Here I am, back again with a brand-new tale. Fixing the grammar of The Unova Chapter has stirred up my inspiration, as while fixing the spelling and sentence structure, I'm basically rereading my original story, and I've really missed being able to sit down and write FanFiction. So, I've had this idea brewing inside my head for a while, and I'm tackling another favourite ship of mine, Ash and May!

I hope you'll all enjoy this, as it'll take the best parts of both my original fic and its sequel and sort of mix them into one. I've learned a lot over the years, including what style of writing I'm good at, and what I enjoy writing about, and this is kind of the culmination of all of that.

So, sit back, relax and enjoy!


The War of Shadows

Prologue

A World Turned Upside Down


Kanto Region – League Stadium

Taking a deep breath to steady himself, he checked his Pokeballs one last time, making sure everything was in place. One, two, three, four, five, six… yep, all accounted for… Sweat was building in his palms and his heart began to race as the cheers from the gathered crowds outside of the tunnel grew louder and louder the closer he got.

"Pika pika!" His companion encouraged, smiling at him from his perch on his shoulder. The electric type did a goofy grin, sticking out his paw in a thumbs up motion which looked incredibly comical.

Despite himself and his current situation, Ash Ketchum, aged eighteen years old and about to walk out and potentially achieve his lifelong goal of winning the finals of a Pokémon League Championship, laughed. The nerves and tensions melted away as the laughter escaped his lips. It shouldn't have been that funny, yet maybe because of the situation, it was. "Thanks buddy, I needed that."

He wore an updated version of the outfits he'd always worn when travelling the different regions, something casual and loose. A black and blue zipper hoody with dark blue pants, he'd even bought a dark red baseball cap as a homage to coming back to Kanto.

Pikachu grinned in turn, before focusing his gaze on the light at the end of the tunnel.

Just before he reached it, he stopped, straightening down his outfit. He resisted the urge to check his equipment again, fighting back the nerves. Relax Ash… This isn't your first finals… The last time he'd found himself in this situation was two years prior in Unova. He'd lost then, defeated by the skin of his teeth. It was the disappointment and heartbreak of that event that had motivated his training, and he'd never felt more powerful in his entire life. The previous rounds had been so one sided he imagined that this is what it must have been like for Tobias during the Sinnoh League, now four years in the past. Tobias had then gone on to ace the finals with no issues and he hoped he could replicate such a performance. You've never worked harder in your life for this… there is no way you'll lose now… the last ten years will all culminate here… and at last I can finally become a Pokémon Master…

The thought of achieving his childhood dream brought a smile to his face. No matter where he went or what he'd gone through, he'd always clung to his original ambitions, putting every ounce of effort he had into achieving it. It had been a long, rocky road, filled with pain and regrets, but now, here he stood, about to claim his lifelong prize. That was, of course, if I beat my last opponent… He thought as he stepped into the stadium, the opposing trainer already in place, waiting for him. As they came into view, he chuckled, shaking his head. Who would have guessed it would be you, out of everyone on this planet…

"Took you long enough!" Came the teasing voice, shouted over the roar of the crowds. "I was starting to think you were scared of fighting me!"

A large grin split up his face as he took his spot on the opposite side of the field, his doubts and hesitations forgotten. "You wish, May! Don't think I'll go easy on you just because we're old friends!"

She laughed. "Nor me, Ash! No matter who wins, I'll be happy! I'm looking forward to a hard-fought battle!"

"I'll make a bet with you!" Ash shouted. "Whoever wins has to buy the loser a drink!"

A sly smirk split her beautiful face. "I'll do you one better! Whoever wins has to take the loser on a date!"

His eyes widened at the thought, suddenly feeling flustered. He tried to come up with a witty reply but found his mouth unable to work.

Seeing this, May burst out laughing, giving him a cheeky wink.

Fighting down his embarrassment – especially here, in front of so many people – Ash regained his composure, focusing his mind on the battle to come. He'd expected her to banter with him, but he hadn't expected that! Is she serious? He wasn't sure if she was just ribbing him or if she was actually expected a date out of this, one way or the other. Surprisingly, he found he wasn't opposed to the idea. Getting a good look at her now, he could easily see she'd grown into quite the woman, filling out her frame in all the right ways. She was athletically slim yet kept the curves that he'd always known her for. Despite now being an adult, May still looked like May. She wore her iconic bandana and dark biker's shorts, but now sported a loose white vest over her top. A small satchel hung loosely around her hips.

She's beautiful… He thought as he eyed her up and down. Catching himself in the act, he suddenly stopped, realizing what he was doing. Wait, what the hell am I thinking…?! This is the finals of the League! Focus, Ash! Somehow, he'd caught himself fanaticising, and pinched his arm to bring himself back to reality, swallowing the growing saliva that had flooded his mouth. The thought of dating May was making him feel giddy, and he had no idea how to process such emotions. Shaking his head to clear it, he focused on what he knew best – battling.

"Ladies and gentlemen, could you please take your seats!" The announcer suddenly blurted through the speakers dotted around the stadium. "The two hundredth League Championship Finals is about to begin!"

Roars and cheers erupted from the three-hundred thousand people attending. The entire stadium was packed, a sea of faces staring down, watching their every move. It was at once both exhilarating and nerve wracking, and because it was also the four hundredth anniversary of the foundation of the Pokémon League and the World Government, it had attracted even more guests, attention and advertising. Television cameras were capturing every angle from the edges of the arena floor, streaming the action to the millions of people tuning in at home.

The platforms that Ash and May were stood upon suddenly shot into the air, raising them high up to be easily recognised as all the lights within the stadium dimmed, plunging everything into total darkness. A focused spotlight fell first on the Hoenn ex-coordinator as the speakers crackled into life once more. "First, taking up the left-hand side of the battlefield and coming here after taking the coordinating scene by storm! A former Top-Coordinator and reaching the finals in her very first League Conference… please give it up, for Miss May Maple!"

As the crowds roared and cheered, May waved, that cheeky grin never falling from her face. All those years of being on stage giving her the confidence to handle the pressure of thousands of eyeballs now focusing on her. Several of the young men in the crowd also whistled, trying to earn her attention.

The spotlights then flicked across to Ash, bathing him in their illuminating glow. "And on the opposite side we have a familiar face here at the League, and most of you will no doubt recognise him from his many feats the world over! A semi-finalist in Sinnoh! A finalist in Unova! Will today finally be his big win?! Give it up for the man himself, Ash Ketchum!"

The crowds roared again, with a sizable portion chanting his name. He even noticed a few banners spelling out 'Ash' in large printed letters, thrust high into the air to catch his attention. He laughed, genuinely happy that people had gone to such extremes for him. Seems I've generated some fans… He thought, waving back.

Twin screens, high up on the stadium walls suddenly burned into life, showing a portrait of both trainers along with all of their Pokémon. The spotlights around the edges of the battlefield flickered on, illuminating the grounds whilst keeping the rest in darkness, drawing all the focus to the coming battle.

Ash took a mental picture of it all for his memory banks, burning it deep into his brain. He took a deep breath and smiled, feeling slightly nostalgic. Back here again, eh Ash…? It all feels so familiar… Glancing up at his score screen, he could've sworn he saw a shadow move beside it. He blinked, rubbing his eyes to focus them, but saw nothing else. My eyes must have been playing tricks on me… it is dark after all… Shaking his head, he turned back to face his opponent, the grin creeping back up his face.

"Challengers! Pick your first Pokémon!" Came the announcer's voice, booming through the stadium.

Choosing a Pokeball and giving it a kiss, May launched it into the air. "Let's start out strong, Venusaur!" It burst open, its internal white light spilling out and materializing into the form of the gargantuan grass type.

"Saur!" It roared, stamping its feet to announce its arrival.

Ash's eyes widened. It's gotten much bigger since I last saw it… By his estimation it had almost doubled in size. He brought his thumb to his nose and flicked it, grinning, a habit he'd picked up over the years. Selecting his Pokeball he launched it skyward, "Let's make this interesting, Snorlax!"

The ground shook as the titanic normal type materialized in the air, slamming down to the earth with the force of a meteor. The stadium floor cracked and splintered under the strain of the impact.

May bent over her platform's railing, her hand covering her eyes as she squinted against the glare of the searchlights, eager to get a closer look. Snorlax! He sure has grown! I was certain that my Venusaur would be the biggest Pokémon in the room, but it seems Ash is no slouch either! It's huge!

The crowd roared once again, cheering at the release of the challenger's Pokémon. "What powerful choices!" The announcer boomed out. "Venusaur and Snorlax take to the field to kickstart this finale!"

Across the battlefield Ash caught May's gaze, and they both smiled.

"Ready?" Ash shouted.

"Ready!" May replied.

"It's been determined that Ash Ketchum will have the first move!" The speakers blurted.

Ash laughed. Figures… they usually let me strike first… "Alright Snorlax, no holding back! Heavy slam!"

Roaring with bestial fury, the living mountain braced, bunching its stubby legs. The veins and muscles bulged, filling with oxygen and expanding to twice their normal size. When the tension in its legs could get no higher, Snorlax burst forwards in a blur, extending its stomach forwards and surrounding itself with a brilliant white energy.

Eyes narrowed, May issued her counter. "Use Solar Beam to blast it away!"

Solar Beam…? Ash thought, surprised. There is no way that'll be fast enough… His eyes widened as he saw her grass type open the bulb on its back, hungrily drinking in the light from the surrounding spotlights, reaching maximum strength in just a couple of seconds. He'd barely finished his thought before it braced and fired, launching a burning beam of energy straight at Snorlax's midsection.

The beam collided with its target in the middle of the arena, detonating upon impact. Hurricane force gales blew out, blasting drinks and snacks flying from spectators' hands and whipping everyone's hair back. Ash and May both had to grip the railing lest they be ripped from their stands as a cloud of dust mushroomed into life.

Venasaur's narrowed gaze searched for any signs of movement in the cloud, on high alert for the next attack. He flinched as a huge shadow moved through the dust, whipping two vines out in preparation.

Eyes glowing red with rage, Snorlax burst through the debris, his fist pulled back in a ferocious Mega Punch. There was a large burn mark scorched across his stomach.

"Bind him down with Vine Whip!" May quickly called.

Expecting such, Venusaur lashed his vines up, wrapping them around the waist of the gigantic mass of flesh barrelling down on him. The weight proved to be too much to restrain, however, and Snorlax drove his fist home, slamming it into the grass types face.

Flying backwards through the air, Venusaur lost her grip on her opponent and slammed into the arena wall, cratering it. Flakes of paint and chunks of stone fell free as cracks spiderwebbed outwards. Shaking her head, the Seed Pokémon steadily got back to its feet.

The crowd erupted in cheers, cherishing the violence.

Great, we have him on the ropes! Ash thought, smelling victory. "Snorlax, before she can recover, end this round with Hyper Beam!"

May grit her teeth. If that lands, we're in big trouble! We need to shut this down now! "Go all out, Venusaur! Frenzy Plant!"

Slamming her feet into the earth, Venusaur opened up the flower on her back, colossal tendrils sprouting forth and burying themselves into the ground. "Venusaur!" All at once a forest of vines burst from the floor, barrelling towards Snorlax with rampant overgrowth, consuming all in their path.

"Snorrrrrrrr...!" Snarling his fury, the normal type brought out all his power, building it between his mammoth paws. A burning ball of energy roiled and churned into life, like a miniature sun, thrumming with intensity. Reaching its apex of power, he directed its maelstrom of energies forwards in a beam, slamming it into the approaching overgrowth. "Lax!"

The Hyper Beam tore through the plant life and struck Venusaur head on, exploding directly in her face. The vines continued to bound their way forwards, engulfing Snorlax under a mountain of vegetation that crushed him under its immense mass, binding and squeezing him with incredible strength.

The explosion of energy from the beam set the vines ablaze and detonated the energies fuelling them. A colossal boom blew through the stadium in a shower of flames, the attacks wiping each other out in the process.

Dust and wind were whipped into a frenzy, obscuring both Pokémon from view. Both Ash and May peered through the debris, hoping to pierce the gloom and see who'd come out on top in this turbulent first round. Everyone in the stadium leaned forwards on the edge of their seats, eager to see who would be crowned the victor.

As the dust settled, Snorlax laid face down in the dirt, unmoving. Venusaur likewise laid in a heap at the arena's edge, its eyes rolled up into its skull.

The audience roared as both lights went dull on their respective trainer's screens, and once again the announcer's voice blurted through the speakers with a shower of static. "What an explosive end to the first round of battle between these two venerated trainers! Snorlax and Venusaur bite the dust as we move into round two!"

Returning their Pokémon, Ash and May grinned at one another from across the field.

"Close one! I thought I'd lost for a second there!" Ash shouted over the din of the crowd.

"You're telling me! That last explosion took my breath away!" May replied, cupping her hands around her mouth to be heard. "It's always something when you're involved, Ash!"

She's far stronger than I remember. I'll have to pick my next Pokémon carefully… Ash thought, glancing up at the score screen. I figured that Snorlax would get me through the first round at the very least…

"What Pokémon will our challengers pick as we head into round two?!" The announcer bellowed, echoing through the stadium.

They both selected a new Pokeball, enlarging it as they grinned at one another. They launched their new choices simultaneously, watching as Blaziken and Muk materialized on the battlefield, filling the second of six slots on the screens above.

"Blaziken and Muk take to the field! Who will emerge victorious in round two?!" Came the announcers voice as the crowd whipped itself into a frenzy.

"I think I'm warmed up… time to get serious!" Ash shouted, grinning.

"I've been going easy on you for old times' sake!" May returned, sticking her tongue out. "I hope you're ready for a punishing fight now, Ash Ketchum!"

"Wouldn't ask for anything less!" He returned. "Muk! Sludge Bomb!"

"Flamethrower!"

The two Pokémon launched forth their attacks, the spectators roaring with excitement.


Up on the stadium roof, a cloaked figure watched the battle unfold, his face hidden in the shadows.

A second figure approached from behind, reaching up with their hand to shield their eyes from the glare below. "How's it going?" They asked, the voice clearly belonging to a female.

"Normally… for now…" The first rumbled in a masculine voice, as deep as a mountain's valley.

The second figured crouched beside him. "Ohhhh…? They've not interfered yet?" She purred. Her eyes burned in the darkness, an icy azure, brimming with power.

"Not yet, no." He simply said. "Deactivate your Aura. You're standing out too much."

Her gaze returned to normal as she blended into the darkness, falling back onto her behind. "Well that's no fun…"

"We're not here to have fun."

She gave her companion a blank look. "Well… of course you're not…"

He sighed, never taking his eyes off what was happening below. "Why are you up here, Leaf? Aren't you meant to be preparing below?"

She grinned as she watched Ash shouting his commands, her mousey-blonde hair falling over one side of her face, obscuring it from view. "I'm prepared. All that's left is waiting for this battle to conclude."

"The others are all in place?"

"They are."

He nodded. "Good. This'll be an anniversary event the World Government won't soon forget."

A massive explosion rocked the arena below, signalling the end of the third round. Both the cloaked figures watched the unfolding destruction carefully, drinking in every detail. The male stood, eyes narrowed. "It's beginning."

"Ohhhh…" Leaf purred, her eyes alighting once more, allowing her to see the Unseen World. Noticing the change in the energies surrounding both contestant's Pokeballs, she deactivated her Aura, keeping herself masked in the shadows. "So it is…"

"Come. The time is nearly upon us." He said, turning. He walked towards the edge of the stadium's roof.

"It's a shame…" She said, standing up and walking over to join him. "The battle was just getting good…"

"We both know how it will end… no point in torturing ourselves any further." He replied, leaping off the roof, the hundred foot drop not phasing him in the slightest.

Leaf watched him land and run off towards the others, her Aura infused eyesight easily picking him out in the darkness. "We'll meet soon, cousin…" She whispered to herself, jumping down into the night, letting the shadows swallow her up.


The dust cleared, revealing both Garchomp and Blastoise with their fists in each other's faces. Their bodies were battered and bruised, and although both were snarling in determination, fighting desperately to stay conscious, as one they both gave out, their eyes rolling up into their skulls as they fell forwards, fainting. They collapsed into heap, with the dragon type laying over Blastoise's shell, neither of them moving.

Up on the screens their lights blinked out, leaving both contestants with only their last Pokémon left.

"What incredible action! Both Garchomp and Blastoise fall! With only one Pokémon remaining for each of our would-be Champions, who will emerge victorious in this glorious finale?!" The announcer boomed as the crowd went wild, screaming the name of their favourite to win.

Ash narrowed his gaze as he returned Garchomp, his mind racing. I can't believe Garchomp is out… he's my second strongest Pokémon… this is the first time he's fainted in the last two years… In all honesty, Ash thought that Garchomp would have sealed this fight, not go out after fighting two of May's. He respected his former travelling companion a great deal, and he knew how powerful she'd gotten, but there was no way she should be pushing him this far after only two years of battle training… something just felt off, a feeling he'd been harbouring since the end of the third round… Garchomp tired so fast…

He let the thought die as he stared at the Jet Pokémon's capsule, not at all liking where that line of thinking led him. Well… I still have Pikachu at full power… he's my absolute most powerful Pokémon, so this championship should be as good as mine… and yet… why do I feel so nervous...? He'd not even wanted to use Pikachu, scared as he was that he would injure his opponents beyond recovery. His starter had reached incredible levels of power that he now only called on when he absolutely had to.

"Pikachu pi." His companion of eight years said, smiling up at him reassuringly. "Pi pika! Pikachu!"

Shaking his head to clear his doubts, Ash laughed. "You're right buddy, what am I worrying about? You can hold back if needed!"

"Pika!" Pikachu chirped, leaping off Ash's shoulder and onto the railing.

"Let's win or lose this together, just like we always do." Ash said, ruffling his starter's fur, laughing slightly. "At the very least I'll get a date out of this, if nothing else."

Pikachu turned, giving his trainer a sly look.

Ash nearly fell over. "Hey! I am not throwing this on purpose!"

The electric type laughed, leaping down into the arena. "Pika pi!"

"Focus on the match!" Ash shouted after him, grinning.

Pikachu leapt out onto the field, just as Glaceon took shape opposite him, May's last Pokémon. The two nodded at one another, a greeting of recognition and respect. They knew each other from their previous travels together and knew of each other's abilities.

"It's down to the wire now, Ash!" May called from across the arena. "Don't forget our little wager!"

Ash laughed. "Yeah, I fully expect you to deliver when you lose!"

"In your dreams! Just so you know, I like fancy places! Don't forget that when you come crawling back in defeat!"

They both shared a look, grinning. It had been a few years since they'd last seen one another, but meeting again at this tournament, it was as though no time had passed at all. They'd immediately settled back into their old banter, just like old times. Upon knowing she was in this conference, Ash knew they'd meet in the finals like this, although he didn't think it would be anywhere near this close. May is stronger than I gave her credit for… Even after my tireless training, she's still able to keep pace… she must have breezed through the previous rounds…

Across the battlefield, May narrowed her eyes, wiping away the sweat building on her forehead with the back of her hand. Ash is strong! I'm on my last legs here… She was honestly surprised she'd been able to keep pace with him at all. It had been pretty one sided after her Venusaur drew with his Snorlax, since she'd started with her second strongest Pokémon, but halfway through she began to claw back at him. And now… it's a one on one… for the finale…

She'd been half joking with the suggestion of a date for the victor, just a jibe, a part of their usual banter to maybe throw Ash off his game, since she thought she would need every advantage she could gain… but the thought of actually following through with it didn't bother her in the slightest. That was a bigger surprise to her than being able to keep up with him in battle. I mean… it's Ash! …right? She could just picture the teasing her brother would give her if he ever found out they'd actually gone on a romantic outing.

They were both adults now, she was keenly aware, and the simple bond they'd shared as preteens wouldn't be as innocent anymore. She'd never even considered dating anyone prior to this moment and had no idea why she'd suddenly suggested it when she did… and yet…

The moment they'd reacquainted, she'd acted the same as always, but deep inside she knew something was different. He looked… good. She wasn't quite aware of what exactly she was now feeling for her old friend, but the idea of going on a date with him was something she was actually looking forward to. If I lose, I'll have to ask him out though… She grimaced at the thought. The mental image of her awkwardly trying to bring it up wasn't a pleasant one. You just need to win then May… then he'll be forced to ask you out…

She grinned, glancing down at her Glaceon, who glanced up over her shoulder, feeling her trainer's stare. They shared a look and nodded. "I'm ready Ash! Let's end this!"

"Let the best trainer win!" He called back, grinning.


High above the crowds and overlooking the stadium was a VIP box, surrounded by tall, tinted, panelled glass windows which gave its inhabitants a perfectly clear view of the match below whilst hiding them from sight.

Three individuals occupied it, watching the outcome of the battle with rapt attention.

A large table dominated the centre of the room, from which a woman sat, a glass of wine in her hand. "How's the final coming along?"

"It'll be over soon. The coordinator girl should be winning in the next five minutes or so. Even with our interference that Pikachu is durable." Came the deep voice of a tall man stood at the window, dressed in a smart black suit. "The Ketchum brat is powerful."

A luxurious couch lined the outskirts of the room, contouring its corners. Sat in one of those corners, their hands balled into a fist upon which they rested their chin, an older man sat. He too was clad head to toe in a suit, but its colour was grey. His aging body radiated tremendous power born from years of experience. "He reminds me of his father."

"Don't mention that man." The first man warned, dangerously. "He's the biggest threat to peace this world has ever known. His very name used to bring fear to those who heard it."

The woman laughed. "Their whole bloodline has been a nuisance."

"Soon to be extinguished," The man at the window continued, as though it was of no consequence. "The last Aura Guardians are fading from existence, and with them their knowledge of the Missing Decade."

"Did you find the others?" The woman asked, purring. She was the youngest of the three, but none would question her abilities. She wasn't known as one of the three World Leaders for nothing. "Or have they escaped your grasp yet again, Odasa?"

The man at the window smirked. "You know as well as I that they're skulking around the stadium, Amelia. On the anniversary of the very foundation of the World Government, we will bring an end to their entire treasonous existence."

"Well, we'll try, at least." Amelia said, leaning back on her chair. "We've been down this path before, if you recall?" She took a sip of wine. "Although I wasn't around to see it."

"What happened twenty years ago will never happen again!" He snapped.

"Calm yourself, Odasa," The third man rumbled, standing. He walked over to the other World Leader, taking his position beside him. "We've put everything in place to ensure our victory tonight."

"Exactly!" Amelia said, taking a large gulp from her goblet before casually disposing of it over her shoulder. She joined them at the window, her eyes almost glowing. "Let's enjoy the festivities! It all comes to a head tonight… either way."


"Thunderbolt!" Ash roared.

"Blizzard!" May commanded. "Lose yourself in the ice then strike with Ice Beam!"

Both Pokémon acted on their commands. They were fatigued from battling constantly for the last five minutes, but they had enough left to win this for their respective master's.

Pikachu primed the electrical might within his body, allowing the reserves held deep within him to be unleashed - deep reserves that he'd built and built over years of combat. The power surged through his veins, his skin sparking with electrical discharge, lightning bolts zapping into life around him. "Piiiiiikkaaaaaaaa…"

Seeing the incoming danger of the attack, Glaceon did as commanded, summoning a vicious Blizzard on top of herself, burying her presence deep within its icy mists. The storm raged around her, shards of ice whipping out and striking towards her opponent as it did so. All the years of coordinating the move with the maximum amounts of control were really paying off.

Dodging each shard thrown his way, using his agility to avoid the icy projectiles, Pikachu became a living conduit for electrical energy. As it peaked within him, he unleashed it from his cheeks, the absolute apex of his power moulded into a single bolt. "Chu!"

The Thunderbolt burst from him, its tip becoming the head of a ferocious dragon. It burned its way into the heavens as roiling clouds of deafening thunder blanketed the sky. At some unseen command the unleashed power formed into a unified strike, an arrowhead of electrical might. Targeting the Blizzard with pinpoint precision, it struck.

Watching from a shaded corridor, Leaf smiled, her eyes focused on the clouds as they rumbled, about to unload their attack. "Oh boy… here we go…"

All sound disappeared, overpowered, as a column of lightning burned down from the heavens, striking the arena floor with enough power to obliterate a city. The floor vanished, vaporised, as bolts of electricity struck at random, zapping through the air.

Hurricane winds roared into being, infested with electric. Everyone sat in the stands had to brace as the skin on their faces was blown backwards, gripping onto their seats to save themselves from being blown away. Their hair was whipped back, fluffing with static.

Ash and May hunkered down on their stands, covering their bodies with their arms. It was all they could do to avoid being blown away.

Reaching critical mass, the attack detonated, bathing the arena in fiery destruction. A roaring inferno of blazing death took the column of lightning's place, raging towards the heavens and venting its fury. A few seconds later and out of energy, it died down, dissipating harmlessly into the air.

The stadium was left with row after row of afroed spectators, their eyes wide at the sheer destruction they'd just witnessed.

A huge cloud of dust obscured the arena floor and both of the combatants from view, the outcome of the attack impossible to see.

May shot to her feet, worry etched on her face. "Glaceon!"

Slowly rising himself, Ash did likewise, desperately trying to make out any sign of his oldest companion in the wreckage below.

As the debris and dust started to clear, the churned-up arena floor gradually became visible. Ash could just about make out Pikachu stood atop a jagged peak of stone and earth, panting and wheezing uncontrollably. It looked like he could barely stand, as though that last attack had taken every ounce of energy he had left. "Pikachu! Are you okay?"

Before his starter could respond, a glowing azure beam suddenly shot through the clearing gloom, piercing straight towards him. The Ice Beam scored a direct hit, blasting Pikachu backwards and encasing his midsection in ice. Frozen, battered and exhausted, the electric type tried to stand, only to wobble forward and collapse, his eyes going white.

"Hey buddy… stand up! Come on… you can't be done yet… surely…" Ash said, staring at him in horror. "Surely!"

He found it hard to process. It made no sense. Pikachu was in prime condition… he hadn't even been used in the previous rounds… and he's gassed in just over five minutes…? That wasn't even a max strength Thunderbolt… He stared up at the screen, watching in disbelief as his side went dark and May's became dominant, declaring her the winner. Something's very wrong here…

May, too, was dumbfounded, sinking to her knees as she watched the screen. "I… won? Already…?" Pikachu looked like he had a lot more fight in him than that… and while that last attack was incredible… it didn't feel like that was all he had left in him… Just what in the world happened there…? She glanced over to where Ash was, and he stared confusedly back at her, his eyes wide. Looks like Ash has no idea either…

"What an incredible performance! Ladies and gentlemen, give it up for our new Champion of the Conference, May Maple!" The announcer roared, seemingly rubbing it in.

The crowd, who'd been stunned into silence from that last attack, suddenly cheered, chanting May's name over and over. "May! May! May! May!"

From a shadowy tunnel, Leaf shook her head, running out towards the nearby forests. "Those bastards… they'll pay for this…"

Their platforms lowering, Ash and May retrieved their Pokémon and were ushered from the stadium floor, still completely stunned as to what had just happened.


Odasa snorted, watching Ash leave through the entrance nearby. He turned, leaving without uttering a single word.

"I guess the fun begins soon…" Amelia said, stretching her arms. "I best go greet our new Champion." She stood and went to follow her colleague who'd already left.

"Be careful, Lia." The old man said, stopping her in her tracks.

She turned to face him, eyebrows raised. "Do I detect genuine concern in that voice of yours, Dante?"

He stood, shaking his head. "You weren't here the last time the World Government tried to purge the Guardians. Don't underestimate them."

She smiled, that dangerously playful smile that she nearly always wore. "Don't worry, don't worry! I'm strong you kno-"

"Don't underestimate them." He repeated, emphasising the first word.

The seriousness in his tone made her flinch back, eyes wide. She'd never seen him like this before. "I won't. I promise."

He nodded, and they left the box.


May rushed through the stadium, desperately trying to reach the other side. She had to find Ash. I have to!

She had no idea what she'd say upon finding him, or what she'd do, but the urge driving her forward was overpowering.

All the people she passed in the corridors congratulated her on becoming the new Conference Champion. Some cheered. She ignored them all, pushing past. She was tunnel visioning hard, she knew, but she didn't care. She had to find him.

Reaching the other side of the stadium, she scanned the crowds, finding no sign of the famous raven-haired man. She grit her teeth in frustration. He can't be far away… think, May! Where would you have gone in a similar situation…? Then it clicked, her eyes widening. Outside! He's probably gone to get some fresh air!

Finding the nearest exit, she took off at full speed, running as fast as her legs would carry her. Bursting through the doors, she came to a stop just outside the stadium, where there were small groups and large crowds of people dotted all over the place. She scanned them all, desperately trying to pick of the familiar face she knew so well. Where are you Ash…? You have to be close… surely…

Her eyes finally caught sight of the familiar dark, spikey hair and the man it was attached to sat on a wall near the edge of the forest, just slightly away from the light of the nearby lamps. Found you! She ran over, dodging the gathered people as best she could.

As she approached, she could see that he had a blank look on his face. I don't think he's quite come to terms with what's happened yet… but to be fair, neither have I… She had more pressing concerns, however, such as making sure her old travelling companion was okay.

Pikachu was set beside him, a concerned expression twisting his features. The small electric type glanced up at her as she neared. "Pika pi…"

She gave him her best smile. "Don't worry Pikachu, I'll sort him out."

The Mouse Pokémon nodded sadly. Taking one last look at his trainer, he hopped off the wall and stood a respectful distance away, giving the two of them a little privacy.

May nodded her thanks. She picked a Pokeball off her belt and thumbed the release, letting Skitty free from her capsule. "Hey Skitty, could you go keep Pikachu company while I talk with Ash?"

The Kitten Pokémon nodded happily. "Skit!" She purred, bouncing over to where the electric type was stood. The two of them instantly engaged in some kind of conversation.

May sighed, sitting herself down about a meter away, trying to think of something to say. To be honest, I have no idea what happened out there… I can only imagine how Ash is feeling right now…

They sat there in silence, both facing forward. As it dragged on, May started to feel a little awkward. She wasn't even sure if he'd registered her presence.

"So… I guess you owe me a date!" She said cheesily, attempting to break the ice. When he didn't respond whatsoever, she felt herself die inside. Oh no! That was so lame! I made it worse!

"Heh…"

A small chuckle escaped Ash's lips, catching her attention.

All of a sudden, he burst into a fit of laughter, rocking his head back and just letting it all out. "Hahahahahahahaha!"

May was slightly taken a back at first, shocked by his sudden reaction, before getting caught up in it and laughing along with him, letting his infectious mirth spread through her.

Several people nearby gave them curious looks, wondering what the excitement was all about.

Eventually when they'd calmed down, Ash shook his head, a large grin still on his face. "I swear, you always did know what to say when I was feeling down… It's great to have you around again, May."

She smiled back. "You too, Ash. I was really surprised when I bumped into you here. I had no idea you were doing this conference prior to coming here."

He shook his head. "Me neither. But… I'm glad you did. I honestly don't know what I'd be doing with myself right now if you weren't here."

His words were honest and heartfelt, and she felt a sudden blush spread across her cheeks. She glanced down at the ground, slightly embarrassed. "Same here. I was really happy when I saw you again."

"Thanks for finding me…" Ash said, turning to her and smiling.

The blush on her face only got worse. "Say Ash…" She began, fidgeting with her legs. "Would you like t-"

She never got the chance to finish, as hands suddenly covered both her and Ash's mouths. They gasped in surprise, but found they couldn't move, as a pair of strong arms held them tight.

Ash glanced over to where Pikachu and Skitty were, only to see two cloaked figures restraining them similarly. Shit! They got us! Who are these guys?!

"Don't fight it." The man behind Ash quickly said, his voice barely above a whisper. "We're not your enemies and we're not here to harm you, but you must listen! The World Government wants you dead, Ash Ketchum, and they will try to kill you tonight."

Ash flicked his gaze, trying to get a look at the either the person speaking or the person restraining May, but just couldn't quite see. The cloak is covering the face too well of the one behind May… and I can't turn enough to make out the guy behind me… damn it!

"You've become too powerful to control. Even through their interreference you nearly won tonight. You're not safe here anymore." The cloaked figured behind Ash continued, his tone extremely serious. "And by mere association, neither are you, May Maple."

"There will be a confrontation here at the stadium later tonight. You can't flee until then." The figure behind May said in a feminine voice. "We will be around; you must wait for our signal! If you flee now and they realise you're onto them, they'll lock the whole country down before we can get you out! Our exit strategy still needs more time, so you'll have to play along for now!"

"Go back inside after this and attend the Champion's celebration! There are special guests here tonight for the anniversary, and that's not by accident! All three World Leaders are in attendance!" As the one behind Ash said that, both Ash and May's eyes widened. They hadn't known that. He continued, "Afterward they'll be taking the traditional centenary photo to commemorate the founding of the government! If you've not heard anything by that point, our agent will contact you there! Listen for the phrase 'Guardian on the walls!' Up to that point, pretend you've learned nothing! It's the only way you'll get out of this alive!"

As soon as he said that, both Ash and May were released, and they coughed, unrealising they'd been holding their breath. They both whirled after composing themselves, hoping to catch a glimpse of whomever restrained them, only to see an empty grassland and the nearby forest behind them. Even Pikachu and Skitty were free.

Ash turned to May, his expression serious. "What the hell is going on…?"

She shook her head, her eyes still wide. "I have no idea, but it fits with the strangeness of our battle. I know you felt it too. We should trust them, for now, at least."

"Agreed." Ash nodded. "Let's head back inside. The Champion's celebration is starting soon. Pikachu! Come!"

"Skitty return!" May said, pointing her Pokeball at her Pokémon.

Pikachu leapt up onto Ash's shoulder and he nodded. "I have no idea what's about to happen, but I know it's serious."

May swallowed and followed him in. Why does world changing stuff always happen around you, Ash…?

As they walked back inside, the stadium was packed, with large groups chattering excitedly, talking about the results of the match. Several people had snacks and memorabilia in their hands, and local vendors were promoting their wears, shouting to be heard over the cacophony of voices.

Signs on the walls and hung from the ceiling were advertising the Champion's celebration party, with arrows directing those who'd been invited to attend. A steady flow of people was making their way in that direction.

"Hey Ash, give me your cap for a moment." May said, pulling the iconic headwear off her companion's head.

He raised an eyebrow at her. "What's up?"

Removing her bandana, she put it on, pulling the lip down to shadow her face and stuck her tongue out. "There, see! Now I'm less likely to be recognised!"

He laughed at her. "Yeah, but what about me?"

"Hold on, hold on…" She said, adjusting her bandana to fit his head, before rapping it around his hair. "There we go! Wearing our original headgear will make us stand out too much. With these it should be less noticeable. I hope…"

Pulling out his phone, Ash opened the camera to see how he looked. I look like a pirate… He'd always admired this accessory on May, and couldn't imagine her without it at this point, but seeing it on himself was a different kettle of fish.

The scent of her hair wafted into his nostrils from the bandana, and his eyes widened slightly, a soft and fuzzy feeling welling up in his gut. It smells like her… it's nice…

"Alright, let's go!" May said triumphantly, pointing down the corridor the way the arrows were indicating. "I don't wanna be late to my own party!"

Despite the situation, Ash laughed. "Well, whatever happens, we can enjoy this at least. Lead the way!"

She smiled at him, a genuine and loving smile, and it was as though the whole world suddenly froze. His heart beat extra loud as he became enraptured by her beautiful visage.

"Ash?" She asked, noticing him standing still. "Is something wrong?"

Reality snapped back and he shook his head violently to clear it. "I'm fine! Let's go!" His voice was slightly higher than normal, but she ignored it, nodding and leading him through the crowds. What the hell is wrong with me…?

When they arrived at the room in question the doors had been left open, and a stream of people flowed inside. Two guards were posted at either side of the entrance, checking people's invitation letters.

"Do we need one of those?" Ash asked his companion as they neared.

May shrugged. "Given that this is the 'Champion's celebration', I'd imagine we don't need one. Would be rather odd for the Champion and the semi-finalist to not be invited to the very celebration in their honour…"

Sure enough, immediately upon recognising them, the guards waved them through without trouble.

Once inside they could see the room was a large rectangle adorned with finery. Chandeliers hung from the ceiling, their light bathing everything in luminescence. Golden threads encircled the walls, interspaced by framed painted portraits of all the previous Champions, all one hundred and ninety-nine of them, with a space left open at the far side for May's. Mahogany tables draped in pearl-white linen cloth sat in rows down the centre, accompanying teak chairs with crimson velvet cushions. Silk draperies covered the windows and the back wall was dominated by a raised dais, complete with a microphone and podium. A smaller separate table was placed just before the podium, with each seat having a name card set before it, indicating that the spaces were reserved.

There were three entryways into the room. The Mahogany double doors from which they'd entered, and two side doors located a quarter and three quarters of the way along the left-hand wall. Waiters dressed in suits kept emerging from the latter of the two, bringing in glasses of champagne for the higher ranked dignitaries attending.

"Wow…" Ash breathed, taking it all in. "It's quite fancy."

May scrunched her mouth up, scowling slightly. "It's a shame we can't enjoy it. Why did we have to get caught up in all this…?"

"They're mainly targeting me," Ash said, placing a comforting hand on her shoulder. "If the worst comes to worst, just pretend you don't know me and stay away. I'll direct them to me and to me alone."

She turned to face him; her features twisted with horror. "Ash… I'm with you! Don't you dare try and do this on your own! Besides, if I wasn't under threat those people wouldn't have warned me as well. You heard what they said. I'm already targeted by association!"

He looked down at her, locking gazes. He raised his eyebrows in shock at the determination he saw glistening within her cerulean orbs. "May… thank you."

"No problem! I'd never leave you on you own in a situation like this!" She smiled. "Now let's get in there before they start suspecting anything. We were told to blend in after all!"

"Right." He nodded.

"Pika." Pikachu said, mimicking his trainer.

They walked into the room and everyone gathered immediately began cheering, recognising their faces despite their 'disguises'. They grinned and waved back as they made their way toward the dais. When they got there, they noticed that the front table was for the conference's finalists, and easily picked out their names on the cards. They were seated next to one another right in the centre, directly before the podium. They shared a look, shrugged, and sat down.

A couple of waiters placed two glasses of champaign before them in a crystal-clear flute glass. Ash immediately went to take a sip, but May placed a hand on his arm, restraining him. He looked at her confused and she shook her head. "I wouldn't drink that."

Eyes wide as it dawned on him what he might have just done, he sheepishly nodded and put it back down, eying it wearily.

All around them the room rapidly filled up as people took their seats, drinking merrily. The air was filled with laughter and cheer as people recalled the day's events and all the battles they'd seen. Around the duo the rest of the finalists gradually took their places, each of them congratulating them as they sat down. As the room reached max capacity, a couple of waiters closed the main doors, and a posh looking servant approached the podium, tapping its microphone a couple of times to gather everyone's attention.

"Good evening, ladies and gentlemen, and welcome to this rather special two hundredth anniversary Champion's celebration." He said in a cultured and rich voice. Everyone cheered, raising their glasses to toast the announcement.

"We're proud to welcome the addition of Miss May Maple as the new Conference Champion, who will now be officially inducted into the World Government's League ranks!" He said, gesturing towards the Hoenn native with a sweep of his gloved hands.

Everyone cheered once again, clapping furiously, as May awkwardly stood and bowed.

"We have some rather special guests to present the awards and formalities for this most auspicious evening. If everyone could please direct their attention to the entrance, and welcome our guests of honour, the World Leaders!"

Everyone nearly fell out of their chairs, eyes going wide. Mutterings and murmurings rippled through the room as they all turned to face the double mahogany doors in anticipation.

The legendary trio… those who sat above the entire world, ruling over all... Most people went their entire lives without getting within a hundred miles of them, so to be included in this room where they would be attending was a mind-blowing honour.

Tension grew as the room went silent, everyone eagerly watching the entrance, waiting for the doors to open. The seconds seemed to tick by in slow motion and it felt like an eternity had passed when the doors finally creaked, swinging wide, revealing three very distinctive figures who stepped through.

"Here we go…" Ash whispered under his breath.

May nodded.

The very air around them seemed heavy. Their presence alone completely overpowering. Everyone present went into an absolute silence, barely daring to breathe as the three most powerful people on the entire planet strode between them, their every footstep radiating a masterful authority that brooked no dispute. To merely look upon them the wrong way was a crime punishable by death.

The first, Odasa Tyne, was a tall man in his mid-thirties with long black hair, tied up into a ponytail. He wore a ceremonial sword on his hip, adorned with a fiery hilt and encased in an ivory sheath, complete with golden engravings. His black suit looked more expensive than the entire stadium, his white coat of office billowed out behind him as he walked, affixed at his shoulders with two pins made of pure gold and studded with clear diamonds. He kept his gaze locked forwards, paying everyone seated no mind.

The second, Amelia Heartmore, was a slim woman in her late twenties. Her face was flawlessly sculpted, all its proportions in perfect unison. Her silky silver hair spilled down her back, covering her coat which hung from slender shoulders. She wore a deep blue suit which matched eyes the colour of a stormy ocean. She carried a playful smirk on her red lips. Every step she took appeared calculated, faultlessly placed for maximum effect. Nothing escaped her gaze, her playful demeanour a perfectly crafted façade to play down the cunning intelligence within. She was naturally on a different playing field, a higher level of existence than those around her, to the point that everyone present felt suddenly ensnared, as though caught in a predator's grasp.

The last was the eldest, a man who'd sat on the World Throne for two decades. Dante Rodren's power was undisputed, despite his age. He was known as the most powerful Pokémon trainer alive. Earning his title during the Guardian Rebellion, he'd defended the World Government's authority time and time again. His grey suit was unadorned, except for the coat of office that flowed from his broad shoulders. He carried a cane in one hand, made of dark teak wood stained black.

The three of them stood on the dais, with Odasa taking the microphone, the serious expression never leaving his face. "Thank you all for joining us for this evening. I'm sure many of you weren't expecting our presence here, but to mark such a special day in our history books, we couldn't be anywhere else."

Breaking free of their awed numbness, the gathered dignitaries and trainers all clapped, giddy and excited smiles on their faces. Most of them were blown away that they got to spend time with the legendary three in such a way, an honour most thought unattainable.

Amelia took the mic, smiling. "First things first, we'd like to welcome our new Conference Champion to join us on the stage! Everyone put your hands together for the incredibly skilled, Miss May Maple!"

Feeling her heart nearly burst out of her chest upon being mentioned by the World Leader, May pushed her chair back and stood, finding her legs shaky. Calm down! Calm down! Breathe, May! Breathe! Taking a deep breath to steady herself, she put on her best smile and strode forwards, approaching the most powerful woman on the entire planet. To her surprise, Amelia hugged her as she neared, wrapping her arms around her as though she were a close friend. May stood there, frozen in place, unsure as how to react.

Giggling slightly, Amelia pulled back and handed May a special badge, denoting her as the Champion. "Congratulations. This badge gives you access to the Champion's hall here in Kanto, and the ability to enter any VIP lounge dotted in the many regions, should you wish to use them. Any World Government agent will immediately recognise it and grant you whatever you desire, and you can challenge the Regional Champion to take their place in a Succession Battle."

"T-Thank you!" May stammered, desperately trying to keep her composure.

"Give it up once again for our new Champion!" Amelia said. Applause and cheers rippled through the room. She nodded her head towards May, letting the younger girl know she should retake her seat, to which the brunette rapidly obeyed, eager to be off the dais.

"And commiserations to Ash Ketchum," Dante said, striding forward. "As we all saw, it was an extremely hard-fought finale. I'm no stranger to the taste of defeat, especially not when it's so close to your prize. You fought well."

Everyone clapped once more and Ash bowed his head, not knowing how to respond.

"As a mark of this very special occasion," Dante continued, "we would like to invite you to choose an exclusive Pokémon from the League's vaults, in reward for your valiant performance, not just here, but in the many League Championships you've attended over the last decade. Once this ceremony is over, a member of staff will lead you there personally, so you may make your choice."

Roars and cheers erupted from the tables as everyone congratulated the runner up, all of them blissfully unaware of the forces at play behind the scenes.

Bowing his head once more in thanks, Ash felt his stomach churn. He'd have been more than excited under normal circumstances to be able to cherry pick a rare Pokémon from the League's collection, but having been warned ahead of time, he saw it for the deception it was. I would have gone, no questions asked as well… It's still so difficult for me to accept that I've been betrayed… He glanced up and caught Dante's eye. The elder man smiled at him. It seems so sincere…

"That's not all," Odasa said as the cheers died down. "To mark this celebratory day, the day our great forefathers founded the very World Government itself, when all nations of the world came together under one banner, we will be holding a gathering of all the world's Champions and Pokémon Masters!"

Everyone's eyes widened upon hearing the revelation and the clapping soon sounded out as everyone expressed their excitement.

"Once this is over, if everyone would follow our staff from the room to the Hall of Champions at the other side of the stadium, you'll meet all our many wonderful trainers that make up the World Government's ruling structure. We're to be taking a picture for the history books, just like they did to mark the hundredth anniversary a century ago!" Odasa finished, lifting his arms to the ceiling in an open gesture.

Ripples of joy and giddiness rushed through the crowd as they all turned to their neighbours to gossip on the good news. It was clear that being part of such a gathering, and the knowledge that their faces would be in the same picture as the ruling elite, to be recorded in the history books for generation to see, was a dream come to true for many present.

Ash couldn't blame them. Had things not been the way they were, he'd have loved to have been a part of it, with his new Champion badge and all the benefits it entailed, including being granted the rank of Pokémon Master. I'd have been looking forward to challenging my way up… to reaching the dizzying heights just below that of the World Leaders themselves… but now… now…

He felt soft skin against his and glanced down, seeing May's hand grasping his reassuringly. He glanced up into her eyes, and she smiled at him. She'd obviously sensed his mood and was letting him know that everything was going to be alright. He squeezed back and smiled, truly grateful for her presence. She's right. I'm not alone. We'll get through this.

"So, cheers, everyone!" Amelia said, taking over the podium. "Let's celebrate!"

Everyone roared and chatter commenced. The excitement of the night's after party events were infectious and as the champagne flowed freely. The more people relaxed, the more they let loose, forgetting their troubles and basking in the glory of being a part of the chosen few to attend this historic event.

Exiting the stage, the World Leaders began to file out of the room, through the side door closest to the main entrance. Amelia stopped halfway, her eyes falling on Ash and a smile curling up her lips. She wandered over to him.

An incredibly attractive and seductive scent alerted Ash to a staggering presence behind him, which when he finally registered it, was the equivalent to having Mount Coronet looming over your shoulder. A silky voice, dangerously tempting, wafted down to his ears. "Not thirsty tonight?" She purred.

He swallowed, rubbing his suddenly clammy hands on his trousers. "I'm… n-not a fan of… errr… champagne?" He said lamely, his brain fumbling over itself as he tried and failed to find the right words. He mentally chastised himself for getting so flustered and losing his cool, trying his hardest to regain his composure.

She giggled watching him flail like a baby fawn, licking her lips playfully. She picked up his glass and took a sip, making an overexaggerated swallow to show that she indeed did imbibe of its contents. When she placed it back in front of him, a bright red lipstick mark stained the cup. "A vintage blend. Very expensive. Such a shame for it to go to waste, no?" She laughed.

"Uh… yes…" Ash said, glancing up at her over his shoulder. It was impossible not to be sucked in by her aura. It was as addictive as it was overpowering, enhanced by her beauty and attractiveness. If she asked him to be her servant, he wasn't sure if he would be able to refuse.

Leaning forward, she rubbed Pikachu's head, who was still perched on Ash's shoulder. "My! What an adorable Pokémon! His power was quite impressive, especially for a base form!"

"Chaaa…" Pikachu cooed, blushing. He'd easily fallen under her influence and was basking in the attention.

"I am truly sorry for your loss," She said, placing her hand on Ash's shoulder, deliberately allowing her skin to brush against his neck. "You fought incredibly well. Enjoy yourself tonight… and try not to worry too much."

Then she was gone, walking towards the door where the other two had already left. The instant he was out of her presence he gasped for air; his mouth completely dry.

May looked at him with concern. "Ash? You okay?"

"I think… so…" He said, blinking rapidly as he turned to face his companion. "What an… incredible woman…"

She glanced up at the door where Amelia had gone. "Indeed... She wasn't even talking to me, yet I felt powerless in her presence..."

"The World Leaders… they're something else…" Ash said, downing the champaign in the hopes it would ease his nerves, now knowing it was safe. "Have you seen any sign from our friends yet?"

May shook her head. "I've been carefully keeping track of who's coming and going but seen nothing yet. Although I'm still not sure what we're meant to be looking for."

"We should be ready for anything. I have a feeling that the Champions and Masters being here isn't a coincidence…"

She nodded. "Whatever happens, I'm with you. We'll get out of this together."

He smiled at her. "Thank you for being here, with me. Like I said earlier, you're honestly the only thing keeping me going."

"Of course, Ash," She said, smiling back at him as she took his hand, squeezing it again. She'd forgotten how intimate the gesture usually was. "I'd never let you go through this alone, not after everything we've been through together."

Taking a deep breath and squeezing her hand back, he settled down, trying to calm himself for whatever came next. They let go of each other and kept scanning the room, desperately searching for anything unusual.

About thirty minutes later the main doors at the back of the room opened, causing everyone to turn. To everyone's surprise, a Pokémon Master stood before them, a large smile on his broad face.

"Good evening, everyone!" Boomed Alder, the tanned skinned Unovan, world renowned for his battling skills.

"Dante's top Pokémon Master…" A girl beside the duo breathed, drinking in the legendary trainer. "The government's top trainers really are here…"

"If you'd all follow me, we've gotten everything ready for the gathering!" Alder announced, turning back down the hall he'd arrived from.

Everyone in the room stood and eagerly began filing out, smiles on their faces as murmurs filled the air.

Ash and May nodded to one another, staying close as they joined the flow of people out of the room. They were led down a large corridor, the main throughway that people used to traverse the stadium, although by this time it was deserted, the only people still present the ones that had been invited to attend the Champion's celebration.

"See anything?" May asked as they walked.

"Nope." Ash said, his eyes darting around. "Was it all some sort of hoax?"

May frowned. "We both saw what happened in that match. Pikachu should have been able to continue on after that attack. We both know that to be the case."

"Pikapi…" Pikachu sighed, remembering the sudden wave of fatigue that had washed over him.

To that, Ash had no answer. In previous tournaments when he'd lost, he'd always put it down to his own failings. That he'd not trained his Pokémon enough, that he'd not thought of better and more ingenious strategies, that he'd been outsmarted, etcetera, etcetera… The idea that the League itself was somehow interfering on behalf of the World Government to ensure he didn't win was an idea that seemed so ludicrous as to not be worth spending any energy on entertaining… and yet…

Truth be told, if it hadn't been May he'd been fighting he would have just chalked it up to another failure of his… that he didn't train Pikachu enough… Hell… if I hadn't known May as well as I do, I would have accepted it regardless… It's only because she also feels the same way, and the fact that I totally trust her, that I'm going along with those cloaked guys' plan…

They were led up some stairs to the second level, and passed several sets of double doors, each guarded by two powerful looked World Government trainers, before finally arriving outside a set of mammoth doors, crafted from the finest mahogany.

"Ash, we're here." May said, bringing his focus back to reality. "Be ready."

"Right." He nodded, gritting his teeth. This is the place where they'll make their move… one way or another… He steeled himself, banishing the growing fear in his stomach.

Alder shoved the doors open with both of his large hands and led them inside.

Much like the place where the Champion's celebration had been held, this room was ostentatiously decorated, however this was far larger. Its ceiling was three times higher, and Ash speculated that it must have reached the very roof of the stadium. Similar paintings and ornaments were arrayed along the walls, although here there were sculpted marble statues of all the World Leaders throughout the ages. The room had been cleared, and in the centre stood a stand with raised tiers, in front of which stood a group comprised of the most influential and powerful people in the entire world. It had been an entire century since all of them had gathered together in one spot like this, a fact which near everyone in their little group was well aware of.

Odasa turned towards them as they entered, spreading his arms wide in welcome. "Welcome, guests, to the Hall of Champions! I'm sure you're all familiar with my friends here, and you'll get chance to meet and talk with each of them once we're done."

Excited mutterings spread through the group as everyone giddily expressed their excitement to their friends and neighbours. Ash and May merely looked at one another nervously, the experience tainted by the revelation they'd received earlier.

Clapping her hands into the air, Amelia caught everyone's attention. "For the commemorative photo, we're going to be standing on this tiered stage behind me. We want the lowest ranked at the back and the highest to the front. Would everyone please take their places?"

Most of those in their group were put at the very back, barely visible to the camera's lens, yet being in such close proximity to these legendary people, and the fact they'd somehow ended up on the photo despite not being in the upper echelons of the World Government's ruling structure, was more than enough.

May was placed on row further down from Ash and the others, now officially being recognised by her new rank. She winked at him as he continued up past her, taking his spot at the very back.

A large man with short spiky hair stood next to Ash and smiled at him. "Incredible, eh?"

"Uh, right!" Ash nodded, still keeping his focus on anything that could be a sign from his mystery saviours.

"To think that we'll be a part of the photo that marks the World Governments centenary birthday," The man said, whistling. "It's like we'll be Guardians on the Walls, looking out over people for years into the future."

Ash's eyes went wide, as did May's. It was the phrase they'd been told to look out for.

"What did you say?" Ash said, his tone suddenly very serious.

The large man winked at him. "Do you have everything with you?"

They both nodded at him.

"Good. You'll be taken for your reward as soon as we're done here. We've already replaced the guards with our own people. The exit strategy is in place." He said, before flicking his gaze toward May. "When Ash is out of sight, I'll give you an excuse to leave. Take it and run. Don't look back."

They both swallowed, nodding.

"What about you?" Ash asked.

The man smiled. "Don't worry about me. What's important is that the two of you get out of here. All will be explained once you're safe, I promise."

The concerned look on Ash's face only deepened. The thought of someone being put in harms way for his own sake wasn't an idea he cherished at all. He was about to inquire further when Odasa spoke up, cutting off further conversation.

"Okay everyone, silence please!" The World Leader announced, clapping his hands together loudly. Everyone immediately quieted, facing forwards. "When the photo is being taken, you are to look straight ahead and smile. We're hoping to do this in one take, so please mind your actions and respect your surroundings! Now, be ready!"

Odasa took his place at the front of the stand beside his fellow World Leaders and nodded towards the photographer who initiated the countdown. The nine Pokémon Masters were stood behind them, separated into groups of three, each group behind their respective leader. Further back were the Champions, the representatives for each region, each proudly smiling forwards. Just behind them were the Conference Champions and the Elite Four, and at the very back and stood on the highest tier were the conference participants and honoured dignitaries, barely visible but overjoyed to be there.

"And smile!" The photographer said just before the camera flashed and the picture was taken. "Perfect! Great job everyone!"

As they all stepped down from the stand, the meet and greet started, where the invited dignitaries met their heroes, many of them doing so for the first time.

A suited man approached Ash, bowing towards him as he neared. "Sir, I'm to take you for your prize now, if you'd follow me to the League's vaults. When we're finished, I'll bring you back so you can meet with the Champions here, so fear not."

Ash put on his best smile. This is it… "Thank you very much. Please, lead the way." As the man bowed again and took him towards a door located on the other side of the room, the raven-haired trainer nodded towards May, letting her know that it was starting.

She nodded back, wandering over to the large man that had spoken to them earlier. As soon as Ash left the room, the man gestured towards the drink stand over by the wall. "I don't know about you miss, but I could kill a drink. Shall we?"

"Let's!" She replied happily, trying to sound as convincingly natural as she could.

When they got there, he picked up a wine bottle, admired its contents, and handed her a glass, filling it up. "Ladies first!"

"Thank you very much." She said, smelling the liquid. It was fruity but strong, and even a quick sniff told her it was ridiculously expensive.

"And a nice one for m-" He began, before slipping forwards and pouring it all over her. "Oh no! I'm terribly sorry! It slipped out of my hand!"

She feigned annoyance. "Oh no! My favourite top!"

Their scuffle caught the attention of some of the officials, as they glanced up to see what was going off. Cynthia, a recently promoted Pokémon Master under Amelia, jogged over. "Is everything alright?"

"I'm terribly sorry," The man said as she arrived. "I've gone and spilt the wine all over the new Conference Champion's favourite top…"

Cynthia shook her head, sighing. "Well, accidents happen." She put two fingers in her mouth, whistling over a nearby servant. "Take her to the bathrooms to clean herself up. Give her any assistance she requires."

The man laughed. "Sorry for all this inconvenience, My Lady!"

"I just hope we can save your clothes," Cynthia said, winking at May. "Mary, my chief of staff, will look after you."

May glanced between the man and the Pokémon Master, before nodding her thanks. Looks like she's in on this. Thank Arceus! We have someone as strong as her on our side! "I appreciate your assistance, My Lady."

Cynthia waved her off, laughing. "Drop the formalities, you're a Conference Champion now! With the skills you displayed I'm sure you'll be the Regional Champion in no time! Now shoo, go get that cleaned up before it stains!"

The suited woman bowed as she approached. "If you'll follow me, Miss Maple."

May handed back her wine glass to the large man, thanked them again, then followed the servant out of the room.

"Quickly now!" Mary said, as soon as they were out of sight, taking off into a run. "We must be gone before they realise!"

May nodded, running after her. Thankfully with it being late, there was no one else around to hinder them, the stadium totally deserted. "Where's Ash?"

"I'm to take you to him at the rendezvous point, on the edge of the stadium grounds! The man who was to take him to the vault has been replaced by someone we trust! He's already taken Ash there!" Mary said as they ran.

"Got it!" May replied. "Why are they doing this, though? Why are we being targeted?"

Mary remained silent for a few seconds before answering, as though wondering if she should. "You and Mr. Ketchum have been designated too dangerous to be allowed to live. The government is aware of your past connections to one another. They originally planned only to remove him tonight but included you to make sure there were no loose ends."

May's eyes widened. "I see…"

"I understand it's a lot to take in right now," Mary said as they ran through the stadium, "but there have been great pains taken to ensure you make it out of this alive! Don't worry! We will protect you!"

"I'm thankful, but why?" May asked, confused. "Why go so far for us? You don't even know us!"

"I simply obey my master, Lady Cynthia, so I can't answer that one for you… although I suspect it will all be made clear once you're away from here! Just know that there are powerful people intent on keeping the both of you alive!"

They approached the entrance of the stadium and ran outside, before heading towards the forest where she and Ash had been ambushed earlier. They ran into the dark woodland, dodging various tree branches and roots, not once slowing down or catching their breath. May was silently thankful to Arceus that all her years of adventuring and travel had left her fit, otherwise she'd be getting gassed about now.

Braking through into a clearing, they came upon Ash and the suited man who'd led him out of the room, already there waiting for them. "Ash!" May said, rushing over and embracing him in a hug. "I'm so glad you made it out okay!"

He returned the embrace, holding her tightly. "You too! I was worried about you!"

"I see you both made it in one piece!" Came a feminine voice from beside them. They both jumped by the sudden introduction, turning on the newcomer. "Yo!"

"You!" Both Ash and May echoed in unison.

"Pikapi!" Pikachu chirped from Ash's shoulder.

The woman waved them off. "Yes, yes, I'm one of the people that ambushed you earlier." She pulled back her cloak's hood, letting her mousy blonde hair spill free. Much to the duo's surprise she had auburn eyes and little Z marks on her cheeks. "Nice to meetcha. My name's Leaf. Leaf Ketchum."

Ash and May both gasped in shock. "Ketchum?!"

"Are you two stuck in sync or something?" Leaf giggled, watching their faces turn red. "I'm just playing with ya! Yeah, Ketchum. I'm Ash's cousin from his father's side, although he's never met me before. In fact, based on his reaction, he probably didn't even know I existed until now."

"We must return before they realise we're gone." Mary said, as she and the male servant bowed. "We shall report back to Lady Cynthia. We wish you well on your journey past this point." With that they turned, running back towards the stadium.

"What the hell is happening, Leaf?" Ash asked, turning to face her.

"Plenty of time for that later, we're not out of the woods yet." She said. Upon realising just quite the phrase she'd used, she laughed, adding, "Figuratively and literally speaking in this case."

"How will we escape?" May asked.

"Once the World Leaders learn of your disappearance, they'll bring the entire might of the World Government, so conveniently gathered in this one location, down on this entire area," Leaf said, walking over to the edge of the treeline, where a large flat stone had been placed. A complex pattern had been carved into its surface, now glowing with an azure light. "We will be long gone before that happens. Sorry for taking so long to get you guys out of there, but this was the reason."

The duo approached the stone and stared at it, in both confusion and awe.

"What is it?" Ash asked.

"It's an Aura waypoint." Leaf said, matter-of-factly. "Ancient things built before the Missing Decade. When those with Aura touch them, they're transported to the connected waypoint. Basically, these things always come in pairs, linked together to act as instant travel points. Very common in the Old Empire, but barely remembered these days. They're great for travelling great distances almost instantly but take a while to charge up, as they need a lot of Aura to function."

"Aura?" Ash said, his memories of his time at Cameron Palace rushing back. "As in Aura Guardians?"

"Bingo!" Leaf said, smiling. Her eyes suddenly erupted with sapphire illuminance, burning in the darkness. "Just like yours truly!"

"Incredible…" May breathed. "You're just like Sir Aaron…"

"That's high praise, little miss, but I'll take it!"

A colossal explosion nearby suddenly rocked the ground, a mushroom cloud of dust blossoming into the sky.

"Well, that's our cue to get out of here. Looks like they've twigged on to your disappearance and have engaged our forward unit." Leaf said, her jovial tone gone.

"How do we…?" Ash asked, glancing down at the stone.

"Anyone without Aura in their blood won't be able to use the waypoints," Leaf explained, grinning at them. "But fortunately for us, we're all from the two most powerful Aura bloodlines in existence."

They gaped at her, shocked.

She sighed, ushering them forwards. "Like I said, I'll explain later. Now come here."

Following her commands, the three of them huddled together over the stone. They all linked their hands together, forming an unbroken chain between their bodies.

"What about Pikachu?" Ash asked. "He's not blood related."

"I can sense your Aura pulsating through him," Leaf reassured him. "Your time together has inadvertently linked you together in more ways than you realise. Don't worry, if that hadn't been the case, I'd have just told you to return him to his Pokeball."

Pikachu grimaced at the thought of having to be inside his capsule, even if it was for a special occasion, and was thanking Arceus that it wouldn't be necessary.

"Alright, close your eyes! It's always really trippy the first time you use these!" Leaf said, laughing.

Ash and May shared a look and nodded, squeezing each other's hand for reassurance, before closing their eyes and bracing for whatever would happen next.

Pikachu clung tightly to Ash's head, his little eyes glued shut. "Pi…"

A flash of light suddenly illuminated the entire clearing, bathing it in azure light. When it died down the three of them were gone, the stone they were stood upon dull and lifeless once again, its power spent.


To be continued…

So, there it is, the start of my new story! I hope everyone enjoyed, as I actually had a lot of fun writing this. I'll write as the inspiration takes me, so hopefully it should be far more regularly than when I released the Legacy of Aura, as I've been in the mood lately! I even finished this chapter in just two days!

See you next time and don't forget to leave a review!