"Okay, so… I want to make sure I'm following all this," Luxio began. "Can you check I've got it right?"
"Sure, go ahead," Quilava agreed.
"We're going to the Sinnoh Grand Festival," Luxio checked, and got a nod. "And that's like a Contest but bigger?"
"There are a few other rules changes to it as well, but yeah, basically," Quilava confirmed. "Just treat it like a Contest and you'll be fine."
"That actually does make me a bit less nervous," Luxio admitted. "I've heard about what the Pokémon League is like, and that sounds very intimidating – completely different from, and much harder than, a gym battle."
"Well, not all Pokémon Leagues are like that," Pikachu said, inserting himself into the conversation. "The Orange League is just four challenges and then a battle against the leader of the Orange Crew."
Quilava nodded along with that. "So, yes, all worthwhile Pokémon Leagues are different from Gym Battles-"
"Hey!" Pikachu protested.
"You were asking for it, be fair," Luxio chuckled. "So… right, I'll need to concentrate and do my best?"
"That's a good plan," Quilava told him, then shrugged. "But more than anything it's meant to be fun. You're doing well, so don't stress much."
Luxio's tail flicked from side to side. "I'll see what I can do."
"That's the spirit!"
"Huh, it feels weird to be looking at Lake Valor now," Ash said. "With it, you know, not exploding."
"I know what you mean..." Brock agreed. "I imagine most people don't have to worry about that."
"If I remember correctly, most people didn't even see it explode this time," Lucario noted. "Or do I mean last time?"
"It's not the only time something exploded in that lake," Pikachu frowned. "If I'm remembering right, anyway… if I've got this correct, last time Hunter J vanished into there."
"Hunter J," Lucario repeated, paw clenching slightly. "She is still in prison, right?"
Yes, Dexter told him bluntly. I have pretty much never not been checking. It seems she's not a very good prisoner, though her brother has taught most of the rest of the prison how to play Pokémon Battle Cards and has set up a tournament.
"Somehow I think I can guess what cards he mostly uses," Brock said.
Wrong, Dexter countered. According to the article he mostly uses Zoroark-GX.
"Suddenly I like him," Zorua commented. "Wait. Article?"
Yes, I got all this information from a human interest article online, Dexter explained. Did you think I was hacking into the prison cameras?
"...I thought you could hack into the prison systems," Zorua replied, a bit shiftily.
The conversation was briefly interrupted as Brock's Croagunk tried to stab Ash in the shoulder and got knocked twenty feet into the air by Kari's reflexive response.
"Sorry," the Doublade said, as Croagunk flipped over once and landed on his feet. "I forgot about that."
"That's sort of the point of doing it by surprise," Croagunk shrugged it off.
"Hey, Dawn?" Ash asked, turning to look back at her. "It's going to be a Doubles tournament, right?"
"It should be," Dawn answered, checking her Pokétch. A shimmering image of a green tick mark appeared, and she smiled. "Thanks. Yes, it is."
"Any idea who you're going to use for the opening Appeal?"
"I was thinking about that," Dawn replied, glancing back at Luxio and Quilava – currently deep in conversation. "The idea I had was to use Luxio for the opening Appeals, but I'm not quite sure who to have him team up with."
"Quilava?" Brock suggested.
"Seems sort of obvious, oddly," Dawn mused.
"What, really?" Luxio asked, loudly enough for them to hear. "The largest wooden building in the world?"
"And I have no idea what they're talking about," she added.
"The largest wooden building in the world," Lucario supplied helpfully. "You're welcome."
Dawn looked at him for several seconds.
"Thanks," she said. "I wouldn't have got that."
The next day, Ash, Brock and several of their Pokémon filed into their seats.
"Hey!" someone complained from behind them. "Can you duck down or something? I can't see very well."
"Oh, sorry," Latios said, and went completely invisible.
"I… uh, I guess that works," the person said, blinking. "Yeah."
That raises interesting questions about how a Latios or Latias actually sees things while they're invisible, Dexter observed calmly.
"Really?" Latios asked. "How would it do that? My eyes are still open, it's not peek-a-boo."
"Huh?" Pikachu said, looking up.
"Not you," Latios assured him. "Anyway, I don't have to close my eyes to go invisible."
That's not what I mean, Dexter tried to explain. If all the light is passing through you, how are you seeing anything?"
"It's not passing through me," Latios corrected. "My feathers are bending light around me. That's different."
It still means that you're not absorbing any light, Dexter insisted, somewhat less calmly. You see things by absorbing light. And you don't have any feathers on your claws or your eyes, come to think of it, so they should be little open spaces in your illusion… or dark spaces, if you're looking through your body and expecting to see light from there.
"I think at this point it's best to just say it's a Poke-Body," Lucario suggested.
That's a card game thing.
"Can you guys be quiet?" the person behind them asked. "Sorry, but they're about to start the Appeals!"
"Here goes," Dawn said, checking her outfit was just as it should be.
It was never easy to decide just how to dress for a Contest, not if you wanted any kind of theming focus, and for this particular one she'd eschewed a more conventional dress and adopted for something a little closer to a circus ringmaster's outfit.
It was still a dress, of course – but the style was important, as well.
The announcer called her name, and she walked out onto the stage (or, the Green stage, because there were three) and sent out her first Pokémon.
Luxio formed in a flash of light, sparks flickering off his fur, then lifted his head back and roared. The roar came at the same moment as she threw her second Pokéball, and a miniature shower of water came raining down as the Seals went off.
Dawn had used nothing but Splash Seals, however, and most of the water didn't hit the ground at all. Instead, it was sucked into Piplup's Whirlpool, which started so quickly that nobody in the crowd caught more than a glimpse of him.
The escaped droplets fell all over the stage, but Luxio largely ignored them. Instead he paced forwards a few steps, tilting his head ostentatiously as he examined the whirlpool coming down to land, then he batted it with his paw and used Spark.
All the electricity just flared into the air, none of it affecting the Whirlpool, and Piplup used the crackle-flash as a signal to move his Whirlpool a little to the right. Then Luxio batted again, this time with his other paw, and the flash-spark-crack accompanied Piplup moving to the left.
Crouching down with his tail waving, Luxio watched the Whirlpool for a long moment as more and more water fed into it – rounding it out, giving it a more spherical shape – then pounced, passing just an inch over the upper surface of the water ball and releasing another flashbang Spark as he did.
Tumbling over and ending up upside down, Luxio shook his head before flipping upright – giving an excellent impersonation of a feline trying to pretend he'd meant to do that all along, even though he actually had done it exactly that way more than a dozen times in rehearsals – and returned his attention to the ball.
He batted it again, giving it a spin, then turned and flicked it with his tail to send it up into the air. This time there was a double-flash when he did, and Piplup fired out an Ice Beam from the eye of his Whirlpool to construct a stool from thin air.
The prop grew so quickly that it launched Piplup into the air, exactly as if Luxio had batted it that way, and he rolled over onto his back before catching it as it landed. There was a continuous electrostatic crackle now, as the Electric-type used Magnet Rise to make sure he wasn't actually touching the Whirlpool, and he 'rolled' it around for a few seconds before Dawn gave a sharp whistle.
Pushing the Whirlpool back upwards into the air, Luxio flipped back onto his front and raised his nose. The very middle of the whirlpool touched down on the tip of his nose, and Luxio balanced it carefully as he walked over to the stool and reared up to put both paws on top of it.
His claws dug in to hold him in place, and then Piplup drew off all the water from the Whirlpool and sent it skywards with a jet of Ice Beam to follow it. The water froze and shattered all in the same instant, producing a plume of glittering dust, and Piplup spun slowly to a halt perched cleanly on Luxio's nose.
"Nice!" Drew called, applauding. "That's the sort of thing I like to see – very stylish!"
His Arcanine gave him an odd look. "Aaarca. Nine-arc?"
"...sorry, didn't get that," Drew admitted. "Anyone?"
His Absol picked up a slate in one paw, head tilting to scratch onto it with a carefully poised horn.
After about twenty to thirty sections of scratching the Dark-type was done, and Drew took the slate to read.
"Oh, I see," he said. "No, they can't hear us, I'm just impressed."
Arcanine snorted, then lay down and propped her head on her paws to keep watching the TV.
Drew went back to watching as well, and Absol started scratching something else on the slate. This time when he read it he frowned, then checked a TV magazine.
"It's on the other channel," he said. "We'll have to watch it on catch up."
"Hmm, that was a very impressive appeal by Miss… Jesselina, I think," Raoul Contesta said. "Don't you think so?"
"Re: mark," Mr. Sukizo answered, passing him a piece of notepaper.
Contesta looked at the percentage score, then nodded. "I agree, she and her team should definitely go through. We've seen her before elsewhere, but she really is… what's the word?"
"Able?" Mr. Sukizo provided.
"Yes, that fits perfectly," Contesta agreed. "It's not everyone who could put together a routine revolving around a Marowak playing tennis with a Victreebel."
"I'm still not entirely sure I understood what was going on myself," one of the Joys on the panel said. "But it did look nice."
She shuffled her notes. "All right, next to consider..."
"Okay, so who goes up next?" Piplup asked. "To attempt to provide a follow up to my magnificence."
"I'm not even going to try to respond to that," Quilava huffed.
"Why not?" Piplup demanded. "Don't you think it's important to respond to something you don't agree with?"
"Here we go..." Pachirisu groaned.
"Guys," Dawn asked, and thankfully got some quiet. "The bracket just went up. We're going up against Nando."
"Oh, that guy," Buneary nodded. "I remember him."
"Who's Nando?" Luxio queried. "It sounds like I should know."
"Not really, you're new," Ambipom supplied. "He's one of these people we just occasionally run into. You get used to it."
"Do you mind if I go?" Buneary asked.
"But you went last time," Pachirisu pointed out.
"If we get through to the end of this everybody is going to have gone," Buneary countered, counting off on her paws. "There's eight of us, assuming that Rotom is content to just watch."
There was a buzz of static with two quick clicks from Dawn's Pokétch.
"Watch in two senses of the word," Buneary added. "So that's four pairs."
"I'm not sure that's a legal hand," Ambipom said, looking up.
"What are we talking about?" Mamoswine rumbled. "I assumed you would tell me if it was my turn."
"Okay, how about Buneary and Togekiss?" Dawn suggested. "You two were both in the last Contest with Salvia, but you weren't working together."
"Good point, your tallness," Togekiss bowed.
"What's a tallness?" Pachirisu said, tilting her head.
"It's like a highness but not quite," Togekiss clarified.
Dawn sniggered. "All right, come on, we're on in about ten minutes and that's time to go over the plan. Hmm..."
"For some reason I feel like having some spicy food," Pikachu said, as Nando entered the stage.
"Why?" Brock asked.
"If I knew I wouldn't have said some reason," Pikachu shrugged.
Dawn took her place opposite him, then the referee told both Coordinators to send out their Pokémon.
Nando went first, throwing both Pokéballs high in the air, then began playing a melancholy air on his harp. His Altaria emerged first, piping a high counterpoint as the musical Seals on her Pokéball added a sting, then his Lopunny appeared as well in a flash of light before doing a graceful twirl that ended with a ready pose.
Togekiss emerged onto the field at about the same time, and flipped to point upwards before blowing a plume of Fairy Wind. Buneary's Pokéball went off inside the plume, seals releasing a flash of brilliant flame, and she flipped twice before landing neatly on her paws.
Nando's harp stilled for a moment, then he began playing again, and his Altaria blew out a cloud of Dragonbreath.
Togekiss countered with a Dazzling Gleam that formed an ethereal curtain around Buneary, shaping and prolonging the attack so that instead of a jet of light it was a thin band of rippling blue-green-pink aurora. Then Nando's Lopunny broke into a run, lashing out with a Low Kick, and Buneary jumped clear before countering with a Thunderpunch.
Nando's Lopunny hadn't just been making one attack, though. The twirling momentum of her Low Kick turned into a second kick, and then a third, each one a little faster and aimed higher to try and catch Buneary out – and the Normal-type used her longer legs to her advantage, as well, making sure she was able to keep Buneary at a distance and reduce the impact of her elementally-boosted punches.
At the same time, to the accompaniment of a glissando chord on Nando's harp, Altaria left off from firing Dragonbreath and spread both cloud-wings before surging forwards. They shimmered with a steely light as she sped up, and Togekiss did a graceful backflip to avoid being hit by Altaria's Steel Wing – not that that solved the problem, because Altaria did a twirl as she went past and dealt Togekiss a glancing blow anyway.
Togekiss got herself under control, then began charging up a Sky Attack. Golden flames covered her wings, and by the time Altaria spun around to attack again she had at least a little protection from the Steel-type attack.
Altaria didn't care, spinning herself around and striking out with her Steel Wing again, and this time Togekiss elected to block the attack instead of dodge it – using the impact to stop both Pokémon, letting her fire a Dazzling Gleam straight at Altaria from short range. The Dragon-type was ready for her, though, shifting to bring the same Steel Wing into a defensive position, and sending the rainbow aurora light into a diffuse corona all over the stadium.
"They record these, right?" Growlie asked. "Because some of this could be used as inspiration for CGI."
"I imagine they do," Ninetales agreed.
She shifted a little, adjusting her position on the seat, and her tails twined around his. "I have to admit, I know who I'm rooting for to win."
There was a slap-bang as Buneary and Lopunny hit one another with directly opposed elemental punches, and Buneary kicked out with her footpaws at the same time to absorb some of the recoil.
"You do?" Growlie asked. "Well, I suppose it must be Buneary and Togekiss, then."
"Am I so easy to predict?" Ninetales asked.
"Your team affiliation is a matter of public record," the Arcanine told her. "But I understand that won't be the case for much longer?"
"Probably not," Ninetales agreed, as Togekiss projected an avian shape of flame with Sky Attack and sent it down to pick Buneary up. The golden fire spread to give Buneary wings for a moment, and she sprang up towards Altaria – only for Nando to pluck the strings of his harp, at which point Altaria dropped to the ground and used Earthquake.
The impact made the ground jump slightly, but since none of the other Pokémon were on the ground at the time – Lopunny had done a smooth, twirling jump at the moment before contact – it didn't have any direct effect on the battle. It did get Altaria out of the way of Buneary, though, and Lopunny landed only for a moment before springing into the air and aiming to kick Buneary back towards the ground.
"Probably not?" Growlie repeated. "I'm afraid that unlike you I don't know all the future plans."
"Oh, well, this is mostly just what I've gathered," Ninetales reminded him. "I was with Suzie by now. But… well, I think what Brock wants to do once we're done with Sinnoh is take a bit of time off. With Philena, most likely."
Growlie nuzzled her. "Then we'll be able to make it work?"
"I do hope so," Ninetales agreed.
"Teamwork," Dawn said to herself. "That's the important thing here. Nando's team have good teamwork, so we need to have better..."
She pointed. "Buneary – get some Ice Punches ready, keep them going!"
Buneary first jabbed a quick blow down at her feet, freezing the ground around her, then punched forwards towards Lopunny's incoming footpaw. The pale blue light around her grew to a giant punch, which Lopunny gracefully dodged, but the wind from her kick and the recoil from Buneary's attack combined to send the Normal-type skating backwards.
The blue light around Buneary's paws kept glowing and growing, and after a moment's pause she manifested both giant punches again – this time constantly, as if she were wearing a pair of big bunny boxing gloves.
"Jump and refocus on Altaria!" Dawn added, and Buneary kicked off hard enough to crack the ice she was still sliding over. That just about got her clear of a sweeping Low Kick, and Nando's harp changed tunes to a more active beat.
Altaria shot a beam of fire down towards Buneary, aiming to engulf her entirely, and Lopunny twirled into a Rapid Spin which shed any part of the attack that got past Buneary. Togekiss was just as fast, though, sweeping in and firing an Aura Sphere that exploded next to her teammate.
The detonation got Buneary out of the Flamethrower attack before she'd taken too much damage, and just as importantly knocked her high into the air. Togekiss rose back into the air as well, so that she was on the other side of Altaria from where Buneary was, and after just a moment to build up she unleashed a powerful Dazzling Gleam.
Altaria hadn't needed Nando's harp to tell what to do in that situation, and she rose into the air – aiming to get out of the way of Togekiss' beam of light without getting too close to the giant-sized Ice Punch that Buneary was about to throw her way…
...except that Buneary's fists weren't clenched.
Just as Dawn had hoped, her Pokémon had realized what she was going for, and Buneary's paws were open to catch. The corona of shimmering Ice-type energy around them was ready to catch as well, and Togekiss' Dazzling Gleam went straight into those cupped paws as a caged blaze of pink-and-blue starlight.
The sheer force of the attack pushed Buneary back several inches, throwing off her trajectory, and she held onto it for a moment longer before throwing it right back out again – catching Altaria almost completely by surprise.
Urgent notes on the harp alerted Nando's Dragon-type to the incoming attack, and she twirled to cross her Steel Wings together as a defensive screen – but that just meant she couldn't protect herself against Togekiss, who threw together a Twister that pushed Altaria directly towards Buneary.
The next few seconds were a fast-paced blur, with Buneary lashing out with rapid fire Ice Punches and Nando's Lopunny jumping up to help her teammate, and Nando's harp playing accelerated until it sounded more like he was trying a guitar solo. Then the Pokémon separated again, with Lopunny landing directly below Altaria and Buneary riding on Togekiss' back, and Dawn glanced at the scoreboard.
It looked like she was just ahead, but she barely noticed that before a bell rang.
"And that's time!" Nurse Joy announced. "Some very impressive performances, and to be honest it's a shame it couldn't have gone on longer!"
"Is there a reason it can't?" Nando asked. "I don't mind letting this result stand, of course, but I'd like to see where it's going to end."
"Um – what do you think?" Joy said, looking over at her fellow judges.
"It seems like a good plan to me," Contesta agreed. "If neither Coordinator and none of the Pokémon disagree, that is..?"
Togekiss halted in place, and Buneary raised a paw still coated in seething Ice-typed energy. She twisted her paw slightly, and a thumbs-up appeared to signal her approval.
"That's for both of us," she added.
"I'm guessing you two want a break now?" Dawn asked.
"That'd be nice," Togekiss replied, untensing slightly. "That was a great battle, but it was really frantic – and longer than normal..."
"It's nice to have intense stuff sometimes," Buneary agreed. "You know, when the fate of the world doesn't depend on getting it exactly right. Sort of medium-stakes."
"I don't think I've ever thought of it that way before," Dawn admitted. "But yeah, the Grand Festival isn't really high stakes for us any more."
She glanced down at her belt. "Okay, so that's you two having a break… do you want to go back into your Pokéballs?"
"I'd rather watch the rest of the Grand Festival," Buneary requested. "And probably have a nice drink."
Dawn's wrist buzzed, and she glanced at it before smiling. "Apparently there should be some juice you like in the fridge."
"Thanks," the Normal-type said.
For her part, Togekiss just wordlessly dissolved into light and drained into her Pokéball.
"That answers that," Dawn observed. "Okay, so next up is… Ursula."
She sighed. "I suppose it had to happen sooner or later. Anyone want to give it a go?"
"Well-" Quilava began.
Then there was a flash, and two nearly-identical Pokémon appeared in front of Dawn.
They were both Mesprit, but the one on the left was the conventional pink-and-blue while the one on the right had an orange body and red highlights over most of its head.
We'd like to take part, the Shiny Mesprit requested. Exciting idea. Forming a display.
Working together is fun, the non-Shiny one added. We did rehearsals. Spent half an hour on it.
Dawn blinked, then shook her head. "Why did I not realize something like this would happen?"
Shiny Mesprit flipped over to float upside down. Good question. Could be emotions.
That's not a bad thing, non-Shiny Mesprit pointed out. We're doing this because of emotions.
And coffee, the Shiny one added. Don't forget the coffee.
I can't forget the coffee, the other one said. Not after three cups.
"You know," Quilava began, examining the twin Legendaries, "I can't help but see this as the before scene."
"The before scene?" Mamoswine rumbled inquisitively.
"The before scene. We see this bit, then there's a jump cut, and when we cut back everything is on fire."
Fire bad, Shiny Mesprit declared. There. That's a rational explanation.
"Speak for yourself," Quilava retorted.
Dawn frowned, thinking hard.
On the one hand, it was really tempting to have her Contest battle with Ursula with a pair of Legendary Pokémon. But…
...on the other hand, it really wasn't the bigger-person thing to do. Sure, Ash used Legendary Pokémon in battles a lot, but a big part of what made that an okay thing to do was that Ash was definitely the trainer of those Legendary Pokémon. And he made sure he didn't just squash anyone flat or anything.
Ursula was kind of awful, as a person, but if Dawn took the offer to have both Mesprit join forces and beat her it wouldn't be in the spirit of a Grand Festival.
"I'm honoured," she said, eventually. "But I think maybe… not now? Not at the Sinnoh Grand Festival."
Unfortunate, one of the Mesprit sighed. We cleared our schedule.
We do not have a schedule, the Shiny one said, turning to look at their counterpart and tilting their head.
I did not say it was difficult, the first Mesprit countered.
Excellent! The second one announced. We have successfully provoked emotion!
Is that our job? Non Shiny Mesprit asked. It seems a bit easy for a Legendary.
I don't see why that should be a problem, Shiny Mesprit countered. Ho-Oh's legendary job is bringing an end to storms, and that happens anyway if you wait a bit.
"I really am honoured," Dawn reiterated, holding up a hand to try and slow down all the things that kept making her giggle. "I'd love to train the two of you and work out some proper routines. But… it's kind of short notice."
She makes a good point, both Mesprit said at the same time. Jinx.
"You could watch," Piplup suggested. "But if Quilava's in this next one I'm not going to be. He still hasn't corrected his opinion on computer mice."
"I told you, if they have that many buttons you're trying to condense the whole keyboard down onto-" Quilava began hotly.
"What about you and Pachirisu, Quilava?" Dawn interrupted, putting some force into her voice.
"...that sounds good," the Fire-type agreed.
Impressed, Mesprit observed.
Why do you think I chose her? Shiny Mesprit replied.
Same reason I did, probably, Mesprit countered.
"You're new," Lucario said, looking at the Pokémon next to him.
Spectating is the next best thing to participating, one of the Mesprit said. What happens now?
"If I had to guess, I'd say that they send their Pokémon out," Brock told them. "By the way, be careful with your tails. We like our emotions."
Sorry, both Legendaries said, pulling their tails back in and coiling them up.
There was a whoosh of flame as Quilava emerged from his Pokéball, followed a moment later by a clap-bang of sparks as Pachirisu did the same. Then Ursula sent out her Gabite, who juggled the other Pokéball Ursula used several times before finally letting it burst out into a Flareon.
"This should be interesting," Ash said, leaning forwards slightly. "I guess it'll show how good Ursula is at forward planning."
Pardon? Shiny Mesprit asked.
"No, I get what you mean," Buneary said. "It's because she evolved that Eevee into Flareon in the opening Appeal, right? So Flareon can't have much experience as Flareon."
"That's it, yeah," Ash agreed, as Quilava got moving with Pachirisu on his back – electricity trailing behind her as they picked up speed. "And you can get around that – she could have had Eevee pretending to be a Flareon to practice tactics and stuff. But did she?"
"Being fair, it's also going to test how good Dawn is at having a Fire type and an Electric type beat a Ground/Dragon type," Pikachu pointed out.
"Let's do this," Quilava said. "Ready?"
"Depends how you define ready," Pachirisu replied, and began to use Magnet Rise.
Rather than just floating off to the side without any anchoring at all, however, the Electric-type stayed tethered to Quilava with a little spark of electrostatic energy. Quilava kept running, and so Pachirisu was dragged along with him – using little extra bursts of electricity to adjust her position and stay in formation.
"Fireballs!" Ursula called out.
"Get ready to dodge whatever this is," Pachirisu told her teammate quietly.
Quilava nodded, skidding for a moment to brake and change direction, and Pachirisu zipped up to hover alongside while they both went through the turn.
As they watched, Ursula's Flareon inhaled – then spat a stream of Ember fireballs, which curved into the air before coming down towards them like a bombardment.
Quilava started running again, weaving through the attacks, then pointed at one. "There!"
Pachirisu shot out a Thundershock, hitting the fireball and bursting it with a snap-bang of flame and sparks.
"Sand!" Ursula ordered, sweeping her arm across. Her Gabite copied her, using Sand Tomb a moment later, and Quilava jumped over the first wave of sand.
"Boost me!" he called, and Pachirisu started using the rings of current that let her give herself a sudden burst of speed.
Boosting down-right-up, she used her tail to give Quilava a springboard to jump off, then as soon as Quilava had finished jumping she boosted left-up to return to her previous position hovering off Quilava's shoulder – just in time for Quilava to tell her to hit another incoming fireball, which exploded as well.
"Boost!" Quilava called, and Pachirisu gave him another springboard platform. She did her best to get the down-right-up boost exactly the same, changed only by where they were in the arena, which was surprisingly a lot trickier than just doing something close to the same twice.
Ursula told her Pokémon to do something else, something involving 'bouncing' - neither Pachirisu nor Quilava caught all the details, as a result of one of the louder flame bursts – and Quilava dropped back to the ground as the waves of Sand Tombs stopped. Pachirisu hovered down to take up station over his shoulder, tail curling for a moment into a question mark, and the Fire-type started running again – this time towards Flareon.
Flareon shot out a burst of Ember, but this one was much less well aimed. A few of them burst on the floor, a few more went shooting past Dawn's Pokémon, but none of them actually hit.
"Go!" Quilava called, braking hard and rising to his hind legs, and punched out with a paw in the direction of Flareon. His punch went nowhere close, but three rings of electricity briefly formed around Pachirisu before she went shooting forwards in a Spark attack.
Hitting Flareon and darting back to Quilava's side, Pachirisu stopped motionless before surging forwards again as Quilava threw a second punch. Then her teammate followed that second punch with an uppercut, and Pachirisu dropped briefly to the ground before engulfing herself in an Electro Ball and shooting upwards fast enough to knock Flareon bodily into the air.
"Look out!" Dawn called urgently, and Pachirisu looked around as she electrokinesis'd her way back to Quilava's side. At first it wasn't clear what her trainer was talking about, but then a salvo of four fireballs hit first Quilava and then Pachirisu herself – from the other side of the field to Flareon.
"Ow," Quilava said, shaking his head and rolling upright. "What…?"
"Gabite was bouncing the Embers," Pachirisu informed him, then spotted Flareon running in their direction with a Flare Blitz roaring around her fur. She spread both paws and let electricity fizz around them, preparing to use Thunder, then Quilava slapped his paw into the sand-strewn arena and Pachirisu turned the Thunder into a Counter Shield.
It only lasted for a moment – Pachirisu deliberately stopped it before she had to – but it was timed just right, and it repulsed Flareon with a flash of clashing fire and lightning.
"I'm not a hundred percent sure what they're going for, but I think I like it," Ninetales said.
"Hmm..." Growlie rumbled. "Is it me or is Quilava the one in charge?"
"It looks like it," Ninetales agreed, shifting slightly and twining her tails around – forming them into braids for a moment before reversing it.
She watched for a moment longer as Quilava punched out at Gabite from a distance, the same one-two-three combo he'd done towards Flareon, and Pachirisu boosted forwards to make completely ineffectual attacks. "Yes, you're right – she's doing what she's doing based on Quilava's movements. Interesting."
Ursula clapped her hands together. "Let's get serious – glitterstone!"
"That's probably not good news for someone," Growlie said.
Ursula's Flareon came pelting around the side of the arena, joining Gabite as the Dragon finished clapping her arms together, and then Gabite did a balletic twirl and used Sandstorm.
Both Pokémon vanished into the plume of sand and whirling air, and Dawn frowned.
"Watch out for if that sand comes your way," she warned. "And… get the ultimate ready."
Quilava adjusted his footing, moving his paws so they were on some of the gritty sand strewn across the floor for better traction, and Pachirisu hovered in place as they waited to see what Ursula would do.
Then a ball of darkness lit with a deep purple glow came arcing out of the Sandstorm.
"Shadow Ball!" Dawn warned, remembering that Ursula's Flareon knew that move, then blinked. "No, wait-"
Quilava punched out, and Pachirisu duly used a Thunderbolt to burst the ball. But it wasn't a Shadow Ball at all, and it detonated into smaller chunks of greenish-black rock that rained down all around her Pokémon. One even hit Quilava, who yelped in surprise before shaking his head.
More of the balls started coming down – balls of thick, viscous glass – and Quilava broke into a run with Pachirisu following along behind.
"Boost me!" he called, jumping, and Pachirisu did just as they'd trained – down-right-up, left-up, then down-right-up again as Quilava called for a second boost. And a third.
He shot a Flamethrower attack at the sandstorm, and while that didn't get through to the Pokémon inside – and wouldn't have affected them much if it had – it sent a glittering trail flying off as he gradually eroded the Sandstorm and made it work for him as much as for Ursula.
"You're missing!" Ursula told her Pokémon. "They've moved into the air – get them there!"
The glass balls went higher, but in the air Quilava and Pachirisu were a much harder target than on the ground. After a long moment where she just stared at the points board, Ursula crossed her arms and brought them out again.
"Stop with the sand!" she called. "Go get them!"
The sandstorm faded away, revealing both Flareon and Gabite, and Dawn pointed.
"What?" Ursula asked.
Quilava shouted something wordless, flames flaring on his back as he sent a cloud of Swift flying in all directions around him, and Pachirisu used Discharge.
A dozen rings of electricity formed around her all at once, and three around Quilava as static charge flowed around him as well. She fired them both directly at Ursula's Flareon, and Quilava landed practically on top of Flareon before slamming a Fire Blast into the ground at their feet.
The Fire-types went flying, but Pachirisu's Discharge was still going and she halted Quilava's momentum before bringing him right back in again even as she hit Flareon herself with a Wild Charge.
The recoil from that bounced her backwards, and she launched Quilava in to attack instead. He used his own Wild Charge, though the momentum all came from what Pachirisu had done, and between them the two Pokémon bounced Flareon back and forth for a dozen attacks in four seconds flat.
Then all the Swift stars came curling back in to hit Flareon at once.
"I could have done better," Piplup sniffed, a few minutes later.
"Really?" Quilava asked. "How?"
"I think we did quite well," Pachirisu protested.
"Oh, you did well," Piplup clarified. "But I could have done better than Quilava – I'd have been able to deal with the Gabite for you."
"That's because you're a Water type who know Ice type moves," Quilava said, pointing out what he was fairly sure was the obvious flaw in that argument.
Piplup, naturally, didn't consider this a flaw at all but the core of his argument. "Exactly."
"You guys," Dawn laughed. "In all seriousness-"
"Citation needed," Buneary interrupted.
"In all seriousness," Dawn reiterated, trying to keep a straight face, "that was a really good performance, both of you."
She gave Pachirisu a quick scratch, then did the same for Quilava.
"So that means that it's Mamoswine and Ambipom next, right?" Buneary checked. "I think they're the last two left."
"Yeah, though we need to wait for the other quarter finals to be done," Dawn confirmed.
She glanced at her watch. "Unless you're interested in taking part?"
There was a bzzt, and she listened for a moment then nodded. "No, don't worry, that's fine."
Up in the crowd, James applauded as something exploded on stage.
He wasn't a hundred percent clear exactly how there'd been the explosion – he didn't think Chimecho knew a move that could create an explosion like that, and he was fairly sure Carnivine didn't know one either – but it had been one which fit thematically into the move combination that Jessie was going for and that meant applauding was the right thing to do.
Next to him, Meowth made an ehhhh noise.
"Something wrong?" James asked.
"I'm just thinkin' about how they organize the brackets for these things," Meowth replied, holding up a piece of paper.
"That's blank," James pointed out.
"Oh, right," Meowth realized, tilting the crystal in his other paw. Wyvern projected the bracket onto the blank paper, and Meowth tapped the trainers in the route Dawn would take if she rose to the top.
"Ever noticed how often she runs into Coordinators an' not for the first time?" he asked. "I kinda wonder if they set it up like dat."
"Well… who's 'they', again?" James checked.
"Like I know?" Meowth shrugged, and the bracket briefly moved off the paper until Wyvern's projector compensated. "Could be da Illuminatise for all I know."
"Does that mean we should tell Jesselina to get ready to face Dawn?" James mused. "Or maybe she'd take that as trying to tell her how to do her job?"
"I ain't gonna take the risk if you ain't," Meowth vowed.
"Hey, before we start?" Zoey said. "I just want to tell you – thanks. You're a good friend."
Dawn smiled. "And you, Zoey."
"Do you think it sort of spoils the energy if we're friends and we're not having a grudge match?" Zoey added.
The only reply Dawn made was a shrug – at least, until she threw her Pokéballs.
Mamoswine appeared first in a brilliant flash, rearing up on his hind legs, and Ambipom's Pokéball landed on the tip of one of his tusks. It balanced there for a moment, poised in place, then rolled down until it burst open in a cloud of confetti and Ambipom swung three times around Mamoswine's right tusk before coming to rest.
For Zoey's part, her Pokémon emerged at the same time and with musical chords accompanying them both – one high and airy, the other low and martial. The latter was for her Gallade, a Pokémon that Dawn recognized, but the lighter tune was for a new one – a Sylveon, who landed with dainty paws in a flicker of Misty Terrain.
Gallade bowed to his teammate, and Sylveon's furry tendrils untied an extra bow from the base of its right ear. Gallade waited a moment while the bow was tied around the top of his horn, then rose and took a stance ready for battle.
The timer started, but for a few seconds none of the Pokémon moved. Then Zoey pointed forwards, and Gallade broke into a run for three steps that ended with his sword lashing out at Mamoswine in a corona of flame.
It looked almost like a lance-thrust, but Ambipom swung down from her position on Mamoswine's tusks and deflected the strike with an Aqua Tail. Then she kept moving, spinning vertically around and using spikes of ice that grew from Mamoswine's coat as handholds, while the Ice-type started moving with a groundshaking rumble.
Gallade jumped back with a flicker of psychic energy, taking up a position to guard his teammate, but instead of charging at Gallade Mamoswine instead began to run in a circle around the arena. Ice glittered under his feet, but he kept building up speed regardless, and before long there was a complete ice ring around the whole of the Contest Hall's battle area.
"Ready, my knight!" Sylveon called, Mystical Fire rising up around him and lifting him off the floor, and Gallade tensed. Then he lunged again, striking out with his Fire Punch as Sylveon blew a cloud of fireballs towards Mamoswine and Ambipom.
Mamoswine's first move to counter that was to dig in his right foreleg for a moment, swinging him bodily around a quarter-turn to face towards the oncoming attacks without stopping or slowing. Ambipom jumped from his side, swinging around his tusk, and her hands and tails blurred into motion to deflect the stream of Fire attacks coming in. Every one of the fireballs went flying up into the air, and Mamoswine blocked the lance-strike with his left tusk as Ambipom launched herself skywards.
Twirling around at speed, Ambipom managed to hit every single one of the fireballs a second time and send them all hurtling back towards Sylveon. The Fairy-type launched out a stream of Magical Leaves from his tendrils, destroying many of the incoming fireballs, then Gallade skidded back into position and raised his left arm to block the rest of the attacks with a shield-shaped Protect.
"What?" Ivysaur asked, watching as Mamoswine broke into a run again – a run which kept him moving in a circle, skidding sideways on the ice as he faced continually towards the middle of the arena.
"Mamoswine drift!" Squirtle announced brightly.
Ivysaur did a double-take, looking at his friend sitting in the seat next to him. "You were in Kanto!"
"Sometimes things just summon me."
Mamoswine used Ice Shard, then Blizzard, pelting both of Zoey's Pokémon with Ice-typed attacks. Some of the Shards went high, as well, flying right across the Contest hall to the other side of the fighting floor, and Ambipom jumped in the air to send them flying towards their opponents.
Zoey's Gallade kept going, deflecting some attacks and directly blocking others by slicing them in half or spearing them to break them up, and made sure he was always in position so attacks couldn't get past him to reach Sylveon. When a Blizzard came, he crouched down with his left arm bent to form a Protect shield, but then he rose right back up again to keep swiping and slashing with his sword.
"Olympic surprise!" Dawn instructed, and Mamoswine began to generate Rock-type attacks as well.
Instead of firing them at Zoey's Pokémon, however, the heavy rocks he produced thumped to the floor, and Ambipom jumped clear of her teammate to start skating around the ring in the opposite direction.
Each time she reached one, she hit it as hard as she could with both tails, and the stone went skidding across the ice before curling in towards Gallade.
"Look out behind you!" Zoey instructed, and Gallade whirled to react. The Ice attacks were still coming in, so he couldn't just ignore those, and the result was that both he and Sylveon had to start dodging around or be tripped up by the stones that slid towards them – then turned, sliding around to come in again.
Interesting, Mesprit declared. How is that being done? Must find out. Clever trick.
"I think that's Stealth Rock," Ash said, after thinking for a few seconds. "It's certainly stealthy."
"And I can personally verify that it's a rock," Brock agreed.
"Shouldn't you be personally verifying that it's stealthy?" Crobat asked.
"Do these moments just happen around me by now?" Brock asked of the air.
"Dance on the rocks!" Zoey called. "And use your blessing!"
Sylveon nodded, ribbons rippling, and jumped onto the nearest curling-stone as it slid towards him. He sang a high, pure note, and Mystical Fire outlined him for a moment before dissipating into a hundred streamers that flowed towards Gallade.
Sylveon kept most of his attention on the Psychic-type, and as he did Gallade's attacks began to become more intricate. An incoming Ice Shard slashed apart by his sword resulted in a kind of spreading-wing shaped flash of flame that hung in the air for a moment, a Stealth Rock deflected by a shield strike brought forth a brief image of wings curled together before they dissolved, and when Gallade used his right arm as a lance instead there was a momentary flicker of a beak.
While all this was going on, Sylveon kept jumping from rock to rock and also staying where Gallade could protect him. Misty Terrain started to form with every jump, spreading an ethereal touch throughout the area, and by the time Ambipom had completed two circuits of the ice path and jumped back up to join Mamoswine there was a cloud of sparkling pink smoke up to Gallade's knees that swooped and eddied with every move he made.
"Okay, let's do this!" Ambipom said. "Ready?"
She began creating Shadow Balls, juggling them with her tails, and slid down so she was balanced on the tip of one of Mamoswine's tusks.
"Isn't that painful?" he asked.
"Not so you'd notice," Ambipom replied. "Now!"
Mamoswine used Icy Wind, coating the Shadow Ball attacks in a thin layer of ice. Then another, and then another, until they were shimmering frosted-ice balls with a faint purple tint right in the middle.
About halfway through the process Gallade lunged forwards in a lance strike, but Mamoswine was busy so he deflected the attack with his tusks, used Earthquake, and kept going.
Then Ambipom hefted the newly-made ice balls before throwing them four at a time. They were solid enough to withstand some hard impacts, and she hit some of them fast enough to give neither of Zoey's Pokémon much time to dodge – though Gallade used his shield move, deflecting attacks into the air and letting Sylveon melt them with flickers of Mystical Fire.
Just when Ambipom had run out of the ice balls, however, she clapped both tails together.
All of the balls began to move at once as she took control of the Shadow Balls they'd been built around, formed a globe, then slammed in all at once. For several seconds there was a chaotic mess of ice fragments and snow-dust everywhere, and underneath it all a rippling grey-purple eruption of Ghost-typed energy.
When the smoke and mist cleared, Gallade was slumped on the ground.
He was still conscious, but he was supporting himself with the tip of his psychic lance.
Sylveon's ribbon wrapped around his wrist, and after a long moment Gallade rose to his feet. The lance flickered out, and he moved his right arm back before conjuring a sword instead.
Mystical Fire outlined the shape of the sword, and then Gallade abruptly broke into a charge. More of Sylveon's Mystery Fire surrounded him, spreading like a the wings of a stooping Pidgeot, and for the last fraction of a second before impact the flaming outline was complete and solid.
Gallade's sword hit Mamoswine's tusks, and the explosion sent curlicles of flame everywhere.
Then the whistle blew.
"Oh!" Raoul Contesta said, looking up at the board. "My word."
"Remarkable!" Mr. Sukizo agreed.
"It's a draw," Joy said, for all of them, then said it again into the microphone. "Exactly equal scores at the end of the time."
"I can buy that," Zoey admitted.
"So what happens now?" Dawn asked. "I hope it's not scissors-paper-stone to decide who goes in the finals."
Contesta chuckled. "No, don't worry… someone complained."
"I don't actually remember what we decided," Joy admitted.
"It's fairly simple," Contesta told her – and, by extension, Zoey and Dawn. "It's extra time until the draw gets broken. Ready?"
One by one, all four Pokémon nodded.
"I'm ready," Dawn agreed, and Zoey gave a thumbs up.
"And… three, two, one, begin!"
Zoey's Sylveon threw out a wave of fire-tipped Magical Leaf attacks, which curved around towards the now-stationary Mamoswine like a multicoloured fireworks display.
"Powder Snow!" Dawn called, and Mamoswine's form vanished in a puff of snow so fine it looked more like flour than anything. His defensive cloud soaked up the Magical Leaf attacks, robbing them of heat and momentum, and Ambipom jumped out of it in a swirl of snow to launch herself after Sylveon.
Gallade teleported in front of her, blade glowing, and Ambipom's Fire Punches fenced with Gallade's Psycho Cut. Then Sylveon used Moonblast, and Gallade teleported out of the way just in time, and Ambipom got caught in an explosion that launched her back to thump into Mamoswine's fur.
"And there we go!" Contesta said. "The scores are no longer equal, so Zoey goes through!"
"I guess we should have expected the tie break to be short," Ambipom said, waving away a cloud of smoke and coughing. "There's ad breaks to keep to the schedule of."
She examined her tail. "Should have been using Iron Tail."
"Why weren't you?" Mamoswine asked.
"Thought it might not work against a Fighting attack from Gallade, but eh."
"I suddenly feel like things went off script," James said, as they went backstage. "Doesn't the heroine usually triumph through to the finals before losing?"
"I'm not entirely sure you were paying attention the first time through," Arbok told him.
"Pardon?" James asked.
"I said I'm not entirely sure- wait, you can't understand me, right," Arbok realized.
Actually he can now, Wyvern supplied. Sorry, I was distracted, didn't realize I'd be needed for subtitling.
"I'm not entirely sure you were paying attention the first time," Arbok repeated.
"But I don't understand Pokémon," James complained. "I couldn't have paid attention. Understanding Pokémon is Meowth's thing."
"Dat's because I am a Pokémon," Meowth grumbled. "Anyway-"
"Of course things are going on script!" Jessie interrupted. "I'm the heroine, and I've triumphed through to the finals before – no, wait, the heroine wins!"
"And now I know neither of you were paying attention the first time around," Arbok said.
"Of course they were!" Wobbuffet replied brightly, emerging from his Pokéball in a flash and a crack of thunder, and Arbok jumped – which was quite a sight on a snake.
"Please get off," James gasped. "You're Constricting my ribs..."
"We know they were paying attention!" Wobbuffet went on,wobbling back and forth as he saluted. "That's how we know the heroes win! But why? That's just how it is."
"First, coming out of your Pokéball like that when you have seals on it is very impolite," Arbok said, relaxing and dropping to the ground so James could breathe. "And secondly, that wasn't a pun."
"Yes it was," Wobbuffet replied.
"You realize I heard it?" Arbok checked. "No pun."
Arbok sighed. "The only reason I'm not smacking you for that one is that I know you're waiting for me to do it."
"The ad break is gonna be over in a minute or so," Meowth reported. "So we've gotta get down there."
He held out his paw, and Wyvern's projector landed in it.
"Right!" Jessie agreed. "And I hope you're all going to be watching!"
"How are we going to be watching?" James asked. "You're the one who got us to come backstage rather than just having Meowth bring Wyvern to you."
"Just quit while you're behind," Arbok advised.
"Here we go again," the Poison-type grumbled. "I should probably be writing this down. It'd make a good operetta if I could get someone to compose the music."
"Do you mind if I ask you four questions?" Lucario asked.
Zoey looked up, surprised. "Uh… sure? Why four?"
"That was one of them," Lucario replied. "The second is if I can sit there."
"Go ahead," Zoey agreed. "You thought this through ahead of time, I'm guessing..."
"I did, a bit," Lucario confirmed. "I wanted to know... what it's like to be sitting here cheering yourself on?"
Zoey sniggered. "You're assuming I'm cheering Zoey on," she said. "I've actually been cheering on Dawn, and whoever my sister's facing."
"Aren't you-" Lucario began, then stopped. "If I say it like that it'll use up my last question. I clearly didn't think this through as well as I should have."
He put a paw on the base of his muzzle. "Clearly these things are much easier to plan when you think you know the answer."
"I wouldn't be surprised," Zoey agreed. "Anyway, I kind of think of it like we're long lost sisters. That means getting on her nerves."
"Fair enough," Lucario nodded. "And what about why it is that she has a Sylveon and you don't?"
"He's the same Eevee," Zoey said. "It's just that… well, I don't know how we would have decided if being a Sylveon was an option. Maybe we would have gone with Sylveon, maybe not."
She shrugged. "Anyway, I think this time I'm going to be supporting Jesselina. I wonder who she's going to use?"
"I wonder which Zoey you are," Lucario said. "And, by the way, I'd like to point out that that wasn't a question."
"Of course," Zoey agreed, trying not to smile. "So I won't answer it, and instead I'll just mention my brooch."
Lucario had a look.
"That's very convenient, Mizori," he said. "Where did you get those?"
A moment later, he shook his head. "And I was doing so well..."
"I was impressed," Zoey Mizori assured him.
"That's good to know," Lucario said. "You're very calm with speaking to a Lucario, by the way."
"It is amazing how much you can end up accepting sometimes," Zoey told him.
Then the announcer told them all that Jesselina and Zoey were about to begin, and they watched as the Pokémon entered the field.
Zoey Nozumi sent out her Pokémon first, with Glameow arriving with a flare of Splash Seals. The feline Normal-type did a twist as she went down, flinging the water away, and she landed in a little dry patch in the middle of a puddle.
She looked into the puddle, then dipped her tail in it, and as she pulled her tail out Mismagius emerged from the ground as if she'd been fished up.
"Interesting," Lucario said.
Then Jesselina pulled a pin out of her hair and flicked it. It rose into the air, turned over once, and as it struck the arena floor with a faint clatter Meowth was just suddenly there. His paws were held frozen for a moment, then he swept his right paw over his left wrist, and flashes of pink and blue panels formed before coalescing into a kind of fractured-dragon made out of digitally realized planes.
"Isn't that… I think her name is Wyvern?" Zoey Mizori asked.
After all four Pokémon were out, there was a long pause as they all waited for the Contest battle to begin.
"Begin!" the announcer called, suddenly, and Meowth vanished in a blur of movement.
He left Wyvern behind, who spread her wings, and globes of light glowed for a moment before flashing out as beams towards both Glameow and Mismagius. They came in a sequence, with two blue Ice Beams in the middle followed by two green Signal Beams a step further out, followed in turn by two yellow Charge Beams, but they were so close together that all six were being fired at the same time.
Mismagius gestured with one hand, raising a cloud of mist that engulfed both her and her teammate, and the beams all flashed into the mist without doing anything.
Once the attacks were over, Mismagius and Glameow reappeared as the mist dissolved. Then the Ghost-type made a pass, gesturing to Glameow, and the feline Pokémon was surrounded by a kind of sinister glow.
"What?" Jessie asked, a little confused. "Fine – laser display!"
Wyvern's form shattered again, going from a fractured-dragon with wings-spread to the same dragon with wings raised, ready to take off, and pushed down once as she smoothly slid into motion.
More balls of light formed on her wings, but instead of all shooting straight at her opponents Wyvern began firing tiny pulses of beams in all directions. Light Screens started manifesting, tuned to reflect the attacks instead of absorbing them, and though the first impression was just that Wyvern was shooting indiscriminately people noticed that every second or two there would be a sudden moment of concentration where beams hit a single point from every direction at once. One hit on the ground not far from Zoey's Pokémon, the second hit in the middle of the Contest Hall in mid-air, and the third abruptly focused in on both of Zoey's Pokémon.
Zoey's Glameow quickly batted at the incoming beams, her paw-swipes enhanced by the sinister glow Mismagius had put on her, and in total defiance of even the loose definition of physics everyone was used to her swipes actually shattered the beams they touched. Jagged-edged bits of Ice Beam or Tri Attack or Psybeam fell to the ground like shrapnel, and Mismagius took her hat off before sweeping a drift of them into the accessory.
Wyvern kept moving, tuning and retuning her display so that sometimes shapes formed in the air as well, then she stopped firing. Her beams kept bouncing around for another two or three seconds, then they all hit the ground at once with a flash and a bang and for a moment there were no beams in the air.
In that moment, Meowth appeared from thin air in a swirl of leaves. Half-a-dozen Pay Day coins glittered between his fingers, and he charged them all up with the fizzing, crackling energy of a Shock Wave before throwing them in two sets of three at Glameow.
She darted to the side, lashing out with her enhanced Shadow Claw, and most of the electro-knives went scattering off in all directions. One scored a hit, discharging with a flash, and Glameow flipped over once before landing on her feet.
Meowth flicked from one place to another, vanishing and appearing in more swirls of leaves, and threw another six-pack of Shock Wave knives. Glameow was ready for this one, though, and spiked her own Shock Wave attack to neutralize the attack before it reached her.
Her opponent bowed, then vanished, and all the swirling leaves he'd appeared and disappeared with suddenly darted into movement – revealing that they were actually Magical Leaf attacks, which went arcing in towards Glameow in a rush.
Glameow had been training for some time with a Pokémon who knew Magical Leaf herself, though, and she clapped her paws together with the bang of a Fake Out to disrupt the attack before Zoey even had to tell her to do it.
Then Wyvern began her barrage of lasers again.
"So… if there are attacks everywhere in the arena while that laser display is going on," Brock said, slowly. "Where exactly is Meowth?"
"Hold on, I'll check," Ash said, closing his eyes, then opened one again and held his hand over the other. "...huh."
"Huh?" Brock repeated.
"I think he must be using Faint Attack," Ash explained. "It's just that there's always somewhere where the attacks aren't, and that's where he is."
As Ash spoke, there was a moment when the laser display focused everything back on Wyvern – who was making an exaggerated fire-breathing gesture, and which meant that all the multicoloured beams appeared to be streaming out of her mouth at once towards Zoey's Pokémon.
"What I want to know is exactly how Glameow and Mismagius are doing what they're doing," Pikachu said. "I don't know how half of it is working – look!"
The Ghost-type held out her hat, and Glameow darted into it – and promptly vanished completely.
"Now she's not there," Ash supplied.
Mismagius turned her hat around so it faced towards Wyvern, and tapped it once – and Glameow shot out as if she'd been fired from a cannon, darting up towards Wyvern with her claws alight with Fury Swipes.
"I think," Brock began, slowly, "that this might just be magic."
"Oh, yeah, that thing," Ash realized. "Could be."
Glameow was getting tired, especially after Meowth had tried to get her away from Wyvern, but she'd managed to stay on the attack all this time – and she'd let Mismagius do her job.
Bits of broken-down laser were all around the arena floor, by this point, and Mismagius made a series of gestures as if she were conducting an orchestra. The multicoloured fragments rose into the air, forming themselves together into larger shapes bound together by a stream of additional energy from her hat, and Mismagius examined them all before reaching into that selfsame hat and pulling out a traditional black-and-white wand.
She twirled it once, then was about to tap it on one of the shapes when Meowth appeared in front of her out of nowhere. He had one claw lit with a kind of glowing black light, this time, and knocked her wand aside before vanishing and appearing behind her.
As he lunged, Mismagius spun her hat around so Meowth was heading into it. He tried to dodge aside, sort of managed it, and his Night Slash flicked the wand up so it hit one of the constructs Mismagius had made.
All of them fired off at once – including the spare material inside the witch's hat.
It was sort of fortunate that Wyvern's shields had surrounded the entire contest arena, but it still made everyone jump as a brilliant flash of light and motion and sound suffused the entire battle area.
"What just happened?" Raoul Contesta asked, half-shading his eyes from the flare, then leaned forwards to see through the smoke.
"Where did the smoke come from?" the announcer asked.
"It's just one of those things that happens," Contesta shrugged.
As the smoke slowly cleared, it became clear that all four Pokémon had been knocked out. Wyvern had vanished entirely except for her combat projector, while Meowth was out cold and both Mismagius and Glameow had ended up in a heap.
Contesta looked over at the score board, and saw that Jesselina and Zoey were both sitting on exactly the same score.
"It's a draw!" Mr. Sukizo announced. "A wonderful display of skill, where the two Coordinators are exactly evenly matched to the point that they can't even be separated by a tie break!"
He spread his hands. "It's a heartwarming reminder that sometimes, even though a Contest is about picking winners, ultimately what really matters is that everyone does their best and has fun doing it!"
"Remarkable!" Nurse Joy agreed.
Mr. Contesta rubbed his temples. "I think I need a stiff drink. Nothing makes sense any more."
Zoey looked at the scoreboard, then at her opponent – who seemed to be somewhat in shock.
Then she recalled her Pokémon, and turned. "Hey, Dawn! You come down here too!"
"Huh?" Dawn replied, sounding baffled.
"I mean it!" Zoey repeated. "It was a draw for our match too – you deserve to be down here!"
She glanced up at Jesselina. "Don't you think so?"
"Well..." Jesselina began, walking over to pick Meowth up. "I suppose it does make a kind of sense..."
"There you go," Zoey agreed, gesturing. "Come on, Dawn – actually, I just had this idea..."
Some distance away, Mewtwo folded his arms.
Do you think you'll be able to produce something like that?
"Well..." the engineer began, frowning. "It's not really something we've done before. It's going to take a while to design and build."
I can probably have PsiTech help your construction, Mewtwo said. I'm interested in getting this going as soon as possible.
"Right, right," the man said, and chuckled. "Sorry, I'm just… trying to get used to this, it's not every day someone walks into your office and says he wants to build a telescope the size of the Sun."
Technically, Mewtwo did not walk, Dahak observed.
And it is only half the radius of the sun, Mewtwo added. And mostly empty space. The difficult bits are the station-keeping lasers and the ability to gather enough light.
"Right… I think there's an old project idea we can dig up and use," the engineer said. "It was from a few years ago, but it wasn't remotely that big… this might be the largest artificial construction ever."
Apart from the universe, Mewtwo pointed out placidly. I've met the person who made it.
"Oh, yeah," the engineer admitted. "Right."
He shook his head. "Anyway, uh… what sort of thing are you planning on using this for, anyway?"
I plan to look at planets, Mewtwo said. From a very long way away.
The man chuckled. "You don't think small, do you?"
Once I did, Mewtwo countered. Then I met someone who showed me differently.
Zoey's Gastrodon blew a Water Pulse into the air.
Dawn's Buneary jumped up and froze it with an expanding Ice Punch, and the frozen mass hung in the air for a long moment before Jessie's Marowak smashed it to powder with a single well-thrown bone.
The fragments fell around them like glitter, and Dawn smiled as the crowd applauded.
It felt sort of funny, really – Zoey had a good point, and everyone seemed to have accepted it, but being one of three winners of a Grand Festival was a bit… strange.
Still. If she'd wanted normalcy she'd have stopped travelling with Ash, right?
"Can you explain it again?" Molly asked. "I sort of got part of it."
"Of course," Arceus agreed. "So the fundamental principle of this power is that you are asking me to do something."
"Right," Molly nodded, frowning in concentration. "And that's hard because you might not know all the details."
"That is how it works with the Unown," Arceus clarified. "And you have already experienced one of the downsides of it, which is that when your desires ran wild the Unown followed them automatically – no matter what they were."
Molly's Eevee rubbed against her side, back in her base form for now, and Molly looked down at the golden symbol in her hands.
She'd taken the necklace off, letting her move her arms around while she was carrying it, and she turned it over before looking back up. "But you know better… but you might be busy, so there's some power of yours sort of set to the side for us to use?"
"And, to prevent your wishes running out of control, you must be as clear as possible," Arceus continued. "Much of what you must learn is to be able to make a request that details exactly what you want, and with no possibility of misunderstanding. Only then will it work."
Molly nodded, then looked down at the symbol again. "That doesn't mean I need to study biology to heal people?"
"Simply being clear that you want that person healed will be enough, so long as your focus is clear."
"Right," Molly said, then closed her eyes.
She had to think more about what it had been like when the Unown had done exactly what it was she really wanted, right then, rather than something she'd been sort of vaguely thinking about maybe wanting sometime. And she had to take that way of thinking, and do it with just something useful and nothing else.
After a while, she sighed.
"This takes a long time to learn," Arceus told her. "I assume. I was born knowing how."
Molly giggled, glancing up, then looked back down again and thought hard. This time the amulet started to glow with golden light, faintly but visibly, and Eevee stepped a little closer to watch.
Then there was a splash of water that landed around her, getting her soaking wet and making Eevee transform into Vaporeon.
"Well done," Arceus told her. "Water is a good thing to start with."
"I was too busy thinking about water to think about a glass," Molly said, shaking her head.
"I'm kind of glad it ended that way," Dawn said, some minutes later, as they walked out of the Contest hall.
"Yeah, I know what you mean," Zoey agreed.
Her time duplicate slash sister, Also Zoey, joined the two of them with a grin. "Two draws in two matches, huh?"
"Shush," Zoey Nozumi invited. "Anyway, we got the trophy, even if it's to share."
"Where is it, actually?" Zoey Mizori asked.
"I thought Dawn had it," Zoey Nozumi said.
Dawn spread her hands.
"Ahahahaaa!" Jessie cackled, holding it over her head as she ran off into the distance. "It's mine! All mine!"
They all stared for a moment, then Dawn slumped slightly and sighed.
"She'll be back in a couple of minutes," James advised, walking over to look into the distance with them. "Just let her have this."
And that's the Grand Festival.
Mewtwo's definition of thinking small is a bit different to most. If you want to know what he's doing, he's making a very long baseline interferometry telescope with a resolution good enough to spot things about three miles wide from a hundred light years away.
If, that is, you can get enough light into the telescope that you're seeing photons from something three miles wide a hundred light years away.