Trainer @warsofshadows
The Reunion

Chapter Eighteen: The Reunion

"Ash, if you could keep Monferno's pokéball at the ready," Oak said, giving a pointed stare at the belt looped around Ash's waist. Blinking, the trainer nodded, slipping the capture device in his palm. For some reason, his palms were incredibly sweaty.

He looked at Monferno, who shifted around nervously. Ash couldn't blame him - he was surrounded by his trainer, Professor Oak, and a rather menacing Alakazam, and he was going to be the patient of a mildly painful procedure that would unveil traumatic memories. He couldn't help but be nervous himself.

"Remember, Monferno," he said, a placating smile spreading across his face, "there's nothing to worry about, okay?"

The look on Monferno's face told him he wasn't sure of that.

"Alakazam," Oak called, nodding to his powerful psychic. As Alakazam's spoons twisted a blue glow settled over her body, the psychic-type set to work.

For a brief second, Monferno seemed to resist the psychic link, but it was established within seconds and Monferno suddenly went as still as a statue. His eyes shone with the same blue glow as Alakazam's as the air between the pair of them hummed with energy. Ash and Oak grew silent in nervous anticipation.

Ash looked a little confused by Monferno's lack of a reaction. Five seconds passed-

All hell broke loose. One second Monferno was frozen in place, the next he screamed in anger, alight with fury. His tail exploded with fire, illuminating Oak's already bright laboratory and sending blazing air in all directions. His eyes were bloodshot and red replaced the blue shine as his roars grew louder-

Then he lunged at Ash with surprising speed, like a Fearow locking onto a carefree Caterpie. Ash didn't even have time to raise up his hands to protect himself, but Oak's Alakazam had recovered from her initial surprise and quivered as she trapped Monferno in the air. Ash stumbled back and fell roughly to the pristine floor.

He could see Monferno furiously fighting the psychic hold, but Alakazam was so powerful that she didn't even twitch as he did so. All he could was scream and rage until Ash had the sense to recall him in his pokéball.

Oak's face was bone white as he called for Alakazam to relax. "This is far more severe than I thought," he mumbled, shaking his head. "I have rarely seen such a reaction. Monferno's memories must be far more painful and traumatic than I thought it would be to revisit."

Ash gulped. "Let's do it again," he suggested, but Oak looked at him like he was crazy.

"There is nothing that will convince me to put your pokémon through that again," he said sternly. "Ash, this is something that you and Monferno will have to get through on your own. This is something extremely personal to your Monferno, and-"

Oak's words were cut short a metallic screech that boomed from the corral. Concerned, his face hardened as he strode out to the corral's entrance, with Alakazam slowly levitating behind him, but she didn't seem as troubled as her trainer.

Wondering what it might be, Ash followed Oak out to the corral, determined to learn the cause of the disturbance. His eyes adjusted to the light quickly - at first, there was nothing new, but then he noticed the shadow in front of Oak and Alakazam swiftly growing larger by the second. He looked up, blinded by the sunlight bouncing off whatever was coming down from the sky; a split-second later, a grin split across Ash's face as his eyes lit up in recognition.

The massive Skarmory landed with a heavy thud, towering over Ash and Oak as it spread its massive wings. Its incredibly sharp, red feathers twitched independently as it fluttered the sheaths covering its sharp wings. Ash could instantly identify the Skarmory anywhere from the familiar stare she cast at him from above.

It was almost surreal to see his brother hop off from the Skarmory's saddle and land noiselessly on the ground. Even Oak was stunned at the sudden arrival. "Hello Professor," Red greeted, prying off the safety goggles over his eyes. A hint of a smile graced his otherwise stoic face. "How are you?"

There was no mistaking the tall form they were faced with - the messy, brown hair, the signature red hat and trademark crimson jacket, and those stormy-grey eyes that betrayed no emotion.

Oak was too dumbstruck to muster a response, and simply shook his head. Red laughed.

Then he grinned at Ash, leaning his side against his Skarmory. "It's a surprise to see you," he noted, inclining his head. "How many badges you got?"

"Five," Ash answered proudly when he recovered from his initial shock. Red's grin widened.

He couldn't help but be surprised to see his brother back in Pallet of all places. After all, Red disappeared for months on end, and he hadn't really expected to see him at all over the duration of his journey, perhaps until the Indigo Conference. It felt like seeing a celebrity.

"Who's left?" he asked eagerly, leaning forward. He pushed back his thick brown hair, but it was a failed attempt as it flopped down over his eyes again."I'm sure there's Blaine and Giovanni, but who's the third? Is it Koga-"

"Your mother will be pleased to know you're back," Oak interjected wryly. Red blanched. There was no doubt he was going to be greeted with Delia's furious temper once he got home.

Red's Skarmory suddenly bumped her head into Ash's chest, as if annoyed that she wasn't getting any attention. "Hey Tita," Ash whispered, smiling as he petted her armoured head, careful to avoid her dangerously sharp crest. She could barely feel his touch through all that sturdy armour of hers, but the Skarmory couldn't care as long as she was being fawned over.

"How long are you here for?" Oak asked as they walked back inside the lab. Tita crooned sadly as Ash disappeared, but she quickly got over it and flew away to harass a herd of Nidoran who scurried away at the sight of the massive bird.

"A while," Red answered evasively. His eyes lingered on the pile of papers on a desk before continuing on to the lab's front doors. "How's Mom?"

Before Ash knew it, they'd walked to the house, and Red looked visibly reluctant to enter his home. Delia, as always, reached the door instantly and took a second to recognise her oldest before exploding in righteous anger that made even Oak wince. After all, her temper wasn't infamous for nothing.

Even so, her anger deflated as instantly as it had appeared, and soon she was hugging and fawning over Red's return.

By the time Red was done changing out of his flying attire, Delia had already set the table with an array of snacks, as if celebrating her son's arrival. To be honest, she could be dramatic when she wanted to, but Ash didn't really mind all the food he got to eat.

"So, what's new with you?" Red prodded, stretching his legs over the carpet as he released his Pikachu in the living room. The rodent took a few seconds to take in his surroundings, but as soon as he saw Ash his cheeks sparked in excitement and he leapt straight into his lap.

Ash straightened as Pikachu curled up in his lap, careful to avoid the electric-types cheeks as he ran his fingers through his short, yellow fur. The hairs on his arms stood as he did so.

Thoughts about Monferno nagged him at the back of his mind, but Ash decided to push them down in favour of talking to Red. "Nothing much," he said innocently, "except that I won five badges, and Saur evolved." He grinned wildly as Red's eyes glinted.

"That's been long awaited," he teased. "Have you caught any new pokémon, or is your team the same since Vermillion?"

Ash shook his head. "My team's grown a lot - half of them are already fully-evolved. I even caught a Trapinch and Snorlax-"

"A Venusaur and a Snorlax?" Red smirked. "I know I'm your idol, but I didn't think you'd be one to mimic me…"

Red ducked under the cushion Ash tossed at him, snickering.

"Let's see how strong you've become," he said suddenly, inspecting his fingernails.

Ash blinked. "What do you mean?" he asked, confused.

"Let me gauge your level, see how much you've grown during your travels," Red elaborated. His smile contrasted against the steel in his eyes. "Let's have a battle."

"Later," came his mom's voice as she reappeared in the living room. "Red's just come home. I'm sure you boys could keep yourselves from training for at least a day, right?"

Her tone was cheery, but look in her eyes betrayed this.

"Yeah, yeah of course," Red stammered.

Delia smiled. "Good," she said tersely, sitting down to sip from her cup of tea, while Red and Ash exchanged nervous looks.


The day was surprisingly warm for a winter morning, so much so that they were sweating as they made their way to Oak's training grounds. While his team was getting checked out by Professor Oak, Ash was still recovering from the very from the very little sleep he got the night before on account of the several games of cards he lost against Delia and Red. As he yawned, he passed by the Lazta's - Natalie's parents - and matched their waves with his own as they cycled away.

He took his place at the other end of the field as Red did the same, and he couldn't be bothered by Delia and Daisy cheering him on - for now, he was only focused on Red, who had lowered his hat so he could barely see his eyes. From whatever he could make out, the Master's face was inscrutable, but a small smirk tugged at his lips. As Oak's Alakazam erected barriers to box in any stray attacks, Ash's hand slipped to his belt, running his fingers along the several capture devices as he fought to select a fighter.

"Show me how far you've come along," he heard Red say, reaching for a pokéball for his own. His Pikachu snickered by his side.

The ground shook as a terrifyingly humongous Snorlax exploded from the device. Ash's own Snorlax paled in front of this beast - while Ash's Snorlax was near seven feet, Red's was at a colossal ten, and far bulkier, with rich fur and and blunt claws at the end of its terribly powerful arms. It's face had a deceptively innocent expression, and Ash knew it was not a depiction of it in battle.

He didn't know if he was being foolish or brave, but Ash was unafraid as he stared back.

"Let's make this fun!" Red suggested. "We'll do a three-on-one battle. Your best pokémon against Somnus."

He didn't like being treated like a rookie, even though he was just a newbie compared to Red, who'd spent years honing his skill and strength to be recognised as one of the most powerful trainers in the To continent. Grudgingly, he nodded, and unclipped three pokéballs of his belt, before releasing them onto the field.

He really wanted to send out Saur, especially since the sun was directly overhead - even though it was winter, the sun would instantly activate the Venusaur's chlorophyll and give him an edge in terms of speed - but he'd evolved just yesterday and needed time to get used to his new body. He'd be nothing but a sitting duck, even if he could afflict the Snorlax with his spores.

For now, he sent out what he thought was a balanced trio. Red's smirk made itself more known as Ash's Snorlax materialised on the field. His uncaring demeanor shattered with a snarl when he saw Somnus, who looked like he had better things to do. Despite how smaller he was compared to his relative, he was unperturbed, and stretched his blunt claws in an act of intimidation.

Somnus snorted roughly at that, and instead turned to regard his second opponent - Zeus, who emerged on the field and immediately let sparks crackle between his horns. Unlike Snorlax, who immediately turned aggressive, Zeus grew wary, and observed the creature in silence.

The third was Delphi, who instantly seemed to recognise the threat they were facing. She gave an annoyed squawk as she turned to face Ash. We'll lose, her voice said irritably. Ash ignored that.

"Don't hold back! This is the strongest enemy you'll ever face," he told the trio of them. "Zeus, Delphi - attack it at range and keep it distracted. Snorlax, I want you to get in close when it's unfocused enough - keep moving, because if it catches you then you're done for."

"Battle…" Professor Oak raised his hand and slashed it down a moment later. "Start!"

"Somnus, be nice," Red remarked. The Snorlax growled. "The first move is yours!"

Somnus issued a roar of challenge, stomping the ground angrily. Ash's pokémon tensed and spread out over his side, locking onto their foe. "Delphi, get in the air and keep it locked in place with Psychic. Zeus - Thunder Wave. Get away with Agility if it comes too close. Snorlax, wait until you have an opening and hit it Mega Punch."

They responded with their separate cries and got to work. Delphi disappeared into the air, her eyes glowing as she began her assault of psychic blasts. Zeus's horns twitched before launching bursts of electricity that quickly zigzagged at the Snorlax.

Somnus snorted, and began to move with speed that was unprecedented for a creature of his size. He danced out of electric blasts way and weathered the psychic blast from above, before beginning his assault.

Ash didn't have to tell Snorlax to get away from the Thunderbolt which slammed psychic barriers, making it visible for a brief second. Snorlax barely had any time to rest before massive, jagged rocks began to hail from above - a Rock Slide, which Somnus had triggered effortlessly.

Snorlax coiled into a Rollout and bolted through the barrage of rocks that crashed noisily into the ground. He uncurled a moment later, but Somnus was upon him in an instant.

He narrowly leaned away from a Brick Break, but a Fire Punch knocked him away, searing the fur on his face sending him sprawling. Ash paled as the monstrous Snorlax lunged for the younger one, and screamed for Delphi. "Aerial Ace!"

She blurred through the air and tore into Somnus' flank, making his grunt and change targets. An electrified fist crackled at Delphi, but the Xatu had already teleported away. A snarl echoed as she smote Somnus with a Psychic from the air.

Zeus managed to snag a hit while his foe was occupied, plowing two lances of electricity into Somnus' powerful legs. He winced as his muscles tightened painfully, and Snorlax took this opportunity of momentary paralysis to drive a Mega Punch into the back of Somnus' head before darting away as quick as his feet could carry him.

Red face was unchanged. His Snorlax seemed unperturbed by the hits he'd received in quick succession, and was quickly back on his feet, but the decrease in speed due to the Thunder Wave definitely gave Ash an edge.

"Thunderbolt," Ash ordered, nodding at Zeus. Then he looked up at the sky, where Delphi was powering up another Psychic. The wave of energy rippled through the air, but Somnus moved and let it explode into the earth. "Air Slash!"

She nodded and swiped her wings, releasing scythes of compressed wind energy. Somnus punched through the blades, his strength nullifying the shockwave that was released, but roared in surprise and pain as a powerful blast of electricity exploded against his face.

Somnus stumbled back, clawing at his face and growling in pain. Snorlax took the opportunity to close in and electrocute the beast with a Thunder Punch to the gut. The larger Snorlax reflexively smacked Ash's Snorlax away, but roared again when another release of psionic energy crunched into his legs.

"Thunderbolt, Air Slash, Rollout - don't stop!" Ash shouted, and his team sprung into action.

Blasts of blue electricity and blades of focused energy assaulted Somnus as he roared in anger, turning from one direction to another to focus on a target. Icy rays began to collect in his mouth, but the Ice Beam was abruptly shut off when Snorlax pummeled into him with immense force and a heightened momentum. Red's Snorlax hissed and jumped to attack his foe, but Snorlax had already rolled away from his grasp, and he only received another Thunderbolt for his troubles.

Ash could see Somnus grow increasingly angry with every second of the continued assault, and he smirked. It would take a long time to bring down the beast, but if they kept this on, then-

He jumped when Somnus ran straight into Snorlax's Rollout, tensing as they collided. They skidded along the ground, but Somnus' arms were wrapped around his barreling enemy and they halted soon enough. He felt his heart leap in his throat when Somnus bellowed, threw Snorlax into the air, and charged his fists with orange, fighting energy.

But Delphi swiftly came to her teammate's aid - with quick thinking, she blasted Snorlax away with Psychic, and Somnus' Brick Break slashed harmlessly through the air. Snorlax was worse for wear as he landed roughly in the dirt, but at least he was still conscious; he slowly rose back up, heaving and glaring at Somnus, who snarled back.

Somnus changed targets instantly and charged at Zeus, who quickly ceased his electric onslaught and slipped away with Agility, barely avoiding the Brick Break which crushed the ground below. He spun on his feet and roared, breathing a massive stream of flames that made the air around it heat up and distort, and Zeus was forced to retreat further.

From the sky, Delphi screeched, slipping into a bumpy combination of Aerial Ace and Drilled Peck. Somnus didn't even have the time to blink before she corkscrewed into his neck, ripping fur and tearing into powerful muscle. The force behind it was enough to send Somnus stumbling. With the speed of a viper, the Snorlax whirled around to grab Delphi, but the Xatu had already teleported; Somnus roared in annoyance as she slammed metallic wings in the same spot where she'd struck him with her piercing peck.

"Hyper Beam, Power Gem, Psychic!" The trio of them got to work without missing a beat: Delphi splayed out her wings and tried to trap her enemy under the immense weight of psychic; a beam of red light exploded from Zeus' tail orb, beaning Somnus between its eyes; and Snorlax roared as he focused raw energy into a sphere of spiralling orange, before unleashing the massive beam right at his target.

The dust cleared, and Somnus rose up, patches of fur hissing. From the look on his face, he was annoyed enough to stop going easy with his weaker opponents. He writhed and roared; then with a single stomp of his clawed foot, massive pillars of stone erupted around Snorlax and Zeus, encasing them in rocky barriers. Ash's eyes widened, but he knew his friends had no way to break out; Snorlax was still recovering from the energy beam that left him exhausted, and Zeus simply didn't have enough time to destroy the thick rocks. His eyes snapped back to Somnus, who seemed to finally want to end things with an Earthquake.

Delia yelped as the earth fissured and heaved upwards violently with explosive shockwaves; chunks of rock and dirt rained down on the field as he heard the roars and screams of Zeus and Snorlax. Ash himself stumbled back from the tremors that somehow managed to sneak through the psychic barriers.

Somnus rose through the destroyed field and shook off the mud in his fur. As Ash aimed Snorlax's and Zeus' pokéballs at their unconscious forms, Somnus stared skywards, his eyes tracking a blurry Delphi. The first bolt of electricity narrowly hissed past the Xatu's wings; the second passed through where she was as she teleported, but the third-

The Thunderbolt sniped her the instant she reappeared. She was rendered unconscious the moment the electricity touched her body, with not even a second to even screech in agony. Clenching his teeth, he slipped her pokéball out as she streaked to the ground, recalling her before she would've crashed.

Somnus grinned, proud with his marksmanship, and said nothing as his trainer returned him. As Oak's Alakazam began to patch up the arena, Red walked up across the field and shrugged at Ash.

"That was pretty good," Red remarked, grinning. Ash took his eyes off the destroyed field slowly being flattened and reconstructed. "You've clearly trained your pokémon well. They gave Somnus quite the warm-up. Kidding," he added, laughing as Ash scowled.

He tried to distract his anger by examining the annihilation Somnus had caused. He hadn't really expected himself to win, but it was crushing how easily the Snorlax had taken out his friends so easily. It was disheartening, really.

"Tell you what," Red said. "How about we heal your pokémon and I give you some tips? Maybe I'll help you train too, if your team's up for it."

That was an offer Ash would never refuse in a million years, and he eagerly nodded.


Red was a trove of invaluable information. For the remained of Ash's days at Pallet, they stuck together, taking to one of Red's favourite spots to train. While Zeus was under Oak's Dragonite's tutelage, Red guided Ash with the help of his own pokémon, and educated on a myriad of topics he realised he'd never really touched upon.

Red's slew of monsters were definitely a sight to see. He knew most of Red's team from the time he'd grown infatuated with his brother's matches, but to see them in person was a completely different thing altogether. They were beasts in their own right, and power personified - every single one of them oozed greatness, and told him that they were at their pinnacle. There was his famed Venusaur, who dwarfed Ash's own, and carried scars like medals; his Snorlax, Somnus, who reveled in Ash's Snorlax's new-found nervousness; Tita the Skarmory, who lived for Ash's attention; the Machamp, Brutus, whose muscles rippled with every movement; an Arcanine that made Ash wonder what Oak's own would look like in its prime; then Vee the Espeon who, despite the many years Ash had know her, still seemed to dislike him; a Gengar that went by Shade and did not possess even an ounce of the malicious traits its kind were known for; a Pikachu that was deceptively powerful for its size; and a Lapras that still made Ash regard it with awe considering how incredibly rare their kind were.

Ash's team had their own favourites, and he wasn't surprised with who each of them picked. Hydrus hurried off to the Lapras and quacked haughtily, but piped down the instant she hummed something to him. Brutus was stoic as he was approached by a nervous Monferno, but turned eager them moment they began training. Venusaur, upon Red's insistence, agreed to mentor Saur, and they lumbered off to an unknown area. Screecher predictably chose Shade, while Delphi followed Tita into the skies; Vee was uncaring as ever and chose to be pampered by her trainer.

He really didn't know what Pikachu and Atlas were up to, but the last he saw of them was them playing a game of tag. Atlas was, of course, horribly slow, but that didn't stop him from trying.

By the end of his stay in Pallet, Ash and his team had grown, not just in terms of strength, but skill. Red and his pokémon were fantastic teachers - Brutus and Somnus had taught Monferno and Snorlax respectively the basics of the elemental punches; Tita had helped Delphi with Sky Attack, a move that Ash hadn't even thought of teaching her. Sky Attack was an incredibly advanced flying-type move that boasted great power, but took time to prepare. Even so, having it under Delphi's arsenal would be invaluable in battle, and something that Ash was going to work on immediately once he hit the road.

Before he knew it, the day of his departure arrived, and soon Ash found himself waiting in the lounge of the professor's lab while his team underwent a final check-up. At either side of him sat Delia and Red, who chatted with him as they waited.

"You're sure you can't wait another day, sweetie?" his mom asked, a bit too hopeful.

Ash shook his head. "I've got to meet a friend in Terracotta Town," he told her for the umpteenth time. "She's only there for a few days, and I don't want to miss that window."

"Is it Misty?" she teased.

"No, Mom! It's not like that!" he yelled, blushing furiously. Red laughed.

"What're you planning to do after Terracotta?" Red ventured, leaning into the conversation.

"I dunno," he said honestly. "Vermillion's having a tournament in about a month, so I might try that out. We need to grow really strong before we face Sabrina."

The Psychic was considered to be part of the upper-echelons of the gym circuit, and one of the strongest Gym Leaders, after Giovanni & Blaine. But despite the cold and ruthless persona propagated by the public, she was actually pretty nice. He tried to remember the time he'd met her all those months ago, and despite how little he managed to recollect, he could tell she was a warm person.

But Ash wasn't going to take her niceties as weakness. After all, her fearsome reputation had to be based on something. He'd watched her numerous League battles, and how effortlessly she crushed her opponents on the field. In fact, there had been only twelve trainers last year who had managed to acquire the Marsh Badge. Ash hoped he would be one of the few this year to hold the Marsh Badge under his arsenal.

Professor Oak arrived moments later, with Daisy holding a tray of pokéballs right behind him.

"Your pokémon are fighting fit," Oak said, smiling. "Although, I'd ask you to refrain from using your Trapinch in battle until he evolves."

Ash frowned as he clipped the pokéballs to his belt. "Eh? Why?" he asked, growing worried.

"Don't fret; it's nothing serious," Oak reassured. "Your Trapinch is just undergoing evolution."

Ash blinked. "Wait, really?"

Daisy nodded. "Trapinch take three weeks to pupate, after which the pupal stage lasts three months. They make a cocoon from sand, stuck together with a silk produced from a special spinneret on their rear, and they remain motionless in this form," she elaborated. "Until its body matures, your Trapinch will be unsuitable for battle. It's already one week into pupating."

He understood, but he couldn't say that the news was off-putting. At the very least, it explained why Atlas was constantly covered in sand these past several days. If Daisy and the professor were right, the ground-type would evolve in just a little more than two months - which meant he'd finally become a powerhouse on the team and began to match the rest of his teammates. It would be quite some time before he would become a Flygon, but a Vibrava would definitely be an ace for the Indigo League.

He nodded, grinning. "Okay, Professor."

"Be careful while he's in his pupal stage," Oak warned. "Any damage to the cocoon can lead to severe impairment on his growth and maturation. I trust you understand the gravity of my words, yes?"

He nodded again, this time more serious, and Oak smiled. "Well then, everything seems to be in order," said the professor. Ash grinned, and then turned to face Red and his mother, the latter covering her gloom with a bright smile.

"Just…take care of yourself, okay, sweetie?" Delia said, straightening his jacket. "And don't forget to call me when you reach Viridian."

"I won't."

She flattened his jacket's shoulders once more and smiled. "I'll miss you, and don't forget to change your-"

"Mom!" he hissed, turning red as the rest of them laughed.

Red snorted, and reached for something in his pockets. "I know you spent your birthday on the road, and I wanted to get you something but, in all honestly, I forgot." Ash rolled his eyes, and Red's grin widened, unabashed. "But now that I know you have a Misdreavus, I'm sure this'll make up for it."

Ash looked at Red's hands with wide eyes. Sitting in the center of his palm was a carved gemstone of deep, glistening purple, waiting to have its evolutionary energy used up. Unlike fire, thunder and water stones, dusk stones were among some of the most uncommon evolutionary gems on the planet. While they were not as rare as dawn or shiny stones, they were priced far higher than its more common relatives, and Ash couldn't believe he was about to have one in his inventory.

"I'd say your Misdreavus is ready to evolve, but give her a few weeks before you use this," Red said, tossing the gem in Ash's hands. He gingerly caught it, reveling in its ice-cold touch, before carefully stowing it away in his backpack. He had no doubt that Screecher would be positively giddy at the sight of it.

"Thanks," he stammered, grateful for the gift.

"Make sure you train hard, and take care of yourself," Delia repeated, clasping her hands. "Oh, come here."

A bone-crushing hug and several kisses later, Ash said his goodbyes and led himself out of the lab. He waved half-heartedly as his elders wished him luck, but he was too eager to leave Pallet Town.

The cool air was refreshing, and he couldn't wait to get his friends out.


Terracotta Town was a refreshing change from the metropolitan cities he'd visited during his travels. Situated below a range of steep cliffs, it was a seaside town that was closer to Pewter City than his pokédex had said. The town itself was tiny against the vast expanse of azure ocean, connected by docks that, like Vermillion, carried cruises all the way to Sinnoh.

The marketplace took him all the way to the pokécenter, where Dawn was supposed to be. The hawkers were convincing enough to distract Ash, but he ploughed on. He was beginning to think she had tricked him when he heard someone call his name - spinning around, his face transformed into a grin as he saw Dawn breaking into a jog. He could recognise those blue locks anywhere.

"Ash!" she greeted, pulling him into an awkward hug. Not knowing how to respond, he simply patted her back until she let go. "Long time no see, huh?"

He didn't give her reddening cheeks much thought, and just smiled back. "Of course! It's great seeing you."

Dawn nodded. "You remember Zoey and Kenny, right?" she said, her eyes flicking to and from the two trainers at either side of hers.

Truthfully, he had completely forgotten about them, but he just went with it. "Yeah, sure!" he lied, smiling nervously at the pair of them. He was starting to slowly remember Zoey and her mess of red hair, but he still couldn't recall anything about Kenny.

He shook hands with Zoey, but Kenny fist-bumped into his palm awkwardly. "Nice seeing you again, Kay-Kay!"

Zoey groaned. Ash definitely remembered Kenny now, and his penchant for christening people with odd nicknames.

Dawn clapped her hands. "Let's get going. We'll show you the best places to go in Terracotta!"

Hanging out with the three of them was a lot less nerve-wracking than he'd expected it to be; while Kenny still vexed him with his doltish nickname, he found himself having a conversation even with him as he was shown about Terracotta Town's marketplace. He stocked up a load of imported pokémon treats that he knew his team would love, and lingered around a stall carrying vitamins of all sorts, before continuing on with Dawn and the rest.

After a considerable amount of silence, Ash tentatively offered a conversation. "So, what're you guys here for?" he asked. "Are you guys planning on going back to Sinnoh from here?"

"After I win the contest here," Kenny quipped smugly.

Zoey smirked, playfully punching his shoulder. "Not if I have anything to say about it."

"Terracotta Town has a yearly Yule Contest held as tradition," Dawn explained. "It's an unofficial contest hall, so people don't come here for the ribbon - it's just formality. But they offer really rare prizes instead, which is why coordinators all over Kanto flock here to participate. Last year, they apparently gave away a bunch of luxury balls. This year, though, they're parting with a pokémon egg."

That answered why Terracotta's unofficial contest was so popular. Pokémon eggs weren't exactly common. Of course, licensed breeders had them by scores, but rarer pokémon tended to be extremely expensive and out of the average trainer's budget. The fact that the egg's species was undisclosed made winning the prize even more exciting.

He so wanted to participate, but there really was no point - he had no experience as a coordinator and he doubted he'd have much luck to begin with. It went without question that the contest would be packed with veteran coordinators that would wipe him out without even trying.

Still, he'd love to see Dawn and her friends perform to win the contest. Now that he was in Terracotta, it wouldn't hurt to stay for a few more days. Besides, it meant more time to hang out with Luna.

"How's Luna, by the way?" he asked abruptly. He'd partially forgotten about the main reason he'd come here.

Dawn smiled, ignoring her friends' bickering behind them. "I was wondering when you'd ask me that. How about we head to the pokécenter and you see for yourself? I'm curious to know how Scyther's doing, too."

The pokécenter was not too far away, and all it took was a twenty-minute walk to get there. As expected, the pokécenter was packed with who Ash assumed were pokémon coordinators, and thankfully there were a few empty rooms for him to choose from.

He couldn't help but be nervous to meet Luna, and the icy shower only worsened his worries. His heart plunged as he wondered whether Luna would even recognize him - after all, it had been so long since they'd parted ways. Did she even like him anymore? What if she-

He stepped out of the shower and shut down every thought hammering his mind. What was wrong with him? There was no reason for him to think this way - Dawn had told him how pleased Luna would be with his witness, so why worry?

The training field was quiet and devoid of any trainers, apart from Zoey, Kenny and Dawn, who had presumably been waiting for him. Dawn looked relieved at his arrival, undoubtedly exasperated as Kenny and Zoey engaged in an insult match. "There you are!"

"Luna's right there," she said, pointing at the far end of the field - he wondered how the crowd of pokémon had gone unnoticed by him. "Luna!"

His heart beat a little faster as he found a pink creature waddle through the gaggle of pokémon. He didn't know if he should've been relieved, but he was glad to see that she was still a Clefairy, and that the only noticeable different was that she'd grown a lot. He could see confusion in her eyes as she responded to Dawn's calls - then, it took barely a second for it to transform into recognition and joy as her eyes flicked over to him, and she bolted to him.

She gracefully levitated through the air, her wings fluttering and leaving behind a trail of iridescent light. He already braced himself, even though she landing a foot away from him before gently ramming into his shin. He winced, but knelt down and hugged Luna to him firmly, but gently. He could feel her thaumaturgy flicker warmly against his skin. Her giggles were music to his ears.

"It's so good to see you," he said, pulling away. "I missed you a lot."

Luna twittered back and waved her arms. "Has Dawn been treating you okay?" he teased. The Clefairy looked at her trainer, who was shifting nervously a foot away, and shrugged. Dawn rolled her eyes, and Ash laughed.

He stood back up and patted his belt. "Ready to see everyone, girl? A lot's changed since the last time I saw you," Ash said. Luna smiled brightly and nodded eagerly, floating back to give him space. Her eyes were nervous in anticipation.

Wordlessly, he tapped the release on the pokéballs on his belt, unleashing his entire team - except for Atlas, who was currently cocooned in his pupal form. Zoey's eyes widened at his crew and Kenny actually gasped as their eyes surveyed Ash's crew; reveling in their curious and impressed stares, he turned to face his team.

"Everyone, say hi to Luna!" Ash exclaimed excitedly. He couldn't wait to see their reactions as their eyes focused onto the Clefairy hiding behind Ash.

They instantly let out their unique, cacophonous cries and swarmed Luna without missing a beat (Snorlax, however, simply turned away and promptly fell asleep). Delphi, Zeus and Screecher were amongst the first to get over their initial shock and greeted the Clefairy with sounds of delight. A few seconds later, the rest soon followed. Saur stayed where he was and pulled Luna towards him with two, strong vines, and she giggled as he lifted her in the air.

The only one who hadn't moved was Hydrus, but that was most likely from the sudden bombshell dropped on him. His face was transfixed in utter shock, his bill hanging slightly open. It was quite comical, and Ash couldn't hold back a laugh.

"Scyther's grown a lot, hasn't he?" Dawn noticed, eyeing the green bug from a distance. Kratos had barely spared Dawn a glance before moving to where the crowd was. She sighed.

"He has," Ash agreed, nodding his head. "He's grown a lot more powerful. He's going to become one of my strongest pokémon," he said proudly, as the stoic Scyther awkwardly conversed with Luna.

He turned and looked at Hydrus, who was still frozen in place. "What's up, buddy? Aren't you going to say high to Luna?"

His words seemed to snap Hydrus out of his trance as he blinked and shook his head. Then, to Ash's confusion, the Golduck's scarlet hardened, his body tensing. He frowned.


His head snapped towards Ash and glared at his trainer. It was as if he hated being where he was, which thoroughly confused Ash. As far as he could recall, Luna had been the closest to Hydrus out of everyone, and he'd been heartbroken when she'd left with Dawn. Shouldn't he be happy?

He couldn't fathom why his friend was behaving this way. "What's going on?" he asked in concern, walking up to the water-type. But Hydrus simply looked away haughtily, raising his head. Ash sighed.

Hydrus just kept staring away, determined to keep Luna out of his sight.


The next few days with Luna were far less nerve-inducing and stressful that Ash expected. He was happy to see that she was no different than the last they'd seen each other - other than the fact that she appeared more confident and seemed to be more in her element now that her field was pokémon coordinating. He spent more time watching the Clefairy practise with Dawn and her other pokémon than train his own team, but he didn't really mind; it wouldn't hurt to give them a break for a few days, and he wanted to spend what little time he had with Luna to the fullest.

To his delight, Dawn had bought him front row seats for Terracotta's famed Yule contest. He wasn't particularly keen about the short opening ceremony, which made a big deal of the contestants and the winning prizes, but listened with half-hearted interest anyway. He didn't really pay attention to much of the performance stage, either, because he was too excited as he waited for Luna to show up.

Eventually, she did. It felt odd, but he couldn't help but grin wildly as Dawn was called out for the last match-up of the battle stage's primary round, and was asked to face off against Kenny. Their eyes flashed with recognition as they stared at each other from across the arena, dipping their heads in mutual respect and acknowledgement of their rivalry. Ash eagerly leaned forward, waiting in anticipation as the master of ceremonies called for the battle to begin.

Kenny released his pokémon in a flourish of his arm and the crowd gasped collectively at his choice. He recognised the Kadabra instantly, but the second creature was a complete surprise to him. It was a massive, dark bird covered in black and white feathers, a gold mask in the shape of a crown, tough, wide flipper-like wings rimmed with blue metal along the tips and tough golden claws. He had never seen anything like it's kind before.

His pokédex identified it as an Empoleon, the final form of one of the Sinnoh starters. It looked like a water-type, although the blue projections along its front and around its wings suggested steel-type traits. It looked regal, however, and incredibly tough.

Dawn seemed to frown a little as she stared at the haughty Empoleon, but she quickly recovered and released her own pokémon. Ash's grin widened as he ignored the Buneary and focused on the Clefairy's appearance, which elicited another murmur of awe from the crowd.

The large scoreboard overhead flared into existence, projecting Dawn and Kenny with a full circle of points. The master of ceremonies pressed the mic to her lips. "Coordinators, begin!"

Kenny was uncaring as he drawled out orders. The Kadabra quickly set to work, erecting psychic walls in front of itself and its teammate, while the Empoleon leapt up to coil itself in a shroud of water before rocketing towards Dawn's Buneary, while simultaneously spinning wildly as its beak glowed with energy. Its corkscrew sent a spray of water in all directions, and Ash had to grudgingly admit its beauty.

Dawn ignored the loss of points and maintained a mask of cool as her Buneary let loose a blast of electricity. There was no doubt in Ash's mind that Empoleon was about to feel the electricity in every cell of its body, but a short bark from Kenny made it cut off the Aqua Jet/Drill Peck. Its wings glowed silver with practised ease, then all it did was jab the end of one wing into the ground and raise the other one like a shield.

Ash hadn't the foggiest idea what it was trying to do until he saw the electricity harmlessly crackle around the raised flipper and it clicked - Empoleon had used one Steel Wing as a lightning rod and the other to ground the electric charge. Ash had to admit its brilliance. He wondered if he could use a similar technique with Delphi…

Dawn's impassive mask cracked as another set of points were knocked off her circle, leaving only a little less than three-quarters left. Ash watched, enraptured, as Luna rapidly formed a sphere of pulsing water between her hands, growing until it was almost her size. Ash felt his jaw slacken at the sheer size of the Water Pulse, and the disgusting ease with which the Clefairy had created it, before launching it at Kenny's Kadabra like a canon.

A split-second later Buneary fired a controlled Ice Beam, encasing the water sphere in a thick, polygonal shell of ice. A wall of emerald flickered into existence around Kadabra protectively, against which the frozen sphere exploded with energy waves and a spray of ice crystals, resulting in Kenny's first loss of points.

Kadabra's spoons hovered over its open palms as they shone with light just as Empoleon propelled itself into the air with powerful legs; when it landed, an immense wave of force rippled throughout the field, tearing the earth and leaving a web of cracks in its wake.

Ash watched proudly as Luna floated higher with her glowing wings to avoid the painful tremors that would've wracked her body, while Buneary leapt high and landed roughly. The Kadabra finally let loose a wave of psychic energy, raising any loose chunks of earth into the air just as Empoleon enshrouded the field in a thick white cloud of cold. Ash waited, nervousness growing as Kadabra sent the levitating wedges of stone and mud over to Dawn's side of the field.

His heart squeezed when he heard Luna's pained squeal and several more points were deducted from Dawn. But a second later, the Mist was repelled by a blast of psychic energy from Luna, whose eyes glowed with the telltale blue of psionic powers. Twin spheres of murky distortion flickered in front of Luna and her teammate. Kadabra teleported away as the Shadow Balls approached it at dangerous speed.

The psychic reappeared besides its water-type comrade, who suddenly raised its flippers and spewed out water that directly began to collect in the air. Ash watched in wonder and amazement as the water formed into a swirling funnel that began to grow and grow…and grow.

The resulting Whirlpool stunned the entire crowd as the massive, churning cone of water grew to be enough to drown the entire field. But what stunned Ash the most was the flippant ease with which Empoleon controlled the dastardly difficult move. Whirlpool was extremely challenging to control outside of a water field - apart from the minor psychic abilities, it required extensive practice to be able to manipulate so much water into a powerful maelstrom.

His eyes widened further as Empoleon froze the water with an Ice Beam while influencing the water to maintain its form, as Kadabra kept Luna and Buneary at bay in the meantime. Frost and slush crept over the vortex like spiders until it froze entirely, shining iridescent. Empoleon roared, flailing its flippers as it moved its head to hurl the cone of thick ice at its foes-

Ash blinked as Luna slammed the ground with a brief burst of psychic energy. Empoleon buckled, losing command over the frozen Whirlpool, which fell to the ground, but exploded into shards of crystalline ice with a magnificent Thunderbolt from Buneary, who seemed to struggle equally under the sudden crushing force. Even Kadabra, who had been levitating throughout the battle with ease, suddenly fell to the ground as the arena's gravity magnified.

Despite Empoleon's impressive showing, Kenny watched in fury as a whole quarter points were deducted from his circle, putting him well behind Dawn. His mouth opened in a snarl as be prepared to yell a furious order-

The timer struck zero and it noisily rang throughout the hall. Kenny slumped, stunned and bitter by his defeat, while Dawn squealed happily in her box. "And there it is, folks!" said Lillian Meridian, approaching her mic once again. "Dawn Berlitz reigns triumphant over Kenny Sampson, and proceeds to the…"

Ash let the crowd's applause drown out her voice and joined them in their furious clapping. He grinned wildly; Luna had put up a magnificent performance and he couldn't wait to see more of her for the remainder of the contest. His smile widened when he saw the Clefairy flicker her glimmering eyes in his general direction, and beaming proudly as she picked him out of the crowd.

He couldn't help but be proud. Even though Luna was no longer in his care, he was immensely pleased with how well she was doing in contests. She'd grown a lot, and Ash imagined she wouldn't be nearly as confident or determined if she was still pursuing battling.

Kenny's smile was fragile as he shook hands with Dawn, who couldn't keep a smirk off her face as the commentator announced her victory. There were a few times where it looked like Dawn wouldn't be able to keep up, but in the end she'd prevailed. Still, Ash had to admit that Kenny was no slouch either. That Empoleon of his was a beast.

Ash leaned back into his seat, barely listening as Lillian Meridian announced that the semifinals and finals would be held tomorrow. His rumbling stomach was taking up too much of his focus. He was dying for some food, and he hoped Dawn and the rest were open to eating out tonight.


"Alright, Screecher. When you're ready," said Ash as he stood several feet behind the levitating ghost. Delphi was at his side, having taken a short break from harnessing the energy needed for Sky Attack. She was exhausted, but not too tired to oversee Screecher alongside her trainer.

Screecher chirped in acknowledgement. Her scarlet eyes glowed synchronously with the circle of rubies around her neck. Ash watched, smiling, as the black-purple of ghostly energy flickered around her before shaping into a fierce sphere of onyx. The Misdreavus held it for a second, before hurling the globe down onto the field.

He blocked out Delphi's cry of surprise and braced himself, but he was surprised to find no impact. But he watched, exhilarated, as the Shadow Ball swept outwards like a tidal wave from the epicenter, blanketing the terrain in a massively wide circle of inky blackness. Ash stumbled back as the pitch-black energy surged to his feet and supported himself against Delphi, who seemed angry at the shadowy energy, smoky black wisps billowing like tendrils.

Screecher's face was tense as she maintained the darkness covering the field. Ash was thoroughly pleased with the relative ease with which she did so. "That's awesome, Screecher!" he exclaimed. "Okay, let's see how well you can keep it up passively. Hit that rock with Shadow Ball!"

She nodded, and her face scrunched up a bit in a rictus of concentration before amassing shadowy energy in a murky sphere - Ash frowned as the obsidian field flickered slightly as she did so. With a keening shriek, the Misdreavus let the Shadow Ball blaze like a comet and it thudded violently against the rock, which fractured under the force.

He couldn't keep his glee in check as he asked Screecher to let up on the field. They'd been working on this for months, ever since he'd conceived the idea back in Celadon, and he was ecstatic now that she had finally mastered the technique. It was straightforward enough in theory - conjuring a Shadow Ball and spreading it over the battlefield - but that was where the simplicity ended. Maintaining the field of alien energy was a whole other story, and sustaining it passively was an entirely different game. However, months of gruelling and constant training had proved to be fruitful, and the added incentive of the dusk stone had made Screecher work even harder these past few weeks.

It would be invaluable against psychics, and he couldn't wait to surprise Sabrina when they met. Saturating the field with dark energy would disrupt any psychic pokémon and prevent any on-field teleportation. This would be their trump card.

"Let's call this Spectral Zone," he suggested, unable to contain his mirth. Screecher crooned happily as she floated towards him, nuzzling against his chest. He laughed. "I'm so proud of you, girl. I think you're ready to evolve."

Her eyes glinted at that and Ash laughed as she somersaulted in the air, alight with happiness. She'd been waited to evolve ever since he'd unveiled the dusk stone during dinner two weeks ago. He'd had to hide it safely ever since he woke up to her ruffling through his knapsack one night, although he couldn't blame her.

Once she would turn into a beautiful Mismagius, he was sure she would begin to the stronger ones on his team, like Saur and Hydrus. There was a gap between certain teammates that he couldn't ignore, and he wanted to close that space as quickly as possible.

"Screecher!" he called. She flew down to him, smiling widely. "Let's see you keep Spectral Zone in a fight. Delphi, you're up."

The Xatu gave him a look of annoyance, as if hating the prospect of fighting over a field of energy with which she couldn't coexist, but she teleported to Screecher's opposite. Ash hoped that it would give Delphi a bit of resistance training, at least.


Screecher brought the dark field to life in a matter of seconds and Delphi immediately flew into the air, instinctively repelled by the darkness. He watched for a few seconds as the Xatu circled the air, then fired a concentrated Night Shade below.

Ash turned away as Screecher moved around the stream of ghostly energy and retaliated with a Shadow Ball. He had to check up on the others.


Zeus was still finding it difficult to muster enough dragon energy to form a Dragon Pulse. The week of training under the professor's Dragonite had boosted his progress immensely and helped him build a strong foundation, but Ash was slowly realising that it would be months before Zeus would be able to awaken his long-sleeping dragon blood now that they were on their own.

He couldn't be too disappointed, however, but he'd still hoped that Zeus would learn the move relatively soon. Either way, he was still impressed with the telltale turquoise that flickered between the Ampharos' hands and raised the hairs on Ash's arms. However little it was, it was still awe-inspiring.

He glossed over Saur, who had shifted to learning Grassy Terrain, and Hydrus, who was beginning to learn Ice Punch with Snorlax. Instead his eyes hovered over Kratos and Monferno, who had claimed a rather large area of the training field as their own. Ash frowned as he surveyed their simply training exercises - Monferno would erect a line of rocks for the Scyther to destroy with Vacuum Waves and Air Slashes. It would give Monferno the time he needed to perfect Stone Edge while simultaneously increasing the power behind Kratos' blasts.

There wasn't much he could help Kratos with - sure, Scyther were at the pinnacle of bug-types, with only Heracross and Pinsir proving to be competition, but, like most bugs, they had little variety apart from the typical bug-type and flying type moves. It wasn't until he could evolve into Scizor that Kratos would be able to tap into steel-type energy - although Ash had no idea where he could get his hands on a metal coat.

For now, Kratos would have to stay a speedster and rely on his brute power to dish out quick attacks and take out opponents that dared to face him. Ash sighed, lingering a bit as Kratos' Vacuum Wave crunched through three whole Stone Edges before the fourth stopped it in its tracks. But from the many cracks crawling away from the centre of the impact, Ash wasn't sure if it had really held strong.

He sat down next to Atlas' cocoon and unwrapped a slightly-smashed sandwich that lay cold between his fingers.

"I'm starving," he muttered, chomping into his meal. Atlas' pupa merely twitched in response. Now that the Trapinch's silk had tightly wound around his cocoon of sand, Ash didn't have to worry about and grit sticking to his palms whenever he handled his motionless friend. He was a bit sad that he wouldn't be able to see his friend for a while, but that sadness immediately vanished as he thought about a magnificent Vibrava emerging from the gritty pupa.

Ash flipped open his pokédex as he gobbled down the last of his food. His eyes surveyed his notes, which detailed out his plans for the next month or so. He'd be battling Sabrina in a month's time, during which he and his team would be training extensively. He'd been researching her team heavily ever since he'd had an insane amount of free time back home - there were the psychics he knew, like Starmie and Hypno, and a few pokémon from faraway regions forced into Sabrina's team due to the Interregional Gym Leaders Agreement, but he focused on the usual suspects: Mr Mime, Exeggutor, and Slowking, to name a few. Then there was the Alakazam that the Psychic Master used in every battle of hers. It would prove to be immensely troublesome, considering that it was her ace and easily conquered most challengers that approached the Saffron Gym. He knew he would have to rely on Screecher to take out the immensely powerful psychic-type.

Vermillion was having a rather massive tournament in two weeks time, so he'd have to make a move in the next few days. Normally it would take close to three weeks to get there, but a shortcut via Diglett's Cave would shorten that time to a week and a half. Thankfully, Terracotta Town was only half a day away from the underground tunnel, so it was altogether convenient that he was here in the first place.

He unwrapped his second sandwich and began to go over a particular pokémon on Sabrina's team that Ash was particularly interested in. He zoomed in on the animated image of the psychic - Reuniclus, it said - and eyed the strange, green plasma holding its disjointed body together. He wondered if it felt like jello…


Ash practically inhaled a stream of noodles from his colossal bowl of ramen. They were out at a local restaurant which, despite its disappointing appearance, served amazing food. Normally he would've been embarrassed eating like this in front of others, but Kenny seemed to match his vigor as he gobbled down bowls of rice. He was almost keeping up with Ash.

"I don't know who's worse," Zoey said, laughing as her eyes flitted to and from the boys.

Kenny thumped his chest. "Come on, this food is amazing." He threw a thumbs-up at a the manager, who hesitantly smiled back.

"It is, but I'm not a fan of choking to death," Zoey said wryly. She slurped down the thick soup in her own bowl and absent-mindedly stroked the Glameow curled up on her lap.

Ash didn't expect to have this much fun with the trio of coordinators. They'd regaled him with tales of Sinnoh, entrancing him with the powerful pokémon that were native to the region and the rich history and myths it boasted. He knew very little of Sinnoh, since he'd only pertained to watching the legendary matches of its Champion, Cynthia, and the little he'd read when studying Monferno. He wasn't sure what his plans were after the Indigo Conference, but visiting Sinnoh sounded really appealing.

"What other pokémon do you have?" Ash asked, looking up from his bowl. He looked away from the Glameow, who had been staring at him intensely. Its gaze unnerved him.

"Apart from Glameow and Roselia?" Zoey frowned a bit, recalling the rest of her team. "I've got Pidgeotto, Eevee, and Snover."

"Snover?" He leaned forward curiously. "What's that?"

"It's an ice and grass-type from Sinnoh," Dawn explained, finishing another slice of her meal.

Ash blinked. "I thought you guys started your journeys in Kanto," he said, confused. "How do you guys have so many Sinnoh natives?"

Zoey smiled. "I got Snover as a gift from my friend, Candice, as a going-away gift," she clarified. "Dawn and Kenny, however, caught a few before we left for Kanto…without letting me know!" She shot a look of betrayal at Dawn, who simply shrugged. Kenny was too busy eating to care.

Dawn hugged her Piplup protectively as Ash stared at it. By now, he'd gotten a good look at all three of the Sinnoh starters, from his own Monferno, Paul's Torterra, and Kenny's Empoleon. He had to admit that Sinnoh's starter pokémon were a fair bit cooler than Kanto's - although nothing could ever top Saur. He wondered if the Venusaur could take down Paul's behemoth of a grass-type now that he was fully-evolved

Piplup shuffled its flippers and chirped, prompting its trainer to hug it even more. Ash could tell they adored each other.

"What are you guys planning to do after the contest?" Ash asked them.

Dawn took a sip of water. "We're heading back to Sinnoh, after I win this contest," she said, smirking at Zoey as she added the last bit. "We were supposed to leave around new year's, but my mom wants me back for the winter solstice." Her face soured a bit at that.

"What about you, Kay-Kay?" Kenny asked, finally looking up from his meal.

Ash pretended to ignore his nickname. "Vermillion's having a tournament. From all the posters and ads popping up online, they're giving away a really strong pokémon to the winner, so I'll be winning that." His grin appeared as his eyes flashed determinedly, and Kenny oohed in response.

While he wasn't planning on expanding his team too much, he'd like to see what the tournament had to offer. Ash wanted to keep his team relatively small so he could focus on training each of them to the highest potential, but some additional variety would be sweet.

Besides, if it was really as strong as the promoters were saying, then Ash would be glad to have another fighter take up a spot on his team. He was hoping that they would be giving away a fully-evolved pokémon to the victor, but he would take anything.

Kenny raised his finished bowl and looked at the waiter. "Hey, can I get another round?"

Zoey sighed.


Ash kept an eye on the field as he slid next to Kenny, who didn't even register his appearance with anything other than a non-committal grunt. He was too busy captivated by the display between Dawn and Zoey.

He watched carefully as Zoey's Glameow focused otherworldly energy around her claws and slashed it outwards, releasing the burst of ghost-type power in the shape of a menacing claw. He expected Luna's Ice Beam to obliterate it, but he blinked in surprise as the frost only froze the the Shadow Claw in the air as it flew to the Clefairy.

He had to grudgingly acknowledge that Zoey had trained her Glameow well. Even Luna was struggling to stay conscious against its efforts to knock it out, and Ash didn't like that. His eyes tracked the Pidgeotto blurring through the air and hoped Dawn had noticed the raptor speeding at her Pachirisu.

A smile graced his lips when Dawn called for her electric-type to release a Thunderbolt, forcing Pidgeotto to give up its Aerial Ace halfway and change its path to avoid the focused bolt of lightning. Zoey grimaced as an Ice Beam struck directly into the bird's back. Luna was smirking as she saw her target comet to the ground, unconscious.

Pidgeotto disappeared in a red beam, leaving Glameow alone on the field. The feline snarled.

"They're good, aren't they?" Kenny muttered, grinning. Ash nodded. He was beginning to realise that coordinators were as good as battling as regular trainers, if not better.

Zoey called off her Glameow once she realized her plummeting odds - there was no reason to keep Glameow in the fight when her opponent had two pokémon still ready to battle. Ash rose up and braced himself as Luna cheerily floated towards him as Dawn announced for a break.

"You were great! You've grown strong, huh?" he said, ruffling her head. She smiled and chirped back, a sound more melodious than normal.

"How about we check up on the team?" said Ash, glancing at his friends all the way on the other side of the training field. Luna nodded eagerly. He didn't need to inform Dawn that Luna was going to accompany him to his team.

His friends, who had been training hard, stopped immediately when he whistled for them to cease. They welcomed the end of their training, but instead of lumbering to their chosen resting spots they surged towards Luna, who floated forwards to match their excitement.

Hydrus, however, was resolute as he glared away as he sought shelter under the shade of a tree. Ash frowned. The Golduck was still avoiding Luna like the plague, and turned angry whenever Ash bring her up. Never in a million years had he expected Hydrus to act like this. He knew his friend had been infuriated upon learning that Luna had left, but he couldn't believe he was still holding onto that anger. He really hoped Hydrus would get over that soon.

He sighed, and smiled softly as Luna admired Saur's massive flower, unaffected by the poison sacs hidden on its back. It looked like she'd gotten over her fear of poison, even if it did hurt her terribly. Either way, he was happy to watch her float all the way over Saur's neck. The Venusaur simply grunted in amusement.

He regarded Hydrus again, and shook his head in disappointment when there was no reaction from the stubborn water-type.

Luna seemed to notice where he was gazing, and gently hopped off Saur's head before floating in Hydrus direction. Ash tensed as he saw Hydrus' ruby eyes harden from far away, but didn't interfere. It was time they sorted it out.

Still, he walked closer towards the pair of them, albeit keeping a fair amount of distance as the rest of his team surrounded him. Even Snorlax opened one eye from where he was sleeping and watched lazily in interest.

Hydrus stiffened as Luna approached him nervously. He was doing his best to ignore her, but a gurgle of irritation formed in his throat when she chirped something.

Hydrus snorted, his nostrils flaring. He wasn't interested in having a conversation right now, and did his best to stare over the Clefairy's shoulder and pretend she was invisible.

Luna wasn't having it, though. Her nervous mumbles grew more confident, and there was a hint of force in her voice-

Ash tensed as Hydrus suddenly rose to full height, making Luna back away in surprise. His powerful tail slammed against the ground the same moment that the beast of a Golduck quacked angrily. Nervous titters escaped from Luna. Hydrus quacked once more, this time angrier as he backed Luna up further.

The Clefairy's voice rose considerably and Ash could tell she was annoyed, but that was apparently the wrong thing to do. Hydrus' eyes widened in rage and something in him snapped-

Uh-oh, surfaced Delphi's voice.

The gem on the Golduck's forehead burned with anger. Psychic power erupted from Hydrus with a powerful screech and a wave of energy slammed into Luna, sending her flying away. Ash heard Dawn scream, and rushed as if to catch Luna, but Delphi was already in motion - blue flooded her eyes as she slowed the Clefairy's fall with an effortless Psychic.

Ash whipped over to Hydrus, his blue chest rising and falling heavily as his eyes glared right at Luna, who was recovering in Dawn's arms. Then Hydrus snapped his beak all the way over to Kratos, who sneered under his teammate's gaze. Hydrus made to move towards the Scyther, but Ash was already stalking over with Saur on his left.

"What the hell was that?" Ash hissed. Saur's bellow was ear-shattering as regarded Hydrus with calm ire. For a moment, Hydrus' scarlet eyes met Saur's own, as if unthreatened, but glanced away a second later.

He heard a soft crack to his right and barely glanced to realise Delphi had teleported by his side. He's still angry at Luna for leaving, she crooned in his mind, voice full of amusement. Says they were family. How juvenile.

"I need to take Luna to the pokécenter," came Dawn's voice. He turned to see her shakily clasping Luna's pokéball. She didn't wait for a response, however, and walked away, sparing a last look of annoyance at Hydrus.

"I've had it with your crap." Ash scowled and Hydrus harrumphed. "I don't care if you're still mad at Luna, but you need to learn to keep your anger in check. You're better than that!"

The Golduck quacked sourly, turning away. Ash took a deep breath. "Luna made her choice to leave for coordinating, and I didn't want to hold her back. You need to accept that, and get over it."

Hydrus flashed at him angrily, but then he sagged and hung his head. Ash sighed, losing all of his pent-up emotion, and flicked out the Golduck's pokéball. "You're done for today. Tomorrow, you're going to apologise to Luna, and patch things up. Take this time to reflect upon what you did."

Hydrus did nothing as he was recalled, but Ash noticed his eyes welling up with shame and regret as he faded into a beam of red. Ash exhaled; he looked at the scratched pokéball like he wanted to say something, but he simply clipped it back to his belt.

He stumbled when Saur nudged his side, looking at his trainer in concern. "I'm okay, Saur. Thanks," said Ash, smiling as he petted his friend. Saur growled lowly, staring at Hydrus' pokéball. Ash groaned.

"I'll deal with that later." Saur shrugged in the best way he could and bumped against Ash one last time before lumbering off to the rest of the team. Ash slackened, slowly trailing behind his friend. He was tired.


Fortunately, Luna hadn't suffered a lot from Hydrus' rage - she was simply disoriented from the psychic blast, which had been released more out of reflex rather than practice. A few potions and lum berries later, she was as good as new.

That did not, however, help abate Dawn's annoyance towards Ash. Their walk to the Terracotta Contest Hall was awkwardly silent, despite Ash's and Zoey's attempts at rekindling conversation. He couldn't blame Dawn - it hadn't been his fault, per se, but it had been his responsibility to keep Hydrus in check. Luna was, after all, Dawn's pokémon, even though it stung a bit to say, and she had a right to be angry over what had happened.

Thankfully, they approached the contest in no time, and Ash quickly snuck into the bleachers with Kenny to avoid any further awkwardness. They found a couple empty seats near the railings, and made themselves comfortable just as the semifinals of the Yule contest began.

Both Dawn and Zoey had tough competitors and beautiful matches, flooding the hall with colours and techniques Ash could never dream of coming up with. The crowd cheered, gasped, and applauded as Zoey and Dawn finally prevailed, hardly unscathed.

There was a short break, during which their pokémon were healed for the upcoming finals. Ash numbly watched the battlefield changing, Kenny's unintelligible words breaking through the crowd's chatter as he waited for the battle to start. It'd been far too long now, he wanted to see-

"Welcome back to the annual Terracotta Yule contest!" boomed Lillian Meridian's voice, and the crowd's cacophonous whispers evolved into a roaring cheer. "Tonight, our finalists will be…"

"Fifty bucks says Zoey wins," Kenny whispered, grinning at Ash.

He smirked. "You're on." He winced as Kenny slapped his back a bit too hard, and they looked back onto the field. Ash cupped his hands around his mouth like a megaphone, yelling, "Go, Dawn!" He didn't really care about the money; he just wanted Luna to win.

Zoey started off by releasing her signature Glameow and Pidgeotto in two majestic gestures. As Glameow pranced around its side of the field, Dawn took a moment to leer at the feline, before bringing out two pokéballs of her own.

Ash's smile widened as Luna materialised next to Buneary, hopping cheerfully. She moved into position soon enough, however, doing her best to ignore Glameow's blood-curdling snarls and Pidgeotto's angry squawks, instead focusing on Dawn's voice-

And they were off. Pidgeotto soared into the air like a rocket, keeping an eye on its opponents while Glameow charged. It somersaulted over Luna's Mega Punch and sidestepped around Buneary's blast of electricity before blinding the fluffy rabbit with a spray of sand. As it stumbled back and hissed, furiously brushing the grit off its face, Glameow snaked in and buried an Iron Tail straight into Buneary's belly.

Luna whirled around to save her teammate, but Pidgeotto surged downwards with explosive speed, forcing the Clefairy to leap away. Luna hissed, frost collecting around her closed fist, and swiped - a rush of cold wind startled the bird, but it had been quick enough to awkwardly flap away from the Ice Punch.

Twin blades of compressed wind energy exploded from a slash of Pidgeotto's wings, accompanied by weak lances of electricity that quickly fused with the Air Slashes. As Dawn earned the first loss of points in tonight's finals, Ash marvelled as the sparking scythes blazed at Dawn's duo.

Luna was quickly to float out of the blades' way, but Buneary simply stood there, thrusting its stubby arms out to construct a rectangle of translucent the size of its body. Ash blinked - there was no way the barrier would protect Buneary; it was as thin as paper, and-

Ash jumped in surprise as Buneary took the Air Slash head-on, the psychic barrier doing nothing to stop the shockwave of energy that came with the blast. A split-second later, Glameow convulsed, hissing painfully as it kept itself standing.

Kenny whistled lowly. "That was genius," he exclaimed, grinning.

"What was that?" asked Ash. He'd never seen anything like it.

"Magic Coat reflected Glameow's Thunder Wave back to her," Kenny explained, still smiling. "That's gonna hurt Zoey for the rest of the fight."

He was right; Glameow's speed was no more impressive. With its cramping legs, it was now barely faster than Buneary and Luna, who were beginning to catch up to the feline.

Dawn had lost points from the sacrificial play, but Zoey took an even greater hit. Her otherwise confident glow was beginning to fade, and he could see a slight frown creasing her forehead.

Ash looked away from the scoreboard as Luna grabbed his attention once again - a fierce gale of freezing air and frost billowed out of her mouth and took over the entire field. He was more surprised than impressed by the Blizzard she had kicked up, which proved to be an annoyance to Pidgeotto who had to soar higher to avoid the shockingly cold winds. Dawn had beefed Luna on a lot of TMs, and he didn't really know how to feel about that.

His eyes widened further and he gasped with the crowd as Luna levitated like a revered deity and he glowing wings exploded with blinding, iridescent beams of light. As his eyes recovered, they were met with a mesmerising sight of glittering snow and frost fiercely storming through the air.

He recognised Dazzling Gleam instantly, from when Luna had still been on his team and he'd been researching powerful fairy-type moves. An entire quarter points disappeared from Zoey's remaining points, and it was enough to make the coordinator scowl.

A whistle from her was met with a resounding shriek from high above; the next second, the glimmering blizzard escaped Luna's grasp and was trapped in a howling Twister kicked up by Pidgeotto. The crowd watched as the pale turquoise of draconic energy flickered into wisps, then disappeared in a magnificent display from when it came in contact to the fairy energy still trapped within the blizzard.

The crowd's noise matched the Twister's roars as Pidgeotto, with a powerful flap of its impressive wings, sent it hurtling towards Luna and Buneary. It did not hold the traces of dragon powers, but it was still powerful. Buneary quickly summoned a cage of shimmering emerald, but Luna was not so lucky.

Ash grit his teeth as he saw the hurricane swallow Luna whole. The fierce winds sent her hurtling within the cyclone, her cries drowned out by the harsh howls. The gale died down within moments, but Luna was heavily disoriented and hurt as she hit the field with a thud.

The scoreboard blinked, and Dawn and Zoey were now on equal footing.

Glameow pounced without wasting a second. Its hisses and snarls were heard now that the Blizzard and Twister had disappeared, and it lashed out with a gleaming Iron Tail. Luna was still too confused to notice the metallic tail, which lashed right down her back. Her scream mixed with Pidgeotto's wings as it reared its claws at Buneary, who summoned illusory clones at will. Its carving talons cleaved through a copy as the myriad of rabbits surrounded it.

It flapped awkwardly, its head snapping to and fro to identify the right target. Buneary didn't waste any time - using the few seconds of confusion, it bounced straight up to a surprising height, and came down like an asteroid. Pidgeotto shrieked as Buneary drove into its back, the force behind it crushing the bird in place.

Luna had now recovered and was floating away from each of Glameow's powerful slashes. A ray of light-blue energy exploded in a concentrated blast, around which the cat simply danced. Glameow snarled, however, as the Ice Beam brushed against its foot; frost crept up its paw, but a flex of its deceptively powerful claws made it shatter like glass.

It seemed like the match had devolved into a trainer battle until Zoey called out a command. Pidgeotto squawked, flapping its powerful wings to released a stream of flames - how it managed to do that, Ash had no idea, but the next second the bird's wings flashed silver before it flew directly into the flames. Its feathers were smoky, but what caught Ash's attention were its wings, superheated by the flames and glowing red.

He had to wince when Pidgeotto drove its superheated Steel Wing directly into Luna's back, the combined heat and steel-energy making her shriek in pain. Pidgeotto flew back into the air and the steely glow faded. It winced as it flapped its wings, and Ash frowned. Maybe that particular combination hurt it as well…?

Glameow's tail exploded with electricity, meeting Buneary's Thunderbolt. Light and sound shattered the sky as they collided, kicking up a cloud of smoke and dust. Pidgeotto's light flaps, united with Luna's healthy nudge of psychic manipulation, cleared the smoke in a matter of seconds.

Ash glanced at the scoreboard. Zoey was barely behind Dawn, and there were only thirty seconds left on the timer. It could be anyone's game.

Dawn hissed an order, and her pokémon moved in tandem. A flurry of glowing, razor-sharp leaves sprung from Luna - Magical Leaf. Ash reminded himself to begin working on that with Saur.

They flew at Glameow and Pidgeotto like bullets. Pidgeotto avoided the leaves with ease, although they still gave chase, but Glameow was slowed down by the cramping muscles in its legs - it hissed as the leaves sliced into it all over, drawing dribbles of blood. Ash winced.

As the feline recovered, however, Luna grasped the leaves with her psionic powers and shaped them into a series of rings. At first, Ash was confused - then he saw Buneary fly through the rings of leaves in a single leap, helped by the pink glow of Agility and the telltale white trail of Quick Attack. Glameow barely had time to look up before Buneary slammed head-first and sent it tumbling through the dirt.

He was surprised when Glameow struggled to rise up on shaky legs. It was nothing if not stubborn.

Pidgeotto shrieked, drawing their attention away from its heavily-injured teammate, and disappeared in a blur towards Buneary. The rabbit simply stood where it was, and Ash already knew what was coming-

A shimmering Protect flared to life at the very last second. There was a loud crash, and Pidgeotto shrieked, having slammed full-force into the barrier. It seemed to fight something as it fell harshly to the ground, but its wings slackened and it fell unconscious.

Pidgeotto and Glameow disappeared in twin beams of red as Buneary and Luna smiled victoriously, their breaths heavy. Zoey's face twisted in anger, annoyance, and sadness, before forming into a bittersweet smile as she bowed at Dawn, who simply squealed and hopped heavily as her friends rushed her in joy. The crowd joined her excitement with a deafening roar just as the timer hit zero and Lillian Meridian revisited her microphone.

"And there we have it!" boomed Lillian Meridian. "Let's give a round of applause to both of our finalists, and this year's contest winner, Dawn Berlitz…"

The crowd roared again, but Ash ignored them and smiled softly, joy swelling up in his chest as he saw Luna float in giddy excitement. She'd made Dawn proud, but she'd made Ash even prouder.

He barely realised Kenny had thrown a wad of bills his way, albeit not unkindly. Ash laughed.


"Are you sure you don't want me to tell you what it is?" said Ash, eyeing the blue-green pokémon egg with a slight smile.

"No!" Dawn protested, cradling the incubator protectively. The ocean breeze made her hair flutter against her face, but she didn't bother sweeping it away. "I want it to be a surprise."

"I get it," Ash said, nodding. He'd recognised the egg immediately, having seen one of its kind a few years back when a student of Professor Oak's, one Mr Elm, had visited with a few pokémon eggs under his care. Dawn was going to be immensely pleased with the pokémon that would hatch in a few weeks' time.

"We really should get going," Kenny mumbled, tugging on Zoey's sleeves as the ship's horn boomed once again.

At Dawn's right, Luna chirped sadly. Ash felt equally distraught - it'd been amazing to see Luna again, but he'd been dreading the day when she would have to leave. A knot formed in the pit of his stomach, but he put on a smile and crouched down to meet the Clefairy's eyes.

"I'm sad too, Luna," he said. Luna frowned, looking at the waves lapping at the dock. "Don't worry - it's only goodbye for now! We'll meet once you come back to Kanto, alright?"

He made her promise, and she couldn't deny that. He pulled her into a warm hug that seemed to last for an eternity. Reluctantly pulling away, Ash forced a smile and rose back up.

He turned to face his team, who had crowded behind him with equally solemn expressions. "Say goodbye, you guys!"

His friends rumbled loudly, sounding a bit disheartened. Luna made a sad sound, then rushed forward as they surrounded her in a hug. Ash smiled. Dawn and Kenny teared up.

He rolled his eyes when he realised Hydrus hadn't joined in the group hug. "Come on, Hydrus," Ash said, exasperated. He'd been surprised the day before when the Golduck had actually listened to him and apologised to Luna for his actions, even though they hadn't interacted at all after that. It wasn't the best thing, but at least there had been progress.

He sighed and looked away. He wasn't about to force Hydrus into bidding goodbye.

Ash's team let go of Luna. Screecher nuzzled her aggressively, while Monferno looked at her longingly as she waddled back to her trainer. She stole a glance at Hydrus, who just nodded jerkily. Ash shook his head.

Zoey turned around, tugging at the straps of her backpack. "If you ever find yourself in Snowpoint City, make sure to ask for Candice Donohue," she said. "She'll take you to me!"

"And you'll find us in Twinleaf Town!" added Kenny, pulling Dawn into a one-armed hug. She scowled.

Ash nodded, smiling. "I'll make sure I remember."

"It was nice hanging out with you," Dawn said. "Let's meet when we get back to Kanto!"

They turned to leave, but stopped once again as Hydrus quacked rather loudly. A growl bubbled in Saur's throat, but a wave of Ash's hand calmed him. Still, he kept his red eyes trained on the Golduck as he stalked over to Luna, rather nervously.

Dawn tensed as Hydrus approached, but he showed no signs of aggression, apart from his brittle mask of apathy. He peered down at a curious Luna and quacked again, this time far quieter. Luna's face softened.

Then, he awkwardly patted Luna on her head and spoke again, allowing a hint of a fondness flash in his eyes.

The Clefairy smiled.

Ten minutes later, Ash found himself waving up at the ship's deck as the massive cruise liner groaned away from the dock and cut through the waters. He didn't stop waving until he couldn't see Luna as more than a speck of pink. His heart tightened as the ship grew smaller and smaller, and sagged as it vanished in the horizon.

Delphi empathised with his sadness, because her felt a familiar touch prod his mind. She will return, she comforted. He nodded.

Pride flickered across Ash's face as he looked at Hydrus, who pretended as if he'd done nothing. All things considered, he'd handled that really well.

He recalled his team as he decided to make a move, but kept Screecher out for company. Perhaps she could fill the part of him that felt hollow at Luna's departure.


Trainer:Ash Ketchum

Pokémon in possession:

Saur – Venusaur

Delphi – Xatu

Zeus – Ampharos

Hydrus – Golduck



Screecher – Misdreavus

Kratos – Scyther

Trapinch – Atlas

I absolutely adored writing this chapter. I'm not too good writing stuff that has little action compared to the rest, so this was a lovely exercise for me! Writing coordinator battles turned out to be really exciting too. Who knew?

Red's finally made an appearance after quite some time. A lot of you guys have brought up earlier that there's been little to no mention of Ash's older brother in this story…this is because Red doesn't really have much of a part to play in this arc, and he will turn out to be far more significant as we move on from Kanto. I don't want to reveal too much, but he'll be quite the focus.

I've updated my user profile with Ash's team and their move-pools/combos, in case you guys wanted to brush up on them and/or clear any confusion.

Thank you all for reading, as always. I'd love to hear your thoughts on this chapter, which you can leave in either a PM or down in the review box!

Review responses:

1995hzq (Guest): Great chapter, one thing though, Monferno's line is incapable of learning Stone Edge, only Rock Tomb and Rock Slide. But its your story. Saur finally evolves, great, when will he be ready for Frenzy Plant? Plus how long will you make Atlas evolve? Can't wait for reunion with Dawn and Luna. Lastly will Zima and Oz show up again later? Alongside Misty's former Gyarados?

-You're right, Monferno can't learn Stone Edge - but since Infernape can, I decided to let it slide just this once ;) As for Saur, it'll be a while until he's ready to learn Frenzy Plant, but it'll definitely make an appearance. And Atlas has already begun the process of evolution - although it'll still be for a few more chapters until he grows into a Vibrava. As for your last question, I haven't really given any thought to Zima and Oz. Maybe they'll make a cameo sometime in the future, but I don't have any definitive plans for them as of now.

talesfanjmf: This was quite the busy chapter now that Ash is back home and can talk to Oak about his Pokemon and how to train them.
Nice to see Delia meet the rest of Ash's pokemon even if it brought up Luna and Ash's feelings on that matter. At least he and Dawn are going to be meeting again in the near future.

After building it up for a while Saur has finally evolved. I can't wait to see what you have in mind for him now that he's reached his final stage.
I am also glad to see that you finally dedicated a good amount of time to Mega Evolution. How that'll work in the future for Ash is something that I will be keeping an eye on.

-Thank you for your review! Saur's going to be a real powerhouse soon. After all, he isn't Ash's starter for nothing :) And I do have to admit that I put off introducing Mega Evolution for a while, lol. I guess it worked out in the end though!

nebulae venandi: Sinceramente não me importo nesse momento com romance, acredito que o ash nesse momento tem focar nele e em sua equipe no crescimento e vinculo deles.
Sua historia é excelente e fiquei muito animado em saur finalmente evoluir e acredito que não necessariamente o Trapinch deva demorar para evoluir, enquanto entendo plenamente que tipos dragões demoram a evoluir, o Trapinch atualmente é tipo puro de terra por isso acho que ele evoluir para vibrava não precisa demorar muito. Agora quando ele chegar a vibrava a questão de tempo para evoluir realmente impacta ele, porque ele vira finalmente um tipo duplo terra e dragão.
Capitulo excelente, estou ansioso pelos próximos capítulos.

-I literally put this in Google Translate, so I'm sorry if I misunderstand anything! But either way, I'm glad you guys agree with my view on pairings in this story. Until I do find myself desperate enough to make romance a focus in this fic, it won't be tagged as a romance fic.

As for the Trapinch issue, I figured I should treat most dragons the same in this story, in a sense. But thank you for your review and I look forward to hearing more from you!

As always, have a good one.

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