"Is it okay if we sit here?" Molly asked.
"Go ahead, Molly," Brock agreed. "There's a pretty big block of seats we managed to get reserved, and there should be space for you too."
"That's very good," the shiny Suicune smiled, before leaping to a clear seat a few spaces away. Her husband joined her, and Molly's Raikou visibly considered where to go before opting for one just the other side of Molly from Brock.
Her Eevee, of course, sat on her lap.
"All back to normal, then?" Brock asked.
"Yep!" Molly agreed. "I'm getting the hang of how to do healing, which was helpful because it meant I didn't need to go to the Pokemon centre before the third place battle."
"Ash's team is quite good," Raikou agreed, sounding a little rueful. "I know it's the point, but it didn't mean it didn't sting a bit… especially being beaten by a Water-type."
"You've beaten Ground-types before, sweetie," his mother reminded him. "Including in the battle ten minutes ago for third place."
"...this is true," Raikou admitted.
Molly giggled, then looked around at the block of seats.
It was mostly full, now, and sitting there were mostly not humans but Pokemon. Some of the bigger ones, like Brock's Steelix, had to be carefully fitted in, and she could see Pokemon she'd only met once or twice like Butterfree hanging around along with the much more familiar ones who lived at the ranch.
"Oh, that's Latias!" she realized, waving, and Latias waved back. "Does that mean Latios went back to Altomare?"
"I think he's still around," Brock said, frowning. "Do you know, Dawn?"
"Rotom's been keeping track," Dawn provided. "Latias arrived a few minutes ago, and Latios is still around – he might be invisible, I'm not sure."
"Huh," Molly frowned, puzzling, then shrugged.
Down in the Orange Islands, three Legendary Birds exchanged glances.
"Okay, look," Articuno said, eventually. "He's not here, because he's in Sinnoh. She's not here, because she's covering Altomare now. And Ho-Oh and Pidgeot are up in Sinnoh as well. So in what way are we not ready to finally find out which one of us is supposed to be in charge?"
Moltres looked nervous. "I don't know… it could all be a trick."
"What kind of trick do you mean?" Articuno asked. "It's foolproof!"
"Yeah, but you're a really inventive fool," Zapdos countered.
Articuno's wings flared open and a bluish glow built up in his beak. "Say that again!"
"There's still Silver!" Moltres told them all. "He's a Lugia too, remember, even if he's mostly just a brat. And I get nervous about that kind of thing."
"That sounds to me like you're being a scaredy-Ducklett, not a Legendary Bird," Articuno said.
"I'll show you scaredy!" Moltres replied, taking a deep breath, then Zapdos summoned lightning to cloak himself and Articuno blasted at them both with a jet of cold.
"Well, they lasted longer than I was expecting," Melody sighed.
"Should I give it a few minutes?" he asked.
Probably for the best, Slowking agreed. Then try and get them all in one shot.
"Sure you want to go first, Pikachu?" Ash checked.
"Well, I kind of want to see what it's like fighting this Darkrai," Pikachu replied. "And it's overwhelmingly likely he'll send Darkrai out first."
Just because he's done it for every single battle so far, Dexter muttered. Just because nobody seems to know what the rest of his Pokemon are.
"He's got to have trained them some time, right?" Ash checked.
You would think, Dexter agreed. He is, however, an intentional man of mystery.
"I think that's international," Lucario corrected.
I mean what I said.
"Well, we know about Latios as well," Ash said. "And apart from that…"
Dexter beeped. This is strange. There is an incoming phone call. From Tobias.
"Huh," Ash said, a bit surprised. "Okay, I guess?"
Dexter's projector flashed, and drew an image in the air.
"Ash Ketchum, good afternoon," Tobias said. "Are you ready? I'm quite happy to wait, I'd rather have a good battle than one starting a bit sooner."
"Yeah, I'm ready," Ash agreed. "Only, uh… are you going to keep the call going?"
"I don't see why not," the other trainer said. "It's better than shouting."
"Right, because I might ask Dexter to mute anything that's a strategy discussion," Ash explained.
"Of course," Tobias agreed.
The referee had presumably been paying attention in some way, because he called out. "On three! One, two-"
Pikachu waited until the three, then sprang forwards.
Out on the arena – now restored to grass, though Pikachu didn't think that was going to last long – there was a moment when the Electric-type was the only Pokemon out there. Then the Pokeball Tobias had already thrown burst open, revealing his Darkrai, and Pikachu's cheeks sparked.
"Good night," Darkrai greeted him, and spread his hands. "Dark Void!"
Pikachu jumped, lashing out with a bolt of electricity that had enough recoil to push him backwards a bit, and the blast hit Darkrai's Dark Void with a blam that burst it into fragments of tattered shadow. It absorbed the attack, though, and Pikachu followed his thunderbolt up with a second electrical attack and an Aura Sphere for good measure.
"Don't forget to keep moving!" Ash called, as Darkrai summoned a globe of absolute blackness and absorbed the electrical attack into it. The Aura Sphere dodged around and got through, knocking Darkrai back a step, and Pikachu felt quite pleased with himself – though he used Agility as well, making sure he was moving at speed to avoid being a good target for Darkrai.
Then Darkrai used Dark Void again, this time shattering the attack into hundreds of fragments which rained down all over the arena.
Pikachu immediately began Counter-Shielding, wrapping himself in layer upon layer of Electrical energy, and started darting from one side to another so that if any of the projectiles actually were aimed at him they'd still only really hit by random chance.
The problem was that there were so many of them that 'random chance' felt like it was a coin flip. A coin flip of darkness and void and other things like that.
Pikachu decided he should concentrate a bit more.
"Guanna?" Iris asked, then stifled a yawn. "What's Dark Void, again? I always have trouble with ones like that."
It's the special move of Darkrai. It causes sleep.
"Oh, it's one of those special moves," Iris realized. "The ones where they cause you problems instead of just blasting you into the ionosphere."
She pursed her lips, trying to make sure she didn't yawn again. "I feel like I'm being affected by it right now..."
Pikachu darted to his left, then his right, and out of the corner of his eye he saw a Dark Void particle coming down where it was about to get in his way. He set his paw, twisting around to slow himself, and lightning blazed from his cheeks up his ears, down his limbs and along his tail to form an incandescent seven-pointed pattern of intersecting currents.
"Thunder!" he announced, firing off his attack with a long-ranged palm strike that gave the whole burst direction, and Darkrai flinched backwards slightly.
In response the Dark-type made a gesture, reaching out with an ice beam that tracked along the ground and formed a line in front of Pikachu, and Pikachu jumped before boosting himself with a burst of electrical energy so he wasn't moving predictably for long.
Coming down to land, he glanced over at Darkrai – only to see that Darkrai had vanished. There was a pool of darkness instead, like a puddle of shadow, and it visibly spread out along the floor of the arena.
"Okay, that's probably not good," Pikachu decided, then wiggled his ears. A Jacob's Ladder began crackling between them, a continuous arc of lightning that went up and down and fizzed, and the light it emitted banished most of the shadows in the area around Pikachu himself.
Switching to using Aura, he put his paws together to focus. Then he hurled an Aura Sphere into the sky and burst it with a Shock Wave, one which spread and branched like a tree before hammering down all over the arena to try and find where Darkrai had gone.
"Behind-!" Ash shouted, and Pikachu was whirling to look when the Dark Void ball hit him.
"You saw that as well, right?" Lucario asked. "Darkrai's Aura spread out as well when he did that."
"Yeah-" Ash began, then raised his voice. "Pikachu, wake up!"
Darkrai used Dream Eater, the move stealing energy from Pikachu to restore his wounds.
"Darkrai is good at what he does," Tobias said. "He's had more trouble catching Pikachu than anyone else so far this Conference."
Ash looked a bit closer, then relaxed slightly.
Darkrai used Dream Eater again, and it didn't work. He'd only just realized that when Pikachu burst into motion, hammering Darkrai with two Force Palms and an Electro Ball before springing backwards.
"That was not a nice dream!" he said, sparks trailing behind him and leaving a trail as he landed. More electricity spread over his tail, excess power bleeding off into a kind of banner which whipped in the coronal wind, and he began spinning rings of electricity around him in the familiar modified Counter Shield that was Volt Crash. "Any idea how to stop him doing that again?"
"When he's spread out like that he doesn't have one position," Ash replied. "I guess maybe he can't keep it up for long… I know! Electric Terrain!"
The whole of the ready energy for the Volt Crash collapsed down into Pikachu's paw, and he flipped over to ram it into the grass – only for a surge of distortion to pulse out from Darkrai just as Pikachu was about to make contact.
Darkrai's Disable neutralized the technique completely, leaving the energy with nowhere to go, and it surged up and back in a four-streamed eruption before Pikachu lashed the whole thing back under control.
Then he fired it at Darkrai, because he was getting a bit annoyed at this point.
"Darkrai knows Disable," Ash said, out loud. "That's… a problem."
"Does anyone know Uproar?" Lucario checked.
"I think Mom would have complained if someone was learning it," Ash replied.
As he spoke, Pikachu used Shockwave. The attack spiralled through the air towards Darkrai's position, moving lazily, and Darkrai summoned a Dark Void ball before holding it up to soak up the attack.
Pikachu jumped into the middle of the spiral and coilgunned himself directly at his opponent, palm first with a Brick Break glowing blue around his paw, and punched the Dark Void so hard it exploded. Then he hit Darkrai with another Force Palm, one which sent the Dark-type reeling backwards, and was about to follow up with his tail glowing Aura blue when Darkrai dropped to the floor in a puddle of shadow.
Pikachu immediately blasted the entire grass field with Shockwave, in lieu of something more type-effective, and Ash thought it had some effect – though not enough, as Darkrai nailed Pikachu with another Dark Void the moment he went back out of shadow form.
"How would you deal with a Darkrai for an opponent?" Queen Ilene asked.
"I believe the best approach in this situation would be to bring an ally with the Insomnia ability," Lucario said, after thinking about it a little. "Or similar."
"Chesto berry," Aaron decided. "Arceus' training area involved a lot of equipment use."
As Pikachu struggled awake again, Ash raised his voice.
"Come back, Pikachu!" he called. "Darkrai's just healing most of the damage you're doing!"
"I hate it, but you're right," Pikachu agreed.
"Darkrai, stop," Tobias said, his voice coming through the phone call as well as through the air, and Darkrai stopped attacking.
"Thanks," Ash told him, as Pikachu jumped back to Ash's side. "Okay, Sceptile!"
Sceptile emerged onto the battlefield already using Worry Seed – on himself – and Darkrai's Dark Void hit him to no effect.
"Surprisingly, that's the first time someone's actually been able to do that," Tobias noted. "Darkrai, Ice Beam."
A blizzard of pink petals came surging out from Sceptile's swishing tail, forming into a pillar of swirling vegetation so thick it concealed Sceptile from view completely, and the Ice Beam splashed into it and deflected away.
Darkrai kept the Ice Beam up for four or five seconds, then let it dissipate, and once it did the petal swirl faded as well to reveal Sceptile.
"It's nice when Pokemon learn from their partners," Lucario said. "I wonder if he picked up Vine Whip as well?"
"Hmm…" Gary-dos said, frowning at the TV.
"Something up?" asked the other Gary.
"I was just thinking," the newcomer explained. "Didn't we find that Mega-Evolved Sceptile have Lightning Rod?"
Gary-uno nodded. "Yes, that's right. Though I have to admit I'm not entirely sure why, because they're already Grass-type Dragons – it seems sort of a waste."
Gary-dos chuckled. "It's a pity Pikachu couldn't leave some electricity out there for Sceptile to absorb."
"But seriously," he added. "I remember seeing this battle last time around…"
"Me too," his counterpart agreed. "And I know what you mean. Should be interesting to see if he'll try."
After a moment's further pause, Mega Sceptile's clawed feet clenched. They tore little runnels in the ground, and he broke into a run before jumping high into the air.
A defensive Petal Blizzard surrounded him again, flashing into ice from the first impact of Darkrai's Ice Beam, and the frozen chaos of petals twitched before flowing steadily forwards as Mega Sceptile pushed it from behind. Then there was a blue-green flash, and both of Mega Sceptile's Sacred Swords cut through it at once – leaving a scatter of both frozen and unfrozen petals, which the Dragon-type darted through as he rushed towards Darkrai.
"X-Scissor," Tobias ordered, and Darkrai gestured. Glowing green blades extended from each of his claws, and he swiped out at Mega Sceptile – swipes which Mega Sceptile blocked with his right arm blade, which flashed pale grey as he switched smoothly from Sacred Sword to Air Slash.
The crash from contact produced a rippling shockwave, and Mega Sceptile rolled with the impact – spinning around, his tail whipping across as he briefly turned away from Darkrai. It was too fast for Darkrai to react, but Mega Sceptile had known it was coming, and he fired his Leaf Storm directly at his opponent as the tailtip came on target.
Darkrai stepped backwards from the force of the blow, then raised one clawed hand and caught Mega Sceptile's remaining Sacred Sword attack with his X-Scissor. The other hand flashed briefly with purple light as the Dark-type Legendary created a Dark Void, and rather than attack with it he used it to block – then turned it into a Dark Pulse, hammering Mega Sceptile with it and blasting him away.
"Use Ice Beam," Tobias said. "Then Dark Pulse."
Mega Sceptile was only just landing when the Ice Beam arrived, but he blocked it first with his Sacred Sword – then swept across a Petal Blizzard, soaking up the attack so Darkrai couldn't simply move his beam around and try and get past the flashing defensive blade.
When the Dark Pulse arrived, however, it shattered the ice and drove the fragments at Mega Sceptile. The Grass-type sprang into the air when he saw it coming, but it still hit like an Ice Shard attack, and Darkrai didn't let up on the pressure – he threw a Shadow Ball with his other hand, one which Mega Sceptile only just caught with his Air Slash.
"Close in again!" Ash called, and Mega Sceptile used Dragon Pulse – not as an attack, but using the blast of recoil to propel him quickly back to the ground. He rolled on impact and charged, blades ready, and Darkrai responded by dropping into shadow form and evading the charge – even avoiding being hit when Mega Sceptile drove his Sacred Sword blades into the ground on the run.
"Hmm…" Tobias frowned.
He raised his voice. "Darkrai. Shock Wave."
Darkrai rose back out of shadowform with his hands together, cupping a ball of lightning, and as soon as he was mostly corporeal again he hurled it skywards. It curved in mid-air like a hook, arcing down towards Mega Sceptile, and the Grass-type's tail drew it in to form a series of fizzing rings around all the individual poles of the tail.
"Dark Void!" Tobias ordered then, much faster, and Darkrai summoned a globe of darkness. It split into a hundred pieces which rained down all over the arena as Mega Sceptile threw a Sacred Sword beam at Darkrai, and both Pokemon hit their target at the same time.
Ow, Darkrai intoned.
"You can keep going?" Tobias checked, looking between Darkrai and Mega Sceptile – who was, as he'd expected, now slumped unconscious on the ground as a result of losing the effect of his Worry Seed.
Darkrai simply nodded, raising a hand and spinning up a whirling ball of ice and air. Then he threw the Icy Wind at Mega Sceptile.
"Sleep Talk!" Ash ordered.
Mega Sceptile used Agility, zipping out of the way of the attack, and the Icy Wind sprayed over the ground instead.
"Interesting," Tobias decided. "Ice Beam!"
"Oh, hey, nostalgia," Heracross said, eating some popcorn.
"Nostalgia?" Chikorita repeated. "Oh, is this someone you battled last time, or is it a battle strategy Dad did last time?"
"It's a strategy I did last time against that Darkrai," Heracross told him, taking another piece of the maple-syrup popcorn and tossing it into his mouth. "I don't actually remember the battle very well because I was asleep for it, though."
"Part of the trick is about when Ash is telling your father to Sleep Talk," Meganium supplied. "He doesn't know what Sceptile will do, but he knows Sceptile will do something, so he picks his moment."
"I think I get it, yeah," Chikorita agreed.
About then, Mega Sceptile used Leaf Storm again. The attack went rocketing into the air at a near-vertical angle, and Darkrai watched it in some puzzlement before shrugging and hurling an Ice Beam.
That got deflected by a Leaf Blade, though the shock of the impact didn't seem pleasant for the sleeping Grass/Dragon type.
"Sleep Talk!" Ash called. "And – Sleep Talk again!"
The first attack didn't seem to do anything, and Mega Sceptile kept lying on his front – then the second summoned a Petal Blizzard which hid him from view for a second or two.
When it faded, Mega Sceptile was still lying face-down… but one eye slid open for a moment, and he winked.
"Icy Wind," Tobias ordered. "He won't be able to block it every time."
"Sleep Talk!" Ash called.
This time, Mega Sceptile jumped and did a complete forwards flip – bringing his tail down with a mighty crash, one that forced rocks out of the ground with Rock Slide, and the Icy Wind hit it with a splash.
Then the Leaf Storm that Mega Sceptile had fired into the air came back down again.
"Shadow!" Tobias ordered.
The Leaf Seed pod burst to spray high-velocity seeds over the whole arena, and Darkrai dodged into shadow-form just in time to avoid being hit.
Ash closed one eye, watching as Darkrai's Aura spread over the ground in his diffuse hiding-in-shadow state, then recoalesced and Darkrai began to rise back into corporeal form.
"Sacred Sword spin!" he said, very quickly.
Mega Sceptile went from a lying-down start into a blur of blades and motion in an instant, hurling himself at Darkrai with the additional speed boost of his Agility, and the abruptness of the change caught both Tobias and Darkrai completely by surprise.
What they hadn't realized was that one of Mega Sceptile's moves was still Worry Seed, and sooner or later he'd hit himself with it again… and since Darkrai was just coming out of his invulnerable shadow-state, he couldn't go back into it.
Surprise and speed did the rest, and when Mega Sceptile stopped spinning Darkrai was collapsing to the ground.
"Impressive," Tobias told Ash, returning his Dark-type. "It might be slightly cliché to say it, but nobody else has made me work even that hard yet. I think this is going to be an enjoyable battle."
"Are you good to stay out, Sceptile?" Ash asked, and Mega Sceptile rose from his crouch before giving Ash a thumbs-up.
Then Tobias sent out his next Pokemon – and it wasn't the Latios they'd been expecting.
Instead, a pink-yellow-and-blue Cresselia materialized, hovering in the air and issuing a soothing croon, and Ash blinked.
"I guess that's on theme," he admitted. "Wait, are Cresselia all female? I just realized I don't actually know."
As far as I can determine, yes, it's the Yin Yang aspect of their lunar relationship, Dexter told him. Though that could also mean that there's one male Cresselia and one female Darkrai, because symbolism is like that.
"If there is a male Cresselia, I haven't met one," Tobias told him. "My one is female."
"That's good to know, I guess," Ash said, frowning. "Okay, Sceptile, remember she's Psychic!"
Mega Sceptile's arm blades flared with Night Slash, this time, and he adjusted his footing slightly.
"Psycho Cut," Tobias ordered, then belatedly muted the microphone on his end. Cresselia's two looping, ring-like wings lit up with an ethereal soft glow, like moonlight which was somehow visible in the middle of the day, and she lowered her head for a moment before darting forwards.
She passed at least twenty feet from Mega Sceptile, but the energy flashed out from her wings themselves towards the Grass-type – meaning that, despite the distance, her Psycho Cut could still reach her opponent. He raised his Night Slash blades and crossed them, blocking some of the force of the attack, but enough made it through to knock him backwards – and possibly knocking him over, had he not managed to use his big tail as a counterweight to regain balance.
As soon as his feet were on the ground, Mega Sceptile pushed himself onto all fours instead for extra stability. That let him whip his tail around and fire a Leaf Storm at Cresselia as she banked around at the end of her first pass, and she had to dodge at full speed to avoid being hit by the flying burst of seeds.
"Aurora Beam," Tobias ordered, and Cresselia opened her muzzle. A little globe of rainbow energy appeared in it, and she drifted higher before starting to fire Aurora Beams out of the globe – never using it all up at once, instead firing a series of staccato blasts of multicoloured light so she could always just move on to a different target after one missed – and a lot of them were missing, because Mega Sceptile was back to using Petal Blizzards as shields to augment his own considerable agility.
One of the Petal Blizzards thickened to block a blast of Ice-type energy, and Mega Sceptile jumped into the air and did a forwards roll under the cover of the screen of petals. His blades glowed, and he sent two Night Slash beams upwards as he did so-
"Left!" Tobias called quickly, and as Mega Sceptile landed he saw that while Cresselia hadn't seen what he was doing Tobias had had a clear field of view.
He swept one arm across, and the Petal Blizzards multiplied and split so that he had one blocking him from Tobias' view.
"Aurora Beam followed by Psychic," Tobias added, and Cresselia began alternating her blasts of freezing rainbow light with pulses of psionic force – trying to replicate the Ice Shard effect that Darkrai had already managed, though with a different origin.
Mega Sceptile slammed his tail into the ground, using Magical Leaf this time, and dozens of glowing leaves spread out in a globe before shooting in towards the Psychic-type overhead. He jumped into the air as well, bursting through a swirl of petals to rise to the same altitude Cresselia was at, and flung an X-Scissor at her.
She couldn't dodge all of the attacks at once, and while she avoided the X-Scissor barrage she did take a long rolling bombardment from the Magical Leaves before finally countering the last few with a burst of Telekinesis.
Mega Sceptile landed again, and the ground exploded beneath him as a Future Sight went off.
"You okay?" Ash called to Mega Sceptile.
The doughty Grass-type gave him another thumbs-up, starting to move again – this time making sure he was dodging around randomly so that a Future Sight couldn't actually target him long enough in advance.
Cresselia was glowing softly, the marks on her body left by all those Magical Leaves fading away as she used Moonlight, and Ash frowned.
"Watch out," he said. "She's healing."
"Got it," Mega Sceptile confirmed, sending a Leaf Storm up to attack Cresselia again, but Ash could see that his own Pokemon was at least a little tired – after first the bombardment from Darkrai, and now this battle.
Mega Sceptile wanted to keep going, though, and that was his choice.
"Cresselia," Ash heard Tobias say then. "Use Thunder Wave."
A sudden burst of paralyzing electricity flashed down at Mega Sceptile, and his Lightningrod couldn't protect him any more now he didn't even have it – his movement immediately slowed, and Cresselia swept a continuous Aurora Beam across all his Petal Blizzards to stop him from using those as a defence.
Then the Lunar Pokemon used Moonblast, glowing with a soft golden light as she fired down a continuous beam of Fairy-type energy massive enough to completely conceal Mega Sceptile from view for several long seconds.
Ash's staff stopped glowing, and he knew the reason even before the Moonblast ended – Sceptile was out.
"That's a lot stronger than I was expecting, actually,"Cynthia mused. "Did you know Cresselia could do that?"
"I haven't actually got one, as unlike most people seem to these days I don't have a Legendary," Lucian told her. "But it doesn't seem completely ridiculous that a Legendary Pokemon whose domain is the moon and moonlight would be particularly good at using a moon-based attack."
He shrugged. "Of course, if it were a psychic type move it would be my department."
"What I want to know is how many Legendaries this guy has," Flint said. "Any guesses?"
"Which guy do you mean?" Cynthia said.
"That's a worryingly good question in context," Flint admitted.
Ash looked at Dexter. "Can you unmute, please?"
"Is it okay if we ask for the ring-out rule for leaving the stadium to be relaxed?" Ash went on, now asking Tobias the question. "Not for the whole battle, but for a bit."
"Well, I don't see a reason why not," Tobias replied. "It would certainly let some of our Pokemon perform to their full skill level."
I will go and inform the referee, Dexter announced, manifesting his Porygon-Z form around his projector.
"That is not your opponent, Cresselia," Tobias called, warning the Psychic-type off from what was really quite a sensible assumption. "We're getting that sorted out."
The Lunar Pokemon orbited, though without taking twenty-eight days to go around once, and about twenty seconds later the referee raised his voice.
"We will be temporarily removing the restriction on passing the roof of the arena!" he announced, and as soon as it was confirmed Ash took his next Pokeball from his belt.
"Just watch out for the ground," he warned, and sent out Pidgeot.
The Flying-type's wings swept wide as soon as she emerged, and she hammered them down with thirty-foot wings of air augmenting her own wingspan. The sheer amount of air she moved sent her climbing like a rocket, sweeping past the opening at the top of the arena in moments, and once she was a mile or so in the air she banked around to check that Cresselia was following.
"It's good to be able to stretch my wings," she announced, and continued banking around until she was facing towards Cresselia – then accelerated.
The Psychic-type opened aggressively, firing an Aurora Beam, and Pidgeot twitched to dodge out of the way of the attack entirely. That took her a long way out of the way as well, though, arcing a mile or two away from the arena, and she began adjusting the airflows over her wings and around her expanded manoeuvre surfaces.
Her own first attack was a drilling Air Slash, a whirl of coherent air visible from the condensation it forced out of the air, and it bored straight in on Cresselia at speed until Pidgeot's opponent smashed it with a concentrated pulse of psychic energy. The focus to block it meant she couldn't attack at the same time, though, and Pidgeot swooped past before curving around for another pass.
Halfway through her bank, though, she flipped backwards and rolled her wings at the same time. The air currents around her detached as she stalled, temporarily lost any semblance of order, then within a second they focused back together and blew her back along her original course at almost the full speed she'd had before.
"What the nightside!?" Cresselia demanded, staring, then threw a Charge Beam at the same moment that Pidgeot used Hurricane.
The powerful blast of wind would have been enough to shove Cresselia back, but Pidgeot hadn't formed it to just shove Cresselia back. Instead the attack crested like a wave, the wind curling up by itself before all the pent-up energy uncoiled again and imploded – hitting Cresselia from both sides at once.
Cresselia's own Charge Beam flashed across Pidgeot's wings, not getting any purchase, then the charge slowly fizzed out into the air as Pidgeot kept flying.
The Psychic-type formed a shield around herself, buying her a little more time to think, then started firing Moonblasts – not a single powerful Moonblast with the same power as the one she'd directed at Mega Sceptile, but several smaller ones that were individually less powerful but which she could charge and aim faster. Pidgeot began dodging and weaving around them, sometimes outflying Cresselia's aim with pure speed and sometimes with agility, and after perhaps ten seconds of Cresselia's bombardment Pidgeot did another aerodynamically questionable backflip and hammered Cresselia with an Ominous Wind.
Tobias blinked a few times. "I… don't actually think those are the laws of physics your Pokemon's obeying."
"Yeah, they get that a lot," Ash replied. "I don't get why people are surprised by it, not when Darkrai can turn into a puddle of shadows."
"That's something Darkrai are meant to be able to do," Tobias replied, then muted his own microphone and whistled sharply.
Overhead, Cresselia stopped firing. She spun sharply in space and headed downwards, flying back into the arena, and Pidgeot followed before breaking off and going wider into a patrol pattern.
Yes? Cresselia asked. I hope this is for advice.
"It is," Tobias confirmed, with a solemn nod. "Once you return to the battle, start with Mist…"
The moment Cresselia returned to the battlefield, Pidgeot came stooping down out of the sky with her wings blazing with golden fire.
Cresselia formed her shield and then left it behind, dodging to the right in a burst of speed, and Pidgeot pulled up at the last moment to let her Sky Attack collide with the shield in a detonation that lit up the sky with rolling waves of fire.
Neither Pokemon was deterred by the blast. Cresselia used Mist, exhaling a sparkling white cloud which billowed out as the golden flame faded, and Pidgeot skimmed barely a hundred feet above the ground before banking sharply around and accelerating hard. Her wings flared and she used Hurricane, sending it out as she went past, but the spreading Mist cloud gave Cresselia cover – though the exploding implosion bomb went off, forcing the Mist to condense out of the air and forming a brief blast of Icy Wind, the blast itself was nowhere near where Cresselia herself was.
Or it could have been right next to her and only barely missed her. It wasn't exactly easy to tell.
Pidgeot swept around again with her wings held out to the sides, thinking, and a Moonblast flashed out of the Mist towards her. It hit her with a crash, sending sparkles in all directions, and the Flying-type shook her head slightly before abruptly accelerating and pulling out of the way of the follow-up attack.
The mist kept spreading, Cresselia expanding the space she could hide in, and when Pidgeot tried flying through it for a Brave Bird attack she found the other side of the problem it caused. Her unpredictable course made it so Cresselia couldn't just attack her as she passed through, but the pressure wake she left made the Mist start to condense, and when she emerged on the other side of the fogbank it was with frost sublimating off her feathers.
Choosing a new plan, Pidgeot did a roll and flip. Her Tailwind coiled around her and launched her back in the direction she'd been flying, but just before she reached the Mist itself she pulled up sharply and stalled – rapidly slowing, then accelerating again, and leaving complex wind patterns behind her as she gained speed.
Her second pass was similar, though not the same, as rather than perform a Cobra she did a triple roll which drew up mist into a corkscrewing pattern. Then in her third pass she abruptly dropped, passing under the cloud instead of over, and shed all of her momentum at once to leave her practically at a standstill in the air.
Overhead, all the wind currents she'd set up began to tighten at once. The sky was clear apart from Cresselia's cloudbank, and then with startling suddenness a tornado appeared from nowhere – whipping the air into a screaming vortex which shredded Cresselia's cloud in a moment and sucked her into the eye.
Pidgeot flipped over, so her back faced the ground and her belly towards the sky, and inhaled for a moment before firing out the red-tinted beam of an Aeroblast. There was a flash of lunar light as Cresselia drew upon her connection to the moon, and then a shattering explosion which tore the tornado apart and left Cresselia falling unconscious to the ground.
"I assume that we're going to keep the ring-out clause suspended?" Tobias asked.
"If that's okay," Ash replied.
"It's how your Pidgeot fights best anyway," Tobias judged, contemplating the rest of his team.
He considered one Pokeball, decided against it, then selected another. "It's good to have an actual challenge."
Ash didn't reply to that, and Tobias momentarily shrugged before opening his Pokeball – sending out his Latios.
"...oh," Latias squeaked, in the crowd.
"What's that?" Torkoal asked her. "I'm kind of looking forward to this one, I was too unconscious to see him last time."
"That's a tough Latios," Swellow contributed, next to her. "I remember battling him, and wow but it was a tough one! Still, Pidgeot's totally got this."
"That's… not the problem," Latias replied, going invisible. "This is actually kind of embarrassing…"
Isn't that the Latios who visits Altomare sometimes? Latios asked. The one who's the brother of my-
He paused, for long enough for Latias to giggle down their link. All right, my girlfriend, you win, her brother grumped. How long has that been building up?
Since none of the Pokemon who saw Tobias' Latios ever visited us at the right time, Latias guessed. I guess we should have expected it, though, it's not like there's an unlimited supply of Eon Pokemon in this country?
"Latias?" Swellow checked. "You seem kind of embarrassed. Is everything okay?"
"I… think I'm going to not actively root for anyone in this one," Latias decided. "I just hope it's a good battle."
High overhead, Pidgeot contemplated her opponent.
Then she spread her wings and beat them once, twisting the air around her into knots so that while she accelerated from a hover to half the speed of sound in one great wingbeat she also did it backwards.
Latios opened the battle with a Charge Beam, but Pidgeot's unexpected manoeuvre meant that it missed her entirely – and the mess of confused air that Pidgeot had left behind twisted, turning into an Air Slash which fired off from what looked like empty space to flash in towards the Dragon-type.
Unlike his teammate, however, Latios was well aware that he would have to shield right from the start of the battle. Pidgeot's first attack crashed home on a globe of psychic force, and Latios switched to firing a Shock Wave at Pidgeot instead – although that went wide as well, as Pidgeot converted four hundred miles per hour backwards to four hundred miles per hour forwards with a bang that produced a momentary cloud of condensation around her wingtips.
After considering the situation for a moment longer, Latios began to fly at high speed himself – psychically propelling himself, first moving up to a normal flight speed and then curving around to follow the Flying-type.
Pidgeot tucked in a wing and went plunging towards the ground, and Latios banked around to follow her – doing his best to ignore aerodynamics, since Pidgeot was already doing that and it seemed the best way to keep up with her – before shooting a carefully aimed string of Dragon Pulses at her.
The first one hit, then Pidgeot twitched her tail and the second one collided with a cloud of feathers as she used Feather Dance. The third one missed entirely, going past to slam into the ground within the stadium itself, and the fourth scored another hit as Pidgeot's Feather Dance dissipated and she didn't quite put up a new one in time.
Then Pidgeot backflipped, still going down at the same speed as before, and fired an Aeroblast.
Latios had to dodge sideways out of the way, not wanting to be hit by such a powerful attack, and it blazed an arc into the sky before dissipating as Pidgeot returned to her original facing and pulled up out of her dive.
Vortices went spooling off her wings, and as she came around for an attack Latios vanished in a blur of refracted light.
"So cool," Swellow summarized. "Did you see those post-stall manoeuvres?"
"Call me crazy," Staraptor began.
"We already do," Torkoal interjected.
Staraptor gestured at him dismissively with a wing. "I was going to say, I'm pretty sure I only neologize words, not entire new structures of aerodynamics that seem in danger of tearing a hole in space."
There was a thoom as Pidgeot went supersonic, a trail of condensation rippling in the air behind her, and she began making high-speed passes that traced a grid through the sky – a three-dimensional grid, hanging together instead of dissipating, and which rippled only slightly every time she went through it.
"So, where's the Latios?" Swellow asked. "Latias? Any ideas?"
"He's invisible," Latias pointed out, which was fair enough, though they shouldn't have needed the reminder because she was invisible too.
"But you always seem to know where Latios is," Torkoal told her.
"That's because we're twins, it's not an Eon Pokemon thing," Latias explained.
"It's a trap," Tobias said. "If you disturb the wind cage then she'll know."
Do you have any suggestions?
"Disrupt it in the way you want it to be disrupted," Tobias told him. "Use Psyshock, then follow her with Dragon Dance-"
"Down here!" Ash shouted.
Latios didn't bother waiting to listen to any further advice or instructions. Instead the Dragon-type simply shot straight up, then launched a Psyshock ahead of him at double his actual speed.
The wind cage twisted, as momentum and energy that had been bound into the grid all whipcracked together at once into an instant tornado – then into two, one going clockwise and the other going anticlockwise, creating an intense shear zone between the two with only the eye of the tornado as safe ground.
Pidgeot came diving down through the eye with her wings half-folded, catching the wind and spinning through a drilling aileron roll, and went straight through Latios' Psyshock without slowing down.
Latios strengthened his shield as far as it would go, and used Lustre Purge, and collided with Pidgeot's Brave Bird at a total closing speed significantly higher than the speed of sound. His charged Psychic attack detonated in a moment, doing what it could to shield him from most of the force of the blow, and for several long seconds afterwards even he wasn't quite sure what had just happened.
From the outside, after the double-tornado had twisted itself out of thin air in moments, it promptly exploded in a concussive blast which rattled the windows nearby. Streamers of wind and light spread out like the trails of a firework, rising up to describe the rough shape of an oak tree, then began to drift in the wind and slowly fade away.
Ash recalled Pidgeot as she was about to hit the ground.
"That's great work, Pidgeot," he told her, and looked up at the dissipating remains of the explosion.
Latios was still there, though it looked like his feathers were definitely ruffled.
"I'm assuming I shouldn't go out there next," Pikachu said.
"No, I know who I'm sending out," Ash replied. "He'd probably riot if I didn't..."
Ash's Pokeball flew out into the arena, bounced, and unleashed Charizard with a flash of white light.
The Fire-type glanced down for just a moment to make sure his Pokeball was flying back to Ash, then began to hover – lacing his claws together and cracking them, first outwards and then knuckle by knuckle.
"All right, let's do this," he said.
Latios shook his head slightly, fighting off the after-effects from Pidgeot's attack, and the sight made Tobias frown.
He wondered why Charizard wasn't pressing the advantage.
Then Latios felt himself ready enough to take the offensive, and flung out a Psywave. The moment that that happened Charizard countered with a Flamethrower, creating a screen of intense fire and smoke that blocked him from direct observation, and the Psywave detonated on it – then Charizard emerged through the wall of flame, his wing-tip vortices capturing eddies of the flame and fanning them as he bore in on Latios.
The Psychic-type dodged to the side, ignoring aerodynamics to get out of the way as fast as possible, and flung a Dragon Pulse at Charizard. His target replied with a Dragon Pulse of his own, the two attacks colliding in another big explosion, and Tobias put his hands around his mouth.
"Go into stealth!" he called.
Latios duly went into stealth, his feathers bending light around him to let him vanish in a flash of refracted blue, and Charizard switched from throwing a single powerful attack to rearing up and pointing his head towards the sky.
"Ember!" he roared, and fired out an Ember attack.
That didn't mean there was just one little fireball, though. It rained fire, thousands upon thousands of globs of flame raining down all through the arena, filling it to the limits of the screens established to protect the audience and spread out vertically so the deluge lasted for at least ten full seconds.
The saturation was so complete that there was simply nowhere it was possible for Latios to hide, not completely, and Charizard lunged towards where flames pocked the surface of an invisible shield. His claws flashed with purple light, and when he reached the shield he grabbed on with talons that dug into the shield to give him a grip instead of sliding off without purchase.
Latios uncloaked and spun inside his shield, firing a Dragon Pulse point-blank at Charizard, and Charizard retaliated with a jet of intense flame that splashed off the edge of the shield and surrounded it as if the shield were being blowtorched.
"Turn off the shield!" Tobias called, and Latios did just that. He darted skywards as well, evading in the same moment, and though Charizard's flame splashed across his flank it was only a glancing blow.
That left Charizard falling towards the ground back-first, and he twisted about before using Fire Blast straight down. The attack hit the ground and produced a pillow of overpressure, one which Charizard used to launch himself right back towards the sky, and his wings hammered down to boost his speed as he turned to face Latios again.
This time he went in faster, using Flare Blitz, and though Latios re-shielded to avoid letting the Fire-type get into close quarters Charizard just replied by grabbing onto the shield and doing a high-powered backflip.
Latios got carried along with the flip, shield and all, and in less than a second Charizard was driving them both towards the ground for a brutal Seismic Toss.
"Luster Purge!" Tobias ordered.
Before the Luster Purge had even charged up properly, Charizard used Crunch. His fangs lit up with Dark-type energy and he bit into Latios' psychic shield, then tore it apart, and took hold of Latios' right arm and left wing to make sure he couldn't dodge out of the way.
The Dragon-type's attack was just about to fire, as they got closer and closer to the ground, and Charizard opened his wings at the same moment as he fired out a Draco Meteor.
A series of overlapping explosions hammered into Latios, and his reply went wide – partly because Charizard was suddenly fifty feet away, as he stopped falling and Latios kept doing it.
Then Charizard hit Latios with the entire planet.
"Ouch," Latias said faintly.
She looked up at the rippling surface of the crowd shield. "I have to say, I'm very impressed in whichever Pokemon is handling that. There are some really powerful attacks going on today."
"They're doing it as a team," Torkoal answered. "And I think Mewtwo's started helping, just because it's the polite thing to do."
"Do you think that's Latios down for the count, then?" Swellow checked. "I've seen your brother take hits like that and keep going… at least once, I think?"
"Well, he did get hit by Pidgeot first," Latias pointed out. "So it's not like he just took the hits from Charizard."
"There's no need to sound so defensive," Staraptor sniggered. "Perhaps it's you getting a bit infatuational?"
Latias tried out a rude gesture she'd seen before.
Charizard kept hovering until he was sure that Latios wouldn't be getting back up, then snorted out a little puff of flame and began to orbit instead.
"Charizard!" Ash called, as Latios vanished in a flare of red light. "If you need to, you can use Blast Burn!"
"I won't pretend it wouldn't have been helpful before, but thanks for letting me know!" Charizard replied, as he swept around closer to his trainer.
Much of the arena floor was still on fire from the Ember storm, which was making the air currents a bit weird, but there was enough to give him a bit of extra lift. The air coming up had to be replaced by new air coming in from somewhere else, though, and with the crowd shield in place that was probably coming down the middle of the arena (where there weren't any fires, because Latios hitting the ground at speed had blown them out).
Charizard made a mental note to watch out for that bit, then turned with interest as Tobias sent out his next Pokemon – an Alakazam.
And, as he continued orbiting, Alakazam transitioned with a flare of light into Mega Alakazam, with a collection of five floating spoons forming a kind of crown hovering over his head.
"Charge Beam," Tobias ordered, and Mega Alakazam's five spoons came together with a crash before sparking up with energy.
Charizard reacted as quickly as Mega Alakazam had, and even more violently, and used Fire Blast – sending forwards an attack which roared and seethed, then exploded as Mega Alakazam gestured and blocked it with a screen of force.
The five spoons were ready a moment later, and with two sweeping gestures Mega Alakazam split them up again and had all five of them attack at once. Charizard folded one wing and dropped, evading three of the attacks, and the remaining two hit him – one in the other wing, the other in the side, and both sent sparkling currents running over his scales.
Charizard hit the ground with a wham, but it wasn't actually a crash – instead he'd made a controlled if hard landing, and the energy of the Charge Beams grounded out into the arena floor. Then he exhaled, firing out a long rippling stream of flame which streaked across the arena towards Mega Alakazam and hit his Light Screen shields.
That much was expected, but Charizard kept breathing and kept breathing – a wash of yellow-orange flame wrapping around Mega Alakazam's shield, outlining it in flame, and giving off oily black smoke which the force of the flame-stream kept entrained within it. It was like a bubble of flame and soot formed around Mega Alakazam, accompanied by the crackle and snap of the fire and by the fizz of Mega Alakazam's shields, and it just kept going for a minute – then two – as Charizard kept his opponent besieged behind a wall of flame.
"Fire burns up breathable air, right?" Ash checked, as Charizard slowly rose back into the air – wings beating to hold him up, but mouth still open as he continued his perpetual barrage of flame.
Correct, Dexter agreed. If that is Charizard's plan, then he will need to stop firing when Mega Alakazam passes out.
"Unless Mega Alakazam does something first," Pikachu pointed out. "I don't trust how little that Mega has done so far."
Ash closed one eye for a closer look, gazing through the firefly flicker of Charizard's Aura-boosted Flamethrower to see what Mega Alakazam was doing.
The Psychic-type himself actually didn't seem to be doing anything – just sitting cross-legged, floating in the air and serenely uninterested in what was going on. But his spoons…
"Dive, Charizard!" Ash called.
All five of Mega Alakazam's spoons flared up at once with electrical energy, and came rocketing out at speed – moving independently, cloaked in fist-shaped electrokinetic auras, and sweeping towards Charizard to deliver a Thunderpunch each.
That was only half the trick, though, because as Charizard cut out his Flamethrower and dropped there was a massive explosion of Psychic energy. Mega Alakazam's Future Sight hadn't quite been aimed right – Ash's warning had let Charizard dive early – but the eruption of psychic force still happened just behind and to the side of Charizard and knocked him sprawling through the air – only to crash into the ground and roll once.
"Okay, mad now," Charizard declared, rolling back upright, and his wings shimmered briefly with Steel Wing as he blocked a follow-up Charge Beam. "Take this!"
He inhaled, behind the shield of his wings, then swept them to either side and used Blast Burn. An incandescent spike of fusing plasma bored out towards Mega Alakazam, and all five of the Psychic-type's spoons teleported back to form a pentagonal shape in front of him. Lines of force connected them, forming a star inside of a pentagon, and in an eyeblink Mega Alakazam had established a shield so thick it was all but opaque.
The Blast Burn smashed into it like a striking comet, and the whole shield distorted inwards – acting not like armour struck by a powerful attack but like a soap film, rippling and growing and ballooning out most of the way to Mega Alakazam as the energy screen fizzed.
Then it rebounded, firing the plasma shot right back the way it had come, and Charizard was only just airborne in time to avoid being hit by his own attack.
"Whoa!" Ash yelped, as the plasma lance blew a hole in the retaining wall and sent powderized concrete in all directions.
Debris rained down all over the arena, and the shields protecting the crowd got noticeably stronger.
Charizard grumbled something about how that had never happened before, honest, then shook his head and used Smokescreen. He flapped his wings carefully, pulling some of the smoke into a cloak around him and distributing the rest, and was mostly done when a sudden wave of force pushed the smoke around him away to the side.
Wings hammering, Charizard fought the effects of the force wave, then abruptly stopped fighting it and leaned into it. That turned out to be the right choice, as the space he'd been in a moment before exploded with another Future Sight, and Mega Alakazam sent his spoons skywards in another wave of attack drones.
This time, Charizard was ready for them, and he had a different approach ready. He bathed them all with Flamethrower fire, tightening his intensity to try and damage the individual spoons, then when the first one reached him he punched it with the kind of force that could crack rocks and which sent the Thunderpunch spoon hurtling back to bury itself in the ground.
By comparison the force of the Thunderpunch – and even the electricity it delivered – was minor, and Charizard flared his wings to help dissipate the static. He took the second and third spoons and bashed them together, then the final two hit his wings and folded them backwards – pinning his wings together so he couldn't use them to fly.
Charizard's reply was simple and to the point, and he used Shadow Claw to rip the spoons away from his wings before bathing them both in fire hot enough to evaporate rock. Mega Alakazam teleported the spoons away before they were destroyed, but it got Charizard clear – just before another Future Sight made the air around him explode with sheer psychic force.
This time, Charizard had been ready for it. He rode the explosion instead of fighting or even dodging it, letting it fling him to the side, then twisted and climbed and inhaled.
His second Blast Burn of the battle stabbed down, but this time it missed entirely – not even intersecting with Mega Alakazam's shields, just punching a hole deep into the arena floor and filling the battle zone with smoke and debris.
"Is… that actually safe?" Flint asked. "There aren't pipes or something down there, are there?"
"There are, dearie, but they're well armoured," Bertha assured him.
"Plus, I've got most of the rest of my team handling that part of the shielding," Lucian told him. "Both Alakazam, Mega Slowking and Mega Medicham are doing the above ground stuff, but I've got a lot of other Pokemon…"
"I think we might need to do the Elite Four battles somewhere else, though," Cynthia decided, looking between a bag of crisps and a box of popcorn. "Hmm… anyone want the one of these I'm not having?"
"Try and find him psychically," Tobias instructed, frowning at the clouds of debris which all but obscured even his view of Mega Alakazam.
Under normal circumstances, the Psychic-type could just clear away the contaminants in the air. The problem was that there was so much of it, even a plane of pure psychic force was just moving the problem around rather than making a clear area.
There was a sullen orange glow visible in the cloud, though – one which rapidly changed colour from orange to yellow and then white – and Mega Alakazam suddenly formed a psychic shield dome. Tobias was confused for just a moment, realizing Mega Alakazam was defending himself but not from what, then Charizard came blazing down out of the sooty air with an eye-hurting blue flame leading the way.
Tobias almost thought Charizard had Mega-Evolved without his noticing, but there were none of the other signs of either Mega Evolution. Just a brilliant blue flamethrower leading the way, and clenched fists outstretched, and a tail of white light from the most powerful Flare Blitz Tobias had ever seen.
Then Charizard actually hit, landing squarely on top of Mega Alakazam's shield with so much momentum that he went straight through it in an explosion of fragmenting psychic energy and rammed Mega Alakazm into the ground like a tent-peg.
The impact made the room Tobias was in jump from sheer shock, leaving him staggering, and when all the coiled-up energy exploded back upwards it was in an ear-tearing skoom which funnelled a jet of molten earth straight up and through the opening at the top of the arena.
Tobias' Mega Ring stopped glowing, though he'd sort of expected that.
Charizard clawed his way back out of the hole in the ground, covered with streaks of soot and earth, and took a deep breath before shooting a jet of fire into the sky.
He was actually a lot more tired than he seemed… it had been a tough fight. But he was the one who was still standing, and Mega Alakazam wasn't, and that counted as a win in his book.
Ash recalled Charizard, and before he'd picked his next Pokemon Tobias recalled Alakazam and sent out his next Pokemon – presumably to avoid getting an unfair advantage.
That Pokemon was one Ash hadn't seen before, a yellow-and-black bipedal Pokemon with a feline head and paws, and with electricity crackling visibly around his tail and fur.
Zeraora, Dexter informed him. The Thunderclap Pokemon. It's very fast.
"...somehow that sounds like less information than normal," Pikachu said.
Cut me some slack, he's only just shown up…
Ash glanced down at his waist, where he had one more Pokemon picked for the battle that used Pokeballs, then at Lucario and Pikachu.
"Mind if I take this one?" Lucario asked. "I've got experience at being electrocuted."
"Sure," Pikachu agreed, and Lucario vaulted into the arena.
Out on the field of battle, Lucario loped forwards until he was about ten feet away from Zeraora, then put his palms together and bowed.
"...any particular reason for that?" Zeraora asked.
"It felt like I should," Lucario replied, rising out of his bow and shrugging fluidly. "It's up to you if you want to reciprocate."
Zeraora considered it, then snorted.
"Whatever," he said, and inclined his head in a nod.
Then, with a sizzling snap, he burst into motion. His fur instantly lit up with caged lightning, and he took a single bounding step before leaping towards Lucario with his glowing paw leading the way.
Lucario slid one footpaw back and countered with a Force Palm, the impact sending a blast of air out in both directions, then spun backwards and swiped out with his other arm – only for Zeraora to spring back, arcs of lightning striking at Lucario and others following Zeraora as he made distance.
The Electric-type's paws only touched down for a moment, and he was on the attack again – leading with both fists this time, halfway between a charge and a pounce.
This time, Lucario threw an Aura Sphere at him, and Zeraora smashed it to pieces as soon as it got close – except that Lucario hadn't thrown the Aura Sphere to do damage, just to distract Zeraora for a moment, and when Zeraora actually reached Lucario it was to find Lucario swinging around in a roundhouse kick which caught him in the chin and knocked him out of his surging pounce.
Twisting with feline grace, Zeraora went from tumbling through the air to landing on his feet, and snorted. "Heh."
He clashed his fists together, sending electrical currents surging and whipsawing in all directions. Then he went in on the attack again, along the ground rather than pouncing, and Lucario unleashed a cloud of miniature Aura Spheres before moving in to meet him.
"Okay, so I'm going to address the Donphan in the room," Pikachu said. "Assuming Donphan isn't actually in the room. That Pokemon is basically what you'd get if you combined me and Lucario, right?"
"Well, neither of you are felines, while he is," Ash replied, watching as Zeraora and Lucario exchanged blows and feints within close-combat range. Big bursts of Aura and lightning kept punching into the air around them, backscatter or sidesplash from attacks which half-connected and were half-dodged, and first one Pokemon and then the other gave ground. "But otherwise, yeah."
He glanced down at the link, and Dexter unmuted it. "I've been meaning to ask… how did you meet some of your Pokemon? Like Latios, and Zeraora, and stuff?"
"The same way you meet yours, I imagine," Tobias answered. "Usually, saving their lives."
He shrugged. "Though I met Latios through my sister, so that doesn't always happen."
Lucario blocked, forearms crossed, and Zeraora's Plasma Fists attack hit with enough force that even through his Protect it drove him back a step.
The Electric-type hung there for a moment, then backflipped smoothly away as Lucario pushed outwards – avoiding the surge of released energy – and used Close Combat as he came back down, hammering a blow into Lucario's arm which knocked him sprawling.
Zeraora closed in to press his advantage, but Lucario's paws lit up with a brilliant surge of Aura and propelled him out of attack range. They pushed him up, as well, and Lucario spun around to retake his stance as he skidded backwards.
"There's a hole behind you!" Ash called, and Lucario braked his skid to make sure he wouldn't fall in. A moment's glance to the side told Lucario just how close the hole was, and by the time he turned his attention back to Zeraora the Electric-type was halfway to reaching him.
This time, when Zeraora's Plasma Fists hit Lucario's Drain Punch, the explosion of energy blew both Pokemon backwards. It had enough force to knock Lucario entirely over the hole Charizard had made in the floor, and he controlled his slide with one paw on the floor before forming an extra-size Aura Sphere and hurling it upwards.
Zeraora had flipped over once, and his tail trailed on the floor as he built up charge, so when he saw the big Aura Sphere rise into the air – then turn as it homed in on him, starting to come down – he hurled an Electroball at it, then followed that up with his own Aura Sphere which he threw back on just the same trajectory.
Lucario came darting in closer, paws glowing blue as he gave himself extra grip, and his right arm flared with light as he used Sacred Sword. The first swipe got blocked when Zeraora lashed out with one Plasma Fist, then his other fist swiped at Lucario's face and hit a Force Palm, and Zeraora stepped back a pace to get distance before going right back in as both Pokemon tried to get a blow through their foe's defences.
Amidst the yellow-and-blue blur of the two Pokemon clashing – exchanging blows fast enough it was difficult to follow, fast enough that bursts of scatter formed a continuous weave around them both – when Zeraora's Aura Sphere belatedly came back down the impact only made Lucario's footing stagger slightly. That was enough for Zeraora to exploit, though, and he dropped low to sweep Lucario's legs out from under him before springing back up and hitting Lucario in the chest with both Plasma Fists.
The impact knocked Lucario soaring skywards, and Zeraora gathered himself for a moment before pouncing up to follow. He hit Lucario once, twice, then aimed his third strike to hook Lucario back to the ground in a meteor strike.
Lucario caught the blow with a paw.
Light swept around from that paw, gaining strength as it went, and with his other handpaw Lucario used Counter – knocking himself higher and Zeraora lower. Then his paws lit up with brilliant light, and he used Aura Storm – firing down a beam of concentrated energy that catapulted Zeraora back to the ground, and with the main beam accompanied by dozens of smaller sparks that curved back in to add to the destruction.
The cavalcade of explosions went on for several seconds, and when it was over and Lucario dropped back to the ground he saw – to his surprise – that Zeraora was still standing, arcs of lightning forming a dome-shaped shield around him.
After a long, singing moment of tension, Zeraora fell forwards with a whump.
Lucario took a few deep breaths, steadying himself after such an intense burst of high-speed fighting, and as he did Tobias recalled Zeraora in a flash.
Then he sent out his sixth team member, and Ash leaned forwards slightly.
"That's a Delphox, right?" he checked, glancing down at Dexter.
Correct, Dexter confirmed.
"So… it's his starter, maybe?" Ash asked. "Or maybe his starter was the Alakazam?"
"Or the Latios," Pikachu suggested. "He did say he met his Latios through his sister."
While they were talking, Tobias' Delphox took a wand stick out of its sleeve and lit it with a snap, before looking into the flame. Then it bowed, folding one arm and sweeping the one holding the wand out behind itself, and straightened.
"Begin?" the referee asked, suspecting they were waiting for something, and the flaming tip of Delphox' wand suddenly flared green.
"Mystical Fire!" she announced, and a wall of flame swept out from her to create layers of fire construct – rings, domes, solid blocks, all flickering and seething between green and yellow on a moment by moment basis.
Lucario opened by throwing an Aura Sphere, testing what she was capable of, and the Sphere burst on a curtain of flame without getting more than halfway to Delphox.
Her wand flicked, changing colour again, and a gout of roaring flame spread out before lunging for Lucario like a living thing. He dodged, taking off with a burst of blue Aura and rising into the air, and the fire pooled for a moment before following him upwards.
"Is this all still the same move?" Pikachu asked. "Or is she not saying some of the move names?"
"Probably the second one," Ash guessed. "Probably, anyway."
Lucario launched down a spike of Aura, which fended off the flame a little, then both his fists flashed with the cool white-blue light of Ice Punch. He hammered them down in a two-handed strike, sending down a plume of ice which split the flame apart, and came down to land before lunging forwards to get into close combat range of Delphox.
A Water Pulse got halfway out of his paws before rebounding, caught in a rippling curtain of Aura to hold it close to his body, as Lucario prepared to soak up the heat associated with charging through a firestorm.
Then Lucario actually hit the wall of fire, and bounced off with a crackle-bang.
"What?" Pikachu asked, leaning forwards and putting a paw down to steady himself. "That was weird."
Delphox flourished her wand, with a cry of "Wall of Fire!" Her fire changed to orange-and-yellow and the shape altered again, this time forming a series of concentric walls, and it began launching firebolts over the walls and spraying from the towers.
Lucario set up a Protect shield, keeping the barrage of attacks from hitting him, then used the moment of respite to prepare an extra-sized Aura Sphere. The moment it was close to ready, he went sideways in a dive – taking a few glancing blows, but not enough to cause him problems – and spun on one paw, hurling the Aura Sphere towards his opponent.
Without slowing down he formed two Bone Rush staves, spinning them before hurling one into the fire wall as well. The other he kept as a weapon to deflect the oncoming stream of firebolts, letting him watch as first the Aura Sphere and then the Bone Rush hit the fire and shattered.
The strange thing was that the fire wall cracked, as well, and Lucario thought about that for a moment before firing out a Dark Pulse. It seethed forwards, and he stamped a paw on the ground to use Stone Edge – then volley-kicked the resultant stone forwards at blurring speed, aiming for the same place the first two attacks had hit.
Then he charged, still blocking every attack that came his way.
The Dark Pulse didn't seem to do as much as it should – which made it more likely that the wall wasn't just acting like that because of psychic powers – but the high speed Stone Edge did better, smashing a hole in the firewall and sending vivid orange block fragments scattering everywhere behind it.
Lucario passed through at speed, briefly dropping down to three limbs, then volleyed out two Dragon Pulse attacks and hitting the second wall with a Brick Break.
"Aerora!" Delphox called.
Lucario's Brick Break smashed through the second wall as well, but as he kept going there was suddenly a change in the air around him. It began to feel more like he was striding through liquid, every movement met with resistance, and as he slowed Delphox jumped into the air before landing on a platform of solidified flame.
"Extremespeed!" Ash called. "And climb Stone Edges – wait, first use Dark Pulse!"
Lucario had already used Extremespeed by the time Ash's changed instruction arrived, but he decided using Dark Pulse second instead of first wouldn't be a problem and so punched it upwards. That seemed to help with the feeling of slowness, and when Lucario stamped down for his second Stone Edge he sent more than a dozen rocks flying up into the air.
Delphox was already reacting, throwing another barrage of fire bolts down at Lucario with a shout of "Fuego!", and as he darted from rock to rock she flourished her wand and sent a weird flicker of force Lucario's way.
It repulsed him right back to the ground, but Lucario twisted and landed on his feet – absorbing the momentum, then springing right back up to jump once on the final rock and get into close combat range of Delphox herself.
A Bone Rush staff formed in his paw as he landed, and he went straight in on the attack – his footpaws glowing blue, both to avoid being burned from the flaming platform and so he could instantly start jet-boosting if she made the platform vanish.
"This Delphox is kind of tough," Ash admitted, thinking about the Pokemon he had available.
Charizard was almost completely exhausted, Ash could tell that much, and against a Delphox like this it would just be asking for him to be knocked out easily. Pidgeot and Sceptile were obviously out of the battle entirely, and the last Pokemon he'd chosen was… workable, but not the best choice.
"I could switch who I've got picked," he added, out loud, and Dexter projected a selection screen in front of him.
"Or I could go back out there," Pikachu pointed out. "I'm not out of this yet."
"Good point," Ash admitted. "At least, when Lucario's had enough."
They looked at the battle in the sky, where Delphox was weaving her wand through a complex series of combinations and flourishes and conjuring fire around herself. The flames were sometimes more like what Ash would normally expect, but sometimes they were that weird solid sort she'd been using, and they sprang up fast enough and often enough that more than nine in ten of Lucario's attacks were absorbed or blocked by the solid flames.
Then Delphox levelled her wand. "Stupefy!"
"What?" Ash asked.
A jet of light shot from the magical stick, knocking Lucario backwards off the platform, and he crashed through a tower of solid flame before rolling to a stop. He shook his head, attempting to clear it, and then a wave of flame and firebolts crashed down on him.
He vanished under the barrage in a blur of motion, and then reappeared with a flicker next to the bunker Ash was in.
He was also quite extravagantly on fire, burning from tail-tip to ears to paws.
"I think I've had enough now," he told Ash clearly.
Ash returned Lucario, then sent him out again inside the box. He formed a Water Pulse, raising his paws over his head, and let it burst to sluice himself down and extinguish the fire.
"That's better," he said, with a sigh.
Pikachu jumped out onto the battlefield at the same moment, and clapped his paws together before summoning a shield of electricity that sizzled and popped with static.
Delphox didn't hesitate, pointing her wand down imperiously at Pikachu from her flying platform. "Dragon Breath!"
Pikachu had been ready for a Dragonbreath attack, a surge of greenish Dragon-elemental flames, but what actually came out of her wand was a curl of yellowish flame – one that darted close to Pikachu, then stopped, and his dodge to the side went without actually helping him avoid anything.
The yellow flame coalesced, then, forming the shape of a Charizard's mouth, and that exhaled a roaring blast of fire at Pikachu.
The Electric-type wrapped his Counter Shield more tightly around himself, deflecting the energy of the attack away with a hiss, then spun as the attack faded and returned the favour. His first blast of electrical energy slammed out at Delphox, hammering into a barrier of her strange solid flame, and pieces of the barrier splintered away as shrapnel which went flying across half the arena.
"Thunder!" Pikachu added, suiting action to words and blasting a hole five feet across through the outermost layer of his opponent's curtain wall.
If Ash was any kind of judge, that seemed to unnerve Delphox slightly. Her wand flickered and flashed, and she unleashed a rain of tiny firebolts to cascade down on Pikachu even as her fire-walls adjusted and took on new shapes.
The breach began to heal itself, and a smaller C-shaped wall rose out of the ground to make sure Pikachu couldn't just use it to get around the entire wall. That didn't make her opponent hesitate, though, as Pikachu formed two rings of lightning and used his Light Ball to fuel an ongoing staccato barrage of defensive Thundershocks.
The first lightning ring lit up and expanded, the second one shrinking and floating two feet over Pikachu's head, and he spun around to throw an Electroball up at Delphox before jumping through the first ring he'd made. It pulsed, throwing him through the narrowing breach in the curtain wall, and the second ring came along before pulsing as well.
Pikachu's vector went from straight-along to along-and-up, cheeks buzzing as he charged up, and he fired a point-blank Zap Cannon at Delphox as he popped up over the edge of her platform.
"Pyroclasm!" Delphox called out, meeting the blast of electrical energy with an enormous eruption of fire. The sheer force of the blast was enough to knock Pikachu backwards, but his own much more focused attack cut through the spell like an awl and hammered into her – sending her skidding backwards and nearly off her platform.
While she was recovering her footing, Pikachu twisted the electrical energy around himself in a different way. He fired a Thunderbolt away from the platform, deliberately adjusting it to maximize the recoil, and blasted himself back into combat range – then pulsed out a spherical Shock Wave, which Delphox endured with a snarl as she brought her wand to bear again.
"Stupefy!" she called, and Pikachu batted the attack away as he got into close combat range. His tail glowed silver as he used Iron Tail, and Delphox blocked the first strike with her wand before flourishing it and throwing it to her left paw.
"Flaming Sword of Rhuin!" she incanted, forming a blade out of condensed flame in her right paw, and began using it to keep Pikachu at bay as she flung firebolts at him from her wand whenever she got a chance.
All the while, her castle down below continued to move. The breach healed, and it began throwing fireballs up at the two battling Pokemon – fireballs which Delphox ignored and Pikachu blew into splinters if they got close enough for him to be concerned with them. That was just a sideshow, though, with Iron Tail clashing against flaming sword and a near-continuous blaze of Thunderbolts and Shock Waves and Flamethrowers and fireballs blurring back and forth.
And with every second, Pikachu glowed a little brighter.
"So… how much of this is normal, exactly?" Aaron asked.
The Bug-type specialist looked at his fellow Elite Four members, Flint the Fire-type specialist and Lucian the Psychic-type specialist. "Because I'm hoping one of you knows."
"It just seems like magic to me," Flint shrugged. "So go to Kanto and ask Agatha."
"She's retired, isn't she?" Aaron said.
Cynthia nodded. "Doesn't mean you can't ask her, though."
"Fair point," Aaron agreed.
"I can't help either," Lucian admitted. "Magic was never my strong point."
He let out a sigh. "Onix is."
"...what?" Flint asked.
"That was terrible, dear," Bertha told him. "Stick to your day job."
Lucian adjusted his glasses, smirking slightly.
"But… you're not a Ground type or a Rock type specialist," Flint complained.
"Just stand still so I can set you on fire!" Delphox demanded. "Clathrate!"
Blue-purple light jetted from her wand and formed into a globe of ice, which flew at Pikachu and tried to explode like a fireball. He smashed it with a Thunderbolt, then hit her wand with a Shock Wave, and it went flying out of her paw.
Delphox snapped her claws together and the magical brand flew right back into her paw, but the moment of inattention cost her – Pikachu batted her flaming sword aside, then used Discharge.
The explosion of power blew her platform away, dropping both Pokemon down towards the castle below, and Delphox growled before flourishing her wand again. "Flameflight!"
Wings formed, rippling off her shoulders like a fire coaxed into shape, and she floated back upwards – for about two seconds before Pikachu burst those as well. He darted over to directly beneath her, smashing his way through some battlements in the process, and Delphox pointed her wand down as Pikachu prepared an Electroball.
"Fire Surge!" she called, producing an enormous explosion which set the Electroball off early. The blast catalyzed itself on the solid flames, as well, setting every single flame-construct and fragment off in a single massive blast, and Delphox let the flames rage everywhere for a moment before snuffing them with a flick of her wrist.
Pikachu was still there, a little soot-blackened but still hale, and he stared at her for a few seconds before flicking an ear.
"That's it!" Delphox announced, smoke pouring off her ears, and her wand lit up with an intense white light too bright to look directly at. "I've had enough of you! To sūmbolaion diākonētō moi!"
Flames erupted around her, tracing a symbol, and Pikachu completely disdained subtlety. He used Thunder and didn't stop, pouring a continual blast of electricity at her, but she kept chanting – one line becoming two, then three, as the design spread out and became more and more intricate.
It was impossible to see her through the eye-watering brilliance, but the spark of her wand swept up as she reached the end. "Ouraniā Phlogōsis!"
The whole arena vanished in an explosion of heat and light.
Brock and Dawn exchanged glances.
"Starter?" Dawn asked.
"Starter," Brock confirmed.
When the blast finally faded, Ash lowered the hand he'd flung up in front of his face.
The whole area looked not scorched, but melted – whatever Delphox had done, it had burned everything there was to burn, and then melted whatever was left.
There was no sign of her, either. But there was a little yellow mouse, still encased in the blazing shield of electrical energy he'd used to deflect the attack.
"Pikachu!" Ash called. "You're still okay?"
Pikachu nodded, waving, and then there was a flash of white light.
Tobias sent out Darkrai.
"...what?" Cynthia asked, dropping her pocky. "Didn't we see that Pokemon get beaten earlier?"
"I think this one's going to need the referee's attention," her Lucario said.
"What just happened?" Ash asked, glancing down at the screen, and Dexter wisely opened the link to Tobias again. "Didn't Sceptile knock your Darkrai out?"
"Yes, but I don't see why that's a problem," Tobias replied. "Referee. I trust there are no issues?"
Ash could hear the referee through the call as well, asking about how his Darkrai was back.
"I assure you, my Darkrai was knocked out," Tobias said, sounding offended. "I wouldn't recall my Pokemon and pretend they were knocked out, certainly not in an official tournament."
"Then please explain the presence of your Darkrai," the referee requested.
"If you check the tapes, you'll see that Cresselia used Lunar Dance during the battle," Tobias told him. "That's a move which is unique to Cresselia, and which sacrifices all their energy in return for fully healing another Pokemon."
He folded his arms. "I checked the rulebook, and there's no rule against it."
"There isn't a rule for it, either," the referee said, though Ash could hear the sound of flipping paper as he went through a rulebook. "Hold on, I might need to consult on this…"
"Funny how often rules aren't written until really, really weird situations come up," Gary-Uno said. "Mind you, I suppose we can give great examples of that."
"Tell me about it," Gary-Dos agreed, with a groan. "Do we technically have one birth certificate or two now?"
"I think we technically count as long-lost twins?" Gary-Uno frowned. "Or… it was something like that, there was some thing to explain why we looked the same, coupled with a time travel thing to explain why we're different ages."
"That's right," his pseudotwin agreed. "For some reason though it seems weird to be able to heal a knocked-out Pokemon, even though that's what Pokemon Centres do…"
Umbreone waved at the TV. "Ssh, I'm listening."
"Okay, so… there isn't a rule against this, and the default is to allow the effects of unusual moves, but there's going to be ruling on this and it is quite possible it will be disallowed in future," the referee said.
"And, of course, I'll respect the decision," Tobias agreed. "But since the rule won't apply for this battle, I take it Darkrai can fight again?"
"I don't think I'd mind," Ash said.
"All right, then," the referee decided.
Ash looked up from the screen, and waved to Pikachu. "Are you okay to go again?"
"I came up with something new," Pikachu replied.
The referee had just got clear of the fighting area, and chopped his hand down. "Begin!"
Darkrai immediately threw a spray of Dark Void attacks at Pikachu, who encased himself in a globe of Counter Shield. It was different to normal, though, made up of a dozen overlapping and skew-offset rings so there was never a gap large enough for a Dark Void ball to slip through, and Pikachu began running around at speed – first throwing an Aura Sphere behind him, where it almost stopped in mid-air before homing in on Darkrai, then following it up with a whole barrage of them.
None of them was very strong, or very fast, but they were all homing attacks and Pikachu was able to throw them hard – even while moving at full speed – so they weren't limited to coming from where he actually was. Instead they came arcing in from all directions, producing ripples like black ink as Darkrai used Dark Void to absorb them before they reached him, and Ash watched carefully – on the lookout for when Pikachu might need advice, or a warning, or just when he spotted something his Pokemon hadn't.
Lucario leaned out of the window as well. "He's up to something, isn't he."
"Yep," Ash agreed.
Darkrai dropped into the floor, phasing away from attack range for a moment, and Tobias frowned.
It was obvious that Pikachu had been doing a lot of thought about how to keep himself safe from Darkrai's main attack, and the crackling net of electricity he was weaving – sort of like an Electroweb, in a way – was keeping not just that but other attacks from reaching him – or, at least, reaching him with any impact. Ice Beam hit the net and compressed it inwards a little, but most of the force splashed off, and when Darkrai had used Dark Pulse or even Shadow Ball nothing better had happened.
"It's ironic, I suppose," he mused, thinking about the idea of Darkrai being worn down by attrition – the same thing that his Dark-type Legendary usually exploited.
Then he frowned.
"Shock Wave," he ordered, as Darkrai rose back into the physical world, and Darkrai turned to give him an odd look as another Aura Sphere came in – this one knocking him a step sideways.
"There's a method to this," he told his Pokemon. "Shock Wave."
Darkrai turned back to face Pikachu and used Shock Wave, throwing out an arc of lightning which moved through the air in discrete steps and collided with Pikachu's shield.
While the other attacks had pushed the web in a little, this one was feeding energy into the web – and it made it come out a little, expanding slightly.
"Keep it up!" Tobias told him, as Pikachu slid to a halt before ducking into one of the craters left by the attacks so far – trying to break the connection, probably, though the Shock Wave continued to arc over the gap and pour into Pikachu's shield. "And when the gaps are big enough, Dark Void barrage!"
Darkrai stepped, pushing off from the ground at the same time, and floated serenely into the air to get an angle where he could see into the pit. The shield was audible, now, accompanying the buzz from Darkrai's Shock Wave with a growing hum that set Tobias' teeth on edge slightly. It seemed to pulse, getting louder and louder and faster and faster, and then – just as he was about to become visible to Darkrai – Pikachu leapt clear of the crater, the rotating rings of his counter shield forming a brilliant blur all around him.
"-wait!" Tobias called, suddenly realizing, but too late. Darkrai was already following his previous orders, and threw a spray of Dark Void attacks at Pikachu.
One of them slipped through a gap in the rotating rings, and Pikachu promptly fell asleep.
But what he'd been maintaining wasn't only a counter shield.
The chaotic, mixed-up pattern of the rings and their obvious use as a defensive technique had hidden that they were doing exactly the same thing as a Volt Crash – twisting and turning, wrapping up an ever-more-complex knot of electromagnetic fields – and they'd had a long time to charge. And now Darkrai had put the Pokemon controlling them to sleep.
The uncontained electromagnetic explosion sent Darkrai cannoning into the arena wall, cracking it, and electricity fizzed and pulsed over him as all that pent-up energy whipsawed back and forth between the arena shields and the walls before flowing into him – hitting him with the equivalent of one powerful electrical attack after another, adding to the direct effect from a point-blank burst of plasma as the knot snapped.
Pikachu had been right next to the focus of the blast as well, and he'd been knocked out entirely while Darkrai had endured the blast, but that was if anything worse – Darkrai had had no chance to use Dream Eater to recover some of his lost energy, and Ash still had one Pokemon left.
Tobias couldn't wait to see it.
"Here goes," Ash said, and threw his Pokeball with an expert spin.
It bounced once, then Butterfree emerged in a flash of white light. The Pokeball followed that up by bouncing a second time, and flew back into Ash's hand.
Before the battle could begin, though, Tobias' voice interrupted.
Ash blinked, then turned to look down at Dexter's screen. "Is something wrong?"
"Your last Pokemon is Butterfree?" Tobias said, in disbelief. "You have ten known Legendary Pokemon and you're finishing this with Butterfree?"
"Well, yeah," Ash replied, and Tobias kept going.
"Are you even taking this seriously?"
"Huh?" Ash said, confused. "Why would you think-"
"This is a battle for something important!" Tobias insisted. "A Pokemon League battle is like that, just like a gym battle – they're not just friendly training battles, and it's… it's… not right to just treat them like they are! You should be trying to win!"
"I'm not trying to lose!" Ash replied, piqued. "But I'm not going to just flatten everyone with my most powerful Pokemon either!"
"Why not?" Tobias demanded. "I've heard about all the situations you get into, I know you've had to try and save people – cities – the world before, and you have to go in with everything you've got! So why-"
"A League battle's nothing like that, though!" Ash retaliated. "You don't have to put absolutely everything into a League battle, or a gym battle – if you have to come back next year, it doesn't hurt anyone."
Tobias seemed to have gone quiet for a moment, and Ash continued. "It's… I understand what you mean about things like that, when people would get hurt if you didn't try your hardest. But… there's so much that's different between that and a Gym battle or a League battle."
"But it's not about you," Tobias said. "If you're using weaker Pokemon than you could be, that's… showing contempt. That you think your opponent is weak."
"I don't think like that," Ash told him. "I think… the way I think it's actually overwhelming someone with a too-powerful Pokemon that's showing contempt. Because you're not bothering with trying to see what's the right kind of challenge for them, you're just doing the same thing to them as anyone else."
Darkrai looked back and forth between the two trainers, then at his putative opponent.
"We should probably wait until they're done," Butterfree said.
The Dark-type nodded.
"So are you a poet?" he asked. "Or do you dream you're a poet?"
"Well, I know I'm a Butterfree," Ash's Pokemon replied. "I don't think I've tried poetry before."
"So probably neither a poet dreaming you're a Butterfree or a Butterfree dreaming you're a poet," Darkrai summarized. "Pity, really. I heard about that philosophical question before and I thought I finally had someone I could ask about it. If you do happen to dream that you're a poet during this battle, can you let me know?"
"I just… really don't like the idea of it," Ash said, trying to compress all the different ideas down into a single statement, then decided that wasn't going to work and kept going. "It doesn't really seem fair to anyone to focus exclusively on your most powerful Pokemon – not for your other Pokemon because they don't get to spend time battling, not for your most powerful Pokemon because they end up doing all the work, and not for your opponent because Darkrai isn't even a fun opponent to battle!"
He waved his hand at the Dark-type. "If you get past his first trick, with Dark Void, then – sure, that's better, but if you used Latios to start with then the battles would be fun from the beginning, and the same for Delphox, Cresselia… any of your Pokemon, really! It feels like you just tried to make the battles as boring as possible-"
"I wasn't doing anything like that!" Tobias protested. "Yes, I was doing the same thing over and over again, but I was hoping that someone would manage to actually make a proper battle out of it…"
"At the same time as trying to win as hard as possible?" Ash asked.
Tobias was silent for a moment, then spoke up again. "I'm trying to – look, I'm trying to win the League, of course I am, but I'm trying to have the most challenging battles I can – to battle the strongest opponents I can."
Ash frowned. "But if you enjoy it when you have an exciting battle that challenges you, that's… kind of what you're not letting other people have. You're coming at it from a different direction, but it's the same sort of thing – the battle isn't what you want, and you don't like it."
He shrugged. "And… I guess that working out how much to do that is part of the challenge. If I lost because I'd used a team that wasn't strong enough, then yeah, I'd feel bad about it… but if I won because I used a team that was way too strong to crush someone flat, it'd make me feel worse, because I'd feel like a bully."
There was a long silence, for several seconds.
"You've made some good points, Ash," Tobias eventually told him. "I have to admit, I haven't done much fighting in structured tournaments, and I hadn't thought about it the same way you clearly have."
Ash let out a sigh of relief.
"But are you really going to battle Darkrai with a Butterfree?"
"I don't think you've seen what this Butterfree can do," Lucario said, trusting Dexter to translate.
"Yeah, you'll see," Ash nodded. "This is what happens when you spread your training out. My other Pokemon see their strongest teammates as targets to try and catch up to."
"Sounds like we're going back to work in a moment," Butterfree said, twitching his wings a little and rising back to where he'd come out of his Pokeball.
Darkrai nodded, and balanced on one leg for a moment as he performed an elegant bow.
"Are you ready to actually start fighting now?" the referee asked, a bit miffed.
"Yeah!" Ash agreed.
"I am ready as well," Tobias concurred.
The referee slashed his hand down. "Then begin!"
The first thing Darkrai did was exactly what he'd done to open every fight, which was to throw a Dark Void ball at Butterfree.
Butterfree's wings fluttered slightly, and a little cloud of powder surrounded him. The Dark Void drove straight through it without appreciably slowing and smacked him in the face, and he flipped backwards before starting to drift towards the ground like a falling leaf.
Darkrai reached out to use Dream Eater, and got nothing – and Butterfree's antennae suddenly lit up as he used Bug Buzz, breaking out of his falling-leaf manoeuvre to hammer Darkrai with a Bug-type attack before swooping up towards the sky.
"I wonder how he did that," Tobias frowned, then pointed. "Darkrai, Rock Slide!"
Butterfree used Sunny Day just at that moment, his wings lighting up with golden patterns as the weather-control pulsed into the sky, and then he used Solarbeam – yellow-gold-green light focusing into a blaze which smashed first one rock and then another as his opponent launched them skywards.
As soon as the last rock was destroyed, the Solarbeam changed focus – and it wasn't coming down as a single beam, but instead as a refracted cone of light which narrowed down to a tiny solar image at whatever distance and range Butterfree had in mind. This time that focus point was right on top of Darkrai, and the Dark-type summoned a Dark Void as a shield – one which hissed and seethed as Butterfree's highly focused Solarbeam blazed down on it.
"Sink into the ground," Tobias instructed, and Darkrai did so – leaving his Dark Void behind, to boil away in moments under the light of the sun. Butterfree then shifted focal length again, altering the angle of the beam so it tracked along the ground and carved a searing trail that followed Darkrai's movements.
"Move quickly in a random direction before you come up," Tobias said. "Then start using beam moves, he can't dodge those so easily."
Butterfree's Solarbeam focus shifted from being a simple conical beam to one which crossed over at least ten feet in the air, distorted and refracted so that it was sending down a central focus point and a wider, slightly more diffuse ring. The whole thing tracked across to keep following Darkrai, and Tobias frowned – then Darkrai suddenly jolted to the left, into the deepest of the craters on the field, and returned to solidity.
An Ice Beam stabbed skywards first, hitting Butterfree on one wing and staying there for a moment before boiling off along the golden outline, then a Charge Beam got most of the way to Butterfree before flashing off a psionic shield.
That at least was something that Tobias didn't need to tell Darkrai about, and a Dark Pulse went flashing skywards to defeat the shield. A second Charge Beam followed it, but the focused light of the Solarbeam simply burned away the Dark Pulse before it arrived and so that Charge Beam bounced off the shield as well.
"Dark Void again!" Tobias decided, and Darkrai began summoning a massive Dark Void orb to throw.
It took several long seconds, as the orb was being evaporated by Butterfree almost as fast as it was forming, but the Legendary Pokemon was winning the race.
"Is he like this at home?" Drew asked.
"Sometimes," his Butterfree said, fluttering his wings a bit. "It's hard to tell, because we don't exactly run into many Legendary Pokemon up there. I've seen the solar beam trick before."
"...wait, of course," Tobias realized. "Darkrai, that Butterfree's used Poison Powder on himself, that's why he's not falling asleep – you'll just need to stall and he'll faint eventually."
Darkrai nodded, then flung the Dark Void orb upwards and continued feeding it more energy with one thin hand – summoning a fizzing mass of electricity in the other, ready to throw it the moment that Butterfree's shield went down.
The rising mass of darkness was at first shaped like a teardrop, wide at the top and narrowing towards the base where Darkrai had thrown it, but as Butterfree focused the full power of his Solarbeam onto it it began to hiss away at the front even as it continued to rise from below.
Darkrai had more power to put into the clash, though, and the leading edge of the Dark Void slowly rose. Tobias was looking from one side, so he had to fill in some of the details from his angle, and he wasn't really sure if Darkrai could tell at all… but it looked like the Dark Void was about to reach Butterfree.
"Now!" he called. "Shock Wave!"
With a flick of the wrist, Darkrai flung his Shock Wave. It arced out to the side, curving around the mass of the Dark Void, and then flashed in to hit Butterfree.
Where Butterfree had been.
The Bug-type vanished in a teleport, materializing at the same instant to the side of Darkrai – something neither trainer nor Pokemon had expected – and in lieu of a solar attack simply used Bug Buzz, but delivered with such focused force that Darkrai was knocked staggering to the side.
"Quiver Dance," Tobias said to himself, trying to unpick the puzzle of this Butterfree bit by bit, then pointed up. "Keep that Dark Void in place to block his sunlight, and hit him with Rock Slide."
Rocks crunched up from the ground, flinging across the now-dark battlefield, and Butterfree ducked and dodged before firing a Bug Buzz to smash the one he couldn't avoid.
Darkrai sent an Ice Beam flashing through the debris, and Butterfree's wings flared as he threw off the worst of the effects. A glittering dust followed them for a moment before vanishing in the darkness, and the next Ice Beam detonated as much on the glitter as on Butterfree himself.
His antennae began to glow brighter, and some of the dust and scales he was shedding formed around him as a shield. Coupled with the psychic force he was already using, Butterfree's layered defences were making it harder and harder to actually land attacks on him.
But he was still poisoned, which was why he wasn't asleep… and that had to be taking a toll.
"Hmm…" Cynthia said, reading off Laocoon's transcript of the conversation between Ash and Tobias. "Well, this is sort of an interesting test."
"What, of how ridiculous you can make a Butterfree?" Aaron asked, as Butterfree swept around in a wide Tailwind-driven circle – pulsing out Bug Buzz attacks which Darkrai mostly stopped, and mostly avoiding being hit by Darkrai's return attacks. "At this point I think Darkrai might have preferred some of the Legendaries…"
"More about their philosophies, but that's sort of related," Cynthia replied. "It's to do with whether you think it's worse to absolutely give your opponent no chance, or to battle them with your second team and still win."
She looked at the ongoing battle. "So, how do you think that Butterfree is doing?"
"I think he's not going to last much longer," Aaron judged. "It's as much the poison as anything else-"
Butterfree vanished in a teleport, just before Darkrai hit him with something, but this time didn't reappear.
"Huh?" Flint asked, intelligently. "Where'd he go?"
"He's not left the arena," Lucian reported, one finger on his forehead. "In fact-"
A blazing arc of green and gold like a blade forged of sunlight cut Darkrai's anti-sun shield in half, then a second sweep at right angles quartered it. The fragments fell apart, and sunlight came flooding in – revealing Butterfree overhead, just above the level of the sun-shade.
He looked healthier now, as healthy as when he'd begun the battle. His wings glowed, golden light outlining every individual pane in the pattern they formed, and there was a corona of light around him which made Lucian lean forwards slightly.
"Morning Sun," he announced. "Clever."
"You mean he just healed?" Flint demanded, then hushed as he saw the other thing the sunlight had revealed.
For the whole time he'd been in the darkness, Butterfree had been distributing powders all around the arena. Some of them had been used to help block the attacks flung his way, but most of them had gone elsewhere… most of them had formed a kind of thick disc, spanning half the height of the stadium and tightly up against the lower edge of the sunshade itself, which glittered and shimmered in the light.
The light which would have given it away, had Darkrai not been blocking it.
"Phase!" Tobias called, and Darkrai tried – but stopped, momentarily paralyzed by the Stun Spores which Butterfree had blown towards him just as he teleported out.
Butterfree used Solarbeam, lensing all the light falling on the stadium to a single point, and a grain of Poison Powder ignited. That set off the rest, and Butterfree's pollen shaped charge sent a brilliant spike of flame down to drive into Darkrai and push him bodily into the ground.
Tobias looked at Darkrai, then up at Butterfree, and back down at Darkrai.
The Dark-type was clearly out for the count. He'd been driven up to his waist into the ground by the force of the blow, something that was easier than it sounded because Darkrai's legs were so thin, but that was the only thing preventing him from simply toppling over.
"I suppose that's a lesson about not underestimating Butterfree," he said, then recalled his last – and first – Pokemon.
"Darkrai is unable to battle," the referee announced. "Do you have any other Pokemon you brought back to fight a second time?"
Tobias smiled slightly, spreading his hands. "I'm out of tricks."
"In which case," the referee went on, and despite the sound equipment he had to raise his voice as cheering began from the stands. "Ash Ketchum is the winner!"
"It's funny, really," Ivysaur said, as Pokemon around him jumped up and down or cheered or launched celebratory attacks into the air – or all three at once.
"It is?" Molly's Eevee replied.
She shifted to Sylveon, put a paw on her muzzle, and pondered for a moment. "What is? I don't think I got the joke."
"Not that kind of funny," Ivysaur clarified. "I mean funny in a weird way. We've won more than one Pokemon League since coming back – we've won every one we entered that didn't get cancelled by a meteorite, in fact – but somehow this one feels different."
"I do not think it strange at all," Suicune told him.
She took a deep breath, then exhaled. "It is because, last time, this was unfinished business. It was not a League where you were defeated by cruel chance, but one where our trainer was stopped by his greatest challenge outside of actual attempts to save the world…"
The Legendary Pokemon smirked slightly. "...which, since you were still there to face it, meant that Tobias was the strongest trainer ever to beat Ash."
"I think that could be it, yes," Ivysaur agreed.
He glanced askance at Suicune. "Do all of you Legendaries get training in the whole wise pronouncement thing?"
"Oh, goodness no," Suicune replied.
She indicated her brothers. Entei hadn't actually howled in triumph, but he'd come close, and Raikou had felt no such restraint. "Have you met them?"
"Good point, well made," Ivysaur admitted.
Both Molly and Cynthia had to come down from the stands for the podium placement, and while they were on the way – and while the middle of the stadium was being repaired, since there was earth to move and grass to replant just to make it somewhere safe to stand – Ash climbed out onto the stadium perimeter and walked over to Tobias.
"Have you got a minute?" he asked.
"Clearly," Tobias replied, nodding towards the stadium.
"I wanted to explain something," Ash went on. "It's… okay, so, you have several Legendary Pokemon, so I'm guessing you're used to the idea that strange things sometimes happen around them."
"Winner of the Ash Ketchum award for understatement, right here," Lucario provided.
"I've had my share of experiences like that," Tobias said carefully.
"Well… this is going to sound weird," Ash went on. "There was this time travel thing. Years ago, now. And… before I went back in time, I got to the semi-finals of the Sinnoh League and battled you – we didn't battle in the finals, that time. And you won, but…"
He shook his head. "I guess I didn't really understand your way of battling, or… I didn't like the experience of being beaten by your way of battling. So I've spent years now trying not to be like you, and I still don't think your way of doing it is a good fit for me, but…"
Tobias nodded once, slowly, but said nothing.
"I wanted to apologize, I guess," Ash resumed. "For kind of having a… simplified version of you in my head, and trying not to be that person."
"The amazing thing is that this isn't even the strangest conversation I've had," Tobias mused, then looked up at where Ash was standing – then not so far up, as Ash jumped down from the retaining wall. "If you could tell me how to change my style, then, what would you say?"
"I'd say…" Ash began, then stopped, thinking carefully about it.
He was silent for perhaps ten or fifteen seconds.
"I'd say that… you shouldn't battle to lose, that's going too far," he said. "But you should spread out who you use in battles more. It gives you more options, and most Pokemon who work with trainers like battling – so it's better for them, and it's better for your opponents who don't just end up feeling like they're checkboxes you're going through as efficiently as possible."
He shrugged. "And it's better for you, as well, because it means you're having to think tactically more often. So everyone's enjoying it more, and… I guess there isn't really a downside to it."
"Unless I end up losing," Tobias replied, then shook his head. "But it seems as though you may be right… though I suspect you are better at resisting the temptation to simply win a close fight with a Legendary Pokemon than I might be."
"Well, the rule about no more than one Mega-Evolved Pokemon or Legendary Pokemon does help with that a bit," Ash said, thinking mostly about the GS Ball.
Then shook his head.
"I… apologize," he said. "I have just realized that I actually broke that rule."
"I didn't even notice that happening, but he's right," Pikachu said.
Lucario followed through the implications. "So… if you wanted, Ash, you could have forced Tobias to concede unless he had enough non-Legendary Pokemon with him to make up a team."
"I guess the only reason the referee didn't notice is that he expected me to use Legendary Pokemon too," Ash said, thinking out loud.
"It seems that training a larger team does give me more options," Tobias said.
There was a green flash, as a big Grassy Terrain detonated, and when it faded the whole arena was an expanse of fresh green grass.
"It looks like we are needed," Tobias added. "Thank you for your advice, Ash Ketchum. I suspect I needed to hear it… whether or not I realized it."
"I hope I'll be standing up there, some day," Max said, as the Maple family watched the awards ceremony.
"You mean Sinnoh specifically, or just anywhere?" Norman asked.
Max shrugged. "I'm not fussy, but I'd kind of like to be on the top step of the podium."
"Good luck with that," May said. "It took Ash two timelines."
"And I'm in my second timeline, even not counting the thing with Celebi or the stuff with Arceus, so there you go," Max retaliated.
May frowned. "Actually, good point, we're probably not counting how many timelines Ash has been in… or how many I've been in, come to think of it."
"Some families have normal conversations, I'm sure," Caroline smiled. "What do you think, Gardevoir?"
It must happen, but I'm not sure I've ever seen any except on television.
"That's the weird thing," Ash explained. "It wasn't until we realized that defeating the enemy actually wasn't helping that we worked out how to solve the problem."
Tobias frowned slightly. "I don't think I ever considered that kind of situation actually coming up."
Ash shrugged. "It's kind of… hard to anticipate some of this stuff."
"Ash," Cynthia said, getting his attention. "I don't want to interrupt you, but I do want to point out that there's some scheduling to handle… it's just that you're about to leave the stadium and I want to make sure you don't just keep going and forget about it."
"It's a useful thing to check, given Ash," Pikachu said cheerfully.
"I would say you should deal with this," Tobias told him. "I won't say you've changed my mind, but I have a lot to think about and it may be that I will come out of this with a different feeling."
The other trainer reached for his belt, then paused and shook his head.
"I've never actually had to deal with Delphox, Latios, Alakazam and Cresselia being knocked out," he explained. "I think I might visit the Pokemon Centre, it's going to be a very long walk otherwise..."
Cynthia waited until Tobias had left, then pointed at Ash.
"Okay, so we need to sort out your Elite Four challenge," she said.
Ash raised a hand. "I… actually need to check, would winning mean I had to take your job?"
"It'd mean you could take my job," Cynthia corrected him.
"That's good, then," Ash sighed. "I'm not nearly done with travelling around, yet."
Cynthia smirked. "You're assuming you'll win. And sure, Ash, you're good – but don't count your Torchics."
"Why not?" Lucario asked. "If you wanted to know how many Torchics you had, then obviously you would count them."
"No, it's a figure of speech," Cynthia told the Fighting-type. "It's a shortened version of 'don't count your Torchics before they hatch.'"
"Is that in case one of them is a different Pokemon, then?" Lucario guessed. "Pokemon eggs are usually quite distinct. I understand it can be hard to identify one if you've never seen an egg of that type before, but it's easy enough to tell if eggs match so… I think you can count Torchics before they hatch."
"I don't understand it myself," Cynthia shrugged. "It's a saying, I don't think they're supposed to make sense."
She pointed at Ash. "Anyway… we don't have to work out the time right now, but I think it'd be better if you got started straight away. That way you don't have to worry about missing anything, and the others are right here already as well."
Ash nodded. "Right."
"Okay, so," Totodile said, some minutes later – in a big field near the Lily of the Valley main stadium. "Now we need to work out the most important thing about Ash's coming challenge."
"What's that,, then?" Buizel asked.
"Who's going to take part," Totodile explained. "We know there's a Ground-type trainer and a Fire-type trainer, so some Water-types would be good for both of those, but on the other hand it's not like Flint isn't going to know about his weakness there especially."
Primeape held up a fist. "We could just let Dexter decide it, factoring in who already got a battle."
"Does Arceus count?"
"We know he can count to three, at least," Glalie said. "After that he seems to just start again, though… Weather Trio, Tao Trio, Space-Time Trio, Lake Trio…"
"Dugtrio," Houndoom provided.
"Dugtrio," Glalie agreed, then paused. "Okay, I should have seen that one."
"There's four Swords of Justice," he supplied. "And I don't just mean the literal organization has four members, I mean there's four Pokemon who are similar in that way."
Garchomp glanced at him. "Speaking of which, actually, do you need to get home?"
"If I do, then I'm sure I'll hear about it," Keldeo replied. "It is technically night time in Unova, though, I think."
"Ah," Glalie nodded. "So you're a knight out."
"Now you've done it," Swellow said, swallowing a giggle. "We're going to be hearing puns for hours."
"Yes!" Glalie agreed, with joy suffusing every syllable. "I'll be going on all knight!"
Keldeo shook his head. "Truly, an enemy my training did not prepare me for."
"The question is how long it will last, knight," Glalie assured him. "Of course, you could just wait until the halfway point, which should be at mid-knight."
"Yes," Meganium agreed. "It'll be like knight and day."
"Hey, I had that pun reserved," the Ice-type protested.
"Weren't we trying to decide on scheduling?" Entei asked. "How did we get distracted onto this?"
Ho-Oh bent down to his younger son. "It won't last forever. It's the incident of the curious dog in the knight time."
That earned him blank looks.
"I try to inject a bit of culture, and what do I get?" the Fire-type asked, ruffling his feathers. "Humph, I say."
The delay is caused by the size of the update.
The Tobias battle is something that's influenced Ash's thoughts for a large chunk of the fic; I started writing it before the Unova League arc in the anime had been aired, but I think it's the one which would have affected Ash more than the Unova League defeat did.
Meanwhile, of course, the actual battle. Naturally Tobias needs a ridiculous team...