This chapter took much longer than I wanted, and for that I apologize. I've been under the weather for the past week and a half, and during that time there were days I didn't have the energy to work on my stories. I'm slowly getting better and feel as though I've mostly gotten over it, so hopefully I can get back into the swing of things.

Now, on with the story.

Chapter 44: To The Rescue

"At this rate we'll reach Kamillia Town in no time at all." With all the good fortune they had been experiencing lately Ash, Nikki and their Pokémon were in good spirits, which in turn made them all confident about their next task, which was helping Nikki win her first Pokémon Contest.

"I can't wait until we get there. Then I can finally get my first ribbon," Nikki said.

"Someone's feeling confident," Ash commented.

"I have to. After falling short in my last three attempts I have to win now. There's no way I can lose any more ground to the other coordinators," Nikki declared.

"Trust me, you will," Ash assured her.

"(Ash is right. We've got this one,)" Buneary declared.

"(Sounds like your confidence is contagious,)" Pikachu commented.

"That's good. If I'm confident and my Pokémon's confident then there's no way we can lose," Nikki said.

"That's the spirit. I'm confident you'll win with an attitude like that," Ash said. Nikki eagerly agreed with him as they continued along. A short distance later something caught Buneary's attention.

"(Hey, what's that?)" the Rabbit Pokémon wondered.

"What's what?" Nikki asked.

"(There's something on the path ahead,)" Buneary said. Looking ahead the group saw that Buneary was right. There did appear to be something in the middle of the path.

"What do you think it is?" Nikki asked.

"No clue," Ash responded. Curious to see what Buneary had spotted the group hurried towards the mysterious objects. As they got closer their identities started to become clear.

"Ash, I… I think those are people!" Nikki gasped.

"And it looks like there are a couple of Pokémon there as well," Ash added. They hurried to the aid of the downed trainers and Pokémon. When they reached them they discovered something they weren't expecting.

"A-Ash! That's…"

"No way… it can't be!" Both were shocked to see that the two downed trainers were Dante and Lando, guardians of Princess Susanna.

"What happened to them?" Ash wondered.

"(Whatever it was must have been rough considering the shape their Pokémon are in,)" Pikachu commented. Their two Pokémon, Charmeleon and Grovyle, showed the scars of a difficult battle.

"We've got to help them," Ash stated.

"(The first thing we need to do is get them someplace where we can tend to their injuries,)" Pikachu suggested.

"Good idea, buddy," Ash agreed.

"Hold on… where's Princess Susanna?" Nikki asked. Looking around they noticed that the Princess of Aquina was indeed missing.

"You don't think whoever defeated Dante and Lando have her, do you?" Nikki wondered.

"I don't know. We may find out more when they come to," Ash said. "For now, though, we need to take care of their injuries." After employing the help of their larger and stronger Pokémon they got to work moving the unconscious knights and their Pokémon to safety.

After some time Ash, Nikki and their Pokémon managed to move Dante, Lando and their Pokémon to a secluded location. Thankfully none of their injuries were a bad as they first appeared. All they would need was some rest. However, that did little to ease Ash and Nikki's worries about the princess.

"I can't help but wonder where she is and whether she's safe or not," Nikki said.

"I know what you mean. There's really no telling who has her or what they want with her," Ash commented. "All we can do is wait for Dante and Lando to wake up so we can ask them." The sound of stirring caught their attention.

"Looks like we won't have to wait much longer," Nikki stated. At that moment Dante and Lando both began to wake up.

"Where… are we?" Dante wondered.

"Are we glad to see you two awake." Right then the two knights noticed Ash and Nikki sitting nearby.

"Ash. Nikki. I did not think our paths would cross again so soon," Dante commented.

"Believe us, we didn't think we'd run into you guys either, especially not in the situation we found you in," Nikki admitted.

"What of our Pokémon?" Lando inquired.

"(They're fine as well,)" Buneary reported. Both Charmeleon and Grovyle had regained consciousness as well.

"Then it appears as though we owe you our thanks," Dante said.

"Indeed. I shudder to think of the fate that awaited us had you not arrived when you did," Lando agreed.

"We're just glad we found you when we did," Ash said.

"By the way, where's Princess Susanna?" Nikki wondered.

"(Yeah. We noticed she wasn't with you guys,)" Buneary added. At the mention of the princess a wave of urgency swept through Dante and Lando.

"That's right. We must rescue the princess!" Dante declared. Both he and Lando tried to rush to their feet, but in their attempt they stumbled back to the ground.

"Whoa, take it easy," Ash said.

"You guys just woke up. You can't just jump back on your feet like that," Nikki added.

"But we must! The princess's life is in danger!" Lando shouted.

"She's in danger? From who?" Nikki asked.

"We've no time to explain. We must rush to her aid," Dante said.

"Well, if you'll tell us what's going on we might be able to help you," Ash suggested.

"He's right. Having four of us is better than just the two of you," Nikki agreed. Though Dante and Lando knew it was imperative that they rescue the princess quickly they also knew that having Ash and Nikki's help would make their rescue mission go much smoother.

"Very well. We accept your assistance," Dante agreed.

"Okay, now let's start from the beginning. Tell us what happened to you," Ash inquired.

"As you wish," Lando agreed. "We had completed our mission here in Legenda and were traveling to a port town where we could procure a vessel to see us back home to Aquina."

"But you never got there," Nikki commented.

"No. It shames us to admit this, but a lapse in concentration led to us being ambushed," Dante said.

"You were ambushed?" Ash asked. Both Dante and Lando nodded in confirmation.

"There were four of them, each with a powerful Pokémon by their side. They overwhelmed us before we could mount a counter-offensive," Dante said.

"Once they had dealt with us they stole away with the princess. We lost consciousness soon thereafter," Lando concluded.

"And that's when we found you," Nikki said.

"Indeed," Lando agreed.

"Do you have any idea which way they went?" Ash inquired.

"I'm afraid that is one piece of information we did not obtain," Dante said.

"So then we have no way to locate her," Ash assumed.

"That's not necessarily true. We may have one way of locating her," Nikki corrected.

"How?" Dante wondered. With a smile Nikki grabbed one of her Poké Balls and tossed it, calling on Ninetails.

"Of course. We can use Ninetails to track her scent," Ash said.

"You got it. If anyone can find out where they took the princess it's Ninetails," Nikki bragged.

"Can your Pokémon truly locate the princess?" Lando wondered.

"Ninetails has the best sense of smell I've ever seen. If she can pick up on the princess's scent there I have no doubt she can find out where those kidnappers took her," Nikki declared.

"(She's right. I can track anything,)" the Fox Pokémon stated. With the amount of confidence being shown by Nikki and Ninetails the two knights believed they could indeed track the princess and discover her location.

"Very well. We shall leave the task of locating the princess to you and your Pokémon," Lando said.

"We won't let you down," Nikki promised.

"I propose returning to the scene of the ambush. There may be a clue as to where those scoundrels took the princess," Dante suggested.

"That's a good idea," Ash agreed. Now that Dante and Lando had had some time to rest and recover their strength they, along with Ash and Nikki, returned to the scene of the ambush to try and determine where the kidnappers had taken Princess Susanna.

They arrived at the scene of the ambush in no time at all. However, progress in the search painstakingly slow. There were too many scents in the area, making it difficult for even Ninetails to determine which one belonged to the princess.

"Any luck?" Nikki inquired.

"(No. With all these scents wafting around I can't tell which one belongs to Princess Susanna,)" the Fox Pokémon sighed.

"Then there is no hope in finding the princess," Lando lamented.

"We can't give up yet," Ash encouraged.

"But what can we do? If we cannot find the princess's scent then how shall we find her?" Dante questioned. It was a question no one had an immediate answer to.

"(Well… what if we had something that had her scent on it,)" Pikachu finally suggested.

"(That's not a bad idea,)" Buneary said. "(If Ninetails were able to get an idea of what the princess's scent was then maybe she could distinguish hers from all the others.)"

"That is a good idea," Nikki agreed. "Do you have anything we could use?"

"What would you require?" Lando asked.

"Nothing specific. Just anything she may have touched recently," Nikki said. Armed with that bit of knowledge the two knights searched their armor for anything they could use to help Ninetails in her attempt to track the princess, but after a thorough search they unfortunately turned up nothing.

"Our apologizes, but I'm afraid our search produced nothing of use," Dante sighed.

"So we're back to square one," Ash said. The optimism they had been feeling had now been replaced with depression thanks to this setback. But then…

"(Hey, what's this?)" On the ground a few feet away Pikachu saw something on the ground. He went to investigate and found it was a handkerchief. He quickly brought this to everyone else's attention.

"What's up, buddy?" Ash asked. Pikachu picked up the handkerchief and gave it to Ash.

"(I found this on the ground,)" he said.

"A handkerchief?" Nikki questioned. As the group looked at it Dante and Lando came to a realization.

"This is no ordinary handkerchief," Dante said.

"What do you mean?" Nikki wondered.

"This belongs to the princess," Lando revealed.

"The princess?! Are you sure?" Ash questioned.

"There is no doubt in my mind," Lando replied. "In fact the proof is right here." Embroidered in the lower right corner of the handkerchief was a shield with two spears crossed behind it, and on the shield was a golden 'A'.

"That is the royal symbol of the Kingdom of Aquina, proof that his handkerchief belongs to the princess," Lando explained.

"I wonder how it got here," Ash mused.

"Maybe she dropped it when those kidnappers took her away," Nikki assumed. "In any case this works out in our favor."

"How so?" Dante wondered.

"Well, if this really is her handkerchief then Ninetails may be able to get her scent off it," Nikki explained.

"And that means she'll be able to track the princess," Ash continued.

"Bingo!" Nikki confirmed. Their optimism was brought back up by this development. With their hopes of finding Princess Susanna riding on the handkerchief bearing her scent Ash held it out so Ninetails could sniff it.

"Please have her scent," Nikki pleaded. After a few seconds Ninetails stopped sniffing the handkerchief and began sniffing the ground once again.

"Did you get her scent?" Nikki wondered.

"(I believe so,)" Ninetails replied. As the Fox Pokémon continued to sniff everyone watched and prayed that she would be able to find the princess's scent. After a few moments Ninetails's ears perked up, a sure sign that she discovered something.

"(I found a scent matching the one from the handkerchief,)" she announced.

"Yes! I knew you could do it!" Nikki cheered.

"We must follow this scent, quickly," Dante urged.

"(Just follow me.)" With Ninetails leading the way the group proceeded down the path. They could only hope they would find the princess unharmed.

Minutes later the group found themselves following Ninetails through a dense wooded area. The fact that this was off the main path gave them all cause for concern, none more than Dante and Lando. Though they said nothing everyone could feel how concerned they both were for the princess.

"Don't worry. We'll find her," Ash said, trying to ease their worries.

"It's not whether we find her or not that has us the most concerned. It's whether we find her before she suffers through whatever vile fate those fiends have planned," Dante said.

"As long as we keep following Ninetails we'll get there before that happens," Nikki stated, though she wasn't sure herself. She only said that to try and take the knights' minds off of what could happen. After following Ninetails for a bit the Fox Pokémon came to a sudden stop.

"(We're here,)" she said. Ahead of them the trees began to thin out, and amongst those trees the group found the very person they were looking for.

"The princess!" Lando declared.

"Thank goodness we found her," Dante sighed. They had indeed located the princess, but her situation was most dire. She was tied up under a tree, her hands behind her back, while next to her in a cage sat Glameow. Another look revealed her kidnappers, a rough-looking group of four men.

"Is that them?" Ash asked.

"Indeed. Those are the fiends who ambushed us," Dante confirmed. As they looked on Nikki made a startling discovery.

"Ash! Those uniforms!" she gasped. The grey outfits with a crimson 'C' left no doubt about their identities.

"Team Cerberus," Ash seethed.

"You are familiar with these villains?" Lando inquired.

"We've ran into them before," Ash said.

"Who are they?" Dante asked.

"A group of criminals who want to bring down every government they can by whatever means they see fit," Nikki explained.

"But our kingdom has no government," Dante stated.

"No, but you do have a royal family," Nikki said. "My guess is they want to hold Princess Susanna hostage in order to force the king and queen to give in to their demands." That one statement caused Dante and Lando's blood to boil.

"Those cads! How dare they use the princess for such evil deeds!" Dante seethed.

"They must not be allowed to succeed!" Lando declared.

"And they won't. We promise we'll help save her," Ash said. "The only question is how."

"Could we not rush them? With the number of Pokémon you each possess we have the overwhelming numbers advantage," Dante suggested.

"That's too risky. If we come out with superior numbers then there's every chance they'll threaten the princess just to make us stop our attack," Nikki refuted. "No, rescuing Princess Susanna needs to be our number one priority."

"But in order to do that we'll need to sneak around those four guys to reach her," Ash said. "That won't be easy."

"(What if we distract them,)" Pikachu suggested.

"But how?" Nikki inquired. It seemed as though they were in a never-ending cycle. For every solution they came up with they faced a new problem, forcing them to come up with yet another solution that came with yet another problem. This, however, did not deter them.

"What if you challenge them to a Pokémon battle," Ash suggested.

"But would that not put the princess's life in jeopardy?" Dante questioned.

"I think Ash may be onto something here," Nikki said. "If you two challenge them to a Pokémon battle that'll give me and Ash an opportunity to sneak around to the princess."

"But that would put us at a disadvantage," Lando argued.

"He's right. There are four of them but two of us. The numbers are not in our favor," Dante agreed.

"Then we'll just have to even the odds, won't we," Ash stated. He then looked to Pikachu and Buneary.

"Would you two mind battling for them?" he asked.

"(Not at all,)" Pikachu agreed.

"(Anything to help Princess Susanna,)" Buneary added. Now it finally seemed as though they were making some progress. The next few minutes were spent going over small details, such as Pikachu and Buneary's moves, their preferred battle style and the method by which they would carry out their plan.

"So, are we all clear on the plan?" Nikki asked.

"Indeed. Dante and I will engage the villains in battle as to distract them while you and Ash make your way towards the princess," Lando replied.

"And once we've rescued her we'll launch a surprise attack from behind and surround them," Ash concluded.

"Right," Nikki confirmed. "Now we need to make sure their attention is on you two until Ash and I rescue Princess Susanna, so you need to make sure the battle lasts long enough."

"We shall do our best," Dante promised.

"Okay then, it's time to save the princess," Ash declared. With everything planned out all that was left was carrying it out.

"Hey! Just how long do we have to wait here?!" The Team Cerberus grunts were quickly growing impatient. It had been some time since they pulled off what they considered their greatest scheme yet by kidnapping Princess Susanna. They planned to hold her hostage in exchange for the Kingdom of Aquina's unconditional surrender, but so far they had made no progress in the endeavor.

"How long is this supposed to take?! They should already have our ransom demands!" one of them griped.

"Well they don't! In case you haven't realized it yet it's not that easy to get in touch with a foreign kingdom!" another snapped.

"Then how are we supposed to demand their unconditional surrender in exchange for their princess if we can't even contact them?!" the first yelled.

"Just get her to tell us," the second suggested. One of the remaining two approached Princess Susanna. She glared at him as he knelt down in front of her.

"You may as well tell us what we want to know. There's no way you're going to escape from us," he said.

"Never! I shall never aid the likes of you!" she refused.

"Is that so? You know we have ways of getting what we want," he warned.

"I'm not afraid of you," Princess Susanna declared. "And besides, you can do nothing to me."

"And what makes you say that?" the grunt challenged.

"If any harm befalls me then your ransom is forfeit," she spat. There was no intimidating retort, for the grunt knew the princess was right. With a menacing scowl he got up and went to join the others. Princess Susanna let out a sigh of relief. She said she wasn't afraid, but in truth she was terrified. It was only sheer luck that he didn't call her bluff, but she wasn't about to attempt it a second time. By this time the fourth approached the others.

"Alright, let's pack up and get moving," he announced.

"What about the girl?" the second asked.

"We bring her with us. We'll eventually get what we want out of her," he said. That one statement was enough to shake her resolve. The bravery she once had was now diminishing and being replaced with fear. If something didn't happen soon she feared she would never again see her homeland again.

"Someone… anyone… please come to my aid…"

"Halt, villains!" A wave of relief washed over the princess as Dante and Lando appeared.

"Well well, look who we have here," the first grunt said.

"Looks like you didn't learn your lesson last time," the second added.

"We learned all we needed during our last encounter," Dante said. While this was going on Ash, Nikki and Ninetails watched, concealed within the trees.

"So far, so good. They've got their attention," Nikki commented.

"Now all we have to do is wait for them to start the battle so we can sneak over to the princess," Ash said.

"How long do you think that will take?" Nikki wondered.

"Hopefully not too long. The sooner we can rescue Princess Susanna the better," Ash replied.

"(It looks like that won't be much longer,)" Ninetails pointed out. Looking on they saw that the situation was heating up.

"Release the princess immediately!" Dante demanded.

"You want us to release her?" one of the grunts asked.

"And if we refuse?" another wondered.

"Should you decide not to release her willingly then we shall be forced to use force!" Lando responded. At that moment Charmeleon and Grovyle stepped forward.

"Well, it looks like you didn't learn anything if you're looking to challenge us again," the first grunt said.

"And as I said we learned all we needed from our last encounter," Dante argued. "Now!" On his command Pikachu and Buneary appeared and took their positions next to Grovyle and Charmeleon.

"What do you know? Looks like you two did come better prepared this time," the first grunt commented. "Too bad for you it's still not going to change the outcome!" The four grunts each grabbed a Poké Ball, meaning that Ash and Nikki's chance was soon coming.

"Here we go," Ash said. Moments later the grunts released their Pokémon. When Ash and Nikki saw what they were they immediately grew concerned.

"Oh man… that's not good," Nikki commented. Ash agreed with her as he saw a Hariyama, a Rhydon, a Swalot and a Toxicroak appear.

"Do you think Pikachu and Buneary can handle that?" she wondered.

"I have confidence in them. They'll be just fine," Ash assured her.

"You claim that the outcome will be the same, yet now that we are battling on equal terms I doubt if you will be as successful as last time!" Dante declared.

"It doesn't matter if you have the same number of Pokémon we do or not! We're still going to take you out again!" the Hariyama's trainer declared.

"I think not!" Lando argued.

"Come on! Let's just get rid of them!" the Rhydon's trainer shouted.

"My thoughts exactly!" the Toxicroak's trainer agreed. "Use Poison Jab!" With a loud croak the Toxic Mouth Pokémon lunged forward, his fist glowing purple.

"Everyone, scatter!" Dante instructed. The four Pokémon jumped out of the way, each heading in a different direction, but Toxicroak was not fooled. He turned on a heel and made his way towards the target he determined he could do the most damage to… Grovyle.

"(Got you now!)" he croaked.

"(I don't think so!)" Pikachu refuted. Before Toxicroak could get to Grovyle the Mouse Pokémon intercepted him with Iron Tail, effectively blocking Toxicroak's Poison Jab.

"Your assistance was most appreciated," Dante said. "Now, strike back with Thunderbolt!"

"(Right!)" Pikachu agreed. Pikachu unleashed his signature attacked, looking to defeat Toxicroak before he could recover, but just before his attack struck it was suddenly redirected.

"(What the?!)" he gasped. He looked on in shock and amazement as his Thunderbolt struck the horn on Rhydon's head.

"What manner of trickery is this?!" Dante shouted.

"There's no 'trickery' involved. That's Lightningrod, Rhydon's special ability. With it, all Electric attacks are drawn to him, and because he's part Ground he doesn't get hurt," his trainer explained. "Unfortunately I do plan on having him hurt you! Horn Attack!" The Drill Pokémon bellowed loudly as he lowered his head and charged towards Pikachu.

"Intercept with Leaf Blade!" Dante said. His Grovyle jumped between Pikachu and the charging Rhydon and struck the Drill Pokémon with a super-effective Leaf Blade, stopping him in his tracks.

"Attack with Slash, Charmeleon! Buneary, assist him with Jump Kick!" Lando called. With Rhydon stunned it was the perfect opportunity for them to press their advantage, but the Team Cerberus grunts were aware of this as well.

"Stop them, Hariyama!" Both Charmeleon and Buneary were stopped cold as the Arm Thrust Pokémon blocked their path.

"Arm Thrust!" his trainer ordered. With two powerful blows he easily swatted Charmeleon and Buneary away.

"Alright, Swalot, give them a taste of your Sludge Bomb!" Swalot inhaled deeply and spat out a large ball of sludge at the downed Charmeleon and Buneary.

"Knock that away with your Iron Tail!" Dante shouted. Pikachu sprang into action and managed to get a solid hit on the Sludge Bomb with his Iron Tail, sending it sailing away from his allies.

"Now Quick Attack!" Dante continued. Pikachu's transition from one attack to another was flawless as he slammed into Swalot with his high-speed attack.

"Assist him with Flamethrower!" Lando instructed. Shortly after Pikachu's attack hit home Charmeleon added his own touch with a well-placed Flamethrower.

"Get them, Rhydon!" his trainer shouted. The Drill Pokémon charged once again, but Dante was ready with a counter.

"Leaf Blade!" he called. Rhydon was so focused on attack Pikachu and Charmeleon that it was easy for Grovyle to land his attack, blindsiding him with the super-effective Grass attack.

"Poison Jab, Toxicroak!"

"Stop him with Iron Tail!" Once again Toxicroak tried to hit Grovyle with his Poison jab, but Pikachu quickly intercepted him and put an end to his attempt with his Iron Tail.

"Buneary, Hidden Power!" Lando called. Buneary hurled a Hidden Power at Hariyama, striking the Arm Thrust Pokémon in the face.

"Now, Charmeleon, strike him with Slash!" Lando said.

"And you strike with Leaf Blade, Grovyle!" Dante added. The two Pokémon did as instructed and charged Hariyama, striking him with Slash and Leaf Blade respectively. The combined force of the attacks was enough to knock him down, effectively taking care of all the Team Cerberus Pokémon.

"What's wrong with you guys?! You're letting them beat us!" the first grunt griped.

"Hey! You're not doing much better!" one of the others retorted.

"How about you stop fighting each other and start fighting them!" a third yelled.

"You may come at us if you want, but it matters not! We shall defeat you!" Dante declared. Pikachu and the others stood at the ready, waiting to see if the Team Cerberus grunts wanted to continue the battle.

"Hah! It doesn't matter if you manage to beat us in battle," the first grunt declared. "In the end you can't do anything as long as we have our hostage."

"That's right! We can force you to do whatever we want as long as we have her!" the fourth agreed.

"That's what you think!" The grunts turned around and were shocked to see Ash and Nikki standing together with a now-freed Princess Susanna.

"What the?! How did that happen?!" the first grunt shouted.

"Excellent! Our diversion was successful!" Dante boasted.

"D-Diversion?!" the grunt stuttered.

"That's right. The battle was nothing more than a distraction to keep you from noticing us as we rescued the princess," Nikki explained.

"And now that she's safe I think it's time we took care of you four," Ash added.

"And what makes you think you've got Pokémon strong enough to get the job done?" one of the grunts questioned.

"This does! Charizard, I choose you!" The appearance of Ash's mighty dragon was enough to make the Team Cerberus grunts question whether they really wanted to go through with a battle against them, and the fact that Pikachu, Buneary, Charmeleon and Grovyle were still eager to go only further added to their doubt.

"Hey! Don't forget about me!" Nikki said. Ninetails stepped out onto the battlefield and took her place next to Charizard, adding to the advantage they already had.

"I suggest you surrender, as we have the upper hand now," Lando advised. Even with the obvious advantage in numbers and strength the Team Cerberus grunts refused to back down.

"If you think we're just going to back down then you've got another thing coming!" the Rhydon's trainer declared. "Hit them with Horn Attack!"

"Use Arm Thrust, Hariyama!"

"Poison Jab, Toxicroak!"

"Swalot, use Sludge Bomb!" The grunts' Pokémon sprang into action and charged. Ash and the others, though, were quick to react.

"Counter with Leaf Blade, Grovyle!"

"Charizard, Steel Wing!"

"Ninetails, Flamethrower!"

"You use Flamethrower as well, Charmeleon!" Grovyle stopped Rhydon's attack with his Leaf Blade, Ninetails effectively blocked Swalot's Sludge Bomb with her Flamethrower, Charmeleon used his Flamethrower to force Toxicroak to halt his attack and Charizard weathered Hariyama's Arm Thrust by using his Steel Wing as a shield.

"Okay, time to turn things around!" Ash declared. "Force him back with Steel Wing and then use Flamethrower!" With a loud roar Charizard swung his Steel-charged wing outward, forcing the Arm Thrust Pokémon back on his heels. Then, before he could recover, Charizard blasted him with a powerful Flamethrower.

"Get that Charizard, Rhydon!" one grunt ordered. The Drill Pokémon charged towards Charizard, but Ash and company was quick to react.

"Iron Tail, Pikachu!"

"Energy Ball, Ninetails!" A well placed Iron Tail to the gut was enough to stop Rhydon, while Ninetails's Energy Ball put the finishing touches on him.

"Charmeleon, attack with Slash!"

"And you attack with Quick Attack, Grovyle!" Dante and Lando had their Pokémon attack the Swalot.

"Use Stockpile!" his trainer shouted. The Poison Bag Pokémon took a deep breath and increased his size, adding to his defenses in the process. As a result Charmeleon and Grovyle's attacks just bounced off his body harmlessly.

"Blast! We need more power to break his defenses!" Dante shouted.

"Leave that to Buneary and me!" Nikki declared. The Rabbit Pokémon stood next to Charmeleon and Grovyle as they prepared to attack once again.

"Slash, Charmeleon!"

"Quick Attack, Grovyle!"

"Use Bounce, Buneary!"

"Another Stockpile, Swalot!" The four commands were executed. Swalot once again used Stockpile to increase his defenses, but this time the combined power of Charmeleon, Grovyle and Buneary was too much for the Poison Bag Pokémon to handle as he was soundly defeated.

"I've had enough of this! Get them, Toxicroak!" his trainer demanded. Toxicroak did as instructed and sprang into action.

"Stop him with Iron Tail!" Nikki called. Her Ninetails jumped in his way and swung her Steel-charged tails at him, easily knocking him aside.

"Now use Flamethrower!" she said. With Toxicroak still down Ninetails let loose a Flamethrower, guaranteeing he would stay down. With his defeat the Team Cerberus grunts were down to Hariyama, who was still attempting to overpower Ash's Charizard.

"Use Force Palm!" his trainer commanded.

"Dodge and use Seismic Toss!" Ash countered. With a flap of his wings Charizard easily flew up and over Hariyama's Force Palm. He then reached down and grabbed Hariyama's arm and took to the skies, rotated a few times and dove back down towards the ground. As he neared the ground he hurled Hariyama down, throwing him down right on top of the other defeated Team Cerberus Pokémon.

"Now you have no choice but to surrender!" Dante declared. Looking around the grunts saw not only their own defeated Pokémon but the numerous Pokémon belonging to Ash and company glaring at them.

"You may have defeated our Pokémon, but that doesn't mean we're going to surrender!" one of the grunts declared. Ash and company prepared for whatever the grunts would do, but what they decided on surprised everyone.

"Okay, time to retreat!" On that command the grunts turned and ran.

"They're escaping!" Lando shouted.

"Oh no they're not!" Nikki said. "Swablu, slow them down with Featherdance!" She hurled a Poké Ball in their direction, calling on her Cotton Bird Pokémon. The Flying type flew over the escaping grunts, sprinkling them with a golden powder. Almost instantly the grunts felt their strength being sapped as they collapsed mid-stride.

"W-What the… I… can't move!" one of them groaned.

"There, that should stop them for a while," Nikki said.

"At least long enough for Officer Jenny to get here," Ash added. With the grunts and their Pokémon incapacitated all that was left was to contact Officer Jenny and await her arrival.

Within an hour of being contacted Officer Jenny and a squad of officers arrived to apprehend the Team Cerberus grunts. While they were being loaded into the nearby police van Ash, Nikki, Dante, Lando and Princess Susanna were off to the side.

"I believe this is yours, Princess," Dante said, handing Princess Susanna her handkerchief.

"My handkerchief! You found it," the princess said.

"It was fortunate we did, for without it we never would have found you," Lando admitted.

"Truly?" she asked.

"He's right," Nikki confirmed. "If we hadn't found your handkerchief those Team Cerberus guys would have more than likely gotten away with you."

"Of course, it's still strange for Team Cerberus to resort to kidnapping people rather than targeting powerful Pokémon," Ash mused.

"That's true. I wonder why they did it," Nikki pondered.

"It's because they weren't with Team Cerberus." They all turned towards Officer Jenny, who had just finished securing the four grunts in the police van and was now approaching them.

"They weren't?" Nikki questioned. "But what about their uniforms? Those were Team Cerberus uniforms they were wearing."

"You're right. Those were Team Cerberus uniforms they were wearing, but they weren't with the organization… at least not yet, anyway," Officer Jenny replied.

"Not yet? What do you mean?" Ash asked.

"Well, from what we gathered, they were looking to get into Team Cerberus, and this was to be their initiation so to speak," Officer Jenny explained.

"I see. This was a test to see if they were worthy of being full-fledged members," Nikki assumed.

"Exactly," Officer Jenny confirmed. "Thankfully you were able to stop them before they joined. Team Cerberus doesn't need to get any stronger than it already is."

"Agreed," Princess Susanna said.

"I only wish we could have stopped them before they abducted you, Your Highness, and for that you have my sincerest apologizes," Officer Jenny said.

"Do not trouble yourself with it," the princess replied. "The simple fact that those villains will be dealt with more than makes up for the inconvenience."

"I have to agree with her," Ash commented.

"Yeah. The fewer members of Team Cerberus there are the better," Nikki agreed.

"Well, with these four behind bars that's four fewer they'll have," Officer Jenny stated. She then thanked them before heading back to her motorcycle to return to the station. Once she and the police van were gone the group allowed themselves a moment to relax.

"Whew… that's enough drama for one day," Nikki sighed.

"Indeed," Princess Susanna agreed. "I would like to thank you once again for aiding in my rescue."

"You don't need to thank us. When we learned you were in danger we couldn't walk away without helping," Ash said.

"Yeah. We always help out when our friends are in trouble," Nikki added.

"Yes. That is a noble trait I am glad you two both share," Princess Susanna praised.

"(Oh wow. I didn't realize how late it was,)" Pikachu commented. They looked up and saw the sky was beginning to turn orange as the sun began to set.

"It is late," Ash said.

"And there isn't a Pokémon Center anywhere nearby," Nikki added, looking at her Pokécomm. "Looks like we're camping out tonight."

"We too had plans to stay at a Pokémon Center overnight, but our encounter with those kidnappers has forced us to alter our plans," Dante said.

"(Why don't we all camp out together,)" Buneary suggested.

"A fine idea," Princess Susanna agreed.

"But where shall we make camp?" Dante wondered.

"Why not right here. There's more than enough space for a campsite," Nikki said.

"I agree. This would make a fine campsite," the princess agreed.

"Then it's settled then. We'll make camp here," Ash announced. With everyone in agreement they got to work setting up their campsite. During this time Dante and Lando had something they wished to discuss with Ash.

"Do you have a moment? We have a request we would like to make of you," Lando said.

"Sure. What's on your minds?" Ash inquired.

"It has come to our attention that we lack sufficient enough strength to protect the princess," Dante admitted.

"What makes you say that?" Ash asked.

"The events from earlier has shown how unprepared we truly are," Dante said. "Had you and Lady Nikki not arrived we fear we wouldn't have been able to rescue the princess."

"And for that reason we feel you are the one who can help us," Lando added.

"Okay… but what can I do to help?" Ash wondered.

"We would like you to help us train our Pokémon. With your guidance we believe we can strengthen our Pokémon to the point where we can safeguard the princess ourselves," Dante explained.

"Wait. You want me to help you train your Pokémon?" Ash repeated.

"Yes," Dante confirmed. "Please, we beg of you. Help us." This was not something Ash was expecting. He knew that his training methods worked with his own Pokémon, but he wasn't sure if they would work with those belonging to another trainer. Still, he was willing to give it a try.

"Okay, I'll see what kind of help I can offer," he agreed.

"You have our gratitude," Dante said.

"I'd save that gratitude until after we see if I can help you. I'm not sure if my training methods will work with your Pokémon, but I'm willing to try and see," Ash said.

"If you feel there is a chance it could help, then we too shall be willing to try," Dante reciprocated.

"In that case we'll start first thing in the morning. Make sure both you and your Pokémon get a good night's sleep," Ash advised.

"We shall," Lando replied. Nikki and Princess Susanna were close enough to them to hear their conversation. Dante and Lando's request surprised them at first, but for Princess Susanna it pleased her to see them so eager to improve their skills.

"I do hope Ash is up to the task," she commented.

"Don't worry. Ash will do all he can to help them," Nikki assured her.

"(And we'll be there to help too,)" Buneary stated.

"That we will," Nikki agreed. As they continued to set up their camp the thoughts of everyone was on tomorrow, and the task that lay ahead for them.

A day that began with a daring rescue attempt has ended with the promise of helping Dante and Lando strengthen their Pokémon. Can Ash help with that? Will his method of training work with Dante and Lando's Pokémon? Find out in the next chapter of Search for Power!

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