Chapter 1: Tensions Rise

In the main arena of Sinnoh Castle, two powerful Pokemon faced off amid a cheering crowd. Both were bruised and tired, but neither was out for the count yet. A teenage trainer with messy black hair gave an order to a large turtle-like Pokemon. "Torterra, Earthquake!" Torterra stomped on the ground, sending shock waves under everyone's feet. The opposing Pokemon, which looked like a penguin, buckled as the attack hit.

The penguin Pokemon's trainer, a blond boy, knew that his Pokemon could not last much longer. It was time to go for broke. "Empoleon, Hydro Cannon!" he commanded. Empoleon sent a powerful blast of water at Torterra.

The Hydro Cannon hit its mark, but Torterra stood firm. The black-haired boy smiled. He had this match now. Empoleon would not be able to move after an attack like that, and one more powerful attack could be decisive. "Now's our chance!" he yelled. "Torterra, Leaf Storm!" Torterra sent a barrage of leaves at Empoleon, who fell over on its back.

The referee checked Empoleon. He raised a flag. "Empoleon is unable to battle!" he announced. "Torterra is the winner! The winner of this match is Ash from Pallet Town!"

"Yes!" shouted Ash, jumping up and down. "We're in the final round! Great job, Torterra, you were awesome!" After giving Torterra a grateful pat on the head, Ash returned his Pokemon to its Poke-ball. "Yes, Pikachu, we're going to the finals!" shouted Ash to the small yellow Pokemon at his side. Pikachu cheered its approval. Then, Ash walked up to his opponent. "Hey, Barry, great battle!" he said.

Barry, however, had fallen to his knees and returned Empoleon to its Poke-ball. "Why did I have to lose that one?" he moaned. "After Heracross defeated Gabite, I thought I was winning."

"Barry, you realize your mistake, don't you?" said a voice. It was Barry's father, Palmer, walking over to his son from the stands. "Ash is a tough opponent, and he doesn't give up easily. Especially in a league competition, you can't let your guard down until your opponent's last Pokemon is defeated. Good job, both of you."

"Hey, thanks, Palmer!" said Ash. "Barry, you battled great today."

"Thanks, Ash," said Barry, who still sounded dejected at his loss.

"Hey Ash, want to have dinner with us?" asked Palmer. "Dawn and Brock are welcome to come, too."

"Yeah, thanks a lot, Palmer!" said Ash. "I'll go tell them."

After letting Pikachu climb onto his shoulder, Ash went back inside to find his friends. Dawn and Brock were almost as happy as he was.

"Great going, Ash!" said Dawn. "Pikachu, you were great out there!"

"Nice work!" said Brock. "Now you're through to the final match."

"I know, I'm really psyched!" said Ash. "Hey, guys, Palmer just invited us to dinner with him and Barry. Wanna come?"

"Sure!" said both of them together.

"Great," said Ash. "Let's go to the Pokemon Center. We'll see them there, and then we can grab a bite to eat."

Sure enough, Barry and Palmer were at the Pokemon Center when Ash, Dawn, and Brock walked in. Barry was talking to Nurse Joy. "Are all my Pokemon okay?"

"All your Pokemon are recovering fine,"answered Nurse Joy. "They should really spend the night, but if they do, they'll be better before you know it."

"Thanks a bunch, Nurse Joy," said Barry. "With my opponent being so strong and all--"

"I think I should spend the night here, too," interrupted Brock in an unusually suave voice. "I'm injured inside, but it's nothing that can't be fixed with you looking after me for a night. Ouch!" Brock fell to the floor, hit by a Poison Jab from his Croagunk. The frog Pokemon dragged him out the door, chuckling as he did so. Nurse Joy giggled.

"Hey Nurse Joy," said Ash, "can you look after some of my Pokemon too? Buizel and Gabite both got hit pretty hard."

"Here," said Nurse Joy, taking the Poke-balls from Ash, "I'll look after them. You can pick them up after you get some dinner." Pikachu jumped down onto the counter.

"Thanks, Nurse Joy," said Ash.

Meanwhile, Dawn was asking Palmer about her mother, and about news from her hometown.

"So how's Twinleaf Town been?"

"Fine, everyone was thrilled about your result in the Grand Festival," said Palmer.

"I only made best 16, I didn't do that great," said Dawn.

"But do you realize how uncommon it is for a coordinator your age to win five ribbons, and then to finish in the best 16 of her first Grand Festival?" asked Palmer.

"I guess you're right," conceded Dawn. "So anything happen since the Twinleaf Festival?"

"No," said Palmer, "the town's been kind of quiet since then. But when you come back, your mom is planning a party for you. She's really very proud."

"Hey, guys," said Ash, walking over.

"Hi, Ash," said Palmer. "Ready for a good meal after that match?"

"Yeah," said Ash, "you know me, no one loves a good meal more than me."

"Ash?" called Nurse Joy from the counter. "We have a phone call for you from Johto. Do you want to take it?"

"Sure," said Ash. "You guys can go on ahead, I'll catch up."

Ash went over to the phone, and saw a thirteen-year-old girl with brown hair and a green bandana on the screen. "Hey, May," said Ash, "how've you been? Long time no see!"

"Hey, Ash," said May, "I'm doing great! How's the Sinnoh League going?"

"It's going great! I just made it into the finals today! I could finally be a league champ! How many ribbons do you have right now?"

"I won five of them, which is why I'm calling you. The Johto Grand Festival opens in a week in Olivine City. You wanna come?"

"Hmm, I don't know if I can make it to the opening. The League closing ceremony's in three days, and then I'll have to take a boat to Olivine City. But I gotta see you for some of the festival, so I'll see if I can make it to the first battle round. Sound good?"

"Yeah, I can't wait to see you! Where are Brock and Dawn?"

"They're at dinner with some friends."

"Okay, then, we better get some dinner too. See you in a few days!"

"Bye, May!"

As Ash walked to the door of the Pokemon Center, he heard Pikachu behind him. Evidently, Nurse Joy had checked Pikachu first so it could have dinner with Ash and the others. "Come on, buddy," said Ash, "let's get ourselves some food! I could use some after that battle, and so could you."

Ash walked outside to meet Brock, Dawn, Palmer, and Barry. He smiled to himself as the breeze rustled in his hair. After over five years of journeying, training, and battling, he was in one of the big Pokemon League finals at last. The one twinge of doubt came from the possibility of his final opponent. One contestant from the upcoming semifinal that evening could make his final battle much harder than the other could. Still, if he lost, he could now look forward to seeing May in the Johto Grand Festival.

To allay his doubt, Ash asked Pikachu, "Hey Pikachu, we can beat Paul, can't we?" Pikachu pumped a fist in the air. Ash smiled again as they both walked into the restaurant to sit with their friends.

Ash sat down with his friends. The restaurant was accommodating enough to provide plates for Pikachu and Dawn's Piplup, as well as an all-you-can-eat menu for Pokemon League competitors.

"So who was that call from?" asked Dawn.

"It was May," said Ash. "She's gonna be in the Johto Grand Festival, and it starts in a week. We probably can't be there for the opening, but we'll probably get to see the battle rounds."

"Great!" said Dawn. "Battling May that one time at the Wallace Cup was awesome! I hope we can see more of that Glaceon of hers."

"Wait a sec!" yelled Barry from across the table. "Who's this May girl? Ash, is she your girlfriend? Be honest, or I'll have to fine you!"

"Chill out, Barry, she's not my girlfriend!" said Ash.

"Ash and I traveled with May through Hoenn together," explained Brock. "May was just starting out her journey, while Ash was looking for a new challenge. May was with us when Ash challenged the Kanto Battle Frontier, too."

"You have lots of close friends, Ash," said Palmer. "And speaking of the Battle Frontier, I've doing some training myself for the annual Frontier Brains' Tournament."

"Huh?" said Ash. "There's a tournament just for Frontier Brains."

"Yes," answered Palmer. "It's mainly a qualifying tournament for the Champions' League. You see, eight Brains will qualify for the next Champions' League from this tournament. Apart from that, each of the seven regions will contribute its Elite Four and top two Gym Leaders. The two finalists from each regional Pokemon League will compete as well."

Ash's jaw dropped. Did Palmer really mean what Ash thought he meant? "Does this... mean....YES! Hear that, Pikachu? We just made it to the Champions' League today! So what do you think, buddy? This is gonna be tougher than anything we've faced before, are you up to it?"

Pikachu cheered and gave Ash the thumbs-up.

"And remember," said Palmer, "whoever wins the Champions' League gets the chance to challenge Cynthia for the Championship."

"Yes!" yelled Ash again. "Cynthia had better be really scared, 'cause I'm gonna be the new champion!"

"Still," put in Brock, "I think you should focus more on the Sinnoh League right now. Paul and Charlie have their match in 15 minutes, and we need to get good seats. Remember, Ash, you're going to battle the winner of this match, and you'll need all the preparation you can get for the final, especially if you'll be facing Paul."

"Yeah," said Ash, "good point. I almost want Paul to win so I can beat him."

"Don't be so sure," said Dawn. "You usually come off worse in a battle with Paul."

"Like I need reminding," said Ash. "But now, I've changed my lineup, two of my Pokemon have evolved since we battled, and everyone on my team's gotten stronger. It's not gonna be easy, but I can beat Paul." Hoping he was right, Ash followed his friends into the stands.

"Magmortar, Body Slam!" yelled Paul. His Pokemon dutifully jumped into the air, landing on top of his opponent's octopus Pokemon. After remaining on top for a few seconds, Magmortar got up.

The referee looked at the octopus Pokemon. It did not move. He raised a flag. "Octillery is unable to battle! Magmortar is the winner! The winner of this match is Paul from Veilstone City!"

Paul acted very differently from Ash upon being declared the winner. He did not congratulate his Pokemon, nor did he give up the poker face he always wore. He did not even acknowledge his opponent, who had not proven himself a worthy challenger. He only returned Magmortar to its Poke-ball and left the field.

"Same old Paul," said Brock in the stands. "He's obviously been training hard for the league. I don't know if you can win against him, Ash."

"Even if I don't win, I'll give Paul the match of his life!" declared Ash. Pikachu backed him up.

"So,"said Barry, who was next to Ash, "you you wanna go down and congratulate him?"

Ash chuckled slightly at Barry's hero-worship. Barry had already met Paul, Paul had insulted him... and Barry still idolized him? "Sure," he said. Paul wasn't the most gregarious person around, but it couldn't hurt to say hello. He and Barry got up to meet Paul, and the rest of the group followed behind him.

They found Paul talking with his brother, Reggie. In contrast to Paul, Reggie seemed genuinely proud that his brother won, and he was much more relaxed as well. "Great job, Paul!" Reggie was saying. So you'll be fighting Ash in the final?"

"Thanks," said Paul, without changing his scowling expression. "Yes, my final match will be with Ash. He looked like he'd been training hard the last time I ran into him, so I hope this battle will be more interesting than last time."

"So Paul," said Reggie, "are you going to use the same team as you did last time you fought Ash."

Paul shrugged. "Yeah, might as well."

"So you want me to help you train?"

"Yeah. You can help me train Magmortar, Torterra, and Honchkrow. And make sure Honchkrow's Aerial Ace is perfect," Paul added sternly, "because Ash now has an Infernape, and I don't want more trouble than I need."

Ash, Brock, Dawn, Barry and Palmer walked up to the two brothers. "Hey, Paul, congratulations! Hey, Reggie!"

"Hello, Ash, thanks," said Paul. He was as cold as ever, making for a less-than-friendly greeting, but it was still an improvement on how Paul used to talk to Ash.

"So Paul, are you excited about our match?"

"I'm looking forward to it. I hope you've been training hard."

"Yeah, you bet! You won't have such an easy time of it this time."

"We'll see."

"Hey, Ash," said Reggie, "you deserve some congratulations too for your win earlier today. And I believe this was your opponent?" he asked, indicating Barry.

"Yeah," said Ash. "Reggie, this is Barry. He's been a fan of Paul's for a long time. Paul's already met him. Barry, Palmer, this is is Reggie. He's Paul's brother. He was an accomplished Pokemon trainer himself."

"Hi, Barry," said Reggie. "And Palmer? You're the Tower Tycoon in the Battle Frontier, right? Pleased to meet you!" he said, shaking Palmer's hand.

"You're Palmer?" said Paul. "After the League's over, do you want a battle?"

"Not now," said Palmer, "at least not until I return to the Battle Tower. At the moment, I'm focusing on preparing for the Frontier Brains' Tournament."

"I understand," said Paul.

"Ash, Paul," said Reggie, "you two had better get to bed. You both have a full day of training tomorrow."

"Yeah, I guess so," said Ash. "I'd better go back to my room. Good night, everyone."

It was not long before Ash was ready for bed. He had a full day of training prepared for tomorrow. "Hey, Pikachu," he called to his Pokemon, which was on the windowsill, "come on down here and get some sleep. We've got to get up early for our training."

Pikachu jumped down and got into its tiny sleeping bag. It asked Ash a question in Pokemon speak.

"Don't worry, Pikachu, everybody'll be fine. This won't be like the last time we fought Paul." He shivered, remembering the indignity of that loss. "We're all stronger than last time, Paul hasn't seen Gabite or Torterra before, and we heard today that Honchkrow's one Pokemon he wants to train hard. Plus, his strategizing won't work a second time, because I have some strategies of my own up my sleeve."

Pikachu nodded and yawned.

"Can you believe it, Pikachu," asked Ash. "Over five years since we started our journey, and we've made it at last into a Pokemon League final. And no matter what, we'll be in the Champions' League too."

Pikachu did not reply, as it had already fallen asleep. Ash smiled and rolled over. Within minutes, Ash was asleep too.