"Thanks, Mewtwo," Ash said with a smile. "This is just the right place."
I should hope so, Mewtwo replied, having remembered he didn't have to speak out loud for Ash because Miracle Eye existed. Don't hesitate to ask for help in future, Ash – the worst that can happen is that I will say no, of course.
"Right," Ash agreed. "But you do have your own company to look after, too, so I'll only ask when it makes sense."
That sounds like a fine plan, Mewtwo stated.
He raised his hand, paused a moment to see if anyone had anything to say, then vanished with a pop.
"Where are we?" Tyrantrum asked. "Sorry, I didn't hear you say..."
"We're just on the way into Hearthome City," Ash told him. "That's the next stop on our journey, because there's a Contest coming up here."
"Okay," Tyrantrum said, then tilted his head. "Am I going to be able to watch this one? I'm bigger than I was last time."
"We'll work out a way," Brock assured him. "We might need to ask the people running the Contest, but we'll do it."
"Thanks," the Dragon-type smiled.
"Maybe… hmmm, what kind of Contest is it?" Mawile asked, wondering. "I know there are some where you're allowed to use different Pokémon in the appeal round and the battle round, so maybe if that's how this one works… Ash, are there any Pokémon of yours I could borrow?"
"We could do that, yeah," Ash agreed. "But we'd need to check before we made any plans."
"Right," Mawile agreed, adjusting the cap she was still wearing.
"What else was there about Hearthome..." Pikachu asked.
"I remember it well," Infernape said, before exhaling. "But it doesn't matter."
"Are you sure you're okay?" Ash checked.
"Good, then," Ash said.
"What's a Contest?" Kari requested. "I do not remember hearing of that term."
"Do you want to explain, Dawn?" Ash suggested.
"Explain what?" Dawn replied, a little confused.
"I asked what Contests are," Kari reiterated.
There was silence for a few seconds, then Dawn's face cleared.
"Kari," she said, delicately. "Did you know you're now speaking Pokémon? And not human?"
The Honedge twisted a little in her scabbard, looking at Dawn. "Again? I was trying my best!"
"Dawn's right." Brock shook his head. "I should have remembered. Anyway, what Kari was asking was what Contests are."
"Ah, okay," Dawn nodded. "Well, this is going to be kind of a simplification, but hopefully it should help out anyway. The idea behind a Contest is that it tests how well Pokémon can make their moves not just powerful but spectacular..."
"I think we're getting a few more odd looks than normal," Pikachu said, looking around from Ash's shoulder.
"I wonder what it could be," Lucario mused.
His paw went to his chin. "The recent TV appearance of several of us fighting Legendary Pokémon. The obvious sword which is occasionally holding a conversation. The Tyrantrum. The Mawile wearing a billed cap. Or just the usual."
"All right, you've made your point." Pikachu flipped his tail back and forth. "Such as it is."
He tapped on Ash's shoulder. "Do you think we should visit Amity Square? We might draw a bit less attention there."
"Good idea," Ash agreed, shading his eyes. "I… huh..."
"Something wrong?" Pikachu asked, concerned, as Ash shut one eye and looked around again.
"I think Paul's here," Ash explained. "But there's someone else as well – someone human – who's showing up as a candidate to be reminded. And I can't think of anyone except maybe Cilan who I haven't reminded yet..."
"Cilan is the guy from Unova, right?" Dawn checked. "Did he seem like the sort to end up somewhere else like that?"
"I don't think so," Ash replied cautiously. "But he might be… we'd better go and see."
A few minutes later, the friends followed Ash down brush-lined paths towards the centre of Amity Park.
"Just this way," Ash said, one eye closed, then rounded the next corner and stopped.
Dawn nearly bumped into him. "Ash? What is it?"
Ash turned. "I found who it was I can remind, and it's not Cilan – it's Cynthia."
Dawn raised a hand, paused, then lowered it again. "That does make quite a lot of sense. We did run into her a lot."
"Yeah, but now how do I ask her properly?" Ash said. "It's kind of an odd question."
"Well, you said you saw Paul as well," Brock pointed out. "Was there anyone else with her? Because you could just go right up and ask, otherwise."
"I don't think there was anyone else," Ash replied.
"Ash?" Lucario asked.
"Then just go ahead and ask." Dawn shook her head. "It's not a difficult concept, and you should have a lot of practice at this by now."
"Yeah, but Cynthia's a Grand Champion," Ash countered. "And everyone else is just… friends. It feels awkward."
"What does?" Cynthia said.
"You know, having to-" Ash began, then noticed who had spoken. "Oh, uh, I guess you don't know. Well-"
"It's probably the time travel thing again," Paul said. "He mentions it a lot."
"Time travel," Cynthia mused. "It's the oddest thing I've heard since becoming Sinnoh Grand Champion, but not by much. All right, Ash, let's hear it."
Ash stood with slack jaw for a moment, then closed it. "Sorry, it just – it sounds odd that you know who I am..."
"You have won two Pokémon leagues – or three, depending on how much Drake of Pumello makes a fuss – and been important in saving the world several times," Cynthia pointed out. "Besides, we met at Mossdeep."
"Oh, yeah," Ash realized. "Huh, I should have noticed you could be reminded then, I must have not used Aura Sight."
"Reminded?" Cynthia repeated. "What's that?"
"Okay, we may as well do this now," Ash decided. "This is going to take a while to explain all the details, because it's kind of complicated. Basically, I'm from the future, and since coming back in time I've been able to restore the memories of people and Pokémon who I knew well – though the rules on that seem a bit hard to follow exactly."
"So that's how you're always in the right place at the right time," Cynthia said, with the air of a mystery now solved.
"No, actually, that happened the first time around as well," Brock corrected her. "Our working theory is that Ash's luck is in a different language to the one everyone else uses."
"It is?" Pikachu asked.
"It's certainly mine."
"So… if I follow this correctly..." Cynthia began, frowning. "Not only are you a time traveller, but so are several of your friends – indirectly, through you."
"Yeah, and through the Lake Guardians as well," Ash clarified. "We didn't know they were involved until quite recently, though."
He shrugged. "It's kind of… something we've worked out as we went along."
Cynthia's Lucario glanced up at his counterpart in Ash's team. "Did this happen to you as well?"
"Yes, but it's a bit of an odd case," Ash's Lucario replied. "It's… well, the best way I can put it is like this. I was one of the Pokémon who came back in time, but I was not part of Ash's team. He saved me, and we connected well enough that he was able to restore my memories when he received my egg."
"That… sounds like quite a coincidence," the other Lucario said diplomatically.
"It was, yeah, we got really lucky," Ash agreed.
"So we were connected on some level..." Cynthia mused. "You mentioned helping stop Team Galactic – how much of a problem were they?"
"Kind of a big one," Dawn told her. "They kept trying to steal important things from museums and stuff."
"And they would have started by now?" Cynthia went on. "I ask because we've never seen any sign of them at all."
"That does sound a bit odd," Brock frowned. "What about Team Rocket?"
"Oh, them," Cynthia shrugged. "We know they're there, but they don't do anything nasty enough to get our attention."
"But Galactic is trying to do things which are much worse than Rocket," Ash said. "We know a Team Rocket team, and they've helped out sometimes when the world's been in trouble."
"How do you do this memory restoration thing?" she asked. "Is it some kind of special meditation?"
"Actually, I just take the hand of the person I want to remind," Ash told her. "All the effort is on my end, and there's not a lot of it."
The Grand Champion took that in, considering.
"Ash Ketchum," she began. "The reason I've been considering this for so long is because of how unusual the situation is. I've decided that you've earned this trust."
She offered her hand.
Ash reached for it, then hesitated. "Just to be clear – you mean you want me to remind you?"
"That's exactly correct," Cynthia said.
Ash touched her hand, producing a brief flicker of blue light, and she exhaled.
"I see," she said, after some thought. "Thank you."
"That's one of the most reserved reactions we've had so far," Lucario volunteered.
"That might be because they were looking at things the wrong way around," Cynthia replied.
She waved a hand. "I knew it was coming, and I decided what I was going to do was to think about how my life made sense in the context of the new memories, rather than the other way around. And in that light, everything makes sense."
"Does it?" Brock asked. "I'm surprised you're not freaked out about Mega Evolution or the Fairy type, then."
Cynthia nodded. "Yes, that bit is a little odd… but not as odd as the wholesale time travel."
"You would be astonished how few people think of it that way," Pikachu said.
Cynthia's Lucario translated for her.
"Thank you," the Grand Champion smiled.
"So… what now?" Dawn asked. "What are you going to do?"
"Not much different, really," Cynthia told her. "Of course, I'm going to keep an eye out for Team Galactic, and have my Elite Four do the same, but apart from that I think things went fairly well the last time."
She turned her attention on Paul. "If, that is, this young man has learned his lesson?"
Paul met her gaze without flinching.
"I think he's getting there," Ash said. "How's Cranidos doing?"
Paul transferred his attention to Ash for a few silent seconds, then relented. "I've been putting her on a fast training regime."
The trainer shook his head a little. "I don't know what you think is too much, so I don't know if I've learned whatever lesson you're trying to teach."
Ash thought about it. "I think… if your Pokémon are looking uncomfortable and upset before the start of a training session, that means you're working them too hard," he decided. "That means the training is too much for them to recover from, and they'll go into the next session unable to get the full effect from it."
Paul took that in with a nod. "Then… maybe I have. Maybe."
"Just keep an eye out for it," Ash suggested. "And-"
There was a bright flash of light, and Gary and Molly appeared with Gary's Alakazam between them.
"Ash!" Gary said. "There you are!"
"Gary?" Ash asked, perplexed. "What are you doing here?"
"Well, at least you remember my name," Gary muttered. "You didn't call me in to help out at all in that thing in Alamos!"
He pointed. "I want to challenge you to – wait, is that Cynthia?"
Cynthia nodded to him. "Mr. Oak."
"We just told her about the time travel thing," Brock supplied. "She turned out to be someone else Ash could remind. Paul already knew."
"Hello!" Molly said brightly, waving.
"Molly, it's good to see you," Ash smiled. "How are your Pokémon doing?"
"I'm giving them plenty of training, to make sure they're ready for the Pokémon League!" Molly told him. "It's still a long time to go, so I've got a lot of time to train them properly, which is good."
"It's always good to train your Pokémon well," Cynthia agreed. "You seem like a smart young girl."
"Now, what was that Mr. Oak was saying about a challenge?" Cynthia added. "I think I'd be interested in seeing that."
"Well-" Gary began.
"I'm game," Pikachu decided.
"Me too," Lucario agreed.
Gary listened to his earbud, then smiled with a little shake of his head. "It sounds like we're doing it now, then. Is it okay to have a battle in Amity?"
"So long as you both refrain from doing too much damage to the scenery, it should be all right," Cynthia decided. "There is a stadium in Heartome, though, if you'd rather do it there."
"Is there a reason we haven't set off yet?" Moltres asked. "I'm pretty sure I know what we're going to do."
"Well, yeah, the basics," Arbok replied. "But this is an important issue – how do we arrive?"
He waved his tail at the options on display. "There's so much to choose from!"
"Why not… you know, the plane?" Moltres suggested. "The way we've been getting around for years?"
"There's at least three reasons why not," Arbok told her loftily. "Firstly, it's not good for long-term surveillance – the balloons all have a much longer loiter time between needing to pick up fuel, and a couple of us know Fire type attacks so we can stay up there for days on end."
He scratched his head with the tip of his tail. "Secondly, the average lifespan of any given balloon, robot, tank or other mechanical contrivance operated by our Rocket cell in close proximity to Ash Ketchum is roughly three days. The plane's nice, which is why we're leaving it in this underground hanger."
"Actually, about that, why is there a great big underground hanger in Sinnoh for us to use?" Moltres inquired. "I got a bit of background information from… I think it was Seviper… and he said Jessie and James were sent here last time around to start up Rocket activities in Sinnoh."
"Well, that's one of those things I don't know the answer to," Arbok shrugged. "Maybe the Boss had more money to expand earlier, what with not trying to stop Mewtwo or whatever other plan it was last time. Or maybe he just flipped a coin, I don't know how mafioso work."
"I think the term's ninkyo dantai, not that it matters," Moltres shrugged, then blinked. "How did we get on this topic?"
Arbok indicated he had no real idea.
"Anyway, the third reason is?"
"The third reason," the Poison-type resumed, "is that balloons have a lot more avenue for artistic expression."
He indicated the discussion currently going on, which hinged on whether it would be better to use the old standby of a Meowth-balloon, switch to a more sophisticated version with a pair of fold-out Moltres wings, or just use a dirigible made to look like Wobbuffet.
"The more we look like a carnival balloon, the less likely people are to complain about us," he said. "I think the record between complaints is three months."
"That..." Moltres began, stopped, thought, then began again. "Now I think about it, that is actually pretty good for a large novelty hot air balloon flying all over the place and frequently shooting wildly off into the air."
She tilted her head. "Are they close to a decision?"
"What about a Kecleon?" Jessie was suggesting. "We could just make it invisible?"
"A Fearow would crash into it in five minutes," James countered. "Besides, we don't have a Kecleon."
"Nope," Arbok summarized.
"There we are," Cynthia said, pointing. "That's Heartome stadium."
"You said it again," Ash noticed. "I thought it was a mistake or something, but… isn't this Hearthome?"
"No, it's Heartome," Cynthia told him. "A lot of people make that mistake. In fact, as far as I can tell it's the result of a mapping error – but so many people came here expecting Hearthome that someone set up a shop, and it got a lot of business, so it now has a park it calls Amlty Park and a stadium called Heartome stadium."
"So it's a fake Hearthome?" Dawn blinked. "That's… odd."
"People are like that," the Grand Champion shrugged. "They'd probably call this Hearthome Town if there hadn't been a big argument about it. It's kind of like the minimum legal distinction required… sort of like if there was someone out there who looked just like Ash, except he had a Raichu instead of a Pikachu."
"That's already a thing, he's called Ritchie," Brock supplied. "Ritchie Getem, instead of Ash Ketchum."
"Really?" Cynthia smirked. "I wonder why I picked that example..."
"Of course, the question does remain as to why you didn't notice last time," Cynthia added. "We did meet here, didn't you notice it took days of walking to get to Hearthome afterwards?"
"I just assumed we got lost," Pikachu said.
"Pikachu's right," Brock nodded. "I assumed Ash's sense of direction had gotten us lost again."
"Same," Dawn nodded, most of her Pokémon concurring, and the agreement spread further after that.
"Come on, guys…" Ash sighed, and Cynthia chuckled.
"I take it you've assimilated the new information properly?" Cynthia's Lucario asked.
Cynthia half-turned, giving her Lucario a confused look.
"You seemed subdued," Lucario explained. "Not your usual self."
"I was?" Cynthia asked, thinking. "Well, maybe…"
Shrugging it off, she fell back a few steps so she was halfway between Ash and Gary. "Do either of you have a preference for the type of battle?"
"I… don't know, really," Ash admitted. "Gary?"
"Well, I do know which of my Pokémon most want a workout, and I think a multi one-versus-one format would be good," Gary replied. "What about… Ash picks which of his Pokémon to use for the first slot and announces it, I pick which of my Pokémon to use for the second slot and announce it, and then for the third we just go with whoever?"
"Sounds like a plan," Ash agreed.
"Make sure you use some of your strongest Pokémon," Paul told him. "Ones you trained from the start, not Pokémon who were already powerful like Legendaries."
Ash frowned, thinking about that. "I… guess I could do that, yeah. I'll just make sure Dexter knows I might be calling on his help..."
"A lot of these seats say Hearthome, not Heartome," Molly noticed. "Why is that?"
"It saved money," Cynthia replied. "They got the ones Hearthome replaced last time they upgraded the stadium. You can see why people get the two confused..."
She frowned down at the remote she was holding, then hit a command. "There we go."
The scoreboard lit up, showing Ash and Gary and the Pokémon both had selected so far. Ash had chosen Pikachu for his first battle slot, and Gary's Umbreon was in the second.
"Go!" Cynthia called, and Ash pointed forwards so Pikachu leapt off his shoulder. For his part, Gary threw a Pokéball, and his first choice emerged with a flash.
Pikachu watched warily as Gary's Alakazam levitated a little way off the ground. The Psychic-type waved his hand in a flourish, sending both spoons into the air, then flashed a brilliant orange-white as Gary wasted no time Mega-Evolving him.
"Pikachu, stay calm and concentrate," Ash advised.
The Electric-type waved his tail, then flicked it across and fired out a Shock Wave with a sudden fizzing BANG. The attack split into two branches, then four, then eight, then sixteen, spreading wider and wider, and all of them came focusing right back into Mega Alakazam.
"I hate Trace," Pikachu sighed, having confirmed his suspicions, and watched carefully as Mega Alakazam spread his five spoons out wide to give him multiple attack angles. Two of them suddenly glowed, swivelling to face Pikachu, and the Electric-type was about to dodge away when Ash spoke up.
Trusting his trainer, Pikachu dove left. The attack Mega Alakazam had actually fired, a Shadow Ball, crashed into the turf where he'd been a moment before, and then the Psychic-type opened up with all five spoons and both hands at once.
Pikachu cloaked himself in a two-layer Counter Shield, trusting his electrical powers to at least be able to defend him even if attacking wasn't an option, and spun up an Aura Sphere before breaking into a sprint towards Mega Alakazam.
His path was marked by a trail of explosions as he dodged, wove, jinked and ran, with Mega Alakazam firing massive attack sequences – Psybeam, Energy Ball, Shadow Ball, Dazzling Gleam, spoons charged with Fire Punch or Zen Headbutt or Drain Punch – and Pikachu slipping between them as best he could. More than once, a spoon punched through his outer shield only to be warded away by his inner shield as like repelled like, and on one occasion an Ice Punch came flicking in close enough Pikachu had to bat it away with his Iron Tail.
As he arrived, ready to ram his attack home, Mega Alakazam promptly teleported away – leaving a Future Sight bomb which blew Pikachu into the air, though the Electric-type used a pulse of Magnet Rise to control his landing and avoid too much injury.
"Wow..." Molly said, watching with amazement as Pikachu began flicking out a shower of low-powered Aura Spheres while on the run, tightening his Counter Shield to avoid being blasted around too much as he pressured Mega Alakazam's shield in return. "There's so much going on… it's pretty!"
"You're right, it is," Cynthia agreed. "This is a good test of Ash's Pikachu, because his primary way of actually dealing out damage is all but unable to do so."
She looked down at the two unopened packets in front of her. "Though the other big question at this point is whether this is more of an ice pop fight or a popcorn one..."
"Pikachu, over here!" Ash called.
Pikachu intensified his electrical shield, then twisted the magnetic fields produced by the layers of the shield – just once.
Then he fired himself directly at Ash's position, letting the shield explode outwards in the other direction to handle the recoil, and came sliding to a halt in front of his trainer.
"What is it?" Pikachu asked, watching as Mega Alakazam took the opportunity of the breather to reorder his spoons.
"I think I noticed something," Ash explained. "It's about that shield he's using – he can't see through it when attacks are hitting it. That might give you an opening."
"You're right, it might," Pikachu agreed, thinking. "And… okay, that's one thing, and I can use it if I get a chance, but there's no way Gary is going to miss my setup."
"There might be," Ash replied. "I was just thinking… that shield of his doesn't have Lightningrod, so your powerful attacks can hit his shield if it's up..."
"That's Ash Ketchum down there, right?" asked one of the locals. "Who's that he's fighting?"
The girl sitting next to him pointed up at the big screen.
"Who's Gary Oak?"
Gary frowned, watching Pikachu run back out onto the battlefield proper. His Counter Shield blazed up, and the researcher-and-trainer's frown grew deeper.
For some reason, he felt really annoyed.
"Watch out, Mega Alakazam," he warned. "Pikachu's going to try something."
Pikachu accelerated with a burst of Agility, his shield flaring repeatedly as it deflected or drove away attacks by Mega Alakazam, then he hurled a shower of Aura Spheres at Mega Alakazam in quick succession. What followed was a new trick – a Signal Beam – and the attacks produced a bright scatter of energy off Mega Alakazam's shield.
Staying in motion, Pikachu dodged back and forth, evading the less-well-aimed attacks Mega Alakazam was now putting out, and hammered the nearest spoon attack drone with a sudden Thunder.
Mega Alakazam drew the rest in under his shield to protect them, using them to form a second layer just behind the first, and Pikachu continued his offensive – mixing in Thunderbolts, now, making the shield ripple almost continuously, and staying on the move so that Mega Alakazam couldn't just blow him into the air with a Future Sight.
As he did, his shield reordered itself into three layers instead of two, and they compressed so each formed a single ring – then began to rotate, winding around and around, building up more and more energy.
"Mega Alakazam, get ready," Gary called. "You're going to need to pulse your shield the moment you hear Pikachu finalize his Volt Crash – otherwise he's going to break it!"
A broken shield would mean Pikachu could slam a Signal Beam through, and even the boost Mega Alakazam would get from his Traced Lightningrod would be cold comfort… but a shield which had been lowered for just long enough to avoid the Volt Crash wouldn't let enough through to harm Mega Alakazam. So Gary raised his hand, ready to act.
For a long moment, Pikachu continued his barrage, and the spectators waited.
Then all three rings locked together.
Gary slashed his hand down, and Mega Alakazam pulsed his shield.
And Pikachu fired himself.
Pikachu whirled around, heading for Mega Alakazam paw-first, and readied himself for a Brick Break to punch through Mega Alakazam's shield. His Shock Wave bolt, sent about a foot ahead of him as he flew, went straight through without stopping, and Pikachu promptly yanked the bolt back before it could be drawn into Mega Alakazam's copied Lightningrod.
He slammed into Mega Alakazam's spoons, scattering them, and then hit one of the long sides of his moustache. Grabbing on with all four paws, Pikachu used a burst of Aura to avoid his momentum carrying him off again, then fired a massive bolt of lightning to slap aside the first spoon that tried to hit him.
Mega Alakazam teleported away, then got hit in the side by a Signal Beam and discovered why Pikachu had been so insistent on getting close – the teleportation carried them both, meaning the Psychic-type couldn't simply open the range again.
He snatched at Pikachu with a fist of psychic energy, and Pikachu clung on grimly – transferring himself from moustache to wrist to avoid Mega Alakazam cutting his own hair as a quick way of getting Pikachu off – before beginning to run all over Mega Alakazam's back, using his Aura to keep himself strongly attached at all times.
His tail trailed streamers of lightning, some of them being absorbed into Mega Alakazam's Lightningrod, but others went wider and curled around to keep the Mega's spoons occupied with a continual barrage of electrical energy.
GET OFF! Mega Alakazam demanded, teleporting upside down to try and confuse Pikachu, then used all of his spoons at once to blast Psybeams at his back. Pikachu managed to evade two of them, reflected the third with his Iron Tail, and the last one he took with a grimace before swatting that spoon out of the air.
"Is it me, or does Pikachu have trouble with finishing the job with Pokémon who he can't use electricity on?" Dawn asked.
"It's just you," Brock replied. "He has trouble with Pokémon who can teleport away from his close-range attacks and shield from his long-range ones, and who are powerfully psychic and who have immunity from his electricity."
"Sounds overly specific to me," Dawn chuckled. "Still, you need a challenge to keep you interested… what is going on up there?"
She studied the increasingly complex attack sequence overhead, where Pikachu was putting out so much electrical energy just fending off Mega Alakazam's floating spoons that it was forming a kind of permanently visible current.
Then her eyes widened. "Oh – now I see!"
"Are you going to explain how you know?" Paul asked. "I can't see anything up there..."
"I think it's just because I know Ash," Dawn said. "And his Pokémon are all a bit mad, but Pikachu especially is… yeah..."
Pikachu launched out a powerful ring of electricity, twisting and turning it as it went to connect to all three of Mega Alakazam's remaining spoons before coming back to enter his tail. He slapped Mega Alakazam with a Force Palm, clinging on with his other three limbs, then began climbing up the back of the Psychic-type as he endured a series of increasingly forceful psionic blows.
Electricity streamed in from the ring towards Mega Alakazam himself as he tried to siphon off enough to regain control of his spoons, and Pikachu had to keep recharging it – making it glow brighter and brighter, as Pikachu ramped up his output to keep pace with the boost Mega Alakazam was getting.
"Hey," Pikachu said, raising his voice over the crackling sound of lightning arcing from place to place. "Just wanted to point something out."
He smirked, an Electroball forming around him. "You're awfully negative today. Think positive!"
Mega Alakazam immediately worked out what Pikachu meant, but by then it was too late. The ring of electrical energy Pikachu had been maintaining suddenly collapsed, at almost exactly the same moment that Pikachu hurled the electroball directly into Mega Alakazam's body.
His Traced Lightningrod absorbed all the electricity – all the electrical charge – and left Alakazam and Pikachu with opposing charges, which mattered a scant instant later as the ring collapse created an intense, polarized vertical electrical force.
Mega Alakazam was fired directly into the ground, hard enough to leave a crater, while Pikachu went so high he almost disappeared before coming back down to a Magnet-Rise cushioned landing.
"Whee," he mumbled. "I should develop that some more."
Cynthia watched for a moment, then nodded. "Alakazam has reverted and is unable to battle, and Pikachu is still standing. He wins the first match!"
"That's something I can see Ash and Pikachu developing a lot in future," Gary mused, returning his first Pokémon. "At least it didn't go as badly as the previous time Alakazam battled Pikachu."
He looked down at Umbreon. "Ready for this?"
"Yep," Umbreon agreed, flicking her tail to the side. "I don't know who I'm facing, I don't know if I've got an even chance, but I'm pretty sure I can make them sweat."
She shrugged, her ears bouncing. "And I don't think anyone can be ready for the Pokémon you've picked for the number three slot..."
"Not really, no," Gary nodded. "Okay, out you go."
Umbreon loped onto the arena, now somewhat marked from the repeated lightning storms and the Alakazam crater, and Ash's Lucario jumped out onto the grass to face her.
"Hmmm..." Cynthia's Lucario mused. "I wonder who the Flying type was."
"What's that?" Cynthia asked, looking away from the incipient fight as she munched on her popcorn – having given the ice treat to her Glaceon as the only one able to keep it cold enough.
"Something I remember from years ago," her Lucario explained. "I saw several Aura users in the sky, going north – I'm now sure I saw Ash, his Lucario as a Riolu, and his Pikachu, though they've all changed since then. But I'm wondering who the one flying them north was."
There was a thoom from the arena, and both looked over – seeing Ash's Lucario taking off with a flare of Aura from his paws, then Mega Evolving in a burst of light.
"Are you sure it wasn't him?"Cynthia suggested, indicating the hovering Pokémon.
"Fairly sure, but now I want to learn how to do that..." Lucario admitted.
"All right," Umbreon said to herself. "Let's do this."
She promptly caught fire.
Mega Lucario blinked, startled. "Um… what?"
The Dark-type smirked at him, then flicked her tail, and he caught fire as well.
Umbreon hurled the Flame Orb she'd been carrying at him, diving away as the Fighting-type knocked it out of the air with a Force Palm, and used Refresh to heal her Burn now it had been transferred to Mega Lucario. That done, she looked back – seeing a frankly intimidating number of Aura Spheres coming towards her – and put up a Light Screen shield, her rings flashing as she made it as strong as she could.
That also meant she made it as short as she could, to save energy, and she dropped it the moment it was no longer helping her stay in one piece. Dissipated blue Aura lit the area around her for a moment, and she dodged away from a Flash Cannon fired by Mega Lucario before fading momentarily out of sight.
Mega Lucario hurled an Aura Sphere, which shot after her unerringly despite her disappearance, and she pulsed her Light Screen again for a fraction of a second to avoid being hit. That confirmed her location, but she shot a Psychic at Mega Lucario and ran for another part of the arena.
Ash's Pokémon evaded the attack by simply cutting his flight jets, landing with a whump on the grass, and crouched momentarily before launching himself across the grass. The flames of his burn trailed out behind him, mingling with the blue light of his channelled Aura, and he lashed out at Umbreon with a powerful kick.
Umbreon blocked again with a Reflect – timing it just right to soak as much of the force as possible – and slid backwards nearly to the wall before flicking another Psychic at him and breaking into a run.
"Stop stalling, please," Mega Lucario requested, summoning two Aura Spheres in his paws. They both grew with lightning speed, and he smashed them together with enough force to turn them into dozens of seeker spheres.
The moment she saw that, Umbreon changed direction. She ran directly towards the seeker cloud, then jinked right – avoiding contact with most of them – and Light Screen-shielded as the two or three on the edge of the cloud were just about to hit her.
The rest of the cloud swerved around, following Umbreon, and she faded out again with another use of Feint Attack. Mega Lucario promptly closed one eye, to see where she'd gone, and saw that the Dark-type had used Agility to drastically increase her speed… running past him just as he noticed her.
With the seeker spheres following her.
Mega Lucario lashed out with his palm, channelling enough Aura to produce a great blue spike, and burst all the spheres before they could crash into him in their mindless pursuit of Umbreon. Whirling around, he slapped out a Vacuum Wave – which drew a bit of the fire into itself – and followed it as it went towards Umbreon, then the Dark-type dodged away and the effort was wasted.
Grumbling, Mega Lucario considered for a moment before putting something else together. He put his palms against one another, spreading them as he pulled together a larger and larger amount of Aura, then launched the resultant ball into the air and burst it with a lance of blue energy.
The fragments of the sphere rained down all over the battlefield, this time managing to catch Umbreon in a continuous attack for long enough her instant-shield wasn't sufficient, and she shook herself as the dust slowly settled.
Mega Lucario's paw blurred forwards, a Flash Cannon glowing on it, and Umbreon Light Screen-shielded again – then took another hit, as the Fighting-type delayed his attack just long enough that it caught her as the shield fell.
"All right, Umbreon!" Gary called. "Enough stalling!"
Umbreon's tail flicked across, and something came tearing out of a paper bag concealed in her close-packed fur. Revealed now, it glowed a faint purplish-blue, and Umbreon smirked.
Then she broke into a run.
"What's that?" Dawn asked. "I don't recognize it."
"It's a Life Orb," Brock told her. "They're kind of rare, like Flame Orbs, and not easy to use. They make attacks stronger, but they do it by also making them much more tiring."
As they watched, Umbreon whipped her tail at Mega Lucario. The Fighting-type stepped back slightly, getting his leg out of the way of the attack without ruining his counterattack, but as the tail passed him a kind of aftershadow of purple energy extended out to hit him in the ankle.
The blow made him stumble, and his double-Force-Palm strike went slightly wide. Not much, but enough that Umbreon could avoid the first attack and use her Reflect to block the second.
"Huh," Dawn said. "So it's kind of like another Umbreon is helping her out?"
"I don't know, I only know very broadly what they do," Brock confessed. "I never really had to pay much attention."
Umbreon skidded to a halt, turning around to see where Mega Lucario was, then yelped and dodged out of the way of a spike of powerful flame. Her Light Screen shield flashed up, giving her enough time to get clear, and she controlled her slide around to where she could hit him with a Psychic attack again.
Mega Lucario began throwing Aura Spheres at her, these ones spaced out rather than the simple, easy-to-trick barrage of earlier. It took more of her concentration to deal with them now, as each Reflect or Light Screen did tire her out a bit, and Mega Lucario was able to produce and throw them fast enough that there was a danger one would slip through while she was recovering from blocking the previous one.
Picking her moment, she darted in again. This time, Mega Lucario evaded her attack with a much wider berth, but she had the energy of her Life Orb reach up as he reached the apex of his jump and yank him off-course. He landed hard, rolling backwards to come quickly back to his feet, and Ash spoke up.
Mega Lucario nodded, once, and moved. He broke into a run, the flames he'd left trailing behind him and one fist covered in ice, and Umbreon watched with confusion – though not too much confusion, as she did move in quickly to use Foul Play again.
Barely evading her attempt at tripping him, Mega Lucario tightened his run until he was moving in a quickly-reducing spiral. He twirled once more, then punched upwards – forcing the pattern of hot and cold air to mix, hauling him bodily into the air on a plume of tornado-like wind.
Spreading both arms wide, Mega Lucario unleashed a torrent of Aura into the swirling wind. It intensified, spinning faster and faster, and Umbreon realized belatedly what was going on – as the turf of the arena ripped up, as she herself was plucked off the ground and into the air, and as Mega Lucario turned the entire middle of the arena area into one gigantic, fast-rotating Aura Sphere.
The heat from the flames still crawling over him bled into the air, and Umbreon was faced with an insurmountable problem. This wasn't a single, precisely delineated attack – this was a constant one, like a sandstorm infused with Aura, and her Reflect shield simply wasn't up to it.
At the time, of course, she mostly just felt like Mega Lucario had unfairly put her in a tumble-dryer – an impression reinforced as he began to dart around, hidden by the haze of dust and blue glow in the air, and knock her about in all directions with Force Palms and Low Kicks.
When the swirling storm finally faded, Mega Lucario went to his knees – exhausted by the effort of fighting for so long while actively on fire – but Umbreon landed with a thump on the grass, driven beyond her considerable endurance by the punishment the Fighting-type had dealt out.
Cynthia waited for several seconds, to see if it would be a mutual knock-out, then raised her hand. "Ash Ketchum wins that battle! Though it's a very close one, I must say-"
As she spoke, Mega Lucario keeled over backwards.
"-as we've just seen," Cynthia continued, barely missing a beat.
Latios rolled to the side, most of his attention on his pursuer, and dove – shedding height, faster and faster, until his altitude was measured in feet and he was just a racing blur.
It wasn't enough to keep ahead – the Pokémon chasing him was every bit as fast as he was – but it was enough to confuse the issue, and when the first red beam of light flicked towards him he wasn't where the attacker expected him to be.
Rolling once, Latios dodged again – avoiding that attack as well – but then the third one hit him in the small of the back.
All right, he allowed, floating back up. You win. Another go?
Sure! Latias replied. This time you be the one chasing me!
"Hmmm..." Gary mused. "Ash did win the first one pretty convincingly, but that second one barely counts as a win – not when Lucario lasted only a few more seconds."
He examined his options, then sighed. "Yeah, there's only one way this is going to go."
With a flash, his final choice appeared on the field – just as Ash sent out his own choice, his Charizard.
Both trainers Mega-Evolved their Pokémon at once, and Mega Blastoise struck a pose. "So! I see you've reached your final form! Well, that's not something a true hot-headed Pokémon has any problem with, because the tougher you get the more I'll get stronger to punch right on through you!"
Gary seriously considered removing his in-ear translator.
Mega Charizard took off, wings rippling in the airstream he generated as he gained height, and looked over to Cynthia.
"Begin!" she called, and Mega Charizard opened fire.
He began with a Dragon Pulse, firing it so it hit the ground starting just in front of Mega Blastoise and then swept across the Water-type. His hope was that it might mean Mega Blastoise flinched, but instead there was an explosion of oddly spiralized water and then Mega Blastoise emerged from the mist plume.
Both his forearm cannons held great spinning drills, and he pointed one at Mega Charizard before firing it off.
Counter Shielding with a Dragonbreath, Mega Charizard climbed hard into the sky overhead. There was a wet explosion below him, but that just signalled that the single drill had spit into dozens upon dozens of smaller ones which all began taking independent paths across the sky towards him.
"These are my super-accurate water drills!" Mega Blastoise announced. "They eliminate the chance of missing the opponent!"
Mega Charizard banked around, rolled, and dodged – causing the drills to cluster through simple geometry – before picking one of the ones in the lead out of the swarm and hammering a lance of heat into it. That drill burst violently in a cloud of steam, the explosion powerful enough to flatten the rest of the drills against the surface of the pressure wave and dispel them.
Steel Wings closing around him for a moment, Mega Charizard plunged through the water before levelling out again and coming in for a tackle on Mega Blastoise.
The Water-type fired both hand-cannons at him, but this time Mega Charizard was close enough to catch them before they split into dozens of projectiles – swiping them with Dragon Claws and sending them in tattered bits to the ground. A Dragon Pulse came next, flashing out of Mega Blastoise's main gun and twisting around to smack Mega Charizard in the side, and the draconic Pokémon used Steel Wing again to knock the attack away as best he could.
Both his forepaws reached out, grabbing Mega Blastoise' fists, and wrenched the guns so they pointed away from Mega Charizard himself. Then the two Pokémon began struggling back and forth, one trying to get his cannons in place to score a blow and the other using his tail to hammer away with Dragon Tail and his mouth with Bite and Dragonbreath.
The clash lasted for only a handful of seconds, then Mega Blastoise simply fired a Hydro Cannon round straight up. It flew into the air, then detonated, and Ash called to Mega Charizard to fly clear again before the hammer of water came down.
"Is that Blastoise a bit… odd?" Paul asked.
He glanced at his Murkrow, and the Dark-type considered the question a moment before nodding.
"Most of that evolutionary line are quite strange," Cynthia supplied, watching with interest as Mega Blastoise fired a barrage of water attacks up at Mega Charizard – with the odd extra feature that any time one of the water attacks was remotely disturbed it turned into ice with a faint krish sound. "Though this one seems exceptionally odd."
She shaded her eyes as Mega Charizard fired down a Draco Meteor, and Mega Blastoise fended it off with water-drills from both his arm cannons and a really big one from his back-cannon. "Mind you, with these trainers that means less than it might."
Mega Blastoise pointed both arm cannon down, firing them hard enough to launch him into the air, then twisted into a kick and fired one cannon at Mega Charizard. The Dragon-type evaded the reaching water drills, even as they writhed like Vine Whips, and took hold of Mega Blastoise' leg to throw him to the ground in a Seismic Toss.
The Water-type went straight into the ground, drills whining, and Mega Charizard Counter-Shielded himself with Flamethrower before converting it into Smokescreen. Then Mega Blastoise burst out of the ground again, going faster than he had when he entered it, and sprayed Rime in all directions to cover the area of the smoke cloud.
Mega Charizard winced a bit at that, then used Fire Blast and flew through his own attack to shake off the worst of the chill. He mustered up a Solarbeam, launching it down at his opponent, and another sparkling water drill deflected most of the light away.
"That's the thing you just don't get at all!" Mega Blastoise declared. His drill spun up faster, the biting edge hurling off hundreds of smaller ones, and they went homing in on Mega Charizard in a display designed to prevent him from just exploding one of them to deflect the attack. "It's how Spiral Energy works! It's not about matching your foe, but exceeding it! Not about settling for what works, but striving to improve no matter the situation!"
Both arm cannons went together, glowing brightly with the lights of an Aura Sphere and a Dragon Pulse, and the giant drill extending from his back gun glowed. Then it expanded.
Then he fired all three at once, so they merged into a kind of awful roaring beast made of water, which was a drill and a glowing column of energy and a gaping mouth all at once.
Streaming out from his cannons, it rose into the air, coiling and coiling faster and faster as it closed in on Mega Charizard.
"What the heck?" Squirtle demanded. "Hey! Just what the hell do you think you're doing?"
"Pardon?" Ash asked, looking down. "Wait… where did you come from? You were in Kanto."
"I knew I was needed!" Squirtle replied, swiping his glasses to dismiss the question. "Anyway! Blastoise has done something terrible!"
With a flourish, Squirtle indicated the water-energy-monster – which was now lashing out at Mega Charizard, pressuring the dragon enough that he was Counter Shielding almost constantly. "He's summoned the Spiral Nemesis!"
This did not produce the desired result.
"The what?" Pikachu asked, after several seconds.
"You know!" Squirtle insisted. "The concentration of all the Spiral Energy, leading to the inevitable dissolution of the universe as the Spiral Power gets out of control! It eats reality!"
"It's just a Water Pulse and Dragon Pulse and Aura Sphere all at once," Ash shrugged.
"Well, if you're not willing to listen to good science," Squirtle muttered, pulling his legs and hiding in his shell. "Call me when you want me to be awesome and save the universe."
Mega Charizard fired a blast of Draco Meteor to his left, blowing a hole in the seething serpent of water and light, then made for the hole – to no avail, as it spun rapidly to close the gap before coiling in around Mega Charizard further.
Spreading teeth like drills made of mingled Dragon-type and Fighting-type energy, it lunged – snapping down on Mega Charizard, trapping him inside the body of the beast.
Snarling something unprintable, Mega Charizard made straight for the side of the faux-creature, his claws and wings and tail each glowing with the light of a different kind of attack. He began ripping into the side, tearing and roaring and pulling great chunks of lambent energy free to dissipate into the wet air inside the creature.
Flame stabbed through the wall, opening an escape route, but before Mega Charizard could take it he lost the chance as the beast's maw came rushing up towards him again – spiralling around, eating itself to keep Mega Charizard trapped, and battering him constantly with energy-charged drops of water that burst like little explosions against his tough black scales.
After tearing his way through another round of energy and water, snarling in frustration, Mega Charizard looked around – to discover that the wall of the seething spiral serpent was a lot closer than he'd previously thought.
It was contracting, faster and faster, and a moment later Mega Charizard was shielding himself with Steel Wings and trying to get out any way he could.
The energy got stronger, ripping into him from all directions as Mega Charizard ripped back, until finally it got too bright to look at.
Then an immense hammer of water struck him from below, and all he saw was stars.
"Huh," the man said. "So that's who Gary Oak is, then."
Mega Blastoise's cannons hissed as excess water landed on them, the strain of keeping up his combination move for so long clearly evident. He shifted his weight a little, watching with some relief as a non-Mega Charizard dropped out of the sky before being returned with a flash.
"Hey!" Squirtle called.
He ran over, legs sploshing on what had started the day as a nice grassy battlefield, and pointed with his sunglasses. "What the hell do you think that was?"
"That was the ultimate expression of anti-dragon tactics!" Mega Blastoise replied, before transitioning back down to his base form. "Fight one dragon with three simultaneous dragons! Make them out of energy so they can be on fire and infused with water at the same time! What's wrong with that?"
"Spiral Nemesis?" Squirtle asked. "What about that? About the near destruction of the universe?"
Blastoise took off his five-pointed glasses, reached into his suit, and inspected some notes. "I'm pretty sure that's only a risk after we've turned the moon into a spaceship robot and punched reality with it."
Squirtle considered that. "Maybe… but that doesn't mean you should worry me like that!"
"What are they talking about?" Cynthia asked, curious.
"Please, don't make me repeat it," her Lucario requested.
Cynthia shrugged, then turned to Paul. "You see?" she asked. "That's the kind of thing trainers who really connect with their Pokémon can do."
"I get it," Paul said, a bit shortly. "Why do you keep telling me that?"
"Because you learned it last time," Cynthia replied. "It'd be a pity if you forgot."
She stood. "All right. So that means Ash wins by two to one, but it was a very close and hard-fought match! Congratulations to both Ash Ketchum and Gary Oak!"
Once the applause had died down, Cynthia looked back at Paul. "You've got a lot of potential. Don't ruin it by being a dick."
"That's not a good word to use, Molly," Cynthia added, with a smile. "At least, not until you're a Pokémon League Champion."
"Let's see..." Cynthia said, a few minutes later. "So the important points are… Team Galactic, the Lake Trio, and the Creation Dragons. And that stuff with specifically Giratina and Arceus you mentioned as well."
"Basically, yeah," Ash agreed readily. "We'll do our best with most of those, but the Galactic thing is something you can keep an eye out for while we're doing other stuff."
"Normally it would be me telling someone else I can handle things," Cynthia observed. "But you're quite the trainer as well, so we'll call it an even split."
She shook Ash's hand. "Good luck, Ash – and I hope this time you can deal with a Darkrai and a Latios."
Ash nodded, and Cynthia shook Brock and Dawn's hands as well. She extended the same courtesy to Gary, then crouched down to Molly.
"By the way," she added, seriously. "Do you have any tips for taking care of a Glaceon?"
Molly frowned, thinking hard. "I think… a good one is to remember that they can wear woolly clothing," she said. "It keeps them cold, rather than keeping them warm, because they're Ice types."
"I'll be sure to remember that," Cynthia assured her.
You know how sometimes in a Pokémon game your rival randomly challenges you out of nowhere?
Also, in the anime they encounter Amity Park several episodes before they encounter Hearthome, due to translation error. Thus.