"Where do you think this goes on the 'friends of Ash Ketchum' benefits sheet?" Dawn asked, glancing over at Brock.

"There's a benefits sheet?" Brock replied, looking over. "Where exactly do you fill it out?"

Dawn shrugged. "I think it just sort of… happens."

"Well, in that case…" Brock began, then shook his head. "Actually, I've got no idea. It's pretty good, though."

"Popcorn?" Cynthia invited, holding out three boxes.

Dawn inspected the one closest to her. It seemed to have an odd black dusting on the popcorn.

"What's this?" she asked.

"Oh, that one's cracked black pepper," Cynthia informed her. "And this one here is popcorn with toffee, the third one's just normal buttered popcorn."

She shrugged. "I can't decide."

"That's nothing new," Aaron chuckled.

Down on the field, Ash returned his Tauros and sent out Entei.

Entei landed with a crackle of flames around his paws, and contemplated the trainer opposite from him before making an elegant bow.

"Flint," he said. "My sister has spoken highly of you."

That made the Fire-type trainer laugh. "Yeah! I remember her… she was a fun battle. Frustrating, though."

"I couldn't possibly comment," Entei said.

Flint laughed again, then clapped his hands together before taking out his next Pokeball. He threw it in the air with a flick and sent out his third Pokemon – a Rapidash, one with a sleek coat and blazing mane and tail.

The stallion stamped a hoof against the field, with a crack like a gunshot, and tossed his head.

"This is going to be fun," Entei opined.

"Of course!" Flint agreed. "This is going to be red-hot!"

"Well, I'm thinking of something specific," Entei replied, bunching up slightly.

"Go!" Cynthia called.

Entei burst into motion, and so did Rapidash. Within less than a second the sparks Rapidash struck with his hooves along the ground grew into a curtain of electrical energy, and he slammed a Wild Charge against Entei at the same moment as Entei hit him with a Strength.

The two Pokemon almost halted, their momentum cancelled out by the impact, and Entei's greater mass left the two of them sliding slowly backwards. Rapidash reared up, hooves sparking, and planted one squarely on Entei's forehead before the Fire-type Legendary used Lava Plume to blast his opponent away.

"Good!" he chuckled, as Rapidash rolled upright.

"Mystical Fire!" Flint called, and Rapidash slammed a hoof on the floor again. This time his mane blazed up and spread out into a curtain of shimmering flame in all sorts of colours, spreading out in waves like a psychedelic version of a smokescreen which built layers upon layers and expanded out far beyond where Rapidash himself was. Entei considered for a moment before breaking into a lope so that he wouldn't be a stationary target.

Defence handled, Entei went on the attack as well. To find his opponent he spun up and fired an Aura Sphere, only for the attack to go upwards – and Entei dodged to the side, blurring out of the way just before Rapidash's hooves slammed down as he landed from his Bounce.

The impact left a crater a couple of feet deep, and Rapidash brightened his Mystical Fire – not to actually hurt Entei so much as to startle him – before dashing forwards and hammering his opponent with a High Horsepower attack.

Entei elected to counter strength with speed, blurring into Extremespeed, and despite that choice he still had ample strength as well – hitting Rapidash in the flank, knocking him into the air this time, and the equine Pokemon twisted in mid-air before landing on his hooves and skidding along the arena floor.

Ash's Pokemon was on him before he stopped moving, but Rapidash just spun around en pointe and hit Entei with both hind hoofs at once. The impact was enough to stagger him, and Flint put his hands around his mouth.

"Poison Jab!"

His need to give the order meant Entei had a warning, though, and the warning was – just – enough. Entei exploded in flame again, the sheer force of his Eruption blasting Rapidash away and preventing him from actually striking the blow.

"So here's something that occurred to me," Lucian mused. "A very new Pokemon trainer doesn't know what to say to his Pokemon, so his Pokemon act according to their own best guesses."

He ticked off points. "As a trainer gets more skilled, first they start giving instructions, then ordering their Pokemon's every move, then they start focusing only on the more critical orders."

He gestured at the battlefield. "Finally, you reach a point where your Pokemon are so good that you don't need to say anything any more – unless, that is, you have some kind of inspiration that goes beyond that, or is based on information you have and they don't."

"So, in other words, Ash's team is so well trained he looks like he's a complete newbie," Cynthia summarized. "Ironically."

"There's some of that, yes," Lucian agreed. "Though admittedly you'd expect a Legendary Pokemon to be effective solo, anyway, so in his case this particular battle doesn't fully demonstrate the point."

Entei roared, using Lava Plume, and blew away all the Mystical Fire around him with the sheer force of the explosion. It tried to hold on, as Rapidash did his best to keep it together, then shattered and whirled away into the air as tattered remnants.

Now able to see where his opponent was, Entei chuckled slightly.

"High Horsepower!" Flint called. "Stampede him!"

Rapidash broke into a gallop, and Entei used Sacred Fire – aiming it not at Rapidash, but on a steep angle towards the ground in front of Rapidash.

It bored into the ground and then detonated, sending a shower of both solid and molten rock towards Rapidash, and the Fire Horse Pokemon shied away before rearing up and starting to smash the rock fragments with his diamond-hard hooves.

Entei blew another hole in the ground with Sacred Fire, then another, each one spearing deep before exploding to batter Rapidash with fragments.

"Why can't you just use Stone Edge like a normal Pokemon?" Rapidash asked, then pushed off from the ground to jump over Entei's latest barrage.

He came down for a stomp, just as Ash spoke up.

"Force Palm!"

Entei met Rapidash's hoof strike with a paw strike. The impact launched Rapidash backwards, forcing the Fire-type through a cartwheel, and he landed with a wham and staggered a little before regaining his equilibrium.

"Now this is one fired-up battle!" Flint enthused.

"I quite agree!" Entei replied.

He chuckled slightly. "And," he added, in a much quieter voice, "for once, it's not raining..."

"Hmm…" May pondered.

"Something up?" Max checked.

"Oh, nothing major," May replied.

She gestured around at the large arena – not the official stadium of the Lily of the Valley Conference, but a more out-of-the-way one a few miles away. "I'm mostly just wondering why the Elite Four challenges happen here instead of back down in the stadium."

"Did you see the mess that Ash and the others left?" Max asked, sniggering. "I don't think they could use the stadium, unless they want to collapse it."

"That is a good point," May admitted.

The normal procedure is for Elite Four battles to happen in private, or nearly private, Kris informed them. They are, however, recorded for later distribution. It's just a custom at this point.

"Huh," Max mused. "I guess, now I think about it, all the battles I can remember which involve someone challenging the Elite Four were private ones… the official ones, anyway."

It does vary from region to region.

The ground trembled, slightly but noticeably, and Donphan spun into the air. Flint's Infernape stepped into the movement, sunlight glowing in his palm for a Solarbeam, and charged it up as he waited for Donphan to come down again.

"Gyro Ball!" Ash called, just as Infernape began to thrust his palms up.

There was a flash of silver light as Donphan spun up, and Deoxys-orange raised his arm. A shield flashed around the Maple siblings, just in time to protect them from the glare as Infernape's Solarbeam went flaring off in every conceivable direction.

Then Donphan hit Infernape, and while he didn't have the momentum of his Rollout any more he was still a big, heavy Pokemon – and used Bulldoze just to make things worse.

"I wonder if that one's going to go in the textbooks," Lucario mused. "Steel moves to deflect blasts of bright light is pretty useful."

"It does depend on the type of blast," Pikachu cautioned. "I wouldn't want to use it to deflect, say, Earth Power."

"That's not a blast of bright light, though," Ash shrugged.

"Blast Burn!" Flint ordered, as his Infernape tried to defend himself, and the Fire-Type got his attack off just as Donphan hit him with an Earthquake.

The whole stadium jumped, mostly from the Earthquake – Flint's Infernape had a less powerful Blast Burn than Ash's Infernape, but it had been much more tightly focused – and Donphan and Infernape both went flying from the attack before landing with a crash at opposite ends of the arena.

"I think Donphan's out," Ash reported.

"So is Infernape!" Flint called back, but he didn't seem all that disappointed. "We didn't have time to pick up some tips from your fired-up battle in the Conference! But we'll be learning from it, you can bet!"

He reached for a new Pokeball. "Come on out, Flareon!"

"Swellow!" Ash replied, and the Flying-type burst out into the air with a flare of her wings.

"All right!" she declared. "Let's see how speed and agility fares!"

"Are you suggesting that Pidgeot doesn't have those things?" Lucario called.

"She's got power too," Swellow dismissed. "Which is great, and all, but – you know."

She accelerated, turning into an attack run on Flareon, then flipped over and turned away again – sending Flareon's opening gambit of a Flamethrower wide – only to flip back towards Flareon, unleashing a Boomburst attack which hammered into Flareon and sent him sliding backwards.

"Whoa, that's some pretty impressive lungs!" Flint called. "Let's see some Fire Blasts, Flareon!"

"You bet!" Flareon yipped, and began running rather than staying in one place. He sent a Fire Blast towards Swellow, but the attack didn't do any better at hitting her than the Flamethrower had – Swellow just did a barrel roll, going over the highest point of the star before starting to corkscrew. The detonation of the Fire Blast into a pressure wave and wash of fire did buffet her, but Swellow reacted by pitching up and rocketing skywards at ninety degrees to her previous base course.

"So, um, question," Keldeo began. "What was the setup to this stuff like?"

"What do you mean?" Suicune asked.

"Just… I wouldn't be surprised if an outright majority of Legendary Pokemon in the Home Islands were here," Keldeo clarified. "Or, well, it depends how you count, I suppose. But there's definitely a lot of them here, including most of the ones with wider ranging responsibilities… so how do we know someone like Hunter J won't try something?"

They both looked up as Swellow went in on another attack run, turning in with a clap-bang as she went briefly supersonic. Her Boomburst attack pulsed out towards Flareon, but the Fire-type detonated a Fire Blast around himself and the way the shock waves interacted deflected the attack away.

"It's a good question," Suicune allowed, as Swellow began orbiting – using relatively low-impact attacks like Air Cutter and Swift, and easily evading Flareon's return attacks. "But you're an experienced Legendary Pokemon yourself. What do you think?"

Keldeo tapped his hoof on the ground, considering.

"I suppose… well, firstly it didn't happen last time, so it's less likely it would happen this time," he muttered. "But… I suppose you could ask Absol?"

"That's a good part of it," Suicune agreed. "Another part, though, is that it's not actually well known that we're all here."

The colt nodded. "That makes sense."

Suicune then winked. "Plus, I heard from Giratina that the Time-Space Rescue Trio are looking for a reason to do something impressive. I wouldn't want to be the criminal who tried something when they're ready to get involved."

Swellow suddenly let out a shout, whirling around in a dozen aileron rolls in less than a second, and a whirling tornado formed around her. It seethed and crackled, picking up ominous energy as it built into a Twister, and she directed it straight at Flareon before dodging away with a whoosh.

"Stay ready!" Flint instructed, as Flareon threw a Fire Blast at the Twister – and discovered that it was less amenable to disruption than Swellow's previous attacks, because of the crackling Dragon-type energy that suffused it.

Instead Flareon dodged to the side, surrounding himself with a Flare Blitz for protection, and spotted Swellow coming in for a melee attack – just in time that he could use Zap Cannon, hitting her just as she hit him.

"Ow!" Flareon yipped, rolling over three times before sliding to a halt, then bounced back to his paws as the Twister dissipated and he spotted Swellow banking around.

Electricity fizzed around her feathers, and Keldeo snickered.

"Bad move," he summarized.

Swellow immediately demonstrated why, as she just got faster from what should have slowed her down, and over the next several crowded seconds Flareon found himself at the focus of Boomburst attacks from above-behind-left-right-over the shoulder-straight ahead, then a Brave Bird flicked him into the air, and finally Swellow strafed him with three consecutive Boombursts from directly below.

Flareon went rocketing into the sky, and Swellow tracked him for several seconds before breaking off.

"Whoo!" she crowed. "What a rush! There's nothing like being electrocuted to really get those muscles moving!"

She circled once, then darted up again, pulling over into a dive and catching the falling Flareon by his ruff.

"Oh, yeah, and here's your Fire-type I guess," she said, dropping him gently in front of Flint.

"This is a lovely day out for all of us," Lugia said, watching Ash's second Elite Four battle. "It's nice to see so many Pokemon who are so good at battling like this."

Ash's Lugia smiled, nuzzling his mate slightly. "I'm glad you're enjoying it."

He winced slightly as Bertha's Golem rolled forwards and smacked into Ivysaur, then watched as the Grass-type sent out two Vine Whip attacks at once. One of them drilled into the ground either side of Golem, not only arresting Ivysaur's momentum but also letting Ivysaur store up energy in the tension of the vines, then Ivysaur sprang right back again and let go with his vines as soon as they went slack again.

Ivysaur's flower bulb closed up for a moment, then fired something out, and the recoil drove the Grass-type towards the ground. He vanished underground with a Dig, then popped right back out again as Golem tried to use the opportunity for an Earthquake, and Golem snorted at the waste before exhaling a jet of fire at Ivysaur.

Leaves whirling, Ivysaur drew the Flamethrower attack into a spiral around himself which robbed it of much of the force it should have had. Then the projectile Ivysaur had launched – which hadn't been aimed to go anywhere near where Golem was – suddenly stopped in mid-air and dropped straight down at startling velocity.

Fragments of apple core and pip went everywhere as the Grav Apple exploded, and Silver raised a wing uncertainly.

"Dad?" he said. "Mom? Um… is that an attack Ivysaur normally learn?"

"No, but that's never stopped Ivysaur," Lugia replied. "Or most of my teammates, really."

Golem had shaken off the impact – and a barrage of Razor Leaf attacks which had followed it – while they were talking, and stomped on the ground before flinging a Rock Slide attack at Ivysaur.

The rocks were large enough that sheer impact could easily have knocked Ivysaur backwards, but instead the Grass-type sliced one in half with his leaves in a blur of Leaf Blade before dodging away from the rest – except for one which he knocked away with a Strength attack.

"By the way, who's taking care of things back at the islands?" Lugia asked, glancing at her mate. "I don't remember if you said."

"This has to be our chance," Articuno announced. "It has to be!"

"No way," Zapdos countered. "I'm not getting involved. Not after last time."

"But none of them are here!" Articuno insisted. "Lugia isn't here, Silver isn't here, Lugia isn't here either. Pidgeot isn't here, Ho-Oh isn't here, even Mewtwo isn't here! They're not here. We can finally get this sorted out!"

"No way, no how," Zapdos said, folding his wings around himself. "You may lack even basic pattern recognition, but I don't. Every single time we think they've gone, it turns out they haven't."

"You-" Articuno snapped his beak. "I ought to-"

Zapdos shook his head. "In that case, I agree with you."

"Then we can fight?" Articuno asked.

"Whichever answer means we don't," Zapdos summarized his position.

"I asked Absol about it," Lugia answered his mate. "It's all taken care of."

"Great work, Ivysaur!" Ash called, a minute or so later, once the Grass-type had managed to outlast Bertha's Golem. "Want to stay out for a bit, or switch?"

"I'll see what's next," Ivysaur decided.

"Gotcha," Ash agreed. "And good work on… whatever that move was."

Ivysaur shrugged, which on him meant flexing first his right legs and then his left. "I probably inherited it or something."

"Sounds about right," Lucario agreed.

"You next," Bertha said, and held out a Pokeball.

There was a sort of crunching sound as whatever Pokemon she sent out just went straight into the earth, without even being present for long enough for them to see, and Ash closed one eye to get some idea what they were facing.

"Hippowdon," he reported. "Dodge!"

Hippowdon's mouth reared up out of the ground and clamped closed with an Ice Fang as Ivysaur tried to comply, then followed up the freezing blow of the Ice Fang with a Fire Fang that hit just as hard as the Ice Fang had.

Ivysaur went flying and Ash returned him, then reached for the next Pokeball on his belt. "Go!"

Giratina exploded onto the field with a flash of purplish light, sending smoke and mist everywhere, and Cynthia blinked.

"Huh," she said. "That seems a bit much."

"I'm pretty sure Giratina has Levitate, so he is a good tactical choice," Brock offered, looking over the Origin Forme Giratina floating over Ash's side of the field. "But… yeah."

"Oops," Ash said.

"Oops?" Giratina repeated, turning to look at Ash. "Did something happen that shouldn't have?"

"Well, I… actually thought that next Pokeball was Kingler," Ash admitted. "I think I put them on the wrong way around."

"I say play it as it lies, dearie," Bertha advised. "You're here for an Elite Four battle, not an equal spar, and if I had a Groudon or Landorus you can be sure I'd be using him here!"

"Well, in that case," Giratina decided, and slashed a hole in the world. He swam through, closing the portal behind him, and Hippowdon turned slowly to look at her trainer.

"Play it as it lies?" she asked. "Really?"

Not expecting an answer, she huffed and rolled her eyes. "Fine then…"

She began exerting her Sand Stream ability, making a swirling vortex of sand and dust blossom around her so that at least Giratina would be gating into a sandstorm – and couldn't open a portal to observe her – then burrowed into the ground to hide. Her fangs glittered slightly with frost as she readied another Ice Fang.

Then the entire middle of the arena fell into the Reverse World.

It was quite impressive to watch. The ground sank slightly, in a broad circle, and then sort of crumbled away from the middle out towards the edges with each individual piece going both inwards and down at the same time.

Hippowdon went with it, with a startled bellow, and then Giratina looked up through the hole.

"Does that count as ring out?" he asked.

"I think we need to ask Cynthia for that one," Ash admitted. "I'm not sure what the rules are on ring out…"

"I would think that sending your opponent out of the entire universe would have to qualify," Pikachu said.

"You know what the most rewarding thing about a really good high-level Pokemon battle is?" Misty asked.

Karen considered.

"Well, there's several answers I could give to that," she said. "Because there's several possibilities, and one of them based on the last few years is 'continued existence'."

"Okay, good point," Misty admitted.

She looked at Giratina – now spectating phased halfway into the ground – and shrugged. "Anyway, ignoring my failed attempt at suspense, the most rewarding thing in my opinion is that you get to see Pokemon doing things that you normally wouldn't think were possible. I mean, look."

Misty waved at the battlefield, and Karen pursed her lips.

She could see Misty's point, really.

The hole which Giratina's space-warping and portal-cut had left – once closed, after Hippowdon had been retrieved and returned to the sidereal world – had been filled in by Ash's Kingler, giving him an environment more suitable to a Water-type. That much was obvious, but Bertha had sent out her Gliscor to attack Kingler from an altitude which Kingler couldn't really reply to so effectively.

In theory, anyway.

In practice, Kingler was crouched into the water so only his eyes were showing, and whenever Gliscor came in for attack Kingler countered by snapping his massive pincer closed and projecting a huge bubble-implosion Crabhammer shockwave up into the air – hurling vast sheets of water up in an attempt to slap Gliscor down.

It wasn't going all Kingler's way, certainly – the water was seething with the Toxic attack which Gliscor had already dropped into it – but nor was the flying Gliscor getting away unscathed, as more than once she'd been knocked upwards by a plume of water.

"Hmm…" Karen said, glancing down at her Umbreon. The Dark-type returned her gaze and gave her a nod, and Karen turned back to the battle. "He's got something else in mind."

"Yep," Misty agreed.

They watched for another minute or so, as Kingler obviously weakened – then on the next Crabhammer Kingler's smaller pincer swung into position as well. He used Ice Beam at the same time, blasting the whole of the water in the plume, and what rose up was a sheet of Rime – a sheet of water supercooled below freezing, which began to suddenly solidify into ice whenever anything as small as a bubble prompted it to.

Gliscor was in the fringes of the plume, not the middle, but she hadn't dodged away far enough. Expecting it to be a simple enough attack to evade by avoiding the main pressure, she ended up covered in ice weighing more than she did, and slammed down into the water with a crash as ice rained down all around both Pokemon.

Kingler wasted no time, advancing to hit Gliscor with another attack, and Bertha recalled her Pokemon.

"Good show, dear," she announced. "Rhyperior, sort him out."

Ash winced as Kingler got hammered back into the wall.

"Okay, I think he needs to come back," he decided. "Which means…"

He flicked the next Pokeball off his belt. "I choose-"

"That's the right one this time, right?" Pikachu interrupted.

"Yes, thank you, Pikachu," Ash told him. "I checked this time. Anyway – I choose you, Tyranitar!"

This time Ash had the right Pokeball, and Tyranitar landed with a crash on Ash's side of the depression.

"Earthquake," Ash told him.

Tyranitar stomped his foot on the ground, and the earth shook. That didn't affect Rhyperior very much, but it did break open rifts in the ground and let the water drain away from the pool.

"That's better," Tyranitar decided. "Good call."

"Rock Wrecker, dear," Bertha ordered.

Tyranitar braced himself, and the heavy impact knocked him sliding back a foot or two. Rock shards went flying in all directions, and by the time he'd recovered Rhyperior was pounding forwards in a charge to close range.

"Don't let her punch you directly," Ash advised, and Tyranitar adjusted his stance slightly.

He tensed, then whirled on one foot and whipped his tail around to slam it into Rhyperior. The impact – delivered with surprising speed for such a big and rocky Pokemon – battered Rhyperior aside, away from her charge, and the Ground-type slid to a halt before turning and charging again.

This time she was lower-set, and energy built up around her feet with every stomp, and she hammered into Tyranitar harder than even her Rock Wrecker attack from earlier had landed – delivering a massive Stomping Tantrum attack that Tyranitar struggled to deal with.

But he did deal with it, enduring the impact, and pushed back – maintaining contact, pushing for a contest of raw strength with Rhyperior. The ground under them shifted with the strain, more cracks forming, but the close-in struggle gave Tyranitar one advantage – though he wasn't quite winning the struggle, he was close enough that Rhyperior couldn't pull back for long enough to prepare one of her powerful physical blows.

Of course, the same was true of Tyranitar… but he had other options, and his tail began to light up as he prepared his next attack. Charging up ready to strike, against an opponent who was close enough he couldn't reasonably miss.

"Best get out of there, sweetie," Bertha advised.

Rhyperior suddenly stepped back, unbalancing both herself and Tyranitar, and kicked up to help the somewhat lighter Dark-type on his way. Not ready for the trick, Tyranitar went over her in a martial arts throw – then used Hyper Beam, the massive blast of energy entirely missing Rhyperior.

It didn't miss the ground, however, and Tyranitar had learned well from his big sister. The blast was powerful enough that he didn't actually hit the ground, rocketing himself into the air by sheer barely-controlled recoil, and Bertha watched him ascend with a frown.

"Don't see that every day," she said, as Tyranitar finally stopped blasting. "Watch out, he'll be coming down faster than he went up."

Tyranitar put his paws together, then made a gesture, and Bertha frowned.

So did Rhyperior, though her confusion was only deepened when something tapped her on the tail.

A strange, shadowy Mawile had been the one to do it, and the odd-looking Fairy-type took her tail by the stem before suddenly picking her up and slamming her into the ground.

"What would you call that?" Misty asked. "Foul Play Rough?"

"That's actually Beat Up, but I'd mostly call it painful," Karen replied, an opinion which was only amplified when Tyranitar landed.

He didn't actually land on top of Rhyperior – his trajectory hadn't been quite right – but he did land not more than six feet away and with a massive Earthquake attack that made the ground jump.

Rhyperior still staggered back to her feet after that, but it looked like Tyranitar had the upper claw now – an impression that was reinforced when the Dark-type hit her with a right hook, then a left jab, then an uppercut that laid her out flat.

"Why did we teach Tyranitar boxing again?" Pikachu checked.

Lucario shrugged. "I didn't think he'd be very good at quarterstaff."

"So I like to think I know how a lot of this stuff works, now," Dawn said. "But do you mind if I check something?"

"Not at all," Brock assured her.

They both stopped talking for a moment as Muk attacked, and Aaron's Vespiquen shot out a barrage of waxy Combee-drones which interrupted Muk's stream of semi-random moves and stopped them from actually reaching her.

"...Muk is loud," Dawn summarized. "I somehow forgot that."

She shook her head. "Anyway, um… what I was wondering about was the tradeoff between being a type specialist, or some other kind of specialist, and being a generalist."

"The way it normally seems to work is that a lot of trainers are generalists," Brock said, thinking about their travels. "They have some Pokemon, and they use different Pokemon to deal with different challenges depending on what suits them best."

That got a nod or two from Dawn.

Muk fired out Swift, Shock Wave, Magical Leaf and Aura Sphere, and Vespiquen enfolded herself in a Defend Order before pouring out a cloud of bees which surged in to attack her glutinous opponent.

"It's kind of a trend, though, that a lot of the stronger trainers specialize," Brock went on. "Not just Gym Leaders, either, you have people who focus on Flying-types or Dragon-types or that kind of thing. And… I think it's because by specializing you end up being able to apply the same kind of useful tricks and tactics – and the same moves – to a lot of your Pokemon, so they improve faster and it kind of ends up self-reinforcing."

"Right," Dawn said, thinking about it. "And that's less of a thing in Contest circles because a lot of the tricks you can pick up for Contests are less focused on Type. Right?"

"I think so," Brock concurred. "Though that doesn't stop someone like Wallace specializing anyway."

"That's kind of a weird one because he's both," Dawn said. "So I'm not sure if you can say his Contest specialization is just because those are the Pokemon he came with by that point."

"Muk, fire down!" Ash called.

They watched as the fusillade of attacks blasted Muk into the air, and then another shouted order had Muk start to fire at an angle – making him spin faster and faster, forming a kind of whirling frisbee which ducked and weaved away from Vespiquen's Attack Order.

"...and then there's Ash," Brock resumed. "And people like him."

"Who are, what?" Dawn pressed. "Weird? Very weird?"

"That's fair, but not really polite," Brock pointed out. "And I mean more that Ash is… he's a generalist who has the right attitude, and skills, to apply a broad suite of tricks and tactics for all his Pokemon, and then refine them further. Which makes him a force to be reckoned with, because his Pokemon have the kind of skill you'd expect for a type specialist or tactic specialist, but they've all got it."

"Like Cynthia?" Dawn suggested, looking at the Sinnoh Grand Champion, then back at the battlefield.

In the few seconds she'd been looking away, Muk had moved to directly over Vespiquen, and a stream of mixed but mostly powerful attacks smashed through her Defend Order and slammed her into the ground.

"Ouch," Brock winced.

"Feh," Piplup snorted. "Be hit by Draco Meteor for months and then see what you think is an ouch."

"That's what I like to see, Scizor!" Aaron called.

Ash recalled Muk – Scizor's Bug Buzz trick had dissipated Muk's Fire-typed attacks, and that had given him the edge he needed to win – and switched out for another Pokemon. "Your turn, Keldeo!"

The Colt Pokemon emerged onto the field, and struck it with his hoof before switching to Resolute Form. "Thanks for inviting me, Ash!"

"I'm glad to have you here," Ash told him, and Keldeo glanced back and gave him a nod before returning his attention to Scizor.

The Steel/Bug type jumped into the air, wings buzzing up to hold him hovering in place, and took a ready stance. Then he moved, air swirling up around his right claw in an Aerial Ace which slashed out at Keldeo's side.

Keldeo danced to his right, igniting his Secret Sword with an orange flash, and blocked the first blow with a crackle-bang accompanying the impact. His closest hoof kicked out, delivering a blow which knocked Scizor back a few feet, and used Hydro Pump in the same instant so that a jet of high-pressure water carried Scizor back into the rocky wall behind him.

"Meteorain!" Keldeo announced, sweeping his horn down, and three Secret-Sword beams flashed out at once. Scizor jumped over them, wings working, and at first the water impeded them but then a Bug Buzz flashed over the Bug-type and sent all the water bursting off in a fine mist.

Not content with that, Aaron threw something onto the field, and Scizor caught it before flashing with a brilliant orange light as he Mega-Evolved.

Ash and Keldeo only had a moment to see the result before Mega Scizor surged in on the attack again. This time he attacked with both claws and wings, mixing in Aerial Ace and Dual Wingbeat, and Keldeo switched his blade from Secret Sword to Ice Blade just to give him more of an elemental advantage. Then he switched again, to a Flying-aspected Air Cutter, and for several long seconds the battle was a swirling dance of strike and block and dodge.

Both Pokemon could fly, but by different means, and the fighting rose into the air more than once before dropping back to the ground as both focused more on trying to gain an advantage than keeping their altitude.

Suddenly, Mega Scizor changed tactics – pulling a strike by twisting his arm just before it hit, throwing Keldeo off slightly, and caught him with a Cross Poison attack.

Keldeo retaliated with a powerful water blast, firing it out of all four hooves at once but focused so tightly at first that it cut into the ground – then widened the focus, so that all the water burst back up out of the ground with a wham and knocked both Pokemon into the air.

The Water-type had noticed that Mega Scizor's wings didn't work again immediately if they got wet – and that he'd had to get too close in order to deliver the Cross Poison. So suddenly they were both airborne on Keldeo's terms, and his Air Cutter focused in so tightly that it flashed into a Flame Blade with which Keldeo slammed his opponent right back to the ground again.

"So, what do you think about the battle so far?" Karen said.

Misty gave her an odd look. "Huh? I've been watching it with you."

"I mean with the Bug type thing," Karen clarified.

"Hey, I'm not that bad," Misty defended herself. "Not any more, anyway. I just think a lot of them are a bit ew."

She waved her hand vaguely. "I mean, you know. String Shot is a bit ew. Right?"

"It's definitely an area where you've developed, from when you were afraid of all of them," her Starmie said.

"Since when were you this wordy?" Misty asked. "I mostly remember you saying Hiyah."

Karen chuckled.

"This is fine, though, right?" she said, indicating Ash's Heracross defending himself against Aaron's Yanmega – the big Ogre Darner Pokemon swooping in for high-speed slashing attacks and Heracross defending himself with Rock Blast.

"Yeah, there isn't really anything about either of them that's-"

"-a bit ew," Karen finished, saying it at the same time she did. "Right."

Heracross rolled away from an Air Slash, taking a glancing blow, and rammed his horn into the ground before sending a pulse of power through it that cracked the ground. As Yanmega came around for another attack run, Heracross flipped the chunk of rock up into the air and hit it with a powerful Brick Break – sending a cloud of shrapnel through the air for Yanmega to run into, hitting the other Bug-type at least four times and slowing it down slightly.

"Aerial Ace!" Ash called, and Heracross flicked his horn in an odd way – somehow managing to get it into just the right position to hit Yanmega in the side, which didn't knock his opponent out but sent it shooting off into the air before coming in for another attack run.

"...question," Misty said. "What's a darner?"

Karen looked at her as if it was at least a possibility that she'd gone mad.

"Yanmega is an Ogre Darner Pokemon," Misty explained, which made Karen look considerably more relieved. "And, well, I've got no idea where that comes from."

"Me neither, now you mention it…" the Dark-type trainer admitted.

"Maybe it mends clothes with String Shot," Starmie suggested.

"Now there's a mental image I could do without," Misty winced. "Ew."

"My next Pokemon is Drapion," Aaron said, sending him out, and Ash frowned.

"I know that I'm not exactly a type specialist," he admitted. "But does that count?"

"I do know what you mean," Aaron conceded. "There's been some weird interactions with what counts as Pokemon in type specializations before. Like, you know, Charizard and Dragon-types, or whether a Psyduck counts as a Psychic Pokemon."

"Even though it's got Psy in the name," Ash agreed.

"That's only getting into the very basics of the question, there's a lot more," Pikachu said, jumping up onto Ash's head. "Dexter, translate for me?"


"The number of times I've had battles which are weird because of the technical definitions of what is or isn't a Pokemon of a given type is really long," Pikachu said, then. "And it doesn't even begin to get into the question of the battles I've just spectated. But what's even weirder for me is when a Pokemon has a type that doesn't make sense – I mean, Lugia doesn't have the Water-type?"

"To be fair, if he had all the Types it makes sense for him to have he'd have about four," Lucario pointed out.

"Well, yeah, but still," Pikachu shrugged the point off. "And that's before getting into weird ones like Flygon. It looks Bug type – and Vibrava looks really Bug-type – but it's a Ground and Dragon type, and then again it might fit as a Flying-type. And..."

"I think this is coming straight from the heart," Ninetales said.

"I think I don't want to be a Bug-type," Flygon replied. "I mean, I don't mind Bug-types, but I'm quite happy being as resistant as I am to being set on fire and stuff like that."

"You know what the craziest thing is?" Aaron asked, once Pikachu had finished. "When Flint made Elite Four, he had a Fire-type team that was crazy limited – he was just really good with what he had. His team was filled out with a Lopunny with Fire Punch at one point."

"Hey, if that's a possibility, maybe we should apply as a Fighting type Elite Four member," Lucario suggested. "I think most of us can punch."

"But Drapion evolved from Skorupi, so he's still an honorary Bug-type," Aaron concluded. "Anyway, the battle?"

"Oh, right," Ash realized. "I'm sending out Meganium!"

The Grass-type materialized in a flash, and Drapion considered her before turning his attention to his trainer.

"Hey, there's a translator thingie in effect, right?" he asked. "Because I have a couple of questions. Firstly, um, are they sure about this? Just because I'm not a Bug-type any more doesn't mean I forgot all my Bug moves."

"Oh, we're sure, don't worry," Meganium told him.

"Second question," Drapion continued. "Are you sure about this? Because I have the feeling that they've got a reason for their choice."

"Well, maybe, but that's part of the challenge," Aaron shrugged. "And yeah, it might be painful, but… it'll work out."

"Easy for you to say," the ex-Bug-type said, then did a weird all-over shrug. "Okay, let's get to it."

He scuttled over to his position on one side of the battlefield, with Meganium taking the other, and then the moment the battle began he fired out a barrage of Pin Missiles.

They curved around before flying back towards Meganium, but she used the moment to her advantage – shaking herself out and producing a giant cloud of Razor Leaf attacks, not to actually attack but to both soak up the force of the Bug attacks and conceal her position. A Petal Blizzard added to that effect, covering the battlefield, and Drapion readied a Cross Poison before starting to fire out Bug Buzz attacks.

There was a flare of blue light through the blizzard, then Meganium's Vine Whip slammed down – coated in blue light, and cutting a deep gash in the battlefield.

"It's amazing what you can learn from your kids," she said, drawing her vines back in with a whipcrack before readying her next attack.

"Told you," Drapion said, then began focusing all his attention on not being hit by Sacred Sword.

"Well, that's me out," Aaron said, recalling his last Pokemon. "You're really something to battle, you know."

"I've got a good team and a lot of experience," Ash replied, thinking about just how long it had taken to get that experience, and Aaron chuckled.

"Yeah, that's part of it – obviously it is," he said. "They don't just hand out Pokemon as good as yours are, especially not with the kind of team variety you have… or if they do, I'd really like you to tell me where. I could do with a Volcarona or something like that, just as a fun surprise."

"Honestly, it kind of just happens," Lucario said. "I'm not entirely sure I follow the process, and I'm a result of the process…"

"But more to the point," Aaron resumed. "We've seen a lot of trainers, and a lot of them have strong Pokemon, and a lot of them have a lot of experience. But the difference really is that eventually people start to level off a bit. Their Pokemon start to reach the limit of what they can do from experience, or they fall into a rut because they have a system which works and it's easy to just stick with it. But either your Pokemon went a lot further before they hit that, or they just haven't hit it yet at all, and in both cases that's a really great sign."

He spread his hands. "Trust me on that – we see a lot of good trainers, so I don't say that lightly."

Ash nodded, not really sure what to say at first, then scratched the back of his head. "I… guess that's a good sign, then?"

"Yes," Pikachu summed it up. "What actually is the definition of a Pokemon master, again?"

"I think I've learned so much that I'm not even sure any more," Ash admitted.

A few minutes later, by means of a lift from his Ledian, Aaron arrived in the box the other Elite Four members were using to watch the battle.

"I wasn't actually aware that Ledian could learn Fly," Dawn said.

"That wasn't Fly," Aaron explained. "It was Strength."

"...I'm trying to find a flaw in that argument, but I'm having trouble…"

"So, just Lucian left, and then we'll see how he does against me," Cynthia declared, then noticed Aaron and Flint both giving her sardonic looks. "That is… assuming he wins."

"Oh, we think that's likely," Flint told her. "At this point a lot of the fun with watching Ash Ketchum battle is wondering how. But you're not supposed to just assume that sort of thing, you're meant to raise our morale."

Cynthia pointed. "I see. So you're the only ones allowed to be cynical."

"Exactly," Flint agreed.

"It looks like Lucian's starting off with one of his stronger Pokemon," Bertha told them, and the rest of the Sinnoh Elite Four looked to see how that was going.

True to Bertha's word, Lucian had sent out his Medicham – a Pokemon who landed on his left foot, poised in place, then took up a ready stance.

In reply, Ash sent out his Squirtle.

"Oh, bugger," Flint said, quietly.

"That about sums it up," Brock agreed.

Medicham put his hands together, and bowed. "May our battle be honourable, and may the best Pokemon win."

"That's just what I was thinking!" Squirtle replied. "But that's nothing like how I'd put it! I'd say that this is going to be one hell of a good fight because it's between two hot-blooded warriors, willing to set rules on how they battle so that whoever wins deserves it without sneaky, underhanded tactics!"

"Suddenly I'm glad I don't have Telepathy," Medicham mused. "However, in the interests of honour, I must inform you that I am planning on Mega-Evolving."

"That's fine!" Squirtle told him, reaching inside his shell and producing a glittering blue construct. "Because that's just what a hot-blooded warrior is capable of!"

Ash raised his staff keystone. "This one's not going to explode, right?"

"That depends on if it would be thematically appropriate!" the Water-type told him. "So let's do this! Join our manly spirits!"

"I think the closest thing I have to one of those is Giratina," Ash replied.

"Actually, Ash, I disagree," Lucario said. "You definitely do have one of them. I've seen you have a sword fight with a tsunami and win."

"...yeah, good point," Ash conceded.

"Are all of your battles like this?" Lucian said, checking his own Key Stone – a small one, integrated into the pin he kept in his handkerchief.

"Squirtle's ones do usually involve talking at the start," Ash judged.

"Come on, come on, come on!" Squirtle asked. "Let's do this!"

Ash nodded, and closed his eyes.

A moment later, orange-gold light flowed over Squirtle – and over Medicham, as the Psychic-type Mega-Evolved as well.

His headpiece developed a turban, with a yellow stone as the centrepiece, and extensions flowed out from it – obscuring his vision, but presenting no impediment to the intensely perceptive Pokemon.

Gold bands formed on his wrists, around his waists, and extra decorations around his legs, and finally four spectral arms materialized to form an aura around him.

When the transformation finished, Mega Medicham took a ready stance – one in which all six arms were held ready to respond.

Mega Squirtle slid his own foot across the floor, then the pair of small cannons on his shell swivelled to point behind him. They activated in a sudden gush of water, launching him into the air, and he shot a spiralling barrage of Bubblebeam that came down to barrage Mega Medicham mercilessly.

Mega Medicham's spiritual arms crossed to form a defensive barrier, enduring the blast of Bubblebeam for a few seconds, then he fired a pulse of psychic energy out – and followed it up immediately with a surging jump into the sky, exploiting the moment's respite that the psychic burst granted to him to get right up to where Mega Squirtle was.

All four spectral arms glowed yellow at once as Mega Medicham readied four simultaneous Thunderpunches, and Mega Squirtle summoned two pairs of sunglasses from thin air – one of which blocked one attack, one blocked a second, and the third attack was blocked by both sunglasses crossed together.

The fourth attack drove him back down to the ground, and he vanished into a small crater.

"This changes nothing!" he called, though his voice did sound a bit muffled.

Flipping through the air, Mega Squirtle landed with both hind feet on the ground and one foreleg down for support. He went sliding along the ground to damp out his momentum, then hopped to the side to avoid a follow-up punch by the lightning-quick Mega Medicham.

"You're pretty good!" he declared, sweeping his free arm dramatically out to the right. The small gun attached to it went click, and fired out a blast of water which Mega Squirtle caught before twisting and shaping into a swirling blade of water.

"Is that Sacred Sword?" Pikachu asked. "How many of us know Sacred Sword right now?"

"No, this isn't Sacred Sword!" Mega Squirtle replied, bringing it up and showing the shape. "This is a drill."

Then he took it in both hands and blocked with it at lightning speed, sending the spectral arm aimed at him crashing into the floor instead, then jumped into the air with a quick blast of water from his jetpack to help the force of his jump. He threw the water-drill point-first at Mega Medicham, and his opponent dodged away from it with liquid grace – only to suddenly have significantly less liquid grace, as the drill erupted into a wave of water which hit Mega Medicham from behind.

Mega Squirtle closed in to melee range while his opponent was staggering, projecting swirling drill-blades from both arm cannons now, and hit Mega Medicham twice before he recovered somewhat. Then there was a blur of attacks in which Ash counted at least four strikes by both Pokemon, ending when Mega Medicham just blew up the ground around them both with a Rock Smash and psionically deflected all the rocks which were going to hit him.

Withdrawing into his shell, Mega Squirtle used Hydro Pump to amp up his speed and control his movement, then snapped back out again and used his shades to slice a Focus Blast in half.

"You're just not getting it, are you?" he asked. "I'm the badass Squirtle, leader of the Squirtle Squad, whose fame echoes far and wide! I'm the one who people talk about, and you'd better recognize it!"

"I've never actually contested that," Mega Medicham told him, taking the interval of talking as an opportunity for a respite. He rose up on the tip of one toe, putting his true hands together, and spread his spectral arms out around him into a defensive position. "It's just that when people do talk about you, it's a little bit incoherent and tends to include a lot of things which aren't really… believable."

"Believable?" Mega Squirtle repeated. "What's the difference between believable and unbelievable? Because when people talk about that, they're talking about me, and I make the impossible possible! Believable is just another challenge and I'm not going to fall short!"

Mega Medicham nodded, a little uncertainly. "So that means that you have in fact ripped through space in order to attack your opponent."

"And save my teammates!" Mega Squirtle added. "I haven't had to do it to punch someone yet so they see the error of their ways, but if any of them do then I'll be the first one there with the trans-dimensional fist to correct them!"

"And you actually did at one point create a gigantic Vaporeon."

"Once by mistake, once deliberately!" Mega Squirtle agreed.

"So… that means that you have, in fact, gone headfirst into an obvious trap just because it was in a hot spring."

Mega Squirtle paused, raising a forearm, then let it slump.

"So, it turns out there's a downside to being inherently too amazing," he conceded. "People just aren't willing to believe you might not do something"

"Shall we continue?" Mega Medicham offered.

Mega Squirtle flourished his glasses by way of agreement, and then Mega Medicham used Focus Punch.

The attack knocked Mega Squirtle back across the entire valley, shattering his energy-construct glasses into a thousand dissolving pieces – but just as he was about to hit the rock face he conjured another water drill, and went straight into it without slowing.

Two seconds later he burst out again going the other direction, cannoning towards Mega Medicham, and when the Psychic-type stepped to the side and attacked him on the way past Mega Squirtle just fired the drill off into the mountainside and shed all his momentum.

Directing all four cannons – two on his back and one on each arm – at Mega Medicham, he smirked. "Eat this!"

The barrage of Bubblebeams, Aqua Pulses, Dragon Pulses and Aura Spheres was enough to knock Mega Medicham at the wall just as fast as Mega Squirtle had gone.

"Okay, so I've started trying to figure out that Squirtle," Cynthia began.

Brock looked around, worried. "I think we might need to make sure the hospital's on standby."

"No, I'm going about this in a very simple way," Cynthia explained. "Basically, I'm assuming he can do everything, and then narrowing it down."

An enormous plume of water rose skywards, as one of the ice shard drills that Mega Squirtle had fired at Mega Medicham turned out to be the opposite of supercooled without actually being superheated.

"Admittedly I'm not having much luck," she added.

"I think there's a trick to it," Dawn told her. "And that trick is that it's about spectacle. When Squirtle tries to do something, it doesn't really operate on the same logic as other people or Pokemon… it's more like, he does something based on emotional logic, and that sometimes involves doing things which don't make sense, but if he does it quickly enough and with enough real conviction it sometimes means that the universe doesn't notice until he's finished."

She paused. "Or, rather, it usually means the universe doesn't notice. If he's quick."

"Icicle drill crash!" Mega Squirtle called out, barraging Mega Medicham with dozens of ice drills, and half of them went spinning up into the air before dropping back down as elongated corkscrew missiles. "The spiral turns ever on, moving further with each step! That's how a drill works!"

He jumped into the air himself, and for a moment everyone saw an iceberg creak and explode behind him.

"...what," Cynthia said, staring.

"In hindsight, I could have had a worse battle," Flint admitted.

Mega Squirtle's guns all flashed, producing a massive iceberg, and he twisted before throwing it down at Mega Medicham. "Sky drop! Falling icicle strike!"

The earthquake sent half of Cynthia's popcorn scattering, and only the quick intervention of Mewtwo stopped it all spilling onto the floor.

He stopped the snowstorm, as well, which was nice.

"Well, that happened," Lucian said. "I… wonder if I'm going to need to-"

"Just so you know, I'm calling Squirtle back," Ash told Lucian. "I thought you should know."

"That's kind of a relief," Lucian admitted. "But why?"

"I have exactly the same question!" Mega Squirtle declared. "So you'd better have one hell of a good answer!"

"Well, there's kind of two reasons," Ash said. "Firstly, there's lots of other Pokemon who've been waiting their turn to have a battle, and… well, secondly, I think that if you keep using that Mega Stone it's going to explode eventually."

"Just because all the other ones have exploded, that doesn't prove anything," Mega Squirtle protested.

"I think the big problem here is that it'd create a flash flood in this valley," Lucario supplied helpfully. "And that would wash away our opponent."

Mega Squirtle considered, then deactivated his Mega Stone.

"Good point," he said, and returned himself.

"...somehow I feel like we just avoided an explosion," Ash commented.

"That's what we experts call an accurate description of the situation," Pikachu snarked.

"Okay," Ash went on, then there was a flash as Lucian sent out his Mr. Mime.

"It's only fair," Lucian explained.

"Right," Ash nodded. "Totodile, your turn!"

"You know, I think this is one of the things which really distinguishes Ash's style from the style of other top level trainers," Gary-Uno said, as he watched Totodile's emergence onto the battlefield – with a spin and a flourish, sweeping up a wave of water around himself which deflected the first opportunistic Psychic attack that Mr. Mime launched.

"I get what you mean," Gary-Dos agreed.

"Well, of course you did," Gary-Uno said. "We've-"

"-had similar upbringings and we're basically the same person in a lot of ways," Gary-Dos completed. "I hope I don't say that all the time!"

Technically, you did say it that time, Dee chimed in. And if you interrupt and finish every time your counterpart tries to say it, it'll be something you say more often than him.

"...oh, right, yeah, logic," Gary-Dos admitted. "Anyway… yeah, it's something it took me a while to realize, but it's the whole evolving Pokemon thing… or not evolving Pokemon. Most of us evolve Pokemon so they become more powerful, but Ash has Pokemon evolve or not depending on if they're more comfortable with themselves and their fighting style that way."

"Now who's saying the obvious out loud?" Gary-Uno twitted him.

"Apparently me, all the time," Gary-Dos sighed. "Oh, this could be interesting."

Dee projected some holographic filters, applying polarization to make the planes of force making up Mr. Mime's defences clear to them despite their transparency, and they watched as Totodile tried his best to get through them – first slamming into one in the middle of a spin, then twirling on the spot while spraying out a Water Pledge refined to the point it was more of a mist in the air than anything.

Water ran down the surfaces of all the force walls, highlighting their position, and Totodile considered – always moving, always light on his feet, and dodging out of the way of each attack that Mr. Mime used.

"See, if this were a normal trainer's Totodile, it'd be a Feraligatr," Gary-Uno said, pointing.

"...I'm not going to point out the problems there," Gary-Dos decided, as Totodile moved backwards three steps in a row to avoid Psywave attacks.

Then the reptilian Pokemon bit into the nearest wall, stuck his arm in through the gap he'd ripped with Crunch, and picked up the entire collection of force walls.

"Wait, hold on, how did he do that?" the physically older of the two Garys said, leaning forwards. "Those aren't real walls!"

"Real enough for him to bang his tail on," his counterpart pointed out, as Totodile threw the whole collection away and charged towards Mr. Mime.

"Question," Pikachu said, a few crowded minutes later. "Have you been taking tips from Squirtle?"

"Not really," Totodile replied. "It just occurred to me that maybe that was possible. Was I wrong?"

Pikachu considered the evidence, including a very odd shaped crater on the hillside.

"I think you were probably correct," he said. "Just a guess on my part."

"It's not really unknown," Ash reminded Pikachu. "How many times have you thrown around and punched out Pokemon who weigh a lot more than you? It's all about cancelling out the recoil."

"Fair point," Pikachu agreed. "Anyway, who's next?"

"Oh, this should be interesting," Bruno said. "Watch this, Will. This is going to be good."

Will snorted. "You realize that, if you told me that sometimes a Fighting-type can beat a Psychic-type, I'd agree with you?"

"Yeah, but that doesn't make it less entertaining when it happens," Bruno countered.

"What kind of world is it that Ash Ketchum has created?" Lance said. "It used to be that Dragons were safe and secure in a world where they were almost unassailable on top of the Type advantage pyramid."

"Um…" Will asked, as Lucian's Alakazam waved his spoons in a menacing fashion and Primeape dropped into a crouch. "You know the Fairy type exists, right? That's a guaranteed counter to Dragons."

"I asked what kind of world Ash Ketchum created," Lance told him. "And he is indirectly responsible for Molly Hale's adorable Eevee, who is directly responsible for the Fairy-type."

He sighed. "I sort of wonder what it'd be like to live as a dragon tamer in a world like that… and the only person who has enough of an idea to tell me lives in Unova."

"...this isn't like you, boss," Bruno said. "Are you feeling all right?"

"Don't worry about me," Lance told him, with a quick and more confident smirk. "I've still got the best Dragonites out there and I'm not going to hang up my cape any time soon."

There was a wham from the battle, and all three of them turned to look.

By the looks of the pressure waves reflecting around the battle area, Alakazam had just launched a powerful Psychic attack – one which Primeape, clearly an expert, had dealt with by punching it very hard indeed.

"That involved Assurance, right?" Will guessed, as Alakazam started throwing a dazzling barrage of elemental attacks at Primeape and Primeape responded by punching or kicking them away or – occasionally – by actually dodging them.

"I wouldn't want to put money on it," Bruno replied. "Might have been Vacuum Wave… or Mach Punch, a lot of those are Mach Punches..."

"All right, that's me down to my last Pokemon," Lucian said, taking out a Pokeball. "This isn't the one I'm going to use, I'm just going to check that Espeon is okay – I hope that's fine?"

"Sure," Ash agreed.

"Excellent," Lucian declared, sending out an Abra. "You know what to do."

The Abra put her hands together and bowed, then vanished in a teleport.

When she appeared a second later, she had a glass of fruit punch with a little umbrella in it.

"...no, I wanted you to check on Espeon," Lucian said.

Sorry, I was asleep, Abra admitted, and vanished again. This time she materialized over where Espeon had hit the rock face, held out her hand (which lit up with Flash) and began clambering in through the tunnel Espeon's Reflect shield had bored in the rock.

"Anyway," Lucian said, adjusting his glasses. "I've left the best for last, which is just how it's supposed to be. There's no point reaching the climactic moment before the story of the battle is over."

"Is that why you battle the Grand Champion after battling the Elite Four?" Lucario asked. "I did wonder."

"That's just a coincidence," Lucian told him. "But a useful one."

He held up another Pokeball, this one a Level Ball. "Gallade!"

Ash reached for his own Pokeball. "Ho-Oh!"

"Finally!" Ho-Oh announced, exploding onto the battlefield with a brilliant flare of white light – so quickly that he beat Gallade to it. "Honestly, you'd think I hadn't been your first capture or something…"

The knightly Psychic-type emerged onto the field a moment later with a flash of his own, one arm going across to form a shield while the other manifested a sword, and he hunkered down slightly before looking over his shield at Ho-Oh.

"...I see you've done the same as me, then," Lucian mused, then spread his hand with a flourish. "Well, then. Gallade! Let's show them both what we can do!"

"Yes!" Gallade agreed, levelling his glowing sword, and fired a Thunderbolt along it. It hit Ho-Oh in the breast, sparking off and over his feathers with a crackle, and Ho-Oh retaliated with a jet of intense flame that hit the ground and splashed.

Gallade wasn't there any more, flashing away in a short-range teleport which took him just out of the attack range, and flicked off three more Thunderbolts in quick succession interspersed with teleport-jumps.

Ho-Oh closed his wings once, then opened them with a crackle of flame and smoke and a shower of sparks. The combination obscured him from view almost entirely, and all that anyone without Aura Sight could see was his wingtips swirling as he rose through the air over the battlefield.

The air around him burned, and he flew in it and lived in it, and when he swept his wings to launch a blast of air at Gallade a whirl of burning embers came with it. The Psychic-type didn't teleport away, this time, instead hunkering down behind his shield and flaring his psychic power – expanding the shield to create a shadow in which to hide, an area where Ho-Oh's attacks produced a whirl of hot ash but which the main blast missed.

"It's kind of weird, watching someone else using Pokemon that are the same type of Pokemon as your Pokemon," Max said. "In fact… hey, Roland? Is it weird watching a Pokemon that's your species in a battle?"

"Well, no," Roland replied, shrugging. "Because I'm a Gallade, and my whole evolutionary line is Ralts, Kirlia, Gardevoir and Gallade. It's not weird at all."

"Right?" Max said. "And it's… you know it shouldn't be weird, because, why would it be weird, you know there's more than one Gallade out there. But I'm still used to the idea that if there's a Gallade out there it's you."

May nodded pensively.

"But you don't have to worry about that with all your Pokemon," Manaphy said. "I mean, like, Skitty's unmistakeable."

That made both the Maples start giggling.

"Like, was it something I, like, said?" Manaphy asked, which only made the laughter get worse.

"I, like, totally despise you," Skitty informed him archly.

"Well, yeah," Roland said. "We know you're a cat. You don't need to remind us."

Skitty was about to reply, but then a concussive wham drew their attention back to the arena.

It looked like Ho-Oh had just managed to predict one of Gallade's teleport jumps, and the Psychic-type flipped crazily end-over-end twice before using his shield as a landing pad. It flashed as he blocked the ground with it, and he dug in his psi-blade before wrenching himself around into a position with his feet on the ground and his weapon and shield ready to defend.

"Sacred Fire!" Ho-Oh called, sending forwards a stream of rose-coloured fire, and Gallade spun to present his shield only – catching the attack on the glittering partially-there shield boss, before pushing abruptly and launching the whole attack right back at Ho-Oh.

It vanished into the cloud of smoke and flame, and there was a red-cored explosion which made the cloud ripple like a pond with a stone tossed into it.

When it faded, Ho-Oh was falling out of the sky… for just a moment, until he was entirely consumed in pink-red-gold flames which lit up the whole valley and shone against the rising smoke, lighting it up with a rainbow iridescence

Gallade raised his shield again, which went dark and translucent, and used it to block his eyes from the glare. All he could see was the falling shape of Ho-Oh wrought in fire, which spread its wings and began to beat them – stopping itself from tumbling, levelling out and going into a hover with his fire-streaming tail just dribbling heat onto the soil below.

"Do you concede?" Gallade called out.

When he got no answer, he fired a volley of Thunderbolts from his sword – and a rock slammed into him from behind, knocking him forwards and sliding on his shield almost halfway across the valley floor before he recovered his aplomb.

When he rose to his feet, he could see the trick.

The shape of fire wasn't Ho-Oh at all. It had been, but Ho-Oh had used the air currents to rise and hide himself – and kept the flames in shape, acting as a decoy.

"Turns out Mystical Fire has all sorts of uses," the Legendary said – his wings now edged with a faint outline of red light.

He spread them, and his flaming duplicate spread them as well, and Ho-Oh used Ember – while the double simply exploded, sending flames raining down in all directions.

"Block and parry!" Lucian ordered.

"So, how do you think you'd do some of these things?" Buneary asked, glancing over at two of her teammates.

"Which things are you thinking of?" Luxio asked, before wincing and flinging up a paw to cover one eye. "WOW but that was bright."

"Anything, really," Buneary answered.

"Yah!" Gallade shouted, doing a backflip just over Ho-Oh's fire blast attack, then volleyed in a dozen rapid bolts of psychic power.

"Well, I can do the backflips, I think," Luxio said, glancing down at his paws. A few sparks crackled around his ankles, and he tested how they made his weight shift before nodding. "Yeah, I could boost myself up that way."

He looked back up, just in time to see Ho-Oh vanish in a volcanic rumble of smoke and flame as Gallade soared up to meet him. The Fire-type sent coils of Mystical Fire swirling out in several directions, and Gallade's blade of psychic force flashed as he parried two of them while letting his shield block the rest.

"What about that bit?" Pachirisu suggested.

"That's a bit trickier," Luxio admitted. "Hmm…"

He coiled his tail around in front of him, and sparks flew off it. "I'm not sure I could do the shield bit, but I might be able to use my tail as a whip?"

"There is a move called that, so you might be on the right path," Buneary chuckled. "Worth working on, I think, that could have some good uses."

Gallade teleported, appearing behind Ho-Oh, and his shield and sword both vanished. The psychic energy from both curled together to form a shape like an oversized axe, and he swung it overhand at Ho-Oh.

"Behind you!" Ash called, and Ho-Oh's wings blurred.

He flew backwards, engulfing himself in flame as he did so, and the blast cushioned the impact of the attack. But more importantly it also hit Gallade, sending the psychic-type hurtling backwards, though he flipped around to reform his shield and absorb most of the impact that way.

"Okay, I think I've got a new thing to focus on learning," Luxio announced. "I want to learn that thing you do with punches, Buneary, just that I want to do it with Pokemon-shaped battle auras."

Both Buneary and Pachirisu gave him an odd look.

"That's not what just happened in the battle," Pachirisu pointed out.

"I know, but I got inspired," Luxio replied. "I hope that's not a problem?"

"...why would it be a problem?" Buneary said, then spotted the glint in his eye. "Okay, nice. You got me."

Luxio snickered, at least until a brilliant pink flash got all their attention at once.

Gallade lowered his arm, then reconjured his psychic shield.

The sparkles of the Dazzling Gleam faded away, and Ho-Oh hovered with great sweeps of his rainbow wings.

"Honest question," he said. "You did remember that I resist Fairy type?"

"It was worth a try," Gallade answered, before spinning and pointing his sword. It flashed, pulsing a trio of Thunderbolts, and as Ho-Oh bored in for an attack both of Gallade's weapons vanished – replaced by an odd-looking white globe.

He threw it overhand towards Ho-Oh, then teleported out of the way, and Ho-Oh hammered the globe with a Flamethrower just on general principle – and it promptly exploded in waves of blue light, throwing out several waves of spiked rocks as the Stone Edge went off.

The shards of rock peppered Ho-Oh, hitting hard enough to slow him down, and the Fire-type did a wingover before blasting the whole arena in flames. Green and rose-coloured fire mingled and swirled, bringing the strong scent of honeysuckle, and Ho-Oh stoked the fire tornado – amping it up more and more, pouring heat and energy into it, making the temperature spike and the flames roar.

Gallade was still there, flickering from place to place in teleports and shielding himself with brilliant blue light. A glowing Light Screen was part of it, but there was a Safeguard underneath, and he was diverting almost all of his strength into just enduring the attack rather than counterattacking.

Ho-Oh was deeply impressed. He was quite sure that, before he'd met Ash, this particular Pokemon would have been an absolutely tremendous challenge for him.

Then the Storm's End shot an intense spike of heat into the ground itself, blasting it apart and melting part of it at the same time, and the whole whirling maelstrom of heat and fire he'd created was suddenly a whirling maelstrom of lava.

Gallade's shield wasn't set up for that, and he took a heavy blow to the side. That made his defences falter, and Ho-Oh used Weather Ball an instant later – sucking up the whole of his creation into a seething marbled orb and leaving cool, clear air in its wake.

"Do you yield?" he asked, in a voice like hot brass.

Gallade had gone sliding across the ground from the force of the impact, and his shield arm had taken most of the hit – and the lava had solidified around the shape of the shield when the heat left it, leaving a heavy rock shield on Gallade's arm instead of what had been there before.

He considered it, then bowed.

"I do," he said.

Satisfied, Ho-Oh turned upwards – then paused.

"Question," he said, looking at Ash, Pikachu and Lucario. "Do you have any suggestions for how exactly I safely dispose of this Weather Ball? I am afraid I didn't quite think that far ahead..."

"I guess… maybe Mewtwo could help?" Ash frowned.

At about the same time as Ho-Oh was coming to that realization, meanwhile, Gallade knelt down and summoned a globe of glowing red water to his hand.

He drank it down, and sighed. "That's better."

"What was that?" Ho-Oh asked. "You have a healing move?"

"Yes, Life Dew, but it takes several seconds to drink," Gallade explained. "I'm working on making it faster… ideally instantaneous."

Ho-Oh considered that, then decided to mostly be satisfied with the fact that his attack sequence had been able to prevent Gallade from healing.

The magma orb was taken by Mewtwo to be disposed of somewhere it wouldn't do too much damage, and after a moment Ash breathed a sigh of mingled relief and wonder.

"It feels weird to have got to this point," he said. "You know, having actually beaten the Elite Four."

"It's not the first time, but I get what you mean," Pikachu agreed. "The exhibition matches felt different."

"And… yeah," Ash went on. "Now I guess I find out if I can battle Cynthia successfully…"

He groaned. "Oh, great, now I have to work out who to use for this battle."

"I can make a few suggestions," Lucario said, raising a paw.

"So can I," Cynthia informed him.

She'd come down onto the valley floor while the remains of Ho-Oh's battle were being taken care of, and walked over to shake Ash's hand.

"And just so you know, Ash," she added, "I remember that you've been a trainer for years – for longer than most know. And I want to make something very clear to you."

"Um… sure?" Ash asked, slightly confused.

"What I want to see from you, Ash, is your best," Cynthia told him, stressing the words. "I don't insist on you doing something like bringing out a complete team of Legendary Pokemon…"

She shook her head. "In fact, I'd be quite worried about that, but that's in my capacity as someone trying to win the coming battle. You've earned the allegiance of your team, every one of them, and this is your first true chance at defeating the Grand Champion of a region. You'll only get one first chance, and in fact you'll only get a few chances at all…"

"I think I get it," Ash said, nodding. "So… I should put together the team I think I should use, rather than picking a team which is meant to be at the right level?"

"In a very real sense, Ash, this battle is about you and your team," Cynthia confirmed. "When you decide who to use, think about that."

She smirked. "Anyway, I'm fairly sure I'll still have my job at the end of the day no matter who wins, so treat it as helpful advice."

"So, here's a question for you, Dawn," Brock said. "Obviously most of your time as a trainer – more than half – has been spent around Ash, one way or another."

"Is that true for you as well?" Dawn asked, frowning. "...how would you even work that one out? You'd need a calculator."

"Yeah, but I'm asking you," Brock pointed out. "You've just seen Ash battle four members of the Sinnoh Elite Four. How did it come across to you?"

"Pretty spectacular, really," Dawn answered. "It felt like… well, it felt a bit like it feels watching a Contest. Not completely, but similar, and that makes it a treat to watch."

"It was great!" Barry announced, in a Barrytone. "Did you see that thing with Ho-Oh? I never knew Legendary Pokemon were so strong!"

"...hold on, can you just stop and think about what you said for a moment?" Dawn requested.

"I mean it!" Barry insisted. "It's one thing to know intellectually that Legendary Pokemon are really strong, but it's another thing to actually watch it right in front of you!"

He paused. "Hey, there's this theory out there that Suicune, Entei and Raikou were created out of Vaporeon, Flareon and Jolteon. Do you think that one's true?"

Dawn had to blink.

"I… actually think that one's true in every particular," she said. "Or, at least, the bit you just said is true about Ash's ones. I've spoken to Suicune about it, though she says that her old Vaporeon self died in the thunderbolt and fire and she considers herself to be a new and separate individual."

"Because I was wondering," Barry went on. "Do you think this is how new Legendary Pokemon happen? It'd explain a lot if it was!"

Dawn wasn't quite sure what it would explain a lot of.

"What I think is that it kind of… puts in perspective what Ash is actually capable of," Brock said. "And where it comes related to the Elite Four. And not just with Legendary Pokemon like back in Johto, with all his Pokemon – and after so long thinking of the Elite Four as some of the strongest trainers out there, it's kind of weird to realize what must have been going on already for a while – and slowly enough that you don't notice until something like this happens. I mean, my Pokemon spar with Ash's Pokemon."

He spread his hands. "That's what I'm thinking, anyway..."

"I think it'd make sense to pick a team which is kind of… I don't know, symbolic?" Ash said, as Dexter showed the choices. "Of everything we've done together, I mean."

"Explain like I'm five," Lucario requested.

Pikachu gave him a look. "I'm pretty sure you're… wait, hold on, it depends how you count… yeah, if we count in traditional style from when your egg hatched, you are five."

"Hence why I want Ash to explain it," Lucario said. "Keep up."

Ash chuckled. "What I mean is that… well, looking at my Pokemon, there are lots of different categories. And I don't mean types," he added. "I mean, there are Pokemon who are only really here this time around. Pokemon like Kari, and Latios, and Mawile."

"I think Mawile probably hatched last time, but the other two work," Pikachu said, following along.

"And then there are Pokemon from each region," Ash continued. "Kanto, Johto, Hoenn, Sinnoh, and then a few from outside the Home Islands like Keldeo and Lapras – I'm just not sure if that last one should be a category."

There is also the Pokemon you have saved, Ash, Mewtwo told him, with solemnity. Pokemon who you may have saved both times around, but who you most assuredly did rescue from dreadful situations.

"...I think I need to make a chart," Ash admitted.

"You should probably have at least one of the two of us," Lucario suggested. "No pressure though."

"What category is that, then?" Pikachu said, interested.

"Starter," Lucario replied. "I know, I was surprised too, but apparently there are several encyclopedia articles which list me as one of Ash's starter Pokemon. And who are you to argue with Encarta?"

"Have you seen what we do to physics?" Pikachu asked. "I can dispute their articles about Pokemon type immunities, let alone puff pieces about my own trainer…"


And the Elite Four battles. Compressed into one update for ease.