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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23. The Tournament Part 1

Right now, Ash was walking toward the Pokemon Center. He'd checked out and gotten his pack. It was time to go home.

Ash ended up sticking around Saffron for another three days. All of the pokemon that had participated in the fight had taken heavy injuries. Even Tangela had been unable to battle for more than a day, even after a heavy dose of potions.

Infernus and Torrent had worse injuries than Tangela, however. Torrent had been subjected to a full power hyper beam from Alakazam, which had done quite a number on him. His armor was still slightly frail on his chest, although he was able to fight again. Infernus was simply bruised all over his body, although his tough body and incredible rate of healing ensured he was ready to fight after a single day.

It only took two days for his friends to be well enough to fight again, but he had decided to stick around one last day. He needed to get Nidorino back into battling. His friend was almost back to his full strength, but he was still a little slow and lacked the endurance he'd had before being mauled.

Fortunately, Saffron had plenty of trainers to battle. Most were of average ability and were easily defeated by Nidorino's strength and experience, but a few proved tough enough to pose a real threat. That's when Ash called Nidorino back in and let out Infernus or Dazed. Infernus couldn't go more than a day without a fight and Dazed was one of his only pokemon that hadn't sustained a serious injury from Sabrina.

Nidorino just needed a few more days of training before Ash could use him seriously again. Ash hoped that he'd be ready in time to face Giovanni. He would like nothing more than to defeat the last and greatest gym leader of Kanto with his starter by his side.

A grin split his face as he thought of Giovanni. He knew he wasn't quite ready for the Earth Gym, but he was getting close. Just a week or two of training and he knew he'd be ready to at least attempt to battle Giovanni. Defeating Sabrina had given him more confidence in his abilities, at least in regards to the powerful gym leaders.

But right now he needed to call Professor Oak and get him to send Alakazam over. Dazed had improved a bit on her endurance in regards to teleportation, but she would never be able to teleport him long distances. It just wasn't what the drowzee line was built for.

Normally he would have just called Professor Oak on his PokeNav, but thousands of magnemite and magneton had been passing through the city and suburbs in huge swarms. The electromagnetic waves they produced were disrupting almost all of the signals to and from Saffron. Only places with specially prepared facilities such as Pokemon Centers could actually get calls out.

Ash was a little annoyed at his bad luck, but knew he shouldn't have been surprised. Magnemite and magneton swarms passed through cities like Saffron every month or so. They were attracted to the vast amounts of electricity being produced, although they usually passed by for easier sources such as power plants specifically set up to feed them.

Of course, Saffron had it easier than most cities. Sabrina and her psychics were able to scramble their minds and give them a compulsion to leave. It generally worked well from what he heard.

But he'd heard that something was off about this most recent swarm of the creatures. Normally they drifted aimlessly, seeking any possible source of electricity. They tended to be slow and lazy since they normally didn't have much power to feed on. Right now they were energized, ceaselessly following some source that humans couldn't detect. Ash had heard that electabuzz and elekid herds were following it as well.

It was worrying, but they weren't hurting anybody. The League was keeping an eye on it from what he'd heard, but didn't disrupt anything. They didn't want to accidentally hurt pokemon, after all.

He'd given thought to catching one of the electric-types as they drifted through Saffron, but it was much too risky. They were generally nonthreatening and extremely passive, friendly, even, but if he threatened one of their swarm they would attack. It wouldn't end well for him. The same with electabuzz, although they had much worse tempers. They were much like magmar in that way.

He stepped into the video phone room, passing several other trainers. Most had pleased smiles on their faces, as though they had just spoken to their loved ones after years away from them.

Such a statement probably wasn't so far from the truth. A year would be an exaggeration, but it wasn't uncommon for trainers to stay in the wild for weeks without contact with the outside world. They might run into small towns and villages along the way, but those out of the way places usually didn't have video phones.

Ash glanced around the massive room. Although the Saffron Pokemon Center was exceptionally large, it was still filled to the brim with trainers. More and more were beginning to stop and train in and around cities now that they'd gotten their badges and didn't have to travel all the time, so the relatively empty ones he'd seen throughout his earlier journey were slowly filling up.

Even though there were more than twenty video phones available, Ash still had to wait for someone to get off of theirs. He tapped his foot impatiently as the call dragged on and on. Another trainer, a teenager much taller than him, tried to skip in front of him, but a glare from Ash and a tap to Nidorino, who was sitting beside his feet, made the trainer walk away with a disgruntled look on his face.

He smiled slightly at that. Even injured and weakened, Nidorino was still so obviously tough that not that many trainers would want to mess with him. Not many trainers battled as much as Ash did, and Nidorino had taken part in a good chunk of those fights. Plus the nasty, thick scars left by Umbreon's sharp fangs showed just how dangerous Nidorino could be.

Ash idly patted his friend on the head, eliciting a happy grunt from Nidorino. He started talking to his friend, not really caring what the other trainers thought. Most were talking to their own pokemon anyways, although three or four of the dozens of trainers waiting to get on the video phone were eying them with distaste.

"So, how do you think Seeker's doing?" He asked, glancing down at his friend. Nidorino grunted and looked up at him. "I'm hoping she's healed up well. I'd like to take her with us to Mt. Moon."

Nidorino nodded and grunted excitedly at the mention of Mt. Moon. His ears perked up and he butted his head into Ash's leg. Ash winced and rubbed the lightly aching spot but grinned down at his friend.

"Yeah, yeah. We'll go there once we've beaten Giovanni. I think I'm going to get another circuit of the gyms done before the Conference. I'll need the practice."

The poison-type grunted his understanding. Ash kept on talking for a few minutes, heedless of anyone around him. He just wanted to pass the time until he could finally talk to Professor Oak.

Ash was suddenly torn away from his one-sided conversation with Nidorino.

"I'm done. You can stop talking to your rodent now." A voice sneered. Ash glanced up in surprise and scowled as a boy about his age with long purple hair and cold, serious black eyes pushed past him. He glared at the boy's back for a few moments before continuing up to the video phone. The trainer had a surprisingly adult voice for one so young.

Nidorino growled menacingly at the boy as he walked away, but loyally followed Ash a few moments later. Ash quickly typed in Professor Oak's number. The screen flickered to life and showed Oak's work station just a few moments later.

"Hey, Professor Oak!" Ash greeted with a grin. Oak, who was tinkering with that same purple pokeball, quickly put it out of Ash's sight and snapped his attention to the trainer. He smiled at Ash and returned his greeting.

"How did your battle go, Ash?" Professor Oak inquired, curiosity gleaming in his aged black eyes. "I had expected to hear from you the same day you left Celadon."

Ash grinned widely enough to cause a little pain in his cheeks. "I won!" He exclaimed. Ash sobered up a moment later, although he still had a huge smile on his face. "I was going to call you and my mother that day, but a swarm of magnemite has been passing by."

Professor Oak hummed in understanding. "Ah, that makes sense. I must confess that I haven't been paying attention to national events at the moment. I've been too wrapped up in my research."

"What're you researching?"

"Oh, this and that." Oak said vaguely, waving his hand through the air to dismiss the question. "Nothing that would really interest you. It's much more interesting to old men who haven't been outside of a musty old lab for a decade or so."

Ash couldn't hold back his smile at that. "And who would that be? Definitely not you, Professor."

A smile tugged at Oak's lips. "I suppose not. I'm not quite that old. Not yet, anyways." He leaned forward on his desk. "You wouldn't have heard of any of these men. They're just researchers for Silph. They're quite high up on the ladder, but aren't exactly in the public eye."

"Oh." Ash replied with a nod. He shook his head. "By the way, could you have Alakazam teleport to the First Pokemon Center of Saffron City?"

"Of course." Oak said. He fiddled around with a remote sitting on his desk and pressed a large, red button. At Ash's questioning look he explained. "The button activates an alarm in Alakazam's basement. It saves me quite a bit of time."

Ash nodded his understanding. He saw Alakazam teleport directly behind Professor Oak and tap him on the shoulder with one of her dull claws.

"Ah, there you are." Oak said pleasantly. "Could you teleport to the First Pokemon Center at Saffron? Ash needs you to bring him back to Pallet."

Alakazam sighed and rolled her eyes. Her small moustache twitched as she crossed her spoons and vanished. Oak smiled fondly after her for a few moments before turning back to Ash.

"Well, you should get leave now. Alakazam is waiting."

"Thanks, Professor." Ash grinned. A second later he cut off the monitor. He glanced at it for another few moments before shaking his head and walking away.

"You can go." He said to the next trainer in line. The tall, broad-shouldered man nodded and thanked him gruffly before stepping past him.

After that, Ash slipped through the crowd, although he paused to return Nidorino first. The crowd had grown much larger since he had first entered the room, which was making his friend antsy. Nidorino didn't like crowds. It was a natural instinct for Nidorino. They were the protectors of their herds. Being around a lot of unfamiliar faces could confuse them and make them a bit more aggressive than usual.

Ash made good time. The crowd wasn't too dense for him to slip through small gaps, so he didn't have much trouble. It still took a minute or so, but it was better than if he'd been bigger.

Still, he'd taken much too long for Alakazam. The psychic-type was standing out on the side of the street when he left the warm, comfortable atmosphere of the Pokemon Center. It was raining heavily, the dark clouds that had been hovering over the city casting a gloomy shadow on Saffron. The shadows made the ordinarily dull and colorless Saffron City even more lifeless.

Aside from the constant lances of lightning that lit the entire city for brief instants, there was little light. It was possible to see, but it was as dark as twilight.

In other words, Ash wouldn't mind leaving the city. It wasn't going to be a happy place for the next week or so.

"I'm ready." He said to Alakazam. Ash noticed people around him giving him odd looks, although a few seemed to see what he was talking to. Alakazam probably erased the image of her from most peoples' minds. Her kind attracted quite a bit of attention, after all, and it was best to stay incognito to keep Rockets away.

Not that any amount of Rockets would have an effect on Alakazam. She was exceptionally powerful, even amongst her kind, at least if the old videos Ash had seen of Professor Oak in his battling days were any indication. Alakazam was probably even stronger than Sabrina's, as crazy a thought as it was.

She nodded and crossed her spoons. Ash briefly blinked and found himself standing outside of Professor Oak's lab.

The weather was perfect. It was bright and sunny, but not too hot. There was a nice breeze and he could see dozens of pokemon playing and relaxing in the field.

Ash grinned. This was much better than Saffron. It was an incredible city, but it was just so lifeless. He much preferred the sun and wide open spaces than the compact, crowded city.

"Thanks." He said to Alakazam. She just rolled her sharp eyes before crossing her spoons again. A moment later she vanished. Ash shrugged and walked up to the lab. He knocked and waited quietly, although he took the time to release his friends. They deserved some time in the open.

"Hey, everybody." He greeted happily. Most of them called back or, in Infernus' case, nodded and crossed their arms. Tangela pulled him down for a brief hug, which Ash gladly returned. "We're at Pallet for a while. Just go wherever you want. I'll call you when I need you back."

Tangela tapped him on the forehead affectionately with one of his vines before waddling off. Ash assumed that he was going to the fields. The grass-type was a favorite of the younger pokemon. He always took the time to play with them and didn't mind their rough-housing.

Plume pecked him before shrieking her goodbye. She took off, kicking up a cloud of dust and tearing some of the grass from the ground. Ash coughed and wiped his face but watched her go with a smile. He didn't know what she did. The flying-type often flew to the forest, close enough to come if Ash needed her but far enough away for privacy.

Dazed didn't go anywhere for a few moments. She stared at Ash with her inscrutable eyes for a few moments and nodded to him, her eyes lighting up in a smile. Ash smiled back, although he wasn't sure what that was about. He didn't have time to inquire, however. A few moments after that Dazed vanished in a flicker of light, appearing by Tangela an instant later.

He would be lying if he said that he wasn't surprised by their friendship. Dazed was generally aloof from the rest of the team, although she spent some time with Nidorino. She was almost always around Tangela, however. Ash couldn't figure it out.

Torrent rumbled to him before floating away elegantly, his fins gently waving in the air. He was headed in the direction of the lake. The water-type had a liking for the water. It was where he was most powerful and he often sank to the bottom of the lake for hours on end.

Infernus snorted a bit of smoke at him and glanced around the area. His eyes lit up with his inner fire when he saw Arcanine lazing around with the growlithe puppies, however, and he stalked over to the great canine. Ash grinned. He couldn't wait to watch their fight. The two powerful fire-types had been testing each other in contests and feats of strength the entire time he was in Pallet last time. Infernus seemed determined to grow stronger than Arcanine, who, aside from Blaine's Magmar, was the only truly powerful fire-type he'd met.

Nidorino, of course, stayed by Ash's side. Ash idly scratched behind his friends ears, aware that Nidorino was staring at the nidoran herd. He knew that his friend felt compelled to join his own kind, but appreciated that Nidorino stayed with him. He was the best friend Ash had.

He stayed there for a bit longer before the door opened. Ash only had a moment to grin before he was wrapped up in a tight, crushing hug.

"Oh, Ash, I'm so glad to see you!" His mother gushed, tightening her grip on him. Ash coughed as the vice grip grew even tighter, although he made sure to hug his mother back. A few second later she let him go and smiled widely at him. "I heard about your match with Sabrina. I'm so proud of you!"

"Thanks, Mom." He said, still grinning happily. While things had gotten much better between he and his mom before he left for Celadon, it was still a bit tense. It looked like his mother had finally sorted everything out. That made his grin grow even wider. He'd been afraid that things would take weeks to return to normal. "How was Pallet while I was gone?"

His mother pulled him into the large home before she answered him. He listened with a small smile at his face as she chattered on. It was clear that she'd missed him. Ash could say the same about her.

"Oh, nothing too exciting." She began as they entered the house. "Professor Oak was busy most days. He told me that he's been working on something really important, but it's confidential."

Ash nodded. "Silph?"

She nodded. "That's it! Anyways, he's been busy, so I've been working at the restaurant a lot. There hasn't been much business. A lot of people have been here with Professor Oak this week. I guess he needs more help than usual. I'm actually catching up with him right now."

He nodded again. If Professor Oak was busy, then someone else would have to feed the pokemon and keep the lab running. It must be something extremely important if he was willing to bring most of his part-time assistants in.

But now he needed to ask about what was really important.

"How's Seeker doing?"

"She's doing wonderful!" His mother gushed. They'd just entered the kitchen. Professor Oak was sitting down at one of the tables with a newspaper. A cup of cold water sat next to his empty plate. "Seeker's been on a potion regimen for the last few days, but she got off of it yesterday." His mother said brightly.

She took a seat and motioned for Ash to sit down. He did and nodded a hello to Professor Oak, who returned it before returning to his newspaper. Professor Oak looked extremely stressed out and tired. Ash had detected hints of it during their call, but in person he could see the deep bags under his red eyes.

Ash turned back to his mom. Nidorino had curled up next to his leg. His mom hadn't seen him yet, so Nidorino was spared from being hugged and cuddled like he was a nidoran. The poison-type's side was leaning on Ash's foot, providing a comfortable pressure.

"And Bruiser?" He asked. Ash felt a little guilty about the fighting-type. He'd done a bad job of using him after sending him to the Corral. While he didn't want to split him up from Seeker, he wanted to use his friend some more. Bruiser had done well in the time they'd had together, even if he had a ways to go before he equaled the rest of the team.

"He's been carrying Seeker everywhere and stayed with her the entire time!" His mother crooned. Ash noticed that she was acting unusually perky, even for her. He wondered if she'd had coffee. "It's so adorable!"

Ash nodded, a small, genuine smile slipping onto his face. He could see that image very easily. Bruiser had appointed himself Seeker's protector, after all. It wasn't surprising that his devotion wouldn't have wavered. They were as close as any other members of his team.

"I'm quite impressed with you, you know." Oak said, speaking up for the first time. He'd put the newspaper down and had his glass of water in hand. "Very few trainers can defeat Sabrina. For you to have grown this strong in just a few months…it's amazing."

"Thanks. I'm actually amazed myself." Ash replied, leaning forward onto the table. Nidorino grunted softly in protest and rolled over onto his side, happily laying out on the cool tile floor. A thought entered his mind. "How are the others from Pallet Town doing?"

Oak's face lit up, some of the stress vanishing. "Gary just got the last necessary badge for the Conference! He's just got the Rainbow badge. Now he's going to challenge Koga."

Ash nodded, a frown on his face. He was surprised that Gary wasn't really challenging himself. Gary was more than strong enough to take on Koga. Alakazam was quite powerful, if not the monster that Sabrina's was. It just didn't make sense to him.

"I haven't had much contact with Jonathan or Amelia." Oak admitted, looking a little embarrassed. He scratched the back of his neck and averted his eyes for a moment. It was odd on the distinguished Professor. "The last time they called in was after they beat Erika."

He sighed dejectedly. Ash had hoped that Oak would have more concrete information on his former travelling partners. Now that he had been on his own he probably wouldn't want to travel with them again – he just felt closer to his pokemon this way, and even if he was friends with them he'd felt like a third wheel in their duo – but he still wanted to know how they were doing.

"They haven't called me, but I can tell you what pokemon they have." Oak told him. Ash perked up at that. He wanted to battle them whenever he saw them, and knowing what pokemon they had would do a good job of preparing him for that. It would be nice to know how far they'd come as well.

"Let's see…" Oak began, staring thoughtfully into space. His eyes suddenly brightened and he snapped his fingers. "Jonathan has a charmeleon, rhyhorn, kingler, magnemite, and gyarados. Amelia has an ivysaur, raticate, tentacruel, dewgong, and kangaskhan."

Ash nodded. It looked like they'd progressed quite a bit, although he had no way of knowing how strong they actually were. He'd almost forgotten about Jonathan's gyarados. That was probably the one he'd seen escaping the wreckage of the ship. He was actually looking forward to seeing it in action. Gyarados were powerful pokemon, as Captain Stewart's gyarados had proved more than once, and he wanted to see how Jonathan had raised it.

Of course, he knew that Torrent would have fun that battle. Not many water-types could even hope to challenge a kingdra, but gyarados were amongst that tiny number. It would be amazing, especially if Jonathan was capable of controlling the great sea serpent.

His mother finally spoke up. "Ash, where are you heading to after this? I know you aren't going to stay here long."

Ash smiled guiltily at her. "I'm going to head to Viridian to take on Giovanni eventually. But I know I'm not ready yet. I need to train some more."

His mom flinched and turned pale a bit at the mention of the Viridian gym. Ash looked at her oddly but didn't press the issue. If his mom wanted to tell him something, she would. That meant it was either very private or something that she wanted to forget.

Still, for her to react so badly at the mention of Giovanni was odd. It made Ash curious. Hopefully she would tell him eventually.

"I've told you before that Giovanni will be a brutal battle." Professor Oak interjected hastily. "I'm glad to see you understand that. Gary's wanted to battle him for a while now." The older man sighed, rubbing his temples. "He doesn't seem to understand just how dangerous Giovanni is. The man is far more skilled than all gym leaders but Sabrina and Blaine."

Ash rolled his eyes. Gary was smart. He should have more common sense than to even think about challenging Giovanni yet.

"How much longer do you think I should train before taking him on?" Ash questioned. Professor Oak knew enough about his abilities and his team to make an accurate guess. He seemed to know Giovanni pretty well, as well as his team.

"That's a good question." Oak muttered, scratching his chin. "Torrent will be highly effective against most of Giovanni's pokemon, but he will eventually sacrifice one to defeat it. Kingdra can levitate to avoid ground-type moves and have a type advantage. He uses primarily rock and ground-types. Still, the rest of your pokemon won't be particularly effective."

Ash paid close attention to the Professor. Although he didn't know about many of his battling achievements since the Professor was tight-lipped about them, he knew that Oak had been incredibly powerful back when he was a trainer.

The Arcanine that could easily keep hundreds of pokemon in check while still having time to play and the Alakazam that could teleport half-way across the country without too much trouble was testament to that. And he wouldn't even mention the Dragonite, who rarely made an appearance at the Corral. Ash didn't even know where it lived.

"Pidgeot wouldn't be able to do much damage." Oak continued. "She's too weak offensively and defensively. She just couldn't do the damage required. Nidorino will be back to snuff soon, but I doubt he'll be capable of taking on Giovanni's Nidoking or Nidoqueen."

Nidorino growled from beneath the table, clearly offended. The vibrations were powerful enough to make Ash's leg tingle a bit. Ash just rolled his eyes and leaned down to scratch behind Nidorino's leathery ears, careful to avoid the poisonous spines. His friend calmed down, appeased by the action.

His mother's eyes lit up and she glanced underneath the table. Ash grinned when she leaned down and began to pat Nidorino carefully, knowing enough about the breed to avoid the locations of the spines. Judging from Nidorino's sudden relaxation, he didn't mind the attention too much.

Oak had a small smile on his face before he continued. "Anyways, Magmar is one of your most powerful pokemon, but he isn't cut out for battling Giovanni. He'd do some damage thanks to his rather aggressive temperament, but not enough. Hypno would do well against both of the Nidos, but Giovanni knows how to deal with type disadvantages. He isn't averse to using pokemon outside of his favored types."

Ash nodded slowly, making sure to remember every word. He wanted to know what to expect, even if it wasn't particularly descriptive.

"Tangela, however, would be your best bet. They are quite rare amongst trainers and can be quite effective against Giovanni. But I'd suggest you train Bruiser." Oak said with a serious expression. "He will be effective if Giovanni pulls out one of his most powerful pokemon, as well as the golem and rhydon he commonly uses. You also need to train Bruiser. Machoke need an outlet for their strength, and he's not finding it here."

He averted his eyes from the Professor's stern expression. Ash was aware that he'd neglected Bruiser. It didn't make him particularly happy, after all. He knew that he needed to do something about it.

"I'll make sure to start training him again." Ash replied awkwardly. "I've just been distracted lately."

"It's fine." Oak told him, dropping some of his sternness. "I understand that you've been through a lot lately. Just do your best to take care of him in the future. Machoke can be dangerous if left alone for too long."

Ash nodded seriously. Machoke could be aggressive and antsy if they felt bored or lax. With the immense power they packed even with their power save belts on, they could be devastating.

"Enough of this talk." His mother spoke up. She was smiling, although it was a bit strained. "Ash, you must be starving. I'll get you something to eat."

He started to say something, but when his mother instantly started fixing him some food, he just quieted down. Ash wasn't really hungry since he'd had a huge breakfast at the Pokemon Center, but shrugged that concern away. It wasn't like he was going to reject food.

Besides, he would be training hard for the next few days. He should probably get as much food in as he could.

XX

"Hey, guys!" Ash exclaimed as he walked into the guest room. His mom had converted it into a room for Bruiser and Seeker. Seeker was hanging up on a high beam, hissing and chattering to Bruiser. The hulking fighting-type was doing push-ups on a bare section of the floor, his thick, reptilian skin taut and unyielding as he performed the exercise.

The effects of his words were immediate. Seeker chattered excitedly and fell from her beam. Ash worried for a brief moment before she caught herself and fluttered over to him. He smiled softly and scratched her behind her sensitive ears, laughing as she leaned into his touch. Her small hooks held onto his shoulder as she nuzzled at his cheek.

"I missed you too, Seeker." He laughed. Ash kept on scratching her ears as he looked over at Bruiser. The powerful reptilian fighter had easily pulled himself up from his exercises, showing no visible strain from the workout. Bruiser smiled and walked over to him. "You too, Bruiser. How's it going?"

Bruiser grunted, a deep noise that Ash knew to be his sign of approval, and beat his leathery chest with a powerful fist. Ash knew that was what his friend did when he was happy.

"Good, good. How're you healing up?" He asked concernedly, twisting his head as far as he could to see Seeker. She nudged him with her head and squeaked excitedly, pulling up to expose her front.

Ash examined the spot carefully. The spot that had been a wide, gaping wound when Golduck attacked her had completely healed over. It was raised just a bit more than the rest of her skin. At the very edge of the wide, hairless scar was the beginning of light, leathery skin. After that her soft blue fur started up again, a little sparse around the massive scar, but still there.

Seeker pulled herself back down. She steadied herself on Ash's shoulder and squeaked again. Bruiser crossed his arms and watched the two with his version of a smile, although his beady eyes were mostly focused on Seeker.

"Thank you so much." He whispered, gently stroking the top of her head. Seeker chattered happily and squeaked again. "I know I never got to really thank you. You were barely conscious last time."

The zubat squeaked happily and leaned into his touch. She seemed quite happy, causing Ash to smile. "Anyways, I just wanted to thank you. You were so brave."

Seeker buried her head underneath one of her purple wings, drawing a smile from Ash. "You were. I've never seen anything braver."

He laughed quietly as Seeker did her best to hide from his praise. Ash shook his head in amusement and looked over to Bruiser, his smile turning upside down. "Bruiser, I'd just like to thank you for helping her so much. You're a great friend to her, and I couldn't have asked for anyone better to protect her."

Bruiser puffed out his chest and beat it again, obviously proud at the compliment.

Ash lowered his head a bit and stole a glance at Seeker. She was still hiding from her in embarrassment, although lightly rubbing circles on her soft blue back was getting her to squeak in happiness.

"But I'd also like to apologize to you." He said seriously, meeting Bruiser's eyes. The fighting-type started at that, looking at Ash with evident surprise. "I've been a bad trainer to you. I broke my promise to bring you back as soon as I could. I sent you here just so I could try to train Golduck." Ash spat, fury bubbling to the surface as he saw Seeker's tiny form shiver and flinch at the name.

He took a few breaths, noting that Bruiser did the same. When he was calm enough, Ash continued. "I've been a bad trainer to you. But I promise I'll do better from here on out. You and Seeker are just as important as the rest of my team."

Ash glanced away, worried that he might have reawakened any dormant anger Bruiser felt. He wouldn't blame the fighting-type.

So he felt the urge to flinch when a strong, powerful hand clenched his shoulder, although not tightly enough to bruise. It was still uncomfortable, but a concerned grunt brought his eyes back to Bruiser. The machoke was looking at him with eyes glimmering with a strange emotion.

Now that Ash was looking at him, Bruiser let go of his shoulder. He stood up tall, showing off his impressive height, and pointed at Ash. A moment later he slammed his fist into his chest, producing an audible thud. Bruiser stared at Ash intently before bowing his head.

Ash smiled unsteadily and repeated the action, although his was much less impressive. Eleven-year-old muscles were much weaker than Bruiser's iron-hard muscles, after all.

Bruiser's bowed head snapped up, eyes looking at Ash and his bowed head in confusion. A wide grin split his reptilian face and he carefully clenched Ash's shoulder in respect. It was a very human gesture.

He smiled back at his friend and did the same. Seeker climbed off of his shoulder and onto his back, clicking and using her echolocation in an attempt to understand what was going on. She seemed to know enough to avoid interfering, and was as quiet as could be.

When Bruiser let go, Ash looked at his friend. There wasn't any bitterness or annoyance in his small, beady eyes. There was nothing but friendliness and that same glimmer from before. Ash couldn't put a hand on it.

But he did know one thing. He was forgiven. And that meant that it was time to start making his absence up to his friend.

"So, Bruiser are you ready to start training? I want to use you in the next gym." Ash said with a smile. Bruiser grinned widely, his eyes shining with happiness. It was then that Ash realized that he'd never used the fighting-type in a gym battle. He felt a brief flash of guilt before he pushed it away.

It was time to get down to business.

XX

"Come on, I know you can do it!" Ash said encouragingly. His pokedex was in hand, set to the entry on dragon pulse. It described the best way to teach the attack quite well, and gave him several visual examples from different pokemon as a sort of guide.

Torrent rumbled angrily, a little frustrated. He nodded though and focused again.

Ash knew that the lack of progress with dragon pulse was annoying Torrent to no end. His friend had never had any trouble learning moves before. He had always been the one who understood them the quickest, in fact.

But Ash knew what really made Torrent angry was that he had evolved now. Even with all of the power at his disposal, Torrent was feeling as though he wasn't strong enough.

He knew that Torrent could do it, though. His friend was making excellent progress. The move was difficult to learn, as with all dragon-type moves, but Torrent almost had it down. It was only a matter of time. Probably within the next few hours, if things kept progressing. Torrent could make the powerful energy ball and even launch it, but before it could reach its target it would disappear into the air.

Torrent reared his elegant head back and poured his power into the formation of the ball. Light green energy formed in small particles in front of his snout and quickly coalesced into a bright ball of swirling energy. It was almost jade in its coloration, although a bright white core shined at the center.

When it had grown to be almost half as large as Torrent himself, the dragon-type turned his head towards the absolutely massive cliff they'd been using as target practice. He closed his eyes and used his power to shoot the massive sphere of energy straight into the cliff side.

At least that's what was supposed to happen. Instead, the energy sphere exploded half-way there, releasing a huge amount of energy into the area in the form of a massive explosion. Ash flinched, but Torrent quickly flew in front of him and blocked most of the explosion. Ash was still sent stumbling back a few steps, but Nidorino quickly steadied him.

"Thanks, Torrent." Ash said with a strained grin. Torrent rumbled at him and puffed out his powerful chest, clearly pleased with himself. "Say, you want to take a break for a minute?"

Torrent happily accepted the break with a grateful nod. He levitated next to Ash and watched curiously as Ash sat down and glanced at his pokedex screen.

He just couldn't get why Torrent wasn't able to master the move. This accident proved that he was close, since it actually exploded with the full force of the attack instead of fizzling out, but Torrent still had a ways to go. Ash was doing everything he could to help, but dragon pulse was living up to its reputation in regards to difficulty.

Maybe it was because he'd never come across a pokemon that knew dragon pulse. For every other move he'd taught his friends, he and his pokemon had personal experience with. Dragon pulse was an unknown aside from the pokedex entries.

Ash sighed and took a sip of his water bottle. It was quite hot today. He'd known it was the end of summer, but the temperatures had been mild so far. Today seemed to be the weather's retribution for its lenience.

They were several miles away from Pallet, deep in one of the massive forests that entombed the small town. There were a lot of boulders, trees, and huge, sheer cliffs for his friends to test their moves on and there weren't many pokemon about.

Pallet and the surrounding areas were home to the weakest pokemon in Kanto for a reason. Its mild climate and vast natural resources, mostly untouched by humans, made it a relatively safe place for young pokemon to grow up and learn. They were mostly from common, migratory pokemon like flying-types or raticate, but a few rarer breeds like pikachu also bred here.

During spring and mating season, it was easy to find an egg or two almost anywhere one looked, although angry parents were usually close behind. He and Gary had learned that lesson well when they'd tried to take an egg they found home. Two large, furious raticate managed to run them off before they could make off with their prize, though.

He smiled at the memories. It was almost a shame that most of the young pokemon were leaving the area now that summer was ending. While it made training easier and less tedious since he didn't have to worry about destroying their homes, Ash was sure that Tangela would have enjoyed playing with them. Come to think of it, Seeker would as well, although not until it was dark.

Ash's lips curled up at that. Bruiser and Seeker were training as well. Well, Bruiser was. Seeker was just staying and socializing with the rest of the team. She didn't like fighting – it scared her. After the things she'd been through, Ash couldn't blame her. If she didn't want to fight, he wouldn't be the one to force it.

He'd have to go around and check on the rest soon. It wouldn't be that hard to find his scattered friends. Plume was within earshot and she could guide him to the others easily.

Bruiser and Infernus had been sparring. Infernus was working on his own close combat skills. While he had plenty of power and speed behind his strikes, he was undisciplined. Ash didn't want him abandoning his vicious, brutal style, but he would like Bruiser to teach Infernus how to deflect blows without taking their full force and how to be more efficient.

For Bruiser it served to get him used to fighting. Ash was sure that he'd had a few spars with other pokemon at the Corral, but he wasn't sure how many were up to par with his own pokemon. He wanted Bruiser as strong as he could be before taking on Giovanni.

The rest of his team were working on the same things they had when they were at Celadon. All of them needed some work. They were much closer to performing the powerful moves Ash knew they were capable of, but they still had a while to go.

Plume was so close to perfecting air slash. Ash was going to be helping her after he'd checked on everyone and Torrent was done for the day.

Tangela was just having fun. Ash had instructed him to work on moving around on his vines. It gave him much better mobility and greatly improved the speed in which he got around. He'd need that to avoid any nasty tricks Giovanni pulled. Fortunately, Tangela was having quite a bit of fun with it. Over the next few days Ash would have him work on power whip. It would give him a bit more power behind his attacks.

Aside from his mobility training, Ash wanted to start using Tangela more often in battles. The grass-type was on the cusp of evolution. He was displaying all of the signs the pokedex said to watch out for: lengthening vines, more energy, and even faster vine growth.

Infernus still had to perfect fire blast. The fire-type had almost mastered the move, but it was still prone to exploding at random times. Ash suspected that Infernus only had to devote another day or two to learning it before it would be under his control.

Dazed was working on a technique Ash called Flurry. It worked by Dazed producing a dozen tiny, weak shadow balls and hurling them at the opponent, or even multiple targets. While the shadow balls were weak, they could do quite a bit of damage and were able to distract an opponent. It was difficult and energy-consuming for another psychic to block all of the shadow balls, so Ash hoped it would help them out in battle.

Nidorino was just following Ash around and getting used to the rough terrain. He was still a little slow, although Ash was thinking that he would evolve Nidorino within the next two days. His injuries were no longer severe enough that evolution would harm him. Now it would just heal him perfectly.

But he didn't think that Nidorino was ready quite yet. There were still a few mottled bruises on his hide, although they were faded and barely visible. Ash was going to wait until they were completely gone to give Nidorino the shard.

It wasn't as if he didn't want to evolve Nidorino. He'd been waiting for this moment for months, as had Nidorino. He just wanted his friend to be safe above all else.

A deep, concerned rumble from Torrent snapped him from his thoughts. Ash glanced up at the concerned visage of his friend and stood up, causing Nidorino to do the same.

"Sorry, Torrent." He said with a shake of his head. "I was just thinking. Are you ready to start up again?"

Torrent nodded, his scarlet eyes blazing with determination. Ash grinned. "Alright. Do it again. Take your time."

The dragon-type rumbled his understanding and repeated the process. When the energy ball had grown to gargantuan proportions, Ash began to get a little worried. He wasn't sure if his friend was capable of controlling that much power yet.

But Torrent continued to fuel it until it was almost as large as he was. Torrent's eyes shone with glee as he turned his head and fired the massive dragon pulse towards the rocky cliff.

Ash honestly thought that this was it. Torrent had finally perfected the attack through his own iron will and determination to succeed.

Then, a little more than half-way, the dragon pulse exploded in a flash of bright green light. Ash turned his face away from the heat, although he was shielded from the explosion by Torrent's nearly invincible body. He opened his eyes and nodded thankfully at his friend before staring at the cliff face.

The explosion hadn't done much damage, but it had gouged out a large chunk of the rugged stone and pulled it to the ground. Loose rock around it began to fall out as well, more and more stone and dirt falling and kicking up a huge cloud of dust.

Torrent levitated protectively in front of Ash and Nidorino, preparing to blow the rubble away if necessary. Fortunately, it never came to that. The rock slide ended as soon as it began, harming nothing and only leaving a huge pile of rubble and torn rock at the base of the cliff, along with a huge dust cloud.

And then the three froze. Nidorino's ears twitched and Torrent's eyes glinted with something Ash couldn't quite make out through the thick haze of dust. Ash frowned when he heard a deep, annoyed roar flash out over the landscape, loud enough to be heard all throughout the forest.

He thought it seemed quite familiar for some reason. Ash just couldn't place his finger on where he'd heard it before. What he did suspect was that they'd annoyed something very large and very powerful with the explosion and resulting rock slide.

"Get ready." He warned. "I'll call Plume if you two can't handle whatever this is."

His friends didn't respond. Torrent simply took up a defensive position in front of him and prepared to unleash the fullest extent of his wrath and power should the newcomer be a threat. Nidorino flanked Torrent, a current of electricity running up his horn and sparking out in a brilliant, incandescent arc.

The roar grew louder, a constant, powerful rumble that dwarfed that of Torrent's. The deep, intimidating timbre of Torrent was like the crash of the ocean: powerful, but it was never constant. This was the earth crashing against itself, a constant boom of thunder cracking through the air.

And then he saw a tan blur coming from high in the air before the ground shattered beneath the newcomer, kicking up an explosion of dust and wind that knocked Ash onto his backside. He barely had time to tell his friends to hold themselves back before the force of the impact hit and stunned him, rendering him useless for a few seconds.

He groaned as he pulled himself up, but he never let his eyes stray from the cloud of dust. Whatever had just slammed into the ground with enough force to splinter the earth hadn't attacked yet, but he wasn't about to be careless. Anything with that much power behind it had to be a monster, and considering that it was capable of flying it was probably a dragon-type.

When the dust cleared, all of the tension intensified.

A massive dragonite, large enough to match the cornerstone of Lance's team, stood before him. Its scales were twice as large as his hand and blanketed its huge body in a thick armor, yet it was still sleek and aerodynamic enough to let it break the sound barrier. Everything that was regal about Lance's Dragonite spoke true for this one as well, but the numerous scars and dents on its scales bespoke of even more battles against unspeakably powerful foes.

Almost anyone else would have been terrified of the beast. Its eyes were narrowed in annoyance, red from lack of sleep. The normally friendly, upturned mouth of a dragonite was flipped into a frown. The antennae that would allow it to detect air currents and utilize powerful electric-type attacks were rigid and sparking.

But he just grinned. He knew this Dragonite. It belonged to Professor Oak, his prime enforcer when it came to dealing with unruly pokemon around Pallet Town and in the Corral. Ash knew that Dragonite lived somewhere around Pallet, but he hadn't known it was in this area.

"Dragonite!" He exclaimed, recognizing the powerful creature. Ash didn't know it as well as he did Arcanine since it normally rested and lived far from the Corral, but he'd seen the dragon enough to recognize it. "It's me, Ash!"

Dragonite cocked his large head at Ash in confusion and stared at him carefully, some of the aggression leaving his bulky form. It took him a moment, but his eyes sparked with recognition. At that his aggression vanished, although Dragonite was still annoyed.

"I'm sorry for the noise." Ash apologized, trying to appease the annoyed creature. "Did we disturb you?"

The dragon-type nodded, watching Ash intently with his sharp eyes. Ash had walked in front of Torrent, much to the annoyance of the kingdra and Nidorino.

"If I'd known you were around here I would have found somewhere else to train." Ash told the bulky dragon-type. He pointed at Torrent. "Torrent's just trying to learn dragon pulse, and I didn't want to destroy any trees. I'd thought the cliff was tough enough to stand up to it."

Dragonite's eyes lit up when Ash pointed to Torrent. He nodded his understanding to Ash and stared intently at Torrent, measuring the water-type up. It was a tense affair for a few seconds since neither Ash nor his friends could decipher Dragonite's emotions, but it leveled off.

The old dragon seemed to have found Torrent acceptable. He roared in a friendly manner to Torrent, waving one of his brutally powerful arms at the water-type. Torrent rumbled back, dipping his head respectfully to the more powerful pokemon.

Ash stepped back when Dragonite shooed him away. He and Nidorino watched carefully as Dragonite gracefully walked over next to Torrent and motioned for Ash's friend to watch carefully. Dragonite gave a low roar to Torrent, not particularly powerful for the dragon-type but still holding enough energy to make the earth vibrate.

Torrent rumbled something in return, causing Dragonite to nod. He looked over at the mass of rubble and gouged out chunks of stone and tensed up. Ash watched in awe as a massively powerful ball of green, glowing light formed in front of Dragonite. It was as large as Torrent's last, disastrous attempt at dragon pulse and took less than a second to form.

He suspected that Dragonite could easily make one several degrees more powerful. Dragonite didn't seem to be strained at all by the beginning stage of dragon pulse.

Dragonite held it for a while, grunting at Torrent quickly. Ash couldn't hear any sign of effort in his grunts. He seemed more bored than anything else, although interested in helping Torrent.

And then he fired it.

The dragon pulse was obviously more powerful than Torrent's. When it was released a shockwave of air and force blasted outwards, displacing air and kicking up a small cloud of dust. Despite the haze, Ash could easily make out the vibrant ball of energy as it flashed at the immense pile of rubble.

It exploded in a supernova of green light and heat. Ash had to shy away from the heat, Torrent too entranced by the work of the masterful Dragonite to levitate in front of him. The experience wasn't too bad, although Ash's skin tingled for a while and he felt a light covering of dust on his exposed skin.

That wasn't important though. What did matter was that Dragonite was grunting some more instructions to Torrent, waving around with his large arms to emphasize his points.

Ash just watched Dragonite for the remainder of the time. Dragonite left relatively quickly, just three minutes or so after he began teaching Torrent. In that time he used dragon pulse twice more, reducing what little remained of the pile of rubble into fine powder and a few odd chunks of ravaged stone.

Dragonite waved them goodbye before he launched himself away, knocking Ash onto his back and forcing Torrent and Nidorino back a few inches. He vanished in just a few seconds, becoming a tiny dot high in the sky by the time Ash was able to look up.

He glanced around the area. Dragonite had left a mess. Dirt covered everything in a fine layer. The earth had been cracked and caved in underneath Dragonite's pressure, unable to withstand the force of his landing. The huge chunks of stone and earth that had fallen from the cliff were reduced to dust.

Even if he had left a mess, it was all worth it.

"Torrent, do you think you've got this?" Ash asked. It was always easier for his friends to learn new moves after they'd actually seen them in action. Torrent was always quite intuitive when it came to learning anyways, so with an example he should be able to complete his learning. He had mostly mastered dragon pulse anyways. This was just the last push.

Torrent nodded, determination blazing in his eyes again. Ash held his breath as his friend levitated into a position where he could safely fire the attack. His eyes were intent on the large, scaled form of his friend.

A small, intense ball of soft green light formed in front of Torrent's mouth, a core of white energy providing the support. Ash nodded at that, pleased. Torrent wasn't succumbing to his annoyance and trying to overcompensate with one of the huge spheres. He was taking it easy.

His friend focused intently for another second before firing the ball at the cliff.

It flashed towards the sheer stone wall at an incredible speed, glowing brightly and providing the light of a second, miniature sun. Ash watched, a wide grin slowly growing on his dirty face.

And then it fizzled out, just a few feet away from the cliff.

Ash sighed, but patted Torrent's side in consolation. He was close, so close.

But it was progress.

"Again." He ordered. "You've almost got it."

Torrent puffed his chest out and fired another dragon pulse, but met with a similar result. But it got closer. Ash noticed that it was a bit more intense as well, carrying more power behind it.

"Again."

Torrent gladly carried out the attack again, refusing to succumb to his annoyance. It failed again, but got ever closer to the target.

They ended up performing the attack countless times. Every time Torrent got closer and closer to his goal, but something would go wrong. The dragon pulse would weaken and vanish at the last second or lose too much strength. Sometimes it would actually hit but would lose most of its power.

Nearly an hour later, Ash sighed and leaned back against the tree. He was growing weary of this. He would like nothing more than to take a break and go check on his other friends. But he had a responsibility to Torrent. His friend was going crazy trying to perfect this technique, and he wouldn't let him do it alone. The trainer refused to give up, just like Torrent.

"One more time." He said groggily. Nidorino had curled up by his foot a while ago, bored and exhausted. They had walked around and trekked over quite a bit of rugged landscape to get here. Ash wasn't surprised that Nidorino was so tired. Aside from the remnants of his injuries, his species were meant for open plains and grasslands, not a forest.

Torrent rumbled his agreement. Despite his enthusiasm and growing skill with dragon pulse, Ash knew that his constant failures were grating on his nerves and grinding his patience into nothingness. Ash did his best to be encouraging, but his own weariness wasn't helping any more.

This time, though, there was something different. The sphere of green energy formed faster, glowed a bit brighter, burned more intensely.

It was as though Torrent had poured all of his remaining effort and power into this one attack.

The dragon pulse was released, leaving a trail of green shimmers in its wake. It slammed into the cliff without losing any of its energy, releasing its power in the form of a massive explosion.

Ash blinked and stared in awe at the huge gouge Torrent's dragon pulse had ripped in the cliff. Torrent froze and stared as well, amazed that he had finally done it. Nidorino leapt up in surprise at the sound of the explosion and scanned the area carefully.

And then Ash ran over to Torrent, jumping in excitement and patting him heavily, shouting his congratulations.

"You did great, Torrent!" He yelled excitedly, too excited to care about his volume. Torrent didn't seem to mind either. His scaled body was shaking in excitement, still only because Ash was patting him. "I knew you could do it! You just needed a teacher."

Torrent rumbled in agreement and happiness and leaned his regal head into Ash's hand. Ash laughed and patted him again.

Nidorino joined in on the celebration as well, just as excited to be done with watching Torrent throw energy balls as he was for the dragon-type's accomplishment.

Ash grinned as Nidorino lightly tapped Torrent with the tip of his horn in a friendly manner.

Torrent wasn't ready for Giovanni yet, but it was a start. As long as they trained diligently, he would be fine.

Now, however, it was time for the rest of Ash's friends to buckle down. They were probably doing great on their own, but Ash had a few strategies to work on.

He grinned. This was going to be fun.

XX

Ash watched Bruiser easily lift a huge boulder with a critical eye. He'd been training with Bruiser all of yesterday and today. After Torrent had mastered dragon pulse two days ago, he just checked up on his friends' progress before going home.

Yesterday and today had been exclusively for Bruiser. Ash would be training with him on other days, but he would have to start switching his focus on the other members of his team to keep them up to snuff. He didn't want to neglect any of them, after all.

Nidorino was sitting down next to his foot, idly shooting thunderbolts at one of the massive blocks of stone that littered the area. He was bored during the training. Ash let Nidorino battle whenever they came across a trainer, but trainers were rare on the western side of Kanto, let alone in the wilderness near Pallet.

Seeker and Tangela watched from underneath the shade of a massive tree, its canopy keeping the shade from hitting Seeker and burning her skin. She and Tangela had become friends quickly, although Ash doubted they would ever be as close as Seeker and Bruiser were. Still, it was nice. Tangela kept her busy while Bruiser trained and Seeker liked sitting on top of Tangela.

He'd recognized a major problem with training Bruiser: Ash had no idea how to train a fighting-type.

Most physical moves weren't too difficult to teach. Either they simply harnessed an element like Infernus' normally did or were simple and natural for the pokemon to carry out, like Nidorino's horn attack.

Fighting-type moves, however, required finesse. They weren't just punching and kicking, they were techniques. They weren't natural for a pokemon to learn, although fighting-types picked them up much easier than others. In a way they were similar to dragon-type moves. They required a teacher.

Unfortunately, Ash wasn't a fighter. He didn't know how to teach Bruiser to use any new fighting-type moves. Bruiser knew a healthy amount already, which were probably taught to him by other fighting-types or through imitation. But he didn't know the extremely powerful fighting-type moves like cross chop or dynamic punch. Ash also wanted to teach him foresight. It would let him see ghosts when they turned invisible and dispel illusions created by pokemon.

He had tried to teach Bruiser the moves through descriptions and videos on the pokedex, but Bruiser just didn't get them that way. Pokemon seemed to learn best through an actual demonstration, although the pokedex entries were useful as a reference.

So right now he simply had Bruiser testing the limits of his strength and gaining battling experience by battling his other friends.

The first objective was pointless. Bruiser didn't seem to have any practical limits on his strength, even with the power save belt. He could effortlessly lift huge boulders and tear trees out of the ground. Both of those were impressive, but it ruined the purpose of the exercise.

Ash would lie if he said it wasn't incredible to see Bruiser perform such feats of strength, however. If a human tried to do that, even if they were as strong as Bruiser, it would tear their arms out of their sockets and cause irreparable damage to their bodies. Humans just weren't made for such things. There was a lot more to lifting and strength than just muscle, after all. Bruiser had nigh unbreakable bones and incredible tough tendons to go with his incredible strength.

The second objective was far more practical. Bruiser failed to defeat the others in most cases. Infernus simply used his flames, speed and great power to overwhelm Bruiser and Tangela simply wrapped his vines around Bruiser before he sucked the energy out of him.

Plume, Dazed and Torrent didn't battle Bruiser. Ash knew that Bruiser had no hope of defeating Plume or Dazed thanks to their type advantages, so it would be pointless. Bruiser needed to get a workout and experience, not just be thrown about like a rag doll. Torrent was just too powerful to spar with the fighting-type.

"That's enough, Bruiser." Ash called out. He took a quick sip from his water bottle before standing up. Bruiser gently placed the rock back into its original position and walked over to him, swinging his arms around. The fighting-type looked like he was having the time of his life.

"Bruiser, who do you want to fight now?" He asked. Bruiser's reptilian face was suddenly split by a grin. Even though the fighting-type frequently lost and only won every now and then, he was getting better. It certainly hadn't dampened his fighting spirit.

Bruiser pointed at Infernus. The fire-type was taking a break from battling and was sitting in a large pile of ash. Ash grinned and called Infernus over.

Infernus lazily stood up and gave a malicious grin towards Bruiser. The two had a fierce rivalry, stemming all the way back to their confrontation at the cave. Bruiser's main goal was to defeat Infernus, while Infernus enjoyed beating Bruiser into a pulp. While Infernus constantly held the edge and always would if Ash didn't tell him to avoid elemental attacks, the fights were getting tougher for the fire-type. Bruiser was getting to know his tricks.

The fire-type stalked over to them, his eyes narrowed and filled with amusement. Fire danced around his skin, although Infernus extinguished it when he neared. Ash had told him to not use it when battling Bruiser. It gave Infernus an incredible advantage when Infernus was too hot to even hit.

Both of the fighters squared up and took their positions. Bruiser's stance was far more disciplined, showing his incredible strength while prepared to be more fluid in combat. Infernus' was aggressive, consisting of him tensing up and leaning forward. He was ready to leap into the fray faster than Bruiser could react.

"Go." Ash said, his eyes glued to the fight. He was trying to pick out both of their weaknesses, although he knew both of their combat styles and flaws by heart.

The fight began as predicted. Infernus launched a brutal punch straight at Bruiser's face, forcing the fighting-type to defend. That set the pace for the rest of the fight.

Although Infernus couldn't use his flames in the fight, he proved to be an adept fighter without them. Even though the flames made him the juggernaut and monster in combat that he was, he was still fast, strong and brutal without them.

Infernus launched fast, powerful strikes. They were unrefined but when just one could send Bruiser stumbling back they didn't have to be. He made up for his lack of discipline with sheer ferocity and power.

Bruiser, on the other hand, showed his mastery of close quarters combat. He blocked and redirected most of Infernus' blows and did his best to dodge those that were too fast. He struck with enough strength to send Infernus crashing to the ground, although Ash knew that he was holding back. All machoke did when it came to their strength. But Infernus was too fast for Bruiser.

It ended as it normally did – with Infernus outmaneuvering Bruiser thanks to his superior speed and reflexes. Bruiser overextended in a punch, leaving himself exposed to a brutal fist to the gut from Infernus, who took advantage of Bruiser's pain to launch a flurry of blows into Bruiser's body. In a matter of seconds Bruiser went down, durable but unable to match Infernus.

Ash smiled and applauded for both of them. It had gone on longer than usual and showed that Bruiser was making real strides. While he had plenty of skill and strength – more than enough to defeat most trainers – he just wasn't used to fighting. That was Bruiser's main problem aside from Ash not really knowing how to train him. It was much easier to correct, however, and Bruiser was already making progress.

Bruiser drowsily pulled himself up, eyes narrowed in determination. He assumed his stance again. Infernus snorted a small burst of flame, clearly amused. Nevertheless, he prepared himself.

The trainer grinned. Bruiser didn't have the skill or power of a great battler yet, but he definitely had the heart and will of one.

"Begin."

XX

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