"So I just had an odd thought," Pikachu said. "What would happen if Jirachi wished to do a great Contest Appeal?"

Max glanced down at the translation, then frowned.

"Uh… actually, that's a very good question," he admitted. "In more than one way. Because if he just said that and then a really good Appeal happened, would that be cheating?"

Pikachu shrugged.

Hold on a moment, Kris requested. It appears that the subject is not covered by the rules, because they did not anticipate anyone showing up with a Jirachi.

"Now I'm tempted to try..." Max said, chuckling. "How many loopholes like that are there?"

Not many, largely because most Pokémon do not have conceptual powers like that. I could see someone using a Celebi to do-over their Appeal until they get it right, or having one of the Lake Guardians do something… but beyond that I am having trouble.

"Why not just have someone put the audience to sleep and give them dreams of a good performance?" Ash asked.

That's rule 32c. Someone tried it with a Musharna four years ago.

"The strangest things happen in Contests..." James said. "What about hypnotizing the audience and the judges?"

Same rule. 'The performance must happen'.

Ash snorted with surprise.

I know. It's a bit blunt.

"Okay..." Drew said to himself. "So, I guess… don't do anything too predictable? Wait, no, that's got problems too."

He shrugged. "I guess – do your best?"

Stepping out onto the grass, he threw both his Pokéballs with a flourish. Flygon materialized just as Solidad sent out her Slowbro, and then her Butterfree appeared a second later – swooping low over Slowbro's head as Drew's Roserade landed in a swirl of petals.

"Number two!" Drew called.

Flygon immediately went lower, circling around Roserade with his wings shifting into Steel Wing, and the Grass-type began to spin in the same direction with her arms out. Petals spilled forth as she used Petal Blizzard, augmenting them with the leaves of a Razor Leaf attack, and Flygon slowly rose into the air again – carrying the leaves with him.

As they built up the swirling tornado of petals and leaves, Solidad's Butterfree flew lower on a command from the Coordinator. A faint dusting of powder fell from his feathers, and then he charged past Slowbro towards Drew's Pokémon.

The powder dusting glowed in the sunlight.

"Block low!" Drew called. "Steel!"

Flygon angled downwards, Steel Wings flashing, and got them in position just as an Ice Beam flashed out from Slowbro along the marked line. While the Ice-type attack was more dangerous to Flygon than it would have been to Roserade, Flygon's use of Steel Wing let him deflect the attack off towards the ground.

Slowbro kept up the attack for about a second, then it faded away – but that time had been bad for the growing petal storm, which had fallen apart without Flygon to keep adding momentum to it.

"A spectacular piece of work!" Nurse Joy said, approving. "Solidad neutralizes a move by Drew before it's even finished!"

"Rekindle it!" Drew said. "Flygon, Agility!"

Flygon's wings blurred as he got back to work, flying in the same pattern as before but doing so much faster. The dust devil he was forming began to suck in air at the base, and that carried the petals and Razor Leaves with it – avoiding Flygon himself, but entraining them in the wind and getting them back into the tornado.

Roserade added more Grass-type attacks, including Magical Leaves, but they only spent a couple of seconds on it until they had to attack – then they turned it on Slowbro, sending the whole mass whirling towards Solidad's Pokémon.

Doing a quick loop, Flygon came down alongside Roserade and used a wingtip to flip her into the air. He rolled to get underneath her, letting her land in the junction of his wings, and then followed the leaf-and-petal storm.

As they did, the whirling tornado of an attack reached its target. Slowbro yawned, tail thumping the ground, and a bubble of force appeared – but not around the Water-type himself.

Instead, the bubble of force was a few feet in the air, hovering there as if it was an overly solid soap bubble. Butterfree began to push it, shifting it into position to block the leaf-swarm, and petals and leaves scattered everywhere.

About halfway through the attack, though, Slowbro modified the shield. The top opened up, letting the detritus carried along with the attack sweep through so it filled the inside of the shield – then spill back out again harmlessly.

"Cotton Spore!" Drew called. "Fire Blast!"

Roserade raised both flowery arms, sending out a surge of white cotton-spores which were grabbed by the last of the wind and whirled away into Slowbro's shield-bubble. Then Flygon used Fire Blast, and turned the whole of the area in front of and inside the bubble into an explosion.

The unexpected strength of the explosion popped the bubble, and Drew's Pokémon evaded the spike of flame which shot back along the path towards them.

"Jump!" Drew added.

Roserade jumped off Flygon's back, doing a backflip, and put both arms down. She fired out a pair of Seed Bombs to arrest her fall a little, then spun around and pointed one arm at Slowbro as if she was an Old West gunslinger.

A tumbleweed rolled past, and then she fired a barrage of Bullet Seeds.

As she did, Flygon began setting up his own separate attack overhead. He rolled out of the way of a Solarbeam fired by Butterfree, then used Fire Blast to produce a cloud of smoke and cinders to hide in.

The moment he entered it, he rolled around and used Gust – blowing the still-hot cloud towards where Butterfree had been attacking from, and managing to get a glancing hit on the fragile Bug-type before he evaded.

"This looks more like two one-on-one battles at the moment," Brock said, thinking, as Roserade jumped acrobatically back and forth and used her 'revolvers' to keep up pressure on Slowbro, avoiding the Psychic-type's attacks in return. "I suppose the job of the trainers at this point is to keep an eye on when an opposing Pokémon might break off and join forces with the other – or when their Pokémon should do the same."

He looked up at the scoreboard. "It's kind of a stalemate at this point, but they're both scoring – before long someone's going to try for a spectacular finish."

Slowbro inhaled, tilted his head, then used a Water Pulse. It burst partway to the target, spreading out into a glowing wall of mist held together by telekinesis.

Roserade stopped firing, no longer able to see her target, and frowned.

"Up!" Drew called.

The Grass-type crouched slightly, then jumped into the air. Before she came down, Flygon swept through – having abandoned his own battle – and flipped her higher with his wingtip, then used Gust to send her across half the battlefield.

Slowbro's attack – a psychic blast which froze the mist and launched it out as a wall at the same moment – missed them both, but only just, and Flygon was still dodging out of the way when Butterfree fired a Psychic attack of his own.

Flygon's wings flashed over to Steel Wing just in time, deflecting the attack away with a roll, but then Slowbro landed a solid hit with a Water Pulse.

Drew winced as water splattered down from where Flygon had been hit, then glanced over at Roserade as she landed – keeping out of the way, and not drawing attention to herself.

She raised both arms, and Drew's eyes flicked up – then he nodded, understanding.

"Flygon!" he called. "Grab your new teammate!"

Flygon twisted, tail spattering more blobs of water as it shook itself dry, then rolled.

"Butterfree, look out!" Solidad shouted, realizing where that was going, but Butterfree reacted slower and didn't have time for more than a quick Stun Spore before Flygon reached him.

Flygon's claws caught Butterfree before the paralysis set in, and locked them both in place – Flygon unable to disengage, Butterfree unable to pull free – and then Roserade fired out a plume of thick, glittering Sweet Scent from her left arm.

The cloud enveloped both Pokémon, which was when Roserade used her other arm – and produced a Weather Ball.

The globe of flame flew about six inches, contacted the cloud of powder, and set it alight. Rather than a simple explosion, however, it deflagrated – a high-speed burning which spread up the cloud slow enough to be visible.

When the blast engulfed both Butterfree and Flygon, they vanished completely as the orange-yellow blast wave obscured them from sight. Roserade fired a second blast of powder and dust from her right arm, adding to the explosion and giving it a definite blue colouring, and the crowd watched.

Then Flygon came soaring out of the cloud again, wings humming, and trails of fire dripped off the leading edge of his wings before dissipating entirely. A moment later, Butterfree dropped out of the bottom of the cloud, wobbling a little before crashing next to Slowbro.

The bell rang, and Drew looked up at the screen. The timer showed at least a minute was left – but the score showed that he had a few points left, while Solidad had just lost her last.

I wonder how that worked, Gardevoir said, looking at the television as a window replayed the last few seconds of the Contest battle. "How did Flygon know what to do?"

"I… think I might know," Norman said. "Remember, what Drew said was to 'grab your new teammate'. From what I remember about Drew, he's had Roserade for a very long time – and we saw his Butterfree earlier, but that was probably a new Pokémon. So that means he trusted Flygon to know what he meant."

I think I see, Gardevoir agreed. Even if Solidad knew about Butterfree and that that was the new Pokémon, she'd have to warn her own Butterfree about it and that would take longer.

"That's what I think," Norman agreed.

"And I have to say, I liked that Aromatherapy by Roserade," Caroline volunteered.

"So that's what it was," Norman realized. "The second puff of dust?"

"Yes," Caroline agreed. "It added some flair to the flames, and it was also what Flygon needed in case Butterfree had hit him with something."

She looked a little wistful. "Maybe we should try doing a Contest battle some time ourselves, dear… it'd be nice to be able to practice the old trick of trying to outwit your opponent while being showy as well."

Maybe I should give it a go, Kirlia suggested.

"We should talk about it later," Norman said. "There goes May – let's see how her final goes!"

"Is there space for us?"

"Wartortle?" Ash asked, surprised. "Yeah, I think so… what are you guys all doing here?"

"Watching," Altaria said, spreading himself over a pair of vacant seats and letting some of the others sit on his fluffy cloudstuff. "May said she didn't need us, so we could watch from up here."

It should be an interesting experience, Ethan added.

There was a general shuffling along as everyone made room, so by the time the Coordinators came out onto the field for the final everyone had a space.

"Good ting we got Gyarados watching in da hotel room," Meowth said. "Along with all the others too."

"Yeah, it is a bit of a tight squeeze," Brock agreed.

Then Jessie sent out her Pokémon, drawing their attention.

"Wonder what Pikachu has this time," Pikachu mused, then frowned as she was revealed. "That… just seems to be a belt. I don't get the reference."

"I don't think it is one," Wartortle said, as Seviper slithered out to join Cosplay Pikachu. Their opponents appeared across the field – Grumpig and Blaziken – and then the Fighting-type surged into motion.

Before he reached Jessie's Pokémon, however, Cosplaychu did a twirl – and then she was wearing something else, a red outfit with yellow lightning bolts as a motif.

Blurring, she was suddenly running alongside Blaziken, and then dodged out of the way at extreme speed as he tried to hit her with a Blaze Kick.

Shooting around in a circle through the entire arena, she came at Blaziken from behind – only to run into a wall produced by Grumpig's psychic powers, which rippled like the surface of a swimming pool as the ripples from the impact spread out.

Cosplaychu bounced backwards, then did another twirl. Now wearing something different entirely, a karate gi with a belt tied around her waist, she hit the wall with her palm – making it burst, before she fired a bolt of lightning at Blaziken and forced him to dodge away.

"Did… did she just change clothing on the fly?" Max asked. "Given her normal abilities, that's scary..."

"Da real trouble was makin' the belt," Meowth said, picking his teeth nonchalantly with a claw.

Jessie watched as her Pikachu slid smoothly under the latest attack from Blaziken, using the ice from her Avalanche to move faster, then got snagged by Grumpig and lifted into the air by his telekinesis.

Little spirals of light lit the area around her as Grumpig used Energy Ball, lifting her to a height Blaziken could properly line up an attack, and despite her best efforts she couldn't manage the twirl that would let her change out her costumes.

"Steel Spin!" Jessie called.

Seviper emerged from the grass, body uncoiling with whiplash speed, and flicked a shower of poisonous darts from his tail at Cosplay Pikachu. The shower glittered as it flew, seeming to form a slightly arcing line from Seviper's tail towards Pikachu's tail.

As it arrived, Pikachu stuck her tail out and used Iron Tail. Now covered with Steel-type energy, the tail deflected all the darts and sent them raining down across half the field – but, more importantly, it pushed the Electric-type into a spin.

Her snowboarder's outfit vanished, replaced by a shirt with a cute little black fox tail poking out just above her real tail, and she clapped her paws together to produce a pulse of roiling red-black energy.

Grumpig lost his grip completely as the Night Daze broke through his telekinetic control, and Cosplaychu landed on the ground with a thump before switching costumes again to look like a classical black-suited ninja.

Drawing the ninjato that made up part of the costume, Cosplaychu used Night Slash to block Blaziken's attack, swivelled to defend against the light beam fired her way by Grumpig, then spun backwards and landed in a defensive stance.

Seviper burst out of a Dig attack in front of her, tail towards her and head lunging at Blaziken, and Pikachu ran up the serpent before launching her own attack at Blaziken in concert with his.

"Twin flame spiral!" May instructed, and Blaziken did a backflip away from Pikachu and Seviper to land next to Grumpig.

The two exchanged a quick glance, just enough to coordinate themselves, and then Blaziken lit both his fists on fire. He punched at Grumpig, and the Psychic-type made the fireballs warp around him into a pair of rings which pulsed once – then expanded out, and Blaziken jumped neatly over them before launching two more fireballs at Grumpig.

Within a few seconds, there were enough blazing rings for Grumpig to turn them into a full cylindrical wall of flame, and Blaziken jumped much higher this time before kicking very hard.

The whole spiral surged off the ground, wrapping itself around his leg and coiling up like a spring, and he sighted along his lower leg before launching it again with a snap-kick aimed directly for Cosplaychu.

May smiled for a moment, impressed with their being able to pull off one of their fiddlier combinations, then frowned as Cosplaychu did another costume-switch.

This time she produced a little white object, like a gun, which she held in both hands and fired two balls from in quick succession. The first one hit the ground just in front of her, and didn't seem to have any effect by itself – then the second one hit the wall of the arena, and suddenly there was a hole in the ground which the flame-spiral vanished into.

With a roar, the flames erupted out of the arena wall, and went four or five feet over Grumpig's head.

May winced, wondering what attack that had been, then indicated Cosplay Pikachu. "Bullet Hell!"

Blaziken picked up Grumpig as he landed, then began to really move. Concentrating entirely on speed, he let Grumpig handle the business of attacking – which the Psychic-type duly did, mixing together Signal Beams and Psybeams with Shadow Ball attacks and the Energy Balls he'd been using before.

With Blaziken moving in a circle around their opponent, Pikachu was attacked from all sides at once. She switched out the costume she'd been using for another – this one a tiny suit of lorica segmenta, with a tower shield and a small faux sword.

The move it granted her was obvious almost instantly, as she slid the shield into place and hid behind it – the green sparkle of a Protect lighting up as she blocked the sequences of attacks.

"How many outfits does she have available?" Max asked.

"Eh, enough," Meowth shrugged. "It ain't like I was countin'. Ya know we actually have a clothin' budget?"

"...I didn't, actually," Max said.

"Yeah, but now 'cause we don't get blasted off every other day it don't all have to go on new uniforms," Meowth explained. "So she spends da lot."

"I suppose that explains how she got all of them," Max agreed. "But how does she know what move she'll get?"

"Sometimes it's kinda obvious," Meowth chuckled. "But other times it takes kinda a lot'a experimentation. You don't wanna know what happened when she was tryin' to find the outfit for Dive."

Max thought it through. "Did she dress as a submarine?"

"Yeah," Meowth agreed. "Didn't work, turns out there are some kinda limits ta what counts as a costume-"

Cosplay Pikachu rose out of her crouch in a smooth motion, hooking the end of her sword around the jagged tip of Seviper's tail.

In a single twirl, she threw Seviper at Blaziken, sending the Poison-type in a long arc which ended with him wrapping himself around Blaziken's legs.

"Huh," Meowth added. "Dat one's new."

The moment Seviper made contact, he used Constrict – wrapping up Blaziken's legs as tightly as he could, and forcing the Fighting-type into a trip.

Grumpig and Blaziken parted company, and the Psychic-type's pearl glowed brightly as he damped out the spin the stumble had left him with. Still moving fast, he touched down on the terrain and bounced – then bounced off the wall as well, the second bounce revealing a large, springy shield of psychic energy around him.

Before he'd landed the second time, however, Cosplay Pikachu did another spin. Her shield vanished, as did her Roman armour, and the sword was swapped out for another one – this one a glowing red tube, which blazed up brighter even as a set of dark robes settled into place around her.

A blast of electrical energy flashed out from her palm, and crawled over Grumpig's bouncy shield without penetrating. Then Cosplaychu made a different gesture, and slammed Grumpig into the ground – shield and all.

He waved his own forearms, using Psychic, and she deflected it with a pulse of psychic energy of her own. Then she counterattacked, firing another burst of electricity, and Grumpig used Shock Wave to deflect the lightning away.

That meant he was unable to see properly for a moment, the light of the attacks clashing obscuring his vision, and Cosplaychu darted forwards to swing her ersatz lightsaber.

For Blaziken's part, he rolled forwards so he was doing a handstand. Braking with both hands as if he were doing a normal sliding stop upside down, the flames on his wrists spiked up to form two trails of fire marking out his path in scorched grass.

As he slowed, he twisted his lower body around and flicked both legs at once to fling Seviper off.

The Poison-type was dislodged from Blaziken's right leg, but clung onto his left until Blaziken had slowed down enough – then jumped clear of his own accord, diving into the ground as if it was water.

Blaziken looked over towards where Grumpig and Jessie's Pikachu were fighting, but as soon as he made a movement in that direction Seviper surged out of the ground.

Then so did another Seviper.

Within less than three seconds, there were dozens of the Poison-types hissing at Blaziken or emerging from the ground. Then, at an unseen signal, they all charged at once.

"That must be very infuriating," Dawn mused, nodding at the screen. "I mean, most of those are Double Teams and I think the rest are Substitutes, but even so Blaziken's being swarmed."

She frowned to herself, thinking. "I wonder what that means for the scores – he's having to get repetitive, but the visual spectacle of the Seviper swarm is probably scoring some points on that end. I wonder when it stops being worth it?"

"Maybe nobody's paying attention to it," Suicune suggested.

"Yeah, you could be right," Dawn agreed. "I mean, the other battle's even more spectacular."

The red-sabered Pikachu was jumping all over the place, doing flips and rolls at the drop of a hat, and normally that would have been an obvious mistake around a Psychic-type – but it was clear that, at least at the moment, she had psychic powers as well. Even as they watched, Grumpig knocked the lightsaber out of her paws, and it spun away for a moment before reversing and striking Grumpig in the side on the way back to its wielder.

Grumpig's answer to that was to concentrate briefly, pearl flaring, and then reverse gravity in a circle ten feet in radius. Bits of previously damaged floor came soaring up along with both Pokémon until they were floating forty feet in the air, still exchanging powerful attacks, and with Grumpig able to get the upper hand because there was no longer a surface for Pikachu to use to kick off from.

"Use the saber!" Jessie called, and Cosplay Pikachu flipped around her red-glowing faux weapon so she was riding it like a surfboard.

Kicking off from it to gain speed, she reached out with Psychic a moment later and grabbed it again – making it follow her, so she could kick off a second time to change direction as Grumpig dodged.

Satisfied that her Electric-type was handling the battle, Jessie turned her attention to Seviper – where her Poison-type was still going after Blaziken.

As she watched, however, Blaziken clenched his fists and hit the ground with both of them at once – producing a swirl of flames, which built up until there was a vortex of sparks and fire surrounding him.

"Go below!" she called.

The Seviper clones stopped coming out to attack, but Blaziken kept moving – trying to stay away from the Substitutes she knew were coming in from below ground.

Then one Seviper did come out above the surface of the arena, coiled up, and launched himself forwards. Turning the momentum into a roll rather than a proper attack, he used Aqua Tail and Ice Fang – building up a shield of freezing water to get through Blaziken's defences.

"Skyfire!" May called, and Jessie frowned as Blaziken launched himself skywards – getting out of the way of the attack, and also giving him an elevated position to hit the real Seviper.

She signalled to Cosplay Pikachu, who had traded her Sith costume for a large chef's hat and was throwing around Scald attacks, and snapped her fingers.

May spotted the gesture, and realized it had to mean something big – a preplanned combination, probably the one they'd planned on using for the whole battle.

"Look out!" she called. "Grumpig, Disable Pikachu!"

Grumpig put his arms out to either side, shaking off the boiling water that had been surging in towards him, and aimed an attack at the cosplaying Pikachu he was in the middle of fighting.

She ducked under his attack, barely managing to avoid something which came so close it knocked her hat off, but she was already twirling and changing outfits – the chef's hat vanished, along with the oven mitts, and she replaced them both with a wooden replica Keyblade.

"Pi-chu-KA!" she shouted, and glittering pink-and-blue chains appeared from out of thin air – one loop connecting to Grumpig's ankle, the rest of them snaking off across the battlefield as they formed one-at-a-time to reach Blaziken and snarl him up tightly.

"Fairy Lock?" Ash repeated, dubiously. "I didn't know Fairy Lock looked like-"

His sentence was cut off as Cosplaychu twisted her Keyblade, and the chains retracted together in a great rattling cascade. Grumpig and Blaziken were jerked towards one another, with the heavier Grumpig moving a little less distance than his lighter ally, and a moment later May's two Pokémon slammed together in mid-air with the chains tangling one of Blaziken's legs.

The Fighting-type took just a moment to take stock of his situation, then put his palms together and launched out a fireball to the side. The recoil pushed him off-centre, away from the point the two of them had impacted, and he was about to continue when Seviper sprang upwards.

He hit both of them with Dragon Tail, knocking them into a spin – one still constrained by the Fairy Lock holding them together – and made Blaziken's next attack go wild, producing a bright red-cored flash and a smokescreen across an unimportant section of the arena floor.

Bouncing back to the ground, Seviper compressed like a spring and launched himself up again. This time he used Aqua Tail, hitting Blaziken, and the spiral of water around it wrapped around both Pokémon until Grumpig dispelled it.

May's Psychic-type waved his hands, wrenching the water into a globe, and fired it out to hit Seviper's next spring up. He missed, however, as Seviper coiled up and did not launch himself straight back up again – instead choosing to focus, twisting himself tighter.

Then – a moment too late for Grumpig's counter-attack – he struck again, with a Poison Tail attack which caught Grumpig and sent both Pokémon higher into the air.

The attack did have one side-effect, however, which was that the Fairy Lock chains shattered like glass.

"Firestrike!" May ordered.

Blaziken pushed Grumpig away – not far, two or three inches – then summoned as much flame as he could all at once, letting Grumpig twist it together into a single drill-like spiral which was aimed directly downwards.

"No – wait!" the Coordinator added, spotting something, and the crowd did as well.

Jessie's Pikachu had changed outfits one last time.

Now almost hidden in a blue robe with a big brown pointy hat, she was running forwards, and a staff in one paw was crackling with power.

Seviper got out of the way very quickly indeed.

Cosplay Pikachu's staff flashed a brilliant white, and then she unleashed a storm of attacks.

The first was a Thunder attack, flashing into the sky before bouncing back down again towards May's Pokémon. Grumpig's quickly-formed psychic shield blocked that one, though the focus it took meant the Firestrike dissipated in a whirl of heat and flame.

Cosplaychu next used an Ice attack, one which exploded into a giant ice crystal and sent fragments hammering Grumpig's defences, and then something that looked a lot like Hyper Beam but which exploded just over the top of the Psychic-type – sending a blaze of golden energy out in all directions, and finally breaking through the best Grumpig could do for defence.

Then, just to cap things off, a Draco Meteor came hurtling down from the sky overhead and slammed both Pokémon into the ground in a hail of purple explosions.

In his office, Giovanni chuckled.

"Quite impressive, really," he observed. "Especially when I tell people that'swhat my enforcers do for a hobby."

Persian snorted, rolling over on his sofa, and Giovanni raised his gaze to look at the Normal-type for a moment.

"Of course," he agreed. "Usually I prefer subtlety. But there's a certain deterrent value in the impressive."

Joy, Sukizo and Contesta stared.

"I'm… not quite sure what we just saw," Joy said, after carefully muting the microphone. "But… wow?"

"I think I agree," Contesta said. "Quite apart from the fact that seems to have knocked both Blaziken and Grumpig out, I think that pretty much won the Contest battle by itself."

"Incredible!" Mr. Sukizo pronounced, after much thought.

Joy and Contesta exchanged a glance, then both of them chuckled.

Flicking the microphone back on, Joy spoke up. "And that's a marvellous, wonderful, and slightly terrifying finish to the final of the Kanto Grand Festival! With fifteen seconds left on the clock, Jessie wins by both points and knockout!"

Jessie blinked.

Somehow, after all the effort, all the years of trying – it was hard to believe it.

Hard to wrap her head around the simple fact that she'd done it.

There was a flash, out on the field as May recalled her Pokémon, and Jessie's Pikachu dismissed her final costume – the Black Mage one vanishing just like the rest – and came hurrying over, Seviper slithering along behind her.

"Hey!" May called, getting Jessie's attention and making her blink – realizing suddenly that there were tears in her eyes.

With slightly blurry vision, she saw May starting to applaud – and then the rest of the stadium joined in, May's action setting off the whole crowd.

Picking up Pikachu with one hand, Jessie strained for a moment to lift Seviper with the other until she had both her Pokémon with her – Poison-type around her shoulders and Electric-type in her hand.

"Thank you," she whispered to them, then shook her head slightly and just took the applause in.

"Well..." Dawn said, blinking. "I… think this means we might need to use some of those experimental tricks or we'll be falling behind the curve."

"It does look like the Rockets have been studying from Ash," Suicune agreed. "What do you think you'll do to start with?"

"Well, I did have this idea to team up Piplup and Pachirisu," Dawn mused. "The idea would be that Piplup would use Brine to direct the electric attacks, or Ice Beam to freeze off sections, and it'd kind of grow out like a circuit board full of squirrel."

"I can see being electrocuted a lot is in my future," Piplup sighed.

Dawn stopped.

"...wait a moment," she said. "Did you just say you were going to be electrocuted a lot?"

Piplup froze, looked up at his trainer, then got picked up and given a thorough hug.

"Everything all right, dear?" Caroline asked.

"Don't worry," May replied, holding Ethan to the side of her head. "I'm fine – I mean, I'd rather have won, but that was a heck of a way to come second!"

"I suppose it was," Caroline agreed. "And I hope you weren't looking forward to battling that Drew boy again."

"Well..." May hedged. "He's a pretty good Coordinator, so… yeah… but not in the way you mean."

"What way?" Caroline asked, her voice innocent. "I've got no idea what you could be implying."

"Mom!" May groaned. "You know what I mean..."

"I do, dear, but you're my daughter," Caroline said with a chuckle. "I need to tease you every now and again."

She hummed, the sound audible down the phone line. "Now, then… I think your father wants to talk."

"Sure," May agreed.

She glanced up to check where she was going – headed for the Pokémon Centre – then smiled as her father's voice came over the speaker.

"Your mother and I are both proud of you," he said. "Well done, May. I can understand if you feel disappointed with yourself, but rest assured – just getting to the Grand Festival is a fine achievement, and to win one and come second in another is excellent."

"And," he went on, as she was about to protest. "I know you're about to mention how you did in the old timeline. What I said stands – a lot of Coordinators never get anything like as close to the finals as you do."

"Thanks, Dad," May smiled. "Yeah, that does help..."

She looked up again, and waved. "Hold on – Ash, Brock and Max just found me."

"Go and talk to your friends," Norman said. "We'll talk later, if you want."

"All right," Ivysaur said, officiously.

This had no impact on the volume of the general muttering going on.

"All right!" he called, louder this time. "I've got the scores, if you're interested."

That did it, and the murmur of Pokémon talking quieted down.

"Right," the Grass-type went on. "So, if you remember, we asked everyone several randomized questions. Each one was to see which of two appeals the Pokémon preferred, and that's how we scored the Appeal round."

"Yeah, we know," said one of the Tauros. "So, who won?"

"Fine, then, if you're going to be like that," Ivysaur said. "Mewtwo."

There was a long pause.

"What?" Glalie asked.

"Did I stutter?" Ivysaur asked. "Believe it or not, there were so many write-in votes for Mewtwo that he won."

"Wow, talk about a reputation," Charizard chuckled. "He can win Contests without even being present."

He frowned. "...wait, now I want that kind of reputation."

"How would you earn it?" Charla asked. "Blow up Shikoku?"

Charizard tapped his chin, pondering. "Well, if I-"

"I was joking!" Charla told him, giving him a cuff across the ear which he accepted with good grace.

"Apart from that," Ivysaur went on, drawing their attention back to him. "Suicune scored very high, although she's busy elsewhere so she can't take her place on the podium either."

Mawille started giggling.

"And third place goes to Glalie," Ivysaur concluded. "Because none of the rest of us could beat an entire 3-D theatrical production done entirely in ice."

"Yeah, the tricky part was setting up the lighting," Glalie said. "I'm glad to have been the bright spot of the event. It was a little frosty at first, but I could see you all really thought I was cool once we got started."

Ivysaur moved a vine in little hurry-up circles. "How many more of these do you have?"


"Nice work, the both of ya!" Meowth said, putting one paw on Cosplay Pikachu's shoulder and the other on the safest-looking bit of Seviper's coil. "Now that was a finale!"

He chuckled. "An' did ya see how May reacted? It was like she was used ta bein' on the other side of the arena when dat kinda thing happens."

"That's probably because she is," Seviper chuckled.

"Yeah, probably," Meowth agreed, tickling his chin with a claw. "Hey, though, I gotta ask… what move did that mage costume give ya? 'cause it looked like more than one..."

"It was," the Pikachu agreed, slipping her belt off and checking it for damage from the battle. "I get four powerful moves, but each of them only works once."

"Imagine if last time around we captured her," Seviper chuckled. "I'm just imagining what would happen if we brought her to the Boss."

Meowth thought about it, and snorted. "Yeah, dat would go well. 'Hey, boss, we got dat superpowerful Pikachu we was talkin' about!' Then before we even left the office she's put on some kinda costume out of what's in there-"

"I could cut up the curtains for a toga," Cosplay Pikachu interrupted. "Or just put on a handkerchief as a ghost outfit."

"-right," Meowth agreed. "Five seconds, bam, costume. And then the whole place gets wrecked!"

"This way feels better," Seviper said. "Being blasted off into the stratosphere is bad for my joints."

"What joints?"

"I have joints," Seviper protested. "They're just all close together and part of my spine."

"Hey," Audino called, waving to them. "Any requests for the victory feast?"

Pikachu looked around. "A feast?"

Her ears twitched. "I wonder what a gourmand's outfit would be..."

"What the hell!?"

"Serena!" Grace called upstairs. "Please be more temperate!"

"Sorry, Mom!" Serena's voice came back down. "I was surprised by something I was watching."

"Well, hurry up and finish watching, or leave it for now!" Grace told her. "It's breakfast soon!"

Serena shook her head, unpausing the video.

She'd skipped the quarter finals for now and gone straight to the last four matches of the Kanto Grand Festival, and already there'd been some kind of outrageous electric-rainstorm performed by a Legendary Pokémon and a giant skeletal Fossil Pokémon.

It looked like that had won the match by itself for the Pokémon who'd managed it, which was something she didn't feel very surprised about.

Blitzle came over, blinking a little as he tried to get the sleep out of his eyes, and Serena winced.

"Sorry for waking you..." she said, and her Electric-type tossed his head a little before nuzzling into her hand for a stroke.

Smiling, she got to stroking as he was asking, then kept watching.

"Some of this is really impressive, huh..." she mused. "I wonder how they even plan this kind of thing out. Or is a lot of it about being able to react, rather than needing plans?"

Blitzle yawned, showing what he thought of that kind of speculation at this time of the morning, and Serena laughed.

"Okay, I get the point..."

Checking the time, she decided she could watch the last two battle rounds before breakfast. It was only another ten minutes.

As she watched, scratching Blitzle as he slowly woke up, her eyes widened.

"There you are!" Grace said, a little tartly. "Better late than never, dear."

Serena nodded. "Sorry, Mom, I was just..."

She stopped, then tried again. "I was watching some videos of Contests from Kanto, and – I didn't know half of that was possible."

"Contests can be quite impressive," Grace agreed, putting a pancake on Serena's plate – folded over, with cream and strawberries. "What kind of things were they doing? I remember one of my friends from a long time ago had a trick where her Pokémon would fire a Bubblebeam and then freeze it. Do they still do that?"

"It was… kind of like that?" Serena tried, cutting some of her pancake off and taking a bite. "But more-"

"Don't talk with your mouth full," Grace admonished.

There was a clatter of hooves as Blitzle set off for his morning run, and Serena swallowed before trying again. "It was the kind of thing I've never seen before – I mean – get this, there was someone whose Marowak summoned a gigantic bone Tyrantrum, and that was the semi finals."

"...pardon?" Grace asked, suddenly paying a lot more attention.

"The other semi final had someone with a legendary Pokémon – a Manaphy – and they did things like control all the water in the arena, or make it rain electricity!" Serena went on, waving her hands around to try and emphasize it. "And then in the final it was even more ridiculous – there was this Pikachu who kept changing costumes, and her costume changes actually seemed to change what she could do! She dressed as a Sith and suddenly she was using force powers, or put on a ninja outfit and she was acting like a ninja!"

She stopped, panting slightly.

"It was… amazing," she said.

"It sounds it," Grace admitted. "Well, I suppose I can understand why you were engrossed in that, dear."

"There's something else, Mom," Serena went on, cutting another piece of her pancake. "It made me wonder if… well, if that's the sort of thing I can do."

Grace gave her a long look.

"We'll talk about it," she decided. "I won't complain if you try and teach some of that to Blitzle, certainly, but I think you should still see how riding works out for you – that's something I can teach you, but I can't help you with Contests or Showcases or any of that."

"I… guess that makes sense," Serena agreed. "Okay."

Bitzle's hooves clattered past outside, and Serena craned her neck a little to look – seeing him going for a second lap.

Palkia shook his head. "Nope."

"Okay, let's try the next floor down," Aaron decided.

Palkia nodded, closing the space warp, and opened another one into a deeper floor of the dungeon.

That's not remotely how you're supposed to do this.

"If we're only getting ten percent of the pay for all our missions, we're not going to put all the effort in," Dialga countered. "That's just basic logic."

It's certainly something.

"I can't see anything here either," Palkia said. "I've moved the viewpoint around a few times, but no sign of the client."

As the spacewarp closed, Arceus spoke up again. You realize that if you keep doing this I'm going to patch the exploit?

"Wouldn't that break immersion?" Giratina said.

Not the way I'd do it.

"Okay, here goes," Palkia said. "Floor B-eleven."

The crack in spacetime formed, and a massive blast of water came out – sending Aaron, Palkia, Giratina and Dialga sprawling, and making about half the water go down the footprint-identification grill.

"Incoming footprint – gaah!" Diglett yelped, and then there was a flicker and the Ground-type was next to them. "What just happened?"

"I'd like to know as well," Aaron muttered.

I said I'd patch the problem, Arceus said. And it didn't break immersion, either – it's perfectly logical for Mystery Dungeons to contain water.

"Ha ha," Giratina groaned, deadpan. "Palkia, shut that off before the base floods!"

Palkia closed the wormhole, obviously too late, and a Chatot came flying out of the elevator.

"That's going to have to go on your tab," the Guild second-in-command said severely.

In a hidden base, built out of a huge disused oil tanker, Captain Phantom slammed his fist on the table.

"Enough!" he said. "Bunch of washed-up has-beens! Scared of a handful of kids!"

He waved his hand for silence. "I don't want to hear excuses!"

After a long moment spent glaring around, in case anyone else started talking, he subsided a little.

"Right," he said. "Enough with this. Enough with being terrified of these children. We're going to sort this out, one way or another – and we're going to do it properly. No more strike teams, no more secret insertions, no more messing around with fools and traitors. I'm going to do this myself, this time, and you're all coming with me. Every helicopter, every machine – every man, and every Pokémon."

His smile turned cruel. "They're going to realize how stupid it was to defy the Phantom Pirates."


And that's the end of the Kanto Grand Festival.

Nearly done with the Battle Frontier arc!