Dawn lay in bed as the early morning light filtered through her curtains, looking at the alarm clock.
Every time she closed her eyes it seemed to jump forwards a few minutes, as she drifted in and out of sleep, but she hadn't been able to get properly back to sleep since half past five that morning.
After such a long wait – though a fun one – she was finally about to go on her Pokémon journey.
Sure, it was the second time, but that didn't stop her from being just as excited as she'd been last time. Maybe it wasn't her first time any more, but she'd had fun on her first time and her second would hopefully be the same.
Yawning, Dawn closed her eyes again, then jolted awake as the alarm went off.
Pachirisu mumbled something, rolled over in bed, and fell off the dresser. She squeaked on the way down, then snagged one of the door handles and managed to avoid thumping into the bedroom floor.
"Nice save," Dawn laughed, then yawned again. She shook her head, turning the alarm off, then looked around to make sure her Pokémon were all awake.
Quilava wasn't, still rolled into a ball and snoring lightly, and Dawn decided to let the Fire-type get a little more sleep by recalling him directly into his Pokéball.
As Pachirisu regained her footing and scampered up the front of the dresser, Dawn opened her wardrobe and took one of the outfits inside off the rack – the same design she'd worn starting her journey the first time, in fact, though it probably wasn't exactly the same piece of clothing.
"Let's see..." she said to herself, getting dressed as her Pokémon yawned and woke up. "I need to remember to take everyone's Pokéballs, and the Poffin mold..."
"Are you up, dear?" Johanna called.
"Yes, Mom!" Dawn called back down.
"Just checking!" her mother assured her. "You said you didn't want to get up late!"
"Thanks!" Dawn smiled. "I really appreciate it!"
"That's good, dear," Johanna said. "I'm making some pancakes for everyone before you set off, so don't be too long!"
"When she says everyone, does she mean Mamoswine as well?" Piplup asked.
Dawn paused, then shrugged. "I don't know, Piplup," she admitted. "I don't know whether I'd rather she remember or whether that would just be silly."
Piplup shrugged. "So long as you remember that feeding him is a big task. I do my best to keep the food bill low, but everyone else..."
Pachirisu chittered something, and Dawn frowned for a moment as she tried to translate it. The meaning eluded her, though, and she glanced at Piplup.
"She's just saying something about a fat joke and how I'd better not be making one," Piplup told her.
"There was a bit more to it than that and you know it," Buneary volunteered, Bouncing up to the mirror and examining herself. "Hmm… I might be a few minutes, I want to make sure I've got my fluffs looking nice."
"Why – oh, right," Dawn realized. "That's because Pikachu's arriving today, isn't it?"
Buneary nodded, already inspecting the makeup on the dresser. "Hmmm..."
"Don't those say they weren't tested on Pokémon?" Piplup asked.
"Am pom," Ambipom admonished Piplup, her words bouncing off him without a mark.
"Dawn!" Johanna called up again.
"Coming!" Dawn assured her, and collected up Piplup with one hand and Pachirisu with the other. "Pancakes, Ambipom?"
The simian Normal-type nodded, following her trainer out the door and down the stairs.
"Those were really good pancakes, Mom," Dawn said, leaning back in her chair and sighing. "Talk about a good send-off..."
She reached over and patted Mamoswine, who was just finishing his second pancake. Johanna had in fact gone to the trouble of making two for him as well, with plenty of berries and cream, and the big Ice-type had been thoroughly enjoying himself.
"That's no trouble at all, dear," Johanna replied. "I know you've been adventuring for a couple of years before now, but to me it's your first day and so it's special."
"It's pretty special for me too," Dawn replied, checking on Quilava – who had finally woken up, though he was still only on his first pancake. "It's kind of like I'm going off on my first day again – and it has been a while, so there's that too. It's not routine at all."
She stood up, and gave Johanna a hug. "Thanks, Mom. I'll miss you out on the road."
"Well, I'll be right here if you need me," Johanna replied firmly. "Don't be a stranger, dear."
There was a thunk as Buneary came bouncing downstairs.
"Am I late?" she asked.
"No, we kept some for you," Dawn answered, indicating a plate by the side of the table. "You like Aspear and ice cream, right?"
Buneary nodded, jumping up to the table and picking up a knife and fork.
"Why aren't you just using your paws?" Piplup asked.
"What, and ruin my nails?" Buneary replied.
"You might be overdoing it a little," Dawn suggested delicately.
The Normal-type blinked, and looked at her paws again – seeing the varnish on her nails, and looking suddenly uncertain.
"Do you want me to help?" Johanna asked, guessing the context from what she knew about her daughter's Pokémon. "Come on, we'll get you sorted out after you've eaten."
She glanced over at Dawn. "Where are you meeting your friends?"
"We said here, or nearly," Dawn replied. "But it's not for another hour or two, I think… I can't remember."
She shrugged. "I'm going to go and have a walk, make sure I'm properly awake. I'll be back in an hour or so, so if Ash and Brock show up before then just let them know where I went."
"I'll make sure to do that," Johanna agreed. "Where are you going?"
"Lake Verity," Dawn said. "It's nice and peaceful, and a walk along the shore's just what I need."
"All right, dear," Johanna nodded. "You're right, it is very nice. Should I send Barry up there if he calls around?"
Dawn looked conflicted for a moment, then decided. "Sure," she said. "He will make it less peaceful, but at least I'll be a lot more awake!"
"I think I might not have realized just how far it is to Sinnoh," Max said ruefully. "I know we're moving really fast, but it feels like we've been doing it for ages."
"If it's any consolation, we are most of the way there," Suicune replied. "Be glad it's me taking you, if it was one of my brothers you'd be feeling the wind."
"How fast are we going?" Max asked, looking down at the waves blurring past – then back, seeing the plume of spray Suicune's tailwind was shedding to either side.
"Well… I think about six hundred miles per hour," Suicune answered him, sounding thoughtful. "It might be a bit more than that, but I'm staying below the transsonic region because it gets much harder very quickly at that speed."
They shot past a small boat, which spent less than thirty seconds close enough for them to see it, but Suicune still had the time to make a slight course correction – curving them around the vessel to avoid getting too close and causing them problems.
"What's it normally like, going this far?" Max said, looking up at Pidgeot overhead – the Flying-type keeping pace with them easily, occasionally going a little ahead or falling behind slightly as Suicune changed speed. "Is it boring?"
"Not really, I tend to find it's a good time to meditate," the Water-type told him. "I won't deny it's nice to have someone to talk to, though."
She chuckled. "I don't think crossing the ocean all the way to Alola would be as interesting, either. I'd have to stop off a few times on the way."
Max nodded, looking back again at the spray spiralling in Suicune's wake, then checked Kris to see what the time was.
"Looks like we should be getting there fairly soon," he informed her. "Is that about right?"
"It's what I think is going to happen, so yes," Suicune replied. "In fact, they can probably already see the coastline up there."
"It feels kind of strange, coming back to Sinnoh," Ash said. "I mean… this whole second chance is really about Sinnoh, in a big way, because of what happened with Cyrus."
"Yeah, but it's been worth it anyway," Pikachu replied. "Last time we never could have had this conversation at all."
"Right," Ash agreed, giving Pikachu a quick hug. "But… well, I'm kind of nervous about the whole thing. I can't help but think about… well, you know how the problems we've been facing keep going up compared to last time?"
"Well… last time we went to Sinnoh, we had to deal with Dialga and Palkia, and Giratina, and even Arceus," Ash reminded him, counting off on his fingers. "And… yeah, that's the thing."
"Well… Palkia's Water type, so that's fine," Pikachu replied. "And Dialga's vulnerable to Fire type attacks because he's part-Steel, so that's for Charizard to deal with."
Pidgeot laughed, making them bob up and down in the air for a moment before she corrected their course.
"That's a good point, Pikachu," Ash smiled. "I think-"
He cut himself off. "Hey, that looks like Sinnoh!"
Pidgeot's wings swept the air, and she altered course so they would come ashore near Twinleaf Town.
"Almia's off to the west, right?" Ash asked, and Pidgeot chirped an affirmative.
"Wow, you're getting better at this map thing," Pikachu said, deadpan.
He leaned out over Pidgeot's shoulder, finding the moving speck that was Suicune. "Looks like she's going to come ashore just west of Sandgem Town."
Pidgeot slipped sideways, shedding a little height for speed, then the coast whipped past and was behind them in an eyeblink. They passed over a dam, making the confined water ripple, then crested a low ridge and Pidgeot slammed the brakes on to bring them down inside Twinleaf Town proper.
The Flying-type dissipated her wings of air, and a burst of white shockfront pulsed out from her for a moment before being absorbed by the air around them. That left her going quite slowly, about seventy miles an hour, and she coasted for a long moment before alighting on Dawn's lawn.
"Nice work, Pidgeot!" Ash said, giving her a stroke, and slid off. "All right, Sinnoh!"
He took a long breath of the air, and sighed.
"Welcome to Twinleaf," Dawn's mother said, making Ash jump. "Sorry, did I surprise you?"
"I… didn't look to see if anyone was there," Ash admitted, recalling Pidgeot and revealing the garden bench Johanna was sitting on. "Is Dawn here?"
"She said she was going for a walk to make sure she was awake," Johanna replied. "She should be back before too long. Are your other friends coming?"
"Yeah, Brock said he'd be aiming to meet us here," Ash answered. "And Max was just behind us."
He looked over his shoulder as he spoke, and caught sight of Suicune loping down the street. She slowed, controlling her braking so it didn't throw Max off, then stopped so he could climb down.
"Well, that was interesting," she said, shaking herself out. "That dam down by the coast must have had some dirt washed into it after a recent storm. It's fine now."
"Huh..." Ash said. "You okay, Max?"
"I'm fine," Max confirmed. "Suicune's really good at that, I didn't even get wet, which is a really odd thing to happen after being carried over the sea for more than an hour at nearly the speed of sound."
"So… I understand you're going to be going with Dawn, Ash and Brock for a few weeks?" Johanna asked.
"Yeah, it's because Ash is my mentor as a Pokémon trainer," Max confirmed. "There's an odd rule about it, basically because the Hoenn League was cancelled it didn't count for ending my time as a mentoree." He frowned. "Is that the word? Mentee?"
Protégé or apprentice are usually preferred.
"Actually, I wonder..." Ash said. "Dexter, how long would it take for Brock to get here if he'd come by Flygon?"
Depending on Flygon's maximum airspeed, as many as five or six hours, Dexter answered. He would also have a wind blowing in his face the whole way.
"Yeah, that's a good point..." Ash agreed.
He frowned. "Where did Pikachu go?"
"Pikachu?" Buneary asked, looking up at the window. "How did you know where..."
"Aura," Pikachu replied. "That's usually the answer."
He jumped down from the windowsill, and sighed. "Buneary, there's something I wanted to say, and it's kind of… not easy to say."
Buneary's eyes widened, then she began to droop a little.
"Look," Pikachu began, a little awkwardly. "I was thinking about this for ages, and… I think I know what the problem is. See… I kind of got a bad first impression off you when we first met, last time, and… since then..."
He shook his head. "I've been letting it colour everything I've thought about you since. Buneary… I don't know what you see in me, and I have to admit that I don't think the same thing."
The Normal-type swallowed, not sure what to say to that.
"But," Pikachu went on. "I also realized that I never really gave myself a proper chance to see if I might. So… so I guess we could see what might happen."
He held out his paw. "Hi. I'm Pikachu."
Buneary stared at it, then blushed and held her own out to shake. "Buneary," she replied, voice a little wobbly. "Nice to meet you."
Pikachu shook her paw, then put his own back by his side. "Let's see if we actually make good friends, first," he suggested. "I think that's how you're supposed to do things like this."
He chuckled nervously, ears tilting to the side. "But I don't know how romance novels go, so I couldn't do that kind of thing even if I wanted to..."
"That's probably a good thing," Buneary replied. "Otherwise your long-lost twin brother would show up and we'd get confused."
Pikachu blinked. "Seriously? That happens?"
"All the time," Buneary confirmed.
"Wow… I mean, I have a clone, but he looks different to me..."
Dawn sat down on a hummock, looking out over Lake Verity.
"It's kind of funny," she said, watching as the water rippled slightly from the breeze. "Last time around, I came here and I saw Mesprit. Do you remember that?"
"I remember you looking at something," Piplup replied, frowning. "Not really much more detail than that."
"Well, I guess we had just met," Dawn decided, shrugging it off. "I wonder what this new adventure's going to bring?"
Tried asking Celebi. Was refused.
"Oh, there Mesprit is," Piplup said, then shrugged. "Eh."
Dawn turned, seeing the Psychic-type flying over, and waved. "Hello – or, hello again?"
Salutations. You make a fine focus of Emotion. Obvious to see.
The Lake Guardian did a flip, then bowed to Dawn. Very grateful for your assistance. Helping to save us from Cyrus. Debt is owed.
"You remember as well?" Dawn asked. "I didn't know that."
We do not, Mesprit corrected. We extrapolated. We are good at that. I predict how humans will react, Uxie knows what they know, Azelf understands their motivations.
"That's… actually pretty amazing," Dawn said. "Is that why you appeared to me last time?"
Good question, Mesprit said. Impossible to answer. Would ask myself, but I am not here. This time, we became aware of you when Celebi mentioned it.
"How did Celebi know?" Piplup asked, raising a flipper.
She asked herself. For her it is possible. Very annoying.
The Emotion Pokémon offered a tail to Dawn. Hope we will see one another again. Well. Not hope. Expect.
Dawn contemplated the tail. "Won't that make me not feel any emotions?"
Good point. Will consider alternatives. Perhaps jersey.
Mesprit turned to leave, paused, and looked back at Dawn. If you need my help, just ask. It might work. Might not. Hard to say. But worth trying.
Then it vanished.
"That was… odd," Dawn said, then shrugged. "Well, at least we know-"
Mesprit appeared again. Do you have that Togekiss yet? Celebi mentioned her.
"Uh – yeah, but not at the moment," Dawn replied. "She's on a time share with her original trainer. Why?"
I like Togekiss. They feel emotions.
Mesprit vanished, and Dawn gave Piplup a baffled look.
Piplup just shrugged. "Don't ask me."
"That is unusual behaviour for most Legendaries," Suicune said, after Dawn had finished explaining. "But… no, now that I think about it again, I can understand it."
"Why's that?" Johanna asked.
"Something you have to understand is that most Legendaries avoid humans," Suicune explained. "Especially those with critically important jobs, such as the Lake Guardians – Pokémon who are unique in all the world. Their roles are too important for them to risk meeting a human inclined to cause trouble, and they do not have the strength to truly protect themselves."
She sat down on her haunches, and flipped a paw over. "But your daughter was enough to overcome that reluctance last time, to the extent that Mesprit showed itself."
"Hold on, can I ask something?" Max said. "You said Mesprit was an 'it'. Is that right?"
"It's more that they've never let on their true gender," Suicune clarified. "Whenever someone asks, they just say it's obvious."
The Legendary waited a moment, to be sure that conversation thread was over, then resumed. "Since Mesprit knew from Celebi that this happened last time, it knows that Dawn is trustworthy – and the Lake Guardians are often quite lonely."
Dawn nodded slowly. "So… Mesprit wants a friend, right?"
"That would be an accurate way to put it, yes," Suicune agreed. "Be gentle and understanding, but treat it like another Pokémon – I can certainly confirm that it's very pleasant to have a human friend, especially a friend to talk to."
She licked Ash's hand.
"Gah!" Ash yelped, looking down at his palm – which was very wet, and which had frost on it. "What was that, Ice Lick?"
"Well..." Suicune shrugged. "In any case. That is my explanation."
"Hey, guys!" came a familiar voice.
"Brock!" Ash replied, standing and waving. "Welcome to Sinnoh!"
"It's good to see you," Dawn agreed. "How was the flight?"
"Not bad," Brock shrugged. "You know, pretty normal for being on an aircraft."
He sent out his Sudowoodo, who waved to Dawn, and then his Geodude.
"Dude," Geodude said, offering his hand to Dawn to shake.
"...sorry, I haven't worked out Aura Speech for all my own Pokémon yet…" Dawn chuckled nervously.
"Actually, he was just saying dude," Brock clarified. "So, oddly enough, you heard what he was saying."
That made both the Berlitzes laugh, and Dawn shook Geodude's hand.
"Where are the rest of your Pokémon, Brock?" she asked, letting go. "Actually… where did Pikachu go, Ash?"
"I'm up here, Dawn," Pikachu called down.
Dawn looked up, and blinked. "Why are you inside my house?"
She looked at Ash. "Did he explain already? I can't tell..."
"He vanished earlier," Ash told her. "He hasn't explained it to me yet, but I trust him. He'd tell me if it was important."
"Right," Dawn nodded. "So, Brock, how was your time with Philena?"
Brock smiled. "It was nice to have a few days to ourselves," he said, sitting down on the last of the available seats. "And her Luxio's doing very well."
"She evolved?" Ash asked. "I must have missed hearing about that."
"Yeah, a few weeks ago at least," Brock answered. "She's still cute, but, you know – Pokémon evolving tend to change their outlook a little, and you can definitely see it."
He took a Pokéball off his belt. "And she got me this, as well."
"A new Pokémon?" Max said.
"That's right," Brock confirmed, and sent it out.
With a bright flash, light resolved itself into the form of a Rockruff.
"...Brock?" Max asked. "Are you sure that one is really a Rockruff?"
"Pretty sure," Brock confirmed. "And that means that, at last, I've got a claim to be a Rock type trainer again!"
"What?" Dawn said, utterly confused. "What do you mean, a Rock type trainer?"
"I… but..." Brock began. "Rock type! Trainer! Did you honestly not know?"
"Well, to be fair, your team wasn't exactly heavy on Rock types..." Dawn replied, counting off on her fingers. "Chansey is a Normal type, Croagunk is a Poison and Fighting type… Sudowoodo is a Rock type, but he's a Rock type who pretends to be something else."
The Pokémon on the table sat down, looking at them with ears perked and head tilted.
"The rest of my team had more Rock types," Brock protested. "Well… one more Rock type..."
He pointed. "But Rockruff is a Rock type as well!"
"It doesn't look like a Rock type," Max said. "Is it a boy or a girl?"
"She's a female," Brock answered. "And she is a Rock type."
Brock's face fell. "Oh, no..."
There was a flash of blue light, and a Zorua sat there instead.
Max fell off his chair laughing.
"You have got to be kidding me," Brock groaned.
"Actually, I swapped your Pokéballs," Zorua explained, relenting. "Then I turned into a Rockruff, just for the prank."
"Thanks a lot..." Brock grumbled, then sent his actual Rockruff out.
"Hi!" she said, tail wagging. "Zorua told me to be quiet and there'd be a joke. Was there a joke?"
"Only on me," Brock said. "Only on me..."
"I know my case was really bizarre," Dawn began, "but how do you make sure you catch the same Pokémon?"
"Basically… go to the same places at the same times," Ash replied. "That's worked so far."
"And the extra Pokémon?" Dawn went on. "How does that work out?"
"That's basically how it worked the first time," Max volunteered. "At least, that's how I got Pokémon like Delta and Ferris."
The Steel-type looked up on hearing his name, waited a moment, then went back to practising.
Dawn watched him for a moment. "That's… Aerial Ace, right? I didn't know Aron could learn that."
"Yeah, it's because it's a surprise," Max agreed. "That and it's a good way to deal with fighting moves, if he can get quick enough – either dodge with the speed burst or block the attack itself to negate some of it."
He shrugged. "I also had this idea to teach him Endeavor, and then have him set up a sandstorm, but that's probably going to take more dodge practice before he can get good enough to make it work."
"Right, because he's got Sturdy," Dawn realized. "Hmm… you know, I just realized that a Pokémon with Sturdy or a Focus Sash could have a really spectacular Appeal..."
"If this leads to me being blown up, then no," Piplup said flatly. "If this leads to me doing a double Appeal with Gible, then double no."
"I wasn't going to do that," Dawn replied. "But now you mention it..."
"Huh," Ash said, drawing their attention – making Max, Dawn, Pikachu and Piplup realize he had his eyes closed and was surveying the trees.
"Starly?" Pikachu asked.
"Yeah," Ash agreed. "See the tall tree with the yellow leaves? Just to the right of the trunk… now."
"I see him," the Electric-type noted, then fired off a Thunder Wave. The electrical attack flashed through the air, hitting the Starly and making it bounce off a branch before falling to the ground.
"Not that one!" Ash said. "The one-"
Pikachu used Thunder Wave again, this time hitting the whole nearby flock. The crackle-bang made Ferris jump, firing off his Aerial Ace, and he shot into the air before turning over and landing on his feet with a thump.
"Are you okay?" Max asked.
His Rock-type twitched, straining, then pulled himself out of the deep impression he'd made in the ground and nodded.
"...maybe we should work on Dig," he suggested.
"There we are," Ash said, reaching the still-paralyzed form of his Starly.
"Okay, what the heck is going on?" asked a Staravia. "Did you just electrocute all my birds?"
"Strictly speaking I only intended to electrocute one," Pikachu said. "The first time. After that, yeah, I did try to do the whole flock."
"I'm trying to catch a Starly," Ash explained.
"Then just catch one," Staravia replied. "I'm no bigot, I know trainers help Pokémon to learn faster than they could otherwise, but how come you went after the lot of us? Er, them?"
"Recently evolved?" Pikachu asked.
"Four days," Staravia confirmed.
"Well… actually, it's kind of complicated," Ash said. "I was able to see that this Starly in particular is-"
"-Ash!" Pikachu said, then sighed and put his paw to his forehead as Ash accidentally made contact with the Starly he was pointing to.
About a second later, there was a burly Staraptor picking himself off the floor in a state of total confusion.
"What just happened?" he asked. "Where am I?"
"Long story," Pikachu said, waving to get Staraptor's attention. "Let's go explain it with Dawn."
Staravia tilted his head. "The heck?"
"Oh, hey, Staravia," Staraptor said. "Yeah, now I think about it Pikachu's right. This is going to take a lot of explaining, going by past evidence."
"What past evidence?" Staravia asked, now completely lost.
"Time travel again, huh," Staraptor mused. "Okay, guess that makes as much sense as anything."
"Honestly, I was expecting more surprise," Ash said.
Staraptor shrugged his wings. "Compared to some of the things we've seen..."
There was a musical crash off to one side, and he turned his attention that way. "Huh, those all look new. Any of them Dawn's?"
"No, the Absol and the Keldeo are mine," Ash answered. "And that's Max's Gallade training with them. His name's Roland."
He thought for a moment. "Actually, there's so many Pokémon to get to know that I should probably send you back to Oak's ranch for a bit – let Ivysaur give you the tour and introduce you to everyone who's there."
"Things have changed around there," Staraptor observed, taking off in a cloud of dust. "Okay, but not just yet. I want to get in on this training session – what's going on?"
Absol turned, continuing the fencing match with Roland by using her tail. "We're making sure Roland has good form without needing to resort to using his teleportation to get around – because he might need to stay in one place to defend Max or another Pokémon, so fighting two-on-one is something he's going to need to learn."
"Nice," Staraptor pronounced, hovering a little way from the session itself. "How are you doing that tail thing?"
"Chance dancing," Absol explained. "It's a mental discipline some Absol learn, which allows them to actively follow a golden path instead of merely sensing disasters."
Staraptor nodded. "Cool. Mind if I join in?"
"Wait, what?" Roland asked, then found himself with a face full of bird as Staraptor plunged down towards him.
Backing away three steps – two of them by teleport – he swept up a Psycho Cut to block as Staraptor used Wing Attack. The stiff leading edge of Staraptor's wing hit Roland's energy blade with a clash, sending sparks flying off, but neither was put out of commission by the impact. Instead, Roland had to bring up his other arm with a Night Slash as Staraptor simply pivoted to use the other wing, flapping the one that had just been struck to keep up his forwards momentum.
"Help!" Roland said, teleporting back again to try and regain the initiative. "Marshtomp!"
Marshtomp looked up from teaching Rockruff how to Dig, surprised. "What is it?"
"How do you punch a bird? Answer quickly please!"
"Red ones only!" Dawn called, then threw a handful of squash balls.
Buneary jumped into the air, batting away two of the balls with her ears, then hit a third one – one of the ones with a red dot on it – with an Ice Beam.
The ball shattered as she kicked it, and she scanned the rest before landing with a light thump.
"Nice work," Dawn complimented her. "Want to try it with the combination I was thinking of?"
"What's that?" the Normal-type asked.
"I was thinking that Piplup could mix in a few Water Pulse balls with his Bubble attack, and then by freezing them into solid snowballs it would look like you were turning bubbles into snowballs," Dawn explained. "Then you could use your ears to give them extra speed as an attack, or even hit one with another to make a shotgun blast, and it's a combination move as well."
"So something to use on Pokémon weak to ice," Buneary said. "Who would we test it on?"
"Well, Quilava's not done anything this morning except for argue with Piplup about trains," Dawn noted. "Plus, he can practice melting incoming snowballs – which is a good thing to do to protect an ally who's weak to ice, like Togekiss."
She was about to call over the two arguing Pokémon when there was a whack from where the others were training.
"Bird can be punched with ice," Marshtomp called.
"That helps, thanks," Roland said, a little distracted. He blocked Staraptor's next blow with his Psycho Cut, then realized it was weakening and switched it for a simple Slash – then watched, a little confused, as Staraptor crossed his wings over his chest.
A moment later both of them flicked out again in a Close Combat, hitting both Roland's Night Slash and his Slash at once and nearly jarring them out of his grip.
"Remember to keep your elements fluid!" Absol called from the side, as Roland staggered backwards then flickered out – reappearing to Staraptor's side, though the Flying type promptly launched a Wing Attack kata at him again.
"I'm trying!" Roland said, switching out Slash for Fury Cutter and Night Slash for Psycho Cut. Then he blocked the first two moves of the Wing Attack with the Psycho Cut, nearly used the Fury Cutter for the third block, realized that would be a bad idea, and tried to juggle Ice Blade into his combination without dropping either of the others.
In the confusion he put Psycho Cut and Fury Cutter into the same hand, and there was a bright flash.
"Stop!" Absol shouted suddenly.
Roland froze. Staraptor also froze for a moment, then remembered he was technically flying and pulled up to avoid crashing into one of the spectators.
"Keldeo, look," Absol said, indicating Roland. "His right hand!"
Roland looked down as well, and saw a strange sight – a shimmering blade, formed out of compressed energy, but one side was the faint purple of his Psycho Cut and the other the oddly gray-green tint of Fury Cutter.
A second or two later it destabilized, shattering into fragments, and Staraptor landed behind Ash.
"What was that?" Roland asked, confused.
"I'm not sure, but I'm interested to find out," Keldeo grinned. "Okay, let's try that again!"
"Are humans usually like this?" M-001 asked, looking up the cliff. "This does not seem to be normal behaviour."
"I do not think it is normal behaviour," M-002 replied. "I think it is normal behaviour for this human, however."
He checked the time. "It is not long until she intended to eat. I will make sure she is aware of this."
Pushing off from the finesand with a single toe, M-002 rose smoothly into the air before halting next to Kidd Summers – wearing the Mars Excursion Suit she was testing. "Are you well?"
"Huh?" Kidd replied, over the intercom, and looked over from the rock wall she was climbing. "Oh, Mewtwo, right. Is something wrong?"
"We are simply verifying your status," M-002 explained. "Dinner is served in: nine minutes, fourteen seconds."
"Oh, right, that," Kidd said. "Can you keep it for me for another hour or so? I want to make sure I finish this climb."
M-002 paused, floating there, then broached a new topic. "Will you require ongoing assistance? You are quite high up."
"Depends how fast you can reach me if I call for help," Summers replied. "I'm, what, sixty feet up now? That's only going to hurt as much as a twenty foot fall back home, but it's going to take – what – three or four seconds to fall?"
"At current altitude, three point seven seconds," M-002 answered. "Understood."
The Mirage Pokémon floated back down to ground level, and gave M-001 an eloquent shrug.
Some organic concepts, such as the shrug, were easier to assimilate than others.
"So… we now know that Roland can put blade attacks together into an odd mixed-up version," Max said, sitting down. "But it falls apart pretty quickly."
"I think that's just because I have trouble keeping it stable," Roland said, a little uncertainly. "I'd be better at it if I had more practice, though."
"Then we'll make sure to give you loads of practice!" Keldeo declared. "I've picked up a few new tricks from Cobalion, too, so I should be a great opponent!"
Absol chuckled. "I sense pain in your future, Roland."
As they talked, Staraptor sidled over to Ash. "So, uh, we're back when I first met you, right?"
"Yeah, that's right," Ash confirmed.
"Well… wasn't that about the time you had your first run-in with Paul? 'cause I seem to remember a certain Chimchar starting out being one of his," Staraptor clarified. "What's the plan?"
"I… don't know, actually," Ash said.
He shook his head. "I've been thinking about it for a long time, but I never seem to make the same plan twice. I kind of want to think of it as a rescue for Chimchar, but that's not really fair to Paul – he does things a different way to me, and I think he'd do better if he trained his Pokémon a different way, but most of his Pokémon like it. And I don't want to just steal Chimchar, even if Chimchar kind of agrees at first and Infernape definitely agrees afterwards."
"Tough one," Staraptor agreed.
He glanced at Ash. "Sure we can't just do a thing where a wild Staraptor totally kidnaps his Chimchar?"
"What are you, a Honchkrow?" Pikachu asked.
Staraptor shot him a look.
"Right, here we go," Palkia said, stretching. The tunnel warped around him, giving him more space, and he pressed his tail against the floor in a display of tension before relaxing down again. "How does this work again?"
"Up there is a grille," Loudred explained. "You need to look through it and identify the Pokémon coming into the guild. It takes a lot of experience to identify Pokémon from here, so be ready!"
Palkia absorbed that, then nodded. "Will do."
"GOOD!" Loudred shouted. "Let's get started!"
He paused a moment, then called down the tunnel. "Pokémon detected! Whose footprint?"
"Glaceon," Palkia answered.
"All right, in you come!" Loudred called, opening the gate and letting the Pokémon in.
No sooner had he done so, however, than another Pokémon appeared.
"That one's an Aron," Palkia called. "And the one behind him's a Growlithe!"
"Wow, you're good at this!" Loudred called back. "Whose footprint is that?"
That's not really in the spirit of the job, Arceus stated, as Palkia adjusted the spatial warp he was using to view the visiting Pokémon directly. You're supposed to identify their footprints.
"I am," Palkia replied. "It's just a lot easier to identify a footprint by looking at the Pokémon it's attached to."
"That's right," Chatot chirped. "Now, you need to make sure the apples are stewed for precisely half an hour – not a minute more or less! Only that will meet the exacting standards of the guild master!"
Dialga's fins extended, and he waved a paw over the saucepan. "What do I do once they're stewed?"
"You pour them into the pastry, put more pastry over the top, and bake for twenty-five minutes," Chatot said.
Adjusting his chef's hat, Dialga fired off a localized pulse of time. The apples all but dissolved as nearly half an hour's stewing happened in less than a second, and he whistled to himself as he poured them into the pastry.
"What's next?" he asked.
"How did you do that?" Chatot blinked.
"Do what?" Dialga said, sliding open the oven door and putting the pie inside. The door shut, then opened again, and the Dragon-type took out a perfectly browned pie.
Slapping it with a stasis field so it wouldn't cool off too much, Dialga looked up at Chatot again. "What should I do next?"
"Oh! Well – muffins," Chatot said, rallying. "Make up some muffin mix, and add in some berries – make sure to get a good mix."
Dialga nodded absently, pouring out all the ingredients for muffin mix into a big bowl. They all stopped falling halfway to the bowl, and Dialga scooped up the right amounts of each with a cup before using their original containers to catch the rest as he unfroze them.
Mixing busily, partly by creating eddies of distorted time in the bowl so his spoon was in multiple places at once, Dialga tapped a foot on the floor. "What about some cheese?" he asked. "I saw some milk in the fridge..."
"Hey, hey, let's see what missions are available!" Corphish suggested, beckoning the others over.
"I don't know," Bidoof said, looking closer. "These look like yesterday's missions, by golly..."
Then the board vanished in a sudden wave of shadow, making both of them jump.
"Oh my gosh!" Sunflora cried, from across the room. "What just happened?"
An ominous sound resonated though the guild hall, until the shadowy wave suddenly dissipated and revealed the now-updated mission board.
"Hey, hey, what happened?" Corphish asked.
Giratina appeared next to the board. "I'm still learning how to do the board update," he said. "I thought bringing it into the Reverse World would be best."
Dugtrio stuck his heads out of the ground. "You need to be faster!" he announced. "We'll try again once these three have picked their next mission!"
"It's odd, really," Aaron mused, charging up an Aura Sphere between his paws before firing it. "I didn't realize how much I'd become used to having those three around."
He rolled smoothly out of the way of a Confusion attack, then summoned a pair of Sacred Swords and threw them in a long, looping arc. Summoning a second pair, he used their odd magnetic properties to draw the first pair back towards his opponent – who didn't see them coming, and got knocked sprawling.
"Now I'm on a solo mission for the first time in a long while," Aaron added, taking the Drowzee by the hands and twisting them around into an arm lock. "No thanks to the vision thing, by the way."
In my defence, they're kind of plot relevant, Arceus replied. Is it better this way or with me not telling you your history in story?
"Needs work," the Riolu answered. "Now, are you going to give back what you took from those young Pokémon?"
"By doze!" Drowzee protested. "Yoo tide by doze in a knobt..."
"Correct," Aaron nodded. "That was to stop you trying to use Hypnosis again. Do I have your attention?"
"And that's eight!" Molly announced proudly, putting the Icicle Badge into her collection. "Now we can battle in the Pokémon League!"
"It's a pretty good bit of work," Gary agreed, sitting down next to her. "Especially with my research taking you all over the place – sorry about that, by the way."
"It's fine!" Molly told him. "Otherwise I might not have met my new Pokémon!"
She indicated her collection of Pokéballs, which included two belonging to a Girafarig and a Teddiursa – both quite recently met, but already shaping up into good supports for her front-line Eevee.
"So, when do we go and do the Sinnoh League?" she added.
"Well, that's the thing…" Gary said, spreading his hands. "It's not really a good time for it, it's months until they do the League next – it only happens once a year, and they don't even open registration for the next few months."
"Oh, okay," Molly said, deflating a little, then brightened. "But that just means there's more time for training – and it means I'll be in the same League as Ash, doesn't it?"
"That's right," Gary confirmed.
The older trainer stood up, then stretched. "But, actually, we spent three weeks up a mountain before reaching Snowpoint so I think we've earned a break. What do you say to going shopping in Canalave?"
He chuckled. "Furfrou's coat got so thick after all that time in the snow that she said she'd go on strike unless she got a trim, once we got back to sea level..."
We Will Be Heroes, et cetera.
So this chapter's mostly setting up for Sinnoh, including looking at the Pikachu-Buneary thing. Seriously, Pikachu's life is so bizarre there's nearly unlimited scope for telenovela-style antics.
We've also got Staraptor back, and a new Pokémon for Brock. Along with how things are going for the Creation Trio (the new ones, not the old ones) and Aaron, some stuff on Mars, and a look in on Molly.
This is the problem with yearly Leagues, sometimes you finish the Gyms with more than half a year to go...