Chapter Twelve: The Veteran

Ash was still sitting at the table in the Pokemon Center's cafe when Leaf returned with Misty from the Fuchsia Gym. He frowned at her crestfallen expression as she approached him. "You lost too?"

"Yeah. Koga's team was just too much for me," Leaf admitted ruefully as she took a seat.

Misty nudged the obviously disheartened girl with her elbow, but Leaf only shook her head. The Gym Leader shrugged and shot an apologetic smile at Ash. "I'm sorry your battle didn't go well. I thought you had him for a bit there, but that Toxicroak was really difficult to beat, wasn't it?"

Ash sighed. "Toxicroak knocked out Sobek and Douse, and it was the reason Pyro ended up losing. I was too careless trying to beat Koga with only power moves. We didn't even make it to his third Pokemon."

"Neither did I. He didn't use Toxicroak in my battle with him," Leaf told Ash. "Another ninja showed up and took Toxicroak and Golbat away to heal. I had to fight Venomoth and Muk."

"So, what are your plans now?" Misty asked the two younger trainers. "Koga's going off again to do work for the League. Janine and I are going to stay here for a couple of weeks so I can help her learn about being a Gym Leader."

"I'm going to stay here for a little while longer," Leaf answered. "I like the idea of training with you and Janine for a bit before I head off to Vermillion City for the St. Anne voyage. Ash?"

Ash had already made up his mind about his next move—he wanted to get back on the road and start training again ASAP. His team needed to get stronger and he wanted to start working on new strategies and techniques for them to incorporate in battle. The last couple of Gym challenges he'd made had resulted in the leaders saying the same things to him; he relied too much on brute force. It was about time he began to fight more intelligently.

"I'm hitting Route Fifteen and making my way north to Vermillion City," he said. "I want to do some extra training before the St. Anne gets there."

The fact of the matter was that he still had a little more than a month before the St. Anne was ready to depart, but Ash wanted to get to Vermillion early because he desperately wanted to see if Lt. Surge had made any progress with Pikachu. He hadn't even been able to say goodbye to his second partner in Celadon because Pikachu had been unconscious and in an intensive care unit. Surely the electric-type was able to see him now…


He was chased out of his thoughts by a concerned Misty, who seemed to have caught on to his troubled thoughts. Ash quickly put a smile on his face to reassure her. "Sorry, I got carried away thinking about some stuff."

She didn't look convinced by his facade, but accepted that he wasn't going to talk about whatever was on his mind. Instead, she propped her elbows on the table and set her chin on her hands. "So, Charmeleon learned Flare Blitz in the battle, right? He sure has gotten strong."

Ash's smile became genuine. "Yeah, he really has. I think he might evolve soon. Maybe then we'll finally get Dragon Rush down."

"It's a lot better than it was the last time I saw it," Misty told him. "Remember our gym battle? Back then, it wasn't much more than a Tackle attack, but I saw real improvement in your fight against Koga. You'll figure it out. Maybe Pyro just needs more power to use it perfectly. Evolving might give him that boost."

"I hope so."

Leaf leaned forward across the table with a grin. "You, me, and Gary will have to compare starters after they're all fully evolved. I'm not expecting his turtle to be much trouble for Saur, but maybe your hothead lizard will give us a challenge?"

"You know Pyro beat Saur the last time they fought."

"That was then," Leaf retorted cheerily. "He's a lot stronger now. I think we can take you two down."

"Don't count on it."

They continued their conversation for hours until it was late afternoon, talking about training, their Pokemon, and their goals before the Indigo League came around. But finally, the three young trainers were simply too tired to keep up the chat and called it a night.

"I'm probably going to leave first thing in the morning," Ash told them. "If you guys plan on sleeping in, I'll probably be gone before you wake up."

Leaf nodded. "That's fine. We can just say goodbye here!"

"Make sure you stop by Cerulean City after the cruise ends," Misty told him. "I'd like to battle you again. I'll use my strong team against you this time! You won't find an easy victory against them."

Ash grinned. "For sure. I'll still beat you!"

"And I guess I'll see you in Vermillion in a month, right?" Leaf asked. "Better get your team ready. I'm not slowing down anytime soon. We'll leave you in the dust if you don't keep up."

"Keep telling yourself that," he smirked. "If you see Gary before then, you know what to do."

"Wipe the floor with his face?"


"Will do," she giggled. "Goodbye, Ash. I'll see you soon!"

Ash nodded again, gave both of the girls a high-five, then retreated to his room to get some shut eye. He had to be well-rested for the road ahead and the training that came with it.

Despite his exhaustion, Ash ended up just lying in bed later that night, replaying the battle with Koga in his mind for hours while combing through the Pokedex for information. His lack of knowledge about Toxicroak had proved to be his undoing. Had he known better, Douse may have been able to defeat it before sending out Pyro became necessary.

It turned out that Toxicroak's ability was Dry Skin, a trait its species had adapted to take advantage of the water in their swampy habitats. They didn't have actual dry skin—it was just the name for the trait.

The way it worked was more complicated than Ash had imagined. Dry Skin was an adaptation that caused Toxicroak to have a very thin, hydrophobic layer of skin coating its entire body. If a water-type move came into contact with it, the hydrophobic properties would simply repel the water, though force still played a role. Ash had seen that first-hand when Douse's Bubble Beam stopped Toxicroak's rush and pushed it back several feet. But it didn't provide much more protection than that because it was so thin and easy to damage.

The key lay in a secondary layer of skin directly beneath the first. That secondary layer had properties the total opposite of the top one—it was extremely hydrophilic, meaning that it absorbed water. If Toxicroak was injured, the hydrophobic layer of skin would take damage and give way to the hydrophilic layer. If it was hit by a water-type move then, the liquid would immediately be absorbed and used to accelerate the natural healing factor Toxicroak possessed. The wounds healed and the thin, hydrophobic layer of skin would be swiftly regenerated, allowing it to shrug off any unneeded water.

It was a brilliant trait, though fragile given how sensitive Toxicroak's skin was as a result of it. The thinness of it made Toxicroak very vulnerable to burns and even intense sunlight, which was why fire-type moves did more damage than they normally would. Since Toxicroak wasn't a particularly durable Pokemon to begin with, it made sense that Koga had capitalized on speed and power whilst relying on the healing factors of Dry Skin and moves like Drain Punch. If the poison-type took a big hit without the ability to recover, it would have been knocked out of the battle much more quickly.

Ash had played right into Koga's most efficient method of eliminating challengers. Douse had allowed Toxicroak to recover halfway through and then the poison-type had healed itself again by pinning Pyro down with Drain Punch. He was only able to finally defeat the thing because Blaze kicked in and allowed him to capitalize on the weakness of Toxicroak's ability.

He knew better now and next time, it wouldn't be so easy for Koga to sweep his team. Ash briefly wondered however what effect Douse's Scald would have on Toxicroak. The outer layer of Dry Skin may have been hydrophobic, but could it really stand up to the extreme heat it was so vulnerable to? He might have to experiment with that later on. But if he was going to prevent a similar scenario from playing out against future opponents, Ash would have to read more about all of the species the Pokedex had information on.

For now, he planned his next move. Going east was a given at this point since it was the quickest and most direct route back to Vermillion City. But with over a month before the St. Anne's arrival, Ash didn't want to squander his time away in a city. He wanted to take advantage of the wilderness for as long as he could to train. Maybe he would stick close to the coast for a while and help his team become better at fighting water-types. Two of his strongest Pokemon were extremely weak to water-type moves and it would be useful if they came up with countermeasures against them on the road.

He told his plan to Professor Oak the next morning before he left Fuchsia.

"Yes, that would be wise," the Professor said. "Water-types are some of the most numerous of all Pokemon species. You'll find no shortage of them in future battles, so finding ways to counter them is vital. Just don't overdo things. Resistance training is beneficial, but doing so too much can cause more harm than good."

"I'll do my best," Ash replied. He didn't actually want Oak to tell him how to go about doing just that. One of the fundamentals of training was figuring things out for yourself. In Ash's way of thinking, it took all the fun and creativity out of training if you were told exactly how to do something right from the get-go. The reason he asked for Oak's opinion was to make sure he wasn't going to make any bonehead mistakes that could get his team injured or worse.

Oak offered a smile. "I am sorry your battle with Koga didn't go as you planned, Ash. But this will not be your last defeat. There exist many trainers as talented as Koga—some are even more so. If you want to climb to the top, learn all you can from this loss and use it to better your team and yourself."

He nodded slightly. "I know. I just wasn't expecting Toxicroak to come out of nowhere and steamroll my team."

A chuckle then. "Koga is well-known for utilizing the element of surprise to great effect. You are not the first challenger to fall prey to him and you certainly shall not be the last. But Toxicroak does have weaknesses—as do all his Pokemon. The trick is learning how to spot them and then exploiting them in battle. You managed to do that in your battle, did you not?"

He had. It had taken him so long that by the time he'd figured it out, the battle had been lost, but he had identified Toxicroak's weakness and took advantage of it to great effect.

"You are learning. That is the key. Learn and grow with your Pokemon. That will bring you one step closer to your dreams."

Ash smiled wryly. "Y'know, Gary won't be happy if he finds out you tell me all this stuff."

"On the contrary, he'd be disappointed if I didn't," Oak snorted. "I tell him much the same, as well as Leaf. He'd complain about unfair advantages if I didn't keep all three of you in the loop. Honestly, that child drives me up the wall sometimes, but his heart is in the right place."

"Are you sure you're still talking about Gary?" He grinned. "That sounds like all of us."

Oak burst into laughter then. "The three of you are a bunch of troublesome misfits, aren't you?"

"Just a bit."

"Is that my little misfit I hear?"

Ash's grin widened when his mother appeared in the screen beside Professor Oak. She looked a little tired, but was as full of life and cheer as ever. No doubt she'd been hard at work in Oak's lab, working with the breeding pairs of Pokemon.

"Hey, mom!"

"Hi there, sweetie!" Delia exclaimed. Professor Oak headed out of view to give them some privacy (that or he was as busy as ever and had work to do). "How are you?"

"Great. I'm about to leave Fuchsia City. I'm going to go east along the coast for a bit before I go back to Vermillion."

"You've already made it all the way to Fuchsia…wow. I'm so proud of you, Ashy," she said. "How are your Pokemon doing? Is little Pyro being good?"

Ash smirked. "He's doing just fine, but he's not so little anymore."

"I was there at his hatching. He'll always be little to me! Just like you!"

"I'll make sure to tell him that."

Delia smiled. "You know I can't wait to meet the rest of your Pokemon, right? I've gotten to see a few of them from the video chat, but it's not the same. I need to thank them for watching out for my baby boy."

He colored slightly. "I'm not a baby anymore."

"Of course not, 'O great Pokemon Master," she laughed teasingly. Delia was quiet for a few moments before letting out a small sigh. "I do miss you, sweetheart."

"I know," he replied. "I miss you, too."

"Be careful on the road, and let me know when you reach Vermillion City. I expect a phone call the very day you get there!"

"Yes, ma'am."

Delia smiled at her son. "Okay. Do your best, Ash! I'm rooting for you!"

Ash grinned back. "I will."

The video call ended then. Ash left the phone booth and headed for the front desk of the Pokemon Center, where Nurse Joy was waiting as usual. She had kept both his and Leaf's Pokemon overnight to ensure that they healed properly from the battle against Koga's venomous team, but as expected, she delivered them with no problems left unresolved.

"Your Pokemon have been fully healed, Ash," Joy told him as she handed the boy his three Poke Balls. "Good as new and ready to work hard again!"

"Thank you," he told her gratefully. "I'll make sure we're ready for Koga next time."

"Do your best. We hope to see you again!"

Ash nodded and returned the room key he had rented out while staying in Fuchsia, then made his way to the front entrance. There was no point wasting time.

Route Fifteen was pretty straightforward and didn't have much in the way of obstacles. It was mostly forest with patches of plain and the seaside not far off to the south. The wild Pokemon were docile enough, but since the area was rich in food, it wasn't all that surprising.

He let most of his team out to walk with him while they travelled. Eevee was a regular for this, but Ash had been thinking about how much time he got to spend with the rest of his Pokemon. Aside from battles, training, meal time, and sleeping, they hadn't been able to just be together very much lately. He wanted to correct that immediately. Spending all that time with Eevee in Fuchsia had opened his eyes a little bit.

Pyro was at his side, looking stern and mature, but Ash could see his tail twitching now and again with excitement. The normally aggressive fire-type enjoyed being outside with his trainer even if they weren't fighting something. He was constantly sniffing the air, checking for scents, listening for sounds, and scanning every inch of the area with sharp eyes. Ash doubted that anything would be able to sneak up on them while his starter was in curiosity mode.

Slightly behind him was Douse, who simply did his best to keep pace with the rest of them on his shorter, stubbier legs. Ash was pleased he was able to keep up and figured that walking at his usual pace would be good exercise for the water-type. It certainly wouldn't cause any harm for his health.

Eevee, as usual, was padding alongside Ash opposite Pyro, though she didn't appear to be nearly as interested in their surroundings as her flaming teammate. Her ears would twitch now and again from sounds in the woods, but Ash was pretty sure she was simply annoyed by them. If something actually tried to attack them, he was pretty sure they would find themselves face-to-face with an irritated Eevee and an equally nasty Shadow Ball.

Jasmine had opted not to travel outside for now. She was still rather skittish and got too nervous after the first twenty minutes of traveling. Plus Ash was pretty sure that her currently soft scales didn't mesh well with the rough terrain and so recalled her when she expressed discomfort, assuring the dragon-type that he would release her again when it was time for lunch.

Most amusing of the group were Sobek and Spectre, whom were playing a rather one-sided game of cat and mouse.

Spectre had been feeling especially ornery today and got to pranking immediately after they were released by stealing Ash's hat and placing the item on Sobek's face so that his eyes were covered. That had been just the beginning of the mischief once they actually started to travel again.

The first prank was followed soon after by an effective scare when the ghost popped out of a large stone that Sobek had taken a moment to inspect on the road. Sobek had been so startled that he fell back and smacked his head on the ground. While Spectre cackled with delight, his Krokorok teammate lunged and tried to bite him, but only succeeded in biting the stone into pieces when Spectre easily floated away.

The mischief continued until at last, Sobek had had enough and took to chasing Spectre around in an effort to claim vengeance upon the gleeful Duskull.

Ash just smirked as Sobek jumped into the air and tried to bite Spectre again, only for the ghost to simply float up a little more and easily evade him. Spectre cackled again and Sobek snarled, tail thrashing while his fangs were bared. He looked pretty mad, but Ash knew him well enough to tell that he was more annoyed than anything. The Krokorok's true rage was far more intimidating. This was mere irritation rather than full-blown anger.

It was also quite entertaining for Ash, his team, and any nearby wild Pokemon to observe.

Sobek snarled something again as Spectre floated down quickly to tap his snout, causing Eevee's ears to twitch and her eyes to roll. Ash grinned. He was pretty sure that whatever Sobek had said wasn't appropriate, but it was still funny even if he didn't understand exactly what it meant.

"They seem to be having fun," he commented.

Eevee jerked her head up to give him a dry look and Ash could only laugh. No doubt she was silently warning him not to encourage the two rambunctious Pokemon. It would probably give her a headache if he did. Not to mention she would find a way to get back at Ash for doing such a thing.

Pyro merely snorted a small jet of flame, amused by the pair. He was trying to act like a proper leader for the rest of the team, (he was Ash's first Pokemon after all) but it was hard to focus on doing that while the rest of his friends were having fun. If Sobek couldn't catch Spectre on his own, maybe he needed some help? Thinking about it a little more, he was pretty sure the croc would only be further infuriated if he attempted to help capture the unruly ghost-type. Sobek was prideful like that.

Besides, he was starting to get hungry.

Lunch was a relatively simple affair, as usual. Ash released Jasmine again now that they were settled down and the small dragon immediately found her place beside Eevee in the shade of a tree. The two females got along swimmingly with their more mature personalities, as opposed to the males of the group.

Ash could only roll his eyes and smile as Pyro and Sobek got into a wrestling match, the prize of which he assumed was who got their lunch first. It was funny to watch as the pair of reptiles squabbled with each other in a writhing mass of whipping tails and flailing limbs. The pair strained against each other, fangs bared and muscles bulging with the effort, but the match was decided quickly when Pyro slammed Sobek against the ground with a roar of triumph. Sobek hissed with annoyance and gave in, retreating a bit to nurse his pride.

He felt a bit of sympathy for the ground-type; Sobek didn't have any attacks that specifically relied on his limbs, but Pyro had several techniques that utilized his arms and claws. The muscles were a bit more developed than Sobek's as a result.

Ash felt like he might have been wasting Sobek's potential by not teaching him any new moves to capitalize on his upper limbs. He may as well have been a Sandile again since he rarely used them in combat. The boy made a mental note to change that and look up some new attacks for Sobek in the Pokedex.

"Alright you guys, lunch is ready!"

His team made a small cacophony of noise to signal their eagerness and lined up for their meal. Ash gave each of them the usual bag of Pokemon food (it wasn't like he could make much else on the road) and added a couple of Oran berries he had found nearby. They were a nutritious and tasty treat that most Pokemon enjoyed, so he got them whenever he could to add a little variation to their diet.

As they ate, he took the chance to go through his Pokedex again and run through what he wanted to teach his team while they were on the road. There was a lot to do, especially if he wanted to have any chance of winning against his rivals in the battles on the St. Anne next month. First and foremost, he went over all of the moves that his team knew, which was easy to recite since he kept a list of them all on his PokeNav. He had most of them memorized by heart, but there was always a chance he might accidentally forget about one of them.

Pyro knew Flamethrower, Metal Claw, Fire Fang, Dragon Rush, Slash, Smokescreen, Dragon Dance, Dragon Claw, Mega Punch, and the recently learned Flare Blitz. He would, as usual, continue working on Dragon Dance, but it wasn't a huge priority at the moment.

Ash wanted to add a bit more variation to his starter's move set. He had yet to master Fire Spin since they started practicing for it on Route Sixteen, so that was something to work on. He also wanted to give the fire-type Brick Break as soon as possible.

Sobek's move set consisted of Crunch, Dig, Sand Tomb, Fire Fang, Thunder Fang, Assurance, Foul Play, Stone Edge, Incinerate, and Earthquake (the last of which was still a work in progress). Ash smacked himself for not realizing sooner that every single one of Sobek's moves was solely for attacking purposes.

He had no means of boosting his strength (with the exception of Moxie, but that was not something Ash wanted to rely on unless he had to) or defending himself. He scratched off his plans for trying to teach Sobek another offensive move and latched onto the concept of enhancement and defense. Hone Claws would be a good start.

Eevee knew Quick Attack, Shadow Ball, Swift, Bite, Refresh, Helping Hand, and Iron Tail. Her move set was one of the smallest in Ash's team and they really needed to expand on it, but the trouble was that until she evolved, the range of moves she could learn was limited.

He decided that her focus for now would be increasing her battle strength and experience, as well as opting for some evasion moves to give her an edge. Eevee wasn't his most durable fighter, but she could pack a punch when she needed to. If making her a little harder to hit could present her with an opening to attack, Ash was more than happy to practice those tactics with her.

Douse's moves were Bubble Beam, Hypnosis, Mega Punch, Wake-Up Slap, Mud Shot, Scald, Ice Beam, and Body Slam. His problem was much the same as Sobek's—with the exception of Hypnosis, he didn't have any moves to defend himself or boost his power. They were still at a dead end as far as learning Hydro Pump went, though Ash was certain Douse could pull it off with enough training.

He figured that for now, Douse could work with Eevee on evasion and practice defensive moves with Pyro and Sobek. There weren't any specific techniques he could find that were really necessary for Douse to learn right now, at least not while he was trying to master Hydro Pump. He'd eventually learn Brick Break like Pyro, but that could wait.

Spectre's move set was the opposite of his team's majority—he was limited in techniques, but only half of them were actually attacking moves. He knew Protect, Confuse Ray, Shadow Sneak, Astonish, Disable, and Shadow Ball. He was the only defensive fighter Ash had on his team right now and one that relied almost solely on battles of attrition. The ghost needed more techniques to cause damage against his opponents as well as improving his power.

However, Ash wasn't blind to the fact that Spectre's greatest strength was his incredible defense and stamina. He knew better than to not capitalize on that, so he decided to split Spectre's training between offensive and defensive moves. They would try learning Will-O-Wisp to start, then Ash wanted to teach Spectre how to use the deadly Hex. He had no idea where to start, but they would find a way.

Last but certainly not least was Jasmine, with whom Ash needed to work the most. Her moves were the same as when he had first scanned her in Fuchsia; Wrap, Thunder Wave, Slam, Dragon Rage, Agility, Safeguard, Aqua Tail, and Dragon Tail. She was well-balanced despite having never trained before, but Ash felt like she needed some more long-range moves in case her opponent was more physically adept than she was.

He had no idea how powerful Jasmine was in the first place, something that he needed to investigate as soon as her scales hardened. For now though, he would try to teach her ranged attacks. Flamethrower and Ice Beam were both possibilities that he discovered in the Pokedex, especially if he had Pyro and Douse teach her. That would give them a chance to bond with each other as well.

Ash also made an effort to do a little extra digging into Pikachu's moves. Although he knew that the electric mouse was nowhere near done with his rehabilitation, he wanted to make sure that he had a plan for Pikachu's training when he got back so that they could get him back into shape as soon as possible. His friend was down for now, but he certainly wasn't out of Ash's mind.

Pikachu knew Thunderbolt, Volt Tackle, Quick Attack, Iron Tail, Nuzzle, Thunder Wave and Electro Ball. He definitely needed more evasion and defensive techniques, so Ash made a note in his PokeNav's training logs to teach the electric type how to use techniques like Double Team, Agility, and Light Screen. Of course, they would need more offensive moves as well. He considered a few in the Pokedex for a bit before deciding on Discharge and Dig to start off with. There would be time to learn other moves if they managed to get all of those mastered before the Indigo League.

That was the dream, anyways. Ash could only hope for now that it would one day become a reality.

"Watch carefully, Jasmine," Ash instructed the Dratini as she coiled up beside him to watch Pyro glare at a stone that Sobek had casually driven from the ground when they started their training. The small dragon trilled and stared at her fire-type teammate intently.

His team was busy with their first round of training since leaving Fuchsia City. Ash had Sobek working on evading Spectre's attacks (ironic, he realized with a smirk, seeing as Spectre had been evading Sobek all morning after pulling his pranks) while the ghost tried to speed up his moves and improve his accuracy on a moving target.

Eevee was working with Douse to boost their raw power, focusing on other techniques seeing as Shadow Ball was a calling card of hers. The goal was to make the rest of her attacks have the same impact as her specialty move. Douse was simply blasting inordinate volumes of water as he tried to master Hydro Pump, although the only thing he really managed to do with all of that liquid was make the nearby plants very happy.

Ash and Jasmine watched Pyro suck in a deep breath, then exhale a jet of flame from his jaws in the form of a perfect Flamethrower. The blast of fire smote its target cleanly, turning the stone cherry red for a few seconds until it cooled with a hiss of heat. Pyro snorted, obviously pleased with himself, and turned to Jasmine to growl a few bits of information to her. She listened attentively to his every word and seemed to be impressed with Pyro's power.

He hadn't seen Jasmine's other moves yet simply because her scales were still soft from her recent shed prior to joining them. A lot of her current moves relied on physical power, and Ash didn't want to risk Jasmine hurting herself while her body was so vulnerable. He was sure that there were ways to avoid doing that and still see her attacks, but he only had to wait a little while longer before her scales toughened again and she could fight for real. He could be patient—besides, it was easier to wait if he had her training to use moves that wouldn't risk damaging her body.

Jasmine slithered forward to Pyro's side and eyed the target rock for a few moments. She reared her head back and sucked in a breath, then exhaled in an imitation of her team mate. The result was a small gout of flame which shot from her mouth and fizzled out about halfway to the stone.

The Dratini pouted at her failure and Ash had to make an effort to keep himself from cracking a huge smile. Never in his life did he think he would see a dragon pout like a child because she couldn't breathe fire.

Pyro seemed amused as well, but he was more focused on the training and grunted a few things before stepping up again to repeat the technique, blasting their target once more with his intense flame. Jasmine watched him with narrowed, determined eyes. It seemed she was eager to redeem herself and get the move down.

The way Pyro was instructing her made Ash realize something; his Charmeleon's teaching was very similar to Cynthia's Garchomp. Demonstrate, explain, correct, and repeat until the move was perfected to his satisfaction. Only in this instance, Pyro was the master and Jasmine was the student. Ash kind of hoped that Pyro hadn't inherited his short-term teacher's ruthless training style, but considering how stubborn his first partner was…

Well, at least Jasmine would get into shape faster.

He watched as the Dratini's next attempt at Flamethrower was a little bit better and smiled. Ash always liked to see progress physically manifest before his eyes.

Three days after leaving Fuchsia City, Ash's training session with his team was interrupted as Jasmine slithered over and prodded his arm with her large, white nose. He blinked at the small dragon curiously. "What's up, girl?"

She nudged him again urgently, so Ash raised his hand and set it on her head. His eyes widened as he realized that her scales no longer felt like smooth silk, but tougher and firmer. Her body had finally returned back to normal after shedding a few days prior.

He grinned. "Are you ready for a real battle?"

Jasmine trilled enthusiastically as the tip of her tail twitched. Ash liked how eager she was to jump into training now that she wasn't at risk of being badly injured. He glanced around at his other team members and called them all in. "Everyone, stop what you're doing for a bit! We're going to have a training battle."

His call got the attention of every single one of his Pokemon instantly. They glanced from Ash to Jasmine and put two and two together quickly, then rushed on over to their trainer. Ash waited until they were all settled around him before facing Sobek. "Okay buddy, we're going to do some target practice first to see what Jasmine can do. Do you mind?"

Sobek bared his fangs eagerly and then slammed his fist into the ground, causing a spire of rock to erupt upwards. Ash wanted to see what Jasmine was capable of before he decided which member of his team to pit her against. The Dratini slithered forward once she had a target and faced the stone with confidence glowing in her eyes.

"Jasmine, give it everything you've got," Ash felt his blood pump as he prepared himself to see what she was capable of. "Let's start off with Flamethrower."

She had been practicing with Pyro religiously to learn this move. It still wasn't perfect, but Jasmine was a quick learner and as expected, a blast of flame from her mouth smote the rock cleanly, leaving a scorch mark. Ash figured it was a good way to get her warmed up by starting with a move that she'd been practicing for the last few days. Plus it gave him a moment to mentally recall all of her other attacks.

"Dragon Rage."

Jasmine reared back and produced a sphere of intense blue energy in her mouth, then fired the Dragon Rage at the target with impressive accuracy. Ash was surprised when it exploded rather violently upon hitting the stone, taking a large chunk out of it. Dragon Rage wasn't considered to be an especially powerful dragon-type attack, but he was pretty sure nothing would like to be hit by that.

"Good girl!" He praised, causing the Dratini to trill proudly. The rest of his team was watching Jasmine with great interest, particularly Eevee and Sobek. Ash assumed Eevee was impressed by the strength of her closest friend, but the only reason he could think of for Sobek's interest was because the dark-type wanted to fight Jasmine after this.

He was actually considering that after seeing Jasmine's power. But there was still more attacks to test out. "Slam!"

Jasmine's tail coiled beneath her, then she lunged upwards into the air using her bunched-up muscles like a spring. She went into a swift forward flip and smashed her tail into the target, delivering a fierce blow upon the rock which cracked it down to the base. Her landing was a bit messy, but she recovered pretty quickly and was ready when Ash gave another order. "Aqua Tail!"

This time, she took a little bit longer than he would have liked. Jasmine tensed up and it took her a few seconds to generate the right amount of liquid water around her tail before she attacked again by swiping sideways at the stone. It was evident to him that Aqua Tail was a new move for her like Flamethrower, but at least she could perform it correctly. He had confidence that she could master it without much trouble.

The next move was one Ash had been eagerly waiting to see ever since he found out she could use it. "Dragon Tail!"

Jasmine's long tail glowed a sharp, lustrous emerald color, forming much more quickly than her Aqua Tail. She darted forward and swiped at the target in another sideways motion, but this time the blow was powerful enough to smash the damaged rock clean in half. An explosion of rubble flew into the air and scattered across their training ground, much to Ash and Jasmine's delight.

"That was great, Jasmine!" Ash exclaimed. Eevee made a happy chitter for her friend while the rest of their team made impressed sounds. Now that they knew what she was capable of, his other Pokemon seemed more accepting and understanding of Jasmine.

The Dratini basked in her pride for a few moments, pleased that her trainer and teammates approved of her strength. It was a brief respite though, because Sobek let out a challenging growl a few moments later.

Ash knew that Sobek really wanted to have a fight with her now. His eyes were gleaming eagerly after witnessing Jasmine's power. He wanted to be the one to face her in the mock battle. And now that Ash had seen Jasmine's strength, he was willing to let Sobek take that role.

"Jasmine, Sobek, you're up. You two are going to battle now."

Sobek hissed with barely restrained delight as he practically skipped forward to face the dragon-type. Jasmine's tail lashed in response and she coiled herself up, ready to do battle against her teammate. Ash wasn't sure what to expect here. Sobek had more raw power than Jasmine, but the Dratini seemed to be the cautious type. If she could evade his massive attacks and get in a few of those clean, powerful blows, then she might be capable of beating him.

There was only one way to find out.


Sobek instantly smashed his fist into the ground, launching a line of pointed stone blades at his opponent. Jasmine quickly darted around the Stone Edge and exhaled a Flamethrower to retaliate, which Sobek met with Incinerate. The two fire-type moves collided and exploded in a burst of black smoke, covering the field for a few moments.

Ash glanced at Douse for a moment. "If they light anything on fire, can you put it out?"

The Poliwhirl beat a fist against his round body in affirmation, then returned his focus to the battle. Sobek had lunged through the cloud of smoke with his jaws wide open, ready to snap into Jasmine's body. She was waiting for him to approach, her serpentine form coiled up and ready to spring.

Once Sobek was close enough, she lunged to the side and evaded his snapping jaws, then spun quickly and crashed her tail into the back of his head with a Slam attack. Sobek snarled and responded by digging underground. Ash's eyebrow lifted slightly at that. He didn't really want Sobek to use Ant Pit if he could help it. The move was a trap for anything that could fly or jump out of the pit, and it would kind of defeat the purpose of seeing what Jasmine was capable of in a straight fight without tricky moves.

But Sobek apparently felt the same way, because instead of creating a sand pit, he darted out of the ground and slashed at Jasmine with his claws. She managed to narrowly avoid a direct hit by quickly rearing back, but Sobek still scored a glancing blow to her snout. Jasmine quickly retreated a few meters and then coiled up, her eyes narrowed while Sobek prepared to lunge again. Ash blinked as a faint, pale aura began to emanate off of Jasmine's scales.

Once again, she didn't move until Sobek was almost right on top of her with his mouth agape, but there was no dodging this time. In a blur of speed that Ash almost missed, Jasmine's tail glowed bright green and then slammed into Sobek's jaw, lifting him into the air and hurling him in the opposite direction. The Krokorok hit the ground roughly with a roar of surprise.

Ash realized that Jasmine had used Agility to speed her Dragon Tail up. The pale energy he'd seen glowing off her scales had to be that—she'd stayed put to trick Sobek into getting close again, then delivered a nasty surprise that he'd had no chance of anticipating. He was impressed she had the insight to pull that off, because he certainly hadn't taught her that one.

Sobek got back to his feet with a snarl and glared at Jasmine, who merely watched him with care. She was a different kind of opponent than he was used to facing, Ash reflected. Sobek was used to fighting enemies who were just as eager to throw down as he was and would immediately launch into a direct attack. Jasmine was not that kind of Pokemon—she was patient, calculating, and a natural tactician. She knew Sobek had more raw power than her in close quarters, so she kept away from him and used his aggressive combat style against him.

She would not be goaded into an up-close fight that she was bound to lose.

But that didn't mean Sobek was going to make it easy for her.

It was true that he wasn't used to fighting an opponent like Jasmine and that his talent lied in close combat, but Sobek had ways of being crafty when his preferred method of fighting wasn't cutting it. He didn't want to use Ant Pit because that was his trump card—there was no point in using it in a sparring match. That would take the fun out of the battle. He was fighting to see what Jasmine was capable of, so if she wanted to fight tricky, then he would give her tricky right back.

Sobek smashed his fist into the ground and generated another line of Stone Edge, which Jasmine easily avoided once again. She launched a Dragon Rage at him this time, but Sobek forced a rock up in between them to shield himself from the blast. As Jasmine darted around the barrier to hit him with another long range move, the Krokorok dove underground again, forcing her to watch the terrain warily.

The onlookers jumped as a blade of stone punched out of the ground and sent Jasmine flying with a pained cry of surprise. Sobek had launched the attack from beneath the field.

Jasmine hit the ground hard and winced visibly from the impact, but there was no time to rest. Sobek immediately lunged out of the earth near the spot where she'd landed and rushed her with fangs and claws at the ready. The Dratini's body glowed with the pale light of Agility and she darted around her opponent's charge quickly. Her tail shone bright emerald as Jasmine aimed a Dragon Tail at the back of Sobek's head, but the croc spun around while his claws turned jet black and Ash suddenly knew what was going to happen.

Dragon Tail met Foul Play and was immediately redirected back to Jasmine, who was battered with the force of her own attack. The blow left her momentarily stunned, but it was enough time for Sobek to deliver a fierce Assurance on the weakened Dratini.

She collapsed from the damage and tried to lift her head back up, but Sobek pinned her down with his claws and growled, daring her to continue. Ash thought for a moment that she might try to go on, but Jasmine conceded by letting her head fall back down again with a low trill.

Sobek let her up and grinned toothily, pleased by his victory, but also impressed with Jasmine's cleverness. She had made him play for keeps, and there was no shame in that. He looked up at Ash and was happy to see his trainer's approval.

"Great work, both of you," Ash called as he approached his two Pokemon. Jasmine looked a disappointed until Eevee padded over and chittered something to her, which made the small dragon feel a little better. Ash scratched Jasmine's scales behind her ears and smiled at her. "You did really well, girl. Sobek is one of the strongest Pokemon on the team. It's not easy to beat him, but you pushed him to his limit."

Sobek grunted agreement and Jasmine's dampened spirits rose again. She had been beaten, but her trainer and her team were still proud of her for doing so well. Now she could work on improving herself until she could defeat Sobek and the others. Jasmine had no doubt that the rest of her new team were just as powerful as the ground-type.

Ash offered her and Sobek an Oran berry as a reward and then patted the Krokorok's head. "I'm proud that you kept yourself under control. Thanks for not taking things too far, buddy."

Sobek nodded. He really had been trying to prevent a repeat of the incident with Leaf's Pokemon by controlling his anger and this was the first time he'd kept himself completely under control. Mind you, he hadn't had the chance to activate Moxie because he didn't knock Jasmine out, but he felt proud that he could keep a level head without fighting under Ash's direct guidance. If he could manage that with Moxie in the future…

"Okay everyone," Ash got their attention once more. "Twenty more minutes of training, then we're calling it a night."

Ash stared out of the forest and at the sea once he reached the tree line.

Only a few hours after they'd set out from camp, they'd been able to hear the distant lapping of waves rhythmically beating against the shore, so Ash and his team made a beeline for the sound. Pyro and Sobek didn't seem overly thrilled by the sight of all that water, but they didn't complain.

They'd found a small cove surrounded by cliffs and the forest on one side (the latter of which obviously being the point they'd emerged from). All things considered, it was a pretty sight, but it wasn't what gave Ash pause before advancing any further.

The place showed signs of battle—scars on the cliff faces and trees that had been reduced to splinters made him wary. Whatever had fought here possessed some serious firepower.

He was wary of running into something with power like that, but he was also curious. Maybe the culprit had moved on, but there was a chance it had stuck around; the damage looked fairly recent.

With his team close at his side, they ventured onto the beach. The moment they did, the water close to them suddenly boiled to life, and then a jet of water was being blasted in their direction.

Spectre rushed up and used Protect to guard Ash while Douse took the shot head-on, absorbing the water with little effort. They locked onto the attacker immediately—a Sharpedo. Ash had no idea what it was doing so close to the shore, nor why it had bothered to attack them, but he wouldn't deny the aggressive water-type the fight it wanted.

Nor would his team. Eevee spat a Shadow Ball at the shark, who darted beneath the waves in a blur of speed and raced to the side before popping up and spitting another Hydro Pump at them. Douse took it again, pounding his fist against his belly in defiance.

Sharpedo let out a guttural noise and snapped its fearsome jaws together, but it was restricted to the water—

Ash yelped as Sharpedo lunged out of the ocean with an Aqua Jet, surrounding its body in liquid to essentially fly a short distance.

Douse found himself with a face-full of angry Sharpedo and would have been bitten by the gaping mouth had Pyro not lunged into the Aqua Jet with Dragon Rush. Incomplete as it was, the collision dealt more damage to Pyro—especially since Sharpedo's notoriously rough hide undoubtedly hurt him—but he snarled and muffled the impact enough for Sobek to drive a Stone Edge into Sharpedo's belly.

The shark was launched back into the sea and floated for a few moments, stunned. Sharpedo were savage ambush predators, but they were built to dish out damage, not take it. Their light bodies did not respond well to heavy hits.

Jasmine hastily spat a Dragon Rage at the shark, who only started to jet away as the blast of draconic energy impacted the ocean. The shockwave sent Sharpedo reeling away in a tumble beneath the waves, but it recovered and twisted towards them to keep up the fight.

Then the air shook as an incredible roar deafened them.

Ash and his team froze as an absolutely huge shape arced up out of the water, looming over all of the fighters. Even the aggressive Sharpedo turned to the newcomer and backed off a little, jaws flexing hesitantly.

The Gyarados that leered down at them rumbled from deep within its throat as it took in the scene. Its normally-gaping maw was closed, but that didn't make it any less intimidating. At its peak, the beast was twenty feet high, with more of its body still hidden underwater. He spotted the tail come out of the water for a moment, splashing down and making a small wave.

It was difficult to tell exactly how big it really was. Forty feet? Forty-five? Bigger than the average Gyarados, that was certain.

His team couldn't fight this.

But Gyarados didn't attack. It took its time to study them with a stern glare. When its eyes locked on Ash, he felt very small indeed. He licked his lips nervously and dropped his hand near his team's Poke Balls. If worst came to worst, they'd slow the beast down so he could recall them and make a run for it.

Gyarados eventually rounded over to Sharpedo and growled again. The shark made a strange sound, between a hiss and a gurgle, and chomped its jaws on the water to make a splash. Gyarados' stern eyes narrowed and it slapped its tail on the surface again, snarling something in response. Sharpedo closed its jaws almost fully—keeping them open enough to allow water to keep flowing through its gills—and lowered itself in submission.

The leviathan snorted, satisfied, and looked back at Ash and his team.

Ash…wasn't exactly sure how to handle this situation. Gyarados were generally avoided by all but the strongest of trainers because of how easily their rage was provoked. Once they flew into a fury, their devastating attacks could wipe out entire teams.

This one was surprisingly calm, all things considered. He'd thought perhaps the creature had been disturbed by his battle against Sharpedo, but it seemed only mildly annoyed at best.

As his nerves calmed a bit, he suddenly realized why that was.

Gyarados' scales, once the deep blue of its youth, had paled into a dark silver. The fins had tears and patches missing, and one of the long whiskers flanking its mouth was almost completely gone. The resplendent crest was much duller now, showing a Gyarados well past its prime.

It clicked. Gyarados was old.

How old, he had no idea. Gyarados rarely lived past their first decade in the wild. They lived short, vicious lives, and often were killed by stronger members of their own kind. If they didn't meet their end at the teeth of one of their own, they were sometimes killed when they picked a fight with an enemy they couldn't defeat. Kingdra and the rare, gigantic Tentacruel were known to do that if a Gyarados pushed them too far.

This one had lived well past that first decade. The fire in its belly had mellowed and it had calmed that terrible rage its species was known for.

Ash held his hands to his sides in a gesture of peace. "I'm sorry. Did we disturb you?"

Gyarados snorted and nodded, just once. The human response surprised him a little—perhaps this Gyarados had had a trainer at some point in its long life?

"I'm sorry. We didn't know you were here."

The beast's lively eyes glittered in amusement. It cocked its enormous head for a few moments before moving closer to shore. Ash and his team took a few slow steps back as the leviathan slithered onto the beach, which now looked positively tiny as Gyarados' full body coiled up on the sand.

Looking at it on the beach in its full splendor, Ash had no doubt in his mind the creature was easily forty-five feet long. Maybe even fifty. It was mind-bogglingly large, unlike any other Pokemon he'd ever seen.

The old Gyarados lifted its head and suddenly roared, shaking the air with the force of its power. Ash spotted movement in the water and watched as a number of smaller Pokemon suddenly popped up from beneath the surface. Golduck, Poliwhirl, Krabby, Kingler, Seadra…there were quite a few different species joining the lone Sharpedo. There was even a Feraligatr, which snapped its jaws loudly.

Gyarados looked down on Ash and his team and growled once, causing them to stiffen. It wasn't a demand to leave or a sound of anger.

It was a challenge.

His team looked back at him, but Ash continued to stare at Gyarados. Gauging the look in its eyes. The old wisdom and curiosity—to see if his team had the nerve to fight a beast as enormous and powerful as itself.

They wouldn't win. But did that matter?

He felt his lips curve up in a fierce grin. Gyarados' eyes glittered in response. It bared its fangs.

"Alright," Ash answered. "Remember, you asked for it!"

His team didn't need anything else. Didn't wonder on the (probably questionable) sanity of their trainer for sending them against this leviathan. This was a rare chance to battle against a foe well-beyond any of them.

Gyarados met their resolve and bellowed again, signaling the start of the fight. Pyro roared, Sobek followed, and his team jumped into action.

Ash backpedaled to put some distance between himself and the battle. Movement to the side had him jumping a little as the huge Feraligatr that had shown up climbed out of the water and planted itself in front of him.

He opened his mouth to start commanding his team, but Feraligatr growled to silence him. The huge water-type offered a lazy glare, a clear order not to interfere before it looked back to the fight with interest.

Well. His team was on their own, he supposed. He kept his hands near their Poke Balls in case they needed to be recalled.

Gyarados didn't do anything at first, just watched as Ash's team spread out and began to launch a series of long-range attacks. It was bombarded by Flamethrowers, Shadow Balls, Ice Beams, and Dragon Rages, but shrugged them all off. A Stone Edge jutted up into its belly, but failed to pierce the scales. Gyarados growled, annoyed by the spire pointing uncomfortably into its body, and rolled its weight to crush the rock into pebbles.

Pyro roared and charged, flying into a Dragon Rush to strike Gyarados' exposed underside. Gyarados took the impact and lowered its head enough to smack the Chameleon aside with a headbutt. Pyro hit the ground hard and was briefly stunned, but he scrambled to his feet quickly and spat a Flamethrower at Gyarados' face in retaliation.

Sobek dug underground and disappeared from the fight for the time being. Gyarados took note of his disappearance, but focused on the rest of the team for now. Eevee was running around its flanks, unleashing a stream of Swifts and Shadow Balls. Spectre was jumping between shadows and trying to find a weak point, launching his own Shadow Balls from time to time. They burst on the scales, but did little actual damage.

Jasmine was a blur, slipping into Agility and launching a stream of Dragon Rages at the goliath. Gyardos' eyes pulsed with interest as it tracked the little dragon with ease, but it was obvious it barely felt the attacks.

Douse gave up trying to coat Gyarados' enormous body in ice and leapt forward, driving a Mega Punch into its belly. Gyarados snorted and finally moved.

The enormous tail rose, shimmering with the iridescent green of Dragon Tail. It swept the appendage—practically a tree trunk for its sheer size and girth—casually and sent Douse skipping across the sand like a stone. The attack carried on and very nearly struck Eevee, who scrambled to get out of the way.

A huge swath of the beach had been scarred by the attack, with sand piled up in a dune from the force. Douse managed to get back to his feet, but he was shaky and obviously barely able to keep going. Gyarados observed the Poliwhirl with something like approval.

And then it began to sink.

Gyarados' eyes shot downwards and it rumbled in surprise as an enormous Sand Tomb began to envelop the entirety of its body. Instead of panicking, however, the creature observed the trap with interest.

It suddenly stiffened and roared.

Ash froze as Gyarados slithered in a circle, showing that Sobek had attacked from behind and clamped onto one of its fins with Thunder Fang. The electrical discharge probably wasn't enough to really damage Gyarados for the sheer size and thickness of its scales, but it had obviously hurt more than anything else had.

Gyarados snarled and lifted the section of its body Sobek was stubbornly clinging onto. Leviathan and crocodilian glared at each other for a few seconds, electricity sparking from one to the other, and then Gyarados spat.

The short, focused Hydro Pump ripped Sobek—and several of his teeth—from Gyarados' hide and shot him into the sand with crushing force. Ash recalled him immediately.

Gyarados shook itself, probably annoyed by the jolting aftereffects of Thunder Fang, only to screech as Jasmine lanced a Thunder Wave at its face.

The beast snapped its gaze towards her and was met with another Thunder Wave. Green flames licked at its jaws and then it breathed out a veritable river of Dragon Breath, strafing until it caught Jasmine in the assault. She squealed in pain and was launched backwards, stunned and shaking, but Ash caught the glow of Safeguard on her body. She was down, but she wasn't out.

Pyro had taken the chance to climb up Gyarados' body and launched himself in a Flare Blitz at the beast's jaw, snapping it shut. Gyarados' eye flickered down at the fire-type and it twisted in the air, pushing Pyro away as the fire in its mouth turned from green to red.

The Fire Blast it spat consumed Pyro and sent him barreling into the sand, but he rolled away and got back to his feet, spitting embers and snarling in rage.

All that time, Eevee and Spectre had been bombarding Gyarados. They hadn't done much damage, but the leviathan finally decided to focus on them for a change. It locked onto Eevee and spat a few Hydro Pumps at her, which she barely dodged. As it was, she gave up attacking altogether in favor of running for dear life from the massive jets of water being blasted at her.

Pyro howled at Gyarados and launched another Flamethrower at the creature. The beast shook the flames off and glared at the Charmeleon as Douse came up beside his ally. Ignoring another Shadow Ball from Spectre, Gyarados roared and lowered its head to charge them. The crest atop its head glowed white with power as the Skull Bash was unleashed.

Pyro and Douse met it with a Flare Blitz and Mega Punch. The three attacks collided, pushed against each other for a moment, and then the smaller fighters were overwhelmed. Gyarados flicked the pair away with casual ease and Ash recalled both of them.

A third Thunder Wave slammed into its head from close range and Gyarados snarled, jerking its eyes towards the shaking Dratini responsible for the sneak attack. Jasmine started charging up another burst of electricity, but the leviathan opened its mouth and breathed out a stream of terribly cold air. It wasn't a full Blizzard—maybe Gyarados knew Jasmine wouldn't need much to go down—but it sent the Dratini into unconsciousness immediately. She was returned before the ice finished forming on the sand.

Eevee spat a particularly vicious Shadow Ball into Gyarados' face for that offense. The beast's eyes glimmered with interest as she gave up running in favor of charging up a single, huge Shadow Ball. Ash watched with wide eyes as Eevee generated all her fury until the sphere was bigger than she was, condensed it, and then unleashed the attack.

Gyarados took it head-on, perhaps curious to see how strong she was, and it visibly recoiled at the blast consumed its face. The leviathan shook itself, growling, but not badly hurt.

Eevee snarled at the creature, but she'd used up all of her strength with that last attack and flopped over onto the sand. Ash recalled her, as well.

Only Spectre was left.

Despite the fall of his companions, the ghost hadn't given up. He was the weakest of them by far—he was totally outmatched by this foe, but he continued nonetheless. Spectre gave up hiding and floated in front of Gyarados, who finally set eyes on the elusive little foe that had been plaguing it throughout the fight.

Spectre's red eye glowed brightly and Ash stared as Gyarados froze in the confines of Disable. His little body trembled with the effort, but he kept Gyarados trapped as long as he could.

The leviathan finally broke free, snapping its body out of the prison and observing the exhausted little ghost for a moment with a brief, impressed look. Then it opened its jaws, lunged forward, and engulfed Spectre in its maw.

Ash's heart leapt into his throat, but Gyarados slithered down the beach and lowered its huge head in front of him. The leviathan opened its jaws and there lay Spectre on the huge, pink tongue. He was trembling and tired, but unharmed. Ash recalled his friend shakily.

Gyarados lifted itself back up, not quite as high as before, but it towered over Ash nonetheless. It considered the trainer for a few moments.

The beast turned to the Pokemon still watching in the water and rumbled again. Ash watched as they broke off and…began to spar?

He blinked a little dumbly as the Sharpedo that had started the fight fled the snapping claw of a Kingler, which spat a stream of bubbles after its chosen foe. Many of the other wild Pokemon began to demonstrate similar activities, though the Feraligatr closest to Ash did not yet move.

Gyarados growled to regain his attention. Its gaze flickered to the sparring Pokemon, then back to Ash, a question in its eyes.

He needed a minute to understand, but then it made sense.

"You're training them," he realized aloud.

The leviathan nodded. Ash was convinced by now that Gyarados had spent a portion of its life with a trainer. It would explain the creature's ability to use moves like Blizzard and Fire Blast, as well as the behavior to spar and train that was certainly not natural amongst wild Gyarados.

His already great interest in the enormous creature increased. He had no delusions that he could hope to defeat or capture this Gyarados—this Veteran, but it was satisfied with his team. He had earned the right to stay and train with the creature, if he so desired.

"I'll need to heal them up," he answered slowly. "But I'd like to stick around for a bit, if you'll have us."

Gyarados' eyes glimmered with amusement and it grunted before turning to slide back into the water. Ash watched, bemused, as it began to swim between the fighters, watching them critically. Feraligatr grumbled and followed the Veteran, snapping at a Seadra that tried to attack it.

Ash gave them a bit of space as he retreated further up the beach, took off his bag, and set about treating his team.

Training with Gyarados and its eager students—who seemed to practically revere the Veteran—was an interesting experience. Some of them came and went throughout the day, to eat or sleep or return to their homes, which he suspected were nearby. As a result, Ash came to realize that Gyarados' menagerie of learners were even more extensive and varied than he'd thought.

They also didn't have organized spars like Ash's team was used to. It wasn't uncommon that one or two would break off from their current foe and just attack one of Ash's team. The first time it happened, Pyro got drenched by Sharpedo's Hydro Pump and spent half an hour turning the water into steam as he tried to incinerate the absurdly fast shark. Another time, the Seadra tried to blast Jasmine with a Dragon Pulse, but she had dodged and given chase until she threw the rampant water-type out of the sea and knocked it out with Dragon Rage.

She was a great swimmer. Not that he was surprised, since the Dratini had probably spent most of her life in the lagoon at the Safari Zone.

Some of the others gave them a bit more warning. A pair of Poliwhirl often came up to Douse and issued a challenge. Sometimes they would fight on the land, but most of the time they'd take Douse into the water to battle beneath the waves. It was good experience for him—not that he wasn't used to fighting underwater, but it had been a little while and he seemed somewhat rusty. He shook it off quick.

Then there was Feraligatr.

The huge reptile had met Sobek face-to-face for only a few seconds before both of them decided they did not like each other. They'd gotten up close, hissing and snarling before snapping into each other in a rolling frenzy of teeth and claws and flailing tails. With its greater mass and type advantage, Feraligatr won every fight, but Sobek made sure it paid for those victories with jolting limbs from Thunder Fang and several broken teeth embedded in the thick hide.

When it became clear that Feraligatr was just too much for Sobek to handle alone, it dragged Pyro into their fights. Greater numbers against greater strength.

The spars seemed to be an initiation of sorts for the training water-types learning under Gyarados. Once they knew where Ash's team stood, they eased into things a bit more.

Gyarados itself was a boon. The Veteran was an experienced combatant and a surprisingly skilled teacher. It had watched Ash's team practicing some of their new moves and where it could help, it almost always had something to make their training a bit smoother.

When it had seen Jasmine still trying to master Flamethrower, the Veteran had swum over close to the shore and rumbled to gain her attention. It proceeded to glass over a section of sand with its own Flamethrower, then growled afterwards to explain something. Jasmine had listened raptly and after a few tries, her skill with the new move was already looking better.

Of course, Gyarados wasn't skilled with all of them. It had next to no advice for Spectre or Eevee, but it helped where it could. Ash was grateful for whatever it could do to help, and he watched how Gyarados worked with a sharp eye to pick up what he could. It was a rare chance to learn from an experienced fighter who had seen decades of battle and knew the art of combat as an extension of its very being.

He'd have been a fool to not pay attention.

Three days after they stumbled onto the Veteran's home, Ash and his team were lying around a fire on the beach. He'd taken Sobek into the woods after another spar with Feraligatr and picked up some berries and firewood for the team—and whoever else wanted some. Most of the wild Pokemon seemed content to eat what they found beneath the waves, but a few accepted the berries eagerly.

Ash leaned back against the cliff face with Jasmine curled up beside him while Spectre rested in his shadow. Eevee was in his lap, but she was chittering with a Vaporeon—one of the Pokemon who hadn't been present during their battle with Gyarados. The water-type had been shy at first, but upon realizing Eevee was present, it quickly took a shine to their team.

Douse was sitting a little ways away from the flames with a huge Poliwrath and the other two Poliwhirl, who had become regulars when he trained. Poliwrath had joined them shortly after their spar with the Veteran and immediately set its sights on Douse to see if he'd be worth training.

A spar pitting Douse against the two wild Poliwhirl satisfied Poliwrath. Since then, Douse was always with his evolved form, who often took those under its wing to a freshwater pond a short distance from the beach. There was also a large group of Poliwag that followed their leaders wherever they went, bouncing in circles around them with clear adoration.

At the moment, Pyro was humoring a Seel pup as it crawled up the beach to sniff at him. He watched in amusement as the water-type flopped around clumsily, clearly unused to being on land, but the interaction was closely watched by its Dewgong mother.

Sobek and Feraligatr were basking by the fire, jaws open to expel heat and probably attempt to intimidate the other. Not that it worked, of course. Feraligatr knew it was stronger than Sobek and the Krokorok refused to be cowed despite his sting of losses to the vicious water-type.

Ash admired the similarities in their anatomy for a few minutes. They had a similar body plan, but both had obvious differences. Sobek's jaws were longer and had sharper teeth. His body was more lithe to move faster on land, and his scales were rough to protect the skin beneath from the desert sun and sand.

In comparison, Feraligatr was heavy-set. Its bulky shape was clumsier on land, but it could move quickly in bursts and cut through the water like a knife. The immense jaws were shorter, with blunter teeth to crush rather than cut. The hide wasn't as rough as Sobek's, but it was thick and strong.

Both had obscenely powerful jaws, but Ash would've bet even if Sobek was a Krookodile that Feraligatr's bite strength was probably greater. Its jaws were specifically designed to crush. While Sobek could easily do the same, his longer set spread the force of his bite out more. He could afford to have those longer jaws to catch his prey and haul it close so his claws could tear it apart.

Feraligatr was a grappler, one who used the long limbs of its body to bring its enemy in and then deliver a bone-crushing bite to finish them off.

Similar, but different. Ash wondered how closely related they were. Sure, Feraligatr were primarily native to Johto and Krokorok to Unova, but their body types were so alike. Perhaps they shared a distant ancestor that split off long, long ago.

Ash's gaze flickered away from the pair of crocodilians over to the water, where he could just make out the top of Gyarados' crest. It seemed to sleep coiled up on the bottom of the lagoon, but kept its head floating near the surface—probably to get above the waves faster if it needed to. It was clearly protective of its students.

He understood.

Sobek's claws glistened black as he activated Hone Claws. It had only taken a matter of hours to learn the technique—it was an easy move for him to pick up.

Ash was satisfied with the newfound skill and nodded his approval. "Good job, buddy. Now we have to give you something to use those claws with."

Sobek grinned toothily in agreement and lunged at Feraligatr, slashing at the beast's tough hide while it swung at him with Slashes and Dragon Claws. It was clumsier on land than Sobek, but that didn't usually matter much. Ash smirked as Sobek tried to mimic the Dragon Claw attack and wound up getting smacked in the face by an Aqua Tail for his trouble.

The boy turned away from that particular spar and watched as Pyro trained with Jasmine and Gyarados. The Veteran was giving them a lesson on draconic energy—a huge bonus in Ash's opinion.

Jasmine was trying to learn Dragon Breath and had already made a little progress, though more often than not she only produced small jets of draconic flame. Pyro, meanwhile, was on the cusp of mastering Dragon Rush. The stubborn move had been their goal for months now, and it was finally within sight.

Gyarados had taken to instructing them with an unconventional method that essentially killed two birds with one stone: by teaching them Dragon Dance.

Pyro knew the technique innately and Jasmine was able to learn it as well, but neither of them were remotely proficient with it. But Dragon Dance required something both of them needed to master—fine-tune control of dragon-type energy. Training in this way furthered their proficiency with the stubbornly elusive power and also avoided unnecessary explosions, which Jasmine was grateful for.

Jasmine was born with natural skill for dragon-type techniques, so she picked it up more quickly than Pyro, but her Charmeleon companion had been working at this goal for ages now. He'd mastered Dragon Claw and was well on his way to claiming Dragon Rush in-turn. Thus, they were both progressing at roughly the same rate.

Still, it made Ash grin when he watched them mimic Gyarados' Dragon Dance, concentrating the power and spreading it through their bodies to accelerate their physical strength. Jasmine wasn't as fast with Dragon Dance as she was with Agility, but she hit like a whip with that tail of hers. Pyro was tearing through stones like paper.

A snarl behind him had Ash turning back to the spar and he sighed a little when Feraligatr shoved Sobek's face into the dirt, sneering at the smaller croc.

"Let him up," Ash ordered. Feraligatr leered at him for a few moments, probably wondering where Ash kept the audacity to give it commands, but the boy didn't flinch under the reptile's gaze and he suspected he'd earned some degree of grudging respect for that. Feraligatr growled and released Sobek, who scrambled to his feet and snapped his teeth in annoyance at his loss.

Their fights were getting longer. In a way, it was a good thing Sobek was spending so much time fighting an enemy clearly stronger than he was—he was learning to dodge more often instead of try to grapple for dominance all the time. Feraligatr had only needed to beat that lesson into him for a day or two before the message was received.

"Sobek, take a break," Ash told the ground-type. "Then go pick a fight with…Kingler."

The croc leered at the huge crab, who was snapping its gigantic pincer menacingly at anything that got too close while it took a rest of its own on the beach. Kingler was a bit easier to fight since it was slower than Feraligatr and less mobile, but if it clobbered Sobek with a Crabhammer, he was doomed.

All the more reason to stay away from the thing.

Ash yelped as Eevee darted past him and underneath Feraligatr's huge body. The enormous water-type hissed in surprise as Vaporeon leapt onto its shoulder and then jumped after Eevee in pursuit, chasing its pre-evolution with a yowl and an Ice Beam. Feraligatr, clearly exasperated, dropped to all fours and clawed its way off the beach and into the water, slapping its tail to create a wave that expressed its irritation.

Vaporeon wasn't as fast as Eevee, but that hardly mattered when it was spitting Water Guns and Ice Beams in pursuit of the smaller Pokemon. She sometimes shot a Shadow Ball or Swift back at it when she had a moment, but Vaporeon easily overwhelmed most of her attacks with its greater strength.

Still, these runs weren't solely meant to teach Eevee how to hit enemies on the move.

Ash grinned as Eevee, without seeing Vaporeon as it attacked, dove to the side and evaded the oncoming Ice Beam.

Detect. Tricky to learn, but Vaporeon had already known the move and eagerly took to teaching Eevee. She was still a learner, made obvious when Vaporeon clipped Eevee with a Water Gun, but she was picking the technique up fast.

Spectre had been spending most of his time with Ash, and was still floating close by under Ash's watchful gaze as he tried to figure out Will-O-Wisp. When he wasn't doing that, he sometimes joined in the chases between Eevee and Vaporeon, popping up with Shadow Sneak or Shadow Ball to make things really tricky for Eevee.

Seeing as the ghost was in the middle of a chase at the moment, Ash decided he'd spend time working with Spectre a little later. For now, he headed away from the beach and into the woods a ways in search of Douse.

Poliwrath was sparring with Douse and the two other Poliwhirl when Ash found them.

The two wild Poliwhirl were clearly weaker than Douse—they were slower and when they struck Poliwrath, their blows usually bounced off of the fighting-type before they were swatted aside by its huge hands. In comparison, Douse was quick and ducked under the attacks to hit Poliwrath with powerful Mega Punches and Wake-Up Slaps. It was hard to damage the incredibly bulky body of his evolved form, but he made more progress than his fellow students.

Ash snorted quietly when Poliwrath stopped the pair of wild Poliwhirl with one hand each, smashed them together, and tossed them into the pond carelessly. Douse took the chance to charge in and drive a Mega Punch into its gut, but the fighting-type only grunted and grabbed at him. Douse bounced away, putting some distance between them.

To be caught in Poliwrath's grip would end any fight between them. They were natural grapplers with a low center of gravity and immense strength. Their short stature made them difficult for taller enemies to fight—all Poliwrath had to do was go for the legs and unbalance them with an effortless flex of its huge muscles. If they couldn't get up close, shooting high-volume blasts of water at speed would usually do the trick.

Poliwrath went after Douse, lunging with surprising speed. Douse retaliated by blasting it with Hydro Pump—it wasn't complete, but it was getting better—and propelling himself away from the fighter. He dove to the side and launched Ice Beams at Poliwrath's legs to slow it down, but his evolved form just beat the ice away and kept up the chase.

Ash had no illusions as to who would win this. Poliwrath was bigger, stronger, faster, and more durable. On top of that, it was more experienced than Douse. It met an Ice Beam with its fist, strengthening an Ice Punch as it lunged again and drove a freezing gauntlet into Douse's belly.

The Poliwhirl was sent flying and skipped over the ground, but he recovered his footing and managed to stop himself. He glared at Poliwrath, who rolled one of its densely-muscles shoulders and grunted a question. Douse responded by charging with a Mega Punch, and Poliwrath's eyes gleamed with satisfaction.

He suspected the reason Poliwrath had taken to Douse so quickly was because the Poliwhirl just didn't quit. He would fight and fight and fight until he was beaten into unconsciousness and not a moment before.

Ash also imagined that was why their spars lasted a good long while most of the time. Poliwrath wasn't exactly going easy on Douse, but it didn't take every opportunity it had to deliver a punishing knockout blow. It would hit hard, but he was pretty sure it was trying to make sure Douse fought as long as he could before it ended a spar.

Poliwrath was certainly capable of delivering a battle-ending impact whenever it wanted.

Satisfied that the water-type would be busy for some time yet, Ash quietly left the area and returned to the beach. Hopefully Sobek hadn't gotten caught by Kingler.

Another day came and went.

Ash cupped water in his hands and splashed his face, chasing away the remnants of sleep from his body. He dried himself with one of the towels from his bag and looked up along the pond.

It had become something of a ritual for his team to come here in the morning, following Douse to the pond for fresh water to drink (and swim, if Jasmine felt like it). Ash watched as Pyro and Sobek lowered their heads beside Eevee and drank from the pool while Jasmine dove deeper to playfully chase the Poliwag.

Spectre, who Ash had never seen drink, was content to remain in his shadow.

Pyro finished first and shook himself, letting out a satisfied growl. He eyed Poliwrath—who was leaning against the opposite bank as it watched Jasmine chase the Poliwag with amusement—and narrowed his eyes. The flame at the end of his tail flickered blue.

Ash had been seeing the blue sparks more and more often these days. He knew Pyro was getting close to evolution, and training with the Veteran and the Pokemon in its care had only accelerated that process.

It didn't surprise him; Pyro thrived in battle. The past few days had been great for the growth of his team. Maybe he should stay in one place and train for days on end more often—the results from this excursion were certainly promising.

Sobek was getting close, as well. His sandy scales had darkened noticeably until they were almost russet, taking on just the slightest hints of red.

Douse had made leaps and bounds thanks to the spars with Poliwrath, but he'd already been mature by the time Ash captured him. He guessed that the Poliwhirl was ready to evolve as soon as he got his hands on either of the evolutionary items needed to promote him to his final stage.

It was harder to tell with Spectre and Eevee. Spectre was improving, but his growth was different from the others and Ash would have to ask Professor Oak about signs for his impending evolution, because nothing obvious stood out to him. Eevee was similarly vexing; with her species' penchant for evolving into multiple forms, there was no way to tell when she'd be ready to evolve.

Well, knowing her, she'd evolve when she was ready and not a moment before.

Jasmine was bursting at the seams. Ash had no idea if it was because she was training for the first time in her life instead of playing in her lake back at the Safari Zone, but her growth was explosive once she began to train in earnest. She grew stronger every day and picked up on new moves faster than he had hoped for.

She'd learned Dragon Breath and Dragon Dance incredibly fast, even if they were still rough. Ash was pretty sure he'd seen her trying to chase Sharpedo with Aqua Jet, too (though she never caught the shark). He had no idea what else she might pick up by the time they moved on from this place.

Thinking about it had him grinning. Ash stood up and set his cap atop his head, getting the attention of his team. He whistled sharply, drawing Jasmine up from below the water, and the Dratini trilled a question at him.

Ash tilted his head in the direction of the beach. "C'mon. We've got work to do."

A week had passed since they arrived at the Veteran's home.

The midday sun pounded down on them and the head was intense, but Ash didn't take his eyes away from the upcoming battle. Most of his team was focused on the contest—even Douse, who had come back to the beach with Poliwrath to spar elsewhere.

Pyro roared at Feraligatr, flames trailing from his mouth as he flexed his claws. The huge water-type snarled back and slammed its heavy tail against the ground. Its powerful jaws snapped together loudly in a threat display.

Neither was deterred. Although Pyro had spent most of his time here training with the Veteran, he was under no illusions that he could best the titanic specimen of a Gyarados.

But Feraligatr was reachable. As the second most powerful Pokemon in the area, it was the strongest foe Pyro had a chance at defeating. After a week of training under the Veteran's watchful eye and fighting day after day, the Charmeleon looked ready to try his luck and see how far he'd come.

Pyro breathed a huge Flamethrower into the air. Feraligatr dropped to all fours and bellowed, crouching in preparation to charge. It was immense compared to Pyro, but the fire-type couldn't have cared less.

Ash felt his blood rushing, but didn't stand to take command of his starter. This was Pyro's fight.

The flame at his tail sparked with blue and he charged. Feraligatr roared again and began to rush him, long limbs carrying the beast across the sand at surprising speed.

Pyro's talons flashed with the green of Dragon Claw as he dove past Feraligatr's snapping jaws and ripped through the scales of its flank. Feraligatr growled and swung at Pyro with an Aqua Tail, but he ducked under it. The Charmeleon blasted his opponent with a Flamethrower as it turned around to face him again.

Feraligatr took the blast head-on for a moment before positively drowning the fire with a massive Hydro Pump. Pyro took the brunt of it and roared, body steaming as he was bowled over. He picked himself up and shook his head while snapping fiery teeth at Feraligatr.

The beast's own fangs became encrusted in ice, then it was charging again. This time, Pyro roared until it was right on top of him, then jumped upwards.

Feraligatr snapped up at Pyro's tail, but missed as the Charmeleon came down on his back. Dragon Claws hooked into its dorsal spines and then Pyro was bathing Feraligatr in fire. The water-type snarled and tried to shake him off, but Pyro clung on tight. Feraligatr turned and bit at him, only for Pyro to let go with his right arm and swing a Mega Punch into its face.

Clearly sick of the foe holding onto its back, Feraligatr sprinted for the ocean, ignoring the flames. Pyro jumped off before the water-type charged into the sea, creating a steaming trail as the fire at its back was extinguished. He backed off from the waves, watching for his enemy warily.

It was quiet for just a few moments.

Feraligatr exploded from the ocean with a Giga Impact, propelling itself with the incredible launching speed it possessed in the water. Pyro howled and met the charge with Dragon Rush.

The violent collision immediately became lopsided. Feraligatr bowled Pyro over and sent him flying with its greater mass and power. The Charmeleon skipped across the sand twice before he rolled onto all fours and dug his claws in to slow himself down. He shook himself and roared again. He was hurt, but not beaten.

Feraligatr glared at the smaller, stubborn reptile and reared up onto two legs. Ash watched in awe as its eyes flashed red and then it howled.

He'd seen this move more times than he could remember on TV. Lance's dragons used it sometimes to overwhelm particularly tough enemies into submission.

Outrage. Pyro hadn't hurt Feraligatr too badly yet, but it was mad.

Draconic energy surged along its body as Feraligatr lunged at Pyro with much greater speed than before. It snapped like a feral beast after the Charmeleon, who dove out of the way and gave chase. The massive, heavy tail swung to meet him with speed such a bulky creature had no right to possess and drove its full force into Pyro's gut.

Even with the wind knocked out of him, Pyro clung to the tail and waited as it dragged itself back before letting it go. As Feraligatr spun to bite at him, Pyro grabbed its head with Dragon Claw and crushed it into the dirt, then slammed a Mega Punch into its chin when the beast shot back up.

Feraligatr roared in fury and snapped its maddened gaze on Pyro, swinging its huge arms at the Charmeleon. Outrage would drive the beast on until it exhausted itself or was beaten into unconsciousness.

Pyro ducked under a swing and shot forward into Feraligatr's throat with Dragon Rush. As the beast toppled over onto its back, he slashed at it, rending scales and the flesh beneath. Feraligatr reared up and smashed its heavy skull into Pyro's, sending him sprawling onto the beach. The infuriated water-type quickly scrambled back to all fours and pounced, but Pyro leapt out of the way and backpedaled to regain his balance—only for a Hydro Pump to crush him into the cliffside a short distance away.

Feraligatr ceased the blast only long enough to charge up a Hyper Beam. Pyro met the full-force beam with Flamethrower. The attacks met and although Flamethrower was overwhelmed, they still exploded before the Hyper Beam reached Pyro. The shockwave still flattened him against the cliff, though.

Feraligatr stopped a moment to take in air, sucking in greedy gulps as it began to stalk towards Pyro on all fours. The Charmeleon managed to extricate himself from the cliff and shook his body. He was wounded, but his tail burned brighter than ever.

Pyro roared—and light surged over his body.

Even the maddened Feraligatr paused as its opponent's form surged with evolutionary energy, dramatically transitioning the fire-type's body to his final stage.

Muscle and bone expanded and grew tougher to accommodate a much large body. The lonely horn on the back of his head split into two and lengthened. The tail grew thicker and longer, the flame roared as it was fed the energy to keep it bigger than ever.

Pyro's snout, once short and blunt, stretched out and became a pair of long, snapping jaws. His arms and fingers grew, became more dextrous, and the claws were thicker and sharper than before. At his back, two huge wings burst forth and spread to their full, immense span.

The light was ripped away as Pyro reared to his full height and roared, spitting flame ten meters into the sky.

The Charizard that stood where his Charmeleon had once been made Ash smile from ear-to-ear until his face hurt. Pyro was even bigger than Feraligatr now, if not as bulky. But his wings were enormous, twenty feet from one wingtip to the other to get his massive body off the ground. His claws flexed as he felt his new form.

Pyro glared at Feraligatr, who was still in the throes of Outrage and growling viciously, and roared a challenge. The water-type howled back, slammed its tail into the ground, and dove into a Giga Impact. Pyro's horns glowed fierce bluish-green as he crouched and charged.

It was Dragon Rush perfected. The energy consumed Pyro in his entirety as his wings pounded downwards to launch him forward. When he met Feraligatr head-on, neither gave way.

The impact was immense, sending a shockwave in every direction as the pair of reptiles struggled against each other. Even after evolving, Pyro couldn't overwhelm Feraligatr for its sheer mass and power—especially while it was using Outrage—but he wasn't drunk on his fury. He grabbed the beast and threw himself around it, causing Feraligatr to stumble forwards into the sand.

Feraligatr turned and snarled as Pyro jumped onto its back again. It was more awkward because of how much bigger he was now, but his greater weight briefly drove Feraligatr to the ground. Pyro blasted it with a Flamethrower that consumed the beast completely.

Feraligatr howled in pain and charged for the water, stumbling frequently as the Charizard dug his claws in and flared his wings out. The huge appendages flapped madly to slow the water-type's rush, and all the while Pyro kept bathing Feraligatr in his fire.

It managed to make it to the shoreline, and then Feraligatr's claws grasped at air.

Ash watched, eyes wide, as Pyro managed to carry Feraligatr several meters into the air even as it flailed and spat Hyper Beams and Hydro Pumps to escape. Outrage was exhausting it, but he couldn't hold the heavy beast up for long.

Pyro half-threw, half-dropped Feraligatr back first onto the beach and dove at it. He was in such a rush, he almost crashed into the sand himself, but he landed on the water-type's chest and savaged his foe.

Dragon Claws ripped into Feraligatr's chest, tearing apart its hide as the beast scrambled to get away from Pyro's onslaught. It snapped its jaws at Pyro and found its mouth clamped shut as the Charizard caught its snout with Fire Fang. Feraligatr shook its head madly and managed to wrench its head free, but Pyro rose up and slammed his heavy foot into its belly.

He lunged down with a Mega Punch, only for Feraligatr to shift its head out of the way. One of the huge arms came up and drove an Ice Punch into Pyro's face.

Pyro was briefly lifted off of his foe and roared at the sky, spitting blood and fire into the air. Feraligatr tried to escape, but Pyro's foot was crushing its belly again before it could get away. It opened its mouth—probably to spit a Hyper Beam or Hydro Pump—only to find its throat squeezed shut as Pyro lunged down and clamped the beast's windpipe between his claws.

The Charizard leaned in and roared at Feraligatr's face at the top of his lungs, demanding submission. Still enraged, Feraligatr squeezed whatever oxygen it could get through its throat and bellowed back until the noise of their fury was deafening.

Feraligatr snapped its jaws at Pyro, shoving itself up with its strong arms, but Pyro leaned away from the bite. Feraligatr managed to sit up long enough to see the Dragon Claw coming—from Pyro's huge foot claws.

The improvised Dragon Claw crushed Feraligatr's head into the sand, packing the full weight of the Charizard's body behind it. The huge water-type's body jerked once from the impact and then slackened.

Pyro stepped off of Feraligatr and glared down at his foe, who had been freed of Outrage's influence when unconsciousness claimed it. He threw his head skyward and roared his victory, spitting fire in glory.

His bellow broke the silence of the onlookers, who exploded in a cacophony of howls and cheers. Pyro stopped and shook himself, panting, but victorious as his team rushed over to inspect his new body.

Ash shouldered his bag, walked over, and prepared to heal his starter and Feraligatr, unable to stop smiling.

Pyro spotted him and watched as Ash approached. He waited patiently as his trainer inspected his new form, ignoring the others.

In the end, Ash looked up at Pyro and smirked. "You're taller than me now."

Pyro chuffed in laughter and leaned forward to press his snout to his trainer's hat, rumbling joyfully when Ash scratched the underside of his chin.

A/N: Version 2.0, updated 4/9/2021

Right, so I've been crazy busy with work lately and seeing as these chapters are getting drastically different from the original, (thus requiring me to essentially re-write them word for word) I might extend each update to once every two weeks. As it is, there won't be any updates in any span of time shorter than a week. It'll depend on my work schedule and how much writing I can get done.

From this point on, expect big changes to virtually every chapter. The St. Anne arc will be heavily altered, and from then on, the story will be completely different. Please bear with me!

Here's the team for the chapter.

Ash Ketchum


Pyro (Male Charizard)

Sobek (Male Krokorok)

Eevee (Female)

Douse (Male Poliwhirl)

Spectre (Male Duskull)

Jasmine (Female Dratini)

In recovery:

Pikachu (Male)