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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39. The Champion Part 2

He cocked his head at the man and waited for his question.

"Gary's decided to head into the Seafoam Caverns. The Ice Time is over, and he's trying to find somewhere to train for the Conference." Oak explained. Ash just nodded, a bit of dislike in his gut at the mention of his rival. "Do you have any advice?"

Ash couldn't say he wanted to help Gary, but he would at the Professor's behest. Oak had done far too much for him to even consider refusing. "Stay out of the deeper levels, and run from any dewgong. Have a pokemon that can echolocate."

Oak hummed his agreement. "Thank you, Ash. It has been far too long since I travelled through the Caverns. My memory isn't what it was."

"You're welcome." Ash said quietly. He looked up. "Could you tell my mother that I said goodbye before she leaves? I'm not sure I'll be able to call her in time."

"Of course." Oak promised. The Professor sent a stern glance at Lance, although Ash missed the Champion's reaction. He idly clipped the pokeballs onto his belt as Oak stood up out of his chair and placed a finger on the keyboard. "Goodbye, Ash. I'm sure you will do well."

Ash nodded back with a grateful smile before the call was cut. He stood up from the chair and looked at Lance, who stood with his arms crossed. "I'm ready."

"You are." Lance agreed. "Follow me. The roof should be empty now."

He looked at Lance oddly as the large man turned around, but acquiesced. Lance swiftly exited the room and headed up a staircase. Ash noted that the room they entered was the same as where he'd found Steven and Lance the day he liberated Knot Island.

"And here we are." Lance opened up a closet, which revealed a ladder. He climbed it with swiftness and agility someone of his size shouldn't possess. Ash was right behind him, although he was a bit slower than Lance. The young trainer just didn't have the power the Champion did.

The roof was rather plain, as he'd expected. It was flat with a few machines atop it, along with a few hatches. Lance kicked the entrance they'd taken shut, probably to prevent the warm air from diffusing into the cold Center.

From here he had a perfect view of Knot Island. This was the highest point of the main island, although Mt. Ember loomed magnificently in the background. He could see the dark forests and beaches from here, along with the town. It had grown even larger than he'd thought. At least a thousand people lived here. While still small, it wasn't at a dangerously low level.

But he couldn't tear his eyes off of Mt. Ember. It wasn't as massive as Cinnabar Island's volcano, but it was extremely impressive nonetheless. Mt. Ember was its own island, separated from Knot Island only by a mile or two of water. The red glow that adorned the top and the shower of embers that scattered out from it made him wonder if it was active again.

"Mt. Ember's why I chose this place." Lance said mysteriously. He swept his cape to his back and crossed his arms after he released the two tiny pokemon again. Sneasel had simply clung onto Ash as he climbed the ladder.

"Is it active? Knot Island's too close for the town to be safe." Ash commented worriedly. Sneasel hissed and clung on tighter at the sign of tension.

Lance shrugged. "It's not active in the conventional sense. Fire lurks within, but no one's in danger unless they try and go inside…in which case it's probably for the best. Most people aren't stupid enough to try and go into the volcano."

His eyes narrowed. Conventional sense? Nevertheless, he waited for Lance to elaborate. There was still a bit of fatigue left in his system and he wasn't quite up to asking questions.

"I have a lot to tell you." Lance said ominously. In the dim red light of Mt. Ember's flames he looked dangerous and mysterious, not at all like the proud Champion Ash knew. "Team Rocket is broken. At least in Indigo. There are splinter groups in other regions, but we hope that their Leagues will apprehend them soon enough. We found a treasure trove of data in the Rocket bunker, although a good bit of it is corrupted."

Ash patiently waited for Lance to continue. He'd known about the other Rocket branches from Steven, although he remembered that the former Champion had shut it down. It wasn't surprising that Team Rocket had extended into other regions. It was amongst the most powerful criminal organizations in the world.

"But we've found several caches about the Creature." Lance said, hatred in his voice. The Champion reflexively grasped onto the arm that had been mangled thanks to its actions. "Team Rocket created an abomination. They took the DNA of Mew and twisted it into their own super weapon."

He recoiled, both in disgust at Team Rocket's actions in defiling the Legendary and at the sheer vitriol in Lance's voice. Ash couldn't believe just how far Team Rocket had sunk, or the horrible brilliance that had birthed the idea in the first place.

According to ancient legends, Mew was the guardian of the Kanto region. It kept the balance and healed the hatred in men's hearts, calmed armies that screamed for blood with a thought. While most believed they were just legends, the Legendary kept its symbolic value.

For Team Rocket to have twisted and corrupted the DNA of the peace bringer into a weapon of war was simply sickening. It certainly explained the power the Creature displayed. Mew was said to be amongst the most powerful pokemon in the world.

"They called it Mewtwo." Lance continued with disgust. "Our Porygon are still working to recover more information. There's no doubt that Mewtwo was the one that destroyed their base. Ghosts that investigated had their physical forms incinerated from the aftereffects and even dark-types were in pain."

"Are you looking for it?" Ash eyed Lance speculatively. Perhaps it would be weakened by whatever Team Rocket did to anger it. The armor would probably slow it down if it wasn't maintained.

Lance nodded curtly. "Agatha. She's the only one of the Elite Four that could hope to handle it. Karen's with her."

Ash blushed almost imperceptibly at the mention of Karen. "What will you do if Agatha finds it? It was too powerful for an army last time."

"Find a way to track it." Lance replied immediately. His angular face drifted into a scowl. "It's too dangerous to leave alone. I doubt Mewtwo was programmed to be caring in the first place. Whatever time it spent with Team Rocket put it beyond redemption. I want to know where it is. If I can't kill it, I can prepare for it."

Although disturbed at the prospect of killing, Ash couldn't help but agree. Rushing water and the destruction of an army flashed before his eyes. If the Creature could do that, it could do anything. Something that powerful and dangerous had to be destroyed. They couldn't contain it.

"Did you ever find Giovanni, or was he killed in the blast?" Ash suddenly said. He could see the dark man's face now, the shadowy gleam in the man's eyes evident to him now. Giovanni was a monster.

"We recovered him." Lance said enigmatically. "I'm sorry, but I promised to keep that confidential. Giovanni has been dealt with."

Ash frowned, but signified his understanding. "I wouldn't ask you to break a promise."

"Good." Lance smiled. It took the harsh edge from his expression. "I can appreciate that. But I think I should tell you what we'll be doing for the month."

He crossed his arms and cocked his head at the Champion expectantly. Ash had been curious about the methods Lance would use to train him. The training methods of the Elite Four were generally secret, although Ash expected that they could be brutal. At their level of power and experience it had to be. Nothing else would let their pokemon improve further.

"I'm putting a year of training into one month. It will be difficult, and you and your pokemon will be pushed to your limits. You're too young to undergo the Elite Four physical conditioning, but I will push you just as hard as I push your team." Lance warned. Ash nodded, glad to accept the challenge.

The Champion suddenly recalled the small pokemon that waited attentively by his feet and released two Dragonite. Ash recognized the first as Lance's primary Dragonite. He smiled as the great dragon let out a long, keening cry and patted Lance on the shoulder.

He didn't recognize the other. It was large, but slimmer than the first. The dragon-type's scales held a tiny tint of blue and seemed thinner and more fragile than the other Dragonite. Ash didn't think that it was Lance's second Dragonite, either. From the brief glimpse he'd seen of it, the second was almost as bulky as the primary Dragonite.

"Don't you recognize Saph?" Lance commented as he affectionately patted Dragonite's massive arm. Saph called out happily and snorted at Lance before she waved at Ash. He returned it and stared at Saph with wide eyes. As a Dragonair she was obviously powerful. As Dragonite, he had no doubt that she could easily defeat him easily. "She evolved last week. I'm hoping to get her acclimated to her new form. Dov has been training her, but she's still a bit clumsy."

"Dov?" Ash remarked as Saph gave Lance an offended growl. The Champion rolled his eyes and waved Saph's annoyance away before he answered.

"My second Dragonite." Lance explained. "He's helping Saph learn to fly. Some of it's instinctual, but the change from manipulation of air and draconic energy to actual wings is a hard one."

Saph snorted in agreement and awkwardly unfurled her wings. Lance glanced at her. "Get on. We're flying to the camp. I have everything arranged. I'll give you the rest of the information when we get there."

Ash nodded and recalled Sneasel, who had dived into his pack when Lance released the twin Dragonite. He managed to see Sneasel's bright eyes narrowed suspiciously at the great dragons before he was engulfed by scarlet energy.

"Hold on tight!" Lance warned as he casually leapt up onto Dragonite's back. "The flight is short."

Saph considerately leaned down for Ash. The trainer felt a moment of awe at actually riding one of the Champion's most powerful pokemon. He clung on tightly to Saph's scales, although he made sure to avoid the smooth and sharp edges.

When he was secure, Saph took off to follow Lance. Wind whistled past them as they suddenly vanished into the dark night, and Ash had to lower his head and remove his cap to keep it from flying away. He tried to look up, but even with Saph's air manipulation the travel was too rough for him to weather the powerful winds.

He squeezed his eyes shut in an effort to keep them from drying out and dearly wished that he had taken Plume. Saph was probably faster, at least at going short distances, but Plume was much better at keeping the ride comfortable. The convenient bubble of air she could produce was much more effective than whatever Saph was doing.

Thankfully, it was over almost as soon as it began. They couldn't have spent more than a minute in the air. Saph was careful with her landing. Ash looked up as she slowly descended to the earth and realized that they were camped right on the slope of Mt. Ember. The red and orange glow of the mountaintop caused the air to be cast with an eerie glow.

Saph landed on all fours, although it looked to be uncomfortable for her. Ash thanked the dragonite and leapt off of her onto shaky legs. He reminded himself to get more experience flying. Plume would enjoy it and he didn't like feeling faintly nauseous whenever he got back to the ground. Practice would hopefully fix that.

"So you survived." Lance remarked as he walked up to Ash. Dragonite walked behind him, a vigilant guardian. The earth trembled lightly when it stepped. Ash didn't know how much it weighed, but he knew anything that large had to weigh at least a few hundred pounds. "That's a good sign."

Ash just rolled his eyes and focused on getting rid of the aftereffects of vertigo. The air was abnormally hot, although just enough to be uncomfortable. It was at least a few degrees warmer than the main island, although he could chalk that up to Mt. Ember's presence. "Where's the camp?"

"In that cave." Lance pointed to the aforementioned gap in the earth. It was easily large enough to fit an onix, although Ash couldn't make out the interior through the veil of darkness, which was unbroken by the red light of Mt. Ember. He assumed that it was quite large inside, however. "It leads into the tunnels inside Mt. Ember. You'll be training there a lot."

"What kind of training will I be doing?"

"Harsh." Lance grinned when he saw the annoyed glint in Ash's eyes. "It depends. Some days I'll just have you working on techniques and moves. I'm sure there are some that you can't teach your team, but I can help with that. Other days you'll be battling me."

Ash looked at Lance oddly. There was no way he could battle any of the Champion's pokemon. Any of the real team was too powerful for him to hope to take on and the pokemon Lance seemed to be training now would only be useful for Sneasel to battle.

"I'll go easy on you." Lance assured him. "But it's the best way for a pokemon to grow. If we had a proper amount of time to train, I'd go a little lighter on the battles. I'm having to put a year into a month, though. There's no time to coddle you."

"I understand." Ash said resolutely. He frowned, though. "What do you mean that it's the best way for them to grow? I know that battling a lot helps with getting practical experience, but isn't training just as important?"

Lance's voice took on a didactic tone. "It is training. Training isn't just repetition and honing techniques. That's a major part of it, true, but the real meat of it is in battle. It doesn't just give them experience: it makes them strong. Battle gives them the knowledge and strength to apply their skill."

He motioned for Ash to follow him. Dragonite and Saph crawled behind them on all fours, nostrils open as they entered the cavern, which smelled of steam and stone.

"Battle is how pokemon grow strong." Lance repeated as they entered the dark cave. It was hot and humid, although only to an uncomfortable level. The camp certainly wasn't dangerous. "You can train them in speed or endurance all you want, but to be a decent fighter they have to know the thrill of battle. Power is gained through practical experience."

Ash nodded and paid rapt attention to the Champion's words. He was learning from one of the most powerful trainers in the world. Every word Lance said needed to be committed to memory.

Lance suddenly changed topic. "Have you eaten?"

"Yes." Ash replied. He'd gotten a meal aboard the Seagallop Ferry. The League certainly didn't hold any expense on the food supplies. His rich meal had been a great change from the flavorless food he'd eaten during the mission.

"We can talk more tomorrow." Lance sighed. He snapped his fingers. Dragonite reared up and spat a stream of hot flame into the middle of the floor. Ash flinched when an immense pile of brush ignited furiously. The smoke gently wafted up into a large hole in the ceiling, through which red light shined through.

Ash spotted a mat at a comfortable distance away from the fire, which burned comfortably thanks to Dragonite's powerful flame. "Is that mine?"

Lance nodded. "Get some sleep. Tomorrow will be tough. I'm not holding back."

The trainer grinned. "I'm looking forward to it." He didn't see Lance's reaction before he walked over to the mat, which was of much higher quality than the cheap sleeping mat that he used. Perhaps he'd buy a new one when he returned to Kanto.

He took a moment to glance around the cave. It was incredibly large. The ceiling was probably high enough for a small flying-type to comfortably maneuver and it widened enough to easily hold all of Ash's team, although he wasn't sure if Lance's team of monstrous dragons would be able to fit as well.

Ash released his friends. He figured it would be best to get them introduced to each other. Oz only had the barest amount of contact with the rest of the team thanks to her own rage and the dangerous conditions. That situation needed to be rectified.

"The training begins tomorrow." Ash told Nidoking when his friend appeared beside him. Nidoking snorted and crushed his claws together in understanding. He sent a reverent glance at Dragonite, who had curled up in the general vicinity of Lance's sleeping mat. Saph's head rested atop the massive creature's back. "I'm going to introduce Sneasel and Oz to Bruiser and Seeker. I need you and Dazed to keep the peace. Restrain Sneasel if anything goes wrong."

Nidoking nodded and squared himself, ready to show off his physical power should the introductions not go as planned. Ash nodded approvingly and release Torrent, Dazed, and Tangrowth.

He greeted each of his friends as they materialized and informed them of their duties. Torrent was to try and keep the peace, an easy task for the incredibly powerful dragon-type. All of the team respected him. Dazed would instantly Disable any of the troublemakers, although Tangrowth was tasked with restraining Sneasel should a scuffle occur.

Ash suspected that it would be an unnecessary measure. Dazed would be more than happy to knock Sneasel out with Focus Blast should he cause an issue. It was a good thing Tangrowth was faster.

The trainer opted against releasing Plume or Infernus. Plume would be useless in such tight quarters and was more likely than most to get injured in such a physical battle. Bringing Infernus out in an enclosed space was just a bad idea.

Next, he released Sneasel and Oz. Sneasel hissed happily and rushed up to his ordinary perch on Ash's back. Oz whirred at Ash in a friendly manner, which brought a smile from Ash. Nidoking tensed up and directed a hateful look at Oz, who didn't bother acknowledging it. "Hey, Oz. How are you doing?"

She shrugged and caused electricity to crackle over her fur. Ash was glad that he still had his cap on. If he didn't his hair would be standing straight up right now. At least his hat covered it. It wasn't as though he could simply smooth it with a burst of psychic energy like Dazed could.

"That's good." Ash smiled. His face twisted into a more serious expression. He glanced back at Sneasel. "I'm about to introduce the both of you to the rest of the team. Sneasel, you've already met Bruiser."

Sneasel nodded, a hint of dislike in his eyes. Although he didn't know Bruiser, Ash knew that Sneasel tended to dislike fighting-types. While he was more than a match for fighting-types on his level thanks to his incredible speed and agility he was bitter toward anything with an advantage over him.

Dark-types such as Sneasel were deadly in close quarters, in no small part because of their ruthless mindset and wily cunning, but fighting-types were more than their match. Fighting-types tended to be amazingly strong and durable enough to take the quick attacks of dark-types, plus they had reflexes to match.

It didn't hurt that dark-types tended to be quite fragile, which was a negative side effect of having evolved to ambush and work in the shadows, oftentimes with groups. One good hit could easily defeat them if it was sufficiently powerful. Dark-types just weren't meant to fight fair.

At least Sneasel didn't have to worry about the normal weakness of ice-types to fighting-types. That weakness mostly applied to ice-types whose physiology incorporated ice or ice-like material. Sneasel simply had an elemental affinity for it. His body was flesh and blood, not brittle ice that could be easily smashed and shattered.

"Be nice." Ash reprimanded. He turned to Oz. "Their names are Bruiser and Seeker. Seeker can be a little timid at first, but I'm sure she'll open up to you."

Oz whirred and put her large fists behind her back. Ash remembered from the electabuzz entry in the pokedex that it was a sign of submission, or at least agreement. He smiled. "Thanks."

He sent Sneasel, who adopted a look of feigned innocence, another stern glance before he released Bruiser and Seeker. The two blinked in surprise as they were released before they focused in on Ash.

Bruiser pounded his muscular chest, which had grown even larger thanks to the training Bruno had taught him, and had a massive grin split his reptilian face. He stepped forward to pat Ash on the shoulder in an expression of glee, but Seeker was faster.

The zubat, who hadn't seen Ash in months outside of his calls, chattered happily as she latched onto his chest and buried her head into his warmth. Ash laughed and lightly stroked her fuzzy ears as she tried to wriggle in closer.

"I missed you too." He said softly. Ash looked up and grinned ecstatically at Bruiser. "It's good to see you, Bruiser! I'm sorry I haven't called you very much. We were in a bad situation for the last few weeks."

Bruiser shook his apologies off and firmly clasped Ash's forearm. Ash squeezed back against Bruiser's tight, rough skin as hard as he could. The fighting-type smiled and dipped his head before he stepped back, a ceremony that Ash repeated.

"We're going to be training for the next month." Ash explained as he scratched around Seeker's tightly folded wings. The zubat squeaked every now and then. "But I figured you two should meet your new teammates before we start tomorrow."

Seeker squeaked shyly at the thought of meeting more pokemon, but let out a contented whine when Ash comfortingly stroked her ears again. Bruiser perked up and focused in on the obvious addition of Oz. He bowed his head to the electric-type and reached out to clasp her bulky forearm.

Oz acquiesced, and actually seemed impressed with Bruiser as he steadfastly ignored the strong electric current that ran through her thick coat of striped fur. Ash smiled. It looked like they would get along, at least.

He glanced backward at Sneasel, only to hear a long, deep hiss. Ash sighed and began to reprimand Sneasel, although he identified the source of the protective noise beforehand. Seeker had tried to climb onto his back like she usually did, only to find it occupied. She scurried back onto his chest and clung on tightly.

"Sneasel…" Ash warned as Bruiser started forward with furious eyes. He didn't need Sneasel getting the snot beaten out of him by Seeker's protector. Bruiser backed off when Ash raised a placating hand, although he bared his small fangs and cracked his knuckles.

Nidoking let out a deep growl that made the ground tremble. All of the pokemon backed away at the sound, except for Torrent. It had no effect on Ash. While the growl of a Nidoking was something ingrained in every human's subconscious to fear, he'd gotten used to it by now. Besides, his friend's calls were more comforting than anything. Torrent was a monarch in his own right and cared little for the expression of displeasure.

Sneasel hissed again and dived deeper into Ash's pack, although he barely fit at this point. He'd grown a lot over the past few weeks. Ash sighed and pulled him out, although Sneasel growled in displeasure. The dark-type respected and looked up to Ash too much to try and lash out physically, however.

"Be nice." Ash commanded. Seeker fluttered away onto Bruiser's shoulder as he held a sullen Sneasel out in front of them by the scruff of his neck. "This is Sneasel. He's not so bad once you get to know him."

The dark-type growled and did his best to refute that statement, but Ash's grip and command was enough to ensure his obedience. Ash reflected that it was a good thing Sneasel was so light. He'd never be able to carry his friend like this if he was fully grown. Even now he could feel the strain in his arm.

Ash gently lowered Sneasel to the ground. Sneasel growled at Bruiser and Seeker, but didn't try anything as Bruiser knelt and looked down at the dark-type. Bruiser stared at him impassively with his dark, beady eyes but didn't do anything. Seeker chattered and tried to get an image of him via echolocation.

He glanced at his friends. Nidoking was beside Ash, his prominent fangs bared and his eyes narrowed dangerously. The powerful poison-type didn't look as though he would do anything, but was simply trying to intimidate Sneasel. Dazed simply stared with her normal bored expression. Her pendulum was held taught, although Ash's keen, practiced eyes could pick out slight vibrations coursing through it.

The trainer let the tense appraisal of Sneasel go on for a while and smiled in satisfaction when some of Sneasel's hostility evaporated. He would have to keep an eye on those three, however.

Sneasel didn't like Bruiser due to his unfamiliarity with the fighting-type and his natural disdain of anything that had an inherent advantage over him. Ash hoped that the dislike would fade away over time. It hadn't taken long for Sneasel to warm up to Infernus, although that might have to do with Infernus showing off how strong he really was whenever the chance occurred.

Bruiser didn't like Sneasel, obviously. As with most fighting-types, Bruiser had a code of honor. Most pokemon naturally distrusted dark-types, and fighting-types tended to be more wary of them than most. Dark-types rarely had any concept of honor or fairness. Only strength mattered. While a philosophy like that was understandable to Bruiser, it was detestable at the same time.

Ash was more worried about Sneasel and Seeker's relationship. Bruiser could protect himself and was clearly strong. Sneasel would do his best to avoid directly antagonizing the fighting-type, if only out of self-preservation.

But Seeker was timid and vulnerable. He would never call her weak after the abuse she had weathered underneath Team Rocket and the bravery she displayed in saving him from Golduck's spite, but she wasn't a fighter. Sneasel was attracted to weakness. It was encoded into his instincts to harass and attack her.

Perhaps that would fade over time, he mused. Seeker would be spending the month with them. While he doubted she was anywhere near ready to begin serious training, perhaps she'd come out of her shell a bit thanks to all of the contact.

Regardless, he'd have to keep an eye on the both of them. He smiled when Sneasel slunk away to Tangrowth's side and sent baneful glares at Bruiser and Seeker. While it could have gone better, he was satisfied with the events. A fight had been avoided, and some degree of acceptance had been earned.

"Let's go to bed." Ash spoke up. Most of his friends nodded their agreement, although Ash knew that some might stay up for a while. Bruiser and Nidoking certainly would, just to make sure the situation was stable and their charges were safe. Dazed couldn't go to sleep.

He sat down and took his cap and jacket off and set them to the side. His friends scattered throughout the cave, although they mostly remained close by.

Tangrowth and Sneasel bunkered down in a small corner. Sneasel was still clearly awake, affectionately wrapped up in Tangrowth's thick vines. Although he seemed annoyed by Tangrowth's physical contact, he had grown used to it. Ash smiled at him, which took some of the anger out of the dark-type's expression.

Nidoking curled up right beside him in a protective manner, of course. Ash stared into his friend's narrow black eyes as he laid down and pulled a thin blanket out from his pack. While it was hardly needed in the cavern, which was heated from the geothermic energy concentrated around Mt. Ember, a blanket was always comforting. It was odd, but it always felt nice for some reason, even in a hot environment.

He really needed to get a new one. It was worn and had a few small holes thanks to the long months of travelling. Ash had simply not cared too much before now. It got the job done and Infernus provided all of the heat he needed.

Torrent slept with his great head angled downward. He had positioned himself next to Dazed, whose eyes flashed with eerie blue light every now and then. It didn't bother Ash, who had long become accustomed to it.

Bruiser sat with his back on the stone wall a few feet away from Ash. Seeker clutched to his shoulder and hid away from the meager light cast by the bonfire, which had slowly died down. Ash smiled at the duo for the briefest instant.

Ash couldn't see Oz from his position, but from the quiet hum of electricity he judged that she had curled up not too far from Tangrowth.

He closed his eyes and tried to angle it so that Nidoking blocked the majority of the light and heat from the flames. Mt. Ember was hot enough without a massive fire thrown into the mix, even if it would be nothing but ashes and charred wood soon.

It didn't take long for him to be dragged into a dreamless abyss.

XX

Ash snapped up on his mat as an awful, earsplitting screech wracked the air. He crushed his hands over his ears and squeezed his eyes shut. The noise was literally painful. Judging from the abrupt movements he had managed to catch before he closed his eyes, his pokemon had a similar reaction.

It mercifully ended after a few seconds. He glared up at the massive form of Lance, who stood by the ashes of the bonfire with a sadistic grin on his face. A strange, insect-like pokemon with two angular wings and bulging green eyes sat beside him.

"Wake up, trainee!" Lance sang mockingly. His eyes were dark with horrible amusement. "Get going! You have five minutes to meet me outside." The Champion's grin bared his teeth as he added dangerously, "Don't be late."

Ash blinked in astonishment for a few seconds, during which Lance confidently strode outside into the bright sun. He shook his head before Lance's words set in.

"Get up!" He commanded as adrenaline shot through his system like lightning. It was rather similar to when his mother had gotten him up late for school.

Thankfully, his friends followed suit. They were struck by Lance's command just as much as Ash was, and were up in seconds. Ash quickly put on his cap and slipped into his jacket, grateful that he'd been too worn out to think about fully undressing last night.

All Ash bothered to spend time on was brushing his teeth. He'd prefer not to spend the day with the sickly sour taste in his mouth. It had been a mistake not to do so last night before he'd gone to sleep.

He and his friends were outside in three minutes, if he had to guess. Lance stood outside in the hot, humid air perfectly calm. His pokemon were arrayed out behind him. Ash counted three dragonite, Aerodactyl, a monstrous Gyarados that loomed from the ocean, a Kingdra that made Torrent look like a horsea, the gigantic Charizard whose tail flame burned a furious blue with a core of white, the strange insect, and the two small pokemon that had followed him around last night.

"Welcome to your first day of training!" Lance boomed. He gestured grandiosely to the army behind him. "These are my friends and partners."

He pointed to the group of dragonite. "You know Dragonite, Dov, and Saph." Ash nodded and waved back when the massive dragons sang their greeting. His pokemon followed suit in a cacophony of roars, hums, hisses, and grunts.

"Aerodactyl." Lance pointed at the stone behemoth, which stood at an awe-inspiring seven feet tall and probably had a wing span of about twenty feet. Ash hoped he never had to fight one in a real battle. They were astoundingly rare thanks to the expense of artificially giving them an immune system and engineering their DNA to be able to survive in this new world, but in the higher levels of training it was always a threat.

The stone beast leered at him and snapped its massive jaws together. Ash felt an urge to shrink back in the face of this ancient predator, but fought it off. He'd stared down the Cre—Mewtwo. Aerodactyl wouldn't intimidate him.

Lance smiled at him approvingly. "Magnus." He pointed to the Charizard, which snarled and spat a plume of deep blue flame into the air. It thrashed its tail furiously and seemed to try to one up Aerodactyl, who just growled at Charizard in annoyance.

The Champion rolled his eyes. "Yes, yes. You're very scary, Magnus. Anyways, there's Lev."

Gyarados roared and flailed its tail, but didn't seem aggressive. Its eyes seemed more playful than anything, although Ash had no doubt that it could fly into a destructive rage at a moment's notice. Judging from the sheer bulk it displayed, Ash assumed it would be around fifty feet in length if it was proportionate to its width. A true giant of its species.

"This is Vibrava, and those two are Bagon and Gible." Lance said with a soft smile. Ash nodded. At least he had a name for the odd insect now. He was confused as to why the Dragon Master had a bug-type on his team, though. The other two made sense. They looked like dragons.

"Where are they from?" Ash asked. If Lance used them, they must evolve into extremely powerful pokemon. Perhaps he could find one in his travels.

"Bagon's from Hoenn. He evolves into Salamence." Lance said with a dreamy look in his eyes. Ash held back an amused snort. He thought he recognized the name from a conversation with Steven. "Gible's from Sinnoh. Bagon was a gift from my old master in Hoenn, Drake, and Gible was a gift from Cynthia. She'll evolve into Garchomp"

Ash's eyes widened as he looked at the tiny pokemon, their chests puffed out in pride. He didn't recognize Drake's name, but he certainly recognized the name of Cynthia. She was the Champion of Sinnoh and recognized as one of the most powerful trainers in the world, on par with Lance or Steven. Not many could challenge Lance's team of dragons and draconic pokemon, but she was rumored to be one of them.

"There's Mael." Lance directed at the Kingdra. The old, battle-scarred creature looked down at Ash appraisingly, far more interested in him than any of the others Ash had been introduced to. It seemed to reach a decision after a while and nodded at him, which he hesitantly returned. "Now, introduce us to your team. They need to know their teachers."

"Well, that's Nidoking." Ash pointed out slowly. He quickly released Plume and Infernus, who blinked in surprise when they saw the immensely powerful group of pokemon before them. Plume looked back at Ash like he was insane, but Infernus had a maniacal glint in his eyes as flame wreathed around him. "No! We aren't fighting."

Infernus looked disappointed, but Plume looked at him thankfully before she awkwardly hopped over to his side, right next to Nidoking. The fire-type slunk over to Tangrowth and moved in close so as to make the grass-type feel uncomfortable. Tangrowth gurgled and shied away, but Sneasel snickered and shot a gust of wind at Infernus, which the fire-type didn't even feel.

"There's Plume, then Torrent, she's Dazed, Infernus, Bruiser, Seeker, Tangrowth, Sneasel, and Oz." Ash ran off quickly as he pointed his friends out. He felt a little awkward underneath Lance's cool gaze.

"Very well." Lance smiled dangerously. He snapped his fingers. All of his pokemon except for Dragonite removed themselves from the area and formed a semicircle. "Ash, your team will battle Dragonite. If you feel any aren't ready, send them over to the rest of my team now."

Ash blanched, but nodded. He had confidence in his team and knew they were very powerful, but he knew they weren't even close to being ready for this. But he had to try. "Seeker, Sneasel, go on."

Sneasel hissed in a mixture of disappointment and annoyance, but followed his orders. Bruiser carried Seeker over to Saph, who gently took the zubat from the fighting-type and placed her small fuzzy form underneath one of her wings. Ash wondered how Bruiser knew to take Seeker to Saph, but assumed that she simply seemed the friendliest.

The trainer frowned. While he didn't like splitting the team up, this was far too dangerous for an untrained pokemon to be in. Sneasel was making great progress, but he hadn't mastered Ice Beam or Blizzard. Until then he would only be a hindrance in a fight like this, unable to even threaten Dragonite. Seeker was simply too timid and untrained. Even if she was trained, the sunlight was painful to her.

"You have five minutes to prepare." Lance called out. "After that, Dragonite will attack."

Ash signified his understanding and called the team together. He had a bad feeling as they arrayed around him. Lance knew that they weren't ready for this. Why was he forcing a battle that was sure to end in Ash's loss. The Champion was firm in his belief that battling powerful opponents would make his team stronger, but Ash wasn't sure that it applied when the power gap was this drastic.

He didn't show his fear to his team. Instead he did his best to radiate confidence. "This'll be a hard fight, guys. Dragonite's by far the strongest opponent we've ever faced."

Apparently this didn't surprise any of his friends. Their expressions didn't change a bit. Ash sighed and hurriedly continued. "Nidoking, it's up to you to use Ice Beam. Try and hit the wings if it's slow enough. If it gets close, try and ram it with your horn. The scales are tough enough to keep it safe. Keep it off of Torrent."

"Plume, try and confuse it with Double Team." He continued. Both he and Plume knew that Dragonite would smack her right out of the sky without any trouble. She had to be a distraction. "If you think you can hit it with Whirlwind or Steel Wing, go for it. Try and stay away from Dragonite, though."

"Torrent, you're the main player in this fight." Ash said seriously. Torrent looked at him calmly, although a fierce passion for battle was aroused in the back of his scarlet eyes. "Hit it with Ice Beam the moment the battle starts. If you can't, shoot a Blizzard at it. Don't use Ice Storm unless I've returned all of the others. Use Dragon Pulse if it gets close."

"Dazed, try to Disable it." Ash told her. Dazed nodded and her pendulum slowly vibrated as it glowed with blue energy. He knew that Dragonite would probably break free of Disable in an instant, but perhaps it would slow it down. "Use Psychic if it gets close to the others. Keep your barriers up."

Ash turned to Infernus, whose body language suggested that he was simply delighted by the prospects of this fight. It was the next best thing to battling a Legendary. "Your fire attacks probably won't do much, but keep a steady flame on it. Try and keep it off of the others. If it gets close, use Brick Break and Teleport. Don't let it hit you."

"Grapple it." Ash told Bruiser bluntly. "Grab on and wrestle it to the ground if you can. Keep away from its elemental attacks. Dazed will protect you, but I'm not sure how well her shields will fare. Try to keep it out of the air."

"Wrap it." He commanded Tangrowth, who happily gurgled. "Hit it with Solarbeam the moment the battle begins. Aim for the joints that connect the wings with your vines. They're one of its only weak points. If you get a chance, hit it with Ancient Power."

Oz seemed just as excited as Infernus, although there was palpable tension in her body. Ash was unsure of how to command her. He'd memorized her moves, but he really didn't have any experience with her. "Start off with Thunder Wave, and hammer it with Thunderbolts. Try and line them up with Nidoking and Torrent's attacks."

The electric-type nodded seriously and began to windmill her arms. Electricity arced around her and raised the hairs on Ash's body.

"Make sure to spread out." He ordered. "Don't make yourselves an easy target. It'll take advantage of any openings."

As he finished speaking, Lance shouted out to him. "Get over here! It's not safe."

Ash nodded and jogged over to Lance. Dragonite snorted at him good-naturedly as he ran by, and Ash took a last, lingering look at his friends. He trusted that they would put up a fight. They were strong.

"Begin." Lance ordered.

Before Ash could blink, Dragonite erupted into the air. It easily sped away from the barrage of attacks his friends shot toward it as they slowly reacted to its insane speeds and casually beat its massive wings toward the group. Ash gaped as a gale powerful enough to tear a tree from its roots slammed into his friends and sent them all over the place.

Torrent managed to stay in the same position thanks to his levitation and fired off a second Ice Beam. Dragonite vanished for a moment only to appear right in front of Torrent. Ash watched with wide eyes as Torrent tried to blast Dragonite with a Dragon Pulse in an attempt to at least do some damage, but Dragonite's claws glowed bright green with draconic energy before it slashed at Torrent.

Ash winced as Torrent was slammed into the ground with incredible force. He saw Infernus fire a stream of flame at Dragonite, but it instantly vanished back into the sky. The trainer couldn't believe how fast it was. It was probably using a technique like Agility, but it was still awe-inspiring.

He grinned when he saw Plume slam into its back with Steel Wing, however. Ash looked on with horror as Dragonite was only knocked away a few feet before it retaliated with another gale of wind. Plume was swept away by the Hurricane technique and hurled toward the ground, although Ash hurriedly returned her before she made contact with the hard earth.

Dragonite held itself aloft and watched as Ash's friends scrambled to recover. Ash noted that it seemed particularly focused on Nidoking and Dazed. He could understand why it regarded Nidoking as a potential threat considering his Ice Beam, but he wasn't so sure about Dazed.

Ash found his answer when Dazed's eyes flashed and Dragonite became entombed in a prison of bright energy. It only lasted for a second considering that Dragonite casually broke out of it with a single flex, but it gave the others a chance to retaliate against the seemingly invincible dragon.

The dragon-type flinched backward as Nidoking's Ice Beam, Oz's Thunderbolt, and Tangrowth's Solarbeam slammed into it, but weathered the assault with ease. Its scales were just too tough and resistant to energy for Solarbeam or Thunderbolt to have any real effect with the amount of power put into them. Ash had no idea how it survived the Ice Beam so easily, however. Perhaps Lance had trained it to be resistant to its major weakness.

It wouldn't be surprising. While it was difficult and time consuming, it was possible. Dragon-types' general physiology made it impossible for them to completely discount the threat that ice-type attacks posed, but they could grow to tolerate it.

Ice-type attacks were generally effective against dragons for the same reason that they were effective against onix and its ilk: the sudden shock to their system was devastating. Dragon-types were coldblooded for the most part and being at such a low temperature was dangerous. Some had evolved to resist cold as a necessity, such as Kingdra in the abyss of the ocean, but for the most part they simply couldn't suffer ice-type attacks.

All of his thoughts vanished when he saw Dragonite flap its mighty wings once before it blasted up into the sky, far beyond the reach of any attack. Ash had a gnawing feeling in his stomach as his pokemon tried to prepare themselves against the inevitable assault.

Ash glanced up at the Champion and noted that Lance's lips twitched. He furrowed his brow and looked to the sky, but shouted out a warning when he saw a gold and tan blur hurtle down toward the earth.

He staggered backward as the blur slammed into the ground with a thunderous boom. Immense force ripped through the earth, and a massive cloud of dust was kicked up from the impact. Ash watched worriedly as he saw Dragonite launch itself into the air again, apparently unharmed from the incredibly powerful attack.

"Earth Wrecker." Lance said from beside him. His eyes were focused on the remnants of the battlefield. "A combination of flight, Extreme Speed and Tailwind to build up the velocity, Earthquake to impart the required force, and a Twister wrapped around the user to prevent extreme damage and/or death."

Ash's eyes widened at the sheer number of moves incorporated into the devastating technique. That was ridiculous. Dragonite must have practiced for weeks to perfect it. It took an iron will and discipline rarely found to control so many techniques at once.

"Good job, Dragonite." Lance shouted to the heavens. A long, low call was his response. He turned to Ash. "Recall your pokemon. I'll revive them."

"Why did we do that?" Ash questioned as he recalled his defeated friends. He scowled. His friends were strong, but they were helpless in the face of Dragonite. The trainer didn't like feeling helpless. It was what he had trained to avoid after the first time he'd encountered Pierce.

Lance looked down at him with a strange mix of emotions. "You needed to know what utter defeat felt like. You're like me, Ash. In my first year, I only had three legitimate defeats, each against vastly more experienced foes. I didn't even know what it felt like or how to handle an opponent stronger than I was."

Ash nodded, although he still had an ugly scowl on his face. He didn't like losing.

"Exactly." Lance remarked after seeing the expression on Ash's face. "You knew you would lose. You have a good team, but Dragonite is too far beyond you."

He knelt and met Ash's eyes with his own dark ones. "That's what I'm training you for. There won't be many opponents stronger than you by the time I'm done training you, but if you ever find one you'll know what to do. You froze up during our battle. That'll never happen again."

Ash nodded again and returned Lance's serious look. "Is this all for today?"

"No." Lance laughed and threw his head back. "That was just a lesson. There will be stronger foes out there. You know it logically, but I know that I could never really accept it. Take that knowledge and turn it into a drive to become stronger, until you're the best."

Lance turned away and looked at his team. "There are revives by my sleeping mat. Get your team up and return. Your real training will begin then."

Ash smiled lightly and ran off to the camp. Sneasel joined him, although Ash made sure to return Seeker. He choked a bit on the great cloud of dust as he ran through it, but he was more distracted by the sheer amount of damage that Dragonite's attack had done. There was an impact crater at least three feet deep and ten feet in every direction where Dragonite had landed, and there were massive cracks and ruptures in the earth as far as he could see.

He easily maneuvered around them and went into the camp with a determined expression. Ash understood Lance's lesson, but it had given him a burning drive to become stronger. His desire for strength was reignited, the candle transmuted into an inferno.

Lance had shown him what a true trainer was capable of. Ash only had a month, but he would learn everything he could from the Champion and reach the top of the world just as Lance had done. By the time the Conference came around, Ash would be ready for it.

XX

"What moves are you currently teaching your team?" Lance inquired as Ash returned. Most of the Champion's team had scattered, although each of the Dragonite, Magnus, and Mael remained nearby. The others had probably flown off to train.

"I'm going to teach Nidoking Earth Power and Mega Horn, Dazed Magic Coat and Signal Beam, Infernus Heat Wave and Thunderpunch, Bruiser Superpower, and Oz everything I can." Ash finished with a frown. "I need to work with her the most."

Lance nodded understandingly. "Very well. I noticed that you left a few of your teammates out."

"Well," Ash began, "some of my friends don't have anything useful to learn. Tangrowth has just about everything he needs, and I need the most help with Plume and Torrent. Plume has almost mastered Hurricane, but she keeps getting stuck on keeping its range and power. Torrent needs help with Draco Meteor. I've tried to help him, but nothing seems to work. He can only start the attack."

"You tried to teach a pokemon Draco Meteor? And you actually made some progress?" Lance asked with a raised eyebrow. "Impressive. I can help you with both of those moves. Draco Meteor will be simplest. Mael should be able to guide him through the motions without too much trouble."

"And Hurricane?" Ash prompted. He was glad that Lance was willing to help him. It was an extraordinarily rare and powerful move, crafted by the ancient Wataru Dragon Clan of Blackthorn City. Lance had probably been taught it the moment he'd proven himself to his clan.

Lance grinned and motioned to Dragonite, who casually landed next to him with astounding grace. Something that large shouldn't have been able to move so easily. It was a statement that applied to the Champion as well.

"I might be a Master of the dragon-type, but I have a fair amount of experience with flying-types as well." Dragonite snorted and unfurled its massive wings to validate Lance's statement. "Dragonite can help Plume master it in no time. He's already taught Dov and Saph."

Ash nodded and smiled. He went ahead and released his friends, who arrayed around him. They glared distrustfully at Dragonite, save for Tangrowth. The grass-type curiously extended vines to reach over the dragon, who acquiesced to the scan with curious eyes.

"I can't help you so much with your other pokemon." Lance admitted. "Not their techniques, anyway. I can help you train them until they're unstoppable forces of destruction, but I'm not experienced with most of your pokemon."

"That's fine." Ash replied. It was what he'd expected. Lance might know an incredible amount of information about almost every pokemon, but his knowledge of training was specialized for his dragons. It was an incredible strength, but a weakness at the same time.

Lance nodded to Mael, who levitated forward with an air of regality that made Torrent bow his head in submission. The kingdra simply exuded power and experience, shown clearly in the scars that covered its form. Ash didn't want to know what Lance had fought that actually had enough strength to penetrate the thick scales.

"Mael, Dragonite, you're staying with me." Lance commanded. "The rest of you, go spar. We need to get back into shape."

The small army signified their understanding before they rushed off. Dov, who Ash noted seemed to be even bulkier than Dragonite, albeit shorter and obviously younger, launched into the air with incredible precision, followed by a slightly unsteady Saph. Ash watched with wide eyes as Dov casually fired an Ice Beam at Saph, who barely flashed out of the way before the immensely powerful attacked shot through the area she stood.

As the Ice Beam froze its way through the air, frost converged around it. When it finally slammed into the warm water, it froze an area of thirty square feet. Ash couldn't help but blink at the sheer power behind the attack. It was no wonder that Dragonite had easily shrugged his team's attacks off.

"Dragonite, teach her Hurricane." Lance said. Dragonite slapped the Champion on the back before it launched high into the air with a single beat of its powerful wings. Ash stumbled backward, but Lance, with his greater bulk, managed to keep his footing. Nidoking propped Ash up as Plume followed Dragonite's lead.

"Mael, show Torrent your Draco Meteor."

Ash watched intently as Mael regally levitated to the beachside, where waves chilled by the large block of ice gently lapped at the sand. It raised its massive head high into the air. In an instant a small ball of intense orange energy with a core of white formed at the tip of its elegant snout and shot into the air.

He pulled his cap over his eyes as the orb hovered in the air for the briefest of seconds before it exploded. Huge comets of the energy that trailed fire and light rained down upon the water. Great columns of water exploded upward as the comets slammed into the ocean and exploded, a low roar in the ocean as it filled in the vacuum with great currents of clear water.

The iceberg created by Dov's errant Ice Beam was obliterated by a single of the comets. It shattered and the ring of ice that hadn't been melted by the initial impact split into great shards of pure white. In moments the ice submerged further, visible only because of the water's clarity. Ash knew that it would melt in a few minutes.

But he was focused more upon the sheer power Draco Meteor held. Mael might be an experienced practitioner of the technique, but he knew that Torrent could achieve the same level if given time. It would be an actual weapon against Dragonite and perfect for dealing with any opponent.

"He can do better." Lance spoke up, the silence that pervaded the air finally broken. "Mael just didn't want to cause too much damage. He is a match for Dov."

Ash nodded. It was hard to believe that Mael was holding back. That was one of the greatest displays of power he had ever seen, outside of the Creatu – Mewtwo's rampages and the Birds' elemental mastery.

"Torrent, try it." Ash commanded. It was always best for pokemon to learn from observation. The process gave them an idea of how to manipulate the energy that pounded beneath their skin. Even if Torrent couldn't perform it, he'd have made progress.

Torrent levitated next to the elder dragon and closed his vibrant scarlet eyes. Ash could feel the power normally restrained by his friend's iron will engulf the area as Torrent prepared the attack. His friend pointed his snout to the air in perfect imitation of Mael.

A sphere of energy formed at the tip of his snout, although Ash worried for a moment when it was green. He relaxed when it quickly shifted to the same familiar orange hue as Mael's, although the energy ball was much larger and obviously weaker.

He grinned when Torrent progressed to the next step of the technique and fired the energy ball high into the air. It left streaks of warm red orange in its wake until it finally reached its position. The orange ball seemed to hang in the air for a moment before it simply left Torrent's control and fell into the ocean.

Torrent seemed a bit annoyed at his failed attempt, but still eyed the destructive power he possessed with satisfaction. A huge geyser of water at least fifty feet high exploded upwards as the energy ball exploded within the depths of the ocean. There was a roar of rushing water as the vacuum was filled, and a loud spattering as the displaced water collapsed back into its source.

"A good attempt." Lance clapped. "But it obviously needs improvement. Mael, keep him going. I want it perfected within two days."

Mael nodded calmly and turned to Torrent. The Kingdra snorted something in a very dignified manner, to which Torrent dipped his head. Lance smiled and turned away before he pointed up to the sky. "It seems that Plume is making progress. You did a good job teaching her."

"Thanks." Ash said gruffly, not so used to people commenting on specific aspects of his training. "She did the work."

"Of course." Lance replied. He squinted. "She's very quick. Not the most durable pidgeot I've ever seen, nor the strongest, but she's a magnificent flier. Dragonite is having to try to keep up with her."

Ash grinned at the high praise for Plume. She deserved every bit of it and so much more.

"We'll have to work on that. You don't have any other combat fliers, do you?" Lance inclined his head toward Ash. The trainer shook his head, which brought a smile to Lance's face. "Very impressive. With actual competition she'll advance far. Pidgeot aren't quite as useful in the higher tiers of training, but a properly trained one is always a valuable asset. When they get going, they don't stop."

"I know." Ash laughed. "She hits hard with that speed. With Steel Wing she can take down a rhydon."

Lance grinned. "That's good to hear. They're popular at the Conference." He turned back to Torrent and Mael, both of whom were focused on maintaining a tiny, compressed sphere of orange energy. Ash assumed it was endurance training of a kind. "You've done well with Torrent. Given time he'll rival Mael, I'm sure. This training will give him a nice boost."

"Do you know how Draco Meteor works?" Lance questioned. At Ash's shake of the head, he continued. "It's similar to Dragon Pulse, at least in principle. Dragon Pulse tends to be a requisite move for a pokemon trying to learn the superior technique."

The Champion dipped further into his teaching persona. "Dragon Pulse is all about harnessing the energy that runs through a pokemon, focusing it, and firing it. It's raw energy. Draco Meteor is much more complicated. It involves much more energy, and controlling each individual comet as it separates from the primary sphere."

"To successfully perform Draco Meteor, one must create the same energy sphere of Dragon Pulse, but it must be amplified. It's a massive drain on the reserves, which is why pokemon that haven't been extensively trained in it tend to be much weaker for the rest of the battle." Lance explained. He emphasized his words with dramatic hand motions. "But if you go beyond so-called mastery of the technique and train until it's little more than any other powerful attack, it will be much more devastating and much less consuming."

"That is where I want Torrent at by the end of the month." Lance boomed, determination in his powerful voice. "He's strong, but not strong enough. The battles he will face against my team shall prepare him. While Draco Meteor can be made efficient, a pokemon must still possess overwhelming power to use it without being severely weakened."

Ash nodded as he paid rapt attention to the Champion's words. Lance believed that they could do it in time, and Ash would do everything he could to help Torrent reach that goal.

"For the rest of the day, I want you to hone your techniques with your other pokemon." Lance said. "We will have another battle tomorrow, against one of my other teammates. Prepare yourself. Come to me if you need my aid."

"What will you be doing?" Ash leaned forward curiously.

Lance smiled. "You aren't the only one that needs to train. This war with Team Rocket has gotten me out of practice. There's no time to train when I'm up to my ears in paperwork or leading raids against Team Rocket. Those useless grunts didn't even put up a challenge." The Champion growled, a hint of the man Team Rocket feared in his tone.

The tension eased from his face. "I apologize. I'm still a little stressed. Regardless, I'll be preparing as well. Saph and my new teammates need to be prepared for future conflict. They're still too inexperienced."

"I understand." Ash said firmly. "Guys, let's head out."

"There's an empty area not too far from here." Lance called out helpfully. "Head to the east. Come back when night falls. I have to explain some things to you."

With that they set off to find their training grounds. Ash silently wondered just what Lance wanted to talk to him about. Perhaps Lance would have talks with him like Bruno had. They had been quite informative and Bruno was a simple enough man that the words didn't go over his head. It would be nice to see the Champion's perspective.

XX

"Everyone, stay here." Ash said as they settled into the large, charred streak of land. He followed the trail of blackened earth and noted that it seemed as though a firestorm had incinerated its way through the island. That was certainly odd. No fire-type he could think of possessed that kind of power, but the burn seemed too controlled for it to have been a wild fire. "I'm equipping some of you with extra TMs. We need everything against Lance and this is the best time to learn."

He removed the TM case from his pack and selected the TMs that he'd gotten extended. Ash looked up to Nidoking. While he didn't want to distract from the attacks he would be teaching his first friend manually, Nidoking needed to learn this one.

Nidoking nodded and bowed his head as he was sucked into the pokeball. Ash, who was well practiced with teaching TMs by now, quickly inserted his pokeball into the TM case before he slid the needed TM into it as well.

The case glowed a dark, malevolent purple as the knowledge of Shadow Ball was transferred into Nidoking's brain. Nidoking already knew Shadow Claw, but he'd prefer that his friend have a way to counter psychics at a long distance.

When he released Nidoking, he quickly gave his friends the TMs he had selected to them.

Dazed received nothing. She had everything she needed to be a devastating threat on the battlefield. He just needed to improve her power and innovate some new strategies. Right now she was exceptional, but he wanted her capable of standing up to anything the Conference could throw at her.

Infernus learned Earthquake. Ash would teach him Focus Blast in the future, but right now he wanted to create a specific technique. While it wouldn't do well against Lance's dragons, it would be almost impossible for any landlocked pokemon to escape. Ash would work with him closely today, along with Oz.

Bruiser was given Focus Blast. From the looks of things he'd managed to handle his own training better than Ash could have, and there weren't any moves Ash could help him learn outside of Superpower. Besides, he needed something to hit foes from a distance. Brick Break would come later, along with Earthquake. Both would be excellent for defeating psychics and elemental pokemon.

Seeker didn't receive any TMs, of course. She was still terrified at the prospect of fighting, and Ash wanted to wait until she was mentally ready before he even thought of putting her into training. Her mind had been horribly scarred from Team Rocket's enslavement. While the League had rehabilitated her, Ash knew that the effects would never leave completely. All he could do was try and keep her happy and stable.

He taught Tangrowth Earthquake. It would be rather useful, especially in conjunction with Ancient Power. Fire-types wouldn't be such a devastating threat any more. Long range attacks were usually difficult against them, but Earthquake would knock them off their feet and destabilize their pyro sacs. Tangrowth could easily take advantage of their distraction.

While Sneasel was beginning to leave his puberty, Ash knew he wasn't ready for new moves yet. He was still too volatile. Sneasel needed to learn control first. That was what he would be working on with Nidoking while the others sparred or were personally overseen by Ash.

Ash decided to push it with Oz. He taught her two TMs instead of one, despite the potential danger. She needed some variety in her move set to guard against dangerous foes. He opted to even it out by teaching the electric-type Brick Break and Double Team. Double Team would help to keep her from taking hits, which was an imperative for Oz. She lacked the sheer fortitude Infernus possessed, although she was certainly tough.

"Tangrowth, I want you and Dazed to spar. Get used to Earthquake and Solar Beam. Dazed, focus on your shields. They need to be able to stand up against anything." Ash directed. His two friends nodded before Dazed teleported off to the distance. Tangrowth waddled after her, his red feet bright against the scarred land.

He thought for a moment. "Bruiser, go with them. Try and get used to Focus Blast. I know you aren't used to energy techniques."

Bruiser nodded and grinned. Seeker chattered after him from where she sat in Ash's pack, which was enough to protect her from the harsh sunlight of the tropics. The machoke gingerly stepped over and patted Seeker's fragile head before he headed off after Tangrowth. Ash smiled at the interaction before he returned to business.

"Nidoking, continue Sneasel's training. After you're done prepping him for Ice Beam, work on his evasion." Ash told his friend. The armored poison-type grunted and lumbered away. Sneasel hissed and dashed after him. He managed to deftly land on Nidoking's neck, just a few inches away from the spines.

"Infernus, Oz, you're with me." He stated. Both seemed pleased to have his attention. Flames lapped around his body and cast the air in a menacing glow. Ash frowned, but not at Infernus' antics. The fire-type seemed more powerful than normal, which was saying something. His flames were brighter and hotter. He could feel them from where he was, ten feet away.

Oz clasped her muscular arms behind her back and swished her striped tail around. Infernus snorted and spat a bit of smoke at her, to which the electabuzz whirred angrily and began to release sparks into the air.

Ash frowned and clapped. "Enough."

Infernus instantly came to attention and laid his focus upon Ash. Oz reacted slower, but she eventually calmed down. She kept a wary eye upon Infernus, however. It was clear that she didn't trust the fire-type. He couldn't blame her.

"Infernus, we're going to work on a new technique today." Ash explained. Infernus' eyes darkened with glee and more of the abnormally powerful flames raced up and down his powerful form. He'd have to keep an eye on his friend. Maybe Lance would have the answers. It would be bad if his suspicions of what influenced the change were true. "I need you to focus, alright?"

After the fire-type gave him an eager nod, Ash turned to Oz. She swished her tail and clasped her human-like hands behind her back again. "I never got the chance to use you in a normal battle. Today, I'm just going to get a look at what you can do."

Oz whirred in understanding. Ash turned to Infernus. "Do you think you can use Earthquake perfectly?"

Infernus nodded and lightly stamped his burning foot against the ground. Ash stumbled backward as tremors ran throughout the scorched earth but managed to catch himself. It was clear that Infernus hadn't put anything behind the attack. At least he knew that Infernus didn't need to practice Earthquake first. The fire-type always had been a fast learner.

Oz whirred in annoyance and swished her tail rapidly as the Earthquake made her trip. She bared her large fangs and lightning erupted in arcs from around her body. An electric current ran through her fur and the sharp scent of ozone pervaded the air.

Ash sighed. "That's enough, Oz. You two can fight each other later. For now I need you to get along."

The electric-type shrugged and backed down, although she still glared at Infernus in dislike. Ash suspected that the two would work out their problems on their own eventually. Their species were similar, as were their personalities. From what he'd seen of Oz so far, she was used to being the best and strove to become stronger through any means necessary. A perfect rival for Infernus, even if it was evident that the fire-type was stronger.

At the very least it was less intense than the way Nidoking despised Oz. He hadn't done anything overt and probably wouldn't do anything to destabilize the team, but the fury he had for her was a slow poison. Ash would have to work on it during this month. Oz would be a good addition to the team. Nidoking needed to get over the protectiveness he felt for the trainer, at least in this case.

"Oz, come back with me." Ash ordered as he started moving away. He could see Nidoking sitting down in front of Sneasel along with his other friends' battle in the background. It looked like Bruiser was holding his own. Tangrowth had a few vines in tatters and was having to lash out to prevent the fighter from getting in close.

When he and Oz were about three hundred feet away, Ash shouted out to Infernus. "Earthquake, then Lava Plume! Blow it all up!"

Even from this distance, he could see Infernus' eyes light up with delight. If the fire-type could have smiled, he no doubt would have had a maniacal grin all over his molten face. Infernus roared and spat a huge stream of disturbingly powerful white flame hundreds of feet into the air before he followed Ash's commands.

Infernus leapt up a few feet off of the ground before he slammed back onto the earth. Flames exploded around him as the world shook and split apart from his power and furious will. The fire-type stamped once more on his island of crumbled, blackened earth.

Ash watched with a wide grin as the earth groaned in response. Smoke suddenly leaked out from the deep crevasses, the only warning before lava exploded out of the earth and landed all over the field. It glowed dangerously as the molten stone oozed out over the surface, but Infernus simply roared and made a few hand motions before it was slowly pulled back into the deepest parts of the earth, although a thin layer of it remained on the surface. Infernus roared again and clenched his fists in order to force the lava to harden and cool.

By the time it ended Infernus stood triumphantly atop a heap of hot, blackened stone that filled in the holes his earthquake had created. The fire-type roared one last time and spat yet another intense stream of flame into the air, a pillar of fire that was like a beacon to the entire island.

Perhaps he'd have to come up with ridiculously destructive techniques more often, he mused. Infernus seemed to be happy with it and had picked up everything even faster than normal. It seemed that he was actually interested in this technique, which Ash decided to call Earth Burn. Perhaps not the most creative name, but it summed it up quite well.

Earth Burn was more devastating than it appeared, which was saying something. The Earthquake would knock down or stun most pokemon, which would leave them completely vulnerable to the true attack. Most trainers would instantly recall their pokemon should the battlefield be enveloped in lava and deep fissures. Those that wouldn't either had exceptionally strong pokemon or flying-types.

He wasn't so sure of its legality in an actual League match thanks to the potential dangers, but it would be useful nonetheless. Ash would just ask Lance about its validity when he got back. While most pokemon would easily survive it thanks to their natural toughness, with such a destructive technique it was best to stay on the safe side.

Aside from the obvious dangers of the Earthquake, fissures, and lava, the sheer heat that would be produced by the lava would be enough to knock out most pokemon in a short time, even if Infernus cooled the lava as he had just done.

"Good job, Infernus!" He shouted happily. Infernus responded with another exultant blast of flame to the sky. Ash smiled and looked around. Most of his friends were looking at Infernus with astounded and sometimes fearful looks. "Everyone, get back to work! It's just a new technique."

They didn't listen immediately, a testament to their shock, but eventually they followed his commands. Ash still had a silly grin on his face as he called Infernus over. He'd have to wait a few hours until he could safely go onto the hardening lava. Dazed could probably remove the heat from it, although he usually used Torrent for jobs like that.

"That was great!" Ash exclaimed when Infernus slunk his way over, his body still wreathed in pure white flame. He would be lying if he said that Infernus' boost in power wasn't disconcerting. There were only a few things he could think of that would make Infernus that much more powerful.

Mt. Ember would certainly make Infernus stronger, but not to this degree. He hadn't gained this much strength even inside the Cinnabar Volcano, although Ash would have to pay attention when he had Infernus work more on his physical power. Ash would have to ask Lance just to be sure.

"We're going to keep on working on that, but I need to see what Oz can do right now." Ash told his friend. Infernus snorted a plume of smoke and shot a derisive glare at Oz. She whirred back, although she didn't create arcs of lightning. Oz looked at Infernus with something resembling respect, although Ash could catch a glimpse of challenge in her angled eyes.

"I only got to see you in the Storm." Ash said to Oz. She nodded and clasped her hands behind her back. "Show me just how strong you are."

Oz nodded and closed her large eyes. She unclasped her hands and began to windmill them furiously. Energy crackled in the air and arcs of electricity surrounded her in an aura of stormy light. Ash watched carefully as she suddenly released all of the harnessed power in an immense bolt of electricity that split the air and caused a great thunderclap to roll through the earth.

Ash smiled. It was quite impressive, although it looked to have tired out Oz. They could work on that. Without the Storm and Zapdos fuelling her, she wasn't nearly as overwhelmingly powerful as before. She was still more than powerful enough to deserve a spot on his team, however, and he would do his best to make sure she felt the power given to her by the Storm again. This time, though, it would be earned, not given.

"Again." He ordered. Oz straightened up and nodded. Electricity ran through her fur as she prepared another blast.

It would be a long day.

XX

"Are you ready?!" Lance shouted with a dangerous grin. He swept a calloused hand through his red hair before he snapped his fingers. "Magnus!"

Magnus plodded forward on its two legs and roared. Ash, who had been waiting for this battle ever since he had gotten back from training with his friends, grinned. Torrent and Plume were both weakened from their earlier beat down at Dragonite's hands and the harsh training they had been put through during the day, but both were more than willing to fight.

"You have five minutes!"

Ash nodded and turned to his pokemon. "Magnus isn't as strong as Dragonite, but don't let your guard down. Nidoking and Oz, hit it with Thunderbolt. Dazed, shield the others and Disable it if you have the opportunity. Plume, harass it with Hurricane and keep it annoyed. Stay behind it if you can. Torrent, if it slows down enough use Hydro Pump. Otherwise do your best to neutralize its flames."

His friends signified their understanding, although Nidoking's eyes were narrowed and slightly glazed at the news that he'd be aiding Oz. The others knew their place. Ash turned to the others, who wouldn't be quite as useful in this fight.

"Infernus, intercept its fire breath every chance you get." Ash directed. "Bruiser, be careful. Only get into the battle if you have no other choice. Stay away from it and only use Focus Blast. Tangrowth, hit it with Ancient Power. Try and trap it if it lands and only use Earthquake if the others are already unconscious."

Infernus roared, Bruiser nodded and grinned with his reptilian face, and Tangrowth gurgled and waved his arms around happily. Ash smiled and patted Tangrowth and Bruiser on their shoulders. "I know you'll do your best. Be careful, alright?"

When most of his friends assured him that they would, Ash went over to Lance's side to watch the battle. Dragonite loomed behind them, the great dragon's eyes locked onto Magnus as the fire-type snapped and thrashed his orange tail around.

"You don't seem to mind staying out of this one, Sneasel." Ash observed as he reached into his pack to let Seeker out. Now that it was dark she didn't have to worry about the sun's painful rays. He smiled when she instantly latched onto his back, although Sneasel's presence forced her to huddle into his chest instead.

Sneasel hissed and spat a puff of frosty air before he pointed at Magnus. Ash noted with a frown that his claws extended right as his paw neared Seeker, although it wasn't close enough to potentially injure her.

Nevertheless, Ash laughed. "I thought you could take on anything. Are you afraid of Magnus?"

The dark-type hissed back a retort. Although Ash couldn't understand it, he figured it was something venomous. "I know. I was just playing."

Sneasel growled and hugged tighter onto his back. Ash rolled his eyes and looked up to Lance. "My friends are ready."

"Good." The Champion smiled. He adjusted his cape before he dramatically pushed his arm out. "Begin!"

Magnus took off with amazing speed. The Charizard was almost as fast as Dragonite. Ash nodded in satisfaction when he saw that each of his friends were more prepared this time.

Plume dashed up into the sky amazingly fast. She easily carved her way through the air and flapped her wings once. Ash's eyes lit up when a powerful gale of wind slammed into Magnus' side, although the monster of a Charizard was only forced a little to the right. It responded with a huge blast of flame, which Plume was barely fast enough to dodge.

While Magnus was distracted, Nidoking and Oz struck. Both Thunderbolts were quite powerful and capable of easily knocking out lesser creatures, but Magnus weathered it without much trouble. It simply blasted the duo with an immense stream of flame in return before it decided to fight for real.

Ash winced as the immense stream of blue flame struck its targets, although he managed to steal a glance at one of Dazed's shields springing forth in front of Nidoking and Oz before the blue fire, even brighter in the twilight, shattered it. He sighed in relief when he saw that the shield managed to protect Nidoking and Oz from the worst of the damage. They were obviously hurt, but they'd keep fighting.

As Magnus ripped through the air and bombarded the clearing with impossibly powerful blue flame, Nidoking and Oz separated from each other. They hadn't had the time to before.

It was then that the rest of the team entered the fray. As Oz and Nidoking did their best to strike the immensely powerful fire-type with electricity, Torrent suddenly began to fire several Dragon Pulses and Hydro Pumps. None of them struck the fire-type, who was visible in the darkness only because of its intensely bright tail flame that left a streak of fire in its wake, but it forced it to dodge.

More attacks joined the fray. Magnus was forced into an impressive display of aerial acrobatics as the glowing silver spheres of Ancient Power, huge Flamethrowers, Thunderbolts, Torrent's barrage, and the odd Psybeam lanced toward it. Plume did her job well. The Champion-level Charizard was unable to respond to the attacks, although it liberally bathed the world in flame as it evaded the assault.

Ash grinned. It looked like even something as powerful as Magnus couldn't stand up to a coordinated assault by six powerful pokemon at once. It was amongst the most powerful pokemon in the world, but it was only mortal.

For a while he simply watched. His friends kept up their barrage, despite the trials they had already been through. He was proud of them. Magnus probably wasn't going all out, but it wasn't going easy on them either. Being out of practice probably hurt Magnus' efforts as well.

He glanced up to see Lance's reaction, but was puzzled when he only saw a slight grin. Lance looked almost dangerous in the red light of Mt. Ember, the peak of which burned high above them.

It didn't take long for Ash to realize why Lance was smiling. Magnus let loose an incredible roar that instinctually made him want to run away. He might have gotten used to Nidoking's roars, but a Charizard's was an entirely different story.

Ash's heart sank when Magnus' tail flame suddenly grew to engulf nearly a quarter of the great beast's muscular tail. It fell even more when the flame shifted from a dark blue into a purely white inferno.

Magnus roared again, and this time fired an immense blast of flame with it. Pure white fire bathed the world as it flew past at an incredible speed, although Magnus paused its path of destruction when Plume used Quick Attack in conjunction with Steel Wing to slam into the beast's side.

The Charizard was sent tumbling through the air by the sheer force behind the blow, but effortlessly recovered and launched itself into motion before Oz and Nidoking could fire their Thunderbolts at it again. As it was, Magnus narrowly avoided another volley of attacks led by Torrent's Hydro Pump.

Ash winced when he heard a loud squawk that could only be Plume's. He knew what happened as Magnus flashed by at a strangely slow pace. It shot a blast of ordinary flame into its small arms before it dropped Plume's huge body, nothing in comparison to the magnificent specimen of a Charizard, onto the ground.

He instantly recalled it and only had the time to look up before Magnus continued its ruthless pace. It swooped down where Ash knew Tangrowth and Bruiser to be hiding and fire a tiny, albeit intensely bright, fire ball straight at them. One of Dazed's shields erupted in front of them, but the fire ball easily incinerated it and struck the duo.

The trainer went ahead and recalled the two, well aware that there wasn't even the faintest hope of victory now. Magnus was done playing.

Magnus roared again and suddenly vanished as wind whistled through the air. Ash's eyes widened as he realized that the Charizard had used Tailwind. He could hardly believe it. Plume had likely been using a weak version of it to improve her speed during the fight, although the quarters were too tight for her to take advantage of the full powered version, and Magnus had still kept up with her.

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