Ash stepped forwards, his Pokémon already appearing around him. He looked back at Alakazam who stood steady, meeting his trainer's gaze. Espeon stood by his side as the rest of his team fanned out, immediately forming a perimeter. Ash waited a moment for it to be secure before turning to his companions.
"Welcome to Sinnoh."
"Where are we?" Mellanie asked, squinting at the buildings she could just about see in the distance.
"Approximately one mile outside Sunnyshore City," Ash said.
"Are we walking from here?"
Ash shrugged. "We can. We could teleport closer. Whatever we do, we need to be prepared when we get closer to the city."
Mellanie nodded, before turning to Lance, Steven and Sam. "Thoughts?"
"We can walk a mile," Lance said instantly. "And if we don't teleport, it might catch a few of them by surprise if we ever have to."
"Agreed," Steven said. "We'll see any attacks coming as well. If we teleport it, we could teleport into an ambush."
"That is unlikely," Ash said. "Alakazam is not stupid. Far from it. And whilst he has been teleporting Pokémon all over the regions without rest for the last two days, avoiding a concentration of minds is easy for him. I would also be very surprised if none of our opponents know of my Pokémon's capability of teleporting in and out of an area."
"So why did you bring us here?" Lance asked. "You enjoy the hike?"
Ash let a smile flash across his face. "Because now you can see where we are, we can decide exactly what our strategy can be. We can advance on the city and see what the revolutionary response it, or we can teleport straight in for Domino and snatch her."
Mellanie swallowed as eyes turned to her. "If we take Domino without even looking like we are trying to negotiate, it could end badly."
"I agree," Steven said. "We need to play this smart. We have the power to break out of any trap with the Pokémon we are bringing, so let's take advantage of that."
"One question first though," Sam said, speaking for the first time. He turned to Ash. "You said you weren't sure if you had the power with your Pokémon to win against the entire city. Is there any way that we could not fight our way out of any problem we might face?"
"As long as I have my Pokémon, we will always be able to retreat," Ash confirmed. "Odds are not a problem."
"So remind me why we're here?" Lance asked.
"Because I only have fourteen Pokémon, and one of them will need to coordinate," Ash said flatly. "They are extremely strong, but a city is a big place. It will be hard for them to cover its entirety by themselves. Each of you can face at least half as many as a single one of my Pokémon. It will help us cover a little more of the city, and Alakazam can move you around if needed. There is also a chance, albeit very small, that I've missed something. You're here to help if I have."
The silence that fell was almost total, Ash's tone had left no room for any argument.
"So, we walk?" Mellanie asked eventually.
"We walk," Sam confirmed. "Pokémon out?"
"Not yet," Mellanie said. "Ash, keep yours back. I want to try to negotiate first, find out what we can do to end this peacefully. Having your Pokémon standing over them will make that harder."
They set off, heading for the city they could see in the distance.
"They are here."
Domino looked up to see her superior stood in front of her.
"How do you know that?"
"I have my ways. They are a short way away. I suspect they don't know that we know they are here yet. Interestingly, they are walking towards us."
"Perhaps they haven't come for a fight?"
"I may have misjudged Mellanie Rigger," the man mused. "I thought she'd come swinging for us, but instead it looks like she wants to try to negotiate. I can't think of any other reason that she hasn't come straight for you, especially if Ketchum is with them."
"Wait, you thought she was going to come straight for me?" Domino snapped. "Did you even have a plan for protecting me?"
"Relax Tulip," the man said with a smirk. "If they had come straight for you, we would have been ready for them. They would not have gotten out of this room with you."
"And you didn't think to use this trap when Ketchum came for me before?" Domino growled. "Am I expendable to you?"
"Are you getting concerned?" the man asked, amusement through his voice. "For a Rocket Agent, I expected a great deal better." This seemed to entertain him as he grinned broadly at his subordinate. "Do not worry, you are not expendable to me just yet. I want you to help me bring down Ketchum when we take his Pokémon out of the scene."
"But…" Domino started before being cut off by an arm cutting down.
"Enough Tulip," the man said. "Head out to the edge of the city, prepare to greet our guests."
Domino stalked out of the office, glaring at her superior as she passed him.
"You know I prefer Black Tulip."
"I'm sure you do," the man said. "And when you have earned the title, I'll call you whatever you like."
Domino threw him another venomous look from the doorway before storming away, leaving a thoroughly entertained man behind her.
Mellanie stopped, her arms held out around her. They had reached the outskirts of Sunnyshore twenty minutes earlier and were making steady progress into the city. The large grassy areas outside the buildings that were indicative of the suburbs were beginning to give way to more built-up areas. Mellanie looked around her as lines of people filed out of the gaps between buildings ahead of them, all of them wearing the same plain grey uniform, free of any identifying feature. Around her, Sam, Lance, Steven and Ash all halted, waiting for her to give a signal. As the lines met, completely blocking the path forwards, Mellanie turned slightly.
"Stay here. Be ready."
She then stepped forward, eating into the distance between her small group and the line of opponents. As she closed the gap to a mere fifteen metres, she stopped and waited. A long moment later, a figure stepped through the line, striding forwards confidently.
"Mellanie Rigger. The Pokémon Master herself. I'm honoured that you've come to my city."
"Domino. The Black Tulip." Mellanie retorted. "I suppose we should have guessed it would be somebody like you. Tell me, how did you manage to escape prison?"
Domino laughed. "That is old news Rigger. And trust me, for an agent like myself, it is not difficult. There are still a lot of ex-Rockets in your police force."
"Interesting," Mellanie said. "So, you needed help?"
"I did not," Domino growled before taking a deep breath as she saw a hint of a smile on the face of the Pokémon Master. "Interesting."
"I'm beginning to see why you have risen so high whilst still so young," Domino said. "You know just what to say to get under somebody's skin."
"I apologise," Mellanie said. "That was not my intention."
"Yeah, right," Domino said sarcastically. "What do you want Rigger?"
"To talk to you," Mellanie said. "I don't want this crisis to have to be resolved with fighting."
"Good," Domino said. "It doesn't have to be. Walk away."
"I'm sorry?" Mellanie asked.
"Leave me Sunnyshore," Domino said. "The city is mine, and you'll not get it back without a fight. If you don't want one, then leave. You are a new Pokémon Master, you cannot afford the turmoil that you face if you try to fight me for the city. Not least, you shouldn't even be Pokémon Master."
"What do you mean, 'shouldn't even be Pokémon Master?" Mellanie growled.
"You lost," Domino pointed out. "Normally that is enough for the Pokémon Master to step aside. It should be Ketchum back there who is Pokémon Master."
"And yet, here I am," Mellanie snarled, fighting to control her temper.
"Indeed," Domino said. "So how about a deal? You leave me Sunnyshore, we don't start a war here today. It is a genuine offer."
"You know I can't accept that," Mellanie said, her voice settling into a quiet fury. "I want a peaceful solution, but Sunnyshore will return to the rule of the Sinnoh region, no matter what you try to do."
"Then we are at an impasse," Domino said before looking past Mellanie. "Because I speak for Sinnoh now. I defeated the Sinnoh Champion. Lucian was beaten by me, and that grants me his region. Or do your laws not apply to me?"
"They do apply," Mellanie said. "But you had to defeat him in a proper match, not in whatever farce you set up."
Domino shrugged. "So be it. You're not getting this city. So turn around and walk away Rigger, because this is bigger than you can face."
Domino turned and strode away, leaving Mellanie glaring after her back. After a long moment, Mellanie turned and headed back to the group waiting for her.
"What happened?" Sam asked.
"She won't talk," Mellanie said softly. "So we will snatch her. We tried to negotiate and it failed completely." She turned to Ash. "I want you to seize Domino and bring her to Indigo Plateau. Will you do that?"
Ash took a moment to consider the question. "I can, but it is risky. We could set off an even worse crisis than we currently face. There are a lot of enemies in this city, and if they spread out across Sinnoh, it will be difficult to contain them. Anybody who is unhappy with any way that they have been treated by the Pokémon League may join them."
"Unhappy?" Lance asked.
"People who have been rejected from a Gym, those who feel like they haven't been given the treatment they think they deserve. There will be people who are unhappy at losing in a tournament. Those who have been overlooked for anything. Any large organisation like the Pokémon League will have those who are disillusioned with it. Our risk is that they will all join in this revolution if it spreads."
"Then make it subtle," Mellanie said. "She is the leader here if you take her without anybody knowing they will begin to fall apart."
"It is risky…" Steven started, but Mellanie turned to him.
"It is better than the alternative. You all asked me for a decision before, and this is it. Snatch Domino when she is alone, and then wait. The revolution will fall apart and we can retake Sinnoh." She turned back to Ash. "Will you do it?"
Ash nodded. "I will. I will have Alakazam return you to Kanto, and then I will seize her when she is vulnerable."
Ash crouched on the top of the building, looking down on the square at the centre of Sunnyshore City, the centre where so many of the problems had originated. Domino was making her way across it very slowly, apparently lost in thought. At his side, Espeon and Pikachu felt his impatience as she slowly approached the building underneath them.
"She is moving remarkably slowly," Pikachu observed. "Do you think she knows that we are coming for her?"
"I don't know," Espeon replied. "But this is getting painful. Can she hurry up?"
"Maybe she does know," Pikachu said, thinking out loud. "And she hopes that if she takes long enough we won't snatch her. She'll just stay down there for the rest of her life until we get bored and strike anyway."
"We don't want to make it so public," Espeon said. "Mellanie is right, we can't allow anybody to know that it was us that took her."
"So we create a cloud or ask some nearby Pokémon to attack and take her in the chaos," Pikachu mused. "There must be a way."
Espeon was about to answer when she heard Ash cough, a quiet sound but no less pointed for it. She grinned up at her trainer who just shook his head in disbelief.
"Enough guys," Ash said softly. "She is nearly inside."
He rose to his feet as he backed away from the edge, staying hidden from eyes far below him. In the middle of the roof, Alakazam sat, meditating. The Pokémon was still yet to show signs of the exhaustion that Ash knew he must be feeling. He was proud of the endurance of the leader of his scouts.
"When she is alone," Ash said quietly. "Teleport her here, then on to Indigo. Espeon will stop her from shouting out."
Alakazam opened one eye to nod, before closing it again. Focusing. Preparing. Waiting.
Domino heard the ding as the doors shut behind her and relaxed against the wall of the elevator. She hadn't expected the meeting with the Pokémon Master to go so smoothly. In fact, she hadn't expected the Pokémon Master herself to arrive, although it wasn't overly surprising. The pressure at Indigo Plateau would be building. Mellanie needed to find a solution to the crisis soon, or even more questions would be asked of her position. Domino smiled slightly as she thought back to the time that Team Rocket had attacked the Pokémon League during the reign of Ash Ketchum. She had been in prison but had followed the story in what little news made it through to her. Ketchum had destroyed the Rockets within a few days. By comparison, whatever Mellanie did would be a failure.
Domino was surprised that Ketchum had been there when she had met the Pokémon Master. He had stayed in the shadows throughout the whole affair, aside from her encounter with him in her office. It meant that she was unable to get a good idea as to what his plans were. Ketchum was keeping his hands close to his chest and it was frustrating. He was the final thing that could stand in their way. Nobody else in the world had the power needed to face against the army that they had assembled. Not without a loss of life that the Pokémon League would not want to accept.
As the lift ascended, Domino closed her eyes for a moment. As the lift came to a stop, she felt sunlight on her face and arms. It took a moment for her mind to realise that there was no sunlight in an elevator, and she opened her eyes, blinking in surprise. Stood in front of her was Ash Ketchum, a Pikachu on his shoulder grinning down at her. At his side stood his Alakazam and Espeon, the latter with eyes glowing an electric blue. Domino tried to move but found her muscles locked in place. As she watched on, Alakazam crossed his spoons and the scenery around them changed once again. Domino felt the hold on her relax slightly and she twisted her neck, trying to look around. They were stood in the centre of what appeared to be a training field, surrounded by Pokémon that she recognized well. Even after years of absence, he still had the most recognizable team around. Everybody in the world recognized Ash Ketchum's Pokémon, although few ever got as close to them as she currently was. Being the centre of focus of such a powerful force caused a worm of fear to creep into Domino's stomach, making it churn.
Footsteps sounded across the field, and Domino fought against the force holding her in place to see an Officer Jenny approaching, Mellanie Rigger at her side. They were utterly unrushed, their relaxed body language screaming at her. She felt her arms get dragged forwards and watched the hand-cuffs clip shut, hardly feeling the cold metal against her skin. There would be no escape from prison this time. She had tried to fight against the Pokémon League and she knew that she would never be forgiven for it. The last thing that she saw as she was led away in silence was Ash Ketchum, staring after her with a thoughtful expression on his face.
"What is your next step?"
Mellanie took a moment to consider her answer, walking around her desk to sit down and look at Ash who had taken a seat in front of her.
"I wanted to ask for your opinion," Mellanie said eventually.
Ash rested his elbows on the desk between them, his eyebrows raised.
"We both know that you're better than me at this," Mellanie said quietly. "And we both know that if you hadn't been forced to leave it, you would be Pokémon Master. So, what would you have done?"
Ash smiled slightly, the corners of his mouth turning up. "Many things differently, that I can assure you. But I have been doing much of what I would have done regardless. I was able to block the coups in Hoenn and Johto. I learned a long time ago that it is easier to let your opponents make the early moves and counter them, drawing them into the open while you still are in control of the overall challenge. That is what I have been doing here, and that is what I will continue to do."
"You let them attack Sunnyshore City?" Mellanie asked in surprise.
"No, you did," Ash said, his bluntness stopping Mellanie short from responding. "Your vindictive campaign towards Cynthia gave them the platform for the revolution."
Mellanie started to bluster, but Ash put his hand up. "That doesn't mean that you were wrong, but it does mean that our responses would have been different."
"I know you're making a point, but if you could get to it quicker…" Mellanie said, her voice tight with restrained anger.
"If you are going to take my advice, then you step aside for this crisis," Ash said. "You said it yourself, under different circumstances I could have been the Pokémon Master right now and I'd be the one dealing with these problems."
"You want me to stop being Pokémon Master?"
"No," Ash said soothingly. "Not publicly. But until this crisis is over, my word goes. You follow my instructions. Lance, Steven and Sam follow my instructions."
Mellanie rose from behind the desk, hand extended. "Very well. Resolve this crisis and I'll forgive you for leaving me all those years."
Ash's eyebrow flickered upwards for a moment. "That was not what I asked for."
"And yet it is what I offer."
"Very well. I accept." Ash reached out and shook Mellanie's hand before settling back into his chair.
"So our next step?" Mellanie asked.
Ash smiled. "Remember what I said about countering until they are in the open?"
"That is what we shall do. They are ready for a confrontation. Without their leader, we can end this revolution. Whoever leads them now will not be able to face me and my Pokémon, and they will be in disarray. Now is the time to strike."
"Strike where?" Mellanie asked.
Ash rose from his chair, a look on his face that chilled her blood. She had only seen it once before, shortly before he challenged one of the most powerful Pokémon that she had ever met by himself. The feral grin was enough to confirm in her mind that she had made the right decision by giving him command of the response.
"We strike at the heart of Sunnyshore. Their officers will be there, trying to work out what happened to Domino. Anybody senior in the revolution, all in one place. Take them, and we end it with a stroke."
This time when they appeared, it was in the centre of the office of the Sinnoh Champion. Ash was stood, a Pokéball in each hand to accompany Espeon, Pikachu and Alakazam who were already out and ready to fight. There were four men in the office, all of whom were instantly flattened against the wall beside the door as Ash advanced.
"Espeon, tear their minds apart," Ash ordered. "Find out everything you can."
There was a silence as the four trainers behind Ash stood in shock at the speed that he moved. Their eyes had barely adjusted to the new light and he had already taken down four opponents.
"What do you mean, 'tear their minds apart'?" Steven asked nervously.
"Espeon is reading their minds," Ash said tonelessly as he stood in front of the four terrified men. "I want to know who is in charge without Domino in place, who we are going after."
"Why didn't you do this to Domino before we left?" Steven asked.
Ash turned around, his irritation obvious. "I did. She didn't know. There is somebody who has stayed in the shadows thus far who I suspect will have taken it over, but Domino didn't know his name. She had a… complicated relationship with him."
"They both acted like they were superior to the other. Interestingly, the person is the one who helped Domino escape from prison last time. The revolution is inspired by Domino publicly and managed by this second person in the shadows. We find him and we end it. Can we have the rest of this discussion later?"
"When were you planning on telling us?" Steven asked, grumpily. "You've brought us into a hostile city and withheld important information from…"
Steven's words died in his throat as Ash stepped away from the men he had pinned against a wall and planted himself in front of the Hoenn Champion.
"You are correct Steven, we are in a hostile city. This discussion can be continued later. I didn't pass on the information because you didn't need it."
Steven took a step back as Ash swept his arm to encompass the room.
"Can I get back to what we are here for?" Ash asked. Steven swallowed nervously and nodded. "Good."
Ash turned to Espeon who was now watching him patiently. "Are you done?"
The Sun Pokémon nodded.
"They do not know the name of this other person, but his power reaches throughout the revolution. It would appear that he is the leader. He was the one who was able to orchestrate the initial riots before Domino took her place as the public leader."
"And find him we will," Ash said.
"How?" Sam asked.
Ash turned with a slight smile. "He will come to us. If his influence stretches as far as these men think it does, we'll be able to bring him to us in a challenge that he won't be able to avoid."
The door to the room opened, and the man in the chair in the shadows looked up. In front of him, a grunt stood with his hands on his knees, panting hard.
"The Pokémon Master is here," the grunt gasped. "She's got the regional leaders with her. And Ketchum."
There was movement in the shadow as the man rose to his feet. "Where?"
"They are in the square."
"And Ketchum's Pokémon?"
"Spread throughout the city. We are taking huge losses trying to contain them."
"How long ago?"
"They appeared just over ten minutes ago. I waited to be certain that this was his attack before I ran here."
The man swept out of the shadows, the light casting his features into sharp relief. The grunt took a step back before he could control himself, but internally he had no idea why. The face in front of him was completely normal. If he had tried to pick it out on a street, the grunt knew it would be virtually impossible.
"Then we reach the endgame," the man said as he swept past his stunned grunt. "I will deal with Ketchum. Bring our reserves to the square."
Ash stood, patiently waiting. At his side, Alakazam had his eyes closed as he orchestrated a city-wide onslaught. Espeon stood next to him, waiting as a reserve. Mellanie was also waiting with him, but they had sent out the regional leaders.
"How long?" Mellanie asked.
"There is a significant movement towards the square," Espeon said. "We are preparing to pull everybody back here."
"Wait until the leader reveals himself," Ash said quietly. "I want them all to appear together at the right moment."
Ash continued to watch as two lines of men and woman arrived in the square in front of him at a jog. He ignored them, instead turning to consider the building behind him.
"I do wonder what happened to Lucian and the other Sinnoh Elites," Ash said as he looked up at the window that he knew led to Lucian's office. He cocked his head slightly before turning to Mellanie.
"Does that window look cleaner to you?" he asked.
Mellanie turned and looked at where he was pointing. "The third from the left?"
She considered it for a long moment before nodding slowly. "Perhaps."
"Well that solves that question," Ash said, satisfaction in his voice. "They reached Lucian through the window. A surprise attack."
"So, Domino didn't beat him fairly," Mellanie said.
Ash looked down at her with an eyebrow raised. "Not exactly the most relevant thing at this moment, but yes."
Mellanie laughed. "We have to do something to wait."
"Perhaps deal with the army assembling itself in front of us?" Espeon asked pointedly. Ash looked up to see well over a hundred opponents in the square and shrugged.
"They won't attack us yet, and we aren't here for them."
"You're not concerned are you Espeon?" Mellanie teased.
The Sun Pokémon flicked her tail. "I think I preferred you when you weren't so sarcastic."
"Side effect of having Ash back I guess," Mellanie said.
Espeon flicked at Mellanie's leg with her tail, causing the Pokémon Master to grin down at the Sun Pokémon. Espeon rolled her eyes before turning her attention back to the huge number of opponents that they were facing.
"Prepare to bring the others back," Ash murmured before strolling forwards. He exuded relaxed confidence as he approached the huge group in front of him.
"I'd speak to whoever leads you now," Ash said, amused to see some of the revolutionaries back away from him despite the fact that he didn't have a single Pokémon around him. His reputation had clearly withstood years of exile.
The crowd split and a man strode down the gap between the two. Ash watched him approach, analysing him for any weaknesses.
"Do you want me to read his mind?" Espeon asked.
"Yes, but don't let him know," Ash answered in his head.
"It will take longer."
The man stopped a few metres short of Ash. He bowed with an exaggerated movement.
"Ash Ketchum. Welcome to Sunnyshore City. May I inquire as to why you have attacked this fine city?"
"You took this city," Ash said. "A revolution. In fact, quite a bloody one. I cannot allow that to stand."
"You are no longer Pokémon Master," the man pointed out. "I can see her hiding behind you, but you do not have authority here."
"Actually, I do," Ash said. "You see, you took this city with force. You then claimed you owned it. By that same logic, force is what you need to have authority somewhere. And I brought a lot of force to Sunnyshore. I'd say that gives me more authority than you."
The man smiled thinly. "Where is this great force then Ketchum?"
"Now," Ash sent mentally. Behind him, his entire team materialized as one. Further back, Steven, Sam and Lance appeared next to Mellanie. They were all surrounded by their Pokémon, although none of them seemed overly surprised to be brought back to where they had started.
"Is this enough for you, Eric?" Ash asked.
The man's jaw dropped. "Where did they all come from? And how do you know my name?"
"You should know that there is more to my Pokémon than their sheer power," Ash said. "And I recognize you, Eric. You were once a low-level Team Rocket officer that I arrested in a remote Rocket base."
"Well, I've moved on a bit since then," Eric said. "And you'll have to destroy us to retake this city."
"Ash, something is wrong," Espeon said. "In his head, there is something that he is hiding."
"Find out what," Ash said, his voice hurried. "As fast as you can."
"How did you progress so far?" Ash asked, his voice full of curiosity. "You are right, this is a significant step-up."
Ash watched Eric's mouth move, but he stopped listening. Espeon's panicked voice shouted in his mind, drowning out all other sounds.
"He isn't the leader Ash! The leader is hiding somewhere! Eric is a decoy!"
Ash stepped forwards, his hand closing around Eric's throat, breaking off the man's sentence.
"Where is your leader?" Ash snarled, all pleasantness gone. "I know it isn't you Eric, so who is he?"
Eric managed to gasp some air in, just enough to get a sentence out as Ash's hand crushed his windpipe.
"We… caught… you."
There was an explosion from behind Ash who threw Eric away, spinning in horror. The ground around the edge of the square was gone, destroyed in explosions. Espeon and Alakazam instinctively threw up shields around the humans, protecting Mellanie, Lance, Steven and Sam. They then turned their attention to their colleagues, but it was too late. As Ash watched, small metal squares raced up from the ground, charging for his Pokémon. A moment later, more raced down from the sky above, each racing for a specific one of his Pokémon. Ash took a step forward, only to find four of the squares surrounding him. Electric shocks raced out, causing him to yell in pain. He lashed out, his aura sending two of the squares crashing into a building, but more of the swarm continued to descend.
Too late, Ash's Pokémon realised the danger. The onslaught had started from too close to effectively dodge, and Espeon and Alakazam's attempt to protect humans had cost them their best chance of protecting themselves. As Ash sent more of his strength out to defend himself against the machines attacking him, he could only watch, powerless as his Pokémon were swept surrounded by the machines attacking each of them individually. He watched Sceptile fire a Solar Beam that crashed into three of the machines attacking the Forest Pokémon, but as the attack faded the machines seemed undamaged. There was a yell of fear from Sam as a group of the machines struck against the shield protecting them, causing it to waver.
Machamp was the first to be captured, the machines carrying him away into the sky. Snorlax was the next, his large size giving more than a dozen machines the opportunity to attack him. As Ash watched, Onix, Rapidash, Beautifly and Aggron were all captured in quick succession. He sent out another wave of aura, bringing the number of machines targeting him down to a mere two before a shout distracted him.
He turned to look at the regional leaders frantically recalling their Pokémon as the shield around them fell. Then the sound that Ash feared above all others came. Time seemed to slow as a scream of terror burst from Espeon. The Sun Pokémon was being dragged into the sky by ten of the machines, her Psychic power struggling to make any impact. Ash roared in fury, leaping up into the sky as he strove to reach his companion.
Another force crashed into him from above, slamming him back towards the ground. As he hit the ground, Ash let his aura dominate his body, pouring huge quantities of power into his actions, no longer caring about preserving his strength. He brushed the latest attack off, but the damage had been done. Espeon was too far away for him to reach, closely followed by Alakazam. Pikachu had vanished, and Ash could only assume that his first ever Pokémon had also been caught in the trap. He looked around to see the last of his Pokémon desperately fighting to defend themselves. He reached for his belt to grab a Pokéball, reaching out to recall what few Pokémon he had left. He felt more of the machines attack him, roaring through the pain as he reached out with his hands. He saw Meganium vanish into her Pokéball, her vines protecting her to the last. As he pulled another Pokéball into his hand, another explosion sounded. He felt himself get thrown through the air, a moment of lucidity before he crashed into a wall. The force of his flight sent him straight through, leaving lying in a pile of rubble on the other side. And then it was over. The last of the machines vanished into the sky. Ash looked down at his belt to see a single Pokéball there. Shock threatened to make his muscles freeze but he forced himself to stand, moving out through the whole in the wall that he had created with his body mere moments earlier.
The scene in front of him was almost beyond comprehension. The square that he had seen was almost gone, the heart of the city destroyed. Craters had been carved into it from the power of the explosives let off. More than two dozen of the revolutionaries who had stood in front of him were down, the explosions not saving their own side. The regional leaders weren't in a much better state, dust covering all of them. Mellanie was on the ground, curled up, shaking. There was a loud sound of motors in the sky and Ash felt his gaze be pulled upwards.
A huge construction descended from the sky. Ash watched it settle a few hundred metres above his head, shaking his head in disbelief. The entire construction measured more than a six hundred metres across, a huge three-dimensional diamond shape with surrounding rings. Every inch of it was armoured, the whirring motors showing how hard they were having to work to stay airborne. As Ash watched, a small hatch at the bottom of the diamond opened. Something dropped, falling to the ground and clattering in between the two groups. Ash stepped forwards to look at it, but a holographic image of a face appeared in the air above it before he could get close. Violet eyes shone out from the face, framed by hair that was just beginning to go a dignified grey. The body attached to the face was clearly in a formal suit, although only the collar could be seen.
"Allow me to introduce myself," the face said. "My name is Lawrence III. I am a Collector. And I am very happy to be able to add your unique Pokémon to my collection, Mr Ketchum. They will be some of the crowning pieces, Pokémon strong enough to defeat legends."
Ash didn't say anything, shock preventing his mouth from working.
"I see that you managed to keep one," Lawrence continued. "It is a shame, but then this isn't the first time that you have ruined a collection of mine, is it, Mr Ketchum?"
"I don't know you," Ash growled, forcing the words out.
"Well now that isn't true," Lawrence said reasonably. "It was a long time ago, but I never forgot. After all, it isn't every day that somebody frees two Pokémon from your collection, Pokémon that then destroy your airship."
"What?" Ash gasped.
"Let's see… It must have been some twenty years ago now," Lawrence said. "I was in the Orange Islands, collecting legendary birds. You set Moltres and Zapdos free. They destroyed my airship, ruining much of my collection. It did give me the inspiration for this more heavily armoured version, however."
Ash felt his jaw move, but no sound came out. Beyond the holographic image of a face, he saw another figure approaching. Lawrence's head rotated.
"Ah, yes, my business partner," Lawrence said, his voice sounding pleased. "This has truly been a wondrous transaction. It is a shame about Sunnyshore City, but in the pursuit of perfection, some sacrifices need to be made."
Ash continued to glare at what was now the back of Lawrence's head, something the collector seemed to feel.
"It isn't anything personal Mr Ketchum," Lawrence assured him. "If anything, it is a compliment. I collect unique treasures, and your Pokémon most definitely count. You should be honoured. And it would be irresponsible for me not to take this opportunity when it presented itself."
Ash chose not to answer, instead choosing to focus on the figure that was casually strolling through the ranks of revolutionaries, approaching him. The figure stopped in front of Lawrence's head and nodded to the holographic, a hat on his head keeping his face hidden in shadow.
"Congratulations Lawrence, a job well done."
"Thank you," Lawrence said pleasantly. "It has been a good day for my collection."
"You left Ketchum?"
Lawrence laughed. "I told you, him inside my airship was what caused me to lose everything last time. I am the only human to set foot inside now."
"Well you did everything that we agreed on," the man said. "I wish you pleasant hunting for your next addition."
Lawrence nodded, before the image of his face vanished. Without the hologram between them, Ash was able to focus more closely on the man in front of him. Something about his enemy was extremely familiar.
"Ash Ketchum, it is good to see you. I do admit though, you look tired."
Ash shook his head in an attempt to clear it. "I didn't plan on getting attacked by a madman today, let alone two."
The figure in front of him threw back his head and laughed, a flash of his face appearing as the shadow under his hat moved. "Oh, I forgot how much fun you were to face. It has been far too long, Champion."
The mocking way that the word was said sparked something in the back of Ash's mind. A memory rose, unbidden. A memory of a laughing, mocking face. A face that smiled as it cut with a knife that burned.
"No…" Ash whispered. "It can't be…"
"Can't be what, Champion?" the man said, striding forwards as he reached up for his hat. "Surely you recognize me? You did have me put to death, I'd like to think that stays with you for a little while."
The man came to a stop a few metres in front of Ash as the hat came off his head. Ash felt his limbs go weak as he looked into the grinning face of an enemy he had last faced years previously. An enemy that had caused more damage than anybody else, an enemy he had executed. Or so he thought.
"After all," Agent said, a warm smile on his face. "I'm the only one who ever beat you."
This chapter is late. It was also horrible to write. I've rewritten it twice, the second time overnight because I was so frustrated at not getting the tone I wanted. I'm happy-ish with it, and I think it is time for it to come out. Kudos to those who guessed either half of the villain duo that Ash faces. I don't think anybody got both (at least if they did, it wasn't in a review or PM) so at least I'm not hopeless at reveals. It was a bit cliché, but I couldn't resist!
Agent is alive. And even more remarkably, there is a reason for his survival. Oh, and he has a city. In the hands of a ruthless terrorist. This might start to get rather interesting. Not least, there is a bit of an issue for Ash.
To answer a couple of reviews;
NanobotEX - You are correct, Alakazam is an extremely powerful Pokémon who should not be getting tired from moving a few people around. Except that the distances are pretty impressive, and like all Pokémon, he needs recovery time. He moved an entire island whilst rested and having time to work. Teleporting a large group under pressure whilst not rested is a bit more difficult. Always great to hear from you though!
ExBlaze - I'm based in Europe. So Western Europes Friday and Saturday!
Also, a fair few people pointed out some italics problems in the last chapter. I have no idea what caused it, but I did spend an unhappy couple of hours trying to root every last one out. I think I caught them all, but if I did miss any, please do let me know.
I will try to have the next chapter out in the next week. No promises, but I will do my best. Hopefully it will be slightly easier than this one!
Until next time,