Tiger lover 16: Yeah, okay, I guess I got some explaining to do. Usually I'd give a long winded authors note explaining stuff about the story or chapter I'm presenting, but I'll save that for the end.

I suppose a lot of people are wondering where I've been for the past... 6 years, I guess since I posted something on this site? God, I feel old.

Well, there's a lot of personal life drama and stuff, a bit of what I'm sure was depression mixed in with general disillusionment with the world, because... well let's face it, the last few years haven't been very good even before the pandemic. I don't want to go into too much detail, but the short answer is... I got burned out. Like... badly. As much as I wanted to keep writing, I was struggling to get anything out. Due to a computer screw up I ended up losing some stuff I wrote, including something I was asked to write by a friend that I felt so unbelievably embarrassed about... that demotivated me further and I ended up drifting away from this site for a long while, and before I knew it... boom. It's 2020.

Before anyone asks... no, that doesn't mean all my stories are cancelled. I'm probably not going to update them for a while until motivation properly kicks into high gear, but You're the Hero of Light, Charlie Brown especially is something I want to continue at some point... after some serious revisions, because GOD I made some amateur mistakes back then. You're Amazing Charlie Brown is probably not going to be finished, but I might always come back and write a few chapters for fun if I feel like it.

I... want to say I'll continue writing It's the Philosopher's Stone, Charlie Brown, because I'm still pretty proud of that story and I enjoyed writing it... but frankly JK Rowling being a vocal TERF has kind of demoralized me on writing Harry Potter related material for a while, so I don't even know. If I never get back to it (or any of the other stories), I'm sorry.

There's more I could say to explain myself, but I don't want to burden people. Why am I publishing a new story though in spite of all that? Well... basically I got mad inspired to write this thing during Quarantine, and it's sort of become a coping mechanism for getting through this whole Covid-19 situation. I have 8 chapters that are mostly written and just need a scene or two each to be finished and some revisions until they're good to publish. I was mostly writing it for myself for the fun of it, but decided to bite the bullet and publish it anyway and see what people think.

I'll explain more at the end, but to cut the ramble short: If you're a follower that actually still cares about my stories after so long, hello again and I hope you find something of interest. If you're a random Pokemon fan who thought the summary was interesting: Hello and welcome to you too. Hope you enjoy the story and please leave a review if you can.

Also yes, this is a crossover story. I'm publishing it in the main Pokemon tags for now because the prologue and next chapter are mostly Pokemon centric and I want people to actually read the story. I'll categorize it properly later, don't report me or anything.


Prologue: It came from Beyond

In the vast, ever expanding depths of the multiverse, there exists an uncountable number of worlds, home to many different forms of life.

There were worlds where human civilizations had advanced to the point where space travel was a common occurrence, poverty, climate change and all social ills had been eliminated and what people from other universes would consider advanced robotics and machinery that should only exist in fiction were a mundane, ever present occurrence in every household. And there were also worlds where animal life never left the ocean, and their planets remained a great untamed wilderness

There were worlds where people dressed up in colourful costumes and fought crime with a wide array of amazing powers, dubbing themselves superheroes. There were worlds where humans didn't exist and the dominant life was instead talking, anthropomorphic animals, and also there were worlds where similar beings and humans lived alongside one another.

Each universe had many worlds full of wondrous sights to behold. But none more so, perhaps, than one marvelous blue sphere in a universe at the farthest reaches of this great multiverse.

A world of both grand magic and advanced science. A world of stunning beauty and endless mysteries. A world where humans lived alongside a wide variety of amazing creatures in many different shapes and forms, from those that resembled animals, to living objects, to actual ghosts.

This was the world of Pokemon.

From the common pests like Rattata, to towering behemoths with the powers of Gods like Palkia and Groudon, Pokemon came in many different forms. They were found in every forest, in every mountain and ocean, in pretty much every corner of the world, living alongside and together with human beings in harmony for countless generations.

Some kept Pokemon as pets, others as workers or support Pokemon. But by far the most commonly witnessed bond in the para-social relationship between humans and Pokemon was the phenomenon where humans commanded whole teams of Pokemon to do battle against others as a form of sport.

People in this position where called Pokemon Trainers, and pitted their Pokemon against one another in a variety of different events, from annual League Tournaments designed to determine the strongest trainers in every region, to the elegant Pokemon Contests, or in less battle orientated events like Showcases and the Pokeathlon.

There had been many great and accomplished trainers throughout the history of this world, and the present day was home to some of the finest examples. Including one particular young man who the story you're all about to experience revolves around. A boy that has travelled across the land on a grand quest to be the greatest of all Pokemon Trainers.

That boy's name is Ash Ketchum.

Hailing from Pallet Town in the Kanto region, Ash set off on his journey shortly after turning ten years old. Partnered with a small yellow mouse Pokemon with the power to generate electricity called Pikachu, gifted to him by his mentor the esteemed Professor Oak, Ash aimed to become a Pokemon Master.

Together, Ash and Pikachu travelled through many different corners of the Pokemon World. Ash caught dozens of Pokemon, travelled and parted ways with many great and loyal friends, and fought many fearsome rivals and heinous villains. They met hundreds of different Pokemon and helped to improve the lives of nearly every good person they came into contact with, even saving the world a couple dozen times.

Throughout his journey that had now lasted for nearly seven years, Ash frequently challenged the Pokemon leagues of many regions, starting in his home region of Kanto and gradually making his way through the leagues of Johto, Hoenn, Sinnoh, Unova and Kalos.

Though he won none of those tournaments, Ash put on a good show and kept powering through, growing stronger and rising in the rankings, as well as succeeding at various other endeavors such as dethroning the undefeated Champion of the Orange Islands and conquering the Battle Frontier, until finally his efforts paid off and he became the first ever Champion of the recently established Alola Pokemon League.

With that huge accomplishment under his belt, Ash and Pikachu now have their sights set on the Pokemon World Championships, where they aim to challenge Leon, recently crowned the strongest trainer in the world.

As they rise through the ranks of the World Championships, Ash and Pikachu now mainly reside at the Cerise Laboratory in Vermilion City, working under a scientist who studies Pokemon named Professor Cerise.

Alongside a fellow research assistant, a young man named Goh who aims to capture every kind of Pokemon to work towards capturing the legendary Pokemon Mew, Ash helps the Professor to study Pokemon, often being deployed with Goh to go on trips through the many regions of the Pokemon World. Including Leon's home region of Galar, where recently the two helped save the region from a great disaster unwittingly set off by a man named Chairman Rose involving the Legendary Pokemon Eternatus.

It's safe to say that for all the ups and downs of his journey, Ash Ketchum loved his life and was grateful for all that he had accomplished, and all the friends he made along the way. Every day he looked to the future with a determined smile on his face, ready to meet any challenge the world still had to offer him on his path to being a Pokemon Master.

Little did he realize though, that his greatest challenge would come from a place beyond the world of Pokemon... and when it arrived, Ash and Pikachu's lives, and indeed the entire world they had come to know and love, would never be the same again...


*Vermilion City*

Originally a small port town in the distant past, modern day Vermilion City was practically the heart of the Kanto region.

The city of Sunsets was very modern in its architecture, but at the same time was in tune with nature, with rows of trees, grass or wild flowers found on practically every corner, even in the most busy and metropolitan areas of the now quite large and populous city.

Being a port town in addition to having an airport, Vermilion City was Where most tourists and traveling trainers visiting Kanto from foreign lands arrived into the region, and was a popular tourist destination unto itself due to it's general aesthetic and atmosphere being a perfect blend of excitingly modern and advanced, yet at the same time charmingly rural and clean.

The residents of Vermilion City took great pride in this image, and worked hard to keep the city free of pollution. It was often voted as one of the best places to live in Kanto for this reason, as well as the fact there always seemed to be something interesting going on.

Like for example, there seemed to be a battle festival taking place in one of the City's largest parks today, as one particular tourist discovered by happenstance when strolling through the city center.

Apparently it was one of those big meet up events that attracted trainers competing in the Pokemon World Championships. Every region did something of the like at least once a month, as it could be difficult for a lot of trainers to travel around enough to track down enough opponents to satisfyingly rise through the rankings when there were many thousands of people competing in the PWC from all over the world.

Vermilion being the gathering hub for tourists it was, the event they were holding had attracted a great number of foreign trainers, so there were a good number of Pokemon battles taking place across Vermilion park featuring Pokemon you rarely saw in the Kanto region, much to the excitement of all the regular citizens crowding around the many improv battle sites.

The Sinnoh native who had stumbled into the event was revelling in the thrill of it all.

She was a teenage girl with mossy bluish-green hair, dressed in a bright green shirt and jeans that were a slightly darker shade of green. There was very little about her physical appearance that would be considered traditionally feminine, which coupled with her spunky and tomboyish attitude often caused people to mistake her for a boy, much to her irritation.

The girl from Sinnoh had arrived in the Kanto Region for a family trip to meet with the girl's favourite aunt, a woman who ran a daycare service on a farm South of Cerulean City, about two weeks ago now. The girl's father had booked them a two day stay in a hotel in Vermilion for before they headed back home, having never really taken the time to actually explore much of the city on past trips to Kanto. Her father was currently at some bar catching up with an old friend of his that happened to be on vacation too, leaving the girl to wander about for herself.

She hadn't been particularly enthusiastic about the idea at first, preferring to hang out more at the ranch with her aunt before returning to her immediate family's own Daycare service back home in Solaceon Town, but she was hardly bemoaning her circumstances right now.

There was a fiery blaze of excitement in the girl's amber eyes as she rushed between battle sights, fist pumping the air and joining the roaring crowds in cheering on the many intense battles between veteran trainers and their Pokemon, screaming wildly whenever a trainer she liked the looks of won and booing even louder when one of her guys lost.

The girl would have killed for a chance to take a shot at some of the toughest looking trainers commanding Pokemon like Dragonair and Walrein and a strangely coloured Weavile. But unfortunately, she wasn't registered for the Pokemon World Championships. She worked alongside her parents at their Daycare Services back home pretty much full time and simply wouldn't be able to compete in a region-spanning competition like that, much as she'd really like to.

There were a couple of rookie trainers about willing to challenge her, but none of them were really able to give the girl's Luxio much trouble.

After about an hour it was starting to feel like she had seen every trainer battle at least once, and the crowds were starting to disperse as all of the Ultra Class trainers and most of the normal class ones took off for the nearest Pokemon Center. The girl thought about leaving herself, but decided to grab a corn dog first.

She was two steps away from the stand when she noticed a blue circle of energy rise into the air nearby, past a large fountain. That got the girl to scratch her chin thoughtfully. She recognized that attack immediately as a wayward aura sphere, she was intimately familiar with the move because a Togekiss currently staying at Aunt Winry's daycare knew the move.

Aura sphere wasn't an attack you saw very often. While several other Pokemon had been known to use it, the two Pokemon that mostly popped up in the green haired teen's mind when she thought of it were the aforementioned Togekiss... and the aura Pokemon, Lucario.

The girl from Sinnoh grinned, running past the fountain to get a closer look. Pushing her way to the front of what seemed to be the largest crowd of non-trainers still gathered at the park, the girl soon found that her suspicions were correct. There was a Lucario here, and it was going up against a Tyranitar of all things, expertly ducking to avoid a bite attack from the towering green rock lizard before rising swiftly to deliver a powerful force palm to the great beast's face, causing Tyranitar to stagger backwards.

The girl's fist clenched and she gave the Lucario an approving grin and nod, turning to the blue and yellow canine's trainer to see if it was someone she recognized...

... And it was.

The girl's fist unclenched. The excited grin she had been wearing slowly slipped off her face, replaced with a look of stunned disbelief, her eyes wide and mouth slightly open.

The Lucario's trainer was a teenage boy about the same age as the green haired girl. He wore a blue vest with yellow streaks on the sides over a white shirt with a red stripe across the middle, along with dark blue shorts. The trainer's head of black hair was adorned by a red cap with a green circle surrounded by a black C symbol at the center. Even from the distance the girl was standing, the distinctive zigzag marks on the boy's cheeks were noticeable if you looked closely enough... as was that smile that she would recognize anywhere.

The Pikachu perched on his shoulder only hammered in that there was no mistaking the boy for an identical stranger.

A warm smile crept up the girl's face, accompanied by a faint blush as her heart rate rose swiftly.

To fans of the sport of Pokemon battling who regularly watched the many annual Pokemon Leagues, Ash Ketchum of Pallet Town was a rising star who had just struck big as the first Champion of the Alola Pokemon League.

To Angie, he was an old friend... and in her heart, something much greater than that.


Ash Ketchum wore a confident smirk on his face as his opponent's Tyranitar tried to shake off the impact of the force palm to its face. His recently evolved Lucario glanced sideways at him, the two shared knowing nods and Lucario assumed a defensive stance, carefully watching its opponent's every movement.

Ash leaned his head to the left to look past Tyranitar and observe the great rock lizard's trainer, a boy roughly the same age as Ash with brown hair and a mostly green get up, the main exception being the blue hat with a yellow line across the front with red dots at both ends. He and Ash bore a not terribly subtle resemblance to each other, right up to having his own Pikachu perched on his shoulder.

The trainer dressed in green had his teeth clenched at first, but upon noticing Ash was now watching him he eased up quickly and shot his opponent an impressed smirk.

"Your Lucario seems pretty tough" The brown haired trainer said with an approving nod, earning a quick but grateful grunt from Lucario "Of course, I'd expect nothing less from you Ash"

Ash chuckled, beaming back at his old friendly rival "I could say the same about you and Cruise. It's so cool he became a Tyranitar since I last saw him"

"Zippo became a Charizard too" The brown haired boy replied, nodding proudly "I'll show you after I beat ya!"

Ash's grin widened to Cheshire Cat proportions, while on his shoulder Pikachu started giggling deviously "You mean after I'm done beating you!"

The two trainers' eyes locked, and they exchanged one last friendly smirk before their expressions became more serious. They turned to their respective Pokemon, Tyranitar had now shaken off the impact of force palm and was stamping its foot, sending a menacing glare to Lucario who glared back with a determined frown, breaking its defensive stance and crouching down as he sensed his trainer preparing to launch an attack.

Ash and his opponent took deep breaths, exhaled softly, and then their eyes both blazed with determination as they threw their hands forward and called their next commands.

"Cruise, use Dark Pulse!"

"Lucario, aura sphere!"

Cruise the Tyranitar unleashed a furious roar and began charging up a dark energy between it's hands, releasing it as a series of blackish purple waves that flew forward towards Lucario, who had formed an enormous ball of deep blue energy between his own palms which the bipedal canine launched at the exact same time.

The two energy attacks collided in mid-air, briefly grinding against one another, the impact of which sent shockwaves across the park that made many onlookers stumble backwards and sent chunks of the nearby ground hurtling into the air. Eventually the competing attacks exploded against one another, with such great force that the blast summoned up a huge cloud of dust that obscured the battlefield.

Ash and his opponent covered their eyes, but were otherwise undeterred by the explosion, just grinning eagerly and waiting for the battlefield to clear up so they could launch their next attacks.

The gathered crowd of random citizens broke out in a round of excited chatter. Among them was a boy with light brown skin and black hair with two small red streaks, who was watching Ash with an amused grin.

"Can't take Ash anywhere without causing a scene, honestly" The boy, Ash's current travelling companion Goh, said with a casual shrug. He chuckled lightly "Gotta hand it to him though, Lucario hatched like three months ago and hasn't even been evolved for a week, and it's already battling like an expert. I don't know how Ash manages to bring out the best in his Pokemon so quickly"

A swift motion in the corner of Goh's right eye caught his attention, and Goh turned to see his partner Pokemon, a large white and red rabbit, eagerly punching and kicking the air, sporting a giddy grin and looking fully absorbed into the ongoing battle.

Goh had to chuckle. The Pokemon was his starter from the Galar Region, Cinderace, who had recently evolved to its final stage alongside Lucario during the recent Darkest Day fiasco Ash and Goh had dealt with on their most recent trip to the fire bunny's home region.

It was kind of comforting for Goh to see his partner behaving with such open excitement again. When Goh first met it as a Scorbunny, the much smaller rabbit had been a little ball of sunshine. A bit arrogant and show offish, but adorably cheerful and precocious, a lovable scamp with some mischievous tendencies.

After Scorbunny evolved into its second stage, Raboot, however, the fire rabbit suddenly became aloof, quiet and at first somewhat distant. For a while Goh had worried that their relationship had been irreparably strained due to some poor behaviour on his part and failure to properly understand his partner's feelings on a matter involving Scorbunny's great struggle to learn a fire type move.

They'd patched things up thankfully after a trip to Hoenn, and while Raboot was still a reserved and quiet Pokemon for a while, it quickly dropped the disobedient and rebellious tendencies it showed at first.

And now as a Cinderace, Goh's trusty parter's open and cheerful personality had been restored. It wasn't a total rebirth of the goofy little prankster Goh once knew, there was a slightly more mature edge to the bunny's personality at times... but whenever Cinderace's inner love for battles was ignited, as had been the case for the entire hour the duo had spent watching Ash challenge fellow Great Class trainers to high intensity matches, the sporty rabbit made no effort to reign in its childlike enthusiasm.

Goh kinda felt bad that he wasn't registered for the PWC so he didn't have much excuse to let Cinderace put that enthusiasm to good use. Goh wasn't much into battles, he was alright at them, he figured... at this point in his trainer career, anyway. But they weren't his thing, he preferred catching Pokemon. But Goh was fine with battling if it made Cinderace happy, after some of the near disastrous mistakes Goh had made misreading or outright disregarding his partner's feelings in the past Goh was careful now to be as supportive as he could of Cinderace's wishes.

Maybe he'd ask Ash to let Cinderace battle Gengar or Dragonite later, that would probably satisfy him... even if the latter would probably demolish the fire rabbit.

As the dust cloud over the battlefield began to fade away, Goh took a good look at the brown haired trainer who at first glance he was half convinced must have been a cousin of Ash's, especially after the enthusiastic way they had greeted each other and fist bumped initially.

Turns out the trainer, who's name was Ritchie, was an old friend and rival of Ash's from his days of competing in the Kanto League. The two had battled each other in the Indigo Conference, and Ash apparently lost (Seemingly under less than fair circumstances, the way Ritchie meekly described it) and later in Johto they had apparently fought Team Rocket together to save a mother and son pair of Lugia from the criminal organization's clutches.

Goh had balked at the latter story at first... But got over it very quickly. That sort of thing clearly happened all the time with Ash.

Ritchie seemed like a pretty good trainer, and his Tyranitar was clearly powerful and well trained. But the bulky rock-type seemed to lack in speed, and that seemed to have given Lucario an advantage beyond its typing being super effective against the rock/dark type. The battle between them had lasted a good ten minutes now, and in that time Lucario had landed nine attacks and taken only four itself from Tyranitar.

The results were clearly showing, as Tyranitar was now panting heavily and wore several bruises across its rock hard body... and yet, to Goh's concern, Lucario seemed to be panting almost as much.

Goh had to assume Tyranitar's attacks just hit that much harder due to the years of experience it had over the aura Pokemon. The fact it still seemed rearing to go despite the massive damage that had to have been inflicted on it by now would suggest it made up for its average speed with fantastic defense and stamina, along with very hard hitting attacks. Lucario was strong itself... but no matter what kind of special training Ash gave it or how much of a prodigy Lucario seemed to be, it obviously couldn't hope to have matched Tyranitar in every area with less than a years worth of battle experience.

Goh even had to wonder if the only reasons that last aura sphere hadn't been completely overwhelmed were because the wounded Tyranitar hadn't put its full might into its own attack, and that dark pulse had a type disadvantage against the fighting type attack.

Goh was confident Ash could pull through with a victory: He was Ash, defying the odds was one of his things. But he'd have to be quick and precise about it, because Goh had a sneaking suspicion that if Lucario took too many more hits, it wouldn't hold out much longer.

Either way... it certainly felt like the battle was approaching its climax.

The dust cloud over the improv battle field finally settled down enough that both competing trainers could clearly identify each other's Pokemon. Ritchie immediately narrowed his eyes on the panting Lucario.

"Cruise, use stone edge!"

Cruise the Tyranitar let out another mighty roar as the ferocious Pokemon raised its right hand into the air, then threw it down into the ground with tremendous force. A large stone pillar rose out of the ground in front of Cruise. Then another stone in front of that. And another in front of that one. More jagged rocks kept rising out of the ground every second, getting progressively closer to Lucario.

Ash kept a calculated watch over the incoming stones... then smirked deviously once they reached a certain distance.

"Jump up high into the air and land on the end of that stone edge!" Ash ordered.

Ritchie's jaw dropped.

"What kind of crazy..."

Lucario did as it was instructed, crouching down and then swiftly bounding into the air, the final rock in stone edges line up rising out of the ground a split second afterwards.

Lucario expertly backflipped through the air three times, and right before it landed Ash further instructed "Now run across the stone edge to hit Cruise with force palm!"

Ritchie and Cruise's eyes bulged.

Lucario landed safely on the end of the stone edge and blitzed forward, swiftly skipping between the row of raised stone pillars and closing in on Tyranitar with the speed and fury of an oncoming train.

Ritchie grit his teeth, thinking fast. He felt trapped. Cruise still had his paw to the ground, and it would take too long for the green lizard to rise to its feet to either dodge or let out a dark pulse, with the speed Lucario was approaching. And he doubted that he'd be able to strike first or cancel out the attack with bite.

Guess there was only one other thing he could try, then.

"Use Sandstorm!"

Cruise raised his head and growled deeply, and almost immediately a huge wave of sand swirled around the Tyranitar's body and expanded outwards, quickly engulfing the entire battlefield and even much of the park area around it in a raging sandstorm. Much to the vocal displeasure of everyone gathered around watching the fight, most of whom covered their eyes or were forced to look away, and one man complained very loudly about his ruined ice cream.

Sandstorm was an attack often employed for lengthy battles. Its main purpose was that the raging gusts of sandy wind would gradually deal continuous waves of light damage to any Pokemon on the battlefield that wasn't a ground, rock or steel type.

It was a signature tactic employed by trainers of Tyranitar... though not usually because they taught their Tyranitar the attack, but rather because their usual special ability, Sand Stream, caused a sandstorm to be immediately summoned up when they entered a battle. Cruise's ability happened to be Unnerve however, so they had had to compensate by mastering the actual move.

Lucario was part steel type, so the main function of sandstorm wouldn't take effect against it... but as any smart trainer would tell you, the attack had other advantages. In this case, it was that the sudden stream of sand had shocked Lucario and swiftly halted its advance, as the Aura Pokemon stopped to cover its eyes.

Cruise began to crouch backwards and rise to his feet, and the rocks formed by stone edge started sinking back into the ground one after the other. Lucario fell backwards as the rock it currently stood on vanished, landing unsteadily on the backs of its feet, floundering about unsteadily in a comically ungraceful manner that was rarely witnessed with its species.

"GAH!" Ash grunted worryingly, as Ritchie looked triumphant.

"Now use Dark pulse!"

Cruise seemed to smirk maliciously as the large rock lizard started charging up a fresh wave of dark energy between its palms, launching it at Lucario with as much force as it could manage. Ash called out frantically for Lucario to dodge, but the flailing blue canine was in no position to act on that command quickly enough, and took the full brunt of the dark pulse.

Though not an especially effective attack against its species normally owing to the typing, the charged up waves of darkness struck Lucario with such great force that they sent him flying backwards many feet, crashing hard against the concrete of the battleground. Lucario trembled on the floor afterwards, struggling greatly to rise to his feet again and wobbling unsteadily as he did so.

Though they were all still a bit agitated and most having a hard time keeping a close watch on the battle through the rushing sandstorm, the results of that last clash quickly became clear to the audience of normal citizens.

The half of the crowd rooting for Ritchie broke out in thunderous applause, while murmurs of disappointment and concern echoed out from those in support of Ash. Cinderace stopped punching the air and stared wordlessly at his shaky companion, mouth slightly agape, while Goh just watched on with a steely expression.

Ash himself looked downbeat over his situation, and even Pikachu was pouting and uttering a sad "Pika pika"

"Don't you dare give up!" A girls voice called out. Ash blinked and looked around for the source, certain whoever it was had directed the demand to him. He couldn't make out any faces in the crowd, just vague shapes through the swirling sand, only the Pokémon in front of him were particularly visible.

Pursing his lips, Ash turned back to his still standing Pokémon and clenched his fist, feeling determined not to let whoever that was down.

Ash began to sweat, gritting his teeth as he weighed his options. Ritchie had just outwitted what could have been his winning strategy, and there was no way now that Lucario could keep going if it took any more solid hits from the more experienced Tyranitar. And Ritchie already looked to be getting ready to capitalize on this opportunity.

Ash looked at Lucario with a concerned frown... then raised a curious eyebrow, realizing there might be a way for him to actually capitalize on his Pokémon's growing fatigue.

If only he had a safe way to close the distance between the two Pokémon so Lucario could strike first... well, guess it was time to get unconventional again.

"Cruise, finish it off with-"

"Use aura sphere on the ground in front of you, fast!" Ash hastily cut across Ritchie, who paused before calling his attack to stare in disbelief towards Ash.

"Pika?" Ritchie's Pikachu Sparky uttered uncertainly.

'Wait... what would that accomplish?' He wondered.

Lucario itself looked surprised by his trainers instructions, but obediently charged up an aura sphere anyway. Ritchie thought about following through with his own attack... but curiosity got the better of him and he hesitated, just carefully watching as Lucario's energy ball assaulted the ground, sending several small and large chunks of concrete into the air in front of Lucario.

Ash spared no time following up his previous command by shouting "Now launch that rubble at Cruise, then run up and use Reversal!"

Ritchie and his two Pokemon's eyes bulged as Lucario followed through, fighting through the pain in its legs and central body to jump up and rapidly kick all of the largest chunks of falling rubble, sending them flying towards the Tyranitar. Lucario spun around and landed gracefully on its feet, pouncing forward to trail behind the shards of concrete now hurtling towards the great lizard. A yellow glow surrounded Lucario's clenched right fist as it ran.

"Counter with bite!" Ritchie yelled in a panic.

Cruise the Tyranitar summoned a set of glowing white teeth in front of its mouth and threw its head forward to comply. The energy teeth swiftly obliterated the chunks of rubble one after the other, but unluckily for the Tyranitar it left itself wide open for Lucario to swoop in straight afterwards and deliver a harsh upward punch to the blue diamond across its chest with his glowing fist.

Reversal was an attack that grew more powerful the more the user suffered damage. And as the expression of complete agony on Cruise's face at the moment of impact indicated, the damage Lucario had suffered through the fight had allowed the attack to reach almost maximum effect. The poor lizard didn't even have time to gasp in pain before it was sent flying into the air.

"Cruise!" Ritchie called out in despair, and could only watch as his Tyranitar hit the ground with an earth-shaking thud, rolling forward uncontrollably afterwards. Ritchie and Sparky both face-faulted, and the trainer swiftly barrel rolled out of the way to avoid being steamrolled by the massive Pokémon, who eventually crashed head first into the fountain just outside the area sectioned off for the battle.

Ritchie anxiously held out a hand in the direction of his now thoroughly battered Pokémon, who to its credit did try to push itself up after everything it had just endured... but ultimately collapsed once again, and Cruise's swirling eyes signalled the battle was over.

With its caster defeated, the sandstorm shrouding the battlefield disappeared, fully revealing the results of the battle to the entire crowd. At first everyone stared in stunned silence at the felled Tyranitar… and then after it all settled in, the crowd broke out in applause, even those on team Ritchie respectfully clapping along for the victorious Ash and Lucario.

"Yes! We did it!" Ash cheered, jumping up and fist pumping the air.

"Pi Pikachu!" Ash's trusty Pikachu joined in, standing up on Ash's shoulder and making a V-sign with his paw once his trainer had landed.

Lucario heaved an exhausted sigh and dropped to his knees, feeling the exhaustion from the intense battle begin to overwhelm him. Didn't stop the aura Pokemon from grinning proudly as his trainer rushed forward to wrap him in a congratulatory hug, however.

"Lucario, you were awesome!" Ash declared. Pikachu nodded in agreement and leaned forward to pat his team mate on the head, Lucario happily leaned into it.

Ritchie watched the victory cuddle with a content smile on his face. He shook his head, still feeling disappointed at his failure but holding no hard feelings towards his old friend. They earned that victory.

And so Ritchie calmly returned Cruise the Tyranitar to his Pokeball, gently thanking his Pokemon for having put up a great fight before craning his head to stare at the yellow Rotom Drone that had been hovering over the battlefield.

"Tyranitar is unable to battle! That means Lucario is the winner!" The drone announced, projecting an image of Ash from its eyes "Which means the victory goes to Ash Ketchum of Pallet Town!"

The crowd cheered slightly louder.

Ritchie nodded at the drone, a proud smile on his face as he approached Ash, who stopped hugging Lucario to look up at him. Grinning eagerly, Ash gave Lucario a good pat on the head.

"Thank you so much Lucario. Now take a good rest, you deserve it" Ash said, pulling out Lucario's Pokeball. Lucario grunted proudly and nodded at his trainer as a red light shot out from the pokeball, reducing the aura Pokemon itself to red light that was absorbed into the red and white sphere.

Ash rose to his feet and met Ritchie's steady gaze with a wide, goofy grin. Ritchie made an identical grin as he held out his hand expectantly to Ash, Sparky waving happily at Ash's Pikachu as his trainer did so. Pikachu eagerly waved back as Ash gladly shook Ritchie's hand.

"All things considered... that rematch was well worth the wait" Ritchie admitted, sounding exhilarated "I'm glad we were able to meet up again like this"

"Same here" Ash said with a vigorous nod "Let's not wait as long to do this again"

"Alright, but don't sound so confident. Cause I'm going to win the next round" Ritchie bragged.

Ash gave his lookalike rival a cheeky smirk, teasingly raising his eyebrows "Oh, are you now?"

The two trainers stared intently into each other's eyes... then broke out laughing, Ritchie giving Ash a friendly slap to the shoulder Pikachu wasn't perched on.

"As a result of today's battle, there has been a change in the Pokemon World Championships trainer rankings!" The Rotom Drone suddenly declared before flying off somewhere.

Ritchie pulled out a green Rotom Phone, staring in discontent at his new PWC ranking displayed on the screen "... Well, guess I've got some more climbing to do later..."

A round of excited chatter filled that corner of the Vermilion Park as the crowds began to disperse. Goh and Cinderace strolled forward to approach Ash and Ritchie, as the latter pocketed his phone and turned away from Ash.

"I guess I should be going, I'll catch you guys again later" Ritchie said.

Ash and Pikachu frowned disappointedly "Do you have to leave right away? I was hoping we could hang out some more"

"I actually have somewhere I needed to be after the battle festival. Honestly, I was cutting it a bit close battling you, but I really couldn't say no to that opportunity" Ritchie said, looking back at Ash with an apologetic smile "I'm still in Vermilion City tomorrow though. So I'll stop by that lab you're working at to say hi sometime. Okay?"

Ash sighed, but gave his friend a small smile "Okay, sounds good. You guys take care, and we'll see you tomorrow!"

"Alright then. Later Ash, thanks for everything!" Ritchie said, waving goodbye as he started walking off. From his shoulder Sparky the Pikachu waved too.

"Pika, Pikachu!" Sparky called out.

"Pikachu!" Ash's Pikachu called back, waving the departing duo off along with his trainer.

Goh slowly approached Ash, staring after Ritchie's fleeting form before rounding on Ash, at whom he smiled and cleared his throat.

"So, how's your tournament ranking after all this?" Goh asked after gaining Ash's attention. Ash pulled out his own red Rotom Phone to check.

"I'm in the eight hundreds now" Ash observed. He grinned eagerly, patting his chest "Not bad for a hard day's work, but could always be better!"

"Honestly, if you keep battling like that and avoid another bad slump, you could be in the Ultra Class in no time" Goh said, scratching his chin thoughtfully. Ash's goofy grin came back in full force.

"And then all I have to do is reach the Master Class!" Ash said, getting pumped up "And then at the end of the season I'll get a chance to battle Leon! And if I beat him and become the World Champion, I'll be well on my way to being a Pokemon Master!"

"Pika, Pikachu!" Pikachu yelled, flexing impressively.

"World Champion, huh?!" Called out a female voice from behind Ash, causing the boys and their Pokemon to jump in fright at the sudden interruption "Ambitious as ever, I see!"

Ash flipped around, staring curiously at the speaker. A teenage girl dressed in green, looking at him with piercing amber coloured eyes. Ash stared dumbly at her, and the girl giggled impishly, closing her eyes and grinning widely at Ash and giving him a friendly wave.

Ash frowned uncertainly at the girl... his expression slowly grew more thoughtful until something clicked in his mind, and his face lit up with excitement.

"No way-Angie!" Ash yelled, waving back vigorously. Pikachu blinked slowly before smiling just as widely as his trainer and calling out to the girl too.

Angie sniggered, weaving a hand through her mossy hair and striking a dramatic pose "The one and only!"

Goh scratched his head, he and Cinderace staring oddly at the new arrival as Ash bounded forward with his signature child-like enthusiasm. He stopped in front of Angie, looking into her eyes and then examining her face more closely, as if he couldn't believe it was really her. Or at least that's the feeling Angie got, making her roll her eyes sarcastically before raising a fist in between her and Ash. Ash stared at it curiously for a moment before an "Oh, right!" Expression spread over his face, and he raised his own fist in front of hers.

Ash and Angie fist bumped, looked into each others eyes for a moment afterwards, and then started giggling.

"Nice to see you remember all of us little people now that you're famous, mister Alola Champion" Angie said playfully. Ash laughed nervously, scratching his chin.

"Heh... I wouldn't say that I am, nobody outside of Alola ever seems to bring it up, and I don't like to brag" Ash said. Pikachu whispered something into Ash's ear that got him to glare irritably at him, as if he had a pretty good idea what Pikachu was talking about just from the yellow mouse's tone "Hey, I'm a lot more mature and humble than I was back then!"

Angie suppressed a hard laugh and leaned forward to pat Pikachu on the head "I don't get it, but you tell him, Pikachu"

"Pi-kaaa" Pikachu sighed contently, happily leaning into the tomboy's hand.

Goh watched Ash and Angie giggling and making small talk with a look of awkward uncertainty. Cinderace didn't seem to have reservations and just eagerly ran up to Ash's side, eagerly greeting Angie with a friendly wave of his paw. Angie looked the sporty rabbit up and down with a curious frown at first, clearly completely unfamiliar with its species, but eventually she smiled and returned the gesture just as Goh walked up to join them.

"Yet another old friend of yours, I take it?" Goh inquired of Ash, who flipped around and started gesturing enthusiastically to Angie as though he were presenting something mind-blowingly amazing.

"Goh, I'd like to introduce you to my Sinnoh buddy Angie!" Ash declared, pausing as if holding for applause, and continuing when Goh just raised his eyebrow and smiled meekly at the girl "She's from Solaceon Town. I met her at a Summer Camp while I was in Sinnoh with Dawn and Brock, we were on this team together! We did a bunch of neat stuff together, even nearly got sucked into the underworld! Her family own a daycare service, and she's really super awesome at raising and commanding the Pokémon they work with there. You should see how badly she and this Lickilicky she evolved thrashed Team Rocket!"

"I wasn't SUPPOSED to evolve it..." Angie said, scratching her head nervously and looking embarrassed "... Buuuut, the owner was actually pretty happy about it, so it worked out... and heh, I'm awesome, huh? Good to know!"

"Huh" Goh said, nodding unconsciously and smiling a bit more sincerely "Well, that sounds very interesting. Nice to meet you!"

...

Goh's eyes suddenly expanded to the size of dinner plates, and he looked to Ash incredulously "Wait-WHAT DO YOU MEAN, SUCKED INTO THE UNDERWORLD!?"

Ash, Pikachu and Angie blinked slowly at Goh, who along with Cinderace now looked almost frantically bewildered. Angie was the first to react, scratching the back of her head and lightly chuckling "Yeah, funny story there. There was this creepy ghost girl trying to condemn people or something, and also a Dusknoir trying to stop her from taking people. And Ash totally saved my life"

Ash nodded, suddenly putting on a super serious expression and reaching out his hand as though he were holding onto something.

"I'll never give up! Even if that means forever!" Ash dramatically quoted himself. Angie laughed hysterically, and a luminescent blush slowly crept up her cheeks, which Goh normally would have noticed and been curious about if he wasn't currently so perturbed.

"..." Goh glared at Ash, heaving a beleaguered sigh "... Why am I still caught off guard by anything you say or do at this point?"

Ash shrugged carelessly. Noticing Angie now looking at his black haired friend curiously, Ash spun around and gestured to Goh in the same manner he had done with her and said "Oh yeah, this is Goh. He's my current travel buddy! We work together at a lab here in Vermilion when I'm not competing in the world Championships, and we go on a lot of cool adventures for a guy called Professor Cerise. Goh's really awesome, he wants to catch Mew, and he's decided he's gonna catch one of every kind of Pokémon there is before he does it! And he's really good at it too, he has almost a hundred of them I think"

Angie whistled impressively, putting her hands on her hips and sizing Goh up "Well, that is impressive"

Goh smiled gratefully, chuckling bashfully "I haven't really counted them in a while, so I don't know about a hundred... but I'm getting there!" Goh suddenly looked invigorated, reaching out a hand to the sky and clenching it tightly "The future is in the palm of my hands!"

Angie blinked twice "... Right" She said slowly. She shook her head, extending a hand "Nice to meet'cha, Goh"

Goh lowered his own hand to shake Angie's, nodding to her "Likewise. Any friend of Ash's is a friend of mine, I suppose"

"And this fella?" Angie pointed at Cinderace, who puffed out his chest and tapped it impressively.

"That's Cinderace, my first Pokémon and trusted partner!" Goh said proudly. Angie smiled and reached over to pet the bunny, who grinned serenely and started tapping his foot rapidly. Angie and Ash giggled at it.

"Speaking of Ash's friends" Angie said, looking around curiously for a moment before looking at Ash with a raised eyebrow "Are Brock and Dawn here with you?"

"Nope" Ash said casually, though he tapped his feet together and looked a tad wistful "We kinda all parted ways after Sinnoh… it happens, but we keep in touch. Dawn won a Grand Festival in Johto recently from what I heard, and Brock's studying to be a Pokémon Doctor"

"Really" Angie said, sounding very impressed "That's awesome! Good for them" She looked a bit remorseful, sighing quietly "Too bad they're not here though... would have been nice to catch up with them"

"You can catch up with me all you want" Ash offered. Angie blushed again, chuckling nervously and looking away. This time Goh definitely noticed her flustered reaction, and put a hand to his mouth to hide that he was giggling over it.

Ash also noticed and stared at Angie oddly for a second, but didn't make too much of it and instead curiously asked "Come to think of it... what brings you all the way out here anyway, Angie?"

"Family vacation. My dad's sister runs her own Daycare near Cerulean, and we visit her whenever we can" Angie explained "My dad's at a bar somewhere for the moment, so I'm just casually wandering around. Happened to catch your little battle just now"

"Huh, really? Cool coincidence" Ash said, nodding slowly. He frowned thoughtfully, snapping his fingers and grinning at Angie "That was you that called out to me not to give up, wasn't it?"

"You looked a bit spaced out, so I thought you could use some encouragement" Angie said with a smug smirk. Ash nodded gratefully.

"Thanks. That helped clear my head a bit"

"Pikachu" Pikachu said nicely.

"So, how long are you here in Vermilion City for?" Ash asked.

"Not long" Angie said simply "But I should be here for the rest of the day and probably tomorrow"

Ash grinned eagerly "In that case, you just gotta come check out Cerise Park! All of Goh's Pokémon and a bunch of the ones I've caught recently are there, you'll love it!"

Angie shrugged casually "Sounds like a date to me" She said cheerfully. After registering the specific word choice she'd used Angie's face lit up brighter then ever and she hastily looked away from Ash, hoping he didn't think much of it.

"Let's go right away then" Ash said, smiling innocently.

Evidently he didn't.

"Heh" Goh said, curiously observing Angie for a moment before turning to Ash "I wonder... just how many friends do you have, anyway?"

"Quite a lot" Ash said "Maybe someday soon I'll get to introduce you to them all"

With that said Ash suddenly wore a ponderous frown and looked up to the sky, quietly watching the clouds pass by for a minute. He really DID have a lot of friends, come to think of it. Even narrowing it down to just the people he'd travelled through whole regions with and his classmates from the Pokémon School on Melemele Island, he had at least sixteen people he could sincerely call his best friends besides Goh. And Ash was sure he couldn't even begin to count the ones beyond that.

That was quite a lot of people he cherished and had strong bonds with. Probably more friends than most people could attest to having.

He was kinda proud about that.

'I wonder just what everybody's up to right now?'


*Cerulean City Gym*

"Treecko is unable to battle! Victory goes to the Gym Leader, Misty!"

The red-haired Gym Leader wiped a layer of sweat off her brow and exhaled, letting out a deep breath she didn't even realize she'd been holding in.

Standing on a floating platform in the middle of the large pool that comprised the battlefield of the water specialist gym, Misty's Starmie, a many pointed purple starfish Pokemon with a red jewel at its center, carefully poked its downed opponent with one of its lower limbs.

Over on the challengers end of the battlefield the green Gecko's trainer, a black haired bespectacled youth dressed in a green shirt and brown shorts, furrowed his brow and straightened his glasses, giving a disappointed sigh.

"That... could have gone better..." Max Maple dryly commented before returning his starter Pokemon. Over on her end of the pool, Misty giggled and shot Max an approving grin.

"Don't worry about it, you should be proud of that performance" Misty said kindly, returning her own Pokemon.

Her opponent was another former travelling companion of Misty's old friend Ash, who she had met before a couple times along with his older sister May a few years back, first during a trip she took to Hoenn for a brief reunion with Ash and Brock, and then again during a brief period where Misty travelled with the group when Ash set off to challenge the Battle Frontier.

Misty and Max had a brief misadventure together at Mt Moon involving a certain Team Rocket Trio's typical shenanigans, and Misty would gladly say they were at least casual friends after that. They weren't exactly close, but Misty had a bit of affection for the little smart Alec, relating to his frustrations in being a younger sibling, and Misty had asked May how he was doing a couple of times over the years whenever she called the co-ordinator to congratulate her on a major victory.

Max had been a few years too young to be a Pokemon trainer back then, and was mostly travelling around with Ash, May and Brock to get some life experience, usually serving as the group's travel guide with his Pokenav. Also according to Ash, Max apparently had adopted her habit of pulling Brock away by the ear whenever he made a clown of himself around pretty women after seeing her do it on her trip to Hoenn, which brought Misty no small level of amusement.

Recently though Max had finally turned ten years old, the internationally recognized age where one could officially become a Pokemon trainer, and he'd decided to take up the Kanto Gym challenge. He had already reportedly won a boulder badge against Brock's brother Forrest at the Pewter Gym before challenging Misty.

It had been a pretty spectacular Gym Battle too. Max was very precise and analytical with his commands, while also being fairly good at improvising. Evidently he'd taken a lot of cues from the many battles he'd witnessed with Ash, May and Brock. He still made a few rookie mistakes like rushing in to attack at inopportune moments though, Max obviously still didn't have a lot of practical battling experience yet, but his team of a Slakoth, Ralts and Treecko had sure given Misty's Horsea, Staryu and Starmie a good run for their money regardless.

Max didn't seem to agree with her assessment of his performance being impressive though, just staring quietly at Treecko's pokeball with an annoyed frown on his face as Misty returned her Starmie.

"I don't see what pride there is in losing" Max said off-handedly. On her side of the pool Misty gave an encouraging smile.

"Losing's part of the Pokemon trainer experience. Nothing you can do but learn from it, keep training and try, try, try again until you win" Misty said, shrugging "I mean hey, how many times did Ash have to battle Brandon before he conquered the Battle Frontier?"

Max considered that for a moment, slowly scratching his chin "I guess that's a good point... still annoying, though"

"Oh yeah, no one enjoys losing. Just don't get hung up over it, is all" Misty said. Her smile turned more playful "If it helps any, Ash never actually beat me and Brock to get our badges"

Max looked really surprised by that "Wait... seriously?"

"True story. In fact, half of the badges in Kanto he actually won through some good deed rather than beating the Gym Leaders" Misty said, giggling a bit "Brock and I like to tease him by calling them pity badges"

"That must really wind him up" Max said, now sporting a cheeky grin.

"It sure used to, though these days he just shrugs it off unless we bring it up around his newer friends. Then he just gets super embarrassed" Misty replied "Ash was pretty hopeless back then, always screwing stuff up... but he kept improving, never let failure demotivate him for long, and look at him now! Champion of Alola! So don't get too bitter about one loss, you did fine. I'm sure Ash would be impressed"

"You think?" Max said curiously.

Misty nodded at him and turned to the referee, one of the members of her sisters' fan club who regularly hung out at the gym "I'll be back in a minute, if anyone turns up unexpectedly tell them to book an appointment for tomorrow, I'm booked through most of the day for Challengers"

The referee nodded in understanding and saluted Misty, who smiled gratefully and walked around the edge of the pool to meet up with Max.

"I'm booked through most of the afternoon that is, but I set aside time to watch the Wallace Cup. I'm pretty sure your sister's next round starts in twenty minutes" Misty explained "If you want, we can go drop off our Pokemon at the Pokemon Center for a while, and you can watch the match on TV with me and my sisters. You can even stay for dinner if you want"

Max smiled graciously, cheeks slightly red "Um, okay. That would be nice... you sure you're alright with that?"

"Of course. We're friends, you're welcome to stay with us anytime" Misty said cheerfully. Max beamed at her.

"I'd be glad to" He said. Then suddenly he began twirling his fingers together and looked slightly bashful, his blush deepened as he nervously asked "Are, um... are all your sisters going to be there?"

Misty had to suppress a laugh at that. She knew exactly what was up with him, Max had actually arrived in Cerulean City the previous day while Daisy, Violet and Lily were all putting on one of their shows. Misty and Max had watched it together, the Gym was briefly closed for Gym battles to accommodate the performance so there was little else they could do, and the way Max kept staring at her sisters with a mystified expression on his face made it clear he had a bit of a crush on them. It was kind of funny how he wasn't even a teenager yet, and Max was already taking more of an interest in girls than Ash seemed to.

A mischievous grin spread over Misty's face and she began playfully ruffling Max's hair "All three of them. You'll probably all get along, I'm sure they'll think you're just the most adorable little thing"

Max did not seem to approve of that suggestion or the sweet, babying tone of voice Misty said it in one bit, if the angry pout he was giving her was any indication.

"I'm not that little" Max muttered, furiously straightening up his hair. Misty giggled and grabbed his hand, leading Max out of the Pokemon Gym.

The two walked towards the Pokemon Center in silence at first, Max mostly just taking in the sights of one of the few major Cities of Kanto he'd never visited. When they were halfway to the Center, Misty finally decided to ask something that had been on her mind since the previous day.

"So, why Kanto then?" Misty asked. Max looked at her curiously, and so she added "I'm just curious. You're from Hoenn, and most new trainers who decide to do a Gym Challenge start with their home region. So why not Hoenn"

"Ash started in Kanto" Max said simply. Misty waited a bit for him to elaborate, and when Max didn't she chuckled.

"I'm guessing you really look up to Ash then?"

"A bit" Max answered, a slight smile on his face.

"You know, he's actually living in Vermilion City at the moment, last I heard from him. If you're heading there for one of your Gym Battles, stop by a place called the Cerise Laboratory if you want to see him" Misty explained.

"Wait, really?" Max tapped his chin, frowning slightly "Huh, I knew he was back in Kanto, but I wasn't sure where... guess I better skip Vermilion for now then"

Misty blinked at the bespectacled boy "What for? I thought you said you liked Ash?"

"I do" Max said, doing that gesture where one pushed up their glasses with one finger which Misty suddenly wondered if there was a term for "... But the last time I saw Ash, I made him promise he'd have a battle with me when I became a trainer and we met again. Knowing how strong a lot of his Pokemon are, I kinda want to train more and compete in at least one league first before that happens, and I couldn't get out of battling Ash if I did meet up with him before then. I'd stand no chance if I battled him right now"

Misty nodded "Ah, okay. That makes sense, I guess you would want a battle like that to be as memorable as possible, too"

"I'd also feel pretty embarrassed if I lost or didn't at least put up a good fight, considering how much i made fun of his performance at the Silver Conference and bragged that I could do better when I first met him" Max said, scratching his head impishly. Misty laughed hysterically, and Max looked away with an awkward grin "Yeah... not one of my finest moments, I'll admit"

"Ash and I both had really bad arrogant streaks back in the day, so I don't think he'd hold it against you too badly" Misty said. She suddenly looked thoughtful "Come to think of it, I hope you do win. Knowing Ash it's likely he's on another one of those after that big win in Alola and needs his regular reality check to clear his head"

"I'll certainly try" Max said, coming to a stop and staring distantly at the sky. It took Misty half a dozen steps further before she realized this and came to a halt herself, raising an eyebrow at the newbie trainer. Eventually Max realized she was watching and fiddled with his glasses briefly.

"You know, growing up, I always idolized my dad" Max started, looking to the sky again "I still do, he's awesome. One of the things I'd really like to do in life is take over the Gym from him someday... but, you know... since our days travelling together in Hoenn, I really started to admire Ash too. He's brave, committed, and pretty cool when he wants to be... and honestly, in a lot of ways... he's exactly the kind of trainer I want to be like"

Misty smiled at Max, putting a hand on her hip and giggling at the sweetness of it all "I throw shade at him all the time... but honestly, when you get down to it, Ash is a remarkable guy. I kinda look up to him too" Misty gave Max a sarcastic frown "Don't ever tell him I said that, though"

"I won't tell if you don't tell" Max replied. The pair shared a good laugh. When they both calmed down Max tapped his chin and added "Well, I know where to find Ash for a while anyway... see how things go when I eventually do challenge him"

"Again, best of luck" Misty said, continuing her stroll towards the Pokemon Center. Max nodded gratefully before following after her.

"So how's Brock" Max asked. Misty blinked at him for a second, then smiled proudly.

"He's doing pretty great, actually. I'm sure you've heard he's training to be a Pokemon doctor now, but recently he got accepted onto a special course in Saffron City that'll get him the job in a few years if he applies himself" Misty said. Max stumbled for a moment, after correcting himself he beamed at Misty.

"No way! Really!?"

"Yup!" Misty nodded, grinning ear to ear "I haven't seen him since our vacation in Alola, but he sounded so proud and excited over the phone! I'm thrilled for him, it's like everything's going exactly right for Brock right now" Misty's grin twisted into a more devious smirk "Well, almost everything... guy still can't get a date to save his life"

"Well, we can't ask for miracles" Max snarked. He shook his head "But yeah, wow... that sounds great. I'm happy to hear that, hope Brock gets the job"

"I'm sure he will. He's the most dedicated person I know alongside Ash, after all" Misty said. She looked curiously at Max "How's May doing? I haven't spoken much to her since she won that Grand Festival in Sinnoh"

"Pretty good, she's really enjoying being a top coordinator now" Max answered "She's competing in the Hoenn circuit again, I think she's aiming to finally beat Solidad this time" He chuckled impishly "Also unlike Brock, she's actually in a relationship now"

Misty's eyebrows shot to the top of her head.

"Seriously!?" Misty gasped, looking at Max with great interest.

"Yup" Max said simply, putting his hands behind his head. Noticing the way Misty was still looking at him he elaborated "Her and Drew hooked up after the Sinnoh Grand Festival. Apparently Harley somehow finally got it through her thick head that Drew was into her, they talked things out, and now they're a couple"

"Oh my gosh! Good for her" Misty squealed. Max shrugged coolly.

"Yeah, honestly it was about time something happened between them" Max said. He giggled deviously "I've been teasing her about it non-stop every time she calls home"

"Well what kind of sibling would you be if you didn't" Misty joked. The Gym Leader and her young challenger exchanged wide, cheeky grins and broke out in hysterical laughter that lasted half a minute. After calming down Misty suddenly frowned, looking a bit annoyed.

'Wow, though... May has a boyfriend and here I am still single' Misty thought to herself. Her frown intensified, her annoyance now directed mostly at herself for feeling mopey about something like that 'I mean... I don't NEED one. I'm fine being single, but... ugh, maybe if a certain SOMEONE would just stop being so cartoonishly dense about the very concept of romance!'

"So how about you then, Misty?" Max piped up. Misty's face lit up as she clenched her teeth, her mind going into panic mode.

"I-I-I'm single! And-and I'm proud of it! I'm a strong, driven and independent woman, and I don't need a man!" Misty hastily blurted out, stopping in her tracks to puff out her chest impressively and hold her head high, giving a defiant snort in the process.

Max just quietly stared at Misty with a look of bemusement for what felt like an eternity "... I meant how are you doing? Personally, like with Ash, Brock and May"

The colour rapidly faded from Misty's face until she was as white as paper, and she hung her head in humiliation.

"... Oh... right..."

It took Misty a while to recover from her embarrassment, but when the colour had largely returned to her face she took a deep breath, released it in a cool sigh and smiled half-heartedly at Max.

"Oh, I'm fine" Misty said, shrugging casually "Same old same old mostly. My sisters are a pain, Psyduck keeps eating all the ice cream and sending the Gym on country road trips with his confusion attack afterwards, I've got a lot of Gym Challengers to face, including you just now"

Misty's face suddenly lit up as she recalled something pretty interesting and she held up a tightly clenched fist, a fire burned in the tomboy's eyes as she boasted "And I'm also in the Ultra Class of the Pokemon World Championships! As a matter of fact, I've got a pretty important battle coming up against Nessa of the Galar region in two weeks related to that!"

"Nessa?" Max said, looking intrigued.

"She's a water type gym leader" Misty said, the fire in her eyes burning brighter "The Galar region is pretty famous for having some of the strongest Gym Leaders in the world. Their top ten are all ranked in international League polls among the top thirty gym leaders in the world! Raihan, the leader of the Hammerlocke Gym, even ranks as the number one strongest, even being in the Masters eight... and Nessa is the highest ranked Water Type Gym Leader"

Max's glasses fell slightly. He quickly straightened them up, looking at Misty with wide eyes.

"How do you rank?"

"As of the most recent polls, I'm the second strongest water type Gym Leader" Misty said proudly. She relaxed and opened her raised fist, only to clench it again even harder as she continued "My dream is to be a Water Pokemon Master. And to do that, I've decided that I need to become the best Water type gym leader there is... if I beat Nessa in the Pokemon World Championships, I can proudly say I've accomplished that!"

Max whistled impressively, looking up at the older trainer with eyes filled with admiration "Wow... good luck, Misty. I hope you win"

"Me too" Misty sighed, smiling anxiously and scratching her head. The fire in her eyes seemed to be dying down "... I've been training rigorously for it... but to be honest, I'm not completely sure I can win"

"If you don't, just be like Ash and keep training and trying again until you do" Max said helpfully. Misty chuckled weakly.

"I guess..." Misty trained off, staring at the ground and crossing her hands behind her back "... I'll still have a long way to go if I do beat Nessa... there's still people like Prima and Siebold and Wallace to worry about, after all..."

The flames in Misty's eyes were reignited as she raised her head and gave Max a proud smirk "But yeah... I WILL keep trying. I WILL be the greatest Water Pokemon trainer! I've come this far, so I'm not backing down!"

Misty threw her fist into the air at that declaration, earning her a standing ovation from Max.

"Well, I wish you the best of luck Misty" Max said, a gleam of determination in his eyes as he added "Let's both work hard to beat our tough opponents, and be the best trainers we can be"

Max extended a fist to Misty, which she looked curiously at before meeting his gaze with a raised eyebrow.

"Younger sibling solidarity?" Max asked, a hopeful note in his voice.

Misty giggled, smiling endearing at Max as she bumped her fist against his "Younger sibling solidarity!"

Misty and Max giggled. A few seconds later they continued towards their destination, finally arriving at the Pokemon Center a minute later. As Max entered the building, Misty stopped at the door for a moment and looked to the sky, pondering.

Talking about her participation in the Pokemon World Championships had reminded her that since Ash was also competing this year, there was a good chance he would come to compete against her whenever he entered the Ultra Class.

She would have to prepare for him too then. Pikachu had handily beaten her Mega Gyarados in their last battle, so there was no way Misty could afford to ease up at any point even if she did beat Nessa and then become a Water Pokemon Master.

She smiled eagerly, thrilled by the prospect of another heated battle against Ash... and beyond that, just the thought of hanging out with Ash again for a while was appealing to Misty. She always started to miss the company of her best friend whenever she went a long time without seeing him.

'I guess I'll have to visit him at that lab he's working at some time' Misty thought to herself 'Or I can make him come to me. Seriously, with how not far away he's living now, I'm going to be very annoyed if he DOESN'T meet up with me sometime soon'


*Pallet Town, Professor Oak's Ranch*

"... Do I even want to know how this happened?"

Professor Oak, an elderly man with grey hair who always wore a white labcoat over a red shirt and a pair of brown trousers, stared in utter bafflement at the sight of Ash's Oshawott's body flailing around in a panic while it's head was stuck in the left cannon turret of the Blastoise belonging to Oak's grandson, Gary.

Blastoise was tepidly watching the blue otter Pokemon's torso flounder around, a large drop of sweat hanging on the side of its head. Blastoise turned its head to face Professor Oak, giving the old man a desperate, pleading look to which the Professor could only respond with a half-hearted shrug and an awkwardly sympathetic look on his face.

To either side of Professor Oak stood the aforementioned Gary, a teenaged boy with spiky brown hair who was also currently wearing a labcoat, and the Professor's trusted assistant Tracey Sketchit, a young man with dark green hair dressed in a plain green shirt and red shorts. Gary was rubbing his head and gaping at the strange predicament his and his old rival's Pokemon were in with a disbelieving scowl, while Tracey was putting on a strained, awkward grin and scratching his cheek.

"Well... we don't know exactly what happened" Tracey began. In response to the Professor's raised eyebrow he elaborated "well, about ten minutes ago Oshawott was getting really worked up and prancing around with hearts in his eyes... I'm pretty sure he was crushing on Gary's new Sylveon he caught on his trip to Kalos, she's wandered off somewhere now"

"He picked up a bunch of flowers for her and I'm pretty sure he was trying to sweet talk her, but Sylveon just looked at him like he was a weirdo and nuzzled up to Umbreon" Gary continued, briefly grinning sheepishly at his Blastoise, who mistook the expression for amusement and glared furiously at his trainer. Gary shook his hands carefully at Blastoise and dropped his smile, facing his grandfather as he kept talking "Evidently Oshawott didn't like that and with the way he was pointing his scallop at Umbreon, I'm guessing he was challenging him to a battle. Umbreon couldn't care any less and just turned up his nose at him"

"Oshawott didn't want to give up though, so he started tackling every large Pokemon around him including Blastoise, Snorlax and Charizard. I'm guessing he thought he could impress Sylveon by making himself look tougher than them all in a battle" Tracey said, rubbing the top of his head as his eyes briefly glazed over. He let out a tired sigh "...and then Gary and I both turned around to try and break up a squabble between some of the grass types over an Apple... and when we looked again, Oshawott was stuck in Blastoise's cannon. We can't figure out what he could have done to get lodged there in a couple of seconds"

Professor Oak's right eye twitched "... Oh, that Oshawott... he's worse than Brock, honestly" The Professor sighed irritably, following up with a derisive laugh "Maybe I should ask to borrow Brock's Croagunk and have him keep watch on the little scamp. It would spare us so many headaches"

"OSHAWOTT! Osha, Osha Oshawott!" The little blue otter's furious cries echoed out as he tried and failed to push his head out of the cannon. Blastoise turned to look in the other direction from the trapped Unova starter, looking rather embarrassed by whatever it was he was saying.

Lined up in front of Blastoise were Ash's Bulbasaur, Charizard, Bayleef, Snivy and Corphish, all staring at the struggling body of their trapped teammate, the former three with varying levels of concern, Snivy with a tired scowl and a disapproving head shake, and Corphish was just laughing his head off at the whole thing.

"Bay" Bayleef said sadly, worriedly poking Oshawott's side with her vine whip. The plant dino puffed up her cheeks and shot an accusatory glare at Charizard, the big orange lizard flinching and stumbling backwards in response, rapidly shaking his claws and head and giving Bayleef a pleading look, silently begging her to accept he was innocent. Bayleef continued glaring at him for a few seconds, but eventually looked to accept Charizard wasn't at fault and went back to being concerned for her friend.

"And you say you can't pull him out then?" Professor Oak asked.

"Not at all. Half of Ash's Pokemon have already tried" Tracey answered, slapping the side of his head "If anything, I think we just got him stuck even worse... do you have Oshawott's Pokeball? It would really help"

"Muk thought it was one of those pokeball shaped cupcakes Delia bought for us and ate it" The Professor said bluntly, smirking fiercely at his assistant "You and Gary can try and retrieve it if you want, I'm not doing it"

Tracey and Gary's faces turned slightly purple, and they both turned up their heads in disgust at the suggestion.

"I... think I'll pass" Gary muttered, Tracey quickly nodding in agreement. Gary sighed wearily and looked up at the sky with a grouchy frown "And I tripped while holding Blastoise's pokeball and banged it up against Ash's Torterra earlier, that's gonna take a while to fix. So I can't return him to solve the problem either"

"What even are the odds?" Tracey blanked, watching as Oshawott was now using razor shell against the cannon he was caught in, seemingly trying to cut it in half, causing Blastoise to roar furiously at the otter and flail around to make him uncomfortable. Tracey scratched his chin "Should we call the Pokemon Centre in Viridian City for help, or do you think we can slip him out by rubbing melting butter around his neck?"

"I actually developed a special lubricant for these kinds of situations. I'll see if I can find it" The Professor replied, casually shrugging his shoulders as he began walking in the direction of his house across the large stretch of field. He raised a hand as he walked and called back "Just keep an eye on the situation, and see that Oshawott doesn't somehow get himself into even more trouble. I wouldn't actually put it past him at this point"

Gary watched his grandfather depart for a moment before slowly waltzing over to his starter Pokemon, who had ceased stamping around as Oshawott was now too dizzy to cause much of a fuss and was just looking downcast. The budding Pokemon researcher smiled softly at the big turtle and reached out to stroke his head.

"It'll be fine" Gary said gently. Blastoise whimpered slightly, and Gary moved his hand down to stroke his cheek "Gramps'll sort it out and everything will be fine, I promise"

Blastoise smiled weakly and leaned into his trainer's hand, nuzzling it and growling in a manner that reminded Gary of a purring Meowth kitten. Gary had to chuckle at how weirdly adorable it was.

Tracey walked up behind Gary, an approving smile etched across his face at the soft show of affection between trainer and Pokemon "Yeah, I'm sure Professor Oak will sort this out nice and easy"

The ground suddenly started to rumble, causing the two humans and assembled Pokemon to falter slightly before straightening themselves up. A loud snort rang out, and Gary, Tracey and Blastoise turned to see a whole herd of stampeding brown bulls with three tails heading their way. Eyes bulging in terror, Gary and Tracey swiftly leapt out of the way. Gary's Blastoise wasn't so quick to react and soon became obscured as the Tauros herd charged right through. When the last of the thirty bulls had charged past, Blastoise had completely disappeared from sight.

Gary and Tracey stared blankly at the space where the former's starter Pokemon had stood a moment ago, briefly at a loss for words. Charizard and Snivy raised their eyebrows and stared in bemusement, Corphish stopped laughing abruptly to slowly blink in the Tauros's direction, and Bulbasaur and Bayleef used vine whip to facepalm.

"... Correction, he'll sort this out nice and easy AFTER we rescue Blastoise from the throngs of Ash's Tauros. Which will most likely be very difficult" Tracey said bluntly, raising an index finger.

Gary let out a huge growl of frustration.

"... You see, this is why I don't visit as much these days... it's always one crazy incident after another with Ash's Pokemon, I swear..."

As Ash's old rival and traveling companion ran after the stampeding Tauros herd and tried formulating a plan to rescue the unwittingly kidnapped Blastoise and Oshawott, Professor Oak remained blissfully ignorant to their plight, just calmly strolling through the fields and observing all the Pokemon currently roaming around his ranch, a good majority of which belonged to Ash and his grandson.

The old man had a pleasant smile on his face the whole way to his house. Sometimes the Pokemon left in his care could really be a handful: This was probably the fifth time the past month that Ash's Oshawott had gotten himself into some kind of huge trouble.

But the Professor didn't mind all the craziness. In fact, he welcomed it, because it meant life at his ranch was hardly ever boring. Pokemon were his passion, and he was grateful to have lead a rich life of studying and interacting with them.

He really wouldn't have it any other way.


*Sootopolis City, Hoenn Region*

The Wallace Cup was one of the most prestigious events in the world of Pokemon Co-ordinating. Founded by the now former Champion of the Hoenn region, Wallace of Sootopolis City, The Wallace Cup was a special annual Contest that called on Co-ordinators from every region where the sport of Pokemon Contests were held to compete against each other for the chance of earning a special ribbon that would count towards the five ribbons any Co-ordinator would need to earn in a year to compete in a Grand Festival, regardless of what region the Co-ordinator was competing in that year.

The ribbon itself was not what made the Wallace Cup a grand event, mind you. It was that it was always the best chance for Co-Ordinators from all over the world to meet up and show their skills against one another on one grand stage. So naturally, many Co-ordinators were in attendance.

For younger Co-Ordinators that had only competed in the Contest Circuits of a single region, the Wallace Cup was a good chance to get a taste of what kind of tricks and strategies Co-ordinators from other regions had up their sleeves, and gain an idea of which regions circuits they might want to branch out to next. For veteran Co-Ordinators, it was a chance to settle scores with old rivals, or else deliver a grand performance with their best rehearsed demonstrations and battle strategies, and let the whole world see how brightly they shined.

And for one young woman from Vaniville Town, it was her chance to put a year's worth of training to the test, and help her determine how far she still had to go to realize her dreams.

Serena of the Kalos region had not initially set out to be a Pokemon Co-Ordinator. And her long term goals did not revolve around Contests at all. Her home region had a different profession, similar to Pokemon Contests but without the battling aspect, known as Pokemon Showcases.

As a Pokemon Performer, she and others in her profession put on grand shows of spectacle and cheer with their partner Pokemon in order to bring smiles to and inspire the people of Kalos. The end goal of any Performer was to challenge the Master Class, the winner of which would earn a chance to compete for the coveted title of Kalos Queen against the current holder of that title, presently a brilliant and experience Performer named Aria.

Serena had won the Master Class her first time competing, bringing great pride to her friends and family, but had fallen short when faced against Aria herself. It had been a huge blow to Serena after all the hard work and emotion she'd invested in reaching that stage, but the experience and seeing how Aria performed and inspired people with her dazzling smile and grace had taught her much, and strengthened Serena's resolve to keep improving herself and put on performances that would bring heartfelt smiles to all the people in Kalos. As was the dream she'd settled upon during her journeys with Ash, Clemont and Bonnie.

Serena hadn't been sure how to approach that, at first. A famous producer who was once Kalos Queen herself, and Aria's current mentor, an elderly woman named Palermo, had offered to take Serena under her wing and train her to improve her skills to someday surpass Aria. But Serena had eventually decided to reject the offer, deciding it was important for her to improve her skills on her own and forge her own path to being Kalos Queen.

So instead, Palermo had given Serena the suggestion to travel to Hoenn and compete in Pokemon Contests, to learn new skills and experience how Co-Ordinators put on their own grand performances to hopefully help broaden Serena's skillset. Serena had accepted the challenge, and though it was hard to leave the wonderful friends she had made in Kalos behind to take on this new stage of her journey, she was determined to give it her all to realize her dream.

Serena had struggled initially with the more battle orientated aspect of contests. She was a decent battler herself, but never quite to the degree that Ash and Clemont were, and she missed the (Admittedly brief) Window of opportunity to compete in the previous Hoenn Grand Festival. But she was set on making it to the next one in the next few months, only needing to earn one more ribbon to compete.

Serena liked to think that she really had learned a lot since setting out on her own, for all the ups and downs her stint as a co-ordinator had brought her. But she refused to be satisfied with just being good: To truly be an inspiration, to be Kalos Queen, she had to be the best. So she had vowed to herself not to return to Kalos until she had won at least a single Grand Festival, and then pushed herself further than that to be the best Performer she could possibly be, someone that could actually dethrone Aria.

Hence why she jumped at the chance to enter the Wallace Cup, where great Co-ordinators from the World over gathered. It was just the chance she needed to determine how far she and her Pokemon had progressed, and put on a dazzling show to entertain and inspire viewers from all over the world.

She'd done a good job of it for the most part, she felt. Her and her starter Pokemon Braixen had killed it during the performance rounds, actually scoring in the top three, and Serena had now made it to the Semi-finals of the battle portion of the Wallace Cup.

Here's where she was stumbling a bit though.

Panting heavily and sweating bullets from sheer nerves, Serena glanced at the screen above the battle arena. In contest battles, both Co-ordinators started with a set number of points, and the goal of the battle was to land attacks on your opponents Pokemon, or otherwise counter their attacks in creative and visually interesting ways to knock points off the opponents score board, until their points were depleted, or until the timer ran out and the Co-ordinator with the most points was declared the winner.

Or you could just knock your opponents Pokemon out cold and it would count as an instant win, that worked too.

Currently in this semi-final match, there was about 1.30 minutes of time remaining. Serena was down to about a quarter of the points she started out with… while her opponent retained a bit more than two thirds of hers.

Clenching her teeth, Serena looked to her two competing Pokemon, Braixen and Pancham, who had both clearly taken damage with the latter even wobbling around a bit and struggling to stand. Her opponents Pokemon stood tall and proud several feet away, a fierce Blaziken and a graceful Glacion respectively. Serena stared pensively at the barely scratched Pokemon, then locked eyes with their trainer, a brown haired teenage girl just a bit younger than Serena herself dressed mostly in red, including the bandana that adorned her head.

Her opponent's name was May. She was an experienced Co-ordinator who had competed in contests in all four regions where it was formally held, starting here in her very home Region of Hoenn, then making her way through Kanto, Johto and Sinnoh. She'd made it to the finals of the Wallace Cup twice before, even winning her second time competing, which lead up to her first victory at a Grand Festival in Sinnoh.

May and Serena had met shortly before the Wallace Cup had begun and quickly became friends, Serena had even been introduced to another Co-ordinator May was close with named Dawn and befriended her too. By an amazing coincidence, Serena had learned right before the Wallace Cup began in earnest that both girls had travelled with and were close friends with Ash Ketchum, Serena's travel buddy in Kalos and long-time crush. It led to some interesting discussions.

And a bit of anxiety in the lead up to this current confrontation between her and May.

May was given the title "The Princess of Hoenn" by the judges of the International Contest Circuits: and it was a title she lived up to by being both a dazzling performer, and an amazing fighter.

May was a confident, excitable and passionate young woman who when faced with a challenge gave it everything she had with a fiery determination. She'd made short work of all her previous opponents thus far, showing everyone the results of years of training to stand among the Top Co-ordinators.

As was said, Serena was a good enough battler. And a year of competing in Contests had made her a borderline great one…

But faced up against someone like May, who had far more experience and well trained Pokemon than her… it was really helpful to Serena in averaging how large the gap was between her current self, and the person she needed to be to fulfil her dreams, was a good way to put it.

It wasn't even a shock to her anymore that May and her Blaziken had fought Ash and his Sceptile to a standstill right before they parted ways after their travels through Kanto.

Glancing at the timer on the screen ticking down fast, Serena heaved a heavy sigh and looked to the ground, downcast. Her hands trembled at her sides, and for a moment Serena lost herself in a rush of self-pity. She was promptly snapped out of it when Braixen and Pancham caught sight of Serena's worrying state and cried out to her, giving her fiery stares to prove they were still ready to go on no matter the odds.

It brought a smile to Serena's face. And with a clench of her fists, Serena stood tall once more. On her side of the arena, May smiled proudly at Serena, bracing herself for an exciting final bout. With a calming breath, Serena prepared to meet that challenge.

Maybe she couldn't win. Perhaps the Wallace Cup just wasn't meant to be her big break. But Serena would fight to the very end, to the best of her abilities, along with her beloved Pokemon. Whether she beat May or not, she would put on a great show, and learn from the experience, then carry on growing stronger and wiser through further challenges to reach her goals and be a person who could inspire others.

That's what Ash would do, after all.

So as the final minute of the semi-final match began, Serena tossed her arm forward and commanded her Braixen and Pancham to fight on with fire spin and dark pulse respectively, while May met the assault by having Blaziken launch a flamethrower while Glacion used blizzard.

The crowds gathered in the stadium of the Wallace Cup founder's home city gasped with amazement as the moves clashed before them. One blue haired teenage girl in particular who was a year younger than May, but no less talented, watched on with great anticipation, cheering for both of her competing friends.

"Piplup, pip!" Cheered the small blue penguin Pokemon in her arms.

"You said it, Piplup. Those two are amazing" Dawn said in a bubbly tone, nodding proudly. She was competing in the Wallace Cup too, and had already won her semi-final match. Whoever won the current clash would be her opponent in the finals. And while she'd first entered the Wallace Cup this year hoping for an exciting rematch with May, who she'd just barely managed to beat in their first battle against each other, after getting to know Serena and seeing the level of passion she put into everything, Dawn really couldn't decide who she wanted to face off against more now.

She would soon find out, as May's Blaziken and Serena's Braixen charged through the remnants of their clashing flames, ready to strike one another with all they had.

The roar of the crowd grew deafening in that moment.


*Ventress City, Unova Region*

At the Northern most point of the Unova Region resided Ventress City, the seat of the Unova Elite Four, where the annual League Tournaments and other major battles connected to the League were held.

This year's Pokemon League Tournament was officially a long way off... but an equally exciting contest had been taking place in the main stadium the League was typically held that drew an equal, if not greater than average level of hype and enthusiasm from the citizens of Unova.

Two months ago, the long reigning and beloved Grand Champion of the Unova Region, Alder, had announced to the shock of the nation that he was finally planning to retire. Purportedly he'd been considering it for a while, but had recently decided after recovering from a stroke that he'd like to step back from all the serious duties that came with being the Regional Champion and that he wished to dedicate more time to simply travelling around, appreciating the beauty and wonder of the world (And also, those close to Alder joked, it was likely he wanted to try harder to score some more hot dates before he kicked the bucket).

Normally a new Champion would be decided by a winner of an annual League Tournament defeating the Regions Elite Four and then the reigning champion themself in the Champions League. In the event a Champion decided to step down or died without being ousted from their position the normal way, a member of the Elite Four was typically promoted to Champion status.

However, as none of the current Elite Four seemed particularly interested in the promotion, a different method had been decided on to determine Alder's replacement as Champion:

A special festival would be held where trainers who had reached at least the semi-finals of a previous Unova League Tournament, or were in the Ultra Class of the Pokemon World Championships, would get to forgo the usual proceedings and challenge the Elite Four and Alder to a series of battles. First to make it to Alder and either beat or tie with him was crowned the new Champion.

The festival had been going on for about six weeks now. So far only two previous challengers had even managed to defeat three of the Elite Four: Virgil, a previous League winner who used a Team comprised entirely of Evolutions of Eevee, plus one unevolved Eevee. And Trip, from Nuvema Town, who had made it to the finals of the previous Tournament but lost to a man named Tobias. Both of them had lost to the fourth member of the Elite Four, Marshall, though they still put on a good fight.

It was looking to some that a new Champion might not be decided for months, if at all given the circumstances... so you can imagine everyone's surprise two days ago when a new challenger, one who had never even competed in the Unova League before and only qualified for the Champion Festival for being ranked #79 in the Pokemon World Championships, actually managed to defeat Marshall after overcoming the other three members of the Elite Four, winning the right to challenge the Champion.

To say nothing of the excitement in the air at the present time after that challenger's fifth Pokemon, a very grouchy looking and temperamental but ultimately loyal Dragonite, managed to scrape by with a hard-earned victory against Alder's Volcarona, whittling the reigning Champion down to just his signature Pokemon Bouffalant.

Let's just say it was a couple of minutes before the deafening barrage of cheers in the stadium had calmed down enough for a certain trio of onlookers to even be able to comment even while raising their voices.

"I have to say, she's doing amazingly well!" Called out Cress, a young man with blue hair that obscured his right eye who was dressed in a waiters outfit, and happened to be one of three Gym Leaders who simultaneously ran the Straiton City Pokemon Gym.

"I know, right?!" Yelled back Cress's red haired brother who wore a similar outfit to him. The most hot headed of the three Straiton Gym Leaders, Chile bluntly spoke his mind on the situation "I just can't believe this is happening... I knew she was good, I've seen her in Tournaments before and she always seemed capable... but how the heck did she get this good in like two years?! That feels unnatural!"

That statement got the third brother, the wayward third Gym Leader who had only recently returned to the Unova Region after some travels abroad for the sake of a reunion with the friend currently engaged in battle, to let out a low, slightly smug chuckle.

"It's not so unbelievable" The green haired Straiton sibling said, proudly looking down at the dark skinned girl with absurdly long purple hair standing at the Challengers end of the ring.

Cilan placed a hand dramatically against the side of his head "Iris may have been young and brash on her travels through Unova with Ash and I, but she was always skilled. She just needed to get a better grasp of connecting with others and understanding the feelings of her Pokemon. I'd say she had a pretty good grasp of both by the time we all parted ways, so it's no surprise to me that she's come so far"

"You really have a lot of confidence in her, don't you" Cress said. Cilan scratched his chin and grinned.

"I once saw her jump on the back of a rampaging Hydreigon and hug the neck of its middle head while the other two were biting her in an effort to calm it down" Cilan said, much to the shock of his siblings "Iris can be immature and sometimes short-sighted, but when she puts her mind to something she always gives it a hundred percent. She's a bit like Ash, in that way. These last two years she's been completely dedicated to bettering herself and becoming a Dragon Master, so why shouldn't I be confident?"

"Okay so she's dedicated and trains hard... but what does becoming Champion have to do with being a Dragon Master?" Chile asked, raising an eyebrow. Cilan shrugged.

"That I don't know. You can ask her later" He replied simply. Chile shrugged indifferently while Cress turned back to the battlefield, staring at the exhausted Dragonite that seemed to be trying to argue with his trainer against being returned to his ball. Iris was lightly scolding him over it, coming off a bit like a mother who'd long gotten used to raising an unruly child. Eventually Dragonite seemed to relent.

"That Dragonite seems like a real handful, honestly" Cress noted "From what I've heard Dragonite are typically calm and obedient, but that Pokemon seems punch-happy and impatient. I'm surprised it followed her orders as well as it did, the way it kept going for openings on its own volition towards the start"

"Oh yes, Dragonite's always been kind of like that. Almost zero patience" Cilan said, scratching his head and recalling its performances at the Junior Cup "When Iris first caught it, Dragonite wouldn't listen to a word she said half the time, and even after gaining his trust and respect he would still do things like pick fights with random Dragon Pokemon that crossed his path. It's just the way he is I suppose, but he's gotten better at listening to Iris for the most part and she's flexible enough to work around his take charge moments"

Cilan noticed Chile staring suspiciously at him for a moment and craned his head, looking oddly at him "Is something wrong?"

Chile blinked and shook his head, grinning awkwardly "Oh... nothing. I'm just kind of surprised you didn't go all "It's evaluation time" there to explain all that, and how it relates to the way that battle just played out" He frowned curiously and looked even more suspiciously at Cilan "Come to think of it, I don't recall you "Evaluating" much of anything for her last four battles either. What gives? You're never that restrained"

Cilan chuckled, closing his eyes as he casually leaned back in his seat "Oh, I'm saving that for after she wins. I was going to do a big presentation of it for her inauguration"

Cress and Chile blinked slowly at their brother. Turning to face each other, the still currently active Gym Leaders exchanged awkwardly amused grins and chuckled.

"Sure, because the League's totally going to let you dork it up like that during a live broadcast of a national event" Chile laughed "And you're assuming a lot there. What are you gonna do if she gets clobbered by Bouffalant?"

Cilan didn't respond, just quietly opening his eyes and eagerly waiting for the battle to continue.

On the ground floor of the arena, Alder was scratching the back of his head and watching Iris finally return her Dragonite. He let out a hearty chuckle.

"Well Iris, I must say this is the most exciting battle I've had this year outside of the Masters 8 tournament!" Alder called out to the budding Dragon Master, who grinned widely and waved gratefully at him.

"Glad I can make it fun for you!" Iris called back. Alder kept chuckling for a bit, and then put on a curious frown.

"I feel compelled to ask, though... why do you wish to claim my title?" Alder inquired. Iris cocked her head to the right, staring uncertainty at the Champion, who smiled meekly and stroked his mane of red hair "Just curious... the few times we've met before you seemed competitive, but as I understand it you've never took part in a Gym Challenge. And what Drayden and the Elder from the Village of Dragons tell me is that your goal in life is to be a Dragon Master and understand Dragon types better"

Alder shrugged casually "At this point there's a good chance I'm going to be officially setting a date for my retirement party by the end of the day. So I just thought I might ask what this all means for you, personally" Alder watched Iris scratch her head and look away from him, shifting her feet nervously, and so softly added "No need to answer that right away, perhaps I shouldn't have put you on the spot like that"

The girl who knew the hearts of Dragons twirled a finger through her long stretch of purple hair, carefully considering how to phrase her answer. Her lip quivered, and she let out a frustrated sigh.

With an awkward laugh and an innocent grin she began "Well... it's kind of a long story..." She bit her lip, deciding to just get on with it "I entered the Pokemon World Championships a year ago... it was after I had a rematch with Clair at Blackthorn City, and managed to beat her and her Druddigan in a battle that time. We ended up talking about Lance of the Kanto Elite Four afterwards and how he and Clair trained together... and it got me wanting to battle him too"

"Lance is often called the world's greatest Dragon Master, so I always knew I wanted to meet him and maybe understand and command Dragon Pokemon the way he does" Iris explained "I've learned so much more about Dragon Pokemon the last couple of years... and I know I've got many years of hard work ahead of me before I can be called a Master... but I thought, maybe all the training and hard work I'd have to put in with the ones I've caught so far to reach the Masters Eight to battle him would be a good step forward"

"Even if I didn't beat him... and I still don't know if I can, honestly... I thought it would be a good motivation to push myself further and put everything I've learned on my journeys to the test, you know?" Iris said impishly. Alder slowly nodded, an amused smirk forming on his face.

"Lance is rank two in the Masters eight, and I'm the eighth" Alder said thoughtfully, crossing his arms and giving the short teen a knowing look "Bet you thought you might claim my spot there so you could hopefully battle with Lance at the end of the season, then?"

Iris recoiled, laughing nervously as a large bead of sweat formed on the side of her head "Well... yeah, pretty much..." Iris abruptly stopped laughing, eyes narrowing as she kicked the ground "Kinda threw me for a loop when you announced you were retiring, with all the work I put into strategies to battle you..."

Iris twirled her fingers anxiously, the massive crowd in the stadium watching and listening intently and the fact the battle going on was being filmed for National television suddenly weighed very heavily on her.

"I didn't think to challenge you for the position of Champion at first. I was only training to battle you as a stepping stone to Lance... but I figured... well, I didn't want that training to go to waste completely... and battling the Elite Four too sounded like a great way to see where I stack up... so... and, I... uh"

Iris trailed off, staring at the ground and looking very embarrassed. Alder gave her a minute to continue, then shook his head and chuckled lightly.

"Basically, you took this challenge on a whim, then?" Alder asked with some amusement.

Iris's head shot up as a panicked expression overtook her face. She laughed nervously, painfully aware of how much the crowds in the stadium had quieted down in the last few minutes.

"Well... yeah, sort of..." Iris began. She struggled to speak afterwards, craning her head to the right to observe the towering figure of a buff white haired man with a very uniquely styled beard that obscured his entire mouth watching her from the front row of the stands. Drayden of Opelucid city watched Iris with crossed arms and an unreadable expression on his face. Iris sighed quietly and turned away from him, taking a quick breath before adding "At least.. at first..."

Alder raised an eyebrow at the girl, his interest peaked as he gently motioned for her to continue.

Iris considered her next few words carefully for a moment "You know... when I first met Dragonite, it was causing a ruckus at a power plant near Undella Town. Officer Jenny and the plant workers thought it was dangerous and a rogue menace... he's a bit punch happy, sure, but he didn't mean to cause any harm really. He got injured defending a flock of Pidove from an attack by a wild Hydreigon, and he crashed into the plant. He only got aggressive because the plant workers kept provoking him and trying to chase him off, when he just wanted to rest and recover"

Iris stared wistfully at Dragonite's pokeball, a weak smile on her face "The guards didn't really have much sympathy for Dragonite. Even when Ash tried to explain it was injured, they kept rushing to remove him by force. Everyone kept assuming the worst of him just because he looked dangerous and scary"

Iris' grip on the pokeball tightened "That's not an uncommon sort of reaction, I've noticed. Dragon type Pokemon are pretty rare, so most people don't really have a lot of experience with them or understand them very well... and not everyone seems to try to. Many people assume they're brutes just because a lot of them look intimidating and scary to them. But they're not... some of them can be aggressive, sure, but that's the same for any other kind of Pokemon. They can also be friendly, sweet and good natured if you just take the time to get to know them"

Alder hummed thoughtfully at Iris as she paused for a long moment. Eventually she shook her head and looked at Alder intently "As the Champion, a lot of people look up to and are inspired by you, right? People come to you from all over the region for advise, because you're such an accomplished trainer"

"That's true. I do enjoy sharing a few nuggets of wisdom here and there" Alder nodded. With a cheeky smile and a scratch of his arm he added "I don't know if I'm always that good at it, though. I sure seem to have done a poor job conveying my message to Tristan the first time around, haha"

"I've seen you give some pretty good advise, though" Iris said nicely. She furrowed her brow, looking self-reflective "... My whole life I wanted to be a dragon master... to know all there is to know about Dragon types, and be able to raise them to bring out their full potential. But I didn't... I realized recently, I never thought too hard about what I'm going to do after I become a master..."

Iris pocketed Dragonite's pokeball, tapping her chin thoughtfully "But after I beat Grimsley, and was thinking about what would actually happen if I did become Champion... I thought to myself... why not try and pass on what I've learned about Dragon types, and Pokémon in general, to others like you do? If I were someone the people of Unova looked to for guidance, then that would give me the perfect opportunity to help people understand that there's a lot more to dragon Pokémon than what people assume about them"

Alder nodded approvingly at Iris, motioning her to continue. She glanced at Drayden again, flashing him a brief smile before adding "Drayden apparently wanted me to take over for him as a Gym Leader at one point, and I did think that would be pretty amazing. And I'd get to show off and educate people about dragon types as a Gym Leader too... but you know, I think I could do an even better job of that as a Champion"

Iris paused again, then stuck her tongue out and slapped the side of her head "But then again... maybe that's all just me getting ahead of myself. Maybe I just feel kind of selfish for taking this test to be Champion when I just rushed into it for my own training benefits, and I want to think of an excuse to justify myself. I know being a Champion comes with a lot of responsibilities and hard work besides just being a really strong trainer, and I'm probably not prepared for a lot of that"

Alder looked at Iris with a fatherly smile, crossing his arms and closing his eyes before saying "You don't sound terribly selfish to me"

Iris's face went blank, which Alder had to laugh at after briefly peeking open his right eye "How many people who challenge the League, even the ones who gain access to the Champions League, do you think actually consider the responsibilities of being a Champion and what it means? It's not a lot, really. Most trainers just want the title for the fame and glory that comes with it. Everyone has their own personal and self-centric aspirations in life, even the most generous people... I never thought there was anything inherently selfish about that, just so long as you're not callously trampling over others to fulfil whatever those ambitions are"

Alder opened his eyes again completely to examine Iris's confused stare. Chuckling under his breath, the Champion continued "Maybe you didn't have a deep, heartfelt motivation to become champion when you arrived at this festival... but you've clearly put more thought than many would into the significance of the job, and how your own dreams and aspirations can play into it"

"And maybe you're not entirely ready for all of the responsibilities that come with the job... neither was I really" Alder admitted, prompting a surprised gasp from Iris "But life is a constant learning experience... no-one is born with a clear understanding of what they want to do, or has all the answers when they settle on a life's goal. We figure that out along the way. I'm still learning myself"

"You're young. You've got many years left to grow into a wise Dragon Master, into someone that can inspire and educate others. Maybe you'll trip up and struggle as a Champion at first, but if you commit yourself you'll grow into the role eventually" Alder said, giving Iris an encouraging thumbs up "Bettering other people's understanding of Pokemon as well as my own, and encouraging compassion and unity between us all has been my dream since I took the job. So if you ask me, wanting to help the people of Unova grow closer to Dragon type Pokemon and not fear them as much is a great goal to have as Champion. I think you'd do very well... that Dragonite of yours would probably agree, from the looks of it anyway"

Iris stared contemplatively at Alder for a long time after that, mouth slightly ajar. She closed her eyes and put a finger to her chin, carefully mulling over everything the elderly trainer had just said to her. She smiled sweetly, and breathed a low sigh of vindication.

"Thank you. That... means a lot, honestly"

Iris flashed her teeth, now sporting a confident smirk "In that case... I guess..." Iris opened her eyes again to reveal the fiery determination now burning within them "... I'd better do everything I possibly can to prove you right!"

In the stands, Drayden of the Opelucid Gym un-crossed his arms and stroked his beard, nodding slowly. He turned to the hooded elderly woman standing beside him, who started back at Drayden with a gentle smile. They both closed their eyes and shared a quiet, knowing laugh before returning their attentions to the battlefield, watching Iris with eyes full of pride.

Alder looked at Iris at first with a similar expression, but his smile quickly changed to an amused smirk "Well said.. buuuut, at the same time, you're not Champion just yet. We've both still got one battle ready Pokemon left. And while I very much want out of the job, I still have no intention of losing this battle on purpose. How cheap would that be?"

Iris chuckled mischievously, pumping her fist in the old man's direction "Well in that case, maybe we should stop yapping for a minute and bring it to a close!"

"Well said" Alder laughed, pulling a pokeball from his belt. He pitched it expertly "Bouffalant, my friend, come out! Let's show everyone a grand time!"

The crowds in the stadium erupted in cheers once more as the afro-sporting buffalo that served as Alder's signature partner appeared on the battlefield, snorting impressively. Iris lower her fist, eyes still blazing with excitement as she turned around.

"Ready to show everyone just how far we've come?!" Iris asked of the tall, yellow armor-plated Dragon type who had been silently crouching down by the wall behind Iris and watching the battle between his trainer and the Unova Champion from the start while eagerly awaiting his turn.

The Dragon with axe-like tusks responded to Iris with a confident smile and nod, a gleam of child-like enthusiasm in his eyes. Iris giggled at her partner as he shot up and charged out onto the battlefield, introducing himself to all present with a thunderous roar that drowned out ever the screams of the audience.

Back when Iris travelled through Unova and Alder first came to know the girl from the village of dragons, her partner had been a sweet, precocious, timid little Axew. And now today, he stood proudly before on stage, for all of Unova to see, as a mighty Haxorus.

Iris and Alder exchanged quick, competitive smirks, and wasted no time calling out their first attacks.

"Haxorus, use Outrage!"

"Bouffalant, use Head Charge!"


*The Pokemon School, Melemele Island. Alola Region*

It was a pretty quiet afternoon at the Pokemon school. Following a long discussion on the ethics of catching rare species of Pokemon, Professor Kukui's class of top students elected to spend the second part of their lunch hour practising Z-moves, while the Professor eagerly peaked over the tops of several homework assignments he still had to mark to watch.

Kiawe had acquired a Ghostium-Z Crystal following an Ultra Guardian mission involving a Mismagius leading a squad of ghost Pokemon in playing a series of dangerous pranks on townsfolk. So naturally given Kiawe had a Marowak that knew shadow bone, the young Kahuna in training had immediately set out to master the Never-ending Nightmare technique.

He was doing fairly well. Kiawe had the poses for the ghost-type Z move memorized after a couple of tries. And while the first few attempts at the Z move had fizzled out part way through, Kiawe kept at it and with his latest attempt, Marowak had successfully cast an Illusionary field around the center of the school yard. His classmates and many other students of the Pokemon school watching oohed and aahed at the sight of it, and when the mists cleared to reveal a training dummy smashed into pieces Lana, Mallow and Sophocles all clapped loudly, triggering a round of applause from their fellow students and assembled Pokemon.

Professor Kukui gave the dark skinned youth an approving smirk as behind him Principal Samson Oak, the less famous cousin of the Kantonian Professor who bore a remarkable resemblance to him apart from the much darker complexion of his skin, broke out in a hearty laugh.

"Doesn't take Kiawe long to master those Z-moves, does it? Kids a natural at them, I'd say you're the only person I know who takes to them quicker" Principal Oak commented.

Kukui scribbled a B+ on Mallow's homework assignment with his red pen and placed it on a stack of graded papers to his left on the bench he was sitting on, grabbing the last remaining three sheets of paper sitting to his right that Sophocles had presented before responding to his employer "Kiawe's always been passionate and dedicated to Alolan traditions and his training. I don't think a day ever goes by where he's not practising Z-moves even though he's successfully performed the ones he's mastered a million times. So is it really any surprise?"

"I guess not!" Samson Oak chuckled "The lad's probably going to make a fine Kahuna. A real MAchamp in the making!" Samson's face abruptly morphed into the splitting image of the muscle bound Pokemon Machamp's face for a brief instant coinciding with the pointless pun, right down to the distinct shape of Machamp's lips.

Kukui was thankfully well accustomed to his colleague's random and pointless puns at this point in his teaching career so fortunately didn't show any visible discontent over that eccentricity, but despite his continued fascination with the Principal's almost ditto-esque talent for Pokemon impressions, the puns themselves still made the Professor desperately want to cringe.

Samson suddenly poked Kukui's shoulder and pointed at something "Heads up Professor, you seem to have a visitor"

Kukui raised an eyebrow, his eyes following the direction Samson's finger was pointed to see a woman with brown skin and spiky white hair approaching, an infant carefully cradled in her arms while a handbag hung from her shoulder.

Samson gave the Professor a cheeky grin that was slightly more unnerving than his puns and casually spun around on one foot and began strolling away "I'll just leave you two Luvdiscs alone for a moment. Gotta go sort out some guest speaker appointments anyway"

Kukui shook his head in a playful manner set Sophocles' homework assignment aside and rose to his feet, greeting the love of his life with the warmest smile he could possibly give.

"My, my, if it isn't the smartest and most beautiful woman in all of Alola!" Kukui declared, raising his arms dramatically "Praytell, what good deed must I have performed to warrant such a delightful surprise?"

Professor Burnet giggled, giving her husband a sly grin.

"A careless blunder, is more like it" She laughed, gesturing to the handbag "You forgot your lunch again"

Kukui blinked at the bag. The tanned Professor facepalmed, laughing sheepishly.

"I thought I was forgetting something" Kukui said "I was so focused on getting these homework assignments out of my hair I hadn't thought to eat yet... thank goodness you came by, I'm pretty sure by now the only thing left at the cafeteria would be that awful mystery meat..."

Burnet giggled some more before holding the baby in her arms towards her husband. Baby Lei laughed loudly and gleefully started throwing his arms and legs about, enjoying the feeling of being suspended in the air.

Kukui grinned at his precious child, feeling a tad more proud than he reasonably should have been that the lad seemed to have inherited the boundless energy he himself purportedly had as a little kid according to his own parents. Kukui kneeled down so that he was eye level with his son, who suddenly stopped laughing to stare curiously at his face.

"Actually awake this late in the afternoon today, are we? That's nice, now maybe mom and I won't have to wake up every hour during the night for a change" Kukui joked. Baby Lei giggled at him, which quickly evolved into a renewed chorus of excited laughter as the baby reached out to his father, who chuckled affectionately before scooping the infant into his arms, standing upright to raise Lei into the air momentarily before holding the baby down closer to his face. Lei laughed even louder and started patting his father's cheeks.

Burnet cooed softly at the wholesome display as she set her handbag down on the bench besides her husband, opening it up to pull out his lunchbox. Kukui looked past his son's beaming face to watch Burnet with a look of deep admiration.

It soon changed into a curious frown, and he held Lei against his chest to say "Okay, serious mode for a sec, what actually are you doing here? I was sure by now you'd be at Aether Paradise, while Lei here would be with Hobbes"

"I was just about to head out this morning actually, when Wicke suddenly called to tell me work was cancelled today for anyone who hadn't already arrived" Burnet replied, rolling her eyes and laughing awkwardly "... Apparently Faba blew up the labs..."

Kukui balked at her "... What?! How'd he manage that?!" Burnet shrugged innocently.

"I dunno, something about him getting a hold of some Galar particles thinking they were somehow the key to controlling that machine for opening Ultra Worm holes, and it all went horribly wrong. Burned off all his hair, apparently" Burnet said, giggling lightly at the last bit "So yeah, Wicke called some people in to do repairs, and decided most of the staff could have at least today off. She and the early birds are all looking after the Pokémon"

Kukui held Lei carefully against his chest with one arm so he could quickly scratch his head with the other "Good grief, that Faba... it's one disaster after another with that guy. I'll never understand why Lusamine hasn't fired him. Even more so Wicke hasn't done it while she and her family are away"

"It's a mystery. He certainly got a good telling off for it, according to Wicke Rotom-Dex yelled at him so loud he was in tears by the end" Burnet said with a devious smirk. Kukui laughed as he lowered his right hand to properly hold his son in front of him again.

"Wish I'd been there to see that" The professor said cheerfully. The married couple exchanged devious grins and laughed loudly over the stingy scientist's misfortune, Lei looking at them oddly before gleefully joining in. After the adults had calmed down, Kukui breathed a cool sigh and seriously asked "No one but Faba was hurt, I hope?"

"Nope, we just lost a lot of expensive equipment" Burnet said, shaking her head "... Good thing Lusamine's insanely rich, I guess. But yeah, everything's fine, so I've just been enjoying the improv vacation walking around town with Lei. That Bewear from the forest saw us and begged to cradle him, and I'm pretty sure she wanted to adopt him like she did with Team Rocket, but I gave her a stern lecture against it. I get the feeling she's going to be visiting with gifts regularly though, I noticed an enormous pile of berries on the porch when I got home right before I found your lunchbox lying around in the kitchen"

Kukui smiled impishly at his still laughing son "Between Melmetal, Munchlax, both Incineroar's and mine and Ash's other Pokemon, you have way too many poke-nannies already..."

A lough cough caught the two professors' attention, and they turned to see Mallow standing nearby, looking at them with a worried frown on her face.

"Uh, Professor. I hate to interrupt, but, uh..." Mallow said, shuffling awkwardly. She noticed Lei in Kukui's arms staring at her with a goofy smile and her expression quickly turned doting and she waved affectionately at the infant, looking like she might squeal. Peeking up to see the look the father was giving her though, she shook her head and tried to look serious again "... I'm pretty sure you have more visitors..."

Kukui followed the finger of the hand Mallow held out to see a large gang of Team Skull grunts performing some kind of brake dance in front of the entrance to the school yard. At least two at them, one at either end of the line-up, were riding on motorcycles, revving loudly in an effort to look impressive.

Kukui raised an eyebrow suspiciously. He looked around at his students, who had all ceased their Z-move training to glare at the uninvited guests. Lana and Kiawe in particular looked like they were gearing up for a fight. Kukui sighed and carefully handed Lei back to his mother.

"I guess I better do something about that" Kukui said calmly.

Burnet shook her head distastefully at the goon squad, holding her son protectively "I wonder what those idiots want this time?"

"I have a few ideas" Kukui muttered, casually strolling over to stand in front of the Skull Grunts. He actually wasn't as annoyed or concerned as he usually would be with their presence, he'd been meaning to get in touch with them about something. Or more specially, he wanted to have a few words with their esteemed leader.

And wow, as luck would have it, said leader was revealed to be along for the show, as the Skull Grunt line up parted in the middle and formed two rows in front of the archway leading into the Pokémon school. The Skull Grunts performed one of their signature terrible raps in honour of their white haired master, hyping him up as "The most powerful, the wicked, the foulest, the unstoppable Guzma!"

Kukui chuckled under his breath over that last word choice, though the Skull boss raised his hands and seemed to be revelling in the grunts admiration of him as he casually strolled into the yard. He lowered his arms and placed his hands into the pockets of his jacket as he passed the rows of grunts, stopping a few feet away from Kukui. The professor crossed his arms and stared at his old friend with a neutral expression.

"You know, classes start up again in just over ten minutes. If you guys are going to keep marching in here every so often, maybe I should give you a time table so we don't have to worry about your visits cutting into lesson times" Kukui said dryly.

Guzma laughed mirthlessly at the wise crack, eyeing Kukui with a steely look in his eyes. Kukui rolled his eyes.

"Okay, but what do you want this time, Guzma?"

"If you're hear to cause trouble, we'll send you all packing Team Rocket style! Except Bewear probably won't catch you!" Lana suddenly called out, glaring dangerously at the team of delinquents. Kukui felt like telling her to simmer down, but decided to let it slide. It was understandable she'd be like that around Team Skull, given her history with the team.

Guzma for his part paid no mind at all to his opponent from the league, keeping his eyes locked on Kukui. His attention was briefly diverted by the baby in the nearby Professor Burnet's arms, though, at whom he raised an eyebrow and curiously cocked his head. Burnet shot him a warning look, but baby Lei just blinked slowly at the white haired gang leader, eventually giving him one of his usual laughs. Guzma looked mildly amused by it.

"I'm guessing that's the new baby I've heard so much about" Guzma observed, giving Kukui a sly grin "He's got the same obnoxiously goofy grin as that other kid of yours"

"I'd be very happy if he turned out anything like Ash" Kukui said simply, waving his hand "So, are you going to answer my question?"

"Feh" Guzma huffed, shaking his head. He shot Kukui a smug smirk "I don't know if you heard, but I decided recently to take up the Grand Trials again"

Kukui nodded, a slight smile forming on his face.

"Actually yes, Hala was telling me all about it" Kukui replied, chuckling and giving Guzma a proud look "The way I heard in fact, you just completed the last one yesterday... gotta say Guzma, I'm very happy for you. I always knew you could do it if you just swallowed your pride, gave them another try and focused a little"

"Oh did you, now?" Guzma said, shaking his head and smirking deviously. Behind him, the Skull grunts suddenly started cheering wildly.

"Our boy Guzma was a beast! Beat that last Kahuna on his first try!" A squat, brown haired grunt called out, holding up his hands and forming two peace signs.

"The Trials are tough, but the boss was tougher! It don't matter how many times he stumbles, Boss Guzma always gets back up and rises to the challenge! That's why he's unstoppable!" A pink haired girl from the other row cheered, prompting them all to start clapping and cheer louder. Guzma shrugged casually, closing his eyes and smiling appreciatively at the praise.

'I see Guzma no longer being able to carry on the "Undefeated" façade did nothing to temper their enthusiasm. If anything, they seem to love him even more now' Kukui mentally noted, to some amusement.

Once the rest of team skull finally quieted down and Guzma opened his eyes again, Kukui shrugged and asked "So, is that it? Did you just come here to gloat?"

Guzma shook his head, staring intently into Kukui's eyes "I'm here to settle the score"

Kukui nodded cautiously, prompting Guzma to elaborate, which he did "You said back at the League, you and I should battle at the next one... well, I don't feel like waiting. I'm feeling pretty good about myself right now, so I want put the results of all my hard work to the real test. Call out that overgrown kitten of yours and let's battle. Right here, right now"

Kukui nodded slowly, stroking his chin thoughtfully and starting deeply into Guzma's eyes.

Kukui and Guzma had been friends years ago, fellow disciples training under Hala, the Kahanu of Melemele Island. The two were also rivals, and took part in the Island Challenge together.

Guzma was always an impatient, insecure and somewhat cynical man though, unfortunately. Kukui was always one step ahead of him, and though he never realized it at the time, the fact Kukui always seemed to beat him in Pokemon battles, and pretty much anything else they competed in, had really exacerbated Guzma's personal hang ups, eventually driving a wedge between them.

One night, following a string of bad failures in his attempts to complete the Island Grand Trials, Guzma had snapped at Kukui and Hala and got into a nasty argument with them, ultimately severing his ties with the Kahuna and storming out into the night, abandoning the Island Challenge.

Kukui had desperately tried to reach out to Guzma many times over the years, but the resentful man always furiously turned him away. Over time he became more and more of a delinquent, basically bullying any trainer who was weaker than him while carefully making excuses to duck out of conflicts he wasn't entirely sure he could win.

Kukui always blamed himself for it, feeling ashamed he hadn't seen just how deep the man's insecurity and resentment ran, desperately wishing he'd reached out and tried to help him through it before it spiralled out of control.

Perhaps because of the veneer of confidence Guzma's boastful, proud attitude gave off, other social outcasts had been consistently drawn to him. Those delinquents formed Team Skull, who proudly served and stirred up trouble for Guzma out of admiration for taking them in while others were put off by them and shunned them. The legend of their "Unbeatable" boss was something they all took great pride in"

But while Guzma seemed to enjoy the company and the praise the Skull members all showered him with, having his own personal cheering squad clearly did nothing to quell the bitterness and insecurity that festered in him.

After Kukui had announced the formation of The Alola Pokemon League, Guzma had stormed the Pokemon School and threatened to "Destroy" it. After a scuffle with Ash, Guzma elected to take part in the league, both as an ego boost and seemingly as a ploy to use the clout of being Alola's Champion to have further league tournaments shut down. His idea of revenge against Kukui, who's dream had been to establish a Pokemon League here in his home region.

It was at the League though, and a fateful battle with Ash Ketchum of Pallet Town, that something finally seemed to change.

Kukui couldn't really pin down what it was. Maybe it was the way his Golizopod kept getting up and fighting with all it had despite being repeatedly shot down and backed into a corner by Ash's Pikachu, proudly pushing past its limits for the sake of its trainer. Perhaps it was the way the rest of Team Skull still admired and stood by him even though he still lost the battle, and Guzma could no longer maintain the lie of being undefeated.

Maybe it was both of those things, and something more. But on that day, Kukui sensed that something had changed in Guzma. And everything the Skull boss did after the League ended only appeared to confirm those suspicions.

Team Skull gradually stopped harassing people and causing much trouble, with it eventually coming out that Guzma was encouraging them to behave more respectfully.

Three months ago, Guzma had shown up at Hala's door, and though he had purportedly been rather grouchy about it, he had sincerely requested the opportunity to take part in the Grand Trials again. And despite losing a battle to Nanu along the way... this time, he didn't quit.

The last time Guzma stood before Kukui here in the yard of the Pokemon School there had been a burning hatred in his eyes... but try as he might, Kukui could find no trace of the brutal, resentful ruffian in the eyes of the man that stood before him in the present.

This was not a thug looking to stir up trouble, or get back at someone they held a grudge against... Those were the eyes of a man who had been made to confront his demons, and overcame them. And was now just looking for closure.

Kukui couldn't help but feel his heart soar at that.

He owed the boy he had come to view as a surrogate son more than he could ever describe for inspiring that change. Well, he owed him for that and a lot of things, including his marriage and the child in Burnet's arms right now, most likely.

"... Well?! Are you gonna fight me, or just stare at me all day?!"

Guzma's words snapped the Professor out of his thoughts. Shaking his head to clear his mind, Kukui glanced back at the crowd of students still cautiously watching the discussion between their teacher and the delinquent team leader, then offered Guzma a meek shrug.

"Like I said, class starts up again soon so I don't really have time. I'd be glad to battle you when the school day ends, though" Kukui suggested.

Guzma rolled his eyes "If you're so worried about your precious lessons, then I'll just beat you in two minutes. No big deal" Guzma insisted. To his credit, he said it in a playfully sarcastic tone rather than an aggressive manner.

Kukui shrugged "I just-"

"We don't mind, Professor!" A voice called out. Kukui turned around to look curiously at Kiawe, who had stepped forward to strike a dramatic pose "I think I speak for all of us when I say a battle between you two would be well worth the lost time... and, uh, very educational for all of us!"

The other students all seemed to nod and murmur in agreement. Kukui scratched his head and smiled awkwardly at them all, realizing how outnumbered he was. Technically as the main teacher of the Pokémon school he had full authority here and could always insist everyone go back inside and just politely push Guzma to leave... buuuut, Kukui couldn't deny that the thought of a no-holds-barred clash with his old rival was already getting his blood pumping.

And hey, this was a school to teach students about Pokémon training and battles, after all... so Kiawe wasn't wrong, he probably could find a way to make this educational...

Kukui chuckled, shaking his head and cursing his sudden lack of professionalism.

"Oh, alright... I suppose I could use a good work out myself" Kukui said with a cheeky grin.

Guzma grinned wickedly, pulling out a Pokéball "Good"

Professor Burnet sighed from the sidelines, sitting down on the bench next her handbag and Kukui's unopened lunchbox and shaking her head in amusement. She tickled baby Lei's cheek "Well, aren't you a lucky boy today. You're gonna get to see your dad in action for the first time"

Kukui walked up to stand before his line-up of students to leave a good distance for the unplanned battle. When he turned around again, the towering figure of Guzma's Golizopod stood before him, and Guzma was watching Kukui with a wide grin that was smug, but also showed genuine enthusiasm.

That brought a proud smile to Kukui's face as he called out of his own signature Pokémon. The great red cat flexed his muscles and roared proudly, assuming a fighting stance.

Part of Kukui was concerned this wasn't one of his best ideas. That if he beat Guzma here, that would set back all the progress the man had made and his bitter, ruthless side would resurface.

It was a genuine concern... but for right now, Kukui couldn't stop himself from following through with the battle. He was just far too happy to have his old friend back, and get another chance to square off against him fairly, just like old times.

Whatever way the battle turned out, Kukui decided... he was going to do his very best from the start this time to help keep Guzma on the right path.

The members of Team Skull broke out in their loudest chorus of cheers yet for their beloved leader, while behind Kukui his students cheered just as enthusiastically for him. With all that excitement in the air, Kukui also couldn't help himself but to strike a certain iconic pose.

"Eeen-joy!"


*Kalos Route 14*

The land Immediately Easy of Lumiose City was rustic and quaint, a stark contrast to the bustling ultra modern Metropolis. The leaves on the trees almost always looked a varied mix of gold, red and Brown, even in the Spring, giving the fields a feeling of eternal Autumn.

It was a popular fishing spot for the residents of Lumiose City for its sparkling clean rivers and pond full of Basculin, and beyond that just being a charming place to go for a nice, relaxing stroll for those that needed a break from the hustle and bustle of the city once in a while.

Clemont the Gym Leader, a blond haired, bespectacled teen dressed in blue, wasn't presently here for a relaxing walk though. In fact, if his suspicions were correct, he might have been in for a very stressful time.

The past few days there had been a series of interesting reports involving people being attacked by moving vines while exploring a certain set of ruins on the far side of the route. Officer Jenny had been planning to investigate, but when Clemont caught wind of the stories he had hurriedly volunteered to check it out himself.

The super genius inventor had first hand experience with a phenomenon just like this, after all. Over a year ago now, Lumiose City had been victim to a terrorist attack by the wicked Team Flare, a team of fanatics led by a man named Lysandre who sought to bring about a planetary genocide of all the humans and Pokemon he considered "Unworthy" of his superior vision for the world.

As part of his schemes he had taken control of two specimens of a Legendary Pokemon called Zygarde, and part of his attempts to harness the nature guardians' powers to cause mass destruction had caused Lumiose City to become engulfed in vines that had surrounded buildings and attempted to crush anyone in their path.

The Zygarde's had eventually been freed and Team Flare's maniacal ambitions thwarted by an alliance of brave souls including Clemont, his sister and father, their then travelling companions Ash Ketchum and Serena, and a large number of their friends including seven other Kalosian Gym Leaders and the reigning Champions of Kalos and Hoenn.

It had been a spectacular series of battles, but unfortunately it turned out soon after that the damage wasn't entirely fixed. According to one of the two Zygarde cores, who Clemont's little sister Bonnie affectionately dubbed Squishy, many of the living vines that had been created through Team Flare's doomsday weapons misusing their powers had not simply dissipated and had spread out across the Kalos region, and were liable to cause a lot of trouble if they weren't dealt with.

Squishy and the other Zygarde had promised to deal with the matter, accompanied by a certain Pokemon of Ash's that possessed the uncanny ability to sense and locate the vines. For a while Clemont had been wondering how that endeavor was progressing, not really having a way to contact the Zygarde's or track their movements... from the sounds of things though, unless there were some OTHER magic vines prone to attacking people, they weren't quite done yet.

Part of a Gym Leader's job involved being called on now and again to deal with potential threats that could cause harm to the people of their town or city. So while naturally a bit nervous after witnessing how dangerous those vines could be, Clemont readily set off to deal with them anyway, determined to not allow any more disasters to befall his city so long as he could help it.

Clemont was accompanied on his stroll through Route 4 by his father Meyer and younger sister Bonnie. Clemont wasn't particularly enthusiastic about having the little blonde girl along for such a dangerous endeavor, in fact they'd initially insisted that she stay behind at the Lumiose Gym under the watch of Clembot, the robot assistant Clemont had built to run the Gym in his place whenever he was busy.

Bonnie had pouted a lot and insisted on coming along, but Clemont had stood his ground and left the Gym without her... only for he and his father to find her waiting for them a short time later at the gates leading out of the city. Clemont still had no idea how she'd gotten past his security system so fast.

So much to Clemont's chagrin, his father had resolved to let Bonnie come along anyway, reasoning she'd just keep finding ways to sneak out and get involved anyway. They both made her promise to hang back and not get involved in actually dealing with the vines though, since besides Dedenne who didn't really belong to her anyway she didn't have any battle ready Pokemon to offer much assistance anyway, still being too young to officially become a trainer.

Not that the inherent danger of the situation was a deterrent for Bonnie, who was happily skipping along the country path and humming an upbeat travel song she only half knew the words to. Bonnie loved a good adventure, several months of travelling across Kalos with a group of trainers who appeared to be magnets for all kinds of weird trouble had made her not only accustomed to being in life or death circumstances, but she actually seemed to revel in and anticipate the thrill of it all.

Needless to say, Clemont was highly concerned about it. He desperately hoped Squishy the Zygarde actually kept that promise to travel with her whenever Bonnie started her journey, otherwise the teenage scientist feared he was in for daily aneurysms thinking about what kind of trouble she could get herself into if he wasn't able to accompany her.

Eventually after an hour of strolling, the family arrived at their destination. According to all the reports Officer Jenny had passed along, all the mysterious vine sightings came from people who had been exploring the lower levels of the decrepit ruins that lay before Clemont, Meyer and Bonnie.

About a hundred years ago, a luxurious hotel had stood here, but at some point it had been closed down and then later partially demolished by an escaped Tyranitar. The ruins of it, particularly the basement floors which housed a tunnel leading to an area in Route 15, were now common loitering grounds for passing trainers.

Bonnie was curiously craning her head and examining the ruins of the old hotel, hands joined behind her back while Dedenne peeked his head out of the yellow satchel hanging around her chest, smiling innocently at the wreckage.

"Yep. Definitely looks like the kind of place where weird stuff happens" Bonnie surmised.

"Denene" Dedenne agreed.

Clemont hummed thoughtfully as he pulled out a device from his rucksack that looked like a miniature computer screen with a tuning fork growing out of the top. When Clemont directed said tuning fork towards the ruins of the hotel and pressed a few buttons to the side of the device to activate it, the monitor began glowing and emitted a loud, repeated buzzing sound.

"Mmh-hmm!" Clemont nodded at that response, straightening his glasses and taking a closer look of the screen "No doubt about it now. My scanner's picking up the same kind of energy readings that Team Flare's doomsday devices were producing, so those vines are definitely present. Probably in the basement floors, from what I've been told"

"Well, glad we got that sorted out" Meyer said, cracking his fingers and doing some light stretches before pulling out a pokeball and summoning his Blaziken "Now we just need to deal with the darn things. Shouldn't be too hard, right?"

"It's certainly possible for our Pokemon to destroy them, but they're still very dangerous. We should approach with caution and not let our guard down. Depending on how many there are, we may need to make a tactical retreat and call for backup" Clemont explained direly, calling out his Luxray.

Bonnie shrugged casually and began marching towards the entrance of the ruins "Guess we better go check how many there are then"

Bonnie was pulled back by a tug of her shirt collar from behind. She looked up to see Clemont staring down at her with a "Nice try" expression.

"We will go check it out. You will stay here where it's safe, as was the agreement" Clemont said strictly. Bonnie crossed her arms and huffed loudly.

"But I won't get to see any of the fighting from here" Bonnie whined. Meyer chuckled and reached down to pat his daughter's head.

"Tell you what, I'll make it up to you by letting you tag along on my next outing as Blaziken Mask. I got a big tip off that there's a heist going down at the West bank tomorrow night, and there's a perfect spot on a rooftop you can watch me and Blaziken kick the goons' butts. I'll even let you design your own superhero costume in case anyone spots you and gets suspicious, how's that sound?"

Bonnie's eyes began to sparkle at that suggestion.

"Good deal!" Bonnie cheered, leaping up and throwing her arms into the air. When she landed she looked up at her father with a wide, giddy grin and declared "In that case, I'll be Gligirl! The champion of justice, defending our fair city by the cover of night, and looking super cute while she does so!"

"I'm pretty sure there's already a Gligirl in Johto, I'm afraid" Meyer said, scratching the back of his head while smiling sheepishly. Bonnie's cheery grin was wiped clean off her face, and she looked to the ground while pouting.

"Nuts. Just my luck" Bonnie griped.

Meyer's smile turned more sincere and comforting as he leaned down to pat his little girl on the head "You can always be Pikette, the lightning fast girl who fights crime in a Pikachu suit. I'm pretty sure that one's still available"

Bonnie mumbled thoughtfully about that, peeking up at her father with an uncertain frown. But eventually she grinned at him and nodded politely.

"That'll do for now" Bonnie said. But then she scratched her chin and added "Or maybe I'll be Lady Articuno, the winged maiden of ice who freezes bad guys' feet to the ground, and then makes yummy snow cones for all the good little boys and girls!"

"Haha. We'll go with whichever one I have the right materials for right now" Meyer said, stroking Bonnie's head some more and smiling brightly. His expression faltered as he felt a pair of angry eyes boring into the side of his head. Meyer turned to see his older child glaring at him with a disbelieving frown.

"... I think I preferred when we didn't know you were a superhero" Clemont said plainly. Meyer chuckled lightly and scratched his head again, prompting Clemont to sigh "Maybe I'm not one to talk considering how long I let her keep travelling with Ash, Serena and I, but do you really think it's a good idea to keep dragging her into MORE dangerous situations?"

"She's eight years old, son. She'll be a trainer before long, and she's already helped save the world. I know you're worried about not always being there for her, but we've got to start letting her be more independent and not coddle her anymore at some point" Meyer said wisely. Bonnie smiled thankfully at him, and Meyer took his hand off her head and stood upright again.

"I guess... But for now" Clemont said, pulling out two Pokeballs and releasing two more of his Pokemon to either side of his younger sister "Chespin, Bunnelby. I need you two to guard Bonnie in case any vines sprout up and attack. Hopefully not and dad and I can deal with this ourselves, but I'm counting on you to make sure she's safe, alright?"

"Chespin!" The Kalosian Grass Type starter saluted to Bonnie's right, while the brown rabbit Pokemon to Bonnie's left nodded. Bonnie giggled and held up the yellow pouch she was carrying, from which Dedenne extended a paw and uttered a determined "Dene!"

"Good thinking, but hopefully they won't need to do anything" Meyer began, giving a carefree chuckle "After all, by all account the vines have only been appearing in the underground tunnel, so she shouldn't have any trouble out here"

CRASH!

The family of three and their assembled Pokemon jumped three feet in the air at the deafening sounds from nearby, Dedenne falling out of his satchel in the process and landing face first on the ground. As Clemont, Bonnie and their father landed and recovered from their shock, they turned to the decrepit ruins of the old hotel to see a huge mostly purple wave of energy rising out from it, having demolished a good chunk of the ruins' centre.

The Gym family's jaws were agape at the swirling multi-coloured energy that looked almost like flames. The machine Clemont had been using to scan for their target earlier suddenly began vibrating at such a great intensity that Clemont was forced to drop it. The machine was emitting a loud sound like a fire alarm might make. And if that wasn't enough reason for Clemont and company to panic, the ground started loudly rumbling and everything began shaking like there was an earthquake, causing Bonnie to stumble around and fall backwards onto the floor. Clemont, Meyer and their Pokemon all struggled very hard not to follow her lead.

The rumbling subsided pretty quickly... only to be followed by something much more concerning, as a trio of gigantic black vines erupted out of the ground, practically obliterating the ruins of the abandoned hotel in the process and sending the chunks of it flying in many directions.

Meyer steadied himself and looked up at the squirming vines, blinking slowly.

"... Oh look, they came out to greet us. How nice" Meyer said meekly. Almost instantaneously his expression flipped from comically befuddled to aggressively serious and the man threw himself in front of his fallen daughter to shield her.

"Blaziken, GET READY!" Meyer called out, raising his right arm where he held the ring containing his key stone.

"Blaze!" Blaziken responded with a dire nod, standing upright and getting ready to mega evolve.

Chespin and Bunnelby joined Meyer in providing cover for Bonnie, Chespin quaking with fear as he did so but was nonetheless prepared to fight with everything he had, while Clemont's Luxray put it's front right paw forward and generated a few sparks around its body, growling fiercely and getting ready to strike.

Clemont straightened his glasses and glared up at the atrocious vines, clenching his teeth. He was about to order Luxray to launch an attack... until two flashes of green shooting up near the lower end of the deadly roots caught his attention. Frowning suspiciously, Clemont narrowed his eyes and followed the shape now darting across the leftmost giant vine, which seemed to resemble some kind of black and green canine.

Clemont's glasses almost fell off his face as his eyes bulged in surprise. His shock would only grow as the canine figure leapt off the top of the vine, spun around in mid-air and released a wave of multi-coloured energy from its mouth, which Clemont now recognised as the dragon-type attack Dragon pulse.

The end of the Dragon pulse attack formed into the shape of a dragons head, the mouth of which opened wide as it began to engulf the vine. At the same time a second black and green canine repeated this process with the vine on the right. Soon the two vines were completely engulfed by the Dragon pulse attacks, which exploded in a glorious flash of blue and purple.

When the lights subsided, only one of the three enormous vines remained, and the dog-like Pokemon both landed half a yard away to either side of Clemont's family. Bonnie and Meyer looked to the two sudden arrivals in amazement, as did most of Clemont's Pokemon except Luxray, who along with Blaziken was just glaring at the one remaining vine, the fiery poultry Pokemon charging up the flames along its hands ready to counter any sudden attacks. Clemont was also staring at that vine, but with a much more blank expression on his face.

The central vine began swerving dangerously, looking like it was leaning back so that it could whip itself at the stunned humans and their Pokemon, which made Clemont recoil in fright.

Blaziken and Luxray both moved to strike the vine... but were beaten to the punch by a new arrival. A blue figure shot up into the air from behind the last remaining vine, tossing two lighter blue objects from its hands. The figure leapt right over the vine, flipping through the air several times before hitting the ground where it performed the standard superhero landing pose.

The objects the blue figure had thrown, a pair of large shrunken made of water, circle around and sliced through the vine several times before the water composing them dispersed. The vine fell apart as a result of the attack, the many pieces hitting the ground at the same time as their assailant. They appeared to dissolve into the ether shortly afterwards.

Clemont silently watched the whole scene unfold. Afterwards he briefly removed his glasses and wiped the lenses against his collar, putting them back on after he was satisfied the glass was clean and clear and taking a closer look at the newest arrival, who had now risen to its feet. Close inspection revealed it to be a tall, slim, anthropomorphic blue frog with a very long tongue wrapped around its mouth and part of it's neck like a scarf.

"Greninja..." Was all Clemont could say in response for a moment.

Meyer looked between the two canine Pokemon and the now identified Greninja and scratched his head, an odd expression on his face.

"Well that was all very sudden" He observed. The man shrugged awkwardly "I'm not gonna complain, that was very convenient... just... wow, that all happened very quickly"

Clemont stood silently for a long moment, eventually feeling compelled to take a few steps forward to the Pokemon that had just maybe saved his and his family's lives. The Greninja met his gaze with a focused, and also very familiar stare.

"You're... Ash's..." Clemont said slowly before trailing off. Greninja nodded in confirmation, which caused Clemont to jump to attention, swiftly turning around to check on his sister, who was now staring transfixed at the black and green canine that had taken down the left vine.

The creature was now slowly approaching the group, its white eyes without pupils fixed on Bonnie, who unconsciously took a few steps towards it herself. The Pokemon came to a halt less than ten feet in front of Bonnie, who was watching it with wide eyes and a wistful expression.

"... Are you...?" Bonnie started, her voice catching in her throat before she could finish. Seemingly in response to the unfinished question, the being began to glow. Several streaks of green light started shooting out of the creature's body, disappearing into the nearby grass and trees of the route. The Pokemon's canine form began to fade away, and when the glow subsided it now stood before Bonnie in its most familiar form: A tiny green blobish creature with a single eye, and a red diamond shape on its middle section.

'Hello, Bonnie' A refined voice rang out in the minds of all present. Meyer and most of the Pokemon jumped slightly, taken aback by what they were hearing. Clemont and Greninja had no visible reaction, having experienced the telepathic voice of the Zygarde cell before and thus fully anticipated it. And Bonnie looked like she might cry tears of joy 'It's good to see you again'

"SQUISHY!" Bonnie cried out, leaping forward and landing on the ground in front of her old friend, reaching out her hands to scoop up the tiny cell of Zygarde and happily rubbing his head against her cheek, giving an absolutely delighted laugh as she did so. Squishy the Zygarde looked taken aback at first, but quickly settled in and returned Bonnie's gesture by rubbing his own face up and down her cheek.

Dedenne happily ran over and climbed onto Bonnie's shoulder to get a better look at his old bag buddy, and Chespin and Bunnelby eagerly gathered around too.

"Huh... well, how about that" Meyer said absent-mindedly, chuckling at his daughter's antics. Clemont silently watched his sister flip around on her back and continue making a fuss of the tiny Legendary Pokemon, it took about five whole minutes before she finally sat upright and laid off the hugging and petting and friendly face squeezing enough for Squishy to properly speak again.

'I ought to have known you lot would be here, the vines being so close to the city and all' Said Squishy. Clemont nodded, shaking off the dumbstruck expression he'd been wearing and giving the little blob a grateful smile.

"Came as soon as I heard. I know you're all supposed to be dealing with them, but we thought we could help out in this case" Clemont said, taking another quick sideways glance at Ash's Kalos Ace "... Evidently, we needn't have worried"

'The thought was very much appreciated' Squishy said. He let out a strange high pitched squeak as Bonnie started scratching under his... well, the Legendary didn't exactly have a chin, but same difference.

"You guys were so awesome just now" Bonnie said proudly, vigorously petting Squishy some more. Once again, the blob didn't seem to mind.

Meyer hummed thoughtfully and turned to face the second Zygarde, still in its 10% form and watching the group of humans and tamed Pokemon with a cautious glare. Unlike Squishy it hadn't moved any closer to them, and appeared to want to keep it that way. Blaziken and Luxray kept a tepid watch on the aloof Legendary, unsure what to make of it, while Meyer just scratched his chin.

'Don't mind him. He still has his reservations about humans, even if he doesn't quite hate you all anymore' Squishy informed Meyer after noticing his curious stare. Meyer shrugged his shoulders and laughed mirthlessly.

"Yeah, suppose I can't blame him after what that creep Lysandre did to him" Meyer said, turning back to his daughter and the more sociable Zygarde. He beamed at Squishy "Thanks a lot by the way"

'You're welcome' Squishy replied. He looked up at the sky with a contemplative look in his one eye as Bonnie continued petting him 'Those vines have certainly been persistent... but I dare say, we're finally nearing the day where we can confidently say the job is finished'

"You mean it!" Bonnie gasped, holding Squishy up and turning him around so their faces were in line with each other. The Zygarde cell nodded, and Bonnie beamed brightly and excitedly threw Squishy up in the air slightly, catching him again and giving Squishy more face nuzzles.

"That's such great news to hear" Clemont said, turning to Greninja and giving him a congratulatory smile. The frog ninja responded with a curt nod and a thumbs up. Clemont nodded back and faced Squishy once more with an imploring stare "So, what are you all going to do after you're done with the vines?"

'My partner and I will continue to guard the natural world, as we have always done. If you're curious about Greninja... we're uncertain what will happen. Greninja has been an invaluable ally to us the past year, and so we would appreciate very much if he continued to travel with us... but I'm fairly sure Greninja would be happiest if he could reunite with his old trainer' Squishy explained 'If you could contact him when the time comes, that would be very helpful'

"Of course. I'm sure Ash would like that very much" Clemont cheerfully replied.

Bonnie pulled Squishy back again to give her old friend an expectant grin "You know, I'm gonna turn ten in just over a year... we DID promise to travel together again, right?"

It was hard to tell with his minimal facial features, but Squishy appeared to look quite amused at her 'I suppose I can endure the indignity of living in a bag again when the time arrives, if it would make you happy'

Bonnie started giggling, which developed into hysterical laughter as she tightly hugged Squishy once more. Meyer laughed too.

"I suppose everything worked out well for everyone in the end, huh?"

All of the gathered humans and Pokemon joined in with their own hearty laughs except for Blaziken and Luxray, who had gone to greet Greninja. The frog ninja nodded graciously, raising it's head to the sky and quietly watching the clouds.

Greninja wondered what Ash might be doing in that moment.


*Back in Vermilion City. Cerise Park*

Following their surprise meeting with Angie at Vermilion Park, Ash and Goh had stopped by the Pokemon Centre to drop off Lucario for healing before leading Angie to the Cerise Laboratory.

Goh and Cinderace mostly hung back and kept quiet as Ash and Angie talked non-stop the entire trek, the two teens taking turns catching up on what the other had been up to the Past three years since their last meeting.

Angie didn't have all that much to report, or at least not a lot that she was interested in sharing. Her Shinx had evolved into a Luxio (Which she had called out to walk with the group to the lab, and Ash had spent a minute fawning over how cool it looked), She had apparently caught a few more Pokemon including a duskull and a Bibarel, which were both back at home so she couldn't show them off, and apparently she had met Cynthia the Sinnoh Champion at some point when she was visiting Solaceon Town.

Other than that and a few other little details she had shared though, Angie insisted her life was pretty uneventful and mundane. She was still working alongside her parents at their daycare, and apparently despite any misgivings her father might have still had over the Lickilicky mishap they had started to trust her to take on more responsibilities as a Daycare Worker as of late. Ash got the strangest feeling the girl had conflicting feelings about that, but decided not to pry into it and let her bring it up if she felt like talking about it.

Angie was a lot more interested in hearing about Ash, who was flattered to hear that his old summer camp pal had become a regular viewer of all his major league battles. So Ash spent the whole time regaling her with stories about his adventures. Listing off all the Pokémon he'd caught, the friends he travelled with, and the villain teams they had all fought together.

Angie (And also Goh, who had only heard a third of these accounts himself so far) listened with rapt attention as Ash went into bombastic retellings of his encounters with Legendary Pokémon and the weird situations he'd often found himself in involving them. Like the time he went to Ultra space riding on Solgaleo, or the Shamouti incident where he found out he was some sort of chosen one and saved the whole world. Angie couldn't seem to get enough of it all.

It felt like Ash had been talking for hours when they finally arrived at the gates to the Cerise Laboratory. The Team Rocket Trio had tried to ambush them at the entrance, which led to the standard procedure of Ash and company blasting them off after a brief battle. It took less time than it normally did funnily enough, because the strange vending machine full of Pokeballs they had with them these days had goofed up and provided them with a magikarp and a feebas to battle with. Angie ended up singlehandedly sending them packing with a powerful spark from her Luxio.

"Those guys are STILL following you?!" An aghast Angie had declared.

"They don't show up quite as often these days, come to think of it, but I'm pretty sure there's a law against them NOT stalking me at this point" Ash wearily replied.

Barring a mild altercation with Ash's Gengar pushing the door open to smack it into Ash's face as a prank, the trio made it inside the building largely unscathed after that. Ash and Goh briefly introduced Angie to Professor Cerise and his assistants before excitedly leading Angie to the park where all their Pokémon resided. Ash had asked if Cerise's daughter Chloe was around, but apparently she was spending the day at a friends house, so Ash wouldn't get to introduce Angie to her today.

'Oh well' Ash thought 'Maybe tomorrow'

Angie marvelled at the splendor of the large park, and all the Pokémon wandering around. It seemed all of Goh's Pokémon were wandering around in plain sight today, and Goh was quite proud to point them all out to Angie. The tomboy was especially impressed by Goh's giant Golurk, who at first glance she was certain had to be some kind of statue with how perfectly still it stood, and was absolutely shocked when Goh informed her it was a living Pokémon and Golurk proceeded to give her a friendly wave of its hand.

Ash was halfway through regaling Angie with the epic tale of how Goh had caught Golurk in the ruins of the Desert Resort when the group was interrupted by a loud, high-pitched bellow. And before Angie could even blink in surprise, she found herself wrapped in a bone crushing hug by Ash's Dragonite.

Ash watched Angie be squeezed by the cuddle-loving dragon for half a minute before scratching his head and chuckling lightly "Uhh… alright, then. Angie, I'd like very much to introduce you to my Dragonite!"

"Yer wuh!" Angie croaked, looking up incredulously at the smiling orange dragon's face. Dragonite didn't seem to realize it was practically suffocating the poor girl. Angie's Luxio was staring up at Dragonite with an anxious frown, wondering whether or not it should try to intervene... or if there was anything he even could do against the towering Dragon-type.

After hearing an audible crackling sound, Ash clenched his teeth and rushed forth to tap Dragonite's shoulder, getting its attention. Ash pointed to Angie, and Dragonite looked down to see her face turning purple. Eyes widening in guilty realization, Dragonite swiftly released Angie, who fell on her back against the floor and started breathing rapidly.

When she was back to her senses the green haired tomboy stared up at the apologetic Dragonite with a dumbfounded expression. She turned to Ash and raised an eyebrow at him.

"... Aren't Dragonite supposed to be super rare or something?" Angie inquired. Ash nodded simply, and she added "I can believe that you can catch one, but... where the heck did you even get that thing!?"

"We got stranded out at sea during a storm, and some Dragonite rescued us and took us to their island" Ash replied. Angie blinked at him before rounding on Goh, who responded with an amused grin and an impish shrug.

"It's true. He met it as a Dragonair actually. It was having trouble learning to fly, and Ash had the bright idea to teach it by bouncing on an electro-web" Goh informed Angie, who looked back at Ash with a frown that screamed "... You didn't..."

Ash scratched under his nose, looking completely shameless "Yup. It worked too"

"Of course it did" Angie sighed. As Ash and Goh carefully helped Angie back onto her feet, Dragonite let out another happy bellow and grabbed her Luxio, holding him up and giving the black and blue feline his own big hug. Luxio sent his trainer a pleading look, but all Angie could do in the moment was shrug apologetically.

After about five minutes Dragonite finally released Luxio, making Pikachu the center of its affections for a while, and when Ash and Goh were done recounting their island adventure where Dragonite was caught and some of the other fun stuff Ash had gotten up to with the lovable Dragon, like the time it defeated the Kalosian Gym Leader Korrina's Mega Lucario, Ash led the group to the side of the large pond where Goh's water Pokémon congregated. Dragonite went off somewhere on its own, thankfully not taking Pikachu with it, while Ash began looking around carefully.

"Hmm..." Ash said, keeping his eyes peeled "Okay, you've seen Lucario, Gengar and Dragonite. And of course Pikachu here. Out of my Pokémon I keep here in Vermilion, that leaves... oh, there he is! HEY, FARFETCH'D! OVER HERE!"

Angie looked curiously in the direction Ash was staring off to, lowering her gaze to watch a small, mostly dark brown duck carrying a leek waddling over to them. The duck stopped directly in front of Angie and stared up at her. Its eyes were half open, which along with the thick eyebrows gave it a perpetually serious, somewhat dangerous expression.

Angie stared oddly at it "... That's a Farfetch'd?"

Ash smiled proudly at the duck "Yup. A Galarian one... they all looked like that, I think. He's pretty awesome, right?"

Angie blinked curiously at Farfetch'd, who held his enormous leek behind his back and puffed out his chest impressively. The tomboy smirked "I never thought I'd say this about a Farfetch'd, but, yeah. He does look pretty cool"

"Now if only he could win a battle once in a while" Goh snarked under his breath. Ash and Farfetch'd glared irritably at Goh, but Angie didn't appear to hear him and just frowned thoughtfully at the duck.

"Galarian huh? I've heard about regional variants... so, what makes frowny face here different from normal Farfetch'd?" Angie inquired.

"Galarian Farfetch'd are fighting types" Goh replied, pulling out his Rotom Phone "Also I checked the other day, and apparently they're capable of evolving into something called a Sirfetch'd"

"Wait, really?" Asked Ash, who was just as caught off guard by the revelation as Angie. Even Farfetch'd himself raised his bushy eyebrows curiously.

"Here, one sec" Goh said, tapping on the rotom phone's touch screen a few times before flipping it around to show everyone. Ash, Angie, Pikachu and Cinderace all bunched up together to examine the image of a formidable looking white duck with a similar face to Ash's Farfetch'd, but who's leak more resembled a mighty sword, and it also carried a green shield.

"Pi, pika" Pikachu said, staring wide eyed at the image, while Angie gave an impressed whistle.

"Wow, suddenly I'm not sure whether I'm more jealous of the Dragonite, or that you're probably going to own that thing eventually… actually, I'm really jealous that you get both" Angie told Ash, who grinned widely and took hold of the Rotom Phone so he could show the image to his Farfetch'd.

Farfetch'd narrowed his already half-closed eyes so much they almost closed entirely. A moment later they shot wide open, and a gleam of intrigue flashed through them.

"Faaarr" Farfetch'd said, rubbing his wing against the bottom of his beak, looking quite fascinated by the form he might someday assume.

"Any idea how we can get Farfetch'd to evolve into that, then?" Ash asked eagerly. Goh shrugged.

"I dunno, the pokedex app was kinda vague about the evolution method" Goh said, taking back his Rotom phone and staring oddly at it "It just said something about it hitting other Pokémon really, really hard..."

Farfetch'd's eyes seemed to glow a dangerous red at that information, and he quickly started scanning the area. His eyes fell on the trio of Goh's male Nidoran, Caterpie and Bunnelby, who were all kneeling down by the side of the nearby pond for a drink.

They all stopped drinking when they sensed they were being watched, and the three small Pokémon turned to see Farfetch'd furrow his brow dangerously at them, wielding his leek like a club with his right wing and tapping it slowly against the tip of his left wing.

Nidoran, Caterpie and Bunnelby's eyes all turned completely white, and they proceeded to make a break for it in the opposite direction from the mad duck. Farfetch'd raised his leak above his head and let out a fierce battle cry, giving chase to the unlucky trio. Ash's jaw dropped at the sight and he leapt at Farfetch'd to try and catch the duck, but missed and landed on his face. Ash then frantically pushed himself back to his feet and ran after the duck.

"No, Farfetch'd, stop! NOT LIKE THAT!"

Angie and Goh snorted loudly, quickly breaking out into full on laughter at Ash and the crazed duck's antics. Pikachu, who had fallen off of Ash's shoulder when he hit the ground, watched his trainer chase after Farfetch'd with a worried frown, debating whether he should follow after him. The little mouse eventually just decided to shrug it off and go play a game of tag with Angie's Luxio.

"Yeah, that's definitely a Pokémon of Ash's, alright" Angie said, still giggling a bit. She turned to Goh "This what every day is like for you, then?"

"Every single one" Goh said with a careless shrug. He smiled endearingly after his hapless friend "Ash is a very unconventional person, and nothing he or his Pokémon ever do seems all that normal to me... but honestly, that's one thing I like about him. He keeps life interesting, and despite how it can sometimes look from an outside perspective, Ash is actually pretty smart and uniquely insightful... I feel like I really learn a lot, travelling with him" Goh put a hand on his hip, flashing Angie a toothy grin "I dare say I picked the perfect candidate for my best friend"

Angie nodded unconsciously, staring wistfully in the direction where Ash had just vanished off to "... Yeah. You really scored big with him, and getting to travel around the whole world all you want..." Angie's gaze lowered, and she let out an almost remorseful sigh.

Goh didn't seem to notice straight away, just staring proudly at the sky through the glass ceilings of the indoor park "Honestly, I hope I get to keep going on adventures with him for a very long time..."

It took five minutes before Ash returned to the side of the pond where Angie and Goh remained waiting, having sat down on a nearby patch of grass. The trainer was gently carrying Farfetch'd in his arms, the frowning duck appeared calm and collected now, but the red marks across Ash's face made it clear he had not come around easily.

Angie and Goh snorted again at the sight of Ash, who shot them both a warning look before carefully setting Farfetch'd down.

"You're a lot of trouble sometimes, you know that?" Ash scolded the duck, who nodded apologetically before waddling off. Angie watched it leave with a curious expression, then turned to Goh.

"Do any of your Pokemon ever act up like that?" She asked "You have so many different kinds here, I can't imagine they all get along all the time"

"I'm proud to say my Pokemon are all very well behaved" Goh bragged, holding his head up high.

"CUBONE!"

Goh blinked, turning around to see his Cubone angrily chasing after his Darmanitan, who was laughing wickedly and holding up the bone Cubone usually wielded as it ran from the Skull wearing Pokemon.

"CUBONE! CU, CUBE, CUBONE!"

Goh stared slack jawed at the scene before him. He glanced at Ash, who was smugly grinning ear to ear at him. Goh frowned at his fellow trainer and turned back to the fleeing Darmanitan with a loud groan "... With one exception..."

Goh shot to his feet and took after the thieving Darmanitan. Cinderace stared after its trainer with a cheeky smile, shrugging carelessly and shaking it's head before following after him. Angie giggled uncontrollably for a moment while Ash just casually sat down beside her.

While Goh disappeared somewhere into the park, Ash and Angie quietly watched Pikachu and Luxio play around, the former having currently bowled the latter over to start scratching his belly, which made Luxio pur happily. Angie gave the two Pokemon an adoring smile before turning to Ash.

"You and Goh have some interesting Pokemon" Angie said, earning a grateful nod from Ash "Where'd you say the Pokemon you had in Sinnoh were again? And all your other ones?"

"Most of them are at Professor Oak's ranch. Incineroar, Lycanroc, Melmetal and Rowlet are all in Alola, with my Alola family. I've been thinking about having the Professors start sending them over more often to help with the World Championship battles, but I didn't want to do that too much straight away, I was worried it might make me neglect training the Pokemon I have with me right now, who probably need that more right now" Ash replied, scratching his head sadly as he added "And I released a few of them over the years... it was what they wanted, and I'm happy for them. But I still miss them a lot. I know where half of them are, like Squirtle and Goodra, so I could probably still call up and have them help me out once in a while... but some of them are harder to find. Naganadel lives in a whole other dimension"

"Ouch" Angie said, looking apologetically at Ash "Sorry... that must be rough"

"It always is, at first" Ash agreed. He shook his head, looking up at the sky with a wistful smile "But you get used to it... I know whatever they're all doing, they're happy. I'm just glad I got to meet them all, and for all the wonderful memories of the good times we had together"

"I guess you could say you've led a really fulfilling life, then?"

"You can say that again" Ash said, closing his eyes and leaning his head back to let the rays of sunlight shining through the glass wash over him "So many great Pokemon... so many wonderful friends... adventure around every corner... it's been a blast. Maybe the best life I could have possibly asked for!"

Ash slowly opened his eyes, smiling serenely "... I'd do it all again in a heartbeat..."

Ash turned back to Angie. The peaceful smile quickly faded from his face, being replaced with a worried frown when he noticed how downcast Angie looked. Ash bit his lip, his mind going into overdrive to try and figure out a way to raise his friend's spirits.

As an old memory suddenly resurfaced in his mind, Ash grinned widely and shot to his feet, chuckling enthusiastically at Angie. That got the tomboy's attention and at least managed to wipe the sad frown off her face, as she looked to Ash with a curious pout.

"You know..." Ash started, giving Angie a cheeky grin, extending a fist to her "I do believe that when we parted ways after camp ended, we made a promise to battle each other the next time we met. We didn't get to do that in Solaceon Town because of everything that happened there, but we've got plenty of time now. Sooo...?"

Angie blinked slowly at Ash. Any sad feelings seemed to vanish from her face as she put on a competitive grin, rising to her feet and fist bumping Ash. A fire burned in Angie's eyes as she leaned in close to look Ash dead in the eye "You're on"

Ash and Angie giggled deviously, whistling to Pikachu and Luxio and motioning for them to follow. Ash led Angie to a large clearing nearby, where Pikachu and Luxio ran up to the center of it and squared off against one another a dozen feet apart, arching their backs and looking eager for battle. Several of Goh's Pokémon who were hanging around and relaxing in the clearing moved out of the way once they realized what was going on with the new arrivals and getting to a safe distance to curiously watch how the oncoming battle turned out.

Ash and Angie looked to each other, the latter putting her hands on her hips and huffing arrogantly.

"Just because you're a League veteran doesn't mean you're in any way allowed to go easy on me" Angie said, poking Ash hard in the chest several times and grinning dangerously at him "I may not have travelled the world and beaten Legendary Pokémon, but I've been training almost every day for the past couple years just for this! So don't whine if I beat yah!"

Ash shook his head and gave her an amused smirk "I hope your Luxio is every bit as strong as Pikachu, I'd be disappointed if this battle WASN'T gonna be tough!"

Ash and Angie narrowed their eyes, staring intently at each other... Ash quickly relaxed his expression and gave the girl a friendly smile and offered her his hand. Angie looked down at it in surprise for a moment and clasped her hand against his, squeezing it tightly. She gave Ash a grateful smile, then shook her head and let out a more girlish giggle than Ash had ever heard from her.

"... Thanks for this, Ash" Angie said sincerely, looking away briefly before meeting Ash's gaze with a twinkle in her amber eyes "... Honestly... I'm really glad I got to meet you again. This afternoon has been the highlight of my whole vacation already"

"I'm glad to hear that. I'm so glad I got to meet you again" Ash nodded, causing Angie to blush slightly. She didn't look away this time, just continuing to giggle endearingly at Ash, who mused to himself that there was something curiously adorable about it.

Angie took a calming breath, then narrowed her eyes at Ash and gave him a cheeky grin, as the two teens gripped each others hands harder, getting fired up for the long awaited battle.

"Alright then" Angie said "Let's do this!"

BOOM!

Ash and Angie stumbled around as the whole world around them suddenly started shaking for a brief moment. Angie ended up collapsing into Ash, sending them both to the ground.

Nearby, Pikachu and Luxio just barely managed to avoid falling flat on their faces, and were still left wobbling on their feet for a while afterwards. Several of Goh's nearby Pokemon weren't so lucky and collapsed together into a large pile, blinking in shock.

Up in the air, Goh's Butterfree, Pidgey and several of his other flying-types started plummeting to the ground, a few of them lucky enough to catch themselves and start flapping their wings to slowly descend before hitting the floors.

Ash's Dragonite, who had been calmly hovering around considering who it might cuddle up to next, floundered through the air and barely managed to stop itself from crashing into a tree. It carefully positioned itself onto a large branch, and with a confused bellow it started scanning the area for whatever it was that knocked it off balance.

Goh and Cinderace, who were now on the other side of the park to Ash and Angie and had still been chasing after Darmanitan and Cubone, fell flat on their faces, grunting loudly. Darmanitan widened its eyes, looking back and forth with a fearful expression, weary of further tremors, dropping Cubone's bone to the floor.

Cubone didn't bother to pick it up. The orphan Pokémon just stood motionless, utterly petrified by fear.

Ash and Angie groaned, the latter pushing against Ash's chest to raise herself up a bit. Ash grunted at this, but shook off the pain, staring into Angie's horrified face with an equally shocked expression.

The world was still for a long time after that... and eerily quiet, an ominous feeling in the air.

...

...

...

"..." Angie's jaw was agape "... What... was..."

BOOM!

Angie crashed her head against Ash's, almost knocking the two teens right out, as the entire park shook for several seconds longer this time. Pikachu and Luxio fully collapsed this time, while all throughout Cerise Park Pokémon started crying out in panic, with even the normally still and meditative Golurk looking around frantically.

BOOM!

The world shook again, and Angie rolled off of Ash, though still clinging onto his hand.

"What the heck is going on here!" Goh screamed from further away, pushing himself slightly off the ground with some difficulty and looking furious and perturbed.

Cinderace managed to bounce onto its feet and assume a fighting stance, looking around cautiously for any sign of a possible enemy, sweating bullets.

Nearby, Ash's Farfetch'd looked to the sky, glaring fearfully.

BOOM!

Ash clenched his teeth and managed to open his eyes to witness that a wave of purple light seemed to briefly flash over the area in step with the most recent tremor.

Ash's heart sank and his jaw dropped. His eyes widened in pure terror.

"No way..." Ash croaked, shaking his head in disbelief "It can't be... not Alamos Town again!"

"Huh!" Angie cried out, staring incredulously at Ash "What happened in Alamos Town!?"

Ash took a while to even register what Angie had said. When he finally did he looked at her with the most serious look in his eyes Angie had yet witnessed, even more so than when they nearly got sucked into the underworld together.

There was also a great fear in them. And it was even more evident in the dire tone in which Ash told her "Dialga and Palkia fought each other once... Palkia got hurt and used Alamos Town as a rest stop. It made reality around the town go nuts... then, Dialga showed up, and they started fighting again... reality started to collapse around us, and Alamos Town was almost wiped out of existence"

Angie's whole body trembled, her jaw almost hitting the floor. She stared frantically into Ash's eyes, practically begging him to be lying. And he just glared back without blinking once.

Angie could only utter two words to describe the situation.

"... … … OH CRAP!"

BOOM!

BOOM!

Ash and Angie grabbed onto each other and held on tightly, screaming in terror as the tremors hit the park worse than ever.

All throughout the park, Pokémon began screaming at the top of their lungs, those still standing flailing around in terror, a few of them launching attacks wildly at anything that moved, too disorientated to think clearly. Dragonite's mournful wail echoed above all of them.

The loud slamming of a door echoed out, catching Ash's attention. Through great difficulty, Ash managed to drag himself and Angie unsteadily to their feet. Angie hung on tightly to him, her head on his shoulder and a look of terror frozen on her face. Ash grit his teeth, looking around for his starter Pokémon and Luxio, who had somehow rolled a good distance away during the tremors and now sat over a yard away from their trainers.

Gritting his teeth even harder to the point they might crack, Ash furiously looked around for the source of that last loud sound. He soon spotted the red haired Professor Cerise running into the park, moving so frantically he ended up tripping himself up and slamming into the ground chin first next to the downed Pikachu and Luxio, his glasses falling off his head in the process.

Ash looked desperately to the Professor, who just barely managed to push himself up a bit to look back at Ash with a blank stare for a whole thirty seconds.

A weak smile formed on Cerise's face. He seemed to be fighting desperately to hold it all together.

"... I... I don't mean to... alarm you all!" Professor Cerise said slowly to Ash, who narrowed his eyes at him as his way of telling the Professor to swallow his fear and give it to him straight. Cerise's lips trembled and he stared miserably at the ground for a brief moment, before looking back up at Ash with an ominous glare.

"... The world outside... is kind of disappearing"

Ash's eyes widened.

BOOM!

BOOM!

The latest bout of world shaking caused the glass ceiling of the Cerise Park to shatter into a million pieces... all of which mysteriously hung in the air for a moment in suspended animation.

Ash balked at the floating chunks of glass, which soon after flew high into the sky, quickly disappearing into the horizon... leaving a clear view for Ash to witness the once clear blue skies be engulfed in an inky blackness.

Ash gulped "... This is DEFINITELY just like Alamos Town"

BOOM!

BOOM!

BOOM!

The screams of the Park Pokémon grew deathening as the walls around the park completely collapsed and faded away, revealing walls of pure darkness, which began encroaching into the park.

Humans and Pokémon alike gaped in horror at the sight. Ash's Dragonite Clenched its teeth and stared around frantically for its friends. It spotted a seemingly shell shocked Farfetch'd staring distantly at the endless darkness before it. Dragonite gave a mortified wail and took flight, swooping down to grab its friend in an effort to carry the duck to safety...

… Blipping out of existence in a brief flash of white light before it reached its fellow Pokémon.

Farfetch'd itself vanished shortly thereafter.

Ash wasn't able to witness his Pokémon vanishing, but he and Angie did clearly see the Pokémon that had been getting ready to watch Pikachu and Luxio battle disappear. And it made both of their hearts freeze up.

"There... there's no way... this makes no sense!" Goh uttered from not too far away. He backed away fearfully from the wall of darkness that inched closer and closer forward, engulfing everything in its path as it did so. Biting his lower lip so hard it bled slightly, Goh frantically looked around for anything vaguely resembling a possible answer for the impossible phenomenon.

His eyes settled on the floating green ghost Pokémon with a row of red beads below her head, glaring desperately at her "PLEASE tell me this is one of yours and Stantler's illusions again, Misdreavus!?"

Misdreavus shook her head quickly, looking like she herself desperately wished that was actually the case. The ghost's eyes widened in surprise for a moment, and she blipped out of existence too, causing her trainer to gasp.

To the side Cinderace glared defiantly at the wall of darkness, charging up a pyro ball and swiftly kicking it towards the darkness.

The pyro ball fizzled out and disappeared quickly... and Cinderace with it.

"NO!" Goh wailed, rushing towards the spot where his starter Pokémon had vanished and grabbing the air desperately, almost falling over when it became clear there was nothing but air in Cinderace's place.

Goh's hands dropped to his sides, and all the poor trainer could do was stare miserably into space, too horrified and heart broken to even notice the darkness rush over him until he had completely vanished.

One by one, the Pokémon that resided in the Cerise Park disappeared. The horrified screams died down slowly before leaving an eerie silence over the small patch of park where Ash and Angie held onto each other for dear life, while the fallen Professor Cerise began breathing heavily as Pikachu and Luxio finally struggled to their feet.

A rush of adrenaline caused Angie's shell shocked fear to end abruptly, and she pushed back from Ash a bit to look furiously at his face.

"WELL?! You're the expert in weird nonsense! WHAT DO WE DO?!"

"I don't know!" Ash cried desperately, which knocked the anger out of Angie's expression and replaced it with a renewed grimace of despair "There isn't a clock tower that can play music around here or anything... and I don't even know if it's Dialga and Palkia doing all this, this time!"

"Oh, this is just..." Professor Cerise never finished his sentence.

Pikachu and Luxio grimaced at the spot where the Professor had vanished and shook their heads frantically.

"PIKA!"

Pikachu spotted the two remaining humans, noticing Ash staring desperately at him. Eyes watering, Pikachu crouched down and hastily pounced forward, dashing towards his trainer in a mad rush. Luxio tried to follow, but vanished before it could take his first step.

Eyes filled with dread, Ash removed his left hand from around Angie's back and reached out to Pikachu, who used quick attack in a last ditch effort to outrun the now rapidly approaching darkness.

Pikachu leapt into the air, and reached out his paw to try and take Ash's hand...

... And vanished a split second before reaching him.

Ash felt his heart break in two.

"PIKACHUUUUU!"

Tears rushed down Ash's face, which contorted into an expression of pure, agonizing despair.

Angie hugged Ash as tightly as she possibly could, leaking a few tears of her own into Ash's shoulder.

"I'm so sorry" Angie whispered.

It was all she could say.

The floors beneath Ash and Angie seemed to fade away, and all the colour that still surrounded them vanished. The two terrified teenagers maintained a firm grip on each other as they fell into an abyss.

They fell, and fell, and fell.

For what felt like forever, Ash and Angie fell...

… And then all feeling seemed to slip away from them, and all they knew was darkness.

...

...

...

...

...

...

...

"GAH!"

Ash groaned as his face hit the marble floors. It took him a long time to recover from the shock of his sudden landing and open his eyes, upon which he was immediately blinded by the pure whiteness of his surroundings. Blinking rapidly, his eyes eventually started to adjust to the brightness around him.

He realized he was in an enormous hallway filled with golden columns, And where the walls, floor and ceiling were all pure, unblemished white marble.

No surprise it was such a disorientating sight after being engulfed by so much darkness for… he still had no idea how long. He almost couldn't believe it had even ended.

Ash rubbed his eyes before moving his hand upwards to massage his temples, letting out a low moan. His head still fuzzy, and somehow missing his signature hat, Ash slowly pushed himself up and rose to his feet, legs slightly unsteady and head still sore from the unexpected landing.

Another loud moan soon caught his attention, and looking to his left Ash found Angie sprawled out on the floor besides him, eyes forced shut and clearly disorientated. Slapping the side of his head a few times to try and dispel any remaining dizziness, Ash kneeled down and put a hand on the girl's shoulder.

"Hey, it's me. Are you alright?"

"Ah-Ash?" Angie's eyes flickered open and shut a few times before eventually the black haired boy's face came into view. Ash gave her his best effort at a reassuring smile and offered his right hand to her. After taking a moment to rub her eyes, Angie graciously took it. Ash gave the green-haired girl another half a minute to better come to her senses, then gingerly helped Angie to her feet.

Angie took a deep breath, slapped the sides of her head in the same manner as Ash had a moment prior, looked the now cap-less wonder in the eye and asked "So… what the HELL just happened?!"

"Reality collapsed around you, plunging you both into an abyss of infinite nothingness from which you're lucky I was able to recover you both in time"

Angie barely registered any of that reply, as the moment the booming voice had sounded off behind her the girl leapt forward with a yelp, bumping headlong into Ash and almost causing them both to tumble to the ground again.

Steadying himself and the spooked tomboy once more hanging onto his torso, Ash looked in the direction of the regal voice. Raising his head quite a bit, the boy saw a pair of familiar red eyes staring down on him. Eyes that belonged to a very large Pokemon he knew quite well.

"Oh… Hey Arceus" Said Ash. Angie pushed herself off of him, stared incredulously into his eyes for a moment before spinning her head to face the towering figure of a white and gray, strangely equine creature with a golden ring around it's body. A being that any child that grew up in Sinnoh would be intimately familiar with.

"It's been a while, Ash Ketchum. I must apologize that we must meet again under such dire circumstances" Said Arceus.

Angie made a noise that Ash was sure only a spooked dragonite should have been able to make.

"Uh… okay" Ash wasn't sure how else to respond for a moment, but eventually asked "Was everything that just happened because of you?"

Arceus's face seemed incapable of making expressions, but somehow it still looked a bit annoyed to Ash for a moment.

"No… no. I had nothing to do with that mess. I'm afraid the truth is… complicated" Arceus replied, sounding rather aprehensive.

Ash noticed Angie staring at him with an expression that clearly read "What the f###?".

He could only respond with a sheepish grin and a meek "Long story". After a moment the shock melted off Angie's face and was replaced with a look of exasperation, which then turned into an almost sarcastic frown.

"I don't know why you bothered saving the girl. This would all go a lot quicker with just Ash Ketchum" Ash and Angie winced, turning to see another figure standing besides one of the many pillars in the white hallway. The voice appeared to belong to a tall man with curly black hair, adorned in an all-white… disco suit? Neither Ash or Angie were quite sure what he was wearing, but other than that he looked quite normal.

Normal to the point he really stood out in a place like this.

"Angie was holding onto Ash when reality collapsed around them, I would have little option other than to recover her too. And besides, I would have gladly saved everyone from your meddling" Arceus responded, the great beast's regal voice dripping with venom. Ash got the distinct impression from the shine in his eyes that the Alpha Pokemon wanted to cast "Judgement" on the strange man at that exact moment.

For his part, the mystery man just threw up his hands calmly, putting them behind his head as he began strutting closer to where Ash and Angie stood.

"Oh, very well, no harm done. Who knows…" Angie recoiled a bit as the man passed her, staring down and examining her face. He smirked "She might make the game more interesting"

"Game?" Angie asked, glaring back at him with an unsure expression. A low growl reverberated across the white halls, and Angie fell silent again as she remembered the literal creator deity of her world was standing only a few feet away from her.

The man was far less perturbed by this, in fact he looked like he wanted to laugh at the God's agitation.

"You both might want to make yourselves comfortable" At Arceus's words two armchairs appeared before Ash and Angie

"We have… much to discuss"

Taking the hint, the two teens sat down in the chairs as the mystery man strolled over to the Alpha Pokemon's side. Ash's suspicions that Arceus did not like this person at all gained a bit more credibility as Arceus inched away from him quickly after and glared down at him. The man had no reaction to this, just rubbing his hands together and looking at Ash with an almost childish level of excitement.

"So… before I begin, I believe it's custom to ask if you both have any questions?" Said Arceus. Ash felt Angie's hand fly into the air besides him "Yes, miss Angie, go ahead"

"Um, well, okay, um…" Angie stammered, taking another long moment to compose herself before continuing "Are you Arceus?"

"Well he sure isn't the Living Tribunal" The mystery man joked. Again, it should have been hard to tell given his seeming inability to make facial expressions, but Ash was sure Arceus did not look amused.

"Yes, I am Arceus. Also known in your myths by the title of The Original One" Arceus replied curtly.

"HOLY COW! I mean-Horse!" Angie yelped, then after a moment realised what she said and shrunk back into the armchair, looking mighty embarrassed "I'm sorry, oh Lord... That was stupid of me"

"No offense taken. You're handling this situation better than I would expect most children after being abruptly plunged into darkness" Arceus responded calmly. Angie scratched her cheek sheepishly. She then noticed Ash looking over at her with some concern and something clicked in her head.

"Hold the phone-Ash, why aren't you freaking out?! And why'd Arceus greet you earlier like it knows you already?" Angie asked. Ash shrugged.

"Because he does" Ash replied simply "Dialga sent me, Brock, Dawn and Pikachu back in time to save its life once, so I guess we're kinda friends. Also it helped us one other time in Kalos when Hoopa kinda screwed up reality, but we didn't really get to talk that time"

Angie looked at Ash like he'd just sprouted 6 heads and sang the Unovan national anthem 3 times backwards.

"I'm pretty sure she's more confused now than ever" The mystery main said with some amusement. Arceus sighed.

"I understand that with all the legendary Pokemon you've encountered and larger than life incidents you've been involved in, Ash Ketchum, this situation is probably only mildly unusual for you at best. But I feel it prudent to inform you: Most people don't consider it an average Tuesday to be summoned to the hall of Origin by the creator of all Pokemon"

"Um… sorry, but how was I supposed to explain it?" Ash inquired. Angie sighed deeply and held up a hand.

"You know Arceus for some reason, and that's all I really want to know for the moment. You can tell me the whole story later, but right now I think I'd be happy with just some context as to what the heck is even going on" Said Angie.

"Smart girl. This is taking longer than I'd like anyway, let's get to the long-winded exposition so the fun can begin" The mystery man piped up again.

By now, Ash was quite certain Arceus wanted to throttle this person and cast him into a black hole.

"I supposed I should start with an introduction" Arceus growled "This man is known simply as The Beyonder. He's from another universe"

Ash and Angie's eyes widened and they both stared at the strange man in bemusement. The now identified Beyonder waved at them casually with a calm smirk on his face.

"He is a being of great cosmic importance who possesses the power to control and alter reality itself… recklessly and selfishly so, because he is now solely responsible for destroying our universe"

Ash and Angie shot up to their feet, gaping in sheer horror as their minds raced to process that dire information.

"Oh, don't scare them like that. The universe isn't destroyed… it's simply been taken apart piece by piece so I can rearrange it into something more intriguing" The Beyonder said, looking very proud of himself.

The looks of horror on Ash and Angie's faces quickly gave way to bemusement, and then utter disgust.

"You tore my creation asunder as part of a sick game, you twisted freak! Don't you dare make light of that!" Arceus bellowed, stamping a hoof in the Beyonder's direction, eyes glowing a blazing red as the Alpha Pokemon looked about ready to attack. The curly haired man only seemed to grow more amused as he wagged a finger at him in a "Tut tut" fashion.

"Keep in mind that the fragments of your universe are bound to my being now, Arceus. Any harm you do to me would risk the fabric of your reality fading away into nothingness" The Beyonder lectured. Arceus growled even more viciously, but the threat was enough to get the large Pokemon to take a step back and compose himself.

"I'll start again from the beginning for clarity. This man is a cosmic Deity of sorts from what's known as the Marvel Universe. He's apparently grown bored of his own universe and has been going around and observing other universes. He's fond of ripping apart planets and stitching them together, starting conflicts between various groups of beings in an effort to amuse himself" Arceus explained.

"A most entertaining experience that was, but I longed for something more" The Beyonder Interrupted, throwing his hands into the air in some sort of grand gesture "I wanted to test my powers to their full extreme. Taking pieces of the universe and smashing them together into my own little playground is one thing, but what if I could rewrite reality as a whole? What if I could turn back time, change the entire story of a world and it's people?"

"This foolish being broke all the divine laws of the multiverse and merged his soul with the very core of this universe, and tore reality apart so he could remake it again, rewriting history in the process" Arceus cut in. Ash and Angie both swore loudly.

"You say that as though I've done something heinous" The Beyonder mused "I just thought this quaint little world of yours could be made a little more interesting if I spiced things up. Is a little home remodelling really such a crime in your eyes?"

"YOU RIPPED MY UNIVERSE INTO PIECES AND DESTROYED AN ENTIRE TIMELINE FOR YOUR SICK CURIOUSITY! YOU HAD NO RIGHT!" This time when Arceus slammed his hoof it created a shockwave that sent Ash and Angie flying back into their armchairs and caused the entire Hall of Origin to rumble. The Beyonder however remained firmly in place, even his clothes didn't seem to move.

"Well, yes, any action would sound bad if you described it with that nasty attitude" The Beyonder shot back sarcastically. As Arceus trembled with barely-surpressed rage, Ash shook his head to regain his senses and leapt to his feet again.

"Why would you do something like that?!" Ash demanded. The Beyonder glanced at him and shrugged.

"Because why not?" He offered. He could tell by the look on Ash's face that it was an unsatisfactory answer, so he sighed to himself and continued "Being a cosmic deity on my level gets rather boring after a certain number of eons. There's little for me to do but observe the machinations of reality, and the actions of the mortals that inhabit the universe from which I originated. For a while that was interesting… but then simply hanging back and observing got boring, and I yearned for a chance to make my own entertainment"

"There was a time where I became aware of a particular planet in my universe called Earth. It was a world filled with people called Superheroes and Super Villains, the very paragons of the ideals of Good and Evil. I found their conflict fascinating, so devised a fun little game where I would create a grand stage made of parts of various worlds throughout the cosmos, and gather a bunch of these heroes and villains together on it for a grand battle to decide which of their ideals was superior"

As he talked, the Beyonder began pacing around the halls, not even bothering to glance at Ash as he strolled past him and began circling the two armchairs "It was a glorious sight to behold… but when it was all over, I began to wonder… what next? What more could possibly satisfy my insatiable curiosity now that I had the answer to the question "Is good or evil stronger"?"

The Beyonder stopped at the same pillar he had originally been standing against, leaning into it with a deeply thoughtful look on his face. After a moment of silence, his face lit up with a 'Eureka' expression "Then in my search for greater purpose, I became aware that other universes existed beyond the edges of my own reality. Enlightened and ecstatic, I left my universe and began exploring the rest of the multiverse. I saw many strange and wonderful new worlds. A planet where giant beasts ran rampant. A world populated by colourful, anthropomorphic animals, some of whom had strange powers not unlike the superheroes of Earth"

"But it was your universe that I found the most intriguing" The Beyonder said in a tone Ash and Angie found spine-chillingly ominous. The Beyonder put on a devilish smile before slipping behind the golden pillar, disappearing from sight.

Ash leaned forward and narrowed his eyes at the pillar... then clenched his teeth and held in a frightened gasp as he felt a hand fall on his shoulder, and the Beyonder's voice began whispering in his ear.

"Out of all the world's I've witnessed, your World of Pokemon has the most... potential"

Ash shoved the hand off his shoulder and darted forward several feet, flipping around to glare uneasily at the strange man in white. From her chair Angie was staring at him in bemusement, unable to figure out how he'd so suddenly appeared behind Ash. The Beyonder flashed a set of glowing white teeth.

"Your world has it all... magic, futuristic technology, time travel, alien visitors, Gods of reality, countless interesting and varied cultures... it's the only world outside the universe where I originated where I truly got the sense that here, truly anything is possible... and that's not even getting into the Pokémon themselves! Such fascinating, beautiful creatures that can be anything the mind can imagine!"

The Beyonder held out his hands, and Ash and Angie's jaws dropped as a holographic image of a Charizard appeared above them "They can be dragons!" The hologram Charizard disappeared, being replaced by an image of a Palossand "Or a sandcastle!"

Palossand disappeared, and in turn holograms of Vanillite, Garbodor and Klefki flashed above the Beyonders hands "A cone of ice cream, a pile of living garbage, a set of keys!" Images of Pokémon started flashing by so quickly Ash and Angie couldn't even register them all "Ghosts, and Golems, and animals, and machines! Musketeers, fruit, dinosaurs and I don't even have words to describe what kind of creature Jynx is!"

The holograms stopped appearing as the Beyonder clapped his hands together and gave Ash a wide smile, that was filled with mirth and wonder yet was somehow so creepy and unnatural that Ash was compelled to take several steps back and cringe.

And that feeling only grew inside Ash when the Beyonder started sizing him up with a most suspicious stare.

"And you, Ash Ketchum" The Beyonder began in a hushed tone, rubbing his hands together and somehow widening his already impossible grin "... Above all the people in this world... you were the one I found most... intriguing..."

Ash's face drooped.

"... Me?" Ash asked, a dumbfounded expression plastered across his face.

"Him?" Angie said straight afterwards, equally confused.

The Beyonder stroked his fingers again and looked at Ash in a way that really made him want to request the presence of a mature adult.

"It's a most remarkable thing, really... ever since you set out on your Pokémon Journey, the entire overarching story of this world and it's inhabitants seems to have bent over backwards to revolve itself mainly around you" The Beyonder explained.

Ash and Angie's eyebrows reached the tops of their heads, and they gave the Beyonder imploring stares "Every time a legendary runs loose in modern times... every time a new villainous team sets out to enact their grand master plans... every time something big, potentially world changing happens... it almost always revolves around you and whatever friends you're travelling with. And the few times something noteworthy happens without your immediate involvement, it always seems to involve people with past or future connections to you in some way"

"If your world was a story of some sort, you'd be the main character, Ash Ketchum" The Beyonder said. He disappeared in a puff of smoke, then to Ash's continuously growing shock reappeared directly in front of the normally hat-wearing trainer, grabbing hold of his shoulders and leaning in close to his face, eyes lit up with curiosity "Tell me, my boy... how did you accomplish that? What is it about you that gives you the privilege of having a whole world's fate continuously link back to you?"

Ash grabbed the Beyonder's hands on his shoulders and pulled them off with a bit of struggle, staggering back to get away from the cosmic crazy head. He looked uncertainly at the Beyonder, mulling his insinuations over, not even knowing where to begin on a sensible answer.

Luckily it seems he didn't have to as Arceus suddenly piped up with a response, reminding all present that he was still around "There's no special reason why Ash so often gets involved in so many events that shape the fate of the world, as I kept telling you. As far as I can tell, he really is nothing more than a regular human boy, remarkable only for the fact that he's brave, sincere, hard working and has a pure heart and genuine desire to befriend and do right by others. All great qualities to be admired... but not a one of them is particularly special or unique, not even lumped together all at once. There are countless other people in the world with hearts as strong as Ash... it just appears to be a strange, humorous string of coincidences that he keeps conveniently wandering into larger than life situations"

The Beyonder shook his head somewhat distastefully at the towering Alpha Pokémon "I remain convinced that there must be more to it, and you're just not looking at it from the right angles" He said, suddenly sounding a bit like a mad conspiracy theorist.

The Beyonder then turned back to Ash and stroked his chin, suddenly putting on a teasing smirk and chuckling sarcastically "Although, I suppose I can see why you might initially assume that... if the world does contort itself to make this one human it's ever reliable saviour, then it must be very selfish or have a cruel sense of humour, what with the poor job it seems to do rewarding him for his heroics, where his own personal ambitions are concerned"

Ash cocked his head curiously, and the Beyonder laughed some more "Tell me, oh "Chosen One", not counting that minor league from the Orange Islands, how many regional leagues did you have to challenge before you finally earned the title of Champion?"

"Seven" Ash answered, giving the humanoid deity an odd look "... What does that have to do with anything?"

The Beyonder shrugged, flashing Ash a cheeky grin "It just seems a bit unfair, doesn't it? All you ever wanted to do was be a Pokémon Master, right? You save the world time and time again, defying all odds... and yet you're constantly forced to settle for runner up status at the things that actually matter to you. The world constantly expects you to save it, but you still have to break your back working your way up the ladder of success, and at times it even looked like the world was actively cheating you out of what should have been your big breaks. I mean, where did that fellow with the Darkrai and Latios even come from?" The Beyonder shook his head "It all just seems kind of hilarious, doesn't it? Saviour of the world, but can't catch a break on your own personal agendas... from an outsiders perspective, you must sound pretty pathetic"

Ash clenched his fists and glared at the smart mouthed deity. Grinding his teeth, Ash felt like retorting, but Arceus beat him to it.

"Most trainers could only dream of having a League record as good as Ash's. He worked hard and progressed quite naturally as a trainer, and his unwavering resolve paid off greatly in the end" Arceus said sagely "Why should the world bend over backwards to give him total victories just because he's a heroic individual? It's not pathetic, he's only human. No one can be perfect at everything. There's no shame in losing, in fact it's admirable that he managed to learn from those failures until he finally rose to the top"

Ash smiled gratefully at Arceus, and very smugly at the Beyonder, who just waved his hand dismissively and rolled his eyes "Oh, give the boring, overplayed after school special lessons a rest. We all know nobody actually cares about any of that, only the winners of those tournaments were considered successful by most!"

Ash frowned and dryly snapped "And nobody actually cares about your boring opinions, either" His frown turned more aggressive "And what does my league record have to do with anything?! I asked why you went and destroyed the world... why are you suddenly talking about me!"

The Beyonder let out an electronic laugh, that strangely seemed to echo throughout the entire hall of origin, sending shivers down Ash and Angie's spines and even causing Arceus to frown. The Beyonder started walking towards Ash, who nervously backed away until he bumped into Arceus's leg. The Beyonder stopped right in front of Ash and poked him hard in the chest.

"Because, my dear boy..." The Beyonder's eyes seemed to sparkle "... You happen to be the linchpin for my greatest game of all!"

Ash raised an eyebrow. The Beyonder clapped his hands, and suddenly Ash found himself sat back in his armchair. Ash blinked and looked down at himself before exchanging a bewildered frown with Angie from the armchair next to him.

With a second clap the Beyonder summoned up his own purple arm chair to the left of Arceus, who appeared to be rolling his glowing red eyes. The Beyonder sat down in the arm chair, crossing his legs and making himself cozy. When he succeeded at that, he held his hands together again as if in prayer and looked over at the still very confused teenagers.

"We've dragged this out long enough, so let's get to the point" The Beyonder insisted "Your creator deity here needs to hibernate every so often to recharge his powers. During his most recent slumber, I merged myself with the core of this universe, and then started reducing the very fabric of reality and the nucleus of all living things, as well as the very history of the world itself, into a sort of... primordial stew, I suppose is the closest equivalent, as your race would probably comprehend it... though obviously actual primordial stew does not include the actual concept of time and space itself. Even the deities you have here to govern the concepts were blinked into existence by-"

"I sensed what he was doing part way through, and it awoke me from my slumber!" Arceus interrupted "I rushed to confront him... but by then it was too late. He gave me an odd instruction... "Save Ash Ketchum", which I did as quickly as I could in the circumstances. I grabbed you both right before your states of being were reduced to... cosmic primordial stew, I suppose we're calling it now, along with everything else. I had to keep you in suspended animation for a while, as I discussed certain matters with this pathetic excuse for a minor deity here"

"Wait, what?" Ash scratched his head.

"It's basically like we were frozen in time until he unfroze us" Angie clarified.

"Oh, okay" Ash nodded, looking curiously at Arceus "How long were we like that?"

"About half a day" The Beyonder responded before Arceus could, rubbing his hands together excitedly "Long and short of it is... we made a bet. The winner gets complete control and dominion over your universe"

"WHAT!?" Angie screamed, shooting to her feet and glaring incredulously at the Beyonder, and then furiously at Arceus. There was still a nervous look in her eyes as she addressed the creator deity, her reverence for the God Pokémon still very apparent. But she had clearly settled into the absurdity of the situation she was in by now enough to push past that and give the Alpha Pokémon a piece of her riled up mind "Why the heck would you need to make a bet like that... YOU'RE ARCEUS? Can't you just... I dunno… beat this guy up a bit, and make him put everything back to normal and leave?"

"Much as I'd like to, my hooves are tied" Arceus said, rolling his eyes "You might have missed it or forgotten this detail, but as our… parasite over here mentioned before, if I inflict any harm on him, it would have disastrous consequences" The equine Pokémon sighed deeply "Basically, the long and short of it is... he IS the core of the universe now... everything from the world you know is connected to his being. If any harm is inflicted on him, aspects of the world could be obliterated... and if I were to kill him, the universe and everything in it would cease to exist entirely... including the afterlife... everyone you ever knew and loved, and you yourselves, would be deader than dead"

Ash and Angie put on expressions of pure shock, gulping nervously.

"Technically!" Arceus said, tapping his front right hoof and staring curiously at the ceiling "I COULD kill The Beyonder, let the universe be destroyed and remake it again exactly as it was... but apart from the fact that would take about a billion years, it wouldn't actually be restoring what was lost... the current universe would still be gone, you and all the other mortals in it wouldn't actually be revived... you'd all just be replaced by copies of yourselves. And I don't really like that idea very much, do you?"

Ash and Angie meekly shook their heads, the latter sitting back down and rubbing her head, looking like she might have a breakdown. Arceus chuckled darkly.

"Very good then. So you can understand why I had to approach this situation with caution" Arceus said. The Alpha Pokémon heaved a low sigh and paused for a moment, which seemed to annoy the Beyonder who kept tapping the right arm of his chair impatiently.

It was with a more remorseful tone that Arceus continued "... I should have been more prepared for this situation, I admit... but I never expected something like this. At the dawn of the multiverse, the higher deities made a pact to not interfere in the order of each others worlds... but this creature before us is what we call a new god, a youngster... he's not sworn to the same restrictions. I wasn't really aware of his kind until this happened, I don't commune much with outside universes..."

Arceus shook its head, a look of great shame in his eyes as he looked between Ash and Angie "I apologize for this whole mess... but there really is precious little I can do other than barter with this fool. He holds almost all the cards right now... the only leverage I have is that I am still more powerful than him when unrestrained, and could ultimately destroy him if I so choose... but again, that's the least preferable option, so... I'm just going to let him explain to you the specifics of his bet"

And with that the Beyonder smiled, bounced to his feet and snapped his fingers, making his purple arm chair poof back out of existence. Ash and Angie irritably watched the "New God" do some light stretches and crack his neck before he started rubbing his hands together again.

"As I've said... I wish to make my own fun. Weave tales of wonder and intrigue that could keep me entertained for the duration of my existence" The Beyonder said. He suddenly scratched his chin and looked put down "The problem I've always had is, I'm just not very good at coming up with my own original ideas for a good story. That's why I resort to taking ones already in progress, and twisting them into something that more suits my taste. In that way, I guess I'm sort of like a... hmm... what's a good term for it?"

"A creepily obsessed fanfiction writer, but with actual peoples lives" Angie snarled.

The Beyonder half shrugged, rolling his eyes and regarding her with an odd mix of contempt for her tone, and respect for her boldness "I suppose that's an ineloquent way to phrase it..."

The Beyonder shook his head and rounded on Ash, smiling again "Also as I've said, I find you and your talent for getting into interesting, fate of the world scenarios fascinating, Ash Ketchum... so here's my proposition. I'm going to recreate your universe with an altered timeline. I'll send you into this universe to partake in a special quest... if you win, I will restore the timeline to how it's supposed to be, relinquish control of your universe to Arceus and leave forever. Sounds fair, right?"

Ash crossed his arms and leaned back into his armchair, frowning contemplatively at the Beyonder "... What kind of quest?"

"I'm going to send you back in time... back to the night before you first became a Pokémon Trainer" The Beyonder said, smirking deviously "You'll have to retrace your steps throughout your entire previous journeys... compete in all the same leagues, including the Orange Islands, and also I want you to compete in the battle Frontier again. Once you've done that, you must rechallenge the Pokémon World Championships, as you have been doing"

...

Ash stared blankly at the Beyonder for a moment, and then facepalmed, recalling something he'd said to Angie right before reality started collapsing.

'Ugh... Mankey's paw...'

Ash massaged his temples for a moment and then glared expectantly at the Beyonder "Is that all?"

"Yes..." The Beyonder nodded. Then he wagged his finger at the trainer "Oh, but you see, there's a couple of catches!"

"Of course" Ash and Angie said tiredly.

"One!" The Beyonder said, raising the hand with the already extended index finger into the air "The world you enter will be a remade one, with many differences from the one you know. Some small, and quite random... others large and sweeping! Just for fun, I'm even going to merge your world with several others I've encountered over my multiversal travels"

"..." Ash and Angie balked at the Beyonder "... Why?"

"Because even with the changes I'm going to make to your world, it should still resemble the one you know closely enough that I worry things might still be predictable enough for you to be unfairly prepared for everything I throw at you. And I think adding in a bunch of new elements you have no experience with at all would make things very unpredictable and exciting for me to watch" The Beyonder replied, shaking his hands eagerly.

Ash grumbled, clutching the sides of his chair. He had some choice words for the creep in front of him, but decided to save them for later.

"What else?" Ash asked through gritted teeth, and the Beyonder extended his middle finger along with the index one that was already raised.

"Two... you can't afford to be a perpetual loser this time..." The Beyonder said in a mocking tone, which made Ash blink "To win the bet, you have to win at least five out of seven of the League Tournaments you originally competed in from Kanto to Alola, along with the Orange League and the Battle Frontier Challenges... and then, if you make it that far without screwing up, you must enter into the Master Class of the Pokémon World Championships and become the World Champion by the end of the season... and you can't cheat by entering the World Championships early, this time around. You MUST enter and start working your way up the same time as before"

Ash and Angie were both left dumbstruck for a good while after that, quietly and uneasily processing that information. Eventually the Beyonder started to get bored of their silence, so raised a third finger.

"Three. You must defeat every single villain team you fought previously again, before the conclusion of the league from the regions you respectively fought them in. Which also means, you can't wait until AFTER the Kalos League to face Team Flare again, for example"

Ash shook his head, getting over his shock from the previous rule and scratching his arm, still looking uncomfortable and nervous "Um... okay. I can do that"

The Beyonder raised his little finger, putting on the most malicious smile Ash and Angie had seen from him yet.

"And four" The Beyonder leaned so his face was right in front of Ash's "You're not the only one playing the game... you're the Champion of good, working on behalf of Arceus, but I will personally pick out a Champion of evil to fight against you on my behalf. My Champion will devise wicked schemes and orchestrate great challenges and obstacles for you and your companions to overcome from behind the scenes... doing everything in their power to try and destroy you... so, yeah. Watch out for that. Mwahaha"

Ash grimaced as the Beyonder pulled away from Ash and took many steps backwards. The young trainer gulped, but tried very hard to shake off any fear he had and glare at the Beyonder defiantly, refusing to let the creep have the satisfaction of seeing him look terrified.

Taking a deep breath and exhaling loudly, Ash fixed the Beyonder with a stern frown "... And what happens if I lose, and you win then?"

Arceus turned away from the scene playing out in front of him, scratching the ground anxiously. From her own armchair Angie held her breath. And standing between them all, the Beyonder lowered his hand, stared unblinkingly at Ash for a whole minute... and then let out another of those electronic laughs that echoed through the bright marble halls.

"If you lose the bet" The Beyonder started, that unnaturally wide grin he sported before returning in full, horrifying glory "... Then the universe becomes my permanent plaything! I will have complete control over this universe, over your timeline... I will be free to reshape it, alter it, over and over and over again, for all of eternity!"

All colour had by now faded from Ash and Angie's faces. For a moment they couldn't even breath... the only responses they could make were to stare in absolute horror at the cruel God.

Arceus let out a mournful sigh, turning to Ash with a desperate look in his red eyes.

"I resent having to go along with this... to force such a heavy burden on your shoulder, Ash Ketchum" Arceus said, and he did sound completely sincere "... I just want you to know... I have complete faith in you. You shouldn't have to do this... I hope once this is over I can make it up to you, and all the denizens of your world for this madness... but now is not the time for me to angst. I promise to advise and assist you, in whatever limited capacity this freak of nature will allow. But please... I need you to be strong, and face this challenge with the same unrelenting determination that led you to being the great and wonderful trainer you have become... for all of our sakes, please give it your all!"

Angie stared worryingly at Ash, who was facing away from her so she couldn't see his face... but his body language made it plainly clear how heavily this whole situation was weighing on him.

Angie sighed sadly. she tried to reach out and place a comforting hand on his shoulder, wanted desperately to say something that could ease his conscience and reassure her friend that everything would be okay... but she pulled back and held her tongue, too afraid that anything she might say could come out wrong, or just make Ash feel worse.

Ash and Angie's attentions then quickly snapped back to the Beyonder as the cruel God suddenly began laughing hysterically "You know, it occurs to me... win or lose, however our little game turns out... I still come out on top, in the end"

Ash gripped the arms of his chair, narrowing his eyes as the Beyonder's amused chortle grew louder "The whole point of this endeavor was to kill time and entertain myself... obviously it would be a lot better for me if I won, and got to play around with your World as much as I wanted going forward. But I fully expect you to put on a good show whatever happens, so if you win, I'm still granted a good few years of solid entertainment!"

Ash grasped the arms of his chair so hard his fingers poked holes through the material. The Beyonder didn't seem to notice as his laughter died down, and the childish God stared up at the ceilings of the hall of Origin with a content smile on his face.

"Oh, I'm so looking forward to starting this game"

Angie stuck out her tongue, groaning in utter disgust at the childish deity before her. She put a palm to her forehead and began massaging her temples "This is all so STUPID, I swear..." She turned to Ash... and raised her eyebrows, watching him grind his teeth and glare daggers at the Beyonder.

"Do you..." Ash growled, his whole body trembling with barely suppressed rage. The Beyonder lowered his head, the relaxed smile on his face being replaced with a look of intrigue. In the background Arceus hummed quietly, watching carefully as Ash continued "... You keep calling all of this a game... do you just not understand how awful you're being?"

The Beyonder narrowed his eyes, waving his hand as though urging Ash to elaborate. Ash groaned indignantly, but followed through "You messed up the whole world... you're playing around with billions of lives! People and Pokemon! You must know that isn't fair to them!"

Ash slammed his hands down on the side of the armchair, staring desperately, incredulously at the deity "I don't know how things work in your universe, but... surely, you know it's cruel to put other people's lives at risk just so you can have fun!? Put yourself in all of those people's position... how would YOU feel if somebody did what you're doing to you?!"

"Hmm" The Beyonder said, scratching his chin and actually looking deep in thought for a long moment. Ash's bubbling frustration actually began to ease up slightly, bit by bit, and he watched on with a hopeful, pleading expression to the foreign deity.

But then the Beyonder just casually shrugged and smiled impishly at the young trainer.

"Oh, I actually understand how you would all feel about this quite well" The Beyonder said, in a whimsical tone that made Ash furrow his brow again suspiciously. The Beyonder's smile turned teasing "... I just don't care"

Ash's blood boiled

"Why in the name of creation should I care about the well being of you lesser creatures... I am a God!" The Beyonder said, holding out his hands impressively "A superior being! Most of you mortals only exist for a hundred years at most, and almost none of you accomplish anything even slightly significant in the grand scheme of reality... but I have existed for eons, and I will continue to live until the end of time! What do I have to worry for you mortals beyond how much your antics can amuse me?"

"Does anyone actually mourn when an ant is crushed?" The Beyonder mused, shaking his head pitifully at Ash "It's the same principal, from where I'm standing... maybe there'll be casualties from my meddling, but that should be well worth it so long as it serves to better my existence"

"You piece of crap!" Angie snapped, shaking a fist at the Beyonder.

Ash did one further and leapt to his feet, charged at the Beyonder and threw a hard punch. The Beyonder merely blinked, and Ash froze in place the instant before his fist made contact with the God's chest.

"Ah... this looks familiar? The Mewtwo method, correct?" The Beyonder said, shaking his head and going "Tut tut" to Ash, who was too overwhelmed by rage to think too clearly about that comment and just glared at the Beyonder's face as though hoping the sheer fury of his gaze would burn a hole into his forehead "Now, how did this go again... ah, right!"

And with a casual wave of the Beyonder's hand, Ash was sent flying backwards. Angie gasped and tried to get up and catch him, but Ash went by too quickly, flying right past the two armchairs. A blue aura lit up around the hot-headed teenager's body and forced him to a gentle stop right before he hit a marble wall. The blue energy carried Ash back to his armchair, lowering him down gently into it. Ash blinked in surprise, then looked up to see Arceus's normally red eyes glowing a mystic blue colour. They returned to their standard ruby red once the light around Ash had faded.

"... You're very amusing indeed, Ash Ketchum" The Beyonder chuckled, slowly stepping towards Ash and looking down on him with a mocking scowl "You really need to get over that hair-trigger temper of yours, though. Honestly I'd assumed you already had, you seem so much calmer and more laid back these days compared to, say, Hoenn... I suppose that's just a common vice with you mortals though. Always falling back on bad habits"

"I'll take your stupid bet!" Ash snarled. The Beyonder pursed his lips, giving a contemplative look to the boy staring at him with a fire in his eyes "And when I win... you'll keep your promise... or you'll regret it. And you can stop messing with people in other universes too!"

There was a burning sense of tension drifting through the air in the Hall of Origin for a minute that felt like hours to the four beings gathered there. Ash and The Beyonder's narrowed eyes were locked on one another's, daring the other to blink.

The moment finally ended when The Beyonder gave a derisive laugh and pushed Ash's head against the back of his armchair, before turning around and returning to stand besides Arceus once again.

Ash still remained unblinking as that happened, and watched the Beyonder retreat with an intense stare.

"I will restore your timeline, and the world you know, and leave this universe if that happens. As was the agreement I made with your creator" The Beyonder flipped around to face Ash again with a supremely arrogant smirk "But I make no further promises to you. No mortal man can intimidate me... also, you're getting ahead of yourself! There's a good chance you might lose, remember"

"I'll win" Ash said, quietly but with great conviction.

Arceus sighed deeply, taking several calm steps towards the twin armchairs "You won't have to do it alone"

The God of Pokemon's eyes began glowing green this time... a similar shade to the aura that surrounded Ash's right hand immediately after. Ash's serious expression briefly faltered and he began flailing the shrouded hand around in a panic, mildly concerning Angie. Eventually the green energy faded, and Ash settled down to curiously examine the thick black "20" mark now emblazoned on the back of his hand.

"Like I said, I had some leverage to bargain with our foe" Arceus said. Ash and Angie looked up at the God's expressionless face with wide eyes "I managed to get him to agree that you perform best with the help of your friends. So we're going to grant you the ability to restore the memories of those you know of the original timeline, so that they may most effectively be able to provide you assistance on this journey"

"Originally it was going to be a hard twenty limit" The Beyonder said from nearby, rolling his eyes distastefully "But the overgrown lama twisted my arm, and so we agreed to give you your closest companions for free"

"Place your hand anywhere on an allies' person, and will them to remember, and their memories will be restored. Like he said, all of your old travelling companions, from Misty and Brock to Goh, and all of the Pokemon you have caught over the years, you will be able to remind without any restrictions. As well as that Rotom that resides in a Pokedex and that girl Chloe, because I don't really know how to classify them. For every other person's memory you restore, however, the number on your hand will lower. Once it hits zero, you will lose the ability to remind anyone else apart from any outstanding best friends and Pokemon you haven't encountered by that point. So I suggest you choose wisely, whose services you wish to recruit for this quest" Arceus explained. After waiting for a moment to let Ash take all of that in he added "Just so you know... you can't remind literally anyone you want. They have to be someone you know fairly well, or had some sort of notable impact on, in your previous lives. You probably wouldn't be able to restore the memories of Faulkner, or Bugsy, for example"

Ash hummed thoughtfully, scratching the spot on his hand where the numbers were written along. He looked back up at Arceus and nodded gratefully.

"Um... okay, thanks" Ash said, scratching his head and smiling weakly "That sounds insanely useful"

"As an added bonus, I've also granted you the ability to understand what your Pokemon are saying after you remind them, to better your ability to communicate with them"

Ash and Angie stared silently at Arceus for a few seconds, blinking uncertainly.

"... Is that really necessary?" Angie wondered aloud.

Arceus raised his front right hoof and waved it around in what the two teens had to assume was the quadrupedal Pokemon's equivalent of a casual shrug "I don't know, I just thought it could come in handy..."

Ash stared oddly at Arceus, surprised by the awkward tone that seemed uncharacteristic for the Alpha Pokemon, but nodded along and said "Ok then, that's great... thank you"

Arceus nodded curtly to Ash, who after a moment of silent contemplation gingerly asked "... Is that all?"

"I'm not granting you any more special abilities, if that's what you mean" Arceus replied "A big part of this bet is that you must win the Leagues through your own skills, and only your human and Pokemon allies are allowed to assist you. I can't get directly involved, I can only offer you occasional advise... and on that note"

The Alpha Pokemon's eyes changed colour again, this time glowing a pure white. A large ball of light suddenly formed in front of the twin archairs, surprising Ash and Angie and causing them to lean back further into them. The ball convulsed several times before slowly changing form, until it became a shard of some sort of white crystal.

The crystal hovered over to float above Ash's lap briefly, the trainer raised a hand to let the jewel fall into his palm.

"Take special care to keep this crystal with you at all times" Arceus told Ash direly "When the time is right, it will grow, and your spirit will be briefly transported back here to the Hall of Origins so that we can commune further. You can contact me whenever you want after that, and I will try my best to offer you advise and help guide you along your quest. I can't tell you quite everything you might wish to know" Arceus glanced irritably at the Beyonder "But I will do my best to help you, despite my limited capacity. Until I can get in touch though, I urge you to think clearly and act rationally, and seek guidance from your human mentors like Professor Oak"

Ash nodded in understanding, turning the white crystal over and examining it closely. Angie leaned over to glance at the jewel herself. A look of discontent spread over her face as she looked up at the Alpha Pokemon "... What about me?"

Arceus turned his glowing red eyes on the green haired tomboy, who felt said orbs piercing through her. She rubbed her hands together anxiously, suddenly feeling butterflies in her stomach. After a long moment of plucking up her courage, Angie gave the creator of her universe a determined frown "What's my role in all of this?"

Arceus cocked its head, regarding Angie curiously. He let out an amused chuckle that reverberated across the halls.

"The challenge and the bet the invader and myself made around it was designed specially for Ash Ketchum" Arceus began, scratching the ground curiously with his hoof "Technically, you don't need to do anything... but, if you wish to assist him-"

"I do!" Angie yelled, causing Ash's eyes to widen at her and Arceus to let out another, rather proud chuckle.

"I thought so. In which case" Arceus's eyes started glowing green again, as did both of Angie's hands. The girl in green took it a lot better than Ash, but still had a slightly fearful look as she watched the mysterious green energy swirl around her hands for a minute before slowly dissipating "... I've granted you the power to heal almost any severe injury. Works on the same principal as Ash's reminding trick, just put your hands over a wound and will it to heal... it might make you dizzy the first few dozen times, until your used to it. Don't ever try to overexert yourself... you can't exactly bring back the dead with this ability. I don't really have much more to offer you at the moment, if I think of anything else I'll talk it through with our enemy and see if I can grant you another ability. Your role will be to help Ash as one of his travelling companions, help him to defeat the various villains of this world and whatever the Beyonder's "Champion of Evil" throw at him, and basically help keep him alive and help him train for the various tournaments he will have to win"

Angie turned her hands over a few times a few times, examining them closely before blinking at Arceus "... Okay then... you know, I kinda live pretty far away from Ash... how do I-"

"As luck would have it, you not only turned ten and became a trainer two months before Ash himself, but you visited Kanto right after he set out on his journey" Arceus cut in. Ash and Angie's eyes turned white from shock "Ash set out on his journey on April first, nearly seven years ago now... on the fifth of that same month, you travelled to Kanto by yourself, going on your first vacation without your parents to stay with your aunt Winry, near Cerulean City... the sight of Ash's second Gym Battle. My proposition is that you inform your parents you wish to go on a Pokemon Journey yourself before you leave for that vacation this time around, and wait at your Aunt Winry's farm until Ash passes by, so the two of you can meet up again. You can work out your own plans for how you're both going to go about completing this quest when you're done"

Angie leaned back in her chair, a distant look in her face as she tried to process that information. After half a minute she clenched her teeth, scratching the side of her left arm awkwardly and looking away from Arceus with a flustered expression "... That's going to be an awkward conversation with my parents..." She hummed thoughtfully for a moment, then furrowed her brow. Shaking her head, she looked back to Arceus and firmly said "But okay. Count me in!"

Arceus stared wordlessly down at Angie for a long moment before giving her an approving nod. Angie felt a tap on her shoulder, and she turned to see Ash giving her a serious frown.

"Are you really sure you want to do this, Angie?" Ash asked. Angie raised an eyebrow at him, and he leaned closer to place his hand firmly on her right shoulder "I skimped over a lot of stuff, telling you about my journey... but you should know, fighting all those villain teams, and all the other bad guys I ran into along the way and all the other crazy stuff that happened... it was a lot more dangerous than I probably made it sound. I don't really know how we all pulled through half the times... and it sounds like things are going to be a lot more dangerous and weird, from what that guy was saying. You don't really have to do this, you can go home and relax... I have a lot of friends to help me. I'm sure you could be a great help, and I'd appreciate it, but... I dunno, I just want you to make sure you know what you're asking to get into here"

Angie considered the hand on her shoulder for a brief moment, then fixed Ash with a firm stare.

"... Apart from the fact I can't just ignore everything that's going on, so no, I don't think I have a choice to just back out without being a jerk... I WANT to help out" Angie told Ash, gently removing his hand from her shoulder. Ash blinked slowly at her "You're my friend... and it's my world too!"

Ash blinked at Angie a few more times, then smirked proudly at her. Angie's determined expression faltered for a brief moment as she let out and exasperated sigh and rubbed her forehead, smiling nervously "... I'll admit, this is all a load of crazy nonsense that makes my head hurt a little..." Her smile turned more confident again and she lowered her hand "But I'm not gonna let that stop me from giving it my all anyway!"

"Angie..." Ash said, giving the tomboy a smile of admiration "... Thank you"

Angie nodded, giving Ash a similar smile and extending a fist towards. Him. Ash chuckled before raising his own fist.

Ash and Angie fist bumped, stared at one another for a moment, and then giggled.

The sight made The Beyonder roll his eyes and groan, leading him to tap his hands and make the armchairs Ash and Angie were sitting on vanish into thin air. The two teens fell on their backs against the marble floors, groaning in sudden pain and irritation.

"When this is over and the universe isn't at risk of collapsing, I vote we have Arceus hold that guy down so we can both punch him in the face afterwards" Angie furiously grumbled. Ash groaned in agreement.

"That would be delightful" Arceus said under his breath.

When Ash and Angie finally rose to their feet, the Beyonder startled them once more by teleporting behind them to tap both their shoulders.

"Well, I guess that's all for today. Time to get started!"

Ash and Angie flipped around to balk at the man in white.

"Wait, NOW?!" Ash yelled indignantly.

"Now" The Beyonder nodded. He waved his hand irritably at the teens looking incredulously at him "Or in about a minute, if that suits you better"

"But there's still so much I'm confused about!" Angie screamed, throwing her arms up, a process Ash mimicked with a loud "Yeah!"

"It'll have to wait" Arceus sighed, rolling his eyes and stamping his hoof to get the frantic trainers' attentions on him "This idiot is an incredibly impatient sort. Frankly, it's a miracle he didn't send you headlong into his new timeline much sooner than this with far less explained. I'll contact you at a convenient time with that special jewel, Ash. Angie, you can send your spirit here too if you hold hands with Ash whenever he uses it to contact me"

Ash looked around frantically, realizing the white crystal he had been presented had fallen out of his hand after his chair disappeared beneath him. He had a hard time finding the jewel along the similarly coloured floors, so Arceus groaned lightly and used psychic to lift it back into Ash's hands.

"Keep. It. Safe!" Arceus lectured. Ash scratched his head and laughed nervously, gripping the jewel tightly in response.

"Hey wait... how am I supposed to even know where to find Ash in Cerulean City when he gets there?!" Angie suddenly yelped "I don't even have a way to contact him?!"

An opened notebook suddenly appeared, floating in front of Ash, along with a pen.

"He'll have a way to contact you if you would just kindly give him your home phone number" Arceus said simply. Ash and Angie chuckled awkwardly, and after Angie passed the number along he wrote it down on a sheet of paper that he quickly ripped out of the notebook, which promptly vanished along with the pen, leaving Ash holding only the white crystal and the piece of paper with the number for the Solaceon Daycare center "For the record Ash, there's a slight time zone difference between Kanto and Sinnoh, Sinnoh is behind by a few hours. You might want to phone her later in the afternoon after reaching the Viridian City Pokemon Center, it would probably be the most convenient point to do so while retracing your steps"

"Uh... alright" Ash nodded, gripping the piece of paper as tightly as the white crystal.

"There's another thing you should know" Arceus said, suddenly sounding very grim and serious "The longer the two of you remain in this new timeline and your bodies and minds begin to acclimate to it, the more you should experience memories of the lives you should have lead in this new reality. Flashbacks, most likely, though a few of them might be subconscious recollections you won't even notice were not related to your past lives"

Ash and Angie gaped up at the equine Pokemon, gulping nervously.

"That... sounds complicated" Ash said meekly.

"That's putting it lightly" Arceus said sarcastically. He shook his head and glared intently between Ash and Angie "Just be sure to always keep firmly in mind who the two of you really are, and where you come from... the point is to set the world BACK to normal, and restore the original timeline... just... try not to lose focus of that... for the sakes of your sanities, more than anything"

Ash and Angie exchanged dire looks.

And the Beyonder just clapped his hands and cheerily said "Okay, times up!"

"WHAT?!" The two teens shrieked.

"But wait, we're not-"

"Too bad, we're starting now!" The Beyonder said, preparing to clap his hands once more... but then abruptly stopped at the last second, blinking uncertainly for a moment before his face lit up in recognition "Oh, right... there's one last condition! Nothing too important, you just need to battle the leader of Team Rocket and overthrown that villainous Team as well. Before the Indigo League, that is!"

"..." Ash gaped at the Beyonder "... What?"

The Beyonder clapped.

There was a large flash of purple light, and when it subsided, Ash once again found himself falling.

Except this time, it wasn't through darkness, but a void of endless white... if it weren't for the sensation of falling and the lack of golden pillars about, Ash would have hardly noticed he wasn't even in the hall of Origin anymore.

The black haired trainer crossed his arms, frowning irritably, while still firmly holding onto the two items in his hands.

"Well, crud..." Ash whined.

A blue streak of light suddenly sped by in front of Ash, causing him to recoil slightly and blink in surprise. Several golden rings suddenly appeared along the blue trail left behind by whatever had blitzed past, which Ash narrowed his eyes at suspiciously and reached out to grab hold of one. The rings, and the blue light, vanished before his hand could reach however.

Ash scratched his cheek. A sudden flash of colour in the corner of his right eye caused him to turn his head to see some kind of glowing orange sun symbol. A glass square appeared around the sun symbol, then some kind of blue shape started forming around the screen. Once fully formed, the strange blue object appeared to be some kind of digital device. The sun symbol flashed brighter on its screen, and the device turned Orange.

Once again, Ash reached out to grab the mysterious object. And once again, it vanished before he could touch it.

The next image, appearing to Ash's left this time, was something completely different to the last two. It looked like a hologram of a living creature: An anthropomorphic, white duck, dressed in some kind fancy blue coat, a black top hat and glasses.

Ash did not reach out to touch the duck. He just started in bemusement at him.

When the well dressed duck faded away, five golden coins popped into existence around Ash. On close inspection, each coin had the image of some kind of strange creature Ash didn't recognize engraved into them. At least two of them however did suspiciously call to mind certain Pokemon revived from fossils Ash had seen, though.

The next image to pop up however was something truly frightening. An enormous, towering outline of a reptilian figure, which emitted an audible, deafening roar.

"SCREEEEEOOOOONNNNK!"

Ash screamed in terror and leaned back, causing his body to flip around several times. The shadowy figure took a bit longer to fade, and the horrible noise it produced took even longer to ease off. It was something of a miracle Ash managed to hold onto the crystal and piece of paper in his hands, wich how horrified he was in that instant.

Ash panted heavily several times out of shock, but any respite he had was cut short as this time, hundreds of images started popping into existence before him. So many that they seemed to fill every patch of the white voide surrounding Ash, and they appeared so rapidly Ash couldn't properly register what any of the images were, and the wash of colour all quickly grew disorientating to the point he was forced to shut his eyes to keep his head from spinning too much.

Then another strange thing happened.

A curious buzzing sound filled Ash's ears, kind of reminding him of radio static... it faded, and hundreds of distant, unfamiliar voices rang out in Ash's mind. He couldn't make them all out much better than he could the rush of images... but a few choice quotes echoed above the rest quite clearly.

"Chaos control!"

"Courage! Friendship! Love! Sincerity! Knowledge! Reliability! Hope! Light!"

"It's Morphin Time!"

"It is the arrogance of man, to think that nature is in our control... and not the other way around!"

"My number one dime!"

"We're the Freedom Fighters!"

"Digi Armour energize!"

"Make my monster grow!"

"The devil has three heads!"

"Ah, phooey!"

"The server's are the seven chaos!

"I'm his tamer!"

"May the power protect you!"

"MOSURA! MOSURA!"

"I am the terror, that flaps in the night!"

Suddenly, the voices in Ash's head abruptly ceased, and a moment later Ash curiously peaked open his eyes. Most of the area around him was clear white again, save for a single image, floating right in front of his face.

A piece of paper... with a single blot of ink at the center.

Ash blinked at the dot on the paper, which seemed to move slightly. He furrowed his brow... and suddenly, the ink spot began to grow rapidly, quickly outgrowing the piece of paper it was splattered on.

Ash gasped, gaping in horror as the black smudge grew to enormous proportions, then shot out and began to engulf him.

Ash screamed out in terror...

... And once again, all he knew was darkness.


*Pallet Town, Ketchum residence. April 1st, 1pm... Year 2997*

"OOF!"

Ash landed face down on solid ground. Groaning, Ash shook off the sudden, but somehow not fatal, impact. Dropping the two items in his hands onto the floor, Ash pushed himself up and, though it took him a while to steady himself, he eventually managed to stand up.

Tepidly, his eyes began flickering open.

He was still surrounded by darkness... but not the complete, overwhelming kind that had surrounded him twice before. Rather, this was the normal kind of darkness one experienced when waking up in their room at night, where it was hard to see anything clearly but several shapes around the room were pretty easy to make out even at a glance.

Letting out a sigh of relief, Ash rubbed his eyes and then began to squint. He felt a very familiar, kind of comforting sense of nostalgia from his surroundings.

Moving on instinct, Ash easily avoided a large snorlax shaped beanbag and several other items lining the floor, and made his way to the nearest light switch.

One flash of light later, and after recoiling slightly from having to quickly adjust to said brightness again, Ash saw that he was indeed right back in his bedroom in Pallet Town, just the way it was on the night before he left for his Pokemon journey.

Same posters on the walls. Same old tv. Same poliwag pencil sharpener. Even the same pokeball clock... though Ash couldn't be... too sure about that one. He had a million of those clocks... and a habit of breaking them dating back to his kindergarten days.

Ash took a deep breath, and exhaled sharply, scratching his head and feeling so unbelievably happy to just be in an environment where he could get a moments peace after all the nonsense he had just endured...

... though the sight of his now empty bed he'd seemingly fallen out of by the looks of the blankets, where there was no sign of his beloved yellow best friend, did leave Ash feeling anying BUT peaceful for a long moment.

'It's fine... It's fine... I'll see him tomorrow' Ash desperately told himself, putting a hand to his forehead and nursing a sudden migrane 'It's going to be fine... really...'

After giving himself a few minutes to settle his thoughts, Ash gingerly took a few steps forward... then stopped abruptly, coming to a sudden realization as he looked downwards...

... The ground... seemed a bit further away than it normally did.

Ash's jaw dropped, and he quickly rushed to the nearest mirror, looking himself up and down.

As a teenager in the old timeline, Ash had always been oddly short for his age... some often joked that he hadn't actually aged a day since he left Pallet Town. It wasn't exclusive to him, Brock and Misty and a few other people had weirdly stunted growth aswell, Brock even still resembling a teenager despite being in his early twenties now last Ash checked.

The Ash in the mirror though... actually could pass for sixteen.

It was actually kind of an unnerving sight to the black haired trainer. Apart from the fact he was taller and a bit more broad shouldered, a quick glance at his reflection's chin made it clear that new timeline Ash even had... shock of all shocks... facial hair!

'This... is going to take some getting used to' Ash thought to himself, scratching the admittedly very few strands of hair that still made him narrow his eyes in disbelief at his mirror self's chin '... Is this what that guy meant by some changes being random?'

It actually took a while for Ash to register that he was now wearing his favourite green pyjamas instead of the standard outfit he had been wearing since right before he started working for Professor Cerise. Compared to the first tiny step to him actually having a beard, that just wasn't very eye catching to Ash

It took less time though for Ash to spot the calendar on the wall above his mirror that, come to think about it, Ash couldn't actually remember if it was there before. But he wasn't too worried about that particular detail, being much more interested in just confirming the date.

The current page of the Calendar was set for March, with red crosses drawn through all the squares for the days. Evidently past alternate universe Ash hadn't bothered to flip the page to April.

It still showed the same year, either way... and wouldn't you know it, 2997, indeed the same year where Ash originally set out on his Pokemon journey.

Ash groaned deeply, a sudden wave of exhaustion washing over his now appropriately (for some weird reason, considering the date) teenaged body.

Ash wearily made his way to his old bed, plopping down backwards against the soft mattress and staring distantly at the ceiling, desperately trying to make himself comfortable.

For what felt like an even longer period than the entire day he had just had, Ash's mind raced to make sense of everything that had happened during his brief trip to the Hall of Origin. Every single word spoken seemed to replay in his mind... and with each word, his head just seemed to thump harder and harder.

'Well... I guess I have to save the world, again' Was the first truly clear thought Ash had after a while that wasn't a recollection of that conversation with the Beyonder and Arceus.

And with it, Ash furrowed his brow, shot to his feet, glanced at the black 20 mark on the back of his right hand, and looked serious.

After scooping up the white crystal and paper with Angie's phone number on it off of the floor and placing it on top of a small desk near his bed, Ash moved over to a nearby drawer and pulled out a notebook, grabbing a pencil out of the Poliwag sharpener and tapping it against his mouth, thinking long and hard about all the fine people he knew, and which of them would be most helpful in getting him through his currentt dilehmma.

Oh yes, Ash was going to have a long night ahead of him.


*Solaceon Town, March 31st. 10pm*

Angie gaped at herself in her own bedroom mirror, bewildered at how she now actually looked like a sixteen year old, right down to having a few more noticeably feminine features in her body proportions.

She was still pretty androdgenous, of course... but unless she wore baggy clothes, Angie doubted that even Ash wouldn't have been able to recognize her as a girl at first glance this time around.

Angie glanced briefly at the Shinx curled up on her bed and snoring loudly, then turned back to the mirror to look her perturbed reflected self right in the eyes.

'... What the hell did I just sign up to...'


Tiger Lover 16: And... there we have it.

Okay, so, might as well explain some things. This story, if it wasn't obvious from that last scene, is another one of those fanfictions inspired by Ashes of the Past. I started reading the story about a year ago and was utterly fascinated by the premise... the execution of it, not so much.

Look, try not to take that too negatively. I'm not in the business of calling other people on this site bad writers, I think it's in bad taste and tremendously arrogant. Saphroneth isn't a bad writer at all and from the point I read up to the writing for Ashes does improve in many ways as it goes on. I get why it's so tremendously popular beyond just having an awesome premise designed to fill several voids I know the actual Pokemon anime left unfilled for a lot of people.

What I meant is more... the overall feel and execution of the story just wasn't quite my thing. For a bunch of reasons, the almost satirical tone, going overboard on the fix-it fic aspects and general fandom wish fulfillment stuff you see a lot in fanfiction involving Ash (granted it doesn't God mode Ash too much or write him grossly out of character or make him TOO perfect... though the latter one the story leans into enough that it affects my enjoyment too) and a bunch of other things that are hard to explain without going overlong...

Like... it's fine. Ashes of the Past is fine, it's fine to like a lot of the aspects I'm not crazy on. There's probably going to be SOME fix it ficy aspects to this story, for one thing. I just felt like a lot of the stuff it did was a little... not my thing.

But I love the general idea of Ash getting sent back in time to redo his journey. I found a story called Pokemon Reset Bloodlines afterwards with a similar starting point, but with Ash being sent back to a VERY different world than the typical one of the actual Pokemon anime and that was much more my thing (It still has some issues, mostly fanservice related... the different kind compared to Ashes), and it kinda got my mind racing with ideas for doing my own story along those lines.

And, since I'd been wanting to do a story about the Beyonder from Marvel comics causing a big crossover event for since before I even really started on You're the Hero of Light, Charlie Brown, and crossovers are kind of my thing... here we are.

So here's the basic idea here: Ash is going back in time, and the Pokemon World is severely altered in many ways, including that it now features characters and lore aspects from the following series into its world:

Sonic the Hedgehog (Mix of all media, mainly Archie Sonic and the games ideas)

Digimon (Primarily original Adventure series continuity, but with aspects of Tamers later on. Not sure about later series)

Disney Ducks Universe (Donald Duck's supporting cast including Scrooge McDuck, who if you can't tell will play a big role. Also Mickey Mouse and Goofy exist in this world, and their supporting casts, but they won't be AS featured... with one exception)

Godzilla (mix of continuities, probably a lot of Monsterverse inspiration)

And Power Rangers (Primarily Mighty Morphin, but aspects of later series can play a role.

Ideas and characters from other media of Pokemon will definitely be featured too, especially Pokemon Adventure.

Yeah, if that sounds like a lot... then it is. This story has SEVEN regions to cover, two archipelagoes most likely if the Decalora Islands must be counted, an arc backtracking through Kanto, and then a world Tournament... if by some miracle I live to write this to the end, it's going to be the door stopper to end all door stoppers.

I'll say right now, I'm not going neck deep into all of these series right away. Sonic and his supporting cast will play the most important roles in the Kanto saga with a sub plot starting from chapter 3, Scrooge and other duck characters will show up here and there with hints to future involvement, one Power Rangers supporting character will play a big role in a storyline involving Team Rocket, and a few Digimon characters will show up with one playing a noteworthy supporting role leading into a large plot for the Orange Islands saga, and Godzilla related elements will most likely not play much of a role early on.

It's going to be a drip feed situation, where the crossover elements and characters play a larger role later on once we're past Kanto and a lot of major set up for the world and characters.

At its heart, this IS a Pokemon story, Ash, Angie and Ash's closest friends plus the Team Rocket Trio are the driving force and main focus. The crossover characters will get big roles and gradually start to connect to that story beyond just being part of the same world now as things progress

My point is, don't be surprised if the next chapter does little to touch on the crossover elements. How the integration of these worlds and characters into that of the Pokemon anime works will be made increasingly clear as we move along on the journey.

So, anyway, I'm just going to bullet point some more scattered points:

* This story will have Ash eventually enter into a romantic relationship with both Misty and Angie, as I think the summary and character tags made clear. I just want to say this now: this story ISN'T in the Harem genre... exactly? Unless you count literally any story featuring a polyamorous relationship as a harem story, I guess.

What I mean is more... this story won't feature a lot of the more annoying tropes of harem anime or whatever, there won't be a dozen girls competing to sleep with Ash or whatever, I don't intend to go overboard with gross fanservice of minors (the most I might do is Misty teasing Ash by trying out bikini's for a comedic scene, and I'd be careful how I presented that and not to go overboard). Ash won't end up dating all of the main pokegirls or anything... rather, I'm taking the polygamy more seriously.

If you want to know why I'm doing this... well, the thing about me is, I'm a multi shipper when it comes to Pokemon. I'll ship plenty of characters with several others... with Ash in particular, I can totally ship him with all of the main pokegirls and several other characters around his age like Angie, Anabel, etc. I enjoy content for all the Ash ships. Heck, I'll even agree shipping Ash with Clemont or Goh can be cute.

When I originally drafted this story and started thinking about it, it was going to be a straight Pokeshipping fic... THEN I got the idea to have Angie be a main character in some capacity, which I became dead set on because I love her character and there's precious little fan works involving her.

And I couldn't NOT pair Angie with Ash if she was going to be a main character... but Pokeshipping IS my overall favourite Ash ship even if I like so many others, and Misty was going to play a main role from the start, so I can't NOT address her obvious crush on Ash, or ignore the urge to ship them because unlike May, Dawn, etc there's no one else I ship her particular character with... sooo...

Yeah, you can see where I'm coming from. Eventually I just decided... screw it, why not both?

Beyond that, I find polyamorous relationships... honestly kind of a fascinating thing to think about. To be clear, I'm not the sort of person that would want that kind of relationship for myself. I support people in actual healthy polyamorous relationships and think that sort of thing is fine though so long as all involved parties get along and are cool with it. I just don't really care to be anything but monogamous myself if I ever DID seek out a relationship.

But from a shipping and potential storytelling perspective I find that sort of relationship genuinely intriguing as to how it might work out. Makes it kind of a shame it's so rare in any non fanfiction media, and the aforementioned harem genre is just... ugh, sexist, pandering and did I mention UGH In the vast majority of cases, and doesn't ever seem to feature ACTUAL endgame relationships of the sort anyway.

So, basically, I'm doing this as a writing challenge. See if I can write a polyamorous relationship between Ash, Angie and Misty, and actually make it work, hopefully without being too wish fulfillment-y... though it's going to be wish fulfillment to a lot of people no matter what I do, I guess.

It should also be an interesting challenge because Misty in particular would be a character you wouldn't expect would be cool with that sort of relationship, so should be interesting to try and develop it in a way that feels believable... let's just hope it doesn't turn out I'm actually HORRIBLE at writing romance, then.

Also there'll be a few other polyamorous relationships involving minor characters and at least one set of Digimon characters (fans can probably take a good guess who it involves), most likely, none really going beyond three people involved, mostly to kind of inspire and help set up the main thing between Ash, Misty and Angie.

I don't have an EXACT point for when the relationship starts, sometime between the end of Kanto and during the Orange Islands sagas is the rough estimate, definitely before Johto. See how it naturally plays out. Don't expect the romance to be a major focus for the first dozen or so chapters, though.

* Yeah, there's a limit for twenty characters who Ash can remind outside of fellow main characters and Ash's Pokemon. The other characters Pokemon don't count. If you think that means just about every important Pokemon character will get reminded and that makes things too easy... well, I'm going to spoil at least four characters who WON'T be reminded:

(SPOILER ALERT)

Cynthia, Lusamine, Professor Cerise and Alain.

(SPOILERS END!)

Yeah. I'll let you imagine how not being able to remind at least a few of those characters of the old timeline might cause potential complications.

I do actually have a complete list of who those characters will be, and most of them are hard set. But I could always change my mind on one or two of them, I've definitely had multiple candidates.

* Don't get too worried about that explanation for Angie's role in the quest. She will have her own character development and do plenty of cool stuff beyond just being Ash's love interest/helper.

*The Beyonder in this story is basically from an AU Marvel Universe where he bailed on the Marvel universe early into a probably altered take on Secret Wars II. Hence why his characterisation is probably a lot different than in canon... I haven't really reread that story in years, lol.

The Beyonder has always had shades of being an author avatar of some sorts moving the plot along, and is basically a big kid that sees everyone in the universe as his play thing though, so I'm kind of leaning into that with this take: like Angie said, he's basically a creepily obsessed fanfiction writer with other people's lives.

* The new timeline won't necessarily be better or worse than the old one. It won't be like Ashes of the Past, where most problems get solved ideally and neatly in the majority of cases and almost everyone who's not a villain ends up WAY better off than in canon. But it's not going to be like Reset Bloodlines, where things are hardly bleak most of the time, but it's definitely a darker timeline compared to the more peaceful Canon world of the anime, where many characters have things start off a lot worse.

It's kind of... more even? Like, some characters are definitely worse off compared to the main timeline, several characters and aspects of the world actually see an improvement, and most others... well, things are technically not much better or worse, just... different. To varying degrees.

I'll say right now... no matter how the story ends... this new timeline probably isn't going anywhere. I think that would make much of the actual journey, story and character stuff pointless by the end, if everything just went COMPLETELY back to normal.

I won't say what that'll mean for the original timeline or the original versions of the other worlds the Beyonder dragged into this mess, because that WOULD be spoilers. I'll just say that as things progress... not everyone is necessarily going to be on board with UNDOING the new timeline, and erasing it to restore the old one would definitely NOT be in certain people's best interests... and I don't even mean just villains or whatever.

* Yeah, Ash and most other characters actually aged in the original timeline in this story. And they're older in the new timeline than they were when the Canon story started, 16 is the new age where people become trainers.

I mostly did this to make the romance work out better, and I didn't want to deal with "Teenagers in the bodies of ten year olds" stuff, or the opposite if they aged up for the reboot.

Basically the original timeline goes Kanto was 1 year (mostly because of how bad the gang kept getting lost, more than anything), Orange Islands through Johto was just over another year. Advanced as a whole was one year. Ash was then 14 by the end of DP, turned 15 somewhere in Kalos, 16 during late Alola period, and it's an undecided few months before his 17th birthday... he's further away from that in this new timeline, admittedly. I'll just say Burnet was three months pregnant at the end of SM and wasn't showing until the epilogue and there was a time jump.

Yeah I know this probably doesn't make complete sense... time has NEVER made sense in the anime.

Anyway, here's the given Ages for Ash and friends by the end of the original timeline:

Ash Ketchum: 16

Angie: 16

Misty: 16-17

Brock: 21

Tracey: 21

May: 14

Max: 10

Dawn: 13

Iris: 16

Cilan: 18 (I really got no clue what his Canon age would probably be, alright?)

Serena: 16

Clemont: 16

Bonnie: 8

Lillie: 15

Kiawe: 15

Lana: 15

Mallow: 15

Sophocles: 15

Goh: 15

Chloe: 15

Yes I know Chloe being fifteen doesn't make sense with her schoolgirl status. Just assume in this story she was a high schooler. I couldn't have her and Goh be much younger than Ash because of Journeys first episode.

Anyway, here's roughly the ages they SHOULD be by the current point of the main timeline:

Ash: 16

Angie: 16

Misty: 16

Brock: 21

Tracey: 21

May: 13-14

Max: 6

Dawn: 12-14

Iris: 16

Cilan: 18

Serena: 16

Clemont: 16

Bonnie: 6

Lillie: 11

Kiawe: 11

Lana: 11

Mallow: 11

Sophocles: 11

Goh: 11

Chloe: 11

If you notice some of those seem out of sync: that's intentional. The Beyonder did a bit of a rush job on the new timeline, so not every characters age went up the same amount as Ash's by the original starting point of his journey. A lot of other characters aged up consistently, like Delia, but Professor Oak is now 60 instead of 56, for example.

This is probably going to be a source of frustration for certain characters especially Max, as you can guess, but more on that when the time comes.

Also keep in mind I say these are the ages they SHOULD be at, since while I do have a general idea of what the time passage of the story is going to look like (it likely won't line up perfectly with the old one long term) I don't have a set date of birth for May or Dawn in particular yet... just that they'll be 16 by the time the story gets to Hoenn and Sinnoh respectively.

Also some of these characters could always be dead in the new timeline... HA, just kidding. I wouldn't do that. (Eyes shift) Probably... (Evil laugh)

* Since this is my first time publishing a Pokemon fanfiction, I'm just going to throw out some personal opinions so all you fellow Pokefans know where I stand on certain things.

My favourite series in order are: DP

AG

SM

OS (Kanto-Orange Islands)

BW and XY tie (XY is objectively better written and few things about it infuriate me as much as the worst of the former... but, with the continued unnecessary league losses and the almost complete lack of significant continuity including treating Steven as basically a new character... kind of makes it feel like more of a filler season than the Orange Islands, to me personally? Also I'm not crazy about a lot of things, like Greninja or showcases as a concept. There's actually a lot of things I like better about BW despite all its problems. XY's fine, don't get me wrong, just not for me)

OS (Johto)

I don't know where I'd rank Journeys yet... honestly it's an inconsistent mess, so probably low right now... if they give us ANOTHER Newtwo next month I'm calling it the worst out of spite. If it's M1 Mewtwo I'll be thrilled though.

My favourite movies are: Movie 3, Lucario and the Mystery of Mew, Arceus and the Jewel of life, and the AU movies... Coco looks promising.

Least Favourite movie is Genesect and the Legend Awakened BY FAR, followed by the Zekrom and Reshiram movies because I find them... amazingly forgettable, honestly.

My favorite Pokemon is Mewtwo, the MSB version is my favourite character in the franchise.

My favourite Ash companions are in order (Sometimes changing):

May (Best main character!)

Dawn

Misty

Brock

Iris

Mallow

Kiawe

Bonnie

Lana

Lillie

Clemont

Cilan

Serena

Goh

Max

Tracey

Sophocles

I'm not sure where I'd rank Ash, probably high up though. If i were counting Team Rocket, James would be just after May and Jessie and Meowth would also be pretty high.

Keep in mind I don't dislike any of these characters or think of this as a writing quality list. I find Max and Tracey kind of dull and not always well utilized, but they're fine (outside a TERRIBLE first impression for Max, hoo boy). Sophocles is super forgettable, though, sorry.

I don't know how to class Chloe, the show's barely done anything with her yet and even if she's not a main character exactly the writers are oddly lazy with giving her focus... she gets off better than Farfetch'd and maybe Gengar though, I guess.

Favourite Gen of the games is gen two because Silver is my most nostalgic game. I don't have a least favourite gen.

Favourite Ash rivals are Paul, Gary and Gladion. Least Favourite is Trip... followed by Alain, who's... alright on his own I guess, but I wasn't feeling his and Ash's rivalry at all.

Favourite minor rivals are Morrison and Bianca, btw. Favourite companion rival is Harley, followed by Drew and Zoey.

Favourite Villain teams are Rocket, Skull and Galactic. Worst is Team Flare... unpopular opinion, but while the anime Flare arc itself is great, Lysandre's ramblings got REALLY gratingly straw nihilist for me, so I'm calling him worst villain for that. At least anime Cyrus felt hammy.

Favourite and best of Ash's Pokemon is Infernape by a mile, though I like the Alola Team best all around with Sinnoh's just behind them.

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And... that's all I got for now. Don't want to raise the word count too much more. The next chapter will be half the length of this at worst, none of the next dozen chapters will be this long, don't worry.

Next chapter is mostly written apart from one quick scene that shouldn't take too long, so expect that in the next couple of days... anyway, if you actually read this ridiculously long prologue: thank you so much. I appreciate it.

Please, everyone leave a review and let me know what you thought. It would mean a lot, honestly.

Also once again, YES, I know this shouldn't be categorized as just a Pokemon story. I'll categorize it accordingly around the release of the third chapter. I just know nobody will read it if I put it in the crossover section from the start with the way this site works, and I'm publishing this thing because I WANT other people to read it.