"Hey, Max," May said. "Ready for your next battle?"

"Kind of," Max replied, looking at the bracket. "Did you see who I was battling next?"

"No, actually," May admitted, having a look. "I just know it's the first one on the central arena… wait, isn't that the girl you met on the way to Indigo?"

"That's her," Max agreed. "It feels kind of odd to battle someone you met, like that – the chances can't be very high, can they?"

"Depends how many people you meet," May pointed out. "And how good they are. Two really good battlers are probably going to meet at some point because one of them has to lose sometime!"

"That doesn't really help, May," Max complained.

"Any time," May chuckled. "So, what are you going to use against her?"

"I don't know..." Max shook his head.

"Deoxys?" she asked, half-joking.

"No!" Max replied quickly. "And even if I wanted to, Casper mentioned pretzels to him so I think he's decided to try some of those."

May blinked, then decided to dismiss it. "Okay, but you still have a lot of Pokémon. Don't you have some idea?"

Max shook his head again. "I really don't. I think I might start with Cinder because she's a good generalist, but apart from that..."

"I guess you do have to think about that more as a pure battler," May admitted. "For me half of it is just making sure I have good synergy and a trick or two, when I'm sending out two Pokémon, or when it's one Pokémon it's just one for the whole Contest."

She shrugged. "But Pokémon battling is more tactical, so you have to think about things like that. Good luck!"

"Thanks," Max replied, not quite sure whether to take that seriously or not.

After some thought, he sent Cinder out. "Are you okay being the one to start things off?"

"It's fine," Cinder assured him, tail flicking from side to side. "I'm the best choice to go into an ambush, anyway… if you know what the ambusher's planning, you can turn it back on them!"

Max chuckled, then took a ribbon from his pocket – letting it unravel, revealing the Shell Bell on the end. "This should help you out, though."

"Thanks," Cinder replied, contemplating it. "Put it on my foreleg, I'll need to be able to stop it ringing if I want."

"Got it," Max agreed, bending down to tie it around her offered right forelimb. "How's that?"

"Bit tighter… that's fine." Cinder tested how well it stayed on, then spun her ankle and trapped the bell between her pad. "Nice. Let's do this."

"Congratulations to all our contestants for reaching the final phase of the Indigo Conference!" Mr. Goodshow announced. "As a reminder, the rest of the tournament is a simple elimination round on this central stadium, which has no terrain features. The first round will have four Pokémon a side, the rest will have six – and I must say, I'm looking forward to seeing what the trainers bring out today!"

The slightly eccentric organizer gave a little bow and sat down, and Max walked out to his side of the pitch.

"Hey, fancy meeting you here!" Iwalani waved, reaching her own side. "Let's make it a good one, okay?"

"Sure!" Max replied, taking his first Pokéball.

"Begin!" the referee called, slashing his hand down, and both trainers sent out their first Pokémon.

Trusting Cinder to have a handle on things, Max took a good look at the Pokémon Iwalani had sent out to battle him.

It was one he only vaguely remembered reading about once, a bipedal lizard with grey scales and a long tail. On head, neck, arms and tail were golden or gold-edged scales forming what looked at first glance like parts of a suit of armour, and it shifted its footing as Cinder approached cautiously.

"Brick Break!" Iwalani called, and the other Pokémon darted forwards.

"Ha-kam!" it announced, swiping at Cinder, and Max's Dark-type dodged with a fluid grace. She flicked her tail at it as she went past, producing a whung sound, but the Pokémon seemed unfazed.

"What's that called?" Max called, as Cinder opened the range before clashing her teeth together, producing a flick of flame which her foe batted away with its forearm.

"He's a Hakamo-o," Iwalani supplied. "I knew we had Pokémon in Alola they don't have here!"

Cinder grunted as Hakamo-o smacked her a glancing blow with his tail, then used her own tail in Iron Tail mode to block a second strike. Deciding this wasn't a great situation as the other Pokémon kept pressuring her, she dove underground with a sudden plume of disturbed earth.

A few seconds later, the ground burst up again halfway across the arena, and Hakamo-o jumped across to land a powerful punch on the ground.

He found no sign of Cinder, and frowned – then a black shadow appeared behind him.

"Behind!" Iwalani called, spotting it first, and Hakamo-o spun to lash out at Cinder with another Fighting-type move. It hit Cinder on the shoulder, and she rolled backwards once before getting a claw grip on the ground and skidding to a halt.

Rubbing her shoulder for a moment, Cinder darted back in. She slipped around Hakamo-o's attempt to stop her short like smoke, and bit down on his scaled arm with Thunder Fang before evading and getting clear.

"Any advice?" she called.

"I don't know..." Max replied, thinking hard. "So it didn't seem to mind the Iron Tail, or the fire and electric attacks… try going underground again!"

Cinder lunged towards Hakamo-o, then her fourth loping bound took her high instead of forwards and she dove into the ground for a second time.

"Dragonbreath!" Iwalani ordered.

Hakamo-o jumped to the hole, landing with a sliding skid, and breathed a gout of greenish flames into the hole. Secondary flickers of flame came up from the other holes Cinder had produced, and the Dark-type herself emerged from a new hole a little the worse for wear – a green flame still smouldering on her shoulder, which she batted out before evading an attempt at a Sky Uppercut by Hakamo-o.

"So that's how it is?" she asked, sliding to a halt, then split off a pair of Double Teams and send them forwards – hanging back herself, waiting for an opportunity.

"Attack them!" Iwalani judged.

Hakamo-o immediately attacked the two Mightyena coming towards him, blowing one up with a Dragonbreath, and lashed out at the other with a quick Brick Break. That one burst as well, and Cinder blazed forwards in a dead run before the simple illusion had finished collapsing. Her jaws glittered with ice, and she caught the punch Hakamo-o threw by biting down on it.

The impact made her paws go at least an inch into the ground, but the Shell Bell rang defiantly into the poised stillness – and this time, Cinder was sure she'd scored a telling blow, as her strength returned.

Then she had to let go and run for it to avoid being set on dragonfire.

"What type is that Pokémon?" May asked, looking up. "Obviously Dragon type, but apart from that?"

"Fighting," Lance provided. "I don't have one, but I'm thinking of it."

Hakamo-o hurled out a Focus Blast, and Cinder dodged away like a flicker of smoke – her striped form blurring her movement a little, and letting her get away with it.

She looked back at Hakamo-o for a moment, then plunged into the ground again with Dig before he could attack her.

The Dragon-type promptly jumped over to the hole, and blasted down a gout of Dragonbreath – only for it to backblast back up at him, making him wince and stop.

"Good work, Cinder!" Max called.

Cinder didn't reply, electing to stay underground, and Hakamo-o tilted his head before glancing back at his trainer.

"Listen out!" she called to him.

Hakamo-o tilted his head, listening for the sound of Cinder moving underneath the arena, then turned and lashed out with a powerful punch.

The ground collapsed, revealing a tunnel, but no Mightyena inside it.

"What's she doing?" May asked, glancing back at Ash. "Can you tell?"

Ash closed his eyes, focusing on Aura Sight, and Cinder appeared – digging her way up towards the surface, some way from Hakamo-o.

She stopped, then dug to the side a little and made a second route up. After scraping away so it was right near the surface, she went back to the first route and came out in a burst of earth before barking and charging.

"Oh, there she is," May shrugged, and winced as Cinder zigged when she should have zagged and caught a full blast of Dragonbreath in the side.

She shook it off, green flames dripping from her fur, and there was a crackle of secondary energy – which only resulted in her moving faster as her Quick Feet triggered, evading Hakamo-o's next attack before lunging for his tail.

The Dragon-type whipped it out of the way and hit her with a Dragon Claw, knocking her back, and she turned to head back to the tunnel she'd made.

"Don't let her recover!" Iwalani called, and Hakamo-o ran forwards to push his advantage. He hunched low to the ground as he ran after her, claws ready to attack the Dark-type the next change he got.

Cinder glanced back behind her, then slowed suddenly – the energy of her earlier brush with Dragonbreath crackling over her fur. She shook her head, forcing her way through the bout of paralysis, and dove for the hole.

Hakamo-o lengthened his stride, then stepped directly in the hole Cinder had prepared. The hole tripped him instantly, sending him sprawling along the arena floor, and Cinder darted back out of her hole before taking his tail in her jaws as he began to rise.

Then she used Play Rough.

"Ouch," Lance muttered, as the Mightyena tossed her head and bashed Hakamo-o into the ground on either side of her. "Play Rough is sometimes quite nasty to watch..."

Hakamo-o used Reversal, flinging Cinder off his tail and into the air, and she landed with a nasty whump before shaking herself off and rising back to her paws.

She paced forwards, favouring her right side slightly, and stared Hakamo-o down as the two Pokémon moved towards one another. They began to trot, then run, and Hakamo-o wound up for a Sky Uppercut-

-and Cinder hit him in the chest with both forepaws, pipping him to the post by a fraction of a second with another Play Rough, then slid to a halt on the far side of their confrontation.

Hakamo-o staggered a few more steps, then fell over as his endurance finally gave out.

"Well done, Cinder!" Max called, as his Dark-type reached a paw up to check on her bruised side. "Are you okay to keep going?"

"Sure," Cinder replied, pulling her paw away again. "I'll be fine."

"Right," Max nodded. "Okay, we're ready!"

"Great!" Iwalani called, and sent out her own Pokémon – her Dartrix, who fluffed his feathers self-importantly before taking off.

"Okay, Cinder..." Max said, as they watched the referee. "You know the situation."

"Yep," Cinder agreed. "Fire and ice."

The referee slashed his hand down. "Begin!"

Cinder's jaws immediately lit up as she used Fire Fang, and she barked loudly – producing a little pulse of flame that reached out towards the flying Grass-type.

Dartrix squawked, flapping his wings hard, and got out of the way of the flaming bark. Once out of immediate danger, he crossed his wings and spread them again – a shower of Razor Leaf flechettes coming out, peppering the area around Cinder and hitting her twice.

Cinder wove through the rest of the bombardment, evading all of the second wave, then jinked to the right as Dartrix used Razor Leaf again.

The attacks shot down towards where Cinder had been going – then followed her dodge, curving to attack her and scoring three or four hits this time.

Not wanting to stay out and get hit, Cinder used Dig. She vanished underground, and Dartrix dipped a little lower.

"Daar?" he asked his trainer.

"Not yet," she replied. "Leaf Blade!"

The Grass-type gained height again, using the tip of one wing to reach up underneath the other. Something glittered inside, then he flipped out the bent wing and sent a shimmering arrow of green light down the hole Cinder had used.

A moment later, Cinder yelped – ending her Dig, but not in the way she would have liked as the recoil of the Leaf Blade knocked her up through the surface of the arena.

"What the-" Max said, blinking. "Did that just bend? But Leaf Blade isn't normally-"

He remembered all the things Keldeo and his students had done with blade attacks, and stopped. "Right..."

Cinder rolled back to her paws, barked up another Fireshock at the Grass-type flying overhead, then a shower of leafy arrows peppered the area around her. They hung around for a moment before dissipating, and the final one of the barrage hit Cinder in the flank to knock her rolling sideways.

She didn't get back up this time.

"Max's Mightyena is knocked out," the referee confirmed, and Max recalled her before going for another Pokéball.

He had a few choices, but sending out his best Pokémon in terms of typing – Corona – was asking for trouble against such an agile Pokémon. So he picked another, and Roland appeared on the battlefield in a flash of light.

"Get ready to block his arrows!" Max called, as soon as Roland was on the field.

Flicking both arms out to the side with a flourish, Roland conjured two blades – one a Psycho Cut, the other an Air Slash.

The referee signalled to start the battle again, and Dartrix began with a shower of Razor Leaf attacks. They spread wide before coming storming in towards Roland, and the Gallade's arms blurred as he blocked a dozen attacks and avoided the rest.

He teleported away before the second attack sequence, reoriented himself, and teleported again to get up to the same altitude as Dartrix.

The Grass-type furled his wings and spread them again, using Leafage to try and ward Roland off. The storm of attacks were torn apart by Roland's Air Slash, but he had to quickly change it out for a Fury Cutter as it began to fall apart.

Dartrix took a couple of blows from Roland's attack, fired a Leaf Blade to keep Roland occupied, then went spinning away as Roland landed a Fury Cutter blow on his foe.

The Flying-type tumbled most of the way to the arena floor, then pulled out of his dive as Roland landed.

Turning, Dartrix hooted defiance, flying back up to combat altitude.

"All right!" his trainer called. "Nice recovery!"

Dartrix beat his wings again, which began to glow, then erupted in light all of a sudden.

"I hope Max doesn't blame me for this," Ash winced, as the glow faded – revealing a much changed Pokémon hovering on Iwalani's side of the arena. "Dexter, what is he now?"

He's human, like before.

"I meant Iwalani's Pokémon!" Ash corrected quickly.

Oh. In that case, he's evolved into Decidueye. It's the final form of Rowlett, and it's much better at ranged combat than Dartrix.

"I thought Dartrix was doing pretty well at fighting at range?" May asked, as Decidueye got used to his new form and Iwalani called him congratulations.


Roland fused his Psycho Cut and Fury Cutter together into a single weapon, feeling the flush of extra power from the combination, then added an Air Slash in his other hand to give him options. He teleported closer, ready to attack, and Decidueye seemed to explode into a storm of glowing feather arrows.

The motion for Decidueye to pluck, nock, draw and release each of his arrows took about a tenth of a second, and Roland quickly found himself entirely on the defensive – not able to spare enough time to attack, with barely enough time to notice each arrow before it had to be blocked.

He jumped away again, a few of the arrows missing, and Decidueye bombarded his new position for a second or two before abruptly stopping.

Max? Roland asked, as the last quill-arrow went flipping away and landed in the arena floor. Where did Decidueye go?

"I don't know!" Max called back. "I lost track of him!"

Roland looked around warily, trying to spot the Grass-type hiding out of the way somewhere, and took a step or two in case.

Then a shower of arrows came hissing down out of the sky, peppering the ground just behind Roland.

The Gallade tried to teleport away, but when he did there was a peculiar wrenching sensation and he snapped back to the same place he'd tried to leave – just as Decidueye fired another volley of arrows, this time directly at Roland.

"Block!" Max called out, and Roland's right arm blurred. His left flared with light as he used it to set up a psychic shield, and the glowing arrows went about halfway in before losing momentum and stopping.

"That's a new move on me," Ash said, looking closer. "Have those arrows nailed Roland's shadow to the floor?"

He looked down at Dexter again. "Is that what's going on?"

It looks like it, yes, Dexter replied. No, I don't understand either. I assume it's 'because Ghost', as that attack is Ghost type.

"Okay, huh," Ash mused. "So it blocks teleporting… can Roland move otherwise?"

They watched as Roland rolled out of the way of a barrage of attacks, dismissing his force shield, and his shadow remained pinned to the ghostly arrow. It distorted, visibly pulling, and Roland moved back to his former position before forming two Air Slash blades and blocking furiously.

"Looks like a yes," May contributed, as Decidueye continued what looked like a record attempt for 'most arrows launched in shortest time'. "I'm really impressed with Roland, though, he's holding up amazingly well."

"That's because of the training we've been giving him." Lucario stretched, before continuing. "We would do things like create seeker sphere showers and make him block the lot, because teleporting doesn't answer everything."

"I tend to think teleporting can answer most things," Will said mildly, inspecting his empty glass. "Should I get everyone drinks refills?"

"Not now," Lance told him absently, as the fusillade of arrows out in the arena died down a little.

Roland dismissed his blades and reformed them, one at a time so he was never entirely without attacks, then fused the Fury Cutter and Air Slash into one weapon.

Max? He asked. Sorry to pester you-

"Still thinking!" Max replied. "Uh… okay, Ice Blade!"

Roland manifested an Ice Blade with his free hand, then layered it over his existing combined weapon. He raised it as Decidueye reached up under his wing again, then the Grass-type unleashed a barrage of Fury Cutter attacks.

Roland abandoned his plan of blocking in place as soon as he saw the dense arrowstorm headed his way. He rolled out of the way, feeling the Spirit Shackle tug on his shadow and slow him down, then spun around and slashed at all the attacks at once as they curved towards him.

Decidueye followed up with an arrow of a different colour, a Peck attack, and this one Roland did block – he swept his sword across, using the increasing width of the combined blade to deflect the Peck attack away into the ground.

Sliding back across the hole-peppered surface of the arena to where his shadow had been pinned in place, he glanced at Max for a moment before manifesting a Psycho Cut in his off hand to give him options.

"Roland!" Max called. "I think I know what to do! Okay, ready – left!"

Roland spun left, blades crossed, and blocked the Leaf Blade Decidueye had tried to curve around at his side.

Even as he did, however, the Grass-type flapped across the sky and slipped into his blind spot – between Roland and the sun, so it would be harder for the Gallade to attack him at all.

"Now, jump!" Max ordered. "Straight up!"

Roland launched himself into the air with all his strength, evading the trio of Peck attacks Decidueye launched at him.

Spinning in mid-air, Roland faced Decidueye – and the trajectory of his jump curved, going from straight-up to a path that would intersect with Iwalani's Starter – who, caught off guard by the strange event, didn't dodge away immediately.

Fusing his Psycho Cut to his already-combined attacks, Roland brought his sword back and swept it towards Decidueye. He launched into a sequence of blows in quick succession, moving the combined weapon with a speed that belied its size – left, right, down, up and left, down…

Decidueye ducked and wove away as best he could, too close to safely disengage, and took three glancing hits from Roland's fused blade before finally taking a full-body overhand blow and being knocked halfway to the floor.

Roland's combined attack shattered into bits, and he fell back to the floor – taking an odd, curved path once more, to land next to the Spirit Shackles pinning his shadow in place.

"All right-" Max began, then stopped as he saw Decidueye pull out of his dive.

The Grass-type looked much the worse for wear, but he produced an arrow anyway. It was a bright blue, like the Peck arrows but much stronger, and he fired it at Roland before Max's Pokémon had landed.

The arrow hit Roland in the side, knocking him across the arena in a burst of energy, and when it had faded Roland was out for the count.

"What was that?" Misty asked, baffled, as Decidueye hovered in the air – his feathers glowing as he Synthesized away some of the damage he'd taken. "I didn't know Max's Gallade could fly."

"He can't," Ash replied absently. "Mawile's been trying to teach him – but what I think that was was about that shadow pinning move."

He waved his hands, trying to indicate something that had vanished as Roland was knocked out. "So that pin is trying to pull Roland's shadow back to where it was pinned, but his shadow stays on the arena floor – and when Roland jumped, that meant it was pulling his shadow across the floor. So Roland was pulled across the arena, not back towards the floor."

That seems correct, Dexter confirmed.

Below them, Max sent out his third Pokémon – Casper – and Iwalani recalled her tired Decidueye to replace him with a third Pokémon.

This one looked like a ball of rock with five little spiky bits on it, and floated there amiably as Casper examined it.

"Oh, well," Max sighed. "I'd hoped you could handle that Decidueye, but I guess it's this first."

"Yeah, it would have been fun seeing him try and pin my shadow down," Casper chuckled. "Okay, let's see how this goes..."

"Calm Mind, Minior!" Iwalani called, as the referee signalled they should resume.

"Calm- okay, whatever," Casper shrugged, flicking a Will-o-Wisp at what was presumably a rock type. "If you want to waste time, be my guest..."

Minior began to smoulder, wisps of smoke dribbling off its rocky surface, but seemed not to care as it powered up. Each pulse was a little brighter, and it dodged out of the way of a Shadow Sneak from Casper before taking a Shadow Ball to the back.

"Keep on lookout!" Max called. "There's got to be a trick here somewhere!"

Norman leaned a little closer to the screen.

"Dear?" his wife asked.

"I don't think that's on fire," he explained. "Or, I don't think the Pokémon is on fire. Burns look different."

He looked rueful. "I should know, I've had enough of my Pokémon set on fire – sometimes deliberately."

I'm sure it was all for a good cause, Gardevoir chuckled.

She looked over at her daughter. Are you all right, dear?

No! Kirlia replied, crossing her arms. That trainer's stupid, she beat up my brother!

"I think it's best to look at it a different way," Caroline said gently. "She must be really good, because she beat up your brother. Your brother's not an easy Pokémon to beat!"

Kirlia thought about that, then graced it with a nod. Okay.

She walked over to sit in front of the TV again, and watched as Casper hurled Ghost-type and Dark-type attacks at the Minior.

Then it began to flash faster and faster.

What's going on? The Fairy-type asked.

Her mother tilted her head. Um… I don't actually know…

Then the rocky coating disintegrated, revealing that the five little spiky bits were actually the points of a star-shape, and that Minior itself was now a smaller, pastel-blue shape with two swirling eyes.

"Charge Beam!" Iwalani ordered, and Minior shot out a beam of intense electrical energy which contacted Casper on the left arm.

The force of it hurled him backwards twenty feet, electricity fizzing off the points at the ends of his arms and head.

"What just-" Casper began, then saw an incoming Power Gem and dove for cover.

The attack missed, barely, but he then got hit in the side by an Ancientpower that spun him right around three hundred and sixty degrees.

"Casper, fight back!" Max called. "And use physical moves!"

Casper did a double-take, which was a bad idea because then a Power Gem beaned him in the side of the head.

"It's a good thing those parts aren't important!" he called to Minior, stung, and Minior retaliated with a well-constructed counterpoint consisting of a Dazzling Gleam.

Then it used Psychic, just to complete the set.

Casper dove underground as soon as he was able to look the right way on a consistent basis, and spent the next few seconds hiding there before peeking out again on the far side of the battlefield.

"To your left!" Iwalani told her Minior. "And keep blasting!"

Minior was only too happy to oblige, throwing a Solar Beam at Casper to drive him back underground.

Casper tried again, this time waving his tail above the ground, but this backfired – the psychic attack Minior used was so powerful it knocked Casper into a spin, resulting in most of his body being vulnerable to attack right as Minior used Power Gem.

Max winced as Casper went flying across the battlefield, then blinked.

"Hold on a moment..." he said to himself. "That shell was what caught fire when he used Will-o-Wisp, but it's gone now. So-"

He pointed. "Casper, Will-o-Wisp!"

"Tried that already!" Casper protested.

"Try again, then!" Max instructed.

Minior stopped firing for a moment, watching as Casper prepared the ball of flames, then evaded easily as they came flying towards it.

"Phantom Force!" Max said quickly.

Casper reached his arm through a small hole in space, and punched Minior in the side. The blow knocked the Rock-type right back into the flames, and Minior yelped as it caught fire.

"Great work!" Max called to his Pokémon, who was trying to look like he'd planned that all along. "Now, Phantom Force again!"

Casper punched Minior a second time, then yelped as Minior shocked his hand.

The star-shaped Rock-type spun about his axis, trails of flame coming off, and fired a Dazzling Gleam at Casper to bean him in the head.

Then it fainted.

"Huh," Iwalani said, sounding vaguely disappointed, then shrugged and returned the Rock-type. "Okay, Graveler, your turn!"

Casper shook his head to clear it, and watched as Iwalani sent out her fourth and final Pokémon for the battle.

"Okay, this I know how to deal with," he said, as the Graveler emerged, then tilted his head. "What's with the makeup?"

"Makeup?" Iwalani's second Rock-type asked.

"Yeah, makeup," Casper repeated. "You know, the unibrow and stuff."

He floated closer, poking at the offending features, and a fat spark jumped off the unibrow to crackle on his claw.

"Ow," the Banette said. "Wait, how did you-"

"Explosion!" Iwalani ordered.

Graveler exploded.

Pikachu's ears stood on end.

"Neat trick," he said, as the expanding dome of electrical energy produced by the unusual Graveler began to fade – revealing a scorched circle on the arena floor, where little lightning bolts were jumping back and forth between the ground itself and the ironsand crystals on Graveler's hide. "That must be like Pixilate and Normalize and all those abilities."

"Jealous?" Lucario asked.

"I don't need it," Pikachu replied simply. "Still, Explosion is already really powerful..."

He trailed off. "Maybe if I-"

"How much does this plan you've just thought of sound like what happens whenever Raikou tries hard at something?" Lucario asked.

"...good point, well made," Pikachu allowed.

Max returned Casper, then frowned.

"Okay, so… that's clearly an Electric-type," he said, thinking out loud. "But I don't know if it's also a Ground type or a Rock type..."

After a few more seconds of thought, he made his decision.

"Arc!" he called. "Get ready!"

His own Electric-type Starter burst onto the battlefield, landing soft-pawed on the damaged ground, and gave Graveler a considering look.

"That's interesting," Brock said.

"What's that?" Dawn asked. "I get that Max chose his Manectric, but apart from that?"

"Well, remember that shadow pin trick?" Brock replied. "Max knows he's going to have to battle that Decidueye again. I'm just wondering what he's come up with to counter the shadow pin trick – Arc relies a lot on being fast."

He shrugged. "I'm not sure who I'd have used in his position, though. He knows his own Pokémon."

Max pointed. "Okay, Arc – use Thunderbolt!"

Arc glanced back at his trainer, a little confused, then did so. The crackle of electrical energy struck home, making Graveler wince a bit, then the Rock-type retaliated by throwing a large rock at Arc.

Dodging, Max's Manectric ran in a quarter-circle around the outside of the arena. He ducked a second rock, controlling his movements with his paws to produce a slide, and then Max indicated Iwalani's Graveler again.

"Nature Power!"

"Right!" Arc agreed, realizing what his trainer was thinking of and agreeing with it. He jumped, slamming his paws into the ground like a pounce, and a little ripple of energy spread out across the arena floor.

The arena floor which consisted almost entirely of packed and disturbed dirt.

Arc's attack spread out to about six or seven feet away from him, then stopped and focused back to his paws. Then it rippled towards Graveler as a wave of orange-golden energy along the floor of the arena, making contact and slamming Graveler back as he was about to use Rock Throw again.

"Great!" Max told Arc. "Keep it up!"

Arc jumped from where he'd been to another spot, landing there with the same pouncing motion, and energy focused in on his paws to produce an Earth Power attack.

This time, Graveler used Stone Edge to form a rampart, and the need to break through the rocky wall reduced the impact of the attack – but it still clearly hurt, and Arc bounded forwards past the wall to deliver a third blow.

"Magnet Rise!" Iwalani said quickly.

Her Graveler complied, a humming sound coming from his ironsand crystals, and he rose about two feet into the air – making Arc's attack miss as it shot underneath the Rock-type.

"...what now?" Arc asked.

"Rock!" Max yelped in warning, and Arc rolled on his side to avoid a Rock Tomb that nearly ensnared him.

More rocks fell, a few of them being thrown by Graveler and some of the others coming up out of the ground, until Arc was about halfway across the arena.

"What now?" he asked. "I really thought that was going to work..."

"So did I," Max admitted. "But… uh… hold on, I know. Electric Terrain!"

Arc used Electric Terrain, sending bolts of lightning crackling out across the floor of the arena, branching and rebranching until there was a kind of grid covering the majority of the space.

"Now, use Thunderbolt!" Max ordered. "And be ready to dodge if he throws rocks again!"

Iwalani frowned, watching as Arc blasted a rock out of the air with a Thunderbolt before sending a second Electric attack at her Graveler.

This was kind of a stalemate, almost, but it wasn't Arc who was taking damage. Graveler was an Electric-type, sure, and the attacks were weak, but they would wear him down eventually.

"Okay!" she decided. "If it's electrical attacks you want, you're going to get them... Graveler, get close to him!"

Graveler sped forwards, crystals crackling as he generated a magnetic coupling with the ground to get closer without exposing himself to one of Arc's attacks.

Arc backed off a bit, but Max told him to hold where he was and keep attacking – risking whatever Iwalani planned so he could do a bit more damage.

"Now!" she called, as soon as she decided he was close enough. "Explosion!"

Graveler exploded again, producing a fizzing dome of electrical energy. It was made more powerful by the Electric Terrain, and there was a kind of whump as it triggered.

Iwalani watched, then frowned as the shape of the dome distorted – like water going down a plughole.

Arc howled, all of the electricity on the battlefield – from his own half-formed Shock Wave to the Electric Terrain to especially Graveler's Explosion – pouring into him, making his fur glow with stored charge.

It was at that point Iwalani realized some Manectric must have Lightning Rod.

Arc slammed one paw on the now-bare ground, producing a Nature Power effect, then burst forwards in a cloud of fizzing sparks before it had fully triggered.

He crossed the distance to Graveler in a single bound, then slammed down on Graveler's upper surface with a Strength attack. It didn't hurt Graveler much, not by itself, but it also pushed him towards the ground and made him contact it just as the Earth Power arrived.

"Risky," Lance judged, as Arc blazed across the arena to stop at one wall before coming back again. "He was relying on her reacting the right way and on not having a move that could cause a Manectric problems. That's not something to risk on your last remaining Pokémon, not when you have a choice."

"I guess," May said, trying not to be rude in defending her brother. "But it's working, right?"

"It is," Lance agreed. "The problem is remembering that it might not have."

"Did he have a choice?" Ash asked. "I'm trying to remember what moves Arc knows, but I don't think he had another good choice."

"He could have stuck to neutral moves," Lance noted.

Iwalani's Graveler tried to fend Arc off with a Rock Slide, and Arc jumped over the leading edge before slapping Graveler with an Iron Tail and landing on the far side of it.

Wheeling, he slapped the ground with his paw for a Nature Power, then jumped up and pile-drove Graveler into the ground to receive it.

That seemed to finally do enough, and Graveler stayed down for the count.

Iwalani returned Graveler, and sent out her Decidueye again.

"It looks like the rest has helped," Karen volunteered. "That Decidueye looks a lot better than it was before being switched out."

"Is there a limit on how many times you can switch a Pokémon out, actually?" Misty asked. "I don't remember it ever coming up."

"I don't know of one either," Karen shrugged. "There probably is one, though."

Then she spotted an orange light from Max's end of the field. Arc howled in answer, his Manectite flaring up, and he was consumed in a brilliant light which dissipated to show him as Mega Manectric.

"About time!" May called.

"Why didn't he do that already, actually-" Karen began, then stopped herself. "Right. Lightningrod. He needed to have a protection from the electrified Explosion attacks."

Arc crouched down, growling, and Decidueye tensed warily. Then he sprang into action, firing a half-dozen Spirit Shackle arrows down at once.

Two of them connected with Arc's shadow, bringing him to an abrupt halt-

"Flash!" Max shouted.

The whole stadium lit up in stark white and black.

"Run forward!" Max ordered, squinting through the glare, and his doughty Starter ran – and the Spirit Shackles had no effect without a shadow to hold onto.

As soon as he was out of the way, they fell apart, and by the time Arc's brilliant glare had dimmed to a mere bright light he was racing around the arena without anything to slow him.

"Thunder!" Max added.

Arc's pace checked slightly, and he howled as he used Thunder. A stab of lightning flicked up at Decidueye, scoring a hit on the Grass-type's wing, and Arc kept watching for a moment before it became clear Decidueye wasn't just going to fall out of the sky.

Then a Leaf Blade arrow came shooting back down out of the sky at him, and Arc used Thunderbolt to block it before dodging away from the next fusillade.

"Why didn't that work?" he asked, glancing over at Max before returning his gaze to the sky – trying to spot where Decidueye was about to place each arrow, and jinking to one side or the other. "I did hit him, right?"

"I think you did too, Arc!" Max replied, thinking. "Maybe it's just easier to beat him up close?"

"Oh, one of those Pokémon! Right!" Arc realized.

He dodged to his left and slid in a half-circle, halting when he was facing towards the bulk of the arena – and towards Decidueye.

Sparks fizzed in his fur, and he crouched before jumping skywards in a mighty leap as he boosted his muscles. The pounce was enough to carry him up towards Iwalani's Grass-type, and he grazed the retreating Decidueye with a Wild Charge.

Decidueye flipped backwards in the air twice before stabilizing, and fired a stream of arrows at Arc as the latter dropped back towards the floor.

Max frowned, noticing that Decidueye had slowed down his rate of firing, only sending down two or three arrows a second.

It was sad that was an improvement, but he pointed skywards. "Arc! Try using Flamethrower!"

Arc landed, blocked the latest arrow from Decidueye with a burst of lightning, then charged at the wall and evaded two more. His fur bristled, a glowing loop of a short-circuit forming and heating up rapidly, and he exhaled a Flamethrower attack upwards as he turned about.

Decidueye's wing turned black with soot as he barely evaded the roil of flames in time, and Iwalani pointed upwards. "Rain Dance!"

The Grass-type plucked another of his seemingly inexhaustible – or regrowing – quills, then nocked it and fired it into the sky. It flew true and blue, vanishing into the air, and then it began to rain – more and more heavily with every second.

"Okay, so much for that..." Max muttered. "Arc, is your fur holding up?"

"Just fine!" Arc replied. "I should be-"

"Get a Toxic ready!" Iwalani called.

Both Arc and Max looked up, seeing Decidueye ready a vicious-looking purple arrow with barbs around it. Unlike his previous barrage, this one was readied singly and slowly – drawn back to give it more speed and power – and Arc tensed, ready to dodge.

The two Pokémon hung in a tense standoff for several seconds, Arc waiting for the slightest clue where Decidueye was going to send his shot. Both knew Arc could dodge it, but both also knew that if Decidueye guessed right Arc would not have time for a second chance.

"Left, Manectric!" Max called.

Arc darted right-

-and the arrow hit him in the back, shattering and drenching him with purple liquid.

"Agh!" Arc yelped, trying to bite at the sting on his back for a moment, then loped out of the way as Decidueye tried to hit him again. He Flashed a second time as one of the arrows stuck in his shadow, then glanced over at Max for advice.

"What happened there?" Bruno asked. "He said left, but they both went right?"

"Max has a thing he does," May replied. "I think we might have mentioned it before? If he uses the species name instead of the given name, that means do the opposite. I guess his opponent noticed and told her Pokémon..."

"A disadvantage of a consistent style," Will noted.

"We'll have to finish this quick," Max said out loud. "Arc, you're poisoned now – so jump up and do Dad's favourite move!"

Arc nodded, though he had to delay obeying the order for a moment as Decidueye tried to nail him with a Leaf Blade arrow. He shot it out of the air with a Thundershock, not wanting to waste more electricity than he had to, then loped quickly to the side of the arena.

Wincing, Arc ignored the Toxic, then surged upwards by using his electrical energy to boost his muscles once more. Moving in a curved trajectory, Arc lunged towards Iwalani's final Pokémon to deliver a mighty Facade-

-and passed right through.

"What!?" Max asked. "Ghost type? But-"

"Now, Decidueye!" Iwalani called.

She crossed her arms in front of her head, wrists touching, and Decidueye crossed his wings in a similar stance. Then they both swept their arms/wings to the sides, before placing their feet together and clapping once.

A glittering light began to shine forth from something on Iwalani's wrist, almost but not quite like a watch. Decidueye began to glow too, a brilliant green energy spreading over him and making his feathers shimmer with individual outlines.

Arc landed from his unexpectedly long jump, and immediately whirled – only to pause, uncertain, as he got a full view of the changes to his ghostly opponent.

"Bloom Doom!" Iwalani ordered. "As powerful as you can!"

She hugged herself, and Decidueye did the same – wings crossed tightly. Then he opened them again, and so many arrows flew from his feathers that they looked like a solid block.

"Shield!" Max shouted, and Arc lit up like a Tesla coil as he tried to stop the barrage. For a moment he vanished inside the green storm of arrows.

When they had landed, all at once, it looked as though the bare arena was a field of flowers – every quill-arrow had different fletching, forming a riot of colour, and then they spread to show they were flowers in truth.

Then every single one exploded.

"Interesting," Lance said simply. "I've only ever heard of those before."

"I haven't even heard of those!" May interjected. "What was that?"

"It's called a Z-move," Lance told her. "A single, extremely powerful, attack that has unusual conditions behind it. Nobody I've asked has consented to show me, if they knew how to perform one in the first place."

As the dust cloud faded, revealing Arc had been knocked out, Pikachu twitched an ear.

"What is it?" Lucario asked.

"I just… I feel like I'm really glad something happened to someone else for once," Pikachu explained.

Max returned Arc, looked up across the arena at his opponent, and sighed.

Then he waved. "Good match!"

"Thanks!" Iwalani called back. "I think I might have trouble now, though, I'm just about out of tricks!"

Max chuckled a little, then sobered.

He opened up Kris. "Just to make sure… this means I've placed in the Indigo League, right?"

Correct, Kris beeped. As of right now, you are no longer a mentoree – your registration now lists you as a full-fledged Pokémon Trainer. Congratulations.

He smiled again. "I think that's just fine for now."

Meowth looked up from the TV.

"Funny thing is," he said, tail flicking. "I ain't sure if that's somethin' I was expectin', or not..."

"You mean him not coming first?" Jessie checked. "Maybe you're right!"

"But right about what?" James asked. "If he's not sure if he expected it or not, how could he be right? He doesn't have anything to be right about!"

"I've got a lot to-" Meowth began, then stopped as Moltres coughed.

"I was wondering if I could have the afternoon off," she requested. "I've got some business."

Meowth relayed the question, muting the TV as he did, and James nodded.

"Of course!" he said. "I don't mind… and besides, I don't want to be set on fire."

"None of us want to be set on fire," Jessie noted. "Except Wobuffet, and he's just odd."

Growlie woofed a question.

"And Growlie," James pointed out. "He likes being set on fire."

Satisfied, Growlie picked up the remote and turned the sound back up.

As the rest of the Rockets settled in to watch the next League battle, Moltres ascended into the sky with beats of her flame-shrouded wings.

About an hour later, on a peak some way south of Sinnoh, a mighty Flying-type watched Moltres circle in for a landing.

"Good to see you could make it," Ho-Oh said, as Moltres flared her wings and alighted. "Would you care for refreshments? There's some still available, though I'm afraid you're the last to arrive."

"It was quite a long flight, and my trainers were busy," Moltres excused herself. "Sorry, though."

"Quite fine," Ho-Oh assured her. "Try the canapes, they're very nice."

Moltres took one in her beak, ate it in two quick bites, then nodded. "Very nice, indeed."

"Before we continue," Ho-Oh went on, now addressing the other two Legendary Birds present. "Do any of you have problems with being photographed?"

"I don't," the Articuno replied.

"I don't either," the Zapdos agreed. "In fact, I think I've been in their portfolio before."

"Same for me, actually," Moltres stated.

"Very good," Ho-Oh said, giving Todd and Sneasel the nod to commence documenting the discussion. "Now, to business. I've met each of you individually before, but I thought it would be useful for you to share your experiences on the things which you share. Chiefly, that each of you either has – or, at my last update, was considering – taking on the role of a trained Pokémon."

Moltres raised her wing. "I know you have a trainer, but I thought you were asking because we were both Fire-types. If it's not too presumptuous a question… you're talking to a Moltres, a Zapdos, and an Articuno. Why is it you, and not a Lugia?"

"Simple," Ho-Oh replied. "I'm the one with free time. My Beast Trio has been copied over in the last few years, but my children and their twins do largely run their own affairs; conversely, my friend Lugia and his mate are quite busy with their own roles. This isn't formal, in any case, just a discussion."

When there were no more immediate questions, he went on. "Articuno, as of our discussion I believe you had come to a decision?"

"That's right," Articuno said. "I've been a friend of Noland for some time, but it's only recently I decided that I should become his Pokémon – I trusted him to let me keep my freedom, so the tie was one without downside to me."

"That's the way it often is," Ho-Oh smiled. "As Legendary Pokémon, we can make our choices carefully – and ensure that our partners, should we choose one, are the type of people we would want for partners."

He turned to Zapdos. "Am I right in thinking you had not yet decided?"

"I had not," Zapdos agreed. "I like Casey, and I think she considers me a friend. But it is such a major step… it's one I find hard to commit to."

"All right," Ho-Oh decided. "We won't pressure you, but I think it would be a good idea for you to ask the three of us about what it's like having a trainer. Our experiences are somewhat different, but hopefully you can get a good picture."

"Now that's an interesting shot," Todd said to himself, taking a long exposure picture of the scene.

Ho-Oh was to sunward of the other three Legendary Pokémon – discussing something amongst themselves – and the rainbow light shining through his wings striped all three Birds in a mixture of dappled shades corresponding to the colour of their plumage.

For Articuno, blue was blue, but for Zapdos it produced a green tint and Moltres' wings – aside from the portion burning with their own inner light - were a mix of orange and brown and light purple.

Next to that was the effect of the green light, and then the yellow, and after reaching violet it began again.

Sneasel came up to him, reversing her own camera to show him the snapshot she'd taken, and he examined it with care.

This one was from the far side of the conversation, showing the three birds with their heads together and Ho-Oh framed in light behind them.

"I like it," Todd told her. "Good work!"

"Now, Max," Norman began firmly. "I want to ask you one important question. How do you feel?"

"Okay, actually," Max replied, holding Kris to the side of his head. "I mean, I didn't win, but I think we did pretty well."

"Good," Norman said, much more brightly. "That means we don't have to tell you that's the right way to look at it. Well done, Max – and congratulations."

"Are you going to continue with Ash?" Caroline added. "Or something else?"

"I was planning on going to Johto with May," Max said. "I think some of the gyms there sound pretty interesting."

"Well, good luck," Norman told him. "And tell that to all your Pokémon as well. Keep in touch, Max."


And that's the Indigo League handled. Max has now had the authentic experience of a critical League battle being against someone you met on the way in.