"Okay, here goes," Max said, looking out over the battlefield. "You said it was a double battle, right?"

"Right!" the two Gym Leaders said, in unison. "First one to lose/both Pokémon is the loser."

Max nodded. "Uh – I guess that means I go with the original plan. Cinder, Casper, let's do this!"

The Mightyena and the Shuppet appeared in bright flashes of light, one on the ground and the other floating at least four feet off the ground.

"I'll do my best!" Casper said, nodding back and forth. Cinder, for her part, just set her stance and waited.

"We specialize in/paired Pokémon!" the twins announced. "Solrock/Lunatone!"

"Solrock and Lunatone..." Max repeated, glancing down at Kris. "They're pretty similar, right?"

Very similar, though not identical, Kris confirmed. They have different specializations.

"Okay..." Max said, frowning. "Right."

"Ready?" Tate asked.

"Begin!" Liza said a moment later.

"Casper, use Night Shade!" Max ordered. "Cinder, focus on Solrock!"

Casper's eyes crossed, and he launched out a pulse of ghostly energy. It rolled out across the gym, ruffling Cinder's fur as she loped forwards, and then Solrock shook slightly as the attack hit it.

Lunatone, on the other hand, hid behind a Light Screen, and endured the attack effectively unscathed before firing a flashing Ice Beam out at the racing Cinder.

Growling as the attack hit, Cinder clashed her teeth together with a Fire Fang flashing on the tips. The small pulse of heat helped her endure the attack, and she pounced at Solrock – who simply floated upwards, meaning she only got in a glancing blow with her Bite before falling back to the floor.

"Another Night Shade!" Max called.

Cinder skidded, half-overbalancing before managing to control her trajectory, and turned to face Solrock and Lunatone.

There was a tense stalemate for a moment, with the Night Shade barely affecting the battle. Then Cinder feinted towards Solrock and headed for Lunatone – only to take a Solarbeam in the flank. Knocked sideways by the blaze of solar energy, she landed wrong, tripped and ended up in a heap.

"Can't you at least try to distract them?" she griped, shooting a glance at Casper as she got back to her feet. An Ice Beam came in, and she jumped away from it before breaking into a loping trot around the side of the arena.

"I'm trying!" the Shuppet told her. "It's not-"

"How can it not be working?" Cinder asked. She crouched and sprang, landing a Bite on Solrock which made the Meteorite Pokémon twitch. "You're able to annoy me enough!"

"Cinder?" Max asked. "Try something else – use Iron Tail, they're Rock-type too!"

Cinder's paws scrabbled for grip on Solrock's spiky protrusions, and she adjusted her jaw to hold on a bit harder – a job made more difficult when another Night Shade hit and made her mount shake violently.

Twisting, she managed to get her tail to hit the back of Solrock's body, but a moment later Solrock slammed into the wall and trapped her tail between itself and the wall.

The Mightyena dropped free with an undignified yelp, landing on the floor on her side, and rolled upright before shaking her head.

"Look," she growled. "Just keep one of them occupied, okay?"

"How?!" Casper demanded.

"Try flying at one of them?" Max guessed. "That'll keep it from being able to focus!"

"Right," the Ghost-type agreed, and dove forwards.

"Keep it off with/Sandstone!" Liza and Tate called.

Both Rock-types began to spin, and sand swirled out from their bodies until there was a dense cloud around both Solrock and Lunatone which was almost too dense to see through.

"Agh!" Casper protested, shaking his head. "I can't get through that!"

"Are you a ghost or not!?" Cinder demanded, bunching up and launching herself forwards. Her fangs flashed, and she managed to get a grip on the lower prong of Lunatone despite the swirling sand.

Gritting his ethereal teeth, Casper advanced into the swirling sandstorm. The particles of rock battered off him, some of them passing through, and he fired out a Night Shade right next to Solrock.

That seemed to do some damage, and the Rock/Psychic-type lowered in the air a little.

"All right!" Casper cheered, and did it again.

"Ice Beam/Solarbeam!" the twins ordered, then looked at one another.

"Ice beam?" Tate asked. "That'll just-"

"But Solarbeam's bad for-"

Both Meteorite Pokémon had their attacks ready at the same time, but then a Night Shade hit Solrock and disrupted the Solarbeam.

"Cinder, drop!" Max called, and his Dark-type dropped just before the Ice Beam flashed out. It went wide, at first, but then Lunatone redirected it and hit Cinder about the middle of her back.

Grimacing, Cinder forced herself to keep moving, and managed to avoid the worst of the Solarbeam that followed up after the Ice Beam.

"If you hadn't messed around with that then they'd have cancelled out!" she yapped, trying to shake the frost off her back.

"So now this is my fault too?" Casper asked. "Well, then, if I'm making things worse-"

"Moonblast!" Liza ordered.

"Casper, stop that attack!" Max called.

Casper froze for a moment, then dove towards Lunatone. His horn glowed faintly, and he did a spin which released a pulse of purple light. "Will-O-Wisp!"

The flickering fire reached out, forming a ring which hit Lunatone, but it was only a moment or two later that the blast of Fairy-type energy lashed out and hit Cinder.

Then Solrock fought fire with fire in a very literal way, hitting Casper with a Fire Spin.

Max winced. "...ouch."

He returned the knocked-out Cinder, then waved at Casper – who was faintly smouldering. "Come on, I don't think you can beat them both on your own."

Casper nodded, looking downcast.

"Don't feel/too bad," the twin gym leaders consoled him.

"Yeah, I'm actually quite good at this," Tate added. "She's useless, though."

"Hey!" Liza laughed, elbowing him. "Don't listen to this second-rater."

"But if there's something/you should learn," they went on, speaking in unison again, "It's that teamwork matters more for double battles than type."

"You can come back and do a rematch any time," Liza assured him.

"Just work on your coordination," Tate added.

"They're right," Ash said, as they left the gym – Ash having declined to have his battle for now, so Max wouldn't feel he was delaying them too much. "If you'd used Cinder and Arc, I think you'd have done better – because they're good friends, and they're good at working together."

"And I'm pretty sure that Cinder's too mad at Casper because of all those pranks to really cooperate with him," May added. "I know I would be after that peanut butter trick..."

"But canines like peanut butter," Casper protested. "But I guess not usually in their tails..."

"Yeah, that one was going too far," Max said. He glanced down at Cinder's Pokéball. "I guess it's the Pokémon Centre first… can you guys help me with teamwork?"

"Sure!" May said readily. "I've got a plan for the next Contest with Swablu and Venusaur, so we can train Cinder and Casper alongside them."

"Is that a good idea?" Casper asked.

"It's an excellent idea," Lucario replied, pacing alongside. "You have the potential to work well together – you just need to learn how. And it'll hopefully work through your issues with one another, too."

Ash sat down, trousers soaking up the faint dew still on the grass, and glanced over. "Do you think you'll need help, Max?"

Max frowned. "Not sure," he admitted. "I guess maybe… if you let me know if I'm making a mistake?"

"Sounds good," Ash agreed. "I've got to keep an eye on Pikachu and Lucario, as well."

"You mean watch us beat one another up," Pikachu clarified, already taking his stance.

"Yeah," Ash agreed. "Watch out for the boomerang Aura Sphere trick."

"I get hit by it one time and no-one ever lets me forget it," the Electric-type muttered.

"Well, it did look funny," Lucario commented, one foot sliding back to take up his stance.

As Ash's pair of signature Pokémon began a swirling high-speed battle, Max sent out Cinder and Casper.

"Okay, guys," he said, crouching down. "I think we can agree that that… didn't go well."

Cinder muttered something, glancing up at Casper, and the Shuppet averted his eyes.

"...wasn't my..."

"Hey!" Max said sharply. "We won't say it's anyone's fault – but what does matter is making sure you two get better at working together."

"How would that work?" Cinder asked. "I mean – thinking about it, I'm the one who can actually hurt those Pokémon. They pretty much ignored him."

"Right," Max nodded. "But they shouldn't be able to. And you need to make sure you can use any openings he makes – he did manage to get them off balance with Night Shade a couple of times."

He sat back. "So – there's at least a couple of problems. One of them is that you don't actually like each other."

"The problem's not with me," Cinder stated. "It's with him – I've been minding my own business, and he does things like… like… that aniseed bomb!"

"They're not all bad, though," Max pointed out. "Wasn't the shoelaces one for Blaziken at least a bit funny?"

Cinder shook her head stubbornly.

"Oh, come on, that one was gold," Casper said.

"And you need to meet her halfway," Max added. "You're doing way too many pranks which she doesn't like, and you're not taking her feelings into account – some of them are really pretty horrible."

Casper drifted around in a circle, then dropped down slightly. "Maaax..."

"Okay," Max went on, in a decisive tone. "Here's the idea. You're going to be working together to interrupt the routine that Swablu and Venusaur are working… and you're going to be swapping who's in charge."

Both Dark-type and Ghost-type looked confused.

"Plan it out first," Max said. "Work out between you what you're going to do – but the first time, it's Cinder who's in charge. That means you have to do what she says, Casper."

"That doesn't sound very fair," Casper complained.

"Yeah, but the second time you're swapping," Max went on. "So it'll be Casper in charge."

"So that means you'd better make sure the plan's a good one," Casper pointed out.

"...fine," Cinder said, sullenly. "But you'd better learn a proper attack."

"Actually, I think Ash can help you with that one," Max suggested. "Ash – can you teach Casper how to use Shadow Ball?"

"I could, yeah," Ash agreed, then frowned. "But it might not be the best one for Casper to use in a battle – I think moves like Spite might work better for that."

He shrugged. "But we can start with Shadow Ball, I guess."

Shifting to get a better angle, he held out his hand to Casper – then used the tiny sliver of Metal Claw that he could manage, and sliced a small gash in the ball of his thumb.

Casper watched as a drop of blood came out, and Ash took a deep breath before working the energy into a ball of shadowy darkness.

"...okay," he said, tilting his head. "That's cool and all, but how do I do it?"

Cinder put her paws over her head. "This is going to go terribly..."

Black paws padded softly on the leafy floor, and a ghostly shape went gliding overhead.

"Okay, there they are," Cinder whispered, peering out through a gap between two trees. "You see them?"

"Yeah," Casper replied.

Venusaur whipped her vines through the air, one about a foot above the other. Swablu did a roll, wings folding in, and slipped neatly through the gap – then rose a foot, and passed through the vines on their next whipping pass.

He sang as he flew, a tweeting tune which seemed to ascend higher and higher into the air as he kept going, and he accelerated – just a little, just enough to do his trick closer and closer in towards Venusaur's tree.

"Now," Cinder went on. "You need to jump out of the ground right there, in front of her foot, and fire a Night Shade off so it just about misses. Then I pounce out of the trees here, and try to catch Swablu with an attack. Right?"

"Right!" Casper replied. "Good plan!"

"Bad plan," Casper said sagely, floating a safe distance above the ground.

Venusaur finished trussing Cinder up, and lifted the Dark-type to eye level. "You lose."

With that, she shifted Cinder over to a bush, and dropped her in.

Casper kept a wide berth, and floated down inside the bush to speak to Cinder. "I think we need a rethink."

"Yeah, I'd like to see you do better," Cinder said, spitting out leaves. "Pfeh. Okay, your turn, wise guy – what now?"

"Mabel, Mabel, set the table, don't forget the red hot label," Swablu sang to himself, weaving in and out of Venusaur's vines as they accelerated.

"I wonder if the humans watching would be as impressed if they knew what you're singing," Venusaur chuckled.

Swablu shrugged, bringing his wings in to slip through a particularly small gap, then opened them again and swerved closer. "Winds blow hot and winds blow freeze, how many times did Mabel sneeze?"

"One, two, three!" Venusaur joined in, and slowed one of her vines down before curling the tip inwards.

Swablu changed direction in a high-speed flip, grabbed onto the tip, and held on as Venusaur wrapped her vines around one another and around her tree.

They shortened quickly, accelerating Swablu further, and then whip-cracked him off to do a flip just overhead.

The Grass-type fired a pulse of Sweet Scent, and Swablu blew it out in all directions with a Gust before switching to a hover just over Venusaur's flower.

"Great!" May said, clapping. "I think that's the best go yet!"

"Was there anything we did wrong?" Venusaur asked, panting.

"I don't think there was anything big," May clarified. "But it'd be good if we could add a bit more to it – like, say, little Solarbeam pulses or something. And if Swablu can add in his Mist, that'd be great."

Swablu nodded. "Got it!"

"Apart from that… well, how are you doing with Disarming Voice?" May asked. "I'm thinking about the battle side of things – Venusaur's fine, but you might not be."

The Flying-type looked nervous.

"You'll be fine," Venusaur assured him. "You're quick – so your first job is to not get hit and Sing at them. That'll sound good, look good, and help me fight."

"Thanks," Swablu peeped, sounding a bit more confident. Then he frowned. "Look!"

He nodded, and the Dark-type creeping through the underbrush suddenly darted forwards.

Venusaur nodded. "I'll deal with this," she said, extending her vines and forming them into a single braided length before pushing them out together.

They hit Cinder – and passed through.

"Huh?" the Grass-type asked, confused. Then a spark of purple energy ran up her vines, and she flinched. "Ow!"

Then the ground heaved up to her side, and Cinder bit home with an Ice Fang.

"Sneaky," Venusaur admitted, Stomping down next to the hole left by Cinder's Dig. It collapsed, but the Dark-type jumped free.

Swablu took a deep breath, and sang out a high, pure note. It hung in the air for a moment, then he faced at Cinder and sang louder, the note wavering on the edge of turning into a shriek.

A heart-shape pulsed out and hit Cinder, who flinched and jumped back before diving back underground.

"Great work!" May praised.

"I know what's going on," Venusaur said, nodding at the first Cinder. "That's Casper – he's using some kind of illusion."

She thought for a moment, then charged and fired a Solarbeam. The attack hit, and the fake Cinder changed back into a dizzy looking Casper.

He shook his head, recovering, and fled back into the bushes.

"I guess that's them dealt with," May said. "Okay, let's try the same again but with the Mist and some pulses of Sweet Scent as well."

"Good idea," Venusaur decided, adjusting her stance a little. "Ready?"

Swablu peeped his agreement, and flew into her flower before getting ready to dart out. "Ready!"

"Three, two, one – go!" May called.

"Well, that was sort of an improvement," Cinder admitted. "But it's not going to work again."

"Yeah, I know," Casper said. "It's pretty obvious."

"I was just saying to be sure," Cinder said, then bit off the next few words. "Okay, need to remember to be calm about this..."

She shook herself, sending a bit of stray dirt flying. "Okay, here's the new plan. You can move things, right? Well, if you can make a twig crack, it might distract Venusaur for long enough for me to dart across the space."

"I… actually like that plan," Casper said, surprised. "Are you feeling okay?"

"Well, anything that means I don't get knocked about by Venusaur is an improvement," Cinder pointed out. "So… the thing which is missing is that it'd be good if you had a better attack… can we give Shadow Ball another try?"

She pawed the ground. "Okay, I've got a new first step to our plan. Let's see if we can find Glaceon."

"Glaceon, huh?" Casper asked, floating after her as she sniffed the air. "I don't think I've come up with a good prank for her yet..."

"Then don't," Cinder replied shortly.


Ninetales frowned, looking at the result of her work, then moved one tail forward and brushed it lightly.

"There," she said, stepping back. "What do you think?"

"Not bad," Geodude said, nodding. "I think that's a pretty good first try."

Stantler looked up from the grass he'd been cropping. "Are you done?"

"Sure am," Ninetales confirmed. "Come have a look."

The Normal-type cantered around to look at the canvas.

It wasn't a particularly sophisticated picture, precisely – there was very little blending of colour, and the form of Stantler was drawn out in broad lines rather than in a filled shape like most paintings.

But, at the same time, it had a certain elegant simplicity. The deer bending down to take a mouthful of grass had an energy, a reality about the simple curves, which somehow made it look like the essence of Stantler if not precisely the true form.

"Yeah, that's pretty cool," Stantler agreed. "I like how you smudged my horns."

"Actually, that was a mistake," Ninetales said, with a slightly embarrassed chuckle. She heated the nearby bucket with a flicker of flame and dipped her tails into it, washing off the nine colours on her nine separate tail tips and staining the water a muddy brown. "But you're right, it fits."

"Okay, so..." Glaceon tossed her head, ears waving back and forth. "Shadow Ball is a Ghost move, which means it interacts in tricky ways with non Ghost types. I'm not sure if it'll be easier for you, though."

She frowned, then nodded. "Okay, I've got an idea – feel this, would you?"

The Ice-type began to gather a smoky grey light in her mouth, only charging it for a moment before switching to letting it stand at a constant power level.

Casper reached in with his horn, and blinked. "Huh. That feels… odd."

"Is it helping?" Cinder asked. "Giving you any insights into how to use Shadow Ball, like we were hoping?"

After several seconds, Casper shook his head – and hence his body. "No, I'm not sure-"

Glaceon resumed charging the attack.

"Gah!" Casper yelped, darting backwards. "Watch it!"

"I thought it might help," Glaceon said innocently.

"You know," Cinder said, tail wagging slightly, "I think that she might just have pranked you."

Casper thought about that.

"Yeah, she did," he admitted. "Good one."

Glaceon discharged the Shadow Ball. "Tell you what – let's see how you use Night Shade."

Energy duly gathered on Casper's horn as he crossed his eyes.

"Stop there," the Ice-type added. She leaned forwards, and batted at the field of energy with a paw before bringing it back.

"Yeah, that's a little bit like my Shadow Ball," she agreed, licking the paw where it stung. "You need to ball it up, and then spin it – to get it more coherent – before firing it off, and try to keep it together."

"I didn't see you spin it," Casper protested, trying to form the energy as she described.

"Yeah, it's more of a training thing," Glaceon supplied.

"Okay, I… ergh!" Casper strained, then the nascent attack exploded and sent him flipping back through the air.

"I think the first step of our plan is to keep working on that," Cinder decided. "It'd be a good surprise if you were… you know. A threat."

"I guess maybe if it means you get knocked out less often." Casper sniped back.

"Okay, I think we're sitting here," Brock said, putting action to words by claiming a seat.

Ash sat next to him, Pikachu clambering around his arm to get to a good position, and Max filled out the row.

"Any idea where Blaziken is?" Brock asked. "He normally watches this – I didn't notice he's not here..."

"I think he said he'd be back at the campsite," Max shrugged. "Probably because Cinder and Casper were staying too."

"...wait," Pikachu said, raising a hand. "Didn't Ash say their training was to try and sneak up on Venusaur and Swablu?"

"Yeah?" Ash confirmed. "So?"

Max glanced down to Kris, then worked it out. "Uh… maybe I should have mentioned why I asked if they were coming..."

"They'll find out," Brock shrugged. "Okay, let's see when May's Appeal is."

Max stood up to check. "I don't think it's for a while, people are still coming in."

They sat watching for another few minutes, until the last few stragglers entered and the doors were closed. The lights dimmed, and one of the judges tapped their microphone.

"Welcome, ladies and gentlemen!" he said, smiling around at the arena. "Today's Contest has fourteen fine appeals for you to watch, and it's a doubles Contest – so make sure you put your hands together for the first of our Coordinators, Jason and his Beedrill and Vibrava!"

Jason walked out of the tunnel to polite applause, and waved back before taking two Pokéballs – one in each hand.

"Go!" he called, sending out Vibrava, and then threw the other Pokéball out into the centre of the arena.

Vibrava took it before it could hit the ground, and the Ground-type flew a tight circle around the grounds before lob-tossing his partner up into the air.

During the long flight time, Jason threw the first Pokéball, and Vibrava Returned himself into it – then Beedrill emerged, catching the other Pokéball, and sending Vibrava's 'ball upwards.

They continued self-juggling for another two repetitions, then both Beedrill and Vibrava did one final trick with the Pokéballs – knocking them back to their trainer – and did a high-speed pass on one another instead. The buzzing of their wings intermingled, making the air hum, and both began to send out faint streamers of light as they charged some kind of attack.

Purple light around Beedrill and green around Vibrava let them draw shapes in the sky – a big circle around a little circle, with a line across most of the diameter to connect one to the other.

Then, just as it became clear they'd drawn the Pokéball symbol, they flew together right in the centre of the design and fired their attacks into one another.

There was a bright white flash, and they came spiralling out of it before pulling up to hover.

"Not bad," Brock said, applauding. "A bit unfocused, though."

"No, I think there was a Pokéball theme," Max pointed out.

"All right, here we go," Casper said, quietly. "Ready?"

Cinder nodded.

"Three, two, one – go!"

Casper darted out of the bushes, horn glowing, and fired a Shadow Ball into the ground. It burst as it hit, producing a puff of shadowy smoke, and Cinder pelted forwards through it.

"Wait!" Casper said suddenly, diving back into the bush. "Abort! Abandon plan!"

Cinder's paws threw up a clod of grass as she skidded to a halt and turned tail. "What?" she barked, exasperated.

"We weren't going after Venusaur!"

Cinder looked back over her shoulder, and blinked.

"...how come Blaziken was there? Why wasn't Venusaur there? That's not fair!"

"Foul!" Casper agreed.

Still looking over her shoulder, Cinder ran into Casper. The impact knocked the Ghost-type flipping over backwards, and he looked a bit green when he righted himself.

Blaziken smirked slightly.

"That didn't go well," the Ghost-type muttered, shaking his head. "Where did Venusaur go?"

"Good question," Cinder agreed, rubbing her nose. "I'll see if I can track her, but it might take… a..."

She stopped.

"Wait a moment. Can I just… try something?"

"Sure," Casper agreed.

Cinder pounced on him.

"Ouch!" Casper complained, as her paws knocked him to the floor. "That's not very-"

"I can use you as a jump pad," Cinder interrupted.

Casper blinked. "Wait, yeah, you can. Is that because you're Dark-type or something?"

"Don't know," Cinder admitted. "But if that does work then that's actually going to look pretty cool. Especially if you can fire Shadow Balls as you get in place, so Solrock and Lunatone are confused about what you're doing."

The Ghost-type nodded, then stopped. "Wait. If we're going to do this, that means that you need to be good at using me as a jump platform… and we need to work out a way to warn me without our opponents knowing."

He sighed. "I'm going to be trodden on a lot, aren't I?"

"Think of it as character building," Cinder advised.

"First verse!" May called.

Swablu did a backflip, slowing and halting his forwards movement, and did a wingover. The Beedrill trying to attack him buzzed past, missing by a few inches, and came around for another pass.

A moment later, Venusaur whipped her vines up in a dense pattern. Swablu dove, passing through a hole in the middle of the pattern, and Beedrill came to a halt as he looked for a way to keep chasing Swablu.

"Chorus!" May said, pointing.

"Vibrava, look out!" Jason warned, and his Ground-type's wings blurred as he rolled to one side – just as Swablu sang out a high, pure note of Disarming Voice.

Venusaur fired a barrage of Magical Leaves into it, the multicoloured flecks of plant taking on some of the Fairy energy they passed through, and then there was a cacophony of pink explosions.

Vibrava dropped out of the bracket looking a little the worse for wear, and the judges applauded politely.

"A nice combination move," said the one at the centre of the table, and Jason's points dropped noticeably. "And well aimed, too."

A moment later, Beedrill fired a salvo of Pin Missiles. They struck home on Venusaur's flower, making her flinch, and Vibrava added a well-timed Earthquake.

"But Jason's team is providing some well spaced attacks," the local Joy agreed. "It looks like this is a battle between two quite evenly matched opponents!"

"Swablu!" Venusaur called, her vines blocking an attack aimed for her partner. "Fourth verse?"

"Fourth verse!" Swablu agreed, and began to sing. As he flew around Venusaur, he released a Mist, then concentrated entirely on his music.

"Good!" May called, as the song got louder. It rose and fell, weaving a coloratura which described note after note around a soaring main theme.

"What's that?" Jason asked. "Try and stop whatever he's doing – Vibrava, Beedrill, use a drill assault!"

Beedrill saluted him, circling, and Vibrava flew up to join him. They did a pair of laps to build up speed, brown-yellow energy surging around Beedrill's drill, and then Beedrill dove straight down towards Venusaur.

Vibrava followed, wings resonating as he built up a powerful sound shockwave. As soon as Swablu broke off what he was doing to stop Beedrill, then Vibrava would be ready to hit him.

The whole attack run took perhaps two seconds, and then things came unstuck.

Swablu's song rose to a crescendo – then paused, for just a moment, before letting out a final note which was loud enough to knock Beedrill off course.

Venusaur fired her Solarbeam out of the shimmering mist, right at where Beedrill had just been. Vibrava found himself flying directly into a Grass-type attack, and abandoned his attack to try and get free.

The Dragon-type rolled sideways, nearly ramming straight into Swablu, and fired a blast of Dragon Pulse to force the Flying-type to get out of the way.

Swablu yelped as the violet attack hit, and went limp for a moment before recovering and pulling out of his dive.

"And that was a lovely exchange of attacks from both sides!" called the first judge. "It's looking neck and neck as we head towards the last minute of the Contest!"

"Good luck, Swablu!" May called.

Swablu shot her a quick smile, then dove and flew past Venusaur's flank to gather speed. The Grass-type fired some Razor Leaves up as a bit of extra defence, and Swablu took a deep breath.

And exhaled a blast of violet fire.

Beedrill was caught by surprise by the sudden appearance of Dragon Pulse, and dodged late. Swablu swept it to the side slightly, producing a nice smoke-ring effect but not managing to give Beedrill more than a couple of quick hits.

Doing a falling-leaf to drop lower, Swablu targeted Beedrill once more, then flipped – an unnecessary but good-looking flourish of purple Dragon Pulse making a half-circle as he did so – and rose to target Vibrava instead.

Vibrava fired a Boomburst just as the first flames of the Dragon Pulse reached him, and there was a spherical explosion which hid everyone for a moment.

"Was that Mirror Move?" Brock asked. "Or..."

"No, I don't think so," Ash replied. "Wait – oh, cool!"

Vibrava peered into the fragments of flame as they dissipated.

Had he managed to get that Swablu?

He had to dodge aside as Venusaur targeted him with a Solarbeam, and then a cloud dragon tackled him back into it.

When the blaze of green-yellow energy faded, Vibrava was out for the count.

May whooped, jumping up and down. "Well done! Well done, Altaria – great work!"

Altaria did an aileron roll, a trail of mist rolling out from his wings as he did a lap of the stadium, then came down to perch on her arm as the clock finally ran out.

"Oh, you look beautiful!" she said, stroking his head. "Wait, how am I – are you keeping your weight low?"

Altaria's wings flapped slowly, and he nodded. "Yeah – I think I weigh too much without doing this. It's kinda too bad, too – I liked sitting on your shoulder."

"That's okay," May assured him. "And great work with him, Venusaur!"

"Congratulations, May Maple," the judge said, calling her attention back to the Contest. "And congratulations on your Pokémon evolving, as well."

Jason came over to shake her hand. "I guess that evolution did us in," he said, nodding – looking a bit disappointed. "It was really close until that bit."

"Yeah, you're a good Coordinator," May agreed. "I hope you make it into the Grand Festival, you deserve to."

"Wooah!" Cinder yelped.

She landed on one paw, stumbled, and barely avoided crashing into a tree before managing to steady herself and avoid a tumble.

Whirling, she faced Casper. "You jerked on the takeoff again!"

"Yeah, it's kind of hard not to when half a ton of Mightyena steps on your face!" Casper replied, shaking his head. "I mean, I could move so you're using my spike instead – I bet that'd make it easier for me to hold you up!"

Cinder was about to retort, but paused – and sniffed.

"Wait..." she said, raising a paw. "I think they're back. I smell Max, Ash, Pikachu, Brock, May… Venusaur..."

Another sniff. "And… I think that's Swablu… hey, they're upwind, I can track them."

"You can?" Casper said, interested.

"Yeah!" Cinder agreed, with another sniff. "Let's use that to ambush them – that way we can use our new trick and finally tag Swablu!"

"No, we can't do that!" Casper protested.

Cinder gave him a look. "Why not?"

"Because it's my turn to do the plan," Casper explained, then cleared his throat. "Ahem. We should use our new trick to ambush them and tag Swablu."

"Wow, real original," Cinder said under her breath.

"So, how are you handling being so much bigger?" May asked, turning her head to keep Altaria in view as much as possible. "I know that Venusaur had some trouble when she first evolved."

"It's fine, actually," Altaria said, drifting around them with slow wingbeats. "I mean, I'm still kind of new to it, but my flying is very similar so that's good-"

There was a crack, and some twigs floated down.

"I do keep trying to fly through spaces too small for me," he added, blushing. "But that's fine."

"Altaria are pretty cool," Ash volunteered. "You've got a Dragon-type now, May – hey, I bet he could carry you!"

"Really?" Altaria asked, looking back along his body.

"Yeah – there was this guy we met back in Kanto who had an Altaria he used as a ride," Ash explained. "That one was bigger than you are, but he was bigger than May is too – and I think he went long distance."

"So Altaria should be able to carry May short distances," Max filled in. "That sounds like fun – maybe you won't need to borrow a Pokémon from Ash when we go from one island to another, May!"

"Hey, don't forget what happened when you went flying with Delta," May shot back.

Brock chuckled.

"I think I'd be okay giving it a go," Altaria piped up. "But I think we should practice somewhere someone can catch May if it goes wrong. I'm not really sure if I can carry someone… well, not safely at least."

"Maybe Pidgeot can help," Ash suggested. "Or – hm, if you're kind of flying by floating then Latios can help."

"That would be nice," Altaria agreed.

There was a sudden rustling in the bushes, and Casper charged out. He did a double take, stopped, and turned back. "Cinder, change of-"

Cinder jumped out, forepaws landing on Casper's head. She coiled up like a spring until all four paws were on the Ghost – who was rapidly rethinking the whole situation – and then kicked off, getting about halfway to Altaria before Lucario grabbed her out of the air by the scruff of her neck.

"I have to admit, that's much better," he said, lowering her.

"Since when did Swablu evolve?" Cinder asked.

"...actually, that was pretty cool," May said, nodding. "Not going to lie."

"I'm going to get a headache," Casper announced.

"...did my Pokémon just do a flying leap off one of my other Pokémon?" Max asked, blinking. "That happened, right?"

"Eh, it's a good tactic," Pikachu said.

"So is throwing your teammates," Lucario added, before glancing at Pikachu. "...not that I would abuse that tactic."

"Okay, let's see if you can hover," Latios said, slowing further and angling himself up. "Slow your wingbeats… slower… now, hold them out to the side completely."

Altaria did so, his feathery cloudstuff wings rippling in the breeze, and floated in the air. He began to drop, but very slowly – far slower than anyone would expect, just looking at him.

"Okay, that's good to know," Latios nodded. "That means that you're able to effectively cancel out some of your weight, sort of like how I levitate – but not quite."

"Right," Altaria nodded, then folded his wings in and alighted. "I kind of know that my wings stop me from falling a lot, that is something I've noticed even before evolving."

He looked over at May, now helping Spoink practice, and waved as she glanced over. "Do you think that means I'd be able to carry a passenger?"

"We can start small," Latios decided. "I'll see if Pikachu is available."

He turned, ready to head back to their camp, and Altaria piped a warning. "Wait, I see someone!"

Latios followed where Altaria was pointing, and saw a Salamence coming in low over the trees.

His gaze hardened. "Altaria, let Ash know – this might be trouble."

Altaria darted off.

Latios dove for the trees, going invisible as soon as there was a tree trunk within line of sight, and darted back behind Altaria.

"A Salamence?" Ash repeated. "Lucario, this might – oh, never mind."

"What?" Pikachu asked.

"I thought it might be Hunter J, but it's not," Ash told him. "That's Drake."

May, Brock, Altaria and Blaziken looked at him, then back at the growing dot of the blue Dragon-type.

"How can you tell?" Latios asked.

"I saw him back in the Togepi Kingdom," Ash replied. "He's got a vaguely Dragonish Aura, it's enough to notice."

"False alarm, then," Lucario noted. "Well, better a false alarm than not noticing a real attack."

"We should probably get ready to say hello," Brock said. "He'll be here in a minute."

You should really take the mission to Silent Chasm, Arceus chided them.

"Why?" Dialga asked. "We're starting to get the hang of this."

"Yeah, we know you too well, Dad," Giratina agreed.

"We can just putz around the first few areas and pick up loads of money," Dialga went on. "Knowing you, Shiftry got kidnapped by Reshiram or something – no thanks."

There was a divine cough.

"...did you actually have Shiftry kidnapped by Reshiram?" asked Aaron, lowering his left foot from a practice post.

...no, Arceus declared. Now, hurry up and get with the Silent Chasm or I'll stop generating missions.

"Spoilsport," Palkia muttered. "I was going to make a big room full of Poké and warp space so I can swim in it..."


Casper and Cinder have some issues working together. And that means... trouble.

It also means they've got to Dance Like They Want To Win. (Wait, wrong anime.)

As for the bit with Ninetales, they have hobbies.

Also, a Contest or something. And a Rescue Team, too.