"It's good to see you, my boy," Professor Oak said, shaking Ash's hand. "What on earth have you brought us?"
"Oh, right..." Ash chuckled. "That's the Temple of the Sea. Manaphy realized that, because it used to stay in one place, there was no real reason he couldn't just park it somewhere, and Pallet has a better sea route than Petalburg does."
"Well… it's going to take some getting used to," Oak said to himself.
He shook his head. "Anyway, since you're here I was wondering if you could help with an experiment later today."
"Sure," Ash agreed. "What is it?"
"Ash, ask before you agree..." Pikachu said, shaking his head.
"It's about Mega Evolution," Professor Oak explained. "I know a few Gym Leaders with Mega Stones, and I think we can test just how many Pokémon you can Mega Evolve at the same time with the same Key Stone."
He waved his hand. "I'd ask Gary to help, but you actually have more Mega-capable Pokémon than he does."
"Sure, that'd be okay," Ash agreed, thinking. "So there's Lucario, Absol, Latias and Latios, Charizard… Sceptile, Heracross..."
"I can also get Mega Stones for Mawile, Tyranitar, Glalie, Houndoom and Pidgeot, though only for a short time," Oak confided. "But it's going to take a bit of time to organize. Will you still be here tomorrow?"
"Yeah, we've got a few days," Ash replied. "It'll be good to relax before it's time to go to Sinnoh."
"Most people wouldn't call that relaxing," Max said, having gotten over his utter shock at the idea of Ash trying to Mega Evolve twelve Pokémon at once. "To most people that would be intensive training or something."
"He's got a point," Pikachu chuckled.
"Brock?" Tracey asked, getting their attention. "How does this look?"
He held up his sketch of the Temple of the Sea, drawn in flowing lines of light graphite and shaded to show the direction of the sun.
"Looks pretty good," Brock agreed. "Wait until you see the inside, though."
"Well, you'll have to show us around," Oak suggested.
Ash raised a hand. "...can it be after we've eaten? I've been doing a lot of swimming and I'm kind of hungry..."
"See this shell?" Squirtle asked. "It runs around the outside of Samiya, growing larger as it turns! That makes it the outer ring of a spiral, and that makes the whole of the Temple of the Sea a spiral! And that makes it a mobile fortress fit to be turned into the Cathedral Aqua, the ultimate-"
"Squirtle!" Ivysaur shouted.
Squirtle paused. "What?"
"No," Ivysaur said, simply. "You're not going to get it."
"No means no," Ivysaur snapped. "Because if you did get it, you'd turn it into a giant robot and fly it to punch into the moon. While it would probably look quite impressive, it would also break the best water park in the world, permanently, and then none of us would ever forgive you."
Squirtle considered that.
"...I will only consider it in times of direst necessity," he conceded.
"Only if the moon is actually already on a collision course with us," Ivysaur specified.
"And – I can't believe I have to specify this – no arranging it so the moon is on a collision course, either directly or indirectly," Ivysaur finalized.
"I wouldn't have anyway..." Squirtle grumbled.
"There you go," Misty said, running a fine cloth down Milotic's scales to get them to a fine, perfectly smooth shine. "That should handle any scrapes from the battle."
Milotic stretched slightly, enjoying the feeling, and Misty looked up from her work to Ash. "Hey, Ash?"
Ash looked up from one of Sir Aaron's notebooks. "Yeah?"
"Did I see you doing something with that sword, back in the temple?" Misty checked. "I think you were, but I was underwater for most of it."
"Yeah, I've been working on it for a while," Ash replied. "It's how I use Secret Sword, but that's really draining – it almost knocks me out if I push it too hard – and it's only in the last few weeks that I've really started to get the hang of reducing the amount of Aura I use to make it a weapon."
"Now I'm interested," Misty said, checking Milotic's scales with the back of her hand and finding them all silk-smooth. "Looks like we're done, Milotic – well done for staying still."
Milotic flirted her tail, then slithered around to watch alongside her trainer as Ash drew his sword.
He channelled a little Aura into it, making it glow a faint shimmering blue, then whipped it through a high-speed training kata that made Misty blink in surprise.
"...that's a few weeks?" she asked.
"No, that's more like months," Ash corrected. "The last few weeks is when I've been able to give it a bit of Aura charge so it's not just a lump of blunt steel – you know, without it becoming Secret Sword either."
He shrugged. "It's actually kind of a relief, because I know Sinnoh is where things could get really dangerous – I mean, Cyrus wanted to destroy the universe. Wants to."
With almost no warning beyond a rustle, Pikachu jumped out of the trees. His tail shimmered the bright silver-blue of a Steel-typed attack, and he brought it swinging towards Ash.
Ash's sword blurred up, flaring blue, and blocked Pikachu's attack with a simple head-guard. That knocked Pikachu back a little, arresting his momentum, and Ash whirled the blade around in a three-quarters corkscrew motion which also hit the Iron Tail and knocked Pikachu back into the tree he'd come out of.
Misty frowned for a moment, then got it. "Training?"
"Yeah, Absol suggested it," Ash agreed. "It's so I'm not surprised so easily. She, Pikachu and Lucario take turns."
"And you're getting a lot better," Pikachu added, sliding back down out of the tree he'd ended up in. "Especially since you seem to more or less ignore physics with that thing."
Ash looked faintly confused.
"He's got a point," Misty said. "I've seen Kabutops handle blade dynamics a lot, and some of the other Elite Four have Pokémon with attacks like that as well. The weight and inertia of a long weapon is a big problem, but you're just moving like it weighs nothing."
"Huh," Ash said, inspecting the blunted metal blade, then shrugged. "Well, I guess that's a good thing?"
"It's nice when you visit," Delia said to the two Maples sitting at the table. "I don't see as much of my son's friends as I'd like."
"That's a real shame, Mrs. Ketchum," May replied. "It's a problem I think a lot of Trainers have, especially travelling ones – we spend so much time on the road."
She sighed. "I'll have to head back to Petalburg for a bit before we move on from Kanto, I think."
"Are you doing that soon?" Delia asked. "I saw your performance at the Grand Festival."
"Well, I could move on pretty soon," May agreed. "I'm probably going to stick around here for a few days, though, and then follow Max when he finishes out his Kanto journey – it just seems like the least I can do."
"Thanks," Max said, smiling. "That's really nice of you, sis."
"Plus, I need to make sure he hasn't learned Ash's sense of direction," May added with a smile.
"Can I retract my last statement?"
"The only question is really what gym to go and visit," Max added, flipping Kris open. She displayed a map, with crosses drawn through several gyms and the rest of them showing an icon representing their type.
"There's a lot of gyms around Kanto," May said, impressed. "I think in Hoenn there's less than a dozen, and I can see a lot more than that here."
Part of this is due to the Chubu gyms, which qualify for both Kanto and Johto, Kris informed her. But yes, it is quite densely equipped with gyms.
"Hmmm..." Max said, looking closer. "I don't think it'd really work to go after Viridian gym again, that one was kind of tense. But maybe Cinnabar would be interesting..."
He glanced up. "I did wonder if Deoxys would be interested – I don't know where he is at the moment, but maybe he'd like to give a gym battle a go."
"What about the Thunder badge?" Delia suggested. "I remember Ash was quite proud of winning that one."
"I don't know…" May replied. "I've heard that Lieutenant Surge is kind of a jerk."
The door opened, and they all looked up.
"Ash, it's good to see you," Delia said, coming over and giving him a hug.
"Mom..." Ash groaned, before hugging her back.
Delia shook her head. "Ash, you do worry me, but I know I couldn't stop you. So at least let me give you one little hug?"
Pikachu tried not to laugh, sliding down Ash's side before jumping off and running to the table.
"And Misty, as well," Delia added, finally releasing Ash. "How are you finding your job?"
"It's been odd, sometimes," Misty replied. "It's kind of hard to grasp just how much free time Elite Four members have most days – though I do spend a lot of that training, of course. I'm thinking of doing a circuit from Cerulean Cape to the Safari Zone in Johto without leaving the coastline..."
"If you do, stop by on your way past," Delia advised. "Samuel, I hope you're done with my son for the day?"
"Until dinner at least," Professor Oak confirmed. "After that I'm not sure – I did want to check a few things before he goes to Sinnoh."
He turned to address Ash. "For example. Are you going to have Max do the Sinnoh League challenge?"
Ash blinked. "Huh?"
"I thought it was in the mentorship documents," Oak muttered. "You're Max's mentor, which means you have to supervise him until either he comes of age to be a Pokémon trainer of his own, or he places in a League challenge or Grand Festival."
He shrugged. "And the Ever Grande League was cancelled that year because of the comet, so Max has never actually placed in a League challenge."
Max groaned. "Seriously? What if I'd lost in the first round?"
"That would count, oddly," Oak answered.
"Well… I guess that means we have two choices," Ash said. "Either I stay in Kanto until the League, or Max comes with Brock and I to Sinnoh until then."
He frowned. "And… hold on, when's the League?"
Delia pointed to the calendar hung up in the kitchen, and Ash went over to examine it.
"Okay..." he said. "So… yeah, that's later than I was hoping..."
He glanced back. "Max, would you mind if you came with us to Sinnoh at first? We can do your Gym Challenge once you've worked out which one to do, and then I can come back over and accompany you to the Indigo League."
"I guess that'd be okay," Max agreed. "It'd mean there was more chance for Roland to get training with blade moves, too – he said he was going to get some training in while he had the chance."
He looked over at May. "Sorry, sis..."
"It's okay," May shrugged. "Besides, I can get a head start on Johto!"
"Hey, I'm still going to need to do a lot of gyms there, too," Max protested. "You'll just have to do the same bit again."
"All right, let's see your Fury Cutter!" Absol called.
Her horn lit up with bright blue light as she activated her Sacred Sword, and she swung it towards Roland.
The Gallade manifested a green-brown blade in reply and blocked her attack, then teleported around behind her to attack.
As he finished the teleport, however, he noticed that her bladed tail was already swinging towards him – fizzing with blue-white energy as she used Ice Blade.
The impact jarred him backwards, shattering the Fury Cutter, and he reformed it before teleporting away for another attack.
"You're having trouble remembering the properties of the Fury Cutter," Absol observed, dropping to let it sweep an inch over her head before rising back up and scoring a glancing blow on his side. "The more hits you score with it, the better."
"I know, I know!" Roland replied. "But that doesn't seem to be how mine works! It gets a bit stronger, but not nearly as fast as it's supposed to..."
Absol bounced back two steps, thinking, then swept her blade across to the side. "Okay, let's try this instead."
She raised her horn, and took a steady stance.
"Now, what I want you to do is to hit this with the attack name I call out," she told him. "Quick as you can. Now – Psycho Cut!"
Roland formed the attack, and swept it at her blade. It passed through without resistance, and he stumbled.
"Fury Cutter!" Absol said then, and judged the force of his strike. "Psycho Cut – no, Fury Cutter again! Twice!"
The impact struck a second time, then a third, and she took the impacts into account.
"Okay, now use Leaf Blade! Ice Blade! Air Slash!"
Some of the attacks were ones Roland had trouble even forming, but he did his best, and after a few minutes Absol put her paw down.
"And stop!" she called. "Okay, that's interesting… it seems like you're having trouble keeping a move stable for more than a few attacks. If I'm right, you should at least be able to dissipate and reform them quick enough to let you use the same move consistently, but more importantly I think we're going to need to practice very fast switching – that unpredictability can be a strength."
"...so what do we do now?" Roland asked.
"Keep switching between Leaf Blade and Air Slash for now," Absol advised. "Now, let's go back to technique. If you can do your windup and then teleport so you land a blow elsewhere, you can avoid most Pokémon being able to effectively block against a powerful strike – but that's only if the attack angle functionally doesn't matter to you."
"So Ash has an Absol?" Buizel asked. "Huh. Kind of figured he might get one eventually."
"Have you heard how most of them react to him?" Kingler sniggered. "It's actually pretty funny. Anyway, you must have met some of the other new guys – and Pidgeot, actually – but I'll need to catch you up on the full roster."
"Pikachu did say something like that, but I stopped listening," Buizel shrugged. "There's already a Ho-Oh, how much sillier can it get?"
Squirtle arrived, hands on knees and panting. "I heard someone tempt fate!"
"Did you run all the way over here?" Kingler asked. "Where were you?"
"Just over by the pond," Squirtle said, indicating the reeds not ten feet away. "I was exercising. Why?"
"No reason," Kingler shrugged. "Did you meet Buizel, actually?"
"I've heard a bit about him, but not met him," Squirtle answered, shaking Buizel's paw.
"If he's wearing the shades, he's probably about to do something either awesome or ridiculous," Kingler advised.
Buizel nodded to that. "Okay, so what about other Pokémon? I mean, I know about Squirtle."
"Well, try these ones," Kingler said. "Charizard."
"I met Charizard."
"Goodra and Mawile?" Kingler suggested. "Actually, they'd probably like you, because you can fly. Mawile's pet project is that all Pokémon should be able to fly somehow."
He looked down at his legs. "She's having trouble with me."
"You should see her trying to work out how to get Snorlax to take off," Squirtle volunteered. "Actually, I do have an idea about that."
He reached into his shell, producing his shades, and fitted them over his eyes. "Because no Pokémon's going to be ground-bound, no matter their mass, if I have anything to say about it! Overcoming your limitations doesn't mean anything if you're still limited by the so-called laws of physics!"
As he began to talk about specifics, Buizel nudged Kingler. "Is this the part where we leave?"
"Nah, this is usually pretty cool," Kingler replied. "I'm actually interested about this one, let's see what happens."
He tapped a claw against its twin. "Though, while he's occupied… did you know Ash now has three Legendary Beasts, a Lugia, the Mewtwo, and Keldeo?"
"Keldeo?" Buizel repeated. "I think I heard about a Keldeo once. Can't they fly as well?"
"You see why Mawile thinks everyone should be able to do it."
"Okay, I've been thinking," Ash said, sitting down. "I realized that a lot of the training we do is for formal battles."
"Well, yeah," Pikachu agreed. "It's the kind of battle we do the most of, though I admit there's been a lot of the kind of thing where we deal with big groups instead."
"I can handle big groups," Houndoom reminded them, flicking his tail. A duplicate Houndoom appeared, then sat down next to him and puffed back into smoke.
"I know you can, but I was thinking more about teamwork," Ash said. "This is especially because of… well, we don't know what happened with Team Galactic, but I'd like us to be ready for it. And that means being able to fight lots of Pokémon no matter who's available when it happens."
He indicated the two of them. "So you two are going to be the first pair to practice like this."
"Get to the point, already," Pikachu advised.
"I already got a lot of the flying Pokémon on the ranch involved," Ash said. "They're outside the house, and you need to get across to the far side of the Tauros paddock and back before coming back here. They'll be trying to hit you with attacks, and what you need to do is to avoid being hit – oh, and if you hit a Pokémon you have type advantage over, you're disqualified."
"Wait, wait, hold on," Pikachu said. "Type advantage?"
"It's about thinking quickly," Ash answered. "Oh, yeah, the other thing – the floor is lava."
Houndoom looked down, in case he hadn't noticed. "I don't think it is," the Fire-type said, a dubious tone to his voice. "Pikachu, do you feel hot?"
"I mean you have to act like the floor's lava," Ash clarified. "So Pikachu can't touch the ground, and Houndoom has to carry him."
"So we have to run across half the ranch, with only Houndoom able to touch the ground, dodging attacks from Pokémon like Swellow and Noctowl, and I can't zap most of them?" Pikachu said, then frowned. "Wait, are you measuring type advantage by my Pokémon type or just my move types?"
"Move," Ash clarified.
"Then I have a plan," Pikachu decided. "But I might not like it."
"Pidgeot!" Houndoom called.
"I see her!" Pikachu agreed, sliding backwards along Houndoom's back. He slipped quickly towards the end of Houndoom's tail, forming an Aura Sphere in his forepaws as he went, then reached the spade tip of the tail and held on with all four paws. His own flat-sided tail flicked around, and he batted the Aura Sphere upwards at Pidgeot.
She dodged easily to send the sphere sailing off into the distance, and Pikachu sighed.
"Okay, flick me!" he called, and Houndoom's tail flexed. It reached lower, nearly touching the grass flicking past as Houndoom ran, then whipcracked and flung Pikachu into the air towards Pidgeot.
He slammed two Aura Spheres into one another, making a whole shower of them shoot towards Pidgeot, and the Flying-type pulled up out of her attack run to get out of the impact zone of the attacks.
"Ash is right, I'm getting too reliant on Electric attacks for airborne targets," Pikachu said to himself, then spotted Altaria coming in on the left.
Altaria was half Dragon type...
"Houndoom, jump left!" he called, and hurled an Electroball at Altaria. It detonated as it went past the Dragon, zapping him with a reduced dose of electricity, and Altaria wobbled a little before recovering and pulling away.
Then Pikachu was about to hit the ground, and Houndoom snagged him out of the air by the scruff of his neck.
"Thiff iff fun!" he mumbled, then tossed his neck to put Pikachu onto his back again. "Look out, Goodra incoming!"
Beat Up clones exploded around both of them to form decoys, and Houndoom jinked left – pretending to be one of the fakes, rather than the real one, as Goodra squashed another body double flat.
Then the ground gave way beneath them, one of Noctowl's illusions vanishing to reveal a pit trap.
"Oh, come on!" Pikachu yelped, as Houndoom tripped and sent them both tumbling. Electricity sparked around Pikachu's form as he used Magnet Rise, managing to avoid contact with the ground, and he grabbed onto Houndoom's flailing tail as an anchor to avoid just scooting off into the distance.
"New plan," he called, scampering up Houndoom's tail to reach his head. "Launch me over at the place we actually need to get to, and send a double with me to catch me."
"Are you sure-" Houndoom began, then both of them got flattened by an improbably powerful jet of water.
"That's got to be cheating," Pikachu said, some minutes later. "Why did nobody tell me Keldeo was in Pallet Town?"
He paused. "And if the floor really was lava, wouldn't he have made a massive ongoing steam explosion?"
"If the floor really was lava you'd have caught fire from being that close to it," Houndoom pointed out.
"Not helping," Pikachu sighed. "Okay, we're doing that again until we get it right."
He waved. "Hi, Keldeo, by the way. How are things?"
"Pretty good!" Keldeo replied. "I worked out this cool new sword move I want to show Absol, Lucario and Sceptile. It's got three beams!"
He yawned. "I'm still kind of transport-lagged, though..."
Ash pointed. "Okay, you two – this time you're needing to keep someone safe. So the others are all going to try and kidnap the Growlithe puppies, and you need to make sure they don't manage it."
"But there's only two of us," Tyranitar protested. "Can't we at least have Absol along as well?"
"What, you think we can't handle it?" Swellow asked. "I'm sure we'll sweep up!"
"Actually," Ash interrupted, getting their attention. "While it's true having a lot more Pokémon is a big advantage, so long as there's only a couple of you and you know what your opponent is trying to do, you have a kind of advantage as well – they have to come to you."
"I think I see," Tyranitar admitted, now looking thoughtful.
He looked down at the Fire-types. "Well, are you ready?"
"Sure am!" one of the puppies agreed, tail wagging. "This is going to be like what Mom does with uncle Drew, isn't it?"
"Sort of," Tyranitar shrugged. "There might be more explosions – no, wait, never mind, she's a Fire-typed Contest Pokémon. Strike that."
The other Growlithe laughed.
"Ash?" Delia called.
"Huh?" Ash said, turning to look. "Uh, hold on a moment, Mom!"
He set up Dexter's main chassis so the scanner was pointing towards the open field. "Can you record it?"
"Thanks," Ash smiled. "Okay, whenever you're ready!"
He turned back to Delia. "Sorry about the delay."
"That's fine, dear," his mother assured him. "I wanted to make sure you'd cleaned out your fridge recently, as you're about to go to a new region."
"Oh, uh… I don't think I have," Ash said. "Right, you need to do things like that… uh, actually, I think it''s been ages since I checked everything that was in my bag."
"Well, no time like the present!" she said brightly. "I'll get Mimey over to help out."
"How much space is in your bag anyway, Ash?" May asked, watching as Ash rummaged around in it – his arm disappearing up to the elbow.
"I'm not really sure," Ash replied. "It's kind of odd – the sides don't really exist, there's just this strong resistance to going any further and it gets stronger really quickly. I know it's bigger than it used to be, though."
Grabbing hold of something, he pulled it out and put it on the lawn. "That's the bookshelf..."
"That's really strange to watch," May said. "How does it work?"
"Aura," Lucario replied, reaching into the bag head-first. There was a clunk sound from inside. "There we go-"
Lucario paused, then raised his voice. "Hey! Is that my deck of cards?"
"Lucario?" Ash said, confused.
"Out you get!" Lucario demanded, exiting the bag and holding the neck open. Then out came both Entei, both Suicune and Molly's Raikou in a steady stream, with the Raikou carrying a deck of cards in his mouth.
"We were about to do the river," Ash's Entei said. "I had a good hand, too..."
"Why were you playing in there?" Ash asked.
"There's nowhere else you can be guaranteed not to get interrupted," answered the shiny Suicune. "Since you were in town, we thought we'd give it a try."
She tossed her mane. "Come on, let's try the Burned Tower."
As the five Legendary Beasts departed, Delia shook her head with a smile.
"Those were my cards," Lucario said.
"Were you moving the freezer?" Ash asked. "We'd better get it out here before everything defrosts."
"Right," Lucario agreed, going entirely into the bag this time.
As both Delia and May watched, there were a few more thumps and clunks. Then the front of a freezer came through the opening, and Ash took it to keep it supported.
"Okay, to you," Lucario said, and the freezer slowly emerged. It took a bit of careful balancing, but after a minute or two it was out and lying on its side on the well-trimmed lawn.
"Now I actually see it, it's kind of surprising," May admitted. "That's huge!"
"You should see the heat sink we use to avoid boiling everything else in the bag," Lucario said. "I think we're going to need to freeze it again, Ash, it was mostly water."
"Right," Ash agreed. "Everything all right, Mimey?"
The Mr. Mime nodded happily, lifting up the books one at a time and dusting behind them. "Sure is! Looks like none of them got wet or anything!"
"Ash..." May said, slowly. "I know I've seen you use that bag like, you know, a small bag before. Where does all that stuff go?"
"Well, some of it balances on top of the lights," Ash replied, thinking. "There's a shelf, I think… but yeah, I might have to go looking for the other things."
Lucario stuck his head out of the mouth of the bag, which was still expanded from fitting the freezer. "I found those power crystals you made a few years ago."
"Don't drop them," Ash warned. "I can't work out how to either stop them charging up or to get any power out without all the power coming out."
"Doesn't that mean you've got bombs in your bag?" Delia asked, worried.
"It's okay, Mom, they won't explode by themselves," Ash told her. "Oh, is the GS ball still okay?"
"It couldn't be damaged by a laser," Lucario reminded him. "How exactly were you thinking it would have broken?"
"I don't know!" Ash said. "But it showed up out of nowhere in my pocket, so it's probably important for something."
"You know..." May said, kicking back and lying on the grass. "If you'd told me before all this started that one of my best friends would have at least three tons of stuff in his pockets, I don't know how I would have reacted."
"Technically it's not a pocket," Lucario shot back over his shoulder.
There was a rumbling boooom from over in the training area, and a slab of rock shot into the air on a plume of orange Hyper Beam.
"Huh," Ash said, squinting and shading his eyes. "I think that's the Growlithes. That's one way to get them out of danger."
"It's surprising how much space all this takes up," May said, inspecting a pile of towels. "I guess we have kind of been using that bag of yours as where everything goes if we don't want to carry it."
"Yeah, but it does make sense," Ash replied. "Okay, I think that's just about everything…"
He shook the bag, which failed to do anything, then turned it inside out – and, in an eye-hurting display of compressed space, the bag failed to actually turn inside out. Only the mouth was left, and a shower of random detritus trickled onto the ground along with the occasional odd sock.
A small drawstring bag fell out, then nothing else.
"That looks so freaky," May informed him, as Ash turned the Aura-enhanced pouch back the right way out again – having at no point shown the inside of the bag, despite completely inverting it. "Are you going to put everything back again?"
"Not just yet," Ash answered. "Lucario, ready?"
"Right!" Ash grinned. "Totodile, use Scald!"
His Totodile inhaled, then sent a stream of sizzling hot water into the open mouth of the bag. Once at least fifty gallons had gone in, he stopped, and Lucario jumped in with a bottle of washing-up liquid and a rebreather.
"He's going to clean out the inside," Ash explained, putting the bag down as bubbles began to stream out. "He said something about a giant Aura Sphere to get a good spin..."
"Right," May chuckled. "So basically he's a washing machine now."
"Pretty much," Ash agreed.
"Oh, Ash!" Delia called over. "Your Glalie has finished freezing this big ice bag."
"Great, thanks!" Ash waved back. "We'll put it in once the bag's been rinsed out!"
Turning back to the pile of bits, Ash picked up the small drawstring bag and weighed it.
"Is that the Sacred Ash?" May asked.
"Yeah," Ash agreed. "I don't know how much there is left, not in… you know, second chances or whatever… but it's good to have some."
"Most people don't get in enough trouble to need as many second chances as you," Delia pointed out, a little crossly.
She shook her head. "Ash, dear… I know this is something you have to do. It's something I realized a long time ago, and I've made my peace with it, but please try to show me that you're taking it seriously."
Ash nodded, drooping a little. "Sorry, Mom… it's easier to cope with this kind of thing if I try to make a joke out of it."
His mother gave him a hug. "Just be careful, okay, Ash? I don't want to hear about you dying to save someone else. Save people, yes, but don't die doing it!"
Ash hugged her back, and gave her a squeeze. "Okay, mom, I promise."
"You wouldn't be who you are if you stayed out of trouble," Delia murmured. "I know. Just… think about how we'd all feel if you made a mistake."
"Ready?" Iris asked.
Fraxure gave her a claw-thumb-up, polishing his right tusk with the other paw, and thumped his tail on the ground.
"And you, Excadrill?" Iris went on. "Ready?"
Excadrill inspected the sheathes on his metallic claws, then shrugged.
Iris gave him an exasperated smile, then shrugged as well. "Okay, let's see what Denae has for us today!"
"Driiii~l!" Excadrill suggested.
Iris abruptly realized that Fraxure was hiding behind her. "Really?"
Fraxure nodded, not moving.
"You're such a scaredy sometimes," the trainer said. "I'm sure it's not that."
She clenched her fist. "In fact, I'm sure it's going to be something cool which will further my training as a Dragon Tamer!"
"...you've got to be kidding," Iris groaned.
"You do need to learn these things, Iris," Denae replied, putting a third textbook on the pile – this one a general maths and science one, to go with the history book and the one covering literature and language. "Even if you don't ever use most of it, you don't know what you'll need – and you'll definitely need some of it."
"But..." Iris began, then stopped and rethought. "Do I have to do it all now? This is going to take ages to get through."
"Is that the real reason?" Denae asked. "The time?"
"Well… not just that," Iris said. "It's also going to be kind of boring, and… well, I was looking forward to doing some of the cool stuff because it's things my Pokémon can take part in as well."
"That's an important insight," the veteran trainer congratulated Iris. "Remember it in future."
"So… was this just an object lesson?" Iris asked hopefully.
Denae shook her head, tapping the textbooks. "You don't need to spend all your time on them, but you do need to get this done. At least a few hours a day."
"But why now?" Iris said, opening the maths-and-science book and scanning down the contents page. "It seems kind of sudden."
Denae contemplated her for a long moment, then chuckled.
"You want the other reason?" she said.
Fraxure tilted his head, and Iris nodded her agreement.
"You're completing the lessons faster than I'm coming up with them," Denae admitted. "I need a break of a few weeks at least just to come up with more things for you to do on a proper difficulty curve."
Iris blinked. "Huh. I… didn't know that."
"Well, there you go," Denae smiled. "Now, if you really want some more training at the same time, you could always do the work at the top of a mountain…?"
Iris actually considered it. For a few seconds, anyway.
"Here you go, Ash," Professor Oak said, placing a large stone in Ash's hand.
"Is this a Key Stone?" Ash asked. "I've already got one."
"We're trying to set a record for the most Pokémon mega-evolved at once," Oak replied. "I don't want to make your staff explode."
Ash winced. "That… would be bad, yeah."
He leaned the staff against the lab wall, and walked over to the collection of his Pokémon out towards the field.
Some of them were still inspecting their new Mega Stones – for all she'd Mega Evolved at least twice during an Aura Purge, for example, Pidgeot had never actually seen a Pidgeotite – but most of the veterans were just waiting calmly for Ash to get started.
"Okay, here goes," Ash said, closing his eyes.
After a moment, he opened them again. "...hey, Absol? How likely is it that a Pokémon gets overloaded by the experience?"
"Let's just say that it would be a surprise to me as well," Absol told him.
Professor Oak cleared his throat. "Test 1! The trainer is Ash Ketchum, using a Type Four Key Stone, and his Pokémon to be Mega Evolved are Charizard, Heracross, Houndoom, Tyranitar, Pidgeot, Mawile, Absol, Lucario, Sceptile, Glalie, Latias and Latios."
"And Squirtle!" Squirtle called, running over with one of his jerry-rigged Squirtilite. "This is a legitimate Mega Evolution and I will not be kept out of a world record attempt!"
Should we include Squirtle in the tally? Damos asked, as the Water-type clambered up Sceptile to sit on his head.
"We probably should, if it works," Professor Oak agreed. "We know he can Mega Evolve, the problem is degenerating again..."
Ash closed his eyes, thinking hard.
There were thirteen Pokémon around him, each of them with their own Mega Stone, and they represented a cross-section of everyone he'd met and befriended along the way – from when he set off from Pallet Town with his new Pikachu, all those years ago.
His starter wasn't among them, and nor was his most recent Pokémon, because neither of them were able to Mega Evolve. But that was okay, because that didn't mean something was wrong with them – they were just different.
Lucario, a strong friend and protector.
Charizard, who had gone from being so disobedient to so loyal.
Latias and Latios, reminders of everything that had changed for the better.
Pidgeot, who had never blamed him for anything.
Sceptile, cool-headed and an expert fighter.
Mawile, full of enthusiasm for everything.
Glalie, who was funnier than he'd ever realized before.
Squirtle, whose oddness was just a reflection of his skill.
Tyranitar, Houndoom, Heracross, Absol… there were no two of Ash's Pokémon who were quite the same, and that was just how it should be. It was hard to keep them all in mind at once, but after a few seconds there came a sudden surge which made Ash gasp lightly.
And, just as he opened his eyes, the multiple-flashes of over a dozen Pokémon Mega-Evolving at once lit up the wall of the lab.
"Cool..." Max said, staring.
Ash looked around, seeing all his Mega-Evolved Pokémon – some of them less familiar than others in appearance, but all of them feeling right on a bone-deep level.
His borrowed Key Stone was a riot of colour and movement, rippling constantly as it sustained so many Mega-Evolutions at once, and then Mega Charizard raised an arm.
"Are we going to take any photos?" he asked.
"Well, we forgot the camera," Tracey chuckled. "So if you could just stand there for half an hour while I draw everything-"
Mega Glalie shook his body back and forth. "No."
"Don't worry, Ash, I brought a camera," Delia said. "All right, everyone, pose time!"
"Of course, you realize this means I have to have the best pose?" Mega Squirtle asked, his backpack clicking as it rotated to face down. "I'm thinking right over everyone else, arms crossed as I prepare to break through the heavens!"
"There are several problems with that," Professor Oak said. "But the main one is that you'd get everyone else wet."
Grumbling, Mega Squirtle jumped down from Sceptile's head and took his place at the front of the group – alongside Mega Mawile, one of the other relatively small Mega-Evolved Pokémon.
"Latias, can you come down a bit?" Delia asked. "No, that doesn't fit either… okay, I'll go back a few steps."
She did so, then checked the picture composition again. "Okay, that looks great!"
The camera flashed twice, capturing all fourteen of them, and she nodded. "Looks good to me, Ash!"
"What about the rest of us?" Pikachu asked. "Can we get in a photo too?"
"That sounds like a good idea," May agreed. "I mean, how long is it going to be before this many of us are in one place at once again?"
Keldeo reached up with a hoof, adjusting his hat. "I think it might take a lot of work to fit us all in, though..."
I will begin calculating a good layout. Should I contact the Beasts and other Pokémon who aren't present?
"That sounds like a good plan," Ash agreed.
"Ash?" Professor Oak said, raising his voice to get Ash's attention. "Is that Key Stone doing okay?"
"Well, it does feel kind of warm," the young trainer replied. "I think it's okay, though."
"Interesting," Oak mused, noting that down.
While he wrote, the number of Pokémon standing in the field expanded hugely. Counting the full teams of Brock, Misty, Max and May, along with the huge collection of Ash's Pokémon and the local Shaymin, there were well over a hundred Pokémon and people trying to squeeze into the photo and about a dozen Legendary Pokémon.
"I'm pretty sure a photo like this has never been taken before," Tracey said. "Even if we don't get Mewtwo to show up, Porygon haven't been around for very long and I don't think anyone else has quite this concentration of Legendary Pokémon."
Ash smiled happily. "I'm just glad to have so many friends..."
"How might I endeavour to be visible?" asked Joltik. "If this was a film photo then I would be large enough to appear on the photographic grain, but as that camera likely uses a charge-coupled device to produce a digital image I wonder if I will be within the resolution of the pixels."
"We can do some close-ups with smaller groups?" May suggested. "I think we're probably going to need to take a lot of photos, because the big one's going to be great but it's also going to need to be huge to show everyone large enough to recognize."
"….wait, are we doing everyone everyone?" Misty asked. "I might need to get Golduck and the others to come over."
No problem, Mewtwo said. I'll sort it out.
"That was fast," Brock observed.
What was? Mewtwo asked. I was only over in the Temple of the Sea inspecting it. There's some very interesting technology in there which I might want to copy – it can only help with the colony plan.
"Isn't Mars really, really dry, though?" Brock said. "I mean, water conservation would be good, but Samiya's built to go underwater."
I quite like the idea of a holiday home on Callisto, for some reason, Mewtwo replied. If there's not water under the ice now, there will be once Mew installs a sauna...
"...as for those pictures on the news, you're right, it is very strange. I certainly wasn't expecting it, though one of my friends says it's clearly proof that aliens have landed – he says they'd make a water landing because that way they wouldn't accidentally destroy anything with their engines. I'm not sure what he thinks of Deoxys, and I'm afraid to ask..."
Serena put a hand to her mouth, trying not to laugh.
"I'm going to see if my other friends know what happened.
Oh, before I forget, there was something else I wanted to let you know – I'm going to be leaving on my Pokémon journey fairly soon. Don't worry, I will still keep in touch, but I might take longer to reply than normal because I'll be walking a lot of the day.
Hope to hear from you soon.
Smiling, Serena saved the email to her folder of them, and leaned back in her chair.
"A Pokémon journey..." she said, thinking about it.
It'd be nice to set off on a journey, but… not just yet.
She hadn't really made up her mind, anyway.
"I'm going to miss this," May said, a little wistfully, as the camera flashed one last time. "It's not going to be the same..."
She shook her head. "But, on the plus side, no snoring."
"...I'd say I don't think any of us snore, but that would just mean you'd say it was me, wouldn't it?" Max asked.
"Pretty much!" May confirmed.
She hummed to herself. "I wonder if I'll be able to get all my Ribbons for the Johto region before Max finishes with his Indigo League challenge?"
"That sounds like an interesting challenge," Grumpig said, juggling some orange juice in little globes. "Pity I can't teleport long distance yet, it'll be Altaria's job to get us around."
"I'll be glad to," Altaria agreed. "It's so nice to know that May and I can go flying together without trouble."
"You're telling me," May smiled. "It's strange now to think I used to be scared, but I do remember it…"
She snapped her fingers. "Anyway, I was thinking about what we should do for the next Contest. Maybe you two could do something with..."
"May?" Ash asked, as she trailed off. "Is there a problem?"
"Well..." May shook her head. "No, not a problem, really. I just realized we haven't done that Contest we did right at the end of our journey together last time – you remember, the one where Combusken evolved to Blaziken?"
"Yeah, I remember!" Ash agreed. "That was the one we fought to a draw, right?"
May nodded. "That's the one."
She sighed. "It's probably too much effort to go and do again, and even then I don't think we'd draw – one of us would probably win – but I'll miss that ribbon we decided to share."
"I guess that does happen with time travel," Ash admitted, taking his badge case out and toying with it - then opening it a crack, to where half a ribbon would have sat. "Some things you just… can't get back, because they relied on an event – a coincidence, almost."
He reached up to Pikachu with his free hand, scratching just where the Electric-type liked to be scratched, and smiled at the squeak of pleasure. "But I'd rather lose a thing than a friend, May."
May smiled her agreement. "Right."
"Oh, dear, that reminds me," Delia said. "They delivered this earlier today."
She handed Ash a small jewellery box, and he opened it with care – revealing a little triangular badge, nestled in tissue paper.
"It wasn't easy to work out what would be good to show the Battle Frontier," she told him, as he looked at it – the triangle was divided into three rows, with the top piece a single smaller triangle and the other two rows made up of three pieces. "So I eventually said they should just make a pyramid."
"Thanks, Mom," Ash said, smiling broadly. He pinned the new pyramid-shaped badge next to the others – representing the Indigo, Orange and Silver Leagues, as well as the meteor they had saved the planet from – then gave her a heartfelt hug.
"Thanks," he said again. "I'm glad you do these."
Delia patted his back. "Good luck, dear."
"See you in a few days, Brock," Ash said, shaking his hand. "Are you going to be all right going straight from the Orange Islands to Sinnoh?"
"Sinnoh's not that cold," Brock replied with a chuckle. "Flygon's more nervous than I am, though, he's never been that far north."
"I'm not really nervous," Flygon defended himself. "I just feel the cold."
He shrugged, wings flaring. "But I suppose I've been up mountains before, so it'll sort of be the same. And Pokéballs are quite warm."
"I've been to Sinnoh," Lucario volunteered. "It's not as bad as you think, at least not until you start climbing mountains there as well."
He turned to look over his shoulder. "Actually… Keldeo, are you coming with us to Sinnoh?"
"Absol convinced me to tag along for a bit," Keldeo replied. "She asked me to help her train Roland in sword."
"Is that the right term for it?" Pikachu asked. "Not swordsmonship, or swordplay, just sword?"
"I think the idea is that you can say the s-word however you want," Lucario suggested.
Brock groaned. "How did you manage to set up that pun?"
"Pun?" Lucario asked. "I'm not sure how you got that impression."
"All right, I'd better get going," he said. "If I don't, then by the time I reach Philena I'm going to be unable to think of anything but bad jokes."
Ash and Max watched as Brock got on Flygon's back, then they set off to the south and the Orange Islands.
"So… we're not actually leaving for Sinnoh yet, are we?" Max checked. "I thought it was still a few days to go."
"Yeah, Brock's going to meet us when we get there," Ash confirmed. "But we do have a few days to do some training – and I think Suicune said something about being available to accompany Pidgeot on a high speed run up to Sinnoh when we do go."
He shrugged. "But before then, there was this idea for a training battle for your whole team I had."
"What's that?" Max asked, suddenly feeling oddly worried.
"You have to try and stop Keldeo," Ash answered. "Good luck..."
And that's the wrap-up for the Battle Frontier, bringing to an end the redo of Generation Three.
Given that Dawn, Iris and Serena all get namechecked, it should be pretty clear I've been blurring the boundaries of the generations a tad... benefits of starting off a lot later than the series I'm using as a source.
The final episode of the Battle Frontier aired in the US on March 3, 2007. I'm only about a decade behind now! (Which is a major improvement over when I restarted this fic with the Power of One, at which point I was fourteen years behind.)
Onwards to Sinnoh!