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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57. The Top 16 Part 2

"Blizzard!" Jessica said with a smile down to Starmie, who groaned again at the order. Its arms spun rapidly and its gem pulsed with an icy blue glow as huge gusts of frozen air, filled with sharp shards of ice, exploded out from it and swept toward Nidoking in an unstoppable gale. It certainly wasn't the most powerful Blizzard Ash had seen but it would slow Nidoking down.

He didn't have to say anything. By the time he was ready to give an order Nidoking had already used Earth Power to open a protective chasm in the hard, packed ground. Ash couldn't see Nidoking, but he knew what he would be doing. Starmie couldn't use Earthquake so his friend was free to tunnel beneath the surface.

Jessica's cheerful expression slipped away slightly as she realized what he was doing. "Starmie, get to the water. Hurry!"

Starmie propelled itself forward with a burst of psychic energy, the glowing blue light surrounding it in an aura of defensive power. Nidoking would be hard pressed to actually hurt the strange water-type by bursting up from the ground.

He knew Nidoking's control and sensitivity to the ground had grown enough that he would be able to sense that Starmie was no longer touching it. That would give him time to prepare. And, if Ash knew Nidoking, his friend would likely have a similar strategy to the one he had prepared.

Nidoking knew that Starmie would most likely go to the water. That was where it was strongest. It was surprisingly maneuverable on land, but in the water it could avoid almost any other attack and manipulate its psychic abilities to a far greater extent.

Ash could also hazard a guess that Jessica hadn't cared to watch his battle with Jonathan – the brief flash of surprise that flashed across her face when Nidoking used Earth Power to dodge Blizzard was a testament to that.

So she most likely didn't know about Thunderbolt. Even if Starmie was able to defend against the lance of electricity it wouldn't be able to remain in the lake after Nidoking put enough of his poison into it.

"Camouflage!" Jessica shouted to Starmie once it had completed its mad dash to the pool. Ash forced a frown onto his face when the creature faded into the depths of the lake, completely invisible amongst the body of water.

It would have no effect. Nidoking didn't need to see it to strike it with Thunderbolt. Not when it was hiding in the water.

Ash leaned onto the railing and watched carefully. Nothing happened for what seemed like an eternity, as the absolute silence of the crowd would attest. They awaited with baited breaths until, finally, Nidoking made his presence known.

Starmie burst out of the pool, held aloft and propelled by the psychic power guided by its pained, twitching arms. Its gem flickered wildly in a frantic state as small arcs of electricity jumped up and down its odd form, the Camouflage technique dissipated in its panic.

Thick clouds of toxic sludge diffused throughout the massive clear pool until it was grey and sullied with the pollutant. Few water-types would care to be inside of the water now, particularly not a psychic like Starmie. The sludge would distract it and break the focus required to use its powers, leaving it useless.

Nidoking was silent for another few seconds, but Starmie suddenly swerved away from its previous position moments before the hulking purple poison-type exploded from the earth beneath it in a roar, his horn glistening with poison. He barely had time to react before he was struck with a high-pressure jet of water that forced him a foot back with a small grunt of pain.

"Psyshock and Recover!" Jessica cried, a worried note in her smooth voice as Starmie continued to twitch. The Thunderbolt had done more than Ash had expected.

With a twist of his foot, Nidoking widened the chasm he had burst out of and fell back in just in time to dodge the blob of psychic power created by Psyshock, which shot past where he had stood moments ago and impacted the barriers surrounding the field.

Starmie groaned again and completed its commands. Ash watched carefully as its gem shone brightly and energy was restored to its form, soothing its trembles and pains. He scowled at that – he hated Recover. It wasn't common but it was exceptionally annoying.

"Touch Clone." Jessica called out again. Starmie, now healed, groaned and created dozens upon dozens of illusory images with Double Team. What made Ash's eyes widen, however, was when a small barrier formed around each of them and condensed until it molded perfectly to the illusory forms and appeared to give them substance.

Brilliant.

Nidoking could only detect Starmie from his hidden position when it touched the ground. By using Barrier and conforming it to the images produced by Double Team – or whatever variant Starmie was using to create the images without actually moving – it would create the illusion of weight on the ground for Nidoking to detect.

And since Starmie could probably detect Nidoking's position under the ground thanks to its psychic abilities, Nidoking had lost his main advantage.

Ash scowled. He'd have to adjust.

"Nidoking, Earthquake!" He shouted, hoping that his friend's keen ears would detect his voice.

The horde of Starmie waited patiently, their gems bright with prepared power as they awaited for Nidoking to surface. They levitated slightly above the ground, just enough to ruin Nidoking's ability to detect them.

It didn't matter, however, as a vast network of cracks threaded throughout the earth and caused it to crumble slightly. Nidoking burst from the earth with a roar, lightning dancing down his horn as he saw the dozen Starmie waiting for him.

Starmie didn't reveal itself by using an attack. While the copies would mimic it with an illusion of their own its own identity would be easy to ascertain from where the true attack had come from.

Instead the copies rushed Nidoking, their bodies surrounded by a weak aura of psychic power. It was the only substance they had.

Ash frowned as Nidoking immediately reacted with a Thunderbolt, the attack powerful enough to slice through two of the clones before it dissipated. Starmie wasn't powerful enough to maintain effective Barriers on each of the clones. They had substance but a single hit would destroy them.

He immediately focused on the Starmie in the back, which was completely still as its gem glowed brightly. It didn't have the glow of a barrier about it. If Nidoking could get to it while it still had to expend the energy controlling the clones it would be helpless.

Nidoking suddenly roared in pain and surprise as his sharp horn effortlessly stabbed through the first of the clones to make it to him, which promptly exploded with a burst of psychic power. A second one charged as well and was immediately destroyed by an errant swipe of Nidoking's claws. It exploded as well.

His eyes widened. They weren't just a distraction. They were bombs.

"Earthquake!" He shouted to his furious friend. Nidoking's tough hide gave him more of a resistance to psychic energy than most poison-types, but they were still potent. It didn't take a lot of the applied force to rupture his poison sacks, after all.

As expected, the clones rose off the ground just long enough to avoid the wave of force that easily shattered the earth around his friend. It didn't matter. The effort Starmie was spending to manipulate each of the Barriers in the form of its clones must have been immense. Any additional manipulation could only tire it out sooner.

Nidoking suffered through three more of the explosive clones before Ash had enough. "Destroy the loner!"

His friend errantly crushed another clone with his tail before he roared and shot a Thunderbolt toward the true Starmie, the bolt of electricity far too fast for Starmie to avoid. Ash grinned as it reached its target and…carved straight through it?

Horrified realization dawned on him as he saw another Starmie suddenly appear behind Nidoking, a shroud of psychic energy – Camouflage, he knew – dissipating as it fired a Hydro Pump straight into Nidoking's unguarded back.

Nidoking was thrust forward and landed heavily on his front, a furious roar in his lungs before the remaining clones leapt onto him and detonated before Starmie fired another Hydro Pump, hitting the exact same place it had struck before.

"Get up!" He urged his friend as Starmie's gem began to glow with power once more. "Shadow Ball!"

As the multicolored blob of energy created by Starmie's Psyshock emerged, Nidoking managed to pull himself far enough that he had a clear line of vision between him and the water-type. Trained by countless hours of practice, a Shadow Ball effortlessly appeared on his horn and thrust towards the Psyshock before it met in a brilliant explosion of grey, black, and purple energy.

Grey lightning rushed throughout the field as immense force wracked the area around the two combatants, obscuring the arena in a field of unnatural smoke as their energy clashed and fought.

Both trainers and hundreds of thousands of onlookers watched with bated breath as the cloud slowly cleared, only to reveal both fierce pokemon still standing – if badly injured.

There was a difference, however. Nidoking looked as though he had suffered a brutal beating from the explosion of psychic and ghostly energy near him, but Starmie couldn't move. Grey lightning danced darkly down its body, focused on its gem. The scarlet stone flickered with life, all of its energy focused on staying conscious.

"Thunderbolt." Ash said with a tone of finality. Nidoking grunted tiredly and allowed a quick blast of electricity to explode from his horn, effective but unrefined.

Starmie collapsed. Its body had suffered from the ghostly energy that sucked its power and vitality away. All it had needed was one last blow to finish it off.

Nidoking trudged back to Ash's side of the battlefield, his eyes proud. Despite that, his tail dragged the ground heavily as he walked. Ash knew that he wouldn't be good for more than one or two more battles. He'd suffered from the psychic energy so casually thrown around by Starmie.

Jessica just had a look of pure shock on her pretty face as she recalled her prized Starmie. Ash grinned dangerously. It looked like she wouldn't underestimate him now, even if he was a bit annoyed at how he'd been outplayed. If Starmie had more power at its disposal that little trick with the clones would have worked perfectly.

Ash smiled as he heard some of the crowd cheering his name. He had earned respect and praise for his abilities so far, but most of the spectators had favored Jessica. She was well-known and had apparently possessed quite a few fans when she had last battled in the Conference.

He was relatively unknown outside of the League's highest authorities. They'd done a very good job of keeping his activities concealed from the public and he greatly appreciated it.

"Primeape, go and get him!" Jessica shouted as she released her next battler. Ash regarded the impressive Primeape warily as it smashed one of its fists into the other and its snout widened with fury. It was a good choice. Primeape didn't have too many advantages over Nidoking, but it was fast and could hit hard enough to nullify his armor.

"Open up a chasm." He ordered. Nidoking dutifully obeyed. His friend stamped his foot onto the hard earth, shut his eyes, and accessed his reserves of power.

Nidoking grunted with the effort, but soon enough the Indigo Stadium's battlefield had been split into two. His friend had opened a huge, gaping chasm in front of him, wide enough that Primeape would have difficulties jumping over. There was a thin strip of earth connecting the two sides, but Nidoking could easily shatter that if necessary.

"Freeze the field."

His friend let out a roared as he reared his head back and fired an Ice Beam from his gaping maw, the jagged arcs of energy shrouding him in a cloak of frost as he maintained it for several seconds. The powerful ice-type technique left vast swathes of the battlefield in front of him frozen in slick ice. Primeape wouldn't be able to jump without traction, so hopefully he had bought himself some more time.

The enraged Primeape sprinted closer, finally in range for Nidoking's attacks. Ash grinned as it utterly ignored the field of ice despite Jessica's protests and slipped clumsily. It finally came to a stop, but slipped again when it tried to stand up. Its eyes screamed with bloodlust and fanatical fury as it slipped yet again and was struck by a Thunderbolt from Nidoking.

"Poison Sting!" He growled to his perceptive friend. Nidoking's mouth snapped open and a barrage of thin needles shot out, each filled to the bursting point with potent venom, and slammed into Primeape's flailing form.

Few of the needles actually penetrated the berserker's thick fur, but several managed to strike its arms and legs to pump them full of debilitating venom. It wasn't lethal, but Primeape couldn't keep up for long with those toxins rushing through its bloodstream.

Unfortunately Primeape was too furious to recognize that as a fact. It casually yanked each of the needles out of its flesh with a complete disregard for the pain or additional venom it had just pumped into itself, created a sphere of glowing blue energy in its hand, and smashed it into the ice.

Ash could admit that he was legitimately taken by surprise through that action. It was unexpected but he could not deny its effectiveness.

Primeape had pulled itself up from the dirt and snorted dangerously. It had just utterly shattered most of the ice around it, although it had taken some damage from its own Focus Blast in the process.

That didn't matter to a berserker like Primeape, though. The pain would just inspire it and drive its rage to new heights.

The fighting-type screeched hatefully before it suddenly leapt across the vast chasm that separated it from its foe. It moved at a speed that even Nidoking couldn't hit with a Thunderbolt, although it landed heavily and collapsed to the ground when it actually reached the other side.

Nidoking immediately fired another lance of electricity capable of lighting up the twilight sky, but Primeape was fast. It pulled itself up, dodged the Thunderbolt, and rushed Nidoking with no regard for its injuries or the venom inside of it. All the fighting-type cared about was beating Nidoking to a pulp.

Ash didn't say anything as the two powerful pokemon engaged each other in vicious melee combat. Primeape didn't care how brutal or savage its blows were and Nidoking was too badly injured to hold back.

They were a flurry of motion, Primeape punching and kicking and screaming as it harassed Nidoking and his friend a resolute fortress against his besieger, his horn there to counter every movement and his tail thrashing wildly to keep Primeape from flanking him.

"Close Combat!" Jessica screamed to her teammate. Ash and Nidoking reacted as one and inwardly flinched, knowing all too well the vast combat potential of the technique.

Something snapped in Primeape then as its system was flooded with adrenaline and its mindset was lowered even deeper into the battle.

It attacked with renewed vigor, punches flowing with raw anger, empowered by its rejuvenated muscles. Primeape screamed at Nidoking as he finally slipped up in the face of his second opponent and suffered a brutal blow to the side of the head for it, just far enough away from his horn and barbs to keep Primeape from drowning in even more poison.

Nidoking was swung to the side, but even then his stunned mind saw a potential to end the battle. Primeape, who thoughtlessly jumped at him to press its advantage, was swept away as his incredibly powerful tail slammed into its side and smashed it into one of the psychic barriers.

Primeape screamed helplessly as the sudden shock tore it out of Close Combat and left it bereft of its former strength. It tried to pull itself up and fight once more, but Nidoking had already shot it with one last Ice Beam to put it down.

"You're doing great, buddy." Ash congratulated his friend, who looked up at him with fire in his tired eyes. "Let's keep pushing. Let's show her what you're made of."

Nidoking growled and squared himself as Primeape was recalled. Jessica looked utterly flabbergasted at her defeat, although Primeape had very nearly finished the job on Nidoking. His friend would need to rest the next day, even after he got out of the Pokemon Center.

Ash frowned as Marowak emerged on the field. It was an impressive specimen. Its bone helmet was worn and chipped from long years of combat and training, but it appeared to have been maintained with the devotion only a Marowak could muster. The club had small cracks, but Ash could only imagine how skilled the Marowak had become with its chosen weapon.

It moved with solemn grace as Jessica quietly gave out orders. Marowak moved quickly, its leathery skin a tan blur as it rushed across the battlefield, easily avoiding the initial Ice Beams Nidoking sent out to test its skill and reflexes.

Nidoking grunted as he prepared himself for a melee battle. Marowak was too fast to hit at anything but close range. Its kind weren't particularly fast, but this one had unmatched reflexes. Ash couldn't imagine how many battles it must have been in.

Marowak skillfully danced across the icy field, dodging and ducking each Ice Beam Nidoking directed towards it. As it drew nearer it raised its bone club at Nidoking and silently formed a compact Focus Blast at the end, small enough to avoid notice if it weren't for how much energy had been compressed into it.

"Hit it with an Ice Beam." Ash directed. "Be ready for it to attack during the distraction."

He felt that he knew what the Marowak was doing. It wanted to either hit Nidoking with the Focus Blast or break his focus long enough to make its own attack. Even if that weren't its plan it would certainly try and take advantage of Nidoking's lapse in attention.

As expected, the attacks met in a gigantic explosion of frost and light. The released energy was potent enough for Ash to feel the railing and earth shake beneath him, the psychic barriers unable to fully block the aftereffects.

Nidoking suddenly roared in pain as a flurry of Focus Blasts, each as potent as the first, smashed into him from behind the thick layer of coiling smoke and dust. He slammed into the psychic barriers with a dull thud, but was still strong enough to remain conscious.

"Hang in there." He said to Nidoking soothingly. His friend remained crumpled on the ground, blearily staring at the cloud of smoke. Nidoking's ears twitched and he bared his fangs as Marowak suddenly leapt through the smoke, riding on a small wave of stone. It dissipated as Nidoking fired an Ice Beam straight into Marowak's mode of transportation, but landed easily on the earth and rolled to the ground.

Nidoking thrashed wildly and managed to slam his tail heavily onto the ground, sending a wave of force throughout the earth that left winding cracks and fissures everywhere it touched. As it did so he managed to pull his hulking frame up, albeit wearily. He couldn't continue much longer. Starmie and Primeape had hurt him.

Unfortunately, Marowak casually neutralized the wild Earthquake with a tap of its huge club to the ground, which left the area around it completely unscathed. It had control that Nidoking couldn't hope to match in his weakened state.

Marowak moved quickly. As Nidoking roared in defiance and charged forward in a last ditch attempt to take it down Marowak rushed forward, leapt to the side before Nidoking could gore it with his horn, and slammed its glowing club straight into the side of Nidoking's head.

Ash winced in sympathy for his friend as an explosion of energy from the Giga Impact rocked the arena and easily threw Nidoking into the psychic barriers once more. He didn't get up.

"You were magnificent." He whispered to Nidoking's pokeball as he returned his friend. Marowak regarded the empty space for a few moments before it deftly leapt across the chasm and landed on the other side of the field.

He frowned at Marowak, who stood on Jessica's side of the field with perfect serenity. It held its club at the ready, prepared to finish whichever of Ash's friends was chosen.

Tangrowth appeared past the chasm in a brilliant flash of light. He gurgled and hopped up and down happily, his vines extending so he could try and embrace Ash. The psychic barriers stopped him, which left him slightly confused and upset if his wide, saucer-like eyes were any indication.

"You're in the Conference, Tangrowth!" Ash shouted out to his friend. He'd made sure that Tangrowth understood the seriousness of the Conference in the weeks before the event. It wouldn't do if he thought it was just another game.

His friend turned from him then and pulled his vines back to him. They were raised around his form, ready to lash out at Marowak the moment Ash gave the order.

Ash grinned. This was what he'd been aiming for when he spoke with Tangrowth of the Conference's importance. Tangrowth had always been an amazingly effective combatant, but most of the time he simply played and didn't seem to regard his battles as actually fighting. He'd even done it in New Island, if his fuzzy memories were of any indication.

Tangrowth was serious right now. He was going to do whatever it took to defeat Marowak and the next few members of Jessica's team.

The second the referee gave the signal to start, Ash shouted, "Go!"

Marowak instantly split into dozens of illusory after-images as it moved, although it wasn't nearly fast enough to be able to use the standard Double Team technique. Ash wondered if Jessica's variation was something she'd created or if she'd picked it up somewhere.

Regardless, it didn't help. Before Marowak could capitalize on Tangrowth's confusion about the extra targets, dozens of his vines extended and snapped toward each one of them. Marowak was surprisingly fast for one of its species, but it was far too slow to avoid Tangrowth's vines and was immediately caught.

It managed to snap the initial vine, but that just alerted Tangrowth and caused the rest of the vines to sweep towards him. Marowak quickly raised its club and released a pulse of flame that burned away the closest vines but the rest went on unhindered.

Marowak remained silent as Tangrowth wrapped it in his vines and instantly began to drain the ground-type's energy. At first Ash could see it struggle to get out, but with the kind of surface area Tangrowth had to work with its efforts quickly died.

When Marowak ceased moving Tangrowth pulled back his vines and cheerfully hopped up and down as Ash shouted down a congratulations. Tangrowth gurgled happily and watched with his huge eyes as Jessica scowled and released her Ninetales, which regarded the uncouth grass-type with the very picture of sophisticated disgust.

"Flamethrower! Don't let it touch you!" She began. Ninetales reacted faster than even Tangrowth's vines and let loose a stream of glistening blue flame, bright and beautiful in its intensity. Jonathan's Charizard didn't compare to the power Ninetales exuded.

Tangrowth acted reflexively as the cone of vibrant blue flame roared towards him. Several of his extended vines created the bright orbs that identified him as a user of Ancient Power and fired the balls of light into the ground, granting him control of the rocky earth just in time for him to raise a wall of stone.

Ash had to look away from the azure inferno, although he kept an eye on Tangrowth's shadowed form. It looked like he'd raised more of his vines and, if the pinpoints of light that stood out from the dying embers of the Flamethrower were anything to go by, had prepared dozens upon dozens of Ancient Power orbs.

Ninetales suddenly leapt over the ruined stone wall, pale fur ignited and one with a huge wreathe of flames that equaled what Infernus was capable of when he was a Magmar.

Impressive, but troublesome.

Its fangs were bared as it descended upon Tangrowth in an immense inferno, close enough to burn away some of his vines before he reflexively responded and hurled every single one of his Ancient Powers into the raging fire-type.

Ash heard a sharp yip as vast amounts of energy were released in a tremendous explosion, leaving Ninetales crumpled on the ground, bloodied but not beaten. The fire-type stared up at Tangrowth with its entrancing scarlet eyes, the beads luminescent as they caught Tangrowth in the trap.

Tangrowth lowered some of his vines as he stared at the hypnotic gaze of the Ninetales, his mind overwhelmed by its keen abilities.

"Tangrowth, snap out of it!" Ash shouted, the distraction allowing Tangrowth to recover slightly before Jessica ruined it.

"Overheat!" She shouted. Ash scowled at the command even as Ninetales' body seemed to pulse slightly before it gathered all of its power for a single attack. Jessica knew that she couldn't win, so she was trying to do as much damage to the otherwise difficult Tangrowth while she could.

Tangrowth had just enough presence of mind to begin the process of raising another wall of stone before Ninetales' tattered form exploded with a wave of fire, the stream seemingly infinite as the powerful fire-type fuelled the attack with all of its remaining strength.

The corona of flames was too much for Ninetales to maintain. As powerful as it was, it had suffered terribly in its arrogant charge against Tangrowth.

A pity. He would have liked to see what it was truly capable of. It took exceptionally rare control and power to maintain blue flames, after all. Ash had no doubt that it could have seriously injured Tangrowth, if not outright defeated him, if it hadn't made such a stupid mistake.

He would take this victory, however. Tangrowth gurgled and recoiled into himself from the pain, his vines flailing wildly – at least those that hadn't been burned away – and instinctively grasping towards the earth in an attempt to gain the nutrients required for recovery.

"Tangrowth back to our side." Ash called out gently. Tangrowth gurgled and slowly trudged his way back, no longer bouncing happily. He was hurt badly. Even with his advanced regenerative capabilities he would need a day or two to get back to his full strength. "You're doing great! Keep it up just a bit longer!"

Tangrowth supported his heavy body with several vines that anchored him to the ground. He wouldn't be very mobile in the next phase of the battle but he would never give up. Hopefully this would end quickly. Ash didn't want his friend to hurt.

Jessica's intelligent eyes analyzed Tangrowth as the referee announced his victory. Ash knew she would pick up on the glaring weaknesses in an instant. She would see that most of his vines had been burned off, leaving him without his most formidable offense and defense. He could still fight but it would be much less efficient than his battle against Ninetales or Marowak.

He winced as her monster of a Persian leapt off of the deck beside her and landed gracefully on one of the few patches of unspoiled earth left. The lithe feline regarded Tangrowth with a lazy eye as it prowled arrogantly across the battlefield, its gigantic fangs bared. It casually sat down and raised a paw as it awaited the referee's orders, revealing a wicked set of claws that could easily shear their way through Tangrowth's vines.

"Begin!"

"Ancient Power!" Ash commanded, knowing that his exhausted friend would need a bit more instruction than usual. Tangrowth whined as he extended several of his vines and created several orbs of Ancient Power. Four went into the ground near him to erect a solid building of stone while the rest hurled toward Persian, who didn't even bother moving. It just leaned slightly out of the way so that it wouldn't be hit.

Ash had seen Persian's immense skill in the recordings of Jessica's battles but it was something else entirely to see in person. It was lazy but every movement betrayed immense skill and strength. The massive feline had earned the right to laze about.

Tangrowth extended several more of his scarce vines lashing towards Persian with lightning speed. He must have left a way for him to see from within his fortress, which would be difficult for the normal-type to penetrate with its natural weapons.

Persian sat down haughtily with no regards for the thick vines. As they neared its sensitive whiskers twitched, which sent the feline into action. In the blink of an eye it raised its paws, reared up on its hind legs, and slashed the vines sent to restrain it to ribbons with a single elegant motion.

His friend instantly yanked his precious vines back, although they remained raised in the air about his little fortress. Ash would have suggested a Solar Beam, but he wasn't certain if Tangrowth had enough energy to use it. Thanks to the battle being held at dusk there wasn't a steady supply of solar power to use to fuel the attack. It was as draining as a Hyper Beam without it.

The normal-type yawned and laid down, bored. It kept an eye on the badly injured grass-type, but seemed to regard Tangrowth's efforts so far with contempt. Persian kept only one eye open as Tangrowth's vines suddenly lashed out once more with uncharacteristic rage.

"Get up, Persian." Jessica sighed in exasperation. From the palm held to her forehead Ash could assume this was a relatively common occurrence. "The quicker you win this the quicker you get to eat!"

That seemed to get Persian's attention far more than Tangrowth's renewed assault did. It raised its head, yawned again, and eyed the vines whistling toward it with well-deserved arrogance before the bright red gem embedded in its forehead shined with a strange glow.

It was all the warning Tangrowth had before several pale beams of pink energy shot out from the gem and incinerated the vines with unnerving ease. The energy dissipated almost immediately after its objective had been completed and seemed to signal for Persian to finally get up.

Ash grit his teeth as the feline stretched before it gently trotted forth, its long tail raised. He knew what that meant: Persian had finally begun its hunt.

It was infuriating how casually Persian treated this battle. Ash knew that it would have a much more difficult time if the majority of Tangrowth's vines hadn't been incinerated by Ninetales, but that didn't matter. What mattered was that Tangrowth's vines had been destroyed and his primary battling methods were impossible for him now.

"Sludge Bomb!" He commanded, knowing that it would likely be Tangrowth's last action before Persian managed to find a way past the stone walls. "Drench it!"

Tangrowth responded immediately. Persian actually had to leap out of the way as Tangrowth liberally drenched the area with massive quantities of rancid, smoking sludge that would probably overwhelm Persian's sensitive nose with its putrid stench. Any distraction would be helpful.

Aside from that, the entire area around Tangrowth's protective enclosure was completely covered in the toxic material. Persian would have to walk through that if it wanted to get to Tangrowth with its claws. Ash wasn't sure if its Power Gem was powerful enough to penetrate the thick barriers.

"Effect Spore!" He commanded, doing his absolute best to ruin Persian's chances. Ash expected that his next choice would be able to neutralize the incredibly powerful feline without too much difficulty but there was no reason to not be safe about it.

Tangrowth's body shook one last time, releasing the vast quantities of Sleep Power and Stun Spore he had stored. They wafted throughout the air, leaving it in a thick haze of gold and green particles.

Persian's eyes widened and it leapt away onto one of the rock spires, which was just large enough to comfortably hold the normal-type's lithe form. It regarded the haze with annoyance and casually batted its paw, which sent blades of darkness slashing towards Tangrowth's protective shields.

Ash grinned when they barely managed to penetrate. It looked like Persian would have to put forth more effort than Night Slash to cut through them.

The normal-type gracefully stood up and regarded Tangrowth and his enclosure with annoyance. Its large, soft nose crinkled in distaste at the noxious scents pervading the arena from the Sludge Bomb and clouds of debilitating particles.

It leapt down to the ground, a little beyond the edge of the thick cloud of gold and green. Persian's tail lowered and coiled around itself, unwilling to actually touch any of the sludge or the spores.

A single, solitary vine suddenly reached towards Ash from Tangrowth's isolated position. Ash didn't know how his friend sensed him, but the vine lightly tapped the psychic barrier right in front of

"Finish this!" Jessica shouted, a note of annoyance in her voice. Persian yawned and batted away one of Tangrowth's feeble assaults, leaving the vines in tatters before the lazy creature shrugged, reared its head back, and unleashed a Hyper Beam that seemed to ignite the night sky and light the entire stadium with its pure light.

A single, solitary vine suddenly reached towards Ash from Tangrowth's isolated position. Ash didn't know how his friend sensed him, but the vine lightly tapped the psychic barrier right in front of his forehead. He smiled softly and pressed a finger against the invisible barrier, holding it up so that he had one last connection to Tangrowth before his cheerful friend was defeated.

Ash winced as the dangerously thin beam of compressed energy ripped through the atmosphere with a roar, the raging orange and white arcs calmed and forced into the narrow blast. It incinerated the bubbling sludge as it swept above, carved a gigantic hole in the clouds of Effect Spore before the Stun Spores ignited in a chain reaction that left the middle of the Indigo Stadium a writhing fireball that quickly petered out.

And it sliced through the stone barricade without any hesitation, leaving a small hole with glowing, molten edges before it struck Tangrowth and detonated in a terrible release of energy, all of the compressed heat and power freed in a single moment and enclosed in Tangrowth's fortress.

The effects were instantaneous. In an instant the fortress was reduced to a heap of blackened rubble and half-formed glass, the remnants of Tangrowth's barriers glowing slightly from the immense temperature it was exposed to.

Tangrowth himself laid in a blackened heap, unconscious. The vine meeting Ash's finger collapsed, incinerated at the base. It writhed on the ground for a few moments before it lost all support and died, separated from its master.

"Thank you, Tangrowth." He murmured to his friend's pokeball once he was returned. "You fought seriously. I'm proud of you."

The ball trembled slightly at his words but grew cold as its inhabitant faded into true unconsciousness. His friend was in stasis now.

Ash regarded the haughty Persian. He had expected it to learn Hyper Beam considering it was a potent long-range technique that would allow Persian to alleviate some of its weaknesses, but he'd never thought that its attack would be so powerful. It had been a match for Dov's Hyper Beam, although Ash doubted Persian could actually maintain it for several seconds as Dov could.

Persian was tired, but not exhausted. It could easily continue to fight for a long while. He couldn't rely on fatigue to wear it down, so it seemed that he'd continue with his initial plan.

Dazed appeared in a flash of scarlet light. She instantly locked eyes with Persian, who curled its upper lip menacingly at the perceived challenge and leapt down from the rock spire it had been relaxing on. The feline paced back and forth at the edge of Jessica's side of the field, tail raised and claws unsheathed.

He sighed. Persian had seemed laid-back and lazy in its battle with Tangrowth, but it seemed that the feline regarded Dazed as a proper foe rather than a toy to bat around and torment.

Ash also had no doubt that Dazed had flashed a bit of psychic power at Persian to antagonize it. She could recognize it as the dangerous threat it was.

"Begin!"

Persian wasted no time. It rushed towards Dazed's immobile form with blinding speed, but surprised Ash as its gem flashed and fired a single beam of intense pink energy toward Dazed, although it was easily absorbed by an impromptu shield.

Dazed's eyes finally began to burn with the power that ran throughout her mind and body. The blue flares glared at the arrogant Persian that suddenly swept its claws at the psychic and sent another series of Night Slashes at her.

Ash grinned at the surprise in Persian's wide eyes as Dazed disappeared with a small, barely noticeable flash of light and appeared roughly ten feet to its left. The creature exhibited its incredible reflexes by dodging her initial Psybeam, but could not avoid the barrage of lesser blasts of psychic energy that rained upon it from her pendulum, kicking up dust and boring holes in the ground wherever it struck.

"Anti-Psychic!" Jessica screamed to her most prized teammate as it danced past the flurry of Psybeams Dazed blasted at it. It seemed that she had finally seen the necessity of intervention. Dazed's teleportation abilities were a surprise, it seemed.

Persian suddenly split into dozens of illusory after-images as it dashed and dodged, each a perfect copy of the original. Its claws shone with shadowy grey energy as it suddenly dashed closer to Dazed, who teleported away and fired a full Psybeam into the true Persian's flank.

Or she would have.

Instead, Persian slashed into the Psybeam with its wickedly curved claws, the ghostly energy produced by its Shadow Claw enough to nullify the blast.

Ash frowned. He had been about to order a Disable to instantly immobilize Persian. Jessica had underestimated Dazed's abilities in using Double Team, but Persian's use of Shadow Claw and any other ghost techniques would throw a wrench into his plans.

Dazed could easily sense the true Persian's mind. Normally ghost-type techniques would leave her unable to distinguish Persian from any of its clones since it would blot out Persian's mind from her senses, but she'd advanced far. She could simply feel which of the Persians was the true Persian precisely because its mind would be blotted out. She would be able to detect the "blank spot" it produced.

He couldn't blame Jessica for overlooking that. It required a great deal of finesse to sense past the initial methods of disguise ghosts and dark-types used. Alakazam could be expected to be that sensitive, but Hypno generally focused on specialized hypnosis strategies and the psychic arts that required brute force.

Unfortunately for her, that mistake would prove to be undoing. He'd just have to get around Persian's use of ghost-type techniques to neutralize Dazed's psychic attacks.

"Polyblast!" He ordered. Dazed seemed to have already come up with the idea herself, as a dozen of the miniature Focus Blasts were already formed and orbited around their creator.

Persian hissed at the sight of the fighting-type technique but didn't get distracted. It moved as quickly and gracefully as before as the dozen weak Focus Blasts were hurled towards the feline.

It was annoying, but Ash had to admire the incredible experience, speed, and foresight Persian displayed as it shifted around each of the Focus Blast clusters, dodging some by a mere hair but never giving the impression that it was in danger. Persian seemed to have unending stamina, but Ash wanted to put that to the test.

The normal-type suddenly blurred forward in a rush of motion and leapt at Dazed with outstretched claws, only to fire another Power Gem into her. She wisely chose to teleport rather than fall into the trap and managed to hurl another Focus Blast at Persian before the feline recovered and hissed. Dazed teleported several feet to the side as Persian's claws sent yet another Night Slash towards her, although this time she finally managed to score a hit.

Persian yowled in shock as it was hit by another of Dazed's underpowered Focus Blasts, its eyes completely wide as it realized it had been touched. It stared at Dazed unblinkingly for a moment before a darkness overtook its features, pure hatred at its resplendent appearance being ruined overcoming its natural apathy.

Dazed barely had time to react as it screamed and roared with raw fury before it lunged forward with killing intent, its claws slashing right where Dazed's throat had been moments before. It seemed to fall into a far more combative mood than before as it rapidly reared up and sent several more Night Slashes towards its hated opponent.

As Dazed was forced on the defensive once more Ash saw all of Persian's illusory clones vanish, Double Team no longer worth the effort to maintain with Persian's slight psychic abilities.

Its eyes gleamed with malevolence as its tail raised high and proud even as its hackles shot up. Persian let loose a growl that even sent shivers up Ash's spine.

It was the sound of something that mankind had learned to fear for its natural viciousness and ruthless nature. It was the sound of an utterly enraged predator that had passed hot anger and fallen into the deadly tranquil fury.

Dazed was forced to teleport away once more as Persian suddenly flashed towards her with bared fangs, ready to bite down and make Dazed play for its singed fur with blood and pain.

Ash grinned as Dazed met Persian's eyes once more, alit with raw blue power. As the blaze intensified he felt the Feather pulse through his chest in tune with his own delight. He knew what was about to happen.

The psychic's pendulum flailed as torrents of its wielder's power flowed through the gem, leaving the core aglow with pure blue light. Dazed's entire body was consumed in an inferno of azure energy as she stared at Persian, who had ceased to move as it was suddenly caught in Dazed's fiery glare.

Persian's red gem suddenly flared in defiance and snapped the spell Dazed's output of psychic energy had placed the feline under, leaving its eyes glowing with hatred as they regarded the creature that had attempted to overwhelm its mind.

It suddenly blurred again as it touched upon its true speed, rushing to the side as Dazed hurled two Focus Blasts into its former position and left identical craters in the broken earth. Persian lunged at Dazed with a yowl, covering nearly forty feet with a single bound.

Ash grinned – it wasn't battling intelligently anymore. It had become too lost in its pride and was finally vulnerable. Persian hadn't even bothered to wreathe its claws or body in ghostly energy as it leapt at his friend. Jessica shouted something out in a furious tone but he couldn't hear it over Persian's vicious scream.

Dazed's eyes flared and finally released the energy that roiled around her in its barely repressed blaze. Her pendulum flew forward as Dazed exerted her energy, maintained in that position as Dazed locked Persian into a prison of layered blue energy.

"Finish it!" Ash shouted to his friend. Dazed's eyes burned in response and she focused. Persian yowled furiously as crushing force was exerted on its body, but still managed to find the strength to somehow push forward through the psychic prison despite the constant supply of power Dazed fed into it.

Persian's gem shined briefly as it used its limited psychic skills to break its head and neck free of the prison. Ash's eyes widened as it reared its massive head back and formed a tiny ball of compressed energy, designed for precise, destructive attacks.

"Teleport!" Ash commanded, hoping that Dazed could cut off the Disable quickly enough to refocus her power. Perhaps a highly-trained Alakazam could maintain a Disable and Teleport, but that required finesse the likes of which Dazed might never obtain.

He could feel the worry Dazed projected as her keen mind realized what was about to happen and the fear when she realized she couldn't switch out quickly enough.

A solution flashed through his mind and he did his best to shout it out as the Hyper Beam was about to be released, but Dazed simply shut her eyes and focused. A crack ran through the pendulum as she utilized as much of her available energy as she could to will a curved shield of bright blue energy directly in front of Persian's face.

Ash couldn't see Persian's face as it released the Hyper Beam, but he could imagine the look of surprise in the lazy feline's murderous eyes as the immensely powerful blast of energy exploded in its face.

The crowd roared happily as the stadium burst into another flare of light that blinded those that looked directly at the source. Ash himself felt the Feather pulse in tune with his glee as he saw Persian collapse heavily to the ground, obviously unconscious. It would never have allowed its dignity to be besmirched in such a manner if it were conscious.

Dazed fell to her knee and stared at her pendulum with her glowing eyes. Ash could see it briefly suffused in bright power as she painstakingly repaired the crack in the cut gem. She gently polished the focus in her soft white mane as she rose to her feet, much to the joy of the onlookers.

She looked up at Ash, who smiled briefly at her. He spared a glance at Persian, impressed with the creature. Its Hyper Beam had been powerful enough to not lonely shatter Dazed's shield, the blowback had also freed it from her Disable.

A pity that it had already been unconscious at that point.

The humans are easily entertained, are they not?

Ash started at the thin mental voice that echoed indistinctly throughout his mind. He smiled and nodded to Dazed, amused. He hadn't thought that she would be able to contact him through the psychic barriers around the stadium.

He knew that Will had used his psychic abilities to great effect during the Conference that he had won, but Ash knew that Will was much stronger than most human psychics, on par with a Kadabra. Sabrina was many times his superior, but he was still an exceptionally potent user of his mental abilities.

It wasn't that he doubted Dazed's abilities. He had the utmost faith in her power. He had seen it grow and extend from the small, surly Drowzee into the potent abilities she wielded now. But the psychic barriers were designed to keep all influence from the battlefield confined. It seemed Dazed saw fit to puncture the barrier to talk to him.

Jessica scowled as she released her last pokemon. It seemed that she hadn't expected herself to be on the losing end of this battle. She'd likely planned to go to the Top 8 before being defeated. She had the skills for it.

He silently wondered how powerful she would have been if she'd never stopped training. She'd spent at least a few years out of practice, if her conversation with Michael when he escorted them to her house in Viridian was anything to go by.

Persian seemed to have regained all of its former strength, considering the teams it had left utterly crushed during this Conference. But it had most likely only caught up to its prime. If it had continued to train and progress it would likely take more than one of his team at full strength to defeat. Even now its speed was on par with some pokemons' Quick Attack.

He was shaken out of his thoughts as Persian was recalled, the burnt feline almost instantly replaced by the strange, metallic body of her Magneton. Sparks flew from the magnets used to focus and direct its electricity, each aimed directly at Dazed.

The Magneton suddenly broke apart and stared at him with three cold eyes. Each Magnemite was joined to the others with a thin arc of white electricity as they moved through the air, although their magnetic attraction wrenched their bodies back into place moment later.

Ash knew that if he was actually down on the battlefield the temperature would have raised several degrees from the radiation emitted by the Magneton's body. It clanked and levitated forward as the referee announced the battle's commencement, more electricity charging as it analyzed Dazed with mechanical efficiency.

He frowned. Magneton were certainly powerful, but this should be an easy battle. As a psychic, Dazed was particularly adept at dodging ranged attacks with teleports or absorbing elemental attacks with a shield.

Magneton were heavy and hard enough to resist any psychic blasts Dazed sent towards them, but a Focus Blast or two would put a dent in the steel-types. Hopefully that would weaken their metal carapace enough for Dazed's applied blasts of force and pressure to finish them off.

"Sonic Boom!" Jessica snapped, obviously stressed out. She wasn't taking her inevitable loss very well. "Overwhelm its senses!"

The three Magnemite clanked as they suddenly pulled apart from each other, which resulted in a large clap of sound as the sound barrier was split by the shock wave it had just released. Dazed easily blocked it with a shield, although her eyes were screwed tight as her sensitive brain was subjected to the loud noise.

"Strobe!"

Magneton's magnets flashed with light as it instantly emitted huge, overwhelmingly bright flashes from its body. The onlookers had to look away as it repeated the pulse again and again, each bright enough for the eye to see when covered by an eyelid.

Dazed took the opportunity to teleport behind one of the remaining rock spires as she was bombarded by the strobe, which very nearly left her catatonic as her brain attempted to struggle through the sensory input. She didn't bother trying to attack, aware that Magneton would try to stun her again.

Ash scowled. He hated electric-types that were specialized to emit sounds and light that could easily debilitate an unwary psychic. It turned an otherwise unthreatening opponent into a particularly annoying adversary. He hadn't had to deal with it much since his last battle with Surge, whose Jolteon seemed to know exactly how to overwhelm psychics without actually hurting them.

"Zap Cannon." Jessica said as she took several deep breaths. Magneton reacted with inorganic efficiency, having pulled apart and focused at the space Dazed hid behind. Ash frowned at that. It had a natural ability to use the Lock-On technique, or at least a variant. Magneton possessed electrolocation, which allowed them to sense the bioelectric field produced by other organisms. Incredibly useful, considering it allowed them to automatically know where their opponent was unless they were underneath the ground.

He didn't have to tell Dazed to teleport as an absurdly overcharged blast of electricity shot straight into the rock spire, impacting with enough kinetic force to completely obliterate the spire's integrity and leaving chunks of shattered rock scattered across the ripped battlefield.

Magneton whirred in surprise as Dazed appeared directly behind it and instantly hurled twin Focus Blasts into its back, disrupting the Magneton's connection and temporarily scattering the Magnemite that had joined to create it.

As the Magnemite pulled together once more and instinctively renewed their connection, Dazed saw the opportunity to end the battle at long last. Before the Magnemite could rejoin she created a spherical psychic barrier between them, which steadily absorbed and leeched the energy they expended in their attempt to rejoin their brethren.

Each of the joined creatures grew more and more panicked as the magnetic force that kept them together was blocked, leaving each at only a fraction of the potential they possessed together. Electricity rushed through the air as they seemed to flail wildly and Ash could see from the rippling air that they were producing more and more heat in their terror.

He idly wondered what it must have felt to lose parts of yourself. To be strong, to be one, and then split apart and reduced to so much less. To be lesser individually than before evolution had taken place, considering that they had grown used to the power and intelligence accorded by bonding with two others.

Ash pitied them, but not so much that he would let Dazed's improvised tactic stop. It didn't take long, considering how much power they released in their frenzy to become one. If Dazed didn't have a shield surrounding her he expected that she would have been knocked unconscious by the sheer heat long ago.

When each of them collapsed to the ground, their bonded magnets twitching and sparking slightly, Dazed removed the barrier. She collapsed afterward, exhausted by the maintenance required by the shield. Dazed barely had time to teleport over to the field before the trio of Magnemite were unconsciously yanked together by the magnetic force they had mastered.

He waited for a moment to see if the Magneton would rise, but was relieved when Jessica sighed and recalled the steel-type. Ash wasn't sure if Dazed was capable of fighting much longer. Her shields had sapped her of her strength.

"Victory for the Green Trainer, Ash Ketchum!" The announcer roared excitedly, the crowd cheering alongside him. There were a few groans from Jessica's ardent supporters, but for the most part everyone seemed happy for him.

The announcer said more but Ash didn't really care. He just wore a wide grin on his face and nodded to Jessica as the woman sighed and stepped off of her stage. It was too bad she hadn't taken him seriously at first. She had managed to take down Nidoking and Tangrowth, two of his most powerful and versatile teammates, and was well on her way to taking down a third by the time the battle had ended.

He shrugged it off and stepped down as the audience cheered him on. Dazed teleported to his side, tired but not finished.

"You did wonderful." He grinned to his stoic companion. She paused polishing her pendulum and glanced at him from over her large nose. "I have to admit that I hadn't even considered keeping the Magneton broken up. I was about to order you to hit it with Focus Blast until it stopped getting back up."

Very imaginative, Trainer-Friend Ash. Perhaps such an unsophisticated strategy would have been preferable. Repulsing the forces that made the three one was draining. My mind and body are spent.

"You won't have to do anything for the next two days." Ash assured. "We'll just do a few drills to make sure we're back into shape before our next battle."

Understandable. I expect that you will speak to the unsalvageable brute? I feel its lust for battle and chaos even now. The fires that drive it burn for blood. The world is in our debt for retaining it from human society.

Ash half-smiled at Dazed's name for Infernus. "Yes. These battles are becoming more difficult. Soon we may need his strength."

Unfortunate. A human wishes to speak with you. I believe I am making him uncomfortable.

He followed Dazed's intense, unblinking gaze to the reporter waiting for him. The man shifted and pulled at his collar as he glanced over at Dazed every now and then. Ash pondered returning Dazed, but decided against it.

There was nothing wrong with making the man squirm. Dazed deserved a bit of fun after the battles she had just gone through.

As he stepped forward to speak with the man, he thought he saw just the barest hint of amusement in Dazed's frozen eyes.

XX

Ash moved swiftly through the packs of celebrators, his hat pulled low to obscure any view of his face. It was out of place considering that the sun had died and the moon lived in the blackness above them, but nobody seemed to care. He certainly didn't mind. He just wanted to return home and avoid any of his fans.

That was an odd concept. And a disturbing one. Anonymity was much preferable, although he accepted the fact that he would no longer be a random trainer anymore. The elite demanded attention and he had joined their hallowed ranks.

"Yo, Ash!" A loud, cheerful voice bellowed into his eardrum as a large hand grasped his shoulder in a friendly manner. Ash snapped his head to look at his newest problem, only to relax when he realized it was Fergus.

"Fergus." He acknowledged as he pulled his cap up. He liked to be able to see people when he talked to them.

"Great battle out there!" Fergus exclaimed as he began to drag Ash behind him. "You're due for a celebration! Let's go."

Ash allowed the teenager to pull him along, but glanced up at Fergus quizzically. "Where are we going?"

"Nowhere bad." Fergus assured him. They ducked past a horde of stumbling men and women guided by a Machoke until they finally stopped at a restaurant that looked decent enough, if somewhat shabbier than the extremely expensive restaurants most competitors frequented. "Too bad, anyway. We just wanted to catch up."

"We?" He echoed, until he saw the group of people standing out front. Corey, Neesha, and Jaimie. "Oh. We."

"Hey guys, I found him!" Fergus shouted above the roar of the bustling crowds. It attracted the group's attention, certainly. Ash frowned as the older trainers focused their gaze on him. It was slightly unnerving.

Nevertheless, he let himself be pulled along by the overenthusiastic Fergus. As Ash was welcomed by the group he had to wonder if he should have slipped away from the slightly tipsy Fergus while he could.

It wasn't as if the rest of them looked to be any better.

"C'mon in." Corey slurred. His eyes were slightly out of focus and he tried to pat Ash on the shoulder. He missed and shoved his hand into Fergus' face, which was actually rather impressive given Ash and Fergus' wildly different heights. "We've got a lot to talk about!"

That attracted his attention and he let himself be guided into the restaurant by the group. The Feather burned against his chest as questions ran through his mind.

He hadn't been able to speak with the others as a group. Fergus had done his best to avoid the subject of Mewtwo and New Island when they had last spoken at the Opening Ceremony and the others had been out of contact.

Maybe he'd finally get some answers.

XX

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