"Teriyaki," Brock said to himself.

"Pardon?" May asked.

"Teriyaki," Brock repeated, louder this time. "I was looking at what we've got, and I though I'd use teriyaki sauce as the base – then I'd make us all a big bowl of stir-fried udon."

The Zorua sitting next to him licked her lips.

"I think I agree with Zorua," May chuckled. "Anything else to go with it?"

"Well, there's some ginger I picked up," Brock said. "And bean sprouts, of course – and chives, for flavour."

He rummaged through the fridge. "And… yes, I thought we had some. I'm going to put pak choi in with it."

Removing the last of the ingredients, he shut the fridge and put it back into Ash's pouch.

"Okay, so I'm going to need to do a marinade," he added. "Is that okay, Torkoal?"

Torkoal snorted out a little puff of steam, and nodded a confirmation. Moving carefully, he set himself up underneath the tripod and began to produce an even flame.

"How long is it going to take?" Zorua asked.

"...about half an hour, I think," Brock estimated. "Plus the time to get everything chopped up."

Zorua concentrated for a moment, then took on the form of a Bisharp.

"Sorry," Brock told her gently. "Sanitary cutting implements only."

He patted her on the shoulder, then his hand went through empty air as she switched back to her baseform. "Don't worry," he added. "If you're interested, I can teach you to cook – you'll just need to follow instructions."

"I think I'd like that," Zorua decided, after some thought.

"Right," Brock said, now all business. "So you've seen me use the scales before – I'd like you to measure out six kilos of noodles, so they're ready to go into the stir-fry."

Zorua nearly asked if he was sure, then looked over at the collection of large Pokémon relaxing in the afternoon sun and just started weighing noodles.

As the smell of marinading food began to waft across their campsite, May sat down next to her brother.

"Hey," she said. "How's things?"

"Not bad," Max replied, with a shrug. "I was just thinking about everyone."

He gestured towards the grassy slope in front of their campsite, where Arc was running after a tennis ball. As they watched, the Electric-type snatched it out of the air, then threw it back up with a toss of his head and tail-whacked it back the way it had come.

Casper caught it, managing to get his solidity right that the ball didn't bounce off or go straight through, then threw it in the other direction for Arc to chase after.

"And, you know, how different everything was last time," Max went on. "A lot of the big events have still happened, but everything around that… it's been great."

May nodded. "I get just what you mean," she said, looking over at Altaria and Grumpig as they discussed something.

From the looks of it, it was how the two of them could possibly play tennis without their ball.

"Actually, that does remind me," May said suddenly. "You've got… one, two… five badges now, right?"

"Yeah," Max agreed. "Well, kind of six, but two of them only count half."

"That was sneaky," May agreed. "Anyway. That means at least three Gym Battles to go – any thoughts on where to have them?"

Max considered.

"Well, it might be nice to go and get the Earth Badge," he said. "And I think we're going to go right past the Cerulean Gym on our way to the Battle Pyramid, so that's an obvious one. But apart from that..."

There was a little flicker of light as Roland appeared.

Hi! he announced, waving. I think I'm getting better at doing distance – I did two more than yesterday!

"That's great news," Max told his Kirlia. "I think you should rest until dinner, though, I don't think there's enough time for a proper training session with Lucario."

Roland looked a little uncertain. I'd rather do some more training…

"Then… I think you should practice making vacuum waves," Max decided, after a moment's thought.

Sounds like a good idea!

"You could give Corona some dodging practice, too," Max added. "I think if you focus on making the vacuum waves quickly, rather than powering them up to full power, they should be weak enough Corona wouldn't be hurt – and it'd give you some good experience at aiming at dodging targets."

He reached to his belt, and clicked the button on the Pokéball – and got no reaction other than a small click.

"...that can't be good," May said, getting up and looking around. "Last time that happened there were pirates about to attack. Manaphy? Are you okay?"

"Here, Mama!" Manaphy answered, making her jump as the Water-type spoke up from about three feet away.

"I don't see anything," Max supplied. "Roland?"

No, I can't see anything either, the Psychic-type stated.

Some distance away, a hole opened in space – like a clean cut by the most subtle of knives, without any visible boundary.

Out of it floated an alien being – a Deoxys – which looked around, then winced as he felt the pressure of the meteorite's electromagnetic interference.

It was hard to concentrate, under the pressure of the odd energy, but Deoxys knew that he had to find some way to solve the situation. Hiding in a pocket universe was no way to spend the rest of his existence.

A small sound, and a distortion in the magnetic field, attracted Deoxys' attention – drawing him to look at a metallic creature examining the meteorite.

It headbutted the iron-nickel section of the meteorite, then licked it.

Deoxys realized that there was an opportunity here. A chance to obtain help.

Focusing his thoughts, he tried to express them in the linear, grammatical fashion he knew other creatures tended to employ.

Attention request, he transmitted. Small metallic creature.

The small metallic creature looked up, interested.

Request of conveyance. Request of introduction. Conversation with superior.

After some deep thought, the small creature shook its head in clear bafflement.

Deoxys turned the phrases over in his mind, and then tried a single one – with an imperative, to make the importance clear.

Take Me To Your Leader.

"I don't know," Ash shrugged. "I can't see anything on Aura Sight. Lucario?"

"Nothing is within visible range," Lucario agreed.

"It's kind of a problem that Absol was in her Pokéball," Ash went on. "But… honestly, I think we should be okay if we watch out."

Brock looked back down at the food, which was still sizzling away in the pan. "I… should probably make sure this doesn't burn."

"This is just weird," Max muttered. "I don't get it… but at the same time, I kind of think the whole situation's familiar."

He looked around at his Pokémon, counting, then blinked. "Wait. Where's Ferris?"

"Was he out?" May asked.

"I saw him come out of his Pokéball," Casper volunteered. "But I didn't see him after that – sorry!"

"It's not your fault," Max replied automatically, then nodded confirmation. "Seriously – it's not. But that might mean we need to go looking for him."

"Could he be a hostage?" Altaria asked.

If he is, I'm paralyzing the lot," Pikachu determined. "Arc, you with me on that?"

Arc nodded firmly.

One of the nearby bushes rustled, and Pikachu's cheeks began to spark.

Then a Deoxys came flying smoothly over the tree next to it, paying close attention to the Aron in his left hand.

"...oh, yeah, that's what was familiar..." Max realized.

The Psychic-type swooped down to land in front of them, carefully placed Ferris on the grass, and then raised a bifurcated arm.

Greetings. Expression of peaceful intent.

Ferris tapped the Deoxys on the foot.

I come in peace.

"Okay, that's… different," May admitted. "I was sort of expecting a battle… that's how things tend to go these days."

"Food's done!" Brock reported.

"Actually, that sounds like a good idea," Max said. "Deoxys, would you like to eat with us?"

Sustenance is acceptable.

"It's kind of a funny thing, but we've run into loads of Deoxys over the last few months," Max said, between mouthfuls. "There were two in a city in Hoenn, then one in a meteorite, and now you."

He looked over. "Deoxys?"

The Psychic-type was inspecting a small red-and-white Pokéball, turning it first one way and then the other.

"Deoxys?" Max repeated. "Are you okay?"

Deoxys turned his gaze to Max. Curiosity.

"Is that why you came here?"


"That's a good reason to go travelling," Casper volunteered. "I was all stuck in a house for ages, but now with Max I've seen loads of things!"

He waved at Jirachi, who was trying to get all his noodles around his fork at once. "Same with you, right? It's great to be able to explore the world after spending time locked away from it!"

Jirachi was about to reply, but they were interrupted by the sudden roar of prop-wash as a helicopter swooped low over their heads.

Half a dozen men and women in uniforms jumped out, landing with rolls to bleed off their momentum, and the helicopter swung around to take up a position nearby as support – revealing the Phantom logo on the side.

"All right, boys and girls," one of them announced, holding up an Ultraball and revealing the Mega Bracelet around his wrist. "Just hand over the Manaphy and no-one gets hurt."

"No way!" Ash replied quickly. "Pikachu-"

"Wait," May said, holding up her hand. "Go ahead. Let's see what you've got."

The pirate gave her a confused look, then shook his head. "All right, then! Go, Kangaskhan!"

He threw his Ultraball, which bounced off the grass and failed to do anything. A series of clicks and clunks heralded the rest of the Phantom Pirates also trying and failing to send out their Pokémon.

Zorua fell off the table, giggling uncontrollably.

"Uh, that is..." the head pirate began, looking at all the Pokémon currently looking up from their dinner, then turned and sprinted for the helicopter.

Before he got halfway there, Blaziken shot past him. He skidded to a halt in front of the pilot's door, pulled it off, and hauled the pilot out through the now-open door – then jumped clear with his new passenger as the helicopter crunched into the ground and beat its rotors to pieces on a nearby tree.

Placing call to nearest police station, Dexter announced, as the sound of the engine died away.

"Well… that went well," Brock said. "Nice thinking, May."

"Thanks," she replied with a smile. "...hey, Grumpig, stop juggling with their Pokéballs please? I think we should put them in a bag to hand over to the police."

The Psychic-type complied, picking up a bag from one of the pirates and filling it with Pokéballs.

"Now I know why the others told me to take this assignment," the head pirate sighed. "Tossers."

Deoxys gave Ferris a confused look, and the Steel-type shrugged in return.

"Sorry about that," Max sighed. "This kind of thing happens a lot."

Confusion, Deoxys stated.

"Yeah, it doesn't make much sense for us, either."

Any reply was cut off by Deoxys suddenly wincing, reaching his free hand up to his head.

"Is something wrong?" Ash asked.

Meteorite. Generation of pain.

"That's right!" Max remembered. "It wasn't Deoxys who was causing the problems with the Pokéballs – either here or in LaRousse! It was the meteorite, this time!"

Lucario got up. "Right, where's this meteorite? I assume we can put it in Ash's bag or something."

Max exchanged a glance with Jirachi, who nodded.

Clearing his throat, Max spoke carefully. "I wish the meteorite that is causing Deoxys pain was moved somewhere it would not hurt anyone!"

Done! Jirachi announced, tags flashing a brilliant white, then sat back down in his seat quite hard. I feel hungry again…

Deoxys vanished in a flash of red light.

"Did he just teleport?" May asked, baffled. "If he could do that all along..."

Max blinked, then bent down to check the grass.

Where Deoxys had been standing was a small Pokéball, which registered the capture just as he picked it up.

"Uh..." he began. "I… didn't expect that?"

He pressed the button. "Deoxys?"

The DNA Pokémon materialized again, shifting into Defence Form.


"Do you know what a Pokéball is?" Max tried.

Negative return.

"This could take some explaining..."

"...so that's about the shape of it," Max finished. "If you don't mind the Pokéball being registered to you, then you can either leave it with me – or someone else who you trust – to keep it safe, or you can take it with you so you can come back to visit with one of our transceivers."

Deoxys examined Max, then the large blackboard full of notes, then the Pokéball.

Query, he stated. Disadvantages of object.

"Well-" Max began, then glanced over at Ash. Seeing that the other trainer didn't have any comment to make, he went on. "I suppose there's a risk because if someone got hold of your Pokéball they could Return you – that's whether you take it with you or I keep it – but if you don't have a Pokéball you're vulnerable to the same thing anyway."

The Psychic-type thought about that, then shook his head. Acceptance.

Ferris waved a foreclaw, then nodded his own head slightly.

Deoxys looked at him, head tilting, then turned to Max and nodded. Acceptance.

He levitated the Pokéball over to Max, then shifted to Speed Form. The Psychic-type crouched down, for a moment, then took off with a shoom of displaced air.

A moment later, Latios darted upwards – moving even faster – and intercepted Deoxys almost too high up to see.

"I guess that means you technically have two Legendary Pokémon now?" May said.

Max nodded slowly. "Yeah. It feels… kind of a big responsibility."

He reached out to touch Jirachi's shoulder. "In a way, it feels bigger than Jirachi did, because Jirachi's a friend… but this Deoxys, we've hardly met."

Latios and the Deoxys came back down again, somewhat slower this time.

"What happened?" Ash asked.

"Two things," Latios replied, as he reached ground level. "Firstly, I reminded him to take a transceiver because that way he can visit if he wants. He doesn't need it, but it's useful."

"Good thinking," Brock said. "And the other reason?"

"I told him about the Earth concept of 'Dessert'," Latios said. "Apparently it's a thing he's never experienced before."

Jirachi sprang out of his chair, tags flapping behind him. You've never had any sweets before!? Max's first Legendary demanded. We need to fix this now! Brock, what do we have?

Brock borrowed Ash's bag and pulled the fridge out again. "Let's have a look," he said, as Deoxys regarded the sudden materialization of white goods with an expression that was probably puzzlement. "Okay… hm, there's a Sitrus crumble, and some brownies..."

"Both of those sound great!" May smiled. "And I wonder if Deoxys would like to try some of my Pokéblocks?"

"He might," Max agreed. "Deoxys? Do you know what a Pokéblock is?"

Deoxys watched as Brock started dishing up the crumble. Clarify.

"A Pokéblock is a kind of candy block," Max said. "It's a cube, made out of berries, and there's lots of different flavours."

Shifting to Attack Form, Deoxys reached out to take the red block that May dispensed from her Pokéblock Case between two of his manipulator tendrils.

"That's right," Max said. "Now, you just need to eat it."

Eat, Deoxys stated, with a hint of dubiousness about the concept. Clarify, please.

They looked at his face, which showed no hint of a mouth.

"Okay, uh..." Max began awkwardly. "Kris? Any ideas?"

Analyzing, Kris stated.

"Hey, look," May said, pointing off into the distance. "I think that Dodrio has a rider."

The Dodrio in question came running up, feet thumping the ground in a rhythm. The rider steered it up towards the group, then slid off.

"Thank you, Dodrio," she said, and the Flying-type ran off again. "Okay, Pokémon Ranger – what's the problem?"

"You're a Pokémon Ranger?" May asked, then nodded. "Okay – sorry, didn't see your Styler at first."

"Hey, no worries," the Ranger assured her.

Something went peep in her bag, and she opened it to reveal a Plusle. "Obviously the problem isn't urgent if you're sitting around having dinner," she observed, putting her bag down. "But there was a report of trouble in the area and Pokéballs not working, and I was nearby."

"Right – of course!" Max realized. "They send a Ranger to this kind of thing because they don't rely on Pokéballs!"

"Got it right there," the Ranger agreed. "I'm Solana, by the way. Oh, wait, is that Ash Ketchum over there? Yeah, we got warned about him."

Ash looked up from his second helping of chocolate brownies. "What's that?"

"We got told that you have Legendary Pokémon," Solana clarified. "Apparently there was some thing where you had to explain stuff to Rangers like four times?"

She shrugged. "Yeah, I heard they're making sure every Ranger in the country knows you on sight just to avoid that happening again."

"Nice of them," Pikachu observed.

"So, what's the problem?" Solana checked, after that conversation seemed to have stopped going anywhere.

"Actually, Jirachi kind of fixed it," Max replied. "We're… not quite sure how, but we did wish for the problem to be solved and now it is. So I think it worked."

"Huh," Solana said, nodding to herself. "Okay, that's pretty cool. Wait, are those brownies?"

She looked at the fridge, then at Deoxys, and visibly decided that the how didn't matter. "You don't mind if I have some, right?"

"Go ahead," Brock said. "We've got some to spare."

"Cool," Solana replied gratefully, and took a slice which she broke in half to share with Plusle. "It's going to be about half an hour's journey back to where I was staying, so – oh, wow!"

She swallowed the mouthful, and examined the rest of the brownie. "Are there orange flavoured chocolate pieces in the base of this? Why don't more people do that?"

There was a fzzzzt sound from the direction of Deoxys, and everyone looked to see what was going on.

Deoxys was carefully feeding the Pokéblock into the gem on his chest, producing a steady fizzling sound and a faint whiff of sweet-smelling smoke.

Discovery, Deoxys announced. Method of eating. Consumption of pleasurable materials.

Ferris waved a claw in a circular motion.

I have discovered how to eat, Deoxys clarified.

"Okay, so… if you need to come back really urgently, just let us know," Max said. "I'll send the Pokéball through, and then you can go back into it and it'll send you back."

He waved his hand. "Otherwise… just fly back, I suppose."

Acceptance, the Deoxys replied.

He shifted into Speed Form, and shot into the evening air. The blazing light of his orange core left an aftertrail, and they watched until he was out of sight.

"That was a much nicer one than the one we met in space," Ash observed.

"You're right," Latios agreed.

"And that's another one for the Ash Sayings book," May said.

"The what?" Brock asked, looking up from where he was washing the plates with the help of Marshtomp and Ninetales. "I didn't know about that!"

"Neither did I," Ash replied. "What's the Ash Sayings book?"

"Just an idea I had," May explained glibly. "With all the bizarre situations we get in, I thought maybe I should collect all the oddest ones. Just to see how silly they get."

"Well, I like the idea," Pikachu said. "I'm sure I could contribute a few."

He paused.

"Hundred," Lucario supplied.

"Hey, that was my joke..."

Serena sighed, deleting about two pages of email.

It was so hard to put down her thoughts about this…

Standing up, she looked out at the grass – to Rhyhorn, the Pokémon her mother so wanted her to take up riding… then shook her head.

At least they'd managed to come to a decision.

Sitting back down, she got to typing. A short message, just to explain what was going on – without trying to get into how she felt about it. Much.

Hi, Dawn,

I know it's been a while since my last email.

My mother and I have been talking – a lot – since last time, and we've decided on a kind of compromise. We're going to look for a Pokémon that could still be used for riding, but one I'm more comfortable with.

I don't know if this is going to be one of my first Pokémon, or if I'll leave them behind when I go on my journey – or what. But at least it means I'm not going to be learning Rhyhorn riding any more, and it means that the Pokémon is one I'll be able to train – a bit, at least.

With Rhyhorn, it's kind of like… my mother's Pokémon. But with this new Pokémon, it'll be a bit more something that's 'me'.

Anyway, I know that's really short for how long it's been, but it really is the only interesting thing that's happened. Anything cool happen on your end?

The Kalosian girl looked over her email, making sure it said what she wanted it to say, then hit send.

Almost the moment she did, however, a new message popped up in her inbox.

"Huh," she said, opening it. "Dawn must be up late."

She began to read, and found an account of what had been happening for Dawn the last few days.

By the time Serena was past the first paragraph, she was staring.


Dawn had… been hired as a part-time princess? Or something?

That was just mad.

"Girls!" Daisy called, entering the apartments built into Cerulean Gym. "Girls!"

Lily yawned, blinking sleep out of her eyes. "What is it, D?"

"We've got a challenger," Daisy reported. "This is an important one."

"It is?" Lily asked. "Wait, do you mean he's hot?"

"What?" Daisy did a double-take. "No – he's, what, nine or something?"

"Ew," Violet contributed, from the bathroom. "What's so important, then? Can't you handle it?"

"He's standing next to Ash Ketchum," Daisy explained.

The other two Sensational Sisters were silent for a long moment.

"So I thought I'd let you know to get out of your rooms," Daisy went on. "And… you know, take anything you don't want to lose..."

"Isn't this place stronger than the last one?" Violet asked.

"Do you want to test it?"

"They're taking longer than I remember," Ash said.

"Maybe they're not up yet?" May suggested.

"Yeah, but they start training for the water ballet really early," Ash replied. "That's why I said we should get here so soon."

The door opened.

"Okay," Daisy said, all business. "How many of your Pokémon could destroy the building?"

Max blinked, surprised at the question. "I don't… um… at least one?"

"Then don't use him," Daisy told him firmly. "Doesn't matter if you were planning on using the moves that could do it or not, it's very important that you don't use that Pokémon."

"Is this because of Ash?" Brock asked.

"Yes!" Lily agreed.

"I wasn't that-"

Daisy shook her head, interrupting him. "You've never been in this building, you broke the last one."

Violet went past in the background, wheeling a suitcase.

"Ignore her," Lily advised. "She's just taking all the stuff we don't want broken down to the bunker."

Max raised his hand. "Can I still challenge the gym?"

"Give it a few minutes," Daisy said.

Some minutes later, they were in the main battle arena of the Gym – a swimming pool, at about ground level with a bank of seats facing across the pool towards the beautiful views of Cerulean Cape through the windows in the far wall.

"Before you ask, it's because the main battle area's outside the structure of the rest of the gym," Daisy told them. "It's much cheaper on the insurance. Now, here are the rules of your challenge."

Max looked up, paying attention.

"The challenger can make as many switches as they want," Lily supplied. "We cannot – we will each use one Pokémon, and battle you in sequence."

"But there's a time limit," Violet went on. "Fifteen minutes for all three battles."

"Seems kind of long," Max said. "Why even-"

"Ten, then," Daisy amended.


"You asked," Daisy pointed out. "Now, choose your Pokémon."

"Go!" Lily called, sending out the first of their Pokémon – a Chinchou, which settled into the pool down near the bottom.

As she did, a clock started to flash from number to number on the wall – counting down from ten minutes.

"...I already want to change my selection," Max joked. "Okay, Arc – you go!"

His Electric-type materialized, landing on the side of the pool, and his paws flailed for a moment before he got a grip with an audible schrink.

"Uh… is that okay?" Max asked.

"What, the tile damage?" Lily said, shrugging. "That's nothing – half the Pokémon who challenge the gym have claws, so we just have Vaporeon fill it in with opal. You can see if if you look closely."

Max hesitated, then shook his head. "Later," he decided. "It'd take too long to look closely."

He pointed. "Okay, Arc, get in the water!"

Arc's claws dug in with another scritching sound, and he plunged into the swimming pool.

Then his head broke the surface again.

"Uh… what now?" he asked, doggy-paddling in place.

"Go down and use attacks like Bite on that Chinchou!" Max replied. "It's got Volt Absorb, so don't bother with Electric attacks!"

"Right!" Arc agreed, taking a deep breath and then diving back into the water. His kicking motions churned up little waves on the surface, and both trainers could see the yellow-blue shapes moving together underwater.

Chinchou fired some kind of bright beam attack from her antenna, and Arc yelped – a big bubble rising up to burst on the surface of the pool. Then he swam back up, took a breath, and went back down again.

Max glanced at the clock, frowning. "This looks like it's going to take a while..."

He cupped his hands. "Arc!"

Arc came out of the water again, shook his head, and then dove under.

"...oh, right," Max realized. "He can't hear me when he's underwater…"

Lily smirked.

Max readied Arc's Pokéball, waited for the Discharge Pokémon to come up to breathe, then returned him as the simplest solution. Switching Pokéballs, he sent out Casper instead.

"Okay, what's the plan?" Casper asked.

"Get that Chinchou out of the water!" Max replied.

Casper saluted, then got hit by a Thundershock. He looked down, scowling, then dove into the ground next to the pool.

"Hey, don't break the pipes!" Lily called. "Those things are expensive to fix!"

The battle went oddly silent for several seconds, as the waves Arc had made slowly died down. Then a pair of clawed hands phased through the base of the pool, grabbing Chinchou's antenna, and a Thunderbolt promptly hit the hands to make them let go again.

Casper phased back into the floor of the pool, and then his hands emerged again – this time firing a Shadow Ball which launched Chinchou upwards.

Pressing his advantage, Casper lunged out of the ceramic base of the pool. He threw another Shadow Ball with one hand, then punched Chinchou to try and get her as close to the surface as possible.

Chinchou fought back, her antennae flashing bright yellow, and Casper exploited that – animating his shadow, making it briefly englobe him to absorb the Electric attack she threw at him, then launched her into the air.

Max switched Pokémon immediately, recalling his Ghost-type and switching to Delta.

"Thunderbolt!" Lily ordered quickly.

"Aqua Ring!"

Delta's Aqua Ring formed quickly, creating a translucent ring of water around himself. He spun it once, quickly, and managed to catch the first Thunderbolt in the ring – making the watery shield fall apart, but saving him from a dangerous hit.

His finlike wings slapped forwards, the blast of air knocking Chinchou out of the air, and she skidded along the slippery floor before fetching up next to one of the lifeguard chairs.

Trying to avoid a stall, Delta flapped as hard as he could. He shot off a Bubblebeam at Chinchou, both for the extra thrust and to divert the next Electric attack, and was partially successful – only a little of the charge reaching him, to shock him and send him falling into the pool with a splash.

Water foamed outwards, getting everyone's shoes wet, then ran slowly back into the pool.

"Careful with that!" Lily protested.

"Lils," Daisy sighed. "You know all our gear is waterproof, right?"

"Yeah, but that water's had, you know, dogs in..."

Delta interrupted them by bursting back out of the water, surprising Chinchou as she tried to dive in again, then fired a blast of Bullet Seed that connected with Chinchou and sent her skidding backwards again.

"Good!" Max said. "One more!"

Delta rolled, using his huge fin area to help him dodge, and hit Chinchou with a final blast of Bullet Seed. That one seemed to finish the Electric-type off, and Daisy confirmed it by waving her hand.

"Okay, that's one down!"

The clock paused, and Delta came down to land with a relieved sigh. Sparks flickered through his skin, and he winced.

"It's okay," Max told him. "That was great."

Delta smiled, then they both looked up as Daisy sent out her Pokémon for the battle.

"A Slowbro?" May said, surprised. "Aren't they… well… no good at stalling?"

"He is a bit of an idiot," Daisy admitted, adjusting her hair – revealing an earring. "But we've got a trick or two."

The earring began to glow.

"Oh, great..." Max sighed, as Slowbro's Mega Stone lit up – then he Mega Evolved.

It was an odd sight. The Cloyster on his tail ate him, and then his arms came punching out the side.

"...that's one of the strangest looking Mega Evolutions I've ever seen," Brock said.

"One of?" May asked, looking aside at him. "What was the other one?"

Brock thought for a moment.

"That's the strangest Mega Evolution I've ever seen," he corrected. "Unless you count Mega Squirtle."

"Yeah, that one really should go without saying," May conceded.

"Mind starting this one?" Max asked.

Delta flapped his fins, and launched himself into the air again. He fired a quick barrage of Bullet Seeds, and then watched with surprise as Slowbro used a psionic shield to slow them down.

Rather than bouncing them off the shield, Slowbro just stopped them in mid-air. After a few seconds, he noticed, and floated them over to his mouth so he could eat them.

"Let's try something else," Max decided. "Casper, you try!"

"You okay, Ash?" Pikachu checked.

"Why?" Ash asked, a bit confused. "What brought this on?"

"Just… you know," Pikachu shrugged. "You've been quiet."

"I'm thinking about the Battle Pyramid," Ash explained. "Last time, it was a pretty close fight – and I know you did great, but…"

He waved his hand. "It kind of feels like it wouldn't be right if it was an easy one. And I can't help but think that's where it's going."

"Actually… I think I get what you mean, yes," Pikachu said, sitting down and flicking his tail. "That battle I had back then was… wow, it was one of the ones that I still remember now for how cool it was. But… I am a lot stronger now."

Ash nodded. "So-"

"How is this not working!" Max demanded, getting their attention. "How is that Slowbro managing to avoid having a shadow?"

"I think it's glowing too much!" Casper replied. "What should I do now?"

Pikachu flicked Ash's leg. "You know, I just realized. Given how things have been going for the last few years… maybe Brandon has a secret Mewtwo or something."

Casper dodged through the pool, passing through both the solid matter of the poolside and the liquid water in the pool itself, and threw a Shadow Ball at Mega Slowbro.

The Ghost-typed attack hit Slowbro's shield, but there was just a ripple as the shield absorbed the impact.

"Wait, wait, hold on," Max said, frowning. "Okay, uh… that's not working, so..."

He glanced at the clock.

"Think fast?" Casper suggested.

"Okay, so… that shield is really strong," Max began, thinking out loud. "But it's got to let air in and out, so it can't just be on all the time. Casper!"

The Banette nodded, all business.

"Start using Shadow Ball!" Max told him. "And… I guess… don't stop?"

"Sure!" Casper agreed, and cupped his hands. A glowing orb of smoky energy formed in each one, and then he threw the first one. Then the second.

They were individually weaker than his normal attacks, simply so they could be charged up quickly enough, but Casper let off a continuous barrage with at least one ball hitting the shield every second.

"Great work!" Max told him. "Just keep going – and watch out for any attacks!"

"Take that! And that!" Casper said. "And that and – faaaastball!"

One of the Shadow Balls whipped past just to one side of Mega Slowbro, then curved and hit him on the side of the shell with a thwick. It didn't seem to do much, but-

"-wait, how did that one get through?" Max asked. "None of the others did. Casper, did you do something special with that one?"

"Apart from putting some wicked spin on it, no," Casper replied. "Why?"

"Do it again!"

Casper flicked off another curveball, which did a spiral motion before hitting the shield behind Mega Slowbro's head – and being deflected without much noticeable effect.

"Well, it means that… the shield is all around him, but not all the time," Max mused, thinking it out. "So that's a point-of-impact shield. And-"

"Psyshock," Daisy said.

Mega Slowbro waved his arms, and a flash of psychic energy knocked Casper backwards through the wall.

Max glanced at the timer, and winced – with no clue how long it would take to beat the third Pokémon, it felt like every second was important.

"Can I switch to Arc now?" he asked. "And recall Casper as soon as he gets back?"

"Sure," Daisy decided. "Go ahead."

"Right," Max decided. "Arc – go!"

Arc appeared in a flash of white light.

"Jump on top of Mega Slowbro!" Max instructed. "Tackle him into the pool!"

"Can you stop getting wet dog in our pool!?" Violet demanded.

"No, sorry!" Max replied.

As he did, Arc crouched down. Electrical energy sparked around his haunches, and then he jumped into the air.

Mega Slowbro watched, confused, as Arc shot well overhead – landing in the rafters of the roof – then got body-tackled right into the pool as Arc used more of his electrical energy to super-pounce Mega Slowbro.

Water went everywhere in a huge splash, which soaked the clothes of the entire audience.

"Gah!" Pikachu yelped.

Casper came back through the wall, and took in the tableau. "...what'd I miss? Some kind of super-powerful water balloon?"

"Can you go back in your Pokéball for now?" Max asked, then realized the fight was still going on – with Mega Slowbro mostly submerged in the water, using his shield to float. "Arc – use Discharge!"

There was a loud crackle, followed by a brilliant blue-white flash. Mega Slowbro's shield collapsed in a shower of sparks, and then Arc managed to grab onto a convenient limb with his jaws and Thunder Fang until Mega Slowbro stopped trying to use Psychic on him.

"I thought so!" Max said, proudly. "The weakness of that kind of shield is when you hit it from everywhere at once!"

"Yeah, I guess that has knocked him out," Daisy agreed, as Mega Slowbro reverted. "Nice work – some challengers spend their whole time just trying to work out how to get through that shield, and he can use Slack Off as well."

May coughed.

"What?" Daisy asked, with an air of injured innocence. "We paused the clock when Mega Slowbro got knocked out, so Max has three minutes left."

She waved Violet forwards, who readied her Pokéball.

"So, if I beat this Pokémon in three minutes, I win the badge?" Max checked.

"That's right," Violet agreed. "And if you don't, we're going to make you help clean the gym! It's wet everywhere, and you've got the water full of Manectric fur!"

Brock chuckled. "I think this just got serious."

"Go! Go!" Victreebel called.

Weezing inhaled, swelling up, and began to pull his Grass-typed passenger off the ground.

"Good!" Victreebel told him. "Now, steer to the left a bit… good… just keep that up for a bit."

"What are you doin'?" Meowth asked.

Victreebel twisted on the end of his vine, looking at Meowth, then turned back to study the field in which their aircraft was parked.

"Tactical bombing," he answered.

"How's dat work when it's at home?" Meowth said, interested, and sat up on the fuselage.

Then he tracked Weezing's trajectory, and saw it would take them over James.

"Huh," he nodded. "Well, I ain't gonna complain..."

Violet sent out Vaporeon, and the Water-type was visible for about half a second before vanishing into the water – using Acid Armor to dissolve herself into liquid, which merged with the water of the swimming pool.

"Arc, Discharge!" Max called.

Arc shook water out of his ears, glanced at Max, then worked out what Max had probably said. His fur glowed, and he fired off a Discharge – which went nowhere, except back into him again.

"...oh, come on..." Max said, rubbing his temples. "Are none of your Pokémon just plain weak to Electric attacks?"

Daisy chuckled. "Yeah, we put a lot of work into this kind of thing. It was… you know… effort."

"Okay, Arc, out of the water," Max said. "Let's try and think about this."

Arc paddled to the edge of the pool and got ready to haul himself out. Just as he reached the side, however, he suddenly went under with a yelp – then the pool lit up as he used Thunder, but the only actual light was generated from a bright flash from his fur.

Max stepped forwards quickly, looking into the pool, and saw Arc kicking his way back towards the surface – only to be pulled down again, just before he reached the air. The water around him was an odd, brown colour – all the dirt and grime in the pool, concentrated into a thin layer of resistant material which kept his electricity from bursting out into the whole pool, and for a moment he could see a semitransparent Vaporeon pushing him back down towards the bottom of the pool.

"Arc-" Max began, unsure how to help, then shook his head and returned the Electric-type.

"Just so you know," Lily said, snapping her fingers. "That counts as giving up for your Manectric, because he was in a trap."

"I know!" Max replied, a little sharply. "I know that – that Vaporeon kept pulling him under!"

"She would have stopped before he was in actual danger," Violet told him, sounding hurt. "What do you think we are?"

Max sent out Casper.

"Let's win this," he said, face set.

Casper nodded, putting his hands together.

"Vaporeon!" Violet said. "Hide!"

The water rippled once, then was still.

"Hide, huh..." Max frowned. "Okay, so she can't leave the gym..."

He glanced at Arc's Pokéball, then back at his Ghost-type. "Casper, try and find her! I don't think Delta can – but I know you can!"

There was a flash from Max's hand, and an answering flash from Casper's clenched fist. Then, to the surprise of just about everyone present, a golden-orange glow suffused Casper's ghostly hide.

His arms grew larger, developing fists, and zippers appeared before partly opening to reveal his purple underbody. Another zipper formed on his torso, opening as well, and he picked up a rakish one spiralling down the back part of his head before ending at his right eye.

His eyes glowed a little brighter, developing vertical slits, and when the golden glow faded there was a sinister aspect to the air around him.

"Huh," Casper said. "Didn't think that would work."

"...did you just pickpocket me of that Banettite?" Max asked, thrown.

"No!" Casper replied, sounding hurt. "I did that yesterday, of course."

Max started to chuckle, then shook his head. "Okay – let's do this!"

Casper nodded. "What's the plan?"

"Well..." Max began, looking around at the arena. "I was thinking… if Vaporeon leaves the battlefield then she forfeits, so she wouldn't do that. So – Screech!"

The Mega Banette let off a loud shrieking sound, like a damned soul had stubbed their toe, and everyone winced at the din that came before they were ready for it.

There was also a rattling sound with no clear source.

"Got it!" Max announced. "That was the pipes – go and get her!"

Casper needed no further encouragement. He crouched in mid-air, seemingly just for effect, then swept up towards the ceiling and vanished from view.

There was another metallic rattle from the pipes, then Casper came momentarily back into view – recoiling through the ceiling as if punched.

Recovering himself, he plunged through the ceiling again.

"...this is one of the oddest battles I've seen in a while," Brock said. "I think a few have been stranger, but this is a pretty good contender."

"Casper!" Max called.

Casper stuck his head out of the ceiling, one arm still buried up to the shoulder and occasionally jerking around. "Yes?"

"Thunder Wave!" Max instructed.

Casper's zipper-mouth gave an evil grin, and there was a brief crackle of electricity.

"Right," Max nodded. "Now – over there!"

The Mega Banette looked a little confused, but duly withdrew himself from the ceiling and floated over to where Max had indicated – a little thing hanging from one of the rafters.

"Daisy?" Violet said. "Isn't that-"

"Will-o-Wisp," Max ordered.

Casper used Will-o-Wisp, conjuring a little purple flame in the palm of his right hand.

Then the sprinkler system activated, almost instantly soaking the entire room and everyone – human or Pokémon – in it.

And, with an oddly distributed splitterplish, a Vaporeon formed out of the water coming out of one of the sprinklers.

"Oh, no!" Daisy groaned. "These aren't swimwear!"

"Hex!" Max called out.

"Vaporeon, look out!" Violet said, trying to alert her vulpine Water-type, but too late – Casper's eyes flashed, and beams of red light came out to hit Vaporeon along the back of her spine.

Paralyzed by the Thunder Wave, she couldn't get clear, and after a few seconds she fainted.

"Twenty seconds left," May said, as soon as Vaporeon was recalled.

"Huh," Max blinked. "For… for some reason I was expecting the alarm to go off the moment after the battle was over."

"Yeah, about that," May added. "Ethan, I really hope you were timing this, because I think that clock's not waterproof."

The clock in question fizzed, briefly showed a blinking twelve, then went blank.

Daisy sighed. "At least it was cheap… we've got five more in a closet somewhere."

She walked around the pool as Casper reverted, and shook Max's hand. "I don't think we need to look at the footage for that one," she said. "I'm pretty sure it was less than twenty seconds between the sprinklers going off and Vaporeon losing, so… good work, you win the Cascadebadge."

There was a slam as the clock fell off the wall.

"...just, you know, I think you'd better go," she added. "Before something serious happens to the building."


So, Deoxys and the Pokémon Ranger, followed by another Gym Battle for Max.

Oh, and I guess a few bits with the side characters too.