"Well, there's Iron Island," Brock said, pointing ahead of them.
"Sorry?" Ash called back.
"I said, that's Iron Island!" Brock repeated, louder this time.
"He said that that is Iron Island," Entei provided, his much deeper voice heard more easily over the rushing of the wind. "Up ahead."
Ash looked himself, seeing the island's peak rising up out of the sea. "Oh, yeah, there it is! So that's, what, a few minutes away?"
"At full speed, yes," Suicune agreed. "I know we're a little slow compared to Mewtwo, but we're still a lot quicker than the ferry."
Oh, sometimes it's nice to have a chance to fly alongside, Mewtwo noted, arms crossed as he rocketed horizontally through the sky with his tail streaming out behind him. Teleporting is very convenient, but you need a proper sense of how far things are from somewhere, after all…
"Hey, Brock?" Ash called. "Does Iron Island have a good beach for everyone to slow down on?"
"Uh… hold on," Brock requested. "Where's that map…"
He rummaged in his pockets for a few seconds, then unfolded the map – being careful to keep it behind Entei's head, out of the slipstream that would tear it apart. "Right, um… it looks like there's one there?"
Mewtwo slid sideways to look, banishing the slipstream with a wave of his hand. Yes, that looks like an area with a long gravel beach rather than cliffs.
Brock nodded his thanks, lifting the map a little. "Okay – there's a long gravel beach on the western end of the island!"
Suicune and Entei began to change course, curving smoothly around in a wide-angle turn to bring them to the right place with minimal fuss.
"Raikou?" Entei called, looking to his side. "Raikou!"
It seems he hasn't heard, Mewtwo said. I'll go alert him.
He zoomed away, and Brock's map tore apart and went flying out of his hands as the air around them snatched at it.
Sorry… Mewtwo added. I should have warned you first.
"All right, hold on!" Raikou called, racing towards the shore.
He turned a little and dug all four paws into the gravel of the beach as he reached it, sending up an enormous rooster-tail of stones and dust as he shed all his speed so fast Dawn was nearly thrown clear.
"You know the beach is about a mile long, right?" Suicune asked, as the stones rained down around them. "You could have just run along that and slowly shed your speed… you know, like we did."
"I'm not sure I understand how that would be any more fun?" Raikou replied, as Dawn clambered down from his back a little unsteadily.
"Thanks, I guess..." she told him. "Wow, I forgot what this place was like… wonder where Riley is."
I can tell you where Leo is, at least, Dexter suggested. Searching…
"Leo is the one of your kids who's here now, right?" Ash checked, getting a nod. "Well, we're here partly to check up on him, so sure."
"What's the other part?" Lucario asked.
"The other part… well, there's more than one other part, but the big one is that I want to talk to Riley," Ash explained. "I think he's the only human Aura user I've had a chance to meet who I didn't actually train..."
"What about Rui?" Pikachu asked.
Ash blinked. "...Rui was an Aura user?"
"Okay, we'll file that under 'has special senses but can't notice something in front of his face,'" Pikachu decided. "I guess you want to see if there's stuff you missed?"
"Yeah, and I also want to kind of get a sense of how well I'm doing," Ash replied. "Not to mention that if anything new has been discovered since Sir Aaron was around this would be one of my only ways to find out about it."
He sent out the other Pokémon he'd brought along, most of his Sacred Sword users along with Primeape as a major Aura user. "Any luck, Dexter?"
Yes. Riley's home is about two miles from here. Providing waypoint.
"This place feels… odd," Brock said. "I can't remember if it felt this way last time, but… there's something about it which is peculiar."
"I haven't been here before, but you're right in that," Lucario agreed. "There's an energy to it… I know there's supposed to be ruins of some sort here, and perhaps that's related. That this is a special place, a place with a resonance."
"I always thought the main thing that was notable about it was just that it was an iron mine," Brock admitted. "I knew about the ruins, but I thought that was just people mining iron in the past."
"Well, that would be a perfectly good reason for an ancient people to have made the place their own," Lucario shrugged. "And if they were able to harness unusual energies, that's just what they would have put here."
He glanced to the side. "Ash? Any thoughts on that?"
"Well, it does sound pretty sensible," Ash replied. "Though I don't really understand why this isn't still a mine."
"That, I do know," Brock replied. "They shut the mine down decades ago because they decided it was doing too much damage to the ruins and the Pokémon on the island – there was a report about how small islands were much more vulnerable, because the Pokémon have nowhere to go."
"Well, I don't have much of a sense of lingering future disaster, if that helps," Absol supplied. "There's a little hint of it, probably just potential rock falls and stuff…"
"That's good to know," Dawn smiled. "You know, Barry told me once that he came here with his Dad for training… though I can't imagine why you'd come all the way out here just to train."
"Privacy, perhaps?" Brock suggested. "Barry's father is Palmer, right? I can see why Palmer would want to avoid the crowds, at least."
"That makes sense," Dawn agreed. "That's a good point, I hadn't really thought of that… huh, one of the downsides of being a famous trainer."
Without access to a moon base, Mewtwo cut in smoothly.
One moment the friends were climbing the slope of a steep-sided hill, one of the smaller ones around the central mountain of Iron Island. The next two blurs came down to land in front of them, landing with identical whams and three-point landings.
"You know, I sometimes wonder what the benefit of that pose is," Latias said.
"It spreads the force," Lucario replied. "Three contact points with the ground means you can channel Aura to negate the impact without needing to exactly balance it – otherwise you might fall over forwards or backwards. Plus it looks cool."
Ignoring the byplay, Ash nodded. "You're Riley, right?"
"I am," Riley confirmed. "Riley of Iron Island. And you would be Ash of Pallet Town?"
"Ash Ketchum, that's me," Ash agreed. "It's great to meet you."
He held out his hand, and Riley shook it as he rose back to his full height.
"I've heard a lot about you," Riley added. "We both have, especially since Leo arrived."
"Oh, yeah, Dexter's kid," Ash agreed. "I hope it's all good?"
"Mostly it's good," Riley's companion agreed. "Though apparently we should be quite relieved that you arrived here instead of getting lost?"
"That one was simple to resolve," Pikachu provided. "We just got someone else to do the navigating."
"That is entirely sensible," Riley said, with a smile. "Come with me, I'll show you where we're staying. We tend to spend several months a year on Iron Island, so it's… well, workable."
"There are certain kinds of asceticism which enhance one's ability to work with Aura," Riley's Lucario added. "But we still added a microwave."
"Just a microwave?" Brock asked. "Or something else?"
"We do have a stove as well," Riley assured him. "The microwave is just a useful option."
He paused, then turned back to look at Ash.
"By the way, I like your outfit."
"Thanks," Ash replied. "I… kind of inherited it? It's a bit complicated."
"You wear Sir Aaron's raiment well," Riley told him.
Father, Leo said, sounding pleased. It's been a while.
Well, not all that long, we've been in contact online, Dexter replied. I'm glad to catch up, though.
Leo made a high pitched, hissing-squeaking noise, one which Dexter echoed a moment later.
Good talk, Dexter pronounced, after about ten seconds.
"What was that?" Dawn asked.
Modem sound, Dexter told her. You wouldn't understand.
"No, but I think Rotom might," Dawn shrugged. "How are you finding it on Iron Island, Leo?"
You're going to make me repeat everything I just said, aren't you? Leo asked. I didn't even sass you, Father did.
"All right, Dexter, you give me the summary," Dawn suggested. "I do actually find this interesting."
Dexter sighed, and began to summarize.
As he did, Ash and Brock sat down on the offered chairs.
"I notice you don't have many Pokémon," Ash said, looking around in case there was a Salamence hiding under the fridge. "Is that a choice thing, or..."
"Well, on my journey I did pick up one or two other Pokémon, besides my dear friend and companion," Riley answered. "But much of my focus was always on developing my own powers, and I felt it impolite to ask a Pokémon to join me who I might neglect in favour of my own skill; I have a Metagross who looks after my other home, but as things currently stand that is about it."
He examined Ash, and the Pokémon his fellow Aura adept had brought with him. "Though I admit I did not consider half of these Pokémon to be able to use Aura to any great extent, so perhaps that is simply my own lack of imagination."
"I did actually wonder about that," Ash replied. "A lot of my own training is kind of self-taught from Sir Aaron's notes, or worked out with Lucario and the others, and I was wondering where we might have different ideas of how to do stuff… maybe that's one of them."
"So it would seem," Riley agreed readily. "And another difference I see is in your use of personal weapons. My own preference is to use Aura for non-combat use, and I imagine your own is the same, but when I must fight I make use of unarmed combat only."
"Yeah, I started out using that or Sir Aaron's staff," Ash told him, indicating the staff across his back. "But I got a ceremonial sword when I got, uh, knighted in the Togepi Kingdom, and I started learning how to handle her..."
"Which is where I enter the picture," Kari agreed, as Ash pulled her off his belt – scabbard and all – and laid her on the wooden table. "It is truly a pleasure to meet another of the Chosen."
"That was interesting," Riley's Lucario said. "How did you do that? I thought your Honedge's scabbard was on your belt?"
"I was," Kari replied, with the merest hint of an edge to her voice. "But I am a ghost, and one of the traits of my existence thus is that I may pass through whatever I choose. My scabbard is a part of me, so… thus."
"Yeah, we're not entirely sure how Kari's old sword became infused with her spirit, if it already was and I just helped it along or what," Ash told the twoof them. "But I can use her to channel Secret Sword, and a lot of what I learned about formal sword fighting came from her. Most of the rest came from Absol and Keldeo."
Riley nodded along. "Given what we have heard of your life, I can see why you have focused more on the combative arts than we have – though I would hardly call myself a slouch," he added. "We Chosen must be able to defend ourselves..."
He shook his head. "My apologies. I would be honoured to learn from you what you are willing to share, though I am now all the more convinced that I should find something to teach you in return."
"Well, I guess just being able to spar against someone new would be good," Ash replied. "Though if you're talking about non combat stuff… well, I do know a healing technique, though it's kind of dangerous."
"Ah, I believe I know the one," Riley's Lucario said, thinking. "That one's a bit outdated, there are others which are much safer – though a little more difficult to use."
"That sounds like a very good idea," Absol volunteered. "And this is me talking..."
Ash adjusted his gloves, then paused. "Oh, I should check… is it okay for me to use these?"
"I'm not sure why it wouldn't be," Riley admitted. "Is there something special about them?"
"Well, a lot of Sir Aaron's gear has special properties," Ash told him. "The gloves are one of those. I was wondering if it would change what you thought."
"If you normally wear them in combat, then I'd say you should use them," Riley assured him. "I'm not asking you to handicap yourself."
Ash nodded. "Right."
He put the rest of his stuff to the side, including his staff, and placed Kari where she could watch.
Riley's Lucario took his place opposite Ash, and the two dropped into their stances.
"Whenever you're ready," Riley added, waving his hand.
There was a moment of tense silence, then Ash took two quick steps forwards and punched towards his opponent. The Lucario blocked, producing a flash of blue Aura, then countered with a twist that sent Ash flying over his head and towards the side of a hill.
Twisting around, Ash landed with a crunch as the hill's side crumbled away a bit – revealing it to be made largely of gravel – and slid down back to ground level.
"Sorry," Lucario said. "I think I overdid it."
"No, that's fine," Ash replied easily. "Let's keep going."
He moved in a little more cautiously this time, then paused. "Uh… are Pokémon moves okay?"
"If you don't do anything too destructive?" Riley shrugged, and Ash nodded before charging up an Aura Sphere in each hand.
Lucario tilted his head, wondering what Ash was planning, and stepped forwards to put a little pressure on – prompting Ash in turn to step back a bit, keeping his distance, and then slam both spheres together with a shout.
The Aura Spheres exploded into a cloud of seeker spheres – and this time they were much smaller than normal, forming a diffuse cloud of thousands of independently moving blue spheres, none of them large enough to cause any harm.
The cloud did, however, completely obscure Ash from view for a moment. His opponent switched to Aura Sight, and did no better – the cloud of azure spheres forming a kind of Aura mist which made it impossible to see anything past the 'wall' of light.
Ash moved in quickly, punching twice in succession before twisting to make an elbow strike and finishing with a kick. Lucario blocked the second and third attacks, then pulled up on the kick to try and pull Ash over onto his back – and Ash promptly kicked off with his other foot, his boots flaring with Aura to reduce his weight to a fraction of what it should have been.
Flipping once over Lucario's head from his push-off, Ash returned to normal gravity and knocked Lucario over with a quick arm strike before the Steel-type recovered.
"All right, thank you," Riley said, holding his hand up. "I think you could benefit at least from more of an understanding of the style we were using, but I can also see that you're working with what you have fairly well."
"Yeah, a bit of a problem is that I'm spending a lot of time training with Kari," Ash volunteered. "So I've got a lot of different ways of fighting to keep up with. But I guess I've generally thought that the best way to get an advantage in a fight is to do something unexpected..."
"That's generally a good way of getting an advantage," Riley agreed readily. "If you keep that up, that's going to serve you well. And it looks like you don't have all that many issues in combat, as I said… let's have a look at the healing side of things."
"Before you do, there's something we wanted to show," Brock spoke up. "In case it gives Riley ideas, specifically. It's something that I've been working on with Rockruff for a while now, and we think she's got it working."
He sent out the Rock-type, and she landed with a thump before looking up and wagging her tail.
"So, should I just do the cool thing?" she asked. "Or is someone going to play?"
"Sure, I'll give it a go," Pikachu volunteered, bounding over to the open area Rockruff was waiting in. "Let's see what this trick is."
Rockruff waved at him, then began to glow faintly. She crouched, jumped, and vanished into the ground with a splash and a few low ripples of soil.
Pikachu blinked. "Okay, that's interesting all right."
He looked around, tracking something invisible, then sent a weak little flicker of electricity out as Rockruff came back towards the surface.
She came out of the ground with a rumbling splash, a wavelike surge of rock coming sliding towards Pikachu, and he stared for a moment as the rock continued to behave exactly like oddly-coloured water before charging his tail with Iron Tail and swiping it at the incoming wave.
It broke the rockwave apart on impact with a crunch, a few bits rolling downwards as the rest subsided back into the ground, and Rockruff wagged her tail in excitement. "How was that?"
"I don't even know how you managed it," Pikachu replied. "I'm very impressed. Does it work like water in other ways too?"
"Well, kind of," Rockruff replied, dropping down into the ground again.
Pikachu tracked her movement, holding off his attack to let her make her demonstration, and Rockruff 'swam' around him before suddenly pouncing out of the ground.
Her jaws closed on his tail, and she yanked him into the ground with a surprised squeak.
"Okay, I did not expect that either," Pikachu admitted, as Rockruff let go of him so he could struggle out of the ground. "That trick seems like it has a lot of potential."
Rockruff stuck her head out of the side of the nearby hill, then walked out of it and let the surface close over behind her. "It was really hard to get used to it, but thanks!"
"Hey, nice work little lady," Geodude called. "I think they dig it."
He paused. "...oh, man… I sounded like Glalie."
"All right, so, the upside of this way of doing healing is that it uses Aura in the normal way," Riley lectured. "You're not using life energy with it, so you can do a lot more before you start having problems. There is a downside, though, which is that it's much harder to do – you need to basically get used to feeling for the problems, finding them, and fixing them."
He waved his hand. "It's not impossibly hard, you don't need a degree in biology or anything, and that's mostly because the body's own life energy does know what shape it's supposed to be. So you can compare that to the reality, which should let you just locate the errors."
Ash nodded. "Okay, so… say, it can heal someone's broken bones, but it can't make them stronger?"
"No, because for that you would need an exact knowledge of how the body works," Riley agreed. "Since I know you can do the sort of healing that uses the soul, I want you to try it on my hand now – but don't put any actual energy in it, just reach out."
Ash put his hand over Riley's offered one, and reached out so he was just about making contact.
After a moment, Riley shook his head. "That's too much, you're transferring energy – just a bit, but you are. You need to provide none at all."
Ash's expression twisted a little in a frown, as he tried to reduce the amount he could use down further – so he was just touching, without any pressure.
"There you go," Riley said, a minute or so later. "Keep it at that amount of energy, and reach out to feel how it is – and how it should be."
Ash nodded slowly, concentrating hard, and tried to get the exact feeling of the odd Aura energies involved.
It took a long moment before he started to get a sense of the shape of Riley's hand, and increasing the resolution of his mental picture was much more difficult than he expected – it was a kind of concentration similar to the sort he was used to in order to channel Aura, but it was doing something different – or in a different combination – to the way everything had worked out before.
"How are you doing?" Riley asked.
"I think you've got the right number of fingers," Ash answered. "I think."
Riley chuckled. "All right, it sounds like you're going in the right direction at the very least. Try just concentrating on my index finger."
Ash did so, and blinked. "Uh… it kind of feels like something's wrong? But only a bit wrong."
"Yes, I have a papercut," Riley told him. "What you're going to want to do is to focus your Aura along the place where there's a difference – it has to be just your Aura, without your life force – and then make the reality match the image it's supposed to have."
As Ash began trying to tease out the Aura to do that from the sensing technique, his Lucario frowned and put a paw to his head.
"Is something up?" Brock asked, and Ash lost his concentration as he looked around.
"Sorry, just a bit of a headache," Lucario answered.
"I have a bit of head pain as well, which is odd because I don't have a head as such any more," Kari said.
Riley's Lucario put both paws to his temple, a blue glow flashing over them. "I feel the same thing… but I can drive it away by focusing my Aura."
"You can?" Riley asked, worried. "Are you using it to heal?"
"No, just focusing," his Lucario replied. "It is as if something is trying to interfere with my Aura..."
Then there was a bang, and Absol shouted in surprise – and something hit the ground with a spang, throwing up a plume of soil.
"What was that?" Pikachu demanded, looking around.
"I don't know!" Absol replied, her horn shimmering a faint blue – then it flared up, and she darted to the side a little. At almost exactly the same time there was a bang and something bounced off Absol's horn, embedding itself in the side of the nearby hill.
Mewtwo held out his hand, focusing for a moment, and something bounced with a sprang off a shield he projected around the group. A gesture, and the object that had hit the hill pulled itself back out again, before floating in front of them.
"...someone just shot us?" Dawn asked, staring at the bullet.
Someone just shot Ash, or tried to, Mewtwo corrected.
"They did what?" Absol asked. "Who did? What are we talking about?"
"...well, that's not a good sign," Sceptile muttered. "That's Galactic, right?"
Mewtwo waved a hand, sending out a pulse of psychic force, then frowned in annoyance. It looks like they moved after I put up the shield.
"Then we should get out of here, right?" Brock asked.
"What are you talking about?" Riley said, looking puzzled. "What's wrong?"
Dexter drew virtual words in the air, explaining Team Galactic in a few short sentences. I don't think we can just leave. They must be here to use Iron Island to scan, that's why Kari and the Lucario are in pain.
"And it looks like Riley's not immune," Ash winced. "I guess that was too much to hope for..."
"Are we in any danger?" Dawn asked Absol. "Can you feel anything wrong right now?"
"Just the normal," Absol replied, frowning as she tried to work out why Dawn would be asking. "I mean, ah – I think there might be something else?"
She paced to the side a little, and her expression cleared. "Oh, it's gone now."
"We need to think about this," Brock said. "Okay, so they're here to scan, and they tried to get Ash. We're going to need to be even more careful about that from now on – but if they failed, then what else are they going to do?"
"I'll keep a look out for that Shadow Zoroark," Lucario said, reaching down to let Pikachu hop onto his arm, then closed an eye and scanned the area.
Halfway through his scan he did a double-take.
"Mewtwo, shield everyone!" he called, breaking into a sprint. "Shadow-"
A blur came rocketing over the nearest slope even as he spoke, and hurled a spike of shadowy energy directly at the group.
Absol sprang into the air, her horn glowing a brilliant blue, just as the spike of Shadow energy hit Mewtwo's shield. It made the whole thing ripple and shimmer, a chunk of it breaking through, and Absol's Sacred Sword deflected the spike so most of it hammered into the ground and the remainder just knocked Absol backwards into Ash and Brock.
Outside the shield, Lucario slammed a fist into the blur, and the force of his blow stopped it moving – for long enough to see what it was, at least.
A Lucario. A Lucario with malicious shadowy energy bubbling off its body, like oily smoke, and glowing red eyes.
Then it kicked Ash's Lucario backwards, and was prevented from a stunning follow-up only by Pikachu throwing his most powerful short-notice Electrical attack in as a distraction.
"This is all happening way too fast," Dawn said. "What just – Absol just blocked those attacks, right? How?"
"Danger sense?" Buneary asked.
"I guess it must be," Dawn agreed. "Ash, someone just tried to shoot you!"
"I know!" Ash replied, more harshly than he meant.
The attacking Lucario's paws fizzed and pulsed, more of the shadowy energy building up in them, and he hurled an oddly dark bolt of lightning at Pikachu and Lucario. It smashed into both of them, making Pikachu yelp in surprise as his Lightningrod didn't help one bit, and then the two Lucario engaged in a blurring exchange of powerful close-combat attacks. Bright blue and dark, misty purple flares accompanied their attacks, the excess shadow energy forming a haze, and Lucario was forced back a step at a time by the wild fury of the attacks his opponent was making.
Ash fumbled for his staff, focusing, then turned to the other Pokémon with him – specifically Sceptile and Latias. "Can you two help him?"
"We'll certainly try," Sceptile replied.
Ash nodded, and began to focus.
"Ergh..." he muttered. "Sorry, this is… it's hard to concentrate properly, with what happened-"
Another burst of shadow, this one acting like roiling flames, hit Mewtwo's shield as the hostile Lucario threw an attack in their direction. Mewtwo tightened up his defensive wall, focusing his energies on containing the attack, then switched tack slightly and pulled up a hunk of the ground to physically block it as well.
"That's a Shadow Lucario, right?" Brock asked, as Geodude started manipulating the ground to try and help Pikachu and Lucario out. "How do you even get a Shadow Lucario?"
"I don't know!" Ash replied, still trying to Mega-Evolve his Pokémon. "They're supposed to be impossible!"
If it is Galactic, then perhaps the answer lies in the unusual properties Team Galactic has, Dexter suggested. Their ability to affect memories and the like.
"Overhead!" Latias called, pointing up, and they saw a seething mass of darkness coming down from above like a meteorite.
Mewtwo's shield thickened until it was almost opaque, then he gestured and the sky lit up overhead with an enormous surge of fire.
Galactic's Shadow Zoroark shot through the flames, wrapping itself in shadow-conjured ice to protect itself, and hammered into the shield with a surge of Dark-type energy. It made a small gap with an intense needle of shadow, then expanded it out and 'popped' the shield bubble enough to get through.
Buneary lashed out at it with a fizzing electrical punch, and Primeape lunged forwards with a boom of tearing air to land a Master Blow and end the battle in one hit.
The Zoroark he hit dissolved into shadowy smoke, revealing it to be a Substitute – just as the real Zoroark sent a burst of shadow-conjured lightning lashing across at the entire group.
Mega Latias deflected the attack with a Counter Shield, catching as much of it as possible in her dragonflame before forcing the whole mess off to the side, and Mega Sceptile fired a Leaf Storm just past her shoulder to blanket the whole area Shadow Zoroark was in with high-speed seeds.
Mewtwo got in on the act, firing a kind of cone of tearing psychic energy, and the blast ripped away most of the shadow illusions the Zoroark was using to fight with – but they didn't stay gone, reforming and falling apart constantly as Mega Sceptile charged in to get into close-combat range.
His arm blades lit with a Leaf Blade on one and a Sacred Sword on the other, but even with Mewtwo's support it was like fighting smoke – smoke that swirled and seethed, multiplied and struck and bit, and that formed into shadowy flame right next to his body until dispelled a moment later.
Mega Lucario ducked, forming an Aura Sphere in one palm, then flung it at his opponent. The Shadow Lucario smashed it apart with an offhand blast of his dark version of Aura, disrupting it too violently to allow it to form seeker spheres, then kicked a rock from the ground at Mega Lucario.
The fighting-type blocked it with a Force Palm, shattering it, and Pikachu fired the Volt Crash he'd been hastily charging for the last several seconds. It lashed out, a solid bar of electrical energy which hit the Shadow Lucario in the chest and sent him sailing away over the nearest hill.
"That didn't finish him," Pikachu said definitively.
"No," Mega Lucario agreed, focusing through the hill on the Shadow Lucario – watching as the corrupted Steel-type landed with a surge of shadowy energy, then pulled something together which Mega Lucario couldn't entirely see. "Watch out, he's trying something."
"This doesn't make sense," Pikachu added, glancing over his shoulder at the fight inside the shield dome – where Mega Latias was scudding around at maximum speed trying to find an angle to nail the Shadow Zoroark from, and all of Mewtwo's attention was taken up on the shield and trying to keep Shadow Zoroark's main abilities suppressed. "I mean, sure, they're jamming us which is why Ash hasn't swarmed them, but…"
A flash of purple-grey energy wisped up towards the sky overhead, then exploded with a thoom. The sky itself began to take on the colours of shadow energy, purple and grey and black, and both Pokémon winced.
"That's a weather move," Mega Lucario said, unnecessarily. "Incoming!"
The Shadow Lucario came surging back over the physical cover it had been using, shadow mockeries of conventional elements seething in both forepaws. It launched flame at both of Ash's Pokémon, hammering them with a shadow fire attack, then twisted and slapped a vicious shadow-born tornado at them to try and snatch Pikachu off his friend's shoulder.
Pikachu clung on grimly with Aura, his Shock Wave attacks reaching out towards the corrupted Lucario, and their opponent slapped them aside in quick succession before kicking a massive Aura Sphere hard enough to make it disintegrate.
Freezing shadowy rain began to fall from overhead, actual droplets which carried enough of that awful shadow energy to send up physical curls of smoke when they hit the ground. They pelted Pikachu and Mega Lucario, a thousand tiny impacts which sapped their strength little by little, and the best both Pokémon could do was keep going – knowing all the while that Team Galactic's plan was going on somewhere, and they were too busy to stop it.
"How is the scan going?" Jupiter asked.
Charon stared at his controls for a moment longer, adjusted one, then inspected a screen intently.
Then he shook his head.
"It's not!" he replied, deeply annoyed. "And it should be going just fine – the equipment is working, it's definitely building the resonance, and we can see just from Lairon over there that it's having the expected adverse effects on Steel type Pokémon. But the whole of Mount Coronet is just… without any sort of reaction!"
"Does that mean that science kit of yours isn't producing the results it's after?" Jupiter asked, smirking.
"Obviously that's the case," Charon answered. "But I'm at a loss to explain how. The theory goes, we can use the whole mass of iron ore on Iron Island to expand the antenna being used by the detector. It's obviously building up the resonance… and the detection system should be allowing us to answer a yes-or-no question about whether Spear Pillar is in the area we scan. But the only way this result makes sense is if the Spear Pillar isn't on Mount Coronet?"
"Charon," Cyrus called, through the radio. "You're unable to find Spear Pillar. Is that correct?"
"Well, currently yes," Charon answered. "I'm going to widen the aperture of the scan, to see if it's merely near Mount Coronet."
"Acceptable,"Cyrus told him. "If you have no further results, report it. Then give me a solution."
"Sir," Charon said, adjusting his machine again.
The near-subliminal hum rose, and Lairon groaned before his trainer finally mercifully recalled him.
"So we know that much is working," Charon muttered out loud. "Expanding scan radius..."
The big, complicated piece of machinery hummed, straining to contain the energies passing though it as it scanned more and more of Sinnoh at once. Then the scan radius included Almia, then Kanto-
-and it exploded.
"What?" Charon asked, then coughed a few times in the cloud of acrid smoke. "Damn it… all right, pack up what's left! We're leaving!"
On the other side of a shadow, Giratina closed a reverse-world portal.
He wasn't sure quite what preparations Galactic had in place for dealing with the Three Dragons, and it would be too risky to test them now without backup.
But opening a two-inch portal into the heart of their important-looking machine and hitting it with a compressed Aura Sphere… that was both less risky and quite satisfying.
Nodding to himself at a job well done, Giratina turned with a flick of his tail and swam back through his altered space towards where he had left Ash and his friends.
Dawn glanced over her Pokémon, seeing who looked like they were ready to try something next, then spoke up. "Togekiss, Fairy wind! Piplup, swirl it all up in a Whirlpool!"
Piplup nodded firmly, and began to pirouette on the spot. His flippers went out to the side and he whipped up a swirling column of water, which quickly intensified and drew in Togekiss' Fairy-type contribution to the combination attack.
Suddenly halting his spin, Piplup stepped outside the whirlpool and kept control of it with a flick of a flipper. He glanced at Dawn, signalling that it was ready, and she nodded absently as she watched the fight going on.
The Shadow Zoroark was almost invisible inside a kind of dark-purple-and-black exoskeleton, which surged and reformed as attacks battered it, and it lashed out at Mega Sceptile with a gout of conjured flame to knock him back.
"Now!" Dawn shouted, and Piplup launched his attack.
The Whirlpool twisted as it moved, shimmering Fairy-light trailing off it, and hit the Shadow Pokémon from the side. The impact sent it skidding sideways, preventing a follow-up attack on Mega Sceptile, and Mega Latias exploited the opening with a blazing Dragon Pulse.
"Stop that armour reforming!" Brock ordered, and Ninetales' tails waved as she summoned a coil of flame. The flame took on shape, becoming a larger yellow-hot version of Ninetales herself, and charged through the battlefield before pouncing on the Shadow Zoroark.
The armour hissed and roiled, trying to take on a more solid shape and being kept at bay by Ninetales' ongoing flame construct.
"Can you handle it if we change the weather?" Brock added.
"I think so," Ninetales answered, her tails fluffed out behind her as most of her attention went on the fox-fight taking place. "It's better than trying to concentrate in this awful rain!"
"You got it, chica," Ludicolo said, and began to Rain Dance.
The shadowy energy of the clouds overhead trembled, trying to resist Ludicolo's efforts, before slowly starting to change – step by step.
A pseudopod of darkness reached out to try and hit Mega Latias, and the Dragon-type flicked to the side before powering up and slicing it off with a Steel Wing. The impact disrupted the shadow conjuration, though another came after her just a moment later and got smacked back by some of Geodude's geokinesis.
"Doesn't this guy ever get tired?" Pikachu demanded, sending arcs of lightning curving out towards the Shadow Lucario they were fighting. "I mean, come on, I've electrocuted him a lot… that's kind of my thing, I can electrocute things that didn't think they could be electrocuted before."
"It is hurting him," Mega Lucario replied, before jumping into the air with a whoom of Aura. The area he'd taken off from splintered a bit, then shattered as a corrupted Aura Sphere smashed it into fragments.
Paws flaring blue to control his movement and avoid coming down too soon, Mega Lucario constructed a Bone Rush staff out of focused energy and held it up to Pikachu. The Electic-type charged it with Thunder, and Mega Lucario hurled it to explode like a bolt of lightning where it hit the ground.
The blast did seem to have some effect on Shadow Lucario, but he shook it off and fired what looked a lot like an Ice Beam at them. It felt cold and wrong as it got closer, and Mega Lucario blasted more Aura from his paws to jink to the side and avoid being potentially flash-frozen.
Landing with a roll, making sure not to throw Pikachu off, Mega Lucario used Extremespeed to dart around to the side. He began to charge an Aura Sphere, the energy building rapidly, and Shadow Lucario stood ready to interrupt his attack.
Then a Mist Ball hit him just below the knees, and exploded – flinging the corrupted Lucario high into the air.
Mega Lucario hurled his Aura Sphere up to capitalize on the advantage, but before it hit a flicker of red light snatched the Shadow Pokémon out of the air.
A second flicker caught the Shadow Zoroark, and Mega Lucario's head whipped around just in time to see Team Galactic's Saturn vanish in the flicker of a teleport.
Ash shook his head. "I don't… really know what to say, after that."
He and the others on Iron Island – or the others who had been able to perceive what just happened, at least – stared at Dexter's projection, which was showing the various other Reminded people who were available to talk.
"I'm not surprised you don't know what to say about it," May said tartly. "Ash, they just tried to shoot you!"
"Yeah, I know," Ash agreed, rubbing his temples. "And… and I'm really lucky that Absol was around. And that her power apparently works despite what Galactic can do, even if she didn't know what was going on."
"That means that it would be a very good idea for you to keep Absol with you for the whole time," Mewtwo suggested. "At least until the situation with Galactic is resolved. If they were willing to try once, they may be willing to try again."
"Yeah, you're right," Ash agreed. "That would help a lot..."
He shook his head. "And… and somehow it seems a lot more real now, which is stupid. We already knew Galactic wanted to make a whole new world, but now they're firing attacks at me it's worse?"
"That's a natural reaction, Ash," Cynthia said. "Humans react in odd ways, just like Pokémon. Imagine how you'd react if this happened to one of your Pokémon, and they were upset about it."
"Well, uh… I'd probably give them a hug," Ash replied, thinking, then nearly fell over as his Charizard pounced on him.
"I'm the biggest one here who has arms," the big Fire-type announced.
Ash squirmed for a moment, then relaxed. "I… yeah, I think I did need this. Thanks, Charizard..."
Charizard chuckled, a low rumbling sound.
"There is something else we should discuss," Professor Oak said. "Well, two things. Firstly, do you know if they got anything?"
"I did not hear anything," Giratina replied.
"Thank you," Oak smiled. "Now, the other point… that Shadow Lucario deeply concerns me."
"It concerns all of us, Professor," Cynthia sighed. "I had known about Shadow Pokémon, of course, but I didn't know you could do it to a Lucario."
Misty shook her head. "I don't think any of us did. The topic came up before when Wes and Rui were in Johto – they dealt with Teams Snagem and Cipher in Orre, and I remember Rui saying that a Lucario was naturally..."
She frowned. "It was either 'highly resistant' or 'immune', I can't remember what she said. But the idea I got was that it would be very difficult to make a Lucario into a Shadow Pokémon, certainly you couldn't do it quickly with a Shadow Ball."
"Perhaps they didn't need to do it quickly," Lucario suggested, speaking up for the first time. "Maybe they were able to capture this Lucario and experiment on him, because he didn't know it was happening..."
"Wow, thanks for the nightmare," Max winced. "Okay, so… um… what do we do about it?"
"Apart from making sure Ash has Absol and Mewtwo on hand for as long as possible… I don't really know," Gary said. "Any ideas, Gramps?"
"I did think of something," Professor Oak replied. "And it relates to what happened today. You didn't bring in any reinforcements, Ash."
"That's because they jammed Dexter," Ash protested.
"Yes, exactly," Oak said. "But you have at least one way of accessing help which they can't jam. In future, it would be a good idea to make use of the connection Latias and Latios share to contact the rest of us... and if that is not an option, to have Mewtwo teleport you away, even if it is only to get help."
"Samuel is right," Delia agreed. "Ash, we talked about this, and I know you want to help people out… and I know that just staying somewhere safe all the time would be letting these horrible people win eventually. But please, try not to get yourself hurt!"
"I will accept part of the blame," Mewtwo said, raising a hand. "I admit, I should have thought of simply teleporting us all out."
He paused. "Though an idea occurs to me. It seems that Galactic will enact their plan sooner or later. Obviously we would prefer it to not happen at all, but if that cannot be done… maybe we could make it happen at the right time?"
"You mean deliberately let them know where Spear Pillar is, so everything happens at a time we want?" Brock repeated, just to be clear, and winced. "That's… risky."
"I… really don't think we're going to work out everything here," Dawn suggested. "We know some new stuff now, and we know what to look out for… I guess if anyone thinks of something new to add, they should just mention it and the rest of us can pick up on it."
"That sounds like a good point, Dawn," Misty agreed. "Just one thing, though… I'm going to see if Karen can get me in touch with some Absol. Ash definitely needs the best protection, but I'd feel better if we all had some security. And I imagine that it'd be nice for the Absol to have a friendly human or two to talk to, too."
"Talk tutu, hmmm..." Pikachu mused. "Isn't that what you Coordinators do?"
There was a moment of silence, then Dawn groaned. "Pikachu..."
"Yeah, that's..." May paused. "That's pretty bad. I get what you were trying to do, but… boo."
"I was only trying to lighten the mood," Pikachu said. "Did it not work?"
"Not really, no," Max replied, then paused. "...do you guys hear something?"
Cynthia swallowed, looking a little nervous, then began to laugh quietly.
"Oh, dear..." she said, a little giggle escaping. "That was terrible."
Whoops more plot.