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  1. #201
    I came in like a wrecking ball... [Desolate Divine]'s Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Kentucky Fried Torchic View Post
    Okay, well, apologies for the double-post.

    As promised, here are my thoughts about the second season of The Eon Academy. In short, I loved it, and am very excited to see what comes next!
    No need for an apology on the double post! I do believe that PXR doesn’t have an outright ban on double posts as long as there is substance to each, compared to making double posts that really should just be edited into one.

    I mentioned earlier that Justin is my favorite character this season, and the big contributing factor to that is that he has grown out of the role of Chris’s sidekick to someone with his own accomplishments and ambitions. His desire to become a police officer, his relationship with Candice, and, of course, his capture and taming of Regieleki are all things which have helped him make an impact, but more than that it feels as though he is displaying his thoughts more frequently than he was able to during Season One. Justin went from being the student least deserving of the Eon Academy to a deserving poster child and an inspiration for other campers (with the most impressive introduction from Jon to the new campers), and Jon’s nephew, to boot! His growth had a lot of effects on the other characters, changing the dynamic of his relationships with Chris, Dylan, Jon, and Abbee most notably. The explanation of Justin’s battle style was wonderful (as were all of Jon’s analyses), but it made me think that I would love to see more of this. I wish that there was some more of that present in the animated series or other fictional works. Battling style seems like such a great and underutilized tool of characterization.
    Honestly, at the time I wrote this, Justin was my favourite character. I think during Season 1, Abbee or Charlotte were my favourite, with Justin taking the crown in Season 2. Seasons 3, 4 and 5, it changes again, which honestly, I am actually quite happy with, in that I feel like it shows each of those characters is getting an appropriate amount of focus and development at some point or another. Curious to see if you can pick who my favourites are in those seasons.

    What was concerning as I wrote Justin’s arc, was figuring out how to work he and Candice’s relationship, balancing the fact that honestly, there isn’t anything wrong with it (in that despite there being romantic interest and nothing illegal happening), but similar dynamics can realistically be used to groom and harm people (and I hate saying this as a ministry worker, but the sad reality is that youth ministries can show examples of that), and I didn’t want to celebrate or normalise the age gap and their respective ages too much if that makes sense? It was a delicate balance of making it clear the relationship was appropriate because of the circumstances, and that if those circumstances were different, it may not be.

    Part of it I think is also the fact that Justin was among the most insecure in Season 1, but managed to hide it far more than the others, so by the time that insecurity blew up in his face, it blew up hard. And since basically hitting rock bottom, he is now able to see the bigger picture a bit. Like, “who cares if my friends know I like Candice. I’ve been in far more humiliating situations”.

    Speaking of Chris, he got some good developments over this season as well. Starting off the season with his rivalry with Charlotte getting stuck in a rut was an interesting concept, and I was waiting for them to get advice from Jon and Steven with their own long-running rivalry. Chris catching feelings for Abbee also was a curveball in this season. I thought that him and Charlotte would gravitate towards each other, but now that looks like it has gone up in smoke. Throughout the season, I kept a chart going in my head that I dubbed the “lust dodecahedron” and actually thought about making it into a graphic. The foreshadowing of his catching Lugia with the “what number am I thinking of” game paid off faster than I thought it would, and it will be fun to see if a baby Lugia will let Chris show a more tender side. Along with his new Bagon and Deino as well, Chris will be coming back next season with a much different team.
    You’re perceptive about Chris and Charlotte being the obvious pairing. Even in world, the others thought it would be Chris and Charlotte. The thing is that both have a varying lack of maturity (Chris moreso, but Charlotte when it comes to her relationship with Chris) that causes both to intentionally ignore the idea of romance between them. Chris does this subconsciously, and Charlotte forces herself to (in a similar way that if you hound a young child about having a crush on someone for long enough, if they eventually do develop one as an adult, they’d be more likely to try and make themselves think otherwise). And at the same time, one of Chris’ strengths (which shows more often in further seasons) is his ability to know his own natural tendencies and compensate before they happen (which is similar to Justin but I’d say Justin is more likely to change as a person so that they aren’t tendencies anymore). I think for Chris, he wants to become more mature and show some growth, but the difference between himself and Justin is that he doesn’t know practically how to do it, whilst still being true to himself. And for Chris, Abbee is the only one younger than him, but naturally is the sort of person (at this point) he would want to be more like inter-personally speaking, and shocking Chris even more, is the fact that when he is around Abbee, he wants to improve as a person, not for the sake of meeting society's standards and pleasing people, but genuinely grow.

    Ah yes, love polygons. The bread and butter of drama….

    This next bit, I am putting in spoilers, as I want you to have the option to know as it may prevent some disappointment in further seasons:
    Spoiler:

    Lugia’s growth is largely off screen, with the main gag being that when Chris battles interns for the first time in a while, it has grown a shocking amount.

    Salamence is completely underutilised, as honestly, I just got too used to using Chris’ Season 2 team plus Lugia. He relies that heavily on Charizard, Garchomp, Dragonite and Lugia, that Ninetales is only used when a plan relies on a specific of Ninetales’ abilities or movepool.

    Chris’ Hydreigon get used, however not until Season 5 sadly, for the same reason. Honestly, Justin is the only other character who doesn’t undergo a roster change. The others all do, and these changes are far more utilised, even as soon as Season 3, however Chris doesn’t until Season 5 sadly. This is due to my own tendency to forget about the Pokemon and focus more on human development. This is especially true when you consider the fact that:
    Spoiler:

    The rental Pokemon are hardly used outside of passing references. Season 3 had a focus which took most of the limelight, and Season 4 was Spiritwater. Season 5 is focusing more so on wrapping up loose ends, and getting some final development of characters before their time at the Academy comes to a close, and because of this, the rental Pokemon are hardly included.



    Also, good pick on the number game. Did you notice anything else ;) ?

    Despite the changes over the break, the students largely are able to get back into their old routines. Chris and Justin get back to bantering right away and Charlotte and Abbee renew their mutually supportive relationship quickly as well. There are enough hiccoughs from the interim, and over the course of the season, which alter the relationships, but it captures the sheer comfort of reuniting with camp friends even after a long time away. It did feel a little strange at first that Chris and Justin did not invite Dylan to play video games with them (even after Dylan stepped in after Justin got his nose broken), but it helped to illustrate Dylan as a separate creature from the rest of the interns. It is something which will be interesting to see develop in future seasons. Is Dylan’s isolation due to his older age, and will it be mended as more interns cross the threshold into adulthood?

    Dylan seemed more like a staff member than one of the group during this season, which is not a bad thing and it added a different dynamic to the group. Dylan’s maturity comes out throughout the story in little ways, such as his insight into Jon’s battling style during the first chapter and his working with Alyssa to help Jon keep his cool during the second epilogue. Because of that maturity, it hurt that he initially kept his investigation into Charlotte’s bad dreams secret from Jon. While Dylan was forgiven, it still struck me as a betrayal of trust to use Jon’s Pokémon and have Latios keep the secret as well from a surrogate sibling and parent figure. It will be interesting to see how he continues to grow and develop. Dylan’s ambition for changing the culture around raising pokémon is a bold one and I would love to see how much he can pull off. What does he think about Team Plasma? It would be interesting to see this story take a measured look at Plasma’s goals and methods. I thought that things might get desperate against for the interns to try and use the recently-caught Hydreigon against Deoxys but (un)fortunately it didn’t come to that. If Dylan can pull off taming that wild Hydreigon, it would be a more impressive feat than Justin’s taming Regieleki in my book!
    You’ve hit the nail on the head. At this point, Dylan is more-so one of the adults (and more of an adult than Jon can be at times…) than one of the kids. This dynamic doesn’t really change his relationship with Abbee, as in my mind, that was established whilst Dylan was still in a vulnerable place, and whilst his time living with Jon and Alyssa, and growing from a near silent child-of-abuse to a young professional who is making strides as an adult has changed his relationships with others, the closeness he has with Abbee was well and truly cemented from their last summer. It also helped (even if it ended awkwardly) that he had spent a bit of time with Abbee between Seasons 1 and 2. And whilst Dylan does chalk the fact that he struggles with Chris the most down to jealousy of what he sees between Chris and Abbee, fact is, that Chris is the second youngest, and other than Abbee, furthest from him in age.

    Actually, for reference:
    -Jon: 29/02/88
    -Dylan: 23/08/00
    -Justin: 19/11/01
    -Charlotte: 24/04/02
    -Chris: 29/10/02
    -Abbee: 26/01/03

    S.S. Wishmaker: 2017
    Season 1: 2018
    Season 2: 2019
    Season 3: 2020
    Season 4 (Spiritwater): 2021
    Season 5: 2022

    In this season, Charlotte and Dylan start confiding in eachother, and part of that is that Charlotte, despite being nearly two years younger than him, showed a level of maturity the summer before as well, and additionally, is growing up a lot. But you’ve made a prediction that will come through, and is one I am quite proud of: Dylan’s friendship with the others shifts as each of them grow into adulthood.

    In terms of the videogames, I think part of it was that Chris was going to be playing in their room, and Justin figured “If he’s going to be keeping me awake, I may as well have some fun”.

    RE Dylan’s keeping secrets from Jon, one thing that comes to mind is that Dylan (as he mentioned to Abbee about when Jon’s dad visited) has now seen Jon less as a myth, or superman type figure (that the others, despite knowing Jon personally still see him as) and seen just how human he is. From memory, I think he chose to keep it secret from Jon because he knew that Jon would want to do something about it, but also had other things to worry about in terms of keeping the Academy running with so many students, and figured if he could handle it without giving Jon more to worry about, he’d rather do that. This dynamic of Dylan looking out for Jon, almost to a fault, continues for a while.

    I thought that Abbee shone most in this season through her relationships with other characters. Her friendship with Jack Mason seemed to develop very naturally, and it felt like a real treat to get these two well-developed characters interacting with one another. If Justin had my favorite of Jon’s analyses, Abbee had my favorite battle between an intern and a camper. Rose had a great team of quirky pokémon, and it was really fun to watch the lessons Jon taught play out.

    Charlotte turned out to be my least favorite character from this season, a shocking fall from the last season. This was not because she was a bad character, necessarily, but rather because she did not seem to be so much of an actor as a reactor to a lot of the events and situations going on around her. Compelling things were happening, with Deoxys and relationships, but it felt as though Charlotte lacked the initiative this season.
    Abbee’s plans for the future were very intentional, as I didn’t want to fall into the trap of Abbee’s character just being “the nice girl whose dad died out of nowhere”, and at the same time, not overlooking the effect that has on her. Honestly, this was difficult to work, as Abbee’s personality is somewhat based on a friend of mine, similar in how warm and welcoming she is, and her ability to get along with anyone. The reason it was difficult is that a few months after I wrote the episode in which Abbee loses her dad, this friend of mine went through a very similar experience, her dad having a severe stroke out of nowhere and passing away. As such, I was very intentional about making sure that Abbee as a character was well developed, in a way, to make sure that I am not dishonouring my friend by accidentally using what was effectively the worst day of her life, as a cheap narrative device, you know?

    In terms of Charlotte, I think the reason for that is that I try to be very intentional about not letting a singular character hog the lime-light in a single season. Sometimes happens anyway (for example, I think that in Season 3, Charlotte and Justin do tend to be more reactors, and Season 4, Jon takes centre stage), but I think with Charlotte’s nightmares being a recurring plot device to set up Deoxys, I tried to make sure the others were more involved outside of that so that Charlotte didn’t steal the spotlight from them.

    It is exciting to see the Eon Academy developing into a real educational institution, the efforts of the Minister of Defense notwithstanding. The new facilities at the start of the summer certainly got built quickly. When will it get a pool? Regarding the curriculum, it is great to see Dylan take to the role of a teacher and develop his lesson plans and pedagogy. The addition of rental pokémon should be a great boon for the academy as well, and maybe will help some less experienced or well-traveled trainers to get more out of the academy. Jon’s teaching the campers how to defeat their absent team leaders also provided a great look at what the new campers are learning, and I think that he could partner more with the interns to illuminate other concepts, such as using Chris to teach about the benefits and challenges of using a team centered around a single type of Pokémon. After everything which happened this season, especially in the epilogues, I have to ask when self-defence is getting added to the curriculum.
    The Eon Academy is on an island, so I think a pool may be a bit excessive xD

    If you like the idea of seeing the students as teachers, Season 5 uses that more, and I know Chris at one point is able to teach quite a valuable lesson using his own experience as a battler! So get keen! As for self defence, that is sort of handled; Jon is aware that he is still a polarising figure, and given that almost everyone saw what he did to Lance, and now the fact he has straight up killed a man in self defence (with Latios killing a Pokemon as well), I think that Jon, to some, would be considered a good teacher of self defence, but to others, would not be appropriate, given his own history of violence. What he does do for this however, is explained as early as Season 1, Episode 2:


    Spoiler:

    Double Battles.

    Whilst Charlotte had asked why they were having that be a major theme, seeing as 90% of competitive matches were one on one battles, Jon raised a few points. Firstly, that he was wanting to break the predispositions they had to battling, and get them thinking outside the box, battling with their entire team, not just the Pokemon on the field, and double battles were a good start to that. Once they understood how to come up with tactics based on two Pokemon on the field, they could then start thinking about how their Pokemon on and off the field can work together at their best. The other point he raised was that with most competitive matches, outside of Gym Battles and Elite Four Challenges, there was no hard and fast single battle rule, and if both trainers consented to it, a double battle could be conducted instead, and because they were so rare and dynamic, audiences loved them. All it takes is someone to propose a double battle for the crowd to go wild, and if someone cares too much about saving face, they might accept the challenge, giving themself a disadvantage if they weren’t practised in them, though Jon didn’t recommend using that tactic too often. Jon also mentioned that he tries to teach skills that are used outside of the competitive scene, and should the young trainers ever find themselves in a life-or-death situation, knowing how to battle well with multiple Pokemon, or alongside another trainer, could be the difference between seeing next Christmas and not…


    Jon knows that should be have a class dedicated to self defence, he’d have parents accusing him of training their children to have their Pokemon snap necks, and additionally, he is also aware that whilst he has a solid handle on his five original students, as more come in, he doesn’t know how they will use that sort of teaching. So instead, he teaches concepts that are definitely relevant to competitive battling, but will also give them a better chance of defending themselves if they need to.

    You also put a lot of fun ideas into this season, some of which I would love to see expanded upon or revisited. Dividing the campers up into teams offers potential for some Hogwarts-style team spirit, and the capture the flag game between Chris and Charlotte’s teams also had potential for fun. I thought that we would see more of the new students, and while there were a few nice moments, especially around the intern and camper battles, but this was not yet fulfilled. It would have been challenging to pull off introducing and incorporating a lot of new characters into an already expansive main cast, so I much prefer that it not be attempted yet than it be attempted to early and fail. This meant that there was no big finale to the summer (aside from Deoxys, of course), and the end of the season (not counting the epilogues) felt anti-climactic. The Pokémon characters also could have gotten some more screentime, as I mentioned already. The legendary pokémon got some good moments with Latios training as a spy and Victini insisting on going toe-to-toe with Deoxys. It turns out that Rayquaza can learn V-Create, so that would be an exciting scene of Victini teaching the big green guy his signature attack. Outside of these examples, and the taming of Chris’s new Lugia, as well, the Pokémon as characters were not really present. There were missed opportunities like where Chris could have brought out one of his Pokémon to keep him company while keeping watch in the Whirl Islands that passed. I won’t belabor the point, but it is something that I noticed.
    You hit the nail on the head about the new students. Honestly, this was the only season where I even preplanned the students, using RNG to determine their gender, their home region, and various generators to come up with names. As the Academy grows in popularity and more students come each year, fewer are referenced more than once, the main exception being Rose Drake, largely due to her being a relative of Jon and Alyssa’s, but also the bond she has with Abbee in particular (as well as Dylan, who lives at the Academy and would see Rose if her family visits for holidays). That being said, these students to play roles in plot points, such as a Season 5 episode about a cabin of rowdy boys and all the staff make a bet to see who can get them to quieten down at night the quickest.

    Funnily enough, some of the points you’re making about opportunities for Pokemon to be included are times where I figured it made sense for them not to be included. For example, Chris wouldn’t have risked his Pokemon making a noise and giving him away if he were on watch. And additionally, should someone come whilst he was on watch, he’d risk being spotted, or giving away their element of surprise if a Pokeball flash was seen by returning the Pokemon, or the Pokemon making noise as they ran back. That being said I will be the first to admit that there are so many opportunities to include Pokemon, that I unintentionally miss due to focusing too much on the humans.

    Writing-wise, I think that the variety of situations and genres that this season touched on highlights your talents as a writer. The courtroom drama and the tension in the second and first epilogues respectively were wonderful, as were the science-fiction, travelogue, and slice of life educational institution elements. Each change in genre was telegraphed well and transition between them seemed relatively seamless to my eyes. There were little touches like Candice picking Justin’s old room during her stay at the Academy, and the foreshadowing of trouble in Meteor Falls were both appreciated. The effect used for Deoxys’ alien speech, while cool, was also a huge headache to try and decipher!
    I’m glad to hear that! Because honestly, I don’t particularly know what genre I would give this outside of plain drama. However even then, I feel like whilst it does rely on characters own conflict both internally and with one-another, and situations where there is no clear right or wrong way forward, it doesn’t dial it up enough on things such as romance compared to most other dramas. I wouldn’t call it action, as most of the battles in this scenario are low stakes, and there are chapters where the action is not the main focus, but instead the characters. Maybe Slice of Life? However too much happens that is outside of their ordinary for it to be slice of life in my opinion. It’s hard!

    Yeah Deoxys’ alien speech was an example of struggling to translate the story in my head to the medium. Honestly, when I write, I’m writing more so how I’d see this playing out as a movie or TV series. Hell, if I were to suddenly become rich enough that I could throw large sums of money at whatever I want, I’d do what I can to legally get this animated professionally, just because that is the vision I write from. To the point where (and I know that it’s practically impossible) I have in my notes, voice actors I’d want for each of the characters, and for one season in particular, the OP I’d use. All this to say; my initial vision that I put to writing is of a TV series, and in a TV series you can use audio manipulation to show something is being said, but not understood by the characters. And whilst I could have omitted letters or replaced with symbols, I found the website to distort the text, and realised that was likely my closest bet for matching the vision.

    And for reference:
    Jon Drake: Steve Blum (Spike Spiegel of Cowboy Bebop)
    Alyssa Drake: Britt Baron (Tifa Lockhart of Final Fantasy VII Remake)
    Abbee Strauss: Erica Lindbeck (Kaori Miyazono of Your Lie In April)
    Charlotte Jones: Michelle Ruff (Sinon of Sword Art Online)
    Christopher Kingswood: Vic Mignogna (Edward Elcric of Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood)
    Justin Collins: Brandon McInnis (Finral Roulacase of Black Clover)
    Dylan Squier: Griffin Burns (Jinta Yadomi of Anohana)

    A bloke can dream…


    There were a few world-building moments which I thought were worth noting. The example of Abbee and Victini communicating psychically while delivering a false order verbally should be a game-changer. Calling moves is now an antiquated way of battling, and I hope that Jon will work more to pass on his philosophy of the pokémon trainer as a coach rather than a director, in part as a counter to this kind of deception. Candice’s career advice to Abbee about becoming a gym leader and the timeline that she lays out for accomplishing that goal seems to be the premise for a great story in and of itself. Lastly, $90 for a Master Ball in Chapter Ten seems unbelievably cheap!

    And one last question, is Alyssa Drake related to the Hoenn Elite Four member?
    I’m glad you liked the order discrepancy tactic! It gets used a bit going forward! And you’ll also be glad to know that Candice and Abbee’s conversation doesn’t get forgotten (as mentioned in Epilogue 1).

    Yeah, one world building thing I changed is the availability of Master Balls. They are definitely more available, though they would have been transferred from the Department Store. But in terms of price, I wanted to make them expensive enough that people would not just buy them all the time, but not too expensive that they aren’t accessible. The mentality was that chances are an Ultra Ball or a Great Ball will honestly be okay, it may just take a couple of throws, but trainers who can afford it might carry one Master Ball, for that one that they just can’t let get away.

    Good question, but no, in world, Drake is the Elite Four members first name. Honestly I had forgotten about him when I wrote up their characters for S.S. Wishmaker, and at that point I think I had established Jon having completed the eight Hoenn Gyms but not doing the Elite Four, but hadn't established they actually lived in Hoenn until Jon first tells the Diamond Ladies of the plan to cover up Shadowcraft.


    Favorite Lines
    1. “I’m glad you couldn’t wait.” – Candice
    2. “Chris, I would go swimming with Justin’s Regieleki before I let you drive this thing…” – Dylan
    3. “If her first word is f**k, both you and Jon will have me to answer to…” – Alyssa


    Now, onto Season Three!
    All three are great! I had a hunch the first would be there, and had completely forgotten about the second. The third, I knew was somewhere but now I have seen this, remember that it is from when the acquisition order arrives.

    Season 3 is a personal favourite of mine! As much as I am enjoying Season 5, Season 3 is just that little bit more special to me, so enjoy!
    Last edited by [Desolate Divine]; 09-06-2023 at 02:28 PM.

  2. #202
    Actually Prefers Popeyes Kentucky Fried Torchic's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by [Desolate Divine] View Post
    Season 3 is a personal favourite of mine! As much as I am enjoying Season 5, Season 3 is just that little bit more special to me, so enjoy!
    Thank you for all of the thought and detail you put into your responses! I won't write another effortpost right now (gotta stay loose and limber for the Season Three review, after all!), but I did want to comment favorably about how you are giving different characters the limelight moreso in different seasons. The original Teen Titans series did that very well I thought. Keeping the balance in an ensemble show is difficult, but you've done well thus far at not letting anyone get left behind (a la Digimon Frontier, to name an example!). Even if I wasn't thrilled about Charlotte in Season Two, I can hardly say that she wasn't in the thick of it!

    And island or not, I think a pool would be nice! Otherwise poor pokemon like Chris's Kingdra and Charlotte's Milotic won't be able to live up to their full potential! Thibk about how awesome Misty and Molly's fully-aquatic battle in the third Pokemon movie was!

    I'll definitely be hearing the characters' voices with those VAs in mind now, great picks!
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  3. #203
    I came in like a wrecking ball... [Desolate Divine]'s Avatar
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    Season 5 Episode 14: Emblem
    Spoiler:

    In the state of being, between consciousness and unconsciousness, Jon found himself growing more aware of his surroundings. His eyes were still closed, and whilst he could hear that his surroundings were very noisy, the sound was dulled, as if it were in a room far away. Not unusual for after a seizure, Jon’s head ached with a dull pain, which grew sharper and more debilitating as he got closer to waking up, and he felt the nausea, increasing in intensity. What was new though was that his entire body ached to varying degrees at different places, as if he had just been hit by a car.

    ”Jon!”

    Latios’ voice was what pulled Jon to attention. Jon opened his eyes, and felt his stomach drop when his vision appeared to be high in the sky watching the battles below unfold. It took him a second to realise that Latios was merely sharing his vision with Jon.

    “That is their leader…” Latios explained, as he watched Justin’s Greninja be downed with a single hit, followed by Houndoom, though the latter managed to land a hit. ”Regieleki and Alakazam are already down…”

    Jon blinked, as his vision returned to himself. He realised he was lying on the floor beneath some seats of the stadium, the building loud with battle. Jon could feel the metallic taste of blood in his mouth, unsure if that was from biting his tongue during the seizure, or whatever had moved him from where he had been before falling unconscious, to here, out of harm's way. As he registered what the taste was, the nausea, which had been growing steadily, rushed to a tipping point, as Jon, still on his side, rolled over, in order to not vomit over himself.

    The dullness of his headache had gone, consciousness removing the dampening of his senses, and now, his head seemed to split in agony. He sat up and watched as Violet and Jarena battled a Legendary Pokemon Jon didn’t recognise, and Regidrago, whilst Abbee held back Zekrom and Zapdos with Victini alone. Whilst the two Diamond Ladies seemed to be holding their own, Jon figuring due to their own Pokemon’s type immunities, though far, far slower than he would have had he not just awoken from a seizure, Victini seemed to be struggling.

    ”If Justin loses, there is nothing stopping their leader from coming inside, ending this, and taking Dialga…” Latios said.

    Jon groaned, as he stood, before his right leg gave out under him. He figured that if he had collapsed as the battle started, and had been moved to safety, it was likely with speed in mind more than finesse, and attributed the rough handling to the fact his body ached like never before.

    Grabbing two Pokeballs, Jon called out Blaziken and Nidoking, before giving quick instructions.

    ”Take the heat off Abbee and Victini. I can barely think straight, so you’re better off making your own decisions…” Jon said hoarsely, as he began to hobble around the edge of the arena through the seating. “Follow any instructions Abbee gives you…”

    Leaving both Pokemon, Jon began making his way towards the exit, slowly picking up the pace, as the nausea and headache became worse from the movement. At one point, closer to the door, he stopped, feeling the need to vomit again.

    ”At least I’ll be empty by the time I need to battle at this rate…” Jon thought darkly.

    Ever since his first seizure after returning from Sinnoh, there had always been painkillers and nausea medication on hand, which whilst being far from a cure, eased the symptoms just enough that Jon could sleep it off, though there had been days where that wasn’t possible. However, other than the first seizure, which had resulted in a hospital trip, he had never had to suffer the after effects unmedicated for an extended amount of time. Nor had he ever had to battle under the after effects, medicated or not.

    ”Latios, I’m going to need your help here. Fill in any gaps I might miss, and if I drop the ball, take over…”

    ************************************************** ************************************************** *****

    “Go, Walrein!”

    Dylan sent out the Water and Ice Type Pokemon, being his fourth in this battle, with Sceptile having just been knocked out. The Grass Type Pokemon was naturally faster, and Dylan had hoped that if Sceptile got in first with an Agility attack, it would be fast enough to attack before Groudon, bulky and slower, got a chance to.

    In that respect, the plan had worked. Sceptile’s already superior speed doubled, and it was able to make use of the sunlight-like heat radiating from Groudon to launch a Solar Beam with no charge time. However, despite being advantageous, the hit did not bother Groudon anywhere near as much as Dylan had hoped. Obsidian then ordered Groudon to use Fire Blast, which alongside the heat that Groudon was emanating, was enough to knock Sceptile out in a single hit.

    Now going on the defensive, both of Walrein’s types resisted Groudon’s Ground Type moves, and its Thick Fat ability would reduce the damage it took from Fire Type moves. Dylan’s concern however, was that Walrein was considerably less capable of an attacker than Sceptile, who couldn’t have gotten even a quarter of the way of besting Groudon with a super effective Solar Beam attack. And whilst Walrein knew Sheer Cold, which would be capable of beating Groudon in a single hit, it was far too inaccurate, whilst also less effective against targets stronger than the user.

    “Hammer Arm!” Obsidian ordered, as Groudon moved towards Walrein, with a speed that seemed contradictory to its sheer size and bulk. It swung one of its claws wide, striking Walrein and knocking the Pokemon back. Dylan grimaced, figuring that Obsidian knew of Walrein’s Thick Fat ability, as he gave his own order.

    “Blizzard!”

    Walrein cried out as the air froze around it and freezing winds began to blow, chilling Groudon, however, like the Solar Beam before, appearing to not be enough to slow the Pokemon, or do any serious damage.

    “Stone Edge!”

    Groudon roared, as sharp spikes of rock emerged from the ground in front of Walrein, hitting it hard and knocking it out.

    Dylan swore under his breath, as he called back Walrein, knowing the two Pokemon that he had remaining were his heaviest hitters, whilst he had no way of knowing if Obsidian had any further Pokemon.

    “Metagross, it’s up to you!”

    The silver and gold Metagross appeared in front of Dylan, who didn’t hesitate in pressing the keystone hidden in his watch, causing Metagross to Mega Evolve.

    “Protect!” Dylan ordered, knowing that by the time Metagross’ speed increased to that of its Mega Evolved form, Groudon would likely be able to land a hit. In the same moment, Obsidian ordered a Precipice Blades attack, which appeared to be an even stronger and more accurate variation of Stone Edge.

    “Now Magnet Rise!”

    Metagross rose into the air, floating to make itself immune to any and all of Groudon’s Ground Type moves, which allowed it to dodge the follow-up attack Obsidian had ordered. Whilst Groudon still had its Fire Type moves, Dylan had observed in the battle so far that it was far more of a physical attacker. In which case, a Fire Punch against Metagross would likely be devastating, but would also be putting it in range for Metagross to use its own equally powerful physical attacks.

    “Come and get it…” Dylan muttered, before giving his next order.

    ************************************************** ************************************************** *****

    Dragonite had fallen to a Stone Edge attack, one that Lance wasn’t even aware that Volcanion could use, and despite this, battled with his other Dragonite, as none of his other Pokemon would be better suited. Charizard would be twice as susceptible to Stone Edge, whilst also being susceptible to Volcanion’s Water-Type attacks, as would Aerodactyl, and whilst Gyarados would resist more of Volcanion’s attacks, it also was far less capable of attacking from a distance, relying on its bulk in order to truly battle well.

    “Thunderbolt!” Lance ordered. Dragonite cried out, unleashing a bolt of lightning, which Volcanion blocked with ease, using Protect. Lance gritted his teeth with frustration, feeling as if he drew the short straw, battling an opponent that seemed to be the bane of his team. “Okay then, Thunder!”

    Unable to block subsequent attacks with Protect, Volcanion was forced to take the hit, and instead, went on the offensive as well.

    “Steam Eruption!”

    The large ring that sat on Volcanion’s back split in half, shocking Lance, who hadn’t realised that it was actually two cannon-like limbs, which when not in use, were kept in that form. However, now Volcanion used them to direct the hot steam attack directly at Dragonite. The attack struck, and Lance could see Dragonite wincing in pain well after the attack dispersed, indicating that the Pokemon had suffered a burn.

    “Rock Tomb Dragonite!” Lance ordered now knowing that with Dragonite already burnt, he would be wasting the Pokemon’s potential by holding back. Dragonite rushed towards Volcanion, flying low to the ground, before striking the ground below with a paw. The earth surrounding Volcanion exploded, as chunks of stone were launched skyward, before raining down on the Pokemon.

    “Stone Edge!” Geyser called out, however before Geyser could follow the command, a powerful beam of draconic energy slammed into the Pokemon, not from where Lance stood, but instead, coming from the north west.

    “Good hit Hydreigon!” Chris called out, as he ran to follow the Pokemon, before taking a place by Lance’s side. “Now Head Smash!”

    “Scald!” Geyser shouted, as Volcanion turned its attention to Hydreigon.

    “Block it and use Protect!” Lance commanded, as Dragonite rushed to intercept the attack, raising a Protect barrier. Hydreigon nimbly flew around its defender, before locking on to Volcanion, and rushing headlong into the Pokemon, hitting it with a brutal headbutt.

    “Hydreigon, Rain Dance!” Chris commanded, using the tactic that Lance had avoided, knowing that if Volcanion didn’t fall almost immediately after, the rain would benefit the enemy more. Now however, having taken multiple heavier hits, and now fighting two opponents, Lance knew Volcanion would need more than some rain to be able to turn this around.

    “Dragonite, Thunder!”

    Rain began to fall over the battlefield, as Dragonite roared, summoning from the heavens a harsh bolt of electricity, which struck Volcanion with no mercy. The Pokemon fell unconscious, and Lance, not wasting a second, rushed forward, past all three Pokemon, his sights set on Geyser. The trainer, seemingly stunned by her loss, didn’t notice Lance until it was too late, as he tackled her to the ground, holding her in place.

    “Chris, give me your belt!” Lance said intently. It took Chris a second to understand why, before pocketing the Pokeballs clipped to it, and undoing it, handing it to Lance, before having another thought. He took off his shoes and socks, before handing a sock to Lance.

    “Gag her too. Even if we put her somewhere out of the way, if any of her teammates spot her as they’re running away they’ll only set her loose…”

    Lance nodded, rolling Geyser, who was screaming all manner of insults and threats, onto her stomach, whilst Chris used the belt to tie her wrists and ankles together behind her back, before stuffing the sock in her mouth, and tying the shoelaces from his shoes around her head to prevent her from spitting out. Now gagged, Geyser’s threats and insults had become muffled sobs, knowing that she would likely not escape this.

    Chris was pulled from his task, by a familiar voice in his head.

    ”Chris… We need your help…”

    ************************************************** ************************************************** *****

    Ninjask fell to the second Sacred Sword attack that struck, it being an attack that seemed to bypass Ninjask’s Double Team copies, and strike regardless. Granted, it had taken many moves for this to work, between Ninjask alternating between using Protect, Substitute, all the while, its speed increasing, allowing it to even sneak in the odd attack, though they were negligible at best.

    Justin looked at the Pokeball containing the last Pokemon he could use to defend against Armageddon, before sending it out.

    “It’s only us, Lucario!” Justin called out, before ordering a Protect, and pressing the keystone that was enclosed in the pendant, carried around his neck by a leather cord.

    Lucario exploded into a rainbow-like light, emerging from it just in time to block the Fire Fang Zacian had attempted, and retaliated as Justin gave his own command.

    “Power-Up Punch!”

    Lucario struck Zacian hard, throwing the Legendary Pokemon back a few feet, as its attack power increased. Whilst the attack itself was hardly Lucario’s most powerful, Mega Lucario’s Adaptability ability increased the attack power of both Fighting and Steel Type attacks. And whilst Justin knew Lucario could not avoid Zacian’s follow up attack, he was sure that Lucario could wear it, and should it, finish the battle then and there.

    “Sacred Sword!”

    Zacian rushed Lucario, using the same sword attack it had used to beat Ninjask, and struck Lucario, who was thrown back, and seemed to be holding on within an inch of consciousness. Justin knew it was now or never.

    “Bullet Punch!”

    In mid air, Lucario managed to rotate itself upright, before disappearing, and reappearing in front of Zacian, assaulting it with a flurry of quick and devastating punches. When the final one struck Zacian, it was thrown back, unconscious before it even hit the ground, as Lucario stood in the middle of the battlefield, panting and struggling to stay up.

    “Good work Lucario! We can keep doing this!” Justin said, as he considered his next move. If he thought Lucario was faster than whatever Armageddon sent out next, he’d order a Drain Punch, to try and return some of Lucario’s energy. If not, he’d instead battle more defensively, knowing that the cavalry would arrive soon. He was pulled from his thoughts by a weak voice behind him.

    “It’s okay Justin… Let me handle this…”

    Justin turned, unable to hide the grin from his face, until he saw the form of Jon, who seemed to be a shell of his normal self. Jon was pale, and walked with a pretty serious limp, as he constantly seemed to wince in pain. It didn’t take Justin long to understand why.

    “Jon, you’re in no shape to fight…” Justin said quietly, shocked at the sight before him. Jon took in a sharp breath as his head seared with pain.

    “And your team is wiped out…” Jon answered quietly. “Everyone else is busy, and this is my Academy to defend…”

    “Jon-”

    “And I’m not going to let some delusional, egocentric piece of s**t come here, and lay siege over a power he doesn’t deserve, while those around me fight, and I’m stuck watching from the sidelines…” Jon added, directing the venom of those words to the man who stood opposite Justin.

    ”I’ll be helping him…” said Latios’ voice in Justin’s head. ”Trust us…”

    Justin sighed, before calling Lucario to join him off to the side of the battlefield.

    “Use Life Dew, in case we need to intervene…” Justin whispered, as Lucario nodded in agreement, and began using the slow restorative attack.

    Jon stepped forward removing Rayquaza’s Pokeball, and addressing his opponent directly.

    “And you are?” Jon asked, though his tone indicated that he didn’t particularly care one way or another who his opponent was.

    “Armageddon…” his opponent replied with a grin, before tossing forward a Pokeball. “Go, Miraidon!”

    Both Justin and Jon were shocked to see that the Pokemon that appeared seemed to be a robotic dragon of some sort, which crackled with electricity. The moment the Pokemon appeared, the battlefield seemed to be under some sort of electrical charge, which Jon figured was in a similar nature to that of an Electric Terrain attack.

    “Go, Rayquaza!” Jon called out, his head thumping at the sound of his own voice. When Rayquaza emerged, roaring in anger, his head ached even further, as Jon winced at the pain, visible to his opponent who made use of it.

    “Dragon Pulse!” Armageddon ordered, to which Jon, albeit, a little slower than normal, reacted by commanding Rayquaza to block the attack with Protect.

    ”You ready to do this Latios?” Jon asked with his thoughts, and felt the response from his partner, although was surprised at the hostility of what came from the normally placid Pokemon.

    ”Let’s send this motherf**ker to hell…”

    ************************************************** ************************************************** *****

    From inside the stadium, Violet managed to get the projector to turn back on, it having turned off when the building shook as Zekrom smashed through the foyer. After a moment of it warming up, they watched as various security camera feeds were projected onto the screen, showing what was going on outside. To the north, Cassandra and Willow battled a trainer with Genesect, and seemed to be holding him back, whilst to the east, Charlotte was battling with Deoxys, holding off a trainer with a Legendary Pokemon none of the trainers recognised. Further east, Lance and Chris seemed to by tying up the trainer they just beat. On the western edge of the property, Steven battled against a trainer with Entei, seeming to struggle, and to the south, Dylan, having only sent out Walrein not much earlier, was calling Walrein back, in order to send out Metagross against Groudon.

    “There’s Jon!” Jarena said, pointing at a small section of the screen, where Jon was speaking to Justin, before facing off against the Blackstone operative closest to the door. “He can’t seriously think he’s in any state to fight?!”

    “Do you really think he’d sit back and let us do it all?” Violet asked, almost bitterly. Even if they had a chance at stopping the enemy that had made short work of almost all of Justin’s team, Jon wouldn’t let someone else fight to defend the home he had built, whilst he sat on the sidelines. And besides, they still had their own job to do…

    “Dylan…” Abbee said quietly as she watched the screen in shock, as Metagross took a massive hit, before using the opportunity it created to hit back with an Ice-Punch. Despite all the other sounds of battle surrounding them, the sound of Groudon’s roar of pain hit them, as the Ice-Punch dealt the most damage since the battle started. However Abbee knew that this tactic of allowing Metagross to take hits, in order to trade blows, was too risky for Dylan to use unless he was running out of options. “He needs help…”

    Abbee went to move to the exit, however felt the firm grip of Violet on her shoulder.

    “Abbee, you need to stay here…” Violet said, her voice calm, though obviously wishing she didn’t have to be the one to tell Abbee this. “We are the last line of defence…”

    Abbee turned to face Violet, and over her shoulder, saw Metagross sustain another heavy hit, surprising Abbee that the Pokemon was still standing.

    “If Metagross takes another hit, it is down, and Dylan will only have Darkrai left!” Abbee protested. “He needs my help! If his last Pokemon goes down, there is nothing stopping Groudon from killing him!”

    “And if Jon can’t hold back this guy, and in the state he is in, that is a real possibility, we are all that stands between him and the egg…” Violet retorted calmly. Whilst once upon a time, the calm would have been for the sake of hiding an ulterior motive, now it was different. After the Spiritwater Crisis, as well as working with teenagers who were unreasonable at times, she had learnt just how ineffective it was, losing composure when trying to persuade someone. “And if Jon fails, and you’re off helping Dylan, do you really think Jarena and I on our own can hold him back?”

    As if to punctuate its presence, an even more intense wave of déjŕ vu struck them, as the egg grew ever closer to hatching. Abbee opened her mouth to argue but was cut off by Jarena.

    “The egg will hatch soon, and as soon as it does, and either Dialga transports itself away from here, or if it is too dense to do that, we capture it in a Pokeball, and have Latios take it far away, Blackstone will have no reason to keep fighting, and we have no reason to stay here…” Jarena said sternly. “At that moment, Violet and I will go and help Jon, and you can go help Dylan, if they all haven’t run off before then. But Dylan needs to hold out until then!”

    Abbee watched as Metagross was struck by a third Fire Punch, being thrown to the ground, and looked back to Violet, tears filling her eyes.

    “Jon himself said Dylan is unshakable, and now Dylan is down to his last Pokemon!” Abbee said. “How much longer do you think he can hold out?!”

    “He’ll get help…”

    For the first time in this exchange, Victini, who Abbee held in front of her, spoke, though obviously exhausted from the battle.

    “Victini, we need you here!” Violet said, exasperation now reaching her voice, after forcing herself to be calm when dealing with Abbee in this state.

    “And I’ll be staying here…” Victini answered. “But I’ll make sure Dylan gets help…”

    As he spoke, Victini, despite his exhaustion, was telepathically reaching out, trying to find the familiar consciousness that he sought. Given that most were so focused on their battles, their thoughts weren’t long or detailed enough to give away their identity, especially with so many strangers, almost all relying on their instincts to drive their actions. At first he recognised the familiar consciousness of Cassandra, having brushed against it many times in years past. However the consciousness he was seeking was someone else familiar. Someone who for a while was quite close to Abbee, and by extension, someone he conversed with a lot, though most of it was in the form of harassment by the Victory Star Pokemon.

    Finally, he found it.

    ”Chris… We need your help…”

    ************************************************** ************************************************** *****

    Claydol continued to battle Entei as Steven, ordering a mixture of defensive boosts, in addition to Rest, prevented Entei from dealing any significant damage. Additionally, using Sleep Talk allowed Claydol to use a move whilst asleep, on the basis that it chose its own move, and it was a move the Pokemon had already used during the battle. Occasionally it had used Power Split, which was ineffective due to already being used, however more often than not, it had used a move boosting the Pokemon’s defence. At one point, Shackle ordered Entei to instead attack Steven, immediately after Claydol had used Protect to block another Solar Beam. However, instead of folding under the pressure of an impending attack aimed directly at him, Steven held his ground, ordering Claydol to strike Entei with a Bulldoze attack, which was enough for Shackle to call off Entei’s assault on Steven, knowing that even if the attack struck, killing Steven, Claydol would likely be able to wear Entei out, if not finish it with the opportunity bought by Entei choosing to attack someone else.

    “Earthquake!” Steven ordered.

    “Protect!” Shackle commanded. “Then Snarl!”

    Entei raised a barrier, blocking the Earthquake attack, before dropping it again, and letting out a blood-curdling snarl, which dropped Claydol’s special attack power.

    “Ancient Power!”

    Shackle looked in shock as the voice he heard giving the order was not that of Steven, but someone else.

    From the sky above the battle, a medium-sized draconic Pokemon dived towards the ground, pulling up to fly parallel to it upon getting close enough, before roaring, as rocks were ripped from the ground and launched towards Entei, striking the Pokemon, and throwing it back a few metres. Shackle was stunned as he recognised the Pokemon as an Aerodactyl. He watched as a figure stepped out of the shadows, joining Steven on the other end of the battlefield.

    “He has one Pokemon, and you have a Legendary, but you can’t take this thing down?” Lance asked in disgust. “To think I’m the disgraced champion...”

    “I’m shocked you can see daylight, considering how far your head’s up your a**...” Steven retorted, though couldn’t hide the gratitude at having Lance come to his aid. “I drew the short straw. You’d be just as screwed if you came up against an Ice or Fairy Type…”

    Looking back at Shackle, Steven gave another order.

    “Claydol, use Sandstorm!”

    “Aerodactyl, use Rock Blast!”

    ************************************************** ************************************************** *****

    Having taken the third Fire Punch attack, Metagross fell to the ground, before, slowly, floating back into the air, holding on to consciousness only due to a last second Endure.

    Dylan considered his options. Metagross only knew one move that would restore its health. Rest. However to use it would be too high risk, as it would likely be in the same position it was then by the time Metagross woke up, with no guarantee that a Sleep Talk attack would be beneficial.

    Dylan grimaced as he knew that he had only managed to buy himself one more hit before Metagross fell, and that the best way to make use of the opportunity was to try and deal whatever damage he could to Groudon before that happened.

    “Ice Punch!” Dylan ordered.

    “Fire Punch!” Obsidian countered.

    Both Pokemon rushed towards one another, however, in his peripheral vision, Dylan saw something rush past. A black and blue blur, which struck Groudon’s flaming claw, as if to take the attack itself. Upon making contact and slowing, Dylan recognised it. Mega Charizard…

    “Rest Metagross!” Dylan commanded, knowing that this was an opportunity he needed to use. If Charizard were here, Metagross may just be able to survive this.

    Not wanting his opponent to return to full strength, Obsidian ordered a Fire Blast attack which struck the now sleeping Metagross, however was too late. Metagross, having restored its energy, took damage, but far from enough to knock it down. However, floating in the air, Metagross had little resistance to block the force of the Fire Blast attack as it struck its mark, exploding in front of the Steel Type Pokemon. Dylan dived to the side to avoid being crushed by Metagross who was launched towards him, falling to the ground, before hearing footsteps approach.

    Looking up, he saw Chris, who wordlessly held out a hand. After a brief moment of eye contact, Dylan accepted it, and was pulled to his feet.

    “Weren’t you on the other side of the property?” Dylan asked.

    “I was, but Abbee could see you struggling, and Victini asked me to come help…”

    Dylan nodded, as for the first time in years, he and Chris spoke, with the events of two summer’s prior not being a divide between them.

    “I appreciate it,” Dylan said, before letting out an exhausted sigh. “I took down his Heatran, but Groudon has been a massive pain in my a**...”

    Chris couldn’t help but grin at Dylan’s exasperated explanation of what was actually a far more serious situation than his choice of words would indicate.

    “So how’re we doing this?” Chris asked, as he looked back at Groudon used Rest, falling asleep, hoping to use this time that Chris and Dylan were talking to its advantage. Chris swore under his breath as he realised what was happening.

    “I’ve only got Metagross and Darkrai left,” Dylan admitted. “Maybe you should take the lead…”

    “Lugia is down, and Charizard won’t be able to take many more hits. I have Hydreigon, Ninetales, Dragonite and Garchomp, but honestly, they won’t hold a candle in this fight to Metagross,” Chris retorted. “Besides, this is your post. I’ll follow your lead…”

    Dylan nodded, thankful that Chris was willing to do that. He considered their options before speaking.

    “Even with Metagross restoring some health, Groudon doing the same thing makes this even harder. It had taken a Solar Beam from my Sceptile, and a Blizzard from my Walrein before Metagross even took to the field. And Metagross had it close, but just couldn’t land enough hits before it would have gone down…” Dylan said, though Chris could tell he was equally talking to himself, as he figured out their best move. He then looked at Chris cautiously. “You are right; of all our Pokemon, Metagross has the best chance of taking down Groudon, but…”

    “But what?”

    Dylan grimaced.

    “The biggest problem is that Metagross can only get a hit in by trading blows, and Groudon will down Metagross in three hits at most,” Dylan said cautiously. “I hate saying this but…”

    “You need my Pokemon to be fodder…” Chris said quietly.

    “Not necessarily,” Dylan answered. “At the least, fodder, but if you can find some ways to lessen the damage Groudon deals, that will make a world of difference…”

    Chris nodded, as a plan began to form in his head.

    “I’ll need you to buy me a chance for one attack, and after that, we might have a chance…” Chris answered. “On my mark, think you can do that?”

    Dylan nodded, knowing it was the least he could do if Chris were going to be willingly letting his Pokemon take some serious hits.

    “In that case then, I’ll do everything I can to keep Groudon off Metagross until then, so it isn’t for nothing…”

    Obsidian watched from where he stood as the two trainers spoke, and had intentionally used the opportunity to heal Groudon. He had little doubt he could beat the two of them, even if they battled him together. Groudon was immensely powerful, and he had resources for if Groudon fell. He also knew that by battling both, he kept Chris from aiding any of the others, all of whom, with the potential exception being Armageddon, would find the assistance more difficult than himself. When both Pokemon awoke, the battle resumed.

    “Metagross, Cosmic Power!” Dylan commanded, as Chris, knowing what his role was, gave Charizard its first order. And knowing he wouldn’t have another opportunity to hit this hard, Chris didn’t hesitate in giving the order.

    “Solar Blade!”

    Empowered by the sun-like heat emanating from Groudon, Charizard lunged forward, as its claws became encased in a photosynthetic light, slashing at Groudon, managing to hit the Legendary Pokemon harder than Dylan had with any of his Pokemon prior.

    “Precipice Blades!”

    Despite Mega Charizard’s ability to fly, it was far less mobile, at the benefit of gaining a Dragon Typing. As such, it only glided small distances, at small heights above the ground, and when needing to fly faster or higher, lacked the strength to attack as well as it could. The other detriment was that it was now susceptible to Ground Type moves, the one which Obsidian had ordered being amongst the strongest. Chris didn’t flinch as blades of earth erupted from the ground, slamming into Charizard and knocking it skyward, before it crashed into the ground. He had known this would be how Charizard’s stint in this battle would end.

    “Sorry Charizard…” Chris muttered as he called it back, before sending out his next Pokemon. He knew this one would be the safest bet for taking the pressure off Metagross, presuming Dylan would buy him the opportunity. He quickly shook off that doubt. Dylan would provide that opportunity. “Go, Ninetales!”

    The Pokemon that had hatched from an egg in the very Academy they were defending erupted in a white light from the Pokeball, crying out as Chris called out.

    “Now Dylan!” Chris shouted, before addressing Ninetales. “Hail!”

    Knowing what Chris had planned, Dylan held back to watch how Obsidian would respond, as hail began to fall on the battlefield.

    “Stomping Tantrum!” Obsidian ordered, now knowing that Groudon’s Fire Type moves would be far less effective, and instead focused on Ground Type moves, which were more its forte.

    Rushing at Ninetales, Groudon let out a roar of frustration, stomping its feet which caused the ground to shake, and was on a warpath towards Ninetales.

    “Ally Switch!” Dylan commanded, as Chris grinned, having a flashback to when Dylan used this tactic to mercilessly beat Brad Jenkins back at the College of the North Wind. He quickly realised he never got around to telling Dylan how impressed he had been by that display.

    “Aurora Veil!” Chris shouted, as a brilliant light show appeared around their side of the battlefield, dampening all attacks that would hit their Pokemon.

    Ninetales disappeared, and reappeared where Metagross had been a split second earlier, with Metagross now in the warpath of Groudon. However, due to its Magnet Rise earlier, the move had no effect, which Chris knew made Groudon even more dangerous.

    Dylan however knew that Chris had bought him enough time, and waiting any longer to go on the offensive would simply be providing Obsidian more opportunities to throw their plans into disarray.

    “Metagross, now, Ice Punch!”

    ************************************************** ************************************************** *****

    “Use Dragon Breath!”

    Despite the pain in his head, and the nausea that threatened to overtake him, Jon’s instincts, honed by two decades of battling, remained sharp, though made him more sensitive to the pain and discomfort he felt. Armageddon was ordering what was likely an Electric and Dragon Type Pokemon to use Dragon Breath, which compared to other Dragon Type attacks, was relatively weak. This made two things obvious to Jon.

    The first was that Armageddon was trying to paralyse Rayquaza which would both make landing attacks more difficult, and slow it down. Jon however knew that the chances of Dragon Breath paralysing the target were low. Sub fifty-percent, which led into the second observation; despite being Electric Type itself, Miraidon didn’t know Zap Cannon. Whilst even the weakest of Pokemon knew Thunder Wave, it’s accuracy was slightly below average, and even if it struck, would not deal any damage, but instead just paralyse the target. The payoff wasn’t worth the risk. Zap Cannon however, which would be empowered by the electric terrain Miraidon had brought to the battlefield, despite being even less accurate, would guarantee paralysis on a hit, whilst dealing devastating damage. Even if Dragon Breath was almost twice as likely to make contact and were super effective, it would still deal less damage than a Zap Cannon, with less chance of paralysing Rayquaza. And whilst some may argue that Dragon Breath was simply a better call than Zap Cannon based on its accuracy alone, Jon knew which he would pick.

    “Rayquaza, Scary Face, then Dragon Dance!” Jon ordered, as a wave of déjŕ vu struck everyone. The odd sensation however was enough to disrupt the delicate balance Jon had only just been able to maintain of focusing on the battle while blocking out all else. He felt the pain in his head explode, as it felt like his skull was being pried apart.

    After a moment, however, the pain seemed to lessen, as Jon felt an odd sensation that he had never felt before. As if part of himself was no longer in his body. At first he wondered if Dialga had just hatched, however that didn’t make sense, and despite the fact he had never felt it before, there was a very slight familiarity.

    ”I’m doing everything I can to block out the pain…”

    The voice in his head was that of Latios, though it was strained, as if suffering immensely. Jon’s eyes widened as he understood what the Eon Pokemon was doing.

    ”I will hold out as long as I can…”

    Latios was telepathically placing himself between Jon’s mind, the space in which Jon existed as a human consciousness, and his broken body, damaged from the curse, and now the source of pain. Jon was almost stunned to silence at the act. He had always known that Latios had a supernatural empathy, which was made obvious by the ability to sense the emotions of others. But Jon didn’t understand that until now, Latios was only understanding their emotions. Now though, Latios was truly sharing in Jon’s pain, though taking far more than his fair share.

    “I’ll end this Latios…” Jon said quietly, sickened at the thought that his loyal partner needed to suffer like this in order for Jon to do what he needed to do.

    Miraidon was slowed by Rayquaza’s Scary Face, as Rayquaza’s speed and physical attack power were both increased by the Dragon Dance it had time to follow up with, due to Miraidon being slowed.

    “Dragon Pulse!” Armageddon ordered, as Miraidon roared, before unleashing a torrent of draconic energy at Rayquaza.

    “Protect!” Jon ordered, capitalising on Rayquaza's now superior speed. “Then Substitute!”

    Jon didn’t expect the substitute to last, it vanishing to another Dragon Pulse attack within seconds. However, Rayquaza’s speed and Miraidon’s forced slowness allowed for Rayquaza to use every instant that substitute bought.

    “Now grapple it!”

    Rayquaza reappeared as the substitute vanished, practically on top of Miraidon, before lashing out and wrapping itself around Miraidon, who in terms of height, was only half that of Rayquaza. Pinning its arms and legs to its body, Rayquaza bound the Pokemon, before constricting.

    “Discharge!”

    With Rayquaza in such close contact with Miraidon, Discharge was devastating, having no opportunity to miss, as Rayquaza took the attack, involuntarily releasing its grip of Miraidon, who was preparing a follow up attack.

    “Dodge it with Dragon Dance!” Jon ordered, as in the span of milliseconds, he calculated the effect it would have on Rayquaza’s speed. Rayquaza had been over twice as fast as Miraidon before being paralyzed, which was what allowed it to act multiple times between Miraidon’s own attacks. Now, it was only slightly quicker, and if he played his cards right, another Dragon Dance may allow Rayquaza to land one more attack. “Then Facade!”

    Armageddon commanded Miraidon to use Shock Wave, knocking the attack would not miss, and Rayquaza took the attack, forcing its way through the shocking pain of it, before lashing out at Miraidon, using an attack that would be empowered by Rayquaza’s paralysis.

    The attack struck, leaving both Miraidon and Rayquaza struggling to remain upright. And whilst Rayquaza’s speed wouldn’t allow it to use one of its usual moves before Miraidon could act, Jon was certain that this battle was his.

    “Parabolic Charge!”

    The command given to Miraidon was an unusual move that very few Pokemon knew. And honestly, had Jon not spent the last five years as a teacher, training students from all over the world, with all sorts of Pokemon, this would be one that caught him by surprise. An electric type attack which would restore the user’s energy in addition to dealing damage.

    “Extreme Speed!”

    Rayquaza vanished in an instant, before reappearing as a violent form mere inches from Miraidon, crashing into the Pokemon, and throwing it to the ground. When Miraidon remained unmoving, Rayquaza let out a pained roar, before lowering itself to the ground, still conscious, yet unable to fight any further…

    Another wave of déjŕ vu hit, and now with the adrenaline wearing off slightly, Jon could hear Latios straining against the pain he intercepted from Jon.

    ”Three of them are beaten and restrained, two of them have lost and fled!” Latios’ strained voice called out telepathically to all present, unable to discriminate whilst suffering Jon’s pain. ”Three are being battled two-on-one!”

    Jon made a mental note to buy Latios all the beer he wanted when this was over, shocked that despite the fact Latios was placing himself under immense pain to give Jon a chance at winning, he was still following orders. Jon called back Rayquaza, before grabbing another Pokeball.

    “Rayquaza doesn’t stand alone as my strongest Pokemon, and half of your force is already out of the picture,” Jon called out. “You can’t win. Do your allies a favour and call off this attack. They’re outnumbered and outclassed…”

    Armageddon laughed with derision at Jon’s statement.

    “Even if they’re outnumbered, that just means they’re keeping your friends busy enough that they won’t be a problem here,” Armageddon answered as he selected another Pokeball from his belt. “And there is nothing significant standing between me, and being able to undo all the damage this resistance of yours has done…”

    “Despite the fact that we killed Palkia, your ace in the hole, and have removed half of your people from the equation, you’re still underestimating us?” Justin called out angrily from where he watched, his Lucario now at full energy, and ready for another round if need be.

    “Oh no, I’m not underestimating you. The fact you’ve come this far is impressive,” Armageddon said, almost mockingly. “It’s just that the Pokemon you’re about to see is based on the genetic make-up of an incredibly powerful Pokemon, however, modified in our labs to be far stronger. And it has a few more tricks up its sleeve…”

    Jon readied his next Pokeball as Armageddon held his Pokeball in front of him. In even quicker succession, he felt another wave of déjŕ vu.

    “Well you better hurry this up, because Dialga isn’t going to wait forever…” Jon said, as Armageddon let out his Pokemon. “It will hatch soon, and leave this place. I just need to keep you here until it does…

    “End this, Mewtwo…”

    ************************************************** ************************************************** *****

    Despite it being a clear night, and sandstorms being far from natural on Mossdeep island, the western border of the property was obscured by sand being whipped into the air, as three Pokemon did battle. On one side was Entei, and opposing it was a Claydol, and a Gyarados.

    Despite the advantage it held of being able to fly, and being a Rock Type, Aerodactyl had fallen moments earlier, having taken a well placed Iron Head attack, which had caused it to flinch, before falling to Entei’s Iron Tail follow-up.

    “Gyarados, Waterfall!” Lance commanded, as Shackle gave an order in response.

    “Dodge it Entei!”

    The Legendary Pokemon had earlier chosen to take a hit, using the time of not dodging, blocking, or making a follow-up attack, to use Agility, which in the long term had made it that much harder to take down. Steven had sworn under his breath at this development. Whilst Claydol could use Power Swap to steal any boosts Entei gave itself to its attack power, Claydol did not know Speed Swap, and even if it did, it would only affect Entei’s natural speed, not any modification to it by moves such as Agility.

    As such, Entei was now much faster than both Claydol, and Gyarados, whose lesser speed was reduced further by the fact that it was on land, and not in its normal, aquatic habitat.

    “Now, Crunch!” Shackle ordered, as Entei, having dodged the Waterfall attack Gyarados had attempted to use on it, made a beeline for Claydol, closing the gap in a shocking amount of time, or lack thereof, and attempting to use the Dark Type move on Steven’s Pokemon, which had so far been the biggest thorn in Shackle’s side.

    “Protect!” Steven commanded. Claydol erected a barrier with only moments to spare, before Entei struck it with its Crunch attack. Lance didn’t even bother trying to use this opportunity for Gyarados to attack. Entei was too quick, and would dodge whatever attack Gyarados used, and should Lance attack recklessly, he may place Gyarados in a position where Entei could put the Water-Type at its mercy.

    Both defending trainers knew why Shackle was targeting Claydol. Its boosted defence and capacity to heal itself with Rest made it an annoying wall for the attacking trainer. And the fact it could use Power Swap prevented Shackle from commanding Entei to use a power-increasing move such as Calm Mind without risking that boost being taken. As such, Shackle was now focusing on increasing Entei’s speed, and using that to try and take down Claydol. And once it accomplished that task, taking down almost any other of Lance or Steven’s Pokemon would be a far simpler feat.

    Despite being the trainer of a Legendary Pokemon himself, Steven knew Registeel was not cut out for this fight. Whilst it had incredible defence, it was slow, with average attack power, even for a Legendary Pokemon. Even without the type advantage Entei held, Registeel would struggle to beat Entei, who was now fast enough to land far too many successive hits between Registeels own attacks, which would more than make up for the Legendary Pokemon’s incredible defence.

    As Steven ordered Claydol to use Substitute to buy time, he scoured his memories for other battles like this. Those he had seen where someone, despite having the deck massively stacked against them, managed to pull the rug out from under their enemy, and bring the battle to an end. His first thought was that of Jon battling Camilla Blakely, where his Blaziken had used Role Play to copy her Suicune’s Water Absorb ability, and used its Hydro-Pump attack to restore Blaziken’s energy. For a moment, Steven considered whether he could do something similar, figuring that with how close Raikou, Entei and Suicune’s mythology was, that Entei may have the Flash Fire ability, however dismissed the idea. Jon had pre-planned with Blaziken a hidden command for the Pokemon to use Role-Play, and whilst Claydol could use Skill-Swap, the only way to do that would be for Steven to give the command verbally. And Shackle seemed too switched on to follow that by using a Fire Type attack. Additionally, Shackle had hardly commanded Entei to use any Fire Type moves, knowing that Claydol would resist them.

    Steven quickly dismissed the idea, knowing there were too many holes, and it wasn’t worth wasting energy trying to fill them, when honestly, it would just buy time, and not end the battle. However his mind wandered to the battle immediately before Jon and Camilla’s during the challenge against the College of the North Wind.

    Dylan, despite not having a Legendary Pokemon himself at the time, found himself facing a more experienced trainer, who battled with the Legendary Pokemon Cresselia. Dylan had done two things which granted him victory. The first was tricking Brad, his opponent, into a double battle, knowing that Brad likely had less experience in them. Steven however couldn’t make use of this. The second tactic, however…

    “When I tell Claydol its next move, be ready to have Gyarados end this…” Steven said quietly, thankful that the sandstorm was obscuring Shackle’s line of sight on the defending pair. Lance, knowing that Gyarados wouldn’t get an opportunity without Steven opening it up, nodded, almost imperceptibly.

    As Entei honed in on Claydol, attempting another Crunch attack, Steven waited until the last second he could, knowing that the more speed Entei built up, and the closer it was to Claydol when he gave the order, the higher their chances of this working. Once Entei was a matter of steps away, Steven gave the order, loud enough that Claydol could not mistake it.

    “Ally Switch!”

    In a flash of light, Claydol vanished, being replaced by Gyarados, who Lance was giving his own order to.

    “Aqua Tail Gyarados!”

    Gyarados roared with a vengeful fury, as its tail became encased in a violent torrent of water. Pivoting on the place where it stood, Gyarados whipped its tail around, slamming it at full force into Entei, who was not able to divert its course in time.

    Entei was thrown from the ground, before being encased in a white light, and being returned to its Pokeball before it hit the ground. Shackle looked furiously at the two champions.

    “Two champions ganging up on me, and two of their Pokemon each, all to take down one of mine…” Shackle muttered bitterly. “How pathetic…”

    “If only this had been a formal challenge,” Steven called out mockingly. “Everyone would know you had the Hoenn champ on the ropes, and how pathetic I am…”

    Shackle glared at Steven, before looking around, trying to gauge the current tides of the battle. To the far north was empty, with two trainers battling Mech a little south of there. Between where they stood, and the building, which seemed too quiet inside for a fight to be occurring, Shackle saw Armageddon, sending out Mewtwo, which whilst the leader of this fight would want his subordinates to view that as the fight being in their favour, really meant that Articuno, Zacian and Miraidon had all fallen. To the south, he saw two trainers battling Groudon, and whilst Shackle didn’t doubt that Obsidian could handle them, he had heard the telepathic message, which he assumed to be from Latios. Of the ten attackers, five had already been beaten, three of which were now restrained. And Shackle now faced two regional champions, with his only Legendary Pokemon now beaten. He considered sending out another Pokemon, before making up his mind.

    “Screw this…” Shackle muttered, before turning to leave. “This whole operation has gone to s**t. Palkia’s dead, and even if we get Dialga, we won’t be able to leave no witnesses…”

    Lance walked forward, moving to try and give chase, though Steven shook his head.

    “Even if he gets away, they won’t be able to attempt something like this. We now know they exist, their names, and their Pokemon. Even if they can stay hidden, and I doubt they will, they’ll be licking their wounds for a long time,” Steven explained. “If we win this…”

    Lance let out an irritable sigh, before turning to follow Steven. The Hoenn champion looked between where Jon battled against Armageddon, and Chris and Dylan battled against Groudon. Torn for a moment, he sighed, before making his decision.

    “If Jon is out of the arena, fighting instead of Justin, it must mean Justin wasn’t able to hold this guy off, and he is no slouch of a trainer. But if Jon can’t hold him back as well, we need to be ready to step in,” Steven said, before nodding towards Dylan and Chris. “As much as I know it can’t be easy for them, right now, they are keeping Groudon at bay, which is something we were barely able to do. They just need to hold out a little longer…”

    ************************************************** ************************************************** *****

    “Why even do this?!” Cassandra called out to their opponent, honestly, hoping to rattle him, as their Pokemon battled. She knew that despite her growing talent as a battler, that this was a matchup that she and Willow couldn’t win, based on Pokemon battling alone, and getting close enough to use Shadowcraft, or even using a longer-ranged spell, would make them Genesect’s next target.

    Cassandra had arrived to support Willow as Latias fell in battle, and Willow, who was the weakest battler of all defending, having relocated to the Academy to provide protection from Shadowcraft, was forced to send in her other Pokemon, which existed more as companions to her than battlers. Sableye was the next on the battlefield, as Cassandra sent out Marche again, though both Pokemon fell due to Genesect’s exceptional speed and incredible attack power. Cassandra and Willow had followed with Ace the Ampharos and Donphan respectively, however both Pokemon had fallen in a matter of minutes, with Willow now only having two Pokemon left. She sent out Crobat, whilst Cassandra sent out her Lillgant, Berri.

    Mech remained silent at Cassandra’s plea, causing Cassandra to continue. Whilst her own Pokemon were better trained for battling than Willow’s, most were not particularly strong species. Cassandra had chosen them having needed to form a team in the short amount of time between leaving Mossdeep last summer, and arriving in Alola, and had made a point of choosing Pokemon who had been in adoption shelters, and had been for a long time, or had particularly heartbreaking backgrounds. Despite this, she had wanted to become strong using these Pokemon, and though they had all improved, many had not been battling Pokemon before coming into her care, and were now facing a fast and strong Legendary Pokemon, typed with many resistances.

    “Do you seriously think that once your boss gets a hold of Dialga, you’ll get anything from it?” Cassandra asked, as Berri blocked an X-Scissor with Protect. “You’re here risking your neck so that he can get all the power he wants! And what do you have to show for it?”

    All felt the sudden wave of déjŕ vu, and for the first time, Mech responded.

    “If our leader can control time, he can give us anything we want!” Mech called back angrily. “All the riches, resources and power we could ever hope for!”

    Willow, who had just commanded Crobat to use Agility, before dodging Genesect’s follow-up attack, couldn’t help but bark with laughter.

    “You sound just like Agatha’s minions!” Willow called back. “Take it from me, when one person is seeking that kind of power, there is always one person they are looking out for most! No matter what you’ve been promised, I can guarantee you that you will just get the scraps that he doesn’t want himself!”

    “You’re wrong!” Mech shouted angrily, as Cassandra couldn’t help but hide a grin. Willow had struck the exact nerve she needed to. “All of us here have proven to him we are loyal! And even without Dialga, he has always found ways to give us our fair share!”

    “Even if that’s true, do you seriously think that once he gets Dialga, you’ll get yourself a happily ever after? That you’ll get to live the good life?” Cassandra asked, without waiting for a response. “You say you’ve proven your loyalty to him? Or have you just proven to him that you are a tool he can use whenever he wants?”

    “You don’t know what you’re talking about!” Mech yelled.

    “Don’t I?” Willow asked, seeing a little of herself in Mech, from when she worked under Agatha. “Tell me this, if this mission succeeds, and you want to retire from all this, and try and live a normal life, could you do that?”

    “Why would I want to?”

    “That’s not the question!” Cassandra shouted at Mech, knowing where Willow was going with this. “Could you leave, and live a normal life?”

    Mech hesitated, and in that moment, all of them heard Latios’ strained voice in their minds.

    ”Six of them down, three restrained, three retreated. Jon and Charlotte are battling one each, and Chris and Dylan, and Cass and Willow are battling the other two.…”

    “We know we can’t beat you!” Cassandra called out. “We’ll try our hardest to keep you busy, but we know we can’t win! But you’re one of four left, and everyone else who is still battling would put us to shame with their eyes closed!”

    “And why does that matter to me?!”

    “Because even if you beat us, you are on the losing side!” Cassandra shouted. “Even if you beat us, I know that those of us who have already won their fights will just take our place, and that the others who are still battling will hold their ground until the very end! You’re risking your neck fighting a battle in a losing war, hoping that if your boss gets Dialga, he’ll give you his scraps!”

    Mech looked back at Cassandra furiously, before shouting back at her in anger.

    “Even if I wanted to leave, do you think they’d let me just walk away?!”

    ************************************************** ************************************************** *****

    Having heard Latios’ last update, and felt the multiple waves of déjŕ vu indicating Dialga was getting closer and closer to hatching, Charlotte grinned despite herself.

    “I’m letting the team down, letting this drag on so long!” Charlotte called out mockingly. “Are you even trying?”

    “You talk a big talk considering you’ve barely landed a hit!” Guardian retorted, as Charlotte grinned, an idea forming in her mind, ready to end this.

    ”Deoxys, Imprison,” Charlotte thought, knowing the extra-terrestrial Pokemon would be listening. It wore Zarude’s Throat Chop attack, before its eyes flashed, placing the condition on Zarude which would now prevent it from using any moves that Deoxys also knew.

    “Power Whip!” Guardian ordered. Charlotte knew that for what she had planned to work, she’d have to make every moment count, and have every decision she made be the right one. The last Throat Chop attack, whilst having the bulk of the damage absorbed by Deoxys defensive form, still dealt considerable damage, and this Power Whip attack, if Deoxys didn’t block the attack with Protect, would likely hit nearly as hard. If Deoxys were to take another hit after this one, regardless of its form, it would be knocked out. However Charlotte was formulating a plan in which this would be the last attack that Zarude would use.

    Zarude rushed at Deoxys, throwing its arms forward, as the vines wrapped around its forearms lashed out, slamming hard into Deoxys.

    “Counter!” Charlotte ordered, as Deoxys took the attack, and used the opportunity it created to strike back at Zarude, slamming it hard with its bulk, and stunning it for a second. Knowing what it's trainer wanted, Deoxys then used that second it had bought, shifting back into its attack form.

    Charlotte had kept Deoxys in its defence form largely in case she didn’t think she could beat Guardian, and needed to rely on drawing the battle out. Firstly due to Deoxys ability to defend itself in that form, but also because it was slow enough that it gave Guardian no reason to order Zarude to use a move like Agility. And this tactic had worked. Zarude’s speed had not changed the entire battle, which meant that in its attack form, Deoxys was now faster.

    “Superpower!” Charlotte commanded, making sure that Guardian would hear the command. Deoxys rushed forward to Zarude, ready to attack with a brutal, all out assault.

    “Protect!” Guardian ordered, and Charlotte knew she had the match won.

    Zarude attempted to use Protect, however found itself unable to, as the part of its mind that knew how to perform the move, was locked away by Deoxys hidden Imprison attack earlier. As such, Zarude, expecting the attack to be blocked, was completely caught off guard when the barrier didn’t rise, and there was nothing to stop Deoxys deadly attack striking. Zarude was thrown into the air, though still conscious, however Charlotte was ready to finish this.

    “Now, Focus Blast!” Charlotte commanded. Although Focus Blast was a less accurate attack, in terms of mobility, Deoxys had the advantage, being able to use its telekinesis to move itself around in the air, whilst Zarude was helplessly falling, having reached the peak of its arc, and was now falling earthbound.

    Taking a split second to position itself in line with its target, Deoxys four tentacles formed a cross in front of it, as from its crystalline organ, a ball of pale blue light formed, growing larger and larger, before being released with the sound of an explosion. The sphere launched at Zarude, who was helpless to evade, slamming into the Pokemon, and smashing it into the ground.

    Seeing this, Guardian turned to run, as she activated Zarude’s Pokeball, however found herself lifted from the ground, as Deoxys tight telekinetic grip grappled her, pinning her arms to her sides.

    “And then there were three…”

    ************************************************** ************************************************** *********

    Metagross’ Ice-Punch struck home, hitting Groudon, though being far from enough to end the battle.

    “Will O’ Wisp!” Obsidian ordered. Groudon spat out a jet of intense flame, with the intention of leaving Metagross with a burn, which caused Dylan to swear under his breath.

    “Ice Punch again!” Dylan ordered, knowing that despite being incredibly simplistic, and something that Jon would have criticised him for in their training matches, that this was his best tactic. Even with a burn, Mega Metagross’ physical attack was far higher, and amplified by its Tough Claws ability, making it still his safest option. And wailing on Groudon may be enough to keep it busy, for Chris to make use of.

    “Blizzard, Ninetales!” Chris ordered, knowing that its usual inaccuracy would be circumvented by the hail that it had summoned earlier. The ice and snow that blew around the battlefield began to grow in intensity, as it honed in on Groudon, hitting the Pokemon hard.

    “Heavy Slam!” Obsidian shouted, and for a split second, Dylan wondered why Obsidian would order this move, when Metagross likely weighed nearly the same as Groudon. However it was made obvious, when Groudon stepped past Metagross, before placing its other foot down, and pivoting, swinging its large, plated tail, into Ninetales, who took the brunt of the attack, being launched back, and unconscious before it even hit the ground.

    Furious, Chris called back Ninetales, before sending out Hydreigon!

    “Ice Punch again!” Dylan shouted desperately, as Metagross launched itself into Groudon, hoping to take its attention off of Chris’ Pokemon, though figured that was likely not going to be possible. Between Metagross’ immunity to Ground Type moves, its boosted defence, as well as Aurora Veil protecting it, Metagross was a wall that, in the eyes of their opponent, was not worth wasting time fighting, especially now that it was burnt and dealing less damage. Meanwhile, if Groudon could make sure to wipe out as many of Chris’ Pokemon as it could…

    “Dragon Pulse, Groudon!”

    Groudon roared, materialising between its jaws, an orb of purple draconic energy, which exploded into a pulsing beam of light, slamming into Hydreigon, who despite regaining its composure, didn’t seem as if it could take many more of those. Dylan however, had a thought.

    “If it uses Rest again, Metagross can’t hit hard enough with that burn to knock it out before it wakes up!” Dylan called out to Chris. “He can drag this on as long as he wants to!”

    “Then we end this now!” Chris shouted angrily, before giving a command to Hydreigon. “Taunt!”

    Hydreigon let out a shrill screech, targeting Groudon, who immediately seemed enraged, focusing its attention on Hydreigon, as both trainers knew they had fast tracked the end of this battle. Either they would beat Groudon before the Taunt wore off, or Groudon would decimate them before then.

    “Ice Punch!”

    “Dragon Pulse!”

    Groudon’s attack struck Hydreigon, knocking the Pokemon out, as Metagross struck Groudon again with an Ice Punch, which was a heavy hit, but not substantial against Groudon’s bulk. Chris called Hydreigon back, swearing to himself as he weighed up his odds. Groudon was more of a physical attacker, and whilst Dragonite knew Ice Beam, Chris was almost certain that Groudon would know a Rock Type attack which would be brutal against Dragonite. Meanwhile, Garchomp would be weak to Dragon Pulse, but Groudon didn’t seem to be anywhere near as strong with special attacks. And even if it did know a physical move that was strong against Garchomp, that would help them, even just a little bit.

    “Go Garchomp!” Chris shouted, as he sent out his second-to last Pokemon. “We’re finishing this! Outrage!”

    This was not a move Chris employed often, as it was a move that achieved sheer physical power at the expense of almost all else. Garchomp would continue to brutally attack Groudon until it knocked itself out from fatigue. From this point forward, Chris would likely have no control over the Pokemon as it attacked with immense power. Garchomp rushed at Groudon, seemingly taken over by an uncontrollable rage, as it tore into the larger Pokemon.

    “Power-Up Punch Metagross!” Dylan ordered, trying to use this opportunity to undo the damage of the burn, which slowly whittled away at Metagross’ energy.

    “Dragon Claw!” Obsidian commanded, as Chris gave a sardonic grimace. On the one hand, Garchomp would not be able to sustain multiple of these attacks. On the other…

    The Dragon Claw attack struck Garchomp, causing it to shriek in pain, however Groudon seemed to recoil, as it was hurt by Garchomp’s Rough Skin, opening an opportunity for Garchomp to hit back, and hit back hard, continuing its outrage.

    “Power-Up Punch again!” Dylan commanded, knowing that Chris and Garchomp were taking a massive risk to buy Dylan this opportunity, and that he needed to not rush it, but make the most of every second.

    “Another Dragon Claw!”

    Groudon swung brutally at Garchomp, throwing the Pokemon back, and knocking it out, as Chris winced at the sight, before calling it back. Dylan however was ready.

    “Explosion!”

    Whilst Dylan thought an Ice-Punch might finish Groudon, he didn’t know for sure. And contrary to its appearance, Explosion was a physical attack, in which the user channelled all their physical strength into an explosive burst of power. With Chris down to his last Pokemon, and the taunt about to end, allowing Groudon to rest again, if Dylan didn’t beat Groudon now, he would be in practically the exact same position he was before Chris arrived, and his Pokemon being brutally beaten one by one would be for nothing.

    Metagross threw itself telekinetically at Groudon, latching on with its large limbs, and gripping tight, as Groudon roared in annoyance. Metagross cried out before being encased in a bright white light, which exploded violently, shaking the ground beneath them.

    As the eyes of the three trainers adjusted, they saw Metagross collapsed, unconscious on the ground, back in its standard form, and Groudon still and unmoving…

    There was silence for a second, broken only by the sounds of the other battles that were occuring, though they were fewer than before. Another of the well familiar waves of déjŕ vu, this one the strongest that they had all felt, was what brought all of them back to reality.

    “Not even two champions could bring down Groudon,” Obsidian said quietly, as he called the Legendary Pokemon back. “It’s almost a pity that we will be forced to dispose of everyone here…”

    Dylan’s eyes widened, as Obsidian removed from his belt a third Pokeball.

    “This fight isn’t over…”

    Sending out his third Pokemon, Obsidian called out, “Go, Solgaleo…”

    The Pokeball flashed, however the light that erupted from it was far more than what normally was visible. It took Chris and Dylan a moment to realise that the light of the Pokeball was eclipsed by the light that radiated from the Pokemon itself as it entered the battlefield.

    Solgaleo stood at near double Chris’ height, with a white hide, textured like steel, and accented with sections of gold, orange and red. Based on the light, and its colouring, Dylan figured it was likely related to mythology surrounding the sun.

    Knowing it was Dylan’s only Pokemon left, Darkrai finally emerged from Dylan’s shadow, as Chris sent out Dragonite, knowing what his role in this battle was. Between facing Groudon, who Chris or Charlotte would have likely found easier to manage given its typing, and now battling Solgaleo, a Pokemon that seemed to radiate sunlight, with his only Pokemon being strongest in shadows, Dylan had the disadvantage here, but Chris also knew that Darkrai would likely be the one best suited to finishing Solgaleo.

    “Dragonite, Stomping Tantrum!” Chris shouted, as Dragonite rushed Solgaleo, brutally attacking with the Ground Type move. Chris turned to Dylan, his voice stern, and making clear not to argue with him. “Dragonite is strong, but not strong enough to go toe to toe with something like this. I’ll buy time, so use it to make sure Darkrai can finish the job…”

    Dylan nodded appreciatively, knowing that Chris was continually putting his own Pokemon in the front line in order for Dylan to secure them a win.

    “Darkrai, Double Team!”

    ************************************************** ************************************************** *****

    “Even if I wanted to leave, do you think they’d let me just walk away?”

    Mech’s voice went quiet by the time he finished that statement, which was almost imperceptible over the sounds of battle. Surprised by the question, Cassandra and Willow hesitated, causing Mech to talk again, his voice now bitter.

    “The moment I’m not an asset to Blackstone, I’m a liability, and considering it’s no secret what would have happened to all of you if our plan with the instances had worked, what do you think Blackstone does to liabilities?”

    Knowing exactly how Mech felt, Willow was the one to raise the follow-up question to this.

    “Do you think that you can guarantee you will always be an asset, just by wanting to be? Or that being an asset will keep you safe?” Willow asked. “I was loyal to Agatha, and you know how she rewarded my loyalty?”

    Surprised by the question, Mech shook his head.

    “She demanded I let her murder my Latias, to accelerate her plans by all of one day, and I know if I refused, she would have killed me. I risked everything and turned on her, because at the end of the day, I was just as disposable to her as an asset, as I was if I were a liability,” Willow said, answering her own question. “Considering Palkia was killed, and three of your comrades are now detained, with three others having fled and this attack continues, do you think that you aren’t disposable to Blackstone, regardless of your loyalty to them?”

    ”Charlotte has beaten and detained her opponent,” said Latios’ weak voice to all present. ”Three remain…”

    Hearing this, Mech looked to the south west, where he saw Mewtwo facing down Jon’s Giratina. The only other sounds of battle were to the southern edge of the property, where over the roof of the stadium, Mech could see a bright light bleeding into the night sky, indicative of Solgaleo battling.

    “The attack continues because with Dialga, Blackstone can undo all our mistakes in this mission. We can prevent Palkia being killed, and the others being captured. We can change this from a close win, to a board-wipe, with no witnesses left…” Mech said, although more-so trying to convince himself. “And the two others who are still fighting are our strongest by far…”

    “And in the same way, if Blackstone gets Dialga, your chances of leaving, and surviving go to zero. At least if you walk away now, and we can help beat these last two, you can run, hide, and have a chance at living a semi-normal life…” Cassandra retorted. “But the moment they get Dialga, your fate is sealed. Whether you live or die will be up to Blackstone, with no chance of negotiation…”

    Taking a hit from Genesect, both Berri and Crobat fell, as the two witches returned their Pokemon, grabbing another Pokeball each. However, they didn’t send them out.

    “If you walk away now, both of your comrades will be outnumbered six to one, by some of the best trainers in Hoenn right now, as well as four witches who helped bring down Agatha…” Cassandra said carefully, as Mech remembered how easily Charlotte beat him in their instance. “You will not get a better chance to take control of your future than right now, and mark my words, if you don’t take this, and Blackstone win, the only choice you will have is to be their slave, or to die…”

    Mech glared at the two trainers, and for a moment, they thought he was going to order Genesect to attack…

    “F**k it…” Mech muttered to himself, before unlatching Genesect’s Pokeball, and pressing the button. He gave both witches one last glare, before turning to the south east, and leaving with a jog.

    Once he was out of earshot, Willow breathed a sigh of relief.

    “I can’t believe that worked…” Willow sighed, as Cassandra nodded, knowing that if it hadn’t, Genesect would have likely proven too difficult for them.

    “Honestly, if it were anyone but us, I don’t know that it would have…” Cassandra admitted, as Willow nodded in understanding. “Come on, Jon is holding back their leader, and Latios seems to be struggling…”

    ************************************************** ************************************************** *****

    “Protect!” Dylan commanded, waiting until the last possible moment to give the command. Dragonite had fallen moments earlier, falling to a Stone Edge attack which was far from the first the Dragon Type had sustained, and in that time, Dylan had ordered multiple uses of Double Team, trying to prevent Darkrai from sustaining any other hits.

    Dylan had waited until the last second to give the command, wanting to try and estimate if the attack was likely to hit, not wanting to waste opportunities to strike back. Based on the battle between Solgaleo and Dragonite, Dylan was certain that Solgaleo was Steel and Psychic Type like his Metagross, and despite Darkrai being left exposed by the bright light, if it could land a few decent hits, Dylan may be able to end this battle.

    Solgaleo’s Focus Blast attack struck the barrier that was erected at the very last second, however by the time the light dissipated, Solgaleo was already bearing down on the Pokemon, ready to attack again.

    “Sunsteel Strike!”

    Dylan cursed his bad luck, as the attack struck immediately after Darkrai had blocked an attack with Protect. Darkrai was thrown back, before vanishing and reappearing somewhere amidst the numerous copies that floated across the battlefield.

    “You’ve got this…” Chris said quietly. Dylan had told him to go get help, however he had refused. He said that with everyone else winning their battles, the others would come to assist them when they could, and until then, he was not going to leave Dylan to face this alone. As impractical as it was, Dylan couldn’t help but appreciate it.

    “Hypnosis!” Dylan ordered, as Darkrai cried out, launching a red and black beam at Solgaleo.

    Spotting the beam, the sun-like Pokemon leapt aside, just missing being struck, before homing in on Darkrai.

    “Iron Tail!” Obsidian ordered.

    “Protect!”

    The voice wasn’t that of Dylan or Chris, but instead an unfamiliar voice. At uncanny speeds, a purple form darted into Solgaleo’s path, raising a protect barrier to block the attack, and Dylan, wasting no time at all, gave Darkrai its instruction.

    “Hypnosis, then Dream Eater!”

    Having its attack unexpectedly blocked by the newcomer, Solgaleo was taken by surprise, and did not move to avoid the Hypnosis attack, before Darkrai, who was naturally faster, and holding back to respond to Solgaleo, launched a follow-up attack at full speed.

    Despite Dream Eater not being too effective against the Steel-Psychic Type Pokemon, it did enough to restore some of Darkrai’s health, as Obsidian glared at the Pokemon that had blocked Solgaleo’s attack. Dylan, finally able to look away from Darkrai for a moment, recognised the Pokemon as Genesect.

    “You’ve made a grave mistake, Mech…” Obsidian called out, as from the north east, a figure approached. “We have no mercy for traitors…”

    “Oh I’m aware…” Mech replied antagonistically. “Which is why it’s in my best interest for Blackstone to fail here. I was thinking of just leaving, and letting these Academy people finish you off, but really, I’d be silly to place my safety blindly in their hands…”

    Obsidian, seeming rattled for the first time since the battle began, didn’t look away from Mech, despite the fact that Darkrai was restoring energy as Solgaleo slept.

    “Why turn your back on us, after all we’ve done for you?”

    “Because I’ll only ever be a tool to be used by Blackstone, and I know the moment I outlive my usefulness, I won’t be allowed to just walk away…” Mech retorted. “The silver lining of this catastrophic f**k up of an operation, is that it has created the perfect opportunity for me to get out of this life. Unless Blackstone gets Dialga…”

    “Solgaleo, Flare Blitz!”

    Obsidian, despite his indignant comments, had been watching the Legendary Pokemon, waiting for signs of movement, and the moment he knew Solgaleo was about to wake, had given the order.

    Solgaleo leapt to its feet, roaring as it became encased in flames, before rushing at Genesect.

    “Endure!” Mech shouted, as Genesect took the hit, holding on only just to consciousness. “Then Assurance!”

    Genesect leapt at Solgaleo, slamming its blades into the Pokemon, as Dylan, not waiting for another opportunity, commanded Darkrai, ”Will-O-Wisp!”

    Darkrai launched a spectral orb at Solgaleo, burning the Pokemon, before it lashed out at Genesect, knocking it out. Chris and Dylan heard a scream of pain as Mech was grabbed by an invisible hand and lifted into the air.

    “Your fight’s with me!” Dylan shouted, before saying, “Darkrai, Hex!”

    Darkrai raised one of its black, cloth-like hands, pointing it wordlessly at Solgaleo, before a grey swirling mass of cloud launched from it, striking Solgaleo, hitting it hard. Solgaleo roared in pain, as Mech, who had been lifted seven feet above the ground by this point, was dropped, and cried out in pain as he hit the ground hard, feeling his ankle crunch from the impact. Chris moved to help him up, however his extended hand was swatted away by the Blackstone defector, who quickly called back Genesect.

    “I’m not your ally…” Mech hissed. “It is just in my best interest that Obsidian doesn’t wipe the floor with you, and go help Armageddon…”

    “God, your names all suck…” Chris retorted bluntly, before stepping back.

    “Superpower!” Obsidian commanded, as Solgaleo rushed bodily into where Darkrai had attacked from, however it was too late. Darkrai had already vanished, being replaced with a copy, causing the attack to miss, as Dylan gave his next order.

    “Dark Pulse!”

    From where Darkrai now stood, in a different section of the makeshift battlefield, it released a beam of black and red energy, which slammed into Solgaleo, throwing the large Pokemon back, and causing it to convulse on the ground. Finally, it fell unconscious, as Dylan, not wasting a second, gave Darkrai its final order.

    “Hypnosis…”

    There was no confusion who the target was. Solgaleo was unconscious, and Obsidian was struck by the same orb that had hit Solgaleo earlier, putting it to sleep. Dylan almost pitied the assailant, knowing that Darkrai’s Hypnosis was likely giving him nightmares, however knew it was necessary. Three of Blackstones operatives may have escaped, however given the struggle to beat this one, Dylan didn’t want to risk allowing him to leave as well.

    “Did you mean what you said?” Dylan asked Mech, who looked between Darkrai, Obsidian and Dylan in shock. “That you want to escape Blackstone?”

    Regaining his composure, Mech gave a snort of derision.

    “I wouldn’t have risked making an enemy of them if I didn’t…”

    Dylan nodded. Whilst Darkrai could quite easily incapacitate Mech too, Dylan knew that Mech was more likely to be killed for his betrayal if he were apprehended like the others would be. He didn’t want that on his conscience, and also knew that sometimes, showing mercy may produce valuable allies. May...

    “Then go. Get off the island, and run as far away as you can…” Dylan said quietly. “Consider this your one and only chance to try and live a normal life…”

    Mech nodded, before calling back Genesect, and limping towards the gate to the main road.

    Dylan looked back at Chris, who watched in shock, before realising he was being watched himself.

    “I’ll keep an eye on this guy for now, but go to the shed, and grab some rope. Then we’ll help Jon…”

    ************************************************** ************************************************** *****

    “Giratina, Double Team!” Jon commanded, not knowing how quick Mewtwo was, and wanting to get in first.

    “Mewtwo, Disable!”

    Giratina roared in annoyance as its ability to use Double Team was stripped from it for the duration of this battle, though Jon figured a singular use should be enough.

    “Now Nasty Plot!” Armageddon ordered, as Mewtwo cried out, its voice sounding like what Jon imagined Mew would, although seemingly darker and more twisted. It didn’t take a genius to understand what Mewtwo was. Blackstone had acquired the DNA of a Mew, and created this to be better…

    “Calm Mind!” Jon commanded going for a similar tactic, as Armageddon grinned.

    “Shadow Ball!”

    Mewtwo cried out, releasing a ghostly ball of swirling shadows, launching it at one of the numerous Giratina on the battlefield, which seemed to hit one of the copies, going straight through the Pokemon, as Jon gave his next command.

    “Return the favour!” Jon ordered. “Shadow Ball!”

    Unlike Mewtwo’s which missed, Giratina’s Shadow Ball struck home, hitting Mewtwo, though only enough to irritate it.

    “Future Sight!” Armageddon shouted angrily, though his outburst of emotion betrayed a strength that Jon’s current tactic would not be able to get past. Jon had been attempting to use Armageddon’s ego against him, by instead of focusing on landing large attacks, using more subtle tactics to infuriate the arrogant leader of the attacking force. Jon knew that a Pokemon was only as strong as the trainer commanding it, and as strong as Mewtwo was, if Armageddon made a bad call that Jon could exploit, its strength wouldn’t matter. However, instead of becoming more direct and offensive, Armageddon had kept enough composure to employ a better tactic.

    Knowing that there was no avoiding the Future Sight attack, Jon instead changed tactics, focusing on mitigating the long term damage. His Pokemon would be hit regardless, but he could prevent this from being what lost him the battle.

    In other circumstances, as much as he hated the idea, he’d have used Baton Pass to switch out to another Pokemon, such as Scizor, which may be able to weather the hit. However Scizor was currently in storage. Latios was carrying the heaviest burden out of all present, Rayquaza was unconscious and Blaziken and Nidoking were supporting Violet, Jarena and Abbee in the stadium. He only had one Pokemon he could Baton Pass to, however he knew he’d need that Pokemon at full strength.

    Jon however knew that his options were limited. Whilst Spite would prevent Mewtwo from using Future Sight again and putting him in the same situation, if Mewtwo were to land a hit and knock out his Pokemon, his next Pokemon would take Future Sight. For the same reason, he couldn’t use Curse, which would be higher reward, but also higher risk.

    Instead, Jon chose to hesitate, just long enough for Armageddon to take an opportunity to call an attack.

    “Shadow Ball!” Armageddon ordered.

    “Shadow Claw!” Jon shouted, knowing the attack would fail.

    Giratina lunged forward with a roar, as Mewtwo let off another spectral orb, on a collision path with Giratina. However, to Armageddon’s shock, the attack passed straight through Giratina, missing Jon and Justin, and slamming into the front of the partially destroyed stadium.

    Armageddon looked in shock, as the attack completely went through Giratina, who lashed out at Mewtwo with a Shadow Claw attack. Whilst the attack itself wasn’t enough to do significant damage, the cloned Pokemon had not been expecting its opponent to face no resistance, and took the hit a little harder. The leader’s question was answered though, as Future Sight struck Giratina, knocking it out, and as it fell to the ground, a haze appeared in the air around it for a brief second, before disappearing, and revealing an unconscious, white and red Zoroark.

    “You thought you had me for a second, didn’t you?” Jon called out, as Armageddon narrowed his eyes at Jon, who called back the Ghost-Normal type. “Really, Giratina is fresh and ready to go…”

    Jon tossed Giratina’s Pokeball forward, as the real Legendary Pokemon erupted from it, letting out a demonic screech.

    A subsequent wave of déjŕ vu was felt, as Jon grinned.

    “Mewtwo is strong, but I’ve wasted a good amount of your time, and Dialga is getting restless…” Jon said calmly. “Do you really think Mewtwo can take down Giratina, if it was struggling so much against an illusion?”

    Furious, Armageddon remained silent, lifting his right hand, on the middle finger of which sat a black ring, with a small stone embedded in it. Having one almost identical, Jon’s eyes widened, as he realised he had never accounted for this. It made sense. In terms of Mewtwo’s sheer strength, it was hardly stronger than Rayquaza, and Jon figured that Mew might be of a similar level. But Mewtwo had been improved…

    Slamming the stone into his left palm, Armageddon watched furiously, as Mewtwo became engulfed in a rainbow light.

    “I will get Dialga, and I will rip this place, and everyone here, to pieces, if that’s what it takes to get it…”

    ************************************************** ************************************************** *****

    As Violet kept watch on the now significantly larger entrance to the stadium, Jarena, Abbee and Victini watched the egg. It had originally been locked in the cupboard, however with only one enemy left, being held back by Jon, those protecting it wanted to know the moment it hatched. Additionally, should Jon fail to keep back the remaining assailant, and he enter, Comet, Jarena’s Clefable, would be able to use Teleport to take the egg somewhere away from here, should the trio of trainers not be able to hold their attacker at bay.

    “Half the point of Jon remaining in here was so that Giratina could trigger its fleeing mechanism,” Jarena muttered, as she glanced between the egg which was shaking furiously, and the large screen, displaying Jon battling Armageddon. All had felt their hearts sink when Giratina went down to Future Sight, before feeling a renewed sense of hope when Giratina was revealed to be Zoroark, and Jon sent out the real Legendary Pokemon.

    “If Jon stayed in here like he should have, their battle would be happening far closer to the egg…” Victini retorted. “And I get the feeling this Pokemon would have no trouble keeping us at bay, whilst grabbing the egg telekinetically, and then teleporting away…”

    Jarena raised her eyebrows at the Victory Star Pokemon.

    “You know, you didn’t have an answer for everything back when you ran with us…” Jarena retorted playfully.

    “Too much time around Jon,” Victini answered simply.

    “And Chris…” Abbee added, as Victini shrugged.

    The conversation however was cut short by a loud crack piercing the air. From where she stood keeping watch, Violet’s head swung around to look at the large egg, as, with all four sets of eyes glued to it, a large crack appeared in the front of the egg…

    ************************************************** ************************************************** *****

    Within moments of Mech leaving, Cassandra and Willow were joined by Charlotte, before the trio made their way towards where Jon battled. In the distance, they saw Giratina battling a humanoid shaped Pokemon that stood at a little under seven feet tall. The pair launched Shadow Balls at one another, Giratina avoiding the attack by way of a Double Team copy, and landing a solid hit, before the opposing trainer ordered a Future Sight attack.

    Just as the trio reached Justin, Giratina managed to land a Shadow Claw attack, however fell to Future Sight. Seeing this, Charlotte, figuring that if Jon were battling now instead of Justin meant that Justin was down to only Lucario who stood beside him, withdrew Deoxys’ Pokeball. Seeing this, Justin nodded, ready to give Lucario the order to re engage, despite the massive disadvantage the Fighting Type would face.

    “Wait…” Cassandra said, confusing the pair. “Jon would not be this calm if he didn’t have something up his sleeve…”

    Charlotte looked to Jon, understanding Cassandra’s logic, which came to fruition when Giratina was revealed to be Zoroark. Jon addressed his adversary briefly as the spectators saw on the other side of the battlefield, Lance and Steven approaching. However, Jon’s opponent remained silent, before seeming to press something on his hand. All eyes widened as the opposing Pokemon, Mewtwo, erupted into a chromatic orb of light, emerging now almost two feet smaller, with a lighter build. Cassandra, Charlotte and Justin, all being trainers who trained as battlers under Jon himself, knew quickly what this meant.

    Mega Evolution always gave a relative improvement, however sometimes it wasn’t as simple as just growing stronger. Sometimes it meant that some of a Pokemon’s attributes would become weaker, however that difference was translated into others. And from what those spectating, as well as Jon could see, Mewtwo’s new form seemed less capable in terms of physical attacks, which meant that chances are, its special attacking power would have grown significantly to compensate.

    Charlotte went to step forward, however Cassandra grabbed her forearm.

    “Until Mewtwo begins targeting us, or Jon loses, we don’t engage…” Cassandra said quietly, hoping that despite being less experienced than Justin, and especially Charlotte, that they would listen.

    “That thing looks like it might wipe the floor with Giratina!” Charlotte hissed at Cassandra, who shook her head.

    “Us getting involved gives Jon more he has to worry about, and prevents him from actually letting loose, which is what we need right now,” Cassandra muttered. “Instead, we use this time to learn what we can about Mewtwo, and put that into action only when we have to. Remember, time is on our side…”

    Realising Cassandra was right, Charlotte nodded, though didn’t reattach the Master Ball to her belt.

    “Recover!” Armageddon ordered, as Jon leapt into action.

    “Trick Room!” Jon commanded. “Then change form and use Toxic!”

    Giratina warped the dimensions using its gravity control, before shifting in an instant to the form Cassandra recognised from Alola. A form she hadn’t seen since their trip to Sinnoh the spring before. What surprised her most was that Giratina, despite being more comfortable in its serpentine form, had not hesitated to follow Jon’s command, indicating the trust it felt towards its current trainer. As the light dissipated, Giratina let out a roar, as a purple orb launched into Mewtwo, hitting it directly.

    Charlotte couldn’t help but grin at her mentor, that despite everything, he was still battling the way he knew best, and had trained them to battle. Whilst all of them would run the risk of falling into the trap of going on the offensive in such dire circumstances, Jon was still thinking creatively, and had achieved much with those moves.

    First and foremost, he had slowed Mewtwo, buying time for another attack, which he had then used to give him an advantage in the long term. Unlike poisoning from an attack like Poison Sting, Toxic poisoned the target with a condition that perpetually worsened. And whilst Mewtwo could recover health, if Jon could draw the battle out long enough, it wouldn’t take long before Mewtwo would lose more health to the poison than it would restore using Recover.

    “Why change forms?” Justin asked quietly.

    “Because Jon’s planning on drawing this out,” Cassandra answered, impressing Charlotte. “And this form is better suited to wearing attacks, at the cost of how strong it is…”

    “Trick Room!” Armageddon ordered, almost to flex on Jon, that Giratina’s move was undone so easily, however Jon grinned at the opportunity that had just bought him.

    “Shadow Force!”

    Giratina vanished into thin air, as, after the poison started to take effect, Mewtwo attempted to launch a Shadow Ball at Giratina. An instant later, Giratina reappeared behind Mewtwo, slashing at it with its spiked wings. Mewtwo roared in pain, both from the attack, but also the gradually strengthening poison, before Armageddon commanded Mewtwo to use Dark Pulse.

    “Protect!” Jon shouted, as Giratina, who would not have been able to dodge this attack in such close range, erected a barrier just in time to take the wave of dark energy and disperse it, before taking the opportunity to get out of close quarters with the enemy. Despite not even taking a hit at this point, Mewtwo winced as for the third time the poison took effect, now hitting even harder.

    “Surely Jon’s got this in the bag?” Willow asked. “All he needs to do is hold out until Mewtwo can’t handle the poison? I mean, if Mewtwo knew Haze, or this guy had another Pokemon, surely he’d have used one of those to stabilise the poison?”

    “There is only one tactic I can think of that could make things difficult for Jon…” Charlotte said quietly. “And I’m hoping this guy doesn’t end up figuring it out…”

    ************************************************** ************************************************** *****

    ”Latios!” Victini called out telepathically. ”It’s actually hatching!”

    The trio watched as a third crack appeared in the egg, and a triangular shaped piece of egg shell fell into the depths of the egg. Abbee went to step forward, though Jarena grabbed her by the forearm.

    “If the first thing it sees after hatching is you, it may imprint on you, and not want to leave this time…” Jarena whispered. “And as fun as having a god over time thinking you’re it's mother might sound, we kind of need it to time travel ASAP…”

    Abbee nodded, as Victini spoke quietly to the trio.

    “Leave it with me. If it doesn’t leave once it’s hatched, I’ll make it leave…” Victini said as another crack appeared. “If it doesn’t leave once it’s hatched, I’ll make it leave…”

    Both trainers looked down at Victini in confusion, wondering why the Mythical Pokemon repeated itself, as Victini wondered why he said the same thing twice. However, in the corner of her eye, Abbee saw the crack that had just appeared a second earlier remain the same, but seem to make the exact same noise it had just made.

    “Did Dialga just set the clock back a second?” Jarena asked in shock.

    “I think so…” Abbee said quietly, seeming to be deep in thought. Placing Victini down, she held the tip of her index finger, and the knuckle of her middle finger against her forearm, as if to pinch herself, but seemed to be waiting for something.

    Another crack appeared on the egg, and with it came another wave of déjŕ vu. At that exact moment, Abbee pinched her forearm, leaving a bright red mark against her pale skin, and though her fingers seemed to move back to where they were a second earlier with uncanny speed and precision, the red mark remained.

    “Abbee, I’m so glad I chose you to be my trainer and not Charlotte…” Victini said, as Abbee shot him a puzzled look, unaware that he had been considering Charlotte when he first came looking for a new trainer.

    “What’s going on?” Jarena asked.

    “Any damage done to our bodies isn’t reverted whenever Dialga brings the clock back…” Abbee explained. “But our positioning isn’t…”

    “Okay, but what does that mean for us?”

    “Not us, but Jon…” Victini answered with a grin.

    ************************************************** ************************************************** *****

    “Mewtwo, Agility!” Armageddon shouted, as Mewtwo, already far faster than Giratina, doubled its speed.

    “S**t…” Charlotte muttered. This had been the one tactic she knew would cause problems in Jon’s plan. Whilst Agility would allow Mewtwo to complete twice as much in a given amount of time, this increase in speed was not due to anything physiological, but instead an improvement in reaction time, as well as telekinesis to speed up muscle movements. As such, whilst one would not be unreasonable in believing Agility would speed up the rate the poison took effect, it would have quite the opposite effect. The poison would still harm Mewtwo at the exact same rate, though Mewtwo could do more in the same amount of time.

    “Now Recover!” Armageddon shouted, as Mewtwo began recovering health. She looked over at Jon, who, despite looking irritated by the development, didn’t seem rattled. Charlotte realised that as long as Jon could keep Mewtwo from landing too many hits with this extra movement, or keep dealing enough damage that Mewtwo needed to waste the movement with Recover, he could still draw this out.

    ”Jon, I know you’re busy, but this is important!” said Victini’s voice in Jon’s head.

    “Giratina, Calm Mind!” Jon ordered Giratina, who roared in response. There was another wave of déjŕ vu and for a moment, Giratina seemed to hesitate, and its roar stuttered for a moment. Jon felt panic rise up in him for an instant, until he realised that Mewtwo had hesitated as well.

    ”Don’t talk, just listen!” Victini said. ”Dialga is hatching, and whenever a crack appears on the egg, we all get déjŕ vu, but it’s not just déjŕ vu anymore! Every time it happens, time goes backwards! People and Pokemon move back to where they were, but any marks or wounds remain!”

    Jon’s eyes widened as he understood why Victini was telling him this.

    ”Victini, every time a new crack appears, let me know…” Jon thought back, before remembering the effect on the roar. ”Start at one, and count up…”

    Jon felt a wave of satisfaction wash over him from Victini.

    ”This is why you’re the boss…”

    Time jumping back had not only affected Giratina’s movement, but also its voice, and Jon didn’t know whether telepathy would be affected by this. He didn’t want to hear repeats of Victini notifying him, using a word as simple as now and end up making a decision when time would not shift.

    “Giratina, put some distance between you!” Jon commanded. Giratina roared, before taking to the air, with speed, whilst nothing compared to Mewtwo’s, that seemed to betray its large figure. Whilst Jon knew this was only buying time, the waves of déjŕ vu were becoming more and more frequent, and he figured he wouldn’t have to wait long for another.

    “What’s he doing?” Charlotte couldn’t help but ask out loud. “Mewtwo is way too fast to try and avoid until the poison finishes it!”

    “I don’t know…” Cassandra said quietly, looking between Jon, Giratina and Mewtwo.

    ”One!”

    “Shadow Force!” Jon shouted, the moment he heard Victini’s telepathic voice in his mind.

    “Dark Pulse, Mewtwo!” Armageddon ordered.

    Giratina vanished, reappearing behind Mewtwo, and slashing at the Pokemon. As Mewtwo cried out in pain, there was a wave of déjŕ vu and before Mewtwo could use Dark Pulse, which was guaranteed to hit at such close range, Giratina disappeared again, reappearing where it had been only a second earlier, before using the attack. Jon fought every urge to call out Shadow Force again, as time had gone back to before he said it the first time.

    ”One!” said Victini’s voice, as the mythical Pokemon had not caught himself before saying it again at the repeat. ”S**t, no!”

    Jon smirked to himself, thankful he’d thought that far ahead. Had he thought there was going to be another wave, he may have caused the battle to end early, and not in his favour…

    ************************************************** ************************************************** *****

    “What’s going on?” Dylan asked, as he and Chris arrived at the sideline where Steven and Lance both watched. Steven, turning to see both trainers uninjured, breathed a sigh of relief, not wanting to be responsible for additional severe injuries that day, having made the call not to provide the pair with backup.

    “I’m glad to see you’re alright…” Steven said. “You managed to beat Groudon?”

    “Just…” Chris answered. “But then he pulled out another Pokemon. We only got past that because one of their own turned on him.”

    Lance’s eyes widened at what Chris had just said.

    “Why would they do that?” Lance asked.

    “He realised that he was disposable to Blackstone, and the difference between him having a chance at getting out, and him having no chance whatsoever was Blackstone succeeding…” Chris explained. Steven nodded in understanding, looking over to the other side of the battlefield where Charlotte, Justin, Cassandra and Willow all stood waiting.

    “Willow must have had words with him…” Steven answered. Dylan nodded, before referring to his original question.

    “So what’s going on here?” Dylan asked.

    “Jon had Giratina poison it, and it has progressed enough that Recover isn’t able to heal faster than the poison hurts it, but then Mewtwo used Agility to draw the fight out and buy more time…” Steven explained. “But I don’t exactly know what happened after that…”

    “You weren’t watching?” Chris asked, as Lance let out a sigh of irritation.

    “Of course we were,” Lance barked back. “It just makes no sense…”

    “What happened?” Dylan asked, as Lance rolled his eyes, and Steven tried to explain.

    “Giratina used Shadow Force to hit Mewtwo hard, and Mewtwo was about to hit back with something nasty,” Steven explained. “Then all of a sudden, Giratina was back where it was before it used the attack, out of harm's way…”

    There was another intense déjŕ vu, and all watched as Giratina used Hex, hitting the Mega evolved Legendary Pokemon, who retaliated by using Shadow Ball. However, between Hex hitting its target, and Shadow Ball making contact with Giratina, the Shadow Ball seemed to switch course, launching back towards Mewtwo before shrinking out of existence. All four trainers looked on in confusion, until Dylan pieced it together.

    “It’s not just déjŕ vu anymore. Dialga is turning back the clock,” Dylan explained, shocked at what he saw Jon achieving. “And Jon is making the most of that to hit Mewtwo before it can hit back…”

    ”Three!”

    “Shadow Claw!” Jon ordered. Giratina rushed recklessly at Mewtwo, by this point, knowing that something was happening that Jon was keeping account of as he made commands, and that it seemed to be working.

    The attack struck Mewtwo, throwing it back, however unlike last time, Armageddon didn’t give a command. At least not straight away. Hesitating for a moment, he watched as Giratina darted backwards, before giving it.

    “Shadow Ball!”

    Mewtwo cried out, letting out an orb of spectral energy, which shot through the air, past where Giratina had attacked it prior, and instead, homing in on where Giratina had been before that, and had now returned to. The attack struck hard, causing Giratina to roar in pain at the unexpected attack.

    “S**t…” Jon muttered. “He knows…”

    As Giratina resumed its flight, in order to not allow Mewtwo an easy time of locking on, Jon began quickly putting together another plan of action.

    ”Fo-”

    “Shadow Force!” Jon called out, the moment he felt Victini inside his mind. He knew if he could disrupt Armageddon and Mewtwo’s timing, he may be able to still make this work. Giratina disappeared, as the déjŕ vu hit, striking Mewtwo.

    “Shadow Ball again!”

    Mewtwo launched Shadow Ball, however Giratina had been a split second earlier, and as such didn’t return to its original position until a split second later, appearing just as the Shadow Ball passed where it was going to appear.

    ”Five!”

    This time, Jon did the opposite, waiting until the last possible moment.

    “Stay on the move!” Jon called out, before, with precise timing, “Hex, then change course!”

    Giratina, still in flight, let out a Hex attack which struck at practically the same time that time moved backwards, not giving Mewtwo a chance to counter attack whatsoever.

    “You and I both know you can’t do this forever!” Jon called out, as the poison, which had gradually gotten far worse, took effect. “Mewtwo may be strong, but eventually, it will fall!”

    ************************************************** ************************************************** *****

    ”Five!” Victini said telepathically, as he alternated between watching the egg, and Jon’s battle on the big screen, seeing the fruit of his labour. Jon was turning this battle around, using these lapses in time that Dialga’s hatching was bringing about.

    Abbee kept hidden on the outside corner of the storage cupboard, as did Jarena, neither trainer wishing to have an impression on Dialga that caused it to grow attached. However the egg itself was barely standing up any more. It seemed to only be held together by a few large, structural chunks of egg shell, and all present knew that once they broke, the Legendary Pokemon of time would have hatched fully. From one side, emerged a large, metallic leg, with steel blades that seemed to run up the length of it. From another, a dark blue tail pierced its way through, and from a third, a section of steel that Jarena, based on the illustrations she had seen of Dialga, believed to be the part that fanned out from its lower back.

    ”Six!”

    “Come on already…” Abbee muttered impatiently, as she too alternated glances between the egg, and screen, where she was relieved to see Dylan and Chris among the spectators. “Hatch, goddamnit…”

    ”Seven!” Victini relayed to Jon, however, this was different. The egg, seeming to lose the last of its structural integrity, finally began to break fully, falling apart, revealing a Pokemon larger than Victini himself. It was bipedal, with a hard, dark blue hide, accented by sections of metal, with a long neck, and a long head that sat perpendicular to its neck. Embedded in the steel armour that made up the Pokemon’s chest was a large diamond.

    The infant Dialga seemed to sniff the air, as it shook the shards of eggshell from it, and slowly began to stand shakily to its feet, looking around. It didn’t seem to notice the trio, Abbee, Jarena and Victini, whose heads were just poked around the corner enough to see it. Abbee’s first thought was that it was quite cute, considering how fearsome it would grow to be, however a second later, she felt something, well beyond déjŕ vu. Instead, it felt as if every memory she had, in an instant, had replayed through her mind. Her earliest memories with her family. Being told by her dad that her mum was unwell. Finding out about her mum dying. Coming to the Eon Academy for the first time, and meeting who would become her life long friends. Finding out about her dad, and after that meeting Victini. And everything in between.

    “That was weird…” Jarena muttered, having felt the same experience. With their bearings regained, they looked again at Dialga, who having not noticed them, had heard the noises of Giratina and Mewtwo doing battle outside.

    “Come on…” Victini muttered quietly and impatiently. “Time travel out of here…”

    Dialga seemed nervous by the sounds, however instead of fleeing, seemed to steel itself, before walking shakily and curiously towards the door of the cupboard that it had hatched in.

    “This isn’t good…” Abbee muttered. Victini, who was beyond tired of the waiting Dialga had put them through, decided enough was enough. With his telepathy, he reached out to the mind of the infant Pokemon, and once he connected with it, sent a single message.

    ”LEAVE!” Victini bellowed. Abbee, who had a hunch her partner was intervening, almost felt bad when Dialga, having heard this, stumbled back in fright, tripping over itself, and collapsing on the floor. However, before she could take in the sight, Dialga vanished.

    Abbee began desperately searching her own memories of the stadium, and conversations she had with others about it, trying to see if she could remember at all anything to do with Dialga. She knew that if Dialga had time travelled, it would not move anywhere through space, but instead remain where it is, only changing the point of time it exists in, and should it appear in the past, she or someone else may have encountered it before. However she felt no jolt of recollection at the thought.

    “Remember, Dialga would likely exist outside of time until it is strong enough to defend itself…” Victini said, deciding then to tune in on Abbee’s thoughts. “Though I get the feeling it may not be too happy with me when it decides to return…”

    Despite herself, Abbee laughed. Jarena however, was not totally convinced.

    “We may have stopped them from winning, but we haven’t won yet…” Jarena said, to which Abbee nodded in agreement. “Until they realise this is useless, we still have a fight on our hands…”

    ************************************************** ************************************************** *****

    All present outside felt it. The sensation of living their entire life so far in an instant. And Jon had a hunch he knew why, though waited for confirmation.

    ”Dialga has hatched, and left…”

    Jon had never been so relieved to hear Latios’ voice, except for after Latios captured Deoxys, and he wasn’t sure whether Latios had been hurt doing so.

    “Giratina, Protect!” Jon commanded, as Mewtwo launched a Psychic attack at Giratina, before having to use Recover twice to stay conscious, as the poison that afflicted it now took the majority of its health. Jon called out to the only attacker who remained. “It’s over, Dialga is gone!”

    “Liar!” Armageddon sneered back. “Do you think I’m that stupid?!”

    “Giratina, fall back!” Jon commanded, as Giratina made its way to Jon’s side, though both trainer and Pokemon remained ready for a surprise attack. “If you don’t believe me, go look in the stadium. You’ll find nothing but eggshells. There is no reason for you to fight anymore…”

    Armageddon went to protest, however, noticed Abbee, Violet and Jarena traversing the ruined entrance to the stadium. Understanding dawned on him. He looked around, counting the trainers. There were two groups of four, one either side, as well as Jon, who made up nine, and the intelligence gathered by Blackstone, both before the operation was set into motion, and during the battle in the instances, had determined there were twelve trainers total defending the Academy. If Dialga’s egg were truly in the stadium, the three who by process of elimination, were the ones tasked with defending the egg, would not be leaving their post, unless Dialga was truly gone…

    Rage erupted in Armageddon, as he realised that he had truly failed. Months and resources were wasted, with the most valuable prize lost, likely forever. Not only that, Palkia, their trump card, was dead, and Armageddon realised he had no idea who had actually managed to get away, and who had been detained.

    “I’m going to tear you all to shreds!” Armageddon shouted, as he looked to Mewtwo. “Mewtwo! Hyper Beam!”

    There was a moment of silence, as all watching, ready to have their Pokemon intervene, waited, and watched, however Mewtwo didn’t obey. It looked at its trainer, with an expression of exhaustion and weariness.

    “Mewtwo knows that if it uses Hyper Beam, the poison will finish it off before it can act again…” Jon retorted. “Even if it doesn’t, Giratina here will end this, and even if, somehow, Mewtwo can take down Giratina…”

    Jon gestured to the eleven others who surrounded Armageddon, and Mewtwo, who was using Recover in order to stay conscious.

    “You’ve lost…” Jon said, with a sense of finality in his voice. “It is over…”

    Jon noticed in his peripheral vision, Dylan, watching Armageddon and Mewtwo intently. His shadow flickered unnaturally. After a moment, Dylan seemed to realise Jon was watching and gave him a knowing look. Jon however, shook his head.

    Armageddon continued to look around at the defenders who had fanned out to surround him from all angles. As he took in this sight, it began to dawn on him just how precarious of a situation this was.

    “Mewtwo!” Armageddon said, his voice dripping with hatred. “Teleport!”

    Mewtwo obeyed this order, its eyes flashing, before both Mewtwo and its trainer vanished.

    The silence seemed unreal after hearing the sounds of battles for so long. Naturally, Chris was the first to break the silence.

    “We did it… We f**king did it…”

    Chris broke out into a ridiculous laugh, before collapsing backwards into a sitting position on the grass. Charlotte, seeing this, couldn’t help but laugh as well, as Justin breathed a deep sigh of relief. Abbee made short work of the distance between her and Dylan, wrapping him in a tight embrace, as Cassandra moved towards Violet, Jarena and Willow.

    Jon walked towards Steven, Lance, Chris, Dylan and Abbee, however had a thought halfway there.

    “Latios!” Jon called out, sounding more concerned than he had during the entire conversation with Armageddon. “Come down! You can stop now!”

    Latios tried to protest, however didn’t have the willpower to do so. Relenting, he removed himself from Jon’s mind, as Jon winced, with the feeling of pain and nausea erupting through him, now unhindered. Jon stumbled at the suddenness of it, before being helped up by Steven. Knowing the Eon Pokemon probably needed a rest more than anyone, Jon called him back to his Pokeball.

    “I forgot to take my meds this morning…” Jon muttered. “The one day I forget, and it’s the one day I can’t afford to have it bite me in the a**...”

    Steven looked at Jon in shock.

    “You had a seizure?”

    “Just as the fighting started…” Jon explained, before looking at Abbee. “How did I wind up in the stands?”

    “Victini threw you, because you were about to get hit by an attack…” Abbee said remorsefully. “Sorry. If he had the time to be gentler, he would have.”

    “It’s okay,” Jon explained. “Now I know why I feel like I was hit by a truck…”

    “So if you had a seizure, how-” Steven began.

    “Latios,” Jon said weakly, as the pain worsened. He nodded towards the ground, and Steven helped lower him to a sitting position on the grass. “He took it all on himself to block it out for me. That’s why he was struggling…”

    “Jon, why did you stop me?” Dylan asked, cutting into the conversation, sounding almost annoyed. “He was the worst of them all, and we could have had him detained…”

    “Stop you from doing what?” Lance asked, surprised at Dylan’s question.

    “Having Darkrai put him to sleep while he was distracted,” Dylan answered. “Same thing I did to you…”

    Lance sneered at Dylan at the memory from that afternoon. Dylan, however, ignored him.

    “Surely you knew that if this didn’t end with a fight, it would be him getting away?” Dylan asked. “Why?”

    Jon groaned as a wave of nausea began to grow.

    “Because I’m so sick of all this fighting. I’m sick of having to place people on watch, because Agatha still has followers out there, or Blackstone are going to try and steal a Legendary Pokemon, or Lance is going to send guys after us…”

    “F**k off,” Lance muttered irritably.

    “So why give him the opportunity to come back and try again?”

    “Remember how when Delilah attacked earlier this summer, and I made a bit of a show of putting them down?” Jon asked. “I used the fact that the kids were here, filming what was happening to send a message?”

    Dylan nodded as Jon continued.

    “These guys didn’t get the message. He might have been the leader of this group, but I doubt he is the leader of Blackstone. He doesn’t have the temperament for it considering what we know and still don’t know about them. He is too impulsive and egotistical,” Jon answered. “And honestly, I think letting him go back, telling them he was beaten, as was his entire squad, with Palkia killed and almost half the squad detained, will be more of a deterrent than just locking him up…”

    “You don’t think they’ll be back once we go, wanting revenge?”

    “Maybe, but I doubt it,” Jon answered weakly. “This was a huge loss for them. Until today, Blackstone were basically a myth because they never left behind anything that could be attributed to them. Heck, Steven barely knew a thing about them before Lance tipped us off.”

    “Meanwhile, they have come here, lost a lot of resources, both people, Pokemon, and I’m presuming funds that they used to conduct this operation, and have absolutely nothing to show for it,” Steven added. “Not only that, now we can confirm that Blackstone are indeed a terrorist group, and we have five who will be arrested, and interrogated, one being the second in command of this force. We have learnt more about Blackstone in one night than we have in over a decade, and will learn much more moving forward. Their days of hiding in plain sight are over…”

    “Remember, this isn’t one person, driven by their ego like Agatha or Brianna. This is an organisation with numerous people, all with their own interests. And going to war with me in retaliation for today isn’t going to serve those interests,” Jon said, though seemed worried by something.

    “What’s wrong?” Abbee asked.

    Jon went to answer, however reconsidered.

    “We’ll talk tomorrow about it. For now, let’s get the police here. Abbee, can you please go to the house and get my meds. Painkillers and anti-nausea ones. Dylan, see what footage you can salvage from the CCTV. The police will need something more than my word that all of this was justified…”

    Hearing word of the police, Lance stiffened, which didn’t go unnoticed by those present.

    “What Lance?” Chris asked from where he sat, having been listening to the conversation. “You don’t want to stick around and say hello to your old friends?”

    “I don’t know the Mossdeep Police, smarta**...” Lance muttered. “But no, I won’t be sticking around to say hi…”

    Steven sighed, having sincerely not considered how much of a PR disaster this was about to be.

    “You know there’s going to be an inquiry about both of us…” Steven said to Jon. “Detaining an escaped criminal, and instead of handing him over, turning him loose and letting him get away…”

    “After tonight, they can inquire about whatever they want,” Jon said cynically. “As long as I can get some sleep before they do…”

    ************************************************** ************************************************** *****

    Within ten minutes, Lance had left. He felt no sense of loyalty or obligation to those he battled alongside that evening, not even Chris, and by extension, there was no way to convince him to stay when the police were notified of the attack on the Academy. Granted, nobody was trying to convince him to stay. Despite the fact that all present, even the Diamond Ladies, appreciated the fact he defended the Academy, aiding Steven in his battle against Shackle and Entei, and then being ready to take up the fight against Armageddon should Jon fall, there was no love lost between Lance and any of the others, with the exception potentially of Chris. Lance had battled for his own reasons, and they had just so happened to align with that of Jon, and the others at the Academy.

    In total, five were taken captive. Obsidian, Geyser, Guardian, Paragon and Vigour. Scope, Shackle, Ruin and Armageddon escaped, and Mech had defected. The police arrived shortly after, temporarily taking the five Blackstone operatives into custody, until Hoenn government officials, at the order of Steven, took custody of them, this being the first time any government had managed to detain an operative of the mysterious organisation, that until now, was practically a myth in and of itself.

    As soon as the police left, and Jon had made contact with Alyssa, filling her in on the evening’s events, and letting her know it was safe to come home, Jon himself slept, and whilst those who remained considered taking shifts in the event of a revenge attack, Jon was certain it would not come. It had taken a few hours for the government agents that Steven had requested to arrive, and with them, they brought a healing machine, allowing all of the Eon Academy Pokemon to be healed. Even if they wanted to make a revenge attack, Scope, Ruin and Shackle only had one Legendary Pokemon each, and now without something as specific as Dialga’s egg to defend, the defending side would have the advantage in fighting back.

    “Honestly, if they were to make an immediate reaction, it would be to try and break out their captured comrades, and if that proves impossible, kill them, so they don’t leak any information,” Steven had explained after Jon left. “Still, police will be patrolling the grounds tonight, and each of you will be assigned a security detail for the time being…”

    Chris went to argue, not wanting to be slowed down by someone else on his trip, though Steven shook off the concern.

    “It’s only mandatory until you leave Hoenn, seeing as my jurisdiction becomes thin after that,” Steven explained. “Just remember, all of us have made some powerful enemies tonight…”

    “Just like last summer…” Cassandra said dryly, as Jarena couldn’t help but grin.

    “We do have a tendency to p**s off these sorts of people…” Violet observed. She herself wasn’t opposed to the security detail herself. Whilst she could defend herself in a pinch, she would definitely prefer being able to sleep at night, knowing that an attack won’t come and catch her by surprise.

    By the time things had settled down, it was well after midnight, and the original five students, as well as Willow and the Diamond Ladies found themselves sitting on the grass outside the lodge that had been their home that summer, and for some, even longer. Knowing they had earned it, Dylan had arranged a grocery delivery, using a company that was more used to delivering fast food, with a case of beers, as well as a few ciders, which having arrived a half an hour earlier, to the concern of the security who was now posted on the properties border, had been distributed to those who hadn’t yet gone to sleep. Charlotte, Justin, Dylan and Abbee all seemed to breathe a sigh of relief, invisible to those present, when Chris declined to take one, instead opting for his water bottle.

    “I almost feel bad leaving tomorrow, considering the state this place is in…” Abbee said, nodding to the stadium. It was far from the only casualty. Whilst minor, other sections of the property sustained damage. Sections of the fence near the front gate had been melted or bludgeoned out of shape, and windows had been smashed. Even just the grounds, which had been landscaped to look neat and tidy, were a mess, with sections being scorched, uprooted, or cratered, depending on what sort of battle took place.

    “Especially if Jon is going to be hounded about Lance…” Justin added, as he sipped his own cider, not being a fan of beer himself. In the hours since the battle ended, Jon and Steven had been inundated with pointed questions regarding why they kept the egg a secret, and why Jon knowingly harboured, and accepted aid, from a dangerous criminal, before letting him leave. It had taken Steven pulling rank and throwing his weight as Champion around just to get this process delayed. “I’m glad Charlotte and I will be around for another day at least, to try and help out a little…”

    “About that,” Cassandra mentioned, before addressing the entire group. “Jon will go into more detail about this tomorrow, but he wants us all off the property by sunset tomorrow…”

    Realising something, Cassandra checked the time on her phone, before correcting herself.

    “Actually, today…”

    “Why’s that?” Justin asked, almost offended at the suggestion. “Charlotte and I were always planning on leaving the day after Chris and Abbee? And what about all of you who live here?”

    “If there is a cost to change your flights, he’ll cover it. I can’t tell you why exactly, but Jon will give you all the details in the morning,” Cassandra explained. “All I can say is this; Jon, Steven and myself need to make a trip out of Hoenn as soon as possible. I’ve already booked flights for us for tomorrow afternoon. But the Academy is too isolated and easy to sneak up on…”

    “And if there are only two or three of us here, we’d be an easier target for a revenge attack,” Charlotte answered, realising exactly why Jon was giving them this order, even if she didn’t know where he was planning on going. She looked at Dylan. “Is this news to you?”

    Dylan shook his head, before taking a sip of his beer.

    “I’ve filled Brent in a little on the situation, and he’s agreed to let me visit him for a week in Canalave,” Dylan explained. “At least, he was once I assured him that he would be safe doing so. Even if I’ve got a target on my back, I tend to keep a low profile…”

    “What about you three?” Abbee asked, looking towards Violet, Jarena and Willow.

    “I’ll be visiting my family back in Johto, seeing as it’s been a few months since I’ve seen them, and Violet will be tagging along. It’ll be like the sleepovers we had as teenagers,” Jarena said with a laugh. “Granted, I can’t answer if there will be more or less witchcraft going on…”

    “Latias and I will be going to Southern Island, it being her home and all, and outside of when we were trying to train Giratina, Latias hasn’t actually had a good chance to go back there,” Willow explained. “Under the guise of Shadowcraft of course. I know spells that can turn me invisible, and Latias doesn’t need Shadowcraft to do that, so we should be able to get there unseen…”

    Despite the talk of visiting family, and taking this order as an opportunity to do the things they hadn’t had time for that summer, the mood still seemed to dampen upon hearing of Jon’s instruction. Finally, Chris grew tired of it.

    “Come on, what difference does it make?” Chris asked, directing the question towards Justin who seemed the most down about it. “Really, Abbee and I were going to be leaving tomorrow, or today, at least anyway, so this was always going to be our last night here. Surely you didn’t have some wild party planned for the night after we left?”

    “No, but-”

    “Then what’s the difference? You get to see your girlfriend for a day more than you planned,” Chris explained. “Tomorrow was always really going to be our last day. You and Charlotte would just have a day longer to pack than Abbee and I…”

    “I suppose,” Justin said, though didn’t seem appeased by it. As the mood dampened again, Abbee instead tried to lift his spirits.

    “How about then we do something special tomorrow?” Abbee offered. “Make our last day a bit more meaningful than Jon needs us gone, so we jump on a plane and go our separate ways?”

    “It would be nice to finish on a high note,” Charlotte said casually. “Especially as tonight ended up as a s**t-show, and really chances are the five of us won’t be back here together again. At least not for a long time…”

    “What are you thinking?” Jarena asked, glad to hear some optimistic conversation, considering the previous twelve hours had been nothing but stressful.

    All went silent, as they each considered what could be done to make their last day memorable. After a minute, from where she sat, Cassandra couldn’t help but notice a grin forming in Chris’ face.

    “You’ve got an idea?” Cassandra asked, nodding towards Chris, as all present looked over to see what she was referring to.

    “I think so, though I might need some help,” Chris answered, before addressing Cassandra directly. “What time are your flights from Lilycove?”

    “Eight tomorrow evening,” Cassandra responded as Chris began doing the calculations.

    “So being interregional, you want to be there two hours before, and the ferry will be a two hour trip. Allow an hour for delays and transport between the depot in Lilycove and the airport…” Chris muttered to himself, before looking up at Cassandra. “Could you convince Jon that the flight is actually at five, to have him ready and leaving three hours earlier?”

    “I mean, I could…” Cassandra answered with a tone of confusion. “I booked all the tickets, and did it after he went to sleep. But why all the cloak and dagger?”

    Chris’ grin widened.

    “Well, I’ve got this idea, and it’s either a really good one, or a bad one…”

    ************************************************** ************************************************** *****

    When Jon awoke, seeing the other side of his bed empty, for a moment he had forgotten about the events of the day before. However, as he realised why Alyssa wasn’t there, it all flooded back to him. Convincing Alyssa and Amelia to stay in Rustboro. Chris leaving to get help, and coming back near injured. The instances, and battling Yveltal, then battling and killing Palkia. And the final battle, which was when his body decided to make him pay for forgetting to take his medication.

    Not wanting a repeat of that, he quickly got up, and found the small bottle of pills, swallowing one of them, and pocketing the bottle. Given the task he, Steven and Cassandra would be undertaking, he could not afford to forget them.

    Checking his phone, he realised that the reason he had woken when he did wasn’t his alarm, which he had forgotten to set the evening before when he went to sleep, but a text message from Dylan.

    “Breakfast is happening in the lodge.”

    Realising the others would likely be waiting on him, Jon quickly got dressed, finding a pair of shorts, and a tee, before leaving the cottage barefoot, walking towards the lodge in the late-summer sun.

    For the first time, he actually got to take in the damage from the evening before, where, by the time he could afford to let his focus wander, it was too dark and he was too unwell to be able to take in his surroundings. As he took in the damage, he couldn’t help but murmur to himself a quote from a film he’d seen a few years earlier.

    “Strength invites challenge. Challenge incites conflict, and conflict breeds catastrophe…” Jon murmured to himself, before shaking the thought. Last night, as unfortunate as it was, could not be considered close to catastrophe. They had done everything they could to avoid catastrophe, and succeeded. Shaking the thought off, Jon instead quickened his pace, and entered the lodge.

    The building itself, which was originally designed for six people to live in, but had been adjusted to house eleven, was bustling with activity, as food and drinks were brought out from the small kitchenette that was not built for preparing meals of this calibre, out to the dining table, which was designed to comfortably seat eight people. Given every summer since the second, meals were had in the dining hall, Jon had never gotten around to replacing it with one larger, though didn’t think he could physically fit a larger table in the room.

    “Morning sleeping beauty,” Chris called out as he noticed Jon standing awkwardly by the front door, watching the controlled chaos that ensued.

    “Why the fancy breakfast?” Jon asked, as he made his way into the dining room, before taking a seat after being prompted by Willow as she walked past with a tray of glasses.

    “We figured if you’re kicking everyone out today, it would be nice to actually have a nice meal together, and given our flights, lunch is a no-go,” Chris answered casually. Hearing this, Jon looked over to Cassandra who was wiping down the other end of the table, nodding his thanks to her for filling them in. Though he knew that Dylan was an excellent second in command, and that Cassandra would not be staying at the Academy forever, he was glad to see her growing somewhat into Dylan’s role of helping to keep the gears turning.

    “Speaking of flights, our’s are at five,” Cassandra added. “So we gotta be out the gate here at noon at the latest.”

    “What about everyone else?” Jon asked, looking around.

    “Myself, Charlotte and Justin will be taking a flight to Jubilife that leaves at half past five, and Violet and Jarena are heading for Goldenrod at seven. Chris is heading to Galar at six, and Abbee for Castelia also at five,” Dylan explained, as he counted the seven of them off on his fingers. “We transferred our flights together to try and get them close to each other.”

    “So this really is our last meal together, that isn’t airport food,” Jon said half jokingly. Charlotte chuckled at the implication, as she took a seat, and Dylan answered.

    “Except myself, Abbee, Charlotte, Justin and Chris are all packed and ready to go,” Dylan explained. “We’ve all got some last minute shopping to do, seeing as most of us only found out last night we would be leaving today. So we’ll be leaving after breakfast and meeting you at the ferry terminal…”

    Jon nodded in understanding.

    “Sorry about that…”

    “So are you gonna fill us in on the details?” Chris asked, as he took a seat, followed by some of the others. Jon nodded, until all were sitting down, dishing up breakfast, before he explained.

    “Myself, Steven and Cassandra need to get to Johto as soon as possible,” Jon explained. “Once we arrive in Goldenrod, we’ll be making our way to the Lake of Rage, and from there, further north.”

    “What, are you visiting the Star Glade?” Jarena asked, having been kept in the dark about this herself. Cassandra shook her head.

    “Much further north. Towards the Sinnoh Border,” Cassandra explained. Jon nodded to her, prompting her to continue. Whilst she didn’t lack leadership qualities, Jon still wanted her to have the chance to grow in them, and managing a crowd like this was a skill best taught by action. “When Giratina teleported us to stop Jon’s curse from activating, it took us to these ruins somewhere along the border of Sinnoh and Johto. That was where we first saw Dialga’s egg, albeit, in the past…”

    “Wait, I thought all of that was behind us now?” Chris asked in shock. “Dialga hatched, time travelled, and is likely now somewhere else completely?”

    “You’re right about Dialga,” Jon explained. “But Giratina told us that if any of the three of them were to die, an egg would appear in this place, so that there was always one of each of them present…”

    “And Palkia was killed in the battle…” Dylan explained, understanding completely now. “Which means that an egg containing Pakia is already there…"

    "Steven has already made secure contact with Cynthia, and she is making her way there now to secure it. Even if Blackstone are aware of this place and the egg being there, she will reach it first, and keep an eye on it until we can join her,” Jon explained. “From there, the four of us will transport it somewhere safe in Sinnoh. Likely the Pokemon League under her own watch, until it hatches. But we can’t risk Blackstone getting it again. We have managed to cripple them by killing the Palkia they had, but if they can get another, then we may as well have lost last night…”

    “They had Palkia before, and it wasn’t the end of the world?” Justin said, before backtracking. “Don’t get me wrong, it would be terrible if they got their hands on another. But would last night really be as good as lost if they got another?”

    “They tracked Dialga’s egg to us using Palkia, and whilst they could only start doing that when Dialga appeared in our time, it means that if Dialga and Palkia ever exist in the same time, Blackstone could find Palkia,” Cassandra explained. “And if they find Palkia in these ruins, and put the pieces together, they’ll realise that all they need to do is kill Dialga. After that, they just go back, and find the egg now waiting for them…”

    Jon nodded in agreement.

    “Our first priority needs to be securing Palkia. After that, the battle is won…”

    “Before you go then, let me work my magic,” Willow interjected. “Literally.”

    Jarena snorted at the joke, as Willow continued.

    “Same thing I did to Chris yesterday before he left for Ever Grande City,” Willow explained. “I can perform a one time warning charm on all of you. It will only work once, but if you ever find yourself near somebody who intends to cause you harm, it will warn you…”

    “Considering how it saved my a** yesterday, I’m down,” Chris answered. “Probably more useful than a League security detail…”

    ************************************************** ************************************************** *****

    It was shortly after midday when Jon found himself sitting in one of the rear passenger seats of his own car, driven by Violet. Jarena took the passenger seat in front of Cassandra, and Jon sat on the other side, behind Violet.

    “I’m shocked you were able to find flights so quickly,” Jon said, making conversation. “I’d have thought it would be an evening flight at the earliest…”

    The boot of the car contained small travel packs for Jon and Cassandra, with a few days worth of clothes, and some basic camping supplies, and Violet and Jarena’s luggage. Willow had departed on Latias, using an invisibility charm to hide herself, at the same time that they had left the Academy half an hour earlier, whilst the other five, who would not be present next summer, had left shortly after breakfast, having packed earlier, and let Jon know they’d meet him at the depot.

    “What can I say? I’m pretty persuasive,” Cassandra offered as Violet choked back a laugh, knowing that was an understatement.

    Cassandra’s phone sat in her lap, albeit at an angle that if Jon glanced over, he wouldn’t be able to see it. Additionally, she was wary of the reflection in her window, making sure to keep it obscured, all the while, trying to not appear too suspicious. Jon however, had too much on his mind to notice it. The map that was on the phone screen showed that they were practically at their destination.

    “Hey, Violet, find somewhere to park here…”

    Not even bothering to hide her grin, Violet wordlessly pulled the car into a parking spot on the side of the road, as Jon looked at Cassandra with confusion.

    “Cass, the ferry begins boarding in fifteen minutes,” Jon said, sounding slightly concerned. “We don’t have time to stop right now…”

    “We actually do,” Cassandra explained. “Our flight isn’t until eight…”

    Each of the Diamond Ladies climbed out of the car, as Jon sat confusedly, until Cassandra had come around to his door and opened it.

    “Come on! We may have a few more hours until our flight, but that doesn’t mean I want to burn daylight…”

    “But what about the others? They’re waiting for us at the ferry- '' Jon retorted, and Cassandra found herself wondering how the person who had been largely responsible for her own downfall, and had played such a pivotal role in the Spiritwater Crisis, could be so dense.

    “Just trust me…”

    Jon stepped out of the car, and spotted a small alley that intersected the street they were parked on, on the opposite side of the road. Before he could take in any details however, he felt Cassandra’s hand on the back of his head, pushing it forward so he was looking at his feet.

    “No peeking,” Cassandra said, before grabbing his forearm and leading him across the street, towards the alley. As they stepped into the alley, and the area around him darkened, Jon asked a question.

    “Is this when you take me behind a dumpster and kill me for catching you out all those years ago?” Jon asked sheepishly. “Because that is next level, long term planning. I’m actually impressed.”

    “That’s totally why we are here,” Violet retorted sarcastically. “Now move, we don’t have all day…”

    The four of them walked for another minute, before Jon, still looking at the ground in front of him, noticed Cassandra stop walking.

    “In here…”

    Jon could hear the buzzing of an implement, and voices who were becoming quieter.

    “Goddamn, you aren’t planning on shaving me or something are you?” Jon asked, thinking the sound may be that of a barber's clippers.

    “Please, I’ve got a curse to cause baldness, and it would be cheaper, easier and more permanent than dragging you out here…”

    Once they stepped inside, and the voices had all gone silent, the only sound being the buzzing he heard, Cassandra finally spoke.

    “You can look up now…”

    Jon looked up, and found himself standing in what appeared to be a tattoo studio. The decor was modern, yet alternative, and he was thankful to see that the studio appeared to be clean and tidy, having had multiple tattoos done himself and understanding the need for good hygiene. What surprised him most, was seeing the person laying down on the seat.

    “Chris?” Jon asked in surprise. He looked over to see that standing around Chris, in addition to the tattoo artist who was bent over him, were the other four of his original students. Each with a wide grin on their face, except Dylan, who instead just seemed happily content.

    “Give me a minute,” Chris called out unmoving. “I’m almost done…”

    Jon moved to step forward, in order to try and see what Chris was having tattooed, however felt his feet stick to the ground. He turned to face Cassandra, who had wordlessly immobilised him with Shadowcraft.

    “Do you really think we’d get this far and I’d let you ruin the surprise for yourself?”

    About thirty seconds later, the buzzing stopped, as the tattoo artist, a young woman hardly older than Cassandra, covered in tattoos herself, leaned back, groaning a little as she stretched her muscles.

    “Done…”

    Still unable to move his feet, Jon watched as Chris stood up, grabbing his singlet from the small table next to the chair where he had sat. As Chris turned to face him, singlet in hand, finally, Jon saw it.

    Tattooed on the top of Chris’ left pectoral, was a familiar image. A black silhouette of a Latios. The original logo of the Eon Academy.

    “You didn’t…” Jon said in shock and awe.

    “If my time here is truly done, I don’t want to wait a year for STN to finish, to have something to show for it…” Chris said proudly, before nodding to his new tattoo, that still needed some final treatment. “This marks me as one of your students. When I succeed, I succeed as part of the Eon Academy…”

    “So what, you’re going to go into battle shirtless?” Charlotte asked, earning a laugh from the rest of her cohort.

    “Are you?” Chris retorted, as Charlotte quickly went quiet. Jon however gave Chris and Charlotte a puzzled look, before Charlotte grinned.

    “Chris was the last in line…” Charlotte explained. “He saw the tattoo gun, and got a bit scared so kept putting it off…”

    “Screw you!” Chris retorted, albeit with a hint of amusement. Jon however thought he knew where this was going.

    Charlotte, who wore a plain tee, turned, before using her right hand to pull at the neckline of the back of the shirt, revealing her left shoulder blade, and on it, covered with plastic wrap, was a fresh tattoo, identical to Chris’.

    One by one, Justin, Abbee and Dylan revealed their own. Justin, who had been standing with his arms behind him, placed his left arm forward, revealing an Eon Academy logo, tattooed on his left forearm, before Abbee raised her arm, revealing the back of her right hand, which was now covered with her own copy of the logo. Dylan, finally cracking into a grin, lifted the sleeve of his shirt, revealing just below his right shoulder, his own Eon Academy emblem.

    “So has Cass told you by now your flight isn’t until eight?” Chris asked, as Jon nodded. “I know you’re not quite done with the Academy just yet, but it seems wrong for us to do this, and not offer it to you as well…”

    Jon couldn’t help but grin at Chris’ offer, before considering the logistics of it. This was the first tattoo he would be getting because he wanted it, not to cover up something else. And it was almost poetic that this was something he shared with the five students who helped bring the Eon Academy to the place it was today.

    His feet now unstuck, Jon took off his shirt, before moving towards one of the flat beds, and laying down on his stomach.

    “Cass, reckon you could speed up the healing process?” Jon asked. “Otherwise the plane ride is going to suck…”

    Cassandra grinned. Whilst at first, she wanted to join them all in this, she understood that it was not yet her time. She still had some time she needed to spend at the Academy before she was ready to move on, and by extension, take what her new friends were wearing as a badge of honour.

    “Should be fine. It’s just like any wound isn’t it?” Cassandra said, addressing the question to the tattoo artist, who despite playing it cool, knew exactly who her customers were. “New skin cells need to grow over it?”

    “Pretty much,” the artist said. “If you can accelerate this, I may need to contract you to help bring in business.”

    “Hear that Cass?” Jarena said. “If you get bored of battling, there’s always work in the tattoo industry!”

    Rolling her eyes at the joke, Cassandra looked back at Jon.

    “Should be fine. I don’t think healing it with Shadowcraft will remove the ink…”

    Jon grinned, before looking at the tattoo artist.

    “There isn’t a great deal of room where it can fit, so stick it right there in the middle. Make it as big as you can,” Jon explained, talking about the space between his shoulder blades. “We can do the outline today, and fill it in when I’m back in Mossdeep…”

    Despite the fact that the next three hours of Jon getting tattooed would likely grow boring for the eight other people in the room, none indicated that was a possibility. Instead, after what seemed like hell on earth the night before, they wanted to enjoy every moment of this memorable day, of their last summer at the Eon Academy…

  4. #204
    I came in like a wrecking ball... [Desolate Divine]'s Avatar
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    With that, the last official Episode of Season 5 is complete. What started as a side story after S.S. Wishmaker finished in April of 2021, now nearly two and a half years later has come to an end. The five students who met Jon on that fateful day are now leaving the Eon Academy.

    Does this mean this is the end for these characters? I hope not. Heck, I have a mini-season planned based around the year after, as each of them attempts to succeed in their goals. And even after that, I have ideas of stories that involve these characters. I have plenty more I can offer. But in terms of seasonal stories based around summers attending the Eon Academy, that is now done.

    Honestly, this is freeing, as Season 5 was hard to write. Especially the last four four episodes, with so much happening. There was a significant amount of forcing myself to get it done, especially the second half of this last episode, knowing I was so close. So now, it's time for a break, and when I'm ready, to write something that will come far more naturally to me, and beyond that, something even more natural again.

    Two and a half years. Five Seasons. Seventy Five Episodes. Hundreds of hours. Hundreds of dollars on commissioned artwork too. And by my guess, maybe even a million words. It has all led to this.

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  6. #205
    I came in like a wrecking ball... [Desolate Divine]'s Avatar
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    Epilogue Episode 1: September
    Spoiler:

    Despite the fact Cassandra had healed the irritated skin yesterday, Abbee continued to scratch at the back of her palm, where her Eon Academy emblem had been tattooed the day earlier. Despite the tattoo still looking new and unfaded, she had hoped this was merely a symptom of her nervousness, and that this habit of scratching at it would not continue, lest she accidentally cause parts of it to fade. It made sense to her that she was anxious. Today was a big day.

    The Nimbasa City Gym was made up of five battlefields. Four smaller ones, where participants would be required to battle one or more Gym Trainers, depending on how busy the day was, and one larger one, with far more seats for spectators, where, once they had earned the privilege, challengers would face the Gym Leader. Yesterday, that would have been Elesa. But today onwards, that was going to be Abbee. Abbee stood by Elesa’s side, facing the eight Gym Trainers that were employed at the Nimbasa City Gym.

    “I’ll still be employed by the Pokemon League for another fortnight, and will be present to help with the handover process, but as of today, as you’re all aware, Abbee will be the new Gym Leader,” Elesa said to the crowd of trainers before the pair. It was eight-thirty, with the Gym scheduled to open in half an hour. “To be completely clear, this is not a trial, or probationary period, and short of Abbee doing a complete one-eighty in terms of skill or character, she will without a doubt be my successor as Nimbasa City’s Gym Leader…”

    The last statement seemed odd, however Abbee noticed Elesa looking in particular at Blake and Tessa, two trainers who had been employed at the Gym for five years now, and both had been under the impression, through no fault of anyone else, that when Elesa chose to retire, one of them would be offered her position. Abbee was certain that when she, an employee of only two years, who had taken considerable time off to work at the Eon Academy in previous summers, had been named Elesa’s successor, that Tessa and Blake would have had something to say about it. And based on Elesa’s decision to clarify that this was not up for discussion, she was certain that at least one of them had come forward with complaints to Elesa at least once during the summer.

    Not helping Abbee’s nerves was the fact that she had practically no sleep since leaving Hoenn the day before. Even before the events of the summer that had just passed, and the looming threat of Blackstone that came to fruition, the plan had been for the students to depart on September third, Abbee to depart Hoenn on the fourth, and begin working today, on the fifth. The schedule was going to be tight, with Abbee relying on the time difference between Hoenn and Unova, as well as sleeping on the flight, effectively arriving back at her apartment at six that morning, before getting ready and going straight to work. However the conversation of the morning before, though Abbee wasn’t sure if that was accurate given the time zones and jet lag, had her worried.

    Despite their win over Blackstone, Jon, Steven and Cassandra had departed Hoenn at the same time that Abbee had, heading themselves for Johto, with the plan to trek far north towards the Johto-Sinnoh border, where they knew existed a set of ruins, inside of which, the egg of Dialga, Palkia or Giratina, would appear should one of the trio die. Jon and Chris had killed Palkia during their battle against it two days earlier in the first wave of the Blackstone attack, and despite Dialga hatching and escaping, they all knew that Blackstone getting Palkia back would exponentially increase their chances of being able to find Dialga, and this time, Jon may not be lucky enough to wind up with it in his custody before then.

    By this point, Abbee figured the trio were on a bus, nearing Ecruteak City, where they would transfer to another which would take them to the Lake of Rage. From there, they would travel by Pokemon north, where Abbee hoped they would not run into Blackstone. All three had left their phones behind, in order to not risk being tracked, Steven having arranged a burner phone to communicate with Cynthia, who was tasked with making her own way there immediately in order to secure the egg before Blackstone had the time to make an attempt on it, should they know about the ruins. Abbee figured that it would be evening at the earliest before she received news, though struggled to shake the anxiety that this whole situation brought about.

    “Anything you’d like to say Abbee?”

    Abbee was pulled from her thoughts by the sound of her name, and realised Elesa was effectively giving her an opportunity to address the trainers that now were under her leadership. Not expecting this, and taken a little by surprise, Abbee hesitated for a moment. Whilst she wanted to explain the events of the previous few days, why she seemed distant, she knew that wasn’t wise. Steven had been able to use his position as champion in order to adjust the legal proceedings surrounding the Blackstone attack, allowing Abbee to fulfil her requirements remotely, in order that she could leave Hoenn in time. After work today, she’d be meeting with a diplomat from the Hoenn embassy, where she would give her statement, both with regards to her involvement in the Blackstone attack, but also answering some difficult questions about Lance’s involvement with defending the Academy.

    “I’ll be brief. I am eager to continue to work alongside you all in this new role, and see what I can bring of myself to the Nimbasa City Gym, and to see it grow in different ways that we may have never considered,” Abbee explained. “I understand I am still somewhat young, and haven’t been around as long, though have faith in Elesa’s judgement, and ask that you all bear with me as I will with you, while we adjust to this change, and should I stumble, that there be grace on offer as I learn the ropes…”

    From the corner of her eye, Abbee noticed Tessa rolling her eyes, as Blake seemed to whisper something. Whilst she knew how others of her Eon Academy family would respond, she instead overlooked it. To a degree, she did understand why the pair would be frustrated. If she had worked as long as they had at the Gym, and the position she had been hoping to get had been offered to someone younger, with less experience as a Gym Trainer than her, she knew she’d struggle to not let it get to her. That being said, she understood why Elesa had offered her the role. Abbee was by far a superior battler, though Tessa and Blake had not witnessed it first hand, with part of Abbee’s previous role of Gym Trainer being to scale the difficulty of the battle to her opponents skill. Whilst there were recordings of Abbee’s battles online, namely her battle against Matt at the College of the North Wind two years earlier, and the live-streamed grudge-match against Jon and Scizor a matter of weeks earlier, she knew Tessa and Blake well enough to know that they’d write off her skill as simply her having a Legendary Pokemon as a partner. First hand, only Elesa had seen Abbee battle unhindered, over two years earlier when Abbee applied for the position, and Elesa knew that Abbee had only grown since then.

    Whilst she figured Jon would be asking the pair if they had something to share, Charlotte would be coming out with a one-liner to put them in their place, and Chris would be challenging them to a battle then and there to establish dominance, Abbee made the call to do none of those. Instead, she looked the other way, making a note to give them time to adjust, however if enough time passed, with no improvement to their attitude, she would have to deal with it, as Gym Leader. This was not something she was looking forward to.

    As Elesa dismissed the Gym Trainers, who began to disperse to various parts of the Gym, getting it ready for opening time which would be in a little less than twenty minutes, Abbee breathed a sigh of relief, that she had survived what she thought would likely be the hardest part of her day. Once it came time to actually battle, she knew that things like the politics that come with any organisation where people were required to work together, would take the back seat to the battle in front of her. And given that her new role didn’t require her to tailor the challenge to the challenger, but instead the level of competence required for somebody to earn the Bolt Badge, she knew she’d have far more interesting battles than the Gym Trainers.

    “How’re you feeling?” Elesa asked with a grin.

    “A little anxious, but excited,” Abbee explained, before relenting. “I can’t go into detail just yet, but I promise you I’ll fill you in when I can. But there was an incident at the Academy the day before I left. Nobody was hurt, but police are involved. So between that, and all the weird and wonderful emotions about this, I haven’t exactly gotten a great deal of sleep…”

    “Well my job for the next two weeks is consultant, but really that’s a formality. I doubt I’ll need to do much,” Elesa answered. “So instead, I’ll make sure there is a coffee ready for you between every match!”

    Abbee couldn’t help but laugh at the idea of Elesa, still technically the Gym Leader, spending her days getting Abbee coffees.

    “At my size, that may just kill me…” Abbee retorted with a grin, as Elesa laughed.

    “True. And I have a hunch there will be a few battles today,” Elesa explained. “There were a few trainers who lost to me in the last two weeks, that never came back for a rematch. I get the feeling they are hoping to come in today, thinking they’ll have an easier time against a new Gym Leader…”

    “That’s not really in the spirit of the competition is it?”

    “Nope. Honestly, had they just come back a day or two later, they likely would have beaten me,” Elesa answered. “But considering this is how they’re playing, I’ll make sure to point them out so you can give them hell…”

    Abbee laughed, before looking towards the side of the field that was now hers, and going to move.

    “Before you go…”

    Abbee turned, slightly confused, as Elesa’s tone had suddenly become significantly more serious. Elesa gestured for Abbee to come close enough that they could talk without being overheard.

    “Something you need to be aware of,” Elesa explained. “There have been instances of Gym Leaders laying off all the trainers recruited by their predecessor, and recruiting a completely new team of Gym Trainers, though I don’t particularly recommend this, but they were within their rights to. All this to say, that this is your Gym now, and if you feel specific trainers being employed here are a liability instead of an asset, you are well within your rights to dismiss them…”

    Elesa’s voice was serious, and Abbee noticed Elesa’s eyes glance over Abbee’s shoulder, where Abbee had a hunch, a certain pair of Gym Trainers were standing.

    “Tessa and Blake?” Abbee mouthed, as Elesa nodded almost imperceptibly.

    “Honestly, I haven’t been particularly thrilled by their attitude since I announced my retirement and you being my successor. Hell, I considered pulling the trigger myself, but figured that once things settled down they may improve,” Elesa noted. “But if things don’t, don’t feel like making that decision is disrespecting me because I recruited them. That goes for anything here really. Some things need League approval to change, like the level of challenge, or the Gym’s typing. But even something like the decor; it is now yours to choose as you see fit. Don’t feel like you have my legacy to uphold. Do what you think is right for the Gym…”

    Abbee nodded in understanding, thankful that this had been the Gym she found herself in, and Elesa was the Leader that had taken a chance on her.

    “I’ll make you proud,” Abbee began, before Elesa interjected.

    “Didn’t I just say my opinion doesn’t matter?” Elesa asked jokingly.

    “It matters to me, so I’ll make you proud anyway…”

    Elesa grinned, before, to Abbee’s surprise, pulling her into a tight hug. Until Elesa had revealed to Abbee months earlier that she would be her successor, their relationship had always been friendly, yet professional. Even meeting privately for drinks as they did the night Abbee found out she was going to become Gym Leader, had never happened before then. Now however, it seemed that they considered each other friends, which Abbee found herself thankful for. It made living far away from all her loved ones seem a little less lonely.

    “Doors are opening. I’ll go scout the ones you need to bring the pain to, then get you a coffee…”

    ************************************************** ************************************************** *****

    Justin stood in line alongside the other forty-seven recruits beginning their training on that day. Despite himself, he found himself feeling self-conscious, as he looked down at the pants he had been provided with as part of his uniform that he realised only that morning were a size too big. He had rolled up the bottom of the sleeves in order to prevent them becoming a trip hazard, or being damaged underfoot, however that did nothing to stop them from looking far too baggy. Despite having spent years researching joining the police, and knowing the basics of what training would cover, he didn’t know whether his pants being too baggy would get him written up for a uniform infringement on day one. He considered attempting to stuff the back of the legs into his shoes and underfoot so that they would be under a little tension, however figured that would have a higher chance of drawing attention to his uniform.

    It was September 12th, Justin having arrived in Jubilife after spending nearly a week with Candice in Snowpoint, and moving into the Sinnoh Police Training Academy dorm the day before. He shared a room with another recruit, who had been largely quiet, not offering more than a polite nod to Justin’s greeting when he had brought in his possessions a few hours earlier. Justin didn’t even know his name, having read it once on the room allocation the day before, but forgotten in light of his own nervousness.

    Justin was thankful however that the shirt he wore as part of his uniform was long sleeved, covering his tattoo. Justin felt no shame in being an Eon Academy alumni, and in all other circumstances, wore the tattoo with pride. Considering his first summer, he felt he had finally earnt the right to be affiliated with what was now a summer school of legendary proportions. However, in uniform, which included an officer’s cap, he was less recognizable, which, given his uncanny level of fame from incidents at the Eon Academy, and being the partner of Candice, he preferred. Had the uniform been short-sleeved, and his Eon Academy emblem visible, he was certain he would be recognised, and was not sure whether that sort of attention, and the distraction it may cause, would be viewed favourably by his trainers.

    His gaze was pulled from his left forearm, where his emblem was hidden, to the front of the room, by the sound of the room, which had been filled with sounds of uniforms rustling, and odd murmurs, disappearing, and being replaced by quiet, yet intentional footsteps, making their way to the front. The recruits were lined up in alphabetical order by surname, in six groups of eight, three rows either side, with an aisle down the middle. Collins being his surname, Justin stood in the front row, on the left hand bank, with the sound of footsteps coming from behind him down the aisle. He resisted the urge to turn, not knowing just how much like a cliched military training session this would be, instead, had his eyes focus on his right hand side peripheral vision, waiting for someone to cross it.

    After a few moments, a figure stepped past, making his way onto the slightly raised stage at the front, before turning to take in the sight of the four-dozen recruits present. He was a man who appeared to be in his early forties, with a uniform that seemed more decorated than a standard officer. His black hair was beginning to be peppered with flecks of grey, and his brown eyes wandered the room. When Justin noticed this, he immediately focused his gaze directly in front of him. The last thing he wanted right now was attention. At least, attention for the wrong reasons.

    “At ease,” the man said, loudly and clearly. “Whilst we will push you beyond your limits here, the difference between police training and that of the military, is that we set the bar considerably higher for you to be given this opportunity. Whilst our standards are high, as even now, you are considered part of the Sinnoh Police Department, so if you’re wondering when I will start looking for reasons to call you maggot, you can take a breath…”

    Justin noticed a few quiet sighs of relief, only heard due to the near absolute silence that otherwise made up the room. Nobody however, was bold enough to push their luck by murmuring something under their breath.

    “I am Senior Sergeant August Hargrow. Now something that you are all going to be made aware of, is that this batch of recruits will be the first in a trial program we are implementing across the training framework for the Sinnoh P.D. Normally, you would be trained in a group, at the most, half this size. You may be wondering why there are so many of you,” Hargrow explained. “This does create challenges, however, there are also benefits to this structure. For one, we can train more of you at once. A deeper benefit however, is that we can evaluate each of you with twice as many points of reference, and by extension, use this to inspire excellence in each of you. Additionally, those who rank higher at the end of training, will be given higher priority in placement than those who don’t…”

    Having a bad feeling about this, Justin watched as Hargrow lifted from the stand that stood in front of him, a clicker, and upon pressing a button, the projector screen behind him lit up, showing forty-eight names on screen, next to each, were three numbers, and a space. The first number was the overall rank of each recruit. The second and third were their rankings in their physical assessments, largely in the form of endurance tests, and their written examination respectively, and the blank space seemed to be reserved for a third ranking.

    Like everyone in the room, Justin began looking down the list for his name. After a moment, he spotted it.

    ’13: Justin Collins. Physical Assessment: 30/48. Written examination: 1/48.

    Justin looked in shock at the rankings. He had expected to place high in the written examination, having just graduated from a Bachelor of Law at Jubilife University, something that was almost unheard of for somebody aspiring to become a police officer. However, he also knew that naturally speaking, he was not a gifted student, having not had the final exam marks in high school to get into the course, and being allowed in based on his involvement with the Jubilife University funded expedition to discover Regieleki. He figured, despite his degree, that others may have better study habits, and may have spent more time revising the subject matter, in more effective ways than himself. As such, he was not expecting to have ranked first. What did shock him was that he was below the bell-curve of the fitness assessment. Justin, especially in recent years, had not considered himself to be unfit by any means, and had become more conscious of his diet and exercise. However, as he looked around, he could see in a brief moment, at least six recruits, all above six feet tall, that looked like they could run marathons in their spare time.

    “You may be wondering what the blank space is for,” Hargrow continued. “Whilst your written and physical assessments are best performed in isolation, that is, you are not going to have an impact on one-another’s individual results, there is a third element of police-work that requires all of you present in order for us to assess accurately, which we will be assessing today. You were all instructed to bring your Pokemon with you, well rested and ready for training…”

    Justin couldn’t help but grin at the irony. On his first day of the Academy, he dreaded this. Now however, he looked forward to it, and saw this as the opportunity he needed to increase his rank. Not out of any arrogance. Instead, the only place that offered an education in battling anywhere near that of the Eon Academy was the College of the North Wind, and whilst local, was so selective of its students, with so many focusing on beating Elite Four that he did not expect to run into any former students here. And even if he did, the summer of 2020 had proven which school produced better battlers…

    “Be in the arena in one hour…”

    ************************************************** ************************************************** *****

    The Sinnoh Police Training Academy was a large property in the middle of Jubilife City, containing various state of the art facilities, including a specialised Pokemon training arena. Unlike the stadium at the Eon Academy, or the battlefields in Pokemon Gyms, which prioritised spectator seating and comfort, these battlefields didn’t exist for putting on a spectacle, instead, focusing on training. There were no stands with seating for spectators, instead, four battlefields, with enough standing room for a moderate amount of people to watch battles.

    “You will be paired based on your current rankings. Rank one will battle rank two, rank three against rank four and so on,” Hargrow explained. “Your task will be simple in concept. You are to have a one-on-one Pokemon battle, each treating the opposing Pokemon as preventing the arrest of their trainer, and as such, the focus will be on knocking out the opposing Pokemon as quickly as possible, with as little collateral damage. You will be assessed on both these facets…”

    Knowing there were four battlefields, allowing for a total of eight trainers to battle at once, Justin knew that he would not be in the first round of battles, and found himself considering how best to handle this situation. During the address earlier, they had been ordered by surname, and as such, he had no idea who would be in fourteenth place. As such, he could not make any decision based on his opponent.

    Whilst Regieleki would most certainly be able to handle this quickly, Justin knew that they weren’t just being marked on efficiency, but how contained and clean their win was, and given Regieleki’s propensity to get excited, and Justin having relied on Regieleki making the battlefield that dangerous that it would be impossible to avoid an attack, he decided quickly to leave Regieleki in its Pokeball. Even outside of this, Regieleki facing a Ground Type would draw out the battle far longer than necessary, which was not unlikely enough of a possibility for Justin to take the chance with this.

    Instead, Justin opted for a Pokemon that was quick, but also accurate and precise. One which could cover ground quickly, and land a solid hit in close quarters, getting in their opponent’s space. But could also deal damage from a distance if the opponent warranted that, with enough versatility that a type disadvantage wouldn’t be as much of a detriment. Justin was tossing up between two, as his name was called.

    “Justin Collins and Nathanael Helman on court two!”

    Justin winced as people seemed to go quiet having heard his name. He made his way towards the designated battlefield, taking his place at one side. It was smaller than a standard battlefield, however for the purposes of the exercise, it made sense. As Justin unlatched a Pokeball, he saw out of the corner of his eye, Hargrow approach from court one, and seem to give an instruction to the instructor supervising court two, who nodded, before making his way to court one, leaving Hargrow as their assessor.

    Nathanael was pale, with red hair, and stood a few inches taller than Justin, though seemed anxious, almost as if he didn’t know which Pokemon to select. After an awkward pause, he seemed to work up the nerve to address Hargrow.

    “Sir! Will Justin having a Legendary Pokemon skew the results of this assessment?”

    Justin’s eyes widened for a moment, and he moved to speak, however didn’t get a chance to, before Hargrow, calmly, yet firmly addressed the question.

    “Recruit Helman, please repeat to me your goal of this exercise,” Hargow ordered.

    “To neutralise the opposing Pokemon efficiently, without collateral damage, sir!”

    “And for the sake of the exercise, why are you neutralising Recruit Collin’s Pokemon?”

    “Because, for the sake of the exercise, Recruit Collins is a criminal and is using a Pokemon to conduct criminal activity or evade capture.”

    Hargrow nodded, before looking at Justin directly.

    “Recruit Collins, please explain what you were doing on the evening of September third, Hoenn Regional Time?”

    Justin was taken aback by this question, though knew exactly what the answer was. Jon, Steven and Cassandra had returned to Hoenn a few days earlier, having met with Cynthia at what she had named the Sinjoh Ruins, where she had secured Palkia’s egg, which had appeared there after Jon and Chris killed Palkia during the initial Blackstone attack. From there, they had all escorted the egg back to the Sinnoh League, where it would be guarded by Cynthia and the Sinnoh Elite Four. Steven had initially managed to hold off legal proceedings, including an investigation both into the attack, as well as Jon and Steven’s actions, choosing both to keep the existence of Dialga’s egg hidden, and also to accept aid from, and eventually allow to escape, Lance. Everyone else had been required to make statements at their local police station which had then been forwarded to the Hoenn Government, Justin included, and with Jon, Steven and Cassandra having returned to Hoenn and made their statement, it was now on the news that the Academy had been attacked by a terrorist organisation, and questions were raised about Jon’s capacity to keep students safe, as well as Steven’s suitability as champion, given the questionable decisions the pair made. Despite being worried about the possibility that answering this question may paint him in a negative light, for example, the fact that Justin was complacent in the harbouring of an escaped criminal, Justin knew that trying to avoid it would likely make things worse.

    “Sir!” Justin called out, wanting to maintain formalities, hoping to buy a little grace. “Myself and my colleagues from my former workplace were battling, defending it from an attacking force.”

    “And tell me, did this attacking force use Legendary Pokemon?” Hargrow asked, though Justin could tell he knew the answer.

    “Yes sir! Legendary Pokemon exclusively. There were nineteen Legendary Pokemon in the attacking force…”

    “And did you have to face them with your non-Legendary Pokemon?” Hargrow asked, as Justin, realising where he was going, stifled a grin.

    “Yes sir!” Justin answered. “I was the first trainer to encounter their leader, who had four Legendary Pokemon, however Regieleki was beaten by the second. I had to use the rest of my team to beat the second one, before Jon Drake arrived and defeated the third, and weakened the fourth enough that the leader called off the attack and fled!”

    Hargrow nodded, as this confirmed what he had read. Justin realised how much sense it made. For Hargrow, a high profile recruit who would be beginning training in a matter of days was now involved in an investigation that may reflect poorly on him, and by extension, the Sinnoh Police Department. Justin was now certain that Hargrow had read the reports from the attack to double check Justin’s suitability for the Sinnoh P.D., and knew exactly what he was asking. Hargrow turned to face Nathanael.

    “Recruit Collins here, is proof that you may find yourself facing Legendary Pokemon in the line of duty, without access to one yourself. Do you think a criminal will hold back what could be their greatest asset, in the name of fairness, Recruit Helman?”

    “No sir!” Nathanael answered.

    “Then you should be thanking Recruit Collins for the opportunity to experience this scenario, should he grant it to you!” Hargrow said, with a sense of finality. “Now begin!”

    Justin lobbed forward his Pokeball, that he had held since before Nathanael had raised the concern, and felt slightly vindicated when Greninja emerged from it. At the same time, Nathanael tossed a Pokeball forward revealing a Cacturne.

    Justin kept his relief hidden, not wanting to give away that he had a plan. Though native to numerous regions, Cacturne was native to Hoenn, which meant that numerous Eon Academy students had them, but the Academy itself had one. This was a Pokemon Justin was familiar with, and was already forming a plan to beat. Additionally, it seemed Nathanael was banking on using type advantages, overlooking a few key things. The first of which was the fact that in terms of sheer speed, Greninja completely eclipsed Cacturne.

    “Low Kick!” Justin ordered. Greninja leapt forward with uncanny speed, as its Protean ability took effect, shifting its typing to Fighting. Greninja laid waste to the distance between them, before feinting to the left, then sweeping its leg from the right, tripping Cacturne. Low Kick dealt more damage the heavier the target was, and Cacturne, like the cacti that it was often mistaken for, had a high concentration of water, increasing its weight. It fell to the ground with a thud, which was exactly what Justin was hoping for. Slow, and knocked prone, it did not have enough time to react before Justin could give his next order.

    “Acrobatics!”

    Shifting to a Flying Type, Greninja barraged Cacturne with a flurry of quick and light, yet precise blows, before leaping back before Cacturne could retaliate. However, Cacturne did not get up.

    “Recruit Collins wins,” Hargrow called out to the record keeper. “Eight seconds, ten out of ten for minimising collateral.”

    Hargrow’s voice was matter of fact, and despite the fact that Justin’s feat was impressive, did not have a hint of praise. He was simply following procedure, allowing the record keeper to hear the results.

    Justin made his way off the field, and when looking around for Nathanael, saw him, as well as those who had also finished their matches, leaving, as they had been allowed. Justin considered doing the same thing, until he recognised someone.

    Standing by court 4, watching and waiting, he spotted his roommate, whom he was yet to properly meet. Figuring he had nowhere to be, Justin found somewhere to watch from a distance and waited, figuring he’d watch the battle.

    It was nearly half an hour before Justin finally learnt his name.

    “Zayne Griffin and Erica Hewitt to court three!”

    Justin watched as his roomate, who he now knew to be Zayne, and rank thirty-one, made his way to the edge of the battlefield, and selected a Pokeball. He was at least six feet tall and looked to be quite fit and well built. His brown hair looked to have been buzzed short recently, likely to meet Sinnoh P.D. uniform requirements, though his green eyes seemed nervous, despite Justin figuring that Zayne, based on appearances alone, looked like one of the best suited here for police work. He soon understood why Zayne was nervous.

    Both trainers sent out a Pokemon, Zayne a Houndoom and Erica a Machamp. Though both trainers went on the offensive, Justin could sense that Zayne, like Dylan on their first day at the Academy, had been rattled by the type matchup.

    Zayne commanded a Flamethrower attack, and Erica, doing something Justin had never seen before, ordered Machamp to leap forward, in order to reduce the distance between them, and use Protect in the air. As Machamp reached the peak of its ark and began to fall, the barrier rose, protecting it from the Flamethrower attack, and placing Houndoom now dangerously close. Zayne then ordered Foul Play, which used Machamp’s superior physical strength to deal damage, however given Machamp’s resistance to the Dark Type move, it didn’t seem to leave it too worse for wear.

    “Revenge!” Erica commanded.

    Machamp, having already taken damage that turn, retaliated with an unrelenting fury, slamming Houndoom with numerous vicious punches.

    “Houndoom, Inferno!” Zayne ordered.

    “Mach Punch Machamp!” Erica retorted.

    Houndoom, worn by the attack, but still willing to fight, roared as it prepared to produce flames, though was cut off by Machamp’s uncharacteristically quick punch, which struck the bipedal Pokemon, throwing it back and knocking it out.

    “Twenty-one seconds, Recruit Hewitt wins. Eight out of ten for collateral. Four out of ten for Recruit Griffin for collateral…”

    Both trainers returned their Pokemon, and Justin noticed Zayne quickly making his way towards the exit. Figuring that training would likely be more pleasant having someone in his corner that didn’t view him as a threat, and having a roommate he was on good terms with, Justin decided to try and arrange both then and there.

    “Zayne, wait up!” Justin called out, before quickening his pace to catch up. Zayne turned, somewhat surprised to hear an unfamiliar voice calling his name. Once Justin was close enough they could talk semi-privately, he spoke. “Don’t let that get to you. You drew the short straw.”

    “I mean, technically, so did you,” Zayne said, slightly puzzled. “You still managed to set a new record…”

    Justin hadn’t heard that there was a record for this exercise, but shook it off.

    “I did, but I had my a** handed to me more times than I can remember before I got to the point of being able to do that,” Justin answered, referring to Greninja’s initial type disadvantage. “I’m Justin…”

    Zayne nodded, having known who Justin was from the start.

    “You know, with that display, you’ve put a pretty big target on your back…” Zayne commented, not with any malice, but simply making an observation. “I saw you ranked first in the written exam, and I’ll eat my hat if someone beats you in this assessment. You’ve just put yourself in first place overall. You know that right?”

    “I figured I’d wait and see once everyone is done. You never know what might happen…” Justin explained, before grinning, a little self deprecatingly. “Besides, I was below average in the fitness exam. That may throw a spanner in the works…”

    Zayne nodded. He himself had been the opposite of Justin. His rank was initially thirty, placing sixth in the physical exam, but thirty-sixth in the written. And he figured that rank was likely going to drop given his loss.

    “Anyway, we have lunch now, right?” Justin asked. “I know a few places to eat around here, and wouldn’t mind the company?”

    ************************************************** ************************************************** *****

    “This is it…”

    The rental car pulled up onto the side of the dirt road, either side of which was surrounded by former farmland. The driver’s door opened as Dylan stepped out of the vehicle.

    “It’s a shame Abbee couldn’t join us to come take a look,” Alyssa said, as she climbed out of the passenger seat. The back, driver’s side door opened, and Jon, having unbuckled Amelia from the rented booster seat, slid out of the car, holding the four year old, who yawned wearily.

    “She’d have loved to, but this is her first week running the gym without Elesa there. I offered to wait until she finished work for the day but she refused,” Dylan explained. “Said that it’s getting late enough in the year that it’d be dark by the time we all got there.”

    “But she’s still booked in for dinner tonight?” Jon asked, as he put Amelia down. She wandered towards the wire fence that stood between the four of them, and the empty property they were there to visit.

    “Wouldn’t miss it,” Dylan answered. “We’re picking her up from the Gym, but she wants to take ten minutes to give us all the tour first…”

    Jon nodded, before looking at the land in front of him, taking in the sight.

    “So this is it…” Jon said, as Dylan nodded. The land itself was far larger than the property the Academy was on, and Jon could see it was perfect for what Dylan had in mind. A large section of the land was flat and usable, whilst also being placed well, relative to the road, for a very large house, or multiple smaller buildings, but the majority of the land seemed wild, though not too uncivilised. Jon could see this property filled with Pokemon, living relatively free range, and knew that Dylan’s skills in caring for them would probably result in them not wandering too far. Effectively, Dylan would be able to work with the Pokemon, breeding them for trainers after one themselves, whilst still letting them live their natural lives.

    “Let’s go take a look,” Alyssa said with a grin, before moving to the wire fence. In reality, it was not going to keep anything half determined out. It was a collection of spaced out star pickets, with some wire connecting them, with gaps large enough that any reasonably sized adult could squeeze through.

    “You sure that’s a good idea?” Jon asked, surprising Dylan that he was being cautious.

    “Why not?” Dylan asked with a grin. “It’s my land. As long as you guys don’t trip on something and sue me, it should be fine.”

    “I’m more thinking of time,” Jon answered. “Don’t want to keep Abbee waiting.”

    “We’ll be quick!” Alyssa said with a hint of exasperation. “Geez, I thought I’d have a few more years before my husband became an old man…”

    “I’m younger than you…” Jon noted, as Alyssa gave him a warning look, before grinning.

    “Then start acting like it,” Alyssa answered back. “Now come on! We’re burning daylight.”

    Dylan smirked, before pulling the wire up, making a space for Amelia to climb through, followed by Alyssa, then Jon, and then going through himself. The four walked towards the most inhabitable section of the property, before Dylan stopped, and began looking around.

    “So what’s the plan?” Jon asked. “Imagine you had no limitations in terms of budget; what would you do?”

    Dylan looked around, before locking eyes on a nearby area, and grinning.

    “First things first, would be to build a workshop. I love the Academy, but goddamn it gets frustrating not having a dedicated workshop space,” Dylan explained. “In a big shed, or barn type of thing. I’ll get that built first, then move into that whilst the house itself is built.”

    Jon couldn’t help but grin at this. A month earlier, Jon had told Dylan that he would be ending Dylan’s employment at the Eon Academy when the hold on his land would have expired, had he not arranged finance to buy it. This was to keep Dylan from giving all this up, in order to help Jon, given his seizures. And despite the fact that they were only held at bay by the daily medication Jon had to take, the difference was more than just preventing the seizures. Dylan now felt comfortable enough leaving that he was actually taking steps to leave sooner.

    “Whilst that’s happening, I’ll be borrowing Zoroark and Carbon, and seeing what sort of Pokemon this extinct Zorua will be,” Dylan explained, referring to Alyssa’s Ditto. “If I play my cards right, I may be able to make some extra cash with that endeavour to kick start the business…”

    “Why do you need Carbon?” Amelia asked, as Dylan went quiet and Alyssa stifled a grin.

    “I’ll tell you when you’re older, Lili,” Jon answered simply.

    “How old?” the toddler asked.

    “When you’re married…”

    Dylan stifled a laugh at Jon’s answer, whilst Alyssa rolled her eyes. Changing the subject, Jon spoke.

    “Well this is why I haven’t exactly been public about Zoroark. Outside of the Grudge Match Livestream, I don’t think there is anything online about the fact I have it. The League know, though they don’t have reason to share anything, seeing as it’s not like I’ll give them any more details,” Jon explained. “Hopefully that has built some suspense and mystery around it, which will translate to publicity.”

    Dylan nodded, before looking towards another space.

    “I think the house will be there. It’s far enough away from the road, and the trees by the fenceline mean it is pretty tucked away,” Dylan continued. “Big but not too big. A nice open kitchen and dining room, with a big table. Good for hosting. And lots of spare rooms-”

    “For lots of kids?” Jon asked, as Alyssa gave Jon a not-so-gentle, but good natured shove.

    “For guests,” Dylan answered, as if Jon hadn’t been half joking when he asked the question. “For when you guys, and the others visit. Things like Christmas. Or for when Brent and the kids come by. Like how you guys have the main lodge. But instead, I don’t want the huge space between myself and guests.”

    “It sounds very welcoming,” Alyssa noted, as she looked around, seeming to picture it herself. Dylan nodded in agreement.

    “Then, the rest of the space is basically filling whatever need work brings. I’d like it to be as close to the real deal for the Pokemon that live here as possible. Effectively have them wild, but choose to stay because it is better than what they’ll find out there…”

    Jon nodded in understanding, as he took in the expanse.

    “I’m sure if anyone can do this, it’ll be you…”

    ************************************************** ************************************************** *****

    “You’ve got to be kidding me…”

    On the phone in front of her was a website. Project STN. And of the nine small portraits in the Galar row, eight were now in colour, with the only one remaining uncoloured being that of Leon, the Galar Champion.

    “He’s already beaten all eight gyms…” Charlotte muttered in shock, as she looked at the phone. It had been a little over three weeks since all of the Eon Academy staff had left Hoenn, some for a potentially long time. Chris was one of those. However, in three weeks, Charlotte could see he had beaten all eight Gyms. When she tapped on the portrait of the first Gym Leader, a timestamp popped up. September 5th, 4:45pm. Chris had arrived in Galar, and challenged his first Gym on the same day.

    Charlotte was briefly confused, as she realised Galar didn’t have an Elite Four. Every other region Chris was travelling through had one, though Kanto and Johto shared theirs, which caused Charlotte to wonder how tough of a challenge Leon was. Closing the tab, she opened a new one, and began researching the Galar League. Finally she understood. Instead of the Elite Four, the Galar League consisted of the Champion Cup, in which Chris would have to win two semi-final rounds, before three finals rounds, before he could battle Leon. At first, Charlotte thought it was far tougher, until she read a single sentence.

    ”Participating Pokemon will be healed between rounds.”

    “What a joke…” Charlotte muttered, knowing Chris would have no trouble, having trained under both Jon at the Eon Academy, and Camilla of the College of the North Wind, whose training was specialised to produce Elite Four killers, figuratively speaking. Continuing to scroll, she realised why Chris hadn’t beat Leon already. The next Champion Cup was scheduled for September 30th. Four days from now.

    Charlotte sighed, before sitting up in her bed. It was nearing midday of September 26th, and for the last week, she was ashamed to admit that this had become her standard.

    Just before the previous summer, Charlotte had negotiated to guarantee a spot in the 2023 High Seas Tournament, having been offered a spot in the 2022 competition, but needing to refuse, given the clash it would have had with what would be her last summer at the Eon Academy with some of her peers. One of the terms of this, however, was that Charlotte could not compete in any formal tournament between the agreement being made and the tournament itself. The reason being was that the organisers did not want to risk Charlotte having a fall from grace, be it through distasteful behaviour, or having a bad losing streak, that her participation in the High Seas Tournament would become a detriment to ticket sales, instead of an asset.

    Whilst Charlotte understood the reasoning behind it, she found herself bored to no end. She wanted nothing more than to be training for her High Seas debut, and making the most of the ten months she had to do that. However, there was practically no challenge that would stretch her. And whilst, sure, she would not be arrogant enough to say that a lesser trainer couldn’t teach her something, she knew an equal, or greater trainer could teach her more.

    For her first week, she had posted online that she was in Jubilife, waiting at one of the public battlefields each afternoon at four, to face whoever wanted to challenge her, hoping that would attract some strong trainers, whilst not being a formal competition. And whilst Seafoam Cruises weren’t particularly thrilled that Charlotte was risking a loss and her reputation with this open invitation, Charlotte had shown Justin a copy of her contract, and he confirmed she was within her rights to do this.

    For the first week, people showed up, as well as crowds of spectators. However none of the battlers Charlotte faced were stronger than the students she helped teach at the Eon Academy, and by the time the week had ended, nobody was showing up. She realised later, that given Jubilife has no gym, the only skilled trainers in the city were trainers passing through on their way to another city, Justin, who was too flat out with police training to battle Charlotte more than once a week at best, and the College of the North Wind, who, whilst Charlotte figured would provide a good challenge, she didn’t want to sour relationships with by coming in and likely beating every trainer they put in front of her. She had even sent Camilla an email, challenging her to a practise match, however received no reply. She figured that given how much she had underestimated them two summers earlier, and how much more time Charlotte had spent with Deoxys, that Camilla didn’t want to risk the embarrassment of possibly losing to Charlotte.

    Bored by this, Charlotte opened Twitter and looked for the Nimbasa City Gym account, curious to see what it was like under Abbee’s leadership. In the last few weeks, the account had been fairly active, posting slightly more than normal, with videos of Abbee securing some solid wins, and even the odd picture of Victini, who was slowly falling into the role of Gym mascot. Charlotte couldn’t help but grin, knowing how much Victini would be hating that.

    Charlotte tapped the Follow button, largely so she could keep seeing pictures of Victini posed in ways that she knew were under Abbee’s instruction, and almost didn’t notice the popup that appeared, her default instinct being to close it. Only at the last second, did she read the contents.

    Other accounts you may like:
    The Battle Frontier


    Charlotte tapped the account, before finding a link in the accounts biography, and clicking that. The website that it took her to revealed a large aerial photo, of what looked like an amusement park filled with people, across five massive buildings. Each had a label, next to a picture of a trainer, referred to as a Frontier Brain.

    As Charlotte clicked through each building, she began to understand what she was looking at. A group of facilites that focused on Pokemon battling, however each facility had its own twist. The Battle Tower was standard three versus three battling, whilst the Battle Factory relied on rental Pokemon, which tested the adaptability and knowledge of the trainer. The Battle Arcade was a standard battle, with roulette style twists, which would have effects on the battle itself, whilst the Battle Castle awarded points, which could be spent to give competitors an edge. Finally, the Battle Hall challenged players to subsequent one-on-one battles using the same Pokemon, with a few other twists.

    Charlotte continued reading, until she spotted a link to a page titled Rewards. Clicking on it, she began to read.

    ”The Battle Frontier is open to all trainers, and offers no cash rewards. Instead, trainers who manage to beat a Frontier Brain will receive a commemorative print to celebrate their success, and wins will be rewarded with Battle Points, or BP, which can be exchanged for prizes at any of the Battle Frontier Reward Kiosks.”

    Reading this, Charlotte’s eyes widened, before she closed her web browser, and opened the phone app, dialling Justin. It was noon, which meant he would be on his lunch break. After a few moments, Justin answered, sounding like he was in a busy and noisy room.

    “Hey Charlotte, sorry, I can’t train with you this week…” Justin said, having had calls from Charlotte like this before. ”I’m flat out here-”

    “That’s fine, I won’t keep you long,” Charlotte said quickly. “I just have a question about my contract…”

    ”What’s that?”

    “Did it specify what a tournament was?” Charlotte asked.

    [i]”Yeah,”[i] Justin answered, as Charlotte felt her heart sink. ”It specified it as a competitive battling event, hosted by a company, which offers a monetary prize-”

    Hearing the last two words, Charlotte cut Justin off.

    “So if, let’s just say, there was a theme park with a bunch of different battling facilities, and the best they offer to winners is a glorified sticker and some points to exchange like tickets in a video-game arcade, that would not be considered a tournament?”

    ”I don’t see why,” Justin answered. ”If they didn’t have a clause defining a tournament, they may have been able to argue it. But because they tried to lock you out by specifying what a tournament is, if they were to make complaints about you doing that, legally speaking, they wouldn’t have a leg to stand on…”

    “Brilliant!” Charlotte said, sounding more motivated than she had in weeks. “Thanks heaps!”

    Ending the call, Charlotte wasted no time downloading two apps. The first was Airbnb, hoping to find somewhere to stay for an extended period of time near the Battle Frontier. However, knowing she couldn’t afford to rent a house in what was likely a tourist location for six months on her own, the second was to help alleviate that. Flatmate Finder.

    ”Championship level trainer, seeking to conquer the Battle Frontier, looking for housemates. Must be able to battle well…”

    ************************************************** ************************************************** *****

    Despite having competed for years, Chris was surprised at the size of the stadium he battled in, and just how many spectators there were. He had looked at the analytics of his Project STN site and there were not enough viewers from Galar to give him any inclination that they were here for him. No, he knew they were here to see Leon battle.

    Leon stood on the opposite side of the battlefield, Pokeball in hand, ready to face his challenger. Chris had spent months researching his opponents, and knew that Leon tended to be more relaxed during his battles, though knew why Leon seemed so intent this time.

    Less than four weeks ago, Chris had arrived in Galar, and battled his first Gym. And since then, no more than five days had passed without him winning a badge, though that was only once. He was averaging a Gym badge every three days, placing him almost a month ahead of his own schedule. And then there was this morning's events. Chris had battled five trainers before being able to face Leon. Hop, who was the only one to not specialise in a certain type, actually making him a significant challenge, before Bede, who battled Fairy Types, Klara, who battled with Poison Types, Avery, who battled with Psychic Types, then Marnie, who battled with Dark Types. And despite each battle being a six-on-six match, Chris didn’t end up using more than two Pokemon in each. And in none of these battles, did Lugia make an appearance.

    Leon knew that the trainer he was about to face was not one to take lightly. Despite Galar being a little isolated in terms of news from the rest of the world, with a quick search online, Leon knew exactly who he was facing, and that if he didn’t take this match seriously enough, that he may find himself humiliated.

    “In the final round, we have Galar Champion Leon, versus the challenger, who has swept through the Galar League unlike any has before, Christopher Kingswood!”

    Chris smirked at his introduction, knowing that this League was the first of many he’d be completing, before he grabbed a Pokeball. If Chris lost today, Second To None would have a permanent stain. Whilst he could challenge Leon again during another Championship Cup, he would not be able to claim the title of undefeated. And he was not willing to lose that opportunity within his first month.

    “Now begin!”

    Leon threw forward his first Pokeball, as did Chris. In front of Leon appeared what looked like a sword with two arms, holding a large shield. Aegislash. Chris breathed a sigh of relief. Despite being far from out of options should his opening match up be to his disadvantage, he always preferred having that edge out of the gate. As Chris’ Pokeball opened, Garchomp was revealed, the large Dragon Type roaring in expectation as it took in the sight in front of it.

    Chris knew that Aegislash would be a problem for Garchomp if left unchecked despite Garchomp’s type advantage. Its signature move, King’s Shield, would act identically to Protect, however, if the attacking Pokemon made contact with the barrier, its attack power would be decreased. Chris knew that he couldn’t hinge his win on just wearing down Aegislash. Every hit Chris ordered Garchomp to make, needed to count.

    “Flamethrower, Garchomp!” Chris shouted. Garchomp roared out angrily, before rushing at Aegislash, as flames erupted from its jaws, and bathed the defending Pokemon in flames.

    “Swords Dance!” Leon ordered, as Aegislash let out a metallic screech, Chris now knowing its attack power was likely doubled.

    “Earthquake!” Chris shouted.

    “King’s Shield!”

    Chris had to hide his grin. He had no expectation of Earthquake hitting, and instead, was relying on the reputation it had for completely destroying anything weak to Ground Type attacks. Whilst Earthquake hitting would have made Chris’ life easier, he had been relying on Leon ordering Aegislash to block it.

    Garchomp roared as the ground beneath their feet began to rumble and rupture. In an instant, Aegislash seemed to contort, placing its shield in front of it, and raising a barrier to take the attack. Earthquake had been the perfect command, as not only did it cause Leon to act defensively, but it also did not rely on Garchomp making contact, which would be weakened by the block.

    “Good Garchomp! Now take aim, and on my mark!” Chris shouted, trying to be loud enough for Leon to hear him, but not too loud to indicate he was playing the Galar Champion.

    Leon’s eyes widened as he realised he had fallen into Chris’ trap, using a protection move when Chris was really planning on making his move the turn after. Leon knew he had two options. The first was to attempt to use it again, knowing that the chance of success using it straight away was only fifty percent. The second was to attempt to knock out Garchomp before it could unleash whatever attack Chris had it preparing.

    “Close Combat!” Leon ordered.

    Chris watched intently, waiting for the opportunity. Despite Leon giving the command first, Garchomp was significantly faster, and as long as Chris didn’t leave it too late, Garchomp would still be able to strike first.

    Finally he saw it. Aegislash, as it moved, began to shift from its defensive form to its attacking form.

    “Stomping Tantrum!” Chris ordered.

    He couldn’t have left it much later, and had it been any later, Aegislash, in its attacking form, empowered by Swords Dance would have laid waste to Garchomp. Instead, Garchomp struck with the Stomping Tantrum, striking in the small moment between Aegislash lowering its defences, and actually delivering the blow. And with Garchomp’s last attack, Earthquake, failing to hit, Garchomp’s tantrum would be doubled in strength.

    Garchomp rushed at Aegislash in a fury, slamming its tail into the Pokemon, and upon making contact, launched heavy columns of earth from the ground, which struck Aegislash, throwing it back. It hit the ground on Leon’s side of the field with a clang, and after a moment, Leon called it back.

    “That was impressive,” Leon called out, to Chris. “You really played me like a fiddle…”

    “Only because I got lucky with Garchomp!” Chris called back. “Some of my other Pokemon would have been wiped out before I could do anything like that…”

    Leon grinned, unable to tell whether Chris genuinely meant what he said, or was simply being a good sport. Either way, he knew this battle was already much further in Chris’ favour.

    “Go, Mr. Rime!”

    Leon tossed a Pokeball forward revealing the evolution of a Galarian Mr. Mime, which Chris could see was partially an Ice Type, based on the frozen shoes it appeared to be wearing. He had little doubt that a single good hit would be enough for Mr. Rime to knock Garchomp out, and shifted his strategy to account for that.

    “Sandstorm!” Chris commanded, having changed Garchomp’s ability in light of STN starting. Granted, Galar was an exception, but every other Pokemon League would require Chris’ team of six Pokemon to be able to take down five Elite Four teams. And whilst Garchomp’s Rough Skin ability had come in handy in the past, an ability that hinged on Garchomp taking damage was not one that suited an endurance challenge like what was to come. Meanwhile, Sand Veil would ideally buy Garchomp more time in the fight.

    “Substitute!” Leon shouted. Amidst the sand, Mr. Rime disappeared, as Chris decided to take to heart a lesson Jon had taught. Sometimes, the best thing you can do is the last thing your opponent expects.

    “Swords Dance!” Chris ordered, for multiple reasons.

    The first was that as long as Mr. Rime had the substitute active, it could act however it liked without fear of consequence until Garchomp removed it. So Leon likely expected Garchomp to waste time trying to remove it immediately. The second followed along with that line of thinking. Chris managed to have Garchomp beat Aegislash without taking any damage by using a carefully placed, heavy hitting attack, and by acting in this way, Chris would potentially throw Leon off his game by sending him down the wrong rabbit hole. The third reason was that Swords Dance would not give away Garchomp’s location in the sandstorm, which wasn’t infallible, but not worth giving up the advantage of. And the fourth, was that Chris planned on dealing a significant amount of damage to Mr. Rime when he removed the Substitute, and would need all the help he could get with that.

    “Skill Swap!”

    Chris’ eyes widened as Mr. Rime, invisible somewhere on the battlefield, cried out. An orb appeared from Garchomp, flying out into the air where it seemed to exchange with another orb. Chris knew that Garchomp now didn’t have its Sand Veil ability, and even worse, the Sandstorm was now going to help hide Mr. Rime.

    “Protect!” Chris shouted, as Leon ordered an Ice Beam. He quickly tried to figure out how long the battle had been going for, having hinged his bets on Garchomp having another chance to use Swords Dance, being protected by the Sandstorm, and Mr. Rime not being any harder to hit once the substitute fell.

    Forcing himself to stay calm, he adapted his plan, holding on to hope that he could still get a win out of this. He refused to let himself be rattled.

    “Ice Beam again!” Leon ordered.

    “Endure! Get near the substitute”

    Garchomp took the Ice Beam attack that seemed to come from nowhere, as with the substitute still intact, Mr. Rime was invisible. It held on with the last of its energy, getting into range of the substitute, as Leon, who now had the upper hand, gave his next order.

    “Freeze Dry!”

    “Protect!” Chris commanded. “Now locate Mr. Rime!”

    Garchomp raised the barrier, blocking the Ice Type attack that came out of nowhere, as the sandstorm subsided. Garchomp roared, giving confirmation to Chris that it had located the invisible opponent. The roar however was weak, as Garchomp couldn’t hold out much longer.

    “Now Dual Chop!” Chris shouted. “One on the substitute, and one for Mr. Rime!”

    Garchomp slashed with a quick, and relatively weaker attack, hitting the substitute and causing it to fade. As Mr. Rime reappeared, Garchomp was already on it, slashing with its second attack, hitting the Ice-Psychic Type, and throwing it back. Leon moved as if to give an order, however realised a moment later, Mr. Rime was unconscious.

    “Substitute took out a quarter of its health, and the sandstorm probably dealt that much as well,” Chris said, with a hint of exhaustion from the stress of that battle. He called Garchomp back. “If not for that, Dual Chop would not have been able to finish it off…”

    Leon nodded, calling the Pokemon back. He had made a mistake there, forgetting that the Sandstorm would be buffeting Mr. Rime, because he couldn’t actually see the Pokemon taking the damage.

    “So you drew it out to let it wear Mr. Rime down?” Leon asked.

    “That, and to let the Sandstorm subside,” Chris answered casually. “I knew we only had one shot with Dual Chop and it wasn’t guaranteed to hit even without Sand Veil. I wanted to make sure we didn’t take any unnecessary risks.”

    Leon nodded, finding himself more impressed, as he called back his unconscious Pokemon, before both trainers selected their next Pokemon.

    Leon tossed a Pokeball forward, revealing Dragapult, whilst Chris sent out his Ninetales. He had known Leon’s entire team well before coming into this battle, and knew of the four Pokemon left, two were Dragon Type. The odds were fifty-fifty that Ninetales would be the best bet, and they had proven to be correct.

    “Phantom Force!” Leon commanded.

    “Hail!” Chris responded.

    Dragapult vanished into thin air, as Chris, knowing what would happen very soon after, made the most of the opportunity to take action without having to immediately defend.

    Ninetales cried out, as a hailstorm whipped up, triggering its Snow Cloak ability, much like Garchomp earlier, making it harder to hit. This however wasn’t enough for Chris to bank on an accurate move like Phantom Force to miss.

    Dragapult reappeared, striking Ninetales, and whilst Chris considered having Ninetales use Aurora Veil in order to dampen any more hits, he knew against Dragapult, it may be buying the Pokemon a free hit. Dragapult had one of three abilities, and one, Infiltrator, would bypass Aurora Veil, effectively wasting an action. Instead, Chris went down a different track.

    “Avalanche!”

    Normally, Chris tried to place himself in situations where his Pokemon was the faster of the pair. However, he knew there was a snowflake’s chance in hell that Dragapult would be slower than Ninetales. And Dragapult had committed to an attack by using Phantom Force, in the same way Dive or Dig would. Most trainers would attempt to use the guarantee of an attack to block against it, however Chris had fallen for Phantom Force bypassing Protect, when Charlotte had used that tactic with her Drifblim against him, years earlier. Instead, Chris decided to make the damage Ninetales took worth it, by using a move that would be empowered if the user had taken a hit immediately before.

    Ninetales cried out, as it became encased in a rumbling, rolling snowstorm, rushing at Dragapult, and slamming bodily into the Pokemon. Snow encapsulated it, throwing it violently against the ground, before disappearing, leaving the Dragon-Ghost Type quiet and unmoving.

    “You know, I haven’t looked this bad in years…” Leon said with a grin. “But I still have some tricks up my sleeve!”

    Chris was surprised that Leon’s next Pokemon was Haxorus, a Pokemon whose sole type-empowered moves would be ineffective against Ninetales.

    “Close Combat!” Leon ordered.

    “Protect!” Chris shouted back almost instinctively. Leon grinned, as Chris realised he had messed up, falling for the same trap he had caught Leon in earlier.

    “Now, Iron Head!”

    With the Protect-lure having done its job, Haxorus, who had made it into melee range with Ninetales, only to be blocked at the last second, now roared as it rushed into Ninetales, smashing its head into the Pokemon and throwing it back towards Chris, knocking it out.

    Chris called back Ninetales, before taking a moment to pick his next Pokemon. He had Charizard, Dragonite, Lugia and Hydreigon available to him, though he had decided well before that Lugia was only going to make an appearance if it had to. As much as Project STN was a challenge for Chris, it was also a way of making him a trainer for the history books, and if his success would be made more impressive by relying more on his relatively less powerful Pokemon, he wanted to try and work towards that.

    “Dragonite, your turn!” Chris commanded, knowing that he was taking a risk. Of the pair, Haxorus was almost certainly faster than Dragonite, and probably just as fast as Hydreigon. Whilst Charizard would be faster, Chris was saving Charizard for something else.

    “Dragon Claw!” Leon ordered.

    “Protect!” Chris commanded, knowing that the result of the next move would determine if Dragonite would be able to beat Haxorus or not.

    Chris knew that Haxorus could have one of three abilities, though did not know which one Leon’s had. Whilst he had had a hunch that Dragapult had Infiltrator, having seen recordings in which Dragapult had had its stats reduced, ruling our Clear Body, and also taken subsequent physical attacks, ruling out Cursed Body, Haxorus was far more difficult. All of its potential abilities were hard to spot in action, without being the opponent, and watching a match on a recording.

    Chris figured it would not be Unnerve. The Championship Cup was the only one that didn’t allow held items, with one exception to that rule, making the ability useless, which left it either as Rivalry, or Mold Breaker. If it were Rivalry, Chris knew he could take this win. If Mold Breaker, then there was no way.

    As Haxorus rammed it’s claw into the barrier protecting Dragonite, Chris watched intently at the level of force it exerted on the shield. If it had Mold Breaker, the level of force would be less, however Dragonite’s Multiscale would not activate if it struck, therefore causing Dragonite to take the full hit. If it had Rivalry, the hit from Haxorus would be harder against the barrier, but be dampened by Multiscale if it hit.

    Chris made two observations. The first being that not only was the attack significantly heavier against the shield than he would have expected, it was even more significantly heavier hitting than the attack it used on Ninetales earlier, which Chris now knew only knocked it out due to the Pokemon’s double weakness to Steel Type attacks. Rivalry boosted attack power against Pokemon of the same gender, such as Chris’ Dragonite who alongside Haxorus, was male, by a factor of near twenty-five percent, whilst reducing against the opposite gender, like Ninetales, by the same.

    “Dragon Rush!” Leon shouted.

    “Dragon Dance!” Chris commanded, hoping that he had been correct in his observation.

    Dragonite was struck by the brutal attack, as Haxorus rammed itself bodily into it, however cried out, using a buff that increased both its own physical attack power, and speed, and Chris knew now that it was going to be able to end this, and maybe even go toe-to-toe with Leon’s next Pokemon.

    “Now, Dragon Claw!”

    Dragonite roared as its fist became encased in a draconic aura, leaping towards Haxorus and slashing at it with all its might. Dragonite struck Haxorus from the side, lifting it from the ground and throwing it to the side of the battlefield, knocking the Pokemon out before it even hit the ground.

    Leon looked in disbelief at his fourth Pokemon knocked out, whilst Chris still had four Pokemon, five counting Garchomp who was technically still in the battle, having not actually been knocked out. He sent out his next Pokemon, one that Chris had never seen before researching the Galar Champion.

    “Go, Inteleon!”

    The tall and slender lizard-like Pokemon emerged, eyeing off Chris and Dragonite warily.

    “Roost!” Chris commanded, not wanting to waste the advantage Dragon Dance had given Dragonite.

    “Ice Beam!” Leon commanded.

    Dragonite descended to stand on the ground, as it regained health, and the cost of temporarily losing its Flying Type, however this was a blessing for Chris. Dragonite’s Flying Type did nothing in this battle except give it a double weakness to Ice Type attacks which any trainer would try to exploit. Dragonite regained health, only to lose it again to the Ice Beam which made the restoration practically redundant.

    “Now, Scary Face!” Chris commanded, having seen Inteleon being only slightly slower than Dragonite with its increased speed.

    “Snipe Shot!” Leon instructed.

    “Protect!” Chris commanded, knowing that with Inteleon slowed, Dragonite would have the chance to block. Intelleon seemed to point a finger-gun gesture at Dragonite, as a small, but highly pressurised blast of water struck the barrier. “Now Roost again!”

    Losing its newly regained Flying Typing, and restoring its health again, Dragonite cried out in excitement as Leon, not wanting to fall into a trap, changed tactics.

    “Agility, Inteleon!”

    Inteleon used a move to place its speed back at its natural level as Chris, wanting to make the most of this opportunity, gave another command.

    “Roost again!”

    “Ice Beam!”

    Chris knew that he was toeing a fine line in this battle. Should Inteleon let off an Ice Beam whilst Roost’s side effect was not active, if Dragonite weren’t at full health, and by extension, protected by Multiscale, it would not survive.

    “Dragon Rush!” Chris shouted.

    Dragonite, now having regained its flying typing for the third time, leapt into the air, accelerating in flight towards Inteleon, as it became encased in a draconic aura. With a cry, Dragonite slammed into Inteleon, empowered by the earlier Dragon Dance. Inteleon was thrown backwards, however managed to land uneasily on its feet, as Leon gave another order.

    “Ice Beam again!”

    “Extreme Speed!” Chris shouted. If it had been any other attack, and Dragonite’s speed hadn’t been improved by Dragon Dance, the tactic would have failed. Almost in an instant, Dragonite closed the gap between itself and where Inteleon had landed, building up shocking speed, almost on par with Justin's Regieleki. And though Ice Beam struck as it flew, knocking Dragonite unconscious, it had already built up the momentum needed to cause it to crash directly into Inteleon, knocking the now injured Pokemon out.

    “And here I thought I finally had you on the ropes!” Leon called out, as he withdrew Inteleon, before unlatching his last Pokeball. Chris grinned as he called back Dragonite. Whilst sending out Lugia would make this much easier for him, and Hydreigon would likely be a solid choice, he wanted the first chapter of Second To None to be a spectacle talked about for years to come, and knowing what Leon’s last Pokemon was made Chris’ choice all the more entertaining.

    Both trainers tossed their Pokeballs, and on either side of the battlefield, a Charizard appeared. Immediately, both trainers reached for something on their wrist, and the moment they made contact, both Charizard exploded into orbs of light. Chris’ Charizard Mega Evolved, turning black and blue, taking the form of Mega Charizard X, whilst Leon’s Charizard seemed to warp the space around it, and explode into a larger form, standing at nearly a hundred feet tall. The fans erupted into cheers, having been waiting for this moment, and now knowing it would be an even better show than they expected.

    Chris had heard of Dynamax, a Pokemon phenomenon that was exclusive to the Galar region, and had an idea of what to expect. However, seeing Charizard being as tall as two Wailord stacked nose to tail, still shocked him.

    “Dragon Pulse!” Leon ordered, as Gigantamax Charizard roared, causing the entire stadium to rumble.

    “Protect!” Chris shouted.

    Mega Charizard raised a Protect barrier, both to block the attack, and buy time for the process of Mega Evolving to actually finish, blocking what Chris identified as the most powerful Dragon Type attack he had ever seen. The beam of light was on par with that of a Draco Meteor attack, though didn’t seem to tax Gigantamax Charizard any more than a standard move.

    “Now, Hurricane!”

    Chris winced, realising that despite Dragon Pulse having a type advantage, that Hurricane, a move that would be empowered by Gigantamax Charizard’s Flying Type, would hit Mega Charizard far harder, especially since Chris had given up Mega Charizard’s Flying Type resistance.

    Chris himself was almost thrown off balance by the catastrophic winds that erupted through the stadium, as Mega Charizard, who floated only a foot or two above the ground, was caught in the gale, and tossed violently around. Chris noticed however that despite not being a side effect of Hurricane normally, Mega Charizard seemed to have been slowed.

    “Flame Charge!” Chris ordered instinctively, not for the sake of the damage it would do, though with Mega Charizard’s Tough Claws ability, that would not be insignificant, but more so for the fact that it would also increase Mega Charizard’s speed back to its natural level. “Now, Protect!”

    Charizard, its speed restored, was able to raise the barrier just in time to block the subsequent Dragon Pulse, and Chris knew he had held out long enough. The key difference between Gigantamax and Mega Evolution was that Gigantamax had a natural time limit, whilst Mega Evolution would stay active until Charizard got knocked out. Leon had the advantage in the short term, whilst Chris had the advantage if the match got drawn out. Mega Charizard now faced a championship level, yet run-of-the-mill Charizard.

    “Now Charizard! End this!” Chris shouted, knowing that he only had one turn to end this match. He didn’t know if Leon would order Hurricane again without Charizard being Gigantamaxed, knowing it was less accurate, but even if Leon wasn’t able to finish this with his next move, Chris knew very well what Charizard’s ability was. Blaze. Should Leon’s Charizard’s health become too low, its attack power wwould increase significantly, allowing for even the weakest of moves to be enough to finish Mega Charizard. “Outrage!”

    Had Chris thought Outrage would not have been enough, he would have ordered another move, given that once Mega Charizard began to Outrage, it would not stop until it exhausted itself or was knocked out. But Chris knew this was his only bet for obtaining the two-to-six win he was after.

    Mega Charizard roared violently, as an unshakable rage took over it, before launching itself at full speed at Charizard, lashing out violently against the opposing Pokemon. Between Mega Charizard’s increased attack power, it’s Tough Claws ability, the type empowerment of the Dragon Type attack, and the sheer brutality of it, Leon’s Charizard was struck bodily by Mega Charizard, being lifted from the ground by the sheer force, and thrown back, as meanwhile, Mega Charizard continued to attack. Chris watched with great care, waiting for the moment he could see Leon’s Charizard unconscious, not wanting to risk calling Mega Charizard back too early, and having to send out another Pokemon, whilst not wanting to risk Mega Charizard going too far in its furious attack.

    Once he saw Leon’s Charizard hit the ground, and seem to flop like a ragdoll, Chris quickly returned Mega Charizard to its Pokeball. It almost didn’t feel real.

    “And for the first time in many years, the Championship Cup is taken by the challenger and newcomer, Christopher Kingswood!” shouted the commentator as the crowd went wild, though a little apprehensively, unsure if they should be cheering for the trainer that just made a show of beating their champion.

    Chris moved to the centre of the battlefield to meet Leon, where the pair shook hands.

    “When I woke up this morning, I didn’t think I’d be beaten with such ease…” Leon said, unable to hide the grin from his face. “I haven’t had to work this hard in years, and even then, I only managed to take down two of your Pokemon…”

    “Three, really,” Chris admitted. “There was no way I’d send Garchomp back in. I’d sooner resign than force Garchomp to fight for my pride in that state…”

    “I’m glad to hear. I come across too many trainers who try to achieve similar results to you, with any ends justifying their means,” Leon said. “Still, none of them made as big a fool of me as you just did.”

    Chris grinned, before waving to the cheering crowds, soaking in the glory of his first win against a regional champion.

    “If it makes you feel any better, I don’t plan on you being the last…” Chris explained. “Check out projectSTN.com. I’ll be paying Diantha in Kalos a visit next…”

  7. #206
    I came in like a wrecking ball... [Desolate Divine]'s Avatar
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    The first of five epilogues posted, describing life beginning post-Eon Academy. Honestly, I've been looking forward to this for a long time; going back to some more grounded, lower-stakes, slice of life type stuff, with creative battles. As much as I like the way Spiritwater and Season 5 ended, massive, high stakes battles happening simultaneously are absolute murder to write, so am keen for more of this!

  8. #207
    I came in like a wrecking ball... [Desolate Divine]'s Avatar
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    Epilogue Episode 2: December
    Spoiler:

    As Charlotte stepped into the backyard of what would be her new, though still temporary home, she wondered what sort of phenomenon was occurring, that allowed the weather to be as nice as it was.

    It was early December, the start of winter, and despite this, the Resort Area, whilst a little mild, still felt like it was in the midst of autumn. Meanwhile, Snowpoint, which was as far north as Battle Zone, the island which housed the Battle Frontier, was, would likely be having blizzards right now.

    “Either of you guys know why the weather is so nice here, when Snowpoint would be a frozen wasteland right about now?” Charlotte called out over her shoulder. Behind her, her two housemates, whom she had only met for the first time a month or so earlier, and only moved in with today, had followed her into the backyard.

    “No clue,” answered Barry, as he walked past Charlotte to take in the sight of the yard.

    “Stark Mountain is a semi-active volcano, which tends to put out some heat,” Riley answered, as he joined them. “But it’s more that Snowpoint is far colder than it should be if we’re talking just in terms of latitude…”

    “Well it’s the northernmost point of Sinnoh,” Barry stated, recalling his own trip to Snowpoint in order to get his eighth badge. “Why wouldn’t it be that cold?”

    “I think what Riley is saying is there are other factors adding to the coldness?” Charlotte explained, before looking to Riley for confirmation. Riley nodded.

    “The cold air from Mt. Coronet blows down the mountain into the area north,” Riley explained. “But given it’s a relatively narrow stretch of land with sea either side, and despite the cold air from Mt. Coronet blowing down, the sun still heats the air over the land faster than the land over the sea. The air over the land rises, and the cooler air from the sea blows in…”

    Charlotte couldn’t help but grin at her two new housemates. Both seemed to be polar opposites of one another, placing her in the middle. Barry seemed to be relaxed, almost a little too much, and at times, a little hyper fixated when something got his attention. He was competitive, and would do anything reasonable to win. He reminded Charlotte a little of Chris. He stood a few inches taller than her, with wild and messy blonde hair and brown eyes. Meanwhile, Riley was a little more reserved, and seemed to be deep in thought all the time. When he did speak, it was normally something worth listening to. Though he spoke more than Dylan did when she first met him, she sensed a bit of Dylan in Riley. He himself was the tallest of the trio, with neat black hair, and was well dressed, having been wearing the same classy blue coat and hat both times Charlotte had met him. Regardless, she had agreed to share a house with the pair of them for one reason in particular. Despite their quirks, both were capable battlers, and neither that Charlotte had come across in her time competing.

    Barry had just completed the Sinnoh League at the end of the summer before, having travelled around Sinnoh to get all eight badges, before taking on the Elite Four, and then Cynthia. What made Barry unique compared to most others that had achieved the same thing, is that most others had been former students of the College of the North Wind, which trained its students to be able to handle the Elite Four and Champion. Barry however, had no formal training to that extent, only the Pokemon Trainer School that most children attended. He explained that he was taught by his father, though Charlotte wasn’t sure if he was a trainer who made a name for himself or not. Regardless, Barry achieving what he had without the same level of formal trainer education highlighted a staggering level of natural talent, that Charlotte was looking forward to pitting herself against.

    Riley on the other hand, had not completed the Sinnoh League, having not even attempted it. Despite this, he had an accomplishment that even fewer had than Barry. Something none of Charlotte’s Eon Academy classmates, or even Jon had achieved.

    Riley, despite not having any history as a Gym Trainer, was offered the position of Gym Leader at Canalave City, the sixth Gym in the sequence, by Byron, the Gym’s current leader. Even Abbee, who had been Nimbasa City’s Gym Leader for nearly two months now, the fourth in the sequence, had worked under Elesa as a trainer for two years before she was given the opportunity.

    Riley apparently had made Iron Island, an island mine which doubled as a Pokemon training spot, his usual practice ground. And this practice ground was shared with none other than Byron himself. And in the time they had spent practising together, Riley had earned enough of Byron’s admiration to be offered the position as Byron’s successor, a role which he promptly turned down. When Charlotte had asked why, Riley revealed that Byron’s son Roark was the first Gym Leader in the Sinnoh sequence, and Riley believed Byron should have offered the role to his son first.

    Charlotte was thrilled to have two new trainers, both having proven themselves as talented, as housemates. And what thrilled her almost as much was the backyard of the villa they were renting.

    Although it was half-scale, the backyard contained a Pokemon Battlefield, where Charlotte knew she would be spending a lot of time against either one of her housemates, and that was only when she wasn’t going to be at the Battle Frontier. A grin crossing her face, Charlotte turned to the two young men who had joined her in the backyard.

    “Which of you is going to join me in christening this thing?” Charlotte asked. Riley raised an eyebrow, something which perplexed Charlotte, as if she ever tried doing the same thing, she’d instead just look comically surprised.

    “What’s to say that Barry and I weren’t going to do the honours?” Riley asked, no hint of a joke in his voice.

    “Then you’d have to fight me for that,” Charlotte retorted with a grin. Riley shrugged, having made the joke he wanted to, before nodding to Barry.

    “All yours…”

    Barry grinned between his housemates, before making his way to one end of the battlefield, Charlotte making her way to the other.

    “You mind reffing for us?” Barry asked Riley, who was already stepping up to the side of the battlefield. Riley nodded.

    “Select a Pokemon!” Riley called out. “This will be a three on three match!”

    Both trainers selected a Pokemon, and on Riley’s word, tossed their Pokeballs forward. On Barry’s side of the field appeared a Floatzel, and on Charlotte’s, Luxray. Charlotte grinned, knowing that this was going to help immensely.

    “Begin!”

    “Agility!” Barry ordered. “Then Mud-Slap!”

    Floatzel cried out as it lunged forward, one of its paws making contact with the hard ground beneath it, and turning it into thick mud, before throwing a large wave of it at Luxray, who hadn’t had a chance to react. Floatzel was already quicker, and Barry had now increased its speed.

    Luxray took the hit directly, being partially blinded by the attack, as Charlotte gave her first order.

    “Luxray, Thunder Fang!”

    Whilst Wild Charge was technically more accurate and would deal more damage, both moves would be able to take down Floatzel in a single hit. The difference was that unlike Thunder Fang, which dealt no recoil, Wild Charge would deal recoil damage proportional to how hard Luxray would hit Floatzel, which Charlotte knew, would deal far more damage than necessary to end this battle. And after Luxray’s injury during her first summer at the Academy, she was careful not to make a similar mistake.

    Luxray leapt forward, lightning crackling at its jaws, before pouncing on Floatzel, who, thanks to its superior speed and Luxray’s semi-obscured vision, slid out of harm’s way with little effort.

    “Agility again, then another Mud Slap!” Barry commanded, making most of Floatzel’s speed, which had been near triple Luxray’s after a single Agility. Now it was over four times.

    Luxray, unable to dodge the quick hit took another Mud Slap, and though the attack itself was relatively weak, Charlotte knew that Barry was ordering Mud-Slap not for the damage it dealt, but instead, what it did to Luxray’s accuracy.

    “Luxray, Agility!” Charlotte ordered, knowing that should she let Floatzel get any quicker, it would be accomplishing far too much between Luxray’s attacks.

    “Rock Tomb!” Barry commanded, as Charlotte winced. Floatzel was more suited to physical attacks, and not only would Rock Tomb deal more damage, it would slow Luxray as well.

    Floatzel cried out, as rocks erupted from the ground in front of it, before swinging around, and striking them with its tail, launching both at Luxray, each of which struck directly.

    “Shock Wave!” Charlotte ordered, knowing the attack, whilst less powerful, given Luxray’s propensity to use physical attacks, would be a guaranteed hit, unless Barry ordered Protect. Or so she thought…

    “Dig!”

    Floatzel dug underground, as the large orb of electricity that was homing in on the Water-Type attempted to phase through the ground, before earthing and disappearing. A moment later, Floatzel erupted from the ground under Luxray, knocking it back. Charlotte looked in shock as Luxray, who she thought would get her ahead, lay unconscious. She quickly called back the Pokemon, before sending out her next. Roserade.

    “I see you remember Pokemon Trainer School!” Barry called out, as Charlotte made a gesture, that she had already learnt Barry would simply laugh off, before Riley called for the start of the next round.

    “Grassy Terrain!” Charlotte ordered, expecting that Barry would go on the offensive, however, he surprised her with his next command, though it filled her with dread.

    “Baton Pass!”

    Roserade filled the arena with lush, glowing grass, however before it had even grown, Floatzel had been withdrawn, and the speed it had amassed, would now be passed on to whatever Barry sent out next.

    Barry threw a Pokeball, and Charlotte’s stomach sank as she recognised the Pokemon that followed.

    Infernape looked between Charlotte and Roserade with determination, as Barry, knowing Infernape had the time and speed to pull this off, shouted an instruction.

    “Power-Up Punch!” Barry shouted. “As many times as you can!”

    Infernape, with ungodly speed, rushed forward through the grass, however was slowed for a brief second, by an explosion of green light, as Infernape accidentally tripped one of the hidden Leech Seeds. To Charlotte’s annoyance however, Infernape was that quick, that despite being tripped up, had managed to evade the tangling vines, and still reach Roserade. Granted it only had enough time for one Power-Up Punch.

    “Toxic!” Charlotte commanded, remembering how Jon had used this tactic to give himself an edge over Mewtwo.

    In such close quarters, the attack couldn’t miss, and Barry, now knowing that Infernape was on a time-limit, shifted his battle plan. The time for building up strength was now over…

    “Infernape, Fire Punch!”

    Roserade was struck by a heavy hitting, high speed, flaming fist, and thrown back towards Charlotte, who quickly withdrew the Pokemon before sending out her final one.

    “Go, Gengar!”

    Gengar emerged from the Pokeball with a menacing grin across its face, as Barry began his own onslaught.

    “Flare Blitz!”

    “Dodge it!” Charlotte ordered. Gengar sunk into the ground, out of sight, as Infernape’s powerful Fire attack eventuated to nothing. Now the playing field had been made even. Despite Infernape’s speed, it couldn’t strike an opponent it couldn’t see.

    “Calm Mind!” Barry commanded, and hearing this, Charlotte knew it was time to strike.

    “Hex!” Charlotte ordered. “Then Sucker Punch!”

    Gengar erupted from the ground, laughing maniacally as a shadow orb launched from its small hand, flying towards Infernape, who was struck for extra damage due to it being poisoned. Before it could retaliate, Gengar had already disappeared again, reappearing an instant later, striking Infernape directly with a Sucker Punch attack. Infernape collapsed to the ground as Gengar returned to Charlotte’s side.

    “It’s not over yet!” Charlotte called out, as Barry selected a Pokeball. Charlotte wondered if he’d send out Floatzel again, however figured that wouldn’t be the case. Floatzel had relied on being faster than Luxray earlier, and with the boosts to its speed disappearing with Infernape, it would not be faster than Gengar. Charlotte figured Barry would send in something quicker than Gengar. Or so she thought.

    Barry sent out his next Pokemon, and Charlotte was shocked when she realised that he had sent out a Snorlax.

    “Wait, what?” Charlotte said without realising, as Barry laughed at the reaction. She quickly shook off the confusion, knowing Barry was no slouch, and if he sent out Snorlax, it was not for the sake of a joke. Already she began to understand why. Gengar was strong in using special attacks, which Snorlax, slow or not, would resist quite well. Meanwhile, Snorlax would hit incredibly hard, given its large frame, and those sorts of attacks were not what Gengar was cut out to take…

    “Will-O-Wisp!” Charlotte called out, though for a moment, panicked. She knew that Will-O-Wisp would cause a burn. But she also knew that it was a spectral flame, and most Pokemon that used it were Ghost Types. For a moment, she forgot which it was.

    The spectral flame launched at Snorlax, who was far too slow to avoid it. However, to her relief, it struck home, which meant that Snorlax’s attack strength would be halved. Granted, she still didn’t want to let Gengar take a hit from the Pokemon.

    “Snorlax!” Barry commanded. “Iron Head!”

    Snorlax began to move towards Gengar, and whilst it was slow at first, once it built momentum, that was what seemed to carry it, as it closed the gap between itself and Gengar. Snorlax’s scalp seemed to become metallic for a moment, covered in a silvery aura, as it dived at Gengar, striking the Pokemon head first.

    “Gengar, Drain Punch!” Charlotte ordered, however to her horror, Gengar didn’t move. It had been dazed by the attack, as Barry was ready to end this.

    “Now, Earthquake!”

    Snorlax jumped into the air, before landing on the ground, causing it to rumble. The battlefield floor cracked, as jagged pieces of earth erupted, striking Gengar, and to Charlotte’s disbelief, knocking the Pokemon out.

    Both Pokemon were called back, as Riley declared Barry the winner. Charlotte walked to Barry, shocked.

    It had been a long time since she had lost a battle, and whilst she could have brought in Deoxys, for this, it would not be worth it. She knew Deoxys was powerful, however knew that she relied heavily on it in the battle against Blackstone. Now, she wanted to focus on her other Pokemon, to help them get as strong. And for the first time in a long time, somebody had managed to beat her, without seeming to struggle at all.

    “Okay, so from your perspective, where did I go wrong?” Charlotte asked, as she took out her phone, to Barry’s surprise. She opened a notes app. “Spare no details, and don’t spare my feelings…”

    Barry looked to Riley for help, unsure if he was about to risk offending her, however Riley simply shrugged, leaving Barry to figure it out for himself. After a moment, Barry began thinking over the battle.

    “You shouldn’t have waited so long to have Luxray use Shock Wave,” Barry explained. “You took too long to realise that your plan, whatever it was, wasn’t going to work anymore, and by that point, it was too late. If you’d used Shock Wave to begin with, it would have put more pressure on me and made it difficult to keep doing what I was going…”

    Charlotte nodded, before furiously typing notes, and then looked back up.

    “What next?”

    “You did the right thing using Toxic, and that Leech Seed trick worked well-”

    “Except Infernape was too quick…” Charlotte said finishing the sentence, as she began to piece thoughts together. “I’ve never faced an opponent so quick that they got away before it latched on…”

    “How does Roserade distribute the Leech Seeds?” Riley asked, curious about the conversation.

    “An even spread, so that there is an equal chance of them triggering,” Charlotte explained, as Barry nodded.

    “Okay, but here is the thing; look at the battlefield…”

    Prompted by Barry’s words, Charlotte looked, unsure what she was looking for. Finally, she stopped looking at individual sections, and instead looked at it as a whole.

    “You can see it, can’t you?” Riley asked, having picked it up himself. “Where the actual battle happened?”

    The battlefield itself was damaged, which didn’t phase any of them as any Ground Type Pokemon would be able to fix it. But the pattern of damage, Charlotte now realised, showed where on the battlefield the battle was happening.

    “Had the seeds been more concentrated where the battle was actually taking place, and less on the areas that didn’t get touched, more of them would have triggered, and it would have been devastating for Infernape, at least for a second,” Barry explained, as Charlotte nodded. She could picture multiple seeds triggering, causing Infernape to trip over, triggering more, which held it in place, until it would use a fire attack to burn them away.

    “What about Gengar?” Charlotte asked.

    “It seems like you want Gengar to be more of a mixed attacker, but have it trained as a special attacker,” Barry observed. “Maybe try and refocus its training so it’s a little more comfortable with physical attacks?”

    Charlotte nodded, before pocketing her phone, and looking at Riley. She withdrew two Pokeballs that contained Magmortar and Milotic.

    “Your turn. Double battle this time…”

    ************************************************** ************************************************** *****

    “To think, these are the idiots who will be maintaining the law,” Justin muttered to himself. “God help Sinnoh when we all graduate…”

    “That bad?”

    Justin had returned to his room in a pretty foul mood after an assessment, where Zayne had been studying at one of the desks in the shared accommodation. Upon entering the room, and closing the door a little more forcefully than he intended, he kicked off his shoes, unbuttoned the top button of his uniform shirt, and collapsed onto his bed.

    “Honestly, I get why they’re doing this rank thing,” Justin said, and when a grin crossed Zayne’s face, he added, “and I’m not just saying that because I’m rank one!”

    Zayne shrugged, as if to say ’I said nothing’ as Justin continued.

    “But really, the way it’s getting the others acting…” Justin muttered, as he cursed under his breath. “It’s stupid!”

    Zayne had been right during their first conversation. Justin had taken first place in the Pokemon battling assessment, and as such climbed twelve ranks on the ladder, taking the first rank overall. And it had placed a target on his back.

    Whilst there had been more fitness tests, written tests and battling exercises, the results of the original three were still informing the ranks, despite it having been nearly three months since training began. Everything they had done since then had become a fourth category, called Assessments. Justin had managed to retain rank one, though that was largely due to his lead on day one. In terms of the assessments since then, he sat on rank fifteen, lower than his overall rank to start with.

    “So what happened?”

    “My team refused to cooperate on anything that might inadvertently cause my assessment rank to get any higher…” Justin suggested. “And that included even considering any of my ideas…”

    The current assessment, in which they were being assessed, was in groups of six, role-playing a different set of circumstances each, with the common thread being that for some reason or another, there is no commanding officer providing instruction, and as a group, they need to decide on the best course of action.

    In Justin’s group, the scenario given was that the six of them were off duty, at a crowded billiards hall late on a Saturday evening, during which time, two armed individuals entered the premises, alongside four Pokemon, attempting to rob the venue. The safe in which the week's cash was stored was on a time delay, requiring half an hour to be opened. After both assailants had taken phones, wallets and Pokeballs of all patrons held hostage, one entered the back room to attempt to open the safe, whilst the other remained to watch over the twenty or so hostages. During this time, however, the attempted opening of the safe on a day that is not the designated collection date resulted in the police arriving, and a standoff occurring.

    The assessment had been a live-action roleplay, in which the police trainers posing as the gunmen were armed with paintball guns, and as the situation played out, Justin’s Pokeballs were taken. Or so they had thought.

    Justin had carried with him seven Pokeballs. Five on his belt were real, containing Pokemon, and one was empty. His sixth Pokemon had been in a Pokeball in its small, shrunken form, hidden in a packet of cigarettes he kept in his jacket pocket. Justin didn’t smoke, and realised as he got there that whilst he had the pack of cigarettes he had forgotten a lighter, which would poke holes in his story. But when ordered to give over his phone, wallet and Pokeballs, he obliged and the gunman was none the wiser.

    During the exercise, when Justin had a moment to speak without being noticed by the assailants, he informed them that he managed to retain a Pokemon, Alakazam. He did not intend to act recklessly, knowing that for the sake of the exercise, hostages' lives were in danger. He had informed them so that if anyone had an idea that could use this development to their advantage, they may be able to figure something out, and was not going to take any action unless those with him were aware and agreed to it.

    “The moment they found out I had Alakazam, they just started dismissing the idea of using it under any circumstances, and berated me for even considering using it, and taking the measure to hold on to it,” Justin said to Zayne after he explained the background. “Like, I’m all for negotiating, and would have cooperated if they said they wanted to try it first. But come on, we’re training to be police, yet I’m the idiot for having something up my sleeve in case negotiating fails and everything goes to s**t?”

    “So what happened?”

    “They were that hell bent on running their mouths about shutting down the idea that we got noticed talking, and the gunmen got suspicious, and split us up. So basically, the biggest advantage we had, that there were six of us, and we had a Pokemon, was thrown to the wind, because now there was no way for us to come up with a plan together, and we’d each have to act individually,” Justin explained, furious at how stupid their situation ended up. “A few of them tried negotiating on their own with them, and one of the gunmen got really pissed off, and unloaded a magazine into the ceiling to make a statement. He had his back turned to me, and between the noise of the gunfire and the people screaming, and everyone’s attention being on him, I managed to get Alakazam out of the Pokeball without it being noticed for a second. He disarmed both of them, and my teammates finally did something useful after that and went for them. Alakazam held off the four Pokemon until the others could get the Pokeballs from the gunmen’s belts and call them back.”

    “So no hostages were hurt?” Zayne asked, surprised at that, considering how mad Justin seemed.

    “None,” Justin answered, though still sounding annoyed. “Hargrow told us that if it had dragged out any longer, they would have started killing hostages in order to get the police outside to cooperate with them and meet their demands. We all got reamed for getting ourselves split up in the first place…”

    “Was your review honest?” Zayne asked. Part of the assessment required each participant to review the rest of their team, as assessors may not be privy to the internal dynamics.

    “You think I’d let that s**t slide and not review them badly?” Justin answered. “I said that I was willing to follow along with ideas to negotiate, and was saving Alakazam for if the s**t hit the fan, but in response, I got verbally crucified by my team to the point where they gave us away, and nearly caused us to fail catastrophically…”

    “Well I think you’ve kept your number one spot…” Zayne remarked. The groups had been based on ranking, so Justin had been grouped with ranks two to six. Zayne, meanwhile, who had managed to climb to rank twenty-five, from rank forty-two where he had been after the battle assessment, would be completing his assessment a few days from now, with ranks twenty-six to thirty. “Considering your team were the ones who messed things up, and you managed to salvage a clean win from it…”

    “It’s not about a rank,” Justin began. “And I know, easy to say that when I’m ranked first…”

    Zayne grinned, as Justin continued.

    “We are training to be cops, and when we are actually out there doing police work, our rank won’t be the most important thing. If that had been a real hostage situation, these idiots would have gotten people killed tonight. Hell, if they end up in anything remotely similar, their only experience would be that one time they turned what was an exercise to train them in this, into a p**sing contest,” Justin remarked. “I’m busting my a** here, and it’s not for a goddamn one next to my name. It’s so that when I finish here and am actually out there in the police force; when people are relying on me, I will be there having made the most of my training here, and can do the best I can out there. But for them, this isn’t about becoming good cops. It’s about taking a f**king number from me. Based on what I saw today, they care more about the glory of being the best in our group than actually learning how to do their job well…”

    “Don’t let it get to you too much. The rank system is all bulls**t anyway,” Zayne offered, as he closed his exercise book, where he had been revising. Since their introduction, both Justin and Zayne had worked together, Justin to help Zayne with his written assessments and battling, whilst Zayne attempted to help Justin with his fitness.

    “You don’t think that they meant it when they said preferences for stations will be given based on rank?” Justin asked.

    “They will, just not the existing rank system,” Zayne explained. “Think about it, the rank system is being used to motivate trainees to perform better-”

    “And today proves how well that’s working…”

    “But everyone’s current rank is only twenty-five percent informed by how they’re performing in training. The other seventy-five percent is based on pre-training assessments. And do you think that they’re going to base seventy-five percent of the final results on numbers that don’t reflect any of the training we’ve done?” Zayne asked, without waiting for an answer. “I don’t know if they were originally planning on leaving the pre-training assessment results in the mix this long, or if the fact you managed to get so far ahead is why they still are, and they figure you can motivate everyone else, but as it is, everyone trying to increase their rank has to work four times harder to get the result they want, and to keep any improvements.”

    “So at some point they’ll stop counting the pre-training stuff?” Justin asked. Zayne nodded.

    “Until they tally the results of these assessments, you and I are fifteenth and fourth in that bracket,” Zayne explained. “Granted, if one, two and three in that bracket were in your group and dropped the ball, and you’re the only reason things ended without a bloodbath, you and I will probably wind up in first and second, though no idea which will be which. But all this to say, this is the rank that counts, and will count…”

    It hit Justin that despite his rank based on performance in training being fourth, Zayne’s overall rank was twenty-fifth, due to his placing in the written test, and the Pokemon battle. Justin was ashamed to say that when he thought of the top five recruits in their group, he had never considered Zayne amongst them, when really, Zayne had more right to be considered that than he did.

    “Does it bother you?” Justin asked. “That despite being in the top five, realistically speaking, this system puts you at twenty-fifth?”

    Zayne shrugged.

    “Not really. I’m rather glad that I don’t have a target on my back, and that people don’t see me as a threat,” Zayne said plainly. “As much as you hate it, I’d almost like for them to keep this up. Means I can just keep working at this without the spotlight put on me like it is on you…”

    Justin went to speak, however heard his phone begin to ring. He grabbed it from his pocket, and saw Candice’s name on the screen. He went to stand to take the call outside, however Zayne stood as well.

    “I was going to hit the gym sometime soon anyway, so I’ll head off now,” Zayne noted, as he picked up a gym back that had been sitting at the foot of his bed. “I’ll see you later…”

    Justin nodded his thanks, as Zayne walked out, before answering the call.

    “Hey, how’re things?”

    ”Just the usual,” Candice replied, her voice chipper, despite Justin knowing what the usual was. “No challengers today. The joys of being the last gym…”

    “For what it’s worth, you’ll be facing Chris at some point soon,” Justin noted. A little over a fortnight earlier, ProjectSTN had shown that Chris had defeated Diantha, the Kalos Champion, marking his second League victory. Justin hadn’t been in touch with Chris much since, with Chris travelling by boat to Unova, and Justin being kept busy with his police training, but was looking forward to seeing his friend again, ideally in Snowpoint City, where Justin would be working with the police there by that point.

    “Oh I’m well aware…” Candice answered. “And I’m looking forward to it. There is only one instance when a Gym Leader can go all out in a formal match…”

    “And that is?”

    ”When they’re going against an opponent who they know they cannot win against, and wants nothing but their best…”

    Justin laughed, however realised how hollow it sounded. And he already knew Candice had heard.

    ”What’s wrong?”

    “I’ve just had a pretty miserable day, is all,” Justin said quickly, hoping to move the subject away.

    ”What happened?” Candice asked, surprising Justin at how she managed to find the perfect balance of showing she cared, without sounding too concerned that Justin regretted her finding out.

    “Stupid politics. Because of this rank system, some of my classmates refuse to cooperate with me, hoping that if they can make themselves look better than I do, they’ll take top spot,” Justin answered. “Which if they want to screw around doing that in their own time, that’s fine, but when we have a group assessment that they’re going to tank for all of us with this s**t, then it becomes a problem…”

    “Did they drag you down?” Candice asked, now sounding concerned.

    “No, only just. I managed to rescue the situation on my own, and because of what they did, that was the only way for it to be rescued. So honestly, I’ll probably be pulling further ahead where it matters,” Justin answered. “Zayne seems like the only other person here who is actually here to learn to be a cop, not just try and get the top spot…”

    Candice was quiet for a moment, seeming to think, before she spoke again.

    ”I love the fact that this bothers you so much,” Candice said. ”Not that you’re getting frustrated by it, but you're the sort of person who can actually see what’s important here, and chooses to be above all this, instead of getting caught up in all this competitive nonsense.”

    “Honestly, it’s not that impressive,” Justin answered. “The way people are acting sets the bar pretty low. Besides, the ranks are flawed anyway to try and get everyone to work harder. Realistically, I’m sitting at about fifteenth place.”

    ”No, it is impressive. It would be easy to let yourself stoop to their level, especially when you’re in first place, or it would be easy to intentionally let yourself drop back a few ranks to take some of the attention off you. Easy, but wrong,” Candice answered. ”Despite the fact you’re having more of a difficult time than you should be because of this, you’re still doing what you know is right, and not budging at all on your standards. So even if you say your at fifteenth, I’m still more proud of you now than I was when you were first…”

    Justin couldn’t help but grin at Candice’s encouragement.

    ”And besides, I know that chances are, you’ll be able to work your way to the top, whether you plan on it or not…” Candice added. ”You’ve been a hard worker the four years I’ve known you, and it’s always been visible and recognised. This is no different. This is the start of what is going to be an inspiring story one day…”

    “I love you,” Justin said simply, unable to find other words to express how much he appreciated Candice’s faith in him at that moment.

    ”Love you too…”

    ************************************************** ************************************************** *****
    As the sun set over central Unova, the temperature began to drop, as the sound of nocturnal Pokemon starting to become active penetrated the cold air. The frame of the large house being built on the property which seemed to be in the middle of nowhere, cast long shadows to the east. From where Dylan sat in the equally large building nearby, the shadows fell through the open window, leaving the inside as a mixture of light and dark.

    Dylan sat in one of the two completed buildings on the property. This one was a large, steel and aluminium shed, which he had prioritised completing first. When the house was completed, he would actually turn the space into a workshop. He would keep his car, which had only arrived on a transport ship a week earlier, in the shed, and potentially even purchase a dirt bike which would suit navigating the property, which would live in here. Long term, he planned on amassing a stockpile of supplies, both materials and tools. He could already see a section of the shorter wall playing home to a collection of hanging tools, and various lengths of timber and steel being kept at all times, that he could fabricate into whatever structure or tool he needed.

    For now though it was a concrete floor, with a desk by the window, on which sat a laptop, a double bed, a metre from the foot of which sat a television unit with a large television placed on top of it. In one corner was a small room, walled off, but containing a bathroom and toilet. A large, electric heater was pulled in, and running at full capacity to keep the space from becoming too cold, though Dylan still needed to rug up.

    Dylan had moved to Unova four weeks prior when the shed had finally been completed. He wasn’t completely sure it was legal to live in the shed, however was generally quiet and kept out of the tradespeople’s way when they arrived each morning to work on the house. His car was kept parked behind the shed, and he figured if worse came to worst, he’d rent a share house in Nimbasa City if he had to. But until then, he figured that he was already paying a mortgage, and that he may as well get his money’s worth out of it. And it made sense. Dylan was already starting up his business, albeit slowly, and if the business was operating from this property, he would rather wake up there each morning, and be able to commute to work, by literally stepping outside the shed door, then have to drive in from the city each day.

    Kaen, Dylan’s pet Vulpix, sat on the bed, snoozing, as Dylan sat by the desk working on his laptop. The Vulpix, despite being a source of heat himself, enjoyed the fact that Dylan had the electric blanket running, in order to make sure the bed was well warm enough when he decided to go to sleep. Sitting on the bedside table, was a small white speaker with a radio antenna. It sat silently, though Dylan was expecting noise at any minute.

    The speaker was connected to a baby monitor, the transmitting half of which was outside the shed, in the other building on the property. It was another shed, albeit far smaller, which Dylan was planning on using for storage of items that wouldn’t get used enough to justify them taking up space in the workshop. For now though, like the larger shed, it suited a different purpose.

    When Dylan had first arrived, he had brought with him Jon’s Zoroark, and Alyssa’s Ditto, knowing that, given the fact that Zoroark was male, this was the only way for Dylan to breed the Zoroark. It was an old breeder’s trick, using a Ditto when a mating pair could not be achieved, and whilst Dylan was not particularly fond of it, he figured that for a while, he would be relying on Ditto, at least to get a dozen offspring. After that though, he still couldn’t risk them interbreeding, and creating a shallow gene-pool, so planned to attempt to use the present-day Zoroark as breeding partners, in order to try and introduce some variety to the gene pool.

    The document that Dylan was working on currently, was part of this plan. Whilst Jon had loaned Zoroark to Dylan, with the intention of giving Dylan a unique product to sell, and fund his business, Dylan didn’t quite agree with the plan, finding it to be a little too shortsighted. He knew that simply breeding Zorua and selling them off would not do anything for the species overall, and would be a waste of the opportunity it had, being obtained by someone who literally travelled back in time. For the species to actually have a chance at becoming self-sufficient, there needed to be more care put into the effort to restore them, and part of that meant more control held by Dylan.

    For this reason, Dylan had no intention of selling Zoroark’s offspring, at least not yet. However, he did need to fund his project, and did need to create exposure. As such, he had come up with another idea. Dylan would lease the Pokemon out to prospective trainers.

    It would make little difference to trainers who wanted to compete using these Pokemon, and their unique type combination made them valuable to competitive battlers, however, it would allow Dylan to retain a measure of control over the use of the Pokemon, and the restoration of the species. For example, trainers who leased the Pokemon from Dylan would be contractually forbidden from breeding them, or allowing someone else to take custody. And whilst one could argue that this would be giving Dylan a market monopoly, and this was something he wasn’t going to complain about, the real intention was making sure that Dylan could influence the depth of the gene-pool until it was safe for these Pokemon to reproduce without his involvement in the process. Otherwise, he risked them dying out again within a few generations, or genetic disorders becoming prevalent, and all this work being for nothing.

    The contract itself would have a few other requirements, some being in the interest of making sure that the Zorua and Zoroark were well cared for, and others being in the interest of research, effectively stating that Dylan reserved the right to take custody for short periods in order to provide care for, or assess the growth of the Pokemon, and any developments in their growth needed to be reported to Dylan as soon as possible. It had been many years since a new, non-Legendary Pokemon had been discovered, and as such, Dylan, like most trainers, took for granted the sheer amount of time and energy that had been invested into figuring out what causes each Pokemon to evolve, and under what circumstances they learn particular moves. He could search online for almost any detail about any other non-Legendary Pokemon, and in the case of some more common Legendary Pokemon, such as Shaymin, that was still a possibility. But for the species of Pokemon Dylan was attempting to revive, almost none of this existed. Whilst Jon’s Zoroark had learned a new move or two, given the fact that Jon captured it wild, they had little to know idea of what traits were unique to the individual, and what traits would be common of the species. In terms of battle experience, they had no idea whether Zoroark’s strength was natural of its species, or due to experience before Jon captured it. Effectively, the contract made it abundantly clear that the trainers who would lease the Pokemon, were leasing the Pokemon in order to help assist in raising it and researching it, at a scale that Dylan on his own did not have the capacity to do. And once enough time had passed that Dylan didn’t need to be this involved, the trainers would keep the Pokemon.

    Dylan had drafted the contract, and was giving it a look over, before he would send it to Justin, who, over his Christmas and New Year break from police training, would make any adjustments that were necessary for it to hold up. This gave Dylan another week to get it as close to final as he could, before it was given the once-over by Justin, who had very quickly become the source of legal advice for all at the Eon Academy, Jon at times included.

    Dylan’s phone buzzed on the desk, prompting Dylan to pick it up from the charging mat, and unlock it.

    ”Any news?”

    The text was from Jon, who had received Zoroark and Carbon, Alyssa’s Ditto, back two weeks earlier, and had been just as desperate to see what sort of offspring the pair would produce as Dylan.

    ”Nothing yet, but I imagine it will be soon. I’ll let you know as soon as I know. Say hi to ‘Liss and Lili for me.”

    Dylan had done research prior into the modern variant of Zorua, and discovered they had an incubation period of three weeks, presuming the conditions were correct. Effectively, the earliest of the eggs were due to hatch any day now. He had done plenty of research, not into Zoroark itself, but instead, depictions of other Pokemon from the time period that Cassandra and Jon believed they had travelled to. It had taken a long time, but he discovered references to wild Pokemon that live in caves on snowy mountains, which would use some sort of illusory witchcraft to lure unsuspecting travellers into their dens, where they would freeze to death.

    As such, Dylan kept the eggs that the breeding pair had produced in the smaller shed, which, with no heating whatsoever, were chilled by the winter breezes as they got to the back end of the year. This was part of the reason for Dylan relocating to Unova so early. Should he have waited, he may have needed to wait until this time next year, or invest on some costly cooling that may not even work for his purpose.

    Dylan shifted his focus back to the laptop, however before he even pressed a key on the keyboard, he heard a click. His breath caught in his throat, as he slowly looked back towards his bed, where Kaen, having been stirred by the sound, looked from where he lay, at the white baby monitor on the bedside table.

    “This had better not be a false alarm…” Dylan said quietly, as he got out of his seat, and grabbed another pair of warm socks from his bedside drawer, knowing that he may be outside for a while. After putting them on, and grabbing his warmest jacket and beanie, he walked to the door, and before opening it, looked at Kaen. “You coming?”

    Kaen looked at Dylan plainly, before giving his answer, in the form of settling down, and going back to sleep.

    “I’ll take that as a no…”

    Dylan stepped out into the cold night, the sun having disappeared behind the horizon, though it being far earlier in the evening than the winter darkness would indicate. He wondered, as he walked, whether it would snow tonight or not. Whilst it would make his temporary home freezing, he knew the Zorua still to hatch would love it.

    Withdrawing his keys out of his pocket, and fumbling with them as the cold wind chilled his fingers, he unlocked the door to the smaller shed, and stepped inside, closing the door behind him. He looked to the small table by the door, where he knew a soft, dim lamp sat, with a battery charged, and ready to go. The shed lit up immediately, with the soft light revealing over a dozen snow-white eggs, all roughly the size of a soccer ball, give or take.

    It took Dylan a minute of inspecting the eggs before he found the culprit. One near the back, which he figured made sense, as that would have been laid first. Each of the eggs sat in a base made up of a bundle of face-washers, each bundle sitting in a disposable foil tray, filled with water. Whilst warm-blooded Pokemon would need heat to incubate the eggs, Pokemon such as this breed of Zorua would prefer a colder environment. Or so Dylan hoped.

    The egg was wiggling, and slowly, more cracks were forming. Dylan, wanting to document what was a momentous occasion, sat his phone on the table, resting it against the lamp, filming the egg as it hatched.

    Finally, the last crack on the egg appeared, as the structural integrity that held it in shape vanished, and shards of egg shell fell on all sides. Sitting amidst the chilled water, soaked face-washers, and chunks of eggshell, was a small, grey Pokemon with a white and red tail, mane and tuft of fur, which sat on the top of its head. The small Pokemon looked around, noticing Dylan, before letting out a cautious quiet cry.

    Dylan watched in shock, as he realised that this was a Pokemon that he was the first person in living memory, as well as the first person in centuries, to bear witness to. Right now, nobody else could say that they had seen this Pokemon. He was the only person in the world who could. Feeling like he needed to say something, he spoke, addressing the audience who would one day see this video.

    “December 15th, 2022. On this day, this extinct breed of Zorua was brought back from extinction. You have just seen the first one born in centuries…” Dylan said, shocked at the history that had been made in this humble shed. “Now, this species will have another chance at life…”

    ************************************************** ************************************************** *****

    It had been a few days since Dylan had forwarded Jon the video of the egg hatching. It had been a special moment for Jon as well witnessing this. Not only being able to be part of history being made, but knowing that this was the same kid who he had shown up silently to his first summer at the Academy over four years ago, and had impressed Jon with his ability to understand the needs, and care for Pokemon. He remembered Steven asking Jon if he had meant what he said, when he told Steven of Dylan’s skills, and Steven shocking Jon by giving Dylan a shiny-variant Beldum. Now, Dylan, despite his business still being in the very early stages, had made history.

    It was near midday, as Jon sat outside at the outdoor table by the student lodges, his laptop open, and various job listing drafts opened. Whilst the registrations for next summer were coming in a little slower, with Jon’s five star pupils not being present, they were still coming in, and Jon theorised that by summer, they’d have the same amount attending as last time. And now that this was more certain, Jon knew he now had a little over six months to hire enough staff to help fill the gaps they left.

    Dylan had left the largest gap, as his role had quickly evolved into being Jon’s second in command, with a few other responsibilities involved. Effectively, Dylan had become an operations manager, with skills in property maintenance, both in terms of the physical property and the digital. At the same time, he also looked after the Academy’s Pokemon, and it wasn’t until Jon realised that it had taken three people to fill most of the gaps, that he understood just how hard replacing him was going to be.

    Cassandra had taken on the operations manager side of the role, in addition to her own study and training, whilst Jarena was now responsible for looking after the Academy’s Pokemon. Violet was currently looking after most of the technical side of Dylan’s role, though Dylan’s technical skills eclipsed her own, and she found herself more often trying to isolate the general area of whatever task needed doing, and instead of doing it herself, like Dylan would have, arranging experts to come in. Jon knew that realistically speaking, this was how it should have been, and knew that the Diamond Ladies would not stick around forever. He knew that in addition to the five teacher roles that had been left, he’d likely need three people to fill what Dylan did outside of his teaching, and also knew that when the Diamond Ladies left, he’d need to replace them too. And this was presuming the Academy didn’t grow any larger.

    Jon looked around at the student cabins, before looking at the staff lodge. It had eleven bedrooms in it, though only four were in use. However, as he did the maths in his head, he figured that for next summer, he’d need a total of a dozen employees living on site. He’d just be able to get by if he put one of the current employees in the spare room of he and Alyssa’s house, which sat empty since the end of the Spiritwater Crisis, when Dylan moved out of it and into the lodge with Willow and the Diamond Ladies. If the program kept growing in popularity, he’d need another lodge for the staff it would require, lest he force them to share rooms. However, as Jon looked at the student lodges, he knew that they could not fit any more students without building more, and the property didn’t have space for more. Even the stadium would be getting cramped if they continued growing at this rate…

    “Daddy,” called out Amelia, getting Jon’s attention. He looked over to where his daughter was playing with Jon’s Absol, scratching it behind the ears, though keeping her hand well clear of the blade that protruded from the side of its head.

    Alyssa was working that day from Lilycove, and for the first time, had left Amelia at home with Jon, without making a point of checking that one of the others would be around. When his condition had been worsening, and seizures were shifting from being a worst-case-scenario to a fact of life, they had agreed that Jon would not look after Amelia alone, lest he have a seizure and there not be another adult around. However, since the dosage of his medication had been figured out, Jon had not had an attack since, with the exception of the one he had the night of Blackstone’s attack, when he had forgotten to take his meds that morning. Since then, he had been vigilant, and in the two and a half months since the attack, had not had another. It would be months before he would be allowed to drive again, and even longer before Alyssa would let him ride the motorcycle he got as payment for his contribution to ending the Spiritwater Crisis, but none of that mattered. For the first time in many months, he was considered safe enough to spend time alone with his daughter.

    “What’s up?”

    “When can I get a Pokemon?”

    The question took Jon by surprise. He hadn’t received a Pokemon himself until he was eleven, receiving the Eevee that would evolve into his Jolteon as a gift from his grandfather. However there hadn’t been a Pokemon in the house before that, as Pokemon were not a part of his family life there. He had no intention of waiting that long to let Amelia have her own, given how she had grown up around them, and even at her young age, had a love and respect for them. She was naturally curious, and wanted to learn more about them. Every one of Jon, Alyssa and Dylan’s Pokemon she had seen, she had learnt the species of by the time she was four, and the only one that she was initially too scared to approach was Dylan’s Darkrai. She was still yet to see Giratina, given that Jon had only used it for emergencies at the Academy, and she had thankfully not been a witness to them, and even Rayquaza, after originally shocking her with its size, had earned her admiration after watching it battle. Jon was confident that she knew each one was a living being, worthy of respect, and that if not treated with that respect, could hurt her. This was not enough to scare her away, but instead fuelled her curiosity even more.

    As Jon considered what age would be a good time to start, he tried to remember how old his former students had mentioned being when they got their first Pokemon. Dylan had been nine, though on paper, Jon knew that had been a bad idea. He received a Treecko as his first Pokemon, having partaken in Pokemon Trainer School which ran after his normal school day, and receiving the Pokemon through that program. Dylan however, like Jon, had never had a Pokemon in the house, and Jon knew that not long before that, Dylan’s mum had left, leaving him alone with his stepdad, and when things became hostile, Dylan looked for any reason to get out of the house, even if it meant learning to battle when he really didn’t care for it, and taking responsibility for a Pokemon to do so.

    Abbee had mentioned getting her Cyndaquil when she was twelve, and at first Jon thought it was unusual that it had been so late, given the fact that her father and brother were both trainers, however he remembered that the only reason he knew that, was Abbee telling the story of letting Cyndaquil sleep in her bed, and it accidentally set it on fire. Now he realised that maybe Richard, Abbee’s father, had intentionally given his daughter a little longer, especially if he knew she would pick the Fire-Type starter. He made a mental note himself to not let Amelia pick anything Fire, Electric or Poison Type as her first.

    Jon didn’t know how old Justin would have been, nor Chris, but remembered Charlotte sharing about her childhood. She had three older brothers, ranging from eight to fourteen years older than her, and based on the conversation about Charlotte’s experience having her Junior League matches missed by her parents because her brother’s soccer team made it to state championships, Jon figured she must have started battling quite young. It made sense given her incredible skill. Maybe eight years old?

    Depending on the Pokemon, Jon was almost considering allowing Amelia to have one herself when she was six, though knew he would need to convince Alyssa. And as he thought about it, an idea began to form.

    It would be months before Dylan would consider leasing out the Zorua who were hatching in his shed with each passing day. Pokemon that were going to be pets exclusively usually could be sold at two months old, though for battling Pokemon, it was usually six. This allowed for breeders to identify any potential physical problems that would only become obvious once the Pokemon grew, to be identified before they could be made worse or result in other injuries in battle. For any Zorua that Dylan intended on leasing to battlers, it would be June at least before the first one went, and at that point, Amelia would have just turned five.

    The more he thought about it though, the more he realised just how good of a fit Zorua would be as Amelia’s first Pokemon. It was the sort that would grow her into an exceptional battler. Given the main tactic employed by trainers using Zorua and Zoroark was to have it impersonate another Pokemon, it would effectively force Amelia to have to be incredibly observant of other Pokemon, so that she could make the most of Zorua’s illusions. Things like knowing which moves both Pokemon can perform, and even knowing whether the difference in speed between Zorua and the Pokemon it is impersonating will give it away. Skills that other trainers take for granted, Amelia would need to know to battle well with this Pokemon, and by extension, any further Pokemon she caught, she would be able to battle even better with.

    “I’ll talk to mummy about it,” Jon answered. “You’ll have to wait a while, but maybe not too long…”

    Amelia beamed at Jon, however he felt his phone buzz in his pocket. Wondering if it was Dylan, notifying him of the third Zorua to hatch, he withdrew it, before seeing the notification wasn’t a text message. It was from the video doorbell at the property gate. Standing at the gate, waiting for a response, was a man in his early thirties, possibly a year or two younger than Jon himself, in a smart business suit, and looking a little nervous. Jon pressed the button on his phone, allowing it to act as an intercom with the doorbell.

    “I’ll be there in a minute…”

    The man seemed to jump when Jon’s voice rang out of the doorbell, and Jon, prompting Amelia and Absol to follow him, walked towards the gate, where his guest was waiting for him.

    “Mister Drake! It’s great to meet you,” the man said, as Jon approached. “Isaac Stanton. Land Titles Office…”

    Jon looked at the man in confusion, as he opened the gate, and accepted his enthusiastic offer of a handshake.

    “Jon, and this is my daughter Lili,” Jon said, his tone betraying his confusion, before he asked the question on his mind. “This isn’t something to do with all that acquisition business a few years back, is it?”

    Stanton’s eyes widened, as he realised his error, and quickly raised his hands in a placating gesture. Jon could tell this man was nervous, and eager to make a good first impression, and figured Jon’s every growing legendary status was likely not helping.

    “No, I’m sorry, I should have been clearer!” Stanton apologised. “Land Titles Office, Unova…”

    Jon found himself more confused. For a second he wondered if this had something to do with Dylan, though realised quickly it couldn’t. Whilst Jon and Alyssa had offered to be a guarantor to Dylan’s land, he had refused, not wanting to place that level of risk on them, and having already made enough good steps to be able to get the land without such a drastic measure. Even if it were to do with Dylan’s employment at the Academy, that was a concern of the bank, seeing as the developer who sold Dylan the land would have already been paid for it in full. And even the bank was aware that Dylan was no longer an employee of the Eon Academy. He wondered whether Dylan needed a reference for some permit to do with his business, though wondered why that would result in an in-person visit from someone in the Land Titles Office.

    “Mr. Drake, I see you’re a little confused, so suggest we find somewhere to sit down, so I can explain myself,” Stanton said, forcing himself to sound a little more confident. Jon realised how poor of a host he was being, before nodding his apology, and inviting Stanton to follow him.

    The pair walked towards Jon and Alyssa’s cottage, all the while Stanton seemed to be taking in the sights of the Academy facilities. To the untrained observer, it simply looked like almost any summer camp, though it seemed to lack any sort of outdoor activity facilities like rock climbing walls and ropes courses. Finally, once the pair were inside, sitting at the small table in the kitchen, and Jon had prepared both of them a coffee, Stanton explained himself.

    “I’ve come to see you because the Unovan Government has been impressed by the Eon Academy…”

    “By Abbee?” Jon asked, knowing that Abbee had already made a name for herself in the short time she had been Nimbasa City’s Gym Leader.

    “Partially. Mister Kingswood just arrived at Virbank City yesterday, and I believe has just beaten his first gym in Unova as well. And Miss Jones has got everyone waiting in great anticipation for the next High Seas Tournament,” Stanton explained. “All of these things are impressive, however the reason for my visit is due to the effect the Eon Academy has had on tourism and public perception of Eastern Hoenn, and Mossdeep City…”

    Jon’s eyes widened, as Stanton continued.

    “Did you know that tourism to Eastern Hoenn has doubled since you opened the Eon Academy? Not just during summers but all year round?” Stanton asked, without waiting for an answer. “People used to write off Eastern Hoenn for travel, with complaints about there being too much water…”

    “Well, you did catch the ferry here, didn’t you?” Jon asked, nodding in the direction of Lilycove. “The two hour trip isn’t for everyone.”

    “Agreed, but your Academy has caused more people to give it a chance in the last four years than any tourism campaign from the Hoenn Government,” Stanton said, growing excited. Jon however was a little worried.

    “Look, it has helped, but that’s a small part,” Jon explained. “Between the meteor crashing in 2019, the Deoxys incident that summer, the acquisition order, and even the two attacks here last summer, we’ve spent more time on the news than I would have liked. That, and the Hoenn government gave us a lot of grants that allowed us to fund more here, hoping that it would bring more people to Hoenn. If not for that-”

    “Exactly!” Stanton interjected, growing even more excited. “That’s why I’m here!”

    Jon gave Stanton a puzzled look, as Stanton continued.

    “Have you ever heard of Castelia Ridge Academy?”

    Jon shook his head as Stanton continued.

    “It was a private school, considered one of the best in Unova, however the last principal made a few poor decisions with regards to funding. He had proposed a state of the art overhaul of facilities, including renovating student and staff accommodation, as well as building a Pokemon stadium larger than that of the S.S. Wishmaker…”

    “That is quite a big endeavour…” Jon noted, having already been floored by the costs of the site projects at the Eon Academy. Stanton noted.

    “Exactly! The school overspent, relying on fundraising drives, government grants and that sort of thing to make up a significant portion of the bill. But when the income they expected didn’t come in, they increased school fees and cut costs elsewhere. Parents ended up paying more for their students to go to this elite private school, where there were more crowded classrooms, less reliable internet, lower quality food, all that sort of stuff, and what do you think the parents did?”

    “Pulled their kids out?” Jon asked, as Stanton nodded.

    “First they complained, and demanded an explanation, and when it was made clear the school had made financial decisions it couldn’t afford, and this was the result, students were pulled out in masses. Within six months of the works being completed, the school had declared bankruptcy and liquidated. And that’s where we swooped in…”

    “The government couldn’t help them?” Jon asked, slightly surprised that the government had let this school crumble in order to purchase the property. He found himself remembering the Hoenn Department of Defence doing the same thing to him. The acquisition order that arrived before Jon could repair the damage from the Deoxys attack, and barred him from making any changes to the property. As such, Jon would have been forced to sell it based on its value in the damaged state.

    “It would have been a poor financial decision for the government to bail them out, and would set a bad precedent for us and other private schools. The public schools would be furious at the amount it would have cost us that could have gone to them, and it would give other private schools ideas that they could overspend and we’d swoop in to save the day and keep them from going under,” Stanton explained. “It may sound low, but it was in everyone’s best interest that we didn’t get them out of this. But also, we realised this could be a good investment, with the right coat of paint…”

    Jon gave Stanton a quizzical look, prompting the man to continue.

    “Effectively, we have a facility that can house up to five hundred students, with the largest stadium in Unova, sitting unused in the middle of the largest city in the region,” Stanton explained. “And we would like for it to become an additional campus for the Eon Academy…”

    Jon’s eyes widened at the offer. At first, it seemed like his golden ticket. He had been thinking not even half an hour earlier how he was going to struggle with the rate of expansion that the Academy was likely to grow at, largely in terms of sheer space. And the idea of being able to teach even more people to battle, using the same methods and tactics his grandpa had taught him made it very appealing. However then reality set in.

    “You would be offered an interest free mortgage for the property by the government, and would be given priority for grants in education, recreation and tourism to help get things moving. The initial cost to you would be nothing, and we expect that once it is branded as an Eon Academy, between the summer program and the potential income the facilities can provide throughout the rest of the year, that it would effectively pay for itself…” Stanton explained. “For example, the stadium could be rented for large-scale events in Castelia, and the accommodation during the academic year could be rented to students at Castelia University. The possibilities of how this facility could generate income are endless.”

    “And on a twenty-five year loan term, I’d be the owner of a property worth millions upon by the time I’m sixty. By the time I have grandchildren, we would be well off enough that they may never have to work a day in their lives…” Jon said, though his tone didn’t sound as pleased with that as Stanton would have expected. “I’ll be real Mister Stanton, this offer sounds too good to be true. Surely your government would rather lease me the property?”

    “We see value in what an Eon Academy in Unova could bring, and want to make sure we are making this offer worth your while, especially given how poorly discussions of property sales between yourself and other governments have been in the past,” Stanton explained, his tone becoming a little more serious. “That property is worth millions and will only become worth more. But consider this; ticket sales for next year’s High Seas Tournament are triple what they were this time last year, and projectSTN.com is receiving that much web-traffic that I am certain Mister Kingswood is fighting off sponsorship offers with a stick in order to keep his website that ad-free. I am aware that Mister Squier is in the process of starting a business, and popularity surrounding the Nimbasa City Gym has only increased since Elesa left, something which none of us thought possible. Should Mister Collins choose to dream higher than the Sinnoh P.D. I’m sure that people would flock to him…”

    Stanton took a sip of his coffee, considering his words carefully before continuing.

    “You have shown a skill in producing legends, Mister Drake. Even now, three of the most historically hated trainers in the world, are growing in popularity under your employment-”

    “They did stop Agatha…” Jon interjected.

    “But whose Twitter account was used in their live stream revealing themselves?” Stanton asked. “And since last summer, their popularity online has grown at the fastest rate it has since the truth came out five years ago…”

    Jon nodded in understanding, as Stanton kept explaining.

    “Yes, we'd be selling and breaking even on a source of passive income, but longer term, investing in you, and the institution you have created would make that investment back in record time. But we can’t do that without you, and the Eon Academy, and we know that,” Stanton concluded. “Sure, we could lease you the building, and make money off it. But we’d rather make it really worth your while…”

    Jon went silent as he considered this. He believed Stanton, granted he’d be getting Justin to look over any contract that he was expected to sign, to make sure Stanton was telling the truth. And it was an incredible offer. But…

    “I need to be real with you Mister Stanton, I’d need to discuss this with my wife, but-”

    “Isaac. And I completely get that! My wife would murder me if I made this sort of decision without consulting her!” Stanton interjected, though Jon shook his head.

    “But I think it is most likely going to be a no,” Jon explained, and when he saw Stanton begin to speak, quickly interjected. “Not because this offer hasn’t been made worth my while…”

    Stanton gave Jon a puzzled look, as Jon continued.

    “I couldn’t do both. I couldn’t run a program here, and one in Castelia City at the same time. And in theory, whilst I could try and train someone to run one of the two programs, I’d be running the one here, which long term would be the smaller one, and there are very few people I’d trust to bear the Eon Academy’s name, in a position where more can go wrong than here…” Jon explained. “Alyssa and I wanted to move to Mossdeep before the idea of the Eon Academy even crossed my mind, because it was where we wanted to raise a family, and that hasn’t changed. Neither of us can be convinced to leave, and it’s not fair on my family that I’d leave for three months at a time to run the Castelia Eon Academy…”

    “Surely you could train someone to run it for you?” Stanton asked. “What about Miss Silvers? Rumour has it that she has become quite a formidable battler, and it almost seems like a waste, given the fact can’t compete…”

    Jon overlooked the somewhat tactless reference to Cassandra’s ban, knowing that it was the biggest part of her life that she wanted to see changed.

    “I’d trust Cass to run it, although I’d want to have a little more time to train her in terms of battling, but honestly, the Eon Academy is my dream, not hers. She has other things she wants to do with life. Same as Violet and Jarena. I’d trust either of them, though I would want to do further training. But they’ve got goals that will take them away from here. I don’t want them giving those up for my dream, when really, I’m already living it here…” Jon explained. “I wouldn’t have asked that of the other five before they left, and I won’t ask it of them. And if I’m training somebody to run an Academy twice as large as the one I’m running here, I would not let just anyone do that…”

    Finally, Stanton seemed to understand why Jon’s answer was what it was. It wasn’t that Jon disliked the idea, and the fact Jon was going to this length to explain himself only made Stanton understand even more than Jon would like to say yes. However, this was something he couldn’t get past.

    Stanton took a second to regain his composure, before withdrawing a business card from his shirt pocket.

    “I understand Mister Drake, and wish we could have come up with something to allow this to work,” Stanton explained, handing Jon the business card. “Should anything change, or you have an idea on how we can make this work, please reach out…”

    Jon nodded, accepting the card.

    “Thanks for your visit. And call me Jon.”

    The afternoon hours seemed to pass in a blur, as Jon kept thinking about Stanton’s offer. Alyssa returned home in the late hours of the afternoon, and though Jon had told Amelia he’d speak to Alyssa about when she could have her first Pokemon, it was now the last thing on his mind. Alyssa had caught on quickly that Jon was deep in thought, and when she probed him about it, he told her about Stanton’s visit, and the offer. Upon explaining his reasons for turning it down, Alyssa nodded in understanding, before leaving it there. Whilst she didn’t want to feel like she was getting in the way of Jon’s dreams, she appreciated the fact that despite him wanting to accept the offer, that Jon, through no sense of guilt or duty, but genuinely wanting to, prioritised herself and Amelia over this.

    The conversation about Stanton’s visit didn’t continue after Alyssa’s initial query, though Jon struggled to shake the thought. After dinner, Jon made his way down to the staff lodge, where Cassandra, Violet, Jarena and Willow all lived. During the academic year, Jon made a point of knocking on the door of the lodge before entering. Whilst during summer, the bottom floor was a glorified thoroughfare and common room for staff, during the rest of year, this was the home of the four women he was coming to visit, and as such wanted to respect their boundaries and privacy.

    “Come in,” called Violet’s voice. Jon opened the unlocked door, before stepping in, and noting how dark it was. As he entered, he was struck by the smell of alcohol, and the light from the TV in the lounge, paused on an odd frame of a large cauldron. He followed the sound of jovial laughter to the lounge, where he found the four of them across two couches, each with a can of some sort of alcoholic drink in front of them. He spotted beer, cider and premixed whiskey, and all, whilst being far from inebriated, seemed cheerful, and a little out of it. Jon couldn’t help but grin at the sight.

    “What’s going on?” Jon asked, taking in the scene.

    “It’s our last night before some of us leave to visit family for Christmas,” Jarena said with a grin. “Violet found this really corny witch movie, and we decided to take a swig whenever they did something stupid…”

    “Like turn themselves into an Eevee?” Jon asked with a grin, before dodging a pillow that had been thrown from where Cassandra sat.

    “Watch it!” Cassandra warned. “Alyssa and I have both seen you as Snowball the Swearing Altaria, and I may feel like showing these ladies just how amusing of a sight that is…”

    Jon picked up one of the empty cans, before giving it a sniff, and making a show at wincing at the smell of the alcohol.

    “Any more of these, and I’d wonder whether you could pull that off…”

    Jon went to step forward, however his feet refused to leave the ground. He looked at Cassandra, the only one of the four currently capable of using nonverbal Shadowcraft, who smirked at him.

    “Come on, I’m old, and need to sit down…”

    Cassandra released the spell, before shuffling aside as Jon sat on the end of the couch.

    “So what brings you down here?” Violet asked, as Jon shrugged.

    “I figured Cass and Jarena would be going tomorrow, and had this thought before,” Jon explained. “I figure you’ve all been here close to a year and a half at this point, and I know we spoke back then about what you were all hoping to achieve long term. But really, I’ve just assumed that nothing has changed, and only realised that today…”

    Jon winced as the festive mood that seemed to be present when he entered started to dissolve.

    “What brought this on?” Cassandra asked, sounding a little sceptical.

    “I spent today working on job listings to fill the gaps left by the others, and had the thought that you all probably don’t want to be here forever…” Jon said, half-truthfully. “I know you’re all onboard for next summer, but it probably wouldn’t be a bad idea for me to be a little more mindful of your plans after that…”

    The four witches glanced at one-another, before Cassandra, probably feeling the pressure having been the leader of the Diamond Ladies, spoke first.

    “Well I guess for me,” Cassandra began, before thinking about it. “At some point I should look into appealing my ban. It’s something I have to do to move forward, but honestly, I’ve just been putting off because I’ve felt like if I jump the gun, and haven’t proven myself enough, that it might hurt my chances…”

    Jon nodded, as Cassandra continued.

    “Once I get it appealed and revoked, then my plan will be to travel and compete, like Chris and Charlotte did when they finished school,” Cassandra continued. “If you’re okay with it, I’d want to keep using the Academy as a home base between seasons, but honestly, if all went to plan, I’d hardly be here…”

    “You’d be welcome,” Jon assured. “It’d be pretty quiet if the entire time outside of summers it was just ‘Liss, Lili and I…”

    Cassandra nodded, before looking over to Jarena, who took the hint that it was her turn.

    “I still want to start a Pokemon shelter, and am thinking that once Dylan is a bit more settled, I’d ask if I could rent some space on his property and set up there,” Jarena explained, before addressing Jon directly. “Though don’t say anything yet. I don’t want any pressure on him to say yes…”

    Jon grinned at Jarena, before giving his word he wouldn’t bring it up and letting her continue.

    “Honestly, it just seems like a good fit. Dylan is wanting to breed Pokemon, but have the property set up as some sort of reserve, whilst I’m wanting to take in abandoned or injured Pokemon and rehabilitate them,” Jarena explained. “For me, it’s a matter of waiting until a good time to approach Dylan about it, but also saving money to be able to start myself…”

    Growing uncomfortable with the silence, and the attention on her, Jarena nudged Violet, who sat next to her.

    “What about you?”

    “If I’m being honest, I think I might look into working with the League,” Violet answered. “Not just in response to something like Agatha, but actually being an operative. Granted, I may be too high profile, but you were able to do some good in Alola, despite everyone knowing who you are…”

    Violet nodded at Jon as she said this.

    “Granted it may be more as a consultant, or looking after a squad. But honestly, the idea of just competing, or running a shelter, as cool as they sound, bores me,” Violet said. “Heck, the idea of doing any sort of normal job bores me. We’re as far from normal as people can be, so why would I look past that and go become an accountant or something?”

    Jon nodded in understanding, before looking at Willow.

    “What about you?” Jon asked. “Part of the reason you came here initially was to not have to separate Latias from her brother, and to help keep us safe from Shadowcraft attacks…”

    Willow considered what Jon said. It had not been the first time she wondered this. She felt a little guilty that Jon kept her on paid staff, considering her role was that narrow, and didn’t warrant the amount of hours she was paid for. She had raised it with him earlier in the year, offering to reduce her hours, but he had shrugged it off.

    “Honestly, after the mess in Alola, I just want to be able to live in peace, and study Shadowcraft,” Willow explained. “Uncover more of its secrets, without turning into a raging lunatic like a certain geriatric hag…”

    “Here here,” Jarena called out, raising her can of cider, to the amusement of all present.

    “That being said, I know that I can’t stay here forever,” Willow began, though when Jon went to speak. “That I shouldn’t stay here forever. And honestly, Shadowcraft on its own doesn’t pay the bills…”

    “We needed to add a good measure of cheating to do that,” Violet added, earning a laugh from Cassandra and Jarena.

    “Point being, I shouldn’t live here forever and get paid to make sure the spells that I know will work until we remove them, keep working,” Willow explained. “I don’t know what life will look like though. But as long as it is relatively stress free, and I can focus on my Shadowcraft, I’m not particularly fussed…”

    Jon nodded, considering the words he just heard. Whilst Willow didn’t have concrete plans like the others, she had said she wanted something that wouldn’t stress her out too much, and would allow her to focus on Shadowcraft.

    “Jon, what’s really going on?” Cassandra asked, her tone indicating she would only be accepting one variety of answers. “You’ve had weeks to ask this, and I know you’ve been working on those job listings for months. Something stinks…”

    Jon looked over at her, and knew she meant business.

    “I had a visitor today come by from the Unovan Government…” Jon explained. “To make a long story short, they’ve got a state-of-the-art facility, that could run a program twice as big as here, that if I agree, they are willing to hand over to me to turn into a second Eon Academy. And I really like the idea. Not even for the business side, but the idea that my grandpa’s teaching would get this massive opportunity to be spread, and more incredible trainers are created…”

    Jon considered whether to be honest with them or not, before remembering that Willow did know how to perform a spell that would force him to tell the truth, and Cassandra would be able to prevent him from escaping it.

    “I turned down the offer, because the only way for this to work without Alyssa and I moving there, would be to train someone else to run it,” Jon explained. “There are a handful of people I would trust with my grandpa’s legacy, but honestly, I know all of them have their own dreams, and I don’t want them putting them on hold to do this for me…”

    There was a silence throughout the room, and Jon, feeling uncomfortable, spoke to fill it.

    “I came because before I turn this down, I wanted to make sure that none of you wanted this…” Jon explained. “I didn’t want to make a decision for you, and not offer it, without knowing it’s the decision you’d make…”

    “I get that…” Cassandra said quietly, as she imagined how difficult of a decision this must have been. “God, I don’t envy you…”

    “Yeah, it almost feels like a shame to turn it down…” Jarena offered.

    “No almost about it,” Violet interjected. “It is a shame. But if it’s not going to work-”

    “What about me?”

    Jon and the Diamond Ladies looked over at Willow, who had uttered the words, to all their shock.

    “I know I’m not much of a battler, but I am willing to learn,” Willow added, feeling self conscious as the attention sat on her. “The fact I would have been decimated if not for Cass when Blackstone attacked is as good a reason as any. But this…”

    “Don’t forget, we knew we couldn’t win,” Cassandra offered. “That’s why we negotiated…”

    “Still,” Willow said, looking back to Jon. “Is there any reason you wouldn’t want me to do it?”

    Jon looked at Willow, shocked at what he was hearing.

    “I thought you wanted something stress free?” Jon asked. “I don’t know about you, but this job hasn’t exactly been the most relaxing at times…”

    Relatively stress free,” Willow corrected. “Remember, my last boss paraded around Akala killing people, and was trying to bring about the end of the world. That’s when she wasn’t asking me to let her kill Latias to speed up her plans. Compared to that, running the Academy, when there aren’t attacks like last summer, honestly sounds like a nice change of pace…”

    Jon was quiet as he considered this, before Willow realised she had been a little too presumptuous.

    “I mean, it’s your decision!” Willow added. “If you wouldn’t want it to be me, I get that!”

    “No, honestly, I think it would be great,” Jon suggested. “It’s almost perfect. You're the only other person who can bring the Eon Academy’s namesake to the new campus…”

    Willow nodded, having not even considered that. Jon continued.

    “But honestly, because your role here hasn’t had much of a focus on handling Pokemon, I’ve looked past your inexperience,” Jon explained. “Between now and this new Academy opening, which would be summer after next at the earliest, you and I will need to be prioritising getting you to championship level above all else. We can’t have your students catching up to you too quickly. Trust me, it gets to their heads…”

    Cassandra barked out a laugh at the implication, knowing that at this point, none of Jon’s former five students were the sort to let that knowledge swell their ego too much.

    “Every day will be training, and it will be harder than I’ve ever pushed anyone,” Jon explained. “Even Cass, because we had more time to spread this out over, has had an easier time than what I have planned for you. Are you okay with that?”

    Willow nodded, as Jon grinned.

    “I’ll still need to check with Alyssa, and make sure she doesn’t have some huge reason against this idea. But we will both need new Pokemon, to spread the training out over, and not push them too hard…” Jon explained, before looking at the time. “I’ll text you to confirm that Alyssa is on board. And if she is, eight tomorrow morning in the stadium…”

    Jon stood up with a grin, and left the room, waving farewell to the four witches, as Willow, realising what she had just signed up for, put the can she had been drinking from down on the coffee table, not wanting it to make tomorrow morning more difficult than it already would be…

    ************************************************** ************************************************** *****

    “You’ve got to be s**tting me…” Abbee muttered as she looked at the screen on her laptop. She sat in her office in the Nimbasa City Gym, on the last day before the Gym was due to close for the Christmas break. It was late afternoon on Christmas Eve, and the Gym was practically empty. The Gym trainers were largely tidying up the building, so that it would be in a good state when the Gym officially reopened on January second. However, Abbee had a hunch she may need to be present there at one point during the break. This however, had nothing to do with the email she was reading, which had completely soured her mood, having been in good spirits at the thought of taking a week off, and spending Christmas and New Years Eve with Dylan, as well as some other plans she had for that week. Now she wondered whether she’d be in work mode regardless.

    ”I’ve managed to put a choke order on this for twelve hours, however I won’t be able to hold it any longer. You need to make a statement.

    Alyssa.”


    Underneath the email was a draft of an article at BattleNET.

    ’Participant injured at Nimbasa City Gym.’

    ‘On Monday December 19th, Bianca Curtis of Virbank City, aged seventeen, thought that this day would be unlike any other. On this day, she would be attending Nimbasa City Gym, hoping to face off against new Gym Leader, Abbee Strauss, in order to earn a Bolt Badge. Little did she know that this visit would be unlike any of the three other Gyms she had challenged at this point.

    Despite the Gym being quiet in the lead-up to Christmas, Bianca was required to battle one of Nimbasa City’s Gym Trainers, which until recently, Abbee Strauss had made up part of the ranks of, a victory over which would qualify her to face the rising star Gym Leader. During this battle, however, a stray Thunder Bolt attack from the Emolga that Bianca’s Whirlipede managed to deflect, struck her arm, burning straight through her sweater and blouse, and leaving a significant burn on Bianca’s upper arm.

    “Whilst the burn will heal completely, I have been warned against travelling due to the risk of infection, which has left me stranded in Nimbasa City, when my original plan was to return home and see my family for Christmas. The only thing that stings more about missing this holiday with them, is the wound on my arm caused by this whole ordeal…”


    Abbee stopped reading from then on, knowing there was little more she needed to know right now. Minimising the email, she opened up the GMS, Gym Management System, and opened up a search query. Every trainer that entered the Gym for a challenge needed to scan their Trainer Card to compete, even if they only faced a Gym Trainer and not Abbee, the Gym Leader. She had hoped that this article was simply untrue, however knew that likely wasn’t the case. She typed Bianca’s name into the search field before pressing enter. Within a second, a single record appeared, and within moments of Abbee clicking on it, she swore under her breath.

    ’Trainer battled: Tessa Wulff. Result: Forfeit…’

    “S**t, s**t, s**t…” Abbee muttered, as she closed the program and then opened the software that contained the security camera footage. She punched in the time that Bianca’s card was scanned, and clicked the playhead across, until she saw Tessa battling a young woman, who barely even looked like an adult. She skipped ahead until Tessa’s Emolga was battling, and watched.

    Sure enough, it didn’t take long for Whirlipede to curl up into a ball, and Emolga’s attack bounced off its hide. Deflected, it struck Bianca’s arm, as the trainer recoiled, and Tessa stopped the match, approaching the challenger in a panic. The pair spoke for a few minutes, before both Pokemon were called back and Bianca left the building.

    Abbee hung her head over the back of her chair, looking up at the ceiling of her office, and taking a deep breath. She knew what she had to do, and was not looking forward to it. And she knew that there would be backlash from a few of the Gym Trainers. However, she knew that this was going to be a defining moment that would impact her future as Gym Leader, and to take the easy option would likely cement her status among her employees.

    Abbee stood up, before walking to the front door. She stepped out of her office onto the balcony that overlooked the large, industrial looking warehouse that made up the Gym. Looking around, she saw various trainers with brooms and mops, cleaning up, before realising she couldn’t see Tessa or Blake there. Rolling her eyes to herself, Abbee made her way to the break room downstairs. As she made her way around the corner, she heard casual chatter, recognising both voices before walking in.

    Upon realising who was walking in, both trainers went quiet, as Abbee looked at the pair of them, before Tessa spoke.

    “We were in the middle of something when we were supposed to have our afternoon break,” Tessa informed Abbee, her tone indicating that she was doing Abbee a favour by explaining herself. “We’ll be out in ten.”

    Abbee shook her head.

    “Tessa, I need to speak to you in my office, and Blake, you’ll need to get back out there and help now if everything is going to be done before closing time,” Abbee explained, knowing Tessa was lying about this being in lieu of their standard break.

    “But I’m entitled to an hour's worth of breaks-” Blake began.

    “You’re also expected to be here on time this morning, and you weren’t,” Abbee said to Blake. He opened his mouth to argue, but Abbee, surprising herself at how assertive she was being, quickly shut it down. “You are late every second day because of the traffic. Most people by now would have considered getting up and leaving earlier. You’re paid to work eight hours here, and I don’t want to wait another ten minutes after closing to get the work I’m paying you for. So from now on, if you’re late, it comes out of your break time…”

    Blake’s eyes widened, having not had something so blunt said to him by Abbee in her time as Gym Leader. Until now, Abbee had been hoping that with enough time to adjust, the pair would grow to respect her, or at least pretend to, like they did Elesa.

    “Tessa, you’re with me,” Abbee said, before walking out, not leaving any more room for discussion. Both trainers left the break room, Tessa following Abbee to the stairway, and Blake making his way to join the other trainers.

    Both trainers walked silently up the stairs, and entered Abbee’s office. Abbee was glad Victini was in his Pokeball for this, knowing that he would enjoy seeing what he was about to see a little too much. Abbee closed the door behind her, before looking at Tessa, who was three years older than Abbee, and looked at the Gym Leader with annoyance.

    “Tessa, what happened on Monday?” Abbee asked, her tone cold and to the point.

    “I don’t know?” Tessa said, feigning ignorance. “It was a normal day wasn’t it? I battled challengers, like I do every other-”

    “Watch your tone.” Abbee interjected, having grown beyond tired of how Tessa spoke down to Abbee, as if she were an idiot. “This doesn’t ring a bell? ’Participant injured in Nimbasa Gym…’

    Tessa went silent for a second, realising she couldn’t argue her way out of this, and instead became defensive.

    “It was an accident!” Tessa retorted angrily. “It’s a Pokemon Gym! Attacks go off course, and sometimes people are hit! That’s why we have the [i’]Enter at own risk’[/i] sign!”

    “I’ve been here for two years, and worked at the Academy for four years prior! I know accidents happen,” Abbee answered, noticing the briefest of eye rolls at Abbee’s reference to working at the Eon Academy. “But why the hell did it take a colleague sending me this, after she managed to get it delayed from being published, for me to find out?!”

    “Because I handled it!” Tessa argued. Abbee wanted to make a sarcastic comment about how well she had obviously handled it, however bit her tongue, knowing that it would only make the fallout of this even worse.

    “Firstly, you didn’t handle it! There are procedures for this sort of thing happening that you’ve been around long enough to know of! Before she even left the building there should have been an incident report filled, and signed by her,” Abbee remarked. “And secondly, it’s not your job to handle it, it’s mine! Because when things like this happen-”

    Abbee gestured at the article.

    ”It’s me they go after, not you!” Abbee scolded. “I’ve been referenced by name multiple times, despite not even knowing this happened, whilst you’re an unnamed Gym Trainer who the public won’t give a second thought reading this!”

    “Well what do you want from me?” Tessa asked angrily. “An apology?!”

    “It would have been nice,” Abbee answered back in exasperation. “But honestly, I’ve been wanting to work with you since I got this job, and you’ve made it clear that that’s the last thing you want…”

    Tessa gave Abbee a cold stare, as Abbee spoke into the light what had been brewing for months at this point.

    “I’ve given you chance after chance to get your act together, and do your job properly. I figured you’d stop sulking at some point or another, but it’s been months and nothing has changed,” Abbee continued, letting her tone relax to her business voice. “Now you have risked not only my reputation, but that of the entire Gym, by trying to hide things from me, and do my job without me knowing. And if I don’t make an example of you for this, it will only happen again…”

    Tessa’s eyes widened, as Abbee said what she knew she had to say.

    “I’m letting you go. Empty your locker tonight. As of right now, you are no longer an employee of Nimbasa City Gym…”

    “It’s Christmas Eve!” Tessa pleaded. “You’re going to fire me on Christmas Eve?!”

    “You’re right, it is Christmas Eve!” Abbee said, her tone rising. “In an hour, my boyfriend was supposed to be picking me up for dinner. But I now have to cancel, because I need to make a statement about this before it gets published, and try and smooth things over with the challenger. Hell, while everyone else gets to have the next week off, I will probably be working to deal with this so it doesn’t end up as a PR disaster, when had I not been kept in the dark, it could have been sorted in an afternoon!”

    Abbee moved to the door, done with the conversation. She moved to the balcony and was followed by Tessa, who slowed to a stop, and didn’t move. Having had enough of this, Abbee called out to the nearest employee.

    “Scott, take Tessa to her locker and help her empty it, then escort her out of the building,” Abbee called out, not caring to spare Tessa’s pride anymore. “If she doesn’t cooperate, call the police and send them to my office when they get here. I’ll be trying to get this mess cleaned up…”

    ************************************************** ************************************************** *****

    “I have to say, I knew she’d be able to handle it, but even knowing that, I’m still impressed…”

    Chris sat at a table, with a bottle of cola sitting in front of him, half empty. The room itself was odd to say the least. Lit by only a bunch of site-lamps, the floor was a concrete slab, and the walls surrounding him were simply timber frames, not having drywall attached to them. Not even the wiring had been run in the walls, the external ones having had brickwork done not even two days before. Even the steel roof seemed to groan, as it settled into its new permanent home. Chris looked around, and figured he was in the dining room.

    Dylan’s house was now at lockup, and given he had a guest for New Years, he had brought in a foldable table, a few camp chairs, whatever lights he could find, as well as all the heaters he owned, allowing him to play host in his new home, even if it was still under construction. Dylan had just taken the lid off a bottle of beer, and sat down. He had offered one to Chris, who politely refused. Chris was not planning on abstaining from alcohol forever, having promised Justin a beer when the pair visited Mossdeep. However, considering it was only relatively recently that he and Dylan had gotten back on good terms, and the last time before last summer they had met, Chris had gotten drunk and picked a fight with Dylan, he chose to politely decline.

    “Honestly, it’s been a nightmare for her,” Dylan answered. “If Alyssa hadn’t have tipped her off when she did, this would have been an absolute s**tshow…”

    It was December thirtieth, nearly a week since Abbee had received the tip off about the injury that Tessa had kept secret. Immediately, Abbee had made a statement, acknowledging that a challenger had been harmed, and that she had only just been made aware of it, and that the Gym Trainer had not followed protocol for reporting this type of incident and as such, disciplinary action had been taken.

    Where Abbee had shone was her attempt to get ahead in the eyes of the media. With Bianca Curtis having been required to stay in Castelia City and miss Christmas and New Years Eve with her family, Abbee had offered to use funds from the Gym to pay for Bianca to stay in a hotel for the week, as opposed to a communal room in a Pokemon Centre, stays in which were limited per year, and had also offered for Bianca to join her in her own Christmas and New Years celebrations. Whilst inviting a complete stranger to join them for these holidays was the last thing Abbee wanted, this had caused her popularity to skyrocket, in a situation where things could have gone incredibly poorly. Even now, Abbee was at home, writing emails to the Unova League, clarifying questions on the situation, and also responding to their queries, having received a complaint from Tessa, who claimed to have been unfairly dismissed.

    “Yeah, I can imagine…” Chris muttered, as something came to mind. “What happened to the Gym Trainer? The one who injured the girl?”

    “Abbee fired her. First time she had to fire someone,” Dylan explained, as Chris’ eyes widened. Realising why, Dylan made sure to clarify. “This trainer was a pain in the a**. She thought that Elesa would give her the job when she quit, and when Abbee was named the next Gym Leader, got really sour and b***hy about it. On paper, Abbee sacked her for not reporting the injury, but really, she had been disrespecting and undermining Abbee from the beginning and the only reason Abbee held out this long was because she wanted to try and make things work. Elesa had even given permission before she left for Abbee to do it.”

    “I don’t think I would have lasted this long,” Chris commented, as Dylan nodded, taking a sip of his beer. “At least, before kicking her out myself.

    “Honestly, once this mess is cleared, I think she’ll be happier for it,” Dylan added. “And this has made something clear to the other Gym Trainers. Abbee’s priority is the Gym and she will not hesitate to do what she needs to to keep things running smoothly. I’m hoping they will respect her a little more after this, be it out of admiration, fear, or a little bit of both…”

    Chris nodded, before having a thought.

    “So if this Bianca chick is gonna be spending New Years Eve with us…”

    Dylan nodded.

    “You’ll have a spectator for your match with Abbee,” Dylan explained.

    “Do you think she’ll give me an all out battle?” Chris asked. “I’ll be real, STN has been a bit less exciting than I thought it would be…”

    Dylan gave Chris a puzzled look.

    “The Galar League ended in a giant tournament where Pokemon were healed between matches, and Leon was tough, sure, but I still didn’t end up using Hydreigon or Lugia,” Chris explained. “The Kalos League actually had an Elite Four, so I had to battle all four and then the Champion without a healing machine, which once you’ve done it, isn’t as hard as it sounds…”

    “So what, you had to battle twenty five or so Pokemon with your team of six?” Dylan asked, shocked that Chris was implying this was anything less than difficult. Chris nodded, taking a sip of his drink.

    “This is why I was at the College of the North Wind before last summer. To train in this,” Chris explained. “Camilla’s best bit of advice, and honestly, it sounds too simple, but it works, is to assign one of your six Pokemon to each Elite Four member and Champion. And your sixth is to clean up the mess if things go south…”

    “But you’re talking about one of your Pokemon being able to take on five of theirs and win…” Dylan asked. “Even Jon struggled to take out three of Camilla’s with just Blaziken.”

    “He did, but he wasn’t allowed held items, was facing a Legendary Pokemon, and a trainer who didn’t specialise in a single type” Chris answered. “In Elite Four challenges, held items are legal provided they can be activated by the Pokemon, and aren’t changed midway. Additionally, each of the Elite Four specialises in a single type, and none have Legendary Pokemon…”

    “So the Kalos League?” Dylan asked. “Run me through it…”

    “Even easier. Four Pokemon with each Elite Four, and I could choose the order,” Chris explained. “Garchomp took on the Fire Specialist, holding a Smooth Rock. Used Sandstorm, which lasted longer because of the item, and between that, and its Sand Veil ability, barely took a hit before wiping out the Pokemon one by one. Dragonite had a Choice Band and took on the Water Type Specialist. Locked in Thunder Punch, and Dragonite wiped the floor with them. Charizard Mega Evolved and took down the Steel Type Specialist, and then Ninetales dealt with the Dragon Type trainer. It held Light Clay, which extends Aurora Veil. I had all four still standing, and they took on Diantha. When they fell, Hydreigon finished the job…”

    “So you’ve managed to do what many people only dream of, yet you’re looking more forward to battling Gym Leader number four more than that?” Dylan asked in shock. Chris shrugged.

    “I mean, it’s been a few years since we battled? If Abbee can’t go all out, maybe we can go toe to toe?”

    Dylan rolled his eyes. Despite not being [i]against[i] battling, he knew that he didn’t find it as fun as Chris did.

    “We’ll see how you feel after tomorrow’s match…”

    ************************************************** ************************************************** *****

    “I’ll be real, I wasn’t expecting a crowd…” Chris said quietly to Abbee, as the pair spoke in the middle of the Nimbasa Gym battlefield. Despite the Gym being technically closed, Abbee had reopened it for the day for this one challenge. Technically, Chris was required to beat a Gym Trainer first however all knew that it would be a waste of effort, and Abbee didn’t want to bring someone in on their week off for that. Deep down, Abbee knew that she would not have what it took to stop Chris. He had a goal in mind, and at this moment Abbee was what stood between himself and a Bolt Badge. Chris had been her superior in terms of battling since day zero, and Abbee had grown especially stronger when she and Chris had been an item, considering the amount of time they spent together, and what Abbee managed to learn from him. Despite this, Abbee was beyond excited. Gym Leaders generally had to hold back their skill to provide a challenge appropriate to their place in the sequence, which meant that Abbee hardly battled at her best in terms of work. The exception to that rule was against a trainer who they knew they could not win against, and would want nothing but the Gym Leader’s best. And Abbee knew that Chris would be disappointed if he beat Nimbasa City Gym Leader Abbee. Instead, he wanted to beat Former Eon Academy Classmate Abbee.

    Filling the stands were crowds of onlookers, cheering on both trainers. Abbee’s original plan was for this to be a private match, especially knowing that she would likely lose. However, Bianca Curtis sat in the front row, and had been the reason for this. In order to keep in the media’s good graces, Abbee had offered for Bianca to join her for her Christmas and New Year’s Eve plans, the latter had been planned for weeks to be this. The moment Bianca found out what would be happening, she asked Abbee if she could bring some friends along to watch. Knowing that it wouldn’t stop there, Abbee reluctantly agreed, and as word got out, she realised that she had little choice but to open the Gym to spectators, and, when approached by a local broadcasting company, to allow the battle to be broadcasted.

    “Don’t worry, this wasn’t my plan…” Abbee said before groaning. “Even when she’s been sacked, Tessa is still a pain in the a**...”

    Chris grinned, before offering Abbee a question.

    “How about we make this interesting?”

    “It’s not going to be interesting enough?” Abbee asked jokingly.

    “I mean, we can play this by the books if you want…” Chris said with a shrug. Abbee’s eyes widened.

    “No, if I have to treat this like any other gym battle, I’d lose it,” Abbee laughed. “Dylan doesn’t really care for battling, so I haven’t had a good battle since Blackstone.”

    Chris nodded in understanding.

    “Academy rules,” Chris offered. “Three Pokemon each, and they don’t have to be Electric Type…”

    Despite having less Pokemon to beat in order to win, three on three battles were higher stakes and required more strategizing. Mistakes were less forgiving, and once a Pokemon was used, it was locked in as one of the three, a technicality Chris had used to beat Dylan years earlier. Additionally, it meant that even when Abbee was down to her last Pokemon, it could still be one of four, and as such, Chris could only make guesses to which, with one notable exception.

    “I’m technically an Electric Gym Leader, so I need to make sure to work with that to some extent, but sure, three on three sounds good…”

    Both trainers made their way to their end of the battlefield, selecting a Pokemon each. When both were ready, a countdown appeared on the screen. Abbee had a hunch she knew where Chris would be going with this. And whilst she was playing into his hands, she knew as much as she wanted this to be a fun match between friends, she was there as Nimbasa City’s Gym Leader, and to some degree, needed to make sure she didn’t forget that.
    As the countdown reached zero, both trainers threw their Pokeballs forward, though Abbee had given a command before the light had even dissipated.

    “Cotton Guard!”

    Ampharos, still enveloped in the light of the Pokeball cried out, as its defence was increased to over double its natural capability. Abbee had to use at least one Electric Type Pokemon, and while Ampharos was the strongest of her Electric Types that she used in the Gym, it was also slow, especially when compared to almost all of Chris’ Pokemon. And whilst an attacking move was not viable this early, when Ampharos didn’t know who or where its opponent was, and its vision was obscured, a move that affected only itself was more than possible.

    The light dissipated, as Chris’ Garchomp was revealed, who, following a command from Chris, was bearing down on Ampharos, ready to use a Bulldoze attack. Whilst Abbee knew that Earthquake was stronger than Bulldoze, and didn’t have the risk of triggering Ampharos’ Static ability, she also knew why Chris would give the command. Ampharos would deal far more damage to Garchomp at a distance, whilst Garchomp was far more suited to physical attacks, and whilst Earthquake was physical, it would allow Ampharos to maintain a safe distance to strike back from, especially now that its defence had increased. Chris was taking a risk, however even if it took a little longer to knock Ampharos out, or Garchomp was paralyzed, Ampharos would be forced to play a little more defensively.

    Garchomp struck Ampharos with Bulldoze, Abbee gave her next order.

    “Substitute!”

    Ampharos vanished, being replaced with a stuffed doll, and Chris couldn’t help but grin. Substitute took a bigger toll on Ampharos’ health than Garchomp’s attack, thanks to Cotton Guard, which meant that Abbee likely would have enough time for Ampharos to get two free actions before Garchomp actually posed a threat. Figuring that if it were going to take two moves to remove the substitute, he may as well plan ahead, he gave his next command.

    “Swords Dance!”

    Garchomp roared, as its attack power increased, before Abbee shouted “Agility!” followed by “Dragon Pulse!”

    From nowhere, a bright purple beam of draconic energy shot through the air, striking Garchomp, who proceeded to destroy the substitute in a single blow, now empowered by Swords Dance, and then set its sights on Ampharos.

    “Stomping Tantrum!” Chris ordered.

    Garchomp roared in frustration, before charging Ampharos, who upon hearing Abbee’s subsequent command for another Dragon Pulse, launched a follow-up attack.

    Garchomp powered through the attack, striking Ampharos in sheer frustration. Ampharos was thrown back by the violent attack, hitting the ground and falling unconscious, as Garchomp, looking unsteady on its feet, remained standing. However, both Abbee and Chris could see what had happened. Static had taken effect, and Garchomp had been paralyzed.

    Abbee called back Ampharos, before throwing forward her next Pokeball.

    “Go, Victini!”

    The Legendary Pokemon hadn’t battled since the battle against Blackstone, and the moment he emerged from his Pokeball, Abbee could see the determined grin on his face. Even outside of his boredom, this wasn’t just a battle for the Mythical Pokemon. This was personal.

    “Glaciate!” Abbee commanded, as Victini, having learned five attacks known by the Legendary Pokemon of Unova, cried out, flash freezing the air, by ripping the heat from it. As Abbee gave the command though, Chris returned Garchomp to its Pokeball, a move that was legal on the basis that he immediately sent out another Pokemon.

    To the untrained eye, Chris withdrawing Garchomp to send out Lugia to fight Victini seemed basic, and almost boring, though Abbee knew that Chris had no better option. Garchomp was slowed by paralysis and would have fallen to Victini’s next attack, unless Abbee had chosen an attack weak enough to not finish the job. Garchomp knew no high priority attacks, and whilst Chris could have bought time by ordering Protect or Endure, he also knew that Victini knew Power-Swap, which would have allowed it to steal Garchomp’s boosted strength before knocking it out. A Pokemon, weakened as it was, withdrawn was more useful than a Pokemon unconscious.

    Lugia took the hit, shaking it off thanks to its high defences, and Multiscale ability, before Chris gave an order.

    “Calm Mind!” Chris shouted, as Abbee retaliated with a tactic Chris had taught her three and a half years earlier.

    “Power Swap!” Abbee called out.

    Lugia’s attack and defence for special moves increased in an instant, before the attack power was taken, and swapped with Victini’s unmodified power, leaving half of the Calm Mind redundant. Chris knew now it was time to go on the offensive.

    “Hydro Pump!”

    Lugia roared, as the crowd cheered, before a violent and brutal torrent of water erupted from between its jaws, striking Victini hard, and throwing the Mythical Pokemon back. Had Abbee not known better, she would have ordered for Victini to use Protect, however had spent enough time with Chris to know Lugia’s strength wasn’t in its offensive capabilities, but instead its resilience. Whilst even some strong non-Legendary Pokemon would have been able to beat Victini with a single Hydro Pump, Lugia was not strong enough to do that. At the same time, Abbee didn’t want to dawdle long enough for Lugia to let off another one…

    “Thunder Wave!”

    Victini cried out, discharging a weak, albeit focused blast of electricity, which struck Lugia, causing its muscles to seize, paralysing it. Whilst Abbee knew Victini had time to land another hit, she didn’t want to risk it not being enough to take down Lugia, and Lugia managing to let off another attack.

    “Brine!” Chris commanded. Abbee watched, and the moment she saw Lugia manage to move, gave her own instruction.

    “Protect!” Abbee commanded, as Victini took the water type attack, now even stronger than Hydro Pump, given Victini having sustained a heavy hit. “Then Bolt Strike!”

    “Calm Mind!” Chris shouted, causing Abbee to grin.

    Chris had been a part of the discussion towards the end of last summer, where all the Eon Academy staff, minus Jon, Alyssa and Steven, had met to come up with a tactic for Abbee to force Jon to place Scizor against Victini. When coming up with plans, Abbee had referenced that Victini knew five attacks from other Legendary Pokemon. Fusion Bolt, Fusion Flare, Glaciate, Blue Flare and Bolt Strike. Abbee hadn’t gone into detail about them though, for no reason other than it wasn’t necessary and they had other priorities. Now however, this had been to her advantage.

    Chris had heard the name of the attack, and assumed it to be a special attack, especially considering Victini had stolen Lugia’s boost to special attacks. However, he watched in horror, as instead of remaining stationary, Victini began to bound across the battlefield, towards Lugia who was busy performing Calm Mind. Or so Chris thought…

    Instead, Lugia was actually struggling to move, held back by paralysis, as Victini became encased in lightning far too intense for any other Fire Type. Bolts of electricity struggled to be contained, and leapt away short distances as Victini leapt forward, slamming Lugia and unleashing all the electricity it had generated, causing Lugia to cry out in pain.

    “Once more!” Abbee called out. The entire time, Victini had been holding back its speed over Lugia, not wanting to risk being taken out by another heavy attack. Now though, it was making the most of it. Victini cried out in a way that Abbee had heard before, though being able to understand him verbally, now knew it to be a manic laugh.

    ‘Nothing personal!” Victini shouted to Lugia, before unleashing a second Bolt Strike, this one being enough to knock the Legendary Pokemon out. Chris called Lugia back, as the crowd cheered for Abbee, proud of their local Gym Leader for putting up such a fight. None of them had seen her battle like this before, and were eager to see whether she would be the one to put an end to Chris’ multi-League domination. Chris returned Lugia to it’s Pokeball before selecting his next Pokemon.

    “Sorry Victini, but somebody’s gotta knock you down a peg!” Chris shouted, before throwing a Pokeball forward. “Go Hydreigon!”

    The Pokeball exploded, and amidst the white light of the Pokemon emerging, a shrill, draconic snarl pierced the air. Abbee remembered when Chris captured this Pokemon as a Deino, and the conversation they had about Hydreigon and their natural tendency for violence. However as the light cleared, Abbee saw that Hydreigon, despite looking menacing, didn’t seem to be acting any differently to any other captured Pokemon. It waited for Chris’ orders, focused on the battle ahead.

    “Glaciate!” Abbee shouted, though was not particularly committed to the attack hitting. Whilst she knew it would deal significant damage to Hydreigon, especially due to its type advantage and Victini having had its attack power boosted by Power Swap, the real show was to come. She had commanded the attack, hoping that an Ice-Type move, one that would cause problems for most of Chris’ Pokemon, would be enough to cause him to call for Protect, therefore almost guaranteeing that it could not be relied on to block Victini’s next attack, which Abbee planned to be Focus Blast.

    Chris however did not hesitate in giving a command to attack.

    “Lash Out!

    The move was not one Chris had used much before, and it took Abbee a moment to understand why.

    As Victini ripped the heat from the air, flash freezing it and damaging Hydreigon, a side effect of which would be a reduction to the target’s speed, Hydreigon lunged at Victini with a bitter fury, striking at the Mythical Pokemon in retribution. The move itself however had its power doubled, due to Hydreigon having suffered a stat loss immediately prior.

    Not expecting such a heavy hit, Victini was thrown back, and knocked unconscious much to Abbee’s shock. The crowd was quiet for a moment, unsure whether or not they should cheer, given their local Gym Leader’s star Pokemon, and closest friend, had been wiped out of the match spectacularly. It wasn’t until Abbee returned him to his Pokeball and addressed Chris that they understood this was okay.

    “You know that he’ll want another grudge match for humiliating him, right?” Abbee called out, amused despite herself. “First Scizor, now this… And he’s already bored enough, not battling as often!”

    “Well he’ll have to schedule it for after next summer,” Chris called out. “Because I’ll be a little too busy for grudge matches until then!”

    Hearing the banter, the crowd began to cheer again, as Abbee sent out her final Pokemon. One she used in the Gym, but had never faced Chris with. And despite the fact it didn’t have any type advantages, she hoped that she may be able to surprise Chris with this enough to steal the win. And if she didn’t, she was okay with that. She really didn’t want to be the one to shatter Chris’ dream. But at the same time, she wanted to push him hard enough, so moving forward, nobody else could get in his way.

    “Go, Electivire!” Abbee shouted, before, knowing Victini had slowed Hydreigon, shouting “Magnet Rise!”

    Electricity crackled from Electivire, as its own magnetism seemed to shift, causing it to float an inch above the ground, giving it immunity to Ground Type attacks.

    At the same time, Chris had commanded Hydreigon to use Earth Power, which Electivire managed to avoid with ease, before Abbee gave her next order.

    “Power-Up Punch!”

    Electivire rushed forward, striking Hydreigon with a heavy punch that boosted its own attack power, whilst Chris gave an order that surprised Abbee.

    “U-Turn!”

    Hydreigon roared, before darting forward to collide with Electivire, before returning to its Pokeball, and being replaced by Chris’ Garchomp, who still seemed unable to stand. Despite the tactic being less than pleasant, using a weakened Pokemon to take a hit and buy time, Abbee knew that Chris was making the better decision in terms of tactics. Hydreigon’s speed had been reduced, and a stint in the Pokeball would undo that.

    “Power-Up Punch!” Abbee ordered, figuring she may as well make use of this. Garchomp took the hit, as Electivire’s strength increased again, and Chris once again sent out Hydreigon, leaving both trainers on their final Pokemon.

    Despite Electivire’s attack power being increased, all knew that this was an even match, given Electivire’s electric attacks would be resisted. Meanwhile, Hydreigon knew powerful Dragon and Dark Type moves, that despite not having any buffs to it’s attack power, would likely be able to lay waste to Electivire. All present knew that whichever Pokemon managed to strike first would win. To the crowd, it seemed like it was anybody’s match. But Chris and Abbee both knew exactly how this would play out.

    “Electivire, Cross Chop!”

    “Hydreigon, Draco Meteor!”

    Electrivire rushed forward towards Hydreigon, who began to shriek, as it charged up its most powerful Dragon Type attack. Abbee had considered conceding, knowing that Chris had already won, but figured that it would be disrespectful to him to not see this through, especially if the crowd watching had no idea that the match was already won. Not due to a lack of skill or trying on Abbee’s behalf, but simply that Chris had made good call after good call, in every respect. In the moments that passed as both Pokemon prepared to attack, Abbee knew the decision that Chris had made, which was what allowed him to take the win. Chris withdrew Garchomp.

    By withdrawing Garchomp instead of trying to have it deal some damage to Victini, he not only gave himself a Pokemon to take a hit and buy time, like he had when he withdrew Hydreigon to restore its lowered speed, but he had also used that opportunity to change Hydreigon’s placement on the field, by being intentional about where he threw the Pokeball, and this was what made the difference. Why Abbee knew she could not win this.

    Electivire bounded towards Hydreigon with a powerful Fighting Type attack ready to go. One that if it struck, would knock Hydreigon out. However as Electivire traversed the battlefield between itself and its target, Hydreigon released Draco Meteor, which struck Electivire directly, before exploding into a blinding light. As it dissipated, Electivire lay on the ground, unmoving, as Hydreigon let out a victory screech.

    The crowd cheered as Chris was declared the winner, before both trainers made their way towards one another. To his surprise, Abbee wrapped Chris in a tight hug. Despite the fact they had made amends months earlier, this still felt strange for Chris.

    “I’ve got a question…” Chris said quietly, making sure no cameras were on him, on the slim chance someone may be able to lip read. “Why did you let me win?”

    “I don’t know what you’re talking about…”

    “Abbee, if you had called for Protect, Electivire would have blocked the blast, and Hydreigon would have worn itself out using such a reckless attack,” Chris explained. “Sure, I could have ordered Outrage after, but I’d have given up control of Hydreigon, and if it got too close to Electivire while it was in a witless frenzy, I know Electivire could have hit it and finished this …”

    Abbee couldn’t help but grin. It had been a long time since she had given Chris this sort of run for his money, likely their first summer, before he began putting in the hard yards to keep up with Charlotte.

    “Because my job as Gym Leader isn’t to beat you. It’s to see if you’ve earned the Bolt Badge. Winning is just a technicality really, but come on. We both know that if it had been anyone else but me here, you would have earned it by just wiping the floor with them,” Abbee said quietly, not wanting anyone to think there was anything unusual being said. “Even if I let you win, I still made you work five times as hard for this badge than I would any other challenger. You’ve earned it, and I don’t want to give you your first loss on this campaign…”

    Abbee said this, before withdrawing a Bolt Badge from her pocket, and handing it to Chris, though the grin she had on her face seemed to betray her. Chris looked between the badge, and Abbee.

    “Are you sure that’s all there is to it?”

    Abbee’s grin widened.

    “I also figure you knowing that I let you take this win will hopefully stop all the glory from completing Second To None getting to your head,” Abbee laughed. “That you’ll know that when this is all over, if someone needs to come and smack you around the head a little bit, I’ll be willing and able…”

    Chris burst into laughter, before, despite himself, he pulled Abbee into another hug.

    “My sweet and naive Abbee…” Chris said quietly, as Abbee laughed at the address. “If you think I’d let myself lose to you after this, you’re sorely mistaken…”

  9. #208
    I came in like a wrecking ball... [Desolate Divine]'s Avatar
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    Epilogue 2 of five done. Honestly, I didn't realise how much I'd love writing these things and just doing some normal life stuff. Okay, not quite normal, but not apocalyptically high stakes stuff. I've missed writing something as simple as a group of friends having a drink and a laugh together and the joy that comes from that.

  10. #209
    I came in like a wrecking ball... [Desolate Divine]'s Avatar
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    Epilogue Episode 3: March
    Spoiler:

    “It doesn’t feel real…”

    The hallway from the front door was dimly lit by the setting sun, though two figures cast elongated shadows down the long room. After a second, there was a click, before a light turned on, illuminating the room. Dylan stepped forward slowly, followed by Abbee. It was the first Friday of March, Dylan having just been to the builder’s office in Nimbasa City to pick up the keys, before picking Abbee up from the Gym to be there with him when he entered his now-finished home for the first time.

    The house itself was a sight Dylan had never seen before, in that it was a home that was brand new. Whilst he lived in the Eon Academy lodge the summer immediately after it was first built, it was not designed to be a home, at least not on its own. It was for many people to live together in a relatively small space, temporarily. Especially during last summer, where between the five now former students and four witches, the communal areas, including the single bathroom and toilet, became crowded, with many opting to instead use the shared facilities built into the student lodges.

    This however was a home; a dwelling for Dylan to make his own. This wasn’t a place he stayed at for the sake of being able to work, that he shared with a group of, though friends themselves, colleagues. And unlike Jon and Alyssa’s cottage, which, though was the best home he ever had, was showing its age, and would have been outgrown by the family had Dylan stayed and the couple decided to have more children, this was new, and had the potential to be Dylan’s home for many years. Potentially the rest of his life.

    The pair walked through the hallway into the large open living and dining area, where Dylan and Chris spoke months earlier during Chris’ visit to Nimbasa City, although back then, the room was hardly even a room itself. Flicking on the lights revealed that this was no longer the case. The floor was made up of polished floorboards, which looked so clean that Dylan felt a little guilty that he had not taken off his shoes. The walls were a white, up to the point where in a standard house, the ceiling would be, before becoming smooth timber panels. Here however, the ceiling was over twice as high as it should have been, as to one side was a staircase, adjoining the second floor, which overlooked the large room beneath it. In one corner of the room, were three steps that moved into a lower, carpeted section which would be the lounge room. And despite the house making use of multiple floors, this didn’t stop it from making the most of the space the land it sat on allowed. Both the ground and first floor spread outwards from this centralised hub of the house, with various rooms, each placed with a vision in mind. Dylan wanted this to be a home, not just a house. But he wanted it to be a home he could welcome others into. Be it friends or family visiting, or even children one day. Or even someone like what he had been to Jon.

    “It looks incredible…” Abbee muttered as she took in the sight. Dylan couldn’t help but grin as he wondered whether she was doing the same thing he was; seeing this empty room, but all the potential it housed. Mentally taking notes of how the walls could be decorated, where the furniture could be placed, or what style of decor would suit.

    Abbee was thankful for the good news, of the house being ready. Dylan had been waiting in eager anticipation, and it was almost looking like he wouldn’t have been able to receive the keys until after the weekend. Additionally, the last few months had been less than pleasant at times for her. Despite managing to turn the publicity of the injury at Nimbasa City Gym into good publicity, jumping through hoops to make amends with the injured trainer, which won her over in the eyes of the media and masses, it had hardly been an open and shut case after Bianca had returned home.

    In the first week of the new year, Abbee had received a letter from a lawyer representing Tessa, threatening a claim with the Worker’s Rights Board of Unova, citing unfair and unprofessional dismissal, as well as claiming that Tessa had been verbally abused and humiliated. The letter demanded that Tessa be reinstated as a Nimbasa City Gym Trainer, and a formal apology be issued by Abbee herself. Abbee had arranged a time to video-call Justin, who after asking some questions of clarification about the incident itself, Abbee’s response, and the protocol of both the Unova League and Nimbasa City Gym, burst into laughter at the ridiculousness of the threat, knowing that Tessa and her lawyer didn’t have a leg to stand on. Abbee had asked Justin how she should respond, and he answered by writing up a quick document, and sending it to Abbee to sign and send back. The letter Justin drafted had a single word, ’okay’ followed by contact numbers, email addresses and web addresses of the WRBU, effectively telling Tessa to make whatever claims she wanted.

    Abbee, despite not usually being that petty, sent the letter back, much to the amusement of all in the group chat that contained the five former students, Jon, Alyssa, Willow and the Diamond Ladies, and never heard back from the lawyer. A month later however, Abbee received a call from the Unova League, requesting an interview, as a complaint had been made about Abbee’s management of the gym.

    Whilst Abbee had been furious about this at first, it was made clear that Abbee’s interviewer knew full well that the claim itself was not worth the paper it was printed on. Claims about Abbee’s capacity to run the gym were proven false before the phone call was even made by the number of challengers, badges handed out, assessment of the trainers, and even the social media presence and reputation of the gym. Abbee soon realised that her interviewer was simply making the phone call to tick a box, before he could file the complaint as investigated and resolved.

    The most recent episode in the Tessa saga was a long social media post, which Tessa described the trauma of Abbee’s handling of the situation, dismissing her on Christmas Eve, humiliating her in front of the entire staff, and the effect it had on her mental health, as well as her capacity to find other work. Through having her family and friends share it, as well as sharing the post with less than reputable news sites, the post soon went viral, earning all sorts of colourful comments from those in the Eon Academy group chat. Not wanting to respond whilst angry, and Abbee was furious, Abbee waited. To her relief though, a response was not necessary. The first high-profile person to respond to the post was Elesa herself, citing from the Unova League constitution all injuries, incidents and near-misses occurring from a Pokemon or Pokemon battle held on Unova League grounds, or by League employed trainers acting in this capacity must be reported as soon as reasonably possible to the relevant Gym Leader or Pokemon League representative. Even Bianca, the trainer who had been injured at the Gym, which had sparked the entire conflict, posted in support of Abbee, sharing the extent that Abbee went to to make sure that the incident didn’t ruin Bianca’s Christmas and New Year’s Eve, and to personally ensure that she had a great time.

    For Abbee, getting the call from Dylan to say he had the keys and would pick her up after work, was good news that she needed to hear. After months of knowing the phone ringing was likely something else that would waste her time and dampen her spirits, this was a welcome change.

    “I’ve called Jon to let him know, so they’ll be on their way soon,” Dylan said, pulling Abbee from her thoughts. “I imagine early next week they’ll be here, so until then, I’ll just move the essentials.”

    “You’ve been living in a shed for the last four months, with that little, you have created a new standard of minimalism,” Abbee noted. “What in that shed isn’t essentials?”

    Dylan chuckled at the implication. Abbee was right. He had been living simply during that time, and would likely be able to move everything he owned into the house that very evening with Abbee and their Pokemon’s help. Granted, Dylan didn’t own much. Other than his car, which needed to be transported via ship to Unova, all Dylan had owned had fit in one suitcase, largely clothes, his phone, laptop and their chargers, as well as a few other bits and pieces. Even all his tools had been put in a toolbox and locked in his car, transported with it.

    “He said they wanted to help me move in, and he and Willow have held off visiting Castelia City until they could do both in one trip,” Dylan answered. “Honestly, I think it’s less about helping me move in and more about visiting, seeing the house, and seeing the Zorua.”

    The Pokemon were three months old now, and Dylan was spending almost all of his free time not developing parts of the property into observing them and their behaviour. He had selected two of the twelve that would not be leased to trainers, and would not be trained to battle by himself or anyone else. Nor would they be pets. These ones, Dylan planned, would be treated as though wild, wanting to discover what instinctive behaviours may reveal themselves. Jon still hadn’t seen them in person, and was eager to see them. In addition to visiting Dylan, Abbee, seeing the house, helping them settle in, as well as visit the site of the future Eon Academy.

    “Well at least you are gonna start looking into furniture while they’re all here,” Abbee remarked. “Gotta get your money’s worth out of them somehow!”

    Dylan grinned at the joke knowing that despite the fact Dylan would be housing and feeding them for a week when they visited, and they would likely attempt to try and reimburse him for that, they would be paying far from an insignificant amount of money to fly out with this little notice. But Abbee was right. They would move the belongings already there tonight, and once Jon arrived, they would begin looking into purchasing furniture and turning the empty house into a home.

    “So what next?” Abbee asked. “With the house finished, will you put more time into the business?”

    “Soon, but not just yet,” Dylan explained. “I want to make sure that when it starts, it doesn’t stall in first gear, but takes off, and I can get by for a little longer if I need to, if the extra time will help with that.”

    Abbee nodded in understanding, as she began looking around the large room again. Between Dylan having done well with saving money from his time working at the Academy, as well as a few down-payments for trainers wanting to lease Zorua when they are ready, Dylan had a reasonable amount of savings to draw on for a little longer whilst paying the bills.

    Dylan watched as Abbee looked up towards the balcony that overlooked the living area, before speaking up, his voice sounding more nervous than it had around her in years.

    “I was thinking…”

    Abbee heard the change in tone, before turning, giving Dylan a puzzled expression. The words seemed like they had been said only because if they weren’t, Dylan would have lost the nerve to speak them.

    Abbee flashed Dylan a grin, hoping to calm his nerves a little, before Dylan spoke again.

    “I was thinking,” Dylan said. “Now that I’m not living in a shed, and actually have a house…”

    His words trailed off again, as Abbee realised what he was saying.

    “I mean, is there any reason why you’d pay rent, when you could live here?”

    The delivery of the question was awkward, as though Dylan were trying his hardest to remove all the implications from what he was actually asking. To distance himself, so that should Abbee say no, he could play it off as nothing.

    “I mean, we spend just about all our time outside of work together anyway, and if I hadn’t have been living in the shed, the only reason for you to have gone home was for work,” Dylan said, his words quickening, as he attempted to cover himself, but only making the situation more awkward. “And for what you’re paying in rent, you could easily buy a car and just drive in to work, and you wouldn’t have to pay for public transport either and-”

    “So you figure if I’m going to be paying off someone else’s mortgage it may as well be yours?”

    The question took Dylan by surprise, silencing him, which was exactly what Abbee had been going for. She grinned.

    “No, nothing like that-”

    “Dylan, I’ll move in with you,” Abbee said with a laugh. “We both want it to happen eventually, and you’re right. If I’m going to be paying somebody else’s mortgage to live here, it may as well be yours.”

    “That’s not what I-” Dylan protested, causing Abbee’s grin to widen.

    “I know,” Abbee said with a smile. “But hey, even if it was, I could think of worse…”

    Dylan gaped, as Abbee moved towards him, removing his car keys from his pocket.

    “Come on, if we want to get this done quickly, we can’t dawdle. Unlike you, I’ve been living in Unova for years, and not as a minimalist,” Abbee explained. “And I don’t particularly feel like sharing your single bed from the shed, so we’ll need to go to my place at some point tonight…”

    Hearing Abbee talk so casually about what would need to happen if she is moving in, practically speaking, caused Dylan to breathe a sigh of relief.

    “Come on, I’ll drive,” Abbee said. “I better get used to it if I’m going to be driving into work every day…”

    ************************************************** ************************************************** *****

    Cassandra grinned as the idea began to form in her mind. On the opposite side of the battlefield stood Jarena, and representing her in battle, Yoghurt the Goodra. Yoghurt was Jarena's third and final Pokemon in this battle, however it was also her strongest. It had made short work of Marche, Cassandra's Sandslash, only moments earlier, and with Ace being already beaten, Cassandra's options were limited. None of her team in sheer strength held a candle to what was referred to as a Pseudo-Legendary Pokemon. A Pokemon, like Dylan's Metagross, and most of Chris's Dragon Types, was close in strength to a Legendary Pokemon itself. However, Cassandra was glad that her team were not specially bred, naturally powerful Pokemon, as that allowed her own skills to be what would determine the outcome of this win. And she had a plan that she thought may steal her the win from this precarious situation.

    "Go, Nami!"

    Cassandra threw the Pokeball forward, and upon opening, it revealed a large feline Pokemon. Nami the Purugly.

    Whilst it wasn't obvious initially, Cassandra realised in the final moments of Marche's bout against Yoghurt that the Goodra's ability, Gooey, was wreaking havoc on the Ground Type Pokemon that relied very much on performing heavy hitting physical attacks. Every time Marche made contact, it was smeared with ooze that secreted from Goodra's hide that was slowing it down, providing Yoghurt with more opportunities to attack, and making it harder for Marche to dodge. Cassandra knew Nami was the only Pokemon that would not be devastated by this phenomenon, but also new Nami needed to hold out long enough to be able to make use of it.

    "Fake Out!" Cassandra shouted, knowing that this move had to be used immediately or else it would fail. Nami appeared to move to rush Yoghurt, before revealing the movement to be a feint and instead appearing in front of the Goodra, hitting it weakly but with enough of a surprise to stun it for a moment. Cassandra could see the goo attaching to Nami and slowing her down. But this was part of her plan.

    "Now Hone Claws!" Cassandra ordered, using the opportunity bought by Yoghurt flinching however knew there would not be many like this.

    "Dragon Claw!" Jarena shouted as Yoghurt, in striking range, slashed at Nami with its energy encased claw. Nami took the hit, before regaining composure ready to strike back.

    "Hypnosis!"

    Nami cried out a musical note that seemed to only affect the Goodra before it. Whilst the attack was not reliable normally, the Hone Claws attack had managed to increase its accuracy, and Yoghurt's eyes quickly began to droop, as it fell into a light sleep.

    "Fury Swipes!" Cassandra ordered. "Then Sucker Punch!"

    Nami began attacking Yoghurt with a flurry of quick, light attacks, managing to strike four times, and with each one, acquiring more goo, and being slowed further. As the final one struck, Yoghurt seemed to stir, before copping a heavy punch from out of left field. Despite Nami not being the strongest physical attacker, the punch itself seemed to have the power of a Pokemon like Machamp behind it, throwing Yoghurt back and knocking it unconscious. Jarena looked in shock at her Goodra, who she thought would not fall from two very minor attacks and a Sucker Punch.

    "That was impressive…"

    Both trainers looked to the entrance of the Eon Academy Stadium, which had required rebuilding after the Blackstone attack and were surprised to realise their practise match had a spectator.

    "Steven," Cassandra said, almost a little embarrassed that she hadn't realised he had come in. "How long have you been there?"

    "Since Jarena's Goodra took to the field," Steven said casually, before looking to Cassandra. "You've both grown drastically since coming here, but that was another level, Cassandra…"

    "I'm a bit lost here…" Jarena admitted, looking between her friend and the Hoenn Champion, almost embarrassed to ask. "What exactly was that?"

    "May I?" Steven asked. "I need to keep my own analysis skills sharp…"

    Cassandra nodded with a grin though had a hunch Steven knew exactly what she had done.

    "Certain Purugly have a rare ability called Defiant. Whenever a stat is lowered, their own damaged pride causes their attack power to increase. And whenever Purugly attacked and made contact with Goodra…"

    "It's speed was reduced…" Jarena realised, understanding dawning on her. Steven nodded.

    "The Fake Out was a free hit and attack boost but Cassandra couldn't overlook the impact using this tactic would have on Purugly's speed, so she instead decided to buy time by using Hypnosis to put Goodra to sleep, and used Hone Claws both for the boost to attack, but also accuracy," Steven continued. "Then Fury Swipes allowed Purugly to maximise its attack, with each hit triggering Goodra's Gooey ability. And then, to make sure this massive reduction in speed didn't give Goodra a chance to attack."

    "Cass went for the Sucker Punch…" Jarena said, looking to her friend. "I knew you were brutal, but against me? We're practically family!"

    Cassandra grinned, knowing Jarena was drastically overplaying her offence.

    "If you want someone to go easy on you, you're in the wrong place…" Cassandra said. "But Steven was spot on."

    Steven nodded with a grin, before Cassandra addressed him.

    "You here to see Jon?" Cassandra asked. "He, Alyssa, Lili and Willow flew out yesterday to see Dylan and Abbee…"

    "Actually, I'm here to see you, Cassandra…"

    Cassandra gave Steven a puzzled look. It wasn’t the first time Steven had come to see specifically one of the Diamond Ladies, however it had been nearly eighteen months since the last time. Back then it was about things such as finalising reports from the Spiritwater Crisis, or signing statements in order to reverse their removal from databases that had occurred after their deaths.

    Jarena looked between the pair, before nodding to Cassandra’s belt.

    “I was going to drive down to the Pokemon Centre to get my Pokemon healed,” Jarena said casually. “Seeing as you brutalised all of them…”

    Cassandra nodded, looking past the joke, before unlatching the three Pokeballs she had used and passing them to Jarena, who said goodbye to the pair, leaving her and Steven alone.

    “Mind if we talk over a coffee?”

    Despite the fact that none of its inhabitants were currently in Hoenn, Cassandra knew she and Steven were welcome in Jon and Alyssa’s kitchen, and made their way towards the cottage, finding themselves at the small kitchen table, having made coffees. Finally, Cassandra’s curiosity got the better of her.

    “So what’s going on to warrant a visit from the Champion?” Cassandra asked. Steven nodded, knowing he owed her an explanation.

    “It’s about your appeal…”

    Cassandra’s eyes widened. Six weeks earlier, she had finally worked up the nerve, with some encouragement from her friends at the Academy, to request her Pokemon League ban be revoked, on the basis of understanding fully the wrongness of her previous actions, and grown from them, wanting the chance to prove that she could leave the past behind her once and for all. It was something Cassandra had been putting off for a little while, unsure if she had grown enough to give merit to her request, and worried that should it be denied, that it may harm her chances of it being granted later. She didn’t want to risk ruining her chances long term by being impatient.

    However, she also knew that as much as she enjoyed working at the Academy on the good days, and even didn’t mind working there on the bad days, being a camp intern was not what she wanted to do long term, and she didn’t want to get too comfortable in the role, lest she become complacent. And whilst she knew she still had a lot to learn, she was realising, especially with the others now gone, that there weren’t many people who posed a serious challenge to her. Violet and Jarena were both skilled enough to make her work for a victory, like the one she had won that morning, however, Cassandra couldn’t pretend that the tally was not far more in her favour. And whilst Jon and Steven both would be very difficult opponents if battling uninhibited, Steven was the Hoenn Champion, and even if he had time for practise matches against Cassandra, both knew that practise matches against him too frequently would not be fair. Lesser trainers wanting to face the Hoenn Champion were only granted the privilege if they beat all eight Gyms as well as the Elite Four, and whilst Steven wasn’t restricted in who he could and couldn’t battle in his own time, it would be unfair on trainers who are having to work their way towards facing him if he were willing to battle against Cassandra on the basis of being friends and colleagues. As for Jon, his time was now occupied largely with training Willow, who, despite growing drastically in skill in the last three months, was not at the same level as Cassandra. She knew however that at the rate Willow was improving, that by Christmas, she would be giving Cassandra a run for her money, and Jon hoped that by summer of next year, when the Castelia Eon Academy would open its doors for the first time, she would be strong enough to give him a run as well.

    Effectively, the rate she was improving was beginning to taper off, for no reason other than she was running out of appropriate level trainers to battle. She hesitated for a second, before asking the question that was stuck in her mind.

    “Has it been rejected?” she asked, unable to hide the anxiety in her voice.

    Steven shook his head, as Cassandra breathed a sigh of relief.

    “It’s still progressing along. In terms of the preliminary assessment, everything has been smooth sailing,” Steven explained. “The League has little doubt that you are the same trainer you were six years ago, both in terms of skills, but also morals, and want to accept your request, however…”

    Cassandra stared intently as her heart skipped a beat at the last words. Steven noticed her reaction, and sighed.

    “This isn’t as simple as any other trainer caught cheating in tournaments. Both on the basis that no trainer managed to escape being caught for as long as you did, and no trainer reached such high levels of success and renown from cheating as you did…” Steven continued. “Whilst what you have provided would be enough on its own for a run-of-the-mill stimulants cheat or match-thrower, for you, the League are needing to be more hesitant. Because even with what you, Violet and Jarena did in Alola, and the fact that people, generally speaking, have forgiven you, there are still a significant number who despite everything, haven’t, and honestly never will…”

    “So what, for the sake of the ones who are too proud to admit we aren’t still the scum they thought we were, I can’t be given another chance?” Cassandra asked, her tone rising a little.

    “Not at all,” Steven explained. “The difference is that for any other cheater that came before you, if the League allowed them another chance and there was a repeat incident, there would hardly be backlash. But in the eyes of the League, if you were given another chance, and were discovered to be cheating again, the backlash would be huge. Sponsorship for the League itself would be at risk, as would people purchasing tickets to events and investing. If the League gives you the benefit of the doubt and are wrong, there is more at stake.”

    “So what does this mean pragmatically?” Cassandra asked, finding herself growing frustrated, and knowing it would be unhelpful, deciding to try and focus on a solution.

    “It means that the bar we use to determine whether you are fit to return to competition needs to be much higher than average,” Steven began, and when he noticed Cassandra move to speak, interjected, “even in light of what you did in Alola…”

    Cassandra, who had been about to ask if what she had done had not been enough, stopped, before taking a frustrated breath.

    “So what do I need to do to meet the bar?” Cassandra asked, a little irritably. “To prove that they aren’t making a mistake by giving me a chance.”

    Steven’s expression became slightly more uncomfortable, before he answered.

    “Because the worst that the three of you did to the League was stealing wins against Regional Champions, the League wants a Regional Champion to assess your suitability and make the call,” Steven explained. “Effectively using their own influence to sway the public.”

    “So that’s why you’re here?”

    Steven shook his head.

    “Jarena beat Lance, but we all know why he won’t be the one assessing you, and whilst it isn’t important that you aren’t the one who beat me, I can’t assess you,” Steven explained, before answering the question Cassandra was about to ask. “I’ve been told that I am too close to both yourself and Jon, and if I were to assess you and approve the appeal, my integrity would come under question. I’d be accused of pulling strings in order to get your ban removed as a personal favour…”

    Cassandra now understood what Steven was about to say.

    “Because of this, and the fact that you were the one to cheat a win from her, Cynthia will be assessing you and making the decision…”

    Cassandra thought over the reality that she was facing. Whilst Cynthia’s demeanour was friendly, especially in media appearances, Cassandra knew that like Steven, she took her job immensely seriously. Unlike Steven however, Cassandra was sure that she would not let personal connections sway her judgement. On both the S.S. Wishmaker and Spiritwater operations, Steven gave Jon far more time, leniency and consideration than he would have any other operative, partially due to knowing of Jon’s skills, but additionally, knowing him personally, and being willing to take a chance on him. Cassandra, despite not thinking less of Cynthia personally for this, did not think Cynthia would have done the same.

    Additionally, she knew that despite Steven being no slouch, many considered Cynthia to be the strongest of all Regional Champions, and Cassandra knew that if this was going to be an assessment on whether she had truly shown enough growth and change in attitude to compete again, one thing that would be tested would be her ability to battle well.

    “So do I need to travel to Sinnoh?” Cassandra asked.

    “No, she will be coming to Hoenn next month,” Steven explained. “She has other business on Mossdeep she needs to attend to, so it lines up well. The only reason she is waiting that long is that there is a challenger who as of yesterday, has six Sinnoh Gym Badges, and Cynthia knows that he won’t dawdle in reaching her for a battle…”

    For the first time in that encounter, Cassandra grinned. Chris had already set records that would not be beaten any time soon, namely being the only person in history to have completed three Pokemon League Challenges in four months. Few had completed three to begin with, but most took their time, or took breaks between. The previous record holder had completed three in twelve months. And Chris was showing no signs of slowing down. Cassandra had seen his match against Abbee, with all who remained at the Academy watching the livestream. She had noticed Jon grin at the end, seeming to notice something nobody else had, though when pestered about the source of his amusement, he had refused to divulge. Cassandra knew that if Chris had beaten the sixth Gym, and now had to make the trip to Sunyshore, before backtracking and heading to Snowpoint, and then backtracking again to reach the Sinnoh League, April was likely a safe bet for Cynthia to visit Hoenn.

    “So what this means is that you are now working against a deadline,” Steven explained. “Cynthia will be here next month, so you have until then to improve as much as you need to, to prove that you are worth being allowed to compete again…”

    Cassandra nodded, feeling a level of determination she hadn’t felt in a while.

    “I’ll be ready…”


    ************************************************** ************************************************** *****

    “Charlotte, why am I not surprised to see you here again?”

    Thorton, head of the Battle Factory called out as he stepped out to face Charlotte. He couldn’t help but hide the amused grin. Despite the fact that in the three months she had been living in the Battle Zone, she had beaten three of the five Frontier Brains on her first attempt, this was her fourth attempt battling Thorton, for one reason only; the Battle Factory required her to use Rental Pokemon.

    And whilst it was frustrating that having made short work of the Battle Arcade, Castle and Hall, Charlotte had struggled so much to conquer the Battle Factory, she was also glad for this. It meant that she was growing stronger, independent of her Pokemon. She could already see her own growth in identifying the strengths and weaknesses of Pokemon, that she thought had already reached near its peak, and additionally, predicting how a trainer would use said Pokemon. Granted, the only trainers she faced were likely unused to the Pokemon they battled with, and as such were no comparison to the championship level trainers she would be facing in the High Seas Tournament come August, who would know their own Pokemon back to front.

    “Don’t get the wrong idea Thorton,” Charlotte called out. “I’m just here for your print, and even then, I barely care about that. Honestly, I just need to beat you so I can move on…”

    “You make it sound like you know you’re going to win?”

    “I’m not immature enough to make promises I can’t guarantee I can keep,” Charlotte retorted. “But I gotta admit, I got a good feeling about today…”

    Thorton grinned, intrigued by the battle that was about to take place. Charlotte was eager to win. She knew she had to return home by June, as the lease that she, Barry and Riley held on their villa would expire, and she couldn’t justify keeping it herself, or trying to find new housemates for only a few months. And given she could only battle Thorton after defeating 48 other trainers, she couldn’t keep wasting time on failed attempts, considering it usually took a week for her to rack up enough wins to face the Frontier Brain.

    “Well let’s see if today is your day!”

    Thoron readied a Pokeball to match the one Charlotte already held ready, and at the referee’s call, both Pokemon were sent out. On Charlotte’s side of the field was Rhyperior, the powerful Ground and Rock Type roaring, ready for a fight. On Thorton’s side was a Miltank.

    “Begin!”

    “Surf, Miltank!”

    Despite Water Type moves naturally being devastating to Rhyperior, Charlotte had made some observations about the Battle Factory Pokemon. Due to the sheer amount of them, their training was specialised towards two attributes at most, normally those that would benefit the Pokemon’s strengths. As such, Charlotte was certain that Miltank, being far from a special attacker, would have been trained to dish out heavier damage in special moves like Surf. Additionally, Rhyperior had the Solid Rock ability, reducing damage of super effective attacks.

    “Power-Up Punch!”

    Rhyperior rushed through the torrent of water that condensed from the air behind Miltank, before gushing towards Rhyperior, taking the heavy damage from the attack, but managing to land its own heavy hit, striking the Normal Type and increasing its own attack power.

    “Surf again!”

    Whilst predictability was always a bad idea in a battle, Charlotte didn’t hold this against Thorton. Given Miltank’s typing being resisted by Rhyperior, and any super effective moves dampened, using the same attack was likely his best option. However, this was going to cost him the match.

    “Metal Burst!” Charlotte shouted.

    A Steel Type variant of Counter, Metal Burst would counter any attack, not just physical ones, however would deal a little less damage than the Fighting Type move. Additionally, it needed to be timed better. In this circumstance though, it would do.

    Rhyperior bounded down on Miltank, taking the brunt of the second Surf attack, and converting the damage it took into a silvery white aura around its first, before lunging at Miltank and striking it with all the power it had just suffered at the hands of, and then some. Miltank was tossed back effortlessly, despite its bulky frame, and lay on the ground unconscious.

    “Two moves, that’s a new personal best,” Thorton called out, though there was a slight element of patronisation to his tone.

    “That is honestly not that unusual when I use my own Pokemon,” Charlotte answered. “Don’t take it personally…”

    Thorton laughed, before sending out his next Pokemon. When the light dissipated and Charlotte saw the Pokemon she was facing, she wasn’t sure how to feel. It was one she had seen battle many times, and was familiar with. However she also knew that it was a very powerful Pokemon in it’s own right, and not one to be underestimated, even if on paper, her Rhyperior had the advantage.

    Metagross let out a rumbling growl, as Charlotte assessed the matchup. Both Pokemon were evenly matched in terms of physical offence and defence, though Rhyperior had a slight edge, and whilst Rhyperior had immensely higher constitution, Metagross outclassed it in speed, despite being a large and heavy Pokemon. However, Metagross also outclassed Rhyperior in both offence and defence in special moves. Charlotte knew there was only one logical way forward.

    “Rhyperior, Drill Run!”

    Given the damage it sustained from the battle against Miltank, Rhyperior would likely fall to a special attack like Psychic from Metagross, even if Metagross was more cut out for physical attacks, largely due to Rhyperior having poor defences against them. However, if Rhyperior could get in Metagross’ space, she hoped Thorton would fall into the trap of retaliating with physical attacks.

    Rhyperior rushed Metagross, the large spike on its snout spinning intently, before Rhyperior rammed itself headfirst into Metagross. The hit was heavy, pushing Metagross back, however Thorton was unwavering in his cool and collected analysis of the battle in front of him.

    “Flash Cannon!”

    Metagross roared, before charging and unleashing a silvery-white beam of light, which struck Rhyperior, launching the heavy Rock and Ground Type off its feet and throwing it back unconscious. Charlotte grimaced, however knew that this would be how it ended. She called back Rhyperior, before sending out her second Pokemon.

    “Drifblim, I choose you!”

    Drifblim was a Pokemon Charlotte had years of experience with, having one herself, that she only stopped using in her everyday team when she needed a Pokemon capable of Mega Evolution, and trained her Gengar instead. However, she still knew exactly where Drifblim were suited.

    “Will-O-Wisp!”

    “Meteor Mash!”

    Metagross leapt forward, its large claws glowing in a silver light, however before it got the opportunity to land the punch, Drifblim shot a spectral orb at the pseudo-Legendary Pokemon, burning it, and reducing the damage it dealt. Metagross struck, although was forced to pull its punch, due to the pain of the burn it had sustained.

    “Now Hex!”

    Drifblim cried out in glee, as another spectral orb shot from it, striking Metagross hard, dealing more damage due to its burn, but not enough to actually knock it out.

    “Thunder Punch!

    Whilst Drifblim should have been able to sustain another hit, Charlotte understood why it hadn’t, when it fell, taking the Thunder Punch attack. Meteor Mash had increased Metagross’ attack power, negating some of the effect of the burn. Charlotte however, had chosen Drifblim for a reason.

    When Drifblim fell unconscious, a spectral orb involuntarily left its body, rushing into Metagross and hitting it with a surprise attack. Drifblim’s Aftermath Ability. Between the Drill Run, the damage from the burn, Hex, and now this additional hit, Metagross cried out in pain, before collapsing, falling unconscious itself, and leaving the battle sitting at a tie. Both trainers were down to their final Pokemon, which meant that more than ever, this was going to be a match of skill and wits. The better trainer would win.

    With both Pokemon returned to their Pokeballs, both Charlotte and Thorton readied their final Pokeballs, before tossing them forward simultaneously.

    In front of Charlotte, appeared a Porygon-Z, the digital Pokemon looking to be slightly unhinged due to its corrupted appearance. In front of Thorton was another familiar Pokemon she had battled numerous times. Garchomp. Despite there not being a clear advantage one way or another, Charlotte knew that if Porygon-Z could weather a single hit, the match would be hers. Already, Porygon’s Download Ability, like that of the Genesect she fought last summer, was scanning Garchomp to improve its own chances against it. And having battled Chris’ Garchomp many times before, she knew exactly what was happening.

    “Dragon Rush!” Thorton ordered, as Garchomp roared, and began bearing down on Porygon-Z.

    “Agility!” Charlotte ordered. “Then Conversion 2!”

    “Dragon Claw!” Thorton countered at the same time.

    Porygon-Z took the hit, before increasing its own speed to double what was its natural, and then using Conversion 2, the move exclusive to the Porygon line. Conversion 2 would change Porygon’s type to one that either resists, or is immune to the type of damage that hit it most recently. Charlotte knew one type resisted Dragon Type attacks, and one was completely immune. Her chances were fifty-fifty, but regardless, the net result would be a benefit to her.

    As Garchomp used Dragon Claw, Porygon-Z flickered for a moment, as the attack struck, but seemed to do no damage.

    “Stomping Tantrum!” Thorton commanded, knowing the failed Dragon Claw would empower it, though Charlotte had held off giving her own order, wanting to be able to respond with precision.

    “Magnet Rise!” Charlotte commanded, knowing Porygon Z was quick enough to perform the move before Garchomp’s attack struck. “Then Ice Beam!”

    Just as Garchomp used Stomping Tantrum, Porygon-Z’s internal magnetism, which caused it to float, shifted, increasing the distance it naturally floated above the ground, causing the attack to miss, before it cried out, unleashing a pale blue beam of light. The beam struck Garchomp, empowered by the activation of Porygon’s Download Ability, causing the second pseudo-Legendary Pokemon to crumble, falling unconscious, as Porygon-Z let out an excited, glitch-like sound, before Charlotte called it back.

    “What can I say?” Charlotte said casually. “I had a good feeling…”

    Thorton smirked, as he returned Garchomp to its Pokeball. Whilst he knew the connection Charlotte had to two of his rental Pokemon, he was not going to speak against Charlotte’s skill. Effectively, Charlotte’s rental Pokemon were less powerful, and two were far less familiar to her. But with skill and knowledge of her opponent, she had taken the win, one that few do. He withdrew a small, stainless steel case from his pocket, before opening it, and withdrawing a print with a picture of himself, and the Battle Factory on the front, emblazoned with Battle Frontier logos and branding. Placing the card against the case, he quickly signed the back, marking it as official, before handing it to Charlotte.

    “All that’s left is the Battle Tower for you, isn’t it?” Thorton asked as he handed the print to Charlotte, to which she nodded. “I’ll have to let Palmer know not to get too comfortable…”

    “Thanks Thorton,” Charlotte said with a grin. “I had fun, even if it was losing to you three times in a row…”

    Half an hour later, Charlotte sat in a cafe, a large milkshake on the table in front of her, as she admired her second-last Battle Frontier Print. The print itself was practically worthless, a glorified autograph from a trainer only famous for a position they held at the Battle Frontier. And whilst each of the Frontier Brains was a talented trainer, their level was closer to that of the last Gym Leader of a region, with the majority of the challenge being both the sheer amount of subsequent wins a competitor needed to even face them, and the gimmick of whatever facility they were the head of.

    Despite all this though, Charlotte couldn’t help but treat it as a little more precious than she knew it was. This had been the hardest to earn by far, and she hoped that was relative to how much she had learnt in order to get it.

    Charlotte was pulled from her thoughts by the buzzing sound of her phone, still on silent mode from the challenge, buzzing on the table.

    ”Chris.”

    Despite the fact that she had been tempted to change Chris’ contact to Pain in my a** numerous times over the years, she never had. She knew why, though for a long time, had forced herself not to think of that reason. The call, however, surprised her. Chris was normally one to text, and given his hectic travel and battling schedule, he was texting them individually less than normal, and instead relying on the group chat. Slightly puzzled, Charlotte answered the phone.

    “Hey, what’s up?”

    ”Nothing much,” came Chris’ voice. ”I’m just on my way up to Snowpoint, and had been meaning to call you for days, but kept getting distracted. Had the thought now, and realised if I got distracted again, it wouldn’t happen, so figured I’d call. Is now a bad time?”

    “No, now’s fine,” Charlotte answered casually. “You on your way to see Candice and Justin?”

    ”Candice first, then Justin,” Chris said, causing Charlotte to chuckle. ”Then after that, the Sinnoh League, but that’s why I’m calling you.”

    “I’m not sure I follow, but go on…”

    ”After the Sinnoh League, I need to get my bike shipped to Hoenn, and figure if that’s forcing me to take a break before I start working my way through Hoenn, I’d spend a bit more time in Sinnoh, then take a flight to Hoenn, instead of travelling by boat like I have been. In terms of when I can actually start competing there, it makes no difference, but I know which I’d prefer,” Chris explained casually. He seemed a little distant, which made Charlotte wonder whether she was on hands free inside Chris’ motorbike helmet as he rode. ”You mind if I come visit for a few days?”

    This took Charlotte by surprise. Chris knew she was currently living in the Battle Zone, which was out of the way for anyone not looking for a holiday, or looking to compete at the Battle Frontier.

    “I mean, sure, but if you’re after a break, wouldn’t you be better off just flying straight to Lilycove and spending some time on the beach there? Or even taking the ferry across to Mossdeep and staying with Jon and Alyssa?” Charlotte said. “It’s just that I imagine you’d be wasting a few days getting here from Canalave, then making your way back to Jubilife for a flight without your bike…”

    ”I mean, I could,” Chris said. ”But then I wouldn’t get to see you?”

    This statement took Charlotte by surprise. Despite the fact they were better friends now than they had ever been, she didn’t think Chris would make that much of a detour just to see her.

    ”I mean, I got to see Dylan and Abbee when I passed by Nimbasa City, and I’ll be seeing Justin and Candice later this week. Then I’ll be seeing Jon, Alyssa, and all the others when I pass through Mossdeep,” Chris explained. ”You’re the only one I wouldn’t be running into on my way through, and if I don’t see you when I can now, it will be September before I get to see you, and that’s if we aren’t still busy after then…”

    Charlotte was silent as she took in Chris’ explanation. She had mixed feelings about it. On the one hand, she wanted to believe that maybe Chris’ reasoning was a convenient excuse and that there was more to it. On the other hand, she wasn’t sure if she wanted to open that can of worms, and was a little relieved that there was a perfectly logical explanation for Chris wanting to spend a few days with her between regions.

    ”It’s okay if you can’t,” Chris assured. ”I get that I’m not the only one working towards something big-”

    “No, it’s fine!” Charlotte said, a little too forcefully. “I have two housemates and no spare rooms, so as long as you don’t mind sleeping on the couch, it’d be good to have you around.”

    “You sure?”

    “Totally,” Charlotte explained. “Sorry, I just beat the Battle Factory after three failed attempts, so my mind is a little hazy…”

    ”I’ll have to take a look when I come visit then,” Chris explained. ”I’ll call you when I’ve beaten the Sinnoh League, and give you an ETA then. All depends on how long travel takes, and whether Cynthia is as tough as they say…”

    “No stress,” Charlotte answered. “Keep in touch…”

    The call ended, though Charlotte couldn’t help but be amused at the redundancy of Chris planning to call after beating the Sinnoh League. Charlotte had ProjectSTN opened as a permanent tab, checking it multiple times a day for updates. She knew that she would be among the first to know.

    Charlotte opened her gallery and found the photo taken at the tattoo shop on the day they left Hoenn. Jon and his five original students stood in a line in awkward positions, showing off their new tattoos. Charlotte stood next to Chris in the photo, though awkwardly with her back half to the camera due to the placement of her own emblem. Both of them seemed happy.

    There was something that Chris said though that was resonating with Charlotte. This would be the last chance to see each other for nearly five months, and that was only accounting for Chris being busy finishing ProjectSTN, and Charlotte preparing to compete in the High Seas Tournament. After that competition, she had every intention of returning to full time competition, and she knew now that Chris would likely not do the same. He had said himself that Charlotte was the better trainer, and that it was part of the reason he was forging a different path, away from the tournament scene. She wasn’t going to see him at competitions. And she had a hunch that if Chris could pull this off, he may receive a job offer he couldn’t refuse, which would take even more of his time.

    As she looked at the photo, she began wondering when she would see each of the others again. Abbee was now established well and truly as Nimbasa City’s Gym Leader, with Dylan very close to starting his business in that area. Justin had just started his job as a police officer in Snowpoint City, and with Candice being the Gym Leader there, would likely stay there as long as she did. Jon and Alyssa had no plan of leaving Hoenn permanently, and Jon was now kept busy preparing Willow to run a second, larger Eon Academy. And whilst Charlotte didn’t know what the Diamond Ladies would do with their lives in any sort of specifics, she figured they’d be spread out to far flung corners of the world.

    Charlotte knew that things had changed. It wasn’t just a matter of them not seeing each other during summers anymore. Even if there weren't thousands of miles between them, and lots of money in airfares to visit, each of her dearest friends had established roots in their own part of the world, and disappearing, even if for a well-earned break from life as they know it, was now far harder.

    As she considered all this, Charlotte made a decision. All of them, Charlotte felt that she had no unfinished business with. As much as she wanted to see her friends, she knew that even if it were a year or more between seeing them, when she did, things would pick up exactly where they left off. All but one.

    “When he comes to see me, I’ll tell him…”

    ************************************************** ************************************************** *****

    “I’m home…”

    Justin closed the door quickly behind him, taking off his shoes in the entryway, and taking off his jacket to hang on the rack just next to the door. Despite the fact that they were getting into spring, Snowpoint would have snow for at least another two weeks before it thawed. And starting work in the last weeks of winter, Justin had picked up this ritual quickly upon returning home. Quickly shutting the door behind him, leaving his shoes at the door, so that he didn’t walk remnants of snow through the house, and hanging up the jacket so that it would dry by morning.

    “How was work?”

    Candice’s voice came from the lounge, as well as the sound of a keyboard clicking. Every year, Gym Leaders were required to write a report to the Pokemon League, filling them in on any changes such as Gym Trainers coming or going, Candice’s own team of Pokemon changing, or even factors that would cause a change in the League Challenge overall. This year, the snowfall had been far heavier over winter, and as such, less trainers made the trek north to get a badge, many opting to wait out the cold weather and take a break over winter. Even now, the snow had only really started to show signs of melting.

    Because of this, it wasn’t uncommon for Candice to be found after work, typing away at her laptop. Whilst she knew Cynthia wouldn’t reduce her paid hours if there weren’t any trainers coming during this section of the year, she wanted to make sure she was working enough to warrant her pay, and as such, was finding other things to benefit the Gym during the quiet season. One idea she had was rewriting the training regime for Gym Trainers and was even hoping to have Justin give a workshop to the Gym Trainers on some Eon Academy style analysis and tactics, and maybe even challenge a few that needed to be humbled a little.

    “It was good,” Justin said as he walked into the lounge. Candice shuffled aside, creating some space, as Justin sank into the corner, before Candice moved her laptop from the coffee table to her lap, and slid closer to him. “Nothing too out of the ordinary…”

    That day had been spent as a passenger in a patrol car with a more experienced officer, who had taken the lead for the majority, allowing Justin to see someone who had been in the position longer in action. Really, the day had been spent between monitoring traffic with a radar gun, before intercepting a few drivers who were sitting substantially above the speed limit, before being called in to assist another pair of officers who were diverting traffic after a tree came down, having grown weak from the constant weight of winter’s snow, blocking the road.

    “Are you sure?” Candice asked, as she decided to clock off for the day herself, and closed her laptop. “You seem to be in really good spirits, for an average day?”

    “Am I not normally in good spirits?” Justin joked.

    “You are, hence the really,” Candice retorted, earning a chuckle from Justin.

    “I’m just really enjoying work,” Justin explained. “I feel like I’m doing something worthwhile, which for a while, I didn’t know I would ever do, and I’m learning heaps on the job.”

    “Because fighting off Blackstone last year wasn’t worthwhile enough?” Candice joked.

    “If I had to fight Blackstone every day as my nine-to-five, I’d be far from this happy,” Justin answered back, as Candice grinned.

    “So what was today’s big lesson?”

    Justin grinned, having wanted to share this observation.

    “When we were parked by Sycamore Road with the radar gun out, within a minute there was someone driving over the limit,” Justin explained. “But when I pointed it out, Rick told me we don’t bother unless they’re at least ten over…”

    Candice grinned at the fact that despite her boyfriend’s intelligence, that he was only understanding this now, something she had clued in on years earlier.

    “He said that if we chased down everyone who was even two over, we’d be too busy writing tickets, for people who may have just made a mistake, that we’d miss the person who is less likely to be intentionally over the limit, and is more likely to cause an accident,” Justin explained. “He said that sure, they are breaking the law, but they are low enough risk that we can just let the speed cameras catch them when they do. But if someone is ten or fifteen over, that needs to be addressed immediately. Both for the sake of not letting them think they’re getting away with it, and to prevent an accident…”

    Once Justin finished, he noticed Candice’s grin, and returned it with a puzzled expression.

    “What?”

    “I just think it’s funny that it took a law degree, police training and three months on the job for you to realise that’s what they do,” Candice explained with a laugh. “You never wondered why the cop you didn’t see when you crept over the limit didn’t pull you over?”

    “I didn’t drive regularly until I moved here, and when I did, I didn’t speed,” Justin answered, a little shocked that Candice half admitted to occasionally speeding herself. Justin wasn’t that naive to think only hardened criminals broke the speed limit. He was certain that Chris had received multiple fines for speeding since he got his motorbike, and knew that Jon likely sat five or ten above the limit, and had received the odd fine. After all, the man who in his younger years tested Latios’ top speed, would likely view speed limits as suggestions. Dylan would likely view them as suggestions as well, however was observant enough to be able to not get caught. As for Charlotte and Abbee, he had only ever been a passenger to Charlotte in other people’s cars, and though she had her licence now, Abbee didn’t drive. He figured of all of them, Abbee was the least likely to go over the limit. And whilst he was no stranger to being a passenger in Candice’s car, he took for granted the fact that she would obey all road laws.

    Candice laughed at Justin’s innocence, as he rolled his eyes. Once he had been in the police force for a year, he could receive training which would allow him to drive patrol cars as high as eighty above the speed limit if he deemed it necessary to perform his duties. Something Candice, nor his friends could claim.

    “Laugh all you want, I won’t be the one driving you when you lose your licence,” Justin chided. As Candice feigned shock.

    “What’s the point of being with a cop if he can’t even get me out of a speeding fine?”

    “We’ll you’re in too deep now,” Justin answered. “You’ve had three years to figure that out, and now I live here…”

    Candice grinned, before relenting, and enjoying the quiet time she got to spend with him. This was not something out of the ordinary. She had known that Justin had bad days during training, given the method the training program used to inspire excellence. Justin and the other recruits were pitted against each other for an arbitrary ranking, and Justin, having performed well early on, had effectively had a target placed on his back. There were days where he was furious with his classmates when Candice called, and she had been worried that he would continue to have bad days like that when he started working in Snowpoint. However, in the few weeks Justin had been working, he had always returned from work in a good mood, the worst being exhausted from a night shift.

    Zayne had been right about the ranking system. The results of assessments that made up the initial rank, such as the physical assessment, written exam, and Pokemon battling ranking, were removed from the equation, with the only ranking left being the one that was based on how well they performed in their training. Justin had taken the number two spot, and Zayne had taken the first, granted, Justin had helped him with his written work as well as improve in battling. Whilst he knew Chris and Charlotte would be seething at the idea of coming second, he was more than happy with it, though he did find a considerable amount of satisfaction seeing people who were letting the ranking system get the better of their judgement plummet when the final ranks were actually released.

    “Honestly, I’m just waiting for the challengers to come back to Snowpoint,” Candice said with a sigh. “I reckon Hoenn’s Elite Four will have more challenges than I do. And what’s the deal? People don’t want to come to Snowpoint during winter? We live here!”

    Justin laughed at Candice’s admonishment of trainers waiting for winter to be over before making the trek. Although the temperature wasn’t as cold as the Crown Tundra, where he and Candice first met en route to, he couldn’t help but admit that he’d prefer it if Snowpoint were a little less cold.

    “Well I know for sure you’ll have a challenger by the end of the week,” Justin said. “I’m willing to bet he’ll be more excited to see you than me…”

    Candice couldn’t help but laugh at Justin’s explanation of the circumstances they would soon find themselves in.

    “I mean, it’ll be good to have a challenger, but I think Chris may just embarrass me,” Candice joked. “He beat Abbee when she was going all out, and I know she is already a better trainer than me.”

    “True, but I think Abbee may have given him a scare with that…”

    “What makes you say that?” Candice asked, genuinely surprised.

    “Because there has been a suspicious lack of gloating considering Abbee was likely one of the most difficult battles he fought so far,” Justin said with a grin. “If she didn’t have him on the ropes like she did, he’d have a bit more to say about that battle…”

    ************************************************** ************************************************** *****

    The battle so far had been close, although Chris had managed to keep ahead the almost entire time. He and Candice had agreed to a standard three on three match, with Candice opening with her Abomasnow, and Chris opening with Hydreigon. She had chosen Abomasnow to open for multiple reasons. The main one being that she didn’t think Chris would open with Charizard. Candice had Regice at her disposal, and Charizard was the only one of Chris’ Pokemon that held anything remotely resembling a type advantage against it, which may not even be enough for it to beat a Legendary Pokemon. As such, she figured that if there was any match she was safe opening with a Pokemon double disadvantaged to fire, it was this one.

    Hydreigon beat down Abomasnow with sheer brutality, wearing down the Ice-Grass Type until it fell, and Candice responded by sending out the one non-Ice Type she was allowed on her Gym team; Medicham. Both Justin and Chris knew that Candice had more than just type advantages backing this matchup. Medicham was a powerful and precise Pokemon, which was exactly what Candice had needed against a Pokemon as unhinged as Hydreigon. Medicham made short work of Hydreigon, prompting Chris to send out Lugia, knowing that the Legendary Pokemon would be disadvantaged against Regice, and that there wasn’t going to be a better time to use it.

    To Chris’ shock however, Candice managed to use this matchup to even the playing field. By using some well timed Thunder Punch attacks, Medicham was able to paralyse Lugia, buying a precious opportunity to use the powerful, yet deadly if misperformed, Axe Kick, which even against Lugia’s double advantage, was enough to end the matchup, albeit with enough recoil to Medicham to knock it out as well. Now, both trainers faced each other with a Pokeball in hand, each knowing what the other was planning on sending out.

    “Charizard, it’s on you!”

    “Go Regice!”

    The fact that Candice had gotten Chris into this position, where the result of this matchup would determine the battle, was testament to her skills, and despite having a type advantage, Chris knew that Candice held the upper hand. Charizard naturally suited being a fast attacker, be it special or physical attacks, whilst Regice was slow, relying on its defensive capability. Its defence against special attacks was second only to Shuckle, a Pokemon Chris had lost to before on the basis of its incredible defensive capability. And whilst Regice’s ability to take a hit from physical moves was nothing to sneeze at either, it also had attack power in special moves near equal to Charizard. In a straight up offensive battle, Regice would wear Charizard down before Charizard could deliver a match ending hit. Additionally, Chris knew that a drawn out match would not suit.

    Despite not being an Elite Four Member or Champion herself, Candice was in a unique position, she was a Gym Leader with a Legendary Pokemon, but was the last one in her sequence, and unlike Abbee who needed to hold back against standard battlers far more, Candice was only one step before the Sinnoh Elite Four. Additionally, Regice matched her Gym’s typing. For all these reasons, Chris was more apprehensive about Regice, who in the four years since being captured, had battled a far wider variety of difficult opponents, far more regularly than Victini.

    Because of this however, Chris had made sure he had an idea for how to handle Regice well before he arrived in Sinnoh. Initially it was a simple plan, being to make sure Regice went down before it had a chance to make use of its already impressive stat pool, however with enough time planning, and research into Regice, available thanks to Lauren Mendez of Jubilife University, Chris fleshed it out into something he thought may even take Jon by surprise.

    “Belly Drum!” Chris commanded, as Charizard roared, slapping its large claw to its exposed belly, inflicting pain on itself, but using the pain to bring its attack power to its peak. He saw Candice’s eyes widen as she realised what his tactic was and knew he had to time his next move perfectly.

    “Protect!” Candice ordered, knowing a heavy hit was coming, and at the same moment, Chris called out Charizard’s next move.

    “Substitute, then Fire Punch!”

    Regice’s most glaring weakness was its speed, or lack thereof, making it easy for Charizard to act first. As Regice raised the protect barrier, Charizard had vanished, being replaced with a stuffed toy. After a moment, when the barrier flickered out of existence, and Regice was about to receive Candice’s next order, a roar echoed through the gym, as behind the Legendary Titan, Charizard reappeared, its claw engulfed in flames, before being launched into Regice.

    In a single hit, Regice was thrown across the battlefield, and toppled over, unmoving, as Candice watched in shock.

    “That was brilliant…” Candice said after a moment of silence, before her grin erupted into amused laughter. “I’ve prided myself on not losing a Pokemon to a single hit, and not only did you pull it off, it was against Regice of all Pokemon!”

    Candice called Regice back to its Pokeball as Chris made his way forward, Candice’s own delight becoming contagious.

    “I knew that was the only way I could beat Regice. In anything even remotely drawn out, Charizard would have been at a huge disadvantage,” Chris explained. “So I put all my planning into finding a way for Charizard to end this as fast as it started…”

    “That was brilliant!” Candice said again in shock. “I didn’t even know Charizard could learn Belly Drum, but then using Substitute to trigger its Blaze ability was poetry!”

    Chris couldn’t help but grin, impressed she had understood his tactic so quickly.

    “In Paldea there is a herb called a Mirror Herb. It can be used to teach a Pokemon a move from other Pokemon that it could inherit. Charizard can inherit Belly Drum from a Snorlax if there is one in its ancestry, though don’t ask me about the logistics of that,” Chris explained, as Candice’s grin disappeared for the first time since the battle ended, being replaced by a grimace at the mental picture Chris had brought to mind. “So I tracked down one of these herbs, found a trainer with a Snorlax who used Belly Drum, got a spit sample, and fed the herb to Charizard. And it worked a treat.”

    Candice nodded emphatically, as she began wondering how she could use this information to strengthen her own team.

    “I’ll have to tell Justin that I almost had you,” Candice said mischievously. “I’d love to see him go up against that…”

    “And if you told him Charizard beat Regice in under ten seconds, he wouldn’t want to try his luck?” Chris asked, as Candice nodded in agreement.

    “We’ll see if we can convince him for a match before dinner tonight,” Candice explained. “You’ll have plenty of time to head to the Pokemon Centre before then…”

    ************************************************** ************************************************** *****

    Justin was thankful that he had chosen to use Alakazam during the battle that Candice had pressed him to give Chris. Both trainers had opted for a sudden death battle, with only one Pokemon each. And whilst Justin was shocked to see Charizard use Belly Drum, he wasted no time in turning the tables on Charizard.

    “Speed Swap, then Power Swap!” Justin ordered, as within moments of Charizard’s attack power being boosted, its speed was stolen, and with said stolen speed, its attack boosts were also taken, leaving it even more weakened than it had been earlier.

    “Shadow Claw!” Chris ordered, knowing it was his only chance, however had a pretty good idea of how this match would end.

    “Taunt!” Justin ordered, preventing Chris from ordering a Protect. “Then Psycho Cut!”

    With Charizard’s naturally high speed, and Alakazam’s unnaturally low speed being switched, Chris stood helplessly as Justin prevented him from doing anything to stop the match ending hit, before ordering the hit itself. Charizard lunged forward, striking Alakazam with the Ghost Type slashing attack, which Alakazam, due to being specialised in defensive capability and constitution, at the expense of its natural attack power and speed, wore the hit, before retaliating with a slashing movement of its hand, swiping through the air, creating a telekinetic blade which struck Charizard, knocking it out in a single hit.

    “Really?” Candice asked in exasperation. “Did you have to make it look that easy?”

    Chris grinned. Even though he knew Justin was an exceptional trainer, like all who came from the Eon Academy, even he had been surprised at how quickly Justin had ended the match.

    “Your job involves competitive battling and assessing a trainer's skills. Mine relies on me at times needing to use Pokemon to neutralise a situation before it can get worse,” Justin said with a laugh. “The problem with an all-in tactic like that is that if it doesn’t work as intended, it is dead in the water.”

    “Come on, you have to admit, you were lucky to have chosen Alakazam,” Chris retorted.

    “Lucky, or did I know you well enough to know that in a sudden death-match, you wouldn’t be dawdling at all?” Justin answered. “I knew you would be running out of the gate at a full sprint, and the best way to stop someone who is doing that is to trip them up.”


    Despite the fact that they debated how much of Justin’s win came from luck, Chris knew that Justin had won due to skill alone. He could see that even in the six months since they all left the Eon Academy, Justin had improved immensely in light of his police training. Chris knew it wasn’t just Justin though. Abbee as well had improved, thanks to her time as Gym Leader, practically giving him a win out of the goodness of her heart, and the fact she could remind him of it later. This was especially shocking considering none of Abbee’s opponents at the Nimbasa Gym would be challenging her enough that the battles stretched her. It was something else.

    Chris couldn’t help but find it interesting that for so long, he, like so many others considered Jon’s teaching at the Eon Academy to be a specialist program of sorts, helping them grow in their capacity to analyse themselves and their opponents, be creative with tactics and battle outside of the box. The reason this seemed to be so specialised is because it was something not discussed at even the most prestigious battling schools like the College of the North Wind.

    What Chris was seeing though was actually the opposite. Jon’s teachings were far from specialised; it just so happened that his first students, with the exception of Dylan and to some degree, Justin, came in already skilled in battling for their age. Instead, they were basic principles that allowed those who learnt them to grow at a faster and deeper rate.

    He considered Abbee, whose job now was pushing challenging trainers to their limits in order that they battle at their best and grow from it. Abbee no doubt had sustained the most official losses since leaving the Academy, as a Gym Leader who never loses creates a choke point in the League, however even then, she was able to pose the first real threat to Chris in his own journey by that very skill. Chris hadn’t seen Dylan battle since the pair of them fought Obsidian, the second-in-command of the Blackstone force that attacked the Eon Academy, but the more he thought about it, the more he understood Dylan’s speciality.

    Dylan had been considered the wall of the group, being impenetrable and hard to break, however seeing how Dylan coordinated the response to Deoxys attacking, assisted Jon in Alola, and fought to the bitter end to protect the Eon Academy from Blackstone, Chris now realised Dylan was less of a wall, and more of a shield. Whilst Abbee’s own speciality was pushing trainers to their limit so they could grow, Dylan’s was protecting what was dear to him, regardless of what was in front of him.

    Justin had specialised in battling in a way that would help him neutralise whatever situation he could find himself in quickly and efficiently, and not be taken by surprise, and Chris himself, had specialised in beating Pokemon Leagues, effectively having to be outnumbered by a factor of five-to-one, and find a way to hold his ground, whilst also pushing back hard enough that he could move forward. He found himself wondering where Charlotte had specialised, given how she’d been spending recent months, and the fact that her path was the one closest to what Jon had been training them for.

    The trio went out for dinner, and after a meal, Justin dropped Candice off at home, whilst he and Chris made their way to a bar to catch up on the last few months. As Justin found a booth for the pair, and enjoyed the moment of relaxation, the first since he had gotten up for work that morning, Chris joined him, carrying two glasses. As Justin took his, the smell of rum wafted from it. He tried to hide his concern, however Chris spotted it before he had the chance.

    “I’m only having the one,” Chris said, knowing what Justin was concerned about. “Having a repeat of my eighteenth is the last thing I want…”

    Justin nodded, trusting that Chris was self-aware enough for things to not go downhill after a single drink. He knew his friend had a tendency of being stubborn, with himself in particular. The fact Chris had said he would only have one, would be enough for him to not have another, even if it was probably safe for him to do. Justin knew that part of the reason Chris let himself go without contact with Jon as long as he did, despite not holding a grudge, was that he felt he had brought this on himself, and he owed it to everyone else to keep his word.

    The pair spent the next half hour catching up on the last six months, Chris sharing some of the highs and lows of ProjectSTN so far, and Justin sharing his experience of the Sinnoh Police Academy, and his first few months on the job. As the conversation progressed though, Justin was taken aback slightly by a question asked by Chris.

    “How have things been with Candice since moving in?”

    By this point, the pair were drinking soft drinks, and Justin had been taking a sip of his as Chris spoke.

    “Things have been great,” Justin answered, as he placed the glass down. “We’d been together for three and a half years before then, so it’s not like we had any reservations going into it. It just made sense.”

    Chris nodded, understanding where Justin had been coming from. Part of the reason that he and Abbee’s relationship failed was that Abbee had been thinking ahead to the point in their relationship that Justin and Candice were at now, and even further, and seeing the problems that were likely to arise on their current course. Chris however, wanted to wait until they arose to address them, which became a wedge between the pair, even before Chris burnt bridges with herself, Dylan and Jon. And now that he saw Justin and Candice reaching the point that had Abbee worried, and came to terms with the fact that if Dylan’s house was completed, Abbee may be moving in with him as well, he understood even more how right Abbee was to have the concerns she did, and end the relationship. Even if he wasn’t competing in the way he had originally planned, had he and Abbee stayed together, she’d likely have only seen him once since they left the Eon Academy. And if Jon were right about what may happen if Chris were to complete STN, he would be anchored down to one place, far away from her. Despite himself, he found himself grateful that Dylan had decided to move himself to her end of the world. Though Abbee had Victini, her brother travelled to compete, and was based out of Johto, and her parents were gone. Having Dylan with her would likely mean the world to her.

    “That’s good,” Chris answered simply. “So there weren’t any big red flags that came up the moment you started living together?”

    Chris had meant the question as a joke, but Justin shook his head.

    “Honestly, none. The only thing that was even remotely tricky was the fact that the house was hers before I came into the picture, let alone move in. It’s hard to not feel like I’m a tenant in her home, instead of it being my home as well,” Justin explained. “Not that she hasn’t made it abundantly clear that she sees it as my home too. If I wanted to change the decor, or turn the spare room into a study, she’d never make me feel like it’s her house and I can’t do it, but…”

    “It’s not the same as having a home you worked to earn,” Chris said finishing the sentence for Justin, realising how difficult that feeling must be. Chris had been single since he and Abbee broke up two and a half year earlier, and the entire time, had no compulsion to look for another relationship. Even this idea of moving in with someone seemed so adult and foreign, given the fact that his own life had not progressed very far in that direction at all. Despite the fact that he was now twenty, he still felt like a child to some degree, even if he had experienced more in the last five years than most people do in their entire lives.

    “But it’s not anything worth laying awake at night over, and is something that won’t be a problem forever…” Justin said, pulling Chris from his thoughts, prompting a puzzled look.

    “You sound awfully certain about that?” Chris noted. “Don’t get me wrong, I like the optimism, but feelings are pretty unpredictable…”

    “I’m not talking about feelings,” Justin said as he took another sip. “Remember why I saved money like an absolute fiend the last few years? Why I took that Coronet job?”

    Chris initially didn’t know what Justin was talking about, until he mentioned Coronet Outdoor and Camping, and the ill-fated advertisement Justin featured in years earlier.

    “You wanted to save up for a house?”

    Justin nodded.

    “Candice bought her house in Snowpoint not long after we met. The Gym had been paying her rent in order to keep her in Snowpoint, and she’d saved well in the few years prior to get a deposit,” Justin explained. “But it’s a house that suited someone living by themself, you know? It’s smaller than Jon and Alyssa’s house, only really enough space for one car, and is feeling a little cramped with both of us there. That and it’s close to the Gym, but on the other side of Snowpoint to the police station. I didn’t know it would be like this exactly, but I had an idea it might be ages ago, so started saving money wherever I could.

    “So you and her will be looking to buy somewhere else in Snowpoint?” Chris asked. Justin nodded.

    “I’ve got about sixty percent of a reasonable deposit, and Candice had about thirty percent saved herself. So at the rate we’re going, it won’t be long before we can afford to buy something between the two of us that suits the pair of us more, move there, and sell Candice’s place to pay off a good chunk of the loan,” Justin explained. “I was paid to do training, and am currently on a provisional contract which ends after three months. After that I’ll get a decent pay-rise which should help.”

    Chris nodded, before having another thought.

    “When did we get so old that after not seeing each other for six months, we end up talking about deposits, mortgages and the housing market…”

    ************************************************** ************************************************** *****

    There was a clunk as the large circuit breaker was pulled down, allowing power to the large lights of the Stadium at Castelia Ridge Academy. Jon and Willow stood in awe as the lights illuminated the giant battlefield, as well as the thousands of spectator seats. The battlefield was twice the dimensions of that of the Eon Academy, whilst in terms of seating, it could seat over thirty times the amount of spectators. Not even the S.S. Wishmaker had a stadium this large.

    “He wasn’t kidding when he told me about the scope of this place…” Jon said in awe. Willow nodded in agreement.

    “I almost feel bad that I’ll be the one overseeing this place while you’re looking after the one on Mossdeep. It feels like it should be the other way around,” Willow replied, taking in the sight, and feeling a sense of anxiety that an establishment like this would be run at her discretion.

    “Don’t,” Jon answered. “I don’t want to leave Mossdeep any time soon…”

    Alyssa and Amelia had stayed back at Dylan’s house, enjoying his hospitality. The four had arrived from Mossdeep a week earlier, where for the majority of the time, they had helped Dylan and Abbee with purchasing and transporting furniture, whilst also looking for a car for Abbee, so that she could drive in to work each day. Whilst Dylan worked from home, his car was a little bit too big and cumbersome to be driving into the city and parking daily. Once things had slowed down however, Jon had rented a car, before he and Willow drove south in order to see the site of the second Eon Academy.

    Their intention had been to see the site and assess what work it needed before it would be suitable to be a second Eon Academy. They had arrived at two that afternoon, with the intention being that they would give it a quick inspection, and drive back, arriving back at Dylan’s in time for dinner. However there had been two misconceptions. The first was that they would need more than the two or so hours they had allotted to inspecting the property in order to give it a proper inspection. The property itself was slightly larger than the Eon Academy at Mossdeep City, however unlike the established Academy, which enjoyed separate buildings and open spaces between, this property was mostly covered with buildings, with small communal gardens and shared spaces between. Additionally, when the property had run out of space, the structures were built vertically. Jon looked at the furthest back seats, and how high they were compared to the battlefield. This was only possible because the stadium shared five floors of classrooms and other facilities, with an equally high building nearby for accommodation. They would likely spend at least triple the time they had allocated inspecting the property, and arrive back at Dylan’s some time after midnight.

    The second misconception was how much would actually be needed for this Academy to function. From what they had seen so far, there was no significant work needed to make the property viable. Willow had made a point of the fact that the Eon Academy had grown from training thirty-five people in 2019 to two hundred in 2022, and that it may keep expanding, so additional floors may become necessary. Jon however disagreed.

    “As much as I’d love to just keep expanding to meet the need, it isn’t viable. If between the two hundred we can house on Mossdeep, and the five hundred who can fit here, we don’t have enough space, we would need to look into a third location, and that would only work if between now and then, we find another person willing to oversee that one,” Jon had said. “It’s okay for us to draw a line in the sand at what we can actually do, and seven hundred people every summer is no small feat…”

    The only suggested large-scale work was looking into building an underground carpark, as between summers, they would likely be renting rooms to college students attending Castelia University, and those from other parts of Unova might bring cars. This however was not something that would make or break the first summer for the Castelia Eon Academy.

    As the pair wandered the large battlefield, Willow called out to Jon.

    “I’ve had another idea…”

    Jon turned to face her, knowing that as she had become more accustomed to the idea of running this new Eon Academy, her creativity was worth its weight in gold. She had already suggested numerous ideas that he was now eager to implement on both sites.

    “One of the biggest hurdles to this plan was finding somebody who not only you could trust with the Eon Academy image, but who could battle well enough to be worthy of the position to run it,” Willow explained. “And whilst I don’t doubt that you trust me, getting my battling up to scratch in the fifteen months between now and this place opening its doors is going to be a difficult feat-”

    “We’re working on that,” Jon interjected, and Willow nodded.

    “I’m aware. But I’m also aware that in your first summer, you brought in five battlers, three who were naturally talented and were growing stronger on their own, one naturally talented who needed a gentle kick in the a**, and one who was basically a beginner. And since then, they have grown at an alarming rate,” Willow explained. “What I’m getting towards is whilst the level you will have me at will likely be good enough to teach 99% of the people who come here, it’s the 1% who are like Charlotte and Chris which worry me…”

    Jon nodded in understanding, though wasn’t sure he agreed, but figured that Willow wouldn’t be saying this lightly.

    “So what’s the idea?”

    “I was thinking about Justin’s police training, where they ranked them all as a motive for them to try their hardest, and thought maybe taking a page from that book wouldn’t be a bad idea to solve both problems…”

    Jon gave Willow a puzzled look, prompting her to continue.

    “What I’m saying is, what if instead of people applying to come to this Eon Academy or the Hoenn one, they are applying for the Eon Academy overall. People who are coming for the first time, and have no recorded battles come here by default and train under me. But those who you know are the best, the top two-hundred, they go to Hoenn and train under you…”

    The idea was not one Jon had considered. In his mind, he had figured that students would opt to go to the Eon Academy that was most convenient. And whilst it sounded harsh and sterile to have one Academy be for the better battlers and the other for everyone else, it made sense logistically.

    “So if there are people attending the Academy who are close to your level, or theoretically past it-”

    “Then they would likely be in the top two-hundred, and would be better suited to your teaching anyway,” Willow explained. “This isn’t without its flaws; we’d need to market it well for people to not react poorly, and I know we’d have people complaining if their friends wound up in Mossdeep but they stayed here, or if we have Mossdeep locals thinking they will go there, but wind up having to come here. But for the small handful it doesn’t suit, it would have benefits for everyone else…”

    Jon nodded in understanding, speaking out loud, largely to process his own thoughts.

    “The stronger trainers who likely need more of a challenge will be amongst those who are most able to challenge them, and will be in a smaller cohort, so I’ll be able to provide specialised training when it’s warranted. And it will be a motivator for people to make the most of the summer, in order to get to the Mossdeep Academy, or to stay there,” Jon muttered.

    “It would mean a heck of a lot of work before summers,” Willow explained. “In terms of assessing students' capability and deciding who goes to which Academy with enough time that parents can actually make arrangements to get them there.”

    “We’d also have to be more intentional about age brackets,” Jon explained. “This summer coming up and last summer, I didn’t place any limits of how many campers of each age came, because it’s not like we had underage interns who would be trying to manage students their own age. But let’s say we do this, and of the seven hundred people, three hundred are twelve…”

    Thirteen was the youngest age that students could attend the Eon Academy, and Willow knew that whilst there were exceptions to the rule, for example, Abbee being the youngest battler of the original five, and in her first day, beating Dylan, the oldest, Willow knew that generally older battlers were more experienced and more skilled. If they weren’t intentional about who signed up, and allowed three hundred twelve year olds to join, what would likely happen is that if they all became regulars, by the time they were sixteen or seventeen, they would fill Mossdeep completely, allowing no variance in age.

    “We’d need to limit it to 140 students of each age,” Willow agreed. “Just so that we end up with an even spread.”

    Jon nodded, and found himself ever-thankful that Willow had betrayed Agatha and sought him out. Despite the other interns, past and present, not being unintelligent by any means, Willow was the closest person to Dylan in terms of her creative thinking when it came to running and innovating a facility such as this. Whilst Cassandra had partially filled Dylan’s role, that was largely due to her leadership capabilities. But when it came to logistics such as this, figuring out how they would determine who would be sent where, this was Willow’s strength. And when it came to problems she couldn’t solve through conventional methods, Jon knew that Willow’s knowledge and creativity with Shadowcraft would fill any gaps.

    “So fifteen months…” Jon muttered as he took in the sight of the stadium, imagining it filled with students, watching in awe. He looked to Willow, before making up his mind.

    “What?” Willow asked, noticing the grin he wore.

    “You’ve got little experience battling against Rayquaza, seeing as it can’t let loose back home without there being collateral,” Jon explained. “Well, this is a pretty huge battlefield that needs to be christened…”

    Jon unlatched a Pokeball, before standing in the nearby square that marked the position of the trainer in battle.

    “Just because we’re in Unova, doesn’t mean training is on pause…”

  11. #210
    I came in like a wrecking ball... [Desolate Divine]'s Avatar
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    Two months since my last release, but for good reason.

    As of Wednesday Nov 22nd, pending results, I have now completed my university degree, and finally have significant free time on my hands. Technically I was supposed to hand in the essay two weeks earlier but got an extension due to difficulties at work, but now it's done, I finally have some time to get this done!

    Two Epilogue Episodes left, and we know some things that will happen in them. After that, Eon Academy loses its seasonal, episodic nature and becomes a series of short stories. I already have two similar ones in mind, and am eager to see how it all comes together.

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