"Professor!" Ash called, waving as a familiar Dragonite came swooping down to land nearby. "Glad to see you!"
"It's good to see you as well, Ash," Oak said, getting off Dragonite with a wince. "Oh, dear… I'm not used to that any more."
Dragonite rolled his eyes, giving Ash a look it didn't take Aura to translate.
"So, then," the Professor went on. "You said something about finding an old PokeAtlantis fortress?"
"Yeah," Ash agreed. "It's all kind of complicated, because this is one of the things I really didn't want to let my Mom know… she didn't find out last time that I got possessed."
Professor Oak blinked. "What?"
"Last time, my friends and I were the ones who fell down into the hidden base," Ash clarified. "There's a throne room down there, and the King of PokeAtlantis had hidden his… spirit, I guess… inside a stone orb."
He rubbed the back of his neck. "So, I kind of touched the orb, and he got into my mind – and tried to challenge Brandon in my name, to win all of Brandon's Pokémon. But Pikachu managed to get him out of me by shocking me."
Pikachu nodded, looking justly proud of his role in the drama.
"I see," Oak nodded. "What happened this time, then?"
"This time, it was Brock's brother and his dad who found the base," Ash summarized. "Forrest got possessed instead of me, but we managed to stop the King before he did anything too dangerous."
As they talked, Ash led Professor Oak over to the hole – now much larger than it had been before as all the damaged tunnel roof had been removed. "Thing is, I didn't realize how much the possession from last time affected me."
"And how did it affect you, Ash?" the Professor asked.
"I… well, it's kind of hard to explain, but I remember a lot of what the king was told."
"I don't understand it either," Lucario volunteered.
"I do," Oak said. "Partly because, if I remember rightly, my own memory restoration was more complicated than that of any of you."
Ash thought for a moment about the team he currently had on hand.
"...yeah, actually," he admitted. "Dexter and Pikachu both got reminded the first day, Lucario hatched on being reminded, Ho-Oh wasn't actually reminded at all and nor was Absol… and I think I left the others back at Pewter Gym."
"Don't forget the thing with the Celebi," Lucario noted. "Anyway. You were saying, Ash."
"Right," Ash realized. "I didn't finish. Anyway, one of the things I got left with was how to use the controls of the place – how to power it up, or to turn everything off. That's what I wanted to show you."
They reached the hole, and Ash jumped in. Oak shook his head at the oddly floaty movement, watching as Ash landed much slower than he should have done after such a drop.
"Do you mind, Dragonite?" he asked.
Dragonite nodded his assent, and picked up Professor Oak with care. Stepping off the edge of the hole, he floated down himself with only the benefit of his wings – and the way both Dragonair and Dragonite could essentially ignore gravity whenever they felt like it.
By the time they reached the floor, Ash was already examining the walls of the tunnel.
"Okay, let's see..." he said, and began tapping on the runes.
"What are you turning on?" Oak asked.
"Transport system," Ash replied. "Huh..."
"That does not sound good," Lucario observed.
"No, I just realized that I turned the whole building off earlier," Ash explained. "We'll need to go back to the throne room to reverse that."
"Is it too much to hope for that that will be a short walk?" Oak asked.
"All signs point to exercise," Lucario deadpanned.
"Brock?" Forrest called.
Brock looked up.
"Something I was just thinking about," Forrest explained. "I'm not sure what to do for Max's challenge."
He waved to their parents, over by the side of the room and watching as May's Grumpig did psychic things for the amusement of the younger Slate children. "With Mom and Dad here, we've got four gym leaders, but I'm not sure how to do something with that."
Brock chuckled. "I'm afraid you might be a bit late for that one."
"Really?" Forrest asked.
"Max's challenge at Cerulean had him facing all three of the Sensational Sisters," Brock clarified. "You might need to come up with a new idea."
"Huh..." Forrest frowned. "Well… I guess maybe we don't need to do a gimmick."
He shrugged. "I kind of wanted to do something that would be cool, you know."
Brock put his hand on Forrest's shoulder. "Just seeing a regular Gym challenge should be cool enough."
"Okay," Forrest nodded. "I can work with that."
After a pause, he went on. "I don't suppose you'd be willing to lend me Steelix, though? I might want to use him."
Brock thought – though not for very long – and nodded. "If you want him."
"Excuse me?" May asked.
Lola held up a palm, asking for a moment's delay, and pointed. "Yolanda, you dropped your bow on the arena floor – don't forget to pick it up!"
"Sorry!" Yolanda called, turning around and going back to get the bow.
"There," Lola said, pleased with herself. "Now, what was it?"
"Well, I was kind of wondering..." May began. "You're a Water-type trainer, right?"
"Of course," Lola confirmed.
"But Brock's got more Ground-types than anything else, and I know Flint is a Rock-type trainer..." May went on. "Is there a rule about gym typings?"
"Ah, I see where you're going," Lola agreed. "There's no rule about a whole gym having to have a single theme, though each trainer has to, and if there's more than one theme then the challenger has to decide which one he's challenging."
"Okay, I think I understand," May said. "Thank you – I was wondering because we've seen a lot of odd gyms, and because it's kind of a joke among us that Brock's become more of an illusionist trainer than anything."
Lola chuckled. "I see where you're coming from there!"
She was about to go on, but Forrest interrupted her.
"Max?" he said. "Do you have any preferences about Mega Stones?"
"I've got more than one," Max replied. "I guess I don't mind how many are used?"
Forrest nodded. "That's fine."
"Maybe we should watch the battle, for now," Lola decided.
"This battle will have three Pokémon a side," Forrest said. "The first person to have all three Pokémon knocked out is the loser."
He raised his first Pokéball. "Ready?"
"Sure," Max agreed.
Max's Pokémon appeared first, by a moment at least – Guy materialized in a ready stance, landing on one of the boulders strewn throughout the gym.
He jumped down, landing on the arena floor itself with a thump as his tail slapped the ground, then turned his attention to the Pokémon Forrest had just sent out – an Aggron, big and tough-looking.
Almost immediately, however, an orange flash lit up the gym as Aggron went Mega.
"What does a Mega Aggron do?" Max asked, opening up Kris. "I can't remember offhand."
Mega Aggron lose their Rock type and have an ability that reduces type advantage, Kris told him.
"Right..." Max winced.
As the light faded, he got his first good look at a Mega Aggron.
There weren't actually as many changes as there were for some Mega Evolutions. Mega Aggron was a bit bulkier than Aggron had been, and there were a few more spikes, but the major visible change was in the colouring – while Aggron had had dark, rocky armour, Mega Aggron was made up of lighter and more lustrous steel both where the old armour had been and in new places.
Max noted especially that he seemed to be wearing forearm-warmers, just made of stone.
"Okay, Guy, I guess this means it's time for some Fighting-type attacks!" he called.
Guy nodded, crouching down, and burst forwards.
His first blow was a Force Palm, one which struck with a mighty clang – but which didn't knock Aggron over as Max still half-expected it might. Instead the Steel-type Mega was affected by the blow, but only a little, and retaliated with a gout of flame breath in a Fire Blast.
Already aware it was a possibility, Guy punched – hard. His Mach Punch had so much power behind it that it pushed a wave of air ahead of it, and that forced the Fire Blast to predetonate – shielding him from the direct impact of the flames, but sending them washing out in a donut-shaped explosion with a hole about where Guy's punch had been.
"Back!" Max called, and Guy duly bounced away again – avoiding a follow-up attack, an Ice Beam which punched through the middle of the flame.
Mega Aggron's steely armour was glowing faintly from the radiant heat of the burst, but he didn't seem to mind much – indeed, the armour was cooling as Max watched.
"Okay, you're going to need to use speed!" Max decided. "You can take a few hits, but don't rely on that – stay out of trouble, and keep using Fighting attacks."
"They're not doing much damage," Guy observed.
"Yeah, but there's not much which will – wait," Max interrupted himself. "Low kick!"
Guy's claws punched through the upper few inches of stone, giving him purchase, and he launched himself forwards.
This time his blow had more of an effect – not so much because Mega Aggron was weaker to it, but because it damaged the ground underneath the Steel-type's foot and made it crack under his weight. Guy sprang backwards at the sight, but took a glancing blow from an Iron Tail which knocked him across the room and into the wall.
Mega Aggron didn't have a chance to follow up, however, as the ground under his foot gave way. He staggered to one side, nearly falling over, then used his tail as a counterbalance and managed to wrench himself back upright again.
"Move into the basin!" Forrest advised. "Get on the more stable ground!"
"Hit him from behind!" Max countered.
Guy shook his head, clearing it, and then ran forwards. He ducked under a swipe from Mega Aggron's arm, then had to spring over a tail strike. Even that didn't help him actually get in the blow Max had advised, however, as Aggron used Stone Edge and a field of rocks sprang up all around him.
The Breloom managed to break through the rocks, delivering a Force Palm followed by a Mach Punch, but it took time – time which let Mega Aggron get onto the flat ground, and turn to strike at Guy again.
This time, Guy didn't fall back. He advanced right into close range, accepting the swipes from his foe's Metal Claw attacks, and hit again and again with a long flurry of Mach Punch attacks. Each one made Mega Aggron ring like a bell, and while no one of them was particularly damaging there were a lot of them in quick succession.
"Heavy Slam!" Forrest called suddenly.
Caught off-guard, Guy tried to get clear, but he was halfway through a punch when Forrest gave the order – he pulled it, trying to avoid overcommitting, and the Steel-type took advantage by hurling himself forwards.
The impact was powerful enough to shake the gym, and Guy vanished underneath Mega Aggron's steely form.
"Guy! Are you okay?" Max called.
Then he felt a tap on his ankle.
"Huh?" he asked, looking down. "Ferris?"
The Aron pointed at Mega Aggron, then at himself.
"...oh, I see," Max realized. "Yeah, I'll try and get one, though it might be a while before you can use it."
He looked up again, just as Mega Aggron began to get up.
The odd thing was, Mega Aggron's expression suggested he wasn't actually trying to get up.
With a sudden wrench, Guy forced Mega Aggron off him – revealing that the ground had crumpled under Guy instead of simply flattening him. The Grass-type looked much the worse for wear, but he put both feet together and forced Forrest's Pokémon up hard enough to force him into a backflop.
"Good work, Guy!" Max called. "Okay, let's finish it!"
Guy nodded, bringing his fist back and clenching it. There was a little flicker of energy, then he launched a Dynamic Punch at Mega Aggron.
The Steel-type had to take the blow, not upright yet, but it didn't knock him out – and he grabbed at Guy's tail as the Fighting-type sprang back, preventing him from retreating.
Then Mega Aggron used a point-blank Fire Blast – his own armour heating up from the backblast, but the main impact of the attack also knocking Guy so high into the air he brushed the ceiling.
When he landed, it was obvious the doughty Breloom had finally been knocked out.
"Good work, Guy," Max said, thinking hard. "Okay, uh…"
He wasn't quite sure who to send out, now.
"Corona, do you think you can handle this?" he asked.
Corona's answer was simple enough – her Pokéball flashed, and she sent herself out.
The Charmander looked back, and nodded to her trainer – her tail-flame flaring up.
"All right," Max smiled. "Go for it!"
"Rock Throw," Forrest instructed, and Mega Aggron snatched up a convenient lump of basalt from one of the nearby rock spikes. He threw it with an underarm motion, and Corona dodged to one side – not needing any advice from Max about that.
She retaliated with a quick barrage of Embers, which raised little glowing spots on Mega Aggron's armour for a moment but did nothing else visible, and then spotted the Steel-type raising his foot.
"Jump!" Max called.
Corona jumped, and used a brief burst of Flare Blitz – flames shrouding her while she did, and boosting her into the air so she could avoid the Earthquake.
"Keep it up!" Forrest called, and Mega Aggron did just that – slamming his feet into the ground one after another, producing a continuous rolling earthquake.
Max staggered, grabbing the nearest rock pillar for support, and tried to focus on Corona – to make sure she didn't need any help, or to give it if she needed any. It was a little hard to make her out, with the floor under his feet shaking so hard, but the blur of fire from her Flare Blitz boosts was easily visible – and it showed no sign of her being about to hit the floor.
"I'm impressed," May said. "This part of the room isn't shaking at all."
"We used earthquake stabilizers," Flint told her. "The main battle area is seismically isolated from the rest of the building – it's helpful because, well, Earthquake is a move a lot of Rock types have."
"So you're protecting the outside of the building from earthquakes happening inside the building," May nodded. "That's kind of funny – normally it's the other way around."
"I'm pretty sure Giovanni has it in the Viridian City Gym as well," Flint said.
He looked back at the battle, judging the movements of Max's little Charmander with an experienced eye.
"She's been training pretty hard," he observed. "Helps Charmander weigh so little, but even so."
"Smack Down!" Forrest called, deciding the Earthquake-barrage wasn't working.
Mega Aggron promptly stopped using Earthquake, and prepared another rock from the convenient pillar just next to him – infusing it with energy, then throwing it hard at Corona.
"Mask!" Max ordered.
"Mask?" Lola repeated, surprised.
Corona heard Max's shouted command, and held her arms out to either side. Her Flare Blitz reignited, and she adjusted her position – doing it in a way she couldn't explain, but which she knew would make her go down.
The rock from the Smack Down tracked in on her, adjusting course so it would hit her, and she boosted to the far side of a rock pillar – making the attack hit it, expending itself in producing a boom of splintering rock.
Terrain masking, Max had called it.
Corona landed, running for a moment to compensate for how fast she'd been moving, then turned her attention to Mega Aggron again.
She yelped, and boosted to one side – getting out of the way of an incoming Rock Throw – before darting from the shadow of one pillar to another. Her movement was accompanied by a flaming orange trail, showing where she'd been, and she skidded to a stop behind a particularly large and sturdy rock spire.
"Stay clear of him, Charmander!" Max called, and Corona nodded understanding.
Then she exhaled sharply and fired out a Flamethrower, leading in the direction of another spire that was nearer the edge of the arena.
Mega Aggron took the bait, assuming that had to be her as well, and a cascade of rocks crashed into the rocky floor all around the leading edge of the Flamethrower attack. But Corona was nowhere near the fireball, and – worse – she'd been ready for Mega Aggron to be decoyed.
She blazed out from behind her pillar in the other direction, heading straight for Mega Aggron, and the move confused both her opponent and his trainer – she was deliberately and whole-heartedly doing the opposite of what Max had just said.
"Inferno!" Max called.
Corona pulled up, her boost angle taking her higher into the air, then cancelled her Flare Blitz – leaving her in mid-air, hovering a little way over Mega Aggron's head.
She looked down, inhaled, and let it loose. A barrage of bright blue flames, too hot to appear yellow or orange, came lashing down on Mega Aggron – with enough intensity that he felt it as well.
It didn't hurt him much, really – not compared to the Fighting-type attacks he'd already taken from Guy. And when Corona stopped her attack, tired and panting, she fell down and got punched halfway across the room before managing to stabilize herself and land properly.
But Mega Aggron was now on fire, and that was a problem.
"How did-" Forrest began, taking a step back from the radiant heat, then shook his head. "Mega Aggron, finish this quickly! Earthquake!"
Mega Aggron used Earthquake, and this time Corona didn't get into the air in time. The ground seemed to drop away beneath her for a moment, then slap her upwards, and she bounced once before recovering her aplomb and Blitzing upwards.
The effort of the foot-stomp, however, seemed to have overtaxed Mega Aggron. The flames surrounding him burned up a little higher, then higher still as he tried to hit Corona with a Rock Tomb.
"Fire Spin!" Max called. "Whip up those flames!"
Corona's trajectory twisted, and she accelerated – diving towards Mega Aggron, then circling him again and again. Faster and faster, avoiding all of Mega Aggron's attacks through sheer speed, and bringing in air and fire to fuel the blaze already building up on the Steel-type.
Then he caught her with a glancing blow, and she hurtled across the room to hit the wall a little way above Max.
"Corona!" Max cried, and caught her as she fell to the floor. Then winced, nearly flinching from the heat on her scales, and put her gently on the floor.
A moment later, the firestorm around Mega Aggron exploded.
Armour glowing dull red-orange all over, the Steel-type fell like a toppled mountainside.
"How did you do that bit where your Charmander disobeyed you?" Forrest asked, as Mega Aggron reverted before being recalled. "That really surprised us."
"It's because I called her Charmander," Max replied, a little distracted. "That means do the opposite."
"Clever," Forrest allowed. "Well, you've got one Pokémon left."
"I know," Max agreed. "Uh… can I have a few minutes to think about it?"
"This seems unusual," May admitted. "Does this happen often?"
"More often than you'd think," Flint replied. "Gym Leaders have to deal with aspiring trainers, as well as those who are genuinely uncertain. Part of the purpose of a gym is to provide a kind of milestone in the development of a trainer as well – and that usually doesn't mean forcing them to make a quick choice when they have time to think it out."
He nodded over to Max, engaged in conversation with several of his Pokémon – including Delta, who was larger than the rest of them put together.
"If it takes him some time to decide how to battle, that's no problem for us."
"Sure," May said. "And that's good. But I actually meant starting with a Mega-Evolved Pokémon."
Flint looked nonplussed. "Oh. Right."
He thought. "Not… usually, though I think it might be because Brock's here – and, of course, because your brother's on his second League challenge."
"Okay, so… I'm really not sure," Max said, shrugging. "He has two Pokémon left, and I don't know what they are – well, I think one of them is probably Rhyperior, and that's tough enough."
"It is tricky," Cinder agreed. "I don't think I'm up for it – not when this place is so easy to Earthquake. It'd make my Dig useless, and then I'm mostly falling back on Iron Tail to damage Rock-types."
"Yeah," Max said. "Jirachi… I think Jirachi might have a chance."
I'll battle if you want me to, Jirachi supplied, then paused. "Oh, sorry. I was just saying I'd be okay to."
Cinder nodded her thanks for the reiteration.
"Thanks, Jirachi," Max smiled. "But at the same time – I mean, I'm grateful-"
"I understand," Jirachi nodded. "You don't want it to seem like you're just wishing the problem away."
"Yeah, and-" Max shook his head. "I shouldn't think it's wrong – you are my Pokémon, and – but – it's hard to work out what to think, really."
There was a short pause, and then Roland stood up.
"Max?" he said.
Max glanced over to him. "Yeah?"
"I would like that Dawn Stone, please."
At that, the trainer lifted a hand to his glasses and adjusted them a little. "Really? Are you sure?"
Roland gave him a nod, formal and poised. "I've wanted to evolve for a while now, and I decided what I was going to evolve into weeks ago. I'm sure."
"All right, then," Max said, shaking his backpack off his shoulders and going through it. "Let's see… here we go."
He revealed the Dawn Stone, and held it out.
Roland looked at it – a cerulean gemstone, perhaps the size of Max's clenched fist, with an odd starburst in the middle of it which seemed to look the same no matter the angle you viewed it from.
He reached for the stone, hesitated, then took it.
The light from the Dawn Stone flickered, then intensified – a blue-green glow flowing over Roland's body, then expanding with shocking suddenness and took Roland with it.
When it faded, a second or so later, Roland had changed quite significantly. He was now twice as tall as he had been a moment before, taller than Max would be even standing up, and his hair had gone from ponytails and a v-fringe to a crest.
The biggest change, however, was to his build. Whereas a Kirlia he had had slim legs and dainty arms, as a Gallade he was more muscular and had arms built for close-range fighting.
"Huh," he said. "That feels really weird."
The new Gallade looked down at his trainer. "And it's even stranger to see you from up here..."
Max chuckled, getting to his feet and looking Roland up and down. "I guess this means you're the tallest Pokémon on the team now."
"Okay, should we do this?" Max added, and the Psychic-type gave him an affirmative gesture.
"Roland," Lucario called, as they took their positions ready to start the battle again. "Remember your training."
Roland scratched his head, next to the crest. "Punch things?"
"Basically," Lucario agreed.
"Okay, let's go!" he said. "Ready?"
"Ready!" Forrest agreed.
He sent out his Rhyperior, who slammed his fists together before focusing on Roland.
Roland moved forwards a little into a stance, then – just as Rhyperior fired the Rock Wrecker attack – blurred.
He teleported to the side of the glowing boulder midflight, hitting it with a Force Palm to blow it into little fragments that rained down over half the arena floor, then teleported again to attack Rhyperior from behind.
Rhyperior was quick to react, and brought his tail up in what was theoretically a tail whip but was much more importantly a large rocky club moving at considerable speeds – catching Roland a glancing blow before the Gallade teleported away again.
Roland appeared behind one of the rock pillars, rubbing his back to assess the injury.
"You okay?" Max checked.
Fine! Roland sent back, then stepped forwards. Halfway through the stepping movement he vanished, and reappeared a sliver of a second later directly over Rhyperior's head.
He swiped both arms down from a cross-guard position, and Magical Leaves barraged out towards Rhyperior.
"Horn Drill overhead!" Forrest called, and Rhyperior's drill-horn began to spin up to full speed – the sheer force of the spin drawing in the Magical Leaf attack, making them crash into one another and quickly forcing it to fall apart into scattered detritus.
Roland didn't follow his attack down into the zone of effect of Rhyperior's horn, though, flash-stepping away before he could get too close and landing in front of Max.
"This is pretty cool so far," he said. "What should I do now?"
"Keep using that teleporting," Max decided. "It's hard for him to handle-"
"Earthquake!" Forrest interrupted.
Roland darted forwards, disappearing just as the ground began to shake.
For the next few seconds, it was a little hard to tell where Roland actually was – he was appearing and disappearing too fast to hit the ground, and seemed to be appearing at randomly picked positions around Rhyperior. More Magical Leaves flicked out every few teleports, their ability to home in on their target making it so Roland didn't have to spend even a moment aiming – just teleport, fire and move on – and Rhyperior was quickly forced back on the defensive, using his rocky limbs to protect himself.
"Stone Edge Shield!" Forrest said.
Rhyperior stopped using Earthquake, letting the ground settle down, then a moment later his tail crashed into the floor. Rock pillars rose up all around him, producing a screen against attacks, and the Magical Leaf attacks Roland fired out pocked the surface before petering out as he stopped attacking.
The Gallade stopped moving, stumbling a little as he landed, and glanced at Max. "Uh… what now?"
"Attack from above?" Max suggested.
Roland crouched, then lunged forwards and hit the rocks with a Force Palm. The blue-glowing energy of his palm strike forced the rock to snap with a loud crack, and revealed Rhyperior readying a Rock Wrecker to be fired directly upwards.
The Rock-type tried to redirect his attack, but Roland teleported away – to the other side of the rocky fortress, and only then to overhead. His Magical Leaf salvo went without a reply from Rhyperior, but was shredded by the still-running Horn Drill.
"What did I just say about lessons?" Lucario asked.
Roland glanced at him, then realized what he meant. He concentrated for a moment, using Rhyperior's own fortress to shield himself from attack, then vanished in a blur of teleportation which saw him deliver Force Palm strikes to just about every pillar Rhyperior had produced.
Reappearing to one side of the arena, he shoved psychically and sent the whole mess clattering to the floor – revealing Rhyperior, no longer protected by his Stone Edge defences.
Both of Roland's palms lit up again with Force Palm, and he vanished – reappearing a sliver of a second later to one side of Rhyperior, and lashing out with his left palm.
"You know, it still doesn't look like he's doing much punching," Ash said.
"I know," Lucario agreed. "Fighting-types these days."
"Don't you prefer palm strikes as well?" Pikachu asked.
"It depends what's appropriate," Lucario explained. "Besides, punch things sounds more impressive than slap things."
"You've got a point there," Ash mused.
Roland flubbed a teleport, appearing a little to the left of where he'd been aiming, and Rhyperior caught him with a concussive tail-whack which sent him flying across the room towards the wall. It took the Psychic-type a moment to recover, but he vanished before actually hitting and appeared back on the ground.
He rubbed his side for a moment, then raised both arms and produced a psychic shield – blocking the Rock Tomb that Rhyperior sent his way.
"I think it's working out pretty well for him," Lucario said. "He's definitely taking to being a Fighting-type."
Roland crouched down a little, and launched himself forwards – then vanished in the flicker of a teleport.
Rhyperior immediately spun to cover his far side, but Roland was only there for a moment – quickly teleporting back to his original position, pulling back his fist, and punching at Rhyperior.
There was a whack sound, but nothing seemed to happen.
"...huh?" Rhyperior asked, distinctly confused.
Roland pressed with his fist again, in case there had been a problem the first time, then drew it back and looked at his knuckles.
"Sorry," he allowed. "I'm still new to this."
Rhyperior nodded. "I know the feeling, man."
Then he jabbed his horn out in a Megahorn, and Roland blocked with his arm and a shield of force. The shield shattered under the impact, but some of the force of the Megahorn was blocked – Roland was sent skidding back a couple of paces with a grunt of pain, then steadied himself, and twisted his arm to grab onto Rhyperior's horn and hold him in place.
"Third time lucky," he said, and kissed the knuckles of his free hand – leaving behind a faint pink glow.
"...what?" Rhyperior asked.
Roland punched Rhyperior, and this time it worked – the glow exploded into a brilliant flash of energy, engulfing the Rock-type before draining back from him into Roland.
The Drain Punch sent Rhyperior sliding back into a pillar, and as the energy left him in a river of light he wobbled before collapsing forwards.
"Nice work, Roland," Max said, as the Psychic-type took a breath and let it out slowly. "How are you holding up?"
"Not bad," Roland replied. "It's kind of odd being like this, but it's not as different as I thought it might be. Teleporting is easier, actually."
"That's useful," Max agreed. "Okay, there's one more Pokémon to go. Ready?"
Roland glanced back, and nodded.
"Good," Forrest said. "Go – Steelix!"
"Steelix?" Max repeated, then took an involuntary step back as Brock's Steelix appeared. "Is that fair?"
"Steelix belongs to a Pewter Gym Leader," Forrest answered. "Besides, Brock said it was okay."
He raised his Key Stone.
"Great..." Max sighed.
There was a long pause as Roland got ready for the oncoming fight, crouching down a little to stabilize his stance.
Then he tilted his head. "Shouldn't..."
"Oh well..." Forrest said, shaking his head. "Worth a try."
"I don't think we've spent enough time together," Steelix said, looking back at Forrest. "No offence."
"That's kind of a relief, actually," Max said. "I wasn't really looking forward to fighting another Mega."
"Begin!" Forrest decided. "Sandstorm!"
Steelix rolled his body, producing a grating, grinding sound, and sand flowed out from the joints. Then he slapped the ground twice with his tail, making the seismically-isolated section shake, and the sand began to move and swirl.
Roland took the opportunity to teleport in and try a Force Palm – and was very promptly reminded that Steelix knew Dragonbreath, as he bathed himself in green flame to ward off the Fighting-type.
"Forrest," Flint said. "Steelix. Remember, this is a gym battle – and since Forrest hasn't trained Steelix, he has to give the commands."
"Sorry," Steelix said, as Roland landed back where he'd started.
"Do that again if he tries to get close to you," Forrest commanded, knowing a good trick when he saw one.
"You do remember Forrest doesn't speak Pokémon, right?" Roland asked.
"That's no reason not to be polite..." Steelix said. "Besides, I remember Forrest fondly. He's nice."
The sand thickened, becoming a true storm, and it became a little harder for Roland to see his Steel-type opponent.
He caught sight of a flicker of movement just in time, and jumped back as an Iron Tail slammed into the ground where he'd been a moment before.
Max, it's harder for me to see to teleport, he sent. What should I do?
"Roland, use Psychic!" Max called. "And shield yourself so the sand doesn't hit you!"
He could faintly see his Gallade moving through the sandstorm, keeping on the move so he was a harder target, and then Roland swept his arms to the side and the sandstorm… stopped.
It hung there for a moment, then moved in a rush – compressing down and spiralling in towards him, until all the sand from the whole sandstorm formed a thick yellow kite-shield just above the surface of his left arm.
"...huh," Max said. "Okay, that works too!"
Roland's free hand began to flicker with blue light, and he closed in – using the sand as a defence against the Dragonbreath Steelix fired out at him. It abraded away the surface of the shield a little, scattering sand grains on the upper surface, but most of it survived – then Roland hit with a Force Palm attack, making Steelix flinch a little.
Roland shifted his impromptu sand shield to deflect the tail-blow, and it absorbed the force with a shuff sound. Then he got hit by Dragonbreath, swung the sandy shield to compensate, and took an Iron Tail in the side which knocked him into the air.
Steelix lunged after him to follow-up on the attack with a Crunch, but Roland vanished to safety before he could connect.
"Smash the shield," Forrest instructed, and Steelix rolled a coil of his body over it – mashing it flat and breaking it up into a pile of sand. Then the sand streamed back into the air again, flowing around Steelix and forming a ball over his middle.
Roland flashed back into the battle with a quick Teleport, near the end of Steelix's tail, and sprinted up the Steel-type's back. He grabbed the floating shield as he went past, using it to block a gout of Dragonbreath.
"Behind!" Max called.
Breaking the shield into two layers, Roland swung one behind him and used it to absorb the momentum of the floating rock. Buffered that way, it just launched him forwards, and he shifted the ruined sand to try and make a path under his feet.
That was a bit too complicated, and he tripped over his own feet trying – stumbling forwards, only to vanish and reappear near the ceiling.
"Crunch!" Forrest instructed, pointing up.
Steelix reacted quickly, coiling for a moment and then launching himself upwards. Then Roland teleported again, flicking down to stand on the ground – and the sand slammed together into a ring around Steelix' body about a third of the way down from his head.
Roland's right hand glowed as he exerted his psychic strength, holding Steelix in place, and his left caught fire.
"There we go," Lucario said approvingly.
"Earthquake!" Forrest said.
Steelix thrashed, his tail whipping around to hit Roland, and the Gallade used it as a springboard – hitting his Steel-typed opponent with a Fire Punch to the jaw, then finally losing his grip on the sandy restraint holding Steelix in place.
He jumped clear as Steelix came crashing to the ground, and the whole middle of the room shook.
"Good!" Max said, as the sand drifted to the floor. "Get ready to keep it up, though!"
"Right!" Roland agreed, letting both hands catch fire this time.
Forrest frowned, thinking, as Steelix rose upright. "Okay, Steelix… Bind!"
Steelix lashed out, coiling, and his steely body wound up ready to ensnare Roland. It turned out to be a bad idea, however, as Roland simply started hitting Steelix with repeated Fire Punch attacks and the occasional Force Palm for variety.
Then, when Steelix had finally wrapped himself around Roland's waist, Roland teleported.
Flint, Brock and Lola all winced as the two Pokémon reappeared near the ceiling – and promptly dropped, with Steelix landing nose-first on the ground to the sound of a terrific musical crash.
Before the shockwave had reached Roland, he teleported them both up again, and bashed Steelix against the ground a second time – then a third – until finally Forrest held up his hand.
"Stop!" he called. "I concede."
"Much appreciated..." Steelix mumbled, eyes unfocused. "Now I know how a drum stick feels..."
Forrest took Steelix's Pokéball, then threw it to Brock. The Steel-type's original trainer caught it, and returned his starter Pokémon.
"Not bad, either of you," Flint judged. "I could see a few places you could improve, but there were no really big mistakes either."
He nodded towards Roland, who was rubbing his ribs. "And that's a pretty impressive performance, for a newly evolved Pokémon – even a Gallade. He'll go far."
Forrest rummaged in his outfit for a moment, then found what he was after. "Okay, Max – you've won the Boulder Badge. Nice work."
Max? Roland asked. I think I would rather not teleport for a while. I have a headache...
"Okay, I ain't even sure I get the point of dis one," Meowth observed. "What's dis broad again?"
"Jenny Sparks," Pikachu replied, shaking out a pair of jeans and a union-flag t-shirt. "The idea is that she's the spirit of the twentieth century – like how Jenny Steam was the spirit of the nineteenth century."
"Right," Meowth said. "Is dat a cigarette?"
"It's actually a lollipop," the cosplayer said, taking it out to reveal it. "I think it's a pretty interesting character."
"Right, sure, and I ain't complainin'," Meowth told her. "Just… what's her thing, again?"
Meowth nodded, trimming one of his claws with the other paw. "So… it ain't actually gonna give you anything."
"Not so much, no."
"Fair enough." Meowth shrugged. "Workin' on anythin' else?"
"I did have this good design for you to be a wisecracking cartoon animal who uses all kinds of gadgets," the Pikachu suggested.
"...are you just readin' our own castin' descriptions or something?"
You know, I think I like this idea of having tea in the afternoon, Gardevoir announced.
"Most of us need cups," Norman said, watching as the Psychic-type levitated an orb of translucent green tea over her palm and lifted it to sip.
There was a chiming sound from the computer, and Norman looked up. "I wonder who that is."
A moment later, Kirlia came in from the study. Mom! Mom! It's Roland!
Gardevoir turned, interested, then looked around for something to put her tea into. I'll be there in a moment, dear, she said. I just need to – aha, thank you.
She dropped the hot liquid into a mug Caroline put on the table, then headed into the study.
The first thing she saw was that the screen – instead of displaying whatever Kirlia had been using the computer for – showed her son's trainer, looking down into the camera on his Pokédex.
On seeing her, he waved, then handed the Pokédex to-
-Gardevoir smiled faintly. A Gallade, looking a bit nervous as he came into shot.
He may not have looked like he did last time he visited, but she knew her son when she saw him.
"Hello, dear," she said, remembering to speak out loud so the microphone could pick her up. "How are you?"
"I'm fine, Mom," Roland replied. "And, uh… I evolved earlier today."
"Really?" Gardevoir asked, affecting a shocked expression. "Imagine that! I never would have known."
"Mooom..." Roland groaned.
"I'm only teasing, dear," Gardevoir assured him. "Though I must say you seem to be quite comfortable about it. Do you feel comfortable?"
"Yeah, I think so," Roland said, rolling his arm to test out the range of movement. "It's still kind of new, but I beat a Steelix and a Rhyperior already so I think that's going well."
"Well, good luck," Gardevoir said.
"How come you didn't evolve into a Gardevoir?" Kirlia asked. "It seems kind of unfair that you can be a Gallade and I can't."
"Would you want to be one?" her mother asked.
"Well, no… but still!"
Meanwhile, in Kanto, a young trainer glanced over at one of her Pokémon.
"I do not," her Lucario replied, eyes closed and a faint blue shimmer around her eyelashes. "Though I am still not very experienced at using Aura sight to see Pokémon through solid objects."
"Right," Casey said. "Well… keep looking, and let me know if you see anything."
The young trainer sighed, then went over her list of Pokémon again.
"Raticate, can you see if you can find anything?"
She sent out the Normal-type, who nodded curtly before starting to sniff around.
"Why is it so hard to find a Dunsparce?" she asked. "I get that they're not really common, but you'd think we'd have run into one by now… it's been nearly a week, and we've been looking specially..."
"Perhaps it is because Dunsparce tend to appear as swarms," Lucario mooted. "If they are not there then there are none at all, but if there is one then they are easy to find."
"So we're looking in the wrong place?"
"I did not say that. Though unless a swarm appears here quite soon… then yes."
Casey shook her head. "I only want one..."
Pichu spoke up. "Chuu-pipipi?"
"Pichu is asking whether you changed your mind and decided you wanted the Dunsparce."
"Fine, Mr. Pedant," Casey replied. "I'd like to catch a Dunsparce so I can trade it to that man in Sinnoh – it took long enough to find someone willing to trade away a shiny Shinx!"
"PiChu," Pichu said, pleased he hadn't misremembered.
"I wonder if Pidgeot's had more luck..."
At about the same time, hundreds of miles east, the sun was starting to set over a sandy beach.
"Whooo-oo-aaah!" Ritchie yelped, slipping off his surfboard, then Zippo dipped down and grabbed him out of the air before he slapped into the water.
Wings beating hard, the Charizard shot through the inside of a curling-over wave and came out before it crashed down over them. Ritchie's surfboard vanished into the wave, but he hadn't been wearing a wrist strap and so they just waited until it bobbed up again.
"Thanks," Ritchie said gratefully, as they went back to shore. "I think that's probably it for today."
Zippo snorted, wings throwing up a cloud of wet sand, and let his trainer slip off onto the beautiful beach.
Both human and Pokémon looked up, seeing a man wearing a local shirt come hurrying along the beach from a parked car.
"Wonder who that is," Ritchie said, squinting a little. "I don't think I've seen him… think it's a tourist?"
Zippo nodded his agreement with that assessment.
The man slowed down a little, then offered his hand to Ritchie as he got close. "You're a hard trainer to find."
"I'm on holiday," Ritchie explained, taking the hand and feeling mildly confused.
"Well, I'm glad I found you," the man said. "I wanted to let you know – the Battle Pyramid's moved to near Pewter City."
"The Battle Pyramid," the man repeated. "You know. With Brandon?"
He shook his head. "Ash, you went to challenge him-"
"OH!" Ritchie said, snapping his fingers. "I see the problem!"
He spread his hands. "I'm not Ash. Sorry, I know, people keep confusing us… I'm the one with psychic powers."
"Ah," the man said. "Well… sorry about that, then."
He offered his hand again. "I'm Scott – nice to meet you. I run the Battle Frontier in Kanto."
"Wait… is that what Ash has been doing? You mean he isn't doing the Kanto League again?" Ritchie asked.
"Is that a problem?" Scott said.
"Well… I was kind of hoping for a proper League battle with him, so I was going to challenge the Kanto League again," Ritchie explained. "We're just taking a bit of time off to train here before then..."
He shook his head with a sigh. "Oh well. I guess the surfing has been pretty good."
And now we have the Boulderbadge challenge for Max. Including a couple of interesting performances – I hope.