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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97. The Festival Part 2

That Protect had to have exhausted him. It was a bit of a last resort. Protect was exhausting even for fully evolved pokemon, let alone a tiny Aron who'd been getting pummeled with Water Guns for the last few minutes. Even if it wasn't fully developed (Ash expected a reasonably strong Thunderbolt from Oz would pierce the shield) it was a vast undertaking for Aron.

"I'm proud of you! One more!"

"You're not gonna last this one, Ash!" Leo shouted, a wild grin Ash recognized all too well splayed over his features. The tan boy pointed fiercely as he released a Torkoal. Ash examined the large fire-type curiously – he didn't think he'd ever seen one in person.

Torkoal was a fairly unique fire-type. The orange tortoise held a reputation for being a terror on the battlefield for the unprepared. It shared more than a few similarities with rock-types, namely a level of durability most beginning trainers just couldn't penetrate. They tended to get demoralized when even their strongest attacks were just brushed away like nothing.

The Coal Pokemon wasn't lacking in offense either. If it was well fed on coal it could stand on even footing with powerful pokemon like Charmeleon, Ninetales, and Flareon with little effort. As such it was one of those few pokemon with no natural predators – it just wasn't worth the time or risk to hunt when Spoink were all over the place in its natural habitat of Mt. Chimney.

To be honest Ash was a bit impressed Leo had managed to find one. They were fairly elusive. If he remembered the PokeDex data this one was fairly young – it was a lighter shade of orange than mature Torkoal and its shell was relatively small. He wouldn't put it past six months or so.

Not that that really mattered in the present situation. Torkoal was still a powerhouse in a matchup against a battered Aron. It'd be tough to pull this one off, though Ash though he might manage to do it…he just had to hope that Torkoal's flames weren't especially hot yet.

"Begin!"

Smoke exploded from Torkoal's shell as it lumbered into action and a sound like a locomotive engine split the air. Ash ignored the intimidation tactic but Aron flinched – just what their opponents needed.

"Rock Tomb!" Ash shouted, desperately hoping to regain some momentum even as Leo ordered, "Torkoal, use Flame Wheel and end this!"

Ash grimaced as another engine roar rumbled through the air. Torkoal exploded once more in flames, red-orange glows emerging from the pits in its shell, and charged as quickly as it could.

Okay, so its speed wasn't impressive. Sneasel would've loved to run circles around the fire-type, jabbing with his claws and irritating gusts of Icy Wind. But that wasn't an option for Aron, who was scarcely any faster than the tortoise currently sprinting at him.

Aron was quick to catch on, thankfully, and focused for just a few seconds. Just as Ash feared Torkoal would actually manage to close the distance a spear of stone exploded up directly beneath Torkoal, hurling the heavy fire-type several feet up in the air before the juvenile Torkoal landed heavily, clouded in burning hot steam as it rolled up onto its feet. Ash glanced at Aron, desperately hoping he had the energy to press the attack, but the steel-type was hardly even able to stand by now.

"Mud-Slap!" He snapped. With any luck Aron would be able to get one last attack out before Torkoal reached him and ended the match. Leo didn't seem to be willing to let that happen, though.

"You've got it, Torkoal!" The boy shouted. Ash could see how bad he was shaking (he knew that feeling) even from here. "Use Ember to finish this!"

By the time Leo had actually managed to finish his order Aron had already struck. A veritable torrent of dust and dirt crashed into Torkoal – his teammate had put every last bit of strength he had into that attack.

It wasn't enough. Ash's lips formed a hard, thin line as Torkoal emerged from the blast crippled but ultimately in fair shape. The steam was weaker now and it was even slower, but that didn't matter. Aron was in no shape to play a game of Meowth-and-Pikachu.

"Protect! Just one more time," he said comfortingly to Aron. His friend was dazed, wobbling on his feet, and honestly about to pass out, and Ash couldn't say how proud he was of Aron when he allowed his feet to fall out from under his hard body and manifested a firm shield of protective energy in front of him. It wavered and shimmered dangerously, but it held firm: every bit of the fiery flurry Torkoal belched his way was absorbed.

And then it was over. Torkoal had charged the whole time and slammed into Aron with enough force to send his heavy, compact body flying out of bounds – if Dazed hadn't caught him in a psychic embrace he would've landed painfully. As it was Ash just smiled softly at the unconscious Aron and rubbed his domed head soothingly.

"You did great…" he murmured. Aron blinked his big blue eyes, licked Ash's hand (even that one brush left his skin pink and raw), and prassed out. Ash pet him a few more times before he pulled his hand away. He looked at Dazed. "Can you put him down? I'm going to talk to –"

"YES!" Ash almost flinched at just how loud Leo was. Torkoal joining in with more rumbles and blasts of air and flame from its heavy shell didn't help matters. Still, he couldn't blame the boy. It wasn't like he wouldn't have reacted any differently if he'd pulled off something like that as a newbie trainer. He'd been there just a year ago. "I beat one of Ash Ketchum's team! Did you guys see that?! This is awesome! You're awesome, Torkoal – I can't wait to get Electrike and Wingull back on their feet so I can tell them we won!"

Ash snorted. Well, at least Leo had his priorities in order. He'd have been disappointed if he'd lost to someone who didn't care for their team. As it was he considered the money he'd lost and the bragging right fairly well deserved. Leo would be a good trainer given time. Probably not on Jonathan or Amelia's level but at least good enough to reach the Conference this year or the next.

He walked across the battlefield, easily sidestepping the scattered walls and spires of rock Aron had raised. It looked like one of the trainers hanging around (at least one of the few that weren't staring at him) had their Graveler out to start fixing up the battlefield. Ash sent the girl a nod of thanks. She saved Dazed quite a bit of trouble there.

Leo was practically surrounded by a group of trainers the same age as he was, though they backed off when Ash stepped up. The younger trainer looked at Ash with a wide grin. "Hey, man. Good match, right? That Aron of yours is awesome!"

"He really is," Ash said fondly. He shook his head and shook Leo's hand. "Good job, Leo. Aron's my newest teammate but I have been training him for several weeks now. Not too many rookie trainers could've pulled that off."

"Thanks!" The boy noticeably perked up. "How'd you get Aron to be so strong so fast?"

"It helps having a developed team," he explained absentmindedly. "They can push each other on their own time, plus they've already jumped through the same hurdles. Nidoking is close enough to Aron's style that he can help a lot."

The trainers circling him nodded knowingly, probably filing every word he said into memory. Ash was the same way with Steven – and there was an odd thought. He'd never expected anyone would look up to him like he did Lance or Steven.

But here he was.

"You good?" One of the trainers, a rather tall boy with a Zigzagoon at his side asked. Ash just nodded, though he grimaced as a pulse of icy fire seared through his veins. There wasn't any emotion behind it, though, just feedback.

What was that? Mewtwo wouldn't be interested in this sort of practice battle.

He realized they were starting to stare. Ash shook it off and glanced back to his former opponent. "Your Torkoal is pretty strong. Where'd you find it?"

"She's a gift from my brother," Leo puffed up proudly. Torkoal grumbled from his side, affectionately bumping into the rookie's leg. "He has her dad on his team. Once Mike hatched Furnace here he gave her to me!"

Ash nodded again. Made sense – it seemed like a lot of trainers with older siblings got a bit of a boost from them. It almost made him wish he had a brother or sister of his own. That'd have been interesting if nothing else. Would they be as strong as him?

"So we were thinking, since you don't seem to be here with anyone do you want to hang out with us for the day?" Leo said the words so fast it took a second for Ash to comprehend them.

He didn't answer for a few moments, puzzling over things in his head. Ash paused for a moment as Dazed shuffled up next to them. Only a few of the kids looked nervous. That was something he could respect.

"I mean it's fine if you don't. I bet you're really busy doing strong trainer stuff –"

"Sure."

All the kids brightened. Ash wondered if he was making a mistake. It would be pretty nice to just read his book and spend some time with his team but…

Well, it might be nice to be around people his own age. And if he could help them become better trainers then all the better. If he got tired of them he'd just ditch them. There were still several hours before he had to be at the arena – more than enough time to relax.

"Well let's go! You've never been to the festival before, right? There's a million things here…I figure it's too late to join any tournaments today but we can look and see so many different displays and stuff. Sam and I know this city by heart!" Leo grinned. Ash hesitantly smiled as he recalled Aron. Dazed just watched, more amused than anything.

Maybe this wouldn't be so bad after all.

XX

It turned out fine, he decided as he stepped into the arena. They were a bit energetic for his tastes but they weren't bad people. He thought they'd be strong in time. Samantha was already fairly accomplished in her second year of training and would probably reach the Ever Grande Conference.

And the others weren't too shabby themselves, though they ran the gamut from acceptable to skilled. Ash, Jonathan, and Amelia would've made short work of the majority even two or three months into their journey but that wasn't a fair comparison. They weren't exactly average.

Maybe he'd manage to get them to plan ahead a little bit. At the very least they'd picked up a few things from Ash: diet plans, avoiding overwork, strategies, and plenty of other tactical decisions. He didn't think they'd be able to pull of his normal tactics but it might open their eyes to possibilities beyond the norm.

But most of all it felt nice to be treated like he was the one in charge. Ash loved training with Steven and getting to know the former Champion better but it could be grating taking orders all the time…those kids looked up to him, respected him. Some had even decided to get their trainer license because of him.

What was he even supposed to say to that?

Ash sighed as he stepped past the threshold. The arena was honestly as spectacular as the Indigo Stadium…it didn't have the same presence and weight to it but there was something magnificent about its elegance and sheer size. Red, sheer walls dominated the sky around him, jutting up like artificial mountains. The amount of time and effort that must've gone into its design and construction was absolutely amazing.

He glanced down at the flyer one of the attendants ushering people into the complex had handed out.

The Slateport Contest Stadium! One of the greatest architectural feats in Hoenn and the largest arena in the world. It can hold upwards of 150,000 spectators and is built around a platform that can be used for Contests, concerts, and other fantastic events!

After that he didn't see the point in reading. It was just a bunch of ticket prices and other information about its history that he didn't really have the time for. He didn't have to pay thanks to his League membership. One of the many perks of the job, he supposed, even though he'd gotten an odd look from the attendant.

All he knew was that he was supposed to be finding Steven in a crowd that could easily number in the tens of thousands. It was hard enough to get through the crowd, even with Bruiser helpfully reminding people that they should probably get out of his way.

"His message only said that he'd be in the building," Ash complained to Bruiser as they stepped into the Contest Hall proper. They skipped right past most people who were milling about or buying food and drinks for the show. It was crazy how many people had already decided to show up…the contest didn't even start for another two hours! "You'd think he could be a little more specific, right?"

Bruiser nodded, looking around at all the people curiously. He seemed a lot more comfortable than Ash was, though Bruiser keeping a powerful hand on Ash's shoulder definitely calmed him a tad. It reminded him he wasn't about to get lost in these crowds, no matter how suffocating they might be.

"I'll call him if we don't find him soon," he grumbled. Ash just barely managed to step out of the way of a 'large' man who somehow managed to carry his entire family's drinks and snacks as well as two small kids hanging onto his shoulders. "I wonder where we'll end up tonight? Steven sounded like he had a plan already –"

He flinched as the video screens that practically covered the walls suddenly flared to life and the lights dimmed. Ash and Bruiser glanced around, though once the lights in the auditorium focused on a small stage raised high above the rest of the massive room (at least as large as the battlefield in the Indigo stadium, he estimated) he got an idea of what was going on.

"Hi everybody! Lisia here!" The slim girl standing on stage with the Altaria he'd seen back in Sootopolis cheered. Ash blinked when practically the entire auditorium stopped whatever they were doing and paid rapt attention. He'd known Coordinators were popular but really? "Me and my Altaria, Ali," the flying-type helpfully chirped and spread its fluffy white wings at its name as Lisia giggled, "have come to Slateport City's Contest Hall for a bit of fun! I'd like to welcome everyone to this year's Summer Festival! I've only been here for a few hours and I'm already having a blast!"

Ash raised an eyebrow at all the cheers. The whole arena practically shook. He really didn't get humans. Lisia seemed nice enough but he didn't get her fans. They were a bit…obsessed.

Despite himself he started slipping through the crowd. Bruiser was just courteous enough to not utterly bowl everyone in his path over. It wasn't too hard with most of the attention being focused on the stage. Soon enough he'd found himself fairly close to it, hoping that Steven might be around somewhere.

It was a slim chance but at this point he figured he had nothing to lose.

"But today I have a special announcement!" She declared, striking a little pose. Ash smirked. Lisia knew how to appeal to her fans if nothing else. Ali preened under the attention. He squinted – was that glitter in its cloudlike wings? Once the crowd had settled she continued. "Today I am going to bring a brand new trainer into the fantastic world of Coordinating! They'll get the chance to compete in the tournament today and have the chance to meet amazing Coordinators like Daisy Oak and my wonderful uncle Wallace!"

He grimaced at the roar from the crowd. Maybe it was time to head into the stadium and contact Steven. This wasn't helping his headache in the least. And for some reason Mewtwo's power was pulsing erratically through his veins, filling his head with rage and…something else. Confusion? Could it be fear?

Ash was a bit more worried by the fact that he didn't even get an acerbic response from the Shade of Mew, though Lisia was able to snap his attention back to her for now.

"So…" Lisia trailed off intentionally, glancing around the eager trainers at the front of her stage. Most people had quieted down, more curious about who she'd pick than anything. Ash was just glad he'd stayed a few rows away from the stage. "Who should I pick? Eenie, meenie, minie…"

"Hey! Lisia!" A painfully familiar voice split the air from right behind him. Ash flinched when he felt his left arm gripped in a soft hand and forcefully raised up in the air. And, even worse, Lisia was looking right at them with a bright smile on her pretty face.

Considering what that meant it was one of the most terrifying things he'd ever seen. Ash looked over at Bruiser, desperately hoping he'd help him out of this. The Machoke just shrugged. It seemed that he wasn't the only one out of his element.

"Hey Daisy!" Lisia chirped. She leaned forward on stage. All eyes were on Ash and Daisy right now and he felt a little sick. "Do you think you've found a good future Coordinator?"

"Oh yeah!" Daisy shouted back, practically basking in all the attention. Gardevoir's willowy shape hung in the air beside her. Ash distracted himself by meeting her sharp scarlet eyes. Was it normal to prefer staring at something that had once threatened to kill him over a few thousand people? "He's right here – I know he'll do great!"

Lisia beamed. "Okey dokey! Come on up!"

Daisy leaned down and whispered into his ear, "Chin up, Ashy. You've got this."

And with that she affectionately stole his hat, ruffled his hair, and gently pushed him forward into the crowd. If Bruiser weren't here to calm him down Ash would've had a far harder time forcing himself to pass through. As it was his heart pounded, his skin grew moist and clammy and itchy, and he was afraid he'd lose some of the sweets he'd been force fed during his outing with Leo and his crew of friends.

He silently cursed Steven for ever suggesting they enter this stupid arena.

A minute or so later he was up on the stage with Lisia. She winked at him. Ash was pretty sure he just looked like he was about to throw up. If he looked half as bad as he felt…well, maybe he'd get lucky and Lisia would choose someone else.

"So what's your name?" Lisia put the microphone up to his mouth and smiled encouragingly at him. Ali chirped too, gently brushing a fluffy wing up against both Ash and Bruiser. Despite himself Ash had to admit Lisia really was pretty.

"Ash Ketchum," he managed to choke out. Why couldn't this be as easy as battling in front of thousands of people? Ash didn't miss the way a lot of heads snapped his way – not everyone knew what he looked like but most had at least heard his name. He'd made waves in the Indigo Conference.

"Thank you, Ash! Have you ever been in a Contest before?"

"Never."

"That's what I like to hear!" Lisia cheered again. She waved to the crowd. "I know you'll do great! You have a fantastic team."

"Thanks," Ash tried to smile. It came out as more of a grimace.

Lisia just patted him on the arm. "That's the spirit! Now, I'd like everyone to give this lucky contestant a round of applause! I know that I just can't wait to see his debut later!"

The applause was a bit more familiar. Ash managed to find himself relaxing just a tad, especially once Lisia finished blowing kisses to her adoring fans and led him down.

"It's fantastic to see you again!" She grinned a bit more normally at him before giving him a quick hug. Ash froze but squeezed back more out of habit than anything. Lisia giggled but stared at him hard for a second. "It's too bad you never called me, Ash. It would have been nice to keep in touch."

Ash winced as she led him and Bruiser through a maze of surprisingly bare hallways. That made him feel like kind of a Gary. "Sorry, Lisia," he said. "I just had some…League stuff to take care of. It's been a busy few months."

"I gotcha!" Lisia didn't seem to be too offended. If anything she seemed more relaxed. "Don't worry about it – I know how busy all of you Elite Four and Champions get! I barely ever have time to see my uncle anymore."

That brought something she'd said earlier to his mind. "Your uncle is Champion Wallace?" Ash asked. He looked at her more closely. He could see the resemblance now that he thought about it – not too many people had hair like that.

"Yep!" Lisia showed him into a dressing room of some sort. It had all sorts of outfits, cosmetics he could only guess the purpose of, and mirrors all over the place. "Okay, here's your room!" She gestured grandly at the wardrobes. "You can check in there and see if there's an outfit you'll like. There should be a few in your size!"

Ash smiled, his nerves finally unwinding. It was hard to stay upset for some reason. "Thanks, Lisia."

"Of course!" She winked and strode over to the door. "I'll give you some privacy! Daisy and I will be back in a few minutes, okay?"

He just nodded and stepped further into the room. It was foreign but that wasn't really a bad thing. Ash sniffed – it smelled so unlike the woods that it almost shocked him. Even his mom's bathroom in Pallet didn't smell so…girly.

"Looks like we're stuck with this," he sighed to Bruiser. The Machoke just snorted and hid a smile. Ash arched an eyebrow as he headed over to the wardrobe. He'd rather not keep the girls waiting. Daisy would be bad enough already with the teasing. He didn't need to irritate her. "Hey, don't laugh. I could always enter you as my pokemon.

Ash smirked when Bruiser shut down pretty quick. The Machoke was curious about humans but that didn't mean he wanted to be paraded in front of them. And that just led into another question…which of his team was he going to enter? To be honest Ash couldn't think of a single member who would actually enjoy this.

Nidoking would be too wouldn't care one way or another but would only do it if Ash asked. He already knew Dazed's opinion on Contests. Infernus…no, never. Seeker was too shy. Tangrowth might accidentally tear down the arena. Oz would just be bored by the whole spectacle. Sneasel might have a little too much fun with the other pokemon in the combat round. Aron wasn't in any shape to enter right now, though he was healing pretty well thanks to liberal application of potions.

He sighed. Plume might be his best bet. The only problem with her would be getting her to slow down enough that the audience could actually see her. If he was going to be forced into doing this he'd at least try and do his best – no point in embrassing himself even more than he had to.

One challenge at a time though. Right now he had to check out these outfits.

Ash sighed and opened up the wardrobe. He blinked as he saw all the gaudy outfits that would be ripped to shreds in about an hour in the wilderness. How was he even supposed to put one of these on? And what was wrong with his normal outfit?

"Crap…"

XX

"It looks ridiculous," he complained. Ash was just grateful only Bruiser was here to see the outfit he'd be using…even the fighting-type looked like he wanted to burst out laughing. He'd even caught the Machoke's shoulders shaking a few times.

"No you'll look cute!" Daisy teased from where she was sprawled out on the couch. She and Gardevoir were perfectly at home in his dressing room and had pretty much appropriated it from Ash and Bruiser. Bruiser just spent his time glaring daggers at Gardevoir – it seemed like news of what she'd done had circulated through the whole team. "I can think of a certain famous Coordinator who'd love to see you right now!"

"Don't talk about the Champion like that," Ash rolled his eyes as he struggled not to claw at his neck. He could tell the stupid shirt was going to be so tight around his neck that it would be almost suffocating – he still hadn't gotten used to the thought of it and it had been nearly an hour since Daisy had barged her way in and forced him to pick this one (which was the lesser of the many evils in Ash's opinion).

It was tight and uncomfortable. The color scheme wasn't too bad – red and black couldn't be complained about. But the artificial fur covering one shoulder and basically everything about how the outfit looked made him feel like an idiot.

"Okay, that's just mean," Daisy giggled. "But touché."

Despite himself Ash couldn't help the slight smile that sprung up. "Did you have to volunteer me?" He grumbled. "I don't even know what I'm supposed to do."

Daisy rolled her eyes. "Stop complaining, Ashy. It was mostly Lisia's idea in the first place. And don't worry, you've got an awesome coach right here!"

"Bruiser does have a lot of Contest experience," Ash snorted as he tried to see if he could angle his hat low enough to hide his entire face. He wasn't having much luck right now.

"Very funny," the older girl laughed. She turned a tad more serious as the door opened and Lisia walked in. For once her Altaria wasn't trailing at her heels. "Hey, Lisia. Where's Wallace?"

Lisia sighed and put her hands on her hips. "I don't know. Him and Steven were supposed to come meet us here but they got a call or something. It sounded serious."

Ash's eyes narrowed as he turned to look at the girl. "What? When?"

"Just now," the Coordinator sighed as she slipped elegantly into a big, fluffy chair. It was covered in clothes and accessories but she didn't seem to mind. "Steven was upset, though. He did that thing where he shuts down and gets really quiet."

He frowned. Ash knew that all too well – Steven had been in that sort of grim mood the entire time they were fighting Hunter J and the Rockets. What was going on? Another attack? Were the Rockets showing their hand?

Nothing so mundane, Storm-Tamer.

Ash's dark eyes flashed to Gardevoir where she hovered gracefully in the air. She hadn't broadcasted that to anyone else. Not even Bruiser. What was going on?

A disturbance. Its nature will be revealed to you soon enough. For now just play along.

He scowled but didn't say anything quite yet. Ash's hand hovered to his PokeNav. There weren't any messages yet. Ash tuned out Daisy and Lisia's idle chatter as his mind flitted between ideas and concerns in a blur…the icy fire of Mewtwo's power had calmed, though the fact that it had been erratic at all was something to be concerned with.

Had Mewtwo sensed something to do with the Rockets? He knew the psychic had a less than cordial history with them, though Ash could only glean tiny glimpses of knowledge from when they'd met and merged on New Island.

Ash took a breath and tried to relax. Steven would've contacted him if it was important. It was probably just something personal – maybe they'd gotten some more news from Pierce? He figured the former Executive was locked up somewhere in Hoenn.

"So, what are you planning?" Lisia directed at him. Ash paused. That was a good question. "We'd love to help you with your performance! Daisy tells me you have a beautiful Pidgeot – it would be amazing to see her in action."

Daisy leaned over to Lisia and muttered something in her ear. Ash just cocked his head quizzically when Lisia's pale face flushed bright red – it was a strange contrast with her turquoise hair.

Ash thought about asking what all that was about but he wasn't sure if he really wanted to know. Especially not with how flustered Lisia looked right now. Sometimes it was just better to ignore things when Daisy was around.

"Plume's probably who I'll go with. I need to release her soon," Ash admitted. To be honest he was glad for the distraction…without Lisia and Daisy around he'd probably be stuck chasing ghosts in his own mind. He just couldn't imagine what had Steven so worried…

"Okay!" The Coordinator grinned. She glanced over at Daisy. "You're the one with a Pidgeot. Will you show him the Feather Flutter? Or maybe –"

"Not now," Daisy grinned. She waggled a finger in Ash's direction. "Sorry, Ash, but I don't think you're quite ready for my secret techniques. They're a lot to take in."

He shook his head, exasperated. "Of course," he said drily. "They're beyond me."

"Naturally," the older girl said sagely. She glanced at Gardevoir. "Want to help him out a little bit?"

Check your PokeNav….now.

Ash frowned even as the alert went off. He waved Daisy's questions away as he snapped the device open, quick to check his messages. His blood ran cold when he saw it was an emergency call from Lance.

This didn't bode well.

"Lance?" Ash's voice was hard and cold. The Coordinators were noticeably unnerved as he seamlessly went from casual to business. Bruiser took his place at his side.

"Ash!" Came the crackled reply. He winced at the noise, though he held the PokeNav as close to his ear as he could nonetheless. This was too important to allow a little discomfort to get in the way. "We need you in Greenfield immediately!"

Greenfield? Fire, Ice, and Lightning flared in unison and his gut felt like it had been switched out for a big block of lead.

"What's going on?" He demanded of the Indigo Champion. Daisy hurriedly flipped on one of the TVs and put it to one of the national news channels, only to freeze as it settled on a frozen, distorted image of a vast wasteland of sculpted purple crystal that seemingly devoured miles of land in an instant. His hands shook with fury as he stared at the shocking picture, though he snapped back into attention when he heard the terrifying roar of a Gyarados, then the roars of a dozen furious explosions. "Lance!"

"Call Bob and get to Greenfield," Lance's voice was short and hard. He sounded out of breath – or injured. The Indigo Champion gasped into the phone, "We need you here immediately Ash. We don't know what this is but it has to be Legendary. Get here at once. I have – shit! Bruno, watch out! Here it –"

The call cut out. Ash stared at the PokeNav's blank screen. He knew his skin had gone far paler than usual – even whiter than when he'd been volunteered for the Contest.

How had he been worried about that? With these new events unfolding it just seemed like a bad, petty joke.

"Ash, what –" Daisy's eyes were still locked on the image of Greenfield…or what used to be Greenfield. It was utterly unrecognizable now. What used to be lush fields of grass and flowers were no more. Instead an utterly alien surface dominated it, dominating what must have been several square miles of land. Even the Hale Mansion was barely unrecognizable – Ash could hardly recognize it as the beautiful home he'd visited as a child. Now it just looked like a crystalline flower more than anything.

He looked away. "Not now," Ash cut the Oak off with a scowl. With the stakes in mind he mentally summoned Bob, grateful when the Alakazam manifested almost immediately in the dressing room. What worried him was that Bob actually seemed uneasy.

Considering the smug Alakazam had hardly been concerned during the cataclysmic clash between the Birds…

Trainee Ketchum. We'd best get going. For some reason the Champion seems to require your talents once more.

At least Bob still sounded as snide as ever. Right now that was something that actually made Ash feel a little better. He quickly recalled Bruiser and tried to relax. Fear and anxiety wouldn't help him now.

"You know what to do."

Obviously. I hope you do as well. If your abilities are on the level of your fashion sense we're all doomed.

Ash looked down and grimaced at the realization he was still holding the stupid Coordinator outfit. The only silver lining was that he wouldn't be barging into this mess with it on. That would've been a nightmare.

But he was missing something…Ash had barely even noticed the feeling before he reflexively caught his hat. Daisy waved at him from where she'd thrown it. He'd almost forgotten that she'd never given it back.

"Fix this," she said, steel in her eyes. Ash nodded.

"Stay safe," Lisia whispered. Ash dipped his head in acceptance. The girl looked like she was about to panic – it was clear she wasn't a fighter.

If you're done wasting time…

"Take me there."

Ash felt a slight tug and Bob's eyes shone with Mewtwo's borrowed power. The girls shied away from the terrible brightness of twin suns burning fiercely in the Alakazam's sockets, Ash grimaced as he shifted through space and time, and he emerged in a nightmare.

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