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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64. The Final Part 1

Ash kept a keen eye on the battlefield as he slid next to Jonathan. The boy didn't even register his appearance with anything other than a short grunt. Jonathan was obviously absolutely enraptured by the battle between Michael and Neesha.

Judging from the devastated appearance of the battlefield the match was almost over. Ash felt himself become slightly disappointed at that. He'd rushed to the Pokemon Center as fast as he could but it seemed he hadn't been quick enough to get back and see what Michael was capable of.

"How far into it are —" Ash was cut off as Arcanine leapt high into the air at Wigglytuff, whose scowling visage almost managed to look intimidating. That was no mean for the Balloon Pokemon.

He watched carefully as Arcanine spat an unending stream of fire and smoke at Wigglytuff, which the normal-type easily blocked with Protect before it retaliated with an incredibly condensed Hyper Beam that managed to brush the fire-type's side.

"That's Michael's third and the chick's fifth." Jonathan said. He never took his eyes off the battle. "I never thought a Wigglytuff could be badass, but that one's changing my mind. It took down a freakin' Gyarados!"

Ash just snorted and turned back to the battle. Arcanine looked bad. Wigglytuff was obviously under immense strain from the prolonged battle but looked like it could keep going for a bit longer.

Michael's face was expressionless as he watched the battle. Ash had no idea what the teen was thinking about the injury inflicted onto Arcanine.

"Finish it. Get close." The redhead said just loud enough to be heard over the crowd, which watched with quiet anticipation as Arcanine yipped and rushed forward. It didn't slip into Extreme Speed, however. It must have been worse off than Ash had thought.

Arcanine blurred around Wigglytuff's Hyper Beams and blasts of ice and electricity with contemptuous ease and closed the distance between the two in a matter of seconds. It rushed forward as its maw was consumed in flames and prepared to bathe the normal-type in fire until Neesha finally gave Wigglytuff a clear command.

"Gravity."

Wigglytuff's ears twitched as its psychic abilities set to work and greatly increased the gravity working against the canine. Arcanine yipped helplessly as it was suddenly crushed to the ground, even its powerful muscles useless against the magnified force locking it into place.

It seemed that it wasn't very adept at fighting against psychics. He'd have to remember that.

Michael had a look of grudging respect on his face as Wigglytuff finished off Arcanine with a quick Hyper Beam. He recalled the massive fire-type but had a small smile on his face as he raised up a dull, scratched pokeball.

Ash's eyes widened as the familiar form of a Dragonite emerged in a flash of scarlet light. This Dragonite wasn't an ordinary specimen of its kind. While it was obviously much weaker than Lance's Dragonite trio given its relative size and smaller scales it held a ferociousness that he'd never seen on one of its kind.

Even Oak's old Dragonite at its most territorial did not compare to the raw fury that echoed in its eyes. The creature practically reeked aggressiveness. Not quite bloodlust, but it wasn't much better. Dragonite's large eyes were fierce and dark with a single-minded devotion to attacking Wigglytuff.

He frowned at the creature as it took to the sky at the referee's command. It was incredibly fast but didn't even compare to Lance's Dragonite. Even Dov, the slowest of the trio, was much faster. Plume should be able to catch it without too much trouble.

Still, he was more concerned with the rage it held than any tactical concerns. Dragonite were naturally predisposed toward a kind, helpful nature. They were peaceful creatures that lacked the bloodlust or predatory inclinations of Tyranitar or Salamence. For the Dragonite to be so aggressive something must have affected it terribly in the past.

Perhaps he could work the uncharacteristic aggressiveness to his advantage. The Dragonite listened to Michael's commands but it seemed that it shied away from anything that involved its own defense. It had no care for the damage it took. All it wanted to do was attack.

That attitude would be a huge liability for Michael. Dragonite were incredibly tough and resilient and more than capable of taking incredibly powerful attacks head-on while being little worse for wear, but their greatest defensive asset was their speed and maneuverability.

As fast as this Dragonite was it would have quite a bit of difficulty fighting Plume if it relied on its offensive capabilities. Plume was faster and more maneuverable. She'd be able to harass it and leave some damage, although he wasn't sure how much the Pidgeot could actually hurt it without judicious use of Hyper Beam.

He shrugged it off. Ash had three days before facing Michael. He'd have time to plot and strategize while Oz trained under Surge. While he'd be sure to be involved in the training since the chance to learn under a vaunted electric-type specialist was rare, he would have some free time. It wasn't as if he'd be letting the rest of his team train — not this close to the Final.

Ash silently went over the team he planned on using as Dragonite launched itself at Wigglytuff, who reflexively responded with a powerful Ice Beam that the aggressive creature took head-on. It snorted and slowed but that wasn't enough to keep it from slamming into Wigglytuff to send the lightweight creature flying.

The team was relatively set in stone: Nidoking, Plume, Torrent, Dazed, Infernus, and Tangrowth.

They were his strongest fighters and he could take no risks in the Final. There was no longer a reason to hide his friends' skills and strategies. Most had been laid bare to the world but there were still a few he'd managed to keep hidden. Air Lens, for example. It was by far the most potent defense he had against Michael's incredibly powerful Jolteon other than Nidoking's naturally resistant hide.

While he would like to include Bruiser and Oz since they had stood by his side for so long and worked as hard as any of the others to get where they were he couldn't. Bruiser would be helpless against both Salamence and Dragonite as well as Jolteon's electrical abilities. Rampage would be an equalizer against every other opponent but it was too risky. The technique was meant to be used as his last resort, not his first reaction.

His face twisted. Bruiser just wasn't ready for a single battle against a trainer of Michael's caliber. He was handicapped by his evolutionary state. It wouldn't be until he was a Machamp or had mastered Rampage to a further degree that he could truly be an equal in combat to the most powerful members of his team. At the moment he still had the most raw strength but he wasn't fast enough to take advantage of it.

Ash knew he would have to work extensively with Bruiser to mould him into the force he knew he could be. Bruiser had finally come into his own as a fighter. It was time for Ash to hone him into a warrior.

Rock Tomb would be a very useful ability for him to have. Ash couldn't forget how Bruno's Machamp had masterfully mixed the skill into his own fighting style to skillfully raise walls and shift the earth to defend against and subvert his opponents.

Oz had similar problems. Her control over her great power was absolutely incredible but it wasn't enough. She lacked the power of Infernus and was still catching up to the rest of the team, even if that gap had shrunk enormously since Lance's training. Lightning Bolt would be like Rampage — an equalizer, not something to depend on. Until she was older or an Electivire she couldn't even begin to tap into her true potential.

Ash grit his teeth at that and made a note to focus on their training. Bruiser had to be close to evolution given his strength and the power he wielded. He just had to help his friend with that one last push before he would unlock the reservoir of power within himself and become a true titan on the battlefield.

Oz was more complicated, unfortunately. There were several ways for her to evolve, each one difficult in its own way.

She could find herself in a lightning storm and absorb an entire bolt of electricity. Given that she was old and strong enough to have the capacity for it the bolt would trigger the process of evolution.

Another option would be to get her an Electrizer. The rare device would release an immense discharge of electricity into her system, just powerful enough to fool her body into thinking the signal for evolution had been given. Surge would probably have access to one but he'd have to get the giant's opinion on Oz's evolution. He didn't want to do it before she was ready.

The worst option by far — and, by proxy, the least likely — was to be insane and suicidal enough to seek out the Titan of Lightning once more and hope that the aloof Zapdos wouldn't leave him and his team spots of ash on the ground for their arrogance.

In essence the first and third options came to be the same thing, although the latter required an infinitely larger capacity for stupidity.

He shook himself out of his thoughts when he noticed that Neesha had released her last pokemon, the large Vileplume he vaguely remembered from New Island. It set itself and defiantly glared up at Dragonite, who glared down at the grass-type and bared its fangs.

That was a bad matchup, which became evident the moment the match began. Even as Vileplume spewed huge clouds of Stun Spore into the air Dragonite simply launched itself around them, spat a gout of fire that led to the combustion of the cloud, and smashed into Vileplume with its thick, muscular tail.

Ash winced as Vileplume flew through the air before it settled painfully on the ground. The creature struggled to stand up but another furious gout of flame from Dragonite finished it off.

He just frowned. Michael's Salamence and Snorlax had been troublesome enough on their own. The Dragonite simply complicated things further. He'd have to come up with a dozen different strategies for a dozen different potential situations if he wanted to beat Michael. Two dragons in such an experienced trainer's hands meant trouble even if they weren't of Lance's caliber.

Not that any dragons outside of a scarce few trainers' could meet Lance's standards. He was the Dragon Master of Indigo for a reason. He was quite possibly the strongest trainer to have ever been produced by Indigo — and, when Bagon and Gible matured to a Salamence and Garchomp, respectively, Ash had no doubt that he could quite possibly be the strongest trainer in all of history.

He sighed and stood up to leave. Ash didn't want to get caught in the crowd. There was far too much to do to waste any time here.

XX

"Runt." Surge acknowledged with a feral grin as Ash stepped into the training ground reserved for gym leaders and other League personnel. Raichu waved one of her brown paws at him and sparked slightly in excitement, ready to begin the training.

"Surge." He dipped his head in respect to his temporary teacher. Ash glanced around the rather dull training ground. It was created to regulation standards. There was absolutely nothing interesting about the small arena. The training area was composed solely of flat, dry earth that expanded around two hundred meters out in every direction.

The giant eyed him for a moment. "Release that Electabuzz of yours!" He barked even as he released his Electivire. The hulking creature that was only slightly smaller than Infernus leered at him and let its cordlike tails whip around menacingly. "He'll be teaching your Electabuzz Lightning Bolt. I'll only be explaining the basics."

Ash did as he commanded but had to raise an eyebrow in response. "What'll we be doing the rest of the time?"

"I'm going to teach you something a lot more valuable than Lightning Bolt, brat." Surge flashed him a dangerous grin. "I think it's about time that you learn more about Electabuzz and the physics behind electricity."

He nodded. Ash could see how both of those would be useful and Surge was the most qualified person he could have possibly found to explain the two subjects. Surge was regarded as an expert of the Electivire line to the same degree that Blaine was of the Magmortar family, although he was more renowned for his absolute knowledge of a Raichu's abilities.

"You." Surge pointed at Oz, who bared her fangs at the man. Raichu hissed and whipped her tail around threateningly. The motion created a spray of sparks and arcs of electricity danced down to Surge's body, although the man didn't even seem to notice it as he lightly pinched Raichu's cheek and stopped her with a stern look. "Cut it out. Electivire'll whip her into shape."

Raichu dropped her annoyed demeanor and almost seemed to glow with amusement. She just hissed at Oz one last time before the electric-type contentedly hugged Surge's shoulder and coiled her long tail around his neck until the jagged organ reminiscent of a lightning bolt laid in front of his throat.

"Alright…" Surge glanced over to Ash questioningly, aware of his penchant for giving names to his team.

"Oz." He filled in.

"…Oz." The gym leader boomed. "Today you are going to learn Lightning Bolt or knock yourself out trying! Is that understood?"

The Electabuzz growled and nodded, her thick tail twitching somewhat as she held onto Surge's every word. He was someone that commanded respect from everything around him.

"Now, the first thing you'll need to do is —" Surge suddenly turned to Ash with an odd expression. "Go scamper off and strategize or something. I'll give you the rundown when I'm done here."

Ash sighed and didn't bother arguing. All of his mentors were ridiculously stubborn and Surge was no exception. He had his reasons, no doubt. It sounded like he'd teach him the principles behind Lightning Bolt anyway. That meant he'd be able to replicate it and teach the technique again if he ever picked up an electric-type. With Oz's assistance, anyway.

He supposed he should be grateful to Surge for this break. As long as Oz didn't accidentally misfire an attempted Lightning Bolt and hit him everything would turn out fantastically.

As Surge's loud voice echoed throughout the training ground Ash found himself a seat far from the action and took a seat. Ash pulled out the poked and went to the pokemon he had saved for further analysis — Michael's team.

Ash had an encyclopedic knowledge of Kanto and Johto pokemon by this point from an entire year of perusing the database almost nightly and since Professor Oak had upgraded his pokedex to have access to the national archives he'd gained a working knowledge of the pokemon native to Hoenn and SInnoh as well.

But he needed to know the pokemon at Michael's command intimately. He had a plethora of exceptionally powerful fighters at his disposal and could potentially counter every member of Ash's smaller team. While his friends had become incredibly powerful over their year with him he just didn't have the sheer variety to counter everything his last opponent could throw at him.

So he'd have to be as efficient as possible and do his best to guess which pokemon Michael would use.

He suspected that Jolteon would be a given. It was his starter, after all. Arcanine had consistently put up an incredible performance and its mastery of Extreme Speed would give it an edge against each of his friends, so he expected that it would make an appearance as well.

Ash flashed back to the powerful team Michael had told him about as he took him, Jonathan, and Amelia to Jessica's house so long ago. He didn't remember each member, but he'd seen enough to remind him in the Conference: Steelix, Gyarados, and Alakazam. He thought he remembered him having a Machamp as well but it hadn't fought yet.

That team had been phased out over the course of the Conference with the exception of Jolteon and Arcanine. It was probably just a team he was currently training up to par with the rest of his pokemon.

Jolteon was almost always used to finish the opponent. It was nigh untouchable, a blur of yellow and white fur protected and enhanced by a crackling aura of electricity. As impressive as Jolteon had been in that recording of Michael he'd seen from several years ago it was many, many times more powerful now.

A small smile came to his face. At least he had a way to neutralize that threat. So far Infernus hadn't really shown off his skill. Almost every action he'd taken in the battle against Grey had been to simply teleport on top of his pokemon. While certainly an effective — and lazy — way to win a battle he felt that Michael would have precautions against that after seeing it in action.

Besides, it wouldn't be nearly as effective against something that could resist it or move fast enough to avoid Infernus after he teleported like Dragonite or Salamence. Jolteon might have been fast enough to avoid it but he felt that Infernus could handle the electric-type easily, despite its absolutely astounding abilities.

The Snorlax he had seen was almost a certainty as well. Snorlax were incredibly rare but they were almost unstoppable once they woke up. Their thick fat let them ignore just about everything short of a Hyper Beam — and even that, in some cases. Even the most powerful fighting-types shied away from taking them on thanks to the protection their fat afforded them and raw physical power.

Other than that he really didn't have a clue. There were so many other options that Michael could use that it wasn't feasible to guess. There were multiple counters for each of his friends that his opponent could pull out.

Still, Michael would presumably be using Jolteon, Salamence, Dragonite, and Snorlax. That was an extremely formidable team by itself. Even if Michael chose weak pokemon to round out his team he would still give Ash a challenge.

He sighed and began to examine the profile for each pokemon unfamiliar to him. Ash needed to at least be aware of their were a lot of options and he couldn't afford to waste any time.

XX

He glanced up when a huge shadow fell over him, the effect only amplified by the occasional flash of electricity from where Oz was training with Electivire. She seemed to be doing well considering the overpowering odor of ozone and the innumerable craters and scorch marks that marked the area.

"Don't bother getting up, Runt." Surge grinned as he sat down. The giant was still taller than he would be standing up by several heads. "This might take a while."

Ash nodded and stowed away his pokedex. The hour or so he'd had to plan had given him at least some idea of how to fight Michael. It would be difficult but he believed he could emerge victorious.

"Let's get started with Oz." The giant grunted as he settled into his spot opposite Ash. "She's got a ton of potential. I can tell Lance worked your ass off — her power is formidable for an Electabuzz, but it's her control that makes her worth my time. She has a knack for it that rivals Raichu. Not something to take lightly, that."

"So what can she do with that control?" He asked quietly. Surge was obviously going somewhere with this. Perhaps the older man had some grand plan ready for him.

"I was getting to that." Surge groused and glared at him. "If you want to help her meet her potential you'd better shut up and listen. We don't have a lot of time here, Runt. One day isn't nearly enough to pound perfection into your head, but I'm gonna get as close to it as I can."

He nodded and stayed silent. It wasn't as if he minded being quiet. Ash preferred it, honestly, and it was an easy price to pay for Surge's expertise.

"Lightning Bolt's going to be a cakewalk for her." Surge grunted. "It's really not much of a challenge for anything with enough juice to fuel it and enough control to keep it from blowing up in their face. The challenge is that most electric-types are weaklings that don't have the discipline to pull it off."

"Anyways, she should be done with it before the end of the day. Electivire knows what he's doing." The electric-type specialist said proudly. "If she finishes early I'll get you started on some of my other techniques. I think Oz'll be able to handle them as long as Electivire or Raichu don't smack her down beforehand."

Ash nodded, interested. He could easily recall the harsh battle he'd had with Surge's true team during his second circuit of Kanto's gym leaders. It was one that certainly would have ended in his defeat had Surge not called it off as a draw. The man's personal techniques were absolutely devastating when used correctly.

Lightning Bolt was the most powerful of Surge's techniques but Ash could see that the others were just as useful. He'd long forgotten their names, but he distinctly remembered Raichu's shell of arcing electricity that was capable of leaving almost every attack from Tangrowth nothing but a blackened mess. Not to mention Jolteon's specialized anti-psychic tactics or Electivire's insanely powerful and complicated techniques.

"She's got damn good battle instincts too." Surge noted as Oz and Electivire, who seemed to have entered into a spar of some sort, traded blows. Electivire was obviously holding back but it was obviously having to exert some amount of effort. "Lance really did do his job well. It could have taken a year or more to get her to that level of experience otherwise."

Ash nodded and finally asked the most important question. "Is she ready to evolve?"

Surge scowled. "That's a hard question. I'd say she's about four or five years old at this point, considering that she was pretty high up in the pack when we fought her and that her fangs are mostly developed. Most trainer-raised Electabuzz evolve around six or seven, when they're fully mature for the Electabuzz stage."

He frowned at that. Ash didn't want to rush Oz's development but he didn't want her to lag behind the rest of the team either. She'd never catch up to Infernus if she had to wait a year or two until evolution.

"I said most, Runt." Surge smirked and eyed Oz speculatively. "She's a good bit stronger than the average Electabuzz. I'd say that she needs some more time to develop her power, but not a full year. Give her a few months and train her hard. The payoff'll be worth it."

"So let's make a deal." The giant continued. Ash listened raptly. "You work that Electabuzz to the bone, alright? If I gave you an Electrizer now she'd never reach her full potential. She'll be a monster on the battlefield eventually — you've just got to be patient."

"I'll evaluate her in six months — we can go a little more or a little less if you have a chance to drop by Vermillion." Surge grinned. "If she's up to snuff I'll get you an Electrizer and show you a few more of my personal techniques. You just saw the flashy stuff in our last battle. Anyways, deal?"

"Deal." Ash smiled and shook Surge's giant, calloused hand. It was easily twice the size of his own. He wasn't sure where he'd be in six months, but he'd find a way to return to Vermillion by that time. Interregional travel would be inconvenient but Surge's expertise and the prospect of Oz's evolution would be more than worth it.

"Good." Surge growled. "Let's get your education started, Runt. If you don't understand at least the basics of the physics behind electricity that Electabuzz is never going to amount to anything else than a living light show. If you're going to create or improve on techniques or use her to her full potential you'd better pay attention."

"Understood." He replied. Ash had a half-way decent understanding of electricity already from his research into the physiology and abilities of Electabuzz. Surge would just be giving him an even deeper explanation.

Surge's demeanor grew ever more serious as he shifted to a more comfortable position and began. "Alright, the first thing we need to cover is what electricity is. From there we'll move onto currents and how they work — that's most of what you'll be concerned with for battling. So keep focused. I don't want to have to explain it twice."

The giant sat still and thoughtful for a few moments before he continued. "The simplest way I can explain it is that electricity is the result of the presence and flow of an electrical charge. Not very detailed or entirely correct, but even someone like you should be able to understand that. Anyway…"

Ash listened intently to the man as Surge began to delve into more and more complex issues just simple enough for him to understand but difficult and numerous enough to let him know that he would have a slight headache later on.

XX

Ash's slight fatigue from several thirty minute sessions of Surge's teaching over the past three hours was washed away the moment Oz whirred furiously at Electivire, released the charge within her body, and fired an immensely powerful bolt of electricity that momentarily blinded him as it smashed into the larger electric-type.

"Yes!" He cheered for his friend, who sagged with exhaustion even as her eyes flashed with glee at her success. Ash and Surge had watched for nearly after his lesson as she struggled and failed to release Lightning Bolt. "Great job, Oz!"

"Like I said, Lightning Bolt's not too hard." Surge boomed. He still had a decidedly pleased expression on his tanned face, however. "I'd be disappointed if she hadn't gotten it by now. You need to keep honing that control, Runt. It's her greatest strength."

"I will." He promised as the grin finally slid off his face. Oz was absolutely exhausted. Although this was the first Lightning Bolt she'd managed to release, the process of learning to gather that power, releasing it, and controlling it to the point that it simply didn't explode was a draining process. "When you next see her even you'll be impressed."

Surge just snorted and flashed Ash another of his manic smiles. "I'll believe it when I see it, Runt. I'm thinking you'll have to prove it at our next meeting. I can't just let an unqualified trainer have access to an Electrizer, you know."

The giant frowned suddenly and glanced over at Oz. "You might as well take her and get out of here. She's wiped out and you're useless right now. Rest up and meet me here again tomorrow. I might as well get you started on some of my other techniques."

Ash nodded tiredly and accepted Surge's judgment. He thought he could probably go through another of Surge's lectures and still pay a reasonable amount of attention but it wouldn't be very enjoyable. Right now he had the dull, throbbing ache of someone who had been mentally focused for far too long.

With that in mind he went ahead and recalled Oz. She seemed grateful for the rest and Ash couldn't blame her. Every now and then Raichu and Electivire would engage her in a brief spar if she wasn't progressing fast enough on Lightning Bolt. The spars never ended in her favor, although she always engaged training with renewed fervor after the impromptu beatdowns.

Judging from the smug looks Raichu and Electivire shared that was their intention. Oz no doubt wanted nothing more than to blast the two of them with Lightning Bolts until she couldn't continue or they were lying on the ground in a smoking heap.

While Raichu and Electivire were strong and experienced enough to casually absorb or redirect the electricity so as to render it harmless, the heat and kinetic force carried by the attack were more than enough to leave the two in quite a bit of pain.

"Go on, get out of here." Surge waved him away. Ash finally left with Oz's pokeball in hand.

"Good job, Oz. Keep that up and you'll catch Infernus in no time." He murmured to the red-and-white orb as he placed it on his belt. It thrummed with a small pulse of energy before it left his hand.

Ash squeezed his eyes shut as he stepped out of the relatively unscathed training ground and into the massive League building used to house the practice areas for the competitors and official personnel. His headache had renewed itself with vigor. He definitely wouldn't be strategizing until later tonight.

That was fine with him, however. He'd planned on meeting with his mother and Professor Oak sometime today anyway. It had been a few days since he stopped by, given that he had obsessively prepared for Grey since he had realized that he'd be facing the Unovan in the Semifinals.

Perhaps Gary would be there. He seemed to have begun to reach out to his grandfather more often.

Ash smiled slightly at the thought.

XX

"So, what's your strategy?" Gary asked with a raised eyebrow as he glanced across the small table stacked with food with crossed arms. "I might not have talked to you for a while, but I know better than to think you're going in blind. Even you aren't that stupid."

"I appreciate your faith in me." Ash smiled drily as he lightly bit off another piece of bread. He tossed the last bit of it to Sneasel, who greedily inhaled the food with the ravenousness only possessed by predators that had to fight for every scrap. The dark-type's attitude certainly didn't match with his reality. "But I think I'd like to keep it a surprise. I've not quite finished developing them yet."

Gary snorted. "You might wanna get on that, Ashy-boy. You've got what, two days left?"

"Yes." He sighed at the reminder. "And don't worry. I'm making good progress. He just has a lot of variety for me to account for."

"Bah!" Gary waved his statement away and set down his plate, although he had to pause and sneer at Sneasel to keep the dark-type from picking at his scraps. "You'll be fine. If you lose to some bum from Orre I'm not sure if my pride will allow me to speak to you again. So keep that in mind, will ya?"

Ash rolled his eyes. "Now you're just trying to give me motivation to lose. I didn't know you were that bitter over your loss."

He couldn't hold back a smirk as Gary sighed and admitted defeat. It seemed that he'd finally run out of witty comments.

"Now, now, Gary." The Professor finally spoke up reprovingly. "I thought I taught you better than to judge someone off of their birthplace."

"Meh." Gary said disinterestedly. "If he came from anywhere else I'd agree with you. But it's Orre. If he's a good guy it's because he got out of there early."

Oak frowned but didn't press the issue as Ash's mother walked into the room with some more drinks that she passed out to the other inhabitant and visitors to the Oak House.

Ash smiled at his mother as he took the drink. He'd already spent a good amount of time talking to her as they prepared everything for the meal but he'd definitely try and come back tomorrow.

"Are you worried at all?" She asked curiously as she took a seat. "I can't imagine how it must feel to get up in front of all those people."

He shrugged. Ash was looking forward to this battle. This was his last chance to show just what he'd become over the last year of training and hardship. He wouldn't lose — he couldn't.

"Not really. I've done the best I can. The better trainer will win. Whatever happens, happens. There's nothing else I can do to improve other than prepare." He said quietly.

"Don't be such an optimist." Gary flicked him on the shoulder and ignored Sneasel's protective hiss. Ash lightly scratched around the dark-type's feather to calm Sneasel to the point that he sheathed his claws. "But seriously, Ashy-boy. Don't sound so grim. I'm sure Johnny, Amelia, and all those other scrubs from Pallet Town are cheering you on."

"And you?" Ash raised an eyebrow.

Gary smirked. "I don't think you need to be cheered on."

"I'm touched." Ash smiled. He had to admit that he'd missed these conversations with Gary, even if they were quite different thanks to their newfound maturity and a slightly larger vocabulary. From the pleased looks on both his mother and Oak's faces they'd missed it — or, rather, what their quips represented — as much or more than he and Gary had.

There was a slight pause in the conversation, but the Professor started it back up as he set his own plate down. "So, Ash, I must say that I'm impressed with Magmortar. He's become rather formidable."

"Yes, he has." Ash agreed with a light grin. "He's instrumental in my strategies. Michael has a Dragonite and Salamence, not to mention a Snorlax. I think I can take his Jolteon and Arcanine alright, but those three will be tricky."

"Ya know," Gary chimed in, "tricky isn't really what comes to mind when most people think of those three pokemon – awful is more like it. But I suppose I can't blame you. You've never been too bright. Personally, I'm more interested in how some thug from Orre got his hands on those powerhouses. For some reason I don't see it happening through legal channels."

Ash almost responded given that he had a very good idea from that video he watched, but the old Professor reacted before he could say anything.

"I assure you that those pokemon are rightfully his." Oak sighed. He looked rather old at that moment. "And please don't speak of him that way. Honestly, you have no respect."

"Eh, are we talking Orre legal or civilized world legal?" Gary asked flippantly, ignoring the Professor's criticism. "'Cause those are two very different things."

"He's a good trainer." Ash defended. "I met him on my way to Viridian. Michael helped us out when we were chased by that aggressive flock of Spearow."

Gary just sighed and placed a hand on Ash's shoulder. "Ya know, you really need to stay mute. I mean, a Spearow flock? Really? I'm just going to guess that the two scrubs screwed up somehow so that I don't lose all respect for you as a trainer."

Ash rolled his eyes at Gary's dramatics. "Don't pretend that you would have handled it any better than we did. It was our third day."

"But Spearow!" Gary grinned nastily. "Man, I'm gonna have to hold onto this one."

"Anyways," Oak interjected in an attempt to bring the conversation back on track, "you impressed quite a few people with your victory in the Semifinals. I can't claim to know anything about the Unovan trainer, but he was certainly formidable."

He just nodded and flashes of the difficult battle flitted through his head. Ash was just glad that none of his friends had been hurt like they had in the battle against Gary. Grey was much stronger than Gary but their battle lacked the brutality of his and Gary's match.

The lack of broken bones and stripped flesh was proof enough of that. On his side, anyway. Infernus had done far more damage to Grey's team than the Unovan had done to Ash's.

They lingered in comfortable silence again until Oak suddenly grinned and looked toward his mother. "Ah, I'd almost forgotten. I got that call you were waiting on."

His mother's face lit up and she smiled like she was still a girl. "Really?!"

Oak just kept up his pleased look. "Should I —"

"Not yet." His mother hurriedly cut him off. She sent a quick glance over to Ash, who frowned curiously at the two. "We'll be right back. Samuel and I have some things to discuss."

Ash just shrugged and nodded. It was clearly important. HIs mother would tell him what it was about eventually.

With that the adults left. Gary and Ash didn't say anything for a while, content in the room that was utterly silent except for Sneasel munching on some of the food Ash had given him.

"So I'm going to Johto for sure." Gary spoke up nonchalantly. "Got my plans ready last night."

"Is that right?" Ash smiled and turned toward his friend. "Have fun."

"Have fun?" Gary snorted. "Please. I'm gonna be bored if I don't find something interesting to do besides training. After getting my team ready this year the Silver Conference is gonna be a freakin' cakewalk. Now that I've had a real battle against you I have a milestone to surpass."

"I'm glad you hold me in such high regard." He said lightly and smirked as Gary rolled his eyes. "Have you decided what you'll do after the Silver Conference?"

Gary lazily waved his question away. "Meh. After I become the Silver Conference Champion I'll probably start studying. Gramps wants me to follow in his footsteps and I can't say it's a bad idea. Daisy's already certified and does some research when she's not doing those stupid Contests in Hoenn and Sinnoh. I can't be the only one in the family to be an uneducated moron, ya know."

Ash rolled his eyes at the relatively subtle insult. "Yes, that would be a shame."

"And what about you? Anything new come up?" Gary demanded.

"Just an offer to join the Elite Four as a trainee." Ash said casually and handed Sneasel yet another scrap of bread. "Nothing spectacular."

Gary stared at him agape. "What."

"I know you heard me." Ash smiled.

"No. Freaking. Way." Gary breathed and stared at Ash with something akin to awe. "And you didn't think to tell me?"

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