AN: Many apologies for the delays in getting this chapter done and posted. Thank you to everyone for your patience and understanding. I will see this story through to its conclusion. Only three chapters left in the main story, but there are four epilogue chapters in the works as well. So stay tuned and thanks for joining me on this ride.
The Long Road
Pokemon Trainer's Handbook Tip #8: As your teammates grow, they will learn new and powerful moves. But experience isn't the only way pokemon can learn moves. Use TMs (see term "Technical Machines" in the Glossary) to expand your team's move set to new heights…
"Welcome challenger, to the Sootopolis Gym! Ah –" Juan's expression brightened as he got a closer look at the trainer who stepped through the doors, "I was wondering when you would make your appearance here. Wallace has told me all about your adventures in Shoal Cave. I must say, I'm quite impressed by what I've heard."
Steven had barely finished gaping at the Sootopolis Gym's dazzling interior before he realized Juan had descended from the Gym's uppermost level and addressed him with a wide smile. Even against a backdrop of shimmering tile and cascading water, the Gym Leader's distinctive style stood center stage, and Steven couldn't help but feel a knot of anxiety settle in his stomach. Juan was a truly intimidating figure who commanded every ounce of reverence he received.
Before Steven could give a quiet admission of thanks for Juan's praise, Wallace appeared at his Master's side and regarded the challenger with a confident smile and a hand on his hip.
"You better have a good excuse, making me wait so long for our battle."
Suddenly, all of Steven's nervousness seemed to float away, banished by the thrill of anticipation, and he found himself grinning in return. "No excuses, I'm here now aren't I?"
"You're lucky I'm a patient individual," Wallace's eyes narrowed, but his smile didn't falter. "Don't keep me waiting any longer." And with a flourish, he turned and walked toward a set of stairs that rose through the Gym all the way to the highest of the tiered platforms.
"Wait, what do you mean?"
"Master Juan may have taken a liking to you, but that doesn't mean you get preferential treatment. Finish the Gym's obstacles, and then you can battle me."
"Obstacles…?" Steven asked as his gaze swept over the Gym's landscape, only now noticing that tucked between the different tiers of pools were several platforms made entirely of ice. All of the pools looked easy enough to access with steps neatly carved into the cascading rock and lined with delicate tile, but the platforms appeared to be a different story. They only shared one common path; a series of segmented ramps that apparently could turn into stairs with the push of a button, as the flight to the first platform demonstrated.
Eyeing the icy platforms in question, Steven looked back to Wallace with thinly veiled dismay.
"You just want to watch me slip and fall on my face, don't you."
Wallace paused to hide a snicker behind his hand, "Admittedly, I hadn't even thought of that, but now that you mention it…"
Steven sighed, "It's only fair, I guess. Is there a limit to the number of tries I get?"
"Only as long as you're still willing to keep trying," said Wallace with a shrug.
Juan gave a reassuring smile as he climbed the carved stairs behind his apprentice. "We'll be waiting for you at the top."
Nervousness back in full force, Steven could only manage a nod as he steeled his gaze. It couldn't be as bad as the last adventure he'd had on ice, right?
Mildly surprised at how quickly he was able to adjust to moving around the Gym with so little friction, Steven managed to skate his way to the final platform with only one fall to his name. Quiet applause greeted his first step onto solid ground.
"Bravo," quipped Wallace, "You didn't make a complete fool of yourself."
"I told you, it's water and caves that I'm done with, not ice."
"Well, you're still not done with it, technically."
Steven followed the sweep of Wallace's hand and took in their battlefield. Perched atop the highest tier of the Gym was a pool in roughly the shape of a regulation size field. Mercifully there seemed to be small stone platforms dotted throughout the pool as well. Motioning for Steven to follow, Wallace climbed another set of stairs to the pool's deck.
"So I may have lied about the exceptions. Master Juan has kindly allowed us to use his arena as the stage for our battle."
As Steven scaled the last few steps, he had to pause to take in the Gym's splendor. Although the pool before him was nowhere near as massive as the one at the ground floor, it sparkled with intricate tile work that ran from the edge of the deck and up the back wall of the Gym itself. The pool was filled with crystal clear water that spilled readily through several openings in the sides and cascaded in tracts down to feed the lower training pools. Whatever matches that had been taking place elsewhere came to a halt as a murmur of whispered voices carried over the ambient sounds of rushing water.
Noticing how Steven paused to take in the sight, Wallace chuckled, "At least I know you're not so dense that you can't appreciate something beautiful."
Seemingly oblivious to the insult, Steven turned to the water-type trainer with a look of shock. "Won't it get ruined in the battle? The tiles, I mean."
Wallace's grin held steady as he regarded his opponent with a raised brow. "You are an odd one, aren't you? Coming to a Gym battle and worrying about wrecking the place rather than the match itself."
Frowning, Steven gave Wallace a look. "Who said I wasn't thinking about the match?"
But Wallace simply shrugged, "Well, you're the first person who's ever expressed concern about the well-being of the pool."
Their conversation was interrupted by the sound of footsteps against said tile.
"Ah, how wonderful! I can't wait to see what kind of thrilling performance you two have in store," Juan placed a gentle hand on the shoulder of each boy. "Wallace could barely contain his excitement when I said he could face you in the Leader's pool."
"I figured this would be a good chance for me to show my skills as a future Gym Leader and have our battle be the official match, but Master would not give up the chance to battle you himself."
Steven almost laughed at the chagrin in Wallace's voice.
"What do you say we get started," said Juan, ushering Steven and Wallace to take a place in their respective trainer boxes.
As Steven reached his end of the pool, he turned to face his opponent, who already was staring his way.
"It'll be a two on two battle, but I'm impatient." Wallace rolled a pokeball in his palm, "Your starter versus my starter for the first round? I know you know who mine is, and I'd be lying if I said I had no interest in that floating hunk of steel you call a partner."
Steven had a feeling that was going to be Wallace's request, and he grinned. They trained hard for this battle. Metang was prepared, and frankly ever since Shoal Cave, it'd been waiting for its shot back at the snippy Leader-in-training. He deftly picked the pokeball from its familiar spot on his belt and tossed it onto the nearest platform. "Let's do it."
With a flick of the wrist, Wallace's pokeball arced through the air before spilling its contents into the pool. A reverberating cry echoed about the arena as Victoria took form, curling gracefully in on herself before rising out of the water, and Steven couldn't help but gape. Her cream colored scales shone with an iridescent hue and her multicolor tail fanned out behind her in a brilliant display.
Metang slid its incredulous gaze toward Steven, and he caught the meaning; there was no way this was the evolved form of the pokemon they saw back in Lilycove.
Wallace just smirked. "Stunning, isn't she? You'll soon see that Victoria's not just a pretty face either. Her beauty is only matched by her power."
Finally tearing his gaze from the dazzling Milotic, Steven gestured to his partner, and Metang gathered its focus and hunkered in place. Steven, too, tensed in the trainer's box, his senses suddenly on high alert. The air was alive with anticipation, and he could feel a tingle at the tips of his fingers. "We're ready for whatever you throw at us."
"Good." Wallace delivered a sideways glance at the referee, and she swept her arm down to signal the start of the match.
Both Steven and Wallace's hands shot forward at the same time.
Victoria's head reared back as Metang shot forward like a rocket. The distance between the two pokemon closed in an instant, and they met in a mighty clash of water. Victoria's hydro pump poured forth with such force that Metang had to bring its claws up to keep itself from being shoved backward. It tried to press its way through, but the attack was too strong from such close range. With a cry, Metang faltered and was sent spinning away. Victoria halted her attack as Metang threw a foreleg out to snag one of the platforms in order to halt its haphazard tumbling. Both pokemon glared at each other from across the arena, and Steven found himself nodding even though they had been unable to land the first blow of the match.
"Try again with bullet punch!"
Metang was off again, but to Steven's surprise, their attack wasn't met with another hydro pump. Metang's fist found scales as the blow landed. Even as Victoria let out a wail of pain, she curled and swept her tail up out of the water, sending a spray of water across Metang's vision.
"Mist, my darling."
In one smooth motion, the Milotic's tail slapped straight through the spray she created, scattering water everywhere. Instantly the battlefield was covered in a fine mist that hung heavy in the air. Steven's eyes widened as he lost sight of his pokemon in the haze.
A shadow cut through the mist and the steel type emerged swiftly from the swirling cloud of vapor. Chattering nervously, its red eyes swept over the misty terrain, mirroring Steven's own wary gaze.
"Get ready," he whispered, voice tight.
Metang whined a low note, still scanning, vigilant. A faint gurgle was their only warning before a stream of water shot out of the mist cloud from the right.
Spinning sharply to face the threat, Metang raised a shimmering claw just in time to deflect the blast, but the attack again was too powerful. Barely diverting the water's path, Metang took a nearly direct hit to the face and was plunged straight into the pool.
Steven grimaced as Metang was quick to surface, looking worse for wear. He had been hoping the psychic counter-tactic they learned in Mossdeep would be sufficient, but the force behind the water type attack was much greater than that of Solrock's flamethrower. If they were to be successful, Metang needed more time to concentrate to compensate for the difference in power. Except there was no way to buy time with the threat of a sneak attack from any direction. They had to go on the offensive before Wallace could strike again.
"Eyes on target, Metang. Find that Milotic!"
Metang's eyes glowed bright with psychic energy. Every lifeform gave off a minute amount of psychic energy regardless of its own psychic abilities. If it could just hone in on Milotic's signature…
Suddenly Metang took off into the mist with a sharp cry. Steven tensed as his partner vanished, but a moment later he was rewarded with a shuddering squeal. Metang had found its mark.
The mist parted when Victoria's tail cut an angry path through the air as she writhed in pain, sending the clouds scattering in its wake. Steven was able to catch a glimpse of the other side of the battlefield just in time to see Metang land another solid blow before it was batted backwards by the Milotic's wild thrashing.
Wallace's expression was tight when he appeared through the swirling mist, and Steven smirked as he realized their aggressive strategy caught the water-type trainer by surprise. But his smirk was short lived as Wallace's eyes narrowed sharply.
"Recover with grace!"
Victoria shivered as her body glowed with a healing light. The ugly scuffs to her scales seemingly began to melt away, and several of her previously drooping tailfins perked back to their original splendor.
It was too late to negate recover's healing effects, so Steven waved Metang back to his side once more and hastily dug into his pack. It seemed Aggron's new penchant for berry hunting was finally paying off. Metang greedily snatched the sitrus berry from Steven's hand and devoured the fruit in one bite.
Finished with his own healing strategy, Steven brought a hand to his chin as Metang turned back toward the battlefield. If Metang's strikes had inflicted enough damage that Wallace was already relying on healing, it was a good sign. They'd have to press the attack and not give their opponent any room to recover.
The thinning mist swirled as Victoria coiled back to a ready position, head held high and unblemished. Metang rattled a confident cry, undaunted.
"Hmm, impressive," Wallace muttered, "It seems my hunch was right. You are nearly an even match."
"Nearly?" Steven quirked a brow.
"And that's being generous. But, enough pleasantries. Victoria, time to shine! Hydro pump!"
"Again? Metang, one more try. Confusion!"
This time both of Metang's arms flew forward, humming with energy. The jet of water slammed into the psychic barrier, and Metang shuddered under the impact. With a defiant chatter, it shoved forward, flinging its claws out wide. The hydro pump split in two, missing Metang to either side.
Steven swelled with confidence in the trainer's box; it worked! He swung his fist to bear, ready to call out their counterattack, but the words died in his throat. The hydro pump didn't slow its assault, and with Metang's arms flung wide, the stream of water refocused at the center and surged straight through confusion's defenses. Metang's screech was drowned to a gurgle as it was swept back into the pool a second time.
Wallace gave an airy laugh as Metang clambered its way out, soaking wet and wearing a look of frustration. "Steven, you disappoint me. Using the same tactic even after you've seen how strong Victoria is? You may know your way around a cave, but I'm beginning to suspect you might not be as adept on the battlefield."
The all too familiar feeling of grating annoyance crept up in the back of Steven's mind. Something about Wallace's demeanor just always seemed to rub him the wrong way. Were the Mossdeep Leader's twins just messing with him when they'd said Wallace saw him as a friend?
"No clever comeback? Well, perhaps I need to reconsider my choice of rival…"
Steven's eyes narrowed. "Rival?"
But Wallace ignored him and signaled to his partner, "Victoria, let's show Master Juan who is really the most promising one here. Ice beam!"
"Wait, what – Metang!" Both trainer and pokemon threw up an arm to shield themselves from the shining beam that emanated from Victoria's horn. The sound of crackling ice could be heard, but the attack was too blinding for Steven to see what was happening.
Just as quickly as it started, the light faded, and silence covered the battlefield. When Steven lowered his arm, the mist that had blanketed the arena was gone, lightly settling to the solid platforms in a gentle frosting of ice. In front of him was his partner, but something was wrong…
The same light dusting of ice coated Metang's hide, and it glistened as it hung motionless in the air. …Except for the icicles that hung thick all over its body. Somehow the ice-type attack that should have only done minimal damage to his pokemon had frozen it in place, unable to move.
Victoria's sharp trill sliced through the air, and her eyes narrowed in triumph as Wallace was quick to shower her with praise.
"Oh my darling, that was wondrous! What a dazzling outcome!" But as Wallace finished gushing, his gaze slid over to where Steven was quietly fuming and he flashed a cheeky smile. "I did my homework. Steel types may resist ice type attacks, but not when they get wet first and then freeze."
Steven's stomach dropped. Again the combination of water and cold did him in as he realized that the sequence of Wallace's attacks was deliberate. Victoria's ice beam froze the water still inside Metang's joints from its dunk in the pool, essentially bypassing the type's natural defenses. But the battle wasn't over. Metang wasn't knocked out, or else it wouldn't still be floating.
"Metang, you have to break free!"
When his pleading was met with angry chatters from his partner, muffled by the encasing ice, Steven sighed in relief. At least Metang still had all of its faculties, despite being frozen in place. His brow scrunched in uncertainty at Metang's predicament. He needed to think of a way to free his partner, and fast.
"I don't know, try using confusion to move your limbs!"
Metang obeyed, and the air around its body wavered with psychic energy. Ice began to crack and chip under the psychic pressure. But as soon as Metang had broken one arm free of its icy prison, another ice beam slammed into the steel-type, re-freezing the sections that had weakened.
Wallace looked on with an amused expression, "As if we'd let you just wiggle your way out. No, I like the look of your pokemon on ice. It's a stunning look, if I do say so myself. The way it sparkles in the light…"
Just like in Shoal Cave, Steven grit his teeth and ignored the water-type trainer's gloating.
"C'mon, Metang," he hissed, silently urging his starter to keep fighting. "You can do this!"
Steven knew his faith in his pokemon could only get them so far. So when Metang's body shuddered with a faint blue outline, it caught him completely off guard.
The air hummed with an intense psychic energy as the blue light intensified. Steven watched wide eyed as the icy shell encasing his pokemon exploded into hundreds of tiny shards. Metang was free, and its eyes glowed with brilliant blue hue; the hue of a full-fledged psychic attack.
"What?!" Wallace's surprised shout echoed around the arena as his ice prison strategy was shattered in mere seconds. Quickly regaining his composure, he straightened before clearing his throat, "No matter. Victoria, finish this with hydro pump!"
The powerful water attack burst forth and roared its way toward Metang. Eyes aglow, it raised one claw in a casual flick, and the hydro pump was neatly diverted in its course, turning a sharp ninety degrees skyward where it dissipated into harmless rainfall.
Both trainers' eyes went wide at the sheer power of Metang's newfound attack. Steven was the first to break from his stupor, and he seized the chance to turn the tables.
"Psychic, Metang! Then follow it up with a zen headbutt!"
Snapping its gaze toward its opponent, Metang gave another flick of its claws, and the entirety of Victoria's body was encased in a blue light. She squealed in protest, but was powerless to prevent Metang from neatly picking her up out of the water.
Wallace watched in terror as his partner was now suspended helplessly in mid-air, and he shouted a hasty counter-attack. "Ice beam! Break its concentration!"
But Metang would not be so easily rattled, and its psychic grip held as it raised a claw to shield its face from the direct attack. With an echoing chatter, Metang tore through the remanants of the ice beam at full speed with only a frozen foreleg to show for it. Both Wallace and Victoria screamed in desperation as Metang launched itself at its intended target.
The cream colored scales of Victoria's chest were left mangled and glowing from the psychic after-effects of the headbutt. Still trapped within Metang's psychic prison, she could only wail helplessly as Metang brought its ice-encased fist down on her head like a club.
Ice shattered on impact, and both pokemon tumbled down into the pool with a splash. Metang was the first to pull itself from the water, forelegs drooping from exhaustion. Shakily, Victoria too managed to slither back to Wallace's side, and Steven couldn't hide his scowl. That attack had to have been enough, otherwise...
"Recover, my darling!" The terror wasn't completely absent from Wallace's tone, but he did look more confident with his prized pokemon still sitting upright. But as Victoria's eyes closed in order to summon her regenerative powers, she collapsed to the deck with a shuddering cry.
"Milotic is unable to battle!"
It took a moment for Wallace to bring an unsteady hand down from his mouth and wordlessly recall his fallen partner, brushing a soft kiss against her pokeball before placing it on his belt. His gaze was sharp as he finally looked across the arena toward Steven.
"And here I thought I'd be in a better mood to share what I did with that gift you gave me," he said with a frown, tossing out his next pokeball.
Whatever joy Wallace was lacking, however, was immediately made up for by the jolly pokemon that appeared on the battlefield. Shaggy golden fur quivered beneath a wide lily pad brim as the Ludicolo hopped happily from one foot to the other, its beak wide with excited quacking.
Metang's gaze narrowed at the overly-energetic pokemon, but Steven's expression brightened. "Oh, you had a Lombre! I'm glad that water stone went to good use then. Actually…" his voice trailed off as he reached for a new pokeball from his hip, and Metang chattered at the motion, "This may be a good chance to use my newest partner too."
Hovering back to its trainer's side, Metang withdrew from the battlefield with a nervous glance at the pokeball that arced to take its place.
A piercing cry echoed through the Gym as Skarmory emerged in mid-air, eyes sharp and wings unfurled. It navigated a graceful landing onto one of the pedestals before finally getting a good look at its surroundings wherein it immediately whirled around to regard its trainer with an angry stare.
Steven held up both hands to try to calm the short tempered pokemon. "I'm sorry, Skarmory, but would you be willing to help out with this battle?"
Metang whined a note and pointed toward where Ludicolo danced and clapped, and Skarmory turned its glare toward the battlefield and clacked its beak with obvious chagrin. It would battle, but only because it wanted to.
Steven let out a sigh of relief and thanked Metang for its mediation before recalling it for a well-deserved rest. He had a feeling he'd need its help later. But first, the battle at hand…
"Ready?" Wallace asked, an intrigued look playing across his features at the odd dynamic between Steven and his new pokemon.
Skarmory's loud caw was answer enough, and Wallace's gaze narrowed at the aggressive pokemon. Ludicolo was unfazed, still merrily quacking to itself and Wallace rolled his eyes at the happy-go-lucky pokemon.
"Go, George. Fake out."
In a flash, the Ludicolo's expression turned serious, and it dashed across the surface of the pool toward Skarmory with surprising grace. Startled, the steel bird tried to take flight, but George was too quick and delivered an open palmed slap across Skarmory's bill. The blow left Skarmory stunned, and it squawked in dismay. Dancing nimbly back toward the closest pedestal, the Ludicolo was back to its jolly clapping as it waited for the next command.
"Nature power, my dear!"
Both of George's palms came to rest on the stone of the platform where they gave off a faint glow. Skarmory had only just regained its faculties when a mass of boulders formed over its head and rained down with deadly force.
Steven barely had time to shout in warning before Skarmory leaped into action. A deft swing of its bladed wings cleaved the closest boulder in two, and with a powerful push it took to the wing to dodge the rest of the rock slide's barrage.
"Skarmory, aerial ace!"
Instantly, Skarmory's flight path turned into a nose dive that set its wings aglow with bright white energy. In a blur of light, Skarmory slammed right through the Ludicolo's chest, toppling the jolly pokemon into the pool with a squeal of pain. Following through on its divebomb, Skarmory sailed high above the pool and surveyed the scene, waiting for George to resurface. Instead of catching sight of its opponent, Skarmory was greeted by a jet of water and bubbles that smacked directly into its chest. Skarmory's flight faltered from the strike, and it plummeted only briefly before righting itself with a pump of its wings and a prideful caw.
In the time it had taken for Skarmory to recover, George had already leapt from the pool to another pedestal.
"Nature power, take three!"
Boulders rained down all around, and this time Skarmory wasn't so lucky. A direct hit to the middle of its back sent Skarmory tumbling earthward, and only sheer determination allowed it to crash land onto solid ground rather than into the pool itself.
Wallace grinned. The grounded pokemon was now within striking distance, and he gestured for his partner to keep the offensive pressure on.
"George, go all out with flail!"
In a spray of water and limbs, the Ludicolo burst from the pool, intent on clobbering its opponent in a whirlwind of punches and kicks.
But trainer and pokemon were prepared for a sneak attack, and Skarmory immediately obeyed Steven's shout of, "Agility!"
George's fist connected with nothing but empty air as it tore through Skarmory's afterimage. Instead, the flying-type in question had swiftly dodged to the side and was poised to strike. Glowing wings slammed into Ludicolo's back, sending the pokemon bouncing across the surface of the water like a skipping stone before it slammed into the side of the pool, unconscious.
"Ludicolo is unable to battle! The victory goes to –!"
The referee's voice was drowned out by Skarmory's triumphant screech, causing everyone to wince, and Steven hastily recalled his flyer with an apologetic look and a promise of plenty of treats for its great performance.
A flutter of white pulled Steven's attention back to the far side of the pool, and he looked up to see Wallace giving a deep bow.
"Well fought, my friend. It seems as if I've underestimated you, and for that, I've suffered defeat."
He straightened. "My only advice before your final bout is that you don't do the same. There's a very good reason Master Juan is still the Leader of this Gym. May you battle with beauty and grace."
"Well said," said Juan as Wallace stepped from the trainer's box under his mentor's gaze. "Wise words truly befitting of a future Gym Leader."
Wallace flushed at the praise as Juan stood and made his way toward the battlefield. He only managed to regain his composure when he found his seat in the spectator's box, although the rosy tint hadn't completely left his cheeks.
With a confident stride, the Master took his apprentice's place opposite Steven and brought a pokeball out from his cloak. In short order a bulky Walrein appeared on one of the pedestals, its long tusks glinting in the Gym's light. It was odd for a Gym Leader to be so forward with their first pokemon, but Juan didn't seem to mind giving Steven a glimpse at his first opponent.
Juan looked across the pool with a cool stare, "Do you need a moment before we begin? There's no hurry if you'd like a short break. I'd hate to have our battle blemished due to excessive fatigue."
But with the rush of battle adrenaline still fresh in his veins, Steven shook his head in the negative. He didn't need a sneak peek anyway, not with a strategy already in mind.
"We're ready. Go, Aggron!"
Small waves rippled out from the platform where Aggron materialized with a heavy thud. Hunching forward to regard its opponent, it let loose a fearsome roar that echoed over the tiled surface of the Gym.
Cooly, Juan's gaze slid over the battlefield, and he twirled the end of his mustache with two fingers. "Now that's an interesting choice…"
Steven missed Juan's quiet musing as he regarded his partner with a firm nod, "Just like we practiced."
Aggron gave a snort of confirmation in return.
But for all Aggron's posturing, Walrein hadn't glanced its way once. Lazily its head rolled back and it gave a wide yawn of boredom. A low growl rose from Aggron's throat, and Steven had to hide his smirk. He was hoping that even if Juan wouldn't underestimate him, the Leader's pokemon still might. To a water pokemon, Aggron looked like an easy mark.
Juan nodded to the referee, and she signaled for the match to begin before Walrein could roll on its side and fall completely asleep.
"All right, Walrein. Let's start things off."
Snapping to attention, Walrein sat up and trained its gaze on Aggron. A loud rushing sound filled the arena as a monstrous wave lifted from the pool behind Walrein and poured forth. Steven had been expecting Juan to make the first move, and both he and Aggron stared down the formidable surf attack without flinching.
As the wave crested high overhead, Aggron's barrier flew into place as it hunched low to the pedestal. Claws gripping the stone, Aggron barely moved as the white cap crashed down around him. Water surged over protect's barrier, but Aggron remained dry. After the worst of the wave passed, Aggron's barrier dropped, allowing the water to slosh over the pedestal and swirl around his feet. With the pool now filled to capacity just from a single attack, Juan's pokemon held a clear advantage. And yet neither Aggron nor Steven seemed worried.
"You can't protect forever," called Juan, with a twinkle in his eye, "And I doubt your Aggron knows how to swim…"
But Steven remained quiet, patiently waiting.
"Time to see what you're up to then," said Juan with a shrug. "Walrein, once more, if you please."
Steven watched as the water receded from his side of the battlefield, drawn in by the artificial tide of Walrein's surf. As the wall of water reared up, Steven seized their chance.
"What?!" Wallace's shout was drowned out as the air crackled with electricity.
With a roar, Aggron reared back on its hind legs and raised its head to the sky. Energy danced and sparked around its helm, arcing between the prongs of its horns. Pausing only a moment to roll its eyes toward its target, Aggron gave a fearsome cry as it slammed down on all fours, sending a brilliant bolt of electricity straight at Walrein.
Mid-attack, there was nothing the walrus pokemon could do to defend, and it howled in pain as the electric attack snapped and sizzled across its wet fur. The surf attack that had been brewing collapsed and fell harmlessly back into the pool. The water lapped harmlessly at Aggron's ankles as it watched Walrein writhe under the lingering effects of the super effective attack.
"You mean to tell me that this whole time you had a pokemon that knew thunderbolt, and you didn't use it against me?!" Wallace was beside himself as he fixed Steven with an incredulous look.
But Juan simply chuckled, "Clever indeed, holding on to your trump card until you faced off with the Leader. To think that a rock type pokemon would know an electric attack. Your preparation is admirable."
Aggron smirked with a prideful huff, but Steven stood unblinking. Juan was taking things a little too well…
"Of course, you must understand that running a water-type Gym means I am also prepared. Walrein is strong, and I happen to know that Aggron aren't terribly proficient with special attacks."
Juan trailed off as he glanced toward Walrein. The water-type looked more angry than hurt, its mane frizzled from the remaining static charge. Steven grimaced. That thunderbolt was supposed to have done more damage than that.
"Time for our counterattack. Hail, Walrein."
A whooping bark echoed through the arena as Walrein slapped a massive fin down on the tile. High above the battlefield, dark clouds began to swirl and Steven involuntarily shivered as the temperature plummeted. At first, only small ice crystals began to fall, and Aggron glanced skyward under the soft plink of ice hitting metal. But it wasn't long until the weather wasn't so gentle any more. As Steven watched, the calm surface of the pool broke into thousands of ripples, and the hail had become so sizeable that Aggron was forced to duck its head low, trying to shield its face from the pelting onslaught.
"We're not waiting to see what comes next, one more Aggron!"
Ignoring the stinging hail, Aggron roared as it reared back once again, jaws wide, electricity crackling between its horns.
Juan's face had fallen deadly serious. "Now, use blizzard."
"Cut through it, Aggron!" Steven shouted as he threw a hand forward. "Thunderbolt!"
The wind began to howl and suddenly the snow and hail mix changed direction, blowing nearly horizontal across the arena. Steven had to shield his face in order to watch as Aggron's attack shot forward, arcing toward its target. Electricity met flesh, and Walrein yowled in pain, but as Steven glanced back to his partner, he watched in dismay as the water that sloshed around Aggron's feet began to freeze solid.
"Aggron, get out of there!"
But the force of the blizzard was so fierce, Aggron had no choice but to hunker low to the ground to shield itself from the driving wind and snow. In the amount of time it took for the second thunderbolt to dissipate, Aggron's legs already had frozen to the pedestal.
"Not again…" Steven groaned, but quickly he realized they still held the advantage. Aggron had long-range attacks that didn't require it to be able to move. Thankfully, Walrein didn't seem to be going anywhere either, as the second thunderbolt left it collapsed on the deck, breathing heavily with a grimace on its face.
"Another thunderbolt, finish this fight!"
Juan muttered something under his breath as Aggron released its attack, and Walrein's pained eyes drifted shut, seemingly ready to accept its fate.
For the third time, electricity rained down on Walrein, and Steven spared a confident glance at the referee. Instead, he heard Aggron let loose a snort of surprise as Walrein's eyes snapped open, seemingly in better condition than before the last attack.
Walrein finished chewing casually as the air crackled with dissipating static.
"Oh ho, you thought we might be done for? I'm surprised with your tactful berry usage in the first match you didn't notice Walrein's Chesto berry."
Juan's hand played with the end of his mustache as Walrein gave a hearty yawn before drawing itself up to full height. "Rest is a risky move to use in the heat of battle without proper preparation."
Steven scowled as his strategy was again foiled by timely healing. In the end they'd ultimately lost the element of surprise with Aggron's electric attacks, but without another Chesto berry, Juan couldn't pull the same trick twice. Maybe if Aggron could take advantage of both a ranged and up-close attack...
A low grunt and a loud crack snapped Steven's attention back to the battlefield. While Walrein had pulled its healing stunt, Aggron used the opportunity to slam its heavy tail through the ice that had been encasing its feet. No longer trapped, it grunted again as the hail picked up in intensity, causing it to have to duck its head out of the stinging downpour.
As Aggron's head lowered, Steven found his own gaze following, and his heart skipped a beat. The surface of the pool had frozen into a thick sheet of ice from the last blizzard attack. It wasn't completely solid, but if it could hold Aggron's weight for a long enough...
Coiling its hind legs in anticipation, Aggron cried out as it prepared to unleash another volley of electricity.
Juan smiled as the electric attack charged up, "I thought you might stick to your guns. Walrein, hit it with surf while it's attacking."
Walren's wave reared up and poured forth just as the thunderbolt cracked across the arena. Weathering the blow, Walrein held the wave's shape this time, and it crashed down toward Aggron, slabs of ice rolling into its curl.
There would be no time for Aggron to raise a protective barrier before the wave struck, but there was enough time for it to move.
"Aim for that ice floe and use iron head!" Steven shouted over the roar of the wave, "Jump straight through it!"
Aggron eyed the battlefield for only a moment before it roared in confirmation and ducked onto all fours as the ice in front of it tilted upward from the swell of the wave. With a push of its powerful hind legs, Aggron lunged forward, all of its momentum now carrying it over the slick surface of the makeshift ramp. Head lowered, it plunged straight through the surf attack as it was launched airborne off the end of the floe.
Steven couldn't see Juan's reaction through the wave, but he was sure the last thing either he or Walrein expected to see in its aftermath was a flying Aggron. The wave crashed just in time for Steven to watch his pokemon plow straight through Walrein, bowling the stunned pokemon into the pool with an undignified yowl. Aggron stuck its landing on the pedestal Walrein had been lounging on, and as Walrein's head broke the surface of the pool, eyes wide with terror, Steven threw his hand skyward with his final command.
Aggron's jaw twisted in a nasty smirk as it leered down at Walrein before setting the pool alight with electricity. Arcs danced across the surface as Walrein howled in pain before rolling backward in the water, fainted.
"Clever indeed," muttered Juan, a smile playing across his lips as Walrein disappeared back into its ball. "I can't say I've had a challenger use my own ice floats against me before. And with an Aggron no less!"
The pokemon in question perked up at the sound of its name, almost toppling it into the water as it picked its way back across the pedestals toward its trainer.
"Let's see if you have a clever strategy for this opponent."
Juan rolled a pokeball from his fingertips, releasing a sleek, pink pokemon into the pool. Only its dorsal fin peeked out of the water as it darted around, cutting circles on Juan's side of the battlefield. Steven had never seen this particular pokemon before, but he was sure it had to be another water type, at least partially.
Giving his partner a once over, he decided that the residual damage from Walrein's surf attack wasn't enough to keep Aggron from going another round. The threat of an electric attack was too powerful to pass up against another water type.
"Ready?" Juan asked.
Steven nodded and Aggron grunted in agreement as another flurry of hail plinked off its armor.
"Round two, begin!"
Unwilling to let Juan regain momentum, Steven made the first move. He knew it wasn't the most impressive way to win a Gym battle, but he couldn't ignore the advantage it gave them. He should attack the enemy's weak points, after all.
Electricity crackled as Aggron charged his attack, but Juan didn't look worried. Instead, he smiled and issued his counter move.
Instantly, the pink pokemon darted toward Aggron with no regard for the sparking electricity that danced around its opponent. Steven found himself tensing, hoping Aggron could pull off the move before Gorebyss struck. But as the steel type lurched forward to deliver its attack, Gorebyss popped out of the water right in front of its nose.
Startled, Aggron's eyes went wide, meeting Gorebyss's alluring gaze. In a suggestive display, she batted her eyelashes and waggled her tail, and almost instantly, Aggron's body went slack, thunderbolt dying on his horns.
Steven's shout did little to break Aggron from its trance, and just as swiftly as she approached, Gorebyss ducked back into the water and slipped back to her trainer's side.
"Hey, Aggron, snap out of it," Steven gently urged his partner.
But when the great beast rose back to its feet on wobbly legs, never tearing its gaze from Gorebyss, Steven knew it was hopeless. Aggron was caught in her trap.
Juan smirked at the challenger's predicament. "Sometimes the solution is more elegant than just brute force. Now then, Gorebyss, use coil."
Steven watched warily as he waited for Gorebyss to lash out at Aggron, but instead, the eel-like pokemon curled in on herself and began to glow. Steven's brow knitted in confusion; this was the perfect time for Juan to attack, and yet his plan was to sit back and raise his pokemon's stats?
Aggron continued to watch Gorebyss's every move, jaw slack and eyes glassy. He was even oblivious to the hail as it bounced off his head and body, leaving small icy marks in its wake. At least Gorebyss would take some damage from the hail as well, but to Steven's dismay, as the ice pellets rained down on the other side of the pool, Gorebyss uncoiled herself and disappeared safely underwater at Juan's command.
Frowning, Steven watched the hail pelt an empty battlefield. Empty...
With Gorebyss gone from view, this was his chance to try to snap his partner out of its infatuation.
"Charge up your thunderbolt now!"
Blinking blearily, Aggron's head turned to regard his trainer, and Steven saw the spark of recognition in its eyes. He couldn't hide his grin, Aggron was back.
A roar sounded through the Gym as Aggron reared back, electricity in its horns. But Juan's smile never faltered.
"Too slow. Gorebyss, dive!"
In a pink blur, Gorebyss shot out of the water straight into Aggron's underbelly. The vicious surprise attack left Aggron winded, and again its electric attack fizzled out before it could be unleashed.
Steven grimaced as Aggron staggered back to its feet with a scowl. Gorebyss was too quick for them to keep up, and to that fact, she was already back on Juan's side of the field, coiled and glowing.
"Aggron, one more time while we have the chance!"
But as Aggron moved into attack position, Gorebyss flicked her gaze back toward her opponent, and instantly he turned back into a sappy pile of mush, chuffing and rumbling quiet admissions of love.
Steven almost cried out in frustration as Gorebyss slipped back underwater to avoid the latest barrage of hail. It was going to be an endless cycle if he couldn't find some way to land a blow to the speedy pokemon.
His shout combined with the absence of Gorebyss caused Aggron to shake his head clear and turn his gaze to regard his trainer. Steven's voice wasn't accusatory, but he kept his tone firm.
"We need to slow it down. I need you to charge your thunderbolt again. Keep your head low and don't give Gorebyss an opening to attack. Make sure you don't look at her either, you'll just fall all over yourself again."
Aggron huffed in understanding and this time instead of lifting its head to the sky its eyes slid shut as it ducked low on the pedestal. The surface of the pool stilled to an eerie calm as the last of the hail petered out. Electricity began to build around Aggron's horns again and Steven strained to look through the glassy reflection of the water's surface in anticipation of Gorebyss's attack.
A sudden flash of movement below the surface caught Steven's attention and he shouted in warning to his partner, "Here it comes!"
No sooner had he uttered the last word than a pink dart broke through the water's surface behind Aggron, slamming into its hind quarters. Aggron's armor held strong as Gorebyss glanced off its body and splashed back into the pool, but the impact came from an odd angle, and with Aggron's concentration locked onto keeping its electric attack stable, it began to tilt off-balance. Wobbling in order to stay atop its pedestal, blue eyes snapped open and a look of panic washed across Aggron's face, and Steven felt his pulse quicken at the thought of missing their chance again.
As Aggron tilted even further to the side, it suddenly relaxed, eyes sliding closed just as Gorebyss popped back up out of the water with a flirtatious look.
Electricity sizzled across the pool, catching Gorebyss in its clutches. Her lithe form jerked and twisted under the super effective attack, and she uttered an otherworldly scream of anguish. Aggron's eyes opened just in time to see the steaming form of its opponent float to the surface of the pool before he himself hit the water; a sacrificial dive in order to land the finishing blow.
Steven sucked a breath in as Aggron disappeared below the surface. The referee leaned forward in her box, anxiously scanning the pool, but she made no motion to signal the end of the round.
A quiet squeak sounded from the injured Gorebyss as she twitched feebly, trying to swim back to her trainer's side of the pool. Suddenly with a mighty splash, a silver claw broke through the surface of the water and latched onto the side of a pedestal. Soggy, but very much still capable, Aggron dragged itself out of the pool with a harried, yet triumphant grin. Turning to find its opponent nearly incapacitated, it smirked and primed one last thunderbolt in order to finish her off.
As Aggron roared, Juan finally broke his silence, "Baton pass!"
Brightness engulfed Gorebyss and she vanished in a streak of light back toward her trainer. Aggron's attack leaped forward, trying to catch the retreating pokemon in its grasp. Electricity exploded as the thunderbolt found its mark, but the shadow that appeared through the blinding light wasn't Gorebyss's.
A towering Kingdra slid forward through the remnants of the attack and focused an angry stare down at the pest that was to be its opponent. With a grumpy noise it shed the lingering static that danced over its scales, seemingly more annoyed than hurt.
Steven's worried whisper matched the look of terror that washed over his partner as they both looked up at the powerful dragon-type.
Without warning, Kingdra's glare narrowed and the air around Aggron's pedestal began to swirl with increasing intensity until a mighty twister had engulfed it completely. Desperate claw marks were left gouged into the pedestal as Aggron tried to hang on for dear life, but the twister plucked the heavy pokemon off the ground as if it weighed no more than a Seedot.
Buffeted by the strong winds, Aggron grunted in pain as it was lifted high above the surface of the pool. One blue eye cracked open as it struggled to gain its bearings in mid-air. By the time it had figured out which way was up, the winds died down as the twister subsided. Twisting around to face the direction of its rapid descent, Aggron gaped in surprise as the way down was now blocked by Kingdra riding a rising column of water.
"Aggron, protect!" Steven shouted a hurried command, but Kingdra was closing too rapidly for his partner to react in time.
The dragon's head was lowered as it plowed right into Aggron's unprotected midsection. The defenseless pokemon let out a choked noise before somersaulting backward from the force of the blow. Tumbling out of control, Aggron slammed into the pool with a thunderous crash.
As Kingdra lowered itself casually back to ground level, Steven didn't have to wait long for the referee to raise her arm.
"Aggron is unable to battle!"
"You did really well," Steven smiled as he brought Aggron back to his belt. He knew it was overly optimistic to think Aggron might be able to take on all of Juan's pokemon on his own, but knocking out two of the three was a good start. Unfortunately, the only pokemon remaining was a surly looking dragon; one type Steven hadn't planned on facing at Gym that specialized in water types, and it got a stat boost from baton pass to boot. Maybe they could buy some time with a counter measure…
"Claydol, let's go!"
A loud sputtering noise was heard from the sidelines as Claydol materialized on the battlefield.
"What are you doing?!" Wallace shouted, his hands flying skyward in disbelief.
Steven scowled as he tried to ignore Wallace's outburst as a bit of guilt creeped into his mind. "Sorry, Claydol," he muttered under his breath.
But Juan simply quirked his brow with a hearty laugh. "It seems as if my own student has turned against me. Although, I'm inclined to agree with my young pupil, this is your second pokemon that is weak to my team's strengths. Do you have another trick up your sleeve?"
Not willing to entertain the Leader with a response, Steven remained impassive as he gave his partner its first command.
"Set up a reflect, Claydol."
Kingdra growled as the shimmering barrier rose into place, and Juan regarded his ace while he returned to playing with his mustache. "I see… Well then, Kingdra, let's put a stop to their plans with twister."
Again, the wind on Steven's side of the arena began to whip into a frenzy, and he braced himself for the attack. They didn't have much time left.
"Claydol, light screen next!" he had to shout over the sound of the growing storm.
But the twister was wreaking havoc on Claydol's levitation, and it wobbled about on its axis, sending its eyes rolling this way and that.
"You can do it, Claydol. All we need is that light screen!"
Stabilizing on its axis, Claydol whined a determined note and raised its arms to summon the psychic barrier. But just as the air began to shimmer, a nasty gust ripped across Claydol's body, and it flinched in pain.
A brilliant beam sliced through the middle of the twister, striking Claydol in the midsection. Steven's eyes widened in shock as the wind whipped the ice beam into a maelstrom of frigid air, and Claydol was instantaneously frozen in place. Encased in ice, its levitation faltered and it tumbled to the ground, eyes closed and unmoving.
The referee peered at the downed pokemon only a moment before raising her arm. "Claydol is unable to battle!"
Unease churned in Steven's gut as he recalled Claydol to its ball. Juan sniffed out their plan only one move in, and Kingdra was so swift with its attacks that the light screen hadn't been set. He knew Claydol was going to be a sacrificial Mareep, but he had hoped it could have given his third pokemon a bit more support.
"Metang, it's up to you."
Steven's starter chattered as it appeared back on the familiar battlefield in a familiar situation. Ace versus ace, again. Its eyes narrowed as it sized up the dragon type wearing an irritable glare.
This time, Wallace didn't have a comment, and instead fixed the battlefield with an intense look of his own. Juan took notice of the silence and steeled his gaze. "You know as well as I that I won't fall for the same tactics you used against my student."
Steven nodded, meeting the Leader's stare.
Juan smiled. "Good. Then let's make this last round one to remember!" He swept a hand forward in a grand gesture, "Kingdra, waterfall!"
With a trumpeting call, Kingdra raced forward leaving a torrent of water in its wake.
"Brace yourself!" Steven shouted, and Metang hunkered behind crossed forelegs, eyes wary.
In a brilliant splash, Kingdra met Metang's defense in a full body charge. The two pokemon stalemated for a moment before water began to prickle underneath Kingdra's tail. Suddenly a column of water shot skyward, lifting both pokemon high above the arena floor. Metang's form shimmered with reflect's protective barrier, but Kingdra wasn't deterred. A startled screech issued from Metang as Kingdra jammed its horns underneath its body and flipped the steel type free of the geyser with a toss of its head.
Steven's eyes were glued to his partner's falling form, fist tensed at his side. "Regroup with zen headbutt!"
Psychic energy gathered aroung Metang's form, righting its haphazard fall, and with an echoing cry, it shot toward Kingdra with startling speed. The dragon clearly was not expecting the attack, and it squealed as Metang slammed into its side.
Following through with its tackle, Metang drove the two of them back down to pool level, but before it could send Kingdra careening into one of the pedestals, the dragon type fired a point blank ice beam. The force of the attack pushed Metang back just enough for Kingdra to slip out of the divebomb. Chattering, Metang swatted the remnants of the ice beam away with an angry claw before shooting back toward Kingdra, fist glowing. The bullet punch connected with Kingdra's snout, sending the seahorse pokemon spinning.
But Metang wasn't done. Both claws brought to bear, its eyes glowed blue with psychic energy, and just as the dragon's angry stare found Metang's own, Kingdra found itself engulfed in a psychic attack and flung backwards past its trainer with such force that Juan's coat rippled in the resulting breeze. The Gym's back wall exploded in a shower of tile, but Kingdra only slumped for a moment before rising unsteadily and finding its way back to the battlefield. Both pokemon's stares never wavered, even as they both heaved from the exertion.
Wallace's jaw hung open at the furious action, but Steven was too stunned to notice. All throughout the last exchange, he hadn't uttered a single command, and yet Metang had done everything he had planned on telling it. Somehow they must have shared some kind of unspoken communication; Taj and Mira had said something to that effect with trainers of psychic pokemon. It was only as the realization struck that he noticed he, too, was breathing heavy, as if he had somehow been the one to deliver those blows. Did their connection mean that Metang might soon evolve?
Steven no longer had the luxury to ponder as Kingdra uttered a mighty cry and renewed its offensive at Juan's shout.
The windstorm quickly kicked up around Metang, trapping it within the swirling vortex.
"Hang in there, Metang!" Steven shouted, "Try to break through with psychic!"
A faint blue outline appeared through the twister, but just as the wind began to die down, the outline faltered as Metang flinched, its concentration broken.
Juan smirked, "Kingdra, focus energy."
Still caught in twister's winds, Metang was helpless to stop Kingdra from getting pumped, and Steven felt his jaw clench. Now any hit from Kingdra could be dangerous.
"Don't give it room to attack, bullet punch!"
As the wind subsided, Metang flew towards Kingdra, intent on keeping its opponent on the defensive. But Kingdra was fast. Just before Metang made contact, another point blank ice beam sent Metang tumbling back, this time shrieking in pain. Steven cursed under his breath, the ice type attack shouldn't have been so powerful, but focus energy had increased its impact.
Still chattering in dismay, Metang retreated back to Steven's side of the field, where its trainer was deep in thought. Red eyes slid over questioningly, and Steven gazed back with confidence. He'd have to thank Wallace later, but after that last exchange, he had a plan. Now all he had to do was relay it to his partner without Juan finding out.
"Slow it down with scary face."
Steven pointed as he concentrated, hoping that maybe Metang might sync with his thoughts just like before. But as Kingdra shuddered under his pokemon's speed-reducing technique, Metang didn't seem to move beyond its initial instruction.
Hiding his sigh, Steven resigned himself to the traditional battle style. "Get in there with bullet punch once more!"
Whether or not the strategy was successfully relayed, Metang obeyed with an aggressive cry, taking off toward Kingdra again. Steven could hear Juan's sigh, but he ignored it. As Metang closed in, Kingdra reared back just as before, readying its ice beam just a hair slower than last time.
"Aim at the water!" Steven shouted, and Metang twisted mid-strike.
Its fist slammed into the pool surface, sending a column of water flying right underneath Kingdra's nose. The dragon's eyes went wide as its ice beam connected with the water, freezing it solid around the two pokemon.
A screech filled the air, but it didn't belong to Metang. Steven imagined it had been a while since Kingdra had taken a hit from an ice type attack, and surely it didn't feel good.
"Break free and finish it zen headbutt!"
Kingdra's eyes were wide and wild as it struggled to free itself from the ice pillar, but with its head and wing handily trapped, it could only watch as the ice cracked free from around it's opponent's form with a psychic push and a swing of its metal claws. Metang chimed triumphantly as its body glowed in a purple light. The column of ice exploded into shards as Metang drove itself head first through the captive Kingdra's midsection. Both pokemon slammed into the rear wall of the pool in an explosion of water and tile.
Juan's face was grim as Kingdra remained awkwardly bent over the edge of the pool from the force of the attack. Metang let out a hesitant chitter, waiting for the sea dragon pokemon to recover. But when its opponent's only response was the way its head lolled weakly to the side, the referee made the announcement in conjunction with the recall beam of Juan's pokeball and a shake of the Leader's head.
"Kingdra is unable to battle! All of Leader Juan's pokemon have been incapacitated! The challenger wins!"
Relief flooded Steven's veins as he let out a breath he didn't realize he'd been holding. He barely had time to regain his composure before Metang barreled into him, chattering excitedly.
"Hey, hey!" Steven laughed as he tried to keep his partner from dunking the two of them into the pool in its exheuberence. When he had finally calmed Metang with quiet praise and returned it to its ball, he spotted Juan circling the edge of the pool, a proud smile on his face.
"Well done!" he proclaimed with a round of applause, "You surely have proven yourself as a capable trainer. Tackling a Gym that specializes in a weakness of yours is quite a feat, and you handled it marvelously."
By now, Wallace had arrived at his Master's side and had fixed Steven with a look that was a mix of both admiration and puzzlement.
"It is with great honor that I bestow you with the Rain Badge. Proof that you have taken on the top water type trainers in the region and come out victorious."
Both Master and student bowed before Wallace stepped forward and presented the badge in an upturned palm.
The Rain Badge shimmered as Steven held it in his grasp, the swirl of blues and greens reminiscent of the hues in the water stone he had bestowed to the trainer standing before him.
"When you get to Ever Grande, you aren't allowed to lose."
"Excuse me?" Steven blinked, surprised.
"Master says I'm not allowed to be friends with losers. It's not good for the complexion."
At Wallace's deadly serious expression, Steven couldn't hold in a laugh, and Wallace only scowled further.
"I'll do my best. I don't plan on losing either, but you never know."
"Well, you better not," huffed Wallace as he turned away, arms crossed.
"You know, I really enjoyed our battle today."
Wallace gave a cautious glance back over his shoulder where Steven stood, smiling warmly.
"And I'm sure I'll enjoy our next battle just as much, whether I'm Champion or not."
Steven's smile seemed to be contagious, as the water-type trainer soon found himself wearing one of his own.
"I was simply making sure your pokemon weren't too tired to take on Master's team." There was a cheeky twinkle in Wallace's eyes as the Leader-in-training extended a hand, "Don't think I'll go so easy on you next time."
Steven accepted it without hesitation. "I'd expect nothing less. Until we met again."
"Until we meet again…" Wallace repeated, watching Steven's retreating form wind his way toward the Gym's exit.
"That boy is truly a special trainer…" Juan mused, twirling the end of his mustache with a faint smile. But Wallace's brow furrowed in thought at the words.
"Master, that battle surprised me."
"Hmm, how so?"
"Well, I didn't think you'd use Sealeo so soon after it evolved."
Juan gave his pupil an even look. "Wallace, that was my Walrein. The Sealeo you've been training for me hasn't evolved yet."
"Including Kingdra, that was nearly my full competitive team. And to think that Metang of his still has one more evolutionary stage…"
"Wh-what?!" It was hard for Wallace to protest further with his jaw nearly hanging to the floor.
Juan chuckled at his student's predicament, and placed a reassuring hand on his shoulder. "I think you picked a good rival. One who will truly challenge you to keep improving. Don't get complacent, and I'm sure the next battle will be one for the ages."
…Utilize different types of moves in unique combinations in order to build the ideal team. There is no single right answer, so experiment and practice with your pokemon and you'll be capable of handling anything thrown your way.