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Chapter 8 - Uphold


Hoenn around
  1. aggron
  2. lairon
Ch. 8 – Steven runs into some old friends and unexpected adventures along his unconventional way to Route 113...

Chapter 8 - Uphold

Pokemon Trainer's Handbook Tip #14: Trainers are encouraged to stick to League sanctioned Routes to travel the region. These Routes are patrolled by Pokemon Rangers to ensure the safety and security of all trainers. If you are considering leaving the marked Routes for any reason, exercise the utmost caution…

Mercifully, as Steven and his team of refreshed and rejuvenated pokemon left Lilycove City, the weather of Route 120 had taken a turn for the better. Any thoughts of the miserable night on their way into Lilycove were banished by the white puffy clouds that lazily drifted overhead. Their journey back to Fortree City was a dry one, and Steven was all too happy to stow his new rain jacket at the bottom of his pack. Leaning against Lairon's armored side in the shade of a large tree just outside the city, he silently watched the rest of his team bask in the pools of sun that filtered down through the forest's canopy.

After claiming victory over several of the trainers that gathered eagerly in the unseasonably clear weather, Steven was able to witness his very first pokemon evolution. Aron wasn't the first pokemon to evolve on his team; Metang's evolution occurred in the nick of time as they were exploring the desert ruins of Route 111. But he was hardly able to watch his starter's evolution since at the time he was tumbling head over heels towards a sinkhole. The memory never failed to spark a small pang of guilt in Steven's gut. But just like sunshine had done with the memories of Route 120, the guilt was quickly buried by the thrill of seeing the bright light of Aron's transformation.

Steven wasn't the only one who had shared in the excitement of Lairon's new form either. Lileep practically squealed with joy when Lairon lowered his head and scooped her up onto his back for a brand new perspective of the Route. Not to be outdone, Anorith chattered for a lift, and Metang was happy to oblige, hovering low so Anorith could scramble up and offer its own congratulations at a new vantage point too. Rolling its eyes at the two younger pokemon's antics, Metang leveled its gaze to Lairon and Steven swore he could feel the silent pulse of respect shared between the two evolved teammates.

But things had since calmed down, although Lileep was still reluctant to give up her post, now curled contentedly at the nape of Lairon's neck. Taking advantage of the momentary quiet, Steven pulled out the map he purchased to replace his busted PokeNav. Alert to the sound of crinkling paper, Anorith skittered up onto Steven's shoulder to peer down at the offending document.

"Hey there," Steven said as he reached up to absentmindedly give Anorith a scratch, "Want to help me figure out where we're going from here?" His other hand tapped Fortree on the map.

Anorith chirped an inquisitive noise just loud enough to catch Metang's attention, and the steel type hovered over to see what its trainer was up to.

"Our goal is to get here," Steven's finger landed on Route 113, just outside of Fallarbor Town. "That's where Winona said we could find wild Skarmory. The catch is, we'll need to either go all the way around here," he traced a meandering line down through Route 111, across Mauville and Route 118, and up Route 119 to their current location. "Or we can cut through this way…" his voice trailed off after slicing a line across the unmarked extents of the map that lay directly between Fortree and Route 113, and Metang hummed thoughtfully.

"So, do we go the long, safe way? Or do we go the short, unexplored route?" he asked with a quirked brow as he eyed the sharp elevation lines of the mountain ridge that separated forest from desert.

A huff of air from behind told him Lairon was now interested, and he tilted his head back to see Lileep's two yellow eyes peering down. He couldn't hide a grin when Lairon rumbled knowingly and Metang echoed a cry of its own in confirmation. Steven couldn't resist the call of adventure, and he folded the map with finality.

"The short path it is!"

After traversing the river that skirted the western edge of Route 119, Steven found himself facing the dense forests on the opposite side. Although Route 119 could hardly be called manicured, the tall grass that covered the Route was simple to cross when compared to the thick underbrush of these woods. Lairon didn't even make it a few yards past the treeline before he got stuck, and poor Lileep stumbled and tripped over the snarl of roots on the forest floor. Even Metang had difficulty weaving its way through the tangling bushes and shrubs. With much reluctance, Steven had recalled them to their pokeballs, leaving only the nimble Anorith to help Steven cut his way through the untouched forest.

The hike was slow going, even with Anorith's assistance, and it took the rest of the day to reach the base of the mountains. As rocky outcroppings began to push the thick tree trunks aside, a heavy shadow fell over the thinning forest. The setting sun was rapidly swallowed by the imposing cliffs that blocked their route. Pushing on through the growing darkness, Steven was thankful to find a decently sized clearing in the trees near the base of the mountains. Setting up camp for the night here would allow him to tackle the daunting vertical ascent first thing in the morning, provided he couldn't locate a cave that would cut through the range rather than over it.

With the mild weather holding steady, Steven opted to forgo his tent and sleep under the stars with his pokemon that night. The clearing he had chosen for camp was quite spacious and gave Lairon plenty of room to finally stretch outside of its pokeball. Ringed with trees on one side and flanked by the steep mountain walls on the other, the natural barriers meant that the wind only rustled gently through the treetops, leaving the night sky as a neatly framed window that peeked through tall, leafy silhouettes.

Tucking both arms behind his head with a sigh, Steven marveled at the stars that burned brightly overhead. He missed this view for the past month. The normally overcast skies around Fortree and the omnipresent electric lights of Lilycove meant he hadn't had an unobstructed view of the heavens for quite some time.

A sleepy snort from Lairon told him his team was far less enthused by the natural splendor, and he grinned as he felt his own eyelids grow heavy.

Steven wasn't sure which sound jolted him from his slumber first; Anorith's distressed trills or the terrifyingly loud roar that came from overhead. All he knew is that when his eyes snapped open, the clearing around them was lit up in an unsettling amber light.

"What's happening?"

But in the glowing ambience, Steven could see the look of confusion and terror was shared amongst all of his pokemon. As he and his team huddled close, alert with nervous energy, the roaring overhead increased immeasurably. The light became a striking golden color and a bright flash ripped through the night, drawing five pairs of eyes skyward.

A brilliant fireball streaked overhead trailing a blazing orange tail behind it. Sharp shadows danced across the clearing as it flew by before vanishing behind the shadow of the cliff above. The sky still held an eerie glow as Steven and his pokemon sat in stunned silence at what they had just witnessed.

Steven opened his mouth to speak when sky exploded with light once again accompanied by the ground shaking fiercely beneath their feet.

For all his trips to Meteor Falls, he had never once witnessed a meteor strike in person. But even as he sat shaking in awe of its terrifying power, he couldn't help but marvel at just how close they had been to such a rare event.

Adrenaline fading, he gathered Anorith and Lileep reassuringly in his arms before sidling up to Lairon with his pillow. Despite the rude awakening, with Metang settling in at his feet, Steven eventually slipped into a peaceful slumber.

Even with a late start the next morning, it was barely past noon when Steven found himself beginning his descent on the opposite side of the mountain range.

Face locked in concentration, Steven felt a trickle of sweat slide down his neck as he shifted his grip on the cliff. Cautiously shimmying along the crumbling ledge, he held his breath as he eased his hand down to a new outcropping. For someone who typically preferred "under and through", he wasn't doing too badly with the "up and over" approach. Satisfied with his hold, he let go with his other hand and used the momentum of his swing to drop onto the nearby outcropping. Exhaling in relief, he dumped his pack to the ground with a smile and laid flat on his back, breathing hard.

"I don't think we would have made such good time going up if the desert was on the other side of the mountains. This sunlight is hot!"

Fanning himself with his hand, Steven sat up and surveyed the landscape below. The desert stretched out for miles to the south and most of it was blanketed by a fierce sandstorm . But looking north at where they had crossed over the mountains, the sand faded away into rocky foothills. That region of the desert would be the safest place to descend, since where Steven sat now overlooked sheer cliff side that would be impossible to scale without proper climbing gear.

Looking closer at the rust colored rocks below, some movement caught Steven's eye. Raising a hand to shield against the bright sunlight, he squinted in an effort to see if the figures he spotted were indeed real, or just the shimmering heat playing tricks on him. As he peered closer, he was sure; there definitely was something or someone down there. Several large shapes sat gray and unmoving, while multiple individuals scurried in and around them wearing some sort of red color that nearly matched the ruddy ground of the foothills. There weren't any visible markings or insignias that he could see, and he wondered who or what the mysterious group could be.

As he pondered the possibilities, Steven became acutely aware that the sweat on his brow hadn't vanished since he stopped for a breather. The unimpeded desert sun was just too intense at this elevation.

"It's time to get off this cliff," he muttered as he wiped at the perspiration that threatened to roll into his eyes.

Fumbling at his belt, he pulled out Metang's pokeball. Steven shifted to make some room at the front of the ledge before releasing his partner.

Metang materialized with a short cry, and Steven leaned over his partner to point down at the plateau below.

"Think you can get me down there? This face is too steep for me to climb down."

Metang eyed the cliff in question and nodded. It had carried Steven on its back along flat ground before. How different could it be to lift its trainer up and down instead?

At Metang's confirmation, Steven regathered his pack and clambered up to kneel atop his partner's head. Two pats to signal he was ready, and Metang hovered forward until it was to the very lip of the ledge. When Metang paused a moment at the edge, Steven peered over its side to see what the hesitation was for. Unfortunately, that move left him unprepared for when Metang plummeted off the ledge like a rock.

Steven pitched forward with a startled yell, unbalanced from the weight of his pack. He sprawled onto his stomach while scrabbling for a better grip on his pokemon's angular hide. Metang rattled a cry at the commotion over its head, clearly flustered that its supposedly controlled descent wasn't controlled enough for its passenger.

The feeling of free fall soon vanished as the pair slowed to a cushioned stop with a humming pulse of magnetism. Metang's gaze rolled skyward in an effort to check on the motionless weight still resting on its head. It warbled a questioning note, which prompted a hand to weakly slide into its field of view.

"We need to work on vertical travel, please," came Steven's shaky reply. "Or at least warn me next time."

Concern all but gone, Metang grated an annoyed sound and tilted sideways to deposit Steven unceremoniously onto the ground where he landed with a grunt.

"Hey –" he turned to admonish his pokemon's sour behavior, but once he saw where Metang's gaze had wandered, he followed where it was looking. They had landed near the cluster of activity Steven had spotted up on the cliff.

Now that he could see clearly, it was apparent they happened upon some kind of camp site. The larger, stationary shapes turned out to be a group of tents and machines, and the figures moving around must have been part of the same organization, as they all had on similar looking red coats. As they wove in and out of the campsite setting up various pieces of equipment, Steven raised a hand to his chin in thought. The camp's occupants certainly didn't look like your typical desert explorers...

Steven wracked his brain to think of who could be setting up camp at the outskirts of the desert, and then he remembered. The meteor that flew overhead the previous night! These men must be here to research the meteor site. While meteor strikes weren't rare in Hoenn, Meteor Falls was practically pockmarked with craters, any impacts outside of the normal areas were sure to draw scientific interest.

Steven's eyes lit up. Even though terrestrial rocks were his primary interest, he recalled the excitement he felt when his father had taken him to visit Hoenn's premiere meteorite research center in Fallarbor Town. The samples on display were just as interesting as those pulled from deep within the earth. Now if only he could recall the researcher's name… Professor Cosmo, that's it!

Bolstered by the thought of getting to chat with the Professor again, Steven set off toward the camp with Metang in tow. As he drew near, he began to recognize some of the equipment from his visit to the Professor's lab. There was no doubt, the group was here in search of the meteor site.

One of the red-coated individuals looked up from the clipboard he was reading and spotted the approaching trainer. His voice was gruff. "Hey, where did you come from?"

Steven blinked at the rude greeting, but he was determined to be polite. These men were working for Professor Cosmo, after all.

"I was just passing through on a hike when I noticed your campsite. I didn't mean to intrude."

By now, several of the man's colleagues had noticed Steven's presence as well, and they dropped what they were doing and gathered around, looking none too friendly.

"Keep on walking, kid. No one here is looking for a battle, so scram."

Steven frowned, although he could guess why these researchers would assume he was simply a trainer looking for a battle. So before he spoke again, he recalled Metang to its pokeball.

"My apologies, I'm not here to battle. I was hoping to speak with Professor Cosmo, actually. Is he here with you?"

Two of the men shared a sideways glance, while a third only offered a bewildered shrug. Steven noticed the odd reaction, but held his tongue as he waited for an answer.

Finally someone from the group spoke up, "Uhh, no, he's not here."

"Hmm," Steven's hand found its way back to his chin. "Then perhaps I'll see if I can catch up to him when I get to Fallarbor. That is, unless he'll be joining you here soon? I'm happy to wait if it means I could possibly watch the meteor excavation."

"What did you say – oof!" One of the men was cut off with an elbow to the ribs, and Steven's eyes narrowed at the scientists' strange behavior.

The group huddled close and whispered amongst themselves with hushed tones before turning to face Steven again, this time with overly friendly smiles.

"Sorry, kid. Professor Cosby, uh, I mean Cosmo won't be joining us here. He asked us to keep the excavation a secret, so we can't let you stick around."

"We'll let him know you're looking for him though."

The group nodded in finality, red hoods bobbing in unison, before the nearest one stepped forward and neatly guided Steven out of the camp by his shoulders.

"Okay kid, thanks for stopping by."

As he was pushed to a halt at the edge of the campsite, he turned to question his sudden exit and discovered the scientist had beaten a hasty retreat back to his companions. They had huddled up once more and all eyes were on him as he stood with a bewildered expression on his face. Steven frowned at the odd exchange and made a mental note to ask Professor Cosmo about his employees later.

Casting one last glance over his shoulder, Steven turned to put the camp behind him and set off toward Route 113.

The rugged terrain of the foothills proved to be challenging for a lone hiker on foot, so Steven found himself calling on Metang's help to traverse some of the gravelly slopes and sharp drops. He noted happily that Metang had already gotten smoother with its vertical maneuvering, and he had gotten much more used to the sensation as well.

They hadn't gone far before the wind began to pick up, blowing in hot and dusty. Steven frowned as the sun was quickly blotted out as the brewing sandstorm reared up from the desert floor. He dug into his pack for his bandana and had just finished donning it when a familiar sound caught his ears; a haunting melody that shifted and rose with the breeze.

Steven turned to see if his partner had also heard, and he found Metang already scanning the desert landscape for the culprits.

Joining in the search effort, Steven hadn't been looking for very long before a soft buzz sounded from right in front of him. Suddenly the buzz ended with a sharp pop, and his view was suddenly filled with a field of black and red.

Steven stumbled back in surprise as the intruder let out a long, hollow whistle.

"A Claydol?"

However, his own apprehension wasn't matched by his partner, who hummed a greeting at the newcomer instead.

Looking back and forth between the two pokemon, a realization slowly crept in. "…Baltoy?"

In response to its former name, Claydol pivoted happily about its axis and waggled its arms in a familiar gesture.

Steven smiled. "It is you! And you evolved!"

Claydol whistled an affirmative and happily circled both of its friends in greeting.

"It's so good to see you again. To what do we owe the pleasure?"

Instead of a verbal response, Steven got a physical one. Bobbing close, Claydol extended both arms; one toward Steven and one toward Metang. It almost looked like it was trying to shake hands, if it had any. Steven glanced at the gesture and then at his partner, hoping it could provide some translation.

Claydol whistled a hollow note, and Metang floated up to the ground type and placed one metal claw on its arm. Both pokemon looked toward Steven expectantly, and although he was still confused, he got the message and reached out to rest his hand on Claydol's other arm.

At the touch, a warm prickle began to work its way along Steven's fingers and up his wrist. A nervous look at his partner was cut short as a soft buzz rose through the air around the trio, and a loud crack sent his stomach into somersaults.

In an instant, rocky foothills transformed into sandy dunes, and Steven found himself landing on his backside from a second run-in with unconventional travel methods. Metang and Claydol looked down at the disoriented trainer, both seeming no worse for wear from the teleportation.

"Ugh," he groaned, covering his eyes in an effort to will away the lingering nausea. "I forgive you for earlier, Metang. This trip was way worse."

Claydol turned to give Metang a questioning glance at Steven's gripe, but the steel-type dismissed its worries with a chattering explanation. Finally understanding, hollow laughter bubbled from the desert doll pokemon, and Steven silently bemoaned how well Metang and Claydol got along. He didn't need two pokemon poking fun at his expense.

Steven opened his mouth to tell them off, but he was cut off by another voice that carried over the wind.

"Ahoy there!"

Peeking through his fingers, Steven groaned again as he saw a familiar mustachioed Ruin Maniac jogging across the dunes toward him. The exuberant man arrived in short order and hoisted Steven back to his feet with gusto.

"Fancy seeing you here again, my boy! Here I thought I had lost you for good in that sandstorm a while back."

Steven bit back on informing Dusty just how disappointed he was that that wasn't the case, and instead grated out a polite smile.

"It's good to see you too, Dusty. It's astounding that in this whole, wide desert we'd be reunited again."

He nearly stumbled to the ground again as a hearty hand clapped him on the back.

"Ho ho ho, why it's no mere coincidence. We have this little fellow here to thank," and the explorer swept a hand to point at Claydol.

Blinking in confusion, Steven gave Claydol his best incredulous look, but the ground-type simply waggled its arms with a reverberating whine.

"Y'see, this Claydol appeared before me in a sandstorm and lead me to this very spot. I barely had time to thank it before it vanished again and came back with you standing here too. I reckon it's looking for someone to help it with that…"

Turning to follow Dusty's pointing, Steven finally got a closer look at where Claydol had teleported him, and his eyes widened in surprise.

Stretching before him was a massive crater lined with blackened sand and soot. Gleaming in stark contrast, much of the sand had turned to glass from the immense heat of the collision. At the center of the crater rested an equally blackened chunk of rock that by Steven's estimation had to be at least the size of a full grown Aggron. Tearing his eyes from the spectacle, he found Claydol's gaze winking into what could only be a smile.

"Claydol, this is fantastic! We need to alert the scientific team that's camped in the foothills right away and tell them we've found the meteor. Professor Cosmo will be thrilled!"

But for the first time since he had come to know the man, Dusty's face was scrunched into a frown.

"Sorry, youngster, but we'll be doing no such thing."

"What do you mean? Why not?" Steven's expression immediately turned to one of confusion.

Turning to Claydol for an explanation, he was taken aback by its downturned eyes. Metang's own gaze had also hardened into thinly veiled distaste, and Steven felt the nagging doubt from earlier begin to creep back into his mind.

"I think Claydol has an inkling... It found you, and it found me. Why would it seek out the two of us instead of your scientists if there wasn't a good reason for it?"

The odd looks, the suspicious whispers, the unusual outfits… He had been so caught up in the excitement of the meteor to notice, but with Dusty's reminder, Steven realized there was no way those men were working for Professor Cosmo after all.

Casting a quick look over to Metang solidified the conclusion. It must have conversed directly with Claydol, who voiced its worries about the suspicious visitors. Steven felt his frown return.

"Then, what should we do? From what I've seen of their campsite, these men are after the meteor for themselves. If their intentions are as suspect as their behavior, I'd rather not let them get to the meteor before the proper scientific team arrives."

At this, Claydol piped up, calling out in a haunting song that sent a chill down Steven's spine. As the last note floated over the desert, a familiar sight peeked out from the far edge of the crater. Slipping out from the shadows of the sand, the Baltoy colony assembled at their leader's request. Collectively they circled all around the rim rattling with excitement.

"Ho ho ho ho!" Dusty's laugh burst forth and he had to wipe a tear from his eye before he composed himself. "Looks to me like you have your answer, youngster."

With Dusty's correct interpretation, Claydol bobbed over to Steven and gestured toward the meteor with one stubby arm.

"You'll protect the meteor?"

Eyes blinking in confirmation, Claydol hummed a happy note.

Steven nodded. "Then I need to get to Fallarbor as soon as possible and alert Professor Cosmo. That is, if he's not already on his way." But as he turned to leave, Steven hesitated with a look back toward the Baltoy colony.

"Don't worry, my boy. They won't be fighting alone."

Surprised, Steven turned to see Dusty holding a pokeball in his hand.

"Oh ho, desert exploration isn't the only thing old Dusty can do!" he proclaimed with a thumb proudly jabbed to his chest. "You go find that professor of yours and leave the rest to us."

For all the Ruin Maniac's boisterous bragging, Steven realized he had nothing but the best intentions, and some of his nervousness melted away with a smile.

"Thanks, Dusty."

"Think nothing of it, my boy. Now you better be on your w –"

But Dusty's sendoff was cut short by a panicked rattle that shot up from the midst of the gathered Baltoy to their right. All eyes darted to the sound of the disturbance as Claydol let loose a sharp shriek of surprise.

A group of men dressed in red cloaks shoved their way through the sea of Baltoy, annoyance clearly written across their features.

"Get out of the way you runts!"

The person at the head of the group lashed out with a kick, knocking Baltoy around with his boot.


The shout burst forth from Steven before he could reconsider attracting the men's attention, but he couldn't sit by and watch their terrible treatment of the Baltoy.

The red-clad group turned toward him, and a look of bored recognition flitted across the leader's face.

"Oh, it's just that kid from earlier. Didn't we tell you to get lost? Let the professionals take care of everything from here."

Steven's glare was firm, and Metang floated forward to its trainer's side, bristling with psychic energy. "No."

The leader's eyes narrowed menacingly. "What did you say?"

"I don't know who you are or why you're looking for this meteor, but I know you're not working for Professor Cosmo and I won't allow you to take it." His tone was as icy as his stare.

Almost in response to his declaration, the wind whipped up into a frenzy and Steven knew it was no natural phenomenon. The sandstorm grew in intensity as Claydol's low whine of agreement echoed across the desert.

But the hostile change in weather didn't deter the men in red, and as one of the group spoke into a handheld radio, the rest pulled out pokeballs from beneath their cloaks.

"Who's gonna stop us? You and that old geezer back there? I'd like to see you try."

At the man's overt threat, his group released their pokemon in a bright flash of light, and Steven could feel every muscle in his body grow tense. This group was itching for a fight, and for all his bravado he and Dusty were handily outnumbered. Metang reverberated a low note as it stared down the hostile gathering of Poochyena and Numel, complete with several Koffing floating overhead.

Desperately searching for a strategy to fend off the intruders, Steven ran out of time.

Without warning, a burst of flame cut through the blowing sand, and several Baltoy toppled over into the crater, knocked out by the attack. The men in red were not going to wait.

"Ruffians!" blurted Dusty, his cheeks puffing in anger.

Steven leaped into action, "Metang, stop those pokemon with confusion! We can't let them get to the meteor!"

"Absolutely, my boy. We'll fight together! Go, Sandslash!"

A ground type, perfect for battling in this sandstorm. Steven smiled, Dusty would be a handy partner in this battle after all.

"Great! I'll go after the poison type pokemon with Metang while you aim for –"

But Dusty's roar cut him off, and Steven paled when he heard the command.


Dutifully raising its two clawed hands high, Sandslash let out a fierce cry before bringing them down in a thunderous blow on the desert floor. The resulting shockwave pulsed across the sand, scattering particles in its wake. Steven only had time to draw a startled breath before the ground rippled into monstrous waves from the attack. Pokemon and trainer alike were tossed to and fro in the quake.

As the ground stilled beneath his feet, Steven frantically searched the battlefield for Metang. To his dismay he found his partner half buried in the sand, barely clinging to consciousness. Sprinting to his starter's side, he cradled Metang's battered form in his arms. The opponent's pokemon fared no better save for the weightless Koffing, but Steven couldn't hide his incredulity as he shouted to his teammate.

"Dusty, what were you thinking? We have to work together!"

"Sorry, my boy! I got a bit carried away."

Metang's weak chattering snapped Steven's attention back to the battle before he could further admonish Dusty's poor excuse. One of the opposing trainers slowly picked himself off the ground as he waved a signal to yet another group of red-cloaked reinforcements that had just arrived.

Steven grit his teeth. "Just how many of them are there?"

The situation was dire. He couldn't hold off another wave of attacks with Metang as injured as it was. And Dusty's overzealous earthquakes meant any other member of his team would be vulnerable to the same fate.

Just as he resigned to seeing if Lairon could withstand the friendly fire, a shadow fell at his feet with a hollow whine.


The ground type slowly rotated in mid-air, fixing its gaze first on Steven and Metang, and then narrowing its eyes sharply on the new wave of opposing trainers.

Metang hastily waved an arm toward the desert doll pokemon and echoed a short cry that Claydol returned in kind.

Steven's eyes went wide. "Claydol, are you willing to team up with me?"

Its reverberating call carried the clear affirmative, and Steven set his jaw with determination.

"Then let's go."

Scanning the battlefield, Steven found Dusty's Sandslash tearing into one of the remaining Koffing. Leaping to his feet he quickly recalled Metang and shouted toward his fellow trainer, "Dusty, let loose another one of those earthquakes!"

"Roger that!"

Steven relayed the rest of his plan to his new teammate.

"Now Claydol, get in close and pick off anything that survives."

As the ground shook once more, yells of dismay and pained pokemon cries came from the opponent's side of the battlefield, and Steven smiled as Koffing dropped from the skies from Claydol's psychic attacks.

Once the dust settled for a second time, the red-cloaked intruders gaped in surprise as their pokemon lay decimated across the battlefield. Sandslash and Claydol drew back in tandem, totally unscathed. Their combination had worked perfectly.

Before Steven could issue an ultimatum for the defeated trainers to beat a hasty retreat, a loud hissing sounded across the battlefield. All eyes turned toward the source of the sound at the center of the crater. From his vantage point, it seemed as if the meteor was shrinking…

The fierce battle had upset the meteor's resting place, and with one last gurgle, the desert swallowed the meteor whole. For the second time in as many visits to the desert, Steven had to watch a prized specimen sink into the desert sand.

"Oh, for crying out loud! Now look what you've done!"

The red-cloaked leader's outburst brought everyone's attention back to his group, including the Baltoy, who turned in unison with a loud rattle.


Faced with several hundred angry pokemon, the fake scientists quickly backpedaled before breaking into a sprint, the Baltoy hot on their heels. Over the wind, Steven swore he heard a shout fade into the distance:

"Leader Maxie is gonna kill uuuuussssss!"

Heavy footfalls snapped Steven back to the present as Dusty arrived at his side, chest puffed with satisfaction.

"That was some quick thinking there, youngster. Ol' Sandy's attacks couldn't reach those darned gas-bags."

It was all Steven could do to keep the accusatory tone out of his voice. "The plan would have worked a lot smoother if you had given me some warning before that first attack. Claydol saved the day by helping out."

Blissfully ignorant of Steven's annoyance with him, Dusty only laughed in reply.

"Oh ho ho, and it looks like it's taken quite a shine to you too!"

True to his word, Claydol had found its way back to Steven's side and hummed a happy tone as it swiveled a few of its eyes his way. Steven offered a weak smile in return.

"Thanks, Claydol. It was an honor to battle with you."

But Dusty kept on grinning. "I recognize that look it's giving you. I'd reckon that Claydol wants to join you on your journey."

"Wait… That's not true, right Claydol? I don't want to separate you from your family."

Instead of a issuing a negative, Claydol began to glow with a faint blue aura. In a push of its psychic powers, it deftly opened Steven's pack and lifted a single pokeball from its contents before gently lowering it into Steven's palm. Eyeing the ball first, and then the pokemon in question, Steven prodded one more time.

"You're sure about this?"

Happily whistling, Claydol waggled its arms as it bobbed up and down, eyes winking into a smile. Shaking his head with a smile, Steven tossed his pokeball. It rocked only momentarily before the red indicator light blinked off.

"Welcome to the team, Claydol."

With Claydol safely tucked away at his hip, Steven had one more order of business in the desert. He turned to face Dusty with an accusing glare.

"You didn't really go on an expedition with my father, did you…" It wasn't a question.

Dusty's jovial tone faltered with a nervous laugh. "Oh… n-no. No, I didn't, really." He plucked the pith hat from his head and sheepishly picked at the brim.

Clearly expecting more, Steven shifted his weight to the other foot and crossed his arms. Dusty continued.

"You see, I'd been rather unsuccessful in my own travels through the desert, and it had been so long that I grew lonely… So when I came across your father on his expedition, I thought we might be able to team up, but he wasn't interested… But I didn't give up. Instead, I thought if I tagged along I could convince him to change his mind… In the end, I only ended up following Joseph around like a lost puppy. So earlier when I said I'd accompanied him on his journey, that wasn't really true…"

Steven held Dusty's gaze as the explorer finished his tale, and the older man clutched his hat to his chest before giving a deep bow of apology.

"The reason I knew that look Claydol was giving you is because it's the very same look I gave your father all those years ago."

At that, Steven's glare softened, and he felt a pang of guilt for being so upset with the Ruin Maniac. This entire time all he'd been hoping for was a friend to explore the desert with. While he certainly could have been more tactful about it, Steven found he couldn't remain angry with the explorer.

"I appreciate your honesty, Dusty. While I'm not happy that you lied to me, I'd like to think that in the end you've not only ended up with one friend," Steven extended a hand, "but something more like two hundred friends."

A collective rattle sounded around the two trainers as the Baltoy colony gathered to hover in close. Dusty's head snapped up from his bow and he eagerly grabbed Steven's hand with both of his. Shaking it heartily, he turned to see the sea of Baltoy clamoring and twirling happily.

"I promise I'll take good care of these little fellows. You can tell that Claydol of yours too, you have my word. And even though the meteor's gone, we'll keep watch over this site so those ruffians can't come snooping around ever again."

Steven smiled. "I'm counting on you Dusty. Consider this your first official collaboration with the Stone family expeditions."

Of course, the road less traveled can provide even more excitement to the intrepid trainer. Just be prepared to rely on your pokemon and your wits if you choose to go on an adventure in Hoenn's wilderness. Surprises of all kinds await you!
Chapter 9 - Resolution


Hoenn around
  1. aggron
  2. lairon
Ch. 9 – Another cave, and another adventure, but this time Steven isn't alone. Are two trainers exploring a cave better than one?

Chapter 9 - Resolution

Pokemon Trainer's Handbook Tip #22: Pokemon can live in a wide variety of environments. Trainers who wish to see many different types of pokemon should be on the lookout for various types of ecosysems and even micro-climates. Be sure to be prepared for any type of terrain you may come across…

As someone who preferred to spend his time primarily on or within the earth, Steven never thought he'd utter such words about flight, but the view of the ocean from Skarmory's back truly was exhilarating.

"Incredible…" he breathed, his voice quickly lost on the wind.

The early spring skies had cooperated that day and only a few small clouds hung low beneath his feet allowing the glistening waves to sparkle in the morning light far below. He'd never imagined that the sprawling city of Lilycove could feel so miniscule as it hung behind him only as a multicolored smudge, an afterthought on a canvas of endless blue.

Spinning his gaze back ahead, he could see the outline of Mossdeep slipping up from the water. Lush green danced around its edge, no doubt from the famous mangrove swamps that circled the island city. The signature rocket of the Space Center stood jutting out above the rocky cliffs, and Steven couldn't hide his excitement at the sight. In all his travels, he had never been to Mossdeep before and the thrill of his first glimpse set his heart aflutter. He had been waiting to make this trip ever since he set foot on Lilycove's eastern shore and been told he'd need a new pokemon that could traverse the oceans of Hoenn.

And now that he had earned the flying-type's trust, Steven finally mustered the courage make this voyage with his new and final teammate. Skarmory surely had the stamina to make the flight from Lilycove to Mossdeep while carrying the weight of both him and his pack; that's not what had Steven worried. He had been concerned that if Skarmory's temper flared while they were over the open ocean, there wouldn't be a good place to quickly and safely land to try to defuse the situation.

But after spending nearly the entire winter training with the bird, he was assured by the rest of his pokemon that Skarmory had warmed up to their group enough that its urge to rebel mid-flight had been quashed. Still, his grip on the steel-clad flyer's back was probably tighter than necessary. Thankfully, Skarmory didn't seem to mind.

Wind whipping through his hair, not even the chill of the cooler atmospheric air could dampen Steven's spirits. The newfound freedom of flying meant he was no longer bound to the schedules of ferry travel. With a way to hop to the different islands of eastern Hoenn all on his own, there was nothing left to stop him from claiming the last few Gym badges that were formerly out of his reach.

Soon Mossdeep swelled into existence beneath him, and Steven gently urged Skarmory into a wide turn that brought them across the southern tip of the island. Peering down past Skarmory's gleaming wing, he spotted a cluster of buildings that rose above the mangroves, perched on rocky cliffs. As Skarmory continued to bank, the center of the city quickly vanished from view behind the Space Center's towering structure. Eyes wide, Steven marveled at the rocket from as close as he dared fly.

But beyond the rocket's outline, something else caught Steven's eye. A singular hunched landmass rose out of the ocean just to the north of the island, gently cradled by wide sandbars on either side. Squinting into the wind, the unmistakable shadow of a cave entrance peeked out of the shallow tide.

Excitedly tapping Skarmory's neck, Steven motioned for his flyer to head for the cave. With it head cocked to one side, Skarmory eyed its trainer's giddy grin and decided it was best to just accept his strange penchant for wanting to head into the depths of the earth every time they landed somewhere.

Destination set, Skarmory obediently made another wide banking turn before touching down with a skidding landing in the wet sand. Fervently shaking its wings and preening at its sandy claws, Steven quickly dismounted his flyer and dug a cloth and several berries from his pack.

Patting the bird's steel crest, Steven offered the Aspear berries it seemed so fond of, eager to stay on Skarmory's good side. As it happily chomped on the sour snack, Skarmory was all too keen to let Steven clean and polish its feathers as an extra reward for carrying them across the ocean.

Seeing his newest pokemon so calm after their longest flight yet, Steven decided to press his luck a bit more.

"Want to see what's inside?"

At the seemingly innocent question, Skarmory immediately stopped munching and snapped a fierce glare that threw daggers even with juice dribbling down its beak. Steven tried to give a convincing smile, but Skarmory's narrowed gaze held steady, warning its trainer to drop the subject entirely. Steven got the gist; such a proud bird was meant for the open skies, not underground caverns.

"Sorry, I just thought you might –"

But Skarmory's short screech and clack of its beak served to punctuate the conversation.

"Right. Although, I have to at least give you my thanks for carrying me this far, Skarmory."

Ducking his head in gratitude, Steven watched as Skarmory straightened to its full height before returning the motion. He was glad that even if his flyer would never warm up to his favorite pastime, there was a respectful understanding between them now.

The light of the recall beam faded out, and Steven smiled at the pokeball in his hand. "Rest up for now."

Turning his attention toward the mouth of the cave, Steven could feel anticipation welling in his chest. His eyes darted excitedly over the mouth of the cave as his boots sank lightly into the wet sand. Too preoccupied with examining the rocky entrance that loomed overhead, he didn't notice the set of faint footprints already leading into the cave.

Padding along a gently sloping shelf of hard packed sand, the expanse of Shoal Cave was quickly unveiled from the generous amount of daylight bouncing in through the entrance. Rather than a soaring roof like Granite Cave, Shoal Cave's ceiling was dangerously low, and Steven found it very fortunate that there was a distinct lack of stalactites, or else he might have had to crouch as he moved further into the cave.

But he soon discovered that the ceiling height wouldn't be an issue, as the sandy shelf at the entrance quickly dropped off as the cavern sunk down into the earth, revealing a deep pit with water worn tunnels bored into its sides. The depth of the sudden drop caused Steven's stomach to flip as a chunk of sand came loose from beneath his boot and cascaded down the cliff face, where it eventually crumbled and stuck to the moisture slick rocks below.

In a flash, Metang appeared at Steven's side, and the pair quickly descended to the lowest level of the cave. The strong smell of the ocean hung in the air, but it wasn't unpleasant. The temperature at the bottom of cavern was cool, combating the musky smell of exposed tidal plants that clung to the rocks all around. Steven frowned as they approached the tunnel at the back of the cavern.

"Sorry, Metang, it looks like this passage is too narrow for you to fit."

Metang rattled a sigh of disappointment is its red eyes swept over the craggy opening. Tall and narrow, there was no realistic way it could slide through the opening, even as it tilted vertically on its side in a test-fit.

"I'll call you back out as soon as there's space."

Steven's expression was apologetic as his partner vanished into its ball.

Deftly slipping through the narrow entrance, Steven discovered the tunnel proved to even be a tight squeeze for him, and on several occasions he found it necessary to swing his pack from his shoulder and sidestep his way through the smallest portions. Interestingly enough, he found that such sections provided some great up close views of the cave's layers, and Steven was intrigued to find several different kinds of crystal formations lacing through the rock. Calcite and salt deposits were to be expected, this was a sea cave after all, but upon closer inspection one of the crystals appeared to be less mineral in nature. Was that…


His quiet question echoed off the narrow walls of the tunnel, but the section he was currently traversing proved to be too narrow for him to anything but sidle past. Steven cursed his momentary misfortune; he would have to inspect and collect samples from another portion of the cave.

After a few more claustrophobic feet, which he didn't mind all that much, the hewn walls of the tunnel peeled away to reveal a second, larger cavern. His first step into the space was met with a resounding crunch, and Steven looked down as he withdrew his boot in surprise. The ground of this particular cavern was littered with shells. Some appeared relatively fresh, still holding their rich color, but most had been worn down by waves and time, left brittle and white and easily shattered underfoot.

"Metang, you have to see this…" And now that there was room, Steven held true to his word and released his partner once again.

Before it fully materialized, Metang already was looking about in amazement. Neither trainer nor pokemon had seen this many shells in one place before. Hoenn's shores weren't particularly known for washing up many treasures, and Steven's hand came to his chin as he briefly wondered if some natural phenomenon could be responsible for depositing all of them in the depths of this cave instead.

But his thoughts were interrupted by the clattering of shells and a rattling call from his starter. Following Metang's pointed claw, he caught sight of a squat silhouette moving across the field of shells. Bringing out a small flashlight, Steven dimmed the beam to its lowest setting and aimed it toward the activity.

The light danced over white shells and brown rock before striking something colorful. Yellow with a splash of orange, and two beady blue eyes. Both Steven and Metang blinked in surprise.

"A Snorunt?"

The tiny ice type froze, caught in the beam, its hands clutching a particularly impressive looking shell.

Steven held the beam steady as he kneeled down so as to not frighten the little pokemon any more than they already had. But as he settled into a crouch, a shell snapped beneath his boot and the Snorunt uttered a startled snort and bolted.

"Ah, Snorunt wait!"

Fumbling as he moved to follow the fleet-footed pokemon, a sharp shell fragment dug into his knee and Steven wobbled with discomfort. Unfortunately, this also sent the flashlight beam dancing across the cavern where it swept through a group of nesting Golbat.

Metang quickly noticed what its trainer had done and it chattered a loud warning. Catching sight of the approaching swarm, whatever hope Steven had that his pokemon's echoing cry might have deterred the restless bats vanished in whirlwind of leathery wings.

Flashing his spotlight across the nearest wall, a shadowy passage popped up in its beam and Steven made a run for it.

"This way!" he waved to his partner. "Stick close to me and fend them off with confusion!"

Hovering backward as swiftly as it could, Metang raised a claw to help aim its sweeping psychic attack. The Golbat were momentarily thrown back by the psychic wave, but they quickly recovered and continued to give chase.

But the attack had done its job in buying enough time for Steven and Metang to duck down the tunnel at their right. Metang needed only a cursory bullet punch to deter the few dogged Golbat that followed them into the tight quarters.

The coast was now clear, and Steven let out a shaky sigh before quickly retreating further down the tunnel.

"Let's get away from that cavern for now," he called back over his shoulder to Metang as he walked. "We should wait for the excitement to die down before we head back – oof!"

Steven hadn't been paying attention as he rounded the corner of the passage and bumped straight into something that was definitely larger than a Snorunt. Whatever it was tumbled backward from the unexpected collision with a shout of, "Excuse you!"

When Steven finally got a look at what he'd hit, that something turned out to be someone, and they were just as distinguished in the cave's dim light as they were in the bustling crowd outside the contest hall.

"It's you!"

Wallace frowned as he reached up to straighten his cap, one hand gingerly across his midsection. "Of course it's me, who else could it be? The better question is who are you?"

Steven blinked, confused. It wasn't often that he met someone he recognized who didn't recognize him as well. He was sure his father's company had something to do with that.

"Wait a minute, now I remember," Wallace's eyes flicked to Metang and then back to Steven. "You're that trainer from Lilycove who didn't know how to cross the ocean."

Steven blinked again, this time taken aback at how exactly he had been remembered.

Wallace smirked as he smoothly brushed the dirt from his cloak as he stood. "I guess if you've managed to run into me down here in Shoal Cave, then you must have eventually figured it out. Congratulations." It didn't sound very genuine.

"Um, thanks, I guess." Steven fumbled, still gobsmacked at the coincidence of it all.

"But that brings me to another question. Why on earth are you down here in this dreadful place?"


"Obviously. It's gloomy and cramped and is the complete antithesis of everything the ocean represents."

For some reason, the urge to defend the cave's honor welled up inside Steven. "Well if you dislike it that much, why are you down here?"

"Because my Master requested it of me." Wallace finished with a sigh of resignation, but his tone softened as he peeled back a lapel of his cloak. "It's to train this little one in its natural environment."

Nestled in the heavy fabric was a baby Spheal. Its mouth opened wide in a gleeful bark and it waggled its tiny fins with excitement. Curiously Metang hovered in close with a soft hum. Extending a gentle claw in greeting, Wallace gave the steel type a wary look before swaddling the Spheal in his cloak with a huff.

"Who, might I add, you nearly squashed when you barreled into me!"

"Ah, I'm terribly sorry about that," Steven apologized to Wallace, and then turned his gaze to the two round eyes that peeked out through the fluffy lining. "I hope you can forgive me."

A muffled bark sounded through the fabric, and Wallace scowled, seemingly bewildered by the young pokemon's eager acquittal.

Steven smiled graciously. "Thank you, Spheal."

Wallace's sour expression didn't lift as Steven met his eyes again, and he got the feeling that somehow his very presence was bothering the water-type trainer.

"Have I done something to offend you?"

Wallace huffed in reply. "I'm just trying to figure out why my Master has taken such a shine to you."

"He has?" Steven's brow shot up in surprise. That was certainly news to him.

"Master Juan is quite perceptive when it comes to things like talent. That's why he expects that one day I'll take his place. But I'm not sure if I agree with him about you…"

Steven felt the hair on the back of his neck rise as Metang's bristling hum intensified with displeasure. His eyes narrowed, all trace of the earlier mirth lost in his steely glare.

"If you're unsure, perhaps Metang and I can sway your opinion now…"

But Wallace was unfazed. "Somehow I doubt that. I'm not going to battle you here. I don't even have my team with me. Besides, we'll find out when you eventually make your way to the Gym."

"I guess that's settled then," Steven said with a frown. He wasn't wholly unhappy that Wallace balked on his challenge, as he had something else on his mind after their conversation.

With a flourish of his cloak, Wallace brushed past Steven. "We'll be on our way now…"

"Wait, one more thing before you go."

Wallace paused with a cool stare as Steven continued.

"You mentioned something about training in Spheal's natural environment? It seems odd that an aquatic pokemon would call a cave like this home."

Amusement played across Wallace's face. "You mean you came to Shoal Cave and you didn't know about the Ice Cavern? You're more of a rookie than I thought."

"Ice Cavern?" Steven's eyes lit up, all too eager to ignore Wallace's jab. "Could you show me where?"

The insistent excitement in Steven's voice told Wallace there was little choice he had in the matter, and he sighed.

"Follow me," he said with a wave of his hand.

Wallace led the way deeper into Shoal Cave in an icy silence that even for all his curious anticipation, Steven didn't dare break. Metang warily floated along behind, its narrowed gaze fixated on Wallace's back.

Steven was secretly glad his pokemon didn't know any beam attacks, especially when Wallace came to a halt at the top of a ladder and pointed down with a dramatic sweep.

"There you go. The Ice Cavern. Knock yourself out."

Eyeing the narrow hole the ladder disappeared into, Steven turned to Metang with a silent apology. There was no way it would fit through the opening. Metang let out a resigned chime before it vanished into its ball. Steven nodded, catching the extra meaning. "I'll be careful."

Catching Wallace's gaze, Steven tried to be tactful with the touchy trainer.

"I do appreciate you showing me this."

But Wallace simply shrugged. "It wasn't much trouble at all. Just don't spend too long down there…"

As Steven opened his mouth to question the sudden warning, a muffled bark sounded from beneath Wallace's cloak, and the Spheal wiggled its way out of its trainer's grasp and bounded excitedly toward the hole.

With surprising agility for its species, the two stunned trainers could only watch as it barked once more before hopping down into the icy cave in one swift leap.

"Spheal!" Wallace very nearly swore before he covered his eyes with an exasperated hand. "I swear it's more like babysitting than training…"

Steven cast a nervous glance between Wallace and the cavern entrance. "Should we go after it?"

"Well I certainly can't leave it here. Master Juan would be furious."

And then, Wallace's tone softened. "Would you mind helping me look for him?"

"Sure thing. It's probably partially my fault in the first place, since I dragged you back here."

"I'm holding you to that," Wallace's voice echoed up through the opening as he made his way down the ladder, and Steven could only laugh as he stepped onto the first rung himself.

"How hard could it be to find that happy little pokemon?"

But as the air around him cooled as he descended, Steven soon regretted his words. Letting go of the chilled rungs of the ladder, he turned to take in the first glimpse of the Ice Cavern and there was no doubt as to why it had been named such. The expanse of the room was immense and every surface was not just lightly frosted with ice, it was coated in thick, heavy layers. Breath curling in a wisp that hung in the air, Steven couldn't believe just how much this one cavern had morphed from the rocky tunnels and passages one level above.

Feeling Wallace's presence at his side, Steven turned to the water-type trainer and saw where he had been staring. "Why Master Juan couldn't just give me Spheal's pokeball, I'll never know…"

His gaze was fixed on an icy plateau just ahead of them, and there Steven spotted the same thing that had caught Wallace's attention. Spheal was happily gliding around on its stomach, giddily barking as it pinballed off of the frost coated rocks that poked out along the edges of its makeshift rink.

"How did…" Steven had to rub his eyes in disbelief," How did it get up there so quickly?"

"One of the world's great mysteries, I'm sure," deadpanned Wallace as he hastily made his way across the ice in the opposite direction of the plateau.

"Wait, where are you going? Spheal is right up there."

"Do you see a way to climb up there? Because there's no way I can scale that cliff; it's all ice. We have to go the long way."

With one last glance up at the playing pokemon, Steven dutifully followed Wallace along the slick path that slowly wound its way up to the plateau at the center of the room. On more than one occasion, Steven found himself scrabbling for purchase on the icy ground and he was seriously considering calling Lairon out for some added traction. He made a mental note to never take friction for granted again.

Soon the two trainers found themselves at the edge of Spheal's playground, and the cheerful pokemon beckoned them out to join it. But Wallace was in no mood to join in the fun, and with a surprising amount of grace he managed to slide his way out and corner the wayward pokemon before snatching its wriggling form up in his arms.

Steven watched from the edge of the plateau, admittedly because he had no interest in stepping out onto the ice and falling on his face, but he couldn't help but feel sorry for the little Spheal as Wallace waggled a chastising finger at its antics.

"It's very important that you listen to your trainer. There's a good reason why I told you we had to leave the first time."

It sullenly barked at its trainer, still too young to understand why running off like that could be such a dangerous thing, but suddenly their argument was interrupted by the sound of hissing and cracking, and Wallace's head snapped back in the direction of the ladder, uttering a short curse.

"Ahh, now look what's happened! We've wasted too much time and now the tide's coming in."

Steven was unable to hide his surprise. "What?"

"You heard me." And suddenly Wallace became deadly serious. "This room is going to be underwater with us in it if we don't hurry."

"This whole room floods?!"

"Of course, you dummy, how else do you think all this ice got in here?" Wallace's voice was incredulous.

Steven felt his own voice rising in exasperation as he threw his hands out at the conjecture, "I don't know, I figured it was due to eons of condensation build up that gradually froze due to the –"

"Save the science for later. Right now we need to get out of here."

As dramatic as Wallace had been previously, his tone suddenly became serious and Steven clammed up, compelled to listen to the water-type trainer.

Just as suddenly as his attitude shifted, Wallace also moved, jumping gracefully off of the icy plateau and landing in the ankle-deep water that had already accumulated in the lower areas of the room. Spheal bounded down after him, and hopped along his wake with its stubby fins.

Wallace was already jogging swiftly toward the ladder when Steven called out, "Wait, where are you going? That way is where the flooding is coming from."

Wallace didn't even warrant Steven with a glance as he called out over the sound of rushing water, "This is the only way in and out, so unless you've got gills and plan on staying here, I'd suggest you get moving."

Grating his teeth at Wallace's flip comment, Steven shakily hurried along the ice and propelled himself far less gracefully off the side. As soon as the water splashed up over his boots as he landed, he let out a shout of surprise.

"Oh! That's cold!"

From up ahead, Wallace couldn't hide his mirth at Steven's discomfort. "What did you expect? The ocean's not too balmy this time of year."

Steven set his jaw as he ran towards the exit, biting back against both a retort and the sensation of icy water creeping up his calves. It didn't take long to reach the water-type trainer's side.

"Wallace, the water is pouring through the opening. We'll both be soaked by the time we get to the top."

"Well if you didn't think ahead before you went gallivanting through an ice cave and brought your wetsuit, like me," Wallace slid the sleeve of his cloak back, revealing the skin-tight layer of his protective wear, "Then I'd think about climbing this quickly if I were you." And without hesitation, Wallace stepped into the deluge and began to climb.

Steven watched the water-type trainer's ascent with thinly veiled frustration. Wallace's attitude was grating on his nerves, and Steven wasn't sure if his newfound desire to get out of the cave was fueled by not wanting to drown, or needing to get away from his prickly traveling companion.

As soon as his hand sliced through the pouring water and grasped the first rung, he nearly jerked back in reflex. He had never felt something so cold that it burned. But instead of drawing away he steeled his countenance and plunged headlong into the frigid cascade.

Almost instantly his chest constricted, and he found himself gasping for air at only the first rung. His face and hands stung under the drumming impact of the water while the biting cold crept all the way from his head to his toes. But an eagerness to get out of the rushing water outweighed his discomfort, and Steven doggedly made his way up the ladder and out of the icy cavern.

As Wallace stooped to let Spheal out from beneath his cloak, Steven crested the ladder through the rushing current and wasted no time in striding past his fellow trainer, water sloshing in his wake. Thoroughly soaked, Steven sighed through his nose. This was becoming a theme with him and sea caves... Except this time the early spring water had quickly chilled him to the bone. Hands clenched tight at his sides, he did all he could to hide his chattering teeth from Wallace's judgmental gaze. There was no doubt Wallace would have another snide remark at the ready.

"Where are you off to in such a hurry? We're out of the worst of it now."

"I've decided I've h-had enough of sea c-caves. The sooner we get out of here, the b-better." Steven mentally cringed, unable to keep his frozen lips from betraying just how cold he felt.

Thankfully, Wallace either didn't notice, or finally decided to not comment.

"That's fair. I wouldn't be here either if it wasn't for my Master's orders. These dark, dank places just aren't my style."

Steven rolled his eyes as he kept his gaze forward, he could picture Wallace's snooty expression well enough. But as he pushed onward, wading through water up to his mid-thigh, the current began to push back.

"Wallace," he called over his shoulder, "The current is getting s-stronger up ahead."

"Naturally. The tide's going to be rushing in from somewhere. Just as long as it's not strong enough to sweep us under, we should be golden," Wallace didn't sound too concerned.

Steven was concerned though, but it wasn't about the inrush current. His eyes had wandered to the tunnel roof, where a steady rain of water had begun to drip down. He shivered thinking of the weight of the tide pressing water through micro-fissures in the rock above their heads. Or maybe it was simply the cold that sent chills running up his spine…

Sloshing water snapped his attention back to the present as Wallace drew up to his side, pointing to a branch in the tunnel.

"There she is."

Even in the gloom of the underground passageway, it was clear that an opening to the left was where the tide was pouring in. Seawater churning to a frothy foam, the push of water looked threatening even from a distance. Beyond the surging inrush, the tunnel sloped up and to the right, but the standing water there was relatively calm.

"Get past the current and the ladder to the surface won't be much further."

Steven shivered again as he eyed the intersection of both the cause of and salvation from the flooding. The rain from the ceiling of the cave had increased its intensity as well…

"We should ford the current one at a time, that way if one of us gets swept under, the other can mount a rescue."

Steven's gaze shot nervously toward Wallace. "You make this sound so safe…"

Wallace rolled his eyes, "Says the person who goes into these horrid places on purpose."

"Well, not when they're flooding!"

"Must I remind you it wasn't flooding when I was intending to leave."

Steven sighed in exasperation as another shiver wracked his frame. Wallace gave him a happy pat on the shoulder.

"You go first."


"I'm the one with the water pokemon. It's obvious I should go second in case you need rescuing."

Squeezing his eyes shut with a frustrated noise, Steven grated out, "Fine."

Reaching a hand out for balance against the tunnel wall, Steven trudged forward into the icy current. Seawater swirled around his legs, causing each step to feel as if he was being shoved side to side. Frigid droplets from the ceiling's rain pattered across his shoulders and head, only adding to his growing panic. The breath caught in his chest as the frigid water surged up above his waist, and one particularly nasty eddy nearly ended up toppling him over.

He heard Wallace airily call out from behind, "Be sure to mind your footing!"

A sarcastic reply nearly was shot back at the spectator's box as Steven regained his balance, but another strong rush of water sent him stumbling, and he bit down on his words. He needed to concentrate on keeping his frozen legs moving, not on engaging the irksome water-type trainer in a verbal sparring match.

With one final push, Steven felt the tug of the water vanish, and he splashed into the calm waters of the right-most passage. Heart still pounding in his ears, he turned and waved to Wallace.

"I'm through!"

"Wonderful! Keep going up the path, and I'll be right behind you!"

Steven hesitated, confused. "You d-don't need me to w-wait for you to get through the current?"

Wallace just laughed, "Oh heavens no! I'll be fine. I am a water-type master after all."

"…in training," Steven muttered under his breath.

But as he watched, Wallace began to easily slice through the current, and Steven huffed and turned to wade towards their exit.

As the path gradually sloped upward, the water level steadily dropped down to below his knees, and as he pressed forward he felt the edge of his worry begin to subside. His heart still hammered in his chest, but if they just made it to the ladder at the end of the passage, they'd be fine. He flexed his fingers to try to stave off the tingling stiffness before one last climb to safety.

"Wallace, we're almost there, I can see the ladder from here!"

He turned to look to see how his confident companion was doing in fording the strong currents, but a resounding crack suddenly issued from the nearby ceiling. Several sharp chunks of rock slid from a fissure in the roof, and the previously tame droplets of rain turned into gushing streams.

"Look out!"

Steven's panicked shout reached Wallace just as the fissure widened further, sending a roaring cascade of seawater and boulders crashing between the two trainers.

Gasping as he was once again drenched in icy water, Steven lowered the arm he used as a shield against the cave-in, and his eyes grew wide. The passage was now effectively sealed off by the debris, with one massive slab blocking most of the width. The smaller boulders that accompanied the collapsed shelf were tightly packed, and the water level was beginning to rise once more as the tide continued to pour through the new opening in the roof.

But only one thought was on his mind as he rushed forward, hands frantically pressing against the heavy boulders.

"Wallace! Wallace, are you okay?!"

He wasn't sure if the rushing water would drown out his shouts.


As he strained to listen for an answer over the noise, a melodic cry echoed through the debris.


Suddenly the pile of rocks shuddered violently as something slammed into it from the other side. Steven stumbled back from the impact, surprised, but thankful. Wallace was okay.

A second thud sounded through the passage, and then a third, but the debris refused to budge. A shuddering cry laced with frustration carried through the air after a fourth blow failed to move the blockage. Eyes darting over the rubble, Steven took note; the debris at the base had shifted, but that wasn't where the impacts had been centered.

"Wallace!" he shouted, "You h-have to aim for the loose rubble at the b-base! You'll n-never break through the main slab!"

As another misaimed blow landed, Steven shook his head. Wallace couldn't hear his instructions. He swallowed thickly as he tried to ignore how his limbs shook as icy water was now creeping up to his waist. They were running out of time.

Closing numb fingers around the pokeballs at his belt, he called forth two of his pokemon.

Lileep squealed in shock as she landed in the frigid water, her tendrils instantly curling tight against her head. Anorith also let loose a startled cry and skittered to high ground on the debris pile.

Steven was quick to apologize for calling his partners out in such an unpleasant location.

"I'm s-sorry guys, I know it's c-cold, but a friend is t-trapped. There's n-not much time. I n-need your help to get h-him out."

Now trembling just like her trainer, Lileep caught Anorith's concerned gaze. Quickly reaching a decision, both pokemon offered a confident nod, which Steven returned before he outlined his plan.

"Lileep, s-see if you can get a grip under that boulder and l-lift it so Anorith can s-slip through. It s-should be l-loose enough t-to shift. T-then we'll all w-work together to l-lift from b-both sides."

Steven cursed his chattering teeth, but the instructions were clear. Lileep chirped as she pressed into action, firmly digging her tentacles into the water in search of a rock she could move. Anorith perched at her side, fins twitching, anxious to find his way through to the other side.

It didn't take long for Lileep's probing to pay off, and she chirruped once before straining upwards, and Steven heard rocks shift beneath the surface.

"Okay, Anorith, s-see if you can make it to Wallace's side!"

Without hesitation, Anorith clacked its claws in an affirmative and dove into the water.

After a few tense moments, Lileep's head raised a bit more, and a tandem of calls sounded over the rushing water; Anorith had made it through.

"Now lift! We need to m-make an opening l-large enough for a person."

Lileep crooned in confirmation and strained against the weight of the rubble once more, twisting and craning her neck to get better leverage. But the pile only shifted slightly.

Steven clenched his fists. This wasn't working fast enough.

Lileep gave a startled chirp as her trainer suddenly appeared at her side and plunged both hands into the icy water.

"Come on!"

It was a frustrated shout more at the stubborn boulders than anything else, but Lileep was spurred on nonetheless and trilled loudly as she redoubled her efforts.

Both trainer and pokemon pulled as hard as they could. Even though Steven couldn't feel his hands any longer, he knew they were still firmly gripping the edge of the rock. He wouldn't let go, even as the water was now up to his shoulders as he leaned into the lift, eyes squeezed shut and hunched over straining with all his might.

And suddenly, he felt a shift. His eyes shot open to a burst of light at his side; Lileep was glowing.

A triumphant warble sounded above the rushing water as Cradily's form took shape. The curving arch of her neck elongated and grew thicker. A warm touch pressed into his leg as her body grew in size, sturdier than ever. Purple and green mottled together as her shell grew and shifted. Her tentacles now bloomed from back of her skull, and two yellow eyes peeked out from the green shell that encompassed her face; a fearsome warrior's helm.

A startling crunch tore Steven's gaze from Cradily. To his surprise, a large blue claw was now jutting through the pile of debris. Clamping down tightly, it ripped back in the direction from whence it came, and a large eye filled the resulting void accompanied by a brilliant red eyespot. A throaty roar sounded through the gap, and Cradily gleefully returned a cry of her own.


The rumbling chatter from his pokemon confirmed it. A double evolution.

Armaldo's eye disappeared and its claw shot through the gap again, this time turned upward, wedging against the slab above. Cradily caught onto Armaldo's plan and began pulling the adjacent rocks free, creating a larger and larger hole while Armaldo kept the opening from collapsing. Water poured through, equalizing the levels on both sides. Steven wobbled a bit as he straightened, now feeling his arms move from sheer will alone. He dove into helping Cradily clear whatever rocks he could, and soon he was greeted with the sight of Spheal being hoisted through the hole with Wallace's upper half wriggling through just after.

Wordlessly, Steven reached out to grasp the other trainer's hand, and together they tugged until Wallace slipped all the way through. Stumbling as he let go, Steven felt a steadying tendril snake around his shoulders. Armaldo rattled a cry of celebration and hastily gestured with its free claw. Cradily tapped at her trainer's belt to relay Armaldo's request, and Steven got the hint. He fumbled the pokeball only momentarily before aiming the recall beam through the gap. As Armaldo vanished in the beam of red light, the unsupported slab slammed down, sealing the passage once more. Cradily chirped happily to be reunited with her teammate, and Steven was finally able to turn his attention to the disheveled trainer standing safely before them.

"Wallace, t-thank g-goodness you're okay!"

Wallace stood stunned, staring at the relief on Steven's visibly paling face.

"You… you saved us. Milotic's strongest attack couldn't even get that rock to budge."

Now it was Steven's turn to chuckle, although it sounded weak as his shivering intensified.

"H-ha ha, all it took was a l-little teamwork," he grinned, "And a b-bit of caving knowhow."

Wallace's expression softened as he smirked, "I guess your peculiar hobby isn't totally useless then."

"I-I'll t-take that as a c-compliment," Steven stuttered, wrapping his arms across his chest to keep them from shaking. "N-now l-let's get out of h-here. I'm f-freezing!"

Wallace nodded in agreement, although he cast a wary look at Steven's retreating form when the trainer wavered unsteadily as he made his way to the base of the ladder.

With Spheal safely tucked against his chest, Wallace held his sideways gaze when he caught Steven's forlorn stare as he looked up at their exit.

"One last climb. Can't be worse than the first one," Wallace said, trying to sound cavalier and Spheal clapped its encouragement in response.

But as Steven finally tore his gaze from the top of the ladder, the look in his eyes sent a knot of concern tumbling in Wallace's gut.

"Wallace, I c-can't feel my hands."

By now, Steven was shivering uncontrollably, and Wallace worriedly pursed his lips. He had been around water long enough to recognize the early signs of hypothermia, and Steven surely had not come prepared to deal with the frigid water conditions they were facing.

He also knew now was not the time for panic, and Wallace kept his tone even as he spoke.

"Can your partner help you climb? If she can get you most of the way up, I can hoist you the rest of the way from the top."

Cradily chirped at Wallace's words and nuzzled against Steven's chest as she sidled close, her tendrils protectively curling around his frame.

Weakly reaching to cradle his enthusiastic pokemon's head, Steven nodded, although he appeared slightly dazed by the whole situation. "I think Cradily is t-telling us it's n-no problem."

"Good," Wallace had already begun to scale the ladder. "Once I get to the top, have Cradily help you climb until I can reach you."

Steven nodded again, drawing a shaky breath, but feeling far too lightheaded to be confident. Jaw set, he willed his quaking limbs to move, and as he moved to grasp the first rung, a tendril coiled around his midsection.

Looking over his shoulder, Cradily's yellow eyes locked onto his own, and she bobbed her head with a cheerful chirp.

And so he climbed, inch by agonizing inch. All the while Cradily's steady pressure kept him centered on the ladder. Just as she neared the limit of her reach, another firm grip found his arms, and Wallace hauled him up to the top.

As Steven sat kneeling, trying to catch his breath, Wallace held out both hands. Steven stared up at him with a puzzled look.

"One is for Cradily's pokeball. The other is so I can get you on your feet and together we can finally leave this dreadful place."

Steven complied, and in a flash Cradily was back on his belt as another pokemon was summoned by his companion.

The Milotic's melodic song echoed through the main chamber and Wallace swiftly hopped onto her back.

"When the tide is in, there's no direct path to the exit on solid ground. Bring out your flyer and have them carry you over to the exit. Victoria will swim me out."

Steven eyed the low ceiling and the expanse of the now-flooded tidal pools and grimaced. He promised Skarmory he wouldn't…

As Metang materialized, Wallace's brow arched in a silent question.

"If M-Metang keeps to the s-shallow e-edge of the pools, there s-should be enough earth f-for it to l-levitate just f-fine," Steven stuttered out between shivers while ignoring his starter's worried glances at the sorry condition its trainer was in once again.

Wallace was in no mood to press Steven's explanation further, so he simply nodded. "I'll stay close."

Unsteadily clambering aboard his pokemon, Steven wobbled only slightly before settling down for the trip. Sensing its trainer was ready, Metang echoed a gentle cry as it gingerly lifted off the ground and traced a path along the water's edge.

Wallace had to admit, he was impressed as Metang smoothly navigated the uneven shoreline with a grace that didn't suit such an outlandish looking creature. But as he admired the pokemon's handiwork, he missed the way Steven suddenly slumped to one side. The unexpected weight shift threw Metang's concentration and it tilted in its trajectory, effectively dumping the unconscious trainer from its head.

Its dismayed cry met Wallace's ears at the same time as the splash.


Wallace could ill-afford to wait to see if Steven was able to resurface under his own power, and his Milotic was quick to heed his command as she dove low enough to sweep her serpentine body beneath the fallen trainer.

With a grunt, Wallace hoisted Steven's limp body from the water and onto Victoria's back.

"Oi, what do you have in this thing?! Rocks?"

Moving quickly, Wallace slung his cloak from his shoulders and wrapped it as best he could around Steven's frame. It was still damp from their escape through the flooding tunnels, but it was warmer than anything the freezing trainer had on at present.

As Victoria swiftly carried her two passengers to the cave exit, Wallace swore he heard a mumbled affirmative from the barely conscious trainer in his arms.

The fuzzy feeling that clung to the edges of Steven's mind was persistent. At first, things were dark and he had the strangest sensation of floating. But soon after the world became bright, the weightlessness morphed into an all-encompassing weight that pressed in on him from all sides. He tried to push back and fight it off, but his arms wouldn't obey. The best he could manage was a restless squirm, but the haziness began to lift as he stirred. It was just so warm

"I'm going to have to ask that the next time you decide to hang around in a frigid cave until you pass out, you reconsider your poor life choice before you go in."

"What?" Steven blinked blearily as he finally realized the heaviness on his chest came from a layer of several blankets draped across where he lay. "Wallace?"

"It's good to see you too, Steven."

"Wait…" recognition slowly crossed Steven's features as he moved to sit up. "We were in Shoal Cave, and there was a tunnel collapse… And – " he grimaced, trying to recall, "—and there was a light… How did we…?"

"As much as I'd like to take all the credit for our valiant escape, you and your two fossils saved me. So naturally after you collapsed in the home stretch, I had to return the favor."

When Wallace's explanation left Steven staring in confusion, the Sootopolitan rolled his eyes with feigned exasperation.

"Long story short, you fainted from hypothermia and Victoria carried you back here to Mossdeep."

To Wallace's surprise, Steven rolled his eyes to the ceiling as he lay back onto the pillow with a groan. "Metang is gonna be furious with me."

Wallace quirked an eyebrow. "Do you do this often?"

"Metang seems to think so… Where are we anyway?"

At this, Wallace actually looked a bit sheepish. "Well, I didn't know where else to go in Mossdeep, so I brought you to Taj and Mira's house –"

"The Gym Leaders' house?!" Steven sputtered and then groaned once again, earning another funny look from Wallace. "I really need to stop meeting the Gym Leaders like this…"

"So you do do this often?"

Steven buried his head under the blankets with a muffled moan. "Well not on purpose."

"Well you're definitely going to have to tell me the story now."

With just his eyes peeking out above the top of the blanket, Steven gave Wallace his best 'not on your life' glare.

Before Wallace could prod further, the door to the room swung open and a man and a woman walked in.

"Oh, you're awake! – "

" –Thank goodness."

Their matching blue outfits and the way they spoke; almost as one mind, told Steven exactly who they were. Quickly burying his embarrassment, Steven sat upright on the futon to greet the two Gym Leaders.

Taj smiled. "We were so worried when Wallace brought you here – "

" – you were so cold, and your pokemon was so frantic," Mira finished his thought.

At the mention of Metang, Steven's face fell. How many times would his partner put up with its reckless trainer?

"Don't worry, Metang is very understanding, just hoping you are back to full health soon – "

" – It told us as much when it arrived. We can commune with psychic pokemon, after all."

Taj grinned. "And we're not offended – "

" – We're used to getting surprised looks when we tell people we are psychic."

Steven blinked dumbly, as he somehow just had a complete conversation with the Mossdeep Gym Leaders without speaking a word.

"In any case, you must be tired – "

"—We'll let you rest."

"Once you feel up to it, your pokemon are waiting for you in the yard – "

" – But please, you are welcome to stay here as long as you need to get back on your feet."

With a wave, the Gym Leaders slipped out of the room.

Still stunned, Steven was at a loss for words, so Wallace piped up for him, eyes still on the door.

"It's a real trip, huh? Makes for a fun Gym battle, I'm sure. Having your opponent able to read your every move, even before you know what it is."

"So why are you still here, exactly?"

Wallace chuckled, moving to stand up from where he sat. "Let's just say the Gym Leaders weren't the only ones who were concerned about your wellbeing."

Steven gave him a guarded look. "You'll have to forgive me if I don't believe you…"

Already on his way to the door, Wallace paused and drew a quiet breath before turning to face the bedridden trainer.

"I've seen a lot of trainers come through our Gym… I can count on one hand the number of them that could have orchestrated such a rescue under those circumstances. I'll admit, I didn't think much of you when we met back in Lilycove. The only anticipation I had for our next meeting was to send you and your team home from our Gym, sans badge. Now I must confess, that anticipation has changed. I look forward to our next meeting, but for very different reasons."

A silence held between the two trainers, Wallace's words still hanging in the air that all of a sudden felt considerably lighter.

"Wait, before you go," Steven suddenly spoke as he managed to rise from the futon and began rifling through his pack.

Wallace quirked a brow at Steven's puzzling action.

"Here –" Steven rose shakily and thrust an object into Wallace's hands. "As thanks for getting me both in and out of that cave in one piece."

It was Wallace's turn to blink in confusion as he looked at the gleaming water stone that rested in his palm.

"Steven, wh – why are you giving me this?"

Steven weakly laughed.

"Don't think about it too hard, it's just as I said. Besides, I don't have much use for it anyway. I'm not planning to deal with water too much after this."

"Are you not coming to the Sootopolis Gym?"

Worry flashed across Steven's face. "Your Gym isn't designed after a cave, is it?"

"Heavens no!"

"Then I'll be fine. Just no more mixing water and underground caverns…"

At this, Wallace smiled. "So you finally agree."

"Let's not get carried away…"

"A victory is a victory, no matter how small."

Steven couldn't hide his grin, "Fine, but when we meet again the next victory will be mine."

Wallace turned his nose up to regard Steven with a skeptical glance. "We shall see. But for now, I'll be taking my leave."

With one hand on the doorknob, Wallace swept it open with a flourish.

"Farewell for now, Steven. I will await your arrival in Sootopolis with bated breath."

...With your partners at your side, being curious about your surroundings could pay off. You never know what sort of things you can discover in unexpected places.


Flygon connoisseur
  1. flygon
  2. swampert
  3. ho-oh
  4. crobat
  5. orbeetle
  6. joltik
  7. salandit
  8. tyrantrum
So I'm nearly caught up but I'm going back to review, starting with chapter 4.

Obviously this is one of my favorites. It hits a lot of my buttons. Wild pokemon interactions, mystery, discovery, crisis evolutions! and new team members. I love the way these moments make the pokemon world feel so alive. All the pokemon feel very fleshed out and this moment serves as such a unique way to find a fossil.

An ancient Baltoy colony, possibly centuries old. I wonder if Baltoy age?

"Don't you start with me too. Beldum already gave me an earful when we left Mauville."
I love the way these little lines make the connection between pokemon and trainer feel so alive and wonderful. I really want to capture this in my own stories and I am studying your material.

"…Besides, he's too busy with the company to even notice I've even borrowed it in the first place."
:{ I sense a touch of angst. poor Steven. I do enjoy the use of small lines like this slipped in to hint at Steven's relationship with his dad. We know daddy Stone isn't awful but he's also not perfect.

Steven kneeled down next to Aron and smoothed the map down over the sand between them. Aron pinned the corner down with its leg to combat the desert wind, and the two peered at the map together. With his finger, Steven traced over the faded lines as he relayed a working theory to his partner.
MMMM I loved this. What a cute mental picture. If I was an artist I'd draw it.

As Aron dragged itself out of yet another Trapinch pit it had accidentally tumbled into, Steven finally decided that the stubborn and overly-tired pokemon was causing more trouble than it was preventing. Waiting for Aron to catch back up, Steven withdrew its pokeball with a shake of his head.

"Sorry, Aron. Get some rest, and you can come back out once we get to the dig site."
Trapinch friend!! Also bonus points for this interaction.

But how else could Dusty have recognized him and so quickly have deduced that he actually was searching for fossils as his father had done before.
Dusty more like Sus-ty

Steven spent the better part of the next hour regretting his politeness while trying his best to ignore the ruin maniac that strutted along ahead of him. At first he humored Dusty with small talk, but he quickly grew tired of the exercise. Even lapsing into silence wasn't enough of a hint to convince the chatty man to cease his endless babbling. Steven couldn't fathom how one man could talk for so long about absolutely nothing.
This line was so freaking relatable. I would probably do the same thing, tolerating some stranger only to regret it but be too anxious to try to back away. Ah, poor Steven.

"That sandstorm was no natural phenomenon either, then. You deliberately separated us from Dusty and brought us here alone. Why?"
Because Dusty is sus and they knew it

Instead, Beldum ignored its trainer's pleas and floated off to join the Baltoy at the temple doors.

With a frustrated sigh, Steven allowed the Baltoy to fill in behind him as he followed his starter. As he reached the top of the stone steps, both pokemon darted inside the structure, and Steven ducked through the doorway after them.
I adore pokemon dragging their trainers around

Steven took in his surrounds
Typo here I think? Took in his surroundings

"You didn't bring me here to save the ruins. You brought me here to save your friends…"
;v; I love this line

A pair of red eyes stared down at him, and he quickly realized that the only thing preventing him and his partner from being dragged into the sinkhole was a blue foreleg wrapped around his midsection and a second blue claw anchored into a slab of sandstone that jutted out overhead.

"You… you evolved!

Hefting the fossil slab in his arms, Steven set off toward the western horizon. Neatly folded in his pocket sat the map, ready to be returned to his father's files.

Site has been thoroughly explored. No discoveries to report. Mark site as "Abandoned".
MMM. Nice

Although wild pokemon can be elusive, it's been theorized that sometimes they may choose to reveal themselves in order to communicate with humans. As a trainer, it is important to be attentive to the pokemon you encounter in the wild; you never know what they could be trying to tell us.
I really love how you treat the pokemon world. They really feel like beings with their own whole thing going on. Yet it never feels ostentatious or annoying, and the pokemon are still able to be with trainers and work together.

And now for chapter 5. I have a lot less to say about this chapter. I liked it, and definitely appreciated it more on my second read, but it's also not my favorite. Not that its bad! But I am a little sad that Steven didn't get forced into a contest, although it makes sense he would never actually do something like that.

I had hoped to see a wee bit more from the contest aspect though. Even though Steve was impressed by the Steel Wing, I wish we could've seen Wallace compete, or even had a mock battle with him where Wallace would show off something about contests to Steven. Given the focus of this episode seemed to be contests, I wish I could've seen that tie into the overall 'theme'/'message' of this chapter more. Even if he walked up on Wallace doing a display or about to do one, and maybe he's confused by his choice of Feebas, until he sees her in action.

That said I am definitely not saying you have to rewrite or anything! Those are just my thoughts, hah. it was still a super cute and relaxing chapter, with all the usual charm of Steven and his team interacting, funny occurences (like that crazy lady, whose son I pity) and still had relevance. Steven met some important people, saw a Swablu using Steel Wing, and got the idea for his next team member. All in all, still enjoyable!
Sensing that their trainer's errands were done for the day, Steven's team rattled in their pokeballs at his hip. Resting a light hand on his belt, he chuckled.
I positively love this idea that the balls can rattle on their own!!!

I can't wait to review chapter 6, kekeekk
Chapter 10 - Mend


Hoenn around
  1. aggron
  2. lairon
Ch. 10 – After Dewford, Steven finds himself with plenty of downtime, though not by choice. Stuck in Slateport, he's on the hunt for a new partner, despite doctor's orders...

Chapter 10 - Mend

Pokemon Trainer's Handbook Tip #12: While on the road, trainers must be mindful of both the care of themselves and their pokemon. Pokemon Centers are free and available to all trainers, but there is always the possibility of being caught far from a Center and in need of aid…

"Three weeks?!"

"I'm afraid so. You'll have to come back in for an x-ray and then we can decide if the cast can come off at that point."

The doctor's words might as well have been in ancient Johtonian for how much Steven was now listening. His sullen gaze had fallen to the hospital room's floor along with his spirits. He was stuck for three weeks in Slateport? He hadn't even gotten a chance to explore the city, and yet it almost felt like a prison sentence.

"Are you listening?"


Steven's head flew up in alarm. Busted.

Looking mildly annoyed at being ignored, the doctor cleared his throat before continuing. "As I was saying… after your three week check-up we'll most likely be able to remove the cast, but you'll have to continue to wear the sling to support your shoulder for a few more weeks afterward."

But Steven's eyes had already drifted back to his lap where the fingers of his right hand flexed ever so slowly, just peeking out beneath the sleeve of plaster that traced all the way up to his upper arm. He could feel the scratchy fabric of the hospital issued sling digging into his neck.

"… And that means you'll have to take it easy until then. I'd recommend putting any pokemon training on hold at least until the next appointment."

Just a recommendation... Which Steven had no intention of following. As much as he dreaded being trapped in Slateport for so long, he knew he'd get through it. But if he had to do it without being able to do much of anything with his pokemon, especially after what he promised on the boat, he knew he'd go stir crazy. Besides, it's not like he would be doing cartwheels or climbing trees…

The doctor paused only a moment to write something on a slip of paper, then handed it to Steven.

"Give this to the nurse at the Pokemon Center. It'll let them know you'll be there for an extended stay on my orders. I'll see you again in three weeks."

It didn't take long for Steven to realize why the doctor hadn't been so strict about the training restriction. It was only a brief walk from the hospital to the Pokemon Center, and already he was having difficulties. His pack hung awkwardly off his left shoulder, and out of habit he would attempt to reach and adjust it only to find the sling rudely halting the movement. He grumbled at the realization that the PokeNav in his right pocket was totally inaccessible, and to top it all off, it was almost physically impossible for him to reach for his pokeballs at his right hip.

The doctor had known… It wasn't that training would hinder his recovery; it's that there were so many limitations on what he could do without the use of his dominant arm. Despite this, Steven was determined to find a way to not have the next three weeks be a complete waste. He at least owed Aron and Beldum that much.

By the time the doors of the Pokemon Center whirred shut behind him, whatever painkillers the hospital had given him were wearing off and it was starting to feel as if he had been trampled by a herd of Tauros. He trudged to the front desk and stopped, letting his pack slide to the ground with a heavy thunk. Fishing in his pocket for the doctor's note, he tried to ignore the look of pity from Nurse Joy when he handed it to her. She scanned it quickly and then offered a polite smile.

"While I'm sorry to hear about your injuries, we here at the Slateport Pokemon Center strive to make your recovery as comfortable as possible. Your room will be the first one at the top of the escalator," she gestured off to her right before sliding a keycard and what looked to be a small remote across the desktop. "If you need any assistance during your stay, please use that call button and a nurse will be right up to help."

Steven blinked in surprise. It was no wonder Jude had pushed him to Slateport in such a hurry; Dewford's tiny Pokemon Center would never have been able to offer this kind of care.

As he swiped the two items from the counter, Nurse Joy bowed. "Trainer, even though you are here under unfortunate circumstances, we hope you enjoy your stay."

The first day at the Pokemon Center was miserable. After struggling to do the simplest of things, like discovering how buttons had suddenly become his greatest nemesis, his frustration finally peaked at how much effort it took to simply let Beldum and Aron out of their balls. He gave an exasperated sigh and plopped on down the bed as the two pokemon materialized in the room, completely forgetting this was the first time they had seen him since he left the hospital. Beldum immediately chirped in alarm and whined a questioning note as its eye drifted toward Steven's cast. Aron too barked with worry at their trainer's glum expression.

"Sorry you two, you're going to have to bear with me until I get used to this..." he tried to shrug the offending limb but the attempted motion only made him wince. "So until this heals, I guess say hello to our home for the near future."

As the words left his lips, Steven realized he actually didn't know much about Slateport at all. He knew from his father that there was a lot of shipping and fabrication at the city's industrial port, and that its beaches were what all of the tourism magazines clamored about, but that was it. After a contortionist exercise to reach the PokeNav in his pocket, Steven dove into researching all that Slateport had to offer a one-armed trainer.

Face set in concentration, he used his left hand to thumb through the menus, grumbling at the difficulty of something that was basically second nature.

"You try doing this with only one… hand…"

His voice trailed off as Beldum gave him narrow-eyed glare. Aron simply sat back on his haunches and quirked his head to one side with an innocent snort.

"Right…" He finally managed to open up the Slateport City map. "So what should we do for the next three weeks?"

Steven already knew the real answer was to get out of Slateport as soon as possible, but his question hung in the air as he studied the sprawling extents of the map. In reality, the city was huge and even with his extended stay he would be hard pressed to even explore a third of it. This would have been a comforting realization if he was here on vacation, but he wasn't, and his desire for sightseeing wouldn't hold up for twenty straight days.

But Steven knew he wouldn't be prepared to leave the city right away, so he spent the rest of the evening pouring over the map with Beldum and Aron, planning their activities for the next few days. Or at least as many days as he thought it would take for him to get sick of Slateport. He secretly hoped that number would be less than the number of days it would take for his body to stop aching.

The first night proved to be an even more miserable experience, as Steven discovered it was nearly impossible to lay down with the sling and cast combination. Eventually he gave up and found himself ringing the nurse in the middle of the night, sheepishly asking for some extra pillows to try to prop his shoulder in a comfortable position. She happily obliged. Unfortunately, Steven's stubbornness had cost him the night's sleep, and the next morning, he wasn't in the cheeriest mood.

But no matter how tired he felt, there was no way he was going to sit and mope in the PokeCenter all day. With a little help from Beldum, he managed to sit up adjust the sling from where it had shifted after a night of tossing and turning.

Gingerly, he swung his feet to the floor and eyed his boots with a heavy dose of skepticism. Aron barked and trotted up to the foot of the bed and Steven gave him a wistful look.

"I don't suppose you know how to tie shoes do you?"

When Aron only cocked its head to the side with a quizzical look, Steven sighed.

"It was worth a shot…"

Resigning to just pulling the laces tight and shoving them down into the boot, Steven finally got to his feet. His pokemon watched in silence as he shuffled over to the mirror in an attempt to brush the wrinkles from the clothes he slept in the previous night. There was no way he had the patience to change, so disheveled would have to do for now. He ran a hand through his hair and grimaced at the weary face staring back at him. No wonder Nurse Joy gave him that sympathetic smile.

Steven gathered the wallet and two pokeballs from the nightstand and stuffed them into his pocket. It felt strange, but after the debacle of getting the pokeballs off his belt last night, they couldn't go back to their usual place.

As satisfied as he could be with the current situation, Steven headed for the door and beckoned his team to follow.

"C'mon, let's head out."

But when Aron hesitated next to Steven's pack with a questioning bark, Steven gave a sad smile and shook his head.

"No training today," he wiggled the fingers of his injured arm, "Doctor's orders. I can't be a disobedient patient on the first day. But soon enough, we'll get to work."

Aron pondered for a moment before nodding and Beldum hummed in agreement. They understood. Every day would be a step forward, and the first step right now was to rest and recover.

And so it went, with every morning becoming slightly less tedious, and every day becoming slightly more boring, and every night becoming slightly less miserable than the first. And as the days ticked off in Steven's mental calendar, he would glance toward the closet where his pack sat, and he would find his will to obey the doctor's wishes for just one more day weaken little by little.

By the end of the first week, when the lingering aches finally gave way to restful sleep, the haziness of fatigue lifted and Steven's brain was suddenly as itchy as his cast. He had finally reached his breaking point. He couldn't stay in the city any longer. Seeing the same streets, the same buildings, the same surroundings he was confined to every day. Even the beach lost its appeal. He needed to get out of Slateport.

So that's how Steven found himself eagerly filling his pack on the morning of the eighth day. As he tested the weight with his good arm, Beldum bobbed at his side with a chattering question.

"It'll just be for a few days," he lied, "I need a change of scenery, and I'm sure you do too." That part wasn't a lie.

Beldum looked him up and down one more time and then relinquished with a small hum. It wasn't going to be able to sway Steven's mind, and Aron wasn't helping either. When Steven had brought his pack out from the closet, Aron immediately perked up, clearly just as excited as his trainer to go on a new adventure.

Steven brought his PokeNav out and settled onto the bed for a moment so Beldum and Aron could see.

"We're not going far, just a ways up Route 110 until we get to the intersection with Route 103. We'll camp out for a few nights and then come right back. The nurses won't even know we're gone."

Beldum rolled its eye, clearly skeptical, but Aron barked happily and bounded toward the door. Steven smiled as he hoisted his bag and followed suit.

"Trust me, I want to be rid of this thing as fast as possible." He picked at one of the sling's straps. "I'll take it easy. No caves this time, just an easy hike."

Still not thoroughly convinced by Steven's words, Beldum chimed a low tone and dutifully followed its partners out the door.

Steven quickly decided this was the best idea he had since leaving Petalburg. The air of Route 110 was crisp and refreshing, not filled with stench of hot asphalt or engine exhaust. It was almost as if his whole body let out collective sigh as grass replaced concrete beneath his feet. Beldum too had perked up since its earlier mood back at the PokeCenter. Both it and Aron playfully darted about at the edges of the long grass, happy to obey their trainer's wishes to avoid stirring up too much trouble, at least most of the time. Whenever the duo would rile up a Zigzagoon or Poochyena, Steven would sigh and step in to take charge, but secretly he was grinning from ear to ear.

With the excitement of the wild pokemon encounters, Steven found his mind quickly wandering back to his journey. After the disastrous showing in Dewford, he vowed to be prepared for his next badge. His extended stay in Slateport offered plenty of time to do his research and he knew the next Gym Leader in his sights was Wattson, the electric specialist.

Eyeing his two frolicking pokemon, he knew the match with Wattson wouldn't be as daunting as the one with Jude; Aron and Beldum weren't weak to electric attacks, but they weren't super effective against the type either. Perhaps he should consider doing some scouting of the Routes prior to Mauville to see if he could add another teammate to help out against the electric pokemon he would be facing…

Almost as if on cue, Aron barked sharply as the grass rustled nearby where it had been sniffing. Steven turned his attention toward the noise and watched as a green gelatinous blob slid its way out of the underbrush. The creature's beady black eyes slowly fixated on the little steel type and it sized up the inquisitive pokemon. Aron had fallen silent, content to observe the unknown pokemon for now, but Beldum quickly arrived at Aron's side and with a hum and a nudge it edged the two of them back away from the wild pokemon.

Steven frowned at Beldum's protective gesture. He needed only a moment to recognize the green blob as a Gulpin, a poison type pokemon. Aron would have been fine if it had turned aggressive. But as he watched further, the Gulpin finally tore its gaze from Aron and began to glide over toward a discarded soda pop can that lay at the edge of the road. It certainly didn't seem like the most excitable pokemon, and for a brief moment Steven wondered if it might be worth trying to catch. Its poison attacks could be useful in a longer battle. He slowly lowered his pack to the ground and rifled around, searching for a pokeball, all without taking his eyes off the Gulpin. Not as if it could suddenly dart away, but they weren't the most common pokemon from what he'd read.

But the Gulpin happily ignored the trio and eventually slowed to a stop beside its prey. It eyed the trash closely and then seemingly oblivious to its onlookers, opened its gooey maw as wide as its entire body and proceeded to swallow its target in one fell swoop. Its mouth snapped shut with an unsettling smack. Steven pulled a face in disgust. There was no way he was even slightly interested in having that thing on his team now. What if it decided to just swallow Aron whole one day? A quick glance down at the pokemon in question told him a similar thought must have crossed its mind too, as it sat in unblinking shock before a shiver broke its gaze and it edged even further away from the wild Gulpin. Beldum chattered a quiet laugh at Aron's obvious unease and the teasing sent Aron chasing after it, but not without giving the Gulpin a wide berth, just in case.

The remainder of the day passed uneventfully and in the evening the trio camped out in the shade of the elevated bike path at the intersection of Route 103. Both trainer and pokemon had missed the call of the open road, and no complaints were made when the next morning they set off toward the shady pathways of Route 103. The rarely traveled Route proved to be a great place for Steven and his team to simply relax. The few trainers they did encounter along the way were understanding enough once they saw Steven's cast, and the battles they held were light and friendly. That night they made camp on the small beach at the edge of Route 103. The soft sound of lapping waves lulled the group into a blissful sleep.

The next morning, Steven held true to his word, and they began their trek back to Slateport. With the scenery no longer brand new, Steven found his mind wandering back to the idea of a new team member. So far he had come up empty on potential. It's not that any of the pokemon native to Route 110 weren't solid pokemon given proper training, but Steven didn't really find himself enamored with any of the types he saw, especially not that Gulpin. The hope that there might have been a decent rock type native to the area was growing fainter as the bike path came back into view.

Finding his eyes drawn to the towering structure that overshadowed the winding path of grass and sea that comprised the rest of Route 110, something odd caught Steven's eye. A streak of yellow and green was darting along outside the safety railing. Beldum must have seen it too because it quickly jerked to attention and chirped in alarm.

Steven peered closer, and to both his amazement and horror, he realized that the brightly colored object was actually a pokemon, an Electrike, and it was teetering dangerously close to the unprotected edge of the elevated path. How this pokemon had gotten up there, Steven would never know, and he no longer had time to wonder either, as something or someone up on the bike path let out a loud shout, causing the Electrike to jump in surprise.

Trying to recover from the the sudden noise, the skittish pokemon slipped and its rear paw reached out and came in contact with nothing but air. Time seemed to slow as its back end followed suit, while its front paws scrabbled at the steel sides of the bike path in vain. Flecks of paint were scratched free, leaving only desperate claw marks in their wake as the Electrike tumbled backwards, helpless to stop its descent.

Aron's frightened bark snapped Steven from his trance, and he broke into a sprint. With a heave, he flung his pack around his shoulder to grasp it at the front with his right hand. The motion was met with plenty of resistance both from the sling and from his body, but with his eyes glued to the doomed pokemon it was easy to ignore. He was still running when his hand clamped down on an empty pokeball. The Electrike had fallen so far already, but there was still time. Shedding his pack to the ground in one motion, he cocked his left arm back and threw the pokeball with a shout of exertion. It wasn't a graceful throw, he was right-handed after all, but the trajectory looked sound. The breath caught in Steven's throat as he stared desperately at his throw, as if somehow he could simply will the pokeball to strike its target, saving the hapless Electrike from its inevitable fate.

The pokeball sailed wide to the right as Beldum screeched in terror.

With a dull thud, the Electrike hit the ground at the edge of Route 110 and the resulting momentum sent it somersaulting into the sea. Steven's heart sunk.

Amazingly, a flash of yellow and green reemerged from the water followed by frantic splashing as the injured pokemon tried to drag itself back to solid ground. But the Electrike was too stunned to battle against the current and by the time Steven arrived at the water's edge, it had drifted too far out of reach. His mind raced as he heard the Electrike's yelping and whining as it struggled to stay above water. He had to do something, and fast.

"Aron! My pack!"

There was no telling how the terrified and injured pokemon would react to being handled. He would have to rely on the same plan as earlier…

Aron had returned to his side pack in tow, grunting with the effort. Steven quickly dumped the bag on its side, bringing out every pokeball he had left.

As much as he wanted to panic and just throw them rapid fire, Steven hefted the first ball and paused to take a steadying breath. Face locked in concentration he took aim and threw. With a splash, it missed the Electrike too far to the left. Steven stooped to collect another pokeball and aimed again. This one splashed into the water too, but closer this time. Aron nosed another ball forward, and Steven picked up his third attempt, not entirely sure he could keep his nerves in check as the Electrike drifted further and further away. He drew in a breath and held it, then brought his arm forward.

His aim was true, and for a brief moment the Electrike slipped beneath the waves and Steven feared the throw might be in vain with no target for the pokeball to strike, but then yellow and green broke the surface once more, just in time for the pokeball to bounce off its snout and it vanished in a swirl of red light. Beldum chattered in celebration, but Steven was hesitant to join in.

"Not yet," he muttered, "It could still break out."

But as the ball bobbed in the water, the indicator light finally blinked off, and Steven exhaled in relief. He still somehow had to retrieve the ball, but at least the Electrike was no longer in danger of drowning.

Thinking quickly, Beldum found a long tree branch and together they used the extended reach to sweep the pokeball to shore. Steven scooped it out of the water and jogged back to where Aron was waiting at his pack with a tight expression. The trio knew their little excursion was over for now. They needed to get Electrike to the Pokemon Center as fast as possible.

Steven abandoned all subtlety as he burst through the Pokemon Center doors and hurried up the the nurse. Her face shifted from startled surprise to veiled disappointment to genuine concern in a matter of moments as she took in Steven's harried expression. He was short of breath as he placed a singular pokeball on the desk.

"I'll apologize for sneaking out later, but right now I have a pokemon that needs urgent care."

Nurse Joy's stern expression returned in full force.

"There's a very good reason the doctor's orders were to avoid training while you are still healing..."

Steven shook his head. "It's not one of mine. It was in trouble, so I caught it." His shoulders slumped even as the nurse's gaze softened. "I didn't know what else to do."

Gently picking the pokeball off the counter, Nurse Joy politely bowed. "You did the right thing. I'll let you know when you can see it." And with that she swept away into the depths of the Center.

When Steven got back to his room, he shrugged his bag off unceremoniously and slumped onto the bed letting his head fall into his one good hand. For some reason he couldn't shake that Electrike from his thoughts. It wasn't even his pokemon, and yet he still found himself worried. As he continued to silently puzzle over why one wild pokemon could make his chest feel so tight, Aron and Beldum both looked on with concern.

In the morning Steven nervously made his way down to the main desk. Joy looked up as she saw him approach and she gave a soft smile.

"Your Electrike is going to make it, although it's still in rough shape."

Steven frowned. "Well, it's not technically mine..."

"You caught it in a pokeball didn't you?"

"Yes, but I mean... I was planning on releasing it once it was healthy."

"Well that won't be for some time, so I hope you are prepared to care for it."

"What do you mean?"

Joy paused a moment to take a soft breath, but her voice held strong. "We can only treat pokemon wounds, not make them heal instantly. Your Electrike will still need care beyond what we can offer for it to properly recover."

Steven didn't bother to correct the nurse this time. "It will? But I thought..."

She shook her head. "Pokemon Center healing is very good at taking care of minor injuries and fatigue sustained in battles, but some injuries can be too extreme. Unfortunately, we cannot offer long term care for every pokemon that comes in, so we quickly treat pokemon as best as we can. Once they are no longer in critical condition, we release them into the care of their trainers." Suddenly her composure slipped, and her gaze fell. "As much as I would like us to be, we're not a pokemon hospital...we can only do so much."

Steven stayed silent. He had never considered that the Pokemon Center was only a quick fix. He just assumed the hospital was for treatment of pokemon that weren't trained for battle. Suddenly an air of concern fell over him. What if Beldum or Aron had gotten seriously hurt in Dewford? Nevermind the fact that he was able to make it to Slateport with his own injuries; the cast felt like a small price to pay compared to the sort of injuries that could happen in a pokemon battle, and it was a price he would be willing to pay again to protect his partners. The fingers of his right hand clenched tight.

"Thank you, Nurse Joy. Please let me know when I can pick up Electrike."

"Actually you can take him with you now," she pressed a button on her computer as she spoke, "He'll be sluggish for the first day or so, so feel free to just let him rest. But after that, you'll need to let him out of his ball so he can stretch and get used to the cast." Her eyes briefly flicked to Steven's own before a Chansey appeared from the back of the Center carrying a single pokeball in her paws. "Here he is. Please take good care of Electrike. Although from everything you've done for him already, I think he'll be in good hands."

Later that afternoon when the realization finally sunk in that he had an official new teammate, Steven decided to let Electrike out so it could meet Beldum and Aron. His two pokemon excitedly hovered close as he sat in one of the parks nearby the Center, rolling Electrike's ball in his hand.

"All right guys, the nurse said he might still be groggy, but it's time we met our new partner."

With a gentle toss, he summoned his newest pokemon, and he realized this was his first time getting a good look at the electric type too. Even though it wasn't a planned capture, he still felt a thrill in getting to meet a new friend.

Standing squat on four sturdy legs, the Electrike wobbled only slightly before shaking itself, static crackling across its green and yellow fur. It yawned, revealing a lolling pink tongue and then blinked slowly as Steven and the two inquisitive steel pokemon came into view.

Immediately its demeanor shifted and it began to bristle and snarl, baring a set of sharp teeth. Beldum whined a single cautious note, but Aron was not as sympathetic, growling back at the hostile Electrike with narrow eyes.

Steven's heart sunk at the electric type's reaction. He couldn't blame it, really. It was hurt, confused, and probably scared to suddenly find itself somewhere unfamiliar and surrounded by strange people and pokemon. He kneeled down to the ground and called Beldum and Aron back to his side. Slowly he reached out with one hand, palm upturned.

"Hey, Electrike. I know it's scary, but we're not your enemy."

The air sparked with electric energy as the Electrike tried to edge away from Steven, only to be confused at the odd sensation of a plaster cast restricting the movement of one of its legs. Steven continued to talk softly, letting the Electrike fret over the cast at its own pace.

"You had an accident, a nasty fall, so we took you to the Pokemon Center to get help."

The Electrike's snarling had reduced to a suspicious growl as it eyed Steven, but it did begin to hesitantly move toward his outstretched hand.

"That's it," he coached, "Nothing to be scared of. Let's be friends."

Beldum chattered some encouragement, and Electrike's growls softened even more. But just as it stuck its nose out to sniff at Steven's palm, the air sparked with electricity again, and Electrike winced. Concern flashed across Steven's face as the electric type stumbled backwards, still crackling with energy. Suddenly it let loose a howl of pain and an arc of electricity jumped forward and tagged Steven on the wrist. His arm snapped back at the jolt, and Aron barked in warning. But Steven's concern wasn't the tingling sensation that lingered in his fingers, it was the way Electrike twisted and writhed under the assault of its own electricity. He didn't know much about electric type pokemon, but this wasn't right. He shook off the remains of the electric attack and quickly grabbed Electrike's ball, returning the distressed pokemon. Beldum whined again, sounding even more worried than before, and Steven silently rose and headed straight back to the Pokemon Center.

"Something's wrong with Electrike?" Joy's voice held a tinge of disbelief, as the pokemon in question had just been discharged mere hours ago.

Steven nodded, "He's being hurt by his own electric charges."

"You were out training an injured pokemon?"

Steven frowned. He really needed to better explain himself… This was the second time he'd caused the poor nurse to think he was such a negligent trainer.

"No, I let it out to simply stretch as you said, and it seemed like it wasn't able to control its charge."

It was Joy's turn to frown.

"That sounds odd, but if what you say is true, something more serious must be going on with your Electrike, but if we didn't catch it during preliminary treatment, then there might not be any more we can do for it here."

Steven paled at the nurse's words, but she quickly continued.

"I would recommend taking it to the Mauville Pokemon Center right away. Thanks to Wattson's expertise, they specialize in electric type pokemon care."

Immediately Steven's gaze sharpened. "Then this cast has to come off today."

Joy hesitated, but one look at the trainer's determined face told her he wouldn't back down.

"I'll call and see if the doctor has room in his schedule."

Steven's mind was a whirlwind as he jogged through the grass of Route 110. On one hand, he was elated. The doctor agreed to an earlier appointment and the x-ray came back clear after only two weeks' time. His cast was off and he was fitted with a new, less restrictive sling. Oh how it felt so good to use his arm again, and yet it was just so weak. Even grasping a pokeball proved to be taxing. The doctor told him his strength would return in time, but right now time was one thing he didn't have. Not with a dreadfully ill Electrike riding at his hip.

As soon as the doctor had adjusted the new sling he had the all-clear to travel once more, with moderation of course, and he left Slateport that same day. Nurse Joy had given him directions to the Mauville Pokemon Center and wished him a speedy journey, saying she had called ahead to arrange for Electrike's immediate care.

So in the end, Steven had gotten his wish, he was a free trainer once again, and yet he was plunging headlong toward the next Gym without any further training, all for a pokemon he barely even knew. In the end, the only thing he could do as he finally jogged into Mauville City was shake his head. This certainly wasn't a scenario they taught in trainer's school…

The journey to Mauville had taken the better part of two days, and Steven was exhausted as he stumbled into the Pokemon Center. Bracing himself against a column as he tried to catch his breath, a hearty voice echoed through the lobby.

"You must be the trainer with the Electrike. You sure got here in a flash, wahahaha!"

Steven's eyes narrowed. Did someone just crack an electricity pun?

"Joy told me the whole story. That was a mighty good thing you did to help that poor critter out. Now let's see what I can do to help you out."

"What? Right here?" Steven turned in surprise that someone would suggest treating a sick pokemon right in the Center's lobby. But as he spun to face the owner of the voice, he came face to face with a portly older man sporting a neat white beard and tackiest printed shirt he'd ever seen.

"Of course right here! Or my name's not Wattson!"

Steven must have given him an odd look because the Gym Leader just laughed. "What's the matter, you look shocked, wahaha!" He suddenly leaned in and spoke in a secretive manner, although his voice carried through the room anyway, "Don't worry, I won't charge for my help."

Resisting the urge to groan, Steven regained his composure and brought out Electrike's ball. With a reassuring nod from Wattson, he released it on the spot. Even before it had fully materialized, the air began to crackle with static and Wattson frowned.

Without a word, Wattson kneeled down just as Steven had done and inched toward the Electrike, all the while his eyes focused on the dancing electricity that surrounded the sick pokemon.

"Hey there little fella, let's see what's upsetting your charge."

Steven watched with bated breath as Wattson got closer and closer. Electricity snapped and sparked dangerously close to the older man, but he never flinched even once. Amazingly, Electrike hadn't growled at Wattson either, although it did whimper whenever a particularly nasty bolt sizzled over its fur. After what felt like minutes, Wattson reached the Electrike's side, and his weathered hands traced a soothing path along the Electrike's head and flank.

"There we go. Just relax."

And under the Leader's touch, it did. Even though it still trembled under the electricity's assault, Wattson managed to lay it on its side, and he gently prodded along the creature's stomach. Steven watched in amazement as Wattson was completely unfazed by the sparks that leapt from Electrike's body.

"Where didja say this poor thing fell?"

It took a moment for Steven to realize Wattson had asked him a question.

"Route 110."

"But where exactly?"

"Near the bike path, it fell into the water and was too injured to save itself."

"Ah ha! I knew it!"

Steven jumped at the sudden proclamation, but the Electrike still lay calmly in Wattson's lap.

"Your Electrike swallowed too much sea water, and now its electric sacs are over ionized. Poor guy is all out of balance. I can drain some of its excess charge with my pokemon."

The Leader dug into the pocket of his jumpsuit and brought out a pair of pokeballs. With a flash, a Magneton and a Voltorb appeared at his side and instantly the crackling electricity was drawn up and away from Electrike. The pained pokemon finally opened its eyes and turned its gaze up toward its saviors. Wattson grinned down at the Electrike and gave its head a hearty rub before addressing Steven again.

"Treat it with plenty of fresh water and stay away from processed pokemon food, too much salt content. In a few days it'll be back to its old self."

But Steven was only half listening. The entire time he hadn't been able to tear his gaze from Electrike, and soon he found himself shaking his head.

"I'm sorry, Wattson. I'm not sure I'll be able to do that."

"Whaddya mean, kid?"

"I mean, I guess I just don't think I'm the right trainer for him," he smiled wistfully. "I caught Electrike because I wanted to help him. Now that he doesn't need my help anymore, I want Electrike to be where he'll be happiest. And I think that's with you."

He held up Electrike's ball and pressed the center button for a few seconds. Two beeps later, the pokeball opened in his palm, empty. Electrike was no longer his.

"I made a promise to my partners that we'd get stronger together. And so far, I haven't even been able to keep up my end of the deal. It may sound selfish, but I want you to keep Electrike because I need to figure out how keep my promise to the pokemon who are with me now."

Wattson brought a hand on his chin in thought. It only lasted a second though, and he broke into a wide grin again.

"That's awfully thoughtful of you, trainer. I don't come across many youngins that aren't eager to get their hands on every pokemon they can." He gave the electric type one more pet and then brought out a pokeball of his own to tap against its back. The ball rocked gently only once and Wallace pocketed Electrike's pokeball with a nod.

As Steven watched, Wattson's grin suddenly morphed into a sly smile. "You're not nervous to face me, are you?"

That caught Steven off-guard. "What? Uh… no…."

Wattson seemingly found Steven's false bravado the most amusing thing he'd ever seen, and he burst out laughing.

"Wahahaha, don't worry about it! I'm just messing with you. Although, if you want a tip, some trainers have found that the wild pokemon on Route 111 can come in handy against my favorite pokemon…"

Steven blinked in confusion. Did the Gym Leader just give him a hint on how to beat him?

"Why are you telling me this? Aren't you supposed to want to defeat the trainers who challenge you?"

"Wahahaha! Did anyone ever tell you you ask too many questions, kid?" He winked. "Let's just say that even with a hint like that, ol' Wattson's still got some tricks up his sleeves. Being a Gym Leader takes creativity, not just strength. So do what you will with that little nugget."

Still pondering if this hint was a trick or not, Steven remained silent and Wattson gave him a pat on the shoulder, thankfully the sling-less one.

"Take as long as you need, kid. You know where to find me when you're ready."

And with that Wattson ducked out of the Pokemon Center with a wave and a warm smile.

Steven sat, still stunned as he processed what exactly to make of the jovial Gym Leader. Shaking his head, he turned to book a room at the Center for the night, but Wattson's words stuck with him.

"Route 111, huh?" The name sounded awfully familiar, and by the time he reached the main desk, he had figured out why. He would follow Wattson's recommendation, but not before paying his father a visit, or rather his father's stash of old maps...

Healthy pokemon are happy pokemon. You and your team will need to be at full strength to tackle the challenging road a trainer faces on their journey.


Flygon connoisseur
  1. flygon
  2. swampert
  3. ho-oh
  4. crobat
  5. orbeetle
  6. joltik
  7. salandit
  8. tyrantrum
Chapter 6


I'm sure you can guess this is easily one of my top favorite chapters of the whole story. Perfect. Flawless. This would honestly make for a superb poketoon short or other single episode. It stands on its own exceedingly well. I really enjoyed the use of flashback/flashforward. I think it made the story stronger, showing both his struggles to escape as well as how he ended up in the situation.

It added more impact instead of the usual linear form.

And of course, the overall themes and narrative here just *chef's kiss*. You know I love Pokemon/trainer bonds and relationships. You always do such a good job of keeping a light feel of adventures and friendship without changing the source extraneously.

The only slight part that tripped me up both times I read this was Steven challenging the gym right after getting out of the cave. I don't exactly have a problem with it, per se. But it did feel odd, considering the prior parts almost made me feel like Steven's injuries were pretty serious. Like, need a hospital immediately serious, but the latter half gives the impression he's just very busted up. Which can certainly both be true?

So its not bad, it just... made me pause.

From where he lay, he had a first class view of the cave's stone floor. The distinctive briny smell of seawater filled his nose while the sounds of trickling water echoed through the chamber. The ground was cool and clammy against his cheek, but the rest of his body felt as if it was on fire. A careful mental triage for the source of his discomfort was interrupted by the persistent burning of his eyes, and he found himself blinking back tears once again.
This was an excellent opening paragraph. I enjoyed the use of various senses to really capture a sense of place and feeling.

Beldum nudged his hand eagerly and Steven quirked an eyebrow, bringing his PokeNav up so he could see the screen. During his chat with the sailor, Beldum had managed to scroll the map down to Dewford Town and had toggled the town's description. As Steven read through the text, his eyes lit up.

"It says here that there's a pretty sizeable cave along the northern shore of the island. You may be on to something, Beldum. That would definitely be something worth checking out."
Another lovely moment of having the pokemon rule the situation. I love these moments. I'm going to try to incoporate them in LA!

"Oh oh, Dad, can I battle him?" A boy with similarly spiky hair bounced up through the crowd of junior trainers waving his arm excitedly.

"Nah, Brawly. You should save your strength for tomorrow's challengers,
I love the way you tie in canon characters to this!!

From the first command, Beldum was tossed around like a sentient piece of gym equipment, and Steven watched helplessly as his partner was bunted across the Gym in a flurry of swift striking attacks. He could barely contain his embarrassment as he collected his battered partner and swiftly exited the Gym, unable to meet either Jude or Brawly's concerned eyes on the way out.
Ah yep, poor Beldum. Also glad you chose not to show this battle. Good choice, the way you described it here works better than writing it out. (I should learn to write battles less maybe lol)

The wild pokemon had begun to prepare another attack, but instead of striking out, it hesitated, cocking its head to one side before casting a short glance over its shoulder. Beldum blinked as it too noticed the strange behavior.

But Steven shook his head and redoubled his focus. They couldn't afford to get distracted, even if it was just a wild pokemon.
Tsk tsk, shoulda paid attention Steven.

He should have remembered the warning in the passage about sea caves that he read on the boat ride to Dewford. He should have paid more attention to the nervous way Beldum had chattered as it glanced toward the large opening in the cavern floor before it attacked. He should have guessed what was about to happen from the way the faint gurgle of the sea amplified into a dull roar in a matter of moments. But he didn't. And because of that, the only thing he could recall when the wave pushed through the nearby blowhole was chaos.
I like the use of repetition in the leading words to establish a sense of... idk how to describe it? Rythym? Drama? It's good.

Unable to brace for impact, the crunching blow of suddenly meeting the cavern floor below sent starbursts of pain flashing across eyes that were squeezed shut against the terror of it all. Gentle tumbling as the last of the water flooded around his limp form, slowly being nudged along in the tide until coming to rest with finality. And then silence.
So I think I know what you were trying to evoke with these sentences, intentionally writing them choppy to mimic the situation. However, I think a small rephrase could help.

{"The crunching blow of suddenly meeting the cavern floor below. Starbursts of pain flashing across eyes that were squeezed shut against the terror of it all. Gentle tumbling as the last of the water flooded around his limp form, slowly being nudged along in the tide until coming to rest with finality. And then silence."}

Would add to the vibe you're go for maybe. The main thing is the first sentence in the quote is written like a regular, grammatically correct one, normal structure, but most of the surrounding ones evoke abrupt, staccato vibes. But you don't have to use mine exactly, whatever works for you!

Aron retrieved the cap in its jaws and waited for Steven to take several gulps before dropping it in his palm. "Thanks, Aron."
Aron is adorable I want 100 of him

Somehow Aron had managed to bump the toggle on an empty pokeball and got itself captured inside.
Right. Somehow. Accidentally.:wink:

Hesitantly, Steven reached for the ball and toggled the release. Flashing bright, Aron reappeared and barked as it stared back at its new trainer.

Rubbing the bridge of his nose, Steven couldn't deny how pleased the little Aron looked, so he sighed again. "Well, welcome to the team, I guess."

Aron trotted back up to Steven's side and nosed at the pack at his feet until it produced a potion in its jaws. With a small grunt, it offered the potion up toward Steven, and he gingerly kneeled down to administer it.
Lol who's in charge here??? This made me chuckle though, this Aron is very determined and tenacious.

With a war-cry of its own, Aron plummeted downward and tucked into its own attack, landing the headbutt squarely to the back of Hariyama's head. The monstrous sumo pokemon collapsed to the ground in a heap, knocked out. Aron too hit the ground and tumbled to a stop at Steven's feet.

Shocked into frozen silence, Steven watched as Aron let out a soft grunt and staggered back to its feet, victorious. He was still staring dumbfounded at his pokemon when he heard footsteps approaching.

Nervously glancing up at the Gym Leader, he saw a flash of disappointment flit across Jude's face.

"Looks like we lost," he shrugged as one hand came to rest on his hip. "That's quite the tenacious little Aron you have there. I'm not sure what sort of bond you two share, but it's clear that it cares for you a lot. Make sure you don't let it down."
I'm both stunned and delighted. This was an amusing twist.

This whole chapter was a delight, like I said, and I otherwise have no strong complaints!

Chapter 7 is Next!

So generally speaking I really liked chapter 7. Even though it does press my usual buttons, I found it well paced, tense, and interesting. The action was particularly exciting and the characterizations excellent as always. So basically, from an objective standpoint, its a well crafted chapter and a lot happens, and it feels purposeful and useful.

However, I do have some more subjective thoughts. Specifically on Sheila and her little gang. I've read this chapter twice actually, and both times (though less so the second time) did leave me a little perplexed. The first time I read it, I struggled to connect with Sheila's motivations as well as how their little groups behaviours lined up in the world.

I had a tough time buying them turning into petty thieves because they lost at the league. Reading again, it was a little easier to get. They felt like failures, like they had no chance, nothing left for them except the caves. So I can mostly get their motivation.

What I found harder to grasp was how their actions fit into the world. Thievery and threatening trainers with their lives felt so extreme, yet the narrative treated it like it was just... slightly naughty? Like a kid throwing a tantrum (which I guess they kinda are lol). But isn't what they're doing like... illegal? I guess in the pokemon world laws and behaviors are viewed differently, its the only assumption I can make here, which is fair if thats the case!

It's just, at the end Steven words make it sound like... you only get one shot at the league and these poor sad kids are kinda doing it because the league will never let them rematch? Which is rematches aren't allowed this whole thing does make more sense. Despite the fact that they're uh, sorta committing crimes, no? So the narrative basically seems to frame these petty thieves as being unjustly wronged by society instead of making a choice to give up and turn to illegal activity, which left me perplexed.

But these are primarily subjective thoughts that confused me.

Steven never considered himself a betting man, but right at that moment he would have been willing to put money on the fact that tears of joy had never been shed on the entry side of Victory Road

With a flip of its wings and a short screech, Skarmory blew a gust of air in Steven's direction, sending dirt and dust swirling.
what a smug bird

"— and my pokemon."
That's a dangerous offer, Steven. But I guess he's really confident. Honestly, would his pokemon even listen to another trainer? hm...

"Let me tell you a little story before I give you my answer. I used to be a trainer just like you. All bright-eyed and bushy-tailed and ready to take on the Pokemon League. Except I got stuck here. I was running low on supplies, but my ego kept me from hitting that emergency beacon.

"While I was trapped down in these caves, contemplating my slow and eventual death, I had a realization. Not just anyone can become the next Champion. Realistically, that's not you, or me, or any of us," she swept an arm out towards the gathered trainers. "When we got out of here, we'd probably just get crushed by the Elite Four and have to slink home with our tails between our legs. Then what? Life as a trainer doesn't prepare you for what happens after your dreams get smashed into little pieces.

"So that's when I decided, if I couldn't go forward, and I couldn't go back, I'd just stay right here. So I started battling trainers for their supplies instead of money.
I mean. Sure I guess you could do that. Maybe you lost because your team is weak tho ;]

At that, Steven's temper finally reached its breaking point.

"You're not the first person to assume I've had everything in life handed to me, and you certainly won't be the last. Battle me so we can really see how much you know about who I am."
OOOO I like scary angry Steven

He had assumed that Muk's level would have closely matched that of his team, and yet Metagross sliced through its defenses as if they were nothing.
Love the logic of moves doing catastrophic damage to weaker pokemon levels

"Do what? Try to defeat an intruder that threatened our way of life? They knew the risks," Sheila practically bristled at the accusation.
It's not a way of life tho is it? It's not like you're nomadic farmers. You're thieves.

"I think I speak for the rest of the group when I say this… Life down here isn't easy, we know that. But that's why we're down here, to live. We need a leader that is going to look out for everyone. If it's so easy for you to discard the lives of your followers over one trainer, I'd hate to see what you will do when a real threat to our group comes along. Sheila, you are hereby stripped of your leadership position and are banished from the colony."
To live. Off others. And Steal. Like I get his anger towards Shiela, that makes sense but. Does he... think what they're doing is bad?

"If I go on to become Champion, I'll do everything in my power to see that anyone here who wants to still take on the League challenge gets their fair shot. And anyone that wants to stay here will get the supplies they need without having to steal."
I was under the impression they had a fair shot? And they lost? And is there really nowhere they can go to get supplies and food without stealing? Pokemon Centers or whatever? Curious.

"Take care, Sidney. Until we meet again."
Gotta say though, this was a really cool way to introduce Sidney.

Well, those are my thoughts! Delightful read as always, I'll be binging more soon.


Flygon connoisseur
  1. flygon
  2. swampert
  3. ho-oh
  4. crobat
  5. orbeetle
  6. joltik
  7. salandit
  8. tyrantrum
Chapter 8

oooh this was a fun one! Steven has a little run in with early Team Magma! As usual, love Steven, his team, and even Dusty, even though I also want to throttle Dusty. I loved the bit of worldbuilding idea that Routes are patrolled safe zones and going off them is like a wilderness trek. Thats my same exact headcanon as well! (although my worldbuilding definitely isn't quite as good as yours whoops).

And Lairon evolved! Hooray! Loved his little time with the team.

I also loved the way the pokemon were the ones who basically helped initiate this thing, teleporting Steven and Dusty. And even the reappearance of the same Baltoy now Claydol! lovely.

"Our goal is to get here," Steven's finger landed on Route 113, just outside of Fallarbor Town. "That's where Winona said we could find wild Skarmory. The catch is, we'll need to either go all the way around here," he traced a meandering line down through Route 111, across Mauville and Route 118, and up Route 119 to their current location. "Or we can cut through this way…" his voice trailed off after slicing a line across the unmarked extents of the map that lay directly between Fortree and Route 113, and Metang hummed thoughtfully.
*quietly steals this exchange for my own use*

Also the nerd that I am, I looked this up on a map just for fun.

"The short path it is!"
I'm sure nothing bad will come of this! :]

The larger, stationary shapes turned out to be a group of tents and machines, and the figures moving around must have been part of the same organization, as they all had on similar looking red coats. As they wove in and out of the campsite setting up various pieces of equipment, Steven raised a hand to his chin in thought. The camp's occupants certainly didn't look like your typical desert explorers...
Look! a perfectly normal group of non suspicious people!

"Fancy seeing you here again, my boy! Here I thought I had lost you for good in that sandstorm a while back."

Steven bit back on informing Dusty just how disappointed he was that that wasn't the case, and instead grated out a polite smile.
Same Steven, same.

For all the Ruin Maniac's boisterous bragging, Steven realized he had nothing but the best intentions, and some of his nervousness melted away with a smile.
ngl I thought Dusty was a thief or con man for sure, but I guess not!

It was all Steven could do to keep the accusatory tone out of his voice. "The plan would have worked a lot smoother if you had given me some warning before that first attack. Claydol saved the day by helping out."

Blissfully ignorant of Steven's annoyance with him, Dusty only laughed in reply.

"Oh ho ho, and it looks like it's taken quite a shine to you too!"
maaannn Steven is so nice, if this were Koa he'd probably have either punched the dude or yelled at him, lol.

You hurt my pokemon bro! What a nice dude.

"Welcome to the team, Claydol."
I absolutely love the way Steven finds each of teammates.

"I appreciate your honesty, Dusty. While I'm not happy that you lied to me, I'd like to think that in the end you've not only ended up with one friend," Steven extended a hand, "but something more like two hundred friends."
Well at least Steven brought it back up again, Dusty lying. It usually irks me when narratives or characters forget someone did something completely, like tooo completely. Steven handled this sooo maturely. Proud of him lol.

Fun chapter, I really liked it!


Flygon connoisseur
  1. flygon
  2. swampert
  3. ho-oh
  4. crobat
  5. orbeetle
  6. joltik
  7. salandit
  8. tyrantrum
im SCREAMING you gave me a double crisis evolution????? Pan you are SPOILING me ohmy gosh.

Of COURSE this is one of my favorites because it features all my things, all off them. Friendship? crisis evos? banter? enemies to friends? MMMMM

Lovely read all the way through, featuring good interplay of plot and subplot for advancemet.

Patting the bird's steel crest, Steven offered the Aspear berries it seemed so fond of, eager to stay on Skarmory's good side. As it happily chomped on the sour snack, Skarmory was all too keen to let Steven clean and polish its feathers as an extra reward for carrying them across the ocean.
I love these little details of how Steven cares for his team!

At the seemingly innocent question, Skarmory immediately stopped munching and snapped a fierce glare that threw daggers even with juice dribbling down its beak.
a meme worthy face

"You're that trainer from Lilycove who didn't know how to cross the ocean."
hah! what a way to be remembered. Poor Steven.

"Obviously. It's gloomy and cramped and is the complete antithesis of everything the ocean represents."
* Steven wants to know your location *

Wallace finished with a sigh of resignation, but his tone softened as he peeled back a lapel of his cloak. "It's to train this little one in its natural environment."

Nestled in the heavy fabric was a baby Spheal.
Okay so this part did make me perplexed. I always picture Spheal as roughly the size of a basketball, maybe slightly larger? and they're very round. How did one fit inside Wallace's jacket in anyway? Unless baby pokemon in your world are genuinely very small? still, its hard to picture such a round object comfortably nestling in anyones jacket (although tis pretty cute nonethless)

some clarification might be needed?

"I do appreciate you showing me this."
I admire Steven for trying to be as polite as he can.

This was becoming a theme with him and sea caves...
Him and Koa can bond over water, oa's always getting stuck in the rain lol.

"Here –" Steven rose shakily and thrust an object into Wallace's hands. "As thanks for getting me both in and out of that cave in one piece."

It was Wallace's turn to blink in confusion as he looked at the gleaming water stone that rested in his palm.
OH OH OHH I was wondering why you had him get a water stone! It made no sense cause Steven doesn't use water types. Really glad it came back.

Great great chapter, delicious evolutions and crisis and whump and emotions and. all the buttons. thankyou


golden scars | pfp by sun
the warmth of summer in the songs you write
  1. silvally-grass
  2. lapras
  3. golurk
  4. booper-kintsugi
  5. meloetta-kint-muse
  6. meloetta-kint-dancer
  7. murkrow
  8. yveltal
I was briefly behind on the TR crossposting?? the horror.

Chapter 10

This one is a lot of fun--some nice insight into the slower aspects of the pokemon world, and what happens when medical technology doesn't result in immediate healing. I like Steven's frustration here; it strikes me as a little childish (which he is) but also casts suck at any age! There's a nice parallel into him trying to heal the electrike that I liked, specifically with the setup that they'd both have to take the long road (heh) towards recovery.

I didn't quite follow why training was out of the question once hiking wasn't--I'm with Steven on "lol okay you say that, but ... ". The early part of the chapter does a great job of establishing Steven struggling with silly things like buttons and using touch screens with one hand, so I get why he's stuck on those things, but I feel like by the time he's going on walks he'd be able to do non-strenuous types of training. Although I'm admittedly unclear on what training actually looks like in this universe; I mostly picture the pokemon doing the bulk of the physical exertion but I could be pretty wrong here. But overall I like how slow the early chapter feels (not a phrase I find myself saying often)--it makes things seem really long and arduous, and I get why Steven is agonizing so much about feeling trapped inside after the past few chapters have been this lovely carnival ride of different locations and adventures.

Your room will be the first one at the top of the escalator," she gestured off to her right before sliding a keycard and what looked to be a small remote across the desktop.
(the dialogue here is formatted incorrectly but I think you know why? if not tho definitely let me know so it doesn't crop up in your more current stuff)
He gave an exasperated sigh and plopped on down the bed as the two pokemon materialized in the room, completely forgetting this was the first time they had seen him since he left the hospital.
I'm surprised he managed to get both of them out at roughly the same time, given how much trouble he has operating pokeballs at first.
His voice trailed off as Beldum gave him narrow-eyed glare. Aron simply sat back on his haunches and quirked his head to one side with an innocent snort.
lmao I'm filing this with "Toph is blind" jokes
With a dull thud, the Electrike hit the ground at the edge of Route 110 and the resulting momentum sent it somersaulting into the sea. Steven's heart sunk.
oh nooooooooooooooooo
Aron nosed another ball forward, and Steven picked up his third attempt, not entirely sure he could keep his nerves in check as the Electrike drifted further and further away. He drew in a breath and held it, then brought his arm forward.
I'm kinda curious if Beldum could throw pokeballs, or hover down there and do an assist, or something? It might not have the best finesse but seems like it'd have better luck than Steven at this point.

"What's the matter, you look shocked, wahaha!" He suddenly leaned in and spoke in a secretive manner, although his voice carried through the room anyway, "Don't worry, I won't charge for my help."
The man named Wattson loves dad jokes about electricity. I'm thoroughly unsurprised but at the same time I still am.
"Treat it with plenty of fresh water and stay away from processed pokemon food, too much salt content. In a few days it'll be back to its old self."
I thought this was a really clever way to introduce a longer-lasting illness that's both easily-fixed and hard to diagnose!
"I mean, I guess I just don't think I'm the right trainer for him," he smiled wistfully. "I caught Electrike because I wanted to help him. Now that he doesn't need my help anymore, I want Electrike to be where he'll be happiest. And I think that's with you."

He held up Electrike's ball and pressed the center button for a few seconds. Two beeps later, the pokeball opened in his palm, empty. Electrike was no longer his.
I kind of wish we saw Electrike's thoughts here--this seems more like the passing of an object from a kid who doesn't think he has the time to use it properly to an adult who respects that choice. Is Electrike excited by this change of events, especially since he doesn't really seem to keen of Steven?


Chapter 11

I like Taj and Mira here, and the general "am I really outplaying this psychic or am I just thinking I am" that gets established in the early bit of the battle, haha. And they're certainly intimidating; things like screens and support moves are cool and all, but using psychic to control your fire attacks to bypass shields is really really cool. This battle is nicely energetic and I like how you're able to make it balanced mostly by virtue of Steven just bum-rushing them with more pokemon. It's a valid strategy for the time being but it's also not good enough for what the long-term, and that's something he can recognize pretty easily.

Are Taj and Mira twins? Or just psychic-linked on a really deep level and wearing matching outfits all the time? I'd initially assumed that they were twins because Mossdeep and the telepathy and color matching things, but if they're also Tate/Liza's parents I imagine that it's probably the latter lol.

This did feel a bit like two distinct chapters once we get into the Meteor Falls bit. Not really a bad thing, but I felt like there's not much link between the two sections beyond "psychics can use support moves", which is a bit that's more or less not shown from the Taj/Mira fight (and the idea that Steven can learn from his opponents, specifically Taj/Mira, is also well-demonstrated within the Taj/Mira fight with using psychic attacks to deflect/augment his own attacks). But the closure on Aron is nice; it's fun to see all of those seeds coming to fruition here. Some parts did feel a little old hat (I'm reminded mostly of Anime!Paul or Anime!Damien I think) - here's a blatantly shitty trainer showing up to shittalk weak pokemon, here's how said pokemon gets emotional closure by beating the shit out of the abusive trainer, here's how the non-abusive trainer can talk about how the real friends were the friends we can make along the way. But in general it's good execution and I think the character beats make it read well; I'm glad that it goes full circle on the hints you've been dropping about Aron and I'm curious if we get to see more of Aron's thoughts in the aftermath.


Chapter 12

Unfortunately, the skies of Route 113 were as gray as the ash that covered the ground, and Skarmory's steel body blended perfectly with the mottled cloud cover overhead.
I like this detail; makes sense from an evolutionary standpoint. except hmmm then we have to answer the question of how skarmory can even fly in the first place, let's not

"Oh no! My vase!"
my cabbages! and my axe!

"I know it's not working. That's why we have to battle it again. It's simply not tired enough."
"I know a hard worker when I see one. If anyone is going to whip that Skarmory into shape, it's you."
This chapter is interesting to me in light of the previous chapter and what it says about good & bad trainers. Garrett's (rightfully) trounced as a morally shitty trainer for abandoning pokemon that want to be with him, and there's great emotional catharsis in beating him and proving him wrong. The root of his cruelty is that he doesn't take his pokemon's feelings into account; it's not on Lairon to forgive him or come to understand that Garrett was really just misunderstood and he was just doing the responsible thing by relocating several Aron and then deciding he didn't want them. But here, I think Steven's in a similar boat. Skarmoy makes it clear that it doesn't want Steven as a trainer, and Steven doesn't take his pokemon's feelings into account. But in this case it's on Skarmory to eventually realize that Steven's right and Skarmory's wrong.

And I guess this is kind of an awkward question but at its core to me it's usually - "how many times does someone have to say 'no' before that's your answer?" Consent that comes after a lot of unconsents rarely telegraphs enthusiastic consent to me. There are obvious exceptions of course! Some friendships bloom with time and sometimes people start off as enemies and eventually become incredibly close friends; your first impression of someone isn't necessarily the right one, but at the same time, the pokemon-trainer dynamic here doesn't quite map directly to a human-human friendship in our world. I don't really think Skarmory has the option to leave if Steven doesn't want to, so even if Skarmory eventually decides to do what Steven wants (which we see in previous/future chapters), it reads less as actual friendship and more as it's finally "tired enough" and Steven's managed to "whip it into shape". Which to me is a rough conclusion especially because, as Steven notes in the beginning of this chapter, all of his pokemon actually want to be with him; the friendship angle feels pretty genuine because they've all joined him by choice. So when Skarmory is emphatically disagreeing and making that disagreement known, only for Steven to ignore that, and especially right after the chapter about trouncing shitty trainers who are willfully blind to their pokemon's opinions, the dynamic feels a little poisoned. Idk. I am understandably biased towards one side of the spectrum and you're welcome to take this take with a grain of salt.

Glassblower-senpai is the best NPC lol. I really love how you bring the world to life with random side characters just vibing and doing their jobs. And sometimes conscripting unruly trainers who keep breaking all of their shit - it's a fun angle to pair coming from the game where you normally just wander into people's houses and click A on all their shit to see what kind of flavor text there is.
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Chapter 11 - Staunch


Hoenn around
  1. aggron
  2. lairon
Ch 11 – Steven decides to take time off to train after a close Gym battle in Mossdeep. He soon runs into a trainer who ends up having an unexpected connection to one of his pokemon...

Chapter 11 - Staunch

Pokemon Trainer's Handbook pg. 5: When a pokemon is caught, it forms a bond with its trainer. This connection between human and pokemon is what allows a trained pokemon to surpass the limits of what its wild counterparts can do…

A pained cry echoed through the arena as Armaldo fell to the ground, unconscious.

Lunatone and Solrock hovered in a serpentine path back to their trainer's sides, eyeing the lone pokemon left standing after their combined attack. Cradily had managed to weather the fierce combo, but her head was drooping dangerously low as her body shook from exertion.

Steven frowned as he recalled his fallen partner. After spending time at Taj and Mira's house when he was recovering from the debacle in Shoal Cave, he knew the psychic duo would pose a challenge for his upcoming Gym match, but he never expected to have this much difficulty.

He had hoped that Cradily and Armaldo's tandem evolution would serve them well in battle, but they were quickly overpowered by the Gym Leader's combined attacks.

The ancient psychic pokemon proved to be faster than they looked, and he foolishly allowed the Gym Leaders to set up with defensive and offensive support in the first turns of the battle. Now his attacks were only dealing minimal damage while his opponents were able to fire off powerful attacks in quick succession. If only he knew how much damage his pokemon had managed to inflict before they were struck down.

"Cradily, return."

Taj's eyes lit up. "A double swap –"

" –Things are getting interesting…" Mira finished his thought with a smile playing across her lips.

"You're thinking that this time –"

"—Raw power will overcome our teamwork."

Steven's hand faltered where it hung over Lairon's pokeball. Were they expecting this move the whole time? Was it a trick to get him to second guess himself in the heat of battle? No, he couldn't let their words get to him. He had confidence in his partners, and they in him. He grabbed two pokeballs with conviction.

"Lairon, Metang, let's go!"

His jaw was set in concentration as two metallic cries filled the air. He had to fill his new teammates in on the situation, and fast.

"Listen up! We've got a few more turns until the sunlight dies down, so you're going to have to dodge Solrock's flamethrower as much as you can. We're going after the support first," he jabbed a finger toward the moon shaped pokemon, "Just don't look into its eyes, it knows hypnosis."

Both pokemon nodded as they turned back to face the opponent and Steven grimaced. Taj and Mira both were still smiling.

"Two steel types –"

"—An interesting choice indeed."

"We can sense your strategy –"

"—But will you be able to pull it off before we execute ours?"

In no mood for more mind games, Steven seized the first attack.

"Bullet punch! Iron head! Go all out on that Lunatone!"

Metang whirred into action, vanishing in a blue blur as it sped towards its target. Lairon quickly followed suit, falling in behind it in a lumbering gallop.


As Metang's clawed fist smashed into Lunatone sending it spiraling toward the ground, Solrock ignored its partner's plight and took aim at Lairon.


Steven's shout caused Metang to turn in time to see Lairon pull up and raise its blue defensive shield in place as the flames drew near. But to everyone's surprise, the fiery attack didn't make contact with protect's barrier. Instead the flamethrower took on a blue glow of its own and arced away in a looping path that rose high above Lairon's head. Startled, Lairon's head jerked back as it watched the flames curl like a Seviper, and with its concentration broken, its barrier fell. Solrock wasted no time in capitalizing on the opening and the flames surged downward, engulfing their target.

Lairon's cries of agony shook Steven from his shock and he yelled to his other pokemon, "Metang, take Solrock out now!"

Screeching in anger, Metang shot across the battlefield and slammed into Solrock, fist first. Chunks of orange rock chipped free at the impact and the flames finally stopped as it was driven to the arena floor in a cloud of dust.

Metang hurriedly arrived at its partner's side where Lairon panted heavily, recovering from the sunlight-boosted attack.

"What was that?" Steven snapped, fists clenched at his side, "A flamethrower can't change direction on its own."

But Taj and Mira just chuckled at the challenger's frustration.

"It's our combination attack. Psychics are known for their ability to manipulate objects with their mind –"

"—And Lunatone is no exception."

The pokemon in question had recovered and bobbed back at its trainer's side, eyes still aglow with psychic energy.

"You… You used a psychic attack to bend the flames?"

Both Leaders nodded in unison.

"Very perceptive, trainer. Looks like our trick –"

"—Has finally been revealed."

Steven stared hard at Lairon's injuries as he thought back to the previous round. Both Cradily and Armaldo had fallen to Solrock's flames, and while there had never been an obvious deflection like the last attack, he clearly remembered seeing some sort of arc to the flamethrower that he chalked up to precise aim. He'd be so naïve to not question the Leader's tactics right then.

"Lairon, can you still fight?"

Lurching back to its feet, Lairon snorted an affirmative as it shook its head to will away the pain. Steven steeled his gaze at his pokemon's determination.

"The plan hasn't changed. Take Lunatone down with iron head!"

Taj shook his head at Steven's declaration. "Hasty –"

"—And foolish."

But Steven wasn't listening. He was watching carefully as Lairon charged at Lunatone, head lowered. Solrock had already floated up from where Metang had flung it and hovered in front of Mira, awaiting her command. Anticipating the attack, Solrock swiveled to track Lairon's path. But as the Gym Leader opened her mouth, Steven shouted a command of his own.

"Metang, scary face!"

Before Solrock could unleash another torrent of flames, Metang levitated directly into its line of sight and affixed the sun shaped pokemon with a fierce glare. Solrock faltered, taken aback by the startling display, and its flamethrower dissipated at the source leaving Lairon free to continue its attack.

Taj paled, his Lunatone now vulnerable without its partner's support. He issued a hurried command.

"Lunatone, hypnosis!"

But the psychic technique proved to be ineffective as Lairon ducked its head closer to the ground, and the hypnotic waves bounced off its armored back.

"Go, Lairon!"

At Steven's urging, Lairon raised its head and with a powerful push, launched itself airborne towards its target. The defenseless Lunatone tried to levitate out of its attacker's reach, but Lairon's jump proved to be high enough, and its jaws clamped down on the lower half of Lunatone's curved body. Now past the peak of its flight, Lairon aimed for the ground, head first, dragging Lunatone earthward with it.


Mira's shout cut through Lunatone's distressed cries and Steven watched the flames begin to build. Solrock aimed at where Lairon's trajectory was headed and unleashed its attack.

"No you don't! Metang, use confusion to deflect that attack!"

"What!?" Two simultaneous shouts issued from the Gym Leader's box.

Metang raised one claw and the air around the flamethrower shimmered with energy.

"Lunatone, use psychic!"

But Lairon's jaws tightened around its body, and Lunatone faltered under the pain. Unable to counter Metang's psychic manipulation, the flames wavered in their path before deflecting away harmlessly to the far corner of the arena. Untouched by Solrock's attack, Lairon plummeted to the ground, crushing Lunatone beneath the full weight of its steel helm.

As the dust began to clear, light shimmered through the rubble. Lairon's body was being lifted from the arena floor by a blue outline and Steven cursed his miscalculation. Lunatone's boosted defenses from earlier in the match had held, and it was still able to fight.


His shout caught his starter's attention, and Metang took off toward where Lunatone had fallen, leg raised in a finishing blow. Solrock swiveled to intercept, but the sluggish pokemon was too late. Metang's punch landed with a resounding crunch, and Lairon dropped to the ground with a thud, landing on all fours.

The referee raised his hand, "Lunatone is unable to battle!"

Taj shook his head as he recalled his partner, "You sense it too?"

Mira nodded, "We will not win this battle."

True to her words, in that moment the sunlight faded out and Solrock turned to find two sets of eyes boring figurative holes in its rocky hide. And yet in the face of such odds, it didn't falter. Summoning the boulders of a rock slide attack, it wavered in the air before launching them at its opponents.

But Metang and Lairon were unfazed and their glares held steady even as the rocks rained down around them. Once the attack had run its course, it was their turn. At Steven's quiet command, they launched into action.

Solrock barely had time to hover back in retreat before Lairon's steel-clad tail lashed out. The blow landed with enough force to send it flying toward where Metang lay in wait. Leg raised, Metang timed Solrock's haphazard approach and with a calculated swing it brought its fist down, connecting a metal claw squarely with Solrock's face in a vicious spike. Solrock hurtled to the arena floor where it left a small crater on impact.

The referee winced, but raised his arm to signal the defeat.

"Solrock is unable to battle. The battle is over and the victory goes to the challenger, Steven Stone!"

Mira stepped forward to recall her fallen partner, and Taj joined her at her side. Both offered a polite bow as Steven walked out to meet them in the arena.

"Challenger, congratulations –"

"—You fought well and even surprised us too."

"We could sense you were thinking about how we could control the flames with psychic energy –"

"—But we never guessed you were thinking of having your own pokemon try the same thing."

"To be able to use our technique without practice –"

"—Your pokemon must be very talented, or very lucky."

"That wasn't luck!" A bold, but tiny voice sounded from Mira's hip, and one of the Leaders' twins poked her head out from behind her mom. Liza was her name, Steven recalled from their brief meeting when he was bedridden at their house.

A second voice chimed in from Taj's side, and Tate shuffled next to his dad, shyly grasping onto his pant leg. The pair of them had rushed to their parents at the conclusion of the match and were closely watching Steven with wide eyes. "Yeah, that Metang is really strong, I can sense it."

"Can you now?" Taj asked as he rested a hand lovingly on Tate's head.

"I sense it too!" exclaimed Liza, jumping forward with excitement.

Mira smiled down at the twins as she collected Liza in her arms and addressed Steven once more. "In any case, you have shown your skill as a trainer to be able to manage a double battle against two opponents –"

"—So we happily accept our defeat and award you with the Mind Badge."

Taj held out his palm, offering the gleaming badge to Steven. As he plucked it from the Leader's hand, Taj smiled.

"We're so glad to see you make a full recovery after your scare in Shoal Cave –"

"—Will you be heading to Sootopolis to see your friend again?"

Steven muttered, "I'm not sure I could really call him a friend..."

But Liza's happy voice butted in, "You looked like friends. He didn't move until you woke up."

Tate nodded in quiet agreement, and Steven couldn't help but smile, "If you say we're friends, I guess we are then."

"Yeah! Go kick his butt!" Liza swung a little fist into the air.

Mira looked down at her daughter in mock surprise. "Now, Liza, is that what friends do?"

"Totally! That's why I kick Tate's butt all the time. We're best friends!" She smiled innocently as her brother's face scrunched in a sour look.

"Nuh uh, it's 'cause I let you win or else you cry!"

"Okay okay, that's enough," Taj stepped in to cut the twins' squabbling short before turning back to Steven. "So will you go to Sootopolis next?"

"Of the two badges I have left, Sootopolis was going to be the first stop, but after our battle, I'm not sure we're prepared to go there right away."


Steven turned to meet Metang's gaze as it hovered by his side, and the look in its eyes said it shared the same feeling.

"It took us four pokemon to defeat two of yours. I'm not terribly fond of that ratio, even if we still won in the end. We need to be stronger if we're going to stand a chance against Wallace and Juan."

Taj nodded sagely. "A wise choice, trainer. There is no expiration on the League badges. Take whatever time you need to prepare yourself and your pokemon for the next battle."

"If you don't mind my asking, where will you go to train?" asked Mira.

Steven grinned. He had a place in mind.

"Seeing your partners gave me an idea. We're going to go back to the only place I've ever seen either species in the wild, although not nearly as old and wise as your pokemon."

Taj and Mira smiled. Even though their Solrock and Lunatone had not been back to their birthplace in over a century, they knew the place he was speaking of.

"It's one of my favorite places. Meteor Falls."

The flight from Mossdeep was a long one, and it was well past sundown when Steven and Skarmory landed just outside Rustboro City. Tired from the long trek, Skarmory looked relived to finally not be standing outside the mouth of some cave, although Steven didn't have the heart to tell it what lay just beyond the ledges of Route 115.

As Skarmory settled down to rest for the night after a hearty dinner of its favorite berries, Steven set up a small campsite for himself. It was only a short trip from the Rustboro outskirts to Meteor Falls, but he preferred to make the trip during the daytime. But as he lay down in his tent to try to fall asleep, whatever exhaustion he felt from the flight was quickly banished by the excitement of going back to see the Falls. He had been there countless times when he was growing up in Rustboro, but he had yet to have explored more than the first few rooms. After all, there were wild pokemon living in the Falls, and he hadn't been an official trainer back then. Sleep soon crept up on him, and he found himself dreaming of waterfalls and meteorites.

It was early in the morning when Steven packed up camp and set off toward their destination. Route 115 normally presented a daunting trek for most trainers, but Metang proved to be an invaluable assistant in scaling the steep ledges that marked the approach to the Falls.

But even with all of Metang's help, it was well past noon by the time Metang lifted him to the top of the massive waterfall at the back of the main cavern. The unusually light colored rock crunched beneath Steven's feet as he dismounted his pokemon and turned to observe the view from the highest point of the falls.

How many times had he come here as a child, scrambling up ledges filled with trickling water that gently spilled down the face of the rock. How many times he had dreamed of what it would be like to make it to the top of the falls and see what lay beyond. And now after all this time, he'd finally done it with the help of his partners. With a wide smile he brushed a hand along Metang's brow and together they turned and headed deeper into the cave, toward something new and unknown, and the perfect place for him and his team to explore and train.

To Steven's amazement, the character of the upper falls region was quite different from the lower area he was so familiar with. After passing through a few smaller tunnels that skirted along the edge of the rushing water, a second massive cavern opened up before his eyes. It was like he had stepped into an entirely new world.

At this elevation, the Falls were no longer buried deep within the earth. Raised above sea level, the thick cavern walls had been worn away by wind and rain and time. So much so that large openings had been carved through the exterior rock and allowed fresh air and sunlight to pour into the space. Plants and greenery spilled in through the openings, creeping their way toward the grand pool at the center of the cave. Fed by tiny rivulets that cascaded from a hidden source at the very top of the cavern, the water of the central lake was crystal clear, and yet it stretched so deep in the middle that its bottom was shrouded in inky blue darkness.

As he looked around in awe at the breathtaking views of this hidden wonder, Steven couldn't help but notice another presence in the area. Tucked up amongst the ledges were several small passageways, but they didn't appear to be naturally formed. The openings were roughly hewn around the edges, quite unlike most of the rocks in the space that were weathered smooth by the elements. Was someone or something living in these upper caves?

Almost in response to his unspoken question, a pokemon cry sounded from nearby and a rush of air swooped into the cave through one of openings in the exterior walls. Startled, he took a few hesitant steps back as a massive Flygon situated itself on the cavern floor, oblivious to the nearby onlookers. But its trainer was a bit more observant, and as he hopped down from the dragon's back, he hailed Steven with a friendly wave.

"Hey there! I don't get many visitors up here, nice to see another human for a change."

"You… you live here?" Steven gawked at the trainer's forward greeting.

"Only 'till I catch a Bagon. They're notoriously hard to find, and even harder to capture." The trainer strode across the cavern until he joined Steven near the edge of the lake. "Garrett's the name, nice to meetcha."

Steven accepted the young man's handshake. "I'm Steven. It's nice to meet you too, although I can't say I was expecting to meet anyone up here."

Garrett just laughed, "Yeah, I imagine it was a bit of a surprise. Most people stick to the lower falls for hiking and training."

Steven nodded, "I thought I might try something different this time."

"Whoa," Garrett's eyes went wide, "So you climbed all the way up here? That's impressive!"

Metang hummed at Steven's side, and he gave his partner a pat, "I did have some help."

"Wanna battle?"

Steven blinked at the sudden change of subject and Garrett sheepishly rubbed the back of his neck. "Ah, I mean, only if you want to. I figure if you made it all the way up here the hard way, you've gotta be a strong trainer."

Looking to his partner for confirmation, Metang's gaze held steady. It was up for the challenge, and Steven nodded. "I don't think we came here expecting to find a fellow trainer, but it would be good practice for us. I accept."

"Great! How about…" Garrett pondered for a minute, "Three on three sound good?"

Steven nodded again, and after recalling Metang to its ball, both trainers stepped back to take their place opposite each other in the wide open cave.

"This'll be fun. I haven't had a good battle in a while," said Garrett with a smirk.

Quirking a brow, Steven asked, "What makes you so sure this will be a good match? We only just met."

"I've got a feeling, that's all," countered Garrett, selecting his first pokeball, "Let's get started, go Exploud!"

The purple furred normal-type materialized in a flash, arms pumping in excitement. Steven's gaze narrowed at Garrett's first pokemon. It was a strong lead, not having many strengths or weaknesses. Steven didn't have many assumptions going into the battle, but perhaps Garrett was savvier than his casual demeanor lead on. Good thing his own first pokemon was also versatile.

"Cradily, get ready!"

As Cradily spilled from her pokeball, she gave a happy squeal as she took in her surroundings.

"Sightseeing can come later, I promise we'll explore after this battle," Steven explained to the happy-go-lucky pokemon, "Right now it's time to train."

Seeing her trainer's serious expression, Cradily's attitude changed and she squared up to face Exploud, tentacles flexing in anticipation.

"Whoa, I've never seen that pokemon before!" shouted Garrett, and Steven grinned. It felt good to hold the element of surprise.

"Then let's show them what we can do. Cradily, confuse ray!"

Cradily's eyes glowed as she seized the first move, her tendrils swaying back and forth as she tried to lull the Exploud into confusion. But Garrett was ready.

"Blow it away with uproar!"

With a mighty inhale, Exploud reared back and unleashed a blast of sound with enough force to knock Cradily back and break the confuse ray's trance. As Cradily regained her faculties after sliding backward several feet in the attack, she had barely raised her head before a second wave slammed into her, the uproar continuing its assault.

Steven frowned, Exploud was strong. But so was Cradily. "Ancient power!"

Head still ducked from weathering the uproar, Cradily's tendrils began to curl upward, surrounded in a glowing energy. Chunks of rock followed their movement, hovering in the air until her head snapped up with a loud trill, firing her attack with deadly accuracy.

Exploud danced lightly on its feet, dodging the first few projectiles, but soon one found its mark, and then another and another. Garrett's pokemon tumbled backward to the cavern floor under a hail of rock, but he smirked as it quickly regained its footing.

But Steven wasn't ready to give his opponent a breather, "Again, Cradily! Pin it down!"

She complied with a sharp cry, and again the boulders closed in on Exploud. But the greater distance between the two combatants gave the normal-type more room to dodge, and it skirted through Cradily's attack with minimal damage.

"Exploud, get in close and hit it with a crunch!" Garrett threw a hand forward, back on the offensive.

"Don't let it near you," Steven knew Cradily wasn't nimble enough to dodge, "Ancient power one more time!"

The glowing boulders shot forward as Exploud charged Cradily's position. Eyes narrowed, Cradily tried to focus her attack, but Exploud proved to be more agile than she thought and it ducked low to the ground, rushing forward on all fours underneath the rain of boulders.

Cradily's trill of agitation quickly turned to a shriek of pain as Exploud's massive jaws clamped down around her neck. Writhing in agony, Cradily tried to shake off the vicious attacker to no avail, and Exploud just strengthened its grip.

"Cradily!" Steven's expression was tight as he watched her eyes squeeze shut from the pain. Exploud was too powerful to let it just bear down like that. Cradily's armor was strong, but every piece of protection had its breaking point. They needed to try something to weaken its hold. "Pry it off by its jaws!"

His partner's eyes shot open at his shout, and with a loud screech her tentacles sprung into action. Slithering deftly around Exploud's head, they snaked themselves into the gap in its jaws and pulled. Exploud made a startled noise as its mouth was slowly wrenched open and soon Cradily's neck was free. But she didn't relinquish her grip on her foe, and Steven smiled.

"Giga drain!"

Exploud's eyes widened as Cradily gave it her best smirk, and the tendrils wrapped tightly around its mouth and horns began to glow with a green energy. Garrett frowned as his partner began to thrash wildly as its energy was drained away. For all its flailing, Cradily had to shift her grip to keep her opponent trapped, and Exploud's jaw popped free of her hold.

"Perfect," said Garrett, his smile renewed, "It's time. Roar, Exploud!"

A sudden inrush of air swirled about the two pokemon as Exploud inhaled heartily and unleashed a terrifying roar. Cradily tried to hold on, she truly did, but the force of the blast at point blank range was too powerful and she was torn free and flung backward only to be caught in her pokeball's recall beam. Steven looked on in surprise as a second teammate was ripped from their ball and dragged onto the battlefield. Lairon bristled at Exploud's rude introduction and Steven frowned. He wasn't intending on bringing Lairon out for this fight, but the roar had forced his hand.

Garrett just chuckled at Steven's predicament. "Heh, a Lairon, huh?"

But Garrett's voice trailed off as he paused, squinting a little closer at Lairon. "Wait a minute..."

If Garrett's hesitation wasn't enough to tell Steven something was up, Lairon's silence was another clue. Since arriving into the battle, its rumbling growl had faded out and was replaced by a quiet stare at the trainer standing on the other side of the cave.

Steven looked on worriedly at his pokemon's strange behavior. "Lairon?"

"No way…" muttered Garrett, staring back at Lairon for only a moment before bursting into a loud laugh, "Aggron, you've gotta see this." He swiftly withdrew Exploud and replaced it with the afore mentioned beast.

Aggron's battle cry echoed through the Falls only briefly, for it fell quiet once it caught sight of Lairon standing across from it on the battlefield. The two steel types locked eyes for a moment before Lairon let loose a keening cry that held an almost pleading tone. The Aggron simply scoffed with a snort, although the spark of recognition in its eyes remained.

"Lairon, do you know these two?" Steven asked softly as he tried to prod his pokemon out of its trance-like state.

Garrett just laughed again and answered for him, "Oh sure, I caught both of these guys back when they were only Aron."


Steven's memories of Granite Cave came flooding back; the realization that the Aron who befriended him had to have been previously trained.

"It's just like I said, I'm positive that Lairon used to belong to me, along with a bunch of other Aron. But this Aggron is the only one I really wanted."

"What do you mean 'wanted'? Why'd you catch so many Aron in the first place if you only wanted to train one?"

"Well I only wanted the strongest one," Garrett put a hand on his hip as if it was common sense while Aggron wore a smug look of pride.

Lairon ignored the posturing and instead turned its gaze to Garrett with a whine growing in its throat.

"Looks like it's still as big of a baby as when I left it back there in that a cave," he said with a smirk.

Steven was floored, "You just abandoned it in Granite Cave when you decided you didn't want it any more?"

Garrett just shrugged, "I mean, I caught it there in the first place. I figured it'd just go back home once I let it go."

But that answer wasn't satisfactory for Steven. When he met Aron, he didn't get the feeling of it having been a newly caught pokemon... "How long did you have Aron before you released it?"

"Eh, about six months."

"Six months, and then one day you just abandoned it in a cave?!"

A defensive edge creeped into Garrett's tone, "Yeah, so?"

Both trainers lapsed into silence as they glared at one another from across the battlefield. Suddenly the air in the cavern felt a lot colder.

"When I came across Aron in that cave, it was actively looking to be found by a trainer. You can't catch a pokemon and train it for half a year and then think it will go back to being a wild pokemon just like that."

"Well I can't tell if a pokemon is going to be strong in just a few days."

Steven was incredulous, "It's the trainer's responsibility to make their pokemon strong!"

"Yeah, but if I train the strongest pokemon to start, I'll be an even better trainer in the end."

Lairon's gaze finally was torn from its former trainer as Steven made a noise of frustration.

"Tell me. What did you do with the other Aron you caught?"

"Why do you care?"

"Just... humor me."

There wasn't a shred of remorse in Garrett's tone, "I got rid of them too. They weren't of any use to me."


It was as if a storm had rolled across Steven's countenance. He witnessed the aftermath of delivering such an insult to a pokemon, his pokemon, only once. And that was one time too many.

His gaze fell to the ground and he shook his head in disbelief, "I didn't take you for that kind of trainer. But I guess I was wrong…"

But Garrett cut him off with a retort of his own.

"I don't wanna hear it. Y'know it's trainers like you who are all bleeding heart, goody two shoes who give the rest of us a bad name. You train strong pokemon to win, not be friends with them and then hope they become strong."

"It has nothing to do with hope," snapped Steven, his sharp gaze now locked on Garrett, "At least now I know why Lairon wanted to join me. He's with the right trainer now."

Garrett scoffed, "Finally! Something we can both agree upon."

"Then let's agree to continue this battle," said Steven, all pretense of good humor gone from his voice.

At his trainer's wish, Lairon's growl returned in full force. And just like Steven's ire at the selfish trainer had grown, so too had Lairon's determination; a determination to prove that the trainer who scorned him was wrong.

When Steven didn't reach for his belt and instead squared up to face Garrett with a steely glare, Garrett's eyes widened in mock surprise.

"You're really that dumb to try and beat me with that Lairon? I already know it won't win."

"You don't know Lairon like I do. We won't back down."

Lairon snorted in steadfast agreement.

Garrett just laughed, "Suit yourself. Aggron, let's destroy them."

A fierce roar split the cavern air as Aggron hunkered low, its jaws curled into a vicious grin. It's trainer's face twisted to match.


Steven's hand flew forward, "Lairon, protect!"

Aggron's front legs crashed into the ground with a tremendous impact, sending the cave floor into chaos and loosening stalactites from the ceiling causing a rain of pointed stone.

As the ground heaved around it, Lairon stood unflinching behind its blue protective barrier, and Steven smiled. He knew Lairon was at an evolutionary disadvantage, but that wouldn't stop them from battling to prove Garrett's hubris in dismissing pokemon he deemed unfit.

"Strike back with iron head!"

But Aggron was faster, and it met Lairon's charge with a vicious iron tail, sending its pre-evolution tumbling.

Lairon skidded across the cavern floor, metal armor leaving gouges in the rock. As it slid to a stop it shook the blow off, rapidly scrambling back to its feet.

But just as Steven had done in the first round, Garrett was quick to resume his attack, and Aggron was already bearing down on Lairon's position.

"Dragon claw!"

As Aggron lumbered near, it wound up on its powerful hind legs, front claws glowing in a fiery green energy. Lairon reared its head back, eyes tracking Aggron's attack, and Steven could see his pokemon preparing its own metal claw in a counterattack, but he knew it wouldn't be enough.

"Lairon, get out of there!" he cried, but it was too late.

Aggron drove its fist down against Larion's skull where it crunched against steel plated armor, but didn't slow its descent. Lairon's head was driven into the cavern floor where it bounced from the recoil, leaving a spiderweb of cracks in its wake.

Steven could only watch as his still-dazed partner was then lifted from the ground by its crest and batted away like Aggron's plaything by another ferocious iron tail.

This time it was clear Aggron's attacks had taken a toll. Lairon huffed and grunted as it hauled itself back upright, and Steven grit his teeth as he watched Aggron bear down on his partner once again.

For just a moment, Lairon's blue eyes flicked to meet his trainer's, and Steven caught its gaze. There was no panic, no fear, no despair. Just dogged determination that if it wasn't going to win this fight, it would proudly go down swinging. Steven nodded in affirmation of his pokemon's feelings, his hand balling into a fist at his side.

Just as Aggron's shadow fell over his pokemon, Steven drove his fist upward with a shout, "Take down!"

With a triumphant screech Lairon obeyed, ramming itself head first into Aggron's soft underbelly. Lairon's attack had taken the fully evolved pokemon by surprise, and it toppled over backwards under the force of the charge with a startled cry.

Having bowled through Aggron, Lairon slowed to a halt and turned to rush once more at its downed opponent. But Aggron was already back on its feet as Lairon closed in, and this time Aggron's front claws met Lairon's helm in a fierce clash, holding it at bay.

But Lairon would not be denied, and its feet churned against Aggron's grasp. Slowly, the larger evolution was driven back, leaving scrapes where its heels had dug into the stone.

Steven stole a quick glance at Garrett, and couldn't help but grin when he saw the other trainer's eyes were wide with shock that his prized specimen could possibly be outmatched by one he deemed inferior. But Garrett's eyes quickly narrowed, and he shouted at the two stalemated pokemon, voice laced with frustration.

"Aggron, you're better than that!"

Aggron winced at its trainer's outburst, but quickly bore back down on Lairon, grunting with exertion at keeping the smaller pokemon at bay. The pair of combatants remained locked for a few moments longer, Lairon slowly gaining more and more ground, when both trainers called out commands at nearly the same time.

"Lairon, push through with iron head!"

"Hold it down and finish this with an earthquake!"

But as their shouts echoed through the cave, a bright light enveloped their pokemon, and both Steven and Garrett looked on in surprise.

An ear splitting roar broke the silence and Garrett's Aggron found itself staring down its mirror image. Whether it was out of spite, pride, or sheer willpower, Steven would never know, but in the end, it didn't really matter. Lairon had evolved.

Unfortunately, its new form did little to prepare it for the earthquake Garrett's Aggron was ready to unleash, and as both pokemon remained locked together, the older Aggron slammed its massive tail down to the earth, triggering its attack.

It was too late for Aggron to raise his protective barrier, and the earthquake caught him full force, dropping him to his knees as the shockwave radiated out from his opponent.

As the quake subsided, Garrett's pokemon released its grip on Aggron, where he slumped to the cave floor in exhaustion, panting heavily. But just as before, it only took a moment before he was already struggling to stand, ready to fight again.

"Aggron..." Steven's voice fell to barely a whisper as the rest of the cave reverberated into silence.

But Garrett just smiled, looking smug.

"I think we've made our point. Get that weakling out of here. Roar!"

"What? Again?"

Steven's shout was drowned out by Garrett's pokemon, and his own weakened Aggron was in no condition to try to resist the fearsome roar. It was easily blown back to its ball, and again Steven watched helplessly as his third and final pokemon was selected at random and dragged into the fray.

"Well that couldn't have gone any better," said Garrett as he casually crossed his arms behind his head. "This'll be too easy if I bring out our last teammate, so Aggron, I'm giving you a chance to redeem yourself." His voice had dropped dangerously low as he delivered the thinly veiled threat to his pokemon.

Oblivious to the high pressure building on the other half of the battlefield, Claydol spun slowly on its axis as it sized up the increasingly flustered looking Aggron standing across from it. Keeping several eyes fixed forward, the ones at the back of its head swiveled to Steven's face to find its trainer frowning in concentration.

The situation was less than ideal. Of his team of six, the three that he had been forced into using were all defensively minded. Of the three, Aggron was the hardest hitter, and yet it was almost completely exhausted from just one round against Garrett's team. It wouldn't last against any of the remaining three opponents without support…

Mossdeep… That Lunatone that wouldn't go down… That was it!

Claydol had just begun to whistle a nervous note when Steven snapped out of his thoughts.

"Get ready, Claydol. I'm going to need to rely on your dodging skills to put this plan into action."

Chiming in the affirmative, Claydol spun its full attention back to the battlefield, and not a moment too soon. Aggron had psyched itself up to avoid disappointing its trainer and was already charging full steam ahead toward Claydol with a dragon claw prepared to strike.

With a bloodthirsty roar, Aggron's claw came crashing down and Steven tensed. But Claydol took his direction to heart and narrowly pivoted out of harm's way, twirling gracefully around the arc of Aggron's swing.

"Move out of range, Claydol! Set up a light screen!"

Quickly hovering behind the metal monster, Claydol hummed as it conjured up its psychic barrier. A thin sheen of light encompassed its body in a soft oval.

Garrett gave an amused chuckle at the seemingly odd strategy. Aggron didn't have any special attacks; it was a waste of a move.

"Whatever, finish it, Aggron."

Aggron roared again as it spun and bared down on Claydol, charging up another dragon claw. Claydol calmly floated in place, eyes swiveled toward Steven who matched with a cool gaze of his own.

With a nod, he put step two of the plan into motion. "Teleport, then use earth power!"

The air around Claydol's body shimmered for only a moment before it vanished with a sharp pop. Aggron stumbled as its heavy attack swung through the space Claydol formerly had occupied.

But it hadn't gone far. Claydol swiftly reappeared back at Steven's side of the battlefield where its eyes began to glow with an inner light, and its stubby arms swiveled to point at its target. The ground rumbled beneath Aggron's feet as Claydol closed all of its eyes and concentrated its power.

Garrett looked on in alarm, but when the attack didn't strike, he gave a vicious sneer.

"Aggron, chase that coward down."

Steven watched, eyes sharp, as Aggron collected itself up to its full height and paused to glower at both him and his partner. The mental countdown began in his mind.


Aggron pawed the ground as it zeroed in on Claydol's position. Steven's hand twitched at his side.


Aggron's head reared back in a fearsome roar. The corner of Steven's mouth turned up ever so slightly.


Aggron had only taken two lumbering strides toward Claydol before the ground erupted beneath its feet. Eyes now wide and staring, Claydol's arms vibrated from the intense energy it exuded. Without any overpowering offensive capabilities, it took some time to charge up an attack of this magnitude, but the payoff was worth it. Aggron was sent flying as chunks of molten earth surged from the ground, searing the exposed hide of its underbelly and leaving scorch marks all over its plate armor.

Garrett looked on in shock as Aggron hit the ground, writhing in agony. But his surprise quickly turned to anger, and he recalled his pokemon with a sharp motion even though it wasn't in danger of fainting. His voice was terse as he summoned his next pokemon.

"Crawdaunt, time to finish what someone else couldn't. Crabhammer."

But Steven was already on to phase three. "Claydol, reflect!"

Another shimmering barrier appeared in front of the ground-type just in time for it to shudder in protest as Crawdaunt's claw came down in a vicious arc. The barrier held, but the raw power of Crawdaunt's blow still left Claydol reeling.

"That was lucky…" growled Garrett as he scowled at the still-standing Claydol. "But no matter how many defensive walls you raise, you won't stop this move." His face twisted into a wicked snarl. "Guillotine!"

Steven's stomach flipped at the one word command, and he gave a panicked shout, "Claydol, dodge!"

But Crawdaunt was too fast. Its tail snapped against the ground, and in one powerful jump it latched onto Claydol's body with its hind legs. Claydol wheeled about, screeching in dismay and flailing its arms in an effort to dislodge its foe, but Crawdaunt's grip was too tight. The water-type raised both pincers high, and in a flash it brought them across Claydol's neck. Claydol frantic waving ceased as it hovered in the air for a moment longer before toppling to the ground, unmoving.

Wordlessly, Steven raised an unsteady hand and recalled his fallen pokemon. His gaze fixated on the ball in his hand, and he issued silent word of thanks that the ruthless attack had not resulted in anything worse than a one hit knock out.

The silence was broken as Crawdaunt gave a chattering cackle of victory, and Steven's eyes flashed up in anger.

"Choose the opponent's team for them, and then finish them all off with a dangerous knock out technique. Am I on the mark?"

The last remaining evidence of Garrett's cheerful disposition vanished at Steven's cold words.

"Guillotine's not an outlawed move. It's a legal strategy."

"I'm not questioning the legality of it. You're a strong trainer, just not one I can respect."

Garrett snorted, "Respect's got nothing to do with it. You either win, or you don't. The how doesn't matter."

But Steven was tired of talking, and as Cradily materialized on the battlefield, she quickly picked up on her trainer's displeasure and glowered at her opponent.

"Get ready, Cradily…"

"You know the drill, Crawdaunt…"

With a clack of its claws, Crawdaunt sprang into action. But it didn't rush straight in. Instead it began to move in circles around Cradily, who twisted and craned her neck to follow its rapid movements.

"Stay calm!" Steven shouted to his anxious partner, "Remember, it has to come to you."

At her trainer's words, Cradily visibly calmed down and she centered her gaze, letting her tentacles fan out in a wary net around her head. But as her head swiveled to face forward, Crawdaunt seized its chance. Pincers flashed out from directly behind Cradily, and Steven tried to shout in warning.

But before he could utter a word, Crawdaunt halted mid-jump. It had brushed against one of Cradily's tentacles in its leap, and just the slight touch had triggered her defenses. Without so much as turning her head, her tendrils had wrapped tightly about Crawdaunt's pincers, cinching them shut. It writhed in Cradily's grasp, but it was thoroughly trapped. With a mighty heave, Cradily slung the helpless Crawdaunt over her head, body slamming it onto the cavern floor. Steven didn't even have to call his next command, because Cradily had already begun to siphon the stunned Crawdaunt's energy with giga drain. The water-type was no match for the super effective move, and it fainted without much struggle.

Garrett cursed as he begrudgingly recalled Crawdaunt. Exploud took its place, and he muttered, "Let's see if maybe you won't screw this up. Crunch."

In a flash, Exploud was upon Cradily and its jaws clamped down around her neck just as before. But this time, a shimmering energy stood between its teeth and her armor. Steven allowed himself a small smirk.

"Looks like Claydol's hard work paid off. Giga drain, again."

And just as before, Cradily's tendrils snaked their way around the dismayed Exploud and unleashed her attack. As its energy was sucked away, Exploud went limp in her grasp, and Cradily tossed it away when she was finished.

But Exploud proved to be heartier than its teammate, and it struggled back to its feet, laboring for breath. Garrett watched his pokemon's efforts with barely contained rage. The match had been all but won, and yet now he was looking at losing his second pokemon in a row. His voice was frenzied as he shouted in frustration.

"Uproar, or endeavor, I don't care! Just hit it with something!"

The flustered Exploud fired off an uproar that simply glanced off the protective light screen, leaving Cradily nearly untouched.

"Ancient power."

The stalactites that lay strewn about from the earlier earthquake attack began to levitate from Cradily's energy. Bathed in a glowing light, the pointed rocks rained down around Exploud, and it wasn't long before its pained cries fell silent as it was knocked unconscious.

The cave wasn't quiet for long though, as Garrett doubled over with a shout of dismay.

"You've got to be kidding me!"

But his tirade was short lived, and he quickly composed himself before nonchalantly tossing Aggron's ball back out onto the field. The steel type wobbled as it materialized, panting heavily.

"Fine, whatever. End it quick, wouldya."

However, Steven had another idea, and Garrett shot him a look of disbelief as Cradily was returned to her ball.

"I think you know where this is going," said Steven, staring cooly at his fellow trainer.

A second Aggron appeared on the battlefield in no better condition than the first, but its eyes were sharp and alert. Garrett practically seethed as Steven's Aggron gave a fierce battle cry that sent his own Aggron flinching away in fear.

"Show them how weak you really are."

Aggron snorted at his trainer's biting remark and launched himself forward with a roar. Sparks flew as the two pokemon collided in a mighty clash. Garrett's Aggron managed to catch its foe's horns in its claws, but Aggron would not be denied. It shoved forward until it came to rest on all four limbs. Bracing on its front legs, its hind legs coiled in tight, and Aggron exploded upward with tremendous force sending the older pokemon stumbling backward. Now on the defensive, Garrett's Aggron lacked the fortitude to back up its strength, and one vicious iron head later, it was driven hard into the cavern floor where it succumbed under Aggron's assault.

The victory roar that sounded through the cave drowned out whatever Garrett mumbled as he recalled his last pokemon.

The battle was over, and yet Steven didn't really feel like celebrating. Garrett's confession still left a sour taste in his mouth. So instead of congratulating his fellow trainer on a battle well fought, he went straight to his partner's side and placed a loving hand on his pokemon's armored snout. The steel was cool, but it warmed quickly under his touch. Aggron's breath slowed as it relaxed, fatigue finally winning as the adrenaline from battle faded away, and for the first time since the battle started, Steven found himself smiling with genuine pride.

But the soft expression was short lived as a voice piped up from behind him and a rumble of displeasure sounded in Aggron's throat.

"Well, a loss is a loss, and you won fair and square."

Steven stiffened as he turned to face his opponent, eyes sharp. Garrett held out a handful of money toward him, and Steven scowled.

"I'm not interested in the prize money."

"I challenged you to a battle and I lost. League rules state –"

"I know the rule," Steven cut him off, "I'm choosing to ignore it, because I only have one thing to say to you."

Garrett's eyes narrowed as Steven recalled Aggron and placed its ball on his belt with the rest of his team. His hand brushed against Metang's ball as he found Garrett's gaze with his own.

"I learned a long time ago that there's no such thing as a useless pokemon. I can only hope that today you've learned the same thing. May we never meet again."

And with that, he turned his back, and walked out of the cave.

It is important to remember that only through teamwork will a trainer and their pokemon find success at the highest levels.
Chapter 12 - Rise


Hoenn around
  1. aggron
  2. lairon
Ch 12 - Steven finally reaches Route 113 to find his sixth and final teammate, but he is wholly unprepared for what it takes to catch an angry metal bird...

Chapter 12 - Rise

Pokemon Trainer's Handbook pg. 36: Pokemon are inherently dangerous creatures. It is imperative that trainers understand the risks of raising and training their chosen partners. Attributes, nature, and even the typing of a pokemon can determine how difficult a particular pokemon may be to train…

Steven wondered how exactly it came to this. Cowering in the soot covered bushes as a piercing shriek sounded from the creature that was trying to hunt him down. This wasn't his first run in with a hostile pokemon, but somehow it had turned into the most harrowing one.

Another screech came from somewhere overhead, and Steven flinched even though his cover was well camouflaged by the soot's tendency to cling to whatever it touched. Why had he decided to be so stubborn? He could have just gone after a feathered flyer. But no, by some ingrained sense of hubris, he convinced himself that he wanted to catch a bird with metal wings instead. He would have laughed at the whole situation if it didn't mean alerting the enraged Skarmory to his current hiding place.

Naturally, he had expected catching the proud steel bird to be challenging; Winona had cautioned him as much. He'd had it easy so far with the rest of his pokemon partners, all of them joining him willingly, sometimes to his surprise. But he had never imagined exactly just how difficult a Skarmory would be to not only find, but then capture. And yet even with a careful plan drawn out before he even set eyes on the flock, everything still managed to have gone south from the very start.

Cautiously, Steven peered through the branches to see if he could spot his assailant. Unfortunately, the skies of Route 113 were as gray as the ash that covered the ground, and Skarmory's steel body blended perfectly with the mottled cloud cover overhead. Two red eyes followed his gaze skyward before sliding back down to meet his own in an expression of equal parts incredulity, skepticism, and thinly veiled satisfaction that in the face of all its ignored warnings, Metang was right. Again.

Okay, so his plan hadn't actually been meticulous. After trudging through the soot-coated underbrush for the better part of a week, Steven had grown impatient with his inability to even spot a single Skarmory. Which was precisely why when he'd stumbled upon a gathering of about twenty of the birds, he was so giddy that he burst into the clearing brandishing a pokeball before Metang could stop him.

With a clattering clamor of metallic feathers, the entire flock took to the wing the second Steven emerged, squawking and cawing in surprise at the human that suddenly disturbed their resting place. As Steven watched the flock swiftly vacate the clearing, he realized that with Metang still playing catch up, he had no way to stop the Skarmory from fleeing. It would be too slow to call out another of his partners, so in a desperate bid he picked the largest cluster of pokemon he could find, and threw his pokeball into their midst.

Red and white vanished into a flurry of silver, but a flash of light told him he had struck one with his hurried throw. The pokeball tumbled to the ground, shaking furiously, as the rest of the Skarmory began to break through the low-hanging clouds to safety.

By then, Metang had arrived at its trainer's side and joined in warily watched the quaking pokeball. But Steven wasn't disappointed when it burst open from the inside, damaging the electronics. There was no way a Skarmory would be so easily caught without engaging it in battle first. His tactic was simply a way to stall its escape. Except when the frantic bird materialized from its temporary prison, instead of turning and attacking, it flared its wings and craned its neck toward the clouds before giving a fierce caw, launching itself skyward in a gust of wind and soot.

Unwilling to let his quarry disappear on him, Steven urged Metang to give chase, and with a well-aimed confusion attack, the flying-type had found itself grounded once again. However, it didn't last long, and Skarmory quickly regathered itself, desperation seeping into its cries as it took off again.

Another confusion dragged it earthward, and after its escape attempt was thwarted for a second time, Skarmory's agitation finally bubbled forth, and it whirled to face its would-be captor. The fire in its eyes sent Metang chattering with unease. It was angry. And not just angry, it was livid. But Steven was far too excited to notice, and with a grin he directed Metang to strike. Soon enough Metang had chipped away at the wild pokemon's defenses, leaving it tired but no less irate.

Assuming Skarmory's energy had been sufficiently drained, Steven withdrew another pokeball from his pack and heaved it at his target. It struck Skarmory on the side of the head and pulled it inside the capsule. But just as before, the ball hadn't stayed closed for long; the bird was too frenzied to remain trapped within. As Skarmory reemerged, it somehow looked as if its anger was overriding its exhaustion, and it screeched defiantly. Metang shot a nervous glance back at its trainer, and Steven had found himself frowning. This was proving to be quite the stubborn pokemon.

But as soon as Metang broke eye contact, the incensed bird saw an opening. Head lowered and wings brought to bear, it charged right at it biggest threat; the trainer holding yet another pokeball in his hand. Eyes wide, Steven shouted to Metang as Skarmory flashed by, but he was too slow. Panicked, Steven threw his hand forward, hoping the pokeball might buy him enough time to scramble out of Skarmory's war path. But with one deft slice, Skarmory intercepted the ball with its razor sharp feathers, and it clattered to the ground, damaged beyond use.

And then the wild pokemon was upon him, wielding its blade like wings with deadly intent. Steven stumbled backwards under the angry pokemon's assault, attempting to shield his face and throat with nothing but his bare hands. Steel found skin as he tumbled to the ground, soot sticking to the fresh wounds, and he cried out.

Suddenly, a resounding clang echoed through the air as a mighty collision sent sparks flying. Metang had rammed Skarmory with a full-body charge, sending the wild pokemon sailing with an indignant squawk. Before it could dig its head out of the bank of soot it had crashed into, Metang reached down to its battered trainer and shakily dragged Steven to his feet. He held on tight as Metang neatly picked him up and whisked the pair of them to safety in the nearest clump of underbrush.

Breathing heavily from the adrenaline, Steven watched as Skarmory finally emerged, furious as ever, and proceeded to tear the clearing apart in a search for the duo that dared to try to capture it. When it failed to uncover their hiding spot, it pumped its wings angrily and took to the sky where it circled overhead, determined to find and punish whoever had wronged it so…

Steven's eyes lingered on the gouged pokeball that lay ruined in on the ground beyond his soot and shrub hiding place. It was one of several that were scattered around the clearing as a reminder of just how long this battle had been going on. It wasn't often that he managed to get a pokeball through Skarmory's defenses, but when he did, the bird immediately broke free and resumed its dogged pursuit. Now his pokeball stock was nearly depleted and Skarmory was showing no signs of giving up any time soon.

As he and his partner crouched in their hiding place, Steven hissed as he wiped at the blood that oozed down his arm, smearing the cuts red and gray. Metang echoed a low noise of worry, and its question caused Steven to wince.

"What do you mean what am I gonna do?" he whispered in a strained voice, irritation preventing his tone from being too quiet. "I'm not giving up, not when we're so close!"

Metang allowed itself an eye roll at its trainer's absurd insistence. Gesturing with one claw toward the broken pokeballs in question, it hummed to emphasize its point. Steven huffed in annoyance.

"I know it's not working. That's why we have to battle it again. It's simply not tired enough."

With a quiet chatter, Metang wasted no time in sharing how poor of an idea that actually was.

"I'm aware that every time we try to battle, it goes after me instead... That's why we need to come up with a different strategy."

The skeptical look returned, and Steven was painfully aware of what Metang thought of his current strategy.

"It's not running, it's regrouping! I just need time to think –"

A gust of wind suddenly interrupted their less-than-hushed argument, flattening the bushes and sending the ground around them erupting into a cloud of windswept soot. Doubled over from a coughing fit, Steven barely had time to register the looming shadow that fell over their hiding place. Metang screeched a warning just before it roughly shoved him to the ground. Skarmory's claws flashed out, but Metang had shifted to cover Steven with its body, and the sharp talons only managed to rake at its steel hide, rather than their intended target. Skarmory shrieked in rage at being foiled, and swooped out of range as Metang took a swipe at the aggressive pokemon.

Now thoroughly covered in soot, Steven scrambled back to his feet. As ridiculous as he was sure he appeared, the panicked look from his starter told him this was no longer a laughing matter. Skarmory seemed to be getting stronger by the minute. They had to get out of there, and fast.

As Skarmory banked back towards them, Steven glanced wildly around the clearing. He had gotten turned around in the mayhem, and in the gray, ash covered landscape, every direction looked the same. But there was no time to make a more informed decision as another shriek sounded from above. Spinning to the left of their cover, he broke into a sprint toward the nearest clump of bushes.

"This way!" he shouted back to his partner, and Metang chimed as it obeyed.

Feet churning, Steven didn't dare hazard a glance behind him for fear of losing ground. A screeching call rang out as Skarmory spotted its prey making a break for it, and Steven swore he could almost feel the bird's talons sinking into him as he lunged for cover. Sliding on one knee, He slipped underneath the brush just in time, and Skarmory was forced to pull up from its dive to avoid a crash landing in the shrubs.

Panting, Steven offered a shaky grin to his partner as it whirred by his side.

"That wasn't so bad."

Metang resisted the urge to roll its eyes for a second time. They wouldn't be safe for long, and thankfully its trainer was aware of that fact, as he readied to run again.

"No need for stealth at this point," Steven shrugged as he scanned the sky to make sure Skarmory wasn't right on top of them already, "Unless you've got a better idea..."

But Metang simply shook its head and readied itself for the next mad dash.

And so the game of hide and seek continued all along Route 113. Steven and Metang ducking between patches of cover as Skarmory grew more and more furious at each thwarted attempt. But Steven still hadn't been able to fully get his bearings yet, and he was unsure where exactly their haphazard path was taking them. Right at that moment, however, he was happy that it at least kept them out of Skarmory's grasp.

It was just as they reached a particularly barren section of the Route when Steven spotted their salvation. A lone building sat squat along the roadway with a small shed off to one side and a covered porch over the main entrance. If they could make it to the door, best case scenario they could convince the owner to let them hide inside for a spell. Worst case, they'd be stuck outside, but at least they'd stand a chance of fending off Skarmory with the help of a roof overhead.

Mind made up, Steven slipped out of their last bit of cover and made a beeline toward the house. When the all too familiar sound of rushing wings and angry shrieking didn't immediately come, he hazarded a glance over his shoulder just in case. Much to his relief, the sky was empty for once, so it caught him completely off guard when Metang uttered a sudden screech of warning.

Wheeling his gaze back around, he barely had time to brace himself before he slammed headlong into a figure that had just stepped out from behind the edge of the shed. With a shout of surprise, both persons tumbled to the ground as the air filled with the sound of shattering glass.

Metang hovered nervously nearby as Steven sat up, gingerly holding his head. He was ready to issue a hasty apology, but the person he had run into wasn't even paying attention to him. Instead, the middle-aged man was scrabbling around on the ground in a panic.

"Oh no! My vase!"

It was then that Steven spotted the sign on the side of the house and the glass that lay scattered on the ground. Steven's expression fell at the realization, and he hurried to help the man in not just apology, but warning.

"I-I'm so sorry! But you have to leave it, there's this Skarmory –"

But the dismayed glassblower continued to ignore Steven while picking up fragments of the broken vase from the soot covered dirt and shoving them into his smock's front pocket.

"A Skarmory is the least of my worries now that this order is ruined!"

A sharp shriek cut through the air, causing Metang to chime in agitation. Panic rose in Steven's throat as he spun to face the glassblower, grabbing the man's arm in an effort to get him moving.

"Look, I'll make it up to you somehow. Right now we need to get indoors, and fast!"

Another shriek sounded, closer this time, and the glassblower's head finally shot skyward in alarm just in time to see the gleaming streak of Skarmory's descending form cut through the afternoon gloom. He scrambled back to his feet, nearly dropping all of the collected fragments in the process.

"And here I thought you were making excuses for running into me. That is one angry Skarmory!"

"Tell me about it!" shouted Steven as he turned toward the house, glassblower hot on his heels.

"We're not going to make it!" the glassblower puffed, somehow running and cradling the remains of his vase at the same time.

"Not if I can help it!" Steven called back to his partner, "Metang, hold it off one more time!"

A pair of metallic cries sounded as Metang moved to intercept Skarmory's dive bomb. Steven reached the covered porch in time to spin and catch a glimpse of his partner's bullet punch deflecting Skarmory off course. A well placed confusion attack shoved the Skarmory further backward directly into the branches of a nearby tree. As soot rained down from the impact, Metang turned tail and retreated to Steven's side just as the glassblower threw the door open, and all three of them darted inside to safety.

With the sounds of Skarmory's angry screeching muffled by the solid roof overhead, Steven allowed himself to finally relax. Panting from the narrow escape, both men rested with their backs against the inside of the shop door. Metang, too, seemed gassed as it lowered itself to the floor with a tired thunk. It wasn't until Steven raised his arm to wipe some of the soot from his face that the glassblower jumped back in shock, the vase momentarily forgotten.

"You're bleeding! It wasn't from the glass was it?"

"No, it wasn't the broken glass…" Steven looked sheepish as he tried to reassure the shop owner, but he was already off and rushing around looking for his first aid supplies. "It was from that Skarmory."

"Nasty creatures," muttered the glassblower as he ushered Steven over to a nearby bench, "How'd you get mixed up with that thing anyway?"

Rubbing at the back of his neck with the hand that the glassblower wasn't currently tending to, Steven attempted to sound casual. "I tried to catch it."

"You what?!"

Steven wasn't sure if he winced from the sting of the antiseptic or the man's tone.

"I haven't seen many Skarmory around here, but every time I do, they look mad about something. That's probably the last pokemon I'd want to have pissed at me."

Steven sighed as he watched the dressing being wound around his forearm, "I'd been told as much."

The glassblower's brow quirked, "And you still went after one?"

"I needed a pokemon that could fly."

"So you thought a Skarmory would be a good idea?"

Steven nodded as he obeyed the glassblower's motion for him to present his other bloodied arm, and the man chuckled in response.

"If you're that hardheaded, then maybe a Skarmory would be a good match for you after all."

"What do you mean?" Steven managed to ask before more stinging caused him to hiss with discomfort.

"Those birds are the most disagreeable pokemon I've ever seen. Everyone around here knows to steer clear. Heck, even the pokemon around here are scared of 'em. Not a one would dare to challenge a Skarmory, so they just let it claim as much territory and food as it likes. And to think you came here looking for one."

The glassblower shook his head as he finished the bandaging job and rose to his feet with a groan.

"Now, let's talk about how much trouble you've caused by breaking that vase."

Steven cringed. It had been a remarkable coincidence to have collided with the glassblower in the first place, but he still ended up ruining the vase regardless.

"I had half a mind to give you a stern talking to and boot you out of here, but that's not going to work for two reasons. One, that Skarmory is definitely going to be waiting to pounce when you leave. And two, I need someone to help me make a new vase."

"But, I don't know a thing about glass making," Steven protested, albeit weakly. He had no room to complain given the glassblower's generosity in sheltering him from the angry bird outside.

With a shrug, the glassblower took off his smock and hung it up next to his work table. "Not to worry. There are other ways to help pay me back. For now, we should stay inside. I've got plenty of room, and we've both got a lot of work ahead of us tomorrow."

"Tomorrow?" Steven quirked a brow.

"Well I'll tell you one thing for sure, that Skarmory isn't going anywhere today," the glassblower chuckled. "That thing was way too mad at you to give up so easily."

Steven gulped, and the glassblower gave a lopsided smile at his unease.

"Don't worry, it should calm down by tomorrow. I think."

Metang chattered quietly from where it was resting, and Steven had to agree. The glassblower clearly wasn't know for his pep talks.

The next morning, Steven sighed as he looked down at the ridiculous outfit the glass blower had shoved on him. It was a smock similar in style to the glassblower's own, but where it wrapped all the way around his back, there were several pouches sewn along the belt line. It fit snug where it cinched around his waist, and Steven fidgeted uncomfortably as the glass blower planted his hands on his hips and grinned.

"There, now you look the part of a glass blower's apprentice."

Steven stopped trying to adjust the awkward smock.


The glassblower held up a finger knowingly. "If you're going to hold up your end of the deal and help me with getting this new vase done, that makes you my apprentice."

"But only until the vase is finished, right?" Steven asked with a slight hint of panic in his voice.

The glass blower nodded. "When the order is fulfilled, your apprenticeship will be complete."

Steven tried to hide his sigh of relief, and when he snuck a glance at his partner, Metang seemed to share his sentiment. But his relief was short lived as a pair of hands landed on his shoulders and spun him towards the door of the workshop.

"Now, Apprentice, get out there and collect some ash."

"W-wait, what?"

"I can't make glass without ash, so you have to go and get me some."

"Out there?" Steven paled, "What if you were wrong and that Skarmory is still waiting for me? It'll attack the second I step outside!"

The glass blower frowned, but he didn't back down, "I'm supposed have the vase ready to deliver by tomorrow. There's no time to lose. I need that ash today."

Suddenly, his expression brightened, and he dashed back into the depths of the shop without explanation. Steven and Metang exchanged a puzzled look, and their confusion remained as the glass blower returned wielding a wooden tub and a length of rope.

"I saw the way your pokemon protected us yesterday," said the glass blower excitedly as he closed in on Metang, getting a nervous chatter from the pokemon for his forwardness. "So if it goes with you to ward off that Skarmory, it can help collect ash too!"

Steven was about to protest the idea when the glass blower stepped back. He had anchored the tub neatly to the top of Metang's head, and Steven nearly burst out laughing at the ridiculous sight. Thankfully, he held his laughter in, but it didn't keep Metang from glaring daggers in return.

"I guess if we can collect ash together, there's less risk of being out there too long," Steven mused, hand on his chin. But his expression softened as his partner whined a sorry sounding note. "Can you still battle like that, Metang? I'm going to need your help."

The steel type waggled its forelegs in a mock attack, testing the balance of its new adornments. After a moment it nodded, satisfied.

Steven nodded in return and his slight smile shifted into a look of determination.

"Then let's go."

"Oh, one more thing!" the glassblower piped up just as Steven was reaching for the door. "If you're still crazy enough to try to catch that Skarmory, give these a shot. Now don't come back without my ash!"

And without another word, the older man dropped a handful of pokeballs into the front pocket of Steven's smock and pushed him out the door.

Steven sucked in a small breath as he poked his head nervously out from the cover of the shop's porch. The skies were clearer that day, but still gray enough that Skarmory would have had an easy time hiding in plain sight. A quiet chatter from his side told him Metang was no less unnerved by their current assignment.

"The faster we get this over with, the faster we can get back inside," he muttered, although the thought did little to make him feel any better.

Metang chimed a question back, and Steven frowned, still not taking his eyes off the sky.

"No, I haven't come up with a better way to catch it… Let's worry about that after we wrap up this vase problem."

Nodding, Metang cautiously drifted forward until its whole body was out in the open. Steven paused, waiting to see if any surprise attack came, and when the clearing remained quiet, he hastily stepped out to join his partner.

The mood was tense as they collected ash in silence. Every snap of a twig or gust of wind carried the threat of an ambush. But just as the thought began to creep in that maybe they were in the clear, a distant cry sounded from overhead, sending chills down Steven's spine. Trainer and pokemon shared a glance. Their time was up.

Slowly, Steven turned to assess just how far they were from the glassblower's shop. It wasn't far, but it wasn't close either. He rested a hand on his partner's side.

"Get ready…"

Steven hunched low to the ground and scanned the skies for any sign of the steel bird. He let out a grumble of frustration when his reconnaissance came up empty.

"We're just going to have to make a break for it and hope Skarmory is far enough away. Watch our back and I'll keep watch ahead."

Metang hummed in nervous agreement. It wasn't foolproof, but it would have to do.

"Let's go," hissed Steven, and the pair beat a hasty retreat back toward the house.

40 yards. 30 yards. They were getting close. 20 yards.

And the ground between them erupted in a cloud of soot as a brilliant steel bolt landed from out of the blue.

Skarmory stood directly between stunned trainer and pokemon, head craned high in victory. It leered down at the terrified human in its sights, and Steven paled under its glare.


His partner's angry cry caused Skarmory's head to whip around. As it took in the bristling pokemon before it, Steven seized his chance while Skarmory was distracted. He turned and ran for the house.

"Keep it occupied!"

He hated to abandon his partner after giving such a command, but there was no way he wanted another run in with Skarmory's bladed wings. Steven turned only briefly to see Metang's attack grabbing Skarmory's attention in the form of its neck. It would be able to hold out until he could recall it from the safety of the porch. He just had to get there before…

Legs pumping, his heart leapt into his throat as a screech sounded from behind him. A second shriek followed, even closer than the first. How had Skarmory evaded Metang so quickly? If it was coming right for him, it was too fast for him to outrun. He'd never make it. Unless...

With a dive, Steven threw himself head first toward the porch. But hadn't taken into account just how determined Skarmory was. As his hands found wood, he was rudely yanked backward by a strong grip. Skarmory had ducked beneath the awning and sunk its talons deep into the soot sack at the back of Steven's smock. With one push of its razor sharp wings, Skarmory shredded the edge of the porch supports and lifted itself back into the air still tightly gripping its prize. Giving one last triumphant glare back at Metang, Skarmory cried out as it happily dragged the hapless trainer away by his backside.

Steven yelped as the ground fell away from beneath his body, and in a panicked struggle, he tried to release himself from the smock's straps. He'd gladly lose his ash collection to the angry bird if it meant he could escape its clutches. But as he spotted just how high he'd already been carried, he ceased trying to wiggle his way free, and instead clung tightly the garment, lest he slip out and plummet to his death. He thought about calling out for help, but Skarmory had carried him too high for even Metang to follow, and he watched helplessly as his partner shrunk to a small blue speck in the middle of Route 113, its cries fading into the rushing wind.

It wasn't long before the ashy landscape of Route 113 was replaced by the rust colored rocks of nearby Mt. Chimney. Before Steven could wonder exactly why Skarmory had carried him here, he was dropped unceremoniously to the ground where he tumbled to a halt on the rocky ground.

Two steely talons came to rest several yards away, and Steven willed his limbs to obey as he tried to rise from his less than graceful landing. By the time he'd found his feet, Skarmory had already wheeled around and caught him in its fiery glare. With a menacing screech, Skarmory unfurled its wings in a threatening display, and Steven backpedaled as far as he could before he made contact with a large boulder blocking his retreat. The bird was no less upset than it had been the previous day, and now it had finally managed to isolate the encounter to just the two of them; trainer and wild pokemon, or as Steven was sure Skarmory saw it, predator and prey.

Except that Steven wasn't alone. Skarmory may have thwarted Metang by dragging him up to the top of Mt. Chimney, but he still had four other pokemon by his side that were willing and able to fight. And yet when his hand flew to his belt, he was met with nothing but a swath of fabric and a bulging pouch of ash. The glassblower's smock hung low and snug over his hips, and to Steven's dismay, completely blocked access to his pokeballs.

But Skarmory wasn't interested in waiting, and it shrieked with malicious glee before racing toward its foe, wings raised to attack. Steven's eyes widened in realization as the distance between them closed in a matter of moments. Skarmory chose such a tiny ledge on purpose. It was tired of chasing Steven all over the expanses of Route 113, so it selected a smaller battleground this time. In a panic, Steven threw himself to the side, narrowly avoiding Skarmory's blades as they swooshed overhead. Sparks danced when four neat gouges were cleaved in the rock that was pressed against Steven's back mere seconds prior.

However, Steven's evasive maneuver didn't allow him to get away unscathed, and he landed hard on his stomach, knocking the wind out of himself. Clutching his ribs to try to recover his breath, his hand found something he had forgotten about in his panic. The pokeballs that the glassblower had given him that morning. Quickly rolling on his side, Steven dug his hand into the pocket of his smock to retrieve a ball. But Skarmory was already looming over him, and with a vicious slash it caught Steven across the back with two of its bladed feathers.

Somehow, Steven managed to roll away from the brunt of the attack, leaving only shallow cuts in its wake. But that didn't mean it hurt any less, and Steven bit back a cry as the pokeball fell from his hand. There was no time to retrieve it as Steven rolled further out of Skarmory's attack range, and the bird's second swing found only empty air.

Recovering from its missed strike, Skarmory was a bit slow in tracking Steven's movements, and Steven seized his chance. Digging one hand into the soot sack at his side, he grabbed a handful of ash and hurled it at Skarmory's face. The ash exploded in a thick cloud, and Skarmory squawked as its eyes and mouth filled with soot. Teeth grit as he scrambled to his feet, Steven reached back into his front pocket to retrieve another empty pokeball. As he withdrew his hand, he looked on in surprise.

"No way…"

The ultra ball's black and gold pattern gleamed in the sunlight, and Steven gaped at the glassblower's generosity.

He didn't have long to gape though, as Skarmory quickly recovered from Steven's blinding attack and was bearing down on him again. Stumbling backward to avoid Skarmory's first slice, Steven waited until he saw Skarmory wind up for another swing, and he threw the ultra ball. Skarmory's eyes went wide with a dismayed caw as the ball struck it straight in the chest. With a flash of light, the ultra ball snapped shut and clattered to the ground.

One shake. Two shakes.

Steven held his breath, unable to tear his gaze away.

In a triumphant burst, the ultra ball split open, and Skarmory stood before him once more, head drooping and panting with effort, but standing there none the less.

Steven's heart sunk as he watched the two broken halves of the ultra ball rock back and forth on the ground. After so many battles, how was Skarmory able to break free from such a high caliber pokeball? His hand scrabbled at the fabric across his hips, trying to again reach his partners while Skarmory recovered from its latest escape. If he could just land an attack or two, Skarmory would be down for the count. But the smock was still too snug, and Skarmory already had caught its breath. Abandoning any hope of taking it out in battle, Steven braced himself as Skarmory lunged.

Backpedaling out of range, Steven prepared himself to duck under another of Skarmory's swings, but it too had changed tactics. A talon flashed forward, catching Steven by the ankle. With his leg now trapped in Skarmory's grasp, his momentum toppled him over backwards with a shout of surprise. A second talon slammed to the dirt, coming up empty as Steven wrenched his arm out of the way at the last second. He franticly dug into his pocket, not daring to look away from the deadly bird that leered down at him. His hand barely closed around his last resort when a razor sharp beak whipped forward and plunged straight for his throat.

In one smooth motion, Steven withdrew the empty pokeball and slammed it into the side of Skarmory's leg, button first. The iron grip on his ankle vanished in a swirl of red light, and Steven dropped the pokeball as it snapped shut, hand flying to his neck to ward off the ghost of a blow that never landed.

The rattling of the pokeball drew his eye to it, and with a sad realization that it was only a regular ball, Steven scooted away from it before it inevitably burst open. But one shake turned into two, and two into three, and then… silence. Using one of the nearby rocks to drag himself to his feet, Steven stared in stunned disbelief at the sealed pokeball that lay on the ground. He'd done it; he'd actually done it. Skarmory was caught.

But for some reason he was still hesitant to claim his prize. As he stood watching the pokeball in silence, a breeze rolled up the mountain, and the cold air snuck through the tears in the back of the smock. He shivered as the fresh cuts stung. And then suddenly, he grew angry. Twisting and turning, he finally grasped the cinch holding the smock on, and yanked the offending garment off; collected soot be damned. As he tossed the smock to the ground in a puff of ash, he let out a sigh of relief. Finally his hand found the familiar shape of his partners at his belt, and his rapid heartbeat calmed just a bit.

Bolstered by the knowledge that his pokemon were finally able to help him, it was time to deal with his newest teammate. Still not totally trusting the pokeball to hold its furious contents, Steven hesitantly edged forward until he was within reach. With a cautious nudge, he prodded the pokeball with his boot, careful to avoid the button lest he release another round of fury upon himself. When the ball didn't burst open at the slightest touch, he leaned down and plucked it from the ground, wincing as the wounds across his back reminded him of just what it took to catch his sixth and final pokemon.

And at the thought, Steven froze. He had gone after Skarmory with the intent of asking it to join his team and fly him around Hoenn on its back. So far, it had done a marvelous job in proving its worth as a pokemon transport; it had carried him up to Mt. Chimney with no problem. Yet there was no way he would trust Skarmory to agree to carry him back down the mountain. Steven shook his head in disbelief at his current dilemma. He was finally in possession of a flying pokemon, except it only would fly him around with the intent of killing him when they landed. How in the world was he going to get down from Mt. Chimney? Metang would have been the obvious option; the cliffs would provide enough earth for it to skirt down the steep descent. But of course when Skarmory plucked him from Route 113, he hadn't been able to recall his partner in time. Shaking the thought of how upset Metang must have been, Steven affixed Skarmory's ball to his belt and plucked another in its stead.

Claydol whined a hollow note as it materialized in front of its trainer. It wasn't his favorite method of transport, but it was the only option left.

"You wouldn't happen to be able to teleport us back to the glassblower's house, would you?"

A questioning whistle came in response, and Steven's pantomimed his best impersonation of the glassblower's shop.

"You know, Route 113. With all the ash?"

Claydol whined again, and several of its eyes blinked into nervous lines.

"We can't go there?"

Emphatic waggling of its arms relayed its distress and Steven sighed with a shake of his head. He knew Claydol was right. He hadn't called it out during their Skarmory hunt, and without having a tangible link to the Route there was no good way to get a psychic lock on the location in question.

"It's all right, Claydol. It was a long shot anyway."

Claydol made a resigned sound as its eyes fell dejectedly. But on their way down, they stopped at Steven's belt. Noticing his pokemon's gaze, Steven looked to the objects in question.

"Metang's not here. It's back at –"

Another whistle and a short gesture cut him off, and he tried to follow his partner's logic.

"But, no one else can fly – " Steven paled. Claydol figured out why that extra pokeball was on his hip.

"Oh no. No, I can't. Claydol, it's furious with me. I can't possibly ask Skarmory for help."

But Claydol was adamant, and Steven gave it a scathing look as he gave in and brought Skarmory's pokeball to bear.

"Don't say I didn't warn you…"

Skarmory hadn't even fully materialized when a piercing shriek cut through the air. Claydol's levitation wobbled as several of its eyes squeezed shut in discomfort. Skarmory only took a few seconds to gain its bearings before bringing its burning yellow gaze to face Steven. Swallowing thickly, he willed himself to match the bird's glare, although he was sure he didn't have enough hatred in his body to counter the intensity of Skarmory's rage. And yet, somehow Skarmory didn't immediately charge him. Bolstered by the fact that he wasn't instantly decapitated upon calling it out, Steven gripped its pokeball a bit tighter and put on his best placating tone.

"Hey, Skarmory... I'm sorry we got off on such bad terms –" The sharp clack of a steel beak interrupted him, but he pressed on, "So what do you say we start from the beginning again? I'd like to be your trainer, if that's okay."

Silence fell between the two of them, save for Claydol's nervous humming. A flicker of light glinted off Skarmory's crest as its head cocked to the side ever so slightly, and Steven was acutely aware he had held his breath after his last sentence, but he wasn't about to exhale just yet. A thin bead of sweat trickled down his temple, and just for a brief moment, his gaze wavered, and Skarmory lunged.

Claydol shrieked and Skarmory crowed and Steven panicked, raising the pokeball just as Skarmory's wings flashed with a wicked glint. And just like that, the air was still again, and the steel type was nestled back in the protective casing of its ball.

Steven frowned as he shakily, but sternly addressed the quivering pokeball in his palm, "Just when I thought we might be getting somewhere… And just so you know, the only pokemon allowed to kill me is Metang." His shoulders sagged in defeat, "Although I have a feeling once I get back to Route 113, I'm going to wish you finished me off up here."

The shaking stopped at his words, and Steven was left to wonder if Skarmory had actually understood what he meant, or if it simply got tired of struggling.

Another cool breeze blew over the cliffside, and for the first time, Steven felt a pang of remorse.

"Maybe this wasn't such a good idea after all…"

But suddenly a familiar sound carried through the thin mountain air. A chattering call that was just as relieved yet exasperated as he expected it to be. His gaze snapped up to the edge of the cliff.


Claydol's echoing cry sounded in recognition, and Steven was dumbfounded as the blue steel of Metang's form crested over the top of the ridge, wooden bucket and all. Even more astoundingly, it wasn't alone.

"Apprentice!" the glassblower called out as he waved in greeting, "Boy, am I glad we found you!"

"You're glad?"

But the glassblower ignored Steven as he continued.

"Well when your pokemon came back to my shop all distraught and alone, I feared the worst. But when it showed me where Skarmory had flown off to, I knew we should mount a rescue right away."

Metang rolled its eyes at the glassblower's half-truth. Steven caught its expression and he knew what really happened. It had all been Metang's idea. It just needed the glassblower's knowledge of the locale in order to get to Mt. Chimney as fast as possible. He gave his partner a warm smile and hoped that his gratitude would be enough to lessen its ire at him for yet another poorly conceived plan.

"…And as luck would have it, your partner and I collected more than enough ash along the way. Now I can finally fill that order! After we get back to my shop, of course."

Steven eyed the full tub of ash affixed to Metang's head, and its sour look told him that his stifled laughter undid whatever good his earlier smile had accomplished.

"Let's get going, Apprentice. This vase won't make itself!"

Steven offered a shrug to Claydol that said he'd explain it all later and he recalled it to its ball before climbing on top of Metang's head. With a quiet hum of contentment, Metang brought its precious cargo down the mountainside.


The glassblower sunk back into a chair in exhausted relief. The completed vase sat sparkling on the cooling rack, nearly ready to pack and ship along with the rest of the pieces in the order.

Steven, too, sighed as he leaned back from the bellows, his back aching through the fresh bandages. The glassblower had only shown him enough sympathy to dress his new cuts and scrapes before sending him right to work in keeping the furnace hot.

They worked in tandem, with Steven following the glassblower's directions, and now that the vase was done, they lapsed into a tired silence. Just as Steven began to tug off his protective gloves, the glassblower broke the quiet.

"So, what are you gonna do with that Skarmory, now that you caught one?" he asked as he thrust a broom into Steven's hands.

Steven scowled as he began to clean up the wayward ash. "Honestly, I'm not sure…"

Metang hummed thoughtfully from its place off to the side; it hadn't let Steven out of its sight since they returned to the shop. Steven understood, but it still didn't help him to formulate a plan on how he would deal with Skarmory's temper.

"So who's the lucky customer?" Steven asked instead with a nod toward the vase, trying change the subject.

"Ah, it's going to a hotel in Sootopolis. The owner just had to have my pieces in his lobby!"

Sootopolis. The whole reason Steven even found himself trekking through the ash fields of Route 113 was to get to there. Even though he now had a flying pokemon on his team, his destination still seemed so far off…

"…Although you'll have to forgive me if I insist on sending this order by more conventional transport." The glassblower glared at him.

"Oh no, I wasn't offering –" Steven's hands flew up in defense.

"Good, because you've caused enough trouble," but the artisan's tone quickly softened. "At least you made good on your promise and helped me out of that bind. You can consider your apprenticeship officially over."

Steven gave a weak smile as the glassblower turned to face him, hands on his hips.

"Y'know if you're not sure what to do next, I'd suggest heading over to Lavaridge. The Gym Leader is a good friend of mine, plus Mt. Chimney is always good for training. Just…" his eyes swept over the filthy bandages that still wound around Steven's arms, "Make sure you get a good rest for yourself too. Those hot springs work some magic on a tired body."

A smile split the glassblower's face into a wide grin.

"I know a hard worker when I see one. If anyone is going to whip that Skarmory into shape, it's you."

Steven's eyes went wide at the first real bit of praise he'd heard from his accidental mentor. Out of the corner of his eye, he caught a glimpse of the peak of Mt. Chimney, glowing red in the night, and he steeled his mind as he caught the older man's proud gaze.

"I won't let you down."

Once a trainer uncovers the bond between themselves and their pokemon, even the most fearsome of pokemon can become trusted partners.
Chapter 13 - Objective


Hoenn around
  1. aggron
  2. lairon
Ch 13 - After much preparation, Steven finally reaches the Sootopolis Gym for a shot at his seventh badge...

Chapter 13 - Objective

Pokemon Trainer's Handbook Tip #8: As your teammates grow, they will learn new and powerful moves. But experience isn't the only way pokemon can learn moves. Use TMs (see ter m "Technical Machines" in the Glossary) to expand your team's move set to new heights…

"Welcome challenger, to the Sootopolis Gym! Ah –" Juan's expression brightened as he got a closer look at the trainer who stepped through the doors, "I was wondering when you would make your appearance here. Wallace has told me all about your adventures in Shoal Cave. I must say, I'm quite impressed by what I've heard."

Steven had barely finished gaping at the Sootopolis Gym's dazzling interior before he realized Juan had descended from the Gym's uppermost level and addressed him with a wide smile. Even against a backdrop of shimmering tile and cascading water, the Gym Leader's distinctive style stood center stage, and Steven couldn't help but feel a knot of anxiety settle in his stomach. Juan was a truly intimidating figure who commanded every ounce of reverence he received.

Before Steven could give a quiet admission of thanks for Juan's praise, Wallace appeared at his Master's side and regarded the challenger with a confident smile and a hand on his hip.

"You better have a good excuse, making me wait so long for our battle."

Suddenly, all of Steven's nervousness seemed to float away, banished by the thrill of anticipation, and he found himself grinning in return. "No excuses, I'm here now aren't I?"

"You're lucky I'm a patient individual," Wallace's eyes narrowed, but his smile didn't falter. "Don't keep me waiting any longer." And with a flourish, he turned and walked toward a set of stairs that rose through the Gym all the way to the highest of the tiered platforms.

"Wait, what do you mean?"

"Master Juan may have taken a liking to you, but that doesn't mean you get preferential treatment. Finish the Gym's obstacles, and then you can battle me."

"Obstacles…?" Steven asked as his gaze swept over the Gym's landscape, only now noticing that tucked between the different tiers of pools were several platforms made entirely of ice. All of the pools looked easy enough to access with steps neatly carved into the cascading rock and lined with delicate tile, but the platforms appeared to be a different story. They only shared one common path; a series of segmented ramps that apparently could turn into stairs with the push of a button, as the flight to the first platform demonstrated.

Eyeing the icy platforms in question, Steven looked back to Wallace with thinly veiled dismay.

"You just want to watch me slip and fall on my face, don't you."

Wallace paused to hide a snicker behind his hand, "Admittedly, I hadn't even thought of that, but now that you mention it…"

Steven sighed, "It's only fair, I guess. Is there a limit to the number of tries I get?"

"Only as long as you're still willing to keep trying," said Wallace with a shrug.

Juan gave a reassuring smile as he climbed the carved stairs behind his apprentice. "We'll be waiting for you at the top."

Nervousness back in full force, Steven could only manage a nod as he steeled his gaze. It couldn't be as bad as the last adventure he'd had on ice, right?

Mildly surprised at how quickly he was able to adjust to moving around the Gym with so little friction, Steven managed to skate his way to the final platform with only one fall to his name. Quiet applause greeted his first step onto solid ground.

"Bravo," quipped Wallace, "You didn't make a complete fool of yourself."

"I told you, it's water and caves that I'm done with, not ice."

"Well, you're still not done with it, technically."

Steven followed the sweep of Wallace's hand and took in their battlefield. Perched atop the highest tier of the Gym was a pool in roughly the shape of a regulation size field. Mercifully there seemed to be small stone platforms dotted throughout the pool as well. Motioning for Steven to follow, Wallace climbed another set of stairs to the pool's deck.

"So I may have lied about the exceptions. Master Juan has kindly allowed us to use his arena as the stage for our battle."

As Steven scaled the last few steps, he had to pause to take in the Gym's splendor. Although the pool before him was nowhere near as massive as the one at the ground floor, it sparkled with intricate tile work that ran from the edge of the deck and up the back wall of the Gym itself. The pool was filled with crystal clear water that spilled readily through several openings in the sides and cascaded in tracts down to feed the lower training pools. Whatever matches that had been taking place elsewhere came to a halt as a murmur of whispered voices carried over the ambient sounds of rushing water.

Noticing how Steven paused to take in the sight, Wallace chuckled, "At least I know you're not so dense that you can't appreciate something beautiful."

Seemingly oblivious to the insult, Steven turned to the water-type trainer with a look of shock. "Won't it get ruined in the battle? The tiles, I mean."

Wallace's grin held steady as he regarded his opponent with a raised brow. "You are an odd one, aren't you? Coming to a Gym battle and worrying about wrecking the place rather than the match itself."

Frowning, Steven gave Wallace a look. "Who said I wasn't thinking about the match?"

But Wallace simply shrugged, "Well, you're the first person who's ever expressed concern about the well-being of the pool."

Their conversation was interrupted by the sound of footsteps against said tile.

"Ah, how wonderful! I can't wait to see what kind of thrilling performance you two have in store," Juan placed a gentle hand on the shoulder of each boy. "Wallace could barely contain his excitement when I said he could face you in the Leader's pool."

"I figured this would be a good chance for me to show my skills as a future Gym Leader and have our battle be the official match, but Master would not give up the chance to battle you himself."

Steven almost laughed at the chagrin in Wallace's voice.

"What do you say we get started," said Juan, ushering Steven and Wallace to take a place in their respective trainer boxes.

As Steven reached his end of the pool, he turned to face his opponent, who already was staring his way.

"It'll be a two on two battle, but I'm impatient." Wallace rolled a pokeball in his palm, "Your starter versus my starter for the first round? I know you know who mine is, and I'd be lying if I said I had no interest in that floating hunk of steel you call a partner."

Steven had a feeling that was going to be Wallace's request, and he grinned. They trained hard for this battle. Metang was prepared, and frankly ever since Shoal Cave, it'd been waiting for its shot back at the snippy Leader-in-training. He deftly picked the pokeball from its familiar spot on his belt and tossed it onto the nearest platform. "Let's do it."

With a flick of the wrist, Wallace's pokeball arced through the air before spilling its contents into the pool. A reverberating cry echoed about the arena as Victoria took form, curling gracefully in on herself before rising out of the water, and Steven couldn't help but gape. Her cream colored scales shone with an iridescent hue and her multicolor tail fanned out behind her in a brilliant display.

Metang slid its incredulous gaze toward Steven, and he caught the meaning; there was no way this was the evolved form of the pokemon they saw back in Lilycove.

Wallace just smirked. "Stunning, isn't she? You'll soon see that Victoria's not just a pretty face either. Her beauty is only matched by her power."

Finally tearing his gaze from the dazzling Milotic, Steven gestured to his partner, and Metang gathered its focus and hunkered in place. Steven, too, tensed in the trainer's box, his senses suddenly on high alert. The air was alive with anticipation, and he could feel a tingle at the tips of his fingers. "We're ready for whatever you throw at us."

"Good." Wallace delivered a sideways glance at the referee, and she swept her arm down to signal the start of the match.

"Trainers begin!"

Both Steven and Wallace's hands shot forward at the same time.

"Zen headbutt!"

"Hydro pump!"

Victoria's head reared back as Metang shot forward like a rocket. The distance between the two pokemon closed in an instant, and they met in a mighty clash of water. Victoria's hydro pump poured forth with such force that Metang had to bring its claws up to keep itself from being shoved backward. It tried to press its way through, but the attack was too strong from such close range. With a cry, Metang faltered and was sent spinning away. Victoria halted her attack as Metang threw a foreleg out to snag one of the platforms in order to halt its haphazard tumbling. Both pokemon glared at each other from across the arena, and Steven found himself nodding even though they had been unable to land the first blow of the match.

"Try again with bullet punch!"

Metang was off again, but to Steven's surprise, their attack wasn't met with another hydro pump. Metang's fist found scales as the blow landed. Even as Victoria let out a wail of pain, she curled and swept her tail up out of the water, sending a spray of water across Metang's vision.

"Mist, my darling."

In one smooth motion, the Milotic's tail slapped straight through the spray she created, scattering water everywhere. Instantly the battlefield was covered in a fine mist that hung heavy in the air. Steven's eyes widened as he lost sight of his pokemon in the haze.

"Metang, retreat!"

A shadow cut through the mist and the steel type emerged swiftly from the swirling cloud of vapor. Chattering nervously, its red eyes swept over the misty terrain, mirroring Steven's own wary gaze.

"Get ready," he whispered, voice tight.

Metang whined a low note, still scanning, vigilant. A faint gurgle was their only warning before a stream of water shot out of the mist cloud from the right.

"There! Confusion!"

Spinning sharply to face the threat, Metang raised a shimmering claw just in time to deflect the blast, but the attack again was too powerful. Barely diverting the water's path, Metang took a nearly direct hit to the face and was plunged straight into the pool.

Steven grimaced as Metang was quick to surface, looking worse for wear. He had been hoping the psychic counter-tactic they learned in Mossdeep would be sufficient, but the force behind the water type attack was much greater than that of Solrock's flamethrower. If they were to be successful, Metang needed more time to concentrate to compensate for the difference in power. Except there was no way to buy time with the threat of a sneak attack from any direction. They had to go on the offensive before Wallace could strike again.

"Eyes on target, Metang. Find that Milotic!"

Metang's eyes glowed bright with psychic energy. Every lifeform gave off a minute amount of psychic energy regardless of its own psychic abilities. If it could just hone in on Milotic's signature…

Suddenly Metang took off into the mist with a sharp cry. Steven tensed as his partner vanished, but a moment later he was rewarded with a shuddering squeal. Metang had found its mark.

The mist parted when Victoria's tail cut an angry path through the air as she writhed in pain, sending the clouds scattering in its wake. Steven was able to catch a glimpse of the other side of the battlefield just in time to see Metang land another solid blow before it was batted backwards by the Milotic's wild thrashing.

Wallace's expression was tight when he appeared through the swirling mist, and Steven smirked as he realized their aggressive strategy caught the water-type trainer by surprise. But his smirk was short lived as Wallace's eyes narrowed sharply.

"Recover with grace!"

Victoria shivered as her body glowed with a healing light. The ugly scuffs to her scales seemingly began to melt away, and several of her previously drooping tailfins perked back to their original splendor.

It was too late to negate recover's healing effects, so Steven waved Metang back to his side once more and hastily dug into his pack. It seemed Aggron's new penchant for berry hunting was finally paying off. Metang greedily snatched the sitrus berry from Steven's hand and devoured the fruit in one bite.

Finished with his own healing strategy, Steven brought a hand to his chin as Metang turned back toward the battlefield. If Metang's strikes had inflicted enough damage that Wallace was already relying on healing, it was a good sign. They'd have to press the attack and not give their opponent any room to recover.

The thinning mist swirled as Victoria coiled back to a ready position, head held high and unblemished. Metang rattled a confident cry, undaunted.

"Hmm, impressive," Wallace muttered, "It seems my hunch was right. You are nearly an even match."

"Nearly?" Steven quirked a brow.

"And that's being generous. But, enough pleasantries. Victoria, time to shine! Hydro pump!"

"Again? Metang, one more try. Confusion!"

This time both of Metang's arms flew forward, humming with energy. The jet of water slammed into the psychic barrier, and Metang shuddered under the impact. With a defiant chatter, it shoved forward, flinging its claws out wide. The hydro pump split in two, missing Metang to either side.

Steven swelled with confidence in the trainer's box; it worked! He swung his fist to bear, ready to call out their counterattack, but the words died in his throat. The hydro pump didn't slow its assault, and with Metang's arms flung wide, the stream of water refocused at the center and surged straight through confusion's defenses. Metang's screech was drowned to a gurgle as it was swept back into the pool a second time.

Wallace gave an airy laugh as Metang clambered its way out, soaking wet and wearing a look of frustration. "Steven, you disappoint me. Using the same tactic even after you've seen how strong Victoria is? You may know your way around a cave, but I'm beginning to suspect you might not be as adept on the battlefield."

The all too familiar feeling of grating annoyance crept up in the back of Steven's mind. Something about Wallace's demeanor just always seemed to rub him the wrong way. Were the Mossdeep Leader's twins just messing with him when they'd said Wallace saw him as a friend?

"No clever comeback? Well, perhaps I need to reconsider my choice of rival…"

Steven's eyes narrowed. "Rival?"

But Wallace ignored him and signaled to his partner, "Victoria, let's show Master Juan who is really the most promising one here. Ice beam!"

"Wait, what – Metang!" Both trainer and pokemon threw up an arm to shield themselves from the shining beam that emanated from Victoria's horn. The sound of crackling ice could be heard, but the attack was too blinding for Steven to see what was happening.

Just as quickly as it started, the light faded, and silence covered the battlefield. When Steven lowered his arm, the mist that had blanketed the arena was gone, lightly settling to the solid platforms in a gentle frosting of ice. In front of him was his partner, but something was wrong…


The same light dusting of ice coated Metang's hide, and it glistened as it hung motionless in the air. …Except for the icicles that hung thick all over its body. Somehow the ice-type attack that should have only done minimal damage to his pokemon had frozen it in place, unable to move.

Victoria's sharp trill sliced through the air, and her eyes narrowed in triumph as Wallace was quick to shower her with praise.

"Oh my darling, that was wondrous! What a dazzling outcome!" But as Wallace finished gushing, his gaze slid over to where Steven was quietly fuming and he flashed a cheeky smile. "I did my homework. Steel types may resist ice type attacks, but not when they get wet first and then freeze."

Steven's stomach dropped. Again the combination of water and cold did him in as he realized that the sequence of Wallace's attacks was deliberate. Victoria's ice beam froze the water still inside Metang's joints from its dunk in the pool, essentially bypassing the type's natural defenses. But the battle wasn't over. Metang wasn't knocked out, or else it wouldn't still be floating.

"Metang, you have to break free!"

When his pleading was met with angry chatters from his partner, muffled by the encasing ice, Steven sighed in relief. At least Metang still had all of its faculties, despite being frozen in place. His brow scrunched in uncertainty at Metang's predicament. He needed to think of a way to free his partner, and fast.

"I don't know, try using confusion to move your limbs!"

Metang obeyed, and the air around its body wavered with psychic energy. Ice began to crack and chip under the psychic pressure. But as soon as Metang had broken one arm free of its icy prison, another ice beam slammed into the steel-type, re-freezing the sections that had weakened.

Wallace looked on with an amused expression, "As if we'd let you just wiggle your way out. No, I like the look of your pokemon on ice. It's a stunning look, if I do say so myself. The way it sparkles in the light…"

Just like in Shoal Cave, Steven grit his teeth and ignored the water-type trainer's gloating.

"C'mon, Metang," he hissed, silently urging his starter to keep fighting. "You can do this!"

Steven knew his faith in his pokemon could only get them so far. So when Metang's body shuddered with a faint blue outline, it caught him completely off guard.

The air hummed with an intense psychic energy as the blue light intensified. Steven watched wide eyed as the icy shell encasing his pokemon exploded into hundreds of tiny shards. Metang was free, and its eyes glowed with brilliant blue hue; the hue of a full-fledged psychic attack.

"What?!" Wallace's surprised shout echoed around the arena as his ice prison strategy was shattered in mere seconds. Quickly regaining his composure, he straightened before clearing his throat, "No matter. Victoria, finish this with hydro pump!"

The powerful water attack burst forth and roared its way toward Metang. Eyes aglow, it raised one claw in a casual flick, and the hydro pump was neatly diverted in its course, turning a sharp ninety degrees skyward where it dissipated into harmless rainfall.

Both trainers' eyes went wide at the sheer power of Metang's newfound attack. Steven was the first to break from his stupor, and he seized the chance to turn the tables.

"Psychic, Metang! Then follow it up with a zen headbutt!"

Snapping its gaze toward its opponent, Metang gave another flick of its claws, and the entirety of Victoria's body was encased in a blue light. She squealed in protest, but was powerless to prevent Metang from neatly picking her up out of the water.

Wallace watched in terror as his partner was now suspended helplessly in mid-air, and he shouted a hasty counter-attack. "Ice beam! Break its concentration!"

But Metang would not be so easily rattled, and its psychic grip held as it raised a claw to shield its face from the direct attack. With an echoing chatter, Metang tore through the remanants of the ice beam at full speed with only a frozen foreleg to show for it. Both Wallace and Victoria screamed in desperation as Metang launched itself at its intended target.

The cream colored scales of Victoria's chest were left mangled and glowing from the psychic after-effects of the headbutt. Still trapped within Metang's psychic prison, she could only wail helplessly as Metang brought its ice-encased fist down on her head like a club.

Ice shattered on impact, and both pokemon tumbled down into the pool with a splash. Metang was the first to pull itself from the water, forelegs drooping from exhaustion. Shakily, Victoria too managed to slither back to Wallace's side, and Steven couldn't hide his scowl. That attack had to have been enough, otherwise...

"Recover, my darling!" The terror wasn't completely absent from Wallace's tone, but he did look more confident with his prized pokemon still sitting upright. But as Victoria's eyes closed in order to summon her regenerative powers, she collapsed to the deck with a shuddering cry.

"Milotic is unable to battle!"

It took a moment for Wallace to bring an unsteady hand down from his mouth and wordlessly recall his fallen partner, brushing a soft kiss against her pokeball before placing it on his belt. His gaze was sharp as he finally looked across the arena toward Steven.

"And here I thought I'd be in a better mood to share what I did with that gift you gave me," he said with a frown, tossing out his next pokeball.

Whatever joy Wallace was lacking, however, was immediately made up for by the jolly pokemon that appeared on the battlefield. Shaggy golden fur quivered beneath a wide lily pad brim as the Ludicolo hopped happily from one foot to the other, its beak wide with excited quacking.

Metang's gaze narrowed at the overly-energetic pokemon, but Steven's expression brightened. "Oh, you had a Lombre! I'm glad that water stone went to good use then. Actually…" his voice trailed off as he reached for a new pokeball from his hip, and Metang chattered at the motion, "This may be a good chance to use my newest partner too."

Hovering back to its trainer's side, Metang withdrew from the battlefield with a nervous glance at the pokeball that arced to take its place.

A piercing cry echoed through the Gym as Skarmory emerged in mid-air, eyes sharp and wings unfurled. It navigated a graceful landing onto one of the pedestals before finally getting a good look at its surroundings wherein it immediately whirled around to regard its trainer with an angry stare.

Steven held up both hands to try to calm the short tempered pokemon. "I'm sorry, Skarmory, but would you be willing to help out with this battle?"

Metang whined a note and pointed toward where Ludicolo danced and clapped, and Skarmory turned its glare toward the battlefield and clacked its beak with obvious chagrin. It would battle, but only because it wanted to.

Steven let out a sigh of relief and thanked Metang for its mediation before recalling it for a well-deserved rest. He had a feeling he'd need its help later. But first, the battle at hand…

"Ready?" Wallace asked, an intrigued look playing across his features at the odd dynamic between Steven and his new pokemon.

Skarmory's loud caw was answer enough, and Wallace's gaze narrowed at the aggressive pokemon. Ludicolo was unfazed, still merrily quacking to itself and Wallace rolled his eyes at the happy-go-lucky pokemon.

"Go, George. Fake out."

In a flash, the Ludicolo's expression turned serious, and it dashed across the surface of the pool toward Skarmory with surprising grace. Startled, the steel bird tried to take flight, but George was too quick and delivered an open palmed slap across Skarmory's bill. The blow left Skarmory stunned, and it squawked in dismay. Dancing nimbly back toward the closest pedestal, the Ludicolo was back to its jolly clapping as it waited for the next command.

"Nature power, my dear!"

Both of George's palms came to rest on the stone of the platform where they gave off a faint glow. Skarmory had only just regained its faculties when a mass of boulders formed over its head and rained down with deadly force.

Steven barely had time to shout in warning before Skarmory leaped into action. A deft swing of its bladed wings cleaved the closest boulder in two, and with a powerful push it took to the wing to dodge the rest of the rock slide's barrage.

"Skarmory, aerial ace!"

Instantly, Skarmory's flight path turned into a nose dive that set its wings aglow with bright white energy. In a blur of light, Skarmory slammed right through the Ludicolo's chest, toppling the jolly pokemon into the pool with a squeal of pain. Following through on its divebomb, Skarmory sailed high above the pool and surveyed the scene, waiting for George to resurface. Instead of catching sight of its opponent, Skarmory was greeted by a jet of water and bubbles that smacked directly into its chest. Skarmory's flight faltered from the strike, and it plummeted only briefly before righting itself with a pump of its wings and a prideful caw.

In the time it had taken for Skarmory to recover, George had already leapt from the pool to another pedestal.

"Nature power, take three!"

Boulders rained down all around, and this time Skarmory wasn't so lucky. A direct hit to the middle of its back sent Skarmory tumbling earthward, and only sheer determination allowed it to crash land onto solid ground rather than into the pool itself.

Wallace grinned. The grounded pokemon was now within striking distance, and he gestured for his partner to keep the offensive pressure on.

"George, go all out with flail!"

In a spray of water and limbs, the Ludicolo burst from the pool, intent on clobbering its opponent in a whirlwind of punches and kicks.

But trainer and pokemon were prepared for a sneak attack, and Skarmory immediately obeyed Steven's shout of, "Agility!"

George's fist connected with nothing but empty air as it tore through Skarmory's afterimage. Instead, the flying-type in question had swiftly dodged to the side and was poised to strike. Glowing wings slammed into Ludicolo's back, sending the pokemon bouncing across the surface of the water like a skipping stone before it slammed into the side of the pool, unconscious.

"Ludicolo is unable to battle! The victory goes to –!"

The referee's voice was drowned out by Skarmory's triumphant screech, causing everyone to wince, and Steven hastily recalled his flyer with an apologetic look and a promise of plenty of treats for its great performance.

A flutter of white pulled Steven's attention back to the far side of the pool, and he looked up to see Wallace giving a deep bow.

"Well fought, my friend. It seems as if I've underestimated you, and for that, I've suffered defeat."

He straightened. "My only advice before your final bout is that you don't do the same. There's a very good reason Master Juan is still the Leader of this Gym. May you battle with beauty and grace."

"Well said," said Juan as Wallace stepped from the trainer's box under his mentor's gaze. "Wise words truly befitting of a future Gym Leader."

Wallace flushed at the praise as Juan stood and made his way toward the battlefield. He only managed to regain his composure when he found his seat in the spectator's box, although the rosy tint hadn't completely left his cheeks.

With a confident stride, the Master took his apprentice's place opposite Steven and brought a pokeball out from his cloak. In short order a bulky Walrein appeared on one of the pedestals, its long tusks glinting in the Gym's light. It was odd for a Gym Leader to be so forward with their first pokemon, but Juan didn't seem to mind giving Steven a glimpse at his first opponent.

Juan looked across the pool with a cool stare, "Do you need a moment before we begin? There's no hurry if you'd like a short break. I'd hate to have our battle blemished due to excessive fatigue."

But with the rush of battle adrenaline still fresh in his veins, Steven shook his head in the negative. He didn't need a sneak peek anyway, not with a strategy already in mind.

"We're ready. Go, Aggron!"

Small waves rippled out from the platform where Aggron materialized with a heavy thud. Hunching forward to regard its opponent, it let loose a fearsome roar that echoed over the tiled surface of the Gym.

Cooly, Juan's gaze slid over the battlefield, and he twirled the end of his mustache with two fingers. "Now that's an interesting choice…"

Steven missed Juan's quiet musing as he regarded his partner with a firm nod, "Just like we practiced."

Aggron gave a snort of confirmation in return.

But for all Aggron's posturing, Walrein hadn't glanced its way once. Lazily its head rolled back and it gave a wide yawn of boredom. A low growl rose from Aggron's throat, and Steven had to hide his smirk. He was hoping that even if Juan wouldn't underestimate him, the Leader's pokemon still might. To a water pokemon, Aggron looked like an easy mark.

Juan nodded to the referee, and she signaled for the match to begin before Walrein could roll on its side and fall completely asleep.

"All right, Walrein. Let's start things off."

Snapping to attention, Walrein sat up and trained its gaze on Aggron. A loud rushing sound filled the arena as a monstrous wave lifted from the pool behind Walrein and poured forth. Steven had been expecting Juan to make the first move, and both he and Aggron stared down the formidable surf attack without flinching.


As the wave crested high overhead, Aggron's barrier flew into place as it hunched low to the pedestal. Claws gripping the stone, Aggron barely moved as the white cap crashed down around him. Water surged over protect's barrier, but Aggron remained dry. After the worst of the wave passed, Aggron's barrier dropped, allowing the water to slosh over the pedestal and swirl around his feet. With the pool now filled to capacity just from a single attack, Juan's pokemon held a clear advantage. And yet neither Aggron nor Steven seemed worried.

"You can't protect forever," called Juan, with a twinkle in his eye, "And I doubt your Aggron knows how to swim…"

But Steven remained quiet, patiently waiting.

"Time to see what you're up to then," said Juan with a shrug. "Walrein, once more, if you please."

Steven watched as the water receded from his side of the battlefield, drawn in by the artificial tide of Walrein's surf. As the wall of water reared up, Steven seized their chance.


"What?!" Wallace's shout was drowned out as the air crackled with electricity.

With a roar, Aggron reared back on its hind legs and raised its head to the sky. Energy danced and sparked around its helm, arcing between the prongs of its horns. Pausing only a moment to roll its eyes toward its target, Aggron gave a fearsome cry as it slammed down on all fours, sending a brilliant bolt of electricity straight at Walrein.

Mid-attack, there was nothing the walrus pokemon could do to defend, and it howled in pain as the electric attack snapped and sizzled across its wet fur. The surf attack that had been brewing collapsed and fell harmlessly back into the pool. The water lapped harmlessly at Aggron's ankles as it watched Walrein writhe under the lingering effects of the super effective attack.

"You mean to tell me that this whole time you had a pokemon that knew thunderbolt, and you didn't use it against me?!" Wallace was beside himself as he fixed Steven with an incredulous look.

But Juan simply chuckled, "Clever indeed, holding on to your trump card until you faced off with the Leader. To think that a rock type pokemon would know an electric attack. Your preparation is admirable."

Aggron smirked with a prideful huff, but Steven stood unblinking. Juan was taking things a little too well…

"Of course, you must understand that running a water-type Gym means I am also prepared. Walrein is strong, and I happen to know that Aggron aren't terribly proficient with special attacks."

Juan trailed off as he glanced toward Walrein. The water-type looked more angry than hurt, its mane frizzled from the remaining static charge. Steven grimaced. That thunderbolt was supposed to have done more damage than that.

"Time for our counterattack. Hail, Walrein."

A whooping bark echoed through the arena as Walrein slapped a massive fin down on the tile. High above the battlefield, dark clouds began to swirl and Steven involuntarily shivered as the temperature plummeted. At first, only small ice crystals began to fall, and Aggron glanced skyward under the soft plink of ice hitting metal. But it wasn't long until the weather wasn't so gentle any more. As Steven watched, the calm surface of the pool broke into thousands of ripples, and the hail had become so sizeable that Aggron was forced to duck its head low, trying to shield its face from the pelting onslaught.

"We're not waiting to see what comes next, one more Aggron!"

Ignoring the stinging hail, Aggron roared as it reared back once again, jaws wide, electricity crackling between its horns.

Juan's face had fallen deadly serious. "Now, use blizzard."

"Cut through it, Aggron!" Steven shouted as he threw a hand forward. "Thunderbolt!"

The wind began to howl and suddenly the snow and hail mix changed direction, blowing nearly horizontal across the arena. Steven had to shield his face in order to watch as Aggron's attack shot forward, arcing toward its target. Electricity met flesh, and Walrein yowled in pain, but as Steven glanced back to his partner, he watched in dismay as the water that sloshed around Aggron's feet began to freeze solid.

"Aggron, get out of there!"

But the force of the blizzard was so fierce, Aggron had no choice but to hunker low to the ground to shield itself from the driving wind and snow. In the amount of time it took for the second thunderbolt to dissipate, Aggron's legs already had frozen to the pedestal.

"Not again…" Steven groaned, but quickly he realized they still held the advantage. Aggron had long-range attacks that didn't require it to be able to move. Thankfully, Walrein didn't seem to be going anywhere either, as the second thunderbolt left it collapsed on the deck, breathing heavily with a grimace on its face.

"Another thunderbolt, finish this fight!"

Juan muttered something under his breath as Aggron released its attack, and Walrein's pained eyes drifted shut, seemingly ready to accept its fate.

For the third time, electricity rained down on Walrein, and Steven spared a confident glance at the referee. Instead, he heard Aggron let loose a snort of surprise as Walrein's eyes snapped open, seemingly in better condition than before the last attack.

Walrein finished chewing casually as the air crackled with dissipating static.

"Oh ho, you thought we might be done for? I'm surprised with your tactful berry usage in the first match you didn't notice Walrein's Chesto berry."

Juan's hand played with the end of his mustache as Walrein gave a hearty yawn before drawing itself up to full height. "Rest is a risky move to use in the heat of battle without proper preparation."

Steven scowled as his strategy was again foiled by timely healing. In the end they'd ultimately lost the element of surprise with Aggron's electric attacks, but without another Chesto berry, Juan couldn't pull the same trick twice. Maybe if Aggron could take advantage of both a ranged and up-close attack...

A low grunt and a loud crack snapped Steven's attention back to the battlefield. While Walrein had pulled its healing stunt, Aggron used the opportunity to slam its heavy tail through the ice that had been encasing its feet. No longer trapped, it grunted again as the hail picked up in intensity, causing it to have to duck its head out of the stinging downpour.

As Aggron's head lowered, Steven found his own gaze following, and his heart skipped a beat. The surface of the pool had frozen into a thick sheet of ice from the last blizzard attack. It wasn't completely solid, but if it could hold Aggron's weight for a long enough...

"Thunderbolt, Aggron!"

Coiling its hind legs in anticipation, Aggron cried out as it prepared to unleash another volley of electricity.

Juan smiled as the electric attack charged up, "I thought you might stick to your guns. Walrein, hit it with surf while it's attacking."

Walren's wave reared up and poured forth just as the thunderbolt cracked across the arena. Weathering the blow, Walrein held the wave's shape this time, and it crashed down toward Aggron, slabs of ice rolling into its curl.

There would be no time for Aggron to raise a protective barrier before the wave struck, but there was enough time for it to move.

"Aim for that ice floe and use iron head!" Steven shouted over the roar of the wave, "Jump straight through it!"

Aggron eyed the battlefield for only a moment before it roared in confirmation and ducked onto all fours as the ice in front of it tilted upward from the swell of the wave. With a push of its powerful hind legs, Aggron lunged forward, all of its momentum now carrying it over the slick surface of the makeshift ramp. Head lowered, it plunged straight through the surf attack as it was launched airborne off the end of the floe.

Steven couldn't see Juan's reaction through the wave, but he was sure the last thing either he or Walrein expected to see in its aftermath was a flying Aggron. The wave crashed just in time for Steven to watch his pokemon plow straight through Walrein, bowling the stunned pokemon into the pool with an undignified yowl. Aggron stuck its landing on the pedestal Walrein had been lounging on, and as Walrein's head broke the surface of the pool, eyes wide with terror, Steven threw his hand skyward with his final command.


Aggron's jaw twisted in a nasty smirk as it leered down at Walrein before setting the pool alight with electricity. Arcs danced across the surface as Walrein howled in pain before rolling backward in the water, fainted.

"Clever indeed," muttered Juan, a smile playing across his lips as Walrein disappeared back into its ball. "I can't say I've had a challenger use my own ice floats against me before. And with an Aggron no less!"

The pokemon in question perked up at the sound of its name, almost toppling it into the water as it picked its way back across the pedestals toward its trainer.

"Let's see if you have a clever strategy for this opponent."

Juan rolled a pokeball from his fingertips, releasing a sleek, pink pokemon into the pool. Only its dorsal fin peeked out of the water as it darted around, cutting circles on Juan's side of the battlefield. Steven had never seen this particular pokemon before, but he was sure it had to be another water type, at least partially.

Giving his partner a once over, he decided that the residual damage from Walrein's surf attack wasn't enough to keep Aggron from going another round. The threat of an electric attack was too powerful to pass up against another water type.

"Ready?" Juan asked.

Steven nodded and Aggron grunted in agreement as another flurry of hail plinked off its armor.

"Round two, begin!"

Unwilling to let Juan regain momentum, Steven made the first move. He knew it wasn't the most impressive way to win a Gym battle, but he couldn't ignore the advantage it gave them. He should attack the enemy's weak points, after all.


Electricity crackled as Aggron charged his attack, but Juan didn't look worried. Instead, he smiled and issued his counter move.

"Gorebyss, attract."

Instantly, the pink pokemon darted toward Aggron with no regard for the sparking electricity that danced around its opponent. Steven found himself tensing, hoping Aggron could pull off the move before Gorebyss struck. But as the steel type lurched forward to deliver its attack, Gorebyss popped out of the water right in front of its nose.

Startled, Aggron's eyes went wide, meeting Gorebyss's alluring gaze. In a suggestive display, she batted her eyelashes and waggled her tail, and almost instantly, Aggron's body went slack, thunderbolt dying on his horns.


Steven's shout did little to break Aggron from its trance, and just as swiftly as she approached, Gorebyss ducked back into the water and slipped back to her trainer's side.

"Hey, Aggron, snap out of it," Steven gently urged his partner.

But when the great beast rose back to its feet on wobbly legs, never tearing its gaze from Gorebyss, Steven knew it was hopeless. Aggron was caught in her trap.

Juan smirked at the challenger's predicament. "Sometimes the solution is more elegant than just brute force. Now then, Gorebyss, use coil."

Steven watched warily as he waited for Gorebyss to lash out at Aggron, but instead, the eel-like pokemon curled in on herself and began to glow. Steven's brow knitted in confusion; this was the perfect time for Juan to attack, and yet his plan was to sit back and raise his pokemon's stats?

Aggron continued to watch Gorebyss's every move, jaw slack and eyes glassy. He was even oblivious to the hail as it bounced off his head and body, leaving small icy marks in its wake. At least Gorebyss would take some damage from the hail as well, but to Steven's dismay, as the ice pellets rained down on the other side of the pool, Gorebyss uncoiled herself and disappeared safely underwater at Juan's command.

Frowning, Steven watched the hail pelt an empty battlefield. Empty...


With Gorebyss gone from view, this was his chance to try to snap his partner out of its infatuation.

"Charge up your thunderbolt now!"

Blinking blearily, Aggron's head turned to regard his trainer, and Steven saw the spark of recognition in its eyes. He couldn't hide his grin, Aggron was back.

A roar sounded through the Gym as Aggron reared back, electricity in its horns. But Juan's smile never faltered.

"Too slow. Gorebyss, dive!"

In a pink blur, Gorebyss shot out of the water straight into Aggron's underbelly. The vicious surprise attack left Aggron winded, and again its electric attack fizzled out before it could be unleashed.

Steven grimaced as Aggron staggered back to its feet with a scowl. Gorebyss was too quick for them to keep up, and to that fact, she was already back on Juan's side of the field, coiled and glowing.

"Aggron, one more time while we have the chance!"

But as Aggron moved into attack position, Gorebyss flicked her gaze back toward her opponent, and instantly he turned back into a sappy pile of mush, chuffing and rumbling quiet admissions of love.

Steven almost cried out in frustration as Gorebyss slipped back underwater to avoid the latest barrage of hail. It was going to be an endless cycle if he couldn't find some way to land a blow to the speedy pokemon.

"Aggron, focus!"

His shout combined with the absence of Gorebyss caused Aggron to shake his head clear and turn his gaze to regard his trainer. Steven's voice wasn't accusatory, but he kept his tone firm.

"We need to slow it down. I need you to charge your thunderbolt again. Keep your head low and don't give Gorebyss an opening to attack. Make sure you don't look at her either, you'll just fall all over yourself again."

Aggron huffed in understanding and this time instead of lifting its head to the sky its eyes slid shut as it ducked low on the pedestal. The surface of the pool stilled to an eerie calm as the last of the hail petered out. Electricity began to build around Aggron's horns again and Steven strained to look through the glassy reflection of the water's surface in anticipation of Gorebyss's attack.

A sudden flash of movement below the surface caught Steven's attention and he shouted in warning to his partner, "Here it comes!"

No sooner had he uttered the last word than a pink dart broke through the water's surface behind Aggron, slamming into its hind quarters. Aggron's armor held strong as Gorebyss glanced off its body and splashed back into the pool, but the impact came from an odd angle, and with Aggron's concentration locked onto keeping its electric attack stable, it began to tilt off-balance. Wobbling in order to stay atop its pedestal, blue eyes snapped open and a look of panic washed across Aggron's face, and Steven felt his pulse quicken at the thought of missing their chance again.

"Stay focused!"

As Aggron tilted even further to the side, it suddenly relaxed, eyes sliding closed just as Gorebyss popped back up out of the water with a flirtatious look.


Electricity sizzled across the pool, catching Gorebyss in its clutches. Her lithe form jerked and twisted under the super effective attack, and she uttered an otherworldly scream of anguish. Aggron's eyes opened just in time to see the steaming form of its opponent float to the surface of the pool before he himself hit the water; a sacrificial dive in order to land the finishing blow.

Steven sucked a breath in as Aggron disappeared below the surface. The referee leaned forward in her box, anxiously scanning the pool, but she made no motion to signal the end of the round.

A quiet squeak sounded from the injured Gorebyss as she twitched feebly, trying to swim back to her trainer's side of the pool. Suddenly with a mighty splash, a silver claw broke through the surface of the water and latched onto the side of a pedestal. Soggy, but very much still capable, Aggron dragged itself out of the pool with a harried, yet triumphant grin. Turning to find its opponent nearly incapacitated, it smirked and primed one last thunderbolt in order to finish her off.

As Aggron roared, Juan finally broke his silence, "Baton pass!"

Brightness engulfed Gorebyss and she vanished in a streak of light back toward her trainer. Aggron's attack leaped forward, trying to catch the retreating pokemon in its grasp. Electricity exploded as the thunderbolt found its mark, but the shadow that appeared through the blinding light wasn't Gorebyss's.

A towering Kingdra slid forward through the remnants of the attack and focused an angry stare down at the pest that was to be its opponent. With a grumpy noise it shed the lingering static that danced over its scales, seemingly more annoyed than hurt.

"Oh no…"

Steven's worried whisper matched the look of terror that washed over his partner as they both looked up at the powerful dragon-type.

Without warning, Kingdra's glare narrowed and the air around Aggron's pedestal began to swirl with increasing intensity until a mighty twister had engulfed it completely. Desperate claw marks were left gouged into the pedestal as Aggron tried to hang on for dear life, but the twister plucked the heavy pokemon off the ground as if it weighed no more than a Seedot.

Buffeted by the strong winds, Aggron grunted in pain as it was lifted high above the surface of the pool. One blue eye cracked open as it struggled to gain its bearings in mid-air. By the time it had figured out which way was up, the winds died down as the twister subsided. Twisting around to face the direction of its rapid descent, Aggron gaped in surprise as the way down was now blocked by Kingdra riding a rising column of water.

"Aggron, protect!" Steven shouted a hurried command, but Kingdra was closing too rapidly for his partner to react in time.

The dragon's head was lowered as it plowed right into Aggron's unprotected midsection. The defenseless pokemon let out a choked noise before somersaulting backward from the force of the blow. Tumbling out of control, Aggron slammed into the pool with a thunderous crash.

As Kingdra lowered itself casually back to ground level, Steven didn't have to wait long for the referee to raise her arm.

"Aggron is unable to battle!"

"You did really well," Steven smiled as he brought Aggron back to his belt. He knew it was overly optimistic to think Aggron might be able to take on all of Juan's pokemon on his own, but knocking out two of the three was a good start. Unfortunately, the only pokemon remaining was a surly looking dragon; one type Steven hadn't planned on facing at Gym that specialized in water types, and it got a stat boost from baton pass to boot. Maybe they could buy some time with a counter measure…

"Claydol, let's go!"

A loud sputtering noise was heard from the sidelines as Claydol materialized on the battlefield.

"What are you doing?!" Wallace shouted, his hands flying skyward in disbelief.

Steven scowled as he tried to ignore Wallace's outburst as a bit of guilt creeped into his mind. "Sorry, Claydol," he muttered under his breath.

But Juan simply quirked his brow with a hearty laugh. "It seems as if my own student has turned against me. Although, I'm inclined to agree with my young pupil, this is your second pokemon that is weak to my team's strengths. Do you have another trick up your sleeve?"

Not willing to entertain the Leader with a response, Steven remained impassive as he gave his partner its first command.

"Set up a reflect, Claydol."

Kingdra growled as the shimmering barrier rose into place, and Juan regarded his ace while he returned to playing with his mustache. "I see… Well then, Kingdra, let's put a stop to their plans with twister."

Again, the wind on Steven's side of the arena began to whip into a frenzy, and he braced himself for the attack. They didn't have much time left.

"Claydol, light screen next!" he had to shout over the sound of the growing storm.

But the twister was wreaking havoc on Claydol's levitation, and it wobbled about on its axis, sending its eyes rolling this way and that.

"You can do it, Claydol. All we need is that light screen!"

Stabilizing on its axis, Claydol whined a determined note and raised its arms to summon the psychic barrier. But just as the air began to shimmer, a nasty gust ripped across Claydol's body, and it flinched in pain.

"Ice beam!"

A brilliant beam sliced through the middle of the twister, striking Claydol in the midsection. Steven's eyes widened in shock as the wind whipped the ice beam into a maelstrom of frigid air, and Claydol was instantaneously frozen in place. Encased in ice, its levitation faltered and it tumbled to the ground, eyes closed and unmoving.

The referee peered at the downed pokemon only a moment before raising her arm. "Claydol is unable to battle!"

Unease churned in Steven's gut as he recalled Claydol to its ball. Juan sniffed out their plan only one move in, and Kingdra was so swift with its attacks that the light screen hadn't been set. He knew Claydol was going to be a sacrificial Mareep, but he had hoped it could have given his third pokemon a bit more support.

"Metang, it's up to you."

Steven's starter chattered as it appeared back on the familiar battlefield in a familiar situation. Ace versus ace, again. Its eyes narrowed as it sized up the dragon type wearing an irritable glare.

This time, Wallace didn't have a comment, and instead fixed the battlefield with an intense look of his own. Juan took notice of the silence and steeled his gaze. "You know as well as I that I won't fall for the same tactics you used against my student."

Steven nodded, meeting the Leader's stare.

Juan smiled. "Good. Then let's make this last round one to remember!" He swept a hand forward in a grand gesture, "Kingdra, waterfall!"

With a trumpeting call, Kingdra raced forward leaving a torrent of water in its wake.

"Brace yourself!" Steven shouted, and Metang hunkered behind crossed forelegs, eyes wary.

In a brilliant splash, Kingdra met Metang's defense in a full body charge. The two pokemon stalemated for a moment before water began to prickle underneath Kingdra's tail. Suddenly a column of water shot skyward, lifting both pokemon high above the arena floor. Metang's form shimmered with reflect's protective barrier, but Kingdra wasn't deterred. A startled screech issued from Metang as Kingdra jammed its horns underneath its body and flipped the steel type free of the geyser with a toss of its head.

Steven's eyes were glued to his partner's falling form, fist tensed at his side. "Regroup with zen headbutt!"

Psychic energy gathered aroung Metang's form, righting its haphazard fall, and with an echoing cry, it shot toward Kingdra with startling speed. The dragon clearly was not expecting the attack, and it squealed as Metang slammed into its side.

Following through with its tackle, Metang drove the two of them back down to pool level, but before it could send Kingdra careening into one of the pedestals, the dragon type fired a point blank ice beam. The force of the attack pushed Metang back just enough for Kingdra to slip out of the divebomb. Chattering, Metang swatted the remnants of the ice beam away with an angry claw before shooting back toward Kingdra, fist glowing. The bullet punch connected with Kingdra's snout, sending the seahorse pokemon spinning.

But Metang wasn't done. Both claws brought to bear, its eyes glowed blue with psychic energy, and just as the dragon's angry stare found Metang's own, Kingdra found itself engulfed in a psychic attack and flung backwards past its trainer with such force that Juan's coat rippled in the resulting breeze. The Gym's back wall exploded in a shower of tile, but Kingdra only slumped for a moment before rising unsteadily and finding its way back to the battlefield. Both pokemon's stares never wavered, even as they both heaved from the exertion.

Wallace's jaw hung open at the furious action, but Steven was too stunned to notice. All throughout the last exchange, he hadn't uttered a single command, and yet Metang had done everything he had planned on telling it. Somehow they must have shared some kind of unspoken communication; Taj and Mira had said something to that effect with trainers of psychic pokemon. It was only as the realization struck that he noticed he, too, was breathing heavy, as if he had somehow been the one to deliver those blows. Did their connection mean that Metang might soon evolve?

Steven no longer had the luxury to ponder as Kingdra uttered a mighty cry and renewed its offensive at Juan's shout.


The windstorm quickly kicked up around Metang, trapping it within the swirling vortex.

"Hang in there, Metang!" Steven shouted, "Try to break through with psychic!"

A faint blue outline appeared through the twister, but just as the wind began to die down, the outline faltered as Metang flinched, its concentration broken.

Juan smirked, "Kingdra, focus energy."

Still caught in twister's winds, Metang was helpless to stop Kingdra from getting pumped, and Steven felt his jaw clench. Now any hit from Kingdra could be dangerous.

"Don't give it room to attack, bullet punch!"

As the wind subsided, Metang flew towards Kingdra, intent on keeping its opponent on the defensive. But Kingdra was fast. Just before Metang made contact, another point blank ice beam sent Metang tumbling back, this time shrieking in pain. Steven cursed under his breath, the ice type attack shouldn't have been so powerful, but focus energy had increased its impact.

Still chattering in dismay, Metang retreated back to Steven's side of the field, where its trainer was deep in thought. Red eyes slid over questioningly, and Steven gazed back with confidence. He'd have to thank Wallace later, but after that last exchange, he had a plan. Now all he had to do was relay it to his partner without Juan finding out.

"Slow it down with scary face."

Steven pointed as he concentrated, hoping that maybe Metang might sync with his thoughts just like before. But as Kingdra shuddered under his pokemon's speed-reducing technique, Metang didn't seem to move beyond its initial instruction.

Hiding his sigh, Steven resigned himself to the traditional battle style. "Get in there with bullet punch once more!"

Whether or not the strategy was successfully relayed, Metang obeyed with an aggressive cry, taking off toward Kingdra again. Steven could hear Juan's sigh, but he ignored it. As Metang closed in, Kingdra reared back just as before, readying its ice beam just a hair slower than last time.

"Aim at the water!" Steven shouted, and Metang twisted mid-strike.

Its fist slammed into the pool surface, sending a column of water flying right underneath Kingdra's nose. The dragon's eyes went wide as its ice beam connected with the water, freezing it solid around the two pokemon.

A screech filled the air, but it didn't belong to Metang. Steven imagined it had been a while since Kingdra had taken a hit from an ice type attack, and surely it didn't feel good.

"Break free and finish it zen headbutt!"

Kingdra's eyes were wide and wild as it struggled to free itself from the ice pillar, but with its head and wing handily trapped, it could only watch as the ice cracked free from around it's opponent's form with a psychic push and a swing of its metal claws. Metang chimed triumphantly as its body glowed in a purple light. The column of ice exploded into shards as Metang drove itself head first through the captive Kingdra's midsection. Both pokemon slammed into the rear wall of the pool in an explosion of water and tile.

Juan's face was grim as Kingdra remained awkwardly bent over the edge of the pool from the force of the attack. Metang let out a hesitant chitter, waiting for the sea dragon pokemon to recover. But when its opponent's only response was the way its head lolled weakly to the side, the referee made the announcement in conjunction with the recall beam of Juan's pokeball and a shake of the Leader's head.

"Kingdra is unable to battle! All of Leader Juan's pokemon have been incapacitated! The challenger wins!"

Relief flooded Steven's veins as he let out a breath he didn't realize he'd been holding. He barely had time to regain his composure before Metang barreled into him, chattering excitedly.

"Hey, hey!" Steven laughed as he tried to keep his partner from dunking the two of them into the pool in its exheuberence. When he had finally calmed Metang with quiet praise and returned it to its ball, he spotted Juan circling the edge of the pool, a proud smile on his face.

"Well done!" he proclaimed with a round of applause, "You surely have proven yourself as a capable trainer. Tackling a Gym that specializes in a weakness of yours is quite a feat, and you handled it marvelously."

By now, Wallace had arrived at his Master's side and had fixed Steven with a look that was a mix of both admiration and puzzlement.

"It is with great honor that I bestow you with the Rain Badge. Proof that you have taken on the top water type trainers in the region and come out victorious."

Both Master and student bowed before Wallace stepped forward and presented the badge in an upturned palm.

The Rain Badge shimmered as Steven held it in his grasp, the swirl of blues and greens reminiscent of the hues in the water stone he had bestowed to the trainer standing before him.

"When you get to Ever Grande, you aren't allowed to lose."

"Excuse me?" Steven blinked, surprised.

"Master says I'm not allowed to be friends with losers. It's not good for the complexion."

At Wallace's deadly serious expression, Steven couldn't hold in a laugh, and Wallace only scowled further.

"I'll do my best. I don't plan on losing either, but you never know."

"Well, you better not," huffed Wallace as he turned away, arms crossed.

"You know, I really enjoyed our battle today."

Wallace gave a cautious glance back over his shoulder where Steven stood, smiling warmly.

"And I'm sure I'll enjoy our next battle just as much, whether I'm Champion or not."

Steven's smile seemed to be contagious, as the water-type trainer soon found himself wearing one of his own.

"I was simply making sure your pokemon weren't too tired to take on Master's team." There was a cheeky twinkle in Wallace's eyes as the Leader-in-training extended a hand, "Don't think I'll go so easy on you next time."

Steven accepted it without hesitation. "I'd expect nothing less. Until we met again."

"Until we meet again…" Wallace repeated, watching Steven's retreating form wind his way toward the Gym's exit.

"That boy is truly a special trainer…" Juan mused, twirling the end of his mustache with a faint smile. But Wallace's brow furrowed in thought at the words.

"Master, that battle surprised me."

"Hmm, how so?"

"Well, I didn't think you'd use Sealeo so soon after it evolved."

Juan gave his pupil an even look. "Wallace, that was my Walrein. The Sealeo you've been training for me hasn't evolved yet."


"Including Kingdra, that was nearly my full competitive team. And to think that Metang of his still has one more evolutionary stage…"

"Wh-what?!" It was hard for Wallace to protest further with his jaw nearly hanging to the floor.

Juan chuckled at his student's predicament, and placed a reassuring hand on his shoulder. "I think you picked a good rival. One who will truly challenge you to keep improving. Don't get complacent, and I'm sure the next battle will be one for the ages."

Utilize different types of moves in unique combinations in order to build the ideal team. There is no single right answer, so experiment and practice with your pokemon and you'll be capable of handling anything thrown your way.
Chapter 14 - Galvanize


Hoenn around
  1. aggron
  2. lairon
Ch 14 - Steven is hesitant to see his journey come to an end, and he makes a snap decision. In retracing his steps, he discovers what it takes to be a trainer fit to be Champion...

Chapter 14 - Galvanize

Pokemon Trainer's Handbook pg. 21: When pokemon grow with enough experience, they can become even stronger through the phenomenon of evolution. There are many different mechanisms of pokemon evolution: they can evolve in the heat of battle, through the use of an evolutionary stone or item (see page 33), or even by being traded between trainers…

Skarmory seemed thankful that it finally wasn't landing outside of some sort of cave or cavern as it dutifully waited outside the Stone family home. The flight from Sootopolis had taken nearly the entire day, and even though the steel bird's head was held high, Steven could see its wings drooping from exhaustion.

Finally he managed to pluck the house key from his pack, and as quietly as he could, he opened the front door. He hadn't bothered to call ahead, and at this time of night his father was probably sitting in the living room reading by the fire…

…Or working late at the office.

The chair near the hearth was empty, and the fireplace dark.

Steven sighed as Skarmory followed him into the foyer, "I should have guessed."

Skarmory's head cocked to the side at its trainer's dejected tone. Not that Steven was really surprised, but it still felt like a punch to the gut to see his father hadn't changed after all this time.

There was something else, too, that hadn't changed, and as he turned to head toward the kitchen, a familiar face poked around the corner.

"Oh my! Steven!"

The motherly old housekeeper blustered out of the kitchen.

"I had no idea you would be home tonight! You should have called ahead and I would have prepared something special for you -"

As she reached out to envelop him in a hug, Skarmory squawked and fanned out its wings, startled by her quick approach. The gesture wasn't meant to be aggressive, but it still was an imposing sight which caused the housekeeper to scream and jump back with a hand over her heart.

"My heavens!" Her eyes were wide as she looked over the agitated flyer who at this point had backpedaled a few steps, its talons scrabbling over the tile flooring.

Steven quickly put himself between his pokemon and the frightened woman, and he reached forward to give her a hug of apology.

"Mrs. Evans, I'm so sorry about Skarmory. He's my newest pokemon, so he might not be ready to meet many people at the moment."

By now Skarmory had tucked its wings back and was giving the housekeeper a guarded look.

Recovering from her initial shock, Mrs. Evans peeked over Steven's shoulder and her voice took on a matronly tone, "Well we'll just have to take it slow then, that's all."

Steven blinked at her quick change in attitude, and she easily slipped from his grasp and stepped around to meet Skarmory once more.

"Why hello there, dear. Steven has told me you're a bit of a shy one -"

Eyes widening at her assumption, Steven reached out to place a cautionary hand on her shoulder, "Ah, I'm not sure that's the issue, Mrs. Evans..."

"Nonsense! Anyone would be shy without a proper introduction. Here, allow me..."

She briskly stepped away from Steven's hold and he sputtered another warning, but she simply marched up to the flying type and gave a polite curtsey. Skarmory's head cocked to the side once again, eyes wary, but it remained still.

"Skarmory, was it? My name is Mrs. Evans, and I've watched over your trainer ever since he was a little boy crawling around in diapers."

Skarmory's gaze flicked behind Mrs. Evans and caught Steven's increasingly embarrassed expression with a gleam of amusement in its eye.

"It has always been my duty to take care of him and his family, and if you are his pokemon, then that makes you part of this family too."

She punctuated her statement with a decisive nod. Instantly, Skarmory's demeanor changed. Its gaze flicked from Mrs. Evans and then to Steven, who noticed and tensed up, fearing the housekeeper's forwardness might trigger something unpleasant. But his worry was for naught as Skamory looked back to the housekeeper and clacked its beak, eyes softening as it gave a small warble.

Mrs. Evans broke into a motherly smile and beckoned the bird to follow her.

"Now what don't you say we start things off on the right foot and have a snack?"

To Steven's amazement, Skarmory rattled its wings with a happy caw and bobbed its head in agreement. Slack jawed, he watched as his pokemon trotted off down the hall behind Mrs. Evans, totally obedient. It had taken him months to earn Skarmory's trust to the point where it wouldn't lash out with its wings every time he tried to go near it, and yet Mrs. Evans had tamed it in only a matter of minutes.

He would have remained staring down the hallway if his rumbling stomach didn't snap him from his stupor. Shaking his head, he too followed the housekeeper into the kitchen.

Once both Steven and Skarmory were contentedly munching on their dinner, Mrs. Evans drew a chair up to the table and plopped down with a tired smile.

"Now then, tell me what brings you back to Rustboro after all this time?"

Steven finished chewing before he answered. "Well, we were on our way to get our last badge at the Rustboro Gym, so I figured maybe I would stop by and surprise Dad, but that clearly didn't work out so well…"

"Well you certainly surprised me!" she offered with a laugh. Skarmory perked up from its meal and warbled a small apology. Steven gave his pokemon a curious look, but its sharp demeanor returned and it issued a screech as a rebuttal. Looks like Mrs. Evans was the only one on Skarmory's good side…

"Although," she continued, oblivious to the exchange, "Your father probably won't be back any time soon. He's away in Kanto for an important meeting for at least the rest of the week, if not longer. How long were you planning on staying in town?"

Steven frowned. "Not that long. If that's the case, perhaps we'll just stay the night and be on our way in the morning."

"Well you know you're always welcome to stay over as long as you want, it's still your home after all. But if you're in a hurry I don't want to hold you up."

Shoveling another forkful into his mouth, Steven nodded in appreciation. As nice as it was to see Mrs. Evans again, he had no desire to linger here. Not with the house being just as empty as he remembered it.

Except this time he wasn't really alone. Before he turned in for the night, he brought out the rest of his pokemon for Mrs. Evans to meet. Predictably, she fawned over how much Metang had grown, but Steven was happy to see that she was just as enamored with the rest of his team as well. Armaldo and Claydol gave her a bit of a fright, but Cradily made up for it with her cheerful crooning. Aggron got into the action too, and was content to curl up as best he could at the housekeeper's side for the remainder of the evening.

Lounging on the living room sofa with the light of a crackling fire dancing in Aggron's steel plates, Steven eyed the rest of his team. They were all happily gathered together, making the room much cozier than it normally was. Even Skarmory had joined without protest, quietly roosting on the floor near the hearth after Mrs. Evans had scolded it for scratching the backrest of a chair with its talons. Aggron's soft snoring continued long after the housekeeper went to bed, while Cradily and Armaldo had nestled together a wary distance away from the fire and fallen asleep as well. The only movement in the room besides Claydol's rhythmic bobbing was the slide of two red eyes to catch Steven's own.

Metang's satisfied hum washed over him, and Steven sunk deeper into the plush cushions. It was only after he saw that Metang hadn't relinquished its stare that a realization struck. Ever since Lilycove, they had been plunging forward full steam with their league challenge, leaving no room for the very thing they were doing at this moment. Relaxing. And not just resting between training sessions, but spending time as companions and friends. Sitting upright, Steven finally caught the meaning behind Metang's gaze. It wasn't accusing, and it wasn't smug. It was simply happy to share time together with the first person it had ever bonded with, and Steven's expression melted into a warm smile laced with the tiniest hint of guilt. But then he paused, brow furrowing in thought.

What would become of them after the final badge? There was of course the chance to challenge the League for the title of Champion, but the odds of succeeding were so slim… If he failed, what next? While it wasn't uncommon for trainers to go on the League's badge-seeking quest, not many actually succeeded in getting all eight, as he hoped to. That meant that by now, the pool of worthy opponents would have shrunk considerably. With no more trainers to battle and no more badges to obtain, their journey would in essence be over.

Except that Steven wasn't ready to relinquish what he considered the best years of his life spent traveling side by side with his closest friends. No, his family. He didn't want it to end.

"I've been going about this all wrong," he murmured to himself, although a questioning chirp from Metang told him his starter had heard him.

He shook his head dismissively, but Metang was not going to let it drop so easily. At the sound of his partner's soft chattering, Steven grabbed a pillow from the sofa and padded over to join his starter near the fire. Settling down against the crook of Metang's leg, he gave his friend a wistful smile.

"I've been thinking. But you knew that already."

Metang rolled its eyes.

"Truthfully, I should probably sleep on it. Do you mind if I wait to tell you until the morning?"

A quiet hum told him Metang was okay with waiting, and it shifted slightly, nestling the two of them into a comfortable pile. Steven chuckled.

"It's been a while, huh? Dad would never let us sleep by the fire. But he's not here, and I won't tell if you won't."

He felt the reverberation of Metang's agreement as his eyes slid closed. His mind was made up. Relaxing, he allowed the waning heat of the fire and the growing warmth of his pokemon to lull him into a blissful slumber.

After a hearty breakfast the next morning, it was time for Steven and his team to take their leave. It took a good amount of effort for Mrs. Evans to contain her tears when Steven made his way to the door.

"Steven," her voice caused him to pause with a hand on the knob, "I think your father would very much like it if you came home every now and again. He misses you, you know."

As much as he loved his father, Steven couldn't completely squash the pang of disappointment that rose up at the housekeeper's words. It wasn't often that his father was home to see him when he was younger, so naturally he hadn't thought twice about actually visiting home once he had left on his journey. He very nearly said as much, but instead he swallowed his admission as he turned and offered a small smile. Mrs. Evans wasn't the target of his ire.

"I'll try."

"Thank you, dear. Now get going and save this old woman the embarrassment of crying over seeing you walk out that door again," she sniffed and dabbed at the corner of her eye.

This time Steven's smile was genuine and he moved forward to give her one last hug before stepping through the door with a wave goodbye.

As the door clicked shut, Mrs. Evans cracked a tearful smile, "Your mother would have been so proud to see what a fine young man you've become."

Steven waited until he was well beyond the Rustboro City limits before he stopped. Once he had closed the door behind him, he beat a hasty retreat toward the Rusturf Hills, intent on getting out of the city before he changed his mind. Now that the fresh air of the Route hit his face, he finally felt confident enough to reveal his plan to everyone.

Six flashes of light appeared, and before his pokemon could react, Steven dipped into a bow.

"I'm sorry, everyone."

Several confused glances were shared at both his statement and their distinctly not Gym-like surroundings.

"There's been a change of plans since yesterday." He paused as he straightened, and Aggron's gaze narrowed as it rumbled in concern.

"We won't be going for our last badge just yet."

His pokemon's questioning cries mingled together, leaving a knot at the base of his throat.

"I… I have a selfish request." He took a deep breath. "At some point, every trainer's journey must come to an end. We're close, so close, and yet I don't think I'm ready for our time together to be over."

Cradily's quiet warble nearly cracked his composure, but he recovered.

"I want to travel with you for as long as I can, and the best way to do that is to win it all. But… But in the event that we don't, I want to make the most of the time we still have. Which is why I want to ask you to journey with me again."

Nervousness took over, and the words just tumbled out in a hurried follow up.

"We can go see things we haven't seen before. Revisit old places to see how much we've grown. Meet new people and face new challenges! And I want to do it all with you by my side. Because…"

Steven swallowed. The knot had doubled in size, and he found himself unable to meet his pokemon's patient stares.

"…Because, if we get all the way to the end and we aren't good enough… I don't think I could handle knowing we didn't do everything in our power to be the best. I made a promise a long time ago that I would become a good trainer, and I intend to make good on that promise."

The sound of the wind through the trees was deafening as he finally drew his gaze back toward his team. Six sets of eyes were locked unwaveringly onto his.

"So what do you say?"

The chorus of enthusiastic cries that poured forth almost left him weak in the knees. Even Skarmory joined in, sharing a sharp but confident glance, and Steven found himself grinning in return. It was a unanimous decision. They would reach the top; anything less was not an option.

The hike through the Rusturf Hills was as uneventful as Steven had hoped it would be. He was certain with a menagerie of six powerful pokemon at his side, he was sure to either attract unwanted attention, or scare everyone off. Thankfully, neither extreme happened, and with only a short detour to avoid disturbing the local Whismur colony, their group managed the trek with little difficulty. For the particularly steep sections, Aggron was happy to offer Cradily a ride on his back, with Metang doing the same for their trainer. Even Skarmory was content to behave, soaring peacefully overhead as they set foot in Verdanturf Town.

The sleepy town had little to offer in the way of excitement, with only a small contest hall as its main attraction, but the fresh air and lush scenery helped to put Steven's mind at ease. He was the first person to admit that maybe his decision to put their Gym challenge on hold could potentially backfire. All during the Rusturf hike, he had turned over every scenario in his mind until they jumbled together, making him frown until Metang gave him a worried chirp. Would they lose momentum by taking time off? What if they delayed too long and his father pulled him into the world of Devon before they got to challenge the League? The hike back to Rustboro was still a short one if he talked himself out of it before they got too far. But what if all this hurrying meant they weren't strong enough to take on the League? And yet, how strong of a trainer could he truly be if his starter hadn't even fully evolved by now?

But as another breath of clean, crisp air filled his lungs, his worries seemed to melt away. Spying a nearby bench, Steven slung his pack from his shoulder and sank down onto the seat with a contented sigh. His eyes slid over the small park, and it looked as if the rest of his pokemon shared the same sentiment. Cradily had fanned herself out in a sunny patch while Armaldo and Claydol were engaged in what appeared to be some sort of game that left both pokemon giggling. Aggron, too, seemed happy to just relax, as it already had curled up on a patch of grass and began snoozing. Steven couldn't hide a chuckle as the nearby daisies danced back and forth in front of its nostrils.

Metang had just settled itself by Steven's side when a small voice spoke up from nearby.

"Um, excuse me. Are these all your pokemon?"

Steven followed his partner's gaze to find a young girl staring at the park where his pokemon had gathered. She was not much older than a beginning trainer would be, and as she clutched the Skitty in her arms a bit tighter, the wonder written in her eyes belied her nervous fascination.

He gave her a reassuring smile. "They are. Would you like to meet them?"

Metang hovered up from where it was resting, but the girl simply shook her head. "It's okay. I don't want to bother them. It's just… I don't see many pokemon like yours come through here."

She pried her gaze away from Cradily's sunbathing form to meet Metang's own stare. It gave a quiet hum as it looked quizzically at its young admirer.

"Your pokemon. They look so happy. You must be really great friends."


The girl's soft statement caught him by surprise, and Steven turned toward her with a curious expression. She watched Metang for only a moment longer before meeting Steven's gaze with a grin of her own.

"It really loves you, y'know."

Steven blinked at her directness, but before he could press further, a matronly voice cut through the air and she spun to face the call.

"Coming, Mama!" The little girl wheeled back around and gave Steven a short bow, causing her Skitty to complain as it was rocked forward in her arms. "Thanks for letting me say hi to your pokemon!" And with that, she scampered away in the direction of her mother's voice.

Steven sat in stunned silence as the little girl rounded the corner and disappeared. Shaking his head, he rose from the bench, but not before catching the way Metang's gaze seemed to linger on his. That same look from back in Rustboro. A look that made it impossible not to smile.

Because through all his shortcomings and miscalculations and poor judgement, Metang stuck by his side. All his pokemon had. And for the remainder of their evening in Verdanturf, the only thing that echoed inside his mind was the sincerity of that little girl he'd met in the park.

Mauville City happened to be the next destination on their trek, and Steven hadn't planned for their stop there to be anything more than brief. But once Wattson found out he was in town with a full team of pokemon, he hadn't been allowed to leave with out a friendly rematch. One short and decisive battle later, Steven was relaxing in the Mauville Gym with the jovial leader at his insistence.

"Wahahaha now that was a battle! Can't believe I actually thought I might have had a chance against you this time!"

Metang chattered something sarcastic, but Steven chose to ignore it in exchange for a reply that was a bit more polite. Of course, that only made Wattson laugh even harder.

"You're too modest, you know that? Why if I had pokemon that strong, I'd walk around like I owned the place. Oh wait, I already do! Whahaha!"

Between their first meeting, their official Gym battle, and this most recent meeting, Steven had finally gotten used to the Leader's interesting sense of humor. Thankfully, he held in his groan, and Wattson soon turned to him with a more candid expression.

"You've worked hard since our first battle, I can tell. I hardly recognize your pokemon, they've all grown so much. Although I do recognize you," Wattson's merry gaze turned to Metang, who clammed up immediately, startled at being addressed. "You're a real powerhouse, but you're not even done growing yet, are you? I'd bet you're nearly there though."

Both Metang and Steven regarded Wattson with thinly veiled surprise. Steven had always known Metang still had one more evolution, but even after spending nearly his whole life with his partner, he hadn't had the faintest idea when it would happen. And somehow Wattson had deduced the same thing after only having met Metang twice. Wattson just grinned at the pair's reaction with a sly wink.

"I've always had a nose for those sorts of things. Oh, speaking of evolving, I have someone who wants to see you."

Beaming, Wattson produced a pokeball from his pocket and tossed it down. As the light faded, Steven could make out a vaguely canine form with bristling fur of electric yellow and blue. The Manectric gave a loud bark and padded toward him. It took a moment for Metang's eyes to widen in recognition. That bundle of yellow and green they rescued from beneath the bike path.

There was no sign of a limp, and as Steven held out his palm for Manectric to sniff, it quickly warmed to his touch before rearing up to lick him in the face. After enduring a messy round of staticy electric-type kisses, Steven was happy to let Manectric sit by his side as he doled out some scratches behind its ears. Even Metang got a nuzzle of static as it came over to say hello.

"Think you're ready to take him back?"

"Oh no, Wattson, I couldn't. I mean, I caught him originally, but he's had the chance to grow with you. I can't take him away from his trainer. He belongs with you."

Wattson smiled as he whistled, and Manectric bounded back toward him where the older Leader kneeled down and gave it a big hearty hug. The electric hound happily panted at the embrace.

"Truthfully, I was hoping you'd say that, I really love this little fella. But it didn't feel right to just not ask."

At this, it was Steven's turn to laugh at the Leader's sheepish expression. Wattson may have been a practical joker first and a Gym Leader second, but when it came down to it, he had a lot of heart.

"I can only hope that I become the kind of trainer where my partners feel the same way."

Wattson stood up and looked Steven over head to toe before clapping a hand down on the young man's shoulder. Manectric watched the exchange and barked enthusiastically as it turned gaze back toward the trainer that had saved its life.

"I wouldn't worry too much about that, sonny," he said, earning a puzzled look from Steven. "I'd bet my Gym you already are. Wahahaha!"

Ever since leaving Mauville, Steven's mind was abuzz with Wattson's words as he and his team crossed over onto Route 123. Was Metang's evolution really imminent? And what did he mean about his goal as a respectable trainer? He hadn't even gotten all eight badges yet.

Lost in thought, it took him a minute to notice something was off. The familiar sound of Aggron's footfalls had stopped, and Steven turned to see what gave his partner pause. Lagging behind, the giant steel-type had meandered to the edge of the path, snout upturned and sniffing the air. Puzzled, Steven turned to Metang for an explanation, but his starter didn't have an answer, simply shrugging with a quiet hum.

But in the brief moment that Steven's attention wavered, Aggron disappeared.


Thankfully the trail of trampled underbrush was easy to follow, and Steven was quick to catch up to his rogue pokemon.

Sitting back on his haunches, Aggron was contentedly munching on a mouthful of juicy berries, picked fresh from the laden tree hanging over the nearby fence. Steven immediately hurried to Aggon's side with a stern look for his partner.

"Aggron, you can't just eat any berries you find," he gestured to the fence. "These probably belong to someone."

Aggron paused in its snacking to regard its trainer with a sheepish look, but before Steven could usher his pokemon away from the berry orchard, Skarmory alighted in the branches of another berry tree with a loud caw.

"Hey, Skarmory. C'mon, we're heading back to the Route."

But the flying type had other ideas, and with a smirk that it was sure Steven wouldn't miss, it plucked a ripe fruit from a nearby branch and gulped it down.

"Ah, Skarmory please -"

Aggron snorted at its teammate's cheekiness, and when Steven left its side to chastise Skarmory, it reached up with its snout and casually snipped another berry from the tree.


Skarmory just cackled with delight and licked its bill clean.

"What's gotten into you two?" Steven huffed as he helplessly watched his pokemon chow down.

"I'll tell you what's gotten into them."

Steven froze at the sound of a new voice. Slowly he turned and peered over the fence to find an elderly gentleman standing just beyond it, his hands tucked behind his back.

"They've gotten themselves into the finest berries in all of Hoenn. They have good taste." His eyes crinkled with his grin.

"I'm terribly sorry, we didn't mean to disturb your harvest –"

"Nonsense," the old man dismissed his apology with a wave of his hand. "I grow these berries for all to enjoy."

"You grow all of these?" Steven was dumfounded as he looked beyond the fence at the expansive orchard beyond, and even Aggron paused its munching to take in the impressive sight.

"Of course. They call me the Berry Master, and this is my life's work. But there's no sense in having a conversation across my fence. Please, follow me to the gate."

And with that he turned and shuffled off along the fence line, and seeing as it would be rude to refuse the invitation, Steven followed with Aggron and the rest of his team in tow.

It didn't take long for the underbrush to clear to open meadow, and just as an opening in the fence appeared, so too did a modest cottage, nestled just out of view from the main Route. On the porch sat an older woman in a rocking chair, and she rose when she spotted their guests. The elderly Master stepped through the gate and gestured with a smile.

"Welcome to our home."

Steven only just managed to tear his gaze away from the berry field that stretched out of view behind the house, and bowed in greeting.

"It's a lovely location," he said, "But we do apologize for intruding like that." Steven's gaze slid over to his largest pokemon, and Aggron rumbled its own apology, but the Berry Master's wife simply smiled.

"Don't fret, dear. We don't see many trainers nowadays. Most choose to skip our neck of the woods in favor of heading north to Route 119. Frankly, it makes things quite peaceful, but that can get boring sometimes," she laughed, and the Berry Master joined in, placing a loving hand around his wife. "Why don't you relax and take some time to explore our orchard? Berries are good for the body and the soul."

"Oh no, we couldn't," Steven nervously rubbed the back of his head, "We already had our share of berries back at the fence."

This time it was the Berry Master who laughed. "My berries are meant to be enjoyed. You and your pokemon are welcome to eat your fill."

Steven's expression of thanks for the Master's overwhelming gratitude was drowned out by his pokemon's enthusiastic cries. He only had enough time to catch the older man's grin with a grateful look before he hurried to follow his pokemon into the heart of the orchard.

Ever since its final evolution, Aggron had taken a shine to gardening. It was always on the lookout for berry trees during their travels, and after they had picked the wild crop, it was careful to always plant a berry before they went on their way to be sure there would be another harvest for the next traveler. Their track through the orchard was no different. Aggron took the lead through the rows, snout raised and sniffing the whole way, determined to find the best and juiciest berries of the bunch.

Even though his nose was not as sensitive as his pokemon's, Steven still found himself breathing deep amongst the many fragrant smells that filled the air. Just like that brief moment in Verdanturf, he felt an aura of relaxation pour over his whole being, and everything melted away. The League challenge, Metang's evolution, his father's company; they all became distant memories as he watched Cradily crane her head skyward and pluck a plump, pink berry from one of the trees. Cradling her prize in her tendrils, she gave the berry a cursory sniff before taking a bite. Trilling with glee, she hurriedly downed the rest of the berry before plucking another and offering it to Steven.

The flesh was soft and springy in his hands, and the first bite sent sweet juice dribbling down his chin. It was a delicious flavor, but the berry was far too large for him to finish on his own. He passed the berry off to Metang, who also took a bite, but seemed less impressed than Cradily had. Steven shrugged. He knew not every pokemon liked every flavor of berry. They'd just have to peruse the orchard until they found one Metang liked best.

Steven soon discovered his pokemon had a wide variety of tastes. While Aggron had yet to be disappointed by any berry they tried, its favorite ended up being a hard spiny berry that Steven couldn't even swallow, it was just too spicy. Armaldo also ended up liking sweet berries like Cradily, and proudly found and devoured the largest berry in the whole orchard, which turned out to be a Watmel according to the sign at the foot of the tree.

Claydol took a liking to the more bitter berries, especially ones with gourd-like skin and a hard, dry flesh. And Steven already knew Skarmory preferred its berries to be sour, so he was happy to learn it had uncovered a variety they'd never seen before. Taking a cue from Mrs. Evans' book, Steven slyly pocketed a few extra to take with them to stay on Skarmory's good side, just in case.

But after an afternoon of wandering the vast berry orchards, Metang had yet to find a berry that sent its tastebuds into overdrive.

With the rest of his pokemon happily munching away, Steven found himself seated next to his partner beneath the shade of one of the trees.

"I never took you for a picky eater," he said with small smile.

Metang rattled an annoyed sound in return, and Steven had to laugh.

"I'm only joking. But I can't help thinking there has to be a berry here that you'll love."

He brought a hand to his chin as he scanned the nearby rows for something they hadn't yet tried. As he skimmed over the veritable rainbow of berries, a small gap in the trees caught his eye. Rising from their resting place, he slowly made his way toward the opening and Metang followed with a curious hum.

When the duo poked their head through the leaves, a curious sight greeted them. In a row all by itself stood a singular tree with a trunk as thick as a Rhydon, and Steven immediately knew something about this tree was special. Where as most of the other berry trees had more slender, flexible trunks, the sheer size of this tree exuded a sense of ancient wisdom.

"Ah, the Enigma berry."

Steven nearly jumped as the Berry Master seemingly materialized from out of the trees at the far side of the clearing.

"This is the oldest tree of my orchard, and it bares one of the rarest berries in Hoenn."

The old Master swept a hand all the way to the top of the tree where a pair of berries hung from the highest branch. Rather than having a brilliant hue like the rest of their orchard-mates, these berries were a dull swirl of black and white; easily missed in the mottled treetops if one didn't know they were there.

"And you're in luck. These berries weren't ripe until just a few days ago."

Metang hung motionless in the clearing, staring transfixed at the mysterious berries.

Steven caught his partner's gaze and quickly backpedaled.

"No, we can't just help ourselves to the rarest berries in the orchard!"

But again, the Berry Master simply chuckled. "Well they're ripe now, and I'd hate to see such a special berry go to waste."

Steven gave the Berry Master his best "you can't be serious" look, which prompted the man to nod. "Just be sure to plant the one of the berries at the base of the tree. That will ensure it will fruit again in four years."

"Four years?!"

"I told you it was a rare berry. Now hurry up before a hungry Swellow beats you to it."

And with that, the Berry Master melted back into the orchard rows with a wave and a smile.

Steven and Metang blinked, stunned from the mysterious exchange, but they quickly regained their faculties as they both glanced up toward the canopy where the two berries jostled in the breeze. Face set in determination, Steven shared a silent nod with his partner, and Metang lowered itself down so Steven could climb up.

With a soft pat on the top of Metang's head, Steven looked skyward. "Let's go."

The ground quickly disappeared as Metang lifted them up. Nearing the top, their ascent slowed, and Steven stayed kneeling for balance as the wind picked up. The leaves quivered and the branches bounced in the breeze, but the berries clung tight. Steven reached a hand out, ready to grab the berries as soon as they got in range, but before he could claim their prize, Metang chattered in warning.

For a brief second, Steven's heart leapt to his throat when Metang wobbled beneath him, compensating for a sudden breeze. But his partner quickly steadied itself, and he breathed a sigh of relief as he gave it a thankful pat.

Metang's hum reverberated up through his feet as he stood upright, arms out for balance.

"I know not to look down," he grumbled.

But the scowl didn't leave his face as he reached toward the berries, leaning as far as he dare. His fingertips could just brush against the underside of the berry's smooth skin.

"Just... a little... closer..."

Metang chimed as it obeyed, pushing its magnetic levitation to the limit. Steven watched as his hand inched toward their prize.

"Almost... –Yes!"

Steven shouted in triumph as his hand closed around one of the berries. Except as soon as he grabbed it, he felt Metang suddenly shift beneath his feet, sending him falling backward. The berry's stem gave way as it bore the full weight of his body. His free fall was short though, and Steven landed straight on his backside atop Metang's head. Except that his partner was now glowing with a brilliant white light, and its usual hum had morphed into a deep rumble that sent shivers through his body.

But it seemed that his pokemon's sudden weight increase from the surprise evolution was too much to handle, and after hovering in mid air for a moment longer, the pair promptly plummeted earthward.

Metagross hit the ground with a commanding thud, sending a dust cloud scattering and Steven tumbling. Turning on its four piston-like legs, it leaned over where its trainer had fallen.

Steven's view of the cloudless sky was quickly blocked by a giant silver 'X' and two apologetic red eyes. His starter began to grate out a concerned sound, but Steven just laughed. All this time, all the hard work they'd put in, and at long last, his very first partner discovered its ultimate potential all for the promise of a tasty treat. Still laying flat on his back and giddy from the excitement of it all, Steven presented their precious cargo, safe and sound, for Metagross to see.

"We did it!"

Sitting up, he held it out proudly. "Here, you'll have to let me know if it was worth all that effort."

Metagross ignored his sarcastic grin as it reached out with one claw to pluck the berry from Steven's hand. Holding the berry up in front of its nose, it rumbled a curious note, eyes focusing on the way the flesh dimpled ever so slightly under its grasp. Steven watched his pokemon in wonder, and he nearly laughed again at the absurdity of the dainty behavior of his now monstrous partner.

Metagross's gaze flicked back to its trainer hesitantly, and Steven caught its meaning.

"It's all yours," he said with a smile.

That was all it needed to hear, and with a happy cry, Metagross opened its jaws wide and popped the berry in.

The look of satisfaction that washed over his pokemon's face was equally comical, and Steven couldn't hold in his laughter this time.

"That good, huh?"

Metagross grumbled in faux annoyance at its trainer's obvious amusement, but it didn't stop the behemoth from sidling up to Steven and nudging gratefully into his chest in thanks.

Steven happily rubbed his pokemon's brow in return, he was overjoyed to see that not only had they finally found a berry his starter loved, but it was able to achieve its final evolution to boot. But their job here wasn't done. Steven's gaze slid back up to the top of the tree.

"We still need to collect that second berry to plant, like the Berry Master said."

Metagross rumbled in acknowledgement before leaning down, a signal for Steven to climb aboard. It took a bit more effort to clamber atop his pokmon, now that it was larger, but he quickly settled himself in a kneel in the center of Metagross's head.


Grating an affirmative, Metagross rose off the ground several feet where it wobbled unsteadily.

"Uh, Metagross -?"

Steven never got to finish his question, as all of a sudden, Metagross dipped down and then shot skyward like a rocket, flattening its trainer to its back. It jolted to a stop with a proud rumble, and Steven was finally able to peel his cheek from his pokemon's steel hide and raise his head. Hovering right at eye level was the last Enigma berry.

Dragging himself upright, Steven reached out and plucked the berry with ease. With the second berry tucked safely in his hands, he gave the all-clear.

"Okay, got it -whoa!"

Metagross's descent was just as jarring as the first, but the landing was a lot smoother, using its legs like dampeners for the impact. Steven was able to stay atop his partner this time, but was no less rattled when he slid off Meagross's head to solid ground.

"I think we're going to have to work on getting used to this new form," he tucked the Enigma berry in the crook of his arm before placing a hand against the thick steel of his partner's leg. "I bet you've got more power than you know what to do with. We just have to harness it, that's all. And I think I know the perfect place to do it. But first..."

Steven walked around his pokemon and kneeled down at the base of the Enigma tree. Metagross followed, and drove one massive claw into the soft earth. Using its leg like an excavator, it lifted its claw revealing the perfect sized hole beneath. Gently, Steven laid the Enigma berry in the soil and Metagross dropped its clawful of dirt back on top. Patting it down, Steven rose and observed their handiwork.

"Aggron would probably tell us just how bad of a job that was, but between you and me, I think we did well."

Metagross nodded, jaw cracking in a wide smile.

"Let's head back and find the others. It's time we took another stab at the first cave that ever bested us. And I have another idea for redemption in mind along the way too."

They only took a slight detour on the way to Lilycove. Mount Pyre certainly looked a lot less intimidating in the daylight, and it showed in the way Steven and his team were able to cut through the native ghost pokemon population with ease. Some of it might have been due to the generous stock of Kasib berries the Berry Master gave them as a parting gift, but Metagross was quick to insist it was able to handle everything thanks to the way its final evolutionary form was practically brimming with power.

Either way, after a quick pit stop at the Lilycove department store for some supplies, it was only a short flight later that Steven stood outside the yawning entrance to Granite Cave, nearly bursting with confidence; not wholly different from the way he felt the first time he laid eyes on this particular landform, but definitely certain the end result would be vastly improved.

Sharing one final look with his partner, Steven nodded and stepped through with Metagross at his side and the knowledge that he wouldn't make the same mistake twice.

When Steven emerged from the depths of Granite Cave, he was in nearly the same condition as when he first arrived. Not a speck of dirt or dust marred his clothes, and his pack was filled to the point of bursting with a myriad of rock samples. Metagross, too, looked no worse for wear despite how far they had gone into the depths of the cave. Steven nearly laughed at the complete reversal of the first time he had ventured into Granite Cave, but instead he opted for marking the extent of his expedition in his PokeNav for next time.

The moment was interrupted, however, as his phone buzzed with a plethora of newly received notifications, now that it finally had service. Surely he couldn't have accumulated that many messages in a week. With a grimace, he withdrew the offending device from his pocket and scowled at the screen. Right at the top was a message from his father.

"Another perk of caving thwarted by coming back to the surface…" he mumbled as he opened the text.

Metagross shifted at his side as he skimmed the message and finished with a sigh.

"He wants me to come back to Rustboro for a Devon meeting."

His partner's rumbled reply was muffled as Steven felt the walls of his future close in around him. Perhaps they had extended their journey as long as they could. At least the trip back to Rustboro would be convenient… He turned to his pokemon, resting a hand across its cool steel brow.

"Are we ready?"

A confident red gaze slid up to find his own, and his hand curled against his partner's armored hide. A prickle of psychic energy coursed through him, and he steeled himself with his own determination. Time to take the final step.

He dialed the familiar number with ease, and brought the phone up to his ear.

"Hey, Dad. Yeah, I'll be there. See you soon."

But even with such closely documented evolutionary study, some pokemon have been known to evolve in other unique situations. Perhaps the strong bond between trainer and pokemon is all that is necessary.
Chapter 15 - Terminus (Part 1)


Hoenn around
  1. aggron
  2. lairon
Ch 15 - The beginning of the end. Steven issues his official challenge to take on the Elite Four. Time to see what he and his team are made of against the League's ultimate gauntlet.

Chapter 15 - Terminus (Part 1)

Pokemon Trainer's Handbook pg. 11: Simply reaching the Elite Four is no easy feat, but taking on these four trainers and the League Champion is another challenge in its own. Be sure you and your team are prepared to take on the strongest opponents you've ever faced…

When Steven turned what became the final corner of Victory Road's long and winding cave system, he very nearly jumped for joy.

He was almost sick of being underground. Almost.

For when he started eating and sleeping at odd hours, which he was only aware of thanks to his watch, he knew he had been underground for far too long. Not that he didn't enjoy the cool air and the peaceful silence, but there was something to be said for returning to the surface to feel the sun on your face for just a little while before heading back into the depths again. A grin stretched across his lips as he finally caught sight of the distinct glow of daylight at the end of the passage.

But with Claydol by his side, the sunlight that greeted them when they stepped out of the cave was anything but rejuvenating.

Dusk was beginning to take hold of Ever Grande City and the setting sun splashed a blood red hue across the towering structure of the League Headquarters. Deep shadows sprawled across its finely manicured grounds, and Claydol shifted uneasily as it scanned the growing dark, still on edge from their trek through the caverns.

Steven nearly jumped when Claydol gave a sudden squeal as a voice called out in greeting.

"Hey there, congratulations, you made it!"

The Ranger gave a friendly wave as he approached, yet Steven found himself hesitant to offer little more than a blank stare in return. It had been a while since he'd interacted with someone other than his own pokemon, and people were never his forte to begin with...

At Steven's awkward silence, the Ranger gave him a once over with a curious expression that clearly said he wanted to ask why exactly a trainer wearing a suit had stepped out of Victory Road, but he held his tongue and instead held out a hand.

"Your emergency beacon, please?"

Proving he still at least understood human communication, Steven nodded and produced the device from his pack.

The Ranger logged the number from the beacon on his clipboard and gave a short laugh.

"Well, you won't be setting any speed records for getting through there, but that's not what really matters, right?"

The best Steven could muster was a silent nod while Claydol gave the overly-friendly Ranger a wary look, and the man shook his head.

"Can't say I expected you to be too chatty, most aren't when they get out. You're all set though. Go ahead and head in, get yourself a nice rest. You earned it." He tilted his cap over his shoulder toward the League building before turning and heading back into the guard hut.

With the Ranger now back at his post, the grounds stood silent and empty yet again, and Steven couldn't suppress a shiver. The elation of finally reaching the end of Victory Road had quickly disappeared as the ominous emptiness of the second half of Ever Grande City seemed to weigh heavy on his spirits. If it weren't for the promise of a good night's sleep on a proper mattress, he had half a mind to around and head right back into the tunnels behind him.

Except that wasn't what they had come so far to do. Resting a hand at his hip, the small quiver of his pokeballs stirred his feet to move once more. There was no turning back now. Setting his gaze on the pathway that sloped steadily up toward the League, he returned Claydol to its ball and strode forward through the growing dusk.

As the sliding doors whirred shut behind him, Steven found himself staring once again. The lobby of the League building was an expansive space, towering a full three stories high with a grand dual staircase that swept up to the second floor of the building.

Finally tearing his gaze from the architecture of too much glass and polished marble, he spotted the familiar sight of Nurse Joy manning the check-in desk.

"Welcome, trainer, to the Pokemon League. How can I help you today?" She smiled as he approached, taking in the way fire in his eyes belied the dust that had gathered on his jacket, and gave a knowing smile. "You must be checking in."

Steven straighted his posture a bit before nodding, "I am, yes."

"I'll just need your trainer ID for registration, please."

Sliding the card onto the countertop, Steven also placed his six pokeballs next to it. "And if you could heal my team too."

Nurse Joy bobbed a quick nod, "Of course. We'll return them to you in the morning."

At Steven's surprised look, she offered an explanation, "We do a thorough check up on all pokemon that will be undertaking the League challenge. Victory Road takes its toll on both trainer and pokemon, so to make the challenge fair, we give each trainer ten days to rest and relax before making their official challenge. Until then, you will have a room here at the League."

Joy slid his ID back across the counter accompanied by a singular key. "Your room will be on the second floor. All amenities are in the east and west wings on the first floor, including the Pokemart and training center." He turned to follow the sweep of her hand to the left and right. "You can pick up your pokemon from this desk in the morning. Please visit me again when you are ready to issue your official challenge. We hope you enjoy your stay, and best of luck."

Joy bowed before gently placing Steven's team of six onto a tray and disappearing into the PokeCenter behind the desk. His gaze lingered on the door she slipped through before regarding the key now resting in his palm.

That was it. Ten days, and it would all be over, for better or for worse.

It was a lot to weigh, but with an empty belt and an aching body, he resigned himself to rest for the night; he would take it all in in the morning. He could afford one day to think things through. Sparing a glance back over his shoulder from the top of the stairs, he watched through the glass as the last sliver of sun slipped beneath the horizon, draping a cloak of darkness across the Ever Grande landscape.

And for the first time since setting foot back on the surface, something welled up deep inside him. Ever Grande spelled the end of the journey for most, holding the same sort of finality as the shadows that now gripped every corner of the island. But that growing swell of determination wouldn't be quashed. He wasn't most people. And his journey wouldn't end here, not if he and the six partners he trusted the most had anything to say about it. Releasing a white knuckled grip on the railing, he turned and headed to find his quarters.

As the door to his room clicked shut behind him, his pack was discarded on the floor and suit jacket tossed over the nearest chair. Fairly sinking into the welcoming arms of the bed, he was asleep before his head even hit the pillow.

Upon waking up and leaving his room, Steven was greeted with a familiar sight. Long shadows climbed through the glass facade and draped themselves across the quiet lobby, except this time they were shrinking. A quick glance to his left was just in time to watch the sun peek over the eastern edge of the island.

Steven sighed, still running on "cave time", he had woken up before everyone else in the city, not that he minded the peaceful morning stillness. But that meant that the desk of the Pokemon Center was unmanned and left him unable to collect his team, so Steven opted to explore Ever Grande on his own instead.

The crisp morning air greeted his face as he stepped outside, and again the grounds of the League were unnervingly empty. Not that he expected some kind of fanfare to greet him, and granted, it was an obscenely early hour of the morning, but he had expected to see someone on this side of Victory Road besides League staff.

Although perhaps it was for the best that it was quiet. For the first time since he set foot on the island, he finally had time to just stop and think.

Ten days. The number popped back into Steven's head as he absentmindedly followed one of the curving stone walls that traced the League grounds. Did he really need ten whole days to prepare to take on the League? Or was that number designed to be overly generous on purpose? What else could a trainer accomplish in ten days that they hadn't during the entirety of their journey?

Savoring the sound of grass shuffling underfoot as he wandered, another sound caught his ear as he turned the corner into one of the various gardens that ringed the island.

"C'mon, Sceptile! Earthquake, you can do it!"

Startled from his musings, Steven braced for an impact that never came. Instead he caught sight of an enthusiastic female trainer urging on her flustered looking Sceptile.

"It's okay, let's just try again. Maybe just –oh?"

Following her pokemon's gaze, the trainer turned to find Steven watching from the edge of the garden.

"Oh hey there, hi!" she offered a friendly wave and the Sceptile sagged in relief that their training session had been interrupted.

"Ah, good morning," Steven said with a polite wave in return, although the trainer's overly excited greeting was a bit much. He may have been awake early, but he didn't really consider himself much of a morning person...

But the bubbly trainer paid his curtness no mind and continued. "This here is Leif, and I'm Luna. You must be here for the League challenge, too?"

Steven nodded, and thankfully Luna was all too happy to keep chatting to care if he'd actually introduced himself or not.

"Cool! We're nearly ready for our challenge, only a few days left. Leif's been trying to learn this TM for a week now, and I think we've nearly got it. Gotta make sure we're one hundred percent ready to face the Elites, so we're planning ahead."

Again, Steven simply nodded, but this time he cast a glance at where Leif had stationed himself next to his trainer. Something about the slouch in the Sceptile's stance didn't inspire confidence, and Steven found himself thinking back to when he and Aggron were working on learning thunderbolt before their Gym match in Sootopolis. It had taken the rock type nearly a month to be able to use the off-type attack effectively. He hated to think this, but Luna and Leif weren't going to be ready in three days…

"— so I was thinking that ground type attacks will work on both Iona and Simon, and the rest of my team has TMs to take on Glacia and Phoebe's teams too. So yeah, we'll have all our bases covered! Uhh, did I lose you there?"

Steven snapped to attention. He had spaced out on the chatty trainer, but Luna wasn't fazed as he muttered a quick apology.

"Ha, no that's on me. My mom always did say I have a bad habit of talking too much when I'm nervous. But, it's not like I'm nervous or anything," Luna gave a confident smile to her partner, "Nah, we got this, right, Leif?"

Despite its tired expression, Leif returned her grin with a nod, and Luna beamed with satisfaction.

"So, when are you going to challenge the League?"

Blinking, Steven hesitated. When was he going to challenge the League? He had done his research prior to arriving in Ever Grande, so he didn't need to study more. He knew what he was up against. Speed, stamina, trickery, and status effects were all par for the course with the Elite Four, not to mention their preferred types. And even if he had planned to tailor his team to take on the Elite, he was certain they would be prepared with the perfect counter for their respective weaknesses. The top trainers in Hoenn weren't simply defeated by a type disadvantage. No, he didn't need any more time; he got this far with his team's strengths, and he'd stick to that through to the end. If he was rested and so were his pokemon, there was no sense in delaying any further. His mind was made up.

After announcing his decision to Luna, Steven returned to the front desk to collect his team. Attaching the last pokeball back to his belt, he flagged the nurse down before she could leave.

"I'd like to issue my official challenge for tomorrow morning at 10 am."

10:01 am, the double doors of the League entrance now sealed behind him, Steven Stone stood one hallway away from the first of five people that loomed between him and the title of Hoenn's Champion. With nothing more than well wishes from the League staff and the gentle reminder that the League challenge is consecutive and not restartable, he had stepped through the portal.

The passage to the first chamber was a short one, but it was the kind of walk that felt like a mile. The solid click of his dress shoes echoed through the empty hall, and a quick glance down at the polished floor gave him a glimpse at the suit-clad bundle of nerves that was about to take on the five most powerful trainers in the region.

But this wasn't a road he'd walked alone. The quiet boy from Rustboro had grown, and along the way he gained six powerful pokemon and the kind of confidence that can only come from equal parts experience, nervousness, and sheer determination. So with a steadying breath, he leveled his gaze and pressed on until the double doors of the hallway closed behind him and the first Elite stood waiting between the towering dynamos of her chamber.

Iona gave him a once over, brushing a lock of wispy graying hair behind her ear before adjusting the messy bun that sat atop her head. A sly smile crept over her lips as he stepped up to the challenger's box.

"Well you're a spot younger than I imagined you'd be. I can see why Wattson had taken a shine to you."

Steven blinked at her forward tone.

"Wattson's told you about me?"

"Of course he has! There's not many electric type trainers in this region. We talk all the time."

Vaguely wondering if all electric type trainers also shared the same taste in mechanic's jumpsuits, Steven blurted out his main concern.

"You're not as big a fan of puns too, are you?"

Iona balked. "Heavens no! I hate those dreadful things!"

Steven sighed in relief, but quickly paled as she jabbed an accusing finger his way.

"Don't tell me you like puns. Is that why Wattson likes you so much?"

Shaking his head, Steven quickly denied the claim. "No, no, definitely not."

It was Iona's turn to sigh in relief. "Thank goodness, I was afraid I'd have to crush you as fast as possible to avoid hearing any more terrible jokes. Now I guess we can enjoy this battle at a much more reasonable pace."

And there it was. Steven's eyes narrowed as the Elite readied her first pokeball. Speed. That's what Iona was known for. Her electric type pokemon weren't only strong, they were fast as well. Thankfully he had long become familiar with the blue and yellow colors of Manectric and was able to recognize the blur that vanished as soon as it appeared from Iona's pokeball.

Taking a deep breath to steady himself, he channeled the growing surge of excitement into his throw and launched his own pokeball into the arena.

"Claydol, let's go!"

Just as he suspected, Claydol's type advantage eventually bested Iona's Manectric's speed, but not without a fair share of damage sustained. The nimble electric type had run circles around Claydol, delivering swift crunch attacks that caused the psychic type to flinch from the dark energy on its opponent's jaws. But the desert doll's numerous eyes had been able to keep track of the blue and yellow blur for long enough to eventually trip it with a well aimed extrasesnory and levy the finishing blow with an earth power while it was down.

Iona only offered a knowing grin as the red recall beam faded and she released her second pokemon.

Another flash of yellow and blue poured forth, but this time it literally did so in a torrent of water. Both Steven and Claydol blinked in surprise as the self generated tide began to spark with electricity. Poking out from the center of the water came a cheerful looking snout beneath a brightly glowing bauble of light. Steven had never seen the sea lantern pokemon in person before, and the native Johtonian species proved to be just as strange as he imagined it would be.

"I sure hope you weren't thinking you'd pack your team with ground types and expect to defeat me," called Iona as her Lanturn bobbed up and down on the battlefield.

Steven eyed the dual electric and water type pokemon's skillful sculpting of its watery pedestal and shook his head. "I wouldn't have dreamed of it."

But when he made no move to switch his pokemon, Iona simply quirked a brow. "Okay then. Lanturn, take it down with surf!"

"Light screen, now!"

The defensive maneuver was meant to try to keep the momentum from Claydol's first victory going and not put his next pokemon at risk to the water type's moves, but as the shimmering barrier began to materialize, Steven realized it was all for naught.

As the wave poured forth, Lanturn itself charged with the attack, lacing the water with energy from its bauble as it rushed forward. Fingers of electricity leapt from the water and struck the light screen ahead of the wave, causing the barrier to falter. The electric attack's strike lasted just long enough for the water to rush past the flickering barrier and sweep the unsuspecting Claydol under. It bobbed and gurgled in an effort to stay afloat, but Lanturn swiftly bore down on Claydol and body slammed the hapless pokemon underwater.

When the tide receded back to Iona's side of the field, it left the sopping and unconscious form of Claydol rolling a gentle circle on the ground.

Steven frowned, recalling his partner. The defensive gamble hadn't paid off, and the swift reminder of the real strength of the Elite Four grounded his emotional high after the opening round win.

Seeing the challenger's spirits fall, Iona laughed, "You're bold, I'll give you that. But if that's the best you can do, this battle might be shorter than I hoped."

It was only a minor setback though. He hadn't really expected to last an entire battle without losing a pokemon, and the plan was never to ride Claydol's immunity through the whole match. With a bit more caution in mind, Steven brushed back his jacket to grab his second pokemon.

"Cradily, it's your turn!"

"Another handy type advantage. Well played. All right, Lanturn, we'll make this a battle of attrition. Aqua ring!"

Steven's frown deepened as the support move surrounded Lanturn in a hazy blue ring. Cradily wasn't known for her offensive power, and now that her opponent had a reliable way to recover health, the effectiveness of her attacks would be diminished even further. They needed to seize the attack, and in a hurry.

"Get in there with giga drain!"

Coiling her head back like a whip, Cradily's tendrils shot forward to grasp Lanturn, but the water pokemon proved to be quicker than it looked, and it skirted out of the way at the last minute.

"Again, follow it!"

Heeding her trainer's shout, Cradily snapped her head about, tentacles chasing Lanturn's every move. But again, Lanturn was nimble in moving its water pedestal around just ahead of Cradily's strikes.

Iona grinned. "Too bad your pokemon isn't a bit quicker, or else we'd be in real trouble. Okay, Lanturn, time to go on the offensive."

Still fleeing from Cradily's pursuit, at Iona's command Lanturn peeked back at its opponent with a small grin. The water beneath its fins began to churn and suddenly a sneaky surf attack gushed forth.

Too extended to brace herself, Cradily was swept backwards in the wave, and she squealed in surprise.

Steven watched his partner tumble, expression tight. Cradily could survive an attack like this, but he didn't like their odds of taking another.

"Set your feet, then use recover!"

As the worst of the wave passed, Cradily's roots found the arena floor once more, and she clung tight while water swirled around her, drawing healing energy up from the ground.

"Now, ancient power!"

Steven's hand shot forward in time with Cradily's attack. But as the stones neared their target, Lanturn's body began to crackle with energy.


Sparks flew as arcs of electricity shot from Lanturn, blowing ancient power's boulders to rubble. Silence settled across the battlefield as the remains of Cradily's attack lay strewn about her opponent. The few projectiles that made it through Lanturn's electric defense had done minimal damage at best, and it seemed to sag more from exertion than pain. But whatever the reason, its fatigue was quickly negated as aqua ring's effect kicked in.

Cradily warbled a nervous note as Steven's hand found its way to his chin.

"That pokemon is too fast to attack head on. We need a distraction," he muttered, staring at the way Iona stood confidently, hands on her hips. "Something even she won't see coming."

He only pondered a moment more as he studied the battlefield...

"Cradily!" His partner snapped to attention at the strength in his shout, turning her head to meet his stare. "Ancient power, use everything you've got!"

Steven could understand why she hesitated at the repeated command, but he held her stare just a moment before flicking his gaze to the debris that littered the arena.

"And I mean everything."

His voice was low, and Cradily's eyes widened as she realized the meaning in his words. With a chirrup, she spun back around to fix Lanturn with a determined stare, tendrils flaring out as she gathered energy.

The shards of stone left over from Cradily's first attack began to quiver where they lay. Both Iona and Lanturn's gaze turned down to eye the trembling debris.

"Get ready," she murmured to her partner, and Lanturn started to glow and spark with electricity, just as before.

Steven watched as Lanturn braced itself before making the call. "Now, Cradily!"

Shrieking, Cradily swung her tendrils forward, and rocks of all sizes lifted from the arena floor and flew in a wave toward her opponent.

Eyes narrowed, Iona watched as again her pokemon's electric attack shattered the projectiles before they reached it, but she missed Cradily rearing her head back again, swinging her tentacles in the opposite direction, and scooping up the remnants of Claydol's earth power to send the chunks in a second wave of debris down on Lanturn from behind.

Unprepared for the two pronged attack, Lanturn was hit full force and tumbled from its watery pedestal, leaving it terrified and flopping on the arena floor. It cried out, trying to regather the water around its body, but Cradily's attack had sent it falling forward, and it now lay helpless at Cradily's feet. Before it could right itself, Cradily swarmed Lanturn with her tendrils and siphoned its life force away with giga drain. When Lanturn lay trembling in her grasp, sustained by a last minute aqua ring boost, Cradily prepared to bear down again and finish the job when Iona's voice rang out.

"Rain Dance!"

Twisting in Cradily's grasp, Lanturn let out a shuddering cry and raised a fin to the sky. Dark storm clouds swirled overhead as Cradily drained the last of Lanturn's energy, and it fell limp from her tendrils to the arena floor.

Calmly, Iona returned her partner just as the first raindrops began to fall. "I'm impressed. We haven't had to rely on this strategy in quite some time."

The rain was falling in sheets now as a jolly looking Ampharos appeared on the battlefield.

"If you can get past this round, I'll really be impressed."

But Steven's concern wasn't on the Elite's thin boast, and he stared hard at where Cradily stood proudly.

"Are you okay to keep going?" he asked, mindful of Claydol's downfall from earlier. This time though, his partner should have been close to full strength from her strong regenerative attacks.

Cradily shook her head, sending a spray of water in all directions, and trilled in the affirmative.

But from the way Iona simply smirked even when Cradily's tendrils wrapped around Ampharos and pinned it to the ground, Steven feared he again made the wrong decision. Ampharos gave a shrill cry, and electricity surged forth, tracing a path along Cradily's grasp until his partner shuddered under the paralyzing grip of Ampharos' charge.

"Cradily, back off for now!"

Steven knew Cradily had heard him, but both he and his pokemon barely had time to register the wicked glint of Ampharos' red jewel before the battlefield exploded in a brilliant bolt of lighting. The resulting thunderclap nearly sent him stumbling backwards, completely drowning out the sound of his partner's scream of pain.

As the dust cleared, the only sound in the arena was the patter of rain falling on Cradily's crumpled form. She wasn't moving save for a shallow, shuddering breath that rippled through her body.

Whatever shock Steven felt was fleeting, swiftly replaced with a quiet rage at ferocity of the Elite's attack. He knew the League challenge would be no joke; the Elite were powerful trainers. But to see his own pokemon take such a vicious attack left him shaking. Had a pokemon ever died during a match at the League? The sensation of Armaldo's pokeball trembling at his hip snapped him from his daze, and with Cradily now tucked safely back next to her teammates, Steven skipped over the most active ball on his belt in favor of the most familiar. They wouldn't be intimidated by Iona's show of power.

"Metagross!" His partner's name ripped from his throat, a fiery stare locked onto the Elite standing across from him. "Show them what we can do!"

Four legs thudded into the earth only to be met immediately by a second lightning strike. But this time the thunderclap was not victorious, and Metagross's roar cut loud and clear through the din. Two red eyes shone through the dust, alight with psychic energy as the falling rain hissed and popped across the overheated metal of Metagross's hide.

Iona watched unblinking as her pokemon's head jerked back when it lifted from the arena floor, helplessly pawing at its neck with frantic shrieks. Because if she did blink, she would have missed exactly why Ampharos was now crushed against the far wall of the arena, cracks lacing outward from the impact.

Metagross's claw opened, letting Ampharos peel from the wall and slump to the floor. Eyes flashing, Steven's pokemon turned in time with its trainer to face the Elite with an unspoken challenge. 'Send out another.'

Finally, Iona's smile wavered, but it didn't vanish even as the patter of rain melted away.

"Very well," she said, raising a pokeball in each upturned palm. "Your choice."

Metagross's bristling energy faltered a bit at the Elite's odd proposition, and although Steven's sharp gaze held steady, the slight incline of his head told Iona she had puzzled the duo.

"These are my last two pokemon. I have no preference which one goes first, since you'll see them both eventually. So, left or right?"

The steel pokemon grated an uncertain noise, so Steven made the executive decision.

"The one on your left," he said with a subdued point.

Hefting the chosen ball, Iona smiled brighter. "A good choice."

With a squeak, her diminutive electric rodent appeared on the battlefield. Red and yellow, it sported long rounded ears and small plus-shaped tail. The Plusle looked comically outmatched as it stared up at Metagross.

But Steven had seen the native Hoenn electric type before, and he knew Iona was back to her speedy tactics.

"Then we just have to be faster," he muttered to Metagross, and it nodded in agreement. "Bullet punch!"

In a rush of air, Metagross jolted into action, bringing a fist to bear down on the Plusle. But instead of dodging out of the way like Steven expected, the tiny electric type took the blow full on, tumbling backwards from the force of Metagross's strike.

Sparing a quick glance toward Iona, Steven saw her looking on, unconcerned, even as Plusle struggled to its feet, covered in cuts and scratches. After Ampharos went down, was she considering conceding the match?

"Finish this, Metagross. Psych -"


All at once, Plusle perked up and fixed Metagross with a cheery smile, jumping and clapping in an enthusiastic cheer. Staring transfixed at its opponent, the psychic aura in Metagross's eyes dimmed, and it found itself raising a leg to execute another bullet punch. But as Steven watched his partner change its mind, Plusle's innocent smile turned malicious.


From seemingly nowhere, Plusle produced an oversized iron ball, complete with chain. Just as Metagross's fist came down, Plusle tossed the iron ball up and spun out of the way of the attack. With a loud clank, the item's manacle fastened itself around Metagross's leg before falling back to the ground with a heavy thud. Now free of its burden, Plusle hopped lightly atop the iron ball and made a rude face at Metagross's predicament.

Metagross grumbled an unhappy noise and took a swipe at the offending pokemon with its free foreleg, only to have Plusle dance out of the way with another impolite gesture. With a tug, Metagross tried to free its trapped limb, but the iron ball proved to be startlingly heavy. Thankfully, Metgross had four capable limbs, not just two…

"Pivot and use your rear legs!"

With a roar, Metagross complied, and in a wild cartwheel it reared up and over its trapped leg to bring both hind legs down in a pair of vicious punches. So shocked by the maneuver, Plusle tripped over its own feet and just managed to roll out of the way of the first blow, only to land in the path of the second.

But before Metagross's claws came down, Iona's voice rang out.

"Volt switch!"

In a flash of energy, Plusle vanished just as Metagross's fist met earth. The dispersing electricity surged up its leg, and Metagross roared in pain. As the pain subsided, a new sensation arose, and one red eye slid open to find its opponent now hanging off its leg, a grin on its face. But something had changed. Instead of red and yellow, it now sported blue and yellow fur.

The Minun cried out its name and charged up its own electric field.

"Now, electroball!"

A bright sphere of electricity crackled around Minun as it powered up, and Metagross moved to try and avoid the incoming attack, shaking its leg to dislodge the tiny pokemon. The electric type's grip on Metagross weakened and it was tossed backwards into the air, but despite its strongest tug, Metagross could only get the iron ball to budge a few feet before Minun recovered and slammed the electroball full force into its head, driving Metagross to the ground.

Sparks danced over his partner's hide as it clambered to its feet, and Steven frowned. If Metagross couldn't free its leg, there was no way it would be able to catch up to either Plusle or Minun. A switch wouldn't do much good either, since the rest of his team still would be no match for the Elite's team speed. Skarmory maybe, but its weakness to the Elite's strength gave Steven pause.

How could they turn their disadvantage around?


His starter ceased its slow, hobbling retreat, and turned its gaze toward its trainer.

"Can you use psychic yet?"

Metagross noticed its trainer's hard stare at the iron ball, and rumbled its acknowledgment. It would try.

Crackling electricity alerted the pair to Minun's next attack, and Steven put his hastily made plan into action. He threw his hand forward with his shout.

"Fling the iron ball at Minun with psychic then follow it with bullet punch!"

A roar split his starters jaw wide as it complied, a blue outline forming around the anchor that kept it trapped. With a heave, Metagross wrenched its leg as hard as it could, sending the iron ball hurtling toward where Minun stood charging its attack. It screeched as the rest of its body came flying after, bolstered by the momentum.

Iona's eyes went wide. "Forget the electroball, use volt switch!"

Minun squeaked and slammed its eyes shut as Metagross loomed near, but it finished the new attack and vanished in a burst of electricity, just like Plusle had done. This time though, Steven stared hard as its teammate's form began to take shape off to the side of Metagross's attack.

"Change course, Metagross!"

In a surge of psychic energy, the iron ball swung to the right, now headed straight for where Plusle materialized. It barely had time to register its fate before Metagross slammed full force into it, burying the smaller pokemon beneath its entire weight. A tiny squeak was heard from the rubble and Iona bowed her head as she recalled her fainted pokemon.

Nodding as she looked up, Iona crossed her arms, "Not bad. Not bad at all."

Minun materialized on the battlefield in its partner's place, a nervous expression in its eyes, paws wringing together in worry.

"Don't fret, little one," Iona's soothing tone seemed to calm the electric type, and she smiled. "Just keep doing your best, that's all there is to it."

Iona's words seemed to bolster the tiny pokemon, but as soon as it turned to face Metagross, it burst into tears. Taken aback, Metagross faltered, unsure how to proceed with such an emotional foe. But as soon as Metagross's leg lowered, the fake tears stopped, and Minun grinned as it slammed an electroball directly into Metagross's face.

Before its opponent could fully recover, Minun darted away taking full advantage of its speed. With a frustrated growl, Metagross finally shook off the point-blank attack and scanned the arena for any sign of the electric rodent.

"Find it and slow it down with scary face!"

Steven's shout grounded his partner, and Metagross hunkered low, eyes scanning the battlefield until it caught sight of a flash of yellow. Jaw wide, it fixed a fearsome stare on the speedy pokemon, and Minun made its first mistake, making eye contact with Metagross's gaze. The scary face rooted it in place and Metagross seized its chance. Snagging the electric type with its psychic powers, it lifted Minun from the ground where its legs pumped in a panicked effort to escape.

"Finish this with meteor mash!" Steven shouted, and Metagross obeyed.

Still rooted to the spot via its iron shackle Metagross couldn't launch itself at its opponent to deliver the attack. But Minun could come to it. With a tug of psychic energy, Minun flew at a breakneck pace toward where Metagross stood. Helpless, it barely had time to brace itself before it slammed headlong into Metagross's outstretched fist. Its pained squeak echoed through the chamber before it tumbled to the ground and laid still.

With a clank, the iron ball's manacle opened and clattered to the floor beside the fallen pokemon. The battle was over.

As Minun faded into the light of its recall beam and the scoreboard grayed out the last of Iona's icons, the realization finally struck. They had won.

Steven's sigh of relief was nearly loud enough to echo around the arena. Going into the battle, he had believed they could triumph, and now that they had, it bolstered his confidence tenfold. It was just the first step, but it was still a step they had to take, and they did.

Iona moved from her trainer's box and beckoned Steven to meet her at the center of the battlefield. Hands on her hips, she gave a wide smile as he approached.

"Y'know, not many people make it past me. I knock them off their feet before they can even get any momentum. But you didn't need any momentum, those pokemon of yours are strong. To tell the truth, I normally prefer double battles, it's what I was known for back in Johto, but they wouldn't let me bend the rules. The current champ is a real stickler. So if you ever want to battle again with a different format, just stop on by."

She gave a wink before reaching into the pocket of her jumpsuit and pulling something out.

"Since you gave me such a good match and you won fair and square, take this. I know how tough this gauntlet can be, and something tells me you regret not making that first switch. I like your style, so here's to a second chance."

With an easy toss, she flipped the Revive toward Steven who caught it with only a slight bobble. He gaped at the rare item, a precious commodity given the strict healing item policy put in place to prevent challengers from simply sacrificing pokemon and bringing them back repeatedly in an effort to outlast the Elite's teams. He'd originally planned to save as many of his revival items for the later battles, and losing two pokemon to fainting in the first round wasn't part of that plan. Iona just handed him a new lease on his League challenge life. Before he could stammer his thanks, Iona gave a knowing nod.

"Now good luck in the next chamber. Glacia's been waiting for a good battle since I usually hog them all."

Steven accepted the hand Iona extended to him and managed to meet her warm smile with one of his own. The tense excitement was already building back up to bury his short-lived relief, but if Iona had this much faith in him, maybe he could conquer his nerves and pull off another victory. But a new opponent brought new challenges.

Glacia. The second Elite. Master of the ice type, which meant fearsome attacking power and a stalwart defense awaited his arrival. This would be a battle of stamina, and he needed to prepare accordingly.

Pausing just beyond Iona's chamber, Steven administered his gifted Revive and one of his own, which Claydol and Cradily gratefully accepted. Quieting Cradily's whine of apology with a reassuring pat and soft words that she had done her best, he then turned his attention to the rest of his team. Aggron and Skarmory were both fresh, as was Armaldo, although Steven could only wonder how shaken it was after seeing Cradily take that vicious attack. Metagross, though, had taken considerable damage in the finale against Iona's electric duo. Eyeing the limited quantity of League approved healing items, he jostled his pack and then remembered; the Berry Master's gifts!

The bundle of Sitrus berries was doled out to his pokemon. Metagross snacked on a few to regain its strength, but Aggron wisely tucked its berry away to save for the upcoming match. With one last double-check, Steven recalled them all and set his sights on the double doors at the far end of the hall.

He was barely halfway there when he felt the temperature drop. The nervousness welled up in his gut once again, but the encouragement from Iona stuck with him even as the second chamber's doors thudded shut behind him.


Steven nearly shivered, and he suspected it wasn't from the cold. The voice held an edge to it that took the normally cordial greeting and transformed it into a threat. A figure stepped through the frosty mist that hung low over the chamber's floor, her hands clasped tightly over the pale violet fabric of her dress.

"My name is Glacia, and this is as far as you will go."

In one swift motion, a hand slipped into the pocket of her dress and reappeared brandishing a pokeball. Her Glalie materialized on the battlefield with a shuddering screech.

Taken aback by the complete turnabout from Iona's cheerful disposition, Steven froze, no doubt with an involuntary look of confusion on his face. Only when Glacia's eyes narrowed dangerously did he snap into into action, bringing out his first pokemon, and their battle began without another word.

But when Metagross tore through the ice-type's defenses like it was nothing more than paper, he exhaled the tense breath he'd been holding, letting it billow out in a big, foggy cloud. Glacia's chilly demeanor had been intimidating to say the least, and Metagross's quick victory washed away his nervousness like the hot springs at Lavaridge. After all, a battle of stamina favored his preferred pokemon type too.

Silently, Glalie was returned, and a Froslass appeared on the battlefield in its stead, her cool gaze easily ignoring the scattered ice chips from her fallen teammate.

This time, however, the type advantage swung in Glacia's favor, and a particularly vicious shadow ball left Metagross stunned before it could land a blow of its own. But Steven had learned his lesson, and Froslass's second shadow ball smashed into the arena floor as Metagross vanished into the light of its recall beam.

Aggron took its place with a battle cry, eager for its first action of the day. It eyed the dual type pokemon with a grunt, sizing up the competition. While not as speedy as the previous Elite's pokemon, Froslass enjoyed an evasive advantage over Aggron's lumbering speed. But Aggron was dogged in his pursuit, and when he managed to get his claws on the wispy ice type it proved to be more than enough to topple Glacia's second pokemon.

The Froslass's pained shriek was cut short by the bellow of Glacia's next selection, but the way Aggron simply grinned told Steven his partner already knew the outcome of this round. Shaking off the frost from Froslass's futile attacks, electricity crackled between Aggron's horns before arcing toward a startled looking Walrein. But just like the battle with Juan, Walrein would not be toppled with one move, and it struck back with all of the water type attacks it knew. Back and forth the two giants struggled, and it was only Aggron's Sitrus berry that gave it the strength to withstand Walrein's fierce torrent, and in the end Glacia's Walrein fell under Aggron's fearsome attack.

Panting, Aggron stood tall, but Steven was having none of its bravado and reached for its ball, readying Metagross in return. Except that as a second Froslass made its appearance on the battlefield, Steven's hand twitched to another ball on his belt.

Skarmory materialized with a screech and immediately took to the skies, earning a quirked brow from Glacia. However, Steven remained stoic. He knew the flying type was a gamble, but if there was any pokemon on his team stubborn and proud enough to avoid a knock out, it was Skarmory.

Hesitating only a moment to watch her opponent circle overhead, Froslass let loose a chilling scream before drifting into the haze of the icy battlefield. Instantly the wind began to whip into a frenzy, snow and ice whirling in a fierce storm that forced Skarmory to duck low to the ground, lest ice form on its wings and send it plummeting from the sky. As it swooped low, Froslass seized her chance, darting out from the mist, arms raised to envelop Skarmory in the sheer cold of her grasp.

But Skarmory's senses were sharp, and at the last minute it nimbly pivoted, striking the floor of the arena with its wings and sending a shower of sparks raining down on the shrieking Froslass. As Glacia's pokemon recoiled in fear from the fiery show, Skarmory wheeled about, shooting skyward for only a moment as its steel wing charged, before slamming Froslass hard to the ground with the edges of its bladed wings. Writhing from the critical strike, Froslass tried to rise only to have a razor sharp talon clamp down on her throat. Wings unfurled in a triumphant pose, Skarmory screeched as its victim vanished in a beam of red light. Its celebration was cut short, however, by the chattering roar of a furious Glalie, and Skarmory swiveled to face the new threat.

Except that it never got the chance to face it, as Aggron would simply not be outdone. He fairly burst forth from his ball before Steven could rightfully summon him, sending his trainer scrambling to recall Skarmory from the battlefield. Before Steven had a chance to admonish his reckless partner, Aggron had made quick work of the opposing pokemon. The icicles that coated its horns from the Glalie's opening blizzard were shattered along with a good portion of its opponent's hide, scattering in a dazzling shower of crystal.

The scoreboard pinged, and Steven watched as Glacia's icons all dimmed to gray, while all six of his own still glowed brightly. The battle had gone better than he could had ever hoped, and the swell of pride in himself in his pokemon again brought a rush of warmth to his face. It took considerable effort to keep from grinning unabashedly.

As her last pokemon toppled to the frozen arena floor, Glacia grimaced, but managed to hold her composure despite the complete sweep of her team. Every pokemon she had called forth was mowed down without so much as scoring a knock-out of their own. It stung, the hit to her pride, but being an Elite did not make one invincible... Ignoring Aggron where it stood, breathing hard but still very much able to fight, she stepped forward to meet Steven at the center of the battlefield, icy stare never wavering.

"Impressive, challenger."

The edge in her voice cut through Steven's elation, and he sobered quickly. Seeing his startled reaction, Glacia gave a thin smile and folded her arms across her chest.

"I can't recall the last time I've been handed such a single-sided defeat. My pokemon and I have trained hard to withstand the heat of our enemies, but you battle with pokemon who also relish the cold." Her gaze slide to the side, and a lone finger reached up to rest at her temple. "You've given us a lot to think about."

"But," she continued, "A win is a win, and seeing as I no longer have a need for it, I trust you'll make good use of this with your given strategy."

She held out a Full Restore and dropped it into Steven's palm as if it had burned her.

"Congratulations on your victory, but in the next chamber, I doubt you'll enjoy the same amount of success. All the same, I wish you luck. Don't make me the last Elite to fall at your hands."

With the outright threat lingering, Glacia finally broke eye contact and stepped aside with a graceful curtsy, ushering Steven toward the door.

Sparing the prickly Elite one last uncertain glance, Steven stepped past her and into a hallway that held the same chill as the previous chamber, but for a very different reason. Administering some of his precious healing items to his pokemon, he couldn't ignore his growing unease. Even though the hall was well lit, dark shadows hung at the edges of the room; a ghost's playground.

This time, Steven did shudder as he neared the chamber door. Both Iona and Glacia had been incredibly skilled and imposing trainers, and yet he had two very different battles against them both. But ghost types were fickle pokemon that demanded years of experience to train, let alone train well enough to claim a spot in the Elite Four. He pushed the chamber doors wide and squinted through the hanging gloom toward the far side of the battlefield. What sort of opponent would Phoebe prove to be?

So when the arena lights clicked on, Steven could only stare in shock. Standing at the Elite's position was a thin, dark-skinned teen dressed in a flowing floral print sarong, wearing an expression that told him she was just as shocked to see him as he was to see her.

"You... you beat Glacia so quickly!"


Under Steven's incredulous stare, Phoebe fidgeted nervously, bringing one hand up to play with the petals of a pink flower behind her ear.

"Uh, I mean, um, welcome, challenger, to your worst nightmare!" She finished with a dramatic gesture.

Steven narrowed his gaze at her meek attempt to save face, and Phoebe winced at his skeptical look.

"Look, uh, I'm still not good with this whole "intimidating speech" thing. Can we just battle? I promise I'm better at battling than looking fierce."

Still recovering from the initial shock, Steven found himself nodding until he caught sight of a slight movement behind Phoebe. It was only fleeting, but he swore he saw a shadowy presence flit by. Was it just a trick of the light, or was Phoebe's meek presence hiding something more sinister? She was part of the Elite Four, after all. There was no way she could be as innocent as she appeared to be…

"Great!" she chimed, grabbing her first pokeball with a cheery smile. "Let's get started!"

Or maybe she really was.

To Be Continued…

Starlight Aurate

Ad Jesum per Mariam | pfp by kintsugi
Route 123
  1. mightyena
  2. psyduck
Heya! As another Hoenn fan, I was thrilled to be assigned to your fic :love: I'm not confident in drawing humans lol but Steven has plenty of neat Pokemon to work with, at least! Please enjoy this image of smol bean:
Aron was also fast asleep on the sill with his back underneath the sash to keep it propped open.
Steven's Aron (2).jpg
Chapter 16 - Terminus (Part 2)


Hoenn around
  1. aggron
  2. lairon
Ch 16 - Having defeated both Iona and Glacia, Steven now squares off with the third Hoenn Elite; Phoebe. But things aren't what they seem with the youthful ghost-type trainer...

Chapter 16 - Terminus (Part 2)

"Look, uh, I'm still not good with this whole "intimidating speech" thing. Can we just battle? I promise I'm better at battling than looking fierce."

Still recovering from the initial shock, Steven found himself nodding…

...There was no way she could be as innocent as she appeared to be…

"Great!" she chimed, grabbing her first pokeball with a smile. "Let's get started!"

Or maybe she really was...

Her Dusclops hit the ground with more of a thud than any ghost had a right to. Steven's eyes narrowed. If her first pokemon was a heavy hitter, then his would be too.

"Armaldo, it's your turn!"

The more offensive-minded of his two fossil pokemon also shook the earth as it materialized on the battlefield with a trill. Its fins stood on end as its gaze landed on the bandage wrapped ghost that stared back with one unblinking eye.

"Ready?" asked Phoebe, face alight with anticipation.

Steven nodded again, staring hard at the overly-cheerful Elite. There had to be some trick afoot…

But when Dusclops opened with a standard looking shadow punch, which Armaldo neatly dodged, the battle appeared fairly normal.

As the large mummy-like pokemon followed through on its next punch, Armaldo side stepped around the blow and perked up at Steven's command.


Crossed claws came down on Dusclops' back and the sound of ripping fabric filled the air mixed with a hiss of pain as it stumbled from Armaldo's strike. One massive hand clamped down on the open wound, dark mist seeping out from between its fingers as its single eye slid to where Armaldo stood frozen in wide-eyed terror. Steven, too, paled at what his pokemon had seen; the slicing attack had torn away some of the graying bandages that wound around Dusclops' body, but instead of something tangible beneath the cloth, there was nothing but emptiness.

Taking advantage of the stunned silence, Dusclops fixed Armaldo with a leering stare, and Armaldo shivered under its gaze. Defense lowered, the follow up shadow punch that caught Armaldo's midsection sent the prehistoric pokemon tumbling. With its foe momentarily dispatched, Dusclops balled its hand into a fist, crumpling bandages over its wound and effectively sealing the hole.

Armaldo struggled back to its feet, one claw gingerly protecting where the ghostly energy lingered from the blow, and Steven frowned as he spotted a small smirk on Phoebe's lips. He couldn't simply trade blows and hope to come out on top. Her Dusclops could hit hard.

"We need speed," he muttered before throwing a hand outward. "Armaldo, use rock polish!"

In the same moment, Phoebe also issued her next command. "Future sight!"

Both pokemon sprung into action on their respective sides of the battlefield, Armaldo crouching low and polishing his wings while Dusclops' palms raised up toward the ceiling as its eye rolled back in the socket, a psychic aura hanging heavy above its head.

Steven tensed as he watched the psychic attack form. Future sight was a slow building move, if Armaldo could finish its speed boost early, they could strike while Dusclops was defenseless.

Just as the thought crossed his mind, Armaldo grunted confirmation that it was ready.

"Go! X-scissor now, while it's vulnerable!"

With a sharp cry Armaldo shot across the battlefield, claws raised at the still-motionless ghost type. But Phoebe was ready.

"Dusclops, earthquake!"

Its single eye rolled back forward at its trainer's command, and Dusclops raised a stocky leg before slamming it into the arena floor. The shockwave rocketed away from the stomp, and Steven jolted forward in his trainer's box from his desperate shout.


On high alert, Armaldo's powerful tail instantly snapped down against the ground and sent him skyward. Steven stumbled from the force of the earthquake, but he allowed himself a small grin as his pokemon's forward momentum vaulted it up and over the deadly attack.

Phoebe too watched in amazement with a whispered, "Whoa," as the armored pokemon gracefully arced over Dusclops' head before landing on its feet with a heavy thud.

But the evasive maneuver was only part of Steven's plan.

"Aerial ace!"

Spinning on its heel, Armaldo launched itself back at Dusclops in one smooth motion, nearly vanishing in a white blur of light.

"Oh no you don't." Phoebe's cheeks puffed out in indignation. "Catch it, Dusclops!"

Shadowy energy swirled in Dusclops' palms as they turned outward just in time to stop Armaldo's charge. But the white light of Armaldo's attack didn't fade as it slammed full force into Dusclops' defense. Stalemated, both pokemon dug deep as they shoved back and forth, trying to topple the other, grunting with effort. Slowly, Dusclops struggled to turn and fix Armaldo with another leering stare. Armaldo's once determined grimace faltered, and it wobbled momentarily, giving Dusclops room to shove back, forcing Armaldo to one knee.

Hand on his chin as he watched, Steven frowned. "Wait a minute…"

His eyes widened in realization. "Armaldo, get out of there!"

At his shout, his partner's gaze snapped over Dusclops' shoulder to find its trainer's panicked stare just as its fins twitched skyward in alarm. Shimmering psychic energy split the air above both combatants and future sight's delayed attack finally rained down all around.

Yanking backwards from Dusclops' grip, Armaldo threw itself free of future sight's range with a leaping dive.

As dust and silence settled across the battlefield, the bubbly tone of Phoebe's giggling floated over the quiet.

"Oh, we almost had you too!"

Steven watched as Armaldo dragged itself back upright, dusting off its plate armor, before narrowing his gaze at the cheery Elite. Was she even taking this battle seriously?

"Okay, Dusclops. We'll get them this time! Give it the staredown!"

Finding its opponent with another chilling leer, Dusclops closed the distance between them as Armaldo again found itself withering under the ghost's otherworldly stare.

"Armaldo!" Steven shouted, hoping to snap his timid partner from its stupor. "Retreat and let's regroup!"

Even though its knees shook and it couldn't tear its gaze away from Dusclops' lone red eye, Armaldo heard Steven's shout, and it straightened with a low growl. It wouldn't run away in fear. Not with so much at stake.

"Armaldo?" Steven called, watching as Dusclops drew closer and closer.

Phoebe simply giggled again, "Looks like it's scared stiff. Go Dusclops!"

Shadowy energy gathered around Dusclops' clenched fist as it trudged closer, so close now that its raspy breathing ruffled the fins at Armaldo's neck.

But in that instant, Armaldo's stare shifted, and Steven caught the determined glint in its eye. As Dusclops' fist drew back, Steven flung his own skyward.

"Do it!"

The stone edge exploded beneath Dusclops' feet, skewering the ghost pokemon on its rocky spires. Darkness spilled from the gaping holes in its cloth bindings, and a horrifying groan gurgled from deep within its body as its fist dropped limp to its side, energy dissipating in a harmless puff.

Panting, Armaldo withdrew its foot from where it had driven it into the earth.

With a small chime, the first of Phoebe's icons grayed out on the scoreboard, and for the first time, Steven noticed some of the Elite's initial nervousness creep back into her expression.

"Great job, Armaldo."

He praised his partner as its toothy grin vanished in the recall beam of its pokeball, and he watched Phoebe do the same. Wordlessly, both trainers selected a new pokeball from their arsenal and tossed them to begin the second round.

Skarmory's shriek echoed through the chamber as it appeared in mid air with wings unfurled, and a quick scan of the battlefield revealed Phoebe's next pokemon. The shadows at the edge of the chamber seemed to close in around her Banette as it floated just above the arena floor. The wispy ribbon at the back of its head slithered to the floor as it tilted its gaze skyward to take in its airborne opponent.

"Okay, Banette," Phoebe breathed, a tiny waver in her voice as she exhaled, "Let's do this."

Steven watched as Phoebe rolled her shoulders and squared up to the battlefield, grin renewed across her face. It was almost as if she was trying to reassure not only her pokemon, but herself. Burying the oddity in the back of his mind, he too focused on the next round of battle and seized the first move.

"Skarmory, screech!"

His flying type didn't need to be told twice, and it wheeled to stare down Banette and unleash its signature ear-piercing cry. The golden glint of Banette's zippered mouth turned downwards in a scowl as it was forced to shield its ears from the defense-lowering technique. One eye cracked open just in time to spot Skarmory's follow up dive-bomb, wings aglow with energy. Too slow to dodge, Banette took the full brunt of the steel wing across the midsection, but not before its mouth flicked upward in a smirk.

As Skarmory drove its wings through the ghost-type, a movement caught its eye. Banette had taken the attack right to its midsection, but not before raising a hand high over its head. Red eyes met yellow, and with a wink, Banette's hand came down in a vicious chop, striking Skarmory at the base of its neck. Instantly, a shock of numbness flooded Skarmory's wing. Now off balance, its attack faltered, sending it spiralling to the ground with a pained squawk.

Banette settled lightly on its feet as Skarmory skidded by in a cloud of dust, but not without a wince and a large, jagged scrape across its stomach. Skarmory had done a good deal of damage, but it didn't escape unscathed either. In a mess of angry steel feathers, it scrabbled back to its feet, armor covered in dents and scrapes from its crash landing. One wing drooped at an odd angle, but instead of worrying about its injury, Skarmory's eyes darted around the battlefield, seemingly searching for something.

"Skarmory, what's wrong?" Steven shouted, eyes on his partner's increasingly frantic efforts.

It wasn't until Steven noticed that Banette, too, was searching for something through the dust cloud. But Phoebe was the first to spot it.

"There!" she shouted with a point, "Get it, Banette!"

All eyes turned to find a single Sitrus berry resting at the far edge of the battlefield, recently dislodged from Skarmory's grasp by Banette's knock off attack.

Simultaneously, both pokemon locked eyes on the fallen berry, and before Banette could move, Skarmory leaped into action. Its long legs gave it the clear speed advantage, but Phoebe had another trick up her sleeve.

"Feint attack!"

Steven watched as Banette flickered where it stood before fading into nothingness.

"Skarmory, look out!"

Its trainer's shout snapped Skarmory from its single minded pursuit of the lost berry, and it skidded to a halt just as Banette phased into existence right in front of its beak. With a hiss, Banette bared its claws in a threatening display, and Skarmory flinched back, bracing for the blow that never came. Instead, Banette phased back out and reappeared across the arena, hovering atop the liberated berry.

With a dismayed cry, Skarmory watched as its opponent skewered the Sitrus berry with a claw and in one swift motion, unzipped its mouth and slurped the berry down with its tongue.

Phoebe's giggle echoed through the chamber as her pokemon fixed Steven and Skarmory with a smug smile. But Steven was too busy watching his partner to notice. Calmly shaking the feeling back into its injured wing, Skarmory tipped its head to the side with a clack of its beak. From the way Skarmory only looked on in silence, Steven knew that things were about to get ugly, and fast. Beneath that calm exterior was a bubbling cauldron of rage that was mere inches away from boiling over.

"Skarmory -" his tone was placating, if only to keep some level of control over his seething pokemon as he continued, "It may have regained health, but its defense is still lowered. Gain some speed with agility and then finish it."

The clatter of ruffling feathers answered him, and he allowed himself a small breath of relief. Skarmory hadn't totally snapped… yet. With a swift push, the steel pokemon went airborne and began to climb, gathering speed.

Phoebe, though, was not willing to sit back and wait. "Banette, don't let them set up! Shadow ball it from the sky!"

Steven watched as a dark mass began to shape into a sphere between Banette's palms. Soon, the sphere was nearly the size of the ghost's head, and without warning, it fired the attack skyward.

"Skarmory, dodge!"

Still building speed, Skarmory's sharp gaze focused on the incoming projectile, and at the last minute it barrel rolled out of the way.

Phoebe frowned at the miss, but urged her pokemon to keep firing. "Again! Rapid fire!"

Nearly faster than Steven could follow, Banette shaped and launched shadow ball after shadow ball, filling the arena with a minefield of ghostly energy. But Skarmory was nimble on its wings, and it cut a neat path through the barrage and emerged on the other side untouched.

"Ugh, fine!" Phoebe huffed in frustration. "Use it, Banette!"

Ceasing its non-stop attack, Banette's zippered mouth glinted into a smile as it reached behind its back and slid a wicked looking needle from out of thin air.

Dumbfounded, Steven looked on as the ghost pokemon wielded the needle in a sword-like manner, pointing the tip toward the onrushing Skarmory. How could Phoebe hope to take on the full-speed charge of Skarmory's attack with that flimsy thing?

But just as Skarmory nosed into a dive, wings brimming with the signature glow of steel wing's light, Banette did the last thing Steven ever expected.

The point of the needle wheeled 180 degrees and plunged straight through Banette's own chest. The ghost shrieked in pain as the needle drove itself out the back, point dripping with black ooze.


Steven blanched at the sight of the impaled pokemon, and his incredulous gaze swung to where Phoebe stood, unfazed by what her pokemon just did.

Except he wasn't left to stare for long, as a tormented cry sounded from overhead. Mid-flight, Skarmory had begun to jerk and twist side to side, screeching in pain from some invisible force.

Wheeling back to face Phoebe, Steven paled further as he took in the distressed state of both combatants. "What did you do?!"

Phoebe shrugged, nonchalant. "Laid a curse on your pokemon with Banette's life energy."

By now, Banette had begun to succumb to the self-inflicted wound, breathing heavy as a puddle of black liquid pooled around where it kneeled, one hand braced against the ground.

Steven grit his teeth as his attention turned back to where Skarmory struggled to stay airborne.


The sharp tone of his shout cut through the air, and he saw the yellow eyes of his flyer flick toward him, hazy with pain.

"Finish this fight!"

A fresh wave of pain hit Skarmory, and its eyes squeezed tight as it veered dangerously low. But it refused to succumb to the curse's effects, and with a defiant shriek it righted its flight and squinted down at its incapacitated foe.

Steel wing's bright light formed around Skarmory's wings once again, and it nosedived right for the target. Banette could do nothing but watch as Skarmory bore down and slammed into it full force. The dust settled quickly, and Skarmory stood tall over the unconscious ghost. Eyes sharp it raised its head in victory, but before it could cry out, the curse struck again and Skarmory winced, retching until it ejected a sticky black clod from its throat out onto the arena floor.

Hurriedly, Steven grabbed Skarmory's ball and returned the afflicted pokemon before any more damage could be done. With a grimace and a mental note to pay special attention to Skarmory's health after the battle, Steven selected another pokeball from his belt.

As Cradily materialized onto the battlefield, Steven noticed that the shadows that appeared during Banette's fight hadn't vanished, and oddly enough they began to pool on Phoebe's side of the arena. Cradily trilled, sensing his nervous glance at the lingering darkness, and he gave her a reassuring smile.

"They're just shadows, but stay on your guard just in case."

Cradily nodded and swiveled her gaze back toward their opponent, narrowing her eyes as she waited for Phoebe's next pokemon. The Elite's expression was tight as she brought forth her third pokeball, and as she threw it, Steven swore the darkness that hung heavy around her feet seemed to swirl in a non-existent breeze…

The hollow roar of a Dusclops cut through his thoughts, and his focus snapped back to the battle at hand. As Cradily bristled with nervous energy, Steven scowled, deep in thought. A repeat pokemon on Phoebe's team surely wouldn't be a carbon copy of the first; she had to have a different trick up her sleeve. They'd just have to play it safe until they figured it out.

"Cradily, keep your distance. Use ancient power!"

Chunks of rock lifted up and shot toward Dusclops as Cradily made the first move. But as boulders rained all around, Phoebe watched quietly as her pokemon's two massive hands came up and caught the largest of the projectiles and crushed it between its palms.

Cradily squeaked in surprise at the way her attack was so easily shed, but she buckled down and prepared a second volley. Except she never got the chance to unleash it.


Phoebe's voice rang out in time with Dusclops' movements, and it faced Cradily with both palms turned outward, launching a shockwave that left Cradily stunned. Her tendrils drooped, and the beginnings of her next ancient power died mid-air and crumbled to the ground.

Steven grimaced at their predicament. Cradily had no other ranged attacks, and after Dusclops' raw display of power, he had no interest in getting up close and personal with their foe. But if they had no choice...

"Confuse ray, Cradily!"

His partner obeyed, and this time her tentacles lifted back up, waving to and fro in a dizzying display. Dusclops' eye drifted side to side in time with Cradily's movements until it finally settled at the bottom of its socket, half-lidded and unfocused.

But as the ghost wobbled unsteadily on its feet, Phoebe's hand came to bare, and with a thrust she urged her partner forward.

"Dusclops! Ice punch!"

The confused pokemon wobbled only a moment longer before it snapped to attention as if by the sheer force of Phoebe's will. Fully alert, its eye focused on Cradily for a split second before it launched itself across the battlefield faster than such an unwieldy pokemon had any right to be moving.

Dusclops' right hand drew back as it closed in, an icy blue aura surrounding its fist.

Eyes wide, Steven jolted forward in the challenger's box with a panicked shout, "Catch it!"

At the last minute, Cradily's tendrils shot forward, wrapping tight around Dusclops' body and halting its advance. Several other tendrils had wound themselves around its fist, trembling in the effort to keep its punch at bay. Cradily's neck strained against the powerful ghost type, and it slowly pushed back against her tenuous hold, inching closer and closer until the red glow of its eye cast an eerie light across Cradily's armor. The icy air around Dusclops' restrained hand continued to swirl, and soon the cold seeped into Cradily's tentacle, sending a wince through her frame as her strength began to fail.

"Cradily, you can do it! Giga drain!"

But Steven's shout came too late. He had been so focused on Dusclops' right hand that he completely missed how its left had taken on a red-hot glow of its own.

The fire punch connected with the side of Cradily's head in a vicious blow, and as her head snapped to the side from the force of the punch, her hold of Dusclops' other fist let go. In an explosion of frost, the second punch landed squarely to the top of Cradily's helm, driving her face-first into the arena floor. The follow through of the attack was so strong, it uprooted her grip on the ground, and her legs writhed uselessly as she curled in on herself from the pain with a shuddering wail.

With a satisfied huff, Dusclops phased through the few tentacles that feebly clung to its midsection. It regarded the downed fossil pokemon with a look of distaste, and Steven paled when instead of backing off, it raised one massive foot in a stomp aimed right for Cradily's head.

Hand shaking, Steven stared in disbelief as Dusclops' foot came down on nothing but the remnants of Cradily's recall beam.

"Hey! What were you thinking? That round was already over, you didn't have to have your pokemon attack again!"

Steven definitely did not withhold the accusatory tone in his shout at the ghost-type specialist. But his sharp stare faltered when Phoebe met his gaze from across the battlefield. An unsettling smile tugged at the corners of her cheeks, and the way her eyes seemed to have sunk deep into shadow set the hair at the back of his neck on end.

"We have to win…" Any trace of the lilt in her voice had vanished, the words unnervingly hollow as they droned from her lips. "We can't let it happen…"

"What?" He only dared to whisper the first question before he asked the second aloud. "Let what happen?"

"You wouldn't understand…" came the cryptic reply. "Only they understand. So pick your next pokemon."

Warily, Steven obeyed the Elite's directive, distinctly aware of the clamminess of his palms as he selected Aggron's ball from his belt. The massive steel type appeared with a roar, and this time Steven was sure he saw the shadows dance and curl around Phoebe's ankles like dark serpents.

But Dusclops gave him no room to confirm his suspicions, and Aggron was immediately on the defensive as the ghost type lunged, fists aglow. Its first two swings were parried by Aggron's claws, but the elemental power of each attack lingered whenever Dusclops made contact, and Aggron winced as a third blow only made glancing contact.

Steven frowned as Dusclops made ready to throw another punch. The flurry of its attacks was too heavy to rely on pure defense. "Drive it back and keep it at bay with thunderbolt!"

As Dusclops swung, Aggron spun, pivoting in time with the blow so that the fire punch only left a blackened scrape against its armor. From the momentum of the spin, it then brought its tail around and clubbed Dusclops in the side, sending the ghost stumbling backward.

By the time Dusclops had gathered itself and prepared to renew its attack, electricity rained down from above, and its eye squeezed shut as it shuddered to a halt.

But it only faltered momentarily before it brought a palm to bare and sealed Aggron's attack with another wave of disable. The electricity fizzled out on Aggron's horns, but Steven wasn't worried. He already came up with their plan of attack . Except that yet again, the Elite's ghosts had another trick up their sleeve that threw all of his plans out the window.


Phoebe's single command sent her pokemon into a frenzy. With a shuddering lurch, Dusclops' fingers curled inward as it screeched, and Aggron's eyes went wide as the bandages encircling the ghost's body began to loosen. From between the gaps in the cloth something began to stir. Shivering, Dusclops howled, expelling a massive wave of shadowy bugs from deep within its bandages. The chittering swarm of legs and wings poured forth and swept over Aggron, toppling the beast beneath its sheer weight.


Steven's shout nearly was drowned out by the hissing and shrieking of the creatures, but as he held his breath, one silvery claw surfaced through the wave of insects and swatted a clump of the swarm away.

Dragging itself upright, Aggron roared as it swung its tail through the mass, batting bugs left and right. It was panting from the effort by the time it stood back on both hind legs and patches of its armor were still full of the squirming creatures, but its gaze was locked on Dusclops with a fiery determination.

The ghost pokemon narrowed its own stare at the steel type and hunkered into a ready stance, palms outward, each glowing with their elemental auras.

Steven's pulse thrummed in his ears as the battlefield lapsed into a silent standoff, neither pokemon willing to make the first move. It suddenly felt a lot harder to breathe, the air was thick with shadows and dust.

Then without warning, both pokemon lunged at once. Aggron's head met Dusclops' ice-coated fist in a vicious clash that sent the ghost-type reeling back, but not before its fiery hand clamped down on Aggron's neck and squeezed, heating the armor plates until they glowed red.

Aggron howled in anguish and lashed out with its tail, batting the ghost pokemon away. Dusclops stumbled backward but quickly regained its composure and leaped forward with another fire punch primed to strike. But this time Aggron was ready and Dusclops' fist bounced harmlessly off the blue energy of protect's shield.

Off balance again, Dusclops was unable to set its feet before Aggron drove forward with another iron head. Its helm met Dusclops' right hand in defense, but the force of the lunge drove Aggron's horns through the ghost's palm, garnering a roar of pain as its horns lodged into Dusclops' chest.

Steven had watched the furious exchange with bated breath, mentally counting down the seconds, and seeing their chance materialize he shouted as loud as he could, "Thunderbolt, now!"

A snarl ripped from Aggron's throat as Dusclops' eye widened in surprise. Disable's effect had worn off, and the crackle of electricity sounded from within the hollow shell of its body. Sparks surged from Aggron's horns, and the ghost pokemon jerked backward as the thunderbolt fried its bandages until they began to smoke. Sliding its horns free, Aggron let Dusclops slump to the ground, paralyzed. It quivered as it tried to stand, moaning pitifully with each failed attempt.

Sparing a glance across the battlefield, Phoebe seemed to be frozen in place, wide eyes locked onto where Dusclops had fallen. Her hands had balled into fists at her side in an attempt to stop them from shaking. Her mouth moved, but no sound came out.

He didn't need to hear her whisper, the desperate word was clear on her lips.


But the round was not over, and with the image of Dusclops' stomp fresh in his mind, Steven ignored Phoebe's silent plea and coldly gave his next command.


Aggron's jaw twisted into a nasty grin as it brought its leg down in a thunderous stomp, triggering the quake. Dusclops' wail of pain was drowned out by the rumbling earth, and it quickly succumbed to the sheer power of Aggron's attack.


This time Steven did hear Phoebe's voice drift over the battlefield, and when he looked to her again, his brow knitted in confusion.

"No, no, no…"

The Elite was hunched over in her box, both hands flat against the side of her head, as if she was being overwhelmed by some intense sound. Eyes scrunched shut, her shoulders shook as she rocked back and forth with her chant.

"No, no…"

Something wasn't right, she looked to be in physical pain. Hesitantly, Steven stepped to the front of his trainer's box and peered through the darkness. Wait, why was it so dark? The overhead lights were still on, but it was suddenly so much harder to see the far side of the chamber. He called out to the Elite with a nervous glance around.


Just as her name left his lips, a howling gust of wind suddenly whipped through the arena, and Steven was forced to shield his eyes from the vicious gale.

Peeking out from behind his arm, Steven's eyes went wide.

The wind was swirling around Phoebe, trapping her within the vortex. But it wasn't just the wind that was circling. The air had become laced with inky shadows, and the darkness grew heavier by the second. Phoebe still was hunched over, head in her hands, but now her fingers dug into her skin, her eyes wide and staring.

"No. No. No. NO!"

She fairly screamed the last word, and Steven watched as Phoebe jerked back, face upturned to the dark ceiling above. All at once the wind exploded outward, sending him stumbling back from the force. And just like that, the vortex was gone and an eerie silence hung heavy in the chamber.

Then slowly, lifelessly, Phoebe began to move, producing two pokeballs from beneath her sarong. But she didn't recall her fallen pokemon. Instead, both pokeballs fell from her limp grasp with a clatter, and she slumped forward like a marionette that had lost its strings. They each bounced once, and then lay still.

"... Phoebe?" Steven's voice came out gravelly, his throat dry.

Suddenly, both balls sprung open without warning. But nothing emerged. Squinting, Steven peered through the darkness; something was pouring out of the opened balls. A black puddle of ooze formed at Phoebe's feet, slowing growing until in a blink, it vanished, seemingly sucked into the floor of the arena itself.


Were those her pokemon? Did she just send two out against him at once? Steven quickly turned to the scoreboard, but sure enough only one icon was illuminated under Phoebe's name. But there were two empty pokeballs right there on the ground. And her fallen Dusclops was now nowhere to be seen. What on earth was happening...?

Steven was jolted from his thoughts as Aggron roared in pain.

In an instant, his partner had been encircled in a ring of floating purple flame. The otherworldly firelight danced and flickered as Aggron squirmed with discomfort, accentuating the black scorch marks that covered its forelegs and tail. For when it had swiped at the flames to extinguish them, instead of vanishing they clung to its hide, inflicting a nasty burn.

As both trainer and pokemon scrambled to find a way out of the sudden predicament, they both froze as a cackling laugh rose from the Elite's side of the field. Just beyond the flames, Steven could make out Phoebe's slumped form where she had sunk to the ground in a kneel. Her head was bowed, seemingly lifeless. Then who had…?

Two fuschia eyes snapped open in the dusk and slowly rose from the ground until they stood in front of the fallen Elite, the creature's silhouette completely blocking Phoebe from view. The haunting laugh drifted over the battlefield once again, and this time Steven saw the golden glint of a Banette's cheshire smile, and he tensed with a scowl. Clearly the battle was still ongoing despite the unnerving turn of events. Was this all some trick meant to scare him into losing his composure?

Aggron picked up on his trainer's demeanor and grunted through the pain to affix the Banette with a glare of his own. But just as Steven steeled himself for the continuation of the match versus the trainerless pokemon, Banette twitched into action. Even though the hissing screech was muffled by the zipper binding its mouth shut, the force of its cry caused Steven to wince and cover his ears. Its pupils dilated until the pink was erased by black and with a shudder, a swath of darkness seeped from deep within its body, curling and writhing across the arena floor in a mass of black tendrils.

Bravado withering under the growing shadows, Steven watched in stunned silence as the tendrils twitched and dragged themselves toward where Aggron still was trapped within the flames. He tried to shout something to his partner, anything to try and break free, but his throat was too dry and he only managed a feeble noise before it was too late.

The first of Banette's tendrils reached through the flames and lashed itself around Aggron's leg, and the massive steel type jerked back in surprise. But the tendril held strong, and soon a second tendril joined it, anchoring itself to a foreleg, and a third wrapping around Aggron's tail. Another roar of pain sounded as Aggron reared back trying to free itself, but the shadows would not be thwarted. They squeezed tight around the seared flesh of Aggron's burns and dragged the beast to the ground.

"A-Aggron -" Steven finally managed to choke out, "Thunderbolt!"

His pokemon may have been incapacitated, but the elemental move didn't need any free limbs to be unleashed. Except that as Aggron opened its jaw to begin charging the attack, another tendril shot from the shadows and wrapped around its snout. Then with a mighty tug, the shadows contracted and dragged Aggron straight toward Banette where it was sucked into a wall of darkness.

Steven was left staring at his empty half of the battlefield; the only side of the chamber still illuminated by the arena lights. Long drag marks pointed to where Aggron had vanished into the empty void of nothingness. Heart hammering in his chest, he tried to shout to his pokemon, but it felt as if one of Banette's tendrils had encircled his own neck. He coughed as he tugged at the now-suffocating pressure of his dress shirt's collar.

And then, just as suddenly as the darkness had approached, it retreated. Sucking back to a puddle at Banette's feet and leaving behind its victim. Aggron lay in a heap on the ground, unmoving.

The red light of Aggron's recall beam flickering in the metal of its zipper, Banette's neon eyes slowly slid upward until they locked onto Steven's own. Frozen from where he had begun to reattach Aggron's ball to his belt, a vivid image flashed across Steven's vision; Banette appeared mere inches from his nose, eyes alight with a hungry glow, zippered mouth cracking open in a wicked grin.

Steven flinched back in surprise and as Aggron's ball clattered to the ground where he dropped it, he blinked in confusion. Banette hadn't moved from its spot on the battlefield. But Steven swore he felt the hiss of its breath on his face. Rattled, he quickly retrieved his pokeball and selected another from his hip. Perhaps Skarmory could continue its dominance over the familiar ghost type.

Thankfully when it emerged, Skarmory showed no sign of the curse's affliction, and Steven drew in a steadying breath as his flyer gave a sharp caw at the sight of its next opponent.

"Just like last time, Skarmory." His words felt hollow considering what he just witnessed, but he couldn't let his confidence falter now. "Just be sure to stay out of the shadows."

Nodding, Skarmory caught onto Steven's cautionary tone, and rather than rushing in, it drew itself up and eyed Banette with a wary look, waiting. The ghost still hadn't moved, frozen like an eerie statue.

Steven tensed, waiting another moment to see if Banette would go on the offensive, but when nothing happened save for the slight clatter of Skarmory's ruffling feathers, he threw his hand forward with a shout, "Air slash, now!"

In a flash, Skarmory wound up and unleashed two gleaming blades of air straight for Banette with a shriek. The ghost watched until the attack was nearly upon it, and just as the blades were about to strike, it slipped into the pool of shadows at its feet as if they were made of water.

The attack sent dust and dirt flying as it collided with the arena floor, and once again the shadows were spurred into action. They began to pour forth from where Banette vanished, coating the ground in a slick layer of inky darkness. With a squawk, Skarmory backpedaled away from the growing darkness, talons scrabbling as it retreated.

Again, the tightness found its way back to Steven's throat as he watched, and it took considerable effort to shout at his partner.

"Up, Skarmory! Get off the ground!"

With a push of its wings, Skarmory lifted off just as the spot it was standing was engulfed in shadow. Circling high overhead, it scanned the battlefield with a warble; there was no ground left to see. Nothing but a sea of black remained, and within it, Banette could have been hiding anywhere.

But so long as Skarmory remained airborne, it would be out of any immediate danger from the ghost's shadowy reach. Except that as a tightness seemed to spread across Steven's chest, Skarmory let out a cry; it spotted something moving within the darkness.

Two pinpricks of light bobbed in the inky pool of the battlefield, and before Steven could caution his partner to keep its distance, Skarmory curled into a dive, ready to close the distance for an attack.

The glowing eyes must have noticed they had been spotted, and as Skarmory bore down, they began to skitter left and right, running from the steel type's pursuit. Skarmory screeched as it swooped close, setting its wings alight with steel wing's glow. But as it prepared to strike, the eyes suddenly stopped moving and the shadows around them sprang to life, bubbling up from the arena floor.

With a vicious glint, the eyes leaped up to face Skarmory's charge, sharp teeth bared in a wicked grin. Skarmory squawked as it tried to pull up to avoid the shadowy foe, but it was too late. Its momentum carried it straight into the Sableye's fist. The follow through of the dark type's sucker punch sent Skarmory careening to the ground where it landed in a heap.

A cold rush swept over Steven as he watched Skarmory struggle to stand, the shadowy coating from the arena floor clinging to its feathers in black, sticky patches. Frantic, Skarmory screeched and tugged against the muck as Sableye approached, still grinning with cold, expressionless eyes. It sauntered to a stop right in front of Skarmory's beak and raised a clawed hand, palm out. Dark energy began to swirl and Skarmory let out a weak caw as it was helpless to avoid the point-blank attack.

And yet Steven found himself unable to do anything but watch. A voice at the back of his mind screamed for him to recall Skarmory to its ball, but his limbs wouldn't obey. The darkness that flooded the battlefield slowly poured into the trainers box, and although he couldn't tear his gaze from where Skarmory was trapped, he could feel the icy grip of the shadows roll over his feet, filling his veins with dread.

The explosion of Sableye's dark pulse reverberated through the chamber, sending a jolt of adrenaline through Steven's body that ripped through the paralyzing fear.


He found his voice with a shout of dismay. Skarmory lay at the center of a small crater, unconscious. Black shadows slowly poured over the lip, pooling around its still form. Sableye stood at the rim, its eerie expression unchanged.

Recalling Skarmory before the black muck swallowed it whole, Steven's pulse pounded in his ears as he selected his next pokeball with a quaking hand. He wasn't sure which unnerved him more: the fact that Banette had switched seamlessly with Sableye without direction from their trainer, or the fact that he just lost two pokemon without laying a finger on either of the Elite's. Even though he was still ahead in the match, he couldn't stop the hint of desperation that seeped into his voice.

"Metagross, I need your help!"

Already on high alert as it landed on the battlefield, Metagross let loose a pulse of psychic energy that dispelled the pool of shadows from beneath its feet in a rush of air. The spiky tufts at the side of Sableye's head fluttered at the display of power, but still it simply stared, eyes vacant.

The familiar presence of his starter sent a reassuring wave over Steven, and suddenly it no longer felt like the shadowy walls were closing in around them. Bolstered by Metagross's confident rumble, Steven took to the offensive.

"Meteor mash!"

In a push that left cracks in the arena floor, Metagross shot toward Sableye with a roar. Its claw drove straight through the motionless pokemon, but instead of sending it tumbling, it was instantly obliterated in a cloud of tattered shadows. Metagross's eyes went wide at the remnants of its opponent fluttered to the ground, and Steven, too, frowned with worry.


Both trainer and pokemon jumped at the first words Phoebe had spoken since her collapse. She was still slumped over on her knees, limp and lifeless. But Steven was sure she had said something...

But he no longer had time to worry about the Elite's condition, as up from the shadowy battlefield sprung no less than twenty identical Sableye copies. They climbed up and out from the pool of darkness and dragged themselves in a circle around Metagross, whose red eyes darted nervously from one target to the next.

Steven clenched his jaw at the rising lilt in its rumbling question. Metagross was strong, but the last time they had to fight a hoard of ghost types, things had not ended well… But if what Phoebe had uttered was true, then there was only one real target in the sea of clones.

"Take them out one by one, find the real Sableye!"

The plan had sounded good in his head, but as Metagross threw itself at the ring of substitutes, Steven realized it would not be so simple. For they all moved just like an actual Sableye, and as his partner would bear down on one target, another clone would twitch to life and fire a dark pulse that would catch Metagross unaware.

As the third sneak attack slammed into Metagross's flank, it sunk to the ground with a groan of pain. The familiar tightness snaked back around Steven's chest, and in a panic he began patting his pockets, searching for something.

"Metagross, retreat, now!"

His partner managed to rise back to its feet and lurched through the ring of substitutes back toward where he stood, finally having retrieved Glacia's Full Restore from his jacket pocket. Keeping a wary eye on the battlefield, Steven beckoned Metagross close and administered the healing item. It rattled a sigh as its fatigue melted away, and Steven allowed himself a shaky breath of relief as well.


But just as the words left his lips, Metagross let loose a cry of pain. Sableye had used the shadows to slide across the battlefield undetected in a shadow sneak and dragged its claws across Metagross's rear leg. But the ghost type underestimated Metagross' reaction time, and before it could slip back into the shadows again, Metagross wheeled around with another leg and batted Sableye across the battlefield like a rag doll.

Sableye hit the ground with a screech, but instead of bouncing, it melted into the puddle of shadows that coated the arena, and so too did its substitutes, leaving the battlefield quiet and empty.

As Metagross slowly turned to face the center of the arena, Steven saw the lingering effects of Sableye's attack. Three claw marks were gouged deep in Metagross's armor, still sizzling with dark energy. He grimaced. Even with its strong defenses, its weakness to ghost-type moves meant it couldn't trade too many blows with their opponents.

But instead of Sableye, it was Banette that reappeared from the shadows, air alight with a will-o-wisp. But Metagross was ready. A pulse of its psychic powers surged forth, extinguishing the flames as it rushed forward. For the first time, Steven saw Banette's ever present smile falter just before Metagross's fist slammed into its face.

The ghost type bounced and skipped across the arena floor before several shadow tendrils lifted up from the floor to catch it before it skidded any further. Gingerly picking its way back to its feet, Banette wore a scowl as it held its cheek in its hands, displeased with its treatment as Metagross's punching bag.

"Keep at it, Metagross!"

But as Metagross bore down a second time, Banette had no interest in taking that attack again. Except that as it began to slip back into the shadows, Metagross changed its course. Its fist arced downward into the arena floor, sending chunks of earth airborne, effectively separating the shadows where Banette was intending to hide from the rest of the pool. Trapped, Banette made a desperate bid to dive back to the arena floor, but Metagross was waiting. With a gleam in its red eyes, Metagross's other foreleg swept through the air and caught Banette in the midsection.

Banette hung motionless for a second, its body folding neatly in half around Metagross's leg, before it gave a startled wheeze and rocketed away and into the sidewall of the chamber.

Chunks of rubble rained to the ground around where Banette had fallen, and Steven was barely able to peer through the darkness and spot the ghost quivering as it tried to rise. He frowned.

"Almost there, Metagross. Just a bit more..."

His voice trailed off as for the first time since the beginning of the round, a bright light pierced through the gloom of the shadowy battlefield and concentrated beneath Metagross's feet. Both trainer and pokemon glanced down at the unusual sight.

But before Steven could question the origin of the mysterious light, Metagross froze in place with a violent shudder and let loose a cry the likes of which he had never heard before. Equal parts animalistic howl and rising screech, Metagross writhed as the white light pulsed beneath it, somehow looking almost like it was alive, breathing, and slowly it saturated until it glowed blood-red.

"Metagross! Look ou-"

The words died in Steven's throat with a strangled noise as his hands flew to clutch at his shirt; a searing pain shot through his chest. It felt as if someone had jabbed a knife between his ribs, but when he looked down, there was no wound.

Metagross howled again, and Steven found himself trying to stifle another gasp as the pain rose once more, and he doubled over with a cough. When he withdrew his hand from his mouth, he was greeted with the sight of bright red droplets. He blinked, shocked, but in an instant the blood was gone, his palm clean of the sticky liquid.


Squinting through the pain that had not disappeared, the light that engulfed his partner had vanished, leaving it even harder to spot Metagross through the heavy haze of shadows.

"What -" He choked on another short breath at the sharp discomfort. "What is happening?"

His answer came in the form of a rising giggle from where Banette had floated back to the battlefield. Her pain split had successfully sapped Metagross's restored energy and given it to her, saving her from succumbing to its last attack. Now back on her feet, Banette fixed the staggered Metagross with a wild eyed stare, faint chuckle still echoing about the chamber. Dark energy radiated outward from her petite form and seeped across the broken arena floor to puddle around the steel type's feet.

"Metagross, get out of there," Steven grated out, the stabbing in his ribs now dulled by an ache at the back of his head. Somehow it felt as if Banette was pulsing with malice, and the very heartbeat of her hatred was pounding inside of his skull.

But there was no time to worry about himself as Metagross' sluggishness hadn't worn off, and made it an easy target for Banette's tendrils to lash around its hide, pinning it in place. Unblinking neon eyes strayed from where his partner was trapped and pierced Steven with their gaze, sending a rush of ice through his veins. Without looking back at the trapped pokemon, slowly, Banette raised one hand, palm open, before clenching her claws tight. At the motion, hex's tendrils pulled taut with a surge of ghostly energy, and Metagross roared in agony as Steven watched, the overpowering menace from Banette's stare freezing him in place.

Spurred into action from the new wave of pain, Metagross surged to life, thrashing beneath hex's grip, but as one tendril tore, two more snaked from the shadows to replace it. Another pulse of energy rushed forth, and Metagross buckled under the pain. Its underbelly hit the ground with a mighty thud, kicking up dust.

But Banette must have sensed that even though Metagross was down, it wasn't out, and just as the steel type tried to surge back to its feet with a push of its psychic powers, the ghost pokemon dove forward with a shadow claw at the ready and raked its attack directly across Metagross's face. Red eyes lost their blue psychic glow as they squeezed shut from Banette's assault, but the ghost type would not let up. Slash after slash lashed out until the four mighty legs tugging against hex's bonds fell slack. Banette paused mid-strike and smiled, lowering her claw. Metagross had succumbed, and Steven's heart skipped a beat.

He missed the way Banette's shoulders slumped with exhaustion as she grinned. He ignored the numbness that seeped into his limbs. He didn't care about how he was down to his final two pokemon. His mind went blank as he stared at the form of his fallen partner; his friend. Not a rumble, or a huff, or a hum. Just cold, dead silence that was more of a punch in the gut than any of Phoebe's ghostly tricks.

It was almost as if someone else lifted his hand and recalled Metagross to its ball. He couldn't have done it, not with the way the icy fingers of dread had closed around his neck. It had to have been someone else that released Claydol onto the battlefield despite its type disadvantage. It wasn't his voice that foolishly commanded the defensive-minded pokemon in an all out attack. It wasn't his lips that curled into a snarl as the shocked Banette crumpled, unconscious, beneath his pokemon's pinpoint extrasensory strike. It wasn't his eyes that watched Sableye drag Claydol into the shadows in retribution as it screeched in terror for him to help it. And it wasn't his hand that shook as his sixth and final pokeball arced through the air.

Things felt muffled and far away, like he was slowly being pulled further down a dark tunnel deep into the earth. As the shadows closed in at the edges of his vision and the pinprick of light at the center of his vision seemed to grow fainter and fainter, an echoing chatter bounced off the walls that closed around him, and he jolted to attention. He could recognize that sound anywhere. The mouth of the tunnel grew wide again, and the shadows retreated as his eyes frantically searched for the familiar source of the sound.


Armaldo blinked at the odd question from its trainer and chattered nervously again, wondering why it was so hard to grab his attention in the heat of battle. But when Steven's response was a dazed stare and nothing more, Armaldo ran out of time to wait for a command, narrowly dodging a dark pulse that sizzled its way.

Sableye hissed as Armaldo wheeled back around to face it head on, eyes narrowed. It was a battle between them in the purest sense; the last ones left, and both combatants were currently trainer-less.

Armaldo's fins quivered momentarily, torn at the prospect of battling alone. Steven always had placed his utmost confidence in his pokemon, even when Armaldo was just a small Anorith, and he had trained them to become strong and confident in themselves. Even if it felt better to battle with his trainer at his side, Armaldo knew Steven would believe in his ability to battle on his own. So as Sableye bristled with impatience, Armaldo set his jaw with a determined grunt. His teammates were counting on him.

Perhaps Sableye had picked up on Armaldo's momentary nervousness, because as the fossil pokemon's resolve strengthened, Sableye's ever-present grin faltered a bit and it took a hesitant step backward, no longer able to prey on its wavering emotions.

The stone edge exploded from the ground right in front of Sableye, mere inches from delivering a critical hit. The ghost pokemon stumbled back from the glancing blow, and as it fell toward the ground, it vanished into the puddle of shadows still blanketing the battlefield.

Armaldo had to resist the urge to look back and see if the impact of its opening attack had jarred its trainer back to the present, but with no sign of its opponent, it had to remain on guard.

But the sea of shifting shadows would not give up its secrets, and Sableye slipped up from the darkness undetected, raking its claws across Armaldo's unprotected back. The armored pokemon roared in pain, but with its back turned, it missed the way its trainer flinched at the cry.

Without turning around, Armaldo released a blind stone edge where Sableye's strike had come from, forcing the ghost to leap backward away from the haphazardly thrown attack. The dodge proved to be successful, Armaldo was ready. This time, it didn't give Sableye time to hide in the shadows. Before the ghost even touched down from its jump, Armaldo spun on its heel and sliced clean through the remnants of its stone edge with a powerful aerial ace. Stone chunks exploded out from the impact as Sableye was driven backward before its cries were muffled under a pile of rocky debris.

But Armaldo wasn't paying attention to the fallen ghost. The force of its surprise attack had sent debris tumbling right at his trainer's box. Too far to shield Steven from the impact, Armaldo did the only thing it could think of. Eyes wide and fins standing on end, it screeched as loud as it could.

Steven jolted back to the present with a gasp and a shout of, "Armaldo!" just in time to register the imminent danger bearing down on him. Throwing a hand up to shield his face, he pivoted to the side as the largest boulder flew by close enough to send his suit jacket dancing in the breeze.

Somehow unscathed, Steven could only gape at the mixture of joy and relief on Armaldo's face. How long had the battle had been ongoing without him even realizing? His heart was still hammering in his chest, and the more he blinked, the more he realized that the single icon beneath both his and Phoebe's name on the scoreboard wasn't just his imagination.

He also realized that the shadow that reared up behind Armaldo wasn't his imagination either, and he pointed over his pokemon's shoulder, finally finding his voice with a shout.

"Look out!"

Armaldo screeched as Sableye launched itself from a wave of shadows, sucker punch aimed at its snout.

His partner staggered as the blow connected, but Steven caught the way Armaldo never took its eyes off its opponent, even as it grimaced in pain. Armaldo wasn't giving up, and neither was he. Ignoring the pounding in his head, Steven flung a hand forward.

"Counter with aerial ace!"

Obeying with a chattering cry, Armaldo's claws glowed bright with energy as it coiled low on its hind legs, transferring the force of Sableye's strike into a powerful push straight at the surprised ghost type.

With a shriek, Sableye threw its hands out, conjuring a shadow substitute as a sacrificial barrier. Except with its energy running low, the clone offered little resistance and easily tore to shreds under Armaldo's attack. But it had done its job, and the light of Armaldo's attack faded after it made contact with its initial target, even if the larger pokemon still kept its momentum from its jump.

Sneering, Sableye charged a dark pulse between its claws, ready to unleash it point blank as Armaldo flew closer. But its grin faltered as Steven's voice rang out.

"We're not done! X-Scissor!"

The claws crossed by Armaldo in self defense took on a green aura, and the growing light did little to hide the fierce glint in Armaldo's eyes. In a panic, Sableye threw its hands forward, teeth flashing as it opened its maw in a desperate scream.

Both pokemon's cries were drowned out as the attacks clashed in a mighty explosion.

Lowering his hand from where he shielded his face, Steven's eyes were wide with shock. Armaldo was down on one knee, dark energy sizzling from its hide, and across from it stood Sableye, stock still, lifeless eyes somehow still staring straight ahead. There was no time to process his disbelief as a wave of dizziness overtook him, and as the floor lurched beneath his feet, he clamped a hand down against his head to stave off the nausea. But as he squinted through the throbbing pain in his temples, he nearly choked at what he saw. Armaldo suddenly began to lean to the side, and a sinking feeling knotted in Steven's gut. It must have been too exhausted from its first battle to withstand the punishment of another one.

Phoebe's ghosts had toppled all six of his teammates, and the edges of his vision began to go dark as he watched Armaldo fall toward the ground. That was it. They had lost. Their journey was over. He braced himself for the sound of its collapse.

But it never came.

Instead, he jolted to a stop as a pair of hands grabbed him by the shoulders and tugged him upright until his back hit something solid and warm.

"Whoa, hang in there, trainer! Don't pass out on me now!"

Iona's voice cut through the disorienting sensation, and for a moment he struggled in her grip, convinced he was now hearing things from another trick by Phoebe's ghosts. But as a second voice rang out accompanied by a rush of air from the open chamber door behind him, Steven snapped back to his senses and let Iona gently steady him on his feet.


Blinking away some of the haziness, he caught sight of the ice-type Elite striding across the battlefield past where Armaldo stood tall wearing a look of concern to where its trainer was slumped against Iona's chest. Glacia arrived at Phoebe's side and knelt down, roughly grabbing her shoulders and giving her a firm shake.

"...What?" Steven mumbled, but Iona cut him off.

"Take it easy, you almost hit the deck for a second there."

She gave him a pat on the arm as he wobbled a bit in her grip.

"But… why?"

Iona sighed, "I'm gonna have to let Glacia handle the full explanation, but for now just know that you'll be right as rain once Froslass here does her thing."

The ghost type in question floated in front of him with a solemn look. Still thoroughly confused, Steven made to ask another question, but before he could find the words, an icy sensation suddenly pierced through his chest, and he gasped in discomfort.

"Sorry, this isn't fun. She'll try to be quick about it."

"W-wh-" The question died on his lips as he glanced down and saw that Froslass had plunged her hand straight through his chest. She rummaged around for only a moment before withdrawing her hand. Clutched in her grasp was a writhing mass of wispy shadows, and he shivered as she pulled, dragging the rest of the captive shadows out in a long, dark strand.

As the last tendril slid free, Steven slumped back against Iona again. He felt immensely better; lighter, more alert, but at the same time thoroughly exhausted.

By now, Armaldo had padded up to stand before him and lowered its head with a worried whine.

"I-I'm fine, Armaldo," he said, voice shaking, but finally not his knees. He straightened in Iona's grasp, and with a smile the Elite gave Steven one last pat on the arm before stepping back.

Thankfully, he managed to stay upright on his own, at least until Armaldo buried its head into Steven's chest with such force it would have knocked him over if he hadn't embraced his pokemon so fiercely. Trilling happily, Armaldo nuzzled into Steven's grasp.

"Congratulations, by the way," said Iona, beaming as she watched the pair.

When Steven turned to give her a shaky, albeit puzzled look, she simply pointed to the scoreboard. The only icon left glowing sat proudly beneath his name.

"You won."

Staring dumbfounded at the scoreboard for a moment longer, his gaze trailed back to the battlefield where Sableye was laying flat on its back, out cold. Armaldo made a happy noise and gently headbutted his chest again, and finally it all sunk in and left him a bit lightheaded. He couldn't keep his relieved laughter from bubbling forth, but it was short lived as he spotted Glacia marching toward him with a protective arm wrapped around Phoebe's shoulders. The younger Elite was shaking as she walked and Steven could see the remnants of tears that had streaked down her face.

"- I swear this has never happened before, Miss Glacia."

The ice-type specialist said nothing, offering instead a subtle squeeze of Phoebe's arm, and Steven swore Glacia looked even paler than she had when they first met. But when the pair arrived at where he and Iona stood, Glacia's attention was trained on her own ghost type. Froslass met her trainer's gaze and gave a silent nod, eliciting a quiet, "Thank god," to slip out under Glacia's breath. With a reassuring, albeit thin smile, the tension in her stance melted, and she gently nudged Phoebe forward.

"Go ahead, it's all going to be okay."

No longer being guided by Glacia's hand, Phoebe turned and found Steven staring at her with what he was sure was a jumble of emotions. Her eyes went wide and she nearly burst into tears again.

"I-I'm so sorry. I didn't mean for any of this to happen. What they did, I did, to you and your pokemon…"

Steven could only blink in quiet confusion, too many questions tumbling in his head to get even one out.

Glacia's lips were pressed thin, and she shook her head before offering the explanation she knew Steven was searching for. "What Phoebe is trying to say," she paused with a sigh, "...Is that she is a gifted trainer when it comes to communing with ghost type pokemon. She is strong in her own right, but she is also here under our tutelage."

Phoebe nodded, fearful eyes still locked onto Steven. Glacia's tone softened as she continued.

"Phoebe is from Mount Pyre, a place where the spirit energy of ghosts and psychics is strong. Ever since she was young, she had a special talent for being able to connect with ghost type pokemon. But as she got older, her abilities began to become more and more... erratic. Phoebe's grandmother asked the League if we could take her in and teach her how to control them."

"I just got so flustered, I-I don't know what happened," Phoebe blurted but then her gaze fell and her shoulders sagged, making her shrink even smaller beneath Glacia's arm. "I try to be positive all the time, since ghosts feed on negativity and... I think I got so nervous when we were battling, this was only my third battle since Iona and Glacia usually take care of most of the challengers before they get to me. It's just, you were so strong, and I… I didn't want to lose and let anyone down. I just wanted to do well and show the League that appointing me wasn't a mistake... So I panicked… I let the ghosts take over. And they…they must have laid a curse on you… and..." She swallowed a sob. "I'm so sorry."

Glacia shook her head, but her expression lost the characteristic edge it normally held. "What's done is done. In the end, you're both okay, and officially, the match wasn't technically illegally conducted, so," she looked to Steven, "the victory counts."

But victory was far from Steven's mind as he watched Phoebe swipe away some stray tears with a hiccup.

"I-I'm sorry, this isn't very becoming of a member of Elite Four."

"Phoebe, I don't blame you."

She hiccuped again at the sound of Steven's voice.


"What happened in our battle… I know it wasn't on purpose." Armaldo rumbled in agreement from his side. "And I can't say I know much about how the League works, but if I were your superior, I wouldn't demote you just for losing one battle."

Phoebe sniffed. "Really?"

"You're an incredibly strong and talented trainer. You wouldn't be here otherwise. Besides, two other Elites already lost today, too."

He hadn't meant it as a jab, but Iona's stifled laugh told him the sour look on Glacia's face was directed at him. Wincing mentally, he quickly continued before Glacia could interject.

"Although after our battle, I can only imagine what's in store for me in the next chamber."

This time though, Glacia did butt in.

"You'll be fine," she very nearly grumbled. "Don't give me that dumb look. Believe it or not, I'm actually glad to see someone who will finally be able to put Simon in his place."

"Simon?" Steven still was unsure how Glacia could be so certain of his next battle's outcome.

"If I told you it's the same Simon that used to run the Slateport Gym, would you believe me then?"

A look of understanding washed over Steven's face as it dawned on him. The former poison type Gym… Glacia smirked as she watched his expression change.

"We brought him on to help train Phoebe, he had said something about mastering the tricky nature of dark type moves, but I think he made that all up to get out of Slateport. The old git never leaves his chamber, let alone tries to teach Phoebe anything. He probably took the offer just to have another notch on his training belt before he retires… He just sits and swaps war stories with Drake all day." Glacia huffed and crossed her arms. "Those are probably all lies too. Like I said, you'll be fine."

Iona cleared her throat with a nervous glance at the way Glacia silently fumed with her dislike of the fourth Elite before addressing Steven. "Unfortunately, we really can't grant you any extra time to rest before your next match, even though things went a bit haywire. League rules," she finished with an apologetic shrug.

Armaldo rumbled a sarcastic noise, but Steven shook his head. "I understand." He thumbed through the five remaining Revives in his pocket and nodded; his heart finally didn't feel like it was going to beat out of his chest. "We'll be fine."

Iona smiled and nodded in return, and Glacia joined in the sentiment with a hand on her hip. "Then good luck, trainer."

Deftly, he returned Armaldo to its ball and set off toward the door at the far end of the chamber.

"Wait!" Phoebe's voice called out behind him, and Steven turned. "Here, as an apology for what happened."

She handed him two berries, both hard and pod-like with an orange tint to their leathery casing. "These are Occa berries, and I think you'll find them useful against the Champion."

He nodded, and looked up to find Phoebe staring at him, suddenly looking very serious.

"Good luck. If anyone can do it, it's you."

The way she said it so earnestly caught him by surprise, but the weight that had been resting in his chest seemed to lighten, and for the first time he allowed his thoughts to stray to the "what if". He'd taken on lightning speed, icy strength, and ghosts that tried to kill him, and he'd made it through. They were past the halfway point, and if the Elite's vote of confidence was any indication, he was one short battle away from the final hurdle.

Steeling his gaze, he brushed a hand along the pokeballs at his hip before pushing the chamber doors wide and striding through to the hallway beyond.

…It has long been shown that the best aspects of trainer and pokemon arise in the heat of battle. Champion caliber trainers are few and far between, but those that are worthy will rise to the occasion and claim their place in Pokemon League history.
Chapter 17 - Precipice


Hoenn around
  1. aggron
  2. lairon
Ch 17 - It all ends with one, final battle...

Chapter 17 - Precipice

Pokemon Trainer's Handbook pg. 13: The title of Champion is not something to take for granted. It is only bestowed to the strongest trainers in the region, earned through the hard work and dedication of both trainer and pokemon. The battle prowess of a Champion-level trainer is said to be nearly unrivaled...

Dragons. Long touted as the strongest pokemon type, it was no surprise that the reigning Champion in not one, but two regions was a dragon-type master. They lived up to their accolades by being the toughest type to successfully train, which made it even more difficult to topple a full team of dragon pokemon from the highest pedestal. If someone worked hard enough to become the top trainer with a team full of dragons, they wouldn't relinquish that title so easily.

But as Steven climbed the stairs toward the Champion's chamber, all of the recited history in homes across the regions, the excited whispers of budding trainers about how strong their own dragons would become, the respectful nods whenever the names of the Dragon Masters would be uttered, it all didn't matter. All that mattered was the next two hours where he hoped to watch every last dragon topple from the sky at the hands of his team.

Earlier, his battle with Simon had went about as well as Glacia had predicted. With the last of his healing items having refreshed his pokemon to full health, it was a simple task for Steven to plow through Simon's poison type pokemon. Skarmory nearly had taken care of the Elite's entire team by itself, cackling as it flew through the poisonous gases and sprays without care due to steel's natural immunity. But when Simon's Tentacruel came dangerously close to snagging Skarmory in its grasp, Steven gave it a rest and let the tag-team of Metagross and Claydol finish the fight, felling Tentacruel and then Swalot in short order. It hadn't taken long, but it was just long enough for the last of the unease from Phoebe's match to wear off, and Steven was back to feeling like his normal self by the time Simon parted the chamber doors for him to advance.

With the shortest battle of the afternoon behind him, the memory of Simon's grumpy expression was long forgotten by the time Steven crested the final stairway. Turning back to look down the impressive flight, the symbolism wasn't lost on him. Here he stood at the end of his climb, above every other trainer in Hoenn save for one; the strongest of them all. One trainer between him and the freedom he so desperately sought to keep. Devon wouldn't dare to pull the Champion from his post, even if he was the sole heir to his father's legacy, right?

Steven shook his head. He couldn't get ahead of himself. There was still one battle to fight, and everything he had read about Drake told him that the staircase behind him was not the last uphill climb of his journey. There was a very good reason the grizzled veteran held the top spot of the League for so many years.

But as the nagging doubt crept up in his mind, a rocking at his hip startled him. All six pokeballs rattled furiously even beneath the hand that came to rest at his belt. The message was clear; his team was ready to take the final step with him. No hesitations, no doubts, just the clear certainty that they would pour everything they had into this last battle, and they expected no less of their trainer.

A growing warmth welled up in his chest and Steven nearly laughed as the sensation cut through his nervousness. How had he forgotten the promise they made together on the outskirts of Rustboro? The promise that no matter what, they would reach the top and keep going as long as they had breath in their lungs and a beat in their hearts. Steven knew that his pokemon were of the same mind; they didn't want it to end either.

With empty pockets and a belly full of fire, he tapped each of his pokeballs once before levelling his gaze on the towering doors in front of him. They had one shot at this, but one shot is all they needed. Drawing one last breath, he balled his hands tight before placing a palm on each door.

"Let's do this."

The doors parted easier than he anticipated, revealing the massive chamber beyond. At its center sat the largest battlefield Steven had ever seen. Octagonally shaped, each side of the field stopped short of the towering chamber walls. He found himself unconsciously looking up, trying to find the ceiling, but failing as it disappeared above the stadium style lights. Blinking against the brightness, he stepped forward onto the bridge that crossed the gap, gaze locked onto the raised platform on the far side of the room.

Standing tall between two larger-than-life dragon statues, Drake scowled down at Steven as he came to a halt in the challenger's box. A long captain's coat billowed behind the Champion, its edges worn and tattered from years spent at sea. Arms folded across his bare chest and hat pulled low, the only portion of Drake's face that was visible was his bristling mustache, but even without seeing his eyes, Steven could feel the Champion's gaze boring into him. How many challengers had he stared down from across this very chamber? Steven could only wonder how he stacked up compared to all the others, and even with his newfound confidence, he couldn't help but feel small under the veteran's powerful stare.

Thankfully, Drake didn't let him stew for long, and his gruff voice boomed through the chamber, "I won't waste your time with pointless banter. We both know why you're here; to prove who is strongest."

Drake's chin tilted upward, and for the first time, Steven caught a glimpse of the man's formidable gaze as he descended the stairs to the battlefield. The pressure in the room seemed to increase with every step he took, and Steven found himself swallowing thickly. The Dragon Master fairly exuded power, and it took everything Steven had to not take a step backward of his own. The Elite Four were strong trainers in their own right, but it was clear that this battle would be on another level entirely. So this was what it was like to be in the presence of a Champion.

Drake slowed to a halt in his trainer's box and produced a single pokeball from his coat's pocket.

"Come, take the title if you can."

And just like that, Steven took a confident step forward, his own pokeball at the ready. It was as if the Champion's challenge was the final spark needed to light the fire within his heart, to start the crescendo of adrenaline and determination that would drown out whatever nervousness that lingered in his mind. Armaldo must have felt the surge too, for its ball quaked in Steven's grip as he stared across the final battlefield. Eyes alight and jaw set, he met Drake's stare with his own, and the two trainers stood frozen for only a moment before the Champion's mustache gave the smallest upward twitch.

But Steven didn't get the chance to ponder the subtle reaction, as suddenly Drake's pokeball arced into the air.

"Go, Flygon!"

Before he could even release his own pokeball, the desert dwelling dragon disappeared in a blur of green and red, and Steven hurriedly shouted to his partner before Armaldo even fully materialized on the battlefield.

"It already used double team! Armaldo, on your toes!"

With a dismayed screech, Armaldo's fins stood on end, on high alert for an opponent that was already too fast to see.

"Defensive X-scissor position, but have rock polish at the ready," Steven instructed as he too searched the skies for any sign of Flygon's whereabouts. The trouble with dragons was that they could attack from distance or up close, and with a pokemon as fast as Drake's there would be zero warning as to which attack was headed their way…

Except that by now, any breath or beam attack surely would have been unleashed. Steven's brow furrowed. Maybe Drake's first pokemon was a pure physical attacker…

And right on cue Armaldo cried out as Flygon became visible just overhead, cloaked in the brilliant orange energy of a full-speed dragon rush. Wheeling to face the oncoming charge, Armaldo drew its claws in tight and set its feet just in time to meet Flygon's missile-like attack with a counter attack of its own. The explosion of energy as the pokemon collided left Armaldo staggered, but from the way Flygon slowed down with a roar of pain told Steven that their opponent didn't escape the exchange unscathed either.

Still swooping low to the ground from its dive bomb, Flygon was within Armaldo's range, and Steven jumped to the offensive with a sweep of his hand. "Armaldo, stone edge!"

With only a minor shake of its head to regain its faculties, Armaldo obeyed, and a jagged trail of rocky spires shot from the battlefield, tracing a chasing path toward the speedy dragon. But just as Armaldo's attack closed in, Drake moved for the first time. It was only a subtle tip of his head, but it was the only signal Flygon needed to change its course. With one pump of its wings, it skyrocketed straight upward and out of range of even the tallest stone edge spire.

But Armaldo would not be denied, and it was already tracking Flygon's ascent as Steven called out, "Aerial ace!"

Claws glowing bright white, Armaldo leaped toward Flygon's retreating back, but the dragon was nimble, and it pirouetted out of harm's way, leaving Armaldo to slash through the afterimage of another double team. Armaldo landed and craned its head high to locate where Flygon had soared, but it didn't have to search long, as Flygon wheeled overhead only briefly before spiralling back around to line up another head-on attack.

Steven frowned. Drake's Flygon was just too fast for Armaldo to set up its own speed boost, so a change in tactics was in order. "Forget the rock polish, put all your power into another X-scissor!"

He stared hard at the orange energy that engulfed Flygon as it careened into its dive-bomb. It wasn't ideal, but he liked their odds of going toe-to-toe against the dragon with their own all-out attacks. Armaldo was nothing if not sturdy.

Steven tensed as Flygon let loose a screech as it drew near, and he noticed Armaldo do the same as it charged its X-scissor strike. But Flygon's screeching never stopped as it closed in, and Steven realized too late that the dragon rush was just a decoy. The energy surrounding Flygon's form dissipated as its supersonic attack hit Armaldo dead on, and Steven could only watch in dismay as his partner's eyes glazed over in a haze of confusion seconds before Flygon barreled straight into it from the momentum of its dive.

The two pokemon collided with a loud crack of scales and armor that left Armaldo laying on the ground in a heap, too dazed to do much besides offer a weak attempt to try to rise and swing at its foe. Except as the room spun in its vision, its claws wobbled and gave out, leaving it grounded as Flygon untangled itself and shot skyward once more.

"Armaldo, snap out of it!"

But for all Steven's pleading, the confusion that engulfed his pokemon would not release its hold. Barely rising to one quaking knee, Armaldo's fins lazily listed here and there as its eyes struggled to refocus. Sparing a tenuous glance toward Drake, Steven found himself following the Dragon Master's eyes skyward where Flygon hovered like a deadly omen, waiting for its next command.

Slowly, Drake's gaze fell earthward to regard the incapacitated fossil pokemon, and he nodded in its direction.


Instantly, Flygon plummeted from the sky, and Steven shouted in dismay.

"Get out of there!"

But by the time the last word left his lips, the speedy dragon already had reached the ground, slamming full force to the earth with a thunderous landing. Jagged cracks shot across the arena floor towards the hapless Armaldo, and plates of earth followed in their wake, jutting up from the ground with explosive force. Steven paled as the attack struck, one massive plate jolting up beneath Armaldo's feet, sending the armored pokemon airborne. But it never came back down, as a red and green blur speared Armaldo through the midsection in mid air and drove it into the wall behind him in a shower of mortar and stone.

Flygon hovered back from the dust filled crater as Armaldo peeled from the wall with a groan before collapsing into the pile of rubble below. It did not try to rise again.

Feeling the dragon's shadow pass over him on its way back to the battlefield, Steven silently turned and returned his partner to its ball with a grim expression. Of all of the matches to lose the opening round, the Championship match sure wasn't the one he would have picked. Giving a reassuring tap to Armaldo's ball for its hard work, he hesitated as he regarded his remaining five. His next teammate was an important decision; he could climb back from one defeat, but losing two pokemon this early would surely create an insurmountable hole.

Mind made up, he took a steadying breath as his hand closed around his next pokeball and snapped his sharpened gaze back to the battlefield.

"Claydol, let's go!"

Bobbing slowly, the desert doll pokemon materialized on high alert, it's psychic energies picking up on the intensity with which its trainer stared across the battlefield. A hollow whine rose from within its body before it swiveled its many eyes toward their opponent. Flygon issued a snort at the sight of its fellow ground type, but Drake simply watched in silence, the brim of his cap tipping just a little lower.

Steven knew the Champion was aware of Claydol's matching immunity to ground-type moves. Now both combatants were unable to use their primary typing for offense. Advantage: Claydol. He just hoped that his secondary offensive strategy wasn't similarly obvious, and he had no plans to give Drake the time to figure it out. Taking advantage of the first time Flygon had ever been stationary, Steven made the first move.


The piercing psychic strike surrounded Flygon, but the dragon again proved to be too swift, and as the psychic energy collapsed around it, it shot from the center of the attack with a powerful push of its wings.

"Follow it, Claydol! Get in a hit!"

Eyes winking in succession around its head, Claydol fired off a rapid series of extrasensory strikes that pock marked the sky with psychic depressions. The pressure of each strike buffeted Flygon as it ducked and dodged, but it managed to avoid taking the brunt of a direct hit.

With a careful eye on the pattern of Flygon's evasive circling, Steven spared a glance to his partner, and Claydol caught his gaze with several eyes at the back of its head.

"Get ready…" he murmured. He could sense the energy building up as Flygon increased its speed. A counter-attack was imminent, and Claydol blinked an affirmative. Levelling his attention on Drake, Steven held his breath. Face locked in concentration, he tried to not be distracted by the cracks of psychic energy that burst overhead. If he blinked, he might miss it.


The slight tip of Drake's head was the signal he was waiting for, and both he and Claydol's gaze shot skyward, anticipating Flygon's dive-bomb attack. But instead of a flaming dragon rush, Flygon roared once before winking out of view.

"Another double team?!"

That wasn't according to plan, and Steven's panicked look snapped to his partner as it let loose a shriek of warning. Flygon had reappeared streaking horizontal to the ground, and there was no time to raise Claydol's defensive barrier against the unexpected trajectory.

"Claydol, dodge!" Steven shouted with a swing of his hand, and Claydol obeyed, pivoting to the side at the last second. But Steven missed the way Drake's mustache quirked up on one side, and as Flygon's dragon rush barreled past Claydol's body, its long tail curled as it soared past and deftly hooked around Claydol's neck.

The doll pokemon only had enough time to widen its eyes in shock before it was yanked backward by the vicious clothesline and sent sailing into the side of one of the jagged slabs left over from the earlier earthquake. Claydol screeched in pain as it slammed to a halt in an explosion of dirt and rock, and Steven tensed as it struggled to free itself, Flygon already soaring high on the follow through with another attack brimming on its wings.

"Claydol, we can still pull this off!" he urged as he watched several of its eyes wink shut in pain. "Shatter the rock with extrasensory!"

A whistle of confirmation sounded from his partner, and its eyes snapped shut in concentration just as Flygon reached the peak of its flight. A wavering aura surrounded Claydol and a low tone resonated within its body before the slab burst apart, its fragments hanging in the air within Claydol's psychic sphere.

Steven hadn't expected Claydol's escape to be so fortuitous, and an idea sprung to mind. His hand shot skyward to where Flygon had entered its dive, "Send them flying!"

Hovering forward, Claydol screeched as its eyes snapped open, and the torrent of stones spun forward and launched toward Flygon.

With too much moment to swerve to avoid the surprise attack, Flygon instead ducked its head and weathered the storm. It howled in pain as chunks of rock cracked and bounced off its scales as it flew, and with its concentration broken, the energy of its dragon rush weakened.

And for the first time since the start of the match, Drake's hand moved from its place buried deep in the pocket of his coat. Casually raising a closed fist to the air, Drake eyed his pokemon with a careful stare.

"Hold your course. Supersonic."

Steven felt his heart leap. This was what they had been waiting for. His hand clenched at his side as he counted the seconds until Flygon's eyes snapped back forward from its trainer's direction and opened its jaws wide.

"Now, Claydol! Light screen!"

Claydol whistled sharply as its oval barrier materialized so fast that Steven heard the air snap around it. Supersonic's soundwaves bounced cleanly off its surface back in the face of the dive-bombing dragon. Assaulted by the sound of its own high frequency scream, Flygon writhed in confusion, clawing at its ears to try to stop the noise.

But Drake was having none of it, and his sharp bark reverberated through the chamber. "Flygon! Go!"

Claw marks still visible on the sides of its protective eye coverings, Flygon reared back with another roar, its trainer's command cutting through its disorientation. Orange flames engulfed its body with such intensity that Steven felt the heat on his face, and he hoped that Claydol wasn't too fatigued to put the second phase of their plan into action.

Just as Flygon rushed forward, Steven shouted to his partner, "Reflect!"

Claydol shimmered with a bright light that projected forward into a solid psychic barrier right in front of Flygon's nose. The enraged dragon slammed into the barrier with such force that it ricocheted off and careened into another slab of earthquake's remnants. Stunned, Flygon picked its way out of the rubble with heavy wings, and Claydol had recovered enough from reflect's recoil to retaliate on the grounded dragon. Flygon crumpled under extrasensory's strike with a wail of pain, and this time Drake's mustache twitched downward as his other hand left his pocket, pokeball in hand.

With a shaky wobble, Claydol swiveled its arms in time with its happy whistle, and Steven couldn't help but crack a relieved smile. But as Claydol wobbled again, his smile faltered. It had sustained a lot of damage, and as Flygon vanished from the battlefield in its recall beam, so too did his partner.

"You deserve a good rest, Claydol." His voice was gentle, but his nerves were returning in full force. It had taken nearly two of his pokemon to down one of Drake's… If they were going to be facing more aerial speed, he needed a pokemon that could match up on an even playing field. His hand slid to the pokeball next to Claydol's.

"All right, Skarmory, your turn!"

Steven's only flying pokemon needed no further urging, and with a defiant screech it took to the skies as soon as its pokeball opened. Except that the air above the arena was otherwise empty. That was odd, Steven swore he heard the release of Drake's pokeball. As Skarmory circled overhead, it glanced back down toward the battlefield with a grumpy squawk.

Sitting stout on four legs and lacking any distinct wings at all was Drake's second pokemon. The only dragon-like feature he could see was a pair of fierce eyes peering out from deep within the fused plates of its massive armored shell.

Steven blinked. Did Drake just send out a pre-evolved pokemon in the Championship match? As ridiculous as it sounded, Steven shook his head; Drake was no fool. That Shelgon had to be a powerful pokemon. He just hoped he could relay that information to Skarmory before his flier got too cocky. At least they held the aerial advantage this round.

"Skarmory, keep your distance!"

When his shout was met with a disgruntled stare from his partner, Steven frowned. He knew Skarmory could be headstrong, but they could ill afford to rush in without due caution.

Thankfully, instead of attacking on its own, Skarmory aborted its swooping path for a safer distance from where Shelgon was hunkered, all the while keeping a keen eye on the grounded dragon type. Except that as Skarmory arced higher, Shelgon gave a quiet grunt and curled in on itself to raise its defense, but otherwise didn't move at all.

Bringing a hand to his chin, Steven muttered to himself, "They must be planning something… Skarmory, get ready!"

Obeying with a screech, Skarmory wheeled to face Shelgon, wings unfurled and ready to react. But still the only thing the Shelgon did was raise its defense once more, prompting an angry caw from Skarmory.

Steven scowled. What was Drake doing? Was Shelgon not actually as strong as he assumed? Maybe Drake was playing mind games to try to trick him into overthinking things? Overhead, Skarmory squawked again, growing more and more impatient as Shelgon continued to just sit, unmoving.

Hand balling into a fist at his side, Steven felt his own impatience rise to the surface. They had wasted two turns waiting for Drake to play his hand, and Steven decided they weren't going to wait any longer.

"Steel wing!"

With a vicious glint in its eye, Skarmory hesitated only a moment before rocketing toward Shelgon with a piercing screech. But even as Skarmory drew near, Shelgon still did not bother to run, or hide, or even make an attempt at all to dodge the blow. Instead, Steven's eyes went wide as a fiery glow began to churn from deep within the opening of Shelgon's armor.


"Skarmory, dodge!"

The roar of flames drowned out most of Steven's shout, but Skarmory didn't need any urging to avoid the tongue of fire that shot from Shelgon's mouth. Neatly barrel rolling at the last minute, the flamethrower only brushed the edges of Skarmory's feathers as it closed in and delivered a direct strike to Shelgon's body.

The ear piercing shriek of metal on bone cut through the air as the full weight of Skarmory's steel wing slammed into Shelgon, but instead of its plate armor giving way or sending the dragon tumbling, Shelgon didn't budge an inch. Instead, Skarmory's wing skipped along the curving ridges of Shelgon's shell only to catch in one of the joints. Its wing suddenly jolted to a halt and Skarmory let out a dismayed squawk as its momentum sent it cartwheeling head over heels over Shelgon's back directly into a nearby pile of boulders.

Before the stones even stopped tumbling, Drake's hand came to bear, and with a swivel of his forearm, Shelgon sprung into action. Pivoting, flames began to dance from its mouth once more, and before Skarmory could dislodge itself from the rubble, the flamethrower shot forward and doused both it and the surrounding rocks in fire.

But the attack was short lived, as two blades of white energy shot from the center of the flames, striking Shelgon across the face. The dragon winced from the glancing blow, giving Skarmory the respite it needed to burst from the molten rock and stagger back to its feet.

Steven paled as he took in the condition of his pokemon, and even though Skarmory's gaze was alight with rage, it panted heavily while trying to ignore the pain from the blackened scorch marks that pockmarked its body. As Skarmory wavered where it stood, Steven's jaw clenched as its wing came into view. The feathers were so mangled from impact that Steven feared the worst; they had lost the advantage of flight.

But from the way Skarmory leered at Shelgon, it was clear that it had no intention of giving up, and given his first hand experience with Skarmory's fighting ability on flat ground, Steven shook off the feeling of unease in his gut and commanded Skarmory with a sweep of his hand.

"Circle around Shelgon, get out of its sightline!"

Talons kicking up rubble as it ran, Skarmory dashed into action, strafing as best it could across the rocky, uneven ground as Shelgon swiveled to keep up. It seemed like Skarmory was able to keep its footing, so Steven pushed for their last advantage; speed.

"Use agility!"

Skarmory grimaced as it pushed its battered body to the limit, vanishing in a silver streak of the high speed maneuver. Shelgon's eyes went wide as it tried to track where its opponent had disappeared to, but Drake narrowed his gaze and calmly raised an open palm toward his partner, waiting.

The gesture caught Steven's attention, and he hesitated. Did Drake have a counterattack planned? Realizing he was now holding his breath, he nervously counted the seconds since Skarmory vanished. How long could his injured pokemon keep up its agility? They were running out of time; he couldn't wait for Drake any longer.

"Now, Skarmory!"

The air around Shelgon erupted with a vicious screech, causing the dragon type to wince as its defenses dropped. Cracking one eye open, Shelgon looked up just in time to see Skarmory appear in front of it, bladed wing raised to strike. But a motion just behind Skarmory caught its attention instead.

Wordlessly, Drake swept his arm downward, and Shelgon nodded.

Skarmory's steel wing sliced through thin air as Shelgon pulled its own vanishing trick, disappearing in the blink of an eye. Skarmory squawked as it cleaved a hole through the arena floor, and could only swivel its head in confusion trying to figure out how Shelgon could have vanished from right under its beak.

Steven, too, had missed just how Shelgon had escaped, and in shock he looked to where the Champion stood, arms crossed with an easy stance. Before he could get in a word, Drake's eyes slid skyward, and Steven found himself following his gaze yet again.

Just reaching the peak of its jump was Shelgon.

Still gaping at how such a heavy, clunky pokemon could leap so high, words failed Steven as he watched helplessly as the dragon lowered its head and plummeted earthward toward the equally stunned Skarmory, too exhausted to do anything but accept its fate.

Shelgon's headbutt landed with a thunderous collision that left both pokemon in a heap. Its rotund body deflecting most of the impact, Shelgon rolled from the pile until it was back on all four legs, and with a grunt it turned back to regard the crater it had left after piledriving Skarmory into the dirt.

The dust didn't have to fully clear for Steven to know his pokemon would not be getting up again.

Wordlessly, he returned Skarmory to its ball, and the now familiar tightness snaked its way back into his chest. What was happening? Half his team was either knocked out or too exhausted to put up much of a fight, and yet he'd only managed to do the same to one of Drake's pokemon.

Was this truly as far as he could go?

No, his team was strong, they had been doing well until now… Then it had to have been something else.

Should he have led with Metagross at the start instead of saving its power as his ace in the hole? Was his team still too exhausted from their close call against Phoebe? No, they looked fine against Simon…

Then what went wrong?

Staring hard at the outline of the trainer's box, a wave of unease washed over him. He'd downed Iona and Glacia with decisive victories, and although Phoebe had given him his toughest match yet, Simon also fell handily to his team.

What changed along the way?

He could feel Drake's gaze boring into him, and although the Champion said nothing, Steven still felt the pressure bearing down on him. He knew he was stalling for time, but he still couldn't figure out how to turn the match around. His hand twitched at his side, first over one pokeball, then another. No, that'd be playing it too safe…


Since when did he play things safe?

If he played things safe, he'd be back at Devon right now sitting at a desk instead of vying for the title of Hoenn's strongest trainer.

He hadn't crossed the entirety of the region by waiting to see what came to him. He hadn't earn eight Gym badges by sitting on his heels. He hadn't trained a team of six powerful pokemon to play second fiddle to their opponents.

Unconsciously, he squeezed the pokeball in his hand even tighter.

No more waiting, no more hesitating. His gaze shot up to lock with the Champion's own, and for the first time it felt like he was actually able to stand up against the veteran's presence. Surging forward in the trainer's box, he loosed his next pokeball.

"Aggron, let's go!"

Answering his trainer's cry with one of his own, Aggron burst from its ball in a full lumbering stride. Shelgon barely had time to register its new opponent before it was sent flying by the crown of Aggron's head. The force of its shell slamming into the nearby wall sent Shelgon bouncing back toward Aggron, where the larger steel type grabbed it in both hands like an oversized beach ball. Legs waggling helplessly as it was manhandled, Shelgon could only cry in dismay as Aggron wound up and hurled it at the far wall of the arena. The dragon-turned-projectile corkscrewed as it flew, and after slamming into yet another wall, its eyes spun dizzily, and it struggled to right itself. But before it could even get two paws to the ground, a vicious thunderbolt sizzled across the arena and dropped Shelgon back to its side, unconscious.

Aggron's victory roar echoed through the chamber as Steven lowered his hand from where he directed his partner's finishing strike. Standing poised, both trainer and pokemon turned, waiting for the Champion's next move.

Steven certainly hadn't expected Drake to look surprised, but the last thing he expected was for the Champion to be grinning. It was a feral thing, teeth bared beneath his bristling mustache, and Steven swore he caught a glimpse of a twinkle in the old sailor's eyes.

"Now that's more like it," said Drake, sliding a new pokeball from his pocket. His voice was rough, but Steven could feel the excitement fairly oozing from the Champion's words. "You're up, Altaria!"

The cotton-winged dragon came forth from Drake's pokeball with a shrill cry, its blue and white plumage strikingly bright in the arena's lights. But Steven knew not to be fooled by its soft looks. Aggron, too, clearly remembered the strength of Winona's Altaria from their harrowing battle in Fortree, and it snorted in anticipation as it readied itself for battle.

Steven paused only a moment to check with his partner, and when Aggron nodded at his quiet question of, "Ready?", he leveled his stare at Drake's pokemon and gave his command.

"After it, Aggron."

Unlike her sleeker teammates built more for speed, Altaria preferred to hover close to the ground. So when Aggron barreled straight for her out of the gate, she was unprepared to have several tons of steel nearly on top of her in an instant. In a flurry of fluff, Altaria let out an undignified shriek as Aggron's claws raked just past her tail feathers, shredding a few in the near miss.

Now floating just out of range of Aggron's grasp, Altaria glowered back down at her opponent. But instead of meeting a glare in return, she was greeted with a bolt of electricity arcing straight for her.

Altaria screamed as the thunderbolt connected dead on and she fluttered down from the sky, straight into Aggron's waiting jaws. The steel type clamped down on one of Altaria's legs and yanked her the rest of the way down to the earth.

Still writhing from thunderbolt's strike, Altaria cried out pitifully as she was thrown to the ground, dirt and grime soiling her wings as she squirmed. But Aggron had no intention of waiting, and he leered down at Altaria, helm already gleaming with a deadly iron head poised to strike.

But just as Steven called for the finishing blow, Drake's voice rang out in response.

"Fire blast!"

Renewed determination in her eyes, Altaria's throat bulged as she conjured up the attack. Fire shot forth just as Aggron dove with its own strike, and in a brilliant burst, both attacks collided.

Flames exploded around Aggron's form, and Steven had to squint just to catch a silhouette of his pokemon as it was engulfed in fire. But the roar of the fire and the roar of his partner were eclipsed as Altaria let loose a shriek of pain.

As the clouds of flame from the fire burst curled into nothingness, Steven peered through the smoke to spot both combatants locked together, splattered in fire-retardant Occa juice. Although Aggron had taken a direct hit from the super effective attack, the berry it was carrying had burst from the heat and protected its armor from the brunt of the damage. Undeterred by the flames, it pushed through and landed its own attack on the desperate Altaria who now was panting heavily as it tried to struggle back to the skies. It was only a last minute wince from the burn she left that allowed her to escape Aggron's renewed pursuit.

Finally aloft, Altaria attempted to compose herself, only to falter and be forced to flutter back to the ground; her wing was too damaged to fly. With a wheezing trill, she looked on in dismay as Aggron drove toward her once again.

"Keep it at bay!" Drake barked, and Altaria's cheeks puffed out in response before loosing a dragon pulse that slammed right into the pursuing Aggron's chest.

Staggered, Aggron faltered for only a step before it started back on the warpath. Altaria gave a screech of dismay as Drake's voice rang out.

"Again, Altaria!"

But Steven would not back down, and he set his jaw before throwing a hand forward.

"Push through it, Aggron!"

The second dragon pulse burst forth, but this time Aggron blocked it with its massive claw. Shielding against the powerful beam, Aggron's eyes narrowed as it dug its heels in and pushed forward with a grunt of exertion.

Drake watched the steel type's lumbering advance, scowl growing beneath his mustache as he tried to calm his pokemon's increasingly frantic trills.

"Altaria! Use fire blast!"

Without hesitation, Altaria's neck swelled, sending roaring flames billowing from her beak. Too close to dodge, Aggron was swallowed in the brilliant fireball, and Altaria shrieked in victory. No Occa berry would protect from the super effective attack this time.

But the way the flames licked around the steel type in a perfectly spherical way cut Altaria's cries short. Peeking out from behind protect's blue barrier was Aggron, completely unscathed. Its blue eyes glinted wickedly in the dancing flames, and just over its shoulder, its trainer wore the same piercing stare.

Both pokemon stood frozen for a moment until Steven's voice floated over the crackling of the dying flames with an icy calm.


In a blink, Aggron launched itself through the remnants of the fire blast, jaws open wide with a predatory roar. Altaria's terrified scream was muffled as she flung her wings up in a last ditch cotton guard, but Aggron would not let the defensive move stop its charge. Both claws flew forward, grabbing handfuls of the fluffy barrier and tearing them aside before driving its helm straight through Altaria's weakened defenses.

The momentum of Aggron's bullrush sent both pokemon tumbling into a jutting wall upturned in the earlier earthquake. The slab shuddered from the impact before it gave way, cracking and crumbling down on top of the combatants, burying Altaria's cries in rubble.

Steven and Drake looked on in silence, waiting to see whose pokemon would emerge from the debris.

One breath, two breaths… Suddenly the pile shifted, and a silver-clad back lifted up from the rubble with a heave. Aggron hunched low as it rose from beneath the boulders, panting hard. One claw was wrapped tight to its midsection, clenching at its burn, but the other was propped straight out, shielding the fallen Altaria from the rockslide. Eyes narrowed, Aggron huffed, and Drake's cap dipped as he nodded in silent acknowledgment.

Shifting as Altaria vanished in her recall beam, Aggron tried to clamber from the rock pile, but its burn sent it wincing and it sunk to one knee with a pained rumble.

Steven eyed his partner with concern. Aggron was still able to fight, and even though the headstrong steel type would typically argue otherwise, it caught the meaning in its trainer's gaze. With a snort and a curt nod, it dutifully returned to its pokeball. This wasn't a time for pride to take a backseat to common sense; it wouldn't be wise to stay in against a full strength foe.

"Thank you, Aggron. Save your strength for now." Steven deftly swapped its pokeball for another on his belt. "It's Cradily's turn to take the lead."

Mirroring Drake's own throw, Cradily spilled from her pokeball at the same time as the Champion's next pokemon. The towering form of a Kingdra took shape, and Steven quietly lauded his correct assumption that Drake would be saving his ace for later.

That wasn't to say, however, that Kingdra was going to be an easy match, as the water dragon was already charging its opening attack. There was no time to dodge, and as the hydro pump shot forth, Steven shouted over the roar of water.

"Bear it, Cradily, then recover as soon as you can! Keep your health up!"

With her head ducked low, Cradily took the hydro pump head on, but her grip on the arena ground held firm as recover's light glowed through the rushing water. Even before the last of Kingdra's attack faded, the glow around Cradily's form began to shift in color, her counterattack forming as she raised her head.

"Ancient power!"

Eyes alight, Cradily shrieked as her tendrils snapped forward, launching the glowing boulders at Kingdra. But the dragon type remained as stoic as its trainer, and with only a subtle flick of Drake's hand, it ducked low to the ground an unleashed a thick, black cloud of smokescreen.

Ancient power's projectiles sliced through the curtain of smoke, and Steven strained to see if any found their mark when a light from his side of the battlefield caught his attention. The violet hue of ancient power's energy surged up through Cradily's roots, and she trilled from the rush of the stat boost.

But the joy was short lived, as a shockwave of power pulsed outward from the Champion's box, prompting Steven and Cradily to shield their eyes. Through the swirling smokescreen, Kingdra emerged, bathed in the pulsing light of a dragon dance charge.

Both pokemon had powered up, but a pit of unease settled in Steven's gut as he look on. It seemed as if Kingdra had never fully stopped its dragon dance; the light in its eyes still shone bright and its gaze seemed to glaze over…

"Wait…" The realization struck, and Steven jolted forward in his box. "Cradily, confuse ray, now!"

It was a thin hope that maybe his pokemon's attack could break through Kingdra's building rage and throw it off balance, but the glint in Drake's eyes told him it was all but useless.

Cradily had barely begun to sway her tendrils when Kingdra's outrage reached its peak, and at the last minute, Steven changed his mind.

"Forget it, Cradily, use recover!"

With a chirp of surprise at the redacted command, Cradily's eyes went wide as Kingdra rocketed toward her with a trumpeting call. But she wouldn't falter, and squeezing her eyes shut, she concentrated on drawing the healing energy up through her roots.

The green glow barely took hold before Kingdra slammed into Cradily with a full-body tackle. The fossil pokemon somersaulted over backwards from the blow, landing hard. But as Cradily picked herself up from the ground, recover's energy washed over her form and she straightened with a determined chirrup.

Kingdra, however, was undeterred by Cradily's renewed stamina. Still blinded by its outrage, the sea dragon's face contorted in a snarl as it launched itself for another full-on charge.

Steven tensed. They couldn't rely on Cradily's healing to hold out against every blow Kingdra could deliver. But this time the dragon's charge was sloppy, mis-aimed…

"Dodge and use giga drain!"

Cradily only had move her head out of Kingdra's path, and as she twisted low to the ground in a limbo-esque dance, it soared harmlessly overhead. But Cradily had not left the path clear. Her trailing tendrils looped around Kingdra's midsection and squeezed tight, slowing the dragon's momentum, but not before it dragged her several feet.

Straining to hold onto Kingdra's struggling form, Cradily siphoned as much of its energy as she could before it broke her grasp, haphazardly tumbling free before righting itself and wheeling to face her once again. Cradily trilled in unease at the sight of her trainer's furrowed brow; Kingdra's outrage hadn't faded and she knew as well as Steven that this time, it would not miss its charge.

Kingdra gave a shrill cry before tearing across the battlefield, scattering debris in its wake, and finally tearing his gaze from the rocky terrain, Steven sent his partner a confident stare.

"Block it!"

The slab of earth at Cradily's feet suddenly glowed purple before tilting vertically right into Kingdra's path. Unable to slow its momentum, the rampaging pokemon barrelled straight into Cradily's makeshift shield with a sickening thud.

Fully prepared to let out a sigh of relief that the dragon's rampage was finally stopped, Cradily squealed in dismay to find the slab slowly being driven back towards her, cracks spiderwebbing over its surface.

In an explosion of stone, the slab failed, and Kingdra flung itself through the midst of it, driving itself and Cradily to the ground in a full force tackle. Both pokemon hit the ground hard and bounced free of one another, skidding to a stop just feet from the edge of the arena's boundaries.

Steven's heart skipped a beat as he took in the way Cradily's neck twisted at an odd angle where she lay. Kingdra fared no better, the scales of its head and neck were mangled, and its eyes had rolled back in their sockets, completely out cold.

A grimace crept its way across his face as he realized Drake had come to a reckless, yet strategic conclusion. With Steven's depleted team, if they traded knock-outs in each round, the Champion would eventually come out on top.

But Steven's heart skipped a different beat as with a weak shudder, Cradily began to move. Slowly, painfully, she dragged her legs beneath herself, tucking in tight toward where her head still rested. It was then that Steven saw why Cradily couldn't lift her head. One tendril was still coiled around Kingdra's tail where she had snagged it in a last-ditch giga drain that surely prevented her from fainting.

With a low moan, Cradily uncoiled herself from her foe and tried to lift her drooping petals.

"Recover, use recover!"

Steven nearly was frantic with his shout, composure thrown to the wind in the face of the giddy realization that Cradily had just single handedly evened up the match.

Green light lifted from the ground as Cradily obeyed, her warble growing in strength with newfound energy that left her with her head held high.

A curt chuckle caught both her and Steven's attention as Drake pocketed Kingdra's now occupied pokeball, and in what Steven would consider the dragon master's first showing of mirth, Drake gave a genuine grin. "Not bad." His second to last pokemon emerged on the battlefield in a flash of light. "Not bad at all."

But the second Flygon of the afternoon didn't share its trainer's amusement. It bared its teeth at Cradily with a rumbling growl, which she was all too happy to return with a shrill cry of her own.

As Steven looked on at the two bristling pokemon, his mind raced in time with his pulse. If they could just down this Flygon without having to call on Metagross's help, it would leave his starter fully rested to take on Drake's ace… Cradily, Aggron, and Claydol. Three fatigued pokemon to take on one full powered dragon. His hand balled into a fist at his side. They could do this.

"Go, Cradily! Ancient power!" Flinging a hand forward in time with his shout, he hoped the subtle motion with his other went unnoticed, Claydol's pokeball tucked secretively in one palm. Thankfully, Drake seemed too preoccupied in directing Flygon to avoid the chunks of rock being flung its way to pay attention.

Keeping one eye on Flygon, Steven watched it sweep a dragonbreath across the battlefield, melting ancient power's projectiles in a tongue of green flame, and he tapped Claydol's pokeball. "Get ready," he muttered, cataloging the way in which Flygon kept its distance from Cradily; clearly the distance attacking complement to the first Flygon they faced.

So when Cradily shrieked, ducking away from another dragonbreath attack that left several of her tendrils singed, Steven made his move.

In one swift motion, Claydol's ball was sent airborne while Cradily's came to bear.


The dragonbreath Flygon had unleashed toward Cradily's retreating form came to an abrupt stop against Claydol's light screen. Green flames danced over the barrier's protective surface, and behind it, Claydol already had begun to concentrate its power. Before Flygon could register its new opponent, a pinpoint extrasensory strike felled it from the sky.

But the psychic attack was not enough to knock Flygon out, and it kicked a cloud of dust up as it righted its fall just above the ground. Claydol's eyes swiveled left and right, zeroing in on where Flygon had hidden itself in the miniature sandstorm. It leaned forward with a hollow whine, air wavering with another extrasensory primed, only to be struck directly in the face with a vicious signal beam.

Screeching under the assault of the super effective attack, Claydol toppled backward, arms flailing. Still reeling from the attack, there was little it could do as Flygon burst from out of the dust cloud and rushed in, tail alight with its next attack.

The dragon tail clubbed Claydol across the head, sending it spiralling to the ground where it bounced once before being sent back to its pokeball, out cold. The powerful dragon-type energy also had another side effect to the attack, and Steven watched helplessly as Aggron was dragged onto the battlefield from its spot at his hip.

Aggron materialized and immediately winced, its burn flaring up, and Steven's grip on Cradily's pokeball tightened just a bit more. He had to switch Aggron out right away; the match up was completely lopsided. Aggron would be completely ineffective against the long-range Flygon and would only take damage without dealing any of its own. Grabbing for Aggron's ball at his belt, he made ready to pull the switch.

But Steven's hand froze mid-throw as Drake's voice cut through the air like a knife.

"Hyper beam!"

A brilliant beam of light shot forth from where Flygon had landed, bracing itself on all fours against the attack's recoil.


His panicked shout drowned out in the roar of hyper beam's power, Steven could do little else but watch as Aggron only had time to lift its head before Flygon's attack was upon it.

In an instant, Aggron was swallowed in the hyper beam's light. The intensity of the attack sent a rush of air through the challenger's box, and Steven found himself nearly stumbling from the force.

"Aggron!" he called again, squinting through the blinding brightness. But through the field of white light, Steven swore he caught a hint of something blue…

Standing tall in the center of the beam was Aggron, claws extended forward as if they were what was holding its protective barrier up against the onslaught. But as Steven watched, Aggron began to falter. Cracks appeared at the center of the barrier, but Aggron huffed and strained with effort, and even though the barrier flickered dangerously, it still held held until the last of hyper beam's energy winked away into nothingness.

Panting, Flygon barely had the energy to croak a noise of surprise as the smoke cleared. The battlefield had been carved where the hyper beam struck, a single neat line traced between the combatants. And yet at the far end, Aggron remained upright. Head bowed, curls of smoke wafted from its armor, and for all appearances it had fainted, but it had not fallen.

Flygon screeched with rage as the icon below Steven's name refused to fizzle out, and it desperately tried to drum up the energy to dive at the defenseless Aggron and finish the job, but to no avail.

Silently, Steven tried to will his partner to move, but part of him knew it was futile. Aggron was too exhausted.

The hand holding Cradily's pokeball twitched. He could make the switch and attack while Flygon seethed, stuck waiting for its energy to recharge, but as he readied his throw Steven felt another sensation at his belt. Metagross's pokeball rattled furiously; it wanted out, and it wanted out now.

"No waiting, no hesitation!" it seemed to scream, keyed in to Steven's self-imposed mantra of the last hour, and Steven silently berated himself for forgetting it so quickly. With a sharp nod, he deftly swapped Cradily's ball for his starter's, and as his hand closed around it, a surge of warmth seemed to pulse through his fingers.

Just as Flygon regained its strength, rushing Aggron's position with a fearsome cry, a flash of light appeared in front of the challenger's box.

Metagross burst onto the battlefield, fist drawn back and alight with glowing energy. Tearing straight through the red afterimage left behind from Aggron's retreat, it threw the meteor mash full-force into the charging Flygon's face.

A sickening crack sounded through the arena as Flygon's head snapped to the side, the momentum of the blow yanking the rest of its body along with it. The far side of the battlefield exploded in a shower of tile and rock.

Settled neatly on all four legs, Metagross turned to examine its handy work only to be greeted with a retaliatory dragonbreath from the center of the debris. But before the green flames could reach its hide, they were encased in a blue psychic glow and neatly deflected to the side. In a blur of blue and silver, Metagross vanished only to reappear with its foreleg planted straight through the offending rubble pile.

With a thrumming hum, a pulse of psychic energy lifted the rocks away to reveal the squirming Flygon, its neck trapped in the vice grip of Metagross's claw. The dragon's eyes were frantic as Metagross leered down at its captive, and without warning the steel type heaved Flygon into the nearby wall as if it were no more than a ragdoll. One impact became ten as a hail of boulders slammed into the wall around Flygon, battering it until the rocks of Metagross's psychic deluge were no more than pebbles and dust.

Metagross's roar drowned out whatever pathetic whimpers Flygon was uttering as it crumpled to the floor in a trembling, defeated heap.

Any sign of mirth was gone from Drake's expression as he returned Flygon to its pokeball. The brim of his hat tilted dangerously low, the harsh overhead lights casting his face in shadow. Steven shifted in the challenger's box, watching the Champion carefully as the old sailor's shoulders rose and fell with a deep breath.

And then Drake threw his head back and barked an incredulous laugh. "To think," he started, reaching into his coat to withdraw his final pokeball, "It all comes down to this."

Steven swallowed thickly. He knew what kind of monster lay within.

"When was the last time you had a chance to go all out?" Drake asked the pokeball in his hand.

It gave a single, fierce shake, and the Champion's wild grin returned.

"Go, Salamence!"

The ball barely left Drake's hand before it exploded open, and the bright red wings of the Champion's most powerful pokemon sliced through the sky. Metagross's gaze slid up to regard the fearsome dragon who circled overhead only once before turning a glare downward, affixed to its opponent.

But Metagross would not be intimidated, and instead it returned the stare, eyes alight with psychic energy. It only took Salamence a brief second to realize its intimidation tactic had been foiled, and with a mighty roar, it pumped its wings and shot forward with enough speed to break Metagross's psychic hold.

Letting out a disgruntled rumble, Metagross shuffled to follow Salamence's trajectory and as the dragon wheeled in the sky, a movement from the Champion's box caught its eye.

Drake's hand swung down in time with his shout. "Draco meteor!"

Obeying with a roar, Salamence circled high, opening its jaws as a mass of orange energy began to build. The ground shook and dark clouds began to gather overhead, trembling under the massive power of the ultimate dragon-type move. But Metagross remained impassive, bolstered by Steven's confident stare.

They both could sense it, their minds unconsciously linked by the thread of Metagross's psychic typing. If Drake was so desperate to end the match that he'd go all out at the start, if they could weather this storm, they'd have their chance to mount a counter attack.

With one last glance back at the grounded steel type, Salamence threw its head back and unleashed the maelstrom of its attack.

"Defend, Metagross!"

As the meteors rained down, covering the battlefield in smouldering craters, Metagross hunkered at the center of the attack, waiting, withstanding… Until the largest concentration of meteors headed right for it. Eyes sharp, it roared, unleashing a pulse of psychic energy that rocketed outward in a spherical shield. The force field wavered and flickered as the meteors struck, but it held for the duration of Salamence's attack, and as the last meteor fell, Metagross blinked and the psychic shield dropped.

Only to let out a roar of pain as Salamence's jaws clamped down on its rear leg, fangs glowing with dark energy. The dragon had swooped low under the cover of its meteor shower and delivered a stealthy crunch attack that left Metagross staggered.

Howling, Metagross spun, trying to catch Salamence's head with a solid punch, but Salamence was crafty, and it dodged to the side, releasing Metagross's leg while raking a dragon claw along the steel type's flank as it retreated back to the safety of mid-air.

Steven grit his teeth when Metagross let out a groan as it gathered itself, reeling from Salamence's physical assault. But it was still standing, and that meant the battle wasn't over yet.

"Our turn, Metagross!" Steven shouted, and the rush of his starter's emphatic agreement surged through his mind.

Turning its gaze skyward, the outline of a faint psychic aura traced around Salamence's form, but it didn't slow its flight. Still focused on the dragon above, Metagross gave a low rumble and hunkered low on all four legs.

A clattering and clacking of stone could be heard as the hum of Metagross's magnetic field grew in a crescendo until Steven could feel the reverberations in his limbs. Suddenly, with a mighty push, his partner rocketed from the ground in a straight vertical ascent.

Two red eyes leveled with Salamence's own, glowing bright with psychic energy, and the dragon shuddered to a surprise stop mid-flight right in front of Metagross's nose. Wide-eyed, it let out a confused roar as Metagross hooked two legs over the dragon's back and pinned its wings to its side. A dragon without wings wasn't going to fly very far, and Salamence tumbled from the sky, dragged down by the anchor of Metagross's full weight.

The two pokemon plummeted toward the earth, spinning as they fell. But as the ground loomed near, a pulse of Metagross's magnetism spun it on top of its foe, and with all four legs it threw Salamence straight to the ground in an explosion of tile and rock.

Landing with a cushioned thud just at the edge of the impact crater, Metagross waited for the dust to clear. But its wait didn't last long, as a roaring flamethrower shot from the dust straight for its face. Except Metagross had been watching warily, and it deftly deflected the attack away with its psychic manipulation.

But then Salamence was upon it before the flames dissipated, dragon claw slashing through the air. Dust and dirt swirled as the two pokemon clashed; Metagross's fist glowing bright as it parried Salamence's slashes.

Steven watched the exchange, expression tight. He tried to keep track of who was landing more blows, but the flash of bullet punches and crunch attacks were flying too fast for him to keep up. Roars and grunts and howls filled the air as Metagross danced as nimbly as it could, following the snaking movements of the incensed Salamence. Teeth and claws gleamed bright under the arena lights, leaving gouges and denting scales in their wake.

Until both pokemon landed simultaneous blows. A dragon claw from overhead drove Metagross head-first into the dirt just as its own fist connected with Salamence's jaw in a right hook that sent the dragon spiraling.

Steven leaned forward in his box, and from the corner of his eye, he was surprised to see Drake do the same. Both pokemon had fallen some distance from the other, and neither one looked to hold an advantage in terms of stamina. Metagross groaned as it pried its face from where it had shattered the arena floor, and Salamence staggered momentarily as it regained its footing, shaking its head. From the way both pokemon wavered where they stood, Steven knew Drake had come to the same conclusion as him; this battle was not going to go on much longer.

"Metagross -!"

"Salamence -!"

Both trainers broke the stalemate simultaneously.

"Finish this!"

Salamence's roar was deafening as its jaws opened wide, the light of a flamethrower growing hot in its throat. But the only sound in Steven's ears was the bellow of his partner as it cocked back its leg, fist shining bright. Salamence's attack poured forth just as Metagross lunged.

In an instant, the steel type was swallowed by flames, vanishing in a cloak of fire.

Steven tensed, breath frozen in his throat.

And then the center of the flamethrower exploded in a brilliant fireball. Out from the flames shot Metagross, fist rocketing straight for Salamence's face. Steel met bone with a resounding crack, and then silence fell.

Standing over the mangled scales of Salamence's unconscious form was Metagross, its fist still dripping with the flame retardant juice of its Occa berry. The crushed husk of the berry clattered to the ground as Metagross lowered its leg, splattered in sticky sweetness and swaths of charred, blackened hide where the juice didn't reach.

Dumbfounded, Steven couldn't move. Jaw slack, he watched as the last symbol beneath the Champion's name wink out.

They had done it.

They won.

"...Metagross…" His voice was barely a whisper.

They won.

He was nearly toppled to the ground as Metagross came barrelling across the battlefield, burying its crest in his chest with a cry so fierce he felt his ribs rattle.

Prying himself back from his starter's best approximation of a hug, he clung to the giant X that crossed Metagross's brow with shaking hands.

"We did it. We did it! Metagross, we did it!"

The laugh that escaped him nearly hurt, it'd been buried so deep in nervousness and tension, it fairly ripped from his throat.

But the giddiness wouldn't fade, and without knowing what else to do, Steven buried his head against Metagross's own and let the sheer disbelief turn his next laugh into something that resembled a sob.

"Thank you. Metagross, thank you."

Puzzled at its trainer's odd outburst, Metagross rumbled a question, and Steven could only offer a sheepish grin in return. Finally relinquishing his deathgrip, Steven straightened and gave his partner an affectionate rub along its brow.

"You were brilliant. You all were brilliant."

The pokeballs at his hip rocked in response, and finally the fluttering in his chest lowered to a level where he could concentrate on something other than taking one breath after the other.

It was only then that he noticed Metagross's gaze had focused off to the side, and he turned to find Drake standing a few paces away. His face was impassive, and even though the battle was over, Steven still found himself swallowing nervously.

The old sailor tipped his hat in a curt nod, "Return your partner and follow me."

Nodding, Steven obeyed and picked his way across the ruined battlefield behind the Champion. No. Former Champion.

They crested the top of the stairs of the Champion's platform and paused at the set of double doors that stood sealed at the rear of the chamber. Drake spared a glance Steven's way before keying the portal open. The woosh of the automatic doors was abrupt, and even though the passageway was only dimly lit, he dutifully followed Drake inside in silence.

The chamber beyond was an eerie quiet as the pair walked, polished floors as pristine as the marble of the walls. Thankfully the walk was a short one, and as Drake slowed to a stop, the lights of the room came on at full brightness, revealing the full splendor of the League's highest pedestal.

"Welcome to the Hall of Fame, Champion."

Steven blinked. Was Drake smiling?

"Place your pokeballs in the six slots, and then place your trainer's card on the scanner." Drake motioned to the computer terminal that sat at the center of the room.

Six pokeballs were placed alongside his ID, and the machine whirred to life. The screen above the terminal flicked on, and a digital image of Steven's team appeared on the display. He watched, wide-eyed as his companions scrolled to their place on the screen, until a bright flash caught him by surprise, and he flinched.

Drake chuckled at Steven's puzzled expression, and gestured for Steven to look back at the monitor.

Staring back at him was the photo of a frazzled, silver-haired teenager that in no way could actually be him.

Silent question on his lips, he turned to stare at Drake, who only huffed another laugh in response.

"Don't worry, your official League photo will look a lot better."

With a few keystrokes, Steven's photo vanished and another photo took its place. He still wore the same captain's hat, but his mustache and sideburns only carried a hint of white. But the most remarkable coincidence was that Drake's photo bore the same star-struck expression as Steven's.

Drake shrugged, swiftly keying away from both photos. "Guess it's tradition at this point to take a photo right after the victory. Now, let's get you settled in your temporary quarters. I'm sure you're exhausted. I know I was after my win."

Steven blinked again. "Quarters?"

"You may be the Champion of record as of this moment, but we still have a lot or preparation to do before the League makes the official announcement. You'll be staying at Ever Grande until then."

A million questions flew through Steven's mind. Preparation once you became the Champion? They never taught that in trainer's school...

But Drake was already headed back to the entrance of the Hall, so Steven quickly gathered his team and jogged after the former Champ.

As the lights dimmed back down, Drake paused at the door to wait for him. In the light of the Champion's chamber beyond, Steven caught the look of genuine respect on the old sailor's face.


...Should you rise through the ranks and earn this prestigious distinction, be proud! It is a great honor to hold the highest title of the Pokemon League, and yet it is almost an even tougher task to hold onto that title once it is achieved.
Chapter 18 - Epilogue


Hoenn around
  1. aggron
  2. lairon
Ch 18 (Epilogue) - In the aftermath of the Championship match, Steven finds time to reflect as he prepares to shoulder the weight of the next leg of his journey...

Chapter 18 - Epilogue

Growing up the son of the richest man on this side of the western sea, Steven was no stranger to opulence. He'd seen his fair share of expensive furnishings and rooms three times the size they needed to be.

Which was why his temporary quarters in the guest suite at the Ever Grande League building didn't really shock him the way it might have for a less-well-off trainer.

In fact, for the first time he could remember, he was glad for all of the extravagance. The generous size of the suite was perfect for his pokemon, and the first thing he did upon arriving at his room was to release his partners from their pokeballs.

They only stood and gaped at the rich draperies and marble floors for a moment before fairly mobbing their trainer in an enthusiastic group hug that left Steven laughing, slightly bruised, and thankful that Skarmory wasn't exactly the hugging type.

Fairly fending off his pokemon, he finally convinced them to settle down enough to explore their new home. As best they could, all seven of them shuffled from room to room, ooh-ing and ahh-ing until they ended up giddy and breathless on the spacious balcony that overlooked the island.

Suit jacket long since discarded, Steven leaned against the railing, sighing as the sea breeze tousled his hair. The late summer sun still hung high in the sky, and the expanse of water that stretched beyond Ever Grande's cliffs sparkled like a thousand gemstones.

He'd often dreamed about what it would be like; the promise of spending every tomorrow with his pokemon. What it would feel like with the weight of Devon lifted from his shoulders. Sure, there was a new burden now, but with his team at his side, he figured that was one he could handle.

But despite the serene backdrop, he found himself frowning. What Drake had said lingered in his mind. That winning the Championship position was the easy part. Hanging onto it was where the difficulty lay.

As the youngest Champion in Hoenn's history, he'd just painted a huge target on his back. Veterans salivated at the thought of preying on a fresh Champion, and a new crop of trainers would be inspired to start their own journeys.

And they'd all be coming for him.

He'd have to train harder than ever, but that wasn't the problem. The problem was what happened if it wasn't enough?

His hands wrapped a little tighter around the balcony railing only to feel a reverberating hum travel up through the metal. Metagross's presence shifted at his side, and Steven looked down to find his starter staring at him with conviction in its gaze.

They wouldn't lose. Not if it and the five other pokemon crowding around the balcony had anything to say about it.

Smiling, Steven shook his head. "You're right, I can't think like that. Forgive me, I'm probably just tired."

Metagross rumbled an agreement, eyes now fixated on where Cradily had nestled up close to Armaldo, and the way Skarmory's head drooped in a sleepy nod. Even the stalwart Aggron couldn't stifle a yawn. Excitement or not, the day's battling had taken a toll on them all.

Before turning back to the room, Steven spared one last glance at Hoenn's landscape. They'd have all the time in the world to admire that view as long as they worked hard. Running a hand along Metagross's brow as he went inside, he made his way over toward his pack. Scooping it up, he deposited it on the bed before rummaging through to retrieve a more comfortable set of clothes. But as he pulled out a few items, his hand landed on the rain jacket he had stashed at the bottom, and he paused, the waterproof fabric gripped tightly in his hand.

All of a sudden, the memories rushed back unbidden. The miserable day in the rain that prompted its purchase. The day relaxing at the shore afterward. Finding the water stone that he eventually gifted away… All of the snapshots in the mental journal of his journey. The wave of nostalgia hit him hard, and he had to place a steadying palm against the mattress.

He'd come so far. So very far from that empty house in Rustboro. From that quiet boy who only hoped to one day make a name for himself that wasn't Devon, to strike forth into the world and see great and wondrous things with his own two eyes. And here he stood with his pack fuller than his wallet, the wealth of experiences far more valuable than any riches from a corporate bank account, and he couldn't have been any happier.

When he got no further than unpacking a handful of items, Metagross rumbled a curious tone that stirred Steven from his thoughts.

"Ah, I'm sorry. I'm awfully distracted today, aren't I?"

But as he turned to regard his faithful partner, instead of meeting its gaze, he was greeted by a pillow to the face.

Steven froze, the fluffy projectile bouncing lightly to the ground, and he fixed his pokemon with an incredulous stare.

Cradily had two more pillows in her tendrils, and Aggron seemed to be the one handing her even more. Armaldo had grasped another one himself, clutching it in a makeshift shield. Steven swore he could hear a pin drop as all eyes were fixated on him. At least until another pillow was sent his way, a psychic blue outline telling him either Claydol or Metagross was the culprit.

His starter's grating laugh cut through the air as chaos erupted, Steven grabbing ammunition of his own to send back at his mischievous teammates. The battle was a short one, and by the time it was over it was clear that the human had lost this one.

Still slightly out of breath, Steven found himself on the floor in a pile of pillows that surely consisted of every cushion in the room. Too tired to make his way back to the bed, he resigned himself to his fate; there were worse places to take a nap. Aggron huffed a contented noise as it curled up at the back of the pile, and something told Steven his pokemon had planned this from the very beginning.

In short order, the rest of his team gathered around their trainer, cozying up to pile of cushions themselves. Cradily nestled herself against the pillows at Aggron's side, and Armaldo plopped down next to her, wiggling his way into the pile until it covered him in a plush layer of padding. Not needing a pillow of its own to settle down, Claydol hovered up the to group to rest within the curl of Aggron's tail, while Skarmory selected a particularly large cushion to use as its roost. Finally, Metagross sidled up next to Aggron's head and lowered itself into the pile, completing the semicircle.

Laying there, surrounded by his pokemon, Steven couldn't help but be reminded of the night they spent back in Rustboro. The night that he solidified his resolve to climb to the top. The night before he made his partners a promise that they would reach that height together. The same night before they resoundingly agreed to go with him.

And again they gathered together the night before they'd officially make that promise a reality.

Feeling the satisfied hum of his starter, Steven sunk even further into the pillows, giving one last look back to the forgotten four post bed. No, this wasn't a bad place for a nap at all.

Steven awoke to the sound of the room's intercom beeping. Blearily he extracted himself from the pile of sleeping pokemon and picked up the receiver.


"Good morning, Champion. You have a visitor, should I send them up?"

It took him a moment to register that it was the nurse from the front desk calling, and that the Champion she addressed was actually him.

"Oh, uh, sure. Thank you."

As he ended the call, he caught a glimpse of the time on the clock. A quick glance out the balcony windows corroborated the clock's story. Dawn light was spilling over the landscape, and he marveled at just how long he had slept. He must have been more tired than he thought.

But even though he was awake now, it still was quite early. Who could be visiting him at this hour? Drake had said they would get started first thing the next day, but this seemed too early, even for the former Champion. Besides, he was sure Drake had no need to call on his room from the reception desk.

Whoever it was, though, he surely had to tidy himself up before they arrived. As quietly as he could, he pulled a fresh pair of clothes from his pack, but he could hear his pokemon stirring as he moved about the suite. Just as he was hopping into his trousers, there was a knock at the door. Hastily combing a hand through his hair, he stepped over a few stray pillows en route to the door and took one more breath to compose himself before swinging it open to reveal his mystery guest.

Only to be greeted by the beaming smile of Joseph Stone.


All of his earlier effort to stay quiet went out the window at his surprised shout. Ignoring Aggron's grumpy snort at being awoken so rudely, Steven continued to gape at his father.

"What are you doing here?"

Joseph threw his arms wide, still grinning. "I'm here to congratulate you! Why else would I be here?"

"You… you came here just for that?"

"Of course, you're my son, and I couldn't be more proud! Got a lot further than your old man would've, that's for sure. I came as soon as Drake called."

"Wait," Steven finally pulled himself together, "Drake called you?"

"Oh sure! He and I go way back."

And Steven was back to gaping again. "You never told me you knew the League Champion!"

"Well, he wasn't the Champion when I knew him. When I left the navy, he stayed behind. I hadn't seen him in years until today."

"Then, did he…?"

"Know you were my son? He had his suspicions."

Steven groaned, running an exasperated hand down his face.

"Don't worry, even if he knew from the start, there's no way he'd go easy on you on account of who you are." Joseph gave a wistful smile. "I know that from personal experience. ...So, may I come in?" He peered over Steven's shoulder, expectantly eyeing the couch, although he was blissfully unaware that it currently was missing all of its cushions.

"Oh! Right! Sorry, Dad. I… uh…"

Steven fumbled for a second, sweeping the door wide as he moved aside, still trying to figure out the coincidence of it all.

Looking around, Joseph whistled. "Not bad —oh!"

He froze as six sets of eyes turned and stared at the man who looked vaguely like their trainer. Skarmory clacked its beak, eyes sharp, but Metagross gave a low rumble of reassurance just as Steven arrived at his father's side.

"Everyone, this is my Dad. He… uh…" Steven sent a sheepish glance toward his father. "I'm sorry for not introducing you to them sooner."

But when a hand wrapped around his shoulder, his dad sent him a small smile. "It's okay. You were busy. ...And so was I…" Joseph's voice trailed off. Gently, he guided the two of them over to the couch just as Cradily was placing the last of the cushions back in place.

"Steven… I—"

Pausing, Joseph dug into his coat pocket and pulled something out, but kept it tightly clenched in his grasp.

"I came here to tell you how proud I am of you."

At the way Steven's expression tightened, he quickly continued.

"And to give you this. I figured in person it would…" Joseph faltered, turning the object over in his hand. "It was your mother's, and I think you should be the one to keep it from now on."

Sitting in the center of his palm was a ring. A simple, silver band adorned only by a thin groove running along the center of its width.

Steven stared at it for a moment before meeting his father's gaze, a look of surprise and confusion warring in his eyes.

"She may not have been a trainer herself, but she always said that you had the spark for adventure in you. I told myself otherwise countless times, you were my son after all, Devon would be yours! But I'm glad I listened to her in the end. She always was right."

Staring at the ring now resting in his own hand, Steven slowly turned it in his grasp, brow still furrowed in thought. "Dad…"

"I know I haven't spoken to you about your mother very much, and well, this isn't really the time either. But you're about to embark on the next great journey of your life, and I think she'd want to be your guiding hand. I know she's been mine this whole time, and I'm fully prepared for when—" Joseph coughed as he felt Steven tense, "Err, if you're ever ready to join me at Devon. But I want you to know that no matter where life takes you, we're so very proud of you. Both of us. I hope this can be a reminder that she's smiling down on you, always."

His father's words were sincere, but Steven still couldn't tear his eyes away from the small, silver object in his palm. The only tangible link he had to the woman who lived in old photographs and hazy childhood memories.

Sensing its trainer's tumbling emotions, Metagross moved up to the couch with a soft hum, and Joseph's gaze slid to where it stood.

"I know you'll be happy here. You'll all be happy here." He reached out to give Metagross a pat on the leg, and as it rumbled in agreement, Steven finally looked up. But before he could open his mouth, Joseph rose from the couch with a small smile and only a slight groan.

"Well, I'll get out of your hair. Can't take up your whole morning, Drake mentioned you'll be busy right up to the League announcement."

He moved toward the door, and Steven was quick to follow, tucking the ring into his pocket.

"Dad, about Mom…"

But Joseph put his hand on Steven's shoulder with a shake of his head. "Another time. Just know that you got your old man's looks and your mother's heart. Now go celebrate with your team. Hoenn's eager to meet their new Champion. And don't worry, I'll be cheering the loudest out of everyone."

And with a wink and a wave, Joseph closed the door behind him.

Steven sighed as his hand unconsciously found its way back to his pocket, turning the ring over in his fingers. From its place by the couch, Metagross gave a quiet rumble, and Steven ran a shaky hand through his hair.

"I know. It was just unexpected, that's all. I didn't really know what to say after all this time."

Metagross rumbled again, and this time Steven managed a short laugh.

"Yeah, I guess it's good to have a fan."

But before he could get the next thought out, a knock came from the door behind him.

Startled, Steven turned to answer, only to find the former Champion already had let himself in.

"Look sharp, lad. It's time."

After following Drake on a winding tour through the halls of the League building, Steven found himself sitting across from the man in the Champion's study.

Just like his temporary quarters, the room was richly adorned, although it held a distinctly warmer tone with a heavy amount of wood trim and upholstered furniture. Sea charts and maps decorated the walls, and Steven had a hunch they were from Drake's personal archive. His gaze eventually landed on the liquor cabinet off to the side, no doubt it was stocked for Drake's own tastes, but Steven couldn't help think of how it would make a great display case for his collection of rocks and stones…

The old sailor caught where Steven was looking, and an amused smile peeked out from beneath his mustache.

"This will all be yours soon, lad, though I'm taking the bottles with me. But first," he slid a small sheaf of papers across the heavy oak desk, "the Champion's contract."

Scooping up the offered pen, Steven lifted the first sheet and eyed the fine print with a quirked brow. Drake must have noticed his expression, because he cleared his throat before speaking.

"Just to be sure you agree to take on the duties associated with the title. I already know the answer is yes, but we've got to get it in writing. League rules and all that."

Slowly nodding, Steven returned to scanning the documents, scribbling a signature here and a signature there, secretly hoping this was the closest the League ever got to looking like something that came from his father's desk...

Drake rose from his chair as Steven jotted down the last signature. "Sorry about all that formal nonsense." He scooped up the papers and stashed them in a pocket of his coat. "Now, let's talk about the rest of the things that have to happen before tomorrow afternoon."

Steven blinked. "Tomorrow afternoon?"

"The scheduled time for the official announcement of your new position. The League's already issued the press release."

"Press release?"

Drake just chuckled. "Well, we need to tell the rest of the region somehow, and since the League matches aren't broadcast live, we gotta be the ones to call the media in. It's better that way though. Gives the League time to make sure the transition is as smooth as possible, and it gives you and your team time to rest and prepare for what's to come. You do know that after the official announcement, League challenges start up right away?"

Steven nodded as suddenly the nervousness crept back in. Suddenly his palms were sweaty, and he hoped Drake didn't notice how he stiffened in his seat as he set the pen down a bit too quickly. He was ready, wasn't he? Metagross's pokeball rocked at his side in reassurance, and as his hand reflexively reached down to find its ball, the former Champion's mustache quirked in a smile.

"You'll be fine, lad. I've seen it myself what you and your team can do. Battle like you did against me, and you've got nothing to worry about."

Drake's words seemed to quell some of the unease, and Steven nodded, rising along with the old sailor and making his way toward the door. Drake turned the handle and ushered the both of them out.

"Now, we've still got work to do before tomorrow. I've got to send these, and you've got an appointment with the League stylist."

Following Drake's directions to yet another room in the League building, Steven paused, his hand on the knob of the door. League Stylist… He'd always assumed that what Drake wore during the publicly televised matches was simply what the former sailor had in his wardrobe, not something appointed to him by someone else. Although from the way Drake scowled at the term "stylist", Steven figured it probably was a little of both. Not one too keen on fashion himself, he hoped he might have the same luck in not getting pushed into something outlandish or impractical.

And so with a determined look on his face, he swung the door open.

"I knew it."

For the second time that day, Steven's jaw hit the floor. The immaculately dressed duo waiting beyond the threshold was easy to instantly recognize. Standing side by side with his Master, was Wallace.

"I knew it'd be you," said Wallace with a smirk.

"W-Why are you here?"

"Don't be so dense. As a contest performer extraordinaire, Master Juan has been a style advisor for the League for years. He's helped to build the image of several of Hoenn's Champions. Of course when I heard he was being called to assist a new Champion, I asked to join him, and he agreed to let me tag along this time since, well, I must confess I had to see it with my own to eyes just to be sure. Congratulations by the way."

"And my congratulations, as well," said Juan, giving a formal bow. "After your victory at the Gym, it was only be a matter of time before we were to meet again here at the League. I very much look forward to seeing the rest of the highlights from your Championship match."

"Ah, thank you," Steven replied with a nervous smile, recalling what Drake had said earlier about the matches being recorded for posterity and also publicity. Juan had said "the rest of the highlights"... He hoped there wasn't anything too embarrassing in the video footage.

"Now then—" Juan's words startled Steven from his thoughts, "It is our responsibility to prepare you for the public eye. To take the raw potential you represent and polish it to the brilliant luster fit for a Champion."

"Right," said Wallace as he produced a tablet from beneath his cape, "You've seemingly got a good start, but it's rather drab."

Spinning the device around for Steven to see, Wallace pulled a face at the still-frame taken from one of the previous day's battles.

Steven stared at the picture of himself standing tall in the trainer's box, hand swept wide in what he assumed was a command to one of his pokemon. He finally understood where Roxanne was coming from with her suggestion… He didn't look half bad battling in a suit.

"You look like a businessman, not a world-class trainer."

Flinching as Wallace took the tablet back, he gave the water-type trainer an affronted look.

"What Wallace is trying to say," prodded Juan, "is that we want to take your look and make it something special, something exceptional."

Wallace nodded as he pulled out a stylus, a glint of excitement creeping into his expression as he focused back on the tablet. "We need something that makes you unique, dazzling. Tell me, what makes you tick?"

Steven blinked. "Um, I like rocks and —"

"No. No no no. Absolutely not. Boring! We need something flashy. Something stylish and sleek, something like…" Wallace's eyes trailed down in thought. "Something strong, yet graceful."


"Oh yes! Hoenn's champion can't be clunky. They must shine. They must be cunning and deadly, with a kind heart and nerves of steel… Wait, steel… That's it!"

"What's it?"

But Wallace was already off and running, stylus working feverishly across the tablet. "It's got to be rich, you are royalty after all."

Steven paled as Wallace continued to work, flashes of himself dressed in the same Sootopolitan finest he'd seen the pair wearing in Lilycove, and he inwardly shuddered. If whatever Wallace was sketching had a cape…

"...A bit of shine here, some polish there…"

Wallace continued to mutter to himself as he sketched, and Steven soon became tired of the whole thing.

"Can't I just stick with a suit? It's rather grown on me."

But Wallace ignored him, stylus still flitting across the tablet.

"...Top it off with a Rustboro classic," the red cravat was sketched in, "and I'd say you'll look delightfully regal. Fit for a long reign atop the league."

"Wallace, I'm not a king…" Steven groaned, visions springing up of cloaks and crowns and too much gold and, god forbid, crushed velvet…

"Well you have a right to act like one now. And there we have it." Wallace spun the tablet around. "What do you think? The perfect blend of strength and style befitting Hoenn's top trainer."

Steven leaned forward to look at the screen, and incredulously, staring back at him was precisely what he had asked for. The suit was a pristine black, straight edged and sharply cut, and Steven had to admit it certainly didn't look like anything he'd seen at his father's office. Deep violet lines hugged the seams, and silver embellishments glinted at the clasps and sleeves. In lieu of a traditional tie, a crimson cravat was tucked into a matching vest beneath.

It was distinct, but not flashy, at least not to what Steven had been expecting to see, and as unlikely as it would be that he'd pick something out like this for himself, he didn't find himself horribly opposed to wearing it either. He was looking the design over once more to see if he was really sure about all this, when Wallace's voice cut through his musings.

"I'll take your silence as a good thing."

"It's...different," Steven offered, handing the tablet back to Wallace.

"I know, I know, not quite your cup of tea. But don't worry it'll grow on you, I promise. Besides, it'd be criminal for someone as handsome as you not to look this good otherwise."

Brows knitted as he continued to ponder Wallace's stylistic choices, it took Steven a moment before Wallace's words sunk in.

"...Did you just—?"

"Never mind what I just said, we've got to get your measurements!" and before Steven could protest, Wallace grabbed him by the arm and whisked him away to meet with the tailor.

When Wallace and Juan and the tailor were through with him, with reassurance that his suit would be ready by tomorrow's announcement, Steven was directed yet again from room to room in the League, bouncing around in meetings about protocol and regulations and Gym inspections and intra-League cooperation and by the time Steven's head began to spin and he feared he may have gotten himself into more than he could handle, Drake gave him a reassuring pat on the back that he'd get the hang of things in no time. As thin as the veteran trainer's words felt, by the time Steven found himself nearing the last stop of the day, the nervousness of the road ahead took a back seat to what lay in store for him tomorrow.

The League's official announcement.

It would only be a small affair, the live audience consisting only of reporters and League personnel, but still the thought sent his stomach tumbling, especially when Drake had said there'd be no room to have Metagross on stage with him. All eyes would be on him and just like that, it felt like the day before his trainer's school exam all over again.

As he reached his destination, he rested a hand on the doorknob and paused, wondering if maybe he could have Metagross take his place at the announcement instead… He shook his head. There's no way Drake would go for that.

Just, why did he feel so overwhelmed all of a sudden? His hand tightened around the knob, suddenly reluctant to step through the threshold and claim the suite as his own. He knew he'd accomplished something most trainers only dreamed of; he was the Champion, yet why didn't he come out the other side feeling confident and carrying himself like the person that defeated the five most powerful trainers in the region?

The nagging voice in the back of his mind began to grow, cutting through logic and reason alike to pinpoint the little bud of doubt that lingered there. He'd worked hard, he had earned this, but what if he wasn't ready?

The fierce rocking of Metagross's pokeball against his side stopped him in his tracks.

"You're right, I can't think like that," Steven sighed with a shake of his head, and the pulse of Metagross's presence dialed back just a bit. "If I'm feeling the same way in the morning, you can yell at me again."

He felt a surge of psychic reassurance at the back of his mind, and the mental note that Metagross would make good on their deal. Drawing a steady breath, Steven smiled. Metagross always seemed to know how to drown out the whispers of doubt.

Satisfied that his starter's chastising had been appeased for now, the thought of finally having some time to rest and relax outweighed the dread of the following day, and he pushed the door wide as he made his way into the room. He only made it a few steps inside when he paused again. The League really was full of surprises.

The Champion's suite was quite unlike the room he had stayed in the previous night. Its decor was rather understated and the scale of the space held a much more intimate feel. The swaths of marble and velour were replaced by aged wood and worn leather. Although it was vacant of any of the former Champion's things save for the faint odor of pipe tobacco, Steven had an inkling the overall look was due to Drake's influence. But it was far from a bad thing; he kind of preferred it that way. As much as he enjoyed marveling at beautiful stonework, there was something more appealing when it was found in a cave, and not inside a building.

There was something about these new quarters, something that put him at ease, and as he reached down for his pack that again had been delivered to the room, it struck him as to why.

Everything at Ever Grande felt larger than life; the lobby, the Elite's chambers, the League building itself, they all were too spacious and too tall and too cold, and for the first time since arriving, the scale of the place finally made him feel like he belonged. It was cozy, but not cramped. Comfortable, but not excessive. As his gaze swept across the room, it landed on the hearth, and he smiled. There was just enough space…

His partner materialized next to the armchair in a flash of light, its red eyes already finding his own, and he smiled.

"Metagross," he spread his arms wide, "Welcome to our new home."

The steel type hummed in response. A promise that if nothing else, it would make sure Ever Grande was their home for a long time to come.

At eight o'clock sharp the next morning, it was just as the tailor promised, and Steven opened the door to his chambers to find the finished suit that was to be his official Champion's attire, and two overly-chipper stylists. They urged him to hurry and get dressed so any alterations could be made, if necessary.

As it turned out, the tailor had done an impeccable job, and the suit fit like a glove, leaving nothing else to do but focus on the little things. The pair of Sootopolitans had fiddled with so many small adjustments - buttons here, a crease there, straighten that cuff - that Steven had nearly been afraid to move, let alone sit down to take a break. At least that was until Drake came bustling in and shooed the two of them out, grumbling something about too much fuss and peace and quiet. So after one final lesson from Juan on how to tie a cravat, which he was sure amused Wallace to no end, Steven found himself alone again standing in front of the full length mirror in his suite.

With a sigh of relief, he ran a hand through his hair, which amusingly had caused Wallace to huff and throw his hands in the air in defeat during one of their earlier styling sessions. It was rather haphazard, and had been for as long as he could remember. Thankfully, Wallace had left it alone after that, and he was happy for the brief respite from fashion scrutiny. There would be plenty of other scrutiny when he was up there on that stage...

Mercifully, Drake had said he wouldn't need to prepare any words for this announcement; the speeches would come later. And for that, Steven was grateful. He was sure there was no way he would be able to choke out anything coherent in front of such a crowd. But there was no sense in getting worked up now. It was still hours before the announcement, even if he had to be ready well in advance.

So rather than sit and stew in his room, he figured some fresh air might do some good, and hefted his suit jacket from the nearby stand before shrugging it on and meeting his own gaze in the glass.

His eyes went wide as he swept over his reflection in equal parts incredulity and awe. Wallace had been right; he looked so different. Not that he'd never worn fine clothes before, but there was something else, something that left him barely able to recognize the person staring back at him. Thinking back, it had been a while since he last looked at himself in the mirror. Really looked. Deep down, he felt small, still wet behind the ears. And part of that was true. But the image staring back at him looked nothing like that inexperienced trainer who nearly lost his only pokemon mere months into his journey.

That trainer was long gone. This was the face of someone who belonged here, at the head of the League. He wasn't the loud and flashy Dragon Tamer of Johto, or the grizzled navy veteran who probably had been battling for more years than he'd been alive. No, he saw someone else in that reflection with a determined gaze and a quiet command that spoke volumes without a word. Sharp, sleek, and serious, just like the team of powerful pokemon at his side.

And for the first time, Steven truly felt like a Champion.

Checking where his team of pokeballs sat on his new belt one last time, he drew a deep breath and headed out the door.

Somehow in the blink of an eye the rest of the morning was gone. A quick glance at his watch showed the press conference would start in less than fifteen minutes. Except that for as quickly as the day had gone, the wait now was agonizing.

Rather than sit patiently, Steven took to pacing the small green room where he waited for the Elite to come and usher him to the conference. Hands jammed in his pockets, he found himself fiddling with his mother's ring. Perhaps she'd be able to offer some guidance about what the future held in store.

Who was he kidding, it was all his father's story anyway. He couldn't even remember what she sounded like…

But as he turn the ring over, twisting it round and round, he did have some new voices in his head that offered words of encouragement. The Elite Four and former Champion had all worked to bolster his confidence before the big day. Sitting around the conference table, the echoes of their conversation came tumbling back.

Iona had given him a bright grin. "Don't you listen to anyone who says this was all a fluke, or some stroke of divine luck. I know a thing or two about gods and blessings from my days back in Johto, and let me tell you that this victory is all your own doing. Because there will be doubters, there always are. You just hold your head high, you earned the title fair and square."

Glacia's piercing stare never left his own, but this time it hadn't send a shiver down his spine. "I've seen you battle first hand, I know you're more than capable as our Champion. You'll have to forgive me, though, if I don't let any challengers through to your chambers. You're the first trainer in a long time that has lit such a competitive fire beneath me."

The look in Phoebe's eyes had been distant, yet firm. "You made even the spirits tremble with anticipation. They could feel this was your destiny. And, I think… I think deep down I knew it too. I still have a lot to learn about the spirits, and the League too, so let's continue to get stronger, together."

Drake had given him a pat on the back before sending him on his way at the end of their meeting. The old sailor smiled, eyeing the way the Elites excitedly chatted with one another. "It's not every day they have a new Champion to celebrate. We're all equals here, and they're excited to have you, even Glacia, though she might not look it. We all learn as we go, lad. You're quick on your feet, so you'll go far, that's for sure. They won't let you down, either. Never be afraid to ask the Elite for help; this League does not rest solely on one man's shoulders."

Only Simon had remained relatively quiet, mumbling something about lifetime accomplishments and Steven was sure he heard the word "retirement" in there too, but the sentiment still stood. It was a unanimous vote of confidence, including the former Champion himself.

The Elite had so readily accepted him into their midst, given him advice, made him one of their own. It was humbling, to say the least. And Drake almost seemed proud to be handing the title over.

His father had said the same thing; he'd been proud of what Steven had achieved, which almost felt as strange as having the person he just usurped the title from express the same sentiment. It wasn't that his father had never been proud of him, in fact, it was quite the opposite. But he was sure it had always been with one thing in mind: Devon. So to hear words of praise and have it not be about his father's company, it felt… good, but odd.

Unconsciously, the ring in his pocket found its way onto his finger again, just barely slipping over the knuckle of his ring finger where it stayed, snug. Raising his hand in front of his nose, he stared hard at the silver band as he slowly turned it around. The sensation of metal encircling his finger was foreign, but somehow comforting in a way. Sort of like his memories of her.

Would his mother truly have been proud of him too? Did she have the same expectations of him as his father? He'd never know the answer, but somehow he still felt the growing urge to prove that the journey was worth it all, and not just for his father's sake either...

Clenching his hand into a fist, the light danced off the ring's polished surface, a reflection of his newly found resolve. She might not be able to see what he'd been able to accomplish, but just maybe she'd still understand if he showed her with his own two hands.

Metagross's pokeball gave a shake at his hip, and the light clink of metal on metal sounded as he tapped its ball in acknowledgement. It might have never gotten the chance to meet her, but Steven was sure they would have gotten along. He just had a feeling and the faint recollection of a kind smile and a bright laugh and gentle hands that held up all manner of precious stones for him to see. Just like he had done for Beldum all those years ago...

A hand on his shoulder snapped him from his reverie. Iona smiled. "It's time."

Steven swallowed as she stepped forward, the other Elites filing in behind her. Glacia gave him a terse nod as she brushed by, and Phoebe's eyes were wide with excitement; it would be her first time besides her own inauguration. Simon shuffled past, and then it was his turn. He would bring up the rear, the last in line, the surprise reveal. Metagross's ball rocked again, along with the other five, and he tapped them all once before taking a deep breath and falling into step.

The stage opened up before him, slowly unveiling the crowd that awaited his appearance with bated breath. He spared a sideways glance as he stepped into view. Cameras flashed and shutters clicked and a murmur rippled through the room, all eyes glued to his every move as he slowed to a stop at Drake's side. The former Champion met his gaze with a steady look, ignoring the reporters with practiced ease, and offered a tip of his cap before turning back to the podium.

"I'm sure by now you all have guessed as to why this conference has been called..."

As Drake began, Steven finally mustered the courage to look out over the sea of faces, all eagerly upturned toward him, and it hit him all at once as he marveled at how this was more nerve wracking than any of the battles he'd fought to get to this point. He hoped the onset of nervousness didn't show through, and he had to resist the urge to fidget as he stared back at the cold lenses of the cameras in front of him.

But what had Drake said before? "You'll get used to it."

Somehow, Steven doubted it; crowds were never his thing, especially when they were all staring at him. But then again, as isolating as it felt to sit in the spotlight, he wasn't truly all alone.

At his side he felt the weight of six pokeballs, and in the back of his mind a quiet reassurance hummed through, muting the words of Drake's speech to an incomprehensible babble. Thumbing the ring around his finger, he gave quiet thanks for the support. They had gotten this far together, and together they would push on. A swell of confidence poured forth, and the sounds of the crowd came rushing back.

"... —ntroduce Hoenn's new Champion, Steven Stone!"

The clamor of the crowd grew to a roar as Metagross's presence gave a warm pulse, and he raised his hand with an easy wave and a winning smile. A picture of eloquence and power befitting the shoes he'd yet to grow into, but unquestioningly deserved to wear. The light of the sun glinted off the silver of his suit's cuffs and the band on his finger, and the traditional color of second place never shone so much like gold.

Later that evening, when the private celebration began to wind down and the champagne stopped flowing, Steven finally found a moment to himself. The Elites had proven to be quite the party crew and had been all too eager to welcome him into their midst. He'd been cautious, he and Phoebe both, but it hadn't stopped Iona's encouragement for everyone to "loosen up a little".

So surrounded by stories and laughter all night, the warm buzz of excitement and just a bit of alcohol eventually sent him seeking a bit of fresher air. Ducking under Glacia's watchful eye, he made his way toward the balcony doors.

It all felt so strange, like he was floating through a dream, and he kept waiting to wake up and find himself in his sleeping bag, camping out on the road with his team, or worse, back in Rustboro in his bedroom, having made up the whole adventure in his head. But even though he'd pinched himself several times throughout the day, he still was firmly rooted in Ever Grande surrounded by the strongest trainers in the region, all of whom now deferred to him.

He was nearly to the door when the PokeNav in his pocket buzzed, catching him by surprise. Only a precious few people had his number, and most of them were currently in the room with him. Then who could have called him?

A quick glance at the missed call notification on the screen told him all he needed to know, and the device was hurriedly shoved back in his pocket as he renewed his quest for an exit with a bit more urgency. He needed somewhere quiet to call them back.

Dodging between tables long enough to deposit his mostly-empty glass, Steven was thankful Drake had his father wrapped up in equally healthy doses of nostalgia and liquor; a conversation with his father wasn't what he had in mind right about now. As he slipped by where the two men chatted merrily, red in the cheeks, he caught his father's eye. An arm still wrapped heartily around Drake's shoulder, Joseph spared just a moment to give him a wink and a thumbs up. Steven offered a quick wave in return before he ducked past, reaching for the patio door and opening it just enough to slip outside.

He hadn't even pulled the door shut behind him before the cool evening breeze hit him all at once. Crossing the balcony, he slouched against the railing, reveling in the way it prickled at the collar of his jacket. With a sigh, he let his head roll back, filling his vision with Ever Grande's nighttime sky. Somehow the stars felt closer than they did at home. He wondered if she was looking at the same stars right now...

Before he realized it, his phone was already in his hand, and he looked down at the number called up on the display.

The heat creeping up in his cheeks had to be from the bubbly, right? Iona and Drake had been insistent that he celebrate in true fashion, and his first drink had turned into two, or three…

His thumb hovered over the send button just a moment longer before he pressed it and brought the phone to his ear.

"Hey, Roxanne."

Her shout of congratulations was probably audible in the next balcony over, but he didn't care. He was grinning like an idiot into the speaker. Roxanne excitedly chattered away on the other end of the line, and for the first time in a long time, he was excited at the prospect of going back to Rustboro. He laughed as she finally paused to take a breath.

"How could I forget about that victory tour? It was a promise, after all."

The Pokemon Trainer's Handbook, 3rd Edition sits on a shelf in a quiet study. It collects dust; a newer version on the lower shelf gets far more use. But if one were to pluck it from its resting place and flip through the dog-eared pages filled with water stains and smudges of dirt, past the numerous doodles of rocks and caves and gems, they'd find a place near the back, somewhere before the index, where a single, solitary note rests. Written in refined, if not a bit sloppy handwriting, is a date followed by three words:

"We did it."



Gym Leader
  1. suicune
  2. umbreon
  3. mew
  4. lycanroc-wes
  5. leafeon-rui
WHOOPS I totally forgot to post this in the actual thread! For Smeargle Swap, in which Steven makes incredibly smart decisions. 😅


golden scars | pfp by sun
the warmth of summer in the songs you write
  1. silvally-grass
  2. lapras
  3. golurk
  4. booper-kintsugi
  5. meloetta-kint-muse
  6. meloetta-kint-dancer
  7. murkrow
  8. yveltal
me playing coy about you catching up on TR and then you actually did is, whoops.

let's ignore that though! here for chapter 13!

I see why you wanted the Wallace battle here; tbh that one's the far more interesting one from a character perspective, knowing both Wallace/Steven's past friendship, and guessing in broad strokes from other works in this series what their future friendship will look like. And I also get why you'd want Juan here to prove as the more technical challenge/to really establish, especially at roughly the 2/3 point in the story from the reader's perspective (or near the endgame for Steven from his perspective), how significant the power creep has become for everyone. But I also do empathize deeply with the idea of trying to have two back-to-back, fairly involved battles with fish in one chapter, and I think as far as execution goes, this one works pretty well. Everyone has their own strategies at play here, which is really hard to do when one side is mostly different fish and you also want to show the skill difference between Wallace and Juan. In particular I liked Wallace's combining water/ice beam to insta-freeze; that's a sick strat and it makes a ton of sense that he'd be cheesing people like that. RestoChesto Walrein is also a fun paring here, and I liked how that got loosely foreshadowed with Steven's Sitrus Berry earlier in the chapter.

The implementation of the gym puzzle is also funny--both from Wallace and Juan's blase reactions and "oh sure, try as many times as you need, and remember, have FUN" and Steven's general confusion at it. In a game setting it makes sense, but in a more grounded setting like this one it's pretty funny to imagine Juan just setting it up so he can watch a bunch of people flop around on ice for a while. I also liked the little details like Wallace being ecstatic that he gets to be in the fancy pool, and his general tsundere attitude towards Steven--it does feel like two kids just trying to look cool in front of dad and being excited when they do lmao. It's a fun dynamic to play with overall, and it lends some character development to what would otherwise just be a lot of fish.

In general this chapter is full of lots of good friends--*excited ludicolo quacking sounds* is basically my m.o. for life but I'm glad to see it in written form here, especially alongside walrein being a tanky fucker.

Wallace has told me all about your adventures in Shoal Cave. I must say, I'm quite impressed by what I've heard."
I know that this is more framed from a rivalry perspective but I really love the image of Wallace just excitedly telling Juan about the time he and this strange boy he met while travelling almost fucking died and Wallace is just nodding in slack horror

"I told you, it's water and caves that I'm done with, not ice."
our boy is never done with caves
A reverberating cry echoed about the arena as Victoria took form, curling gracefully in on herself before rising out of the water, and Steven couldn't help but gape.
(this is more of a tangent than anything else but is there a canon place that Wallace's milotic is called Victoria? If I had a nickel every time I saw this, I'd have two nickels ... which isn't a lot but it's weird it happened twice.)

But as Aggron moved into attack position, Gorebyss flicked her gaze back toward her opponent, and instantly he turned back into a sappy pile of mush, chuffing and rumbling quiet admissions of love.
honestly I've never really considered how ethically fucked using Attract on pokemon is in a world where you consider pokemon your friends, but noted lol
"What are you doing?!" Wallace shouted, his hands flying skyward in disbelief.
this is adorable


golden scars | pfp by sun
the warmth of summer in the songs you write
  1. silvally-grass
  2. lapras
  3. golurk
  4. booper-kintsugi
  5. meloetta-kint-muse
  6. meloetta-kint-dancer
  7. murkrow
  8. yveltal
so I figured if I didn't come back quickly this entire story would just get dragged into the chaotic abyss that is TR's front page during Blitz, and wow, here we are on chapter 14!

To the surprise of no one I thought this chapter was really sweet. It has a little something for everyone: people being cozy by the fireplace, big ronking steel types doing tender gardening, big ronking steel types doing incredibly untender gardening (the image of Metagross just fucking YEETING into the berry tree is such gold), trainers asking their pokemon if they actually want to go on this journey thing and the pokemon enthusiastically agreeing instead of things being left up to semi-vague "not no", big group hugs, Buzzfeed's ever-popular "what berry are you? quiz--truly there's so many things that go well here. I liked from a meta perspective that Metang is chuckling at Steven when he finally realizes they need to take a break since this chapter also seems to fill the natural breakpoint between the battle grinds and near-death encounters previously, and what I'm sure are to be more battle grinds (and hopefully at least one more time lost in a cave, for old times' sake, you know?) to come. I had the feeling that you also took a lot of time studying up what natures you wanted everyone on the team to have + what berries they'd like as a result, which is super cool but i'm gonna be real I didn't play enough contests to know what this means so I'm sort of just guessing here.

I thought the friendship rater girl was kind of a weird appearance, since between Berry Man Whose Name I Forgot and Wattson and Cozy Fireplace Snuggles it's pretty explicit that these guys are all having a good time and I don't know if we really needed a one-off NPC to show up and say that, but that's a relatively small quibble I think.

I also love that Steven's nanny wins of Skarmory by just ... being nice and offering snackos and treating Skarmory like she treated Steven. And Steven is basically surprised pikachu face about it because everyone's been telling him that he's supposed to whip this pokemon into shape, which shockingly took a long time to actually work as a friendship strategy, but it turns out that the secret to befriending pokemon was within his grasp the entire time. God I love this trope of just being kind to monsters in order to earn their trust; it's so satisfying and in general speaks to that sort of whimsy that the Pokemon franchise has for me.

Overall this chapter comes as a really sweet retrospective/breather for all the hardship that everyone has been through. It makes sense that Metang evolves here and now, and I'm kind of curious how much time will have ended up happening between this and the next chapter--if that's the actual E4 challenge, are we gonna almost be telling things in chronological order?? as a treat???
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