Traveler

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.

https://www.fanfiction.net/s/8466693/1/Traveler

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33. Mt Moon Part 2

Ash nodded his thanks to her before stepping into the platform. He tapped each of his pokeballs as he thought over which would be the best for this battle.

Nidoking had thunderbolt, but there was way too much of a chance that he would fall into the water. That would be a disaster, so his first friend was out.

Plume had worked well in the pool last time, but if they used what he suspected she would be practically powerless.

He picked Torrent the moment he thought over his friend's gifts. Torrent was a powerhouse that could stand up to most anything. The dragon-type could take plenty of hits and would be at an incredible advantage in the pool. While he held an incredible amount of power on land, he was truly at home in the water. There was a reason Kingdra were called the Lords of the Sea.

The others had something to offer, but none would be as powerful in this gym as Torrent. Besides, it would be nice to see what his friend was really capable of.

Sneasel growled as Torrent appeared on the tiny strip of land. He apparently hadn't forgiven the dragon for the surprise training last night.

Torrent, on the other hand, seemed ecstatic at finally being around a large source of water. Ash smiled brightly as he saw the joy in his friend's warm scarlet eyes.

"Oh, he's beautiful!" He heard one of the Sisters cry. Ash glanced up in surprise. Violet had her hands clasped together and she was staring at Torrent with excited eyes. "Try to take it easy on him, will you, Daisy?"

The blonde shook her head, although she had a smile on her face. "No can do, Violet. This is going to be our battle of the week. Then we can just chill and let Misty do the battles. Hey, Ash, get ready!"

Ash frowned, but a wide grin stretched across his face when Daisy released an absolutely massive Gyarados. The Sisters seemed gleeful at seeing the monster, but he noticed that Misty's face was pale.

It crashed into the water and roared. Torrent rumbled back. Both he and Ash were very, very happy with this occurrence. This would be a battle worth returning for.

The two titans glared at each other for a moment before Daisy made the first move. "Gyarados, Hyper Beam!"

Gyarados roared as it burst up from the water, sending massive waves rolling through the pool. Particles of white-red energy began to collect in its mouth and slowly coalesced into a small sphere of dense energy. Ash grinned. This was a good way to start off the battle.

"Dragon Pulse!" He cried. Ash would have told Torrent to get under the water, but he wanted his friend able to hear his commands for this part of the battle.

As the powerful blast of energy from the Hyper Beam shot towards him with incredible accuracy, Torrent charged up a Dragon Pulse and shot the sphere of iridescent green energy straight into it.

Ash turned away as an immense explosion occurred. The massive release of energy vaporized a good bit of the water around the collision. Gyarados roared in response to one of Daisy's commands, which he couldn't hear, and suddenly exploded through the smoke. Its cavernous maw gaped as it tore through the water at an incredible speed.

"Agility." He grinned. Torrent was normally forced to be a tank and take most hits. But in the water he could take full advantage of his speed. "Get under and make a whirlpool."

Torrent rumbled as he darted out of the way of Gyarados' jaws and shot a Dragon Pulse at the rampaging sea serpent for good measure. Gyarados roared and snapped its fangs furiously, but Torrent dived deep into the water. Ash guessed that the gigantic pool went at least sixty feet down. It had to for Gyarados to move very well.

"Hyper Beam! Hit it with Dragon Rage when it comes up." The Sister shouted with a dramatic flourish of her arms. Gyarados roared and thrashed in the water, kicking up huge waves. It shot a huge stream of red-orange energy into the pool, causing a huge cloud of steam to explode upwards and cover the entire stadium in a shroud of boiled water.

Ash just crossed his arms and smiled. The water was beginning to tremble and surge around Torrent, who he could barely see at the very bottom of the pool. His pale blue scales kept Gyarados from immediately identifying him. It was temporarily weakened and blinded from the Hyper Beam and the steam it had produced, which was further distracting the great leviathan.

Torrent was capable of forming vast whirlpools with a mere yawn, a reflection of his immense power. Normally it was used to funnel prey down to a kingdra after it had awoken, but Torrent was using a far more powerful variant.

Twister was a powerful move, as any trainer that had met Torrent's Ice Storm could attest. On land it was capable of creating large tornadoes from the likes of Plume, let alone Torrent. Under the waves it was capable of forming a vast cyclone or whirlpool. And in conjunction with another move Torrent was an expert with, Gyarados would have no chance of escape.

Daisy had noticed the water as well. "Gyarados, get down there. Find it and use Outrage."

Gyarados gave a furious roar before diving under the water. Its motions held no grace or fluidity. They were raw power that forced through the waves, not like Torrent. He moved with them or manipulated them to move him.

Ash frowned at the mention of Outrage. That would be devastating if it hit Torrent. Outrage focused the energy within a pokemon into pure fury and caused it go on a rampage. That in itself would be bad, since Gyarados were at their most powerful when drowned in fury, but Outrage utilized draconic energy to spark the rampage. Torrent would take one or two hits at the max.

But he was confident as he watched the water slowly churn. As Gyarados dived down to aimlessly search for the camouflaged Torrent, it began to twist faster and faster. What parts of the pool he could make out through the veil of slowly dispersing steam were starting to leap up and down, commanded by Torrent's power.

He was halfway surprised that Gyarados still wasn't able to find Torrent. It had evolved to be the apex predator of the ocean. Gyarados should have been able to pick past Torrent's camouflage quite easily. The sea serpents were colorblind, which made them more effective at looking past camouflage and seeing the definition of their prey.

Perhaps he shouldn't have been so surprised. The steam couldn't have been good for Gyarados' eyes and there were plenty of bubbles to obscure Torrent's position. But soon that wouldn't matter. Torrent was following his instructions quite well.

Ash grinned when the pool seemed to implode. Torrent had created a vast whirlpool after he'd finally focused enough of his power. It engulfed most of the pool until the tiny island and strips of land broke it, but that was still more than enough to engulf Gyarados. He could see the massive serpent thrashing wildly and belching huge blasts of flame and energy as it was sucked into the whirlpool.

When Gyarados began to regain control of its body, Torrent did exactly what Ash expected him to. Gyarados was just too strong to be swept away by the whirlpool's currents for long, so they had to have an exit strategy.

Gyarados' eyes began to grow red as it focused its energy into Outrage, which would magnify its strength tenfold for a brief period of time. Fortunately, Ash and Torrent wouldn't have to see the devastation the sea serpent would wreck.

Torrent, now visible only as a dark figure beneath millions of gallons of water, blasted out an immense stream of ice and froze the entire whirlpool in the span of a few seconds, an act which displayed his mastery of the technique. Sneasel hopped up and down and peered down at the new glacier with excitement, awed at the power behind the Blizzard.

The trainer had a wide grin on his face as about half of the pool became nothing but ice. Gyarados roared furiously and did its best to destroy the ice, but it was just too thick. A good ten feet of Gyarados' massive form was trapped beneath the ice, so it wasn't able to effectively use its immense physical strength.

Still, it would break out in a few seconds. Its eyes were pulsing with red energy as it pushed itself harder and harder. He glanced up and noted that Daisy seemed flummoxed. She had no idea what to do. Neither did any of the other Sisters.

When she noticed him looking, she scowled. It was an unexpected expression on her ordinarily smiling face. Daisy clenched her fists. "Gyarados, Iron Head on the ice, Flamethrower and Hyper Beam straight down."

Ash frowned. Torrent could handle any of the attacks easily, but he'd best get out of the way before the Hyper Beam. At least he'd have the warning of Flamethrower. His friend was probably preparing something regardless.

His eyes widened when he realized that Gyarados' crest was glowing a bright white, even as Outrage was still in effect. Gyarados gave out a loud, threatening roar before it crashed its head into the ice. Huge cracks spread throughout the glacier that Torrent created, but that was just to give Gyarados more room.

It suddenly reared its great head back and loosed an immense stream of intense blue flame at the very bottom of the frozen whirlpool. Vast amounts of steam sizzled upwards as the ice melted, revealing that the very bottom of the pool hadn't been frozen.

Ash barely had time to notice that Torrent wasn't at the exposed area of the pool before Gyarados shot a massive hyper beam with pinpoint accuracy. He watched as the beam evaporated a large amount of the water that wasn't frozen, an act that made him grin.

Daisy had a grimace on her face as the center of the frozen whirlpool collapsed into the void Gyarados had created. Steam billowed upward and obscured the scene, but Ash winced as he heard dozens of tons of ice collapsing down. The ice had already been weak since water expanded when it turned into ice – the pool was overflowing and the small island had been completely covered – so the cracks had completely collapsed.

Gyarados blasted a vast stream of flames into the sky as it roared and shook with agony. Its massive plates of armor kept any real damage from occurring, but the immense pressure of so much ice crushing down on it had to have hurt.

"Gyarados!" The Sisters cried. Even Misty, despite her evident fear of the sea serpent, seemed to be almost in tears. Ash winced along with them. Daisy recovered first. "Melt it off of you!"

The sea serpent twisted its great body around and shot more blue flame at the ice. It melted straight through, giving Gyarados a few moments to try to escape before the ice above crashed down.

Before Gyarados could work on wrenching its body out, Torrent made his appearance. Ash supposed that he had been lurking beneath the ice and utilizing tiny explosions from Dragon Pulse to melt through the frozen water.

He didn't appear physically. Torrent made his presence known, however, by blasting Gyardos with a Dragon Pulse so powerful that it sent the massive sea serpent flying out of its icy prison. Gyarados slammed into the collapsing ice on the other side of the frozen whirlpool, cracking the thick wall.

"Dragon Rage!" Daisy screamed. Gyarados quickly belched a ball of ethereal blue and black fire towards the hole Torrent was appearing out of.

"Dragon Pulse." Ash commanded. Torrent rapidly fired a tiny, intense Dragon Pulse straight into the ball of fire. As expected, the attacks exploded violently in a huge release of energy. A large hole in the ice melted where they met, but Gyarados wasn't done.

Daisy looked desperate. "Hyper Beam!"

Ash cocked his eye. She was very reliant on the move, although she'd demonstrated good tactics in other ways. Perhaps she really was that desperate. Gyarados was badly weakened, after all. It wasn't thinking clearly.

"Dragon Pulse." He shouted. Ash idly realized that he should step up Torrent's training when they got to a sufficiently secluded area. His friend needed more variation. Draco Meteor would be a very helpful move once they finished learning it, but he might buy Torrent a few TMs whenever he hit Celadon next.

Both attacks collided again, but this time Gyarados was left weakened. Torrent launched himself through the smoke left over from the explosion and charged up a massive sphere of swirling draconic energy. Ash grinned when the Dragon Pulse that was larger than Torrent slammed into Gyarados and exploded right in its face.

The massive explosion caused the weakened Gyarados to roar as it fell down the rough, icy walls of the whirlpool. It was too large to fall through the hole it had made earlier, so it was in a loose, uncomfortable looking coil. Gyarados was still too weak to fight back.

"Dragon Pulse on the wall." Ash ordered. It was time to finish this battle. He was lucky Torrent had been lucky and skilled enough to avoid Gyarados' attacks. Even one hit would be devastating thanks to the immense sea serpent's sheer power.

Torrent rumbled his understanding before he shot a tiny, powerful Dragon Pulse into the whirlpool. The glacier groaned before huge chunks of ice fell and landed on top of Gyarados, burying the great serpent.

Before any more could fall, a thin red beam of light struck Gyarados and recalled it into its pokeball. Ash glanced up and saw that Daisy was staring at him in disbelief. A few moments later his box lowered to the ground.

"Here's your –" Misty shook her head and put the Cascade Badge away. "Sorry, I'm not used to people coming here for just a battle. Follow me. My Sisters probably want to talk to you. It's not just any day that someone manages to take out Gyarados." She commented drily.

Ash smiled and waved at Torrent. His friend quickly levitated over and took his spot next to Ash. Sneasel hissed excitedly at him from Ash's shoulder, which elicited an amused rumble from Torrent.

"You were amazing, Torrent." He grinned. Ash patted Torrent's hard scales. Torrent rumbled and dipped his head to Ash. "Remind me to get you some TMs in Celadon, alright?"

Torrent seemed to laugh before he straightened up and adopted his normal imperious expression. Ash glanced up and noticed that the Sisters were coming over.

"You just beat Gyarados." Lily said dumbly, idly brushing a strand of wet hair out of her face. "Without using an electric-type."

Ash nodded. That was established.

"Wow." Violet drawled. Her expression seemed locked into surprise. She snapped out of it when she saw Torrent and adopted a cheerful smile. "Your Kingdra is amazing! And," she peered at him for a moment, "he's so pretty! You must take really good care of him."

Torrent raised his head, apparently pleased at the attention. Ash just shook his head and laughed at his friend's preening. "I try. He does most of the work."

Violet smiled widely and exposed her glistening white teeth. "Well, that just means he's really smart! Can I touch you?" She directed to Torrent. He cocked his head for a few seconds before finally giving the teenager a nod. Violet immediately started patting him and checking his scales.

"That was some battle." Daisy said dazedly. "You must train a lot. I guess the rumors about you are true."

Ash blinked. "There are rumors?"

Daisy laughed. "Of course. You think a rookie trainer sweeping the League doesn't attract attention? Helping Lance at the Sevii Islands and Viridian just made it bigger. Even Sabrina seemed impressed by you." She said sadly. Ash realized that Sabrina must still be in her coma. He felt a little guilty about forgetting about her and Will.

"The Sevii Islands were supposed to be confidential." He said suspiciously.

"We're gym leaders!" Lily chimed in. "Nothing's confidential to us!"

Ash sighed. That meant he'd have a lot to talk about with Surge. The Vermillion Leader was notorious for his campaigns against Team Rocket. They had been hunted down mercilessly in his territory, although that might change now that the Creature was being put into active use. Surge would probably be very interested in his experiences.

"Sorry about holding you up." Daisy said quickly as she looked at her watch. "Lily, Violet, Misty, we've got to hurry up! The gym closes soon and we have a lot to get done. It's a good thing we decided to not schedule a show today."

"Do you want me to help?" Ash asked as he glanced over the vast field of ice Torrent had created. He knew that it would be a lot of work to get done. It wasn't like he had anything better to do.

Daisy shook her head. "No thanks. Misty, get Gy. We're going to need a lot of fire."

Misty nodded. She glanced over at Ash. "See you."

Ash nodded back before she ran off. The other Sisters stepped away from Torrent. He unclipped Torrent's pokeball and recalled his friend before beginning his trek away from the gym.

Before he could leave, he heard one of the Sisters call back his name. Ash paused and glanced back, wondering what they wanted.

"Make sure to come back here in a few years!" Lily called out before breaking into a fit of giggles with her sisters. "We want a rematch."

Ash nodded before he turned away to hide his blush. He walked out of the gym rather quickly after that.

XX

The next day, Ash left for Vermillion. Cerulean was nice and he wouldn't have minded sticking around a few more days, but there was honestly nothing productive he could do. He didn't need to watch the Sisters' show or relax in the fields or by a river, he needed to train and get stronger.

It would take him a little bit more than a week to reach Vermillion. Last time had taken around two weeks, but that was because he and the others had been plagued by massive storms and an assortment of bad weather. The route was normally quite easy, so hopefully his luck would hold out.

Ash glanced at the road that would take him past Saffron and south to Vermillion. He could just stop in Saffron, but there would be no point. The city didn't hold much appeal to him and he wouldn't have the incentive of battling Sabrina again. That would have to wait.

He shrugged and released Plume. She nipped his hat and received a light stroke before she burst into the air. Ash turned away from the dust cloud, but Sneasel wasn't as lucky. The dark-type coughed and hissed angrily as he breathed in a lungful of dirt.

The trainer snorted in amusement before he released Nidoking. His friend roared and crushed his claws together when he materialized. That was another reason Ash preferred to be travelling, or at least away from cities. Any of his friends larger than Dazed or Tangrowth couldn't be released in public, and even they were frowned upon. Only something around Sneasel's size could go around in public without attracting too much attention.

"Hey, buddy." He grinned as he patted his friend's shoulder. Nidoking grunted back happily and stamped the ground. Ash nearly lost his footing as a tremor swept through the earth, but just shook his head. "Very funny." Judging from his snicker, Sneasel agreed. "We're heading to Vermillion."

Nidoking's ears perked up. Ash grinned. His friend had liked Vermillion. Not the city itself, but the areas around it were largely massive, flat plains dotted with small pools of water. In other words, the nidoran family's ideal habitat. Vermillion being the place where he had evolved into a nidorino hadn't hurt his opinion of it either.

Ash made a mental note to stay away from the port. He'd mostly gotten over his trepidation of the ocean, but he wasn't sure if it would ever fade completely. But the waters of Vermillion would never be something he enjoyed.

"Well, it's a long journey." Ash said as he glanced at the long, straight road. He adjusted his pack to be more comfortable. "Let's get going."

XX

That night was a comfortable one. It was the first day of October, and the harsh heat of summer had been fading for weeks now. But it wasn't too cold to be annoying or uncomfortable. Right now it was the perfect mix of waning summer and waxing autumn.

But it also heralded a new part of Sneasel's training. He was doing quite well and rapidly growing, but it was time for him to begin learning from his teammates. Sneasel needed something to push him harder and show him what a real battle was like.

It was a shame that he didn't have any other light, speedy pokemon. The rest of his friends were bulky and powerful, built for taking hits and dealing out even more damage or aerial fighters. He couldn't just have Sneasel learn from an experienced pokemon of the same style.

So it seemed that Sneasel needed to learn the mentality behind fighting. He was too quick to fall into a blood rage at the moment. Sneasel didn't have proper control over his emotions and instincts, which could be very, very bad in a real battle.

Ash would speak to Nidoking and Torrent about training Sneasel in Ice Beam and Blizzard, respectively. He wasn't quite strong enough to use the moves yet, but the little dark-type wasn't too far off. Sneasel was almost a month old, so he was going to start maturing rapidly. Right now he was still a bit underdeveloped.

"Sneasel." He called out, breaking the comfortable silence that pervaded the small camp. Sneasel instantly stopped playing his game with Infernus and looked over with wide eyes. Infernus's eyes glinted amusedly before he picked Sneasel up by the scruff of his neck and threw him into a tree. Plume squawked irritably and sent them both a death glare as she was awoken from her slumber.

Sneasel skittered over to Ash and hissed at Infernus. The fire-type snorted smoke and spat a thin tongue of flame at Sneasel. The ice-type growled and leapt out of the way, allowing it to crackle into nothing.

"Enough." Ash said calmly. Both of his friends instantly stopped their mock battle and glanced over at him. "Sneasel, you're starting your real training tonight. Tangrowth, give him everything you've got with your vines. Don't knock him out, but don't give him any respite."

Tangrowth gurgled and extended a dozen of his innumerable vines. He stood up on his stubby feet and stared at Sneasel, who had scrambled away from Ash and into a relatively empty part of the camp. Sneasel hissed at his primary caretaker and unsheathed his massive, hooked claws. Both were instantly encrusted in a thick crust of ice that released tendrils of frosty air.

Sneasel suddenly vanished into a blur. A moment later he appeared in front of Tangrowth and slashed at his guardian without remorse or hesitation, but Tangrowth reacted with lightning quick reflexes and caught Sneasel's thin, wiry arms with two of his smaller vines.

The dark-type hissed in confusion as he was suddenly hurled about twenty feet back into a large tree. Ash smiled as Tangrowth gurgled apologetically before he sent four vines lashing towards Sneasel. He was pleasantly surprised that Tangrowth wasn't holding back. While he didn't like pitting the two against each other, this training method ensured two things.

One, the camp and surrounding area wasn't destroyed by Infernus, Nidoking, or Torrent. He hated ruining the environment of local pokemon, although it would heal rather quickly. Just because trees and other vegetation had evolved to recover fast to survive pokemon attacks didn't mean that they should have to.

Two, it would show Sneasel that Tangrowth wasn't as weak as he seemed to think. Ash had noticed Sneasel taking advantage of Tangrowth much more in the week before they reached Cerulean. He would take a large portion of Tangrowth's food, blow large blasts of icy air into Tangrowth and use Quick Attack to escape, and pull other pranks.

Ash had let it slide for then aside from a few rebukes. Sneasel listened to him on many things, but it wouldn't do any good in this instance. Tangrowth seemed too easy a target and Sneasel's instincts demanded that he take advantage of him. As a species, sneasel respected strength and cunning. Tangrowth wasn't exactly cunning outside of battle, but strength was something he had plenty of.

He didn't bother calling out commands as Sneasel vanished into the darkness and appeared behind Tangrowth, although the dark-type found several powerful vines waiting for him. Ash trained Sneasel to listen to his commands and understand the implied message behind them in the battles with other trainers. This training was meant to teach Sneasel how to react to different situations and improve his physical abilities…along with teaching him a lesson, of course.

Sneasel hissed as the vines holding him began to glow a soft green. His muscles slackened before Tangrowth took pity on the ice-type and gently dropped him to the ground in front of him. Tangrowth's mercy was repaid by Sneasel leaping at him with bared fangs and ice encrusted claws.

Ash rolled his eyes as Tangrowth reflexively wrapped Sneasel's body so tightly that the angry dark-type couldn't move a muscle before he lightly shook his body and sent a tiny burst of stun spore directly into Sneasel's face.

He rooted around in his bag for one of his few Paralyze Heals and walked over to Sneasel, who Tangrowth was cradling in several of his vines. The dark-type was staring blankly into space thanks to his temporary paralysis.

Stun Spore, like most attacks or moves that caused paralysis, worked by delivering neurotoxins into the system of whatever breathed them in. The neurotoxins temporarily froze the nervous and chemical pathways required for muscle movement, although it would wear off after a few hours. Humans affected by it could remain paralyzed for around a day. They just weren't as durable as pokemon.

Sneasel was perfectly still as Ash poured the modified potion into his mouth. It was chock full of chemicals that would remove the inhibitors introduced by the Stun Spore. In just a minute or so Sneasel would be up and running.

"You can put him down now, Tangrowth." He said quietly. Tangrowth gurgled and gently laid Sneasel onto the soft ground. Ash glanced over and saw that his saucer-like eyes were despondent. "It's alright, buddy. He'll be fine. It was just an accident."

Tangrowth gurgled and flailed his arms around guiltily. Ash sighed and walked next to his friend. The grass-type made another odd noise. His vines were twitching as a result of his emotional distress. This was the first time Tangrowth had ever really hurt Sneasel in their training sessions, so Ash could understand why he was upset. His friend didn't exactly think through situations.

"Look, he's fine." Ash pointed at Sneasel as he began to twitch. Tangrowth immediately calmed, although his vines still twitched every now and then. "I can let someone else train Sneasel for now, alright?"

His friend shook his head as Sneasel tiredly pulled himself. Ash smiled and walked back to his previous position by Nidoking. The large poison-type was watching the situation in amusement. "Just keep at it. Make sure to be a bit more careful with effects, though. I only have so many potions."

Tangrowth gurgled and gave Sneasel another minute to recuperate before he began his assault anew. The dark-type hissed as he started the dance all over again.

Ash watched with a small smile on his face. Sneasel was certainly more cautious now. Perhaps he'd managed to learn his lesson after all. At least he'd respect Tangrowth more, especially when the grass-type was so gentle with him.

XX

Vermillion was a nice city, Ash decided as he stepped through the large gates and glanced around. It had a warm, sunny atmosphere even as fall dawned and the people were friendly. He had spent most of his time running around the countryside last time he'd been here, so he never really got a chance to appreciate the city itself.

He even liked the fresh, salty sea air. It didn't have the most pleasant of memories attached to its familiar scent, but he could overlook that, just as he overlooked the massive ships docked in the harbor that he could see from here.

As he idly made his way to the Pokemon Center, Ash considered who he would use to battle Surge. It would be a nice bit of nostalgia to use Nidoking, but that wouldn't really be fair. He wanted a real battle out of Surge, one that wasn't decided upon a very lucky evolution or a type advantage.

Torrent had battled the Sisters, so he was out. Besides, Ash didn't want to accidentally destroy Surge's gym. Dazed would probably have a fun time, so she was a possibility. He hadn't gotten to use her in a serious battle for a while now, not since he battled Giovanni.

Ash ignored the involuntarily lash of fury that sparked through his mind and focused on the situation at hand.

Infernus would have a good battle as well. Ash wasn't able to use him as often as he liked in the wilderness thanks to the sheer destruction Infernus tended to bring with him, and he could only imagine how fierce a battle it would be if he fought Surge and his Raichu with Infernus.

Bruiser would be torn apart by Surge. Physical based fighters didn't have a good time with electric-types, no matter how tough they were. Electricity had too strong of an effect on their bodies unless they had a thick hide to disperse the shock. Unfortunately, Bruiser failed in that requirement. He had tough skin, but it wouldn't be able to shrug off most elemental attacks until he evolved into a machamp.

Plume was obviously out.

Tangrowth was another possibility. He'd had more opportunity to fight than the others since he tended to be much cleaner in his battles, but Ash suspected that he'd do quite well against Surge. His shell of vines would weaken the electricity blasts to near useless levels and his rubbery body wouldn't conduct the electricity well in the first place.

Perhaps he'd get Surge to adjust his normally rigid rules. It wasn't as though this were an official match, after all. And if Surge was really as impressed by him as Daisy seemed to imply he would be sure to bend that much.

Ash was snapped out of his thoughts when he found himself staring at the Pokemon Center. It was practically bursting with trainers, he could tell. This was about the time of year when most trainers felt that they were ready to begin challenging the serious gyms.

Most would fail, of course. Surge would be using his team to its full potential. Ash knew that he and his friends had gotten a lucky break with the gym leader. Nidoking had evolved during that battle, which essentially gave him a clean slate against the poisoned Raichu. Additionally, Ash suspected that Surge hadn't really tried his hardest against the rookie trainers. While it was still an impressive feat to defeat Surge at that stage, Ash knew that this would be a real battle.

Amelia had fought Raichu when it was still weakened from his own and managed to circumvent its formidable power through status conditions, if Ash remembered correctly. Even then it had been close thanks to Raichu's power.

Jonathan didn't even have to battle Raichu. He'd gotten to battle a rather formidable Pikachu in its stead.

In other words, they hadn't gotten a real battle out of Surge. Ash wanted to fix that. Surge's reputation as a harsh and brutal gym leader was surpassed only by Giovanni's. He was ready to face that gym leader fairly, without any lucky evolutions.

Ash stepped into the Pokemon Center. The moment he was done he would head over to the gym. He'd been there enough that he could locate it in his sleep.

There was a long line for the front desk, but it moved quickly. Trainers just got a room key or gave Nurse Joy their pokeball before walking off. Most just went over to the TV area.

He did notice that there weren't any extensively injured pokemon outside of their ball, unlike when he'd been here last. It looked like Surge was being much more careful now that the League had put his leash back on. Without the St. Anne tickets at stake he couldn't be as brutal as he would have liked.

"How can I help you?" Nurse Joy asked cheerily. Ash snapped out of his thoughts and focused on the nurse.

"A room key, please." He requested. Nurse Joy smiled and handed one over. Ash nodded his thanks and walked off, although he went to the TV area to check everything out. He needed to keep up with the news now that the war with Team Rocket was picking up.

He didn't take a seat. It would be pointless. Ash was just going to move on anyways. Instead he walked up just a bit behind the rest of the twenty or so trainers that were watching

"…League casualties continue to rise." A grim man droned on. "In the most recent raids, more than twenty Rangers were killed or injured. Sixty three Rockets have been taken into custody, however, and more were injured or killed in the battle. The League continues to be silent on their attempts to locate the strange creature that was responsible for the astounding defeat of Champion Lance, Elite Four Lorelei and Agatha, and dozens of highly trained League personnel."

The trainers around him grumbled in discontent. "How's the League supposed to fight Team Rocket when their best got beat by one pokemon?" He heard one mutter. Ash scowled. They weren't helping the situation by being afraid and meek.

Ash didn't stay to listen to their fearful mutterings. He just clenched his fists and walked out of the Pokemon Center. Sneasel hissed lightly and peered at him worriedly. The trainer just put on a slight smile and scratched underneath Sneasel's feather. That calmed him down and kept him from worrying about Ash.

What he needed was a good battle. Ash just needed to get his mind off of Team Rocket. The League would take care of everything. Lance wouldn't rest until he found a way to defeat the Creature and destroy Team Rocket for good.

XX

"I remember you." One of Surge's gym trainers said with a scowl. The large, burly man crossed his arms and glared down at Ash. He stared back. After meeting Surge, Lance, and Bruno this man's physical power didn't intimidate him. "You're that runt who got lucky and beat Surge. Here for a rematch, kid?"

"I am." He replied coolly. Sneasel hissed at the gym trainer, who still had a scowl on his face.

"Surge has a challenger right now, but head on in." The gym trainer grunted. He pulled open the door and followed Ash in. "Roxie, make sure no one else gets in. We don't need the League on our backs about someone getting hurt."

The female gym trainer nodded and silently crossed her arms. She glared out at the passerby, who either seemed used to it or sent nervous glances her way. Ash wondered just how strong the gym trainers were. Surge wouldn't accept anyone that was weak and Ash knew that the gym trainers would have been instrumental in driving Team Rocket from Vermillion's territory.

He smiled as he entered the gym. It was just as he remembered it, although it was a bit brighter than last time. The gym was still plain and seemed more like a warehouse than an important location.

Surge was standing on one end of the large, plain battlefield with a grin on his face. The challenger was a tall, muscular teenager who wore a look of horror on his face as his Flareon was being torn apart by Raichu.

"I'm bored." Surge announced. Arcs of electricity shot out of Raichu's electric sacs as it heard the gym leader speak. "Blast him."

Raichu had a mean grin on its small face as it swished its tail back and forth. Its body was enveloped in a massive shell of electricity before a massive bolt blasted out and slammed into Flareon. The fire-type collapsed as immense amounts of electricity wracked its body.

Before it could properly faint, the trainer returned Flareon and stared at the pokeball despondently. "You did your best, Flareon. Thanks."

"Get out of here and come back when you're actually strong." Surge barked. The trainer glared up at the gym leader before storming out, which elicited a laugh from the giant of a man. "Alright, next challenger!" He shouted before he glanced over and saw Ash. Surge's eyes widened and he grinned widely. "Alright! Look who it is. Here for a rematch, runt?"

Ash grinned back. Sneasel hissed and unsheathed his claws threatening, although Raichu just sent a tiny bolt of electricity at him that threw him off Ash's shoulder. "Definitely. This time it'll be a real battle."

"Good." Surge said. Battle burned in his eyes. "This isn't an official match. You want one-on-one again? Raichu won't be easy on you this time."

"Three-on-three." Ash corrected. Surge's smile grew wider and Ash reached for his first pokeball. "I've got a few of my friends that haven't had a real battle in a while."

Surge crossed his arms. "I'll be glad to give them one. Ready to lose, runt? You won't be so lucky this time."

"We'll see." Ash replied. He tapped the pokeball's release button. A moment later Tangrowth appeared on the battlefield. His friend gurgled happily and extended one vine to poke Ash on the forehead before he focused on Raichu, whose cheeks were sparking.

"Tangrowth, huh?" Surge muttered. "Raichu, Thunder Wave, then use Shock Blast."

Ash just smiled as Raichu shot the thin blue bolts of electricity. Tangrowth knew what to do. His friend gurgled as the tip of his arms began to glow brightly with spheres of bright white light. The grass-type swept them both upward, causing a wall of earth to burst out of the ground and block the Thunder Wave.

The wall also managed to catch an immense blast of electricity from Raichu that was so powerful it caused the earth wall to explode. Ash was rather glad that Tangrowth had put up the wall. That would have been devastating if it hit.

"Drain it." Ash commanded. Tangrowth instantly sent dozens of his vines lashing from his body toward Raichu. They completely entangled the electric-type, but Raichu simply closed his eyes and released another blast of electricity.

Ash frowned when he saw the vines wrapped around Raichu baked to a crisp from the sheer amount of energy that had flowed through them. Tangrowth couldn't just warp Raichu up and suck all of his energy out. They would have to be more creative.

"Effect Spores." He commanded. Tangrowth quickly shook his body to release an immense cloud of stun spore and sleep powder. It quickly billowed all over the field. Raichu shot a bolt of electricity at Tangrowth, but it barely made his friend stumble back. "Ancient Power, Ingrain."

Tangrowth's gurgle was muffled as he followed Ash's commands. He created several walls of earth that would protect him from the inferno that would result from the effect spores and also rooted himself to the ground.

Ash had crippled Raichu with the Effect Spores that pervaded the air. Aside from the obvious problems it would face, it wouldn't be able to use electrical attacks for fear of causing the spores to combust. While that would normally be crippling for Tangrowth, the shelter he had built would protect him from the majority of the inferno.

"Clever." Surge growled. Raichu bared its fangs as the stun spores and sleep powder clouds slowly grew nearer. "Ground Flare."

Raichu seemed to grin madly as it suddenly moved in a blur. Ash frowned when it suddenly dug a large hole in the ground, aided by what little practice it had with the move. The earth seemed to melt around Riachu as it leapt into the hole.

Ash sighed when he saw Raichu use Discharge. Dozens of bolts of electricity exploded from Raichu's pit, which arced out and turned the air into a raging fireball. Raichu stayed in the relative safe zone, mostly safe from the immense heat caused by the ignition.

He was silent until the last embers had burned out. Ash was rather thankful for the psychic barriers in the gym. That would have been a disaster otherwise.

"Tangrowth, get out." He ordered. Tangrowth quickly lowered the earthen walls, emerging from his shelter at the same time Raichu hopped out of its small hole. "Sludge Bomb and hit it with Power Whip. Wrap it up with your other vines."

"Focus Blast." Surge snapped as Raichu dodged the massive wave of sludge. As dozens of vines lashed towards its small form, Raichu formed a small blue ball of energy between its hands and threw it at the mass of vines.

Tangrowth reflexively scattered his vines to minimize his loss, but made sure to use Ancient Power in order to erect a wall of earth and stone that blocked Focus Blast. Although the ball of energy completely destroyed the wall, leaving it nothing but dust, it served its purpose. A good quarter of Tangrowth's vines had been severed or destroyed by the release of energy.

"Volt Shield." Surge grinned. Raichu, who didn't seem to be affected at all by the powerful attacks it had been blasting for the last minute or so, bared its fangs and collapsed to all fours. It raised its long, whip-like tail as high as it could to gather electricity, which caused it to shine brightly. Raichu's electrical sacs sparked erratically as arcs of lightning jumped all over its body.

Just as some of Tangrowth's vines began to close in, the arcs of lightning on its body exploded outward, although they were maintained in a sort of aura. Raichu was completely still as the shell of lightning burnt all of Tangrowth's vines to a crisp.

Ash sighed again. So long as that Volt Shield – a rather impressive design, although Ash doubted that many electric-types had the sheer power to maintain it effectively – was up Tangrowth's vines were useless. It was time to get serious.

"Tangrowth, give him everything you've got." Ash said with a wild grin. Tangrowth was powerful when he battled normally, but Ash had trained Tangrowth to battle seriously. He wouldn't be limited to a single strategy right now.

Surge blinked in surprise as Tangrowth fired off another Sludge Bomb, which Raichu was forced to dodge. The Volt Shield would just burn some of the sludge and change it into a very toxic gas while the rest would land on Raichu and finish him off.

Ash had to admit that he was impressed that Raichu was actually able to keep the Volt Shield up as it moved. It looked very draining. If it weren't for the vines Tangrowth had extended, Ash had no doubt that Surge would go on the offense.

Raichu's cheeks sparked as it sent another powerful bolt of electricity at Tangrowth, although it simply knocked his friend back. Tangrowth wouldn't be knocked over now. He was anchored to the ground with his vines.

He smiled as Tangrowth used both of his arms to enhance his Ancient Power. Huge chunks of earth were gouged from the floor and hurled at Raichu, who was barely able to leap out of the way. Both were destroyed by errant bolts of electricity, although they simply splintered into smaller chunks.

Volt Shield was beginning to fail. Instead of the steady current arcing through the air, the electricity began to fizzle. It was still too powerful for Ash to risk Tangrowth's vines, but it was a start.

"Sludge Bomb, then Ancient Power. Keep it up!" Ash called. Tangrowth gurgled and renewed his assault. He grinned when a chunk of earth finally slammed into Raichu, throwing it off guard and ending its Volt Shield. "Power Whip and Mega Drain!"

Even as Tangrowth shot dozens of vines toward Raichu, the electric-type regained its footing and glared heatedly. Surge hadn't given it any commands since there wasn't anything to do but weather the assault. Ash got the feeling that Raichu was based purely around power. It was fast enough, but it didn't seem to have any evasive ability.

"Lightning Bolt!" Surge roared. He had a look of both surprise and desperation on his face. Surprise because Tangrowth was winning, and desperation because, again, Tangrowth was winning.

Ash frowned. Lightning Bolt? He didn't have a good feeling about that. "Ancient Power!"

Tangrowth swept his rubbery arm upward and created an earthen wall even as his vines lashed at Raichu's exhausted form. But it seemed that Raichu wasn't too tired for one last, desperate display of incredible power.

The smell of ozone that pervaded the air grew even stronger in his nostrils as Raichu charged up an immense amount of energy. Ash could barely see Raichu behind the glow released from its body, but he could hear its furious growl when it finally released the Lightning Bolt.

It was amongst the most powerful attacks Ash had ever seen. The Lightning Bolt incinerated every one of Tangrowth's vines that it hit and plowed straight through the wall of earth before hitting Tangrowth. Ash had to turn away as the light grew too intense and huge chunks of the wall exploded everywhere.

He worriedly glanced back with Sneasel and saw that Tangrowth was lying unconscious on the ground, despite his healthy state before. Ash blinked in awe and looked that Raichu was unconscious as well. Tangrowth had managed to knock him out with a few powerful lashes of his vines before he was hit with the Lightning Bolt.

"Looks like it's a tie. That Tangrowth of yours is impressive, but it can't take that kind of power!" Surge laughed as he recalled Raichu's smoking form.

"What was that?" Ash questioned in awe as he returned Tangrowth. That was by far the most powerful electrical attack he had ever seen. Most electric attacks would have done some damage to the earthen wall thanks to the concussive force behind them, but that had blasted through the barrier as though it were nothing.

"Lightning Bolt." Surge grinned. "It's an electric-type variation on Hyper Beam. We spent the last year perfecting it. You're the first challenger I've had to use it on."

Ash supposed he should be proud that he was the first one to push Surge that far. But he was still in too much of a daze to really feel it. All he knew was that if he ever needed help with an electric-type Surge would be the very first person to go to.

He released Dazed. She looked out at the completely destroyed battlefield with a rather bored expression. Ash figured Dazed had gotten used to seeing the sheer amount of destruction that tended to accompany their serious battles.

Surge scratched his chin and examined Dazed thoughtfully. Ash knew that most gyms that focused on elemental and nonphysical attacks tended to despise psychics. Their shields were capable of absorbing vast amounts of energy before breaking, which was always a pain.

"Haven't really used this guy, but this should be fun." Surge shrugged. He casually sent out a large, very powerful looking Jolteon. It examined its surroundings and seemed to smile before tensing up and staring at Dazed. "Jolteon, start this off with Thunderclap. Psychic-Strat. 1."

"Dazed, you know what to do." Ash growled as Jolteon's body began sparking. "Finish this quickly."

His friend's eyes flashed as she sent a massive wave of force blasting toward Jolteon, who nimbly leapt out of the way. When it recovered it vanished in a blur, although the electricity that engulfed its large body trailed behind it in a massive stream of lightning.

Dazed barely managed to teleport out of the way before Jolteon came to a stop right in front of Ash. Thunder rolled through the air and shook the ground as Jolteon stopped. The electric-type snarled and shook its body. Thin arcs of electricity shot out and covered the entire battlefield, although Dazed easily blocked the weak bolts.

"Adjust to S2." Surge called out. Ash assumed it was to compensate for Dazed's teleportation. It wasn't common to see a hypno with teleport.

Jolteon suddenly flashed into nothingness before a dozen ethereal clones of it appeared. Each flickered and locked onto Dazed. Ash watched with narrowed eyes as Jolteon and its illusory doubles used the same Thunderclap technique. Identical trails of lightning blasted through the battlefield as Jolteon appeared right in front of Dazed, although she managed to hurl it back with a wave of psychic force before she teleported.

Thunderclap was a brilliant technique. Many pokemon were sensitive to the bright flash of light and the loud sound. Psychics were particularly vulnerable. Their brains were large and caused them to be extremely sensitive to external stimuli thanks to their keen senses. A technique like Thunderclap would practically overload them for a few seconds if they weren't prepared.

Dazed appeared in front of Ash. She immediately erected a large shield of bright blue psychic energy. It was right in time, as well. Jolteon had shot dozens of sharp, yellow needles made out of its fur. They actually managed to penetrate, although the quills were stuck in the shield. His friend managed to keep it up.

"Multi Ball, then Psychic." He said quietly. Dazed dropped the shield for a split second to conjure the balls of ghostly energy, which she instantly fired in all directions. Jolteon used Quick Attack to flicker out of the way, although a wave of psychic force caught it off guard and threw it into the barriers.

That had been a risky strategy. It was generally acknowledged as impossible to use a ghost or dark-type attack while using psychic energy at the same time without extensive training, simply because ghost and dark-type attacks disrupted psychics. If Dazed wasn't so fast Jolteon could have easily taken advantage of the momentary lapse.

"Disable and put it to sleep." Ash ordered. Dazed instantly followed his command. Jolteon was still too out of it to act on Surge's sudden flurry of orders, so Dazed had an easy time of locking him into a prison of light blue energy. Her pendulum began to sway back and forth in a rhythmic, enrapturing motion as her eyes glowed a bright blue.

"Shadow Ball!" Surge shouted. Jolteon's eyes flickered back to awareness thanks to the command, but it was too weak to actually utilize the ghostly energy. Ash knew that the attack wasn't to actually hurt Dazed, it was just to disrupt the Disable and give Jolteon an opportunity to escape.

Jolteon's eyes slowly lowered before they closed at last under Dazed's influence. Surge recalled it an instant later. "That's why I hate battling hypno." The massive man sighed. "Damn things have too many options available to them. Alakazam aren't the only psychic threat out there."

Ash grinned and nodded. "Good job, Dazed. I'll recall you for now."

Dazed nodded and shut her eyes as she was transformed into scarlet energy and pulled back into her pokeball. Ash clipped the ball to his belt before he removed Infernus'. This would be an intense battle. Neither of Surge's pokemon so far had failed to disappoint. He was sure Infernus would be satisfied.

"Raichu isn't actually my strongest, you know." Surge began conversationally as he pulled an ultra ball off of his belt. "She's my starter and I work with her best, but I've got something with more raw strength. Have fun."

Ash's eyes lit up at the prospect of the battle. He tapped the release to let Infernus out into the world.

Infernus stamped onto the ground with a shackled foot, splitting it and causing lava to burst out. He looked up to the ceiling and spat a stream of white flame before his entire body ignited into an inferno.

A massive Electivire appeared directly in front of Surge. It was bulky and humanoid, and two long, thin tails swished around behind it. Electivire roared and crushed its fists together, which produced a shockwave of thunder.

His grin grew even wider. This was better than he could have hoped for. Infernus seemed to be of the same mind. He roared back and spat a stream of blue flame around him as he glared at Electivire. Both powerful pokemon's respective element crackled around them as they stared each other down, silently awaiting their trainers' command.

Ash had been working out a strategy for Infernus during the rest of the match. It was a reflexive act whenever he looked at a setting, almost unconscious. Learning how to exploit the terrain was one of the most integral parts of being a trainer, and he was skilled enough to do it all the time.

He was going for the massive chunks of earth that had been gouged from the battlefield by Tangrowth. It would be simple for Infernus to fill them up with lava, which would make part of the field inhospitable for Electivire and also give Infernus a place where he could recover. Extra heat would boost Infernus to his prime.

But he had to make the first move. He had to be the one to break the stalemate. Just from a cursory glance he could tell that Electivire was too powerful to be allowed to go on the offensive. Infernus had to fight unrelentingly, without holding back in any manner.

"Bring up lava in the pits." He said quickly and quietly. Infernus lightly stamped the earth and blew a stream of flame into the air to obscure Electivire's vision and maintain a bit of secrecy. Ash grinned when he felt immense amounts of heat, dampened by the psychic barriers around the battlefield, rise upward.

"Haze, then Fire Blast. And, Infernus?" Ash called out. His friend nodded that he was listening. "Don't hold back."

If Infernus had an ordinary mouth, Ash was sure that he would have been grinning madly. Instead, he suspected that Infernus' eyes had lit up and burned with glee.

"Lightning Bolt!" Surge shouted. He was overconfident in Electivire. Ash wondered if he knew about Air Lens. The gym leader probably did. It would be a common strategy for anyone with a sufficiently powerful magmar. Ash really needed to get around to meeting Blaine again.

Electivire roared as it forced one of its thick arms forward. Electricity surged around it as it charged its power. A few moments later it released Lightning Bolt, which surged forward in a powerful beam.

Thankfully it was mostly dispersed by Fire Blast. Electivire roared again, but Infernus vanished as he used Fire Spin to set his entire side of the battlefield aflame. He was invisible, indistinguishable from the roaring inferno as he stalked through it.

Surge scowled. "Earthquake, then Shock Wave. When you find its position, Light Dash."

"Take cover." Ash ordered. He barely made out Infernus' shadowed form slipping into one of the larger magma pits before the earthquake rattled through the ground. While it probably caused Infernus a bit of damage even in the magma pit, the force didn't travel as well through the molten stone. Additionally, the intense heat from the magma pool would hopefully act as a rudimentary Air Lens.

From what he knew of the Air Lens technique, it relied upon Magmar intensifying the heat around it in a specific manner designed to neutralize electrical charges. Infernus didn't have the degree of control or instruction required to pull off such an incredible feat, but the pool's sheer temperature would hopefully be enough to mimic it. If not, it didn't matter. Infernus was invulnerable while he was in the magma pit.

Ash grinned when he saw the Shock Wave, which was ordinarily capable of being attracted to its target's bioelectricity through some complicated scientific means that Ash couldn't claim to understand, fizzle out over nothingness when it reached the magma pit. Unfortunately it still gave Surge and Electivire an idea of where to look.

Realization dawned on Surge's face. "It's in the ground. Rock Tomb! Trap it in."

Electivire cried out, a sound that reminded Ash of a whirring motor, as it stuck out its arm and fired several spheres of purple energy out over the ground. With a sweep of its arm it flattened the field and covered each of the pits with a strip of stone. It seemed that Surge and Electivire still didn't know about the magma.

"Magmar can't hide anymore." Surge laughed. "It's got to reveal itself before it can escape. We might as well call this one mine."

"Don't be so sure." Ash muttered. "Infernus, Lava Plume! Blow the place up."

Everyone froze as they heard the earth groan and rumble, although Ash wore a grin at the same time. The earth covering Infernus' pit began to crack and bulge upward as huge amounts of pressure began to build up underneath it.

"P. Def." Surge barked. Electivire crossed its arms. Its eyes began to glow as a screen of yellowish energy formed in front of it before being overlaid by a blue one. Ash recognized it as a Light Screen and Barrier combination, although he hadn't expected to see its use by Electivire. "When it's open, hit it with Lightning Bolt, Mk. 2."

Ash didn't have time to wonder at there being a second variant of Lightning Bolt before the world exploded. Infernus erupted from the ground in an outward blast of stone, magma, and energy. He was wreathed in flames as he spat a massive Flamethrower straight at Electivire, although all of the attack washed harmlessly off of the powerful barrier.

"Move!" Ash cried out to his friend. Infernus tried to jump to his left, but he didn't even have time to start before two immense blasts of electricity – two Lightning Bolts at once, how did Electivire manage that? – in its most powerful form slammed into his chest with pinpoint accuracy.

He winced as Infernus was briefly enveloped in the massive amount of electricity before the concussive force behind sent his body flying into the flames left over from his Haze technique. Ash sighed and reached for Infernus' pokeball. It looked like he wouldn't be winning this one.

But he stopped when he saw a defiant figure stagger to its feet, fearless and somehow conscious despite the power of the attacks he had just weather. Ash's eyes widened when he saw Infernus roar furiously and cause the flames that harbored him to leap twenty feet into the air, licking the gym's ceiling.

Ash shook his head. Only Infernus could survive two electric-type hyper beams and still be furious enough to fight. Perhaps they had been slightly weaker than normal thanks to Electivire splitting its energy between the both of them, but it was still an astounding feat – both for Electivire by actually doing it and Infernus for taking it.

"Smokescreen!" Ash shouted. He might not have expected this, but he would make the most of it. "Get in close, use Fire Blast and Fire Spin."

Infernus roared before dashing forward. He was a bit slow, but the thick shroud of smoke he spewed into the air helped to cover him and protect him from the bolts of electricity Electivire was firing into the haze.

"Shock Wave. Follow up with Light Dash." Surge snapped. He seemed annoyed that Infernus had taken the Lightning Bolts. It was unexpected for everyone.

Electivire roared before shooting the blue lance of electricity into the smoke. Infernus roared and blasted it with a stream of flame, but it still revealed his position. At least he wasn't hurt from it.

The electric-type easily weathered the Fire Blast that slammed into its chest and exploded in a bright flash of fire and energy. It hummed in annoyance and began to do something that Ash could barely make out, but it was suddenly enveloped in a twisting vortex of flame. Ash grinned when Fire Spin worked. Infernus had the advantage again.

At least he did until Electivire released a huge pulse of psychic energy from its body and caused the Fire Spin to disperse into embers. Ash sighed and realized that it must have used Light Screen to envelop its body before blasting the energy outward. It was quite similar to the technique Dazed regularly utilized.

"Same orders." Surge called. Electivire hummed before enveloping itself in a Light Screen again, although this time it melded to its massive body instead of acting as a simple shield. Ash frowned when it suddenly disappeared in a blur of motion. Something that large should not be able to use Quick Attack.

"Brick Break and Fire Punch." Ash called out. Normally Infernus would be fine if he just stayed in his flames, but that wouldn't work if Electivire was protected by a Light Screen. All the raging fire would do was comfortably warm the behemoth's fur.

So he had to remove that protection. Electivire couldn't fight for long when surrounded by flames. Infernus was obviously outmatched in regards to power, although his fierce need for dominance balanced the scales, so they had to be tricky.

Ash could barely see the outlines of the dueling fighters thanks to the raging inferno, but he could get an idea of what was going on. Electivire had finally impacted and Infernus had struck, but, here his heart skipped a beat, there seemed to be an incredibly powerful release of energy.

He blinked in surprise when he saw several bolts of lightning scatter throughout the air, leaving the sharp scent of ozone wafting into his nostrils, as well as the aforementioned explosion of purple and orange energy.

The trainer could see why Surge had referred to Electivire as his strongest pokemon. Not only was it able to use two Lightning Bolts at once when even one was enough to finish Raichu off, it was able to recover rapidly from it and protect itself using rare psychic techniques. But that was only the beginning. What really impressed Ash was the technique it had used, Light Dash.

If he had seen it and identified its obvious components correctly, Light Dash utilized at least four moves at once: Quick Attack for the speed, Light Screen for the protective shell of energy, Giga Impact for the sheer power it afforded, and some sort of electrical blast. It must have required quite a bit of rigorous training.

Ash was even more surprised when he saw the flames explode as well, right after the first explosion had blasted most of the fire away. It must have been from Infernus, who he was surprised to see still standing and also locked into a furious contest of strength with Electivire. Infernus was doing his best to hold Electivire back, but it was clear that the electric-type was easily overpowering Infernus.

"Fire Blast." Ash called out. It was a last ditch attempt at winning. Electivire was incredibly powerful at a distance, but up close it was indomitable. There was no way Infernus would escape, but at least he had a chance of winning if he used Fire Blast.

Infernus quickly spat the huge fire ball into the ground, causing an immense explosion. Electivire whirred angrily as it stumbled back, its coat burning with embers, but recovered easily. It glared and stepped forward menacingly. Ash winced as his friend tried to stand up, only to be wrenched up into the air by Electivire's powerful wire-like tails.

"Plug him." Surge called out with a grin, even as Ash desperately shouted, "Fire Blast."

His friend did manage to shoot the powerful fire ball into Electivire's chest and send the behemoth stumbling back a few steps, but not before Electivire squeezed its tails tighter around Infernus and touched the red, sparking tips to Infernus' neck.

Ash recalled his friend as Infernus began to spasm wildly. The battle was over. He wouldn't put Infernus through anything else.

It was a surprise when Surge recalled Electivire, who whirred in victory before it raised its arms and shot bolts of electricity into the air. Ash had expected to send Dazed back out to battle Electivire and determine who was the victor.

"I forfeit." Surge announced. Ash's eyes widened in surprise. "In an ordinary gym battle you would have won twice over. You're a damn good trainer, and it would be pointless to pit Electivire against that Hypno of yours. It would be a stalemate. Neither would get a hit in."

Ash nodded and placed Dazed's pokeball back onto his belt. He numbly realized that Sneasel was still standing on his shoulder. "One day you'll be out there." He said quietly.

Sneasel hissed excitedly and absentmindedly clung tighter to Ash.

"How sweet. The runt has a baby." Surge said with a booming laugh. He offered out his hand to Ash, which the trainer gladly shook. Sneasel hissed but didn't try anything. Even if he managed to hit the expertly trained warrior, Surge would probably just kick him clear across the gym. "Good job, Ash. I knew you'd be a good trainer."

"Thanks." He said with a grin. Surge teased a lot, but Ash liked him. The man was easy to get along with when he actually liked someone. "I'm glad that I got to battle you for real."

The gym leader laughed. "Our last match wasn't too impressive, was it? I just had Raichu pummeling that Nidoran of yours around and you managed to win thanks to poison and luck." He paused. "Has it evolved yet? Evolved pokemon will always carry you further."

"He evolved into a Nidoking around two months ago." Ash said happily. "I would have used him against you, but that wouldn't be a fair fight."

"Glad you see it that way, kid." Surge replied. "Well, I guess we'd better get to the Pokemon Center. We really did a number on each other."

That was something of an understatement, Ash thought privately.

"Hey, Jack!" Surge boomed. The gym trainer that brought Ash in snapped to attention and caught one of Surge's pokeballs. Ash noticed that the man looked at Ash in awe, as though he couldn't believe what he'd just seen. "That's Electivire. You're taking challengers for the rest of the day. Just use Thunderbolt on them. No mercy." Surge glanced back at the completely ruined battlefield. "Call that Golem in. We need to get the field fixed up real quick."

"Yes, sir!" The gym trainer saluted. He held the pokeball tightly before running around the field. Ash wasn't able to see where he was going before the two left the gym.

They attracted the attention of quite a few passerby, who looked in awe at their leader and protector. Ash assumed that it wasn't too common to see Surge outside of his infamous gym. He was far too dedicated to his duty to leave without cause.

He attracted a bit of attention himself. Ash was an average-sized eleven-year-old, but compared to the giant Surge he might as well have been a sentret next to a very large ursaring. It was probably something to see.

"I've heard about what you've done for the League." Surge said quietly. It still sounded as though he were shouting. "Nice work, that. Reminds me of my glory days. Now all I get to do is electrocute a bunch of useless Rocket grunts until they can't see straight." He snorted. "Of course, things might be getting more interesting thanks to the Rockets' newest toy."

"What'll you do if it comes to Vermillion?" Ash questioned.

"Run and get as many people to safety as I can." Surge replied without hesitation. At Ash's surprised look he gave a great, booming laugh. "What? I got the reports. If that thing can take down the Champion and the Elite Four without too much trouble, what could I do? I might not like running, but it's the only sensible thing to do."

Ash could understand that perfectly. Running was the only sort of victory when it came to something that powerful. He was still a bit surprised that Surge would ever willingly retreat, however. It didn't seem to fit the powerful man's nature.

"Well, enough of that. It makes the people nervous." Surge growled. He brightened up shortly. "What pokemon do you have? From what I saw you've got a nice little team set up."

"Aside from Nidoking, this little guy," he nodded at Sneasel, who hissed back, "and the others you know, I've got a Zubat, Machoke, Kingdra, and Pidgeot."

Surge nodded in approval. "Good diversity. That Kingdra'll give people hell in the Conference. Not many counters to something like that."

Ash didn't say anything as they stepped into the Pokemon Center. He was aware of dozens of trainers staring at the two in awe and fear. Well, they were staring at Surge. All he got were a few glances.

Most trainers shied away from Surge as he walked through the Pokemon Center. It didn't seem like many had good experiences with the man. Ash couldn't blame them if Surge had taken them seriously. Raichu alone was devastating.

"How are you, Lt. Surge?" Nurse Joy asked cheerily. She leaned forward on the counter and took the pokeballs Surge carefully set in front of her. He noted that she seemed surprised at the amount. Ash went ahead and put his injured friends alongside them. At least he wouldn't have to wait in line this way.

"Great!" Surge laughed. "Just had a damn good battle with this runt." He pointed at Ash. "It's nice having an actual challenge. Everyone else I've faced lately is a little baby with their tail between their legs." Ash noticed that Surge seemed to be aiming his words at the assorted trainers rather than Nurse Joy, who just had an amused smile on her face.

"That's nice." Nurse Joy commented drily. She glanced at Ash. "Mr. Ketchum, is it? I'll get your pokemon back to you as soon as I can. Lt. Surge, I'll transfer them over to the gym when they're healed."

"Thanks, Holly." Surge said gratefully. Nurse Joy rolled her eyes at the name. "Have a good day."

She laughed. "You too, Surge. Try not to be too harsh on the challengers. I have to clean up your mess."

"No promises." Surge gave a savage grin. Ash felt the corners of his lips curling up at the exchange. "Someone's got to keep the babies on their toes." He glanced down at Ash. "Runt, come with me. I've got to say a few parting words."

Ash acquiesced to the request and followed the giant out of the Pokemon Center. He felt a little uneasy underneath the stares of the trainers, most of which were either curious, impressed, annoyed, or a combination of all three.

When they stepped out into the soft Vermillion sun, Surge glanced down at him.

"Come back here eventually. I want a rematch. It'll be something to look forward to when I have to crush the dreams of a dozen babies a day." Surge boomed. "And if you ever need help with an electric-type, swing by."

"Thanks, Lt. Surge." Ash said with a grin.

"Just Surge." The gym leader shrugged. "You've earned that much." He looked around and crouched. "Runt, I liked you after our last battle. You had potential, more than I'd seen in a long time. After a real battle, I think I can respect you. Not many can best me in a match like that. Make sure to swing by for one last battle when you're the Champion or runner-up of this year's Conference."

Ash nodded, pride welling up inside that Surge thought so highly of him. The man's respect was hard to gain, and it was something he was proud to have. "I will. Someone's got to keep you on your toes." Ash said with a cocky grin.

Surge straightened up and laughed uproariously, attracting quite a bit of attention from random passerby. "Looks like you've got some claws after all. Make sure to keep them unsheathed more."

He glanced down the road that would take him to his gym. "Well, I'd better be off. Jack has probably blown up the gym by now."

"Bye." Ash said before the gym leader walked off, each stride equivalent to three of a smaller man. He shrugged and watched Surge leave before heading back into the Pokemon Center. It would be nice to clean up before he came back down for his friends and dinner.

XX

"Celadon's next." He told Nidoking and Plume. Plume's eyes darkened with uncharacteristic fury. She had bad memories of Erika's gym. Nidoking simply growled. The battle with Petrel and the Rocket hideout weren't their happiest memories. "Don't worry, Plume. You'll get to show her just how strong you are now."

Plume cooed softly and nipped his hat before taking to the skies. Ash watched her fly off wistfully before returning to Nidoking. "The journey will be about a week. I'm going to have you start teaching Sneasel Ice Beam. I think you're ready for it, aren't you?" He said softly to Sneasel.

The dark-type bounced up and down on the ground excitedly. He blew a puff of icy air before he raced off to chase some unfortunate pokemon.

"Keep an eye on him, will you?" Ash murmured to Nidoking. His best friend nodded seriously. They both knew that Sneasel might turn to more dangerous activities with the power of Ice Beam behind him. The trainer was a bit nervous about teaching him a powerful move like that in the first place, but he knew that he might as well get the phase over with. Sneasel would grow powerful eventually anyways, so it would be best to teach him discipline while he was still weak enough to be easily chastised.

But those thoughts could be put behind until tonight. For now he just wanted to get a move on. Ash shared a smile with Nidoking and glanced up at Plume's lazily circling form before he stepped off.

Celadon awaited him.

XX

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