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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24. The Tournament Part 2

The next day was one to relax. His friends had worked incredibly hard over the past few days, practicing their moves and leaving the areas they frequented in ruin from their intense battles.

But it was also one of the most important days in Ash's journey, despite the lax atmosphere.

Today was the day that Nidorino would evolve.

He had proven time and again this week that he was healing. Nidorino had battled well in the occasions Ash had used him and had worked hard to regain his former strength. Now that the last of the faded bruises had vanished, Ash was confident that it was safe.

Ash had allowed Nidorino to choose where he would evolve. He figured it was only fair since Ash had postponed it for so long.

Much to his surprise, Nidorino had chosen the area right in front of Oak's lab. It was the exact location where Ash and Gary had first battled, with the then Nidoran being triumphant over Gary's Squirtle.

He gave a soft smile at the memory, thinking back to how much he'd grown since then. It was such a short time ago, but seemed to have happened decades ago. Ash had changed so much since he'd started off with his two travelling companions and Nidoran.

Nidorino grunted excitedly, hopping around the area. Ash grinned and dug the shard of the Moon Stone from his pocket, the impossibly smooth surface glossy against his fingers. As he exposed it to the world, Ash looked around the area.

All of his friends were there. Dazed stood right behind him, motionless but interested. Infernus flanked him, his eyes burning with excitement. Ash suspected that the fire-type couldn't wait to battle Nidorino again, especially not when the poison-type would be even more powerful. It would give Infernus someone who could really test him.

Tangela was plopped down on the dirt beside him, happily gurgling and absorbing the sun. He was playing with two of the tiny nidoran from the herd. They had come over when Ash had talked about evolving Nidorino. Both of the juvenile poison-types hissed and scratched playfully at each other and tried to jump on Tangela, although the grass-type quickly caught them with his vines and tickled them mercilessly.

Ash smiled at the scene and turned over to look at Plume. She was also behind him, her huge body standing high above him. He gently stroked her crest as Nidorino worked the rest of his energy out, eliciting a soft coo from the flying-type.

Bruiser and Seeker stood in the shadows of Oak's lab. Seeker clung to Bruiser's back, only her head exposed. She was clicking and using her echolocation constantly. Ash knew that she was just as interested in this as the others. Bruiser eyed the scene with curiosity and barely pent up excitement.

Torrent was next to Infernus. The immense heat the fire-type's body produced didn't bother the powerful water-type, so he didn't get uncomfortable. As one of the oldest members of the team, Torrent was amongst the most excited. Ash could see it in the intent stare and small quivers that went up Torrent's body. But the kingdra remained refined and dignified and did his best to avoid showing his feelings.

All the others crowding around Nidorino were of the nidoran herd, although Arcanine and his growlithe had joined them as well. Nidoqueen was shushing the others, although the excited nidoran continued to squeak and play. Ash grinned as one of the excited poison-types accidently ran into his leg, bumping off and giving him an apologetic squeal before returning to its herd.

He noticed that the nidorina appeared to be particularly interested in Nidorino and his upcoming evolution. They were eying him intently, completely ignoring the nidoran bouncing around them. The nidorino, on the other hand, were snorting and growling at Nidorino. Nidorino just ignored them, too ecstatic at his upcoming evolution to care about his soon-to-be subordinates.

"Nidorino, it's time." Ash said quietly, putting his hand high into the air and revealing the shard of the Moon Stone to the crowd.

It had an immediate effect on the pokemon.

All of the nidoran herd instantly stared at it as though it were the most important thing in the world. The nidoran were uncharacteristically silent and sat down, too enraptured by the stone to think about playing. The nidorina froze and bowed their heads, scarlet eyes wide with awe. All of the nidorino had a similar reaction. They even paused in their growling. Nidoqueen bowed her great head, her wise eyes shining with respect to the shard.

The rest of the pokemon merely froze. Arcanine no longer had to worry about calming the loud, playful growlithe. They were in awe, albeit lesser than that of the nidoran herd.

His friends were under the shard's spell as well. It seemed to possess a power that it hadn't had when he first showed them on the boat coming back to Pallet. Something about it actually being used, free to exercise its power upon a willing pokemon, gave it an ethereal shine that drew their attention. Its inky coloration seemed even darker than usual, yet brighter in its power.

Even Infernus was rooted to the ground, Ash noticed wryly. He couldn't seem to take his eyes off of the tiny sliver of the Moon Stone.

Nidorino slowly approached, limbs trembling as Ash knelt to the ground and held out the shard. His ears were flat and his barbs were nowhere to be seen as he approached the shard, his gaze never once leaving the item that would make him an opponent to be truly feared.

Yet he showed willpower beyond any of the other pokemon present when he managed to break the shard's spell. Nidorino raised his head to stare Ash in the eyes, gratitude welling up inside of them. Black met brown for several moments, pokemon and trainer silently thanking each other for everything that had lead to this point.

Nidorino grunted his gratitude to Ash before slowly lowering his head and gently placing his horn on the shard. He was almost tender in the care he showed to the shard of the Moon Stone, showing respect that was almost religious.

Ash's first and greatest friend held his horn to the shard for several seconds before he stumbled backwards, an impossibly bright light suffusing the tip of his sharp horn. Nidorino roared as the glow suddenly spread throughout the rest of his body in a single second, leaving the ordinarily pink creature a brilliant, glowing white.

He wanted to avert his eyes from the glowing form of his friend badly. The light stung his eyes, making his nerves scream at him to look away.

But he couldn't. He refused to. Nidorino was his first friend. Ash hadn't seen the full transformation from the timid Nidoran into the powerful Nidorino. He wouldn't miss this for anything.

Nidorino roared in pain as the light intensified. He reared up on his hind legs and stayed there, balanced and supported by some invisible, helpful force. Spasms wracked his glowing form as his body grew and shifted into the immense form of his new form. His body shuddered and twitched as more and more of the bright energy coursed through it.

His glowing body suddenly lengthened and thickened, thick layers of pure muscle and nigh impenetrable scales growing over his own thick hide, bones lengthening and growing dense and strong, organs shifting and his skeleton snapping into position.

Thick, burly limbs erupted from his smaller ones. They twisted and snapped into place, eliciting another roar of pain from his friend. His legs went through the same process, swelling with muscle and thick armor before they suddenly grew and wrenched themselves into place, guided by the evolutionary genes.

Ash clenched his fists at Nidorino's roars and screams, the process obviously much more painful than it had been the first time. His friend's roar refused to let up, growing in deepness and power.

His new, massive body, still glowing with evolutionary energy, shuddered and twisted in pain. He roared even louder, the deep tone threatening Ash's subconscious and raising the hair on the back of his neck. Ash shuddered but didn't tear his eyes away.

The poison-type's barbs and spines glowed even brighter, looking small and out of place on the much larger body. Ash winced as the agonized roars intensified, the horrible noise elicited by the sudden lengthening and growing of the rows of spines, the spikes growing nearly half a foot in most instances.

The effect continued all the way up the poison-type's spine until it reached his head. His magnificent horn, his greatest weapon and capable of doing much more than stabbing and goring, suddenly lengthened to nine inches, a weapon fit for a king.

His ears remained mostly the same, although the small spikes on them lengthened and grew thicker.

The last of his agonizing transformation to occur was the growth of the tail. After the rest of his body had twisted and morphed into place, his immense, powerful tail sprouting from Nidorino's rounded exterior. It elicited the loudest roar of them all as the entirely new body part erupted from nothing, the thick, muscular tail that could shatter boulders with a single swing writhing uncontrollably.

And then the light left his friend, exposing his new form to Ash's eyes.

Nidorin – Nidoking was magnificent. Painful spasms still wracked his body from the agonizing process, but he stood straight and tall, dignified.

He was much larger than his previous evolution. He could stand on his hind legs, which were thick and layered over with thick scales. His body was no longer pink, but a deep, rich purple that befitted a king amongst nidoran. Nidoking had distinctly reptilian features along with his mammalian ones, mostly consisting of the thick plates of scales that gave him his armor.

His horn was much larger and thicker, but no less sharp. It ended at a wickedly pointed tip, which would leak venom much more potent than it had as Nidorino. Nidoking's ears were mostly the same, but a tiny bit larger and the insides were a dark green.

Nidoking's eyes were narrow and fierce, showing the true power that his form and mind possessed. His arms were thick and highly muscular, more than powerful enough to shatter stone if need be. They ended in claws, not very sharp but very effective in crushing. All of his spines had lengthened dramatically, growing much more fearsome than before.

Unlike before, Nidoking wasn't just one color. While predominantly purple, his muscular chest was the exception. It was gray, highlighting the muscles that powered Nidoking's huge body.

But the biggest anatomical difference was his tail. It was a fearsome weapon, just as dangerous as his horn. The thick length of muscled and impenetrable armor could crush stone and end a match with a single attack if need be.

Nidoking's sudden collapse brought Ash back to reality. His eyes widened and he rushed forward to help his friend. Dazed didn't try to stop him, so he surmised it was safe.

The moment he got within a foot of Nidoking's shuddering, pain-wracked from, Nidoking's massive head snapped up. Ash froze and met Nidoking's pained black eyes.

His friend's eyes held no recognition. They were dark and furious, the pain remaining from his transformation leaving nothing but rage behind them.

Nidoking opened his mouth and roared, revealing rows of huge fangs. The roar was that of a beast, a predator that had firmly implanted itself in the subconscious of every human with its power and the furious intent behind it.

Everything in his body ordered him to run as Nidoking pulled himself up onto his shaky hind legs, instincts telling him to do so but without the experience to use them well.

But he stood stock still and kept on staring Nidoking in the eyes, refusing to be intimidated. Everything about the situation went against the survival handbooks and safety courses he'd had to take before getting his license, but Ash didn't care. Nidoking was his friend. He wouldn't back down.

Nidoking stood up to his full height and roared again, stamping his foot and making the earth tremble. He growled deeply at Ash and stepped forward until there was virtually no distance between the two.

"Stop this now." Ash ordered, letting none of his nervousness enter his tone. Nidoking stared at him with no recognition, fury being the only thing present in the black eyes. "It's me, Ash." He said in a friendly, soothing manner. Nidoking just growled again, exposing his fangs as he did so.

"I know that hurt." He said quietly. Nidoking just stared at him furiously, claws opening and grasping at nothing. "But it's over now. You know me. It's Ash, your trainer. We're best friends."

Nidoking's eyes suddenly flickered in recognition. His rage vanished almost instantly, cognition returning to him. He snapped his head around and looked down at his massive claws and legs. The poison-type experimentally moved his arms around, staring at them as though he couldn't believe they were there.

And then he placed one of his arms behind Ash's back and pulled him into a crushing hug, having picked up the human expression of affection from being around Ash's mother so much lately.

Ash blinked in surprise as he was pulled into his friend's thick, muscular chest, but grinned. He was careful as he patted Nidoking's back. He knew where the main spikes were, but there was always variation. It would put a dampener on the occasion if he accidently stabbed himself with one of Nidoking's spines.

He was let go of a moment later. Ash was impressed by his friend's level of control over his immense strength, but figured that he shouldn't have been too surprised. Nidoking had always known his capabilities very well.

"Are you alright?" He asked his friends, sympathy and worry coloring his tone. Ash had seen the pain Nidoking had went through during evolution. It had been an amazing but brutal thing to watch.

Nidoking grunted an affirmative, a shudder passing through his huge body. Ash stepped back and realized that he was still clutching the shard in his hand. It hadn't cut him thanks to its perfectly smooth, rounded edges, but it had left a deep indentation in his flesh.

He grinned at Nidoking and motioned for him to walk over to him.

As Nidoking made his first hesitant steps, the spell broke.

The nidoran swarmed him, squealing and hissing happily. Nidoqueen stood still, but watched Nidoking with an inscrutable expression. While the nidorina hesitantly approached Nidoking with interested expressions, the nidorino stayed close to Nidoqueen. Apparently Nidorino's evolution into Nidoking had placed him far above the protectors of the herd.

Ash grinned as dozens of pidgey began chirping and calling to one another. They and a few rattata had approached while Nidoking had been evolving, it seemed. He'd been too focused on his friend to even notice.

Not as many pokemon turned up for Nidoking's evolution, but it was still an impressive amount. His friend was practically buried in a horde of nidoran and nidorina and seemed rather pleased by the attention, if a little surprised. Nidoking kept on struggling forward through the crowd until the excited juveniles let him pass.

Nidoking walked straight to Ash on awkward legs. He nearly stumbled several times, but kept his body tall and as dignified as he could manage. Ash was still as Nidoking walked over to him and knelt, dipping his head in respect to the trainer.

Ash was frozen, not expecting the gesture. A slow grin spread across his face, though. "You don't need to bow to me, Nidoking. We're friends."

The huge poison-type nodded and seemed to smile at him before rising. He was still covered in most of the excited nidoran, who were jumping up and trying to climb his gigantic body, but they weren't too loud.

"Looks like you've got some admirers, buddy." Ash said with a wry grin, glancing down at the squirming nidoran. He sent a pointed glance over to the nidorina and Nidoqueen. "I think they want to talk to you."

Nidoking nodded, clearly not surprised at that. But he pointed a large claw at Ash and nodded.

"I'll be fine." Ash told him, a soft smile on his lips. He was glad that Nidoking was as loyal and friendly as ever, but he knew that he needed to be with his own kind right now. The evolution of a Nidoking was a rare thing, one that the herd had a right to celebrate. "We'll have plenty of time later. I'll make sure to get my mom to get you some sitrus berries."

The poison-type's black eyes lit up, clearly happy at the mention of his favorite berry. Ash grinned. "See, I'll get everything set up. You just go and be with the herd. We have plenty of time."

Nidoking nodded and lowered his head to Ash again before walking off awkwardly, still not used to his legs. He stumbled, but it happened less and less often as he joined the herd and slowly made his way to the fields. Nidoqueen supported him and kept him from tripping and crashing down on the smaller nidoran that crowded around him.

Ash watched them go with a wistful smile on his face. The other pokemon were leaving now that the main spectacle was over. Pidgey flew away on their small wings, guarded by a few pidgeotto and a lone pidgeot in their midst, and rattata and the solitary raticate scampered away.

Arcanine dashed off in a blur, followed by the happily barking and yapping growlithe. After the great canine left, it was only Ash and his friends that remained.

He turned around and glanced over at them. "Well, I guess all of you can go off and do whatever now. Tomorrow's going to be a hard day."

His friends showed their understanding before wandering off. Only Dazed remained, staring at him blankly while she idly polished her stone pendulum in her white mane. Ash didn't blame them. When he said that tomorrow would be hard, he wasn't lying and his friends knew it. They were going to relax as much as they could before they went through a particularly brutal day of training.

Ash smiled at Dazed. "Looks like it's just you and me, Dazed."

Dazed cocked her head and blinked, still polishing her pendulum with graceful movements. Ash just shook his head and smiled wider before he walked down to his house. He needed to tell his mom the good news. He'd kept the event a secret so that he could surprise her and Professor Oak.

He wasted no time. There was a lot to get ready and Nidoking wouldn't be with the herd forever.

XX

Ash was in his room. His mother was up at Professor Oak's house getting everything ready. They'd be eating outside at the Corral tonight so that Nidoking and the other pokemon could join in on the celebration.

He was going to go up to help her out in a few minutes. But for now he had something he needed to do.

There were two items in his hands. One was a huge plate of a scale, tan and bent. The other was an inky black shard of the Moon Stone. Both were trophies, the most valuable things he owned. Gifts from two of the most powerful trainers in the world.

They were also going to stay in his room from now on. He didn't want to risk losing them to a thief or accident if his pack was lost, so it was best to keep them in a safe place. Ash would probably place them in a case sometime soon, but for now he just placed them in one of his drawers.

When that was done he found the broken half of a pokeball on his dresser and picked it up. He gazed at it intently, taking in every scrape and jagged edge on the broken pokeball. It was clear that it had had a rough career even before being broken.

He smiled as he put it into the storage compartment he reserved for his personal belongings. Not much was in there now that he'd removed his treasures, but the pokeball helped to make it a less empty place.

That tattered, broken half of a pokeball was much more valuable to him than almost any other material possession. It was what symbolized the end of his and Gary's friendship and the beginning of their rivalry.

He'd meant to bring it on his journey with him, just to make sure that he always had some motivation to become better. But he'd been so excited over starting off and beating Gary that he'd forgotten. Not that it really mattered. Aside from the fact he had plenty of motivation from his friends to get stronger, Ash had barely considered Gary worthy as a rival after the first time he'd beat him. That sentiment had vanished after Gary beat him in return, but had returned in full force after he'd easily defeated Gary outside of Saffron.

But now Gary was worthy again. He'd lost, but it was clear that he'd grown. He wasn't weak anymore. Ash was better, but Gary was catching up. It had the potential to be a real challenge one day.

Ash stood in his room for just a few more minutes, looking around and trying to remember how he'd thought before he began his journey. His room just seemed so foreign to him now, far from the sleeping mat he'd gotten used to and the harsh life on the road. It was strange.

But he shook it off and turned around. Ash started when he realized that Dazed had been standing less than a foot behind him, silent and invisible to his senses. He gave her a dirty look and rolled his eyes as he walked around her yellow body.

She smiled at him with her sleepy eyes before shuffling behind him. Ash couldn't hold back his smile as they walked out of his room and left the small house. Bruiser and Seeker were nowhere to be seen. The fighting-type had happily lugged all of the necessary equipment. He assumed that Seeker had been covered by something in order to protect her from the sun.

Ash had called Plume about an hour ago, just after his mother had started gathering everything she would need for the dinner. She was tasked with finding the others and telling them to come to the Oak Corral later. He would have done it himself, but he had no idea where Nidoking or Infernus would be.

Nidoking was definitely somewhere in the Corral. Some of the pokemon would leave for a while, but the nidoran herd was always too edgy and paranoid to trust the wilderness, even with their powerful guards.

Infernus…well, he was probably somewhere in the Corral as well. Ash could never find him when he looked for him, although he'd seen Infernus testing himself against Arcanine and any of the other fire-types he could find every now and then.

Still, he didn't need to worry. Plume would find them easy enough and get them to the lab.

"Can you teleport me outside of Professor Oak's house?" He asked. While he didn't mind the walk, Dazed still needed practice with teleportation. It wasn't the most important part of her strategy, but still held a key role in allowing her to maneuver around the battlefield. She had neglected it for the past few days.

Despite her own dislike of teleportation, Dazed nodded. Her eyes glowed brightly before the two of them vanished in a flash of light. They instantaneously appeared outside of Professor Oak's home and lab. Ash saw Bruiser setting up a table on the nearby field. He gave a friendly wave at Bruiser, which was happily returned.

"Thanks." He said to Dazed with a nod. She smiled at him with her eyes and followed him as he walked into the home, not bothering to knock. Dazed followed him into the kitchen and began staring at one of the lights with a peaceful expression, oblivious to Ash as he walked up to his mother.

"Do you need help?" He asked. While Bruiser was setting everything up and doing the heavy work, his mother had a lot to handle. Making food for both the humans and Ash's friends along with Arcanine was a great task, after all. Ash couldn't help that much with the cooking – he was awful at it, even after months on the road – but he could help prepare.

His mother nodded thankfully. She was making a dish that Ash didn't recognize, but it looked delicious. "Just get on the potatoes. I'll tell you what to do once you're done with that."

Ash walked over to where a small bag of potatoes were and set to work. He jumped as a small, furry body swept down onto his back and shoulder, but laughed when Seeker started chattering into his ear.

At least it wouldn't be boring.

XX

"Nidoking is perfectly healthy." Oak announced after he had finished examining the powerful poison-type. He stood up and glanced over at Ash with respect in his eyes. "I must say, you've trained him quite well. I knew he would be an impressive specimen the moment I saw him, but you've made him stronger than I could have anticipated."

Ash grinned at the praise from the Professor. Nidoking gave his own pleased growl at the assessment, causing the ground around him to quiver a little bit. Until he gained a bit more control over his new power and typing, Nidoking would have issues like that.

"He has a bit to go before he's ready for the upper levels of the Indigo Conference, however." Oak announced, sending a cursory glance at Nidoking. The poison-type seemed annoyed at the slight criticism, but didn't act out on it.

"You really did bond well with him." The Professor said with a wry grin. He looked at Ash. "He hasn't reached his potential yet, but he will eventually. You've done a marvelous job. Most newly evolved Nidoking would have gone on a rampage right then."

Ash frowned. "Just for that?" He asked incredulously. It was barely even criticism. For such a slight thing to spark a rampage seemed silly. Ash had read about Nidoking's short tempers, but he hadn't thought it was that extreme.

"Indeed." Oak said with a small smile. He walked over to the table and sat down before starting to get into the remainders of his food again. "When they first evolve, they have absolutely awful tempers. There are just too many hormones and too much testosterone in their system for the first few weeks. It levels off, but it seems that Nidoking won't have that problem. I've heard that it isn't as bad when they see another as superior, but this is the first time I've ever seen the principle in action."

That made Ash sigh in relief and send Nidoking a thankful nod. He was very, very glad that he wouldn't have to worry about Nidoking going berserk and destroying everything in sight at the drop of a hat.

Nidoking snorted and pulled up the absolutely massive bowl Professor Oak had provided for him. It was filled to the brim with fresh fruit and large, juicy berries. He would still be able to get by fine on the pokemon food Ash normally carried, but he would need berries and fruit mixed in with his diet every now and then.

He'd already eaten the bowl full of sitrus berries his mother had given him. Oak had graciously given up a decent portion of his supply for Nidoking. The Professor said that being allowed to study Nidoking so closely was all the payment he needed, but Ash figured he was just being nice. He was the Pokemon Professor of Kanto. Oak could have ten nidoking delivered to him if he just wanted to study them.

Ash glanced around the scene with a soft smile. It had gotten dark an hour ago, so Seeker was free to fly around and mingle with the other pokemon. She'd spent quite a bit of time on his back before becoming brave enough to meet the rest of Ash's pokemon, most of whom she'd only seen or had the barest amount of contact with.

He was glad to see that she was mostly accepted. Infernus had shot a warning blow of flame at her when she tried to flutter over to him, but the rest of his friends were quite happy to see her. Even Infernus wasn't too hostile, although he refused to let the zubat anywhere near him. It looked like her sacrifice for Ash was greatly appreciated.

Infernus and Arcanine had left a few minutes ago. Ash could see long streams of flames blasting into the air from a few fields over, getting larger and more intense each time. He could only surmise that the two were having another of their contests.

Torrent was still hanging around, gladly taking the opportunity to meet other pokemon. His friend had lost the worst of his temper during his evolution. It was still there, but it took a lot to bring it out. What was left was newfound wisdom, power, and the desire to meet and mingle with other pokemon. It wasn't as though Torrent had had many chances to socialize when he was unable to be out of water, after all. He was just doing his best to make up for it.

Dazed hung in the darkness, always watching Ash protectively. Alakazam had joined her, weary of the excitement. Both of their eyes were constantly glowing, so he assumed they were communicating. They had similar personalities, so Ash wasn't too surprised.

Tangela was excitedly hopping around and making friends with the Corral pokemon that had showed up. He'd eaten his fair share, but had left to make friends once he'd finished. Right now he was happily poking one of the nidorino, who had sat down and looked resigned to Tangela's curious jabs.

Bruiser was wandering around, meeting all of his teammates again. He'd been with the team long enough to know most of them, but they'd all changed while he had been gone. Although it had only been a week or so after Ash had exchanged him for Golduck before they returned to Pallet, big things had occurred in that time. They'd all been changed and Bruiser needed to catch up.

Most of the nidoran herd was running rampant, one of the juveniles skittering underneath the table the humans were sitting at every minute or so. Others were jumping at Tangela, feebly trying to knock him over. He just released one of his vines and tickled them until they ran away or were collected by one of the nidorina, who were doing their best to keep order amongst the herd. They all looked very tired.

Plume was standing with Oak's Dragonite and positively massive, battle-scarred Charizard. Ash had never actually seen it before, but he'd heard of it from his mother and Gary from time to time. Apparently the monster of a fire-type was Oak's starter, comparable in power to his Dragonite. Aside from how ridiculously powerful that Charizard was to even compare to such a powerful dragon-type, it looked just like the tales from centuries ago had seen its kind: Vicious and awe-inspiring.

He'd gotten over his desire for a Charmander. He had a friend that was just as good, better in many ways. Nidoking could never be replaced.

But he would always have a soft spot for the pseudo-dragon. It was just such a powerful battler that he'd always respect it.

Oak's Charizard lived up to its species' reputation. It regarded the celebration with a broad sneer on its snout, exposing long, shining fangs. The flame that burned on its tail was absolutely massive, the gigantic torch constantly burning a bright blue. Thanks to reading Charizard's entry on the pokedex so many times, Ash knew what that meant: Power. Incredible power and strength built up from countless hard battles and harsh training.

Despite its distaste for its surroundings, Charizard seemed to get along fine with Dragonite and Plume. It didn't seem to really mind Plume, at the very least. Dragonite, on the other hand, was downright friendly. Apparently waking it up with a massive explosion had made the dragon-type a bit grumpier than usual.

It suddenly met his eyes. Ash didn't let his gaze waver, causing Charizard to snort a bright stream of white flame. Charizard glanced away at a low rumble from Dragonite.

Ash was pulled away from his observation by his mother's voice. She'd been chatting with Professor Oak constantly, taking breaks only to go get some more food from the kitchen. His mother had tried to fill up Nidoking's bowl, but Ash had gotten her to stand down on that. Nidoking was his friend and his responsibility, as were the rest of the team.

"So, how's the training going?" She asked curiously. "I know you've had some troubles with Bruiser."

"Eh, good enough." Ash said with a shrug. "I still can't help him other than having him fight the rest of the team, but that's not helping him much. He needs someone who actually knows how to fight. Fighting-types are strong, but their real strength is in their technique."

His mother nodded in understanding. Ash was well aware that she knew that. She'd never been a trainer, but she had studied under Professor Oak for years. All of this was basic information anyone studying to become a researcher would know in the first week.

"Have you tried finding a master?" His mother questioned. "If you even knew where to begin it would help you out a lot."

Ash sighed. "I have. There's the Dojo in Saffron. They said I could come by if I ever needed help training a fighting-type."

"No!" Professor Oak said sharply, cutting into the conversation. "They are skilled martial artists, but they leave a lot to be desired when it comes to training. That Dojo has fallen far since it was the Saffron gym."

"I noticed." Ash grinned, recounting his easy victory there. "It wasn't very difficult. I used type advantages, but they should be able to counter that."

Professor Oak nodded. "Indeed. Give me a few days and I'll find you a real trainer for Bruiser. It wouldn't be for very long, but you just need to know the basics. Bruiser can take care of the rest."

"Really?" Ash asked incredulously, having a hard time accepting that Professor Oak would do that for him. He was a busy man. Taking what would probably be quite a bit of time out of his day for a new trainer was surprising. "Thanks!"

"It's no problem, Ash." Oak said, waving his thanks away. "I know you have the potential to go far, and I believe that this person would be a good teacher to help you on your path."

Ash grinned his thanks to the Professor. He had no idea who his teacher would be, but he was excited for it. Professor Oak knew a lot of strong trainers. There was no doubt that he'd get a strong one.

Their conversation turned to other things after that, mostly about things around Pallet and the other Pallet trainers. Although he was interested in talking to his mother and Professor Oak, he found his attention slipping away as he focused on training and felt the fatigue from the day wear upon him.

About two hours later, they went inside. Ash had Dazed teleport his mother home. She'd had a tiring day and he knew that she had work the next day. He walked with the rest of his friends, although Infernus was still nowhere to be found.

Most of the plates and silverware that had been used were collected by Alakazam with a single flicker of her eyes, cleaning the mess up and sending the assorted dishes to the kitchen to be washed in mere seconds.

Before Ash left, he and Professor Oak bid each other goodbye. Ash's mind was still swimming with thoughts about his future training by the time he got home.

He slept on the couch that night. Nidoking was too big to travel up the stairs, although he was still allowed on the ground floor so long as he was careful. His friend curled up into a ball next to the couch as they both drifted to sleep.

Ash stayed up a bit longer. He was able to notice Seeker landing on top of him and huddling in close for warmth, as well as Bruiser sleeping up against a wall and Dazed standing vigil over him.

She was the last thing he heard before he went to sleep.

XX

"Alright, Nidoking, let's do this." Ash said. Nidoking roared and crushed his claws together, showing just how ready he was. The other members of the team were gathered around them in a circle, anxious to see how Nidoking had improved.

Ash wouldn't be trying to teach Nidoking any new moves today or the rest of the time he spent training around Pallet. This was just to get Nidoking used to his new form and the power that came with it. The form of a nidoking was drastically different from that of a nidorino or nidoran, so Nidoking would have to train to get comfortable with his new body.

That would happen later. For now, Ash just wanted to see what kind of strength Nidoking possessed.

Nidoking roared again, shaking the earth. He focused on the massive boulder Ash had pointed out a few minutes ago and walked over to it. While he was still having difficulty using some of his physical attacks like double kick, Nidoking was quite proficient at destroying things.

He pulled back his claw and roared loudly before slamming it into the tall, thin boulder. A deep crack formed where his fist hit. His second punch caused more and more cracks to thread throughout the stone before it finally collapsed, shards of sharp stone bouncing harmlessly off of Nidoking's armor.

Ash blinked. Nidoking had done that without any sort of actual attack. He'd known that his friend would be incredibly strong, but Ash hadn't expected him to be that powerful. Attacks naturally amplified the user's strength, focusing it and intensifying it. He could only imagine how hard Nidoking would hit with any physical moves he taught him.

"See those trees?" He asked, pointing the new targets out. Nidoking nodded and lumbered over to them. "Hit them with your tail."

Nidoking snarled in understanding and turned around. He swept his powerful tail into the densely packed cluster of trees behind him, shattering all with a single blow and sending splinters of wood flying through the area. Ash nodded his thanks to Dazed when she erected a shield of bright blue energy in front of him.

He grinned widely when he realized just how much strength Nidoking possessed. Nidoking had always been strong, but his evolution had put him into a whole new level.

His body had evolved to be the greatest protector and leader of a nidoran herd. His scales were hard and highly resistant to physical attacks and provided resistance against most elemental attacks. His tail could crush and splinter anything it hit. His punches could shatter stone.

All that was left for Ash to test was how much stronger his elemental attacks had become. Ash knew that Nidoking wasn't ready to learn a new move yet, but after seeing his ease in attacking it might be time to test out his old ones.

As Nidoking roared proudly, Ash found a new target for his friend.

"Use ice beam on that rock." Ash commanded, pointing out a very large, spherical stone. It was probably six feet high or so and nearly as large around.

Nidoking reared his head back and charged the ice beam in less than a second. Ash barely had time to see the small, light blue ball of energy form on the tip of Nidoking's horn before the ice beam was released. As usual, three arcs of icy energy were released from the ball, leaving a trail of frosty air in their wake.

What wasn't usual was their intensity. Nidoking had become adept at using ice beam as a nidorino, but no amount of expertise could create the amount of power put into the ice beam. Each of the three beams was brighter and more intense than before his evolution, a shade lighter.

Just one of the arcs of icy cold energy was enough to completely freeze half of the boulder's front over, leaving a thick layer of jagged ice over it. The other two were enough to freeze the rest of the front over, leaving all of the boulder Ash could see caked in the thick ice.

Ash blinked, not expecting that. He'd known that Nidoking increased in strength in every area aside from speed and evasiveness – his reflexes were improved, but the massive weight of his body would keep him from being particularly swift – but he'd only expected a marginal improvement in regards to ice beam and other elemental attacks.

A grin slowly crept onto his face, replacing his earlier shock. "Nidoking, I think you're ready for a real battle."

Nidoking roared and stamped his feet, triangular eyes narrowed eagerly as he waited for Ash to select his opponent.

Ash scanned over his friends critically, trying to figure out which one would be the most even match for Nidoking. Plume was automatically out. Nidoking could just use ice beam or thunderbolt to take her down. If he banned Nidoking from using them, it would just prolong the battle. Plume didn't have the offensive power to take him down anyways.

Infernus was out. He'd do well, but Ash really didn't want to burn down the entire forest. That showdown could be saved for later. He knew that the two were itching to fight each other.

Torrent would have an automatic advantage. Ash would like to avoid that. He wanted to see Nidoking's real capabilities. That cut out Dazed as well. She'd likely be needed to contain the damage anyways.

Bruiser was the only one that could match Nidoking's raw strength, but Ash didn't think that he would be a challenge for Nidoking. The fighting-type just didn't have the skill or experience to defeat Nidoking yet.

That left one option.

"Tangela, you're up." He said with a grin. The grass-type happily bounded over and stood in front of Nidoking, vines out and eyes friendly. Still, Ash could see the determination in his friend's stance. Tangela would do his best to make it a good battle. "Nidoking, no ice beam."

Nidoking growled his understanding and prepared to charge. Tangela bravely stood his ground, vines out and ready to battle.

Ash and the rest of his friends got far away from the battle, Dazed keeping a constant vigil by Ash. She would prevent any of the attacks from causing undue harm. Plume continued to circle over them high in the air, watching the battle with her keen eyes.

"Begin." Ash called out, carefully analyzing their movements. Nidoking had gotten more used to his body, but he was still rusty. His walking was slow and unsteady, causing him to lumber towards Tangela at an easily avoidable pace.

Tangela casually avoided the attack by walking away on his vines. He pulled his spherical body over to a tree when Nidoking grew too close.

Nidoking roared in annoyance and turned to Tangela. He opened his mouth and shot dozens of tiny, poison-filled needles at Tangela. Tangela yanked himself away as fast as he could, but several of the barbs landed on him and injected their poison into his vines.

Tangela gurgled and sent the vines that had been poisoned towards Nidoking, preparing to lash at the powerful poison-type. Nidoking easily slashed the vines off with a swipe of his claws. They weren't sharp, but the force behind them was enough to complete the task.

Of course, by doing that he ruined whatever chance he had of the poison in the vines being funneled into Tangela's body. Nidoking didn't appear to care about that, though. A quick lash from two more of Tangela's extendable vines did almost nothing to the ground-type, but annoyed him enough for the adrenaline running through his system to really pick up.

Nidoking roared furiously and suddenly charged at a surprisingly fast pace towards Tangela, the adrenaline and fighting instincts taking over his body and removing any uncertainties he had with his new form.

Tangela's bright eyes suddenly widened in fear and he did his best to pull himself away. Nidoking roared and fired another poison sting attack at Tangela. They were too close to defend against or dodge, so the majority of the barbs slammed into Tangela and injected their contents into the grass-type.

The grass-type collapsed to the ground, his weakness to poison crippling him as the massive dose was forced into his body. He struggled to pull himself up, but by the time he had Nidoking had slammed into him.

Ash winced at the blow. The sheer force that Nidoking's charge carried behind it sent Tangela flying into a tree, although the hardy grass-type's shell of vines absorbed most of the shock. Still, it slowed Tangela up enough for Nidoking to charge over and pick Tangela up. Tangela struggled and whipped Nidoking with several of his vines, but they failed to actually hurt Nidoking thanks to his thick plates.

Tangela quickly wrapped even more of its vines around Nidoking and began draining his energy, but Nidoking furiously slammed Tangela into a tree. The blow stunned Tangela, but he continued to suck energy from the poison-type.

It all ended when Nidoking fired another burst of poison sting at Tangela. All of the barbs hit and stabbed into Tangela, delivering their dangerous contents into the grass-type's system. Tangela's vines feebly let go of Nidoking, although the grass-type continued to helplessly struggle against his fate.

"That's enough." Ash called out. He was worried that Nidoking would be too battle-crazed to respond to his commands, but those concerns were alleviated when his friend instantly straightened up and stepped back from Tangela's unconscious form.

"You did great, Tangela." Ash murmured to Tangela's pokeball as he recalled his friend. Tangela had put up a good fight, although he was unable to do much to Nidoking's formidable body. In a real battle Tangela would have used status conditions through stun spore and sleep powder before wrapping his vines around Nidoking and draining most of his energy, but he was limited as much as Nidoking had been.

That had been a battle to show off Nidoking's abilities. Tangela knew that and hadn't used stun spore or sleep powder, which were usually important for his battling technique. It would have been much closer had Tangela been able to use his full potential.

Still, Nidoking had shown himself to be quite formidable, even when he hadn't gotten used to battle yet. He was able to shrug off vine whips as though they were nothing, when as a nidorino they would have crippled him. His resistance to Tangela's mega drain was also quite impressive. Tangela's mega drain had done quite a number on all of his other opponents.

But all this told him was that he had a very powerful pokemon on his hands and that he needed to teach him how to move well without being enraged first.

He wanted Nidoking to get a bit more battling experience in before they started working on that, though. In particular, he wanted Nidoking to get experience battling an opponent that had the firepower to penetrate his defenses.

"Infernus, you're up." He grinned.

Infernus' eyes were alit with dark glee as he stepped forward, a light wreathe of bright flame dancing around his body. He and Nidoking stepped forward, and the battle began.

XX

Four days of training later, they were finally finished. For the moment, anyways. Today was the end of this training spree, although certainly not the last.

Once he'd gotten used to his body, Nidoking's only real weaknesses were his inability to maneuver well. He had ranged attacks like thunderbolt and ice beam that were powerful enough to fight off all of Ash's pokemon except for Torrent and was almost undefeatable at close range. Only Infernus had pulled it off, and he had fainted right after from the wounds he had gained.

Dazed and Plume were quite adept at exploiting Nidoking's only apparent weakness. When Plume used tailwind to whip up a windstorm and manipulate the storm to propel her, she was often too fast for Nidoking to fight back against. She didn't have the firepower to actually defeat him – her air slash attack was quite powerful, but all it did was knock Nidoking over – but she could tire him out quite well. He almost always ended up defeating her in the end, though, thanks to a lucky thunderbolt.

Dazed, however, could easily avoid his attacks thanks to teleport. Psychic was enough to badly hurt Nidoking, while psybeam was enough to finish him off. Even if Ash had opted to give Nidoking his TMs – shadow claw and earthquake would greatly expand his ability to attack, but Ash wanted to wait until Nidoking had complete control over his body before giving him such destructive moves – Dazed would have been able to avoid them.

When he wasn't training Nidoking, Ash had worked with the others. Dazed had mastered the multiball technique, so he'd started training her to use teleport in other ways. He knew the destructive potential of earthquake quite well thanks to the videos he'd seen on the pokedex, so he'd figured that learning to avoid that could save Dazed a great deal of pain. So he'd taught her how to teleport just high enough above the ground for the average earthquake to pass under her. He'd have to test it against Nidoking in a few weeks.

Infernus hadn't progressed as much as Ash would have liked. He was advancing by leap and bounds in the battling department thanks to the constant battles against the other pokemon, but he hadn't bothered mastering fire blast. Ash had been too busy with Nidoking and Bruiser to focus on him much, although he'd be correcting that during their next training spree.

Plume had spent most of the time perfecting air slash. She was adept enough with it to slash thick trees in two, and it seemed to be shaping up to be her favorite move. It was far more precise than gust or whirlwind and was much more focused. Ash was going to start trying to teach her hurricane soon. That would was the most powerful technique a pidgeot could learn, and he thought that Plume was ready. Of course, it would also be an opportunity to spend more time with her and try to develop strategies that would work against rock-types and heavier opponents.

Tangela was obviously close to evolution. His vines were growing longer and longer, and his attacks were growing much more powerful. It was only a matter of time before he evolved into a tangrowth. Ash couldn't wait. Tangrowth were amongst the most powerful of grass-types. They were essentially tangela, but given much more power in their attacks.

Torrent had been rather bored. Aside from battles with Nidoking, which the dragon-type almost always won unless Nidoking was particularly ferocious, he didn't have much to do aside from practicing dragon pulse over and over again. Ash was going to have to work on some more techniques for Torrent.

Bruiser had the same problems as he had before. Ash had continued his attempts to teach Bruiser, but the fighting-type just couldn't learn from him. It was rather frustrating for the both of them. His friend had so much potential waiting to be unleashed, but he couldn't utilize it.

There was nothing for Ash to do now. He was about to head up to the Professor's lab right now.

Last night had been a hard one. He could only have six teammates with him, so he had to drop one of them temporarily for Bruiser.

Even though he didn't like it, he had to ask his friends if any would volunteer. It ended up being Plume, although he didn't like that. Ash didn't want his friend to feel any less valuable than the other members of his team. He hated leaving her behind.

No matter how much he had tried to get her to stay with him, though, she wouldn't relent. Plume had just cooed at his protests and lightly pecked him on the head.

He'd finally given up, although he made sure to protest just a little more. She still wouldn't hear of it.

Ash sighed at the memory. Plume was currently flying above the house, basking in the morning sun. A flock of pidgey and a few pidgeotto had joined her, shrieking and chirping in unison with the powerful flying-type.

But for now it was time to say his goodbyes.

"Seeker, be good." He said with a grin, lightly ruffling her soft fur. Seeker hissed indignantly at him and fluttered onto his shoulder. She chattered happily into his air, giving her own goodbyes. "I know, I know. You're perfect."

Ash leaned into Seeker and whispered to her conspiratorially. "Try to keep Plume company. I know she'll be fine, but I think you two could learn a lot from each other."

Seeker chattered understandingly and fluttered over to Bruiser, who was standing next to Ash. He grunted happily as the tiny zubat landed on his shoulder and began hissing at him. Bruiser grunted what Ash recognized as a laugh and lightly tapped her on the forehead with his finger.

The zubat chattered happily at the both of them before flying up onto one of the beams crossed over the ceiling. She hung there as Ash's mother walked up, a cheery smile on her face. It wavered when she looked at Ash, but it came back in full force a few moments later.

"Be careful, sweetie." She said to him quietly as she wrapped him up in a hug. Ash gasped as the air was crushed out of his lungs before returning the hug.

"I'll be fine." He wheezed back. "I'll be back before you know it."

His mother smiled sadly at him. "I know, I know. You're a strong trainer now. But a mother has to worry."

Ash didn't say anything back, instead opting to respond with a smile. His mother returned it before standing up.

"Well, you'd best get going." She said cheerfully. "I know Professor Oak is busy. Good luck!"

"Thank you." He said with another nod. Ash returned Bruiser before he stepped out of the door.

The last words he heard from his mother were "And remember to change your –"

He was out before she could complete the sentence.

XX

"Ah, hello, Ash. Come right in." Professor Oak said in a friendly manner. Ash nodded at him and gladly walked into the house. He wanted to get going as soon as he could.

Professor Oak guided him to the dining room, where they both took a seat. Oak sipped at a steaming cup of coffee, which was all that was left of his breakfast. Ash could see that the rest had already been finished, leaving nothing but crumbs on the two plates.

"Well, I suppose you're here about your teacher?" Oak questioned as he took a quick drink of coffee. Ash nodded. "Then you'll be pleased to know that I found you one. I believe that you'll be quite impressed by him when you meet him."

"Who is he?" Ash questioned curiously, leaning forward in interest. He had been thinking about the mysterious teacher ever since the night of Nidoking's evolution. Professor Oak had access to an almost unlimited amount of trainers, quite a few of whom were quite strong.

"I can't tell you his name." Oak said with a shake of his head. "It was part of the deal I worked out with him. What I can tell you is where he's training right now."

Ash frowned. That seemed odd. "Where is he?"

"Mt. Hideaway." Oak replied promptly. He placed the drained cup of coffee on one of his plates before continuing. "It's just a few days away from Pallet Town, so it's not too hard a journey. Your teacher trains there regularly, and he'll be there for another month. That gives you plenty of time to arrive and train."

"Isn't that the place where the gigantic onix live?" Ash questioned. The name seemed familiar, and he had quickly remembered the local tales and legends about the mountain. He could also recall seeing it mentioned as a footnote in the onix entry of his pokedex.

Professor Oak smiled. "Indeed. I believe he's searching for one of the onix. I'd be interested in studying it, if he succeeds, anyways."

"Where is he on the mountain?" Ash asked, knowing just how hard it could be to find something in that large an area. His experience trying to find the Cinnabar gym attested to that.

"That's part of the test." Oak replied with a wry grin. "He's powerful and has his pick of students. Those that are worthy will find him. My recommendation was only enough for him to give me his location."

Ash sighed. That made sense, and made him wonder just who this trainer was. He must be incredibly strong if he could pose tests like these. If they were really so powerful, he might have heard about them before.

"You have a PokeNav, correct?" Oak said. Ash nodded. "Good. Hand it over, please. I'll put the location of Mt. Hideaway into the map."

Oak held his open hand out and waited for Ash to hand him the small device. When Ash did, the Professor quickly opened the PokeNav and input the necessary coordinates. Now a small waypoint would be on the PokeNav's map whenever Ash looked for it.

"Thanks a lot, Professor." Ash said gratefully as he took his PokeNav back and clipped it back onto his belt. "I won't disappoint."

Oak smiled with a strange expression. It flitted off of his face too fast for Ash to read it, but it made him curious. "I'm sure you won't, Ash. You never have."

Ash smiled faintly and tipped his hat to Professor Oak. "Well, I guess I should be going. Thanks for everything, Professor."

The Professor nodded and waved him away. "Good luck!" He called as Ash went out the front door. Ash nodded back one last time before leaving the laboratory.

He was excited as he stepped outside of the lab and into the warm morning sun. It had been weeks since he last travelled on land, venturing through the great forests of Kanto with only himself and his pokemon.

Ash took a moment to check the location of Mt. Hideaway on his PokeNav. It was about sixty miles away to the east and had a bit of rugged territory around it, but most of the areas he would be travelling through were made up of the same gentle landscape that entombed Pallet Town.

The trainer traced the worn dirt path that would take him to Mt. Hideaway. He shifted his pack to a more comfortable position before starting on his newest journey, pausing only to release Nidoking. Nidoking needed the practice walking.

Nidoking grunted deeply and gave Ash a friendly nod.

Ash grinned back and nodded to his friend. "We're setting off again. Are you ready?"

Nidoking growled happily and crushed his claws together, producing a small shockwave of air. Ash shut his eyes quickly but kept his excited grin on his face. It would probably go away when the realities of travelling caught up with him again, but right now he was just too happy to care.

"Alright, then. Let's go."

With that they set off, preparing to grow ever stronger.

XX

The first day passed by quickly. It was boring since there were few trainers to fight and the wild pokemon were too terrified by Nidoking to try anything, but it let them make great time. Even Nidoking was tired by the end of the day, although it was more so because his species wasn't meant to travel long distances than any real physical exhaustion.

The second day had been brutal. Aside from being a bit rusty in all of the chores he had to perform – cleaning up the fire pit he'd made, making sure to pack every artificial thing he had pulled out was securely contained or put into his bag, and a host of other minor things – he was also horribly sore. It wasn't as bad as the second day of his pokemon journey, but the muscles that had been made hard and durable thanks to the long days of walking and running had atrophied a bit while he'd been on boats and training around Pallet.

Aside from that the sun had been brutal that day, baking almost everything. If it weren't for his cap he would have been badly sunburned. A few fearow that lived in the area had also tried to antagonize him, squawking and cawing at him as he passed through their territory. Nidoking quickly ran them off with a few ice beams, but it was still rather annoying.

In other words, travelling wouldn't be quite as fun as he remembered until he got used to it the harder parts of it. Perhaps it would have been better if there were other trainers, but the routes were mostly empty thanks to the aggressive fearow that patrolled the area. Ash figured that the League would be sending someone in to set them straight soon enough. It wasn't close enough to Pallet for Professor Oak to intervene.

But right now, during the second night, he'd just entered a large town, consisting of about six thousand. It was named Dandra Town and was one of the larger settlements in Kanto, although far out of the way and not prone to exposure to the outside world because of it.

Ash had heard of Dandra Town every now and then, but knew it wasn't really important aside from its size. It was miles away from any real center of civilization – its only real neighbor was Pallet, and thanks to the difficult-to-navigate land, large cliffs, and dense population of aggressive spearow and fearow it had few visitors.

Judging from the solar panels and windmills dotting the area, several small factories and several gigantic farms that he'd spotted as he neared the town, they didn't need to be. Dandra town looked to be a self-contained society. All it really needed was trainers to keep the local pokemon at bay.

There were only a few locals about at this time of night, but they all seemed rather friendly. He was pointed to one of the local Pokemon Centers quickly and wished a good night. Ash happily returned the farewell. Dandra's citizens were a welcome change from Saffron's.

The streets were clean and organized. Most were neat, standard fare of a small town like this, just on the cusp of becoming a more meaningful settlement. Small shops lined the long streets, most rather unassuming. A lone Poke Mart was visible, slightly more ostentatious than its neighbors but rather diminished compared to what Ash was used to.

He quickly worked his way through the streets and found the Pokemon Center. It was one of the largest buildings in town, not surprising considering that trainers were amongst the few that would make the journey to the town. They probably gave the town much of its revenue.

Ash didn't slow down as he pushed the door to the Pokemon Center open. He was tired, dirty, and stank of dried sweat. All he wanted was a shower and a bed. His sleeping mat wasn't as bad as the alternatives some trainers used, but it still didn't compare to an actual bed.

He gave a weary, albeit friendly, smile to Nurse Joy as he walked up to the counter. It was returned with the standard cheerfulness Nurse Joys exhibited, although she looked a little bit concerned at the exhaustion he displayed.

"Are you alright?" She worried.

"I'm fine." Ash said tiredly, giving her an exhausted grin. "I just started travelling again. It's a bit exhausting, is all."

Nurse Joy nodded her understanding. "Of course. We've had a fair few trainers come in lately with that same problem. It's about the time that they start taking breaks in their journeys. Anyways," she said, bringing herself back on track, "how can I help you?"

"I just need a room." He told her politely. She nodded and fumbled with a drawer on the counter before withdrawing a key with a small tag with his room number attached. "Here you are. I hope you sleep well!"

"Thanks." Ash replied as he took the key. He checked the room number. 122. He frowned at that. That meant he was on the very last room of the first floor. Most Pokemon Centers this size had twenty-five rooms on a floor. "Why are so many rooms filled?"

Nurse Joy smiled and pulled out a small flier. She handed it over to Ash, who took a curious glance at it.

"Annual Dandra Town Pokemon Tournament!"It proclaimed in large, bold letters. Underneath the announcement it read, "Come and battle with fierce trainers and compete for fabulous prizes! See who is the strongest. More information available at the Tournament. Dates: August 14, August 15."

Ash perked up at the mention of the tournament. Even if it didn't give out the best prizes, it would still be a good way to test out his skill. He was good, but he wanted to see just where he fell amongst the average trainer.

"Where do I register for this?" He asked eagerly, clenching the paper until it bent out of shape.

Nurse Joy laughed. "Just leave me your name and I'll sign you up. You came at a lucky time. The Tournament's tomorrow. If you'd gotten here just a day later, you would have just had to watch."

Ash nodded, a curious glint in his eye. "This is an annual thing, right? What kind of prizes are there?"

"Hmm." Nurse Joy said, tapping her chin and leaning forward onto the counter. "Usually there are cash prizes for the Top Four, but the Top Two usually get an additional prize. Last year the first place winner got a fire stone and water stone."

His eyes lit up. He couldn't really use either of those, but evolutionary stones were expensive. If he never ended up with a pokemon that could use one of the two to evolve, he could just sell them for a good bit of cash. It wasn't as if he'd need the money thanks to the huge sum Lance had given him, but at the very least he'd be able to help another trainer.

"There's a cash fee to enter." Nurse Joy warned. "Three hundred dollars."

Ash shrugged that off. That would have been a decent sum before, but he had all the money he needed right now. It was well worth the price to test his strength against other trainers. "Fair enough. Do you need my trainer card?"

"Please."

He handed it over. Nurse Joy quickly ran it through a scanner, although she looked quite surprised at the information that came up.

"Seven badges?" She said with a stunned look on her face. "My, my. This year will have quite the fierce competition. And access to full restores? What did you do for the League to get that privilege?"

"This and that." Ash said with a grin, never tiring of the reactions he got when people saw how much he'd accomplished.

Nurse Joy shook her head exasperatedly. "Never mind. I don't think I want to know. Anyways," she said as she passed his trainer card back to him, "you're all signed up. The Tournament is held at one o' clock, so make sure you're ready. I'll be taking all of you to the arena."

"Thank you." Ash said politely. "Good night, Nurse Joy."

She smiled cheerfully at him. "Good night, Mr. Ketchum. I look forward to seeing your performance tomorrow."

Ash smiled and tipped his hat before he left to find his room. He needed to take a shower and sleep. It looked like he would have a long two days in front of him.

XX

He was groggy when he woke up. His room was filled to the brim with sleeping pokemon. It was much more cramped then he was used to, thanks to many of his friends' evolutions. Nidoking took up a good chunk of the room on his own. His friend had been annoyed when he realized that he couldn't sleep on the bed with Ash anymore, but he'd managed to assuage his instincts by curling up into a surprisingly small ball next to the bed.

Tangela was at the foot of the bed, vines wrapped around his spherical body in a dense shell. They twitched every now and then, mostly when Tangela happily gurgled in his sleep. Ash smiled at his friend before looking around.

Dazed was, as usual, standing in the darkened corner and staring straight at him. She gave him a succinct nod and returned to watching him protectively.

Bruiser was sleeping leaned up against the wall, eyes completely shut and arms crossed. His thick, muscular chest rose and fell as he breathed slowly and deeply.

Torrent was still in his pokeball, as was Infernus. While Torrent had no problem being outside of his pokeball for extended periods of time, he had difficulties sleeping. Besides, the roof was barely high enough for him to comfortable levitate.

The reasons Infernus was in his pokeball were rather obvious.

Ash shook his head and yawned before standing up and carefully getting off of his bed, making sure to avoid waking any of his friends. He quickly put on his clothes, which were lying in a messy pile on the floor. They were a little wrinkled, but he was sure that the other trainers would be just as messy.

Before he went into the small bathroom to brush his teeth and get his familiar morning routine in, Ash made sure to put on his hat. He couldn't forget the hat.

The rest of his morning routine went by quickly. He woke the rest of his friends, although he let Tangela stay out of his pokeball. If there were as many trainers out there as he expected, he figured Tangela would be the best choice. The grass-type was much friendlier than most of the team and would enjoy making friends with the other pokemon.

Normally he had Dazed as his follower, since she was inconspicuous and observant, but he knew she wouldn't want to be around so many people. It would make her more paranoid than usual, although it would be disguised under her vacant stare. Ash had learnt long ago how to read past that, though.

Tangela gurgled happily and waved some of his vines around as he waddled after Ash. Ash held the door open for his friend as he walked into the small hallway. One other trainer was walking down the hallway, a short teen with short, spiky blond hair and cargo pants followed by an elegant ninetails. He didn't give Ash a passing glance as he smoothly walked by.

Ash shrugged it off and continued on his way. He entered the Pokemon Center's atrium just a few seconds after the blond trainer had shoved his way in.

He paused in surprise when he saw just how many trainers were in the atrium. He'd known that there were twenty, but it was odd seeing so many trainers in one place outside of one of the great cities. The room was practically filled to the brim with them.

There were girls and boys, teens and adults. Every different kind of person was accounted for. But they all had one thing in common: they were here to win.

Ash took a moment to check out the pokemon waiting with their trainers. There were quite a few that were somewhat uncommon in Kanto, but he saw even more native species. It certainly wouldn't be an easy tournament to win. Judging from the variety he saw, he couldn't just rely on one of his friends to dominate the competition. He'd have to be a bit more creative than that.

He pulled out his PokeNav and checked the time. They still had two hours until they would be called to the tournament. That would be plenty of time for him to brief his time on what was going on.

But first he needed to get breakfast. He was starving.

XX

Ash sat on a large, mossy boulder that overlooked the rest of the tiny clearing where his team sat. They were each eating their own little bit of pokemon food, although Ash had gotten some of the Pokemon Center's normal food to feed them. His friends deserved it.

As they ate, Ash started talking. Dazed was the only one really watching, but judging from the tiny nods and twitching ears of his friends, they were all listening.

"So, guys, we're going to be in a tournament today." He began. That got his friends' attention. Nidoking, Infernus, Torrent, and Bruiser seemed particularly enthusiastic. They liked fighting the most, and tournaments generally brought strong opponents. "I think there are going to be around twenty opponents, so the competition might get tough at the end. But I know we can win."

Nidoking growled happily and crushed his claws together, body language that Ash was beginning to recognize as anticipation and excitement. The rest of his friends had similar reactions, even Tangela. Tangela might not be very aggressive, but he did love testing out his strength. Most pokemon did, from what Ash had seen.

"I'm going to try and use all of you at least once." Ash announced as he lazily leaned back on his forearms. The rough stone scratched at his exposed skin a bit, but the moss helped to soothe the minor damage it did. "You've all been working hard lately, and all of you deserve it."

His friends seemed happy at that. Ash realized that he had neglected Bruiser over the past few weeks and he really didn't want to make that mistake ever again. It still put a bad taste in his mouth just thinking about how he practically abandoned one of his friends.

"We need to get back in about an hour." Ash said, counting off the amount of time he'd already eaten up. "So, let's get to it. We need to come up with some basic strategies. There's a lot of variety in the tournament."

The pokemon in front of him nodded and listened attentively as he began speaking. They wanted to win this just as much as he did, more, most likely.

Ash grinned as he started addressing each member of the team. He didn't know if he would win this, but he knew that he would at least make his opponents fight bitterly for their victory.

XX

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