Ya' know the way I said in the last chapter that my upload schedule would be scaled back? Well, a devastating combination of crippling insomnia and seemingly being incapable of finding a job that matches my recently acquired university degree, means that I currently have plenty of free time to write. Obviously, this won't be a permanent thing, so enjoy this increased output while it lasts!

To answer a particular anonymous reviewer's question … yes, Pearlshipping plays a role in the plot of this fic.

Anyway, enjoy the chapter everybody!

Chapter 19: Returning the Favour

"I have been up against tough competition all my life. I wouldn't know how to get along without it." - Walt Disney

Upon agreeing to the terms of the fight, Ash and Chris had made their way to the opposite ends of the make shift battlefield. Ash stared directly towards Chris, he was perplexed by his friend's odd behaviour, but Ash's offer to battle had seemingly dissipated the tension between the two. On the other side of the field, Chris gazed back towards Ash with a cocky and confident smile.

"Let's see if Ash really is as good as everyone thinks he is…"

"I'm ready when you are Chris!" Ash called.

"Well then," Chris responded with a competitive smirk, "I'm going for all out power this time around!" Chris reached down and unhooked a Pokéball from his belt, "Gyru, standby for battle!" Chris then lobbed the Pokéball onto the field and in turn, a large, bipedal purple coloured Pokémon appeared onto the field. "Say hello to my Nidoking, Ash!" With an impatient stomp, the Nidoking roared with a violent tone and prepared itself for battle.

"Nidoking, huh?" Ash grimaced as he bit his lip. He was all too aware of the species' reputation as an overly violent and ruthless predator. Even worse, Ash had seen first-hand the sheer destruction that Chris' particular one had inflicted during his first group stage battle. Ash took a quick census of the team he currently had on hand; Pikachu, Charizard, Buizel, Gible, Torterra and Infernape. "Charizard is out of the question, I'm saving him for Flint" Ash mumbled, "Pikachu won't be off much help either due to Nidoking's ground typing" he continued as he glanced down at his partner who had taken up its usual position at Ash's side. Ash then quickly formulated a strategy in his mind, "I'm not going to out-power him, but I can out-speed him…"

"Come on Ash, while I'm still young! I thought you were ready?" Chris cried with a mocking tone.

"Pi Pi" Ash's Pikachu squeaked with determination as it looked up towards its trainer.

"Buizel, I chose you!" Ash shouted, and without further hesitation he lobbed his own Pokéball onto the battlefield, and in a flash of bright, white light, an orange coloured creature that resembled a sea otter appeared. The size disparity between the two Pokémon was immediately visible, whereas Chris' Nidoking was large, muscular and stocky, Ash's Pokémon was slim and slender.

"Bui-bui!" Ash's Buizel cried confidently as it folded its arms across its chest and surveyed its opponent.

"A Buizel, huh? I'm well aware of the species," Chris said, "You remember my Buizel, Jet, right?"

"I sure do!" Ash called.

"Well then, I'm sure that you are aware that Buizel's are usually very temperamental Pokémon, but if you use them right, they can pack quite a punch despite their defensive frailties." Chris commented with a serious, analytical tone. "That being said, pitting one against a Pokémon that is bigger and stronger than it, isn't the best idea- trust me, I'd know."

Ash listened to Chris' words as he glanced at his Sea Weasel Pokémon. Chris' words rung true, Ash's Buizel had proven to be a bit of a glass cannon during his travels in the Sinnoh region. Despite its vital contributions to overall victory in numerous gym battles, Buizel had been relatively easily dispatched in Ash's two six-on-six battles against Paul. "Buizel won't be able to go toe-to-toe with that Nidoking, even worse, we can't let it get any direct hits in… then again, Buizel and I have always battled against the odds."

"Are you ready Ash?" Chris shouted with a slightly impatient tone.

"I am!" Ash insisted, "you've got the first move!"

"That's mistake numero uno Ash," Chris taunted as he wagged his finger, "its rule number one of warfare: never give your opponent an opening," he continued as he tightly clenched his fists. "Gyru, let's get this show on the road with Sludge Bomb!" In response to this order, the Nidoking opened its mouth and fired a barrage of thick, gloopy globs of poison towards its foe.

"Don't let it hit you!" Ash cried, "get out of the way!" Using its impressive speed, Ash's Buizel gracefully, but effectively rolled out of the way of the incoming attack. "Now follow that up with Ice Punch!" Buizel's right fist became coated in a sheet of thick ice, leading it to charge across the field with the intention viciously strike its foe.

"Ha, gotcha!" Chris smirked, as in his opinion, Ash had already fallen into his trap. As always, it was Chris' intention to get his opponent's Pokémon to close the distance gap, after that, Chris' usual stratagem consisted of turning the battle into a brutal and physical fight of attrition in which Chris' Pokémon would eventually prevail. Chris watched on with silence as he watched Ash's Buizel approached his Pokémon and internally counted down, "three, two, one…"

"Gyru, grab him!"

"Don't let him get you!" Ash quickly called, in response to this, his Buizel zig-zagged away from Nidoking's arm. Then using its speed to its advantage, it leapt into the air and punched Chris' Pokémon in the face, which then caused the Pokémon to slightly stumble back. "Alright!" Ash cheered, "you got 'em!" Ash's Buizel turned to its trainer and grinned, and it was clear that the Pokémon was proud of its athletic skill.

"Check again Ash," Chris yawned with a cocky click of his tongue. Ash look over across the battlefield and while his Buizel had indeed landed a direct hit onto the Nidoking, the Pokémon still stood standing.

"Bui!" Ash's Buizel cried out with a mixture of panicked shock, as it turned only to be met with a violent, ear-piercing roar from Chris' Nidoking who had already shock off the effects of the attack.

"Grab him!" Chris bellowed, and with a quick, deliberate motion, his Nidoking immediately snatched its foe with its large arms. "Now, crush!" Chris ordered with venomous intent dripping through his words. Ash could only look on helplessly as Chris' Nidoking used its arms to tightly squeeze Buizel's much smaller and slender body.

"Come on Buizel! Don't give up!" Ash yelled in encouragement as his Buizel struggled to gasp for air.

"I told ya that I was going for full out power in this match, ya really think you'd be able to out-play me at my own game?" Chris slyly taunted. "All I needed you to do was to get that Buizel of yours to close the distance to allow my Nidoking to take advantage of its raw power!"

"This isn't going to well at all," Ash grimaced, "Buizel was in a similar situation with Paul's Drapion at the Sinnoh League, and it didn't go to well for us then either. We need to change the momentum of the battle… and quick."

Meanwhile, Brock, Dawn and Josh had made their way out the forest. The trio quickly found a refreshment vendor, and before long they had found themselves a seat and each member of the trio were happily engorging themselves on a cone of ice-cream.

"You know, it's kind of quiet without Ash and Chris around." Dawn said with a smile. Dawn then gave the rest of her cone to her Piplup, who she had released from its Pokeball.

"'Lup!" The small blue coloured penguin chirped before it greedily finished the rest of the ice-cream with one mouthful.

"Ash is the tolerable type of loud, but my brother can be a bit of a pain in the ass," Josh replied as he continued to lick his ice-cream.

"What's gotten into him anyway?" Brock asked with a somewhat serious tone, "yes, he has an ego, but he's never really crossed the line like he did today."

Brock's question made Josh instantly freeze, he knew exactly the reason way Chris had been in such a foul mood, but he obviously couldn't reveal why unless he wanted to deliberately incur his brother's fearsome wrath.

"He, uh…" Josh mumbled as he nervously glanced over towards Dawn, "… he's a bit of an egomaniac, but his heart is in the right place. He's obsessed with winning this tournament, but he wants us all to do well as well…" Josh lied, "he said earlier that he wanted to provoke Ash and push him to the 'next level'."

"Well he certainly provoked him alright," Brock responded with a chuckle.

"I bet those two back there have already launched themselves into a Pokémon battle, it's the only way they can reconcile their differences." Dawn said.

"Well then, I reckon we better give them both a wide berth until they kiss and make up… which they'll inevitably do. Chris and Ash may be polar opposite at times, but they are more similar than they'd like to let on." Josh responded as he finished his ice-cream.

"So what will we do?" Brock asked, as he sat back into his seat.

"Well, Josh and I better get some training in before we battle each other," Dawn said as she looked over to Josh.

"I agree, I say we go off and do our own thing and catch-up with Ash and Chris later. In fact, I'll drop Chris a quick text now, there is a Pokemon Center near here, and we can meet up there later."

"Come on Buizel, you gotta get away!" Ash cried with a deeply desperate tone. His Pokémon was still firmly in the grasp of Chris's Nidoking.

"It's no use Ash, you made the mistake and now you've got to learn your lesson," Chris retorted with a large self-congratulatory and cocky grin.

"There has to be a way out of this," Ash thought. The trainer from Pallet Town looked over at his trapped Buizel and then noticed that Chris' Nidoking had failed to account for Buizel's tail and as such it wasn't caught in Nidoking's grasp. With a small smile, Ash immediately realised that he could create an opening, which he could then exploit.

"Buizel, use Sonic Boom!" Ash called as confidence returned to his vocal tone and demeanour. Buizel immediately responded to the order, and with some effort, a white coloured wave of energy shot forth from its tail and struck the Nidoking in the abdomen. The force of the attack caused Chris' Pokémon to roar in pain, which resulted in it loosening its grip on Buizel who in turn quickly escaped and returned to its own side of the battlefield.

"That was well played Ash," Chris said with a slight awkward chuckle, "I'm almost impressed."

"Buizel and I have plenty more weapons in our arsenal!" Ash insisted.

"Well then, why don't you show me how you can handle the full might of my Nidoking's power?" Chris shouted with a suddenly raised tone of voice. "Gyru, use Sludge Bomb!" Chris' Pokémon then fired another barrage of poison filled globs of energy towards Ash's Buizel.

"We can't use our speed to get back in close again or that Nidoking will just over-power us," Ash reasoned, "there has to another way, unless…"

"Buizel, use Counter Shield!" Ash quickly countered, his Buizel then quickly dropped into its back and rapidly spun itself around. At the same time, the water typed Pokémon fired a continuous Water Gun attack into the air which formed a protective, tornado-like veil water. As a result of this unorthodox combination, the so called 'Counter Shield' stopped the incoming Sludge Bomb attack and dissipated it.

"Crap," Chris internally seethed, although he had personally witnessed Ash utilise Counter-Shield beforehand, he had seemingly completely forgotten about it and had now found himself unprepared to deal with it.

"Gyru, use Megahorn and power through that veil of water!" Chris roared as his Pokémon charged across the grassy battlefield.

"Buizel! Use Aqua Jet!" In response to Ash's command, the Buizel quickly got up in its feet, which demonstrated its impressive agility. Then, with just as quick reaction time, the Pokémon's body became encased with a coat of water, the Buizel then propelled itself into the air and directed its course of attack towards its rampaging foe.

"Move out of the way!" Chris roared desperately, it was clear that Buizel's quick transition between defence and offence had completely caught him by surprise. However, Chris' plea was for naught, as Buizel used its body as a torpedo and crashed directly into the Nidoking's abdomen which caused the Pokémon to stop in its tracks and drop to one knee as it desperately sought to regain its breath.

"Ok Buizel, get back!" Ash called cautiously as he wished to avoid a repeat of the previous situation where Chris' Nidoking was able to grab Buizel.

"Impressive!" Chris loudly chuckled, "that transition between Counter-Shield and Aqua Jet really threw me off!" Although Chris had a friendly and warm outward demeanour, internally, he was seething and was trying to distract Ash to allow his Pokémon to recover from the recent attack.

"That's what Buizel is all about!" Ash cheerily replied.

"Your Buizel is impressive, but it can't stand up to the sheer power of my Nidoking!" Chris bellowed, "Gyru, use Thrash!" Ash and his Buizel were then caught off guard by Nidoking's sudden charge. The Pokémon then wildly flailed its large, tree trunk sized arms and repeatedly struck Buizel, which inflicted significant damage on it. After it was done with its attack, Nidoking once again snatched Buizel into its arms, and this time it made sure to trap Buizel's tail with its grasp. "Whatcha' goin' do now Ash?" Chris taunted with an over-the-top tone of voice.

"This isn't good," Ash muttered to himself. But before Ash could issue an order, Chris' Pokémon had readied itself to continue its assault.

"Throw him into the air!" Chris ordered with a much calmer tone of voice, he now assured that he was in complete control of the battle. In response to this command, the reptilian Drill Pokémon used its strength to hurl its foe into the air. "This thing is over!" Chris declared with a triumphant tone of voice, "Gyru, use Hyper Beam!" Chris' Nidoking then fired out a destructive beam of orange coloured energy that crashed into the airborne Buizel, the force of the attack caused Buizel to collide back into the ground with a loud, audible thud.

"Buizel!" Ash cried with a obiviously desperate inflection in his voice.

"Game's over Ash," Chris stated authoritatively with a cocky grin. "It's time to give up, I don't want to hurt your Buizel anymore than I have to". His Nidoking then slowly lumbered over to the prone Buizel and triumphantly placed its foot on the Pokémon's chest while it let out a victorious roar. The sight of this showmanship caused Ash's mind to snap back into focus, and with renewed determination, he prepared to forcefully reverse the course of the battle.

"Aqua Jet!" Ash roared with anger, suddenly, his seemingly fainted Buizel sprung to life and quickly utilized the manoeuvre to slip out from under Nidoking's feet. Once it was free of Nidoking, the Sea Weasel Pokémon directed itself back towards its opponent.

"Dodge it!" Chris demanded with a coarse bark, the blonde haired teenager was painfully aware that Ash had once again out-played him but he was determined not to let Ash take advantage. However, unfortunately for Chris, his Nidoking was still recovering from unleashing its Hyper Beam attack and thus lacked the energy to quickly evade the Aqua Jet attack.

"Now's our chance!" Ash gleefully cheered, "attack with full power!" Ash's Buizel seemingly doubled it speed as it propelled itself through the air towards Chris' vulnerable Pokémon. Then, with a loud thud, Buizel smashed its body into its opponent and thus inflicted further damage on it.

"Son of a…" Chris angrily seethed as he watched his Nidoking stumble back from the force of the attack.

"Follow that up with Water Pulse!" Ash commanded with a fist pump. His Buizel then quickly formed a blue coloured orb of water aura between its two paws, before it flung the orb towards its opponent. The attack then struck Chris' Drill Pokémon in the face and caused further damage to be inflicted on it. "It's time to finish this!" Ash declared, "Ice Punch!"

"Thunderbolt!" Chris snapped. His Pokémon shook off the lingering effects of the previous two attacks, and then unleashed a bolt of electricity that shot across the battlefield. The attack then struck Ash's Buizel and caused the Pokémon to double over in pain. Meanwhile on the other side of the battlefield, Chris' Nidoking had collapsed to one knee out of sheer exhaustion.

"Come on Buizel, we can still win this!" Ash shouted in encouragement, but it was clear that his Buizel was reaching the limits of its stamina.

"Well done Ash, you've taken Gyru to his limit, not many people can say that," Chris said. On one hand, the teenager was impressed by his opponent's determination. But on the other hand, he was angered by the fact that Ash had nearly beaten one of his strongest Pokémon. After a few more moments, both opposing Pokémon had taken a deep breath and wearily assumed a battle-ready position. "But this battle isn't over yet!"

"It sure isn't!" Ash responded as he clenched his fist, "Buizel, use Aqua Jet!" Once again, Buizel's body became surrounded by a veil of water, and it used its tail to propel itself across the battlefield towards Chris' Pokémon.

"Thunderbolt!" Chris belted. Another bolt of high voltage electricity shot out of Nidoking's horn and it menacingly flew through the air towards the incoming Buizel.

"Dodge it!" Ash pleaded, but the speed of Buizel's Aqua Jet was too great, and therefore the Pokémon was unable to adjust its trajectory. As a result of this the water typed Pokémon was forced to take the full force of its opponent's Thunderbolt attack which further inflicted a massive amount of damage. Despite this, the Buizel persevered with its Aqua Jet attack, and by expending an inordinate amount of energy and force, the Pokémon eventually struggled through its pain and was able to land a knock-out hit on Nidoking's head. The purple coloured reptilian creature collapsed to the ground due to being knocked out the force of Buizel's attack, Ash's Pokémon also collapsed due to sheer exhaustion. It is immediately clear that both Pokémon had been pushed to their absolute limits and where thus unable to continue battling.

"It's a…"

"Draw," Chris huffed with an irritated tone. He certainly hadn't expected for his Nidoking to be effectively beaten by Ash's Buizel. Despite this, Chris was impressed by his combination of power, speed and unorthodoxy. "I'll get him next time," he reassured himself.

"So what now?" Ash replied as he recalled his fainted Pokémon. "It's getting pretty late, should we go try and find the others?"

"Ya' kiddin' me?" Chris answered in annoyance. "In my book this is frickin' draw". The blonde haired teenager then recalled his own fallen Nidoking, before unclipping another Pokéball from his belt. "I'm up for round two, how about it Ash?"

"You are on!" Ash cheered as he unclipped his own Pokéball. The raven haired trainer quickly paused to consider his decision, before lobbing the spherical device into the air, "Gible! I choose you!" Then, in a flash of white, Ash's dragon typed, Land Shark Pokémon appeared onto the field. "Gible can use some more experience," Ash pondered, "let's see if Chris can keep up with Gible's feistiness."

"Caedus, standby for battle!" Chris called, in turn his Zorua, a black coloured Pokémon that resembled a fox, appeared from its Pokéball.

"Gible, use Rock Smash!" Ash ordered. This time, he had taken Chris' previous advice to heart, and he was now determined make a positive start to the battle.

"Sucker Punch!" Chris quickly countered. As a result of this, Chris' Zorua sped off across the field and landed a quick, glancing strike on its opponent before it had the chance to ready its own attack. "Now, use Shadow Ball!" Chris continued as a small orb of black coloured aura formed inside the muzzle of his Pokémon.

"Gible, use Dragon Pulse!" While the opposing Zorua fired its own attack, Ash's Gible fired a beam of blue-hued energy that struck Zorua's incoming Shadow Ball. The Dragon Pulse attack easily dissipated the Shadow Ball attack and continued on its path towards Chris' Tricky Fox Pokémon who in turn narrowly avoided the attack by rolling out of the way.

"Such raw power…" Chris grimaced woefully. "This kid better not beat me at my own game."

"Gible use Dig to burrow underground!" In response to Ash's order Gible, the small dragon typed creature, quickly used its small, razor sharp claws to dig itself into the ground.

"Caedus, put a Flamethrower attack right into that hole and flush him out!" Chris' Zorua quickly ran over to the hole that Gible had left, and without further hesitation, it fired a stream of flames into the tunnel. The flames then filled the tunnel that Gible had created, and the small Pokémon yelped out in pain as the fire closed in around its body.

"Quick, resurface!" Ash regretfully called, clearly rueing the fact that his order had backfired on him. His Pokémon immediately popped out of the ground, but was now vulnerable for further attack, a situation that Chris sought to quickly capitalise on.

"Let's turn up the heat some more with another Flamethrower!" Chris commanded coolly. His Pokemon then quickly fired another stream of intensely hot fire towards its opponent. The flames then licked around the scaly body of Gible and caused further damage to it. The sustained use of fire by Chris and his Pokémon caused the Gible to noticeably panic.

"Gible!" Ash yelled out in deep concern while his Gible started to nervously screech and lose its focus on the battle.

"It's over Ash!" Chris said with a cocky and triumphant tone. "Caedus, finish this off with Punishment!" Chris Zorua charged across the field and upon directing all of its will-power, the Pokémon's body began to emit a sickly purple colour as it prepared to smash its body into its foe.

"Rock Smash!" Ash bellowed with an act of final desperation. Reassured by his trainers command, Gible then snapped out of its state of panic and moments before its foe was about to pounce on it. Gible then smashed its right fist directly into the Zorua's face. As a result of this Chris' Pokémon stumbled back and clutched its face, in turn, this allowed Ash and his Pokémon to take a momentary respite, before pressing on with their newfound advantage. "Ok Gible, now's our chance, let's show them your Draco Meteor attack!" To this command, Gible's body emitted a bright orange burst of energy as it formed a large ball of dragon typed aura in its mouth.

"Sucker Punch!" Chris roared.

"Quick, fire it!" Ash retorted. However, mere moments before Gible was able to unleash its attack, Chris' Zorua managed to blind-side it and knock it off its balance with a quick, glancing tackle. The Gible, which had then been knocked off balance, then unintentionally and prematurely fired it attack into the air. The orb then briefly floated above the two Pokémon before it exploded which caused smaller orbs of energy to plummet back towards the ground.

"Get the hell out of there!" Chris hastily thundered. The teenager was anxious and wanted to safely manoeuvre his Pokémon away from the dangerous fall-out of the mistimed Draco Meteor attack. The Zorua used its impressive agility to gracefully dodge one of the meteors before it returned unharmed to its own side of the battlefield.

"You too Gible!" Ash howled with a much more concerned tone. Unfortunately, his Gible lacked the necessary speed to evade the incoming attack. Due to this, Ash's Land Shark Pokémon took the brunt of the attack. The Draco Meteor attack then exploded around Gible, which caused smoke and dirt to rise up into the air which obscured both trainers view of the aftermath of the attack.

"And that's all she wrote!" Chris declared with an over-exaggerated fist pump. "Looks like I win again Ash!"

"Not so fast" Ash muttered with a stern, determined tone in his voice. Although concerned that his Pokémon had suffered the full force of the attack, Ash instantly reminded himself of Gible's previous troubles with Draco Meteor, and this time around, Ash was supremely confident that his Pokémon would persevere.

"It's over buddy, nothing can survive a full force Draco Meteor." Chris insisted with his usual self-confident tone. However, contrary to Chris' statement, Gible slowly emerged from the smoke, clearly damaged from the attack, but still standing. "Well," Chris chuckled with an incredulous expression, "I'll be damned."

"You alright Gible?" Ash tentatively asked.

"Gib!" The small Pokémon weakly smiled as it turned towards its trainer. But, upon this action, Gible collapsed to one knee, it clear that it had suffered major damage from its ordeal.

"It's time to call this match Ash, there's no use in harming your Pokémon this close to a match…" Chris' lecture was cut off prematurely by the sudden appearance of bright white glow around the body of the exhausted Gible.

Suddenly, the small Pokémon's body began to enlarge. In particular, its previously short, stubby arms extended out and gained a spike at the end of each appendage. Furthermore, the Pokémon's facial features became much sharper, and strongly defined.

"Your Gible evolved into a Gabite, huh?" Chris asked with a competitive smirk, "this just got interesting."

"Can you continue?" Ash asked, as he visually examined his newly evolved Pokémon.

"Gabite!" The blue coloured predator sneered as it confirmed its intention to continue.

"Then it's game on!" Ash yelled. The raven haired trainer then turned his red and black coloured baseball cap backwards. Ash then clenched his fists with renewed determination and intensely concentrated on the resumed battle.

"Come on Caedus, it can't be that tough!" Chris said to reassure his Pokémon who had nervously reacted to its opponent's transformation. "Use Punishment!"

"Take Down!" Ash shouted in retaliation. The newly evolved Gabite then showcased its newfound lightning-fast speed by charging across the field and landing a devastating tackle before it foe had the chance to even ready its own attack. The force of the collision sent the much smaller Zorua hurtling back through the air, and it smashed into the ground.

"Caedus, shake it off!" Chris demanded, as his Pokémon shakily got back on its feet. "Ok, let's turn up the heat again with a Flamethrower!" After the Pokémon had readied itself for further battle, it then fired another stream of flames towards its foe.

"Dragon Pulse!" Ash responded, his Gabite then fired a blue coloured orb of energy which easily cut through the Flamethrower attack before it crashed into the body of Chris' Zorua who howled in pain as the force of the attack smashed it into the ground.

"Caedus!" Chris roared. The teenager was now in a state of nervous panic, Ash and his newly evolved Pokémon were clearly a potent combination. Even worse, Chris, in his usual arrogance, had failed to anticipate that his opponent would utilise such an aggressive battling posture. But this time, he knew that Ash had bested him. The trainer then came to the quick realisation that the battle had been lost. With a defeated, over exaggerated sigh, he watched on as his Pokémon then groggily got back to its feet.

"Ok Gabite use…" Ash was then interrupted by the sight of his Gabite independently charging across the field towards Chris' Zorua. The body of the newly evolved Cave Pokémon shined with a bright, light blue colour as it readied its attack. When the Pokémon had reached the opposite side of the field, it unleashed its pent-up energy and slammed the entire weight of its powered-up body into its foe. The sheer kinetic force of the attack instantly knocked out the smaller fox-like Pokémon.

"Wait was that…." Ash began to ask before being interrupted by Chris' immediate response.

"Dragon Rush," Chris nodded with a defeated and resigned mutter. The blue eyed gargantuan quickly recalled his unconscious Pokémon back into its Pokéball. Meanwhile, in contrast to Chris' demeanour, Ash and his Pikachu were jubilant as they sprinted over to Ash's victorious Gabite.

"You did it! That was awesome!" Ash cheered as he embraced his Pokémon.

"He got me," Chris thought as he observed Ash's post battle celebration. "I can't believe he actually beat me." Chris' previous defeatist demeanour then melted away as a scowl became engraved in his face. "He can't beat me at my own game, that's unacceptable." Chris's blood began to boil as he quickly revaluated the battle in his mind. He immediately realised that he had been too cocky and too arrogant. "I can't let that happen again… there's too much on the line… thank God Dawn isn't here, what would she think?" Chris' mind continued to race as he internally analysed the event.

"Thanks for that battle Chris!" Ash suddenly called with a warm tone. "We really needed that!"

Ash's cheery tone suddenly caused Chris to snap back into focus. Chris looked up and silently observed as Ash crossed over the battlefield towards him. "He beat me at my own game, and he did it… fairly." A sudden, but large smile became etched across Chris' face as he heartily chuckled. Ash may have beat him, but Chris was impressed at how Ash had carried himself. Furthermore, Ash's enthusiasm and never-say-die attitude was infectious, and caused Chris' angst-filled mood to immediately relax.

"Well done Ash," Chris said as he as offered the usual post-match cordial handshake. "I'm impressed, not only did you knock out Gyru, you gave Caedus one hell of a beatdown. That's the type of aggressive battle style I like to see." Chris continued as he forced himself to swallow his own pride.

"Gee, thanks Chris, I appreciate it." Ash responded as a large grin spread across his face. It was clear that both trainers had gained a new-found respect for each other as a result of the battle.

"See? I told ya' Ash. Strategy only gets you so far, sometimes you just gotta go for all-out power" Chris replied with his usual Ulster-accented intonation. This tone of voice served two purposes, as it masked his own internal disappointment with his humbled outward posture. "I have to admit, I was sceptical of you and your Pokémon. But that Buizel of yours matches its blistering speed with its innate power perfectly. And that Gabite…" Chris said as he turned towards Ash's Pokémon. "What can I say? It survived its own Draco Meteor and still won the battle!"

"You still think I have no chance against Flint?" Ash slyly asked with a wink.

"If you can combine speed, power, unorthodox tactics and a bit of luck, I think you can give Flint a run for his money." Chris answered with a genuine smile.

After the battle, Chris and Ash had made their way to the local Pokémon Center to rendezvous with the other members of their friend group. The duo arrived earlier than expected and they made constructive use of their free time by swapping out the Pokémon they had on hand with their reserve Pokémon in anticipation for the third round of group stage battles. When Brock, Dawn and Josh arrived at the Center, Chris made amends with them and apologised for his earlier behaviour. After this, the group went out for dinner and before long, the group had returned to their shared apartment. The group then collectively elected to have an early night and ensure a long night of sleep before the beginning of the next round of battles.

"We had a great time today, didn't we Pikachu?" Ash asked as he changed from his usual outfit into a set of light blue coloured pyjamas. The raven haired native of Pallet Town and his Pikachu were in their own room preparing to go to bed.

"Cha," the yellow coloured Electric Mouse Pokémon squeaked.

"I'm so proud of Buizel and Gib…er, I mean Gabite", Ash chuckled, "they worked so hard and were able to overcome Chris' Pokémon." Ash then paused for a moment. "Chris", Ash muttered as he sat down on his bed, "what got into him today?" Ash asked.

"Pi pika," His Pikachu replied with a shrug.

"He's always been a bit loud and argumentative," Ash said, "but today was something else. Then again, he's right in a certain way, this tournament is serious and we all need to be in the best possible shape to succeed." Ash then contemplatively rested his hands behind his head, "Chris represents some serious competition, and if we want to do well here, we need to make sure that we can keep up."

"Pika!" Pikachu responded enthusiastically. Ash then reached into his bed side table and retrieved the Masterball that he had won in the Battle Royale event a few weeks prior.

"So Pikachu, have you given much thought over how we should use this?" Ash asked as he lazily twirled the spherical object in between his fingers.

"Pi," The Pikachu responded as it shook its head.

"Me neither," Ash replied with a small smile, "but we'll find a way to use it, and you never know, maybe we can add an extremely powerful Pokémon to our team." Ash then placed the object on the table and lay down on the bed. "Goodnight Pikachu, tomorrow is another day closer to our battle with Flint, and we have some serious training to do."

Chris abruptly awoke from what seemed to be his obligatory daily nightmare. As always, the dream followed the same pattern where he was continually tormented by a horrifically scarred doppelgänger who, in a patently absurd and over-the-top manner threatened him with death. Even more bizarre than that, he had repeatedly encountered an open, but unoccupied grave topped with a headstone that bore his name.

"That's it, no more late nights for me," Chris angrily muttered to himself as he sat up. The bizarre dream infuriated him, in his own mind, he was of perfect psychological health, but the contents of the dream seemingly contradicted that notion. "What the hell is wrong with me?" He whispered as his eyes darted around the room. His mind raced with endless possibilities as he attempted to rationalise the events of the nightmare.

"I can rule stress out," Chris said to himself, "if I really am going crazy, the cause is much worse than that." The tall teenager then got out of his bed and paced around the room.

"Let's see…" Chris mumbled, "I've got to be overlooking something here…"

Suddenly, it then hit him and with a frantic pace he rushed over to his bed-side table and retrieved his wallet. He then quickly opened it and quickly pulled out an old, folded photograph.

"I'm a freaking idiot, how could I forget?" Chris sighed incredulously as he slapped his thigh. He then examined the photograph, which had been taken 11 years prior. The photograph consisted of his family posing outside of the family home which was situated in the countryside near Sandgem Town in Sinnoh.

"There's mum and dad," Chris whispered with a smile. His parents held each other in a loving, warm embrace. He then took notice of his own presence in the photograph. At the time, he was six years old and he has proudly carrying Pyro, who at the time was a Charmander, in his arms. A lump then appeared in his throat as his attention turned to the other two members of the family who had posed for the photo.

"Nathan," Chris faintly intoned with a sombre tone. In the photograph, the 14 year old elder Moore sibling had a massive, warm and friendly grin as he flashed a thumbs-up with one arm while he held Josh, who was an infant with the other. Nathan was almost a mirror image of his younger brothers. He was tall and had dirty blonde hair, which complimented his bright and animated light blue eyes. However, his most noticeable feature was his enthusiastic and heart-warming smile. "That's him alright," Chris wearily said, "that smile always brightened my day."

Chris' eyes began to water as memories of his older brother raced through his mind. Despite his young age, Chris had always idolised his older brother, even though he had embarked on his own training journey and only infrequently returned home to visit. Tragically, Nathan had seemingly vanished only a few days after the photograph had been taken. The event had absolutely traumatised his family at the time, as no trace had ever been found. To add to this heart-breaking event, the police, despite the emotional pleas of Chris' father, had long ago called off the search.

In hindsight, everything began to click in Chris mind. By his own free admission, he had become increasingly irritable and short-tempered lately. With brief introspect, he realised that the anniversary of his brother's disappearance was quickly approaching, and despite the long passage of time, he had never fully shaken off the trauma of losing such a close family member. Although he had endeavoured to move on with his life, he always remained optimistic that one day, he would reunite with his brother. Chris crossed over the bedroom window and longingly gazed out of the window.

"What I wouldn't give to talk to you right now."


So, Ash's Gible evolves, and he beats Chris by utilising sheer power and tactical superiority. For those of you keeping track at home, Chris has won one battle, Ash has won one battle and they fought to a draw… and if you want, you can count the tag-team battle in Chapter 2 which also ended in a draw. So it appears they are pretty evenly matched… or are they?

Speaking of those two characters, there's an interesting contrast emerging between Ash's forward looking optimism, and Chris' tortured, frantic and contradictory outlook towards life.

Also, I urge you to briefly go to my profile page and take note of the update log at the bottom of the page. As per my previous explanation in the author's note of Chapter 16, I've gone back and made some minor changes. However, I want you to take note of one major change, the ending of Chapter 9 ('Absurdity') has been changed to reflect a slightly altered narrative path.

This chapter was initially longer, and there was due to be a scene at the end with Ash choosing his team for the upcoming battle against Flint… however I realised that it was all a bit redundant- and it's better for his team selection to be a bit of a surprise :) Furthermore, truthfully speaking, I want to cut down on as much filler as possible to ensure that I get these chapters to you as quick as possible. But on the bright side, the next chapter should (hopefully) be quite long and extensively features Ash's match against Flint.

Finally, Ash's Masterball- AKA the biggest unfired Chekhov's Gun ever- makes another appearance this chapter. Will it ever be used? Stay tuned to find out!