The Master of Mirage

Chapter Three – A Questioning Battle

If the entrance wasn't impressive enough, the courtyard in the middle of the palace-inspired lab was absolutely amazing. All of the younger trainers stood in awe, and it even looked like Professor Oak was impressed. Of course, since they were testing a battle system, it should have been obvious that there would have been an arena of some sort, but none of them really thought about that.

"Wow, Doctor Yung must have a lot of investors," Brock said as he took in everything, his head turning to look at something new with every step he took.

"Hmm..." Professor Oak acknowledged that he spoke, but didn't say anything about it, his lips remaining firm in a straight line. The younger trainers were all too excited to notice the tension coming from the Professor, even Ash.

"Your mirage system works here too?" Max asked in awe.

"Well, of course," the blue-haired man nodded his head, seemingly pleased by the young boy's enthusiasm. "Without an arena, a battle system would be quite useless, wouldn't it?"

"Look at it though!" May said happily, running forward and looking at the field that was laid out in the middle, made specifically for Pokemon battles.

"Welcome," Doctor Yung stopped in the middle of the field, facing them all, spreading out his arms, "to my Mirage Pokemon Battle Arena. A prototype, of course; a real arena would be much bigger by far. This type of system would require official league sizes." He clapped his hands together. "Everyone who is observing, please stay to the sides." He turned to Misty, smiling warmly at her. "Are you ready?"

"You bet I am!" Misty said with a grin before turning to May. "Will you hold Azurill for me?"

"Sure!" May took the small water-type into her arms, and then released her own young Squirtle. "We're going to watch a future Water Pokemon Master in action, so pay attention but stay right here."

"Squirt squirtle!"

"Hey," Ash grabbed Misty's hand before she went over to the side of the field opposite Doctor Yung. "Show him why you're one of the best."

A pink tint appeared on her cheeks, and she sent him a grateful smile that turned into one of pure confidence. "You bet I will!" Misty squeezed his hand back before letting go and taking her spot in the challenger's box, not seeing the suspicious look that Brock gave Ash.

'See these white lines here?' Professor Oak asked a group of young children. 'This is the trainer's box. Leagues have actual boxes and podiums most of the time, but the trainer is not allowed to step outside of these white lines or they're disqualified from that round. If their Pokemon has fainted and that round is over, they may go and retrieve their Pokemon by hand if they wish but then return back into the box.' A much younger Ash Ketchum soaked it all in, eager to be on an actual Pokemon battling field.

"I hope you don't mind; I'll be using Aggron," Doctor Yung said to Misty as he programmed the field again, the Pokemon appearing in front of them. The large, steel-type Pokemon stomped its way into the middle of the field, standing just in front of the white line that made up a circle in the middle.

'When the Pokemon battle, they need to stay inside of these white lines,' Professor Oak pointed to the outside of the field. 'It's the trainer's responsibility to keep them in there. If they roll outside of them, they have a few second to get back in before the battle is considered over.'

'This is all boring stuff people know,' young Gary Oak muttered. 'Except for maybe Ashy-boy.'

'Shh, Gare-bear, some of us are trying to listen,' Leaf Green argued back. He glared at her, but Ash ignored both of his friends.

'Professor!' a little girl with long, dark blonde hair and bright blue eyes called out, raising her hand.

'Why yes, Serena?'

'Why is there a circle in the middle?'

'Ah, now that's important. At the start of the match, the Pokemon must be facing each other, not off to different sides. So to make sure that they do this, they have to stand as close to the white line as they can. However, they cannot go over the line that splits the field before the match begins. It's also where the referee is supposed to stand. Understand?'

'This is complicated.' The little girl sighed.

Ash disagreed. This was very important and very exciting, and he couldn't wait to learn more.

Ash was brought back to the present as Professor Oak walked to the center line, realizing that the man must have been asked to referee.

"The Pokemon battle between Misty, the leader of the Cerulean Gym, and Doctor Yung will now begin! Each will have the use of one Pokemon, and the winner will be decided when either side cannot battle anymore!" Professor Oak announced, his voice echoing across the field.

'Gramps, we already know the rules; why are those people announcing them again?' Gary asked, his voice bored and tired.

'It's so both trainers and the audience are all on the same page. Sometimes information can be misinterpreted beforehand, so this lets everyone know exactly what's going on,' the old man said, ruffling the young boy's hair. Ash would never admit it, but he felt a stab of jealousy while watching those small gestures.

"Alright then!" Misty said, a determined look crossing her features. "Staryu, I choose you!"

"Staryu?" May repeated, sounding a bit surprised. "Why not Gyarados? And I thought she had a Starmie." She looked over at Ash curiously.

"She does, but her Staryu is one of her oldest and most experienced Pokemon," he explained. "They evolve by water stones, so just because it's in this form doesn't mean it's not really strong." He chuckled a little, remembering how he once thought the same thing. It was all so confusing, learning exactly what evolved with stones, what needed certain conditions, and so much more. It was one of the reasons he always scanned Pokemon that he already knew with his pokedex. He found that even Johto could have different information from Kanto, and Hoenn had even more. He sometimes even scanned Pokemon that he already owned at one point of time, like a Charmander or a Pidgey, just so his pokedex would update the information, since the only ones that registered automatically were the ones that he currently had and not their previous forms.

He was actually getting quite good at remembering things about Pokemon, though there was so much information that sometimes he had to double check.

"Well," she let that thought rest on her tongue for a moment, "I guess that's like Pikachu too, right? He's not evolved, but he's a lot stronger than most people think."

"You got it," he sent the young coordinator an encouraging smile. "If my Pokemon don't want to evolve, I don't make them, even if they'd be stronger. If they're happy as they are, that's what matters to me." He turned to the battle again. "That's the same reason I'd let them leave too." His dark brown eyes slid over to look at Misty, not the Pokemon. "It's worth it if they're happy and it's what they really want to do."

"Hiya!" Staryu appeared in the middle of the field, opposite Aggron. Though Aggron looked like the obvious winner, being so much bigger and stronger looking than Staryu, the water-type it also had the type advantage, since Aggron was part rock-type.

"As you said before, Misty, ladies first," Doctor Yung insisted, even though he had the disadvantage. "You can make the first attack."

"Why thank you," Misty said, though she was well aware that she needed to be wary, because this was no doubt a very strong Pokemon. Still, it wasn't exactly real though, so that made it unpredictable. "It'll be my pleasure."

There was a pause and then, "Begin!"

"Staryu, Bubblebeam! Go!" She pointed her arm forward, and bubbles erupted from the gemstone on Staryu's chest, speeding at Aggron and slamming into him, sending dirt and dust flying into the air. "Good job Staryu! A direct hit!" Misty didn't want to seem too arrogant, but her Pokemon were strong and she was rightfully proud of them.

"She must have done some damage to it!" Max exclaimed, practically hopping up and down. "That attack was super effective!"

"Yeah, and Misty's a really good trainer too," Ash agreed, nodding his head as he watched the battle with as much enthusiasm as if he was actually battling himself.

"Pi pikachu pikachupi!" Pikachu cheered and pumped his fists from Ash's shoulder, causing his trainer to laugh.

The dust cleared, and their excited demeanour shifted, turning into a stunned one.

"Aggron!" the steel-type roared loudly as it stepped forward.

"That didn't do a thing to it!" May gasped, her sapphire eyes going wide with confusion.

"How is that possible?" Ash asked, looking over at Brock.

Though he had many Pokemon now, Brock was once the Pewter City Gym Leader, specializing in rock-types, so they would always hold a place in him above the others, whether he admitted it or not. The young man frowned, looking over the Aggron. "There's not a mark on it. That's not right. Even a very powerful Aggron should have felt that attack a bit. Misty's Staryu isn't weak by any means." There was a tone of suspicion in his voice that only Ash caught, the younger two were both watching the continuing battle again.

"Aggron! Sandstorm! Go!" Doctor Yung's words, while similar to Misty's, sounding almost more robotic, and once again, Ash got that vibe, that feeling that something was off there.

Maybe it wasn't just the colour of that orange light triggering a memory.

Aggron slammed its feet into the arena, throwing dirt up into the air, causing it to swirl around and block their view, a swirling stream of sand heading for Staryu.

"Dodge it!" Misty called to her Pokemon as she shielded her eyes.

The attack was fast, but Staryu was faster. It jumped into the air, completely clearing the attack, only for the sandstorm to twist without warning, rushing up and slamming into Staryu's gem.

"What the hell?" In sync, the words escaped both Ash and Misty without meaning to, sea-green and dark brown eyes both locked on the water-type as it was pummeled and then slammed into the ground.

"Staryu!" Misty called out, worry tinting her voice as the Pokemon twitched a bit but didn't move.

"Did you see that?!" Max yelled, throwing his arms into the air.

"That Aggron sure is strong!" May agreed, looking down at her brother as he turned to face her.

"Not just strong! Amazingly strong! One of the toughest I've ever heard of!" He waved his arms in the air at her.

Ash looked over at Brock, who was watching the battle with a stern expression. He'd be the first to commend a powerful Pokemon, but he was frowning. A quick glance at Professor Oak told Ash that he was doing the same. Something wasn't quite right here.

"Mirage Pokemon are nothing to mess with," Ash said, his brown eyes narrowing. He just assumed that this would be more fun than anything else, but now he was glad he brought along a couple stronger Pokemon, though now he wished that he thought to bring his strongest (who, surprisingly, wasn't Pikachu) along.

"Pi." Pikachu perked up on his shoulder slightly.

"What's up?" He didn't take his eyes away from the battle as Staryu managed to get up again.

"Pikachu!" At the Pokemon's slightly alarmed tone, Ash looked around, but there was nothing in the direction Pikachu was looking. He figured that he saw a Pokemon flying by, perhaps a Spearow or Fearow (neither one of them were fond of those pokemon).

"Staryu!" Misty cried out to her Pokemon, a bit of frustration and anger tinting her voice. "We can't lose! Use water gun now!"

"Hi-ya!" The Pokemon jumped into the air, a powerful stream of water erupting from one of its points. Ash could almost see it on Misty's face; she really wished that she brought Starmie now, one of the two Pokemon she had that was stronger than Staryu.

"Aggron!" Doctor Yung countered, "Use Thunder Wave!" For a Pokemon that wasn't particularly known for its speed, Aggron moved out of the way of the water gun, using the stream of water to it's advantage, sending waves of electricity back up to the Pokemon.

"Staryu!" Misty cried out as the Pokemon twitched and shuddered in the air. Ash had once asked her (in regards to Starmie), how she could tell if they were in pain or not since they didn't have a face, but she just knew. It was like how he knew what Pikachu was saying without question.

"Aggron, let's finish this!" Doctor Yung pointed at Staryu. "Use Bullet Seed!"

"Ah! A grass-type attack!" Max cried out.

"Squi, squirtle!" May's young Squirtle cried out, hiding behind her legs. May felt awful for it; she promised that the Pokemon could watch a good fight, but Staryu was getting thoroughly thrashed.

Staryu didn't stand a chance. It slammed into the ground from the force of the Bullet Seed and fell still, the gemstone on its chest flashing.

"Staryu," Misty muttered and ran forward to her Pokemon, kneeling down and cradling its injured form.

"Staryu is unable to battle!" Professor Oak called out. "Aggron is the winner! The victory goes to Doctor Yung!"

Misty took a deep breath as she held her Pokemon close for a moment before grabbing the pokeball and putting it back inside. She pushed herself to her feet, sea-green eyes staring at her opponent warily. "How did Aggron do that?"

"It shouldn't have been able to learn Bullet Seed or Thunder Wave," Max muttered with a frown as they approached the orange-haired girl. He liked Misty a lot and didn't like the fact that she lost.

"It shouldn't have?" Ash was once again surprised that Max knew so much about Pokemon off of the top of his head. He took out his pokedex and found Aggron's entry after a moment, scrolling through all the possible moves as Misty came back over to them. He glanced at her for a moment as she looked over his shoulder, obviously just as curious as he was. "Actually, Thunder Wave is on here, but that's not the point."

"Aggron can learn it, but it's rare and takes a lot of very specialized training," Brock confirmed with a frown as he stared at the undamaged Pokemon.

"You're all forgetting," Doctor Yung said as he walked up beside Aggron. "This is a Mirage Pokemon, not a normal one, and by manipulating the data, I can easily change the attacks it has."

"That..." Misty trailed off as she took Azurill back into her arms. She was going to complain that it wasn't fair, but she didn't want to sound like a sore loser.

Ash's eyes narrowed as he stared at the Aggron. "So your opponent never knows what attack his coming." Though admittedly not the brightest person in the world, Ash was becoming adept with strategy, and he knew that something like this, having an unlimited option of move sets, was definitely something to be wary of. Still, he wanted to see this for himself. As much as a person could get into a battle, experiencing one was something entirely different. "Alright! It's my turn now!"

"Glad to see you're still on board," Doctor Yung smiled, as if he expected Ash to chicken out. "I hope you don't mind, but I'd like to use Aggron again."

"Aggron, huh?" Ash stared at him for a moment before nodding his head. "Okay." He turned to face his older friend. "Brock, do you mind...?" He held the egg out.

"Sure." He reached out to take it, but Ash jerked it away from him. "What?"

"Give it back this time." He then handed his friend Riolu's egg.

Brock was confused for a moment before letting out a chuckle, shaking his head as Ash walked towards the challenger's box.

"What was that about?" May wondered, looking mystified.

"Oh, you remember Togepi, right?" She nodded her head, and Misty let out a sad sigh as Brock continued. "Well, Ash was the one who actually found Togepi's egg. That was when Charizard evolved to fight an Aerodactyl that wanted to eat Ash – not that Charizard cared, he just wanted to beat it – anyway, Ash found the egg, but I took it from him and never gave it back."

"Technically, he won Togepi too," Misty said, a smug smirk appearing on her lips as she hugged Azurill close. "But Togepi saw me first and thought I was his mother. He knew the better trainer!"

The younger two seemed honestly interested in the story while Brock just rolled his eyes at her and turned his attention towards the battle field, noticing Ash taking out a pokeball. "Huh, he's not going to use Pikachu."

"He's not?" That distracted everyone else from their conversation, bringing it back to the current time and the battle at hand.

"Smart of him," Max commented. "Pikachu wouldn't be very good against a steel-rock combination."

"Pi pikapi?" Pikachu asked as he saw Ash take out one of his pokeballs.

"Oh, I know you're the best I've got right now, but I think some of our old friends need time to come out too, right?" He tossed the pokeball high up into the air. "Heracross, I choose you!" The large beetle appeared on the field, looking ready and willing to fight.

"Heracross?" May repeated.

Brock chuckled. "That's smart. They're fairly evenly matched in typing. Rock's strong against bug, but fighting is strong against steel. Heracross can pack a punch too."

"The same rules as the first battle apply to this one," Oak called out, and both Ash and Yung nodded their heads. "Let the battle begin!"

"Heracross, get into the air!" Ash called out to his

"Let's show them what you can do, Aggron!" Doctor Yung called out, and the steel-type started charging at the incoming Heracross.

Then, without warning, it let out a pained sound and came to a complete halt. Heracross stopped, staring with confusion as it started to blink in and out of existence like a television station that was beginning to go snowy.

"Huh?" Ash blinked with surprise. "What's wrong with Aggron?" He had to remind himself that Aggron wasn't real, that it was a Mirage Pokemon, because it sounded like it was in so much pain.

But it could still touch and be touched by things. It was still really there. Did that mean the pain was real too? Ash bit his lip. He didn't like that at all. "Heracross, get away from it!" It was precautionary, but he didn't want anything to happen to his Pokemon.

"Doctor Yung, what's going on?" Professor Oak called out.

"I haven't the faintest idea." He was trying to use all the controls on his remote. "I just lost control." The remote started sparking in his hand before it exploded, tossing him to the ground and making him hold his hand in pain.

Aggron roared in agony as it vanished. Max let out a whimper because of the sound, turning and burying his face into May's shirt. Squirtle hid behind her legs, Azurill shuddered in Misty's arms, and Pikachu's ears when flat against his head. "Pi."

"Return, Heracross!" Ash put his pokeball back on his belt and rushed forward, staring at where the Pokemon was in shock. He knew it was a Mirage Pokemon, but seeing it just vanish and in such obvious pain was nerve-wracking.

"Are you alright?" Professor Oak asked as he rushed to Doctor Yung's side.

"Yes, yes, I think so," the younger man said as he pushed himself up but let out an agonized sound as he held his burned, bleeding hand.

"He needs to get to a doctor," Brock said as he rushed over with May, Max, and Misty.

"No, I—" Whatever Doctor Yung was going to say was cut off as the mirage system started activating, forming the extinct, fossil Pokemon.

Ash took an instinctive step back because this time there were a couple Aerodactyl in the air too. Ash would claim that he wasn't actually scared of any Pokemon like Misty was with her fear of bugs, but there were two Pokemon that always made him flinch or cringe either when he saw them, or heard them swooping down at him. One happened to be an Aerodactyl, since any time he ran into them, bad things usually followed. The other one was much more common: Spearow. It wasn't even Fearow; he didn't mind them, but a Spearow diving at him, especially more than once, was something else altogether.

He'd always put on a brave face for other people though, and now was one of those times.

"Those are the same Pokemon from earlier, right?" May asked, a bit of fear creeping into her voice. The ones from earlier had been calm, not moving very much when they approached.

"Those Aerodactyl weren't there earlier," Brock handing Ash back the Riolu egg. Ash opened his backpack, tucking it in while surrounding it with soft clothes and blankets, zippering the bag up. He didn't want it in his arms if they had to run. Misty seemed to be thinking the same thing too as she put Azurill back in her pokeball. "Something doesn't seem right either."

Brock wasn't wrong. Just the stances these Pokemon were in showed that they were much more aggressive.

"What's going on?" Misty wondered, her voice shaking a bit as she tugged at Ash's sleeve, though she didn't expect him to have an answer.

"This isn't possible!" Doctor Yung cried out, his periwinkle eyes wide with alarm. "My remote was just destroyed! They shouldn't be here!"

That was when a deep, menacing laugh echoed through the arena. Pikachu let out a high-pitched whine as his tiny paws dug into Ash's shoulder painfully. The five of them moved closer together, looking around for the source of the voice.

"Dear Doctor Yung." A shadow stretched over the ground, and the five trainers and two adults looked up onto the balcony of one of the tall towers.

There, standing in one of the tall towers was a figure with a mask and costume completely shrouding his identity. One thing they all knew for sure though was that this man was up to no good.

"Your mirage system has fallen into new ownership."