AUTHOR'S NOTE: Hello all once again for the latest chapter of Ignis. As always I'd like to thank everyone for their support and messages, favs and follows. I'd particularly like to thank nightwoodinn who has been following from the very first day and remains a constant supporter and source of encouragement. I've taken a few steps away from the canon in this chapter (nothing crazy) as I wanted to make the gym battles a bigger affair, inspired in that regard by 's The Game of Champions which, though unfinished, is in my view the best pokémon fanfiction every written. Remember to keep in touch by review or message, I value all feedback and will reply. Hope you all enjoy!

Ignis stared at the egg in amazement. The light from the corridor caught its shiny outer surface and it shone brightly. Ignis could see that it was a shade of dark yellow with some black markings that went all around its surface.

"Woah," was all Ignis managed, his eyes still fixed firmly on the egg.

"That was not easy to get let me tell you," his uncle laughed. "Ever since the regions started warring there's been a massive embargo on pokémon or even trainers managing to travel. I had to pull a few strings at work to get a licence to bring it back and even at that these aren't exactly commonly come across…so I hope you like it," finished his uncle.

Ignis was well aware of that. Ever since the war started there was terrible difficulty getting visas to and from other regions and the amount of pokémon that weren't indigenous had declined to the point that while seeing a trainer with a pokémon from outside of Kanto was not impossible, it was certainly unusual.

"I don't know what to say, thank you so much," he said taking his eyes off the egg for the first time and looking at his uncle. "What pokémon is it?"

"I could tell you if you like but its period of incubation is more or less over. Seeing as I didn't have an incubator to hand I made do with the hot room but that seems to have worked well enough. I reckon it'll need just another week or so before it hatches so if you want to leave it as a surprise then you won't have to wait long?" his uncle offered smiling.

"Yeah, I'd prefer that," said Ignis thinking to himself. "Can I touch it?" he asked.

"Absolutely, in fact from now on I'd recommend that you go nowhere without it. Lots of studies show that bonds can form even before the time of hatching so I'd encourage you to treat it like a member of your team from this point on".

Ignis crossed the room to the bed and placed his palm on the egg which was smooth as polished marble and oddly cool despite the warmth of the room.

"Pick it up and bring it downstairs, its more than ready to leave the heat of the room so long as we don't bring it outside too quickly," said his uncle leaving the room and Ignis followed cradling the egg in his arms like a newborn baby.

They arrived back down to the kitchen just in time to see his aunt putting dinner on the table and Ignis suddenly realised how hungry he was.

"Oh good, you gave it to him!" chimed his aunt with a bright smile looking at the egg.

"I did but he doesn't know what it is yet so say nothing," said Eli quickly before his aunt could give it away and she quickly made a zipping motion across her lips and laughed.

They talked for some time about a variety of things, family and Eli's work and Ignis was just started to feel drowsy after his large meal and long few days when suddenly Eli asked a question that had him awake very quickly.

"I presume you'll be challenging Erika while you're here then Ignis?" he said sitting forward in his chair and clasping his hands together.

"That's the plan anyway," Ignis replied. "I thought I'd have a better shot at starting against her than the likes of Brock" he said trying to gauge his uncle's reaction.

"Oh I completely agree. Erika's tough though, maybe not on the level of Blaine or Giovanni but she's no walkover and I don't think she gets many no badge trainers challenging her. In fact sometimes having no badges can go against you as leaders don't take you seriously. It's hard to blame them, they must get hundreds of no badge trainers every year thinking they've got what it takes when in reality they can't tell a Seadra from a Starmie. I don't expect that you'll have it easy against her but you've got one major advantage" he finished looking at Ignis to point out what it was.

"Yeah, my fire type will be very strong against any of her grass types," said Ignis enthusiastically. "So I've got the elemental advantage".

"Yes and no," said Eli sitting back and looking thoughtful. "Erika is well used to trainers using fire types against her. I've watched many of her gym matches on television or from the stands and she has a whole host of tricks for dealing with a fiery offensive. What you have on your side is that fire is unexpected" he finished looking at Ignis with a gleam in his eye.

"Huh? How is it unexpected?" said Ignis. "She'll see Growlithe and she'll…"

"She'll think the same thing that any other highly experienced trainer would think," finished Eli for him. "That there's no way a growlithe that young could possibly have learnt ember. And that," he finished, "is your advantage".

Ignis looked at him dumbstruck. It made complete sense now that he thought about it. Even Ranger Celer had said that he'd never seen a growlithe so young be able to use ember. Erika would likely expect tackles and bite attacks and instead of keeping her distance like an experienced trainer would when facing a fire type, he may be able to draw her in close and then hit her with his secret weapon.

"So your completely right in saying you have the elemental advantage," continued Eli. "But that element, is that of surprise, possibly the strongest element of all," he said smiling.

"That's a great plan," said Ignis smiling wildly and wishing he could run off and challenge straight away. "I'll only get one shot though, the moment she sees that Growlithe can use ember she'll readjust her fighting style".

"I couldn't agree more," said Eli nodding. "You'll have to make sure you don't use that attack when facing her second".

"Her second?" said Ignis quizzically.

"Yes, every gym leader has a second. They are a trainer who serves as a kind of quality control insurance, otherwise they'd be inundated with challengers. That's the stuff the TV stations don't show you," said Eli laughing. "Second's are exactly what the name implies, second in command. Usually a young trainer who started off particularly efficient in a particular type and has risen their way through the gym to become the gatekeeper to the gym leader. You'll have to beat Erika's second in order to challenge her but don't worry, you're more than capable of that. Second's are nowhere as good as the gym leaders, they're just an instrument used to ensure that trainers don't waste a leader's time. Once you get to four badges or more you don't even have to face seconds, your previous badges are seen as proof enough of your worthiness".

"So my main job is to beat Erika's second without using ember and showing my hand," finished Ignis.

"Precisely," Eli nodded. "Maybe take tomorrow to train and particularly to hone Growlithe's ember attack. That's gonna be your ace card when it comes to Erika and then you can look into challenging the gym the day after. "Anyway for now you'd better get some rest, I'll show you to your room," he said getting up from his chair and stretching.

He brought Ignis down the corridor to a small but comfortable room and bade him goodnight. Ignis was changed and into bed in a few moments and lay down looking at the yellow egg that rested on his pillow before sleep took him and he dreamt of egg hatchings and endless possibilities.

Ignis spent the next day training hard with Nidoran and Growlithe. Growlithe seemed to grow faster and stronger by the hour and it could have been Ignis's imagination but he was sure that Growlithe's constant improvements and willingness to train actually spurred Nidoran to train harder. Growlithe had spent that first hour of the day practicing his ember over and over again on a large boulder near the end of Eli's garden that was by now red hot. At first the ember attacks had been largely wild and untamed bursts of fire like in the forest but as the morning progressed the flame grew to a more focused hotter stream of fire that could be controlled and directed. The more they practiced the easier it was for Growlithe to call on ember almost instantly without having to take a second or two to summon the fires and by the end of the hour the face of the large boulder was positively glowing red.

Next Ignis worked on the speed and agility of both pokémon setting them a makeshift obstacle course that would be best traversed by the use of agility before ending in a tackle or bite attack on some mannequins that Eli had lent him from his garden shed. The course encouraged the pokémon to be able to change direction quickly, which honed their speed and agility. Growlithe won all of the races, except for one where Nidoran tripped him a split second before Ignis said go but Ignis didn't mind. He liked the competitive side of his little poison companion and Growlithe was too playful to care less.

By the time they stopped for lunch they were all very tired and Ignis was almost hoarse from shouting commands and encouragement. Eli suggested that he take Growlithe to do some more agility work over the nearby fields so that Ignis could have some one to one time with Nidoran. Growlithe was quite happy to go anywhere that allowed him to run and the alone time seemed to suit the poison pokémon well as it worked tirelessly to please Ignis. Ignis had her scratching the same rock that Growlithe had been working with earlier in an effort to harden her scratch attack. This worked well and after a slow start Nidoran soon started putting long gouges into the rock face. Ignis was very pleased with this and started getting her to scratch over and over again in quick succession, as these were the types of skills she would need in order to perfect fury swipes over time.

Ignis kept the egg with him the entire time, often holding it and even talking to the creature that was within as Eli had advised. At one stage he could've sworn the egg rocked slightly in his hands but then the moment was over and Ignis couldn't quite be sure if it was his imagination or not.

By the time Eli returned the sun was starting to set and Ignis put out a large helping of nutrient rich food for the two pokémon who needed no second invite and they ate hungrily. Even the always energetic Growlithe seemed tired after the workout that he had gotten and soon strayed over the Ignis and Eli who were sitting on the patio and placed his head on his trainer's lap and began to doze. Nidoran took full advantage of this opportunity to finish the last of Growlithe's food much to the delight of Eli.

"Does she ever stop eating?" he said incredulously.

"I told you," said Ignis brightly before turning to face Nidoran. "You deserve it, you did some really great work today," he said and the pokémon's eyes gleamed with pride before she returned her head to the bowl and continued to dig out the last morsels of food.

"I booked you in for a challenge match tomorrow against the second at midday," said Eli sipping his team. "I'd like to come along to see how you go if you don't mind?"

"Of course not, I'd love for you to be there," smiled Ignis.

Ignis woke up the next morning as nervous as he'd been in a long time. He picked at his breakfast while Eli laughed and reminisced about how nervous he had been before his first gym battle.

"Don't worry there'll be no one watching the match against the second. It's the televised gym match with thousands of spectators you've gotta be nervous about," he finished with a laugh.

"You're not helping," said Ignis though he couldn't help but smile at his uncle's good humour. He remembered so many weekends that he'd tuned in to watch the highlights of gym matches from around the Kanto circuit. He couldn't believe that today in a couple of days it might be him walking in to the famous greenhouse arena to take on Erika infront of thousands of fans. He'd always thought that making the gym challenges a spectator sport had been a brilliant idea. Great for budding trainers to learn by, great for the city's economy and just great to watch in general. But now, faced with it himself, he couldn't help wish it'd go back to the behind closed doors events that it had been years ago. Anyway he was getting ahead of himself. He still had a match to win before he thought about any of that but even so he couldn't stop his stomach from lurching.

Eli drove them into the city and it wasn't long before Ignis saw the massive Gloom shaped roof of the Celadon greenhouse gym. They parked in the gyms large car park, which was mostly empty, and walked the short distance together in through the automatic doors and up to the reception desk.

A tall young woman with short blonde hair was sitting at the receptionist desk and she looked up from her computer screen as Ignis and Eli approached.

"Can I help you?" she said brightly.

"Yes, my name is Ignis and I'm here for my challenge match," said Ignis gingerly.

"Ah yes of course, I have you here on the system," said the girl with a wide smile, typing some details into the computer. "Please place your pokédex on the slot to confirm your identity and number of badges" she continued. Ignis did as she said watching his face flash up on the computer screen. "I see this is potentially your first badge," said the girl positively beaming now. "We don't get too many rookies around these parts, usually they head to Viridian forest or the safari zone first. Are you from Celadon?"

"No miss but I've family here," said Ignis motioning to Eli who smiled.

"Very good, if you take a seat Lucinda will be with you shortly. The very best of luck in your match," said the girl and gave him another bright smile before turning to the next person in the line.

They took a seat and Eli went over the plan once last time.

"Remember now, she's not trying to beat you, she just wants to make sure your worthy of a match against Erika," said Eli encouragingly. "And remember, no matter what happens don't use ember or I'm sure Lucinda won't be long tipping Erika off to it and then you lose the element of surprise". Ignis nodded, unable to talk too much with the nerves he was feeling. Before his uncle could give any more advice a young woman wearing a bright pink tracksuit with the Celadon crest emblazoned on it emerged from a side room. She had dark purple hair and Ignis guessed she was in her early twenties.

"Ignis I presume?" she said looking from him back to her clipboard.

"That's me," said Ignis and the woman gave him a small smile.

"No badges yet, correct?" she said, not unkindly and Ignis nodded an affirmative. "Well if there's nothing else we can head into arena number two and have our match. If you are successful I will forward your name to Erika and your match will be scheduled for this coming Saturday.

Ignis followed the woman in through a side door to a large room where a small plain grass court that had been lined for pokémon matches. He took his place at the opposite end to Lucinda and Eli made his way over to a bench to watch.

A referee emerged from a dressing room and walked to the side of the court. She was dressed in the same tracksuit as Lucinda and held a flag in each hand, one green and one red, signifying Lucinda on the green side and Ignis on the red side.

"This will be a two on two battle, only the challenger may make substitutions. The match will be decided when both of one trainer's pokémon are unable to continue" she announced. "Trainers please select your first pokémon and hold their pokéball in your hand. Ignis did so. He knew that this was to stop one trainer having an advantage over the other at the start.

"Let the match…begin!" shouted the referee with a wave of both her flags and both trainers threw their pokéballs.

Nidoran emerged in a flash of white light and instantly started to glare at the rather large looking Oddish that Lucinda had summoned at the opposing end of the small field.

"Nidoran, tackle!" shouted Ignis and Nidoran burst into a fast run heading directly at the Oddish.

"Oddish poison powder attack!" came the reply from across the field and Oddish started waving it's long green leaves to and fro emitting an orange powder that wafted directly through the air towards Nidoran".

"Nidoran, adjust and come at it from the side!" shouted Ignis and Nidoran shifted quickly to the right before swirling back to the left and coming at the Oddish from a different angle exactly how they had practiced on their obstacle course the previous day"

The quick change in direction meant that the poison powder attack wafted harmlessly off while Nidoran closed in on the slow moving Oddish.

"Quick, poison powder again!" came the shout from across the field but too late as Nidoran slammed into the Oddish with brutal force hitting it horn first and sending it flying across the court.

Oddish regained its feet quite quickly but was clearly dazed from the full frontal blow. Nidoran was already nearly on it charging towards it with Ignis shouting for a scratch attack to finish it off.

"Sleep powder!" Lucinda roared from across the field and this time Nidoran was far too close to the grass pokémon when the attack started and ran straight through the side of the dust cloud that had started to form before clawing twice at the Oddish who withstood the first blow but was knocked to the ground by the ferocity of the second and a flash of red light signalled Lucinda recalling him.

"Good job Ignis, that Nidoran of yours is quite something. She may even be a match for my next pokémon…if she can stay awake," quipped Lucinda looking across at the poison pin pokémon who was shaking her head and blinking madly.

Ignis knew she was right. If he were to have any chance of finishing this match without using Growlithe he'd have to finish this next pokémon fast.

"Paras, you're up!" shouted Lucinda as a bright orange paras arrived with a flash of white light.

"Nidoran, tackle!" roared Ignis, wasting no time and Nidoran shook her head one more time and galloped off to meet her new opponent.

"Paras dodge and use scratch!" shouted Lucinda. The paras moved with pace that it didn't look like it had hopping out of the way of Nidoran's attack.

Ignis didn't bother confusing Nidoran with a dodge command. She was too close to dodge it and too tired to keep going. Her movements were visibly slowing and she appeared a little disorientated.

"Nidoran, poison sting!" roared Ignis and the pokémon jabbed at paras with her horn drawing a small wound just to the pokémon's side just as paras attacked with a ferocious scratch attack that drove Nidoran into the ground.

The referee eyed the small pokémon as Nidoran attempted to push herself up but with everything but her fighting spirit no longer functioning Ignis recalled her taking a moment to say a few words of praise to her pokéball.

"Back level again," said Lucinda smiling. This time it was Ignis's turn to smile.

"I'm not so sure about level, looks like Nidoran left her own parting gift," he said motioning to the wound in the paras's side where Nidoran's poisonous, barbed horn had injured the pokémon.

Ignis could see the poison was already taking effect; the paras seemed a lot weaker than it had moments before.

"Growlithe, I choose you," he shouted throwing the ball through the the air and catching it in one hand on the return as Growlithe sprang from the pokéball.

"Nidoran weakened him for you buddy but it can still hurt you so be careful," shouted Ignis and received one quick bark in reply.

"Stun spore!" Lucinda shouted from the field clearly now under the impression that it was she that was operating against the clock.

"Dodge Growlithe!" and Growlithe took off across the field. It didn't quite have agility mastered but it moved so fast when sprinting that it was still more than capable of running rings around the weakened paras and proceeded to do so. The paras shifted from side to side trying to keep up with Growlithe's fast movements but a combination of Nidoran's poison and Growlithe's speed meant it was unable to do so.

"Now, tackle!" roared Ignis when he saw Growlithe almost come behind the pokémon and in a flash Growlithe changed direction charging and clattering into the pokémon laying him out unconscious on the floor.

"Paras is unable to battle!" shouted the referee. "The winner is the challenger!".

Lucinda returned the paras and walked towards the centre of the field. Ignis mirrored her and they met in the centre, a delighted Growlithe jumping up and down on Ignis.

"That was impressive Ignis. That Growlithe of yours is certainly fast," she said looking down at his excited companion. "He'll grow to be a very strong pokémon someday. I don't know if you have what it takes to beat Erika but you have certainly earned the right to try. I will be submitting your name for Saturday's gym challenges. Please present yourself to the gym at eleven o' clock in the morning," she said extending her hand which Ignis shook.

"I'll do that," said Ignis. "Thanks very much".

He made his way to the sidelines to a beaming Eli who clasped him on the shoulder. "That was brilliant, couldn't have done better myself kid! The way you got one last poison sting in with Nidoran instead of trying to avoid the incoming attack was just great!"

"I still had to use Growlithe in the end," said Ignis, slightly disappointed even though he knew it would've been a big ask for Nidoran to take down both pokémon.

"This way is even better," said Eli grinning madly. This way they've actually seen Growlithe and the report will be that it was a young, if very fast, growlithe who didn't use any fire abilities".

"That's true I suppose," said Ignis a bit more brightly as the adrenaline slowly started to leave him and he calmed down. "Saturday match leaves us just two days to prepare," said Ignis.

"Yeah I would suggest a big training session tomorrow and then a rest day on Friday," said Eli as they walked towards the exit. "I know it can be hard for young trainers to think about rest days but they are important if you don't want your pokémon going into a battle tired and make no mistake you're going to be up against it. Erika will use a younger team against because of your badge count but she still has an ego on her so she won't be in any mood for letting some rookie show her up in front of the cameras".

Ignis agreed despite himself, he always quite disliked Erika when he watched her on the television. She had a habit of starting matches by saying 'this should be easy', which by now had become her catchphrase but to Ignis it seemed bigheaded and disrespectful.

"Don't get me wrong," said Eli seeing Ignis deep in thought. "I still think you can do it or else I would've encouraged you to wait longer," he finished smiling.

They walked back to the car and headed for home with Ignis deep in thought about Saturday's gym match and the start of his challenge to the Kanto circuit.

The sun shone brightly through a slit in the curtains signalling the morning of his gym match. Saturday had come slower than Ignis could have ever imagined. They had trained hard on the Thursday which made the day go by quite quickly but Friday had crept by at a snail's pace even though Eli had tried to keep him busy by providing him with books to study on pokémon he would likely meet in his journey. They had also spent a couple of hours researching what pokémon Erika tended to use against no badge trainers but it basically seemed unpredictable. In her last four matches against trainers of Ignis's level she had used seven different pokémon with a large, strong looking bulbasaur being the only pokémon to appear twice.

Ignis opened his eyes as the slit of light made his way towards his face. He had been awake with hours, unable to sleep properly the whole night with nerves. He got up and got dressed, going to the kitchen to find Eli already up.

"I'd a feeling you wouldn't be sleeping too much," said Eli grinning and pouring Ignis some coffee from the jug. "Nervous?"

Ignis barely managed a nod and sipped on his coffee. He'd done all he could in preparation and was happy with the game plan that he and Eli had devised but he hated this waiting.

Nonethelss, the time eventually, slowly, rolled around for them to leave and they headed once more towards the city limits. This time when they reached the large greenhouse gym the car park was a hive of activity with spectators arriving for the day's matches. All kinds of people seemed to be flocking towards the stands. Parents walked with their children, groups of teens walked together to the greenhouse stadium and even elderly pensioners made their way towards the stands.

Eli drove right up to the spaces outside the door marked 'Challengers only' and parked. Ignis felt a lot of eyes turn towards him as he got out of the car and a couple of people even shouted good luck to him as he walked towards the entrance.

The same receptionist who had greeted him a few days ago was on hand to greet him again. "Glad to see you made it," she said with her usual wide smile, ticking him off the list without even asking for his name. "You can make your way to holding room one," she said handing him a security pass. "Will you be joining him," she asked, looking at Eli.

"No, I'll watch from the stands," said Eli, as much to Ignis as to the receptionist. "You're more than ready to do this on your own, I've nothing but faith in you," he said clasping him on his back.

They said their goodbyes and Ignis headed to the holding room, which was located two floors below the ground level where he found Lucinda waiting for him.

"Well hello again Ignis, I have a copy of today's programme for you," she said handing him a leaflet with match times printed on it. "As you can see the running order is done on number of badges. There will be four matches in total today and you'll be battling first".

"I guess I'm the opening act," said Ignis with a nervous laugh.

"Think of it that way if you like but it's probably a better way if your feeling nervous, less waiting and the crowds wont be as big or as expectant," she said. "The match should be starting in about fifteen minutes. When this light turn green," she said motioning to a light on the wall, "stand into the podium which will rise into the main arena once it detects your weight". "The podium is equipped with a mic so that you can talk to Erika and your pokémon over the noise. Good luck Ignis," she said and turned to leave.

Ignis sat there for a moment trying to take in everything she had said. He wasn't used to being the centre of attention and needing a microphone to be able to be heard over the sound of the crowd sent a fresh wave of butterfrees into his stomach. He let out both his pokémon and addressed them both with as much confidence as he could muster.

"This is our first match against a gym leader," Ignis started. "You'll be up first Nidoran, Erika is a very good trainer and her pokémon will be very tough opponents," he continued. Nidoran looked decidedly unimpressed, apparently she feared no pokémon and at that moment Ignis wished he had half her confidence. He smiled for the first time all morning and rubbed the small pokémon. "You just do what you did the other day and we'll be fine," he smiled.

"Growlithe, we've practiced this over and over but remember, don't use any type of fire attack until I expressly call for it and when I do put everything you have into the first attack. We'll only get one shot at it," he said. The puppy pokémon seemed strangely calm and focused as if he could understand the seriousness of the situation and he gave Ignis one small lick on his hand to show he understood.

They sat in silence for several minutes with Ignis patting and rubbing both his companions, as much to comfort himself as to keep them calm. After a small while a loud buzz sounded through the holding room, shattering the silence and the green light on the wall came on. "Well here we go guys," Ignis said, recalling his two pokémon and standing on the platform. The platform gave a loud beep and after a second started to climb steadily towards the ceiling, which opened as he rose to meet it and all Ignis could hear was the rising volume level from the stadium above as the platform lifted him past the ceiling and into the gigantic stadium above.

The wall of noise erupted as he entered into the stadium and saw that on the other side Erika had emerged on her own platform. She was tall and pretty with shoulder-length dark blue hair and she waved and smiled to the crowd. The field was huge, at least double the size of the one he had faced Lucinda on. The surface was mostly grass but it had a couple of bushes and areas of foliage scattered around it, and even one or two areas where wild flowers were growing giving the field pops of colour. It had never looked this big when he had watched it on television thought Ignis as he glanced around at the stadium that circled the field. He saw that they were slightly over half full and noticed that many people were still milling into their seats from the various entranceways, holding popcorn and soft drinks and various signs and banners. He tried looking for Eli but there were just too many people to make out where he was.

Before Ignis could look any further the commentator's voice boomed out across the stadium. "And the first match of our schedule today will feature first-time challenger Ignis of Cinnabar!" which drew some cheers and polite applause from the crowd. Ignis gave a nervous wave to the watching spectators.

"Standing between him and the coveted rainbow badge is the gym leader of the Celadon City gym… Erika!" continued the commentator and this time the crowd went wild, cheering and chanting Erika's name and he felt his stomach turning in knots.

"Welcome to my gym Ignis," came Erika's voice from across the field. "It's good of you to come here today but I'm afraid you'll be leaving the way that you arrived… badgeless," which seemed to draw a fresh wave of cheers and laughs from the crowd. Ignis didn't bother to reply, smack-talk was basically mandatory now that the matches were being televised but he had enough to be concentrating on without engaging in it.

A referee walked to the side of the field carrying two flags and wearing a microphone.

"This will be a two on two battle. Only the challenger may make substitutions. Trainers, please select your first pokémon and hold the pokéball in your hand".

Ignis picked Nidoran's ball from his belt and held it in his outstretched hand and he saw Erika do the same.

"Begin!" came the shout from the referee and the crowd roared their approval.

Ignis threw Nidoran's pokéball and the poison pin pokémon jumped out of it glaring up at Erika with her teeth bared.

Erika responded by throwing her pokéball. "This should be easy," she quipped as the ball flew through the air and opened to reveal a large yellow pokémon that Ignis recognized as a weepinbell. The crowd roared their approval at the use of her now famous catchphrase and the noise grew and grew within the stadium.

"Weepinbell, acid!" said Erika calmly and the pokémon started to spit large blasts of purple acid at Nidoran who was already running and dodging.

"Oh, she's fast!" quipped Erika, he voice rising clearly above the din of the crowd, "but can she outrun a razor leaf!" she shouted as Weepinbell blasted four razor leaves in the direction of Nidoran. Nidoran managed to dodge the first three but the fourth scraped along the pokémon's side opening up a long gash and the audience gasped collectively.

Even so Nidoran didn't miss a step, she continued ploughing towards the grass pokémon as if she had not felt the large cut which was now starting to bleed showing her characteristic determination. This unflinching drive seemed to catch both Erika and her weepinbell by surprise and neither made a move for a split second.

"Poison sting!" shouted Ignis as Nidoran closed the gap between the two to basically nothing and Nidoran rammed her horn into the underside of the large pokémon shoving it several yards down the field.

"Quickly tackle before it can recover!" shouted Ignis into his microphone but Erika was already calling for vine whip and two large vines burst out of the weepinbell and headed towards the charging pokémon.

"Counter with bite!" roared Ignis and the poison pokémon dodged one vine and bit it clean in half as it passed only for the second to lash it across the back and Nidoran was driven into the grass.

The poison pokémon rose gingerly from the ground but too slow as a burst of more razor leaves caught her one after another and she slumped to the ground unconscious.

"Nidoran is unable to battle! Weepinbell is the winner," shouted the referee and the crowd roared their approval. Ignis felt the knot in his stomach tighten as he recalled his companion and threw Growlithe's pokéball onto the field.

The pokémon emerged looking determined and eyed up the weepinbell on the other side of the field.

"Nice puppy," came Erika's voice from across the field. "This should be easy" and Ignis felt his hands clench into fist".

"Tackle Growlithe, show her your speed!" and Growlithe took off like a Ponyta drawing more than one or two cheers and gasps from the crowd.

Erika roared for vine whips but Growlithe dodged them like they were coming at him in slow motion and connected solidly with the grass pokémon which flew back clearly weakened and already sporting the earlier wound from Nidoran. Nonetheless it turned to face Growlithe once more withgrim determination.

"Bite Growlithe!" shouted Ignis sensing his chance just as Erika shouted for weepinbell to use acid. Growlithe whirled towards the pokémon and avoided the first shot of acid but was caught on the flank by the second which steamed as it hit his fur. Growlithe let out a small whimper but had closed in enough ground to clamp his jaws around weepinbell and he shook the grass pokémon from side to side with a ferocity that Ignis didn't know he had. He let go and the weepinbell was flung to the side and landed in a patch of foliage, clearly unconscious. This time it was Growlithe and Ignis that earned a large cheer from the crowd.

"Not so easy apparently," said Ignis before he could catch himself and the crowd roared their approval. So much for no smack talk he thought to himself with a wry grin.

Erika looked liked she'd been smacked in the face by his comment and she enlarged her second pokéball tossing it onto the field.

"Ivysaur, lets put some manners on this youngster!" shouted Erika.

"Saaaur!" screamed the Ivysaur announcing its arrival. The ivysaur was quite small for it's breed and Ignis just about had time to muse that this may be the bulbasaur they had researched that had evolved when Erika started barking orders and once more razor leaves shout towards Growlithe.

"Dodge Growlithe and get in close!" roared Ignis in response. Growlithe danced around the first few leaves but the burn to his flank was clearly effecting him and he didn't move with the same grace and fluidity that he had earlier. He howled when two of the razor leaves glanced off the same side opening small wounds that started to bleed but he still ran determinedly at the ivysaur tackling into it with great force. The ivysaur slid back a couple of yards rattled by the blow but still on its feet.

"Catch him Ivysaur!" roared Erika and her ivysaur roared an affirmative emitting two vines that moved far quicker than the weepinbell's had. The two lashed around Growlithe's body much to crowd's delight.

"Now reel him in!" shouted Erika and the Ivysaur began to pull Growlithe in closer. Growlithe dug his paws into the grass and tried to resist but the other pokémon was simply much bigger and stronger and inch by inch Growlithe came closer and closer until it was only a few feet from Ivysaur lashed firmly in place by strong vines.

"Let's show him our solar beam I think," said Erika. Ignis gasped, a solar beam at this range could potentially be fatal, he must've really pissed Erika off.

"Of course you could always forfeit," said Erika in a sickly sweet voice, a large smile across her face as ivysaur started to gather particles of light charging the solar beam.

This time it was Ignis's turn to smile and he said one word clearly but calmly into the mic.

"Ember".

He watched the smile slip right off Erika's face and turn to shock as Growlithe opened his maw and blew the most powerful ember attack Ignis had ever seen him do right at the ivysaur, hitting it at point blank range, turning the vines to ash and blowing the pokémon backwards head over heels until it came to a stop and slumped motionless, steam rising off a plethora of burns.

"Ivysaur is unable to battle, the match goes to Growlithe and the challenger Ignis!" shouted the referee.

The crowd seemed stunned into silence for a split second before it erupted into applause and cheers. The commentator was roaring something about a last second turnaround but Ignis was too dazed by what had just happened to hear it. He was already halfway down the ladder attached to the podium. He jumped the last few rungs and ran towards Growlithe who was hobbling weakly towards him, fur still slightly smouldering where the acid had hit him.

"You were great buddy!" shouted Ignis wrapping his arms around his companion being careful not to touch any wounds. "We'll get you looked after real soon," he said looking over the burn and the cuts but Growlithe just barked affectionately licking his face.

A shadow came over them and Ignis looked up to see Erika standing beside them looking down with a stern look.

"I have never," she started. "In all my days, seen a Growlithe that young use ember, I didn't see it coming for a second," she said looking down at the pair. "That was quite something," she said with the vaguest hint of a smile.

By then a trainer dressed in the gym's pink tracksuit and carrying a small wooden box and a hand-held microphone approached them and opened the box offering it to Erika. Erika placed her hand inside it and drew out a multi-coloured badge. She took the microphone from the trainer and said in a very formal voice.

"Ignis of Cinnabar, in acknowledgement of your victory here today I present you with the Rainbow badge," and she handed it to Ignis who took it, still not quite believing that what was happening was real. The noise in the crowd reached peak level and Ignis became aware of a television crew who had entered the field and were filming the encounter close up. He smiled as he looked over the cameraman's shoulder and saw Eli in the front row, on his feet and clapping wildly who quickly returned his smile offering a big thumbs-up looking positively giddy.

He looked down at the multi-coloured official league badge in his hand. This was going to take some time to sink in.