Traveler

Ash Ketchum has been determined to become the best since he was a toddler. He has his eyes set on a charmander, but a twist of fate led him to the humble Nidoran. Note: Mix between anime and the games.

https://www.fanfiction.net/s/8466693/1/Traveler

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26. The Master Part 1

Ash was standing on a large hill, thick forest lining the path. The terrain had transformed from the relatively gentle, flat forests into steep hills and sharp drops. He had to be careful exploring now. Plume wasn't here to warn him whenever he was getting close to danger.

He stared out over the huge forest in front of him, the vibrant green and brown of the vegetation shining brightly in the sunlight. It was an incredible sight, one that imparted the full majesty of nature upon him.

But he didn't care too much about the forest. He'd seen trees everywhere during his journey. It paled in comparison to the Viridian Forest, where the canopy was so thick in places light couldn't penetrate, where air hung heavy and still amongst the dens of bug-types.

All of his attention was reserved for the lonely mountain that jutted up from the landscape, dominating the countryside for miles around. Foothills guarded the solitary mount from those too weak-willed to approach it. It was covered in a thick forest of its own, but there were huge chunks of it missing in some areas, as though it had been torn away. Ruts in the earth visible from where Ash stood carved winding lines throughout the thick forest.

In other words, Mt. Hideaway was just as impressive as Ash had expected. It held nothing against the Ore Mountains, where Mt. Silver jutted up through the clouds and served as the primary barrier between Kanto and Johto, but Ash had only seen the tiny mountains that guarded Fuschia's territory. Mt. Hideaway was gigantic in comparison.

Ash glanced over at Nidoking. His plates of armor shined dully in the sunlight, keeping the duo from attracting too much attention. After leaving Dandra Town three days prior, several thousand dollars added to his trainer card and the large, black egg heavy in his pack, the lax atmosphere of the wilderness around Pallet was replaced by older, more territorial pokemon. Nidoking had kept the worst of them away. Few pokemon, no matter how aggressive, were willing to anger a Nidoking. It tended to be bad for their health.

There had been a few attacks by wild fearow, of course. They were plentiful in the area and too mindlessly aggressive untamed to allow him to pass by unscathed. After Nidoking sent three of them to the ground with two thunderbolts, they had left him alone. Now the worst he encountered was a hungry rattata or raticate nosing about in his bag when he was asleep.

"Well, there's Mt. Hideaway." He spoke up. Nidoking grunted and stamped the ground excitedly, clearly ready for an actual challenge. Ash grinned at his friend before returning his gaze to the mountain. "Be careful. There are some really big onix around here. I'd like to avoid a fight if we can."

Nidoking grunted at him, pounding his claws together. Ash knew that he still disliked onix from their experience at Pewter Gym. They had won, but getting up close and personal with a huge stone serpent would rattle the bravest of pokemon.

At least Nidoking would be able to sense them coming. Thanks to his secondary typing, Nidoking was able to sense huge vibrations in the ground, which usually heralded earthquake or other strong attacks. In this case, it would be enough to discover tunneling onix.

Ash sighed and idly shifted his pack to a more comfortable position, careful to avoid jostling the egg too much. Pokemon eggs were incredibly difficult to break – usually only the sharp claws of nest thieves like sneasel could shatter the thick shell – but he wanted to be careful.

"Let's get going." He told his friend. "We've still got a long way to go."

Nidoking nodded and followed him as Ash walked down the unkempt dirt trail, his huge, muscular tail acting as a counterbalance against his hulking body.

Ash sighed as he kept himself from simply running down the hill. Mt. Hideaway was huge. It looked as though it was only a mile away, but he probably had another half hour of walking before he arrived. And then there was the issue of actually finding this mysterious teacher.

It was going to be a long day.

XX

Ash panted as he walked up the steep mountain. He'd finally gotten past the foothills and reached the mountain proper just an hour ago. After taking a short lunch break, he'd begun his search.

So far there was nothing. The forest wasn't too dense, but there was just too much of it for him to actually search it well. Looking around the sections of the mountain that were little more than dirt and a few upturned trees was much easier, but still difficult. While it gave him better visibility, seeing the ruts and winding grooves in the earth that were at least six feet deep and eight feet wide made him feel very nervous.

If he met the onix that looked to be about three times the size of its kin, Ash figured he would run. Torrent would probably be able to force it away or possibly defeat it, but there was too much danger when battling pokemon that gargantuan. The onix probably wouldn't be trying to hurt or kill him, but pokemon that size often didn't know their strength. There were far too many training accidents involving onix for Ash to take them lightly.

Nidoking wasn't able to navigate the harsh terrain, not without tearing it to pieces in the process. His species lived in grasslands and plains, not mountains. He just didn't have the right kind of body structure to easily move around such steep areas.

So instead he had Bruiser with him. While Torrent could have easily levitated behind Ash, the dragon-type wouldn't be able to get rid of obstacles as well as Bruiser would have. Tangela would have difficulty moving around as well, and Dazed would have to constantly teleport to get to higher elevations.

Bruiser pulled him up to the flat area. Ash gave him a thankful nod and stayed on his knees for a few seconds, panting from the exertion of getting up the steep landscape. When his lungs stopped burning, Ash pulled himself up and looked around.

They were in a huge bowl. It almost looked like a meteor had landed in it, although Ash suspected that the onix were a more likely explanation. Judging from the gaping holes in the ground that indicated onix tunnels, this was one of the places that they surfaced, for whatever reason.

Ash frowned. "Bruiser, I don't think this is a good place to be."

Bruiser nodded his agreement, beady eyes glancing warily around the crater. Ash paused only to brush some of the dirt off of his clothes before he started walking forward, making sure to put some distance between him and the hill he'd climbed to get up here. If an onix did surface, he wanted to be away from the drop-off.

After a minute of brisk walking, they had gotten about halfway through the gigantic crater. Ash suddenly froze. Bruiser did as well, although he adopted a fighting position. He grunted at Ash and stood protectively over the trainer.

The entire earth was rumbling and groaning. But it wasn't from beneath the earth. It was as though something incredibly large was coming their way on the surface. He frowned and glanced towards the direction in which the rumbling was loudest.

Ash put a hand on Torrent's pokeball. He was the only pokemon he had that would be able to do real damage to the behemoths that lived beneath this mountain.

And then a loud roar that sounded like stone grating upon stone echoed throughout the crater. Loose dirt and rubble fell from the sides, creating small clouds of dust around the crater's slopes. Ash snapped to attention and prepared to run. He didn't need to be fighting anything that big.

He couldn't hold back the flinch that occurred when a gigantic serpent made of interlocked, thick boulders that were closer to black than grey suddenly shot off the side of the crater, roaring angrily and shaking even midflight.

Ash didn't let his awe at seeing an onix that was about fifty feet long literally fly through the air distract him from his primary goal: Escape. He sprinted to the right as the furious, panicking onix barreled towards him, leaving a huge, segmented groove in the earth.

Onix suddenly came to a stop and began bucking wildly again, roaring angrily and slamming its head into the ground over and over again. Thanks to its sheer size and stone body, the powerful blows that would have crushed a house into mere splinters did nothing to harm the creature.

When he was a safe distance away, around two hundred feet or so, Ash turned back to Onix. The magnificent serpent was still furiously slamming its gigantic head into the ground over and over again, but now Ash was able to see what had upset the gigantic rock-type so much: a large, burly man that was absolutely tiny in comparison to the beast he was riding. He had a maniacal grin on his face as he easily held onto Onix's large, sharp crest, displaying superhuman endurance by holding on despite the immense force rattling the rock-type's body.

Ash's jaw dropped when he realized what he was seeing. Someone was riding an onix. Someone that wasn't being thrown off and seriously injured by the stupid act. Someone that looked as though they were having fun.

And then the man leapt off of the rampaging Onix, flying at least twenty feet into the air before expertly landing on two feet. He tensed up and released one of the pokemon on his belt, releasing a powerfully built hitmonchan. It didn't seem at all perturbed by the Onix that was now glaring at them with pure fury in its huge, slit eyes.

"Hitmonchan, you know what to do!" The man, who was about six and a half feet tall and muscular enough – Ash could tell, since the insane man wasn't wearing a shirt – to not look weedy, shouted happily.

Hitmonchan experimentally punched the air several times, fists moving so fast that they appeared to be a blur. It suddenly leapt at the Onix with incredible speed, darting around Onix's sluggish attempt at a bite and punched it in the forehead with an ice-covered fist.

Onix roared in pain and thrashed angrily, creating an incredibly dangerous situation for the insane man and Hitmonchan. It angrily slammed its head into the ground, sending deep fissures carving throughout the area and shaking the earth.

Ash struggled to keep his footing as tremors rocked through the ground. Bruiser planted his feet until they dug into the ground and maintained a steadying hand on Ash's shoulder. He nodded at the fighting-type in thanks before returning his gaze to the battle.

The gigantic man had taken the opportunity to nimbly jump onto Onix's neck, just near the base of its "skull". He held on tightly, taking care to avoid being pulled into the crevasses on the Onix where its boulders met and ground against each other.

Onix reared up and roared, its fury overcoming its sense. It lashed with its tail, attempting to crush the annoying creature clinging to its back. Unfortunately for Onix, the man dropped off and leapt onto the ground below just as the tail slammed into the back of its skull.

Ash watched in awe as the gigantic serpent reared up one last time and gave a single defiant roar before it collapsed, the blow hitting one of its weak points. He couldn't believe his eyes – a single human had defeated one of the largest onix in the world with only minimal assistance from a pokemon.

The man kept the maniacal grin on his face as he brushed a bit of the dirt incurred from battling Onix off and walked over to Hitmonchan, which was practicing its punches on the air. He patted Hitmonchan on the back before returning the pokemon.

He suddenly turned back and glanced at Ash. Ash just stared at the man who had just done the impossible.

"Hello, there!" The man cried out in a deep voice. He tensed up for a moment before jumping towards Ash, crossing the two hundred foot distance in just a few bounds. When the man expertly landed a foot or so in front of Ash, he extended a hand in a friendly greeting.

Ash just stared at him for a moment, taking the man in. He stood a foot and a half taller than Ash, with the muscle to match. The man wore nothing but a ragged pair of plain pants, worn and torn from harsh training and abuse. Manacles were clasped around his ankles and wrists, apparently serving as training weights. The man's skin was dark from the sun, almost matching his brown hair. His face was calm and serene, the opposite of what Ash would expect after defeating an Onix.

But all that was secondary. Ash recognized this man. He'd watched him battle a challenger the night before he began his journey. This wasn't just a fighting-type expert, this was a Master. Before him stood Elite Four Bruno, notorious for the Elite Four challenges he'd ended by crushing the unprepared.

"You're Bruno!" Ash exclaimed, eyes wide and his hands shaking. He'd met Lance and Steven, true, but that had been somewhat planned. Bruno was a complete surprise.

"Indeed I am." Bruno replied calmly, not surprised in the least at Ash's awe. "And what is your name, Trainer?"

Ash shook some of his awe away. "Ash Ketchum."

Recognition flashed through Bruno's eyes. The Master crossed his arms and looked down on Ash critically and then at Bruiser. "So you're the one Oak told me about. For you to have made it this far is somewhat impressive. The good Professor told me that you are strong, but let us put this to the test. Battle me."

A wide grin split Ash's face. "Yes, Sir!"

Bruno nodded and turned around. He leapt about fifty feet before turning back around, a pokeball already in his hand. The Master seemed immune to Ash's bemusement and sent out Hitmonchan.

The fighting-type needed no prompting. It glared at Ash and punched the air again, fists shifting between burning flame and frost before they'd even completed a single punch. Ash glared right back.

"Bruiser, you're up." He ordered. Bruiser nodded at him thankfully, a grin stretching his reptilian face. Ash knew that Bruiser wouldn't win. None of his pokemon could match that of an Elite Four member. But Bruiser was the one that would be training with Bruno. Maybe he could pick something up from this battle.

Bruiser pounded his chest as he took a fighting stance just a few feet in front of Hitmonchan. His beady eyes were narrow and focused as they took in his opponent.

"Hitmonchan, this is your battle." Bruno shouted. "Begin."

Hitmonchan nodded and suddenly sprinted towards Bruiser and threw an impossibly fast punch. Bruiser tried to dodge, but Hitmonchan's superior speed enabled it to deftly strike him twice in the chest with a glowing white fist.

Bruiser went stumbling back, but managed to dodge the fist Hitmonchan threw at him as he retreated. It was somewhat slower than the first one, but still impossibly fast. Hitmonchan didn't seem at all perturbed by Bruiser's dodge and got in closer before launching a flurry of punches at Bruiser.

Ash's friend took several of the powerful punches, his bulky frame being forced back as the punches slammed into his body again and again with crushing force.

"Low sweep!" Ash shouted. Bruiser ducked the next punch and swept his leg underneath Hitmonchan's. The fighting-type seemed surprised at the trick and went down. Bruiser took the opportunity to throw his own monstrously powerful punch at Hitmonchan, catching it in the chest and knocking the breath out of it.

Bruiser quickly raised his foot to stamp on Hitmonchan, but the fighting-type easily caught the foot in between its two glove-like hands and twisted, sending Bruiser toppling to the hard ground. Before he could land, however, Hitmonchan shot up from the ground and punched upwards, slamming its fist into Bruiser's jaw and snapping his friend's head upwards.

Ash winced as Bruiser fell unconscious. That had been brutal. Apparently Hitmonchan had no qualms about fighting dirty. He quickly recalled Bruiser, thanking his fallen friend.

"Send out your next pokemon." Bruno called out. "It is clear that your machoke needs work."

He nodded and sent out Torrent. His friend would be the best answer to the powerful Hitmonchan. Torrent had the most raw power out of his friends and would be able to shut Hitmonchan down with Ice Storm.

Torrent rumbled and stared down his snout at Hitmonchan, who glared back unflinchingly. It raised both fists and prepared to battle.

"Ice storm!" He shouted. "Keep away from it!"

His friend quickly followed suit, blasting a blizzard all over the area. Hitmonchan simply stood there as the cloud of freezing air neared, leaving a trail of ice shards and frost behind it. The torn dirt was changed into a glittering expanse of pale blue and white.

HItmonchan acted instantly. It rushed around the cloud of icy mist and tried to circle around to Torrent. Torrent casually fired a hydro pump at it, followed by a powerful blizzard. The fighting-type was forced to back away from the attacks and warily darted away.

That was Torrent's cue. His rear fins swished around elegantly and formed a great, roaring twister. It reached a hundred feet into the sky and quickly gathered earth, ice, and air into its great winds. Torrent elegantly floated into the Ice Storm and began to direct it towards Hitmonchan with his mind.

The fighting-type backed away with a stunned expression on its face, although it quickly turned to determination. It raised both fists and closed its narrow eyes for a moment, a look of intense concentration forming on its face as a sphere of light-blue energy was formed between its hands.

Hitmonchan continued to focus even as the great storm drew ever closer, the concentration shifting to a look of impassiveness. The fighting-type suddenly forced its glove-like hands outward, sending the sphere of energy directly into the Ice Storm.

Ash grinned when the focus blast only caused the storm to momentarily paused before Torrent caused the immense column of ice and air to surge forward once more, headed directly towards the helpless fighting-type.

But Hitmonchan had one last trick up its sleeve. It closed its eyes and spun around to gather air, forming a small whirlwind to appear around it as visible sparks of energy arced off of its body. Hitmonchan's body was suffused by an aura of energy just as the Ice Storm consumed it.

He watched intently as both whirlwinds collided, Hitmonchan quickly being engulfed. The two pokemons' forms were visible only as dark outlines in the midst of the clashing twister and what Ash recognized as a vacuum wave.

And then an immense explosion occurred, a shockwave blasting out from Hitmonchan's position and hurling Torrent out of the Ice Storm. While it didn't knock him over or send him into unconsciousness, the shockwave did manage to momentarily stun Torrent and cause him to lose control over the Ice Storm.

The Ice Storm stayed in action for just a few more seconds, whipping up a sandstorm as it roared forward, uncontrolled by Torrent's iron will. Ash's eyes widened as the most powerful technique he'd devised slowly fizzled out, winds slowly dying down as the power that whipped them into a whirlwind vanished.

Hitmonchan stood in the midst, panting and weakened by the effort to dispel the powerful storm, but not done yet. It glared defiantly at Torrent and suddenly reared its fist back. The fist began to glow brightly before Hitmonchan suddenly dashed forward at an incredible speed, the energy it used for the mach punch dramatically increasing its speed.

Torrent automatically fired a powerful hydro pump, the long training sessions with Ash imprinting that tactic firmly into his mind. The hydro pump was ducked by Hitmonchan, who reacted to quickly for Ash to see as anything but a blur before it leapt and punched Torrent in his armored chest, the speed gathered from the charge dramatically increasing the force.

Ash winced as Torrent went careening back, although his friend was still able to fight. But a slow grin spread across his face when he saw Torrent's expression. Torrent's temper had been dulled thanks to his evolution, leaving a fierce willingness to battle but tempered by new wisdom and power.

But it hadn't vanished. It still lurked deep within Torrent, just waiting to be unleashed.

And judging by the murderous glint Torrent's scarlet eyes possessed, Hitmonchan had just shattered all of the barriers keeping Torrent restrained.

He decided to let Torrent do this by himself. Trainers were only there to give directions and overall strategies, not to direct every single moment of the fight. Torrent knew what he was doing.

Torrent was deceptively calm as he levitated to face Hitmonchan, who had tried circling around him. He quickly fired off three hydro pumps, not showing the least bit of strain as the incredibly powerful attacks jetted towards Hitmonchan, whose body flashed white as it dodged the attacks with supernatural speed.

Hitmonchan was grazed by one of the three blasts of water, however, and that sent it reeling back in pain. Instead of immediately taking advantage of the situation and firing another hydro pump, Torrent twitched his rear fins and blasted a huge stream of freezing air and ice shards high into the air, where they hovered thanks to his unyielding control.

Four twisters, each slightly smaller than the one he had used previously, erupted into existence around him, quickly turning dark brown thanks to the loose dirt and earth that was yanked into them. They spun faster and faster as Torrent's body remained tense and furious. The twisters slowly converged upon Torrent, merging into a single, massive funnel of roaring wind.

Ash took a few steps back. The twister was a little too close for comfort, and even his awe at seeing what Torrent was truly capable of was trumped by his desire to avoid the massive twister. It was at least a hundred feet wide and reached several hundred feet into the air, quickly sucking up the clouds of cold mist that Torrent had previously shot into the sky.

He could see Torrent point his elegant head up and shoot another long blast of freezing air into the sky. It was easily absorbed into the tornado and spread throughout the lashing winds. Ash could feel the intense cold and the force of the tornado from where he was standing, more than a hundred feet away.

While the monstrous tornado that Torrent had formed was impressive, it paled in comparison to the effort required to actually move the gigantic column of wind. It started off slowly, Torrent clearly adjusting to the strain, but it slowly picked up its pace and moved towards Hitmonchan.

All of that had taken less than five seconds.

Hitmonchan took a hesitant step back as the icy funnel neared. It hesitantly raised its fists, however, and bravely charged into it with a glowing fist. The boost to its speed carried it through the worst of the wind and straight into Torrent's rigid body, although Ash saw Hitmonchan's body be knocked off course by the immense power of the wind. That probably did a ton of damage to it.

Torrent's barely visible form was knocked backwards by Hitmonchan, but Ash saw that he maintained control of the tornado. Hitmonchan remained in the eye of the storm; although its body staggered as it launched several more lightning-fast punches at Torrent. The fighting-type apparently realized the only way it would beat Torrent was to overpower him, and the beating it gave his friend showed its dedication to that goal.

Ash was simply amazed at Torrent's endurance. While he had no type-disadvantages that Hitmonchan could easily exploit and a thick layer of plate-like scales, to take so many hits from an Elite Four member's pokemon spoke volumes about Torrent's sheer strength.

Still, Torrent was going to faint soon. He'd been trapped by his own power. He couldn't release the tornado – leaving that powerful of a storm raging uncontrolled would be extremely dangerous – and couldn't respond to Hitmonchan's attacks while maintaining control.

But he could perform one last trick. Ash grinned as the tornado quickly intensified and shrank, growing much thinner and taller while losing none of its potency. It was a solid column of dirt and ice now, neither of the combatants visible through the thick veil of the elements.

There was no eye of the storm to hide in anymore. Torrent and Hitmonchan were being hurt by the storm in equal amounts, the dragon-type having realized that if he couldn't win, he might as well take the fighting-type down with him.

And that's exactly what happened. Roughly ten seconds after Torrent enacted the sacrificial plan, the storm suddenly stilled and exploded outwards, the intense blast of air carrying ice and dirt with it. Ash shielded his face from the blast, which was strong enough to make him feel it even at his distance.

When he looked up, he saw Hitmonchan's body collapsed on the frozen ground, the focused Ice Storm too much for its body to handle. Torrent was still levitating, although it was taking everything he had not too collapse.

Unfortunately, the strain creating, maintaining, and dismissing the Ice Storm had placed upon his body was too much. Torrent managed to turn to Ash and met his gaze with mutual pride before the scarlet eyes snapped shut and he collapsed.

Ash recalled his friend, feeling nothing but awe. Torrent had almost singlehandedly defeated an Elite Four pokemon! Even if he did have an advantage in being able to create Ice Storms and use blizzard, it was an incredible feat. While Ash suspected the battle might have gone differently had Hitmonchan been given directions by Bruno, the fact remained that Torrent had won.

"You're amazing." He whispered to his friend as he placed the pokeball back onto his belt. Ash grinned out at Bruno, who had actually let an expression of surprise slip onto his face. The trainer released his next pokemon even as Bruno released his own.

Nidoking emerged, releasing a fearless roar as he analyzed the surroundings. He stamped and sent a small ripple blasting through the earth, although it was nothing on a true earthquake. The poison-type roared again as Bruno's pokemon materialized.

Ash's eyes widened as the cornerstone of Bruno's team appeared: A gigantic, six-foot tall Machamp. It was well over the average size for its species, its muscles being far larger and standing more than a foot over the average. He remembered the last machamp he'd fought, which was onboard the St. Anne, and how he'd lost spectacularly to it.

There was no way Nidoking could match it in power. A Machamp was even stronger than machoke and much faster when it came to fighting. It was like battling four highly-trained, extremely powerful Bruisers at one time.

The key would be in poisoning it. If he could slow it down and damage its body enough, perhaps Nidoking could strike it down with long-ranged attacks or even get a good horn attack in.

"My friend, this battle is yours!" Bruno called out. Machamp nodded as a wide grin split its reptilian features. It used one of its fists to beat its chest before glancing at Nidoking with an unimpressed expression. "Begin!"

"Ice beam!" Ash shouted. Nidoking quickly followed the command, the energy beams all colliding with Machamp as it charged towards them. Machamp was barely slowed, although it was stunned for a moment as a thin layer of ice froze over it. The fighting-type simply flexed in order to break the ice. "Poison sting and get away."

Nidoking opened his mouth and shot out dozens of the barbs, his potent poison loaded into each one. Before they could strike, Machamp shot a ring of purple energy out of one of its fists. The ring struck the ground, causing it to glow a light purple. The fighting-type raised the hand that it had shot the ring out of, causing the purple earth to rise up and shift into stone. All of the poison barbs slammed harmlessly into the wall of stone, each breaking and releasing its dangerous contents onto the earth.

Machamp suddenly charged and leapt over the wall, landing straight in front of Nidoking. His friend shot an ice beam and struck the fighter directly in the chest, but Machamp flexed again to send the debilitating layer of frost falling to the ground. It grinned widely before launching a flurry of blows, too fast for Ash's untrained eyes to see.

Nidoking did his best to fight back, but he just wasn't fast enough to escape from Machamp. Powerful, lightning-fast blows sent him crashing to the ground. Although Nidoking's plates of armor helped to dampen the impact, the rate of attack was so fast that Nidoking was unconscious in less than five seconds.

Ash blinked as one of the strongest members of his team fell into unconsciousness. He recalled his friend and frowned. Against that kind of strength, he would have to use skill and evasion.

Dazed appeared on the field. Almost instantly Machamp charged towards her, fists raised and ready to knock her out with a few blows.

"Disable! Use psychic and psybeam!" Ash commanded. Dazed's eyes flickered blue and her pendulum flew forward, carried by an invisible wind, as Machamp became frozen in a light blue aura of psychic power.

The psychic-type quickly blasted the helpless Machamp with a wave of psychic energy, only to find that it did little to the fighting-type. Dazed's eyes burned blue as she fired an incredibly powerful psybeam at Machamp, only for the fighter to suddenly break out of the disable in a display of incredible willpower and sheer physical strength.

Ash grimaced as the rainbow colored beam of intense energy slammed into Machamp's chest and did little other than slow the powerful fighting-type down. Machamp had a grin on its face as it rushed forward. Just as it would have slammed its fists into Dazed, the psychic-type teleported away. The fighting-type scowled and looked around, only to be shoved forward by a powerful psychic blast.

"You can't beat it through attacking!" He called out to Dazed. "You have to tire it out."

He trusted his friend to understand the message he was trying to impart. Ash couldn't just come out and say his strategy, after all. A pokemon trained by an Elite Four member would easily analyze and tear his friend apart.

Fortunately, Dazed came through for him. She stared at Machamp with glowing eyes, entrancingly swaying her pendulum back and forth. Ash glanced away from the hypnotic motion and looked at Machamp.

The burly pokemon had frozen, its eyes hopelessly lost in Dazed's spell. Dazed stepped up her efforts, reaching into Machamp's mind with her power and slowly twisting it to fit her desires. Machamp's eyes began to close. Ash grinned, knowing that he'd managed to defeat a second member of Bruno's team.

But then Machamp had to ruin the moment. Its eyes snapped open and a wide grin emerged on its reptilian face, showing that it had just been playing with them. Machamp suddenly reared back one of its fists, which glinted a dark, metallic grey, and suddenly flashed towards Dazed.

Dazed stepped back and tried to teleport, but before she could utilize her immense power one of Machamp's fists slammed into her chest. Without a psychic barrier to protect her from damage, the force of the blow sent Dazed staggering backwards, leaving her open to more of Machamp's attacks.

"Zen head butt!" Ash shouted, panicking as Machamp closed in, an unstoppable force in such close quarters. While psychic would have been safer, Dazed was too stunned to maintain the focus needed to exercise the mental attack. Zen head butt was much simpler to pull off.

The psychic-type's eyes briefly glinted blue. A shell of blue energy created a barrier around her head and she leapt at Machamp with uncharacteristic speed.

Had it hit, the zen head butt would have at least given Dazed the time to teleport away and continue her attack.

Unfortunately, it didn't. Machamp simply sidestepped the attack and used two of its muscular arms to snatch Dazed out of the air. The other two fired quick, precise punches to Dazed's body, instantly knocking her out.

Ash sighed and thanked Dazed as he recalled her. That put him down to two pokemon. He wanted to save Infernus until last. The fire-type was the only one that stood a chance against Machamp, but he couldn't take him on with the monster of a fighting-type at full strength. The only way he could win against Machamp was if he softened him up first.

Tangela gurgled happily as he emerged onto the field in a flash of bright light. He waved his vines around excitedly as he spied Machamp, who began to charge towards Tangela with two of his fists emitting frosty air while the others were burning with flickering orange flame.

"Ingrain, Effect Spores!" He called out. Tangela displayed his skill as he performed both commands at the same time. Even as he rooted himself into the ground and began to drain nutrients from the soil, Tangela shook his body and sent a potent mix of both stun spore and sleep powder billowing around him.

Machamp grunted in annoyance and stepped back from the impassable boundary. Ash grinned. The fighting-type was stuck for now. That gave Tangela plenty of time to wear him down in a battle of attrition.

"Vine whip, wrap and giga drain." Ash ordered. The grass-type gurgled happily as he sent out a dozen extendable vines, each lashing out at Machamp with incredible force. Machamp managed to block and snap most of the vines thanks to its incredibly fast reflexes, but it wasn't able to completely avoid the damage. Long red marks from the lashes remained, although it didn't do much damage to the bulky Machamp.

Unfortunately for it, the other vines had also managed to wrap tightly around its legs. Machamp struggled to get free, but the vines simply tightened and glowed faintly as they began to extract energy from the fighting-type.

Machamp was helpless for several seconds as Tangela sucked away its strength. It struggled and thrashed around wildly, but only succeeded in tripping itself and falling over. Tangela quickly took advantage and wrapped five more vines around Machamp's body, although it avoided the arms that would easily snap out of the bindings.

The fighting-type slackened for a moment before rearing its large head back. Ash's eyes widened in surprise as a small stream of feeble, orange flame shot out of its throat and directly into the cloud of stun spores and sleep pow –

No.

"Ancientpower!" Ash quickly shouted as the massive clouds of sleep powder and stun spore ignited in an immense fireball. Tangela reacted quickly, shooting several balls of energy into the earth and wrenching walls of stone and ground up around him.

The makeshift barrier protected Tangela from the inferno that roared around him, but the horrible heat likely did a number on him. Just because he was protected from the fire didn't mean that he would escape unscathed. Convection was forgotten by too many trainers when devising strategies. Ash wasn't one of them, but sometimes it couldn't be avoided.

As the roaring flames died with their fuel source, Machamp suddenly leapt through the remnants of the flames with a furious look on its face. It charged the walls of stone and leapt, rearing a single fist back as it did so.

"Wrap." Ash shouted as Machamp landed, shattering the wall of stone with a single punch. The other hands rapidly removed the rest of the barrier in Machamp's way and hurled it aside. Machamp casually snapped the vines that rushed out to ensnare him and picked Tangela up, tearing him from the ground despite the roots he'd planted. Machamp's movements told him what was going on, even if Ash could no longer see the action well thanks to the remaining barriers.

Machamp grunted and hurled Tangela high into the sky. Ash winced as his friend slammed into the ground again several seconds later, but knew that the worst of the damage had been absorbed by Tangela's spongy layer of vines. Still, that kind of impact would have rattled him.

"Ancient power!" Ash called out again. Tangela tiredly pulled himself up, his ordinarily wide eyes narrowed in pain. Nevertheless, his friend fired another sphere of energy at the ground. Chunks of the earth were ripped from their roots and levitated around Tangela.

Tangela quickly hurled the three large stones at Machamp, who deftly caught each of them and crushed them into rubble. It menacingly approached, all of its fists now burning with a dark orange flame. Machamp reared its head back and fired another weak flamethrower, although Tangela blocked it with another ancient power.

Machamp suddenly broke into another sprint. It vaulted over the wall of earth Tangela had created and struck the grass-type with all four of its fists at the same time. Ash winced as Tangela screeched in pain, a truly horrible sound.

The grass-type was hurled backwards by the combined force of the blows, flying back at least twenty feet. Ash watched as his friend stood up again on wobbly, boot-like feet.

"Sludge bomb!" Ash shouted. "Then give him everything you've got!"

Tangela pulled the vines guarding his face back as he shot the glob of dark, murky sludge at Machamp. It was too fast for the fighting-type to dodge and sizzled as it met Machamp's flesh. The fighting-type roared in pain and staggered backwards, giving Tangela the opportunity to use his full strength.

Four huge chunks of stone were gouged from the earth and hurled at Machamp, each meeting their target. Thanks to its anchoring abilities, Machamp managed to remain standing, although it was clearly injured by the attack. A tornado of spinning, razor sharp leaves slammed into Machamp's chest next, the faintly glowing leaves carving faint lines into the fighting-type's tough hide.

And then came the vines. Three dozen extendable vines, a tiny portion of Tangela's massive collection, shot out from his friend's form and wrapped around Machamp's entire body, instantly glowing green as they rapidly sucked energy. The increased surface area only sped up the rate of the reaction.

Ash grinned, thinking that he'd finally found a way to beat Machamp. There was no way it could escape this, not when it was covered in the burning sludge.

Then, of course, the ridiculously powerful Machamp had to prove him wrong. Something in it snapped as the vines wrapped ever tighter, causing it to roar and suddenly flex. Every single vine ripped at the sudden expansion of the muscles, leaving the most dangerous situation Machamp had faced nothing but tattered vegetation.

Machamp launched a feeble stream of sputtering orange flame at Tangela, igniting his friend and causing Ash to stare in sympathy. Tangela quickly stopped it by using his vines to pull dirt onto the tiny flames, but by that time Machamp had already sprinted towards him and delivered a powerful punch straight into Tangela's body.

His friend went flying across the barren crater, tumbling at least thirty feet before he finally caught himself. Tangela hopped up gingerly, luminous eyes shut in pain.

Guilt gnawed at his stomach and he prepared to recall his friend back, only to put the pokeball back. Tangela's body was slowing glowing brighter and brighter until the grass-type had become a miniature sun, casting the entire crater in shining light as his vines all raised and began to wave around in a hypnotic motion.

Ash watched in awe as Tangela began the process of evolution. It wasn't as dramatic as Nidoking's or Torrent's had been, but it was just as incredible to watch. Even Machamp watched with an intent stare, no longer seeking to attack the evolving pokemon.

The first thing Ash saw was that Tangela's body shot up and lengthened at least three feet, growing from a short, squat form to a tall one. His vines, each independently glowing with intense white light, wriggled furiously. Some vines on his sides began to meld together, forming the long, strong arm-like structures of a tangrowth.

Each of his vines began to grow thicker, each of the hundreds of miniature limbs both lengthening and thickening in order to fully cover his new, large form. The last change was his feet. They grew longer and wider in order to accommodate his new body.

And then the glow faded, much faster than either of the last two evolutions Ash had witnessed. There appeared to be no pain involved, and it was an overall quick process. No drastic changes aside from the height and arms had occurred, and Tangela had always had a high pain tolerance.

Tangrowth stood tall and strong in Tangela's place, eyes wide open and narrowed in determination. He was extremely tall now, at least six feet. His three "fingers" had small red tips and extended from his pair of blue arms.

Ash grinned as his friend experimentally swished his arms around, giving the same familiar happy gurgle, albeit quite a bit deeper, as his new limbs responded to his command. Tangrowth hopped up and down before tensing up and staring at Machamp, his wounds healed by the process of evolution.

He was glad that it was Tangrowth that had evolved after taking that beating. Any other pokemon that evolved with that kind of damage would be put under heavy observation. But Tangela and Tangrowth healed incredibly fast, thanks to every cell in their body dividing rapidly and being able to become any sort of specialized cell. They just didn't take much damage.

Machamp eyed Tangrowth with new eyes, analyzing every feature that could prove a threat. It only took a moment, and Machamp was soon racing towards Tangrowth with a dangerous glint in its eyes.

As the fighting-type neared, it spewed another flamethrower at Tangrowth.

"Ancient power!" Ash shouted. Tangrowth gurgled and swept its arm upwards, new strength and control over its power enabling it to rip a large shield of rock from the ground with the motion. Energy shined around his hand as he levitated the rock, protecting his body from flamethrower.

Machamp tried to vault over the stone shield, but Tangrowth pushed his arm outward and sent the stone crashing into the fighting-type. While an annoyance to Machamp, it was no obstacle. The fighting-type casually smashed his way through it and landed straight in front of Tangrowth.

Tangrowth, reacting quickly thanks to the drills Ash had put him through, reached out with his arms and several of his long vines in an attempt to subdue the powerful Machamp.

The vines wrapped around Machamp's legs. When the fighting-type flexed in an attempt to snap them again, the stronger material managed to resist the move. They shined a bright, iridescent green as they began to sap even more energy from Machamp.

Ash's friend lashed out with his arms and went for Machamp's arms. They were incredibly fast, but Machamp reacted even faster and casually tore both of the arms off with a single motion. The limbs wriggled in a gruesome manner as Machamp angrily tossed them over its shoulder, leaving them to twitch in the torn dirt.

Had Machamp done the action to anything but a Tangrowth, it would have been horrible. As it was, the action was nothing more than an annoyance. Tangrowth wouldn't even register the pain, detecting the even only as loss of feeling and versatility.

"Wrap it up!" Ash commanded, making sure he was loud enough to be heard. Tangrowth quickly responded and lashed out with a dozen vines, assisting those that had already locked Machamp into place.

Machamp wouldn't be defeated so easily, however. It simply blasted another trail of crackling flame onto the vines and lit them on fire, softening them enough so that it could snap them. The powerful fighter grunted as it leapt at Tangrowth and began a quick, efficient beat down.

There was nothing Ash could do this time. Machamp wasn't playing around anymore. It didn't throw Tangrowth and give him a chance to recover. It simply launched an invisible barrage of powerful blows with its fists, alternating between fire and ice punches.

While Tangrowth was taking it incredibly well, Ash couldn't watch it anymore. He raised Tangrowth's pokeball and recalled his friend, knowing that Machamp was only seconds away from finishing the fight anyways.

"You did amazing." He whispered to Tangrowth's pokeball. It shook a little in response, growing a bit warmer. Ash smiled. "I couldn't have asked for better."

With that he put the pokeball on his belt and picked up the last of his pokeballs, and one of the most powerful on the team. He quickly tapped the release button and allowed Infernus to materialize.

The fire-type roared and shot a magnificent trail of white flame into the air when he saw Machamp, eager to test his strength against the powerful pokemon. Machamp grunted in response and began to walk over, a juggernaut confident in its abilities to withstand anything Infernus could throw at it.

"This is the pokemon of an Elite Four member!" Ash shouted. Infernus tensed up, excitement gleaming in his eyes at facing a foe like that. The fire-type seemed to believe he finally had a worthy opponent. "It's taken down Nidoking, Dazed, and Tangela. I'm counting on you."

Infernus roared and blazed up, eyes locked on the approaching Machamp. A huge wreath of white flame burst from his body, leaving him an indistinct, menacing figure in the blaze. He tensed up and prepared to do whatever Ash ordered, the flames encasing his body providing the necessary heat to speed up his reflexes to incredible levels.

"Flamethrower, Haze." Ash called out, struggling to be heard over the roaring of the flames encasing Infernus. The fire-type understood, however, and quickly launched a long stream of white fire from his mouth, surging towards Machamp with incredible intensity.

Machamp simply frowned and used rock tomb again, sending the purple energy ring into the ground and erecting a shield of stone. The rock absorbed most of the heat, although by the end it was nothing but a heap of slag and oozing magma.

The fighting-type carefully walked around the molten heap before breaking into a sprint, taking long, powerful strides across the earth that had been ravaged and torn by the battle. It paused when Infernus used fire spin, turning the area into a burning vortex of flame and heat, but warily watched the flames as it was trapped.

Ash grinned. Infernus could take it from here. It was his job to strike from the angrily swirling flames, a dark figure that stalked his foe.

Machamp didn't stand idly by, however. It shot the purple rings out of all four arms and used rock tomb, erecting a huge, encompassing barrier of rock that would block the flames and Infernus from doing much damage.

Unfortunately, Infernus was too devious to be defeated by such a simple strategy. He raced around the barrier, still emanating long tongues of flame that trailed behind him. Infernus shot quick blasts of intense flame towards the rocky walls, the incredibly hot flame leaving the barriers just a few piles of slowly melting stone. The magma slowly dripped, likely burning the entombed Machamp.

But that was just to distract Machamp. Infernus suddenly stopped and tensed, taking a moment to wrap himself in a cloak of fire before he charged straight towards the rock walls and slammed straight through, a thin layer of molten magma collected over his skin as he did so.

Ash winced as he saw Machamp thrown to the ground, weakened by the many injuries, however slight, that it had accumulated over the battle. It was barely visible within the twisting vortex of fire, but from what Ash could see it had droplets of magma all over it, taking a heavy toll on its strength and body.

Machamp roared defiantly, however, and even as Infernus backed off and began to bathe its muscular form with hot fire, it picked up each of its fists and slammed them into the ground. The earth cracked around it as an earthquake ripped through the ground, the immense force badly hurting Infernus and sending him crashing him to the ground.

The fighting-type and fire-type leapt up at the same time, one powered by the urge to defeat Ash's last pokemon and one powered by the urge to crush the strongest enemy he had ever faced. Both were driven by sheer determination and a furious need for victory.

Infernus recovered quickly thanks to the armor of magma that still oozed down his burning form, kept from solidifying by his incredibly hot body temperature. Ash could barely see the black droplets, laced with red veins of heat, but the imperfections they put on Infernus' form were simple to identify.

Machamp was crippled as it pulled itself up, unable to effectively withstand the flames. It had taken several ice beams, multiple psychic attacks from a powerful hypno, and had much of its energy sucked up by Tangrowth.

Nevertheless, it charged Infernus with a fury that could only be matched by the fire-type's.

Ash's friend stared it down with blazing eyes. Infernus focused for a moment and showed the full extent of his power and control over fire. All of the roaring flames that had been created by fire spin slowed and stilled for a moment before suddenly whipping towards Infernus. They wrapped around him in a column of fire not too different from Torrent's twister.

Unlike twister or Ice Storm, however, Infernus was actually enhanced by the flames that swirled around his body and hid him from view. He was stronger, harder, and faster thanks to the heat suffusing his form.

And it showed as he charged with renewed speed and determination, the extreme heat soothing the injuries he had incurred from the earthquake. Infernus raced towards Machamp, invisible in his aura of fire. The earth he left behind him was cracked and blackened, unable to withstand the impossibly hot fire.

Ash held his breath as both fighters collided, Machamp's sheer strength and power meeting Infernus and the flames that wrapped around their creator like bright, roaring armor.

He couldn't see anything as both were wrapped up by the flames, leaving him only able to guess at the outcome. Whatever would happen would happen quickly. Neither could last long in the brutal melee. Machamp couldn't withstand the hostile environment of a battle amongst flames, while Infernus could only take a few hits before he would go down, powered up by fire or not.

And then the world exploded. Ash staggered backwards as wind slammed into him with incredible force, so strong that he was barely able to keep his footing. He managed to shield his face and arms with his jacket before the searing heat hit.

Ash coughed and took his hat off when it passed him by. He shook some of the new soot off of the hat, although the white sections were still a slightly darker gray. The trainer frowned at it before shrugging and placing it back on his head. It would get clean eventually.

He squinted at the field, trying to make out the results of the clash. The intense heat still radiating from the charred, broken ground obscured his vision, casting everything in a wavy glare. Ash couldn't make anything out for sure. Smoke still curled up from the ground in oily, black clouds.

It took just a few seconds for it to clear up enough to where Ash could actually make things out. While there was still an incredible amount of smoke polluting the atmosphere, it had begun to drift away from the ground.

What he saw put a wide grin on his face.

Infernus was pulling himself up on trembling limbs, his endurance put to the test by taking just a few hits from the weakened Machamp. He glanced over at Ash and saw the trainer's grin and cheers. The fire-type wearily nodded at Ash before collapsing, unable to keep standing from the effort of facing Machamp for mere moments.

Machamp wasn't moving. Its body was covered in soot and ash, the thin layer of black powder leaving it almost unrecognizable. But there was no mistaking the bulky, unconscious form of the previously unstoppable juggernaut.

Ash regarded it curiously for a few moments, having to take in the pokemon strong enough to take down four of his friends. While he was hardly on Elite Four level, Ash was definitely one of the better trainers in Kanto. His Marsh Badge proved that. His friends were no slouches when it came to combat, and even a timely evolution had failed to truly halt Machamp's rampage. It showed that he had a long way to go if he wanted to be in the elite echelons of trainers.

He recalled Infernus' collapsed body a moment later, realizing that his friend needed to be put into stasis. While Machamp wouldn't have done any serious damage, the beating it had given to Infernus in the few seconds it had been within reach was impressive.

"Great job, Infernus." He whispered softly to the pokeball. "You just defeated one of the most powerful pokemon in Indigo."

The pokeball was silent and still, the unconscious fire-type unable to respond. Ash smiled at the red and white orb before placing it onto his belt. Infernus deserved his rest. He'd done more than Ash would have expected from any of his friends.

"You are everything Lance and Oak claimed." A serene voice, a sharp contrast to the sheer destruction that had been wrought upon the crater by the intense battle, said. Ash glanced up and realized that Bruno had somehow gotten over to him in the few seconds that he'd been distracted. The Master was unnervingly similar to Sabrina in that regard. "I believe you are fit to train with me. Come."

Ash blinked in surprise as Bruno suddenly turned around and began walking away, casually traversing the torn land. He quickly jogged to catch up with the Master, a slow grin forming on his face.

It was just hitting him. He, Ash Ketchum, would be trained by one of the Elite Four! Ash didn't know what he would be going through in the coming days, but he knew that he would prove the Champion and Professor right. He would meet and surpass all of their expectations, no matter what he had to do.

XX

Ash was beginning to regret his earlier promise to himself. He had just been pulled up the side of the gigantic crater by Bruno after an hour of climbing. While he'd managed to scale most of the steep wall by himself by carefully following Bruno's trail, his body just wasn't meant to take that kind of punishment. Despite his skill at battling, Ash was only eleven. He wasn't built for this kind of work yet.

"You did well." Bruno told him. The Master stood above him, his hitmonlee standing next to him with his segmented arms crossed in amusement. Ash was thankful for the fighting-type. It had followed behind him and kept him from falling on several occasions, easily catching him with its superb reflexes.

"Thanks." Ash wheezed, still on all fours. His body felt like lead right now, lactic acid making everything burn as he moved. There was the urge to vomit that always accompanied extremely intense workouts roiling in his stomach, although he knew he wouldn't have that relief.

Bruno hummed in response. He glanced over at Hitmonlee. The formal tone dropped from his voice, returning to what it had been when Ash first met him. "Friend, please go and prepare the campsite. I doubt our trainee is up to helping with dinner."

Hitmonlee rumbled in laughter, sending the powerful muscles throughout his torso twitching. He quickly ran off to the east, his long, loping strides carrying him easily across the harsh terrain. His segmented legs extended every time he stepped down, giving him additional power.

"He was my third pokemon." Bruno remarked with a fond smile, his eyes faraway as he watched Hitmonlee race away. "I got him after I won the P1 Grand Prix with my Machoke, three years into my journey. My uncle finally considered me worthy of using such a rare pokemon. He's carried me through many situation that none of my other brethren could have faced."

Ash held back a groan as he pulled himself into a standing position, listening to Bruno attentively. He wouldn't let a single word the Master said go past him. The trainer shifted the egg in his pack to a more comfortable position as he did so. It was padded heavily with several of his unused shirts now, making it very bulky.

Bruno turned to him. "My point is, we all have a start somewhere. You're an accomplished trainer already, despite your youth. Tell me, where did you become a trainer?"

"Pallet Town." Ash replied immediately.

The Master shook his head. "That is where you began. What I wish to know is what made you truly begin your journey. What sent you into the frenzy to become stronger, to reach your full potential and become the best you can be? What made you realize what being a trainer meant to you?"

Ash frowned and thought. He had always wanted to be the very best, the Champion, for as long as he could remember. Ever since he had seen Lance crowned so many years ago as a mere, adoring toddler. Even when he started he had been focused on bonding, training, and battling with his friends above all else.

But what had really drove him to become stronger was Mt. Moon. Seeing what Team Rocket was like in action and knowing the depths to which they would sink made him strive to be stronger, to push himself and his pokemon harder. They were his sick inspiration, the reason he wanted to grow strong.

"The Rockets at Mt. Moon." He replied hesitantly. Bruno nodded, black eyes calm and understanding. The man motioned for him to continue. "I saw what they did to people and pokemon. It wasn't until the St. Anne that I really started to get strong, but it was Mt. Moon that made me want to fight them."

"A worthy goal, but a dangerous one." Bruno replied. He crossed his muscular arms across his bulky chest. "You have succeeded in growing stronger. In a few years you might meet me in battle. Few can defeat Hitmonchan, let alone my oldest friend. You have grown strong. Why do you need my help? From what I can see you are intelligent and determined enough to train your pokemon. They are progressing well."

Ash averted his eyes for a moment, glancing at the bright sun that was beginning to lower over the peak of Mt. Hideaway. "I don't know how to train my Machoke." He admitted, not liking to show a weakness. Ash liked being able to handle everything. "All of the others are simple. They know how to use new moves and techniques. They can access their own strength easily. Bruiser is different. He's the strongest one on the team, but he can't use that strength very well."

Bruno nodded. "Good. You aren't too arrogant to admit a weakness. It's a start." He shifted and met the trainer's eyes. "I believe that you are worthy to train with me. Tonight you will rest. The true training begins tomorrow."

With that the massive man walked off, long strides easily carrying him up the slight hill. Ash quickly followed, ignoring the screaming protests from his heavy legs. He wouldn't let his own weakness hold him back, not when he had the opportunity to train with a true Master.

XX

"Home sweet home." Bruno remarked drily as they walked up the last small, albeit steep, hill and arrived at the campsite. "It is not much, but it's sufficient for our purposes."

Ash nodded and glanced around. As Bruno had said, it wasn't much. The campsite consisted of two tents, a ring of stones that encircled a lightly flickering campfire, which was the only light in the dark night aside from the stars, and a few rolled up sleeping mats. Above the fire was a thin wire, which a sturdy metal bucket was attached to. Something was simmering within, bubbling lightly and sending an unpleasant smell wafting throughout the air.

The entrance to a cave stood in the background. Perhaps it held more equipment to heal their pokemon. Ash was sure that, even though Bruno's pokemon were incredibly powerful, they needed to be healed after training, let alone after an intense battle like the one they'd had.

Hitmonlee suddenly ducked out of the cave, leaning his torso down in greeting to Bruno. The powerful fighter simply stared at Ash for a moment before placing two large bowls he was carrying by the ground in front of the two humans.

Bruno casually walked over to the fire and picked the bucket up by the thin, hot wire. The heat didn't seem to bother him much as he poured a thick, disgusting liquid into the two bowls. It looked black and smelled rancid.

The Master handed the bowl, its contents hot and bubbling, over to Ash, who looked at it in disgust. Now that he could see the "soup" up close, he could see that it was made of a thick, tar-like substance. It was still thin enough to be edible, but Ash thought that he might actually have to chew the thick mixture. Only a few vegetables were visible in the dim light provided by the small flame, but he could see that they wouldn't be particularly appetizing.

Bruno laughed at Ash's disgusted expression. "This will be what you eat while you train with me. It is absolutely vile, disgusting to the strongest stomachs, but it will power you through the day. Back in the feudal era, this is what the greatest warriors ate. No others had the stomach for it."

Ash looked back at the black soup, which stank horribly, and hesitantly accepted a worn spoon from Bruno. He glanced down uncertainly and slowly put the spoon into the black mixture, wrinkling his nose in disgust as he had to push the spoon in to the vile soup. It was just too thick to actually go in without assistance.

"I suggest you sit down first." Bruno told him, eyes shining with amusement. He had sat down himself and held his bowl and spoon in his hand as the Master watched Ash.

The trainer shrugged and sat down on the hard, cold ground. He winced as he dug the spoon into the black soup and managed to wrench some of the mass away from the gelatinous blob. It bubbled slightly as he looked at warily.

Knowing that if it was up to him he'd throw the culinary abomination away and have Infernus burn it away into nothing, Ash realized that he had to force himself to eat the simmering black liquid. He closed his eyes as he hurriedly dumped it into his mouth.

The moment it hit his tongue his gag reflex kicked in, making him wretch, although he refused to spit the soup back up. It was like nothing he'd ever tasted. It tasted of salt and vinegar, both foul tastes thick and strong in the dense liquid.

He was still aware enough to place the hot bowl back on the ground, and the moment he did he clenched his fists and gritted his teeth. It felt as though his mouth was boiling away, the sensation as much from the horrible flavor as the heat.

Ash managed to force the slimy concoction down, just as he had some of the liquid medicine his mother had given him years ago. It left a burning trail in his throat, however, and he was fairly certain it was moving in his stomach as it settled. He wouldn't have been surprised if it was made from a grimer's slime.

Bruno, meanwhile, was laughing heartily. It was a deep, booming laugh that would have been pleasant under any other circumstances, but right now it just made Ash's temporarily fractured mind furious. Had his stomach not been trying to expel itself, he might have said something.

"It gets better with time." Bruno said in between deep breaths. It looked like there were tears in his eyes, although they were faint. "The first time is always the worst."

Ash didn't exactly trust that. Nevertheless, he picked the bowl up and glanced away from the black broth as he put his spoon into it again. A tremor passed through his body as he put the spoon into his mouth, but he managed to keep most of the soup off of his tongue. While it was still revolting and left a thick, slimy film across his tongue, it was manageable.

"See, you're learning." Bruno said amusedly. He was happily eating his own soup, barely wincing as it passed through his lips. "So, let us speak of your training." Ash quickly glanced up and was about to put his bowl down when Bruno shook his head. "No, you aren't getting away from the black broth that easily. You need sustenance, and this is the only source."

He sighed and picked the heavy bowl back up, wincing as he began to eat the black broth again. By now, Ash was not concerned that he was potentially eating a grimer. He was absolutely positive. Nevertheless, he listened attentively. Hopefully it would give him some sort of escape.

"Fighting-types are pokemon of power just as psychic-types are pokemon of finesse." Bruno began in between spoonfuls of the vile mixture he called a soup. "All fighting-types are blessed with immense physical strength, fueled by their spirit and honed through harsh training and trials. But they are useless without finesse, just as psychic-types are useless without some sort of mental strength to back their skill up."

Bruno paused for a moment to slurp up some more of the soup, barely affected by the tar-like fluid.

"They are born with strength and instinctively know how to fight, but they need training to reach their potential. They are much like psychic-types in that way." Bruno mused, staring off into the darkness of the mountain below them. Hitmonlee walked over and took a seat beside him. "But I digress. They are more effective than normal-types the moment they leave their egg, simply because they have at least some rudimentary knowledge of tactics and techniques"

A low roar sounded throughout the entire mountain, the furious call of one of the titanic onix. Bruno smiled softly into the darkness, somewhat amused by Ash's surprised flinch. The call, which sounded like stone grinding stone, echoed throughout the darkness for a few more moments before cutting off suddenly.

"Normal-types and their moves simply use the body as a bludgeon, their weapon of choice one of brute force, while fighting-types must use their body as a lance, using the same raw power as that of a normal-type but harnessing it and maximizing its potential and efficiency." Bruno continued calmly, caring little for the calls of an angry onix. "That is why fighting-types are superior. They force all of their strength and power, fuelled by their bodies and the energy that flows through them, into a single spot. A karate chop rather than a take down, for example. They can shatter stone, bend steel, and dispel the darkness with a single strike. They are the masters of battling the inflexible, pokemon who cannot adapt or rely on their sheer power to defeat their foes. Fighting-types are change, technique melded with indomitable strength."

Ash listened attentively to Bruno's philosophizing. It was unexpected. Bruno and the other members of the Elite Four were mysterious, rarely appearing in front of the media outside of televised tournaments or when they had taken down a Rocket cell. But Bruno's stereotype had been that of a brute, a savage that fought with fury and cared little for thoughts and speech.

He'd never really believed it, since someone who relied purely upon force could never have the skill to join the Elite Four, but Bruno was far more eloquent than he had ever expected. It was clear that he had honed his mind along with his body.

"Your Machoke is a normal-type at the moment." Bruno said softly, barely able to be heard over the light crackling of the flames. Ash watched the man's shadowed face and met his dark eyes. "He has strength and knows a few techniques, but lacks discipline. He has gained a little from the wilderness, but does not know how to use the energy within him to fuel his strength and make him a force to be reckoned with."

Bruno stared at him for a moment, inviting a question. Ash took the bait. He understood everything, but was curious about a single subject. After taking a final bite of the black broth, after which he happily discarded the bowl, which had a thick collection of salt, vinegar, and tar at the bottom, he asked his question.

"What is the energy within him?" He asked, turning to fully face Bruno. The Master was slightly hunched over, shadows cast over him by the dancing flames. "Is it just an expression?"

"No." Bruno replied, a pleased expression on his face. "It is both concrete and metaphorical, existent and a thing of the mind. There is an energy that suffuses every living being, not our spirit but something close. I do not know a name for it, or if it can be named. It is all encompassing, existent everywhere but known by few."

As Ash absorbed the information, Bruno continued. His speech grew more passionate, although it never lost the calm, didactic edge.

"It is the essence of every living thing. It bonds humans and pokemon together, our physiological and psychological differences overcome by it." The Master mused, glancing over at Hitmonlee. "I know little of the role it once played in history. My teacher was old and did not have time for such things. He focused upon the practical aspects of this energy, along with the philosophical. History was useless to him, the echoes of long-dead men pointless to a bitter man."

Ash frowned. "The practical?"

Bruno smiled again and began to trace small circles in the dirt. "Yes. It is not energy that is simply stagnant. It is able to be harnessed. Pokemon are the masters, unconsciously commanding control that few humans can match. It is fully realized in fighting-types, who, while blessed with monumental strength of their own, are able to utilize it to amplify their attacks far beyond what would be otherwise possible. Other techniques draw upon it as well."

He smoothed out the circles he had traced, leaving the earth blank. "All life is a master of this unnamed energy in its own way. Even the meanest bacteria are suffused by it, bursting with it. Humans are no exceptions. There are few that possess any ability to harness the energy, and even fewer able to draw upon it any meaningful way. It grants us abilities beyond the norm, granting us strength beyond what our bodies are capable of giving."

"You can use it." Ash said. It wasn't accusing, but a statement. He remembered Bruno casually jumping dozens of feet in a single leap, utilizing reflexes and speed that no man could possess.

A grin split Bruno's face. "Indeed. Everyone can, really. It just requires work that very few people are willing to put in. I spent two years training before I could enhance my body with it, and that is the full extent of my abilities. It moulds to me, strengthening my muscles, hardening my bones, decreasing the strain my training places upon me."

"Could you train me to use it?" Ash questioned. He wasn't willing to spend two years on it, but maybe he could at least learn how to do something with this mysterious energy. Just being able to move like Bruno would be awesome.

"No." The Master replied with a shake of his head. "I am hardly a student. Teaching is beyond me. Training is my calling, not teaching. I can show you how to shatter a rock or to teach your pokemon how to defeat an opponent by turning their attacks upon them, but I cannot describe to you the subtle nuances of the energy or how to utilize it. That is for a true master, not a man who can hardly feel it."

Ash was silent for a while, understanding but disappointed. He hadn't really expected Bruno to say yes anyway. It was just a wish.

"You should go to bed." Bruno said quietly, staring into the dying flames. "You have done quite well today and will need your rest for tomorrow. Now that you have the intellectual basis, the real training can begin."

The trainer nodded at him and stood up, wincing at the fatigue gathered during the day hit him with full force. All Ash paused to do was take off his jacket, leaving him in just pants and a thin, worn shirt. It was enough.

He rolled out one of the sleeping mats and placed it under a tent, aware of Bruno's impassive gaze all the while. Ash ignored it and got into the large structure, glad that the heat that had seeped into it from the campfire would help to insulate him. He knew that mountains could get bitterly cold at night even during summer, especially this high up.

Before he laid down, he took the pokeballs off of his belt and set them beside him. They were uncomfortable to have on him while sleeping.

It felt odd sleeping without at least one of his friends by his side, but he knew that Bruno wouldn't let anything happen to him. Without having to be afraid or wary of any pokemon stumbling upon him in the night, Ash fell asleep quickly.

If tomorrow was anything like today, he'd need it.

XX

Ash yelped as he was suddenly yanked out of the tent and held up by his ankle. He was upside down and held up in the hot sun, dizzy and confused. The trainer spied Machamp standing in front of him, a broad grin stretching across his face.

He futilely struggled against the fighting-type's iron grip, only succeeding at eliciting an amused grunt from the gigantic fighter. Ash glared at Machamp even as the blood rushed to his head and made his face red. He knew that he didn't exactly look intimidating at the moment.

"Machamp, let him down." Bruno's amused voice said, breaking the silence. Ash grunted as Machamp dropped him, although it angled it so that Ash would land on his stomach instead of his head.

Six pokeballs were suddenly dropped in front of him. Ash hurriedly grabbed them and placed them back on his belt.

"I healed your pokemon." Bruno told him as he helped Ash up. The trainer nodded and sent an annoyed glare at Machamp, who just sent him a grin back. "They are ready to train."

"Thank you." Ash replied. He was about to say something else when Bruno suddenly shoved a bowl of the gelatinous black broth into his hands. The trainer grimaced and looked at it with disgust. A spoon had already been placed into the mixture, the thick soup oozing on the handle.

Bruno was all business now. "You have five minutes to eat. I suggest you take advantage of it." He warned. "Today will be taxing."

Ash nodded and gingerly removed the spoon from the black soup. He sighed and began to shovel it into his mouth, the taste as horrifying as ever but slightly muted by the care he took to avoid letting the mixture touch his tongue.

He was done in no time. Ash was able to scarf a lot of food down quite easily thanks to quite a bit of practice on the road, but this was a new record. The trainer sent the bowl a look of disgust as he placed it down by the fire next to Bruno's bowl, which was wiped clean. His taste buds screamed at him for even touching the broth.

Next, Ash went for his pack. Just as he began to sling it around his shoulders, Bruno rebuked him.

"Do not take it with you." He said with a frown. "You will need all of your speed, and our activities might be dangerous for the egg. Hitmonlee will be guarding the campsite. He's slightly injured and needs recuperation."

Ash nodded, not bothering to ask how Bruno knew about the egg. He didn't seem like the type to snoop around in Ash's things while he was asleep. Maybe he just knew things, like Sabrina did. The trainer walked over to his tent and slid the pack inside, next to the sleeping mat.

"Come." Bruno told him when Ash pulled himself out of the tent. He immediately began walking down the slope in the direction of the forest. It was far away from the crater.

He quickly jogged to reach the man, ignoring the awful pain every movement produced in his body. His muscles felt as though they had been torn in half, but the sensation grew marginally less painful as he started moving around again. It didn't feel good, not by a long shot, but it didn't hurt as bad as before.

Ash settled into a steady pace besides Bruno. He had to take three steps for every one that Bruno took, but it wasn't too difficult to keep up. It was odd to be around such a gigantic man, however. The only person Ash had ever met that rivaled Bruno in sheer size and physical power was Lt. Surge. Even Lance paled in comparison.

Now that it wasn't sunset or night, Ash could really see the terrain of the mountain. They had spent nearly an hour maneuvering through the harsh landscape last night in order to arrive at the campsite, so he honestly had no idea where on the mountain they were. All he knew was that they were at least a thousand feet up. The air felt thinner.

"Prepare yourself." Bruno said as they traversed the harsh landscape of Mt. Hideaway. "Today shall be a testament to your own strength as much as it is your pokemons'. I will not be lenient on you."

Ash nodded determinedly. He wouldn't give up, no matter what Bruno put him through.

They walked for another twenty minutes before finally arriving at a huge clearing. The earth was torn and gutted, massive tunnels and ruts crisscrossing through it. It was clear that the onix were extremely active here.

Bruno came to a stop and turned to Ash. "This is where your test begins. I want to see what you are capable of." He suddenly released Machamp, who sent an obnoxious grin towards Ash. The trainer nodded back, not amused by its earlier antics. "My friend, use earthquake."

Ash blinked. What?

Machamp walked out to the center of the clearing. As it did so, Bruno turned to Ash with a thin smile. "Today will be to test your endurance. The earthquake will summon and anger the onix that live around here. You are to evade them and fight them off if it comes to that. My own allies will follow you and protect you from any particularly dangerous situations. When the onix calm, they will ambush you themselves. Each will act independently."

The trainer blinked again. Was he supposed to survive this?

Bruno glanced over at Machamp, who was tensing up. As the fighting-type leapt high into the air with a guttural roar and landed on the weak foundations of the earth, Bruno spoke up.

"I suggest you hurry. The onix will arrive soon."

Ash didn't waste any time. Even as the soft, structurally weakened earth began to collapse around Machamp, tremors wracked the area. A few trees collapsed, and he saw one of the gargantuan onix erupt from the ground, tearing several trees out as it surfaced.

He broke into a steady run, ignoring all of his instincts that called for him to sprint away as fast as he could. While it would do him well in the short term, sprinting would just drain his energy far too quickly. And from the looks of things, he would need all of his energy if he wanted to pass this test with flying colors.

Another explosion of earth, stone and wood occurred as a second onix surfaced. Ash took a cursory glance back and saw that this one was much thicker than the first one to arrive. It was nearly black and it looked as though it were in the process of evolving into a steelix.

The beast roared and shook the earth for hundreds of meters as it saw the first onix, which bellowed back in return. Ash saw Bruno recall Machamp and leap away from the area, apparently not insane enough to get in between two angry onix.

Ash kept his steady jog, carefully watching his surroundings. He didn't need to trip over a root or fall into an onix tunnel. While Bruno would fish him out, he'd prefer to not require the man's help.

Slowly but surely, he left the roars and the ear-rending crashes of the onix as they clashed behind him. Ash slowed down from his jog, wincing at the burning that had resurfaced from yesterday. He took a moment to glance around his surroundings again before he stopped for a moment.

He panted as he withdrew Tangrowth's ball and released the grass-type. Bruiser followed suit a moment later. The decision was simple: He needed pokemon that could move fast and had good endurance. Tangrowth was still rather slow, but in the forest he was more than capable of keeping up and detecting enemies. Bruiser had good endurance and could at least hold off Bruno's pokemon.

"Hey, guys. We're in the middle of a test. Bruno is setting his pokemon after us and is waking up every onix he can." He wheezed. Both of his friends looked concerned. Tangrowth had even abandoned his customary hug as he looked at Ash with concern with his saucer-like eyes. "Tangrowth, how are you feeling?"

Tangrowth gurgled and waved his arms around. Ash supposed that the pokedex entry hadn't lied when it stated they could grow back as fast as normal vines did. The grass-type pulled Ash into a proper hug this time, although he let go fairly quickly. Apparently he was well aware of their dangerous situation.

Ash grinned when he stepped back and looked up at Tangrowth. It was odd to see the grass-type towering more than a foot above him. He'd gotten used to Tangrowth being at least two feet shorter.

"That's good." He said with a smile, casting wary glances around the area. "Bruiser, are you alright? You took a beating yesterday."

Bruiser nodded, although he looked down a moment after. He seemed to be ashamed by his loss to Hitmonchan. Ash frowned.

"Bruiser, you faced one of the strongest fighting-types in Kanto and did fantastic. Not many pokemon could take one hit from Hitmonchan. You took at least a dozen."

The fighting-type still had a frown on his broad face, but met Ash's eyes and pounded his chest once. Ash grinned back.

"Alright, guys, let's go."

With that, the three set off, each paying as much attention to their surroundings as possible.

Bruno's test was just beginning.

XX

It was two hours later when Ash knew he needed a break. His legs were screaming and his throat was parched. He had taken a few sips from his thick water bottle – he carried it around his neck while training – during the long walk, but he just needed a moment to sit down and calm down.

"Guys, I need to stop for a minute." He told his friends. Bruiser and Tangrowth immediately stopped moving. Tangrowth dropped down from the sturdy trees casually, already adjusted to his body. Ash was half-surprised that the trees were able to take his weight, but figured he should have expected it. To survive in a world with pokemon, everything had to be sturdy and tough.

Bruiser simply flanked and guarded him. The fighting-type had been instrumental in repelling the only attack they'd faced so far. It wasn't even part of the test. They'd just run afoul of a large, angry primeape and her two mankey offspring.

While the primeape had been rather vicious in her attempts to crush every bone in Ash's body, Bruiser had managed to fight her off with a few well-placed blows. Primeape was strong, but nothing wanted to fight an angry machoke. When something could shatter a boulder as easily as it could breathe, not many things could stand a chance.

Ash was nervous as he sat down on a large stump. The tree looked as though it had simply been bitten in half, or perhaps snapped by an inadvertent blow from one of the gigantic onix. Marks of their residency were everywhere, from snapped trees to the deep ruts in the earth and boulders that had huge chunks bitten out of them.

He knew that this was when Bruno would strike. The Master had been playing with him so far. He'd heard onix roaring in the distance, just a mile away, but they'd never been drawn to him. He'd caught glimpses of a lithe, agile pokemon flitting through the forest, but could never find it when he looked.

The tension was worse than any battle could be. Ash was constantly nervous and paranoid. The slightest noise would send his and his friends into a wary silence.

Ash looked around the clearing he was in. He had no idea where he was on the mountain, although the omnipresent slope let him know that he hadn't made his way off of it. The clearing was filled with the similar shattered trees. Only a few had emerged unscathed from the onix that had come through here. It had left a deep trail in the earth as well, deep enough for him to stand and not be able to look over the edge.

Tangrowth happily climbed to the top of one of the unscathed trees. It creaked under his heavy weight, but stood strong as the grass-type settled and began to search for any intruders. While his eyesight wasn't very impressive, Tangrowth had good hearing. That would be more useful than sight for detecting the skilled fighters on Bruno's team anyway.

Bruiser settled next to Ash, although he didn't sit down. He just crossed his arms and prepared for a threat.

Just as Ash began to take a few quick gulps from his water bottle, they got it.

Ash winced as an enormous tremor rumbled through the ground, shaking everything for dozens of meters. It passed by quickly, so it wasn't an onix. That meant it had to be an earthquake. He was right. Bruno wasn't going to let him rest.

"Guys, let's go." He sighed as he stood up. There were more tremors, recognizable as those of the onix. Ash didn't want to be around when they surfaced.

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