Capture the Heart
by rkOujirou

Author's note: This story is a continuation based on the Pokemon: Diamond & Pearl anime, starting from after the episode "The Battle Finale of Legend!".

Disclaimer: Pokemon is not my idea and I don't own it or any of the characters, obviously.


Chapter 11

*clink...clink...clink...*

Battered, bruised, and in some places broken, Pokemon Hunter J was gradually advancing through the westernmost corridor of her infiltrated base. It was quiet, empty. The only significant noise was that of J's net gun striking the ground, bracing the left side of her body with every step she took.

Her nose, which Officer Jenny had smashed with the steel rings on her gloves, was still dripping blood down onto her lips. Her broken ankle, courtesy of a stomp from Jenny's foot, had severely limited her mobility. She had no regrets about choosing to fight the officer, though. In fact, she was grateful for the chance. Long ago, J and Jenny had their first run-in back in a time when J was still under the leadership of other Pokemon poachers and Jenny was still in training to become a full-fledged police officer; two up-and-comers on opposite sides of the law. In the years that followed, they would become the bitterest of rivals. In a way, they knew each other better than anyone else did. Thus, it was only fitting, J figured, that she had to go through Jenny one more time on this day.

Thankfully for J, she didn't have much farther to travel with her aching body. The northern wall of her destination was just up ahead. It was the wall of her personal chamber where she slept on most nights—a room inaccessible to everyone except her. Along that northern wall, however, ran another corridor that led straight to the left on one side and slanted to the right on the other. She would need to take that slanted path to reach the door to her room.

J approached the new area cautiously. She didn't hear anything that sounded like her pursuers, but she wouldn't put it past them to be lying in wait to spring a trap. Once she had reached the splitting path, she pressed herself flat against the wall and very slowly peeked her head out to look down the hallway.

It was clear.

Evidently, Jenny's earlier fib to Solana about J's location was even more helpful than J had expected. There didn't appear to be any officers or Rangers in this part of the complex. Wanting to keep things that way, J hurried—as best she could on one leg at least—down the diagonal path to the southwest. There were a pair of functioning cameras along the way, but there wasn't any need to destroy them as she had been doing before. After all, even if someone in the control center did spot her now, she was going to be inside her room before anyone could make it here to stop her.

The Pokemon hunter switched the net gun over to her right hand and pressed her left palm up against the wall for support. Hopping on her good leg in such a manner was faster than using the gun as a cane and walking. Now she was making good progress. The door was almost within sight. Just a little further...

"Now!"

The instant she rounded the corner, J was met with the sight of a green-colored arm extending in her direction. She instinctively lifted her net gun and fired, aiming to take down whoever was responsible for the surprise attack, but the green arm, which was actually a series of vines, wrapped around the gun's barrel and pulled it to the side. With its trajectory changed, the net was instead shot into the wall and slid downward until it came to rest harmlessly on the floor.

Just as the gun was yanked out of J's hand, another arm came flying toward her. She quickly reached for and grabbed the pokeball containing her Salamence, but she wasn't able to toss it in time. The vines wrapped around her body several times over, covering her from the shoulders on down to the knees and effectively constricting her arms. J had been caught.

"Good job, Tangrowth!" the one responsible for the attack said excitedly.

J glared disdainfully at the high-spirited girl, who happened to be standing directly in front of the door to her room. "You..."

"Pokemon Ranger Kimberly, also known as your captor," the girl in the red uniform, who had similarly red hair flowing down to her elbows, beamed proudly. Situated in front of her was a Tangrowth, another Pokemon from J's inventory that had been rescued earlier. "I'm guessing from that messed up face of yours that someone else got to you first, but that's okay. You finally ran out of luck, J."

Retracting its right arm, Tangrowth handed Kimberly the net gun it had confiscated from their prisoner. Only one net at a time could be loaded into the weapon, and that net had already been fired. Since it would be of no use to her, Kimberly opted to throw the gun over her shoulder, far out of J's reach should anything go wrong.

"Okay, Tangrowth, keep her wrapped up until the others get here," the redhead puffed out her chest, looking especially smug.

J found what Kimberly had just said to contain some interesting information. The girl hadn't even communicated to her allies that she had J in custody, yet they were apparently on their way here. That meant that somebody in their ranks had already figured out where J was going and ordered everyone to this spot even before the Pokemon hunter had gotten here.

"That little spy must have figured it out," J inwardly cursed the troublesome girl. Solana was the only one with firsthand knowledge of the base, so it was tough to imagine it being anyone other than her.

This was a bad situation for J that wasn't going to get any better with more company set to arrive. Bad, but not hopeless. She still had Salamence's pokeball in her right hand, and, if what she was feeling was correct, there was a bit of space between the vines in just the right spot. If she could just manage to force it through there...

"Awfully proud of ourselves, aren't we?" J began taunting the Ranger.

"Maybe a little," Kimberly said with a boastful grin. "Can you really blame me, though?"

J began pushing the pokeball against the vines as she distracted Kimberly with some idle chatter. It was taking some effort, but she thought she could feel them starting to give way a bit. "Considering there's no chance of these vines being enough to hold me, yes, I can," she replied.

Kimberly scoffed at the Pokemon hunter's bold statement. "You're acting tough in this situation? Really? In case you haven't noticed, you can't use your arms," she was happy to point out. "What makes you think you can get out of there? Hmm?"

A confident smirk crossed J's face. "Watch and learn, brat."

Pokemon Ranger Kimberly didn't like the tone of J's voice. She took a closer look at the woman, trying to discern if there was something she might have been up to. As it turned out, some movement on the right side of J's body did catch her eye. Now she could see the pokeball, and it was dangerously close to freedom.

"Tangrowth, that pokeball! Cover it up, quick!" Kimberly shouted in a hurry.

The Pokemon extended its free arm to wrap around J and her pokeball, but it arrived just a moment too late. J had already forced the widest part of the ball through the vines. After that, popping it out was simple.

"Salamence, rip these vines apart!" J commanded.

Heeding its master's call, the winged beast appeared from within the confines of its pokeball with an angry roar and chomped down on the outstretched arms of Tangrowth. With one good bite from its sharp teeth, Salamence cut right through the organic material.

Kimberly looked on in dismay as the vines loosened and fell away from J's body. Her ploy to capture the Pokemon hunter had been foiled. J dropped to one knee to face the girl, making sure to keep all weight off of her left ankle.

Meanwhile, Tangrowth's ripped arms retracted back to its body. The damage to its limbs wouldn't be a problem thanks to its amazing regeneration capabilities. Almost immediately, the arms re-grew to their normal length. It now had just one teeny problem left to deal with, that being the wrath of the intimidating Salamence standing opposite from it.

"Tch! Maybe you do still have some luck left," Kimberly grumbled at the wanted criminal. "Tangrowth, use Ancient Power!"

Its body starting to glow white, Tangrowth held out its newly regenerated arms and a silver ball of energy began to form between them.

"Salamence, use Flamethrower!" J countered.

As Tangrowth fired its Ancient Power attack, Salamence shot a stream of scorching fire from its mouth at the ball of energy. The two attacks would collide midway, neither overpowering the other, and with a thunderous blast they canceled each other out.

"Tangrowth, Vine Whip!" Kimberly commanded her Pokemon.

The grass-type Pokemon flung its arms outward, aiming to strike them against the large body of its foe.

J knew that such an attack would barely faze Salamence, and she had an idea of how to use it to her advantage. "Salamence, grab Tangrowth's arm and pull it this way!"

Salamence waited patiently for the right moment to act. One of Tangrowth's arms slapped against its left wing, but it did very little damage. The other arm then came flying toward Salamence's head. That was just what the winged Pokemon was waiting for. Salamence caught the vines in its mouth, exerting enough pressure to keep them there but not break them. It then did as its master had instructed and yanked back on them. Overcome by Salamence's strength, Tangrowth left its feet and went airborne.

"Good!" J complimented her Pokemon. "Now, use Double-Edge!"

Still holding the vines in its mouth, Salamence began running toward the incoming Pokemon, leaving behind a gold trail of energy as it moved. Tangrowth tried grasping at the ceiling with its free arm, but it simply couldn't do enough to slow its momentum. Salamence slammed the full weight of its huge body into the grass-type Pokemon, sending it tumbling back to Kimberly with a significant amount of damage.

"Tangrowth!" the Pokemon Ranger cried. Tangrowth was extremely slow to get up after the vicious shot it had taken.

Salamence had taken some recoil damage from its attack as well, but nothing it couldn't battle through. The bottom line was that J needed Tangrowth out of their way fast so that she could get into her room before Kimberly's reinforcements showed up. If Salamence needed to take some damage to accomplish that goal, then so be it.

"Salamence, finish it off with Flamethrower!" the Pokemon hunter called out.

Kimberly watched nervously as the flames began to build in Salamence's mouth. "Tangrowth, you've got to move! Get up!"

Even as the blast of fire shot its way, Tangrowth still couldn't pick itself up off the ground. This battle was as good as over.

"Mothim, Protect!"

The eyes of both J and Kimberly widened with surprise when a Mothim, surrounded by a green barrier, put itself in the path of Salamence's attack and took it head-on. Its Protect move completely nullified the flames, saving Tangrowth from what would have likely been a knockout blow.

"Well, well, well...look who had to come save Kimmie," an amused woman dressed in a Ranger uniform snickered from behind the redhead.

Cringing at the sound of the voice, Kimberly peered over her shoulder with a scowl on her face. "I SO did not need saving, Sheridan!"

Pokemon Ranger Sheridan, who had her waist-length black hair tied into a single braid, had made a hobby of getting her fellow Ranger riled up. "Yeah, uh-huh. Whatever you say," she grinned, turning her attention to J. "We'll save it for later. Right now, we gotta deal with her."

Though annoyed by the dark-haired girl, Kimberly nodded in agreement and re-focused on the battle at hand.

On the other side of the hallway, J was even more irritated by Sheridan's arrival than Kimberly was. Instead of taking out Tangrowth and gaining access to her room, she now had another 2-on-1 battle on her hands. And, unfortunately, things were about to get worse.

The two Pokemon Rangers held off on engaging the wanted woman as the sound of heavy footsteps were heard behind them. From around the corner came the four remaining police officers on this mission who weren't presently occupied or indisposed. Among them were two men, both with Growlithe, and two women, each with a Stunky. The male officers lined up to the right of Kimberly while the female officers took up positions to the left of Sheridan.

The 2-on-1 battle had just become 6-on-1.

"J! You're going to pay for what you did to Officer Jenny!" one of the men shouted. Evidently, news of Jenny's injured state had gotten around.

"Nice timing," Sheridan said to the new arrivals. "I hear they've got a nice jail cell picked out for you, J. Looks like you'll be seeing it soon."

Sheridan's brash comments were laughable to the Pokemon hunter. Even against these numbers, J didn't lack confidence in Salamence. Victory was still inevitable. It would just be a bit more annoying to achieve. "It would seem you're seriously underestimating us," she told the black-haired girl. "Let me teach you a lesson about that. Salamence, Hyper Beam!"

As an orange ball of energy formed in Salamence's mouth, the two Growlithe belonging to the other side jumped out in front of their team.

"Growlithe, Flamethrower!" both male officers commanded.

The orange energy beam and the dual streams of fire were unleashed at the same time, and it wasn't long before J's point was made. The Hyper Beam attack tore through the flames and made a direct hit on both of the fire-type Pokemon, knocking them back into the rest of their team where the officers stood. Salamence was just too powerful for them. After taking only one move, both Growlithe were already finished.

Two down, four to go.

Now that they'd gotten a firsthand look at Salamence strength, J's potential captors weren't going to pass up the chance to strike while it was recharging from the Hyper Beam.

"Stunky," the two female officers said together, "...use Screech!"

The piercing sound of the high-pitched noise made Salamence and its master grimace. Pokemon Rangers Kimberly and Sheridan then jumped right in to launch an assault.

"Tangrowth, Ancient Power!"

"Mothim, use Psybeam!"

The dual attacks, a silver ball of energy from Tangrowth and a multicolored beam from the eyes of Mothim, successfully struck Salamence. They weren't without effect, especially the rock-type Ancient Power attack, but Salamence gave no indication of that. The winged beast merely shook off the moves, barely budging from its position.

Now that the Screech attack of the Stunky had ended, the policewomen using them went right back on the offensive. "Stunky," they both ordered, "...hit it with Slash!"

The pair of Stunky charged forth to land some close-range physical attacks.

"Salamence, Dragon Pulse!" J commanded.

Targeting the incoming Pokemon, Salamence fired a turquoise blast of energy from its mouth. Stunky weren't slow Pokemon by any means, but at this short distance there was no way to avoid the attack. Only one of them, however, was hit by the energy ball. That Stunky, overwhelmed by the powerful attack, was blown all the way back into the waiting arms of its police officer. Had it not been caught, it would have flown all the way to the other end of the corridor. Such was the power of J's Salamence.

Stunky's battle was at an end. Three down, three to go.

"Mothim, use Silver Wind!" Sheridan instructed her bug-type Pokemon.

The other Stunky continued on and swiped its claws across Salamence's face, leaving a white trail of energy where it made contact. The attack didn't do much damage, though. In fact, it only appeared to make Salamence more agitated.

As Stunky jumped back to a safe distance, the Silver Wind attack from Mothim came into play when a number of silver crescents from the Pokemon slammed into Salamence's body. Bug-type moves in general weren't very effective against a Salamence, however, and this was no exception. The large Pokemon shot an unpleasant scowl at its foes, not seeming anguished in the least.

"This isn't good. That Salamence is super strong..." Kimberly said. Some nervousness could be heard in her voice.

"Don't worry, we've still got the ace up our sleeve," Sheridan calmly reminded her.

J couldn't hear what the two Pokemon Rangers were discussing, but it wasn't much of a concern. Her goal right now was simple: take out the three remaining Pokemon and get into her room before anyone else showed up. "Salamence, Hyper Beam!" she yelled.

The time Salamence would need to recharge after using Hyper Beam would allow the officers and Rangers another opportunity to do some damage, but first they needed to make it through the attack.

"Mothim," Sheridan called out to her Pokemon, "...use Protect to stop that Hyper Beam!"

Given the reduced chance of success when using Protect consecutively, Sheridan knew she had to be strategic in her use of the move. This was as good a time to break it out as she would get. Mothim again surrounded itself with a green barrier that took the entire beam from Salamence and held up, keeping it from reducing their numbers any further.

Pokemon Hunter J let out a frustrated grunt over the failure of the attack. Mothim's Protect was becoming a real nuisance. J would have loved for Salamence to just attack the ceiling above those standing in her way and watch as it came crashing down on them, but they were all standing right in front of the door to her chamber. The resulting pile of rubble and dirt could be large enough to prevent her from getting inside, or, at the very least, it would likely spill inside the room and keep the door from closing even if she did gain access. Tempting though it was, it simply wasn't worth the risk.

The redheaded Ranger, Kimberly, now took the chance to wear Salamence down some more. "Tangrowth, use your Slam attack!"

Tangrowth's arms shot outward and stretched around the large Pokemon's body. Then, in an impressive display of the strength of its vines, it picked Salamence up off the ground, flipped it upside down and slammed it back-first onto the floor.

"Stunky, Screech! One more time!" one of the officers commanded.

The lone remaining Stunky sent a torrent of sound waves at Salamence and its master again in an effort to slow the winged Pokemon from getting back to its feet.

Salamence wasn't badly hurt, but these attacks were certainly causing a delay for J. Still kneeling behind the last of her Pokemon, the silver-haired hunter had her hands pressed up against her ears to protect herself from the piercing noise Stunky was causing. Once Salamence was upright again, she was going to have it send another Flamethrower Mothim's way. That, she figured, should force the black-haired Ranger girl to use Protect again, only this time there would be a 50% chance of it failing. If Mothim and its Protect move were knocked out of this battle, picking off Stunky and the already weakened Tangrowth would be quick work.

In the midst of her planning, however, J began to feel vibrations coming from the ground around her. She couldn't hear a thing with Stunky's Screech assaulting her ears, but she could definitely feel something. What was it...? It came in regular intervals, almost like footsteps...and it was getting stronger. Did that mean the source was coming closer? Coming from...

"Behind!" J abruptly shouted.

She whirled her body around to see what was approaching. No...what was already here. There it was standing right before her...the massive Rhyperior she once had stored within the base. Its hand was raised and glowing red, a signature of its Hammer Arm attack. It had its sight focused on its target.

J's eyes went wide with alert as the huge arm came flying not at Salamence, but at her. She couldn't get out of the way quick enough, not without the ability to push off of her bad ankle. The best she could hope to do was soften the blow. Desperately, J crossed her arms in front of her face. Rhyperior's arm smashing into them was the last thing the Pokemon hunter could remember.

Kimberly, Sheridan and the others let out a collective gasp as the power of Rhyperior's strike sent J flying. The right side of her body collided with the western wall of the base with enough force that her already damaged headset broke apart on impact. Part of the headset's frame would split off and slice into the center of her forehead, leaving an ugly gash from which blood seeped down the woman's face.

J fell to the floor limp, unmoving. She had been knocked out cold.

The Rangers and officers stood gaping at what they'd just witnessed. They were here to capture J, of course, but none of them had planned on using that level of violence to subdue her. For a human being to take an attack like that from a Rhyperior...it was too much. They could only wonder what in the world had made the one controlling Rhyperior think that things needed to go that far.

"Rhyperior, NO!"

From out of the slanted path that J had taken earlier came running Solana. The horrified look on her face made it apparent to her colleagues that Rhyperior's actions were not her idea.

"That was completely uncalled for, Rhyperior!" the blue-haired Ranger admonished her temporary Pokemon. "We already had her right where we wanted her! You didn't need to do that!"

Rhyperior held its head high and gave Solana a look of defiance. There was no remorse in the creature for what it had done to the woman who dared to take it from its home.

"Solana, be careful! Salamence is..." Kimberly tried to warn her fellow Ranger.

As Solana could now see, J's Salamence was back to its feet. Its ire skyrocketed as its eyes wandered over to the sight of its master lying there helpless, a crimson pool slowly expanding next to her bloodied face. The beast turned and glared furiously at Rhyperior.

"Now just wait, Salamence!" Solana quickly intervened, trying to quell the creature's rage. "I'm sorry this happened, but J is hurt very badly right now! If you let us take her, we can get her the medical assistance she needs. You need to trust us though, okay?"

This was a familiar situation for J's Salamence. It had trusted Officer Jenny to bring its master back to life after the incident at Lake Valor, and she had done so. This was different, though. Jenny wasn't the one who had brought down J's ship back then; she wasn't responsible for nearly killing her. These people...these people were responsible for J's current state. There would be no bargaining with them. There would be no mercy shown after what they'd done.

The turquoise glow of Salamence's Dragon Pulse shone from its mouth. As Solana ducked for cover, Salamence shot the attack straight into the chest of Rhyperior. Though an exceptionally sturdy Pokemon, even Rhyperior was knocked off of its feet by the force of the blast. The floor shook as it landed on its back and slid most of the way down the path from whence it came.

The other Rangers and officers could see that negotiating with Salamence wasn't going to work. For the sake of the mission, as well as for their own safety, they were going to have to take the winged Pokemon down.

"Tangrowth, use Bind!" Kimberly instructed the grass-type creature.

"Mothim, Psybeam!" Sheridan followed up.

The last police officer with a Pokemon in the battle joined in. "Stunky, hit it with another Slash!"

Tangrowth's vines wrapped themselves around Salamence's body and constricted, though the effects were minimal. The multicolored beam from Mothim struck Salamence just to the right of its neck, chipping away a bit more at its health. By that time, Stunky was running and already halfway to the large Pokemon, ready to deal another Slash to its face.

Salamence was also ready for another attack. With flames building in its mouth, the beast looked toward the incoming Pokemon and sent a scorching Flamethrower its way. Burning through a number of Tangrowth's vines along the way, the flames engulfed Stunky and threw it back to its commanding officer in a heap of seared fur.

"Stunky! Are you okay?" the policewoman cried. One look at it and she knew it was out of the battle.

The only Pokemon that remained on Solana's team were the three under the command of Pokemon Rangers, and one of them was already preparing to inflict more damage on J's outnumbered Pokemon.

Behind Salamence, Rhyperior was upright again and had two white rings circling its body. The rings broke off into fragments and soon materialized into shards of rock. This was its Stone Edge attack. Now that it was fully ready, Rhyperior launched the barrage of stones toward its enemy, pelting the back and left side of Salamence's body. For the first time, Salamence let what could only be described as a growl of pain escape from its mouth, but fall it did not.

"Look, we're getting to it!" Kimberly said, failing to hide her excitement. She was just about to make her next move when she felt her fellow Ranger nudge her in the arm. "What?"

Still perhaps wondering if she was seeing things, Sheridan pointed a finger down at the body of J. "Look..."

Kimberly squinted ever so slightly as she obliged the suggestion, fixing her eyes on the wounded woman. There didn't seem to be anything unusual...no, wait...J's finger. Had it just...? Yes, it had. And it happened again, this time more than just one of them. J's fingers were moving.

Having somehow found her way back to consciousness, the Pokemon hunter's eyelids began to flutter open. She raised her head just a bit and saw the puddle of her own blood she had been laying in, as well as the pieces of her broken headset next to her. Feeling a sudden rush of pain, she vocalized a light groan and held a hand against her forehead. She knew why the rest of her body hurt, but there was a pounding inside her cranium that she didn't remember being there before. Come to think of it, where was she? And why was she on the floor?

J tilted her head upward and had to look away for a moment. The lights were so bright...she didn't remember them being that bright. Narrowing her eyes enough that she could see, J took in the sight of the group she'd been fighting with before. Strangely, only Tangrowth and Mothim appeared to be battling now. What had happened to that last Stunky?

"Solana, J is awake!" Sheridan called out to the blue-haired Ranger.

The mention of Solana's name made J swivel around and look behind her, down the path she'd taken to get here. Now she noticed Rhyperior's presence. Its massive body took up almost the entire width of the corridor. When had it gotten here, though? J couldn't remember for the life of her. The last thing she could recall was Salamence taking out one of the Stunky blocking the door to... her room...

J's mind was fuzzy. Though she didn't know it, the impact against the wall after Rhyperior's attack had left her with a concussion. She wasn't so clear on what was going on around her, but she did know one thing: she needed to get inside her room. Very slowly, inch by inch, J pushed herself up off the ground and began to crawl toward the door. Kimberly, Sheridan and the officers with them couldn't believe what they were seeing. J was lucky just to be alive after taking a hit like that from Rhyperior, and now she was actually moving around again? Was the woman indestructible?

Naturally, Salamence was extremely relieved to see its master still moving. Watching her gingerly crawling along, struggling with her balance and trying to keep her broken ankle suspended just off the floor, its mission became clear. If J needed to get to her room, it would have to make a path for her.

Letting the flames build inside its mouth once again, Salamence fired another Flamethrower attack. The flames burned away the remaining vines from Tangrowth's Bind and then made a beeline for the grass-type Pokemon itself.

"Mothim, Protect!" Sheridan instructed her Pokemon.

Annoying as ever, Mothim once again put itself in the path of an attack aimed to finish off Tangrowth. Its green barrier took the stream of flames and held up, thwarting yet another attempt to bring down their numbers.

Even with her vision limited due to standing behind Rhyperior, Solana could see J starting to move closer to her room. This wasn't any time to be worried about the silver-haired criminal's injuries. She needed to stop her right this instant before she could get to that door. "Rhyperior, use Hammer Arm on Salamence!"

Rhyperior was still upset over the Dragon Pulse attack that had floored it before. Using that fury as fuel to add to its power, the massive Pokemon stomped forth, its arm glowing a bright red again, and slammed its sturdy limb into the left side of Salamence's body. Amazingly, the forceful attack moved Salamence only an inch from its prior position, but there was no doubt that it had hurt. The winged Pokemon snarled in pain and its left front leg buckled, the most significant sign yet that the damage it had taken was starting to add up.

"Now it's really hurting," Sheridan's optimism began to rise. "Keep it up!"

Salamence wouldn't stay down for long. With flames building in its mouth once more, it straightened out its leg and was quickly back up. Then, somewhat to the surprise of its foes, Salamence faced not Rhyperior, who clearly looked to be its biggest threat, but rather the duo of Tangrowth and Mothim again.

"W-wait, is it ignoring Rhyperior?" Kimberly stuttered. She could see that another Flamethrower was about to come their way. The problem was that Mothim had just used Protect. If it used it again now, there was a reasonable chance it could fail. Something else would have to be done. "Tangrowth, Ancient Power!"

Tangrowth was wearing down, but it still had enough in it to toss the energy sphere Salamence's way. Kimberly was hoping the two attacks would at least cancel each other out and buy Mothim and Rhyperior some extra time to further wear down the winged Pokemon. Such wasn't to be the case, though. The flames of Salamence's attack fought against and then overwhelmed Tangrowth's Ancient Power, blasting right through it and into Tangrowth itself. Blown off of its feet, Tangrowth rolled backwards several times, right past Kimberly and Sheridan who had to jump out of the way, and finally came to a rest sprawled out on its back.

"No! Tangrowth!" the redheaded Pokemon Ranger hurried over to the exhausted Pokemon. There would be no more battling for it today. At long last, Salamence had put Tangrowth away.

Sheridan was becoming concerned for the well-being of she and the others as she watched Salamence take another step closer, keeping the crawling J right in front of its feet so that it could shield her from any harm. Neither the police officers nor the Pokemon Rangers themselves were going to be able to do anything to stop Salamence, so even though they would have liked to stay in front of the door J was inching toward, in the end it would just be an unnecessary risk to their lives.

"Mothim, use Bug Buzz!" Sheridan ordered. She then turned to the officers beside her. "Everyone else, get back! We're too close!"

The officers agreed with that sentiment. Along with Sheridan, they all fell back to where Kimberly and Tangrowth were, which was a good eight feet behind the door's position.

Mothim moved back to where its commanding Pokemon Ranger used to be standing and executed the instruction given to it. Its wings glowed red and its antennae stood on end. From out of the antennae then came a number of red shockwaves that assaulted Salamence with a horrible sound worse than that of Stunky's Screech. Salamence gritted its teeth as it battled through the attack.

"Now, Rhyperior," Solana called out, looking to deal a final, crushing blow to J's Pokemon, "...Horn Drill!"

Appearing unnervingly pleased with the command, Rhyperior began spinning the horns on its head in a drill-like fashion. Eager to dish out some serious damage to the Pokemon that had been ignoring it, the massive creature charged forth and rammed its horn into Salamence's battered left side. The attack was ferociously powerful, enough so that Salamence was launched like a rag doll into the side of the corridor. For the first time, it had been knocked down.

After witnessing the incredible display of Rhyperior's power, everyone's attention now turned to the unprotected Pokemon Hunter J. Despite what had just happened to Salamence, J kept her eyes on the door to her room and just kept crawling. She was getting close now, but the authorities present were going to be happy to do something about that.

"Now's our chance!" Solana bellowed out to her team members. "Pin her down and cuff her hands!"

Solana came from one side, Kimberly, Sheridan, and the four officers from the other, and they all converged on the wanted woman. J was held down and her hands forced behind her back. She tried to fight back, but there was only so much she could do in her condition. One of the officers grabbed his handcuffs and aimed to lock them around J's wrists.

Then, suddenly, a deafening roar...

Salamence was up again, and it was furious. It charged into the group and rammed its head and neck into them, knocking every last person off of J. Knowing they were powerless against the large Pokemon, the officers and Rangers scampered away and took refuge behind Rhyperior.

Not even bothering to look back at the ones who had attempted to apprehend her, J managed to push herself up to her knees again and resumed her slow crawl toward the door.

"Shoot! We were so close!" Solana cursed their misfortune. She hadn't expected J's Pokemon to get up so quickly.

And Salamence wasn't done either. There was an orange hue to its mouth as it prepared to fire another attack, this time a Hyper Beam. Its target? The one remaining creature impeding its master's path to her room: Mothim.

"Oh, no!" Sheridan clenched her hands with concern. "Mothim, Protect! Hurry!"

Mothim heard the order, but it was exhausted and still recovering energy after using its Bug Buzz attack. Though it wanted to bring up the green shield to protect itself, its body simply didn't have the stamina to do so. Salamence fired its Hyper Beam, and it hit. The bug-type Pokemon soared all the way to the base's southern wall about 25 feet away and crashed into it with a loud thud. Rendered unconscious by the forceful attack, it fell face-first down to the floor, defeated.

Pokemon Ranger Sheridan growled in frustration at the sight of her Pokemon's fall. "There just wasn't enough time..." she hissed through her teeth.

"Relax, it's not over yet," Solana assured her.

Indeed, Salamence may have gotten a second wind to protect J, but it was now breathing heavily as it stood guard in front of her. The beast was on shaky legs. It had taken a great deal of damage, particularly from Rhyperior, but it would have to hold out. Its master needed it to.

"Rhyperior, Hammer Arm! Go!" Solana shouted.

The lone remaining Pokemon on its side moved in on Salamence once again with its arm glowing red and held high. Salamence, still recharging after using its Hyper Beam attack, stood its ground. It wasn't going to let Rhyperior get to J no matter what.

Rhyperior reared back and slugged the winged Pokemon in the face this time with its Hammer Arm attack. Jarred by the thunderous blow, Salamence's front legs gave out. The beast's head and the front of its body followed, falling down to the floor.

"We did it!" Solana exclaimed. She was ready to send everyone after J again, but then, astonishingly, Salamence rose.

Mustering everything it had left, Salamence thrust itself upward and back to its feet. It wouldn't go down. It couldn't go down. Not yet.

"You're kidding!" Pokemon Ranger Kimberly said in disbelief. Salamence's toughness was unbelievable.

"We've got other problems, too. Look..." Sheridan said, pointing to the entrance to J's room.

As everyone could plainly see, J's hands were now touching the door. Little by little, she pulled herself up until she was standing—with some help from the door's frame—on her good leg. The moment J pressed one of her fingers to the touchpad on the control panel, Solana and the others immediately jumped forward to interfere. One mighty roar from Salamence, however, would stop them in their tracks.

"We have to stop her!" Solana yelled, the sense of urgency evident in her voice. "Rhyperior, use Hammer Arm again! You have to take Salamence out! NOW!"

Rhyperior didn't have to be told twice. Further incensed that Salamence was still standing after everything it had hit it with, the massive Pokemon reached back to deal one more decimating blow to its enemy.

Salamence, on the other hand, couldn't even gather the energy to counter with an attack of its own. It was giving its all just to stay on its feet right now. Even so, it was prepared to take Rhyperior's next attack. If it could buy its master just a few more seconds, it would be well worth it.

Reaching back, Rhyperior swung its arm downward onto the top of Salamence's head. The winged Pokemon's jaw slammed down against the floor. All four of Salamence's legs gave out this time as it finally collapsed into a heap, its only movement caused by its breathing. It had done an admirable job protecting its master, but it had nothing left. Salamence had been defeated.

Though they would never mention it, Solana and the others were legitimately moved by Salamence's noble display in defending J. It had fought seven Pokemon on its own and managed to defeat six of them, all while protecting the person it cared for most. No matter what side of the law it was on, its showing of guts and determination was admirable.

But the authorities, it seemed, may have taken in Salamence's downfall for a moment too long. All seven of them looked up just in time to see the foot-thick door to J's room sliding open.

"Stop her!" Solana yelled, leading the charge to grab the Pokemon hunter.

J may have been groggy from the hit she'd taken, but she still had the sense to retrieve the creature that had been by her side since she was a child. Stumbling through the doorway, she grabbed Salamence's pokeball and held it out behind her. "Salamence...return..."

As Salamence disappeared back into its pokeball, J slumped down onto the hard, white-tiled floor of her room.

Running as fast as she could, Solana made it to the chamber's entrance at last...just in time to have the door slide shut in front of her face. Irate at her failure, she banged her fist against the thick steel. "NO!"

On the other side of the door, J lay with the front side of her body flat against the ground. Her room was dimly lit by a series of thin lights bordering the ceiling on all sides. Through the heavy door and walls surrounding her chamber, the ruckus being made outside was barely audible over the sound of her own breathing. Things had gotten quiet again.

J's head was turned to the side, her eyes staring at the pokeball in her hand. "Look at us..." she said softly, wincing as a trail of blood from her forehead threatened to make its way into her right eye. "Look at what's...become of us, Salamence. It's all gone...all of it..."

It felt like every muscle in her body ached, but J willed herself up off the floor and slowly started dragging herself over to her bed near the other side of the room. Little droplets of red fell from her face along the way. Whether they came from her busted nose or from the deep cut she still wasn't entirely aware of, that wasn't clear, nor did it really matter. Either way, she was a physical mess right now that needed a visit to a medical specialist.

Once she was close enough to place one hand against her mattress, J turned herself around and fell back into a seated position against the side of her bed, her legs fully extended along the floor. She then held Salamence's pokeball up to her face again. "I guess there's...no turning back now, is there?" she asked, not looking for any sort of response. After giving the ball one last fond look, she put it back against her waist next to those of Ariados and Drapion.

J took a deep breath to collect her thoughts. Feeling a familiar stinging sensation in her eye, she reached up and wiped some of the blood away from it with her hand. The silver-haired hunter held her palm out in front of her, taking in the sight of the red substance covering her glove and fingertips.

"It's too bad...she's not here to clean it away this time..." J said, a hint of a smile forming on her lips. That's right...she was in a bad way just like this the first night she'd had the chance to speak to Dawn. She'd been so annoyed with the girl that night, but now it had become a treasured memory for her. Dawn's act of kindness, selflessly cleaning the blood away from the face of someone she couldn't stand, had started everything.

Now it was J's job to finish it.

The Pokemon hunter raised her head and looked toward the ceiling in the very center of her room. "System voice command mode, activate," she said.

Reacting to the order, a rectangular section of the ceiling slid away and down came a 42" screen suspended from above. The screen flashed on, for now displaying nothing but a white background, and an automated, female-sounding voice spoke up.

Voice command mode activated. Welcome, J. Awaiting your instructions.

"Display camera zero-one-one," J told it.

Displaying camera number zero-one-one.

As per its orders, the system brought up a live feed of the requested security camera on the monitor. It was the camera that looked down on the top of the stairwell that led to the hangar, the same area that Officer Jenny had been unceremoniously dropped into earlier. Upon looking over the screen, J wasn't surprised to find that Jenny was no longer there.

"Seems they found her," she said. "I suppose...I can proceed without worry, then..."

J turned to glance at the door as she heard a loud noise all of a sudden. It wasn't the voices of her pursuers, but rather a constant grinding sound...almost as if someone were drilling into the steel in an attempt to get in.

"Display camera zero-zero-three," she instructed the system.

Displaying camera number zero-zero-three.

The new view that appeared on-screen was that of the scene directly outside J's room, and with it the source of that noise became obvious. The police officers and Pokemon Rangers were all standing back and watching Rhyperior use its Horn Drill on the door.

"So persistent," J muttered to herself.

Drilling through the thick chunk of steel wouldn't be easy, but Rhyperior would be able to do so eventually. It just wouldn't get the time it needed.

"I never thought...I would actually use this..." J uttered weakly. What was about to happen was tough for her to swallow, but it had to be done. "...Execute sequence zero-zero-zero."

Order received to execute sequence zero-zero-zero. Confirm or abort?

J closed her weary eyes and sat quietly for a moment to reflect on things. There was only one option to choose in her mind, of course. It was interesting to think about, though...everything that had led up to this moment...everything that was going to change once it was all over.

"Dawn," J said in a whisper, "...you're going to hate me for this. I just hope that someday...someday you'll be able to forgive me..."

With a heavy heart, the silver-haired hunter opened her eyes again and looked toward the screen.

"Confirm."

Order confirmed. Executing sequence zero-zero-zero.

Outside the room, Solana and the others were anxious, yet unable to do anything as Rhyperior labored to drill through the heavy steel.

"I can't believe even something as big as Rhyperior is having trouble with this door..." Kimberly said in astonishment.

"J probably designed this room to be like a miniature fortress for herself should anything go wrong," Solana suggested. "It's holding up well, but it won't last forever."

While the drilling continued, one of the officers caught sight of three familiar allies rounding the corner to the north of them. "Officer Jenny!" he acknowledged his commander's presence.

Jenny's right arm was draped over the shoulder of one of the officers Solana had sent to check on her. Her left arm, restricted by the pain being emitted from her broken collarbone, was suspended in front of her by a makeshift sling crafted from the belt of the second officer. The fact that she was on her feet at all was amazing in itself. It was that level of toughness that long ago earned her the respect of her colleagues.

Behind those three, Pokemon Rangers Logan and Evan also appeared. They were hurting from the electric shock they'd gotten from the net and embarrassed at having let J get the best of them, but otherwise were in better shape than Jenny was at the moment.

"Where is she?" Officer Jenny immediately asked.

"She's holed up in this room," Solana informed her. "We don't have any way to open it electronically, but as soon as Rhy-"

At that moment, Solana was cut off when a series of red lights began flashing and alarms sounded off throughout the entire base. The system's voice command followed.

Self-destruct sequence activated. This complex will explode in approximately five minutes. All available doors have been opened. Please exit the premises as quickly as possible. Self-destruct sequence activated...

The message continued to repeat itself, changing only the remaining time to reflect how much longer everyone had to make their escape.

"Self-destruct sequence?" Solana gasped. "She's going to blow this place up?"

"Solana, we need to get out of here!" Sheridan said in a panic.

The blue-haired Ranger nodded her head. Apprehending J was important, but trying to drag her out of that room wasn't worth risking all of their lives. "Okay, everyone! Make sure we've got all of our people and head for the exit! Get as far away as you can!"

Solana's team understood, but there was one individual who wasn't ready to follow suit. Officer Jenny shoved aside the policeman that had been supporting her and stumbled past Rhyperior to the door to J's room. "J!" she screamed, pounding her right fist into the steel. "What do you think you're doing? You get the hell out here! You hear me? Get out here!"

The others all halted their retreat, many of them sharing unsure looks over their commanding officer's actions.

"Jenny-" Solana started to say, but was quickly interrupted by the woman's yelling.

"J! You open this door NOW! Open it!" Jenny demanded. She started to slump downward as the exhaustion in her body caught up to her. "Damn it...open...OPEN THIS DOOR!"

Solana could see that Jenny still wasn't in any state to be handing out orders. Knowing some action would have to be taken, the seasoned Pokemon Ranger did what she had to do. "Rhyperior and I will take care of this! The rest of you, get going!" she ordered the other members of the team. After a bit of hesitation, they all complied and hurried off. Solana now turned her attention to the frantic officer before her. "Rhyperior, pick her up! And make sure you don't hurt her."

Doing as instructed, the massive Pokemon loosely wrapped its hand around the wounded officer and hoisted her up into the air.

"Hey, you put me down! Put me down now!" Jenny shouted at Rhyperior. That was one request it wasn't going to adhere to.

"I'm sorry, Jenny, but you'll thank me for this later," Solana apologized to her. "Rhyperior, we're getting out of here! Let's hurry!"

With an understanding grunt, the large beast followed Solana en route away from J's room.

"No! Stop! Let...go...of...me!" Jenny struggled within Rhyperior's grasp. She realized very quickly that it was all futile. Rhyperior was just too strong. "J! You are NOT dying yet! You can't do this! J! J-!"

The two dozen police officers and Pokemon Rangers streamed out of the base's open blast doors. Those that had fallen victim to J's liquid adhesive bomb were some of the first to appear after having been freed by their allies. Pokemon Rangers Logan, Evan, Kimberly and Sheridan, as well as their Pokemon and the officers that had been with them outside J's room, emerged next. Solana and Rhyperior, along with Jenny, were the last to barrel out the exit. Everyone ran with every ounce of energy they had left to put as much distance between themselves and the base as possible.

Then, at approximately 2:34 in the morning, the five minutes ran out...


"Mmm..."

The day of the final round of the Sinnoh Grand Festival opened with a beautiful morning on the shore of Lake Valor. The sun rose in a cloudless sky, shining through the balcony windows of all rooms at the hotel that were facing the lake. Outside one room in particular, a pair of Starly perched themselves atop the balcony's railing and chirped away with a harmonious tune. The sunlight and the noise provided a gentle awakening to one of the two Pokemon coordinators that would be competing on this day.

Stretching her arms out into the air, Dawn sat up in her bed and rubbed her eyes. Piplup, who had climbed back onto the bed at some point after falling off last night, was starting to wake from its slumber as well.

"Good morning, Piplup," Dawn greeted her Pokemon with a smile.

Piplup's reply was more of a yawn than anything. "Pipluuuuup..."

As Dawn's mind fired back up after its period of rest, the reality of what this day meant for her began to set in. "It's really here, isn't it?" she said to Piplup. "We're really going to face Zoey today for the title of Top Coordinator. Wow..."

It then occurred to Dawn that the room was awfully quiet apart from her words. Checking on the bed next to her own, she blinked as she found that it was empty and already made. "Where did those guys go?" she wondered aloud. Looking around, she noticed a note sitting on the nightstand between the beds. "Hmm?"

The girl from Twinleaf Town picked up the piece of paper and began reading.

Dawn, Ash and I thought we'd let you sleep in a little while we went to get cleaned up. If you wake up before we get back, why don't you head down to the bath and do the same? We'll meet up again in the room and go grab some breakfast to start off your big day. - Brock

"That sounds good to me," Dawn said with a chuckle.

As she reached out to place the note back where she'd found it, Dawn saw something else sitting on that same nightstand. It was the silver earring that J had given her the night before, shining in the sunlight coming in through the glass door. A fond smile crossed Dawn's face as she picked up the small accessory and held it in her hands.

"J..." she spoke the woman's name.

Last night's visit from the Pokemon hunter had been far from uneventful. She had told Dawn the tale of her past, something she may have never revealed to anyone else before. Brock, as fate would have it, had been listening in, which led to a serious discussion with his friend after J had departed. What stood out most of all, though, was the rush of emotions Dawn felt as J suddenly lowered herself close to the girl and tried to kiss her.

J never got the chance to initiate that kiss, Dawn reminded herself. The young coordinator had stopped her. Thinking back, she really did have good reason to do it. Even though she liked J...a lot, the woman still captured and sold Pokemon for a living, and that was just plain wrong. So why was it, Dawn wondered, that this morning all she felt in regards to the incident was a mound of regret?

Dawn reached up with one hand and lightly brushed the tips of her fingers against her lips. "Maybe...I should have let her keep going..." the girl said softly. She began to blush out of embarrassment after she put that thought into words. There was no denying how she felt right now. She wanted J to kiss her, and continuing to think about it only further gave rise to that desire. "Well, there's always the next time I see her. Today, even! She said she'd be there to watch my match with Zoey, right? So maybe if I win, she'll congratulate me afterward with..."

Looking every bit like a young girl in love, Dawn placed her hands flat against her cheeks and tried to contain her delight at the thought. Piplup wasn't sure what to make of its trainer's behavior, but it soon found itself suspended in the air as Dawn swooped the Pokemon up in front of her.

"This is our big day, Piplup! Are you ready?" the coordinator beamed ecstatically.

Regardless of Dawn's strange antics before, Piplup threw up its flippers and gave her an energetic reply. "Pii piplup!"

Dawn made a trip down to the women's bathing area and took care of her morning rituals, including a bath, brushing her teeth and getting dressed in her usual daily outfit. The contest battle wasn't until the afternoon, so she could save the trouble of putting on her nice dress for later. When she and Piplup got back to the room, Brock was already in there waiting for them.

"Hey, Brock!" Dawn gave a quick wave to her traveling mate.

"Morning," Brock said to her. "Someone's full of energy today."

Dawn couldn't help giggling to herself. "I'm just so excited, you know? Though I'm pretty nervous, too, I guess..."

"I think I know what you mean," Brock smiled at the girl's enthusiasm. "Anyway, Ash is waiting in the lobby. How about we go get some food?"

"Yeah, let's go," the coordinator nodded. "And, hey...thanks again for being so understanding last night, Brock. That really meant a lot to me."

"Don't mention it," Brock replied. "Still...you and J, huh?"

Dawn gave her friend a playful whack on his shoulder. "Cut it out," she laughed.

The two of them left their belongings in the room for the time being and, along with Piplup, headed to the elevator. After riding it all the way down to the bottom floor, the doors opened, granting them access to the hotel's lobby. Ash, who was supposed to be waiting for them, wasn't immediately visible. He was, however, able to be heard.

"Hey, you guys! Come here!" the voice of their third party member boomed throughout the room. He was standing over by a flat-screen television mounted on the wall. "You gotta see this!"

Unsure what their friend could be so adamant about showing them, Dawn and Brock casually strolled over to join him.

"What's up?" Brock asked. Once he got a good look at the TV, he knew exactly what was up. "Whoa..."

On the screen was an aerial shot from high above the ground, looking down on a forest...or what was left of this particular part of it. Trees, bushes and soil had collapsed into a large pit and burned, joining the smoldering steel that had rested beneath it. Plumes of smoke rose from the fiery hole as a team of water-type Pokemon tried to douse the blaze from its edge. It was an awful picture of destruction.

"Oh my gosh, that looks terrible..." Dawn said, directing her eyes to Ash. "Did you hear what happened?"

"Just listen," Ash instructed her.

Dawn looked back to the TV just as the anchorman began to go over the events surrounding the video.

"Recapping our top story, what you're looking at is a scene from earlier this morning at the base of one of Sinnoh's most sought after criminals, Pokemon Hunter J."

The moment J's name was mentioned, Brock's heart sank in his chest. He normally wouldn't have felt any amount of concern for her, but things had changed now that he knew just how attached Dawn was to the woman. If something had happened to her...

"Late last night, a team of police officers and Pokemon Rangers led by Officer Jenny successfully occupied the base, which was completely destroyed by a series of explosions just hours later. Thankfully, we have been told that everyone on Officer Jenny's team made it out of the base safely. Additionally, several members of J's crew have reportedly been taken into custody, and all Pokemon rescued from within the base are already in the process of having their trainers located."

Brock swallowed hard. He wished that the news anchor had said all of J's crew had been apprehended. At least that way they would know that J was safe. Right now, that word "several" had him feeling apprehensive about what had become of those who weren't caught. Or, more specifically...

"As for Pokemon Hunter J herself, who was wanted on numerous counts of Pokemon poaching around the Sinnoh region, she was confirmed by those present to have been inside the base during its destruction. At this time, she is believed to have died in the blasts. Again, we will have more on this story as it develops."

While the news program rolled on to another story, the three trainers stood in front of the television in silence.

Ash, genuinely surprised by the news, was the first to speak. "Wow...I guess that's the end of J," he said, not saddened in the least by the Pokemon hunter's demise. "Can't say I feel sorry for her. She brought it on herself-"

"Ash, stop!" Brock snapped at him.

Startled by the unexpected reaction of his friend, Ash glanced over at him in confusion. "Wh-what?" he asked, not sure what he'd done wrong.

With a noticeably pained expression on his face, Brock slowly turned his body to look at Dawn. He would never forget the heartbreaking sight that awaited him.

At first, Dawn could only stand there in stunned disbelief. It was only after the words "she is believed to have died" echoed in her mind again that reality set in. Her bottom lip quivering, the tears started to flow down her cheeks, and they just wouldn't stop...


End of Chapter 11