Ash Ketchum has been determined to become the best since he was a toddler. He has his eyes set on a charmander, but a twist of fate led him to the humble Nidoran. Note: Mix between anime and the games.


16. Cinnabar Island Part 2

Sunset was just beginning to end when Ash reached the Big Riddle Inn. He was heedless of his own exhaustion that had accumulated over the day of constant searching, too focused on his task to let such a minor thing inconvenience him. Ash had a badge to earn.

Nidorino, on the other hand, didn't show any hint of tiredness. Ash had to envy him for the immense endurance and durability that his friend possessed, although it had been helped by the fact that Nidorino never had to battle all day.

Blaine wasn't in the hotel. Ash figured that the gym leader was waiting in the gym. That just pushed him on more – he remembered Wataru's hint to look for a gyarados. He assumed that it was some sort of statue or picture – there was no way a real gyarados would fit in the hotel.

But he didn't go blindly rushing in. Ash looked around the hotel's main room and thought for a moment. If the entrance was somewhere in the hotel, than it had to be connected to the volcano. None of the hotel proper actually touched the volcano, which meant that it had to be out back or underground. That meant his best bet was to search those hot springs Blaine had told him about.

Ash briskly walked over to the stairs and went down. Nidorino slowly followed him, able to traverse stairs with little difficulty but uncomfortable with the narrow, carved wood. The air grew hot and a strong smell of sulfur entered his nose.

He wrinkled his nose in disgust and waited on Nidorino, who was only halfway down the stairs. When his friend caught up with him, Ash looked around the hot springs. They were pretty small, but looked comfortably warm. That didn't attract his attention though. What did was the large statue of a gyarados' head that supplied the springs with their water.

They carefully walked up to it, managing to walk along the damp, slick stone that surrounded the springs. Ash was slow, not wanting to get all of his things wet. Nidorino didn't care about that. He gleefully jumped into the hot, bubbling water and swam over to the statue. His friend leapt out of the water and patiently waited for Ash to arrive.

Ash smiled at his wet friend before curiously examining the area around the statue. There wasn't a door or anything hidden behind it, so it looked like something about the statue itself would let him enter the gym.

He ran his fingers over the rough, grey stone. Ash winced at the heat radiating from the statue but got used to it after a few second. The trainer sighed when he found nothing around the neck or the sides of the head and lightly searched the burning top of the stone, careful to keep his hands from touching it for more than a moment or two.

Ash suddenly grinned when he felt something press down a bit as he applied pressure. He figured that that was his way into the gym. The trainer carefully angled his hand so that only his light glove would make contact with the hot stone before pressing down.

The moment it wouldn't go anymore he yanked his hand back. Even with the barrier his glove provided it was still quite painful to put his hand on the gyarados' head. Ash waited for a moment before the stone suddenly began to grind.

He stepped back carefully as the gyarados statue suddenly swung away, nearly hitting him and knocking him into the hot springs. The water that fell from its mouth was suddenly cut off, and a huge section of the cavern wall smoothly slid into the ground.

Ash curiously peered at the large pathway that had been provided for him. It glowed ominously with dim red light, but he couldn't actually see into it. A little thing like that wouldn't dissuade him, however.

"Let's go, Nidorino." He said to his friend as he stepped into the pathway. Now that he was closer, he could see that it was a short staircase carved from the stone. The steps were uneven and ragged, so he assumed that a pokemon had done it in a hurry. It was lit by candles placed into alcoves by the stairs.

He traipsed down the stairs casually, noting the growing heat but ignoring it. Blaine's gym was in the volcano, so he'd be experiencing a lot worse in a few minutes. Before he reached the bottom of the stairs, Ash was able to make out two huge, steel doors that hid the next area from his eyes.

Ash had to admit that he was feeling a bit nervous. Blaine certainly had a flair for the dramatic.

The trainer almost tried to pull the doors open himself, then realized how stupid that was. He had entered the side of a volcano. Those doors would probably be burning hot.

He quickly released Infernus. "Hey, could you open those doors for me?" Infernus seemed disappointed at the lack of the battle but prepared to do as he asked. "Carefully, please." Ash hastily added.

Infernus growled but did as he asked. His burning hands weren't even affected by the intense heat blazing off from the massive doors and he looked almost bored as he yanked them open with his immense strength.

"Thanks." Ash said before returning the fire-type. Infernus would get a battle he wouldn't be forgetting soon enough.

Ash couldn't help but freeze when he entered the next area. Aside from the huge wave of heat that crashed into him, imparting upon his skin a burning sensation and causing him to sweat, the huge room he entered was simply awe-inspiring.

They were in the heart of the volcano. A huge platform that was suspended over the bright, burning magma by huge, thick chains sat in the center, the lone protection against a fall. Smoke hovered everywhere, stagnant and shrouding the other side of the arena from his view. When he looked up, he could see out of the volcano's dome. The darkness of night was easily banished by the bright, molten magma.

He shook himself out of his shock and stepped forward, drawing closer to the edge of the stone. Ash didn't dare look down – he'd probably jump back and make himself look weak in front of Blaine, wherever the old man was.

Suddenly the volcano was illuminated by several massive lines of lights. Ash could see that the rest of the area, previously shrouded in the darkness, was mostly just a large ring of stone around the very edge of the arena. The other side of the arena was also illuminated, showing that a set of doors similar to the ones he had come in through blocked the entrance.

Ash had to blink at the sudden light. When he heard the familiar voice of the old man, however, he quickly glanced up and ignored the slight pain in his eyes.

"It looks like you found your way here after all." The soft voice called, easily reaching Ash's ears despite the bubbling of the magma. Ash looked up and saw the familiar form of Blaine, casually standing on the edge of the volcano.

"Hello, Blaine." Ash called out, placing particular emphasis on his name. He could see that the man had a wide grin on his face.

Blaine didn't acknowledge his statement with anything other than a slight nod. "It's not a hat, but it keeps your head dry. If you wear it, it's only because you already lost it."

Ash groaned as Blaine gave him yet another riddle. Even though he glared at the gym leader, Blaine just patiently stared at him. He finally gave in and thought it over, realizing that Blaine wouldn't battle him until he solved it.

It took him a while, but he finally solved it. Ash would be quite happy to never hear another riddle again. Blaine had given him enough for a lifetime.

"A wig!" He shouted in an annoyed tone. Blaine nodded with a pleased look on his face.

"And you're right again!" He exclaimed, suddenly tearing off his long hair and pulling his glasses off. Ash took the moment to look at the Fire Master.

Blaine was almost completely bald aside from two shocks of hair on the sides of his head. His eyes were narrow and fierce looking. They also had the effect of making his face look far less calm and relaxed. Now it seemed bony and sharp, a far cry from his former appearance.

"Now, are you ready to battle?" He shouted, his voice shifting from the mellow and soft pitch to a sharp, harsh bite. It made him seem far more intimidating.

But Ash just nodded, a wide grin on his face. This looked like it would be an awesome battle.

Before they went any further, Ash went over what he knew about Blaine.

Until about fifteen years ago, Blaine had been one of the Elite Four and had reached the rank of a Master. He left the prestigious position once he and his pokemon grew older and more frail, although he was still a powerful battler and more than worthy of the Gym Leader title.

He was also incredibly intelligent, which showed itself in the construction of this gym. Not just anyone could have built their own arena over a lake of burning magma. The fact that they weren't burning up just from being this close to the volcano proved that he had some method of draining the heat.

All of that just made him all the more appealing to defeat. The things Ash had to go through just to find this gym made it all the better.

"This will be a three-on-three battle." Blaine barked; a pokeball already in his hand. He adopted a slightly sadistic tone before putting his black sunglasses back on. "Ready to begin? I hope you have a burn heal!"

Ash groaned at the pun but nodded and stared at the gym leader with a determined expression on his face. He reached down for Golduck's pokeball. It would be best to get the weakest member of his team out of the way first and let him do some damage. Besides, he didn't have any better members aside from Nidorino, who he wanted to use as a safety in case Golduck messed up, and Infernus, who he wanted to save for last.

"Go, Rhydon!" Blaine shouted, sending the massive rock-type onto the field. Ash grinned and sent out Golduck. He wasn't sure why Blaine had a rhydon, although he supposed it might be to defeat trainers that thought they could win as long as they had something effective against fire-types.

Golduck quacked angrily when he was released. He glared at Blaine and Rhydon before turning to Ash.

"This is a gym battle!" Ash shouted, hoping that the statement would get Golduck pumped up. "If you want to show how strong you are, now's the time!"

The water-type suddenly tensed up and prepared to fight. Ash grinned at that. It looked like Golduck would come through for him in this battle.

"A water-type. How predictable!" Blaine sneered. "You'll find that your victory isn't as easy as you think."

Ash frowned as the powerful rock-type stretched. It yawned as it looked at Golduck with a disinterested expression. Golduck quacked and prepared to move.

"Hydro pump!" Ash ordered, starting the battle off. He remembered the sheer physical force of the last rhydon he had fought and added "Keep it away!" as an afterthought.

Golduck quacked and followed Ash's command, rearing his head back and spitting a powerful jet of water at Rhydon.

"Rock blast." Blaine said sharply. Several rings formed around Rhydon's huge body before forming into large stones. Rhydon quickly hurled them into the water, blocking it and preventing most of it from even touching the rock-type. One went around the hydro pump and slammed into Golduck, sending the water-type to the ground. "Now use take down. Knock it off the platform."

Rhydon roared and charged at the fallen Golduck. Ash frantically shouted out commands.

"Aqua pulse. Knock it off with aqua tail!" Ash ordered. Golduck quacked and quickly formed a blue ball in his hand and blasted it towards Rhydon. It slammed into the rock-type and formed a huge wave that slowed Rhydon down and caused it to stumble as it neared Golduck. The water quickly burned away into steam when it touched the platform.

Even then Rhydon was too close to avoid. The confused rock-type was still charging at Golduck, but it had slowed down enough that Golduck was able to stand up and jump away before slamming his short tail that was suddenly covered with a spiral of water into the passing Rhydon.

It didn't knock Rhydon over the edge or even knock it over, but it did throw Rhydon off course and send it away from Golduck. Golduck quickly fired a water gun into its back, although it did little. Ash glared at Golduck for acting without his permission but came up with a strategy during the short break.

Blaine's Rhydon lacked the pure power and size of the rhydon he had fought before, but it was still too durable for him to defeat through ordinarily means. Not with Golduck, anyway. The only way he would win was if he either switched pokemon – which he didn't want to do – or knock it into the bubbling magma. He didn't feel guilty about the strategy since rhydon were capable of living in magma, their stone hides granting them an immunity to it.

"Earthquake!" Blaine suddenly commanded. Rhydon roared and pulled its massive foot up, preparing to slam it down and send shockwaves blasting throughout the suspended battlefield. Ash knew he had to act fast.

"Confusion! Throw it off the platform!"

Golduck thankfully followed his command. With bright, glowing eyes he stared at Rhydon, enveloping the behemoth with a blue aura. He did his best to stop the beast, but the foot went down and a massive wave of force travelled through the ground, quickly throwing Golduck off of his feet. The disobedient water-type managed to throw Rhydon to the very edge of the platform before his concentration shattered.

Blaine didn't seem to particularly care about the battle. Ash suspected that this was just to test him and see if he was a worthy challenger. The man was a highly skilled trainer, but he'd barely used Rhydon to do anything.

"Use thunderbolt!" Blaine barked. Rhydon roared and slowly became enveloped in running, writhing currents of electricity. Small arcs of it jumped off every now and then as the rock-type leisurely charged the attack.

"Hydro pump!" Ash cried, realizing that this would spell the end for Golduck. Golduck almost didn't obey – Ash saw that he seemed to struggle with the command – but shot a powerful blast of water from his mouth just as Rhydon fired off the thunderbolt.

The thunderbolt was aimed to meet the hydro pump in midflight. While it wouldn't stop the attack the lightning would be greatly amplified by being conducted through the water. Combined with Golduck's great weakness to electricity in the first place, it ensured that the water-type would be taken out of the battle.

And it worked. Golduck shuddered and twitched as the huge amount of electricity coursed through his body before collapsing, clearly knocked out. But the hydro pump did its job as well. Ash knew that it wouldn't knock Rhydon out, but it carried enough force behind it to knock the huge pokemon off of the edge.

Both trainers quickly recalled their pokemon, now with more of an understanding of each other's abilities. Ash figured that Blaine won out in this situation – he knew more about how Ash worked without revealing too much about his own skills.

"Looks like you aren't too weak after all!" The old man laughed with another pokeball in hand. "But that was just a wake-up call. Get ready to feel the burn!"

Ash frowned and placed Golduck's pokeball back on his belt. He looked down at Nidorino to see how his friend was doing. Nidorino was sweating, but looked more than ready to battle.

"You're up, buddy." Ash said. Nidorino growled in happiness and casually leapt the distance to the platform. He roared and extended his barbs, which were already leaking potent venom. The poison-type lowered his head and prepared to charge.

"I hope you're ready." Blaine grinned as he released his next pokemon. "This is the only one of my pokemon older than I am!"

A large, beautiful ninetales appeared on the field. It luxuriously stretched and yawned, unaffected by the intense heat. Ninetales looked at Nidorino with bored scarlet eyes, its shining golden fur glistening as it moved into a combat position.

"Fire spin." Blaine ordered, beginning the battle with the most powerful attack at Ninetales' disposal. Ninetales leapt forward with its elegant mouth wide open, exposing its fangs for a moment before releasing a huge stream of spinning red-orange fire with a yellow flame spiraling around it.

Nidorino quickly dodged without being told, knowing the attack would quickly end the battle against him. He quickly followed Ash's shouted order of, "Poison sting!" and launched dozens of small needles filled with poison towards Ninetales.

A quick burst of flame destroyed most of the barbs, but a small number struck their target and injected their venom into the fire-type. Nidorino squared off and prepared to attack again.

"Use confusion and get in close!" Ash ordered. Normally he would have had Nidorino just use confusion and then focus horn, but he suspected that even the shortest period of vulnerability would be exploited by Blaine. This Ninetales seemed to be the first pokemon Blaine would actually be using against him and, judging from the fire spin, it was packing a lot of power.

Nidorino charged while using confusion. Ash had had him and Dazed work on using the minor psychic attack while moving, preventing Nidorino from being a sitting duck while using it. His friend's eyes glowed a bright purple before enveloping Ninetales in a bright aura.

Ninetales didn't need a command to respond to the confusion attack. Its crimson eyes flashed brightly for a moment, easily breaking the psychic attack's power and sending the aura dissipating into nothingness.

"Incinerate." Blaine growled. Ninetales calmly reared its head back and blasted a huge stream of purple-blue flame towards the charging Nidorino. Nidorino barely leapt out of the way of the powerful attack, the flames nearly enveloping him. "Now quick attack to the side."

The fire-type blurred away a mere moment before Nidorino would have slammed into it, gracefully appearing on the other side of the battlefield. Nidorino quickly halted and barely managed to avoid going over the edge. He turned as fast as he could and resumed his charge.


"Use ice beam!" Ash said, a strategy forming in his mind. As Nidorino charged, he opened his mouth and fired the three beams of icy energy at Ninetales. They all landed just as Ninetales blasted the stream of orange flame from its mouth, causing the energy beams to shift into water and douse the Ninetales.

Now that the Ninetales was temporarily weakened, Ash used the chance to get focus horn ready. He shouted out the command, causing Nidorino to slow his charge as he amplified his strength with focus energy. Ash grinned as Nidorino resumed his charge, barreling straight into the stunned Ninetales.

Ninetales yelped as Nidorino's sharp horn jabbed it and threw it several feet backwards. Ash grinned when he saw that it was already growing more sluggish. It looked like Nidorino had managed to pump the Ninetales full of venom.

But Blaine wasn't done yet. "Ninetales, use fire race!"

Ash furrowed his brow. "Nidorino, get ready."

The fire-type suddenly flickered away, displaying surprising endurance. Despite the fact that it was poisoned, Ninetales still used quick attack. But it left a huge trail of fire wherever it went, quickly surrounding Nidorino in a circle of roaring flames and blasting his friend with some of them.

Ninetales suddenly appeared behind Nidorino, looking haggard but still able to battle. It suddenly jumped at Nidorino's back with bared fangs and a dawning orange glow in its mouth. Nidorino didn't need Ash's warning to respond – his sharp hearing enabled him to dodge the attack before Ninetales could land it.

"Ice beam!" Ash said. Nidorino quickly followed through, launching an ice beam at the surprised Ninetales' back. The ice beam did very little, as Ninetales' incredible body heat melted the thin layer of ice in an instant. But Ash wasn't done yet. "Now, thunderbolt."

Nidorino instantly complied, blasting a huge arc of electricity into the drenched Ninetales. Ninetales twitched and collapsed to the ground, clearly spent but not yet unconscious. Ash's friend quickly charged towards the fallen pokemon, intent on finishing it off.

"Overheat." Blaine said with a grin. Ninetales complied, using the last of its energy to blast the charging Nidorino with a huge release of flame. Nidorino survived the powerful attack, but was badly weakened. Ninetales was completely spent. Its head collapsed to the ground, finally unconscious.

"Good strategy, but you got stupid at the end." Blaine scolded as he recalled Ninetales. "Don't get close. There's always one last trick when everything else is lost. But I suppose it's time for my most powerful pokemon to make an appearance. I can guarantee that this pokemon is too hot to handle! And it has a power that should interest you – it turns all of its opponents into ash!"

Ash groaned at both of the puns. He had hoped that Blaine would stop making the terrible jokes during the battle, at least.

"I choose…Magmar!" Blaine roared, throwing his arms into the air for dramatic effect. Ash watched curiously as a huge wave of magma surged up into the air, remaining stable thanks to being controlled by an incredible power. A dark shape was suspended in the sheet of magma, barely visible through the molten rock.

Then it uncurled, allowing the magma to fall back into the volcano. Magmar hung suspended in the air through some power that Ash wasn't aware of, although he supposed it might be the minor psychic abilities he was informed of through the pokedex. Whatever it was, it was very impressive.

Magmar was a beast. It was old and battle-scarred, but it was no less powerful for it. The fire-type arrogantly glared down at Ash and Nidorino, staying stable in the air for a moment before lightly falling to the platform. Ash heard an audible sizzle as it touched the ground.

The absolutely massive Magmar looked powerful. It was even larger than Infernus and its hulking form wavered and shimmered in the volcano's heat. Ash knew that this thing would be brutal to fight.

He knew that he would have to switch to Infernus once Nidorino was defeated. There was no way Nidorino would be able to defeat Magmar in his current condition and none of his others would be able to battle it in these conditions. Dazed was too sensitive to the temperature, Plume was vulnerable to the heat it produced and its flames, Torrent would just flop around, and Golduck was out of the running.

But he knew that he and Nidorino would do their best to weaken it. Nidorino was tough and could take a few more hits before going down.

Blaine began the battle. "Fire punch!"

"Poison sting." Ash ordered. Nidorino managed to dodge the first fire punch and shot the poisonous pins into Magmar, but Magmar simply exploded with flame in order to destroy most of them before punching the tired Nidorino and sending him across the battlefield.

Ash frowned. After knowing Infernus for so long, he knew that the minor dose of toxins Magmar had received wouldn't do anything. Magmar just had too good of endurance and its high body heat would neutralize most of the venom before it grew into a problem. He had to try something else.

"Icebeam, then use thunderbolt!" He cried, hoping that he would be able to do some damage. Ash didn't think Infernus could defeat Magmar unless he managed to weaken it in some way first. Hopefully the trick would do something, even if Blaine could block the worst of it.

The ice beam didn't work out quite as well as he had hoped. Magmar simply caused flames to burst from his body in order to reduce the effect of the ice beam, although most of it just evaporated into steam instead of into water as he had hoped. But it was still better than the thunderbolt – the thunderbolt didn't do anything. Magmar just crossed its arms and somehow caused the thunderbolt to diffuse into nothingness.

Nidorino was just as shocked as he was and stumbled a little bit before trying again. Magmar just had a sadistic look on its face as Nidorino attempted the ineffectual attack.

Ash quickly raced through everything he had learned about magmar in a wild hope to understand what was going on. He couldn't think of anything for a few moments, but then he remembered reading a minor note about an ability called "Air Lens" that particularly well-trained and powerful magmar could learn. Although he couldn't remember how it worked, he knew that it wasn't too big a surprise that Blaine would have taught Magmar that trick.

Blaine just grinned widely. "Flamethrower."

Magmar quickly launched a huge stream of white-hot flame from his mouth, bathing the entire battlefield with the powerful attack. Ash cried out in concern for Nidorino, but when the flames cleared he could see that Nidorino was still standing. Badly weakened and covered in soot, but able to battle just a bit longer.

"Horn attack!" Ash shouted, desperate to do at least some damage to the powerful Magmar. Nidorino grunted in exhaustion but leapt towards the nearby Magmar, ignoring the heat radiating from the fire-type and driving his horn into Magmar's stomach.

The fire-type grunted before grabbing Nidorino with burning hands and hurling him over the edge. Ash recalled Nidorino before he even began to descend down into the lava. He glared at Blaine, who didn't seem too concerned with Magmar's action.

"What?" The old man grinned. "I have systems in place for that kind of thing. Now get focused – this has been a good battle so far and I want to see what you've got."

Ash scowled and released Infernus. The powerful fire-type roared and stamped his foot as he was released. Magma blasted upwards from the lake at the bottom of the volcano, the molten rock showering the battlefield with the burning substance.

Blaine had a wide grin on his face as he observed the display. Magmar roared in return, sending a massive stream of white-hot flame bursting from his mouth, reaching high up into the air before dissipating. The display of strength didn't tire it at all.

Infernus roared and tensed up, awaiting Ash's commands. Ash smiled at that. It was nice knowing that Infernus liked and respected him enough to hold back his own battle-lust and frenzied instincts.

Ash began the battle, seeking to begin on the offensive. "Clear smog!"

Infernus quickly heeded the command, squaring himself before spewing torrents of white smog from his mouth, spreading it all over the battlefield. Thankfully for Ash it wasn't so opaque as to obscure his view of the arena.

The smog would hopefully weaken the older Magmar. It wouldn't do much and could probably be burned up relatively quickly, but it would drain Magmar's strength for a while.

"Fire Combat!" Blaine commanded as he crossed his arms. Magmar quickly wreathed itself in flame and charged at Infernus, using what Ash recognized as a flame charge. That meant that Blaine was using some sort of combination.

"Dodge and fire punch." Ash shouted. Infernus sidestepped at the last possible moment and sent a burning fist into Magmar's side. But Magmar managed to twist out of the way and used both fists to attack Infernus with its fire punch.

Infernus easily dodged the attacks and retaliated with his own fire punch. Ash noticed that Infernus was incredibly fast in the volcano. While never slow aside from in the Caverns, right now he was moving at an unprecedented speed. He supposed that the information about magmar moving faster in high temperatures wasn't an exaggeration.

Unfortunately, Magmar was sped up as well. It dodged just as many attacks as Infernus did and retaliated with an unending barrage of fire punches. The flames did little to either magmar, but the force behind the two fire-types' punches dealt a moderate amount of damage.

Ash noticed that Magmar was slowly winning. Its punches were stronger, its attacks faster. Infernus was slowly being pushed back towards the edge, although he was dealing quite a bit of damage to his foe himself.

But at the same time Ash could see that Nidorino had managed to pump his powerful venom into Magmar. Magmar was growing more and more sluggish, allowing Infernus to almost match the well-trained fire-type. Still, it was clear that Infernus would be defeated long before the toxins completed their work.

Blaine seemed content to let Magmar and Infernus' fierce battle rage on without his interference. He obviously had confidence in his pokemon's abilities.

Ash frowned. Blaine had more experience with magmar than he did. If Blaine thought that Magmar would win, then Magmar would win. Unless, of course, Ash decided to shift the battle and give Infernus a bit of rejuvenation.

"Flamethrower! Then use fire punch!" Ash ordered, finally interrupting the brutal duel. Infernus leapt back and roared at Magmar, releasing a huge blast of flame as he did so. The flames washed over Magmar, doing little other than distracting it.

Infernus roared again and rushed forward, slamming his fist into Magmar's chest and sending the other fire-type stumbling backward. His friend tried to continue the attack, but it seemed that Blaine had had enough.

"Giga impact!" The gym leader roared. Magmar quickly recovered when it heard the command and tensed up before charging. Yellow-orange energy covered its body and a sphere of purple energy surrounded Magmar.

Magmar suddenly rushed forward at an incredible speed, catching both Ash and Infernus off guard and throwing Infernus off of the platform. Ash cried out in worry for his friend, but a statement from Blaine cut him off.

"It'll be fine." Blaine said dismissively. "Your magmar is just trapped down there. I'll have mine fish it out in a few minutes. Good job, though. I almost thought you would beat me for a –"

Then the entire volcano rumbled. Both of the trainers' attention snapped to the lava lake, which was bubbling and shaking, sending waves of heat upward. Ash winced at the heat but continued watching.

He stumbled backwards in surprise when a massive wave of magma blasted upwards, given form by a will born of rage and pain. Ash shielded his eyes and watched in awe as Infernus revealed himself, completely rejuvenated thanks to the magma and completely enraged.

His friend launched himself out of the large column of molten rock, slamming into Magmar with incredible force and sending the surprised fire-type crashing to the ground. Before Magmar could recover, Infernus roared and began to savagely slam his fists into his foe over and over again, although Magmar's incredible endurance allowed it to resist and do a bit of damage to Infernus.

"Clear smog!" Ash shouted, seeing an opening. Infernus quickly followed through, spitting the thin, opaque smog directly into Magmar's face. It roared and began thrashing as it breathed in the toxins, using all of its dwindling strength in an attempt to struggle free from Infernus.

Unfortunately, the poison that Nidorino had injected into it had begun taking effect for a while now. The wild struggle was only causing Nidorino's toxins to work faster, pumping through the hot blood with increasing frequency. In turn, Magmar's monumental endurance was whittled down and its struggles were slow and sluggish despite the beneficial environment.

"Confuse ray!" Blaine snapped, a wide frown splitting his face. Magmar's eyes glowed as it began to access the power, but Ash had his own reply.

"Hit him."

Infernus' eyes lit up brightly at that remark, and almost seemed to smile as he brought his fist directly onto Magmar's burning forehead. The older fire-type grunted and collapsed again, stunned from the powerful blow.

After that, Ash let Infernus have his fun. Infernus didn't have anything that would be more effective on Magmar than ordinary kicks and punches – the flames of a fire punch did more to help Magmar than hurt it – and quickly began to beat Magmar. Magmar constantly spit and struggled, sending massive streams of flame bursting into Infernus' face to little avail.

Still, Magmar refused to go down. Their tremendous endurance, only heightened by their proximity to the volcano, allowed each to take blows far more powerful than they normally could. Infernus had the edge now, though.

Even Infernus got bored of the slug-fest after a minute or so. Through a combination of the toxins coursing through its body and the injuries it had suffered during the battle, Magmar was putting up little fight, in turn leaving Infernus with little fun.

So his friend stood up, ignited the entire sky with a huge flamethrower, and slammed his shackled foot into Magmar's chest. The older magmar roared in pain and renewed its struggles. Another stomp from Infernus stopped the newfound resistance in its tracks, however, and Infernus slammed his other foot to the ground.

While it did nothing to actually contribute to the dwindling fight, the display Infernus put forth was quite impressive and helped to show just who had the dominance in this particular battle. When he stamped his foot to the ground, the entire magma lake trembled and bubbled before exploding upwards, surging and staying in the air for a few moments before sluggishly dropping back down to its previous position.

Infernus roared and allowed flames to burst from his entire body, an instinctual show of dominance over powerful foes. Ash just grinned at his friend, seeing that Magmar had slackened and fallen unconscious.

Blaine returned Magmar with a wide, manic grin on his face. He looked over at Ash and quickly walked over, although he released Magmar into the lava . Ash patiently waited for the old man to meet him, allowing Infernus to continue roaring in celebration of his victory. His friend deserved it.

"Well, looks like you aren't weak after all." Blaine laughed when he finally reached him. He dug around in his pocket and pulled out the Volcano Badge. "I haven't had to give one of these out in a while, but I think you deserve it."

Ash gladly took the badge, taking a moment to examine it. It was red and shaped like a flame. A small pink diamond was embedded in the center, surrounded by the glossy red material.

"I would have crushed you in my younger days." Blaine mused. "But those are long gone. Congratulations."

"Thanks." Ash replied as he pocketed the badge. "How has anyone else gotten this badge if you hide down here?"

Blaine snorted. "They don't, obviously. I get maybe three challengers a year, and usually only one manages to beat me. Most are just idiots playing around in the hot springs."

Ash nodded thoughtfully, but Blaine cut his thoughts off.

"Here's some advice: You're good and your pokemon are strong, but you can be better. I don't know much about that Nidorino, but your golduck was terrible. That rhydon was a baby and she still crushed it."

He frowned. "Golduck is new. I'm still trying to catch him up."

Blaine snorted again. "And you used it in a gym battle? That's stupid. But I don't really care. What I want to talk about is that Magmar of yours. Infernus, I think you called it?"

At Ash's silent nod, he continued. "That magmar is powerful. It probably has the same amount of power behind it as mine and knows how to use it. But its technique is pathetic. If Magmar hadn't been poisoned, I would have wiped the floor with you. Teach it some techniques besides those blasts and Clear Smog. Unpowered punches aren't going to cut it against a real opponent in the Conference – you need someone that can help teach it."

Ash nodded again, grateful for the advice even if it was something he'd begun to notice himself. "Thanks for the advice."

Blaine smirked. "You're welcome. But I'm willing to make a deal with you. You aren't as completely useless as most of the people I've met lately, and I consider magmar to be my specialty, so I'm going to extend a training offer. When you're done getting your badges, come back here for a few days. I'll help your Magmar shape up so it won't be a complete disgrace to the species."

A wide grin shaped on Ash's face, awe overshadowing everything else in his mind. He was being invited to train with a former member of the Elite Four, even if it was only for a few days! That was a once-in-a-lifetime chance.

The gym leader seemed to take that as a yes. "I'll give you two days to train with me. Don't bother trying to call – just show up. Anyways, this isn't just for you." He said with a dangerous grin. "Magmar here wants a rematch just as much as I do."

Ash blinked when an explosion of magma erupted from the lake, Magmar's distinctive shape shadowed and blurred inside the protective cocoon of molten rock. A moment later the floating magma fell back to the lake, leaving only a floating Magmar in its wake. It gave a mockery of a grin towards Ash, which Ash hesitantly returned.

Infernus suddenly roared, blasting a stream of flame at Magmar. The fire-type, who seemed to have been fully healed by the short amount of time spent in the magma, casually absorbed the burst of flame. Magmar didn't even bother retaliating.

"It's all right! The battles over, Infernus." Ash shouted to his friend. Infernus roared and seemed enraged by the presence of Magmar. He didn't attack, but quickly leapt from the suspended battlefield over to the large ring of rock. When he took his position next to Ash he calmed down a bit, although he still glared at Magmar. "Hey, good job. You did great."

His friend roared in response and spat a small blast of flame into the air. Blaine and Magmar just snorted, unimpressed by the display.

"Well, you've got your badge now." Blaine said in a friendlier tone. "Run along. I'll let you stay one more night for free. Anymore than that and you're paying for everything."

Ash blinked.

"Well, I've got to stay in business somehow." Blaine said, cackling at the look on Ash's face. "It's not as though I get many visitors. Or League funding, for that matter." He muttered with a scowl. "Bastards."

"By the way, next time you come here, I expect a hot battle." Blaine said before waving him off. Ash groaned at the pun but supposed he was lucky Blaine hadn't come up with a worse pun. That one was fairly minor in comparison, and anything was better than another riddle.

Ash went out the way he came. He returned Infernus before edging around the hot springs. His friend probably wouldn't bother going over the stone. Infernus would probably just walk through the hot water and turn it all into steam.

He gave himself a reminder to return to the hot springs tomorrow. While he wouldn't be getting in, he knew that Nidorino and Golduck would probably enjoy it. Infernus could just take a short bath in the lava lake if it turned out that he was injured.

But he didn't really pay attention to much else than that as he walked back into the hotel. It was getting late, and the fierce battle with Blaine had worn him and his pokemon down. Golduck would be fine in the morning and hadn't sustained any serious injuries, so he didn't need to rush to the Pokemon Center.

The trainer pulled out his PokeNav and checked the time. It was nearly nine. Ash shrugged. While it was almost as early as he'd gone to bed yesterday, he didn't care that much. He'd had a busy day and was completely worn out. His pokemon were probably just as bad.

Ash didn't even bother getting dinner. He was sure he'd hate himself for it in the morning, but for now he just wanted to sleep. Something about the volcano's heat had just drained him completely, taking any energy that he hadn't used in his long search during the day.

He released Dazed and Nidorino. Nidorino was still unconscious, so Ash released him onto the bed. Dazed looked at him with questioning, sleepy eyes and cocked her head to Nidorino.

"We found the gym." Ash said tiredly, although a grin spread his face as he thought of his victory. "It was a hard battle, but we managed to pull out a win."

Dazed cocked her head at him, clearly expecting the location. Ash grinned.

"It turned out that we were pretty close to it the entire time. You know those hot springs behind the hotel?" Dazed nodded slowly, her expressive eyes narrowing as she realized what he was aiming at. "Well, it turns out that Blaine hid a secret door to his gym inside it. The door led to the inside of the volcano."

His friend froze. Ash smiled. "That was about my reaction. Anyways, do you want to know anything else? I'm about to go to bed."

Dazed looked thoughtful for a moment before shaking her head. She stared at him for a moment as he plopped down into the bed, pausing only long enough to take off his shoes and jacket and to pull the sheets up a bit so he could slip in.

The psychic-type cocked her head at him for a moment before turning and staring out the window. Ash watched his friend stay like that for a while before exhaustion and fatigue suddenly piled onto him as if from nowhere and sent him into a deep sleep.


A freezing splash of water woke Ash up. He sputtered and tried his best to twist out of the cocoon his sheets had formed around him, wildly flailing all the while. Ash coughed and glared up at the old man that was standing by his bed with a bucket in hand and a smirk on his face.

"Get up." Blaine barked, his tone belying the grin on his face. "You have company."

Ash frowned and continued glaring at the man, although his interest was peaked. He quickly untangled himself from the soaked sheets and put his jacket that was lying crumpled on the floor on. "Who is it?"

"You'll see." Blaine grinned, casually throwing the bucket onto the ground with a loud clang. Ash scowled at him. "Hurry up. This is important."

The trainer continued to glare at the old man as he walked out, leaving a dripping, annoyed trainer behind him. Ash sighed and looked over at Nidorino. His friend was still in a deep sleep, apparently more tired than Ash had thought. While he hadn't been knocked unconscious last night, Nidorino had still been in a tough fight and taken a good deal of damage. It wasn't a surprise he was so out of it.

But for the moment he glanced around for Dazed. She should have stopped Blaine from throwing that water on him. All of his friends tended to be protective over him, and Dazed had proven to be no exception to the rule.

She wasn't there, although her pokeball was still empty. Ash shrugged it off, supposing that she was probably looking around. Dazed had never gotten the chance to properly explore the hotel, although, now that he thought of it, he hadn't seen the upper floors either.

Oh well, he thought. Right now he just needed to get dry. He wouldn't forget this little trick. Hopefully he would be good enough to get some payback on Blaine when he came back here to train.

Ash quickly pulled out the spare set of clothes that were practically identical to his ordinary set and put them on in the bathroom. He didn't bother drying his hair with one of the towels. If everything went to plan he would be leaving in an hour or two anyways, so it didn't really matter what he looked like.

He left Nidorino dozing on the bed. Nidorino had earned the rest, and Ash wasn't one to take that from him.

The trainer was curious about who could possibly be looking for him. There weren't that many people he'd gotten to know very well during his journey. Most people he met were just good for quick battles before he moved on. The two that he had gotten to know quite well were traipsing around Kanto themselves now, far from him.

But when he entered the main room, he froze. Steven Stone was casually sprawled out in one of the chairs, easily chatting with Blaine. Blaine actually seemed quite animated, and from what Ash could make out they were talking about technology of some sort.

"Steven? What are you doing here?" Ash questioned, making his presence known to the two men. Steven snapped his focus to Ash and he smiled reservedly.

"Hello to you too, Ash." He replied easily. "I'm sorry to say that I'm not here to make small talk."

"What do you mean?" Ash asked, still surprised at the Champion's appearance. "And how did you find me?"

The Champion smiled. "Someone we both know – Professor Oak. Normally he wouldn't tell me your location and I wouldn't ask, but when I let him know what a pressing matter this was he told me that you were heading to Cinnabar. One of my friends in the League called up Blaine here and asked him about you yesterday, although my friend said that he talked to you last night as well."

Ash took on a puzzled expression, trying to remember the name of the stranger that had given him the gym's location. "Wataru?"

"That's one of his names." The Champion replied with a grin. He looked as though there was some hidden joke that Ash hadn't quite gotten yet. "Anyways, back to business."

Steven sighed and his face became hard, shifting from Steven to the former Champion of Hoenn. "I've tracked down someone that we both have had trouble with. Normally I wouldn't ask anyone other than a gym leader or a member of the Elite Four to accompany me on this venture, but I thought that you were strong enough to stay safe and had more of a right to bring him in than anyone else."

Ash's face grew pale as the blood drained from it. "You found Pierce?" He whispered, white-hot hatred flashing through him as he thought of the Rocket Executive. His fists curled up into balls and he could feel the bite of his nails into his skin.

"Indeed." Steven replied, looking no more pleased about the Executive than Ash. "He's hiding in the Sevii Islands, where he's serving as the commander of a Rocket branch. We were going there anyway to stamp them out before they could get a foothold in the islands, but when I discovered Pierce was there I decided to see if you wanted to come."

"Of course I do!" Ash said. His voice was determined and as strong as he could make it even as flashbacks to a drowning ship ran through his mind. "I'll do anything to help out."

The Champion nodded. "Good. I won't be placing you into direct danger, but you'll be in the fighting. From what Blaine has told me, your pokemon are more than ready for the task. In fact, they've been sufficient for a while now, if the reports from Celadon are anything to go by. Good work, by the way." Steven added. Ash nodded his thanks and smiled. The Champion quickly continued, however. He leaned forward with his clasped hands and serious eyes.

"I'm not going to lie to you. This is going to be dangerous. You know what Pierce is capable of more than anyone. He won't be a danger to the three of us, but you need to be prepared."

That's when Ash realized something. "The three of us? Someone else is coming?"

Steven grinned, letting his hard exterior crack a little. "Indeed. I think you've already met."

A large, burly man suddenly ducked up through the stairs that led to the hot springs. Ash instantly recognized him as Wataru, and the man nodded at him with a grin. His cape flared out dramatically behind him, showing that a row of six pokeballs lined his waist.

"Ash, here's our other companion. You would probably know him better by his first name and title: Lance, Champion of Indigo Plateau and Master of the Indigo Elite Four."

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