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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27. The Master Part 2

Just as he stood up, the world exploded. Ash was thrown back by the blast, but Bruiser managed to catch him and gently place him back on the ground. He placed a hand on his forehead and shut his eyes. His clothes were covered with dirt, and the hard impact of tiny pebbles had left his skin stinging.

He shook the stunning blow off, however, and looked up. Ash paled when he saw a gigantic serpent rearing up and roaring. The onix was at least sixty feet long and was close to evolving into a steelix, although it hadn't begun to darken quite as much as the last one Ash had seen.

Onix roared again and idly flicked its tail. At least a dozen trees were snapped in half by the blow, but it was too insignificant for the stone behemoth to notice. The gigantic Onix leered down at Ash with cold, furious eyes. It apparently saw him as an intruder.

As the beast reared up and let loose another challenging roar, Ash took the opportunity to release Torrent. Nidoking was too slow to evade even one of Onix's strikes, and just one hit could be dangerous. Torrent could at least take a few hits and had the raw power to fight such a huge creature.

"Hydro pump!" Ash shouted the moment his friend was released. Torrent's attention snapped to Onix and the dragon-type valiantly stood his ground, not intimidated in the least by Onix. As Onix roared and shook the earth with every movement, Torrent rumbled back and fired a powerful, high-pressure blast of water into Onix's dark shell.

Onix's top half was knocked back, although it wasn't actually thrown to the ground by the blast. It quickly reared back up and roared, settling its massive, cold eyes on Torrent. Ash had to run as Onix suddenly struck at the dragon-type, lashing out with speed unbecoming of its size.

Torrent casually drifted away from the blow, firing another hydro pump into Onix's side as it missed and snapped a tree in half. Onix tumbled over, but didn't take much damage from the attack. It quickly opened its mouth and shot a DragonBreath at Torrent, the gale of bright yellow air burning hot as it passed by Ash.

"Blizzard!" Ash shouted as he frantically looked for cover. This wasn't a safe place for him to be right now. With a pokemon as large as onix, anything could happen.

Fortunately, he managed to get away just as Torrent released a flood of icy air from his snout, slowing the DragonBreath and dispersing much of its dangerous power into the icy field. Onix roared as the cold hit it, its cold-blooded body not used to such an extreme shift in temperature.

Ash grinned as he glanced around for Tangrowth. Bruiser was staying beside him, ready to protect Ash at a moment's notice. He quickly locked onto Tangrowth as the grass-type swung through the trees in quick, skilled movements. While Tangrowth hadn't had much practice moving like that, he was largely guided by instinct in this case.

Torrent was definitely the best choice for battling Onix. While onix could easily survive in most conditions outside the poles or underwater, they couldn't take such rapid shifts in temperature. They were cold-blooded since they usually dug deep in the earth, where it grew hot thanks to its proximity to the planet's core. Onix were still hardy enough to adapt easily to surface life when they weren't tunneling, but they were extremely weak to ice-type attacks thanks to their biological makeup. It was a weakness Torrent would exploit well.

But Torrent couldn't win alone, not without taking some damage in the process. He was faster than Onix, but sooner or later the monstrously huge creature would get lucky. That could be extremely, even for a pokemon as durable and powerful as Torrent.

"Tangrowth, climb on Onix and get some of your vines into the crevasses between its boulders." He said, speaking extremely quickly. Time was of the essence. "Mega drain for all you're worth. Use ingrain, as well."

Tangrowth nodded happily and stealthily leapt up into the trees and began swinging over to Onix. The rock serpent was still thrashing furiously and destroying the entire area. Ash knew that it was too angry to be observant of its surroundings. That would just work into his strategy.

Torrent would be able to hold the massive creature off, if not finish it for a few more minutes. That would keep Onix occupied, and while that was going on Tangrowth could climb up the rocky carapace and reach into Onix's slightly softer inner body. The softer, albeit still as hard as rock, area would be the only spot really vulnerable on an Onix that huge.

"Bruiser, stay with me." He said. Bruiser nodded and got ready to block any attacks that might fly their way.

As he waited for Tangrowth to enact the plan and called out orders every now and then for Torrent, he pondered catching one of these giants. It would certainly be a boon to his team. Onix was so massive and powerful that it would take an incredibly strong opponent to take it down. Not much could actually hurt a pokemon that large.

But he immediately shot that idea down. While Onix would certainly be a good teammate, he knew that he didn't have the resources to feed something that massive. Onix required immense amounts of food and minerals, and he certainly couldn't afford that even with the recent supplements to his trainer account. Ash wouldn't want to burden Professor Oak with the duty of feeding it, either. While it would be an interesting specimen for the man to study, it would be like giving him a Snorlax. In other words, prohibitively expensive.

In addition, he just wasn't sure if he could command the behemoth. Onix were notoriously temperamental, and older ones were particularly hard to control. And the risks were enormous. Just the slightest slip up with an onix and he could destroy a building.

So that wouldn't be happening for a while. Maybe when he was older.

Ash turned his focus back to the battle. He grinned when he saw Tangrowth easily leap onto Onix's back from one of the few trees that hadn't been destroyed by the rock-type's thrashing. Tangrowth was unnoticed on Onix's unfeeling armor, even when he extended a dozen vines into the node between two of the immense boulders.

Some of them rooted the grass-type to the roaring Onix, but others simply dug into the hard body and began to suck energy. Ash grinned when Onix suddenly froze in shock. It seemed to have no idea what was going on, apparently having never encountered a grass-type before.

And then it realized that it was under attack. Onix reared up and began to buck up and down in a futile attempt to throw Tangrowth from its back. Tangrowth had rooted itself in too deeply to be thrown off, however, and simply extended more vines into the softer flesh beneath the stone.

"Blizzard!" Ash commanded. Torrent rumbled and glared at Onix as he blasted a huge cloud of icy air towards the thrashing rock-type. The blizzard was so cold that it left a thin layer of frost over everything it drifted over, causing a huge swathe of the forest to be completely white.

Onix froze as the blizzard washed over it, leaving it encrusted in a thin layer of ice. While it would easily be able to shatter the ice with a single sharp movement, Onix was in a state of shock at the sudden temperature drop. The blizzard was much more powerful than the others Torrent had sent, so Onix hadn't expected it. Now the stone serpent was slowly lowering itself to the ground, going dormant for a short period of time.

Ash grinned. Perhaps he'd gotten a little lucky, but at least this meant that he'd get to escape without any of his friends being hurt.

He glanced over to Bruiser. "Finish it."

Bruiser grinned and cracked his knuckles before sprinting at the frozen form of Onix. When he neared it, he leapt and delivered a punch with all of his strength behind straight into the Onix's forehead, right between its eyes.

Ash saw Onix's eyes widen in pain and surprise, the power briefly shocking it awake before the force knocked it unconscious. He winced himself when he saw the dent and long cracks that had been sent throughout Onix's skull. While the damage was quite minor and would heal itself in less than a day if he remembered the regenerative abilities of onix correctly, it looked nasty.

The fighting-type grinned proudly and pounded his chest as Onix remained unmoving. Ash nodded and congratulated him as he walked over to the unconscious stone serpent. He needed to check on Tangrowth. While he should have been relatively unharmed by the blizzard, it was better to be safe than sorry.

"Good job, guys." Ash called out as he walked over to where he'd last seen Tangrowth. Just as he began to climb up the huge serpent's rock body, he was suddenly knocked off his feet by something very large and very strong.

He struggled for a moment as two strong, rubbery arms wrapped themselves around him, but when Ash looked up and saw the round, happy eyes of Tangrowth, he calmed down and laughed. It would take some time to get used to the new size and strength of his new friend.

"Hey, buddy." Ash grinned. Tangrowth gurgled cheerfully and gently placed Ash back on the ground. Bruiser walked over and stood guard over Ash, glancing around the wrecked forest distrustfully. Torrent levitated over as well, proud and regal over his victory.

"You did amazing!" Ash praised. Torrent raised his head up and rumbled his thanks, puffing out his powerful chest as he did so. The trainer laughed and looked over at Bruiser. "You too. You've definitely improved."

Bruiser grunted and smashed his huge fist into his chest again. He continued to stand by Ash as the trainer glanced around at the devastated area. Their battle had completely destroyed it, although much of the damage could be attributed to Onix's mere movements.

He frowned as another earthquake rattled the area. It looked like Bruno didn't want to give him a break.

"Torrent, do you want to stay out?" He asked. Torrent rumbled his agreement. Ash nodded and let him remain outside. The additional firepower would be a boon in the event of another onix attack, or if Bruno ever sent his pokemon directly after Ash. He'd need everything he had to fight off one of them.

Ash turned around and charted out a new path. He needed to get out of the area quickly. It wasn't a good idea to keep on fighting giant onix, even if he could defeat them. They were just too dangerous.

"Let's go."

XX

Bruno didn't let up for another few hours. Whenever Ash tried to take a break, he caused another earthquake and sent the onix into a frenzy. Sometimes he did it when Ash began to slow down to a more comfortable pace. Sometimes Ash thought he did it just for fun.

There had been two more battles with the giants. Neither had been as difficult as the first encounter with the onix had been. Ash had a strategy now: Torrent would use an extremely powerful blizzard and cause the stone serpent to go into shock, freezing their shell and locking them into position. Bruiser would then run up to the frozen beast and punch it as hard as he could, instantly knocking it out.

It had its troubles, but it worked. Torrent had taken another bad hit, although he was already recovering well. He was tough.

But now Bruno was only rarely performing earthquake. There hadn't been an attack in an hour. It was a nice break, but it was making Ash edgy. Bruno was planning something.

"Do you see anything?" He called out to Tangrowth. His friend was agilely leaping through the trees, letting out happy gurgles every now and then. Tangrowth suddenly dropped from one of the limbs and landed lightly on the ground next to Ash. He shook his large, covered head.

Ash nodded and frowned. Bruno was preparing something. The forest was silent and there was a tense atmosphere prevailing over the entire mountain.

But he would be ready. For now, he needed to lighten up. Ash looked over at Tangrowth, who was cheerfully bounding alongside him.

"So, do you want a nickname now?" Ash asked. While he'd tried to give Tangrowth a nickname before he evolved, he never seemed to like them. In addition to that, he had trouble remembering things. Now that he'd evolved, Ash hoped that the grass-type would have improved in that regard.

Tangrowth's eyes glinted as he gurgled an affirmative. Ash grinned and raised his hand as he began counting names off.

"Bramble?" He asked. Tangrowth stared at him blankly before shaking his head. Ash frowned. He hadn't expected Tangrowth to be very picky. "How about Phyll? Constrictor?"

The grass-type shook his shaggy body, not pleased with any of the names. Ash didn't think the last two were very good anyways, but he was still a bit surprised. Tangrowth didn't strike him as picky.

So he broadened his subjects. He started listing all sorts of names. Chlor, Shrub, Wrapper, and Bud were just a few of the examples. Ash actually liked Bud. It had a double meaning.

Tangrowth eventually chose "Binder". He seemed to like some of the names that Ash thought were…odd, to say the least, but the only one he seemed to love was Binder. It fit him, although Ash felt that it wasn't particularly creative. He'd just started to get into the interesting ones, too.

"Alright, Binder." Ash said, experimentally rolling the name off of his tongue. "You should get back up in the trees. I want at least one of us ready if Bruno's pokemon attack."

He continued walking, but stopped when he realized that Binder hadn't stopped following him. Ash glanced back at the grass-type and spoke again. "Binder, could you get back up in the trees?"

Binder stared at him uncomprehendingly, gurgling and waving his long rubbery arms around in a friendly manner as Ash stared at him. The trainer sighed. "Your name is Binder, right? That's what you picked."

The grass-type nodded exuberantly, sending the vines guarding its body shaking and squirming.

"So, Binder, could you please go up and watch from the trees?" Ash requested politely.

Binder blinked.

Ash sighed. "Tangrowth, could you please go up and watch from the trees?"

The grass-type happily nodded and bounded over to a tree they were passing by. He quickly used his strong vines to pull him upward, easily swinging alongside the others as they continued walking by.

The trainer shook his head, a little amused but far more exasperated. He should have known that Tangrowth wouldn't remember his nickname, even if he had picked it out himself. Tangrowth was an incredible battler, but when it came to everyday things he wasn't the brightest. To the grass-type, friends and having fun were important. Remembering things outside of attacks and techniques? Not so much.

Still, Ash couldn't keep a small smile off of his face as he watched Tangrowth happily leap through the trees with in elegance that didn't befit his bulky frame. He frowned thoughtfully a few seconds later. Nidoking had changed a bit since evolving. He'd become a bit more aggressive and prideful, along with a host of other tiny alterations, so he should probably ask his friend if he wanted a nickname. The powerful poison-type hadn't shown any desire of a nickname, but Ash didn't know everything.

In fact –

Ash barely had time to blink as Bruiser shoved him to the side as gently as the massive fighter could. It still sent Ash sprawling to the ground six feet away, but it kept Ash from being caught up in the melee that had suddenly ensued.

He blearily looked over at Bruiser and saw the fighting-type doing his best to defend from a short, fast figure. It was launching punches faster than Ash could see, although it wasn't the blur of motion that Machamp could produce.

When his vision cleared, Ash realized that it was Hitmonchan. A jolt of lightning danced down his spine, sending all of his senses into overdrive. He leapt up and quickly released Dazed. She would be the best to guard him at the moment. Her psychic shields would dilute the force from any attacks that came too close and she could teleport him whenever he needed it.

She didn't spare him a glance when she was released, instead focusing in on the fighters sending testing blows at each other, Hitmonchan a quick, lithe blur and Bruiser a steadfast wall, easily taking and avoiding some of the rapid punches.

"Psybeam." Ash said calmly, noting Tangrowth swinging over to him from the trees. Dazed quickly followed suit, her experience showing as her eyes flickered blue for a mere instant. After focusing her great power, she released an intense, rainbow-hued beam of energy towards Hitmonchan, striking the fighting-type in the side.

The psybeam was powerful enough to knock out most fighting-types and poison-types instantly, but it simply sent Hitmonchan stumbling back. Hitmonchan recovered almost instantaneously, however, and sent an annoyed glare at Dazed. It quickly returned its focus to Bruiser, however, as the machoke sent a powerful fist at it.

"Dazed, disable. Torrent, hydro pump."

Ash grinned as his commands were followed instantaneously. Dazed's eyes glimmered brightly and her pendulum swept forward, carried by an invisible wind, as Hitmonchan suddenly froze, a layer of psychic power overlaying its body and locking its limbs into place. Torrent rumbled and suddenly levitated out from the trees, rearing his head back before releasing an intense jet of water from his snout.

The hydro pump carried enough power to free Hitmonchan from the disable. Hitmonchan grimaced as it was hurled backward into a tree, slamming into the wood with a loud crack. It quickly recovered, revealing that the tall tree had a deep split through the center of it.

Hitmonchan glared furiously at them and suddenly flashed towards them at an incredible speed. Bruiser grunted as a fist was slammed into his gut with incredible force, amplified by the speed of the bullet punch. He tried to recover, but Hitmonchan suddenly launched a quick flurry of blows into Bruiser, instantly knocking him down.

The fighter didn't have time to savor its momentary victory, however. A second after it knocked Bruiser to the ground, Dazed picked it up with psychic and put an immense amount of force crushing into the creature. Hitmonchan's eyes squeezed shut in pain, although it valiantly struggled to break out of the psychic.

Just as Dazed was about to finish the job, she suddenly collapsed. Ash's eyes widened as his friend fell to the ground unconscious, barely catching a glimpse of a pale, grey fist drawing back from the attack. He backed away as he saw the immense form of Machamp leering down at him, a smirk on its reptilian face as it glanced at Dazed.

He tried to run, knowing that he would be able to outrun Machamp if he got a good start. Machamp wouldn't hurt him, just restrain him.

Unfortunately, Machamp realized what he was doing and easily snatched one of its hands out and grabbed Ash's collar before Ash could blink. It held Ash securely and forced him to watch the rest of the battle without being able to actually help.

Torrent was facing Hitmonchan, who had managed to pull itself up after the brutal psychic crush. They both stared at each other impassively, the memories of their last battle flitting between them. Hitmonchan's fists emanated wisps of icy cold air as they stared each other down, neither one willing to make the first move.

Bruiser suddenly charged at Hitmonchan, having pulled himself up from the soft ground several seconds ago. He reared his fist back and meant to send the hardy fighting-type flying back into another tree, but a blur suddenly slammed into the side of his broad face. The fighting-type groaned and went staggering back as the form of Hitmonlee suddenly appeared.

Ash blinked in surprise at the new arrival. He'd thought Hitmonlee was guarding the camp.

Hitmonlee allowed Bruiser a brief respite. The addled machoke grunted in pain but pulled himself into a fighting stance before the fight began. He didn't bother attacking, knowing that Hitmonlee would effortlessly strike him down.

The trainer glanced over to see how Torrent was doing. It looked like the fight had begun between the two powerful pokemon. Torrent was levitating away from Hitmonchan at a steady pace while the fighting-type sent barrage after barrage of lightning-fast blows towards the dragon-type. Ash grinned when he saw Hitmonchan suddenly fly backward from a hydro pump.

Since Torrent had the situation under control, Ash was free to focus on Bruiser. The two fighters were still staring at each other, neither wanting to make the first move. It would be a stalemate for a while, it seemed.

Of course, Ash held the means of ending that stalemate.

"Tangrowth, now!" He shouted. Tangrowth gurgled excitedly as he dropped on top of Hitmonlee with surprising grace, knowing enough of tactics to have maneuvered himself above the motionless fighter.

Ash didn't have to tell Tangrowth what to do. The knowledge was instinctual to the grass-type, who instantly began wrapping his vines around Hitmonlee as he smothered the larger pokemon. Despite Hitmonlee's sudden struggles – Ash could see his extendable legs kicking out furiously in an attempt to kick Tangrowth off – he just didn't have the muscle required to push the immense Tangrowth off of his body.

After nearly ten seconds of slowly weakening struggles, Hitmonlee fell unconscious. While he would have been more than a match for any of Ash's pokemon in a straight fight, Tangrowth's ambush was sufficient to overwhelm the fighting-type before a fair fight could commence.

Ash grinned at that. "Help out Torrent!" He cried. His friends instantly followed his commands, leaving the unconscious Hitmonlee behind.

He tried to reach for another of his pokeballs, but found that he was grasping empty space. Ash began to panic, but calmed when he realized that his belt was dangling in front of him. The trainer glared at Machamp's large grey hand as it tauntingly held the belt away from him, his chance of victory in plain sight.

Machamp laughed, a deep, low sound that sent shivers running down Ash's spine. While it wasn't particularly malicious, it was a sound humans had grown to instinctually fear. It generally wasn't a good survival strategy to hang around a gigantic Machamp.

Sighing resignedly, Ash focused on the fight. Hitmonchan was surrounded now. Bruiser was advancing from the front, Tangrowth from the side, and Torrent from behind. Somehow the powerful dragon had managed to maneuver himself around Hitmonchan.

One of Machamp's heavy, calloused hands covered Ash's mouth as the duel began. Apparently it wanted to see just how good Ash's friends were without his input.

Bruiser charged and drew Hitmonchan's attention, although the fighter obviously recognized it as a feint. Hitmonchan casually sidestepped the charge and ducked underneath the hydro pump Torrent sent its way. Ash winced as the hydro pump slammed into Bruiser's side and sent him flying several feet into a tree, where he landed with a loud thump.

Tangrowth was silent as he sent a dozen vines lashing towards Hitmonchan. The fighting-type's eyes suddenly burned a bright white, obviously using the Mind Reader technique. Ash supposed it was one of the moves that drew upon the energy Bruno had mentioned. There was no explanation for how fighting-types were able to use a move like that in the pokedex.

Hitmonchan was like water as it dodged the vines with fast, fluid movements. None of the vines made contact, and HItmonchan even managed to dodge a second hydro pump from Torrent. It showed its resilience by moving so quickly even after taking quite a bit of damage earlier in the fight.

Ash winced as it reared its fist back and suddenly launched towards Tangrowth at a great speed. While the comet punch did little to actually hurt Tangrowth, it gave HItmonchan time to launch a flurry of fast, powerful blows. Its fists alternated between being wreathed in flames and entombed in ice as the beatdown began.

Tangrowth gurgled helplessly and reached out with more vines, but Hitmonchan simply darted around them and quickly jabbed Tangrowth in the base of his neck, expertly striking through the vines. Ash winced as the grass-type collapsed to the ground, knocked unconscious by the strike. Apparently Hitmonchan knew where pokemon's weak points were at, not a natural ability of its species as far as Ash remembered, but carefully honed from long training.

Hitmonchan looked up after knocking Tangrowth unconscious, the iridescent white glow of Mind Reader leaving its eyes. That proved to be a mistake, as Torrent fired a powerful sphere of churning green energy into its chest a moment later. Torrent hadn't been idle while Hitmonchan battled Tangrowth.

The dragon pulse sent Hitmonchan flying onto its back as it was consumed in a huge explosion of bright green energy. Ash squeezed his eyes shut at the sudden light, but opened them as soon as he was able.

Where Hitmonchan had been standing was completely destroyed by the dragon pulse. Torrent hadn't held back. Previously splintered or cracked trees were now little more than large, charred twigs. The dirt had been swept away by the winds of the explosion, and a thin layer of ash covered everything.

Still, Hitmonchan remained. It had large burn marks all over its front, although Ash knew they were merely superficial for a pokemon. Hitmonchan had been brought to its knees by the attack, however, and was panting heavily. While it had truly proven itself to be an Elite's pokemon, it couldn't have much more fight in it.

Nevertheless, it pulled itself to its feet and stood defiantly against Torrent. The great dragon rumbled before rearing his head back, even as Hitmonchan reared its fist back and launched towards Torrent at an incredible speed, leaving it as little more than a tan blur.

The hydro pump went past the blur as it was carried forward by the attack. Torrent rumbled angrily as he was sent flying back by the force behind the punch, although he managed to catch himself with his levitation before he hit anything.

Torrent instantly prepared another dragon pulse, pouring all of his power into it. By the end the green ball of energy had grown to the size of a large boulder. He quickly shot the sphere of energy into the ground as Hitmonchan charged, causing an immense explosion that forced Ash to shut his eyes again.

When he opened them, he saw both combatants wearily staying on their feet, both too worn down by the draconic energy blast to fight anymore. Ash winced as he saw the energy take its toll on Torrent, his own attack's power doing an incredible amount of damage to his body.

Dragon-types weren't made to take their own energy. They had never been at anything less than the very top of their food web and, rare as they were, had certainly never faced competition from their own kind. There was simply no need to evolve defenses.

Torrent finally collapsed, fighting with every part of his will to stay upright. The strain was too much for his body, however, and the dragon-type fell unconscious.

Hitmonchan pumped its fist into the air proudly before staggering over to Hitmonlee's fallen form. It lightly kicked its fallen comrade before sighing and picking Hitmonlee up and throwing him over its bulky, pad-like shoulders.

Machamp lessened its grip on Ash, allowing the trainer to recall his defeated friends. He couldn't believe that they'd all been defeated by Hitmonchan. Hitmonchan was incredibly powerful and resilient, of course, but he'd have thought that the combined might of his friends would be enough to stop it, even without Ash guiding them.

He thought about releasing Infernus and Nidoking, but a tight grip on his jacket made him think better of it. While they'd certainly defeat Hitmonchan, Ash wasn't so sure if they would be able to defeat Machamp. The fighting-type had only had trouble with Infernus because of Infernus' incredibly hot body temperature and aura of flames. It would know how to fight him this time.

Hitmonchan grunted as it hauled Hitmonlee over, shaking its head when Machamp offered one of its gigantic hands out for the fighting-type. It just readjusted Hitmonlee's unconscious form and trudged off.

Machamp let Ash go and pointed after Hitmonchan. Ash got the memo and nodded. He quickly began to follow the fighting-type, figuring that it would take him to Bruno. It looked like he'd failed this exercise.

XX

Bruno was a serene figure in the dark, sitting cross-legged with his eyes shut. He didn't react at all as Ash sat down in front of him, taking a cue from Machamp.

It had taken more than two hours for them to get back to Bruno. They had been attacked by an onix once, although Machamp had casually defeated it with a quick flurry of punches. The destruction it wreaked upon the landscape – the onix was massive even for the breed of the mountain, so it had sent huge fissures carving throughout the earth simply by surfacing – had greatly slowed their travels, however.

But now, nearly an hour after night had fallen, he stood in front of the Master again. He was exhausted and knew that his pokemon needed healing, but he was proud. They'd fought hard and had proved their strength today.

"…You did well." Bruno said after an uncomfortable silence. "Sit."

Ash did so, mimicking Bruno's position. He watched the Master intently.

"You and your pokemon defeated Hitmonlee and nearly did the same with Hitmonchan." The Master began. His eyes were still closed. "Not many can. Still, you have a long way to go. Your Machoke is undisciplined."

He nodded. "Will we train him tomorrow?"

"Yes." Bruno replied. "You came here to strengthen your Machoke. Today you proved that you are tough enough to take my training. Today was merely a warm up. We will repeat this exercise one day."

Ash nodded, although a frown spread across his face at the realization that this was just an exercise. While the training today hadn't been overly difficult, it was still tough. A more intense version of today would probably entail Bruno setting every onix under the mountain after him.

A slow grin spread across his face. Now that he had a plan to actually fight the massive onix, something like that actually sounded fun.

"How long will I be staying here?" Ash asked curiously. He'd be willing to stay any amount of time to train with the Master, but he knew that the Elite Four were busy people, especially now that the conflict with the Rockets had picked up.

Bruno's eyes opened. The man regarded him thoughtfully. A few moments later, he gave his answer. "I doubt that we will have more than a week together. It shall be enough to train your Machoke. The rest it will learn itself."

"Is something happening?" Ash questioned. He remembered Professor Oak saying that Bruno would be on the mountain for nearly a month. Either Oak had gotten his information wrong – doubtful, considering how particular and organized the man was – or something big was occurring.

"…Something is happening." The man allowed; his face completely blank. He stared at Ash for a few more moments. "You are trusted by Lance. I believe that he wouldn't mind you knowing."

Ash leaned forward eagerly, knowing that this had to have something to do with Team Rocket. There was nothing else that would convince the Master to abandon his training early.

Bruno remained stiff as he began speaking. "We have found the location of another Rocket Executive." He started, looking uncomfortable with divulging the information. "Ariana. She was the head of research in the Sevii Islands cell. Something teleported her and her grunts out of the area before she could be arrested."

He scowled. Ash knew that name.

"Can't forget the women. Might make Ariana mad." Petrel's disturbingly affable voice whispered into his mind, hiding his malice behind a thin veneer of jovial words. It looked like the mystery of Ariana's identity was solved once and for all.

Ash clenched his fists furiously. It sounded like that thing the Rockets were using was involved somehow. It just seemed to be everywhere, either teleporting Rockets away from the League or liberating the monsters from prison.

"She is currently operating in Celadon." Bruno said with a frown, his face growing hard and tense. His eyes glittered with disapproval. "Erika has grown too lax in her duties as gym leader. After I eliminate the cell I will have to have a talk with her."

"You're going to do it alone?" Ash asked in awe. While he'd done the same thing, he'd only gotten by through a mixture of luck and Dazed being particularly skilled with hypnosis. Bruno would simply be charging through.

Bruno smiled softly. "You did the same thing. The majority will be easily eliminated. Rockets believe in quantity over quality. Executives are dangerous, but they are no threat to me."

Ash frowned again. "What if that strange pokemon of theirs is at the hideout?"

"Then I will fight it." Bruno said simply. He crossed his arms. "We know little about it. Should I win, an unknown threat will be defeated. Should I lose, then it will be hunted."

He was silent. There just wasn't much to say to that kind of thinking.

Ash frowned when he saw a pair of glowing red eyes in the darkness behind Bruno. Its eyes didn't even notice him. They glimmered mischievously as it suddenly flashed towards Bruno. He began to stand up and tried to warn Bruno, but before he could rise to his feet Bruno had casually caught the shadowed creature and threw it onto the ground in front of the campfire.

The trainer looked at the wriggling, furious creature interestedly. Bruno had a soft smile on his face as he effortlessly held the creature to the ground with one of his massive hands. It was a small, blue canine-like pokemon. Its legs and torso were covered black, and its tail was blue. Large ears flapped around as the strange creature struggled to escape Bruno's grip.

"This is Riolu." Bruno said with a grin as he held the struggling pokemon up by the scruff of its neck. It glared at Ash defiantly with bright red eyes. "I received him from one of my acquaintances in Sinnoh. His Lucario had just laid an egg, and he believed that I was worthy of its offspring."

"How does it fight?" Ash asked as he examined Riolu. He'd never seen a pokemon like it before, nor had he even heard of one. It must be incredibly rare.

"Not well." Bruno smiled, lightly poking Riolu on its forehead. The creature sullenly crossed its arms and glared. "He is a fighting-type, although not particularly fearsome yet. When he evolves into Lucario, he will gain the steel-typing."

Ash nodded, a small grin making its way onto his face. It sounded like it would grow to be incredibly strong. As far as Ash knew, that was a unique typing, although there might be others considering that he was less-informed about foreign pokemon. "Will he be training with us tomorrow?"

"Yes." Bruno stated, lightly tapping Riolu's forehead in amusement when the rambunctious creature began wriggling in excitement. "He and Tyrogue. They are actually the reason I first came to this mountain. It has been nearly a year since I last came here to train. I believed that they would do well from training here. The landscape is harsh, and there are many powerful onix."

While he wasn't so sure about pitting baby pokemon against the onix that ruled the lonely mountain, Ash figured that Bruno knew what he was doing. He probably had Machamp and the other fighting-types make sure that they were safe most of the time.

Bruno set Riolu back down. The canine growled cutely at him before scampering off into the darkness. Ash grinned as Hitmonlee, who had recovered from his battle with Ash, seemed to sigh before following after the tiny creature.

"Tyrogue, could you please bring the soup out?" The Master called into the cave. A few moments later a tiny, humanoid pokemon walked out with two bowls of soup. It was a light purple in coloration and looked as though it were wearing pants and shoes, although it was really just brown sections of Tyrogue. Numerous bruises and scrapes marred its small, tough body, but the fighter looked perfectly content.

Tyrogue placed the bowl of black broth in front of Ash first. He wrinkled his nose in disgust and gingerly took the spoon out of it. Gelatinous black soup oozed off of the spoon.

In an attempt to distract himself from the food – and he used that term loosely – he was about to eat, Ash watched Tyrogue. The small fighter moved gracefully, although its body was tense and tough. It bowed to Bruno before handing him the bowl, and after Bruno thanked the young pokemon for it, Tyrogue scurried over to Machamp's side. He couldn't hold back a grin when Machamp glanced down at the younger pokemon and patted him on the head.

"Eat up." Bruno said in an amused tone. "Tomorrow won't be as strenuous, but it will be long. I will allow you to watch me train your Machoke and show you how to help him, but after that I wish for you to train your own pokemon. This is an ideal training environment for ground-type pokemon, and your other pokemon will not have to worry about damaging the environment. The onix have done so already."

Ash nodded and reluctantly began to eat the black broth, although he remembered to move it around his mouth instead of over his tongue. As long as he kept it as far from his tongue as possible, he didn't have to think about it too much. He was still positive that he was eating a grimer.

As his stomach churned in protest of the black sludge, Ash glanced down at his belt. His pokeballs were all securely clipped on, but he figured that Bruno would be healing his pokemon again. Perhaps it would be best to leave them out for Bruno.

"That would be a good idea." Bruno responded when Ash voiced his thoughts. He took another dignified sip of the black broth before continuing. "I suspect that they will require longer than last night. They've had less time to naturally recover."

The trainer nodded before looking down disgustedly at the bowl. It was empty now, although some of the sludge still clung to the bowl's walls. He placed it in front of the campfire as Bruno had done before and held back a sigh. His body was tired, and he was starting to feel all of the exhaustion he had forced back the rest of the day.

"I'm going to bed." Ash said before standing up. He hesitantly left his pokeballs next to the bowl, the gently crackling flame lightly heating the red and white orbs. The trainer stared at them for a moment before shaking his head. Bruno would take care of them. "Good night."

"Good night." Bruno replied as Ash walked into the tent. His dirty clothes were uncomfortable as he laid down, but his exhaustion was strong enough to overwhelm that feeling.

He figured he'd just get Torrent to lightly hose him down tomorrow, Ash thought as he shut his eyes. There probably wasn't any water easily available or safe.

Those were his last thoughts before unconsciousness consumed him.

XX

"Watch me." Bruno commanded to Ash and Bruiser. They stood in the crater, close to where they'd first met. It had been similar to yesterday morning, although Bruno was more lax in allowing Ash to eat and get ready.

Tyrogue and Riolu flanked Bruno, each eagerly watching as the Master launched into a quick flurry of blows and motions that had been honed over thousands of hours of practice and training. With his enhanced abilities, Ash wouldn't have been surprised if Bruno could take on most fighting-types himself. He was simply incredible.

"Tyrogue, Bruiser, repeat it." Bruno told them. Tyrogue bowed respectfully to the Master before bouncing over and assuming his fighting position. Bruiser did the same, although he simply nodded to the Elite.

They both performed the motion slowly, drawing it out and memorizing the movements instead of performing them in a blur of movement like Bruno. Ash had no idea how they even kept up with Bruno's actions. He'd moved too fast for Ash to see.

"Fighting-types react faster than most humans." Bruno explained, seeing Ash's stunned expression. "And when it comes to battling, you will find no better eye for detail."

Ash didn't bother nodding. He was too entranced by watching the fighting-types perform their motions. Bruiser had never been particularly graceful. While fast for his size, his strikes were normally rough and inefficient. He'd never been taught, and it showed.

But with a real example in front of him, Bruiser was already doing better. His movements were more fluid, less rough and choppy. Ash wasn't sure if Bruiser would keep it, but he was improving.

That continued on for a few more minutes. Bruno had them repeat the motions several more times until Bruiser had it down pat. Tyrogue seemed to be used to the basic movements, but was there as more a guide for Bruiser than anything else.

"Enough." Bruno said as he stepped forward. "Let me show you a new set."

With that he performed another flurry of blows, each one focused on landing devastating punches and other strong movements. His feet rarely left the ground except when he moved to deliver a punch. Bruno was an anchor for himself, an indomitable wall.

Bruno suddenly stopped and motioned for the fighting-types to copy him. As they began their motions, Ash asked a question. "Why aren't you kicking at all? Is it just part of that style?"

"No." Bruno said with a shake of his head. "There are several reasons. For one, I don't use kicks. I find them to be inefficient for my style of fighting. Additionally, few fighting-type pokemon are designed to fight with kicks. Only Hitmonlee and Blaziken come to mind immediately. Most have evolved to fight with their fists."

Ash understood. He'd noticed that, but wasn't sure if fighting-types were able to shift their technique towards kicks. At least Bruno had cleared that up.

He continued to watch as Bruno demonstrated basic exercises and techniques to the fighting-types. Ash could barely even believe that Bruno was human. The Master moved too fast and too gracefully for an ordinary human. Even if Ash knew the key to Bruno's physical capabilities, watching him was awe-inspiring.

After Bruno demonstrated a complex set of motions once more, he stopped and turned to Ash. He was sweating a bit, proving that even Bruno wasn't immune to the heat and sun that was pounding down on them.

"I'll take it from here." The massive man stated simply. "Go train your other pokemon. There's nothing you can do to help here. Make the most of your time here."

Ash frowned. "Are you sure?" He asked, not wanting to leave Bruiser behind. It didn't feel right to not be part of training his friend.

"I'm sure." Bruno said firmly. He inclined his head towards Bruiser. "You cannot train a fighting-type. It takes long years of training in the martial arts and a true understanding of the type to hone them into the best they can be. You would not be able to assist Bruiser if you simply watched. Go a bit away and train your other pokemon."

His frown grew as he followed Bruno's finger. The Master was pointing at an area not too far away, but with enough distance put between them that their training would not interfere with each other's. Reluctantly, Ash acquiesced to Bruno's request.

While he didn't feel right about leaving Bruiser behind, Bruno knew what he was doing. He was a Master of the fighting-type, one of the foremost experts in the world. Ash would probably get in the way. Besides, there might be training secrets that Bruno might not want Ash to hear.

"Good luck, buddy." Ash called out to Bruiser. The heavily muscled fighter smiled at him and waved, thick red veins bulging from his grey skin as he did so. He smiled and waved back before turning back to Bruno. "Thanks for helping me. Bruiser won't let you down."

Bruno's mouth turned upwards. "I'm sure he won't. He's raw, but by the time I'm done with him he'll have a foundation. This is the best way for him to learn. I'll teach you the basics on training fighting-types one of these days."

"Thank you." Ash said with a dip of his head. He palmed Nidoking's pokeball. If he wasn't able to train Bruiser, he would definitely use the time to work with Nidoking. It was about time he got his TMs, after all.

The Master nodded at him again before turning to Bruiser. Ash took the hint and left, listening intently to Bruno's movements as he walked away. It sounded like he was doing another group of motions and stances. Bruiser would learn well.

When he was about four hundred feet away, Ash released the rest of his friends. They'd all been healed by Bruno while Ash slept. As a member of the Elite Four, Bruno had access to incredibly powerful potions and medicines. They were powerful enough to fully heal his friends in an hour or so, even after the heavy injuries they'd sustained in their battle with Hitmonchan.

Nidoking roared and crushed his claws together when he was released, eyes instantly recognizing the harsh terrain in which they stood. Ash smiled at him guiltily, well aware that he hadn't released Nidoking since the first battle with Bruno.

"Are you alright?" He asked. Nidoking had taken some bad hits from Machamp. It wouldn't be too much of a surprise if he was still feeling it.

The poison-type nodded and grinned, exposing his large, blade-like fangs. Ash smiled back before he released the others. Nidoking lumbered over to him as he did so, making the earth tremble slightly just from moving.

"We've already trained for a day with Bruno." Ash told his oldest friend as the other members of the team appeared. "Sorry I didn't let you out, but it's been pretty tough so far. Bruno isn't too bad, but he's challenging. It's great!"

Nidoking nodded and rumbled questioningly, pausing only to nod at Dazed as she was released. The psychic-type blinked at him in acknowledgement before shuffling over to Ash, her eyes red and tired. Ash glanced over at his friend.

"How're you feeling?" He asked her as he released Infernus. The psychic-type cocked her head and shrugged, lifting her thick white mane up as she did so. Ash knew her well enough to know that she was fine. The potions had probably fixed most of her injuries.

Infernus roared and set to performing his release ritual. When he was done spitting a long stream of churning flame high into the sky, Ash shook his head with a grin on his face. While the fire-type could be a handful sometimes, Ash had missed his friend.

"Did you have a good rest?" He asked with a raised eyebrow. Infernus crossed his arms and nodded quickly, snorting a quick plume of red flame as he did so. "That's good. We're training today. I want you to try and master fire blast today, got that?"

The fire-type nodded again, determination beginning to glint in his black eyes. Ash knew that he would actually work on it today. Infernus had been working on fire blast for several weeks and hadn't mastered it yet, although Ash had to admit that Infernus had come quite far. Fire blast was an important move to learn, though. While flamethrower was more dependable, fire blast was powerful and intense enough to crack defenses and amplify Infernus' already impressive destructive potential.

Tangrowth was released next. He gurgled happily when he saw Nidoking and sent a few vines to greet the large, purple creature. Nidoking blinked in surprise at Tangrowth's new form and allowed the vines to gently tap him on the head and explore his plates before the grass-type withdrew.

Infernus received no such greeting. He was probably the only member of the team that Tangrowth actually disliked, mostly thanks to Infernus' prank during their first meeting. Aside from that, their personalities just didn't mesh well together. Tangrowth's cheerfulness and Infernus' aggressiveness weren't good matches.

Still, Ash was glad that they'd kept from getting in a fight. Tangrowth was at a distinct disadvantage against Infernus, but the two could cause quite a bit of inadvertent destruction if they ever got into a real battle. Infernus would certainly win in the end, but Tangrowth was no push over.

He shook his thoughts away and released Torrent. The regal dragon greeted all of the others with a low rumble. Nidoking returned it, although the others simply inclined their heads or, in Tangrowth's case, sent a few vines over to wrap Torrent in a hug.

"Well, now that that's over with, we should get down to business." Ash said with a grin. That drew their attention, although the mere sound of his voice would usually get them to pay attention, just as any attempts at communication on their part would gain them his. "We have four days to train. Bruiser is with Bruno, so I can focus on all of you."

Ash paused for a moment to cough and sip at his water bottle. While he'd gotten used to the arid environment inside the crater, the dust that was constantly whipping up was still an annoyance. Aside from that, some of the soup was still clinging to the inside of his throat like black glue.

"Anyways, Nidoking and Dazed are with me today." He began, wiping his mouth with his slightly dirty sleeve. "Torrent, you're tomorrow. Infernus is the day after that. Tangrowth, I'll be working with you on the last day and whenever I get a chance on the other days."

That seemed to please all of his friends. Tangrowth was bouncing up and down, excited at being able to work with Ash a bit more often than the others. Normally Ash wouldn't do something like that, but Tangrowth needed to get completely used to his new body before he faced Giovanni.

Ash stopped his friends before they could wander off. "I need your help. Nidoking is going to be practicing earthquake and it'll probably attract some onix. Dazed, can you teleport and get Machamp or Hitmonchan for me? I'd like them here just in case."

Dazed nodded. Her eyes flashed blue before she flitted away into nothingness. Ash started rooting around in his pack, trying to find the correct storage compartment for the TM case. The reorganizing he'd done thanks to the presence of the large, heavy egg in his pack meant that he wasn't completely sure where everything was now.

When he finally found it, Ash grinned and glanced up at Nidoking to let him know he was about to be recalled. Nidoking bared his fangs in excitement, crushing his claws together proudly. An instant later he was converted into red energy and sucked into the pokeball.

Ash quickly set the shrunken pokeball into the small slot on the TM case before inserting both disks into their slots. It was a much more elegant process than his first fumbling attempts next to the pond so many months ago.

An instant later he clicked the button that would activate the process and watched. First Nidoking's pokeball glowed a dull brown and then a vivid, striking purple. Ash grinned. Nidoking now had both earthquake and shadow claw at his disposal. He'd been powerful before. Now he had entirely new ways of fighting.

He gently pulled the ball out of the slot and put his TM case back into the storage compartment. Nidoking was released an instant later. His narrow eyes glinted with excitement, obviously anxious to test out his new abilities.

"Give it a moment." Ash told his friend. "We need to wait on Dazed. Machamp'll be able to take care of the onix with no problem."

Nidoking grunted his understanding and impatiently thrashed his tail against the ground. Huge cracks spread throughout the earth when the powerful muscle struck, but Ash didn't rebuke him for it. They were about to cause a lot more damage than that.

He'd seen a nidoking use earthquake at the last Conference. Ash couldn't remember the trainer's name – he hadn't gotten to the Finals, so he wasn't particularly impressive – but he'd won that match by a landslide. His opponent had used a steelix as his last pokemon, but one earthquake instantly knocked the behemoth unconscious as it tunneled. The arena had been torn apart by the attack, huge fissures carving throughout the ground and chunks of earth pulled upward.

If Nidoking could perform earthquake half as well as that one could, Ash would be pleased. Earthquake was an immensely powerful attack, especially when wielded by a ground-type that had a particular affinity for it. It couldn't replace Nidoking's immensely powerful physical capabilities, but it would let him avoid getting up close and personal right off the bat.

Ash was torn from his thoughts when Dazed suddenly appeared a few inches in front of him. He jumped back in surprise and frowned at Dazed. She liked teleporting uncomfortable close to him. It was getting rather annoying, although he could appreciate the humor of it after the shock had worn off.

Before he could say anything, a huge shadow fell over him. Ash glanced upwards and saw Machamp standing next to Dazed, dull grey skin blending in surprisingly well with their surroundings. The fighting-type leered down at him and cracked all four of its knuckles together, eyes showing that it was anticipating a fight.

He nodded his thanks at the gigantic fighter before he turned back and released Nidoking. His friend snorted angrily when he saw Machamp. Apparently his pride had been hurt worse by his defeat than Ash had thought.

"Calm down." He said soothingly, patting his friend on the shoulder. There was no chance for him to get stabbed by a highly poisonous spike there. Nidoking's eyes lost some of their anger, although he still glared at Machamp. The fighter just grinned back.

"Everyone, get back." He warned. His friends followed him until they were about fifty feet away. Of all of his friends, Ash suspected that Infernus was the most interested in this development. The fire-type was always interested in gauging Nidoking's strength and always sought to surpass it. It was a difficult chore now that Nidoking had evolved, but Ash figured that was a good thing. Now Infernus had real motivation to master fire blast and work with Ash on other techniques.

When they were a safe distance away, Ash looked at Machamp. The fighter had taken its own position and was watching with interest. It seemed a bit like Infernus in that respect.

Nidoking was standing alone now, a hulking purple figure that was distinct around the dull brown earth of the crater. His body was tense with excitement, the poison-type's earlier annoyance with Machamp all but forgotten as he anticipated Ash's order.

Ash grinned. "Earthquake!" He shouted. His voice echoed throughout the crater, bouncing off of the vast walls of earth and stone.

The poison-type roared and focused for a moment. Ash watched intently. It was time to see if that TM had been worth the hefty sum of money he'd paid.

Nidoking suddenly leapt high into the air, his monumental bulk briefly overcome by the sheer power stored in his muscles. When he landed, the earth shattered.

Ash staggered backwards as a wave of incredible force ripped through the earth, carving deep lines and cracks throughout the ground and forcing the area around the poison-type to explode upward. Nidoking was left standing in what appeared to be a sunken pit, although in reality he had simply caused the earth adjacent to him to shift and churn upwards.

Tangrowth carefully caught him and held him secure with his rubbery arms. Ash grinned his thanks at his friend before glancing over at Machamp. The indomitable beast simply grinned and cracked its knuckles again as it saw the power behind the earthquake.

Clouds of dust billowed upwards, wildly swirling around before they settled into a thin haze. All Ash could see of Nidoking was his muscular torso, his friend's lower half obscured by the dust and upturned earth.

"Dazed, could you please blow that away?" He asked. Dazed blinked before her eyes flashed. Her pendulum suddenly swept to the side as an immense wave of psychic energy blew the clouds away. Ash thanked her politely before walking over to Nidoking.

Nidoking grunted happily when he saw Ash. The trainer grinned at his friend. "That was incredible! There's no way Giovanni will be able to resist that."

His grin slowly stretched wider. "We can practice that more later. Can you feel any onix coming toward us?"

Nidoking shut his narrow eyes for a moment before he shook his head. Ash frowned. That was odd. After Machamp's tiny earthquake two onix had immediately surfaced. Perhaps they had learned to avoid the crater. It was Bruno's training ground, after all. Or else the earthquake might have been enough to dissuade them, a sign that showed whatever had created it was not to be trifled with. Machamp's weak earthquakes were probably more insults than anything else.

"Let's start on shadow claw, then." Ash stated. He started to back away. Shadow claw wasn't as dangerous as earthquake, but that didn't mean he wanted to be around it. No attack was completely safe to be around, especially not when they were used by a pokemon of Nidoking's caliber.

He gazed curiously as Nidoking closed his eyes and outstretched one of his immense claws. The claws shined dully in the bright sunlight as Nidoking focused his energy. For a few moments, nothing happened. Then his entire arm suddenly went ablaze with black energy, outlined in a deadly violet and formed into a dark, grasping claw.

Nidoking's eyes glinted purple for just a moment as he examined the energy suffusing his arm. He bared his teeth in amusement and then slashed with the shadow claw. It left wisps of darkness trailing behind it, the move's energies momentarily disrupting the natural laws and keeping the intense daylight from banishing the wisps.

The energy left Nidoking as he finished his slash. It surged forward into the ground, bathing the area in darkness for just a moment. Ash watched it curiously as its ghostly energies were slowly consumed and destroyed until the ground was back to normal.

Ash noticed Dazed shut her eyes as the energy bled off into the atmosphere. He didn't like that it hurt her and made her uncomfortable, but he did like that shadow claw was powerful enough to affect psychics even at that distance. It could at least distract them from taking advantage of Nidoking's weakness.

"Good job, buddy!" He called out. Nidoking roared back happily, causing the earth to vibrate a bit. The poison-type was beginning to grow into his ground abilities. Everything was a bit more controlled now.

Now that he was sure that Nidoking was fine, he turned back to his other friends. Most of them seemed at least somewhat impressed with Nidoking's new abilities. With these new additions to his arsenal only Torrent could outmatch him in raw power.

"Go and train." He ordered, glancing at each of his friends. "I'll be checking up on you every now and then. Don't leave the crater or stray too far. The onix here are too dangerous to battle without some backup."

His friends signaled their understanding before they went off to train. Dazed stayed near his side, watching the others leave with impassive eyes.

Ash turned to her with a grin. He could hear Nidoking lumbering towards him. "Well, we've got a lot to do. Let's get some training in."

XX

The next night and morning passed by much as the last had: After training, Ash followed Bruno back to the campsite and talked with him over dinner, he gagged down the black broth, and went to bed. There was one key difference, however. Since his friends weren't too badly beaten by the end of the day – with the notable exception of Bruiser, who had clear signs of battle all over his body – he let them sleep outside.

Most of them huddled around his tent. None of his friends were small enough to get in the shelter with him now that Tangela had evolved and he had thought earnestly about sleeping outside with them. Unfortunately it was simply too cold at night and Bruno, assisted by Ash's common sense, swiftly dissuaded him from that course of action.

Still, he was glad that he was close to his friends. It had been odd sleeping alone. At least he knew they were next to him now.

Infernus was the lone exception. While he did sleep outside and didn't stray too far, he did stay a few feet away from Ash's tent at all times. He didn't like being close to the others, and his body temperature was hot enough to make it uncomfortable anyways.

But Ash knew that Infernus was just as happy to be out at any of them. What he wasn't happy about was the duty Ash had imparted on him. While pokemon eggs could hatch at all but the most extreme temperatures and weren't negatively affected, they tended to hatch faster when exposed to heat. Heat that Infernus radiated.

He wasn't too happy about curling up with the egg at night, but Infernus didn't protest too much. Ash just thanked him and promised that he wouldn't have to stay with the egg after they left Mt. Hideaway. The climate was much gentler when they weren't sleeping on the peak of a mountain.

As he tried to sleep, Ash wondered just what was in the egg. It was definitely a black pokemon, so it would probably be a dark or ghost-type. There were a handful of other pure black pokemon, but most were foreign.

He could probably get it scanned at a Pokemon Center to see what was inside, but Ash didn't really want to do that. It was going to be a surprise, and he'd be happy no matter what he got. Ash thought it would be nice to have a baby on the team. He wouldn't bother trying to get it trained for the Indigo Conference, but it would definitely be ready to be a participant in the next Conference.

His last thoughts were of the egg. Even as he fell into unconsciousness, his mind still swam with questions about the ebony egg. He couldn't wait for it to hatch.

XX

"There's only one more move I think you need to learn." Ash announced to Torrent as he looked away from Bruiser. The fighting-type was duking it out with Tyrogue and Riolu, each putting their rudimentary training so far to the test. Bruiser was holding his own, although he did have more experience than the other two.

Torrent watched him with his regal scarlet eyes, waiting for Ash to continue. Ash grinned and showed Torrent his pokedex screen, which had been set to show a video of one very special, very powerful move.

"Draco Meteor." Ash stated as Torrent interestedly watched the video, his large form shadowing the pokedex enough for the video to be visible. Torrent blinked as a strange pokemon called a Garchomp that belonged to Champion Cynthia of Sinnoh glowed a bright orange and fired an iridescent ball of orange energy high into the air. It exploded into a dozen orbs of energy spheres that caused massive explosions to wrack the battlefield.

"It's one of the most powerful dragon-type moves in existence." Ash recited from the description of the pokedex. It was surprisingly obscure. He'd had to really look for it in the database. "It is enough to defeat almost any opponent, although it temporarily weakens an inexperienced wielder. But I think you're ready for it."

Torrent rumbled his agreement, determination burning in his eyes and stance. He was never one to back down from a challenge, and Ash knew that he would work as long as necessary to harness the incredible power behind Draco Meteor.

Ash backed away and began to speak. He'd memorized most of the instructions behind the attack last night. Hopefully that would be enough, although he would probably have to ask Professor Oak if Dragonite knew it. Torrent was strong and a quick learner, but dragon-type moves were complex. A real example would speed progress along considerably.

"It's similar to using Dragon Pulse, but to the next level." Ash began. Torrent listened on intently. He wasn't about to slack off, not with his discipline and this kind of reward at stake. "You've got to make the Pulse, but make it stronger and more intense. It'll take everything you've got. Try forming that orange energy ball first."

Torrent rumbled and waited until Ash walked away another few feet before he shut his eyes and focused. Nothing happened for a moment, but soon enough small particles of energy began to form in front of his snout. It was a much slower process than Dragon Pulse, but Ash smiled softly when he saw that some of the particles were the bright orange required for Draco Meteor. Most were the shining green of the Pulse, but it was a good start.

Suddenly, Torrent snapped his head up and fired the ball into the sky. Less than twenty feet up it exploded, sending a huge wave of force and energy through the air. Torrent levitated in front of Ash and took the worst of the blast, rumbling a bit as the draconic energy hurt him a bit.

"Thanks." Ash said as he patted Torrent's thick scales for a moment. Torrent rumbled back, although he seemed annoyed at the disastrous first attempt. "What went wrong?"

Torrent blinked and cocked his head. It was an expression that Ash knew meant that he had no idea.

"It was probably just bad luck." Ash told his friend encouragingly. "You got some of the energy you needed. I'll bet you'll have it down in no time."

The dragon-type seemed to smile at him with his wise eyes and nodded before levitating back to his former position. He closed his eyes and began to concentrate again.

Ash just watched, trying to find anything that might help Torrent. He knew his friend was capable of performing this attack. Torrent was strong and determined. It might take weeks of training, but he would get it down.

Ash would make sure of it.

XX

"Show me what you've got." Ash said with a grin. Infernus nodded back, his black eyes gleaming brightly. Flames erupted from his body as the fire-type stepped forward and spat a fireball. It was white-hot, tinged with impure orange flame. As it travelled, it five "limbs" of flame erupted from the front, appearing to take on one of the ancient symbols of Kanto. It was nothing more than a strange resemblance, but one that had gathered a bit of attention from researchers.

Unfortunately, the attack sputtered out a bit before it was supposed to explode. The bright flames died down, leaving nothing but embers that flickered through the air. Ash smiled. While it wasn't a success, it showed that Infernus was getting close to mastering the technique.

Infernus clenched his fists and angrily spat a huge column of flame into the sky. When it dissipated he appeared to have calmed down a bit, although he was still clearly annoyed with his failure. Ash knew that his friend normally mastered techniques in mere days, much like Torrent. He wasn't used to having difficulties.

"Again." Ash said soothingly. "Don't let your anger get in the way. Just focus on intensifying the flames and focusing the fire to your will."

The fire-type took a deep breath, causing the heat waves simmering from his body to slow for a moment. Small flames began to trickle down his body as he concentrated. Infernus suddenly reared his head back and prepared the attack.

Ash grinned as he suddenly let loose the powerful attack. He had been training with Infernus for two hours now and had seen Infernus' real problem: He was getting frustrated. Infernus had failed at the attack so many times now that, although he was still making progress, he was doing little more than releasing increasingly intense blasts of flame.

It had taken him a while, but he'd managed to calm the worst of Infernus' ire. His friend was remarkably calm now as he spat out a perfect Fire Blast, which roared through the air for nearly thirty feet before exploding in an impressive fireball.

"Great job!" Ash exclaimed, pumping his fist in the air. Fire blast was the most advanced technique most magmar were capable of learning, although there were other attacks and plenty of strategies Ash could still teach Infernus.

For his part, Infernus just seemed surprised. His eyes narrowed happily as he realized that he'd finally pulled it off. After weeks of training and solo practice, the fire-type had finally perfected the technique.

Infernus roared and stamped his foot, causing the earth around him to explode. Lava dribbled out of the torn earth, not nearly as much as Infernus would create in a real battle thanks to Ash's presence but still enough to get the point across. He looked up to the sky and spat two fire blasts into the air, the effort much simpler now that he had perfected it.

Ash just grinned and crossed his arms. Infernus had finally gotten past one of his few hurdles. They could focus more on actual combat now. Haze wouldn't be enough to carry them through the finals.

"You know, I think it's time we introduce a bit more variation." Ash said. Infernus' eyes glinted interestedly and he walked over to Ash. Small flames burned where he stepped, his elation so great that he failed to hold back his body temperature.

"Do you remember battling Alakazam?" He asked. The fire-type snorted a plume of flame, still bitter about his loss. Ash smiled. "That's what I thought. Let's get started on Faint Attack, then. It shouldn't be too hard to learn. You've got the right attitude for it, from what I hear."

Infernus' eyes seemed to smirk, and he drank in every word Ash said. Whatever someone that didn't know Infernus could say about his temperament, they could never say that he wasn't dedicated to growing stronger.

"There are two methods." Ash recited. "One is just the basic way, which is to go up and distract the target before hitting them. The second is more complicated, but I know you can do it. You'll have to use a variation on quick attack which will let you…"

Ash droned on for a bit more, glad that Infernus' attention never strayed. He didn't spend enough time with Infernus, he realized as he coached his friend on the process. He'd have to fix that.

Infernus deserved it.

XX

Tangrowth blinked at him.

Ash blinked back.

They were standing in the designated training area. Ash could see Bruiser battling Tyrogue in the background. The two had been fighting for nearly an hour, showing the incredible endurance fighting-types were known for.

"So, are you used to your body yet?" Ash asked slowly, making sure that Tangrowth would be able to keep up. His friend nodded excitedly, wrapping a few vines around him in a display of happiness. The trainer couldn't hold back a smile and patted one of his friend's rubbery arms. "I'm glad. You've been doing good these last few days, but I just wanted to make sure."

Tangrowth gurgled back a response. Ash laughed. "Alright, alright. You've been working hard these past few days, and it looks like you know most of the techniques that you can naturally learn. But you still don't know power whip. That'll give you an edge that not much can stand up against."

The grass-type blinked his agreement and waved his arms wildly. His eyes were bright and excited at the notion of learning a new attack. Ash nodded in a satisfied manner. If Tangrowth kept this enthusiasm up they'd be working on new techniques in no time.

"The method's a lot like vine whip." Ash explained, accentuating his words with hand motions. Tangrowth's wide eyes followed them interestedly. "You've just got to focus your energy into the strike. Do you understand?"

A fervent nod gave him his answer. "Alright, then. Use ancient power and pull a few rocks up. You'll need targets."

Tangrowth easily ripped a large wall of rock and earth from the ground. Ash ignored the dust that exploded around him. It was trivial, and he could just get Torrent to wash him off when they were done.

"Try it." Ash ordered. Tangrowth gurgled and extended two of his large vines. They twisted in the air for a moment before lashing towards the wall, each glowing an odd mixture of purple and green. Green was the predominant color, but at least Tangrowth was able to use the right kind of energy.

Despite the attack being an odd mix of vine whip and power whip, the attack still held enough power behind it to easily tear through the earthen wall, shattering the construct. Tangrowth quickly yanked his vines back, causing the remainder of the barrier to collapse into chunks of rock and dust.

Ash smiled. "Good work. Do it again."

Tangrowth determinedly followed Ash's command. The trainer smiled. This was his last day with Bruno, so he might as well make the most of it.

XX

"Bruiser is a fighting-type now." Bruno said proudly. Bruiser pounded his chest happily, excitement gleaming in his beady eyes as he met Ash's gaze. Ash smiled at him, just as proud as he was. "You have watched him as he became a fighter, a keen edge instead of a blunt surface."

Ash nodded. "Thank you. I could never have taught him how to meet his potential. We owe you."

"No." Bruno said sharply. "It is my duty to aid promising young trainers. Bruiser is strong and deserved a teacher. You are strong and needed one."

The man sat down on the hot, baked ground and motioned for Ash to do the same. They were in the crater, next to a large onix pit. Ash had returned Tangrowth and the others a few minutes ago once they were done training. It was getting dark and they needed to return to camp.

Bruno clasped his hands together as he met Ash's eyes with his serious gaze. Ash steadfastly returned it. "You have helped me as well. You are no martial artist, but you are a fighter. You survived the St. Anne and have defeated Rockets everywhere you go. You have the spirit of a fighter, just not the skill. While you are not amongst those destined to learn to fight with your body, you have learned to fight with your friends."

Ash nodded understandingly, noting that Bruno was doodling strange symbols in the dirt as he fell into a short silence. When he looked up and met Ash's eyes once more, he continued in a grave tone.

"You are not a fighter of my kind." Bruno said with a shake of his head. "But I have ensured that you know of the fighting-type and the philosophy and skills that drive it. Should you ever receive another fighting-type, Bruiser will not be its sole teacher. He shall teach it how to fight, but you shall teach it how to think."

"Thank you." He said earnestly. "I'll do my best to impart your teachings upon any fighters I come across."

Bruno smiled and dipped his head. "That is all I ask. I have given you knowledge and Bruiser skill. Use it and spread it. Allow everyone willing to listen to grow."

Ash returned the nod. Bruno had been a good teacher. Outside of making his body stronger through the long hike and climb they had to do every day just to get here from the camp, Bruno had made him think. He owed the Master at least that much.

"…After tomorrow we will not see each other again for a long time." Bruno began, a little bit of sadness creaking in his voice. "But one day, I fully expect to meet you on the battlefield."

"I'm looking forward to it." Ash smiled. He glanced over at Bruiser. The fighting-type had walked over to him and was now standing behind him. Riolu and Tyrogue were doing the same to Bruno. Machamp and Hitmonchan were far in the distance.

Bruno gazed off into the sunset before he pulled himself up. "We should return to camp." He smirked, an expression far out of place on the ordinarily humble Master's face. "We cannot part from each other without having a last bowl of the black broth."

The trainer grimaced as he pulled himself up. He wiped his dirty hands off on his pants. He'd enjoyed Bruno's training – aside from the knowledge he imparted upon Ash over supper, he'd shown Ash and his friends how to maximize their efficiency during battle and shortcuts on learning physical techniques – but the black broth was one thing that he'd never miss.

He walked after Bruno and wiped the disgusted expression off of his face. They would be parting in the morning. Ash wanted to make the most of the remaining time. There was no point in being sullen.

XX

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