"What's up?" Ash asked.
"Oh, just thinking," Max said. "Weren't you supposed to have a press conference at the Battle Dome?"
Ash blinked. "Oh, yeah, that's right..."
"Maybe Tucker forgot too," Brock suggested. "I mean, he was originally going to talk about the battle, and there wasn't much of the battle to show."
He thought back. "Actually, I think the only thing was probably the bit where Salamence went flying, and the very early moments."
"I think this is better," Ash decided. "I mean… press stuff does still make me feel odd."
"They should interview us Pokémon," Lucario suggested. "They'd find out all sorts of things."
"Might be a bit hard to record on TV, though," Ash pointed out. "They'd need to have someone write down what you said, then use subtitles."
Or just hire some cycle time from a Porygon, Ethan suggested. That would solve the problem.
"It's what Cleavon did," Brock nodded.
He looked at Ash. "Actually, now I think about it… shouldn't we let Dr. Akihabara know that Ethan evolved?"
"I'm sure he knows already," Ash shrugged. "Professor Oak does, and I'm pretty sure smart people talk about things like that."
That is not even close to an accurate description of how it works.
"Whatever," the trainer declared. "So, Max – Celadon next, right?"
"That's the plan," Max agreed. "And I know what you're going to ask next… I think Corona's the obvious one, but apart from that I'm not sure."
"Well, remember that there's a lot of Grass types which are Poison types too," Ash pointed out. "So maybe it'd be good to use Guy?"
"That could work," Max nodded to himself. "Okay… what else should I know?"
"Don't say anything bad about perfume," Ash stressed. "It'll go very badly."
"Ash, that's just you," Brock countered. "And you only had to dress as a girl over it once."
"...he had to do that in Kanto too?" May asked.
"Brock!" Ash complained.
"I actually count four times," Pikachu volunteered, jumping from Ash's shoulder to sit on Lucario's head.
He counted on his claws. "First there was Celadon Gym. Then there was to get that guy used to talking to women..."
Ash made a grab for his Starter, who easily dodged it – jumping from Lucario to Blaziken. "Then there was the one where he worked as a maid..."
"Damn it, Pikachu!" Ash groaned. "I'd managed to forget that one!"
"Then you need to remember!" Pikachu countered. "These are important parts of your life! And then there's that time you did it just to get into the headquarters of a girls only club."
"Should we be understanding this?" Max asked.
"I really need to get that Aura training going," Pikachu muttered.
It's okay, Kris said. I recorded all of that. And Dexter did too… as well as having pictures.
"Oh, no..." Ash groaned.
"I kind of want to ask what other embarrassing things Ash hasn't mentioned," May said, then took pity on him. "Okay, never mind… sorry, I guess."
Ash let out a relieved sigh.
"Anyway," he went on, glad to put that behind him. "The move you need to have Guy look out for is probably Venoshock – as well as anything Flying-type."
"Right," Max agreed. "And that means I should pick my other Pokémon so they can cover Guy's weaknesses, without forgetting the Grass-type."
"Yeah – and the same thing for Corona as well."
Max flipped Kris open, looking at his team list, then paused.
"Kris?" he asked. "Don't you know Signal Beam?"
"Scout here," came over the radio. "I've spotted the target. It's on the bag of the tall one. Over."
"Confirm that, scout," the team leader said. "What else do you see? Over."
"Blaziken, Pikachu, Lucario, Manectric," the scout listed off. "Nothing apart from that, not out at least. No heat signatures, either – nothing invisible, though they just sent out a Charmander as I was talking. Over."
"Confirmed," the team leader nodded. "Prepare to exfiltrate once you're done observing. Out."
He looked back through the car at the other team members.
"Okay," he began. "No sign of any Legendaries apart from the one we're after. Snatch team, ready?"
"Ready," nodded one of the other mercenaries, by the door of the car.
The second member of the snatch team just gave a thumbs-up, the Pokéball containing her Ivysaur sitting beside her.
"Defence team, ready?"
"Pachirisu's ready to handle that Pikachu," said the mercenary at the rear gate of the car. "Everything else is ready too."
"Right," the team leader nodded. "Okay, here we go."
Shifting the car into gear, he jammed the accelerator down – hard – and they began to barrel along the road towards their objective.
"Fighting on my own… right," Corona said, tail waving from side to side. "It depends on what the Pokémon is-"
"Sorry, Max, I just remembered," Ash interrupted. "It was something that came up last time I battled with Erika – you need to have at least one Pokémon for each evolutionary stage you have a Pokémon of."
"Huh, that's interesting," Max said.
He frowned. "Okay, so… I've got several basic Pokémon, I've got several evolved Pokémon – a Kirlia, a Breloom, a Mantine, a Manectric, a Mightyena, a Banette… but no third stage Pokémon. So that's okay – unless Mega Evolution counts as separate."
"If it does, then Arc's the obvious one," Ash said. "Unless you and Casper have made any progress?"
"Not so far," Max shook his head. "Or if we have it's not been enough."
"Maybe I should help with that," May suggested. "Altaria and I had a lot to sort out-"
Lucario raised his paw. "Hold on. I hear a car."
"Isn't this a walking trail?" Brock asked.
"Doesn't change that I can hear a car," Lucario replied. "Hm… it's moving quite fast."
"I can hear it too, now," May said. "Someone must be in a hurry."
Then a car shot around the corner, moving at a speed that made it almost go up on two wheels. The door slid open, and a pair of vines shot out – snatching something off Brock's backpack.
"Aaaaaaa!" Manaphy yelped, as the movement of the car and the vines pulled him away at speed.
Pikachu reacted quickly, sending a bolt of electricity at the speeding car, but his Thunderbolt went off course – hitting a small white dot on the rear window.
"Manaphy!" May shouted.
There was a shoom next to her, and Blaziken was suddenly not there any more.
"AAAaaa!" the Manaphy shouted.
"Stop that Manaphy from yelling!" the team leader instructed. "How's the rest of the plan?"
"Pachirisu's okay," the defence trainer reported. "That was a more powerful Thunderbolt than we were expecting, but he's all right."
"Then get that Manaphy in- no, they said it had a Pokéball," the team leader corrected himself. "Knock it out so it stops yelling!"
There was a white flash as the snatch team sent out their Drowzee, which waved a hand at Manaphy to use Hypnosis.
Manaphy just kept yelling.
"Use Hypnosis properly!" his trainer demanded.
"Uh… boss!" the defence trainer called. "Blaziken following us!"
"How can it-" the team leader began, then looked out the back window and saw the Fire-type doing at least twice as fast as them. "Holy-"
Blaziken jumped on top of the car, making the roof groan, and the team leader slammed the brakes to try to throw him off.
"Where'd the Manaphy go?" someone asked. "Ivysaur, did you see?"
Ivysaur shook his head.
Then Blaziken landed on the bonnet of the car, both feet hitting it hard enough that the engine shut down with a very final bang.
"Everyone out of the car!" the team leader ordered. "Scatter – I'll delay the Blaziken!"
There was a wham as a Venusaur appeared in a flash of white light on the side of the car with the open door, and then a Grumpig appeared out the other side.
Blaziken threw both Pokémon their own Pokéballs, to free his hands, then advanced.
"That's torn-" one of the snatch team members said, and the other one interrupted him before he could finish.
Blaziken darted forwards, dropping into a low roll and diving underneath the Water Gun, then grabbed Wartortle and threw him into the air before he could attack again.
Straightening out, he blocked Ivysaur's attempt to truss him up with vines before launching a Fire Blast up to knock Wartortle into the middle distance.
Crobat swooped down on the car, noticing the smoke cloud coming up from the now-burning engine, and fired a burst of sonar – trying to make sure he could tell where everyone was, ready to pick Manaphy up and get him clear.
A Pachirisu fired a Thundershock at him, and he rolled left – then spotted something.
"Huh?" he asked, intelligently. "Wait-"
There were two Pachirisu. One firing a series of Thundershocks at him, the other on the shoulder of the thug trying to run into the trees.
Crobat fired a second burst of sonar, folded one wing to avoid the electric attacks aimed skywards, then checked back behind him. On seeing the incoming reinforcements – Swellow, Altaria, and then Roland appeared as well – he decided to follow up what he'd noticed.
With all four wings beating, Crobat was fast – and agile, weaving in and out of the tree trunks. He turned sideways to get through a narrow gap, then swooped down and plucked the second Pachirisu into the air by its tail.
"That helpful is," the Pachirisu squeaked. "It – oh, never mind."
"I wondered if it was you," Crobat commented, flipping Zorua into the air and catching her on his back. "Manaphy, right?"
"That's right," Zorua confirmed, holding on tight as Crobat did a wingover. "Hey, careful with the acrobatics – I don't want to lose my lunch!"
Crobat levelled out, switching to a much more gentle glide. "Sorry."
He frowned. "Why were you Manaphy?"
"It was Casper's idea," Zorua explained, tail waving in the breeze. "Hey, maybe I should learn to do this."
"Zorua can-" Crobat began, then stopped himself. "Of course Zorua can fly, they can turn into things that can."
"That's us," Zorua agreed.
She pointed down. "I think that guy with the Pachirisu is down there – want me to scare him back towards the others?"
Crobat thought about it, then nodded.
"Cool – just drop me off ahead of him," she requested.
"Is this going to be a regular thing?" May asked. "Pirates coming after Manaphy?"
"To be fair, they do seem to be kind of bad at it," Max said. "I mean, I'm pretty sure a getaway car is supposed to let you get away."
"It was pretty close until Blaziken stepped on the engine," Ash pointed out. "That was pretty cool, actually… but maybe I shouldn't have sent Latias back to Altomare, she'd have been a big help."
"At least Manaphy's safe," May sighed.
There was a flash from her waist.
"Hi, Mama!" Manaphy said, brightly, then yawned. "Um… sorry, I was asleep..."
"Someone tried to kidnap you," Brock told him.
Manaphy gasped. "Oh, no! Did they?"
"No, they got Zorua instead," May told him.
"Oh, no!" Manaphy gasped again. "Is she okay?"
"I don't actually know," Ash said, closing one eye and looking ahead. "I can see a couple of spots of Dark-type Aura, but none of them are clearly Zorua."
There was a wham that came audibly over the distance, and Ash winced. "There goes the Aggron..."
"What happened to it?" Brock asked.
A moment later, Blaziken came running back over to them.
"I think we got most of them," he reported, skidding to a halt. "Grumpig's levitating some of the humans and juggling their Pokéballs, and Venusaur has the rest, but we had to defeat most of their teams."
"Is Zorua okay?" Brock said. "And I saw Crobat, too..."
Ash looked over at Brock, then opened his eyes. "Hey, wait – there's someone over there, too. In the trees."
Blaziken shot off at speed.
"I can hit things too," Lucario said. "Shouldn't I do some of it?"
"They were quite a long way away," Ash said, as Blaziken hauled someone back towards them – complete with binoculars hanging from his neck. "If we'd been attacked directly, that would be your thing."
Then there was a roar, loud and deep and resonant.
As they all watched, someone wearing a torn uniform came pelting back onto the road, just ahead of a Tyrantrum which roared and stomped and swiped its claws.
Altaria picked him up with his claws, and the Tyrantrum slowed to a halt.
Then it flashed blue and turned back into a Zorua.
"Neat trick," Max said. "I guess that's what you get for messing with an Illusion Gym Leader."
"I give up..." Brock sighed.
Max pushed the gym door open, revealing a well-lit field of rolling grass.
"Uh… this is the gym, right?" he asked, looking around. "Because this looks like… outside..."
He looked at Ash. "We didn't just teleport, right?"
"Don't think so," Ash said. "And… well, actually..."
He frowned, then closed his eyes.
"Okay, I see the trick," he informed Max. "There's a downwards slope – a lot of the gym's underground, the walls are just painted."
"That's pretty cool," Max agreed. "I guess it means there's a lot of space, which is impressive for a Gym in the middle of Celadon."
"What I want to know is, where's Erika?" May asked. "Ash, any ideas?"
"No, it looked different last time I was here," Ash replied. "Plus I broke it."
"I mean with your seeing through things powers," May clarified.
Everyone turned, and saw Erika standing in the doorway behind them – wearing an elegant kimono, and with a cup of tea held in one hand over a saucer held in the other.
"My apologies," she said. "I was showing a nearby restaurant my latest blend. Follow me."
She fixed Ash with a look. "And I hope you're not participating. This renovation was quite expensive."
"Why'd you do it?" Brock asked, as they walked down the slope – revealing areas of the gym that the angle had concealed until now. "This seems kind of excessive."
"It was a competition I got into with Gardenia in Sinnoh," Erika told him. "She recently redid her gym to include a giant flower clock, so I thought I should do much the same."
She took a sip of the tea, then looked up at him. "By the way, when was the last time you did a Gym Challenge?"
Brock had to think hard about that one.
"Well… there was… well, I did do a gym challenge with my full team for Molly Hale a bit less than two years ago."
Erika chuckled. "Was that before or after you took up the illusion thing?"
"Oh, come on!" Brock moaned. "Is that the only thing people remember about me?"
"Brock," May said. "In case you forgot, you currently have a Ninetales, a Stantler and a Zorua. I think you can't get much more illusion-y."
She held her hands up. "But you are a great cook, too. You could theme your gym about that."
"I wonder whether he should just keep pretending to be a Rock type trainer," Erika mused. "Or have the Gym, and then his actual Gym is a shoe repair shop across the road."
"Erika..." Brock sighed.
The Grass-type leader chuckled, then slowed to a stop as they reached a large area of much shorter grass. "This is the battle area. Please take up your position, challenger."
Max did so, crossing the springy grass to his trainer spot.
"Do you know the supplemental challenge rules?" Erika checked.
"Yeah, and I don't have any twice-evolved Pokémon," Max answered.
"Good, but there has to be some connection between the Pokémon you use as well."
"Right, uh..." Max thought for a second or two. "I got all the Pokémon I'm going to use without having to battle them."
"Good enough," Erika confirmed. "Begin!"
"Corona, go!" Max called.
Erika simply held up a Pokéball, and her Gloom emerged.
"Okay, let's do-" Corona began, then went cross-eyed and pinched her nose. "That is an incredible smell."
"This is the legendary smell of Gloom," Erika told them.
"Corona, you're going to find it too hard to battle," Max judged. "Return!"
"That's going to happen for all your Pokémon," Erika said.
"Nope!" Max replied, reaching into his pocket. "Kris, go!"
Set up. Kris materialized in a flash of expensive CGI. Correct. Porygon possess no olfactory senses.
"Creative," Erika allowed. "Gloom, Acid!"
Magnet Rise. Agility.
"...didn't Max get all his Pokémon without having to battle them?" May asked.
"No, there's… Delta, I think," Ash replied. "He had to battle that one."
"That's right, I forgot about that battle..."
Sharpen, Kris stated, adjusting her form to be more triangular and aerodynamic.
She skimmed around in a close turn, and began an attack run on Gloom. The designators of her Lock On flashed across the battlefield, briefly lighting on Gloom before Kris launched a Tri Attack.
"Petal Blizzard," Erika instructed as her Grass-type took the hit without flinching.
Gloom launched a blizzard of petals towards the fast-flying Porygon, and a few of them struck Kris on an aspect where she was vulnerable – the broad sides of her triangular-prism shape, not the sharp leading edge.
"Okay, Kris..." Max said, keeping track of her as she zoomed back up into the air. "Let's see how this works… Lock On!"
Kris flipped over, lasing her target, and Gloom saw the bolts of light appearing all around her before one targeted her.
Going into a high-speed dive, Kris launched a bolt of ball lightning straight at Gloom.
"Use Acid to make it miss!" Erika said.
Gloom fired a spray of acid up into the air, forming a dome of thick purple liquid. She then stopped firing just before the Zap Cannon hit, sending the charge into the ground.
"Conversion 2!" Max called.
There was a flash along Kris' wings, and the pink sections of her body became steely silver.
"All right, jackpot!" Max grinned. "Now, loop around and fire as fast as you can!"
Gloom fired a barrage of petals at Kris again, then used Grassy Terrain to give herself more cover – but Kris pulled out so low that the blades of her leading edge, now sharpened steel, cut a broad swath out of the grass.
Then, banking around in a sharp turn, she unleashed the move she'd been getting ready to use the whole fight – Psybeam – in a constant stream of attacks, appearing like an old-style raygun coming from her nose in a strobing purple-pink flicker.
Kris' close attack run wasn't without cost – she had to come in close to be sure of a hit, and Gloom managed to hit her with both two more Petal Blizzards and a Sweet Scent which confused her sensors – but the result was that Gloom fainted first, and Kris rose up to fly around the battlefield.
"An impressive use of the unique properties of your Pokémon," Erika complimented him, returning her Gloom – to the relief of everyone else with a nose. "You're clearly skilled at finding the talents of a particular species and then exploiting them – though I wonder what you would have done if that Conversion 2 had resulted in a different Type."
"Ground and Rock would have been bad," Max admitted. "But Poison and Ghost would have been just as good, and I trusted that Kris could take a few hits – if I needed to then she'd have used Conversion."
"Sensible choice," Erika allowed. "Let's see how it holds up against Victreebel."
"Come on, Iris!" Denae called, looking behind her down the mountain. "You're slacking!"
After a long pause, Iris came panting up the trail, with Fraxure following her.
"This is exhausting!" Iris said, stopping to support herself with her hands on her knees.
"Good, you've caught up!" the veteran Dragon trainer said, and waved up the mountain. "Come on!"
Iris groaned, but forced herself to keep running again. Fraxure let out something of a moan as well, and followed her – keeping up, but not exactly full of energy either.
"To be a Dragon type trainer is to be someone who masters one of the most powerful and demanding types of Pokémon in the world!" Denae lectured, marching at speed up the side of the mountain. "And they know it! That means that a Dragon-type will demand respect from their trainer, and they will want a trainer they can respect – and my philosophy is that no Dragon Tamer should slack off and let their Pokémon do all the work!"
"By the end of this," Iris panted, between great breaths of air, "I'll be able – to climb – Twist Mountain!"
"No talking!" Denae reprimanded sharply. "Talking means you have spare energy – now, keep up!"
She increased her pace.
Behind her, Iris muttered to herself – then found an extra gear, and managed to keep up with the wiry Dragon Tamer.
"Better!" Danae commented. "Now, keep that up until we reach the peak – then you can have a break, and we'll discuss tactics!"
Maybe I should have stayed at the academy...
"Victreebel, Sunny Day!" Erika ordered. "Now, Weather Ball!"
"Look out!" Max called quickly.
Banking around hard, Kris cut the air and managed to avoid Victreebel's Fire-type Weather Ball attack – which crackled through the air just behind her.
"I remember fighting that Victreebel," Ash mused.
"Correct," Erika told him. "Victreebel, Leaf Tornado."
"Leaf tornado?" Max repeated. "That's odd..."
Victreebel duly qualified, sweeping its lid and casting off a stream of leaves which spiralled into the air. The tornado spread and spread, taking up a spin in the reverse direction to Kris's circuit, and leaves began to buffet her leading edge.
"Kris, reverse direction!" Max decided. "Then go in for a Psybeam attack!"
Kris pulled up, the flat plane of her base acting like a sail and changing her speed rapidly. She spun on her axis and began to follow the direction of the Leaf Tornado instead, and dove in for her attack run.
Flashes of Psybeam burst all around Victreebel, several of them thumping into the Poison-type and making it wince visibly.
"Weather Ball," Erika stated.
The fireball burst upwards, and set fire to all the leaves in the air. It flashed outwards in a sudden pulse, engulfing Kris, and she wavered in midair before taking a Vine Whip to the wing and crashing in a long furrow.
"Ouch..." Max hissed. "I guess we flew into that one."
"Very much so," Erika agreed. "Next Pokémon, please."
"Right," Max said. "Okay, so you know about Corona… uh, do you have your team already chosen?"
"I do," Erika confirmed.
"Right. Then – Guy!" Max said, sending out his Breloom.
"Interesting choice," the Grass-type trainer said, looking Max's Grass/Fighting type over. "Poison Heal, so – Weather Ball!"
Guy reacted immediately, firing a Seed Bomb out of his mouth and using his springy tail to bat it at Victreebel. The explosion of the projectile blew the flames of the Weather Ball away, neutralizing one attack with another, and then Guy darted forwards to slam a Mach Punch into Victreebel's side.
The vegetable was knocked sideways by the blow, a few drops of acid spilling out of it, and Guy followed up with an upwards kick – then finished the combo with a Facade, a powerful blow that knocked Victreebel halfway across the battlefield before it could use the spike on its vine to stop it.
"That doesn't look like it hurt much..." Max mused. "Okay, stay on guard Guy!"
"There's a problem with battling a Victreebel like this," Erika mused out loud, as Guy rolled out of the way of a Razor Leaf attack full of sharp edges. "It's not that Breloom is a bad Pokémon, it's just not well equipped to fight this battle."
"Use Steel moves!" Max told Guy. "Those will work better!"
Guy moved in, dodging from side to side, and twisted himself to whip his Iron Tail into Victreebel's flank – then built on that to ram home a five-punch series of Bullet Punch attacks which squashed Victreebel more or less flat.
Then Victreebel hit Guy with a Weather Ball at point-blank range.
"Okay, Ash, what are we missing?" May asked, looking at him. "I can see you've worked something crazy out."
"Just thinking – I'm not sure Victreebel have any parts that can be hurt by being punched," Ash said. "I mean, it'll work eventually, but it's a really slow way of – ouch!"
They watched as Victreebel chewed on Guy's leg, until the Breloom did an acrobatic axe-kick to throw the other Grass-type off.
At which point Victreebel fired out a surge of leaves at Guy, making the Breloom run to get out of the area of the fire-tornado combination from earlier.
"I get what you mean," May agreed. "What would you do in this situation?"
"I'd use Ice Punch, or Fire Punch," Lucario said.
"Not sure," Ash admitted. "I mean, I don't use Guy… honestly, I might consider switching out to Corona at this point, but I'm sure Max has a plan."
"Guy, I've got a plan!" Max called.
Guy looked back, and a vine snagged his wrist as he looked.
Crouching a little, he hauled on it – pulling Victreebel towards him – and waited until the Grass-type was about to use Weather Ball, then kicked it hard enough to make it miss.
"What's the plan?" he asked, as Victreebel bounced twice and rolled to a stop – finding it about as disruptive as someone without any bones would.
"He's using Leaf Tornado, so use Leaf Tornado as well!" Max said. "See how he likes it!"
"Careful, Victreebel," Erika cautioned. "Don't let him turn your Weather Ball against you."
The ground trembled slightly as Guy charged forwards, ducking away from a Razor Leaf, then slammed a kick into Victreebel.
"-wait," Erika added. "How does a Breloom know Leaf Tornado?"
Guy kept moving as she spoke, twisting around so he was running backwards underneath the moving Victreebel, and leaned back on his tail to deliver a second kick before springing back upright and launching himself into the air.
The Breloom peaked just above the Victreebel, and waved.
Then he used Facade, firing Victreebel back into the ground with a heavy wham.
"That's how," Max said.
Erika nodded. "Not bad at all. Naming a pre-planned tactic after a real and somewhat plausible attack."
She returned Victreebel. "One Pokémon to go."
"I think we need to pick up another few Pokémon," Cress said.
Cilan looked up from the salad shaker. "Oh?"
He frowned, thinking of their collection of Gym Pokémon. "Perhaps you're right – there's definitely enough to whet the palate of most trainers there, but the most discerning of gourmet battlers will not settle for anything less than a full selection full of variety."
"That's about what I was thinking," Cress nodded. "Only, less metaphorical."
He sliced some steak, ready to go in the pan, and whistled to himself. "So I think we've got some problems with the Fighting-type – both in that we don't have any, and in that we don't have many Pokémon who are good at dealing with the Fighting-type either."
"Of course!" Cilan nodded, shaking the shaken salad out onto a plate and garnishing it with parmesan. "And perhaps that should suggest we need a Flying-type and a Psychic-type as well. Or maybe both in one – a Sigilyph?"
"That sounds like a winning combination to me," Cress agreed. "Now, what about a fighting-type?"
Chili pushed the door open. "Caesar salad for table four?"
"Right here!" Cilan told him, putting some bread around the plate and passing it over. "As for a Fighting-type… well, it seems to me that a solid and slow fighting-type would suffice, so a Sawk or a Throh is what we should aim for."
"Are you two discussing new Pokémon again?" Chili asked. "Without me? Right, hold it right there until we close!"
He took the salad back out.
"...does he mean we should stop cooking?" Cress asked.
"Okay, Guy, stay alert!" Max said. "This could be anything – it could even be a Tropius."
Erika smirked, then threw her final Pokéball.
It wasn't a Tropius.
"...that's a Tangela," Max observed, a little uncertainly. "Guy, close in and use Mach Punch!"
Guy's claws dug into the ground, and he exploded forwards.
Tangela exploded outwards in a cloud of vines, and Guy's punch passed straight through them without connecting with anything.
"Bind," Erika instructed.
"What the-" Guy began, then felt Tangela's vines snap closed on his arms, legs and tail. "-gah! Get off!"
"Don't let him get enough leverage to break a vine," Erika reminded her Grass-type.
"Guy, can you move?" Max asked, and Guy managed to nod before staggering forwards – muscles working hard against the binding vines. "Good – then you can try and scrape Tangela off!"
The Breloom didn't exactly look thrilled at that plan, but began trying – rubbing his arms and back against the ground, looking distinctly undignified as he looked like a Pokémon trying to scratch a very persistent itch.
"Now, it's time for you to learn one of the most potent weapons a Tangela has," Erika said. "Tickle."
Max blinked. "...what? Tickle?"
Tangela's vines whipped out, paused for a moment… and attacked.
Guy gasped, shaking his head, then began to snigger uncontrollably. After a moment, that became a laugh – a laugh which rapidly became louder, more persistent, until Guy was rolling around on the floor for a completely different reason than the one he'd had before.
"Guy, can't you move? Get up?" Max asked.
Sobs of laughter racked Guy's body, and he shook his head before going back to laughing.
"When a Pokémon or human is laughing hard enough, they lose control of their muscles," Erika explained. "It's one of the reasons why Tangela can be very effective against powerful physical Pokémon."
She pondered the situation for a moment, then pointed. "Tangela, Wring Out."
Guy had enough time to yelp before Tangela squeezed him – hard – and the Breloom strained uselessly against his bonds for a few seconds before tapping out.
Max returned him, and gave Tangela an impressed look. "I always thought they were kind of… uh, not very good battle Pokémon."
"Anything can be a good combat Pokémon," Ash and May chorused.
"Yeah, I know," Max defended himself. "I just forgot. Okay, Corona, your turn!"
Erika gave a small nod in confirmation. "Good, you remembered you'd sent her out before. Tangela, Bind."
Corona jumped backwards from the first vine, dodged the second by ducking under it, and ran forwards a few paces before being caught from behind by three more of the vegetable ropes.
Struggling, she was lifted into the air by Tangela.
"Now, just hold her there," Erika said. "Constrict."
"Corona!" Max called. "Now!"
Erika's expression changed.
Corona's tail blazed up, and then she caught fire – all over, all at once.
"Flare Blitz!" she announced, and pushed outwards – forcing Tangela's vines away as they caught fire, then making a three-point landing on the floor and running forwards.
Tangela tried to get clear, and Corona just boosted herself forwards with a burst of Flare Blitz. The hungry flames crackled around her as she caught hold of one of Tangela's vines, and she began following it towards the core.
"Other way!" Max said quickly.
Corona looked up and saw she was about to reach the tip, and swung around to move in the other direction instead. She kept moving until another one of Tangela's vines tried to knock her off, and she just switched to that one instead.
Erika looked down sharply at the grass, then sighed. "Oh, dear..."
"What's wrong?" Brock asked.
"Max!" May said. "Your Charmander's set the grass on fire!"
Max looked where they were pointing.
"Oh, yeah..." he said. "Actually – Ash, can you send Goodra out? But don't have him use Rain Dance until the battle's over."
"Sure can," Ash agreed, and sent his Dragon-type out.
As that was going on, Corona was dashing all over the place engulfed in her Flare Blitz – trying to hit as many of Tangela's vines as possible, and heedless of the occasional Leaf Storm or Sleep Powder which Tangela sent her way as they burned up on her fiery cloak.
"Shouldn't that Flare Blitz have worn off by now?" Erika asked, as the smouldering patches on the arena floor began to link up and turn into fires, and as Corona incinerated a Leech Seed sent at her.
"She's been training it!" Max explained.
Tangela ran past on fire, pursued by the doughty reptile, and Erika held up her hand. "Very well. I concede."
She turned to Ash. "Now, please extinguish my gym."
"So, Max, how do you feel?" May asked. "You're getting a pretty good collection of Kanto badges!"
"It feels like you ask that after every gym," Max said. "And… yeah, it feels good. Especially that working with Corona worked well, I was worried about that one."
"Well, I think it looked pretty good as well as working okay," May told him. "So no worries there."
She thumbed through the pages on Ethan's screen. "Let's see… I think it's the Cycling Road next..."
"Sounds familiar," Brock agreed. "Perhaps-"
There was a sudden pop sound, like a very large thumb being flicked in a very large mouth, and Celebi floated in front of them.
"Thanks!" she said, thumbs up. "That was great work!"
"...uh…" Ash began. "Not to be ungrateful, but… what was?"
"Maybe she means Max's badge battle?" Lucario suggested. "Or it could be Goodra's extinguishing work."
Celebi's arms lowered. "Oh, that's right..." she said, cheeks heating a little. "I forgot, it kind of unhappened. That's what it was about."
"Something unhappened?" Brock asked. "About us? To do with us?"
"That does sound kind of worrying, actually," Pikachu said. "I'm used to us being the only people who remember something, not to being the only people who don't."
"Yeah, basically things got really screwed up. Think of time like a river, okay?" Celebi asked. "So this thing was kind of like if you went over a waterfall and discovered you were falling up. All better now, but, uh… thanks anyway!"
The Time Travel Pokémon disappeared with a flicker of blue light and a slightly quieter pop.
"What do you think?" Ash said, looking at Pikachu and Lucario. "Does that go on the list?"
"I don't think it makes the top ten," Lucario said critically. "I can't remember, do we count events that happened twice twice or just the odder one of the two?"
"Hmmm..." Max frowned, thinking. "I think that was definitely less odd than the whole Brock girlfriend thing."
"Well, yeah," Ash agreed. "That's obvious."
Brock shook his head, chuckling.
"So..." Max said. "Anyone got a bike?"
"Pikachu would have destroyed it by now if I brought mine along," May replied. "I think we should just hire some – and have Pikachu not use any Electric attacks while we've got them."
This time it was Pikachu's turn to look disgruntled.
"Okay," Gardenia said. "I believe you."
Gary Oak nodded, tapping his foot on the floor. "I warned you, didn't I?"
"She's only got one badge," Gardenia tried to defend herself.
"Two, now," Gary corrected. "Boulder and Forest. When a Champion Emeritus tells you someone might be more skilful than you expect, take it seriously..."
"She's a nine year old with a shiny Eevee," Gardenia said. "I thought a Ferroseed would challenge her. Forgive me for not expecting the Amazing Changing Pokémon!"
"I would if I hadn't warned you," Gary countered firmly. "As it is, you have my sympathies for the damage to your gym."
"I wouldn't mind so much, but this is all new..." Gardenia sighed.
The door to the gym creaked open.
"I think Vaporeon's finished putting out the fires," Molly told them, her currently-a-Water-type by her side, as smoke wisped out of the top of the door. "And she says that she got them before they… reached the flo-ral-clock," the girl went on, in the tones of someone repeating just what they were hearing.
Vaporeon nodded, then flicked her tail and turned into a Leafeon. She yipped to her trainer, and turned to head back inside.
"Okay!" Molly agreed. "Leafeon says she can keep the air clean next to her!"
"Hold on," Gary said, holding up a hand, and Molly stopped.
"It's good that you're so brave," he told her. "But part of the danger from a fire is smoke. I think we should go in with Alakazam so he can make sure the air's clear – I should have remembered before."
"Okay!" Molly nodded, happy for the explanation. "Let's go!"
Gardenia looked after them for a moment, then followed them in.
"Erika's not going to shut up about this for weeks..."
"Somehow this seems odd," May said, looking beside her at Ash and Lucario.
"What?" Ash asked, legs working away. "I think it makes sense."
"Those bikes are for humans," May replied, using the brakes on her own judiciously to stay at the right speed on the downhill slope. "Isn't Lucario a bit heavy for his?"
The Steel-type in question went past them in the opposite direction, moving at high speed.
"Lucario aren't that heavy," Brock said, pulling in next to them. "Just high density – he's not very tall but he weighs more than a human would of the same size. Steel bones."
"Right, I get that, I'm just worried about-"
Lucario came shooting past them, then turned the bike into a skid-stop. He fluffed it slightly, and backflipped smoothly off the bike – which kept going and crashed into a grassy bank, thankfully slowly enough to avoid damage.
"Oops," he said, blushing. "...anyway, I wanted to say I'd seen a flying Pokémon heading for us."
Ash followed his pointing paw.
"...hold on..." he said, squinting. "Lucario, is that Grass-type Aura?"
At the confirmation, he clicked his fingers. "I know who that is!"
With that, he started waving his hands in and out as if he was doing star jumps.
Brock and May watched, joined by Max a few seconds later, as the speck grew into a recognizable shape.
The Pokémon in question – a Shaymin – landed about ten feet away, tossed her head, and smirked – red scarf blowing in the wind.
"Very dramatic entrance," Lucario told her, clapping.
"Thanks," Shaymin said. "Weren't you a Riolu?"
"I got older," Lucario told her.
"...oh, right!" May realized. "This is that Shaymin you met years ago, right? The Hunter J thing?"
"That's her," Ash agreed. "I should have realized I'd be seeing you again."
"That's right," Shaymin agreed. "Don't get me wrong, it's been fun… but I kind of feel like I've seen everything around here by now."
She flared her wings. "And I can't really move on because, you know, this place has the only Gracidea grove in Kanto."
"Oh – oh, right!" Ash said, realizing why that would be a problem. "Sorry, I guess?"
"Nothing to be sorry about," the Grass-type Legendary said. "I told you, it's been fun. I was just thinking that maybe it'd be time to move on – and then I spotted you, so I thought I'd come over."
"Well, we're passing through at the moment," Brock told her. "Is there anywhere in particular you'd like to go? We can probably help you move the Gracidea there."
"Hm..." Shaymin said, hooves tapping the ground as she moved in place. "What I'd really like is somewhere with a lot of Pokémon going through, and a lot of new things to do and Pokémon and people to see."
"What about Dawn?" Lucario suggested.
Shaymin looked at him in a way which told him he should go into more detail.
"Dawn is a friend of Ash's who lives up in Sinnoh," Lucario explained. "She's planning on becoming a Coordinator, like May is."
Shaymin raised a hoof and waved it. "Ehhh… I kind of like the climate here. By now Sinnoh would feel too cold."
"I'd say Mom and Dad's house, but they don't have that many Pokémon there," Max began.
"What about my mom's house, actually?" Ash said.
He turned to Shaymin to explain more fully. "I've kind of got loads of Pokémon now, and a lot of them live at Professor Oak's ranch – in Pallet Town, which is my hometown. My mom lives in Pallet as well, and she's not really a trainer but she is really nice."
Shaymin thought about that, prancing back and forth to burn off some of the energy of her Sky Forme.
"I guess I could give it a try," she decided.
Delia Ketchum looked up at the sky, feeling her washing on the line.
"Well, it doesn't look like it's going to rain," she said, glancing over at Mimey. "This feels a little damp still, dear, so I'm going to leave it out until sunset – the breeze is good, so it should finish drying by then."
Mimey nodded, waving his hoe. "Mime!"
"Good," Delia smiled, knowing that the Psychic-type would use his Barriers to make sure that any rain didn't soak the washing. "Do you want me to bring out a slice of cake?"
Mimey gave her a thumbs-up. "Mime-ime."
That said, he looked around – and pointed. "Ime?"
Delia followed his gaze. "Oh, it looks like you're right… I wonder what might be bringing Ash home?"
She thought about it. "Maybe I should check the sheets in his room… this late it might mean he's going to stay the night."
With that thought, Delia started to move to the door of the house – then discovered she'd misjudged the distance, as Pidgeot arrived in a storm of wind which thankfully didn't send the washing flying off into the distance.
"Ash!" Delia called, still cross. "Land further away next time!"
"Sorry!" Ash replied, slipping off Pidgeot's back, and checked the bag he was carrying. "Right, uh… Mom, there's a couple of things I wanted to talk about."
Delia shook her head. "Always in a hurry, Ash… what is it, dear?"
Ash opened the bag, taking out a small flowering bush with dirt hanging from the roots. "This is a Gracidea flower, mom – well, I guess the first thing is, is there somewhere in the garden to put it?"
Mimey waved. "Mime!"
"Mimey's been working on the garden today, so you should ask him," Delia told her son.
She touched one of the flowers. "I think I remember these… wasn't this the kind of bouquet you sent home from Sinnoh once?"
"That's right," Ash agreed.
"They're very nice," Delia smiled, sniffing. "Though since it is your birthday soon, perhaps I should be giving you a present."
Something went thump behind Pidgeot.
"Oh, yeah, that's the other thing," Ash added. "Mom, this is Shaymin – she'd like to stay around here."
The Grass-type in question trotted out from behind Pidgeot, shaking her head. "You couldn't have slowed down?"
"I didn't realize you lost the slipstream," Pidgeot said. "Sorry."
"It's okay," Shaymin decided, then looked up at Ash's Mom. "Hello."
"It's nice to meet you," Delia said, giving the Grass-type a nod. "I didn't know there was a Pokémon that looked like you… I thought Shaymin were much smaller than that."
She frowned. "Come to think of it, I thought they looked a lot like that Gracidea bush."
"We kind of transform," Shaymin told her. "Actually, it's with that flower. That's why we were hurrying to get here before sunset… I change back at sunset, or if I'm too cold."
She scraped the grass with a hoof, looking up at Delia a little skittishly. "Is it okay if I stay?"
"Of course," Delia agreed. "It'd be nice to have another Pokémon around the house, and it's nice that I can talk to you too."
"Right," Shaymin said, a smile breaking out over her muzzle. "Okay! Thanks, that's a… big..."
She pointed. "Why is there a Lugia over there? Wait, there's three – why are there three Lugia over there?"
"Oh, hey, Lugia's visiting," Ash observed. "Pidgeot, if you want to have a chat go ahead."
"Will do!" Pidgeot agreed, taking off in another wings-beating windrush.
"I wonder if he's here to visit Entei, Suicune and Raikou," Ash mused. "It could be Ho-Oh, though..."
"I think you're right, Ash," Shaymin decided. "This is certainly not a boring town!"
Some distance to the west, Latios lay back on a grassy slope.
If there was one thing the Secret Garden had, it was a beautiful clear sky – something that had often been a comfort to him, on those long nights when they could not leave the Garden for their own safety.
Now that was much less of a problem… but, still, it was a welcome sight, as the sky overhead slowly shaded towards a deep violet.
Latias landed next to him. "What's up?" she asked.
Latios looked over at her, then back to the sky. "Just thinking… thinking about how lucky it is the Garden's still here, and that I'm still here."
The other Dragon-type nodded. "That's right… it's been a year, hasn't it?"
"Nearly," Latios confirmed.
He squinted. "I think the stars are just coming out."
"I can see the first one, yes," Latias agreed. "It's nice."
For a long moment, they both lay there – watching as star after star became visible, the evening drawing in as the sun slowly set.
"Altomare's more beautiful every time I see it," Latias said eventually.
"I think you're right," Latios agreed.
He glanced over at her again, then took a breath.
"Latias, there's something I wanted to show you," he said.
Latias sat up a little. "Oh?" she asked, interested.
Latios gave a confirmatory nod, then floated a few inches into the air. "I'll be just a moment," he told her, and flitted away across the garden.
She watched him go, then looked up at the sky and took a breath of the cool, clean air.
"I love it whenever I can visit here," she said, out loud. "Sometimes wish I could do it more often."
Latios landed back with her, and held out something wrapped in tissue paper.
"Here," he said. "It's… for you."
Taking it, Latias unwrapped it – revealing a bracelet, a silver one with a little blue triangle hanging from the base.
"It looks lovely!" Latias said, beaming. "Thank you, that's very sweet."
She gave him a peck on the cheek.
Then some music started playing.
Latios sighed, closing his eyes. "SIS! Stop trying to play romantic music!"
There was a distant giggle.
"Sorry about that," Latios added, as the music stopped. "She keeps trying to peek on us, and I can't exactly stop her sight-sharing-"
Joy's Latias put a claw on his muzzle, stopping him mid-sentence.
"I don't think I minded the music," she told him.
Latios' sister, predictably, promptly set the track playing again.
"Fine," Latios said, shaking his head. "At least I know I picked the bracelet well..."
"Okay," Sir Aaron said. "So. We have to defeat Groudon."
"I don't know about you, but I have a good feeling about this one," Palkia said.
"Speak for yourself," Dialga muttered. "Remember how you felt about the Fairy type?"
"Low blow," Palkia accused.
"So… what's the plan?" Giratina asked. "Just go straight in and beat Groudon?"
"Of course not," Sir Aaron replied. "We know where our objective is, and we have a large nearby ocean. We hire some Dugtrio-"
"PATCH NOTES!" Arceus interrupted. "Patch 1.31, water no longer flows down geomods."
"Fine," the Riolu said, shaking his head. "The hard way it is, then."
"You wanted a challenge."
A few things happen. Like Gym stuff.