Road to a Master

What if Delia had stepped in and made sure that Ash was prepared for his journey? After all, what kind of woman will allow her only son to travel a dangerous world ill-prepared? Smarter Ash, more prepared Ash. A mix of the games and the anime. WARNING - Chapter 5 is M-Rated for violence and mentions of rape.

https://www.fanfiction.net/s/11863977/1/Road-to-a-Master

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11. Damian Part 2

He could see Growlithe contemplating his words. From what Ash had experienced so far, he knew that logic often prevailed over everything else. As was the case here. Growlithe thought about Ash's words for a minute or so before reluctantly walking to the bowl to start eating. His surprise and subsequent joy at what Ash presumed to be the taste of the food made his heart ache for the little guy. To think that he would enjoy standard pokémon food found at any Pokemart in such a manner spoke volumes of the kind of food he had been forced to eat till now. On a reflex, Ash's hand went out to pet the pokémon as it was eating.

Growlithe had never felt this weird in his short life. From what little he had been able to gather, he had been born in a different region to someone called a breeder. For a short amount of time, he had been happy. He had friends to play with, good food to eat, and parents who loved him and he loved them back. Then the breeder had said that a trainer wanted him. He was so excited! The older pokémon at home had told him stories of trainer and their pokémon and how they battled their way to the top. He would get strong! Unfortunately, that was when his nightmare began.

The new trainer was everything Growlithe imagined him not to be. He was cruel. Oh, how he was cruel! The good food he had before? Gone. Love of his parents? Gone. Friends he could play with? Gone. He thought he could make new friends here, but the rest of the pokémon were as terrified as he was. And that Nidoking! Growlithe shuddered just thinking about him! He was often hurt. He would be pushed far beyond what he could do. He was forced to do so. He was often hungry. The medicines that trainer put on him healed his injuries but did nothing to stop the hunger he felt.

Today, he had been told to learn flamethrower. Apparently, his previous fire-type pokémon could use it efficiently. So, he was locked in a room and left to practice the move. Before leaving, he had been warned that if he didn't learn flamethrower in reasonable time, the consequences would be dire. He could not do much on the ship but once they got off a week later, Nidoking would have free reign to do as he wanted. Growlithe was too terrified of that idea to even think about it. So, he had put in his all in learning that move. So much so that he had fallen unconscious due to a lack of energy.

He had woken up feeling slightly refreshed, which surprised him. Opening his eyes, he saw another human with a bunch of pokémon surrounding him. Seeing them, he instinctively backed away from them in fear. The human started speaking to him explaining why they were surrounding him. This was a novel experience for him as he had never been given an explanation since so long, but the thing that struck him the most was the gentleness with which the human was speaking with him. A little weirded out and still wary of the bunch, he backed away from them and decided to continue his training.

He kept an eye on the new bunch. What surprised him was how close they were to each other. You could easily see the bond there. And the way the human interacted with them was so weird! He spoke with them softly, he gently petted their heads, and his pokémon looked at him with adoration rather than fear! Then the pokémon started sparring. When he first saw two electric attacks heading towards that black pokémon, he thought she was being disciplined for some reason. But then she dodged the attacks and used one of her own! He then realised that all 5 of them were using this as some kind of dodging exercise! It looked like so much fun!

He then saw the human approaching him with a bowl. He immediately tensed wondering what he was doing but the human kept the bowl in front of him and walked away. He then advised him to eat to recover energy or something like that but Growlithe didn't care about that! He had been offered food! And it smelt so good! But he knew trainer had ordered him not to eat unless he was given food by trainer himself. So, he ignored the food and decided to continue training.

The human then mentioned how he would need food to continue training. What he said was true, Growlithe acknowledged that. He was now stuck between a river and a pond (he never liked water at all!) On one hand, if he ate food, trainer would be mad. On the other, if he didn't learn flamethrower, he would be mad as well. Thinking about it, he decided that trainer may not come to know if he ate food here, but he would definitely know if he didn't learn flamethrower. So, with that thought, he decided to eat.

As he took his first bite, he paused. He had forgotten how tasty food could be! It was so delicious! He started eating with a renewed vigour absolutely loving this feeling of filling his stomach! He froze however when he felt a hand on his head. But that hand was gentle and soothing. It rubbed his head that sent pleasure down his spine. It had been so long since he felt this feeling that he had forgotten it existed. An unbidden sound of pleasure escaped him and a couple of tears leaked out of his eyes. The human continued doing this and the longer he did it, the more that feeling deepened and more tears leaked out of his eyes. Once he regained some control over himself, he looked up to see the human looking at him with such a sad expression on his face. He understood it. The human was not upset by him; he was upset for him! The human gave him a small smile and advised him to continue eating. He backed away from him and he felt a pang of loss. Ignoring him, he continued eating the food. Once he was done eating, and it didn't take long to finish the food with how hungry he was, he went back to training.

The training was frustrating. No matter how hard he tried, he was no closer to learning Flamethrower. But the thought of what Nidoking would do to him if he didn't learn the move was enough to keep him going. However, before long, the human sat down next to him.

"You're doing it wrong. Continuously shooting Embers from your mouth would help you achieve nothing. You need to build up energy in your stomach. Try concentrating as much energy as you can before expelling it when you can't hold it in anymore," he instructed gently.

Growlithe thought about it before deciding to listen to the human. Maybe he would be like those trainers the old pokémon had told him about, those who help pokémon grow stronger. He built up energy inside him as he normally did for Ember but this time, he continued increasing it. He continued doing so till it became painful to hold more energy and then released it in a brilliant burst of flame. It was already bigger and hotter than any ember attack he had used before. To think that he had achieved such a result with just one instruction by the human next to him! Said human just smiled at him and moved to join his pokémon.

Ash contemplated about the Growlithe as he walked to check on the progress of his pokémon. It was talented, no doubt about that. To see such a massive improvement with a single try was insane! He checked up on Dratini whose tail was glowing green with a scale like pattern being formed around it. The tail continued glowing for a couple of seconds before going back to normal. Giving him a few encouraging words, he walked towards the rest of his pokémon. Floette was sending her energy to different parts of her body at random making her look like a disco light. It was slightly disconcerting but Ash had tasked her with doing so till she could send the energy to any part of her body at moment's notice. Pikachu was busy meditating, and Umbreon's jaw was glowing slightly. Kadabra was…reading once again and by the look on his face, he did not want to be disturbed. Seeing them hard at work, he decided not to disturb them. He still walked around in case any of his pokémon needed his help.

The next few hours passed by this way. It was quiet if one ignored the sounds of the roaring fire coming from Growlithe's mouth. The peace, however, was broken by the sound of the door opening. In walked a boy around Ash's age. He was dressed stylishly but his most notable feature was his blue-coloured hair and the smug smile he wore on his face.

"Hi there," he greeted. "My name is Damian. I guess you are the trainer I am to share the room with?"

"Yes," Ash replied with a blank expression on his face. Internally, he was wondering how it was possible for anyone to have more arrogance in their voice than Gary. "We should discuss how we are to split up using this room."

"There is no need for that! My pokémon are strong enough to win that competition without this additional training. The only pokémon of mine that needs to be trained is that Growlithe. I got him recently, you see, so he's pretty useless right now," Damian finished with a conspiratorial wink causing Ash to feel like throwing up.

"So, does that mean I get to use the room as I see fit?" he asked, somehow keeping his tone polite.

"Yes, though I have a favour to ask of you. You can use the room the entire day if you want as long as you let Growlithe use it as well. Fair deal, isn't it?"

"Yes, how generous of you," Ash smiled out forcefully.

"I know, right?" Damian commented arrogantly. "If that's the deal, then I'll come for Growlithe later. Later." With that, he walked out of the room without sparing those left with a second glance. Once he was gone, Ash's neutral expression melted away as a cold smile swept across his face.

"Yes, you will see me later. When you do, all your crimes will be exposed to the entire world. You will not expect it coming which will make seeing your expression as it happens even sweeter." It was a very unlike Ash expression but seeing Growlithe's pain and remembering Charmander's death had caused the normally sweet Ash to have dark thoughts. Putting them to the back of his mind for now, he focused back on training.

The remaining days till the competition Ash was participating in passed by in a blur. A few noteworthy things did happen. Umbreon had gotten extremely close to learning Bite. In fact, for most trainers, she would have learnt Bite but Ash was particular. He wanted his pokémon to master a move to a certain level before moving to the next one. Other than that, Dratini could now hold draconic energy in his tail for up to ten seconds now. He was just working on improving the strength behind his Dragon Tail. Floette had started working on sending her energy to multiple parts of her body, the next step in learning Dazzling Gleam.

But the one that confused Ash the most was Kadabra. He had started learning Iron Tail with a zeal that he had never seen in the psi pokémon before. He normally shied away from physical labour. Another odd thing was that other than learning and mastering Iron Tail (his dedication was really something else!) he would read very little and spend most of the time sleeping. When Ash questioned him about it, all he would say is that he would explain later. Ash trusted him, so he didn't push him further.

Ash also wondered at Growlithe's motivation for learning Flamethrower. He was aware that Growlithe was a young pokémon but the strides he had made in learning the attack in the last four days were nothing short of outstanding. He never expected it. While he had not learnt the move, he had made significant progress. In fact, if he were to continue training this way, Ash predicted he would have learnt the move in less than a week!

Ash wanted to see the other competitions, he wanted to scope out the competition and see if he could pick up on some valuable techniques and tactics, but he was loath to leave the fire-type pokémon alone. So, he made the difficult choice of skipping those competitions to spend time with the Growlithe. Ash had very little contact with other people since he entered the room for the first time. He did bump into Cynthia every day since they were neighbours and every time they met, they would talk to each other for a little while. Slowly, a friendship was developing between the two. He also did speak with Leaf and Professor Sycamore a couple of times as well. He was often asked why he was not watching the competitions, and he always replied by saying that he needed to train. None of the others were fooled. They knew by the sad smile on Ash's face that there was more to the story but they were tactful enough not to push him on it.

The sacrifice was worth it in Ash's opinion. He had actually formed a bond with Growlithe, a small kinship of a sort. He would feed him, pet him, and instruct him slightly in learning Flamethrower. Those moments were precious in Ash's mind as he could see how much those small gestures meant to the puppy pokémon.

Of course, thinking about notable events and interaction with others, Ash could not forget a particular incident that happened just yesterday. It was probably the most significant event he had been a part of since the start of his journey.

FLASHBACK

Ash was having lunch with his pokémon and Growlithe. His expression on experiencing just a normal lunch was both heart wrenching and joyful to witness. He looked so lost on the first day but that confusion turned to a mix of so many emotions when he saw Ash and his team casually chatting with each other while eating. They played little pranks on each other, cracked jokes, and in general had a fun and relaxing conversation. They tried to involve the puppy pokémon as well but he was too timid to participate. And scared. That emotion stood out the most. But over the last few days, they had broken down the barriers he had built and he soon started talking like he was a part of the small group. Ash's pokémon had been really patient with him as well and Ash could not be prouder of them for it.

However, lunch was interrupted by a beeping sound from Ash's PokeNav. Confused, Ash took it out. The beeping was not the normal alarm when someone called him. On seeing what it was, Ash immediately stood up his body shaking with excitement and nervous energy. "Guys, the egg is about to hatch!" he exclaimed. He had utilised a nifty feature of the incubator that connected it to the PokeNav. When the incubator beeped to indicate that the egg is close to being hatched, a signal was sent to the PokeNav to inform Ash of the same. Ah, he loved technology even if he didn't understand it.

Quickly recalling all his pokémon, he rushed out of the door but not before telling Growlithe that he would be busy for the next few hours. While he wished that he could take Growlithe along with him to see the hatching of the egg, he knew it was not feasible. As close as Growlithe had become with the group, he was not Ash's pokémon. Quickly discarding that thought, he rushed to his room. He couldn't wait to see what the egg would hatch into! It had been so long since he had found the egg. He still remembered how fortunate he felt when he was allowed to keep the egg.

Recalling why he was allowed to keep the egg caused Ash to have a mild panic attack. He remembered Bill telling him that the egg could be mentally damaged due to the incident at the Pokémon Village. He quickly called out Kadabra and asked him to go get Professor Sycamore. Kadabra didn't question the order and simply teleported away.

Reaching the corridor of his room, Ash huffed and puffed as he drew in deep gulps of air. As he got air back into his lungs, the air around him distorted and from that came Kadabra along with Professor Sycamore, Brock, and Lance.

"Kadabra told us what is happening, let us hurry," Lance said and Ash nodded in agreement. Ash quickly entered his room before stopping when he realised that none of the other people had entered after him.

"Go on, Ash," Brock said gently. "The hatching of an egg is an important process for both the trainer and the pokémon. It is when they imprint on each other for the first time."

"But," Ash started to object.

"We are right here," Professor Sycamore said. "If anything goes wrong, just holler."

Ash nodded and took a deep breath before shutting the door. He walked forward towards the incubator where the egg was shaking inside. He took out the egg and kept it in the middle of the bed. As he waited for the egg to hatch, he heard Kadabra talk in his mind.

'Friend-trainer-Ash,' he said gently. 'Shouldn't you take out the rest of the pokémon?'

'Of course! I can't believe I forgot!' Ash exclaimed before releasing all his pokémon. The five of them came and stood around Ash as they waited for the egg to hatch. They waited with baited breath as the egg continued to shake. Minutes went by as the process continued before a crack appeared on the shell. This crack spread and more cracks were formed on the shell as the pokémon inside did its best to break free of the shell. Soon, the egg stopped shaking. There was peace for a few seconds before the egg shell suddenly burst into pieces and the baby pokémon came out.

It was a rhinoceros-like creature with a body covered in grey, rocky plates. Its underside and rear were smooth, and it had four short legs with two claws on each foot. It had a triangular head with narrow, red eyes, two fangs protruding from its upper jaw, and small, triangular openings on the upper sides. A spiked ridge ran along its back, and it had a single short horn on the tip of its snout.

For a moment, there was silence as Ash and his pokémon stared at the newly hatched pokémon in awe. The silence, however, was broken by the cry of the pokémon.

"Rhy!" it yelled as it charged forward straight into the arms of Ash, who laughed and hugged the tiny pokémon. He knew that Rhyhorn grow up to be nearly half the size of a grown up man, but this little one was barely the size of Ash's arm right now. Ash had never seen a newly hatched pokémon so he did not know that they were so small when they hatched. He was taken out of his thoughts when the Rhyhorn licked his cheek. Ash laughed again as the sensation tackled him.

"Hello, Rhyhorn!" Ash said brightly. The baby pokémon did not understand a word that Ash had said but it perked up immediately when he started speaking. "Would you like to meet the rest of your family?" he asked as he showed the rest of his pokémon to it. Rhyhorn looked at them blankly for a bit before realization dawned on it and it happily cried out its name as it wiggled in Ash's arms in an attempt to go meet them.

Ash laughed before setting him down on the bed. He looked at his pokémon who quickly climbed onto the bed with them. As the pokémon introduced themselves to the Rhyhorn, Ash took out his pokedex and pointed it at the Rhyhorn.

Rhyhorn, the Spikes Pokémon. Strong, but not too bright, this Pokémon can shatter even a skyscraper with its charging Tackles. This Rhyhorn is female and has the ability Rock Head. This Rhyhorn knows the moves Horn Attack and Tail Whip. This Rhyhorn knows the egg move Dragon Rush, but it has not been unlocked yet.

Ash smiled on seeing his pokémon bond together. It surprised him to see how gentle Umbreon was being when handling the Rhyhorn, or how Kadabra was using confusion to move her around in the air making her squeal with happiness. Ash walked out of the room to tell the others the good news. Once he opened the door, the three men sighed in relief on seeing Ash's smiling face.

"I'm guessing all went well?" Brock asked.

"Yes," Ash replied cheerfully. "The egg hatched into a Rhyhorn."

"A Rhyhorn, huh?" Brock asked with interest. Unsurprising since rock-type pokémon are his specialty. "They are good, strong pokémon when raised correctly. A bit on the slow side, but powerful indeed. And that dimness fades away when it evolves into a Rhydon."

"I know," Ash smiled. "Would you like to see her?" he asked.

"That would not be wise," Professor Sycamore said. "Since it is newly hatched, let her explore the world in the arms of her family. Only after a month or so should you allow her to meet new people and pokémon."

Ash nodded in agreement before bidding the others a goodbye. He then went inside to spend some more time bonding with his new pokémon.

FLASHBACK END

Shaking his head to clear his thoughts, he focused his mind. Today was the first day of the competition and he needed to be at his best to win. He was confident that he had a shot at winning this, even if only the best of the best were said to be competing. Putting his game face on, he left his room and saw Cynthia leave hers at the same time. They both smiled at each other.

"Good morning, Ash," Cynthia greeted him. "Are you ready for the tournament?"

"Good morning," he replied in kind. "And yes, I have been looking forward to this tournament for a while."

Both young trainers made their way to the arena chatting with each other. They chatted about whatever came to their mind and had a general, inane conversation that only two teenagers can have. Once they entered the floor, they were quickly directed to where they were supposed to go.

They lined up with the other contestants at the arena. They looked around to see the terrain they would be battling in. Surprisingly, there was only one battlefield on the floor. Ash had expected more so that multiple battles could take place simultaneously and the competition could finish quickly. The battlefield was a flat terrain, nothing special about it. No rocks, grass, hell, not even a body of water was around. Ash wondered how those water pokémon who can't survive outside water would battle here.

The arena was surrounded by stands that could easily fit more than a thousand people. Again, Ash was astounded by the architecture of this place and the amount of work needed to make it. On one side of the arena, where the contestants were facing, were 12 chairs for the Gym Leaders and the Elite Four. 6 chairs were arranged one behind the other, probably to allow them to converse with each other easily. 11 of the seats were filled and glancing through them, Ash saw that Giovanni was not present for the tournament. Unsurprising, since the Viridian City Gym Leader was always reclusive.

Not much later Lance stood up and a hush fell across the arena among the few hundred spectators attending. With the angle of the sun, his imposing figure, and the cape fluttering behind him, he cut an imposing figure and looked every bit the Champion he is. He gave the crowd a sweeping glance and that was all it needed to hush the few silent whispers still prevalent in the crowd. Ash looked in awe and by the sound from his left, he knew Cynthia was equally awed as well. That man didn't even need to say a word to draw attention to himself. He could capture the audience's attention just by standing up. Ash wondered if he too could do something like this one day and he knew that Cynthia was thinking along those lines as well. She had made her admiration from Lance clear and it wasn't just because he was a master of dragon-type pokémon.

"Welcome, one and all. As you probably know, we are gathered here for a competition between some of our most promising young trainers. They have not been trainers for long, but they have all shown their potential as probable world class trainers. This competition will be another step for them in their journey, their first taste at professional competitions. Some of y'all will do well, some will not. In the end, there can only be one winner but that doesn't mean the rest are bad trainers. Do not think of this tournament as something you must win at all costs, use this as an opportunity to learn and grow and then apply your knowledge in the main tournament, the Pokémon League! After all, that is your aim is it not?! So be calm, have confidence in yourself and your pokémon, and most of all, have fun!" he finished to thunderous applause from the contestants and the crowd. No one could deny the Champion's charisma, or his ability to inspire other trainers. It was what led to the massive fan following he has and what leads trainers like Cynthia to travel from regions far away just to have a small glimpse at their idol.

Once the applause died down, he continued. "As you must have counted, there are 16 trainers who are participating in the tournament. Every round will be an elimination one and as you may have calculated, you need to beat just 4 trainers to win the tournament. The first two battles will be two-on-two battles, while the semi-final and the final will be a three-on-three battle. The first three matches will be held today while the finals will be tomorrow, so use your pokémon wisely." Once he saw them nodding in understanding, he pointed to an electronic board above them. "This board will randomly match trainers for a round. The tournament will start soon so be ready." He then pointed to a row of unoccupied seats to the side. "You guys can sit there while waiting for your match."

As the trainers moved towards the seating area, the electronic board activated. The faces of the trainers flashed multiple times across the screen for a few seconds before settling on two trainers, a boy and a girl. They moved to the battlefield while the rest of them settled themselves. The battle was interesting for sure, the trainers were a cut above what Ash had observed so far. Cynthia had observed the same, and her excitement was showing since she felt the trainers were around the same level as the current Gym Leaders at Sinnoh. Ash looked at her in surprise at that. Gym Leaders were supposed to be a cut above the rest. But after thinking about it, it made sense in a way. Cynthia did say she came here to test herself and that the Gym Leaders at Sinnoh were not as good as the Gym Leaders in other regions.

Most of the matches Ash saw were good but two stood out in his mind. Cynthia was as good as Ash had expected her to be as her Monferno completely crushed both its opponents without getting as much as a scratch. He also got his first glimpse at Damian's Nidoking. His enforcer. The one who kept the rest of his pokémon in line. Growlithe was terrified of him and with good reason. Even in the one battle he had seen the Drill Pokémon fight, he could tell that the Nidoking was an absolute monster. In fact, if Ash guessed correctly, the Nidoking was even more powerful than any of his pokémon.

Soon after their fight, it was Ash's turn. He was paired against a boy by the name of Wayne. As they walked towards the arena, Ash thought about his strategy for the tournament. He knew that there will not be enough time between consecutive matches for the pokémon to get a proper amount of rest. This meant that the pokémon he used in the first battle could not be used in the second, and the pokémon he used in the second could not be used in the semi-final. So, he thought of the various permutations and combinations. He knew he had to save Dratini for Cynthia's Gible. Despite the type advantage, he honestly doubted Flabebe's chance of defeating the Land Shark Pokémon, at least until she learnt Dazzling Gleam. But even if he left Dratini out, he still had enough options.

On reaching the battlefield, he and Wayne moved to stand at opposite ends of the ground. Once there, Ash took a proper look at his opponent. Well-worn shorts, shoes that looked to be used to walk a million miles, his opponent was well travelled. Like Ash himself was. Add that to the fact that he made it to the competition which implied his prowess as a trainer, this could turn out to be a difficult battle.

"Are both trainers ready?" the referee asked. On seeing the two trainers nod, he continued. "This is a two-on-two battle between Ash from Pallet Town and Wayne from Celadon City. No substitutions are allowed in the battle. When I say NOW, both trainers will send their first pokémon to the battle."

Making a decision, Ash palmed his starter's pokeball. On hearing the referee shout the word, he threw Pikachu's pokeball as psychic barriers sprung up around the trainers as well as the audience. Ash absentmindedly noted the timing of the barriers. That required some skill.

On seeing his opponent's pokémon, Ash could not help but let out a smirk. It was large and mostly brown. It had a long, pointed, pink beak, and a decorative red coxcomb on top of its head. Its narrow eyes have very small pupils, and do not appear to have coloured irises. Ash knew it was an ill-tempered pokémon, all Fearows were, but Pikachu had the natural advantage. And if Pikachu was to lose this battle, Ash would be very disappointed in himself.

"Pikachu vs Fearow. Begin!"

"Quick Attack!" Wayne shouted and the Fearow immediately disappeared in a blur. Unfortunately for it, Pikachu was fast as well and dodged the attack with his own burst of pace. The two pokémon duked it out for a while as they tried to get a feel of each other. Ash was impressed by the Fearow. It was as fast as his starter and that showed how well trained it was. Ash knew that he would need to change Pikachu's approach as none of his electric attacks would hit the flying type pokémon given its speed.

It seemed like his opponent had the same thought as well. "Aerial Ace!" he shouted and one of Fearow's wings started to glow.

Aerial Ace, an attack that never misses, huh? Ash mused. Well, two can play this game.

"Shockwave!" Ash instructed softly. He didn't understand why some people shouted out their instructions, it just made it easier for their opponents to counter. Pikachu's body lit up and a beam of electricity lashed out towards the bird pokémon. His opponent didn't say anything assuming his Fearow would dodge the attack, something Ash counted on. Big mistake. As Fearow veered towards the right and dodged the Shockwave, the beam followed it and hit home.

"Fearow!" Wayne shouted in panic as it screamed in pain.

"Now's our chance to finish it Pikachu! Spark!" Ash instructed calmly. He had learnt well from his mistakes. He would not get too excited or celebrate unless and until the referee declares the result.

Pikachu surrounded his body in electricity and charged towards the Fearow at full speed. This meant the mouse pokémon was next to the bird pokémon in seconds and smashed his body into the Beak Pokémon further shocking it. It screamed out in pain once again before falling down. To Ash's surprise, it was still trying to get up. This just showed how well trained it was. To take full powered attacks that were super effective and still stand was a feat that Ash had not seen since Misty's Starmie. But Wayne must have seen the writing on the wall and withdrew his Fearow. He knew that Fearow would not be able to damage Pikachu now and would needlessly get further injured. Ash's respect for his opponent grew at his decision.

"Seeing how well-trained your Pikachu is, I am sure that you have devised a strategy for ground-type pokémon," Wayne commented. Ash remained pokerfaced not giving anything away. "Yes, thought so. Well, this is my best opportunity at beating you." Saying that, he called out his next pokémon.

On seeing the humanoid pokémon with yellow fur and the black lightning bolt shaped scar on its chest, Ash and Pikachu were both taken aback. Flashes of the battle in the cave and the massive Hyper Beam injuring the pokémon went through their minds. Pikachu looked back at Ash and a silent conversation went between the two. Do you think you can handle this? One's face asked. I can but I may need your help, hesitancy and slightly ashamed face answered. Anything you need. We will get through this! The hesitancy cleared and two slightly more confident faces stood confronting their opponents.

Meanwhile…

This silent conversation did not go unnoticed. On seeing the uncharacteristic look on Ash's face, Misty commented, "Why do Ash and Pikachu look so unconfident? Defeating Electabuzz may be tougher, but they should be able to handle it."

"I know what you mean," Lt. Surge frowned in confusion. "The brat and his Pikachu defeated my Raichu. The Electabuzz should not trouble them."

"Mt. Moon," Brock cut in. On seeing the confused faces of the rest of the Gym Leaders and the Elite Four, he elaborated. "Ash was one of the trainers at Mt. Moon when Team Rocket attacked. He fought against Archie's Electabuzz. If I remember correctly, his Electabuzz did quite a bit of damage to Ash's pokémon before they were able to take it down."

"Ah, so they are having flashbacks to the battle." Lt. Surge said, the frown still on his face. Of all the people present there, he knew the most about these things. He had taken part in a war after all. "Well, don't worry about it. They'll get over it. They just have to realise that not all Electabuzz are as powerful as Archie's nor are they as evil. I'm sure this battle will establish that."

"What I want to know is that did he really defeat one of Archie's pokémon on his own?" Erika's soft voice cut in.

"Yes," Lance was the one who answered this time, pride evident in his voice. "It was his Dratini who took it down!"

"Wow!" Erika exclaimed as Lt. Surge burst into raucous laughter. "For such a young trainer to defeat even one pokémon of a Team Rocket's Executive is impressive indeed. That Dratini must be powerful."

"Oh, you have no idea!" Lt. Surge said once he got his laughter under control. "That Dratini is powerful enough to contend with some of the pokémon from our main team!" On seeing the disbelieving looks from the rest of the Gym Leaders and Elite Four bar Brock, Misty, and Lance, he continued. "What? I'm being serious! I had to sacrifice one of my pokémon to defeat it!" he exclaimed.

"This conversation is meaningless." Sabrina's monotone voice filled the area. "Why? Because you will witness the Dratini battle in the tournament, probably today. You can each make your own judgement then."

Everyone saw the logic behind Sabrina's words and they resumed watching the battle.

Back with Ash

"Pikachu vs Electabuzz. Begin!"

"Discharge!" Wayne shouted, raising his fist in the air. Multiple bolts of electricity spread out from Electabuzz's body and made their way to Pikachu who didn't move. When the attack died down, Pikachu stood there unharmed.

"What?" Wayne asked in confusion. "How is there absolutely no damage on your Pikachu?" he asked in confusion.

If he was looking for an answer, he would not get one as Ash was thinking about something else altogether. On seeing the Electabuzz's body light up, Ash expected to see a massive bolt of electricity make its way towards Pikachu. But that didn't happen. And Ash suddenly understood why and felt like hitting himself. Of course the attack would be weaker. Archie's Electabuzz was a cut above the rest. It does not mean that all Electabuzz are going to be that strong, or that cruel.

He suddenly felt angry with himself. He had beaten the foremost expert in electric-type pokémon around two weeks ago, and here he was freezing in front of an electric-type pokémon? He knew he was better than that. Talking about the leader of the electric-type gym, Ash had a cheeky thought. "Pikachu," he called out to his starter as a smirk spread on his face. "Blast it!" he exclaimed out loud! And the smirk on his face grew bigger.

Pikachu looked at his trainer in surprise before a similar smirk spread across his face as well. With renewed confidence surging through his veins, he took a stance. The identical smirks on both their faces and their posture prompted more than a few people to look between Ash and Lt. Surge and wonder if there was any connection between the two.

"Pikaa," the mouse pokémon charged some power before disappearing in a blur. He suddenly appeared in front of the Electabuzz and before the Electric Pokémon could blink, it was smashed into the air by a glowing tail as the Pikachu hit it with a powerful Iron Tail. Pikachu then used his tail as a springboard and jumped above the Electabuzz.

As gravity took hold and the mouse pokémon fell towards the still airborne Electabuzz, both of Pikachu's fists started glowing white and he hit it with a two-handed smash so powerful that you could see the air being displaced slightly at the point of contact. The ground shook and dust went flying everywhere as the poor Electabuzz crashed into the ground. There was a pause for a few seconds before the dust cleared out showing the unconscious form of the Electabuzz. Pikachu just turned his back and calmly walked to his trainer and perched on his shoulder.

There were a few seconds of silence before…

"The Electabuzz is unable to battle. Pikachu wins. The winner of this battle is Ash from Pallet Town."

Still, there was no sound as everyone stared at the mouse pokémon in surprise. The silence was broken by loud, boisterous laughter from Lt. Surge. As his laughter died down, he just exclaimed, "I love this kid!"

This caused a slight smirk to form on Ash's face before he walked back to his seat. Once he reached there, he saw that the rest of the trainers were staring at him dumbfounded. Only Damian was not, and he was giving Ash a contemplative look that made Ash want to smack him across his face. The only other person who seemed unaffected was Cynthia as she sat next to Ash and commented, "Well, you certainly know how to draw attention," she said lightly. "Your Pikachu is as powerful as I expected him to be. I look forward to our battle." Ash just grinned in response.

There were two more fights in round one after Ash's battle, and then the trainers were given a 15-minute break before the second round started. Once again, Ash's battle was after Damian's and Cynthia's, whose battles were reminiscent of their first-round battles. Damian's Nidoking still looked as powerful as before and Cynthia struggled slightly before emerging triumphant, this time with a powerful Eelektrik.

Ash's second battle was against a slightly cocky opponent named Paul who was from the Johto region.

"This is a two-on-two battle between Ash from Pallet Town and Paul from Cherrygrove City. No substitutions are allowed in the battle. When I say NOW, both trainers will send their first pokémon to the battle."

Ash was excited for this battle. This would be his first official battle with one of his pokémon, a special occasion for both of them. So, Ash wasted little time in sending out his Kadabra. His opponent's pokémon was feline pokémon that resembled a cat and it was from the Hoenn region. A Delcatty.

'Our first battle as a team!' Kadabra commented.

'Yes,' Ash thought back. 'Are you ready for it?'

'Of course! It has been a long time coming!'

'Good. Let's win this then! But be careful. Delcatty is a powerful normal-type pokémon who can learn a lot of TM moves. So be wary of its variety,' Ash cautioned.

"Kadabra vs Delcatty. Begin!"

"Delcatty, let's start with a Water Pulse!"

A blue sphere of energy was formed in front of Delcatty's mouth before it exploded into a wave of water that missed Kadabra by a mile as the psi pokémon calmly teleported out of the way.

"Now, Thundershock!"

'Don't teleport too far. Make it appear as if you are barely able to dodge the attacks,' Ash instructed in his mind.

'Devious,' Kadabra said mischievously. 'I like it.'

'Of course you do,' Ash said fondly as Kadabra teleported out of the way of the Thundershock. 'By the way, this seems like cheating.'

'It is not. I know for a fact that Sabrina does this in her Gym Battles as well,' he said as he teleported out of the way of another attack.

'Yes, true. Still seems unfair to me. Anyway, this game of cat and mouse bores me. How about we take the battle to our opponent?'

'I thought you'll never ask!'

'Teleport behind Delcatty next time it attacks. Use Confusion and hammer it into the ground.'

Barely had the last word gotten over when Kadabra appeared behind the Prim Pokémon. His eyes flashed red and the Delcatty was outlined in the same colour. It looked surprised as it was raised in the air and that surprise turned to panic as it was smashed into the ground.

"Delcatty!" Paul cried in worry as his pokémon was raised in the air once again only for a repeat to happen. Paul, however, showed why he was considered for the tournament and had even won his first battle as he regained his composure remarkably fast. As a battered and bruised Delcatty was raised into the air for the third time, he shouted out instructions to his pokémon.

"Delcatty, use Swift!" Delcatty opened its mouth and fired multiple star shaped rays at Kadabra who had to let go of the Confusion to evade the attacks.

'This attack never misses,' Ash warns Kadabra. 'It will keep following you till it hits you.'

'Tch. Annoying.' Kadabra comments. 'Is there no way to counter it?'

'There is. The attack will continue till it hits something. That something does not necessarily have to be you. It can even be the Delcatty itself.'

'Ah, I like where this is going.' Kadabra then teleported out of the way of the attack a couple of more times before teleporting in front of where Delcatty would land. Paul smirked at that as he thought he finally got an opportunity. "Delcatty, Thunderbolt!"

Delcatty, using the natural grace it gets from being a feline, landed on its feet. It started sparking and was prepared to release its attack. However, Ash and Kadabra expected that.

'Wait for it. Wait for it. NOW!' with that, Kadabra teleported behind the Delcatty. 'Iron Tail!'

The Delcatty was in for a surprise as its target was suddenly not in front of it anymore. Instead, it saw its own attack on its way towards it, and left without any time to react, she didn't have any option but to take the full force of the attack.

"Catt!" it screamed but its pain was not over. The attack pushed the cat-like pokémon right into the waiting arms of Kadabra who smashed it into the air with an Iron Tail. Its suffering was fortunately short-lived as Kadabra once more used Confusion and hammered the battered pokémon to the ground one final time.

"The Delcatty is unable to win. Kadabra wins!"

'Good work, Kadabra! How is it feel to get your first win?' Ash said jokingly but the pride was evident in his voice.

'It feels good. I must admit, your strategy to use the Delcatty's attack on itself was brilliant.'

'Thank You,' Ash admitted modestly. 'But I will need to think of more strategies soon as I too need to evolve as a trainer.'

'This sounds fun. I would like to help you with that. Seems like a fun way to use your mind.'

'It is. But let us discuss that later. Right now, the next battle is about to start. Are you up for it or do you want me to switch you out?'

'I'm fine. Barely winded. I can continue.'

Ash turned his attention from the conversation with his psychic pokémon and looked to see his next opponent emerge. It was crocodilian in shape with a blue and yellow body. It was easily recognisable since it was the evolved form of one of the starters of the Johto Region.

"Kadabra vs Croconaw. Begin!"

"Water Gun!"

Kadabra easily teleported out of the way of the attack.

"Don't let up! Use Bubble!"

Kadabra teleported out of the way of the attack once again.

"Keep up the pressure!" Paul instructed.

'What is he doing?' Kadabra wondered.

'I think he's trying to tire you out. If you see those attacks, none of them are too powerful. A well-trained water-type pokémon should easily be able to keep firing them for a while without feeling any strain.'

'Ah, so he wants me to keep teleporting to try to get me to tire out? Well, too bad. I can keep teleporting like this for a lot of time without effort. Thanks to a certain someone,' he added a little bitterly.

'You're still on about that?' Ash asked exasperatedly.

'Of course! You made me keep practicing how to teleport!'

'Doesn't that help you now while battling?'

'…..You cut into my reading time!'

'I gave you ample time to read!' Ash defended.

'You did,' Kadabra agreed grudgingly. 'And it is good you made me practice as well. I have realised the importance of being powerful as well as intelligent.'

'What do you mean?' Ash asked curiously.

'Later. Right now, we should consider our opponent. There is something off.'

'What do you mean?'

'Our opponent saw you win the first battle with Pikachu. He knows how powerful he is. Why would he send out a water-type pokémon to battle against me?'

'Hmm. You're right. The only thing I can think of is that Croconaw is the only pokémon he has that can defeat you.'

'Well, that's pretty stupid. Even if it defeats me, Pikachu can just defeat it with ease. And that's a big if. Why would he think it can defeat me? It's a water-type pokémon.'

'Croconaw is known as the Big Jaw pokémon because it has powerful jaws. It most likely knows Bite and maybe even Crunch.'

'Oh, that doesn't sound too good. So, what's the plan?'

'Hmm. Pretend that the strategy is working. Evade a couple of attacks with bare minimum. Show that you are tiring. Then take a bubble attack. It shouldn't hurt you too much. When the Croconaw tries to take advantage and comes at you with a gaping jaw..'

'I shock it,' Kadabra finished and a smirk was visible on the pokémon's face. 'I like it!'

'One last thing. Croconaw is most likely Paul's starter and is powerfully trained. You will need at least a couple of Shockwaves to knock it out.'

'Understood.'

One thing about speed of thought is that it is much faster than verbal communication. So, the last conversation between trainer and pokémon took place in only a few seconds.

Kadabra followed the instructions and soon let himself be hit by the bubble attack. He pretended to be hurt as he fell backwards.

"That's our chance!" Paul yelled in excitement. "Now, use Crunch!" Hook, line, and sinker.

As Croconaw ran towards Kadabra, it opened its jaw and his teeth started glowing. However, it was in for a shock when Kadabra suddenly teleported in front of it, a blue ball of electricity formed in front of it. The ball fired a blue lightning bolt right into the open maw of the Big Jaw pokémon who yelled out in pain.

"Croconaw!" Paul yelled out in panic, fully realising how much trouble he was in. Kadabra didn't let up and followed the Shockwave by picking it up with Confusion and tossing it away as hard as he can. Another bolt of electricity followed it and the combined pain of the attacks was too much for it as it succumbed to unconsciousness.

"The Croconaw is unable to battle. Kadabra wins. The winner of this battle is Ash from Pallet Town!"

'Great job, Kadabra,' Ash praised him proudly. The psi pokémon merely acknowledged the praise with poise and asked to be returned to the pokeball. On returning him, Ash walked back to the seating arrangement for contestants. There were just the three of them; Damian, Cynthia, and him. Cynthia seemed oddly relieved that he had come and congratulated him on his victory, picking up a conversation with him in hushed whispers. Seeing Damian's annoyed face, he assumed that the bastard was trying to have a conversation with the blonde beauty but she was just not interested in him. A smirk came unbidden on Ash's face as he felt something inside him when he realised that. Ignoring that for now, he turned to watch the last quarterfinal, discussing the match with Cynthia.

Soon the fight ended and the trainers were given a slightly longer thirty-minute break before the semi-finals. Ash and Cynthia spent that time visiting a food joint and sharing some a meal. They had a pleasant conversation on the battles they had either seen or participated in that day. Cynthia was definitely the most fun person Ash had spoken to in his life. She was one who had the same dreams Ash did and she had the same love for pokémon as well. With those two came a lot of mutual interests and Ash thought he could spend any amount of time with her and not get bored.

Meanwhile, with the Gym Leaders and the Elite Four

"Interesting set of matches we've had so far, huh?" Brock commented.

"Too right!" Blaine said. "I must say, that Ash kid is fire," slipping into his old habit of equating everything with his favourite element. Not only did his battle with Pikachu remind us of Lt. Surge, his next battle reminded me of Sabrina. I'm assuming they were using some sort of telepathic conversation during the battle?"

"Yes," Sabrina said with a smile. "The kid is good, I never said otherwise. He raises his Kadabra well and I already know it will grow to be extremely powerful, perhaps even on par with my starter."

"Are you serious?" Bruno asked incredulously. He had a right to be surprised. Sabrina's starter is the most powerful Alakazam in the world bar none. In fact, he was the strongest psychic-type pokémon bar the legendaries. To say that Ash's Kadabra could one day reach that level is mindboggling.

"I have foreseen it," she replied solemnly. This caused the remaining 10 of them to suck in a deep breath in surprise.

"Wow. Now that's something you don't hear every day," Misty said with a nervous laugh. "Anyway, what about Cynthia. She is good. In fact, she is as good as Ash in my opinion. The winner of the tournament will be between the two of them."

"Don't forget Damian," Koga cut in.

"Yes, yes. His Nidoking is powerful and one cannot forget the all-powerful poison-type pokémon," Lorelei commented mockingly. It was no secret that Koga wanted the Elite Four seat. He had fought with all his might to get that seat but was beaten to it by Lorelei. Since then, the two had bad blood between them. Koga could not get over the defeat to a trainer much younger than him and Lorelei justly felt she didn't get the proper respect from the master of poison-type pokémon.

"No, I don't mean it that way," Koga said seriously. His serious personage coupled with him not taking the bait laid out by Lorelei told the others that he had something important on his mind. "That Nidoking is powerful, there are no two opinions on that. But he feels wrong. Something, somewhere, is off with that pokémon. And being a trainer for so long, I think it stems from that trainer."

"Hmm, that is serious," Lance commented as he stroked his chin. "Should I put a tail on him?"

"There is no need for that," Sabrina assured him. "Everything will be sorted out by tomorrow." And that was the end of the conversation.

Back with Ash

The time for the break soon got over and everyone assembled back for the semi-finals. The electronic board flashed again setting on the faces of Damian and the other trainer, a boy by the name of Luke. As they made their way to the arena, Ash and Cynthia looked at each other.

"So, this is it. I have to confess, I have been looking forward to this match since I met you."

"Same here," Ash smiled in return. "I have a feeling our match will be my toughest one to date."

Cynthia laughed at that statement. "I don't have that feeling. I know for a fact that our battle will be my toughest one since I started my journey. It makes me feel validated. I know that my journey from Sinnoh did not go to waste."

Ash just smiled in return before turning his attention to the ongoing match. Damian had once again called out his Nidoking who was dominating Luke's pokémon. He had already defeated one and was on the verge of defeating the second.

"Something about that trainer and his Nidoking does not sit right with me," Cynthia confessed to Ash, who just hummed in agreement. "What do you know about him?" When Ash turned to look at her in confusion, she explained. "I have noticed your feelings for him. You are hiding them well but I can sense that something has happened between the two of you which has left you angry."

"You are correct," Ash sighed. "But let's not discuss that now. It will take time to explain and from the way things are going, our battle is about to start soon." And Ash had a point, Damian's Nidoking had already defeated Luke's second pokémon and was on the verge of defeating the third one and winning the match. A few seconds later, it did happen as Nidoking hammered a massive punch and knocked out his opponent winning the match.

Cynthia nodded and both young trainers took deep breaths to center themselves. They knew they would need to be at their best to win the next battle. As they made their way to the arena, all thoughts other than the upcoming battle left their mind. Before they split up to stand at opposite corners of the arena, they gave each other one last smile.

"Best of luck!" Cynthia flashed him a grin.

"And to you too. May the may best trainer win!" Ash returned her smile before going towards his box.

"This is a three-on-three battle between Ash from Pallet Town and Cynthia from Celestic Town. No substitutions are allowed in the battle. When I say NOW, both trainers will send their first pokémon to the battle."

Ash palmed Dratini's pokeball. He knew this was going to be a battle between dragons. As he sent him out, he saw that he was indeed correct. Cynthia had called out her Gible. The spectators sat up, their interest piqued by the match up. It was not every day that you could see a battle between two powerful dragons. Up with the Gym Leaders and the Elite Four, Lance sat up straighter, his eyes gleaming. The two dragons stared each other down, both of them adamant on winning the battle for their trainers.

"Dratini vs Gible. Begin!"

The two dragons immediately attacked each other. The arena was lit up as both dragons sent a variety of attacks at their opponent. Fire met water, static filled the air as electricity was discharged, a sandstorm kicked up as Gible made use of its ground-type nature. The battle was fast paced and intense as both dragons went all out from the start.

While they were throwing the kitchen sink at each other, they showed how well trained they were as none of the attacks hit them. Dratini made use of his natural agility honed by the intense training given to him by Ash by slithering out of the way of every attack, while Gible showed it was no slouch either as it swerved and dug its way around every one of Dratini's attacks. While Ash had taught Umbreon dig, he had never seen it being used by a ground-type pokémon before. Gible could literally dig a hole in the ground and come out a metre away in a second to effectively dodge an attack. It was a breath-taking display of its mastery over the ground and showed the massive amount of time it must have spent training to become this good.

Soon, the theme of the battle changed. It looked like the opening salvo was used by the dragons to gauge their opponents, for instead of shooting elemental attacks at each other, they started shooting draconic ones. And the results were devastating. The entire arena shook when two Dragon Rage attacks clashed with each other, and left the spectators wondering if the dust cloud was because of the sandstorm used by the Gible, or because of the result of the clash between the monstrously powerful attacks.

The dust settled to show both dragons rushing at each other with their limbs glowing green. Tail met claw as Dratini's Dragon Tail clashed with Gible's Dragon Claw. A shockwave erupted at the point of contact once again showing how powerful those two attacks were. Ash ignored the beeping of his pokedex telling him that Dratini had learnt Dragon Tail, Ash could see that. It looked like the heat of the battle had given him the necessary push to make the move ready for battle.

Both pokémon struggled to overpower their respective opponents, and failing to do so, they both charged an orb of draconic energy in their mouth and fired it at each other at point blank distance. The resultant explosion was even bigger than the previous one and Ash and Cynthia could feel the draconic energies even through the psychic shields. Both contestants waited with baited breath for the dust cloud to settle and once it did, they saw both dragons glaring at each other while panting heavily. Both of them were covered with scratches and bruises as the battle was taking a toll on them.

It looked like both the dragons were completely equally matched. Not just power wise, but also their tenacity to win it for their trainers and their pride as dragons. It looked to be heading for a draw. Only suddenly, it wasn't. Gible erupted in blinding light that forced everyone to look away. When they got their eyesight back, they looked to see it growing longer, almost doubling in height. When the light stopped a few seconds later, they could see a different pokémon standing where the Gible was.

"Gab, Gabite!" it roared in triumph.

"Gabite!" Cynthia exclaimed in shock. "You evolved! That is amazing!" She looked at a resigned looking Ash with a mixture of joy and sorrow. Ash understood her feelings. She was overjoyed at her Gible finally evolving and was sorry that the battle would be settled this way. It felt like cheating that her pokémon got a massive power boost in the middle of the battle. She didn't want to win this way, not against an opponent like Ash who was as good as her. Ash just nodded at her telling her it was fine. Such things can happen in pokémon battles, it just sucks when you are at the receiving end of it.

The battle renewed. But this time, the difference in power was clear to see. Gabite was faster than Dratini, looked fresher, and was definitely more powerful. It was not if but when Gabite would overpower Dratini. And it happened less than two minutes later. There was nothing Ash could do about it. Gabite made use of its boost in speed and managed to land a Dragon Claw before Dratini could land his Dragon Tail. Dratini roared in pain before falling unconscious. But he did not go down without a fight. As a last act of defiance, he smacked Gabite across its face with his glowing tail with all the power he could muster before succumbing to his injuries.

"Dratini is unable to battle. Gabite wins!"

"You did good, buddy. I could not have asked more of you. You were just unlucky today," Ash murmured to his pokémon after he withdrew him. And it was the truth. Gabite was leaning against the ground panting for breath. While not defeated, it had been severely damaged and would not be able to battle much longer.

With the Gym Leaders and the Elite Four

"See!" Lt. Surge said. "I told you that the Dratini is powerful enough to contend with some of the pokémon from our main teams."

"You were correct," Lorelei mentioned, shock present in her voice. "And it still lost! Look at the damage caused by those two pokémon! The only time such damage was caused to the arena was during the finals of the 7th-8th Gym competition. Just how powerful is that Gabite!"

"Not that much more powerful than the Dratini," Lance said. "Before it evolved, Dratini and Gabite were equally matched. Luck favoured Cynthia in this match and she knows it. That doesn't take away from the fact that she too has masterfully trained her pokémon. Till now, I didn't expect any other trainer to be as talented as Ash. I have been proven wrong."

"Must be a huge shock to his system to see his Dratini lose like that," Lt. Surge said. "Let us see how he recovers. This battle could either make or break his career."

"I doubt it would be that extreme, Surge," Brock commented. "Yes, he may lose, but to break his career?"

"So far, Ash has mostly coasted along in his battles. After so long, he knows he is good. I doubt he has suffered a loss in his career so far. That sort of a thing can inflate anyone's ego, and he is just a kid. If he loses, he will come crashing down on earth. After that, it depends on him. He can either kick on and learn from the loss and be motivated even more, or he can wallow in despair. It has happened before."

"This will be good for him," Sabrina mentioned. "He finally has a rival to compete against. Both of them will push each other to reach new heights. They will be so busy trying to match and outdo the other that they will scale heights rarely seen in the pokémon world."

"You know a lot about these kids, especially Ash. Is there a reason you have foreseen so much of his future?" Agatha, using all her experience, noticed the pattern.

"It is not the correct time for me to talk about that," she mentioned truthfully.

"Is that so? This means the kid will become a big player in things to come."

"Probably true," Lance mentioned. "I am not a psychic, but even I get that feeling from him having interacted with him a couple of times. And don't worry, Surge. This defeat will not bog him down. Both trainers know it was luck that Cynthia won that round. And if you don't believe me, she is apologising for it."

With that, they turned their attention back to the match.

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