, and Articuno were still unknown, and there had even been reports of a Trainer in Johto who had, according to Professor Elm, witnessed the birth of a new member of the Creation Trio, though which member had been added to the known pantheon had not been divulged.

    Many had called the story ludicrous, claiming that Zapdos and several Legendary Beasts had easily dismissed Pokéball attempts to catch them, even from a Master Ball, multiple times. The fact that you couldn't just entrap them in a Pokéball however, did not matter to some Trainers. Some Trainers became 'Tamers' of the Legendary Pokémon and were able to summon whatever Legendary they had bonded with and proven worthy of battling alongside, at will. No Pokéball required, though many had one anyways, if their Trainers needed to recall them from imminent danger, or thieves.

    The gods of Time and Space did indeed have Tamers, according to his granduncle, but nobody had ever met them, and those who claimed to usually were lying, or had unverifiable stories. Being able to travel freely throughout space and time made it difficult for those who would challenge the Holders of Time and Space. They could be anywhere, at any time, and they sure hadn't seemed to stick around Earth.

    They did show up when summoned however, and the only one who could summon them was Arceus…or a clone of Arceus, as far as Professor Redwood knew.

    N proved his own skill as a Trainer who was a cut above the rest by summoning the other half of Reshiram, Zekrom, whom he had nicknamed Kuro. Like Alex, it seemed he'd not bothered with a Pokéball, as Zekrom rose on the power of electromagnetism from behind the edge of the plateau N had been standing near. "Kuro, his truth is as iron…let us forge it into steel…or more likely, break it."

    Zekrom's roar filled the air, and Alex felt a shiver up his spine from the Hyper Voice. A dragon and electric type was a fierce combination, and the only counter to it was a Pokémon like Shiro.

    Alex couldn't tell which dragon was stronger, as he eyed the two of them in the same place. In fact, the more he glanced between them, the more he was convinced he was missing something obvious.

    "Fusion Bolt!" The Champion shouted, as he started off the match. Alex raised a brow. Was he really going to start that contest? This early?

    "Fusion Flare!" Alex responded, and the two Legendary Pokémon bashed against each other uselessly. Reshiram was unharmed, but Zekrom it seemed had, by pure chance, caught a burn. Seeing that losing was now a real possibility, N got serious. There was no point in using Blue Flare or Bolt Strike, not when dragon type moves were so much better.

    "Dragon Pulse!" The two Trainers shouted at once. The Legendary Dragons responded, but different attacks came out. Shiro's Dragon Pulse had changed, becoming dense, and swirling with the energy of the dragon type move, and the fire type power he was drawing from his new Tamer's crystal. This was a new trick, and one that Shiro had claimed would allow him, and others, to fire dual type attacks much more easily. Alex had also showed him, by way of demonstration from Terra, how to condense a pulse move into a sphere, for more damage and density. Shiro had picked it up in moments, once more proving just how strong and adaptable Legendary Pokémon were.

    It was too late for N to counter, and Zekrom took the dual typed Dragon Pulse hard, landing before N in a smoking heap while Shiro floated above, almost seeming to grin. Often had darkness bested light on this plateau, for many Trainers had truths they believed in, but few even knew what ideals were. N's ideals, which governed his very training style, were stronger than most, and thus, Zekrom responded just as strongly as Reshiram had to N's own truth.

    As the years had passed, the Champion had mostly forgotten what his truths were. He sat on this plateau all day with Zekrom, usually, having forgone any other Pokémon. His ideals kept him stubbornly opposed to carrying them around in Pokéballs, and often the partners who he did have gladly offered themselves for capture, if it was by him, but he always refused.

    He'd refused them all, and eventually, they had left. The Pokéball was a device that had been designed by corporations, but had been commissioned by the Pokémon League almost two centuries ago. In those two centuries, modern Pokémon training had changed entirely.

    The pure convenience of being able to take your Pokémon wherever you pleased, and then store multiple once the pocket dimension system was applied to the PokéNet, couldn't be matched. Multiple Pokémon could travel with their Trainers all over the world, rotating in and out, but N hadn't wanted that. Alex had no qualms about it though, and his full team of six Pokémon was very obvious, even under his heavy black and white jacket.

    N stared at his belt, and his eye twitched. Reshiram watched, smirking knowingly. He'd finally found the right Trainer to move N past this block…or so he had thought when Alex had beaten Hilbert. Shiro was now convinced that this Trainer had what was needed, what they had previously thought only N possessed; the power to right the wrong of the ancient twin Heroes, and once more unite Unova, and the surrounding regions of the 'States' into a cohesive, enlightened whole, as it had been before it was fractured by war.

    N had come so close…but in abandoning his Pokémon team while claiming to hold to the truths Hilbert and Hilda had shown him, he had ultimately failed. No one had been able to dethrone him, however. It seemed that finally, someone had arrived who could.

    Shiro felt his counterpart stir, and slowly reach this same conclusion. Bonded as they were, N sensed Zekrom's appreciation for the Challenger's strength…and grew angry. "Hypocrite…" He snarled, "You sit there with a team you're not even using, abandoning them in favor of my Shiro…you're like every other Trainer…you abandon your enslaved friends for a Legendary Pokémon at the first opportunity!"

    Alex's brow rose to Spockian heights, as he'd just noticed N's rage. He'd been enjoying the battle, but something had shifted. Instead of bouncing back, Zekrom had risen slowly, blue sparks rolling across his body, his power being fueled by N's newest ideal, to never be replaced. It was twisted from his original ideal of never binding Pokémon to balls, but Zekrom was already bound to his Trainer's emotional turbulence.

    For battle, they were connected on a deeper level, and this connection was now affecting the Legendary Dragon. It figured, for Kuro had always responded easiest to darker emotions. All Alex felt from Shiro was calming peace and light.

    Thus, he answered evenly, logically, and calmly. "You're the one who set up this Challenge, Champion. I'd face you, team to team, but you only have Zekrom with you." Shiro roared as he felt the spirit of Battle rise from both humans. Alex's eyes were burning as hot as Reshiram's flames. "It will not be enough!"

    "Kuro, Bolt Strike!" With the rage that fueled the attack, Alex didn't need to bring up type advantages in his head.

    If that hit Shiro, he might survive it, but would most definitely be paralyzed. And even one missed move in a battle like this meant defeat. No, Alex decided, that move needed to miss. He took a page from Hilbert's book.

    "Evade, and counter with Fire Fang." Shiro's maw blazed to life, and it dodged its counterpart's furious strike effortlessly, and then struck at his outstretched arm, clamping down on it hard with his fangs.

    Kuro tried to switch arms for his Bolt Strike, but by the time he had, Shiro had already spun, and thrown him into the building that housed the only entrance into the League complex. Luckily, there were other ways up to this level, and the League had, at this point, several masons on perpetual standby for Champion title matches, and their intensity.

    Since the summer had started, Leagues all around the world had been in a constant state of competition, and all matches against Champions were regularly broadcasted. Usually for a fee. N's had always been free to watch though, and that was a large part of why the people adored their Champion. He cared about the Battle, the honor in the sport, the bonds it helped to forge between humans and Pokémon. Many times, he'd expressed dislike, or outright irritation, at their society's dependence upon currency, which had made him quietly disliked by the older generation, and that much more loved by the younger one.

    Watching Kuro in his enraged state, Alex began to understand what he'd been missing thus far. He looked at each dragon, and then recalled the stomping ice monster that had charged through Castelia in an effort to get home. As he began to grasp at what Gary Oak had hinted he'd needed to do when and if he won, if the product of his sudden realization actually worked in the end, the current challenge for the Unova region wouldn't be able to be completed more than once. He briefly wondered how Jess would ever prove worthy enough to reach the aforementioned Swamp Sage, but resumed his focus on the battle as Kuro attacked again with a Dragon Pulse. This was it, then.

    Alex smirked, and Shiro responded with his own densely compacted Dragon Pulse, easily condensing it into a ball of dense draconic death. Alex briefly wondered if Arceus had the same capabilities. He was a deity no? He had to already know something as simple as condensing a pulse attack. Right?

    Alex had Shiro combine his power then. Being a Legendary Pokémon, he could raise a crystal's worth of dragon energy easily. The Firium crystal compensated, and his next Dragon Pulse was once more part dragon, part fire type, and more than Zekrom or N could handle after all the intense battling.

    Shiro's balanced dual-type attack again brought Zekrom low, as his claws struggled in vain to hold the dense sphere of flame and dragon energy back, but he crashed again into the Victory Plateau's harsh terrain before the ball exploded in his face. Kuro struggled to rise, and then fainted. The red fury from N was cut off, and his eyes lost their enraged glow. N was still furious however. "This isn't over! You will not replace me!"

    N dropped into a martial stance, but Shiro descended between him and Alex before N so much as moved. With almost a field between them, Alex did not hear what Shiro told N, but after, N calmed, and walked over to him beside Shiro.

    Alex had gone to Kuro in the meantime, deciding that earning his trust now would help with his new idea. It worked, and the Black Yin Pokémon thanked him as Shiro had when he was given a Max Revive, and an Elixir as well. Kuro's tone was deeper, but Alex swore the two sounded almost identical, and somehow familiar.

    "I...lost myself in the darkness there, for a moment. My apologies. You did it, Challenger." N said. "You're the new Champi-" He paused, as there was a beeping from his pocket. After checking his Holociever, Alex's started ringing as well. It was his loving girlfriend, of course, as always with impeccable timing. He didn't care if N was interrupted, he'd still become the new Champion, as far as he was concerned.

    "Jess. My reason for existing. What is it?" She was having none of his attitude though, distracted as she was.

    "If you two are done slamming dragons together up there, we need the Champion down here. Kyurem is on a rampage. Evidently it wasn't able to freeze the Chasm again, and now it's furious. Someone in Lacunosa Town did something to anger it. People are dying, Alex. We need the dragons."

    N and Alex shared a look, and then N sighed at his device, and shut it down, ending the contact. "You heard them. They need the dragons, Champion. Go. Save Unova."

    Jess made an 'o' face as she overheard N, and then looked excited. "You won!? The smoke hasn't cleared yet, we didn't see the end!"

    Alex winked at her, then closed the phone almost entirely. It wouldn't end the call, but N didn't need to know that. He also knew Jess would kill him if he didn't share something this good.

    N looked depressed, almost deflated, as he realized he wasn't needed anymore, that he'd somehow failed at being Champion. Alex patted his shoulder. "They'll need you, too. Don't sell yourself short, you're one of the Heroes of Unova. My victory isn't going to change that. You didn't fail at your duty…you just didn't finish what you'd started."

    N blinked slowly. "What…I started?" Alex pointed at the two dragons then, smirking.

    They had each told him they approved of his idea, after a brief telepathic conversation, and their good mood was infectious. "With them. You kept them separate, all these years. They're meant to be One, you brilliant fool. Until your Team Plasma awakened them, they were fine existing apart. Now that they're awake, and at peace, they want to become themselves again. You woke them up and calmed them into a state of balance, but simply never finished unifying them, and thus fell out of balance. Without unity, one side eventually overpowers the other. For you, it was the darkness."

    N stared at the new Champion. "What?"

    Alex simply chuckled. "Hop on Kuro. I'll show you what I mean." Alex hopped on Shiro, and together, the four of them soared down the Victory Plateau. Alex had a feeling a certain fiery redhead would be calling whoever owned those satellites that had broadcasted their match, and demand they follow them. She needn't have bothered however, as the recording had continued, and would continue, until N fully declared Alex the Champion. That meant the automated drones would follow the current Champion, until the title was verbally transferred.

    That was their excuse for it anyways. Pokémon League monitoring was a boring job most days, and the men monitoring the intense match would take any excuse to not cover the drudgery of the minor League challenges after this battle resolved itself. Or so they would tell their boss.

    In reality, it was the League cameraman's desire to take a break during what he assumed would be another loss to N, and leave the cameras on the Champion and the Challenger, that would lead to the recording of such an historic moment.

    Kyurem wasn't hard to find, as its path of destruction was obvious. The frosty dragon had returned to his old stomping grounds, Lacunosa Town, a strange little place that had lost so many children to Kyurem, they had legends about him.

    Instead of simply abandoning the settlement, as anyone with any sense would do, the people had stayed, walling themselves in from the ferocious ice dragon, and making their town perfect for the Arceans, and their Church to 'convert'. Their visiting Bishop had claimed that if the townspeople simply believed in Arceus and gave their lives to his Church, as those in the Fornia region did, He would shelter them from the monster lurking in the nearby Chasm.

    Over time, children stopped playing in the woods because of the town's high walls, technology had advanced, and portable tech was all anyone that young cared about as they were, of course, watching Pokémon Battles live, all over the world. This peace was what had lent the Arcean Church credit for a 'miracle', for after they'd established a small church in the town, Kyurem hadn't taken anyone, even though the last time the dragon had been blamed for such a thing had been decades earlier. The people of Lacunosa had eventually become devoted Arceans, and with that devotion, Lacunosa had become a very…strange place, operating as the base of the Arceans in Unova.

    They'd always wanted a base in the east after infecting the western coast, and they'd finally gotten one. They claimed to have facilities the world over, but Alex had discovered during his research that the majority of them were actually entirely empty buildings, run by literally nobody. He'd even visited one, out of pure curiosity. The lights had been on, but nobody had been inside the lavishly decorated rooms. There hadn't even been a security detail, and that, was how he'd smoked up an entire dining room with him and some of his more incredulous 'friends' from his hometown. It had been quite a night.

    Lacunosa Town had, as the Arcean's base, received an influx of Trainers from the Fornia region. Nobody knew what they were up to, only that they frequently visited the Chasm. This is how Kyurem became embroiled in an enormous battle that led to the deaths of hundreds of young Trainers. He'd stomped over to Lacunosa from Nimbasa, and hadn't done much the first pass through. Absofusion drained him, as it was man's attempt to forcibly pair the boundary Pokémon with his other halves by way of technology. That would never lead to a complete restoration of the Original Dragon, but Kyurem had not bothered to tell Ghetsis, or anyone else, that fact. Kyurem rarely, if ever, spoke.

    Once he'd discovered his Chasm however, he'd entered a state of rage. Lacunosa Town was a perfect incubator for the Arcean's strange and oppressive style of belief and living, as they'd moved in and taken advantage of the walls, and turned the once peaceful town into a functional prison for those who had once called it home. Despite their apparent conversion, the original residents had been treated to the poor living conditions suffered through by most Arceans. Naturally, those who wanted and enjoyed higher quality living than thin mats on hardwood floors tried resisting, and that resistance had led to imprisonment in their own town.

    From Lacunosa, the Arceans had ordered their aspiring Trainers to visit the Chasm regularly, and catch as many Pokémon as possible. The wild ones there were quite strong, thanks in no small part to Kyurem itself, and upon seeing its friends being captured en masse as it returned, the ice dragon had made the Trainers responsible pay for it. Catching a few that jumped out of the grass was one thing. Those Pokémon usually wanted a human to train them, and Kyurem had always respected their choice, as it had only gone after humans foolish or curious enough to enter its cave. What the Arceans had been in the process of doing had been systematic, thorough, and all but robbed the area of its natural inhabitants.

    Kyurem had become enraged, and had headed for the Arcean Trainers as they ran in terror. He caught them easily with Glaciate, and then turned his rage on the not so distant Lacunosa Town. Devout Arceans were slaughtered, along with their guards, as Kyurem's Glaciate all but buried the town in ice. Something similar had happened to Opelucid, and while many people would be safe for a time in their homes, or be able to be thawed free in the coming days, many would simply die in that ice. It was why Unovans didn't upset the balance between the dragons, and why Ghetsis was now serving the rest of his lifetime prison sentence. But who knew if he'd actually stay there.

    Alex and N arrived on the scene to find Kyurem nestled in an enormous crater of ice. Because of the town's tight knit construction, it appealed to both the controlling Arceans, and the wandering Kyurem, who made it into a new icy cavern.

    "We have to smash the top of that before it freezes completely. Or it will never melt." N spoke quickly, guilt all over his face. Had he been paying attention, he would've surely gotten here sooner. The Victory Plateau gave one a large view of the entire region, and one could even make out Castelia's spires from the top.

    "Shiro and I will handle it." Alex said, knowing the fire would be quicker. "You go in through the 'entrance' by the Pokémon Center."

    N wanted to salvage this town, but to Alex, it was a den of corruption, now frozen, that he'd just as soon let freeze. He didn't like Arceans, but they were still people. He also needed Kyurem, and if his plan succeeded, the town would likely be saved regardless.

    Shiro's blue flames melted the ice near-instantly, the only reason he hadn't used Blaze instead, and Kyurem was below them. It roared up at them, and as it did, Zekrom flew in with a Bolt Strike, upper cutting the hollow ice type in the jaw.

    Alex winced. They needed dragon type moves here, or at least fire. Electric attacks were not very effective, a fact made evident by Kyurem's slow turn towards Kuro and N. Alex summoned Blaze then, and together, he and Shiro used Flamethrower to hit the dragon and ice type.

    Alex had taught it to Shiro in favor of Fire Fang after the battle, as it was much stronger, and more useful for a Pokémon with strong special attacks. Kyurem went down hard under the twin torrents of flame, and Alex dropped to the ground, running towards N and Kuro.

    He looked at Zekrom as it spoke into his mind, then glared at N. "You have a what? We're going to need it! Quickly!" N looked confused for a moment, before Zekrom informed him of what the new Champion was talking about.

    "What? I'm not giving you that! I…" N let his sentence trail off, and his eyes glanced towards the floor. Alex had beaten both Hilbert and himself. Technically, he now was the Tamer of both dragons. Which meant the Plate crystal infused with dragon typed essence was his.

    Sighing, N handed over a deep bluish-purple crystal, the symbol of the dragon types embedded within it. Dragon types were the rarest of Pokémon, and naturally, the pieces of a fallen Arceus' dragon plate were just as coveted, and rare.

    They were so powerful that an order of Dragon Masters had arisen for the sole purpose of keeping those crystals from the hands of dark minded Trainers. They didn't stop them from taking other crystals, though they confiscated them when they could, but the dragon crystals were by far the most important to keep safe.

    Alex took the crystal, then looked at N. "You'll have this back, I promise. I just need it for a minu-"

    N interrupted him. "Keep it. I no longer need it."

    Not knowing what to say, as he was technically correct and pointing that out would be awkward, Alex simply nodded. "Very well…I'll be sure to use it wisely."

    He turned to Kyurem then, who had almost freed itself of the Flamethrowers, and even Zekrom's Fusion Bolt, which lanced from his maw in a streak of electricity. "Kuro, use Dragon Pulse, you too Shiro. Terra, Energy Ball, Hydrus, Mud Shot, Leo, Thunder, Shruikan, Flamethrower, Arthur, Psychic."

    Alex called out each of the moves, and each of his team appeared as he called them. He weaved their energies together with the Dragonium, forcing the Legendary ice dragon down under the force of so many powerful and varied attacks. Alex approached, holding the dragon crystal in his palm.

    He showed it to Kyurem, and the Legendary Dragon paused in his struggling.

    "Cease." Alex said, and the attacks stopped. The dragon-ice type rose, looming over him.

    "Prove...your worth…" Came a soft, echoing voice from within his head.

    Alex nodded then, saying, "I understand." Before he recalled his team, leaving only the three dragons on the icy field.

    The ground shook as ice erupted and grew all around them. A gateway of sorts appeared by the entrance N and Kuro had used and the rising pillars of ice sent N sliding backwards across the treacherous ground. Kyurem walked backwards slowly retreating further into his new icy cave, before lowering himself down into a battle stance. He was inviting the human to face him. Properly.

    "Shiro, Kuro, I'll need your help to Battle it." The two dragons stepped forth, and faced down their empty husk. Kyurem's Glaciate was the first move, and it assumed the only move it would need.

    "Blue Flare!" Shiro's flame burned through the attack, protecting Zekrom from his weakness, and doing minimal damage to both of them, which left Kuro open to counter.

    "Fusion Bolt!" Alex called, and the black dragon's tail began to hum as Kuro charged forward and hammered Kyurem in the jaw before flying away. The force of the strike made the ice dragon flinch, long enough for Alex to call the next move in rapid succession. "Fusion Flare!"

    Reshiram answered the command as quickly as he had each time before, but this time, his flames seemed stronger. They shifted to white-blue intensity, and burned the ice dragon backwards, forcing it to slide across the icy terrain, into one of the houses serving as the back part of the new 'cave'. Thankfully, it seemed uninhabited, which was good, as it was definitely in need of repair after Kyurem smashed into it.

    The insanely powerful dragon-ice type roared, and the two dragons roared back. Ice shot up behind them, locking them in the icy arena, and cutting them off from N, who had been struggling to make it back to them. Now in an enclosed space, once more fire ice and lightning met in a collision of power as Kyurem launched an Ice Beam, that Shiro and Kuro blocked with a Flamethrower and Thunderbolt respectively. Alex glanced at what Kyurem had wrought, and though the circular town seemed more like a prison, to his eyes, it could almost be a stadium.

    Later, he would learn that there had indeed been eyes to feel, as this time his Battle was being broadcasted live, and very clearly seen. He'd made himself presentable for the League Challenge, and now, looked like he'd never lost a game of 'who's the protag' with his hat still backwards, as he stared down the giant hollow dragon. The League's floating camera monitor continued to record, despite the ice. It was strong, but clear enough to see through. Some deeply buried aspect of Kyurem wanted those present to witness this battle.

    Seeing he was alone, Alex glanced at N through the ice. The former Champion looked concerned, but his expression changed as Alex winked, and turned back to the clash of dragons he was probably enjoying far too much as he touched the dragon Plate crystal shard to the 'awakened' piece of the fire Plate he already had. As he did, the deep bluish-purple crystal began to hum in response as it too awakened, and the black and white dragons each kept one eye on him, with the other on Kyurem, as they watched, and seemed to smile. Alex met their eyes with a smirk as he gave his orders. "Shiro, Dragon Pulse…Kuro, Mega Evolve."

    Shiro launched his newly perfected dragon move at Kyurem, who took the dense sphere of dragon energy head on, and looked seriously injured by the attack. A hollow hole had appeared in his head, in the crest of ice, but the unbalanced spirit would not be cowed so easily. As a Glaciate was launched in response, it was blocked by the still cone shaped Dragon Pulse of Mega Zekrom. His wings were more reminiscent of a Charizard's in shape now, and his posture had shifted, lowering his front and head towards the ground, as the enhanced tail hummed with plasma energy. His arms were even burlier, and blue sparks constantly covered his dark scales.

    Zekrom needed to be able to balance his energy as Reshiram had, or Alex would lose balance as well. Allowing the mental contact between himself and the black dragon, Terra gave the knowledge freely, trusting the Legendary Pokémon to use it for the good of them all.

    "Now Kuro, balance your energy. Condense it into a sphere…and use Dragon Pulse!" A ball of electric energy swirled in the dark dragon's maw, and it was joined in a Taijitu swirl by the dragon type energy that was coming from the Dragonium, and had fueled his mega evolution. "Shiro! Mega Evolve!" Again, Kyurem was unbalanced by the massive dragon and electric attack as it struck home, and dealt significant damage. Kuro had focused on drawing electric power, and the Dragonium had given the rest.

    Now Reshiram joined its counterpart at the same level of evolution. Like Zekrom, the wings and body posture had changed, but now Reshiram sported a pair of fluffy white front legs, that helped keep the White Yang Pokémon balanced as it stood. The Dragonium was providing the energy for all of this. It was, after all, only two thirds of a Pokémon he was evolving, and each of them drew from the same stone that now held awakened dragon aspected Infinity Energy.

    Now in their ascended forms, the two Legendary Dragons forced their empty, frozen shell into submission. Kyurem stared down the Trainer who had managed to subdue him so handily with the separated avatars of truth and ideals. A deep voice rang through the colosseum-shaped crater of ice, "You...have nerve...thinking to unite what has been broken..."

    "That was a long time ago..." Alex responded, holding the Dragonium crystal up to the Boundary Pokémon, "It is time for you to become One once more. Humanity will never sunder you again. Not while I yet draw breath, anyways." Kyurem looked ready to attack for a moment, then nodded, lowering its head and touching its snout to the crystal. It too, mega evolved, and of the three dragons, its form changed the most.

    Kyurem had always been front heavy, with small arms and powerful legs, like a Tyrantrum, but now, its arms became longer, sturdier and ended in claws similar to his feet, the 'wings' on its back became even lengths, and rose from the base of his neck, which had also lengthened, and come up from his torso.

    His body was now more akin to that of a Tropius than a Tyrantrum, and as Mega Kyurem turned its gaze to its two counterparts, the three spoke as one. "It is time. Absolute Fusion!"

    Each of Kyurem's 'wings' shot towards Reshiram and Zekrom, connecting to the Taijitu swirl pattern of black and white on each of their stomachs, and the respective dragon's auras of red and yellow manifested alongside the icy blue of Kyurem's. For his part, Alex reached out as best he could, trying to force the spheres together into one unified whole via the Plate crystal, but the resistance to the fusion was great. The opposing nature of Shiro and Kuro were relentlessly pushing against the other as their tails spun up with opposing natural forces emanating from them, and keeping them apart. It was this fusing of opposing forces, that science had been unable to overcome. From Mega Kyurem, came a circle of dragon energy in the ground, that surrounded the pair of Legendary dragons, and forced them together, closer and closer, until literal fusion occurred. Alex covered his eyes as the intense light filled the icy chamber, and when he lowered his arm, he gasped as he saw what his efforts had wrought. The Original Dragon had returned.

    Mega Kyurem had provided the boundary needed to keep the two other parts of itself in balance, and now once more, a golden age would reign over the land. Its typing had been fused by dragon, and thus had been lost in the final reforming. Fire, electric, and ice were now balanced in one draconic looking being who was as light as he was dark. He roared, and the ice surrounding the town began to melt in response.

    Alex and N knelt, awed that they were in the presence of this legend, appointed by Arceus to safeguard their continent so very very long ago. He had four legs still, and his pair of wings sprouted up from the base of his neck. The scales upon them were as white as Reshiram, but the webbing was as dark as Zekrom. They folded, after extending during his roar, slowly, as if the dragon was trying to remember how to close them.

    The Taijitu symbol, in black and white, was imprinted on the dragon's forehead. His snout was long, and had two long tendrils that dangled down from either side of it. His claws flared with blue flames, sparked, and then returned to being an unsettling black, his breath sparked with electricity regularly, and the crest that surrounded his skull and formed his simple but sharp icy horns, and ran all the way to his tail, was made of pure ice. The tail itself, save for the ice atop it, seemed strangely normal, given the dragon's separated forms, ending only in a club-like tip.

    N stared at Alex, conflicted, and yet balanced, in his dislike and admiration for this random Trainer. For this Champion of Unova, now worthy of the title of Hero.

    The great white scaled dragon, whose underbelly was black in contrast to his white scales, leaned down to Alex, and in his pupiless golden eyes, he saw the eternal balance this being had enjoyed until humanity ripped him apart for a few millennia. "You are my Tamer now, human. See that you do not ruin my perfection by splitting me apart again."

    Alex smirked, and gave the dragon's snout an affectionate pat. "Don't worry, Tao. I shall see to it you remain One." Enjoying the sound of his newest nickname the dragon grinned, and Alex pulled out a Hyper Potion, as the damage the three dragons had sustained had carried over to their fused form. His bag's hoard of items made him a walking Pokémon Center, but no amount of potion could replace genuine rest.

    He kept looking up at the massive dragon as he marveled at the new details he discovered the longer he looked, elements of all three dragons were present in him, and yet the whole seemed much different. Seeing him now, Alex was reminded of the Opelucid Gym, and he smirked. Of course the city of dragon lovers would remember, accurately, what the dragon god of their ancestors had looked like.

    Seeing the ice around them taking longer to melt than it should've, the First Dragon raised his tail, and the club tip glowed with a familiar blue from under the ice that made up the limb. The ice formed a familiar shape, that of Reshiram's 'Turboblaze Generator' as Trainers sometimes called the obviously powerful engine of fire, and in moments, he melted the ice his empty shell had created around Lacunosa Town while a comforting heat freed the people and Pokémon trapped. As the ice around his tail faded back to a simple club shape, the damp inhabitants slowly came out of their shelters, and many of the outraged Arceans were stopped mid-tirade as they witnessed the return of the Original Dragon in person. He radiated a sense of calm that not even Arcean indoctrination could overpower.

    Alex felt it most keenly, as he and N rode upon Tao's long back, and left the town before the litigious cult could so much as threaten a suit. The energy from this dragon made him feel like he wouldn't need sleep for a month, so closely were they bound now. That bond was a safe, balanced center he could always come back to, if he focused, a gift that would be invaluable in the trials to come.

    Tao flew them northwards, and then to the east, over the trail of destruction Kyurem had caused, and though many of the humans that had been caught in his ice attacks thawed harmlessly, as they approached the Giant Chasm, they saw that many others had not. The initial Glaciate had been truly powerful, a testament to Kyurem's rage.

    Tao landed in the icy crater now, the long tendrils from his snout touched the bodies of many fallen Pokémon as they thawed, and then retracted in sadness. "What happened?" N said, astounded by the damage.

    Tao snorted flame, then looked saddened again as his eyes were drawn back to the destruction. "The Arceans happened. This was where I crashed after your predecessors split me apart, so very long ago. It was where the shell of myself, Kyurem, was most at peace. It arrived, and found a group of humans capturing Pokémon who had returned to live here, and dragging them back to Lacunosa Town..." As Tao spoke, the memories flooded into the heads of N and Alex. They saw what Kyurem had, and N grew angry.

    "How...dare...they..." He said, sharing in the rage Kyurem had felt. Alex felt it too, though he was more saddened than anything.

    "That explains it then...with Ghetsis holding White Kyurem, the Arceans assumed the Chasm would be unguarded. Who knows how many Pokémon they managed to haul off before I split them apart..." Alex hopped down from Tao's back, and looked around, sighing. "Can you do anything for the land?"

    The long-bodied, almost Rayquaza-like dragon lowered his head next to his Tamer's, and seemed to smirk. "Do you think I would have come if I could not?" Alex blinked, and the dragon raised his head again, surveying the land. "Once, Unova was golden. The land was bountiful, and Pokémon and humans lived in harmony...it took many millennia, but despite my absence, you all managed to achieve that balance again. More or less. It is time we returned to being what we were. It starts, here."

    His wings raised into the air then, revealing a white circle pattern of scales on his right side outlined by black, and a black circle on his left that needed no outline on his white scales that had been hiding beneath the folded wings, and gone unnoticed by the two humans on his back.

    The tendrils from his snout grew longer, and moved back to link to both circles, and the dragon began to glow with golden light. "Behold," he thundered, "The return of Unova's Golden Age!"

    His wings flapped, the power dispersed into the ruined landscape, and the very dirt began to shift in color. Grass returned then, appearing gold as it sprouted, and new trees budded from the seeds of the ones that had fallen to Kyurem's unbound rage. With time, the Chasm would heal.

    Alex and N returned to the dragon's back, and as they ascended, the two humans watched with awe as the dragon continued to smirk. They were so very easy to impress. The golden glow was spreading from the Chasm, and from Humilau, to Mistralton, the land would once more enter a seemingly literal golden age.
     
    #11 Mar 2, 2019
    Last edited: Jun 3, 2022
  12. Sahqoreyth

    Arthur
    (Kirlia ♂)
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    Dawn Stone ★★★★
    Chapter 11: Unova, Part 3

    The Dragonspiral Tower - Icirrus Town, Unova Region

    The return of the Unova Dragon had been televised, thanks to the League's cameras and their auto-pilot function. Naturally, the match between Alex and N, and their post-battle shenanigans, ended up on the PokéNet a few hours later, and soon the entire world knew. Alex Redwood had brought the Original Dragon, Tao, back into balance.

    Once more the land took on a golden hue, and peaceful emotions reigned across the region. A holiday was declared, and everyone took the day off, bringing the region to a standstill, as the reformed dragon returned to the Dragonspiral Tower with the new Champion upon his back, after leaving N at the Victory Plateau by his request.

    John Crimson was there, of course, eager for the story, only to have Alex remind him that it was all readily available on the PokéNet. He did however, mention that one of the Arceans at Lacunosa had tried to saddle him with a bill for damages, with a price tag that was a good number of zeroes above what anyone sane asked for, or even needed. With the amount of materials their currency could buy in a world where clever businesses made use of Pokémon, things like building materials could always be gathered, or crafted, with speed and efficiency that rivaled machinery.

    Most of the damage was ice related, and since the ice had melted in Kyurem's absence, Alex didn't see how the damage was his doing. They'd brought on Kyurem's rage by capturing its friends en mass. Since Kyurem had been discovered, the general rule amongst Unovan Trainers was to not piss it off. Most did this by avoiding the Giant Chasm entirely, which had worked, and helped it to heal. Some Trainers between the Chasm and Lacunosa had lost their lives, but through Tao's power, many of those trapped by Glaciate had been successfully revived.

    Given that most of the injured were Arceans, they were, of course, looking to sue someone. It was what they did, whenever anything even remotely bad happened to them, or their group. This tendency to go after whoever they could pin the blame on legally, and win, had led to most State governments avoiding the zealots entirely. Nobody wanted to deal with them, or their crazy habits, for good reason.

    In the past, the Arcean's legal team had 'miraculously' found documents that would often support their legal battles, and it was no coincidence that most of the judges who presided over their legal cases were rich enough to retire not long afterwards. The tactics of bribery, blackmail, and planting evidence didn't always work, but they worked often enough, and even if their involvement was discovered, anyone going after the Church was quickly labeled a bigot, and the Church itself claimed said person was infringing on their spiritual beliefs, and thus labeled them 'intolerant'.

    Rather than attacking organizations, the Arceans had entire divisions of their government devoted to picketing houses of naysayers, and spreading foul rumors about the inhabitants. Pedophilia was a favorite accusation, but thievery, corruption, and even incest made their appearances. Thankfully, they hadn't had time to pin Alex with any of that before Tao had carried them away.

    All in all, it was a frustrating way to end such an epic day. The whole challenge against the Four had taken most of the morning, Shiro and Blaze had fought well into the afternoon, and by the time Alex had beaten N, and Kyurem had attacked, the sun had started to set.

    Deciding that these zealots could try to bill him on literally any other day, Alex had taken off on Tao with his literal childhood hero, N. The One Dragon headed to his old seat of power, from which he had once dispensed wisdom and knowledge to Unova's Trainers. Alex had always wondered what the Dragonspiral Tower had been for, but he had no idea how integral he would be to reviving it.

    As they came upon the large, castle-like structure, Alex felt the dragon sigh as his calming mental baritone echoed in his skull. "I knew it had fallen into disrepair...but this will take some time and effort to fix."

    Alex had given the dragon a comforting pat, though he had no idea if it had been felt. "Worry not. I'll help, where I can. I'm sure they will too." He said, pointing to the milling crowd of Unovans below. Icirrus was flooded with people, and they all cheered as their Dragon God of legend returned home, at last.

    The media beat them there, somehow, and John Crimson repeatedly asked Alex to explain the concept behind his fusing of the three Legendary Dragons. He had to explain several times before the silver fox and the reporters around him grasped it enough to parrot back to their audience.

    It was fair to say that at first, most Unovans had no idea how Alex had balanced the dragons, but most didn't seem to care right then. The One Dragon had returned. Unova's Golden Age had started again. Many of them had been waiting for this for decades now, but they had expected it from N.

    Nobody outside the Trainer world really knew who this 'new Champion' was, only rumors that he had supposedly beaten both Hilbert and N, on top of the Victory Plateau's Elite Four. A few recognized him from PNN's interview, but John Crimson had already interviewed three other up-and-coming Trainers since. His had been easily missed. It was always available on the PokéNet though.

    The celebration of the One Dragon's return lasted a week, the last week of August, in fact. Almost a year to the day since Alex had first caught Terra. Alex spent that week by Jess' side as much as he could, putting off asking N about the Swamp. Tao had suggested it was where the next stage of his journey would occur, and University was starting soon, as well. If they had to part, he could deal with it later. Mostly, they clung to each other as often as possible, in an endless game of hiding from her brother, who caught on to their antics almost immediately.

    With the final two parts of the Victory League's special challenge now unable to be completed, Connor and his sister challenged the Elite Four, but had to settle for battles against Nate and Hilda respectively. N had no other Pokémon, and Tao had made it clear that Alex alone had earned the right to use him in battle.

    Alex had even colored a suitable Luxury Ball with a familiar swirling pattern of black and white for Tao to stay in, when necessary, but both he and his Trainer agreed that he should interact with Unova as much as possible.

    Despite the semi-chaotic state of the Elite Four, Jess and Connor gained a League victory on their battle records, but N refused to tell either of them about the Swamp until they either had four more victories, or accomplished something as legendary as reuniting the First Dragon.

    The crowd stretched from Mistralton to Opelucid as Trainers came to see the reformed dragon, and hopefully catch a hint of his great wisdom. As Legendary Pokémon went, Tao was friendly, and could speak to them, which made him unique, and immensely popular.

    Most Legendary Pokémon were shy, or angry towards humans, and could be enormously destructive without a guiding hand. Many of the Legendary class Pokémon had latent psychic abilities, allowing basic telepathic speech. Even then, many did not use them. With humans. Tao had never liked that approach though, and had always wished for closer ties between humans and his own kind.

    Tao spent his energy on rebuilding the tower, which had long since fallen into a state of near-constant disrepair, and became little more than a hangout for ghosts and wayward dragon types. He kept everyone but Alex from the tower as it was re-worked into what it had once been, and every so often, Alex would appear to ask the celebrating crowd outside the tower for a particular Pokémon move, or item that Tao needed. They usually had it ready for him, as the crowd had swollen to a massive size now.

    Over time, Tao would stare out at the crowd, until he sensed one of the millions of humans swarming around them that actually had potential. He would single that person out, and offer them a chance to learn his Way. It was said that, with enough training, the disciples of the First Dragon would gain unnatural power. In modern times, such people were called 'psychics'. This was something only mentioned vaguely in the region's lore, from the era before the brother's war, and thus, all who were given the chance to learn, took it. One simply did not turn down the chance to be a student of the Dragon of Unova.

    Thus, Alex had more and more free time to spend with his woman, but with so many eyes around the rapidly reforming tower all day, they'd resorted to sneaking north with their Charizard in the night. A small mountain range, nothing like the one up by the University, separated 'northern Unova' from 'Unova Proper'. It was in those foothills, they'd carved out a cave to chill in all night. It was a bit of a nostalgia trip for them, as that very area had been where they'd first met during their Trainer Exam. The new World Tournament building was also nearby, but rumor said it still wasn't ready yet.

    The re-working had taken a few days, and in that time, much of the region had condensed itself into this usually sparsely populated area. Everyone wanted to be worthy of the great wisdom the Unovan Dragon possessed, and if they weren't here for the dragon, the Trainers in the crowd usually wanted to challenge the new Champion. Word had evidently gotten out about his winning streak, and as usual, the Trainers of Unova were determined to break it.

    Alex had welcomed the challenges, though they took up time. He let Blaze and his other Pokémon battle to their heart's content, as most of the Trainers simply were not on their level, but he was usually constantly busy working with Tao. The battles kept most of his team sharp, all except Shruikan, who had fallen into a deep sleep. After consulting the Pokédex, he'd learned Shelgon had several such periods, as they prepared to become a Salamence. This was the first he'd seen, but as he watched, his eyes had widened as the sleeping dragon type slowly grew in size.

    Alex barely slept since he'd started work on the tower, though it was mostly Tao who worked. Strong as Alex and the other humans were, they were simply incapable of digging through millennia of rock and soil buildup. The First Dragon, however, made short work of all of it. He'd smashed through the 'puzzles' of each floor with mild irritation, and had reformed the rooms into the designs they'd once had. Many levels of open spaces, easily ascended to and descended from, and each with a purpose for the humans who had come to reside within, and learn the dragon's wisdom. The restoration had picked up considerably, once Alex and the others didn't have to hop around all the time.

    Tao didn't exactly need help, either. He alone could sense what needed to be where in order for the tower to regain its 'Feng Shui', and though Alex had a few good guesses, this was beyond him most of the time, and as he lacked psychic powers, he couldn't really do much to repair the stonework itself, which left him to enjoy his lover in their private abode as the dragon flitted about his old home, repairing it.

    Finally, once the interior was repaired, Tao had all of the humans and Pokémon leave the tower. In an awesome display of his power, the Unovan Dragon had raised his ancient home from the swamp that had formed around it, reworking the very land itself, something that was simple to one on his level of power. Having been formed directly by Arceus, raising a building was within his power.

    Buried by water and years of silt buildup, the uncovered levels were damp, grimy, and a pain in the rear to clean. But clean them Tao did. Alex had watched with interest as swarms of Unown had flooded from the sunken tower, only to then proceed to aid Tao in whatever he needed. Alex and the other selected humans were made ultimately useless in the reconstruction, and the new Champion wondered if he could convince the dragon to tell him what the Unown actually did.

    Tao had responded with a smirk, and promised that, if Alex but obeyed his wisdom, he would find out. This was akin to most of the answers the dragon gave him regarding the mysteries of the universe, and thus, Alex contented himself with waiting. He supposed it would come to him the same way the idea to reform Tao had. In the moment, when he needed the knowledge, and not a second before.

    With everything once more in place, the dragon invited the growing horde of Unovans into his home, and all twenty four floors were filled with milling humans, each waiting for their chance at an audience with the dragon. Though Alex was nearby, the humans who approached usually regarded him with cold looks, fear, or general ambivalence. They didn't care to speak to the man who'd reunited the dragon, they wanted the legendary being himself. Alex found he didn't mind, as after listening to several of the conversations, he realized two things. Humans were, by vast majority, stupid. Most of the problems Tao handled could've also been solved by five seconds on the PokéNet. He also learned that his kin were, in a word, inherently violent. Too many who came to the dragon came demanding his power, so they could crush their rivals. Those types were usually summarily Teleported away, and to where, Tao never said.

    Once he'd had enough, Alex walked off to explore the other levels of the castle-like tower. It wasn't long before Alex found Connor sulking in a shadowy corner on one of the top floors, bluish-purple scarf around his mouth, like he was some sort of ninja. His hat was all wrong for it though.

    Connor nodded at the dragon as Alex joined him. "I was thinking, looking at him, I'm reminded of that old line. 'Disturb not the harmony of fire, ice and lightning'…"

    Alex tilted his head for a moment, eyeing Tao, then looked back at his friend. "You don't think Lugia and the others are like our three former dragons, do you?"

    Connor grinned. "I intend to find out."

    Alex rolled his eyes. "Fine. If you manage to balance the birds, I'll eat…something edible, shaped like my hat." He liked his hat too much to actually eat it, and had no illusions that Connor would definitely hold him to such a promise.

    Connor stood straight then, and Alex saw his bag as well. He was readying to leave. His bag was similar to Alex's, a few years older in design, and covered with a lot more sentimental junk, but it still matched the edgy dark blue thing he had going on.

    "I'll hold you to that, Redwood. I should get going now. The party has been going for days, and I've idled long enough."

    Alex raised a brow, then thought for a moment. His past two weeks had mostly been spent restoring an ancient building covered in the dredge of a lake and hundreds of years of pollution buildup. He supposed everyone else had been enjoying the new 'golden age'. He'd heard about the golden grass, the bluer skies, the pinker nights, but he'd seen little of it between his lovemaking and his working.

    Everyone told him how impressed they were with his achievement, and yet up until today, he'd seen almost none of it. Unova had definitely changed, and he would leave it to Tao to make sure it stayed balanced.

    Connor walked off then after the manliest of brief hugs, to find his sister. It wasn't hard, for though much of Unova was a varied shade of hair colors, nobody else had red hair like hers, and she stuck out in the crowds when viewed from the air. It still took some time, though.

    Tao often levitated in the air at the top of the tower as he gave his patient wisdom, eyes closed, speaking quietly with the gathered Unovans by way of telepathy as he gave them insight into what their lives required for balance. He didn't solve every problem immediately, but most people left with words of wisdom that would only make sense when the time was right.

    Often he was challenged to battles by Trainers who'd captured other Legendary Pokémon of which there were many. Such Trainers soon found out that the dragon, despite being quite good at battling, much preferred to Teleport away with the Legendary Pokémon in question, and enjoy a private chat as they caught up on news, and shared important information that evidently was for their ears only.

    Alex was usually left alone when he did this, and those training the rare Pokémon looked at him like a leech, rather than the human who'd literally tamed the strongest dragon in...anywhere. He knew the time to head for this Swamp he'd heard of several times was fast approaching. Dealing with humans was clearly Tao's specialty.

    Stuck outside while the temple was full of petitioners, Joey and other Trainers had gathered at the local fan club, and had happened to recognize Jessica Gladstone as she was heading to the Pokémon Center. She was semi-famous of course, but nobody had really tied her to Alex yet, nobody except those who had seen how they acted together. Joey had been chosen by the Dragon too, and had seen how they were in the temple. They'd even spoken around bowls of Leaf on breaks.

    Joey had convinced her to chat for a minute once more, even though he was surrounded by a troupe of equally overly-interested Trainers, who hadn't been chosen, but clearly found Joey and Jess awesome, because they had. Rumors abounded about Tao's 'enlightened disciples', and the only way to find out if you had that potential, was to speak to the Dragon himself.

    They all made it clear that they wanted to learn from her boyfriend. She admitted that having him teach them now would take time away from his other duties. She was in the middle of explaining the awkwardness of the soon to be long-distance relationship when Connor spied her hair, and descended alongside his Reuniclus, Uniclus, who was flying him around with Psychic, and evidently having a blast doing it.

    Feeling nauseous as the overly bubbly psychic type twirled him towards the ground, Connor muttered, "Gah…flying is for Pokémon…"

    Once he landed and fought the urge to hurl, he eyed the group of strange men surrounding his sister with strangely eager looks, Connor moved towards her. "Hey, sis… I'm, uh, leaving."

    He was too distracted by the men, who were very obviously staring at him too now, to come up with a more elegant way of phrasing his imminent departure. He met her gaze, and then nodded at the men, who continued to smile enthusiastically. They really just wanted to meet the Champion, but these Trainers had never mastered social graces, especially not around women like Jess.

    Jess found the whole situation hilarious. "They're here to meet Alex, gutter-brain. They want to be his 'disciples' and learn what he's apparently taught us as well."

    Connor's eye twitched. "So…we're his apprentices now? Senior apprentices, since we've mastered these 'skills'." He looked at the ground, then at the Trainers, and then at his sister who he could tell, had recently been intimate. They weren't too careful about hiding the aftermath lately, and didn't seem to care, judging by the slightly mussed hair and askew clothing. The imminent separation was approaching. Little else mattered, apparently.

    "Right." Connor said, tossing his old hat he'd worn since he'd been in University to the ground. "I'm going to call you around Festivus dear sister, I need you to make something edible in the shape of Alex's hat."

    Jess arched a brow. "Whyyy?"

    Connor grinned. "I'm going to...do something 'Legendary'. I've a bet with Alex. It involves a hat-shaped edible arrangement, and you're the only one of us who knows how to cook."

    He walked off before Jess could say anything more, and accelerated into a run, just like he had been taught. Then, he vanished. He needed a new hat, and plenty of training. He was behind his sister and his rival in the balancing of these moves, but had picked it up quickly. Too quickly, for Alex's tastes, who had stopped teaching him just in time for them to arrive at the Victory Plateau.

    He had used his position as friend of the Champion, and being a Champion, technically, himself to finally see Tao for insight on his idea of uniting the birds. The Dragon had paused as Alex frowned, and then said that he already knew what path he had to take, thanks to fate, and anything else would just be a distraction from that.

    His destiny was Kalos, and had always been Kalos. With that, he'd left without another word to Alex, who had tried to stop him. Uniting the birds and battling him wasn't his path, but he was letting their rivalry cloud his mind. He'd been joking earlier.

    Despite his best efforts though, his rival remained stubborn, and would grasp for power until he felt he'd matched his rival, but would only understand after several long months that he should've just followed what Oak had told him.

    As she watched her brother leave on his quest, Jess decided to leave as well. Alex tried to persuade her to stay, until he saw it was already past midnight. They'd been making love straight through dinner, and then work had pulled him away. He was helping Tao solve people's problems, and the more of them he heard, the more he was convinced that humanity was doomed.

    Eventually, during yet another examination of Arcean-supporter philosophy and the legitimacy of their mythology with regards to who had really brought the golden age about, he walked away, and left it to Tao. They were now trying to claim that, had Ghetsis not held Reshiram and Kyurem, Alex would've never united the Dragon. That fact, they claimed, meant they owned two thirds of Tao, in Kyurem and Reshiram. Since Ghetsis had been part of their cult, his Pokémon were, supposedly, also part of their 'religious property'.

    Reasoning with those people was like teaching the alphabet to a barn door, and instead of knowledge about the dragon, and how the three were literally just One, these people in old style navy military uniforms only sought to inform him that he was being sued for damages to their town. Over and over. Every time he finished speaking.

    As the town had been smashed by a Legendary Pokémon, he wished them good luck with their ludicrous lawsuit, and went to find his girlfriend. He hadn't controlled Kyurem. Kyurem was their property, apparently. He knew that since they had been the ones to work the icy dragon into a rage, any damage caused by it was on them, legally. Alex wondered if the Arceans would actually try to sue themselves as he returned from his work to find his lover ready to leave.

    They made no mention of Festivus, as she knew he couldn't stand his family all at once for a full month. Especially not now that he'd done something so 'unbelievable'. He also had a feeling it would take more than a few months to deal with whatever this 'psychic master' had in store for him.

    Then, finally, she was gone. It was cold in Icirrus now, granted, being thousands of feet up might've caused that, and he watched the light of her family's luxury driving car head north until he could no longer make out the lights.

    Discovering that he was genuinely freezing, even to his nose hairs, he went back to the Pokémon Center on Blaze, who had been responsible for flying him up. That cold air above that had carried the first freeze of the coming winter had chilled him more than he expected.

    He enjoyed a bowl of Leaf then, and was soon joined by other people, who were all passing around a bong full of it. Typical grass Trainers. The massive crowd brought all types to the formerly sparsely populated Icirrus Town. It looked more like a tent city, these days.

    The Arceans had pitched a fit when they saw a follower of 'their dragon' smoking 'drugs' with other 'random Trainers' in the middle of a Pokémon Center. The local nurse, who was rapidly considering relocating, had considered a group of relatively harmless Leaf smokers the least of her worries. The crowd was full of battles, and lack of hygiene was causing sickness to spread. She had bigger things to worry about, but the Arceans were relentless, and it wasn't long at all before the legality of the Leaf was once more in question, as the use of the herb had become strong amongst those milling around Icirrus. There were simply too many for the local police forces to handle. Many had simply joined in, as the good mood following Tao's revival had been infectious. Others, had rallied behind the Arceans, thinking that the return of the One should be celebrated with ancient ritual, not smoking circles. As was the usual with crowds, tempers rose quickly.

    For once, the Arceans made a good case. Devout followers of the Dragon famously claimed that he had abhorred the Leaf. It was the entire reason the herb had been banned in the first place. These so called 'dragon-priests' had evidently been wandering the crowd, shaming anyone they caught enjoying the Leaf. Arguments became heated. Sides began forming.

    The issue was then brought to Tao, by Alex, who after being told of what was happening, had proceeded to fly out of the massive structure that was his home, awing the equally massive crowd with his heavenly grace. The cheers lasted a full five minutes, and the vain dragon enjoyed them as he gracefully twirled through the air. It was good to be whole.

    The dragon flew low over them then, and winked. He twisted a claw, and a piece of thin, wispy cloud, the only one for miles that day, became a familiar glass shaped instrument. He curled his tail in the air, and rested his upper half on it as he pointed at the ground, and massive balls of green rose to his claws as nature itself bent to the Dragon's needs.

    He twisted his claw again, taking what was left of the thin cloud, and turning it into a familiar glass slide. The balls of green floated into the new slide with his telekinesis, one of the powers his followers supposedly gained, and the crowd quieted entirely.

    One of his claws blazed with blue flame over the large green buds as the massive dragon inhaled. Thankfully, it was a cloudless, late summer day. There was no cloudy moisture to ruin the buds. The force of his inhale would've definitely brought them through the slide, and made his buds damp, and unsmokable. He usually didn't do this this high up, with a bong this fragile. The wind sucked, the cold air ruined the burn, and he never got as much as his massive body desired.

    He had an entire room in his temple for this sole activity, that he and he alone could handle. Only Alex joined him in those sessions, with a gas mask for all the smoke. But he had a point to make.

    The legality of this same herb was an issue with Legendary Pokémon as well. Some enjoyed it. Some did not. Some claimed the Alpha was against it. Others said it was the only way to the Alpha. Tao was one of the latter.

    He eyed the stunned humans as literally everyone stared at the dragon, usually in disbelief, but just as commonly with open laughter at the sheer absurdity of what was happening. The dragon-god of their people was smoking a bowl.

    A cloud of light-gray smoke rained down on Unova as the massive white and black dragon exhaled, and thousands started coughing, like complete newbies. Tao sighed, and his tone rang out over the hazy crowd. "We have much training to do…"

    The legality of the herb was settled, then. The Governor of Unova had come to Iccirus as well, naturally, and had looked at the Arceans of Lacunosa, or AoL, and said to their leader, Ghetsis' handler, "I'm not going to argue over the legitimacy of sacred texts when the Dragon God himself smokes a bowl and bathes half the region in harsh smoke." Evidently, the 'dragon priests' had just been Arceans, converts from Unova itself, and history buffs as well, passing themselves off as Unovans.

    Even the Arceans couldn't argue with the dragon's actions though, and dropped the issue entirely. Strangely enough, the Dragon's smoke had only caused good effects, cured many of the crowd's diseases or infections, and even healed wounds.

    The crowd only grew as tales of this 'magic herb' spread beyond just Trainers, and Tao took to smoking on the ground with them. One day, when John Crimson predicated a thunderstorm approaching, Tao had taken those strong, dark clouds and forged a set of bongs and slides for both himself and his Tamer with the power of electricity, fire, and ice. Storm clouds were a bit harder to mold than wisps.

    After witnessing Tao's little stunt and laughing for a full minute, Alex had returned to the former gym of his friend Nick, who had also come down with the other members of the Elite Four, and joined in the festivities. The entire gym was on break from training, and those within were hanging out, and smoking bowls of the herb.

    The offers for sex 'now that Jess was gone' came rolling in as word spread among Tao's followers that the Champion was out of the tower and among the throngs of people. Eventually, he had to leave the gym's rooms for the tower again. Free of the distracting haze he usually only shared with one person, he returned to Tao, and told him that he would be leaving as well.

    The dragon had simply nodded, and spoken, gaining the attention of the entire crowd as his calming mental baritone filled the air. "Go then, Champion. If you need me for battle, I will be there." They enjoyed a final bowl together in their already well-used cloudy gray glass sets, and then Alex headed off for the Victory Plateau upon Blaze again. N would likely still be waiting there. Brooding from atop the plateau was kind of his thing, a habit he'd developed once the League had named him the strongest of Unova's many Champions.

    Alex arrived once more atop the battle-torn plateau, now understanding just how epic his battle must have looked. The plateau had once housed N's castle, but now, the land it had stood upon connected to the back of the Victory League's final room. All that remained of the castle were the stone pillars that formed a loose circle around where the two dragons had battled. As expected, said pillars did not last long, and usually had to be rebuilt. This was where most of the material making up N's old home had gone, and over the years, it had faded entirely as it was deconstructed piece by piece.

    "It's about time." N said, not turning to his newest, youngest rival, who he refused to be surpassed by, "You've taken two weeks. We'll be late at this rate."

    Alex raised a brow. "Late for what?"

    N grinned, turning to him. "For the race to the Psychic Master in the Swamp."

    Alex and N departed then, and found him a flying type as soon as possible. They hadn't looked far, as there was an Aerodactyl waiting for them at the bottom of Victory Road. N looked at the Pokémon, speaking to it, and then shed a single tear.

    His old friend Archeops had sensed his Trainer's need, and sent a friend to help. The offspring of his own nest's neighbors, a young Aerodactyl who needed and wanted a Trainer. He came clutching a Pokéball as well, one that was as black as Zekrom had been.

    Inside the ball was his Zoroark, who had been captured by Ghetsis. N asked if he wanted to be released, but he refused. His ball belonged to N now, and he was fine with having one if N was his Trainer.

    Alex gave him a Luxury Ball for his Aerodactyl, but then said he'd need to earn money by battling to get balls for his other Pokémon. Twitching slightly, N nodded. He'd never needed money, or Pokéballs. He was still wrestling with balancing his strong ideals.

    "I just don't like confining them to Pokéballs." He kept saying as Alex continuously pointed out the many advantages of having them on hand. Finally, he'd convinced Arthur to come out, and share mentally with N what the interior was actually like. After that, his reluctance was greatly lessened, but he still let his two partners out often.

    Hilbert had had a conversation with N before leaving ahead of Connor, Jess, and now Alex as to the fate of himself, and the other Champions. Nate had taken over as the leader for Opeleucid's gym, which left the two female Champions, Rosa and Hilda, to keep the Unova League's status as the hardest in the world.

    There was a backlog of Trainers coming up Victory Road, and the Elite Four didn't always beat them. Since adding Nick to their ranks however, just getting to one of the girls was quite challenging. Very few Trainers could match Hilda or Rosa though, and the ones who did would end up battling Tao, and losing.

    By the time all this transpired, Alex and N had reached the southern edge of Unova. South of there, things got…strange. Strange people, strange culture, all terrified of the Swamp that loomed to the south, and threatened to swallow up their home, as it had to the land once known as Floria, which was now overgrown with massive sky-scraping trees, and people who lived on the dangerous and salty swamp waters.

    "This is where I leave you, Champion." N said as they reached the southern edge of Aspertia City.

    Alex raised a brow. "Are you not coming?"

    N shrugged. "I might, someday, but you made it clear that my destiny is not yours. Perhaps I am destined for a different Psychic Master."

    "I was wondering about that," Alex said, eyeing the tree line. He could see a barely used footpath there on the edge, and knew walking through it at his size was going to be a joy. "Professor Oak met me while I was on the Victory Road. He said to ask you about the Swamp."

    N sighed. "Show me your badges." Alex did so, and the Champion swore. "Fine. I guess we're just handing all the secrets to you."

    Alex smirked at N. "That's the idea. I am the Champion."

    "Bianca should be doing this…" N muttered. She was the Pokémon Professor now after all, though the aging Professor Juniper still helped every so often.

    "The Swamp is the second part of the League Challenge you've somehow managed to complete. Usually, a Trainer whose beaten several Pokémon Leagues is given this information. Because Oak told you enough already, and because of what you did for Unova, and your victories here, I will tell you where to go. Head south, past the Swamp fearing people of Jinia Town, and you will find a group of Trainers. They're from the hundreds of regions on this continent, and all are going to venture into the Swamp to find the Psychic Master. Assuming you survive the Swamp, the Psychic Master will inform you of the rest of the challenge."

    Alex blinked, absorbing the information. "And who is our Swamp's Psychic Master?"

    N tilted his head. "A powerful one. He's as close to human as a Pokémon can get. Intelligence wise. Big, like you. You'll like him." Figuring that meant N had seen this master, he began to ask, but N had already flown away on his Aerodactyl.

    After battling through half the region, it was now strong enough to carry N. Several of his old team had returned, but he had a few new faces as well. He would need time to train them, but they promised to be a difficult team to beat. His reluctance to battle had faded when his partners had told him how much they enjoyed it, how strong it made their bond, and most importantly, how skilled he was as a Trainer. Even without one of the dragons, the former Champion was quite good.

    As Alex turned to face the barely used path to go further south of Aspertia, he blinked, seeing a trio of youngsters step in front of him. They were adorable, and each one wore a color matching the grass, fire, or water type.

    "Stop right there, Champion." Said the boy barely into puberty, who was wearing fiery red. If Alex had been in a game of 'who's the protag' this youngster would've beaten even him. His hair was gelled and spiky, with a flame like pattern on each spike. This was the future. Alex sighed.

    The girl with the green clothes on threw a Pokéball then, and a Servine appeared.

    "Not yet!" The other young girl in blue growled. She stared then, as her own ball opened, and her Dewott appeared beside the Servine. They glared at each other, and Alex knew they were rivals. Sighing, the fiery boy brought out his Emboar, fully evolved. It was fitting, as the flame-head was a few years older than his lady friends.

    Alex raised a brow, then eyed each of the Pokémon, who had dropped to their battle poses and stared him down, eagerly. That was when it clicked. He had rejected these very three, and had sent them to partner with Trainers as young as they were.

    "I see." Alex said, smirking. "They noticed me, and called you three out of your homes. Very well. Let us battle." Terra popped out, towering over the Servine, Blaze appeared before the Emboar, and eyed the fire pig, smirking. The Emboar offered a clenched fist for a bump, and his Charizard didn't leave the fire pig hanging, before they took battle stances. Hydrus yawned and examined the Dewott, then shrugged, and dropped into his battle crouch.

    "Go easy on them." Alex said, hands in his pockets.

    It was over in one round. Terra had turned, and blasted the Dewott with a Razor Leaf, the Servine had received a non-condensed Flame Burst from Blaze, and Hydrus had taken down the Emboar with a single similarly non-condensed Water Pulse.

    The three Trainers stared at him.

    "A good Trainer relies on their starter." He said, patting Terra, "But they also have other Pokémon, with different typing. Next time, we will battle one-on-one. Prepare for that day, conquer Unova, make a strong team, and then come and challenge me. Who knows. You might become the Champion."

    He winked then, leaving, knowing that maybe one of those three would accept his challenge, and make it all the way up the Victory Plateau.

    Everyone thought his title of 'Champion of Unova' relied on the dragon's power, and not his. Many still hadn't had the chance to battle his team, though on the way down with N, he met quite a few, and beat them as hard as Hilbert had.

    Alex and his team were essentially following Hilbert's own string of recent victories through the mostly undeveloped, but populous regions in the center of the eastern coast. Much of the land was used for farming, as the east had always been more fertile than Fornia to the west, which was mostly covered by a massive desert, and mountains.

    This region provided food to almost every one of the States. He knew they were on the right path to the Swamp as, whenever he asked about it, the Trainers he met would make Arceus' sign in the air with their fingers, and promptly leave. That was fine, though. He could find the true edge of it on his own.

    Once he was through the more wooded part of Transylveticut, the state directly south of Unova, he found a rustic looking Pokémon Center, and decided to rest up. One or two Trainers asked if he was the new Unova Champion, which had made him smirk, but beyond that nobody seemed to know him.

    It was nice not having all eyes on him all the time. He hadn't been this ignored since before the mountain fiasco. He made a call to his Gruncle, and thankfully, the center still had modern technology within its wooden frame. A sign of the League's wealth, even here, in these wide, primarily empty farm lands. The 'breadbasket of the continent'.

    After having him transfer over a new Pokédex, he plied his granduncle for information, but he was a stubborn old goat, and apparently, was in the middle of an experiment. That was odd, for as far as Alex knew, his granduncle hadn't conducted an experiment in decades. He usually sat around smoking Leaf in his lab's dingy basement, dispensing wisdom to anyone who would listen. Not many did.

    Feeling exhausted and frustrated at his lack of progress on finding out anything more about this Swamp, Alex went to bed. His relative had stubbornly refused to talk about the Swamp. He was 'on his own, for that nonsense'.

    He slept for almost a full day, recovering from the long weeks of work, and sex, with almost no sleep. Tao's energy had sustained him, but he could feel himself slowly growing more exhausted the further he went from Unova. He awoke over a day later to find that Arthur had taken care of the rest of the team, letting Hydrus and Terra out to lounge around.

    Blaze was practicing aerial maneuvers, with his weights on, and Alex was surprised his team knew how to attach them properly.

    Impressed with his responsibility, Alex sparred against Arthur, something he often lost at, but knew his Pokémon enjoyed immensely. They both had rough, untrained styles, and were both complete amateurs. Still unable to properly control his Sword Arms, Arthur took every chance he could to try and master them.

    They had just finished battling, when Alex noticed a blur of dust headed straight for his lounging team. If he was being fair, he'd been petting Leo, who noticed it first, and growled. The cloud turned towards them, and at the head of it, Alex saw a familiar dragon type.

    The Dragonite pumped its absurdly tiny wings as it struggled to stop its forward momentum. How a creature that oddly shaped flew so fast was an aerodynamic mystery that scientists still hadn't figured out.

    The large dragon stomped over, and that was when Alex noticed the bag around its body. It handed him a pamphlet of some kind, and waited patiently. Looking around, as he didn't quite believe he was experiencing this exact scenario, he turned his focus to the pamphlet then.

    "If this is an exploding hologram, I swear…" He opened it, and while it had some sort of tech within it, the words required one to read them. It was an invitation, apparently, to some sort of gathering by the northern edge of the Great Northern Swamp.

    He looked up at the Dragonite, who was still waiting, and noticed it was offering him a writing implement. He checked the 'accept' box on the small card that had come with the pamphlet, and after taking it, the Dragonite launched into the air again, straight up, before stopping in mid-air, and then zooming southward with incredible speed. Blaze growled, he'd wanted to fight a dragon like that. It may have looked silly, but it was clearly strong.

    Alex recalled his team, and then walked over to his Charizard. "If you can catch up to him, we'll battle him." Motivated to carry his master's large frame for once, Blaze launched himself into the air, and began flying south as well. As he was carrying a passenger, there was no way he could catch up. At least Alex had removed the training weights though. He usually left them on.

    It didn't take long for them to find what they were looking for. The massive group of Trainers was stretched out on the abandoned, grassy fields north of the Swamp. Makeshift battlefields had been carved into the dirt in a haphazard mess, and from the air, it looked quite unusual. Knowing he needed to find someone in charge of this chaos, he had Blaze hover behind clouds as they approached. Not that it helped.

    He could see the people battling below, and had a sudden premonition that they'd be in the air as well. He was right, as a mega evolved Pidgeot blasted past him, straight into a Staraptor it was battling. A Talonflame joined in then, and it was ridiculously hard for both Alex and Blaze not to watch. They were masterful in the air, and he had to all but smack his Charizard to get his attention, and refocus on flying.

    He took Blaze down then, and just for fun, the flying orange lizard began to spin. It was a good trick, but his Trainer felt his lunch threatening to come up.

    As his Charizard leveled out over the crowd, gaining the attention of many of the idle Trainers camping below them, he spotted someone who looked like they were in charge. They were by the Swamp's edge, so he guessed they must know about it. He was directed from person to person until he finally found the real makeshift headquarters. Because of the barely controlled chaos, he'd needed aid in finding it.

    The person in charge of this mess of camouflage clad Trainers was a woman with purple hair, and a strange robe-like garment, that covered a pair of her own camouflaged clothing. She was older as well, and her left eye had a patch of dark cloth over it. She carried a staff, ordinary, wooden, which she leaned on as she surveyed a map of what he assumed was the Swamp.

    She looked up as Alex was escorted into her tent by her similarly garbed guard. They wore a strange kind of clothing that was patterned with green, brown, and gray. When asked, one of the guards had said that it was old-fashioned survival gear that the people of this region had apparently worn for millennia.

    "Ah yes, the newest Unovan Champion. Good. Now we can begin." The way she looked him over made him nervous. It wasn't all that different from how Leo had eyed the female Luxray they'd encountered in this area of the continent.

    Raising a brow, Alex held up a hand. "Please, I have a few questions, before anything begins, I'd like to know what everyone else knows. What is this challenge?"

    The older woman eyed him for a moment. "You already know what everyone else does. Like you, they were told by the last Champion they surpassed that they needed to come here to seek the Psychic Master. Beyond that, nobody knows what this challenge will entail. Now go outside and join the others…the test will begin soon."

    Being relatively fresh from University, the word 'test' still made him flinch and filled him with an aura of anxiety. He despised tests, or rather, written ones. There had been a fair number of physical tests over his years there, but most had been of the writing variety. It had taken him two years to realize that everyone was cheating on them. The increase in his grades after acquiring that knowledge was, of course, purely coincidental.

    "Fair warning, Redwood" the woman said as he left, "Most of the other Trainers here know about you, and what you did in Unova. Some are impressed, but most are irritated that you acquired the knowledge of this challenge without beating other Leagues in other regions."

    He sighed, and nodded as he left. It figured as much. Something as notable as reforming an ancient and unimaginably powerful Legendary Dragon Pokémon was exciting news, and in a world as globally connected as theirs, everyone naturally had an opinion on it.

    He put it from his mind, and ignored the occasional too-long stare he sometimes caught from the crowds of other Trainers gathered around makeshift campsites. Judging by their clothing, he soon got the feeling that each region's worthy competitors were expected to team up for this.

    His feeling was confirmed as he saw Hilbert approaching him. It seemed Unova only had two competitors, as he was camping alone. They clasped arms, and shared a smirk. "Welcome to the Swamp, Champion."

    "Glad to be here." Alex responded. They had about fifty-five minutes of casual conversing over Leaf that his Serperior, Caesar, had grown, before the announcement happened.

    A Hyper Beam shot into the air, and punched a wide circular hole through the clouds. Finding its source, Alex stood. It was the Dragonite who'd delivered his pamphlet. Motioning for his fellow Champion to follow, the two men made their way towards the purple haired woman's tent, which was closest to the Swamp's border.

    Hilbert was quite a bit older than Alex, by at least three to four decades, but they had become fast friends since their match. He also knew Leaf smoking techniques that had been quite beyond Alex when he'd tried them, and looked forward to practicing them more. If they could.

    The purple haired woman thumped her staff, gaining their attention as she began to shout at them, without raising her voice. Despite that, her words still reached their ears, somehow. "Welcome, Trainers of the Northern Continent. Some of you have waited years for this challenge to begin, others among you have only recently acquired this knowledge. Regardless, the Master himself instructed that each of you be invited here."

    She began pacing on the platform of raised earth that hadn't been in front of her tent earlier. "Each of you has demonstrated a potential worthiness, however, few of you will actually succeed in this challenge. Indeed, many of you may even lose your lives. If you are not willing to risk death or maiming, leave now."

    Alex sensed heads turning as people watched for those whose nerves were weak. Most of these Trainers were hardened Champions, however, and had traveled the world. Their resolve would only break during this challenge.

    Surveying the crowd of Trainers, and noticing that none had left, the woman smirked. "Good. At least you're all worthy of not being called cowards." She knew that a few of them would likely leave once the challenge began, to avoid scornful looks.

    Some Champions prized their lives and material wealth above such challenges, and weren't willing to risk cutting them short for more glory.

    She continued, suppressing a wry grin. "During this challenge, you will be required to venture to the heart of the Swamp. You may not fly above the canopy while the challenge is in progress. Violators of this rule will be shot down." Alex flinched again, as did every Trainer in the crowd. The feeling of unease from this woman was universal, it seemed.

    Each of them had seen her Dragonite's Hyper Beam, and most of the Trainers gathered knew it would be enough to cause serious injury if it came out of nowhere and hit their Pokémon mid-flight. There were always exceptions, of course. Alex had a feeling they'd learn the cost of breaking the rules rather painfully.

    "In the Swamp, you will each encounter a challenge that will be tailored to you, and your past. Some of you will relive harsh emotional events from your life, and feel things you thought you'd never feel again. If you are not prepared to suffer such things, leave now."

    This time, a few left, hopping on their various flying Pokémon and soaring away. Evidently there were some who had experienced such horrifying trauma that no reward was worth reliving that experience. Nobody sneered at them, however. Not openly, at least.

    "If you manage to pass this challenge, you will soon find yourself in the heart of the Swamp, and in the domain of the Master. If you fail, you will continue to wander aimlessly, lost, until you complete it…or go mad. Many who venture into this terrain do not return. Those of you who have visited the town to the north know that the locals fear the Swamp. They do so for good reason. Underestimate it, and you have already failed."

    That got a few murmurs, but otherwise, the crowd waited patiently for the old woman to finish. "If you, at any point, wish to quit the challenge, you need only fly above the canopy, and hover there. Keep both arms raised above your head as you do, and you will not be shot down. Once you reach the aforementioned height, and confirm with an official that you're quitting, you may leave."

    The woman paused then, and affixed an item to her Dragonite's head. It was a scope of some kind, with a green lens that hovered in front of the Pokémon's eye.

    "These scopes will be affixed to each group of Pokémon assigned to shoot down those who violate the no-flying rule. The League has banned these devices, because they allow a Pokémon to attack with a move, and rarely miss. Do not try your luck against them, you will fail."

    There were a few skeptical rumbles, and there would likely be a few daredevils who tried to cheat, believing their aerial dodges would suffice here. They would be proven painfully wrong. The Sage's Examiners took the 'no-flying' rule quite seriously.

    "In a few moments, I and my attendants will take position at the Swamp's edge. Each of you will come forward, and speak to your guide. There are papers you'll need to sign, as well as last wishes, and what you want done with your bodies and Pokémon, should they be recovered. Once that is complete, you may enter the Swamp." With that, the woman hopped onto her dragon Pokémon, and headed for the edge, where the rest of her strange camouflage garbed people were already standing.

    It took a few minutes before the crowd surged forward, and as it looked like a few would try to avoid the lines and just enter the Swamp regardless, a massive wall of red light shot up from behind the stationed guards. The Swamp's trees were massive in size, and towered high above the energy barrier, but the wall served its purpose. Anyone trying to circumvent it would be noticed easily, and then presumably shot down.

    A few Trainers tested the barrier of energy, then resigned themselves to the que. Alex and Hilbert, along with other scattered loners from remote regions, lagged behind. They saw no sense in rushing, as the Krokorok would only need so many meals to be satisfied for the day. Traveling would be easier once they chomped on those unlucky enough to fall into one of the Swamp's numerous deep, salty water basins.

    The other Trainers, Alex and Hilbert discovered, were from all over. Sippi, Kentu, Ohiana, Texico, Kanadia, and even Takoma in the far north west. They quickly discovered that there was a person from pretty much every State not in league with the Fornians, and their crazy Church. Forming a fast friendship, they spent their time waiting in the now abandoned campsites by the old woman's tent. Hilbert was mainly fine with waiting, because he thought Hilda, Rosa, or even Nate would join them down here too. They had all beaten the League, after all, and saved Unova. They'd earned this.

    It took about three hours for the lines to die down. They were mostly filled with large groups of older Champions from many of the 'east central' states. Given that the crowd was enormous, they rightly assumed a Champion, past or present, from every region on the continent was here.

    Alex wondered how they were supposed to survive in a Swamp environment, but Hilbert didn't seem to be concerned. When Alex asked why, he learned that his Pokémon were capable of feeding their Trainer if they had to. It was namely celery stalks from his Serperior, but it sufficed. Alex supposed he could always survive on Terra's apples, if he had to. His Mega Form could make them easily, and they were red, and delicious.

    Alex and Hilbert spent the time waiting sharing stories and several full bowls of Leaf with the other gathered Champions. It really was a popular herb, especially among Trainers. Only more so now that Unova, the so-called 'Eastern Capital' had now completely legalized it, effective immediately.

    Anyone strong enough for this challenge had a means of growing it, usually by using their grass type. These Trainers had teams that were well balanced, and could handle many type variations. Often, the battles here had resorted to flying vs flying or fire vs fire, if only to avoid constant switching out to gain type advantage.

    Upon learning who he was, the group had, of course, asked how he'd reunited the Unovan Dragon. Thankfully, they grasped the concept of balancing energy easier than John Crimson had, but none among them had thought to try combining moves. He did notice that several of them had crystals similar to his, and he was informed that many Trainers had acquired one of every type before coming here. Nobody in their group had tried mega evolution with them. Yet.

    He'd spent the last half hour beating himself up for not gathering a full set as well, but it was too late now. He'd been told he was almost late for the challenge, and had rushed here. It wouldn't take long for Trainers this skilled to grasp what they could use their crystals for, but that didn't stop him from tapping their sets with his own, and awakening the dormant power within. Plates, or shards of them, it didn't matter. The limitless energy his gave off was enough to power theirs up, and awaken the energy lying dormant within.

    Once more he lamented losing so many days to Draconis Mons. He would've likely had time to gather a full set, if he'd just been more careful. Seeing that the lines were reasonably long now, Alex and Hilbert parted, and headed for the Swamp.

    Alex went into the 'dragon lady's' line, a nickname he'd learned the Trainers who'd camped here for weeks had given her. He signed the documents without hesitation, and she smirked, then gave him breakfast.

    After his papers were processed, a square shaped outline appeared in the barrier of crimson energy. He entered through it, and the Swamp challenge began.

    "Hello." A voice said to his right. Alex jumped as he looked, realizing how on edge he was. The Swamp was massive, full of Pokémon his Pokédex had never seen, that all had strange, unique, and likely deadly abilities. This place was a region in its own right.

    Alex looked at the man, who stood as he approached. He was 6,4, blonde, and more muscled than Alex would ever become. Alex raised a brow as the man stood two inches over him. He had to look up to address the man, something he was clearly not used to, and said, "Do you speak-a my language?"

    The blonde man stared at him for a long time, and then pulled a large bong from a camouflaged backpack. He winked at Alex, and began walking through a path in the dense Swamp they could both easily traverse with their size. He handed the challenger a Vegemite sandwich as he began loading the bong. He took a long hit, exhaled, and then offered it to the Champion.

    "Do you come from our land'a'plenty?" The man grinned, and Alex nodded as he took the bong, smirking. This was a land 'down unda' alright. They had different styles of living, and Alex just shook his head, hitting the piece as well, before passing it back.

    He exhaled the smoke slowly, and chomped into the Vegemite sandwich. This was going to be a fun challenge. He could tell.

    On the northern continent, there were a series of territories known as the 'States' from coast to coast. Nobody quite knew why they were called states, all anybody could tell, from ruins and texts of a bygone age, was that it was what they had once been called in the past. Now however, they were anything but united.

    Each of them was ruled by a Governor, and each Governor was part of a council that oversaw regional issues of trade and such. Naturally, with so many voices clamoring to be heard, this council managed to get very little done. Votes on anything often ended up tied, until one of the abstaining states could be convinced to change their vote. The coasts generally unified under one Governor, and for the east, that was Unova's, as New Tork was the largest city in the east, and Unova had the largest population.

    More importantly, Unova had also once been the head of their Dragon Empire, which had stretched from coast to coast, and had given their land millennia of peace and prosperity under the First Dragon. Many who wanted to see those days return, tended to look favorably upon the old imperial capital. Others, namely from Fornia, wanted a new power to rise. The Arcean Church had an iron grip over Fornia to the west, and had been slowly expanding their influence east for centuries now. Nobody considered them a legitimate threat though, and the Church itself was seen as little more than a nuisance that would sue anyone who went against it. Thus, it was largely ignored.

    Each of the states had a Champion chosen to participate in this challenge, and f