May readied both her Pokémon, watching as her opponent came out of the other door.
It wasn't someone she remembered facing in the Kanto Grand Festival last time, though she did vaguely remember the other girl being in the Johto Grand Festival somewhere in the other half of the bracket. The clothes looked the same, as did the hair, but the real clue was an interesting case of heterochromia as her portrait went up on the big screen.
There was a cute-looking Buneary in her arms, and she waved a hello as she reached the grass.
"First up in today's Contest Battles," the MC said, getting their attention, "is the Hoenn Top Coordinator May, battling the rising star Vivio! It's a Doubles round, so we should see some interesting teamwork!"
Vivio curtsied, her Buneary scampering up to sit on her shoulder, then took two Pokéballs of her own from a pocket in her dress.
"Begin!" the announcer said.
Vivio's Pokéballs flew one after the other, bursting in quick succession, and the Note Seals each one was festooned with combined to produce a brief snatch of a musical fanfare.
Out of the bursts dropped two Pokémon – first a Girafarig, and then a Furret who landed on her back.
May's own Pokéball flashed a second later as Venusaur materialized, then was joined by a small projector which flared and produced Ethan. Without an actual Pokéball for Ethan, Venusaur's seals had to do all the work, and they produced a flash of fire before dissipating.
"Use Psybeam!" Vivio called, and a light began to build around Girafarig's horns. Her hooves came up, then struck the ground sharply, and a complicated design drawn in bright purple light bloomed out from the impact point.
The Psybeam itself came a moment later, and Venusaur's vines flicked out to block. Ethan flowed from his base form into a shield, and deflected the majority of the attack away from her with Light Screen – then the Porygon2 changed shape again, this time into a slim-looking weapon, and fired a Tri Attack back at the other duo.
"Protection!" Furret called, tail swiping across, and a Protect screen appeared with a similar complicated design around the edge. This one was bright green, and Ethan's Tri Attack was deflected off into the distance.
Venusaur lumbered into a run, vines moving Ethan around at speed to keep changing his angle of attack. That led to Girafarig moving faster as well, and the two pairs of Pokémon exchanged a much faster sequence of attacks – Girafarig constructing elaborate circles with each beam she fired off, making the simple Psybeams and Shadow Balls into elegant displays of control.
For his part, the Furret riding on her back focused on using moves like Defense Curl, or Agility – using Baton Pass to give her the boosts, keeping Girafarig able to focus on attack.
Against most Pokémon, that might have been enough – either to win the battle, or to keep them under too much pressure to think of a proper counteroffensive. But May's two Pokémon knew what they were doing, and Venusaur kept Ethan moving in a continuous blur through the air as he switched from Tri Attack and Zap Cannon to Light Screen and Protect.
The clash of powerful attacks filled the air, and then Vivio cupped her hands around her mouth.
Furret jumped from Girafarig's back at that command, and his fur glowed – then a circle spilled out from his body in luminous orange, drawing one of the odd looping patterns Vivio's Pokémon seemed to like.
Girafarig cantered up beside him, horns glowing, and one hoof raised ready to use another move – then Furret released what he'd been charging up, a powerful Flamethrower attack which split into four pieces and came at Venusaur from several directions at once.
Venusaur drew her vines back whip-fast, flower glowing as she skidded to a halt and used Petal Dance, and a storm of pink petals thick enough to obscure vision rose up around her. They swirled for a moment, then all flashed brilliant light blue at once as Ethan used Ice Beam and froze the lot.
All four balls of fire from the Flamethrower burst uselessly on the ice-petal shield, and Venusaur picked the whole thing up with her vines and hurled it at her opponents. The unconventional projectile made Girafarig react, striking the ground, and projecting a giant psychic-circle which solidified a moment later into a hemispherical Reflect wall.
Fragments of frozen petal went everywhere, and Girafarig formed a second circle a moment later before using it to focus a burst of psychic energy – blowing the ice away and letting her see Venusaur.
"Bee Orchid!" May said.
"Get her!" Vivio countered.
Furret acted first, a huge circle of pale yellow light blooming out around him before transferring itself to Girafarig. The Psychic/Normal Pokémon glowed in sympathy with the circle, then – augmented by the Helping Hand – stamped her hoof on the ground hard enough to make it crack underneath her.
A brilliant pink glow built up between her horns as she readied a Hyper Beam, more circles of light appearing to guide it towards Venusaur, and the Grass-type target moved both vines behind her – ready to whip them out and block as soon as the attack materialized.
A series of holograms and Light Screens unfolded from Ethan's form, turning his pink-and-blue hard light form into the core of something more like a dragon made of sharp-edged glass, and then a Signal Beam flashed out and hit Girafarig from the side as she tried to redirect her attack.
Venusaur launched a howling storm of petals, and then the bell went and all four combatants froze.
That style of fighting seemed oddly familiar, Dexter stated. But I'm not entirely sure where from.
"I don't think I've seen the dragon thing before!" Max said, jaw a little loose. "When did he learn that?"
"I've seen it once," Brock volunteered. "It came up a week or two ago when Ethan was practising against Ninetales – he used it to make her Fire attacks get kind of lost in the spikiness of the shape. Made all the heat go away, but it's also very impressive-looking!"
"All right, everyone!" said one of the presenters, after a minute or so of discussion. "We're sorry about the delay, but things were happening right up to the wire and that was very close! So, based on a-"
"-performance," Joy picked up, without missing a beat, "especially with excellent use of Light Screens, May goes through to the next round!"
May breathed a sigh of relief, then shook Vivio's hand. "Well done, Vivio. I'm sure you'll do well."
Vivio beamed, recalling both Pokémon. "Thanks! And I hope you win the whole Festival!"
Smiling, May walked back to the exit – then paused, blinking. "Wait a moment… don't I know you?"
The Coordinator about to take her place nodded. "Yeah, we had a battle in Hoenn."
"Peter, that's right!" May realized. "Well, I'll be interested to see how you do – if I can make it to the viewing gallery fast enough!"
"Sticky Web!" Peter called, pointing to his Ariados. "Get around his back!"
The Poison-type duly used Sticky Web, throwing one strand out behind Solidad's Slowbro and pulling hard to tug itself around the opposing Pokémon. Rotating as he did so, Ariados turned towards Slowbro and waited for a moment – just as Peter's other Pokémon, an Araquanid, rolled to his feet.
"Web now!" Peter ordered.
Both Bug-types fired bursts of web at the same moment, aiming them at Slowbro, and connected with ease – snarling his opponent's Pokémon up in sticky web which immobilized him.
Before Peter could give his next instruction, however, Solidad's Pidgeot blurred down from overhead – wings rolling, she used Steel Wing for a moment and delicately sliced away the webbing, meaning that when Slowbro used Psychic a moment later it blew all the web away and freed him.
Solidad nodded slightly, approving of the result.
"Damn it," Peter groaned, clenching his fist. "She's got style – so I need to use Spider-Style!"
He pointed. "Okay – Araquanid, use Sticky Web to attach yourself to Ariados! Ariados, use Sticky Web to attach yourself to the floor next to Araquanid!"
The two Bugs did so quickly, firing out cords of webbing which bonded quickly with their targets and tightened into springy cables.
"Araquanid, retract!" Peter went on. "Ariados, jump!"
The two Pokémon began to move towards one another, and a moment later a psychic attack from Slowbro hit where Ariados had been.
"Great, it's working – now, Ariados, pull!" Peter said. "Araquanid… let go!"
Peter's order came just as the two Pokémon were about to collide, and as Araquanid was whiplashed around underneath Ariados and about to curve around on top of the Poison-type. The sudden release launched Araquanid into the air at speed, and he took a moment to get a good angle on his target before using Sticky Web again – throwing a tangle of webbing into the air to try and connect to Pidgeot.
"Feathers," Solidad instructed calmly.
Pidgeot did a roll, wings folding for a moment before opening out again with a powerful movement, and downy feathers came out from under them in a white storm. The webbing hit the cloud before it reached Pidgeot, and her use of Feather Dance meant the actual Sticky Web was all gummed up with feathers before it reached her.
Letting the attack thump into her breast and bounce off, Solidad's Pidgeot sped up with a single powerful wingbeat – then curled around and used a second storm of feathers on Araquanid himself, getting several of them into his water bubble.
"Hey!" Peter called. "Araquanid – Waterfall!"
By the time he had managed to give the order, however, Pidgeot had swept down past the Bug-type. She took the remaining strand of web in her beak, then rolled her head around and whip-cracked Araquanid down towards Ariados.
The Waterfall attack detonated just as one Bug-type hit the other.
"Ouch," Max said faintly. "That's humiliating."
"That's Solidad's speciality," Brock said. "She looks up your Pokémon and works out tactics you're likely to use, then turns them against you. It's kind of impressive to watch..."
He squinted down at her. "Yeah, I think that's a new hairstyle."
"Is that why you needed my help to recognize her?" Max asked.
"I hadn't seen her in years," Brock defended himself. "I got reminded years before you."
"Sure..." Max said, dubiously. "Sure you weren't just thinking about someone else?"
The bell rang, and they both glanced up at the scoreboard.
"Yeah, no contest," Max said. "Uh, pardon the pun?"
Humans and Pokémon who'd overheard him chuckled.
At the same time, under a near-full moon, a Dragon Tamer cleared her throat.
"All right, Iris," Denae said. "It's time for your latest lesson."
"Great, I think my legs have nearly stopped aching," Iris said ruefully. "What's it this time?"
"Well," Denae smiled. "You have a choice for this one, which is what part of the lesson you do first."
She held out both her fists, clenched, and Iris looked at them for a moment before tapping one.
Denae opened it, revealing a small medallion with a dragon's claw on it.
"Your first lesson is of the land," she informed her pupil. "Send out your Fraxure."
Iris did so, and the Dragon-type looked at them both – as curious as his trainer.
"Today, we are learning dragon riding," Denae said. "This will not be a simple lesson, nor a short one – it will take a long time – but today is when you begin to learn what it is to ride on dragonback."
She indicated Fraxure. "First. What challenges do you think might come from riding him?"
"Well, he's quite short – I mean compared to other Dragon types like Dragonite," Iris clarified. "And that might make it hard for him to carry me – just because of leverage problems."
"Good," Denae nodded. "There are several others, though. One of them is that Fraxure doesn't have any good places you can hold onto them, not if they're going to be climbing using their arms. The tusks are too sharp, and they're weapons as well."
She reached into a bag by her side, and produced a harness – a complicated thing made of several straps and metal buckles. "This is what we're going to be dealing with for now – while you're not going to be riding Fraxure for most of the training, he is the Pokémon you have who could be used to ride in an emergency and so we're going to make sure you could if you had to."
"This is going to be painful, isn't it?" Iris asked.
"Of course it is," Denae confirmed. "By the time this course is done you will know at least the basics of riding all dragons – including those of the land, the sky, and the sea."
"The sea?" Iris repeated, blinking. "Like… Kingdra? Dragalge?"
"Exactly," Denae said. "That is the advanced course. But for now – see if you can put this harness on Fraxure."
"Okay, so I think I understand one of the reasons they like Coordinators to have diverse teams," Ash said, frowning. "It's because – like Pokémon Leagues – they have to do the later stages focused together on the same day, so the same Pokémon on the front lines several times in a row could get tired."
"Which is one reason why someone with only one or two Pokémon has trouble in Contests sometimes," Max realized. "And… actually, is it possible to enter a Pokémon League with fewer than six Pokémon?"
"Yeah," Ash replied. "You can. It just means you lose if you run out of Pokémon in a given battle."
"Huh," Max frowned. "I guess that's good to know, just in case it comes up."
He smiled down at Arc, who had his paws on the back of the seat in front and was watching the previous Coordinators leaving the pitch. "Not that it's likely to."
After a moment, he frowned. "How do you know, Ash? Did you forget half your team?"
"No, there was a guy in Unova," Ash replied. "He didn't know you could bring six Pokémon, or he'd lost count or something, so he had only five."
Ash shrugged. "He was a pretty good fight, though – his Lucario was insane, and he had a strong Hydreigon as well."
"I'm interested in a really big rematch," Pikachu said to himself. "I've got some ideas of how to deal with Copycat, too-"
"There's May," Brock said, pointing her out to them. "Wonder what her opponent's going to use..."
May's Wartortle was the first to come out of her Pokéball, appearing in a fwoosh as water came bursting out of the Splash Seal. She gestured, and the water caught her on a little platform before dropping to the floor as she came down to land.
Opposite her, a flash of fire and smoke heralded the arrival of her opponent. It hid the other Pokémon for a moment, and then a spark drew a ring of fire and a Delphox dropped through it out of the smoke.
Wartortle stared for a moment.
"...a witch?" she asked herself, softly.
"Delphox, attack!" called May's opponent.
Wartortle swept her hand up, forming a shield out of water to block the Mystical Fire attack that came first, then used Surf to produce more water and give herself greater leeway. Waving both hands, she structured it into a dome shape – then got hit by a Future Sight attack, which sent her flying into the air.
Before she could land, Delphox fired a Psyshock attack at her. Wartortle countered with another watery defensive screen, this one thicker than the last, and landed with her arms crossed as water splattered down all around her.
"Is something wrong?" May asked, quietly.
"I've got too many ideas!" Wartortle replied. "Do you have any idea how many witches there are-"
She was cut off by a complex little wiggle from the twig Delphox was wielding, and a green glow lighting up on the tip.
Wartortle inhaled, waving her arms so the water rose up around her, then brought it all together and fired an Ice Beam at the same moment.
There was a flash of green and blue light as Delphox fired her attack, and Wartortle's quickly-crafted ice defence captured the Solarbeam inside it and radiated it out again as an omnidirectional glow.
"I think I'm going to end up being called Snow May if this keeps up," May muttered.
Jumping to the top of the ice construct, Wartortle clapped her hands together sharply. The frozen water trembled, then melted again, and went in all directions for a moment before forming six orbs that floated all around Wartortle.
"Lightning Bolt!" Delphox called, flourishing her wand again, and a bolt of electricity came crackling forth at her command. Wartortle gestured, and the nearest globe interposed itself – turning to ice instantly as soon as it was in the right place, and making the bolt blow a few chips off but otherwise not damaging it.
"Delphox, use Mystical Fire!" the other Coordinator said. "Meteor Swarm!"
Flames danced around Delphox' paws, and she waved her wand three times around her head. The spark on the tip drew a wide circle of flame, and then she exhaled through it – producing a shower of dozens or hundreds of fireballs which curved to come raining down on Wartortle.
Seeing the attack coming, Wartortle acted quickly. She brought the other five orbs of supercooled water together, flattening them out into an umbrella, then used Hydro Pump to get more and more water to feed into her defensive shield.
"That looks kind of odd," Brock said. "I mean, it's really impressive, but still odd. I'd have expected Manaphy to be the one to do this kind of hydrokinesis."
"What about the bit where she made water that can turn into ice?" James asked.
"No, that's pretty normal," Brock replied. "That's like that move Rime."
The firestorm came to an end, and Wartortle's dome collapsed down in all directions – revealing her standing there, panting slightly, before she rallied and took her stance.
"Zap her!" called the opposing Coordinator, and Delphox flourished her wand. Then, before she could fire off the move, a wave of water came bursting out of the grass and hit Delphox in the side – bowling her over.
"Huh?" James asked, confused.
"What was that?!" Delphox demanded, flicking her wand and producing a wave of flame which dried off her fur in a moment – sending steam hissing off her. "What did you do?"
She pointed her wand at Wartortle, then spotted a second wave coming out of the corner of her eye and had to turn and punch a hole in it.
Whirling, Delphox worked up a Solarbeam – only for another wave to surge up in front of Wartortle, blocking the attack before splashing back to the ground.
That drew Delphox to look down, and she saw that her paws were standing on the only dry land in the whole stadium – everywhere else was waterlogged from all the water Wartortle had summoned during their battle.
"Lightning-" she began, preparing a spell, then got hit from behind by a wave.
Wartortle posed. "I am Wartortle!"
Then all the water in the arena landed on Delphox at once.
"That was odd," May said, a minute or so later. "Nice idea with the waves."
"Thank you," Wartortle replied, as they walked back up the tunnel. "I spent ages trying to work out what witch to treat her as, but then I decided I wouldn't let a need to make a convenient power reference define her."
"Don't you mean define you?" May checked.
"I am a Wartortle," her Pokémon replied. "I think it's union rules or something."
"I'm… not entirely sure how to react to this," Dawn said, as Ambipom and Buneary bounced ping-pong balls back and forth.
It was obvious that Buneary was coming off second best. Every few seconds one of the white plastic balls hit her in the forehead, or the paws, or she had to use her ears to block one instead of hitting it back.
Ambipom jumped to one side, hand-tails swinging, and hit two balls at once. One of them pinged off the wall, the floor, and the skirting board, then hit Buneary in the back of the head and made her fall forwards with a yelp.
The other one bounced from ceiling to lampshade to window, passed just over where her head now was, caromed off Piplup and hit the TV remote.
"Whoa!" Dawn yelped, as the channel changed, and saw a few seconds of some strange black-and-white art film involving two mimes and three Smeargle before changing the channel back to the Kanto Grand Festival.
"No more black belt ping pong indoors," she told Ambipom firmly.
Ambipom nodded earnestly.
"Or brown belt," Dawn added. "Or any belt above… blue."
She looked up, and smiled. "Looks like it's Jessie's battle round anyway, I'd like to watch that."
Pachirisu jumped down to land in her lap, and offered a half-full bag of peanuts.
"Thanks," Dawn said, taking one. "Huh, isn't that the guy who dressed as May once?"
"Go!" Harley called, throwing out his Pokéball. "Wigglytuff!"
Wigglytuff landed on his head, bounced with an audible boiing, and landed on his feet before taking a ready stance.
Jessie replied by sending out Audino, who appeared in a cloud of smoke.
When the smoke faded, it revealed he was wearing a jaunty chef's hat.
"...huh?" Harley asked, startled, then pointed at his opponents with a flourish. "Do you insult me, madam?"
In reply, Jessie adjusted a brooch making up part of her outfit – and the brooch began to glow.
Audino swept off his hat, sketching a bow, and then put it back on – this time the other way around, revealing the glittering stone on it.
Then, with an iridescent corona of light, Audino Mega-Evolved. A flared coat appeared as his body went white, feelers and tail expanded, and his ears raised up around the edges of the hat as the stone dissolved.
"Ino!" Mega Audino announced, striking a pose, then adjusted his position a little and used Fire Blast.
The attack hit the grass about halfway between the two Pokémon, and blew a nearly-circular circle of flames into the grass.
"Wigglytuff, Stockpile," Harley instructed, and Wigglytuff began to inhale and inflate himself.
Mega Audino examined the result for a moment, then used Fire Blast a second time. The area glowed brighter as he hit it for a second time, then he had to duck out of the way as Wigglytuff used Hyper Voice and sent a wave of sound across half the arena.
Shaking his head, Mega Audino took a step back – back onto the most verdant section of the grass covering the arena.
Then he made a funny little wiggling motion with his hand, and a vine lashed out across the arena to grab onto the startled Wigglytuff.
"Huh?" Harley asked, startled, and the vine glowed – making Wigglytuff yawn as it did. Then it reeled Wigglytuff in, dropping him halfway across the flaming cauldron, and the Normal-type hit with a shout of surprise as the heat woke him up again.
Wigglytuff's inflated body was resistant to most kinds of attack, at least compared to normal, so he just rolled over in the flames a few times before skidding to a halt – looking up with a scowl at Mega Audino and clenching his fists.
Mega Audino got a running start, then jumped out over the cauldron as well. As he reached the middle, he fired a Water Pulse downwards – creating a single spot in the centre which was of a perfectly comfortable temperature.
"Gravity!" Jessie said. "Now, Wok him!"
Max glanced at Ash. "Did she say-"
The altered gravity field sprang up, forcing Mega Audino downwards at high speed. He impacted with a crash, using a Focus Punch enhanced by the impact, and the blow forced much of the arena downwards into a kind of shallow dish.
Wigglytuff used Hyper Voice again and hit Mega Audino head-on with a cloud of hot mud and air. That made Jessie's Pokémon take a step back, then the Mega-Evolved Pokémon made the same funny little gesture and mud fountained up to hit Wigglytuff and make him stagger backwards.
"...hold on," Brock said. "I think I see what's going on..."
Jumping back into the air with another use of Gravity – going up, this time – Mega Audino landed on the edge of the depression. Then he inhaled, looking like he was about to use Hyper Voice – except that what came out was a wave of water.
"And that's a Surf now!" Joy said, interested. "We have to admit we're not sure where this is going, but it's certainly a diverse battle style!"
The wave of water splashed down into the depression with a long hiss, and a cloud of steam filled the area. As it did, Wigglytuff floated to the surface with an aggrieved expression before targeting in for another Hyper Voice.
Mega Audino began to run around the edge of his newly-created depression, using the same odd gesture again – this time producing vines, which fell into the water and stayed there. Hyper Voice attacks burst around him, two connecting, but he kept going without paying much attention.
"That's it!" Harley said. "Spit Up!"
"Now!" Jessie called, interrupting him.
Mega Audino turned back to the water, and used Fire Blast. The flaming attack punched through the relatively thin layer of water and exploded, heating up the whole of the dish-shaped arena to a temperature it started bubbling and steaming. The vines fell everywhere, including several which draped themselves all over a surprised Wigglytuff, and his Spit Up attack blew up in his face.
Bits of vine rained down across the battle area, and Mega Audino produced a small spoon from under his chef's hat. He took a sip of the water, shook his hand back and forth, then bowed just as the time ran out.
"...what?" Harley asked.
Wigglytuff rolled over onto his back, vines slithering off him, and groaned.
"What!?" Harley demanded. "What was that? This is supposed to be a Contest, not a cooking show!"
He pointed at Jessie with a flourish. "I demand satisfaction!"
"Calm down, please," Nurse Joy requested. "We've already made our decision, which was quite easy, and it is Jessie who will be going on to the next round."
"Easy?" Harley said, then shook his head. "No! I accept the verdict, but I refuse the insult!"
Wigglytuff said something rather more coherent, and Harley recalled him. Turning with bad grace, he flounced off the field.
"Dat was kinda impressive," Meowth observed.
"I know," James agreed. "I didn't know you could flounce in a Cacturne costume."
"No, I meant-" Meowth began, then shook his head. "Never mind."
"Now I'm going to have to try," James added. "We'd better get some fabric."
Under a half-moon sky, Fraxure's claws dug into a soft rock face.
He grunted, straining hard, and Iris adjusted her position so he didn't have too much trouble with the leverage.
"Nearly there," she said.
Fraxure nodded, chirruping to her, then hauled himself the rest of the way up the sixty-degree slope.
He lay down long enough for Iris to get off, then rolled onto his back and panted hard.
"Not bad," said Denae, nodding to herself. "You two were really starting to get some speed up in the middle there. Endurance is still a problem, though."
"You made us climb another mountain," Iris pointed out. "And really, the fact I'm getting used to that is worrying."
"Anyway," she resumed. "This next Pokémon is not one of mine – he's borrowed from Drayden."
She sent out a large, burly-looking Salamence, who looked her over in the dim light of the moon and snorted.
"This is the full equipment," Denae went on, putting a bag on the floor. "It's a lightweight flight harness, so it only weighs a few pounds. Look it over and make sure you understand both it and the accessories."
Iris glanced down at the harness, then turned back to Fraxure. Unclipping his harness, she rolled it up and clipped it into a tight bundle before returning the tired Dragon-type.
"Good," Denae said.
"Another test?" Iris asked, irked.
"Everything is," Denae answered. "The difference is what it means to fail. Now, Salamence."
Iris inspected the contents of the bag, working partly by feel in the dim light, then found something that felt small and round. Bringing it out, she gave it a look.
"What's this?" she asked.
"Navigation light," Denae told her. "There's three of them. You'll want to put the red one on his left wing, the green on his right wing and the white on his tail. It's regulations, and dragon riders can ignore them if it's important – but it's also common sense to show lights at night."
Iris nodded along, feeling around the light, then found the switch and nearly dropped it as bright white light hit her dark-adapted eyes. "Ack!"
Blinking hard and rubbing one eye, shaking her head, she looked away for several seconds to give her eyes time to adjust. Then she put the white light down on a nearby rock, and began using it to go through the rest of the harness.
"So this section goes around his neck," she said, then moved to a different part. "And these are the wing holes, because they've got so much play in them."
"You're correct," Danae agreed. "And those are the clips you use to hold yourself on, which is another way to tell which side is the top."
"All right, Salamence," Iris said, slowly. "Let's see about doing this, then."
She had him step into the loops of the harness, one after another, then clipped it tight and pulled to make sure they wouldn't come loose. The lights went on his wings and tail, and a few minutes later she was sitting on dragonback and looking across at Denae.
"Good," Denae allowed. "We can work on speed later."
She nodded to Salamence. "Give her a show."
"Wait, what?" Iris asked, then the big blue Dragon-type took off with a wham of wings and a dancing pattern of navigation lights.
A shout of surprise dopplered off into the distance.
"Hmmm..." May mused, brushing Skitty and tapping one foot.
What are you thinking about? Grumpig asked.
"Just who to use next, really," May replied. "Ethan, Venusaur, Skitty, Glaceon and Wartortle have had their turns, but that still leaves seven Pokémon – and with one single and two doubles left..."
I see, Grumpig agreed. Even in the best case, you cannot have all your Pokémon participate.
He shrugged. I think what matters is that you choose who you think would work best, May. We are not going to think less of you, no matter your choice.
"Thanks," May smiled.
"I will," Skitty said quickly.
"You've already had your turn, sssh," May chuckled. "Okay, let's see..."
She counted on her fingers. "Blaziken, Beautifly, Manaphy, Joltik, Grumpig, Altaria and Munchlax. Well, I think Manaphy and Joltik have been getting on pretty well together, so that's one option that might be best to keep to a Doubles match..."
A thought came to her, and she chuckled.
"What is it?" Blaziken asked.
"Oh, I just realized," May replied. "Solidad likes to get lots of information on her opponents and out-plan them. But I don't think she even knows Joltik exists."
"That is quite an easy thing to miss," Joltik agreed. "My small size makes me hard to identify visually at the best of times, which can often be a tactical advantage."
She buzzed, the sound a little like a Jacob's Ladder. "Is your predilection for sharing Contest participation around your team known?"
"I… hold on," May said, opening up Ethan. "What's a predilection?"
Reading off the definition, she nodded. "Right. That. And… I guess it might be."
"Then it might be possible to convince Solidad to take the wrong Pokémon," Joltik said.
"Hmmm..." May frowned, thinking about it. "Well, most of my Ice using Pokémon have already had their turn..."
"All right, you're next," Ivysaur said, giving a nod to Muk.
The Poison-type rolled forwards, taking position on the scarred platform.
"Hmm..." Ivysaur mused. "We're going to need to get a new one."
"A new what, what?" Noctowl asked.
"Platform," Ivysaur answered. "This one's getting badly beaten up, and I don't think Muk's going to do it any favours."
Muk shifted, bubbling like a puddle of tar, then his mouth appeared facing straight up. There was a pause as he inhaled, then he used Flamethrower, Sludge Wave, Flamethrower, Sludge Wave and Flamethrower, producing a five-tiered fountain of hissing and burning chemical gunk.
"Hm, not bad..." Ivysaur decided, nodding to himself. "I mean, it's probably quite dangerous to be exposed to for long periods of time, but water's also dangerous if you inhale too much of it."
"I don't think that's quite how it works," Noctowl said. "Bally silly of you, really."
Ivysaur shrugged. "I'm not the only Pokémon who gets a vote," he pointed out. "All right, Muk, time's up!"
Muk stopped, and droplets of half-burned sludge dropped all over the place. The Sludge Pokémon rolled over some of them, eating them absently, and left the arena.
"See what I mean?" Ivysaur asked. "Okay, I think it's time to deal with this. Tyranitar?"
The big Rock-type stamped his foot twice, and the ground broke up as a localized Earthquake hit. Then he slammed his tail down, and a sheet of rock slid out to cover the area.
"Thank you, Tyranitar," Ivysaur said courteously. "Let's see… next up is Entei."
"He had to leave," Houndoom reported. "Apparently there's a dangerous flood over by Celadon."
"How can Entei help with a flood – no, never mind," Ivysaur decided. "I'm sure the answer's going to be outrageously excessive."
"He's going to evaporate the flood," Houndoom confirmed.
"That's going to mean it rains back," Totodile supplied. "Does he know that?"
"I think he plans on being out of the area," Ivysaur judged. "Okay, no Entei… that means it's Goodra's turn."
Goodra walked out, and used Rain Dance.
"...that's not how Rain Dance normally works," Houndoom managed. "What is it?"
"It's a breakdancing dragon," Ivysaur replied. "Can't you tell?"
"Of course, how could I be so foolish," Houndoom sighed. "I thought you were the sensible one?"
"This is sensible," Ivysaur said. "He's not using Dragon Pulse to fire out giant laser beams, and it's quite a deft demonstration of an unusual interpretation of a move. I'm not sure how well it's going to do compared to Pidgeot's display of glass sculpture, but it'll probably do quite well."
Ivysaur got up, stretching. "That reminds me, can you take over for a bit? I need to go and pick up the score forms."
"How is it being scored?" Houndoom said. "Sorry, I wasn't paying attention..."
"Well, it'd be a bit hard for everyone to rate all the appeals," Ivysaur said. "So each score sheet has about twenty head-to-head comparisons, picked randomly. Pokémon say which they think is best from those two head-to-head comparisons, and that lets Damos generate the final ranking."
He shook his head. "One downside is that we're also going to need about fifty pencils."
Goodra walked off, and Mawile took his place.
"Oh, hold on, I think I'd like to watch this," Ivysaur went on.
Mawile crouched, then used Flamethrower.
They watched her path through the sky, which looked a little like a treble clef, then winced as she hit the ground with a whang.
"I'm okay!" she said, brightly. "I remembered to use Iron Defence!"
Shaking her head, the Steel-type prised herself out of her Mawile-shaped crater. "Sorry!" she said, waving. "I'll try again!"
Meanwhile, somewhere else entirely, a dragon was very thoroughly stuck.
"RRRgh!" Dialga groaned, fins stuck firmly against the side of the Exploration Base corridors. "This is ridiculous!"
"Try retracting them," Aaron suggested, standing on Dialga's back, and prodded one fin experimentally.
"It is retracted!" Dialga countered. "This place is not built for Pokémon my size!"
"Which is a bit odd," Aaron agreed. "You're big, but not that big. How do you not even fit in a corridor when we saw a Wailord coming out of here two minutes ago?"
He hopped off Dialga's back, then took a stance.
"You might want to get ready," he added, blue aura rising up around his paws and little wisps of it curling off like steam. "This is going to sting."
"Wait, what are you doing?" Dialga asked.
Then Aaron hit him with a Force Palm.
The impact jarred Dialga loose, at the cost of several bits of the overhead roof material, and he flopped into their bed chamber with a muffled ow.
"There," Aaron said, nodding to himself. "Okay, that's you, now it's Giratina's turn."
"At least he's going to have as much trouble as me," Dialga muttered, rolling upright and making the floor tremble.
Then Giratina phased through the wall.
Dialga stared, then raised one massive paw and hit his forehead with a kerrrunnnng. "I hate you so much right now..."
"Why?" Giratina asked, nodding. "It's him you should be mad at."
Dialga followed the direction of his nod, then his jaw dropped as Palkia walked easily through the low corridor – the corridor itself warping around him and becoming much larger, then shrinking back to normal size once he was past.
"...why didn't you do that for me?" Dialga demanded.
"I was finishing dessert," Palkia answered. "So, any news on what the first mission is?"
"Not yet," Aaron replied. "Though I have to admit, I don't think much of these guild bylaws..."
Plot reasons, Arceus informed them.
"That's your excuse for everything."
At least I'm letting you all go on missions at once even though three of you are gigantic Legendary Pokémon, Arceus defended himself. Partly because otherwise you'd probably wreck and/or eat the guild base.
"I still say it was a dirty trick to put a Normal and Fairy type in charge," Giratina said very quietly.
You know very well that's the only reason you didn't challenge him to a duel.
More Contesting, because Contest.
Also, a few things that weren't Contest. But hopefully still interesting