AN: So we've reached the finale. I originally had planned to do a two part finale, but this sequence really ballooned on me, and now we've got three chapters instead of two. I hope that's okay. Thank you again to everyone who has read, reviewed, favorited, followed, and simply given this story a chance. Your patience with me has been so very much appreciated, and I can't wait to see this journey all the way through. Enjoy part 1 of the beginning of the end, and as always, any feedback is most welcome.

The Long Road

Chapter 15

Pokemon Trainer's Handbook pg. 11: Simply reaching the Elite Four is no easy feat, but taking on these four trainers and the League Champion is another challenge in its own. Be sure you and your team are prepared to take on the strongest opponents you've ever faced…


When Steven turned what became the final corner of Victory Road's long and winding cave system, he very nearly jumped for joy.

He was almost sick of being underground. Almost.

For when he started eating and sleeping at odd hours, which he was only aware of thanks to his watch, he knew he had been underground for far too long. Not that he didn't enjoy the cool air and the peaceful silence, but there was something to be said for returning to the surface to feel the sun on your face for just a little while before heading back into the depths again. A grin stretched across his lips as he finally caught sight of the distinct glow of daylight at the end of the passage.

But with Claydol by his side, the sunlight that greeted them when they stepped out of the cave was anything but rejuvenating.

Dusk was beginning to take hold of Ever Grande City and the setting sun splashed a blood red hue across the towering structure of the League Headquarters. Deep shadows sprawled across its finely manicured grounds, and Claydol shifted uneasily as it scanned the growing dark, still on edge from their trek through the caverns.

Steven nearly jumped when Claydol gave a sudden squeal as a voice called out in greeting.

"Hey there, congratulations, you made it!"

The Ranger gave a friendly wave as he approached, yet Steven found himself hesitant to offer little more than a blank stare in return. It had been a while since he'd interacted with someone other than his own pokemon, and people were never his forte to begin with...

At Steven's awkward silence, the Ranger gave him a once over with a curious expression that clearly said he wanted to ask why exactly a trainer wearing a suit had stepped out of Victory Road, but he held his tongue and instead held out a hand.

"Your emergency beacon, please?"

Proving he still at least understood human communication, Steven nodded and produced the device from his pack.

The Ranger logged the number from the beacon on his clipboard and gave a short laugh.

"Well, you won't be setting any speed records for getting through there, but that's not what really matters, right?"

The best Steven could muster was a silent nod while Claydol gave the overly-friendly Ranger a wary look, and the man shook his head.

"Can't say I expected you to be too chatty, most aren't when they get out. You're all set though. Go ahead and head in, get yourself a nice rest. You earned it." He tilted his cap over his shoulder toward the League building before turning and heading back into the guard hut.

With the Ranger now back at his post, the grounds stood silent and empty yet again, and Steven couldn't suppress a shiver. The elation of finally reaching the end of Victory Road had quickly disappeared as the ominous emptiness of the second half of Ever Grande City seemed to weigh heavy on his spirits. If it weren't for the promise of a good night's sleep on a proper mattress, he had half a mind to around and head right back into the tunnels behind him.

Except that wasn't what they had come so far to do. Resting a hand at his hip, the small quiver of his pokeballs stirred his feet to move once more. There was no turning back now. Setting his gaze on the pathway that sloped steadily up toward the League, he returned Claydol to its ball and strode forward through the growing dusk.


As the sliding doors whirred shut behind him, Steven found himself staring once again. The lobby of the League building was an expansive space, towering a full three stories high with a grand dual staircase that swept up to the second floor of the building.

Finally tearing his gaze from the architecture of too much glass and polished marble, he spotted the familiar sight of Nurse Joy manning the check-in desk.

"Welcome, trainer, to the Pokemon League. How can I help you today?" She smiled as he approached, taking in the way fire in his eyes belied the dust that had gathered on his jacket, and gave a knowing smile. "You must be checking in."

Steven straighted his posture a bit before nodding, "I am, yes."

"I'll just need your trainer ID for registration, please."

Sliding the card onto the countertop, Steven also placed his six pokeballs next to it. "And if you could heal my team too."

Nurse Joy bobbed a quick nod, "Of course. We'll return them to you in the morning."

At Steven's surprised look, she offered an explanation, "We do a thorough check up on all pokemon that will be undertaking the League challenge. Victory Road takes its toll on both trainer and pokemon, so to make the challenge fair, we give each trainer ten days to rest and relax before making their official challenge. Until then, you will have a room here at the League."

Joy slid his ID back across the counter accompanied by a singular key. "Your room will be on the second floor. All amenities are in the east and west wings on the first floor, including the Pokemart and training center." He turned to follow the sweep of her hand to the left and right. "You can pick up your pokemon from this desk in the morning. Please visit me again when you are ready to issue your official challenge. We hope you enjoy your stay, and best of luck."

Joy bowed before gently placing Steven's team of six onto a tray and disappearing into the PokeCenter behind the desk. His gaze lingered on the door she slipped through before regarding the key now resting in his palm.

That was it. Ten days, and it would all be over, for better or for worse.

It was a lot to weigh, but with an empty belt and an aching body, he resigned himself to rest for the night; he would take it all in in the morning. He could afford one day to think things through. Sparing a glance back over his shoulder from the top of the stairs, he watched through the glass as the last sliver of sun slipped beneath the horizon, draping a cloak of darkness across the Ever Grande landscape.

And for the first time since setting foot back on the surface, something welled up deep inside him. Ever Grande spelled the end of the journey for most, holding the same sort of finality as the shadows that now gripped every corner of the island. But that growing swell of determination wouldn't be quashed. He wasn't most people. And his journey wouldn't end here, not if he and the six partners he trusted the most had anything to say about it. Releasing a white knuckled grip on the railing, he turned and headed to find his quarters.

As the door to his room clicked shut behind him, his pack was discarded on the floor and suit jacket tossed over the nearest chair. Fairly sinking into the welcoming arms of the bed, he was asleep before his head even hit the pillow.


Upon waking up and leaving his room, Steven was greeted with a familiar sight. Long shadows climbed through the glass facade and draped themselves across the quiet lobby, except this time they were shrinking. A quick glance to his left was just in time to watch the sun peek over the eastern edge of the island.

Steven sighed, still running on "cave time", he had woken up before everyone else in the city, not that he minded the peaceful morning stillness. But that meant that the desk of the Pokemon Center was unmanned and left him unable to collect his team, so Steven opted to explore Ever Grande on his own instead.

The crisp morning air greeted his face as he stepped outside, and again the grounds of the League were unnervingly empty. Not that he expected some kind of fanfare to greet him, and granted, it was an obscenely early hour of the morning, but he had expected to see someone on this side of Victory Road besides League staff.

Although perhaps it was for the best that it was quiet. For the first time since he set foot on the island, he finally had time to just stop and think.

Ten days. The number popped back into Steven's head as he absentmindedly followed one of the curving stone walls that traced the League grounds. Did he really need ten whole days to prepare to take on the League? Or was that number designed to be overly generous on purpose? What else could a trainer accomplish in ten days that they hadn't during the entirety of their journey?

Savoring the sound of grass shuffling underfoot as he wandered, another sound caught his ear as he turned the corner into one of the various gardens that ringed the island.

"C'mon, Sceptile! Earthquake, you can do it!"

Startled from his musings, Steven braced for an impact that never came. Instead he caught sight of an enthusiastic female trainer urging on her flustered looking Sceptile.

"It's okay, let's just try again. Maybe just –oh?"

Following her pokemon's gaze, the trainer turned to find Steven watching from the edge of the garden.

"Oh hey there, hi!" she offered a friendly wave and the Sceptile sagged in relief that their training session had been interrupted.

"Ah, good morning," Steven said with a polite wave in return, although the trainer's overly excited greeting was a bit much. He may have been awake early, but he didn't really consider himself much of a morning person...

But the bubbly trainer paid his curtness no mind and continued. "This here is Leif, and I'm Luna. You must be here for the League challenge, too?"

Steven nodded, and thankfully Luna was all too happy to keep chatting to care if he'd actually introduced himself or not.

"Cool! We're nearly ready for our challenge, only a few days left. Leif's been trying to learn this TM for a week now, and I think we've nearly got it. Gotta make sure we're one hundred percent ready to face the Elites, so we're planning ahead."

Again, Steven simply nodded, but this time he cast a glance at where Leif had stationed himself next to his trainer. Something about the slouch in the Sceptile's stance didn't inspire confidence, and Steven found himself thinking back to when he and Aggron were working on learning thunderbolt before their Gym match in Sootopolis. It had taken the rock type nearly a month to be able to use the off-type attack effectively. He hated to think this, but Luna and Leif weren't going to be ready in three days…

"— so I was thinking that ground type attacks will work on both Iona and Simon, and the rest of my team has TMs to take on Glacia and Phoebe's teams too. So yeah, we'll have all our bases covered! Uhh, did I lose you there?"

Steven snapped to attention. He had spaced out on the chatty trainer, but Luna wasn't fazed as he muttered a quick apology.

"Ha, no that's on me. My mom always did say I have a bad habit of talking too much when I'm nervous. But, it's not like I'm nervous or anything," Luna gave a confident smile to her partner, "Nah, we got this, right, Leif?"

Despite its tired expression, Leif returned her grin with a nod, and Luna beamed with satisfaction.

"So, when are you going to challenge the League?"

Blinking, Steven hesitated. When was he going to challenge the League? He had done his research prior to arriving in Ever Grande, so he didn't need to study more. He knew what he was up against. Speed, stamina, trickery, and status effects were all par for the course with the Elite Four, not to mention their preferred types. And even if he had planned to tailor his team to take on the Elite, he was certain they would be prepared with the perfect counter for their respective weaknesses. The top trainers in Hoenn weren't simply defeated by a type disadvantage. No, he didn't need any more time; he got this far with his team's strengths, and he'd stick to that through to the end. If he was rested and so were his pokemon, there was no sense in delaying any further. His mind was made up.

After announcing his decision to Luna, Steven returned to the front desk to collect his team. Attaching the last pokeball back to his belt, he flagged the nurse down before she could leave.

"I'd like to issue my official challenge for tomorrow morning at 10 am."


10:01 am, the double doors of the League entrance now sealed behind him, Steven Stone stood one hallway away from the first of five people that loomed between him and the title of Hoenn's Champion. With nothing more than well wishes from the League staff and the gentle reminder that the League challenge is consecutive and not restartable, he had stepped through the portal.

The passage to the first chamber was a short one, but it was the kind of walk that felt like a mile. The solid click of his dress shoes echoed through the empty hall, and a quick glance down at the polished floor gave him a glimpse at the suit-clad bundle of nerves that was about to take on the five most powerful trainers in the region.

But this wasn't a road he'd walked alone. The quiet boy from Rustboro had grown, and along the way he gained six powerful pokemon and the kind of confidence that can only come from equal parts experience, nervousness, and sheer determination. So with a steadying breath, he leveled his gaze and pressed on until the double doors of the hallway closed behind him and the first Elite stood waiting between the towering dynamos of her chamber.

Iona gave him a once over, brushing a lock of wispy graying hair behind her ear before adjusting the messy bun that sat atop her head. A sly smile crept over her lips as he stepped up to the challenger's box.

"Well you're a spot younger than I imagined you'd be. I can see why Wattson had taken a shine to you."

Steven blinked at her forward tone.

"Wattson's told you about me?"

"Of course he has! There's not many electric type trainers in this region. We talk all the time."

Vaguely wondering if all electric type trainers also shared the same taste in mechanic's jumpsuits, Steven blurted out his main concern.

"You're not as big a fan of puns too, are you?"

Iona balked. "Heavens no! I hate those dreadful things!"

Steven sighed in relief, but quickly paled as she jabbed an accusing finger his way.

"Don't tell me you like puns. Is that why Wattson likes you so much?"

Shaking his head, Steven quickly denied the claim. "No, no, definitely not."

It was Iona's turn to sigh in relief. "Thank goodness, I was afraid I'd have to crush you as fast as possible to avoid hearing any more terrible jokes. Now I guess we can enjoy this battle at a much more reasonable pace."

And there it was. Steven's eyes narrowed as the Elite readied her first pokeball. Speed. That's what Iona was known for. Her electric type pokemon weren't only strong, they were fast as well. Thankfully he had long become familiar with the blue and yellow colors of Manectric and was able to recognize the blur that vanished as soon as it appeared from Iona's pokeball.

Taking a deep breath to steady himself, he channeled the growing surge of excitement into his throw and launched his own pokeball into the arena.

"Claydol, let's go!"

Just as he suspected, Claydol's type advantage eventually bested Iona's Manectric's speed, but not without a fair share of damage sustained. The nimble electric type had run circles around Claydol, delivering swift crunch attacks that caused the psychic type to flinch from the dark energy on its opponent's jaws. But the desert doll's numerous eyes had been able to keep track of the blue and yellow blur for long enough to eventually trip it with a well aimed extrasesnory and levy the finishing blow with an earth power while it was down.

Iona only offered a knowing grin as the red recall beam faded and she released her second pokemon.

Another flash of yellow and blue poured forth, but this time it literally did so in a torrent of water. Both Steven and Claydol blinked in surprise as the self generated tide began to spark with electricity. Poking out from the center of the water came a cheerful looking snout beneath a brightly glowing bauble of light. Steven had never seen the sea lantern pokemon in person before, and the native Johtonian species proved to be just as strange as he imagined it would be.

"I sure hope you weren't thinking you'd pack your team with ground types and expect to defeat me," called Iona as her Lanturn bobbed up and down on the battlefield.

Steven eyed the dual electric and water type pokemon's skillful sculpting of its watery pedestal and shook his head. "I wouldn't have dreamed of it."

But when he made no move to switch his pokemon, Iona simply quirked a brow. "Okay then. Lanturn, take it down with surf!"

"Light screen, now!"

The defensive maneuver was meant to try to keep the momentum from Claydol's first victory going and not put his next pokemon at risk to the water type's moves, but as the shimmering barrier began to materialize, Steven realized it was all for naught.

As the wave poured forth, Lanturn itself charged with the attack, lacing the water with energy from its bauble as it rushed forward. Fingers of electricity leapt from the water and struck the light screen ahead of the wave, causing the barrier to falter. The electric attack's strike lasted just long enough for the water to rush past the flickering barrier and sweep the unsuspecting Claydol under. It bobbed and gurgled in an effort to stay afloat, but Lanturn swiftly bore down on Claydol and body slammed the hapless pokemon underwater.

When the tide receded back to Iona's side of the field, it left the sopping and unconscious form of Claydol rolling a gentle circle on the ground.

Steven frowned, recalling his partner. The defensive gamble hadn't paid off, and the swift reminder of the real strength of the Elite Four grounded his emotional high after the opening round win.

Seeing the challenger's spirits fall, Iona laughed, "You're bold, I'll give you that. But if that's the best you can do, this battle might be shorter than I hoped."

It was only a minor setback though. He hadn't really expected to last an entire battle without losing a pokemon, and the plan was never to ride Claydol's immunity through the whole match. With a bit more caution in mind, Steven brushed back his jacket to grab his second pokemon.

"Cradily, it's your turn!"

"Another handy type advantage. Well played. All right, Lanturn, we'll make this a battle of attrition. Aqua ring!"

Steven's frown deepened as the support move surrounded Lanturn in a hazy blue ring. Cradily wasn't known for her offensive power, and now that her opponent had a reliable way to recover health, the effectiveness of her attacks would be diminished even further. They needed to seize the attack, and in a hurry.

"Get in there with giga drain!"

Coiling her head back like a whip, Cradily's tendrils shot forward to grasp Lanturn, but the water pokemon proved to be quicker than it looked, and it skirted out of the way at the last minute.

"Again, follow it!"

Heeding her trainer's shout, Cradily snapped her head about, tentacles chasing Lanturn's every move. But again, Lanturn was nimble in moving its water pedestal around just ahead of Cradily's strikes.

Iona grinned. "Too bad your pokemon isn't a bit quicker, or else we'd be in real trouble. Okay, Lanturn, time to go on the offensive."

Still fleeing from Cradily's pursuit, at Iona's command Lanturn peeked back at its opponent with a small grin. The water beneath its fins began to churn and suddenly a sneaky surf attack gushed forth.

Too extended to brace herself, Cradily was swept backwards in the wave, and she squealed in surprise.

Steven watched his partner tumble, expression tight. Cradily could survive an attack like this, but he didn't like their odds of taking another.

"Set your feet, then use recover!"

As the worst of the wave passed, Cradily's roots found the arena floor once more, and she clung tight while water swirled around her, drawing healing energy up from the ground.

"Now, ancient power!"

Steven's hand shot forward in time with Cradily's attack. But as the stones neared their target, Lanturn's body began to crackle with energy.

"Discharge!"

Sparks flew as arcs of electricity shot from Lanturn, blowing ancient power's boulders to rubble. Silence settled across the battlefield as the remains of Cradily's attack lay strewn about her opponent. The few projectiles that made it through Lanturn's electric defense had done minimal damage at best, and it seemed to sag more from exertion than pain. But whatever the reason, its fatigue was quickly negated as aqua ring's effect kicked in.

Cradily warbled a nervous note as Steven's hand found its way to his chin.

"That pokemon is too fast to attack head on. We need a distraction," he muttered, staring at the way Iona stood confidently, hands on her hips. "Something even she won't see coming."

He only pondered a moment more as he studied the battlefield...

"Cradily!" His partner snapped to attention at the strength in his shout, turning her head to meet his stare. "Ancient power, use everything you've got!"

Steven could understand why she hesitated at the repeated command, but he held her stare just a moment before flicking his gaze to the debris that littered the arena.

"And I mean everything."

His voice was low, and Cradily's eyes widened as she realized the meaning in his words. With a chirrup, she spun back around to fix Lanturn with a determined stare, tendrils flaring out as she gathered energy.

The shards of stone left over from Cradily's first attack began to quiver where they lay. Both Iona and Lanturn's gaze turned down to eye the trembling debris.

"Get ready," she murmured to her partner, and Lanturn started to glow and spark with electricity, just as before.

Steven watched as Lanturn braced itself before making the call. "Now, Cradily!"

Shrieking, Cradily swung her tendrils forward, and rocks of all sizes lifted from the arena floor and flew in a wave toward her opponent.

Eyes narrowed, Iona watched as again her pokemon's electric attack shattered the projectiles before they reached it, but she missed Cradily rearing her head back again, swinging her tentacles in the opposite direction, and scooping up the remnants of Claydol's earth power to send the chunks in a second wave of debris down on Lanturn from behind.

Unprepared for the two pronged attack, Lanturn was hit full force and tumbled from its watery pedestal, leaving it terrified and flopping on the arena floor. It cried out, trying to regather the water around its body, but Cradily's attack had sent it falling forward, and it now lay helpless at Cradily's feet. Before it could right itself, Cradily swarmed Lanturn with her tendrils and siphoned its life force away with giga drain. When Lanturn lay trembling in her grasp, sustained by a last minute aqua ring boost, Cradily prepared to bear down again and finish the job when Iona's voice rang out.

"Rain Dance!"

Twisting in Cradily's grasp, Lanturn let out a shuddering cry and raised a fin to the sky. Dark storm clouds swirled overhead as Cradily drained the last of Lanturn's energy, and it fell limp from her tendrils to the arena floor.

Calmly, Iona returned her partner just as the first raindrops began to fall. "I'm impressed. We haven't had to rely on this strategy in quite some time."

The rain was falling in sheets now as a jolly looking Ampharos appeared on the battlefield.

"If you can get past this round, I'll really be impressed."

But Steven's concern wasn't on the Elite's thin boast, and he stared hard at where Cradily stood proudly.

"Are you okay to keep going?" he asked, mindful of Claydol's downfall from earlier. This time though, his partner should have been close to full strength from her strong regenerative attacks.

Cradily shook her head, sending a spray of water in all directions, and trilled in the affirmative.

But from the way Iona simply smirked even when Cradily's tendrils wrapped around Ampharos and pinned it to the ground, Steven feared he again made the wrong decision. Ampharos gave a shrill cry, and electricity surged forth, tracing a path along Cradily's grasp until his partner shuddered under the paralyzing grip of Ampharos' charge.

"Cradily, back off for now!"

Steven knew Cradily had heard him, but both he and his pokemon barely had time to register the wicked glint of Ampharos' red jewel before the battlefield exploded in a brilliant bolt of lighting. The resulting thunderclap nearly sent him stumbling backwards, completely drowning out the sound of his partner's scream of pain.

As the dust cleared, the only sound in the arena was the patter of rain falling on Cradily's crumpled form. She wasn't moving save for a shallow, shuddering breath that rippled through her body.

Whatever shock Steven felt was fleeting, swiftly replaced with a quiet rage at ferocity of the Elite's attack. He knew the League challenge would be no joke; the Elite were powerful trainers. But to see his own pokemon take such a vicious attack left him shaking. Had a pokemon ever died during a match at the League? The sensation of Armaldo's pokeball trembling at his hip snapped him from his daze, and with Cradily now tucked safely back next to her teammates, Steven skipped over the most active ball on his belt in favor of the most familiar. They wouldn't be intimidated by Iona's show of power.

"Metagross!" His partner's name ripped from his throat, a fiery stare locked onto the Elite standing across from him. "Show them what we can do!"

Four legs thudded into the earth only to be met immediately by a second lightning strike. But this time the thunderclap was not victorious, and Metagross's roar cut loud and clear through the din. Two red eyes shone through the dust, alight with psychic energy as the falling rain hissed and popped across the overheated metal of Metagross's hide.

Iona watched unblinking as her pokemon's head jerked back when it lifted from the arena floor, helplessly pawing at its neck with frantic shrieks. Because if she did blink, she would have missed exactly why Ampharos was now crushed against the far wall of the arena, cracks lacing outward from the impact.

Metagross's claw opened, letting Ampharos peel from the wall and slump to the floor. Eyes flashing, Steven's pokemon turned in time with its trainer to face the Elite with an unspoken challenge. 'Send out another.'

Finally, Iona's smile wavered, but it didn't vanish even as the patter of rain melted away.

"Very well," she said, raising a pokeball in each upturned palm. "Your choice."

Metagross's bristling energy faltered a bit at the Elite's odd proposition, and although Steven's sharp gaze held steady, the slight incline of his head told Iona she had puzzled the duo.

"These are my last two pokemon. I have no preference which one goes first, since you'll see them both eventually. So, left or right?"

The steel pokemon grated an uncertain noise, so Steven made the executive decision.

"The one on your left," he said with a subdued point.

Hefting the chosen ball, Iona smiled brighter. "A good choice."

With a squeak, her diminutive electric rodent appeared on the battlefield. Red and yellow, it sported long rounded ears and small plus-shaped tail. The Plusle looked comically outmatched as it stared up at Metagross.

But Steven had seen the native Hoenn electric type before, and he knew Iona was back to her speedy tactics.

"Then we just have to be faster," he muttered to Metagross, and it nodded in agreement. "Bullet punch!"

In a rush of air, Metagross jolted into action, bringing a fist to bear down on the Plusle. But instead of dodging out of the way like Steven expected, the tiny electric type took the blow full on, tumbling backwards from the force of Metagross's strike.

Sparing a quick glance toward Iona, Steven saw her looking on, unconcerned, even as Plusle struggled to its feet, covered in cuts and scratches. After Ampharos went down, was she considering conceding the match?

"Finish this, Metagross. Psych -"

"Encore!"

All at once, Plusle perked up and fixed Metagross with a cheery smile, jumping and clapping in an enthusiastic cheer. Staring transfixed at its opponent, the psychic aura in Metagross's eyes dimmed, and it found itself raising a leg to execute another bullet punch. But as Steven watched his partner change its mind, Plusle's innocent smile turned malicious.

"Bestow!"

From seemingly nowhere, Plusle produced an oversized iron ball, complete with chain. Just as Metagross's fist came down, Plusle tossed the iron ball up and spun out of the way of the attack. With a loud clank, the item's manacle fastened itself around Metagross's leg before falling back to the ground with a heavy thud. Now free of its burden, Plusle hopped lightly atop the iron ball and made a rude face at Metagross's predicament.

Metagross grumbled an unhappy noise and took a swipe at the offending pokemon with its free foreleg, only to have Plusle dance out of the way with another impolite gesture. With a tug, Metagross tried to free its trapped limb, but the iron ball proved to be startlingly heavy. Thankfully, Metgross had four capable limbs, not just two…

"Pivot and use your rear legs!"

With a roar, Metagross complied, and in a wild cartwheel it reared up and over its trapped leg to bring both hind legs down in a pair of vicious punches. So shocked by the maneuver, Plusle tripped over its own feet and just managed to roll out of the way of the first blow, only to land in the path of the second.

But before Metagross's claws came down, Iona's voice rang out.

"Volt switch!"

In a flash of energy, Plusle vanished just as Metagross's fist met earth. The dispersing electricity surged up its leg, and Metagross roared in pain. As the pain subsided, a new sensation arose, and one red eye slid open to find its opponent now hanging off its leg, a grin on its face. But something had changed. Instead of red and yellow, it now sported blue and yellow fur.

The Minun cried out its name and charged up its own electric field.

"Now, electroball!"

A bright sphere of electricity crackled around Minun as it powered up, and Metagross moved to try and avoid the incoming attack, shaking its leg to dislodge the tiny pokemon. The electric type's grip on Metagross weakened and it was tossed backwards into the air, but despite its strongest tug, Metagross could only get the iron ball to budge a few feet before Minun recovered and slammed the electroball full force into its head, driving Metagross to the ground.

Sparks danced over his partner's hide as it clambered to its feet, and Steven frowned. If Metagross couldn't free its leg, there was no way it would be able to catch up to either Plusle or Minun. A switch wouldn't do much good either, since the rest of his team still would be no match for the Elite's team speed. Skarmory maybe, but its weakness to the Elite's strength gave Steven pause.

How could they turn their disadvantage around?

"Metagross!"

His starter ceased its slow, hobbling retreat, and turned its gaze toward its trainer.

"Can you use psychic yet?"

Metagross noticed its trainer's hard stare at the iron ball, and rumbled its acknowledgment. It would try.

Crackling electricity alerted the pair to Minun's next attack, and Steven put his hastily made plan into action. He threw his hand forward with his shout.

"Fling the iron ball at Minun with psychic then follow it with bullet punch!"

A roar split his starters jaw wide as it complied, a blue outline forming around the anchor that kept it trapped. With a heave, Metagross wrenched its leg as hard as it could, sending the iron ball hurtling toward where Minun stood charging its attack. It screeched as the rest of its body came flying after, bolstered by the momentum.

Iona's eyes went wide. "Forget the electroball, use volt switch!"

Minun squeaked and slammed its eyes shut as Metagross loomed near, but it finished the new attack and vanished in a burst of electricity, just like Plusle had done. This time though, Steven stared hard as its teammate's form began to take shape off to the side of Metagross's attack.

"Change course, Metagross!"

In a surge of psychic energy, the iron ball swung to the right, now headed straight for where Plusle materialized. It barely had time to register its fate before Metagross slammed full force into it, burying the smaller pokemon beneath its entire weight. A tiny squeak was heard from the rubble and Iona bowed her head as she recalled her fainted pokemon.

Nodding as she looked up, Iona crossed her arms, "Not bad. Not bad at all."

Minun materialized on the battlefield in its partner's place, a nervous expression in its eyes, paws wringing together in worry.

"Don't fret, little one," Iona's soothing tone seemed to calm the electric type, and she smiled. "Just keep doing your best, that's all there is to it."

Iona's words seemed to bolster the tiny pokemon, but as soon as it turned to face Metagross, it burst into tears. Taken aback, Metagross faltered, unsure how to proceed with such an emotional foe. But as soon as Metagross's leg lowered, the fake tears stopped, and Minun grinned as it slammed an electroball directly into Metagross's face.

Before its opponent could fully recover, Minun darted away taking full advantage of its speed. With a frustrated growl, Metagross finally shook off the point-blank attack and scanned the arena for any sign of the electric rodent.

"Find it and slow it down with scary face!"

Steven's shout grounded his partner, and Metagross hunkered low, eyes scanning the battlefield until it caught sight of a flash of yellow. Jaw wide, it fixed a fearsome stare on the speedy pokemon, and Minun made its first mistake, making eye contact with Metagross's gaze. The scary face rooted it in place and Metagross seized its chance. Snagging the electric type with its psychic powers, it lifted Minun from the ground where its legs pumped in a panicked effort to escape.

"Finish this with meteor mash!" Steven shouted, and Metagross obeyed.

Still rooted to the spot via its iron shackle Metagross couldn't launch itself at its opponent to deliver the attack. But Minun could come to it. With a tug of psychic energy, Minun flew at a breakneck pace toward where Metagross stood. Helpless, it barely had time to brace itself before it slammed headlong into Metagross's outstretched fist. Its pained squeak echoed through the chamber before it tumbled to the ground and laid still.

With a clank, the iron ball's manacle opened and clattered to the floor beside the fallen pokemon. The battle was over.

As Minun faded into the light of its recall beam and the scoreboard grayed out the last of Iona's icons, the realization finally struck. They had won.

Steven's sigh of relief was nearly loud enough to echo around the arena. Going into the battle, he had believed they could triumph, and now that they had, it bolstered his confidence tenfold. It was just the first step, but it was still a step they had to take, and they did.

Iona moved from her trainer's box and beckoned Steven to meet her at the center of the battlefield. Hands on her hips, she gave a wide smile as he approached.

"Y'know, not many people make it past me. I knock them off their feet before they can even get any momentum. But you didn't need any momentum, those pokemon of yours are strong. To tell the truth, I normally prefer double battles, it's what I was known for back in Johto, but they wouldn't let me bend the rules. The current champ is a real stickler. So if you ever want to battle again with a different format, just stop on by."

She gave a wink before reaching into the pocket of her jumpsuit and pulling something out.

"Since you gave me such a good match and you won fair and square, take this. I know how tough this gauntlet can be, and something tells me you regret not making that first switch. I like your style, so here's to a second chance."

With an easy toss, she flipped the Revive toward Steven who caught it with only a slight bobble. He gaped at the rare item, a precious commodity given the strict healing item policy put in place to prevent challengers from simply sacrificing pokemon and bringing them back repeatedly in an effort to outlast the Elite's teams. He'd originally planned to save as many of his revival items for the later battles, and losing two pokemon to fainting in the first round wasn't part of that plan. Iona just handed him a new lease on his League challenge life. Before he could stammer his thanks, Iona gave a knowing nod.

"Now good luck in the next chamber. Glacia's been waiting for a good battle since I usually hog them all."

Steven accepted the hand Iona extended to him and managed to meet her warm smile with one of his own. The tense excitement was already building back up to bury his short-lived relief, but if Iona had this much faith in him, maybe he could conquer his nerves and pull off another victory. But a new opponent brought new challenges.

Glacia. The second Elite. Master of the ice type, which meant fearsome attacking power and a stalwart defense awaited his arrival. This would be a battle of stamina, and he needed to prepare accordingly.

Pausing just beyond Iona's chamber, Steven administered his gifted Revive and one of his own, which Claydol and Cradily gratefully accepted. Quieting Cradily's whine of apology with a reassuring pat and soft words that she had done her best, he then turned his attention to the rest of his team. Aggron and Skarmory were both fresh, as was Armaldo, although Steven could only wonder how shaken it was after seeing Cradily take that vicious attack. Metagross, though, had taken considerable damage in the finale against Iona's electric duo. Eyeing the limited quantity of League approved healing items, he jostled his pack and then remembered; the Berry Master's gifts!

The bundle of Sitrus berries was doled out to his pokemon. Metagross snacked on a few to regain its strength, but Aggron wisely tucked its berry away to save for the upcoming match. With one last double-check, Steven recalled them all and set his sights on the double doors at the far end of the hall.

He was barely halfway there when he felt the temperature drop. The nervousness welled up in his gut once again, but the encouragement from Iona stuck with him even as the second chamber's doors thudded shut behind him.

"Welcome."

Steven nearly shivered, and he suspected it wasn't from the cold. The voice held an edge to it that took the normally cordial greeting and transformed it into a threat. A figure stepped through the frosty mist that hung low over the chamber's floor, her hands clasped tightly over the pale violet fabric of her dress.

"My name is Glacia, and this is as far as you will go."

In one swift motion, a hand slipped into the pocket of her dress and reappeared brandishing a pokeball. Her Glalie materialized on the battlefield with a shuddering screech.

Taken aback by the complete turnabout from Iona's cheerful disposition, Steven froze, no doubt with an involuntary look of confusion on his face. Only when Glacia's eyes narrowed dangerously did he snap into into action, bringing out his first pokemon, and their battle began without another word.

But when Metagross tore through the ice-type's defenses like it was nothing more than paper, he exhaled the tense breath he'd been holding, letting it billow out in a big, foggy cloud. Glacia's chilly demeanor had been intimidating to say the least, and Metagross's quick victory washed away his nervousness like the hot springs at Lavaridge. After all, a battle of stamina favored his preferred pokemon type too.

Silently, Glalie was returned, and a Froslass appeared on the battlefield in its stead, her cool gaze easily ignoring the scattered ice chips from her fallen teammate.

This time, however, the type advantage swung in Glacia's favor, and a particularly vicious shadow ball left Metagross stunned before it could land a blow of its own. But Steven had learned his lesson, and Froslass's second shadow ball smashed into the arena floor as Metagross vanished into the light of its recall beam.

Aggron took its place with a battle cry, eager for its first action of the day. It eyed the dual type pokemon with a grunt, sizing up the competition. While not as speedy as the previous Elite's pokemon, Froslass enjoyed an evasive advantage over Aggron's lumbering speed. But Aggron was dogged in his pursuit, and when he managed to get his claws on the wispy ice type it proved to be more than enough to topple Glacia's second pokemon.

The Froslass's pained shriek was cut short by the bellow of Glacia's next selection, but the way Aggron simply grinned told Steven his partner already knew the outcome of this round. Shaking off the frost from Froslass's futile attacks, electricity crackled between Aggron's horns before arcing toward a startled looking Walrein. But just like the battle with Juan, Walrein would not be toppled with one move, and it struck back with all of the water type attacks it knew. Back and forth the two giants struggled, and it was only Aggron's Sitrus berry that gave it the strength to withstand Walrein's fierce torrent, and in the end Glacia's Walrein fell under Aggron's fearsome attack.

Panting, Aggron stood tall, but Steven was having none of its bravado and reached for its ball, readying Metagross in return. Except that as a second Froslass made its appearance on the battlefield, Steven's hand twitched to another ball on his belt.

Skarmory materialized with a screech and immediately took to the skies, earning a quirked brow from Glacia. However, Steven remained stoic. He knew the flying type was a gamble, but if there was any pokemon on his team stubborn and proud enough to avoid a knock out, it was Skarmory.

Hesitating only a moment to watch her opponent circle overhead, Froslass let loose a chilling scream before drifting into the haze of the icy battlefield. Instantly the wind began to whip into a frenzy, snow and ice whirling in a fierce storm that forced Skarmory to duck low to the ground, lest ice form on its wings and send it plummeting from the sky. As it swooped low, Froslass seized her chance, darting out from the mist, arms raised to envelop Skarmory in the sheer cold of her grasp.

But Skarmory's senses were sharp, and at the last minute it nimbly pivoted, striking the floor of the arena with its wings and sending a shower of sparks raining down on the shrieking Froslass. As Glacia's pokemon recoiled in fear from the fiery show, Skarmory wheeled about, shooting skyward for only a moment as its steel wing charged, before slamming Froslass hard to the ground with the edges of its bladed wings. Writhing from the critical strike, Froslass tried to rise only to have a razor sharp talon clamp down on her throat. Wings unfurled in a triumphant pose, Skarmory screeched as its victim vanished in a beam of red light. Its celebration was cut short, however, by the chattering roar of a furious Glalie, and Skarmory swiveled to face the new threat.

Except that it never got the chance to face it, as Aggron would simply not be outdone. He fairly burst forth from his ball before Steven could rightfully summon him, sending his trainer scrambling to recall Skarmory from the battlefield. Before Steven had a chance to admonish his reckless partner, Aggron had made quick work of the opposing pokemon. The icicles that coated its horns from the Glalie's opening blizzard were shattered along with a good portion of its opponent's hide, scattering in a dazzling shower of crystal.

The scoreboard pinged, and Steven watched as Glacia's icons all dimmed to gray, while all six of his own still glowed brightly. The battle had gone better than he could had ever hoped, and the swell of pride in himself in his pokemon again brought a rush of warmth to his face. It took considerable effort to keep from grinning unabashedly.

As her last pokemon toppled to the frozen arena floor, Glacia grimaced, but managed to hold her composure despite the complete sweep of her team. Every pokemon she had called forth was mowed down without so much as scoring a knock-out of their own. It stung, the hit to her pride, but being an Elite did not make one invincible... Ignoring Aggron where it stood, breathing hard but still very much able to fight, she stepped forward to meet Steven at the center of the battlefield, icy stare never wavering.

"Impressive, challenger."

The edge in her voice cut through Steven's elation, and he sobered quickly. Seeing his startled reaction, Glacia gave a thin smile and folded her arms across her chest.

"I can't recall the last time I've been handed such a single-sided defeat. My pokemon and I have trained hard to withstand the heat of our enemies, but you battle with pokemon who also relish the cold." Her gaze slide to the side, and a lone finger reached up to rest at her temple. "You've given us a lot to think about."

"But," she continued, "A win is a win, and seeing as I no longer have a need for it, I trust you'll make good use of this with your given strategy."

She held out a Full Restore and dropped it into Steven's palm as if it had burned her.

"Congratulations on your victory, but in the next chamber, I doubt you'll enjoy the same amount of success. All the same, I wish you luck. Don't make me the last Elite to fall at your hands."

With the outright threat lingering, Glacia finally broke eye contact and stepped aside with a graceful curtsy, ushering Steven toward the door.

Sparing the prickly Elite one last uncertain glance, Steven stepped past her and into a hallway that held the same chill as the previous chamber, but for a very different reason. Administering some of his precious healing items to his pokemon, he couldn't ignore his growing unease. Even though the hall was well lit, dark shadows hung at the edges of the room; a ghost's playground.

This time, Steven did shudder as he neared the chamber door. Both Iona and Glacia had been incredibly skilled and imposing trainers, and yet he had two very different battles against them both. But ghost types were fickle pokemon that demanded years of experience to train, let alone train well enough to claim a spot in the Elite Four. He pushed the chamber doors wide and squinted through the hanging gloom toward the far side of the battlefield. What sort of opponent would Phoebe prove to be?

So when the arena lights clicked on, Steven could only stare in shock. Standing at the Elite's position was a thin, dark-skinned teen dressed in a flowing floral print sarong, wearing an expression that told him she was just as shocked to see him as he was to see her.

"You... you beat Glacia so quickly!"

"What?"

Under Steven's incredulous stare, Phoebe fidgeted nervously, bringing one hand up to play with the petals of a pink flower behind her ear.

"Uh, I mean, um, welcome, challenger, to your worst nightmare!" She finished with a dramatic gesture.

Steven narrowed his gaze at her meek attempt to save face, and Phoebe winced at his skeptical look.

"Look, uh, I'm still not good with this whole "intimidating speech" thing. Can we just battle? I promise I'm better at battling than looking fierce."

Still recovering from the initial shock, Steven found himself nodding until he caught sight of a slight movement behind Phoebe. It was only fleeting, but he swore he saw a shadowy presence flit by. Was it just a trick of the light, or was Phoebe's meek presence hiding something more sinister? She was part of the Elite Four, after all. There was no way she could be as innocent as she appeared to be…

"Great!" she chimed, grabbing her first pokeball with a cheery smile. "Let's get started!"

Or maybe she really was.


To Be Continued…