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Thread: Travels of the Trifecta! (PG-13)

  1. #126
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    Um, ok...WOW! I was searching for good fics and I noticed this thread had a lot of views so I took a look inside and was pulled right in! I got so hooked, I stayed up most of last night reading it and I finished what you have so far today.

    I just love everything about this fic and I love you for writing it! Paul is probably my favorite character in the anime because he's so mysterious. I love how you made a background story for him. I really tried to find something to critique so I could give a constructive review but I couldn't.

    The anime only explains in one episode where Paul battles Brandon ANYTHING about Paul's past at all. I love that you gave Paul a reason to be so grumpy: it's in his genes, he has a deceased mother, he inherited her disease, and he has a broken family. Ash has a happy-go-lucky life (love how you made him as kind of a villian almost) so he doesn't understand why Paul is so mean. He just jumps to conclusions and constantly lectures Paul. I always hated Ash's lectures in the anime, it got so annoying!

    And btw, you made me love Conway. You made him sweet. Instead of the sneaky perv we see him as in the anime, he has a genuine love for Dawn. He's hilarious, too. You almost killed me with laughter when he started talking like Yoda.

    You also did really well in mixing the events of the anime with your own story. I noticed you were keeping in mind what was happening in the anime as you wrote your fic. That's kind of what I did with my fic. I'm having Ash fight the Elite Four before we even know if he wins the Sinnoh League in the anime. Though it's mostly about a hypothetical final episode of the Pokemon anime (at the rate it's going, however, the anime will probably never end lol!)

    So anyway, that's just my thoughts and a long way of asking you to add me to your PM List. I also have a great idea for a Fanart I could do for your fic if you want me to. Keep up the great work!

    New Chapter: Chapter 4- Unova

    Pirates of the Caribbean: The Creature of Storms
    Also check out my completed crossover of Pokemon and Pirates by clicking the title!


    "Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God."
    Ephesians 6:17

  2. #127
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    (Finally, Chapter 15, aka Let's Stretch Out A Pyramiding Rage! As Far As Humanly Possible! Yeah, you enjoy that. This'll likely be the last chapter before the Diamond & Pearl anime series ends too, sob. I appreciate all the comments, too! Thanks a bunch!)



    "So you must be Candice, the Gym Leader?"

    "Y-yes."

    "I challenge you to a Gym Battle."



    All those present at the entrance of the Snowpoint Gym stared on at the very determined Paul who had just shown up in the area a mere moment ago. Short, quick, and to the point… that was who he was; naturally, that left those surprised by his appearance a tad shaken. This was especially true for Zoey; for her this was her very first impression of Paul, and it was less than pleasant for her, to say the least. She looked to her mentor, Candice, wondering how she would address this stranger.

    Candice had just come fresh off an intense four-on-four battle with Ash… naturally she was flighty anyway, but in her present state, she hadn't quite caught on yet that she very well knew who this person challenging her was. But that voice… that very distinct voice was subconsciously guiding her as she stumbled into an explanation to serve as her official response to the direct challenge.

    "I'm sure you must have come a long way for this," she said, clearly uneasy in turning him down, but brought out a smile so that she wouldn't worry the others with her sudden, insecure sentiments… though Zoey had already well caught on. "But I just finished a battle with Ash and I'd like to give the gang a rest. … How about tomorrow?" Just by having to address him, she was sensing the familiarity…

    Much to Candice's relief, Paul softened a bit as he consented to her suggestion. "Alright then. Tomorrow it is."

    Though he was determined to settle the score once and for all as soon as he could, Paul could deal with another night of waiting… it would give him the chance to rest and review his planned strategy… again, nothing like Conway's, and not nearly as effective as his former partner's… but it was better than nothing, which was what Paul had the first time he challenged Candice. The result from that… Paul was sure to prevent an embarrassing loss like that in the future. Having no further business with Candice, he turned around and started to walk off to where he would be staying for the night. He was concerned with the confused and tense look on Candice's face, but was relieved that she still managed to keep her word and not treat him as a familiar.

    If only his escape from this group could be this simple. Ash was definitely not settling for letting his rival go already. Though he knew better to bring up what happened in Squallville… knowing Paul, he would definitely blow it off. He opted for proving to Paul that he was indeed progressing as he held up his freshly-won Icicle Badge.

    "Hey, Paul! Check it out; I just got my seventh badge," Ash told him gleefully, unable to contain the giddiness of winning a hard-fought battle not even an hour ago. "One more and I'm in the Sinnoh League! So how many do you have?"

    Paul stopped, but didn't turn around to face the group again. But his eyes widened as his rival specifically mentioned that the badge he just won… was his seventh.

    How many badges did Paul currently have again…? Oh, yes. Only six. Ash was officially ahead of him. Paul resisted the surge of pain that coursed through his body as that fact registered in his mind… he was definitely going to have to take more of his medication once he got settled in. Of course, there was no way Paul would admit to Ash that he was the one behind in the journey to the Sinnoh League… even if only by a small amount. Paul may be terminally ill, but he still had shreds of his pride remaining.

    It was time to drop the act and just be himself. "That's none of your business."

    Following that, it was definitely time for Paul to get out of there as he briskly walked away, managing to get away this time.

    "Hmph," Ash sulked. "What's his problem?" Not a day went by that Ash, whenever meeting Paul, would not end up complaining about his attitude.

    Brock was a bit more understanding over the matter, though he could tell Paul did seem to carry himself a bit differently from the time the group saw him last. "Ash, that's how he is," he said reassuringly. Really, that's all that could be said for anything related to Paul.

    "Who is?" Zoey finally asked, already getting bad vibes from merely seeing Paul for the first time.

    Dawn was quick to give her rival the details. "His name is Paul. He's really Ash's rival…" Dawn laughed hollowly at her own statement; even now she wasn't certain if "rival" was really the best word to describe Paul and his significance to Ash. "They seem to get into fights whenever they meet."

    Though it had yet to reach that point, Dawn worried one day that a confrontation between the two would get physical. That was the last thing she wanted to see, though with Brock on hand, he would be able to patch Ash up should he suffer any severe blows. Still, it was scary for her to imagine the scenario all the same.

    Candice meanwhile kept her eyes on Paul until he was too far away to see. Having heard his name multiple times now, remembering his voice and demeanor… it finally came back to her. She was glad she didn't spill any details on accident, but even though she had dealt with Paul in the past, this was her first time seeing him interact with his so-hated rival. She remembered Paul namedropped him a few days ago during their brief meeting. Though he spoke of Ash in such a vile way, it still shook Candice to see the friction right before her very eyes.

    "Dawn… you and Zozo are rivals too," she said, sounding uneasy. "But it's nothing like this; that's for sure…"

    It just then occurred to Candice… none of Paul's peers knew about his recently-diagnosed condition. Then again, she remembered Paul wanted her to keep her mouth shut about that detail especially. Zoey remained unsettled by Candice's reactions, but as daylight was swiftly fading, it was time for the group to go their separate ways for the night.




    Nighttime was no excuse to Paul; now that he had a little extra time for last-minute preparations before his Gym Battle, he knew it was important for him to go over and review his strategy. Just to keep his senses sharp, he decided to spend a little more time getting his newest Pokémon, Magmar, up to speed with the rest of his team by using Electabuzz, the only other Pokémon on his team that wouldn't be used for the Gym Battle. It was a shame, as Electabuzz had a powerful Brick Break attack that would devastate Candice's team, but Paul was still determined to challenge himself as much and he possibly could… now that he knew he was dying, it made sense why Paul needlessly made things so much harder for himself.

    By undergoing these extremes… Paul felt alive. Otherwise, he practically regarded himself as the walking dead.

    While Ash's presence in Snowpoint City bothered Paul greatly, it was likely only because this issue was stacked on top of so many other problems Paul was having right now. By having Ash around, it was just one more setback Paul had no choice but to deal with. Not to mention, seeing the familiar trio knowing they weren't aware of his most serious problem made it a bit harder for Paul to communicate with them than it already was. His illness prevented him from saying much to Ash at Squallville and even cost him the PokéRinger competition in a way. On the plus side, Ash had finished his business with Snowpoint City today… with any luck, Paul hoped, Ash would be out of the area completely by the next day.

    "Use Smog!" Paul commanded Magmar, testing out the effectiveness of his Pokémon's move set. Magmar delivered, just as Paul expected with all of his Pokémon, as a thick, poisonous haze covered the field and all those present within it.

    It was very dense; very widespread. Paul nodded with approval. "Alright. Electabuzz, try to find it and use Brick Break. Magmar, I expect you to defend."

    He was looking forward to evolving Magmar very soon. Both it and Electabuzz were long overdue for it; Lairon aside, they were the only active teammates who had not fully evolved. Paul intended to have his full team at their maximum potential before it was time for the Sinnoh League Conference. However, Paul had neglected to actually rest yet even though he reached the Pokémon Center, instead opting to train immediately and go over his plans for Candice tomorrow… which also meant he neglected to take his medication. Most importantly of that, he did not take his antibiotics. As a result, once Paul was consumed with the Smog attack, he found himself coughing uncontrollably. Poison-type attacks were going to be risky measures from now on as long as Paul was a potential target. It was apparent his disease rendered his body extremely vulnerable to an array of bacteria and poisons.

    Paul winced as he coughed so hard that he felt the tiny speckles of blood shooting out from his mouth. His lips trembled a bit as he realized what he had just done, completely forgetting about the training. Magmar blocked Electabuzz's Brick Break efficiently, but once the Smog move cleared out and they clearly heard their trainer in pain, they looked over to him with concern. Once he noticed, Paul stood straight and silently assured his Pokémon that he was fine. There was one important thing Paul always kept in mind… that a leader must not even look weak. The last thing he wanted was his Pokémon doubting his abilities… even though his past actions had already given them all more than enough reason to worry for his health; both physical and mental.

    "Adequate," he said hollowly, attempting to shrug off his ailment like he did with every other problem in his life. "Now, Electabuzz… see how your defense holds up against Magmar."

    Meanwhile, inside the Pokémon Center, many of Paul's peers huddled near a fireplace in the lobby. Brock (holding Happiny) and Dawn (holding Piplup) were filling Zoey in on everything they knew about Paul. Zoey's trusty Glameow was by her side as her friends exposited about this unsettling stranger she just met.

    "Wow," Zoey remarked, somewhat in shock. "I've gotta admit I'm surprised Paul was Chimchar's first trainer…" Thinking it over, something else very apparent and odd occurred to her. "Whoa, and from what I can see, Ash and Paul couldn't be any more different if they tried."

    "Which is exactly why the two of them couldn't ignore each other if they tried," Brock pointed out. That much was evident given how many times those two had crossed paths in the vast region of Sinnoh over the past year. It was both fascinating and horrifying at the same time.

    Dawn looked around, realizing something. "Speaking of Ash, where did he go?"

    "Didn't he say he had to use the bathroom?" Zoey asked.

    "That was at least half an hour ago," Brock noticed, sounding concerned. "We'd better check up on him."

    Dawn nodded in agreement. "I mean, he can get distracted real easily; that's for sure… but where else would he go at this hour?"

    Zoey stood up, frowning and clearly concerned. "From what you both have been telling me, I've got a feeling we should check outside first. If what you said is true, Brock…"

    Brock understood what Zoey was getting at. "It's true that he's staying the night here as well… wherever he is, Ash is sure to follow."

    "Then we'd better hurry," Dawn sputtered, already paranoid and concerned. "If we leave those two alone for too long…"

    "He'll have to answer to me," Zoey assured. Ever since the Wallace Cup tournament came and went, Zoey considered Ash a good friend of hers just as she felt with Dawn in spite of their conflicting viewpoints initially. She learned from him, Nando, and Fantina that there really was no problem with being a Trainer and Coordinator simultaneously. Not to mention this was her turf; Zoey wasn't about to let any friend of hers be harmed in her neighborhood. She was the proactive one of the three, immediately heading outside while Brock and Dawn hastily trailed behind her.

    It was like yin and yang with Ash and Paul, almost. Though it was an unpleasant, twisted version of the concept where the two were unable to compliment each other or maintain any form of balance. Aside from the recent trend of Ash's Pokémon evolving every time he battled with Paul…

    Meanwhile, Ash was caught up in watching Paul train, having discovered him through the window just as he was leaving the bathroom. Even Ash could admit that his rival, in spite of his usual cruel ways, certainly had effective methods of training. It seemed true after all that Paul's Pokémon, his formerly-owned Chimchar aside, worked well with his brutal training and managed just fine without constant praise and support. Why that was the case was beyond Ash's comprehension, but he had a feeling Chimchar's designated replacement, Magmar, was going to be a fierce contender in future battles. Of course, Ash already very well knew of Electabuzz's capabilities since the day it defeated Pikachu as an Elekid… the very day he and Paul met. He had watched several rounds of Electabuzz assaulting Magmar with Brick Break; Magmar mostly staying on the defensive to build its endurance.

    "Hate 'im or like 'im… Paul's really good at this," Ash admitted to Pikachu, who quietly agreed while watching the training alongside its trainer. "That attitude sure hasn't changed since we met, but y'know, we've learned a lot from him from all our battles, haven't we?"

    Pikachu concurred with this, leaning against Ash. "I know you're down, buddy," Ash comforted. "Just wait; I promise you we'll beat him one day. I sure hope it's sooner than later…"

    As he watched Magmar just stand there and take the blows, Ash remembered one of the most important lessons he learned from Paul… albeit indirectly. "Either way, I can't say he was wrong back when Grotle battled Honchkrow. I've got to understand how my Pokémon change after they evolve… I'll never stop believing in them, but I don't wanna let 'em down and think they're exactly the same as they were before evolving. Grotle, Buizel, and Chimchar could still evolve at any time, you know," he pointed out. "I can't be caught unprepared again if it happens."

    He smiled; Ash knew he couldn't dwell on the past for long since he scored a major victory today. "Maybe Paul will open up a little more if I thank him again for what Torterra did," he hypothesized. "Grotle did an awesome job in our Gym Battle and I owe Torterra's training for it. Whaddya say, Pikachu?"

    An ecstatic "Pika!" from his Pokémon's end told Ash all he needed to know. He smiled as his thoughtful and serious side quickly faded away into his happy-go-lucky self, as he usually was. Very few people could drag Ash out of his happy wonderland state of mind… Paul stood out as one who could do it effortlessly.

    Ash proceeded to go outside to meet up with Paul at the training grounds. At the same time, Paul was focusing on Magmar again with its Flamethrower attack. It seemed Electabuzz's endurance was being tested this time around as it stood its ground in spite of the intense flames threatening to singe its bright yellow fur. Seeing Electabuzz handle such an attack this well placated Paul, at the very least.

    "That's good," he remarked. "Now use Flamethrower and face the sky." Paul was testing Magmar's trajectory abilities, apparently. Magmar fired a perfectly angled pillar of fire from its Flamethrower attack high up into the night sky. Paul looked up thoughtfully as he took note of how much Magmar had improved over the past few days. It really seemed as if it was on par with the rest of his team at last. However, his only word to express this feeling was… "Good."

    Just one short moment later, Ash reached Paul, attempting to catch his attention. "Hey, Paul!"

    "Huh…?" Paul looked to the direction of that familiar, annoying voice and surely enough found Ash with Pikachu approaching him, though when Ash stopped running to him, the two were still a good distance away from each other.

    Ash immediately jumped to the subject that was on his mind, paying no mind to what Paul was in the middle of just then. "Man, you should've seen how totally awesome Grotle was today. I wanted to thank Torterra again for the help."

    Paul honestly wondered how Ash could possibly think that he would care about such a thing when he was right in the middle of preparing for Candice tomorrow. Figuring he would get no further with his training with his rival getting up in his business tonight, he recalled Magmar back into its Pokéball and trudged his way back towards the Pokémon Center; Electabuzz trailing not far behind.

    Ash continued trying to get through to Paul as he walked by. "That battling style Torterra showed us a while back worked out really well."

    A while back, indeed. Paul clearly remembered that night when Torterra went off on its own – quite odd behavior for Paul's starter – to give Ash's Grotle advice in order to deal with the drastic changes in its physique. This had nothing to do with helping Ash, per se; merely Torterra expressed sympathy for its fellow species… after all, years ago, Torterra had dealt with the same grief when it evolved to Grotle. Unlike Ash's Grotle, Paul's Torterra had no real support whatsoever from its trainer when this happened.

    Of course, the way Paul trained, even if it had undergone some changes since he started, never had much in common with Ash's methods. Paul knew better to train his Turtwig for speed when he started out. He already had about four years of Pokémon experience when he began, all thanks to being with Reggie for most of his journey before his retirement. Still, in spite of these differences, Paul's Torterra was just as bad as Ash's Grotle as a Turtwig when it came to exploring things with its massive jaws… most of all Paul's head and various parts of his body. It agitated Paul to no end, but there was no helping it; this was the burden a trainer had to carry if they were to choose Turtwig as their starter Pokémon.

    There were unique benefits and drawbacks to choosing any of the typical starter Pokémon in each region beyond the advantages and disadvantages of type. By choosing Piplup, as Dawn and Barry had, the trainer would have to deal with a Piplup's pride. It was no easy feat to bond with a Piplup and become the one thing that surpasses said pride. To choose Chimchar, like Reggie had, one would ideally need to be physically competent and patient. Chimchar could be mischievous or otherwise incorrigible, and as they evolved, their power would become increasingly difficult to control without a trainer's support and help. Chimchar ended up being a perfect match for Reggie, who could give such a Pokémon the unconditional positive regard a Chimchar would need to excel and mature… and it helped that Reggie was born naturally strong and agile; able to keep up with his starter even when it became Infernape. Needless to say, this did factor into why Paul was unable to work with his former Chimchar.

    But his actual starter… Torterra, as a Turtwig, was a much better match for a trainer like Paul. The ability to assert authority, stubbornness, and a more calculated approach was necessary for Turtwig. This wouldn't stop the Tiny Leaf Pokémon from exploring absolutely everything possible with its jaws, so physical and mental endurance was a must. In spite of his susceptibility to illness, Paul was someone who would keep going until his body gave out.

    When Paul's Turtwig evolved to Grotle and was no longer able to trap Paul within its jaws with ease, the at-the-time more immature Paul made sure to rub it in for a long time, "getting revenge", so to speak, for the countless times he had been bitten by his starter. When Paul's Grotle became Torterra, all hope was lost for Torterra to enjoy that freedom ever again. At the same time, Torterra significantly matured and felt a greater desire than ever before to protect its trainer.

    Paul didn't like thinking about it, but Ash seemed to be the ideal trainer for his former Chimchar, yet at the same time he was showing competence with Grotle. Now being one badge ahead of Paul, it begged the question… was Ash beginning to truly measure up as a rival worth his time and attention?

    Instead of searching out those feelings, which was making him feel sick already, Paul chose the route of hypocrisy as he passed by Ash. "You said you were serious about wanting to win in Snowpoint City," he reminded. "So why do you still need Torterra to hold your hand?"

    Ash's friendly gestures quickly gave way to his anger as he turned around, glaring at Paul as he passed by. In times like this, where he went out of his way to give Paul a compliment, it was extremely difficult to contain the anger he felt. Thankfully, after almost four years of training, Ash had come a long way. Ash of his Kanto days would have tackled Paul by this point.

    "Using a Grass-type in an Ice-type Gym…?" Paul wondered out loud, bringing forth the aforementioned hypocrisy. "I guess you chalked that up to blind faith."

    Paul was very well aware of how hypocritical he was being, but silently justified his words with his belief that Ash really had no idea what he planned on doing in most battles and just winged it, hence he had no business trying to make a battle harder for himself. Paul, however… he had things planned out, and unlike Conway, Paul knew how to turn the tides in his favor if his strategies didn't go as planned.

    While the rivals briefly conversed, Zoey and the others discovered them and silently watched and listened in on the conversation, though not overtly trying to hide. However, after hearing Paul's extremely rude response, Zoey couldn't take it anymore. She wasn't used to this kind of blunt rudeness from people, and seeing it get under Ash's skin made her blood boil. Zoey felt bad vibes around Paul since he arrived earlier that day… now she was ready to confront him.

    "Stop right there!" Zoey shouted at Paul before he could completely re-enter the building. He paid no attention to the audience while going inside. "Just who do you think you are?"

    In spite of her fury, Paul stood still, completely unfazed. Dawn had a feeling something more vicious was about to come from this confrontation, thus she was very quick to restrain Zoey. "Zoey…! Stop!"

    "He has no right talking like that," Zoey growled lowly. Ash knew exactly how Zoey felt; this wasn't too different from how he reacted to Paul in their early days. He had mellowed out considerably since then, but he was no less angry about the situation, and the greatest struggle of all would be bringing himself to forgive Paul for what he had done to Chimchar in the past.

    At a time like this, Ash knew he had to be the bigger man. After all, Paul had a Gym Battle upcoming. Ash would no doubt feel terrible if his short temper affected his rival's performance. He held up a hand to Zoey, signaling her to stop, though speaking gently. "It's okay, Zoey."

    "Hmph." Paul was very ready to retire for the night now. Surrounded by chatty people, all of which he found annoying in their own special ways… now he knew for sure this redhead truly was no better than the ones he was already familiar with. He quietly used this opportunity to step inside the building and walk steadily down the hallway to where his room was. Electabuzz was quick to follow.

    The others looked on; only Brock remained perfectly calm at this time. Zoey was still fuming. She remembered the unusual expression on Candice's face when Paul confronted them all earlier that evening. There was more to this guy than what there appeared to be, even though he and her mentor spoke as if they were meeting for the first time.

    "I just hope tomorrow at the Gym Battle, Miss Senior wipes the floor with that jerk," Zoey muttered; loudly enough to get the attention of those who remained in the area with her.

    She had no idea Candice had already been there and done that. Regardless, Zoey was already mentally making plans to speak to the Gym Leader the next day.

    "Don't let the attitude fool you," Brock calmly warned. "Paul is a force to be reckoned with."

    To that, Zoey just sighed and shook her head. "After everything you guys told me about him, it's frankly hard to believe. How can a guy who treats his Pokémon so poorly be a good trainer?"

    "We're… still trying to figure that out ourselves," Dawn admitted, looking down at the floor. "But there's never a moment of peace when he and Ash meet up."

    "I really don't mean to pick a fight," Ash said as he came in, smiling awkwardly. "He just acts like that no matter what I say to him. All this time I've traveled… I've never met a guy like him before."

    Zoey narrowed her eyes as she continued to glare daggers at a now-empty hallway. "Someone needs to keep an eye on him. I don't trust him in a battle alone with Miss Senior."

    Ash, Brock, and Dawn all looked to Zoey, but none of them said anything; they understood what she meant… she was worried for her mentor and wished Paul had never come to Snowpoint City.

    Just as Paul swiftly swallowed down his medication (in the comfort of his own designated room, safe from any outsiders), he was beginning to wish he had never come to Snowpoint City as well. The journey to it was disastrous in itself, but his entire stay in the snow-covered civilization had been nothing but heartbreak, disappointment, and failure. Now Paul couldn't even muster up the will to tell himself there was nothing wrong with him… not when a group of people had just acted as if there were everything wrong with him. He worried that he looked noticeably weak and that Ash (or more likely one of his friends) would catch on.

    For anyone, it would naturally take more than just a few days to come to terms with a terminal illness that was physically crippling. Despite that, Paul still hated that he couldn't be an exception to that rule. He still wondered why it had to be him, let alone how he was going to tell his family about it. Under this much stress, Paul couldn't hide his emotions if he tried. The fact that he remained relatively composed just moments ago in the face of adversity brought his adrenaline to an all-time high, which only caused him to crash down even harder when he finally made it to his bedroom.

    He was quick to retire to his bed, feeling the dizziness come to him as an initial side-effect of his medication. Paul hated having to rely on it, but the pharmacist at the hospital was pretty blunt about the consequences, so he really didn't have a choice. The anxiety of facing Candice again was daunting enough for this unfortunate young man, but now he had to learn on the eve of the fated battle that his incompetent "rival" has suddenly surpassed him. Though his loss to Ash in the PokéRinger competition initially didn't faze Paul that much, the misfortunes that befell Paul since then and the fact that he got absolutely wrecked by Candice's Abomasnow… whom Ash had presumably defeated… was giving Paul a newfound doubt in his abilities. His body was quickly breaking down and his feet were feeling heavier with each passing day. It was reasonable to worry that this terminal disease would play a part in making Paul fall from grace, culminating in Ash's long-awaited victory against Paul in a proper battle.

    Paul felt so torn; he felt the desperate need of another person's support. Reggie… even Conway would suffice for this particular moment. Conway had been taking care of him since they started out, but Paul no longer had that luxury. At the same time, he wanted to be alone.

    He didn't want anyone to see him like this… ever.

    Sleeping proved to be difficult that night for almost all parties.




    The following morning, Paul woke up much earlier than he usually did. Insomnia brought on by his anxiety disallowed him to get much sleep, anyway. However, Paul was in no mood to deal with the peanut gallery today; he wanted to have his Gym Battle with Candice in peace and leave this frigid city once and for all.

    Paul was sure to take his medication as soon as he woke up so he would have the energy to accomplish what he set out to do.

    Meanwhile, further in the city, Reggie was finally finished with his assigned task of bringing a snowed-in customer his Pokémon back. Additionally, being the good samaritan he was, Reggie and his Pokémon actually helped clear out the snow in Alex's (his young customer) neighborhood, allowing residents to easily make their way into the city and go on about their lives. It was a challenging task to uphold, but Reggie was more than happy to be of help since he had one of the best things one could have on hand during a snow emergency: Infernape. The rest of Reggie's Pokémon also did their part to clear the roads and side blocks that the city's snow plows were unable to reach.

    There was no monetary gain to be had in this job that no doubt took days to accomplish, if only because the residents would not allow Reggie to put himself in any danger by overdoing it. Aside from that minor annoyance and Alex's family's insistence on letting Reggie stay the night at their house in a guest room while he worked, it made the breeder feel at ease knowing that these people would no longer be cut off from the outside world. Snowpoint City certainly was a dangerous place to live in at times…

    One could say Reggie was easily sidetracked, but he wholeheartedly trusted that Maylene was doing a good job taking care of the Pokémon in Veilstone City, even though his ability to contact her to check on the status of his home was severely limited. Power outages were frequent until the snow finally let up shortly before Reggie finished his job.

    Reggie didn't know it yet, but this type of work would prove to have a very positive effect on himself and his Pokémon in the near future.

    All of that was behind Reggie now, however; he was quick to start the drive home this very same morning. Due to the very convenient timing on both parties, one might say it could have been fate that Reggie would just happen to spot Paul on the sidewalk as he drove through the city. Genuinely surprised to see Paul still at Snowpoint City (as Reggie figured he must have reached this place at least a week ago), Reggie of course couldn't resist honking his van's horn at his little brother to get his attention. It had been ages since he'd seen Paul in person; of course Reggie wasn't going to pass up the opportunity to catch up with him.

    Paul stopped short and held in a gasp as a very familiar van pulled up next to him. Of all people to come across in Snowpoint City… even Ash's presence was not much of a surprise to Paul since he suspected Ash may have been coming up this way since their encounter in Squallville. But his own brother…? Surely there had to be an explanation for this. "Reggie…?"

    "Hey, Paul," Reggie casually greeted after stepping out of the van. "How's it going?" However casual Reggie was behaving, deeper within his mind were many questions and concerns… not the least of which being, where is Conway?

    "Well enough," Paul tersely replied. Now that the surprise of his brother's presence had worn off, Paul had to focus on staying casual himself, because he certainly was not ready to confess to Reggie of his doomed fate, the hardships he suffered reaching this place on his own… but then he realized that Reggie had no idea that Conway was no longer with him. It was easy to make up excuses on the phone, but in real life… Paul had a feeling he was soon to be busted.

    To make matters worse, Reggie was the type who had a sixth sense when it came to his little brother. It was only a waste of time for Paul to feign ignorance or "being okay"; Reggie would see right through it almost every time. "Well enough? I figured you must be having a blast here, Paul," Reggie assumed. "You've been here a while, haven't you?"

    "Yes, well…" Paul looked to the side; one of his telltale signs of fibbing. "The weather here has been… dangerous for the last few weeks, I've heard."

    "Glad to see you're playing it safe," Reggie said, sounding relieved. He believed this much, if only because he personally dealt with the dangerous weather his little brother spoke of on the way up. Still, both siblings did their absolute best to not behave in a way that was suspect, though naturally suspicion was on both their minds as their reuniting like this should not have happened under normal circumstances.

    Paul remained focused on trying to expose his brother; that at least would hinder Reggie's ability to figure out what he was hiding. "So… what brings you up all the way here? Did you think I couldn't do it?"

    "Actually, it's pure coincidence," Reggie said with a slight laugh, rubbing the back of his head sheepishly. "I figured you'd be long gone by now… guess there's no wonder where you're headed next, right?"

    "Sunyshore City," Paul confirmed with a nod. "I've conquered every Gym in this region that you had seven years ago… this far in, I don't intend to break the trend now."

    Reggie smiled. "I'm flattered, really. I'm sure you'll do great there."

    After a pause, he looked around. "So, is Conway off on another shopping spree?"

    One of the dreaded subjects Paul didn't want to talk about, but knew he would have to at some point. If only it weren't now… not when he had a Gym Battle to focus on. After a moment's hesitation, he nodded again. "He blows so much money, it sickens me."

    Ever sharp, Reggie caught the brief pause before Paul's response. He debated whether or not to interrogate Paul about it, much as he hated to do so. Thankfully (even on Paul's end), the brothers wouldn't be able to get much further into their conversation at this time.

    Paul had only just started out towards the Snowpoint Gym, hence he was still right in front of the Pokémon Center. While Ash and his friends were watching the weather report, Ash overheard the van honking and was quick to look out the window to see what was going on. When he discovered who was outside, he couldn't contain the excitement he felt and had to tell everyone.

    "Reggie!"

    Brock, Dawn, and Zoey looked over to Ash who just shouted all of a sudden. They quickly stood up and followed Ash to the window; evidently the good weather was sticking around in Sinnoh for a while, which was all they really needed to know. When Dawn caught a glimpse of the familiar figure outside, she was instantly excited. "Wow, it's true!"

    Like yesterday, Zoey had no idea why her friends reacted so strongly to people who were complete strangers to her. She was again quick to ask, "Who's that guy?"

    "That's Paul's big brother, Reggie," Dawn happily explained to her rival. "He's a breeder down in Veilstone City."

    "I'm sure he has his reasons for being here," Brock said assuredly. "That's a long way to come from…"

    Ash simply grinned and raced to the front door, very eager to reunite with an important friend of his: the one who taught his Staraptor (at the time a Staravia, of course) Brave Bird, a move he's made good use of since his trip to Veilstone City. "Come on! Let's go say hi!"

    Back outside, Reggie and Paul were discussing another topic.

    "Have you gotten past the Snowpoint Gym?" Reggie asked, if only for the sake of clarification. For being in Snowpoint City this long, he figured defeating Candice was priority one for Paul regardless of how perilous the weather had recently been.

    "Coming soon," was all Paul had to say about that; he obviously had no desire to confess to Reggie about his first failed attempt at the challenge. Not only was the end result catastrophic in that it confirmed his illness at last, but it was a pure blemish on Paul's record as well. Having all four of his Pokémon taken out with ease by just Abomasnow… it was hard for Paul to contain the hatred that he felt for himself for being so inadequate at the time.

    "Well, keep in mind that Candice is tough," Reggie advised. In Reggie's days journeying through Sinnoh, which was eight years ago, the Snowpoint Gym was obviously run by another Gym Leader at the time when the young Reggie faced it. Candice was about Reggie's age, thus a beginning trainer herself during Reggie's conquest. When Reggie first reached Snowpoint City to earn his Icicle Badge (Paul was not with him, as this was merely a month or two before their mother passed on), Candice was a trainer he had to defeat before getting to challenge the Gym Leader. The cute little pigtailed girl adamantly declared to Reggie that she would one day inherit the Gym, so it was no surprise to Reggie at all when he learned a couple of years ago that Candice succeeded in achieving her goal.

    Unlike Roark, Reggie wasn't close to Candice, per se, but remembered her well enough to consider her a familiar and on the very rare occasion would catch up with her. What he remembered most clearly was the very intense battle he had with her back in the day. Even back then, Candice was all about the "kiai" and didn't hold back even an ounce of her strength. After all, she was facing a mighty type disadvantage in Reggie's at-the-time Monferno. The fact that she put up such a good fight was telling enough for the elder brother; she was indeed tough. Candice was a menace to face even with type advantages… now it was no wonder that she was an absolute nightmare to face with type disadvantages. Paul didn't lose to her just because he lacked focus and common sense in his exhausted state… he grossly underestimated her, and finally Paul was coming to understand that.

    "I have a plan for her," Paul grimly assured; from what he learned of his landslide loss, he was not about to go into this rematch without a strategy again.

    "Reggie…!"

    Caught up in the moment, Ash had forgotten to put on his jacket before rushing out into the below-freezing temperatures. Just in the mere attempt to keep up with their friend, Brock and Dawn also forgot to suit up. They quickly made themselves known to the pair of brothers, both of whom were secretly relieved to have a break in their tenuous conversation, even if it was the likes of Ash and his friends.

    Travels of the Trifecta! - Chronicles of an estranged family!

    LJ | dA | Bulbagarden | ff.net

    Diamond: 2749 - 7749 - 1840
    SoulSilver: 2364 - 7834 - 3761

  3. #128
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    "Would you look at that!" Reggie exclaimed, pleasantly surprised. "Wow, it's been a long time."

    "Yeah, it really has," Dawn agreed, all smiles as she usually was. She was even more cheerful getting to reunite with a good friend of hers, though her mere presence reminded both Paul and Reggie of Conway and his notable absence. Paul in particular imagined Conway completely losing his mind in a situation like this, highlighting the traits of Conway that Paul had always found pathetic.

    "It's great to see ya," Ash greeted before asking the question that was on everyone's minds. "What're you doing here?"

    How to put it succinctly… that was the true question. But Reggie had enough time to mull over that and finally had an appropriate answer to give. "I just finished bringing a Pokémon I was watching back to its trainer," he said. That much was true; complicated as things got after that. Still, Reggie would soon enough see firsthand the benefits reaped from his hard labor. But why Ash would be here in this remote location as well… that wasn't too hard for him to figure out. "You challenging the Snowpoint Gym, too?"

    Ash was more than happy to brag about his victory once more. "Yeah, I battled Candice yesterday and won the badge!"

    "Really? Awesome!" Reggie congratulated, happy to see Ash had made great progress since they last met. Truthfully, Reggie too could see a bit of himself in Ash just like Paul could; though Ash clearly retained more of his innocence through the years than Reggie did. Then again, Ash wasn't tasked with raising a baby brother throughout the majority of his Pokémon journey like Reggie was. However, the breeder did not regret this and never once found caring for Paul a daunting task, nor thought of Paul as someone holding him back or slowing him down.

    He looked to his younger sibling with a knowing smile. "Hey, hear that, Paul? That's great, huh?"

    "Hmph." Paul obviously hated being reminded of that. Not only of Ash being ahead of him, but defeating the person who wiped him out while barely breaking a sweat.

    "He's your rival, isn't he?" Reggie playfully teased. "So you'd better keep up with him."

    The discontented look on Paul's face contorted into one of pure stress and aggravation; he hated it when Reggie rubbed in things like this. So many negative thoughts were going through his mind at once and he hated this entire situation. Never before had he wished so much to be in the Snowpoint Gym again.

    Reggie just smiled at him. "Okay if I come watch your battle?" After all, it was an unexpected treat for him to run into Paul when they hadn't seen each other in person for weeks. He was very talented in hiding it, but Reggie felt a particular aura of discomfort around Paul; something must have happened… something Paul was withholding from him. However, this wasn't the time to crack the tough nut that was his brother. Reggie figured there was no harm in getting to enjoy watching him in a Gym Battle for once.

    "Whatever you want," Paul replied in a soft, neutral tone. Given his expressions just seconds ago, there was no doubt that he was repressing something fierce, if only because he was surrounded by several people at the moment and all of them were roadblocks in his path towards his seventh badge.

    Zoey was perplexed at best as she carefully observed the interaction between the brothers. It was then that she came to the conclusion, "Man, that guy Paul may be the total opposite of Ash, but he's absolutely nothing like his brother, either."

    "Ah, for sure," Dawn agreed, slightly shaken by the scene herself… if only because it was her first time seeing Paul and Reggie interact in person. However, the same was true for Ash and Brock as well. Naturally, Ash was for the most part oblivious to the negative nuances surrounding this conversation. Brock, on the other hand, was ever-silent, ever-observing. He had caught the details that went over the heads of everyone else, but reserved himself from making a remark of any kind.

    However, concentration for all parties was soon broken as they felt the area rumble abruptly around them. Piplup was the first to notice, but seconds later everyone was shaken by the disturbance. It wasn't obvious what the cause of it was at first.

    "What's that?" Ash cried out just before a shadow enveloped them all. It wasn't blinding darkness, but it was definitely a stark contrast to the pleasant sun they were all graced with. Everyone looked up to see what was obscuring the sun, but no one could make out what it was exactly until it passed over them, allowing the sun to shine down over them once more.

    A large square-shaped shadow was on the move, and at last the group could finally get a clear look at what caused such a commotion.

    Dawn, however, couldn't even hazard a guess as to what it was. "What's that?"

    Pulling both hands together into fists, Ash knowingly grinned at the sight. No other aircraft had that kind of design; Ash knew this model by heart as often as he visited it in the not-so-distant past. "It's the Battle Pyramid!"

    Hearing this prompted both Paul and Reggie to gape at Ash with sheer and utter surprise. Of course, they immediately identified the aircraft as well, but kept their mouths shut about it and didn't expect anyone else to be familiar with it.

    "Wow, you guys know about that thing?" Reggie asked, clearly impressed, and at the same time aghast that he underestimated how cultured Ash's group was.

    "Yeah," Ash affirmed proudly. "I finally beat it, but it took me a bunch of tries."

    And just like that, Paul's entire world came crashing down once again. It had a habit of doing that quite a bit lately given what's happened recently, but this? The very idea was ludicrous; this was no small feat to brag about. He couldn't be lying; that wasn't how Ash operated. The Kanto native simply wasn't cunning enough to pull off a convincing lie, but he sounded purely honest when he outright told Reggie and Paul that he had already defeated their father… the man they had yet to defeat. Not only that, but Ash defeated the man very few people have ever defeated in the past.

    It was not just Paul's father Ash defeated; it was one of the world's highest-ranked trainers. A previous Elite Four hopeful, and by this point there was no doubt that he would be a shoe-in for an Elite Four position if one were ever to open up… but years ago, Brandon had accepted his destiny and remained a Frontier Brain as the pillar. He was the glue that held it all together and was the standard set for all trainers to strive for; not to mention fellow Frontier Brains.

    The revelations were coming to Paul all at once, and for the first time he was truly at a loss for words other than, "What…? You beat it?"

    His lack of composure definitely got Reggie's attention, but the elder brother couldn't in all good conscience blame him. He too felt a great shock to his system as he realized he had trained with, battled, and taught Brave Bird to a young man who had already surpassed him in many ways. This begged the question of why Ash himself was not in Kanto as a Frontier Brain with his own facility, but simultaneously the brothers' minds raced back to the fact that Brandon just arrived in Snowpoint City. In little over a month's time, the family would be reunited in person once again, but for once, Reggie wasn't exactly feeling joyous over this occasion… especially after learning about Ash.

    "Hey, I'm not saying it was easy," Ash assured. "But now that I'm thinkin' about it, why would Brandon be here?"

    "While he's in the area, we might as well find out," Brock suggested. "You know he wouldn't forget somebody like you, Ash. This is a great opportunity to catch up with him."

    Ash nodded vigorously. "You're right, Brock! He has to remember us! C'mon, let's go give him a call!"

    Within seconds, Ash had already raced all the way to the front door of Snowpoint City's Pokémon Center. Brock trailed not far behind with Dawn and Zoey bringing up the rear.

    "What are they going on about?" Zoey whispered to Dawn. "They seriously know a guy who owns a flying pyramid?"

    "I'm just as confused as you are," Dawn sympathized. "I haven't got a clue what anyone's talking about… but I guess we'll find out soon, won't we?"

    Zoey couldn't help but feel apprehensive about this. "Well, if Ash and Brock like this person, I guess they can't be too bad…" No worse than Paul, certainly.

    Paul and Reggie watched the others dash inside as they mulled over how to handle this… not to mention the whole "Ash beat Brandon" thing was still sinking in for both of them.

    "Did you know about this…?" Reggie quietly asked his brother. Said brother turned to face Reggie with a rather sudden outburst.

    "Of course I didn't!" Paul barked out. "Did you?"

    Reggie shook his head. "No, but he did say he was going to be in the area the last time we were together…"

    "That was a month ago, Reggie," Paul countered. "You really think he's been up here this whole time and still hasn't found Regigigas yet?"

    "He would have let us know if he found it," Reggie reminded him. "The fact that he's actually in the city now must mean he's desperate for clues…"

    Paul nodded. "Makes sense. I think we'd better go pay the old man a visit with them, then."

    "I can give us all a ride," Reggie offered. "Good thing I've got a van for such an occasion. Still, I'm sure Ash will be in for quite a shock when he finds out that Brandon is our-"

    Just then, Paul gave his brother a harsh nudge. "Not a word out of you, Reggie," he warned. "I've got a plan, but I'm going to need your cooperation, and that involves making sure the others don't pick up on that bit of information."

    Was Paul ever thankful he took his medication when he was supposed to for once; he was sure he wouldn't be able to handle the stress of Ash, his father, and all of the revelations in between in addition to the possibility that he could vomit blood at any time; the latter at least was controlled by that medicine with ease.

    "If you don't want Ash to know, I'll respect that," Reggie promised. "But what do we need a plan for…?"

    Paul just let out an aggravated sigh and shook his head. "You're so naďve… we always need a plan for the old man, even if it's just to talk to him. If you think he's going to be emotional like he was at home, think again. He only acted like that then because he thought you were going to die, remember?"

    Way back when Reggie had been struck by lightning… while he made a fantastic recovery, it was true that Reggie almost died that day. Even still, there were lingering side-effects to worry about, as their bouts were completely random. Reggie grew somber after listening to Paul… he knew his wise little brother spoke the truth. Now that Reggie was fine and neither he nor Brandon knew about what ailed Paul, it would be back to business as usual with the three.

    "Right back to not being his sons…" Reggie quietly stated. "I guess you're right; there's not much use in telling everybody that he's our dad. Brandon will just flat-out deny it because we haven't beaten him."

    "We'll reflect on this later," Paul instructed; his harsh tone and unwillingness to let his emotions get the better of him for long was very reminiscent of his own hated father's nature. "Listen to me very carefully, because I don't have time to repeat myself."


    The Battle Pyramid was very effective in drawing the attention of nearly every resident of Snowpoint City… as well as tourists and honored guests.

    Even guests without any sort of honor whatsoever, such as the mere trio of persons representing Team Rocket in their attempt to create a presence in the Sinnoh region, watched in awe as the Battle Pyramid soared right over their heads and into the unknown.

    A period of awkward silence later, self-proclaimed leader Jessie spoke up. "Tell me that's not the Battle Pyramid…"

    Of course they knew of this facility; they went where Ash went, no matter the time or the place.

    "I'd be lying if I did," James quietly stated, still staring at the sky with mild disbelief. "Though from Kanto it's quite a haul."

    "Even flyboys need a change of scene!" was Meowth's explanation. "Though most guys would vacation in beaches, ya'd think."

    James simply couldn't take his eyes off the sky. "As I recall, that man is not the type who fits in the "most guys" category…"

    Jessie's Wobbuffet popped out just in to give its usual "Wooooh-buffet!" reaction.

    "No way," Jessie muttered, still unable to suspend her disbelief of what she just saw.

    Further out at the Snowpoint Gym, the rumbling and the loud noise disrupted Candice's training. She dashed outside as quickly as she could to see what was going on and came out just in time to see the mighty Battle Pyramid as it flew past her Gym and beyond.

    "Oh, wow…" she quietly marveled. This was quite the enchanting sight for her. Even though Candice knew she would be having a Gym Battle soon, this phenomenon intrigued her far too much to go by ignored. The young Gym Leader kept up with the happenings across every region; this allowed her to quite easily identify this highly unusual aircraft. There was no doubt in her mind.

    This was also a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and Candice wasn't about to pass up on it. She promptly dug a Pokéball out of her pocket and tossed it out. "Come on, Dodrio!" the Gym Leader shouted, unleashing her method of transportation. "Let's go check this out! Follow that pyramid!"

    All this time, Brandon had no idea how conspicuous his entrance into Snowpoint City was. His mind was firmly fixed on Regigigas and figuring out a way to get Maria to concede to his desires.

    "Maria's on her way right now," Samuel informed Brandon, now in charge of handling the new systems installed into the Battle Pyramid while Brandon piloted his facility. "And we should be reaching the Valhalla Plains within a couple of minutes."

    "Good. Very good," Brandon commended. "We'll likely get there before her, then. Punctuality will make a good first impression."

    Samuel gulped at that. "It's now or never, isn't it…" Just then, the interface lit up and the plasma screen went from black to static, making a ringing noise. "Huh? Another call…?"

    "Her again?" Brandon inquired. "She'd better not be cancelling…"

    "The transmission's from the Snowpoint City Pokémon Center," Samuel reported. "It isn't Maria."

    Brandon found this very odd; he wasn't expecting a call from anyone else, much less in Snowpoint City. "Most likely a misdialed number," the Pyramid King assumed. "But go ahead and patch it through."

    His assistant heeded the order and allowed the call to go through. The static on the display screen abruptly disappeared, displaying a crisp, clear picture of Ash and his friends, who were all smiles upon seeing the visage of an old, familiar friend.

    "Hey, Brandon! Long time no see!" Ash greeted, full of energy as ever. "It's Ash from Pallet Town!"

    Not that Ash even needed to remind Brandon who he was; people who could manage to defeat the Pyramid King were few and far in between. Additionally, Brandon had just seen Ash's visage on a television a little over a week ago in the PokéRinger competition, winning the whole thing. Brandon smiled up at his young challenger. "I'll be. So how are ya, kid?"

    "Great!" Ash replied. That enthusiasm of his would never die out. "Me and my friends were in the area and we saw your Battle Pyramid fly right over us, so how about we meet up soon if you're not too busy?"

    While Samuel looked concerned, Brandon's smile never faded as he silently gave the okay in the form of a nod. "I would enjoy hearing what you've been doing since you conquered the Battle Frontier," he said. "We'll be making landfall in the Valhalla Plains just outside of the city."

    "Not that far, huh?" Ash assumed. "Count us in! We'll be over there as soon as we can."

    "I'll look forward to seeing you," Brandon assured. "Until then, kid."

    He ended the call, now in much brighter spirits than before. "To think that little upstart is here as well… this will prove to be a very interesting day, indeed."

    "Brandon, this is a business trip," Samuel reminded nervously. "Not for pleasure…" It was strange that he was the one saying this rather than his boss, come to think of it.

    "I assure you, he won't slow us down," Brandon promised. "Remember, Sam: I have not set foot in my home region for seven years. My priorities are perfectly fine, but I won't pass up any opportunity to enjoy my time here while I still can. There's no telling when I'll be in Sinnoh again after today…" Brandon's voice grew quieter, taking on a more serious tone. "After what I've done, let alone the usual demands of this job, I may be old and gray before I can enjoy Sinnoh and the people in it again."

    Samuel looked Brandon in the eye; something he rarely dared to do. "Having any regrets?"

    "My regrets… are ones beyond my control," Brandon admitted. "I wish I could do things differently, but had I done what I wanted, the safety and financial security of my family would be compromised. I honestly can't say whether or not the Battle Frontier would have fared better without me, but that's another thing I didn't want to risk, even after having the chance to move on up…"

    "You've definitely made a lot of sacrifices over the years," Samuel noted. "And I believe the rest of the committee sees that. I guess that's one reason why they've been lenient on you so far."

    "But I don't need their pity," Brandon stiffly claimed. "All I need now is for this mission to go off without a hitch…"

    All of a sudden, there was another call coming in. "Huh; weird," Samuel remarked, raising an eyebrow at the interface. "Another call from the same Pokémon Center…"

    Brandon nodded immediately. "Perhaps they forgot to tell me something. Go ahead and accept it."




    It was not Ash making the call, but rather someone else who was very familiar with Brandon. While Ash, Brock, Dawn, and Zoey were busy with the brief call to Brandon, Paul and Reggie very quietly eavesdropped; Paul in particular looked focused on getting something accomplished. Reggie had already planned on giving everyone a ride to Brandon's location, to which the others graciously accepted. As they all raced towards Reggie's van outside, Paul snagged the elder brother by the arm just as he was about to follow.

    Paul seemed to have an agenda of his own as he ordered Reggie to stall for time by offering to load up everyone's belongings into the van's trunk (seeing as Ash, Brock, and Dawn were going to leave Snowpoint City today, anyway). While the others would be inside the van and waiting (Reggie insisting on not being helped), Paul was left on his own to call Brandon himself. If this was the way the remains of Paul's family had to reunite, then Paul decided he would have to lay some ground rules here and now.

    When Brandon's visage appeared on the screen once more, Paul made sure to put on his best frown.

    "Ah. I had a feeling you were lurking around somewhere in this city," Brandon smugly remarked. "Would it be off of me to assume you've been interacting with some friends of yours, kid?"

    "Those people are not my friends," Paul spat. "Now drop the casual act. I called you for a reason."

    It really was jarring for Brandon to be ordered around by his own son… but he had come to expect no less from Paul; this was how Brandon raised him to be in his early days. "Very well. State your reason."

    "Expect to see me with the group when you land," Paul forewarned. "They already know about Reggie battling you in the past, so that much is unavoidable. Regardless, these people don't need to know any more than that, so when you see me, we're to be on no more than a strictly professional level." There was no clearer way Paul could put it, honestly. "So keep that in mind: familiar, but professional. Are we understood?"

    How many children would talk to their own father like this? Though Paul barely considered Brandon a real father to begin with, he couldn't ignore the genetic evidence. That bore no relevance to how much respect (or lack thereof) Paul had for the man, either way. The Pyramid King might have been offended if he wasn't so absorbed in how Paul was gradually becoming more and more like himself as the days went by.

    "So it's as I thought," Brandon presumed. "You know that Ash Ketchum boy quite well. Are you actually ashamed of your family roots?"

    "It has nothing to do with that," Paul stiffly assured his father. "I'd just prefer that idiot doesn't stick his nose where it doesn't belong, and he's had a terrible habit of doing that every time we crossed paths in Sinnoh." The only thing Paul had to be ashamed about now in regards to his father was the fact that Ash defeated him already… quite a while ago, it seemed, while Paul himself continued to struggle in pulling off that feat.

    Surprisingly, Brandon knew what it was like to be plagued by someone who seemed to carry only a small fraction of his own intelligence, and the Frontier Brain too was easily irritated by people who were ignorant and overly curious. He could see that in Ash the very day the two met in Kanto, so there was at least a clear understanding between Brandon and Paul on that subject.

    "If that's what you wish, kid, consider it granted," Brandon assured. "Just don't ever say your old man never did you any favors from now on."

    Paul rolled his eyes at that. "I'll see you soon," he muttered before ending the call. Goodbyes with his family were always awkward if not dealt with immediately. Besides that, he didn't want to waste too much time explaining things to Brandon, because there was one more important thing he had to accomplish before getting on the road.

    "Paul, what's the holdup?" Reggie quietly asked, suddenly popping in. "Just how long do I have to stall the others? When they're excited like this…"

    "Stop whining," Paul commanded in a sharp tone, already in the midst of dialing another number. "I just need a few more minutes. Tell them I'm in the bathroom, tell them a story… I don't care. Just don't go anywhere until I finish up here. Now get back out there and keep distracting them."

    Reggie sighed, consenting to the order, scratching his head on the way out. "You're obviously up to something, but what…"

    Just as he stepped outside the Pokémon Center, Paul's next call was finally answered: a familiar young lady with short pink hair appeared on the screen, less than enthused to see who was calling her. "Oh… Paul. Nice to hear from you again…" Even she couldn't force out a drop of false sincerity from her tone, but it wasn't like Paul cared about civility to begin with.

    "Maylene, if you're busy with anything, drop it now," Paul instructed, remaining ever-so-callous. "I need to make some… exchanges, and I need them processed now."

    The Gym Leader heaved out a sigh as she prepared herself with an abundance of Pokéballs. "Sounds like you're in a hurry, so I won't bother asking why. Which ones are you trading in, and what for?"

    She hated when Paul was like this, especially during a time when Maylene felt there was so much to tell him… Conway's "death", Reggie being absent… but she could tell just by looking into Paul's eyes that she would only get yelled at if she strayed from the main subject even a little.

    "For the moment, I'm giving you Gliscor, Honchkrow… and Torterra," Paul replied, clearly hesitating before deciding on the last Pokémon he would send back to Reggie's for the time being. All three of these Pokémon were scheduled to battle against Candice today, after all. However, the sudden rush of stress and anxiety coming with Brandon's arrival came with the expense of some logic on Paul's end. Still, he put great thought into who would be replacing these three Pokémon for a very important and specific purpose.

    "In exchange, I'm going to need…"




    "Ash, did you say Battle Pyramid?" Dawn asked her traveling companion inside the van, which was finally driving off to its destination: the very subject Dawn initiated. The rookie Coordinator was still completely in the dark and decided this was a good time as any to clear things up. What she saw in the sky was certainly a pyramid; there was no doubt about that. The very idea of a flying pyramid, however, was still a bit much for Dawn to comprehend in spite of the wacky adventures she had since leaving Twinleaf Town.

    "Yeah, it was the final facility Ash challenged back in the Kanto Battle Frontier days," Brock explained for Ash… which was of course for the best; exposition was not one of Ash's strong points.

    Dawn nodded and smiled, pretending she understood this perfectly. "The Battle Frontier! That's… uh…" Just like that, her cluelessness was made obvious to everyone again, though at least Zoey was in the same boat, more or less.

    "It's a group of facilities, somewhat like a Gym, but more intense where you challenge and battle against an amazing group of powerful trainers called Frontier Brains," Brock told her, not the type who would mock Dawn for being this ignorant. Again, Dawn was still in her first year of training and mostly absorbed with Contests and creating appeals; her knowledge of what an average trainer could do, much less special challenges reserved for those with shining potential, was limited. "Brandon is the most powerful Frontier Brain," Brock continued. "And everyone calls him the Pyramid King."

    Up in front, Paul quietly listened to the conversation going on behind him, but visually showed no signs of interest in what the others were saying; he didn't want to look too desperate to learn about how Ash defeated his father to make up for that unexpected and uncontrolled outburst earlier. If there was one thing Paul could bring himself to respect his father for, it was his strength. Even he couldn't deny that Brandon was one of the best trainers this world had to offer, and admittedly Paul was intrigued about how Brandon achieved this.

    Brock paused for a moment, remembering something important that he learned several months ago that was quite relevant to this conversation. It was a question he always meant to ask, but got distracted and thus never got around to it. "Reggie, didn't you challenge him, too? I remember seeing the Frontier Symbols on display in your house."

    This took Paul back as well; not quite as far, but back to just before all of his troubles began. Brock confronted Paul with this very same observation. While Brock was not nearly as irritating as Ash and Dawn were, the breeder had his own special way of getting under Paul's skin… his skills of observation could prove to be more invasive than Ash's curiosity any day.

    Reggie, however, took this all in stride. After all, despite his struggles to rectify the unfinished business he left behind four years ago, the breeder (until recently) was fine with simply moving on with his loss and his decision to retire as a trainer. It was almost as if Reggie were browbeaten into this business again by his family. "Yeah, but I never got the Brave Symbol, which is proof of winning at the Battle Pyramid," he explained, sounding completely at ease with his shortcomings.

    "Hmph." It wasn't easy, but Paul was at least very quiet and inconspicuous about his discontent with Reggie's attitude about the incident. Brandon too was not happy when Reggie never tried to challenge him to a rematch; it was a decision that broke both Brandon and Paul's hearts. While Brandon was much better at hiding this, the young Paul felt utterly betrayed. The unpleasant memories of four years ago smothered Paul's mind and concentration like an intangible tsunami of uncontrollable elements: sadness, disappointment, hopelessness, shock, uncertainty…

    Even the medication wasn't enough to keep Paul even and painless. He was going to have to double up on it just to get through the rest of the day and it was hardly even noon yet.

    It didn't matter how well Paul covered it up, though. Brock was observing him carefully as well as Reggie; more so than ever before. Paul's sudden emotional reaction in regards to Reggie not having a Brave Symbol back when he crossed paths with Ash near Hearthome City ages ago was a very obvious sign to Brock… that Brandon indeed was a strong influence on how and why Paul was the way he was.

    "That's right; Brock told me," Ash recalled, also curious about this subject when he learned about it some time ago, though his line of thought didn't go nearly as deep as Brock's. "So why did you stop battlin'?"

    Reggie's cheerful, casual demeanor faded a bit just then. He knew he'd be faced with this question someday, from somebody other than his relatives…

    "Because I learned one thing," Reggie said in a low voice; his tone serious and a complete contrast from how he normally spoke. "That I have a lot more to learn."

    The answer was… very, very vague and barely addressed the question at all. Even Paul was surprised by how Reggie seemed to change the minute that question was asked, considering he was perfectly casual and feigning cheerfulness just like he always did. He didn't seem to be struggling with maintaining this façade…

    "About what?" Dawn asked innocently; if nothing else, she felt she might be able to relate to Reggie when it came to having more to learn. It was only to be expected with her: a first-year Coordinator who was anticipating her debut into a Grand Festival once she could gain just one more ribbon. "I mean… Brock said you had enough badges to get into at least four League Conferences and you were one step away from beating the Battle Frontier. For all the time it took to earn that, you must have learned a lot already…"

    Reggie nodded, but Paul noticed he still looked rather grim… mildly so, but still enough of a stark contrast from Reggie's usual behavior. "The truth is, Dawn, you'll always learn something new no matter how far you make it," he told her. "That applies to all of you: even if you become Top Coordinator, the best Pokémon Breeder in your region, or even a Pokémon Master… the fact of the matter is that no one really ever masters everything."

    "So what you're saying is… we should never think our journey is over even when we reach our goals," Zoey assumed. "Is that right?"

    "Exactly," Reggie affirmed. "There are a lot of trainers out there with the same goals in mind as you guys. That's why it's important that you never lose your focus and don't let the achievement of your goal become your greatest weakness."

    "But Reggie," Ash calmly interjected. "If you never got the Brave Symbol, then you didn't reach your goal, right?"

    Brock noticed Paul tense up right after that inquiry was made. Clearly, this was some sort of soft spot for Paul even though it seemed to not have much to do with him.

    "That's right," Reggie said; his head feeling heavy all of a sudden. He finally thought to cover up his fatigued sorrow with a smile, but it was far too late to fool anyone intuitive enough to notice something strange was going on. "My goal was a lot like yours back in the day, Ash. I wanted to be a Pokémon Master… the Champion of the Sinnoh Region, like what Cynthia is now."

    Like Cynthia… merely namedropping the woman who single-handedly flattened Paul's team in a battle so long ago made it very difficult for Paul to keep his cool at this point. Interestingly, Paul never hated or even remotely disliked Cynthia. He disagreed with her, sure… but women who were mature, powerful, and atypical of their gender's nature stood out to Paul in a good way. In a way, one might say he even admired her in spite of all their conflicting views.

    "Feel free to not answer if we're overstepping our boundaries," Brock calmly offered. "But what lesson did you really learn from your battle with Brandon that convinced you to stop battling from that day forward?"

    "That lesson…" Reggie's voice had a hollow sound to it as he tried to put his complex feelings into words… words these naďve kids (Paul notwithstanding) could understand.

    Then, all of a sudden, he smiled. It was just as false as the happy act Reggie was putting on, but nonetheless helped put most of the others at ease. "When I was defeated by Brandon, his lesson was the most important one I ever learned. He made me aware… of my own immaturity."

    No one felt compelled to ask Reggie any further questions on the matter, although many more questions circled around their heads after hearing their driver's response. Zoey was aghast at how complicated Paul's family situation seemed to be, and she still didn't know the other half it; then again, neither did her friends.

    Still yet, Brock was officially suspicious now. Going by Reggie's oddly serious behavior and Paul's intense reaction when he found out that Ash conquered the Battle Pyramid… the pieces of this puzzle were slowly but surely coming together for him.

    The air was tense inside the van as the rest of the road trip to the Battle Pyramid was dead silent. Thankfully, their destination was just up ahead.


    As the time elapsed, it was finally time for the battle to begin. Brandon and Paul were in position on the battlefield while Ash, Dawn, Reggie, Candice, and Zoey were seated in the stands. Brock was making his way down to the platform Samuel usually stood upon as he oversaw Brandon's various matches. With Samuel absent now, Brock took it upon himself to take his place.

    "Brandon, I could referee…!" he called out. Brock wanted to see up close and personally what all of this meant, but before Brandon could approve, Paul cut in.

    "Why? There's no need!" Paul yelled out suddenly, surprising Brandon and not even giving him time to ask what he was up to. He had already predetermined it a while ago: "It's a full six-on-six battle; Pokémon exchanges allowed. The battle will be over when one side's Pokémon are unable to continue."

    Shocking as it was to be cut off, Brandon liked seeing this spark in Paul. These rules were rather interesting as Paul was only making it harder for himself by allowing Brandon to substitute as well. Not even Ash had to deal with that, nor did Reggie. Paul was determined to go above and beyond, which Brandon found to be quite admirable.

    However… Brandon could still see his son was way in over his head, and it was high time to break that haughtiness and bring Paul back down to earth to face reality. How Brandon inherently knew Paul wasn't ready to take him on seriously yet was a mystery, but this was why Brandon humored him in the first place by allowing them to fight before their scheduled official challenge once Paul accomplished all of his tasks. Brandon figured Paul would succeed where Reggie failed if he had a traumatizing defeat to fuel his fighting prowess. Though Paul was more inclined to violence than Reggie ever was to begin with, Brandon was not going to take any chances. His faith in his sons was rather limited at this point. But if Paul was truly anything like Brandon was in his youth, the Pyramid King knew Paul would be able to bounce back from anything, unlike his brother.

    "Very well," Brandon conceded. Brock, seeing that he wasn't needed after all, quietly made his way to the stands where his friends were. Ash stared at his very focused and determined rival, still in mild disbelief that just like this, Paul was making a bold move to do what his brother couldn't: defeat Brandon.

    There was no need for a signal to begin the battle: Paul did it the old-fashioned way by reacting immediately, sending out a Pokémon. "Magmar, stand by for battle…!"

    Brandon enjoyed seeing such initiative and quickly followed suit. "Regirock, I need your assistance!"

    Travels of the Trifecta! - Chronicles of an estranged family!

    LJ | dA | Bulbagarden | ff.net

    Diamond: 2749 - 7749 - 1840
    SoulSilver: 2364 - 7834 - 3761

  4. #129
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    "Regirock…!" gasped Candice, in awe of seeing a Pokémon deemed of legendary status right in front of her. Dawn had never even heard of Regirock before, so she was quick to take out her PokéDex and learn a bit about it.

    "Regirock, the Rock Peak Pokémon. Regirock's body is made up of rock and if something chips off in battle, it attaches rocks to repair itself."

    "Sounds pretty resourceful, huh," Candice remarked.

    Brock nodded in agreement. "I'd say Brandon's had Regirock for a long time now… even Ash couldn't defeat it."

    Down on the field, Paul stared hard at the opponent he was faced with; not just the Pokémon, but also his past. "So Brandon starts with Regirock," he muttered. "Just like he did with my brother."

    "I remember," Reggie said suddenly, getting everyone's attention. Seeing Regirock was a blast to his past as well, after all. "Paul was watching. Of course, that was back when my Pokémon and I were defeated by Brandon."

    "So he was there the day you lost and retired," Brock realized. Things were finally beginning to make sense… why Paul felt so strongly about his brother's defeat, at least. "Then you faced Regirock, too?"

    Reggie nodded somberly. He hated that he got himself into this topic just by being shocked by seeing Regirock again, but now he had no choice but to roll with it. "I did."

    "Whoa, so Brandon really has had Regirock for a long time," Ash remarked, having no idea Regirock had that many years of experience. "No wonder I couldn't beat it even with a type advantage…"

    Of course Reggie remembered that day four years ago… there was no way he could forget, given that it forever changed both his life and his brother's… for the latter case especially.

    "Even so, no excuse would work on my brother," Reggie mentioned, his expressions hardening. "Paul was a new trainer and he'd just gotten his Turtwig. He had gone to Kanto during his Sinnoh journey… because he wanted to watch my battle."

    Back then, Paul didn't look too different, but at least in those days he wasn't so hesitant to crack a smile. What was truly different about him was on the inside… his beliefs. He always had an attitude, but he wasn't quite as cold all those years ago, though shades of Brandon did shine through at times, especially when it came to how he handled Reggie's loss and eventual retirement.

    "He put his journey on hold just to see you battle Brandon?" Dawn asked, surprised by this. "That sure doesn't sound like something he'd do today…"

    Much as it hurt his feelings to think about it, Reggie figured Dawn was right. "Yeah. It's not so out-there as you might think… back when I was a trainer, Paul traveled with me for the majority of my journey, so when he finally parted from me in Kanto on his tenth birthday to receive his Turtwig and his PokéDex, he already knew where I was headed and promised to see me through to the end. I guess you might say he was true to his word."

    "He was travelin' with ya that whole time?" Ash inquired, completely thrown back by this. "Then again, I guess it's not unheard of…"

    "You're right," Brock concurred. "Max accompanied his sister May through two regions even though he was too young to be a trainer. In spite of that, the knowledge he gained was invaluable, so you can bet when Max becomes old enough to be a trainer, he'll be a major contender early on because of his past experiences that most younger siblings don't really get."

    Dawn's mouth was gaping wide open. "Ah…! Yeah, you guys told me about how her little brother traveled with you guys before you joined me. So if the same was true with Paul, then he must've had a huge headstart at the beginning if he traveled with you for so many years, Reggie."

    "Exactly," Reggie affirmed. "He's still my kid brother, but he's wise behind his years, no doubt. Since he traveled with me, Paul never really made the kind of mistakes I did when I was a beginner. Even when he was that young, he was hitting the books and studying my technique very carefully."

    "Man, I never had that advantage at all," Ash complained, scratching his head. "No wonder he keeps kickin' my butt…"

    Zoey couldn't help but raise her eyebrow at this. The brothers didn't seem very close at all from what she saw so far, though it wasn't for lack of effort on Reggie's part. She couldn't believe what she was hearing. "It sounds like you guys were close, but then why does he hold that one loss against you so much? He's really quick to criticize you from what I've seen… was it really that bad?"

    "Let's just… say Paul doesn't take well to changes in his life," Reggie explained, feeling awkward as he tried to word that in a way that wouldn't make them ask him more questions. "I had already gone from League to League and I felt ready to challenge Kanto's Battle Frontier, right around the time Paul turned ten. Due to my level of experience, I got through most of the Battle Frontier quite quickly. So to become a Frontier Brain, I had one more challenge I needed to face, and that was a battle against Brandon. But… we lost without defeating a single Pokémon."

    Reggie couldn't help but wince as he recalled precisely what his father told him that day right after the battle ended.

    "NO! You challenged me and I truly did enjoy our battle today, but the fact remains that your battling style is little more than standard ordinary fare! Now where is your true inner strength?"

    "Harsh," Zoey sympathized as Reggie recalled the events for the group in detail. "And that's where you gave up?"

    Reggie nodded. "Not only that, but Paul was asking himself that very question the second he heard it. As a beginning trainer, from the get-go Paul was determined to find his true inner strength."

    Brock looked back to the battlefield, taking note of the new details he learned. "So the reason Paul's so obsessed with power is because of what happened to Reggie…"

    Meanwhile, Brandon was sick of this stall for time, disgusted that his own son looked like he was about to choke at the last second. While the situation and the fact that this overdue battle was finally happening did shock Paul, he was also trying to figure out a way around Regirock. Already knowing it was powerful enough to take down six of Reggie's strongest Pokémon in their prime, Paul knew he had to play it safe with this one. He wasn't about to completely flop like his brother did. The type disadvantage was already a major misstep.

    "Alright, I can handle anything you bring!" Brandon called out to him, knowing that mere taunts were always a weakness of Paul's. "Because that's my battling style." Yes, he also knew of how his battle with Reggie affected Paul for the long term.

    However, Paul was not provoked enough to fall for this trick right now. He held out Magmar's Pokéball and recalled it immediately. "Magmar, return!"

    "Return…?" Brandon figured Paul would charge right at him for certain. The fact that he was obviously playing it safe now told the Frontier Brain that his son was taking this battle very seriously.

    Those who took this action for face value only, though, weren't able to comprehend this action. "What's with Paul?" Ash asked out loud.

    "They haven't even started," Dawn muttered, shaking her head.

    But it was easy to see why if one just paid attention to details well enough, such as Brock. "Paul must have decided that his Fire-type Magmar wouldn't be strong enough against Brandon's Rock-type Regirock."

    "Hariyama, stand by for battle!" Paul yelled, sending out a Pokémon he hadn't used in quite some time. Obviously an early capture from his Hoenn days, Hariyama was once a much-less threatening Makuhita when Paul captured it. The "true inner strength" question that plagued Paul's mind was part of the reason why he was quick to capture a Fighting-type. It may have been a bit of a superficial resort in the past, but the type itself was a perfect choice to choose against Brandon.

    Seeing another Pokémon she was unfamiliar with, Dawn drew out her PokéDex again.

    "Hariyama, the Arm Thrust Pokémon. Hariyama can send a truck flying with its powerful Arm Thrusts."

    "Sounds like the kind of Pokémon Paul would like," Dawn noted with a wince. She didn't like visualizing that entry in her head one bit.

    Zoey, however, could see right away why Paul chose Hariyama. "A Fighting-type," she pointed out. "That's a good choice."

    Brandon couldn't have cared less about his sudden disadvantage on the field. He was ready to get this over with already, hoping to get some satisfaction out of this. "Let's begin. Stone Edge, now!"

    A very respectable and effective move, Stone Edge is. Paul knew well enough to get around that because he had been teaching his Torterra Stone Edge as well. Hariyama was bulky enough to take this on, and with the type advantage, he wasn't too worried. "Quick, block it!"

    Hariyama's massive hands took the attack with ease; the rocks disintegrating upon impact. Paul was already suspicious… as far as he knew, Brandon wasn't the type to go easy on him. So why was Brandon practically giving Paul a perfect opening right off the bat? Paul decided it was high time to do a little taunting himself.

    "You know Rock-type moves won't have much effect on Hariyama," Paul coldly reminded his father, really attempting to sound as condescending as he could. "Is this a test?"

    This was the kind of reaction Brandon was looking for; he could already tell Paul was unsure of himself and the direction of this battle. "You'll have to see," he said back in quite the inviting tone.

    Paul was willing enough to oblige him. "Arm Thrust!"

    Now it was the full-frontal attack Paul was waiting for. Mirroring Paul's hatred for his father, Hariyama slammed its gargantuan palms against Regirock over and over, forcing it back as it took each hit directly. This was exactly the kind of thing Paul wished he could do to Brandon personally… thanks to his illness, however, the young trainer was beginning to think it would be nothing more than a distant fantasy. Paul aimed to overwhelm Regirock, figuring this onslaught would weaken it a bit.

    However, Brandon remained firm as Regirock took the multiple Arm Thrust attacks until the precise, right moment. "Hold it down!"

    Being in such close range, it was easy for Regirock to extend its arms and capture Hariyama within its grasp, even though it was being attacked nonstop. The grip was quick to be painful, causing the immobilized Hariyama to stop attacking.

    "Oh no…!" Paul gasped out, not expecting a twist like this. He really didn't know his father as well as he thought, apparently. His mind raced to find a solution to this, but Brandon again reacted first.

    "Now, Shock Wave!" Brandon commanded, smirking as Hariyama was ruthlessly electrocuted in addition to the crushing pain it was experiencing with Regirock's hold. After the attack, Hariyama managed to break away, but the visible twitching indicated that the damage had been done. The audience couldn't believe what they were seeing, either.

    "Even after that much damage from Arm Thrust, Regirock has that much power!" Brock exclaimed. He had seen Regirock in action before, but not quite like this.

    Reggie nodded somberly; he seemed to already know this round would soon be over. "I'd expect no less from Regirock…"

    At least Hariyama was free now, enabling Paul to shout out whatever came to mind. He had a similar punishment in mind that would hopefully paralyze his opponent. "Force Palm…!"

    "Use Focus Punch!" Brandon countered. In spite of inferior mobility and greater mass than Hariyama, Regirock was fluent enough in its movements to completely dodge the Force Palm assault, giving it the ample time needed to charge Focus Punch, which nailed Hariyama right on… unsurprisingly so, as Hariyama was essentially a huge target.

    The point-blank bash to the head sent Hariyama to the ground. It quickly became obvious that it was not getting back up.

    "It's unable to battle…" Candice remarked, purely in shock and surprise. This was giving her flashbacks to when she easily thrashed Paul's team, even though he wasn't in his right mind at that time. This time, there was no excuse to warrant this. Within a couple of attacks, Hariyama was knocked flat down even with a type advantage.

    "That Regirock's tough," Ash stated, obviously enough. "What power!"

    Paul silently recalled his Pokémon as usual, showing no sign of gratitude for its efforts whatsoever. While it was jarring to already be down one Pokémon, Paul was determined to not give into fear this early on. He quickly took out another Pokéball and tossed it. "Electabuzz, stand by for battle!"

    Though Paul seemed sure of himself, Brandon had his doubts. "Huh…?" This choice was mildly perplexing for him, as it was the others.

    "Why choose an Electric-type?" Candice wondered out loud. She knew Paul liked making challenges harder for himself, but this was ridiculous.

    However, Ash quickly understood why Paul made this choice thanks to the time he invested in watching Paul sharpen Electabuzz's skills last night. "Of course; it makes total sense Paul would do that!"

    The rest of the peanut gallery, Reggie included, just stared at Ash with widened eyes. How could he see something they couldn't when normally it was the other way around?

    "Brick Break!" Paul ordered, not about to give Brandon an opening to ruin his plans. This time, the result was as Paul expected; Electabuzz flawlessly executed the move and hit Regirock directly, surely causing some damage.

    This move was being used quite frequently during training last night, which is why Ash predicted Paul's motives with ease. "I knew he was gonna use Brick Break, too!" he exclaimed, sort of impressed that he could somewhat read Paul's mind for once.

    "Well, Brandon's Regirock is a high-level Pokémon and Paul knows it," Reggie explained. He was beginning to understand why Paul was going this direction now… it was everything Reggie himself didn't do in his own battle against Brandon. Paul kept true to his word in just about any situation… his determination to not become like Reggie. "So of course he's got to use an attack that'll be a powerful match."

    "This is getting complicated," Dawn commented with a wince. "Just what else is Electabuzz going to do now, then?"

    Zoey looked on at the battle scene. "We'll just have to wait and see…"

    Brandon didn't miss a beat. "Stone Edge; go!"

    Electabuzz didn't have a resistance to Rock-type attacks like Hariyama did, so Paul wasn't going to let this be what would screw him over. "Protect!"

    Surely… surely this would negate Regirock's attack without fail. After all, in every battle Paul had been in, nothing short of Feint could break the Protect move.

    Imagine the horror when Paul turned out to be wrong; Regirock was so strong… and so vastly outclassed Electabuzz… that even normally-surefire moves like Protect could fail against the massive power Brandon possessed as one of the top trainers in the entire world.

    Electabuzz was brutally thrown back and damaged by the unstoppable rocks after its Protect barrier was destroyed. Paul couldn't help but growl a bit at this point; things like this weren't normally supposed to happen… so why were they? Even Brandon was mildly surprised that a mere Stone Edge attack could break a move like Protect. He began to wonder just how weak his second son really was… and it was something he didn't like thinking about.

    "And Protect wasn't strong enough…" Candice muttered with a sigh. "What's going on here? That couldn't have been normal."

    "Only a sheer difference in levels could cause that," Reggie said, sounding distant. "Nothing else… he really is capable of doing the impossible, isn't he…"

    Paul was still too slow on the uptake as Brandon took up the next turn. "Now, Hyper Beam!"

    To do the impossible and follow it up with an attack like that? It was beginning to befuddle everybody. One mere hit on a massively-weakened Electabuzz was more than enough to knock it out. That was it for the Electric Pokémon.

    "I can't believe how easily he took out Paul's Electabuzz," Ash remarked, remembering how much trouble he had with that Pokémon even as an Elekid. Even he felt a bit inadequate seeing how easily Brandon took it out.

    While Paul recalled Electabuzz, Brandon saw it fit to make his first substitution. "Good; Regirock, return!" Back into the Pokéball Regirock went after easily taking down a third of Paul's team.

    Brock nodded, understanding why Brandon chose now to switch. "After using Hyper Beam, a Pokémon can't act right away, so it's good he's making an exchange now."

    Unlike Paul, Brandon wasn't bothering trying to make this harder for himself. That wasn't what Brandon had in mind; he merely decided to show Paul directly how foolishly stubborn he was and how that was leading his unfortunate son on a downward spiral. Indeed… it was Brandon's toughest example of tough love. At least he was privileging Paul by letting him see more than just Regirock this time as he threw his next Pokéball. "Registeel, I need your assistance…!"

    Since Regirock had left such an impact, the group was more than unsettled to see a fearsome relative come out to the field. Dawn was making a habit out of abusing her PokéDex now, it seemed.

    "Registeel, the Iron Pokémon. Because Registeel's body has been tempered by underground pressure for thousands of years, its body cannot be scratched."

    "That's just… wow," Zoey commented. "You can't even scratch it? These Regis are definitely living up to their hype…"

    "A Registeel…" Paul had seen Registeel through video phone conversations with Brandon, but that was it, and mostly it was when Brandon announced to his family that he captured it. Being a solid Steel-type, however… the choice seemed obvious. "Magmar, stand by for battle!"

    Zoey nodded as Magmar was sent out. "Well, Fire-types have the advantage over Steel-types…"

    "At this point, I'm beginning to doubt types even matter anymore in this battle," Brock wondered out loud.

    "Use Flamethrower!" Paul shouted, immediately on the offense again. Registeel merely stood there and took the full attack, being utterly engulfed in the flames.

    "A direct hit…!" Ash exclaimed. He was in awe watching Registeel buried under the bright, burning flames… Brandon was also finally looking a bit concerned, not expecting that much power out of Paul after his first two examples. However, the concern vanished as Registeel broke through the flames and survived the attack… still standing, even. Like the PokéDex entry said, nothing could land a scratch on Registeel.

    Paul was aghast at this; he saw Registeel burning and it was still alright? "But how…?"

    The elder brother watched closely, trying to make sense of this occurrence. "It must've had an effect, but… it's hanging in."

    "Like a Steel-type," Brock supplemented. Reggie nodded in agreement.

    "True to its type's stereotype…"

    It was to Brandon's advantage to leave everyone in shock, of course. He was able to cut ahead of Paul in reaction time this way. "Use Iron Head!"

    Once Paul heard his father's voice again, he immediately issued a command to counter the move. "Block it, and then Will-O-Wisp!"

    He noticed Registeel was at least affected by Fire-type attacks, so Paul knew to stick with what worked and try to leave a burn on Registeel to gradually weaken it enough for him to knock out. Though Magmar tried to fend off Iron Head with its forearms, it simply wasn't powerful enough to completely negate it… again, in spite of its type advantage. Brock was turning out to be right about opposing types being meaningless in this battle. Even direct super-effective attacks weren't enough to bring down the powerhouse named Brandon.

    Magmar was knocked back, but not knocked out. However, instead of executing Will-O-Wisp as ordered, Magmar was suddenly overcome with fear and cowered away instead.

    Paul couldn't believe this. "Magmar's scared?" The very thing that shouldn't be displayed in front of Brandon…

    "Where's the Will-O-Wisp…?" Dawn asked, almost panicked. She'd never seen such a fierce, one-sided battle before.

    Brock was there to supply the answers. "Iron Head may cause opponents to flinch, and then it prevents them from attacking."

    There was no way Paul could rely on Magmar like this. He hastily recalled Magmar back into its Pokéball and sent out its replacement. "Now, Nidoking! Stand by for battle…!"

    Reggie raised an eyebrow at this. He was wondering why Paul was suddenly using Pokémon he hadn't used in a long time for a battle like this, but he realized this must have been what Paul wanted his privacy for earlier on today. He plotted out this party at the last minute once he saw that Brandon was in the area… based on types, Reggie figured that perhaps Torterra would be his trump card as usual, but Nidoking was also one of Paul's considerably stronger Pokémon.

    Dawn again brought out her PokéDex to analyze a Pokémon unfamiliar to her.

    "Nidoking, the Drill Pokémon. One swing of its mighty tail can snap a telephone pole as if it were nothing but a matchstick."

    Upon hearing that, Dawn gulped. "Paul… really likes the scary ones, doesn't he?"

    "If I had to guess, I'd say he seems more interested in function than looks and nature," Zoey hypothesized.

    "Paul's been through many regions at this point," Reggie reminded them all. "And he keeps his reserves with me, so believe me when I say he has… quite a variety in spite of what you're seeing here."

    Dawn looked back at her PokéDex entry and realized something. "Nidoking is a Poison-type, but I thought Poison-type moves don't work on Steel-types. Isn't that right?"

    "That's true, but Nidoking is also a Ground-type, whose moves are effective on Steel-types," Zoey informed her rival. "We'll have to wait and see which move he calls."

    But once again, Brandon was quick to take initiative. "Use Flash Cannon!"

    That nearly-blinding attack hit Nidoking head-on, but unlike Paul's other Pokémon, it was relatively unscathed afterwards, only being forced to bend back a bit. After getting itself straightened out, Paul knew it was time to strike hard and finally take Registeel down. "Earth Power, now!"

    Nidoking glowed with a bright light of power briefly before it slammed its fist into the ground, causing sudden tremors that directly approached Registeel. Another precise hit it was, as Registeel was visibly harmed by the attack and almost fell over once all was said and done… almost. Brandon's eyes widened at this, as he knew how difficult it was to actually push Registeel back this far. "Well, that's some impressive strength," he admitted. Perhaps he had too little faith in Paul after all.

    And Paul wasn't done yet. "Double Kick!"

    He was determined to not let his guard down this time and completely overwhelm his opponent for once. In spite of Nidoking's size and girth, it easily jumped high up enough to kick Registeel twice from overhead, sending it stumbling back even more… and yet it still remained on its feet after seeming like it would finally fall. The audience waited for Registeel to fall with bated breath and was horrified to see what actually happened.

    "Whoa," Ash remarked. "A hit like that and Registeel's still up!"

    Paul just tried to shake it off and continue. "Now use Thunderbolt!" he ordered. He wanted to afflict that Registeel with some kind of status… any status would do at this point.

    "Iron Head; go!" Brandon countered, winning this clash. As Nidoking zapped Registeel, it charged at an unbelievable speed at the Drill Pokémon with a full-force Iron Head attack.

    Even with a Pokémon that finally managed to really affect Brandon, Nidoking still wasn't enough. After a direct hit like that, it fainted.

    "Nidoking's unable to battle, too!" Zoey exclaimed, thinking over the previous few turns that transpired. "It was a good attack, though… I guess he's not that bad a trainer after all, but still…"

    That was three down for Paul now… half his team was unable to continue while Brandon hadn't even lost one on his side yet. Though Nidoking reflected the inherent abilities Brandon wanted to believe Paul had, his performance was still pitiful overall for a battle he was so serious about having. If he was this far behind, Brandon figured it would be a long time before Paul would be strong enough to even remotely become a threat. That… actually depressed him. Pushing that aside for now, however, Brandon decided he would have to invoke Paul's rage the best way he knew how: by exposing his weaknesses. Though Brandon barely spent any quality time with his kids, he could read them like a book… especially Paul, who was always more reflective of his youth than Reggie was. All Brandon needed to do was recall what lit his fighting spirit on fire as a child… truth be told, there were many similarities between Paul and Brandon that hadn't come to light yet for anyone but the Pyramid King himself.

    All Brandon had to do… was think about the people he despised the most. What he needed to do became clear.

    "All right, what's wrong?" Brandon taunted, making sure Paul wouldn't be able to ignore that demeaning tone of his… not to mention abusing his privileges as a "strictly professional acquaintance" rather than an estranged father. "And here I thought you wanted to beat the man who defeated your brother."

    Paul finally came to his senses and recalled Nidoking to its Pokéball before glaring daggers at Brandon. Just hearing him talk like that already made him become increasingly unstable. The remains of his self-control were evident in his reply. "The truth is, it's only because you defeated Reggie that my victory over you will have meaning." But that was not the truth at all… "The challenge you always present to trainers to find their own strength…"

    And just then, he snapped mid-sentence. "… Was something my brother wasn't able to do!"

    Brandon blinked at the sudden outburst. Reggie's expressions hardened as he was namedropped by his family. It was so hard to keep everything under wraps… he could tell the battle would get unnecessarily brutal from here and he wanted to play mediator like he often did between Paul and Brandon, but in this crowd, there was just no way. All he could do was watch as his little brother completely lost his cool after all this time, evident with his raised fists now shaking.

    "But I'm not like my brother!" Paul shouted. "My will gives me strength! And now, you'll see it firsthand!"

    That was all Brandon needed to know Paul had no chance whatsoever in winning this battle. A superficial answer like that wasn't going to sway him; just convince him that Paul had no idea what he was talking about and really was making this up as he went along. Though there was some truth in what Paul said, as his willpower was probably the only thing that finally got him in Snowpoint City, the fact was he was too reliant on his own stubborn nature, assuming that he would outlast any opponent by that virtue alone. But as evident with Candice a few days ago, obviously that wasn't enough to overcome a competent opponent. Paul still hadn't learned from his prior mistakes… because he was blinded by his rage; his hatred for his father.

    Brandon hoped he wouldn't have to go this low, because he was sure what kind of answer he would get from his son… but he found that he was left with no choice.

    "NO!" Brandon bellowed, startling everyone in the stands but Reggie, who was more than used to this reaction by now. "All wrapped up in the past…" he remarked with disgust. "But then why do you walk the Pokémon path in the first place?"

    Paul was losing it, as if the wrinkles under his eyes weren't telling enough. He couldn't believe he was being asked a question like this in the middle of their battle… with all these people watching…

    And then… Brandon dropped the bomb that would end his child for sure: "Tell me, why do you battle?"

    Of all things… this was something Paul never really thought about before. There were other ways to get his point across to his father… so why did he choose to do it with Pokémon, which he was rather unqualified for training and taking care of? It made perfect sense for a person like Reggie… he had an inherent love for Pokémon while Paul… did not. It made no real sense why Paul was a Pokémon trainer at all.

    Once Paul realized that… once he was forced to take everything but Pokémon out of the equation for his motives… only then was he finally enlightened, but it was one that he wished never dawned upon him.

    Paul had no idea why he worked with Pokémon. He had no answer for Brandon's inquiry.

    That… was what Brandon expected, sadly. With no clue as to what he was doing with Pokémon, this was precisely why he had doubts in Paul ever reaching his level of achievement, much less surpassing it. Even with Reggie, the quitter, it seemed less hopeless.

    But Paul… always bounced back. Brandon knew this to be true; if Paul could one day answer this question with validity, then the sky was the limit for him.

    Until then… he was stuck here, right where he was… on a massive losing streak.

    "Young man."

    Paul snapped out of it, giving his father a murderous glare.

    "I asked you a question," Brandon reminded him. "So tell me right now… what are you fighting for?"

    The audience looked to Paul, awaiting his answer. Though Reggie looked skeptical; he too knew that Paul's motives were… either questionable or nonexistent. Paul could feel it, too; he could feel himself being watched and judged by those in the stands.

    But he still didn't know what to say… other than growl as his emotional restraints finally gave way to his raw, uncontrolled rage.

    "NOW, LAIRON! STAND BY FOR BATTLE!"

    Travels of the Trifecta! - Chronicles of an estranged family!

    LJ | dA | Bulbagarden | ff.net

    Diamond: 2749 - 7749 - 1840
    SoulSilver: 2364 - 7834 - 3761

  5. #130
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    Brandon sighed. He didn't want to go so far as to break Paul, but he saw now that there was no choice. It wouldn't be much longer, he knew… and then this hurdle could finally be overcome.

    A very shaken Dawn lifted up her PokéDex once more. She never heard Paul sound like this before, but now that she had, her image of him completely changed for the worse.

    "Lairon, the Iron Armor Pokémon. It digs up iron ore for food and smashes its steely body up against others in battles over territory."

    While saddened that it came down to this, Reggie wondered why Paul bothered taking a chance on something like Lairon against a man who was viewed as the ultimate challenge. From what Reggie remembered, Paul never cared that much for Lairon and couldn't even be bothered to fully evolve it even though it was one of the first Pokémon he caught by himself. Paul actually saw this as a perfect opportunity to invoke an evolution in Lairon so he would finally get his Aggron… not to mention its typing was ideal for going against Brandon. Then again, Paul hadn't been thinking straight all day. There was just too much going on for him to handle.

    Brandon decided that while Paul had pretty much lost his mind at this point to further confuse him by choosing this moment to make his exchange. "Registeel, return!" All eyes were glued to Brandon as he sent out the final member of his famous legendary trio… "Regice, I need your assistance!"

    "He's… gonna use an Ice-type against a Rock and Steel-type…?" Zoey asked no one in particular.

    "They sure are alike," Candice quietly muttered, but her comment did not slip by Brock's ears.

    Brock looked back at Candice questioningly. "What was that…?"

    "Ack…!" Candice just grinned and laughed in a panicked way that practically screamed the fact that she was forcing it out. "Nothing, nothing!" She did not want to be the center of attention again.

    "Anyway, it's obvious now," Reggie confirmed, unable to force a smile at this point. "Types… really are irrelevant in this battle."

    Though Paul was consumed with rage by this point, he actually decided on a defensive beginning for once. "Iron Defense!"

    Lairon's steely body gleamed as the technique took effect. Dawn stared at this, thinking she could put her finger on this for once. "Is that…?"

    "Right, it increases defensive power," Brock confirmed, knowing Dawn was too shaken by this battle to finish her sentences now.

    "Yeah, Paul wants to hang in there and look for a chance to counter-strike," Reggie added, knowing this would be the only reason why his desperate brother wouldn't lash out at the beginning.

    However, Brandon paid no mind to this and proceeded to attack. "Ice Beam; go!"

    "What the…?" Lairon stood there and took the hit… but increased defenses were absolutely worthless in this case, as the odds went against Paul once again. He looked on in pure, abject horror as he watched his Lairon become frozen solid in a block of ice, which was a possible side-effect if a target was hit with this attack.

    Paul was sunk, and all he could do was growl about it, wishing that he would have challenged his father to a fist-fight or something less emotionally-draining instead. It was bad enough that for most of Paul's major battles since Byron was he constantly falling victim to the frozen status, which then rendered his Pokémon useless.

    There was nothing else Paul could do but watch Brandon take out his Lairon without breaking a sweat. "Zap Cannon!" Brandon was actually thankful this happened, as this was a nice way of ending the battle faster. He knew now that he'd seen enough, and absolutely the best Paul had to offer him… it was time to accept the truth: Paul wasn't ready yet; not even close.

    Lairon was down. Ash was particularly downtrodden by this. "Man, Lairon didn't even get to attack once…" It was something he was looking forward to every time he saw a new Pokémon of Paul's… even though Lairon wasn't "new", per se… it was still new to him.

    Four down and two to go; Paul recalled Lairon and sent out his only fresh Pokémon left on the team. He seemed to know it, too, as he was back to growling and shaking uncontrollably as he threw out his next Pokéball as hard as he could. "URSARING, STAND BY FOR BATTLE!"

    Even if he was fighting a losing battle, Paul didn't want to go down like a wimp… Brandon could commend him for that much at least, though it was depressing at the same time to see Paul go through all this trouble when he was going to lose, anyway.

    "Use Hammer Arm!" Paul shouted at the top of his lungs. Yes, it was a wise move for him to have taken his medication prior to the match. Otherwise, his body would have failed him a while ago.

    Brandon narrowed his eyes, determined to outdo his son in every way possible. "Focus Punch; go!"

    Ursaring still remained a powerhouse of Paul's team, and therefore fared a bit better against the Pyramid King's Pokémon, matching Regice hit for hit until their clashes brought about an explosion, sending both Pokémon back sliding, but both still able to continue. That was nice; Brandon had to take what he could get from his son's abysmal attempt to defeat him. The small moments of standstill gave way to the two trainers giving commands almost simultaneously.

    "Now, Focus Blast!" Paul cried out.

    "Zap Cannon!" was Brandon's next move. Though Brandon called his out later, the execution of Focus Blast would prove to be detrimental to Paul just as it was for Reggie against Maylene when they battled last. Zap Cannon smacked into Ursaring before it could even launch Focus Blast, effectively cancelling the attack altogether.

    Ursaring wasn't knocked down, but like Nidoking, it was going to likely need some sort of Pokémon chiropractor in the future as far back as its spine was bent from the force of the attack. The stunned look on Ursaring before it finally slumped over made it evident that something was wrong with it.

    Ash had no idea, of course. "Whoa, what happened?" He hoped Brandon wasn't going too hard on Paul… Ash would know, after all.

    "Zap Cannon always paralyzes the target if it hits," Brock pointed out. It was also evident that Zap Cannon hit Ursaring so hard that even its Guts ability wasn't going to save it this time. Against someone like Brandon, Ursaring may as well have been frozen in a block of ice like the previous times.

    Paul knew it. This was a lost cause… and his adrenaline was beginning to peter out. He was still viciously angry, but now with Ursaring rendered useless… Paul could only glare at his father who did this to his Pokémon.

    "Why isn't Paul switching?" Ash asked everybody after realizing that Paul was suddenly rather stationary.

    Brandon had no interest in one last stall for time, however. "Now, Regice, return!" he commanded, making what he hoped would be his final substitution. "Regirock, I need your assistance…!"

    Suddenly, Paul was riled up once more upon seeing the symbol of his past… the Pokémon that made Reggie give up and consequently made Paul lose his ability to trust people or even take in a bit of good faith. It was like a slap to his face, and Brandon was well aware of it, too. "Regirock again?!"

    "Use Stone Edge!" The Frontier Brain paid no mind to Paul's hissy fits, only interested in ending this battle. In Ursaring's already-poor condition, it was needless to say the following attack crushed it completely beyond usability in this fight. It too was unable to battle.

    Paul was sick of looking at it anyway; on the whole he'd been dissatisfied with Ursaring's performance lately and quickly recalled it. "Ursaring, return!"

    "Paul had already given up on Ursaring," Reggie said as a belated response to Ash; he wanted to wait and see just to be sure, but this was what he figured out when he first saw it. "He just stopped giving it commands…"

    "Hm…" Ash couldn't help but feel sorry for Paul at this point. This was very different from the time he watched Paul battle Cynthia to a full battle and lost miserably; at least then Paul knew when to quit. He had no idea why, but even though this battle was going no better than the one against Sinnoh's Champion, Paul just refused to concede defeat until he would be forced to; needlessly so, at that.

    He really wondered what it was about the battle with Brandon that kept Paul as stubborn as Ash himself. The boy from Pallet Town never really had issues with family pride and whatnot. For all the times Ash encountered Paul before, never once was he this fierce… nor desperate, or even vulnerable. It was obvious even to Ash that Paul was doing himself no favors by losing his cool, but then again, that wasn't something Paul was able to control after a while. Reggie was actually impressed that Paul held in his rage for as long as he did, but he had a feeling that things would get too volatile for his little brother to be able to keep it up. It was Reggie who was truly the master of keeping his true feelings locked away within himself, but for now, he wouldn't acknowledge the fact that he was just as upset as Paul was, just by watching this…

    Reggie realized his brother was right; now that nothing apparently ailed either of them, Brandon was back to his familiar cold and distant self. There was nothing to enjoy about this reunion whatsoever. He doubted even if Brandon finally caught Regigigas that it would make up for the nightmare he had just put Paul through. But… the nightmare wouldn't have to last for much longer, as Paul sent out his final Pokémon able to fight… who had already suffered a myriad of problems already…

    "Now Magmar, stand by for battle!" Paul cried out, as if he still thought he could do something… somehow make his mark and show Brandon how far he had come. But ever since that question was directed towards him… Paul knew that's all what Brandon would care about until he finally gave an answer. Chances were that Brandon would never battle him again until he could find that answer.

    The entire audience looked saddened as they watched Magmar come to the field a third time.

    "Paul's last Pokémon…" Dawn mumbled. She too was feeling very sorry for Paul right now, though was also clueless as to why he was behaving so differently from before.

    "Not only is it a bad matchup, but Regirock's just too powerful," Candice pointed out, hating to being faced with the harsh reality of this final battle. There was no doubt about it. "It's almost over…"

    It was indeed the homestretch. All it required was one more move.

    By now, it really didn't matter what Paul did. This was the end, and even though this was wrecking his body like crazy, Paul hated for it to end. Once this was over, it was time to face reality again as the walking dead… and accept the fact that he might not live long enough to become a real challenge for his father. Fear was hard to resist now; Paul really was afraid this would be the last time he'd ever get to challenge Brandon. In spite of that, the unfortunate trainer failed with flying colors.

    "Now, Flamethrower!" That was Paul's last command. He knew it was a bad move to use against Regirock, but even if it wasn't, it wouldn't have been enough to make a difference. This was simply Paul's way of going out with a bang.

    Said bang was easily nullified by Regirock's bulky, fire-resistant arms. It was finally time to end this.

    "Shock Wave, let's go now!" Brandon called out. He figured he'd done enough damage to Paul by now to not need to rub salt in the wound with Stone Edge.

    Despite that, it was a brutal and critical hit that smacked hard into an already-weary Magmar. It slumped over, its arms hanging like noodles as it tried its best to remain on its feet. Magmar knew it was Paul's last hope… and it remembered what Paul said to his entire team just before the match. Was it really Magmar's fault? This entire battle seemed utterly hopeless from start to finish… but was it a good idea to start doubting the trainer?

    That would be a matter to worry about for another time; Magmar had no strength left as it fell to the ground at last. That was that; Brandon utterly swept his son… just like he had done with Reggie four years ago.

    Once the action subsided, the drama was quick to take over. Paul looked on at his fallen Magmar, both looking and sounding effectively broken. He really thought this would finally be the day his old man would get his comeuppance. Paul was honestly sure of himself when he hastily put a plan together to deal with Brandon the second he laid his eyes on that flying pyramid in Snowpoint City. He wanted to believe he was ready… but he wasn't. He couldn't do what his brother couldn't, nor could he do what Ash did. As if that weren't bad enough, there was a large group of people that had witnessed this firsthand… this wasn't a dirty little secret Paul could sweep under the rug like his disease.

    The experience had been surreal for every person within the facility. Yet Candice of all people was the only one who knew about said dirty little secret, though in turn was fully unaware of Paul and Brandon's relation… but ever-so-slightly, she was picking up on it. Brock was more suspicious than ever before; like Ash, he watched Paul battle Cynthia and was surprised that Paul didn't have good sense to quit when it was made obvious that he had no chance of winning. That was precisely what Paul did against Cynthia – despite it being a full battle, Paul understood when he had already lost after four of his Pokémon fell to the opponent and didn't hesitate to forfeit. Here, though… Paul couldn't have been unaware of it, but around Brandon, he acted completely differently regardless. It was only then that Brock decided he should attempt to speak with Reggie in private the next time he got the chance. While it was true that it was none of his business when it came down to it, Brock couldn't simply turn away now after all the time he invested in studying Paul's actions since coming to Sinnoh.

    Zoey wasn't sure what to make of this. While she did think it was rather strange how Paul and Brandon interacted with each other, she had only met these two less than twenty-four hours ago. Already within that timeframe, Paul was showing many different sides of himself that made him quite difficult to read. The Top Coordinator-hopeful at least understood why Ash and the others even bothered with him in the first place, though; to say the least, he… was a very interesting case. After seeing this battle, Zoey gained even more respect for Ash when it hit her that the boy she formerly disliked actually defeated a fierce trainer like Brandon. Of course, the circumstances must have been different from now (especially when Ash admitted he never actually defeated Regirock), but that made him no less impressive in Zoey's eyes. She was looking forward to how both trainers would progress through the rest of their journey now.

    Never before had Dawn felt sorrier for Paul than she did now. She clutched her Piplup tightly, hearing it squeak in response before quietly issuing an apology. The battle was absolutely horrifying for her… she could see why the prize won from Brandon here was called the Brave Symbol. One would need nerves of steel to not break down in front of this intimidating, powerful man. That made her all the more curious as to how Ash managed to beat him, especially given that Paul until recently had been routinely making short work of Ash in battle. But after taking it all in, going this far made Dawn's head hurt. Understanding now that the Battle Frontier was a way of saying a trainer was in the big leagues, she wondered how a first-year Coordinator like her would be able to perform in the big league equivalent of her path. It didn't help realizing that Ash only got the opportunity after over three years of training and battling. This went a long way in giving Dawn even more humility as she had to face the facts… and Paul here was a prime example of this: you can want something as badly to the ends of time and do whatever you can to get it. But in the end, none of that guaranteed that you would be successful. She had understood now that winning the Grand Festival was not going to be a mere one-year feat for her in all likelihood. She would still try her best, but if she failed this time… Dawn knew not to take it too hard. It didn't seem fair, but then again… life was never fair.

    Ash had no idea why he felt this badly at seeing Paul lose. Really, as horrible as his rival had been to him and Pokémon alike, a loss like this would have served him right. It made him feel incredibly lucky and special remembering that he had actually beat Brandon already and earned his way through the Battle Frontier, but thinking back on that… it was only a 4-on-4 battle like he one he just had with Candice yesterday. Only Regice of the legendary trio was used in that particular battle and it was a fresh capture at the time. While Ash did face the other two Regis in previous attempts to defeat Brandon, he didn't beat either of them, and he only barely beat Regice to begin with.

    He wondered… if he were in Paul's shoes, would he have done any better? This was no time to judge Paul now; foolish as he was to make the battle this way, it was admirable that Paul really wanted to go through with that kind of thing. The idea of a full battle with Brandon with half his team being Regi legendaries made Ash feel a little sick to his stomach. Even with his ultra-powerful reserves, Ash won against Brandon by the skin of his teeth. He still wondered why Paul didn't just forfeit before it got this bad like he did against Cynthia, but for now he was too preoccupied, feeling sympathy for his rival. "Paul lost…" he muttered. "After all that."

    That was exactly what was on Reggie's mind right now. He knew Paul must have had this battle on the brain for the past month since the challenge was issued. After all the work Paul went through just to make it here and make this battle happen (and Reggie still didn't know the half of it), the result ended up like this regardless. No better than him… Reggie knew Paul was going to have a hard time living this down, especially since so many people were witnesses to it. As far as he recalled, Paul fought a lot harder than he did back then. Just as Reggie was beginning to feel good about his chances, this brought down his mood tremendously. He wasn't sure just how he and Paul stacked up these days, but Reggie figured his brother must be on par with him somehow. Knowing that… Reggie understood that there was still a lot of work to be done; this battle was proof of it.

    Perhaps Paul had more of an uphill battle than his brother after all… this was something Reggie wanted to find out soon. Right now, he knew he was going to need to spend some quality time with his brother and get him through the healing process, because it was fairly obvious that Paul was going to need some help to make it through this.

    Brandon stared down hard at Paul, who could no longer look him in the face. Once the terror phase had come and gone, Paul was slowly brought back down to earth, certainly looking worse for wear. He was dead silent as he finally recalled Magmar, who hadn't moved an inch since fainting. Once that was done, Paul felt so drained that his Pokéball nearly slipped through his hand's grasp as he let it down gently, though couldn't resist the urge to shiver. He slumped over, eyes closed and completely humbled by his experience. Paul couldn't even fathom what all went wrong with this battle, but the real question was… could he have performed any worse? Brandon met him at every corner and every moment; whenever Paul did land a hit, it might as well have missed. The damage he dealt did nothing but maybe extend the battle a couple of minutes. Whatever strategic move Paul had, Brandon negated it without fail. Every time there was a chance for a side effect when Brandon went on the offensive, it happened and crippled Paul's team in the process. The other way around, try as Paul did to afflict at least one of the Regis with a status effect, lady luck never shined upon him… almost as if he were meant to lose this battle.

    The Pyramid King himself chose his next words carefully. It was his duty to give trainers who failed against him the proper constructive criticism; the tricky part was being able to give it while not compromising the confidentiality agreement. A major part of Paul's poor performance, as Brandon saw, was due to his lack of focus. Much unlike his brother, Paul was terrible when it came to managing stress. So much of that stress had to do with family issues that Brandon couldn't vocalize at this time… but he couldn't just leave Paul beside himself like this.

    "Young man."

    That got Paul's attention, though he didn't move… not even to open his eyes.

    "This battle of yours… is that your true battle? The battle you'll present in the future?" Brandon asked, though not expecting an answer, of course. Reggie was a little surprised Brandon didn't holler a deafening "NO!" at first.

    While it was very hard to maintain the position of power that Brandon held, the hardest thing of all for him – always – was to be a father. Even before his wife died, he struggled, though at least then he had her support and guidance. After that, Brandon had absolutely no idea what to do with himself, much less his kids. In spite of the lack of true respect he should have had for his sons, Brandon knew he would be awful to leave Paul hanging like this and had to leave something positive for him as a father should. All this he had to do… without actually coming off as a father. He only hoped that Paul would truly understand his message rather than take it at face value.

    "You've done an excellent job raising and training your Pokémon," he said earnestly; that much was evident at least with Nidoking. "But you allow your emotions to betray you on the battlefield!"

    This part he said much more forcefully; Brandon was determined to get his point across. It seemed to work, as Paul finally managed to look up and lock eyes with him again. Abysmal as Paul may have been in controlling his anger, he held in his urge to cry very well. It seemed vague, but Paul kept in mind that this was what he wanted. Desperate as he was for his father's words, had had to take what he could get from pure inference. With Brandon… he expected no less. This was the best way to convey Paul's biggest flaws as a trainer without going beyond the professional way of speaking. In addition to the question that would haunt him every day until he found a good answer for it, Paul had to come to terms with his lack of restraint. He was usually good at reserving himself, but a choice few were exceptions to this rule; many of which were in the stands right now.

    But Brandon was the biggest exception of all… Paul, despite hating his father, was unable to consider that detail secondary to Brandon's status as a trainer. It largely had to do with Brandon's attitude; his professional and personal sides were similar in more ways than one. That alone invoked a powerful rage within the young trainer. He didn't have fond memories of his parents before his mother died, so he honestly didn't feel the connection that Reggie felt with Brandon, which enabled Reggie to forgive his father for his shortcomings.

    As he stared hard at Brandon, the Pyramid King was delighted to see the hatred subdued at this time. He was already making an effort to rectify his weakness… and this was quite indicative of Paul bouncing back from a fall. Even if Paul himself didn't know it at the time… Brandon made it clear now that Paul really had nothing to worry about.

    "We will battle again when you've learned to control them," Brandon assured with a smile. It wasn't his usual smug smile at all; that was the smile he once had when he was a full-time dad. Paul didn't recognize it, but he felt himself beginning to calm down at last. Brandon's changed tone and his swear to maintain the original challenge he set for Paul did much to save him from that endless pit of despair. Paul would still fear his illness holding him back later on, but for now this turned into a surprisingly nice moment. But all that was apparent on Paul's face was the calm; not the warm feeling inside him. Having lost this badly, though, Paul felt he had no right to even speak back. He merely bowed his head to show that he understood everything Brandon said.

    And that was that. Brandon nodded back to his son and started to turn away from the battlefield. "Until then… best of luck. I'll look forward to seeing you in battle again."

    He was walking off… and with him went those brief moments of the balancing calm that filled Paul's battle-ravaged body. Paul looked up to watch his father leave, his eyes widening and mouth gaping as that odd, almost fuzzy feeling faded away. He stumbled forward slightly and made a feeble reach towards where his father once was with the pitiful amount of energy he had left within him. Upon realizing that everyone was still watching him, however, Paul just froze after that before slowly easing down to a standing position as before.

    Travels of the Trifecta! - Chronicles of an estranged family!

    LJ | dA | Bulbagarden | ff.net

    Diamond: 2749 - 7749 - 1840
    SoulSilver: 2364 - 7834 - 3761

  6. #131
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    Brock made a mental note of this just now. He was almost certain what he believed was true… and he'd make a point to talk to Reggie for sure to confirm his suspicions.

    Reggie stood up first, letting out a small sigh as he continued to stare down at his brother, who apparently had no intention of leaving anytime soon. "Don't worry about it, guys," he assured. "Just leave him to me. Either way, we'd best be going."

    "But this time, there's actually a need to worry," Dawn muttered as she stood up. "I mean, that fight…"

    "Just have faith in Reggie," Zoey assured her. "If anyone can get Paul back to his usual jerk self, it's gonna be his older brother for sure…" But after saying something that rude, Zoey tensed up and grinned awkwardly at Reggie. "Er, no offense, of course…"

    Reggie just smiled and shrugged. "None taken. I know he can be hard to deal with most of the time, but I can tell you all want him to change for the better. Hopefully… after today, that can begin."

    "Wonder if he'll be a little nicer to me from now on," Ash thought out loud as he stood up and stretched. Continually looking down at Paul, however, Ash had an apprehensive look on his face as he thought about what he just said. "Eh… probably not."

    It was rather funny of Ash to say that, Reggie thought. He chuckled a bit as he watched everyone slowly make their way out of the stands and towards the exit. "We'll just have to see. Brandon's probably waiting to escort you guys out of here by now," or so Reggie assumed. "Paul and I know our way around this place, so we'll escort ourselves out."

    Brock wondered how those two could know the Battle Pyramid that well if they had only allegedly been in there all of two times. But, that was a question for another day… right now, there were many loaded questions stacked on top of one another as a result of today's events.

    "Seeya soon, then," Ash said in a temporary farewell. The crowd gradually emptied out of the arena until only the two lowly brothers were left. Reggie was very careful in his movements, not wanting to do anything sudden that might possibly upset his little brother. He had a very lost and confused look on his face… which wasn't really something Reggie expected, admittedly.

    Paul had to know Reggie was right beside him, but paid no mind to his older sibling regardless. There was just too much on his mind at the moment.

    Reggie was not fond of the following periods of awkward silence, especially in a spacious area like this where a vicious battle just transpired. He had to break the ice somehow… however hard it was trying to find the right thing to say at a time like this. "You've lost battles before, Paul. It's no big deal."

    But Paul didn't respond.

    Reggie's genuine smile ever-quickly turned into a forced one. "You're… okay, right? If you're not…"

    "I felt something," he said suddenly, cutting Reggie off. He still wouldn't look at his brother. "Weird…"

    "Felt what?" Reggie was intrigued; what could Paul be feeling other than the sting of defeat? "Good weird? Bad weird?"

    Paul held a hand to his chest for a moment before shaking his head. "I… don't know. I only felt it for a couple of minutes." He had been feeling even worse than before once that feeling left him… the one invoked by Brandon of all people. It was incomprehensible to Paul why he suddenly felt like this. "… Anyway, let's go now."

    He wanted to cry; oh, how he wanted to cry… but not here. Not in this place. Paul rather would not cry in the first place, but if he would be forced to eventually, then by the gods he would be deciding where and when. But inside Reggie's van sounded like a good place to start… provided the kids didn't follow.

    "Don't rush; take all the time you need," Reggie urged, resting his hands on Paul's shoulders. "I know what you're going through right now…"

    Just being reminded that he was no better than his brother set Paul off immediately. He kept his calm for the most part, save for his facial expressions. They were back to being dark and menacing as per usual as he glared straight at Reggie just then. "I don't want to be here anymore," he clarified in a low growl.

    After hearing that, Reggie quickly let go of Paul and backed off a step or two. He got the point. "Right, right. So how about we go outside now?"

    That seemed to be an affirmative for Paul as he silently walked towards the exit. Though he felt a little dizzy after what he had been through today, his desire to leave this desolate place overpowered it. Of course Reggie was still worried about how Paul would react to his devastating loss throughout the day, so it went without saying that the elder brother was going to keep an eye on him for a while until he finally mellowed out. At the same time, Reggie hated to just leave it like that. Just winning against Candice eventually wasn't going to make that pain go away, and Reggie knew it. On his way out of the Battle Pyramid, he started brainstorming ideas to help get Paul back on his feet. There was an uncomfortable silence again for all parties involved as they made their way out of the Battle Pyramid. For once, they knew better than to try talking to Paul at a time like this.




    Once they made it outside again, Paul quickened his pace to catch up with Candice and Zoey. He stopped right ahead of the Gym Leader to get her attention. Still, he wouldn't bring himself to look at her, though he seemed a bit more evened out after walking off some of the stress. "You can expect to see me at the Snowpoint Gym," he said suddenly, prompting everyone else to stop and stare. Paul felt the need to clarify. "… But not today," he made specific. "I'll give you a call to reschedule."

    Candice smiled and nodded, figuring after all this that Paul wouldn't be up for another battle today, anyway. "Right, Paul. I'll be looking forward to it!" She prayed he would be well again once that time came. But she felt she had worn out her welcome by now and watching a battle like that made her antsy to get a battle herself. She already had one with Ash, and Paul was not an option…

    She looked to Zoey. "So, Zozo! I guess it's our turn next, right?"

    "Huh…?" Zoey looked at her mentor, not sure what she was getting at. She didn't make any plans for today…

    "A kiai battle with you and me," Candice challenged, smirking at her childhood friend. "Let's get going."

    Zoey knew that look… Candice was definitely fired up, most likely after seeing that horrifying battle. It seemed the aftershock of the battle that just took place wore off on her rather quickly, changing into her own desire to have a good battle. Zoey smiled knowingly at Candice upon understanding her motives. "You bet, Miss Senior."

    Candice's Dodrio was sent out again; the owner quickly seated herself upon it and pulled Zoey up with her. The spunky Gym Leader looked to the others, bidding them farewell.

    "And much good luck with your next Contest, Dawn!" Candice expressed with sincerity.

    Dawn smiled and nodded; it was relieving to think about her own goals again after what she just saw. "Thank you."

    "Okay, everyone! See you around…!" Candice waved as she rode her Dodrio back towards the actual city limits, still saying her goodbyes and waving as she distanced herself from the group.

    Zoey added in her own farewell, though she knew soon enough she'd be seeing Dawn again. "See you, Dawn…!"

    "Bye-bye, Zoey! Good luck!" Dawn shouted back.

    "Take care!" Ash added. At least he was enjoying the variety of company that had been around his core group since they arrived in Snowpoint City.

    Paul… couldn't have cared less. Seeing almost everyone distracted with saying goodbye to Candice and Zoey left him with an opening to slip away as well. Paul wasn't sure where he actually intended to go at this moment, but he felt increasingly uncomfortable the longer he remained with the group in spite of it dwindling down.

    Almost everyone was distracted by bidding the girls farewell, but Paul couldn't escape Reggie's eyes no matter how hard he tried. While Reggie remained quiet the entire time, he had decided on what he would do for Paul to help him recover from the loss to Brandon.

    Just as Paul thought he was in the clear, he heard Reggie call out to him, exposing his little scheme. "Hey, Paul!"

    He didn't care, he didn't care…

    "Do you think there's any chance you and Ash can treat us to a full battle at some point?"

    He didn't-…

    Paul froze in place, thankful that no one could see his eyes widening at such an idea. A full battle with Ash? Really…?

    Ash too was surprised by Reggie's suggestion. "Me and Paul…?"

    Brandon saw it fit to step in with his opinion, putting on a proud smile. "You two! Interesting idea."

    Hearing his father's voice in an almost-friendly tone, Paul looked back to the others… but specifically at Brandon.

    "Let's set the time and place and agree to meet again," Brandon decided. "That's bound to be a battle guaranteed to raise the level of both of you. Of that, there can be no doubt."

    Way back when Brandon was still in Kanto, he fancied the idea of seeing such a battle. He wasn't sure if he would be able to see this particular one, but he was more than happy to support Reggie's idea. Reggie looked to Brandon with a smile, absolutely ecstatic inside that his father was actually supporting something he came up with for once. That… was a very rare occurrence.

    It didn't take much to convince Ash, as usual. "Yeah! Great, I'm in!"

    Was this really a good idea? Paul wondered about that. He couldn't defeat a man Ash defeated already… Ash had been improving as a trainer over time and already technically scored a victory against Paul, though informally. If he could accomplish that much, it was already a very real possibility that Ash might possibly defeat Paul the next time they battled.

    Still, his instincts and what shreds remained of his pride provided the answer for Paul regardless. "I'm in, too."

    This was a perfect opportunity for Paul to put his concerns to the test. Of course he couldn't pass it up.

    Brock found this interesting, but was curious about one important detail. "Reggie, what about the time and place?"

    Reggie had already decided on that before saying a word in the first place. "Exactly ten days from now," he said. "At the Pokémon Center at Lake Acuity."

    No doubt Reggie was psyched for this. He looked pumped up and ready to do it now, even, but obviously this was not the right time at all. In the meantime, during those ten days, he had his own plans for Paul.

    "Then it's decided," Brandon approved. He looked to both Ash and Paul, nodding to both of them. "I can't make any promises as to whether or not I'll be there… but regardless, I expect the utmost effort from both of you."

    "It's nothing but that when it comes to me!" Ash assured him, grinning. "Even if ya don't make it, we'll be sure to tell ya all about it when we're done."

    Paul merely nodded to Brandon, still feeling as if he lacked the right to speak with him directly after what happened. Still, just by seeing Brandon acknowledge him again in a way that didn't insult him brought back those wonderful feelings he briefly felt when Brandon spoke to him directly.

    But like last time, Paul wouldn't get to enjoy them for long. Reggie snagged Paul by the arm and made his way to the van, waving goodbye to everyone. "Guess we'd best get going to prepare, then," Reggie said to excuse himself. Partially that was true, but he felt that Paul really needed to be out of there as soon as possible. He didn't notice Paul calming down again, nor did he realize that Paul was beginning to look discontented as he was pulled away from those unfamiliar warm vibes… "First thing's first: the Pokémon Center."

    Brandon nodded in agreement. "Make sure that young man's Pokémon are well taken care of. Hopefully I wasn't too hard on them."

    Reggie forced out a smile as he ushered Paul into his van. "Ahah, Paul's a tough guy and so are his Pokémon. They'll definitely be ready in time for the battle. It's, uh… been good seeing you again, Brandon!"

    Man, how awkward did that feel? Reggie was forcing out more than a smile by now; that's why he was glad to just about be out of there.

    "The feeling is mutual, Reggie," Brandon assured with a nod. "Stay safe… both of you."

    Something had been bugging Reggie in the back of his mind all this time, but he couldn't put a finger on it. He waved with haste as he seated himself within his van, giving one final wave before driving off.

    "Will do!" Reggie called back. "Bye, everybody! See you in ten days…!"

    And just like that, the brothers were gone. A huge weight was lifted from the shoulders of the entire family.

    The Battle Pyramid quickly became a distant sight to Paul and Reggie as they swiftly made their way back to Snowpoint City. Both were quiet; Paul's reasons were obvious, though now finally having some amount of privacy allowed him to soften a bit as he huddled over; both arms wrapped around himself. Reggie, however… it finally came to him; that mysterious intangible thing bothering him mentally.

    "Dad…"

    Paul looked up at Reggie upon the mention of that man, though he looked absolutely miserable in doing so.

    "I can't believe it…" Reggie muttered to himself. "Dad's been… he's been calling me by my name all day!" Reggie couldn't even remember the last time Brandon did that. Paul blinked a couple of times, finding it weird that Brandon actually did that in spite of Reggie not yet defeating him…

    "It couldn't… it couldn't have been part of the plan, right?" Reggie wondered out loud again. He had temporarily forgotten that Paul was right next to him. "Because… that makes no sense. If I didn't surpass him, I didn't earn that right…"

    Reggie's mind raced around the possible explanations for this, but he felt excited regardless. Thinking back on it, how nice it felt to actually be addressed as something other than a noncommittal "boy"…

    "Maybe there's hope after all!" Reggie cried out with joy, but Paul honestly had no idea what Reggie was talking about. Still, for being a good sport and going out of his way to comply with Paul's somewhat-unreasonable wishes, Paul decided to remain quiet and let his brother bask in the warm and comforting feelings that may or may not have been similar to the ones Paul briefly experienced.

    He deserved to be happy once in a while, Paul believed. The younger brother chose to bury himself under his misery in silence until they would reach their destination. Even with doubled-up medication, Paul still felt like a train ran over him. The only way to put his frustration in words would be…

    What a day.




    "It was really great seeing ya again, Brandon."

    Brandon nodded to Ash. "Time certainly flies. Show no mercy in the Sinnoh League; I at least expect that much out of the few who are Frontier Brain material."

    "They won't know what hit 'em," Ash assured with a grin. "Maybe next time we see each other and you're not busy, we can battle again?"

    "Sounds splendid," Brandon conceded. "I was just wondering how well you'd fare in a full battle against me like the little troublemaker just had to."

    "Funny you should say that; I was wonderin' the same thing," Ash admitted with a laugh. "Gotta admit that was a pretty intense battle. But I think I can definitely do better!"

    Brandon looked to the sky; this had been fun, to say the least, but now it was time for the Pyramid King to face his own harsh reality of obtaining Regigigas at least. "It's a deal. I may even have something new in store for you the next time we cross paths. Surely we'll meet again somewhere in Kanto."

    "In the meantime, we'd best hurry back to Snowpoint City and find out the best way to get to Lake Acuity," Brock advised. "Even without a blizzard, northern Sinnoh is no place to be wandering around aimlessly."

    The group was about to go about their way, but Dawn gazed out into the distance and pointed in the direction of a sudden noise that gradually got louder over time. "Hey, did you guys hear that?"

    Brock was perplexed as he quickly identified that sound. "A motor…"

    "Perhaps Maria's come back to pick me up," Brandon assumed, but looked uncertain. "Though I made it clear that I would catch up with them… I never said anything about asking them to return..."

    The louder the noise got, the more nervous the traveling trio became. "So, uh… are temple maidens supposed to be crazy drivers?" Ash asked, his voice shaking a little as the group eyed that familiar jeep plowing through the snow at what was surely a beyond legal speed.

    Brock shook his head. "This can't be good…"

    And it wasn't; Brandon didn't need to hear that much from Brock. He remained firm as the jeep finally screeched to a halt closer to the group; the others weren't quite as fearless. Almost immediately, Maria and Samuel stepped out of the jeep, both in quite a state of panic.

    "Brandon!" Samuel shouted, clearly in despair.

    "Something terrible has happened at the temple!" Maria finished for him, sounding worried sick about this horrible turn of events.

    Terrible was a broad term… but what was certain, based on what he had heard from Maria already was that this almost definitely had something to do with Regigigas. Something was about to stop Brandon in his tracks and prevent him from reaching his goal before the moral controversy got the chance.

    "Oh no…!"

    Even Brandon couldn't act calm at a time like this.

    What a day, indeed.




    ( TBC )

    Travels of the Trifecta! - Chronicles of an estranged family!

    LJ | dA | Bulbagarden | ff.net

    Diamond: 2749 - 7749 - 1840
    SoulSilver: 2364 - 7834 - 3761

  7. #132
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    Umm the links on the OP for Chapter 15 both lead to Section 1.

    So I've been busy for a while, and I've been catching up now, currently finishing Chap 15, but I have to say, I love this fic. I didn't really understand the break between 14 and 15 where he's at the funeral, and then suddenly he's battling Barry, but I probably just missed something.
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  8. #133
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    This chapter was amazing. Simply put.

    I love how you made Brock relevant!

  9. #134
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    Hey! I just read the story here, and then I read it again on fanfic... And I noticed something, you forgot to post a part of your chapter; the part where paul walks through the piramid and talks to brandon. XD And that was my favourite part, I just love it when the two interact with each other. That's probably why chapter 6 still is my favourite chapter. :P


    |LJ| dA|

  10. #135
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    Great chapter! This was probably my favorite DP episode because it explains so much about Paul. It was cool to see the same quotes from the episodes and how they ended up having a deeper meaning in this story. Great job!

    New Chapter: Chapter 4- Unova

    Pirates of the Caribbean: The Creature of Storms
    Also check out my completed crossover of Pokemon and Pirates by clicking the title!


    "Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God."
    Ephesians 6:17

  11. #136
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    (Alrighty, I've been aware that I accidentally left out a chunk of chapter 15 when I posted it here a couple of months ago. Sadly, this forum's server has been pretty stubborn in every attempt I've made to rectify that situation. So I'm really sorry about that; for those of you who missed out there, the full chapter is available to see both at the Bulbagarden forum and Fanfiction.net (my accounts linked in my signature; former's main thread is linked on my signature in that account). As for this chapter, blame the timing of Diamond & Pearl ending and Generation V's arrival, among other things. Still, at least it's done now! So try and enjoy Pillars of Friendship adaptation!)

    Fresh off an easy victory after a scheduled grudge match with his son, Brandon (along with Ash and his two friends) was met up with a familiar jeep that sped across the plains in a panic. Stopping right in front of them was temple maiden Maria and Brandon's assistant, Samuel.

    They alerted Brandon that a crisis was occurring at the Snowpoint Temple: the place where Brandon was finally to gain Regigigas after countless months of searching.

    "What happened?" Ash asked, not one to be left out in incidents that had nothing to do with him, of course.

    "Seems a mysterious group of people have sealed off the temple," Samuel reported. "There was no way to break through without being assaulted."

    That piqued Dawn's curiosity, of course. "Mysterious people?" Of all the nasty characters she had witnessed since her journey began… she figured it could be anyone.

    "Why would they do something like that?" Brock asked, unable to imagine why anyone would commandeer a very modest temple site.

    The answer was obvious to Brandon… the why, that is; not the who. Still, he was hesitant to really go into detail with the children, especially since this was an issue that needed to be addressed immediately. This was no time for small talk. "Regardless, let's board the Battle Pyramid and head there right away," he decided. Naturally, he was addressing the adults in this group, which Ash and the others quickly took notice to.

    Samuel agreed with a very formal "Sir!"; even though Brandon disliked most formalities, this was no time to nitpick.

    "Please, Brandon, you gotta let the rest of us go with you!" Ash practically begged.

    "Yes, please let us go!" Dawn and Brock followed up in unison. Brandon was rightfully apprehensive of letting these kids come along for what would be a very dangerous ride, but Brandon's dreams were about to end very soon if something wasn't done about this situation. He at least knew Ash and Brock were capable of putting up a fight, so they wouldn't necessarily be dead weight.

    "Hm…" It was quite unfortunate timing for Reggie, Paul, Candice, and Zoey to leave the scene when they did. Their help combined would have been invaluable. For now, though, Brandon had to make do with what he had. "Alright, kids," Brandon conceded. "Let's get going!"

    Everyone boarded the Battle Pyramid and it soon took flight, headed straight for the Snowpoint Temple. What they didn't know was that they had a certain trio of stragglers hanging on to the exterior plating of the pyramid, but the wind currents once the vessel was in flight were far too strong and eventually swept them all away to fall back to the earth below.

    Brandon was making his prized facility go as fast as it possibly could; there was no doubt he was panicked, though he was excellent in masking it. The others couldn't believe how calm and collected he appeared to be. The Pyramid King was clearly focused, dead set on rectifying this situation. His goal was on the line… and quite possibly his job, too. He was sure to punish whoever threatened to take Regigigas away from him.

    Ash gazed at the forest they passed through. This was all going way too fast for him, so he was curious as to what the panic was really all about. "I wonder what they're after…" Even to Ash, it seemed unusual that a suspicious group would pillage an old temple of all places.

    Though Brandon was sure he knew the answer to the question he was about to ask, the Frontier Brain knew it was best to clarify things while the calm before the storm lasted. "Young man, you don't happen to know the legend of the Snowpoint Temple, do you?"

    He still didn't really want to give these kids (or Maria) an idea of what his true intentions were, but Brandon was certain that they would be more useful as allies if they at least knew what was going on.

    "No, I've never heard of it," Ash admitted, turning away from the window to face his former foe. "But I'd sure like to."

    In spite of Brandon's hesitations, the unsuspecting Maria decided to tell the story for him. "Alright, then. It happened a long time ago," she recalled. Of course the maiden knew the legend by heart. "Once, after a volcano violently erupted, the Snowpoint Forest – rich in natural resources and beauty – was transformed into a sea of flowing lava."

    This at least explained why there were so many clearings in the forest areas north of Snowpoint City.

    "Then, out of a bright blue light, Regigigas appeared," Maria continued. While Brandon felt himself cringe, the children interrupted the temple maiden out of sheer surprise.

    "Regigigas?"

    "Correct," Maria affirmed, not at all minding the break in her story. "Along with Regice, Regirock, and Registeel. Together, the four of them halted the volcano's eruption, thus saving Snowpoint City from destruction."

    The time of this alleged legendary miracle was never specified, but Maria guessed this to be right around the time Snowpoint City was founded a couple of centuries ago. Her generations and those past hers never knew Snowpoint Forest to be that magnificent, and none of them ever witnessed an active volcano during the course of their lives. But those generations past the shrine maiden knew well of this tale and passed it down all the way to the present generation.

    "Later, Regigigas transformed itself into a stone of light and fell into a deep sleep, while in order to protect Regigigas, the legend says Regirock, Regice, and Registeel were transformed into the three guardian pillars made of the basic elements of the land: rock, ice, and steel," Maria continued.

    "And their location is the Snowpoint Temple," Brandon finished with a heavy heart. It was difficult sharing this much information to a bunch of kids, but at least the Pyramid King knew they were on the up-and-up and wouldn't spill all of this across the world. He already heard this story from Maria yesterday afternoon, though the way she worded it made Brandon aware of a detail he had, up until now, been overlooking.

    Let alone Regigigas being in the temple, according to Maria's legend, it was confirmed that there was a completely different set of the Regi trio in the exact same place, only now taking the form of pillars. This was quite a breakthrough and gave much credence to the theory that separate regions contain their own sets of legendary Pokémon that were usually regarded as one-of-a-kind.

    "So what does that group of people have to do with it?" Ash finally asked.

    Brandon's expressions hardened as he spoke the dreaded truth, and one of his greatest fears. "They're most likely after Regigigas."

    The way Brandon expressed his belief hushed those who were in his company. These indeed were dark times suddenly coming upon the Pyramid King; he wasn't sure how he would feel if his petty grudge match with Paul actually prevented him from getting what he came to Sinnoh for in the first place. All those months… all the patience Brandon needed but honestly didn't have… all for nothing? That was completely unacceptable.

    Samuel finally broke the silence the best way he knew how: focus on the technology he himself implemented into the airborne facility. "We're getting very close," he noted. "I'll put a view of the temple entrance onto the main monitor."

    The Snowpoint Temple was now viewable to the entire entourage. An array of soldiers had the place surrounded, but something that caught the eye of everyone was the silver-haired woman approaching the temple directly all by herself. She clearly carried herself as a business woman. From various past experiences in the Sinnoh region, Ash and the others were very quick to recognize her.

    "Look!" Dawn cried out with a gasp.

    Ash glared at the screen. "Hey, it's Pokémon Hunter J!"

    As a woman sheltered from the world, Maria was the only one who couldn't recognize her. "Who's Pokémon Hunter J…?" she asked, clueless as can be.

    "Part of a group that steals Pokémon and sells them on the black market," Brandon answered; his tone stiff and stern. He couldn't recall directly dealing with any Pokémon hunters in his lifetime, but a worldly person like Brandon was very well aware of their existence. J herself had quite a reputation due to her past successes, so she was easy to identify.

    Dawn was getting confused; the story she just heard from Maria was said to be a legend, yet Brandon seemed to think that legend was undeniably true without saying why. She felt the need to address this before preparing herself to deal with J again. "But Brandon, I thought you just told us that the sleeping Regigigas is just a legend, right?"

    "Not so," Brandon shot back. He had studied into this particular "legend" long enough to tell whether or not it was legit. There was that and the fact that there was literally nothing else noteworthy in the Snowpoint Temple that would warrant a full-scale invasion such as this. "There has been sufficient evidence uncovered that shows it's not just a legend. That's why I came here."

    That was the truth. Just from the trouble of finding the only factual book on Regigigas in the world… and the fact that there was only one book left on Regigigas told Brandon that this was a legend trying to be covered up as much as possible because of the shoddy defenses that housed the four Regis. It was interesting, actually, as Brandon found his set of Regis in Kanto under completely difference circumstances. There was obviously no Regigigas to be seen and no evidence of its existence at any of the three locations where the other Regis were found. Brandon's Regirock, Registeel, and Regice had their own separate shrines located in the most remote locations of the Kanto region. The shrines were small and rather unnoticeable outdoors, but inside, it was the polar opposite. Small but pristine, the temples clearly reflected the element that made up their legendary host… as well as some mysterious wall markings that resembled the Braille language. Brandon had spent many days studying them and their relation to the golems.

    It was difficult to say why, exactly, the Regis were presented so differently in Sinnoh and why there was no sign of Regigigas in Kanto. But these were questions that would have to find answers another day… regardless of origin, Brandon was determined to make Regigigas his.

    "That's right," Ash suddenly realized. "That means they'll do whatever it takes to catch Regigigas, so we've gotta do something first!"

    Brandon resisted rolling his eyes at Captain Obvious's revelations. Sometimes it was hard to believe this boy actually defeated him in battle… but Brandon had a feeling Ash would never stand a chance against him in a full battle with all of his Regis. Even more so whenever Brandon got Regigigas… he would no doubt be an even greater challenge than before. To Ash, Brandon simply nodded in agreement without saying anything.

    No doubt this was going to be a long shot… but Brandon believed this was his time to shine in the face of adversity. If the stakes weren't so high, Brandon would have appreciated the challenge of facing a Pokémon hunter and her troops.


    "Whoa…! It's the Battle Pyramid!"

    Various soldiers took notice to the rumble and the sound of the Battle Pyramid well before it actually arrived on the scene. They stared up in the sky in awe, never expecting his magnificent vessel to be their adversary in a place like this.

    "Someone report to J immediately!" another soldier cried out. Even with power in numbers, several soldiers dreaded to face the wrath of the Pyramid King. It was imperative that their boss be aware of the threat she would soon face, as she was traveling within the temple at that time.

    Once J was notified, she fought hard to resist a scowl. "Brandon the Pyramid King…? This could be a problem," she admitted. Just as Brandon made himself familiar with famous villainous figures, Brandon's reputation was something a Pokémon hunter could not ignore. Given his secondary profession as an archaeologist, paranoia of running into him spread deeply across many of her henchmen whenever their mission involved a place he may be researching on his own. "Make sure you keep them at bay," J ordered her men through her communicator. She was too close to reaching her goal to turn around and fight now.

    Even if this was a place that Brandon would be interested in, J assumed they were in the clear from at least that threat simply because they were in a different region. This was a most unpleasant surprise, indeed.

    In accordance to J's orders, her henchmen sent out their arsenal of Pokémon meant to take down a strong opposing force. Swarms of Skarmory and Metang took to the skies, swiftly approaching the Battle Pyramid.

    Within the targeted facility, Brandon and the others came face to face with an overwhelming amount of Pokémon ready to tear them down. In spite of this, there was really only one option in this scenario: endure the onslaught and keep going. There was no point in trying to get a large and cumbersome facility to dodge the Pokémon or their attacks. The Battle Pyramid was Brandon's pride and joy; Samuel's upgrades made it even more worthy of the Pyramid King's pride. He was confident his vessel would complete the journey… but that didn't prevent Brandon from being cautious. "Here they come. Hang on!"

    This would be a rough ride no matter the end result.

    The henchmen called for Flash Cannon from the Skarmory and Sludge Bomb from the Metang. These were hard-hitting attacks in their own right; from a massive number of Pokémon, unarmed targets would be killed on sight within seconds. Even with its impressive defenses, the Battle Pyramid was soon overwhelmed with the barrage of attacks. The army of Pokémon, experienced in taking various aircrafts down, knew where to clip the wings of anything airborne. For flying objects without wings, such as the Battle Pyramid, there was an obvious alternative and/or equivalent target: the propulsion system.

    After a few rounds of direct hits from hundreds of Pokémon, one of the four main engines that ran the Battle Pyramid's propellers was completely trashed, as evident with the thick trails of smoke coming from the source. This left a very uneven distribution and everyone was thrown around as a result. This made steering nigh impossible, especially in light of the nonstop attacks that continued to batter the airborne facility.

    "Sir, one of the motors is no longer functioning!" Samuel confirmed as he struggled to read what the display screen reported. "At this rate, we'll lose the rest within minutes…!"

    Brandon didn't like to resort to this, but he was not about to lose his Battle Pyramid. They weren't far from the temple at all; of course the Frontier Brain knew to carry emergency vehicles within his facility just in case something like this happened. Losing control of the Battle Pyramid while being so close to the temple was another reason to abandon it: if the Battle Pyramid were to crash into the Snowpoint Temple, all really would be lost. Brandon would not have that weighing down his conscience; enough weight existed there stemming from his family issues alone. To the best of the Pyramid King's abilities, the Battle Pyramid was steered away from the Temple and towards the neighboring forest.

    "HANG ON, EVERYONE!" Brandon shouted as the others were tossed and tumbled about. "EMERGENCY LANDING!"

    It was a rough landing as the Battle Pyramid skid along the frigid forest floor for a few miles before finally grinding to a halt. Those inside were extremely fortunate to not be injured, as the turbulence and impact combined left most of them falling and stumbling along the floor while Brandon held onto the steering wheel for dear life. He could already smell the smoke emitting from the busted motor… this was by far the most damage the Battle Pyramid had ever taken.

    This was where it was very useful for Brandon to have an assistant who was a mechanical whiz. The Pyramid King would have been utterly lost in this scenario. Even though it looked bad now, Brandon was certain that Samuel would be able to fix his facility and restore it to its former glory.

    But all of that was still secondary compared to the matter at hand. The Battle Pyramid was useless at present, as Brandon begrudgingly accepted. He looked to the others after recovering from the impact. "Is everyone alright?"

    Ash and the others affirmed that they were. Dangerous missions and crash-landings were nothing new to them. Like Brandon, though, Ash remained focused on the matter at hand. "The temple can't wait," he muttered. "So what now? It'll be too late by the time we run over there…"

    "Hm…" Brandon had an idea, recalling his emergency supplies. He rarely ever needed them, but it was always best to come prepared. It was a pity a certain son of his never considered this philosophy to be vital to his life. "We'll use a mini-craft to the temple; there's one securely sealed within the cargo hold, so it should be usable," he decided. "While we do that, Sam will stay behind and repair the motor."

    This was to be expected… not that Samuel was offended in the least. He knew he was most useful this way rather than being out on the battlefield. "Sir! I'll get on it right away."

    "One surprise after another," Dawn mumbled. "This place really is something else…"

    "Indeed," Brandon concurred. "But we must leave immediately. Regigigas must not fall into J's hands."

    Ash nodded, glaring at the idea of it. "I'm hearin' that. Let's go!"

    Within a couple of minutes, the mini-craft took flight as it left its base. Ash, Brock, Dawn, and Maria looked on with concern as Brandon approached their destination at full speed. Just in case another attack occurred before reaching the temple, Ash and Dawn set Pikachu and Piplup to the sides of the aircraft to negate any attack coming their way. Getting hit in the mini-craft was much more dangerous than getting hit in the Battle Pyramid, thus there was no room for error to be had.

    "There they are!" one of J's henchmen shouted, pointing into the sky. The mini-craft didn't stick out like a sore thumb in the bright sky like its mother vessel did, so the group was well within reach of the temple before the blockade noticed their presence.

    As always, they were quick to act. "Prepare for another attack!"

    The ominous swarm of Skarmory and Metang started to surround the mini-craft, but now it was Ash and company's turn to take initiative and go on the offensive.

    "Pikachu, Thunderbolt now…!" Ash commanded.

    "Piplup, use Bubble Beam!" Dawn followed up. The combination of electricity and water proved to be a very useful combination when it came to getting rid of most threats… usually said threats were Team Rocket, but the combined attacks worked just as well against Pokémon owned by hardened henchmen. Skarmory was already weak to Electric-type attacks and the water from Bubble Beam amplified it. The years of experience Ash gained with Pikachu made the Mouse Pokémon able to handle almost any threat without too much trouble. Even Brandon could admit Ash's first Pokémon was quite a wondrous creature… it did manage to take down his Regice, after all.

    After the group successfully blasted through the barrage, the mini-craft landed and everyone was quick to jump out. The henchmen were stunned to see their Pokémon fall one by one, but they still had their own manpower to make use of. Brandon knew there was no use in wasting time with them and led the group towards the temple.

    "Let's go!" he commanded. Everyone agreed and followed his lead. Brandon couldn't believe he was so close… and yet so far.

    It was at this time that Pokémon Hunter J reached the hidden chamber of the Snowpoint Temple; the dreary, stone-walled hovel that housed the legendary Pokémon she was hired to capture. J gazed at the sight before her as she approached it. She recognized the details of this landmark, given to her by her contractor.

    "So these are the pillars that guard the sleeping Regigigas," she acknowledged out loud. Everything was matching up with what she was told. "Ice. Rock. Steel."

    And presumably, if the legend was completely accurate, those pillars were once a Regi trio themselves. Their pillars were purely made of their respective element. Upon a pedestal nestled in the middle of the triad of pillars laid an orb of a fairly large size. Its color was blue as Maria said, but no glow emitted from it.

    J also recognized this as the source of Regigigas, though even she wondered how such a gargantuan golem could come from a relatively small jewel. Nonetheless, she didn't have much room for skepticism; after all, everything else was matching up so far. "The only thing to do is destroy those pillars and awaken Regigigas," she decided. She took out a Pokéball and tossed it high into the air. "Salamence, let's go…!"

    The wicked hunter knew destroying the pillars, thereby killing off this set of Regis, would have to invoke Regigigas' rage and force it out of its sleep. For such a cruel resort, J was completely professional about it. She was immune to the moral weight of her actions.

    "We need to capture Regigigas," J told her Pokémon. "So use Hyper Beam, now!"

    Salamence remained loyal without hesitation as it fired off a Hyper Beam attack directly at the ice pillar. From such a powerful Pokémon, the attack easily decimated the ice pillar and reduced it to rubble. One blast later, the rock pillar was met with the same fate.

    Pleased with how smoothly this operation was going in spite of her concerns with potentially dealing with Brandon, J looked to the final pillar. "That's excellent," she complimented. "Now the steel pillar!"

    "Stop this!"

    Before the final line of defense could be obliterated, Brandon and the others finally reached the chamber after running a frantic marathon. They were all horrified to see what had already transpired prior to their arrival. It seemed as if it was too late already, but Brandon wouldn't give up that easily. This was where having a loud, booming voice came in handy; everyone, including J and Salamence, was startled by Brandon's command and it effectively halted Salamence's attack.

    "Stop this at once!" Brandon reiterated. He glared daggers at J, not unlike the manner of which Paul glared at him during their battle earlier that day. Again, Brandon did well to withhold his emotions aside from the indignation; seeing the two destroyed pillars horrified him deep inside, as he quickly understood the severity of J's actions.

    "So you got past all my men," J noted dryly. "I'd expect nothing less from the Pyramid King. Nonetheless, you're too late to stop me now."

    Maria stepped forth, looking at the Pokémon hunter with pleading eyes. "You've got to understand, you mustn't awaken Regigigas!" she cried out. "The result would be disastrous!"

    Brandon glanced at Maria (though she was too busy trying to beg J to stop to notice him – pointless as her attempt was), raising an eyebrow after hearing what she said. After all, when it came right down to it, Brandon's goal was not that different from J's. What would be done with Regigigas afterward was where their intentions differed, but the bottom line was that Maria's tone suggested that it was taboo to even awaken Regigigas at all. This was not something that crossed Brandon's mind before. Unfortunately, this was not the time to ask the temple maiden why exactly awakening the Colossal Pokémon would be a terrible thing to do.

    "Hmph," J grumbled, ignoring Maria's warnings and turned back to face her Pokémon. "Salamence!" There was no need for her to say any more than that; her Pokémon knew what the hunter had in mind. Once more, it charged up energy to unleash Hyper Beam…

    "Don't-…!" Ash cried out in desperation, but it was too little, too late. Hyper Beam went through the steel pillar like a hot knife through butter. It too was reduced to rubble, though being made of steel made it a little harder to crush into pieces like its rock and ice counterparts. Thus, a large chunk of the steel pillar came very close to collapsing on top of Ash, who evaded it at the last second. The others backed away as the dust and smoke kicked up by the debris faded away, revealing the large jewel said to contain Regigigas completely unguarded.

    Ash couldn't believe this was happening. Then again, based on his previous experiences with the Pokémon hunter, it wasn't all that surprising. Every time Ash saw J, he realized the Team Rocket trio that stalked him on a near-daily basis were practically saints by comparison. Pokémon hunters were among the lowest of the low; the bottom of the barrel. What he was seeing here perfectly represented that. "J!" he called out to her, upset with the wanton destruction (and probably still startled by the fact that he was nearly crushed by debris of solid steel). "Do you know what you did?!"

    He honestly thought J had no idea what she was doing. Underestimating this woman was a grave mistake to make, however. Brandon knew better than to do such a thing; it was clear to him that J knew exactly what she was doing.

    Just then, in reaction to the three pillars being destroyed, the orb on the pedestal began to glow in a light blue hue, just as Maria described in the legend. The group (as well as J) braced themselves for some sort of devastating phenomenon.

    "Uh-oh," Ash gulped, gaping at the glowing object. "This can't be good."

    "Could Salamence's attack be waking up Regigigas…?" Maria wondered out loud.

    Brock stared at the scene. His observational skills were kicking it into overdrive today considering what had happened before J showed up. "It's been rendered vulnerable," he pointed out. "Maybe it can sense that its guardians have been destroyed…"

    That statement infuriated Brandon all the more as it became apparent that he was not the only one thinking about the consequences of destroying the pillars. It was needless to say that Brandon never would have resorted this, but now it was almost impossible to deny; the original Regirock, Registeel, and Regice of Sinnoh… were destroyed. A great deal of self-restraint was necessary for Brandon to prevent himself from outright attacking J then and there, but he did step forward as he witnessed J approaching the orb.

    "I will not allow you to go through with this!" he vowed. Especially now that J had destroyed Pokémon that hit close to home for him… Brandon was going to make sure she would live to regret her actions for the rest of her life.

    J was no more than a couple of feet from the orb while the others were still a good distance away from her, mostly due to the debris that came between them. She just smirked at the famous Frontier Brain, filled with glee to have one-upped him. "All you can do now is stand and watch," she shot back. And she had a point… based on Maria's warnings, there was no telling what might happen if the stone orb was to be approached… and even then, J's Salamence was on standby to blast anyone who would dare to come near the Pokémon hunter or the orb.

    However, as the moments passed, J realized that nothing was really happening. The orb continued to glow, but nothing more came of it. It must have been awakened to some degree… but not enough to bring it out of its resting place. J wasn't given any other pointers as to how to awaken Regigigas from her contractor, so she quickly became frustrated.

    "What? Why won't it wake up?!" J grumbled. It was just a matter of time before Brandon and the others would band together and attack her, so she had no desire to prolong this revival of the legendary golem. She looked to Salamence. "Quick, use Flamethrower!"

    To attack the orb directly… that was far too risky. Brandon's hold on his emotions finally broke as he shouted at the top of his lungs to somehow prevent this. "DON'T DO IT!"

    It was nothing more than a waste of the Frontier Brain's breath. Salamence spat a stream of fire directly at the glowing orb. Much to the relief of the others, this attack seemed to not do any external damage. Nerves were again unsettled as the earth began to tremble and quake… within a temple like this, earthquakes and the like would be the death knell for anyone inside, as the temple was unstable and could easily cause a cave-in. It was minor for now, but all eyes were on the pedestal as a triangle of red light emitted from the ground, rising up from the points where the pillars once stood. As the light intensified and rose higher, J wisely decided to jump onto Salamence and back off from the scene, though she was pleased to see that her actions were finally bringing out the beast within.

    The red light was almost blinding by this point, but eventually receded back into the ground. However, once the light faded, a massive titan stood before all those present in the Snowpoint Temple.

    "No…! It's Regigigas!" Brandon exclaimed with horror. Never did he think he would not be pleased to finally see the Pokémon he had sought for months, but something was very unsettling about the way it came into the world… and it was easy to see why. Finally facing the leader of the legendary golems was both amazing and horrifying, if only because of the circumstances Brandon was faced with.

    Just as she did while watching Paul battle Brandon, Dawn once again brought out her Pokédex to identify a species she had never seen before.

    "Regigigas, the Colossal Pokémon. According to legend, Regigigas has towed continents using ropes."

    This was roughly what Brandon had gotten out of Professor Oak over a month ago. That only barely scratched the surface of what Regigigas was really all about. He would have felt privileged to be one of the few who knew the whole story now, but the fact remained that there was a crisis at hand and Brandon's mission was at stake as well.

    To make matters worse, it appeared that Regigigas itself was consumed with rage… understandably so, given what had just happened, but this was one of the worst possible places for the legendary golem to vent its frustrations. However, rational thought was beyond Regigigas and it started blasting at the temple's ceilings regardless, causing more tremors that started to bring rocks falling down towards the unfortunate victims within the chamber.

    "Regigigas, ya gotta stop!" Ash yelled at it, as if that was going to make a bit of difference. He always remained so naďve even after all these years. Regigigas ignored the young trainer and started to aim its blasts in random directions; the walls, the floor, and still the ceiling. This chamber was quickly becoming a danger zone. "STOP! STOP IT!" Ash cried out, but it was no use.

    "Ash, it's not listening!" Dawn told him. "I don't think anything's going to snap Regigigas out of it now."

    "Intense rage is making Regigigas go berserk!" Maria pointed out, terrified by what she was seeing. "I… I don't know how it could possibly be tamed; the legends have never portrayed Regigigas like this…"

    This was when J finally saw it fit to make her move. With Regigigas out and distracted, to her it was practically begging to be snatched away. She aimed the cannon attached to her aim; this was the dreaded weapon designed to render living Pokémon as solid statues. It was a device Ash and the others were all too familiar with. Of course, as a typical villain's fallacy, J couldn't help but brag to those who opposed her.

    "Well, you should thank me," J suggested in a tone of pure mockery. She readied her laser cannon and focused on Regigigas. "I'll preserve the rage that dwells deep inside of you forever!"

    Even though it was consumed by anger, Regigigas heard that. It had the sense to turn straight towards J, which shocked her, and fired a blast right in her direction. To survive these dangerous scenarios, one would need light-speed reaction time to respond to these threats. J was fortunate enough to possess those skills, as she ordered her Salamence to counter the attack.

    "Salamence, Dragon Pulse!"

    Strong as J and her Pokémon were, they were no match for a legendary Pokémon. Regigigas' blast knocked the Pokémon hunter and her Salamence back, though they remained airborne. Begrudgingly, J had to admit to herself that this was a much more daunting task than it seemed. She would be sure her contractor would pay his end of the deal in full, if not more so for what she had to go through.

    Once again, Regigigas blasted at the chamber's ceiling, and this time a full-blown cave-in was invoked. Several large rocks rained down upon the floor and everyone inside; they were very difficult to dodge. "If these attacks keep up, there's no doubt the temple will collapse!" Brandon shouted. This was a true living nightmare for the Pyramid King, indeed.

    J understood that it was very unwise to remain in the temple for much longer, as the Colossal Pokémon's tantrums had officially compromised the structure of its home. It would be in shambles very soon… and J knew it would be much easier to capture Regigigas after it had fallen victim to the consequences of its own violent outbursts. "Retreat, now!" she ordered her Salamence, who quickly obeyed. J had the luxury of briskly escaping the chamber and the entire temple via her Dragon Pokémon. Everyone else, however… they were stuck having to foot it.

    "We need to get out, too!" Brandon called out to the others as he watched J leave, scowling at the hunter for the travesty she caused. Just as the group attempted to leave, however, Regigigas blasted at the ceiling right over them, causing a massive avalanche of rocks that no doubt would crush and kill them all.

    Again, this was where a fast reaction time was an essential. Brandon immediately threw out the Pokéballs containing his Regis for protection. "Let's go…!" he called out, not even having the time to shout his usual catchphrase, though ironically he needed their assistance now more than ever.

    Regirock, Registeel, and Regice all protected the group and saved them from certain death. Once that wave of rocks ceased to fall, Brandon knew it was definitely time to get out of there. "That's it; out of here, quick!" he ordered his juniors. In a fast-paced disaster where one wrong move could lead to certain death, even Ash had no desire to protest and heeded the Frontier Brain's words, as did his friends and Maria.

    Once Brandon was sure they were all at least out of the chamber, he turned around to face his trio of Regis. "Regirock, Regice, and Registeel: I need your protection until we get out," he requested. The hallways were a tad less treacherous than Regigigas' chamber, but it was evident the entire temple's structure was about to crumble completely. Brandon wanted to be sure that they all got out of there alive. The Regis perfectly understood their trainer's command and backed him and the others up as they frantically dashed for the temple's entrance. As the seconds passed, the road towards safety became increasingly deadly as Regigigas itself began to walk, making its way out of its chamber and slowly following the others while maintaining its consistent streams of destructive blasts.

    J, of course, was the first one out of the Snowpoint Temple, relatively unscathed by the avalanche of rocks she and her Salamence had to dodge on the way out. She reconvened with her henchmen, all of which were quick to approach their boss as none of them had a clue of what was going on.

    "Hunter J…!" one of them called out; most likely one of the higher-ups. "What is our next course of action?"

    "Move to Point C and stand by," she ordered. J had gone a while without contacting her troops, so it was understandable why they were clueless right now. She looked back towards the temple she had just escaped from. "I'm going to check on our target once again."

    "Yes, sir!" all of J's henchmen shouted in unison, saluting before relocating. J, meanwhile, took to the skies with her Salamence, but didn't go very far… in fact, she was still quite close to the temple (despite being well above it, therefore being in no danger for now). She situated herself in the perfect blind spot where no one would think to look… especially not during a crisis like this. She watched… and she waited.

    J wouldn't be waiting long. Ash, Brandon, and the others could finally see the light at the end of the tunnel. They were so close to safety, but a blast from Regigigas straight in their direction was about to make their efforts all for naught. It tore through the hallway the group had just run through and was headed straight for them. Even with the three Regis bringing up the rear and therefore blocking most of what could be seen behind them, the impending blast was very hard to not notice, even for Ash. He screamed "LOOK OUT!" at the top of his lungs just as he and the others finally made it outside.

    Had the Regi trio not been there to cover them from behind, they all would have been disintegrated by the blast. Instead, it was buffered by the three guardian golems and the shockwaves roughly knocked the group off their feet upon their exit, throwing them all onto the cold, hard ground below. The blast shot right out of the Snowpoint Temple's entrance, extending quite a few feet out before dissipating. The cause of the dissipation was none other than the temple itself, unable to withstand any more of Regigigas' abuse. Before the very eyes of Brandon and the others, the majority of the Snowpoint Temple collapsed within itself, barely leaving any semblance of a structure left…

    … Only a very unattractive pile of rubble, which could have been considered a makeshift grave mark for Regigigas; the only one who remained in the temple upon its destruction.
    Last edited by Shinneth; 29th October 2010 at 3:15 AM.

    Travels of the Trifecta! - Chronicles of an estranged family!

    LJ | dA | Bulbagarden | ff.net

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  12. #137
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    A chill silence filled the area after all was said and done. It was quite the literal train wreck, so the group could do little more than look on at the tragedy that unfolded before them. Brandon didn't want to believe that this was the end.

    "Where's Regigigas…?" Ash finally asked; evidently not wanting to believe the worst-case scenario just happened either.

    "Buried under the rubble," Brandon bitterly replied. It hurt so much to admit that, and it was getting increasingly difficult for the Pyramid King to hide just how torn up he was over this entire situation. "Chances are… it didn't make it."

    Brock nodded in agreement; being more of a realist than Ash and Dawn were, he could accept what was most likely Regigigas' tragic fate more easily than his friends. "Even a legendary Pokémon like Regigigas can't break free from something like that, even if it did survive."

    "So then… you're saying…?" Dawn asked Brock; her voice shaking as she considered the implications. When Brock nodded back to her, the Coordinator held a mouth to her hand, trying to hold back on crying.

    "What… will I do about this…?" a helpless Maria wondered out loud, prompting Brandon to look over to her. He couldn't help but feel guilty; even though his intentions were pure, there was no guarantee that Regigigas would have reacted any better if he were the one to have awakened it. "The temple… it's been reduced to nothing after all these years, and poor Regigigas… poor Regirock, Regice, and Registeel who looked over it…"

    Brandon let out a sigh as he looked back to where the temple once stood. From what few details he could gather by looking at it now (obviously having no time to analyze it when he arrived), it was obvious that the temple had been standing for at least a thousand years; most likely more. It truly was a tragedy in more ways than one. Not only were innocent Pokémon's lives taken in the name of greed, but a piece of Sinnoh's history was demolished along with them. "There was no reason for any of this to happen," he said. "We will find a way to make it past this, Maria, but it's too early to resign ourselves to that. Pokémon Hunter J is still out there and probably nearby."

    "There's got to be some way to get her apprehended," Brock murmured. "We can't let her continue to roam throughout Sinnoh committing these crimes… or else another place will end up like the Snowpoint Temple."

    "I wish we could have gotten her arrested sooner," Dawn lamented. "It's not like we haven't had the opportunity before. I feel like this is our fault in a way…"

    Maria vehemently shook her head. "No. Children, don't blame yourselves. You shouldn't be expected to apprehend such dangerous criminals; that's Officer Jenny's job, and I know they all must have been doing their best if this woman's reputation precedes her."

    Oddly enough, Brandon could sympathize with Dawn… because he too was blaming himself for this partially. At least this mess was all J's doing, but the possibility of something like this happening if he got ahold of Regigigas… Brandon wasn't sure if he could live with the guilt. Either way, this was looking worse for his future by the second. If nothing else, Brandon wanted that silver-haired, cold-hearted woman behind bars for what she had done. That would be the closest Brandon would ever get to atonement, he believed.

    All of this was getting far too depressing for Ash to bear, however. He frowned and defiantly started walking over towards the site of the temple's remains. "You guys are really fine with thinkin' this is the end already?" he asked them angrily. "We're gonna get J – no doubt about it – but I'm not gonna give up on Regigigas just like that!"

    Everyone was shocked at Ash's words… then again, he was always the stubborn one, often to a fault. "Boy, don't take another step further," Brandon warned. "We don't have time to waste on a lost cause."

    "I can't believe you're just giving it up too, Brandon!" Ash shouted back. "Regigigas is the whole reason you came to Sinnoh, and you don't even wanna make sure it's alright?"

    Brandon glared at Ash for what he insinuated. "That's not even remotely true; just get back over here and-…"

    He was cut off by the ground suddenly starting to rumble… only faintly at first, but soon the tremors became quite violent, which was beginning to break off pieces of what little remained intact of the Snowpoint Temple. Ash froze in his place as he gazed at the giant pile of rubble – the source of the rumbling. And sure enough, quite abruptly, Regigigas erupted from the temple's remains… very much alive, and still full of rage as ever.

    "No way…!" Dawn gasped. "It's alright after all!"

    "Amazing," Maria commented, almost having fainted at the sight. "I thought nothing could have survived that…"

    Brock's expressions remained grim, however. "Even so, it's still out of control," he reminded the women. "It's far too early to celebrate."

    "Regigigas, stop it!" Ash screamed, once again in vain, as it went unheard by the Colossal Pokémon.

    "Save your breath," Brandon sharply ordered. "You didn't get through to it the first time; don't expect it to work the fifth."

    Harsh as Brandon was, Maria had to agree. "I am afraid no one is able to stop Regigigas now…" She feared for the temple, her home, and her own life… as well as the lives of others… were about to be lost to pure, unadulterated rage.

    "Oh no," Dawn worried, shaking her head while keeping her distance. "We've got no choice but to stand here and watch Regigigas destroy everything, then?"

    While Maria and the children worried about the imminent fates, Brandon approached his three Regis, all of which were at least still able to put up a fight and delay the inevitable long enough for him to think of some sort of solution. A solution was already in mind… a very convenient one, at that.

    "Regice, Regirock, and Registeel," he addressed his Pokémon, staring intently at them which told the trio all they needed to know without their trainer saying a word. They went off to approach their superior. Meanwhile, Ash went over to Brandon, wondering what the Frontier Brain had in mind.

    "Whoa, Brandon, what are you doin'?" a very confused Ash inquired, though it was a fair question considering Brandon issued no verbal commands.

    In a tight crisis like this, Brandon decided he might as well share his plan… the all too convenient solution to this problem. "I'm going to calm down that rage by catching it," he told Ash, which the others overheard. Maria especially was taken aback by this, but at the same time, she felt she had no room to protest. She had no alternative in mind, after all.

    "Of course," Brock realized. "Many out-of-control Pokémon become tame once captured by a trainer," he recalled. This wasn't always true and Brock knew that, if Ash's Charizard was anything to go by. But Brock also remembered when Ash told him about the way he and Paul first encountered a wild and deadly Ursaring… which eventually came to be Paul's own. Brock often wondered how Paul managed to control Ursaring's violent nature all by himself, but he imagined being officially being marked as owned by a trainer domesticated it to a degree. Intelligent as Brock was, he wasn't quite certain of how the Pokéballs functioned in every way.

    Nonetheless, he trusted Brandon knew what he was doing. He was the expert, after all. Brandon didn't really care what the others thought at this point because he was the only one with a good idea at this time. He gave his Regis the signal. "Unleash Hyper Beam, together!"

    A triple-effort Hyper Beam was nothing to sneeze at… unless one was legendary. As it turned out, Regigigas had the power of three in of itself, easily countering the boosted Hyper Beam with its own. The equal levels of energy left neither side affected, but caused a large explosion nonetheless. Brandon aside, everyone else shrieked and backed away to avoid getting hit by any potential debris. But the Pyramid King remained firm in his stance. He was eager to finally achieve his goal, though he regretted having to do it this way.

    He would worry about repaying the temple and Maria later; for now, he focused on his true mission. "Now, get up close and unleash your Focus Punch!"

    In triangle formation, the golems approached Regigigas while charging Focus Punch. Before they could land their hit, however, Regigigas' fists glowed with its own energy as the hands came together, rose up, and brutally clubbed all three subordinates to the ground.

    "It zapped the three of them in one hit!" Dawn exclaimed. "What power…!"

    "This leaves no choice," Brandon decided. "Regirock, Registeel; hurry and hold down Regigigas!"

    To already strive for the last resort concerned Brandon; he thought the journey would be the hardest part of obtaining Regigigas. After catching three legendary Pokémon already, the Pyramid King thought he had this down by now. Evidently, he was sorely mistaken and that caused yet another inconvenience.

    Regirock and Registeel emerged from the rubble they were buried under after that last hit and latched themselves to one arm each of Regigigas, effectively keeping it in one piece while Regice took its position.

    "Regice, use Ice Beam!" Brandon commanded, valiant with his efforts as he strove to gain the one thing he wanted more than anything else. Ice Beam hit Regigigas directly as it could not dodge due to being apprehended by Regice's cohorts. However, this was considered a "last resort" for a reason. With Regirock and Registeel being stuck to hold Regigigas down, they too were frozen in a giant block of ice along with Regigigas.

    But it was a small price to pay; Brandon knew Regirock and Registeel would be alright. The important thing to do was back Regigigas into a corner so it could finally join the family.

    "You did it…!" Ash cheered, glad that something was working out here after all.

    Brock nodded approvingly at Brandon's cunning work. "Amazing how you froze Regigigas along with Registeel and Regirock, too."

    Dawn had to admit this was pretty impressive. Her first impression of a Frontier Brain's power was quite overwhelming, to be honest. "It was a last-ditch strategy," she realized. "But it worked… and that's what matters."

    While Brandon and the others thought they were finally making progress, J was watching these actions transpire the entire time. With glee, she waited for the perfect moment. It was close, but not quite there yet. "Keep it up," she murmured quietly to herself. "And as soon as Regigigas is exhausted from battling all of you, that's when Salamence and I will step right in and make our capture."

    The Pokémon hunter was about to take away all of that precious hard work, and they had no idea it was coming. Regigigas was simply too big of an issue to ignore in favor of the renegade J.

    However effective this move was, Regigigas was beginning to break free of its frozen prison as the ice began to crack. All but Brandon gasped in horror, but the Pyramid King knew better than to underestimate his future prize. Now that he knew he could land a dent on Regigigas, at least, Brandon found that there was a point in holding out hope to the very end this time; it really was paying off.

    After Regigigas broke free, Brandon was quick to counteract. "Regice, Zap Cannon!"

    As with what happened to Paul's Ursaring earlier that day, Regigigas took the full hit and was overcome with paralysis as a result.

    "It felt that," Brock remarked, seeing the Colossal Pokémon was quickly wearing down now.

    Even so, Brandon knew better to even give Regigigas a moment to rest. The odds were becoming heavily stacked in his favor all of a sudden as his other two Regis became available to attack again. "Registeel, use Iron Head!" he ordered. "And Regirock, Stone Edge!"

    Registeel's powerful headbutt had enough force to knock Regigigas back, causing it to momentarily lose control of its balance. Regirock seized that small window of opportunity by pelting it with its powerful boulders, bringing the Colossal Pokémon to its knees.

    This was it; Regigigas was vulnerable. This was what Brandon was waiting for; so many months, an arduous journey, the stakes stacked so high up due to the nature of his actions… it all came down to this.

    He was finally ready to capture Regigigas, right here and now.

    "And now to get you in this Pokéball…!" Brandon hollered, charging forth with an empty Pokéball in his hand. Just as he was about to make the perfect toss, the nightmare known as Pokémon Hunter J stormed in to crush his hopes and dreams into dust.

    No Pokéball was thrown; Brandon suddenly couldn't throw. In the blink of an eye, Brandon 's arms were bound up behind him within a sticky yet sturdy substance. He was still standing, but it was awkward at best when Brandon was unable to move his arms. If he were to fall down, he wouldn't be getting back up.

    It wasn't just him; Maria, Ash, and his friends were all suddenly captured within the same substance. With it coming out of nowhere, everyone was distracted and confused. This was a window of opportunity for J, who slowly descended towards the group on her Salamence while recalling the Pokémon that just halted the group in their tracks: Ariados. They had all become victims of its String Shot attack.

    "It's J!" Ash exclaimed with a scowl. "Should've known you were gonna stick around…"

    J simply smirked and approached her target. "Nice work," she congratulated mockingly, eager to usurp control of the situation from the hard-working Brandon. "I'll be taking Regigigas."

    "No way!" Ash barked back; he had seen what Brandon went through just to get this situation under control. At least with Brandon, he knew Regigigas would be safe under his control. The case would be the opposite with J getting her hands on the legendary golem. "That's not fair…!"

    J casually aimed her laser cannon at Regigigas while closing in. "Such is life," she said quietly. "And now, for you…"

    Even wasting a mere few seconds could ruin everything in this operation; apparently Brandon understood that better than J. All of a sudden, the dots on Regigigas' Braille-esque symbol flashed with a fierce, red light. The tables were turned once again.

    "Oh no!" Brandon shouted, horrified as he recognized this technique. "That's Confuse Ray!"

    That was exactly what didn't need to happen; as a result of Regigigas using Confuse Ray, the dots on the symbols of Regirock, Regice, and Registeel also glowed red, signifying that they were now as uncontrollable as Regigigas itself. Feeling the pure rage mutually with Regigigas now, all four raised their arms up before J, who couldn't hazard a guess of what was going on.

    "So now what're they all doin'?!" Ash cried out, who was also in the dark as usual. He knew this couldn't mean anything good, at least.

    "What the…?" J was soon to find out first what was going to happen: the three enraged subordinate Regis took aim and fired directly at J: Registeel using Flash Cannon while Regirock and Regice used Zap Cannon.

    Unarmed, taking all of those hits at once would likely kill a person. Thankfully for J, she had Salamence to buffer most of it, but both were knocked back considerably regardless. Even a mighty Salamence couldn't face an onslaught of this magnitude.

    While J made some distance away to rethink her strategy, the Regis were quick to go on the move. In a straight line at first, the four angered Regis eventually formed a pattern as they walked down a dusty road beyond the temple: Regirock, Regice, and Registeel eventually settled into triangle formation while Regigigas brought up the rear.

    "Oh, whoa! Look at that!" Dawn shouted, being the first to notice the odd pattern in their formation. Maria especially focused on the details of what was happening now… and then she realized this correlated perfectly with their recorded history.

    "It's just like the legend," Maria muttered quietly. It just so happened that she and Brock were tied together; however quietly Maria spoke, Brock could hear every word and wondered what she was getting at.

    "Huh? What are you talking about?" Brock asked her, purely innocent with his curiosity.

    Maria looked on… she was sure of what she was saying. "Regirock, Regice, and Registeel have become the three pillars that will protect Regigigas. Just look at their formation; their movements…"

    "Surrounding all sides of Regigigas," Dawn noted. "Because the original pillars are gone now…"

    Pokémon Hunter J had no interest in the legend itself; only the bounty. After recollecting herself, she looked to her Salamence expectantly. "Now go to Point C so we can reconfigure our plan," she calmly requested, to which the Dragon Pokémon obliged. She returned to where she ordered her men to stand by, conveniently they were positioned so that they would eventually be blocking the Regis' progress along the road going across a mountain pass.

    The Regis weren't just walking around like mindless zombies, either; they proved to be just as chaotic and destructive as their master as they all fired off random Hyper Beam blasts from their hands, decimating the landscape around them. It was obvious they couldn't be left like this.

    Brandon was the most determined out of all those who remained. Even though his arms were still bound behind his back from the String Shot attack, that didn't stop him from making use of his legs, which remained to be free. It took great skill and balance to actually run without falling with your arms tied behind your back, but thankfully Brandon had skill in spades. He caught up to the raging quartet; even more impressively, Brandon was able to adjust his arms and free them slightly from the web restraining him as he ran. Frequent struggling in motion loosened the bindings enough so that Brandon could regain some control of his arms and take advantage of the positioning of his hands, which were close to his pockets. From there, he was able to grasp the three Pokéballs belonging to his Regis.

    "This has gone on long enough!" Brandon called out, actually making it ahead of the destructive Pokémon and standing right on the path they were taking, making himself a one-man roadblock. He aimed his three Pokéballs (which were very tricky to hold with only two hands with limited control) at the group. The Pyramid King knew this situation would be much more manageable if his own Regis were taken out of the equation. "Return, all of you!"

    Three beams of light shot straight at Regirock, Regice, and Registeel with the intent of forcing them back within their Pokéballs… under normal circumstances, this would have worked. But just like Regigigas, neither Brandon's voice nor anyone else's could reach the other three Regis. His commands were useless now; they may as well be as feral as Regigigas itself.

    Just to rub salt in the wound, Regice specifically aimed a Zap Cannon attack on its own trainer whilst the others continued about their wanton destruction. Even with limited mobility, Brandon still managed to dodge the attack… but only barely. The shockwaves of the explosion knocked him off his feet, causing concern from the others.

    "No, Brandon…!" Ash shouted as he and the others ran over to their fallen senior as best they could, given their own conditions.

    Thankfully, Brandon was fine and even managed to balance himself back on his feet, but he couldn't take his eyes off the foursome of Pokémon continuing their rampage while walking past him. Even when the others came to Brandon's aid, his attention was only focused on what he was losing to the massive golem he pursued for so long…

    "Regirock! Regice! Registeel! Come back…!" Brandon called out in desperation. But he knew it wouldn't get through to them; Brandon was on the verge of losing it and had to let out that stress somehow without worrying his companions. Brandon knew he was the one the others looked up to; he was undeniably the de facto leader of this operation. Luckily, Brandon had the leadership skills to spare… it had just been a long time since Brandon had last felt so distraught and helpless. The thought of not only failing to capture Regigigas, but losing the rest of his Regis in the process… that was unbearable, and on that virtue alone Brandon refused to give up.

    As Dawn looked on at the scene, she realized something that made this travesty more severe and consequential over a hundredfold. "There's a town in that direction…"

    Brock's expressions hardened as he realized Dawn spoke the truth. "If we don't stop them, it'll be a disaster," he understood. "So we can't just let this go."

    Brandon was stuck in a sudden mental whirlpool, worried about what would happen if he were to fail. It wasn't just about him and his job now; several lives could be at stake, and Brandon stood a good chance to lose all of his Regis… and they were like family to him. This was a rare instance where Brandon showed similar mannerisms to his firstborn son; both took it the hardest when it came to enduring devastating losses… such as family members. For once, the fear of losing more of his "family" had visibly stunned the Frontier Brain. He lost his wife far too soon and he might as well have considered his sons lost as well, given that he hardly ever spoke to them, much less visited. That was one reason of many why Brandon made a point to change that after seeing Reggie in the hospital one month ago… it made him realize he was well underway in losing what remained of his family. Brandon realized it was hard not to cling to his sons earlier today when they made a surprise appearance in this remote location of Sinnoh. He thought he had become desensitized to any kind of tragedy, but Brandon realized it now… running away from his problems was not the same as overcoming the fear of them. It was easy to appear aloof when Brandon didn't have to deal with his family on a daily basis… when he could do whatever he pleased and live his life to the fullest, utilizing his potential as best he could every single day.

    The Pyramid King had nearly drowned himself in denial for years. Given Reggie and Paul's individual personal struggles… it was evident that denial ran deeply in the family.

    "Brandon…?"

    "Huh?" Brandon looked to who called out to him; Ash, of course. Ash wasn't used to seeing Brandon like this… he wanted to see the Brandon he was more familiar with.

    "You sure ya didn't get hit?" Ash asked more quietly than he usually did; he was clearly concerned. A de facto leader's weakness was reflected in the worries of his comrades. "Or are you still thinkin' of a plan…? Y'know we don't have time ta' sit around…" His Pikachu agreed.

    That was all Brandon needed to get himself back into reality; he would have time to mope over this later for certain. His firm, determined expression returned as he nodded to Ash. "It's obvious now that it would be too dangerous to pursue them on foot," he told the young trainer. "We'll have to return to the mini-craft and continue the chase there and keep them at bay somehow. Your Pokémon should be useful for what I have in mind," Brandon noted, but then glared down at the String Shot binding that still plagued him and the others. "But before we do anything, we must find a way to break free from this."

    "Believe me; I've been tryin'," Ash grumbled, trying to force himself out again like he'd attempted at least twice before, but the result was the same. "Anyone got any ideas…?"

    Ash looked to the others. Brandon was already trying on his own as he quickly found a large, sharp rock to rub himself rub against in an attempt to snap his bindings apart with the friction (or at least have the rock tear into the web eventually). Brock and Maria were completely helpless to do much of anything as they were tied together.

    That left Dawn, who looked down at her Piplup. "So… Piplup, do you think you can break through this String Shot and free us all?" she asked politely, knowing that buffing up her starter Pokémon's confidence would at least pump it up and strengthen the chances of this idea working.

    Piplup was naturally more than happy to take on the challenge and quickly started to snap at Dawn's bindings with its beak… it proved to be very difficult to just snap in two like a string.

    Dawn resisted the urge to sigh… somehow, she couldn't be that surprised that Piplup couldn't do the impossible… again.


    Elsewhere in the tundra of the Sinnoh region, Reggie and Paul were still on the road on their way back to Snowpoint City. After Reggie's sheer delight in being addressed to by name by Brandon died down to a steady, mild contentedness, there was a long period of awkward silence between the brothers. Reggie was glad he had thought to arrange this battle between Paul and Ash, but his plans in getting his little brother fully recovered from what happened earlier were still going by one step at a time. This was a delicate situation, no doubt; Reggie couldn't remember the last time he'd seen Paul this depressed. It was only a pity that Reggie had no idea there was much more turmoil in Paul's life than he could have possibly imagined.

    This was the perfect time to let Reggie know the truth, but for various reasons, Paul could not bear to even bring the matter up. Even in his greatest moments of weakness, there was still a part of Paul that would stubbornly hold back. If Reggie even remotely had an idea of what was going on, he might have gotten Paul to crack. As it stood, however, Paul's miserable appearance really did seem it was brought on completely by Brandon's presence and victory.

    But there was one thing that suddenly struck Reggie's mind out of nowhere; another topic Paul wanted to avoid.

    "Oh my gosh, we completely forgot about Conway!" Reggie exclaimed, looking panicked as he struggled to not allow his emotions to affect his ability to drive. "He must be worried sick looking all over for you by now, Paul!"

    While this was a topic Paul was dreading would come up one day… given the present alternatives, it suddenly felt a lot less daunting to admit to Reggie about the break-up rather than his terminal illness.

    "No… he's not, Reggie," Paul quietly denied. Even if this was the lesser evil, he was in no mood to talk at that moment.

    "What are you talking about? He must be!" Reggie countered, looking even more worried. "He's had to watch over you for a month and with you suddenly disappearing, why wouldn't he be looking around for you?"

    Paul couldn't help but sigh; it seemed as if this was as long he would be able to put it off. "He's not looking for me because he isn't here, Reggie," he finally revealed. "Conway was never with me in Snowpoint City. We went our separate ways well before I made it up here."

    "Huh…?" Reggie's voice was very hushed now; it was quite a shock to be told this. If Brandon hadn't shown up, Reggie would have found out that Paul was lying all along about Conway's whereabouts; his little brother turned out to be very poor at being convincing when telling anything but the truth. It was just Paul's good luck that Brandon's presence had Reggie completely thrown off track until now. Still, even if Reggie had suspected things weren't well between the two former friends, he thought that Conway would have at least held up his end of the bargain between them. "You made it up here by yourself, then," Reggie understood; that in of itself terrified him. "But why? What happened?"

    "Don't blame Conway," Paul requested first and foremost. Even if Paul was still sour at Conway, he knew it was only fair to admit that in spite of what happened, the break-up was entirely his own doing. "I'm the one who left him; not the other way around."

    It was then that Reggie saw it fit to pull over from the road and stop the van. The elder brother knew this was going to be a lot to take; Paul's nerves weren't the only ones rattled by today's events. Now that Reggie finally got Paul to talk, it was time to stop for a moment and take it all in… because he knew the circumstances must have been brutal if something like this happened. Once Paul realized they had stopped for this reason, he couldn't help feeling nervous all of a sudden. Of course Reggie wasn't going to take this well.

    After another period of awkward silence, Reggie finally faced Paul, looking completely serious. "Why?"

    The tone of Reggie's voice was indicative of one thing: he wasn't going to put up with Paul's usual nonsense. After so many controversial stunts Paul pulled over the years, he knew by now when not to mess around and blow Reggie off as he often did. The whole story would be required in order to properly explain his actions, and that's what Paul eventually decided to give: his recollection of the events preceding their breaking apart.

    Unsurprisingly, there was a frown on Reggie's face once Paul had spoken his side of the story. It was by no means a happy story, nor something to even remotely approve of Paul's actions for, especially once Paul referred to Conway's breakdown as "bawling like a spoiled crybaby".

    "You ought to be ashamed of yourself," Reggie darkly scolded. Paul was left a bit shaken and confused; he still thought his actions were justified. "Even after all this time, you're still so blind to the consequences of your actions…"

    "What do you mean?" Paul asked, almost feeling hurt to his brother's reaction. "He's… he's an unreliable traitor. He was-…"

    "He disappointed you," Reggie corrected; his tone sharp. "That isn't the same as turning against you."

    Paul glared back at him. "He promised me! I made him promise to not give that book up so easily… he swore to it, and he not only nearly give it away like an idiot, but he still ended up handing it over even after he realized what was going on! It's just like how you lost against the old man years ago…"

    "I didn't turn my back on you, Paul," Reggie argued. "Just because I lost to him doesn't mean…"

    "You broke your promise, too," Paul cut him off. His expressions showed that he was in no sort of forgiving mood. "When you told me you wouldn't give up until you defeated him… put him in his place. We both wanted that after seeing how much he changed over the years, didn't we?"

    It was difficult for Reggie to not flinch at those memories. "I… I know. I remember. And I'm sorry I couldn't follow through with that, but…"

    "But nothing," Paul interrupted again. "I trusted you and you let me down. You gave your word and then took it away just like that. You turned your back on me just like Conway did!"

    That was it; Reggie was sick and tired of holding back on Paul. Even if he was clearly overly-sensitive from the fight, he still had enough bitterness in him to act this crude. Due to this, Reggie wanted to set things straight… he could deal with the irrational actions of his brother as long as he was the only target. When others came into the picture… Reggie was determined to not let them share his pain.

    "Paul, that's enough!!" Reggie shouted, efficiently shutting his brother up. "I was hoping you'd figure it out on your own, but I can't let you treat people so unfairly! Conway's your friend…"

    "Was my friend," Paul bitterly corrected. He seemed to no longer have a problem admitting that he did eventually see Conway as a friend… however briefly he understood that at last.

    Reggie couldn't help suddenly grunting in frustration, but deep down he knew it wouldn't be easy to convince Paul of anything. "You've got to understand that we don't always fully understand our limitations," he urged, at least knowing Paul had a better chance of "getting it" if he got angry over this rather than downplaying everything as he usually did and plead with a smile on his face. "Back when I originally promised you, I didn't expect to be beaten so thoroughly by dad," he admitted. "And I didn't expect dad would show me why exactly I had no business being a trainer. I couldn't argue with him… if I had known of my own problems as a trainer before taking Brandon on… I wouldn't have made that promise, Paul."

    Paul, of course, wasn't going to instantly take Reggie's words for granted. "You can't do that," he muttered. "You can't just… flippantly make promises like that and not follow up on them…"

    "That's the point," Reggie emphasized. "I didn't make that promise without thinking it through… it was just something that never occurred to me, because I never focused that much on myself or my own needs… my whole world was you back then, Paul. In many ways, it still is."

    "What kind of excuse is this…?" Paul growled back.

    "The truth," Reggie retorted. He was completely sure of himself. "The point is… we never know what will become of ourselves in the future. Even if you feel completely sure, something along the way is going to surprise you. Some… more than others," he begrudgingly admitted. "We never intended to break our promises… but tell me, how was Conway supposed to expect that he would be assaulted by this mysterious group of people? How was he to prepare for the event that his cousin wasn't as great as he thought when there was nothing until then that showed signs of it?"

    While Paul was prepared for the scolding, he didn't expect to have to argue his case. The extent of which Reggie went to defend Conway was very unsettling for him. "That woman," he said with a hint of a growl in his voice. "Even after Conway saw that she wasn't up to any good, he still blew it. He admitted to letting that book go…"

    "Given the circumstances, you shouldn't have been so harsh on him," Reggie told his brother; his expressions hardened after considering what really happened to Paul's companion. The evidence was more than enough to tell Reggie that Paul wasn't exaggerating that, at least. "He just had a near-death experience right after being kidnapped and… what I mean is… it's way too much for anyone to take in at once… even you."

    Paul glared at Reggie after hearing that. "Don't excuse him for being weak!"

    "We all have our moments of weakness, Paul!" Reggie shouted back. "You had no right to judge Conway like that… much less abandon him when he clearly needed your help."

    "You really are taking his side…" Paul whispered, trying to hold in his anguish.

    It was hard doing this, especially after what Paul had been through, but Reggie simply couldn't let Paul think he was in the right to dump Conway in such a cold-hearted manner. "So you don't know where he is, I imagine," the breeder realized, now worrying of Conway's whereabouts. "You left him all by himself on a dangerous route…"

    "We weren't that far away from civilization," Paul clarified. "And Conway isn't like me; anything exciting or dangerous scares him to death, so he wouldn't have tried to pull any stunts like I have. He's probably back in Veilstone City by now; there's no way he'd want to stick around in a place like this."

    "I'd feel better if we got some confirmation," Reggie admitted. "His mental state must be so clouded by now… we shouldn't make assumptions."

    "That happened over a week ago," Paul reminded him. "If you're thinking of looking for him, forget it."

    Reggie shook his head. "You're right; he could be anywhere if it's been that long ago. Still, if he really is back home, I'd like to think he's tried to visit me or Maylene… I'm going to give her a call when we reach the Pokémon Center. I've been meaning to anyway, since she's stuck running the daycare all by herself…"

    The mere mention of Maylene made Paul roll his eyes. Even though he loathed talking about these subjects, it was an excellent way to get that devastating loss off his mind for a moment. "Keep it quick," he gruffly requested. "We have a lot of work ahead of us, don't we?"

    "We do," Reggie affirmed, finally smiling a little. "That's another reason why I need to call Maylene… to let her know what's up. It's been days since we last had contact, so she's probably worrying about me. Once we're done with that, you'd best prepare yourself for some intense training, bro."

    "For the full ten days, I assume," Paul figured. "But you're still rusty… are you really the ideal training partner for me, Reggie?"

    To that, Reggie smirked. "You'll just have to see. Until then, we-..."

    Words ceased to come out of Reggie, yet his mouth continued to hang open as his eyes widened. Paul was quick to notice the change in his brother's demeanor, but couldn't see anything ahead of them that would frighten his brother like this. "What's wrong?" he asked; unease being present in his tone.

    "Behind us…" Reggie uttered breathlessly as he pointed at the rearview mirror. When Paul followed his brother's gaze, his own mouth hung open as he caught sight of what horrified Reggie.

    It was none other than a dark, thick trail of smoke billowing high up with the below-freezing breezes into the sky. There was quite a bit of distance between the van and the presumed site of the source of the smoke. Despite that, it was huge and very noticeable, especially in the clear and bright daylight sky where the black smoke contrasted. As the smoke towered higher and higher over the northern Sinnoh region, theories of this oddity blazed past Reggie's mind.

    However, it was apparent that it couldn't have been anything normal and likely wasn't anything to just brush off. The Valhalla Plains past Snowpoint City were rather barren and devoid of any form of civilization aside from the Snowpoint Temple… and even then, the only permanent residents there were Maria and the Regis she spent her life watching over.

    "Reggie," Paul suddenly whispered, looking intently at the trail of smoke. "It's hard to tell, but… isn't that coming from around the area we just left?"

    Just like that, Reggie was terrified and overwhelmed with worries upon hearing that he and Paul were on the same wavelength, which only made his reasons to be concerned more credible. "I think you're right," Reggie said with a small gulp following. "And aside from the Snowpoint Temple and the Battle Pyramid, there's really nothing up that way that would warrant all of that-…"

    "The Battle Pyramid!" Paul suddenly realized. "Maybe… something happened to it…?"

    That's all the reason Reggie needed to turn his van right around and immediately speed off in the direction towards the massive pillar of smoke. Paul was shocked momentarily as the movements from the van swinging back into the direction they came from and Reggie flooring it afterward.

    "If something did happen, we're going to find out," Reggie grunted, looking very determined now; partially to hide away his overwhelming feelings of paranoia if only for his brother's sake. "Dad… might need our help. If he does, we're not going to let him down the way he did to us."

    Paul was not about to argue with him. He didn't want to vocalize it, but even though Brandon had just publicly humiliated him in battle, Paul was immensely concerned for his father's wellbeing. He hadn't forgotten those strange, yet-to-be-explained feelings of warmth and comfort that came with Brandon genuinely paying attention to him after their battle. The massive amount of effort Brandon put forth in conveying his constructive criticism was felt by his son. Paul didn't know what to make of it, but now his feelings for Brandon were more mixed than ever.

    Right now, though… this wasn't the time to reflect; this was the time to act. Paul was determined to do whatever it took to ensure Brandon's safety, even if he would never admit that.

    Travels of the Trifecta! - Chronicles of an estranged family!

    LJ | dA | Bulbagarden | ff.net

    Diamond: 2749 - 7749 - 1840
    SoulSilver: 2364 - 7834 - 3761

  13. #138
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    Nov 2008
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    "We gotta… stop Regigigas and do it now!"

    Back at what was once the Snowpoint Temple, Brandon and the others continued to struggle to break free from the String Shot bindings that imprisoned their arms. Brandon steadily worked on trying to break the web substance by rubbing it against a rock, but he was finding that whatever String Shot was made of was much tougher than any ordinary web. His progress was steady, but slow… and "slow" just wasn't acceptable during a crisis like this.

    Ash continued trying to use his own brute strength to break himself and Pikachu out of their bindings, screaming things that firmly labeled him as Captain Obvious while doing so as if that would make a difference. Unsurprisingly, it didn't. Try as Piplup did, it was unable to snap apart the sticky, gooey strings that held its poor trainer in place. Dawn remained patient, but she was doubtful that she would be freed anytime soon.

    Brock and Maria watched on; both unable to do much given that they were both tied together, limiting their desperation options for breaking out. As Brock watched everyone's efforts and focused on Piplup especially, however, an ingenious idea struck him. But he would have to be crafty in order for it to work… the Top Breeder-hopeful knew exactly what to do.

    "Though still, if I must be tied up, it's great to be tied up with you!" Brock sung out, sounding dumb love struck as he often did whenever he was near a young woman. For this eccentricity to come out of nowhere during a very serious crisis, everyone's eyes were glued to Brock as the clueless Maria stared at him as best she could, a bit thankful that they were tied back-to-back right now rather than the alternative.

    Dawn was especially exasperated at this inappropriate break in the drama. "Brock may be a genius, but his timing can be the pits," she muttered.

    "Just hear me out, sweet Maria!" Brock begged, sounding especially desperate with his sing-song voice.

    Maria… had no idea how to address this at all. "Huh…?" She wondered if perhaps she was even more sheltered from the world than she initially thought.

    "The web of love that intertwines our romantic fate will stay tight and taut and never come undone…" Brock stated, as if he were reciting a poem from the generic book for helping desperate single losers. It was cheesy and easily grated Brandon's nerves, but before he even had the opportunity to shut the teenager up, a beam of light emitted through the web tangling up Brock's end. The sound accompanying it was very familiar: a Pokéball unleashing a Pokémon. In this case, it was none other than Brock's trusty Croagunk; one of the few Pokémon who regularly let itself in and out of its Pokéball without its trainer having to do a thing.

    Croagunk was out to do its daily duty… for the second time today; give Brock a good, swift Poison Jab to restrain him and his desperation for love.

    What surprised the others was that Croagunk's Poison Jab was the key to breaking a String Shot prison. Brock and Maria's bindings were shredded apart, effectively freeing the two and allowing Brock to fall flat on his face.

    "Not without a little coaxing," Brock continued, sounding strained from the pain and paralysis that came with taking a direct Poison Jab attack. Landing on his face on the ground probably didn't help, either. "Which Croagunk's so good at…"

    Goofy and absurd at Brock could be at times, Brandon had to commend the young man for finally finding a way to break free; by thinking out of the box, no less. "Brilliant ploy!"

    "Yeah, good thinkin', Brocko!" Ash congratulated. He was elated to see that all hope was not lost yet. It was times like this that made Ash quite thankful to have Brock available at his side for all these years.

    Dawn could only smile and chuckle awkwardly at the sight. It wasn't every day that Brock's skirt-chasing ways would actually benefit the group, after all.

    With the matter of the String Shot trap finally behind them, the group could re-board the mini-craft and continue their pursuit of the Regis by air. Though they'd still have to worry about dodging any wayward Hyper Beams or other attacks from the legendary golems, they were still far safer in their position above the Regis instead of below them.

    Brandon decided to check up on how things were going in his home vessel and used the communication system in the mini-craft to contact his assistant. "What's the Battle Pyramid's status?" Brandon asked Samuel, hoping his facility wasn't beyond repair. Not only would it damage his pride, but it would indefinitely damage his job.

    "I'll need a little more time to get it fully repaired," Samuel replied; the feedback was very low-quality, indicating that he indeed wasn't quite near fixing the Battle Pyramid's damages yet. Brandon accepted this; he was simply thankful that the Battle Pyramid would make a comeback after all.

    However, he intended to make every bit of use out of the help he had, including Samuel himself. "We're going to catch up to Regigigas by air," Brandon informed him. "Meanwhile, you get in touch with Officer Jenny and advise her to be on the alert."

    These were precautionary measures for the town the Regis were headed for. In the event that Brandon and the others couldn't stop them from reaching civilization, it was direly important that the citizens become aware of any impending threat to their home.

    "Sir!" Samuel understood his task very well. He too worried of what would come from this situation, as he never imagined it coming out quite like this. It was quite an extraordinary event… Samuel couldn't help but wonder if Scott and the rest of Kanto's Battle Frontier would believe this story whether or not Regigigas would be successfully captured.

    "While he does that, let's do what we can to stop Regigigas in the others before they start really causing problems," Brandon told the others, to which there was no objection. He looked to Ash and Dawn. "Kids, get your Pokémon ready… it's a sure bet we'll need to defend ourselves regardless of who our opponent is." That was just another way of saying that they needed to prepare to defend against the Regis as well as J, who was still lurking around out there and likely awaiting them already.

    Pokémon Hunter J herself, meanwhile, watched and waited with her troops at their assigned rendezvous point. Hearing the uncontrollable destruction on the horizon, J's men were alert. J's airship deactivated its cloaking device, only using it so as not to attract attention while waiting. Now it was time to use all power reserves for offense only; J knew there would be no other way to capture Regigigas otherwise.

    "Master J, we're ready to attack on command," one of J's henchmen informed her. "The target will arrive shortly; is there anything specific we should do in regards to capturing that Pokémon and dealing with its cohorts?"

    "Yes, as a matter of fact," J coldly replied; her real attention was only on her bounty. "Fire at the ground right beneath them when they appear." Her eyes narrowed. "Do not damage the merchandise no matter what."

    "Sir!" J's henchmen were good about following their orders precisely as they could. However, managing to pull this off without directly damaging Regigigas would be very tricky and extremely risky… but everyone had faith that J knew exactly what she was doing. This time, she really did.

    Two giant explosions on each side of the rocky cliffs creating a natural wall along the road J's troops were on (as well as debris from the rocks and dirt collapsing afterwards) signified the arrival of Regigigas and company. J looked up sharply and saw her prey approaching straight towards her.

    Within J's airship, the henchmen operating it could zoom in on their opponents from afar to see important details early. "Target confirmed," one said. "Regigigas and its subordinates are headed straight our way with no further interference in sight."

    "Excellent," J said to herself quietly. "So those pests may have been dealt with… then I can wrap this up quickly and collect the bounty." She looked to her men. "On my signal! Aim…"

    It was all a matter of timing now. Once the destructive group of four legends came just within the ideal distance of J and her troops, she thrust her arm forward towards her target. "And fire…!"

    All designated teams opened fire at the Regis, not caring to hit any of the three protecting Regigigas. As they were considerably smaller than their superior, the matter of taking them out of the equation along with aiming for the ground worked out conveniently. As expected, the three moving pillars retaliated and opened fire on their attackers all at once, aiming upwards towards J's airship. The ship's blast collided with the Regis' combined efforts and resulted in a massive explosion. As a side-effect, the type of blast that was fired at the Regis spread into multiple smaller laser beams that showered over the Regis and blasted through the ground, loosening it.

    With Regigigas being so much heavier than its subordinates, its weight made the ground collapse around its feet, effectively implanting the Colossal Pokémon and rendering it immobile.

    Seeing things going according to plan now, J moved on to the next phase of her plan. "Alright, liquid adhesive! Fire…!"

    From J's airship, a bright pink ball was fired straight at Regigigas. The blob promptly splattered all over Regigigas, who was still struggling to break free from the ground. One of its arms was close to the ground at that time, where a large amount of the liquid adhesive sprayed. As a result, Regigigas could no longer move it, making the left arm the only usable limb… and even then, Regigigas was held down so tightly that it was difficult to make much use of its limited movement. The liquid adhesive's color quickly bleached out to white, signifying that it had dried.

    At that time, the Braille-like signs on Regirock, Regice, and Registeel blinked red briefly before fading back to normal, signifying that Confuse Ray had worn off. All three were now back to their usual selves. However, this meant nothing to J other than the fact that it would be even easier to capture her prey if the three golems were no longer destructive and unpredictable.

    "Regigigas can no longer move," J acknowledged as she watched on, seeing the Colossal Pokémon's struggles growing gradually weaker. The liquid adhesive would not let up no matter what. However, it managed to make use of its one free arm as Regigigas struggled to raise it, using the last of its energy to fire a Hyper Beam directly at J's airship. It was a critical hit that severely damaging the aircraft, much to J's annoyance.

    "Hyper Beam hit us!" shouted one of J's men from inside the ship; J overheard this through her communicator. "Hard to stay airborne…!"

    "Get out of Regigigas' firing range," J ordered over the communicator. She no longer needed her airship for this operation anyway now that Regigigas was stuck in one place. The vessel managed to ascend safely out of range, as Regigigas barely had any strength left to resist its restraints, much less try to fire off another attack.

    This was the moment J had been waiting for. She was sure she had seen all there was to see from this Pokémon. "Now prepare to capture Regigigas!" she ordered, raising her voice to indicate that this was the critical moment; there was little to no room for error to be had here.

    "Yes sir!" all of her henchmen shouted. They took their positions while J and her Salamence flew straight towards the golems.

    Though Regigigas was spent, the others weren't entirely helpless. Even though Regigigas had forced them all to go berserk and destroy everything in their sight, they still felt the inherent need to protect their superior. J paid no mind to them, as Regigigas was such a huge target that it would be an easy shot to hit even with three guardians.

    J aimed her petrifying laser cannon straight at her target. "Try this!" she said with glee, finally able to fire at her bounty.

    Even if Regigigas had run out of surprises to bombard everyone with, there was still something that unexpectedly got in J's way: the other three Regis. Regirock went out of its way to take the blast for Regigigas, becoming the lifeless statue instead.

    It was at this point that Brandon, Ash and the others finally arrived on the scene in the mini-craft. They arrived far too late to interfere, and so Brandon had no choice but to watch the first legendary Pokémon he ever captured become captive to J's wicked methods. "Regirock, no!"

    Now that the aforementioned "pests" had not been dealt with as J had hoped, the Pokémon Hunter quickly grew frustrated as she took aim at Regigigas again, cursing its subordinates. "Get out of my way!" she muttered with a growl, firing another shot with her laser canon. This time, it was Registeel who took the dive – quite literally – by jumping straight into the beam's direction and following Regirock's example before crashing into the ground with a loud thud. Thankfully, it fell from a relatively short distance from the ground, hence did not suffer any irreparable damage upon impact.

    However, that made Brandon no less upset as he drove the mini-craft very close to the scene, watching his Registeel fall to the ground. Though Brandon knew of Pokémon Hunter J, he was not that familiar with her methods, much less the technology behind it. He wasn't even aware that this effect could be reversed, but only in a very specific way. From Brandon's point of view, he was certain he had lost Regirock and Registeel forever.

    "Look what's happened to Registeel…!" Dawn cried in horror. This truly was unpleasant for anyone to witness, even if they didn't own the victimized Pokémon.

    Ash was furious. "That's enough, Hunter J!" he shouted to her, though as usual this did nothing to help their situation. "Stop it!"

    "I don't think so," J smugly shot back, taking aim once more. She admittedly did enjoy seeing the ones who slowed her down this much being helpless and distraught while she had full control of what was going on. She fired another petrifying beam from her laser cannon, but unsurprisingly, Regice jumped up to take the hit itself like its brethren. Just like that, all three of Brandon's Regis had become lifeless, helpless statues in a cluster on the hard ground.

    "And now Regice!" Dawn exclaimed in pure horror. She hated how helpless they were to stop this from happening…

    Ash looked on at the scene, understanding at least what went down just then. "Whoa… they did what they did so they could save Regigigas…"

    Brandon very well knew that already. It was a noble sacrifice, but he was still overcome with despair. He couldn't even bear to look at the scene… had he known that it could end up like this, the Pyramid King would have had second thoughts about coming to Sinnoh to begin with. It had taken a lot of courage and persistence to last this long and keep himself professional without his emotions getting in the way, but now it was just too much. Brandon felt himself so close to having a nervous breakdown, which he hadn't had since the day his wife died, and because of that he was thankful for Dawn speaking up and getting his attention.

    "Look at Regigigas now!" she shouted, pointing down towards the scene.

    Brandon snapped out of it and followed Dawn's gaze. "Huh…?"

    Even though Regigigas was completely helpless, out of energy, and out of protectors, the Colossal Pokémon had paid attention to the sacrifices Regirock, Registeel, and Regice made to ensure its safety. Such noble and selfless acts struck Regigigas deep inside, effectively snapping its mind free of the rage that controlled it and caused all of the destruction. This was reflected in the dotted mark on Regigigas, which flashed red briefly and then faded away. Just like its subordinates, Regigigas was no longer consumed with rage.

    "Regigigas is getting less angry," Maria noted, sounding relieved even though they were still in dire straits. "It's regaining its self-control…"

    Brandon stared hard at Regigigas now; it was hard to believe, but it seemed both were on the same wavelength now. He could see why Regigigas was finally calming down; however upset it was, the legendary golem could not simply ignore the numerous sacrifices made for the sake of its safety.

    He understood why his Regis forfeited their lives now. It was all so very clear… it wasn't just because they wanted to protect Regigigas; it was also because they knew how badly Brandon, their trainer, wanted this Pokémon. The long and arduous months Brandon spent trying to find any sign of Regigigas, the sacrifices Brandon had made and the numerous risks he took that could have potential long-term effects … Regirock, Registeel, and Regice were aware of all of this. They wanted Regigigas in the family just as much as Brandon did. They showed their devotion to both Brandon and Regigigas by doing whatever it took to make sure Brandon still had a shot at his goal.

    "So… your true intentions are clear to me now…"

    It was touching, yet painful at the same time because Brandon was unable to properly repay them or reward their efforts. There wasn't even a guarantee that he would be able to capture Regigigas even if J could be defeated. And now all of this came at the cost of the precious Regis he had… it seemed this story was destined to have no happy ending. With no Regigigas, Brandon wouldn't be able to follow up on his promise to his sons, either. He felt that would be the point where they would finally cut ties with him for good.

    He'd have no Regigigas to show the Battle Frontier committee… so Brandon stood a good chance of losing his job. It seemed at this point that Brandon really had no more to lose. He hated just standing here and watching this; he couldn't bear to see Regigigas to fall to the same tragic fate as the others.

    But he did have faith in Ash and the others… if they had prior experience with J, Brandon knew they would find some way to take her down without needing his help. After failing this much, Brandon felt there was only one way he could make himself useful. Though normally a rational and down-to-earth man, Brandon had undergone too much emotional turmoil that he mostly withheld while keeping company with the others. But now, all of that restraint backfired. To prevent a breakdown, Brandon's flighty instincts kicked in at that very moment.

    "Regice… Regirock… Registeel…"

    Brock overheard Brandon's murmurs as he wondered to himself how Brandon was handling this situation. "Huh…? What is it, Brandon?"

    With the opposition stunned, J swooped in within a mere ten feet or so from Regigigas to take her bounty here and now. "I'm afraid it's all over," she gloated, aiming her laser cannon for what she hoped would be the last time…

    That was the moment Brandon's reckless instincts kicked in. He abandoned his pilot's seat abruptly, startling the others while climbing onto one side of the mini-craft. He at least had the foresight to give one final instruction to his allies before taking action on his own. "Alright, young man! Take the controls!"

    Ash and the others were stunned at this sudden turn of events. Brock quickly realized Brandon was referring to him and rushed over to Brandon's seat to pilot the mini-craft before it lost control.

    This was unreal; it was easy to see what Brandon had in mind, and even Ash thought this was going way too far. "But Brandon…!" he urged, flabbergasted at seeing such a serious and straightforward man about to do something completely insane.

    However, it was too late to talk Brandon out of it. Just as J fired the laser beam towards Regigigas, Brandon leaped off of the mini-craft and fell right into the line of fire, hollering out as loudly as he could.

    That would be the last sound to be heard from Brandon. He fell straight into the laser beam just before it hit Regigigas and inadvertently made history…

    … Brandon would be the first human to ever fall victim to J's petrifying laser cannon. It worked on a human just like it did a Pokémon; the Pyramid Kind was transformed into a lifeless bronze-colored statue. Afterwards, the petrified Frontier Brain proceeded to plummet towards the ground from a much greater height than which his Regis merely jumped. It really was a suicide dive, as Brandon would not have survived the fall regardless of whether or not he was a lifeless statue. However, it was Regigigas who made the save, reaching over to let Brandon land safely in the palm of its hand.

    Still, even if Brandon was saved from falling to his death, his life was still in jeopardy. Even Ash and his friends had never seen humans blasted by Jay's laser cannon, therefore they had no idea if a human would be able to handle the effects.

    "Oh no! BRANDON!" Ash cried out at the top of his lungs. He hated how even he was aware that he was utterly helpless to do anything about this. His hatred for J grew even stronger as he glared at her. "How could you…"

    As Regigigas stared at the statue – the human who saved its life – its marks emitted a calm and soft blue light; a stark contrast to the bold and bright red. It had never been protected by a human quite like this… so far, Regigigas' impression of humans was a rather bad one thanks to J. But what the Colossal Pokémon held was solid proof that humans were capable of being just as noble as Pokémon. Brandon essentially threw his life away for this creature's sake… and now that Regigigas was no longer consumed with fury, it could clearly understand this.

    Still, the revelation couldn't have come at a worse time. J was still right there in front of Regigigas, aiming her laser cannon once more. The onslaught of interruptions deeply annoyed her, but her persistence outlasted the determination to be free of most her bounties.

    "Regigigas…!" Maria cried out. "There's nothing left to protect it!"

    J tried so hard to not growl in frustration. "Meddlesome fools," she cursed. "But it's over now!"

    "It's up to us now," Brock told the others, steering the mini-craft towards the danger zone. "Brandon had you guys prep Pikachu and Piplup for a reason…" He looked towards Ash and Dawn specifically. "We're the last line of defense, so let's do this for Brandon and the others!"

    Ash nodded, looking to Pikachu, who understood the gesture and took its position on one side of the mini-craft. Piplup followed suit, taking the opposite side.

    "We gotta stop her," Ash understood. "No matter what! We've gotta be brave!"

    "Brandon's sacrifice can't be in vain," Dawn added, looking determined. "So let's do it!"

    Just before J could fire yet another petrifying beam, the mini-craft promptly zoomed right over to where she aimed. They reacted quickly before J would fire off a shot regardless.

    Simultaneously, Ash and Dawn issued their commands.

    "Pikachu, use Thunderbolt!"

    "Piplup, use Bubble Beam!"

    Before retaliating, J distanced herself from the group with Salamence. Afterwards, Salamence fired off a Dragon Pulse attack to combat Pikachu and Piplup's combined efforts. The attacks collided, naturally resulting in an explosion. However, Salamence's Dragon Pulse proved to be a vastly superior attack due to the seasoned Dragon Pokémon's strength and broke through the barrage – coming right at the unarmed group in the mini-craft. There was no way to evade taking damage and the others were terrified as they braced theirselves for what may likely be their demise.

    However, it was time for another surprise: Regigigas finally broke free from what impeded its movement; both the adhesive (which shattered from being so cold and dry now) and the ground which its feet were implanted under. It moved over in front of the mini-craft; Regigigas' massive size being more than enough to cover the air vehicle completely.

    While the others assumed Regigigas would simply take the attack for them, the downtime allowed Regigigas to significantly regain its strength so that it could be put to good use and actually deflect the remnants of Dragon Pulse and send it right back towards J and Salamence.

    It was a direct hit; J did not expect this turn of events at all. Salamence was brutally battered, as it was a super-effective attack. Even more, one of the wayward blasts specifically hit J's laser cannon and shattered it to pieces. She no longer had the power to capture Regigigas, much to her irritation.

    "Regigigas must be back to normal!" Dawn said with delight, also relieved that she wasn't blown into bits by that attack.

    "Yeah!" Ash agreed, glad to see things finally turning in their favor. "Brandon's feelings must have gotten through to it somehow!"

    That was indeed the case: Brandon's sacrifice brought forth the benevolent Regigigas known of in legends. His sacrifice wasn't in vain after all.

    In spite of this, J was not deterred. She had been interrupted enough by Ash and friends to make back-up plans for such an occasion. "On to the next phase!" she shouted to her henchmen. "Prepare to attack!"

    "Master J…!" a man's voice yelled; one of J's higher-ranked men. He ran over to her within hearing range as best he could.

    J looked down at him, hoping this was important to warrant interrupting her mission. "Hm?"

    "The clients have been scared off by all the commotion and retracted their request," he informed his boss. He had gotten the phone call no more than a couple of minutes ago. It was believable enough, given how much destruction had taken place since Regigigas' awakening and how loud it was; the sounds echoing all across the northern region.

    "What?" J couldn't believe she had gone this far, put all of this effort into her capture, and came so close… all for her clients to flake out on her? "Why those spineless fools…"

    It pained her to just turn around and leave the business unfinished, but as of now, there was no business to be had. Regigigas would be far too cumbersome to carry around until such a time that someone else might express an interest in it, so there really was no choice for J but to end it all abruptly. She wished she could take out her frustrations on her contractors, but knew due to their reputation that it would be a very bad idea.

    She knew it was only a matter of time before the authorities arrived to become an even bigger problem if they truly caused so much commotion. With that in mind, she turned around to face her troops. "Retreat!" was all she said, but that simple order did well enough to get J's point across. Pokémon Hunter J and Salamence, her airship, and her troops vacated the premises in under a minute; back into obscurity until their next assigned task.

    Ash was furious and wanted to chase her down and take J out once and for all, but even he knew there were far more serious issues to address at this point. He hoped today would be the day he'd see J behind bars, but her actions at the Snowpoint Temple made Ash all the more determined to see that the next time they cross paths would be the final time.

    For now, though… there was a serious matter at hand. Regigigas had been awakened and tamed, but it seemed to be at the cost of the lives of Regirock, Registeel, Regice, and Brandon. All four statues were gathered together in a cluster as Regigigas gently laid Brandon down on the ground. His furious expressions and gaping mouth as he had hollered just before being hit by the beam were still present on the statue. J's weapons truly were horrifying.

    Brock landed the mini-craft and everyone rushed out towards the group of statues. It was a depressing sight as everyone looked on, taking in the harsh reality.

    "Oh no, Brandon…" Ash muttered, full of sorrow. Brandon had been one of the toughest opponents he ever faced; his defeat made Ash Frontier Brain material; something not many other trainers can boast. It was a true milestone in Ash's life, and it hurt the young Kanto native deeply to realize he couldn't do anything to help the Pyramid King and his Pokémon this time.

    Dawn looked to Brock; the brain of their group. Whenever there was a problem, the Pokémon Breeder was there with some sort of home remedy to fix it. But it was obvious no home remedy would cure something like this. "Brock, isn't there any way for us to turn them all back to normal…?" Dawn asked anyway, ever hopeful that maybe the solution was right under their noses.

    "I don't know…" Brock was hesitant to admit this, but he couldn't pretend nor make light of the situation. He resisted a wince as he heard a hushed but terrified sound from the Coordinator. But he understood how she felt; everyone was sorrowful for Brandon and his Pokémon's fate.

    Even Maria had no idea how to make this right again. Still, she remembered that Regigigas was indeed right behind them and it was stable. If anyone could restore those brave souls back to normal… it would have to be the massive legendary golem itself.

    To everyone's surprise, Maria rushed over to face Regigigas and faced it. She looked up with pleading eyes… inherently the temple maiden knew Regigigas was their last hope. "Regigigas, forgive us, please!" she begged, knowing they weren't exactly in a position to ask anything of Regigigas after failing to protect it. "I'm so sorry we weren't able to protect your slumber. But please, they all did their best to save you, so save them!"

    She looked to the fallen heroes for a moment before continuing. "They honestly couldn't have tried any harder to save you; I swear it! Please help, Regigigas…" She took a deep breath, resisting the urge to cry. "Please help."

    Ash and the others watched on as Regigigas seemed to be communicating with Maria through blinking blue lights on its symbol in various patterns. It remained peaceful, though not even Brock could hazard a guess as to what it was saying.

    After a while, Regigigas finished and Maria smiled, apparently having understood it perfectly. Being one of the few in the world with in-depth knowledge of Regigigas came in handy here. "Thank you, Regigigas," she said graciously before turning to face the others. "Quick, everyone! Please stand back."

    There was no argument from anyone; they listened and followed through with her request. However, they were all quite stunned that Maria could actually understand Regigigas' communication.

    With the path to the statues cleared, Regigigas approached them slowly before getting into position. By concentrating its power, Regigigas invoked a soothing blue aura that consumed all of the statues. The details of this technique were quickly picked up on by Brock, who recognized the move Regigigas was using.

    "Regigigas is using Hidden Power…" he muttered, prompting Dawn to look up towards him.

    "Hidden Power?" she echoed, looking curious. "Isn't that an offensive attack, though?" Dawn had seen the move executed by various Pokémon several times during her journey, within Pokémon Contests, and even the Hearthome Collection Contest.

    Brock had to agree that it was a strange choice. "That's true, but with a vague name like Hidden Power, there's obviously more to it than just offense. It's not hurting Brandon or his Pokémon right now…"

    Dawn looked closely at Hidden Power's progress on the statues. "You're right about that, at least… I hope it'll work."

    Sure enough, within a couple of minutes, the statues were converted back into living beings. All four of them looked disoriented, as things were quite chaotic just before they were petrified. Suddenly, it was rather peaceful with no commotion, much less Pokémon Hunter J, in sight.

    "Hey, Brandon!" Ash greeted, elated that Regigigas was able to bring them all back to life. "Great to have ya back!"

    "Huh…?" Brandon was still mildly confused about where he was, but looked to Ash and expected him to have the answers… for once. He just then remembered what he was doing seconds before what was originally his untimely demise. "Where's Regigigas?" he asked, sounding panicked.

    Before anyone could answer, Brandon stood up immediately and rushed past his comrades to see for himself that Regigigas was not only alive and well, but peaceful at last. Brandon faced the gargantuan golem a mere few feet away and finally was delighted to see his goal right in front of his face. "Regigigas! Yes! You're alright!" he exclaimed, well beyond relieved that things seemed to work out after all, though Brandon still didn't know how.

    "Thanks to you, Brandon, and the kind insistence of all your Pokémon, Regigigas has returned to its gentle and normal self," Maria noted, so gracious to finally see the silver lining on the cloud that was today's events.

    "Great!" Brandon remarked, happy that his efforts really did make a difference after all. "And thank you, Regigigas." Even without having to be told, the Pyramid King knew somehow that this magnificent creature had something to do with his revival. A bond had been created between them; a bond that could not have formed under normal circumstances.

    Regigigas accepted Brandon's gratitude in its own unique way of communicating before glowing in the same blue light described by Maria in the legend. As the light intensified, the massive Regigigas reverted back into the orb it slept in and slowly descended towards the ground, landing gently as Regigigas' spirit once again took to its shelter to recuperate.

    Brandon approached the orb, kneeling down as it landed. He smiled gently towards the orb carrying the essence of what he so desired all this time. "Regigigas, I'm asking one thing…" he humbly requested. "That you'll entrust your future to me."

    The orb stopped glowing, signifying that Regigigas had officially resumed its slumber. Brandon picked up the orb, still smiling all the while. Everyone else was speechless, but this time in a good way.

    "Wow, Regigigas…" Ash muttered. "Even after all that, it still forgave us for not bein' able ta' protect it."

    "It's magnificent how you bonded with a legendary Pokémon," Maria complimented. "That is not at all an easy task… and I believe that's why Regigigas decided to hear me out when I begged it to revive the lot of you."

    Brandon nodded, looking down at the orb. "That was no small task… but I do feel the bond between myself and Regigigas. Evidently, my Pokémon already felt that bond well beforehand."

    Regirock, Regice, and Registeel all gave their confirmations to what Brandon believed. Upon seeing the remains of an ancient generation of their kind, all three of them felt the inherent need to take place of those fallen pillars and pick up where they left off. The Pyramid King was still so immensely relieved not only to be alive again, but having Regigigas out of J's grasp that he had not yet fully understood the long-term consequences of what transpired today. On that subject, Brandon felt he had best get up to speed on what exactly happened while he was a statue, because the hatred he felt for J quickly went beyond for the people he hated the most before these events took place. Out of everyone, he would be the least satisfied of the results.

    "It's too bad we had to let J get away again," Ash grumbled. "And man, they went out in a hurry."

    Brock agreed. "Even if we weren't faced with people and Pokémon to save, I doubt we would have caught up with them. Besides that, there's no sense on taking J out with a full armada when we're such a small group by comparison."

    "Well, for what we had going against us going in, I think this was the best we could've done," Dawn figured. "Especially when all of this was so short-notice. I wonder why J just took off, though. For all the trouble she went through in getting Regigigas awakened and making sure we stayed out of her way, she just seemed to stop all of a sudden and leave."

    However displeased Brandon was, he could figure why a Pokémon hunter would do this. "Perhaps some connections fell through," he supposed. "I did tell Sam to give word to Officer Jenny about the situation, so the whole town ahead of us is likely on high alert right now thanks to his efforts. Chances are her clients were nearby and realized they were a little in over their heads when they made their request."

    "One thing that troubles me is how some mysterious outsiders knew this much about Regigigas," Maria wondered out loud. "What happened today is exactly why I've done my best to suppress public knowledge of Regigigas. The Snowpoint Temple just isn't meant for handling vandals. And now it's gone…"

    Brandon scowled as he looked back down at the orb. "If I weren't tied down to so many obligations at this time, I would chase that woman to the ends of the Sinnoh region and the rest of the world if I had to."

    "Leave it to us," Ash assured. "We've had a habit of running into J a lot since I came to Sinnoh. Whenever the next time will be, we're finally gonna put an end to her group and we'll make sure to think of you when we face her head-on."

    Just like that, Brandon smiled wryly and resisted a laugh. Handy as Ash could be, it was laughable still to think of him putting J in her place on his own, especially when he outright admitted that he's yet to be successful despite running into her more than once before. "Just stay out of trouble, kid," he replied. "But do let me know if she's ever caught. It would be a great weight off my shoulders knowing she won't be able to cause these tragedies in the future."

    Ash simply smiled and nodded. "Definitely, Brandon."

    "I believe it will all turn out right in the end," Maria said. "Just as this situation seemed so hopeless not that long ago, and now we're all here alive and well." Her smiled faded just then. "With… the exception of the pillars."

    Even with this victory, everyone else began to realize what they had left now, however valiantly they fought to defend it. "That's right," Brock recalled. "The Snowpoint Temple is almost completely rubble now. And even if it weren't, J still destroyed the pillars first. So Regigigas will have to sleep without protection…?"

    The three Regis seemed to want to speak up in regards to this topic. What they insinuated made Brandon's eyes widen, yet he remained silent. The innocent Dawn smiled knowingly at the smaller golems. "Maybe it won't after all."

    "We'd best head back to the temple and make plans," Brandon suddenly suggested. He was going to need some time to let everything sink in, because from the sounds of things, in spite of his efforts… he was about to lose his Regis and fail to have Regigigas for himself anyway.

    No one much felt like sticking around the area they were presently in, so they all boarded the mini-craft and voyaged back to where all the trouble began.

    Travels of the Trifecta! - Chronicles of an estranged family!

    LJ | dA | Bulbagarden | ff.net

    Diamond: 2749 - 7749 - 1840
    SoulSilver: 2364 - 7834 - 3761

  14. #139
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    "… So just for the sake of professionalism itself, I would appreciate a reimbursement for all of the time, effort, and ammunition wasted in this assignment before it was withdrawn just as I was about to ensure the capture," a very irate J finished after a lengthy, but controlled tirade to the people… or rather, just one person now, it seemed, who made the Regigigas request to her in the first place.

    "How rude you of the newer generation can be these days to your elders," the person chided; his tone completely at odds with the heavy and serious manner of which J spoke. Still, it was a rather distinctive older man's, yet he didn't sound the least be intimidating or influential. "These days, the very idea of patience is thrown out and self-centeredness is so glorified. I suppose I can blame the media for your sake, though. You aren't that young."

    "Did you even hear a single word I said, old man?!" J shouted, having to deal with this man's mocking attitude both in the past and for the entirety of this conversation that she arranged once she was in a stable area, able to maintain her stealth. "Rest assured that I will inform your higher-up about your shenanigans, and he'll see to it you are punished and dismissed from your duties. Otherwise, if I'm commissioned by your organization in the future, I will not hesitate to raise my price and demand the money up front from now on. Is that clear, head scientist?"

    The man with quite literal rose-colored glasses rolled his eyes, continuing to smile and snicker. "Of course. Now just run along; take a long, hot bath… whatever soothes those aches and pains before I start making cracks about Prince Albert in the can that will soar so far over your head that my nostalgia will cry itself to sleep tonight."

    J wouldn't even dignify that with a response other than a disgusted and frustrated grunt before ending the call, prompting the older man to burst out into a barrel of laughter, smacking his knees with his hands as he tried to contain himself. Such a disturbing noise prompted a door to open, revealing none other than a perplexed and annoyed Saturn. He had been living a very comfortable life since returning back to the base after his cousin's funeral, making off with everything Conway ever had to his name that Conway himself couldn't take with him. He was in higher graces with Cyrus than ever and all finally felt right with the world… until he found earlier today that his cousin's computer was missing. Saturn hadn't finished pulling out every byte of data Conway held inside the console, so he had been making the rounds to find out who took it. Naturally, his first suspect was Mars, but much to his surprise she was clean, as was Jupiter.

    Saturn honestly couldn't see why he'd even bother, but head scientist Charon of Team Galactic was near to the last of his list, and lo and behold, there was the entire console right in front of the old man as he laughed in glee.

    "So this is where the personal computer has been all along," Saturn noted, much like J in trying to keep himself restrained and professional as best he could. Like many of his co-workers, Saturn definitely never went out of his way to interact with Charon, quick to find the old man insane. He did give Charon credit to being "more useful" than Mars to Team Galactic's cause, but stunts like this made Saturn regret ever giving that man a compliment. "Charon, I expect there's an explanation for this."

    Charon smirked and turned his head slightly, just barely locking eyes with Saturn as he suppressed his laughter. "Word through the grapevine is that you've extracted a valuable source of information not long ago," he said slyly. "How unsurprising that the rumors were true; you like to overachieve, do you not, Saturn?"

    "It pays off," Saturn dryly replied. "Now who were you just speaking with?"

    "That Pokémon hunter," Charon said, merely waving off the mention. "I believe her name is K."

    Saturn was taken aback. "Y-you… you used my cousin's computer to make an independent commission from Pokémon Hunter J?!"

    "You're right about overachieving," Charon noted. "But the brightest among mankind know the best time to overachieve is when the opportunity to take it from someone else arrives." He was completely unafraid to admit what he did. "However, I suppose I was a little overzealous once I saw just how enormous Regigigas was in real life. A thing like that could never fit anywhere in the Galactic base and it doesn't fit this place's image at all, would it? The irony of it all… an organization made to change the world adopting the legends of the old world? Then again… I wonder just how different it is from Dialga and Palkia. What with also being fabrications of this old world…"

    "This is why I wonder why Cyrus bothered to hire you," Saturn grumbled. "You can't so hastily compare something as simplistic as Regigigas to the gods of time and space. But… unlike them, I was under the impression that Regigigas was only a legend."

    "Hah!" Charon mocked. "You really ought to do more reading in your spare time, Saturn. It does the mind wonders."

    Saturn still didn't understand something, however. "I mainly targeted my cousin's belongings based on his knowledge of Uxie," he recalled. "He never said a single world to me about Regigigas. How did you discern that-…"

    "The legend may be historically factual?" Charon finished for him. "You haven't done a very good job of combing through everything digital in your cousin's name, Saturn."

    "I did look!" Saturn claimed. "I did not find one iota of Regigigas in a single file of his! I had weeks to do a thorough search!"

    Charon smirked. "You can store data in so many different ways these days, Saturn."

    "I checked his CDs as well," Saturn told him. "His flash drives, and even the obsolete floppy disks! Where are you fabricating this from? Did Mars put you up to this?"

    "So so paranoid," Charon patronized. "Oh, Saturn, who would go through so much trouble? Everyone knows it's the most fun to aggravate you directly." Saturn frowned flatly at that. "But you still are leaving out one critical source… the internet, boy."

    Saturn immediately looked defensive. "From what accounts of his that I am aware of… I saw nothing there, either," he said, certain that he had caught Charon in a lie now, but was sorely mistaken when Charon let out a brief laugh.

    "That's where your new-age laziness has betrayed you, boy!" Charon exclaimed. "I see, of course, the most obvious place to check first would be those web logs of his… or what your generations know as blogs, Saturn."

    "Of course I checked there first," Saturn said, not about to believe he missed something there. "I still saw nothing."

    "All that looking… all without ever actually signing on to his account," Charon teased. Again, Saturn was on the defense.

    There was something strange about the day he cleaned out Conway's room of its belongings. "Well… much to my surprise, I found no trace of a password book anywhere when I took everything of my cousin's from his home. As many accounts as he has, I assumed the logical conclusion was that the password book was with him while he was out," Saturn explained. Since he never could find Conway's body, it seemed Conway's accounts would remain safe. Normally, Conway did keep his password book at home, but it was one of the first things he thought to take with him while on his stealth mission during the funeral. He knew he'd have an upper-hand in his accounts' security unless Saturn resorted to hacking, of which Saturn was only an amateur at best. Of all things, this was where Conway's skills exceeded Saturn's own. It was just another reason to hate him, in Saturn's mind.

    "Then you should be glad to have someone like me to pick up where you failed," Charon said with a chuckle. "In his protected, private entries, Regigigas was mentioned quite frequently around a month ago. It seems it wasn't so much his business as it was a friend of his, but regardless he took notes for that friend by reading what appeared to be the only known factual book on Regigigas in the entire world. After seeing the sorry, shoddy run-down excuse for a safe haven called the Snowpoint Temple, it became clear why Regigigas information was so hard to find."

    Saturn just briskly nodded, unable to excuse himself for this. "Hence your motive to pursue Regigigas in the first place."

    "I thought it would be harmless fun," was Charon's excuse. "For the big mission we'll have to task that Pokémon hunter with in the near future, I found it ideal to keep her on her feet so that it's a certainty that she will get the job done. I've monitored her performance today… and she certainly has a right to brag."

    "Regardless, this ended up being a waste of valuable time and resources," Saturn spat. "Not to mention you pilfered my property without permission. You do realize you're getting written up for this."

    Charon simply smiled and shook his head. "You can go ahead and try, but that would be an unwise move on your part."

    "Your scare tactics won't work on me, Charon," Saturn countered, looking very agitated now. "By the time I finish reporting to Cyrus, I expect that computer back in my quarters or else."

    "Such a mature threat," Charon teased. "But of course, what choice do I have? Do what you must, Saturn. Soon enough, you'll see…"

    Saturn's eyes narrowed; he was sick of listening to this old man and endured it far too long, in his opinion. Like J, Saturn wouldn't dignify his co-worker with a response and slammed the door shut, immediately heading to Cyrus' office to file a complaint. Charon was in no hurry to return the computer, still. He simply looked to his computer, monitoring various areas of the Sinnoh region.

    "Indeed, it's only a matter of time before the fun begins," Charon said to himself. "Northern Sinnoh as a whole is quite interesting, indeed. Lake Acuity… Regigigas… and of course, Mt. Coronet." The head scientist smirked. "The findings I'll make here will cancel out every little whine that child makes to Cyrus." He started to laugh again. "It will only get more fascinating from here on out scientifically… and in the end, that's all that matters."

    Indeed, in due time Team Galactic would be scouting the northern parts of the region for various reasons. But little did any of them know… they would be met with company along the way.




    It was nearing sunset once Brandon and the others reached the crumbled remains of the Snowpoint Temple. The pedestal that held the orb of the sleeping Regigigas had to be moved to one of the few chambers of the temple that wasn't completely totaled. All the while, Brandon had been thinking long and hard about what was about to happen… or rather, what was practically expected of him by this point. Even if this wasn't his fault, Brandon was going to be the one who paid the price for today's travesty. Though Brandon tried to think of every possible way to get out of the responsibility, maintain his Regis and keep Regigigas for himself, the Pyramid King was consumed with guilt at the thought of making off with all of that, leaving Maria to deal with the shambles of the temple she spent all her life protecting.

    Brandon often thought back to the moment where he was mere seconds away from claiming Regigigas as his own in a manner that wouldn't bring about the guilt. All that went back to the anger he felt for J, the one who ruined that one and only opportunity to achieve the original goal.

    But now things were different. Brandon couldn't bring himself to just leave after this. Maria wouldn't be able to rebuild the temple on her own and start over just the same as before. She was going to need help… a lot of it… and the temple by no stretch of the imagination would be able to be restored overnight. He couldn't make off with Regigigas, disturbing its slumber for his own personal reasons; especially after it went out of its way to save Brandon's life. In a way, Brandon was glad his sons weren't there to witness that. Samuel couldn't have been more right about the moral boundaries surrounding the entire matter of Regigigas. It was one of the most difficult decisions Brandon ever had to make; most of the time, he wasn't one for letting outside influence affect his decisions, much like Paul. Brandon's "my way or the highway" attitude defeated the determination of almost everyone who tried to fight against it.

    This, however… this was entirely different altogether. The bond formed between Brandon and Regigigas had a drawback, as it was their connection that made Brandon realize that it wouldn't really be right to just take Regigigas away. Even if he was probably the best candidate to care for it and especially now would be a better option to ensure its rest would never again be disturbed, Brandon thought back to the legend and couldn't forget that the original set of Regis protecting their leader had been destroyed with no hope of being restored.

    Regirock, Regice, and Registeel were way ahead of their trainer in that respect. They had all agreed to follow the legend and become the new pillars… meaning they too would be staying at the Snowpoint Temple indefinitely. Brandon was stuck in a position where he'd be gaining nothing and losing everything. But he wouldn't allow himself to show his conflicted nature in public; especially not to Maria.

    As Brandon, Ash, Brock, Dawn, and Maria stood before the pedestal, the eldest of the group laid the orb back on the cushion, officially bringing it back to a full resting state. His Regis were already in position precisely the way his predecessors were placed. This was hard, and it went against everything Brandon worked so hard for… but like Paul, today Brandon had been taught a great lesson of humility… something that hadn't truly come to him in many years.

    "Well, I guess this is the best we can do for Regigigas for now, right?" Dawn assumed. "At least the temple wasn't totally destroyed…"

    Brock nodded in agreement. "It's a shame… I can't imagine how long it would take to restore this temple."

    Ash looked to Brandon curiously. Something about the Frontier Brain did seem off to Ash, but like most oddities, he shrugged it off. After all, the man had been turned into a statue earlier today. Ash figured that might mess anyone up at least a little bit. "So what now, Brandon?" he asked. "You goin' back to Kanto now that you know the legend's true?"

    The mere mention of Kanto was like a nightmare for Brandon now. Letting go everything he worked so hard for was bad enough… thinking of how to answer to Scott and the other Frontier Brains was just too much now, even for him. He vehemently shook his head on reflex before realizing he needed to finally make a decision here. Even with the battle over with, Brandon remained the de facto leader of this particular situation.

    "One day, I will have to return," Brandon understood. "But right now, there's something more important to do. I've made my decision… I'm going to rebuild this temple so Regigigas' slumber will never be disturbed again," he said with a heavy heart. It was so difficult trying not to sound bitter about the way things turned out.

    He looked to his Regis, and though he smiled, deep down both Brandon and his Pokémon knew how forced that smile really was. "And just like the legend states, I will have Regirock, Regice, and Registeel become the three guardian pillars that will protect Regigigas forever."

    Forever… was such a long time. Brandon didn't even want to think about how his life would be like several years from now, just letting his Regis spend the rest of their days in a cold, distant temple. It seemed so wrong… but Brandon knew it was the right thing to do, given what happened. He wanted to honor the fallen pillars of generations long past the current. There was no other way to do it…

    "Brandon, thanks!" Maria was immensely grateful for Brandon's contributions and loyalty. She was worried sick of how she would handle the loss of her temple by herself, but Brandon's mere presence made her feel secure and certain that it would all work out in the end. And still, Brandon was ashamed that Maria thought so highly of him, not knowing that the Pyramid King was much more self-centered than he made himself out to be.

    However, Brandon was enough of an adult to know even he couldn't restore the Snowpoint Temple all on his own. Regardless of the tension with Maria, Brandon was going to need her help; at least they had the same goal in mind now. He looked to the temple maiden, pretty sure of what he answer would be, but just for the sake of making it solidly understood, he asked anyway. "Maria, will you work together with me to protect Regigigas' slumber?"

    He extended his hand towards an awed Maria, who shook his hand without hesitation. No doubt she was filled with delight in knowing she wouldn't be alone on this. "Yes, I'd be honored to!"

    "What about us?" Ash offered. "I mean, we've been in this together this far. I wouldn't mind helpin' out, 'cause it'll still be a big job with just you two, huh?"

    To that, Brandon laughed before playfully knocking Ash on the head. "Young man, I believe you have something else to prepare for! Keeping you here would cut into the training you'll need to be doing for the next ten days."

    "Oh, shoot! I forgot!" Ash cried out. "I have to battle Paul at Lake Acuity…!"

    "Guess we shouldn't put that off," Dawn figured. "Still, I feel bad just leaving you guys here to do all this hard work…"

    Brandon merely shook his head. "Enjoy your youth – all of you – I can assure you that you've done more than your fair share of saving the day."

    "In that case, we'd best settle in for the night," Brock suggested. "It was great seeing you again, Brandon. I know you'll do a great job restoring this place."

    "Same here," Ash added, looking to the orb. "Guess we have to say bye to the Pokémon, too. I'm glad for you, Regigigas."

    Dawn nodded, smiling sweetly at the orb. "You sleep soundly from now on."

    "Right…" Brock calmly agreed.

    Brandon nodded to all of the brave, valiant children who helped him today. "That town that was in danger… I believe that's Silver Hills Town. That should be an ideal place for preparing for the upcoming battle and it has a train station that will take you straight to Lake Acuity."

    "Well, I know where I'm spendin' the next ten days!" Ash said adamantly. "Thanks, Brandon. It really was great seeing ya again; thanks for lettin' us watch the battle and help ya out."

    Dawn bowed respectfully. "It was a great honor to meet you."

    Brandon and Maria saw them out, waving goodbye to the trio until they were out of sight, bidding their thanks and farewells all along the way. Brandon knew he was fond of those kids for a reason. All the same, it relieved him that they were finally gone. It was nearly twilight by that time, and things were suddenly (and rather uncomfortably) quiet.

    Just when Brandon thought he could finally have a little privacy to mull over today's events, a glaring set of headlights illuminated the dreary area. A motor was running furiously and tires were heard smashing through the snow. Brandon and Maria turned around, soon faced with a certain van that had been going at full speed for quite a while now. As soon as the van was close enough, it stopped abruptly. The engine and lights remained turned on while certain familiar figures poured out of the vehicle and ran straight for Brandon, whose reaction was only shock.

    "Dad!!"

    That strangled, desperate cry came from Reggie, of course, who quickly embraced Brandon while catching his breath. Paul had initially come running out, but stopped short as his much faster brother reached Brandon first. Samuel also came out of the van, but he was considerably calmer given that he had a better idea of what went on.

    "Y-you…" Brandon was almost speechless. "How did you…?"

    "We saw the smoke trail from the Battle Pyramid!" Reggie sputtered. "You had to have been in danger, and-… and-… are you alright?!"

    To that, Brandon smiled calmly. Maria was a bit in shock, as she remained unaware that those kids she saw earlier that day were actually related to the Pyramid King right until that moment. Brandon noticed Paul standing a few feet away, obviously at a loss for words himself. But for once, Brandon could see genuine concern from his second son's gestures… and he felt warm inside acknowledging that even Paul couldn't hide his true feelings in these kinds of situations.

    "Never better," he finally said to Reggie. Brandon wanted to believe that, but just as it warmed his heart to see his sons running back to him out of love and concern, the future consequences of reality's harshness came crashing back down… as the Frontier Brain realized what today's events could mean for the future of his own kids. "But…"

    Brandon rested his hands on Reggie's shoulders, straightening him out and giving him a hard look before briefly turning to give Paul the same gesture. All this time, he had withheld the entire truth of what his return to Sinnoh meant… namely the fact that his job was possibly on the line. While Reggie had already found out through Samuel, Paul remained none the wiser. Those consequences were the last thing on Reggie's mind as well; all he cared about was that his father was alive and well. But he calmed down once Brandon gave him that look.

    Reggie was familiar with that look. He'd seen it a few times before from Brandon… and he could already predict what his father was about to say.

    What Brandon actually said was right in line with Reggie's thoughts: "My sons… we need to talk."




    ( TBC )

    Travels of the Trifecta! - Chronicles of an estranged family!

    LJ | dA | Bulbagarden | ff.net

    Diamond: 2749 - 7749 - 1840
    SoulSilver: 2364 - 7834 - 3761

  15. #140
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    (It's the new longest-chapter-of-the-fic! That means this will be a nightmare to split into segments here in particular. Please be patient with that until you see a bolded TBC!)


    The day was not only long; it was loaded. Loaded with teases of unfinished business being completed (yet they remained only that – teases), emotional peaks reached that were never before imagined, destinies realized, and lessons of humility. Well, there was quite a bit more than just those aspects. If one had to sum up the day's events in a single word, however, there was no room for debate on what that word would be.

    That word was failure.

    Miles beyond Snowpoint City's limits, the ruins of what was once the Snowpoint Temple were barely habitable for the legends it contained, much less the human beings that remained in the area. As daylight faded from the sky, the temperature dropped accordingly. The Battle Pyramid sustained much more damage than what was initially thought. Because of that, its flying capabilities remained crippled… but the rest of the interior was relatively okay and a much more comfortable place to retire for the night than the tiny dank cavern that remained standing amongst piles of rubble. There was no concern for Regigigas any longer… as Brandon left all three of his hard-earned Regis behind to protect it indefinitely.

    The Battle Pyramid was such a large facility, as it did double as Brandon's "home", so to speak. As such, there was ample space for five people to sleep and there was a kitchen. Samuel did most of the cooking, though… Brandon was not very used to working with the oven. With Reggie around, however, a well-earned hearty meal was given to the group, as the Pokémon Breeder did his absolute best to emulate his mother's cooking skills. Reggie was a natural at cooking, having won regional fairs with his talents.

    It was odd for the majority of the group to be in a place like this. While Paul and Reggie were familiar with the facility, they never had the privilege of using Brandon's personal areas despite their relation. The kitchen in the Battle Pyramid wasn't large at all, but it had enough space to accommodate not only Brandon and his assistant, but also Paul, Reggie, and Maria as well. It wasn't very homely, of course… but given what happened, no one was in a position to complain.

    Brandon thought it was only appropriate to talk to his children over a meal. It had been ages since all three sat together for dinner. Given that Brandon was going to be unloading bad news on them, the Frontier Brain thought he should at least make them comfortable first. The effects of the battle he had with Paul were still obvious on both sons – especially Paul, who was completely silent the entire time. Some small talk was had while dinner was being prepared, but once it was time to eat and everyone seated themselves at the table; there was an awkward silence at first. Maria and Samuel weren't sure if it was right to be present while Brandon had an honest talk with his sons, but since no one protested their presence, they wisely stayed silent and remained seated where they were.

    Finally, Brandon mustered up the will to confess; his intention to have Regigigas for his own all along, his very unprofessional abandonment of his post in Kanto to pursue this Pokémon, the war waged with Pokémon Hunter J for this Pokémon, and finally how everything turned out in the end… most importantly, Brandon informed his sons of the consequences he was set to face now. The Pyramid King had no idea how he would be reprimanded upon his return to Kanto, but failing his mission was no doubt a major threat to his job… and consequently, the family's financial situation. Not to mention Brandon admitted he was now committed to rebuilding the Snowpoint Temple with Maria; there was no telling how long that would take, and it was doubtful that the Battle Frontier committee would approve of Brandon squandering even more time away from his real job.

    Maria was a little shocked when she heard this confession. Brandon more or less had the same intentions as J, though Brandon's intentions were at least morally sound. Still, she didn't say a word. Samuel already knew most of what Brandon said already, so none of this surprised him. He looked a little somber, as he had been worried for Brandon's future from the start.

    Reggie already knew about most of these consequences thanks to the brief visit from Samuel in Veilstone City. However, all of that was pushed far back in his mind until now because of the circumstances of today's events. It was not pleasant to be reminded of the risks Brandon was taking, though, and his expressions hardened when Brandon had nothing more to say.

    The only one who was completely taken aback by this confession was Paul. All this time, he had no idea Brandon was in Sinnoh under very tenuous pretenses. This only made things worse for Paul's situation; sooner or later, Brandon was going to be assailed by medical bills thanks to him. Mysterious medical bills that Brandon would be interrogating Paul about… and Paul still wasn't ready to break out his own confession. He could barely bring himself to talk, much less unload a mass of life-changing news to his family. But he finally found his voice again after finding out that Brandon inadvertently doomed his family to a future of poverty they might not recover from.

    "All this time…" Paul muttered, unable to help his body's shivering. It was hard being sick and being emotionally tormented at the same time. "All along, you were doing this… knowing you could lose your job…"

    He couldn't take it anymore. Paul slammed his fists against the table and leaned over towards Brandon, glaring straight at him. "What where you thinking?!"

    Brandon knew he deserved this. Despite his youngest son's revived rage, Brandon easily caught the hint of the expression of disbelief in Paul's face. This news horrified him and he obviously wanted to think it was just a terrible joke. "Destiny called for me," Brandon calmly answered after a moment of silence. "No thought was required… though I shouldn't have given into my baser instincts. I could have left my post in a manner that wouldn't put me in the position I'm in now. But given what happened today, there's no doubt that my return to Sinnoh was indeed for a reason. I thought it was to capture Regigigas… but now I see my reason for being here was to protect it instead."

    "At the cost of your family's security," Reggie quietly added, as that statement put him in a passive-aggressive mode. "And almost at the cost of your life."

    It was hard to argue that. Brandon actually already admitted it, so Reggie was well within his rights to vent. "Don't… get me wrong, dad. I'm proud of you for protecting Regigigas," Reggie said in a sudden, uneasy haste. "And it's amazing that you bonded with it, but… this whole quest was just a double-edged sword from the beginning. Helping Regigigas endangers us, while helping us would have endangered Regigigas."

    It saddened Maria terribly to see this event for what it truly was. This was a hard day for her as well. But she saw it fit to step in, because she felt so indebted to Brandon now… that extended to helping his children as well. "It seems hopeless now… but that's how it was while we strived to get Regigigas back. And it worked out in the end… I believe the same will happen for all of you. And as the keeper of the temple, I'll put in a good word for your father, Reggie," she assured. "Surely the Battle Frontier committee will understand when I explain to them what exactly happened."

    "Regardless of that, I broke the deal," Brandon said in a strict tone. "If I were the committee passing judgment on someone in my position now, I would not hesitate to terminate them despite their good excuses."

    Reggie frowned and shook his head. "But Scott and the other Frontier Brains aren't just like you, dad. From what I remember of them, they were all pretty level-headed and rational people… and most importantly, I think they're more inclined to grant forgiveness."

    "Don't bank on that possibility," Brandon denied. He eyed Samuel just then. "From what I've been told, they're all quite upset with me now due to my actions. The longer I'm gone, the less they'll be inclined to forgive me. And right now, from the looks of things, my absence will be extended well beyond the length of my coworkers' patience."

    Paul was still considerably upset over this. "You've already dug your own grave, and you knowingly are going to dig yourself deeper now. You're out of your mind! You shouldn't have to rebuild this temple! You weren't the one who destroyed it!"

    Brandon looked to Paul, stern and cold. He didn't want to be too hard on his son, as the verbal wounds he inflicted were still fresh, but as usual, Paul was being far too difficult to deal with in a gentle way. "So what do you suggest then, kid? Do you know how to track down Pokémon Hunter J, apprehend her, and drag her all the way back here to clean up the mess she made?"

    "Stop patronizing me," Paul shot back. "How hard is it to just hire some construction workers to rebuild the temple? This temple isn't your responsibility; there's no reason for you to just stay here…"

    "It's true that this is far too much of a task for me to do alone," Brandon solemnly admitted. He very rarely indicated his own limitations. "Even with Maria's help. And your suggestion is what I have in mind, but this is not any ordinary establishment we're rebuilding, kid. This is a precious piece of Sinnoh's history, barely hanging by a thread. Ordinary construction workers won't understand that… and that's why I must remain here. I must oversee the reconstruction from beginning to end and make sure the Snowpoint Temple is rebuilt faithfully… I owe Regigigas that much for saving my life."

    Reggie seemed to be a bit more understanding of Brandon's position, but he couldn't help but feel this was a much more daunting task that Brandon was making it out to be. "Even with your supervision, how exactly are you going to remake an ancient relic? It's not like you can just glue the rubble together. You'd have to eliminate it… an all-new temple would just be a shell of the original. But that's your only option…"

    "You leave worrying about the temple to me and Maria," Brandon assured. "Because you two have more important things to do than worry about my problems."

    "Your problems directly affect us!" Paul shouted. "If you lose your job over this, it's going to jeopardize the entire family! How can you expect us not to worry?!"

    It really was saying something when Paul was the one getting upset and worried over someone else's problems. Of course, Paul had his own reasons to fear the worst-case scenario. If his family couldn't afford hospital bills, he'd have a lot less than twenty years to live.

    "Paul's got a point, dad," Reggie acknowledged. "We need to be thinking of ways to get out of a worst-case scenario. It's a very real possibility we can't ignore…"

    "As head of this family, it's my duty to bear the burden," Brandon stated, stubbornly standing his ground. "Rest assured I will do everything in my power to keep you two afloat." But then, he quickly looked tired. The day's events and what was most likely a food coma combined made everyone pretty exhausted by this point. "But we'll get into that matter tomorrow… a good night's rest should clear our heads."

    Now that Paul thought about it, he did feel quite faint; more so than usual. At this point he was getting a little better at knowing when to stop, though Paul still looked disapproving of his father's decision. "Just say so if you need time to stall," he insulted before turning around. "You're not evading this tomorrow morning, so follow through with your promises for once."

    "On one condition," Brandon replied, still relatively professional in how he handled his own kin. "You don't spend all of tomorrow on this matter. You have a very important battle ahead of you in ten days; I expect you to be training for that up to the very day you see Ash again at Lake Acuity."

    Thankful that his facial expressions were hidden now due to his shift in positioning, Paul's eyes narrowed at the reminder. He'd be more thankful eventually, but right now Reggie's suggestion for the future battle was the last thing on his mind. Given the events that went about after the grudge match, it was obvious that he completely forgot about it. Having the opportunity to one-up Ash was something Paul couldn't pass up, admittedly. If there was one thing he was always sure about, it was his superiority over the Kanto native in battling abilities… and now even that was in doubt. The fact that Ash had already defeated Brandon and conquered Kanto's Battle Frontier was still a lot for Paul to swallow.

    Brandon knew it, too. Hence he smirked after hearing Paul's reluctant consent. "You don't need to remind me about that," he was lied to. But even without facial expressions giving it away, Brandon could tell Paul was lying if only due to the moments of silence that preceded Paul's claim. "It's a given I'll be training. So don't waste my time by prolonging this, if that isn't too much trouble."

    Paul wasn't actually meaning to come off as cruel as he sounded, but it was quickly showing that Brandon was right about everyone needing rest. The youngest of this group was the one who needed it most of all, given that his inner turmoil prevented him from getting the sleep he needed the night before. He was beyond cranky as a result. No matter how old he got, there were childish moments Paul would continue having for years to come. Brandon directed Paul to where the guest rooms were and breathed a sigh of relief as he disappeared down the hall, assured that the others would follow suit soon enough.

    "Sorry," Reggie apologized automatically. "I didn't think he'd have it in him to react so strongly, given what's happened."

    "Given what's on the line, I'm surprised you're as calm as you are now," Brandon noted. "I was going to tell you to not let the pressure of living up to your mother's name crush you." This wasn't a shot at Reggie's giving up – this was a fair warning of what Brandon knew would befall his first son due to the position he was in. "You're not nearly making the kind of money she made," the Pyramid King said bluntly, making Reggie flinch a bit. That was just a painfully true statement right there. "I was certain you'd be just as upset as your brother because of that."

    "Well, I can't lie… I am upset," Reggie begrudgingly confessed, unable to look Brandon in the eyes all of a sudden. "But in my case, I've had more time for this to sink in…"

    Brandon's eyes widened at this statement while Samuel immediately looked nervous. "What are you implying?"

    "I… er, I told him," Samuel spoke up, hoping he wouldn't get punished for admitting the truth. "I'm sorry, Brandon."

    "Don't be sorry," Reggie urged. "You were right to tell me about it. And at the time you probably didn't think things would end up like this."

    Samuel shook his head. "I didn't want to believe they would," he explained. "But I was very aware of the risks from the beginning, which is why I agreed to come here as well."

    While Brandon didn't like this, he didn't have the heart to be harsh to his assistant. After all, it was ultimately Samuel's efforts that got him the opportunity to finally get Regigigas; there would be no telling how long it would have taken Brandon to reach the same location on his own. The upgrades he implemented to the Battle Pyramid would enable Brandon to keep his promise about staying in touch with his family a little better, so this was a gift of longevity that could not be ignored. All in all, it was a minor error that wasn't worth the time to even acknowledge.

    "So you've known for a while now," Brandon understood, looking to Reggie. He was still apprehensive about looking directly at him. "Well, that would explain it. I do appreciate your maturity nonetheless."

    Something about that statement rubbed Reggie the wrong way, even if it was a compliment. Most likely he just didn't like how even Brandon's compliments could come off so unpleasantly from certain perspectives… namely his brother's. The Pokémon Breeder had the energy to burn unlike Paul, but the frantic driving effectively wore him out and his nerves were more or less shattered since he came to the conclusion that his father might have been hurt.

    He knew he was losing his mature touch when he couldn't help but blurt out a reply without thinking about it. "I'll just consider myself fortunate to not have been defeated by you today," Reggie muttered. "If I went through that…" He was getting a headache just thinking about it.

    Brandon always seemed to push a little too hard, even without meaning to. Even he was as cranky as Paul by now. "We've all had a hard day," Brandon stated, cutting Reggie off. "It was not my intention to bring this on. Go to sleep, son. Make sure your brother's doing what he was told, if it's not too much trouble."

    That was rather abrupt, but Reggie was too tired to question it. Looking uncertain the entire time, he finally stood up from his seat, nodded to Brandon, and silently walked off in the same direction as Paul. With the "kids" finally absent, Brandon looked expectantly at his assistant.

    "Sam, direct Maria to the other sleeping quarters," he ordered, standing up himself.

    Samuel followed suit, as did Maria shortly after. He nodded to Brandon cautiously. "So… we're all going to bed, then?"

    "It's best this way," the Pyramid King decided. "We'll all need the rest to endure tomorrow… there isn't much more we can do about what happened tonight."

    Maria nodded obediently. "I understand. Until the morrow, then."

    The shrine maiden was going to be the easiest problem to deal with, Brandon figured. She lacked the abrasive personality to challenge Brandon, but it was likely to be the most awkward part of trying to make ends meet. They had the same goal in mind as far as rebuilding the temple went, but Maria was notably shocked when she realized Brandon's true intentions, and the Frontier Brain knew it was useless to carry on the façade any longer. He knew Maria seeing his shoddy fathering abilities wasn't going to help his case, either. But they were going to have to trust one another in order to accomplish the most important task… given what Brandon had on his plate, he figured Maria would come last. She was the most willing to wait (given how little she spoke during this aftermath), and she was the most unfamiliar territory. It only made sense to Brandon to skirt around the deal with her while he took care of some immediate problems.

    As the three parted ways to retire for the night, Maria finally wanted to comment on something. "I'm honestly shocked that Brandon is a father," she whispered. "The connection with those three… seems a tad rigid."

    "Don't feel bad about not figuring it out earlier," Samuel quietly assured. "You're not the first one to be confused by all this."

    Maria nodded a little, looking quite thoughtful despite her tired state. "I've never seen a family so distant. And yet this means Brandon is a married man himself despite this job of his?"

    "Not quite," Samuel replied. "It's… a long story."

    A long story that wouldn't be told tonight. Things just kept piling up; one by one. One long day would eventually lead on to another.






    Conway wished he could be surprised by the fact that Fantina, Gym Leader of Hearthome City, was absent from her Gym yet again. He had heard the rumors prior to his official trainer alignment, and even Paul admitted on one occasion that he had a hard time pinning Fantina down to a scheduled Gym Battle because of her frequent absences. Just scheduling a battle with her was harder than the battle itself, or so Paul claimed.

    Fantina attracted a lot of attention when she first stepped into Sinnoh as a foreign citizen. Her frequent appearances in Contests attributed to her lack of appearances in her Gym, and yet she was charming and talented enough to keep her position despite her irresponsibility. Really, the more Conway learned about the woman, the more interested he was in meeting and battling her. That seemed to be her appeal, so to speak. But part of Conway remained hardened. He was still on a mission despite his new ditsy tagalong. Conway was taking a page out of Paul's book and doing his best to eliminate his inherent weaknesses… one of those being a fear of ghosts. Fantina, a Ghost-type specialist, would surely put that phobia to rest… Conway was sure of it.

    At the same time, he had to endure life with Barry and make sure his team would be up to snuff against whatever Fantina might throw at him. There was no official statement on when Fantina would return, so Barry and Conway remained vigilant and hovered around Hearthome City all the meanwhile.

    An idea struck Conway not long ago in terms of how to combat Fantina just as a wild Lickitung passed by. While Paul struggled against Brandon up north, Conway methodically captured this Lickitung for himself. Barry honestly didn't see the appeal, but Conway always saw things in Pokémon that Barry couldn't. Normal-type Pokémon like Lickitung were impervious to Ghost-type attacks. However, it was also true vice-versa; this was something Conway was determined to improve.

    There was one move Lickitung could learn that could effectively damage a Ghost-type with ease. It already knew Lick – a Ghost-type attack – which would prove to be a valuable asset in the battle. The move Conway was determined to have Lickitung master, however, was Rollout. He indeed had a masterful plan in the works, though it wasn't obvious in the training regimen. All it appeared to be was Lickitung simply training on mastering Rollout. A simplistic attack in execution meant that the training wasn't exactly exciting to watch. Throughout the morning, Barry watched Conway encourage his Lickitung time and time again to execute the attack perfectly. He wasn't sure what was more grating – watching this or waiting for Fantina.

    "I can't believe you woke me up just to watch this," Barry complained, sitting on the ground and leaning against a tree. "Seriously, what's the point?"

    Conway simply smiled. "While we're compatriots in this little adventure, I figured it's only expected that we learn something from each other and better ourselves for it. Just pay attention and you'll learn how important it is to be precise in your move execution."

    Barry just huffed. "And just what did you mean on that last part?"

    "You're a bit sloppy, I'm afraid," Conway bluntly said all of a sudden. The friendly tone that was almost always present in his voice faded just then, but it quickly came back before Barry really took notice of it. "In theory, your hectic melee style works well with moves like Poison Jab, but you'd do well to get a little variety going on in your team."

    "Sloppy, huh?" Barry never was that good with taking criticism. "This coming from a guy who won't even throw a real punch. You're one to talk!"

    While the statement was valid, it didn't really affect Conway the way Barry hoped it would.

    "Of course. I'm working for a greater variety in my team as we speak," Conway said with a nod. "Just look behind me: I'm teaching Lickitung physical attacks. Remember what I said about paying attention?"

    It was all right in front of Barry's face. He looked embarrassed by his sheer lack of foresight and just glared at Conway, puffing his cheeks out like an angry small child would. "Alright, fine. You got me there. But who'd blame me? I don't get up this early in the morning! Only thing you're doing now is making me want to fall asleep again!"

    Conway rolled his eyes and sighed, silently scolding himself for not realizing earlier that Barry needed constant activity in order to learn. It would speed up his Lickitung's development… With all of the weight of his destiny weighing upon him, Conway wondered if maybe he should follow Barry's example and maybe sleep in a little more often. Right now, he felt his judgment to be just a little clouded. "I suppose you have a valid point," Conway conceded. "You aren't much of a listener, so I'll simply have to beat the lesson into you."

    That took Barry off-guard. "Wait, what…?"

    Conway crossed his arms, looking at Barry expectantly. "Send out one of your Pokémon against Lickitung. Preferably something that would help in it mastering Rollout." He couldn't put it any simpler than that.

    "I'll admit, I wanna see why you think it's so important to be picky about your moves," Barry said, smirking as he understood what he needed to do. "Alright, then! The choice seems clear to me. Wake up, Staraptor…!"

    He tossed the Pokéball, though Staraptor needed no wake-up call; birds like it were natural early risers. It was completely awake and aware. Meanwhile, Conway couldn't help but be intrigued by Barry's choice. "Interesting. Didn't think you would be inclined to let Staraptor take more Rock-type punishment after Slowking flattened it with Power Gem," he said, mildly impressed.

    "Like we'll make it that easy for you again!" Barry shouted back, stomping the ground to show how mad he was over that turn in their first battle a few days ago. "This is called revenge! Look it up!"

    Conway couldn't help but smirk at Barry while adjusting his glasses. "How generous you are; even your vengeance will help me to get stronger. Lickitung will be thanking you later after I win my Relic Badge."

    Barry pointed at Conway in dramatic fashion. "You're gonna lose even worse than I did with an attitude like that!" he announced. "Staraptor, use Double Team!" Upping the Predator Pokémon's evasiveness was very appropriate for the training Conway had in mind, though the mind-boggling task of dealing with multiple illusions of Staraptor at once was a bit ineffective when the real Staraptor had been stationary in a single spot for several seconds beforehand.

    Not that Conway would announce this folly out loud before making Barry out to be a fool; that was just too tempting to pass up. "Lickitung, you know where to aim," he assured. Conway was relieved his Pokémon turned out to be infinitely more attentive than his traveling partner. "Now…!"

    Needless to say Barry took a step back in horror when Lickitung nailed his Pokémon spot-on even with the task of having to throw such a large rock up into the air. "What the… what is this?!" Barry shrieked. Evidently Staraptor was as overconfident as its trainer, given how it didn't even try to dodge the attack before it was too late. "There's no way…! You shouldn't have been able to get it right on the first try!"

    "Goodness, maybe this is a little too much for basic morning training," Conway mused. "Instead of perfecting Rollout, perhaps it would be better to teach you how to dodge first."

    "Don't you start with that!" Barry protested, still believing Conway must have cheated. "There's no way you should've been able to tell which Staraptor was the real one that fast!"

    Conway was not impressed with that response. His tone was flat and exasperated as he took it upon himself to inform Barry of how such an impossible feat was achieved. "Barry… your Staraptor stayed in one spot the entire time. I paid attention." He then pointed at Staraptor's position as it recovered from the hit and became airborne once again. "Not to mention this is the worst time of day to rely on eye tricks; the sun's current position casts your Pokémon's shadow from my viewpoint. That's another crucial detail setting apart one Staraptor from the fakes."

    Barry never had a case fall apart so fast before. "But that's…!"

    "The facts," Conway cut in with confidence. "And nothing more. Now please oblige me, Barry. A moving target is much more challenging."

    It never ceased to amaze and horrify Barry how easily Conway could get under his skin. He was making it way too easy for his intellectual companion to call out his errors. His short fuse was burnt out and the day had just begun. "Fine, have it your way!" he cried out. "Staraptor, use Close Combat!"

    "Huh?!" Conway didn't think Barry would go this far already. Lickitung, while holding another boulder to prepare another Rollout practice, never saw Staraptor coming until it was too late. Staraptor's fierce talons smashed the boulder into pieces and struck Lickitung across its face, causing the latter to reel back in pain from the super-effective attack. "Oh, now that was just uncalled for."

    "Well, I'm teachin' you a thing or two now!" Barry proclaimed arrogantly. "In this case, it's reaction time! Act first, or regret it!"

    That so-called lesson was one Conway decided to keep in mind for mysterious reasons. "That's all, then?"

    "Not everything has to be complicated, you know," Barry mocked. "In fact, the less complicated the better! So you're better off surrendering now, really."

    Conway was about to call a truce, but hearing an arrogant response like that quickly made him withhold it. He looked to his Lickitung, who was getting back on its feet. "Lickitung, do you believe you're ready for the real thing now?" Lickitung nodded without hesitation.

    The fact that Conway wasn't bending to Barry's will deeply bothered the latter. What he was insinuating didn't make things better, either. "Wait, what the heck are you talking about?!" he inquired. "Tell me now or I'll fine you till the end of time!"

    Truthfully, Conway figured that was a sacrifice he'd have to make just to travel with Barry in the first place. "Your lack of attentiveness will become your undoing," he said slyly. "Can you not even guess what I meant?"

    Vague as he was, Barry thought back to what Conway said and tried to think of viable matching context. "You said "real thing"…" he recalled. "Are you talking about the battle or…?"

    "The move?" Conway smugly finished for him. "Barry, if you paid attention, you'd know I've merely had Lickitung practice for Rollout; not actually utilizing the move. "

    "That doesn't make any sense at all!" Barry exclaimed. "How do you practice for an attack without actually doing it?! Why are you being so confusing?!"

    Conway just had to shake his head at that. "Pray no one ever battles you in the morning," he teased. "It would be a train wreck. But honestly, these methods are not unheard of."

    Gesturing over to the bits of shattered rock surrounding him and his Pokémon, Conway proceeded to explain the scenario in full. "When a Pokémon really uses Rollout, they utilize their own body rather than simply throwing a rock. To perform the attack well, your Pokémon needs to be at the peak of physical health and strength. It also requires flexibility, but Lickitung is already quite adept in that department. What I am focusing on is the strength of its limbs."

    All of this was going straight over Barry's head. "I don't get it. If Rollout's that simple, why are you trying to complicate it?"

    "I'm having Lickitung master this attack for a specific purpose," Conway said as he adjusted his glasses. "Yes, it's rather easy to do a casual Rollout, but up against a Flying-type like your Staraptor, it's much harder to make good use of it. So I'm rectifying this because I am specifically incorporating the attack into my strategy to deal with any Flying-types Fantina may have."

    "But she's a Ghost-type specialist," Barry pointed out. "How are you so sure she'll have a ghost that flies? I mean, I could tell you, but how could you find out for yourself before you battle her?"

    Conway just smiled, looking up at the morning sky. "Let's just say I pay attention a lot. I'd prefer you keep me in the dark about her teammates as well," he requested. "It's more of a genuine challenge that way."

    Barry glared at his traveling companion. "You didn't really answer the question, you know!"

    "It's all in the details," Conway informed. "If you paid attention to how she dresses and if you've ever seen her in a Contest, odds are she's going to battle with a Pokémon she's blatantly a fan of. And what Pokémon does her gown represent, Barry?"

    Really, in his true boyish nature, Barry didn't pay any mind to Fantina's absurd fashion. At the same time, her look was iconic enough to easily remember. "Huh, you know… her dress does kind of look like a Drifloon or Drifblim…"

    "Both of which are Ghost and Flying-types," Conway noted. "It's very risky to hit a Ghost-type with a super-effective attack, but it's relatively safe with Lickitung since, being a Normal-type, it has immunity to Fantina's specialty. There's the added bonus of it already knowing Lick, which will also critically damage a Ghost-type team."

    This was quite an ingenious strategy, Barry had to admit. At the same time, however, he scratched his head and looked almost intimidated by the confident nerd standing before him. "You're certain you're not a witch? Because… wow."

    It was difficult for Conway to maintain his cool now. That blasted accusation and Barry seemingly taking it seriously was just too much. "I swear, if it's the last thing I do, I'm going to make sure you learn how to pay attention to details before charging in to a fight," he grumbled. "Lickitung, get into position!"

    "Ack!" Barry forgot their Pokémon were kind-of-sort-of fighting now. "Staraptor, go higher up! Lickitung's not gonna be able to get you with Rollout high in the sky!"

    A dark grin appeared on Conway's face as Staraptor followed its Trainer's orders. "And once again, you miss the point of the entire practice," he chided. Lickitung had curled itself into a ball and was ready to start rolling at any time. "Lickitung, it's time! Use Rollout and propel yourself up to get Staraptor!"

    Lickitung kicked up mounds of dirt and dust as it revved itself up for a ride. Conway looked at Barry, enjoying the helpless, foolish look on his face. He had no idea what was about to happen. "It's not gonna happen!" Barry barked. "You're not gonna be able to reach Staraptor; no way, no how!"

    "Staraptor is at a rather high altitude," Conway admitted, focusing on the Predator Pokémon in the sky. "But now you'll see where the training pays off, Barry. Lickitung, I truly believe the sky is the limit for you! Never give up; you can do this!"

    Indeed, Conway was using the nonsensical yet extremely useful method of encouraging his Pokémon to go above and beyond. With Conway's faith and trust, somehow that was enough for Lickitung to do the impossible. Dust clouds formed all over the training vicinity as Lickitung took off; all the time it had spent revving up allowed it to roll at an amazing speed right off the bat.

    "Barry, you'd best get out of the way," Conway warned in an eerie tone. Barry stared at his opponent, dumbstruck as usual. "Now."

    "What're you-…" Barry had no time to finish his sentence before he saw Lickitung coming right towards him. "GAH!"

    Barry threw himself to the ground away from the tree that was behind him – the actual target Lickitung was aiming for. At the last moment, the Licking Pokémon propelled itself from the ground using its massive and powerful tongue, and made contact with the midsection of the tree trunk. Using its legs, Lickitung rebounded upwards like a rubber ball and climbed steadily in altitude as it closed in on Staraptor. With its trainer too stunned to give a command, Staraptor was stuck. Well, there was that and the fact that Lickitung's body was soon enveloped in a cloak of light before colliding with the Predator Pokémon – quite a distracting sort of thing. Barry gaped at the sight while Conway smirked, quietly laughing to himself at the blinding light reflected off his glasses.

    After the brightness faded away, Staraptor crashed hard into the ground, completely knocked out. Shortly after, Conway's Pokémon made a perfect ten landing. But the size and girth… not to mention the shade of pink, was quite a bit different from the usual Lickitung's.

    "Absolute perfection!" Conway exclaimed with pride. He ran over to congratulate his partner for a job well done. Barry managed to sit up, but he was overcome with shock.

    "But that-… what just happened, that was…" Barry stammered, managing to point at the large pink Pokémon in front of him.

    "The whole point of this tedious procedure," Conway "finished" for him. "I now not only have Rollout perfected, but I got an evolution out of the deal." He looked up to his Pokémon and smiled. "Lickilicky, I dare say you might be fully ready to take on Fantina."

    As Barry finally managed to stand back up, he was quick to throw a tantrum. "And you were okay with making me a target?!" Evidently, he saw that Conway intentionally was trying to hurt him. "That's just cruel! Unacceptable! And I'm fining you!"

    Conway nonchalantly shrugged. "If you must, but I did tell you to get out of the way." He knew if Paul was in his position, he likely would have let a human target get rammed without warning. It could always be worse. "In any case, it's high time for a break. I completely forgot about breakfast."

    Barry put his hands over his grumbling stomach, thinking over what Conway said. "No wonder this was so annoying," he muttered. "I'm starving!"

    "Lickilicky, return," Conway called out, holding out a Pokéball that shot a beam at the Licking Pokémon and recalled it. Afterwards, Conway happily gazed at his Pokéball. "Such excellence must be rewarded," he decided. "And rewarded greatly. And for being such a good sport, Barry, consider breakfast on me."

    "H-huh? Really?" Color Barry surprised. "Are you gonna order all the fancy stuff like you've been doing?"

    Conway proudly pointed his index finger towards the air. "We are hard workers; we have earned this. So do not question it. Just indulge in a well-deserved reward. After that, we'll focus on your training. How does that sound?"

    "Now you're speaking my language!" Barry agreed. Even though he'd been nothing but exasperated at Conway this morning ("exasperated" being an understatement at best), Barry was often quick to let go of the past… or rather, forget the past and move on to the good times. "We doing room service again?"

    "But of course," Conway replied in a random fake accent. Meanwhile, Barry recalled Staraptor to its Pokéball. "Let's hurry along before breakfast hours are over."

    "Way ahead of you, man!" Barry called back, immediately speeding off past Conway and back to the hotel they were staying in. Conway just smiled and shook his head at this, only slightly increasing his pace.

    Nice as this was, the daunting task at hand for Conway was an ever-present concern. It never once left his mind, but in times like this, Conway could rest at ease. He was at least grateful for Barry being around to lighten up the scene; Conway wasn't really used to serious and dangerous situations yet. He knew he'd have to learn to adapt someday, but that's what this training was really all about. Conway's precise calculations rewarded the trainer with results. At this point, Conway knew he was ready for Fantina. He was ready to conquer his fear of ghosts. Now it was just a matter of time before Fantina would return and become available again…

    But first, it was time for Conway to spoil himself. As long as he had his parents' credit cards, his money was seemingly infinite.

    Even though there were so many other things going on in Conway's life now, not a day passed when he wouldn't wonder about how Paul was faring. Where could he be heading after Snowpoint City? He'd probably never know… slowly but surely, Conway was finding himself able to make peace with Paul if the opportunity ever arrived. He'd never change his mind about how blatantly cruel Paul was to him, but that was just his nature… Conway knew that. This was no easy ride for Paul either. Both had their fair share of disasters on the way up the mountain. If Paul would apologize, Conway would be ready to accept it. Even if they parted on bad terms, that was never Conway's intention. The split-up was entirely Paul's doing. Therefore the matter of whether or not the two could make amends in the future rested entirely in Paul's hands. Even if he was cold, bitter, and hateful more often than not, Conway had seen Paul's rarely-displayed better qualities. Where Maylene and even Reggie found Paul to be utterly despicable for his actions, Conway was the only one who saw where Paul was coming from.

    The folly Conway made that broke the trust and consequently his friendship with Paul was one he regretted every single day. The intellectual knew no matter how hard he tried, he couldn't change the past.

    Even so… he could always work for a better future. That was a universal constant that Conway liked more than any other.
    Last edited by Shinneth; 26th January 2011 at 5:31 AM.

    Travels of the Trifecta! - Chronicles of an estranged family!

    LJ | dA | Bulbagarden | ff.net

    Diamond: 2749 - 7749 - 1840
    SoulSilver: 2364 - 7834 - 3761

  16. #141
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    Like the previous day, Paul made sure to wake up earlier than he usually did. He didn't want his family interrogating him about the medication he was mandated to take at least twice a day on a daily basis. Thankfully, Paul did have a considerably better sleep. His mental state was still a mess, but exhaustion finally took priority and forced the cold-hearted trainer into a deep sleep. It helped that the bed he slept on was extremely comfortable. If there weren't so many other things on Paul's mind now, he'd probably be rather indignant of the fact that Brandon had such high-quality beds while he and Reggie were left with mere ordinary standards.

    This was also the first time in years that Paul and Reggie slept in the same bed. By the time Paul turned ten, he was adamant about wanting his own bedroom separate from Reggie; quite typical of a boy that age. Since Brandon was never home, Reggie managed to grant his little brother that wish by converting Brandon's desolate bedroom into his own, leaving Paul with the one they shared.

    Really, Paul was too tired to protest sharing a bedroom with Reggie again now. Given his condition and his conflicted feelings of wanting to be alone, yet needing a shoulder to lean on the night before, Paul was thankful in a way to have Reggie right by him. It was even more apparent when Paul ended up snuggling against his brother while he slept; that was something that embarrassed Paul deeply when he woke up, and it made it a bit more difficult for him to get out of bed without disturbing Reggie's slumber. He succeeded despite some close calls.

    Paul wandered through the halls after taking his medication and getting dressed up. He made his way to the main hub of the Battle Pyramid – this was his first time actually seeing the controls made to pilot the oddly-shaped vessel. Call it a feeling, but Paul correctly assumed that he'd find his father awake, stoic and stiff, standing before the massive windshield that displayed the outside world. The way the Battle Pyramid landed was perfect for watching the sunrise.

    Due to the travesty that was his battle with Brandon, Paul was still hesitant to directly confront him. Sure, he freely barked out at him when he found out about Brandon's financial risks, but that was hard to control. After all, the possibility of Brandon failing to capture Regigigas and the consequences behind it were never once on Paul's mind. He was dead certain the Pyramid King would succeed in his mission. There was no such thing as failure whenever Brandon was involved (unless it's some sort of fatherly task); that's what Paul believed.

    This belief; this certainty had now shattered, much to Paul's horror. Just like how Paul's assumption that Ash would never surpass him fell to pieces yesterday, more and more Paul became uncertain of his own judgment. What was true? What was false? What was a universal constant, and what was subject to change? On top of all that, Paul didn't know what drove him to become a Pokémon Trainer. There was revenge, but nothing else apparent. Brandon hated having to resort to forcing that reality on Paul, as this was what Brandon did to make Reggie question his own motives. That resulted in Reggie's retirement. Though Paul was horribly confused and drowning in his own mental turmoil, he had no desire to give up. This had nothing to do with spite or Paul's conscious decision to be everything his brother wasn't: Paul just didn't want to throw in the towel. He didn't know why exactly, but the point is that Brandon's harsh lessons, though virtually identical in nature to both Reggie and Paul's cases, produced different reactions from his sons. Brandon hoped that would be the case; he prayed at least one son wouldn't be a quitter, and it comforted him to see that Paul was indeed the one he could still have faith in. It had worn thin by now, but it still existed.

    Eventually, Paul forced himself to move forward and watch the break of dawn with his father. Though Brandon wanted a moment of peaceful solitude before dealing with everyone involved in his life today, it warmed his heart to see his youngest son standing right by his side, doing as he did. Neither made any attempt at conversation, choosing to focus on the beautiful scenery in front of him. Paul especially made sure to absorb as much of the sight as best he could; he knew soon enough that one day he wouldn't rise with the sun ever again. Never before was Paul so grateful to be able to wake up, though it wasn't apparent in his behavior. Something did seem off about the young trainer to Brandon, but he couldn't really put his finger on it. He had so many other issues to deal with, so his ability to focus on one slight oddity was greatly limited.

    "Thank you," Brandon finally said in the softest tone he could muster. "I wouldn't have expected your unconditional company at this hour."

    Paul couldn't bring himself to say "you're welcome". The remains of his pride held strong against the enemy. "I… just needed to think," Paul excused; though his uneasy tone made it obvious he was lying. "That's what you're doing, anyway."

    Brandon smiled proudly as he gazed at the sky. "Like it or not, you are your father's son for certain. I would have claimed such an obvious lie at your age."

    That prompted Paul to look over at Brandon curiously. Yes, much as he hated to be considered Brandon Junior, this had to have been the first time Brandon ever spoke of his childhood. "I don't understand," Paul admitted. "How you're able to read me this well when you haven't spent any time with us until now… you read Reggie like a book too," he added. "Like you knew him better than he knew himself four years ago. How do you do it?"

    This was an interesting topic to start with, given the more pressing issues surrounding them all. Still, it was early in the morning and it was just the two of them… Brandon welcomed an off-topic break. "It pays off to be very attentive to details," he said, mirroring the philosophy of someone else in Paul's life. "Your brother has gotten better about it over time, but at your age, he never did anything for himself. He was so absorbed in everyone's problems but his own… that blinded him for years. He became a trainer, and he battled because I expected him to follow my example. If he had even taken a moment to think for himself, he'd have realized long ago that his passion for battling is nonexistent. I knew early on that it would be difficult to get your brother to utilize the strengths he was gifted with. Unfortunately, he's made his decision to squander his talents. After our battle, his true potential may never be seen again."

    Brandon had hit the nail right on the head, and that was startling for Paul. He couldn't argue it; Brandon's thoughts about Reggie were almost exactly like his own. "Didn't you do the same thing?" Paul asked him, though in a civil tone. "You wanted to be Sinnoh's Champion… you're strong enough by now. Why do you keep doing this, then?"

    "Being a Frontier Brain, you mean?" Brandon asked for clarification. Paul nodded back. "It may seem similar, but it was more of a sacrifice in my case rather than just giving up. In theory, I could make another attempt like I did years ago… but not only is it not a guarantee that I'll succeed, the risks and consequences of abandoning the Battle Frontier indefinitely outweighed all the positives of such an action. Your mother is no longer around to take the financial fall for me."

    Paul's expressions hardened as he interpreted this in his own way. "You're saying it's our fault, then," he assumed. "Reggie and I are holding you back."

    "Never say that again," Brandon darkly commanded. Chaotic as things were in the past when Andrea passed away, the Pyramid King absolutely refused to blame either son of his for what happened in the aftermath. "It was my decision and mine alone to go to the Battle Frontier. And no adult in their right mind would make scapegoats out of children, much less their own."

    "Does that make what I said any less true?" Paul honestly asked him. "You could have tried again… but you were stuck raising both of us after mother died. Face it: if we weren't a factor, you would have kept trying until you got into the Elite Four."

    This was becoming too much for Brandon to bear. Paul was technically right; Brandon's responsibilities as a parent came first before his dreams. If he didn't have Paul and Reggie depending on him, Brandon wouldn't have so hastily tried to find employment.

    "We will discuss this matter no further," Brandon coldly said to his son. He was quite stern about this, which Paul took notice of. "Last night, you were quite adamant about focusing on the more pressing matters we have now, were you not?"

    Paul could admit to himself that this was getting a bit off-topic. He wasn't even sure why he felt so inclined to even lend his father an ear, much less actively converse with him. But he felt oddly content to stand his place, father by his side, watching the morning come. "You? Following up with your promise? That's a first."

    A bratty statement like that normally would have earned Paul a slap upside the head; more often than not he deserved that. But Brandon was in no mood to quarrel. He was certain that something was odd about Paul's behavior; never before had Brandon witnessed Paul actually attempt to take the blame for an incident. Guilt was something rarely seen in the young trainer, even less so for Brandon.

    "Listen well," the Pyramid King instructed. "I'm certain you recall it, but yesterday I told you that we will battle again someday… once you're able to tame your emotions when it comes time to battle. You know that battle was simply my giving an example to you of what's to come when we truly clash."

    Paul looked to the side, feeling uneasy. "About that…" His tone was flat and stale. "You challenged me and Reggie to battle after we've done what we're supposed to do. We assumed you'd capture Regigigas… so then we'd have to battle it and the other Regis. That makes up over half of your battling team. But now you don't have any of them. Once you leave this place, you're leaving them behind. So how is that going to affect our true battle?"

    "I'd be lying if I said our future battles will be unaffected by this," Brandon admitted. "It is a great loss, but you ought to know I have captured many Pokémon since I started my journey decades before you were born. I will easily be able to fill the void and provide you with a full battle, with or without the Regis."

    "But then we're not really beating you at the peak of your power," Paul pointed out. "You have other Pokémon, but they aren't legends. This won't be the battle we're destined to have."

    Brandon shook his head. "Do not sell my other Pokémon short. Just because they aren't legendary does not mean they aren't powerful. I'd even go as far to say that my starter is on par with the Regis… even Regice."

    Paul was taken off-guard by that statement. He had no idea why Brandon would bring up Regice out of left field, but the identity of Brandon's first Pokémon was a complete mystery to Paul. He had hardly even thought about this before. "Your starter…? But which one's…?"

    "You'll find out," Brandon said with a grin. Of course he was going to keep Paul in the dark, as he knew how shocked his son would be once the mystery was finally solved. "But know this: the very day I received my starter, I knew I was destined for great things."

    "Is that some kind of hint?" Paul asked as he mentally ran through what could possibly fit as Brandon's starter. He knew most likely it was one of the three Sinnoh starters, but knowing a traveler like Brandon, it could be anything.

    It pleased Brandon to see that Paul was actually getting a little worked up over this. "Not at all; merely a sign of destiny that had to be recognized. It could apply to any Pokémon you start with. Byron and Palmer experienced the same destiny as I did when they got their starters as well."

    "Your old friends," Paul muttered in acknowledgement. "So from the beginning, you say you were destined for greatness. And now you're head of the first Battle Frontier… Byron's one of Sinnoh's strongest Gym Leaders…" Paul was speaking from experience here. "And Palmer's…" he kept forgetting who exactly Palmer was.

    "Palmer managed to defeat me in battle not long ago," Brandon told him, which surprised Paul. He wondered why Brandon didn't speak of Palmer as often as Byron, but if Palmer defeated him, Paul figured Brandon was rather bitter over the loss. "In doing so, he became a Frontier Brain… but I decided, instead of uprooting him from Sinnoh and separating him from his son, he would become head of the new Battle Frontier here in Sinnoh as the Tower Tycoon."

    Paul widened his eyes as he realized something. "Right… Sinnoh has a Battle Frontier now…." He looked up at Brandon, almost glaring at him. "So why don't you just transfer out to here, then? Your facility is mobile; it wouldn't be that hard!"

    "Interesting as that would be, my place is in Kanto," Brandon said with a subtle tone of resign. "I helped found the first Battle Frontier; it wouldn't be right for me to abandon it until I'm unable to carry on my duties." Paul's suggestion was actually giving Brandon some new ideas, however…

    Paul growled in frustration. He knew he was supposed to be controlling this better, but Brandon made it impossibly hard sometimes. "You're loyal to your work… it's a shame Reggie and I never see this kind of effort from you when it comes to our family."

    That struck Brandon rather hard, mostly because it was completely true. He always went above and beyond to further his career. Meanwhile, he was nearly forgetting his sons' birthdays and made no attempt of his own to solidify the ties between his separated family. "I promised to change that," Brandon reminded him. "You were there when I made that vow to Reggie."

    "Speaking of…" Paul muttered, just realizing something. "You just referred to Reggie by name. And you did it yesterday, too. He hasn't battled you yet… and you said you'd never truly see either of us as your flesh and blood until we defeated you. What's up with that?"

    "Ah, you picked up on that, did you?" Brandon asked him with a smile.

    Paul shook his head. "Reggie did, just as we were leaving yesterday. He nearly had a seizure of sheer happiness over that. But still, it doesn't make sense."

    "I'll admit, part of it was due to my assigned role – assigned by you, kid – as a professional familiar to him," Brandon explained. "But the time has come and passed… Reggie is now eighteen years old. Regardless of what he's accomplished, reaching that age is an informal rite of passage in a man's life."

    Raising an eyebrow in confusion, Paul just had to ask. "And that means…?"

    "It means Reggie has become an adult," Brandon clarified. "Or the first form of an adult – still with freedom with the direction his life is going. He'll settle in fully as an adult whenever he sires my grandchildren." Because Brandon had a strong doubt of Paul being the one to bring about the next generation… at least while he was alive, anyway. Reggie, on the other hand, had become a natural-born mom despite his gender. He was already taking care of babies, as that was in a Pokémon Breeder's job description. Brandon figured once Reggie found a girlfriend, it wouldn't take long for his first son to settle down and have some children of his own to dote on… because he couldn't baby Paul for much longer and the Pokémon were merely filling a void for him.

    Even if it seemed pretty inevitable – Paul also felt this way – the youngest member of the family was a bit uncomfortable with the prospect of Reggie moving on to the next stage. Most likely this was because there was only one girl Paul could imagine snatching Reggie away to make babies: a certain pink-haired local Gym Leader, whom he loathed. Maylene as a sister-in-law? Paul felt ill just thinking about it.

    "So he's an adult now; I get it," Paul replied. "That's all it takes for you to address us by name otherwise?"

    "Well, since he's a full-grown man now, it's a bit inappropriate to call Reggie a boy or kid," Brandon admitted, chuckling a little at the thought. "I could attempt it, but I wouldn't be able to hold in a straight face. He'll always be my son, but I must recognize his maturity. This does not necessarily mean he's earned my respect; that can only be gained through defeating me in battle."

    Paul nodded; this sort of made sense to him. Brandon was such a straight and narrow man who very rarely joked around, and calling his full-grown son a child in public was a little silly. "So the same applies to me?"

    "What I hope for more than anything is that you defeat me before you enter that rite of passage," Brandon challenged. "You have a little under five years left, and you have as much experience as a Pokémon Trainer as your brother by now… roughly."

    "I am catching up to him," Paul claimed. It wasn't an unfair claim to make; the younger brother was just two Gym Badges, one League Conference, and one Battle Frontier short of matching Reggie's accomplishments exactly. "We'll see how we match up when we start training for today."

    "Ah, thank you for reminding me," Brandon reacted, moving away slightly to reach for one of his traveling packs to take out six Pokéballs. Paul looked on, completely confused. "I took the liberty of getting your six Pokémon from yesterday healed up; Sam has made some amazing technological improvements to the Battle Pyramid. So you were just spared a lengthy trip to Snowpoint City's Pokémon Center. I'll have to thank him later today."

    Paul stared at Brandon as he clumsily accepted his six Pokéballs back. "You… didn't have to do that…"

    "Of course I did," Brandon insisted. "I'm the one responsible for your team's condition… as well as your own. Bear in mind, though, I want you to focus only on battling Ash for the next ten days. Unless it's for supplies, I don't want to see you take one step into Snowpoint City until this battle has come and gone."

    "No problem," Paul muttered. "I have no intention of facing Candice before battling that guy."

    "One more thing," Brandon announced. "Those Pokéballs you're holding… the Pokémon contained in them are yours, but I swapped most of them out for ones you didn't use against me. I want you to specifically use these six Pokémon I hand-picked for you to defeat that Kanto boy."

    That was mildly surprising. Brandon was getting really involved in this battle Reggie set up… it was a bit of a surreal experience for Paul. "Any particular reason why you picked… whatever you picked?" he asked his father. This was pleasant and off-putting at the same time for him.

    "I'll admit I'm curious to see where your true strengths lie," Brandon told him. "Something seemed off about the team you used against me yesterday… and I couldn't help but notice that you kept Torterra out of this, even though its type combination is ideal against two of the three Regis and happens to be your strongest Pokémon."

    "I'm saving Torterra for the real battle," Paul said in an adamant tone. "And I decided to use it against Candice as well… in this environment, it's risky to overwork Torterra."

    Brandon nodded in agreement. "Even though you know the last thing a Torterra should face is an Ice-type specialist's Pokémon. Do you enjoy making it harder for yourself and your Pokémon?"

    It would never cease to disturb Paul how well Brandon could read him. He couldn't even get out of this with a lie, because Brandon would negate them all with his intuitive skills. "I have the experience; I can afford to challenge myself. Reggie never did this… I already know how it pays off. I defeated Byron with type disadvantages across my entire team – since I know it's possible, I'm going to defeat the last two Gym Leaders this way as well. Whatever it takes to get ahead of the competition."

    Brandon recalled when he first arrived in Sinnoh and ran into Byron, who had been defeated by his son just the day prior. Byron filled Brandon in on the details. The Frontier Brain wondered if it was a coincidence or a pattern, but it was now confirmed to be a pattern. This was actually a relief for Brandon: he knew this way of thinking was much like any future Champion's. Going above and beyond to do the impossible… Paul was in that mindset. It seemed there was hope after all… but Brandon saw it fit to give his son a very important tip in this realm of thought.

    "You have the right approach to this, kid," Brandon commended. "But the mistakes you're making will cost you. If you insist on challenging yourself, consider the level of your opponent first. Regardless of your experience, if your opponent's strength is equal or greater to yours, the only sensible thing to do is make a strategy with the absolute strongest attacks and Pokémon. I'll admit I was surprised that against me of all people, you would challenge me to a full battle with half your chosen team not even fully evolved."

    This was a good point; something that reflected the lack of thought Paul put into making his team in haste yesterday. Electabuzz, Magmar, and Lairon were all in their middle stage of evolution. Lairon was hardly even used by Paul these days; it was just a harebrained idea of his that he might finally get it to evolve to Aggron through that battle. But of course that backfired: Lairon was taken out before it even got to attack.

    "It made sense at the time," Paul claimed. It sort of did, but… then again, he really was too preoccupied and didn't have enough time to really make sense of anything yesterday.

    "Oh?" Brandon seemed to know Paul was making things up as he went along already. Not that it took a genius mind to comprehend that, but obviously Paul was going to have to lie better than that to convince his father. "Enlighten me."

    But Paul really didn't feel like trying today… not when he could tell right off that Brandon didn't believe him. From there, the battle was uphill and nigh impossible. It was far too early to be expending his own energy on a mere lie.

    "I don't want to talk about it."




    The rest of the world started waking up at last. Not about to miss out on a potential chance to battle, Conway patiently waited by the front door of the Hearthome Gym. Later on in the day there would be a long line of trainers, all wanting a shot at the foreign Gym Leader. There was no telling whether or not she was even in town today, as there were no signs or notices to indicate that she wouldn't be.

    Barry, of course, could not stand this. Soon enough he was marching in angry circles around Conway, who amusedly let his companion do as he wished. For being such a nice guy and footing the entire breakfast bill, Conway thought this was a nice way to even out the odds.

    "Getting dizzy yet?" Conway asked after a while, trying to keep a straight face. Barry did not stop, shaking his head in frustration.

    "I am way too focused and way too mad to be dizzy right now!" he proclaimed. "This lady is gonna get the biggest fine ever made, I tell you wha-…"

    Barry's tangent distracted him from his circle pattern; his frantic legs strayed from the circle away from Conway and inadvertently lead Barry to march right into the Hearthome Gym's outer walls. He fell over promptly on his back. Conway was greatly entertained by this stunt, unable to help cracking a smile now as he peered down at his blond sidekick. "Perhaps your brain should be coordinating your legs better, then," he teased. "They definitely looked dizzy to me."

    Something about that statement made Barry snap. Not even properly responding to Conway, Barry roared out a holler as he pushed himself up, hopping from one foot to another and forming fists, shaking with superficial rage. He started beating on the walls, continuously making a racket and making a scene. Thankfully, the streets were rather deserted this time of day, but that didn't embarrass Conway any less.

    He took a mental note there and then: never take Barry along on any stealth missions.

    "I know you're in there, Fantina!" Barry cried out, now taking his frustrations out on the front door. The last thing Conway wanted was to make a bad first impression; he wanted to rip his partner away from the building, but he also knew better than to get between Barry and the target of his frustrations. "Now come out of there and fight like a man! I'm gonna beat you this time!"

    Conway sighed and reached into his carryon bag, pulling out a square piece of deluxe chocolate. He had a particular liking for imported (and thus ridiculously overpriced) chocolates – something he feuded over often in the past with Paul, who couldn't afford such luxuries. Barry was much more supportive of Conway squandering money over silly things, but he was also rather greedy when it came to sharing the spoils. To Conway, these pieces of chocolate were his portable happy places.

    Just as Conway was about to take a bite, Barry looked over behind him and eyed the chocolate. As usual, Barry forgot about the tangent he was on and focused on the treat Conway planned on enjoying to cope with the madness going on around him. "Hey!! You said you were out of those when I asked you for one earlier! What's the deal?!"

    "It was a tactical lie," Conway straightforwardly admitted. Seeing that Barry had an eye for his chocolate, he was quick to take a bite. The Razz Berry filling presented itself from the chunk of chocolate Conway hadn't yet devoured, making Barry turn around completely from the door. "If I told you I still had some, you would have devoured them all by now… and the last thing you need is more sugar in your system," he scolded. "Just look at you now."

    "Don't mess around with me, man!" Barry warned, making his way over towards Conway… who admittedly couldn't help but be a little intimidated. Sure, Barry wasn't the brightest crayon in the box, but he was still fully capable of beating Conway to a pulp just like anyone else. "I won't stand for you holding out on me!"

    "Oh? You want this?" After Conway devoured the last of his Choco-Razz square, he pulled out another for Barry's viewing pleasure. "This right here?"

    "Yes, I want that," Barry barked out. "Now hand it over!"

    One of Conway's favorite things about being with Barry? The fact that the Twinleaf Town trainer made it too easy.

    "You're absolutely certain?" Conway asked mockingly. Seeing Barry nod while in utter panic brought him such sadistic joy… now he knew Paul had been a bad influence on him.

    "Come on, already!" Barry cried. "This isn't funny, you know! Only I know how to be funny!"

    Well, after that much torture, Conway thought it was only fair to give Barry what he wanted… but only if his new friend humiliated himself in the process. "Fetch, boy!" Yes, Conway actually threw the chocolate piece several feet away from him. It landed right on the hardly-sanitary ground, but that didn't deter Barry from chasing after it without question. Conway had to hold back in a laugh as the desperate blond proceeded to pick up and eat the chocolate without even dusting it off first.

    "Mon dieu, what is that 'orrible noise out there?" a new and accent-heavy voice asked all of a sudden. Conway turned himself around to find Hearthome City's Gym Leader standing right outside the front door of the facility she so often abandoned. Despite it being so early in the morning, Fantina was fully dressed for the day in her usual gown with her hair done up in its usual style… something that must have taken well over an hour to do each day. She had heard Barry shouting at her but couldn't make out his threats. Never before had Fantina endured such rowdy challengers; she was mostly in disbelief, but she was even more shocked when she finally came outside just in time to watch Barry eat something from the sidewalk. "Parbleu! You should not be eating anyt'ing from t'ere, mon cher!"

    "Huh?" Barry looked up, only to fall over on his behind in shock as he pointed his shaking finger at the woman. "Aha! So the coward finally shows herself!" He quickly picked himself up from the pavement. "Prepare to go down, Fantina!"

    "Eh?" Fantina was momentarily confused, but gasped when she gave her prospective challenger a closer look. "Wait a minute… you are Barry, the boy from Twinleaf Town, n'ętes-vous pas…?"

    Conway raised an eyebrow at the Gym Leader. "You remember this guy?" Though it wasn't beyond Conway's imagination, given his acquaintance's brash demeanor…

    "Of course she remembers me!" Barry proudly affirmed. "I left the biggest impression on her than any other challenger; isn't that obvious?"

    Fantina wisely chose not to make a remark to Barry's obvious overstatement. Instead, she looked to the other person in her presence. "One familiar face," she acknowledged. "But I do not believe I 'ave seen you around before."

    "You certainly have not," Conway said with a humble bow. "Con-… er, Colin from Celestic Town; Pokémon trainer and hopefully future challenger of yours," he said with a quick save. Prior to meeting Barry, he had no problem referring to himself under his pseudonym only (as well as his chosen fake hometown). But since the two had spent a while together and Barry had quickly busted Conway's ruse, it was easy for him to make a slip like this, and he knew he had to be more careful about this in the future. "Enchanté, Mademoiselle."

    It wasn't every day that Fantina got prospective challengers that could speak her native tongue. She glowed with joy and shook Conway's hand; this was a rare treat for her, after all. "Oh, what a well-mannered young man we 'ave here! Welcome, welcome!"

    "Hey wait a minute!" Barry objected, marching over to Conway while looking rather indignant. "You didn't come from there and that's not your na- OW!!"

    Naturally, Conway wasn't going to let Barry finish that sentence. He could have sworn he went over this with his companion already, but evidently instructions were something Barry couldn't remember to follow completely until he'd been run through them at least fifteen times. So all in all, Conway didn't feel too bad when, in the most subtle way he could manage, he waited for Barry to get close enough so he could stomp on his foot with all his strength. It wasn't much, but definitely enough for Barry to feel it; it helped that Conway did this without warning. Fantina didn't notice the slightly elder boy flattening his cohort's foot, and recalling the kind of person Barry was from previous meetings allowed her to believe the blond just stubbed his toe on something instead.

    "Ah, I see someone still 'as not learned the value of patience and paying attention." Fantina chided. "Barry, you will not be defeating me anytime soon if you do not shape yourself right."

    Barry's rage was only focused on Conway now. "You-! You dirty little…!"

    "Barry, non," Fantina cut him off, scolding him like a preschool teacher would one of her students. "T'is behavior is not acceptable; you know t'is. The way you are behaving is not like a Pokémon Trainer, but rather a… ah…." She hesitated, suddenly unable to think of the right word. "What you of Sinnoh would call, a…"

    Before Barry could cut her off in return, Conway gave a humble suggestion in the smuggest tone he could muster. "Un garçon inculte peu?"

    "Ah, précisément!" Fantina agreed with delight. "What a worldly young challenger I 'ave before me today! Would you be so kind to treat moi to une bataille?"

    "It would be an honor," Conway accepted, gleeful that the art of sucking up was working wonders for him on this woman. Going against nothing but Ghost-type Pokémon would be no walk in the park, even without the phasmophobia. With it, however, there was the added challenge of conquering a fear that ruled Conway for the majority of his life. It was something Conway could no longer afford to have; failure was not an option here.

    This decision was not quite unanimous, however. Barry recovered in time to protest. "Now wait a second here!!" Conway never thought he'd hear such words in that order spill out of that boy's mouth. "I thought I made it clear that I was gonna take Fantina on first!"

    Conway shrugged, feigning helplessness. "Well, in the end, I think it's not up to us," he supposed. "It's up to her, right?"

    "Even so!" Barry called out of spite. "Fantina knows who I am! She knew I was gonna challenge her to a rematch! Why should I have to wait?"

    "T'ink of it as a lesson of sorts," Fantina suggested. "You were the naughty one making that fuss outside my door, non? Barry, you do know better. Clearly, you are in need of… what do you call it, a "time-out"? I will battle you today when you 'ave done as I asked."

    Barry grasped at his hair in frustration. "Y-you've gotta be kidding me!"

    "I don't think she's kidding," Conway remarked, continuing to look like the perfect angel in this situation. "You can still watch our battle, though. That ought to give you some time to finalize your strategy."

    "Hey! I've got total faith in my strategy as it is now!" Barry shot back. That was one more thing that Conway saw in contrast to how it used to be when Paul was his traveling partner instead. At least Paul didn't throw tantrums that never failed to disrupt and destroy the intellectual's inner peace and Zen, but it was still a bit refreshing to be in the presence of someone who would take a chance on blind faith. Conway's fellow Veilstone City trainer was so rigidly against such optimism that he was honestly a downer to be around for most of the time.

    By this point, the group of three had entered the Hearthome Gym and made a beeline for the stage where the battles would be had.

    "I do look forward to combating you once more, Barry," Fantina assured. "Surely you must 'ave the strategy to defeat me at last."

    "You'd better believe it," Barry warned. "Just know this: I'm the main event. This guy here's just gonna be your warm-up match!"

    On the other hand, Barry was arguably worse about insulting Conway than Paul was. Or at least Paul wasn't so desperate and petty to do it every other minute like Barry did. It was obvious to Conway that Barry was just jealous now, though. After all, Barry was so certain he'd beat this nerd to the punch in Hearthome City, but his erratic and childish behavior ended up backfiring on him. To Conway, this was sweet poetic justice at its best.

    "Well, monsieur Colin, I 'ope you are more t'an what Barry claims of you," Fantina said, just as the battling arena was within sight. "For defeating me will be no easy task. Wit' any luck, though, it should not take you t'ree attempts like it will notre ami persistante."

    While relieved that his patience rewarded him with what would soon be his third Sinnoh Gym Badge, Conway's inherent phasmophobia was coming to the fore now that he was actually within Fantina's domain. It was only to be expected of a dedicated part-time Coordinator who thusly placed great importance on aesthetics, be it her Pokémon, herself, or even her own Gym. But since Fantina specialized in Ghost-types, Conway didn't take his surroundings into consideration until he found himself overwhelmed with the dark and spooky atmosphere the Hearthome Gym's interior exuded.

    "I assure you I will give it my all," Conway promised, though his feelings of discomfort were well-noted by both the Gym Leader and his traveling partner. It was a little ironic, in a way, that a young man who was notorious for his "creepy" moments and startling sudden appearances could be so easily intimidated. "It's just… despite doing the necessary research and knowing your area of specialty, I can't help but notice your Gym's…. interior… contrasts greatly with its outside appearance." While they continued walking, Fantina looked back to Conway with a puzzled look on her face as an awkward silence followed that comment. Quick to save face, Conway waved both hands to the side, "brushing off" said comments he just made in desperation. "Not that I find it a problem, of course!" he assured. "Your interior design is impeccable! It was just the difference of styles in the transition from outside to inside that surprised me…!"

    He certainly didn't mean to come off as offensive or needlessly critical, much less let on to his opponent that her atmosphere was succeeding in freaking him out. Outside, the building was so brightly-colored and fit in perfectly with the pleasant surroundings that made Hearthome City such a popular place in the Sinnoh region. The gigantic sculpted Drifblim that sat on top of the Gym's roof made the place seem even more inviting; though Drifblim by nature could be fearsome, it was also perfectly capable of looking harmless and fun, as shown by the positioning of the sculpture on Hearthome's Gym where its flowing extensions were reminiscent of some sort of carnival attraction. Given how lively, social, and overall pleasant Fantina was compared to most other Ghost-type specialists, it was a bit jarring for most trainers once they actually went inside the Hearthome Gym and found the facility overall to be a bit poorly-lit compared to others. The battle arena was visible enough, but the muted hues of the lighting made even that area a bit disconcerting. The walls were dark; ancient and ornate relics such as century-old chandeliers and candle-lit hallways did well to darken the mood. Barry was a bit distracted with all this during his first visit to this place (shortly before he met Ash Ketchum, no less), but by now this was nothing new for him. Conway, on the other hand, had to take all of this in and still retain his composure. It was especially difficult for him, given his fear of the supernatural from beyond the grave.

    Thankfully for Conway, Fantina was still a little slow picking up the nuances of her non-native language when people like Conway gratuitously used complex or uncommonly-used words and phrases. Not wanting to think too much about it, she simply reassured Conway with a smile as the group reached the stage where they were to battle. "You 'ave such a way wit' words, Colin," Fantina complimented as she quickened her pace slightly to stop in front of the boys. "Now, if you would be so kind as to wait a moment or deux, I must prepare. It will not take long; please be patient."

    "Of course; take as much time as you need," Conway assured with a hesitant nod. As Fantina took her leave, Barry muttered out a complaint.

    "Not too much time; we've had to wait for this lady for way too long now," he grumbled, crossing his arms and tapping his feet as his impatience was quick to build itself back up.

    Conway let out a half-amused, half-exasperated semblance of a laugh at Barry's statement. Amusing as Barry's mannerisms were, he was still more interested in taking in his surroundings. Since he had to battle Maylene outdoors in a mere neighborhood backyard, this was really only Conway's third time being inside an official Pokémon Gym (counting the Canalave Gym back when he watched Paul's battle with Byron over a month ago). The unique water-based battlefield in Crasher Wake's Gym in Pastoria City versus the rocky terrain of Byron's led Conway to believe that these particular Gyms were self-contained independent environments that vastly differed from the surroundings of the town or city they were stationed in. Given the opportunity to take in the full view of Fantina's deceptive battleground; the poor or unusual lighting, the small, stained-glass windows that allowed for very little natural light to get inside the Gym (so any Pokémon that would be relying on a strategy based on Morning Sun or Synthesis for recovery purposes – i.e. Ash's Grotle, would be out of luck here), the large, cathedral-styled walls and the ornate furniture decorating much of the place… Conway had no doubt in his mind that Pokémon Gyms had no guidelines or instruction from the Pokémon League to even try to keep things streamlined and uniform. Perhaps that was part of the challenge prospective trainers had to face on their way to qualifying for the big leagues? It made sense, but it still came off as a humorous irony to Conway, who knew thanks to the jobs his parents had that most professional areas of work were very keen on doing the opposite of what these Pokémon Gyms did.

    Still… this particular case would be giving Conway an additional issue to endure as he strove to earn his Relic Badge. He was all for expressions of creativity, but overcoming the fear of ghosts would be made even harder if Conway would have to do battle in what was essentially a haunted house. Everything in here made Conway feel on edge – the least of which not being those decorative Duskull-shaped lamps. If there hadn't been such a powerful driving force (in the form of Saturn) behind Conway's motivations, the relatively fresh Pokémon Trainer had a feeling he wouldn't have had a chance to defeat Fantina on the first try. Barry's track record against her was showing enough: though Barry was by no means a "strong" trainer in Conway's eyes (definitely not up to par with Paul, anyway), the blond was still perfectly capable of surprising the guy who thought he already had it all figured out. He wasn't completely inept despite his demeanor. Knowing that, and now knowing Barry's had an especially difficult time defeating the alluring, soulful dancer told Conway that the challenge just ahead would be much greater than the ones presented by Maylene the newbie and Crasher Wake the powerhouse.

    This was where believing in yourself came in handy; Conway wasn't going to beat Fantina with low self-esteem for certain.

    "You know it's too late to back out now," Barry taunted after noticing his companion had gone a while without saying anything. Though it hadn't been that long since they teamed up, Barry was familiar enough with Conway already to find it odd that he hadn't been gabbed to near death with useless factoids and observations. Conway more than made up for Barry's lack of academic aptitude and was determined to cram as much information into that inattentive head of his as he could. This was a perfect opportunity and Barry was actually expecting it; the look on the silent Conway, however, told the story itself. "If you're having second thoughts, maybe you'd better let me take Fantina on first after all, huh?"

    Such taunting was a tactic Conway usually used on Paul. Surprisingly, his fellow Veilstone resident was susceptible to any threat to his abilities and would do anything just to prove Conway wrong. The elder trainer thought he knew better than to fall in the same trap, but there was just something about the way it was said… or more likely who was saying it to him, that made him throw logic out the window in favor of making Barry look even more like a fool by proving him wrong.

    "If you continue to make such shallow observations, you'll be the one to fall in battle today, Barry," Conway warned, doing well to keep his anger to a minimum. "I know a strong competitor when I see one, so I'd prefer not to waste my concentration before the battle prattling on with the likes of you."

    "Say what you want, but you look totally terrified right now," Barry pointed out… and he was absolutely right for once. "You'd better shape up if you think you're gonna beat her in one go. Sure, this place is weird, but it's not that scary. Maybe if we were like four years old it'd be scary…"

    In many ways, Barry was indeed Conway's biggest adversary yet. It was in one specific area, however: the fair-headed Pokémon Trainer was nothing less than a seasoned pro in the art of rattling an opponent's nerves. Often it felt like Barry was hardly even giving Conway room to breathe; how Conway was going to deal with Barry for the rest of Sinnoh would be the ultimate challenge here. More than the rest of the Sinnoh Gym Leaders, more than possibly facing hundreds of Pokémon Trainers in the Sinnoh League Conference… possibly even more than his cousin Saturn.

    "If I didn't know any better, I'd say you're going out of your way to sabotage me," Conway calmly accused. "I'll have you know I'm not so easy to scare, however. You're best off not to waste your-"

    "BOO!"

    Conway shrieked immediately, cowering away before finding himself instantly enraged upon hearing the roaring laughter of his so-called friend. "Barry!"

    That reaction was far too priceless, and Barry thought it was well-deserved after Conway made him out to be a simpleton a few hours earlier. "Calm down, man," he teased. "I'm just helping you prepare for the battle! Fantina's gonna have you screaming like a girl the whole battle if you get scared this easily!" Now it was his turn to look smug and condescending. "You're so lucky to have a guy like me to learn from – because I know all about the tricks and terrors Fantina's got up her sleeve. Looks like we have just enough time for a little crash course before you face your doom, too!"

    This was not reassuring in the least for the intellectual young man of the duo. More and more Barry's antics made Conway miss Paul's company with each passing day. That really was saying something, given the cruelty his abusive acquaintance inflicted on him in the past.
    Last edited by Shinneth; 26th January 2011 at 5:26 AM.

    Travels of the Trifecta! - Chronicles of an estranged family!

    LJ | dA | Bulbagarden | ff.net

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  17. #142
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    Cruel as Paul had been, the scolding Reggie gave him yesterday over the matter was enough to finally make the younger brother question the ethics behind his actions leading to the dramatic end of what was quite possibly his first and only friendship. The matter remained to be a plague in the back of his mind as he went about his duties for the day. He assumed the training for the upcoming battle against Ash would begin immediately, but instead Reggie insisted that their "training" would begin with helping their father and Maria clear out the rubble from what remained of the Snowpoint Temple. The shrine was not completely destroyed, but enough so that rebuilding it with the original materials it was carved from centuries (possibly millennia) ago would be nigh on impossible. The first order of business was to clear the area out to make room for the construction workers and equipment that would come along in the future. Brandon spent the later half of the morning making arrangements over the video phone. Maria assisted him there while Samuel resumed repairing the still-damaged Battle Pyramid, which remained unable to fly despite having enough power to be a comfortable habitat for the night.

    So while all that was going on after a large and hearty breakfast made by Reggie, the Pokémon Breeder volunteered himself and his little brother to be on clean-up duty in regards to the masses of rubble scattered about the area. Knowing what Reggie had in mind, Brandon agreed to it and sent his boys outside to haul and move along the debris in heaps at a time; of course the Pokémon would be assisting as well.

    For Reggie, a task like this was not at all a big deal; he was a very strong young man despite his gentle nature and was quite capable of lifting numerous heavy things for a lengthy period of time. It was especially easy for him since he had spent the past few days doing hard labor in the form of snow plowing when he cleared up and freed the neighborhood of one of his customers that had been cut off from civilization under deep snowdrifts that kept growing at a rapid rate. Reggie and Infernape's efforts combined defeated a snowstorm with relative ease. Paul, however, had a much harder time adjusting to the manual labor. Luckily, he had several strong Pokémon perfectly suited for this job from the ones Brandon hand-picked for him to use against Ash in nine days. Ursaring, Electabuzz, Magmar, and even Torterra were capable of hauling more rock than Paul could with his own two hands. Though Honchkrow and Weavile were considerably smaller and lacked the muscle strength to carry much, they utilized their own strengths by using specific moves (Weavile's Metal Claw and Honchkrow's Sky Attack) to smash large slabs of rock into smaller pieces, making it easier for the rubble to be transported elsewhere.

    Likewise, Reggie's full team was on hand and doing their part just as they did when Reggie was tasked with clearing out tons of snow: Marowak's Bone Club did an even better job with breaking up the chunks of debris too large for anyone to carry, Staraptor was just as efficient (if not more) as Honchkrow in breaking up the larger stones with Brave Bird, and of course Infernape could do the same job with the most finesse with the aid of Mach Punch. It could also do the hauling job, which Ampharos, Bibarel, and Swalot all did with competence. Even with twelve Pokémon aiding in the job, however, it was quickly made obvious that even the easiest task of the Snowpoint Temple restoration project would not be an overnight process. Thankfully, more help would come from outside sources in the coming days. For now, the duties rested solely on the hands of the core family. With twelve Pokémon and Reggie performing their tasks as expected of them, it was soon made apparent that Paul was falling short – not out of laziness, but due to his more limited physical capacities. The first couple of times Paul's arms gave out from the weight of the rocks he carried, Reggie brushed off them as mere accidents. After that, the elder brother was starting to get a little concerned. It didn't appear that Paul was overdoing it in terms of how much rubble he transported per trip, and Reggie always knew when it came down to just the two of them that he was the klutz of the family; not his brother.

    Never once did Reggie come close to suspecting the real cause of the repeated spillages: his brother's deteriorating condition. Paul never was very strong physically (much as he would have liked to have been), but something about this climate was making the terminally ill trainer's body break down much more quickly and apparently than usual. The abuse Paul's body and mind had taken since the start of his journey to Snowpoint City was nothing like which he suffered before, even when traveling previous regions. The only place Paul had been prior to his Sinnoh journey that came even remotely close to Snowpoint's intensity of coldness was the Ice Path in the Johto region – roughly a year ago from this point. Still, the Ice Path was barely comparable to the much longer and open-air northern routes of Sinnoh. He did not accompany Reggie on his first journey to Snowpoint City almost eight years ago since the elder brother earned his Icicle Badge a mere month or two prior to his mother's death, which was only then that Paul accompanied Reggie on his journey for the long haul.

    So this was not only Paul's first exposure to virtually arctic conditions (for a long period of time, no less), but his first time enduring it while recuperating from various injuries. His near-death experience which Conway saved him from that took a week and a half to recover from, the cracking of his ribs which to this day hadn't fully healed up, and the physical torment he voluntarily suffered through on the last leg of his journey to his destination that resulted in the humiliating loss to Candice just before the official diagnosis all came together, and the result was a very feeble trainer in his early teens feeling more like he was in his early eighties. It was painful to look at, and though Reggie knew he would get a scolding if he pointed it out, he was too concerned to just watch his brother break down like this and doing his best to ignore it.

    "Are you feeling alright, Paul?" Reggie finally asked, almost certain he wouldn't be getting an honest answer either way. "Don't think you can't take a break if you need to; the Pokémon and I have this covered."

    "I'm fine," Paul bitterly assured, but unsurprisingly he was unable to make himself sound truly sincere. "The sooner we get this done, the better; I don't see why we even have to do this if you and the old man made the training for the full battle out to be top priority, though."

    A fairly valid point to make; it was only to be expected that Paul didn't see this work the way Reggie perceived it. "Believe it or not, Paul, this is part of today's training."

    That just sounded ludicrous to Paul… enough so that he felt the need to drop what he was doing and take a seat. He really wanted to see what sort of baffling logic of his brother's was behind this move. "You've got to be kidding me…"

    "Not at all," Reggie replied. "In fact, this is better for the way you battle than it is for mine; I can tell you put just as much importance on a strong defense as you do your offense." This wasn't just from seeing how Paul operated in his battle against Brandon yesterday; Reggie had seen his brother battle many times over the years and a few outstanding factors remained a constant as Paul grew both as a trainer and a human being. "This kind of workout will do a lot for your Pokémon's stamina, Paul. And I've learned that it's just as important to keep yourself in shape alongside your Pokémon during the time I've been training – it strengthens your connection to your team."

    Paul was too tired to roll his eyes, but oh; how he wanted to right now. "Sounds like you're listening to Maylene too much," he criticized. "Being "in tune" with my Pokémon isn't going to make that much of a difference in battle."

    "You don't think so?" Reggie asked in an innocent tone, dropping what he was doing then and there. "Let's see if you're right, then."

    "Huh…?" Paul looked up at his brother, gaping. "You mean…?"

    With a smile that said he meant it, Reggie nodded. "We've cleared up just enough ground to have a battle. No harm in doing so here when everything's already reduced to rubble, right?"

    Briefly looking back to his Pokémon with a sharp glare that signaled them to stop working, Paul of course agreed to this. "It's about time," he muttered in complaint; he did well to hide his eagerness to vent out some frustration on his brother.

    As usual, Reggie endured his brother's rudeness, which was rather harmless compared to how nasty he could be whenever he was in a bad mood. "Need a few minutes to rest up before we begin?" he asked. True to his big brother role, of course Reggie thought Paul needed it. Yet he remained unsurprised when he heard the response.

    "No, let's not put this off any longer," Paul insisted, standing up and giving his sibling a hard stare. "What kind of battle?"

    Unconvinced of Paul's claims, Reggie decided to play it safe. "Let's start small and work our way up," he suggested. "We can both substitute; might as well have you trained with that as a constant since Ash will be allowed to substitute when you two battle…"

    "Obviously," Paul agreed, looking back to his Pokémon. "How many?"

    "Three-on-three should do for now," Reggie assumed, taking out all of his Pokéballs and recalling each one of them. He wanted to make his three choices a surprise for Paul; the least he could do since Paul already knew what his full team was. The younger brother did the same for that precise reason as well.

    Reggie nodded in approval at this, looking forward to what would be their first battle in a very long time. "I'll go first," he offered, tossing his first Pokéball. "Swalot, let's get to it…!"

    Paul stared at Reggie's first choice… the Poison Bag Pokémon. Not exactly Reggie's strongest in normal circumstances, but unlike his father, Reggie saw nothing wrong with going easy on his brother during a battle… at least for the warm-up rounds.

    So Reggie was starting off with a Poison-type… after the loss against Brandon yesterday that Paul would have great difficulty in living down from this day on, he wanted to make a strong impression against his brother right from the beginning. Unfortunately, he no longer had Nidoking on hand to devastate Swalot with Earth Power, and he hadn't yet mastered any Ground-type moves with Torterra despite that being its secondary type. Paul decided he would rectify this in the future; a move like Earthquake in particular used by a Torterra could cause colossal damage even against Pokémon that weren't weak to it.

    Who did that leave? Paul could only choose three, and without a mastered Ground-type move, Paul's Torterra would only by a liability against Swalot due to its lack of resistance to Poison-type moves (and it didn't help that the Grass-type Frenzy Plant and Giga Drain would do very little against his opponent, either). The only other type that could cripple Swalot's was the Psychic-type, and beyond Electabuzz's Light Screen (which wasn't even an offensive attack), none of Paul's Pokémon knew of any such attacks.

    Swalot's presence seemed to be sending a subliminal message to Paul: he couldn't simply overpower this Pokémon with super-effective attacks, and its exceptional defensive abilities would prove to be difficult in simply beating the giant violet blob down. Paul knew in this situation, he had to do what he did best: pinpoint his opponent's weaknesses and strike them without relent. Then it was just a matter of figuring out which Pokémon of Paul's was best suited for exploiting the area where Swalot fell short: its speed. Only then did Paul have the perfect Pokémon in mind: a hard-hitter with unrivaled speed (or at least unrivaled amongst the Pokémon for this battle)… the one who won him the Mine Badge weeks ago…

    "Weavile, stand by for battle!"





    "Gengar, allons-y!"

    Meanwhile, the Gym Battle between Fantina and Conway had commenced, with Barry as Conway's self-appointed coach. It was at this point that Conway started to have serious regrets about allowing Barry to accompany him; the "cheerleading" Barry had in mind would only serve as a distraction that couldn't afford to be dealt with at this time. No, Conway had to force himself to completely tune it out and direct his attention only to Fantina and her Pokémon.

    Gengar was a popular choice for many Ghost-type enthusiasts, and with good reason. The potency of its special attacks could result in a one-hit KO if the opponent was unprepared. Conway suspected Fantina may very well be a trainer whose preferences lean towards strategies with special attacks, just like him. Conway never really faced an opponent who had a battling style that similar to his… whether this was to his advantage or disadvantage remained to be seen.

    Now it was finally time to choose who Gengar would face. Conway planned on saving Lickilicky for last for various reasons, so it came down to two prospective choices. Gengar was both a Ghost and Poison-type – and Conway expected there may be at least one dual-type Poison on Fantina's team due to the fact that the Gengar evolution line was fairly common in most regions, including Sinnoh. Seeing Gengar slightly hovering above the floor reminded Conway of its ability: Levitate. Ground-type attacks would be useless against it, but thankfully he wasn't banking on that chance. But in the event that Fantina's Gengar had some sort of Poison-type move to cripple his Pokémon, Conway decided to play it safe and erase the poison factor completely.

    "I call upon you, Aggron…!"

    There was a downside to this. While Aggron's defense was insanely high, its special defense paled in comparison. This scenario somewhat resembled Conway's choosing of Aggron first during his battle with Maylene, even though Aggron had a double-weakness to Fighting-type moves. Hopefully this wouldn't be the case here, but how long Aggron would last against Gengar would rely solely on the move set the opponent possessed.

    With both Pokémon selected, the Hearthome Gym referee made his call. "The first move goes to the challenger," he said, gesturing to Conway. "Battle begin…!"

    "I think we'll play it safe for now," Conway decided. If Fantina indeed have mostly special attacks, this move of his wouldn't do much to help him, but at least it would serve as an opportunity to scout her Gengar's moves. That way, he could plan ahead to counter it the next round, as Conway often handled his battles: sheer and thorough pre-planning. "Iron Defense!"

    Fantina nodded, seemingly in approval of her challenger's decision here. "Gengar, Shadow Punch, si vous s'il vous plaît!" As she issue her command, the Gym Leader did a fancy twirl, as she often did while engaged in a traditional battle. Her double-life as a Coordinator bled through her style in every scenario, it seemed.

    Gengar landed a direct hit on Aggron, but Conway's Pokémon had no problem enduring the blow; Shadow Punch was a physical attack, and as such Iron Defense was able to nerf it a bit. Aside from that, Ghost-type moves weren't very effective on Steel-types like Aggron. It was a pleasant surprise for Conway, but he knew better than to relax this early on in the battle.

    "You're never gonna beat her if you just stand there!" Barry shouted at Conway. "Attack, attack, attack!"

    Conway actually mumbled unintelligible words quietly to himself, as Barry proved to be harder to ignore than a stalking Chatot. Still, Barry was actually right. This was the time to strike. "Alright, then. Aggron, Iron Tail!"

    Aggron turned itself around to swing its hefty tail to smack Gengar what good, but…

    "Dodge it, quickly!"

    Gengar's impressive speed was something Conway had overlooked a bit. As a result, his first strike was a total miss. He had to act quickly, as this left his Pokémon vulnerable…

    "Now, Night Shade; aussitôt!" Fantina commanded, pirouetting in tandem with her focus on the battle.

    Conway winced as he witnessed Gengar's eye's glow red, firing a crimson beam of grim, ghoulish power straight at Aggron. The Iron Armor Pokémon was far too slow and too big of a target to effectively dodge this attack. Night Shade's power was directly connected to the inner strength of its user. Gengar was one of Fantina's strongest Pokémon, so it was a rather painful blow for Aggron to take – especially since its Iron Defense wouldn't buffer this attack.

    "Aw man, he's totally blowing it out there," Barry muttered to himself. "I knew I should have gone first…"

    Frightful as the sight was, Conway settled himself and looked straight at his opponent. Aggron was not in good shape, but still able to battle. This was the time he would employ a strategy he used against Maylene that completely took her off-guard, only with a little twist this time…

    "Keep it together, Aggron," Conway calmly pleaded. "Now, Payback!"

    With Aggron's low speed, it worked very well with attacks made for slow Pokémon. It had sent a Machoke flying almost a mile away with Counter in the past; with Payback, its power doubled if the opponent struck first. Along with that boost, Payback was a menacing Dark-type attack, which dealt critical damage to Gengar. Similar to the incident in Conway's first Gym Battle, Payback was so overwhelmingly powerful that it sent Gengar straight into the wall of the arena close to where Fantina stood.

    "Sacrebleu," the Gym Leader muttered, wide-eyed as she got a good look of how devastating that Payback attack really was; the force of the blast actually made a hole in the wall. Unlike most Gyms, Hearthome's battle arena was just as dark and eerie as the rest of her facility, with the same stained-glass windows and cathedral-styled walls made of solid stone, rather than the typical steel that many Gyms had. The stone was easily shattered by Aggron's attack, thus how the steep hole in the wall was formed.

    "I can't believe it," Barry said in awe, also in shock of how powerful Conway could be when he actually fought back. "He was holding back on me this whole time…?"

    Fantina was concerned for Gengar's wellbeing now when it didn't immediately come out from the hole it was forced in. "Gengar, are you alright? Can you give us a sign t'at you can still battle…?"

    Hearing its trainer's voice prompted Gengar to crawl out of its hole. It was battered and worn out from that one single attack, but that wasn't enough to take it out.

    "Gengar is still able to battle!" the referee confirmed. "So this battle continues!"

    Conway was a bit flustered that Gengar was still able to move after such a devastating attack. However, that was the only thing it was hit with so far; Aggron, on the other hand, had taken a lot of damage. When Aggron was in the red, Conway knew it was time to use his last resort. "Outrage; let's go!"

    Fantina's expressions hardened as she watched the giant steel beast charge towards her Gengar. She knew what this attack was all about, and if she were to let it play out its course, she would be unable to strike Conway with her ultimate strategy.

    Before Aggron could make contact (not much of a stretch, given how slow Aggron was), Fantina called out Gengar's next move. "Hypnosis!"

    Upon hearing that dreaded word, Barry grasped at his hair in frustration, having spasms galore in his seat. "Argh, I knew it! I knew she'd use that move! There's no way that nerd can counter Hypnosis; it's light's out for Aggron!"

    "That's…!" Conway was flabbergasted, watching Gengar latch itself to Aggron's face, somehow having the power to hold it in place to cancel out its Outrage onslaught. Gengar locked eyes with Aggron and the former's began to glow. Aggron found itself utterly powerless to resist, and eventually was lulled into a deep sleep. "Argh… I can't believe it; I never expected this…" He felt rather ashamed for not thinking of this potential threat.

    "And now, it's time for la grande finale!" Fantina announced, raising both arms in the air victoriously. "Gengar, use Focus Blast!"

    Not good; not good at all. Focus Blast would no doubt put an end to Aggron for sure, and in its sleeping state there was no hope for evasion. Conway saw only one way out of this. "Aggron, return!"

    Just before Focus Blast reached its target, the sleeping Aggron was pulled back into its Pokéball with the red beam of light. Focus Blast collided with the floor instead, leaving a smoldering crater in its wake. That was too close of a call there; Conway wasn't even sure why he followed his gut instinct before thinking about it in recalling Aggron, as it had already sustained so much damage at this point. Would it really be worth calling out later in the battle? Chalk it up to Conway's phobia – that Gengar was downright terrifying; its constant evil, smirking expression was as ever-present as Paul's constant scowling face.

    But when it came right down to it, Conway was allowed to make exchanges in Gym Battles, whereas the Gym Leaders could not. It just seemed like a good time to make use of that privilege.

    This particular tactical decision intrigued Fantina. "Is t'at fear I see in your eyes, Colin?" she curtly taunted. "Your tactics are, 'ow we say, imprévisibles. But was it your strategy, or perhaps your instinct which t'rew my Gengar into my wall?"

    It was then that Conway realized there was a strategical advantage to his situation after all. Aggron may be difficult to make good use of for the rest of the battle, but due to the Iron Armor Pokémon's endurance, Conway had bared witness to Gengar's full battling move set. A weird rule to have; that being that at least Gym Leaders were restricted to four moves per Pokémon, but in hindsight there was some logic to it. Several moves required intense and consistent practice to master and maintain their skill with said attacks. Going beyond four had a tendency to overload a Pokémon's memory, and as a result all of its moves would dwindle down to mediocre power at best. To put it simply, no Pokémon (perhaps short of a legend) could perfectly master every move it could potentially learn. Some balance had to be maintained, so even average Pokémon Trainers, Coordinators, et cetera utilized the practice of narrowing down their Pokémon's move set to just four. The moves could of course change over time, but settling on four main attacks proved to best utilize a Pokémon's potential.

    The relevance of the four-move limit in this situation? Conway had witnessed approximately four moves from Gengar as it battled Aggron: Shadow Punch, Night Shade, Hypnosis, and Focus Blast in that order. Of course, Conway had also shown Fantina Aggron's four moves: Iron Tail, Iron Defense, Payback, and Outrage… the latter was most disappointing for Conway. Against Gym Leaders, he had yet been able make full use of Outrage's power before a Gym Leader could cancel it out (like Fantina had) or take Aggron down before it could even be utilized (as Maylene's Machoke did). In spite of this, Conway still had the upper-hand because of his ability to switch out his Pokémon. Gengar had sustained considerable damage now, and Conway knew what moves precisely to expect. It was a pity he had no Pokémon with the Insomnia ability or taught his team a move that would turn the sleep status effect against Fantina's team, but even without those buffers, Conway became a bit more confident in his ability to take Gengar down.

    "A little of column A, and a little of column B," Conway finally answered, though this phrase was not one the foreign Fantina was familiar with. Upon seeing her inquisitive expressions, Conway was nice enough to clarify. "Admittedly there was some improvisation involved, but I assure you, Madame… my strategy is still in play."

    Fantina smirked at that statement. "Well, t'en, would tu be so kind as to present to me your next Pokémon, jeune homme?"

    "With pleasure," Conway conceded with a bow, taking out his next Pokéball.

    Barry couldn't help but bite his fingernails in anticipation for the second round. "Unless that geek's got something that can resist sleeping, he's outta luck. And what's the deal with those two being so formal and speaking in that alien language, anyway? I knew there was something weird about that guy…"

    These comments were not out of Conway's hearing range. After all, Barry insisted on being in close proximity to his companion for moral support… of course, so far he hadn't been doing his job very well. While the intellectual one of the duo did try to filter out Barry's nonsense, he did take note of the few important things that were said out loud. Barry had battled Fantina before, so if nothing else, he'd know what he was talking about when it came to her battling style. It was a stretch, but the way Barry emphasized the threat of all of Conway's Pokémon being put to sleep led Conway to believe that, perhaps, Gengar wasn't the only one with Hypnosis.

    This… would without a doubt be the biggest hurdle in defeating Fantina beyond Conway's discomfort with ghosts. The longer Gengar stuck around, the more Conway felt on edge. He'd done some pretty extensive research on Gengar in the past since it was such a popular Pokémon for trainers to use. Learning about Gengar's mischievous (and even malicious) nature made the renegade trainer dread the day he'd come face-to-face with one… and no amount of preparation for this battle could make Conway any less intimidated by the mere presence of Gengar.

    It was time to take it down.

    "Then let us continue!" Conway announced, throwing out his next Pokéball. "Slowking… appear!"

    Conway's most trusted partner, the Royal Pokémon, had been sent out to the field. This was a good thing, as this dueling of dual-types was a double-edged sword; only the most qualified Pokémon were suitable for these scenarios. Slowking had a weakness to Ghost-type moves, but thanks to Gengar's partial Poison-type, it was vulnerable to Psychic-type attacks… something Slowking was very skilled at.

    "An interesting choice, indeed," Fantina noted with a smile. "But we shall see who the superior is!"

    "We'll see in a moment," Conway assured before looking to Slowking. "Now, Slowking… you'd best get this out of the way now; use Light Screen!"

    Fantina and Gengar watched on as Slowking encased itself in a blinding box of light. It disappeared soon after, and Fantina couldn't help but look a little miffed. She knew of Light Screen's effect: it nerfed all special attacks and would remain in effect even when Conway switched out Pokémon. This was the solid defense Conway needed all this time.

    "I see you 'ave many tricks up your sleeve, Colin," Fantina admitted. "Using Light Screen… very clever. But your Iron Defense will no longer 'old! Gengar, Shadow Punch!"

    Gengar was no less fearsome to Conway, but it was massively reassuring that Fantina looked obviously backed into a corner here. As Gengar rushed forward with its charged-up fists, about to launch an attack, Conway knew it was nigh on impossible to dodge an attack that always landed a hit. Except for…

    "Protect!"

    Shadow Punch slammed into the barrier, but was unable to break it. Slowking made it out of that predicament unscathed, and Conway sighed a breath of relief while Fantina shook her head rapidly in horror.

    "Oh, you naughty, naughty boy! You 'ave your own bag of tricks…!" Fantina cried out.

    "Please accept my sincere apologies, Fantina," Conway requested with a smirk. "But this is the end of the line. Since your Gengar looks to be about done here…"

    "Oui?" Fantina said, blinking in confusion. "And t'at means…?"

    Conway pointed directly at Gengar, signaling his Pokémon to attack. "Slowking, it's time for Brine!"

    "T'is will not do!" Fantina denied, losing a bit of her cool for certain now. "Gengar, Night Shade! Et dépęchez-vous!"

    This prompted a smug smirk from Conway as he quietly laughed to himself. "That's right, Fantina; fall right into the trap…" he muttered quietly to himself. His strong mental connection with Slowking allowed him to silently signal his Pokémon to wait for Night Shade to hit first; sure, it was a powerful and effective attack against Slowking, but Light Screen cut down the potential damage considerably and gave the team the opening needed to take Gengar out once and for all. After the hit connected – Light Screen showing up briefly to display its buffering of the blow – Slowking unleashed a powerful stream of water coming up from under it, propelling the Royal Pokémon straight up into the air as the trail of water followed. Since Gengar was not too far away, it was no problem for Slowking to ride the water straight towards its target and collide into it with full force.

    Slowking's girth and the power behind Brine were too much for Fantina's Gengar to handle in its present state. After the water receded, the Shadow Pokémon was on the ground… not about to get back up.

    "Gengar is unable to battle!" the referee called. "Slowking is the winner!"

    "Nooooo…!"

    Conway blinked; his focus from the battle scene disrupted with Fantina's wail of defeat. She grasped at her hair, shaking in horror… the Gym Leader was acting quite overly-dramatic over her loss, which was surprising for Conway to witness after experiencing her mature and refined nature. This was the kind of reaction he'd expect out of Barry; not Fantina.

    Speaking of Barry, he looked on dumbfounded at the scene that unfolded before him. "Switching out… argh, why didn't I think of that?" he grumbled (relatively quietly, for him at least) to himself before he turned his attention to Conway. "What was up with that, huh?! That shouldn't have totally blown Gengar away like that; you must have cheated!"

    "Ah, the sweet sound of envy," Conway said with an endeared sigh, relishing in his victory. "Barry, do you know anything of how Brine actually works?"

    "It's gotta be something you made up!" Barry deduced. "That looked like nothing compared to an attack like Hydro Cannon; I would know!"

    Oddly enough, it was then that Conway realized he had never actually seen Barry's first Pokémon; only the three that were used in the battle that occurred the day they met. He hadn't asked Barry about his strongest Pokémon either, but the mere mention of Hydro Cannon and Barry being familiar with it seemed to insinuate very strongly that Barry started out with a Piplup. Barry was from Sinnoh and only regional starter Water-type Pokémon could learn Hydro Cannon, so Conway found it hard to believe that it could just be a coincidence.

    But that would be another inquiry for another time; Conway needed to school Barry on what Brine was all about. He was determined to make sure some of this knowledge being instilled in his friend's head would stick… somehow. "Well, you're correct that it isn't as powerful as Hydro Cannon," Conway admitted. "But its maximum power is almost ridiculous despite that. However, the only way to make Brine this powerful is to wear your opponent down. The weaker your opponent, the stronger Brine becomes. Gengar had taken a beating from Aggron's attacks and exhausted itself trying to penetrate Slowking's defenses. In Gengar's state, and judging from how much water Slowking could conjure up for the attack, I'd say Brine's power was doubled as a result, and that was enough to take Gengar down."

    Barry was awestruck at the concept of such an attack. It would be perfect for his melee battling style. "And you just kept that all to yourself?!" Barry barked at Conway, even more jealous now. "Not a chance! You're teaching me that attack once this is all over!"

    "We'll see," Conway noncommittally answered, smiling all the while. It was actually Crasher Wake who displayed this move during their own battle, and afterwards Conway was naturally interested in adopting this technique. So, the Pastoria Gym Leader was more than happy to oblige, as he greatly enjoyed challengers who sought his knowledge, even if they had defeated him. Most challengers would be arrogant and walk off without a second thought after receiving their Gym Badge, but not Conway. His dream to learn everything he possibly could was still alive, as it was a useful aspiration to have in Conway's new goal to defeat Saturn.

    "Indeed, t'at strategy was like not'ing I 'ave ever seen before," Fantina complimented, having calmed down now. She recalled the unconscious Gengar back into its Pokéball and let out a warm smile. "Now, mon cher, it is time to rest. You 'ave done well."

    After tucking the Pokéball away, Fantina looked to her opponent. She really meant what she said to Gengar, because she was not oblivious to the plain-as-day fear on Conway's face that was present for much of their first round. That and his nervous demeanor once he was let into the Hearthome Gym were telling signs for the Gym Leader. Even if she was down one Pokémon, Conway was only barely ahead of her considering the fact that his Aggron was hanging on by a thread, and Slowking had at least taken some damage before Gengar went down. Now that Fantina officially suspected that Conway had something of a phobia involving her specialty, she knew it was her duty as Gym Leader to shape him up. From what she had seen, Conway was a spectacularly unique battler; she would be ashamed to see someone like him fall to a mere phobia in the Sinnoh League – naturally she assumed he would be competing there if he was here for her Relic Badge.

    Now it was time for round two. Fantina pulled another Pokéball out, pausing a moment to have her last casual words with Conway before the next battle began. "I 'ope you continue to impress 'ere, Colin," she said sincerely. "If you are to let your fears control you even now, I will make sure you do not win this match. Est-ce clair?"

    Conway couldn't help but gulp at that statement. Had he really been too obvious about his discomfort with the ghosts and the atmosphere? His calm smugness faded away into a hardened expression, showing that he took what Fantina said seriously. "I understand," he said, not bothering to lie about how he was feeling right now. "And I'm ready."

    Barry shook his fist as he stood up from his seat, leaning over towards the scene. "You'd better not screw up here, Conway! Get cocky and I'll fine you a million!"

    There was nothing Conway could think of to respond to that; he was busy trying too hard to not crack a smile at what his companion said, and failing in doing so. Still, Conway retained self-control, for Fantina threw her second Pokéball to unleash her challenger's next opponent.

    "Mismagius, allons-y…!"
    Last edited by Shinneth; 26th January 2011 at 5:28 AM.

    Travels of the Trifecta! - Chronicles of an estranged family!

    LJ | dA | Bulbagarden | ff.net

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  18. #143
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    "Time to end this! Swalot, Spit Up!"

    "Oh no…!" Paul exclaimed, figuring his gentle-natured brother would have used those three turns of Stockpile to heal the Poison Bag Pokémon. It had been an odd battle, as Swalot mainly remained on the defensive side while Weavile slashed, sliced, and iced its opponent. Weavile may have redeemed itself to Paul during the battle against Byron, but it never was the true shining star in any iteration of Paul's team. It was caught over a year ago when Paul traveled through Johto in the Ice Path and was kept due to its nigh unmatchable speed and exceptional skills in the area of physical offense. However, Paul's strategy often centered on his Pokémon being able to take hits throughout the battle, and Weavile was severely lacking in durability. That wasn't really this particular Weavile's fault – that was the nature of the species; something Conway tried to get Paul to understand back when they reunited on the way to Canalave City. At least it seemed Paul acknowledged that now; otherwise Weavile likely would have been released long ago.

    The colossal cyan-colored beam of light that shot out from Swalot's mouth proved to be hard to dodge, even for a speed demon like Weavile. It had already exhausted itself by attacking relentlessly to chip away at Swalot's defenses despite being set back a step each time it used Stockpile. This wasn't a particularly smart thing to do, especially when Weavile was poisoned by Sludge Bomb in the interim. It was easy for Reggie to see that Paul wasn't really thinking clearly during this battle. The way Weavile attacked seemed to mirror what Paul wished he could do right now. Even after a good night's sleep and a civil talk with his father earlier this morning, Paul was still frustrated… but it was understandable.

    There was so much on Paul's mind – so many worries and concerns – involving not just himself and his life-threatening revelation that still remained a secret to everyone else, but now about his family's future in regards to Brandon's situation, the battle from yesterday that completely broke Paul's resolve… which was probably why Paul's battling was so sub-par right now, actually. But in addition to all that, thanks to Reggie inflicting guilt upon him yesterday, Paul even worried about what became of Conway. Maylene, one of the few who knew the truth, even tried to bring it up to Paul during one of their brief conversations while Paul was making his team exchanges yesterday (despite Conway's request to not tell Paul the truth; Maylene believed there was a connection between those two despite them not being aware of it, and thusly Paul deserved to know). But the nature of yesterday's events prevented that from happening, of course. Maylene was determined to get the news through to both brothers the next time she got the chance.

    On top of all that, Ash had suddenly become a threat. Both Paul and Reggie were still overcome with disbelief that a naďve boy from the smallest town in the Kanto region had achieved not just the Frontier Symbol they vied for, but the notoriety of being one of the few to defeat their father. Given Ash's demeanor, the brothers wouldn't have come to that conclusion on their own in a million years. For Paul especially, this bothered him deeply. Since the day he met that simple-minded boy and his intriguing Pikachu that knew Volt Tackle, Paul was repulsed by him simply because his demeanor was exactly like his brother's back in the day. Only Ash was considerably luckier; he was an only child, so he had no burden to bear in the form of raising a toddler of a sibling all the way to reaching maturity. While Ash's recollection of his father was barely there and hadn't seen his face in many years, it wasn't something that seemed to bother him too much… and besides that, he had a loving and living mother to raise him and still watch over him to this day, even from a great distance (much like how Reggie was to Paul in the present day once he started his journey). Delia Ketchum's warm and caring nature shined brightly through her son… frankly, it was difficult for Paul to comprehend him. Motherly influence was such an alien concept to one who had no real memories of his own mother, no other female relatives (much as Reggie came off as one at times), and no real female acquaintances. It was honestly a stretch to count Dawn despite the amount of times they had crossed paths (though that was due to her status as Ash's traveling partner – wherever he went, she and Brock followed); Paul couldn't even remember her name half the time, even when dealing with Conway's near-constant obsessive ramblings about her for nearly a month. Even though Ash meant well, pretty much every thing about him put Paul on edge.

    As he watched his Weavile get smacked with Swalot's attack, gaping at the sight of Weavile skidding several hundred feet against the snow and dirt due to the sheer force of the attack until it finally collided with a tree. That would bring about one mighty concussion that Weavile would be feeling until it was healed up; until then, it was simply rendered unconscious. Paul was at a loss for words when the match was lost; in his mind, there was an image of Ash doing something like this to Paul's team. His rival completely flattened them all, seemingly effortless in doing so just as it appeared to be with Reggie. Back in reality, the elder brother was genuinely surprised by what happened. He knew Weavile's defenses were nothing to brag about, but this was ridiculous. Never had Reggie seen Paul so completely off his game before. It was then he wondered if Paul needed more time to cope with everything before getting into this… inconvenient as it would be, given the limited time they had before his brother and Ash would face off at Lake Acuity.

    "You did… good, Paul," Reggie clumsily reassured, but even he knew he was coming off as incredibly patronizing by saying something like that. He immediately regretted it, but there was no way to take it back now.

    "Don't lie to me," Paul calmly replied, taking out a Pokéball. "I know a pathetic performance when I see one." Even if it was his own… especially if it was his own.

    Reggie struggled to keep up that fake smile of his, scratching the back of his head as he was clearly uncomfortable with confronting Paul at a time like this. Tasks like these were better suited to Brandon… but once again, work came before his children. He recalled Swalot back into its Pokéball shortly after Paul did the same for his fallen Weavile. However difficult it was, Reggie knew he had to be more honest and direct with Paul if this training was to be successful and effective a little over a week from now.

    "Are you sure you're feeling okay?" Reggie asked out of genuine concern. "We can start this up again later if you aren't feeling up to it now…"

    Paul knew he'd be asked this question. That was something he could always be sure of: Reggie asking if he was alright… because Paul never seemed alright. He never even seemed happy, and he certainly wasn't right now. Quite the opposite… he was depressed, directionless, and diseased. Even with Brandon's assurance that they would battle again, Paul still had room for doubt. When it all became too much, Paul couldn't simply crumble under the pressure this time; not with Reggie right in front of him. He had to find something to focus on with great intensity, and shove his woes to the back of his mind. It was going to be very difficult for Paul to not make Reggie suspicious of his illness, and there was a good chance of Brandon catching on as well; his intuitive nature was indicative enough to be acknowledged as a threat. It was true Brandon already sensed something off about his youngest son, but it was faint and subtle, and the Pyramid King presently had no clue as to what it could be. Reggie was, more or less, in the same boat. Perhaps a bit more concerned because he wondered if Paul was holding back on any details in regards to how he and Conway split up. Paul was pretty thorough about his side of the story, though one detail he did skip over was the specifics in how he saved Conway's life, which led to his cracked ribs. There was no need to make Reggie fuss over that, and in the event that he or Brandon might catch on once they started seeing the hospital bills, Paul at least had his ribcage injury to use as a scapegoat.

    "I'm fine," Paul stubbornly assured, and sadly Reggie expected that sort of answer. "We shouldn't be wasting the time we have left; besides that, our match was a three-on-three… we've only finished one round."

    Reggie didn't want to argue with him; Paul was right that squandering time was the last thing they needed to be doing. Brandon wouldn't approve of that, either. "I just wanted to be sure," he attempted to reason. "I don't want to be too hard on you, but… that battle we just had… it didn't seem like your kind of battle."

    "Sugarcoat it a little more, why don't you?" Paul spat back at his brother, now beyond agitated that Reggie was still acting like this. "I know how pathetic my performance was; I know it wasn't just Weavile. I wasn't thinking; I wasn't focusing on the battle. I foolishly underestimated you and Swalot; I assumed you would be holding back the way you always did in the past. I had no strategy whatsoever in mind; I just made Weavile dive in head-first like some idiotic beginner would do. I failed to apply the lesson the old man taught me yesterday and I let my emotions control me during the battle; I was weak. And I obviously missed the point of what you said to me earlier… and it's ignorant of me to just ignore your advice when you've been working just as hard to get stronger as I've been."

    Well, Paul trumped Reggie there in the criticism department. Reggie was too flabbergasted to speak back; he couldn't imagine being so horrifically blunt.

    "That is what you need to be saying to me right now," Paul criticized, not nearly as nice about pointing out his brother's faults. "Because I can't even tell what's going to become of you…" He sounded almost upset about that, which prompted Reggie to inquire.

    "What are you talking about?" Reggie quietly asked, still in a gentle tone. "This isn't about me…"

    "Yes it is," Paul insisted, raising his voice. "We're both in this to beat our old man, aren't we? You promised you wouldn't flake out again. I won't accept that from you; not when you're this powerful!"

    Reggie was taken aback by the sudden almost-compliment he received. Him… powerful? Well, he had noticed a steep incline in the performance of his Pokémon, but that was only after his little multi-day adventure in the Snowpoint suburbs.

    "I guess I need to clear some things up," Reggie admitted, looking down at the snow. "I have been training hard with my Pokémon, but I didn't notice the difference in our power until recently… after I helped clear out mountains of snowdrifts blocking off a residential area of Snowpoint City from the rest of the world." Paul was definitely paying attention by now. "Our hard labor and utilizing my Pokémon's abilities to help those people in a real-life crisis is what made the difference, I think."

    "So that's why you were having us do all of our old man's cleanup duty today," Paul realized. "You figured if my Pokémon participate in this, that I'd experience the same increase in power that your team did."

    Reggie nodded. "It isn't exactly the same as what I did, but the task at hand is just as difficult… more than difficult, I'd say."

    "I've never seen your Swalot unleash so much power before," Paul noted. "And it's not even your strongest Pokémon. Maybe you're right…" He managed to look his brother in the eye before making a certain request. "Then show me the two who improved the most for the rest of this battle. I believed I was at least on par with you by now in terms of my team's collective strength. If what you said is true…"

    "… Then we aren't nearly as even as you think we are," Reggie solemnly finished for him. He didn't want to acknowledge this fact, much less brag about it. But lying to Paul or glossing over his weaknesses wasn't going to help his little brother get any stronger. Only the truth could set them free.

    It had been easy for Paul to assume that Reggie had gotten beyond rusty after four years with very little to no practice… and it was easier to believe that it would be just a matter of time before Paul could make his team surpass Reggie's in power at this stage in his life. Was the gap between their levels still as wide as it had been from the beginning? Despite Reggie swearing to close the book on defeating Brandon this time around, his demeanor hardly changed… at least on the outside. He was still the optimistic, peaceful and fun-loving big brother that people couldn't believe was related to Paul. And even though Paul always had more determination to win a competition, a stronger fighting spirit, and the inclination to be violent if necessary… all these things Reggie lacked, yet Reggie remained to be the stronger brother in almost every sense of the word. Reggie's Pokémon were stronger than Paul's; he was physically stronger, faster, and more enduring than his little brother as well. He was even emotionally stronger than Paul, and the actions that transpired yesterday during the battle with Brandon proved that. The way the battle went about upset Reggie just as much as it did Paul, but where Paul essentially broke down into virtually nothingness - barely hanging on by a thread – no one could really tell that Reggie had been anything but mildly disappointed during and after that battle.

    Unsurprisingly, Paul deeply resented Reggie because of this; he was definitely not unaware of his brother's superiority to him in everything… or at least everything that mattered to him. But Paul mostly kept his envy to himself; he really had no room for the petty jealousy when Reggie was the only reliable member of his family. This was the first time in a long while that Paul had felt the feelings of envy burn within him… not only was he likely not on par with Reggie at all, but the usually-humble Reggie himself was not denying that? Yet another oncoming setback… how many did this make, now?

    Paul was feeling buried under the problems and the pressure that threatened to consume him. More and more, Paul felt himself to be absolutely useless. If he was this weak, there was much reasonable doubt of achieving a status where he could continue Brandon's legacy in the future. Reggie would undoubtedly qualify for that with relative ease if only he had the burning drive that Paul possessed.

    But then something struck Paul just then…

    If he was doomed to be the inferior brother no matter what, then it very well could be virtually impossible for him to match Brandon's strength, surpass him, and carry on the legacy as he wished to do – in the most disrespectful way he could, of course, but it was obvious by now that Paul couldn't possibly hate his father completely if he cared this much about how Brandon was going to pass the torch once it was time for him to retire. The point was, however, that even after four years of retirement, Reggie's skill still held out against the more determined Paul's; it became apparent that Reggie was more befitting of the role of Brandon's successor than Paul for the raw skill alone.

    That was leaving out the fact that Paul was very likely to die much sooner than his brother, which was the biggest problem that made Paul doubt that he'd achieve the goal he had set for himself. Even if he succeeded, the victory would be short-lived no matter how one looked at the situation. Paul just couldn't be depended on for becoming the brighter future Brandon hoped for – this position was made for Reggie and Reggie alone. But Reggie rejected it years ago; how would he feel about having to abandon his own dreams to make up for his brother's shortcomings?

    It was one of the biggest reasons why Paul couldn't bring himself to confess his ill state to Reggie. Once he died, the future of the family would entirely be in Reggie's hands, and the Pokémon Breeder was selfless enough to sacrifice his happiness for what he'd perceive as a greater good. Once Reggie was made aware of his little brother's imminent demise, everything would change, and Paul was uncertain which direction his life would be going from that moment on. He could be forcibly kept in the house, ending his journey and his goals so the paranoid Reggie would overdo taking care of him and making sure Paul lived as long as possible. No matter how much of a waste it would end up being, it was easy to see Reggie going that route.

    But it could also go the other route: Paul being allowed to do as he pleased as many terminally ill children were allowed to do, given the short time they had left to live. But Paul didn't want to be coddled with benefits he otherwise didn't deserve, such as the wish-making foundations… and he certainly didn't want to be labeled by his condition, which most trainers surely would. It would be hard for them not to; how could they simply ignore the terminal illness? Naturally, the last thing Paul wanted was to be reminded of his condition every single day for the rest of his life; his body did a thorough enough job of that already. He didn't need the entire world dwelling on it.

    It wouldn't be right to keep his family in the dark indefinitely; Paul knew that much. But he could feel this wasn't the right time. Right now, there was another matter he wanted to focus on: the remainder of this three-on-three with Reggie. If Reggie truly was better qualified to assume the role of the Pyramid King's successor, Paul wanted his brother to be happy when that time came. As happy as he could be once Paul passed on, anyway… but what the younger brother wanted to do right now was re-ignite the fighting spirit Reggie once had. No one could deny it existed in some form; not even Reggie himself. If Paul could somehow restore Reggie to his former glory, perhaps he wouldn't be so miserable… maybe he would even enjoy battling again. It was the least Paul could do for his brother, and right now with his own aspirations being questioned, this was an ideal area for Paul to focus on.

    "We'll see how far apart we are," Paul finally said, assuring his brother that he was still ready to go despite the fact that there was a lot on his mind. Far too much on his mind… battling made him feel a little better, at least. "Come on; let's get back to it."

    Reggie nodded, not wanting to deny Paul when he was this determined. He remembered when he battled Maylene, how she told him that his level of improvement would show if she could be defeated. Their battle resulted in a No Contest thanks to unforeseen circumstances, but only now was Reggie reminded that he really did owe Maylene a rematch when he got back home. He applied that experience now in order to determine just how far Paul had come, and what his chances were against Ash when it came time for them to battle. Even if Paul had routinely defeated Ash or at least resulted in a draw for the most part, even Reggie wondered if Ash's true potential had not yet surfaced… and perhaps it might soon. Reggie didn't want a repeat of the battle with Brandon; it was his job to make sure Paul went into that battle fully prepared and emotionally stable.

    "You're right; let's not waste any more time," Reggie agreed, throwing out the Pokéball containing his next Pokémon. "Let's do this, Staraptor!"

    Paul glared up at the sky as the Predator Pokémon soared high into the air upon its release. The parallels between Reggie and Ash grew ever-stronger as Paul remembered his apathy cost him a win against Ash's Staraptor – a freshly evolved one, no less, with Paul's Honchkrow, who had been one of the more reliable members of Paul's team since it was captured in Kanto. Thusly, there was only one choice Paul wished to go with here, and he was thankful Brandon picked it to be used in the battle ahead. "Honchkrow, stand by for battle!"

    Reggie smirked a bit as he watched Paul's Honchkrow take flight. "Interesting choice."

    "Save your comments for later!" Paul demanded, thrusting an arm forward to signal his Pokémon. "Honchkrow, use Dark Pulse!"

    The Big Boss Pokémon charged a sphere of dark energy to fire at its fellow flying opponent…






    At the exact same time, miles and miles away, Conway winced as he watched his Slowking get blown away quite some distance as the Dark Pulse attack from Mismagius landed a critical hit; most unfortunate.

    Light Screen was still in play, though heavily battered at this point. Conway knew it would be wise of him to reinforce that wall; without it, Conway's Pokémon would have all been pummeled into submission ages ago, so it was obvious that the chances of winning were slim without that constant buffer to Fantina's special attacks. However, Slowking was quite low on health at this point.

    While Mismagius lacked Hypnosis to render Slowking useless, Conway didn't expect it to have Magical Leaf, which dealt super-effective damage on his partial Water-typed Pokémon. On the plus side, Slowking's ability – Own Tempo – came to be extremely useful in this match. It gave Slowking immunity to the confusion status, which Fantina hoped to inflict on this Pokémon via Mismagius' Psybeam attack. Being a foreigner, she was not completely familiar with a Pokémon like Slowking and was overdramatically horrified when she found that she would be unable to confuse it.

    For a while it seemed to be a pretty even match, but Conway continued to mostly play on the defensive end. Fantina abused Magical Leaf's usage, as it was an attack that could not miss under normal circumstances. Even Slowking's attempt to reverse the force of the attack back onto Mismagius via Psychic failed. The second round was about to come to an end; someone was bound to fall within the next minute or so.

    As always, Barry had been squawking out his commentary for all to hear. "It's almost done for, Conway!" he shouted, which definitely got his companion's attention in the form of pure indignation. Conway had hoped Barry would go the entire battle without using his real name, but apparently that was too much to ask for. He was fortunate that Fantina was much too focused on the battle to notice Barry's slip-up. On the other hand, though, he was the one who got distracted with this, leaving his Slowking wide open for an attack.

    "Do not look away from the battlefield!" Fantina advised before issuing an attack. "Mismagius, Magical Leaf!"

    Conway looked back to the battle in time to let out a shout of terror as the stream of glowing green leaves made a beeline for his Pokémon. "Light Screen, Light Screen!" he cried in a panic, knowing the barrier would otherwise be diminished by the attack, as well as the rest of Slowking's health.

    The glowing box-shaped barrier was reinforced just in time; the leaves smashed into it and Slowking definitely reeled back from the force of the attack, but it remained standing in the aftermath… but just barely.

    "Ah, t'at was a close one!" Fantina taunted cheerfully. It was hard to be mad at her; charming as she was. "But t'at will teach you better, monsieur Colin. You cannot let your attention stray; not even for une seconde!"

    "Indeed," Conway acknowledged, giving Barry a menacing glare to get his message across. "I will keep that in mind; no minor distraction or irritation can compare to you, ever."

    Barry knew that glare was meant for him; he hadn't seen Conway look that vicious before, so for once he decided it was best to just back off and let this battle run its course… before he'd get bored after a few minutes and forget about it, of course.

    "Merveilleux," Fantina said, clearly pleased. But she quickly got back to business. "But now, it is over for your Slowking! Mismagius, Psywave! Rapidement!"

    "Psychic!" Conway called out; there was really no strategy left to be had in this. Someone was going down this turn for certain, but either one would go out with a bang. The psychic attacks collided, sending both Pokémon back from the sheer force of the power put into them.

    While Mismagius looked worse for wear when all the dust cleared from the explosion, Slowking was done. It was already face-first into the floor, having nothing left to give for the fight.

    "Slowking is unable to battle!" the referee acknowledged. "Mismagius is the winner!"

    While Fantina enthusiastically celebrated her victory, Conway walked over to his fallen Slowking and kneeled down, patting it reassuringly on the back. "You fought hard," he said. "And you played your role well; thank you for that. I'll make sure to take Mismagius out for you," he promised as he took out Slowking's Pokéball and recalled it.

    Now there was another challenge ahead for Conway: winning a Gym Battle without Slowking. It had won Conway the Cobble Badge and was never rendered unable to battle by any of Crasher Wake's Pokémon. Slowking was Conway's most trusted and most powerful ally. At least it reinforced Light Screen in time, but Conway was now down to Aggron… who was about ready to faint at any moment thanks to the beating it took from Gengar, and Lickilicky, whom Conway had just recently acquired. Fantina still had one more Pokémon after Mismagius to unleash upon him… would it be the one he expected? He'd have to defeat Mismagius to find out.

    Though Aggron was in bad shape, its typing was a perfect counter for Mismagius' moves, all of which Conway had witnessed by now. Aggron would resist Dark Pulse, Psywave, and Psybeam; Magical Leaf would merely be neutral. Mismagius would soon fall as well, and it was easy even for Barry to see that.

    "Don't let her wicked ways get to you!" Barry hollered. "You've gotta take out that Mismagius right now, you hear?"

    Conway merely glared back at Barry, still angry at him for almost blowing his cover. It was okay to do this now, as the battle was at a standstill until he sent out his next Pokémon.

    "We are almost evened up, I believe," Fantina pointed out. "So what will you be using to take down my dear Mismagius?"

    Conway pulled out the Pokéball of his choice, whispering "I'm counting on you," before tossing it to the field. "Aggron, it's time for revenge…!"

    At least it had a bit of time to rest while Slowking was taking care of things. Still, Fantina looked fairly confident about this. "We shall see who has the revenge!" she called out before looking to her Pokémon. "Mismagius, Psybeam!"

    "Deflect it with Iron Tail!" Conway ordered, which Aggron did spectacularly. Having a steel outer shell that resisted the psychic power aided greatly in the Iron Armor Pokémon's ability to successfully pull this off. The eerie multicolored waves of the attack were forced into a slingshot motion thanks to the power of Iron Tail, leaving Fantina aghast and Mismagius helpless when Psybeam was swung back. Since Conway was not able to do the same with Mismagius' Magical Leaf attack with Slowking, Fantina assumed he wouldn't try this again, but this turned out to be an error that would cost her greatly.

    Mismagius held out against its own attack, taking damage but able to remain afloat and able to battle. However, it began to look disoriented, as the chance of Psybeam inflicting confusion on the target occurred. Fantina howled in horror when she saw her Mismagius floating about in a disjointed manner; she knew what that meant.

    "A pity; that would've been the perfect Contest move," Conway said, smiling and shaking his head.

    "Contest move…?" Barry repeated to himself, wondering if he heard that right. "Now what would that guy have to do with stuff like that, huh?"

    "Do my ears deceive me?" Fantina asked, sounding surprised herself. "Colin, you are also a Coordinator like moi?"

    This was yet another example of why Conway had to be careful about what he said. It wouldn't completely compromise his mission, but there was no need to associate his pseudonym with anything he did prior to the events that led to what was happening now.

    "I do appreciate the beauty of Contests and they're quite entertaining," Conway admitted. "But no, I've never competed in a Contest before. Interesting as the prospect may be, I've sadly made my decision to stay the course where I am."

    "Pitoyable," Fantina said regretfully. "I do recommend the monsieur to give it a try one day; I t'ink you would be a natural."

    "Perhaps I'll consider it in the future," Conway replied, though his tone was rather noncommittal about it. It didn't at all reflect how he really felt about the prospect, but in order to reach his own goals, Conway would have no choice but to become a master of deception when it came to interacting with the rest of the world. "Now, about the battle…"

    Fantina nodded, getting back into her battling mentality. She almost issued an order, but paused herself when she looked at Mismagius again and remembered it was now in a state of confusion. Not sure how to handle it when Mismagius was close to fainting, Fantina froze and had to rethink how she would go about this.

    That gave Conway plenty of time to hurry this match to the end. "Time to tell the mademoiselle it's sayonara!" he declared, fully confident. "Aggron, Outrage!"

    It was easy to become startled when an iron-clad titan nearly seven feet tall and eight-hundred pounds came charging right at you. That was the scenario Fantina was faced with, and her overdramatic howl of defeat came a little early from that alone, just before Mismagius was hastily taken out from a mere collision with its opponent.

    The force of the colliding was something Aggron used to its advantage – to slide its way back to Conway's side of the battlefield while the dust cleared to reveal the Magical Pokémon completely down and out.

    "Mismagius is unable to battle; Aggron is the winner!" said the referee, prompting Conway to let out a sigh of both relief and exhaustion. It may have been overkill to use Outrage on a Pokémon that was so close to unconsciousness already, but Conway was not about to take any chances. Still, Conway was prepared to lose Aggron before Mismagius went down, so he was elated that the odds worked out in his favor here. His ability to do whatever it took to win, including overdoing it, could have been chalked up to Paul's influence. But more than anything, it was the fact that Fantina was doing very well to get Conway backed against a wall. He wasn't handling his phasmophobia as well as he hoped, and there were genuine concerns on his end that this might cost him the battle. He'd been patient for this battle, but the thought of losing and potentially having to wait forever again to claim victory over Fantina once more just wasn't going to cut it. Conway had started so very late in his badge-claiming, so he knew he'd have to speed things up for at least the first bundle of Gym Battles. At least that was one benefit to being at Barry's side: he knew how to get where he needed to be in a hurry. It was very convenient; the only concern was that Barry would be unable to defeat Fantina again here.

    Even though Barry didn't have a crippling phobia to his disadvantage, Conway highly doubted that the careless way his partner battled would be enough to defeat Fantina. The last thing Conway wanted was to stick around Hearthome City even longer not because of his failure, but Barry's failure to achieve victory here. He'd have to worry about that a little later, however. There was still one more Pokémon that stood between Conway and his Relic Badge; Aggron lasting long for the next battle was little more than a pipe dream. Ultimate victory depended on the Pokémon he had the least experience with… that in of itself was a little scary, even without the ghosts.

    Fantina recalled her Mismagius, thanking it like she did for Gengar before putting the Pokéball away. She picked herself up from this loss rather quickly, putting her hands on her hips as the Gym Leader eyed her challenger. "So it may seem I only 'ave one Pokémon left," she stated. "But you are not faring much better; you must know that."

    Conway smirked, nodding at this. "I assume we're still mostly evened up. It really depends on what your last Pokémon is and the level of its power. Saving the best for last isn't a foreign concept for you, is it?"

    "Not at all," Fantina assured. "T'is final Pokémon of mine is my pride and joy! It 'as gotten the job done before under disadvantage; it shall do so again."

    "We'll see," Conway challenged her. A lot of his cockiness was forced at this point. "I'll be sticking with Aggron again."

    "Very well! It is time to face the ultimate challenge!" Fantina shouted, taking out her last Pokéball and throwing it out to the field. "Drifblim, allons-y!"

    Unsurprisingly, Fantina's signature Pokémon was indeed the Pokémon represented in her ball gown. That much was comforting to finally confirm, as much of Conway's strategy, particularly on Lickilicky, centered on countering this specific Pokémon.

    "So my observational skills are paying off once again," Conway mused to himself. He figured Barry must be writhing with jealousy by now, given how many times Conway reiterated this little lesson at Barry's expense since the day began. "Alright, Aggron! Time for Outrage, take two!"

    Drifblim was much larger than Fantina's previous two Pokémon. Despite being mostly air inside, it was a very durable species. Even a powerful Outrage attack couldn't brutally dent it, though it was easy to bump around due to its composition. Still, Fantina was not worried in the least. "And now, the counterattack!" she announced as Drifblim recovered and started flying straight towards Aggron with no hesitation in its movements. It could move around with such ease in its form, so Aggron was soon met with its opponent face to face.

    But Conway was not deterred. "Outrage, again!" In close proximity, surely this would be more effective, right? Conway also knew that his Aggron would be confused after this turn out of sheer exhaustion, but the Iron Armor Pokémon didn't have that much left to give anyway…

    "Hypnosis!" Fantina called back quickly, smirking. Drifblim was already in position to get its attack through before Aggron could get the Blimp Pokémon out of its face. Another Pokémon with Hypnosis? Conway felt he should've seen that coming. His nerves were struck with the surprise and he couldn't get himself to utter a way for Aggron to counter that. Drifblim's eyes glowed, much like Gengar's did, and being so close face-to-face meant it was out like a light within a couple of seconds.

    "Argh! Falling for that again!" Barry complained, scowling all the while. It was irritating to watch Ash's Pokémon fall for this trick one by one in the past, so it was no less grating to see another trainer's strategy get fouled up with this once more. Barry didn't raise too much of a fuss now, since he could at least take a hint that Conway was angry at him now for whatever reason, but there was no way he could stay completely quiet. "That Aggron's done for!"

    Conway understood that there was nothing more he could do about this. "End of the line… sorry, Aggron."

    "Now, Psychic!" Fantina called out. Even without much effectiveness, Drifblim was able to use Psychic rather well on Aggron; even lifting it from the ground with its power. That was no small feat, and it was a good reason to fear this Drifblim if it was powerful enough to mentally hold up something weighing several hundred pounds.

    Drifblim help Aggron high up via Psychic, making Conway more and more fearful of how his last Pokémon would be able to handle this. Fantina knew well what she was doing, too. She could see the terror nearly paralyzing her opponent much like Aggron was held stiff in both sleep and under Psychic's power. This was her way of testing Conway's resolve; whether or not he'd be able to overcome his fears. She finished it off by ordering Drifblim to cease Psychic, unceremoniously dropping Aggron down from nearly a hundred feet off the ground. The bigger they were, the harder they fell: Aggron left a steep imprint of its shape onto the floor upon impact. Conway winced at the sight, as this brought back unpleasant memories of his evasion of certain death as he was dropped from a much higher altitude on Route 216. Had Paul not been there to buffer the impact, this was probably what would have happened to Conway. It was neither a pleasant sight nor a pleasant thought.

    "Aggron is unable to battle!" the referee made official. "Drifblim's the winner!"

    "Excellent!" Fantina exclaimed, doing a twirl before looking up at her Pokémon with admiring eyes. "Drifblim, you never disappoint!"

    Conway shook himself out of his terrified state now that the battle was over. The things that crossed his mind as Aggron fell were the last things he needed to be thinking about; they were brutal distractions. Full concentration would be needed to overcome Drifblim; that much was for certain.

    "Get some rest, Aggron," Conway urged as he recalled his Pokémon. "I think you're going to need it… your efforts will be rewarded once this is all over." He looked at Fantina, unable to help gulping at the scenario he was in now. "Whether or not we win this battle…" he finished; the tone of his voice somewhat quivering.

    It was natural to be nervous at this point. This wasn't just a situation where Conway had only one Pokémon left to rely on: Conway barely battled with it, opting to merely train it intensively in order to master certain techniques. "It's down to this," he realized. "I hope my decision to capture a Normal-type to counter Fantina wasn't in error."

    Fantina had no words to give; she merely looked to Conway and expected him to quickly send out his last Pokémon, as she was most eager to see what it would be.

    "It's all on you now; let's make this count!" Conway yelled, taking his final Pokéball and giving it a throw. "I call upon you, Lickilicky…!"

    Conway's freshly-evolved Pokémon came out and landed on the battlefield, looking sturdy and ready for combat. The training had made it very eager to engage in its first Gym Battle.

    "Normale…?" Fantina wondered out loud in her native tongue, looking puzzled. "You've decided on the ineffectual Normal-type, monsieur Colin?"

    "That would be correct," Conway affirmed. "But not without reason; I'm afraid your blatant favoritism made your final Pokémon a bit predictable, Fantina," he taunted. This much was true, however.

    Fantina shook her head; this witty opponent of hers was using those unfamiliar big words again. "I do not understand what you mean," she told him.

    "I've seen you in the papers," Conway explained, at least feeling calm pointing out his biggest advantage against the Gym Leader. "Your guest appearances in Contests, and what really says it all is your very fashionable dress, my dear."

    "Aha, what a clever young man!" Fantina said with a smile, looking down at her dress momentarily. "Oui, ma robe de bal is a one-of-a-kind. A reason I came to Sinnoh was after I learned of the Drifloon et Drifblim. So the most kind tailors custom-designed this, and I 'ave worn it ever since."

    Conway nodded, unable to help feeling prideful about being absolutely right. "So I suspected you would have a Drifblim on your team, naturally. I've been preparing several counters for it."

    "Wit' a Normal-type?" a still-befuddled Fantina asked him. "Well, I cannot imagine what you must 'ave in store for me, mon cher, but now I will be ready for you!"

    "You can try." The lenses of Conway's glasses gleamed against the light shining through the stained-glass windows of the stadium. "Let the battle begin."
    Last edited by Shinneth; 26th January 2011 at 5:28 AM.

    Travels of the Trifecta! - Chronicles of an estranged family!

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  19. #144
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    Things were much more one-sided for the battle up north. Despite the lessons from Brandon not being forgotten, Paul still couldn't help losing his cool as Reggie's Staraptor was able to withstand everything Honchkrow threw at it and countered with at least twice the power. Honchkrow was usually a natural for landing critical hits to end the battle quickly, but this time it was the other way around.

    Reggie had been much calmer than this brother. His concerns were still present, but pushed to the back of his mind while this battle went on. There was no doubt now that the crushing defeat from yesterday continued to take a toll on Paul's stability. Reggie was meeting Paul at every turn – almost as if he could read his thoughts – and essentially outsmarted him. Part of Paul's poor performance could have been attributed to his shock and awe of how amazingly proficient his brother had become as a battler. More and more, shades of his old self were re-emerging. The stronger Reggie got, the more doubtful Paul became of his own chances.

    "Come on, Staraptor," Reggie urged; his tone completely stern and serious by now. "This battle's pretty much over. Brave Bird, one more time!"

    He could tell when the battle was over for sure: Paul was too stunned at the difference in power levels of these two Pokémon to think of a way to even things up… and consequently, he'd already given up on defeating his brother this round. Each revelation that reached Paul hit him like a freight truck. Every time he turned around, something would shatter Paul's perception of the world and the people in his life, so it was no surprise that the young trainer was overwhelmed with confusion and doubt. At this point he wasn't even sure who to trust… least of all himself.

    Honchkrow was taken down; it fell like a rock on the cold, hard earth after being struck by Staraptor's devastating attack. Reggie quickly recalled Staraptor, shaking his head and frowning in disapproval of how his brother seemed to be getting even worse.

    Paul took his time to return Honchkrow. He felt rooted down by his doubts, uncertainties, and even fear. It was painfully obvious to Reggie that his little brother was on the verge of a nervous breakdown, and he wasn't sure whether or not he should let Paul go through with it. It would be heartbreaking to witness, but Reggie was running out of ideas for getting Paul out of this rut. He certainly couldn't face Ash in this state, and Reggie was determined to make sure Paul at least stood a chance in that fight. He couldn't bear to see his sibling so miserable… it was enough to actually make the Pokémon Breeder fairly angry.

    "Where's your head at, Paul?!" Reggie suddenly shouted, startling the younger brother. "I know you can do better than this; you've got to let it go, already!" Of course, he was referring to all of the negativity threatening to consume Paul. "Do you really want to lose to Ash like you did to Dad?"

    This was the kind of talk Paul wanted to hear from Reggie all along. It was a bit forceful, but necessary at this point. While Paul wasn't trapped drowning in his own misery, he was still obviously broken, evident in his response. "I-… n-no, of course n-…"

    "You can't afford to dwell on your loss right now!" Reggie told him, finally sounding assertive. "Learn from your mistakes and move on! Didn't that battle teach you anything at all?"

    "I-I know," Paul forced himself to say out loud. He hated it when he came off as pathetic and needy, but there was no way for him to pretend he was fine now. "Controlling my emotions…"

    "Which you aren't doing," Reggie pointed out to him. "If anything, you're even worse than before. You've got to clear your mind; how are you supposed to concentrate if you're worrying about something else?"

    Paul couldn't look his brother in the eye now. He knew very well how bad off he was, but it hurt him even more to hear it from someone else who could obviously see his weakness overtaking him. "I know that already," he replied, though his resolve wavered. "But you're… you're too strong…"

    "When did that stop you before?" asked a very demanding Reggie. "You had to know early on it was hopeless to defeat Brandon, but you battled him until you had nothing left. What's different about today?"

    By now, Paul knew what was different. He decided he would focus on just how strong Reggie had become… to determine whether or not he was truly fitting as Brandon's true heir. So far, the signs were showing that Reggie simply had more capability of surpassing Brandon than he did. Just like everything else in life… Paul never could defeat Reggie in any real competition. He was just too weak, and he always would be. It wasn't a matter of resolve here; only genetics.

    It really did seem hopeless. No matter how Paul looked at it, Reggie was the one who should be having his aspirations to surpass his father and go beyond, ultimately becoming a master Champion. He had the power, he had the spirit, he had the integrity… and he had the connection to his Pokémon. It was heartbreaking for Paul to accept that, but he knew now that he had to start considering the needs of others… his family, his only friend, acquaintances and rivals alike… all of them would surely be affected by his death.

    Paul knew there was no way out of saddening them all once it was his time to go. He wanted to do whatever he could now while he was alive to make up for that. For Reggie, Paul's desires became clear: Reggie needed to truly embrace the life of a battling Pokémon Trainer. Paul wasn't sure how he'd manage to distance Reggie from his current work… and admittedly Paul felt a little guilty about the massive number of Pokémon that depended on Reggie now, as well as the legacy of what was once his mother's lucrative business. That would likely have to be sacrificed… at least until Reggie settled down with somebody and had his spouse run things in his place.

    But this was what needed to be done; Paul had determined that. Since yesterday, the ill trainer was torn apart piece by piece as Brandon revealed his most critical non-physical weakness. Despite being completely lost as to what motivated him to become a Pokémon Trainer and failing to find what connected him to his Pokémon, Paul did not want to give up. A revelation like this was what made the superior Reggie retire, so how was Paul able to resist that urge when he had even less of an idea of what he wanted for himself than his brother?

    Honestly, Paul didn't know… all he knew was that he wouldn't give up. He would not throw in the towel, no matter how impossible it seemed to recover from this and become enlightened.

    "A lot happened yesterday," Paul finally replied, using the period of awkward silence to collect himself and speak coherently. "I can't absorb it all overnight… but I will recover, and I will defeat Ash." He looked Reggie in the eyes at last as a faint shade of determination was present in his face. "That's a promise."

    Reggie wanted to get more than that out of his brother; he knew there was more to this than Paul was letting on. But even a weak sign of recovery was a huge relief to Reggie. He would train Paul and his Pokémon rigorously after this battle so they could all get a taste of the strength he and his Pokémon acquired from hard manual labor. Reggie did not at all enjoy being superior to Paul in so many things… he couldn't understand how his little brother never possessed the perks he was gifted with at birth. Regardless, Reggie desired to give Paul the power he deserved.

    "I'll hold you to that," Reggie assured, though his tone was cautious and much calmer now. "Paul, I want you to get ready for some very intensive training once we're done with our last match. It's probably a foregone conclusion, but…"

    That statement was enough to ignite Paul's battling spirit once more. "We'll see about that," he darkly warned before throwing out a Pokéball. "Torterra, stand by for battle!"

    Reggie nodded, expecting Paul would save his starter for last. Appropriately, the elder brother unleashed his first Pokémon as well. "Infernape… let's do this!"

    Infernape came out in a burst of flame, already by appearance alone showing that its strength had increased exponentially over the past few days.

    A sudden intense feeling stuck Paul deep inside just then, brought on by merely seeing this powerful Infernape. He had always compared Ash to Reggie, and with good reason. The two had very similar personalities, Pokémon, and battle techniques. What always prevented Paul from writing Ash off entirely (prior to finding out he defeated Brandon, at least) was Chimchar. Paul remembered back when that Chimchar used to be his; he dreamed of seeing Chimchar look exactly like the Infernape he was facing now. But Paul completely failed to bring out the power of Blaze that he saw when the two first crossed paths. It wasn't for a lack of trying, and Paul never did exactly find out how he was unable to trigger the power Chimchar held within itself. The stern, cruel trainer was pretty good about keeping Chimchar off his mind most of the time since it came into Ash's ownership, but every now and then it would come to bother him… particularly whenever he met Ash.

    Reggie had very little trouble helping his Chimchar become a powerful Infernape back in the day. Paul barely remembered it, but he vaguely recalled the day Reggie's Monferno evolved to Infernape. Emotions were rather high at that time, as it was just before Reggie's first battle in the Sinnoh League… and hence, after Andrea's death. Paul had just barely recovered from the loss by then, and Reggie's stability hung by a single thread. The beginning trainer's emotions were felt through Monferno, and during an incident where the young Paul had gotten himself in a scuffle with a few rowdy kids, Reggie acted impulsively to protect his brother and sent out his starter to scare the little bullies away. This scenario was nothing new, actually, but it was the first scuffle the abrasive little Paul got into since his mother's passing.

    Emotions were high, and since Reggie had done such a fantastic job of bonding with his starter throughout their Sinnoh journey, their connection was spiritually unbreakable. When Monferno was sent out and saw what was going on, seeing how it affected its trainer and the trainer's little brother, it willed itself into evolving to Infernape. The way this evolution occurred is what stuck out the most in Paul's memory – Monferno conjured flames that seemed to consume itself, but instead it burst out of the mass of flames as a fully-evolved Pokémon, all to save the reckless little brother.

    Flashbacks of this came to Paul's mind when he met Chimchar. Though Paul knew he'd always mesh better with a Turtwig, he sometimes wondered if he could accomplish the amazing things his brother did back in the day. Seeing Chimchar fight off a pack of wild Zangoose in a fiery rage single-handedly told Paul this was his chance to experience the raw, wild power of Sinnoh's Fire-typed starter. So badly he wanted to see this Chimchar evolve fully the way his brother's did, but it never happened. When Ash inadvertently brought out Blaze some months ago while battling Paul; that was the first true sign for the callous trainer as to what Ash really was to him: a doppelganger of his brother. The resentment Paul had for Reggie out of sheer jealousy easily transferred to Ash, and it was where much of his sour attitude towards the Kanto native originated.

    Chimchar was long overdue for an evolution. Paul couldn't invoke it, but if Ash could bring out the power of Blaze in a relatively short time, then it was reasonable to believe that one day Ash would have a Monferno of his own… and down the road, a sturdy and unbreakable Infernape… just like his brother's.

    He'd be battling Ash in nine days. Chimchar would surely be involved in that battle. The thought of Ash possessing the raw power similar to Reggie was even more a cause to worry about being left behind in the dust. Paul's limitations were destroying everything he worked so hard for in the past four years. This was the first time Paul was actually nervous about battling his so-called rival.

    All in all, this was a test. Seeing Paul stall in silence for a while told Reggie everything he needed to know: he was feeling threatened. It didn't help that this battle would be as one-sided as the previous two, and this would be the saddest example of it. Reggie also knew it was a given that Ash's Chimchar would be in the upcoming battle. Most importantly, he knew that Chimchar was the link between Ash and Paul… and any battle with Chimchar in it would be full of emotional trials. Paul would be fighting against one of his biggest examples of failure – and that's not on Chimchar's end – solely Paul's incompetence to bring out the power in this Pokémon that Ash could manage.

    "Keep it together, Paul," Reggie instructed very sternly. "This is no time to be afraid."

    "A-afraid?!" That brought Paul back to reality for certain. "Never!"

    He was vicious about this claim, as well he should be. It was only expected that the sons of the Brave Symbol-bearing Pyramid Kind would rid themselves of needless fears and phobias.

    "Then make your move," Reggie challenged, staring directly at his brother. "You always wanted to beat my Infernape… here's your chance."

    Paul was ridiculously susceptible to taunts. Emotionally troubled as he was now, of course he was going to follow through with this. "So be it!" he growled out. "Torterra, Stone Edge!"

    "Infernape, Mach Punch."

    Reggie couldn't pretend to be enthusiastic any longer. As he watched his starter smash the storm of rocks brought on by his brother's starter into dust with very little effort, he knew this match was already over.

    These next nine days were going to be the longest, most arduous days of both their lives.







    "Will-O-Wisp, allons-y!"

    Back at Hearthome City's Gym, Fantina had become concerned with the power of Conway's last Pokémon, Lickilicky. It and Drifblim had traded hits, seemingly even in power, but it was obvious that this part of the battle was merely the two testing each other for getting a gauge on the Pokémon's strength, and perhaps to find its weak spot.

    Using Will-O-Wisp was a cunning move; it inflicted Lickilicky with a burn, and consequently nerfed its attack power.

    "Not good," Conway grumbled. "I'm counting on physical power to win this match… though either way, this Drifblim won't be taken down easily. That amazing stamina…"

    "Will one of you throw out a real attack already?!" Barry hollered out of nowhere, twitching with anticipation and impatience, as he wanted this match over with so he could take Fantina on next. "You're both driving me nuts over here!!"

    Conway rolled his eyes; he figured by now Barry was itching for a battle himself, but he wished his companion would control himself a bit better. Right now he was coming off as half his age, and that was a generous estimation on Conway's part. Frankly, it was pretty embarrassing most of the time to tell officials and higher-ups that they were associated every time Barry caused a mess.

    All this just within a few days of knowing each other – to Conway it already felt like a whole month with Paul and then some.

    "I would like you to show me your moves, mon ami!" Fantina invited. "For I must see if it will be necessary to execute my next idea."

    Troubled as Conway looked, he knew he'd worn out the strategy of lightly attacking to get a beat on his opponent. Thankfully, there was an array of attacks that would all land effective damage on Drifblim… provided that it didn't dodge or buff up its own stats.

    "If the madam wishes, that's just what we'll do," the classy Conway conceded. "Lickilicky; time for Thunderbolt!"

    Both Fantina and Barry were surprised to see this move used. Apparently Barry hadn't been paying attention while Conway was getting Lickilicky up to speed earlier with the rest of his team, because to him it seemed he'd never seen this Pokémon use that particular move before. It was a special attack, so its power was not cut down by the effects of burn. Soon after the execution, however, Lickilicky found itself consumed in a brief spurt of flames, taking damage from it. It had a tendency to come out of nowhere, which startled both Conway and Barry each time it happened. It was only minor damage that Lickilicky took, but that would add up soon enough in addition to the damage Drifblim would do to it as the battle wore on.

    Drifblim was struck directly, sustaining a good chunk of damage as it wobbled around and even sank a little in midair.

    "Didn't expect I would be using a move like that, I see," Conway observed, mostly to himself despite being audible. "Good, good. Then the element of surprise appears to be on my side."

    "T'at was indeed an unexpected move," Fantina admitted… but the fact that she was smirking was a cause for concern. "Now it is time for me to do somet'ing out of the ordinary!"

    Tried as he might, Conway couldn't help but stiffen up at her warning. "Brace yourself," he muttered to Lickilicky, who did as its trainer suggested. An onslaught of power and terror was expected…

    "Ominous Wind!" Fantina called for, completely throwing off both the challenger and one-man audience simultaneously. A collection of breezes hued in a vague purple color surrounded Drifblim. It stretched its long, ribbon-like arms out to spread the attack to a further range. It reached Lickilicky, but…

    "That's… why the heck would Fantina do that?" Barry wondered. "What Ghost-type specialist doesn't know that those moves don't affect Normal-types at all?! She's totally lost it!"

    For once, he was right: Lickilicky felt nothing at all from this attack. The wind phased through Lickilicky as if it were nothing more than an ordinary spring breeze. Conway was also a bit puzzled at this decision. It was definitely unexpected and out of the ordinary, but… what was this supposed to prove?

    Conway soon got his answer when Drifblim's entire body suddenly emitted a powerful glow. Fantina looked delighted about this, but she hadn't called for another attack, so what was this all about? It was clearly brought about by Ominous Wind…

    That's when it all came together, once Conway made the connection. "Oh, no… don't tell me that ended up…"

    "What?" Barry interrupted. "What's going on with Drifblim, already?! That attack didn't land a hit! It shouldn't be glowing out of nowhere like that!"

    "It seems t'at monsieur Colin already knows the answer, non?" Fantina rhetorically asked, resuming her smug stance.

    The wary Conway nodded. "Even if Ominous Wind doesn't affect the opponent, the Pokémon that uses this attack stands a chance of becoming very powerful."

    Drifblim certainly did look much more menacing than it did before. Barry still wasn't catching on. "Very powerful? Like how?"

    "The effects on the user of Ominous Wind are basically that of Bulk Up, Calm Mind, and Agility combined," the very studious Conway informed. "Strength, speed, defense, special power and defense… all of those attributes are enhanced right now."

    "You're kidding me!" Barry blurted out in disbelief. "That's going to make it so overpowered! How are you supposed to take it on now? I mean, even before this you knew it couldn't possibly be easy…!"

    Conway shook his head. "I'll be leaving Lickilicky wide open for an attack, but I'm quite thankful I taught Lickilicky this move in case something like this happened. It's time to even things back up!"

    Fantina stood still, trying not to be upset if what Conway was about to do was what she feared. "So you prepared for t'is as well, did you…"

    "You can never be too prepared," Conway stated, and how true he was. "Lickilicky, use Psych Up!"

    Though Lickilicky's expressions became more distant than usual as a result of this, its entire body glowed in the exact same manner as Drifblim.

    "Indeed, you are a most formidable opponent," Fantina told the young trainer, narrowing her eyes. "But we shall prevail! Drifblim, Psychic!"

    That was going to be nearly impossible to dodge, especially since Lickilicky was a huge target that had just finished copying all of Drifblim's enhancements to itself. The glowing outline appearing on its body was proof that it had been caught.

    Conway shook his head, watching his Pokémon with concern as it was lifted up by Drifblim's whim. Lickilicky was strong enough to at least struggle to regain control, but couldn't stop its own ascent.

    Barry crossed his arms and frowned, kicking his legs up on a seat from the row below him as he relaxed in his seat (as best he could). "Great, Lickilicky's gonna be dropped like a rock and get flattened like Aggron. All that training for Rollout was for nothing; it's over!"

    The pessimism was not helping Conway's resolve. The eerie way Drifblim's eyes glowed as it continue to force Lickilicky to rise higher and higher up was hard enough to not stare at in horror. Conway was at least thankful Fantina didn't have something like a Dusknoir (that would have really hit close to home for him), but the length of this final round was wearing him down. As long as Drifblim could use Psychic, Conway ran the risk of Lickilicky suffering a devastating blow. The fact that it was still burned didn't help, either.

    Lickilicky at least had the muscle power to struggle, unlike most Pokémon. Conway tried to think of a solution based on this… "Aha! I think I've got it!"

    Barry looked down at his partner, quite skeptical. "Oh, what's he got now…?"

    "Lickilicky! Remember the source of your power!" Conway called out to his Pokémon. "If you're able to move, you ought to be able to break free! Lick to get out of there!"

    Fantina found that to be an odd strategic move. "But how would t'at…" she wondered out loud before looking up and seeing a change in her own strategy. "Mon dieu…! Impossible!"

    With its mighty and hefty tongue, Lickilicky managed to wear out the hold of Psychic and set itself free. However, this left it several feet up in the air with no support, so gravity took over as per usual.

    "Lickilicky!" Conway shouted, desperate to save his newest Pokémon from a painful knockout. "Remember the training! Tuck in and rev up!"

    Just as Conway requested, Lickilicky tucked itself into a round, pink ball of blubber and rotated itself as it fell. Upon impact, Lickilicky used its tongue to propel itself back up, effectively bouncing off the floor at an angle that put the Licking Pokémon making a beeline towards Drifblim.

    "Whoa!" Barry exclaimed, standing right back up out of his seat for the umpteenth time since the battle began. "How'd he pull that off?!"

    "Force it back!" Fantina commanded. "That Pokémon cannot compare to your power!"

    Instead of dodging, Drifblim flew straight towards the balled-up Lickilicky. Upon their collision, an explosion of the two powers ignited, shrouding the battle scene with smoke and dusty debris.

    Due to its balloon-like composition, Drifblim was just as easily knocked back as it could easy force an opponent away, but it was still able to battle in spite of that chunk of damage sustained. Lickilicky was knocked out of its ball form and fell to the floor on its back, looking worse for wear. If nothing else, it was no longer captive to Psychic. Fantina would now have to find a way to work around that.

    As Lickilicky stood up, it howled in pain as the effects of burn returned, briefly consuming the large Pokémon's body in flames before wearing off. More damage was sustained, and Conway knew he couldn't let this battle drag out for much longer; otherwise the effects from Will-O-Wisp would defeat Lickilicky before any more direct attacks from Drifblim.

    "I must know, Colin, 'ow you managed to break from my psychic trap," Fantina kindly requested. "T'at Pokémon of yours is quite strong, non? Even while burned, even against psychic power…"

    "Simple biology," Conway answered sternly. "The strongest muscle of the human body is the tongue, believe it or not. I imagine the same would apply to many Pokémon – especially on species like Lickitung and Lickilicky. The power of their tongues compared to man's must be at least tenfold. Lickilicky was already strong enough to struggle despite being caught in Psychic, so I knew using its tongue to the maximum power would be enough to break the hold. The more you know…"

    Barry of course had a hard time accepting this. "Unbelievable. He's using his nerd powers and he's succeeding?! Something is so not right here."

    "I was not aware," Fantina humbly admitted, giving her opponent a bow. "Merci; I 'ave learned much from you today, young man."

    Conway frowned, as he had a feeling Fantina's small-talk was her own strategy to drag the battle out – the opposite of what Conway wanted – in an effort to wear Lickilicky down with the lasting injuries it had already sustained. Without the multiple buffers from Psych Up, Lickilicky may not even be standing right now.

    Unfortunately, it had been a while since the effects of Light Screen were shown while Fantina was attacking with special moves. Conway assumed it must have been dissolved by now… even more reason for him to end this match quickly.

    "The battle isn't over yet," Conway reminded the Gym Leader. "Lickilicky, I want you to try a direct attack at Drifblim again. You're going to focus on your tongue this time rather than your body; so you should know which attack you need to use on it, correct?"

    The weary pink Pokémon gave Conway an understanding nod. It hopped forward a few feet, but did not charge at Drifblim like last time.

    "Brace yourself, mon ami," Fantina muttered to her Drifblim. "It will not be much longer."

    "In position!" Conway shouted while Lickilicky confirmed its place on the field. "Ready – aim - … Lick!"

    Instead of lashing its tongue at Drifblim directly as the two opponents expected, Lickilicky struck its tongue straight into the floor. The tenfold-power of a human's tongue strength was holding up well here, as this floor was not easy at all to penetrate. Aggron only managed it somewhat due to its girth, weight, and force of gravity doing all the work. Fantina's eyes widened as she watched the roly-poly Pokémon ruin her elegant floor more so than any other challenger she had so far. All that, and she had no idea what Conway was planning for to happen.

    Evidently, Fantina didn't do too much studying on just what the Lickilicky species was capable of. She was beyond shocked when that same tongue emerged from her side of the battle stadium flooring and smashed it open to leave a gaping hole for later. It was a stretch, but Lickilicky managed to extend its tongue a few yards to reach its opponent directly from below.

    The elegant Gym Leader snapped out of her horror of the situation as she realized Drifblim, floating as high as it was, did not notice immediately that the enemy tongue emerged directly under it. "Underneath you…! Éloignez-vous de lŕ!"

    But it was too late. The incredibly flexible tongue brushed Drifblim from below; as a Ghost-type attack, that was extremely effective against the Blimp Pokémon. It also shuddered in reaction to the eerie, icky feeling. Conway was perfectly capable of frightening the ones he himself feared… and seeing that with his own two eyes gave Conway's resolve a second wind.

    Lickilicky's tongue receded in a rather destructive manner, breaking the rest of the floor pieces the thick muscle was under rather than simply slithering backwards. It was just quicker this way. Luck seemed to be on Conway's side this time; he smiled with glee upon seeing minor bolts of static electricity rise up as Drifblim attempted to move. There was no doubt about it: the Blimp Pokémon was overcome with paralysis. Conway winced slightly as he felt a brief blast of heat blowing against him; that came from Lickilicky's lasting burn.

    Sustaining this much damage got Lickilicky to fall to its knee, struggling to keep itself together. Status effects seem to have been traded on both sides throughout the entire battle, but Conway was glad to have his Pokémon burned opposed to paralyzed or lulled into a deep sleep.

    "I see you've been worn down," Conway quietly noted to his Pokémon. "No worries; I think the end is nigh. You've been doing an excellent job for your first Gym Battle. Keep on the defensive for now; we need to see what Fantina's going to do now."

    With paralysis to contend with, Fantina once again found herself stuck in a corner. There was really only one way she could attack Lickilicky effectively. Seeing the opponent Pokémon clearly fatigued, however, made the Gym Leader confident that she could outlast the opposition in this battle.

    "The time for stalling is over!" Fantina announced, doing a spin with her dress elegantly twirling around her. "We shall unleash the power of your fear! Drifblim, Ominous Wind – follow up wit' Psychic!"

    Conway could see what Fantina was doing now. Psyching him out, distracting him once more to give Drifblim the chance to land the decisive blow on his Pokémon. Drifblim wasn't powered up this time as the ineffective-but-haunting dark winds wisped around the stadium… it was giving Conway the chills, but he was far too determined to win to let himself be overcome with his phobias.

    "You'll regret that move!" Conway promised, pointing directly at Drifblim despite talking to Fantina. "Lickilicky, it's time for the real deal. Charge your Rollout, just as you did this morning…"

    After suffering another split-second of pain from its burn, Lickilicky went along with Conway's plan. This would indeed be much like the training practice with Barry, only with higher stakes and a different atmosphere. Fantina noticed Lickilicky was revving up in its tightly-held ball form, kicking up clouds of dust on both sides of it.

    "Ah, yes," Fantina realized. "I remember… the Pokémon Lickitung can only evolve if it learns Rollout." She looked to Drifblim, who was charging its Psychic attack. If this were to hit Lickilicky directly, it would have no chance to struggle, much less break free. "Ah, Drifblim. I propose we render 'is attack useless, vous ne croyez pas?"

    Drifblim seemed to be all for her idea. "Ascend, my Drifblim!" Fantina called out. "T'at Lickilicky shall never reach you no matter 'ow 'ard it tries! And t'en, we end the battle wit' the aerial attack!"

    Conway carefully watched Drifblim slowly rise up towards the ceiling of the Hearthome Gym. Barry also watched, looking amused as a small child might be at such a sight. "I get it now," Barry realized, speaking quietly for once. "I did the same with my Staraptor, but it couldn't get away from Rollout no matter what…." He looked down at the arena, deciding to give his support the best way he could. "You can do it!" he shouted at Conway. "I know what you're gonna do; now go for it and end this battle!"

    Conway was thankful that Barry didn't accidentally spill his whole strategy then and there, because he wouldn't have put it past him at all. Though he'd been a major irritation throughout this battle, it did comfort Conway knowing that Barry was rooting for him. Somehow, he had a feeling Paul wouldn't be doing the same if he were here now.

    "Well, I won't disappoint you," Conway assured him. "Lickilicky, once you've found your angle, set off and put Drifblim down for good!"

    "Absurde," Fantina scoffed, holding in a giggle. "Colin, 'ow do you plan to reach my Pokémon from so 'igh up t'ere? Your Lickilicky cannot fly, the last I recall."

    Obviously feigning sorrow, Conway nodded along with the Gym Leader. "Regrettably so, mademoiselle, you would be correct. I have no choice but to use the next best thing: the laws of motion!"

    "Excusez-moi?" the exotic Gym Leader inquired, puzzled at such a statement. "What laws are we speaking of? Did I miss somet'ing?"

    "I assure you, it's neither a cultural boundary nor a language barrier," Conway promised. He loved having an excuse to prattle on about the things he knew that not many others his age (and in this case, his elders) did. "The laws of motion were born from the mind of one Sir Isaac Newton many centuries ago…"

    Barry's enthusiasm died most possibly its quickest death yet. He sighed, slumping over in his seat and shaking his head, trying to tune Conway out as best he could. "Oh man, this is not the time for this… is it because I encouraged him? I guess I'd better stop doing that."

    "You'll do well to remember the third law in this case – thankfully, it's a rather catchy phrase," Conway advised his challenger, raising a finger up in he air as he recited the law he knew by heart. "For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction."

    This lesson of Conway's did well to distract Fantina as Lickilicky rolled its way towards its target – the wall behind Fantina – to jump up and aim for one of the pillars nearby. With Drifblim high in the air and barely able to hear much of anything going on down below, it was a wide and open target.

    "Equal and opposite?" Fantina questioned, trying to grasp the concept. "Every time?"

    "The examples I could give are endless," Conway informed her. "But you are correct: every time. In fact, our battle is a perfect example of action versus reaction."

    "Our battle!" the Gym Leader shrieked, looking around in a panic. "Oh! Oh no, where is your Lickilicky?!"

    Conway looked up, watching his newest capture make its jump from the floor to the highest point of the column it could reach. Its improved muscular strength allowed the Licking Pokémon to reach the desired height of its ricochet point. This victory was pretty much in the bag now. "Up there… winning this battle."

    Fantina shrieked, waving her arms to Drifblim in warning. This was a risky move on Conway's part as Drifblim wasn't completely helpless, being charged with Psychic and the like, but it remained to be a very large and clueless target. It failed to realize in time what its trainer's body language insinuated as Lickilicky bounced off the pillar like a gigantic rubber ball. The rebound angle was perfect, and there was little to be done about the imminent collision. Both Pokémon, having immense amounts of power stored up in their states, caused a brutal explosion upon their impact. Conway's smugness and security faded into concern as he failed to take into account the fact that Drifblim still had some energy Lickilicky needed to break through in order to land a hit. Was it powerful enough at that point to succeed…?

    Again, like an easily-distracted toddler, Barry gazed up at the result of the amazing collision. In a closed area like this, it would take a while for the smoke to clear up and reveal the aftermath of what had to have been the final act of this battle.

    Before the area was completely visible, two distinct thuds were heard against the stadium floor – obviously that had to have been Lickilicky and Drifblim landing after the high-altitude clash. Whether or not either of them were alright was still a mystery.

    This battle had not been good for Conway's nerves… or his heart… or his emotional stability. He still possessed the ability to hold in his urge to cry out for his Pokémon, but couldn't help loathing himself for failing to take account of how dangerous this move must have been for both Pokémon. Irresponsibility like this would have to be rectified soon, or else it was a certainty that Saturn would never be taken down.

    Being a figure of higher authority, Fantina knew she had to remain calm and mature as well. Both patiently waited for the smoke to clear away; Barry of course was not so patient, but the nature of the final attack left him too stunned to complain about the wait. He was still on the edge of his seat regardless; this had to be the longest minute of his entire life.

    At last, the battlefield was coming into view. Right away, it was seen that both Drifblim and Lickilicky were still conscious. Lickilicky was on its knee and clearly worn down while Drifblim could only hover a mere few inches above the ground while most of its arm-like extensions had already flopped onto the floor. One of these Pokémon were going to fall down completely very soon.

    Everyone – Conway especially – was startled when the effects of burn took its toll on Lickilicky again, as no one expected the small spontaneous combustion to pop up after the tenuous moments of silence. Conway almost lost it there; he thought that certainly must have taken what little strength Lickilicky had remaining.

    But before that, Drifblim finally sank to the floor and rolled on its side.

    The swirls on the Blimp Pokémon's eyes confirmed the final result.

    "Drifblim is unable to battle!" the referee decreed. "Lickilicky wins, and victory goes to Colin of Celestic Town…!"

    Now it was Conway's turn to sink to his knees, though in his case it was both in relief and disbelief. "Huh, what… how about that…"

    There was one certainty always present whenever one battled against Conway – the experience would always be unique each time. It was really showing at this point how well his studious ways paid off; very few Pokémon Trainers with the limited amount of actual battling experience (much less Gym Battle experience) could achieve three Gym Badges this quickly. The sense of urgency in Conway's situation also aided in this great success; the young trainer very well knew he couldn't afford to dawdle for much longer. He still didn't have much of a clue of what his cousin was really doing, but thanks to the tracking bug he planted, Saturn's whereabouts weren't much of a mystery now. Granted, in this frame of time Saturn had changed out of his suit where the bug was planted. If Saturn were to leave for any reason, Conway would be none the wiser.

    Still, from what Conway observed, the Galactic admin remained in one spot for quite a while now. It was only logical to make a first strike there when he was ready. But even with the progress he's made, Conway knew it just wasn't time yet. He wondered how much longer he'd be able to keep this a secret from Barry. The last thing he wanted was to get Barry involved in a dire situation like this; it wasn't just a matter of Barry's lack of stealth ruining his mission. Conway genuinely didn't want to have his companion's life endangered… but he had a sinking feeling there would be some sort of confrontation today in regards to the issue of his name.

    As he accepted his Relic Badge from Fantina, however, Conway at least had some time to rest and think of a way to work around the worst-case scenario while Barry stepped up to bat for his chance at defeating Fantina.

    Much like how he couldn't stop thinking about how Paul was faring day by day, Conway remained ever-curious as to what exactly his cousin was getting himself into. There was still much left to learn and a long way to go.






    "You believe the geo-scanners have finally picked up what we seek?"

    Charon bowed humbly (though without too much effort – whether it was his old age or his lack of true respect for his boss was debatable) to his employer. "I'll admit the entirety of Mt. Coronet has yet to be scanned, but the readings indicate some rather interesting hollow dwellings that I suspect host the little hiding place we've been searching for all this time."

    "And how are you not certain this "finding" of yours isn't just a mere cave of no value?" Saturn retorted, having not forgiven the scientist for swiping his recently-claimed computer for his own purposes. He put much work and effort into filing a complaint against the man he deemed an irresponsible geezer, but just as Charon planned, it was all undone as his sudden discovery made Cyrus, the head of Team Galactic, pay no mind at all to the elderly man's shenanigans.

    "You suggest we leave a stone unturned, Commander Saturn?" Cyrus asked his subordinate, looking him straight in the eyes. The young follower became stiff as their eyes locked. He liked to think of himself as Cyrus' right hand man… and perhaps Cyrus might have seen it that way if he even remotely cared.

    "O-of course not, sir," Saturn apologized, putting much more effort into his bowing than his coworker. "I just believe Charon should be doing some more research before leading us into a wild goose chase, wasting both your time and resources. We've had quite enough of those by now," he said while looking directly at Mars. "I am not against scouting the area, but past experiences have taught me that we should be more thorough with our findings before leaping right into another red herring."

    Mars, hands on her hips, narrowed her eyes at Saturn. "Sure, you'll use me as an example of where we fell short, but don't forget you've messed up in the past, too."

    "At least I am clearly learning from where I failed," Saturn snapped back. "How anyone could fail at blowing up an island when you had more than enough explosives to get the job done is a mystery to us all. Let's not forget your lack of ability to take anything seriously cost you the chance to bond with Mesprit at Lake Verity."

    "Just as you were much too late in taking the time to bond with Azelf at Lake Valor," Cyrus pointed out. Not to defend Mars, but to make a point that his commanders were more or less on even ground regardless of their perceptions. "As well as failing to complete your mission in Veilstone City, further exposing Team Galactic to the media since you were foolish enough to present yourself before an officer of the law."

    Saturn couldn't really talk his way out of that, much as he wanted to. He closed his eyes and held his tongue out of respect for his leader. "My apologies, sir," he said in a solemn tone. "It will not happen again."

    Cyrus nodded. "I will make sure of that. Plans for traveling north shall be arranged immediately," he decided. "The convenience of our head scientist's findings being located close to Lake Acuity should not be ignored. Now that Commander Saturn has acquired the information we need on the final legendary Pokémon of the lakes, it is imperative that the chance to bond with it is not wasted – this is our final opportunity."

    "If only there was a way to find out who bonded with the other two," Saturn muttered before looking up to Cyrus. "Sir, I will make up for my past failures and bond with Uxie, rest assured."

    The Galactic commander was soon crestfallen upon seeing his leader shake his head in disapproval. "For the sake of our cause, I find it unwise to invest my hopes in you for this task once more. Commander Jupiter will go to Lake Acuity alone to bond with Uxie."

    The violet-haired co-commander of Saturn's stood firm at that moment, saluting to her leader. Though she looked professional, the gleam in her eyes showed her eagerness to finally have her own solo mission. "I won't let you down, sir," she promised. "I'm not one who simply accepts failure."

    "But I was the one who found all of the information we have on Uxie!" Saturn protested. "It was no easy feat obtaining that book, either!"

    "I can vouch for that," Mars muttered.

    Saturn ignored her for once. "I've done all the work; what right does Jupiter have to take what's rightfully mine?"

    "Her superior track record," Cyrus simply said. "And that's all she needs. You won't be completely left out, Commander Saturn, if that's what you are dreading."

    Whenever Cyrus mentioned any particular emotion, Saturn knew to hold firm and keep his feelings to himself. "You did say Jupiter would be pursuing Uxie alone," he reminded. "So what do you have in mind for me?"

    Cyrus merely gestured to the head scientist of the group. "You will accompany Charon to Mt. Coronet and assist him as needed. Do whatever is necessary to ascertain what Charon discovered, and if it turns out to be what we seek, you are to contact me immediately."

    The very thought of working with Charon at all gave Saturn a headache. But a mission of this magnitude would certainly drive him insane. "But-… why must I go along with him?" he asked, trying not to sound too desperate to get out of this duty. "It isn't as if he's going in alone; he'll have grunts to do the dirty work…."

    "Are you in doubt of my judgment, Commander Saturn?" Cyrus asked him, no doubt looking threatening as he did. With a face like his, being menacing was the simplest of all tasks. He was back to being neutral once Saturn shook his head to deny the accusation. "Mountain excavation is no simple task; surely you know this. It's quite dangerous, in fact, and we cannot afford to lose our head scientist when he is the only one among you all who has made any real progress in our mission... nor can we lose what may be the gateway to our goal."

    A statement like that was a cold burn on the three commanders.

    "You all need to start proving your worth now," Cyrus ordered them. "Commander Saturn, you will be most useful presiding over Charon in this mission. Take it or leave it."

    "Of course I'll take it, sir," Saturn said, feeling himself sweat with anxiety. "I am ever grateful to have this opportunity."

    That covered all of Cyrus' most valued personnel except…

    "So what about me?" Mars asked. "What do I get to do?"

    "Commander Mars, you will remain here and assume the duties of your fellow commanders in their absence," Cyrus decided. It took all but a second for him to find a way to make use of his flighty, flirtatious elite. "I have heard rumors that you've had an abundance of free time as of late, so an increased workload should do well enough to keep you busy. Are you up to the task?"

    Mars wanted to whine and protest her heart out, but thanks to Saturn's fussing it was obvious that Cyrus had no more patience left to deal with childish insubordination. It was daunting enough covering Saturn's position while he took a week off to run a funeral and make off with his cousin's belongings. Having a tripled workload sounded like absolute murder.

    Maybe she was finally getting her comeuppance for her extravagant pizza party that she miraculously kept a secret from Cyrus. Saturn liked to believe that was the case, anyway.

    "It's my pleasure to serve," Mars said through gritted teeth. "No problem; I can oversee operations while these two go off adventuring." She could, but she really didn't want to.

    "Then it's settled," Cyrus confirmed. "Make preparations for travel immediately; Commander Saturn and Charon, make sure you take along as many reinforcement troops as you possibly can."

    Charon nodded, glowing with glee that things were going his way and had the pleasure of seeing Saturn get scolded. "I'm sure you're aware this will not be something that can be accomplished overnight; depending on the depth of my finding, it may take up to a week before our excavation unearths what you seek."

    It wasn't exactly something Cyrus wanted to hear, but he'd been patient this long… he could wait a week longer if needed. "Do what you must and take your time; a procedure like this should not be rushed. I trust you'll show some true results, head scientist?"

    "Oh, you'll get something," Charon slyly assured. "And we'll get on it right away." He suddenly snagged Saturn by the arm and started dragging him off like a small, obnoxious child in the middle of a store. "Come come now, youngster. Make haste if you want to see your boss happy."

    The very startled Saturn could only growl unintelligible curses at the old man while Mars and Jupiter looked on with amusement.

    "On the other hand, I think Saturn got the raw end of the deal after all," Mars figured, letting out a smirk.

    Jupiter nodded in agreement. "He who tries to get everything will end up with nothing. And that has to be worse than nothing."

    Was this karma? Saturn had no idea. From beyond the grave, was his cousin's influence tormenting him in the form of a cantankerous old scientist? It sure did seem like it.

    Even having virtually everything he wanted now… Saturn hated his life. At least he was distanced from Franny since she became a Team Galactic grunt, as she was off in the quarters for new recruits most of the time. Saturn didn't mind his other cousin as much… all of this was an ideal scenario for Saturn until now. His overachieving backfired on him; suddenly it seemed he was no longer Cyrus' favorite – not that his boss ever said this out loud, but Saturn liked to think this was the case.

    Now he was having doubts… but never regrets.
    Last edited by Shinneth; 26th January 2011 at 5:29 AM.

    Travels of the Trifecta! - Chronicles of an estranged family!

    LJ | dA | Bulbagarden | ff.net

    Diamond: 2749 - 7749 - 1840
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  20. #145
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    "Blast Burn, let's go!"

    "Frenzy Plant, now!"

    The three-on-three battle between the brothers had reached its climax in the final match, pitting two fully-evolved Sinnoh starters against one another. This match was surprisingly not as one-sided as the previous two – a relief on Reggie's side – as Infernape had taken enough damage to invoke the power of Blaze.

    On the other hand, Torterra sustained considerable damage as well. It was made to be able to take a lot of hits, of course, but by now it too was pushed to a critical point. The unusual green glow emitting from Torterra's body certainly wasn't Giga Drain – it was the Overgrow ability kicking in. It had been a long time since Torterra was pushed this far in battle, and Paul was more than concerned. These abilities were very risky and hard to control at times. Reggie, however, seemed perfectly connected as ever with his Infernape as it blasted through the vicious jungle of oversized, thorny roots that burst from the ground with relative ease. It helped being a Fire-type going against the strongest known Grass-type move, at least.

    Paul did whatever he could, willing Torterra to stay strong and endure. He tried his best to spiritually reach out to Torterra as Reggie could with his Infernape, but his pleas remained unheard by the Continent Pokémon. For whatever reason, Paul was incapable of tapping into that power that made Reggie nigh unbeatable.

    It was largely because of this that Paul lost. He lost hard; once Infernape burned its way through the essence of Frenzy Plant, Torterra was rendered defenseless and was effectively thrown far back as it took a concentrated burst of flames to the face. Bear in mind that Torterra was a beast of a Pokémon, weighing in at nearly seven-hundred pounds. Infernape's strength had to be insanely high to blast this Pokémon away with ease. Paul watched in horror as his first Pokémon skid across the snow and dirt a few yards… then several hundred feet… then almost a mile.

    Once Paul found himself unfrozen by pure and utter shock, he instinctually dashed off towards his Torterra, highly concerned for its health. Reggie was quick to follow, but…

    "DON'T FOLLOW ME!"

    And Reggie just skid to a halt, aghast at what he just heard. Was there ever a time Paul sounded this angry, upset, afraid, confused, self-conscious, and desperate all at once, all at his maximum? He knew his brother was not yet mended, and though he was concerned that he might have gone too far with Torterra, he trusted his Infernape hadn't mortally wounded his brother's Pokémon. That was just how strong their bond was… compared to the barely-there bond existing between Paul and his Torterra.

    What counted, though, was that the bond was there, however weak it was. Reggie would stay where he was, at a great distance, until Paul was ready to come back to him. There was much to discuss about what went wrong during these battles, and where Paul needed to improve… at the same time, Reggie could tell much of Paul's poor performance was due to the fact that he hadn't fully recovered from yesterday's embarrassing loss. Losing in a similar manner against his gentle-natured brother was just too much for him to handle within such a short period of time.

    Paul had eight days left to straighten himself up and get back on his feet. If he lost to Ash, he wouldn't know what to do with himself. It was a very scary and very real possibility now, and Paul just didn't want to think about it.

    When he finally reached his Torterra, Paul just fell to his knees and stumbled to lean against his Pokémon's side. His hands grasped at Torterra's battered shell, still warm from the hit it took from Blast Burn. When he leaned over to actually face Torterra, seeing its weary and pained expression, that was finally the breaking point – it could no longer be held in.

    Paul began to cry his heart out.

    He honestly couldn't remember the last time he cried, much less this openly. During the toughest times of his journey, or when he lost in a League Conference, Paul would struggle and perhaps a tear or two would escape, dribbling down his face. Those were easy to brush away.

    But these weren't just gratuitous tears – Paul wailed and cried from the very bottom of his heart. He barely sounded like himself, because this was all of the agony he kept inside finally being released. It was loud, it was embarrassing, but finally it was something that surpassed Paul's pride. He had wanted to cry ever since he found out he was going to die. He really felt the urge to sob after he lost to Brandon yesterday, but with all his might he managed to hold it in.

    This, however, was too much. Seeing Torterra in pain like this broke Paul's heart to pieces. He very well knew this wasn't Torterra's fault; normally he'd place the blame on his Pokémon, but the pitiful look on its face told Paul everything he needed to know about why he lost this battle. Reggie was right; becoming one with your Pokémon formed a mighty bond. Reggie strongly believed in bonding with Pokémon, ever since he was just a youngster himself. His beliefs mirrored Ash's… so that meant Ash too had synergy with his Pokémon.

    Paul had finally seen it; the power of a trainer's connection to their Pokémon. He finally believed in it, but now he was overcome with sorrow. If his connection to Torterra was this faint, there couldn't possibly be any semblance of a connection with the rest of his Pokémon. Was it feasible to form a bond with all of them in a week? Could he bring himself to become so humble? Then again… nothing was more humbling than losing to Brandon in front of all his peers. Paul thought that must have been rock bottom for him, and that things could only get better from there. He was dead wrong: this was rock bottom.

    He cried so loudly, that even a mile away Reggie could faintly hear his sobs. Knowing he had broken down completely, his instincts told him to go over and console his brother. However…

    "Let him have some time to himself for once."

    Reggie froze, hearing that voice and feeling a hand on his shoulder. "Dad…? How long have you…?"

    "Long enough," Brandon responded, sounding rather distant. "And I see you have indeed made excellent progress."

    If Brandon had said that any other time, Reggie would have been so grateful to hear it. But right now… "But what about Paul, Dad? Can't you hear him? He's…"

    Brandon nodded, understanding his son's urgency to run to his brother's aid. Just like his wife… "I won't fault you for not comprehending this, but there are times, son… where we need to be alone. I can tell the boy's been smothered with company for at least a few days; that isn't what he's used to. If he's to ever recover from this slump he's in, he's going to have to do it his way, understand?"

    "I… think so," Reggie uneasily answered, still unable to help looking worried. "I just… I can't remember the last time he's cried like this…"

    "He cried like this when your mother died," Brandon solemnly mentioned. "Once we finally snapped him out of his catatonic state… the most heartbreaking sound I've ever heard."

    It was rather jarring that Brandon was openly talking about the family's darkest days. For the most part, he completely removed himself from those memories in order to cope himself, but it seemed hearing a familiar cry brought him back… because no matter how hard the Pyramid King tried, he could never rid himself of those memories.

    "Even before he battled you, something just seemed off about him," Reggie admitted, looking down at the snow. "He told me he chased his friend Conway off, but I don't think that's all…"

    "He's obviously hiding something," Brandon agreed. "But especially now, I wouldn't press it, Reggie. Not when he's like this. You're going to have to be patient and let the kid pull himself back together. If you do all the work, he'll feel worthless and codependent."

    Brandon knew much about how his sons operated despite rarely seeing them. That was something that even put Reggie off; and he had to wonder…

    "Sounds like you've been down this road before," Reggie postulated, trying to sound as neutral as possible.

    Admittedly, Brandon was a little shocked Reggie had the nerve to even speculate about his father's past that he knew very little about. What he did know, though, was that Paul definitely took after Brandon. It wasn't a stretch to believe that perhaps Brandon was in this very position a long, long time ago.

    "I believe this is all the training you'll get out of him for today," Brandon said, attempting to change the subject. Given the dire nature of the subject he focused on, Reggie was easily swayed. "But now that he's finally letting it all out, the healing can truly begin… as can the progress."

    Reggie nodded in agreement. "I'll do whatever I can to make a difference. I just hope he'll listen to me for once…"

    "He'll listen," Brandon said, sounding very sure of himself. "The boy has no one else to turn to; in the state he's in, he won't trust himself to progress on his own. So then his only choice is to follow your guidance… if his pride is unable to hold back his true feelings any longer, it won't hold back his desire for help, either. And… whenever I can, I'd like to oversee this progress myself."

    "Huh? Really?" Reggie was in mild disbelief, though he remembered his father proved before that he could actually be part of the family when he was needed most. "But… what about your work?"

    Brandon looked on at the rubble that once made up the Snowpoint Temple, deep in thought. "My work won't be completed by your brother's deadline regardless of how involved I am. While you two are here, and since a large part of your brother's breakdown is my fault… I feel I owe it to you both to do what I can to make sure the boy's prepared for his battle. He needs to win and see for himself that things aren't as hopeless as they seem to be right now."

    "I appreciate it, Dad," Reggie thanked, staring down at the ground as he continued to remain deeply concerned. "Even with the way things are now… I think spending time together will do us all a lot of good."

    To that, Brandon could not disagree. "Indeed… this is long overdue, and we are all facing a great problem individually. Coming together may be our only way to persevere…"

    The Pokémon Breeder was comforted and heartbroken at the same time. It was a surreal experience, knowing now he'd have his whole family (whole as it can be these days, anyway) together for more than a week. It was like a dream come true… but Reggie couldn't forget the price for this togetherness. The family first united under a dire circumstance… that being Reggie after he was struck by lightning. Now they've come together again, and would stay united to support Paul after his long-overdue nervous breakdown. They would spend the next eight days being the family that Paul had always needed for so long, though he would never admit to that.

    Reggie wondered just then… since they would have to part ways in all likelihood once the eight days were up and Brandon certainly wasn't leaving Sinnoh anytime soon… perhaps the three would reunite once more in the distant future? It was just sort of a hunch Reggie had, but given that he correctly foresaw his brother almost losing his life in the subzero depths of Route 216, he had reason to believe there was credence to his theories now.

    He could sense a pattern forming; one he could not ignore. After seven – nearly eight long years, the remains of this family reunited under unlikely circumstances in Veilstone City to be there for Reggie himself when he was at his lowest. A little over a month later, here they were now, reunited again in the arctic north of Sinnoh. The odds of these three crossing paths in the most desolate, remote area of the region were virtually nonexistent, but here they were again… as if destiny decreed it to be so. This time, the family became one again to help Paul, who had just hit rock bottom in more ways than one. Just as Reggie recovered both physically and mentally just by having his father and brother at his side, the Pokémon Breeder knew Paul would make a fantastic recovery soon enough.

    Taking this into consideration, Reggie could feel that another reunion was imminent. He wasn't sure where or when… but what he did know was that Brandon in terms of stress and coming to terms with impending doom wasn't faring much better than Paul was right now. Brandon simply had much greater experience in keeping his agony buried deep within himself. But regardless of Brandon's fantastic capabilities and accomplishments, he was only human… just like the rest of the world. And like any other person, Reggie knew from both his own experience and seeing Paul now that it was horrifically unhealthy to bottle up so much negativity and misery. Brandon may have a greater capacity to contain such feelings, but one of these days he'd overflow and suffer greatly for it. Whenever that time came, Reggie somehow knew that would be when they'd all be together once again. There would be dire straits just like this reunion and the one before, but it didn't stop Reggie from looking forward to it. The opportunity to truly shine in Brandon's life by directly helping him was something Reggie had always wanted. He never wanted to battle to gain his father's respect; he wanted respect for his true talents. If he could make a difference in Brandon's life by saving it, Reggie would be on top of the world.

    He felt a little guilty hoping for that… but strongly as he felt that it would be Brandon's turn next to break down and reconcile with the family, Reggie couldn't shrug it off as a mere feeling. No, this felt very inevitable, and Reggie was determined to be ready for it.

    "Don't get your hopes up on getting the kid to confess whatever he's hiding," Brandon warned his eldest son. "He'll tell us when he's ready and no sooner. Just don't assume that he will come out with it simply because we are supporting him right now."

    Reggie nodded, a bit let down by the reality of what he was told. "Whenever he decides to be honest with us… I still hope we'll be able to help him. We can't afford to let Paul down again."

    Brandon nodded, looking solemn as he took Reggie's words to heart. "We'll do whatever we can… that, at least, is a promise I can keep."

    While the two deliberated over what Paul could possibly be hiding, a mile away the youngest member of the family was busy burying the bloody evidence of his secret under the snow. Once Paul had gotten the urge to cry out of his system, he was quickly overcome with the urge to vomit blood, just as badly as the time he'd done so in Candice's Gym. His medication was able to buffer some amount of the pain, but not all of it. At least it prevented him from passing out this time, though he definitely felt like he could at any second.

    Torterra winced at the sight, knowing its trainer was going through much more pain and turmoil than it ever could, no matter how badly beaten it was in the battle. Morale throughout Paul's entire team had perished since the dreaded day they learned of their trainer's imminent demise – yet another reason why Paul's battling ability suffered now.

    Paul wiped his mouth of the blood that lingered, not bothering to wipe away the tears from his eyes. Frequently as they flowed, and as often as Paul practically dry-heaved every sob that came out from him, he really didn't even feel cold – on the contrary, he was feeling feverish again. Being out in this weather was not good for him; that's what the doctors told Paul, anyway. But Paul was not about to let some arctic chills get in his way. Even at rock bottom, the troubled teenager had no desire to give up. He felt hopeless, had had virtually nothing to go by when it came to his connection with his Pokémon… but Paul would not give up. Not even if he cried…

    "You did your best, Torterra," Paul said to his starter, though his voice was beyond hoarse and hollow. He attempted to sound comforting, but it just came off a bit odd coming from him. Despite that, Torterra could pick up on its trainer's words of kindness and took them to heart. If Paul would thank any Pokémon of his for their efforts after being blasted a mile away in defeat, truly this was a sign that Paul was changing for the better. The Continent Pokémon, for all is pain and misery, could rest at ease remembering those words as it was finally recalled back to its Pokéball. Before this, Torterra heard strangled attempts at an apology while Paul cried… so it had no illusions about its hopes for Paul to recover and become a better person for it.

    Just as Brandon knew he would, Paul picked himself back off his feet, feeling at least somewhat better emotionally now that he no longer had anything but his own disease to withhold from the people in his life. He turned back around and started to trudge through the snow back to where Reggie waited for him. Paul was a bit shocked to realize Brandon was now present as well.

    Many emotions surged through Paul's body as he tried to think of how to address his family once they were face-to-face again. But most of all, Paul couldn't help but feel a bit relieved. The odd, barely-familiar feeling of content and comfort returned, and by now Paul knew it wasn't a coincidence that it only came up with Brandon's presence – now enhanced with Reggie right by his side.

    That feeling was Paul's fulfilled desire for his father to be in his life… to acknowledge and care for him like any loving father should. It was true; deep down, Paul did not completely hate Pyramid King Brandon. Much as he wanted to believe that, it simply wasn't true, and even Paul could no longer pretend it was after experiencing these strong feelings. Their civil conversation that morning was a much-needed calm before this storm.

    And Paul… found himself wanting more. He wanted to resist that; he knew Brandon wouldn't be here in Sinnoh forever and he knew being pulled away from him again would not be a pleasant time. It was as if Paul's baser instincts were making him regress into the child he used to be; a frightful experience, no doubt.

    Despite this… there was something endearing about it. When Paul finally returned to Reggie and Brandon, he stared at them both with his still-leaking eyes. His reddened face was pure evidence of the sobbing fit he had, but Paul didn't bother trying to deny that. He didn't even say a single word… instead, the young trainer walked into the arms of his older brother and father. In one swift motion, Paul embraced them both. He didn't full-on cry again, but Reggie and Brandon could feel his shaky breath against their chests. They knew what Paul needed.

    Reggie wrapped one arm around Paul and the other around Brandon, pulling them ever closer together. In the back of the Frontier Brain's mind, there was some freaking-out commencing as Brandon was not the cuddling type in the least.

    Then again, neither was Paul.

    Without hesitation, Brandon managed to complete the family embrace, mirroring Reggie with one arm around each son, pulling them all into a long overdue and much-needed hug.

    Finally, the family made one collective step forward.






    "You mind putting that dumb badge away now? You've been staring at it long enough."

    It was sunset, and the duo of Conway and Barry strolled the streets of Hearthome City back to their hotel. It was too late to journey out today, but tomorrow progress would finally be made. At least for one half of the duo; as for the other…

    "Envious, much?" Conway teased, though he felt a bit like a jerk for doing so. He couldn't imagine how frustrating it must be to lose to Fantina again, which Barry did. He conceded to his partner's wishes and stuck the Relic Badge into his badge case, pocketing it away shortly after. "Well, now that I've defeated Fantina, I can spend some time training you before I aim for my next Gym Battle."

    "Don't be taking pity on me," Barry grumbled. "You only barely beat her, you know!"

    Conway nodded, fondly remembering his battle. "I'll admit it was a close one, so I can't exactly tease you for losing to someone like her. She is a genuinely difficult challenge."

    "Argh, I'm so sick of being in this city," the agitated Barry complained, waving his arms around in frustration. "I mean, the hotel's nice, but we're wasting so much time here! I may not even get to battle Fantina tomorrow; you know how she is! That woman's driving me nuts!"

    Barry brought up an interesting point: now that Conway earned his Relic Badge, he had no reason to stick around in Hearthome City any longer, and doing so would just squander precious time. Yet Conway felt guilty of the prospect of just abandoning Barry here and now; he wasn't going to settle things with Paul's coldhearted ways no matter how much of a nuisance Barry was.

    Conway was ever-thankful to be as clever as he was: he quickly thought of a way around this.

    "You know, Barry, the best thing to do about this is perhaps taking a little vacation," the intellectual trainer suggested. "Get your mind off how much this irritates you and expand it with some other sites and experiences. We'll train along the way and get you better-rounded as a result. How does that sound?"

    "Hm…" Barry, for once, considered his companion's proposal. "It's true I wanna get out of here… I really want to beat Fantina, but if I've lost to her this many times, I gotta be doing something wrong, right?"

    After seeing the desperate and pitiful way Barry attempted to melee her ghost Pokémon into submission, Conway couldn't sugarcoat this in all good conscience. "Maybe not so much as doing something wrong as it is that you must be lacking something. I can't tell you what that is yet, but it would be worth exploring so that you'll be ready for Fantina next time. I strongly recommend altering your strategy for next time, however. From what I witnessed, she seems to have memorized your every move. And you saw with me just how effective the element of surprise is against her."

    Barry looked up at the bright orange sky; its hue matching the stripes on his shirt. "Alright, fine. I guess you proved yourself to be pretty cool after all. Let's ditch this place tomorrow, then."

    An excellent move of persuasion on Conway's behalf, he had to admit. Now he was free to continue his journey without Barry completely slowing him down. "Agreed. Perhaps you could teach me a thing or two, even?"

    "You want to learn stuff from me?" Barry sounded almost humbled at the prospect. "You're not joking, right?"

    "I'm quite sincere," Conway insisted. "I was thinking perhaps a city we won't have to travel too far away to reach so we can come back here quickly when you're relaxed and ready to face Fantina again. Is there a Pokémon Gym nearby that you've already conquered, by any chance?"

    "Hm…?" Barry pulled open his badge case, looking over the few he earned. "Well, let's see. I got a Mine Badge from beating Byron, but Canalave City's a long way from here…"

    Conway saw firsthand how tough of a fight Byron could be. Despite his feats, he was pretty certain he wasn't quite ready yet to take on the man of steel. "Mm, yes. That's a bit too far. Try something that won't take a week just to reach."

    "Ah, I got it!" a very excited Barry exclaimed, pulling out a Forest Badge from his case. "How about Eterna City? I beat the Gym Leader there, and with my help I think you can totally take her on. Whaddya say?"

    "That actually sounds like a good idea," Conway said with a smile. "The lady there is a Grass-type specialist, correct?" Barry nodded in affirmation. "Then it's settled: we'll set course for Eterna City first thing in the morning."

    Barry sighed with relief. "Anything for a change of scenery… pretty good idea, Conway. Can't deny that…"

    There was an awkward silence following that. Barry inadvertently reminded himself of something important he wanted to discuss. "By the way, you looked really mad at me during that Gym Battle, you know?"

    Conway knew this dreaded topic was coming; best to get it over with and out of the way. "I thought we've thoroughly discussed the matter of not using my real name in public, Barry. I will attach a sticky note on your forehead to remind you every day if that's what it takes. You seem to not realize how important this is."

    "What's the big deal, huh?" Barry asked, wanting some answers now. "It's like you're lying to the entire world except me, you know?"

    "I didn't want you knowing my real name, either," Conway bitterly told him. "But that couldn't be helped. If you promise not to get involved, Barry, I'll tell you someday when it's appropriate… all I can tell you now is that I'm on… you might call it an "undercover mission" of sorts, and it's direly important that my identity is not to be compromised."

    Barry blinked, silent for a moment before comprehending his cohort's words. "So you're kinda like a spy, is that what you're saying?"

    "… Yes, let's go with that," Conway decided, rolling his eyes. "And you know how important it is for a spy to maintain their stealth and disguise at all times, right?"

    "Well yeah, what kinda spy just spills all their secrets in front of everybody and tells them they're a spy?" Barry rhetorically asked. "So… wait a minute. Are you a good spy or a bad spy?"

    He might as well have been asking Conway if he was a good witch or a bad witch.

    "I'm on the side of good, of course," Conway answered, adamant about his stance. "Do I really seem evil to you, Barry?"

    Barry actually had to take time to think about this. "I guess not… I mean, you're really weird and all, but you're also a huge wuss. I guess you'd have to be a good guy… just a really lame one."

    It was like sticking a bare hand in a thorny bush to grab a delicious piece of fruit; Barry was just that difficult about giving his companion a compliment. Conway wouldn't let himself get upset over it, however. He knew Barry wasn't the sharpest knife in the drawer… his comments couldn't be taken seriously half the time.

    "I'll tell you more later," Conway tiredly assured. "It's been a long day for both of us… let's just order a big room service dinner and rest up for the journey tomorrow."

    "Sounds like my kind of plan!" Barry agreed, grinning. "Say, I never pegged you as a guy who'd be into Contests, either. You were never in one, for real?"

    Conway blinked, looking confused. "Where is this all coming from, if I may ask? Seems a bit out of left field."

    "When you were battling Fantina, duh!" Barry scoffed, as if Conway were the stupid one. "That one move you did with Aggron did look a lot like a Contest move! "

    "I suppose I drew a lot of inspiration from that sweet girl Dawn," Conway said, feigning assumption. He quickly regretted saying that, however, as Barry instantly smirked back at him.

    "Hah! You're into Dawn, huh? Can't say I'm surprised," Barry said with a laugh. "You're both losers for getting crushed by Paul; you'd be a perfect match! Haha!"

    Conway was a well-rounded master of keeping his cool, but not this time. Dawn remained to be his critical weak point even though he'd officially given up all hope of having a chance with her. Consequently, his face quickly turned as red as a Tamato Berry. He couldn't even come up with anything to say in rebuttal before Barry opened his mouth again.

    "But good luck with that, man. It's not official yet, but Dawn's about to be taken," Barry informed his lowly partner. "You missed the boat by not being a Coordinator."

    And just like that, Conway's professional composure was shattered as he looked desperately at Barry. "W-wait, what are you talking about?"

    "Well, I got this buddy of mine named Kenny," Barry said, completely casual and relaxed. "He's from Twinleaf Town like me and Dawn. He's been Dawn's friend since like kindergarten or something… but anyway, yeah. He's a Coordinator, and he said he's gonna win the whole Grand Festival this year just to prove himself to Dawn! I mean hey, I like Kenny and all, but the dude can be such a pile of mush! If you want Dawn, you gotta get through him. I don't think anyone can out-do him in the mush department, though."

    "She has… someone else…?" Conway had no idea. Never did this possibility even occur to him. He didn't even consider Ash as real competition because he seemed so completely oblivious to anything related to romance.

    Barry pointed a finger directly at Conway's face. "Hey, weren't you listening? I said they're not together yet. But they might as well be, I guess. It's not like you're gonna be her romantic rival in the Grand Festival or anything, and you've met her like, what, one time?"

    "Twice," Conway said through gritted teeth. The truth stung like a million Beedrill at once.

    "Okay, whatever, twice," Barry conceded in a mocking tone. "That's still nothing compared to like, most of Dawn's natural life. What's more powerful than a childhood friendship romance? I sure can't think of one."

    But then again, Barry didn't think much about romance to begin with. He just knew his friend Kenny was determined to make Dawn his. Conway didn't exactly come off as a Casanova, so odds are he wouldn't be sweeping Dawn off her feet with his charms alone.

    "I guess I'll have to think of one," Conway mumbled to himself. Barry vaguely heard it and leaned in close, putting a hand against his ear to clearly hear his buddy's words.

    "Come again?" Barry asked, ever-so invasively. Conway simply backed away, looking completely conflicted.

    What was he doing, even thinking about striking back? He could no longer afford to be a Coordinator. He was supposed to be dead to the world, including his closest friends and loved ones. There were more important things to do right now than dwell on an unrequited crush being picked up and carried away by a sudden love rival. Conway didn't get it; why was he caring this much? He'd done so well to swear off his family, and he thought he expelled any hope of charming Dawn a while ago. But the very second he learned of Kenny's existence, the flare of love burned brightly once more.

    "Hey, don't be clamming up on me now!" Barry demanded, playfully knocking Conway on the head with his fist. "What's going on in that weirdo head of yours? I'm gonna fine you if you don't start talking; I'm serious!"

    There was an abrupt and awkward silence as Conway grabbed Barry by the wrist – specifically the hand that was bonking his head – and forced a credit card in his hand.

    "Order whatever you want," Conway offered in a low voice. "I… need to be alone tonight."

    He actually seemed depressed; what was this? Barry wasn't getting it. "Uh… but what about you? You need dinner, too!"

    "I believe I've lost my appetite," Conway hollowly answered before briskly walking away. He was long gone before Barry could utter out a verbal reaction.

    "Geez… was it something I said?" Barry wondered out loud, scratching his head while looking down at the credit card given to him. "Oh well. Looks like I get to fine him big time tonight; more food for me!"






    One highly emotional day gave way to a week of nothing but pure business. Paul and Reggie became stronger day by day; Paul focused on connecting with his Pokémon while Reggie's overall power grew all the more as they assisted their father in the cleanup and rebuilding of the Snowpoint Temple. The restoration project was finally underway by the middle of the week, giving Brandon more time to spend with his sons. It was surreal, yet genuine quality time that all three of them desperately needed, whether they knew it or not. Conway and Barry got sidetracked on their way to Eterna City, but for their troubles, both acquired new Pokémon: the Bug and Rock-typed Shuckle for Conway, who aimed to use it in the fight against Gym Leader Gardenia – and Skarmory for Barry at Conway's suggestion for a wider variety in Barry's Pokémon team.

    Great progress was made for all parties involved, but would it be enough to resolve their individual problems?

    Only time will tell…

    ( TBC )
    Last edited by Shinneth; 26th January 2011 at 5:30 AM.

    Travels of the Trifecta! - Chronicles of an estranged family!

    LJ | dA | Bulbagarden | ff.net

    Diamond: 2749 - 7749 - 1840
    SoulSilver: 2364 - 7834 - 3761

  21. #146
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    (And over half a year later, I update with the new chapter! Yeah, I'm hoping that never happens again. But this was yet another adaptation chapter. For TWO EPISODES. And real life is horrible. But it's here now and the NEW-new longest chapter of the fic so far. So have fun with that; next chapter will conclude the Snowpoint Saga, finally!)


    "We've got him now; Marowak, use Earthquake and follow up with Double-Edge!"

    "… Ursaring…"

    Progress had been made with Paul and Reggie's intense training that lasted over a week's time. In times like this, though, the improvements were not at all obvious. It seemed, more or less, that Paul was exactly as weak as he'd been when the training commenced.

    Once the fateful day was waiting in the wings within a mere twenty-four hours, Paul and Reggie bid their father and his associates farewell and departed northbound to Lake Acuity. Reggie's van proved to get his brother to their destination more quickly than rival Ash Ketchum's method of transport: by train. Granted, there had been an unscheduled stop and some suspicious shenanigans along that trip. Ash and company even got the privilege to meet the private detective, Looker. At that point they were unaware that this would not be the last time they'd meet… as it was shown that the delay of the train was the doing of the northbound Team Galactic.

    Not that any of this was relevant to Paul; he was merely thankful to have reached Lake Acuity first. This gave him the opportunity to get some last-minute training with Reggie in, which was what they were doing right now. Nurse Joy of the Lake Acuity Pokémon Center graciously allowed the two to use the open field near the building to have a quick battle while they waited for Ash.

    While Paul was grateful to have one last opportunity to prepare, his morale remained just as dead as it had been for the past week. Despite the progress he made, Paul never once defeated Reggie in any of their practice battles. From the looks of things, Paul was about to lose this battle as well.

    Reaction time went against the broken trainer once again as Ursaring was slammed hard by two strong, brutal attacks in succession. Paul looked away with shame, unable to bear watching the Hibernator Pokémon falling to the ground with a tremor-inducing thud. No doubt it was unable to battle.

    "Excellent job as always," Reggie congratulated his Marowak, giving an approving nod. However, upon noticing the massive damage he'd done to the battlefield itself, Reggie quickly became flustered. "Oh… wow… we still don't know our own strength, it seems…"

    That didn't particularly bother Marowak, of course. Seeing the results of using its power to its maximum potential did much for the Bone Keeper Pokémon's confidence. Unlike his brother, Reggie's progress had been quite noticeable and even the modest Pokémon Breeder couldn't honestly be down on himself and his chances against Brandon when all signs were telling him that he undoubtedly had achieved the level of power he once had going into the Kanto Battle Frontier before he was even fifteen years old. With that hurdle overcome, Reggie would only get even stronger from here on out. The fact that Brandon went out of his way to commend his firstborn son for his progress (something that rarely ever happened in the eighteen years Reggie had been alive) meant that things were undeniably looking up for the Pokémon Breeder at last.

    On the flipside, there was Paul… the past half-month for him had been little more than an unglamorous losing streak. Since the day Paul was forced to participate in a Pokémon Contest – just before he and Conway went their separate ways – the crueler of the two brothers hadn't won a single battle.

    Granted, Paul made it all the way as a runner-up in his very first Pokémon Contest before losing to his former companion; most trainers who actually aspire to be Pokémon Coordinators rarely perform that well on their first Contest. Paul not only achieved a fantastic rank despite his lack of love for this potential career path, but he did so having less than a day's time to undergo a crash course in how Pokémon Contests work. In that timeframe he also had to pick the two Pokémon he'd be using in his appeal and battle rounds, create a visually stunning appeal to get past the preliminary round (a true feat for Paul since he wasn't exactly the creative type), adjust his battling style to fit better with the Contest constraints, and make a strategy on the fly to combat the Coordinators much more experienced than him in order to get to Conway in the finals.

    Had the two rude girls he met the day before the Plumeria Contest not gotten under his skin, Paul might have not had the drive to overcome the odds. Still, it was a pity he cared so little for Contests… this was the high point of Paul's slump, undoubtedly. Perhaps it didn't help that the experience was still a humiliating one for Paul, and throughout the whole thing he was televised. Since Reggie and Maylene caught the broadcast and identified him, Paul would have a very difficult time living this down for years to come. If nothing else, he could take solace in the fact that it seemed Ash and his friends didn't catch sight of the Plumeria Contest; otherwise Ash or especially Dawn would have mentioned it at some point during the two days they had the opportunity to do so.

    The next loss on the streak was also a point where Paul was still performing decently despite this taking place shortly after his illness began to make itself known. Again, Paul made it all the way to the finals in Squallville's PokéRinger competition and even managed to make short work of the man perceived as the biggest threat given his status as a multi-time PokéRinger champion. That earned him some credibility, especially in the eyes of his father who watched the competition on TV (something Brandon neglected to bring up to Paul for all the time they spent together). Still, to Paul it didn't mean that much when it was Ash who ultimately defeated him and won the whole competition. That was the very first time Ash made a decisive win over Paul in anything; the fact that it wasn't a proper battle, however, allowed Paul to cope with the loss without too much trouble. Like the Contest, Paul didn't have much heart in the PokéRinger competition, so arguably he wasn't trying his best. There were more pressing matters on Paul's mind at the time, and this was before Paul had prescribed medication to deal with his body's aches and pains that came and went throughout that day. The more Paul thought back on that particular loss now, though, the more concerned he became with Ash's growing abilities as a whole.

    Things really went downhill when Paul finally made it to Snowpoint City. Though Paul's landslide loss to Candice was mainly on account of the fact that he was exhausted, severely ill, impatient, and lacking a strategy (being too prideful to consider using the one Conway helped make for him), it had been a long time since Paul last had his entire team utterly decimated by a Gym Leader… who used only one Pokémon to do all that. Paul wrongly assumed Candice would be a much easier challenge than Byron and paid a heavy price for his arrogance. Not only did he lose against her in front of several children who mocked him from the very beginning, but the moment Paul's last Pokémon was rendered unable to battle was the moment his illness took precedence over everything else in his life… whether Paul wanted it that way or not.

    Three humiliating losses in, Paul could no longer run away from the fact that he'd be losing more than just his pride if he continued to push himself too hard. The diagnosis of his terminal illness forced the young trainer to take time out of his training to take care of himself.

    However adversely this affected Paul, he was not deterred to press on without a change of plans. Once he was released from the hospital, he spent the next few days training so that he would be able to defeat Candice next time. But before Paul had the chance to break his losing streak, there was Ash Ketchum, in his way as usual. Because of him, the battle was postponed, and Paul felt a piece of his pride wither away and die when he learned that Ash had already defeated Candice… on the first try… and that victory put Ash ahead of Paul in badge count. Paul couldn't remember if that was ever the case since their Sinnoh journey began, but it was yet another reason to be nervous of Ash's progress. Still, Paul retained the ever-slightest bit of optimism that Ash wouldn't get in his way the following day, he'd defeat Candice in their rematch, and his losing streak would end.

    And then Pyramid King Brandon came in to say hello.

    This was combined with the surprise of having Reggie's company (thus putting Paul under pressure he couldn't afford to endure, considering everything he was keeping a secret from his family), then becoming enlightened of Ash's Battle Frontier accomplishments – including the defeat of his own father before the rivals ever crossed paths. By now Paul's pride was being met with killing blows at every corner, overwhelming the troubled trainer with doubt. There was a chance to redeem himself, Paul believed… and it conveniently tied in with the promise he made with his father in Veilstone City. He wanted to show Ash and Reggie firsthand that he could do anything they could (or couldn't, in Reggie's case). This seemed to be the ticket out of Paul's rut for certain.

    But ultimately, this resulted in Paul's most devastating defeat yet. In front of his rival, his rival's friends, his brother, and the Gym Leader who shut him down once already, Paul was soundly beaten by this own father without defeating any of his Pokémon. As if that weren't bad enough, Paul's greatest weakness was exposed during that battle… and it was something that couldn't be merely brushed away. With no clue as to what motivated him now beyond revenge, Paul felt completely helpless, and that was reflected in how he battled for the majority of the ten-day period before his scheduled full battle with Ash.

    There was only one way to see any positives in this low period of Paul's life: when he finally stopped holding back his sorrows and broke down into a sobbing fit during the first day of training. That moment was the lowest Paul could get, meaning from then on it could only get better. To a degree, things did improve. Though he still couldn't defeat his brother, Paul's Pokémon were indeed growing stronger with each passing day. Strategies were tossed around as well as techniques and move experimentations; safe to say Paul had been preparing much more thoroughly than Ash for the upcoming battle.

    Ever since Paul was found to be unwell by the doctors of Squallville, he was in complete and utter denial of the whole thing. It was easier for him to say there was nothing wrong with him, even though Paul knew deep down that wasn't true. He isolated himself from not only Conway, but everyone else as best he could. He left the medical facilities of Squallville at the first opportunity, barely said a word to Ash during the PokéRinger tournament, and took the dangerous, rarely-traveled route to Snowpoint City just to avoid the rest of the world. The last thing Paul wanted was complete strangers making comments about how "sick" he looked. Whatever they claimed about him, Paul wasn't seeing it, but only because he didn't want to see it.

    Anger was second nature to Paul even without his grievances. He was quick to fly into a rage both in his battle with Candice and Brandon. Paul was even savage enough to feign suicidal tendencies just to get Candice out of his hair. At the same time, when Brandon came into the picture after Ash revealed his victory over the Pyramid King, Paul saw a small window of opportunity for bargain; after all, if an overly-emotional novice like Ash could defeat Brandon, then logically Paul ought to be able to do the same. For a short time he thought that perhaps he and Reggie overestimated the challenge ahead for them. If Paul could defeat Brandon and endure the trials brought about by his faulty genetic code, then Paul could believe himself to be in not such a bad state after all. Though a far-fetched one, it was a bargain that Paul could not pass up.

    Unfortunately, the trainer in turmoil could not hold up his end of the bargain. Paul's anger – his rage – completely consumed his entire being. All Paul could think about as he faced his father on the battlefield was how much he hated the Pyramid King. Try as he did to turn that hatred into power, it backfired on him… and in the end, Paul was made out to be the fool. Anger clouded his senses, preventing him from acting reasonably or giving up when it had already been clear that Brandon had won. Paul was perfectly capable of doing that much with Cynthia – surrounded by snotty young trainers as spectators who mocked the cocky challenger all the while – and overall he carried himself very professionally back then when he surrendered after losing four of his six Pokémon to the Sinnoh Champion.

    When it came right down to it, Paul more or less lost to Brandon for the same reason as his brother:

    Neither were able to fully view the Pyramid King as a Frontier Brain; a challenger; an opponent.

    All they saw facing them on the battlefield was the stone-cold glare of a father who refused to acknowledge his own flesh and blood; not even when he was needed the most.

    Brandon's situation only made Paul angrier, just after the brief moment where the rage subsided and the second son started to see his father in a different light, even expressing concern for his wellbeing when they learned about the tragic events at the Snowpoint Temple. One night to sleep off the anxiety brought about the calm before the next storm in Paul's dramatic saga of grief. He managed to hold a civil conversation with Brandon for the first time since he could remember. Knowing that he had his family supporting him for this upcoming battle with Ash brought great comfort to the conflicted trainer.

    Then reality dealt him another harsh blow as it was shown that Reggie had become vastly more powerful than his little brother. True as it may be that the brothers were in this together, there had always been a subtle sibling rivalry even since the two were toddlers… though inarguably this "rivalry" was felt much more strongly by Paul. Being the little brother of the equation, of course Paul inherently felt the need to prove something to Reggie. But Reggie was about the most passive big brother anybody could meet – it seemed everyone who came across both Reggie and Paul would quickly note the vast differences between them. Truly, at first, Ash and his friends were stunned with disbelief from the very idea that the two were even related. At least they vaguely shared some of the same genetics based on appearance, though there was no debate as to who was the better-looking brother – Reggie, naturally. Paul put little to no importance on appearance to begin with, so being inferior in this department didn't really bother him… annoying as it had been in the past to see Reggie get all the attention from the occasional passerby in town because of his looks matching his sweet and innocent nature.

    To be fair, Paul had every reason to believe that in terms of power with his Pokémon team, he must have been close to Reggie's level. Reggie hadn't actively trained in four years, though a minor bit of training was part of his job as a Pokémon Breeder – but in that case it was to keep the baby Pokémon fit, in shape, and capable of defending themselves. Paul was two Sinnoh Gym Badges and six Battle Frontier Symbols short of matching Reggie's accomplishments exactly. In the grand scheme of things, that wasn't much given the twenty-four badges Paul already earned from previous regions (including the Indigo, Silver, and Ever Grande Conferences). Six Sinnoh badges put Paul up to thirty total against Reggie's thirty-two. Since Paul had been training practically every day from the very moment he became a Pokémon Trainer onward whilst Reggie spent the past four years doing nothing to hone his skills, it was perfectly reasonable for Paul to believe he stood a chance in surpassing his brother. If he could at least prove to be a better trainer than Reggie, then he'd be content. All other aspects of life that Reggie was superior to his brother in would be irrelevant.

    But now it had been over a week since the two started training for the upcoming battle ahead. After the first major loss, Paul's willpower shattered as he sunk into a deep depression. It had been a challenge to hold all of that in while being surrounded by several of his peers, but realizing how weak his connection to his own starter was what finally broke Paul down. Though he hadn't faltered with his training, with every defeat Paul suffered to Reggie as the days went by, his misery intensified. Everything seemed absolutely hopeless now… the day before, Paul even wondered if there was a point to any of this. Suffering loss after loss, Paul was unable to see that light at the end of the tunnel. Surely, having hit rock bottom now, he'd be seeing signs of things turning up. The fact that his Pokémon were growing stronger considerably through this lengthy training session was lost on the listless young man. Reggie (or Brandon) would shake Paul out of his daze just to keep him going, but even the family's efforts couldn't keep Paul grounded permanently.

    Since the day Paul went back to traveling solo, his life had been full of strife and suffering. The long road of woe and heartbreak seemed to be without end. There were just too many problems weighing Paul down for him to focus for a good deal of the week…

    … And all that was left for Paul now was to accept the terms forever imposed on his life. But Paul was never one to merely "accept" things such as weakness, ineptitude, or failure. In the past, he was quick to release his Pokémon back into the wild if any of them exhibited such unforgivable traits. Was this karmic retribution for those Pokémon, for Paul to embody all of the traits he loathed above all else? Genetically, Paul was the definition of weakness. Nothing he could say or do would ever change that, for this label was imposed on Paul the moment he was born.

    Now Paul wondered how his late mother coped with this disease… how long she went about her life before her body's limitations chained her down permanently. He was too young to truly remember his mother prior to her death, though the dream he had weeks ago after suffering a near-death experience seemed a little too familiar and a bit too real to be a mere hallucination. Since having that chance reunion with his own family doctor from years past, Paul had been thinking of his mother far more than ever before. She was truly the only person who Paul could have turned to for aid in this matter, but obviously that would not be feasible now. But after thinking about her this much, he couldn't help but ask himself… just how much did his mother know about his health? If this disease could be passed down genetically, certainly there must have been some concern from both parents way back when they considered having children.

    It was easy to assume that with Reggie being born completely disease-free, Brandon and Andrea's fears were put to rest, which would explain Paul's existence even if he wasn't as fortunate in his genetic inheritance. But what made them bold enough to have Reggie in the first place…? Whenever Paul was ready to come clean with the truth to his family, he would be sure to ask Brandon these questions. Now that the family had finally grown closer, hopefully Brandon would be more willing to talk about the past and his late wife. It wouldn't be any easier to talk about for the aging trainer even after a few years short of a decade have passed, but logically it should be best to talk about the largest loss of his life – millions of times more painful than the loss of Regigigas and its cohorts – to the only two people in the world who felt the exact same pain as he did. As Reggie would adamantly agree, this was a topic had wrongly been pushed aside for a long time. Where the one who followed in his mother's footsteps wanted to remember Andrea fondly, talk about her, and believed embracing her memory would be the best remedy for moving on, Brandon and Paul believed the opposite.

    Ironically, the Pyramid King who represented the Brave Symbol was the one who thought the best way to come to terms with the untimely loss of his wife was to run away from it all; distance himself from everything that reminded him of his one and only lost love. However, he did at least remain brave in one particular way: Andrea had known of her fate since she was younger than Paul was now, but she purposefully hid it from her peers mostly for the same reasons her son did. But by her late teens, she confessed her secret to Brandon. The two had known each other since they were old enough to be Pokémon Trainers, and over the years they became rather close. As they matured, so did their feelings. Andrea kept quiet about her fate, fearing Brandon would turn away from her and go astray for obvious reasons. It was selfish yet understandable, but the moment Brandon started talking to her about marriage and children, Andrea knew she had to come clean. Then the future was put in Brandon's hands, but the choice he made was lead by his heart as he came to understand that even an incurable disease wouldn't come between his feelings for the only woman he ever fell in love with. Children were an obvious concern still, as both wanted at least one or two.

    Another of many unrevealed details Brandon withheld from his sons during their time together was how the two came to be; Reggie was every bit as aware as Brandon that his mother was sick during his childhood, though he found out through observation first before being told. If Paul was curious about how they came to be just now, rest assured Reggie had been wondering that for a much longer time and still wanted that answer himself. It was hard to be patient for Brandon sometimes… but it was evident that the Frontier Brain may be the only way Paul could get any form of closure in regards to his fate. His father was the key to the ability to truly accept the burden; Paul just hated it whenever he needed his father. A pity he developed that sort of trait when a parent should always be counted on regardless, but this family, even with all their progress made, would never truly be normal.

    "Paul…?"

    Paul blinked, snapping out of his daze to look to his brother, who was suddenly right next to him. "Hm?" He had no idea what just happened.

    "You did it again," Reggie pointed it out, smiling warmly. "Today's the day, Paul… there really is no time to get lost in thought now. I think we've got just enough time to squeeze in one more practice before Ash and the others get here; what do you say?"

    Overcome with the sudden irrational fear that Reggie was onto his secret, Paul shied away from his brother, looking down hatefully. "Do you even want me to win, Reggie…?" Another thing he had doubts about during the week.

    "Would I have spent more than a week training you all this time if I didn't?" Reggie softly assured him, patting him on the shoulder. This question, while coming out of left field, wasn't exactly an unexpected thing for him to hear from his little sibling. Even Reggie knew of Paul's jealousy issues, and bore witness many a time to his less-than-pleasant nature brought about by it. Paul never had one nice thing to say about Ash for all the time they talked about him, and once they were in Ash's presence together, Reggie could see just how steep this rivalry was. Rarely did Paul let himself be bothered by another trainer, much less one he deemed inferior to him. If just being around Ash made him that antagonistic, Reggie could imagine Paul expected one of his only allies in life to treat the young man with the same vitriol.

    But that simply wasn't in Reggie's nature, especially if Ash hadn't really done anything wrong. Even so, jealousy flared in Paul at the very thought of Reggie being civil to those people, let alone being considered a friend. In his state, Paul's tolerance was particularly low now, so he was not about to accept anything even remotely like treachery from his own family.

    "Fine, whatever," Paul quickly relented. He only did so because he agreed that his final moments before the match shouldn't be squandered; never before had he dreaded the prospect of battling Ash so much. And this was not dread of the "oh, this is a waste of time" caliber like it usually was; obviously even now Paul feared that he would lose to his rival today for the first time in a real traditional, decisive battle. It was hard for the coldhearted teen still to rely on his own judgment after everything that had happened; he still wasn't sure what was what anymore and what exactly this disease was doing to make him suddenly inept.

    Though still miserable, the only thing that resembled obvious progress to Paul outside of his Pokémon's levels was how it was easier for him to keep himself under control. In other words, he found himself able to control his emotions. It took that breakdown where Paul had been holding everything back for the longest time to make it possible: it was painful, but liberating.

    "Only… that may be impossible to do here," Reggie muttered as he took a good look around at the bang-up job his Marowak had done to the field. The last Earthquake attack really shook up some unstable ground, and consequently the entire field looked like a tornado had hit the place. "Wow, I really do need to be careful from now on," he realized, looking concerned. "This would take all day to fix up to the point where you and Ash could battle here…"

    "Then we obviously need to relocate," Paul decided, already packing up and ready to move. "Come on; we don't have time to fix this."

    Reggie followed suit, but looked a bit guilty in doing so. "I feel bad dropping this responsibility on someone else, but I guess we don't have a choice. Let's get your Pokémon healed up first; we can tell Nurse Joy to relay the news to Ash when he gets here so he'll know where to find us. At this point, there's no sense in roughing up your team just before he gets here, so we'll just settle for routine training from here on out. We can find a nice place right next to the lake to battle at, and…"

    "Can you not walk and talk at the same time?" Paul interrupted, already having his brother's belongings packed up as well. "Let's go, already."

    Impatient as always… Reggie just laughed awkwardly as he went over to take what was his and walk off with Paul towards the Pokémon Center nearby. "Somebody sounds anxious, aha…"

    Paul refused to respond to that. As the two stepped into the Pokémon Center, a certain agitated Meowth burst out of one of the bushes that encircled the trashed battlefield. "How're d'ose two related? They ain't even close enough ta' be adopted bros…!"

    His comrades, lowly Team Rocket grunts Jessie and James were quick to pop out at the same time and clamp the Scratch Cat Pokémon's mouth shut with their hands.

    "Pipe down before I relate to the idea of zipping your mouth shut!" Jessie threatened. "Now try and adopt some stealth!"

    "As if you smotherin' me's good fer my health," Meowth muttered as he freed himself from his teammates' grasp.

    James was never as much into asserting authority as Jessie; as such, his eyes were often wandering elsewhere for opportunities to aid their mission. He was quick to spot one right in front of them. "Speaking of our health, I do believe I see an opportunity for some income."

    "Income, you say?" Jessie was immediately interested, ceasing her feud with Meowth immediately to look around for what James had in mind.

    "D'en let's seize tha' day!" Meowth proclaimed. As he looked around, he immediately had his doubts. "Hang on, what're ya implyin'?"

    Now that no one was out to spot them, James stepped out of the bush and pointed directly at the disaster area before them. "Do you remember what the rude twerp's brother said? This mess here is our ticket to one hefty paycheck!"

    "Of course your idea is manual labor," Jessie muttered; her spirits dampened. "And since we're beggars, we can't be choosers."

    "If it's inspiration you need, remember just one thing!" James sung out. "We're here in Sinnoh to give Team Rocket a name. And no matter how many times we're blasted off, we will never be defeated when it comes to our work ethic!"

    Meowth smirked, agreeing with his comrade. "D'at's what da' boss likes most of all! So get wit' da' program, Jess; we gotta do what we gotta do!"

    Though Jessie was enough of a tyrant for her one vote to count for triple in these situations, for once she considered the logic behind this move… the only thing that could really sway Jessie into going along with the others was her hunger. Right now, Jessie's stomach decided to betray its own host and go along with the boys this time.

    She sighed with resignation. "As long as we don't have to deal with any twerp interference, I suppose this is a time that calls for getting our hands dirty… just let me do the negotiating, though. You two couldn't haggle us a salary that could earn our stomachs anything more than crackers for dinner. I'll make sure we dine like royalty tonight!"

    "D'en we got our plan!" Meowth conceded, ready to get to work.

    "To our disguise stash!" James announced, as their very unconvincing (yet highly effective) disguise routine was always step one in all of their schemes.

    While the trio made arrangements and were well underway to earning themselves an honest paycheck, the "twerps" they so dreaded to deal with (yet their long-lived desire to capture that special Pikachu and present it to their boss kept them nearby them most of the time regardless) had just arrived to the site of Lake Acuity; the area's Pokémon Center was within view.

    Ash Ketchum, with Brock and Dawn backing him, was ready to face his rival. Already having a technical win against him recently under his belt in addition to the pitiful state Ash had seen Paul in while they visited Brandon made Ash feel a bit lucky today. He knew it wouldn't be easy to do so, but having witnessed Paul at one of his lowest points and finally knowing how that cold, calm demeanor of his could break… for the first time in ages, Ash truly felt like this would be the day he would finally defeat Paul in a traditional Pokémon battle. He knew Chimchar was ready too, and together they would both finally prove Paul wrong in every slanderous thing he said about the two in the past.

    It had been a long time since he last had a full battle as well; seeing one not long ago made Ash even more eager to get this battle underway.

    "Finally, Lake Acuity. Wow…" Ash marveled, giving the area a look-around. It wasn't common for Ash to pause and take in the scenery before engaging in a long-awaited battle, but this time was a bit of a special case. Pikachu also appreciated the view from its partner's shoulder.

    A soft lake breeze blew by the group before the significance of this place was realized by Dawn. "Ah… you know, I just remembered; there's supposed to be a legendary Pokémon at Lake Acuity as well."

    Brock smiled at the mention. "That's right, Uxie. Yeah."

    "Right," Ash recalled from the time he was at Lake Valor after having seen the vague visage of Azelf, where then Dawn confessed of her own similar experience at Lake Verity at the beginning of her journey with Mesprit. Knowing the legendary pixies were out there somewhere watching over them… "And that means Uxie could be watching Paul and me when we're having our battle!"

    Pikachu uttered a thoughtful "Pika…" at Ash's postulation. Before anyone else could chip in, Ash quickly realized something else.

    "Hey, let's get over there!" he called out to his friends. "If I know Paul, he's already waitin'!"

    With a follow-up from his Pikachu, Ash and his friends made their way along the perimeter of Lake Acuity, approaching the Pokémon Center. Each mind was filled with anxiety and curiosity as to how things would turn out by sundown.

    Travels of the Trifecta! - Chronicles of an estranged family!

    LJ | dA | Bulbagarden | ff.net

    Diamond: 2749 - 7749 - 1840
    SoulSilver: 2364 - 7834 - 3761

  22. #147
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    "Make sure they're fine, please?"

    "Pikachu!"

    The Nurse Joy of Lake Acuity (bearing a golden yellow cross on her cap; likely an homage to Uxie, who was of a similar color) smiled with a nod. "Of course; I'd be happy to." Her Chansey was also eager to serve, right behind her partner.

    As Nurse Joy took the tray of Ash's five Pokéballs (plus Pikachu) to check up on, Brock zoomed to the front to intervene… to the surprise of nobody whatsoever.

    "Won't you please make sure I'm fine too?" Brock begged as if his life depended on it. "Or maybe I could just make sure you're fine instead!"

    Also to the surprise of no one was Brock howling in pain as he felt a sharp pain in his side (usually better than where he usually got punishment) and fell over. Ash and Dawn expected this to be Croagunk's handiwork when they saw the Toxic Mouth Pokémon already out with a Poison Jab charged just for its trainer. But to their surprise, for once, Croagunk wasn't the one laying down the law on Brock this time; Nurse Joy's Chansey had beaten Croagunk to the punch – literally – and was the one to tame Brock for today. She looked positively exasperated at the aspiring Pokémon Breeder who fell flat on his face as he reeled in pain.

    "Sorry," Nurse Joy awkwardly apologized. "But Chansey can be quite aggressive towards people who approach me in a certain way…" Unlike most of her kin, this Nurse Joy seemed more wary of people who might try to pursue her.

    "Huh…" Ash remarked as he watched Croagunk drag the immobilized Brock off, anyway. As his mind wandered, his eyes snapped back to Nurse Joy as an important question came to him just then. "Uh, Nurse Joy, do you know if a trainer named Paul from Veilstone City's gotten here yet?"

    "As a matter of fact, Paul already arrived here earlier and I'm taking care of his Pokémon right now." Or at least the ones Paul and Reggie had on hand that weren't participating in the battle and left behind with her for the time being…

    That's all Ash needed to take action. "Cool! I need to go find him, pronto!" Even though they wouldn't be battling yet while Ash's Pokémon were being refreshed, Ash never wanted to pass up on an opportunity to talk to his less-than-social rival while he waited. Eager to see Paul after the ten-day gap, he immediately set off outside to find him.

    "Oh, wait…!" Nurse Joy called out after him. "You don't know where the battlefield is!"

    But it was too late; Ash had already left the building.

    "What is it about that guy that makes Ash so excited to see him?" Dawn muttered. "He must know by now what Paul's going to say to him, most likely…" Her Piplup was equally confused on the matter. She'd have to wait for Brock to recover before following Ash out, however.

    Meanwhile, at the original designated battling area – still a mess as it was earlier – a certain trio in construction worker garb made their presence known as they got to work.

    "Tada…!" a triumphant disguised Meowth slid in next to the sign they placed to make the public aware of the battlefield's condition.

    "A likely response to a "Help Wanted" ad!" Jessie exclaimed, shovel in hand.

    A dump truck came into the scene, driven by James (adding a fake mustache to his disguise). "Now we've jot a job; I'm glad!"

    "Dig that dirt!" Jessie proclaimed; indeed, this was their opportunity to subtly cite their team motto and they were certainly going to take it with no one around to see them.

    "Dump that truck!" James followed along, shifting the dump truck's drive into reverse.

    "Back 'er up, just a tad!" Meowth said next, signaling the dump truck to position itself just right.

    Jessie kneeled down to poke at the damaged ground before continuing the "motto", as they thought of it as. "Demolished battlefields can be bad for one's health…"

    "But one man's problems can bring another man wealth!" James chimed in.

    "Demolition and construction; you leave it to us!" Jessie said with sheer confidence.

    James rhymed along in a low, assured tone. "Just show us the money and we'll make all the fuss."

    "With Jessie…!"

    "And James, too!"

    "Meowth, without foi'ther ado!"

    The trio made their final epic poses.

    "Clean up the mess and build in its place!" Jessie began the final part.

    "We're Team Rocket!" James proudly sung out; no twerps and Team Rocket being relatively unknown to Sinnoh made this a much safer thing to say out loud than in past regions.

    "In your face!" all three finished in unison, just as the dump truck James was driving (before jumping out to pose with his compatriots) dropped a mound of dirt on the ground just behind them as a finishing touch.

    The merry work was cut short, however, as an all-too-familiar voice of a young teen boy was heard loud and clear in the area. "Hello…?"

    Sure enough, Ash of Pallet Town himself showed up before the trio, still in search of Paul and more than a little confused at the sight of heavy-duty construction work. Meowth's impulses often overrode his logic; this was one such time.

    "A twoi'p mess!" he uttered in horror before Jessie and James quickly clammed his mouth shut before he could completely blow their cover. Thankfully for Team Rocket, their adversary of many years remained to be a slow-witted one.

    "Twerp…?" Ash echoed back Meowth's accent-mauling utterance of the word. As always, these three seemed vaguely familiar to him, but he'd never be able to put his finger on it on his own.

    Though dull-witted herself at times, Jessie was quick to cover for Meowth in more ways than one. "He meant why you trekked here is anyone's guess!" she hastily explained.

    Seeing the mess about, it finally became clear to Ash that this was no place for having a battle. "So the battlefield's not ready yet?"

    "Sorry, sonny!" James apologized; his voice altered to sound more like an older man's. "Won't be ready for two or three days."

    By this point, Dawn and a recovering Brock managed to rejoin Ash just in time to hear the news.

    "Battling day-in and day-out has pummeled this place to a battle pulp," Jessie further explained just in case her twerp foes tried to be difficult about this. "So we're sprucing it up in one go!"

    "Better take yer battlin' business elsewhere," Meowth advised, free to speak again.

    "Whoa… now what do we do?" Ash wondered out loud. He understood well enough that he couldn't battle Paul here; the fact that Paul was nowhere in sight proved that he had already relocated. But with no indication as to where he might've gone, Ash was now helpless at to what to do next.

    Brock and Dawn didn't have any bright ideas of their own, but luckily for them, an answer came from another source.

    "Ah, you must be Ash from Pallet Town!"

    The gang turned towards the direction of the voice, finding a young adult male looking near Reggie's age with short, forest-green hair and what appeared to be a referee's uniform.

    Ash stiffly nodded at the stranger. "That's me, yeah."

    "I've been waiting for you," the man explained. "The name is Olivier, and I'm a traveling referee. I got a call from Reggie a few days ago asking me to come to Lake Acuity and officiate the Pokémon battle between you and Paul."

    "Great; but the battlefield's closed," Ash pointed out, still downtrodden over this unfortunate circumstance.

    Yet Olivier remained undeterred. "Don't worry. Reggie told me he's got a backup plan just in case."

    "Huh?" Ash didn't expect this… then again, as the whole battle was Reggie's idea, it made sense that his preparations covered absolutely every possible scenario.

    "Since this battlefield's no good, Reggie already chose another spot for you and Paul to battle. It's actually right by the lake not too far from here; about northwest from where we are now. Keep running in that direction and you can't miss them."

    With that, Ash brightened up considerably. "Hey, thanks! Can we go there right now?"

    "Feel free to," Olivier offered. "I'll be right behind you guys in a minute; I've just got some last-minute preparations of my own to make and then we'll have your battle underway."

    "Sounds like the battle's still on," Brock acknowledged. "It's already noon, Ash; we'd better hurry."

    Ash nodded, fully on board with any course of action that involved rushing. "Alright, then! We'll meet you over there, Olivier! Thanks for the tip!"

    "Ah, your Pokémon, Ash…!" Dawn cried out the reminder just before Ash could speed off and out of sight again.

    "… Oh! That's right!" Ash froze in place before laughing at his own impatient nature, scratching the back of his head in embarrassment. "Not gonna be much of a battle if I don't have my Pokémon with me, huh…"

    Dawn just smiled and shook his head. "Better not give Paul another reason to diss you."

    "They're probably ready to go by now," Brock figured. "So let's pick them up and head out."

    "Right; let's get a move on!" Ash agreed as he and his friends dashed back towards the Pokémon Center. This left Olivier to ponder his own matters while the nearby Team Rocket could easily overhear him.

    Olivier looked up in at the sky, searching his mind for ideas. "Now where am I going to find someone to operate the scoreboard on such short notice…? I couldn't possibly drag Nurse Joy away from her Pokémon Center when she's got so much on her hands already…"

    "I smell another one-time salary opportunity, my fellow men," James quietly muttered to his teammates. Meowth and Jessie nodded, though the former looked doubtful.

    "It'd be a lot more glamorous than diggin' up da' dirt, but we ain't gonna be done with dis' job for a while, Jimmy. Battle's probably gonna reach its conclusion by da' time we fix dis' kinda mess," he brought up.

    At the thought of a more "glamorous" job, however, Jessie was quickly on board with James' idea. "The dirt's not going anywhere, and one silly battle ought to be only a brief cut into our work time. We'll just tell the nurse we're going on break and then it's onwards to more success."

    "Brilliant ploy," James complimented. "And with our endless source of disguises, it should be a cinch to take on a second job."

    Jessie smirked, stepping forth, looking to her comrades as she continued to keep her voice down. "Let me get this referee's attention," she requested before raising her tone, directly addressing Olivier. "Excuse me, sir! I believe we can be of some assistance to you."

    Olivier turned his attention towards Jessie, looking confused. "You can? But… aren't you all busy as it is?" He pointed towards the ruined battlefield.

    "It's not "us" we mean, but some freelance friends of ours!" James explained.

    "It'd be our pleasure to fetch 'em for ya," Meowth offered with a smirk. "Who else in da' middle'ah nowhere's gonna be available at dis' hour?"

    "You're sure they wouldn't mind?" Olivier asked them, sounding a bit unsure. It just seemed too convenient….

    Jessie shook her head. "They're but a hop, skip, and a jump from where we are now; dirt poor as they are!"

    "So poor they can't even afford a car," James bemoaned. "We implore you to give them a chance so that they may have the means to have a feast, if only for a night!"

    "Oh, I didn't know they were destitute," Olivier apologized, now much easier to convince. "If they're available, by all means call them over."

    "Then don't move one inch; we'll bring them to you!" all three shouted together as they zoomed off towards the Pokémon Center to give Nurse Joy their excuse, then make a detour back to their hiding place in the bushes for a quick change of wardrobe.

    James smirked as he pulled out the disguise chosen for their short tenure as Olivier's assistants. "I've been saving these old duds for a rainy day," he said with a small hint of eagerness in his voice. "These bring back so many memories…"

    Meowth looked up at the bright blue sky while he got into his matching disguise. "D'ere's barely a cloud in da' sky today… ya know that, right?"

    "Please," James calmly urged. "Don't spoil the moment."





    "Now, Electabuzz! ThunderPunch!"

    Since relocating to a quaint spot right next to Lake Acuity, Paul had been diligently training his Pokémon and – much like Conway did with Lickilicky – ensured that their moves were mastered just in time for the full battle. Reggie watched his little brother closely as he relaxed on a small, cozy hill of grass right behind the action. With approval, he nodded upon seeing Electabuzz land a solid punch to the ground below it. Despite electricity being ineffectual against Ground-type Pokémon, the actual ground was still vulnerable to the unbelievable power and force coming from a concentrated hit. A small but clearly visible crater was made from the imprint of Electabuzz's fist and the raw energy from its lightning-charged punch caused a small fissure, loosening the ground in the vicinity and compromising its sturdiness. It was clear that Electabuzz could use the ThunderPunch move to its full potential in any given situation now.

    "It's amazing that you've been able to perfect your Pokémon's moves in just ten days," Reggie commented, and this time he wasn't sugarcoating it just to make Paul feel better. Though the younger brother hadn't won in any of their matches during that ten-day period, Paul's Pokémon did vastly improve in other ways. This demonstration proved it, and without a direct defeat blinding Paul to his Pokémon's progress, he himself could finally see that his team did become significantly more powerful since his embarrassing loss to his father.

    Paul couldn't argue it now; he'd been down on himself and his Pokémon for the majority of the ten days of training, but seeing how far his Pokémon had come made him think back on the events back then, and why he worked so hard to get where he was now. Reggie looked mildly concerned as another gentle lake breeze blew against Paul; his hair slightly disheveled by the light wind.

    "I remember what you said ten days ago," Paul finally said to his brother, still not looking him in the face.

    What Reggie said to him echoed in his mind for each passing day since he said it: "Hey, Paul! Do you think there's any chance that you and Ash can treat us to a full battle?"

    This was said mere minutes after Paul was soundly defeated by his old man in front of a group of his peers. The overall poor performance was something that Paul still had difficulty in living down; understandably so, as he held so much contempt against the Pyramid King for years upon years. His long-awaited chance to show the Pyramid King what for being squandered due to his own ineptitude and the fact that he couldn't hide it from anyone left a scar on Paul's self-esteem. Every defeat against Reggie after that did nothing to heal that wound… and never before had Paul felt so lowly about himself. Even now, he continued to think of himself as pathetic; just as – if not more so – than all of the unworthy Pokémon he had released over the years.

    "So why have a battle now?" Paul asked Reggie. It was obvious to the elder brother that Paul was still unsure of himself after all this time. His fear to face Ash of all people was also picked up on by Reggie. That was one major reason why Reggie requested this battle: to get Paul to overcome this fear bred by his horrendous losing streak. The last thing Brandon would accept from either of his children was their fear, so naturally that was the first thing that needed to be rectified before any other flaw of the trainer.

    However, Reggie decided not to say that out loud; acknowledging such a thing to Paul would likely make him overly-defensive, and riling up such emotions would only distract him during the battle, just as they had with his father. He settled for the motivational reason instead. "It just seems like your battle with Brandon had a major effect on you," he said gently.

    Understatement of the year, that was. Paul was very aware of this, too. However, he resisted the urge to interrupt his brother with a sarcastic remark.

    "Now seems like the perfect time," Reggie finished. Of course, Paul expected a bit more than that as he found the strength to give his brother a hard stare.

    Reggie never liked it when Paul did this; this was not unlike Brandon's stone-cold looks he would give his own sons without hesitance. The Pokémon Breeder held out both hands in his defense; his composure quickly dropping. "W-well, that's the biggest reason, anyway. Look, Paul, there's obviously more to it… but if you thought about it hard enough, you'd probably figure it out completely in a heartbeat. However… this is the wrong time to be asking that question; it's even worse to dwell on it."

    Well, Reggie did have a point. Brandon's words of how Paul's emotions betrayed him on the battlefield were also constantly on his mind. It was understandably hard to keep those emotions fully under control (especially when he had so much already repressed and bottled up), but over time Paul accepted this as yet another challenge. This was a challenge that would no doubt set him apart from the average trainer, and even with Paul's doubts about Ash, one thing that could never be doubted was how prone Ash was to emotional reactions. Routinely, Paul used such tactics to defeat him in the past. His lack of doing so in the PokéRinger competition may very well have been a factor in Paul's first technical defeat to the Kanto native.

    With any luck, if Paul could control his own emotions, it would be a cinch to use that to his advantage. The strategy Paul slowly built over the course of the ten days (without Reggie's help) centered on this. It was a gamble, but not necessarily a risky one in Paul's opinion.

    "Fine," Paul conceded as his cold glare at Reggie faded away, much to the latter's relief. "After the battle, then."

    Reggie nodded. "That should be fine. But for now… just remember what Dad said, okay?"

    "Couldn't forget even if I tried," Paul assured him, his tone now even and stern. For these last few moments before the battle, now that Paul's Pokémon were set, all that remained was Paul becoming completely and totally in control of himself.

    Minutes from now, what he learned in this ten-day period would be put to the test.





    Back at the Pokémon Center, Nurse Joy already had Ash's Pokémon fully recovered by the time he and the others returned to retrieve them. All of them were out of their Pokéballs now; each one eager for the battle ahead of them.

    "Your Pokémon are all ready for your battle," Nurse Joy told the equally-eager teen. "Now everybody's in tip-top shape."

    To show that, each Pokémon let out their own cry of triumph, much to the amusement of their trainer and his friends.

    "Thanks, Nurse Joy," Ash gratefully told the ever-helpful woman no matter where he was in any region.

    "You all sure look confident," Dawn noted as she looked at each of Ash's Pokémon. "You're ready to battle for sure!" Her Piplup agreed as well. "And you can count on us to cheer you on big time!" Piplup was also on board with that promise.

    "Thanks, Dawn. And I'm gonna win this, too!" Ash assured her. This was the first time in ages that Ash was this confident about defeating Paul. "Just as soon as I defeat Paul and his Pokémon, he'll have no choice but to finally give me a little respect for my training style!"

    That was something Ash longed for since the day he met the most serious rival he ever had. Despite the controversy, Ash couldn't deny that Paul had to be doing something right with his training to get as far as Ash himself over the years. Naturally, he expected the same courtesy from Paul since he's witnessed Ash's competence as a trainer over the several months they've known and battled each other. Even Gary wasn't this difficult to come to terms with. But after seeing Paul at his lowest when he watched the battle against Brandon, Ash couldn't help but feel lucky this time. This time things would be different, and Ash was bound to learn much from this battle; both for himself and Paul.

    "So let's move it!" Ash declared; he'd been quite impatient since coming to the Pokémon Center. "We'll show Paul what we've got and give him a taste of what we can really do!"

    The group of six Pokémon cheered again in unison; each one feeling the same as their trainer, including the eagerness and impatience. More than any other, though, Chimchar felt these emotions so very strongly as he continued to hop and cheer well after the others had stopped. The reason for the abundance of enthusiasm was obvious, of course.

    "Wow, Chimchar. You're all fired up, aren't you?" Ash remarked with amusement. He smiled upon hearing the tiny, but fierce "Char!" from his Chimp Pokémon.

    "Watching Chimchar reminds me of what Cynthia once told us," Brock said thoughtfully as he watched Chimchar continue to hop, completely anxious for the battle to begin.

    Dawn looked to Brock, knowing what he meant. "You mean when she said "When every life meets another life, something will be born"…?"

    "Right," Brock affirmed. "But that's not all; she also spoke of a larger-than-life destiny waiting for Chimchar… and that Chimchar is the touchstone for Ash's and Paul's relationship."

    But right now, Ash wasn't even listening to his friends. He was still fully focused on getting his Pokémon's morale boosted to its maximum. "Everybody ready?" he asked them one last time.

    Their prideful cries filled the small lobby of the Pokémon Center; that was all that Ash needed from them. It was time to move on out and give it their all… just to prove to Paul that they were all worthy adversaries.

    Travels of the Trifecta! - Chronicles of an estranged family!

    LJ | dA | Bulbagarden | ff.net

    Diamond: 2749 - 7749 - 1840
    SoulSilver: 2364 - 7834 - 3761

  23. #148
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    "Here they come!"

    Reggie could see their figures in the distance. He was now eager to finally get this battle underway. "Time's up, Paul!"

    The bitter younger brother rolled his eyes before pulling out a Pokéball. "Electabuzz, return," he calmly said as the red beam of light sent the Electric Pokémon back to its resting place. Paul then turned to see for himself the trio that he loathed for so long coming into full view as they dashed over to meet the two siblings.

    As always, there was never a pleasant greeting from Paul. A chilling silence (besides the outdoor ambience) was the only "greeting" Paul liked to give these people. He and Ash stared at each other for the moments of remaining silence… this time, Ash wasn't letting Paul's cold-hearted nature affect his bright and cheery demeanor.

    Luckily, Reggie was there to break the ice this time. "Thanks for coming, Ash. Welcome!" he greeted, standing up to walk towards the group. "I really believe the two of you were destined to battle each other this way."

    "The two of us…?" Ash asked him. Still a kid who mainly focused on the simple things in life, thinking little of the greater meanings behind the trials of his journeys, it was a certainty that Reggie would have to explain his beliefs thoroughly so that they wouldn't go right over Ash's head.

    "You see, you and Paul are completely different, and yet you're a lot alike, too," Reggie stated; this much wasn't lost on Ash. The young teen from Pallet Town himself stated this to Paul a while back when they crossed paths shortly after the Wallace Cup. "Both of you wish to become strong with your Pokémon, yet your training methods are at opposites. So as long as you're both this tuned into each other and also have the desire to become stronger, I think a full battle between you is unavoidable."

    So far Reggie wasn't being difficult to comprehend, even for Ash. "As rivals, you need to know each others' current strength. You need to know how powerful each other has become, and that will lead to your own evolution as a trainer."

    The last part, however, Ash took a little bit too literally. "Wait, me? Evolve?"

    "You too, Paul," Reggie assured his little brother, who looked around without paying much mind to what Reggie said. Now that Ash was here, his eye would always be on the ball.

    "So, where do we battle?" Paul asked him; his casual tone indicated that he didn't take much of what Reggie said to heart.

    "Right here," Reggie answered.

    Ash looked around the area. "Right here? Really?"

    "Well, we can't use the field at the Pokémon Center," Reggie pointed out. "So I thought it might be nice to give it your all in the great outdoors!"

    Never mind that they would've been outside anyway even if their original battlefield was usable, but that location didn't possess the kind of background scenery the new locale had, close to Lake Acuity as they were now.

    "Sure!" Ash agreed, eager to get started. However, he was considerate of what Paul wanted, too, seeing as he never looked happy about anything. "How's it sound, Paul?"

    Paul closed his eyes, trying not to be frustrated with Ash and his constant attempts to be casual and friendly with his adversary. "It doesn't matter to me."

    Glad that Paul wasn't going to be difficult about the minor details, Reggie looked ready to get things started. "That settles it," he decided.

    "Good! We're all decided!" a familiar voice shouted from high above the others. The group looked up to see Olivier in a hot-air balloon already on its descent to the ground.

    Reggie was glad to see the referee he had called for days ago was punctual and prepared. "Ready to referee?" he asked, just to be sure.

    Olivier hopped out of the balloon once it landed. "I sure am!" he said, looking back at the large air balloon basket behind him. "And now, for my help!"

    On cue, a trio wearing all-black stagehand outfits normally used in kabuki performances (which were traditional forms of entertainment in the oriental region of Johto) emerged from the balloon. Yes, Team Rocket even fooled Olivier with their change of clothes despite having the exact same voices as the trio of construction workers he spoke with before. Not that this was anything new… but it had been a long time since these particular disguises were last used; three years ago, way back when Ash was in the middle of his first journey in Kanto.

    "Yes sir!" all three called out in unison, ready to make even more money than they expected.

    Meowth pressed a button on a control panel within the balloon. "Helpin'!" he chimed in as the hot-air balloon suddenly transformed itself into a digital scoreboard, similar in appearance to those used in official League Conferences. The group came closer to the contraption, watching in awe.

    "Wow, awesome!" Dawn said with awe. "What's that?" Her Piplup of course was also curious.

    "It's a portable reference monitor," Olivier explained to her before looking back to Team Rocket. "Okay, team! All set?"

    "Right! Couldn't be any more setter!" they announced.

    They flipped the power switch, and instantly the scoreboard was live. Portraits of both Ash and Paul were visible with six round Pokéball dots halfway covering each portrait – each circle represented the six Pokémon for both teams, though the actual Pokémon portraits would not be shown until they were sent out onto the field. All that would be needed was a stadium full of ecstatic people for this to look exactly like a Sinnoh League battle.

    With that, everyone took their positions. A convenient bench sat nearby the balloon where operations were held, which was where Brock, Dawn (with her Piplup), and Reggie took their seats. Jessie, James, and Meowth remained behind the balloon to keep track of the battle statistics, of course. Olivier took center position at the side of the battlefield as all referees did while Ash and Paul took their places on the opposite ends of the field, several yards apart from each other.

    It was finally time for the battle to get underway.

    Olivier shouted out the obligatory announcement. "Representing Kanto is Ash from Pallet Town; representing Sinnoh is Paul from Veilstone City! We now begin a six-on-six full battle! There is no time limit and both sides may exchange Pokémon freely as desired. The battle will be over when all six Pokémon on either side are unable to continue. We will now use Coin Toss to see who will mount the first attack!" He looked to each trainer; Dawn was ready with the Coin Toss application on her Pokétch. "Alright then, trainers! Heads or tails; what will it be?"

    "I call heads!" Ash immediately shouted back.

    "Then tails!" the apathetic Paul conceded; they always seemed to take the same side of the coin every time they battled.

    The two rivals had another unnerving stare-off as Dawn flipped the digital Magikarp coin on her Pokétch application. The mere seconds it took for the coin to land on a side seemed to drag on forever; Ash and Paul both were anxious in their own way to start the battle. Ash's eagerness was always more obvious in plain sight, and it was that demeanor – wearing his heart on his sleeve – that would put Ash at a disadvantage here. Paul spent ten whole days disciplining himself emotionally; what Brandon suggested he focused on improving turned out to be very useful advice not only for Paul's defense. Seeing that Ash still remained unrestrained with his emotions in addition to Paul figuring that Ash was likely a bit more cocky than usual after seeing his rival at his lowest during the battle against Brandon, Paul was now able to see a giant weak spot on Ash himself. And like the Pyramid King, Paul planned to ensure his victory by ruthlessly taking advantage of Ash's weakness.

    All Paul needed was to believe in his own abilities now; with his self-esteem this low, he couldn't afford to let his emotions betray him again. The potential disaster would be something Paul might not be able to recover from.

    Ash of course was not thinking this deeply, but he was definitely more self-assured after seeing that it was possible to break that cool, stoic demeanor of his rival. Disturbing and heart-wrenching as that was to watch, Ash figured to a lesser extent he too could finally achieve victory if he could get Paul to lose his cool in the middle of the battle. This time, Ash was giving it his all to the highest degree possible.

    Finally, the digital coin landed.

    "Heads!" Olivier confirmed. "So Ash has the honor."

    Everything was set; all that remained was for Ash to make the first move. He looked to Pikachu, hardly able to prolong the wait any more. "Okay, Pikachu! Let's do this!" he said, raw determination flaring up within him.

    Following a concurring, energetic "Pika!" from his partner, Ash drew out his first Pokéball, pressing the button once to enlarge the sphere to its actual size. Paul was dead silent as he awaited the revealing of his first opponent while it was equally quiet with the group sitting on the bench. Dawn held her hands together in her lap with anticipation; her nerves rattled with the excitement about to unfold. She also didn't forget how frighteningly out of control Paul was when she last saw him battle… the up-and-coming Coordinator prayed that Paul heeded the advice given by the Frontier Brain who resembled him; she didn't like the idea of Ash having to face that enraged, desperate Paul she saw ten days ago one bit.

    At last, the Pokéball was thrown in tandem with Ash's battle cry. "Alright! Buizel, I choose you…!"

    "Torterra, stand by for battle!" Paul followed immediately after as both trainers unleashed their chosen Pokémon onto the field.

    The Sea Weasel Pokémon's "Buibui!" battle cry sounded pitiful to the thunderous, low-pitched roar of Torterra. Already, this scenario didn't look favorable to Ash.

    "Torterra, huh…" Ash muttered, clearly apprehensive about his chances with this type of match-up. Even if Paul's performance had been less than stellar lately, Ash still intended on taking this battle seriously. Though Buizel could likely out-speed the Continent Pokémon in any situation, this was still Paul's strongest overall.

    "Hm." Paul gave Ash a look; he expected some reckless command from his rival by now, but it was clear that Ash was uncertain about how to handle this right away. This, however, was Paul's intention for showing off his strongest Pokémon first; to shake Ash up and inflict the self-doubt that Paul himself had been suffering with for weeks. It was impossible to tell with Paul's consistently stoic expression, but he was glad to give Ash a little taste of the torment he'd been through.

    In the background, the Team Rocket trio sang out "A button here, button there!" as they punched in the data required to update the digital scoreboard – appropriately, pictures of Buizel and Torterra appeared in place of the top Pokéball of both columns of six in their respective trainer's corner.

    "Alright, let the battle begin!" Olivier announced, and all eyes went on Ash as he was expected to make the first move… and here he was uncertain already.

    Ultimately, Ash decided he would show Paul just how much he had matured as a trainer by thinking through his problem and choosing the logical route for once. He held out Buizel's Pokéball once more. "Buizel, return now!" he shouted; the red beam of light emitted from the Pokéball, hitting Buizel and successfully recalled it back into its Pokéball. As he did so, Ash returned Paul the hard stare he'd been receiving this whole time.

    Paul found this vaguely intriguing; he even felt a little déjŕ vu, as this was precisely his first action when his battle with Brandon began. He suspected Ash's reason for doing this was the same as his own.

    Dawn was shocked; the similarity between this and the beginning of the battle she witnessed over a week ago was lost on her. The disguised trio at work, having not seen that battle at all, was reasonably surprised to see Ash's first move be a switch-out.

    "Having second thoughts is usually not the twerp way," Jessie noted, unable to make a guess at why this was done.

    "How does he change his mind when he has none?" James wondered out loud; he merely assumed Ash to be too incompetent to approach a battle any other way than head-on.

    "I was lookin' forward ta' watchin' Buizel kickin' someone else's booty fer a change," Meowth grumbled with disappointment. Wobbuffet (also mysteriously in a matching disguise) appeared out of its Pokéball to give its usual unwarranted "Wooooh-buh!" input afterward.

    Back on the battlefield, Ash looked down apologetically at Buizel's Pokéball. "Buizel, I really wanted to battle with you," he honestly expressed. "But the thing is, Water-type moves don't really work well against Torterra…" Paul overheard this, increasingly self-assured that he correctly guessed why Ash recalled Buizel immediately. Though lacking a true resistance to Water-type moves thanks to its dual Ground-typing, Torterra's defenses were so sturdy that most neutral moves remained to be about as effective as the type of moves it resisted. That was precisely why Paul recalled his Magmar when his battle versus Brandon began; Regirock was a very sturdy tank of a Pokémon and resisted Fire-types, hence why Paul decided not to waste his time. It was actually a bit refreshing to see Ash playing the game the way a "normal" trainer would for once.

    "… So hang tight till the next time," Ash assured Buizel's Pokéball as he pocketed it, pulling out a second – this one containing a more suitable opponent for Torterra. He threw it, calling upon another dear friend. "You're up instead! Gliscor, I choose you!"

    The enthusiastic Fang Scorp Pokémon cried out upon its release, very eager to make Ash proud. Paul took note of the fact that Ash possessed the exact same species of Pokémon as he did. Even with a bit of a disadvantage in type now, Paul knew his way around a Gliscor simply by all the time he invested training his own. And like his father, Paul was not about to back out and recall Torterra simply because the tables turned on him in regards to type. He wanted to make it so that type would be as meaningless to this battle as it was in his battle against the Pyramid King.

    Meanwhile, Team Rocket got to work to update the monitor; the picture of Buizel was grayed out to show that it was still usable, but presently inactive. The full-color picture of Gliscor appeared right below Buizel's portrait.

    "Paul, remember Gliscor?" Ash asked his rival, giving him a wry smile as he sounded awfully confident about his chances here. "You met it back when it was still a Gligar."

    Indeed, Paul did remember that weak crybaby Gligar that his Gliscor defeated with ease. Back then, Paul already figured the little Gligar was part of the pack his Gliscor once led before its capture and used that to his advantage, which worked beautifully for him. Seeing the rarely-successful Guillotine move take down a weak Pokémon so soundly satisfied Paul ever so much. The fact that Ash managed to get that Gligar to evolve was no surprise to Paul by now; he expected it.

    This would be the moment that Paul would return Ash's question with a rude remark. But today, Paul was rigid; testing himself as much as he was testing his opponent. Controlling his emotions was a key concern here, so even though it was very tempting, Paul held himself back from saying a single word to Ash about the matter. His expressions did not change at all… this was something Paul wanted to maintain for the entire battle and prove to Brandon that he could pass this test… even if he wasn't present to see him do so.

    "Wow, the taller twerp seems to be tongue-tied," James noted, as he and the others had seen Paul and witnessed his past heartless actions enough to expect a response as much as Ash did.

    "Better gagged than grouchy," Jessie said, preferring Paul's silence to his past behavior.

    "Wooooh-buh…!"

    Though Paul's lack of reply was off-putting, Ash figured he was simply waiting for the first move – the battle still hadn't actually started. Done with the small talk, Ash finally took action. "Gliscor, now! Sand Attack!"

    Paul couldn't believe Ash still had his Gliscor using that move; it was the same opening Ash had this Pokémon use during their last battle when it was a Gligar. It didn't help then; why would Ash think it would make a difference now? This just went to show how opposite Paul and Ash were when it came to training and battling style.

    Still, Paul expected Ash to have learned from his miserable past failure. Since he obviously hadn't, Paul intended to do much more than punish him – he'd tear a page out of Brandon's book and completely mess with Ash's head, to a much higher degree than ever before.

    "Terra!" Paul's Torterra readily grumbled, seemingly able to sense what Paul had in mind. The two were equally stoic, steady, and calm as Gliscor beat its giant pincers into the ground, kicking up massive dust clouds to obscure the vision of both the opposing Pokémon and trainer. Reggie winced as he tried to get a good look of his brother's stance, though it was hard to see. What he had said in the past turned out to be very astute, however: Paul and Torterra were perfect matches for each other and Reggie knew Paul's starter would be the most difficult Pokémon for Ash to take down.

    "Using Sand Attack was a wise move," Reggie mused, a bit more appreciative of the technique than Paul was.

    "Ash has battled against Torterra several times in the past and watched it in battle as well," Brock told him. "He really knows Torterra's moves, so he's blocking its vision."

    Aside from Electabuzz, Torterra was the Pokémon of Paul's that Ash was most familiar with. The fact that it was Paul's starter made Ash all the more interested in finding ways to defeat it, despite the obvious advantages it had against Ash's starter. But Ash was also very appreciative of Torterra after it went out of its way to help his Grotle. It was a bit bothersome for Paul, actually, that Ash cared this much about what Torterra did.

    After many moments of concentration, Paul called out the first move that came to mind when he finally decided to strike back. "Giga Drain!"

    Torterra hollered as he rose up; the rocks protruding from its shell glowed in a bright green color. Beams of the same hue emitted from these rocks as they rose up to make an arc before rushing downward back into the low-visibility range to capture Gliscor. However, Gliscor jumped and flied up into the sky over the dust clouds to evade the attack, leaving the beams with nothing to hit but the solid ground. The plucky Gliscor taunted its earthbound opponent, as dodging Giga Drain didn't even make it break a sweat.

    Torterra glared up at Gliscor, a low and annoyed "Terra…" heard by Paul.

    "It worked; Torterra missed," Dawn pointed out.

    While Dawn was glad for that, Brock was a bit grimmer about how this turn played out. "I have a sneaking suspicion Paul used that attack knowing it was going to miss," he muttered. Dawn and Piplup stared at Brock, completely oblivious as to why Brock would believe such a thing, but Reggie seemed to be on the exact same page.

    "I think you're right," Reggie said. "Purposefully while still in that Sand Attack…"

    Dawn still didn't understand the motive. "But why…?"

    "To try and get Ash to let down his guard a bit," Reggie answered for her. "When an opponent's attack misses, a trainer can get too comfortable mentally." This was a topic he and Paul had gone over a few times during their ten-day training period, but it was also something Paul and Reggie both learned from personal experiences over the years.

    Ash, of course, was just as oblivious as Dawn as to where this was going. "Now, Gliscor! Use X-Scissor!"

    Gliscor crossed its pincers together, forming an X-shaped charge of energy as it proceeded to dive-bomb its very large opponent. The hit was direct and super-effective; the highest pressure point of the attack being right on Torterra's forehead. The force of the blow was strong enough to even send the Continent Pokémon skidding back a few feet despite weighing nearly seven-hundred pounds. This was where Reggie's training paid off inadvertently; normally Paul would have been at least a little shocked to see any attack coming from something Gliscor's size or smaller to have the power capable of pushing something as large and heavy as Torterra back a notable distance. But from the very first day of training when Reggie's Infernape – even smaller in size than Gliscor – knocked Torterra back nearly a mile with Blast Burn, this was nothing by comparison. Paul maintained his calm, cool demeanor even when green sparks of the failed Giga Drain came out from Torterra's shell-embedded stones.

    Gliscor backflipped its way to its original position on Ash's side of the field, quite proud of the damage it dealt to Torterra in just one blow. A surprised "Pika?" was uttered by Ash's little yellow companion, mirroring Ash's own surprise of the first clash.

    "Check that out; Torterra took it!" he exclaimed. Very few of Ash's Pokémon were ever this sturdy, of course. But this did hearken back to the night when Ash's Grotle received a personal lesson from this particular Torterra. The elder Pokémon taught its fellow species the important trade-off that occurred when Grotle lost its speed – a considerably increased endurance that should never be ignored. Much as Ash appreciated what Torterra did for Grotle, the trainer himself still didn't have a full understanding or appreciation of how far a top-notch defense can go. Paul, on the other hand, always knew better with his starter and always made defense the emphasis on its training. Years of defensive focus made Torterra able to take a direct super-effective hit and still stand with relative ease.

    While Ash's mind often wandered as he battled his rival, Paul remained completely focused as he called for the next attack. "Frenzy Plant!"

    Torterra's entire body emitted a strong glow before it summoned numerous thorn-covered roots from the earth below. They rose up, only to arc downwards like the last attack and collectively struck at Gliscor.

    "Awesome," Dawn marveled at the attack, as did her intimidated Piplup.

    "Frenzy Plant is the most dynamic Grass-type move with all that sheer power on tap," Brock commented. It was obvious to him that Paul put a lot of work into mastering this attack.

    "Yeah, but it's a risky move, too," Reggie informed them, sounding concerned that the risk would not pay off this time.

    Ash was well aware of Frenzy Plant's capabilities. He wasn't about to let his Pokémon take the brunt of that hit. "Now…! Up, Gliscor!"

    Once more, Gliscor jumped into the air and soared high up to miss the initial blow of Frenzy Plant and also raised its altitude so that it would remain well out of the attack's range. Torterra flinched as the roots receded back into the ground.

    Dawn took immediate notice of this, looking concerned. "Torterra's in trouble," she acknowledged.

    "That's the risk of Frenzy Plant," Reggie said with a nod. "After the attack, Torterra won't be able to move for a while."

    It didn't strike Ash at all how odd it was that Paul would act so carelessly; all that mattered to him right now was that Paul left a wide opportunity for him to counterattack with no possible repercussions due to Torterra's immobility. "Now's our chance!" he realized, smirking up at Gliscor. "Use Fire Fang!"

    The Scorp Fang Pokémon readied itself for another quick descent as flames poured out from its mouth. After a steady swoop downwards, Gliscor collided with its target and bit the bulky quadruped with its fiery fangs. Black plumes of smoke emitted as an explosion was heard, caused from the damage Gliscor had given Torterra. One direct super-effective hit following another in quick succession was enough to make Torterra moan out in pain.

    Brock was alert to the sound. "It felt that!" he exclaimed as Gliscor emerged from the dark smoke, gracefully soaring back into the air to distance itself just in case Torterra might recover earlier than expected and counterattack. But… it didn't. Ash saw no reason not to go in and land another blow; one thing he did know very well about Pokémon with high defensive capabilities was that it seemed to take forever to get them incapacitated. Even if Torterra might be able to move by this point, the sounds it made and the critical hits it sustained encouraged Ash to rush into the next attack head-on once again.

    "Use X-Scissor!" he called out, which Gliscor heeded. The way Gliscor attacked was exactly the same as previous times, and Paul took note of this mentally. He found it pitiful that Ash honestly seemed oblivious to the fact that his Gliscor was highly predictable in its move execution. As usual, after the direct hit from the super-effective Bug-type move, Gliscor immediately flew away from the vicinity and back into the air. Small, shimmering green sparks crackled all over Torterra's immense body, showing everyone just how badly weakened the Continent Pokémon had become.

    "Yeah, that worked too!" Ash celebrated, so proud that Gliscor was making a much better impression against Paul now. "Gliscor, let's do one more attack," he told his high-flying friend, seeing that it wouldn't take much more than that to completely take down the strongest Pokémon Paul had to offer. It really did seem to be his lucky day. "Steel Wing; let's go!"

    Gliscor charged in yet another time, now with its wings glowing in preparation to deal the final blow. Torterra looked terribly weak and vulnerable, but Paul paid close attention to each and every detail of this battle. He listened, and he waited.

    A weak, barely-audible grunt from Torterra made Paul's eyes snap wide open; this was the signal he needed. The perfect time to strike back was now.

    "Torterra, Crunch!" Paul quickly commanded, throwing Ash off guard. Just as Gliscor collided into Torterra's sturdy backside with its Steel Wing attack, Torterra bit down hard on the Scorp Fang Pokémon's long, vulnerable tail that hung right in front of Torterra's face. While Gliscor got the hit in, it obviously wasn't enough to take Torterra down and its cries of pain alerted Ash to an unpleasant turn of events.

    "Gliscor, no…!" he cried out, never before imagining that Gliscor's tail could be targeted like this. It quickly became obvious to Ash that Gliscor was unable to escape the grasp of Torterra's jaws as he watched it struggle in vain.

    Dawn was also shocked by how quickly Paul turned the match around. "Gliscor got caught!"

    Paul allowed himself to smirk at the twist he just pulled off. It was a very eerie expression, however… not that it was ever pleasant to see Paul smile in the past, but this time coupled with the fact that he'd been dead silent since the match began (aside from calling out moves), only offering this gesture to show the others that he was still human at least was one that sent a deep chill down the spines of Ash and friends.

    It was easy to see why Paul was smirking, however. He had let Torterra take all of this abuse only so Ash would become overconfident and start slacking off on his strategy. His overly-cheerful rival was every bit as arrogant as expected, which made this moment all the more satisfying; seeing the horrified look on Ash's face made Paul eager to horrify him even more.

    "Now, Giga Drain," Paul calmly ordered his Torterra, which it happily obliged to. This time, the green beams of light emitting from the rocks on Torterra's shell reached their target with no trouble at all; Giga Drain wrapped itself completely around Gliscor and began to sap the unfortunate captive of its power, which would serve to heal the injuries Torterra sustained and rejuvenate its power. Hearing the cliché "Oh no!" from Ash was music to Paul's ears.

    "Gliscor, your power's being drained!" Dawn needlessly shouted out what was painfully obvious to everyone in attendance. "You've gotta get away; quick!"

    Even with Piplup aiding Dawn in moral support, Gliscor's efforts to break free were all in vain. Ash's overly-cheery, carefree attitude cost him dearly, and now he was unable to concentrate on anything other than getting Gliscor out of the trap. "Come on, Gliscor!" he urged. "Stay strong!" Pikachu rooted for its comrade; that was all it really could do.

    "So this is what Paul was after," Brock quietly realized. "If Torterra became immobilized from the Frenzy Plant, he knew Ash would unleash a barrage of close-ranged attacks…"

    Reggie looked to Brock, fully serious right now. "Right. Paul is well aware that Ash knows Torterra's battling style, so he formulated his strategy around that. For all the times they've battled before, Paul figured Ash likely wouldn't stray from his own general battling style… which he believes centers on offensive, fast-paced, close-ranged attacks."

    "Paul would be right about that," Brock affirmed. "For all the years I've seen Ash battle, that style hasn't changed very much at all."

    Dawn listened in on Reggie and Brock's conversations, which helped her understand what was going on out there a bit better… though it didn't help at all to ease her nerves. "Oh man…"

    Hopeless as it appeared, Ash wasn't going to give up to Paul without trying. "Hang in there, Gliscor! Use Fire Fang!"

    Gliscor had been rendered almost completely immobile, but there was nothing impairing the movement of its head. It was still able to utilize Fire Fang, and by doing so, it only took one bite into the beams of energy to disrupt the energy transfer, shorting out Giga Drain completely. The burn was still felt by Torterra; enough so that its powerful jaw opened up, freeing Gliscor's tail and allowing it to escape back over to Ash's side of the field.

    "Way to go!" Dawn cheered; her expressions brightening at seeing Ash able to overcome the odds. However, this was hardly a cause to go overboard on a celebration, as it quickly became obvious once Gliscor landed on the ground that the damage had been done. Gliscor was gasping for breath and looked just as weak as Torterra had moments ago. "Ah! Torterra's Crunch did lots of damage," she acknowledged.

    Ash wasn't about to send Gliscor back into danger again; not in the condition it was in. "Okay, Gliscor; return!" he decided, recalling his weary friend back into its Pokéball.

    "I know this battle's just getting started, but I can hardly breathe just from watching…" Dawn muttered, looking down at her equally-shaken Piplup.

    "It's only going to get harder to watch from here on out," Brock told her.

    Knowing that as well, Dawn took a deep breath, trying to steel herself against the intense battle she was watching. "Right; I get it," she assured the aspiring breeder. "No need to worry… we can tough it out; me and Piplup both."

    "Take a good rest," Ash told his Gliscor before switching out the Pokéball with another. Before throwing it, he gazed at the battlefield, hearing the much louder and deeper panting of Torterra, who was also worn down from the match despite being able to regain some of its health back. Ash had never seen Torterra pushed this hard, and yet its trainer paid no mind to this at all. It bothered Ash to see this… though honestly, by now it wasn't surprising.

    Still, Ash wondered why Paul refused to switch when odds were low that Torterra would be able to put up a fight against whatever opponent it would have to face next. Why would Paul carelessly leave his first Pokémon to fall like this?

    Whatever the case may be, Ash was already tired of questioning it. He just wanted to teach Paul a lesson for months of humiliation. "Now, it's time to finish this thing up!" he said out loud, hoping saying such a thing about Torterra would get some sort of reaction against Paul, but even that had no effect on his stoic rival. "Staraptor, I choose you!"

    As Staraptor was sent out, Gliscor's image on the scoreboard was grayed out while an image of Staraptor appeared below it.

    Reggie was caught off-guard by seeing a Pokémon the same species of the first one he captured with his starter eight years ago. He smiled, as this Pokémon was definitely familiar to him. "Staraptor must've evolved from the Staravia I battled once, right?" he asked just to be sure.

    "Right," Dawn confirmed. "It even beat Paul's Honchkrow in a PokéRinger match."

    That was a genuine surprise to Reggie. "Wow, Paul's Honchkrow?" he said, almost in disbelief. "That's pretty amazing. I wonder why Paul didn't tell me about this… I would've liked to watch that. I'm pretty sure those events are televised…"

    "Maybe Paul didn't want you seeing him losing to Ash," Dawn mused, particularly catty as she said that. But she quickly regretted it, realizing who she was mocking Paul to. "Er, I mean…"

    Reggie was pretty good about not taking offense to anything negative said about his brother. Protective as he was, Reggie was fully aware of just how off-putting Paul could be, and just how expertly he could bring out the worst in people. "I-it's alright; I know how easily he can get under anyone's skin."

    Meanwhile, back on the battlefield, Ash smirked as he just knew the sight of Staraptor would get some kind of reaction out of Paul – given the recent history that transpired right about the early part of Paul's losing streak that was much longer than anyone was truly aware of. But Paul still retained a perfectly calm and neutral presence… and it was beginning to frustrate Ash that he couldn't do what Brandon did with ease. Ash figured he'd just have to knock Torterra out to get that barrier to break. "Alright, Brave Bird!" he shouted, going straight for his Staraptor's most powerful attack to bring an end to this.

    The Predator Pokémon charged its energy while making a beeline for Torterra. Once again, Paul waited and listened before taking action. Timing was an important element to Paul's approach to this battle – it was the best way to get an emotional reaction out of Ash and further throw him off his line of concentration. Torterra looked back to its trainer; Paul understood that was the signal to counter now. "Use Stone Edge!"

    "Ah!" Ash completely forgot Torterra could learn Rock-type moves that were especially dangerous for his Staraptor. "Stone Edge, why…?"

    Rocks from around the area began to levitate and orbit around Torterra in several different rings, as if Torterra was a massive planet itself. They all fired at once directly at Staraptor, who was too close and locked into its attack pattern to break out in order to dodge. Staraptor suffered a critical hit; the power behind the blow was enough to send Staraptor crashing into the ground.

    "Staraptor, no…!" Ash panicked; he worried that one attack was enough to severely injure it. Both Paul and Torterra looked on sternly at their opponent on the battlefield as the dust cleared. Staraptor was still able to battle, but just barely, evident as it struggled to stand on its feet… much less fly.

    "Wow, that was super-effective," Brock noted. "That's the reason Paul didn't switch Pokémon." Ash wasn't the only one curious about that, apparently.

    Paul finally recalled Torterra after that, prompting Ash to glare. It seemed Paul was always one step ahead of him in these battles, and this one was no different. Whatever power Brandon had over Paul that made him lose his touch, it was obvious that Ash didn't have it.

    While Ash couldn't hazard a guess as to what Paul was up to, Reggie read into it effortlessly… hardly a surprise considering the amount of time he'd trained with his brother. "There's no doubt in my mind that Paul was expecting Ash to bring out Staraptor next," he said. "That's why he used Stone Edge to stop Staraptor's Brave Bird and all of Ash's continued assaults as well."

    Curiously, he looked to Brock and Dawn. "Do either of you know if Ash came up with a battling strategy for today? Like maybe switching which Pokémon he was going to be using against Paul?" The fact that Reggie was familiar with all these Pokémon (or their pre-evolved states in most cases so far) from when Ash and the others first met him in Veilstone City wasn't a good sign; Paul was even more familiar with Ash's team without a doubt, which made it no wonder how Paul was able to easily assume which Pokémon Ash would send out depending on his situation.

    "No, I think Ash was planning on using those six Pokémon right from the beginning," Dawn answered; she was pretty sure that was Ash's intention. She recalled hearing him say at some point during their journey (she forgot when exactly) he was determined to show Paul how strong he was, and he'd do so using only the Pokémon he'd caught from Sinnoh besides Pikachu… to show Paul he wouldn't have to resort to using his more powerful reserves caught from other regions. He wanted to do this to assure each of his native Sinnoh Pokémon that they were every bit as worthy as every other Pokémon Ash had caught in the past regardless of how much weaker they were presently.

    "You see, except for Pikachu, Ash got all of his Pokémon after coming here to Sinnoh," Brock further explained, making Reggie's grim expression harden.

    "I knew it…" he muttered. "Paul picked his Pokémon line-up based on all the previous battles he's had against Ash." This was a lie, since Brandon was the one who decided on what Pokémon Paul would use in this battle, but naturally Reggie wasn't going to let anyone catch on to their connection to the Pyramid King, as that would go against Paul's wishes. Brock already had a strong suspicion that there was more to their relationship than Reggie let on; that hadn't changed in the ten-day period, either. Still, even if Brandon hadn't been involved in deciding what Paul would have on his team, Reggie knew Paul would've organized a similar team – if not the exact same six he had now – because he was aware that Paul had been rotating his Sinnoh captures and reserves since the beginning of his journey here. Ash was part of the reason why Paul was insistent on doing this a bit more frequently than usual.

    Even if Reggie was happy for Paul doing so well, he did still feel for Ash and his obvious frustration right now. "That's why he can predict with such accuracy what Pokémon is coming next."

    "Weavile, stand by for battle…!" Paul called out, unleashing a member of his team that he had a rather polarizing relationship with. Ash had seen Paul's Weavile before a few times, but never battled it. He was of course always interested to battle it, though he wouldn't have expected Paul to have one. The two trainers weren't opposites only in personalities and training methods – their taste in Pokémon, despite sharing some of the same species, were also at opposite ends of the spectrum. As it was just seen, Paul was at his best with sturdy Pokémon like Torterra. Though slow and often weren't the ones to land the first hit, they were able to take a lot of punishment before going down. This gave Paul plenty of time for a strong counterattack; the reason why he favored Pokémon that still possessed great offensive power. Defense was just as important as offense in Paul's mind, so the fact that he owned a Weavile was odd, given that their defenses were extremely weak despite their strong offensive power.

    Paul admittedly caught this Pokémon as a Sneasel and didn't really know the species well until after he caught it. He'd been tempted many times to release it, especially since it didn't fare quite as well as the others under his training (though never as abysmal as Chimchar). But he had caught a very good Sneasel; its speed was amazing, especially compared to the slow-moving Pokémon Paul possessed, and it was a very hard hitter. Reggie assured his brother that variety on his team was important and urged him strongly to keep it. After evolving it with Brandon's help, Paul was even less inclined to let it go. But after it had lost so easily against Cynthia's Garchomp (which it had a massive type advantage over), Paul had a hard time forgiving its loss. The fact that Weavile alone couldn't get him the Gliscor he wanted months ago (since Electabuzz was also needed to aid in its capture) was another reason for Paul to look down on his poor, bumbling Pokémon.

    After failing in catching the boat Paul was late for, which caused him to have that unpleasant reuniting with Conway, that was nearly the last straw. Initially, Paul really did want to release Weavile then and there, but Conway's presence (and nagging) caused Paul to put it off. Instead, he'd just threaten Weavile with an immediate release if it failed at any point during his battle with Byron… but of course, instead of that, Weavile was the reason why Paul won the match. Over time Paul had been increasingly reluctant to go through with the release, which was why he decided to at least be fair and save Weavile for last since there was no way it would win if it were to battle right from the beginning with Paul having no intention to switch out at all. After going against the odds to win Paul the Mine Badge, a short time later Weavile played a major role in saving Paul's life.

    That almost completely erased Paul's disdain for his Pokémon, despite stubbornly pretending he didn't care for it. Now Paul was giving Weavile a chance to put Ash in his place. Truly, Weavile was a Pokémon more along the lines of what Ash would prefer; hard-hitting and fast. Even if they weren't inherently strong, Ash managed to work with his Pokémon and make them all strong in their own unique ways. It was a bit risky to make Ash face a Pokémon that he would be more accustomed to training, but Paul figured it was worth at least trying. Thanks to Torterra, Ash had already revealed a good chunk of his team early on in the battle. With Paul assured that he knew what Ash's other two Pokémon were, he allowed himself to experiment a little. Even if Weavile lost, Ash would still be playing into Paul's trap.

    "Second helping, coming right up!" the working trio sang as they got to work. As the scoreboard was updated to gray out Torterra's picture and reveal Weavile in the active slot, Paul was slightly surprised to see Ash not making a move to recall Staraptor.

    The Predator Pokémon was still struggling to get up after that critical hit from Torterra's Stone Edge. "Staraptor, can you still battle?" Ash called out to it. Staraptor nodded to Ash before finally managing its way back up into the sky. So Ash was sticking with Staraptor after all.

    Paul wasn't sure at first why Ash would let Staraptor stay in since Flying-types were weak to Ice-types, but as he mentally went back and recalled his last battle with Staraptor, Paul remembered that was when the evolution was triggered. Staravia became Staraptor during the PokéRinger match, and its renewed strength managed to out-muscle Honchkrow into winning the tournament. Staraptor learned a new move upon evolving that day… a move that dealt a good bit of damage to Honchkrow: Close Combat.

    That was a Fighting-type move; the one type Weavile had a double-weakness to. With its pitiful defensive power, Weavile wouldn't last long if it took a blow like that. Now Paul understood why Staraptor was being kept in; he also understood that he would likely lose this match if he didn't switch out, but Paul didn't want to give Ash any clue that deep down, his rival was still nervous. Even while doing just as Brandon said and keeping his emotions in check, that couldn't change what Paul was feeling deep down. In any case, he remained firm and just decided to do his best. There were still ways for Paul to break down Ash's confidence with Weavile.

    "Alright, then Quick Attack!" Ash commanded. It was a priority move… Paul could have overrode it, but he decided not to make his advantage obvious right away. By using Staraptor, Paul figured Ash would try to overcome him with speed, but he would be in for a nasty surprise soon enough.

    Weavile briefly looked back at Paul, who had nothing to say to it. The stone-cold gaze Paul was giving the Sharp Claw Pokémon seemed to be telling enough what Paul expected it to do. Crossing its claws together, Weavile managed to buffer the attack as Staraptor collided with its target. The force of the attack was enough for Staraptor to push Weavile back a good distance; even after Staraptor flew back and away from Weavile, it still skidded back a few extra feet before finally stopping. Weavile managed to take an attack without being brutally injured, but Paul paid no mind to that. Seeing the force of a mere Quick Attack push Weavile back that far showed him just how physically strong this bird was. Close Combat really would take his Weavile out with ease.

    "Use Swords Dance!" Paul decided to enhance Weavile's own physical prowess, shown as Weavile's claws came apart and glowed in a dark purple hue, lengthening until Weavile's claws resembled giant scythe blades. Feeling the power course through its body, Weavile proudly slashed into the air and posed with eagerness; something Paul greatly struggled not to roll his eyes at.

    Dawn watched Weavile, completely clueless. "What's that…?"

    "It's called Swords Dance," Reggie explained for her. "And it increases its user's attack power."

    Ash had power on his side, too, so he wasn't too concerned with this. "Now, Aerial Ace!"

    Staraptor soared high into the air before making a turn to descend, planning to practically dive-bomb Weavile with the attack. This was an attack that had to be interrupted severely in order to miss or fail, so Paul attempted to do just that. "Blizzard!"

    Though a special attack, Blizzard was still a very damaging move with more brute force behind it than any other move of its type. The fierce subzero winds coming from Weavile plus the chunks of ice and snow that came with the attack were more than enough to slow Staraptor's progress down significantly. This gave Paul the extra few seconds needed to interfere with Ash's attack.

    "Now use Metal Claw!" he shouted; Weavile promptly followed through. Its claws glowed once more (brightly this time) while waiting for Staraptor to move in. Just as Ash was certain his Pokémon would land a hit, in mere milliseconds everything changed when Weavile managed to leap up and over Staraptor just as they were about to make contact. No ordinary Pokémon could have made a move so quickly when an opponent was practically right in front of its face well within reach. Weavile didn't jump completely over Staraptor like a hurdle, though; instead, the Sharp Claw Pokémon latched itself to Staraptor's back… the group watching the action could hardly believe it. The motions were so fast and so fluid that their eyes could barely follow. But it made one important obvious now…

    "Weavile's faster than Staraptor?!" Brock cried out in shock. This revelation was not lost on Ash, and he was equally horrified to see the truth right before his eyes. This was the nasty surprise Paul wanted to spring on the lot, and just hearing the aspiring Pokémon Breeder holler that from the distance made him want to grin. While on top of Staraptor, Weavile landed two brutal Metal Claw hits on the most vulnerable part of Staraptor's body before jumping off, leaving the Predator Pokémon to crash-land on the ground.

    Though Weavile was exceptionally strong compared to the average breed, it remained to be one of the more dim-witted members of Paul's team. As such, Paul actually needed to stay on this Pokémon's case in order to keep it from losing its attention span. "Go after it, Weavile!" Paul yelled at it; probably the most emotion he'd shown since the battle began. "Quick!"

    The flustered Weavile did as commanded with haste, though it approached its prey in a rather flashy manner – doing so in a series of fancy backflips instead of just running at Staraptor, which would have been the fastest option. Though Dawn was in panic over Staraptor's predicament, she couldn't help but notice how stylish Weavile was in its pursuit. If in some strange, alternate universe that Paul would be a Coordinator instead of a battling Pokémon Trainer, she thought Weavile was sure to be one of the shining stars of his appeals. The Plumeria Contest was something she was completely unaware of, and thus Dawn would never realize the irony of her thoughts.

    Paul was about to yell at it again, but he overheard Ash throwing in a desperate command. "It's comin'; Close Combat!"

    "Metal Claw, now!" Paul called back, not really thinking about anything other than getting some sort of attack in before Staraptor could recover and take Weavile out swiftly with the attack he dreaded was coming sooner or later. It might've made more sense to go with an Ice-type attack while Staraptor was still on the ground, but either way Weavile stood a good chance of being overpowered since both Ice-type and Steel-type attacks would be overpowered by the Fighting-type Close Combat.

    With its claws glowing again, Weavile struck at Staraptor; the latter of whom was already up on its feet and ready to counter. Ash's Pokémon hovered slightly over the ground as the two opponents engaged in a duel with their moves. After one brutal Close Combat smack from Staraptor's wing, however, Weavile found itself missing several of its hits despite being naturally faster than its opponent. Only one hit was needed to disorient Weavile, making its superior speed a non-issue as Staraptor landed several more blows on Weavile before knocking it back some distance away. Red sparks were showing around Weavile, showing the severe damage sustained.
    Last edited by Shinneth; 17th July 2011 at 4:11 AM.

    Travels of the Trifecta! - Chronicles of an estranged family!

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  24. #149
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    "Staraptor… it has the advantage," Reggie understood. "That's a super-effective move. Even being weak to Blizzard, it's still better off than Weavile."

    The Close Combat assault continued with Weavile being smacked around left and right; too hurt to retaliate on its own.

    "Blizzard…!" Paul called out, this time in desperation. He'd gotten his point across, but he was not blind to Weavile's condition and knew it was no longer useful. This was likely to be Weavile's last chance to land an attack, and Paul knew it.

    "Brave Bird; let's go!" Ash followed up. Knowing Staraptor needed to make some distance to charge the attack, he smirked as he watched the Predator Pokémon fly well out of Blizzard's range, evading it completely. While Blizzard kept going, Staraptor was sure to already be charged with energy before swiftly descending right in Weavile's direction. This way, the energy allowed Staraptor to easily crush the snow and ice threatening to pelt it and leave the Sharp Claw Pokémon completely defenseless as Staraptor landed a direct hit on its small, black opponent with its strongest attack.

    The resulting collision triggered an explosion; one Staraptor was quick to fly away from, but not completely unscathed. It twitched, feeling the resulting recoil weaken it… as nearly all extremely powerful attacks had some sort of drawback to them. The smoke cleared away quickly this time, showing a critically-damaged Weavile unable to even open its eyes as its limp body swayed from one side to another before finally collapsing.

    "Weavile is unable to battle, so Staraptor is the winner!" Olivier made official. On the scoreboard, Weavile's image not only grayed out, but its details disappeared until only a silhouette of its shape remained in the frame. This was to show that the Pokémon in question was defeated and unable to be called on for the remainder of the battle.

    Proud of its victory, Staraptor landed directly in front of Ash to receive its deserved praise.

    "Staraptor, you were awesome!" Ash congratulated; Pikachu also gave Staraptor props for defeating a Pokémon that it not only had a type advantage against, but a disadvantage in speed as well. The Predator Pokémon let out a well-deserved cry of victory.

    "Alright!" Dawn cheered; her spirit now revived thanks to the battle's end result. "That's one Pokémon down!"

    At the very least, Paul expected this would happen. He silently recalled Weavile back into its Pokéball and tucked it away. While normally cold, callous, and unhesitant to take his anger out on a Pokémon of his for failing, Paul continued to be sure to show no emotion whatsoever. He was the first one to lose a Pokémon this time around, but that was also the case when he battled Brandon. Being shaken up that early on doomed him for the rest of the battle… Ash was a witness to that, in fact. This was a brutal test for Paul to endure, but the ten days he spent disciplining himself went a long way… and even though Ash was currently in the lead, the training already showed results in Ash being thrown off guard a few times already. This early on, Paul already ascertained what Ash's entire team was before they were all revealed. That would mean Paul's comeback was a definite inevitability.

    Though Ash was surprised to see Paul so nonchalant about being the first one to have a Pokémon fall in battle, he glared and mentally reminded himself that this battle was still just getting started. This was not the time to be celebrating already; not when he saw just how talented that Weavile was. If Staraptor hadn't learned Close Combat, it undoubtedly would have lost this match. This win was nothing more than a lucky circumstance for Ash; already nearly losing two Pokémon to Torterra alone made him dread thinking of the four Pokémon Paul hadn't revealed yet.

    "Finally, a Pokémon hits the dirt," James commented.

    "But if ya think da' twoi'p's runnin' happily in da' park, think again," Meowth said, noticing Ash's very short-lived celebration.

    Jessie hung her head; the brutal nature of the battle's beginning was already taking a toll on her weary, overworked mind. "Ahh, I'm ready for a battle nap…"

    Ash saw no sense in keeping Staraptor out any longer; taking a hit from Stone Edge right off greatly weakened his Pokémon already. The stress of this delicate situation with Weavile was almost too much for Ash to bear. "Alight. Staraptor, return!" he commanded as the Predator Pokémon was recalled. Ash looked down at Staraptor's Pokémon with relief. "You deserve a good rest."

    "Electabuzz, stand by for battle!" Paul was heard from the distance, unleashing the third member of his team.

    "Grotle, I choose you!" Ash followed up; this was a strategic choice based on type, as Ash knew Electric-type moves wouldn't work well on Grotle, whose defenses were enhanced since evolving despite losing a great deal of speed. Grotle was to Ash as Weavile was to Paul – though as a Turtwig, it was a speedy Pokémon like the rest. Now Ash was forced to carry on with a Pokémon that he wasn't very good at training or battling with.

    Both Electabuzz and Grotle's images appeared on the third and fifth slot respectively on the trainers' scoreboard. Staraptor's image was grayed out. It really was telling who had the advantage here, since Paul fully expected Grotle to be on Ash's roster. With only one Pokémon left unveiled, and knowing how insistent Ash was on proving his point with a certain Pokémon that became the focus point of their rivalry… yes, it was painfully obvious who the last Pokémon was. With only half of his team unveiled, Paul could now build supplemental strategies on the fly.

    Meanwhile, Ash was frustrated when he realized Paul wasn't going to switch out despite his disadvantage on the field now. He couldn't understand why, and he had no idea what Paul would have in store for him in regards to his last three unveiled Pokémon. "An Electric-type… what's he up to?!" he muttered under his breath. Since Paul was making no move to attack, Ash decided to take the initiative. "Alright, Grotle! Energy Ball!"

    Grotle quickly charged and launched a shining green Grass-type attack of the special variety straight at its target. Paul watched the attack quickly make its way over to his side of the field; he waited for the right moment again, as he knew exactly what to do here. "Light Screen; let's go!"

    Electabuzz spread out its arms, forming a bright box of light around itself. The attack collided into the odd shield formed around the Electric Pokémon; damage was taken, but it was obviously minimal as Electabuzz didn't even flinch. In fact, it even grinned at how unfazed it was by Grotle's attack. The box dissipated afterwards, but this wouldn't be the last time it would be showing up.

    "Electabuzz took Grotle's Energy Ball!" Dawn exclaimed, because like many things in this battle this wasn't making any sense to her. Even with Light Screen's interference, Electabuzz was hit with the attack…

    "Light Screen is a move that cuts the effect of special attacks down by half," Brock informed her. "Energy Ball is a special attack, so Electabuzz barely felt it."

    Just then, Paul recalled Electabuzz, shocking Ash and a good deal of the onlookers.

    "Paul's switching Pokémon already?" This was getting to be a headache. Ash knew Light Screen would render Grotle's Energy Ball almost powerless, so with that kind of advantage, why did Paul choose then to switch out? Unfortunately, even Pikachu was just as clueless about the rival's motives.

    "Honchkrow, stand by for battle!" Paul yelled, showing off his fourth Pokémon. The scoreboard was quickly updated to show Honchkrow being active on the field and Electabuzz reserved for later. Paul saw no harm in showing off another Pokémon this soon, because this matchup was one that was sure to play in his favor. It was one that had happened not too long ago, as a matter of fact. Knowing Ash's emotions weren't nearly as controlled as his were, Paul figured Ash would be making an extremely dumb choice here in the next few seconds because of this.

    Honchkrow stared down at Grotle from its high position in the sky. Grotle was glaring back, and when Ash noticed this, he knew this was about to get ugly. "Uh-oh… Honchkrow…"

    Reggie looked curious as to why there seemed to be such bad blood between these two Pokémon, so Brock was quick to fill him in. "Those two Pokémon battled against each other before, and right in the middle of the whole thing, Turtwig evolved into Grotle."

    "Ah, now I see," Reggie understood, nodding. "Then Grotle's angry reaction goes back to that battle. Even so, it wouldn't be a good idea for Ash to keep Grotle in there…"

    "Because Honchkrow's got the type advantage, right?" Dawn asked. "In the last battle, there wasn't much Turtwig could do against Honchkrow except dodge, and after it became Grotle, that advantage was lost, too."

    Reggie couldn't believe Paul never filled him in on any of this… then again, he sort of could. Paul never was one to talk about the specifics of his journey unless Reggie was very insistent about getting to know them. That was something that helped Paul keep his horrible secret off his brother's mind all the past week. "Yeah… but that's not all," he finally said to the young Coordinator. "Remember last week when Paul battled Brandon, what Brandon said to Paul after the battle was over?"

    It didn't take Brock long to recall this. "That his emotions betrayed him… Paul couldn't control them, which was why he lost to Brandon so badly."

    "Right; it's important to know when you're beat," Reggie affirmed. "Paul was so stubborn back then, feeling that he had something to prove… even if we all knew a lot earlier than he did that his efforts would be futile. I guarantee it; if Ash doesn't switch out now, you'll be seeing the exact same scenario again."

    "Oh, Ash," Dawn said tiredly. "I really hope he doesn't play into it. He should've learned from that, too!"

    Ash was obviously apprehensive about leaving Grotle out there against this particular opponent. The last battle ended in a pretty traumatic way; the last thing Ash wanted was to see that happen again. But Grotle seemed to know Ash would be having doubts here, so the Grove Pokémon looked back to its trainer, eagerly insisting it be kept in this battle. Even in the face of danger, Grotle still wanted revenge no matter what.

    Seeing that confidence easily convinced Ash to let Grotle stay. "Alright, Grotle! You're on! It's time to show those two what you've got!"

    "Wha…?!" Dawn was aghast. She really thought Ash would have known better… "But Honchkrow's got the advantage because of type! Ash, what are you doing?!"

    With this decision, Ash had sealed Grotle's fate; Paul knew it, and even he couldn't help cracking a wry smile at this. It felt so good to be the one running this battle after all the losses he suffered.

    "Grotle, Razor Leaf!" Ash commanded, determined to knock the Big Boss Pokémon right out of the sky. Through an attack that wouldn't have much effect, this would be little more than a pipe dream. Without fear, Honchkrow dove in straight at Grotle, effortlessly dodging the barrage of leaves.

    "Night Slash!" was Paul's call. He decided he'd toy around with this match, even only briefly… this satisfactory match-up and the memories of the days before Paul was held back by his crippling disease were too precious to let go.

    The right wing of Honchkrow glowed a dark purple color as the airborne Pokémon landed a direct hit upon its earthbound opponent. Honchkrow was considerably powerful, given that the neutral hit still sent the hefty Grotle skidding back a few feet. Still, with enhanced defenses, Grotle was able to shake it off and press on. It wasn't about to go down this quickly against Honchkrow; not with the powerful motivation called revenge keeping the Grove Pokémon going.

    Ash was relieved, seeing how it wasn't so bad after all to have an aspiring tank on his team. "Alright, Grotle! Energy Ball!"

    The overconfident Kanto native had forgotten an important detail when he made this move; something that would aggravate him even further. While Grotle's attack made a direct hit on Honchkrow, it remained almost completely unaffected not only due to Honchkrow resisting the type, but the familiar box of light reappeared after the attack made contact.

    "What the…?! Light Screen?!" Ash forgot the crucial detail to this move, being far too absorbed in Grotle's determination for getting back at Honchkrow to pay it any mind.

    "So I guess the effects of Light Screen must carry through to the next Pokémon," Dawn said as she studied the battle. "Is that right?"

    Brock nodded. "Not only does Honchkrow have a type advantage, but with Light Screen still in play, it decreases the damage from Grotle's special attacks." He did not like where this was going; Reggie was absolutely right about Grotle being doomed to lose if Ash chose to keep it in. "Paul's goal is obviously to overwhelm Ash."

    "He wants to overwhelm Ash…?" Dawn echoed; when she thought about it, it made a lot of sense that this would be the case.

    Reggie's eyes remained focused on the battlefield. "Yeah," he grimly affirmed. "I wasn't certain until now… but Paul really did learn his lesson from last time."

    Paul wasn't paying any mind to what the spectators were gabbing about. Once he got to work in battle, his commands were swiftly carried out and very professional in nature. "Now use Haze!"

    As Honchkrow covered the battlefield with plumes of dark smoke, Dawn had to speak her mind of something she felt very strongly from what she had seen so far. "You know, now that you mention it, Paul's battle style seems different from usual."

    "That's true," Brock agreed. "Normally the battles we've seen Paul in are ones where he's busy polishing his Pokémon's moves or when his complete objective is testing their strength."

    "Razor Leaf; let's go!" Ash was heard in the smoggy battlefield. Though Grotle expertly shot its attack through the Haze, it missed Honchkrow by a mile.

    "But it's not like that at all today," Brock finished.

    Though Reggie was happy for his brother, he still felt bad for Ash being completely taken over like this. It really was no different from Paul and Brandon's battle as far as one-sidedness went. "A Pokémon battle will test both a trainer's intellectual ability as well as judgment," he stated; since this was the first full battle between the two, it was easy to see why Paul was behaving differently this time, especially after what he suffered through. "Yeah, Paul has dissected Ash's battling style that keeps Ash from battling soundly… and that means Paul's going at it with nothing less for his goal for a 100% sure win."

    This battle truly highlighted how much Paul took after Brandon. When he put his mind to it, Paul really could be every bit as fierce, fearless, and stoic as his father in battle. Just as Brandon's ability to read his son like a book enabled him to decipher Paul's battling style very quickly – which ensured his own victory – Paul had battled Ash enough to predict his every move, knowing his unbridled emotions and attachment to his Pokémon was a huge detriment to his potential as of now. Even though Paul had grown to respect the bond between trainer and Pokémon over the past ten days, he still wouldn't be overt about it. He wasn't really sure if it was his success in bonding with his Pokémon that made him so much stronger now or if it was merely Ash being easy to predict, but either way Paul finally realized what was accomplished with all his training. Even though he never could overpower Reggie, both himself and his Pokémon continued to become stronger and more well-rounded individuals for it. As many trainers would say, there's not much to be learned from winning; it was through losses when lessons were learned. Paul had spent a grueling three weeks doing nothing but lose every single battle he engaged in; only now could he see just how much better he and his Pokémon had become.

    "Grotle's taken a lot of damage," Ash grumbled. Things were stacked so heavily against him that he knew Grotle would be knocked out soon unless its health could somehow be preserved. But that served as the perfect incentive to call his next strategic move. "Use Synthesis!"

    While the Grove Pokémon stood tall to absorb the sunlight available to it, Paul was quick to find a nice way to make this backfire. "Now, Sky Attack, quick!"

    Even if this required a bit of time to charge, it wasn't like Grotle was going anywhere. It had to stay stationary in order to recover health. This was another example of Paul excelling using the knowledge of his opponent's species based on his experience with the same kind of Pokémon. No doubt he had learned much from raising Torterra, and that included what was the best way to restore health and when. Really, Paul never saw much point in bothering with weather-dependent moves like Synthesis when Absorb, Mega Drain, and Giga Drain could restore ample amounts of health at any time during battle that would only serve to the user's benefit and the target's inevitable defeat.

    "Oh no!" Dawn called out, looking fearful of what was about to happen. "But Grotle hasn't finished recovering yet!"

    Honchkrow was charging up much faster than Ash expected it to, leaving him to growl quietly as his frustration escalated. He had no choice but to cut Synthesis short, or else face the consequences of a seriously powerful super-effective attack. "Now Grotle, use Rock Climb!"

    It was disorienting for Grotle to halt its own recovery process in order to be able to prepare for the attack it was about to take, but in the nick of time it was able to extend its front claws and rise up on its hind legs to prepare for Honchkrow. With Honchkrow already engaged in attack mode, Paul allowed himself to be completely bewildered with Ash's choice of move for Grotle here. Rock Climb? Really? Paul couldn't fathom why Ash taught Grotle this, and he wouldn't be finding out anytime soon.

    Though Grotle was in prime attacking position, this really wasn't the right move to counter with; Honchkrow easily overpowered its opponent with Sky Attack upon collision. The force had them both skidding across the ground an even greater distance than before, kicking up a huge dust cloud inadvertently. Not long after that, Honchkrow flew out of there looking relatively unscathed as it cried out in triumph. Evidently, it accomplished what it was set to do.

    The same could not be said for Grotle, who was visible after the dust cleared: knocked over and immobile.

    "Grotle is unable to battle and the winner is Honchkrow!" Olivier announced.

    James sang along as he updated the scoreboard. "Bringing into action both twerps a Pokémon writer!" And so Grotle's image faded into a monotone silhouette, just like Weavile's.

    "Grotle, return!" Ash recalled his unfortunate longtime Sinnoh partner back into its Pokéball. "You really battled well," he assured it, even though Grotle didn't make much of a dent in Honchkrow's health at all. He looked to Paul, unsurprised that he refused to congratulate his Honchkrow for a job well done, while said rival silently chose to recall Honchkrow at this time.

    "Ash miscalculated the timing on when to use Synthesis," Reggie stated with a heavy heart; having grown lately to trust his instincts more, he was not surprised to find that he was precisely right about Grotle having no chance in there.

    Dawn looked at Reggie, not sure what he was getting at. "Huh?"

    "Using healing moves leaves your Pokémon completely vulnerable," the breeder told her. "Consider your opponent's condition; then use it…. Or be an easy target like Grotle."

    Brock agreed completely. "It sounds like Ash is feeling a lot of pressure," he figured.

    "You think so?" Dawn asked him. Brock had been very skeptical of Ash's decisions since the beginning, though in normal circumstances Brock was always supportive of his friend. Still, it didn't make him unable to see where his friend was screwing up.

    "Ash wanted Grotle to defeat Honchkrow so badly that it clouded his judgment," Brock reminded Dawn. "That's what Reggie was getting at earlier when he mentioned Paul and Brandon's battle; Paul was blinded by revenge and his desire to prove a point to Brandon, Ash, and Reggie, which prevented him from seeing the bigger picture. Even though Ash watched that battle, he failed to pick up on Brandon's moral of the story…" Brock hated to be this negative, but every bit of what he was saying was true. "But Paul clearly did. So if Ash keeps going on like this now, he'll have to learn about keeping his emotions under control the same way Paul did… with a crushing defeat."

    "Ah…" Dawn had nothing to say to that. She chose to look on at Ash worriedly, as she obviously didn't want Ash to go through that. It was haunting enough seeing how frighteningly out-of-control Paul was; it was beyond even the creative Dawn's imagination to envision Ash in the same scenario.

    The shaken Ash was conflicted with indecision now. He'd have a hard time forgiving himself for failing to avenge Grotle, but he was snapped out of his trance when he felt a pair of small, determined hands grasp a small part of his jeans. Looking down, Ash saw Pikachu all fired up. Its gestures were obvious indications that it wanted in on the action, immediately.

    "Huh? You wanna get in the battle, Pikachu?" Ash asked him, now fully hesitant to make any rash decision without thinking it over.

    "Pika-Pikachu!" was the response; a very assured one. After seeing Grotle fall to Honchkrow again, Pikachu was angry. This was the perfect opportunity to let out its anger.

    Ash always liked seeing this kind of spirit in his team. Even if he wasn't in high spirits himself now, Ash still had his Pokémon and he had to keep in mind that he was doing this for their sake. From now on, he'd have to play it smart so that Grotle's loss wouldn't have been in vain. "Yes!" he said, allowing Pikachu to step forth. "Then you get in there, buddy, and show some of your power! Now let's move, Pikachu!"

    "Pikaaa!" Pikachu dashed to the frontline. Sparks of electricity emitting from its cheeks showed the Mouse Pokémon's readiness to fight.

    Paul knew this was coming sooner or later; Pikachu was first and foremost the sure bet to be in any iteration of Ash's team. Being undeniably his rival's strongest, Paul made sure to formulate multiple strategies on that particular Pokémon. For this occasion, he decided to step up his mental game on Ash and show him something that would surely surprise him. "Magmortar, stand by for battle!"

    A large, bulky figure was unleashed, casting a shadow over the tiny Pikachu while murmuring its name. As expected, there was shock and awe… and Ash knew immediately this Pokémon was a lot smaller the last time he saw it.

    "Magmortar," he muttered, biting his lip. "Man, he really evolved his Magmar!"

    Paul owed Reggie some deep gratitude for being able to have a Magmortar in the first place; it was one of many things accomplished during the ten-day training period. Since it had taken the most punishment in the battle against Brandon as a Magmar and desperately needed special training due to being a fairly recent capture of Paul's (to replace Chimchar, of course), Reggie made sure to bring it up to speed, and thus came the giant beast seen at this moment. Just seeing Magmortar stand tall and proudly before Ash's modest little Pikachu reminded Paul that he and his team truly had come much further along in their training than he gave credit for.

    Magmortar stared down at its opponent and the opponent's trainer, calmly uttering "Mag…" while waiting for orders. For its atrocious performance against Brandon, Magmortar strongly desired to make up for that letdown here and now. Though big and ominous, Magmortar was relatively calm compared to most of Paul's large Pokémon; basically like Torterra, only without the seniority.

    Ash had a hard time shaking off the initial fear coming with seeing this newly-evolved Pokémon. At a loss for words, he could only quietly utter the fiery beast's name with bitterness, as if he were cursing the Pokémon before he looked intently back to his Pikachu. "Pikachu, now don't let your guard down!" he warned.

    While Pikachu looked back to give its trainer an affirmative "Pika!", Dawn pulled out her PokéDex to learn more about what Ash was getting himself into.

    "Magmortar, the Blast Pokémon and the evolved form of Magmar. It launches fireballs that can reach temperatures over three-thousand six-hundred degrees from the ends of its arms and lives in volcanic craters."


    "Geez," Dawn mumbled. "I can't even imagine something that hot. That'd be enough to evaporate the whole lake…" Paul's Pokémon never failed to disappoint in having unnerving PokéDex entries, it seemed. The young Coordinator looked to her fellow spectators, having another question for them. "Since Paul knew that Ash was going to use Pikachu, why isn't he using a Ground-type Pokémon like Torterra instead?"

    "He may be thinking using a Ground-type won't matter, because Ash could simply switch Pikachu to a Water-type like Buizel at any time," Brock speculated. "I can't remember the last time I've seen so many switches in one sitting, but obviously it's become an important part to both Ash and Paul's strategy."

    Reggie looked on at the battlefield, deciding to share his thoughts as well. "Yeah; both don't see the harm in switching in and out on a whim so long as that privilege is available to them, and it allows for both of them to alter and adapt the strategies they've thought up before the battle so they can be utilized to their maximum potential," he correctly assumed. "But Paul's not just thinking about types; he's thinking two steps ahead. I'm certain he realized just as we did how meaningless type matches were against someone like Brandon, so there's no doubt in my mind my brother's intention is to recreate that scenario for Ash. I'm sure as the battle progresses, we'll find out why Magmortar's up."

    Brock was highly aware of how frequently Reggie was referencing that battle. What he was saying made sense to the aspiring Top Breeder, of course, but his hunch in regards to there being a more complicated backstory to Brandon and the small family he defeated with ease than Reggie was letting on was stronger than ever. Brock was not blind to the very apparent hatred in Paul's eyes as he battled the Pyramid King. It just seemed far too extreme for a mere desire to do what his brother couldn't… after all that, Paul not only learned his lesson, but he was implementing strategies similar to Brandon's own in order to win this battle. If Paul hated the man and had no connection to him whatsoever other than just seeing him a couple of times before, why would he do this?

    Not only that, but the more Brock watched Paul in action here, the similarities in his mannerisms and stance to the Pyramid King's became more obvious. Brock strongly felt this couldn't merely be a coincidence anymore, and once this battle was over, he was intent on getting a straight answer out of Reggie if only to put those suspicions to rest one way or another.

    "Pikachu, let's go!" Ash shouted, now that the Magmortar revelation had finally sunk in. "Quick Attack, now!"

    The hefty Magmortar had no chance of outdoing Pikachu in a match of speed, and Paul knew that. Priority moves like Quick Attack especially made such an idea even more ridiculous, so Paul allowed for Magmortar to take the hit, which it did so right in the chest. Pikachu had pounced on the Blast Pokémon in hopes of knocking it over, but while the force of Quick Attack was enough to force the foe back a small distance, stumbling backwards the whole way, Magmortar remained standing without too much difficulty. Magmortar smirked at the futile effort, and this gesture confused Ash. The reason for this became apparent moments later after Pikachu rebounded off the big belly of Magmortar and back to its side of the field.

    A shrill cry from Pikachu was heard as a spontaneous combustion of flames engulfed Pikachu's entire body for a brief few seconds. All present but Paul and his Pokémon were taken aback by shock, but who could blame them?

    "Pikachu…!" Ash wailed, immensely worried and confused as to what just happened. Thankfully, the torment didn't last for long, though the flames were damaging enough to wear Pikachu down to the point where it had to lay upon one knee for support.

    Dawn especially had never seen a phenomenon like this before. She had doubts that this was anything normal. "Magmortar hasn't done a thing, so what's going on?" she asked, distressed.

    "That's Magmortar's ability called Flame Body," Brock explained, as he was quick to identify what would cause this otherwise illogical event. "When a move that makes direct contact hits Magmortar, there's a chance its opponent will get burned."

    Shocking a large group of people like this – Ash especially – was enough to draw out that creepy smile of Paul's again. He honestly couldn't remember the last time he felt so self-assured… normally, Paul was like that almost all the time, but after his life had thrown so many horrendous things his way, it was impossible to maintain that confidence. At a time like this, Paul even forgot that he was ill.

    Much as Ash hated to be having second thoughts already about his choice to send Pikachu into this battle, the sight of his first Pokémon struggling to stand back up after being burned like that made him want to reconsider. "Pikachu, are you alright?" he called out; Ash suspected Pikachu wouldn't quit this soon, but he wanted to see his Pokémon prove to him that it was still able to fight.

    Pikachu called back an affirmation as it managed to force itself to stand, then poised itself for whatever attack Ash would call next.

    "Alright," Ash conceded, though he had a bad feeling about what he was doing here. "Then Pikachu, Thunderbolt!"

    As a seasoned veteran of Pokémon battling, Pikachu's Thunderbolt attacks were now strong enough to actually tear through the ground. There was a reason why Paul took an interest in that Pokémon, after all, but Paul had no intention of letting his Pokémon simply get hit again.

    "Magmortar, Flamethrower!" he commanded, certain that this would cause a nasty explosion. Even with all the progress made, Paul didn't expect Magmortar to overpower Ash's strongest Pokémon, but at the very least it was strong enough to match its Flamethrower's power with Thunderbolt's. The attacks collided in the center of the field, triggering a blinding explosion shortly after. While Ash flinched and shielded his face from the carnage, Paul's stance didn't change a bit. Even with his hair being blown back by the force of the combined attacks, Paul didn't even bat an eye at the sight.

    "Man, that's powerful," Ash quietly commented as the chaos finally dissipated. He was quick to react once it was safe to move around in the battlefield again. "Alright, Volt Tackle; go!"

    That was the attack Paul took great interest to, as it was a rarity to see even within the Pikachu species and its relatives. At the speed Pikachu was going, Paul didn't have the luxury of waiting for the right opportunity to strike. But that was fine; for this Pokémon, Paul had a different approach in mind. "Use Rock Tomb!"

    Using one arm, Magmortar's cannon charged with energy and quickly fired off small Rock Tomb blasts in spurts. The rocks planted on the battlefield served as obstacles for Pikachu, who was too engaged in its straightforward attack to dodge them all. Luckily for Ash, Pikachu was strong enough to simply burst through these rocks thanks to the strong barrier of electric energy charged around Pikachu's body every time Volt Tackle was performed. Across the battlefield, Pikachu was able to burst through several Rock Tomb obstacles, but doing this over and over took a toll on Pikachu's stamina. With Magmortar almost within reach, the last obstacle was a significantly larger rock to break through. However, Pikachu had completely lost its momentum as its energy dropped, and instead of bursting through the final rock, the obstacle simply repelled Pikachu back a few feet.

    Volt Tackle was cancelled out by the physical strain, and if that weren't unfortunate enough, Pikachu was suddenly engulfed by the flames again. The sight and Pikachu's screech of pain was hard to watch for several of the spectators.

    "Pikachu, ya gotta hang in there!" Ash pleaded, clearly desperate to keep his Pikachu from being knocked out this early on. Ash's words of encouragement always seemed to serve as a convenient second wind for any of his Pokémon. Pikachu managed to stagger back up; safe to assume it was officially furious at this point.

    "Did you see that?" Jessie asked her companions in awe; for all the times Pikachu had fried her and her group for years, it was hard to believe that same Pokémon they sought after for so long was getting tossed around this easily.

    James was just as aghast. "That's enough to give me nightmares!" he wailed.

    "Use Smog!" was Paul's next order. Just like Honchkrow with Haze, Paul intended to lower the visibility range of the battlefield. Magmortar did this by blowing out the slightly toxic smoke from its mouth.

    With Ash feeling somewhat of a second wind as well, he was determined to not let Paul get away with this, so with a certain gesture to Pikachu, he shouted out his next move to make this ploy backfire. "Pikachu, Thunderbolt!"

    Instead of using the attack the way it normally did, Pikachu executed the move by dropping down to the ground and spinning its body rapidly, as if it were breakdancing. Paul kept his eyes on this execution, as it was something he'd never seen before. Instead of the usual burst of ground-breaking lightning, a vortex of electricity formed over Pikachu as it continued its movements. Gaining control of the air as long as Pikachu remained spinning, this odd rendition of Thunderbolt in vortex form managed to clear up the battlefield completely.

    "What…?" Paul was in control of himself well enough to not completely drop his composure, but he understandably couldn't help but gape at this foreign technique. He would obviously have to find another way to pull off his next intended move.

    This performance got a simultaneous "Wow!" from the Team Rocket trio. This seemed to be more along the lines of what would be seen in a Contest, truth be told.

    "Pikachu used Thunderbolt Counter Shield, awesome!" Dawn marveled at the sight. Being a Coordinator herself, she especially liked this technique that was created from a combination of Ash's Contest experience and his inspiration from when he first met Fantina.

    "That's amazing how it totally got rid of the smog!" Reggie said almost excitedly. Given how ominous this battle had been for poor Ash, it was nice to see the boy from Pallet Town still had a few tricks up his sleeve.

    "It's really both an offensive and defensive move," Brock told him. "Ash developed it when he battled Fantina at Hearthome Gym."

    Just as Reggie thought quietly to himself that this "Counter Shield" technique would actually be very beneficial for his brother's battling style, said brother was thinking the exact same thing as he closely studied the Counter Shield right up until Pikachu was finished. He wisely chose not to have Magmortar attempt to disrupt it, and so the Blast Pokémon maintained its distance.

    Ash was about to brag to Paul about his innovative technique, but that was cut off as he heard Pikachu screech again, being afflicted with its burned status once more.

    "Oh…!" Dawn almost hopped up out of her seat in surprise; those flames always came out when she least expected them to. "Pikachu's still burned?!"

    "It's Magmortar's Flame Body," Reggie reminded her. "The Burn effect is still going on, and it won't wear off over time." The Pokémon Breeder was back to his somber, serious self as the adrenaline from the Counter Shield excitement wore down. "This is looking bad," he admitted. "The longer this battle continues, the greater the disadvantage for Pikachu."

    Brock was also back into his serious, realist point of view. "That Burn will keep sapping away Pikachu's energy bit by bit, and on top of that, a burned Pokémon can only attack with half its physical strength. Paul's made sure that there'll be no way Pikachu can battle to its full potential."

    "Magmortar, Flamethrower!" Paul called for, ready to take that pesky Pikachu out after he was done considering the mechanics behind the technique it just displayed. With both of its massive cannon arms, Magmortar unleashed a massive wave of fire coming straight for Pikachu.

    "Use Iron Tail from above!" Ash countered, not about to subject his Pikachu to any more fiery torment. Pikachu managed to jump high into the air just as the flames smothered the area it had previously stood at. Its tail charged the energy quickly, and with a fancy twirl, the Mouse Pokémon landed a direct hit right on stop of Magmortar's head. Again, Paul saw no point to dodge when Pikachu was so fast and his Magmortar was a very huge target. That simply couldn't be helped.

    Though Magmortar was knocked back considerably, reeling with the pain from that sustained blow, it still remained solid on the ground with its two feet. As Pikachu comfortably landed back on its side of the field, the Burn took precedence once more. Though brief, the pain inflicted was great… and after so many times with that, Pikachu had lost a considerable amount of energy, hunching over as it struggled to remain on its feet.

    A very worried Ash could no longer stand to see this happening every other time Pikachu landed an attack. It was time to switch. "Quick, Pikachu! Come here!"

    "Pika…?" Pikachu wearily looked over to its partner before scampering over to his side. "Pikapi?"

    "You battled hard," Ash commended. "So get some rest, 'kay?"

    That wasn't exactly what Pikachu wanted, but it could understand why Ash insisted on this. With a little reluctance, Pikachu conceded to rest up. So long as it wasn't batting, Pikachu wouldn't be burned at minute intervals.

    "Now, Buizel! I choose you!" Ash hollered, letting out a Pokémon that had seen virtually no action so far. As much as it loved to fight, Buizel was pleased to finally have its turn.

    "The twerp's sealing the deal with a Water-type!" James sung out as he and his comrades updated the scoreboard.

    "Putting it onscreen!" the other two announced; Pikachu and Buizel's images swapping their active/inactive statuses.

    Dawn smiled, happy to see the Pokémon that was once under her ownership out and ready to get in on the action. "Buizel, you can do it!" she cheered on. Even if Buizel was no longer hers, Dawn would always feel close to it. Fellow Water-type Piplup also joined in on the cheering.

    "Aqua Jet…!" Ash yelled, determined to take the Blast Pokémon down. Having an advantage in type now, he was in fairly good spirits. Magmortar had already taken ample amounts of damage from Pikachu…

    Immersed in a stream of rapid water summoned all on its own, Buizel made a beeline for its target and collided into Magmortar's chest for a direct, super-effective hit. The force behind Aqua Jet was enough to push Magmortar back a bit, though it remained sturdy in its stationary position. Not being a complete dimwit with the memory of a Goldeen, Ash knew from previous examples in this battle alone that it was unwise to stay in close proximity to Paul's Pokémon for long. Ash decided to put a bit of distance between the two Pokémon while continuing with the full assault. "Water Pulse!"

    Buizel hopped back with finesse (possibly force of habit from its initial training with Dawn) as it got out of Magmortar's range of reach, summoning a glowing ball of water that the Sea Weasel Pokémon quickly slammed onto the ground. The spherical form of Water Pulse burst with the force of hundreds of popping water balloons, resulting in a massive tidal wave coming straight for Magmortar.

    "Now, Rock Tomb!" Paul calmly ordered, deciding this to be a good time to try out one of his failed strategies with a different approach.

    With precious little time before the water would collide into the Fire-type, Magmortar rapid-fired a series of giant rocks protruding from the ground to form a makeshift shield large enough to cover its massive girth.

    With Buizel in the fray now, Dawn was especially paying close attention to every little detail of this battle, and she was notably surprised that Magmortar did not simply fire those large rocks at Buizel instead. They were strong enough to short out Volt Tackle, so she figured there was a good chance they'd be able to break up the mass of water coming its way as well.

    "They're using Rock Tomb as a shield…!" Brock realized, though this wasn't too hard to figure out for anyone watching this battle.

    Ash simply smirked; he could see what Paul was going for here, supposedly, but his arrogance and confidence took precedence over what else was going on in his mind as he thought he had Paul cornered at last. "That move's got no chance against a Water-type attack," he boasted. "Alright Buizel, use Aqua Jet!"

    In a way, Ash was correct. The Rock Tomb shield was already taking a beating from the Water Pulse barrage; Aqua Jet was a more direct and concentrated attack… and since anything Rock-typed (moves or Pokémon) was vulnerable to Water-types, the shield definitely wouldn't hold up for long. Once Buizel made contact with the shield within its Aqua Jet, the shield burst into rubble, just as Ash had planned. To the surprise of Ash and Buizel, however, their target was nowhere to be seen behind the makeshift shield. Buizel slowly looked up from where Magmortar should have been, only to see its calm, collected trainer staring right back at it as he called for the next attack. "Smog; let's go!"

    "Oh no…!" Ash was caught off-guard again. The fact that Paul wasn't looking anywhere but at his opponents didn't give away Magmortar's position until it was too late.

    Buizel noticed a shadow cast over itself; one much too large to be considered its own. Finally looking up, the Sea Weasel Pokémon could only utter a flabbergasted "Bui?!" when it realized Magmortar was airborne and already in mid-descent. This was what Paul was trying to accomplish with Magmortar a bit earlier. From the Blast Pokémon's mouth came another burst of thick, obscuring smoke. This time the target Pokémon was caught up in it, wincing from the toxicity of Smog, which Buizel was forced to inhale.

    "Buizel!" Ash shouted helplessly as his mind rushed through his myriad of strategies to find a way out of this. This folly was all on Ash for being overconfident again; no doubt about that.

    "That Rock Tomb wasn't just a shield; it was for keeping Buizel from seeing what Magmortar was up to!" Brock exclaimed, as even he was startled by Paul's newest strategic move.

    As Magmortar landed safely on the ground near the weakened Buizel, it was suddenly recalled back into its Pokéball.

    "He's switching now?" Ash wondered out loud, clearly unable to keep up with his rival.

    "Ursaring, stand by for battle!" Paul called, unleashing his ill-mannered powerhouse this time. Team Rocket updated the scoreboard to reflect this, and by this point they were becoming annoyed with the frequent switches throughout this full battle. However, Ursaring was Paul's final Pokémon revealed, so now the bitter rival had laid all the cards out on the table for Ash to see. But Paul obviously had no concern for this; he'd been holding Ursaring back this long for a reason.

    Ash wasn't too terribly concerned; he'd seen Ursaring in action so many times that he didn't expect there would be any surprises to be had this time. "Buizel, use Water Gun now!" he yelled, hoping to restore his Pokémon's momentum.

    Buizel shot a stream of water from its mouth, keeping its distance from the Hibernation Pokémon while doing so. If nothing else, Ash still remained focused on the fact that he needed to focus on attacks capable of being used from a distance in order to evade Paul's more devastating attacks. He didn't want any of his Pokémon trapped in the position his unfortunate Gliscor was in.

    "Ursaring, Hammer Arm!" Paul figured Ash was wise to his strategy of the aforementioned regard, but that was something he could easily work around. Ursaring knew from the tone of its trainer's voice that this Hammer Arm was not meant for Buizel directly (otherwise it would have to charge right through the brutal water to reach its target); instead, this move was intended for disabling the oncoming attack itself.

    This was shown with the roaring Ursaring charging its right hand with the energy needed for Hammer Arm, then winding up as if it were a baseball player up to bat, finally swinging forth its arm to collide with the Water Gun attack. The white-hot energy from Hammer Arm triggered a brief, blinding flash when the two attacks made contact; when the steam cleared up, it was apparent that Ursaring merely flung the attack away with one hand and effectively evaporated most of it in the process. Paul would have preferred that Ursaring simply smack the attack right back at Buizel, but this merely made the quiet trainer understand that there was always room for him and his team to grow stronger. Controlling the energy behind Hammer Arm and perhaps a bit more finesse in Ursaring's throwing ability would give Paul the results he wanted… but that was for another day. For now, Paul relished in Ash's look of abject horror as he watched what had happened here.

    "How did he counter Buizel's Water Gun?!" Ash wailed, no doubt worried about how he'd be able to make a dent in Ursaring if it could negate long-range attacks.

    "Now, Bulk Up!" Paul decided next, sternly watching his Ursaring clutch its fists together before throwing its massive arms up in the air with a mighty roar. A reddish aura enveloped the Hibernation Pokémon's body… and Ash knew what this meant.

    "Ursaring just raised its offense and defense," he acknowledged, sounding worried at first… but this fight had just gotten started, and his Buizel was still in fairly good shape to battle. Figuring there was no point in worrying too much, Ash cast his concerns aside and let out a cocky smile, shaking his head. "Ah, who cares? Buizel, Aqua Jet!"

    Paul was not the only one who found Ash to be a complete and utter fool for saying that; Reggie and Brock disapproved of this as well, and even Dawn was showing a bit of cynicism after hearing that remark. It eerily reminded the rookie Coordinator of her own overconfident, unassuming attitude when she first started her journey… and Dawn quickly learned the hard way how that attitude would get her nowhere.

    For every time Ash said a stupid thing, Paul was all the more determined to punish this so-called rival of his. "Ursaring, Slash!"

    Like a bottle rocket, Buizel blasted off within its watery encasing. Both Paul and Ursaring watched and waited carefully, with the latter pulling its arm back again while its claws lengthened considerably within a glowing aura. Buizel made a direct hit against Ursaring's chest, slowly forcing its much larger opponent back, though Ursaring easily managed to stay solidly on its two feet. Buizel was too involved in its attack and Ash was too focused on pushing that mammoth of a Pokémon off its feet to realize Ursaring was still charging its attack. Paul's fists tightened ever-so slightly as the perfect time to attack struck him and his Pokémon simultaneously. Ursaring glared down at the Sea Weasel Pokémon pushing against it with all its might, only to be fiercely cut and thrown back by a direct hit from Slash.
    Last edited by Shinneth; 17th July 2011 at 4:14 AM.

    Travels of the Trifecta! - Chronicles of an estranged family!

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  25. #150
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    Dawn winced as she watched Buizel being send flying back; its Aqua Jet being forcibly canceled in the process. "Oh no…! That had to hurt…"

    "Mm," Brock solemnly mumbled. "Ursaring's attacks are a lot more powerful after using Bulk up first."

    Buizel was thrown back hard enough to be sent tumbling its way back towards Ash on the ground before flopping over on its belly. That "fairly good shape" Ash thought Buizel to be in was no longer the case, but to the Sea Weasel Pokémon's credit, it was still able battle… despite being critically injured.

    "Focus Blast!" Paul was heard calling for, as he obviously wasn't giving Ash or his Pokémon an inch of breathing room between these attacks. Paul wasn't letting Ash off that easy after his stupidity quota for the day had been exceeded. The growling Ursaring formed a small sphere of devastating concentrated energy; even if this took a bit of time to prepare, Buizel wasn't exactly in prime condition to dodge like it usually was. Even after Focus Blast was lobbed by Ursaring, Buizel was just then finally getting to its feet from the previous attack.

    Ash wasn't going to let it end like this. "Quick, Buizel! Use Aqua Jet!"

    Situations like these were pretty common for Ash, be it a Pokémon battle or going against the forces of evil. This was why he put speedy Pokémon in such high regard – someone like Grotle wouldn't have been able to do anything in this short frame of time except take the attack and faint. But Buizel, banged up though it was, still had enough energy to retain its speediness. Paul blinked as he witnessed Buizel doing something odd, and yet strongly familiar. Buizel didn't take off in Aqua Jet like it had done several times already, but instead spun itself on the ground in an odd breakdancing-esque style much like Pikachu had done earlier with Thunderbolt. Instead of a vortex of lightning, though, Buizel formed a tall, enduring waterspout.

    Focus Blast collided into this strange rendition of Aqua Jet, but Ursaring's attack couldn't overpower the waterspout. Instead of merely dispersing the attack like Pikachu did with Smog, the results were much more effective with Buizel: Focus Blast's impact was absorbed, and then the energy itself shattered from its compacted spherical shape. The remains of Focus Blast were reflected by the waterspout, leaving only one place for these small but numerous shots of energy to go: back to the Pokémon who sent it in the first place. Consequently, Ursaring was pelted by its own attack, which dealt notable damage due to Ursaring's status as a Normal-type. It was painful enough for Ursaring to howl in pain as it tried to hold up its arms to shield itself from the multiple blows – it was probably beneficial for Ursaring to take the attack this way opposed to its normal, concentrated form.

    Paul would have been angry over this, but truthfully it was twists like this that kept the battle interesting for him. Not to mention he was learning some valuable things about Ash's battling style by enduring this; the similarity in Buizel and Pikachu's deviations from their usual moves weren't lost on him, and Ash inadvertently made it even easier for Paul by confirming it through his bragging.

    "So tell me, Paul, how'd you like a taste of our little Counter Shield?" Ash called out to him, both sounding and looking smug. "Pikachu's not the only one who can use it."

    Paul had overheard the spectators discussing something by that name just a little while ago when Pikachu did this, so it was a certainty that this was the name of the method Ash had just used twice on him: Counter Shield. Being given two opportunities to study this original technique was more than enough for Paul to learn when to anticipate it, be it later in this battle (but would Ash be dumb enough to use it thrice in one battle against him?) or in the future… namely the Sinnoh League. Ash clearly taking pride in Counter Shield was simply a sign for Paul to take advantage of that whenever the time came. For Ash's taunt, though, Paul wasn't giving that rival the satisfaction of knowing he'd been taken off-guard.

    When Ash realized he wouldn't be getting more than a neutral "hmph" out of Paul, he set his mind back on business. "Buizel, Sonic Boom!"

    Buizel quickly charged up the energy in its tail, and with a twirl, it released the waves of energy right at its target. Paul was quick to counter it. "Ursaring, Hammer Arm!"

    This time, Paul's tone indicated that this attack be focused on the Pokémon instead of the attack. So Ursaring charged across the battlefield and through the Sonic Boom barrage. To Ash's surprise, Ursaring seemed completely unfazed by the impact as it took no toll whatsoever on Ursaring's power or speed. The Hibernation Pokémon then leaped up towards the unsuspecting Buizel, landing a clothesline punch on its target before its feet touched the ground. At such a close range, the hit was strong enough to make Buizel leave a steep imprint of its body shape on the ground, where it wearily lied as a result of a close-range Hammer Arm blow.

    Seeing Buizel effectively flattened on the ground was reason enough for Ash to panic. He took out Buizel's Pokémon to order a hasty retreat. "Buizel, return…!"

    Before Ash could utilize the Pokéball's recall device, however, he saw Buizel stand right back up as if that Hammer Arm attack did nothing to it. The Sea Weasel Pokémon was obviously faking that and was in a great deal of pain, but the last thing it wanted was to be sent back to its Pokéball again. Still troubled with pride issues and being one of Ash's feistiest Pokémon of the Sinnoh team, Buizel was determined to end it all here and now without prolonging things any longer. After standing back upright, it looked back to Ash, giving the shaken trainer a grin and a very bold thumbs-up gesture.

    Ash smiled knowingly, pocketing away the Pokéball. "I gotcha," he understood. "Aqua Jet!"

    With gusto, Buizel charged at Ursaring within its swift stream of water. Even with all the power it could still dish out, Paul knew denial when he saw it. After all, Paul spent weeks being that way; all the more reason for him to put that Buizel out of its misery.

    "Focus Blast!"

    Ursaring formed another ball of energy and casually launched it straight at Buizel. Both the attack and the target were coming straight for it, so it was fairly obvious when and where to launch the counter. Ash prayed that Buizel would dodge, but no such luck… it turned out his own Pokémon's overconfidence turned against the trainer this time.

    "Buizel…!" Ash cried out as he helplessly watched the Sea Weasel Pokémon directly hit with Focus Blast, triggering an explosion between the two colliding attacks. Unable to do or say anything about the situation now, Ash could only watch as Buizel (still within its Aqua Jet) crash-landed on the ground. The power of Aqua Jet's stream pushed the unmoving Pokémon forward a couple of feet before the water dissipated. The dust clouds kicked up from the harsh impact cleared out quickly enough to reveal Buizel completely incapacitated.

    "Buizel is unable to battle and the winner is Ursaring!" Olivier announced; his official tone almost forcibly cold and professional. On the scoreboard, Buizel's portrait became a monotone silhouette just like the other Pokémon unable to battle.

    Dawn looked on at the scene, notably downtrodden. "Poor Buizel," she muttered with sympathy. Since Buizel was once her Pokémon, it was understandable that she would be especially disappointed with its loss.

    "Alright, Buizel! Return!" Ash called, doing his best to remain strong as his fallen comrade was sent back into its Pokéball. "Thanks, Buizel. Now you take a good rest," he gently urged, never failing to give his Pokémon credit where it was due. Ash never did like how Paul outright refused to do the same for his own, but for now, there was a bigger problem hanging over Ash's head.

    Paul was now ahead of him statistically.

    "Buizel was eliminated because of Ash's poor judgment," Reggie told the others.

    "You're saying Ash should have had Buizel returned the time before?" Brock asked, referring to when Ash was about to do just that before Buizel decided for him what move to make.

    Reggie nodded to this, leaving Dawn even more worried for how her friend would endure the rest of this battle. Now with the numbers stacking in Paul's favor in addition to other numerous advantages, even she could tell things were bound to get only worse from here.

    "Now, Staraptor! I choose you…!" Ash called for his next Pokémon… while he sounded undeterred by the loss of Buizel, there was no doubt he was forcing himself to repress these feelings so that they wouldn't impede his ability to battle. For this round, Ash wanted to take every opportunity available to him for his Pokémon to attack, so he was quick to issue out the first order. "Use Aerial Ace!"

    As a move that couldn't miss (barring any interference), it was usually a smart choice to start with. As Staraptor swiftly approached its target, however, Paul was intent on causing such interference. "Ursaring, counter with Hammer Arm!"

    There wasn't enough time for Staraptor to dodge the counter and consequently got a stiff smack for its troubles. Luckily for Ash, Staraptor was able to recover from this hit within a matter of seconds so that it could land its own hit on the Hibernation Pokémon - directly on its face, no less.

    "Focus Blast!" Paul commanded next, not the least bit affected by what just happened. Staraptor had quickly retreated back into the air after landing its hit on Ursaring and was still in the midst of doing this after Ursaring had flung upwards a concentrated, high-powered attack coming right for it. Though Staraptor possessed a very respectable top speed, it was unable out-fly the velocity rate of the ball of energy that had Ursaring's sheer physical strength to credit its maintained high rate of speed. Focus Blast collided with Staraptor, and though it was a hard hit to take, it quickly recovered enough to maintain its position in the air. That didn't make Ash any less frustrated, however, as at this point Ash had run fresh out of clever strategies and could only rely on his own instincts from this point on.

    "Close Combat…!" he yelled, knowing this was sure to do something due to being a Fighting-type attack.

    "Ursaring, use Slash!" Paul had no intention of letting Ash believe any longer that he had even an ounce of control in this battle. Both Pokémon charged at each other with their full-powered attacks with Ursaring winning out in the power clash. Staraptor was knocked back like a ragdoll by Ursaring's Slash – knowing this Pokémon had nothing left to impress him with, Paul decided to take the initiative to end this pointless match. "Hammer Arm; let's go!"

    Using both arms this time to execute the attack, Ursaring perfectly timed how long to charge the attack and when to strike. With Ash dumbstruck in the presence of such raw – yet controlled – power, he could only watch as Staraptor was brutally clubbed into the ground.

    "Staraptor, no…!" Ash hated feeling so helpless, but in times like these his shouts of encouragement were all he really had to offer for his team. Sometimes, that would be enough. This time, however… it just wasn't Ash's lucky day.

    More dust was kicked up as a result of the last attack; Ursaring was an absolute beast and its brutality displayed here reminded Ash just how dangerous this Pokémon was before Paul captured it. That was but a fleeting thought on the young trainer's mind; he squinted to see past the dust before it cleared out. Just as before, Ursaring had thrown Staraptor so forcefully that the impact left an imprint of the victim's shape on the ground. There was no questioning it – Staraptor was done.

    "Staraptor is unable to battle and the winner is Ursaring!"

    "Staraptor, return!" Ash recalled yet another fallen friend back to its Pokéball. "Thanks a lot, Staraptor; get some rest." It was getting increasingly difficult for Ash to keep that uplifting spirit of his going. Hearing the sound of Ursaring being returned to its Pokéball thankfully snapped Ash out of what would have been a downward spiral of worrying and self-loathing… yes, dense though Ash may be, he was far from oblivious of his blunders here.

    "Electabuzz, stand by for battle!" Paul commanded, casually sending out his very effective Pokémon providing that value defense for the team.

    Ash frowned as he took a moment to think this over; Electabuzz had been a very tricky opponent in this match, so he had to carefully consider his remaining options. "Okay, if it's Electabuzz, then Chimchar – I choose you!"

    While Chimchar was finally sent out, unveiling the obvious final Pokémon on Ash's side, Team Rocket became much more cheerful with their work while they updated the scoreboard. Having seen the abuse Chimchar endured while it was still Paul's Pokémon and Meowth especially having a heart-to-heart with this Pokémon in the past endeared the morally ambiguous trio to the Chimp Pokémon.

    "Yeah, Chimmy's at da' plate!" Meowth sang out.

    "Chimchar will be great!" James concurred.

    "A fiery Chimchar challenge; I can hardly wait!" Jessie gushed.

    The scoreboard was changed as all three confirmed it: "Information update!" But this grueling work was wearing the trio down at this point, as all three heaved out a sigh once their part of the job was done.

    Just the sight of its former trainer did much to fuel Chimchar's resolve; it raised a fist at Paul, barking out at him… but Paul knew this reunion was inevitable. They hadn't seen each other since before Paul's life started spiraling out of control. Now that Paul had hit rock bottom, he made sure to fortify his emotional resolve against this particular Pokémon. He knew it was Ash's intention to defeat him with Chimchar and consequently prove him wrong for all the negative things he'd said to Chimchar in the past. Paul had long since deemed Chimchar a worthless waste of his time… and even though he'd lost a considerable amount of his self-esteem over a short period of time, Paul's stance on Chimchar's potential remained unchanged. It would be foolish to let his guard down now, though. Paul would approach Chimchar in battle with caution, just as he did with the rest of Ash's Pokémon. Nothing would change here.

    "Here we go!" Ash hollered; his determination restored. "Flamethrower!"

    Chimchar fired streams of flames from its mouth that quickly approached the Electric Pokémon, but Paul knew exactly what to do once more. "Protect!"

    The barrier of light easily negated Chimchar's attack, and Paul was quick to take initiative. "Now, Light Screen!"

    "Huh? Another defensive move?" Dawn wondered out loud. She had noticed throughout the battle so far that Electabuzz had done very little on the offensive front – each time it was called out, it was to reinforce Light Screen. The rookie Coordinator could see that much, but the agitated Ash wasn't as quick to catch on. He gaped as Paul immediately recalled Electabuzz after Light Screen was restored.

    "Another switcharoo!" James exclaimed, exasperated as he and his companions updated the scoreboard.

    "D'ese buttons are killin' me!" Meowth complained.

    As Jessie tiredly muttered "I need a finger massage…", the image of Electabuzz grayed out back to inactive status.

    "Whoa, Electabuzz first used Protect, and then Light Screen on top of that," Brock noted. "Paul's been consistent about maintaining a strong defense with Electabuzz…"

    "Right," Reggie agreed. "I'm certain Paul's strategy all along was to first use Protect to cover Electabuzz and then Light Screen to cover his next Pokémon." After all, Reggie was the one who taught him that trick.

    "Torterra, stand by for battle!" For whatever reason, Paul saw it appropriate to send out his starter next. Though Torterra was talented in looking just as fresh and fierce as it was in the beginning, the truth was that Torterra wasn't in the best of shape. Normally, Paul would have hesitated to send Torterra in again – especially against an opponent that has the type advantage – but Torterra had its ways to level out the playing field. Over the past ten days, Paul learned to shove aside his pride and openly show his first Pokémon how much he truly cared. Paul fully trusted Torterra now, and he'd show it with a new technique Torterra mastered with its trainer's help.

    Since Ash had no idea what happened to Paul during that time, he couldn't hazard a guess as to why his rival chose Torterra at all. "Paul knows we have the advantage, but he's still usin' Torterra," he acknowledged. Instead of taking the time to ponder why, Ash chose to press on. "'Kay. Use Flame Wheel!"

    While Chimchar picked up speed, shifting into its Flame Wheel approach and made a beeline for its very large target, Paul found this the right moment to show Ash just why Torterra was here. "Stone Edge, now!"

    "Dodge it!" Ash called, mentally scolding himself for forgetting that Torterra knew a Rock-type move that had great potential for damaging Chimchar. Thankfully, Chimchar had more than enough speed to evade Torterra's attacks with ease and did so by veering out of the path of the attack, continuing its pursuit.

    Now was the time to unveil the nasty surprise. "Change up!"

    No one but Reggie knew what this phrase meant, as it wasn't the name of any attack. However, Stone Edge was still active, even if it was missing the target by a mile. The crowd gasped as they witnessed the barrage of rocks suddenly curve around and change direction, now coming at Chimchar from behind.

    "It changed direction?!" Dawn cried out; Ash was at a loss for words as he watched Torterra control the flow of its attack.

    "The ability to control Stone Edge is just incredible!" Brock said in sheer awe; never in all his years of traveling with Ash had he seen nor imagined something like this… or even believe it was possible.

    Reggie, the only calm one of the spectators, simply nodded his head. "This technique is a difficult one to master and it's not a trick many trainers think is possible. It took days for Paul to master it, and he even managed to put his own unique touch to it."

    "I can see how it'd be hard to learn," Dawn understood as she studied the motion of the rocks; specifically the way they curved in their directional shift. "It almost looks like how a move might get messed up if it got interfered with Psychic or something."

    "Funny you should mention that," Reggie said with a smile. "Paul told me that was his main source of inspiration… an old friend showed him the versatility of Psychic and he decided to emulate its effects without actually utilizing the move."

    Both Dawn and Brock looked to Reggie; this was news to them.

    "An old friend, you said?" Brock asked the Pokémon Breeder for clarification's sake.

    "That's right," Reggie said, closing his eyes as he smiled. He wouldn't say any more than that; though Paul still had mixed feelings and didn't want other people knowing of his association with a certain intellectual trainer, Reggie was happy to see the signs.

    Paul was missing Conway's company.

    "I didn't think Paul had any friends," Dawn murmured, trying to imagine what sort of person would want to be in Paul's company… and even more, Paul willing to accept that.

    Attentions were diverted back to the battle as Stone Edge eventually caught up with Chimchar and collided with it, causing a good deal of damage to the Fire-type. Skidding across the ground while reeling from the impact, Chimchar stopped itself, finding Torterra standing there close by. The two former teammates had a brief staring contest before Ash called for the next attack.

    "Flamethrower, go!" Ash would soon regret that decision, as the flames did make contact with Torterra, but the glowing box of light appearing around Torterra to buffer the attack reminded Ash that Light Screen was still in play. Even with a type advantage, Torterra would be hard to damage unless Ash stuck with physical attacks only. "Oh, man!"

    Paul once again trapped Ash in an unfavorable situation.

    "Light Screen halved the damage from that Flamethrower," Brock acknowledged. "Chimchar has an advantage as a Fire-type, but this is getting difficult now."

    "On top of that, there's the danger of getting hit with Stone Edge if Chimchar gets too close, leaving both Ash and Chimchar with precious few options," Reggie reminded; he was much quicker to access the situations here than anyone else. Regaining the power he once had years ago and now excelling beyond that, Reggie's instincts as a trainer were sharper than ever.

    Chimchar and Torterra had another stare-off as Ash dealt with the mental debate that was giving him a headache. Seeing that Paul wasn't making a move proved that he was the one in control of this match. Whatever Chimchar threw at Torterra, the Continent Pokémon would counter at Chimchar's expense. Still lamenting the rash decisions he made that cost him Buizel and Grotle, Ash decided to play it safe for Chimchar. "Chimchar, return for now!"

    As Chimchar was recalled, Jessie leaned out from her position to protest. "HEY! Make up your mind!"

    "The challenge of manual labor," James said loathingly as he updated the scoreboard. "We're on!"

    "Gliscor, take over!" Ash called, unleashing his Gliscor back on the field. Ash was sick and tired of Paul one-upping him in every match, and his impatience was showing as he talked to himself about how he would handle this. "Of course, I know Torterra's protected by Light Screen, but Torterra also took a lot of damage." His big, smug smile was visible to Paul, who continued to keep himself reserved as he watched Ash make a fool of himself.

    "I'll finish it off in one shot!" Ash boasted, looking to his Gliscor. "X-Scissor!"

    Once again, Paul calmly waited for just the right moment, when Gliscor zoomed in at a range that left the Fang Scorp Pokémon vulnerable to a counterattack. He and Torterra were on the same mental wavelength, so when Paul commanded, "Frenzy Plant!", Torterra already knew exactly what to do.

    Torterra glowed, summoning the gargantuan thorn-adorned roots from the ground that collectively aimed in one direction instead of wildly spreading around in random directions. The roots of Frenzy Plant effortlessly captured Gliscor in midair – leaving Gliscor helpless – as soon afterwards the roots tossed Gliscor even higher into the air.

    But since Gliscor was not in control and couldn't fly its way out of this, the mighty toss from the strongest Grass-type attack sent it flying back much higher than Gliscor ever flew. Even Ash and Pikachu's cries for Gliscor to persevere weren't enough. With one ground-shaking collision, Gliscor's condition was immediately identifiable.

    "Gliscor is unable to battle! The winner is Torterra!"

    After Olivier's announcement, the scoreboard updated again to confirm Gliscor had been eliminated.

    "Gliscor, return now!" Ash held back his feelings of dread long enough to thank his Gliscor. "Now you get a good rest. Thanks…" He didn't even want to look at the scoreboard, but Ash couldn't help but gaze at Torterra, still standing firmly as it had been since the beginning of the battle. "Torterra was Paul's first Pokémon," Ash quietly recalled to himself. "Man, Torterra is strong… and it doesn't even have to move to do what Paul needs it to do. How does he do that?" Ash, the one who preferred fast-paced offensive Pokémon and strategies couldn't comprehend how an opponent could be so strong and efficient when it remained stationary the entire time.

    Ash's thoughts were interrupted by Pikachu, who obviously wanted to return to the battlefield and fight for Ash's honor.

    "That's great, Pikachu," Ash commended. "But Electric-type moves won't work." For all of his poor performances and rash decisions, Ash at least hadn't forgotten the basics… such as Torterra's partial Ground-type making it immune to Pikachu's most powerful attacks.

    This, however, did not deter Pikachu, as it sounded very insistent with its "Pikapika!" remark.

    Unsurprisingly, Ash ultimately caved in to his Pokémon's desires without considering the consequences. He put his energetic smile back on to encourage his partner. "Okay, then everything's on your speed and your Iron Tail!"

    Pikachu eagerly took its place on the field, shouting its name with pride as it crouched down into its attacking position. Ash couldn't help but be intrigued with this matchup: Starter versus Starter. Even if Torterra had a type advantage, Pikachu's speed and agility would prove to make the Mouse Pokémon a difficult target to hit.

    "I'm countin' on ya!" Ash cheered, more and more looking forward to this unique battle of clashing styles between each trainer's first Pokémon. Pikachu was equally enthused, but was taken aback in shock when Paul suddenly returned Torterra back to its Pokéball.

    Ash's eagerness was shot down brutally as he couldn't comprehend a single thing Paul was doing. "What the?! Switchin' again?!"

    Deep down, Paul did feel interested in the prospect of Starter versus Starter, especially since he had enough strategies in mind to take Pikachu down despite its superior speed. However, this entire battle was testing Paul's resolve; whether or not he could maintain his professional, neutral attitude for the duration of the battle. He was determined to keep his emotions suppressed, just as his father did, and win this battle. It was time to get rid of Pikachu, he decided. He wanted to take it out in the most brutal manner possible, mirroring the hatred he felt for Ash. There was only one Pokémon on this current team that matched his desire for ruthless, unforgiving destruction…

    "Ursaring, stand by for battle!"

    Team Rocket angrily got to work for the umpteenth time to update the scoreboard. While Jessie and Meowth muttered inaudible curses, James was heard wailing, "Fickle-minded twerps are by far the worst twerps of all…!"

    But Paul was far from fickle-minded; he was merely being efficient with his work. He had no interest in toying around. Ash glared at Paul's Pokémon, trying to decipher his rival's battling style. He vaguely remembered the importance of unique battling styles when Brandon was among them ten days ago… how Reggie lacked a unique battling style, which consequently made Paul obsessed with making his own style of battling. What Brandon said was taken to heart by Paul; that much was obvious to Ash now. This change in Paul's demeanor was linked to what happened to him that day… and now Paul was bringing nothing but his best effort for this battle. Ash realized he'd been pretty careless so far and not giving Paul the battle he wanted. But with Pikachu back in play, Ash was self-assured that he would truly impress Paul and leave an impact – something stronger than the fleeting moment of awe when Ash revealed his Counter Shield technique.

    Pikachu looked questioningly to its partner, who had been quiet far too long without giving a command. "Pikapi?"

    Ash snapped out of it, looking to Pikachu… he was more determined now than ever. "Mm, this is mine," he proclaimed. "Pikachu, Quick Attack!"

    "Use Hammer Arm!" Paul knew Pikachu would land the hit first – that's how Quick Attack worked, after all – but afterwards there was only a small window of opportunity for Pikachu to escape the range of Ursaring's clutches. Pikachu landed a direct hit on Ursaring's midsection; just as Paul expected. The strong and sturdy Ursaring took Quick Attack and stood its ground, not even being pushed back by the force of Pikachu's attack. With ease, Ursaring quickly charged up energy within its fit and jabbed Pikachu hard in the gut.

    Pikachu felt as if its eyes nearly popped out when it felt the impact. Ursaring swatted Pikachu away like a fly, causing Dawn and Piplup to cry out for it. Being knocked back so far into the air allowed Pikachu to recover in time, much to Ash's relief.

    "Yes! Good one!" Ash called in recognition of Pikachu's ability to recover after taking such a painful critical hit. "Now use Iron Tail!"

    As Pikachu dived down for Ursaring, twirling and charging its tail, Paul was not concerned. He'd seen this move executed so many times that he figured there'd be no problem in countering it. "Quick, Focus Blast!"

    Ursaring attempted to gather the energy necessary for the attack, but suddenly it flinched back, seemingly in pain. Electricity sparks surged throughout the Hibernation Pokémon's body.

    "What the?!" Paul lost his composure for a brief moment. The last thing he wanted was to lose control of this battle; even the slightest mistake could turn the whole battle around for all he knew. Though calm and self-assured on the outside, Paul was a nervous, desperate boy utterly deprived of self-esteem. With things mostly going his way in the battle, it was easier to keep up the front, but if Ash were to win…

    … No, Paul wouldn't let that happen. He couldn't let that happen. After all the losses he suffered, all the humiliation that came with it, and the clock of his life ticking down ever-so closer to his untimely demise…

    But then, Paul found his happy place again. Shaking aside his worries and doubts, he'd almost forgotten his alternative plan with Ursaring – something that spelled doom for Ash's team if it went into effect.

    "Is that what I think…?" Dawn asked as she watched, her eyes widened with amazement.

    "Right; that's Pikachu's Static ability," Brock confirmed.

    "Static can cause your opponent to be paralyzed when using a move that makes direct physical contact," Reggie said, deciding to expand on Brock's answer. "So now it looks like Pikachu's got the upper-hand. Paralysis can really slow the victim down as well, and Ursaring is already a lot slower than Pikachu even without the paralysis. On the other hand… hm…"

    Brock and Dawn looked to Reggie again, expecting him to continue, but both were soon focused back on the battle when they heard a loud and brutal impact; Pikachu landed its Iron Tail attack directly on top of Ursaring's head, forcing the giant Pokémon to slump down from the sheer force of Pikachu's tail. This time, Pikachu knew better to get as far away from Ursaring as possible after landing the attack and successfully made its way to the field, bouncing back gracefully. Dawn and Brock looked relieved to see this, but went into shock when Pikachu suddenly cried out in pain. The cause was the same as before: spontaneous flames consuming Pikachu's body, burning it further and sapping its health away.

    "Pikachu still has the Burn effect from Flame Body!" Dawn realized.

    "That's right; it won't be going away anytime soon," Brock told her. "Not until Pikachu gets taken care of after this battle…"

    Reggie's expressions hardened again. "Yeah, and there's the other downside to being burned… it doesn't just do damage to Pikachu at minute intervals." He looked to Dawn. "Remember what Brock said about it earlier?"

    "Y-yeah, I think so," Dawn said, sounding uneasy. "Pikachu can't fight with its full power under the Burn effect. So even if Pikachu's attacks are hitting Ursaring, it's not doing as much damage as it looks."

    "Precisely," Reggie affirmed. "And it's about to get worse from here, I think…"

    Before Dawn could ask what Reggie meant by that, Ursaring managed to attract everyone's attention by growling in a low, almost sinister manner. While still afflicted with paralysis, Ursaring's eyes glowed a shining, menacing red color.

    While this was a frightening image to behold, Paul merely smirked at the sight. "Finally," he said, pleased to have his trump card activated.

    Ash was speechless and overcome with shock. The other spectators were not much better off, collectively jaw-dropping at what was happening.

    Except for Reggie. "Look out," he warned.

    The weary Pikachu was able to straighten itself out after being burned again, only to see the towering, terrifying monster standing a mere few feet away. Now its whole body was consumed with a red aura, and the electric sparks from its paralysis only made Ursaring even more intimidating. It looked like it was about to fly into a rage, and Paul was more than willing to grant his Pokémon that privilege.

    "Now, Hammer Arm!"

    Now more frightening than ever, Ursaring raised both arms, charged with energy and ready to flatten Pikachu like a pancake.

    Ash snapped out of the shock and realized he needed Pikachu to make some distance and cancel out that attack. "It's comin'! Thunderbolt - go!" It was here that Ash threw strategy out the proverbial window; his instincts took over as his worry for Pikachu intensified.

    Pikachu charged and fired another ground-ripping Thunderbolt, making a direct hit on Ursaring. Pikachu kept the charge up, figuring if it could prevent Ursaring from moving that it could take a chance on staying in place as Ursaring was forced to endure a continuous zap of electricity that was none too pleasant for the Hibernation Pokémon to bear.

    What no one but Paul (and perhaps Reggie) expected was that Ursaring was still able to charge and execute its own attack while still being thrashed with the ongoing Thunderbolt. With Pikachu having to stand in place to keep its own attack going, it was a complete and total sitting Psyduck.

    "Where's that power comin' from?!" Ash cried out, completely at a loss for what was going on.

    "It hasn't even used Bulk Up…!" Dawn pointed out, equally confused. "This isn't making any sense!"

    Ursaring put both arms together, delivering a powerful whack at Pikachu from the side. There was definitely an unusual amount of power coming from the impact of this attack, as Pikachu was sent flying – far too fast for it to recover in midair this time – straight out of the battlefield and towards Lake Acuity itself. Pikachu ultimately landed in the shallow end of the lake as Ash screamed "Pikachu…!" at the top of his lungs. Electric sparks burst from the water after Pikachu was submerged, but they quickly shorted out.

    Not even wanting to wait to see if Pikachu could make it out on its own, Ash dashed right off the battlefield and into the lake, nervously approaching the area where Pikachu landed as he slowly waded through the water. Dawn was worried enough to actually stand up from her seat, but she didn't move an inch after that. She simply looked on at Ash trying to recover his first Pokémon, worried sick that this fight finally went too far. Ursaring raging almost uncontrollably in the background didn't make things any less tense, either.

    "Pikachu…" Dawn whispered, hoping her fears wouldn't become reality.

    "Ursaring's Guts ability has been activated," Brock realized. "Its attack stat is boosted when affected by things like paralysis, poison, and other status effects as well."

    "I'll bet you Paul was just waiting for that ability to get activated all along," Reggie assumed (correctly), remembering the smirk on Paul's face the very moment Ursaring's Guts ability was triggered.

    Paul was quite satisfied with how things turned out. Upon hearing bubbles of air emerge from the lake, he looked over to see the water mildly rippling right in front of Ash. Pikachu finally emerged, and Paul was admittedly impressed that Pikachu still had enough energy left to come up on its own. Immensely relieved, Ash approached Pikachu and kneeled down to tend to its needs… but Paul knew that even if Pikachu was capable of recovering enough to not drown in the lake it was thrown into, there was no way Pikachu would be able to put up a fight after so many devastating blows from his Ursaring.

    "Pikachu, are you alright…?" Ash cautiously asked his first Pokémon. Though Pikachu gave its trainer a reassuring smile in response, it was short-lived. Its final bit of energy diminished, leaving Pikachu to fall face-first back into the water – almost. Ash was there to catch Pikachu; overcome with grief, Ash held Pikachu close to him as gently as possible.

    From a distance, Ash could hear the official statement from Olivier. "Pikachu is unable to battle! The winner is Ursaring!"

    "No way," Jessie quietly uttered in dismay. The Pikachu who had sent her and her friends blasting off so many times that she lost count years ago had been felled.

    "Even Pikachu got pummeled," Meowth lamented, still finding it hard to believe.

    "Ursaring's got brute to burn," James noted. "I never thought I would see it come to this…"

    Ash somberly returned to the battlefield, cradling Pikachu in his arms and not minding at all the fact that his jeans were drenched. "Thanks, Pikachu. You battled really hard," he quietly commended his companion, who regained consciousness fairly quickly, though it was still in no condition to battle now. Ash just smiled reassuringly at Pikachu's regretful "Pikapika…" that made it obvious even to Ash that Pikachu wished it could have done more. Being the most powerful Pokémon on Ash's team meant that Pikachu felt a greater deal of responsibility to uphold. It felt the need to meet and/or exceed Ash's expectations every time (even if Ash was normally a very lenient trainer) and set an example for Ash's other Pokémon, no matter what region they were in.

    This wasn't a trait unique to Pikachu; Paul's Torterra was the exact same way, though Torterra didn't have the luxury of getting praised for every single thing it did. Though Paul had always cared for Torterra, he forced himself to suppress those feelings as much as he could to prevent his first Pokémon from getting any special treatment. The differences in these training methods could be traced back to the different ways Ash and Paul were raised in their families. Paul was the second child, thus his entire childhood centered on overcoming his big brother and his father encouraged both his behavior and his point of view. Not only that, but Paul and Reggie's parents inadvertently played favorites often; this lead to Reggie being closer to his mother while Paul was closer to his father. Special treatment from one end of the family resulted in conflicts from the other side. Though Paul barely knew his mother, he could tell from Reggie's motivations that the two were very close before her death.

    Paul understood that it was normal to not remember his mother well since he was only five when she died. However, he did believe that he might have remembered her better if she'd spent more time with him. After all, Reggie remembered both of his parents very well, and though he did love Brandon for better or worse, Paul could tell the two weren't close. Reggie cared more about carrying on his mother's dreams as a breeder than he ever did for succeeding Brandon's much more prestigious role in life.

    Favoritism was a bit of a problem for Paul's family life. Consequently, when Paul went on to train Pokémon, he had a strict (if slightly distorted) moral code he followed and every Pokémon he captured adhered to it. No one was even allowed to pursue any sort of romantic interest with any other Pokémon, as Paul feared it may result in his Pokémon breeding and siring their own children. Paul was vehemently against the idea of forcing his Pokémon to abandon their children, so he would not hesitate to automatically release any Pokémon of his if this were to happen… not only out of anger for disrespecting him as a trainer, but because Paul would insist that the Pokémon stay behind and raise their young, rather than abandoning them by continuing along Paul's journey.

    The way Ash grew up couldn't be more different. He was an only child, and though he rarely saw (and thus barely knew) his father, his mother more than made up for his absence. Ash was smothered with love and enjoyed a much more relaxed, carefree childhood where his only opposition was his neighbor, Gary Oak… but they were also best friends, so there was never any true animosity between them. Being raised to enjoy life and make the best of every day, Ash's pure-hearted nature spread to his Pokémon, even if they weren't naturally as friendly as Ash himself. For the most part, Ash was good about giving all his Pokémon the attention and love they deserved and wasn't as rigid as Paul was about favoritism. He simply couldn't pretend he wasn't closest to his Pikachu, and yet his Pokémon all flourished in their own unique ways despite that.

    Normally, Ash's training methods proved effective when it came time to battle. Today, however, was the exception. It wasn't Ash's philosophy that was the problem here, though… it was Ash himself, who failed to apply Brandon's words of wisdom to his training and leadership skills. And admittedly, having defeated Paul in a PokéRinger match and seeing him fail miserably against Brandon (whom Ash had already defeated) did make Ash just a bit too comfortable coming into this battle. He meant to take it seriously, as Ash did with any battle against Paul. But Ash failed to assert his authority when Pokémon he knew weren't strong enough to continue battling convinced him otherwise with flimsy optimism, and he second-guessed himself during critical moments of the battle. In situations where Paul clearly had a plan in motion and his Pokémon were becoming greater threats, Ash simply brushed them off and assumed he was capable of outsmarting Paul just by believing in himself.

    "You sit back and watch; I'll nail it this time." Ash promised. Though he sounded quite sure of himself, one glance at the scoreboard sent Ash right back into a state of fear, uncertainty, and frustration.

    Thanks to Ursaring's rampaging, Ash was down to only one usable Pokémon left: Chimchar. Paul still had five of his six Pokémon able to battle. The previous few losses Ash had went by so quickly that he had lost track, completely unaware of the metaphorical hole he just dug himself into. Even his unyielding optimism couldn't ignore the high improbability of beating five Pokémon with just one. He tried desperately to find a bright side, and surprisingly he found one.

    "Paul's Pokémon have all taken damage," he recalled, especially remembering the immeasurable amounts of punishment Torterra took. "It's not over yet. We can still do this!" Ash subconsciously geared his mindset towards that dim flicker of hope as he held out his last Pokéball. "It's up to you, Chimchar." He sent out his final Pokémon accordingly.

    Pikachu wanted to feel that same optimism, but it simply couldn't ignore the reality of this situation. The group of spectators were just as cynical about the idea of Ash winning this battle.

    "It's going to be really tough to beat all five of Paul's Pokémon with just Chimchar," Brock said with a heavy heart.

    "It is a lot like that battle from ten days ago," Dawn admitted. "I wanna say I still think he can do it, but… from what you guys have said, it sounds like he's made way too many mistakes to recover enough to actually pull off a miracle."

    Reggie nodded. "You're right; this won't last for much longer. If Chimchar was fresh, I might be more inclined to believe there's still hope for Ash here. But even though all five of Paul's Pokémon have taken damage, Chimchar's the same way. I think we're nearing the end…"

    "Chimchar, let's show 'em how powerful you can be!" Ash cheered for his Pokémon, adamant about maintaining a positive attitude. "Use Flame Wheel!"

    For once, it was a good time to be Paul. The fact that the odds were stacked highly in his favor during the homestretch of this full battle wasn't lost on him, but he promised himself to keep his emotions in check at least until this battle ended. For all the times he'd lost, he still wasn't going to take any chances no matter how good this looked for him; Paul had been extremely paranoid from the start and he saw no reason to let down his guard now. "Ursaring, use Slash!"

    Thanks to the strength boost from Guts, Ursaring had no problem swatting Chimchar away like a fly. Painful as it was, Chimchar managed to retain its attack form even while reeling from the attack.

    Ash decided to change things up a bit. "Chimchar, Flamethrower!"

    Already with a lot of fire charged up from Flame Wheel that was still available for Chimchar to use, it quickly shifted out of the Flame Wheel and used the extra fire to make its Flamethrower execution even more powerful than usual. Ursaring was a big target, so Paul rarely tried to get the Hibernation Pokémon to dodge anything. It took the brunt of the attack; the extra power helped make this hit critical.

    "Now use Dig…!" Ash shouted, not wanting Paul to get a word in edgewise. In a way, Ash was pretty paranoid as well.

    Chimchar burrowed itself underground. Paul had no way of telling where Chimchar was, but he trusted that Ursaring would know since it was closer to the source of the movements of Chimchar burrowing underground. "Use Hammer Arm on the ground!"

    Ursaring indeed could feel exactly where Chimchar was. It took its time to charge both arms with the attack, but taking time proved to be a mistake as Chimchar burst from the ground right where Ursaring expected it to be and charged into its much larger foe.

    "Keep it up!" Ash was getting eager. If he could take out Ursaring, that would take a lot of weight off his shoulders. "Now use Flamethrower!"

    With another direct hit, the force was enough to push Ursaring back a considerable distance. It had taken a great deal of damage since before Chimchar was sent out, but the species was meant for this defensive style. But even for a bulky Pokémon, eventually it would reach a point where it simply couldn't take another hit just like any other, and Ursaring had hit its limit. The fact that it could be pushed back when previous Pokémon had great difficulty pushing it back more than a few inches was evident to Paul that Ursaring was no longer useful to him for this battle. But even as he watched his Pokémon be overcome by Chimchar's attack and consequently was knocked over on its back, Paul couldn't bring himself to be harsh for this loss. Ursaring had been the most useful member of his team here, literally taking out half of Ash's team within the blink of an eye.

    Dust clouds were kicked up upon Ursaring's impact with the ground, but Paul already knew there was no point in waiting for Ursaring to get up. He heard Olivier shout "Ursaring is unable to battle! The winner is Chimchar!" as the dust cleared and the sound of the scoreboard being updated to reflect the elimination.

    Ash was utterly thrilled to hear the referee's words. "Chimchar, you were awesome!" he congratulated, riding out the afterglow of victory as Chimchar literally jumped for joy several times, having overcome a former teammate whom Paul often used to attempt to bring out Chimchar's Blaze power… or in other words, relentlessly abuse it. Paul found this celebrating annoying at best, but he decided not to protest it. In a way it was more fulfilling to see Ash make a big deal over a decidedly minor victory. Sure, Ash took down one of his most powerful Pokémon, but only after said Pokémon wiped out half of Ash's team. Paul knew soon enough Ash would realize just how pointless his cheers of victory were.

    It wasn't just Ash who was celebrating. The hard-working trio of ambiguous morality were moved to tears by Chimchar's performance.

    "Wow, our Chimmy's a champ!" Meowth said with genuine adoration for the Chimp Pokémon.

    "That Pokémon's second to none!" James proclaimed.

    "It's that kind of inspiration that gives hard work a good name!" Jessie said with pride. No doubt all three were riding on Chimchar to win the whole competition, however improbable it was.

    Paul recalled the defeated Ursaring back into its Pokéball. Once again, he showed absolutely no emotion for this loss. Ash meanwhile heaved out a sigh of relief; getting Ursaring out of the picture definitely got him to relax, but when he saw his rival completely unaffected by the loss, Ash straightened himself out and forcibly brought himself back to the reality of his situation. It was time to keep moving, and to keep a step ahead of Paul however best he and Chimchar could.

    "Thanks, Chimchar. You rocked," Ash told his Pokémon, who blossomed with the praise. "So, let's keep this goin'! Let's turn it around!"

    Chimchar nodded in agreement, and surprisingly it was suddenly enveloped by a bright white glow. Paul, Pikachu, and Ash immediately took notice to this, while the spectators followed a mere beat later.

    "Chimchar's evolving…!" Brock exclaimed, recognizing this phenomenon all too well.
    Last edited by Shinneth; 17th July 2011 at 4:20 AM.

    Travels of the Trifecta! - Chronicles of an estranged family!

    LJ | dA | Bulbagarden | ff.net

    Diamond: 2749 - 7749 - 1840
    SoulSilver: 2364 - 7834 - 3761

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