"Ash?" Brock said. "You know it's only a couple of days until the Ever Grande conference?"
"Yeah," Ash agreed. "What is it – is there a problem?"
"Well..." Brock nodded over at Dawn. "I think she and her mother were originally planning to be back in Sinnoh about four days ago – even with the extra time here."
"Oh, right," Ash said. "Okay, I guess we should remind them about that… then they can-"
He broke off.
"Wait, I just remembered – oops."
"Oops?" Brock repeated.
"I sent Latios back to Altomare two days ago."
"...then you'd better either ask Latias if she's okay taking Dawn or her mother on a round trip to Sinnoh, ask Pidgeot if she's willing to take two passengers, or get Latios back," Brock advised.
"Right," Ash agreed.
Pikachu sighed. "You know, Ash, I'd have thought-"
"Pikachu, be fair," Brock admonished. "Everyone forgot. I think we were just having a good time training."
"That does mean Ash has another thing to work out, though," Pikachu pointed out. "How does he want to arrive at the Ever Grande league?"
"Normally I'd probably have taken Pidgeot," Ash said, frowning. "But… hm, maybe Suicune would be willing to help..."
"Why not just Latias?" Brock asked.
"I kind of assumed that Max would be flying with Latias," Ash told him. "Wait, she might be taking May."
Should I start taking notes?
Piplup's fins shifted a little, taking up an angle to his body, as he faced down his opponent.
"Okay, let's try this – Shadow Ball!" Max called.
Casper's horn swirled for a moment, and a globe of purple-grey energy formed before lashing out at Piplup. It was much faster than it had been, showing the benefit of their training, and flew straight and true.
"Whirlpool!" Dawn ordered.
Piplup took a step forwards, then began to spin on the tips of his toes. Water swirled outwards, forming into a kind of miniature tornado in less than a second, and the Shadow Ball hit the water instead of Piplup – then the force of the rotating water tore the ghostly attack to shreds, colouring the water and making it glow slightly.
Max clicked his fingers, and Casper grinned. His horn glowed again, and then fired a burst of electrical energy.
"Reform!" Dawn instructed quickly.
Piplup did something inside his Whirlpool, and the whole watery construct bulged – then exploded outwards, hanging in the air for a moment as the Thunderbolt hit.
Charge leaped from water drop to drop, forming a crackling corona around them all, but Casper didn't have enough electricity to actually carry through past that and hit Piplup himself. Then the drops began to recombine, forming a new Whirlpool – and one rotating the other way – which hummed with electricity around the outside edge, but insulated Piplup from actual contact with it.
"What was that?" Johanna asked.
"Drill Peck!" Dawn said, then turned to her mother. "Oh, right – Piplup just changed the direction of his Whirlpool. It basically means it has to reform from scratch-"
She broke off for a moment to watch the attack as it went in, and as Casper went intangible to avoid being hit by the shower of electrically-charged water.
"-so he can make sure whatever the attack is doesn't actually contact him," she finished, as Piplup reached the ground and his Whirlpool began to break up. "Great work, Piplup!"
Casper phased back in, dripping wet and shaking himself to get the water off.
"It works really well in Contests because it turns the enemy's attack back on them," she went on. "And for performances, too, because it's a good way to provide the foundation for a combination performance."
Johanna nodded. "Yes, that makes sense."
"Let's keep going!" Max suggested. "Arc, do you want a go?"
Arc barked, loping forwards.
"Doesn't this seem a bit unfair?" Johanna asked.
Dawn shrugged. "I don't know, I think he might have a chance."
Before they could get going, though, Ash came walking over. "Uh… Dawn, sorry, but I think we kind of lost track of the date."
Johanna frowned, then winced. "Oh, dear… you're right..."
"It's okay, though," Ash hurried to add. "I checked with Pidgeot, Latias and Suicune, and they're okay heading up to Sinnoh to drop you off."
"That sounds helpful," Dawn said. "And that would make sure Suicune knows where we live."
Ash nodded. "Suicune said that, too."
He sent Pidgeot out with a flash, and Latias came skimming over to land as well.
"Is it safe?" Johanna asked. "I mean – don't they have saddles?"
"Pidgeot is very good at making sure her passengers don't fall off," Suicune told her, loping towards them. "And I think Latias can actually use her psychic powers to travel in a bubble, so you can't actually fall very far."
"Right!" Latias agreed.
"Okay, then..." Johanna frowned. "Dawn – would you be alright going on Latias? I'd rather you had the extra safety."
"I'm sure it'll be fine, Mom," Dawn assured her. "No need to worry – I bet Latias has done this lots of times before!"
"I… have, actually," Latias said, sounding a bit surprised. "I didn't realize how often until I thought about it. Uh – wait, can you put your feet a bit further forwards – thanks, that's better."
Pidgeot lowered herself a little so that Johanna could get on, then stood and spread her wings.
"Next stop, Sinnoh," Suicune said. "Try not to go too slow for me."
The two flying Pokémon exchanged amused glances.
"It was nice seeing Dawn again," Brock said, waving as the three high-speed Pokémon went out of sight. "Don't forget to keep in touch with her, Ash."
"Of course not!" Ash replied. "Uh… we do have her phone number, right?"
Yes, we do, Dexter told him.
"Thanks," Ash said. "That'll be a big help."
There was a faint bang from the northeast.
"I think that was the sound barrier," May said. "They're really moving, huh..."
"Yeah," Ash agreed.
He frowned. "Wait. Max, don't you normally get around on Latias or Latios when we need to fly from place to place? And I think it might be a bit far for Delta..."
"I know!" Arc said. "Can't Max ask Entei or Raikou for a ride?"
"That… actually might be the most sensible option," Max said. "Though I guess that also means Ash is taking Charizard unless they're both available."
"And here we are!" Raikou announced, slowing in his headlong rush across the water. "Not far to go now!"
"I still can't understand you!" Max shouted back. "If you wanted to talk to someone, then you should have taken Ash!"
Raikou chuckled, adjusting his angle slightly, and aimed for an empty boat ramp. His brother fell in just behind him, and overhead Flygon and Altaria began to lose height.
"You know we're going to end up right in the middle of town, right?" Max added. "Are you sure that's okay?"
The Electric-type Legendary didn't change course. "Well, if they don't know someone's caught us yet then they've got dashed poor taste in news."
His muscles bunched, and he skipped from wavetop to wavetop – then reached the ramp, tried to skid to a halt, and discovered that it was covered in slippery wet algae.
Max yelped, clinging on as Raikou steered for a gap in the nearest wall and ended up crashing into a bush. The impact jarred him, throwing him off his seat, and Altaria snatched him out of the air.
"It's okay, we've got you!" May said, as Altaria backwinged and lowered Max to a landing. "But I guess that didn't go as smoothly as it could have done."
"Yeah, no kidding..." Max agreed.
Entei came padding over as Raikou extricated himself from the bush. "And this, brother, is why we prefer using beaches for our stops."
"I knew it was something like that..." Raikou muttered. "So, where's our trainer?"
"He got off when I stopped – on the beach," Entei stressed. "I think he's waiting for Lucario."
"What's Lucario doing?" Max asked, feeling his hair. "Ugh, I think there's salt water in this..."
Down by the shore, Lucario came gliding in on an impressive breaker. His paws glowed blue as he flipped over into a handstand, then one slipped and he managed to catch himself just before splashing unceremoniously into the surf.
"Nice recovery, Lucario!" Ash called.
Coming back to his feet, Lucario tensed and jumped from the wave crest just as it collapsed. He did a somersault in mid air, and landed on the sand with a crunch.
"Eight point three," Pikachu judged.
"Fair," Lucario agreed.
He looked Ash up and down. "You seem wet."
"Yeah, Entei and Raikou can't do wind shields," Ash agreed. "Suicune's better at that kind of thing."
Still exerting his own Aura to make sure he could walk more easily on the sand, he headed up to where the others had set up just as Flygon came hovering down to a landing.
"Okay, we're all here!" May said. "Now, let's get a bite to eat!"
"Shouldn't we register for the Pokémon League first?" Max asked. "I mean… we're entering the Pokémon League, that's kind of why we're here."
He shook his head. "That still sounds so weird to say – I mean, I'm doing an actual Pokémon League."
"Yeah, I know," May agreed, unfazed. "But we've got, what, four days to do that? And it is lunchtime."
"She has a point," Entei mused. "I know I'm a little hungry after that trip."
"Then that's where we'd better go," Ash said.
"Sounds good to me," Brock agreed.
"Hey, Ash?" Max asked, halfway through their first course. "How did you feel when you first got to the Pokémon League?"
"Well, uh..." Ash frowned. "It was kind of a while ago… I remember being really excited, though."
"He's not wrong," Brock agreed. "He was really excited."
"Didn't you go out to the stadium one evening and shout that you were going to be the Pokémon League champion?" Pikachu asked.
"Yeah, that… that did happen," Ash agreed. "I think that was the worst of it, though… and I did enjoy myself."
Pikachu nodded. "Yeah, it was fun."
"I seem to remember he called Professor Goodshow Santa Claus," Brock said.
"Brock, come on..." Ash asked. "It wasn't that bad, right?"
"I remember that too," Pikachu said.
"But seriously, Max," Brock went on, as Ash groaned at the memory. "Your attitude is a perfectly fine one to have – just getting to the Pokémon League is a big achievement, and Ash took until at least his sixth to win."
"You can't prove that," Ash replied, to laughter.
Entei stood, stepping back from his mostly-finished bowl. "Excuse me a moment."
He pushed the door open – finding it easy, as the few other patrons stepped well out of his way – and loped off down the street.
"I wonder what that was about," May said. "I hope he liked the food."
"It's pretty good, so I don't think that's it," Ash frowned. "And the restaurant's not very busy because we took so long to find it..."
There was a roar, one loud enough that almost everyone in the restaurant jumped.
"That was Entei, right?" Max checked.
"Yeah, that was him," Ash agreed. "I hope this doesn't mean that there's anyone attacking the town."
"If there is, then wouldn't Entei have asked for help?" May asked. "I mean, Raikou was right there next to him."
"Well, I am halfway through some extremely noodly noodles," Raikou pointed out – not that May could understand him.
Entei knocked on the door, which then opened by itself.
"Hi," Latias said. "We're back – and we got back about twenty minutes ago. How do you expect us to find you if you're inside a building?"
Ash winced. "...yeah, I should have thought of that."
He returned Pidgeot, who was sat calmly outside, and Suicune followed Entei into the restaurant.
"...I'll order some more," May decided. "Do either of you have a dish you'd prefer?"
"Ah, I thought so! Ash Ketchum, as I live and breathe!"
Ash put his chopsticks down. "...Professor Goodshow?"
"What?" Goodshow asked, looking puzzled. "Oh, that's strictly honorary – Charles is fine, especially from you."
The extravagantly bearded Pokémon League president chuckled. "We've met often enough, after all. Anyway… I actually was looking for you, Ash."
"How did you know-" Max started, then stopped. "Wait, never mind, there's four Legendary Pokémon around the table."
"It was a masterful bit of deduction," Mr. Goodshow chuckled. "Anyway, Ash – I was wondering if you'd be willing to help with the Conference?"
"I guess so," Ash agreed readily. "What is it?"
"Well, I was hoping that we'd be able to do something a little different for the torch ceremonies," Goodshow explained. "After the little display with Ho-Oh in Johto months ago, I've been trying to make sure that there's a little something showing up whenever possible!"
He checked them off on his fingers. "I've managed to get an offer of support from the Ranger Union to persuade a Heatran to participate in the Lily of the Valley ceremony, and someone volunteered to show up with his Mega Charizard for one of the Indigo Leagues if he has the time… anyway, what I was hoping was that your Entei would be willing to participate here!"
Entei looked up, interested.
"Funny thing, they never ask Electric-types to help," Raikou mused.
"Well, don't ask me for sympathy," Suicune pointed out, chuckling. "I think I'm the opposite of a torch."
Getting to his feet, Entei shook out his smoky mane. "I might be interested," he rumbled. "What's your plan?"
"Oh, wonderful," Mr. Goodshow said, smiling broadly. "Well, I was thinking – normally, the reason there's a relay is the need for getting the flame from the start to the source. But what if the flames could be started from several places at once?"
"How would that work?" Max asked. "If they have to be meaningful… wait..."
"Yes, you're on the right lines," Mr. Goodshow told him.
"He has?" May said. "But you didn't even ask what he'd decided you meant!"
"Well, how would you do it?" the President asked her. "After all, you are an expert Coordinator!"
May frowned. "Well… oh, I see, Entei's fast enough that you can set people off from lots of locations quite close together. But then you have more than one source of flame, so you'd need to do something else with the torches instead of just having one of them light the main fire..."
"You're almost there," Goodshow smiled at her. "Here's an extra hint – Entei would also be making an appearance in the stadium."
"Then – oh, you'd be making a ring out of the torches, and having Entei-"
"Capital!" Goodshow said, clapping. "Well done! Yes, you're just right."
"That does sound interesting," Entei said, frowning. "But perhaps my siblings could also participate? I believe my trainer knows a way of turning water and lightning into a useful aide to the Fire type."
"That would be excellent!" Mr. Goodshow nodded. "Then can I count on your support?"
Suicune and Raikou shared a wordless look, then both nodded. "It would be an honour," Suicune confirmed.
"And it'd be a fine experience for the audience, as well!" Raikou elaborated. "Why, it's a marvellous way for us to introduce ourselves to all of Hoenn!"
Goodshow looked politely blank. "I'm sorry, I can only understand two of you. Is something wrong?"
Raikou reached for something, and looked faintly annoyed when he didn't find it. "Never mind," he said, shaking his head. "Now, I may need some time at the ranch in order to find some complete bounders..."
"...so… that says..."
The Houndour peered closer, tilting his head. "Can we get on with it?"
"That's right," his elder brother confirmed with a nod.
Houndoom's tail reached down and wrapped around the sign, lifting it up and replacing it with another. "And this one?"
"Yes, I know I'm…a… uh, Raichu?"
"Raikou," Houndoom corrected. "You're doing really great, though!"
"Okay, so we've got a week left," Max said, thinking. "And we don't know what we might battle in the tournament."
"That's right," Ash agreed. "So what I think would be a good idea here is if we work out some random battles for you to do – a lot of my Pokémon have training schedules anyway, but I've got enough variety that it should help you work out how to deal with various battle styles and types."
"Right..." Max agreed. "I've not got very many Pokémon, so I need to make sure everyone's got a role."
Ash nodded. "Yeah – it's kind of like how I was back in my first League, actually. Butterfree and Primeape were somewhere else, so I only had… Pidgeotto, Pikachu, Kingler, Muk, Bulbasaur, Squirtle and Charizard."
"...oh, yeah, that was before Charizard listened to you," Max remembered. "I kind of spent a moment wondering how you lost."
"Yeah, that was..." Ash shrugged. "Actually, you're doing really well, so that's good. And… something you need to think about when you switch a Pokémon in is that you usually only have a certain number of Pokémon you can send in – and revealing who you have can make it easier for your opponent to plan. So if, say, I kept Charizard secret until the finals – he'd be in a great position to do well."
A shrug. "Or if he got knocked out before my opponent started using Steel-types, then I'd be in trouble."
Max absorbed that.
"So… random matches, right?" he asked.
"Yeah," Ash confirmed. "Dexter – can you pick a random Pokémon for me?"
"You should pick your first one too," Ash added. "You know – you and your opponent send out their first pick at the same time."
"Yeah," Max agreed, selecting a Pokéball.
Ash let Dexter drop the 'ball into his hand, then threw it at the same time as Max did.
Cinder materialized first, landing with all four knees bent so she could move quickly in any direction, then blinked and let out a long sigh. "Oh, come on..."
Suicune inspected the situation. "I suspect that something unplanned just happened."
"Yeah," Ash agreed, wincing. "Sorry, Max, I guess… yeah, I did say random."
Don't blame me for your poor word choices, Dexter advised sagely.
"Should I go, or..." Suicune asked, a little awkwardly.
"I think I'd appreciate a spar, actually," Lucario suggested.
"Shall we try again?" Ash asked, as his Fighting-type and his Water-type went off to try and kick one another very hard in the name of training.
"Dawn! Dawn Dawn Dawn!"
Dawn chuckled, turning so she could make sure Barry didn't run her over. "Oh, hey, Barry – how are you?"
"Never mind me!" the hyperactive boy said, skidding to a stop. "What about you? You went missing for a week!"
"I was in Hoenn," Dawn explained. "You know, for the Grand Festival, Mom took me?"
"I know that!" Barry agreed. "But you took way longer than you said you would – you took a week longer than that!"
"Right," Dawn agreed. "Yeah, that's kind of complicated..."
"And – oh, yeah, that's right!" Barry added. "Mom said she saw you and your mother get back on a Pidgeot – and two Pokémon she didn't recognize! When did you get a Pidgeot?"
"Those weren't mine," Dawn explained, raising her hands. "I'm not old enough to be a trainer."
"Apart from you," Dawn amended.
"Wait, when did you get a Piplup?" Barry asked. "Did your Mom get a Pidgeot, then? And what were the other Pokémon? Were they your Mom's as well?"
"Those were Ash's," Dawn answered, then realized she might have made a tactical error.
"Ash?" Barry repeated. "Ash as in Ash Ketchum? You know the Ash Ketchum?"
He stopped. "Wait, that could mean – hold on a second!"
Dawn sighed as Barry ran off back towards his house.
"I think we should probably go," she said, and Piplup nodded wearily.
Barry had that effect on people.
Corphish swept his 'sabers around in an arc, one above the other, and Cinder coiled – then sprang, aiming to jump over the top one.
The top saber move upwards, and Cinder's fangs sparked with electricity. She snapped down on the red blade, sending crackling feedback down it, and twisted her neck as she came down for a landing – enough to send Corphish into the air.
Pausing long enough for her paws to touch the floor, Cinder pounced after him. Her fangs crackled again, and she bit down on thin air – sending a little surge of electricity ahead of her.
Corphish used one saber to block, flicking the blade to send the electricity off to one side, and swung the other around to point at Cinder – with the red Razor Shell deactivated.
"Steady," Max said warningly, and Cinder tensed – ready to spring clear if this turned out to be an attack.
A moment passed, then Max yelped. "Left!"
Cinder dove to her left, trusting her trainer implicitly, and a large rock smashed into the ground where she'd been.
"What was that?" she asked, coming back to her paws and moving in a steady circle around Corphish.
"The Power," Corphish replied, scuttling around to keep facing her. "I have lazer swords, of course I have invisible telekinesis power."
"I'm not sure that's how it works..." Cinder said, shaking her head.
She slowed, then turned and pounced – moving fast, and diving into the ground with a faint crunch just in front of Corphish.
The Water-type scuttled forwards a step and aimed both pincers down the Dig hole, then fired a Surf directly down it.
Water erupted upwards, then Cinder burst out of the ground in a completely different place to the geyser.
"How did you miss?" Pikachu demanded.
Corphish shrugged, then reignited his sabers and crossed them.
"That's Swords Dance," Max said. "You know what to do!"
Cinder nodded, and charged – taking three loping strides, then jinking to the side and aiming for Corphish' side.
In reply, Corphish's sabers changed colour to a brilliant turquoise.
His X-Scissor swept through the air, catching Cinder in the side, and she let out a high-pitched yelp before hitting him with a Foul Play in return.
The impact sent both Pokémon sliding across the arena.
"Cinder's doing pretty well," Ash said, as Corphish tried to right himself and ended up rolling over onto his back again.
"Yeah, but she did lose," Max sighed. "I wish I'd known about that X-Scissor."
Ash shrugged. "That kind of thing happens. It's a good reason a Pokémon trainer has to know about all Pokémon, not just the ones they train – it helps prevent surprises."
He chuckled. "That said… I didn't know Corphish had worked that one out. Maybe I should chat with him..."
"I guess sometimes it's hard to plan like that," Max mused, scratching Cinder as she came groggily back to consciousness. "Is that part of why you're talking with your Pokémon so much in the evening?"
"Yeah," Ash confirmed. "I want to make sure I know what they can do – that way I know how to plan."
He nodded to Max. "Anyway – what would you have done differently?"
"Swagger," Cinder said.
"That or Snatch," Max added. "Foul Play's good to turn Swords Dance against the user, but if Corphish has X-Scissor it's kind of risky to let him actually work it up."
"Yeah," Ash confirmed. "That's about right. But another thing you could have done is use Iron Tail to block – no matter what the attack was going to be."
Cinder and Max both made aaah sounds of realization.
"Another one?" Ash added. "Do you know who you're going to use?"
"Sure!" Max agreed. "Okay, let's give this a go..."
Latias hung in the air, a beret perched jauntily on her head.
She adjusted her grip on the paintbrush, and carefully layered some green paint onto the upper branches of a tree. Then she shook the paint off in a jar of water, and loaded the brush up with orange paint instead.
The fact that the palette was floating in mid air beside her was of no particular importance. The water jar and easel were suspended above the ground as well, but frankly that was just for convenience.
"Hmmm..." she cooed, tilting her head, and tapped the brush gently onto the paper. "I think that's about right..."
She turned away from her half-finished landscape, and fired a pulse of Psywave from her eyes. Casper yelped, phasing into visibility, and sighed.
"Awww… how come you could tell where I was?"
"Plenty of practice!" the Eon Pokémon told him. "Latios and I used to do this all the time, so I know all the tricks – but that doesn't mean you can't get me!"
"Yeah, but… how?" Casper asked.
"Use your imagination!" Latias suggested teasingly.
She waited until Casper had floated off, ready to try again, then returned to painting.
There was a really good light at this time of the afternoon… she couldn't wait to show Bianca.
Guy sprang backwards, claws digging into the ground for a moment to let him spin out of the way, and a powerful Ice Beam formed a trail along the ground where he'd been.
Using his tail to steady himself, the Fighting-type punched straight through an icy Charizard which dove down on him, and grabbed onto the wings before flinging them backwards to lend speed to his jump.
Glalie jinked to the side before slamming into Guy's flank, forming a crust of ice crystals which fell apart into snow, and Guy hit the ground heavily before coming back to his feet as if nothing was wrong.
"Eat ice!" Glalie requested, horns flaring, and he sent a shower of icy Zubats plunging down at his doughty foe.
"Dynamic Punch!" Max ordered.
Adjusting his footing, Guy targeted one of the icebats and fired off a Dynamicpunch directly at it. The concussive shockwave shattered all of Glalie's ice constructs, clearing the entire wave, and Guy rode the recoil back onto his thick tail before springing upwards again in a Sky Uppercut.
Glalie knocked him back to the ground again with a wave of Frost Breath, and followed it up by sending a pulse of chill energy outwards which made it begin to hail.
"Hey!" Venusaur called from nearby. "Some of us are trying to work out moves involving petals!"
Glalie shrugged, then rolled sideways in mid-air and avoided a high-power Facade from the still-undeterred Breloom.
"So… how's this going?" Max asked, as the aerial battle continued. Glalie's occasional ice constructs stopped Guy from focusing on the Ice-type himself, but they also gave him another platform for continuing the airborne skirmish – so they were sort of a net zero, in terms of effectiveness. "I guess the main focus here is airborne battle?"
"It's working out that way," Ash agreed. "And he's got Thunderpunch, which is good for most fliers – but what would you do against a Ground-type or Dragon-type?"
"Ground types, I'd have him use Bullet Seed or Seed Bomb," Max said. "Wait – I know!"
He turned his attention back to the battle. "Guy, use a Seed Bomb to keep yourself in the air!"
"Nice idea!" Ash complimented.
"Seed Bomb!" Guy said, firing one out, and braced himself – then rode the shockwave as it exploded, launching him back up towards Glalie.
"I'll have to remember that one," Max decided.
"This is pretty much it for Hoenn," Brock said, sitting back and looking up at the sky. "Are you guys excited for Kanto?"
Ninetales waved her long tails. "I grew up in Kanto."
"...yeah, but I was going somewhere with this," Brock said. "Anyway. What about you, Flygon?"
"Kanto will be interesting, I think," the Dragon-type said. "It's obviously going to be a bit cooler than the weather is in Hoenn, but that'll be something new and something I can get used to."
He flared his wings. "Where are we going to be going in Kanto?"
"Oh, all over the place," Brock shrugged. "May's got her Contest ribbons to pick up, Max probably has the Gyms to do – though I don't know if he'll do the Pewter gym, actually, I should ask..."
"And Ash?" Stantler queried.
"Well… I don't know," Brock admitted. "Last time around he did the Battle Frontier, but I'm not sure if he'd be interested this time."
Ninetales chuckled. "And why exactly would he not be interested?"
Brock shrugged. "I don't know, really. But it was something he achieved last time."
He held his hand up, blocking some of the glare from the sun. "Then again, though, maybe that challenge will be harder this second time as well. It's not like everything's stayed the same."
Stantler and Ninetales saw their trainer smile, and both knew what he meant about things not staying the same.
There was one change in particular Brock was very happy about.
"Anyway, I didn't ask you, Stantler," Brock went on. "What do you think?"
"Well… I think it'd be nice to visit my old herd, if you can find them," Stantler said seriously. "I know that's Johto, not Kanto, but… I'd like to let my mother know I'm fine."
"Of course!" Brock agreed. "Hopefully we'll find them easily enough."
"Thank you," Stantler smiled, leaning in and licking Brock's palm.
After a moment, he lay down on the soft grass. "And I think I'd like to see some of the big cities in Kanto, as well," he decided. "I've heard they're huge!"
"I'll show you around Celadon," Ninetales decided.
"What about Sinnoh?" Brock added. "It's cold up there, but it's not always covered in snow..."
"Pity, I was looking forward to melting a tunnel," Ninetales said – so deadpan that it made both Stantler and her trainer chuckle.
"There's certainly Snowpoint City, that's usually cold," Brock mused. "And some of the places in Sinnoh are breathtaking – Michina is a jewel."
"Isn't that the place where you went back in time again?" Stantler asked.
"Yeah," Brock agreed. "And – yeah, I don't know if that one's even going to happen. But after what Celebi did, it might just be even more confusing."
Flygon hummed. "I'm not sure how I'd do with snow everywhere… perhaps I should get a sweater?"
"Sounds like something to look for in Celadon!" Ninetales suggested.
"Okay, all warmed up?" Blaziken asked.
"Easy for you to say," May said, finishing her stretches. "You're not just a Fighting-type, but – you know..."
"Yes, a Fire type. I come pre warmed up," Blaziken confirmed. "Regardless – if you're ready?"
"I think so," May agreed.
"Then let's try a kata," her starter said. "Remember the first set of moves?"
May frowned. "Is this that first kata? Then… turn to the right and punch forwards with the first step, block downwards with the second step… turn around and repeat that… then face the way you started, block, and finish with three punches."
Blaziken stood next to her, diagonally off so neither would be trying to hit the other, and May took a deep breath.
"Ready?" he asked, and got a nod. "Begin."
They moved slowly, Blaziken limiting himself to May's speed, and she moved through the kata with a slow grace.
Once she finished that final punch, she held it for a second before drawing her fist back and breathing deeply – relaxing, letting the tension drain away.
"Good," the Fire-type said, smiling. "Now, time for the bit I've not been telling you so far about this kata."
"...what is it?" May asked, suspiciously. "It's not meant to be blindfold, is it?"
"No, but that does sound like a good idea..." Blaziken said, then shook his head. "It's mostly that it's not a combative kata – the Heian series is better at that. Taikyoku Shodan is just the easy one."
He paused. "And I might make you do it in reverse in a week or two."
May did a double-take. "Reverse?"
"It's an excellent demonstration of control," Blaziken told her earnestly. "Now – let's do some quick practice at sparring, then we can work on your blocks."
"Right," May agreed.
She took her stance, one foot forward and the other turned to the side, and Blaziken did the same.
May frowned, thinking, then opened with a one-two strike. Blaziken blocked the first and let the second through, feeling the thump it made as it contacted, then telegraphed a slow kick which May's forearm swept down to block.
It was obviously done for sparring rather than as a proper attack – May knew that if Blaziken did a proper kick he'd launch her into the nearest tree – but that was fine, she was learning.
Last week she'd been pushed over onto the grass when he'd tried even such a slow kick...
Butterfree's wings flared as he launched out a Solarbeam, and Delta curled a fin to get out of the way.
The Bug-type kept up his focus, banking around so Delta had to keep dodging, and then his charge ran out.
"Delta, that's not working," Max decided. "Let's try – Rain Dance!"
Delta rolled his wings, then flapped hard to gain height, and as he did the clouds began to gather around the battlefield.
"Okay, that is a good move," Ash told him. "But there's something else you need to think about, too – what happens if your opponent also tries to control the weather?"
"I guess then… whoever gets control of the weather has an advantage," Max allowed, as Butterfree banished the clouds again. The sunlight intensified, and Delta's flight path lowered a bit.
"Delta, Aqua Ring!" Max ordered. "Okay, good – now, use that to stay out of the sun!"
"That's a good move," Ash confirmed. "It'll stop the sun from being as bad for Delta, and… actually, let's show the other thing. Butterfree, Solarbeam!"
"What, really?" Butterfree asked. "But he's-"
"I know!" Ash told him. "I want to demonstrate!"
"Fine," Butterfree said, in the tones of someone who knew this was a bad idea. He flapped higher, drifting on the air currents, and let the sunlight bathe him in light.
A moment's pause, and a beam of green-yellow light speared down towards Delta.
The moment that it hit, there was a brilliant multicoloured iridescence of side-scatter as the hundreds of little droplets in the Aqua Ring threw off their own rainbow.
"And that's the other good thing!" Ash explained, shading his eyes. "It's a pretty good defence against Solarbeam in general."
Max nodded to himself. "Right, I get it. And I guess it'd get in the way of a lot of other attacks… Delta, try a Waterfall!"
Butterfree stopped his demonstrative Solarbeam, and dove – shedding height and gaining speed, so he whistled right past Delta and out of attack range before the Mantine had even got together enough water for his attack.
"It's probably not a good idea to focus on water attacks," Ash hinted.
"Oh, right," Max realized. "Okay, let's try… Fly, Delta! Get as high as you can!"
Delta complied, gaining height until it was hard to see him against the late-afternoon sky.
"Careful he doesn't go that high in the League battles," Ash warned. "Not against a ground-bound Pokémon, anyway. They try to make sure you don't leave the stadium entirely unless both Pokémon are Flying-types or otherwise able to fight in mid-air."
"Didn't you once have the KO in one of your matches take place three miles up or something?" Max asked.
"Yeah, but that was an airborne battle," Ash clarified. "Basically, I don't think you're allowed to stay up there until your opponent gets bored."
"That's okay," Max shrugged, and waved an arm. "Okay, Delta, go ahead!"
There was a long pause, and then Air Cutters came curling out of the sky.
Butterfree ducked, dodged, rolled, and took his first hit with the fourth salvo. "Right, this is becoming inconvenient."
A visible wake appeared at the trailing edges of his wings, and Butterfree accelerated up into the air towards Delta.
"Just so you know," Ash added. "Probably not a good idea to try this when it's raining. Actually, if you're going to try this you might want to make it sunny if anything."
"Why would – oh, right," Max realized. "Electric attacks in the rain..."
There was a thunderous explosion from some distance away, and a tree creaked before crashing to the ground.
"Okay, I think that's pretty much confirmed it," Pikachu said, waving his tail and sending stray sparks crackling off in all directions. "That's your upper limit without going to Mega Manectric, at least at the moment."
Arc's fur was all straight up on end, like a koosh-ball. "Yeah, it kind of seems like it..."
He shook himself, not affecting his fur much. "Uh… how should I discharge everything?"
"I think you're safe to pour it into the ground, so long as you do it slowly," Pikachu judged. "The tree was a single big burst."
Arc nodded, and began scraping a depression to put his paws in.
"Remember, if you're fighting another Electric-type and you're getting close to feeling like that, send it somewhere," Pikachu added. "You don't want your fur to explode like that in a battle."
He frowned. "Well, maybe explode is kind of an extreme way to put it… but that was a loud bang."
"Hm..." Latias said to herself, floating back a bit to examine her painting.
That looked… pretty much finished, actually.
Hey, brother? she asked, opening their connection. Do you have a sec?
Latias? Latios asked. Oh, hey sis. How's things in Hoenn?
Not bad, not bad, Latias told him. Weather's great, I'm far enough away from the training area not to get caught in any Rain Dances or Hails. What about in Altomare?
Latios widened the link, letting her see through his eyes, and she winced. Ouch, that's pretty heavy rain. I guess it's just passing too far north to hit us.
Probably, Latios agreed. This is the heavy bit, I think, but it's been wet all day. I don't mind, really, but… you know.
Right. Latias thought for a moment, then remembered what she'd been thinking about originally. Oh, yeah – is Bianca around?
I think so, Latios send, coloured with minor uncertainty. I'll go look for her.
Thanks, Latias smiled. I've done a painting, and I'd like her to have a look to see how it is. See if there's anything I left out.
So you'll want me to sight-share, then? Latios asked. What's wrong with just bringing the painting here?
Latias giggled. It's a bit of a long way… plus it'd get wet, too.
She watched as Latios plunged into the water, shooting along their secret pathways hidden in the canals beneath Altomare.
He could have just gone invisible, but this way he didn't get wet.
He got soaked.
Funny, that, isn't it… Latios mused, turning a corner and passing below a shoal of Remoraid. Okay, not far to-
Something wet hit Latias on the small of her back.
Just a sec, she sent Latios, focusing on her own body. "What was – Casper, was that a water balloon?"
"Yep!" Casper said, floating next to a Y-shaped catapult. "You said to use my imagination!"
Latias sighed. "Well done, you got me. Now, try to work out a way that would work in a Pokémon battle."
Casper looked contemplative.
Found Bianca! Latios sent her.
Latias turned her attention back to the painting. Great! Hold on a sec… right, can you sight-share so Bianca can see it?
It was nice to have a hobby.
"Okay, nearly there," Max said, looking down at the map from his pack. "I think… right, yeah, about a hundred metres this way. Ash, you're… over there."
"Right," Ash agreed. "We're right at one end of the course, right?"
"We should be," Max said. "Or Entei's going to have a really weird-looking route…"
Correct, you are at the far counterclockwise extreme of the arc, Dexter told Ash. And, for once, not lost.
Ash shrugged. "Okay – that means we're ready, right?"
"Just about," Max nodded. "We do need to wait a few minutes, though."
"Yeah, you're right," Ash agreed.
He sent out Entei in a flash of light. "Ready?"
"Fairly so," Entei confirmed, shaking out his fur, and little embers of smoke wreathed him. "I'm interested to see the end result, I must admit."
"Yeah, I think Mr. Goodshow wants to make the Leagues as good as he can..." Ash said.
"And with you around, that means he's not short of options," Pikachu agreed. "Do you think he'll try an around-the-world torch relay for Sinnoh?"
"...actually, that wouldn't surprise me very much," Ash agreed.
He checked the time, passing Entei his Fast Ball. "Okay, nearly there…"
As the clock clicked over to seven o'clock, Ash waved. "Now!"
The Fire-type nodded, and exhaled a breath of flame. It touched the edge of Ash's torch, setting it alight, and then he spun and did the same to Max's one.
Claws digging into the ground, Entei got his bearings and sprinted off – heading for the next trainer, about a hundred metres clockwise around the circle.
"Let's go!" Ash added, and started running towards the stadium. Max followed behind, jogging a little slower than Ash, and after a moment Ash reduced his speed to match.
"Thanks," Max said quickly. "You're way fitter than me..."
"Yeah, that's the whole… Aura thing..." Ash agreed. "And the… you know, sparring thing…"
Lucario joined them with a flash. "I see that I do not get a torch."
"I think they're for trainers only," Ash replied.
"I don't see why that means I'm left out," Lucario said. "I mean, I train you, and I've been helping train May, therefore I'm a human trainer. As distinct from a human Trainer."
"I think I'm just confused," Max said.
Someone came into view, running on a path that joined theirs, and a few seconds later the newcomer joined their procession.
"Oh, hi!" she said. "This is pretty cool, huh? I met an – wait, wait, I recognize you! Was that your Entei?"
"Yeah, that's him," Ash confirmed. "You're right, I'm Ash – and this is Max, he's a friend of mine. What's your name?"
"Hope," the other trainer told him. "It's my first time at a League, so I'm kind of nervous..."
"It's okay, just do your best," Ash advised. "It doesn't matter if you win or lose, so long as you're satisfied with how you did."
Entei ran along a side street, dodging to one side to avoid a parked car, then bunched up and sprang to the top of a nearby building.
"Hi," Latias said, keeping her feathers tuned to make her transparent. "Everything okay?"
"Two hundred and fifty-six torches lit," Entei confirmed.
Latias floated a little higher, looking out over the city. "Wow, I can see them already! It's kind of like watching a river flow together…"
As she watched, two processions of trainers – each a half-dozen or so strong – ran into one another at an intersection, and joined up into a single larger procession.
"Ahem," Entei coughed quietly.
"Right," Latias agreed.
She took the 'ball Entei produced, returned him, and then put the Fast Ball in her bag and flew down to ground level.
Dropping her invisibility illusion to switch to a human one, she knocked at the staff entrance and let herself in with a pass – one describing her as Bianca, and her role as 'special effects'.
"Remembering the opening for the Silver Conference?" Brock asked.
"Kind of, yeah," May agreed. "I seem to be sort of making a habit of the whole 'help with the League' thing..."
She looked up at the sky. "I wasn't sure if we'd got the right time, but it is getting dark pretty quickly – so I think we did get it fairly close."
Brock was about to say something in reply, but a cheer went up and interrupted their conversation as the first few trainers came into the stadium – torches held high.
"Not Ash," May said. "I guess it's not surprising."
"Yeah, some of these people must have started off in Ever Grande City itself," Brock agreed. "I wonder when – there!"
As the first procession completed their lap of the stadium and began to look around for their next step, Suicune and Raikou came loping down the main steps of the stadium. Jumping into the arena, they slowed and approached one another – then, turning, took up station either side of a large bowl.
Suicune inclined her head to the lead runner, and indicated the bowl beside her. When she spoke, it was too quiet to hear, but the trainers reacted – they exchanged glances with one another, then the one in front approached.
He put his torch into a slot in the side of the bowl, and it soundlessly rotated just enough that the next torch bearer could put theirs in as well.
"Wait – I recognize him," Brock said. "I think that's Ritchie – you know, Ritchie Getem?"
"Yeah, we met him a few months ago," May confirmed. "Maybe I shouldn't be surprised someone like Ash was first..."
Lucario sat down next to them.
"I decided to beat the traffic," he explained.
"It feels strange, watching the opening ceremony now," Johanna said, stroking Glameow. "I mean – your friends are right there, and that's even one of the Pokémon who helped take us back home!"
"Yeah," Dawn agreed, then frowned. "Or maybe not… not for me, anyway. I'm kind of used to the idea, after Sinnoh and Unova."
"Right," Johanna nodded. "I suppose."
She sighed. "It's very hard to keep all this in mind – even with what Mr. Maple said about thinking of it as a past instead of a future that didn't happen."
Piplup said something, and Dawn chuckled.
"Did you understand him?" Johanna added.
"No, not really," Dawn clarified. "Just… good guesses, really."
"Hey! Hey, Dawn!"
Dawn turned from the TV, looking at the window. "Barry? What are you doing out this late?"
"Is that Suicune the same Suicune you met last week?" Barry asked. "And that Raikou too, did you meet him?"
"Yeah, I did," Dawn confirmed. "Barry, why..."
"Well, I thought I'd better check!" Barry defended himself. "Because you were in Hoenn, and there was that Suicune, and then I see a Suicune in Hoenn so of course that's what I think!"
Looking through the window, he frowned. "Hey, what are they doing with those torches?"
"It looks like they're making a big ring of them," Johanna said. "There's probably a very good reason for it..."
She looked around. "But why aren't you watching it at home? Surely you'd have a better picture there?"
"Well..." Barry frowned. "I guess that does make sense. Bye!"
He vanished at speed.
"He's going to burst something one of these days," Johanna said. "Wait – look, is that Ash and Max?"
Dawn turned back to the TV, checked for a moment, and nodded. "Yeah, that's them."
"I'm still not sure how you got lost in the middle of a crowd of a hundred other runners," Max said.
"Nor am I,"Ash replied, right at the back of the line.
The trainer just ahead of them put her torch into its slot, and then an invisible pink-and-white dragon rotated the holder so that Ash and Max could complete the set.
"Everything's ready," Latias whispered.
"Good," Ash replied, almost as softly, and put his torch in place. That done, he and Max retreated to where the rest of the competitors were lined up in eight ranks.
For a breath, everything was still. Then the whole huge bowl began to spin.
Slowly at first, then faster and faster, until the light of the torches was whipped by the wind into a single spiralling blur.
It began to rise into the air, reaching ten feet in height, then twenty, and hung there spinning like a top.
"Ladies and gentlemen," Mr. Goodshow announced, the PA system carrying his words to all corners of the stadium. "It is my pleasure to open… the Ever Grande League!"
Suicune and Raikou braced themselves, then roared. The bowl slammed to a stop, so suddenly it would have sent the torches flying if they hadn't been locked in place.
And, in a massive burst of flame, Entei burst out of the bowl and added his roar to his siblings. Cinders and smoke flashed skywards, a concussive blast which lit the area as if from a giant bonfire, and when it began to fade it was with the main Ever Grande League bowl blazing bright and true.
Taking his place by Suicune and Raikou, Entei shook out his mane – sparks flying up to join the smoke-and-flame plume from the torch, now rising up to be landed by the side of the arena – and then all three Beasts of Johto left the stadium, running so fast it was barely possible to see them move.
Okay, look, I told you what happened.
"Still not satisfied," Aaron said, forearms crossed as he walked. "That was an important and touching incident from my life you used for the plot."
I had to use a Ninetales, Arceus protested. They live long enough, they curse people…
"Actually, I agree with Aaron," Giratina spoke up. "Bad move, Dad."
Fine, fine, mistakes were made, Arceus sighed. You've got to admit that it was a unique twist, though.
"Yeah, being chased out of town by a mob isn't my idea of a fun morning," Palkia muttered.
"You teleported," Aaron pointed out. "And Dialga slowed time, and Giratina used Shadow Force to jump out of Pokémon square. So really I was the only one who got chased out."
"Actually, now you mention that, I am sorry about that," Giratina said. "I really should have let you ride along."
"I'd have asked you to stick around, but I didn't like how that Clefable was looking at us," Aaron admitted. "Okay, let's just… try to get this sorted out."
He shook his head. "Thanks for telling us it wasn't originally me, by the way..."
That was supposed to be a suspenseful thing, but… you made your point, Arceus said. I'm as old as the world, I'm old enough to admit fault.
"This world is maybe a few months old," Dialga pointed out. "I'm older than this world."
"Where next?" Palkia checked.
"Mount Blaze," Aaron told him. "I think we might need you to use your amazing powers of summoning water on some Fire-types."
"Just tell me there won't be any Fairy types..."
And the transition to the Ever Grande conference. With training!
Also an opening ceremony thing.
As an aside, I do about a thousand words of this fic six days a week. If there's a delay that generally means that I'm building up a larger chapter/update.