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.


86. The Iron Wall Part 3

"Why did it even want to speak with me?" Ash muttered. It wasn't as if the meeting had been fulfilling for either of them. Well, he didn't think it had. The Metagross seemed to be at something resembling peace but all it had done was dredge up bad memories for him in its desire to show him recognition.

Mr. Stone interjected before Steven could open his mouth. "I believe I'm better suited to answer that question, my boy. You see, it's known since the beginning that if it were to be reclaimed it would be used to regenerate the colony."

"It might seem harsh, but that's the way of the Metagross," Mr. Stone continued. "It's common for them to reproduce through a form of fragmentation, where they allow one of their legs – which still retains the primitive neural network of a Beldum – to detach and develop into a Beldum on its own. But when times are desperate the leader of the hive uses either itself or another Metagross or Metang to provide a huge amount of material that can be shaped into Beldum."

"How they do it isn't entirely understood, but they're able to repurpose the neural network of the sacrificed individual and reconfigure pieces of it into fragments of the body. A single Metagross can yield upwards of a hundred proto-Beldum, which develop into what we recognize as Beldum over a few months!" Mr. Stone ended on a high note, the passion in his voice fascinating to Ash. It had him listening – and he even understood most of it, although that was mostly thanks to the vast amount of biology he'd been reading about thanks to Professor Oak's recommended texts.

Steven smiled softly. "Father, I think you went a little off-topic. I don't think Ash needed an entire dissertation to understand."

"Nonsense!" Mr. Stone shook his head staunchly. "This is necessary to comprehend what I'm about to say! Absolutely required. What's the point in explaining something if your audience never comes to understand it? Nothing at all, I say!"

The former Champion just rolled his eyes, looking like he'd heard his father's impassioned spiel many times before. "Regardless, the fact is that Pierce's Metagross knows its fate. It's willing to make amends in any way it can and it's not our place to interfere. It requested to speak with you before it was harvested and we thought it acceptable. Not that it went entirely as planned…"

"It's fine," Ash grunted. He returned both of his friends. They were wound up tighter than he was, having fed off of his own state of mind. It wouldn't be good to leave them out in such a volatile and fragile environment. "I'm over it."

Steven raised a silver eyebrow but didn't press. Mr. Stone coughed lightly to get his attention. "Now that the conflict is over, I'd like to personally thank you for the service you provided to our family in apprehending young Pierce. He was a monster who abused his power and betrayed everyone he's ever known. To see him locked away…it's a relief."

"Trust me, I'm more than happy to have helped," Ash grinned, eyes narrowed at the thought of Pierce hidden away in whatever hole the Ever Grande League thought he deserved.

"So Steven says," Mr. Stone chuckled. "Now, while I've been told that Champion Lance rewarded you most richly for your role in subduing my nephew, I would like to grant you a token of my own appreciation."

The man opened a drawer in his large desk and gently pulled a slab of flat stone out with both hands. Ash looked on curiously before Mr. Stone gently laid it in a clear area right in front of him. Steven smiled.

"If these were better times I'd gift you several Beldum in appreciation," the older man sighed, looking past Ash wistfully. "That is the traditional reward for such a great service to our family. But it will be years before the colony can afford to lose even a single Beldum…instead, I thought I'd gift you something I believe to possess an equal worth."

Ash glanced down at the stone for real this time, blinking as he saw the outlines of an insect-like creature outlined. "A fossil? Then –"

"Yes, this is the fossil of an ancient Anorith, the same specimen which we used to obtain the DNA required for Steven's Armaldo!" Mr. Stone boomed suddenly, sounding like he could have voiced one of those commercials Ash used to watch on TV. "Through the use of advanced, patented Devon Corporation technology and decades of research and collaboration with the Cinnabar Institute, we will use the DNA preserved in this rock for millions of years to create you an Anorith of your own!"

"An Anorith…" Ash muttered, envisioning the small creature he'd seen in a few articles. It wasn't especially impressive on its own, but its evolution was supposed to be very well-suited for battle, though its rarity and the huge expense that went into developing one made them a little known presence on any field.

Yes, he could work with that. Not many would be ready for an Anorith and if he was traveling with Steven…

"I'll be more than happy to advise you on raising her," Steven said, reading Ash correctly. "She'll be a clone of my own, so I might be able to help you avoid some of the more…troublesome aspects of training an Anorith."

"Thanks," Ash grinned, though it fell into a frown a few moments later. "Don't I need a license? Or is my Elite Four status enough?"

"The Devon Corporation only allows fossil pokemon to be granted to trainers that pass a certification course or are accompanied by a respected individual who has previous experience with fossil pokemon," Mr. Stone recited. He smiled at Ash. "Steven is more than qualified to assist, so you don't need to worry about it. I'll send you a manual with important information in regards to fossil pokemon soon."

Ash nodded his appreciation. There was a lot of knowledge he'd need to learn – he'd picked up some basics from Lance and observing his interaction with Aerodactyl, but he knew next to nothing about actually training one of the ancient pokemon and the specific requirements of fossil pokemon.

They were very difficult to raise properly, with alien mindsets and instincts and plenty of complex dietary and medicinal needs. Modern fossils were in much better shape than the first experimental clones, but they still had to have a lot of help to survive the unfamiliar world they'd been brought into.

Overall they'd adapted well, especially with the advances in technology. Now they could survive in the wild on their own if they were released, although they were all made sterile so they couldn't breed if they somehow found another member of their kind.

Fossils didn't have the same mindset as most pokemon. While they were still sentient, they tended to be a bit less intelligent as a whole and far more savage, with a willingness to kill that far exceeded almost all other pokemon. They hadn't been tempered by interaction with humans and lacked much of the empathy modern pokemon had developed.

"Is Anorith ready now?" He asked curiously, breaking his train of thought. Ash needed to focus.

"No, development just started today," Mr. Stone shook his head. "Steven asked that I wait until the both of you had started your journey together before I begin. He wanted to give you time to adjust, I believe."

"Yes," Steven cut in. "Learning to take care of a fossil pokemon is a time intensive process, even with the help of someone who's done it before. For the first few months at least I'd like to focus on training and getting you up to Elite Four-level as soon as possible. We'll have time to work with Anorith. This will also give you the opportunity to learn what she'll need beforehand."

Ash nodded. That was fair. "How long, then?"

"Six months, I believe," Mr. Stone said. "We're going to work on the DNA sequence first. We've recovered more complete Anorith specimens since Steven's was created and we'll be repairing a few gaps in the DNA. After that it's just a matter of inserting an updated immune system and ensuring she develops correctly. We'll notify you once she's ready to be retrieved."

"Thank you," Ash grinned, ready to see his new friend as soon as possible. Steven was probably right, but that didn't mean he couldn't look forward to it. Anorith would be a totally new experience for him.

"You're more than welcome," Mr. Stone chuckled. He rose and extended his hand, which Ash took. "It was a pleasure to meet you, Mr. Ketchum. I look forward to seeing you again. But I'm sure Steven is ready to leave, so I won't take any more of your time."

Ash nodded and exchanged his own farewells before Juliet appeared from nowhere, elegant frame perfectly straight. He followed Steven's previous instructions and allowed her to whisk the two of them away.


Steven looked down at Ash from where he sat on Metagross. The hulking steel-type laid its scarlet eyes on the boy with a slight amount of interest, though it appeared overall unimpressed.

"This is a training ground used by my family for generations," he gestured to the clearing around them. Ash could tell it had seen a ton of use – there were deep gouges rent into the earth, a distinct lack of intact trees, and even spots where it looked like the dirt had fused into glass from some terribly powerful technique. "I expect us to be here for the next few weeks unless something unforeseen pops up."

"But we won't stay here for long," Steven said. "I plan on traveling around Hoenn to let you get a better look at the region and more experience with unfamiliar areas. There are several spots I've picked out where we will camp and spend some time on dedicated training, but I'd like to get most of our training done on the road."

Ash nodded and listened attentively. Most of this he'd already known – or at least suspected – but he never knew what else Steven might throw in.

"As you know, you're on loan to the Ever Grande League for the duration of your apprenticeship under me. We will be dispatched to assist the League in whatever situations arise with the Rocket situation or when they need us for whatever other reason."

"I've told Wallace that unless it is truly necessary not to ask us. We'll only be needed for truly important operations and I'll spend time during our training preparing you for official missions. Protocol isn't quite as important for you to know as a member of the Elite Four, but there will be specialized training for you and your team so that you'll be able to efficiently coordinate with traditional League forces."

Steven paused for a moment to catch his breath. "Any questions?"

"No," Ash shook his head. It seemed simple enough and he'd learn more about the training in time. He had an idea of what would go on thanks to the League manuals he'd been given as well as some of the documents he'd read in the archives.

"Good," his teacher's lips curled up into a smile. A moment later Steven slid off of Metagross and took up a position behind the metal behemoth. "Then I think it's time to see what you're made of."

Ash couldn't help the savage grin that came over his face and the Feather sent pulses of heat through his blood. His skin tingled as electricity emanated from the receptacle and he felt even a titanic presence shift in the back of his mind with interest.

He didn't care about a single one of them.

"We'll do a series of one-on-one trials," Steven called out as Ash turned to make some space, "if Metagross is beaten then I'll switch to another of my team."

Ash reached the point where he'd be safe and his friends would have plenty of time to maneuver without fear of hitting him.

He turned to look back at Steven, who had a look of fierce concentration on his face. Moments later Ash felt a shift in the air – the whole arena was energized and he could pick out vague distortions in the atmosphere around them. Shifting, mutable walls.

When he tried to focus on them they disappeared, but he was always aware of them in the corner of his eye or the hum in his ears.

"Ash!" Steven yelled. He laid his eyes upon his mentor, interested. Steven smiled. "Don't let your team hold back. If they don't come at Metagross with intent to kill then they won't even scratch him."

He nodded stiffly and released all of his team but Seeker – the sunlight wouldn't be good for her. They might only be fighting one at a time but that didn't mean that he had to release them in that order. This way they would at least be able to pick up on Metagross' general tactics.

"The rules are one-on-one," Ash began, meeting each of his family's eyes in turn. "Pick up what you can from the previous battles and use it. Don't hold back – fight like this is life-or-death. We have to if we want to stand a chance against Metagross."

Ash got a series of nods in turn. He smiled. "We can do this – this is what we've spent the last few months preparing for. Just give it your all."

"Nidoking, you're up first. Just be careful – your poison won't help against Metagross. It's a powerful psychic as well, so watch out."

His starter bared his fangs at him in a grin and nodded, ears standing straight up as he lumbered out into the devastated battlefield. It was plain earth, at least, so his Earthquake would be at its strongest.

"Go!" Steven shouted. Metagross simply stood silently and eerily still, like a robot without power. Only the blinking of its red eyes gave away the fact that it was anything but a statue.

"Triad," Ash murmured, trusting Nidoking's extremely sensitive ears to hear him. His friend quickly squared himself and a second later twin arcs of brilliant electricity and a jagged, arcing beam of white blasted across the field at Metagross, trailed by the slower Flamethrower that erupted from deep within Nidoking's throat. He wrinkled his nose at the noxious scent of the fire, poisonous fumes from Nidoking carried with it.

A layer of psychic barriers manifested directly in front of each, Metagross having opted for an incredibly precise array that blocked only the attacks instead of the wide, semispherical shields that every other psychic Ash had battled favored.

Each of the attacks were absorbed and Metagross allowed each of the barriers to independently dissolve into nothingness once they were unnecessary. First was the section that caught the Thunderbolt, then Ice Beam, then the Flamethrower that sputtered and died uselessly against the shield.

Nidoking didn't waste time being surprised. Instead he started to plod forward carefully, always wary of an attack from Metagross. Then, suddenly, he propelled himself up into the air with his powerful legs and when he landed an immense wave of force rippled throughout the earth, tearing it into fragments and leaving winding fissures in its wake.

Metagross simply held itself several inches above the ground, its body outlined in a brilliant blue shell of psychic energy. Those cold red eyes watched in with disinterest, though it blinked when a flurry of Shadow Balls shot forward from Nidoking's horn. Each was a full Shadow Ball rather than the smaller, weaker versions favored by Dazed for these situations.

His friend didn't let up the barrage for several more seconds, realizing that anything else would just be stopped by Metagross' impossibly skilled use of psychic powers.

All the while Nidoking advanced, trying to close ground so that he could possibly get close enough to leave his foe with less time to react to his attacks.

Unfortunately Metagross had the same idea. It had actually been forced to move thanks to the threat of the Shadow Balls – Ash doubted it would be as vulnerable to the ghostly energy as Grey's Beheeyem back in the Conference, but it seemed Metagross would still lose some mobility if it was struck.

Metagross stood still and didn't do a thing aside from blocking the series of Triads and individual Shadow Balls mixed in, allowing Nidoking to come to him – they both knew that at range Nidoking couldn't hope to hurt Metagross. Not when it was quick enough to dodge out of the way and impossibly agile.

Ash had read up a lot on Metagross, but seeing how flexible it was in person was almost disturbing. Something that huge and formidable shouldn't be able to rotate its legs almost a full three hundred and sixty degrees to dance out of the way of blows – the thinner portions that attached the powerful lower sections to the main body had a huge range of motion.

He frowned and focused. Now wasn't the time for that.

"Go now!" Ash shouted to Nidoking as Metagross was forced to dodge yet another flurry of Shadow Balls that shot past and pierced the psychic walls erected around this place. They rippled around the holes left in them by the ghostly power but slowly repaired themselves as they purged the alien energy away.

Nidoking roared and charge, building up to an impressive speed quickly to close the hundred feet between him and his foe. His horn glowed a fierce white as he activated Mega Horn and his left arm was shrouded in a black aura outlined by a glowing purple that shaped itself into a wickedly curved Shadow Claw.

Shadow Claw struck first, the ethereal arm striking forth to tear into Metagross' form. The hulking steel-type was forced to erect a pale green shield with Protect moments before the Shadow Claw reached it, though a few wisps of the dark attack managed to get in and touch the Metagross before it could escape.

Metagross rumbled then, a sound not unlike two tectonic plates crashing together. It moved, slower than before, as Nidoking finally neared with his glowing horn. The powerful creature's arms shone a fiery orange before it shot forth and smashed into Nidoking's side, the force behind it knocking him to the side and stunning him.

Nidoking roared in surprise as he stumbled, though he went silent as Metagross' eyes shifted to blue and Nidoking was surrounded in a shell of psychic energy. Ash could almost feel the force behind Nidoking's exertions to break free, but could do nothing but wince as Metagross casually hurled him all the way back to Ash several hundred feet away.

His friend smashed into the psychic barriers in front of Ash with crushing force, knocked out instantly.

Ash blinked as he stared at Nidoking's still body. He'd known Metagross was powerful, but it was unreal to see it in person. He doubted even Sabrina's Alakazam could have so easily picked up Nidoking's several hundred pounds and thrown him that far.

He frowned and returned his friend, granting him peace for now. "Good job, Nidoking. You did well."

"Plume, you're up."

His friend screamed her arrival to the heavens as she shot into the air, nearly knocking Ash over from the force. Only a steadying hand from Bruiser kept him from falling.

He didn't have to tell Plume what to do. She slipped into Super Speed immediately, becoming nothing but a blur as she raced around the arena. Metagross did nothing, content to let her come to him.

Plume didn't disappoint. She knew better than to get in close with Metagross lest she be forced to deal with another Protect. The Pidgeot knew better than to fall for that after what happened with Michael's Dragonite in the Conference.

Instead she circled behind Metagross, twisted in a display Ash could hardly believe was possible, and fired a Hyper Beam straight into its back. The blast flashed a bright white that hurt Ash's eyes to look at, though he had to hold back a groan when Metagross instantly manifested a shield to block it halfway before it reached him.

The resulting explosion rippled through the sky like fireworks and he winced as the shockwave hit his ears.

Plume didn't let that stop her, however, and she fired several more that all met a similar fate.

Metagross finally grew bored with the whole affair and took action. A silver ball of energy quickly shaped between its eyes and held there as Plume fired another Hyper Beam that Metagross casually absorbed.

Then, moments later, the silver ball that Ash recognized as a Flash Cannon transformed into a beam of beautiful silver light that shot forth straight into the tan blur that was his friend with accuracy Ash would have said was impossible.

He scowled – he'd thought that Plume was immune to beam-type attacks. She was so fast that such precision based techniques would almost always miss. He couldn't even remember the last time she'd been struck by one in Super Speed. The calculations required to aim it against her properly…that was impressive.

Thankfully, Plume wasn't quite finished. A small shield of silvery energy shaped itself in front of her and absorbed the Flash Cannon for several seconds before it shot back in a brilliant beam, though Metagross blocked it just in time.

Ash frowned, having hoped that Metagross would have been a bit more surprised. It wasn't too shocking that it was able to block one of its own attacks, but still. That was an excellent show from Plume, who didn't use Mirror Move that often. Why would she? Most attacks didn't even come close to touching her.

Metagross looked like it had had enough. Its eyes narrowed and flashed with a brief burst of psychic energy.

He buckled to one knee, most of his team following. Ash gasped as crushing force overwhelmed him, his muscles quivering with the effort to remain standing. He could scarcely breathe and the pumping of his heart slowed, every beat laborious.

His vision darkened. Only a strong hand and several vines kept him aloft.

Then it cleared as quickly as it began. Ash took in great heaving breaths, gasping in as much air as he could as the spots cleared from his eyes.

Ash quickly recalled Plume, who was held in a cocoon of Metagross' Psychic. She was clearly unconscious, her physiology being exceptionally vulnerable to the Gravity technique he'd just experienced.

"Torrent," he grit out, still feeling the technique's effect. Ash hoped that Torrent would be powerful enough to pierce Metagross' shields, or at least force the creature to exert enough energy blocking his attacks to be tired out.

The Kingdra dipped his great head and levitated past the psychic barrier. Red eyes met red eyes as Torrent and Metagross analyzed each other. Both recognized the raw ability of the other, despite the imbalance in this matchup.

"Draco Meteor!" Ash roared, wanting to start the battle off right. "Give it everything you've got, Torrent!"

Torrent rumbled his agreement before he fired a great ball of vibrant orange-gold power into the air, where it hung hundreds of feet above the earth for several seconds. As it primed, Torrent fired a series of Dragon Pulses and Ice Beams at Metagross. Though the steel-type easily blocked all of them it wasn't able to spend the time to nullify the Draco Meteor yet lest it be struck.

Finally, a series of golden comets fell from the sky as they departed the source of Draco Meteor. They whistled as they hammered into the earth around Metagross, several guided directly on top of the powerful warrior. Most were absorbed by the shields Metagross erected, but Ash saw a flash of light originate a bit lower than the others that gave him hope.

He smiled at that. Torrent really had gotten much better at controlling it, though he hadn't quite perfected it.

A low rumble rippled through the air and with a flash of light all of the smoke and debris kicked up by Draco Meteor was swept away. Metagross watched Torrent with new interest as the last Draco Meteor fell, though it was quickly forced to shield itself again as Torrent repeated the assault.

Ash wasn't a fan of using the same trick twice, but unfortunately that's all that could work in this situation. Metagross would have no problem cancelling out Ice Storm and Torrent was still too far away to make good use of it.

Unfortunately, Metagross proved its skill again. It was ready this time and shielded properly, though when the Draco Meteor – noticeably weaker this time – primed it simply manifested a sphere of psychic power around the Draco Meteors ready to fall.

He watched with wide eyes as both Ash and Torrent realized what was about to happen. Torrent knew he couldn't avoid it – he was much too slow on land to escape – and simply fired as many Dragon Pulses as he could, though he'd spent so much of his energy on the Draco Meteors that Metagross allowed the pale green blasts to harmlessly land against its heavy metal armor.

And then it hurled the Draco Meteor back at Torrent. Ash could feel the heat even through the psychic barriers as an explosion wracked the earth, tearing it asunder. There was a new crater where Torrent laid unconscious in the middle, his plates unable to block so much power.

"I'm proud of you – you landed a solid hit," Ash whispered to Torrent's pokeball as he returned his friend. "Dazed, I think it's a bit hurt. It's in good shape but nothing can shrug off a Draco Meteor."

I will attempt to take advantage of that, Friend-Trainer.

And with that she shuffled out to the field, deftly avoiding the crater just twenty feet in front of where Ash stood.

Dazed didn't wait long. She disappeared and materialized right behind Metagross, a Shadow Ball almost instantly in hand. It shot forward, though Metagross psychically propelled itself out of the way and struck out with a powerful leg.

She teleported again, farther away this time, and let loose a flurry of tiny Shadow Balls that covered an absolutely huge area. Metagross didn't bother trying to dodge and instead raised a leg, using Rock Tomb to erect a wall of stone that was torn apart a moment later.

Their dance continued for some time, Dazed attempting to wear it down and Metagross steadfastly defending. Finally she began to tire and teleported close to where she'd began the battle, her pendulum trembling.

Metagross took advantage of the lull to meet Dazed's eyes. Light poured from the psychics as they engaged a mental battle, each struggling to overwhelm the other's resolve and focus.

In the end it was an impossible challenge.

Dazed was still young and only an amateur in this style of combat. Though she had strength she lacked the experience of Metagross or its calculated focus and the raw might of the juggernaut.

She was surrounded by an aura of vibrant blue before she collapsed like a puppet with her strings cut. Ash smiled fondly at her pokeball once she was returned – her battle was the shortest, but she'd pressed Metagross. In the end it was her better but he knew that psychic battles were extremely taxing, especially against another powerful psychic.

He frowned as he considered his next avenue of attack. Ash had stuck with using his team in order of seniority up until now. It wasn't as if he expected a different order to make a real difference. Ash had needed to test Metagross' abilities from several different perspectives and found Metagross was a master in them all.

Not that he'd expected anything else from a Champion's cornerstone.

But now he knew what he was dealing with and didn't want to just throw more of his team away. No, he'd need to change the way he'd dealt with it.

"Sneasel, you're up," he said. His friend purred and unsheathed his claws, allowing tendrils of shadowy energy to crawl around them. Sneasel still eyed the massive Metagross with trepidation, but after his brutal training with Bruiser he no longer feared physical punishment. No, he was more interested in the challenge. "I need you to do everything you can to hurt its psychic abilities. Dark and ghost-type techniques when you can."

The dark-type nodded and loped over to the battlefield, claws ready to rend. He immediately took off in a blur, zigzagging over to Metagross so as to avoid any unexpected attacks.

Metagross was wary of Sneasel. It immediately fired off a Flash Cannon that Sneasel just barely dodged – it carved a deep line into the earth where it struck. Sneasel hurled a Shadow Ball that Metagross deftly avoided by propelling itself to the side with a burst of psychic power, though it was actually struck by the next.

Ash couldn't hold back a grin as Metagross, stumbled. It rumbled and loosed another Flash Cannon, which was again dodged. Sneasel was brushed by its edge, however, and lost his footing for a moment.

His foe took quick advantage of that. Its eyes flashed a bright blue and it used Rock Tomb again, though it simply pulled up a large stone that was broken into dozens of long, thin slivers with a concentrated effort of psychic power.

He groaned. "Sneasel, move! It's using Miracle Eye! Don't let those rocks hit you."

Sneasel snapped out of his dazed state and tried to run, but it was too late. Metagross had more trouble using psychic abilities after the Shadow Ball hit it but with its incredible focus and strength it was more of an inconvenience than anything.

It was too late, though. Metagross aimed several of the sharp shards and they shot forth at an incredible speed. Sneasel screamed – a high, keening noise that made Ash want to let Infernus melt Metagross into a puddle – as one of the thin slivers pierced the organ that kept the dark power he wielded circulating through his body.

Temporarily vulnerable – that shard was much too thin to do real damage, but the shock was enough to stop the flow – Metagross took advantage of Sneasel's state to wrap the dark-type up in a veneer of psychic power.

Sneasel hissed and struggled helplessly, eyes wide with fear as he experienced the terror of psychic power for the first time since New Island. He thrashed uselessly before Metagross casually tossed him back to Ash, though he was quick to return Sneasel before he could actually impact.

"Bruiser, its psychic abilities are weakened," he said quickly, "I want you to use a full Rampage. Hit it hard."

Bruiser thumped his chest, which Ash returned, and nodded. He took a moment to focus before every blood vessel in his body bulged. His muscles clenched so tightly Ash feared they would start cramping up and when his eyes opened they were almost entirely red.

He grunted, then leapt.

Ash could feel the energy released by his muscles as he shot through the air, landing a hundred feet away with a heavy thud. Bruiser met Metagross' eyes once, thumped his chest, then darted forward.

He marveled at his friend's speed – he wasn't as fast as Plume, but for a Machoke that was incredible. Bruiser was more than capable of matching Sneasel in a race once Rampage was entered.

Metagross was quick to stop the threat. Its eyes flashed and Bruiser was surrounded instantly in a psychic prison, so bright Ash doubted Bruiser could see a thing. But it shattered moments later and Bruiser's advance resumed, apparently not at all stymied.

Then Ash felt the horrible clutch around his heart that Gravity left. He buckled, collapsing in full this time, and couldn't help the groan that dripped from his mouth. His muscles were still weak from the last time and couldn't resist its overpowering force.

And a second later it released. Ash allowed Tangrowth's vines to guide him upward, supporting his weight with ease. He smiled at his friend before looking to the battlefield with fear.

He shouldn't have worried. It wasn't released because Bruiser had fallen unconscious – it released because it hadn't done a thing to stop Bruiser's incredible might.

Metagross rumbled in annoyance as Bruiser landed a hit, though its force was dampened greatly by the shield that popped into existence right as it struck. Bruiser landed several more before Metagross tired of the game and struck forth with a psychic lance that hurled Bruiser backwards.

That was one of the weaknesses of Rampage – it didn't anchor Bruiser to the ground. He had massive offensive power and could easily take hits that would normally stop him thanks to the state of mind he entered, but raw force was still a threat.

Bruiser landed heavily, stunned but not finished. He quickly shot at his foe again, blinded by his need to attack. Metagross folded its arms into the crevasses on its body and met the charge with one of its own.

Ash winced as Bruiser went flying again, unable to stop the ridiculous force that was Metagross as the steel-type propelled itself into his body like a cannonball. Bruiser hit the earth with a thud and though he struggled to rise again, Metagross wasn't about to give him another chance to hit it.

Metagross landed next to Bruiser's body, raised a powerful leg, and struck Bruiser with a Meteor Mash that kicked up dust all over the arena. Ash quickly returned him – Metagross hadn't hit Bruiser full on with the powerful attack but it would still be enough to do some serious harm.

He was proud of his friend, though. Bruiser had probably hurt Metagross the most so far – the steel titan wasn't moving nearly as quickly now and looked like it preferred to levitate itself rather than walk. Ash examined it closer and grinned when he saw that one leg was slightly misshapen, though he groaned when the dent was psychically smoothed out.

Regardless, Metagross was still weakened. Bruiser hit hard normally, but with Rampage he wasn't something else.

Looked like it was time to release the one that could conceivably push Metagross to the limit in this state.

"Infernus!" He shouted. Infernus stepped up with a grin, having taken a position farther away from the rest to avoid burning Ash. "You know what to do!"

The Magmortar nodded and practically skipped into the arena, the same smile plastered on as when he'd held the power of Fire and faced down the Birds.

Metagross watched Infernus, surprise in those scarlet eyes. There wasn't much else for Ash to identify emotions with. It was just a little hard to read a face that didn't move.

Then it blinked and Infernus teleported behind it in a great flash of light – Ash suspected that Infernus had long ago passed the point where he could have teleported with just a quick surge of brightness. He probably just enjoyed the spectacle a bit more.

Infernus grinned, raised his cannons to blast Metagross with fires hot enough to melt stone, and stopped.

His cannons reverted to claws and they clutched his throat, a silent roar on his lips. The fires surrounding him died in an instant, as though they'd never been there at all. If it weren't for the heat still rippling the air about twenty feet to the sides then Ash would have thought he'd lost his heat entirely.

Ash watched on, concerned. What was that? Metagross hadn't frozen the area somehow, obviously. No it was almost like –

Infernus appeared back in front of Ash, his fires reignited. His shoulders held tense as his hands shifted back into cannons and his roar was finally loosed as he stared hatefully at Metagross. The steel-type looked back, almost amused.

"Set up the lava," Ash said quickly, before Infernus could go on a furious rampage of his own. Thankfully his friend was still coherent enough to listen and focused just long enough to bring up a pool of magma. "Flamethrower. Test Metagross' defenses."

The Magmortar snarled his agreement, though it was soon drowned out by the great roar of flame that burst from his cannon. It spat out in a terrible gout that left the entire arena rippling with heat and smoke trailed up into the sky like a black serpent.

Metagross absorbed it all with a shield long before it could reach it.

Ash noticed that the shields fell apart the moment the last of the fire struck them – Metagross must actually be starting to tire, at least to the point that it felt the need to conserve energy.

"Those shields won't break under your normal attacks," Ash shouted. "You know what to do!"

He couldn't see Infernus' face at the moment, but he was fairly certain it was smiling.

Seconds later the air was so warped and indistinct he could hardly make out Infernus thirty feet in front of him. The dirt hissed and cracked. All the vegetation around them burst into flame, withering into blackened husks until there was nothing left to burn.

Even the psychic barriers around the arena wavered underneath the extreme heat, constantly in a state of flux as they did their utmost to hold the power of Infernus' preparation in.

And then Overheat released. The firestorm was blinding, exploding with the power of the sun itself as it devoured everything in its path. Infernus disappeared amongst the flames, his natural camouflage activating immediately.

When it was all said and done, Metagross stood unscathed.

That might be a bit dramatic. It looked tired, but the fact that it was still standing was a miracle in of itself. Ash had caught it forming a shield before Overheat released, but it had been around itself. Those shields hadn't caught the flame, they'd been there for the heat.

It wasn't until he picked out the relatively unscathed vegetation in Metagross' immediate vicinity that it clicked.

Metagross hadn't needed to worry about the actual flames…not really. No, the heat that had still managed to soften up its armor was the problem.

If Metagross had managed to do what he thought it had then Ash would be very, very impressed.

"It can stop your fires, but the heat still hurts it!" He shouted to Infernus, who had only just regained his posture. That had clearly taken a lot out of him. "Keep it up!"

Infernus charged forth with a snarl, unable to teleport thanks to how taxing the technique was. He leveled his cannons at Metagross and poured all of his effort into blasting it with fire. The combustible liquid that helped things along sputtered and died as it neared Metagross, but Ash knew the heat was what mattered.

It was a common problem with psychics and shields in general…they might block the attack, but convection was more easily forgotten about.

Unfortunately, Infernus found himself introduced with the ground a moment later as Metagross shot out of the way of the firestorm, held aloft by its psychic power alone. A single leg extended as Metagross propelled itself forward, and just like Pierce's Metagross had done Infernus was struck with Meteor Mash.

Ash recalled him immediately. Metagross hadn't used the technique at full power but it was still incredibly strong. It was better to get Infernus into stasis as soon as possible just to be safe.

"Tangrowth, get in there," he said. Tangrowth cheerfully danced into the battlefield, vines wriggling everywhere in excitement. Before Ash could even say anything several globes of magma were hurled at Metagross.

He rubbed his temples. It seemed Tangrowth's excitement had overwhelmed his sense.

Not that it really mattered. Metagross had easily caught them and placed them back in the magma pools left behind by Infernus. He needed to set the precedent with Tangrowth, though.

Tangrowth gurgled sadly when he realized what happened and ended up abandoning the lava plan after a short reprimand from Ash. Instead he went for the overwhelming force route.

Dozens of vines lashed out at Metagross, although they were all individually frozen in a psychic prison before they could make contact. Ash's eyes widened at the degree of control and calculation that must have taken, but changed into a groan when Metagross used another quick application of force to sever each of them.

That was just a distraction, though.

Metagross rumbled as several tons of dirt and stone were hurled at it – most were easily captured in psychic shells, but it was forced to destroy the heaviest of the bunch with a Flash Cannon that lit up the sky.

Tangrowth tried to get in another assault, but Metagross seemed more than willing to finish this quickly. It seemed that as it tired it grew more and more ruthless and less willing to give Ash's team an opportunity to show off.

A second Flash Cannon slammed into Tangrowth with a vicious explosion and hurled his friend to the ground. Ash checked to see if Tangrowth was moving, but his form was limp and his saucer-like eyes shut.

He returned his friend, smiling softly at the pokeball.

"Oz, looks like it's your turn," he said to the Electabuzz. She whirred and windmilled her arms a few times to build up power. "I think you know what you need to do – Metagross is too strong to beat directly."

She smiled and nodded. Ash grinned when she lightly tapped his shoulder with her tail before she walked out to meet her foe. Oz would be the last of his team to participate in this trial – Seeker wouldn't want to and Aron…well, Ash didn't think he needed to

Metagross didn't have a second to wait before Oz made her move. Ash grinned and ignored the sudden pain in his ears as Oz howled furiously and smashed her fists together to create an incredibly bright flash of light – if he didn't have his hat on he'd be blinded.

Oz didn't give it a second to recover. The moment she released some of her strength, she summoned a Lightning Bolt that actually managed to pierce the haphazard shield it created and struck Metagross itself, though the shield had stolen away just enough energy from the Lightning Bolt to leave it only a little damaged.

She charged forward then, windmilling all the while to build up the necessary power. Ash had to admit it looked a bit ridiculous, but tell that to any opponent that wasn't a one ton Metagross.

Metagross rumbled, then struck. It seemed to be tired of getting hit so much and didn't want to give Oz the opportunity to get close – it was probably much harder to block sprays of lightning than fire. With lightning Metagross had to calculate the trajectory and position of each bolt, which would slow down its shielding.

No, it had already been hit far earlier than it would like in this match and it was tired.

Oz was picked up by a psychic shell and hurled back to Ash. She landed heavily, but remained conscious just long enough to whir angrily and throw a few more bolts that were instantly blocked by Metagross before the hulking steel-type finished her off with a quick Flash Cannon, though it was much weaker than the one that had taken down Tangrowth.

Ash recalled her with a sigh – Oz had done well. She'd come a long way and he could truly see the signs of the powerful fighter she'd become. Well, she was already powerful. Against most pokemon she'd win without much real effort. But against the titans that could test his team she was still a bit behind.

Not far behind, but she need some more intensive training to catch up. He expected that she could probably have matched Infernus before he evolved, or at least come close. If she had a similar boost as he did from evolution then she'd be ready to take her place at the top of the team right beside her greatest rival.

But that was a ways away. For now he needed to make sure his team was safe and face his new teacher.


Steven was sitting back on Metagross, legs folded and arms crossed. He looked at Ash measuredly. The younger trainer sat in front of him, his unconscious team arrayed around him as they were fed incredibly advanced potions to heal the damage done to them.

"You're sloppy," Steven said after an eternity. Ash jerked, not expecting that. "You're powerful, but your technique is rough. You're wasteful. I doubt you could've beaten Metagross no matter what at this stage, but I noticed many points where you could've taken a better route."

"You don't guide your team as much as you should. I understand letting them fight on their own, especially in close quarters, but you only step in when you're forced to," he said. "It's good that you trust your team, but it's your responsibility as their trainer to direct them and give them information they aren't able to obtain otherwise. You've done an excellent job of training them and building a bond stronger than almost any others I've seen, but you need refinement."

Ash opened his mouth to talk, but Steven raised his hand. The silver-haired man was quiet for a few moments, as though he were measuring his next words.

"I'll say that you're going to be something of an experiment for me, Ash," Steven admitted from his position atop Metagross' head. "I've given lessons and trained a few others, but I've never had a dedicated student before, especially one as young and inexperienced as you. While I'd rate you a bit under Master-level, you're years ahead of most."

Steven fell into his monologue for real now. As he leaned forward to listen raptly he idly wondered just how long his teacher had been working on it – Lance enjoyed hearing himself talk, but he didn't like planning enough to go on for this long.

"Lance did everything he could to maximize the benefits of your training over the month he had with you. His emphasis on battle experience, raw power, and physical and mental conditioning has done your team well – his mark on you is clear as day," Steven smiled. "He turned you from a highly talented trainer into a very powerful hammer."

The former Champion shifted himself atop Metagross, who had remained silent this entire time. "I'm going to hone you into a sword…all the power of a hammer with the speed and precision of a blade. With the power your team wields I daresay you could at least match most Masters for a time. But you're too wasteful to win. Clever, yes, but you have years before your team matures into their physical prime. You can't rely only on your raw strength in the highest levels of battle. Every other Master you'll meet will have years of experience on you at the least. Most will have decades."

"With that in mind, I'm going to take all of that strength and cleverness and focus it. You will waste nothing and use everything. Your team might not be mature or possess the experience to battle Masters on even terms, but you will have the guile, efficiency, and knowledge to fight on even ground."

Steven let that settle for a few seconds. He absentmindedly tapped his fingers across Metagross' metal body in a rhythmic motion.

"See, each of the three League Champions possess something that brought us to the top of the world – far beyond the standard requirements of a Master," Steven explained. "Lance has his power and more battles behind him than almost anyone else in the world – you exemplify that right now. He has a clever mind and brutal outlook that matches that of the dragons he's bonded to."

"Cynthia," here Steven smiled, "is a genius in every sense of the world. She has a tactical mind I've never seen the like of. Battling her is like trying to match a hurricane. She's overwhelming. She observes everything at once and develops it all into what she needs."

"I'm not as strong as Lance or smart as Cynthia," Steven admitted with a rueful shake of his head, "though I don't think myself a slouch in either of those areas. But I am skilled. My team makes every movement count. They know everything about the opponent the moment it appears and have such a variety of techniques that they can deal with it as efficiently as possible."

Steven stared straight at Ash now, trailing away from his ruminations. "That is what I will impart to you. Masters might have older pokemon and seen every trick in the book. What you lack in age and physical maturity you will make up in pure ability."

"It will be punishing," he continued. "I will not let you rest. You will be pushed just as hard as your pokemon. Harder, even. I will not accept anything less than perfection. I will not settle."

That stewed for a little while.

"So, Ash," Steven turned his slate eyes on the boy. He stretched out his hand. "Do you accept me as your teacher?"

Ash shook it with a smile on his face.

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