"Okay," said the commander. "Remember – this has to be quick. They're resourceful trainers, and we don't want to know what they'll do if we give them time."
He indicated one of the others, a Second Mate. "Your job is to grab that Manaphy and get it back to the base."
"Sir," the Second Mate in question nodded.
"And be quick about it!" the commander stressed. "It'll wear off at some point, and you don't want to end up trying to work out how to fly like a Salamence."
The Second Mate winced at the thought. "Yes, sir."
"Good," his superior nodded. "Now, get ready for the strike."
He turned to the other member of their team. "Ready, gunner?"
"All set, sir!" the gunner saluted, putting away the last of six identical Pokéballs. "They all know their duty!"
"Right," the commander mused, then sent out his own Pokémon – a Slowbro, a Hitmonchan and a translucent Frillish.
"Remember, it's the moment they come over the hill," the commander said. "We can't take the chance of being seen."
The gunner swept his hand down, and all six Dunsparce launched off well-synchronized Blizzard attacks which rushed forwards like an avalanche.
Every single one of the Normal-type Pokémon had been picked as one capable of the ability Serene Grace, and the resultant wave of icy, snowy air swept over their targets. Ice formed instantly, trapping them, and freezing that annoying Water-type Legendary solid – where he couldn't melt into water or use his attack.
"Go!" the commander ordered, and his Second Mate's Salamence came charging forwards.
Then things went horribly, horribly wrong.
One of the icy sculptures began to glow from the inside, a brilliant rose-red light which shimmered like a truncated rainbow as it refracted through the ice.
Then there was an explosion of steam, and ice, and dribbles of hot water which landed all over the area.
Ho-Oh swept his wings back down, completing the wingbeat he'd been halfway through when the ice wave came.
"I am not amused," he declared, voice smouldering like a coal fire, and the flames that had been curling around the edges of his feathers lit up again in full blaze. The rose-red curls of his Sacred Fire engulfed him, obscuring his form's details.
Golden light outlined the silhouette of Ho-Oh, hard to look at, and a screaming sketch-drawing of a bird flashed out from him into the air. The Sky Attack turned once, doing a backflip, then drove in on Salamence and rammed it to the ground.
"Stop that Pokémon!" the commander called.
His Pokémon looked at him like he was completely mad. Except Slowbro, who just began scratching her head.
"I said stop it!" the commander demanded.
Hitmonchan elected to Return himself instead, vanishing in a red flash of light.
While the commander tried to argue with his Frillish, Ho-Oh's blazing flame built up. It flicked outwards in a pulse of warm, dry, summery heat, and the rest of the ice began to melt as well.
"Fine!" the pirate said, snatching something from his bag and hurling it at Ho-Oh.
Frillish returned himself as well, and Slowbro turned to look at her trainer like he was completely mad.
The object, a small purple ball, bounced off Ho-Oh's rose-enshrouded breast. It summarily refused to trigger, hitting the floor with a thump just a moment before Ho-Oh completely obliterated it with a tongue of flame.
"Why-" the commander began, then shook his head. "It doesn't matter! Second Mate, Salamence, get that Manaphy!"
The Second Mate jumped into the air and fell over, and his Salamence tripped over his own tail.
"Fire two!" the gunner said, and this time three of the Dunsparce complied with the order. They sent forth a wave of icy air, one which slapped into Ho-Oh's Sacred Fire. It melted instantly, sending a drizzle of water sprinkling over the still half-frozen form of Lucario – who was starting to use precise Aura strikes to break out of his imprisonment.
Then Ho-Oh's flames were snuffed out in an instant, as if he had turned them off like a switch. His wings swept back, and he unleashed a mighty tornado of wind which sent the whole of the snatch team flying into the distance.
"Nice work," Pikachu said. "It may not have been Team Rocket, but that was definitely a Blast Off."
"Ah, I see," Ho-Oh nodded, the rose-and-saffron scent of his smoke drifting from his feathers. "I had heard of it, and I suppose that it is a useful skill."
"Was that a Master Ball that you just blew up?" Brock asked. "It looked like one."
"Perhaps it was," Ho-Oh agreed.
"Wow," Manaphy said, shaking off the last of the effects of the cold. "So that's why Legendaries let themselves be caught!"
"That is, indeed, the intent."
"What attacked us?" Ash asked. "Sorry, I got frozen when I was looking backwards."
"It was three of those Phantom Pirates, I think," May supplied. "There's one still over here, actually."
She pointed towards the Salamence and the human, both of whom were looking extremely confused and were tied up in Venusaur's vines.
"I stopped them!" Manaphy said proudly. "After Ho-Oh stopped them with a Sky Attack, I stopped them by Heart Swapping them!"
"That's some pretty good reactions," May told him.
"I still don't know what actually hit us," Ash complained. "I know it was an Ice attack, but I didn't think any Ice attacks were quite that likely to freeze all the Pokémon in the area."
"I think it wasn't an ice attack," Max supplied. "I saw several Dunsparce."
"...what?" Ash asked, startled. "How many?"
"Six?" Max asked. "I think? Only three of them tried the second time, though, then Ho Oh blasted them off into the distance."
"I guess those were Pokémon someone else had," Ash said, thinking out loud. "So this wasn't really me missing another opportunity to get a Dunsparce."
"Well, if only three of them did the attack the second time, maybe the other three were interested in changing sides?" May asked.
Ash groaned. "Not helping..."
"Well, Scott, it's nice to see you," Anabel said, giving the Battle Frontier organizer a nod.
"It's nice to be here," Scott confirmed. "I know I've not visited in a while. I'm afraid I'm trying to track down Ash Ketchum and invite him to the Battle Frontier."
"You are?" Anabel asked, a little confused. "But he's already done more than half of it."
"We all assumed that you'd invited him," she admitted. "Actually, I think we all assumed you'd have tracked him down as soon as he was back in Kanto."
"So did I," Scott said. "But he's extremely hard to find. I was considering trying to find a Celebi and asking it to time travel me to a place he's certain to be – that would work!"
Anabel chuckled. "It might. It might… but it's kind of extreme, as that kind of thing goes. Are you sure that's the only option?"
"I tried going into space," Scott told her.
Anabel frowned, started to say something, then stopped.
After a bit of consideration, she nodded. "Yeah, in retrospect that does sound like it'd work."
Scott nodded. "Yes, that was my hope as well. But that hasn't worked."
He waved to Anabel's Alakazam, who waved a spoon back. Anabel noticed, and grinned.
"Alakazam's glad to see you too, I'm sure," she said. "And so will my other friends, when they've finished training."
She indicated the doors that led to the training area.
"Espeon's working on a way to telekinetically move himself as if he was moving something else," the Salon Maiden explained. "He's very excited."
She shook her head. "Sorry, I was distracted. What's your plan for finding Ash?"
"Wait here, of course," Scott told her. "He's sure to come by eventually – unless you've already battled him?"
"No, not yet," Anabel answered. "But I'm sure I will soon."
"This is the place," Brock said, looking up. "Metallica island."
"Sounds like a rocking place," Max said.
May gave him a firm look. "Just… no."
"So this is where you'd like us to put you off, Brock?" Lapras asked, curving his neck around to look at the trainer riding on his sister's shell.
"Yes, thank you," Brock confirmed. "And we're very grateful for the lift."
"The pleasure's all ours," one of the other Lapras told him. "It's always interesting to meet the friends of our pod leader – you're very unusual people."
"Yes," Lucario agreed. "For one thing, Brock and Ash can actually understand you when you tell them that."
Lapras chuckled. "And for another, it means my sister's autograph collection is getting very impressive."
The female Lapras in question bobbed her head. "Yes, it is!"
Max looked down at Kris for translation, then back up "I guess not even many humans have autographs from seven Legendary Pokémon."
Latias splashed up out of the water, droplets cascading off her feathers, and did a spin to shake most of it off. Lucario got splashed with some of it, and looked at her with an expression of mild annoyance.
"You're lucky Steel-types don't tend to rust."
"Yeah, sorry about not being able to get more," Ash told Lapras' sister. "You already had Keldeo's one, but the Beasts are busy handling Ho-Oh's normal duties… and I think Mewtwo's in space."
"And Latios is on a date," Latias added.
"That's fine," the female Lapras assured them. "I'm just glad to have such a diverse collection – from Absol to Zorua."
"If you'd turned up years ago you could have got Zubat," Brock said. "But my Crobat evolved a long time ago… though I think we know people with an Abra."
The various Ice/Water types laughed.
"Okay, we should hit the beach in another few minutes," Lapras supplied, judging the waves.
Lucario crouched down, and jumped off the Transport Pokémon ferrying him towards Metallica Island. A flash of blue light came from his hindpaws, and he jetted forwards – aiming for the beach.
"Well, that's rude..." his erstwhile mount said.
"I think Lucario's just trying out his new trick," Ash said, then winced as the jets cut out early and Lucario went splashing into the water.
Several seconds later, they saw him walk out onto the beach and begin using his paws to strip water off his fur.
"Still a work in progress?" May guessed.
As the Lapras Pod left, Ash and his friends waving to them, there was a cough from the direction of the trees fringing the beach.
"Hello, stranger," said someone who was presumably the owner of the cough.
Ash turned. "Oh – hi! You're… Spenser, right?"
"Indeed I am," said the elderly man, standing with a staff in one hand on the back of a Venusaur. "And I've heard a lot about you, Ash Ketchum."
"Huh," Ash said. "I guess I should have expected that."
"Yes," Spenser agreed. Dismounting from his Venusaur, he struck the butt of the staff into the beach for emphasis. "No Fire-types. This island is covered in trees, I would like them to be the same trees at the end of the process."
"I guess that's fair," Ash admitted. "What are the rules?"
"Well," Spenser said, his free hand going to his chin. "Well, well, well. What are the rules."
He nodded to himself. "The battle is one Pokémon at a time, three per side. The battlefield is the entire island. The winner is the last Pokémon standing."
After a moment, he continued. "And I win if the battle takes more than twelve hours."
"That's fine," Ash agreed. "Okay, three Pokémon… right, I might take a moment to work this out."
"Take all the time you wish," Spenser allowed him. "It'll take a while to set up the hot air balloon anyway."
"For the spectators, right?" Max asked.
"Correct," Spenser told him. "It's asking a bit much of most flying Pokémon to hold up spectators for very long, and if you were watching from the visitor's centre then you'd just be watching some trees."
"Visitor's centre?" May said.
"This is an official Battle Frontier facility," Spenser reminded them. "So we've got to allow for potential tourism if the Battle Frontier really takes off. For that matter, we're considering getting a tethered blimp with a gondola for larger spectator groups."
"All right, Ash," Spenser said, some minutes later – now off his former riding platform. "Are you ready for the first battle?"
"Yeah!" Ash agreed.
"Very well," Spenser nodded. "Begin!"
He threw his Pokéball, and a brown-and-white Pokémon with leaves for arms appeared with a flash of white. The Shiftry had barely formed when it darted off into the underbrush, disappearing under the foliage.
Ash's own first Pokémon, his Swellow, emerged from her Pokéball a bare second later.
"All right, let's do this!" she cawed, and her wings swept at the air. A tangible wind pulsed outwards from her, rustling leaves and twigs, and she sped off into the trees after Shiftry.
Ash watched her go.
"You know, it kind of seems unlikely that either of us is going to be able to give orders," he said. "Is that a problem?"
"Not for me," Spenser replied. "Part of the trick here is that your Pokémon need to be well trained in independent action."
"Good," Ash decided. "Swellow can handle herself pretty well."
Spenser nodded in approval. "That's a good skill for you to have trained your Pokémon in."
Swellow's wings blurred as she sped through the trees – dodging left and right, preferring to keep her speed up and use her agility to avoid hitting anything.
"Okay, Shiftry," she said out loud. "You'd better just make it quick and show up now, so I can hit you!"
Banking to one side, she slipped through a particularly small gap, then spotted something moving and turned towards it.
"Razor Wind!" the Shiftry called, sweeping one palm-like palm around in a half-circle, and Swellow folded in her wings to power through the blast of air.
The wavefront broke around her with a slap of pressure, and Swellow's wings snapped back out. She swept past Shiftry's mane at very close range with an Air Slash, the curling scythe of air biting into his side before he neutralized it with a surge of his own aerokinesis.
Not content with one blow, Swellow turned in an alpha-shaped inside loop and swept past on his other side. This time the Shiftry had an extra second or so to react, and flicked out a gust of wind mixed with a Dark Pulse.
It didn't stop Swellow, who scored a line along the bark of his other side before pulling up and away, but she shook her head as she did. "Ow. Okay, that was less awesome."
Flicking around in an Immelmann turn, Swellow stabilized at about treetop height, and considered her strategy for a few seconds.
"Okay, so don't let him get a bead on me for long enough to line up the hurt. Sounds like a plan."
With that decision made, she began to circle faster – building up the pressure around herself, speeding up more and more until there was a definite shockwave about to form around her wings and tail.
Then she flicked her tail abruptly to one side, using it as a control surface. Swellow did a half-roll, and dropped out of the sky like a meteor.
Spotting a patch of forest floor through the canopy, she dove for it. The wave of air she was carrying stuttered for just a moment, producing a pulse which blew branches and leaves clear of the tree itself, and Swellow did an abrupt turn to pull up again – heading back for clear air, and dodging aside from a Razor Wind which Shiftry sent surging across after her.
"Okay, so that worked!" she announced. "Kinda. Now, let's really do this!"
In the balloon some way overhead, May frowned.
"You know, I can't help but think that the person who'd get the most benefit out of this is Ash," she said. "He's the one who can see through solid objects. And Swellow's doing pretty well – I mean, that tree thing was cool – but for most of the battles all we'd see is the occasional tree shaking."
"Maybe it'll move on to a more open-air section," Max suggested.
"Maybe," May agreed.
She turned to Meganium. "By the way, I can't remember if I said it already – but thanks for helping with the safety harnesses."
Meganium smiled, and said something.
May checked Ethan, and a translation appeared on his screen – it was Meganium's pleasure, especially with her son watching as well.
"So, what do you think?" Brock asked the Chikorita in question.
"I think it's interesting," Chikorita replied. "But I do think that tree is quite badly damaged."
"I'll fix it later," Meganium told him. "It'll be fine, don't worry."
Chikorita nodded, absorbing that.
Swellow plunged down into the forest through the clear avenue she'd cut, doing a spiralling descent at high speed, and caught sight of Shiftry halfway through the second turn of the corkscrew. She immediately broke out of her spiral with a wrenching turn, then decoyed left once to throw off Shiftry's first attack – a Dark Pulse which just missed the tip of her wing.
Rather than attack him directly, she went for the other side of the tree he was hiding in, and did an agile turn around the trunk of the tree. That brought her up towards his back, and she unleashed a Boomburst she'd been building up for the whole attack run.
Shiftry grunted as the wave of air pressure hit. It snatched him off his branch, knocking him into the air, and Swellow dipped for a moment before coming up under him and hitting him with a powerful Brave Bird.
The impact slowed her down, making her lose most of her momentum, and also knocked Shiftry further into the air. The downside was that it gave him a precious second or two to get oriented again, and Swellow's wings blurred as she powered upwards to try and hit him before he finished recovering.
The Wicked Pokémon twisted in mid-air, leaves flaring, and clapped them together to produce a Leaf Storm that surged down towards Swellow. She avoided being hit by the main front of the attack, but then he used Focus Blast right where it would get in her way.
Swellow aborted her attack run, letting her second Brave Bird go without connecting, and curled around with an Air Slash instead. That did get through, and Swellow pressed her advantage by unleashing a second Boomburst.
Shiftry hit a tree, snapped some of the branches, and slammed into the forest floor. He sprang back upright, looking a little more woozy than before, but then a beam of red light caught him.
"Huh," Ash said, interested. "So we can switch out?"
"Indeed," Spenser agreed, shrinking down Shiftry's Pokéball and switching it for another. "I think this one might work better."
Swellow watched, interested, as a Claydol materialized.
"Okay, so that's not going to be quite such an easy target," she said. "Not going to sneak up on that."
The boisterous Flying-type laughed. "Right, let's do this!"
Claydol fired a Psybeam at her.
Swellow shouted as the beam hit her, though more because of surprise than pain. "Gah! Okay, you asked for it!"
Her wings accelerated, and she shot downwards. Two more multicoloured Psybeams flicked towards her, and she weaved back and forth to avoid both of them before pulling around and firing her now-ready Boomburst at Claydol.
The Clay Doll Pokémon rotated fast, deflecting some of the force of the wall of sound, but it was still powerful enough to knock it backwards and make it crash into a nearby tree.
Pressing her advantage, Swellow pulled around in a half-turn and came at Claydol from the other side with a Steel Wing. Her automatic attempt to outflank her foe didn't work, as Claydol saw it coming, but the steely wing-blow still scored a telling hit.
Pulling up, she got her distance ready for another Boomburst, and noticed Claydol was rotating faster and faster.
Then its eyes began to glow.
"That's a new one," Brock said. "I think? Have you seen a Pokémon doing a Gatling gun impression before?"
"Ash's Heracross, I think," May replied. "But yeah, that's pretty impressive..."
They watched as Swellow dove, climbed, rolled and wheeled. Her wings blurred as she dodged in and out of a continual barrage of Psybeams, occasionally slipping up and taking a glancing blow on the breast or the tail.
"Mother?" Chikorita asked. "Why isn't Claydol using stronger attacks?"
"I think it's because it takes too long for Claydol to get ready to use them," Meganium answered. "He has to use very quick attacks to make this work. That makes sense to me, anyway, though it's just a guess."
Chikorita nodded, thankful for the explanation.
"And hah!" Swellow announced, as the flicker of Psybeams finally faded. "Now I've got you!"
She did a flip, air swirling around her, and launched a powerful gust of wind downwards. This one kept growing and growing until it was a Hurricane, and knocked Claydol back towards the ground – only a burst of psychic energy through its Levitation preventing it from striking the ground.
"We appear to be operating on a turn based system," Claydol stated simply. "Allow me."
All of Claydol's eyes lit up again, this time a sparkling electric yellow. Then the Ground-type launched out a barrage of a dozen Shockwaves.
"Okay, clearly you haven't done your research," Swellow said, diving down to meet them. "I laugh at electrical attacks!"
She rolled, dodging between two of them, and they hit one another with a crackle-fizzle and burned out. The rest of the Shockwaves reversed course to follow her, and the Flying-type pulled up – flying right through one of the electrical attacks to get away from the rest of them, sending sparks trailing down her feathers and along her tail as they tried to get purchase.
Still moving fast, Swellow used her tail to half-roll over onto her side. She did a tight turn, building up an Air Cutter, and sent it bursting out in all directions to disrupt the remaining Shockwaves as they closed in all around her.
It was at about this point she noticed that Claydol was staring at her. And that the eye it was using was glowing.
"Oh," she said, then got hit with a Hyper Beam.
"Do you need us to pause so you can retrieve your Swellow?" Spenser asked.
"Nah," Ash replied, handing Swellow's Pokéball to thin air. The thin air in question shot off at speed, rustling the leaves, and Ash switched to another Pokéball.
"Ah," Spenser realized. "Your Latios?"
"Latias," Ash corrected. "And yeah."
In the distance, Swellow vanished in a flash of red light, and Latias appeared a moment later to wave at the balloon before flying back to Ash.
"Here you go," she said, dropping Swellow's Pokéball off with her trainer.
"Thanks, Latias," Ash smiled, then sent out his second Pokémon. Absol's form appeared mid-lope, and she pelted off into the woods for her part in the battle.
Balancing carefully on each log and patch of bare ground, extending her disaster-sense to feel for the danger of a twisted ankle, Absol darted through the undergrowth. For a long moment no attacks came her way, and then her sense twanged a warning and she dodged aside from a Charge Beam which splashed against the ground in the direction of her left flank.
The sleek Dark-type swung her head blade at a bush, slicing it off a few feet above the ground, and jumped through the new gap. An Ice Beam flashed through the gap just after she'd cleared it, and Absol slid neatly along the ground before stopping directly underneath Claydol.
Her tail blade flicked up, launching a Night Slash blade beam at the underside of Claydol, and the Ground-type shook from the impact.
Then it dropped out of the air towards her.
Already anticipating the move, Absol darted out of the way. She kept moving as Claydol fired a Charge Beam at her, then flicked her tail to one side to catch a Shock Wave on the shimmering black of her Night Slash.
A moment later, Claydol vanished in a burst of red light.
"You kind of seem to be switching Pokémon a lot," Ash said. "Are you going back to Shiftry?"
"No, I'm not so foolish," Spenser chuckled. "That Absol of yours almost certainly knows X-Scissor. No, I have other plans."
He threw his third and final Pokéball, and Venusaur appeared in a brilliant white flash.
Not done, Spenser reached up to the top of his staff – which started to glow with a brilliant golden light.
And so did Venusaur. His flower grew larger, thicker and more ornate, with two levels of leaves and several lianas, and two smaller ones appeared – one each on his forehead and rear. Markings took shape on his skin, his legs became thicker and tougher, and then the glow faded and Mega Venusaur was revealed.
"So that's what a Mega Venusaur looks like," May said, interested. "I wonder if I'll ever find a Venusaurite for Venusaur?"
"I think you said the word Venusaur too much," Max quipped. "It's stopped sounding like a word."
"Ice Blade," Absol announced as a courtesy to her opponent, her horn flashing a bright blue as she activated the move Keldeo had taught her. The icy light illuminated the clearing for a moment, and then Mega Venusaur opened their battle proper by flinging a stream of Razor Leaves at Absol.
Absol dodged to one side, finding the gap in the attacks with an easy grace, and tossed her head to fire an Ice Blade Beam at Mega Venusaur. The big Grass-type was too burly to dodge easily, and relied instead on a simpler solution – he fired a wave of Sludge, making the Ice Blade expend much of its energy in freezing and shattering through the purple gunk.
Unperturbed, Absol fired off a second Ice Blade. This one crossed Mega Venusaur's renewed assault of Razor Leaves in midair, connecting with a few and freezing them, and Absol jumped into the air so that the remaining elements of the formation passed harmlessly on all sides of her.
The Ice Blade itself connected with Mega Venusaur's flank, producing a little starburst of ice crystals, and Mega Venusaur grunted before launching a more whole-hearted assault.
Half a dozen Sludge Bombs flicked out at Absol, and the Dark-type waited a moment before jumping out of the way – getting clear just before the bombs all exploded in mid-air, and a deluge of sludge came raining down where Absol had been standing a moment before.
Reaching for the threads of probability all around her, Absol sought out the golden path – the path with the least possibility of Disaster befalling her. There was a sudden surge of risk, and she sliced through a Grass Knot with her blade – feeling the wham of a Power Whip slamming down a moment later where she would have been if she'd not managed to get clear. Then she felt a moment's respite, and jumped over a log before turning to return fire with an Ice Blade.
"Absol!" Ash shouted, as she flicked the blade off her horn. "It doesn't seem to be working like it should!"
Taking that information into consideration, Absol switched to a Night Slash. Her horn's clear glacier blue shifted in a moment to a glossy black, and her tail joined it – letting her launch a pair of Night Slashes at once, and make Mega Venusaur audibly groan.
"That's one of the things I really do admire about Absol," Meganium said, watching as the Dark-type steadily moved around her Grass-typed opponent – always feinting back and forth, avoiding being hit by any attack that looked like it might actually do damage. Even a Sunny-Day enhanced Solarbeam didn't quite connect, with Absol jumping over the first sweep of the beam and sliding under the second with inches to spare. "No matter how she's fighting, she makes it look like a dance – like it's all planned in advance."
"I know what you mean," Brock agreed. "It's the disaster sense."
"Psychic!" Ash called.
Absol felt a bit foolish on hearing that – of course, she should have remembered that Venusaur were Poison typed as well. She'd known that X-Scissor wouldn't work very well, but it had slipped her mind as to why.
Disabling her horn's Night Slash, she switched to Psycho Cut, and was just flicking off her first attack when her danger sense screamed warning.
Then Mega Venusaur unleashed a whole tree's worth of Magical Leaves.
The glowing, multicoloured leaves surged into the air as if fired from a fountain, spreading out to replace the missing tree-canopy, and then surged back down at Absol in waves.
Her horn and tail both blazed, and she flicked two Psycho Cuts up into the oncoming storm, but that only carved two narrow trails – trails which quickly began to close up.
Absol's legs bunched, and she ran. Seeking out the routes, the movements, the precise footfalls which would not lead to her being hammered into the ground by rainbow-coloured foliage.
The ground rustled and shook as impacts poured down. Absol jinked left, taking only a few hits instead of the several dozen she would have had if she'd jinked right, and then zig-zagged past a small bush which was being stripped bare by the barrage. At one point she stumbled slightly, paws slipping on wet leaves, and the danger increased markedly – but even that she had sensed, and she was already compensating.
Finally, she pounced out of the worst of the storm into one of the clear patches near the edge.
It took her a moment too long to realize there was a very suspicious looking vine in it.
The Vine Whip curled around her left foreleg before she'd quite worked out what was happening, and then it flung her – with careful gentleness – off into the distance.
"Believe it or not, even a Chance-Dancing Absol is not immune to being surprised," Spenser told Ash, as they watched Absol shoot past overhead. "You simply need to ensure that the trap is still less of a disaster than the alternative."
Absol vanished in the direction of the beach, and a moment later there was a loud splash.
"That's a Ring Out, by the way," Spenser added. "So you're down to one."
Ash chuckled. "Okay, that was pretty impressive."
"I've trained against Absol before," Spenser told him. "I make it a point to train against a lot of the Pokémon with odd non-move powers – it helps me avoid being beaten on a technicality."
Ash nodded, understanding fully. "Okay, so… I've got just one Pokémon left."
"That's right," Spenser said.
Absol came flying back in, sideways, and was deposited just next to Ash. A moment later, Latias decloaked again and waved.
"I can see I need to start thinking of unexpected swims as a disaster," Absol sighed. She shook herself out, making sure the water didn't go on any of the others, and examined her fur with resignation. "I think I would like a shower. I have clearly become corrupted by civilization."
"You're not planning on using a Legendary, are you?" Spenser checked.
"Nope," Ash replied.
Meganium steadied her son, making sure he could look out the balloon. "Okay, here we go!"
Chikorita nodded, watching as Ash's final Pokémon emerged from his Pokéball.
Below them, Sceptile examined his opponent with interest – picking a twig from a nearby tree, and nibbling on the end of it for a moment.
There was a silver-and-gold flash from the direction of Ash and Spenser, one where the light in question flared up and then stayed bright, and Sceptile began to glow in the same way.
"I don't think you've seen this before," Meganium added. "It's actually quite a sight."
Brock smiled at that.
Mega Sceptile cracked his knuckles, then crouched slightly.
His opponent decided that it was time to start the battle now, and launched a Sludge attack at Ash's Grass-type.
The moment Mega Venusaur opened his mouth, Mega Sceptile sprang into action. Flipping his tail over his shoulder, he fired a Leaf Storm missile directly towards the mouth – then, before it had regenerated and before the attacks had even connected, he sprang entirely over Mega Venusaur with a powerful leap.
Mega Venusaur's vines shot up to try and intercept him, and Mega Sceptile flicked down at them with a quick Leaf Blade. One vine fell, severed about four feet from the tip, and the powered-up Venusaur withdrew the other in time to avoid damage. Then Sceptile reached the treeline, and vanished into the underbrush.
Moving fast and quietly, he located a likely-looking tree and scaled it to halfway below the crown.
Then he spent a moment to concentrate on his forearm blades, which lit up a brilliant blue as he activated his Sacred Sword.
The whole tree shook as Mega Venusaur hit it with an Earthquake, and began to fall over – so Mega Sceptile stood on the side of the tree, surfing it down, and then leapt clear just before it hit the ground. His arm blades flashed as he launched two Sacred Sword beams, and the foliage disintegrated to clear his way towards Mega Venusaur.
A howling barrage of petals came rushing towards him, and he dodged acrobatically to one side. That took him into one of the sections of the tree his swords hadn't touched, and he waited for a moment until the Petal Dance had ended for now before jumping to the next spot.
When he arrived there, however, Mega Venusaur used a barrage of Razor Leaves to slice away the branches and leaves which were blocking his view.
A bare moment later, Mega Venusaur let loose with a Hyper Beam.
Mega Sceptile's arm blades flashed up, making a cross shape of brilliant blue, and the glowing orange energy of the Hyper Beam hit them head-on before deflecting in all directions.
The recoil was enough to push Mega Venusaur backwards a little, his footing not certain on the loamy soil, but Mega Sceptile actually began to advance through the beam of light and force. The two were nearly evenly matched for at least four seconds, and then Mega Sceptile's tail fired a Leaf Storm missile directly at Mega Venusaur.
The seed-pod missile burst, sending high speed seeds raining down on Mega Venusaur, and the half-Poison-type flinched involuntarily – giving Mega Sceptile an opening, letting him charge forwards as the Hyper Beam stuttered.
One of the Sacred Swords flickered out, and was replaced a moment later by an odd purple shot through with crackling yellow lightning – then, just as Mega Sceptile was about to bring his Dual Chop down, a vine wrapped around his leg.
Mega Sceptile brought his Sacred Sword down to sever the vine, but wasn't quite quick enough and Mega Venusaur flung him into the air.
"Well, that's that," Spenser said. "Good battle."
Ash shook his head. "I don't think so."
He pointed, and Spenser followed his arm – then did a double-take. "Can Sceptile even do that?"
"Yes?" Ash asked, confused. "Of course they can. He's doing it now."
"I think my father is cool," Chikorita stated, as Mega Sceptile's movement towards the sea slowed.
"Well, there aren't many fathers who can use Dragonbreath to control their flight," Meganium agreed. "Certainly not a great deal of Grass types."
There was a splatter of golden sand and a spiral of flame as Mega Sceptile landed on the beach. He rolled to absorb his momentum, and kicked up a rooster-tail of sand before sliding to a halt.
As they watched, Mega Sceptile looked up at the balloon they were in and waved. Chikorita waved back, and then Mega Sceptile began to advance. Slowly at first, then faster and faster.
The blue light of Sacred Sword appeared on both forearms again, and then was augmented by something else – blurring the sharp outlines of his arm blades, before he was moving too fast for anything to be seen apart from a blur.
Mega Venusaur looked up, and got ready for the second round as Mega Sceptile came charging back into the clearing.
He fired a Petal Blizzard as an opening gambit, and the pink petals got about halfway to Mega Sceptile. Then the other Grass-type swiped a blade sharply in their direction, and they abruptly stopped and came rushing back towards Mega Venusaur.
"Aerial Ace!" Mega Sceptile announced, and blurred into an acrobatic combination of flashing sword work. Mega Venusaur tried for a Sludge Bomb, then an Earthquake, but the agile Mega Sceptile avoided both attacks adroitly while raining down an escalating sequence of Flying-type sword blows.
Finally, Mega Venusaur used Frenzy Plant. The sudden explosion of roots and branches up from the ground did make Mega Sceptile dart backwards, reconsidering, but only for a second.
Then he sliced down the largest of the roots with Sacred Sword, shattering the technique in one blow, and slammed his tail in underneath Mega Venusaur before using the thickly-muscled appendage to lift.
For a moment, Mega Venusaur was off the ground, and Mega Sceptile spun around to launch two speed-boosted Aerial Ace sword-beams at once. The combination of attacks on his relatively vulnerable underside was too much, and when Mega Venusuar hit the ground again he was out of the battle.
"...uh, Spenser?" Ash said. "Venusaur got knocked out."
"Oh, right," Spenser said, chuckling. "Sorry, there was a tree in the way."
He double-checked with his Key Stone, confirming that it had stopped glowing, then stepped a little way to the side and recalled Venusaur.
"I can see I'm going to have to get creative," he noted. Expanding out one of his remaining two Pokéballs, he sent out Claydol.
"Is that creative?" Ash asked. "I'm not sure I understand."
Claydol materialized, took a moment to get his bearings, and then raised a shield just in time to deflect a storm of Bullet Seed from Mega Sceptile.
"Rapid Spin," Claydol announced, and began to rotate very fast on his main axis. "Ice Beam."
Between one moment and the next, a barrage of Ice Beams opened fire. Rather than being a single beam that Mega Sceptile could easily dodge, each of Claydol's eyes was using Ice Beam to describe a wedge shape starting one side of Mega Sceptile and ending the other. As some of the eyes were looking down and others were looking up, that combined with the rapid spinning to create a series of flickering horizontal Ice Beams sweeping out the whole area Mega Sceptile was in.
Mega Sceptile's tail flicked up, and he swept both Sacred Sword blades up to help him block. The tail's tip fired in a Leaf Storm, which burst almost immediately and pelted Claydol's shield with high-speed seeds.
The shield was a strong one, and blocked them successfully. However, the seeds from the missile froze together under the bombardment of all the Ice Beams they were intercepting, sticking to the shield, and for a crucial moment Claydol simply could not see Mega Sceptile – let alone target him.
Claydol's eyes all flashed, and a psychic shockwave blew the seeds away. It began to prepare another Ice Beam, and then Mega Sceptile swept in through the disintegrating cloud of ice and plant matter with both his arm blades like dark holes cut out of the world.
Both Night Slash attacks hit within a fraction of a second of one another, knocking Claydol out of its spin and slamming it into one of the remaining trees, and Mega Sceptile landed with a crash in a bush – rising back out of it with his regenerated tail ready to fire another Leaf Storm.
He didn't have to, however, as Claydol disappeared in a flash of red light.
Then the tree started to slowly topple over.
"I think I might have to do more repair work than I'd realized," Meganium mused. "Well, I suppose it'll be good practice."
"Do you think that I should learn to heal plants?" Chikorita asked.
"I don't think you can yet, not the way I can," Meganium told him. "But it's good to know the mundane side of it."
The little Grass-type nodded, taking that under consideration.
There was a final white flash, and Shiftry appeared.
"Huh?" he said. "Okay, I'm up again-"
A glowing blade flashed across his vision.
"Well, so much for Shiftry," Spenser sighed. "I should have known the Pokémon throwing around all those Sword moves would have X-Scissor as well."
He offered his hand to Ash, who shook it – releasing his hold on Mega Sceptile's Mega-Evolution, allowing the Grass-type to drop back to his normal form. "Good match, Ash. I'm proud to give you the Spirits Symbol – your Pokémon are clearly in good sync with your own style of tactics, and I can see you've trained them well."
"Thanks," Ash said, smiling back. "I'm sorry about the mess, though."
Spenser looked over his shoulder, examining the ruined clearing they could see – several toppled trees, the scars of all kinds of attacks, and most of the other trees in the area had been partly stripped of their leaves from all of Swellow's high-speed shockwaves. "It's fine, at least it's not on fire."
"Father!" Chikorita called, waving his vine in the air, and walking to the side of his mother.
Sceptile came over to meet the other two Grass-types, and smiled at Chikorita. "I hope that was what you were expecting."
"I didn't know you were able to do so many moves so fast," Chikorita said. "I – well. I hope that I'm able to do that kind of thing when I'm older."
"It's just as important to train coordination as it is moves," Sceptile told him, sitting cross-legged to make their heights closer together. Meganium breathed a cloud of golden pollen which settled around him, healing all the minor scrapes he'd accumulated, and he sighed. "Thank you, dear."
"My pleasure," Meganium replied, wrapping a vine around his wrist and squeezing for a moment. "I've got some work to do, so don't mind me."
Sceptile nodded, then turned back to his son.
"I think you could be a very strong Pokémon, Chikorita, but focus first on the basics. A well-handled Sacred Sword and Razor Leaves, put together and used precisely, are better than a hundred moves you can't pull off well enough to be useful."
As Chikorita listened to the advice, there was a creaking sound in the background. Then the creaking became a groan, and a crash as a large tree went past the balance point and thundered back into the hole it had fallen out of.
"Brock?" Meganium asked, slacking off her vines. "Can you get Geodude here? I don't trust this to stand up for long until the earth's been moved around the roots."
"I'm always impressed when I see that," Scott said, as half a dozen marbles floated in front of him. "How does it work, again?"
"Isn't it obvious?" Anabel said, her hand on the forehead of her Espeon – whose eyes were closed, relaxed. "I and my friend can cooperate to achieve things I could not achieve alone."
"I can see that, of course," Scott chuckled. "What I mean is – what's the mechanism?"
Anabel patted Espeon's forehead. "I may not have any more than empathy myself, but by touching Espeon's mind I can ask him what to do and he can do it for me."
Her expression brightened. "Oh, I see what you mean. No, he can't see the marbles through my eyes – I'm guiding his powers, instead. Though it's quite similar."
She held out her free hand, and the marbles dropped neatly into it. Espeon's eyes opened, and he sat down on the floor with a mental purr.
"I have to admit, I'm interested in asking Ash Ketchum a few questions about how his own abilities work," she added. "I know he's got a Lucario, and that he's able to use Aura to some extent – but a lot of the stories about what Aura adepts can do seem impossible."
"Like the idea of a young trainer managing to play such a large part in saving the world!" Scott exclaimed. "Yes, I'm very interested in meeting Ash as well. And perhaps that younger boy – Max Maple? He might be interested in challenging you all as well in a year or two."
Anabel sat down, reaching down to gently stroke Espeon's neck. "Maybe. That would be interesting."
She brightened. "I wonder if Ash can get me in touch with Mewtwo… it feels rude to just send him a letter, but everything he's been doing is very interesting..."
Espeon looked up, flicking one ear.
"No, you'll always be my favourite male Psychic-type feline," Anabel chuckled. "There's no need to be jealous."
Espeon's tail flicked.
"Yes," she said, smiling. "I did forget that's essentially the job of a cat."
And here's the Battle Palace.
Featuring Family Bonding Through Violence.