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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80. The Fighter Part 3

While with the advent of widespread teleportation, spacial manipulation and storage technology the trade routes that were once its lifeblood have dried up, Dewford remains an important part of Hoenn that survives due to its key position in Hoenn's southern sphere, tourism, and the many rare pokemon that can be found within it.

Now –

Ash shook himself back to earth. With Dazed essentially repeating the words back to him over and over again he'd memorized much more than he would have usually. It was as if he'd read it dozens of times rather than three or four.

That was only the beginning of the chapter, too. Everything Cynthia outlined there and more were expanded on for what seemed like an eternity before she moved onto her next topic. The Sinnoh Champion was meticulous if nothing else – Ash couldn't even imagine how long it had taken her to compile this information.

He focused on the Gym and put all thoughts of history out of his mind. Ash could always read more later.

But he still had to admire the simple, practical nature of the Dewford Gym. It certainly didn't possess the elegance of the Mossdeep Gym or the ostentatious presence of Sootopolis' but it was more than enough to do its job.

To be honest, it reminded him of the Dojo he'd challenged in Saffron. He just hoped that it would be more of a challenge, even if his team was far superior to what they'd been when they won the Black Belt.

"Dude, what's up?" He heard from behind him, towards the cliffs the Dewford Gym overlooked. After Ash stiffened in surprise the mellow voice continued. "You lookin' for something?"

"Just a battle," Ash grinned and turned to face the newcomer, eying the man curiously. He was shirtless and wore only loose, light blue shirts, sandals, and black gloves with orange accents. Around his shorts several pokeballs were belted, securely clasped on. "Think you could give me one?"

The lightly built man smiled and ran a gloved hand – Ash could see that it was torn in some places, with spots of blood oozing out from the ripped material – through his wild, wind-swept blue hair. "Well, I did just get done climbing the cliffs, but as the Dewford Gym Leader Brawly, I can't turn down a challenge like that!"

Ash nodded and his savage smile only lengthened. He paused to adjust his hat farther over his eyes – the midday sun pounded on these cliffs with all the intensity he'd come to expect from Hoenn and the spray of water crashing against the cliffs reached even to this high point.

"What's your name, kid?" Brawly drawled. "I don't like Trainer IDs. Kills the connection a good name has."

"I'm Ash Ketchum," he replied, taking a bit of pleasure at seeing Brawly's eyes widen. Maybe he didn't want to get swarmed, but Ash had to admit that having a powerful opponent like Brawly know who him by reputation was more than a little gratifying.

Brawly glanced him over. "Well, Ash Ketchum, it's nice to meet you. You're making waves around these parts, you know. Can't tell you how many Dewford kids have come up to the Gym with a passion for training I've never seen after they watched you battle – and anyone that can inspire so many people like that is someone I can appreciate!"

Ash nodded, taken aback at Brawly's words. He hadn't expected something like that – never expected to really inspire anyone. All he'd been there to do was fight and prove to the world just how far he had come since he set out from his little town with a little Nidoran at his side.

"I was a little tired, but you've got my blood pumping now!" Brawly folded his arms confidently. "Nothing like a good battle to wrap up the day! Nic!"

An Alakazam appeared as if from nowhere, its relatively small mustache marking it as female. She waited patiently for Brawly – evidently her charge as a member of what was probably Hoenn's Teleportation Squad – to speak.

"I'm thinking this battle might make too big of a splash for my Gym to handle!" The Gym Leader smiled. "Take us to the beach!"

The Alakazam nodded, although she didn't bother to broadcast her response into Ash's head – it made Brawly flinch at first, though. She did offer him enough courtesy to glance at him before her eyes flashed and space warped around him, depositing them on a long stretch of sand with nary a flash.

She did allow the edges of her mustache to quirk upward and gave him a nod once they were safely deposited, her eyes flashing a bit with curiosity.

ENJOY YOUR BATTLE, STORM-TAMER! BRAWLY WILL RELISH AN OPPONENT SUCH AS YOU!

Ash nodded quickly, although he squeezed his eyes shut as the Alakazam bellowed into his mind – that wasn't what he'd expect from any of her breed. Ever. No wonder Brawly had twitched.

FAREWELL!

And with that she vanished with scarcely a ripple...only to reappear on an outcropping of rock that jutted out from the cliffs that towered to the side of them. Her spoons were held out in front of her, lined with psychic energy.

She'd be maintaining their safety, then.

"She's a passionate one," Ash muttered.

"Yeah, she's got a spirit most Alakazam can't match!" Brawly shouted from where he stood across the beach. "She's trained with me since she was an Abra. My team and I trained with her in the harsh waves of Dewford's beaches and in the blackness of Granite Cave! We have trained our bodies relentlessly to become the best that Dewford has to offer, so I hope you're ready!"

Ash nodded, the slight shake of his hand as it moved to Bruiser's pokeball the only indication of his own excitement. His blood pumped and he felt his mind kick into overdrive, analyzing everything around him in preparation for the battle.

The sand would slow most of his friends down. Nidoking would have trouble using most of his techniques – the earth was buried beneath endless tons of the fine grains and all Earthquake would do was kick up a massive wave of the stuff. Useful, but he doubted Nidoking would make an appearance.

Bruiser had little experience training on sand, so he would need a moment to adjust his footing. He'd have to compensate a bit to make sure his strikes wouldn't be weakened but it shouldn't take too long.

Sneasel would be a good addition, although he too lacked experience fighting on a beach. The waves crashing down on the shore would make it simple to transform the beach to his advantage. It would be child's play for him to freeze the water and create a thin layer of ice on the shoreline, not to mention if Torrent was released to spray down the entire beach.

Oz would be relatively neutral – she was mostly a stationary fighter, and if they fought correctly Brawly's close-quarters team would be defeated before they could touch her. If they did make it she'd focus less on physical blows and more on using her electricity to its utmost.

He glanced to the sheer cliff face but ignored it. Ash would rather not tear the cliff to the ground – Dewford might not appreciate that very much. Maybe he would if he actually knew where this beach was, but as of now he only knew it was probably somewhere on Dewford, although technically Alakazam could have teleported the two of them anywhere within a radius of at least a hundred miles.

THIS WILL BE A TWO-ON-TWO BATTLE. BATTLE WILL CONTINUE UNTIL A FIGHTER IS UNCONSCIOUS, SURRENDERS, OR IS RECALLED. BEGIN!

Ash didn't react to the psychic bellow this time other than to release Bruiser. He wanted to see where Bruiser stood next to Brawly's expertly trained team – he hadn't had the opportunity to match him against many fighting-types since they trained with Bruno, let alone ones of the tier of Brawly's best warriors.

Bruiser dipped his head to Brawly in acknowledgement of the Gym Leader as an obvious fighter, and eyed the massive Hariyama that materialized moments later. He cracked his knuckles and squared himself, allowing his feet to grind into the sand.

"Hariyama is my most powerful brother!" Brawly shouted. Hariyama assumed his own stance, with a single massive palm – it was almost as large as Ash's torso – facing outward and another thrown out behind him to balance the bulky creature's huge weight. "We have trained together for years, honing our strength to new heights!"

Hariyama's eyes never left Bruiser's. The giant fighting-type slowly stepped forward, arms held perfectly straight. There was a clear-cut technique to its movements that Bruiser clearly lacked – this was an ultimate example of the fighting-type, all raw power delicately tempered by control and discipline borne of countless hours training.

"Careful," Ash warned his friend even as he reached down to his belt to release Aron – he wanted the little steel-type to watch this. "Hariyama's all muscle. I doubt he's as strong as you, but he's as close as you're liable to find."

Bruiser nodded and took his own step forward, accepting Hariyama's challenge. He dipped his head once and then the battle was joined.

Ash folded his arms back and remained silent as Bruiser shaped a single massive Focus Blast in his hands and hurled the sphere of energy at Hariyama's bulk, although the fighter's stance left as little of him open to an attack like that as possible.

Personally, Ash would have had Bruiser use Multisphere to kick up some sand and then charge Hariyama. But Bruiser wasn't Ash. He fought in a much more straightforward manner, relying solely on his own strength when possible rather than twisting the environment to his advantage as Ash loved to do.

But he wouldn't interfere. This was Bruiser's fight, Bruiser's test. It wasn't his place.

Then Hariyama surprised him quite a bit by simply slapping the sphere away from his body with a swift, well-practiced movement. Hariyama's eyes narrowed in amusement at the deflection and quickly squared itself into a position but at that point it was too late – Bruiser was almost upon him.

Bruiser didn't bother to slip into any of his techniques yet – there were no swirls of flame or wisps of frost traced in the air. No, this was a test.

Heavy blows powerful enough to knock most pokemon back a dozen feet and punch through both weaker pokemon and human like wet tissue paper were slugged around with casual effort, each a mere test of Hariyama's defense.

Hariyama didn't disappoint. It was not blessed with especially great movement speed, but it had trained its reactions beyond what Ash would have thought possible for such a massive creature.

Every blow it dodged by an inch or redirected with that same effortless grace that it had managed with the Focus Blast. Not a single time did it actually move to strike, seemingly content for its role in the battle to be limited to slight shifts in footing and leans to whatever direction he needed to avoid to.

It continued like this for a while, Bruiser never losing his cool as he slowly picked up his speed and forced even more power into his strikes. Hariyama continued to dance expertly, discipline clearly overcoming Bruiser's superior physical capability in this case.

"Alright, bro. That's enough play time!" Brawly shouted over the din of the crashing surf. "Time to make him feel the crash!"

Ash swore a grin that reminded him far too much of Infernus for comfort flashed onto Hariyama's face before it was wiped away. The next moment Hariyama moved.

Bruiser could barely even attempt to dodge before Hariyama's front arm jutted out and shoved him with an open hand – in that instance it seemed like all of Hariyama's bulk tightened into a compressed line with density almost comparable to Bruiser's.

The Machoke flew, his path marked by a deep gouge in the sand.

He gaped at the sheer power behind the blow – he knew Hariyama was notoriously powerful, but that was something else. Something more than brute force. Strong as they were, they weren't the equal of a Machoke.

Bruiser landed with a harsh thump but almost immediately climbed to his feet. He stared at Hariyama with a bit of surprise but just rolled his neck to work out one of the kinks.

Hariyama hadn't budged. It had settled into its former stance and patiently awaited Bruiser's return. For all of its obvious ability, Hariyama wasn't a mobile fighter.

Ash's eyes weren't on that – no, he was more interested in the deep gouge carved into the sand. That wasn't from Bruiser. His friend had been sent flying carelessly through the air. That sand was moved by something else Hariyama had done, something that wasn't immediately obvious.

He watched.

Bruiser fought seriously this time, although with an air of caution that had only been hinted at previously. His blows were quick, precise. Flames exploded in furious gouts and ice shards encrusted the sand.

Hariyama was harder pressed now, although he still avoided all but the traces of the elemental attacks that remained in the air. He was constantly adjusting his footing, now moving with that same impossible speed as before.

It wasn't just discipline and training now, it was a technique.

Still, whatever it was wasn't perfect. Hariyama struggled to keep up at times and still hadn't managed an attack yet, although Ash was certain he was just waiting for the right chance.

He was faster than Bruiser somehow, but Hariyama was still limited by his reaction time. It was a physical alteration, nothing more.

Ash wouldn't wound Bruiser's pride by infringing upon this battle, but he could understand what was going on.

It was only when he looked to the sand again, curious to watch Hariyama's perfect footwork as he danced across the beach, that he understood. There were similar rings of sand piled up wherever Hariyama moved, which was to be expected.

What was a little more interesting were the gusts that seemed to form with every enhanced movement. More than just the wind from quick movements, but something that appeared even before the muscle coiled. Instinctual.

Bruiser was too busy fighting to notice it himself, but Ash hoped he'd picked up on it. Not that he really needed to – he just had to defeat the Hariyama, Ash supposed.

His mind raced over some of the techniques Hariyama could learn according to the PokeDex. Obviously the ones listed weren't the limit, but they tended to be what the fighting-type could learn relatively easily. Other techniques tended to be outside of Hariyama's abilities or just incredibly difficult to teach without the use of a TM or special tutoring.

Ash frowned. It looked as though wind was somehow implemented and he couldn't think of any air-based speed techniques Hariyama could easily learn. Tailwind wasn't much of an option.

To try and get a bit more information he watched the battle for a bit longer, although his eyes widened when he saw Bruiser's foot slip on an imbalance in the sand created by Hariyama's enhancement technique.

In the split-second the opening was available, Hariyama stepped back, gathered power, and pushed.

Hariyama struck and he winced on Bruiser's behalf. That blow was especially vicious, and the dangerous smirk reappeared on Hariyama's face as Bruiser was smacked straight into the cliffs, only saved from an especially painful impact by a quick manifestation of Alakazam's shields.

But that had given Hariyama's secret away…or so Ash hoped.

Wind had followed Hariyama's strike. Sand was blown everywhere by the especially powerful blow, the force only increased by the air's aid.

Whirlwind. Not a use for it he'd ever heard and it had undoubtedly taken months, if not years, of dedicated training for Hariyama to master it to the point of enhancing his body, but it was a potent tool. The speed it granted was incredible and its help could vastly increase the power of Hariyama's attacks as well as let it hit targets that might escape otherwise.

And without the absolutely crippling effects of Rampage, which was an admittedly appealing bonus. This Whirlwind-based technique didn't give nearly as drastic of a boost, but it was certainly much safer.

Bruiser finally stood up, just a bit wearily this time. It was still swift enough to avoid Hariyama taking advantage of his stunned state but noticeably slower than last time. The Machoke wouldn't be able to take many more blows – Hariyama hit impossibly hard, quite possibly as hard as Bruiser with the help of Whirlwind.

He nodded to Bruiser when the Machoke looked to him for guidance. Hariyama had too much of an edge on Bruiser. As things were, Hariyama wasn't merely better than his friend, but stronger as well.

Over his year as a trainer Ash had learned that skill and experience would almost always triumph, but not always. No, a fire to win that surpassed any other could force its way to victory.

But more than that, the only thing that beat something far more skilled was raw, overwhelming force.

And that was something Ash had ensured his team had in spades.

Bruiser squeezed his eyes shut as his muscular body tensed. Muscles bulged and the red veins that popped out from his massive arms almost glowed as more and more blood pumped through them – his eyes opened to slits and a fearsome grin appeared on the Machoke's face.

Every blood vessel on his body stood out like red lines, creating a web of interlocking strands that left Bruiser's body with a light red tint which imparted an imposing presence his gentle personality generally lacked.

This was Bruiser at his most powerful, and this was only a pale shadow of what he would become.

"Watch out! That Machoke's different!" Brawly roared, eyes wide at the sudden change. "Superpower!"

Hariyama grunted and its whole body flexed, slightly reducing its size but making it all the more imposing. It had thrown off its physical limits just as Bruiser had and the two warriors met each other's eyes.

Their previous scrap was all but forgotten, just a warm-up for the opponents.

Bruiser tensed – Hariyama had just barely begun to move – and was on the much bulkier fighting-type in an instant, the force behind his impossibly fast blow enough to knock Hariyama onto its back.

The other fighter grunted at the punch and stood up wearily, brow furrowed as it surveyed the fighter it had previously handled like an annoying child. Bruiser let it regain its footing and allowed it a moment of rest before he moved again, his body exploding into action like a coiled spring.

This time Hariyama dodged the strike, albeit barely. Wind whistled around Hariyama as its movements blurred and the two danced.

Bruiser was a whirlwind of attacks, fear of his own strength tossed aside as he did his best to pound Hariyama into oblivion. For his part, the Hariyama managed to avoid almost every attack – he was brushed by Bruiser's fist every now and then, but by slipping into a steady retreat he was able to stay just barely ahead with the aid of Superpower-enhanced muscles and Whirlwind propelling his movements.

But Hariyama finally slipped as Bruiser slipped even further into Rampage, boosting his raw physical capabilities beyond anything Hariyama could have anticipated.

Hariyama stumbled as Bruiser's fist missed its target and smashed into the sand, blasting up a vast curtain that irritated Hariyama's eyes. But more than that, so much sand was displaced that Hariyama literally sunk into the small pit that formed.

He managed to escape the sinkhole with a bit of fancy footwork Ash couldn't even have hoped to track, but that was enough of a distraction for the even faster Bruiser to rear back a punch and smash it into the splayed palm Hariyama just barely managed to put up in time.

The massive fighting-type groaned as he was sent crashing to the ground on the shoreline. It laid still as the tide gently lapped at its thick skin, but finally pushed it up.

Bruiser struck the moment Hariyama was prepared. Hariyama did its best to avoid the blow, but the previous attack had shocked him out of Superpower and Whirlwind on its own wasn't enough to counter the ridiculous speed that came with Bruiser's enhanced muscle.

Hariyama crumpled to the ground after Bruiser punched it in the gut. It slumped and fell unconscious even as Bruiser stumbled backward from the force of his own punch slamming into the literal wall of stone-hard muscle that was Hariyama's stomach.

The Machoke grinned at him and lightly beat a powerful fist against his muscular chest, bringing up a smile of his own. Ash mashed his fist to a spot above his heart and nodded in congratulation even as Bruiser released Rampage and collapsed, the strain on his body too much to keep up for long.

"You did great, Bruiser!" Ash cheered and raised the pokeball to give his friend some well-deserved rest. Bruiser had improved vastly since his use of Rampage at the Conference – this was far longer than he'd been able to maintain it previously, even if it wasn't a full-fledged Rampage. "Rest."

With that Bruiser vanished in a flash of light, followed moments later by Hariyama.

"That was impressive," Brawly laughed, a wild sound that belted across the beach. "It's been years since Hariyama's been hit like that – we'll have to double up on our training to make sure we don't fall behind! You guys are making an even bigger splash than I hoped!"

"We've still got one more battle," Ash said, leaning down to lightly pat Aron's head. The little steel-type had gone completely still watching the battle, like he'd never seen anything like it before.

Actually, he might not have. Ash had the tendency to forget just how strong his team was compared to wild pokemon – even one of his least flashy friends like Bruiser was still capable of doing things that would leave most pokemon in awe.

Ash grinned as he imagined Aron's reaction to Infernus, Torrent, Tangrowth, or Nidoking. Those were his most powerful elemental fighters by far.

They were the ones that tended to reshape the landscape with their every technique.

"Relax, buddy," he whispered. Aron warbled to him and leaned into his touch, just a little more relaxed than before. "You haven't seen anything yet. Just watch, alright?"

With that he straightened and watched Brawly, curious to see what the Gym Leader would do.

"Well, you won that round!" The fighter casually ran his fingers through his wind-swept hair. "So I'll start this off next! Go, Medicham! Show them what we can do."

A strange pokemon appeared suddenly, blurry and warped as though it were a mirage. Ash stared at it, focusing, until the lines of its body straightened and snapped into their proper position.

The creature cocked its grey head at Ash, lips puckered thoughtfully as it regarded him. It gave a quick nod of recognition and raised its long, thin arms in preparation for a fight.

Ash ran his eyes over the Medicham. The short top bulb marked it as female. It was clearly expertly trained, as he would have expected. Every slight movement it had made was full of grace and purpose, as though it were a dancer. Even the large, pants-like flaps of skin that covered its incredibly muscled legs didn't twitch.

It was an oddity in the world of pokemon and one that Ash had looked forward to meeting in combat. Medicham were a strange mix of fighting-types and psychics, bringing the best traits of both types together in an incredibly potent mix that made them some of the most dangerous and skilled fighters there were.

Medicham's body looked thin, but there was no doubt that it was all highly compact muscle. It didn't possess the brute strength or bulk of Hariyama and would fall quickly if given a few solid hits, but it was all the more dangerous for it.

The Medicham was lithe and quick, able to land quick blows augmented with psychic power that could easily crack almost any defense. It didn't have full-blown telepathy or mental skills, but it could read intentions from an opponents mind and counter perfectly – combined with its "sixth sense" that resulted from what Ash suspected to be a general psychic awareness it was notoriously difficult to hit and track.

It might not be the strongest pokemon in the world, but it was one of the most difficult to fight if you weren't prepared. He'd seen a few videos where Medicham's battle precognition had allowed it to take down technically superior opponents with so much as a scratch, although it tended to have much more difficulty with attacks that weren't precision based.

He released Sneasel.

The little dark-type eyed Medicham speculatively and hissed, allowing his razor-sharp claws to slip easily from their velvety sheathes. Sneasel's hackles raised and he leaned forward, ready to launch at the strange creature at a moment's notice.

Ash had considered using Oz – she needed a good work out – but in the end Sneasel was a far better choice. Besides, he needed to let some stress out too after being so good the last few days. Even after Daisy had left he'd still behaved, so he might as well reward that.

Aside from that, Sneasel was a better match-up. Oz's electricity was generally based around precision, with the exception of Shock Wave. While Medicham would never be able to actually avoid her electrical strikes, the creature was no-doubt adept enough at sensing the environment and intentions of those around it to dip and weave out of the way of such attacks.

Oz might get lucky, but for the most part she'd be unable to hit the quick, agile opponent that was trained to essentially see the battle a second or two in the future.

Sneasel would be put in a riskier position thanks to being forced to fight up close and personal with the close-combat specialist, but the otherworldly energy flowing through his body would at the very least make it much more difficult for Medicham to use the abilities that made it truly formidable, although Ash hoped for Sneasel's presence to subdue it entirely.

All psychic abilities could be cancelled to some extent with the alien power wielded by dark-types and ghosts, but techniques requiring fine control were most vulnerable. If the user relied enough on psychic power then the introduction of something like a Shadow Ball or Dark Pulse into the battle could completely throw it off.

That's what he was banking on. Medicham was almost certainly a more capable combatant than Sneasel – it appeared to have trained with Brawly for years if it was on his best team and probably had a better grasp of combat than Sneasel did at the moment.

Besides, he couldn't hide Sneasel from high-level combat forever.

"Interesting choice!" Brawly shouted, eyes focused on Sneasel with an intensity bordering on the manic. "Medicham, I trust you on this! Take this battle at your own pace!"

Medicham nodded. She dipped her head to Sneasel, although she never took her eyes of the wily dark-type.

Sneasel hissed back and scraped his claws against each other threateningly. His fur was raised, making him appear quite a bit bigger than usual. A deep growl rose from his chest that Ash almost found unsettling, although he was more concerned with comforting Aron – the steel-type had huddled up to Ash's leg at Sneasel's intimidating rumble.

"Same for you, Sneasel," he said. Sneasel dipped his head and tensed, ready to shoot forth at a moment's notice. "I trust you. Remember your training and remember to be careful. Medicham'll hit hard."

The two combatants stared at each other for a moment, sizing each other up.

Then in a black blur and swirl of ice battle was joined.

Sneasel's Quick Attack took him right up to Medicham and almost let him get a good strike in immediately – Medicham twitched to the left just in time for his claw to avoid carving into her side. She instantly retaliated with a swift blow wreathed in fire, although Sneasel had already put enough distance between them that it struck nothing but air.

Say what you want about Sneasel, but after a month of playing Hunt-the-Sneasel he knew how to avoid a hit.

With the initial rush of combat out of the way both watched each other with interest – both had already figured out their opponent's general strategy, or they thought they did.

Medicham took its stance once more, readying itself for Sneasel's next attack. She was clearly a defensive fighter, as Hariyama had been. Ash had no doubt Medicham was swift and agile enough to go on the offensive if necessary, but it was obvious that she preferred to draw her opponents in and make them pay for their aggression with a quick flurry of expertly-aimed strikes.

Sneasel might fall into her trap, but his dark-type attacks just might make her tactics backfire.

He hissed at Medicham and bared his fangs at her – a Shadow Ball formed in a suddenly outstretched paw and shot at Medicham, whose eyes widened an instant before it materialized. She dodged this attack with a wide berth, although was hard pressed to avoid the next.

Then, as she executed a flip so perfect it seemed almost staged, Sneasel struck.

In a blinding flash of white a powerful beam of jagged, arcing beams struck the soaked sand beneath and around the fighting-type and froze it. Medicham landed easily enough, taking only a second to stabilize herself, but by the time her feet were suffused with a soft psychic glow that protected them from the cold and provided traction Sneasel had blurred forth once again.

Medicham's eyes squeezed shut as Sneasel's claws slashed across her bare grey chest, leaving thin marks of red behind. Shadowy energy clung to the wounds and Sneasel had a confident grin as the fighting-type shook.

With his trap he'd managed to essentially poison her with toxic dark-type energy. It would cause her quite a bit of pain and greatly reduce her ability to enhance herself with her psychic sixth sense, although Ash doubted that would end her.

No, Medicham wouldn't be so easy to defeat. Ash just hoped Sneasel would realize that.

Medicham quickly put quite a bit of ground between herself and Sneasel, easily shaping a ball of glowing white energy and hurling it at the dark-type despite the distraction caused to her by Sneasel's slash.

Ash had to admit he was impressed with how easily she shrugged it off. It was clear Brawly trained his team in more than physical toughness.

Sneasel took a moment to regain his composure, careful to avoid rushing into one of Medicham's traps now that it was clear she wasn't entirely defenseless. He paused and shot off another Shadow Ball, but Medicham avoided it with even more ease than before, if that was possible.

Once she'd regained her footing – she stayed far away from the ice now that she didn't have access to her psychic powers to make it a mere nuisance – Medicham quickly tapped a glowing finger to several points of her upper and lower body. Ash tried to follow along but her movements were so fast they were barely even a blur.

When that was over a slow smile spread over Medicham's face and she began to advance.

His friend squared himself at the sudden change in tactics, more than a bit wary. After all, if Medicham had shied away from aggressive strategy when she was at her peak why would she use them now?

Medicham made that clear several seconds later.

In a flash she put her hands together and formed a swirling sphere of rainbow-hued energy in an instant, giving Sneasel only a split-second's notice to dodge to the right before what Ash recognized as a Signal Beam speared through the air and still managed to nick Sneasel, leaving him tumbling to the ground.

As Sneasel swiftly pulled himself up from the sand Medicham shot to the right, forming dozens upon dozens of illusory clones of itself with Double Team and firing several more Signal Beams in order to distract Sneasel.

With the dark-type off balance most of the clones shot forward while roughly a quarter sat down and assumed a meditative pose.

Sneasel was a blur of swirling claws and fierce blasts of ice and Shadow Balls – it did its best to attack the real one, but couldn't find it amongst the overwhelming number of clones that converged upon it. He knew they couldn't hurt him, but Ash could tell he was still too rattled from the Signal Beam's impact to detect which of them was real by smell.

All Sneasel knew was that if the real Medicham did strike there was a good chance he was finished.

Ash was more interested in the Medicham that were mediating. Odds were that the real Medicham was hiding in there somewhere, trying to do something to give it the proper edge in battle.

Most of them were suddenly shrouded in a soothing cloak of blue-green energy that seemed to restore vigor to its limbs. The scratches on each of the Medicham slowly knit together, although traces of Sneasel's dark-poisoned claws remained.

He smiled in understanding.

Recover. It wasn't an especially common technique, but Medicham was one of the rare pokemon that could learn it incredibly easily due to their methods of training. Much of a Medicham's psychic capability was discovered through meditation, and such deep introspection had granted a control over their bodies few pokemon could match.

While control over their psychic abilities allowed for them to do things almost unheard of – releasing limits on their muscles similar to Superpower, although more controlled, or even slowing their heartbeat and metabolism to a point where they could exist for months or years without eating – the most practical application they could perform even without psychic powers was to increase their metabolism and cellular processes to the point that they could heal minor wounds in seconds and more grievous injuries over the span of minutes or hours.

But that wasn't all. Medicham and its clones sat stock still for as long as they could before Sneasel finally decided that those attacking it were false and moved towards the meditating ones.

Just as his claws carved harmlessly through the first of the meditating clones, each Medicham stood with a swiftness Ash could hardly believe.

The clones dispersed in a massive blur of color and light that hid all of the battlefield from Ash's view – they almost seemed to meld together for an instant before the refracted light that made them up vanished.

What was left was a single Medicham staring down Sneasel with an impassivity that must have galled the little dark-type.

But Medicham was different. It was cleared of its wounds, and it seemed as though even the flickering tendrils of shadow that had licked at the scratches were banished.

Instead of shadow, it now stood in an aura of white that shone even beneath the eye of the sun. Medicham's face was clear of all emotion, intent only upon Sneasel.

Power flooded from it and the glow of its eyes confirmed that it had regained its psychic powers…if the sand drifting away in a circle around it hadn't tipped him off before.

Sneasel hissed and fired a Shadow Ball, but it was pointless. Medicham darted to the side, appearing less as a blur and more as though it simply appeared a few feet over before the Shadow Ball had even left Sneasel's paw.

Ash grimaced – this was bad. Medicham appeared to have quite a number of tricks for boosting its abilities and he doubted Sneasel would be able to tangle with it as he was.

From what little he'd seen Ash would think Medicham was at least an equal challenge for Dazed, probably even Bruiser with Rampage considering her sixth sense would let her at least somewhat nullify his raw speed.

The dark-type was fast but Medicham was faster. He was smart but Medicham could read his intentions before he even began. He was poison to Medicham but it appeared that poison had an antidote.

Sneasel didn't surrender, however. No, he hissed and blurred at his opponent.

Medicham moved swiftly, meeting him mid-charge with a blur that smashed Sneasel into the ground. She was away from his Ice Beam the moment it formed and brutally kicked him into the air, where she leapt with a surge of psychic power and grabbed his leg – Sneasel wildly clawed at her and actually managed to nick her, but he yowled in shock as he was slammed into the sand he'd frozen previously, shattering it.

His friend didn't move for a few seconds, stunned from the heavy impact. Ash would definitely have to get him checked up later – that might have cracked some bones on his delicate friend.

Unfortunately for him, the second he made to stand up Medicham surged forward and planted a flaming fist into his fur, and this time he didn't get up.

Ash sighed and recalled Sneasel. "I'm proud of you, buddy. You did your best."

BRAWLY AND MEDICHAM WIN THAT ROUND! THE STORM-TAMER'S BRAT IS STRUCK DOWN WITH THE FURY OF A HURRICANE!

THE MATCH IS TIED! IT IS UP TO GYM LEADER BRAWLY'S DISCRETION AS TO HOW TO CONTINUE!

The trainer snorted at Alakazam's mental broadcast.

He was going to have to double up on Sneasel's training. Sneasel wasn't going to take this loss well and Ash knew it was time he started work seriously on the technique he hoped would bring Sneasel up to par with the rest of the team.

Not that the new technique would be all he trained Sneasel in, of course. Sneasel certainly needed to focus on general combat experience, along with a bit of versatility…he needed something to hit a wider area. He was pure precision when it came to ranged attacks, with his only other variety being his ability to quickly close distances.

But he'd still done well…Sneasel would have been knocked out in an instant against an opponent at Medicham's level just a month ago. Given time he'd be able to match even that sort of enemy and one day he'd truly surpass her.

Sneasel had only just scratched upon his potential, after all.

He was more concerned at the feeling bubbling up inside of him – loss. Ash certainly wasn't going to be beating himself up over it, but it was worth noting how it felt.

Ash had never really lost when it came to battling. When he was just starting out he'd been able to catch people off guard or face rookies of similar skill. He'd certainly had his fair share of losses, but it was usually to older trainers who had challenged him. It was almost expected for him to lose to them, like a rite of passage.

But after his first few months he'd managed to get to a level where he'd beat the average random trainer. He could sweep past the campers who tended to hang around the major cities for the most part, overwhelm specialists with his variety, and rely on his most powerful fighters like Torrent, Nidoking, and Infernus to crush those with teams as diverse as his own.

By the time he'd trained with Bruno and increased his team's abilities as a whole to the point where they could at least contend with a Gym Leader's true team loss wasn't something he'd faced very often.

Sure, there was still the odd powerful trainer who'd manage to beat at least one or two of his team soundly, but generally the trainers of his caliber were doing something besides traveling the roads.

Snatched up by the League who watched rising trainers with eyes like a Pidgeot's, employed as high-level security by private corporations, retired, following their own paths in a city, or just gone to explore the dangerous places of the world…that was where most truly powerful trainers went.

There weren't many with the dedication, talent, and bond with their teams to reach that level in the first place. After the ones who reached that level were found by people who would put that ability and destructive potential to a more official use or they found themselves on personal quests their were hardly any at all on the roads.

So losing was an odd feeling, even with one of his comparatively weaker fighters. The last time he'd actually lost was at the Conference, and while he wouldn't demean Michael's skill, he felt that a large part of that was Michael's huge variety compared to his own. It had let the older trainer prepare for him much better than he ever could have for Michael's small army of pokemon.

But he had to commend Brawly for that – the Gym Leader had soundly beaten one of his teammates, even if technically they'd tied for the match.

Still –

"Dude, that was awesome!" Brawly grinned as he strode up, Medicham standing stoically at his side. She'd lost the white aura that accompanied her mediation, although she still seemed ready for battle. "I haven't been pumped like that in ages! Totally worth my training grounds getting a little roughed up, man."

Brawly happily grabbed Ash's hand and shook it in his own, the wild grin never leaving the muscled man's face.

"It was a good battle," Ash smiled. "Not often one of mine gets thrashed like that."

"Tell me about it!" Brawly pumped his fist. "Hariyama's gonna be in a fit the next few days. Our next training days are going to be totally sick. He's going to come down on his training like a tidal wave!"

"Sneasel's going to be about the same," he snorted, eying the pokeball fondly. "Medicham, you're really powerful to handle him like that."

Medicham actually smiled at the compliment, nodding respectfully.

"Yeah, man, she's awesome!" Brawly affectionately cuffed Medicham on the back of her head, although she twitched out of the way at the last second. "Her and Hariyama…they're my best, both as fighters and friends. We've been together more than a decade and now and trained together the whole time! Hariyama might be my strongest, but she's my most skilled."

Brawly nodded sagely at that and folded his arms across his muscular chest. "That Machoke of yours is a tough dude. Bruno showed me the video of that crazy technique you've got but seeing it in person's totally different. You change it up a bit since the Indigo Conference?"

"We've been working on reducing the strain on his body. Less payoff, but how much does he really need? It lets him stay in Rampage for a lot longer, plus it lets his body acclimate to it!" Ash rambled, glad to talk to someone who actually understood what Rampage was. Even the Professor saw it just as a potent technique with potent drawbacks…although he admittedly never spoke with Oak about it in-depth.

"Aww yeah, sweet!" Brawly nodded again. "I gotta give you props for coming up with that, man. That's not even just a combat technique. You actually figured out how to physically train your Machoke! I don't have one so I haven't thought about it, but Bruno was seriously impressed!"

Ash blinked. Then fought the urge to sigh.

Bruno had noticed something from just a bare-bones explanation he'd barely thought about.

Normally the Machoke line had to go to enormous lengths to train their bodies. It was easy enough for them to train in combat, but to actually grow stronger they had to find massive boulders or trees and essentially devote massive amounts of times for minor returns. It was more efficient for them to just find the ridiculous amounts of food for them to get the necessary calories and protein to support their natural muscles than push for anything greater.

But Rampage, since it essentially shut down the limits on one's body, made training just a matter of using one's muscles to a level that would push past their normal breaking point. Not to the point of causing serious injury like the imperfect Rampage he'd used in the Conference was, but just by using levels of power the body's limiters would normally restrict.

Given time Bruiser's physical might could potentially rival that of a weaker Machamp…Ash made a mental note to seriously up the amount of food and protein that Bruiser got each day. It wasn't as if he couldn't afford it.

He decided to get off this topic before he felt any more foolish. "So you know Bruno?"

"Yeah, man! We're pretty close. I mean, once he decided I was good enough he taught me everything he knows!" The Gym Leader stared off into the horizon fondly. "We spent a few months in the Sevii Islands before he had to leave to go knock some sense into those Rockets."

Brawly eyed Ash. "Guess that makes us students of the same Master, doesn't it? Nice to meet you, bro."

"Nice to meet you too," Ash said drily. "And yeah, I guess it does."

"Don't get me wrong, I know you're Champion Lance's! Guess you did only get to spend a week with Bruno, after all." The man barked out a laugh. "Apparently Lance tells everyone about you, too."

"He does?" Ash raised an eyebrow, a warmth in his chest that had nothing to do with the Hoenn heat or the Feather bonded to him.

Brawly nodded eagerly. "Oh yeah! And people listen, man. When he picks out a student heads turned your way fast. The Conference just kept them there."

Ash's grin widened, if at all possible. Normally he wouldn't be too fond of the attention, but if it came from Lance…

"But yeah, Bruno told me about you. Not too much until he heard you were coming to Hoenn, but a bit," Brawly shrugged. "Think he was telling me about that Machoke of yours to get me jealous more than anything, but what can you do?"

He snorted at that and nodded his assent.

"Speaking of that Machoke, Bruno wanted me to assess him," Brawly began. "I think I got plenty out of that battle. I figure you've probably figured most of this out on your own, but I'll go ahead and give you the rundown."

Ash nodded again and leaned forward, listening intently. Brawly might not have reached the level Bruno had yet, but he was still a highly skilled fighting-type specialist who knew much, much more than Ash on the topic. He'd be a fool to disregard this.

"Your Machoke's tough. He's got the guts he needs to be great and he's a physical monster – even without Rampage he's stronger than almost any other Machoke I've seen, even if he's still got the low mobility and too much bulk slowing him down."

"My Hariyama is probably the only thing that'll give him a run for his money strength-wise in the region…even other Hariyama and Machoke aren't gonna beat him there…and he's only going to get stronger if you keep training him like you have. And get him a proper diet, but he's doing well on that count."

"Technique wise he's sloppy. Can't really avoid that unless you're a fighting-type specialist or have a specialist-trained fighter instructing him. I wouldn't really call him a fighter – a brawler is more like it. Nothing really wrong with that if you can make Rampage more feasible, but if he faces a fighting-type physically on his level he's toast unless you can pull something else out to even the odds."

"Personally I'd say your best bet is for him to master Rampage and maybe give him a few other techniques to rely on if he faces a really good fighter. I mean, Rampage let him face Hariyama head on and that never happens…once he evolves I wouldn't want to try and match Machoke. He's gonna wipe the floor with just about everything he touches…I mean I'd pay money to see him face some of Bruno's team, even if he'll probably have a Rampage equivalent of his own worked out by then."

Brawly paused for a few seconds. "That's the gist of it. How long are you gonna be in Dewford, man?"

"Until tomorrow," Ash shrugged. "I've got an urgent delivery for Professor Birch. Dewford's my last stop."

"Gotcha. Well, in that case let me give you this."

With that Brawly withdrew a gleaming badge from his pocket and handed it to him. Ash gently took it and examined the glossy metal, which was shaped like a blue boxing glove with a small orange circle in the lower-center.

"Figured you've earned it, even if we tied. It's up to my discretion anyway," Brawly laughed. "Besides, I know you could beat me if you came at me with your best! I watched the Indigo Final…seriously impressive stuff, bro!"

"Thanks," Ash grinned at the older man. "That was probably the toughest fight I've ever been in…but probably the best too. Can't imagine the cleanup crew was too happy about it."

"Nah," Brawly carelessly wave his concern away. "They were probably stoked! I mean, how often do they get to clean up lava?"

"Not enough," Ash smirked. He paused for a moment as he placed the badge into its case. "Since I'm an Elite Four trainee am I even supposed to get this?"

Brawly shrugged. "Doesn't matter, man. It's, like, a recognition think I guess. Doesn't have to be used, does it?"

"I guess not," Ash murmured and watched as the badge case disappeared into a storage compartment.

"So, you want to head back to Dewford?" Brawly suggested. Nic materialized next to him an instant later. "I enjoy talking with you, dude, but I'm super hungry after climbing the cliffs, you know? We can go get something to eat."

"I'd imagine," he drawled. "Yeah, it's fine with me. I'm pretty hungry too."

He had just enough time to recall Aron before Nic the Alakazam warped them all away.

XX

Later that night, after he'd spent another hour or two talking with Brawly, he found himself laying in bed in the Pokemon Center. Aron idly munched on a hunk of metal Ash had caught him eying at one of the shops which he'd later bought. Dazed still kept an eye on him to make sure he didn't try and take a bite out of the metal railing on the bed but so far he'd been good.

Nidoking was resting to the side, both eyes shut. If Ash didn't know him so well he'd think he was actually asleep.

Right now he was skimming over Cynthia's book, his eyes flashing with a warm blue as Dazed interpreted the words through his mind.

He steadfastly ignored the icy fire that did the same.

as such, Petalburg is noted as a minor historical power. Rather than a power in its own right it is generally noted as a buffer state between Rustboro and Slateport in a historical context.

Although it was successful in acting as a stop on the trade route between those two cities before storage technology and teleportation essentially eliminated those links in the modern era, Petalburg's greatest success was found in remaining independent from the two trading powers.

It often balanced whichever of the two were stronger, and though it might be allied with one or the other it never submitted. Petalburg often paid for this fact, and thus spawned a martial tradition that produced some of the finest trainers in Hoenn. Though that tradition has died in the modern era, in contrast to Dewford, Petalburg still remembers their history and the Petalburg Gym has held a reputation for difficulty since its founding.

Still –

"Ugh…"

Ash frowned and closed the book, trusting Dazed to remember their page. His friend psychically activated one of his storage compartments to remove the book from space and watched the door with him, although she was curiously silent on the matter.

Moments later Daisy stumbled in, appearing absolutely terrible compared to her usually pristine good looks. Whether as a result of her Coordinating focus or just her personality, Daisy was usually meticulous when it came to making sure she looked presentable at all times – and, if he was being honest with himself, Daisy's presentable was most people's excellent.

The Oak family had to have rigged the genetic lottery somehow.

So seeing her with scrapes, caked with dirt, dark bags under her eyes, and a general air of exhaustion was rather new for him.

"You okay?"

Daisy grunted. She shuffled over to her bed and steadfastly collapsed face-down into it, not even bothering to take off her shoes or change out of her absolutely filthy clothes.

"Did you get your hat back?" He asked, struggling to keep a straight face.

She groaned again and laid still.

Ash decided to take that as a no. "That's too bad."

Her head twitched slightly. He thought that might have been agreement.

"Well, good night," he said quietly. When she didn't say anything for several seconds he looked to Dazed curiously.

She is asleep, Friend-Trainer.

Ash nodded and pulled himself out of bed, careful to avoid stepping on Nidoking or disturbing Aron. He walked over to Daisy and began by removing her pack, followed by her dirt-stained headband and the thin jacket she'd worn down in the caves.

He wrinkled his nose as the smell hit him – Ash certainly didn't mind the scents that came along with traveling, but Daisy had done a very good job of pushing these to their limit. Ash wasn't sure what was on these besides dirt and sweat and he was pretty sure he didn't want to know.

"Put her under Hypnosis," Ash sighed as he unclipped the belt she kept her pokeballs on. "She needs her rest."

Dazed nodded and focused. Scarlet tendrils emanated from her pendulum and wound their way over to Daisy, caressing her skin briefly before it suffused her mind and caused her slow breaths to deepen even further.

"Lift her up – I'm going to put some covers over her," Ash instructed. Dazed easily held the girl aloft with her psychic power – Daisy might be taller than Ash but she was still a small girl. Once Ash had pulled the white sheets back Dazed put Daisy back so Ash could cover his friend up. "Thanks, Dazed."

His friend nodded and let Ash get to work.

Ash watched Daisy peacefully slumber for a few more moments before he breathed and picked up the accessories he'd removed. The pokeballs he carefully placed onto her bedside table – he knew those were what she'd be concerned with in the morning.

Once he'd gathered everything up he brought the storage compartment containing his own laundry and took it with him – it looked like Daisy had had a rough time, so the least he could do was make sure that some of her things were clean by the time she woke up.

"Sweet dreams," he whispered to the Oak's sleeping body before he stepped out of the room, followed quickly by the Hypno's shuffling steps.

With how rough it seemed Daisy had had it, she needed them.

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