This is the first of two chapters today.
"Not far to go now, Pikachu," Ash said, lying back on the floor. "Semi finals next!"
"Yeah," Pikachu agreed. "Ash... you did look up who we're facing, right?"
Ash frowned. "Uh... no, actually..."
"Isn't that supposed to be part of your job?"
"...you're right," Ash agreed. "Yeah, I should be doing it. But... well, I guess five of the six battles so far have had someone we know in them. Think that's coincidence?"
"That's your crazy luck, is what it is. I don't think there's anyone left we know in the tournament, though – Ritchie's not entered and I'm sure Brock and Misty would have mentioned if someone we knew was in the other three quarter finals."
There was a whoosh overhead as Ho-Oh tried the new manoeuvre Ash had come up with for him.
"That worked pretty well!" Ash called up, as the flames died down. "Just keep doing that, okay?"
Ho-Oh rolled his wings and nodded, and Ash frowned. "Dexter? Do you know who we're facing?"
Of course I end up having to do the work, Dexter sighed electronically. Yes, as a matter of fact I do.
His screen lit up, showing various moments from various battles.
"Huh..." Ash said, watching. "That's a Hydreigon – I thought they were from Unova..."
"They might well be, you've got Keldeo here," Pikachu pointed out. "Wait, did that just..."
He trailed off, watching closely as the battle continued. "Did that Kakuna just use Hyper Beam? Something's not right..."
Indeed. Dexter's screen changed to show a trainer – tall, long-haired, with a pair of glasses and an outrageous longcoat. This is the trainer. Steve.
Just Steve, yes. He beat Harrison, by the way.
"Huh, I did wonder about him..." Ash frowned. "Okay, I wonder who I should use. Who hasn't had a go yet... well, Lucario, I guess..."
There was a shimmer over his shoulder.
"What about me?" Latias asked, her feather-powered invisibility breaking. "Or Heracross?"
"Two more good ones," Ash agreed. "I wonder..."
He frowned. "Wait. Was that-"
"I heard it too," Pikachu said.
There was the faint crunch of twigs underfoot, then a crash, and muffled cursing.
"Uh... are you okay?" Ash called. Latias shimmered back into invisibility and rose a few yards, getting to a distance from which she could run or fight.
The cursing continued unabated.
"...stupid, idiotic bunch of..."
The other voice stopped.
There was a series of crunches, the occasional further muffled curse, and then someone broke through the brush into the clearing Ash and his Pokémon were using for training.
"This is impossible to get to," the human said, brushing off his longcoat.
"Wait... aren't you my opponent?" Ash asked. "And... why didn't you take the path?"
The trainer – Steve – blinked, then followed Ash's finger to see a fairly broad path weaving off towards the stadium area proper.
"...I'm going to kill him," Steve said, shaking his head. "Anyway. You're Ash, right?"
"Yeah?" Ash confirmed.
"Right." Steve nodded, then fixed Ash with a look. "We're fighting tomorrow morning," he said. "And I want it to be cool."
"Cool?" Ash repeated. "What does that mean?"
"Absolutely no restrictions whatsoever," Steve said firmly. "You can use Legendaries? Sure! More than one Mega Stone? Fine! Bring a whole team of Megas if you can! Heck, bring Legendary Megas if you can!"
He leaned a little closer. "My Pokémon are kind of bored," he said in a stage whisper. "If you give them enough of a beating, maybe they'll shut up for five minutes..."
"Is that a problem?" Ash asked.
"You have no idea," Steve assured him. "Anyway, that's what I wanted to say... now, where's the path back to town so I don't have to spend another two hours shoving my way through the trees..."
Ash pointed wordlessly.
"Thanks! See you tomorrow!" the lanky trainer said cheerfully, and walked off at an angle to the direction of the path.
The moment after he entered the trees, there was the sound of a foot on a tree stump. This was followed by a muffled ow, a thump, and another litany of curses.
"What a strange trainer," Lucario said, frowning.
Latias waited a moment to be sure he was gone, then flickered back into visibility. "Well, I guess that means I'm on the list..."
As the crowd filtered into the stadium, Misty looked over at Lance. "Do we know who this guy is, at all? He seems pretty strong..."
She glanced around for interlopers before continuing. "And he wasn't here, uh... last time."
"He wasn't?" Lance frowned. "Interesting. Anyway, what I've gathered is that he's something of an itinerant adventurer."
"You mean kind of like Ash?"
Lance considered that. "No, Ash isn't nearly as itinerant as this Steve is. We've had reports from the League in Urobos – you know where that is-"
"South America, yes," Brock contributed. "It's got some really high mountains."
"That's correct." Lance nodded. "Anyway, they were having trouble with some revolutionaries calling themselves Team Ayacucho. Then this man showed up, flattened half their operations, and... just left. Very strange."
"Wait." Brock blinked. "Half? Why not all of them?"
"According to my contact – Tess – he left saying his Pokémon were... bored."
Lance smiled at their clear bafflement. "Exactly. You now know why I'm not really sure what to say..."
"Right!" Ash said, looking at the set of Pokéballs he'd got ready for this battle – including one reserve, just in case he had to change his plans. "Let's start with..."
He picked the 'ball up.
"Not me?" Pikachu asked.
"No, sorry. You'll be used, just... not first." Ash shrugged.
"Ready?" the referee asked.
"Yeah, I'm ready," Steve said, shrugging. "Can't say the same for the old coot."
The official looked at him a little strangely, then shrugged. "Anyway. Will both competitors send out their first Pokémon!"
Ash threw the 'ball. "Lucario!"
"Waltz, get your lazy old ass out here!" Steve called.
Lucario landed smoothly on his pads, and looked up to see what his opponent was.
'Waltz' turned out to be an elderly Poliwrath... slumped on his face on the floor.
Lucario blinked. "Is he well?"
Waltz contined to not move.
"...seriously, I'm getting worried here," the Steel-type added.
Waltz let out a long, rippling snore.
"Oi!" Steve called. "Wake up, you old coot! This isn't the old folks' home!"
The Poliweath snorted, then seemed to wake up. He pulled his arms in and levered himself up to a standing position, and gave Lucario an appraising look.
Then he turned, and shot a blast of water back at his trainer.
"Ow!" Steve shouted. "What was that for!"
"For calling me an old coot!" Waltz replied, shaking his head. "If you're going to call me old... respect your elders."
"That's got nothing to do with it!" Steve retorted. "You're old; also boring, therefore, you're an old coot! Don't like it, don't be old!"
"Am I interrupting anything?" Lucario asked, a little confused.
"No, the moron's just not paying me any respect," Waltz informed Lucario. He rolled his unseen neck, producing an extravagant series of creaks and cracks. "Well, we may as well get on with it."
Lucario bowed, palms together. "Very well."
There was a moment of stillness-
Then Waltz exploded forwards.
He may have been elderly, but that seemed to bother his physical skills not a whit. He covered the distance between himself and Lucario in a trice, muscled arms back to punch, and Lucario wove away from the first attack before countering with a roundhouse kick.
The blow connected, but Waltz seemed disinclined to budge. Instead, he grabbed Lucario by the ankle and threw him at the arena wall.
Twisting in midair, Lucario revised his assessment of Waltz' strength – upwards, by a considerable margin.
Hitting the wall feet first, his legs compressed to handle the impact. Lucario charged an Aura Sphere, then launched himself off the wall again at an angle.
The Aura Sphere curled in towards Waltz, who held up a hand in a casual manner.
Water, then ice, crystallized out of the air. It formed a hexagonal sheet, which took the impact of the Aura Sphere without breaking and dispersed it.
"Interesting..." he mused, letting his Protect collapse.
While that had been going on, Lucario skidded to a landing on glowing blue feet.
He contemplated Waltz for a moment, then closed in more cautiously – his fists crackling as he did so, before burgeoning into full Thunderpunches.
"He's be-hiiind youuuuu!" Steve called.
"No he's not," Waltz sighed, without looking. "I know what an illusion looks like, and this isn't it."
"No, he really is behind you!" Steve repeated. "Totally is! Look if you don't believe me – waaagh!"
Waltz spent a moment longer on the Water Gun, then sighed and faced Lucario again.
"You clearly have better luck in trainers than me," he said, shaking his head. "Right."
Lucario abruptly dashed in, pulling back his right arm for a punch before pivoting on one foot and kicking off over the Water-type. His crackling left fist came down from overhead, and Waltz endured the Thunderpunch with a grunt before reaching up and snagging Lucario's tail.
The jackal-like Pokémon had just enough time to realize what was about to happen before it did.
There was a wham, and Lucario bounced off the floor. He shook his head in mid-air, stabilized, and landed a little harder than the first time.
"Ow," he said blandly.
"...is it me," Brock said, staring down at the battlefield. "...or is that Poliwrath crazy strong?"
"Certainly looks like it," Misty agreed, noticing the dent Lucario had made when slammed into the floor. "That must have been fairly painful..."
"Thought so," Waltz observed. "You're a tough one, that usually knocks other Pokémon out in one blow."
"...being honest, I can see why," Lucario admitted, reaching up and touching his muzzle. "What makes you so strong?"
"Lots of things," Waltz sighed. "Mainly keeping the others in line."
"Except you totally don't!" Steve shouted, and then got another Water Gun to the face.
Lucario tilted his head a little. "He seems to understand you."
"That's because he's crazy," Waltz informed Lucario. "Well. Shall we?"
Putting action to words, the Water-type fired a blast of super-heated water.
Lucario sprang away from the attack, hurling an Aura Sphere, and Waltz blocked it with one of those hexagonal ice-shields without letting up his Scald attack.
Frowning, Lucario formed a Protect of his own and blocked the watery attack. He sustained it for the few long seconds the Scald had left, then brought his hands sharply down in an X-shape to release a pair of Vacuum Blades.
Waltz formed another icy shield, and then broadened it into a complete protective dome as Lucario fired a storm of small seeker spheres which came in every which way.
The bulky Poliwrath was almost hidden under the cascade of explosions for a few seconds, then they faded – and out came a Focus Blast.
Lucario ducked, the Blast passing barely over his head and making a small crater in the wall, and released a Flash Cannon.
Waltz replied to that by punching the stream of energy – diverting it in all directions in a crackle, the orange light of a Power-up Punch reducing the damage it did to him – then used Surf, producing a huge wave of water.
Lucario jumped aside from the wave, then blinked as – rather than relaxing to the stadium floor – it mounded up and began to follow him.
"That's pretty cool," Ash said, watching as the watery blob followed Lucario. He shot an Aura Sphere into it, blowing away a plume of water which was quickly reabsorbed, and then ran up the wall and backflipped over the strange attack to get away. "Now I kind of wonder if one of my Pokémon can do something like that..."
"I don't think you've got a Water-type with good enough control," Pikachu said.
"Yeah... hm, but maybe it doesn't have to be water. Maybe if it's just the..." Ash frowned. "I'm going to be thinking about that for a while, now... perhaps Glalie could do it with ice?"
Lucario went past in the other direction, tendrils of water following him. He fired a shower of seeking Aura Spheres, which crashed into the water and deflected some of the most prominent components of the attack, then followed up with a Flash Cannon which lit up the whole mass and produced a small cloud of steam.
"Any ideas, Ash?" he asked as he retreated.
"Uh... three!" Ash said. "First – try an elemental punch!"
Lucario decided that couldn't hurt. He closed in with the wall, turned, then – as the mobile wave surged towards him – drew back his fist.
His other hand began to glow as well, with Aura this time. Whatever happened, he was going to need a quick exit...
At the moment before the wave broke and sent tonnes of water thundering down on him, he lunged forwards.
His crackling Thunderpunch hit the wave surface and blazed through it, disrupting it for a moment and making it lose animation – then, as it seemed to recover, he fired a powerful lance of Aura directly at it.
The paralyzing effect of the Thunderpunch seemed to do the trick. It made the water seem slow to respond, sluggish, and the hole lasted just long enough for Lucario to dive though to safety.
After he was through, though, the water seemed to revive fully. It snapped closed where his feet had been a moment before with a wet slap, and flowed after him at speed.
Lucario sprinted across the stadium, noticing that Waltz seemed to be taking the opportunity for a nice, restful sit down.
That was a little bit rude, to be honest...
Halfway across the arena, Lucario whirled – paws glowing again, this time with bluish ice.
He rammed both of them into the path of the wave together, pouring Aura into them and making that whole section of the mobile water freeze up into a sheet.
"You realize ice is just water that's stopped moving, right?" Waltz asked. He made a small gesture, and the whole thing melted in an instant.
Lucario backflipped away, kicking at the water itself for leverage using his water-walking trick. It worked, after a fashion, but the water's movement was unpredictable and threw him off.
He hit the ground a little awkwardly, rolled, started moving again, and the water crashed down all around him.
Waltz raised an eyebrow, and got up with a sigh and a creak. "That's that, then," he said.
"Cocky old coot!"
There was a brief tinkling sound, as Waltz formed a cane out of ice. He then threw it at his trainer, who was knocked backwards with a thud.
That was about when he noticed the bright blue glow from inside the water.
The whole animated globe of water exploded in all directions, and Lucario emerged with his whole body flaring with Aura.
The blue light also clung to the globs of water, which seemed to be wholly unable to reconstitute into larger ones now as Lucario increased their surface tension past the point they could join.
"Aha!" Waltz chuckled. "This is more like it!"
He gestured, and something solidified out of the air. It looked like it was made of ice and snow, layered onto one another like a hailstone.
It was shaped like half a teardrop, and Waltz held it by a handle on the straight edge.
Lucario blinked, a little surprised. "What's that?"
Waltz shrugged. "I heard some whippersnapper around here came up with some Ice Blade thing, so I got my own."
The Steel-type frowned for a fraction of a second, and then Waltz charged.
"Whoa!" Max said, gaping, as the Poliwrath and the Lucario below exchanged a series of high-speed strikes – Waltz with his half-teardrop icy blade, and Lucario with a pair of long Bone Rush staffs. "This is pretty intense!"
"I'll say," May agreed. "We've seen ranged combat, melee combat... and something I'm not sure what it was. All kinds of different ways to use moves."
There was a crash as Waltz smashed a Bone Rush staff, then caught Lucario with a swing from the side. Lucario bounced away, a splash of ice on his side, then skidded to a halt and lunged back in – Metal Claws forming on his right hand to replace the Bone Rush.
The blade slid up and down Lucario's staff with a shriek, then Lucario snagged it with the Metal Claws as well. He held it there for a moment, struggling, then brought both feet off the ground and hammered in a one-two blow with them on the side of the Ice Blade.
It smashed into a thousand pieces, then reformed – but a little smaller this time.
"What were your other ideas?" Pikachu asked, curiously, as Lucario engaged in blistering hand-to-hand.
"Well... he kind of did the second one," Ash admitted. "Using the water-walk trick to hold the water and stop it from reforming. And the third was just... fight so close to the Poliwrath the water would have to get them both."
Panting, Lucario hit the teardrop-blade one last time.
This time, to finish the job, he hit the fragments with a quick Flash Cannon as they tried to reform.
He glanced up at Waltz, who mainly looked smug.
"Look out!" Ash shouted.
"It's be-hiiiind youuuu!" Steve called, and got another cane to the face from Waltz as Lucario whirled.
The water was back, having reformed when his concentration wavered. It split, forming a ring, then lunged towards him from all compass directions.
Lucario took the only way out he had. He went up.
As he rose, he began to charge an attack – and a powerful one, at that. The globe of aura in his paws grew as he funnelled energy into it, reaching the size for an Aura Sphere quite quickly and not stopping.
The water surged up at him, mounding and building. It reached for his legs, and Lucario pulled them up – then thrust them down again, with a pulse of Aura to make them treat the water as solid.
That pushed him high enough that he was safe, for long enough.
As he fell back towards the arena and Waltz' next planned attack – whatever it was – he was carrying an Aura Sphere almost as big as he was.
Then he flipped over so he was upside down, feet highest and palms lowest, and opened a small hole in the sphere on the lowermost edge.
Norman flung his hand up against the bright blue light. "Isn't that the thing he wrecked the arena with at Pumello?"
"I think it is!" Max called, over the rushing sound of the energy. "I think he's changed it a bit, though!"
The sheer force of the Aura was keeping Lucario essentially suspended in mid-air, and he stayed there for the full seven or eight seconds the blast lasted.
When it faded, there was a great cloud of steam around where Waltz had been, and Lucario dropped to the ground – landing more heavily than usual.
Panting heavily, Lucario slowly came to his feet.
His palms ached from the sheer throughput they'd had to handle. Mind you, his whole body ached from the strains of the battle, so that was nothing new.
He turned towards where his foe had been, and tried to scan for him. As it turned out, he was too dry of Aura for even his Aura Sight to work properly, and he couldn't tell if Waltz was in there.
Ash's mental voice reached him through their link. Thunderpunch left NOW!
Trusting his trainer, Lucario's fist snapped up.
It met a Focus Punch coming the other way, and there was a moment of stillness before both Pokémon went flying backwards – Waltz enveloped in electricity, Lucario from sheer momentum.
Both hit the wall on opposite sides of the arena, and slid down unconscious.
"...okay, that was pretty impressive," Misty said, blinking. "How strong was that Poliwrath?"
"I think Ash is in for one heck of a fight," Brock observed.
Lance blinked. "...I'm sure this guy hasn't won any Leagues before, I'd have heard about it. I wonder why he hasn't taken part before..."
"Right!" Steve said, recalling Waltz. "Next up is one of my strongest Pokémon!"
"Are you supposed to give warnings like that?" Ash called back.
"It's so you send out something powerful, she'd probably attack me if you didn't!" Steve informed him.
Ash blinked. "Uh... okay, give me a second."
There was a flicker of light inside the box, and then Ash stepped up to the window. "Okay, ready!"
"Right!" Steve said. "Three, two-"
"That's my job!" the referee interrupted.
Steve stuck out his tongue and kept counting. "One! Go, Zuzushi!"
"Latias!" Ash called out.
'Zuzushi' turned out to be a female Garchomp. Tough, rough, and with an incongruous pink bow on one of her hammerheads.
She cracked her knuckles, looked Latias up and down, and grinned toothily.
"Fear me, little Pokémon," she said. "For I am the offspring of Groudon and Rayquaza-"
"You're noooot!" Steve hollered from his box. "You were an egg I hatched eight years ago! In a daycare!"
"And do you know where it came from?" Zuzushi snapped back.
"How could you?" Steve replied, pointing his finger at her. "QED!"
"Pokémon form memories in the shell!" The Garchomp turned her back on Latias to continue arguing. "That is science fact! Proven by scientists!"
"How can you be an egg of Rayquaza and Groudon, anyway?" Ash asked. "They're both male!"
"SO?" Zuzushi snarled, turning back to Ash. "I am the child of them because I say so! I don't need to give you some kind of crazy story about how it happened!"
Steve nodded sagely. "We have no need to fuel the fangirls. You should remember that."
"I-but... what?" Ash blinked. "She was the one who brought it up!"
"When two Legendaries hate one another very much..." Zuzushi began.
"Can we actually have the fight now?" Ash requested. "This is getting strange..."
"Fine, whatever," Steve said. "Okay, Zu-zu, your time to-"
A blast of sand knocked him over.
"I am Zuzushi, moron!" she snapped, then turned her attention to Latias – and smiled.
"Sorry about the idiots," she said kindly. "We legendaries should stick together."
"But... you're a pseudo-legendary, right?" Latias asked, a bit confused.
"I'm Legendary, damnit!" the Garchomp insisted.
"You barged into a meeting between Zekrom and Raikou, insisting you were Legendary and daring them to electrocute you if you were wrong!" Steve called, leaning on the edge of his box. "That's not how you-"
Another burst of sand.
"Right!" Zuzushi said. "Let's get on with it! Ready?"
Latias had to think that one over for a moment, but nodded.
Then Zuzushi opened matters with a Dragon Rush, and Latias skimmed sideways out of the way before folding light around herself and going invisible.
"Okay, Latias!" Ash called. "Remember what we discussed!"
He had one eye closed to keep track of the invisible Dragon-type. As he watched, she ascended into the sky, before doing a flip and hovering head-down in mid air.
"Dragon Pulse!" she called, and a turquoise lance of energy flashed down towards Zuzushi.
She scissored her arm-blades together, knocking the attack away, and grinned. "So, that's where you are!"
The Garchomp crouched, and jumped.
And kept going.
"I thought Garchomp were Ground-types!" Pikachu said. "They don't even have Levitate!"
Ash shrugged. "Keep moving, Latias!"
She did so, moving forwards and levelling out before dodging Zuzushi's first slashing attack.
"How can you tell where I am?" she asked, as Zuzushi shot a Dragon Rage after her.
"Because I can!" Zuzushi replied unhelpfully. She swiped out with a Dual Chop, which came within inches of clipping Latias' wings.
Ash frowned, watching, then brightened. "Latias, Flash!"
Latias uncloaked and released a bright flare of light in the same instant.
"Agh!" Zuzushi snarled, flailing her claws in front of her eyes. "Sneaky little-"
"Now, go high and cloak again!"
There was a wash of displaced air, and Latias vanished completely once more.
"I'm confused," Molly admitted.
"You're not the only one..." Lance muttered. "I was starting to get used to Ash, but now there's this guy who's... well, worse..."
"No, I mean I can't tell where Latias is," she explained. "It's kind of confusing."
"Oh, right. Well..."
Lance had nothing.
"Sandstorm!" Zuzushi snapped, once her eyesight had cleared a bit.
She made a grand gesture with her blades, and a swirling wind started up before filling the arena.
"Latias, look out!" Ash called. "Can you stay above the sand?"
"Not this much sand!" Zuzushi said, and the sandstorm intensified and plumed upwards. It was contained by a shimmering shield to avoid hitting the crowd, but aside from that it filled the entire arena in moments and began to spread out above it.
"Aha!" Zuzushi crowed, and rocketed skywards – directly towards Latias, where her invisible form was deflecting the swirling sandy winds.
Latias zoomed away from her former position, and Zuzushi changed course to follow. "Ash?" she asked, a little frantically, as she tried to throw the other Dragon off by weaving back and forth – to no avail. "What do I-"
"Safeguard now!" Ash told her.
Latias produced the shield just as Zuzushi was about to hit her. The sudden expansion of the energy field pushed Zuzushi away, deflecting her attack, and Latias followed that up with a Dragon Pulse which knocked her back towards the ground.
"Good work!" Ash called up. "Now, stay clear of her!"
Cancelling her shield, Latias gained more height.
The Garchomp levelled out about a hundred feet above the stadium floor, and made to climb again.
"Hey!" Steve called. "Zu-zu!"
"I will end you!" Zuzushi raged.
"Can't do that!" Steve replied smugly, dangling something in front of him. "Or you won't get to be super awesome, and we wouldn't want that!"
Zuzushi looked like she was about to pop a nerve, torn between her desire to smack her trainer around and her desire to get to use what he was hinting at.
"FINE!" she growled eventually.
"I knew you loved me really," Steve teased, then concentrated.
An orange light began to shine from the thing Steve was holding up, answered by the bow on Zuzushi's left hammer.
"Uh oh..." Ash winced. He glanced up in Aura sight, making sure the little spark he needed was in its place in Latias' right hand, then swung his staff off his back and concentrated as well.
This time, he focused on something different. The sheer, exhilarating joy of soaring along on Mega Latias – knowing that they were working together, to travel so fast that even Pidgeot would have trouble keeping up.
Two more orange lights began to shine in the stadium.
"No way!" Max said, leaning forwards. "They're both going Mega!"
"This could get loud," May observed, and then both Pokémon erupted with the full energy of Mega-Evolution.
When it faded, both Dragons had changed.
Latias was a little high to see all the details, but it was clear her arms had become more like wings and her colouring was now purple instead of pink-red.
Zuzushi, on the other hand, was lower and easier to see.
Her face was a bit more angular, as were her shoulders.
There were many more spikes on her front, including some on her knees, and her arm-blades had taken over the ends of her arms completely to produce wicked-looking red-edged scythes.
Her tail was also a bit more swept-back, but in comparison that was hardly noticeable.
"See why I told you to bring everything you had?" Steve asked. "You may have a Legendary Mega, but I've got the next best thing!"
Zuzushi snarled at him.
"...no, still saying it. Next best thing. Not the same thing. You're not a Legendary!"
"I can destroy you with one finger," Zuzushi snarled.
"You don't have fingers!"
Shaking her head, Zuzushi ascended into the air again. She was a little slower than before, at first, but a red glow built around her and accelerated her until she made up her previous speed and more.
"Can Garchomp learn Dragon Dance?" Brock asked. "Ash had a Gible before the time jump, and I looked up the moves... I don't remember that one..."
"Actually, you're right," Lance agreed, as the shark-like dragon zoomed out into the sky overhead – carrying the sandstorm with her. "Garchomp don't get Dragon Dance. Most dragons do, but..."
"That's a little worrying," Misty admitted. "With what kind of – whoa!"
Zuzushi had approached Mega Latias close enough that the Eon Pokémon had started to move away and open the distance. That had led to Zuzushi accelerating, and opening fire with a succession of Dragon Rage attacks.
"They're going really fast!" Molly said, staring upwards. "That's cool!"
Mega Latias banked left, away from a series of explosions on her right flank. The Dragon Rage balls continued to miss for a moment, then Zuzushi corrected her fire, and Mega Latias had to dive a little and roll before pulling hard to get out of the attack zone.
She yanked herself around in a tight turn, pushing the air out of the way with psychic force, and managed to get herself behind Zuzushi for a moment.
Not wasting it, she opened fire with a Dragon Pulse. The stream of blue-green energy rolled forwards, splashing across Zuzushi's tail for just a moment before the flying shark pulled around and out of danger.
"You remember I said I was the offspring of Groudon and Rayquaza?" she asked, twisting around and managing to get close to Mega Latias for a moment. Her scythes came across in a Dual Chop, and only a hasty psychic shield by Mega Latias prevented them doing painful damage.
"I – uh, yeah?" Mega Latias replied, screeching to a halt in mid-air. Zuzushi overshot, and the Psychic-type barraged her with Dragonbreath in the fraction of a second she had before the Mega Garchomp refocused.
"Well, let me prove it!"
Zuzushi fired another blast, and Mega Latias dodged away to her left – over the stadium.
The stadium, the floor of which seemed to be glowing.
"Precipice blades!" Zuzushi shouted, scythes a brilliant red.
And a tower of flame and earth erupted upwards.
Mega Latias was taken completely by surprise by the shower of lava and sharp-edged rock. The leading edge of the Precipice Blade attack hit her in the side, and there was an enormous orange-cored explosion.
"That's Groudon's attack," Pikachu said, blinking. "Well, that's a new one on me..."
"This proves nothing!" Steve hollered.
"Are you okay?" Ash called into the sky, searching for a sign of Mega Latias.
For some seconds, there was nothing.
Then, tumbling down out of the sky, Mega Latias emerged from the smoke. She seemed to perk up as she fell, put her arms up with the fins in a slanted position, and pulled up a few hundred feet above the stadium roof.
"Hang in there!" Ash called, and she squeaked a reply.
Zuzushi dove out of the cloud, arm-blades ready. "Do you see now? How could I have Precipice Blades – Groudon's own signature move! - without inheriting it?"
"My Pidgeot knows Aeroblast," Ash volunteered.
Overhead, Zuzushi's eyebrow twitched.
"I'm going to win this fight," she said to Mega Latias, calmly. "I'm going to win this fight and then I'm going to give your trainer one hell of a talking to!"
"I... uh..." Mega Latias frowned, then shook her head. "I'm not going to let you win!"
"Oh, that's cute," Zuzushi chuckled. "She thinks she has a choice."
Mega Latias' eyes narrowed.
"Counter Shield!" Ash called.
A purplish-blue-yellow glow formed in her mouth, and she fired out a cloud of Dragonbreath. It only made it halfway to Zuzushi, but then began to swirl and roil – captured in Mega Latias' psychic powers, it focused and contracted until it formed a shimmering layer of mystical flame.
"Cute trick," Zuzushi added. "But it's not going to be enough."
Sweeping her arm-blades back, she rose into the air.
Mega Latias followed, arms flat in speed-optimized configuration, and fired out a Dragon Pulse to keep Zuzushi off-balance. The Mega Garchomp rolled right, evading it, and then passed into the lingering smoke cloud from her earlier Precipice Blades.
Mega Latias slowed down, maintaining her Counter Shield. It was something that was still hard to do in her normal state, but Mega-Evolution seemed to make it easier...
Just in case, she formed a Safeguard to supplement it. This one was much more diffuse than before, just a soft white light emanating from her tiny feathers, and it only interfered slightly with her Dragonbreath counter shield.
Where are you...
She pushed the smoke away with a moment of mental effort, gaped, and dove for safety.
Zuzushi dove through the cloud layer, enveloped in green light. "Told you Rayquaza was involved too! Taste my Dragon Ascent!"
Mega Latias did not want to taste dragon ascent.
She arrived at the stadium floor ahead of the incoming Zuzushi, and looked over frantically at Ash. "What do I do?"
Ash had already come up with a vague plan. "Mist Ball! Once it's ready, fly up and try and stop her as high as possible!"
Mega Latias started to charge her attack, wisps of smoke coming from all directions as she pulled it together.
Zuzushi was approaching worryingly fast. Already she was growing from a speck to a recognizable shape, and-
Mist Ball ready, Mega Latias shot upwards to meet her.
She released her attack a little higher than the roof of the stadium, and pulled away as hard as she could. There was a frozen instant as Zuzushi changed course to follow her, swerving away from the path of the Psychic-type attack-
Then the Mist Ball detonated.
Latias had discovered, by experiment, that she could set it to go off at a pre-specified distance – and, this time, Mega Latias had managed to time it perfectly.
The eruption of mist and force smashed into Zuzushi's belly, sending her tumbling with the green light of her Dragon Ascent flickering around her, and Mega Latias soared skywards to get above her.
A moment later, the flailing Ground-type recovered control of her trajectory. She bottomed out two-thirds of the way down the stands, shooting over the heads of the Maples fast enough to tug at May's hat, and went soaring back up into the sky.
"Latias!" Ash shouted. "Behind you!"
"I thought Dragon Ascent was a diving move!" Mega Latias yelped, as she saw the greenish dot rocketing towards her.
"It's called Dragon Ascent, isn't it?" Zuzushi called back as they passed through the cloud layer – and kept climbing.
There was a boom as both went supersonic, and Mega Latias tried to think of what she could do to escape the bizarre Garchomp.
Even going as fast as possible wouldn't help – she'd still have to come down some time or lose.
Mega Latias pushed herself to full speed, rolling around her base course in a kind of ascending spiral. Zuzushi followed, still cloaked in green light, and accelerated further – the energy of the Dragon Ascent seemingly letting her keep pace with Mega Latias.
The Psychic-type gritted her teeth. This was going to be painful-
She abruptly stopped pushing herself, flipped end-over-end until she was facing down, and shoved.
Mega Latias hit Zuzushi at a combined speed of something over mach four. Dragonbreath, Safeguard, Dragon Ascent, Zen Headbutt and a last-minute Dragon Pulse all combined to produce an almightly explosion, though it was so high up it was barely visible to those on the ground.
"Latias!" Ash called, though she was clearly too high up to hear. "Dexter, is she alright?"
The digital Pokémon formed out of vectors, then began lensing the air to improve his view. Tracking... tracking... Target acquired. They're both no longer conscious.
"Knew it!" Steve crowed. "She talks a lot of talk, but she's not able to beat a Mega Legendary that easily!"
Ash blinked. "...should you be this satisfied about one of your Pokémon being knocked out?"
"Probably not!" Steve admitted. "Uh... do you want to catch them or shall I?"
"Mr. Referee?" Ash said.
The referee looked a bit miffed. "What is it?"
"Both of them are unconscious. I'm going to recall-" he glanced over his shoulder at his staff, which had gone quiescent, "-Latias, and send my Pidgeot to catch the Garchomp. Is that okay?"
"Sure, go ahead," the referee agreed.
Ash aimed carefully, and hit Latias on the second try before releasing Pidgeot – who took off in a storm of wings.
Nearly... nearly... she has her, Dexter reported.
Ash exhaled. "Good. Now-"
Something hit the ground next to him with a WHAM. A similar object landed next to Steve's box, burying itself almost as deep as it was around into the soil.
"...oh, right, the Mega Stones," Ash realized, digging the Latiasite out. It looked no worse for wear from the journey. "I guess... yeah, another draw, next Pokémon?"
"Sounds about right," Steve agreed readily.
Ash decided to try sending his other Mega-capable Pokémon out straight away, and threw Heracross' Pokéball into the arena.
As the Bug formed, he looked up – half-ready for a Salamence or something. He didn't get one, though.
Instead, a Hydreigon materialized on Steve's side of the arena. It blinked, then turned all three heads back towards its trainer.
"You. Promised. Me. Fuzzies."
Ash blinked. "Wait, pardon?"
Steve held up his hands. "Whoa, now, Shadow. I don't remember promising you fuzzies. Just heavily implying... and possibly signing a contract..."
The Hydreigon seemed to consider this answer insufficient. "How could you have not managed to send me out against fuzzies!?" she asked, as Heracross quietly Mega Evolved behind her. "He has a Lucario! A Lucario!"
"...yeah, about that, Waltz already took him out. Mutual KO." Steve rubbed the back of his neck. "Funny, huh?"
The eyes Ash could see twitched.
"You denied me the chance for fuzzies?" Shadow asked, dangerously.
Both her arm-heads opened up, and a blast of water knocked Steve over backwards with a spluttering sound.
"I'm glad you don't do that to me," Ash said quietly to Pikachu. "Well... not that hard, anyway."
Mega Heracross cleared his throat with a chik sound.
"What is it, non-fuzzy thing?" Shadow asked, glancing over her shoulder. "I am busy!"
"...actually, I was rather wondering if there was going to be a fight?"
"Chocolate if you wiiin!" Steve called, as he pulled himself to his feet. "I'm resorting to flat-out bribery here!"
The Hydreigon's ears perked. "Chocolate? What kind of chocolate?"
"The good stuff!"
"Just the good stuff?" she pressed. "None of that Turkish Delight stuff?"
"No, because that's horrible and everyone knows it! I'm talking Klondike bars!"
Shadow nodded firmly. "Right! This just got important!"
"This just got expensive," Steve sighed.
Ignoring him, the Hydreigon turned back to Mega Heracross. "Okay! You're going down, bug thing – oh my lord those are big arms."
The Mega blinked. "Pardon?"
"I mean, seriously! Those must be, what, forty percent of your body mass! They're huge!"
Lance glanced over uneasily at his guests, all of whom were trying to hold in a fit of giggles.
"...what is it?"
"That Hydreigon is not very focused," Brock explained. "She's just started going on about the size of Mega Heracross' arms..."
"Right," Lance said uncertainly. "I see."
He looked closer. "I suppose they're quite big?"
"And the sheer amount of weights you must need on tables! So you don't accidentally fling them against the wall when you try to adjust them!" Shadow ranted. She shook her head(s) and sighed. "Oh, wait, sorry."
Levelling her hand-heads, she shot a blast of flame at Mega Heracross.
Fortunately for the Bug-type, he'd suspected something was on the way. He kicked off from the ground with his powerful legs, wing-cases snapping open for a moment to help his jump, and the Flamethrower hit the ground below him.
Shadow retargeted quickly, swinging a head forward, and Mega Heracross levelled his own arms to open fire with a barrage of Pin Missiles.
"They shoot things too?" Shadow blinked, then got hit. "Ow!"
Snarling, she retaliated. "Take this!"
A Water Pulse and a blast of sand fired from two of her three heads.
Mega Heracross punched out at the water, scattering it, and the splash carried away a lot of the sandblasting Sand Tomb as well. The remainder hit him, making him blink it away, and he dodged to the side to avoid a follow-up before retaliating with another shower of Pin Missiles from his left arm.
His right arm, meanwhile, began to spin and glow.
Shadow launched a jet of flame from two of her heads, and added a blast of wind to it from the third. The result was that the wind blew out the flames, and she frowned.
"I could swear it doesn't work like that..."
Mega Heracross' blue-glowing fist finished charging. He levelled it, the three claws on the tip spreading, and a blue sphere formed in them.
"Well done for getting it working!" Ash called.
The Hydreigon noticed her opponent readying the attack, and sagged slightly. "Oh, come on! Bugs are not mechas, and they do not have energy-"
Mega Heracross used Aura Sphere.
The blast of Aura shot across the space between him and Shadow, bulled through a hastily-created wall of darkness, and smashed into her chest a little below her middle neck.
"Ow!" the Dragon-type snapped, and retaliated with blasts of electricity, ice and fire from her three different heads.
Mega Heracross prudently got out of the way.
"Is that normal for a Hydreigon?" Brock asked. "I've not run into any before."
Lance thought for less than a second. "No."
"Any more details?" he asked, and Lance frowned.
"They're usually less... strange. And normally they stick to the standard breath attacks, this is kind of ridiculously varied – I swear that was a Gust earlier..."
There was a crash as Mega Heracross managed to land a Focus Punch.
Shadow staggered backwards, feet barely touching the ground due to her Levitate ability, and nearly fell over. She avoided a second powerful blow from Mega Heracross by the thinnest of margins, then got barraged by Pin Needles.
"Shadow!" Steve shouted. "If you lose then I will never stop holding it over your head!"
"I'm already trying, damn it!" she roared at him, waving her hand-heads vaguely in the direction of Mega Heracross while unleashing an extravagant stream of fire. "He's a Bug and Fighting Mega, what more do you want!?"
"Listen carefully," Steve said."This is absolutely true and not at all a desperate lie."
Shadow listened carefully.
"...he ate your last Klondike bar."
The red glow that came into Shadow's eyes was visible from the stands.
"DESTROY!" she shouted. "DEATH! MURDER! AND MY POOR KLONDIKE BAR!"
Mega Heracross had the distinct feeling he'd been unfairly maligned. He didn't have time to make much of it, though, as a Draco Meteor came screaming out of the sky towards him.
"Okay, the heck?" Ash asked, glancing down at Pikachu. "Is she seriously going into a psychotic rage over a chocolate bar?"
"It seems so," Pikachu agreed. "Is this how other people feel when they fight us?"
"...good question," Ash admitted, as Shadow stampeded across the arena after Mega Heracross. "I... don't know."
He cupped his hands around his mouth. "Hey, Heracross!"
Mega Heracross ducked a Flamethrower, and punched a Dark Pulse to split it up and prevent it doing as much damage. "What?"
"Can you head over to the side of the arena?" Ash asked.
"Sure!" the Fighting-type said readily, jumping and using his wings and heat-vent to boost himself. He had to abort that a moment later, though, as two blasts of Dragonbreath came at him from left and right.
Firing a stream of Pin Missiles from both arms, he knocked Shadow's central head away from completing the barrage, and she snarled something incoherent about ice cream.
Deciding he could probably ignore what she said from now on, Mega Heracross darted forwards – getting under her guard, if only for a moment – and grabbed one head in each hand, then bashed them together.
The shout of rage was incredible. It actually blew both the levitating Shadow and Mega Heracross backwards a few paces, producing furrows in the ground.
The Mega followed up on that by swinging both arms behind him, and firing a Rock Blast from each. The extensive recoil pushed him forwards, and he jabbed his Megahorn into Shadow's abdomen as she recovered.
A glow built in her central mouth, and the second Draco Meteor crashed out. This one was weaker than the first, but knocked Mega Heracross back in a shower of overlapping explosions.
"The side of the arena!" Ash reminded.
"Right!" Mega Heracross confirmed, and rattled off another barrage of Pin Missiles to keep Shadow busy while he made as much distance as possible.
The Hydreigon did not seem inclined to be kept busy. She roared out a Hyper Voice, then came crashing after her opponent in a blundering rush.
"Okay, what-" Mega Heracross began, reaching the side of the arena.
"Turn and counterattack!" Ash interrupted him.
"Wait, you mean-"
Mega Heracross turned.
It was about at this point that Shadow tried to Crunch him. Her jaws loomed over him, and his hands snapped out in both directions.
The Dark dragon's roar turned into a strangled yelp, as Mega Heracross punched her on the nose. Twice. In two different noses.
The central head kept roaring, but it was outnumbered – then Mega Heracross delivered a devastating Headbutt, sending her stumbling backwards.
Drawing back both fists and planting one foot on the wall itself for leverage, Mega Heracross made the cylindrical sections of his arms spin once – chambering a pair of Focus Punches.
Shadow blinked. "Oh, I get it! You're Evil Popeye-"
Mega Heracross punched her most of the way back across the arena.
"No!" Steve shouted, as his second Dragon-type shook her head a little unsteadily. "Think of the chocolate, Shadow! The chocolate!"
"But evil Popeye has spinach," Shadow said, sounding a little dazed. "That does not taste like chocolate..."
"You're doing great, Heracross!" Ash called. "Now, finish the job! Focus Blast!"
Mega Heracross pulled his fists back, opening his claws, and there was another clack as he began to charge the powerful Fighting-type attack in one hand.
"That looks like it's the end of the battle," Brock said, leaning forwards. "I don't think-"
He frowned. "Wait a moment..."
Mega Heracross' Focus Blast lashed out-
There was a poof, as the substitute burst.
"What?!" Ash asked. "Wait – above!"
Everyone in the stadium looked up.
Shadow emerged from the shadows of the stadium roof where she'd been hiding – since when wasn't clear, though she looked quite beaten up – and came diving down at speed.
"For truth, justice, and for – oh, who am I kidding. Chocolaaaate!" she called. "Head Smash!"
All three heads began to glow blue, and the aura spread to her whole body.
Mega Heracross' free hand – the one he hadn't just used for a Focus Blast – rotated once, and then he launched up a Focus Punch just as Shadow arrived.
There was a very loud WHAM as the two attacks impacted. A cloud of dust was driven up by the concussion, and obscured the middle of the stadium.
If you're wondering about the source of all this insanity, that's because I ran out of people from the actual anime to have as opponents (for various reasons) and resorted to a cameo in order to provide a challenge for Ash's first team.
This team is essentially based off the Oogakari from Third Fang's fics Yet Again and Take Two Round Two, just Pokémonized.
Yes, I did check with him first.
For those not familiar with it, just think of him as kinda like a more amusing version of Tobias or something.
Anyway, more specific references... Lucario's got his Final Smash from Brawl, and Heracross-M is getting increasingly like a tiny giant robot as time goes on.