Ash's Just Reward Chapter 48

"Entire sentence." = Normal talking.

"Entire sentence." = Psychic talking.

"Entire sentence." = Powerful being talking.

'Entire sentence.' = Person's thoughts.

Lucario and Servine tensed up, both charging attacks as the leader of ICOP walked further into the room, surprisingly relaxed despite the lingering threat of attack from the two Pokémon being present, as he took a seat on a nearby pew.

As he got comfortable, Lucario couldn't help but notice the different aura the man was giving off now to what he had when he was giving his speech to the mass collective of ICOP agents and assembled Champions, which was once laced with a manic and unrestrained energy but now was subdued, still sending alarming signals to Lucario's senses but not as overwhelming as it once was. Something which was reflected in his current attire.

Whereas before he was wearing an obscenely brazen outfit, one that screamed pompousness and regal self-righteousness, now he stripped himself of that outfit, replacing it instead with a simple gown, like what one would wear to bed. It still had gold trimmings, showing he wasn't now suddenly down to earth, but it certainly helped to ease Lucario by the smallest margin.

"I imagine you're both quite confused by this room, for reasons I quite understand. This room is not for the faint of heart, and it is unfortunate that you've found this so soon. But I guess I must explain it, if only to save myself from your wrath."

Lucario and Servine said nothing, both keeping their attacks, an Aura Sphere and Leaf Storm respectively, aimed at the man, as he shot a look at Lucario.

"Well, aren't you going to ask? I know you want to, so why waste time with the stern silence? Your master, Sir Aaron, wouldn't approve of such behaviour, it is unbefitting for an Aura Guardian."

Lucario frowned at this while Servine gasped, causing the man to chuckle.

"Surprised? You shouldn't be, as we know exactly who you are, and what happened in the Kingdom of Rota with the young Chosen One and the Tree of Life. ICOP knows everything that happens with that boy, in both his past and his future. That event was certainly interesting, and it took a considerable amount of resources and negotiation to convince the Queen of Rota from publicly announcing Ash as their heir to Sir Aaron. Something which, as you can imagine, would garner a fair amount of attention from the various political powers that be. That was a frustrating week."

Lucario continued to say nothing, though the man just shrugged it off.

"Well, at least our reports on you are sufficient. I was worried that, since they were taken by agents during the war, that they'd be outdated and incorrect, especially since those reports didn't take into account your recent adventure with the Ketchum boy. But I digress, we have other matters to discuss."

He then gestured to the walls around him, eyes crossing over the stone depictions of events wistfully. As his gaze moved from them, Servine gently nudged Lucario, motioning toward the door with her head, to which he nodded, prompting them both to slowly start shuffling to the exit.

"This room is one of many in this place, though I will admit that it is the grandest amongst them all. Every Chosen One, throughout the annuals of history, has a mural dedicated to the event that marks them as one of the Chosen. Due to the fact that many of the Chosen Ones throughout history are only involved with a singular event, they only have the one mural depicting their greatness. Your new trainer, however, is an anomaly, being involved with so much more. So instead of having a room dedicated to time periods, we have one dedicated to him."

Lucario found himself finally breaking his gaze, eyes darting around the room again, the new knowledge adding some much-needed context to the stone etchings around him. Knowing that his theory about the boy in the cap being Ash was correct proved to be both satisfying and concerning, especially as his eyes landed on the depiction of the towering monstrosity that Ash was standing up to.

"This one, I believe, is the one involving you and the Tree of Life. A remarkable event, which nearly wiped an entire kingdom off the map of Kanto in a single afternoon. Absolutely terrifying." Lucario snapped his attention to the mural the man was looking at, and sure enough, it was a remarkable good rendition of the events that happened that day in Rota, when he was released from the staff. There was Ash, with Sir Aaron's silhouette outlined around him, armed with his ancestor's gloves and staff, as he stood in the heart of the truly titanic Tree of Life. He was depicted as well, fighting off the three Golems that protected the tree while Mew and Pikachu watched from high above. Which sent Lucario reeling as memories of that day began flashing through his mind, stopping his attempt at escape as his found his attention hooked on the man.

"How did these murals come to be? How are they depicting events before they happen? Its not possible to know the future," He said firmly, causing the man to look over at him with a confident smile.

"Is it not?" He asked, before looking at another mural, this one depicting Ash riding on the back of a Legendary Beast, as they charged at a man wearing a strange metal mask, with a monstrous wood creature looming behind him. "Because there are Pokémon in this world who do not perceive time as we do, our linear paths being a chart of events to them. These murals are the results of our organisation's collaboration with a group of Celebi, who seemed kind enough to deign us with premonitions of the future, leading to the construction of these murals. They seemed especially interested in these ones though, as these are amongst the more detailed depictions amongst our collection."

Lucario growled at this, eyes once again moving to the giant monstrosity that Ash was prophesised to go up again, and this time he was joined by the leader of ICOP.

"I see you've noticed that event. Keeps me up at night, thinking about whatever that thing is. I must say, I worry that this confrontation may be the one which finally will overcome your trainer, the one where he finally fails. And it is that event which I hope to prevent from happening."

Just as Servine reached the doors, they slammed shut, with thick metal bars shooting out and barring the door shut, trapping them both in. Snapping out of his stupor, Lucario span and fired his attack at the door, the powerful Aura attack exploding against the thick layer of wood and steel, but doing nothing more than causing a loud bang and creating a cloud of smoke.

As he grunted in surprise, several panels in the floor opened up, and from them came several towering Pokémon, ranging from Tyranitars to Golurks. As they entered the room, their eyes opened up, revealing bright white orbs in place of their normal eyes, as they roared their respective challenges at the two Pokémon, to which the man nodded to himself.

"Unfortunately, my hand has been forced. For so many generations, this organisation has been charged to clean up the mess of individuals like Ash Ketchum, as they wade through their ordained trials. But now we stand on the precipice of disaster, and Ash is at the centre of it. We must take the initiative, and deal with this ourselves. ICOP will supersede the roll of the Chosen Ones, and with the backing of the Regional Champions, the world's strongest trainers, we will become the world's dominant power!"

The man then turned to Lucario, a crazed look in his eye as he pointed at them, causing the various Pokémon around the room to tense up for an attack.

"And if you won't side with us, you stand against us! What is your choice?!"

Gary took a brief pause to collect himself, taking a deep breath and rubbing a thumb over the Pokéball in his hand before he nodded and stood up, making his way through the crowd of gathered trainers to find one in particular; a purple haired grump who seemed to get under Ashy boy's skin back when they first met.

As he found the trainer in particular, he steeled himself, preparing to deal with what could possibly be the most arrogant person ever barring himself, if Ash's description of him was anything to go by.

Paul was something of an enigma to Gary, based on everything he had heard or seen about him. According to those who had met him, he was the polar opposite to Ash in terms of attitude and approach to Pokémon training, and was unflinchingly strong as well. His record was nothing to be sniffed at, his list of victories even impressing Gary. While Gary didn't agree with the methods he employed to train his Pokémon, he couldn't deny the results they garnered. Especially since he knew that Ash himself had plenty of difficulty finally besting him, the team he trained and used against him being incredibly powerful.

And he couldn't quite describe it properly, but there was something about that which was… exciting! That made Gary want to challenge him. Which led him to right now.

"Hey, you're Paul, right?" He asked as he finally found the trainer with a glare for a neutral expression, who shot him that exact look as he tore himself away from his conversation with the Alolan professor.

"Yeah, what of it?" He replied, his tone bitingly harsh, causing Gary to smirk as he tossed his Pokéball into the air and caught it again.

"Wanna have a battle? Word is you're pretty strong, and after my battle with Ash I kinda feel like getting an easy win under my belt to soothe my ego." To add to the last comment, he gave his biggest smug grin to punctuate it, even if he didn't fully believe in his chances as much as he wanted. This guy was a serious trainer, and while Gary had certainly kept his team up to scratch during his research, but they certainly weren't league ready battlers, not like this guy was.

Regardless, Gary wanted to see where he stood, and even if he lost, he knew it was going to be fun.

And fortunately for him, this guy seemed to take the bait.

"I assure you; our battle will leave your ego more bruised than before, and I'd be glad to show you exactly why you should stick to being a professor over a battler."

'Oh, this is gonna be good,' Gary thought giddily to himself.

They quickly made their way to an open enough space so that they could have their little battle without interfering with the various other Pokémon and trainers present. Ash was currently busy with some of the new Pokémon that had shown up with the Legendary who bore a striking resemblance to Mew (and who Gary couldn't help but feel some strange sense of Deja vu and dread when he was nearby), so the pair were free to have their battle without their mutual rival watching over them. Something they both were content with.

After waiting only a few minutes so they could both change their Pokémon for the battle, and to get Brock to agree to be the referee, they both took their positions at either end of the battlefield. Stepping up to the middle of the pitch, Brock began shouting so they could both hear him clearly.

"Alright, this is a best of three Pokémon battle. There will be no substitutions of Pokémon, no items, and no mega evolutions. Trainers, pick your first Pokémon."

The pair nodded their agreement to these rules, the last addition being something that Paul interjected due to his lack of ability to mega evolve his Pokémon, something that Gary was more than happy to agree to. Pulling out something like a mega evolution against someone who had neither been against one nor had one of their own to use wasn't an indicator of skill, which would leave a bad taste in his mouth. Picking out his first Pokémon, he nodded to Brock to show he was ready, something that Paul did barely a second afterward.

"Battle commence!"

"Go, Alakazam!"

"Aggron, stand by for battle!"

The two imposing Pokémon quickly formed from their respective beams of light, with Aggron roaring a challenge to the Psychic type as they tensed up, preparing for the battle to come. Alakazam was silent, instead raising his spoons threateningly.

"Begin!" And with that, the two trainers began shouting commands.

"Aggron, use Iron Head."

"Alakazam, Psychic."

The large Steel type roared as he began charging forward, dropping onto on fours and lowering his head as silvery energy began coating over him, each heavy step tearing up tufts of earth as he charged forward. Though the yellow Pokémon with a moustache was unperturbed, simply thrusting a spoon forward and coating the large Pokémon with purple energy.

Lifting his spoon, Alakazam raised the large Pokémon with seemingly no effort at all, slowly bringing it up higher and higher, limbs flailing as it tried to shake itself free from the powerful psychic grip.

Paul, however, seemed unaffected by this, and simply yelled out another command.

"Fire Blast, quickly."

Charging up a yellow and red swirling orb of barely contained fiery energy in its throat, Aggron snapped it off wildly, the attack not being the most accurate and only clipping the intended target. However, this was more than enough, as the orb exploded in a loud explosion, sending streams of fire pouring all over the psychic type, causing them to drop their attack.

Aggron fell to the ground quickly, kicking up a cloud of dust as it crashed into the ground, before it lunged forward, already anticipating Paul's next command.

"Metal Claw!"

"Quickly, stop it with Protect!" Gary shouted in a panic, which Alakazam succeeded to do at the last second, the clear barrier forming just as Aggron's large limb came crashing down.

Growling in response, Aggron began pounding on the shield relentless, switching between its left and right limbs to rain attack after attack down on Alakazam, each one causing the shield to lose integrity and splinter, which only grew with every attack.

But unnoticed by Aggron, Alakazam was charging another attack with his free spoon, swirling brown energy forming around it and slowly growing in size as it persisted with its shield.

With one last strike, Aggron finally broke through the shield, and was met with a nasty surprise as Gary shouted out one more command.

"Finish this with Focus Blast!"

Alakazam fired the attack point blank into Aggron's torso, the super effective move striking a look of horror from the large steel type as it made contact, the ensuring explosion being large enough that Alakazam was knocked stumbling back by the back-blast, sending him tumbling back. This was nothing, however, compared to what happen to Aggron. The blast sent them flying through the air, before they crashed into the ground, skidding through the muddy field before coming to a halt at Paul's feet, very clearly unconscious and unable to battle.

"Aggron is unable to battle. The first round goes to Gary," Brock announced, causing Paul to frown. He hadn't anticipated Gary to be so precise and straightforward with his battling strategy, having become accustomed to the more unorthodox mindset that Ash had. Facing someone who clearly was much more upfront with their strategy, with his Pokémon being more clearly trained to accommodate for this.

He needed to approach this differently, and he almost relished the idea of fighting a more simplistic but challenging battle.

Pulling out his next Pokéball, he waited for Gary to do the same before they sent out their next battlers.

"Electivire, stand by for battle."

"Go, Electivire."

The two Pokémon popped from their balls with the same bright flash, landing and preparing to issue a challenge to the other when they both saw who they were facing, roughly at the same time their respective trainers realised what had just happened.

There was a brief pause as everyone stared blankly at the situation, no one really expecting the mirror match. As the shock slowly began to fade from the faces of the present trainers, Paul simply smirked to himself. He had a plan.

Brock shook himself from his stupor, composing himself as he called the next round.

"Battle begin!"

Gary snapped into action immediately, issuing commands quickly to try and continue his winning streak.

"Ok Electivire, it won't do much, but let's start with a Thunder!"

Electivire nodded, spinning his arms as he began building up an electrical current, small sparks beginning to shoot off of the two wires that connected to his back. Brock frowned at this, but said nothing, as Paul smiled evilly.

"Wait," was all he said, and that made Gary pause, as he began racking his mind for reasons as to why in Arceus' name Paul would just wait for him to attack.

And it did come to him, a simple fact that he'd overlooked in a moment of carelessness, but before he could correct his mistake, Electivire fired his attack, the powerful bolt of electrical energy shooting out and ripping through the air, smashing into Electivire with enough force to send gusts of winds fluttering through their hair.

But Paul's Electivire was unfazed by this, instead smirking as the immense electrical energy that had been fired at him now arcing around him as he allowed the energy to course through him, all while Gary cursed himself for his stupidity.

"It seems you've been hanging out with Ash too much. Or at least, that's the only reason why I imagine an aspiring Pokémon professor would forget the ability of their own Pokémon in a battle. Or maybe you're just unfamiliar with Motor Drive?"

Gary grunted in annoyance, but said nothing as he lacked a proper retort. He was indeed familiar with Motor Drive, Electivire's ability to absorb any electric type attacks in order to get a boost in speed. While not always the most helpful ability due to the unlikelihood of someone using an electric type move against an electric type, it certainly had its uses, especially when battling against someone who was unfamiliar with the ability. Unfortunately, it also worked against the forgetful and absentminded, which seemed to include him today.

Which made this battle that much harder for him, as he had just given Paul the perfect setup for this battle. Not only was his Electivire exceptionally strong looking, and based on its history with battling Ash's Infernape, one of his more immensely powerful Pokémon in his family, it certainly had the experience and skills to put him through his paces. And now he had given it a speed boost.

Gritting his teeth, Gary set his face into a determined look. He may have started this battle out poorly, really highlighting just how rusty he was when it came to battling, but he wasn't about to give up. He could still come out on top, if he fought carefully and made sure to not make anymore mistakes. While he was letting this run through his mind, Paul took the initiative.

"Electivire, Brick Break." Charging forward so fast that he was almost like a yellow blur of light, Paul's Pokémon closed the distance rapidly and went to slice downward, Gary just barely shouting out a response in time.

"Quick, Protect!"

His Electivire responded as quickly as it could, green energy forming an orb around him just as Paul's Electivire struck down, the attack smashing into it yet again. Paul frowned, before he snorted to himself.

"What's the matter Gary, afraid to fight me without using a shield? It won't save you forever," he taunted, causing Gary to frown.

"Electivire, retaliate with Iron Tail now that he's close."

The twin tails on Electivire's back began shining a shimmering silver, coating itself in the steel type energy before they snapped through Electivire's shield, allowing it to collapse in order for the dual attack to break through and land.

Paul's Electivire grunted in pain as they struck his torso, causing him to stumble back. Eager to capitalise on this, Gary pressed on.

"Follow up with a Giga Impact, full power!"

Electivire nodded, charging up the powerful Normal type attack as he began to charge forward. Gary normally wouldn't have used this move so soon into the battle, refraining from busting out such a risky move until he was much more comfortable with his chances of the move successfully knocking his opponent out. However, he knew he needed to rely on this move to quickly dish out some heavy damage early on, hopefully enough to even the odds again.

But to his confusion, Paul just smiled, something that his Electivire was mimicking as it grinned widely, seemingly anticipating whatever command that Paul was about to call out. And as the command hit Gary's ears, he realised exactly what Paul had done.


He'd been baited. Paul had taunted him for being defensive and antagonised him into attacking, only to be led to a position which Paul could easily take advantage of. Of course his Electivire also knew protect, and of course Paul would manage to force him from being the one making good use of the move to the one suffering from its effects. Gary was now beginning to understand exactly why this guy had gotten under Ash's skin so easily.

His Electivire crashed into the green barrier Paul's Electivire had erected at full force, the two normal type moves vying against each other for a moment before the energies from Giga Impact began to dissipate, leaving Gary's Electivire drained and unable to move, standing right in front of Paul's powerful combatant.

"Finish it with Brick Break."

Gary could only watch with wide eyes and gritted teeth as his opponent's electric type raised both of its large arms up, bringing both of them crashing down onto his Pokémon's skull, sending it crashing down onto the ground, body slumping into a heap as consciousness escaped them, leaving only swirls left in their eyes.

"Gary's Electivire is unable to battle, leaving Paul's Electivire the winner. This next bout will be the deciding battle, choose your Pokémon," Brock announced, leaving Gary to grunt as he returned his Pokémon. This was a lot closer than he thought it'd be. While he was impressed with Paul beforehand, having both heard about his prowess through second-hand accounts and having seen it through recordings of his tournament battles, especially his battle with Ash, but he was only really beginning to appreciate all the things that Ash had ranted about.

Not only was he a trainer who favoured power above all else, something that was grossly apparent in the Pokémon and moves he favoured when it battle, but he was also strategically brilliant. But not in the same way Ash was, not in any sense. Where Ash was able to come up with truly bizarre strategies that were extremely difficult to predict or counter, Paul was the exact opposite, being able to read your moves and strategies with a worryingly acute eye before picking it apart and leaving you struggling to overcome him. It was clear why Ash had struggled with him like he had, he was almost like the antithesis to Ash's approach to training, ensuring that their encounters would always be more than just simple battles, but a clash of ideals.

But after a moment, Gary just smiled. This was making him feel fired up. He may not have been so easy to taunt or wind up like Ash, but he was a true challenge as a trainer to overcome. While he may have long given up his desires to be a professional battler, this was making him miss the thrill of those days. Maybe when this was over, he would start up his more serious training regime again, so that he could be a more competent trainer again.

Picking his next Pokéball, he couldn't contain his excitement as he called out his last choice.

"Go Umbreon!"

"Weavile, prepare to battle."

With the last pair of Pokémon summoned for the final battle, Brock raised his arms.

"Let the final battle begin," he yelled, bringing his arms down as both trainers started yelling commands.

"Weavile, Ice Shard."

"Let's go, Double Team to dodge!"

Umbreon's form began to split and multiply, several dozen copies of it beginning to encircle Weavile as it fired its attack, several large pointed chunks of Ice flying forward, only to shoot through one of the duplicate copies of Umbreon harmlessly. Gary smiled as he went to take advantage of the brief reprise created by the miss.

"Now, follow up with Shadow Ball."

Paul was unaffected though, barely batting an eye as he thrusted his hand out in time with his counter command.


Weavile smirked as it pulled its arms toward the centre of its body, charging up a hazy aura around him before it shot its arms outward, a white fog sprinkled with small shards of ice, shrouding the battlefield with its icy haze and smashing into all of the duplicate copies of Umbreon, shredding the fake ones apart and sending the real one flying back, eliciting a sharp cry of pain.

As Umbreon crashed back into the ground, causing Gary to shout Umbreon's name out in concern, Paul just smirked.

"I can see why you would give Ash trouble," he started abruptly, catching Gary's attention as he continued to talk with a stern look, "but your main issue right now is you're trying to treat me like another Ash, and it doesn't work."

Gary frowned at this, eyebrows etching together at Paul's comment, but listening intently.

"You're a competent trainer, clearly being able to train your Pokémon without relying on the same ethos that Ash does to draw out power from your Pokémon, and your strategies are much more orthodox. Against most trainers, this battle would then come down to your knowledge of Pokémon and ability to adapt on the go. However, that's not what you're doing; you're acting like you're dealing with the unorthodox methods of Ash, because you've heard that I'm unlike other trainers.

"You thought I'd be easy to trip up and have been eerily alert for any strategies that might catch you off guard, only to end up being caught out by the most basic of attacks. The only reason you've done well is because, like I said, you are a competent trainer. If you want to be able to keep up with some of the best however, you need to do better."

Gary gritted his teeth, almost shouting back a biting remark, but restrained himself as he allowed Paul's comment to digest. Why was he critiquing him this intently? Why was he making the effort to try and call out his mistakes? The battle wasn't over yet, so if Gary was making a mistake than surely that'd be something he would take advantage of to win the battle quickly.

Unless he wasn't interested in just winning. Unless he had saw through Gary's fake bravado when he had challenged him, and realised that this was actually him trying to test his battle ability. If there was one thing about Paul that Ash was willing to credit to him, it was that he was a master strategist, able to read a situation, dissect it, and devise a plan that would tear their opponent apart. Yet here, that wasn't what he was doing. He was evaluating his ability and giving him constructive criticism.

He was trying to help.

Gary chuckled, as he realised he had indeed been treating him like just another Ash. This man wasn't going to fall for simple taunts or false pretences. And if Gary couldn't treat him like he would Ash, he certainly couldn't battle him like it either.

Feeling more determined than ever, Gary retook his stance and called out to Umbreon.

"Ok, let's turn this around. Umbreon, close in with Quick Attack."

Umbreon yelped an affirmative, darting forward so fast that their body turned into a blur, as it rapidly closed the distance.

"Metal Claw, now!" Paul ordered, prompting Weavile to extend its claws out, now three times as long and shining with a silvery hue, before it darted forward with speed that almost rivalled Umbreon's enhanced state, though it couldn't quite compare. A fact which became clear when Umbreon darted under its slash, skidding in the dirt before rebounding and recorrect its attack, hitting the Dark-Ice type square in the back.

Weavile gasped in pain as it was sent flying forward, but quickly recovered and righted itself in the air, catching itself with one hand before pushing off the ground and landing on its feet, almost as if it hadn't been damaged at all.

Gritting his teeth, Gary continued to press on the attack.

"Now follow up with Psychic, use it to throw some rocks!"

"Keep attacking with Metal Claw."

Umbreon began tearing up the earth between the pair with its psychic powers, chunks larger than itself before firing them at Weavile at near supersonic speeds, filling the air with multiple projectiles. Though it was unfazed, as it proceeded to slash through the slabs with quick and efficient swipes, carving through the improvised attack and soon was right in front of Umbreon.

Before Umbreon or Gary could react, Weavile struck heavily, three quick attacks which left deep gashes across Umbreon's body, the final one sending it tumbling back. After falling back a few steps, it finally collapsed, consciousness escaping it and leaving it crumpled up on the ground with swirls in its eyes.

"Umbreon is unable to battle, leaving Weavile the winner. And having won two out of three bouts, that makes Paul the winner," Brock announced, waving his hand over to Paul's direction as he recalled his Pokémon, the quietest of 'thanks' being uttered before he started walking toward Gary, who was in a shocked silence.

Because he was surprised at how easily one of his more powerful and experienced Pokémon was knocked out so quickly. As he stood there contemplating this, he was stirred from his pondering by a hand on his shoulder.

"Your Umbreon is a strong Pokémon, but its rusty. That goes for both of you. You should try having a few more battles so that you can rekindle your spirit as a battler."

Gary just frowned as Paul then proceeded to walk off, his hands in his pockets as he began walking over to the large group of trainers that was still sitting around Ash's house. Leaving Gary to just shake his head in confusion.

"I cannot for the life of me read that guy."

Torracat couldn't help but sigh as they waited for everyone to finish preparing for their trip across the known world. After Hoopa had revealed he now had the strength to open up portals again, everyone was up in arms about making a move to find Ash, the Legendaries especially. Yet despite that, most of their group had insisted on grabbing a few supplies for the trip, so that they had the means to travel for long periods without having to take a break.

Unfortunately, that left Torracat standing around waiting impatiently for them to get their stuff together. And considering how urgent they had been making their situation sound earlier, it sure felt like they were taking their time now.

As he paced on the spot, he couldn't help but notice a few things that didn't add up. Namely a few people walking along the coastline nearby the building where they were waiting outside with what appeared to be large pylons. While that in itself wasn't too outlandish, as people who had been helping to repair the damage from the beach attack from the Ultra Beasts had been walking past them without batting an eye for quite a while now, there was something about this group that gave Torracat a faint sense of danger while looking at them. For one, the equipment they had didn't look like any construction equipment he was familiar with, though that wasn't too strong of an argument as he had always avoided construction sites in the wild, Stoutland wasn't a fan of loud noises. For another, this group seemed to be very young, too young to be trained professionals, especially not with the equipment they were setting up, which was even now humming in such a way that gave it an advanced feel that put it beyond most technology.

Before he could inquiry any further as to why this group were giving off such danger signs, the rest of his party showed up, stocked up and raring to go, though most weren't able to enthuse this as much as they'd like due to lingering injuries and fatigue.

Looking at the assembled group of Pokémon, Torracat couldn't help but chuckle. About a week ago, if you'd have told him that he would have been in the presence of such a wide variety of strange and powerful Pokémon, including multiple legendaries who were literally a fundamental part of the culture he'd grown up with, he wouldn't have believed it. Now one of those legendaries was his non-biological sister and the rest seemed to be looking to him and his new friends for protection.

Strange how things worked out.

Hoopa sound appeared at the front of the group, one of the rings on his arm shooting out and expanding to such a size that even the large Lunala could easily fit through, before he turned to the group.

"OK! Where we go first to look for Ashkan?" He asked the assembled group, a massive grin on his face as he bounced excitedly in the air. Squirtle went to speak, to tell him to try Ash's hometown of Pallet Town first, before they were interrupted by a loud whir of electrical energy that pierced through the air, the sound being so ear piercing that it could have rivalled a jet engine's release or an Entei's roar in intensity.

Before anyone could ask what in Giratina's name was going on, several bolts of electricity flew through the air, arcing towards the group. The majority of them missed their mark, either hitting the concrete around the group or the buildings behind them, tearing through them and sending the ruined remains flying. But some found their mark, hitting two of the Genesect and Tapu Lele immediately, causing a shriek of panic from Tapu Fini.

"It's them! They've come to capture us!" She yelled, before she charged up an orb of psychic power, firing it off randomly into the distance and shredding up more of the road in a desperate attempt to protect herself.

Grunting, Torracat quickly found his eyes darting back to the group he saw along the coastline and, sure enough, the pylon contraption they had been setting up was now cackling in archaic electrical energies, seemingly building in intensity as it gathered around the orb at the top of the design, before firing out again, this time more towards him. Eyes going wide at this, Torracat braced himself for the full throttle blast of the attack, when he heard a dull thud and a mild grunt.

Opening his eyes gingerly, he saw that Seismitoad had shielded him, arms crossed above his face as the bolt dissipated harmlessly off his body. Sighing at the slight reprieve, he quickly took in a deep breath before he shouted in the vague direction of Squirtle.

"Towers! The towers near the beach are what's attacking us!" He yelled, causing the blue turtle to snap his attention first to him and then to the aforementioned devices, eyes hardening as he spotted them. Putting his fingers in his mouth, his whistled loudly, catching the attention of some of the nearby Pokémon who were trying to avoid being caught by one of the stray blasts, one of which clipped Lunala and caused the already exhausted Legendary to collapse.

"TAKE OUT THOSE TOWERS!" He commanded, sunglasses glinting in the sun, as Lugia and Garchomp, two of the nearby Pokémon who heard him, bared their teeth angrily and darted toward the beach, using their immense speed to their advantage.

Lugia shot straight up, her large wings easily allowing her to rapidly gain altitude, giving her plenty of space to charge up her Aeroblast. Starting off as a small orange orb in the middle of his mouth, it stayed the size of a marble for a moment, before Lugia released an ear splitting roar, causing the marble to explode into dozens of orange beams, which scattered into a wide spread and peppering the beach below with explosions, each beam causing a shockwave powerful enough to shatter the machines, or those that were near to the area she blasted. Despite having devastated a large portion of the beach, it seemed she'd only gotten two that were further back, with the rest being quite spread out, most likely to avoid being wiped out in a single stroke.

One of the ones she missed, the one that Torracat had spotted initially, was instead targeted by Garchomp, who powered through the blasts that the pylon spat out at him with impervious determination, quickly pushing through until he was right on top of the machine. The humans, who had dropped their disguises to reveal themselves as Team Skull, quickly saw the inevitable outcome, and abandoned the machine as soon as they could, just narrowly avoiding Garchomp's claws as he hacked through the machine, eliminating it from the equation.

Despite this though, the barrage didn't seem to let up. The bolts of lightning kept coming, seemingly from every direction, with most of the machines being unseen to the group from their position, and they were near powerless, especially in their sorry state, to stop as Tapu Fini was struck next, along with Emboar, Hawlucha, and Glalie. Through gritted teeth, Squirtle managed to push himself to where Hoopa was, hiding behind a large slab of concrete, and give a command to him.

"Get us to Pallet Town! We can't stay here!" Squirtle said begrudgingly, the idea of running from a fight hurting his pride. He didn't want to be considered a coward, but seeing so many of his friends get knocked down by the blasts, and the terrified looks of the humans as they tried to keep their heads down, he knew he had to accept the wound to his pride. He could nurse his ego later, right now he needed to help his family.

Hoopa, though looking extremely panicked from all of the blasts, nodded, the original ring he had set up beginning to hum to life as the magic he specialised with began to fill it. While it opened a pathway to the far away Kanto region, he quickly span his other two rings into his hands, throwing them out and opening much smaller portals beneath Emboar and Glalie, allowing their unconscious forms to drop through to safety.

Content with Hoopa's attempts to get everyone out, Squirtle began looking over who was left, trying to plan out how best to act. Seeing Torracat, he quickly threw his sunglasses at the Alolan started, grabbing his attention.

"Get the humans!" He shouted, before he ran out of cover to go get Garchomp. He didn't need to look back to see if Torracat had heard him or whether he was doing as he said, he fully trusted in him. He may have been one of the newer additions to their strange family, but in his book, he had earned his stripes, and therefore his trust.

Passing Seismitoad, who was trying to shield the downed Legendaries as best he could, he ran through his legs and told him to grab Lunala, as he was one of the few strong enough to move the grand Legendary. Just as with Torracat, Squirtle didn't feel the need to check if he listened, and instead closed the distance on Garchomp, who was fire a Draco Meteor in the direction of another tower, causing more explosions to sound out. Clambering up his back, a quick tap to the head was all he needed to grab his attention.

"Let's go. We can't win this!" Squirtle said into his ear, earning himself a growl in response but no resistance other than that. Just as Garchomp began turning back to the portal, a shrill shriek caught their attention, before a shadow passed over them. Looking up, they saw Lugia's limp body falling to the ground, a scorch mark up her side.

"Lugia!" Garchomp yelled, darting forward so quickly that he created sonic boom, just managing to move himself under her so he could catch her, which mostly consisted of him using his body as an improvised cushion to soften the fall. As he groaned from the pain of being crushed, a slap to the head reminded him of his passenger.

"Thanks for the warning, now let's get out of here," Squirtle said in an aggravated voice, before turning to the portal. Reassuringly, the others had done exactly as he had commanded, affirming his trust in them. Tapu Koko and the Red Genesect were currently trying to counter the blasts being fired at them, Tapu Koko absorbing the bolts of electricity and firing them back at the machines, with Genesect firing his cannon indiscriminately, sending large plumes of fire, water, steel, and many more types of blast flying off into the distance.

As Squirtle and Garchomp reached the portal, their bodies tired but still pressing on, a grunt of pain caught their attention, causing them both to look sharply to their right, and for their eyes to go worryingly wide.

Hoopa had been hit.

Almost immediately, the rings that were currently serving as their only escape began shrinking, slowly cutting off their only hope. With nary a second thought, Squirtle dived towards Hoopa, grabbing his small body, which was similar to his own body size and much lighter compared to Ash's heavy block of a body, he sprinted to the portal, shouting at Tapu Koko as he went.

"We need to leave! Now!"

"But we haven't got everyone out!" He yelled, eyes darting to the other Tapus and the two Genesect, still unconscious from being hit directly by the blasts. Squirtle cursed under his breath, before he shouted at the Tapu again.

"We don't have time to save them now, and if you don't come with us now, you'll be left behind!"

Tapu Koko looked at him with wide eyes, which began frantically darting from the portal to his fellow Legendaries, the predicament he was having gravely apparent in his eyes. However, the decision was quickly made quickly when a clawed hand grabbed his shoulder.

"Flee now to fight again another day, with help. We will rescue them," The Red Genesect said plainly, though it was clear to see, even with its expressionless face, that it pained it to say. Unable to argue, Tapu Koko nodded, quickly darting through the portal just as a bolt struck him again, slowing him down to the point where he struggled to fly properly. With that decided, Squirtle and the Red Genesect, the last two conscious Pokémon on this side of the portal, jumped through, just barely making it before the portals cut off, leaving the scarred battlefield to Team Skull.

A lone woman than walked forward, frown etched onto her face as she paced towards the unconscious legendaries, before she turned back to her crew.

"Alright you gits, let's get these things in cages, and someone tell Guzma what's up! The boss'll want to know how we did," she commanded, before sighing. This wasn't what she wanted from Team Skull, and she knew Guzma agreed with her, even though he acted otherwise.

All Plumeria could do for now though was just get on with her job, and hope that the boss would see the light sooner rather than later.

Pikachu rolled his shoulders as he walked over to where Charizard, Sceptile, Greninja, and Snorlax were standing and looking over the group of Pokémon that Ash was currently talking to, as he went to each one individually and spoke to them, presumably asking them what moves they had and what preferred tactics they already had, to see if he could work with them. Quickly bounding up Snorlax's body, he watched as Ash nodded along to Scyther as he made the notion for an X-Scissor attack.

"How're we looking with the new guys?" He asked, causing Sceptile to shrug.

"They've got potential, that's for sure. I've not seen them in action yet, but I can tell that they're strong. Mainly because of the way Charizard keeps glaring at them like they're about to start a fight," he replied, making Charizard snort.

"That's because I've seen them in action. Mewtwo designed these guys to be stronger than normal Pokémon, stronger than us. Pikachu, Squirtle, Bulbasaur, and myself were all cloned that day, and each one was inherently stronger than us. So yeah, I'm keeping my guard up." Pikachu sighed at this, lightly palming his face as he sat down on Snorlax's shoulder.

"I can't say I don't understand, because you're right… in a sense. In a fair fight your clone beat you senseless, and the only time we stood a chance was when Mewtwo disabled our abilities. But this isn't like how it was back then, things have changed. I still don't like what happened between us and Mewtwo, especially what he did to Ash, but things have changed. Arceus, it's been years since New Island, and so much is different now. They've changed. We've changed. And now, we have a chance to put it behind us. I still have my grudges, but if Ash is willing to move forward, then so am I. What about you, ready to move on?"

Charizard shot Pikachu a side glance, an annoyed grimace slapped on his face before he let it slide off and give a small grin, shaking his head as he uncrossed his arms, before a deep rumble from his chest turned into a chuckle.

"You've got me there, we have changed. We're all so much stronger now, I bet I could beat my clone without any help. And you know what, if these guys are willing to fight for Ash, then they're alright in my book. Just so long as they remember who his strongest Pokémon is."

"You mean you, Pikachu, Sceptile, Infernape, Snorlax, me, or someone else? That spot is kinda contested," Greninja said with a deadpan, causing Sceptile to burst out laughing, enticing a minor chuckle from Snorlax and a growl from Charizard.

Restraining himself from chuckling as well, Pikachu covered it with a cough before he took another look at the clones, focusing especially on his now evolved copy. The Raichu seemed to be ecstatic to be training, as his cheek pouches were sparking while Ash went through each of their move-sets. Looking over at the group, he began forming a plan.

"Knowing Ash," he started, stopping the others from laughing just as Charizard was preparing to launch off a few threats (and possibly attacks) as they started to listen, "he'll probably want to pair each of us off with one of the clones to help them hone in their existing moves and get used to his battle strategies. I say we each pair off with a Pokémon with either a similar type or battle strategy, so that we can help them to really master their abilities."

Sceptile nodded to this, looking over the group appraisingly, noting that Ash seemed to be coming to the same conclusion as he looked over the group himself, before his eyes landed on one of the clones.

"Sounds good. I'll take the Scyther, he probably uses similar blade moves to myself, so we can spar easily enough." Having calmed down, Charizard took a deep breath before adding in.

"Guess I'll take the Ninetales as my pupil. I reckon I can train them up to have a beastly Flamethrower, enough to even rival my own!"

"I'll train Gyarados. She is capable of fighting on land and water better than Seadra, making me better suited for training her," Greninja said.

"Meowth," Snorlax declared. Everyone's head rapidly snapped to the large normal type, eyes wide.


"I want to."

"But you'll crush him."

"Only if he doesn't like hugs."

Pikachu couldn't help but snicker at this, eyes darting around rapidly.

"Don't say hugs too loudly, Muk will come and steal your student otherwise," he said, before his eyes landed on the Raichu again. "And I think I'll train with Raichu. I need to show my other self just how much I've improved over the years."

Giovanni looked at his tablet with a frown, taking a moment to clear his mind so that he could maintain his poker face as best he could. This next encounter was going to be strenuous, as it was a true test of his ability to twist the truth for his own benefit and his skill at keeping a lid on his own distaste.

Team Rainbow Rocket was coming along nicely, with nearly all of the key individuals in his pocket and beginning to take their place on the board.

Nearly all. Which was what led him to this moment.

This was the last individual on his list, and it was one who he was hesitant to call upon, as a part of him really wanted to omit him from joining Team Rainbow Rocket and simply take him out for his past actions. Giovanni was by no means a good man, not by any stretch of the imagination, a fact he had long made peace with. There was very little that he found was beneath him in terms of what he was willing to do, but he did have a line he wouldn't cross. And global genocide happened to be that line.

Which was what made him so reluctant to actually go through with his next course of action. Every other member of Team Rainbow Rocket were egomaniacs and potential dangers in their own right, but there was something about them that either made them redeemable, useful, or manageable; a fact which made Giovanni much more comfortable dealing with them.

Archie and Maxie were both somewhat well intentioned in their plans, but simply willing to go about in extreme ways. Well intentioned but flawed, since it would not only lead to disastrous results regardless which of the two came out on top, but also overlooked key details like what would happen after they had either expanded the land or ocean. They lacked foresight, something Giovanni had in ample supply. With the two leaders able to reshape the oceans and lands to how they, or Giovanni, saw fit, he could corner the market on both all tradeable commodities from the sea or all land ownership and rights. With that under his control, entire government would bend to his demands.

Ghetsis wanted to rule, plain and simple. He saw himself as a king and wanted to use the power of Reshiram to achieve that goal. Which was something that Giovanni could respect. And easily anticipate. He knew that Ghetsis would betray him sooner or later, especially if the rumours of how powerful the supposed shell of the 'Original Dragon' were true, but that could be easily dealt with. Giovanni was, after all, providing them with all their funds and resources, including the technology to recreate his device that had succeeded in controlling Reshiram. All it would take is an embedded override command and then Ghetsis would be a non-threat, his key weapon ready to be usurped and controlled by Team Rainbow Rocket at the push of a button.

Cyrus was someone else that Giovanni wanted absolutely nothing to do with, to an even higher degree. While the individual he was going to speak to had supposed good intentions for what they tried to do, Cyrus was simply insane. Which made Giovanni grateful that the man was either dead or missing, which being utterly irrelevant. His replacement, the legendary Hunter J, was much more his tempo. The woman was ruthless, efficient, competent, and, most importantly, simple. She craved only two things at this point in time: revenge against Ash Ketchum and money. Both of which were things Giovanni was happy to give her. So long as he supplied those things to her, he knew she'd never consider betraying him, and her presence ensured that the recruited members of Team Galactic wouldn't dare betray him.

Lusamine was insane. Which was high praise considering some of the people Giovanni had met over the years. The woman was obsessed with those Ultra Beast creatures, to a point that made it creepy and somewhat worrying. However, despite all of that, she was brilliant. A genius. She had the mind and resources to successfully capture and detain Pokémon of near Legendary prowess, and she intended to do so on a massive scale. Part of what made Giovanni so confident his plan would work was because of the massive strides that this woman had made. And now she was reporting in that she had successfully captured actual Legendaries and was in the midst of trying to capture a full set of them to summon an even more powerful one. Which was excellent news to Giovanni.

All of them were useful and furthered his own plans, so he was willing to endure the costs and possibility of betrayal from them in order to achieve what he wanted. But this man, the last option for candidates for Team Rainbow Rocket, was he a step too far? Was Giovanni willing to add this maniac, one who had nearly succeeded in wiping a region off the map to his collective?

Apparently yes.

With that mental dilemma shoved to the back of his mind, he gave the signal on his tablet, signalling the Dragonite to deliver the package to the man currently hiding in the cave deep in Otori Mountain.

After a moment of shock from the man in the cave, he eventually took the tablet offered to him by the Dragonite, allowing Giovanni to see the man he privately wished would die of his own accord. But despite his disdain, he pushed it down deep and allowed a cocky grin to form as he began to speak.

"Hello Lysandre, I have a proposition for you, one that I feel you will be very interested in…"

A small smile graced Ash's face as he looked at his Pokémon while they trained, with things in full swing now that he had pulled his act together and managed to figure out a plan.

With the new Pokémon that Mewtwo brought on board and willing to train their hearts out, Ash was really putting them through their paces. Not only were they eager to battle, but they were much stronger than the average Pokémon, something that Ash could thank Mewtwo for. But despite that inherent strength, they lacked proper training, clearly needing direction to guide their strength so that they can properly make full use of their abilities. Mewtwo must have raised them to rely on his command way back when, something that was becoming apparent now.

They also seemed rusty, most likely due to having not battled in who knows how long. If they wanted to really be part of his team, Ash needed to kick things into gear, which suited him fine.

After looking over their moves, he decided the best course of action would be to pair them up with someone who had similar moves and abilities, so that they could match up, practice, and learn from his more experienced Pokémon. For that end, he ended up pairing Raichu with Pikachu, Meowth with Dewott (which seemed to have disappointed Snorlax for some reason), Ninetales with Charizard, Scyther with Sceptile, Rapidash with Torkoal, Seadra with Lapras, Hitmonlee with Primeape, and Gyarados with Greninja.

And it seemed like the clones weren't the only Pokémon who were becoming students to the more experienced, as Ash couldn't help but notice a few more of his Pokémon had paired up for further training. Bulbasaur seemed to be training with his newly hatched Honedge, something that Ash had been very excited about when he was told, Ralts was currently fighting Infernape with two sticks… for some reason, both Latios and Latias were honing their psychic powers with Mewtwo, and Rowlet was showing both Mew and Poipole how best to sleep in his bag.

That last one wasn't as much of a helpful development as the others, but Ash was glad that they were getting along at least.

All of his other Pokémon seemed to be training as well, either battling against one another to push themselves, or simply firing off their attacks to try and improve them, making the area surrounding his house seem pretty chaotic as endless noise surrounded him.

Ash was just about to go and invite his friends to come and join in, knowing that they'd enjoy being able to get some training, or maybe even a battle, in to show how much they'd improved since he had last seen them, when the hairs on the back of his head stood up, causing his eyes to shoot up toward the clouds.

A few seconds later, in a flash of fire and light, a large shape descended from above, causing Ash to throw his arm up reflexively to cover his eyes. Dropping back slightly to where Tyranitar and Goodra had been training, both of whom now stopping to see if there was any potential threat to Ash from this light, Ash finally dropped his arm to see what he was facing.

Only to be pleasantly surprised.

"Hello again Ash," N greeted from Reshiram's back, as the Legendary gave a small bow as its own greeting, "it's been a long time." Ash just smiled back, his body untensing being the signal for his Pokémon to stand down, as he made his way toward the green haired man.

"You can say that again N. How've you been? I've not seen you since Unova, what're you doing here?" Ash asked, though as he locked eyes with Reshiram, a part of him felt like he already knew the answer.

But before N could reply, they were interrupted by a loud hum suddenly cutting him off, as a golden ring began opening up not far from the pair, dark blue swirling energy pooling within the confines of the ring. As the pair took a second to blink in surprise at the portal, things started to fall out of it.

And they were Pokémon. His Pokémon!

They looked incredibly battered, with most being unconscious and the few that weren't looking like they weren't too far off from being in the same boat. As Ash's mouth went agape, more people began to fall through the portal, this time being humans that Ash recognised. It took everything in him to not immediately panic as he watched them stumble through.

Without a word, Ash darted toward the group, immediately checking up on the nearest Pokémon as he closed the distance. It was… Pignite? No, he had evolved since he last saw him, now a towering Emboar. Though apparently, even his evolution into this powerful form wasn't enough to stop whatever they'd been battling against from dealing severe damage.

As Squirtle clambered through the portal, Hoopa being carried on his shell, the portal collapsed, leaving Ash to stare at the group with wide eyes. Noticing Ash, Squirtle let out a sigh of relief, before a chuckle that sounded dangerously close to him breaking out into tears slipped out, as he slowly made his way to Ash and hugged his leg.

"Am I glad to see you're alright," he muttered absently, leaving Ash to continue standing there in shock. It wasn't long before he suddenly had something in his face, barely a centimetre away with wide, desperate looking eyes, and it took Ash a second to recognise who the blue orbs belonged to.

"Tapu Koko?"

"Please," he croaked out, strain in his voice as he spoke, "help us."

Hey everyone, I'm back. Again.

Yeah, I've got nothing… save my apologies for how long this took to churn out. I'm sorry it took me as long as it did, but time seems to be slipping away from me as of late, and I just couldn't find the spare time to sit down and work on this chapter like I want to. To try and make it up to you lot, I've made this chapter longer than what I usually do, with a lot of content I hope you'll enjoy.

Things are beginning to develop quickly, and now there's not many loose ends left to tie up. We're right on track to the final act of this story kicking into gear. ICOP's real goal is beginning to become clearer, as Lucario and Servine find out to their horror. What will they do next, and how will ICOP enact their plan? Gary and Paul both have a moment to test their abilities, one showcasing that he needs to start taking battling seriously again, the other showing why he was such a formidable rival to Ash during his Sinnoh travels. A moment to focus on two characters who I feel should interact more. Then again, I feel that more of the side characters should interact with each other with Ash in general, so hey-ho. Squirtle and his crew prepare to try and find Ash, only to be attacked by Team Skull. They escape, but not without suffering a few casualties along the way. Now there's only one Tapu left uncaptured, and he's going to do everything in his power to save his peers. Ash's powerhouses discuss the clones and their place in Ash's family, along with how they're going to handle training them. Giovanni manages to find the last member of Team Rainbow Rocket he needs, meaning all of his pieces are now on the table. All he needs to do now is give them time to prepare themselves and he'll be ready to act. And Ash gets visited by another Legendary, this time with an old friend. But before gifts could be given, he is surprised by the arrival of some of his Pokémon, who look worse for wear.

Overall, I'm happy with how this chapter turned out, even though it took way longer than it should of. Though of course, I'd love to hear what all of you think, so please leave me a review to let me know. I love reading the reviews and hearing what you all have to say, and it keeps me coming back to work on this story, knowing that you all enjoy what I do. So thank you for that.

I'm going to sign off for now, though I can't make any promises to when the next chapter will be. Here's hoping its nowhere near as long until I manage to get something else done. As always, much love and peace – TWoS.