A/N: I own a copy of at least one game from every Generation, but that's about it.
They awoke early that morning, as the sun was beginning to rise. Liza glanced over at Lance, and suppressed a giggle. Here was the esteemed Dragon Master Lance, who had recently been upended at the World Tournament, a man that many a photo shoot had been asked for in that impressive cape getup he wore…dressed as a common ranch hand.
Oh, how the mighty fall indeed.
He wasn't complaining, however. That was nice. Liza remembered the last time that she had had help…it hadn't ended well. Lance glanced around the Charicific Valley, silently taking in the scene.
The Charicific Valley is a geographic anomaly. Legend has it that thousands of years ago, there was a war between two gigantic Pokemon, from whom many a Pokemon are descended from, which caused the craters that form the valley to be carved into the ground. More specifically, some say the craters were caused from one of the Pokemon inventing the Take Down and tackling its opponent onto the Earth's surface, which created the strange terrain. The mountainous barriers around the valley add a nice little natural barrier from prying eyes, and the spacious nature of the valley allows many Charizard to live with one another without territorial disputes. Over the years, erosion plus weather storms created grasslands in the bottom of the valley, and in the northern quadrant there is a waterfall that flows into a river that cuts right through the middle of the valley. There are many caves, and each of them glowed gently with the flames of Charizard tails at night while the beasts sleep.
All the Charizards really care about, however, is the dirt square in the direct center of the valley, surrounded by a field of grass. It is somehow, by the grace of Arceus, generally the size of a standard battle ring. There are many rock formations for spectators to roost on, and it is at high noon when all Charizard gather to watch the latest battle. This is how the Charizard of Charicific Valley grow so large. Here, there are no rules. Only the strongest, not just the strong, are even allowed entrance in the Valley. Very few have witnessed the grueling battles that take place in this valley.
It was in this square that Lance and Liza stood, looking around. Liza was also in work clothes, staring off towards some of the cave formations in the distance.
"It's a Friday. Today is an exercise day." Liza said. "That means that the Charizard are going to sleep in later so that they are more rested up for the day's activities." She pointed to the northern caves. "I'll give you a run-down of the clans here in the valley." She was interrupted.
"Clans?" Lance asked. Liza rolled her eyes.
"Yes, Dragon Master. Clans. I can't be everywhere in the valley at once, so there is division of leadership amongst the Charizard themselves. I personally select the most leader-worthy of the Charizard from each quadrant, and they become clan master. Below them are the clan council, usually two or three below them. The rest are clan members, nothing more."
"Reminds me of the Dragon Clan." Lance observed. Liza frowned.
"Yeah, about that. Be careful, Lance. All Charizard think of themselves as Dragons at heart, so nothing is going to get them more riled up than seeing a Dragonite. Especially your Dragonite." She pointed to the Poke Ball in Lance's hand, and the Dragon master winced.
"Why do Charizard hate Dragonite so much?" He asked.
"It's a mutual hatred. Dragonites think that Charizard are unworthy upstarts that think too much of themselves. Charizards think that Dragonites are dopey, unworthy creatures to be Dragons who are self-righteous to boot. They think that a Dragonite isn't "Dragon" material. Do you follow?" She asked.
"Not really." Lance admitted. Liza scoffed.
"Here's a better example. Gyarados. Is it a Dragon?" She asked.
"No." Lance said.
"Correct. But does it look like it could conceivably be a Dragon?" She asked. Lance raised his eyebrows.
"Ahhh…now I see." Then he got indignant. "My Dragonite is indeed worthy of looking like a Dragon!" He said. Liza smirked.
"Try telling that to one of my Charizard." She winked. "Oh, and if you think that your Dragonite is a 'cultured' creature because it always fights in prestigious tournaments therefore it has no prejudice towards Charizards…you've got another thing coming. We can't completely eradicate their biological history. At best we can sand it down to fire-forged respect." She cleared her throat. "But I digress. There are four clans here. The northern caves host the North Clan. They enjoy fighting in mid-air. Crazy and over the top aerial battles. Like a movie come to life. The southern caves house the South Clan. They just like breathing fire on everything. The western quadrant are the West Clan. They're good at every skill, but aren't dominant in any one." She pointed to the grassy forest at the far east side of the valley. "But it's the East Clan you need to watch out for. They're specialists in hand-to-hand combat. Grappling, takedowns, slams, the works. And they reeeeeeally don't like Dragonites."
"How can I tell which is which?" Lance asked. Liza smirked.
"They all have their little quirks. Southerners are a little smaller than the rest, but their wings have charcoal markings they themselves etch. I think it's in their own language, but I can't read Charizard scratch. Northerners wear necklaces of stone. Grass to be the string, and shells or sharpened rocks as the 'jewelry.' It whistles in the air when they fly. Kind of creepy sounds. Westerners don't have any markings of any kind. They pride themselves on just being themselves. Easterners…they etch mud and charcoal and Arceus knows what else onto their face like tribal war paint. It is intimidating." She said.
"And they all listen to you?" Lance asked.
"Unquestioningly." Liza said. "They treat me as their sovereign, or the equivalent. And I treat them with respect, because I know them all." She looked at Lance, and shook her head. "They are going to haaaaaate you."
She looked to the skies.
"Well, here them come for morning roll call." She said.
No sooner had she said that, the sky became choked with flying creatures. Lance was dumbfounded. He had never seen this many Charizard in one place, and none that were this big. He watched, equally in awe, as they obediently took perch on rocks or the ground. And they were all in their clans. They glanced at him, and then at Liza. She spoke.
"Listen up! We have a guest. This is Lance." She said. The Charizards all looked at him in unison. It was an unnerving sight. "He will be training his Pokemon with us for the foreseeable future. Give him a warm welcome." She said.
Lance had met the King of Dragons, Rayquaza, and had heard it roar at its loudest. Yet the sound presented to him was a close second. He was legitimately shaking. He regained his composure. Liza smiled.
"Thank you. Now, he will be sending out his most trusted Pokemon for his first ring match. We all know what happens when a new guy comes into the ring, right?" She asked.
Again, a chorus of excited roars.
"Good." She said. "Be well behaved, treat one another with respect, and come noon we'll have the battle royale. Can I see the Clan masters, please? Everyone else, go eat."
A slew of Charizards flew from their perches to the feeding troughs. Lance watched in shock as the food he'd spent a good half hour preparing disappear in a few minutes.
"Lance, over here." Liza said. She pointed to the four Charizard in front of her. She pointed to each of them.
"Gentlemen…and lady, this is Lance. He is here to see the best of your clans. Tell your clans to treat him and his Pokemon with respect, and I will reward everyone. Now for introductions." She pointed to the Southern leader. "This is Chief Emberhead." She pointed to the Northern leader. "This is Chief Windsprint." She pointed to the Western leader. "This is Chief Braveheart." She pointed to the marked up, utterly terrifying Eastern leader. "This is Chief Irongrip." She cleared her throat. "Irongrip is the first female chieftain in my lifetime."
"Which of the chieftains is the technical leader?" Lance asked.
In unison, the three male Charizard pointed (was it fearfully?) at Irongrip. Lance sweatdropped.
"I'm not surprised." He muttered. He cleared his throat. "I, um, am kind of embarrassed to admit this for the first time in my life given the circumstances, but my favorite Pokemon is…Dragonite."
At this admittance, the four Chieftains looked both shocked and angered.
"Peace!" Liza snapped. "The Dragon will not be a problem to your clans. It seeks betterment, as does the rest of Lance's Pokemon. You had better deal with the fact that our visitor is a Dragon type trainer. He does not only train Dragonite, but it is his most powerful. Now get this straight: There will be absolutely no vendetta-driven attacks against Dragonite. Anything goes in the ring short of crippling, obviously, but nothing else. Am I clear?"
The Charizards seemed ambivalent.
"Am. I. CLEAR?" Liza repeated.
Lance was blown away by Liza's forceful personality towards the Pokemon. It looked like she might be able to kick their asses herself if she wanted to. And probably his.
So how come he thought it was…interesting that she was so tough?
The Charizards grumbled, and nodded in acceptance. Liza smiled sweetly.
"Excellent! Now, I'll see you all at the ring at noon."
A few hours later, that was precisely where they were. All of the Charizard were perched around the ring, roaring in anticipation for the upcoming battle. The clan leaders had sent forth one of their best from each clan, and the four Charizard were growling and playing up their toughness in front of the crowd. Lance glanced over at Liza, who was sitting at the side of the ring with her trusted Charla. He reached for the Poke Ball at his belt, held it close to his lips, and whispered softly.
"This is to improve both of us, old friend. Forgive me."
He threw it, and his trusted friend emerged.
If Lance had thought the Charizard greeting for him had been rattling, that was child's play compared to the unholy hell Dragonite received on his entrance. If it wasn't for the clan leaders, it seemed that the Charizard were going to mob Dragonite and tear him to pieces.
Dragonite was behaving unlike anything Lance had ever seen before. Normally his old friend was pretty laid back, and the biggest thing they butted heads over was seriousness: Lance treated every battle as a very serious affair, while Dragonite was kind of a large ham. Here, however, he was stone cold and snarling. Liza was right. Dragonites really didn't like Charizards did they?
"Go!" Liza shouted.
To Lance's shock, the four Charizard rushed Dragonite at once. Before he could shout that this was unfair, Dragonite dodged past them and double-clotheslined two of them.
"Stay on your feet, Dragonite!" Lance shouted. "Use Strength, use Struggle, whatever you can!" He shouted. There was no time for a powered up attack: the Charizard were too fast, and they were defending their honor against a hated foe.
Dragonite fought bravely. It managed to pull of an impressive gorilla press drop one of the Charizard, only to be picked up by one of the others and thrown hard against a rock formation. Then three of the Charizard started to throw rocks at the dazed Dragon. The crowd of Charizard roared in approval, and Dragonite was now seriously bleeding.
Two of the Charizard grabbed Dragonite by the arms, and with their combined weight slammed him facefirst into the grass. The third Charizard, the Eastern clanner, took a running start, and kicked Dragonite in the head with the force one reserves for going for a seventy-yard field goal.
"Arceus, Liza CALL THEM OFF!" Lance shouted. Liza nodded, realizing that Dragonite's hazing was over. But before she could restore order, the fourth Charizard acted. It was the Westerner, that much Lance could tell from its lack of markings, and it proceeded to tackle the Easterner from the side. Soon, a few other Easterners jumped into the brawl, and it all turned into a big ball of violence.
The sound of the starter pistol caused everyone to freeze. Liza was holding the cap gun, and she looked furious. She stared at the clan leaders.
"Unacceptable. I expected a little bit of hazing, but I did not think you were petty enough to stoop to crippling! Even a Dragonite!" Her face was twisted in rage. "Absolutely unacceptable. Clan leaders, you are to handle punishment within the clans yourself. Now get off that Westerner!" She shouted to the Eastern pack. The bloodied Charizard was helped to its feet, but before it could be carried back to the group, Liza stopped it.
"You need medical attention as well. Come with me." She looked at Chief Braveheart. "See me immediately. The rest of you, get lost until dinner! Cool off, you blood-thirsty degenerates." She said, rolling her eyes.
The crowd of Charizard flew away, all grumbling about the Mistress ruining a good old-fashioned ass kicking. They just hoped she wouldn't punish them through their dinner.
Lance sprinted over to the rock where Dragonite had propped himself up against, and he ripped off his sleeve of his ranch hand clothing to clean up a few of Dragonite's cuts.
"Arceus, I'm sorry. I did not think this would happen to you." He said. Dragonite looked at him, and gave a shrug. It managed to smile weakly. Though one of its eyes was swollen shut and its face was bloodied and battered, the message was clear.
Price of being a battler, master. I hold no ill will. Especially not towards you.
"Lance, I'm sorry." Liza began. Lance looked at her with murderous eyes.
"Are you? Cuz it sounded like you were in favor of that beatdown." He snapped.
"Not to that extent. But you and I have to both admit that Dragonite needs to get toughened up if it wants to avoid getting pummeled by an Aggron again." She said. "Yeah, I watched the match last night while you were sleeping. It was a re-run. Dragonite has a glass jaw. Steven and that Orrean kid exploited that, and if you want to get a rematch…you need to strengthen the three best Pokemon you have. This is the best kept secret in the world: nowhere is the competition tougher than in the Charicific Valley." She said.
"How come you don't advertise?" Lance asked. "Do you have any idea how much your valley would make from trainers looking to sharpen up?"
"I have an idea, and it's too much." Liza said. "I don't need the League blowing smoke up my ass to let me know that what I'm doing here is meaningful. I know it through the development of the Charizard in this valley. And I will know it through the development of your Dragonite as well. Bring him up to the cottage. Charla will help patch him up. I have to talk to Braveheart and his clansman."
Lance nodded, and with Charla's help escorted Dragonite back up to the cottage. As soon as they were out of earshot, Liza turned to Braveheart and the nameless Charizard.
"What happened back there? Did you order that?" She turned to Braveheart. It growled and shook its head. The nameless Charizard grunted.
"You did that yourself? Why?" She asked.
The Charizard rumbled, and shrugged.
"Ok, I can understand you thinking enough was enough, but think about what you just made yourself in the eyes of some of the others…especially the Easterners. Can you deal with that?" She asked.
The Charizard nodded. It was surprisingly brave. Speaking of which…
"Braveheart, who is this Charizard?"
"Just one of your boys? Huh. Might want to change that, because I think you should promote him to your council."
Braveheart and the nameless Charizard did a double take. Braveheart grunted, asking why.
"One, because I said so. Two, because one of your councilmen is…at death's door, I'm sorry to say. Oh don't look so offended, you and I both know that he has lived a long and happy life as your advisor, but it is almost his time. And three, I think that the Western clan would think very highly of you if you rewarded bravery against a gang of Easterners. Don't you think?" She asked. Braveheart agreed to this, and heartily roared in approval. She turned to the nameless Charizard.
"Congratulations. Now try not to do anything stupid like that again."
To her surprise, the Charizard nodded and gave a thumbs up of all things. It growled, and took flight high into the sky, with Chief Braveheart following suit. Liza watched after them, before walking back to the cottage to check on Dragonite.
To her surprise, she saw that Lance and Charla were not alone. Lance had released the other two Pokemon that he had brought with him, and they were both anxiously watching Dragonite to see how things were. Liza cleared her throat.
"Who are they?" She asked. Without looking at her, Lance spoke.
"My other two Dragons. The older one is Salamence. He was a gift from Grandmaster Arach for my twenty fifth birthday. I don't know how old he is…but I heard he's older than the Grandmaster." He said with a smirk. Salamence nodded, the wizened Dragon agreeing with his younger master's statements.
"How old are you?" Liza asked. Lance smiled slightly.
"He doesn't like to say. But I know for a fact that he's older than the Grandmaster. And the Grandmaster is in his early fifties." Lance said. Liza blinked in surprise.
"Your clan has a leader that is so young?" She asked.
"You wouldn't be surprised if you knew his track record. He wasn't always just a member of the Dragon Clan. He was also pretty invested in the G-Men, too. He won't talk about it, but the members of the G-Men that I've talked to, including a rather odd investigator, always speak in reverential tones whenever his name comes up. But I digress. The golden one is Haxorus. He's the baby of the group. He'd only evolved a few months before the World Tournament, and he's really looking to learn how to improve his ability." Lance said.
"What kind of fighter is he?" She asked. Lance turned to look at her.
"Put it this way. You ever watch any of those WWA shows on TV?" He asked.
"With guys like Crasher Wake? Yeah all the ti-" Liza stopped as Lance raised an eyebrow. "Never mind. Haxorus is a wrestling fan?" Lance shrugged.
"I was flipping channels one day when I was sick and he was just an Axew, and somehow by the grace of Arceus caught a match right when Crasher Wake caught one of his opponents in…what are they called? The 'Crash-Crash Piledriver?' Yeah, something like that. Well, it was all over when that happened. I looked at that little Axew, saw the stars in his eyes and I thought to myself…well, guess I'd better hire a coach to help me teach him those kinds of throws." He laughed. "Haxorus still thinks he can challenge for the championship against Crasher Wake today."
The golden Dragon nodded indignantly. It took all of Liza's self-control not to confess to being a secret wrestling fan right then and there (as well as getting involved in a discussion of said topic with the Dragon), but she managed. Then she yawned.
"It's getting late. Do you need any help with Dragonite?" She asked. Lance shook his head.
"No. He'll just need a day to heal from that. Four-on-one isn't exactly fun, even if it was hazing." From his tone, Liza knew that Lance was still hurting over that perceived betrayal. As he finished patching his friend up, Liza decided that it was probably a good time to go to bed. Bidding them all good night, the matron of the Charicific Valley retreated to her room. Lance watched her leave, and sighed.
"Think you'll be ready tomorrow, buddy?" He asked Dragonite. His battered friend looked pensive, but then nodded. Lance smiled. "Good." He turned to the others. "I think you'd better sleep in here tonight. I don't know how welcoming those Charizards will be to other Dragons as well." Haxorus and Salamence nodded, and shortly after that they were sound asleep on the floor. Dragonite was snoring shortly after.
As Lance walked up the steps to his guest bedroom, he happened to glance out the window towards the valley below. He thought it could have been the shadows of the moonlight hitting the trees playing tricks on him, but he thought he saw the silhouette of a Charizard watching him from below.
He blinked, and it was gone.