"You ever feel like you've done something before?" Pikachu asked.
Lucario gave him a look.
"Not like that," Pikachu added.
"I'm just saying, if you want to discuss the concept of Deja Vu then you're talking to the wrong Pokémon… I actually didn't relive much of anything, my two lives are quite distinct."
"Well, I wasn't talking to you," Pikachu said. "I was talking to Ash."
"And he's going to say, yes, he does feel like he's done something before," Lucario pointed out. "On account of how he's done just about everything twice. Sometimes more than twice."
"I meant specifically this battle with Paul!" Pikachu rattled off, very quickly.
"Well, kind of, yeah," Ash agreed. "That had something to do with the team I picked, actually."
"That's probably it," Pikachu decided.
Ash chuckled, then looked across the arena at Paul.
"Please select your first Pokémon!" the referee requested, from inside his personal section of the crowd-protection shield.
Ash unclipped a Pokéball from his belt, shifting it around slightly so he was ready to throw it.
"And… begin!" the referee instructed.
Ash threw his Pokéball, and opposite from him Paul did the same.
The first to emerge was Ash's Torterra, the big Grass-and-Ground-type emerging from his Pokéball in a flash of white light before thumping to the grass.
And opposite from him Paul's Torterra did the same.
"Well, this is awkward," Ash's Grass-type said.
"Really?" the other Torterra replied. "How?"
"...ever had a moment when you realized you'd internalized human culture too much?" Torterra asked. "I felt like I'd turned up at a party wearing the same outfit as someone else, then I remembered too late that normally I'm the one hosting the party. And that I'm a Pokémon."
"Stone Edge," Paul instructed.
His Torterra stamped a foot, sending up a circle of megaliths, then launched three of them at Ash's Torterra.
"You know what to do!" Ash called, and his Torterra used Iron Head. The rock that was the closest to head-on smashed to pieces on his head, and the other two were deflected away by his tough shell.
Focusing, Torterra used Energy Ball. The globe of green light formed, ready to fire, and Paul ordered his Torterra to be ready to do the same Iron Head move to absorb the impact – then Torterra ate the Energy Ball instead.
Just so Torterra didn't feel left out, though, Torterra began showering Torterra with Razor Leaf attacks. Torterra rumbled to the side, then Paul shouted an instruction and Torterra used Earthquake.
"Something wrong?" Karen asked.
Misty shrugged. "Oh, just thinking about how hard this battle would be to describe."
Ash's Torterra's head tracked across, focusing closely on his opponent. A Razor Leaf attack barrage kept firing out from his tree, hitting Paul's Torterra a series of glancing blows that weren't very destructive by themselves but which did mean that Paul's Pokémon couldn't just keep up a shield of Stone Edge without much effort.
"Now!" Ash called suddenly. "Wood Hammer!"
Torterra had to use Rock Climb, first, to get the traction required to let him suddenly accelerate from a standing start without wrecking the ground he was standing on. He still tore up a big chunk of ground, sending lumps of sod flying out behind him, and then once he was up to speed his shell and forehead began to glow green.
"Match him!" Paul ordered, so his Torterra began to pick up speed as well. The two big, bulky Pokémon charged towards one another, heading for a collision, and then-
"Stone Edge!" Paul amended.
Paul's Torterra dug in his clawed feet, throwing up a ridge of torn turf as he slowed down, and there was a flash of greyish-brown light as he used Stone Edge to throw up a bulwark in the way of Ash's Torterra.
"To the side!" Ash ordered, and his Torterra dug in his right foreleg – but not his left one. The sudden change in forces acting on him meant Torterra was wrenched around to the side, and he alternately dug in and pulled out his legs to wrestle for control as he went sliding rapidly past on Paul's Torterra's right flank.
Since Paul's Torterra had expected his opponent to go ramming into an unexpected stone wall at high speed, he wasn't at all prepared for when the opponent in question instead blitzed past him and spat an Energy Ball into his side. The explosion wasn't as big as it would have been if Ash's Torterra had been planning it from the beginning, but it was still a powerful blow, and Paul's Torterra snorted before turning to face Ash's Pokémon.
"New plan," Paul called, as Ash's Torterra ate another Energy Ball to power himself up. "Earthquake."
The ground shook and rumbled as Torterra used Earthquake for a second time, which made Ash's Torterra stumble a bit on the torn terrain from his long skid-to-a-halt. Then Ash's Pokémon retaliated with an Energy Ball, this one aimed precisely to hit just at the base of Paul's Torterra's neck.
Paul's Torterra raised up ramparts of Stone Edge to protect himself, and Ash's Torterra opened fire with a barrage of Razor Leaf attacks.
"Interesting," Cynthia said, pulling some pocky out of a box without looking. "It's sort of like stalemate."
"I see," her Lucario agreed. "Because we've seen this sequence of moves before."
"Yes, and that tells me that neither of them has a better solution to it," Cynthia clarified, then looked down at the box. "This is a chocolate box. Why is there toffee in it?"
"That was me," Lucario said. "You couldn't decide between picking toffee and strawberry, toffee and chocolate, or strawberry and chocolate. So I put all three in one box."
He pointed at the battle. "And you say it's sort of like stalemate, not actually stalemate, because..."
"...because I know what Ash is like by this point," Cynthia explained. "And most of his Pokémon. He's got-"
She was interrupted by a terrific bang, as both Pokémon used Frenzy Plant at almost exactly the same moment. The underground waves of roots collided with one another about halfway between Torterra and Torterra, erupting from the ground into a half-dozen thick woody trunks crashing against one another, and Ash's Torterra burst into motion – running up the side with a crash-crash-crash that sent shockwaves throughout the tree and demolished it behind him.
Reaching the highest point he could before the tree gave way, Ash's Torterra jumped into clear air, and used Withdraw followed immediately by Heavy Slam – bringing him back to land on top of Paul's Torterra with a crash.
"...something in mind," Cynthia finished, as Ash's Torterra got off Paul's. "There, see?"
Paul's Grass-type had been driven into the ground far enough that his carapace was level with the rest of the grass, and after a few seconds the referee decided that that was an elimination.
"The arena's going to be a mess after this one," Ash said, as Paul recalled his Torterra and contemplated which Pokémon to send out next. "Well, it already kind of is."
The Frenzy Plant tree creaked, then slowly crashed to the ground.
"And now it's worse," Lucario noted.
Paul sending out his next Pokémon drew their attention, and his Aggron appeared with both feet firmly planted on the ground.
"I wonder what he's thinking," Pikachu said. "That seems more like something you would do, Ash."
"Send out an Aggron?" Ash checked, as Torterra watched Aggron carefully. "I don't have an Aggron. Max has Ferris, but-"
"No, I mean send out a Pokémon with a type disadvantage," Pikachu explained.
"That is a good point," Lucario contributed. "I see why you keep him around, Ash."
"Hey!" Pikachu protested.
Aggron suddenly burst into motion, but instead of heading straight at Torterra he lumbered into a run for the cover presented by the collapsed pile of torn roots. Torterra fired an already-prepared Energy Ball attack at him, and the green attack whipped straight into Aggron's shoulder – producing a snap and cloud of smoke, but not knocking Aggron over, and without delay Aggron got behind his new defences.
Torterra used Earthquake, which made the whole arena shake a little, but Aggron had clambered a little way up onto the roots and so the force of the shaking got dissipated.
"Watch out, Torterra, he's going to be trying something," Ash called. "Be ready to attack when he does."
Torterra nodded, charging another Energy Ball and swallowing it, and after some thought the Grass-type raised his head up to maximum elevation and began to spit out Seed Bombs. They went flying up into the air at a steep angle, over the pile of wood, and exploded on impact on the far side.
"Superpower," Paul ordered.
Aggron slid back down to ground level with a splintering crash, and picked one of the larger and more bulky roots. Wrapping both arms around it, the Steel-type lifted it bodily, then shifted a little so it would cover as much of his body as possible.
"Now, charge!" Paul added, and Aggron did.
Torterra fired his Energy Ball as soon as Aggron came into view, but the attack just smashed a chunk of woodchips out of the root shield.
"Earth Power!" Ash called, unnecessarily, because Torterra was already using Earth Power. The line of orange power snaked out across the ground to where Aggron was charging and made contact with a flash, staggering Aggron, and Torterra took the opportunity to turn around – ready to sprint away, avoiding whatever the reason was that Aggron was charging closer to him.
There was a whoosh sound as Aggron hit the root chunk with a Fire Punch, and then the Rock-type wound up and threw it at Torterra.
"Look out!" Ash called.
"Fire Blast!" Paul ordered, at about the same time.
Aggron's Fire Blast hit the already-flaming bundle of plant matter at about the same time that Torterra had slid around again to see what was happening. It exploded into a cloud of thousands of burning fragments, dousing Torterra in flame, and Ash's Pokémon quickly used Withdraw to protect himself from the worst of it.
Aggron didn't stop moving, and before Torterra had properly opened up again to see what was coming he got hit with a Fire Punch to the jaw. Aggron followed that up with a tail swipe, then another Fire Blast, and Torterra managed to get off one more Earthquake before the barrage of attacks knocked him out.
Ash withdrew Torterra and then switched straight to the second Pokémon he'd planned on using – it seemed like a good choice and he didn't see why he should change it – and Staraptor emerged in a flare of light before sweeping up into the upper reaches of the stadium.
Aggron promptly launched a Fire Blast at him, and Staraptor rolled easily away from the attack. "Don't even try, you're just emberassing yourself."
He waited for a few seconds, then clicked his beak. "It's a lot less fun when nobody's listening."
That said, he folded in one wing and rolled into a dive.
Aggron used another Fire Blast, this time trying to explode while Staraptor was going past and knock him off course. It was a clever plan, but as far as Staraptor was concerned the one flaw in it was that it relied on him dodging the explosion.
Instead he just crossed his wings, slashed, and went flashing through the weaker part of the fireball in the middle of the X-shaped slashes he'd cut through it.
Now right down near the ground again, feathers trailing a faint cloud of smoke, Staraptor twisted and hit Aggron talons-first. They made a screeching noise as they glanced off the rock-and-steel hide of his opponent, but more importantly they let Staraptor shed most of his speed – and he brought both wings in for a Close Combat attack, hitting Aggron hard enough to produce a clang that echoed around the arena.
"Thunderpunch!" Paul called. Aggron swiped out, but Staraptor's right wing flared and he elegantly avoided the attack by backflipping into the air and over Aggron's head. That put him behind the Rock-type, and he hammered another pair of Close Combat wing-strikes in while avoiding Aggron's tail.
"Thunderpunch yourself!" Paul amended, and a second later Aggron fizzled and crackled with electricity flowing over him.
Staraptor had no time for any of that nonsense, and spun a brief Tailwind out of nowhere in particular to fly clear until the electricity subsided. Then he inverted the tailwind, pulling himself right back to where he'd been at the start, and did a literally flying kick to Aggron's cheek which uppercut him six feet through the air to land on his side.
"And that," he said, as the referee declared Aggron to be out of the battle, "is taking a staraptoring role."
"Staraptor, come on back!" Ash called.
"Well, if I have to," Staraptor called back. "But I want you to know I'm both disappointed and satisfied. I'm satisfointed."
"I don't think that makes even logical sense," Lucario said.
"When has that ever stopped any of us?" Staraptor replied, then vanished into his Pokéball.
Ash sent out his next Pokémon – Gliscor – and Paul countered with his Cranidos, who stretched her neck and arched her tail before looking up at the Ground-type orbiting overhead.
"Smack Down," Paul instructed.
Cranidos promptly stomped on the ground, compacting part of the earth with a pulse of pressure into a rock, then flipped it up on one foot. Gliscor, however – being in possession of ears – had heard the order, and closed her wings before flaring them out again with a burst of sand that followed her and made it a little harder to keep track of her.
Her tail waved from side to side as she considered her best move, then she increased the density of her sand cloud just as Cranidos flipped the rock up into the air and smacked it skywards with her tail.
There was a boof sound as the Smack Down attack struck Gliscor's sand cloud, punching almost all the way through the shield it formed before running out of momentum and dropping back to the ground.
Pleased with the results, Gliscor dropped lower. Her tail waved out behind her like a banner, glowing faintly with a deep dark blue, and she banked around to the edge of the arena.
The whirl of her sandshield picked up some of the disrupted earth and soil from the torn ground, along with some particles of ash from the parts of the Frenzy Plant root that had caught fire, and Gliscor wove them all into her defensive layer as she picked up speed for her attack run.
"I still think it's cool that I do Counter Shield stuff," she said, mostly for an audience of herself.
"Charge the cloud," Paul ordered.
Cranidos broke into a sprint, tearing up the ground with the suddenness of her acceleration, and her head lowered for a massive Head Smash attack.
"Pull up!" Ash ordered quickly, closing one eye so he could see where Gliscor was in the enveloping cloud of sand and debris.
Gliscor pulled up on his orders, rolling over and rising to near the top of the opaque section of her sandcloud. Cranidos charged through the sand without slowing, the air displaced by her charge blowing huge drifts of sand out of Gliscor's control, and Ash's Ground-type smacked Cranidos on the back as she ran with an Aqua Tail attack.
It was beautiful, in a way, with Gliscor suddenly visible from inside the disrupted sandcloud, and Ash's Flying-type rolled back upright before swooping around to the side as Cranidos rolled and skidded along the ground.
It took her almost the whole width of the arena to recover her footing and slide to a halt before she whirled to face Gliscor again, and she built up speed with long bounding strides as Gliscor sensibly rose into the air to avoid getting headbutted.
"Stone Edge," Paul added.
If you'd asked Ash, he would have said he was expecting Cranidos to launch a rock at Gliscor. Instead, however, Cranidos summoned a large Stone Edge rock underneath her as she ran – forcing it to rise out of the ground with enough force to catapult her into the air, launching her at Gliscor and prompting Gliscor to yelp and block with a sudden burst of sand.
That meant Cranidos ran straight into an instant sandstone wall in mid-air, but she simply smashed right through it and cannoned into Gliscor regardless. The shield dampened some of the impact, but Gliscor still went tumbling off across half the arena before managing to stabilize and pull up before impact.
For her part, Cranidos didn't come off unscathed, and landed with a wham on the ground that buried her up to mid-thigh. She pulled herself clear, but the delay had given Gliscor time to rebuild her sand shield and it was no longer clear where she was within it.
"Head Smash again," Paul ordered. "And be ready this time."
Cranidos nodded, spun around on her heel, and charged.
Gliscor pulled in more sand, amplifying her defensive cloud, and charged up her tail – thinking hard about what she was going to do.
Cranidos had to know that she'd dodged just too high to hit, so the Rock-type would be jumping. But Gliscor couldn't rely on that and just go low, so she'd have to dodge higher than Cranidos could reasonably reach.
She broadened out her cloud as well, deciding she should do an upwards dodge and then a dip downwards to catch Cranidos with her Aqua Tail, and then she had to make her decision-
"Look out!" Ash called.
Gliscor pulled up, and much to her surprise found an iron-hard rock head coming in the other direction.
She didn't have long to be surprised about it.
"Ouch," Lucario said, as Gliscor bounced off the shield protecting the audience.
Paul's Rampardos tracked the Ground-type as she spun through the air, then Ash recalled her before she hit the ground and Rampardos turned to look at Ash directly.
Her head tilted a little, and she crooked a finger in an unmistakeable 'come on' gesture.
"Does that mean she wants to fight me next?" Lucario asked.
"Could be me," Pikachu pointed out. "Or Ash, I think she knows Ash can fight."
"Or it could just be that she's ready for the next battle," Ash said, looking at the Pokéballs he had left.
"Well, yeah, if you're boring…"
"I don't think sending out Staraptor again is a good idea, she's got a good way to handle Flying-types," Ash mused. "So… Gabite!"
"Hi!" Gabite said brightly, then waved at the audience. There was a little ripple of laughter, and Gabite turned his attention back to Rampardos.
"You're one of those Pokémon who used to be a fossil, right?" he asked. "I've sometimes wondered. What do arenas like this seem like to someone like you?"
Rampardos looked slightly confused.
"Shouldn't the violence have started by now?" she asked.
"I like to get to know Pokémon before I battle them sometimes," Gabite explained. "Trying afterward doesn't work very well, they tend to have been exploded a few times."
"No need to keep hiding it," Paul instructed.
"Hiding what?" Gabite asked.
By way of explanation, Rampardos jumped in the air.
When she landed, there was a whoosh, and a cresting wave of ice rolled out from her landing point and surged towards Gabite.
Paul watched closely, trying to see if Rampardos' Avalanche attack had hit.
It was hard to tell because the attack itself obscured his view for a second or two, and when it was gone so was Gabite.
"Did he dodge?" he asked, and Rampardos nodded shortly. "Then Earthquake."
Rampardos jumped in the air again, this time landing with a ground-shaking impact instead of a burst of ice, and Gabite sprang out of the ground like a Water-type emerging from the sea just before the shaking started.
He said something which Paul didn't understand, then fired a Mud Shot attack. Rampardos bent, taking the attack on her armoured head, then slammed down her foot for another Avalanche – this one larger and stronger, with the wave of ice almost twice as high and moving faster as well.
Gabite jumped, this time, evading the attack that way, and Ash called out to tell him to smash through the ice instead of dodge it.
Paul filed that away, thinking about how he could have Rampardos exploit it.
The difficult thing was that there were at least three different ways Gabite could react to each wave of ice. He could jump, or dig underground, or just smash his way through – and there were things that Rampardos could do for all three of them, but they weren't the same thing.
It made it into a tactical puzzle.
Gabite shot a Draco Meteor into the air, then saw a wave of ice coming his way.
"Whoa!" he yelped, springing backwards automatically, and while that didn't get him out of the way of the attack it did give him a bit more time to think.
He spat out a Fire Blast, blowing a hole in the Avalanche, and behind it was a second Avalanche wave – one which he hadn't seen because of the first one, and while neither of them were as strong as the one he'd jumped over that still meant he had to quickly shoot another Fire Blast to avoid being run over by a wall of ice.
Sliding into the gap between the rings, Gabite took a few steps to get up speed and then dove at the ground. Rampardos immediately responded by jumping up for an Earthquake, but Gabite hadn't been intending to use Dig at all – instead he rolled, slamming his tail into the ground for an Earthquake of his own, then hit Rampardos with a Bulldoze as he went past.
Behind him his Draco Meteor landed on top of Rampardos, blowing a small crater out around the Rock-type and engulfing her in smoke, and Gabite turned to see whether he needed to attack her again.
As it turned out, he did. Which Gabite mostly found out when she charged out of the smoke with her head lowered, aiming a Head Smash straight for him.
Raising both arms, he blocked with a Cross Chop, and the impact hit him like he assumed it felt like when you were hit by a train. His feet and tail dug long furrows in the ground as they absorbed the force, almost making him fall over backwards, and when he finally stopped he was most of the way back to the arena wall.
Also, Rampardos seemed shorter.
"Hey!" Lucario called. "You evolved! Just letting you know!"
"That makes sense," Garchomp realized.
He contemplated his claws for a moment, then spotted that Rampardos had been slowly and stealthily raising her foot. She brought it down as soon as he noticed, firing off an Avalanche, and he jumped clear and flew to the other side of the arena.
It was as much of a surprise for him as for anyone, and he hadn't got the hang of steering yet so he crashed into the wall with a wham.
"Ouch," Ash said faintly, then cupped his hands. "Garchomp, are you okay?"
Garchomp gave him a thumbs-up, then peeled himself out of the small cracked crater he'd left in the wall.
"I don't think I have the hang of flying yet," he reported.
"That's fine, we can work on it later," Ash told him. "Look out!"
Rampardos was charging across the arena with her head lowered for another Head Smash, and the newly-evolved Garchomp blurred to the side – avoiding the attack – which prompted Rampardos to change course and Earthquake instead.
"Stack some Draco Meteors," Ash suggested, and Garchomp launched one of his orange meteors into the sky. Then he had to turn and block, both his blades crossed together as he used Cross Chop against Rampardos' Head Smash, and this time they both went skidding backwards from the force of the collision.
High overhead the Draco Meteor attack exploded, going from one glowing orange rock to dozens. Rampardos tilted her head to the side for a moment as she halted, getting a better view of what was happening, then lowered her head and charged at Garchomp again.
This time, though, each of her footsteps produced a rippling wave of ice. Each one wasn't as strong as her earlier Avalanches, but they came so frequently that they stacked up on one another as she ran – forming not a single breaking wave but more like a high, long tsunami or flood.
Garchomp finally had the time to fire a second Draco Meteor, this one much less forcefully, and it exploded almost immediately to form a second meteor shower that came raining down on top of Rampardos at about the same time as the first ones arrived.
The Rock-type vanished inside the blaze of explosions, and Garchomp dove underground just before the successive waves of ice arrived.
Garchomp stayed underground for several seconds, until the ground stopped shaking, then surged back up to break the surface and look around.
"Back down again!" Ash called, as soon as he emerged, and that was so surprising to Garchomp that he didn't immediately react.
That meant that when Rampardos arrived head-first he was in the worst possible place to be, which was to say underneath.
"Ouch," Pikachu winced. "Rampardos has given us a bit of a beating, hasn't she?"
"Is this the team we?" Lucario asked.
"Essentially," Pikachu agreed, as Ash recalled the unconscious Garchomp and the similarly-out-of-it Rampardos vanished back into her own Pokéball.
"I think it's kind of a good sign," Ash volunteered. "That jump Rampardos did was the second time he had her use Stone Edge as a boost. It really makes her a more versatile Pokémon."
He looked at Garchomp's Pokéball. "I think Garchomp does need to add some options though. Or just learn to fly properly?"
Back at the Oak Ranch, Mawile waved some table-tennis bats to the left.
As she was doing that, though, she paused and frowned.
"Is something up?" Houndoom asked.
He looked into the sky. "Well… apart from Ivysaur, anyway."
"Which way should I be going?" Ivysaur called down, his leaves whirring around like helicopter blades and his body slowly rotating in the opposite direction. "I'm getting a bit dizzy…"
"Oh!" Mawile said. "Go right, and then use your vine to grab onto that fence!"
She turned to Houndoom, and gave a sort of awkward shrug. "I just felt like someone needed my help?"
"Are you sure it wasn't me?" Ivysaur called, then lashed out with his vine. It caught the fence, but the recoil made the Grass-type wobble so he was suddenly not upright but nearly over on his side.
Sceptile jumped up and caught him before he accidentally slammed into the ground.
"Thank you," Ivysaur mumbled. "I think this needs work."
"I think it needs a stabilizer, or another propeller," Houndoom suggested. "Whenever a helicopter loses a tail in a film it always spins dramatically out of control and crashes."
He tapped the ground with a paw. "Then explodes. In fact usually it crashes and explodes even if it's not lost the tail."
"Maybe…" Mawile frowned. "Ivysaur, can you make half your leaves rotate in the other direction?"
"If I'm going to try that, I'd like it to be later, please," Ivysaur requested. "Right now I feel like a stiff drink."
"A what?" Sceptile asked.
"An ice lolly," Ivysaur clarified.
"I choose… you!" Ash decided, throwing his next Pokéball – one of only two available Pokémon he hadn't used yet – and Infernape emerged onto the field with a flash.
Opposite him, Paul's fourth Pokémon appeared in a flash of his own, revealing that he'd chosen to send out his Electivire.
"I know it's sort of expected, what with the Pokémon I'm using," Ash said. "But this feels familiar."
"This feels familiar," Infernape said, layering his fingers together and pushing his hands out until they cracked. "All right?"
Electivire gave him an unimpressed look.
"Fair enough," Infernape shrugged. "Let's see how this works out, then."
"Thunder!" Paul called, and electrical power flowed up to Electivire's antennae. They sparked once, then unleashed a torrent of electrical energy towards Infernape, and Infernape's arms lit up with orange fire as he cross-blocked.
The energy flowed over his flame, unable to find purchase, and Infernape uncrossed his arms with a decisive movement that sent the deflected Thunder chasing across the ground behind and beside him.
Pausing for only a moment, he broke into a run. Flames blazed up around his feet, lending emphasis to his movements, and the Fire-type slammed a flaming Mach Punch into Electivire's forehead with an impact that sent out a circle of flame-touched recoil.
Electivire countered by using Discharge, sending out a wave of sizzling electricity, and Infernape backflipped away. Halfway through the flip he kicked out with both feet in Electivire's direction, launching a wave of hot air at his former teammate, and used the flame to shield himself and the recoil to launch himself further away.
He put a hand down to touch the ground, then landed sprawled out with both hands and feet to support him before rising slowly.
"Giga Impact," Paul instructed.
Electivire burst forwards, and Infernape immediately sprang into the air. Flames curled in his palms and he thrust them both out, sending a wave of flame down towards his opponent, and Electivire took the Flamethrower stoically before skidding to a halt.
The energy of the aborted Giga Impact still roiled around him, and as Infernape landed Electivire stuck out an arm and channelled a Thunder attack down it.
"Behind!" Ash called, and Infernape whirled. He Fire Punched the attack as it reached him, producing an explosion of light and flame as he cancelled out Electivire's Thunder – though some of it still got through, arcing over his bracers and earthing into his fur.
Infernape let out a shout as he drove away the last of the Thunder attack with a whump from the ignition of his Blaze, then dove away from the second volley and vanished smoothly underground.
Paul considered the situation, then gave his next order.
"Reflect," he decided. "Below you as well."
A screen of energy appeared, and Electivire stepped on top of it. He followed up with a Light Screen as well, creating a complete shield around himself so that – while immobile – he couldn't be attacked by surprise.
"Blaze Blast Burn!" Ash called.
Paul blinked. "What?"
The arena exploded.
It wasn't a simple above-ground explosion. It began as a camouflet explosion, an underground detonation where some of the force jetted out through Infernape's entry tunnel but most of it went into the ground around the hidden Fire-type.
The ground cracked and split under the strain, sending plumes of flame arcing up through the cracks, then they joined up into a continuous ring of fire a few metres inside the arena wall which emitted a surge of flaming ash and fused earth and pyrotechnic smoke.
The whole middle section heaved up and then collapsed, Electivire along with it, and for several seconds there was just the clouds of dust to hide what had happened.
A flicker of firelight shone through the fog, and a wind sprang up. It intensified quickly, spiralling upwards and pulling the smoke and dust with it, and as the air cleared it revealed Infernape standing on the distorted terrain – flames in Blaze mode, but looking calm.
Electivire, meanwhile, was half-buried upside down in torn earth and mud.
Paul decided his Electric-type was probably unable to battle, and called him back.
"Was that one of those ones you practiced before?" Pikachu asked, as Ash recalled Infernape for a rest. "Because I think I would have remembered that one."
"He'd picked up Blast Burn," Ash answered. "Using it for an underground explosion was more something I got reminded of by remembering this battle last time around, and… well, yeah."
"I hope we don't have to clean this up," Lucario said, noticing that the retaining walls were absolutely plastered – the only thing that had stopped them getting plastered as well was that the audience shield included both trainers.
"A Diglett should sort it out," Pikachu waved. "Who's going out next?"
Paul considered the Pokémon he had left, then decided that if Ash had just called Infernape back this might be the best time to use his Ice-type.
Holding up her Pokéball, he sent out Froslass with a flash – just as Ash sent out his own next Pokémon, the return of Staraptor from before.
"Interesting," Paul said. "Blizzard!"
Staraptor swept his wings sharply forwards, producing a powerful gust of wind, and that crashed into the Blizzard attack and weakened it a little. It also pushed Staraptor backwards, though, and he flipped in mid-air to get out of the range basket of the attack before half-folding his wings for speed.
Swooping down low – much lower than Froslass, almost to where the grass had been back at the start of the battle – Staraptor got closer, then swept up to attack with Close Combat.
It was at that point, before actually reaching Froslass but too late to change his mind, that he remembered Froslass was a Ghost-type.
"Whoops," he said, then passed right through her.
She used Ice Shard as he was passing through, peppering him with icy fragments, and though Staraptor's wings lashed out at the shards and smashed as many of them as possible to pieces he still ended up taking several substantial hits.
"She's a Ghost type!" Ash called.
"I'm aware of that now, thanks," Staraptor replied, doing an aileron roll before twisting himself in mid-air so he was facing Froslass. "Hmm…"
"Whirlwind shield," Ash added. "That should keep you safe from any more blizzards."
Staraptor complied because he couldn't think of anything better, beating his wings in place several times to whip up a whirling ball of contra-rotating wind around himself. Froslass threw another Ice Shard attack at him, which almost made it through, and Staraptor strengthened the shield a bit more just to be sure.
"Well, that's defence," he said. "Seems unsatisfying."
"Sometimes you need to defend," Pikachu pointed out.
"I'm a very offensively minded Pokémon," Staraptor called.
"We noticed!" Pikachu countered. "-look out!"
Returning his attention to Froslass, Staraptor noticed that she had a ball of Ice Beam forming in her hands.
"Ha!" he announced, flying straight at her, then raised a wing to block just as she launched the attack. His wing shimmered with a silversteel light, reflecting the Ice Beam in all directions, and he carried on through to fly straight into her again.
This time the Steel Wing meant he actually made contact, knocking Froslass backwards through the air, and the burly Flying-type capitalized on his advantage by cuffing her with his right wing before landing a haymaker with his left.
"Okay, so punching a bird is one thing," Marshtomp said. "But how do you handle a bird that punches you?"
"That's a very good question," Brock admitted. "It's not the sort of thing you normally have to consider."
"Hail, then Aurora Veil," Paul ordered, and Staraptor scowled in annoyance as his next punch encountered a shield of shimmering multicoloured light instead of hitting his Ice-typed target.
The pelting hail didn't help very much, either, as little bits of ice bounced off Staraptor's wings, and he broke off his attacks to fly straight up and then off to the side.
Froslass shot an Ice Beam at him, largely to keep him occupied, and he interposed his Steel Wing to fend the attack off. This time though the beam was much less focused, more of an area attack than a precision one, and Staraptor's wing couldn't fully protect him – and, worse, it just kept going and going, so Staraptor couldn't keep up his shielding indefinitely. He did still need to actually fly, and holding his wing as a shield prevented that – so he stopped shielding and flew in, aiming to knock Froslass out of the sky in one go rather than be tired out.
The Ice-type retaliated by making an odd gesture with her free arm, and her Aurora Veil suddenly froze into hundreds of ice shards. Then they sprayed outwards, all at once, and curved around to hit the incoming Staraptor with a continuous bombardment that drove him relentlessly towards the floor.
"Ow," he said, succinctly, then crashed into the ground.
"Are you all right?" Ash called.
"I'm perfectly fine, thank you, Satoshi," Staraptor replied distinctly. "Or I would be if someone hadn't put that planet there. It's Terra tactics, that's what it is."
"...yeah, I'm going to switch you out," Ash decided, recalling Staraptor. "So… Buizel, go!"
The Water-type emerged from his Pokéball only ten feet in front of Ash and immediately used Aqua Jet, blasting off into the sky with a spray of water in all directions and leaving a puddle of mud on the ground.
"Really?" Pikachu asked.
"He is good at airborne combat," Lucario pointed out.
No sooner had he said that than Buizel rolled, shooting out a volley of four Water Pulse missiles. They froze into ice as they reached Froslass' re-established Aurora Veil, but they were still fast-moving projectiles and two of them caught her a glancing blow.
"Drilling attacks!" Ash called up. "Speed and force!"
Froslass was already firing Ice Beam attacks at Buizel, but the Water-type was moving fast enough that she couldn't hold her attack on him for more than a moment at a time. It was causing some of the water aura that cloaked him to freeze, but he was already producing enough new water that he could just dump any that froze and replace it in moments – or use it when he fired off drilling water missiles at Froslass, adding a little Ice Beam of his own to freeze and harden the tip.
One of them got hit by an Ice attack from Froslass, and promptly exploded; the next got through and hit, annoying Froslass and prompting her to glance at Paul for advice.
"Shadow Ball!" Paul prompted.
Four Shadow Ball attacks flew out of Froslass' sleeves, zipping towards Buizel, and the Water-type turned sharply before accelerating directly upwards. All four Ghost attacks followed, and Ash shaded his eyes to look more closely.
"Double team!" he said, suddenly, and Buizel rolled once and spawned two duplicates. They swerved off in different directions, but all four Shadow Balls followed the original Buizel – he momentarily turned off his Aqua Jet, flipped in midair, and started it up again in a dive back down towards the floor before firing out a Water Pulse at Froslass (just to keep her busy) and skimming less than a foot from the nearest Shadow Ball as it came up and he went down.
"Okay, bust them with Bubblebeam!" Ash added. "You can't trick them, she's not controlling them directly."
He turned to Lucario. "It's kind of weird when you give an order you hope your Pokémon will think about well enough to disobey it."
"...ah," Lucario realized.
Buizel flipped over on his back, cutting his Aqua Jet again to give himself a more stable firing platform, and shot out a series of short bursts of Bubblebeam.
The first two volleys went wide, then the third hit home – smashing one of the Shadow Ball attacks into a cloud of greyish-purple mist.
Glancing down, Buizel saw that Froslass was rapidly getting closer. She had a Blizzard gathering in her grasp as well, ready to fling it up at him, so Buizel twisted himself around with a supple gesture so he was facing right towards her.
He used Aqua Jet and then Scald, the second one coming just a moment after the first, and Froslass turned her charging Blizzard into a shield to avoid being hit by the spray of hot water. It hissed violently as the boiling water hit the freezing ice, misting up the whole area, and Buizel plunged right through within feet of Froslass.
Behind him, the three remaining Shadow Ball attacks hit Froslass one after another.
Turning so he was facing directly up, now, Buizel amplified the force of his Aqua Jet to maximum. The semi-diffuse jet of water slammed into what was theoretically supposed to have been some quite nice turf before the battle started, tearing big clumps out of it, and Buizel slowed to a halt a few inches above the ground before blurring back upwards.
Hit hard but still in the fight, Froslass formed a sphere of ice and shattered it into Ice Shards. They all spread out before homing in on the fast-moving Buizel, and he threw another Scald at them – only breaking a few of them, but also creating a second wave of mist before the first one had really faded away.
"Ice Beam," Paul instructed. "Hold one of the shards until it hits."
Froslass complied as best she could, an Ice Beam shooting out of her sleeve and connecting with one of the icy projectiles to keep it cool and intact for as long as possible. It wasn't one of the ones right in front of the attack swarm, so it didn't get hit by Buizel's next Scald, but after that it was right in front.
Presumably, anyway. It was hard to tell through the fog.
Froslass ended her Ice Beam now she was no longer sure what was going on, and drifted sideways as she listened.
She could hear crashing sounds and explosions of steam, and even sort of see them when they made the mist ripple and take on an extra puff of white, but the watery ripple-shriek of Aqua Jet was her only clue as to where Buizel was and it wasn't nearly enough to let her aim.
And she wasn't using Shadow Ball again, not after last time.
Frowning, she used Hail in the hopes the weather would clear away the fog. It did work a little, and the pelting snow helped her to feel secure, but she still had no idea where Buizel was.
"Weather Ball," Paul told her, and she flourished her sleeves before duly using Weather Ball. Ice rushed together into a globe, along with the mist, and as it drained away she looked around for where Buizel could be so she'd know where to actually throw it.
The Water-type turned out to be diving towards her, a rock held in all four paws, and as soon as she spotted him Buizel let it go in a screaming high-speed bombing run. Froslass tried to redirect her Weather Ball to protect herself, but missed – and straight on the heels of the rock attack came a blur of physical blows one after another as Buizel used Pursuit.
More than once.
"What's the takeaway from that one?" Lucario asked.
"I've got a good one," Pikachu suggested. "Teach Buizel the move Foresight."
"That would help, yeah," Ash agreed, as Buizel landed. He stumbled a little, then straightened up, but Ash glanced at Froslass – now clearly out of the fight – and recalled his Water-type.
"If I need you for the last battle, it's better if you're rested," he said, and switched out for Infernape.
Paul sent out his own final Pokémon, his Ursaring, and Pikachu's cheeks sparked slightly.
"I can't send you out, you'd be number seven," Ash pointed out.
"I know, I know," Pikachu sighed. "Punch him a lot, Infernape."
"No promises," Infernape replied, rolling his shoulders a bit and testing his footing on the arena. "I probably will, though."
"Bulk Up," Paul ordered, as soon as the battle began.
Ursaring slammed his meaty paws together, a reddish glow flowing over him, and set his stance ready to attack or defend.
Infernape kicked off the actual fight by blurring forwards in a flash of flame, then halting all at once about twenty feet away from actually reaching his opponent and lashing out with a punch – a punch which was accompanied by a flash of flame, continuing forwards and hitting Ursaring on the chest.
Ursaring used Hyper Beam, and Infernape swept up his arm to block. The blocking move was accompanied by a flare of fire as well, one which attenuated the first rush of the Hyper Beam, and Infernape spun away to the side before darting in closer to deliver a Mach Punch.
Ursaring knocked him back with a Hammer Arm, and Infernape flipped neatly in the air to land on an angled bit of the ravaged terrain. It gave way slightly underneath him, but his tail handled the distortion, and Infernape was about to strike again when Ash raised his voice.
"Infernape, torch the ground!" he called, and Infernape shrugged briefly before springing into the air.
Flame gathered in his palms, orange and then blue, and he threw it downwards in a Heat Wave that formed a conical surge of heat and light.
All the exposed earth got baked, and Ursaring roared in annoyance. His fur caught fire, and as Infernape came down to land again Paul pointed.
"Earthquake," he called.
The ground heaved, and Infernape staggered a little as the Guts-boosted attack hit.
"Stay mobile, don't let him Earthquake you again," Ash advised, not sure if Infernape could work that out anyway but deciding to make sure it was clear.
The Fire-type sprang back, hopping from one protrusion to the next – feet touching only briefly on the smoking terrain – and Ash kept most of his focus on Ursaring.
"That's a Focus Blast!" he called, as quickly as possible, as Ursaring started preparing his next attack.
Infernape reacted by abruptly changing course, going from moving back to moving to the side, then punched down at the ground surface with a flash of blue fire and created an instant smokescreen that concealed his position.
Ursaring fired into the smoke, and Ash closed one eye so he could see if the attack was going to hit. It zipped past Infernape close enough to make him wince, hit the ground, and as it exploded Ash's Fire-type darted forwards again.
His Blaze was starting to leak into what he was doing, now, still under control but more easily visible, and it emphasized his movements as he punched out at Ursaring with a Fire Punch and got countered by a Hammer Arm. The impact itself also produced a flare of fire that spread out, like it was making the shockwave visible, and when Ursaring's other arm swiped out with a second Hammer Arm Infernape backflipped away and the attack only hit Infernape's fiery aftertrail.
"I think I missed just how many different styles Infernape has learned," Lucario said, interested.
"Didn't you develop half of them with him?" Ash frowned.
"It's not like I was keeping count."
The fire around Infernape was blazing higher, now, like a pillar of blue flame shading to orange at the edges which accompanied and marked his position, and he moved in and through it like it wasn't there at all – and it moved with him, extending his close-combat attacks and focusing in to make his Flamethrowers and Fire Spins and Heat Waves hotter and more powerful.
Ursaring roared and charged, getting in close and ignoring the bonfire aura to lash out with his claws – which Infernape blocked in some cases and dodged in others, before taking a haymaker blow to his chest which knocked him halfway across the battlefield.
Landing on his hands and flipping to skid to a halt on his feet, Infernape slowly rose out of his crouch before clenching a fist.
"Giga Impact!" Paul called.
Ash didn't even have to tell Infernape to use Flare Blitz. The Fire-type broke into a run without prompting, all the fire around him condensing right back down into an incandescent display which matched and exceeded the purple-and-yellow power going over Ursaring's fur, and when the two of them hit the ground jumped slightly and the whole arena was filled with a rush of swirling flame.
"It's kind of fortunate that we don't need to worry about keeping the battlefield in one piece, isn't it?" Flint asked.
He sipped at a drink. "Pretty good Infernape, though."
"Indeed," Lucian agreed.
"I'm mostly glad for the Pokémon shielding the audience," Cynthia said, as the smoke and flame cleared – mostly by flowing up through the top of the stadium, swirling as it went. "And… it looks like Ash is through."
"So he is," Flint agreed. "I say we keep an eye on this Paul as well, though – he's good."
"I don't know, I've not seen any of his Bug types," Aaron said. "Have you, Cyn?"
"He's got a Ninjask which is supposed to be pretty good," Cynthia replied.
She considered. "This battlefield might be a bit small for it, though."
At the same time, the other Aaron adjusted how he was sitting.
"I'm still not used to the tail," he admitted.
"You've had years," Lucario said. "Right? I think that's the case."
"That doesn't mean I'm used to it," Aaron told him. "It does help me balance, though, so that's nice."
"There you go."
Sir Aaron picked up the remote control. "Anyway, that was Ash's match… when does he battle next?"
"It's not long to go, it's the semi finals next. He's not next, though."
"Probably best not to start watching something else, then," Sir Aaron said, putting the control back down.
"See?" Queen Ilene asked. "You're already getting used to the modern day."
"That, at least, has been easy," Sir Aaron told her. "Largely thanks to you two."
The quarter finals, and thus the battle with Paul.