Chapter Thirteen: Vermillion Wrath

Ash had all of his stuff packed up the next morning so that he could hit the road again. There was still nearly a month before the St. Anne got into port and it would take him about a week or so to get to Vermillion. Once he was there, the plan was to train until it was time to depart. His team had gotten a fitful night's sleep and were already looking restless; he'd been woken up by a nervous Jasmine while Pyro and Sobek stared each other down.

He couldn't help but sigh, though it was to be expected. Pyro's evolution and subsequent display of power had Sobek absolutely starving for a fight. The two of them were his main powerhouses and competition was fierce- no doubt Sobek wanted to find out where they stood now in terms of strength. There was bound to be a fight sooner or later, so he figured it would be best to nip that in the bud before things got out of hand.

Neither Pyro or Sobek were known for being especially patient.

The pair of them had started to growl in the back of their throats when Ash decided to cut it off there for now. "Enough you two. I'll let you fight it out once we get on the road, but not here. It would be bad if we blew up Professor Oak's lab."

They obeyed without complaint, though Ash could tell that both of his Pokemon were eager to run wild. He smiled at their enthusiasm and scratched Jasmine behind her ears when she seemed to sigh with relief. Apparently, waking up to a fight wasn't popular with her.

Eevee was currently relaxing on the bed beside Douse and Spectre, the latter of which had stolen Ash's cap (again) and was wearing it himself. Ash had a feeling he wouldn't be getting it back for a while and wondered on Spectre's odd habit of hijacking his cap, but it wasn't like he was hurting anybody by enjoying it now and again.

He heard a knock on his door and after calling for said individual to come in, Daisy came into the room with a cheery smile on her face. "Good morning, Ash. Feeling better?"

Ash nodded. "Everyone got a great night's sleep, Pyro and Sobek are ready to beat the snot out of each other, and we're feeling pretty hungry. I'd say everything's just peachy."

She giggled. "Well, I'll take you to breakfast. I was going to offer your Pokemon a meal as well if they're hungry?"

Daisy was immediately the subject of all eyes in the room, which locked onto her at the mention of food. Ash couldn't help but grin widely. "Remember that you offered when they eat you out of house and home."

"If they manage to eat all the food in the lab, then they must be part Snorlax," she laughed. "Come on, let's go before breakfast gets cold."

She hadn't been kidding when she said there was a lot of food to go around. Ash was tucking into his third helping while Pyro and Sobek devoured their fifth (it seemed they were starting their battle early by having an eating competition). Having already filled her belly, Eevee was sitting next to Ash at the table and took to watching her reptilian teammates stuff their faces with an expression of obvious disgust. Spectre had taken to floating around the large cafeteria and occasionally poking random scientists, much to their amusement. Douse was lying belly up in a food coma and seemed to be a little rounder than before now that his stomach was very much full.

Daisy actually had Jasmine's attention for the moment by feeding her Yache berries, which were apparently a favorite of dragon types. The small dragon absolutely adored Daisy for giving her those tasty treats and Ash found himself smiling at the sight of Jasmine being cheerful around another person.

"Oh my gosh, if you never left I would spoil you rotten forever," Daisy gushed as Jasmine happily ate another Yache berry. The Dratini made a happy trill and savored the treat as long as she could before prodding Daisy's hand for another. Ash sniggered a moment later when Jasmine made a completely unnecessary begging face that had the young researcher squealing in adoration, as though she thought the cute face was actually required for her to receive more of the delicious snacks.

If only Jasmine knew that Daisy would've spoiled her either way, though the ridiculously cute face she could make certainly didn't hurt the rate at which she was given treats.

To her delight, Jasmine was (of course), given another Yache berry and nibbled on it a little slower this time. Ash shook his head and smirked at Daisy. "You know, it's not fair that the rest of the team isn't getting special treats like that."

"I'll make sure to pack some for them before you go," Daisy promised. "We've got a lot of berries here specifically for certain types of Pokemon and there's definitely no shortage of them. Though I might add that it also involves their own personal preference. Not all dragon types like Yache berries, for instance. Some prefer Haban berries, which are a lot spicier. I didn't think your sweet girl here would like them though."

"I think you made the right call on that," he agreed. Jasmine certainly didn't seem like the type to enjoy spicy food, though he did wonder about Pyro…

"On another note," Daisy jarred him out of his train of thought and rummaged through a purse she had brought with her. "I brought your reward for helping us capture Aerodactyl and Rhydon. We get a lot of unique stones sent to us, and while I can't give you a fossil since they're strictly for research purposes, I can offer these to you."

She presented him with two small, but fascinating stones. One was smooth and oval shaped, with gorgeous shades of blue running through it so that it resembled a gem of sorts. The other was yellow and seemed to be shaped like a small crown.

"This is a Water Stone," Daisy told him as she pointed to the blue gem that she had placed on the table. Her finger trailed to the crown-shaped stone next. "And this is a King's Rock. They're both evolution-inducing items for certain species of Pokemon; in this case, your Poliwhirl or Eevee."

Ash's eyes flicked towards Douse, who was still lying belly-up in a food coma and seemed to be blissfully unaware of the two valuable items that his trainer had been presented with. The Poliwhirl was without doubt one of his strongest Pokemon, right behind Pyro and Sobek. Evolution would definitely make him more powerful, but was it the right time to do so? And more importantly, what would he evolve into?

He glanced at Eevee next, who showed interest towards the Water Stone by hopping up onto the table itself and sniffing the sapphire crystal. Ash hadn't actually put a whole lot of thought into her future evolution because the possibilities were so vast. To his knowledge, there were at least eight different forms she had the potential to become; Jolteon, Flareon, Vaporeon, Espeon, Umbreon, Glaceon, Leafeon, and Sylveon. There might have been more, but after reading about those first eight, Ash had realized that just planning for each possible evolution would take up so much time and effort that he would have ended up neglecting the growth of her current form. Couple that with Eevee's fiercely independent personality and her own ambiguous preference towards evolution, and there was simply nothing he could do but wait for her to make the decision on her own.

She seemed to be considering the Water Stone for a few moments before leaping off the table and into his lap to curl up. That was pretty much a clear no on her part. She wanted to have her fur petted over evolving.

Across the table, Daisy smirked. "Well, that narrows your options down."

"It doesn't surprise me," he shrugged. "She likes baths, but she never shows any special interest towards water aside from that."

"Of course she likes baths, Ash! She's a lady!" She exclaimed. "Keeping herself clean is a big deal! I mean, I suppose that might be hard to understand for you rowdy boys…"

"Hey!" He protested.

She giggled in response. "I'm kidding, I'm kidding. But that's fine. We can focus on your Poliwhirl since she doesn't seem interested in evolving right now, okay?"

"I'm sure you're aware, but Poliwhirl has the potential to evolve into two different species," Daisy told him. "I'll give you a short lecture on them though, so that you know what your options are. Giving him the Water Stone will cause him to evolve into a Poliwrath. They're oriented towards physical attacks and gain the fighting type upon evolving, although their ranged moves are improved as well. Poliwrath are generally the more durable of the two options as well."

"If you give him the King's Rock, he'll evolve into Politoed. It's not quite as powerful as Poliwrath is physically, but it excels at attacking at range and can be a bit faster since its legs are designed for jumping. Also, Politoed have strong lungs and vocal cords that are perfect for blasting sound attacks at opponents, so moves like Hyper Voice and Perish Song will be available if you go that route."

Ash chewed his lip as he considered the options. Douse was a bit of a mixed fighter at the moment, with the capability to do damage close up and at range. Choosing one or the other would be tricky, but he himself was leaning more towards Poliwrath for its greater durability. Of course, it was Douse's choice in the end.

Daisy glanced towards the unconscious Douse. "It might be better to ask for his opinion. I can only afford to give you one of these, so you'll have to make your choice here."

He nodded and glanced towards the sleeping Poliwhirl. "Douse! Wake up! I need you over here for a minute."

Douse made a sleepy grunt as he was woken from what Ash assumed had been a pleasant dream. He kind of felt bad for that, but this was Douse's future they were talking about- it was too important to sleep away.

Douse agreed instantly when he got up and saw the two rare stones on the table. He couldn't seem to believe what was in front of him and bounced over to stare from the Water Stone to the King's Rock with wide, gleaming eyes. Ash had to smile at the eager expression on his friend's face.

"We can only pick one of them, buddy," he explained. "Which one do you want? The Water Stone or the King's Rock?"

The Poliwhirl looked torn. He seemed to want both, but even if he was able to have both stones, only one of them could be used to make him evolve. Evolutionary stones had a special type of energy stored within them that would react when they came into contact with a Poliwhirl or another species that had adapted to take advantage of said energy. The stones naturally absorbed power from their surroundings and once they peaked, could act as a conduit for any Pokemon that had the potential to receive from them.

Both Water Stones and King's Rocks were found in water or in places where there had been water, which was why Pokemon such as Poliwhirl or Slowpoke could use them to evolve. Water Stones were typically found in cold water, where they absorbed energy from the low-temperature liquid around them and stored it up. King's Rocks were slightly different- they were actually growths found on certain types of coral, which were more common in warmer, temperate waters.

This was the reason why Poliwrath was generally considered to be native to Kanto, which had colder lakes and oceans as opposed to Johto, where Politoed was found more frequently. The tidal currents between the two regions made colder water flow to the east and kept warmer waters in the west, which made Water Stones more common in Kanto and King's Rocks more common in Johto. Not to mention, the natural formation of Mt. Silver had a habit of shoving cooler climates in Kanto's direction.

Ash blinked when Douse prodded him and then pointed at one of the two special stones- the Water Stone.

He smiled. "Alright, then that's the one. Are you sure?"

Douse nodded eagerly and jumped up and down with enthusiastic croaking noises. Ash chuckled and set his hand on the damp skin of his friend's head. "You got it, buddy. I'll tell you what, when you get Hydro Pump down, we'll bring it out and let you evolve. Does that sound good?"

The Poliwhirl didn't hesitate to agree and seemed positively thrumming with energy. Ash had no doubt that using evolution as a reward would prompt Douse to put even more effort into mastering the stubborn water type move. By doing so, he hoped to maximize Douse's potential as a Poliwhirl before finally allowing him to evolve.

Daisy smiled and pocketed the King's Rock. "The Water Stone is yours, then. Allow me to express our thanks again- we couldn't have captured Aerodactyl or Rhydon without you, Ash. Your team has more than earned this."

"You're welcome, but thanks for the Water Stone as well," he replied graciously. "This'll definitely help Douse get even stronger. You'll get to see him in the Indigo League beating opponents left and right."

"I'm sure I will," she giggled. "Well, I'll go and pack some of our berries while you and your team finish up here. I'll see you soon!"

Ash nodded and carefully placed the Water Stone in his back, ensuring that it was safely cushioned by his clothing. He would have a heart attack if the stone was accidentally destroyed before Douse could use it.

Daisy and Baoba gave them a sendoff at the entrance gate of the lab, along with a bag full of berries for Ash's companions. He had since recalled most of his team with the exception of Eevee and Douse, the latter of which was too energetic to seek refuge in his pokeball. Ash could hardly blame him since the prospect of evolution had come along, so maybe it was a good thing that he could spend some time outside and get the energy out of his system.

Before he knew it, they were back on the road again. Halfway through the day, they stopped as usual for lunch and training.

Eevee had taken a seat in the grass beside Ash while he went over the notes in his Pokedex for the training session. Her eyes were fixed on Douse as he bounced around them, practically skipping with excitement. She stared at the normally stoic water type with an odd expression, unused to seeing him acting like an overenthusiastic child. Ash smiled at her when she looked back up to him with a confused face.

"Seeing Douse so excited is kind of new, huh?" He asked her.

Eevee nodded and felt her eyes trail back to the bouncing Poliwhirl. She couldn't recall ever seeing him like this before. Of course Douse had shown eagerness and excitement in their travels, but this was just absurd. She stopped in her tracks when he actually sprayed a little fountain into the air, followed by a stream of bubbles.

What even was this childish tadpole? She kind of hoped this didn't mean he would take to frequent immaturity like the rest of their male companions…

Speaking of which…

Pyro and Sobek were already eye-to-eye and growling, ready to tear it up. Eevee was only mildly interested in seeing them beat each other into oblivion because that meant things would get quiet once they were done. Her eyes trailed upwards where Spectre was floating amidst Douse's random bubbles and popping them at his leisure. At least he wasn't pranking anyone.

Jasmine was coiled up next to her while they watched the boys go about their antics. She had her head tilted to the side with a mix of curiosity and apprehension. Clearly, such rowdiness was still something she was getting used to after living on her own in the Safari Zone.

She let Eevee know this with a small trill, to which the latter replied with a yawn. If the boys went too far, it was perfectly acceptable to rebuke them by blasting them with an attack. Jasmine didn't seem sure of that solution seeing how much bigger and stronger the males were, (well, most of them) but Eevee assured her that they wouldn't dare to defend their own tomfoolery if they messed up.

Besides, if they tried anything stupid, Eevee was perfectly fine with blasting them in Jasmine's place.

The conversation ended as Ash stood up, briefly stretched, and called to the rambunctious members of his team. "Hey, guys! We're going to start training now!"

A cacophony of loud, eager noises answered him as the males rushed over. Eevee rolled her eyes, but got up nonetheless with Jasmine. Pyro, Sobek, Douse, and Spectre joined them in seconds as Ash cleared his throat.

"Okay, first thing's first- Pyro and Sobek are gonna have a practice match so I can figure out what Pyro can do now. After that, we'll be working on improving your moves, then we'll try another round of sparring with everyone involved. Sound good?"

Of course, there were no arguments. The two Pokemon which Ash had named first were already leering at each other again, though now Pyro was taller than Sobek by at least a foot and a half. It was kind of comical seeing that Sobek was just as arrogant and eager to fight even though his opponent was now much bigger than him.

Ash and the rest of the team retreated a bit so that their friends could have room to rumble. He made sure he had their attention, then yelled out clearly. "Go!"

Pyro's wings thrust downward strongly to propel his body towards Sobek while his claws flexed. The Krokorok responded by roaring and smashing his fist into the ground, launching blades of stone at his opponent. To his surprise, the Stone Edge was effortlessly slashed into pieces by a Metal Claw which cut through like a hot knife through butter. Sobek dove underground quickly and managed to avoid a subsequent Fire Fang as Pyro bit at the spot where he'd been standing a moment before.

He didn't stay underground for long, though- Sobek immediately jumped out of the hole and ended up on Pyro's back, where he gnashed a Thunder Fang into the Charizard's shoulder. Pyro roared with fury and reached over to grab Sobek by the nose, then forcefully yanked him off and threw him down hard. He was torn off so quickly that a tooth was left stuck in Pyro's scales.

The impact momentarily knocked the breath out of Sobek, leaving him stunned for a second as Pyro leaped back a ways to suck in a mouthful of air and exhale a powerful Flamethrower. The Krokorok barely had time to clench his claws on the ground and cause another blade of stone to erupt in order to protect himself from the flames. While the Stone Edge managed to redirect the attack, Sobek was caught off-guard again as Pyro blasted through his shield with another Metal Claw and was on him before he could react.

Pyro drove a Brick Break into Sobek's stomach and made the Krokorok release a choking roar of pain. Despite the damage, Sobek still bit down harshly on the offending arm and generated a surge of electricity in his maw, but it wasn't enough to really hurt Pyro. The Charizard winced from pain, but it only served to anger him as he lifted his arm back up with Sobek still attached, then lunged back down and rammed his opponent into the ground with the raw force of a Mega Punch.

The blow was enough to partially embed Sobek into the ground and knock him out cold with his jaws open mid-snarl.

Ash openly gaped at the result of the fight. He knew Pyro had gotten stronger since evolving, but that was ridiculous. Sobek had been beaten in just a few short minutes. The rest of the team also looked utterly surprised by how brief the battle was, and even Pyro seemed bewildered that it was already over.

The boy grabbed a potion and Oran berries, then walked over to the unconscious form of Sobek while Pyro stood by awkwardly, apparently unsure of what to do now. Ash ran the fight through his mind for a few moments while he treated the dark type. Pyro had gone straight in for an up-close fight and Sobek had tried to match him with his usual battle style, but brute force had done nothing against the newly-evolved Charizard. Sobek was still acting like he was fighting a Charmeleon instead of its evolved form, probably because he hadn't expected the gap in power to be that wide.

It didn't seem odd to Ash that Sobek had lost once he realized that. Sobek had underestimated his adversary and assumed his common tactics would be just as effective as they were before, but the reality was that Pyro was much stronger than he'd been as a Charmeleon. Even without considering that he could fly now, his firepower, speed, and physical might had been enhanced beyond any of their expectations.

Once he finished treating Sobek, Ash stood up and smiled at his starter. "Good job, Pyro. You've gotten a lot stronger, for sure."

Pyro straightened and lifted his chin to make a proud growl, pleased that Ash was impressed by his newfound strength. He felt a sharp pain in his shoulder then and looked down to find the boy had his hand on Sobek's tooth, still embedded in his scales. "Let's get this out. I don't want that to get infected."

The task was done quickly and with only a brief amount of pain, then Ash sprayed the bleeding injury with the potion and gave Pyro an Oran berry to recover his strength.

By then, Sobek had awoken and rose, a little wobbly, to his feet. He shook his head and stared at Pyro with a dumbfounded face once he realized that he'd lost so quickly. Pyro merely shrugged and swished his long tail a little uncertainly. How were they going to train now that he was so much stronger than the others?

Fortunately, Ash was already on that and he had an idea that he wanted to think on while the rest of the team got their training in. "Okay, that was a little faster than I thought it would be, but I want you all to split into pairs and start training. Focus on improving the moves you've been learning recently and I'll come by to check on you as we go. Understood?"

His team jerked out of their surprise and acknowledged him quickly, then began to follow Ash's orders. Pyro was quickly distracted from his uncertainty by Spectre, who floated over and queried if the Charizard could help him work on learning Will-O-Wisp. With a nod, he led the small ghost a ways off to practice their fire type moves.

Ash watched his team start to train while he thought about how to handle Pyro's increased power in their training battles. It would be pointless if he put Pyro in a one-on-one fight against any of the other members at this stage- unless they got really crafty with their battle styles, he was just too overpowering for them to defeat. Sobek was the strongest Pokemon he had after Pyro and he'd been bested easily, which meant the rest of his team stood basically no chance of delivering an attack powerful enough to beat the Charizard.

He was thinking that a solution would be to pit Pyro against multiple opponents at once for a few reasons; for one, it would even the odds a fair bit and would allow his other Pokemon to work on their teamwork. That was valuable experience for later group battles. Moreover, fighting a variety of opponents at once would hopefully make Pyro get used to his new form faster.

Pyro's wings were a part of his new body that needed to be worked on. From what Ash could tell, he was acting purely on instinct- in the battle against Rhydon and Aerodactyl, Pyro had only performed the most basic of aerial maneuvers and won mostly through his newfound power and the element of surprise. Against Sobek, he'd used his wings simply as a propulsion device to charge along the ground, never mind the air. He needed to practice flying if he was going to take full advantage of them in battle.

He nodded to himself once he finished thinking that through and made a few notes in his PokeNav for future reference. Once that was done, he began to do his rounds with the team, eager to get them back into training.

"Douse, Hydro Pump!" Ash commanded.

The Poliwhirl reared back and then discharged a huge volume of water at his target- Sobek. It was starting to look more focused, but the move still didn't do a lot of damage for the time being. Moreover, Douse always got exhausted whenever he used it, although the strain was starting to become less evident. He was definitely making progress.

Ash nodded. "Good job, buddy. Keep working on it."

Douse grunted in response, his round body going slack as he recovered from using the enormously taxing technique. He wouldn't stay down for long though- the Water Stone sitting in Ash's backpack so tantalizingly close had doubled his motivation to master Hydro Pump, and Ash hadn't even moved on to the next member of the team before Douse stood back up and blasted the Krokorok again with another attempt.

He was getting better at it.

Sobek had actually volunteered to be the target for Douse to practice on, which only surprised the Poliwhirl and Ash for a short time. After being so easily defeated by Pyro, the Krokorok apparently wanted to work on bolstering his defenses and resistance to super effective attacks. He looked very much out of character standing there, soaking wet and slightly shivering, but Ash couldn't deny he was impressed by the fortitude Sobek demonstrated, especially since he'd never done training like this before.

His eyes squeezed shut as the next blast of Hydro Pump crashed into him, pushing him back a few feet despite his claws digging into the now-muddy ground. He emerged from the attack even more soaked than before, but bared his fangs and glared at Douse moments later with a roar. Despite being thoroughly pissed off and feeling miserable in all the water, he wanted the Poliwhirl to hit him again. Motivation was traded back and forth as Sobek goaded his partner to attack him again while Douse encouraged Sobek to take another blast.

Ash would be the first to call it off if things were taken too far, but they were doing well for the time being.

He made his way towards Eevee and Jasmine next, who were working on enhancing their power. Both of them were strong in their own right, but they didn't necessarily match up to the big guns of Ash's team right now, those being Pyro and Sobek. Jasmine was probably about Douse's level at the moment with her versatility and greater speed. Eevee had the same speed, but not as much versatility or power, although no one could deny that her Shadow Balls hurt.

The pair were currently blasting a pair of stone targets that Sobek had erected for them with everything they had. Eevee was firing off Swift attacks almost nonstop and Jasmine had been trying to melt her target with the newly-learned Flamethrower. The two girls of his team were giving it their all and pumping each other up whenever one or the other faltered. He couldn't help but grin as Eevee's Swift finally destroyed her target, prompting a congratulatory trill from Jasmine before the dragon returned to blasting her stone with renewed vigor.

Eevee was panting, but she looked very pleased with her success and yowled a second later at Sobek. The Krokorok had just been hit by another Hydro Pump and took a moment from his endurance training to roar furiously, then spun around and smashed his fist into the soggy earth beneath him. Another, bigger stone erupted in front of Eevee, presenting her with a new object to attack while Sobek got a brief chance to take his anger out on something by demolishing what was left of her first target.

Ash's eyes trailed next to where Pyro and Spectre were training on the edge of the group. His starter was growling something to the small ghost, who was hovering close to the dragon's head and listening silently. Ash had a feeling they were trying to figure out how to teach Spectre Will-O-Wisp, which was probably going to present some challenges. All of the fire type moves his team could use generated flames from some part of their body. Manifesting fire into thin air was a slightly different process that would likely take a bit of work.

But he did have an idea of how they could pull it off.

"Hey, you two," Ash got the pair's attention as he walked over to them. "Getting started on Will-O-Wisp?"

Pyro nodded and grunted with a perplexed expression. He was clearly having difficulty trying to teach a move that was fundamentally different than anything else he knew. The only thing Pyro could really do was helping Spectre to harness fire type energy.

Will-O-Wisp was generally used as a way to burn opponents. The flames it produced were small and couldn't do a lot of damage to those that came into contact with them, but they were incredibly hot and would usually leave a Pokemon with a painful burn. There was potential to use them as a direct attack, however- Ash had read in the Pokedex that advanced users of Will-O-Wisp could increase the size of the technique and cause the fireballs to explode upon contact. It wouldn't match something of the same caliber as Pyro's Flamethrower, but it certainly would hurt.

"I know it's a bit different from our usual fire type moves, so maybe we should approach it differently as well," he began. At the curious looks his Pokemon were giving him, Ash glanced at Spectre. "Form up a Shadow Ball real quick."

Spectre blinked his single red eye, but did as instructed. Ash felt a spark of pride at how quickly the Shadow Ball was created- it had taken lots of hard work for Spectre to really get that down. Now he was almost as good at making them as Eevee was, though he still wasn't quite equal to her level of power.

"Good. Now try to mass together some fire type energy the same way," Ash explained. "The Pokedex information I read makes the way Will-O-Wisp is formed sound like a fire type version of Shadow Ball. So maybe if you try making one just like you make a Shadow Ball, it won't give you as much trouble."

Their eyes lit up at that and Spectre made an eager sound. He made a hollow noise in Pyro's direction and the Charizard responded by breathing out a small tongue of flame onto the Shadow Ball. Spectre's eye narrowed as he tried to feel and maintain the fire type energy around his ghost type move. The flame wavered for a few seconds before going out.

Ash still felt like it was progress. The change in thinking could be exactly what they needed for Spectre to learn Will-O-Wisp. That brought him one step closer to being a real threat in battle, and Ash hoped that if they made more progress like this, that the Duskull might be ready to face off against Sabrina's psychic types when the time came.

But that was still a long way off. For now, they had to work hard to win the upcoming St. Anne tournament.

He chewed his lip nervously as he stared across the large clearing. Ash wasn't sure how he felt about this.

Pyro needed to learn how to fly on more than just instinct. He needed to get into the air and figure out how to maneuver swiftly and accurately. If he couldn't manage that, his massive wings wouldn't be much of an asset. So they'd made a stop here in order to give him a chance to practice. Depending on how he fared, Ash was going to pit him against three members of the team so that he could further get used to his new body.

They'd been on the road for a couple of days since leaving Professor Oak's lab. Training had been going well, with progression moving slower or faster for different members of the team. But it was high time that Ash got Pyro on the right track.

The Charizard glanced at him and Ash nodded. "Alright, you're up. I'm not sure what you should do, just try to keep your altitude low and don't get crazy in the air until you get a better feel for it."

Pyro nodded back, then took a few steps into the clearing until he had a fair amount of space between him and the surrounding trees. Eevee was standing back with Ash, watching as their friend began treading into unknown territory for all of them.

Pyro's wings spread wide and he gave a few experimental flaps to stretch them out. Once he was satisfied, the Charizard got into a slight run before flapping down strongly to push himself up. With a few rough, fast surges of the enormous wings, he was in the air. Ash saw the fire type glide for a short distance before pushing himself up higher, but he cringed when Pyro's claws brushed the top of a tree.

The boy and his Eevee watched as Pyro banked slightly to turn, wobbling a fair bit to stay balanced. Ash's eyes followed the Charizard while he experienced his first flight, messy though it was. The shakiness, balancing problems, and rough flaps made it obvious that Pyro was struggling to find his natural rhythm. This was definitely going to take time and practice. There would be no mass battles yet.

"Pyro!" Ash called up to him. The Charizard jerked his head towards the trainer, who continued. "Come down!"

Ash's heart lurched as Pyro attempted just that far more quickly than was safe and practically dropped out of the air about fifteen feet up. He slammed feet-first into the ground and staggered, tripped, then face planted into the dirt with a surprised yelp. The boy ran over to his starter as the fire type pushed himself back onto his feet.

"Are you okay?" Ash demanded.

Pyro did a slow spin in place as he carefully looked himself over to make sure nothing was out of place. He flexed the claws on his toes to make sure nothing was broken and nodded at last. Ash was relieved until he saw a trickle of blood running down the Charizard's mouth.

He lifted his hand up and set it on the scaly lower jaw. "Open up."

Doing as instructed, Pyro opened his maw wide and Ash winced at the broken fang on the upper left side. The missing half in question was tucked under the fire type's tongue and he removed it. Ash eyed the remnants of the broken fang and sighed. Pyro's natural lining of fresh teeth would soon replace it, but that had to come out before it caused him too much pain.

"I gotta pull this tooth, buddy," he told the Charizard. "It's going to hurt for a second, but it'll hurt a lot worse later if I don't get it out now."

Pyro let out a low groan, but he complied without question. Ash reached into the Charizard's mouth with his right hand, gripped the tooth firmly, and yanked down as hard as he could. The broken fang came out cleanly, but the sting made Pyro flinch and jerk away as it came out. His jaw smacked into Ash's hand the wrong way and the splintered fang pierced through the boy's glove and into his hand.

Ash yelled in pain and grabbed his wrist with his left hand, falling to a crouch and hissing as his eyes watered. It was deep- the broken tooth was embedded in his right palm and it hurt terribly. Eevee darted over with a low cry as Pyro shook the pain from his jaw and realized that his partner was injured. The two Pokemon hovered over Ash as he grit his teeth and let out a pained moan.

"Pyro," he forced out through his teeth. "Bag. Left pocket. Bandages. Now."

The Charizard looked incredibly guilt-ridden as he shifted behind Ash and tried to open said pocket. Problem was, his big claws weren't suited to the task of delicately pulling on a zipper, so it only made Ash's body shift and send fresh waves of pain through him. "Stop, stop! Eevee, you try it. Just use your teeth and don't move it that much."

Pyro backed off as Eevee stepped in and pulled the pocket's zipper down with her teeth to open it up. She carefully stuck her head inside and bit down on the first wrap of bandages she found, pulling it out slowly so that she didn't move Ash more than was necessary. Once she had them, she moved around to the front of the boy and laid them down on the ground.

Ash gave her a brief nod as thanks because the broken tooth jammed in his palm was killing him. He took a deep breath and shakily gripped the fang as firmly as he could. His eyes squeezed shut and he made a mental count of three before rapidly pulling it out.

Fresh pain lanced up his arm and he mentally swore over and over again, repeating words that would have caused his mother to ground him for months. He managed to get his glove off with a quick yank and another groan, then grabbed the bandages and tried to messily wrap his bleeding hand. But he was shaking too much and he couldn't see clearly through his watering eyes.

"Guys, help," he managed. "Just wrap it up. It doesn't have to be perfect."

Pyro leaned down and gently gripped his trainer's wrist, using one of his clawed fingers to hold down the tip of the bandages while Eevee used her teeth to delicately wrap the wound. It hurt every time she set a new layer over it, but he was gradually able to get himself under control by breathing slowly.

Finally, it had been wrapped enough and most of the initial pain was gone, so Ash tied it off with one last wince. He sighed and slowly fell back into the grass. "Well, that hurt."

He glanced to the side and saw the offending bit of tooth that had caused them so much trouble gleaming in the sunlight. Pyro and Eevee hovered over him with concerned expressions. Ash looked up at them. "I'm okay now."

Eevee chittered softly at her trainer. Pyro looked away and made a small sound to apologize for causing Ash pain, feeling more guilty than he could ever remember. The Charizard glanced back at Ash as the boy lifted his good hand up to touch the corner of his jaw and wipe away the fading trail of blood.

Ash grinned. "We gotta work on your landings, buddy."

Pyro couldn't help but snort and growled agreement, relieved that Ash wasn't upset with him. It had been an accident that they'd both suffered from. He'd make sure that it wouldn't happen again.

Eevee just rolled her eyes and shook her head. Boys.

Ash couldn't help but sigh in relief when he reached Vermillion City. It had been a long two weeks getting to his destination, and at last he'd made it. Now he had two more weeks to rest up and train his team before the St. Anne got into port and was ready to be boarded.

"Pyro!" Ash called towards the sky. He waited a few moments before there was a whoosh of air, and then the Charizard was descending close by, slowly lowering himself until he was just a few feet off the ground. He touched down with only a slight fumble and a mild grunt of annoyance, but otherwise his landing was good. It was a lot better than the first one.

Pyro had been flying overhead while Ash travelled on foot. It gave him a chance to stretch his wings and work on his aerodynamics, which were slowly improving as the days passed. They'd had a few crash landings since the first time, but thankfully none were quite as disastrous. Ash also realized that his wings needed a lot of conditioning to catch up with the rest of his trained limbs- Pyro had only been able to fly that first day for half an hour before he was exhausted. The time he could fly was gradually getting longer, but he was still restricted to just under an hour of powered flight.

The Charizard was breathing pretty heavily after making the last stretch to Vermillion, but he made a proud roar as Ash smiled at him. The boy then recalled his starter and made straight for the Pokemon Center. Ash's team had been training hard on the road and they needed to get a check up before he started grilling them again. Also, his palm needed to get checked out by an actual doctor. He didn't think it had gotten infected over the last week or so, but it hurt enough that he'd swapped hands when it came to releasing and recalling his Pokemon.

That had made for some very inaccurate throws and a lot of embarrassment and fumbling on his part. Also, he needed to get a new pair of gloves seeing as his right one had a fairly large slice right through the middle of the palm. Not to mention that he still had to meet with Lt. Surge and find out how Pikachu was doing.

There was lots to do.

"Hmm…" Nurse Joy frowned as she looked over his sliced palm. It had scabbed over in the last few days and he'd replaced the bandages a few times, but even Ash had to wince at the angry red coloring surrounding the wound. It looked jagged and certainly hurt enough so that he could barely close his hand into a fist.

"Well, there's a mild infection," she finally said. "I can't tell how deep it is, but I would have recommended stitches if you hadn't been out in the wilderness when it happened. How did this happen?"

"My Charizard broke a tooth in a rough landing and I had to pull out what was left of it by hand," he told her. "But he got startled when it came out and accidentally jerked my hand the wrong way."

Joy pinched the bridge of her nose and took a deep breath. "Since it was a necessary precaution, I won't call you a complete fool. But don't make a habit of it. People aren't nearly as durable as Pokemon, and if your Charizard had taken a bite instead, you would be missing at least a finger or two."

He nodded. "I wasn't planning on it. He only recently evolved and we've been trying to ease him into flying. He just had trouble sticking the landing at first."

"It's not uncommon for them to crash frequently when they first get their wings," Joy admitted. "I'm glad he wasn't hurt worse. But remember that Charizard will eventually grow his lost teeth back. Even if he has to go through some pain for a few days, it's better than you getting your hand bitten off. Last I checked, human anatomy doesn't allow us to regenerate lost limbs."

Ash winced at that. Pyro would never have lived it down if something that bad had happened to Ash on his account. He'd be too guilt-ridden to look his trainer in the eye ever again.

"Anyways, I'll disinfect this for you and get a fresh bandage on it. You're lucky it wasn't any deeper or there might have been nerve damage," she remarked. "As it stands, it's going to leave quite a scar."

He was fine with that. A scar was okay as long as he didn't have permanent damage to his hand. Although that didn't make his injury sting any less when Nurse Joy applied rubbing alcohol to the deep cut.

Once he was cleared by Nurse Joy and his Pokemon were finished with their check-up, Ash made his way to the local Pokemon Mart and got himself a new pair of black, fingerless gloves as well as a big fireproof blanket for Pyro's tail flame. The small one he had now was just barely enough to keep the flame from burning anything and it certainly wouldn't help if Pyro shifted at some point int he night. This larger one would hopefully fix that problem.

With those necessary tasks completed, the boy made straight for the Vermillion City gym. He needed to meet with Lt. Surge and catch up on Pikachu's rehabilitation.

And just catch up with Pikachu in general.

The gym itself had a line of trainers going out the door, all clamoring to battle. Ash would've bet his bottom dollar that each and every one of them was trying to get last-minute tickets for the St. Anne now that the word had spread about Surge handing them out to victorious challengers. Fortunately, he wasn't here for a gym battle- or at least, that was the idea.

Ash made to walk past the line and towards the entrance when one of the waiting trainers yelled at him. "Hey! No cutting in line, you stupid kid! If you want to win a badge and one of the tickets, you better get on your knees and beg one of the real trainers for them!"

He glared at the guy with an annoyed expression. "I'm not here for a fight, you jerk. Besides, I already defeated Surge and got my ticket."

"Sure you did, little boy," the rude trainer sneered. "Then what are you doing here if you don't want to battle?"

"Ah, there you are!"

Ash glanced towards the gym entrance when the massive frame of Lt. Surge walked outside, grinning at him widely as he strolled over. "Sup, kid! Was wondering when you were gonna get here!"

The sight of the electric Gym Leader had the line of trainers clamoring even more intensely. They were yelling and demanding battles to the point that Surge gave them all the evil eye and roared at the top of his lungs. "SHUT UP!"

His commanding tone, honed from years of military work immediately quieted the frantic crowd. Surge grunted with annoyance. "You brats go train or something for a while. I've got an important meeting to attend with my client, and then I'm getting lunch. I won't be back for an hour at least."

The responding groans and obnoxiously loud protests only served to piss Surge off. He glared at the dozens of trainers and growled a low, but crystal clear order. "Listen to me very carefully. I'm going to count to ten and if any of you are still here, I am going to electrocute you until your nerves get fried."

That made a lot of them hesitate. The trainer that had initially yelled at Ash was dumb enough to arch an eyebrow cockily and smirk. "Really?"

Surge damn near popped a vein.


The arrogant trainer jumped straight into the air and took off running before he could respond, leading the crowd of scrambling, terrified trainers far away from the menace that was Lieutenant Surge. In five seconds flat, the gym entrance was quiet again.

Surge huffed in exasperation. "Damn punks don't know when to quit. You'd think after all the trainers I send crying out of my gym that they'd stop coming in droves, but no! I barely have a moment of quiet to myself these days. Shitty brats."

Ash was smart enough to hide the little smile that appeared on his face at the sight of the irritated Gym Leader. The man in question then looked at him and grinned conspiratorially. "Thanks for volunteering to be my escape from the mob. Now, hows about we grab your mouse and get something to eat at the Pokemon Center?"

"Sounds good to me," he replied.

They went into the gym then and Ash felt no surprise upon seeing Surge's Raichu and a couple of other electric types being fed by the Gym Leader's underlings. He didn't see Pikachu immediately though, because his attention was taken by the hulking behemoth in the middle of the battlefield currently fixing him with a curious stare. The Pokemon was bipedal and had an impressive, muscular build. It had yellow fur covering its entire body with thick bands of black on its arms, legs, torso, and head. A pair of horns shaped like lightning rods rested atop its head and twin black tails with red tips swished slowly behind it.

Surge grinned upon seeing Ash mesmerized by his Pokemon. "You like him, eh? That's Zeus. He's my Electivire."

"Electivire," Ash repeated. He watched as Zeus casually smashed his fists together and generated a shock wave that spread through the room, setting his hairs on end. The Electivire had a wide grin on his face that matched his trainer's and Ash could tell immediately that he held an enormous amount of power. Zeus was probably Surge's ace Pokemon, like Giovanni's Rhyperior or Sabrina's fabled Alakazam.

"You're no match for him as you are now," Surge told the boy. "Zeus is the guy I call in when the other Gym Leaders feel like throwing down for real. He's strong enough to give some of the Elite Four's Pokemon a run for their money."

Ash believed him. Surge was fond of boasting, but he was not the type to exaggerate a Pokemon's strengths. Whether they were weak or strong, he would say it outright, but he wouldn't embellish any further than was necessary. He was straightforward like that. If Surge went as far as to name his ace Pokemon after a lightning god, Ash didn't doubt for a second that Zeus lived up to his name.

"Now, where's the rodent we're looking for?" Surge grumbled. "Raichu! Where's the invalid?"

Raichu took a break from its dinner to glance up and down the line of feasting Pokemon for a moment before it jabbed a paw to the end on the left, then returned to eating. Ash followed its direction with his heart beating a little faster than normal to find two Pikachu eating together.

Surge's loud yell had gotten their attention and Ash knew exactly which one was his. Not because his Pikachu's tail shape was different to identify him as male as opposed to the female beside him, or because of the large, jagged scar marring the front of his torso, but because that mischievous gleam in his eyes was still the same.

Pikachu was already snickering as he began bolting to his trainer, only for Surge's female Pikachu to block his path with an irritated look on her face. It looked like his Pikachu was being scolded for something. Ash blinked in confusion while the Gym Leader beside him began to chuckle.

"He ain't allowed to run quite yet. He got the bandages off a couple of days ago, but he's still gotta take it easy to avoid wrenching something the wrong way. The healing process for a wound like that takes time," Surge explained while his electric type continued to scold Ash's Pikachu for going against the doctor's orders. Frankly, Pikachu looked irritated with his restrictions, but he obeyed his fellow electric mouse and padded over to Ash more slowly than before.

Ash knelt down and lifted the first Pokemon he'd ever captured into his arms, hugging Pikachu to him firmly, but gently. "Hey, buddy. I missed you a lot."

Pikachu's ears twitched in response and he nuzzled his trainer. Ash felt a small, electric current run through his skin, but he frowned when it was hardly enough to raise the hairs on his arms. When he looked down, Pikachu was pouting and almost looked tired.

Surge arched an eyebrow at the electric type in Ash's arms. "He tried to shock you?"

"I-I think so?" Ash's frown deepened. "Pikachu?"

Pikachu nodded, though his little arms were crossed and he seemed annoyed. Ash would've bet his bottom dollar that the shock had been an attempt at a prank. But that was it?

"It's only been a month since he was injured, so his electrical reserves are still next to nothing," Surge admitted. "Frankly, I'm surprised he has electricity to spare at all. That being said, he shouldn't be wasting it on pranks. He doesn't have that luxury right now."

"You heard him, Pikachu," Ash told the mouse. "Take it easy. You can prank us all later when you feel better."

Pikachu grumbled at that and Ash could only smile, albeit a little sadly. The electric type's mischief was a part of who he was. It wasn't going to be easy for him in the coming months when he wouldn't be able to electrocute anyone.

He ran his fingers through Pikachu's short fur, petting the mouse while he looked at Surge. "How's he doing? Has he been healing alright?"

The ex-soldier started to recite Pikachu's medical history from memory. "He's done pretty good so far. Like I said, he only just got the bandages off a couple of days ago, but he's still on a medication to keep his immune system going strong. He's had regular checkups with Joy and his appetite was low when he first got out of the intensive care unit, so he's a bit underweight at the moment. It's nothing drastic though. He's been eating better over the last week and I expect he'll be back to a healthy weight before too long."

"As for his electrical abilities, I haven't gotten to officially start rehab with him because of how long it took for that injury to heal up. He's been able to consume small amounts of electrical energy- I mean like a AAA battery's worth- but he can't store or discharge any of it very well. Joy performed a scan on him the other day and confirmed that his electrical organs have regained their charge currents, which is great because that means they healed correctly. The problem now is increasing the amount of electricity that those organs can generate without pushing things too far or too fast."

Ash's arms tightened slightly around his Pokemon. "That sounds really difficult."

Surge nodded. "It's not an easy regime to handle, even for me. Back in the Cipher Wars, I had to do rehab with a whole range of electric types that suffered injuries like his. The success rate back then for a full recovery was barely 30% because we usually didn't have the tech or medical equipment in the field to handle catastrophic damage to their electrical organs. I myself have a Pokemon from those days that never fully recovered her electric abilities."

"I'm sorry," he said sincerely.

The Gym Leader shrugged. "She's fine. She had her fair share of fighting in the Cipher Wars. Now she can kick back, relax, and watch the rest of us whoop ass. Plus I trained her to fight without electricity, so she's not helpless if she has to battle."

"But back to your mouse. Since I'm not worried about being called back to the front lines anytime soon, I can focus my efforts on his rehabilitation. It shouldn't be too much trouble, though it'll still take some time to make sure he's back to normal by the end of it all."

Ash nodded to himself a couple of times as he processed that. Pikachu still had a long road ahead of him, but at least his recovery so far had been smooth sailing.

"C'mon, let's go get something to eat," Surge grunted, jolting Ash out of his thoughts. "I'm starving. You can bring your mouse as long as he doesn't do anything stupid."

Lunch at the Pokemon Center was fairly quick because Surge apparently wanted to see Ash's team. Once they'd both eaten their fill, the two trainers went out back to the practice field, where the boy set Pikachu on the ground gently and smiled at him.

"Ready to see everyone, buddy? A lot's changed since the last time you saw the whole team," Ash mentioned casually. Pikachu grinned widely and nodded, his bolt-shaped tail swishing side to side with anticipation.

Ash grabbed his pokeballs and set each member of his team loose one by one. Pyro was first, flexing his wings and tail while he spat a gout of flame into the air. He was followed by Sobek of course, who let out a roar in an effort to one-up his fire type teammate. Eevee was next, as calm and cool as ever, then Douse appeared with a bounce and a happy grunt. Spectre came next and simply took to floating around Pyro's head, then Ash set Jasmine loose last. The Dratini slithered over to Eevee and made a low coo, to which Eevee responded with soft chitters.

He got their attention quickly. "Hey guys, look who's here."

His team followed Ash's gaze to find Pikachu snickering, obviously pleased to see all of his old traveling companions. Pyro, Sobek, and Spectre immediately rushed over to him with sounds of delight. Douse followed them a bit more slowly and Eevee hung back with Jasmine since the Dratini seemed bewildered. It took him a moment to remember that Jasmine and Pikachu hadn't met yet.

Ash walked over to the confused dragon and patted her scaly head. "That's Pikachu, Jasmine. He was the first Pokemon I ever captured. He's been staying in Vermillion for a little while now because he got hurt before we met you."

Jasmine's eyes cleared in understanding and she swished her tail eagerly. Ash noticed that she was usually a lot more accepting of strangers if they were members of the team. Even though she hadn't met Pikachu prior to this, she actually looked pleased to see him.

Oh, if only she knew what Pikachu was capable of.

Eevee was fully aware of the electric type's pranking ways and merely watched while Pikachu got caught up with the rest of the team. He was currently perched on Pyro's shoulder and seemed to be admiring the Charizard's massive frame, though he held a conversation easily with Sobek, Spectre, and Douse at the same time. While Jasmine slithered over to introduce herself, Eevee glanced up at Ash with a question in her eyes.

He knelt down beside her and scratched her furry ears. "What's up, girl?"

She glanced towards Pikachu and then back at Ash, tilting her head slightly. The boy was pretty sure he got what she was asking and answered her as best he could. "He's staying here so that he can heal better. We're just visiting until it's time to board the St. Anne. But when he's done with rehab, then he'll join us again."

Eevee processed that for a short while before nodding slowly and turning her head back to observe her team once again. Pikachu was now speaking with Jasmine, all sunshine and smiles while the Dratini's tail curled and she trilled back replies. Eevee's eyes were drawn to the large, jagged scar across Pikachu's stomach and her ears twitched uneasily. She hadn't seen him when he was injured, so she'd had no idea what to expect upon meeting him again, but that was quite the wound. It was amazing to her that he was still alive- in the wild, Pikachu would surely have died many times over.

She was jerked out of her thoughts as Pyro and the others came over to her with their recovering friend in town. The Charizard let Pikachu slide down his back and tail to reach the ground safely, then stepped back so that the two could meet face to face.

Pikachu was still grinning and asked how Eevee was, to which she replied simply that she had been content. Her eyes trailed once again to the large scars as she tried to fathom what was capable of such a thing, only for Pikachu to snicker and make some comment about her staring at him. Maybe she thought he looked rather dashing?

Eevee's thoughts went from concern and straight to annoyance, as shown by the deadpan expression on her face. Only in this arrogant little rat's dreams would she ever think such a thing.

He was lucky that she couldn't blast him.

Meanwhile, Surge was grinning at the array of Ash's Pokemon. "Not bad, kid! The Charizard looks pretty good. I don't know much about the Duskull, but where'd you get your hands on a Dratini? Damn things are rare as can be."

Ash smiled. "Charizard actually evolved just a couple of weeks ago. I caught Duskull back in Lavender Town and I got Dratini in Fuchsia's Safari Zone, but Eevee was the one who really found her."

"They've got the makings of a badass team," Surge whistled. "If you catch a few more to help cover other types, you'll have a pretty good spread there to counter enemy Pokemon. You're probably already aware, but right now your team overall has a pretty big weakness to water types. Since Pikachu ain't capable of fighting now, you don't really have a way to beat them down. I suppose your Poliwhirl and Dratini have a bit of resistance to water type moves, but they don't offer much for a solid counter at the moment."

The Gym Leader definitely had a point. Ash already knew that his team held a weakness to water and he intended to address that as soon as he could, but for now his mind was focused on his team improving their moves. Once they got that covered, he would start working a bit more on diversity to cover type weaknesses.

"Also, you should take terrain into account when you're looking for another team member," Surge muttered as an afterthought.

Ash frowned. "Terrain?"

"Well, yeah. Your Charizard or Krokorok ain't gonna be much help if you're fighting on a water field, are they?" The Gym Leader scoffed. "In fact, now that I think about it, that's a pretty huge problem for ya. A water field would be your worst nightmare from where I'm standing."

"I've got Douse," he replied. "And Jasmine can swim as well."

"I don't doubt that they can swim, but have you actually trained them to fight in the water?" Surge asked with an eyebrow arched. Ash opened his mouth, but closed it almost immediately, so the electric type trainer went on. "In the Indigo League- and all the other Pokemon Leagues, for that matter- you'll be competing against other trainers on different types of terrain. Water, tundra, mountains, grasslands…you name it. The League goes all-out preparing their battlefields. If your team isn't prepared for the terrain, they'll get steamrolled by veteran trainers. Your Poliwhirl, for example; he may be a water type, but if he doesn't know what he's doing underwater, he'll get creamed by something that does know."

It was a fair point and one that Ash really hadn't even thought about. He bit his lip as he processed everything that Surge had entailed. "I really didn't even think about that."

"Well start thinking about it before you get your ass kicked in an unfavorable situation," Surge grunted. "Your team looks decent enough for what I have in mind, so you'll be coming with me now."

Now it was Ash's turn to arch an eyebrow. "For what?"

"You're paying me back for taking care of your rodent. I don't do favors for free," the man smirked widely.

"Um…what are we doing here?" Ash asked the electric type Gym Leader. Surge had dragged him out to what looked like a school or something for Pokemon trainers, but he didn't think that the ex-soldier was into teaching. This was, of course, after they visited the Pokemon Center and had lunch. The giant of a man had devoured nearly five plates worth of food.

Surge grinned somewhat maniacally. "Like I said, this is compensation for me taking care of your rodent. Listen up, this place is Vermillion's Pokemon Trainer Academy. Some people call it the "School of Hard Knocks" for its tough academic course, but it's really just a preppy school for brats with rich parents. They're taught theory for battle, training, stuff like that. Problem is, sitting in class and listening to lectures all damn day ain't nearly as good as actually getting out there and doing it. That's where you come in."

"The Principal has been pestering me oversee a new battle course for these spoiled brats. You're going to beat their Pokemon senseless while I grill 'em for being snobby and lacking actual combat experience."

Ash sweat-dropped. "That's a class?"

"More or less," the giant sniggered with terrible cheer. "I'm putting them through a dumbed-down version of my old army recruitment training course. My job is to sit back and yell at them while you kick their asses and we just repeat that until all of the snobbishness is gone. You'll enjoy it, trust me."

He wasn't so sure, but then again, Surge's humor was morbid at best. Ash didn't question the man and resigned himself to endless combat with the students he'd be facing. At least his team would get to fight.

The children in question didn't seem very impressed with Ash. It wasn't all that surprising, seeing as they were all around his age, with a few slightly older or younger from what he could see. Most of them definitely had the rich kid vibe- expensive suits, Luxury Balls or other rare pokeballs on their fancy belts, and condescending expressions on most of their faces. All of them were gathered on the side of a practice battlefield and the majority offered him arched eyebrows and sneers.

This wouldn't be fun.

Surge ignored the kids and walked straight to a man that looked to be in his late twenties. Ash was a bit perplexed by him because despite obviously being the teacher, the man didn't look anything like the spoiled children he was in charge of. He looked more tired than anything and seemed relieved that the electric Gym Leader was here.

Said Gym Leader shook the other man's hand with a firm grasp and a wide grin on his face. "Good to see you, Norman. Ya miss me? Am I a sight for sore eyes?"

"Right now? Yes, you are," Norman sighed, rubbing his eyes and pinching the bridge of his nose with his spare hand. He muttered something to Surge under his breath and the bear of a man roared with laughter. Ash could only assume whatever had been said was not appropriate, but he was just doing his best not to look uncomfortable amidst the piercing stares of the students.

Surge saved him by turning to the kids, crossing his arms, and drawling loudly. "Alright you runts, listen up! If it wasn't obvious, the name's Lt. Surge. I'm the Gym Leader of Vermillion City and your principal has begged- excuse me- asked that I help teach you all practical battle skills. This first class is meant to teach you an important lesson- that theory is not always the same in practice. Did your tiny brains get that?"

A particularly snobby girl set her hands on her hips, unfazed by the giant. "What does that even mean? Theory of battle is always the same in practice, you oaf. Are you actually a Gym Leader?"

Surge cocked an eyebrow. "And you are?"

"Giselle. Brutes and little boys don't have the right to know my full name," she sniffed. Her eyes trailed to Ash, obviously unimpressed. "And who's this kid? He looks like some average trainer. What, is he gonna use a full team of Rattata on us? Does he even have a full team in the first place? Why'd you bring some amateur?"

Ash clenched his jaw in annoyance. Fighting these kids was a lot more appealing all of a sudden.

Surge grinned fiendishly. "Well, why don't you brats find out? This kid managed to beat me in a battle and earned a Thunder Badge. He should be strong enough for you."

"I earned the Thunder Badge on our virtual console in my first month of the semester," she deadpanned. "I'm already close to getting the Volcano Badge. The rest of this class are at least Soul Badge level or higher. He can't possibly beat us."

"Big talk," Surge snorted. "Let me see you all prove how strong you are. Norman, who are the top ten brats in your class by score?"

Norman took out a small, digital pad from his pocket and tapped the screen a few times before reciting the names in question. "Starting from rank ten, it's Joe, Michelle, Brent, Vince, Sarah, Brian, Selene, Rodger, Giselle, and Courtney."

"Good. The ten of you are going to be facing the kid here, one after another in a series of one-on-one battles," Surge announced. "If the kid defeats you all, I won't hear a single complaint from any of you for the next two weeks. I'll even bet that he won't lose a single Pokemon against you."

"Oh, come on!" One of the boys exclaimed. "This guy is obviously just some average chump! Ten of us? He won't even beat one of us!"

Even Ash felt both of his eyebrows go up. Ten battles in a row?

Giselle was staring between him and Surge with disbelief. "Is this a joke?"

"You're one of the opponents, missy," Surge sneered. "You can find out for yourself when the kid steamrolls ya. Who was that first brat? Joe, or something? Get on the field. Kiddo, front and center. You can start any way you like."

Surge set a hand on Ash's shoulder and offered an uncharacteristically normal smile. "Mop the floor with them as thoroughly as you can before I set Zeus on whatever runts these little shits own."

He couldn't help but smirk a little. "I'm not promising even leftovers."

"Good!" Surge cackled, startling the bystander students while Norman simply cracked a smile. "Release your Pokemon, you brats!"

Joe looked a little nervous across the field, but he pulled out a Luxury Ball and released a Bellsprout. Ash considered his opponent for just a second before he unleashed Sobek, who roared and glared at his new foe.

On the sidelines, Giselle scoffed. "A ground type? Really? Don't you know anything about type advantages, little boy? Even Joe can beat you with that matchup."

Ash felt his eyelid twitch. "We'll see about that."

"Start the match!" Surge declared.

"Bellsprout, use Razor Leaf!" Joe ordered. The plant-like Pokemon followed his command and spun in a circle quickly to launch a flurry of sharp leaves towards Sobek.

Ash retaliated immediately. "Incinerate!"

Sobek spat a thin stream of fire that burned through the leaves and turned them to ashes. Bellsprout looked a little nervous now, but Joe still looked confident enough to continue. "Okay, then try Vine Whip instead!"

Two thin, but strong vines shot towards Sobek from under Bellsprout's leafy appendages, aiming right for the Krokorok's stomach. Ash decided to turn the tide in his favor then. "Grab the vines!"

The Vine Whip struck Sobek's chest and made him growl with annoyance, but then he grabbed them with his powerful claws and prevented Bellsprout from reeling them back in. Both the grass type and its trainer looked ready to panic and Ash could see what Surge was talking about now. These kids knew about how battles worked in theory, but there was no way to study everything regarding combat behind a desk and truly understand it.

"Bring it in, Sobek," Ash ordered. The Krokorok gave a mighty heave which lifted Bellsprout off the ground and sent it flying towards him. While the plant-like Pokemon gurgled with fright in the air, Ash gave a follow up command. "Crunch!"

Sobek's powerful jaws clamped down onto Bellsprout the second it was in range and shook it violently for a few seconds. He didn't even bother hurling the grass type away and just dropped it, where it immediately passed out.

"Bellsprout is down!" Surge declared. "Joe, take your plant to the Nurse and then come straight back. Norman, send the next kid up already!"

Joe looked mortified as he recalled Bellsprout and ran towards the main school building. Ash felt a little bad for the kid because he seemed more timid than the rest of his classmates and Sobek's overwhelming victory despite a type advantage had probably terrified him. Maybe he wasn't the stereotypical rich kid?

Norman calling up the next kid, Michelle, snapped him out of his brief train of thought. She acted a lot like Giselle, much to Ash's annoyance. "Beating Joe isn't that hard. Anyone can do it since he's the lamest trainer here."

Ash took a deep breath and glared at her as she released a Staryu. Sobek let out a fierce snarl and thrashed his tail, reminding Ash that he'd just gotten a Moxie boost from defeating Bellsprout. Assuming all of their opponents were about the same level as Joe's Pokemon had been, it was probably too dangerous for him to keep using Sobek. But if the Krokorok could maintain control of himself, then this could be a valuable opportunity to work on improving his ability to use Moxie in battle.

"Sobek!" Ash called. The Krokorok glanced at his trainer over his shoulder and listened to his every word. "Stay calm. Try to keep yourself from going wild whenever you defeat one of their Pokemon, okay?"

Sobek grunted and turned back to face Staryu. Ash hoped that the croc would be able to manage that, but since they hadn't actually worked on his control of Moxie before, he wasn't expecting perfection. But if Sobek could contain himself for just a little while longer than normal, then that was improvement in Ash's eyes.

"Are you done giving your loser Pokemon a pep talk?" Michelle scoffed. "Come on and fight already."

"Remember, you asked for it," Ash grinned while Sobek snarled agreement. "Stone Edge!"

Sobek smashed his fist into the ground and triggered a line of bladed stones to erupt from the field below, aiming for Staryu. The water type tensed while its trainer gave a quick order. "Evade it!"

Staryu cartwheeled on its five appendages and managed to escape Stone Edge, much to Sobek's irritation. Its trainer followed up with an attack of her own. "Water Gun!"

Staryu fired a jet of water from one of its appendages. Ash would give it credit for its aim, but the blast was weak compared to other Water Guns that he'd seen and he already had a counter ready. "Bite into it! Thunder Fang!"

Electricity crackled in Sobek's maw as he roared, then snapped down harshly onto the jet of water as it made contact with him. The lightning danced up the stream and shocked Staryu in the blink of an eye, causing the gem at its core to flicker in distress. Michelle's face had gone from triumph to disbelief, but she forgot to provide her Pokemon with a counterattack while Ash rolled right on. "Assurance!"

With a loud growl and a quick lunge, Sobek's claws slashed at the gem before Staryu could react and sent the water type skidding across the field, where it collapsed and did not get up.

"Staryu is down!" Surge announced lazily.

"No way!" Michelle was outraged. "I hit it with a super effective move! It should have taken way more damage! He must have cheated somehow!"

"He didn't cheat," the Gym Leader scoffed. "Your Staryu just sucks because you haven't trained it for shit. Go take it to the Nurse and get back here."

She looked ready to slap him into next week, but Michelle recalled Staryu and stomped back to the school while Ash prepared himself for round three. He watched Sobek warily as the croc's eyes glowed bright red from Moxie's effect, causing him to snarl aggressively. This was usually the point where Sobek started to lose it. He could maintain some of his control after the second boost, but by the time they got to number three, he usually snapped and ran riot.

Ash bit his lip. He really didn't want Sobek to push things too far if he did end up snapping. Just in case he couldn't recall the croc fast enough from battle…

"Hey, Surge!" He looked at the Gym Leader seriously, who arched an eyebrow. "Do you mind setting one of your Pokemon loose in case Sobek gets out of hand?"

Surge's eyes cleared in understanding and he nodded, setting loose an electric type that Ash recognized as an Electabuzz. It was noticeably smaller than its evolved form, but there was no denying the power in its body.

Sobek snarled at the sight of it and Ash quickly reprimanded him. "Sobek, no! They aren't our opponents."

He looked very displeased by this, but obeyed nonetheless, much to Ash's relief. By now his third opponent, Brent, had reached the battlefield and was ready to go.

The boy released a large Pinsir from his Luxury Ball, smirking when the bug type's powerful claws flexed in preparation for combat. "This Pinsir was a gift from my father. It possesses the greatest power and moves that money can buy! I hope you're ready to be thoroughly beaten, you wannabe."

Sobek let out a roar of anticipation and Ash clenched his fists. "Come on! This is only number three, Sobek! Focus your mind!"

Brent made the first move. "Quick Attack!"

Ash was not expecting that. Pinsir lunged forward with surprising speed for a creature of its bulk and slammed its claws into Sobek's stomach. The croc roared angrily as he was thrown back from the impact. Pinsir was definitely stronger than their previous two opponents, but Ash knew that Sobek was still a lot stronger after two Moxie boosts.

"Incinerate!" Ash ordered.

Sobek spat a burst of flame at the bug type, but Pinsir erected a shield of energy that could only be Protect. Brent sneered when Sobek roared in fury, obviously irate that his opponent was still standing. The boy flicked his hair mockingly. "What a noisy, unsightly creature! Use X-Scissor!"

Pinsir's enormous pair of blades clicked eagerly as it charged Sobek again, this time slashing green energy in an X-formation with the powerful claws on its arms. The Krokorok snarled as it got in close, but listened when his trainer gave him a command. "Foul Play!"

Glowing black claws collided with the X-Scissor, but the bug type energy somewhat diminished the dark type move's effect and only caused Pinsir to skid back while Sobek took an equal amount of damage. Ash narrowed his eyes at the negative result and watched as his Pokemon retained both balance and sanity, though there was no telling how much longer he could maintain the latter.

Brent seemed a little annoyed now that Sobek was refusing to go down. "Stubborn beast. Fine, use Close Combat!"

Pinsir charged in again and Ash was opening his mouth to order a Fire Fang in retaliation when Sobek snapped. The Krokorok let out a tremendous caterwaul and instead of outright attacking, swiped one of his powerful arms upward with his claws clenched. Ash didn't have the foggiest idea what he was trying to do until a massive, bladed stone exploded from the ground and rammed into Pinsir's carapace.

The bug type let out a shriek as the Stone Edge pierced through its armor, then sent it flying away. With a heavy thud, it crashed into the ground and didn't even try to get back up.

Ash's eyes were wide. Since when was Sobek able to use a Stone Edge like that?!

Brent and the rest of the students were shocked after seeing Pinsir so effortlessly defeated. Norman looked a lot less tired and more alarmed, while Surge had a guarded expression. His Electabuzz looked ready to jump in if it was necessary.

Sobek's eyes and scales glowed red from his third Moxie boost and when he roared, the ground shook in response. This was the same level of power that he'd reached back when they trained with Leaf. Ash had never been able to control him at this point before- and unfortunately, it was the same case this time.

The Krokorok looked positively rabid as his glare snapped to Electabuzz and he bellowed, legs tensed to charge and unleash every bit of his fury upon the electric type. Electabuzz had its hands up and was ready to fight, but Ash managed to get over his shock and swiftly recalled Sobek when he saw that there would be no reasoning with him.

Relief seemed to flow over the field as the Krokorok was sucked back into his pokeball. Ash sighed and regarded the capture device with a slight frown. "You did good, buddy. Take a break. We'll figure it out somehow."

Surge broke the uncomfortable silence. "Pinsir is down. Get your Pokemon to the Nurse, kid. It's probably gonna be out for a day or two after getting crushed like that."

Brent shakily recalled his Pinsir and practically fled the sight of Ash despite Sobek no longer being on the battlefield. The other students no longer looked quite as confident as before, but one of them, a lilac-haired girl, spoke quietly while her classmates were stunned. "The subject possesses high-level Pokemon. Analysis indicates the rest of his party may consist of similarly leveled enemies. Classmates made a critical error by assuming this trainer was of rookie level."

"Courtney, shut up," Giselle snapped. She looked a little nervous, but still seemed positively irritated at Ash. "He got lucky. Krokorok have the Moxie ability, so it only makes sense that its strength would increase as it defeats opponents. Besides, it couldn't even control itself! Of course this guy is still a rookie if he can't do that much!"

Courtney seemed to ignore her, but she did go silent again. Ash was a little put-out that Sobek hadn't been able to improve much, but at least it hadn't been a total disaster this time. He was interested in how Sobek had pulled off that last Stone Edge, though. Maybe they'd look into that later.

"Who's the next chump in line, Norman?" Surge grunted, obviously eager to keep things going.

Norman looked over his digital pad again and announced Ash's next opponent. "Vince, take your place on the practice field."

The next boy which faced Ash was a big, meaty kid who didn't look at all swayed by the unexpected display of power. He cracked his knuckles with a cocky grin and set loose a Pokemon which Ash had never faced before- a Hitmonchan.

"My family runs a Dojo in Saffron City!" The kid exclaimed. "It is a place of training for fighting types! My Hitmonchan has trained diligently and is capable of defeating any opponent you send our way!"

Ash couldn't help but grin when the fighting type gave a few warm-up jabs at the air to get itself going. This one looked like a challenge. He grabbed his second pokeball and released his next partner. "You're up, Douse!"

The Poliwhirl appeared in a flash of light and beat a fist against his round belly as usual, locking gazes with Hitmonchan as he regarded the fighting type. Hitmonchan began to sway slightly from side to side, still punching at random to get warmed up.

"Bubble Beam!" Ash shouted.

Douse reared his head back and launched a stream of bubbles at his opponent, every one primed and ready to explode upon impact. However, Vince was definitely a little different from the previous trainers thus far as he grinned in response. "Detect!"

Hitmonchan's eyes glowed slightly and its swaying gained velocity as it danced around each of the bubbles, quickly making its way towards the source of the attack. Ash wasn't eager to let it get close and changed things up. "Ice Beam!"

"Vacuum Wave!" Vince commanded. Hitmonchan made its way out of the Bubble Beam completely and brought it's right fist back, then punched straight forward. The result was a burst of high-powered wind, which crashed into the Ice Beam and negated it almost immediately.

Not missing a beat, Vince followed up with another attack. "Bullet Punch!"

Douse gurgled in pain as a hard fist slammed into his round body, but he maintained his composure and didn't give any ground, much to Hitmonchan's surprise. Ash grinned and gave his own order. "Mega Punch!"

Hitmonchan's head jerked violently as Douse smashed the underside of its jaw with a glowing fist, lifting the fighting type off of its feet and sending it flying back to its trainer. Vince looked a little worried for a moment, but Hitmonchan got back on its feet with only mild shakiness. He scratched the back of his head. "Crap, I forgot that steel type moves aren't all that great against water types."

"Which is why you're not part of the top five, you idiot," Giselle growled from the side.

"Ignore her," Ash interrupted before Vince could glare at the girl. He was having too much fun for the prissy brat to get in the way now. "Let's just keep on fighting."

Vince grinned widely in response and totally ignored Giselle's angry snap at Ash's comment. "I like the sound of that! Hitmonchan, Comet Punch!"

"Mega Punch it!" Ash shouted.

The impact of both punches sent a wave of energy through the air, ruffling Ash's hair. He could feel his blood starting to pump with excitement. Hitmonchan was way better than any of the other three before it. Well, Pinsir might've been a good challenge if Sobek hadn't curb-stomped it, but Vince himself was also a lot more eager to fight. It made the fight much more enjoyable since both the trainers and their Pokemon were all revved up.

Douse and Hitmonchan exchanged a fierce series of blows, some of them blinding fast and others ruthlessly powerful. Hitmonchan was landing a lot more hits, but each one of Douse's packed more strength than his opponent's. Ash could see both of them were getting worn down and decided he needed to end this before it got much closer.

Vince apparently thought the same because he changed things up. "Here goes nothing! Focus Punch!"

Hitmonchan leapt back for a moment and tensed up, focusing all of its strength into one last attack. Ash didn't know much about Focus Punch, but he knew that if it landed, Douse would probably be unable to battle. He had an idea though and waited while Hitmonchan gathered itself.

The fighting type's eyes gleamed and it started to lunge when Ash snapped. "Use Body Slam on the ground!"

Douse didn't miss a beat and did just that. His round body hit the ground and used the impact to bounce himself high into the air, right over the Focus Punch that Hitmonchan had just thrown. The fighting type looked terribly surprised to say the least, now that its opponent was floating right over its head. Vince looked equally stunned as Ash gave his last command. "Hydro Pump!"

The blast of water pummeled Hitmonchan into the ground and knocked it out instantly much to Ash's relief. While Hydro Pump wasn't perfect yet, it packed enough of a wallop at close range to defeat a weakened opponent. Douse himself still became quite tired after using the move, but this was the first time they'd actually won with it.

"Hitmonchan's down!" Surge announced.

Vince recalled Hitmonchan and to Ash's surprise, bowed to him immediately. "Thank you very much for the battle! It was a great experience!"

"Y-you're welcome," Ash stammered, not really sure how to respond to that. He managed a smile, though. "Hitmonchan was really strong. I was surprised."

"Of course!" Vince laughed. "We train together at the dojo all the time! You should visit us sometime!"

"I might do that," he replied. Vince took his leave then, heading for the school so that he could get Hitmonchan healed up. Ash recalled Douse, seeing as the Poliwhirl had exhausted himself in that battle. "You did really well, buddy. I'm proud of you."

By now, Joe and Michelle had returned to the group of students and the fifth trainer Ash had to face, Sarah, made her way onto the field. She didn't look nearly as cocky as the others, but still huffed when she got to her side of the battlefield. "I suppose it's not all luck on your part that you've beaten four of us. But just so we're clear, you're winning streak ends with me."

"I can't wait," Ash grinned. He was still feeling energized from his previous fight. Grabbing his third pokeball, he set loose the next member of his team- Jasmine.

The Dratini was a sight even for the rich kids watching them. Several of the students openly gaped in surprise and Giselle actually spluttered. Ash didn't try to hide his smile as Sarah stared with wide eyes at her opponent.

Jasmine looked utterly perplexed by the reactions to her and twitched her tail nervously, but Ash as quick to reassure her. "It's okay, girl. We're just about to have a battle."

Sarah opened a closed her mouth a few times before she actually got her Pokemon- a Graveler- out onto the field. The rock type smashed its four fists together and glared at Jasmine, obviously ready for a fight. Ash's smile widened when Jasmine tensed up, just as ready to do battle with her opponent.

"Graveler, use Rock Throw!" Sarah ordered.

Ash blinked when Graveler instead curled itself into a ball and began to roll towards Jasmine at high speed- that was a Rollout, not a Rock Throw. It wasn't obeying Sarah at all! "Avoid it."

Jasmine easily evaded the Rollout attack and spun back around to watch as Graveler made a rather slow turn, then rolled at her again. Sarah was yelling at her Pokemon to listen to her, but from what Ash could see, the rock type held zero respect for its trainer and completely disregarded her commands.

Graveler missed again as Jasmine slithered to the side and let it roll past her once more. She seemed perplexed again, probably because Graveler wasn't doing what it was told and instead had taken to rolling around the field. Maybe it was trying to play a game? She liked games, but surely a battle wasn't the best place to have one?

Her wayward thoughts were cut off as Graveler uncurled itself and glared at her, apparently peeved by how easily she had avoided its attacks. The rock type made a grating bellow, then jammed all four of its fists into the ground. It ripped chunks of stone out and began to hurl them at Jasmine with surprising speed- Ash recognized the move as Rock Blast. "Speed up! Agility!"

Jasmine's serpentine body became a blur as she slipped into Agility, darting all over the field to evade Rock Blast while Graveler struggled to keep up with her. All the while Graveler ignored its trainer, who was yelling at it furiously to start listening to her. When the rock type stopped throwing stones and tried to get a lock on its opponent, Ash decided to get his own attack in. "Dragon Rage!"

She flanked Graveler on its right side before the rock type could so much as blink, then let out a loud cry and unleashed a blast of blue draconic energy upon it. The impact generated a large explosion, resulting in a loud, grating screech from Graveler as it took a significant amount of damage.

"Pull yourself together!" Sarah snapped. She was already irate that her Pokemon was refusing to obey her and jabbed a finger at Jasmine, who had returned to Ash's side of the field. "Use Bulldoze!"

Whether Graveler decided to obey its trainer this time or if they were just simply of the same mind, Ash couldn't tell. Regardless, the rock type punched the ground harshly with all four of its fists and sent a small wave of writhing earth towards Jasmine.

"Jump over it!" He shouted. Jasmine coiled her body underneath her quickly and sprang up, leaping clear over the Bulldoze attack and getting into a position just above Graveler. The rock type looked like it was about to go for another Rock Blast, but Ash wasn't having any more of that. "Dragon Tail!"

Jasmine's tail glowed that lustrous green hue, then she flipped forward in a blur and slammed the dragon type move smack-dab in the middle of the rock type's head. Graveler's eyes went wide as the impact left a crack on its armored shell of stone and it collapsed just as the Dratini landed with easy grace.

Surge looked ready to yawn after seeing the poor display from Sarah's Pokemon. "Graveler's down. Take your pet rock and get it healed up. Next in line!"

Sarah definitely looked upset, but she recalled Graveler without a word and ran off. Ash felt kind of bad for her; it had to be humiliating for her Pokemon to completely disregard her orders in front of the whole class like that. At least the fight had been ended fairly quickly.

Jasmine slithered over to him and cooed, prompting Ash to smile and scratch the scales behind her ears- her favorite spot. The little dragon's tail swished in delight and she made a happy trill as she leaned into his touch.

"Atta girl," he praised her. "You did really well. Think you can handle another one?"

She nodded immediately. Ash was proud of how eager she was to keep going despite her shy personality. Jasmine just seemed to come alive on the battlefield and she wasn't as reserved as she usually was. Five down, five to go.

Their next opponent was Brian, who seemed to take after Brent with his cocky attitude and know-it-all tone. "What a bunch of amateurs. Not a single one of you is making much of an effort to defend yourselves from his attacks! No wonder they all lost to this rookie."

Ash's eye twitched with annoyance. "Are you going to talk my Pokemon into unconsciousness?"

Brian merely smirked and with a flourish, threw a blue capture device- a Dive Ball- out onto the field, where it released a Shellder. "Shellder may not possess the ice typing in its base form, but it can still use ice type attacks. Dragon types are exceptionally weak to those moves, after all. Your Pokemon doesn't stand a chance in terms of type advantage."

"If you're just going to keep chatting our ears off, then we're going first," Ash interrupted him. "Dragon Rage!"

Jasmine fired the draconic energy at Shellder without missing a beat, but Brian reacted just as quickly. "Iron Defense!"

Shellder hid in it's shell, which flashed bright silver and weathered the blast easily. The water type popped back out as soon as Jasmine's attack ended and carried out the next order it's trainer gave it. "Aurora Beam!"

A beam of multicolored energy was fired at Jasmine, but it was still an ice type move regardless of what it looked like and Ash knew it. "Flamethrower! Burn it away!"

Jasmine let out a low cry as she breathed out a tongue of flame, which collided with Shellder's Aurora Beam and pushed it back several feet before exploding violently over the field. When the smoke cleared, Brian looked frustrated and less cocky than before. Ash smirked at the irritated face of his opponent. "You're not wrong that ice type moves are super effective against dragon types. But if you want to become a great trainer, you need to find ways around your Pokemon's weaknesses."

"Thank you, captain obvious," Brian mocked him. "You think I don't know that already? Shellder, Supersonic!"

The water type released a loud wave of fluctuating sound from its odd mouth, intending to shake Jasmine up through confusion. Brian was probably gunning for another ice type move once she was incapacitated, but fortunately, Ash had a way around that move as well. "Safeguard!"

Jasmine's eyes gleamed as she generated a pink sphere of energy around her body, upon which the Supersonic broke up harmlessly. Safeguard didn't provide a foolproof defense like Protect, but it was useful for guarding against status-afflicting moves like Supersonic or Thunder Wave.

Ash grinned widely upon seeing Brian's face grow more frustrated. He was losing his cool as Jasmine shut down all of his attacks. "Icicle Spear!"


Shellder fired off a series of sharp ice crystals only for them to be melted immediately upon contact with Jasmine's fire type move. The clam snapped its shell closed as the flames continued to approach, but it was well-protected in it's shell and the Flamethrower washed over it harmlessly.

Ash really didn't want it to keep using those ice type moves, so while Shellder was hiding, he quickly gave Jasmine another command. "Thunder Wave!"

The small horn on her head crackled briefly with electricity, then she fired the Thunder Wave in a thin lance towards Shellder and despite hiding in it's shell, the electric attack spread over the water type's body, paralyzing it immediately. Sparks danced over Shellder's cringing form as it gurgled in distress and spasmed painfully.

"Dragon Tail!" Ash ordered.

Jasmine darted over and swiped her glowing, emerald tail at Shellder, scoring a clean hit. But the water type possessed impressive defenses, as it wasn't immediately knocked out and even surprised them by clamping down tightly on it's opponent's tail. She cried out painfully as the clam stuck to her firmly.

Brian was grinning like he'd won the fight. "Now what?! As long as Shellder's clamped on your Dratini, she's got no way to fight back! Give up!"

"Think so?" He clenched his fist. "Slam it!"

Jasmine coiled her body and launched herself into the air, then flipped several times before crashing her tail (and consequently, Shellder) into the ground as hard as she could. The damage jarred Shellder and caused it to release her, leaving it stunned and paralyzed as Thunder Wave continued to do its work. Ash had had enough of this fight and ordered her to finish it. "Dragon Rage!"

The blast completely enveloped Shellder's small body and when the dust cleared, the water type was obviously unconscious. Jasmine appeared to be a bit tired after that bout, but Ash was happy with how well she'd done.

Surge grunted. "Shellder's down. Round six to the kid, zero to the preppy brats."

Brian's cockiness was totally gone as he recalled Shellder and stormed away, but not without a parting shot. "Your luck won't hold out forever, wannabe! We'll beat you eventually!"

Ash rolled his eyes and didn't bother replying. He wasn't worth it.

Opponent number seven was Selene, who didn't say a word and just released her own Pokemon, which turned out to be a Pidgeotto. Ash regarded the flying type with interest and suddenly got an idea. He glanced down at Jasmine, who still looked a little pained from her last bout with Shellder. "Hey girl, how about you take a break here?"

Jasmine trilled agreement. She hadn't taken a lot of damage, but her tail hurt and she was kind of tired after two consecutive battles. Ash recalled her into the Safari Ball and gave Selene an apologetic look. "Sorry in advance, but I want to try this out while I'm up against a flying opponent."

Selene blinked in confusion one second, then blanched the next as Ash set Pyro loose. The Charizard released a menacing roar, flaring his wings and snorting a stream of flame as he glared at the poor Pidgeotto across the field.

Giselle couldn't even find a word to say. The silence was music to Ash's ears.

He gave Selene the first move this time and she gratefully took it. "Agility!"

Pidgeotto slipped into the enhancing technique with ease, turning into a blur as it flew circles around the Charizard below. Pyro growled with annoyance and took to the air, casting his eyes after the swift bird as best he could. Ash wanted to give him a shot at aerial combat so that he'd know what to expect the next time they faced an opponent like this. "Flamethrower!"

Pyro roared and unleashed a torrent of fire from his jaws, which rippled through the air and pursued the blurred form of Selene's Pidgeotto. It was really fast- Ash would give it that. Flamethrower looked like it got close sometimes, but Pidgeotto easily evaded whatever Pyro threw its way.

"Wing Attack!" Selene ordered.

Pidgeotto suddenly made a B-line for Pyro and slammed one of its wings into his stomach before he could react. It knocked him off-balance for a few seconds and although he recovered well enough, Ash could tell his starter wasn't very good with being attacked in the air. The Charizard bellowed in fury and blasted flame after his opponent, but the bird was quick enough to evade again and fled the fires.

"Keep going! Wing Attack back to back!"

Ash watched as Pidgeotto slammed attack after attack into his starter, but the blows weren't enough to take Pyro out no matter where they struck him. They unbalanced the Charizard and left him recovering a little awkwardly, yet he managed to regain his balance every time. And slowly, Ash realized, Pidgeotto was falling into a predictable pattern of Agility-enhanced flight and then attacking. Pyro's eyes trailed after it more quickly with every strike it made, and after several blows, he finally predicted it well enough to make an accurate counterattack.

Pidgeotto shrieked as it ended up colliding with a Mega Punch, which repelled the bird towards the ground below. Before it could recover, Pyro spat a gout of flame after his prey and the Flamethrower enveloped it, burning fiercely while the bird crashed onto the battlefield.

Pyro slowly descended and landed carefully, then roared his victory. He was obviously pleased that he'd won his first aerial battle, even though the opponent had obviously been just as inexperienced when it came to fighting in the sky. He seriously doubted that tanking hits in midair would be a winning strategy in the future, but Ash was still proud of Pyro for winning.

Selene recovered Pidgeotto and left for the healer, not even sparing a glance back at Ash and his Charizard. Pyro snorted and looked at his trainer, apparently wondering what her deal was. Ash merely shrugged- he was here to fight, not guess what the students were thinking.

"Good job, buddy," Ash lifted his hand up to rub his starter's jaw, causing Pyro to let out a pleased growl. That was seven opponents defeated and three left to go.

The eighth trainer they faced was Rodger. He seemed a lot less cocky than the earlier students, but Ash couldn't really blame him for that since Rodger was facing off against his Charizard. Pyro was glaring daggers at the kid while he waited for his next opponent to appear.

Said opponent was actually a Magneton. Ash observed the electric type for a few moments as he tried to gauge how strong it was. The Magneton was bigger than the one Surge had, but that didn't mean it was necessarily stronger. That said, since Pyro was now a fire and flying type, it meant both the Charizard and Magneton held a type advantage over each other. It would come down to who had the most firepower.

Ash smiled confidently. His partner could win this for sure.

"Thunderbolt!" Rodger commanded. Magneton's pronged tips sparked for a brief moment, then it unleashed a blast of electricity upon Pyro. It was a surprisingly large shock, but Ash fortunately had a way around it.

"Metal Claw into the ground!" He countered. Pyro's hand claws flashed metallic silver as he lunged down, digging them into the ground just as the electricity slammed into him. Rodger and Magneton both looked surprised when their Thunderbolt fizzled harmlessly into the dirt, leaving Pyro sneering at the pair through bared fangs.

"Flamethrower!" Ash shouted.

With a loud roar, Pyro flared his wings, sucked in a deep breath, and breathed a torrent of yellow-orange flames from his maw. The river of fire surged towards Magneton, promising pain if it made contact. Ash thought that might be it for this battle when, to his surprise, several Magnetons appeared out of thin air.

It was a Double Team made in a wise moment- Ash couldn't really tell what had happened because Pyro's Flamethrower was still going strong and obscuring his vision, but now Magneton had the potential to be any one of the copies floating around. He called for his starter to stop the fiery assault and Pyro obeyed, growling as he glared at each and every one of the Double Team illusions now circling around him.

Rodger looked more relaxed now that he had the upper hand and smirked. "Magneton, Thunderbolt!"

All of the clones started sparking and Ash grit his teeth. This wasn't going to be fun, but they had to figure out which one was the original. "Take it!"

Pyro growled agreement and braced himself as the multiple Thunderbolts collided with his body. He roared in pain, feeling the electrical energy burning through his every nerve. It hurt a lot, but now he knew which Magneton was real- it was one of the two on his right side.

He didn't miss a beat and, while the lightning was still surging through him, roared out with a Flamethrower to smite the pair of electric types. One instantly disappeared and then the Thunderbolt was gone as the real Magneton frantically threw up a Protect to defend itself. Pyro snarled now that he had his prey in his sights. Around him, the remaining Double Team images disappeared.

Ash's eyes snapped to the Magneton that Pyro had targeted and he grinned. "Blast it's shield until it goes away, then use Brick Break!"

Pyro redoubled his efforts upon hearing his trainer's command, hammering Magneton's energy shield with a ruthless blaze. His flames curved around the barrier in rivers of fire so hot that Ash bet the heat alone would probably do a lot of damage if Protect wasn't still active. Pyro ran out of breath just as its shield disappeared, then he lunged and drove his glowing arm into one of Magneton's three bodies. The Magnemite that had been struck by Brick Break was briefly separated from the trio until their natural magnetism dragged them back together.

Pyro was about to attack again when Magneton blasted him with another Thunderbolt, causing him to roar in pained surprise. He'd half expected it to be stunned for a moment after getting hit by Brick Break, but apparently that wasn't the case this time.

Ash frowned. That was the second super effective hit Magneton had scored on Pyro and though he didn't think his partner would go down from it, he didn't want to chance it either. "Flamethrower! Finish it!"

His Charizard unleashed a blazing fury in response to Magneton's Thunderbolt, razing the electric type and the terrain around them with fire until the mixing elements exploded violently. Ash squinted and threw his arm up in front of him as the heat reached his corner of the field. It rolled over his skin in a dry wave and dissipated just as the black smoke from the explosion began to fade away.

Pyro and Magneton were still facing each other. His starter flexed his wings and roared challengingly despite the charring on his scales from the electric shocks. Magneton had black burn marks on its iron hide and managed to stay airborne for a few more seconds before it collapsed. The damage it had taken was just too much.

"Magneton is down!" Surge announced. "Round eight to the kid and his Charizard! Rodger, go take Magneton to the Nurse and get back here right after that."

Rodger was polite enough to offer Ash a respectful nod as he recalled his Pokemon. He responded with a nod of his own and a smile. "Magneton was pretty good."

"It did the best it could," Rodger commented simply. "I cannot ask it for anything more."

He left then to get Magneton healed. Pyro walked back over to Ash and growled happily as the boy lifted his hand to rub the fire type's nose. "That was great, Pyro. They put up a nice fight, huh?"

Pyro rumbled agreement. That was the most damage he'd taken since fighting against Sobek just after evolving. Magneton was probably one of the strongest Pokemon owned by the students here. Ash ran his hands over some of his starter's electrocuted scales and pulled his pokeball out. "Take a break, buddy. I want Spectre and Eevee to fight the last two opponents, okay?"

The Charizard nodded and disappeared in a flash of red light as Ash recalled him. He set Pyro's pokeball back on his belt and was reaching for Spectre's next when he heard a huff across the field.

Giselle was his ninth opponent.

"I suppose you've done alright for a total rookie," she scoffed. "But I'm not too surprised that you've beaten all the ones before me. They don't have natural talent like I do."

Ash adjusted his hat to let a bit of cool air flow over his head. "Is that right? Think you're good enough to beat me? If you haven't been working on that 'natural talent' then you won't be able to defeat my Pokemon."

She rolled her eyes. "I think I need to knock you down a peg. You'll be fighting the best member of my team, Cubone!"

Giselle threw a Luxury Ball up and the device released a considerably large Cubone. Ash blinked when he realized that it was nearly double the size of Paul's own Cubone and wondered how it hadn't evolved yet until he saw the round, grey stone hanging from around the ground type's neck.

"As any decent Pokemon trainer knows, it's important for a Pokemon to reach its fullest potential before evolving," Giselle flipped her hair and smirked confidently. "I gave my precious Cubone an Everstone for just that purpose since it's rather close to evolving- now I can take my time and maximize it's abilities in this form before it turns into Marowak."

Ash frowned at that. What Giselle said was true to a point- a Pokemon would develop best if it reached its maximum potential before evolving. Everstones were commonly used on Pokemon that evolved fast, such as bug types, in order for them to reach the highest level possible by delaying their evolution. But constantly repressing all that evolutionary energy could have a negative effect on the Pokemon holding the Everstone if they waited for too long. There was generally a limit to how long it was safe to restrain an evolution and he could only hope that Giselle hadn't made Cubone hold that for too long. It was nearly as big as a Marowak already.

He sent Spectre to combat her Pokemon. The ghost had been working hard lately to master Will-O-Wisp and although he hadn't gotten it down perfectly, it was certainly a lot better than when they had first started. Now Spectre could maintain the small fireballs long enough to hurl them at opponents, although they had a tendency to die out before reaching their target. His other techniques were well-rehearsed though, so he had full confidence that the small ghost could defeat Cubone.

Giselle looked almost offended by the sight of Spectre. "What is that? You send a Charizard out earlier, but now you send a Duskull against me? Are you mocking me?"

Spectre appeared to be legitimately offended for the first time Ash could remember. He narrowed his eyes. "Spectre's a lot stronger than you think. I wouldn't underestimate him."

She huffed again and glared at him. "Whatever. I'll still crush it. Cubone, use Iron Head!"

Cubone began to charge Spectre with surprising speed for such a small and bulky Pokemon. It's skull mask glowed metallic silver as it got into range and leaped at it's opponent with a battle cry.

"Avoid it!" Ash ordered. He didn't want Giselle to see what Spectre was capable of until it was too late for her to counter. Moreover, Spectre didn't have a wide range of techniques and that meant he could get predictable if he used all of his attacks early on.

Spectre easily floated away from Cubone's charge and turned as the ground type landed, then spun around to face the ghost once again. It brandished it's large bone club and tensed as Giselle called out her next command. "Focus Energy!"

Cubone squared it's posture and glared at Spectre as it focused all of the energy in it's body. Ash really didn't want it to get a lucky critical hit off and decided to interrupt that particular move before it could finish. "Shadow Sneak!"

The ghost flitted into a shadow on the ground and darted up to Cubone, smacking his own skull mask into the ground type's. Cubone recoiled with a cry of surprise and flailed it's bone club around, though it missed Spectre's wispy body by a few inches. Ash smirked, realizing that it had lost its focus and issued another command to shut down any more ideas Giselle had about increasing her Pokemon's attack power. "Will-O-Wisp!"

Spectre generated the red fireball just a few meters away and launched them with careful control. At this range, Ash doubted they would miss, but Giselle apparently wasn't willing to let him get away with that one. "Bonemerang!"

Cubone hurled it's bone club at the fireball, which was easily broken up by the impact while the Bonemerang continued flying. It hit Spectre in the face, although the ghost just made a hollow noise of surprise and didn't actually seem all that hurt by it. Ash wasn't shocked by the lack of damage- Spectre's mask was the toughest part of his body and incredibly hard to damage. Striking it with a blunt attack was useless unless there was a lot of force behind the attack.

The Bonemerang made its way back to Cubone and the ground type caught it's weapon with ease as Giselle ordered another attack. "Bone Rush!"

Cubone's club glowed blue and extended about a foot in either direction as it charged Spectre once more. It began to swipe and swing the weapon at the Duskull, who floated around each strike as they came to evade it. A few of the attacks did hit Spectre, but they only made him float backwards a little and most bounced off of his mask without doing much of anything.

Giselle looked frustrated by the lack of progress on her part. She had probably figured out that Spectre was a defensive fighter and was a poor match for her offense-oriented Cubone. "Enough! Use Focus Energy again and this time don't mess up!"

Her Pokemon stopped using Bone Rush and retreated, tensing up to complete the technique that it had earlier failed. Ash wasn't having any of that and immediately countered. "Shadow Ball! Don't let it concentrate!"

Spectre generated a sphere of pitch-black energy in front of him and launched the ghost type move at Cubone with speed and accuracy honed from countless hours of training. Ash felt a surge of pride as the attack showed no signs of faltering and knew that his partner had truly mastered Shadow Ball to make it his own.

Giselle sneered. "Bonemerang!"

Cubone hurled the Bonemerang with just as much accuracy and the colliding attacks sent the Shadow Ball off-course, where it hit the ground and exploded. The Bonemerang flew wide and high, but it was returning to its owner. Ash saw a chance to strike Cubone while it was unarmed and took it. "Will-O-Wisp!"

Spectre's eye gleamed as he generated the red fireball, though he held it for a few seconds longer than he had earlier before launching the attack. Ash figured he was probably making sure it was stronger this time, but the precious seconds he'd sacrificed for that power meant Cubone's club was almost back to its owner. He bit back his frustration as the ground type snagged it's weapon out of the air and brandished it as Focus Energy was completed.

Giselle was grinning now. "Bone Club. Blow that little fireball out!"

Cubone casually swung it's club with greater force now that it's power was concentrated. Ash fully expected it to wipe Will-O-Wisp out now that it was stronger than before-

-he did not expect the crimson and black explosion which ripped out from the Will-O-Wisp as Cubone made contact with it. The ground type squealed in shock as it was sent flying and crashed into the ground with no small amount of force. Giselle was gaping and Ash was pretty sure he looked exactly like her. The onlookers looked just as dumbfounded as Spectre gleefully made his hollow laugh.

It took him a few moments to realize exactly what Spectre had done. The ghost had created Will-O-Wisp as he'd been taught to do, then formed a Shadow Ball at its core. Cubone had seen the red flames and thought nothing of it when it swung the club, taking it completely by surprise when it found the explosive ghost type move to be hiding underneath Will-O-Wisp.

When had Spectre learned that? They'd only started working on Will-O-Wisp a few weeks ago and it wasn't even complete! How had he-


Understanding dawned on him when Ash realized that Spectre had taken his understanding of Will-O-Wisp's creation being similar to Shadow Ball's literally. Spectre had trained for Will-O-Wisp by forming it around his own Shadow Ball to maintain the shape and concentration of energy. In that process, he'd created a combination move of his own, though Ash had no idea he'd been working on that as well. He was just as surprised as everyone else.

Spectre looked far too satisfied and Ash was pretty sure his pranking talents had played a part in this technique being formed, but it worked and frankly he was impressed.

Cubone got up slowly and staggered, reeling from the surprise Shadow Ball and obviously not fully recovered. Ash decided to end the battle while Giselle and her Pokemon were still stunned. "Shadow Sneak!"

Spectre slipped into the darkness before either of their opponents could react and slammed his mask into Cubone's stomach. The ground type squealed in distress again, but didn't go down and flailed its weapon again, striking Spectre with a glancing blow. Ash decided a stronger attack was necessary just as Giselle snapped out of her daze and realized that she was in trouble. "Disable!"

The Duskull's red eye glowed brightly and Cubone's flailing body froze in a red layer of energy, leaving it briefly suspended as Ash called for Spectre to finish the battle. "Shadow Ball."

A blast of ghostly energy smote Cubone right in the face and sent it skidding across the field until it came to a stop at Giselle's feet. It's mask had shifted slightly to cover its eyes, but Ash knew from the way it slumped to the ground that it was unconscious. Cubone's trainer stared at her Pokemon in shock as Surge announced his ninth victory.

"Cubone is down! Round nine to the kid!"

Giselle fell to her knees and recalled Cubone without a word. She stayed on her side of the field until Surge's gruff voice made her flinch. "To the Nurse, missy. Your Pokemon needs to be healed and the kid still has to beat one more of you brats before this is over."

She nodded jerkily and, clenching Cubone's Luxury Ball in her hand, ran off towards the building. Ash almost felt bad for her, but considering all that she had said to spite him and his Pokemon, he shoved those sympathetic feelings to the side and concentrated on Spectre, who was now floating over to him with a satisfied look in his red eye.

Ash held his hand out so Spectre could float over it. He smiled at the little ghost. "That was fantastic, Spectre. When did you figure out how to do that?"

Spectre merely chuckled in that familiar, hollow way and Ash shook his head, still smiling. "We'll have to come up with a special name for that one, buddy. You surprised even me."

The Duskull made a happy backflip that caused him to laugh a little. "Alright, now how about you take a break? Eevee still needs to battle and then we'll be done here."

Spectre nodded as he was recalled back into his pokeball and Ash set the device back on his belt. He grabbed Eevee's Luxury Ball just as his last opponent, Courtney, made her way onto the field.

She stared at him with a calm expression, but far from the arrogant ways of her class, seemed to be taking him a lot more seriously. "Subject has recalled his fifth Pokemon. Analysis indicates this means he intends to use his sixth for this battle. Next opponent will possess full strength. Calculating options…"

He didn't have the foggiest idea what she was going on about, but Ash assumed that Courtney was trying to figure out which Pokemon she should use. Without missing a beat, he tapped the release on the capture device in his hand and set Eevee loose. She shook herself and glanced at him, to which he smiled. "Feeling up to a quick battle, girl?"

Eevee considered that and nodded, turning to face Courtney while the lilac-haired girl stared back almost robotically. "Adversary identified as an Eevee. Normal type. Species' preferred fighting style based on attack, speed…likely has low defenses. Best option for victory is…"

Courtney enlarged a regular pokeball and threw it up into the air, releasing what Ash recognized as a Vulpix. The fox Pokemon wagged its six tails and shook its luxurious red fur, showing that it was obviously well-cared for. Ash wasn't sure if that entailed to how powerful it was, but he remembered a saying that the brighter a Vulpix's coat, the stronger it was. This one looked to be in pretty good condition.

Ash made the first move. "Quick Attack!"

Eevee slipped into the technique easily, blurring away as she charged Vulpix. The fire type didn't move an inch until it's trainer gave it a command. "Quick Attack. Evade it."

Vulpix used the same move as Eevee and darted away just as she closed in. Eevee came to a quick stop and lunged after it with a fierce cry. Ash would admit he was impressed by Vulpix's speed- it wasn't as fast as Eevee and she was closing in, but there was no denying that it was far faster than any of the other Pokemon he'd battled here.

Eevee was drawing in close to Vulpix and made to pounce when Courtney suddenly made a new order. "Faint Attack."

Vulpix instantly skidded to a half and spun in a full circle to slam its six tails into Eevee as the normal type, caught off-guard by her opponent's unexpected stop, left herself open to a counter. Eevee squeaked with surprise and rolled through the dirt for a few seconds, but she recovered quickly and regained her footing as Vulpix spun again to face her. She growled at the fire type, who was just as expressionless as its trainer.

Courtney continued her string of commands now that the battle was flowing in her favor. "Flamethrower."

"Shadow Ball!" Ash ordered.

Eevee generated the ghost type move in an instant and launched it just as Vulpix opened its mouth and released a stream of hot orange fire, which collided with Shadow Ball and exploded violently. The result was a cloud of black smoke that obscured Ash and Eevee's vision, leaving them tense and unable to see their opponents.

Ash thought he heard Courtney mutter something on the other side of the field and narrowed his eyes. "Be careful, Eevee."

She growled agreement and began stalking back and forth as the smoke began to clear-

-Vulpix lunged out of the remaining smoke cloaked in fire and charged with surprising speed. Ash barely managed to yell a counterattack before the fire type could hit Eevee. "Dodge! Quick Attack!"

Eevee somehow pulled the attack off and dodged by a hair's breadth- literally. Ash could see her fur was slightly singed as Vulpix lunged past her, spun around, and charged again with its cloak of fire still going strong. It wasn't Flare Blitz, but Ash couldn't remember seeing a move like that before. He watched as Eevee continued to evade by using Quick Attack, but- was it just him or was Vulpix getting faster?

His suspicion was confirmed as Vulpix suddenly accelerated and collided with Eevee's left flank, causing her to cry out in pain. Eevee spun around on reflex with bared teeth and bit Vulpix's shoulder in retaliation to make it squeal. But with the flames still wreathing her opponent's body, she was forced to release it quickly.

Vulpix wisely backed off before Eevee could bite it again and retreated to Courtney's side of the field. The girl was completely expressionless and it was making Ash a little wary. She was a lot different from any of the previous students- Courtney was detached, calculating, and cool. She hadn't shown even a hint of losing control of her emotions and continued the battle relentlessly.

Yes, he could see why she was the best student here.

Eevee was panting and glaring at Vulpix. She was irritated that the fire type had managed to catch up with her and her mouth stung after she bit into its flame-cloaked shoulder. She was pissed and annoyed and she wanted to beat the expressionless look off of that fox's face-


She jerked her gaze back at Ash, who looked at her with concern. "Calm down. If you get riled up, we'll just be playing into their hands. Take a breath, girl."

Eevee really didn't want to. She wanted to take her anger out on their opponent and win. But she also respected Ash and his decisions, so she made an effort and took a deep breath while their opponents were regrouping. She felt a lot of the anger settle in the pit of her stomach and calmed down a bit. She was still quite furious with how easily Vulpix had outplayed and struck her, but she had a grip on it now.

Courtney was still watching them with her analyzing gaze. "Eevee has taken two direct hits. Accounting for the chance that it is of a higher level than Vulpix…remaining stamina likely at seventy-five percent. Enhanced offense necessary. Began attack phase two. Flame Burst."

Vulpix opened its mouth and spat a small fireball at Eevee, which exploded halfway to her and turned into several tiny fireballs. Each one was only good for a little bit of damage, but if they all hit then that damage would add up quickly. "Swift!"

Eevee retaliated by unleashing a flurry of energy stars, which collided with the Flame Burst and neutralized it. Ash saw Vulpix beginning to run towards them and narrowed his eyes. "Shadow Ball!"

The ghost type move was quickly formed and launched at Vulpix, who made to dodge until Courtney gave a new order. "Intercept it."

Ash stared in surprise when Vulpix charged right into the Shadow Ball and squealed as the powerful attack sent it skidding away. That had obviously hurt, so what was Courtney gunning for? He'd thought she was too calm to get overconfident and charge right into an attack.

He found out a second later. "Payback."

The blood drained from his face. "Eevee, dodge!"

Vulpix's tails glowed with a menacing black aura and it lunged at Eevee. Payback took the damage that had just been done by an enemy attack and transferred it into negative energy that could be directed back at the opponent. If it made contact, it was guaranteed to hurt.

Though Eevee made to evade the attack, Ash realized a major problem as Vulpix lunged with speed that was greater than before- it was faster than Eevee now even though it wasn't using the fire type move from earlier. He decided that the only way to avoid taking serious damage was to fight fire with fire. "Iron Tail!"

Eevee's tail glowed metallic silver as she charged Vulpix with a fierce cry. The fire type skidded to a stop and spun to lash its tails at Eevee as the normal type made a leap into the air and flipped forward, driving Iron Tail directly into Payback.

Ash watched tensely as the attacks pushed against each other for several seconds before Eevee and Vulpix were forced away from each other. Eevee flipped back and landed easily on her feet, although she looked tired. Vulpix skidded away, appearing to be equally exhausted as its Payback faded away.

Courtney's expressionless face had not changed. Ash wasn't sure what to make of that.

He clenched his fist. Vulpix had more battle experience than the other Pokemon he'd seen her thus far with the exception of Hitmonchan and maybe Cubone. It was well-trained and although it wasn't as powerful as Eevee, it obviously had a wide range of moves to shift the tide of battle in Courtney's favor. Who knew what else it could-

"-I forfeit."

Ash blinked dumbly. "Huh?"

Courtney recalled Vulpix and stared at him with that unchanging, calm gaze. "Eevee is too high a level for Vulpix to defeat. Any of our strategies would inevitably result in a battle of attrition at best. Eevee's higher stamina means it would win in the end. I calculate my chances of victory to be low at only 13%. There is no reason to continue fighting with such odds."

Eevee looked as dumbfounded as Ash. She wasn't sure if she should feel proud or insulted that her opponents had withdrawn early in the face of her strength.

Courtney glanced at Surge, who had an eyebrow raised, but hadn't said anything. "You may call the match. I am not of sufficient level to defeat him."

Surge grunted. "Well, if you're sure. Fine. The kid wins this round as well. That's all ten opponents cleared!"

Ash did feel proud for beating all ten of them. Though his battle with Courtney had ended prematurely, it had been a long streak that pushed him to adapt to each of his team's individual strengths one after another. Maybe that was what it was like to fight in a full six on six battle- he hadn't experienced one of those yet, but this was the closest he'd come thus far in his journey.

With the fighting over, he knelt as Eevee padded over to him. "Good girl."

She nodded, still a little confused after their opponent's surrender. Ash smiled at her. "I know that ended quicker than we thought, but you really did fight well, girl. I'm proud of you."

Eevee perked up a little, pleased by her trainer's praise. When had she started enjoying it when Ash expressed his pride in her? It had been a while since she started to care about his opinions. She didn't really remember how long it had been going on, but it felt good.

The sound of heavy boots interrupted their moment as Surge came up to them. The massive man grinned down at Ash and Eevee. "You guys did real good. How about you go heal up at the Pokemon Center? I can handle the rest of this class for the day. But you'll be coming back here every day at this time for more battle training with these kids."

Ash raised an eyebrow. "You want me to fight them all again?"

"Nothing as crazy as today," Surge assured him. "But you'll be facing a few of them to display certain battle skills every day. Simple stuff, but necessary. Plus who knows? Maybe you'll get that Krokorok of yours some practice with Moxie. It's still got a lot of trouble controlling itself."

"I know," Ash sighed. He picked up Eevee as he stood and looked at Surge again. "So, same time tomorrow?"

"Don't be late," Surge grunted.

He wouldn't be. Ash had a feeling Surge would go full military on him if he missed one of these classes. This was, after all, how he was paying the giant back for taking care of Pikachu.

He would own up to that.

"You guys did really well today," Ash told his team after he got them back from Nurse Joy. They were relaxing in his room in the Pokemon Center and felt much better after the many battles they'd fought. His team responded to his compliment with a chorus of happy sounds and Ash smiled. "I didn't think we'd be fighting ten opponents in a row. But we won't have to do that again while we're here. There'll be a few battles every day, but nothing as crazy as before."

He sat on the edge of his bed while his team crowded around him. Ash turned his PokeNav on and got to the notes section where he could jot down information for training. "Okay, since we're going to be fighting a lot, we'll keep working hard to get you guys ready for the St. Anne tournament, but I'm going to change a few things up for some of you."

"Pyro, I want you working on fighting in the air during these battles," Ash told him. "You won today, but Pidgeotto wasn't that experienced either. If you keep letting someone hammer you like that in midair, a stronger opponent might take you out. Work on dodging and making your attacks as accurate as possible, okay?"

The Charizard growled affirmative. Ash had no doubt that Pyro would annihilate every one of his opponents at the school, but he still wanted to work on evasion. His starter wasn't what most considered to be a tank and a powerful opponent would easily take advantage of his inability to dodge effectively. Increasing his evasion skills was priority number one for Pyro.

"Sobek," Ash looked at the croc, who was a little more put-out than usual after he'd snapped earlier. "I know that Moxie is difficult for you to control, but we've got to work on it. If you snap like that in the middle of battle, you could seriously hurt someone. We have to find a way for you to keep a hold of yourself whenever Moxie gets triggered, okay? I'm not sure exactly how, but maybe try focusing on something that keeps you calm?"

Sobek nodded slowly and Ash felt a little bad by how guilty the Krokorok looked. He knew he'd messed up by getting out of hand like that, but he just couldn't help it. Slipping into his rage and primal instincts was so easy when Moxie caused his power to rise. It was intoxicating to him and felt completely natural, but he caused problems when he became drunk on that power.

He shook his head. They'd figure it out eventually.

"Eevee, I want you to focus on improving your battle skills," he told her. Eevee listened carefully as Ash went on. "You're really good at fighting, I just want you to get more experience, okay? Do your best and push yourself."

She chittered softly in response. Ash turned to Douse next.

"I know we've already talked about this, but keep working on Hydro Pump," Ash's lips curved up into a grin at the Poliwhirl's enthusiastic grunt. "You did really well defeating Hitmonchan with it today, but there's still room for you to improve it. If you work hard, maybe you'll master it by the time the St. Anne rolls around."

Douse beat his white fist against the spiral pattern on his belly and bounced, eager to please and master the water type move that would lead to his evolution. Ash really was looking forward to that one.

"Spectre," he glanced up at the ghost, who had taken to floating over Ash's head. "That was great how you used that new combination move earlier. I was thinking about calling it Ghost Flare. What do you think?"

The Duskull made a hollow sound of approval and Ash smiled. Ghost Flare was simply a Shadow Ball covered up by Will-O-Wisp. The opponents would see the flames, but not realize that there was a hidden move beneath them. Of course, no sane enemy would allow themselves to be hit by a fireball without good reason, but the hidden Shadow Ball beneath would be a very unpleasant surprise for anything that didn't outright resist ghost type moves.

"Ghost Flare it is. I want you to keep practicing it when we battle, but also make sure you work on your normal Will-O-Wisp as well," Ash told him. "There's a lot more we can do with that move once you get it down perfectly.

Spectre settled onto Ash's head and agreed with another hollow noise. Ash turned at last to Jasmine.

"You'll be doing pretty much the same as Eevee- just getting battle experience," Ash explained to her. "But I'd also like for you to work on Aqua Tail. It takes you a bit of time to use it effectively and it would have been great against Graveler today. You did really well beating it with Dragon Tail, but let's make sure we master Aqua Tail as well, okay?"

She trilled eagerly and her tail twitched in response. Ash smiled at his small dragon. She really was getting comfortable with him and the rest of the team and working just as hard as the others.

They wouldn't let him down.

"Stone Edge!" Ash shouted.

Sobek slammed his fist into the dirt field and launched a jagged pillar of stone right into Marowak's stomach, sending the ground type flying through the air. Ash grinned as Marowak hit the ground and passed out, unable to continue while Giselle puffed up her cheek in frustration. She had let her Cubone evolve about two days ago to give them a better shot at defeating Ash, but Sobek already had one Moxie boost up and he was still much stronger.

They'd been helping Surge and Norman train the students for nearly two weeks. The St. Anne was due to arrive in the next thirty six hours and Ash was more fired up than usual, as were his team. They'd made great progress by battling the Pokemon owned by Giselle and the rest of the students.

Spectre had gotten Will-O-Wisp down almost perfectly and subsequently had gotten better with his new Ghost Flare combination. Ash was so impressed with his progress that he tried to teach the little ghost how to use Hex, but they were drawing a blank on that particular move. It was going to take a while to learn.

Pyro's aerial skills were improving as he frequently participated in sky battles against Pidgeotto and other flying types owned my the students. He was still a bit stiff in his movements, but he dodged a lot of the attacks now and his accuracy was improving, although Ash still smirked when he remembered the Charizard's sheepish look when one of his Flamethrowers set a school tree on fire.

Douse had blasted that tree before it could burn to the ground with a nearly perfected Hydro Pump. It was absurdly close to being mastered and Ash was certain he would have it down by the time the St. Anne came into port. If Douse evolved by then, he would become a major player in the battles to come.

Eevee and Jasmine had both been gaining a lot of experience in battle. They were becoming as strong and efficient as other powerhouses in his team, defeating enemies swiftly and with increasing ease. Jasmine had been working on Aqua Tail more and although it still took her some time to prepare the water type move, there was noticeable improvement. Eevee had simply focused on increasing her power and now Ash winced whenever her Iron Tail made contact with an opponent- she'd somehow groomed that technique to the same caliber as her Shadow Balls.

His focus now was Sobek, and therein lay the problem.

Moxie had been an absolute pain to work on. Sobek couldn't maintain control past boost number three and the one time he got a fourth boost, Surge had to knock him out with Raichu (Ash still shivered when he remembered the vicious Brick Break Raichu delivered to the unsuspecting Krokorok) and practically chewed Sobek out right there on the field after he regained consciousness.

Sobek had been so frustrated. He just couldn't focus once the adrenaline kicked in. Ash had tried several different methods with him- staying calm, focusing on something he liked, even controlling his breathing in the middle of battle- nothing worked. Moxie was his own unique drug and its influence was too much for anything they'd thought up so far.

Back to the present, Sobek's victory over Marowak meant that he gained himself a second Moxie boost. His eyes flared with red as the power flowed through his body, a sensation that brought him pleasure and anger and a lust for more when the boost stopped. He snarled and flexed his claws as Giselle was replaced by Surge.

The electric Gym Leader now refused to let Sobek fight any of the students after he gained a second power increase. It was too dangerous for the students' weaker Pokemon and frankly, it made Ash feel better. Surge's Pokemon weren't to be coddled and proved time and time again that they were monsters to be reckoned with.

Raichu was their opponent today. The electric mouse snickered at Sobek while the croc bared his fangs in aggressive fury, ready to annihilate his opponent and get his next enhancement.

"Sobek!" Ash called. The Krokorok turned to stare at his trainer, who gave him a steady look. "Remember to stay calm. If you snap, I'll end the battle."

He snarled in displeasure, but obeyed. Sobek wanted another boost and running riot was usually the quickest way to get it, but he would fight under Ash's orders.

Surge crossed his arms across the field. "Close in with Quick Attack."

Raichu slipped into the speedy technique with a single step, blurring towards Sobek while the Krokorok roared a challenge. Ash snapped a counterattack immediately. "Stone Edge!"

Sobek slammed his fist into the ground and triggered a line of jagged stone to erupt from the earth, but Raichu leapt onto the stone blades and continued charging. Surge barked another order and then Raichu slammed a glowing fist into Sobek's skull, causing him to roar in pain from the super-effective Brick Break.

Ash gritted his teeth. Sobek lost control a lot more quickly when he took a lot of damage.

The Krokorok snarled, spittle flying from his jaws as he spun and smashed his tail into Raichu before the electric type could retreat. Raichu yelped, but it recovered quickly and landed on its feet. Sobek leered at it, but he had enough control to wait for Ash's next order. "Crunch!"

Sobek lunged with his jaws open wide, ready to sink his fangs into Raichu's body and tear it apart. The large electric mouse tensed as he got closer until Surge gave his own command. "Iron Tail!"

Raichu's long tail glowed silver as it spun, slamming the attack into Sobek's lower jaw and forcing his mouth closed. It followed up by delivering a horrifyingly powerful Mega Kick into the Krokorok's stomach on Surge's command, which knocked the breath out of Sobek and sent him flying in the opposite direction.

He landed face-first in the dirt and was unconscious immediately. The red haze of Moxie disappeared with his defeat.

Surge grunted as Raichu scurried over to him. "Show's over."

Fortunately, Sobek had only been knocked out for a brief few moments and upon regaining consciousness, glared balefully at the sniggering electric type. He pushed himself to his feet and his jaws opened just enough to let out a hateful hiss as he glared at the mouse. It was an irritating little thing and he wanted to just crush it-


Sobek turned his glare on Ash, who was unfazed by the rage-filled eyes. "I know you want to fight again, but you've got to calm down."


Why did he have to be calm to use Moxie? His rage was heightened by the adrenaline, sure, but it made him stronger! What was the point of being calm? It didn't make him any stronger than his rage did! There was nothing to be gained by trying all these frustratingly useless techniques!

Suddenly he wasn't sure if Ash was worth the frustration.

Sobek forgot about Raichu as he glared at his trainer. Ash didn't understand what Moxie did to him- it was intoxicating in the best ways and trying to keep a lid on it was useless. He was trying to fight instincts that were completely necessary in battle! Calm? Sobek didn't do calm! Even before Moxie surged through him, he was always about aggression and relentless attacks! That was him! That was the way he fought!

If Ash didn't recognize that, he wasn't worthy of being his trainer.

Ash stared as Sobek fully turned towards him. "Sobek?"

The Krokorok's lips lifted into a snarl and then he roared, letting all of his rage and frustration out in a single, terrible sound that sent shivers down Ash's spine. Sobek's baleful eyes were focused entirely on him as he took a step towards his trainer. Ash's eyes widened. Surely Sobek wouldn't-

-Sobek lunged.

Ash stepped back on sheer reflex and suddenly his eyes were mere inches away from those gleaming ivories that snapped so close to his face. The Krokorok roared again and some of the students watching let out panicked yells. Norman was hurriedly grabbing a pokeball from his belt and he heard Surge barking a command to Raichu-

He lifted his hand and placed it on Sobek's snout.

The Krokorok's eyes bulged as he glared at Ash for having the audacity to ignore his fury. That hand wouldn't be on his nose for much longer if he had anything to say about it.

"I'm sorry."

Even in his rage, that threw Sobek for a loop. Sorry?

For what?

Ash frowned at his partner. "This isn't working, is it? Trying to stay calm is making things worse."

Sobek growled. He wouldn't usually consider his trainer an idiot but that much should've been obvious.

Ash's hand slid from the top of his snout and under Sobek's jaw to scratch at the scales there. "It's not really us, right? You don't really do calm when you're fighting. I'm not sure how I forgot that."

…Okay so maybe Ash wasn't a complete idiot. Sobek was still glaring at him, but he wasn't quite as interested in biting off his trainer's hand anymore. The boy was starting to get the right idea.

"We still can't let you rampage," he sighed. Sobek's lips curled up to reveal his teeth. He was going in the wrong direction again.

"But there's no way to keep you calm," Ash went on, scratching at the Krokorok's scales while he met Sobek's eyes with his own. "Let's try a compromise."

How on earth did he plan on accomplishing that?

"No matter how angry you get," he murmured. "No matter how powerful you become, I want you to focus on just my voice. Nothing else. Don't try to calm yourself down, but don't lost control. I want you to win, Sobek. I want you to get stronger and stronger. I know you do, too."

Now there was something they could agree on. Sobek's snarl disappeared as he listened to his trainer. Ash smiled at him gently. "So I want you to trust me. Trust me when I tell you to do something and I'll trust you. We'll go with the flow, alright? No more holding you back."

Sobek silently considered his words before slowly nodding. Ash took his pack off and knelt down to open it up. "Let's get you a berry and a potion to help fix those wounds now, okay?"

The Krokorok grunted. He would trust Ash. His trainer hadn't truly let him down before.

Ash glanced up at Surge, who was still watching them warily while Raichu was perched on the giant's shoulder, ready to leap into action if necessary. "We're alright now, but can I have a minute to heal Sobek?"

Surge nodded, his eyes still guarded and obviously untrusting of the Krokorok who had almost attacked his own trainer. Raichu chittered something, but relaxed when the giant stepped off the field.

Ash gave Sobek an Oran berry and was spraying the Krokorok's wounds with a potion when he heard a commotion from the side of the field. Norman was speaking urgently into a PokeNav, looking more panicked than Ash could ever remember seeing him.

He blinked in confusion. "What's going on over there?"

They walked over to where Norman was still talking with a deep frown on his face. "Okay. I'll go check the docks now. Let me know if you find her."

He hung up and glanced at Surge. "I have to go. Can you watch the class for a while?"

Surge arched an eyebrow. "Something happen?"

"My daughter's gone missing," Norman replied. "She couldn't have gotten far, but my wife is panicking and Vermillion City is a big place. I have to go."

Ash frowned. He wanted to help- he liked Norman from the few times they'd spoken with each other and he wasn't completely necessary to help the class. "I'll help search too."

Norman shot him a grateful look and tapped the screen on his PokeNav a few times before showing Ash a picture of a small girl with short, brown hair and big blue eyes. "Her name is May. She's eight years old. My wife is going to search in the area by the Pokemon Center and I'm going to cover the docks."

That was most of the western section of Vermillion City, so Ash opted to try the east. "I'll check by the Gym and the gate to Route 11. Give me your PokeNav number so I can call you if I find her."

"Thank you, Ash," Norman said gratefully. "You're a huge help."

Surge had his arms crossed. "I'll stay here and let you know if she somehow pops up here, but don't leave me alone with these brats for too long. It takes all my self-restraint to not shock most of them into next month."

Ash hid a smile at that. He knew Surge was (mostly) joking, but it was still hilarious to see the students all collectively take a step away from him.

He glanced at Sobek. "Let's go find her, buddy."

Sobek agreed and ran off with his trainer.

They ended up scouring the area around Vermillion Gym first and checked the edge of town by Route 11 when they didn't find her there, asking around to see if anyone had seen May in the area. Unfortunately, no one had. Ash was about to call Norman to tell him that she wasn't around when he got a tip from a woman coming down from the northern part of the city- she had seen a little girl fitting May's description by the construction site just north of the Gym.

Ash had no idea what was being built, but it was apparently going to be a huge department store of some kind like the one in Celadon City. He and Sobek began to search around the site and called frequently to see if the girl would respond.

"May!" He tried again. "If you're there, call back! Your dad is looking for you!"

He went quiet, but there was no response. Ash sighed and took his hat off for a minute to run his fingers through his hair. It was pretty hot outside. "Geez, where is she?"

Sobek shrugged. He was just an extra pair of eyes to keep an eye out for the girl. It wasn't like he could call her name out.

They were just about to leave and try somewhere else when he heard a scream.

Ash froze. The voice belonged to a child, he was sure. He and Sobek ran towards the source and went faster when they heard an angry adult yelling. "Shut up, you brat! It's your own fault for running into us!"

They turned a corner to find out what all the commotion was for and-

-his heart stopped for a second.

Four men were surrounding a little girl, who was in tears and sobbing while one of the men gripped her arm painfully tight. That in itself would have been enough to make Ash intervene if it wasn't for the uniforms the men wore.

Black. Long sleeves and pants. Black hats. A large, red R on the front of their shirts.


He forgot how to breathe for a second. Memories of Pikachu being gored and nearly dying at the hands of Proton and the other Admins-

-a growl jerked him out of his stupor. Ash glanced at Sobek, who was baring his fangs and glaring with fury at the Rockets. Under any other circumstances, Ash would have recalled him and run to the nearest police station.

But they could not run.

Because the girl was definitely May. Ash recognized her from Norman's picture and he couldn't leave her with Rockets who were, for some reason, intent on hurting her. Even if it wasn't May, he could not abandon a child to Team Rocket's cruelty.

The grunts had yet to notice him or Sobek. One of them leered at May with an angry expression. "We're going to teach you a lesson. You don't get in the way of adults who have important business. Since you found out that we've been working on making this building into a new base, we can't let you go. You'll be coming with us and you won't be coming back here. If you try to get away, we'll break every bone in your little body."

May looked terrified and she sobbed again. The Rocket who'd just spoken raised his hand as if to hit her. "I said shut up, you stupid little-"


The grunts whirled around as Ash yelled at them. He'd set Pyro loose to help out and the Charizard looked absolutely irate upon seeing the Rockets in front of him. He and Sobek were snarling menacingly, baring sharp fangs as they prepared to fight.

The Rocket that had been yelling at May (and who Ash assumed was the leader of this group) sneered at him. "Little boy, playing the hero here will only get you hurt. Run along and play somewhere else."

"I'm not playing with you," Ash growled. "I'm going to destroy you if you don't let her go."

The grunts laughed at that. He clenched his fist and snapped at them. "Don't believe me? Do any of you know what happened to your base in Celadon City?"

That shut them up, or at least it stopped their laughter. The lead grunt raised an eyebrow. "Ah?"

"I stormed that base and crushed it with my Pokemon," Ash declared. "I'll do the same to this new one you're trying to make here. There won't be anything left of it by the time I'm through."

It wasn't a total lie, but he hoped that the exaggeration would be enough to make the Rockets back off. Unfortunately, that was not the case.

"You stormed that base?" The leader said disbelievingly. "I heard that there were some children causing problems, but…well, whatever. If what you say is true, we'd be in for quite the promotion if we dragged you back to our Admin."

Ash grit his teeth. Fight it was, then.

"Pyro, blast them from the sky," he muttered. "Sobek, crush whatever comes your way. Let's make this quick. I don't want to risk them hurting her."

One grunt kept May in his grasp while the other three released two Pokemon each- a Zubat, Golbat, two Koffing, a Grimer, and a Houndour. Ash saw nothing he couldn't crush without much trouble. The lead grunt sneered at him. "Attack."

Pyro and Sobek went into action instantly.

The Charizard surged into the air and began to blast at the Zubat and Golbat with Flamethrowers. The bats evaded his first attack, but it kept going and slammed into one of the Koffing, igniting the poison type in a brutal explosion. He chased the bats as they tried to evade more of his fiery wrath, roaring after them in fury.

Sobek immediately punched the ground and triggered a Stone Edge, which pierced Grimer and cut the poison type in half. It was always gruesome to watch, but Grimer was biologically immortal to physical attacks. Though it was cut in half, the two parts would regrow into new Grimer. But for now, it was out of the fight. Sobek's eyes flared as Moxie surged through him.

Ash grinned darkly. As he expected, the grunts' Pokemon weren't very powerful without an Admin behind them. In the face of his two strongest Pokemon, they were just fodder.

Pyro had already dispatched the Zubat with another well-aimed Flamethrower and was currently slashing at the Golbat, who screeched and bit at him angrily. It wouldn't last very long against Pyro's fury. Sobek was shaking the Houndour ruthlessly in his jaws and hurled it at the Koffing that Pyro had blasted earlier. The resulting collision knocked out both of the Rockets' Pokemon and he roared as his second Moxie boost activated.

A shriek split the air as Pyro crushed Golbat out of the air with Mega Punch and Ash glared at the last Koffing floating by the Rockets. "Stone Edge!"

Koffing was sent flying as the blade of stone punched into its round body and it crashed to the ground beside the rest of the defeated Pokemon. The Rockets stared at Ash and his two Pokemon with shock.

"Maybe he really did storm our base," one of them muttered nervously.

"This kid is seriously bad news," the leader exclaimed. He reached for another pokeball and glared at the boy. "We don't have a choice. This was supposed to be a gift for Proton, but under the circumstances…I shall assume full responsibility."

Ash wasn't sure what he was expecting, but a Steelix was not high up on his list.

The titanic, iron serpent let out a titanic bellow and the ground shook beneath their feet. It glared at Ash and his team from twenty feet high with a fury that spoke of madness. The boy cringed. This wasn't one of the weak grunt Pokemon that they could beat with an attack or two- this was a monster probably on the same level as Proton's Rhydon.

Sobek snarled at it balefully and roared a challenge right back as Ash braced himself for a difficult fight.

"Steelix, the three before you are enemies," the lead grunt said casually with an evil sneer on his face. "Please turn them into stains on the street."

Steelix roared again and began to move.

"Pyro, get into the air! Blast it with Flamethrower!" Ash shouted. "Sobek, use Stone Edge to keep it away! Hammer it with everything you've got!"

The command was music to Sobek's ears. He slammed his fist into the ground and triggered several stone blades to erupt and crash into Steelix, although he was annoyed when they broke against the serpent's iron hide. Pyro surged into the air and unleashed a torrent of fire upon the steel type, but Steelix roared at him and generated a concentration of silver energy in its mouth.

Ash threw his hand up as it released the energy in a blinding energy beam. It had to be Flash Cannon. Pyro barely flew out of the way and spat another Flamethrower in response, but Steelix merely turned it's massive head to redirect it's Flash Cannon after the flying Charizard.

Sobek was annoyed that Steelix didn't even pay attention to his Stone Edges and instead slammed his foot into the ground, causing the earth beneath Steelix's body to give way into a Sand Tomb. The steel type roared with annoyance and glared at Sobek, then fired a blistering Flash Cannon at him instead.

"Sobek, dodge it!" Ash yelled.

The Krokorok dove out of the way and avoided the attack, which razed the ground and left a deep trench where Sobek had stood moments before. He kept rushing as Steelix tried to redirect the blast after him, but Flash Cannon was cut short as Pyro smote their enemy with a Flamethrower that took Steelix in the face, hurting the iron serpent enough for it to redirect its attention elsewhere. Sobek launched more Stone Edges at it, but they kept breaking upon contact with its incredibly tough hide.

Ash grit his teeth. Steelix was barely fazed by their assault- it hurt, yes, but they weren't doing enough damage. Ash didn't even want to know what would happen if it managed to connect one of its attacks with them.

What were they supposed to do?

Steelix suddenly turned its attention back to Sobek and its massive tail glowed bright silver. Ash blanched at the enormous Iron Tail as it swing down to crush his partner. "Look out!"

Sobek saw the attack coming, but to Ash's horror, he didn't dodge. Instead, his claws turned jet black and he retaliated with Foul Play. He was three Moxie boosts in and Ash could see the crimson glowing off his scales as he collided with the Iron Tail, pushing with every ounce of his might in order to win. Steelix was so heavy and powerful that his body was being cratered into the ground, but with a mighty roar and an enormous heave, Sobek hurled the Iron Tail back and made the enormous appendage collide with Steelix's face.

Steelix let out a metallic howl of pain as its own attack smashed it backwards. Its head hit the ground hard and left the mighty serpent stunned for several seconds even as the Rocket grunts yelled at it to get back up. Ash was relieved for a moment until he saw Sobek slump to his knees.

"Sobek!" Ash cried. He ran to his friend and crouched beside him, reaching out. "Are you okay?"

To his shock, Sobek grabbed his arm with his claws and clenched tightly enough to make him wince in pain. The Krokorok glared at him with crimson eyes and snarled. Ash stared back for a few seconds. His mouth set in a line.

"Sorry. I saw the Rockets and just…remembered all that happened before…" He shook his head. "Can you do this?"

Sobek nodded firmly. Ash took his friend's arm and helped pull him back onto his feet. Pyro growled above them, alerting the pair as Steelix managed to right itself and roar bloodlust.

Ash looked into Sobek's eyes steadily. "I trust you."

The Krokorok said nothing. Ash's lips curved up into a fierce grin. "Let's crush them together."

Sobek grinned right back with battle-lust alive in his eyes. He stepped forward to stand between Ash and the menacing Steelix.

And crimson flowed over him.

Ash watched as Sobek began to evolve- his form changing shape to become far bigger and taller. His arms put on more muscle and his claws grew in size until they were massive hooks, ready to spear and pierce anything. The legs became thicker and stronger. His tail lengthened and slowly waved back and forth as the spikes on his back grew in size. His skull, already a terrible weapon, doubled in size to match his new, massive body and the fangs within it turned into blades as large as steak knives.

When the light exploded away from him, Sobek's scales gleamed dark crimson and black, his pure white underbelly the only contrast. His eyes still gleamed red from the effects of Moxie, but he was no longer a Krokorok. Now he was a Krookodile.

And they were on the same wavelength at last. Ash didn't miss a beat and they began their assault together. "Stone Edge!"

Sobek roared, a terrible, massive sound that shook the air and slashed upwards with one of his powerful arms. The bladed rocks still shattered upon hitting Steelix's lower jaw, but the impact made the iron serpent jerk back and roar in pain.

Pyro blasted Steelix with a Flamethrower to follow up, but the serpent roared again and fired Flash Cannon once more. He managed to evade the attack, which gave Sobek the chance to lunge in close.

Ash glared at the serpent and decided it would be best to keep hammering away at its head. "Bite it's neck with Fire Fang!"

Sobek leapt up onto Steelix's body and climbed it's jagged form with ease, reaching the point right behind its head to sink his flaming teeth right into its hide. His powerful jaws combined with the incredible heat allowed him to break through its armor and caused Steelix to screech in pain. The massive serpent shook its head violently and then hurled Sobek off with a mighty heave, but the Krookodile landed on his feet and skidded back to a stop.

Steelix bellowed again and the massive, blade-shaped segments of its body began to spin as it dove towards the ground. Ash nearly lost his footing as it used Dig to tunnel underground, leaving its position invisible to him.

No way.

"Earthquake!" He roared.

Sobek roared with him and leaned back, clenching both fists tightly, then lunged down with fury gleaming in his eyes to hammer the ground. The earth in front of him heaved and then exploded upwards violently, sending massive chunks of rock and dirt into the air. Steelix was evicted from the tunnel it had made and into the air with a screech of agony as the shockwaves of Earthquake rent through its body.

Ash grinned almost maniacally. "Stone Edge! Flamethrower!"

Pyro and Sobek continued their assault with a vengeance, striking with blistering force as they attacked Steelix mercilessly. The iron serpent bellowed at them and tried to attack again with Flash Cannon, but a Stone Edge from Sobek jammed its mouth closed before it could fire the steel type move.

Steelix was getting overwhelmed, but it could still fight. Ash needed to find a weak spot on it to finish this battle before Pyro or Sobek tired. His eyes locked onto a small crack that was just visible on Steelix's lower jaw. An idea sprouted in his mind.

"Pyro, get above it and use Brick Break!" Ash commanded. "Hit the place where Sobek bit Steelix!"

Pyro roared in response and lunged upwards, then dove down with his arm glowing bright white. He slammed the fighting type move into the damaged section of Steelix's neck and caused the behemoth to screech in pain. It's head began to fall closer to the ground and Ash saw their chance to strike its second weak point.

"Sobek, Stone Edge!" He shouted. "Aim for the crack in its jaw!"

Sobek thrust his claws up and another blade of rock punched upwards, right into Steelix's weakened armor. This time, it punched through and hit the black body underneath the silver armor. Steelix shrieked again and its body flailed in pain. It's tail glowed silver as it swiped Iron Tail towards Sobek.

Ash grinned. "Finish it off! Foul Play!"

Sobek's claws turned black as night as he roared, slashing the dark type move right into Iron Tail. Before Steelix could blink, its own move was launched right back at its face and collided with the already cracked portion of its armor, doing terrible damage.

Sobek bared his fangs in delight as Steelix toppled to the ground with an enormous crash. Moxie sent another adrenaline boost flowing over him and he basked in the feeling, but he wasn't filled with uncontrollable fury anymore. The enemy had been crushed. The battle was over.

He turned to look at Ash and his trainer smiled. Sobek grinned back at him.

The Rockets looked ready to wet themselves. "H-he defeated Steelix?!"

"Retreat!" The lead Rocket gasped. "R-retr-ahh!"

He was cut off as Pyro landed in front of him, blocking off their escape route while the dragon glared at the Rockets hatefully. In their terror, they forgot about May and the girl took her chance to run towards Ash and Sobek. She was throwing her arms around him before he could react and sobbing tearfully.

Ash really had no idea how to deal with crying children, but he did his best. "Hey. Hey it's okay now. You're safe."

She sniffled and looked up at him, showing bloodshot eyes and watery blue irises. Her face was red from crying and she had tears flowing down her cheeks, but thankfully, she was unharmed. Ash repeated the words and suddenly she buried her face in his shirt and wailed.

"I-it was s-s-so scary…they were gon-gonna hurt me!"

He awkwardly hugged her back to reassure her. "They can't hurt you now. They're going to prison and you're safe. You're okay."

She sniffled again and nodded into his shoulder, clutching the fabric of his shirt like her life depended on it. Ash just held her until she settled down and pulled back a bit, but she kept one hand on his jacket, as if she were afraid he would disappear. The girl wiped her face clean of tears and looked up at him with a nervous expression. "Thank you."

He smiled and placed a hand on her head to ruffle her brown hair slightly. "You're welcome. Now, how about I call your dad, okay? Your name is May, right?"

"Mmhm," she mumbled. "I just wanted to go for a walk and then I got lost…"

"It's okay. Your dad will be here really soon," he assured her. May nodded and hugged him again, so Ash kept one hand on her head while he looked up at Sobek. "Go help Pyro keep those Rocket grunts and their Pokemon in check. Trap them if you have to. I'll get the police here soon."

Sobek nodded and began stalking towards his teammate and the Rockets while Ash got his PokeNav out and found Norman's contact number. The phone only rang twice before Norman picked up and he started talking. "Norman, it's Ash. I found her."

The arrests were made quickly and May was returned to her parents just five minutes after Surge arrived with the police at his back. He'd left the class and come personally when he found out that Team Rocket had shown up in his city.

The giant glared at the four captured grunts with an almost evil grin. "Oh…you're going to wish your mothers had kept their legs closed by the time I'm done with you."

They looked ready to piss themselves. Ash didn't pity them.

Norman was with his wife and May while the girl hugged her mother. The man looked up and walked over to Ash, laying a firm hand on the boy's shoulder.

"Words can't even describe how grateful I am to you right now," he murmured sincerely. "You saved my daughter from these criminals at the risk of your own life. Thank you so much, Ash."

"You're welcome," he replied. "Pyro and Sobek did all the hard work, though."

Norman looked up at the Charizard and Krookodile still glaring angrily at the arrested criminals and smiled. "Yes, I know they did. But they did so at your command. It takes real courage and talent to do what you did. So I say again, thank you."

Ash felt a small weight thump into his stomach and looked down to find May hugging him again. The girl looked up at him shyly. "Mommy says I should say thank you again."

He smiled down at her. "You're welcome, May. Make sure the next time you take a walk, you go with your mom or dad, okay?"

She colored a little and nodded sheepishly. "I will."

Surge interrupted them by walking over and calling Ash. "I hate to break up the celebration, but you should probably get your Krookodile to Nurse Joy. He looks good, but it's best to make sure he didn't have any complications evolving in the middle of such an intense battle."

Ash nodded. "I'll get him checked out now. Pyro! Sobek! We're heading to the Pokemon Center. We're done here."

The pair of massive reptiles (both of them were now easily taller than Ash) walked over obediently, though they cast a few last, baleful glares after the arrested Rockets. Ash recalled them into their pokeballs and made to leave when May called to get his attention one more time.

"Hey! What's your name?" She asked.

He grinned and called back over his shoulder. "My name's Ash."

Two mornings later and he was standing at the docks with a whole crowd of people around him.

Ash could feel the blood pumping through his veins as he held the ticket he'd earned from Surge three months earlier in his hand with an iron grip. He couldn't stop grinning as he watched the massive, white ship slowly make its way into the port.

The St. Anne was here at last.

A/N: A couple of huge milestones have been reached- first and foremost, this is THE biggest chapter I have ever written, at a colossal 30k words. I wanted to get everything cleared up and get the St. Anne arc underway, but this turned out to be utterly massive. Second of all, you guys blew me away by providing over a hundred reviews since chapter twelve came out. That is a record for me and frankly I was shocked by all of the fantastic feedback, so consider this enormous chapter your reward for being such fantastic readers.

A shoutout to 0 Jordinio 0, Flyg0n, and Whatwasthatnoise for helping me with edits in the earlier chapters and advice with the story. I'm still working on the earlier chapters, but up to about chapter five has been edited of all typos and errors. I will continue to make fixes as I go.

Without further ado, to the review responses for chapter twelve!

Vallavarayan: I don't see why he does not ask for Rhydon to be exchanged for a younger Pokemon that he wants- it even look at what the league is willing to trade for him.

-The league doesn't really work like that. There are sites available where you can talk with other trainers about trading Pokemon, but I didn't do that because Rhydon still has a part to play in the story ;)

vaporeonxglaceon: Still love this fiction. It is amazing, keep up the awesome work. And I can't help but think about what that Eevee of his will evolve into. I am thinking it will either evolve into Espeon or Umbreon. But it could evolve into Sylveon for all I know. Just thinking about it makes me all giddy.

-I suppose only time will tell! As you've found out in this chapter, not even Eevee is sure what she wants yet~

Brokkers: Just wanted to say that I am really enjoying the story so far. It's incredibly rare to find a fiction that combines great ideas with excellent writing. Long may you keep up the fantastic work and I really look forward to seeing what other Pokemon you give Ash, and how his team evolves :P. One question, which you may have already been asked before, but will you be lifting the limit on Ash only having 6 Pokemon? I think that could allow for new characters and dynamics that would be very entertaining, not that I want to tell you what to do. Thanks again and I'm looking forward to the next update!

-I'm glad you're enjoying the story so far! It takes a lot of time and work to get these chapters done, especially chapters of this size so the appreciation is, well, very much appreciated! In regards to the six Pokemon limit being lifted, I can't say much without spoiling but there will be points in the story where his whole team gets to be together at the same time. I hope you liked this chapter as well!

stars90: Fantastic work as usual. I love the way that you had Pyro evolve to save him from an Aerodactyl again, while still making it a very different situation. Putting your own spin on things while still giving a shout out to the character you're emulating. I also really enjoyed yet again your well-thought out scientific explanations of Pokemon traits like Dry Skin. I'm curious though, how is Ash going to handle the power differential between Pyro and the others now that Pyro is fully evolved?

-Thak you very much! I admit I've always been a fan of the Charizard vs Aerodactyl from the old anime, so I was inspired to do something similar whilst also adding my own twist to it. The Dry Skin science took a fair bit of thought on my part, but I'm glad you enjoyed the result! As for how Ash will handle the power difference, there'll be times when he pits multiple opponents against his strongest teammates so that the weaker ones have a fair shot at defeating his higher level powerhouses.

That's all for chapter thirteen, everyone! I hoped you enjoyed it and as always, please review and thanks for reading! Next chapter begins the St. Anne arc! I'm looking forward to enjoying it with all of you!