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.


49. The Hunt Part 2

"Save that kind of speed for when I have a saddle." He shouted above the atmosphere's cacophony. Plume nodded solemnly and created an air bubble around them that made the air resistance practically nonexistent. Ash felt much better now and laid his head against Plume's soft, glossy feathers and took another calming breath. His heart wasn't quite as busy, but he still needed a moment.

He definitely needed to buy a saddle once the Conference was over with. Ash wasn't sure what he'd do after the competition, but he did know that he'd like to be able to fly with Plume. It was enjoyable, even if he absolutely refused to look down unless he had to.

After another minute or so of quick gliding Plume shrieked and angled downward. Ash frowned and pulled his head up from where he rested. He squeezed his eyes shut as his stomach lurched but slowly opened them again when Plume cooed softly at the trainer.

Ash stared out at the ground. They were still thousands of feet up, although it wasn't so high as to give him serious breathing issues. The world was a vast expanse of green underneath him, completely untouched and only broken by the odd winding river or rugged mountain.

Right now Plume was slowly diving at a mountain. Ash squinted at it. There was something odd. Unlike the other, lesser mountains around it, this gigantic height had a huge, smooth hole ripped in the top of it. Something had made it. The hole was too clean to be natural.

Plume shrieked as they suddenly landed beside the missing section. Ash was reminded of looking down at the heart of Mt. Moon as he dismounted his friend and stared down into the glade below. Something had carved out the interior of the mountain with incredible skill. Ash wasn't sure how the exterior didn't collapse on itself. Perhaps the sculptor had left just enough for the mountain to remain stable.

This was a sanctuary that would remain untouched by all but those who knew of it. Very few trainers flew out here and those that did probably wouldn't notice the odd mountain. The giant Rhydon must have made it to protect its herd.

"Is Rhydon down there?" Ash asked as he stared into the beautiful, unspoiled glade that prospered between the vast walls of stone. Plume nodded. He would accept that. His eyes were far too weak to make anything out other than a large expanse of soft green and the odd gray smudge. They were probably members of the herd, but it might have just been rock.

"Could you fly me down there?"

Plume lowered herself and shrieked as he pulled himself onto her back. Ash held on for dear life as she lightly dived into the secret grove. He felt queasy as the green grew closer and closer and resisted the urge to empty the contents of his stomach. Plume probably wouldn't appreciate it.

After about ten seconds the nauseating journey came to an end. Ash looked around warily as he leapt off of the flying-type. The area had a sparse dusting of tall, thin trees that seemed almost ethereal as light cast them in a golden glow. There was quite a bit of light shrubbery, although he didn't see many large bushes or plants. Most of the glade was covered in short, thick grass that looked to have been recently trampled by large, heavy feet.

He saw several napping Rhyhorn curled on top of a small outcropping of stone, but the rest of the large herd he remembered was nowhere to be seen. Ash frowned and glanced up at Plume, who was also doing her best to find any trace of the group of rock-types.

Ash silently released Tangrowth. He didn't want to let out any of his friends that the herd might consider a threat. Bruiser, Sneasel, Seeker, and Tangrowth were probably the only safe bets. Nidoking would probably induce a rampage, Infernus was Infernus, Oz wouldn't be useful against the Rhydon, the raw power Torrent exuded would probably attract giant, and powerful psychics like Dazed tended to make pokemon unused to them uneasy.

"Keep an eye out. If something moves, don't hurt it. Just restrain it if it tries to attack." He instructed. Tangrowth gurgled happily and lightly tapped Ash on the forehead as he followed the trainer. "Thanks, buddy."

"Thanks for your help, Plume." Ash said gratefully. She nipped softly at the bill of his cap and nuzzled him slightly, although Tangrowth helpfully kept him from being knocked over. "Do you mind if I recall you?"

She cooed and shook her head at him, so Ash went ahead and returned her. Plume was fast, but he didn't want her getting hit by an attack from the Rhydon. Rocks were deadly to her and a broken wing might not be completely healed by the time he needed to head to the Conference.

Now, alone with the cheerful Tangrowth, Ash started walking. He still didn't see anything other than the odd, napping Rhyhorn with the occasional Rhydon that the younger rock-types huddled around. They were in the midst of a sort of hibernation. It wasn't true hibernation as an Ursaring would take, but when exposed to cold Rhyhorn and Rhydon tended to become very drowsy and sleep for days on end. The only time they would awake was if they were under threat or they were hungry.

At least they had a safe place to hide from poachers. Rhyhorn were valuable, albeit relatively common. They weren't very intelligent but they were very loyal and more than capable of breaking through an enemy's lines with their charge. It was the primary reason some criminal organizations and the League preferred to use them when dealing with the sheer numbers of Team Rocket. The fact that they were practically immune to all but the strongest of poison didn't hurt matters.

He came out of his ponderings when he suddenly saw something of interest: A strange gap in the mountainside that looked large enough for an Onix to fit through. It was clearly made by something with far more finesse than the stone serpents, however. The passageway was cut in clear, sharp lines reminiscent of the skill and power of the one who had carved out this mountain.

"Stay with me." He whispered to Tangrowth as he headed into the passage. It was dark so he reached into his bag and removed a small electrical lantern. The blackness was banished as light emanated from the device and Ash looked around.

The passageway was not what he had expected. Instead of rough, carved stone on the sides he was surrounded by unnaturally smooth walls that had carvings etched into them every few feet or so, seemingly from thick, powerful claws. They went deep into the stone without any sign of roughness. Most likely the giant Rhydon was the artist.

He suddenly frowned once he actually looked at the carving nearest to the entrance. Ash's breath hitched in his throat as he stared at the etching in the stone. It was something that was far too similar for him to be comfortable with: The emblem of Pewter City and also its badge. The symbol was covered in gray stone that barely stood out from the black behind it.

Ash glanced at the wall opposite. It was carved into the form of a simple teardrop and overlaid with a glossy light blue gem. He couldn't even have imagined what it was. It was too light to be a sapphire, which was the only blue stone he could think of off the top of his head.

The trainer raised his lamp higher and continued walking down the passage. All of the badges were here, the ancient symbols of their cities that were a lasting memento of times when they had been divided and fractured.

The golden, octagonal star of Vermillion. The rainbow flower of Celadon. The purple heart of Fuchsia. The golden circles of Saffron. Cinnabar's red flame. Viridian's green plant.

They weren't in that particular order, but they were all there. He felt a bit of anticipation rush through his veins as he slowly stepped through the strange passageway. Ash wasn't sure what was going on, but he knew that this wasn't anything he had expected.

At the very end of the passage there was a slight overhang. Ash raised his lantern and squinted at the symbol, although his eyes widened even more when he recognized it. It was the ancient symbol of the League – a circle that held a stylized Rhydon in it, which was bisected to symbolize the two halves of the Indigo League. His mind began to race with possibilities, but he headed on.

When he left the darkness of the tunnel his eyes widened. He hadn't simply entered another glade, he had entered a sanctum. There were no trees or shrubs, just a small hollow in the mountain that had an overpowering presence. Ash felt as though he were unworthy to be here.

This chamber was timeless. Even the grass seemed to be locked in perpetual stasis. It was short and thick, more comfortable than he would have imagined. Several pillars that were of some sort of shiny white stone were placed evenly throughout the four corners of the room, although Ash thought they were simply decorative.

That wasn't what stole his attention. Ash flicked off his lamp and placed it in his backpack as he stared in awe at some sort of monument that dominated the hollow. It was sculpted from plain grey stone, hewn from the very heart of the mountain. The monument was on dais raised about twenty feet above the air. A flight of smooth stairs had been raised to provide access.

He felt as if he were guided. There was no other option for him than to step through this empty chamber and begin his slow journey up the stairs. His footsteps echoed loudly throughout the area. The world was silent.

Tangrowth waited at the bottom for some reason, but Ash didn't notice as he finally reached the monument. He could see that it was far less perfect now that he was in the single beam of sunlight that graced this chamber through a small hole in the mountain above. It illuminated the chamber and gave the statue an ethereal look.

The monument was weathered with age, but it looked like something had tried to preserve it. He could see that it seemed to pay homage to five figures. While their statues were disfigured by the ravages of time and the natural elements, he could still make them out.

A man, tall and proud with a straight back. His eyes were not stone but small, cut circles of sapphire. Ash couldn't tell many details of the man's face thanks to the statue's age, but he was able to see that it was angular and had high cheekbones. There was not a beard or any other facial hair on it, so Ash assumed that the subject was rather young.

What faded clothes he had were simple robes, although Ash didn't know enough about ancient history to try and connect the robes to whatever time period the figure was from.

"Who are you?" He muttered as he regarded the proud figure. Ash looked at the other statues.

To the right of the human was a hulking Rhydon, at least ten feet high. It was a perfect replica and stood protectively by the human. Ash assumed that the man was its trainer. Ash smiled as he was reminded of Nidoking's own devotion.

At the human's left was a regal Ninetales. It had its head raised haughtily, although the small eyes of bright ruby angled up at the human in a way that Ash could perceive as adoring. The stone beast's tails were spread widely in an elegant manner. A rocky caricature of a Fire Stone was cradled between its paws.

The last immortalized figure was obviously a Tauros, massive and powerful. It dwarfed any that Ash had seen other than Professor Oak's. Tauros' horns ended in a wicked curl that complimented the sheer power it would have possessed had it been alive.

Ash looked up at the figures in awe for a few more moments. He had no idea who they were, but they must have been incredibly important. He'd like to know why there was a monument to them in the middle of the Fuchsia wilds rather than in an actual city. There had never been any sort of civilization here.

He shrugged it off and tried to find something that would identify them. Ash checked the front of the rectangular platform they were mounted upon and was pleased to find his suspicions confirmed.

Luckily the words had been carved so deeply into the stone that they were still legible even after the untold amount of time the monument had been sheltered in this timeless chamber. They seemed to bear more resemblance to the Unown that Ash had seen at Jessica's home than modern script, but it wasn't too hard to translate it.

Written language hadn't changed much. It was always based off of the Unown. Their influence on humanity would be felt for eons.

"Here rests Champion Taimu, the Uniter. May his name live forever in the stars." Ash read in shock, a weight upon him as he read the ancient characters that revealed this man as a Champion of Indigo. He'd never heard this Champion's name, but the title revealed him for what he was – the First.

He bowed his head in respect as he regarded this ancient, legendary figure. The origins of the Indigo League were dim, but he knew that this was the one who had united the fractured territories of Kanto and Johto and united them under a single banner through nothing but his own strength.

"Champion Taimu." Ash said softly as he stood up and straightened his back to look at the ancient depiction of the First. The proud visage, touched by time as it was, simply looked past the young trainer with the stony focus that Ash would imagine the living Taimu to possess. "The rest of the world might have forgotten your name, but I won't."

Ash regarded the First and his team for a few more moments before he turned around to leave. He wanted to find the Rhydon that so perfectly matched the one that stood behind Champion Taimu. Whatever estimations of its strength he'd wagered before were not enough.

This was a Rhydon legendary for its strength. It had been the cornerstone of the First's team and had assisted Champion Taimu in uniting dozens of squabbling territories under a single banner. There was no telling just how powerful it really was.

He felt a little fear. It wasn't something he enjoyed, especially as the dread settled fitfully in the pit of his stomach. The League had been established for a little under a millennium. For a Rhydon to live that long was nothing short of awe inspiring.

Ash knew that Rhydon could live for centuries thanks to their odd biology that incorporated both large amounts of minerals, a robust cellular regenerative abilities to keep them from tearing their bodies apart with their immense strength and mass, and the sheer durability they had to possess to function under such crushing weight.

The problem was that most of the time Rhydon ended up dying in territorial disputes. They were vicious when it came to protecting their land and their herd. Normally they were rather sedate, but if they felt threatened they would go onto a rampage similar to that of a Nidoking, which normally ended with the League being forced to take them out of the wild.

As a result nobody knew how long they could live. It wasn't easy to find a Rhydon in their natural habitat if they didn't want to be found and it was exceedingly dangerous to pry. But he felt that this might be the oldest one alive, outside of the odd, ancient Rhypherior.

It made sense. Whereas most Rhydon were slain by other Rhydon or furious Nidoking, it would be practically impossible for a wild Rhydon to even touch the giant Rhydon that had fought with the First.

Ash frowned and wondered if he should fight the Rhydon. It had to be stronger than he had dared to imagine and Janine had made it sound as though it were rather territorial. Perhaps he should simply leave and be content with the wonders he had discovered.

He couldn't make up his mind as he turned back to stare at the ancient, weathered depiction of the Champion Taimu. The First's sapphire eyes stared off into the passageway, unchanging and hinting of the power the human had possessed in life.

The trainer finally made up his mind to leave. He didn't want to disturb the Rhydon. He certainly didn't want to try to catch it anymore. Rhydon had been trained by the First, one of the greatest Masters to ever walk the earth. No one could be a deserving trainer to such a creature, certainly not Ash. He wasn't sure if even Lance would measure up to Rhydon's standards.

Before he left he unconsciously pressed his fist over his heart, which still had a bare spot in the form of the perfectly round hole. It was small enough to not really bother him, plus it forced him to never forget what Mewtwo to cause.

His mind flickered to dark places concerning vengeance and justice before he forced himself to return to himself. He could not be consumed. Justice would be done in the future, but for now he needed to let go. After the Conference he could seek out ways to force the Creature to pay.

He bowed his head to honor the First for a few moments and turned away to Tangrowth. It was time for him to leave this hallowed ground.

Unfortunately, that wouldn't be the case.

Ash froze when he heard the rumble of heavy, plodding footsteps that seemed to connect to the mountain itself. The stone sang around him as the steps grew more and more powerful. Dust lifted off of the ground, although the monument was left safe.

Tangrowth gurgled and turned to face the passageway, concern evident in his saucer-like eyes. He extended his vines into the blackness, although the grass-type whined piteously and frantically tried to pull back as something seemed to grab the thick appendages.

"Tangrowth!" Ash shouted and rushed forward as Tangrowth was suddenly yanked from his large red feet, no mean feat considering the vines his friend had dug into the ground in an effort to resist the overwhelming force.

The grass-type gurgled piteously and outstretched a vine to wrap loosely around Ash's hand as he was unceremoniously reeled into the blackness. Rationality snapped back into Ash's mind and he instantly recalled his friend before he could be subjected to whatever fate had been in store for him.

Ash steeled himself and resolutely faced the darkness as the thunderous rumbling grew closer. A dark form was slowly outlined, at least eleven feet high and half as wide. The sunbeam that fell upon the monument was the only light available for Ash to analyze the hulking creature.

It was even larger than he remembered, especially now that he had gotten better at estimation. Now that he wasn't sprinting for dear life away from this behemoth he could pick out quite a few more details.

The first was a faint carving in its thick armor that Ash couldn't make out the details of, although it appeared to be composed of eight symbols. He assumed that it was the badges, although he doubted he would really be able to see it unless he knocked the Rhydon out and analyzed it up close.

What was far more obvious were the five pale grey stones Rhydon had seemingly implanted onto itself. Ash had never used one or actually held one, but he could tell what they were even from this distance: Everstones. It looked like Rhydon didn't want to evolve, despite the enormous increase in power it would give to the ancient rock-type.

Ash dimly wondered how powerful it was that it required multiple Everstones to repress its evolution.

Rhydon's slate eyes glared at him reproachfully and it bared its huge, blunt fangs. It softened and lost some of its anger as it stared sadly at the monument Ash stood on, but when it actually realized that Ash had dared to approach the sacred statue of its trainer it roared with a fury that sounded as though two mountains had been crushed together.

Its massive hand twitched. Ash yelped in surprise as the ground around him suddenly exploded upward, although it didn't even come close to touching the First's statue. Rhydon took great care to protect the memorial.

He held on for dear life as the stone pillar rushed high out of the sky, propelled by Rhydon's will. Ash refused to squeeze his eyes shut, however, and watched with intermixed awe and horror as the pillar forced him hundreds and hundreds of feet into the air until the pillar finally ground to a halt by the mountain's side.

Ash looked around desperately. He'd have to jump off of this thin jutting stone and land on Plume if he wanted to escape. While he had become a bit braver in regards to flying that still sounded like a last resort. He trusted Plume with his life but even the thought of leaping off into the infinite sky made him queasy.

Fortunately or unfortunately, a huge pillar shot into the sky beside him and stopped at the same height. It was absolutely massive, composed of tons of stone that were required to lift the ill-tempered Rhydon to its position in front of Ash.

As Rhydon leveled a glare at him, Ash wondered just what it was about to do. It could easily kill him at this point. All it had to do was will the pillar that supported him to break or fire stone shards at him. He was at its mercy, although he put his hand on Plume's pokeball to prepare. Seconds could be the key to his life.

Rhydon snorted and shot a small cloud of dust from its large nostrils. It forced its right claw forward with a grunt. Ash warily waited for some sort of attack, but his eyes widened and he fought the urge to flinch and step back when the side of the mountain they stood by suddenly shot out from its resting place and formed a platform several hundred feet around just underneath them.

As Ash failed to comprehend the power required to perform such a ridiculous feat of strength, Rhydon dipped its head and caused the pillars to lower until they were simply another part of the absolutely gigantic platform. It growled and walked over to the other side of the stone arena and lowered its head.

Realization flitted through Ash's fear and disbelief. A slow grin split over his face and he shifted his hand from Plume's pokeball to Infernus'. Rhydon didn't want to kill him. Not yet, anyway. It wanted to fight, to test him.

Well, he'd give it what it wanted. He twisted his hat backwards so he'd be able to see. A cloud above them provided enough shade that he wouldn't have to worry about the glare of the bright sun.

"Infernus, you're up." He whispered, almost unconsciously, as he released his friend. Infernus appeared in a blaze of fire, his power undeniable as the inferno he was named after surrounded his powerful form. The Magmortar spat a roaring tongue of flame into the sky to herald his arrival and sneered at Rhydon, who snorted back, unimpressed.

"It's stronger than we thought!" Ash said as calmly as he could to his friend. That statement just served to inflame Infernus farther – a gleeful smirk carved its way across his fiery face as he regarded the giant Rhydon. "Be careful and don't get knocked off!"

Infernus shifted one hand into its cannon-like form while the other remained a clawed fist. His form wavered from his own heat and his strong legs bent a little, ready to propel him into motion at any opportunity.

Ash quickly analyzed the situation. The battlefield meant that Infernus didn't have much to turn to his advantage. It forced a blunt, head-on approach to the battle. There wouldn't be any tricks like Haze. Rhydon could probably detect them as long as they were in contact with the stone.

Rhydon had plenty of its natural element at its disposal, so it would automatically have an advantage over Infernus. Ash had an idea of how to fight Rhydon and Rhypherior – get inside their guard with a powerful fighter or whittle them down from a distance with a maneuverable pokemon – but he wasn't sure how it would work against this ancient creature. It was on an entirely different level than Giovanni's Rhypherior.

He wasn't absolutely certain of how much damage Infernus would be able to get off with such an inherent disadvantage. Ash wasn't entirely certain how powerful his friend was now, despite his grandiose displays of strength. Infernus hadn't faced a real enemy yet outside of that cloned Charizard. It was one of the reasons Ash had wanted to seek the Rhydon out in the first place.

But that didn't matter. Right now he needed to find out what the Rhydon's capabilities were.

"Smokescreen!" He commanded. This wasn't a life or death battle, so he felt comfortable assisting his friends. Rhydon was monstrously powerful but it probably wasn't out to kill them.

Infernus snarled an affirmative and spewed a thick cloud of oily black smoke from his mouth. It quickly drifted over the field and obscured Rhydon's weak vision entirely. Ash just waited. "Be ready to dodge."

The order was proven to be a good one when a hail of sharp shards of stone suddenly sailed through the veil of smoke, their speed enough to leave a thick gap in the Smokescreen due to the wind they kicked up.

Ash flinched as they sailed by just a few feet away, but felt that he'd gained much more than Rhydon from that exchange, especially since Infernus' reflexes, enhanced by the heat he produced, allowed him to easily dodge the lightning fast attack.

That proved that Rhydon wasn't relying on its eyes. Its hearing was good, but not good enough to determine Infernus' position. It had to be using the technique some powerful rock-types were capable of learning called Stone Sense. They were able to detect vibrations through rock and ground, which let them know exactly where their opponents were. Ash supposed it was similar to Dazed's own psychic "echolocation", although it was far more limited.

Regardless, it was a useful ability and he now had something to work with for the rest of the battle. It was just too bad that only Plume would be able to avoid that. She could be really effective against Rhydon, however, if he managed to keep it blind.

"It can feel where you are!" He shouted to make sure that Infernus could hear over the roaring flames he spat aimlessly across the battlefield. The air smoldered and flecks of ash danced through the air like grey snowflakes as Infernus roared his understanding and let his true strength out.

Ash had to raise his sleeve to shield himself from the horrible heat Infernus produced. Even then it felt like his arm was about to burst into flame if Infernus didn't run or lower his heat output.

He watched with wide eyes as the air spontaneously combusted around Infernus, wreathing him in a deadly aura of flame that was far more impressive than if he had simply caused his body to ignite. This wasn't a deliberate action – the ignition that left Infernus in a glow of orange and cherry fire was simply a byproduct.

"Earthquake." He commanded over the fire's din. Infernus, a furious flicker of motion amidst the roaring inferno, snorted and smashed his claws foot against the ground. His shackled leg sent wild flames rushing around him, the explosion nothing but a way for Infernus to propel himself toward his legendary foe.

Ash dearly wished he had found a less crippling method of testing Rhydon's Stone Sense. The smokescreen made it impossible to make out Rhydon amidst the black clouds, which was very dangerous. It was a stupid mistake, one he would have easily avoided if he hadn't been so worked up. He'd have to remember to stay calm during the Conference.

He had to trust Infernus to know what to do for the next few seconds. The winds synonymous with this kind of altitude were doing their best to clear the smog away, although it would take a while for all of the smoke to disappear. Ash didn't need all of it to disappear, though. All he needed was a bit of clarity.

"Don't try to take anything it throws at you!" He roared to Infernus as the Magmortar rushed straight into the heat of battle. Ash had to hope that Infernus wouldn't try to test his new power by attempting to weather an attack from Rhydon.

Infernus had always been able to soak up an inordinate amount of damage in battle, which had proved very useful in many fights. As a Magmortar Ash couldn't even begin to fathom how much stronger he was. But to pit Infernus, strong as he was, against the First's Rhydon was, simply put, a very bad idea.

He gritted his teeth as Infernus was suddenly hurled out of the smoke and into the clear air. Infernus landed nimbly on his feet and snarled furiously as a huge boulder, rough and uneven as if it had been torn from the mountain by Rhydon's claws, flew towards the Magmortar. It extinguished the thick trail of fire Infernus had left in his wake as he was thrown back but soon met a raging Infernus' fist.

Ash blinked as Infernus casually shattered the huge boulder with a single strike. He snorted and spat a powerful tongue of flame into the billowing smoke in return, although Ash doubted it did anything other than annoy Rhydon.

"Fire won't do anything to it." The trainer informed Infernus, although he expected that his friend already knew that. Infernus was very adept at understanding his foes' weaknesses. Ash sighed. He hated to do this, but it had to be done. "You have to get close – you know what to do."

He couldn't see Infernus' face, but he could easily imagine the grotesque, bloodthirsty grin that would mark itself on the Magmortar. Infernus steadied himself and roared one last time, a cry that caused all of the flames left searing the stone battlefield to leap wildly at their lord's call and caused Infernus' blazing aura to grow even more powerful.

Ash savored the thought of that kind of power in the Conference for just a moment before Infernus flitted into nothingness. The flames that had previously surrounded him fizzled out, choked dead without their master's fuel.

And then the great, fiery light that Infernus effortlessly emanated exploded from the other side of the field, casting the rays of a small star through the thick, clogged air. Ash shielded his face at the burst of heat and condemned himself to bearing it as flashes of fire exploded again and again, one for each of Infernus' powerful strikes. Every now and then thick boulders would come crashing through the air, although they never came close to Ash.

Not to say that they didn't strike fear into him. If Rhydon grew careless and used an attack like that it would easily crush Ash. Perhaps Infernus could smash the boulders as if they were tiny pebbles but Ash was just a human. A rather small, relatively defenseless human aside.

He grinned when the smoke had finally cleared enough to give him a good view of Rhydon and Infernus. As expected, Infernus had teleported inside Rhydon's guard, likely by its flank to give him the maximum advantage.

Rhydon wasn't putting up much of a fight, which immediately put Ash on edge. It was lashing out at Infernus, but the blows were slow enough for the nimble Magmortar to dodge with ease. Infernus, on the other hand, was a constant blur of movement only traced by the fires that moved with him. Every blow exploded on impact and a few cracks had threaded throughout its thick armor but it didn't seem worried.

Ash scowled. Infernus was using Brick Break, although it looked like he'd combined it with Fire Punch. Of course, the explosions of fire could also be from Infernus' roaring aura that served to enhance him even further. The fact that Infernus was using a move designed especially to break through armor and shields and still failed to do any significant damage was disheartening.

It looked like he'd have to use another little trick that Lance had given him.

"Hyper Beam!" He roared to his friend. It was dangerous, but it was the only hope they actually had of breaking through Rhydon's nigh impenetrable armor. Last time they had barely managed to cause it to stumble, so at least they were doing some damage. That wasn't enough, though. Ash had to win this time.

Ash grinned as Infernus seamlessly leapt away from Rhydon's brutish blows and sweeping tail and shifted his molten fist to its cannon-like state. Rhydon roared and just had time to prepare itself before Infernus unleashed the full might of his Hyper Beam on the giant.

He squinted and was thankful for the remaining smoke as a huge beam of pure white light utterly consumed Rhydon. Ash had seen ridiculously powerful Hyper Beams before, but they had only been from older, powerful trainers like Lance. This was the first time one of his friends had actually used the powerful technique in battle, although he would rectify that in the future.

Hyper Beam was classified as a normal-type attack because it didn't have any sort of special attributes. It was just raw energy released in the form of focused, superheated plasma. As a result even weak Hyper Beams were capable of unleashing terrible destruction. The technique wasn't affected by the general weakness of the crude, physical blows most normal-type attacks consisted of against the thick, armored shells of rock-types, so it was a highly prized technique for many teams based around normal-types. Not much could resist a blast of energy that powerful.

As a result of expending so much energy on an attack that powerful, Infernus fell to one knee for a few brief seconds. Even his seemingly endless vitality could be sapped, it turned out. Ash would have to train to remove that weakness.

"Good job, Infernus. Hang in there!" He called encouragingly. Infernus just snorted and rose to his feet as Rhydon's form was emerged, relatively undamaged thanks to the monstrous amount of protection its shell gave it.

He sighed despondently, although he did notice that Rhydon looked a little tired. It wasn't completely immune, then. Hopefully that would have softened it up.

Unfortunately, it wasn't enough. Rhydon rose to its full, intimidating height and let loose a roar that shook the entire platform. Ash's bones felt like they would shatter apart from their bonds for a few terrifying seconds, although it settled quickly.

Infernus roared in return, although it was cut short when Rhydon swept one of its huge arms to the open air. His friend had barely processed it enough to leap away when a huge block of stone shot out from the side of the mountain they were attached to and slammed into Infernus hard enough to send him flying far over the edge, his immense power useless against the force of gravity.

For the most part, anyway. By the time the command had begun to form on Ash's lips Infernus had teleported back onto the platform. He was beaten but not broken. If there was anything Ash had learned it was that Infernus would never give up or accept defeat. Above all he was a fighter with the obstinate will the title implied.

He let the sharp breath he had taken flow out of his body. His heart slowly pounded at a normal rate, although his blood was still up and pumping.

Rhydon thoughtfully gave Infernus a breather. Ash could see from its open nostrils and a certain gleam in its shiny black eyes that the battle had finally become of interest to it.

Infernus reared his head back and roared all of his pain out. The stone around his feet bubbled and melted as Infernus finally exerted everything he had. Blue flames rippled up and down his body and licked the air greedily, sucking in all of the oxygen they could to feed themselves. Crackling tongues of orange fire danced around his powerful form, fueled by the core of white that was Infernus' body.

Before Infernus had been trying as hard as he always did against powerful opponents. He fought gleefully and sadistically, every blow meant to cause pain and force his prey to acknowledge his own assured superiority. It bespoke of his own strength and the arrogance it had instilled in him.

Now he had been hurt. Now he had moved past that. Ash had only rarely seen this side of Infernus – the cold, efficient side that cared little for anything other than victory. It wasn't the thrill of battle that fueled him now or the domination of his enemies. All that could sate Infernus in this state was the sight of his opponent broken before him.

This was Infernus, with all the power and brutality that name had come to mean.

He didn't snarl or spit any more. Ash grinned darkly as his raging fires calmed and focused. They took on a blue tinge as Infernus lost the madness that characterized his normal battles. Their crackles and roars shifted to more of a steady hiss.

"Confuse Ray." He ordered. Normally Infernus didn't care for the technique. The Magmortar much preferred beating his enemies senseless and ambushing them within his infernos. "Earthquake, then get in close. You know what to do."

Infernus was silent aside from the hissing fires that exuded from him. His flames brightened momentarily as he met the implacable Rhydon's eyes. The scarlet glow that pulsed from his sinister eyes due to Confuse Ray was completely drowned out by the bright light he manifested. All Ash could catch was a small, focused ball of dark purple energy that shot out at Rhydon before Infernus began to move in for the real attack.

Rhydon grunted softly when it was struck by the Confuse Ray, but it didn't seem affected by the technique. It just stayed absolutely still, but its attempt to circumvent the nausea and disorientation caused by the Confuse Ray was ruined when Infernus silently stamped his foot on the hard stone platform.

Ash was just thankful that Infernus remembered to focus the waves of force that emanated from his shackled foot toward Rhydon rather than throughout the arena. Considering the precarious position they were in that could have been bad.

While Rhydon lost its balance, Infernus took full advantage. He flitted out of existence, instantly reappeared by the monstrous rock-type, and began to savagely strike with quick, forceful blows that constantly exploded in a well of fire.

He pumped his fist gleefully when Rhydon was finally knocked over by Infernus' heavy blows, the Titan unable to fight gravity as its own bulk pulled it downward.

And then it jerked its head in a quick motion, which caused the stone underneath it to ripple, lurch upward as though it were soft sand, and force Rhydon back into its secure position. Rhydon reared back a fist with terrifying speed and ruthlessly smashed it into Infernus' chest, the unexpected blow enough to send Infernus' flying through the air.

"Teleport!" Ash roared helplessly, his eyes wide in shock as the focused Infernus was thrown away like a used doll. Infernus had been knocked into a daze by the force of the blow; his eyes were unfocused and his body was limp. He wasn't quite unconscious, though, since his flames still burned strong.

Before Infernus could land and regain his coherence, Rhydon snorted and raised its huge arms to the sky. It crushed them together with a sound like stone being crushed into powder and somehow ripped two absolutely massive chunks of rock, each a rough sphere of about ten feet diameter, from the mountain the platform was imbedded upon and levitated them high in the air.

Rhydon's claws contracted and the boulders shattered into several large slices with the motion of the dull keratin. The behemoth silently moved a finger and dexterously exerted control over the carved hunks of stone with eerie precision. One whizzed through the air and smashed into Infernus before he could actually land, while another slammed into his helpless form again to send him further into the air.

Ash's pale face looked up in horror as Rhydon casually played with Infernus. He prepared to raise the Magmortar's pokeball and recall his friend when Infernus' flames, almost extinguished by their master's steady defeat, flared up one last time in rebellion. Infernus' eyes snapped open and he reared back his fist and smashed the next of the stones to try and attack him.

The Magmortar landed heavily, his breathing fast and frenzied. He leaned heavily on one leg and scalding blood dripped steadily onto the stone battlefield. Infernus focused and shifted his fists into their cannon state in the moment before Rhydon renewed its bored assault.

He had to look away as three streams of identical blue flame with a thin core of white exploded from Infernus' weakened, broken body and lashed toward Rhydon with nothing but pure desperation fueling them. It was Infernus' last ditch attempt to exact some form of victory on the impossibly powerful Rhydon.

Rhydon just swept its heavy arm up with a grunt. A wall of gray stone three feet thick was erected in front of it, more than large enough to protect the entirety of Rhydon from the flames. Ash felt that it was more a show of power than anything. Raw fire wouldn't be enough to get past Rhydon's armor, despite the slight damage Infernus' blows had done to it.

Despite that, Infernus continued to pour his very being into the brazen assault. His eyes had lost their cold focus and had attained unadulterated determination in their stead, although that resolution weakened even as Infernus' body began to refuse his steely commands.

Ash assumed that this was all he was capable of doing. His body was too badly injured to try and rush Rhydon, although it would be fine after a soothing bath in molten lava. In the same way his mind was too scrambled by the brutal beating he had endured from Rhydon's rocks to attempt to access his psychic abilities.

After about thirty seconds of constant fire, Infernus' flames began to weaken. After the first signs of defeat his assault lost its strength rapidly. He was just too weak to maintain a sustained attack like that at the moment.

And then his cannons and mouth refused to fire anything than a steady stream of smoke. The flames that had formerly coalesced around his white-hot form had died and now he held the appearance he did outside of battle. Infernus had fought valiantly, but he was finished.

Rhydon was left relatively unscathed from Infernus' last stand other than large scorch marks from where Infernus' dying flame had struck after it had melted through the entirety of the stone. The rock-type eyed Infernus with a smidge of respect.

It cocked its head at the beaten, dazed Infernus before it grunted and swept its arm to the side in a brutal motion. Rhydon's absolute mastery over stone became apparent when the entire mountain side between it and Ash jutted out with a constant grinding sound and smashed into Infenrus.

As Infernus was unceremoniously hurled off of the edge and into the skies hundreds of feet above the Fuchsia wilds Ash reflexively returned him. By the time he looked up from the white and red pokeball the mountain had been returned to its proper position with a minimum of effort.

"You did wonderfully." He murmured to the pokeball, which seemed to pulse with an inner heat at his words. Ash carefully placed the pokeball onto his belt and stared over at Rhydon, who patiently waited for its next toy.

He was aware that it hadn't used a single actual technique. It had just struck at Infernus physically and weathered his blows until it had finally shown its true power. Rhydon had molded and manipulated stone without any sort of "attacks" and on a grander scale than anything Ash had ever seen before. Ash had no doubt that its sheer size, power, and experience probably made it more powerful than even Lance's Dragonite.

It was sort of like the Clefable that guarded the Moon Stone, in a way. The Guardian was far beyond any normal pokemon Ash had seen before. It had accessed heights of power that Ash couldn't have imagined for a Clefable – namely, mastering Metronome to an extent formerly believed impossible.

Rhydon was on the same impossible level. Although its species were noted for being able to use many techniques that could wrench stone into a desired position, he'd never even imagined it on this kind of scale. The First's Rhydon had pulled out the side of a mountain without any visible strain.

The ancient Rhydon had moved beyond mere "moves" and techniques. It didn't have to focus its power to command the stone, the stone moved with it. Rhydon had become one with the stone, in a sense.

Ash wasn't sure if the stone had become an extension of Rhydon or if Rhydon had become a channel of the stone, but Rhydon and its element were connected in a way closer than any pokemon Ash had seen aside from Legends. It was incredible to behold.

He continued to stare at it and pondered this fight. Rhydon was certainly Dragonite's superior in regards to raw power, but Ash thought that his team would be able to eke out this victory. Whereas a major reason he'd never been able to defeat Dragonite was due to its absolutely incredible maneuverability and unmatched speed Rhydon was practically a sitting target. A very powerful, almost invulnerable sitting target but a sitting target nonetheless.

Ash grabbed Tangrowth's pokeball. He'd told Nidoking that he would send him out after Infernus, but he had to weaken Rhydon greatly if he wanted any of his friends to strike the creature down.

Tangrowth appeared in a flash of scarlet light. He dumbly blinked and looked around at his unfamiliar surroundings. Ash couldn't help but smile when a small vine lightly wrapped around his arm for comfort.

His friend gurgled worriedly when he saw Rhydon and started to waddle away, but Ash quickly grabbed the grass-type's thin vine to attract his attention. Ash's ploy worked and Tangrowth turned to look at him with his huge, bright eyes. They actually showed fear, something Ash had never been aware that Tangrowth could feel.

"It's alright, buddy." Ash said softly. He kept a light hand on Tangrowth's vine. Rhydon had scared Tangrowth. Now his friend needed to know that Ash had faith in him. "Everything's fine. This is just like any other battle. Focus, you can do it."

Tangrowth still squirmed and his writhing vines were more agitated than usual, but he ceased his attempts to flee. He stood and faced Rhydon, who looked exactly like its statue did down in the First's resting place.

Ash let the thick tension linger for a few more moments before he finally began this next round.

"Root yourself, then hit it with a Solar Beam!" Ash shouted. Tangrowth's quick reflexes instantly flew into play. Dozens of his smaller vines lashed down into the stone and quickly wormed their way deep within. It was a potential weakness thanks to Rhydon's control over stone, but Ash knew that keeping Tangrowth on the platform was much more important. He couldn't teleport.

Tangrowth rapidly fired off the column of pure light, although Rhydon easily erected a stone barrier to absorb the worst of the massively powerful attack. It didn't display any of the ferocious power it had against Infernus as their fight waned, however. Ash assumed that it was waiting to see just how powerful Tangrowth was before it actually attacked.

"Tangrowth, absorb as much as you can! Pry into its armor." Ash commanded quickly. Urged by Ash's concerned tone, Tangrowth gurgled and sent dozens upon dozens of his thick, prehensile vines lashing toward the Rhydon from every imaginable direction.

Rhydon's eyes actually widened at the potentially dangerous attack and quickly raised its arm to erect yet another thick wall of stone. Ash just grinned at it once Tangrowth's vines reached the barrier.

Although Tangrowth hadn't grown quite as dramatically as the others during Lance's training, he had become much stronger. And that strength gave itself to his Ancient Power technique as much as any other sort of attack or ability he possessed.

Before his training he had been capable of using Ancient Power on up to around two dozen of his vines at once. It was a weaker form of the technique, but still a devastating force on the battlefield as several of the gym leaders could attest.

Now the grass-type could use the same technique on almost all of his hundreds of vines at once, although it was weaker still than the variant he had used previously. Individually the Ancient Power could not hope to match the Ancient Power used on just a few vines. As a whole, however, it was exponentially more powerful.

In this case, he didn't even need Ancient Power to create a barrier or a barrage of sharp rocks. All Tangrowth had to do was use Ancient Power to cause Rhydon's stone shield to crumble into nothingness.

Even as his lips and tongue shaped to give Tangrowth his order, the grass-type's seemingly instinctive grasp of battle tactics came into play. Ash didn't have to do anything but watch with a gleeful smile as the shocked Rhydon was exposed to the air and enough vines to completely ensnare it.

Which was exactly what happened. Rhydon was buried underneath the thick appendages, seemingly helpless to resist as the vines glowed with a soft, natural green light that showed Tangrowth was using Mega Drain through every single vine.

Ash's eyes were bright with anticipation as Tangrowth steadily sucked more and more energy from the apparently infinite reserves of the Rhydon. The huge form hidden under Tangrowth's appendages slowly hunched and bent as it lost the strength to resist Tangrowth's overwhelming maneuverability.

He had to admit that he was surprised. Although he knew Tangrowth had an incredible natural advantage over Rhydon thanks to his vines, which also doubled as shock absorbers for any boulders, and the enormous variation and maneuverability they granted him he hadn't expected the cornerstone of the First to go down so easily.

Perhaps it was understandable. Rhydon were excellent at facing single or even multiple foes head on, but they weren't able to defend their rear very well. It was one of the reasons the powerful creatures congregated in herds. They instinctively fought together in order to nullify their primary weakness and cover all angles of attack.

Ash sighed. Perhaps he should have saved Tangrowth for later. His friend was practically custom-made to defeat Rhydon.

Hopefully he could find it again in the future and have a real –

Tangrowth gurgled and squirmed helplessly in his thick shell of vines as he was hurled sideways by a large column of stone that suddenly jutted out from the mountainside and slammed into him. Ash blinked in surprise.

Rhydon roared, a terrible sound that caused the mountain to shake and spill clouds of dust and pebbles from its side, and ripped its way out of the prison that had encased it. As Tangrowth tried to right himself with his vines Rhydon snarled and swept its arm to the side, which caused a massive blade of stone to yank itself up from the platform and effortlessly slice through almost all of Tangrowth's vines.

Eyes wide, Ash let out a hurried stream of commands to try and regain the dominance Tangrowth had attained previously, but Rhydon was merciless. It had finally decided to show its strength again. Huge boulders were ripped from the mountainside and hurled at Tangrowth, whom managed to stop most of them with Ancient Power barely moments before they would have struck him.

The First's primary pokemon began to shift for the first time in the battle. It clenched its right claws and rode up on a wave of stone that rippled like water as it rushed Rhydon closer to Tangrowth with terrifying speed. Blades and storms of stone continued to rain down on Tangrowth, who slowly weakened as more and more of his vines were severed. Now most of his appendages were naught but squirming, wildly writhing stumps that still tried to move at Tangrowth's command but simply couldn't.

He grimaced when Rhydon finally reached Tangrowth, who was still attempting to save himself, and casually stamped on him. Tangrowth didn't seem too hurt thanks to his thick shell of stumps and his few remaining vines, but he was helpless as Rhydon raised its foot once more.

Rhydon stumbled about a foot backward when Tangrowth suddenly fired yet another Solar Beam into its face, but quickly recovered and glared at Tangrowth. One of its Everstones was slightly dislodged, although a large, dull claw delicately shifted it back into place.

The behemoth raised a single arm, which effortlessly ripped a massive blade of stone from the ground. It raised about ten feet above the platform, directly above Tangrowth, and suddenly plunged down to strike nothing but the last of the scarlet energy that was Tangrowth as Ash recalled his beaten friend.

"Thank you." He said gratefully to his friend as he stared in horror at the blade of stone, which had wedged itself deeply into the platform. Rhydon growled and quickly rode a wave of stone back to its previous position. Another wave of its arm restored the platform to its previous state.

Ash could tell that it was hurt. Although it was still unnaturally powerful it hadn't emerged unscathed from Tangrowth's imprisoning technique. Its movements were a bit slower and its eyes had grown slightly weary.

That's what Ash had wanted when he sent Tangrowth out. Not to beat Rhydon but to weaken it.

His fingers lightly played across the surface of Nidoking's pokeball, but he opted to wait just a little longer. Nidoking would come soon. He needed Rhydon weakened slightly more before he sent out his first friend. While Nidoking had the raw power and versatility to deal some major damage to their foe, he didn't have the speed to avoid Rhydon's terrible attacks. Rhydon needed to be slowed down beforehand.

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