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Thread: Love in the Time of Tomorrow (PG-13, Amourshipping)

  1. #26
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    Chapter continued from last post.

    She could smell his hair.

    She could touch his skin.

    But above all, in that moment, Serena could clasp her husband close to her and kiss him, tasting his lips against hers. The whole world was falling apart, and she was feeling exhausted. She even knew she needed to get back to the base in order to help Dawn out, but being there with Ash, for just a moment, she decided to not care. She savored the moment, and when she finally felt she had impressed those feelings upon him, Serena stepped back, almost stumbling into the narrow canyon wall.

    "That was nice," Ash admitted, leaving a bit of a chuckle laced into his words. A shape was falling from the sides of the walls as Decidueye and Pikachu seemed to land on the ground as well, letting a bit of dust swirl around at their feet. Decidueye raised his wing in happy greeting, while Pikachu ran along the ground cheerily.

    "Pipika!" he cried out, jumping up and into Serena's arms. She caught her husband's perennial partner and spun around with him in her arms. He looked very happy to see her, and before she knew it, she was hugging him tightly, Pikachu's cheeks pressed up against her own. Ash let out another chuckle at that, and it drew Serena back to where she was in that particular moment. She let go of Pikachu, who dropped down to the ground and scampered over to Ash, heading right up to his shoulder. Ash grinned at him and scratched him behind the ears a bit. Serena's head turned, looking to see that Decidueye was testing the sides of the canyon walls, clearly trying to see if he could climb up them.

    "I'm glad to see you're all right, Serena. That was a pretty close one there," Ash sighed out. He reached up and adjusted his hat a bit while Serena watched him. Her heart and body felt so many emotions, she was certain that she was about to burst with them. From relief, to joy, to love…and finally, to annoyance.

    "Pretty close?" she finally snapped, though it wasn't in anger. She stepped forward, causing Ash to look at her with complete alarm. In a moment, she'd grabbed hold of his shoulders and pushed him up against the wall of the canyon. It hadn't been that hard, given the very narrow space they were in. Pikachu narrowly avoided making contact with the walls, himself. "Ash Ketchum, that was more than pretty close! Where have you been? ! And why didn't you contact me sooner? !"

    Ash blinked at her demands, and for a second, she thought he would either laugh it off or deny her the responses. He did neither, however, leaning forward to peck her on the lips. She now blinked, surprised at the action, which gave Ash the chance to look towards the top of the canyon. Serena followed his gaze, finding it to be a very long way to the top. In the distance, loud rumbles were heard, but not much else, even if she could ascertain their direction. Her own distraction allowed Ash to push her away, their wedding bands clinking together as his hand removed itself from her body.

    "Sorry," Ash told her, looking more apologetic than ever. Her lips twisted a bit, but she eventually dropped them into a smile as she shook her head. There was no way she could stay mad at such earnestness for long. Indeed, she dropped her standoffish body language and looked to her husband in relief, wishing she could hug and kiss him all over again. "It's a long story…and we don't have a lot of time, huh?"

    "Talk as we walk?" Serena suggested. Her finger lifted, pointing down the narrow path, away from the sharp rocks that were clearly un-traversable (something Decidueye and Pikachu made plain as they tried to climb over them but found themselves unable to do). Ash followed the line of her finger, tilting his head as he thought. He must have quickly realized that she was pointing towards the direction of Team Rocket's base, because he quickly nodded and took her hand in his, their fingers interlocking.

    "Come on, Pikachu, Decidueye!" Ash called back to his partners. The two heard him and swiftly made their way back over. Ash reached into the miraculously intact backpack of his and tossed a berry to Decidueye, who munched on it happily. Serena watched the two of them, and a first question came to her mind.

    "Where's Charizard? I thought you took him to the tournament with you, right? Him, Greninja, Infernape, Krookodile and those two, right?" Serena asked. Ash nodded, their footsteps echoing across the dry canyon. It reminded Serena of the time she had gone through a similar area before the big battle with Team Skull. This time, however, there didn't seem to be an ambush waiting.

    "I leant him to Clemont…something about Bonnie being missing…I think," Ash answered. An arch of stone passed over their heads. "I was paying more attention to getting here. So, if you were wondering why we're walking, that's why! Well, and Latias is busy up above."

    "Latias, hm?" Serena questioned. "Guess we can't get out by going up, then?"

    "Sorry…I let Seamus go with her to chase after that helicopter from Team Rocket and that woman," Ash admitted. He continued to look apologetic, but Serena squeezed his hand to assure him that everything was okay. She just wanted to know more about how that he got here now that he was. "Could have sworn that Mist Ball or Psyshock hit her, but she must have just barely avoided it when I was aiming for you. Who was on the helicopter?"

    "Giovanni…leader of Team Rocket," Serena answered him. He stopped his movement. A cloud slid across the moon, casting them into near complete darkness. She could feel his hand shaking in hers, and she knew the emotion as one of bubbling rage.

    "So…he's the one behind this, then? Behind Lionel…he's the one who made Jessie and James…" Ash sucked in a breath here and exhaled loudly, steadying his feelings. "Did he hurt you?"

    "No," was Serena's definitive answer. That made him relax, but he stilled seemed tense. Serena reached up, cupping his face with her free hand. "I'm okay. He had more pressing things on his mind."

    "I'd imagine," Ash said with a light spit. His own free hand reached up to clasp hers, smiling as the moon came back out again. After another breath, he turned them back along the path, towards the site of the large base that was lighting up in the distance from the explosions. "As long as you're okay, I'm happy…but he's got a lot to answer for!"

    "Pika pika!" Pikachu agreed. Serena could sense that righteous anger pulsing through all of them (except for, maybe, Decidueye, who was still joyously eating his berry), and already she could feel the building confrontation.

    "Ash, he's not here, you know," she pointed out. He looked to her, dropping the intensity from his face and patting the top of his head with his hand. Ash nodded, the couple continuing on. "So, Nova Town…what happened? If you don't mind sharing."

    "Of course not," Ash said, his eyes wide. That made her giggle. "So, uh…we all went to Nova Town: me, Clemont, Seamus and Astrid."

    "I know that part," Serena pointed out to him. She wouldn't have been here if she didn't, of course, and Ash nodded, realizing he needed to move on to the parts that actually mattered.

    "Right. Well, there was the guy who tried to blow up the town, and we fought him. We won and all, but it was like he had this backup plan, and we couldn't move. While we couldn't, his Camerupt blew up the entire town. I barely had enough time to call Latias to me before the whole thing was wiped away. Not that we got out without a scratch. Clemont got burned on the side, and Seamus' shoulder was hit by some of the debris in our escape. Plus, the guy, Toll, had roughed him up pretty bad."

    "Is he okay? !" Serena asked in worry. Ash nodded, looking up at the night sky. There were no shapes there, and Serena had to assume that the companions Ash had arrived with were continuing to carefully pursue their quarry.

    "It was rough, at first, pulling out of Nova Town," Ash sighed out. Pikachu jumped to his shoulder, looking rather sad. "We barely got out and to a safe distance to recover. Astrid set out on first aid immediately, but we didn't exactly have the tools."

    "So, why didn't you show back up earlier?" she asked of him. Her husband shook his head now.

    "Didn't really have much of a choice. With Clemont in bad condition but pushing through it, and Seamus freaking out over something he saw in Nova Town, showing back up would have complicated matters…well, that's what we thought, especially with the news…until Jessie and James showed up, at least," Ash admitted. Serena tilted her head; she'd no idea that her rival had arrived here, but from Ash's words, she had to guess that the older woman had. "We thought we were done for, but…"

    "But…?' Serena encouraged him.

    "Turns out they were looking for us…on Team Rocket orders," Ash told her. She felt her own body deflate, remembering that rather unfortunate fact. "They didn't know why, though. All they said was 'there's no way we're handing the twerp over and not Pikachu, so the orders make no sense'. Not that I worried or anything. Seems they were following us everywhere for weeks, right Pikachu?"

    "Chuu…" Pikachu agreed with his own labored sigh. Serena couldn't help but bubble out with a giggle at that one. It did bring up the question in her mind, however.

    "Why, though?" Ash shrugged, but still went on to provide the answer.

    "Like I said, Giovanni had ordered them to, but they didn't want to. Something about ARC and wanting to see if I knew why their boss wanted me. I'd have assumed something like Greninja, but that makes no sense, since they could have just done so earlier, right?" Serena couldn't find fault with that logic. The base was looming closer now, widening Serena's eyes with how bright it was from the flames in the nighttime. "Anyway, with their help, we patched Clemont and Seamus up, and then we tried to figure out what was going on. Didn't take long after sending Latias out to hear about what happened on Mount Chimney and Veilstone City. Latias also heard you had jumped on a Team Rocket ship…or that was what Meowth translated.

    "Once we knew all that we did, we decided to split up. Clemont and Charizard went to Mount Chimney, and Jessie and James agreed to bring us here, to their base. I'm just glad I got here in time, to be honest," Ash finally sighed out. It seemed a somewhat mundane explanation, but one that made sense. The only surprising part was the fact that Jessie, James and Meowth had deliberately led Ash to their very own stronghold, and not as a prize for their boss. Ash seemed to agree with this, because he explained. "Guess they had conflicting mission: deliver info on Team Rocket for ARC, and then capture me for Team Rocket."

    "Didn't even know they worked for ARC…"

    "You and me, both…that was a surprise," Ash laughed out. His hand let go of hers now, and she was fine with it, watching him throw them behind his head. "Wasn't sure if I could believe them at first, and Astrid was ready to Mega Evolve and blast them off right then and there. Usually it wouldn't be a problem, but with the enemy being Team Rocket, itself…well, I guess they didn't like the idea of their boss killing off a lot of people."

    "No, I'd imagine they wouldn't," Serena agreed. She knew more than enough of Jessie to know that a world where so many of her fans died wouldn't be a good world to her. "Well, I'm grateful, then. They brought you here."

    "Would have been here sooner, but all the damage we took on at Nova Town didn't help," Ash sighed out, dropping his hands. The path before them began to widen. "Now, Seamus is after the helicopter, Astrid descended for the base after Team Rocket got here ahead of us, and I'm here. It's kinda confusing…"

    "Pikapi…" Pikachu sighed, shaking his head. Serena didn't mind; knowing that he, and the others, were okay and had done their utmost to help others was a blessing in and of itself. The sounds of whatever was going on at the base were closer now, almost looming directly above them in a wholly sinister fashion. Yet there was light in the canyon, glowing eerily upon the walls surrounding them. "Chu!"

    "Koo…" Decidueye hooted, ruffling his feathers in agitation. Ash's stance changed as well, and Serena knew they had felt or sensed something in the air. Even she was starting to feel it with every step. The air was growing heavier, and not nearly so closed in. She breathed outward, hand reaching for Braixen's pokeball before things could intervene, while Pikachu and Decidueye moved to be the vanguard.

    The closer that Serena and Ash got to the open area, the more the colors became plain: five shifting colors that appeared to dance on the surface of the canyon walls. There was a shadow above, seemingly for a moment, but it set Serena further on edge. Among the colors and shadow were other noises: scuttling and skittering. They weren't alone in the canyon.

    After a moment more of walking, the couple emerged into the wide-open area, where the color and light were the brightest. Serena's eyes narrowed in skepticism; hanging in front of them was the meteonite.

    "What is that?" Ash asked, his tone dark, and demanding.

    "The meteonite," Serena answered. Ash's expression didn't change at the answer, while something moved in the shadows cast by the five colors. "I don't know exactly what it is, but it's part of Team Rocket's plan. The only different thing I've heard it called has been 'the Alpha'."

    "So, it's the thing Team Rocket is using to hurt people…"

    "I don't think so," Serena answered him. He looked at her, confusion once again settling into his features. "I saw them…I saw them take the meteonite, shining just like this, with them on their mission. I tried to stop them, but failed. So, I…I don't understand what it's doing here, or why it's here."

    "Because what you saw those incompetent Rocket fools take was a meteonite, and not the Alpha that Doctor Zager believed it to be," a voice spoke from the shadows. Pikachu's cheeks sparked, and Decidueye readied an arrow swiftly. The owner of the voice was moving now, coming around from behind the floating meteonite, its colors dimming a little bit. "Just a copy we created with a rather special stone for resonance, like they used to obtain the artifact in the first place. All while we secured the true one for our own designs."

    "Alastair," Serena sneered out, venom dripping from her voice at the sight of the man. Standing before the meteonite was the man that had engaged her multiple times, his body turned at an angle towards her to observe the couple. Ash stepped forward now, throwing his fist up.

    "So, Team Rocket was tricked by you? Their plan is going to fail?" Alastair gave no answer, and no expression along with it. He just watched the couple with his right eye as his Aegislash floated before him. His hand tapped at his thigh, and the sounds from earlier increased. "Just who are you?"

    "We are the shadows," Alastair announced. "The shadows that were the shields for so long and now are but the swords, culling a new world. A perfect world. An ideal world.

    "A world in which you belong, but I cannot have you be in." Then Alastair's fingers reached up and snapped loudly. Eyes gleamed in the darkness, and Ash and Serena drew close to one another, backs against each other as Braixen appeared. Pokémon began stalking out, from Ariados to Golem and all manner of Pokémon in between. Serena shot a look to the expressionless Alastair, nothing showing in the blank eye she could see while he turned away. The Pokémon jumped into battle against them, and from the side, a ribbon of green appeared around the meteonite.


    The snow that day on Mount Lanakila was falling thickly. It was so thick that, under the veil of night, it made the skies surrounding the frigid peak seem like a sheet of white that no one or nothing could pass through. It was into this thick snow that Gary stepped out, clutching to a scarf around his neck with a shiver. Steven was next to him, tapping on the partition of glass in the helicopter that told it to find a safer place to land.

    "Champion Steven! Professor Oak!" yelled the voice of Burnet, making Gary turn in its direction. Through the thick snow, in her white winter apparel, Gary could barely see the form of the professor in that moment. He just raised his hand in what he assumed was her general direction while the wind whipped around them, the helicopter taking off to some other area of the mountain. "Glad you could make it through the thick snow here!"

    "We have expert pilots," Steven yelled over the howling. There was a crunching noise of footsteps on the snow, and the form of Burnet finally became visible, holding a hood to cover her grin. "Have you started on any research here yet?"

    "Didn't have the chance. Just finished setting things up in the Center," Burnet yelled back. Gary grimaced, the wind cutting at his face, and decided to not say anything. Instead, he chose to follow after both Steven and Burnet, who had turned in the direction of the Center. The snow lightened just a little bit, but not much, and the young researcher was forced to rely on the approaching lights beyond the backs of his companions. It was, thankfully, not that long of a trip before they arrived at the Center, entering in to where quite a few researchers and other members of the Aether Foundation had taken over the space. With them were two other familiar faces in the form of the Elite Four member, Kahili, and the man that Gary had recognized as Guzma. "Woo! It's cold out there! And my hubby isn't here to warm me up right now!"

    "It's night time, prof," Guzma said. Gary looked at the older man, arms folded with a scowl. The brunet had to figure he must have been frozen, dressed up in little more than his usual clothing. "'Course it's cold."

    "Better not be complaining," Kahili snapped at the man, pulling her own periwinkle blue jacket around herself as she stepped over to Steven. Gary placed his things down and approached a bulletin board that Burnet had looked to set up. There were various diagrams there, and shots of the regional maps, each with a mark and a different color upon it. He knew all too well what those were about. "Champion, we've been hearing the rumors. Mind filling us Alolans in?"

    "If I could. We're still struggling to play catchup ourselves," Steven admitted with a nervous chuckle. Gary didn't deny that, but he chose to ignore any further conversation regarding the matter. He examined the board closely as Burnet shed her coat off and tied her hair back, as well.

    "Have any theories?" Gary decided to ask of the professor, but she didn't answer. He continued looking at the maps, noticing how the colors were all marked over specific regions, like there was one for each, in a way. Of course, the researcher knew there were far more than just seven regions in the world, so he could only guess as to the reason it was those seven that were chosen. "I'm going to guess you do, or you wouldn't have directed us here."

    "More a musing and hypothesis, but that's what we researchers are, correct?" Burnet said to him. She leaned in towards the board alongside Gary. "Really, my first point is why I chose Lanakila: the celestial. Stands to reason that meteorites are buried beneath the surface here, right? I have a feeling all of this has to do with that. I mean, dimensions have been tied to the meteors in the past, according to your own research, right?"

    "Sure," Gary responded with, straightening himself once again. Glancing over to the professor, he regarded her carefully. "And your second point?"

    "Why these regions?" Burnet asked. It was the same exact one he had asked himself just moments ago, but Burnet went on to elaborate about why she was asking. "What does each of these regions, more or less have in common?"

    "Clearly, meteorites," Gary drawled out. That made a chuckle and laughter bubble out from Burnet, but she shook her head. The brunet gave it some thought, staring at the map, and the answer became all too obvious with a scowl. "Tipping points. Each one has passed a tipping point."

    "Devastation, in other words," Burnet informed him, holding a finger up. It made sense to Gary, and he waited for the rest of Burnet's hypothesis. "You once theorized long ago that the seal on the Ultra Space was weakened because the ties to the other meteorites and the alternate dimensions was severed, correct? Well, eight years ago we then severed the connection with the Ultra Space."

    "You're thinking that maybe doing so was a bad thing?" Burnet shook her head while Gary scratched at his chin. He sighed. "All of my research into the meteorites never revealed such a thing."

    "Nor did mine, so I can't believe it," Burnet followed up with. The others in the Center seemed to have settled into their own discussions now, while the snow outside appeared to lighten a little. Guzma, in his boredom, was making a clanking noise against the Center's windows. "However, I wonder if the tipping points were connected in that way. Like…when we came close to one, our world borrowed a bit from the world that was about to die, in the same vein as the Ultra Space absorbed those dead worlds. Not the same principle of course, but more like…instinct, rather than malice."

    "Wait, let me get this straight," Gary said, holding a hand out as he tried to consider every angle here. "You're saying that with the meteorites tied to other dimensions, our world used, or shared, some energy between dimensions to keep on going…but now that those gates are completely closed, the world is compensating, which is why the meteorites are glowing."

    "You were in Ancien City nine years ago, correct?" Burnet asked him. His lips disappeared into a thin line as he listened to her. She wasn't wrong, naturally, and he understood exactly what she was getting at, even if the implications of what he didn't want to hear were staring him in the face. "Right there, the devastation wrought upon that city led to dimensions being torn. Every major act of bloodshed and devastation in history has led to some fracturing of reality, as you well know. So, why haven't the meteorites activated until now?

    "Because now there's nothing left to compensate."

    "But then, what do you think it all means? Is the world trying to restore the connection? Call a legendary Pokémon in the way that Rayquaza was called?" Gary asked. To this, Burnet had no choice but to shake her head. It made a sigh escape from Gary's lips. They really weren't that much closer to answers, especially when the only way to gather answers would be there to witness the activation of the meteorites…which was something he truly didn't want to see. That loss of human and Pokémon life would be an atrocity. "Well, I guess we'll just have to see what answers we can find."

    "Yeah, you guys go an' do that," Guzma said from near the window. Gary hadn't noticed it before, but the clanking from him had completely stopped just a minute before. The brunet turned to him, seeing that the snow was light enough to be visible through now, though not gone entirely. Instead, it was replaced by a bevy of lights in the sky, heading right for the summit. "Whatever yer gonna do, make it fast…We got some real company here."

    Unfortunately, it seemed as though they would be getting their answer sooner than they had ever thought.



    Author's Note: Well, this was an informative chapter. We find out what went on with Ash's absence, why TRio struck against Team Rocket, reunited a whole bunch of parties and ended up filling some gaps in. Some of the fun in this story so far has been arc welding: taking those events from the whole series and weaving them together to explain what's going on here. Though Lance's conversation remains enigmatic as to who "they" are, even if it may be easy enough to guess. And Gary and Burnet's conversation certainly spells some terrible portents for the world at large.

    You're all amazing, and I hope this story is just as amazing for you. So, until next time, please Review and Dare to Be Silly.

  2. #27
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    This definitely hasn't been as popular as the Alola Trilogy. I kind of wonder why…Well, I hope those reviews and views and stuff start picking up as we barrel towards more intense plot! On to Chapter 14!


    Chapter 14

    An Ideal

    Cinders passed through the air as the explosion consumed the remaining parts of the lower lab at Team Rocket's base. Dawn gripped to Piplup, the heat of the room nearly unbearable, as was the pain of bending her broken arm inward. Her eyes were practically seared shut from the heat that was in the laboratory, and she could hear Jessie, James and Meowth screaming as they hugged their Pokémon. Tears involuntarily leaked from her eyes, and she could feel Piplup's own on her skin.

    "Giga Impact!" A loud roar followed, the room suddenly shuddering as something slammed into the room, bursting through the floor. There was a sudden grunt, and another command was called over the raging inferno. Dawn didn't hear it, but she figured out what it was rather quickly as the heat and blasting fires around her, and the little that remained of Team Rocket, stopped firing all over the place. She dared to open her eyes.

    "Astrid!" she shouted, her croaky voice making it sound horribly distorted. Standing there, barely protected from the flames around her, was Astrid, standing tall with a Pyroar by her side, shaking its fiery mane. Out of all those there, the majestic Pokémon looked the least affected by the temperature, staring ahead at the opponents before them, pawing at the ground.

    "Blonde twerpette!" Jessie, James and Meowth yelled out together, even Wobbuffet joining in. Jessie was the only one to continue on. "I thought you were chasing after the helicopters. Why are you back here?"

    "Like I was going to abandon some of my friends," Astrid spat out, as though she found the concept to be absolutely absurd. Dawn clutched Piplup tighter while Astrid turned her body, lips forming into a scowl as she faced the opponents in front of them. A body dropped to the ground, smoking, and Dawn had no doubt as to who it was, the scientist's remains curdling with the acrid smell of the smoke. Her stomach churned inside. "How many more people have you been responsible for killing, Toll?"

    "You are?" the gravelly voice of Toll called out, and Dawn could once more see the shadowy figures emerging from the licking flames. They looked unharmed, other than a bruise on Toll's face, like that was where Pyroar had struck earlier. Louise was next to him, Beedrill buzzing about menacingly. Neither of the two Pillars said a word, with Camerupt only walking forward slowly and silently.

    "Your new enemy," Astrid snapped. "Flamethrower!"

    "Fell Stinger," Louise called. Beedrill spun around, still Mega Evolved, and aimed right for Pyroar. Astrid didn't move a muscle as her Pokémon opened his maw and sent forth a jutting flame that flew right for the Pokémon. Beedrill shot into the flame, cutting against it.

    "Bite it," Astrid yelled. Her body turned, giving Dawn a better profile. The happy-go-lucky Astrid that she had always known was gone, replaced with a fierce determination and pragmatism. As Beedrill approached her Pyroar, the lion's fangs were wreathed with flame and he chomped down upon it. With a tossing of his head, Beedrill was sent careening into Camerupt. Toll barely reacted, like it wasn't worth his time. "You guys, take Dawn and get out of here!"

    "What are you talking about blonde twerpette!" Jessie shouted, coming to stand. James and Meowth didn't seem to have any problem disobeying, scrambling back. The second they reached her, Dawn felt her body being lifted up by James, and supported by Wobbuffet. "You're not seriously thinking of taking these two on by yourself, are you? ! They blew up the entire base on their own!"

    "I'm aware, so stop leaving her in the line of fire! She's injured!" Astrid yelled back, gripping another pokeball and calling Absol forth. That made Dawn glad to see; she certainly wasn't taking any chances in this battle.

    "And you?" James asked, a nervous chuckle laced into his voice. Beedrill was up and buzzing again while Toll gripped to a keystone, Camerupt beginning to transform. Dawn watched Astrid as she breathed in, Pyroar beginning to back up like a protectorate. Toll and Louise surveyed Astrid, evident as the biggest threat.

    "I'll buy you time. Come and get me."

    "I don't think so. Fire," Louise spoke. The drones surrounding her figure armed themselves, pointing right for Absol. Then they fired out small missiles. "You see, we need every drop of blood spilled. If you walked in here willingly, that includes yours. So, please don't make us take too long; we have other things to set up and make sure they go off without a hitch."

    "Well, I have no intention of dying. Dark Pulse!" Absol shot up, the missiles impacting with the floor. Astrid stepped back, careful to avoid the crumbling structure while Absol struck. His Dark Pulse traveled out, inky and undulating as it scraped along the ground, before slamming into one of the drones. It was sent veering off course, for the open door, where a few Rocket survivors were stumbling through. They avoided the drone that exploded just beyond them, but it seemed to allow Toll to catch sight of them. Astrid threw her voice back. "Go, you idiots! This place will collapse at any time!"

    "And you all will be buried with it! Eruption!" Toll pressed his foot to the ground while Dawn now felt her body being lifted up by Jessie as well. Clearly Astrid's declaration on the state of the base had convinced her. The ground began to glow red hot as Pyroar reached their small group, bringing up yet another shield. Fire and magma exploded from beneath the ground, consuming the Rocket members near the door and making their own, retreating group flinch. Their own group was protected, and that seemed to be the sign to get moving.

    "You better stay alive long enough, blonde twerpette!" Jessie shouted. Then, she and James wheeled Dawn around and began running for one of the holes in the wall, farther away than Dawn would have anticipated. Pyroar seemed to return to the fray of battle. "You two better be on procuring us transportation!"

    "Stop screechin', Jess! We're on it!" Meowth shouted. James was clearly in agreement, reaching into one of his pants' pockets to pull out a small device. The action made them stumble, though not nearly as much as Dawn's look back, where a Psycho Cut sliced across the ground, giving Astrid some distance from her foes as Pyroar protected his trainer. She gripped to her earring, and light blasted from Absol as their retreating group continued to run. James tossed the remote to Meowth, who was pressing buttons. "Remote control balloon, on da way."

    "Let's just hope we don't get blown up before then!" Jessie pointed out snappishly. James chuckled nervously and he, too, looked back. Dawn could feel the somber emotion in his veins, as though saying goodbye to a past that was long since a part of him. He wasn't alone, either, with even Jessie's own tense body radiating that. They may not have faced their boss, but they had certainly delivered their resignation to him.

    With what strength she had, Dawn squeezed both of their hands.

    Another explosion ripped through the air behind them, nearly tossing them off their feet. Thanks to Wobbuffet, they managed to all stay stable, and continued their running for the hole in the wall. Dawn felt her vision fading from pain, and Piplup slapped his flipper on her face to wake her up. There was a dark shape behind the wall, obscuring the moonlight. "How did you…get here unnoticed…?"

    "We have our ways, twerpette," James pointed out. "Or, really, we floated in through the front door."

    "Or what's left of it," Meowth grumbled out. Jessie, for all her usual loudmouth outbursts, didn't say anything. They were nearly to the wall, that bid for freedom just beyond them. The shape finished floating upwards, and Dawn let out a rather strangled laugh. That balloon just kept on showing up time and again. "We always got stock on hand at da base."

    "Before, it would have been to get multiple agents out, in case the jets were compromised…that's obviously not an issue," James pointed out. Dawn didn't care much; the blurring feeling was beginning to return once again to her as they reached the wall. Meowth and Wobbuffet were the first to jump forward, landing in the balloon basket…or falling into it, in Wobbuffet's case. Another explosion rocked the room.

    "Get in, twerpette! We don't have time with this whole place crumbling around them." Dawn felt a hand on her back, pushing her forward. She exuded a gasp of pain and fell into the basket before she could even think. When she hit the bottom, she gripped her arm, whimpering from it, but holding fast. Jessie and James soon jumped into the balloon, the former slamming her foot atop Meowth's head. "Get moving, Meowth!"

    "Get the blonde twerpette out!"

    "Shut yo mouths!" Meowth snapped at them, whipping his claws out to get Jessie away from him. Then he extended the remote controls and began to blow the balloon upwards. It also happened to push it away from the base. With a grunt, Dawn pushed herself up to look at the crumbling base. "Dat just ain't right…"

    "Our old home…" James lamented. Jessie seemed to be shaking, grabbing the remote control from Meowth and steering the balloon away while they all remained looking up at it.

    Team Rocket's base was all but gone, Dawn realized. Flames had engulfed it, licking the sides, while pieces of metal and stone fell away from the base. Those helicopters and airships left behind were burning in it all. As they moved around the building, towards a hole that Astrid could jump through, Dawn noticed that the base itself remained on precarious ground, like another explosion would send it well over its edge. There was a loud noise on the sound opposite the base, like a strong wind going downwards, but Dawn attempted to ignore it. The sounds of battle were getting louder again.

    "Shadow Claw, Absol!" Astrid's voice was yelling. They were rounding the corner now, the bright lights of the flames visible through the hole in the wall, illuminating everything in the canyon's space. A loud roar sounded out, and Absol seemed to have made contact with something, only for it to whine out, hit by a different attack.

    "Blonde twerpette, side wall, now!" Jessie yelled, clearly not wanting to spend any more time there than was necessary. The balloon finished maneuvering and was within spitting distance of the wall, but wasn't slowing down. Astrid was soon visible, turning her head.

    "Absol, Psycho Cut! Buy us some distance!"

    "You, too, Inkay!" James yelled over the side. Absol leapt back, his horn glowing a bright purple before slicing forward, the sickle arching through the air. Inkay slid right into it from midair, sending a Psybeam out that formed a separate wall from attacks. Astrid began to run, tossing looks back at Toll and Louise, the two Pillars turning right in her direction.

    "Explosion," Toll said, a leering grin blooming on his face. Dawn felt herself shudder, especially when a few more drones were armed and firing out more missiles. Only, these seemed different, like they were more thinking than the others. "We already told you. No one leaves here alive. No one interferes. Not while she's on the field at Lanakila."

    Astrid stopped right at the edge of the open wall, leaning back with a smirk. "Is that right? Then, we'll just have to keep interfering until you make us stop. Now, move!"

    At those words, Astrid recalled her Absol and Pyroar, both, (the former reverted form quickly before she did so) and dove into the basket. Jessie pressed on the big red button of the controls. There was a light shuddering, and then rockets burst from the balloon and shot away from the building. The missiles followed. Dawn gripped to the edge with one arm, looking back to see that Toll and Louise had approached the edge. Beedrill was following, while a bright light showed Camerupt glowing behind in the base. Silhouetted by the firelight, the two Pillars looked menacing, as though melting into the shadows. There was something else there, briefly appearing in the firelight, and then it was like they vanished. Beedrill and the missiles, however, remained.

    "Meowth, take over! Gourgeist, Seed Bomb!" Jessie shouted, tossing the controls to Meowth. He grumbled a bit, but took command, jerking the balloon to the side. Dawn continued gripping the sides, while the exhausted Piplup hopped up to the edge of the balloon.

    "Bubblebeam!" she coughed out. Piplup obeyed, sending the thick stream of bubbles for one of the missiles. It attempted to avoid it, but before long was trapped by Inkay's Psybeam. More were taken down by Seed Bomb. Beedrill was drawing close. "Jessie, hold that Beedrill in place!"

    "I don't take orders from you, twerpette! Leech Seed!"

    "Geist!" Gourgeist called out, shooting out one of her shining seeds. In the mask of night, it managed to hit Beedrill, entangling its wings, if only for a moment. That was enough. Piplup summoned a large whirlpool and sent it firing out, catching the remaining missiles and making them all collide with Beedrill. It took a moment, but soon they all exploded, while their balloon made it away from the danger zone. Dawn sighed out, and looked back at the base. A chain explosion was going off, rocking the canyon walls. If there had been any survivors before, there weren't now. Astrid huffed.

    "That was close. I wasn't fighting to win, but even with Absol Mega Evolved, those two would have destroyed me before long," the blonde commented, falling back a bit. The balloon slowed, now that they were safe. In the darkness, it was impossible to tell where Beedrill had gone, but Dawn only cared that it wasn't following them. "Who were they?"

    "Hmm…could have been the Pillars," James noted, tapping his chin. "This expert force of the…er, ex-boss. They were usually stuck to high tier missions, or information gathering, so we didn't know much of them."

    "Well, whoever they are, they just blew up the entire base like it was paper!" Jessie snarled incredulously. Dawn slid down the balloon, letting her broken arm rest. At least they had gotten out alive. "How many of our old comrades do you think…?"

    "Right now, that's irrelevant," Astrid snapped. She strode over to stand next to Dawn, no doubt looking at the collapsing building. "Ash must have gone after Serena…if they're anywhere in the canyon passes below, they'll be in danger of that base collapsing, and trust me…with whatever these psychos are planning, we're going to need him."

    "Twerp rescue it is, then," James called out, turning the balloon around again as the groaning and cracking of Team Rocket's base echoed across the canyon. Dawn closed her eyes, breathing out. Mount Lanakila. That was their next strike. And with everything beginning to fall apart, she could only imagine what was waiting for them at the most vaunted place of Alola's history. All Dawn could do was breathe out, hoping they could get to Ash before any more tragedies happened.
    *Chapter to be continued in the next post...

  3. #28
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    Chapter continued from last post.

    "Pikachu, Thunderbolt! Decidueye, Frenzy Plant!"

    "Braixen, Flamethrower!" Serena and Ash's backs pressed up against each other while their Pokémon sprang into action. It was a welcome comfort to Ash, even if this wasn't exactly the best moment for him to be thinking of that sort of thing. He couldn't deny that he took encouragement from his wife right next to him, though; her warming presence fighting alongside him.

    Plants burst from the ground, slamming into the Golem and Graveler all around them and knocking them into the walls. It wasn't something Ash usually preferred in terms of action with wild Pokémon, usually liking to talk things out, but these Pokémon weren't normal. They were more like…more like the Dragon types that had attacked so long ago in Ancien City, but more controlled and direct. While those Pokémon had been on a rampage, pure and simple, these Pokémon are far more methodical and orderly in their movements. Pikachu's Thunderbolt seared outward, combining with Braixen's Flamethrower to slam into a flock of Pidgeotto and Fearow.

    "They keep coming," Serena breathed out. Ash didn't disagree with that in the slightest. The Pokémon that had been waiting for them in the wings seemed almost endless, and Serena was already looking tired, if pushing on. She reached a hand up, wiping at her eyes, and Ash could see the extremely tired look under her eyes. She clearly hadn't been sleeping lately…or at least since his disappearance.

    "Go, Decidueye!" Ash yelled. His stalwart Pokémon vanished into the Frenzy Plant that remained. There was a brief moment of silence, and then a loud slashing noise as the Arrow Quill Pokémon began slicing through the opponents in front of them with his leafy blades. Pikachu skidded back along the ground. "Iron Tail!"

    "Chuuu pika!" Pikachu cried, stiffening his tail with a bright light before swinging it around into yet another Golem. That attack sent it rolling backwards, like a bowling ball. It collided with some of the other Pokémon there, but in the dancing colors and the nighttime's darkness, it was impossible to tell just what he had hit or how many of them were there. Even if he could tell, though, they were filled in almost immediately.

    "This is getting us nowhere, Ash," Serena sighed out loudly. Her back fell away from his, hands falling to her knees as she seemed to catch her breath. Ash became worried, but as a Skarmory dove down upon them, he figured it was more important to deal with the immediate attack than whatever was ailing Serena. He could deal with that when they were safe. He threw his hand out.

    "Pikachu! Electro Ball!" Pikachu bounded up from the ground, his tail crackling with electricity before he flung it at the Skarmory. That Skarmory wheeled off through the air upon impact and slammed into a different group of enemies. That parting of the Pokémon revealed the meteonite resting just beyond. More importantly to Ash, though, was the man standing just past it, waiting. It seemed almost baffling that he remained standing there. "Serena, I know it looks like a lot, but right now we're here, so we can't just-"

    "I know," she breathed out, pulling herself back to a standing position as Braixen sent her flaming star of Fire Blast outwards. One of the Bellossom there was slammed into the wall, and the ground was beginning to rumble fiercely. "The meteonite…if that's the real one, we need to get Alastair away from it."

    "Of course," Ash insisted, reaching back and flipping his hat around with a determined smirk. Serena seemed to gather her strength from that, smoothing her clothing as she drew herself to her full height. Braixen seemed rather pleased at that, twirling her wand around and drawing it close. "We'll have to clear the path, somehow, though. You ready to do this, together."

    "You never need to ask, Ash," Serena pointed out. He laughed out a bit, joining his hand with his wife's. Like always, it fit so nicely, and he pointed forward alongside his second longtime partner. Both were ready to act.

    "Decidueye, protect our backs! Pikachu, combo time!" Ash yelled back to his two partners. Decidueye flapped his wings out, disappearing and reappearing behind them, his shadowy arrow drawn. Pikachu, meanwhile, ran forward to join by Braixen's side. The Fox Pokémon held her wand out, which Pikachu jumped on to. Ash and Serena, their fists clasped, thrust them forward.

    "Psybolt!" They called together. At the tip of Braixen's wand formed the purple glow of a Psyshock that burst out. At the same moment, Pikachu summoned his electricity to his sacs and sent it flying outward, joining with the Psyshock. The purple and yellow projectile continued onward, twisting together like a gigantic screw that impaled the mess of Pokémon before them. It exploded, creating somewhat of a path in front of them, though still replete with foes. Ash let go of Serena's hand and looked back to see Decidueye finish pinning some enemies behind him with his arrows.

    "Decidueye, your turn," Ash called back now, reaching up and crossing his fists. Decidueye hooted loudly, leaping backwards while twisting his body to face forward. Power surrounded him, a ghostly green in nature. Pikachu switched with him, defending their flank with a speedy use of Quick Attack, followed up by a couple Electro Balls. Ash brought his arms down to his sides and began to lift them up, like some ghostly marionette that Decidueye imitated. The light burst. "Sinister Arrow Raid!"

    "Kooroooooo!" Decidueye trilled, flapping his wings widely outward. Arrows appeared like specters in the night, and Ash thrust his palm forward. As he did so, the arrows fired outwards, slamming into the Pokémon before them. Decidueye leapt upwards, hovering slightly in the air before blasting forward, the arrows surrounding his figure before he crashed into the enemies. From his force alone, the sea of Pokémon was split in two. Ash looked to Serena and they nodded, dashing in before the gap could be filled back in. "Koooorrrr…"

    "Cut it apart," Alastair's cold voice called out, almost barking in nature. Ash picked up his speed, clasping to his wife's hand as he did so. The image of what was going on now became much clearer, the closer they got. Decidueye's Z-Move was straining against Aegislash and its shield. That was only a moment, however, as the light faded from Decidueye and he was pushed back. In a flash, Aegislash had unsheathed itself and was aiming straight for Decidueye.

    "Leaf Blade!" Ash yelled. Decidueye leapt out of the range of the screaming, shadowy sword, drawing his own blades. The green swords whirled forward, coming to meet with Aegislash and straining against it. He sliced up with his other blade, breaking away the strike and spinning around to strike at the sword again. Ash let go of Serena's hand, his wife pulling herself to a stop. Ash didn't stop, though, instead running right for Alastair, his eyes narrowed into slits. "Acrobatics!"

    "Koorai!" Decidueye called. He dismissed his blades and kicked upwards, glowing a light turquoise blue. Ash reached Alastair and did the same, kicking right up for the man. Alastair turned his body to the left and moved aside, dodging the kick. It was a miniscule action, but enough to make the kick miss. Ash wasn't done, though, pivoting his body to send his leg soaring outwards. Decidueye slammed into Aegislash, only to find his talon blocked by the Royal Sword Pokémon's shield. Alastair lowered his elbow, blocking against Ash's kick.

    "No," Ash grunted out. He put force behind his kick, managing to separate himself from Alastair and jumping back to be by Serena's side. There was a small force near his face as he did so, leaning away as a result of it. His wife looked at him with an odd expression. "He's not normal…"

    "What do you mean?" Serena asked in a low voice, as if she didn't want to be overheard. Decidueye separated from Aegislash. Ash reached up, rubbing at his lip, and feeling a light bruise upon it. That made him frown.

    "He hit me while I was getting away," Ash commented. Serena didn't react, now focusing her vision squarely on Alastair, himself. The man was still facing them with his right side, guarding the meteonite hanging above them. "We'll need to tag team him."

    "Okay," was Serena's swift answer. It brought a smile to his face; she was always ready to team up with him. His hand reached back, brushing against hers, and she nodded. Then they ran at Alastair. Serena was the first to move, flipping forward. It provided the distraction that Ash wanted. He swiftly moved to the side and punched outward at his target. Alastair's head snapped to the side, making Ash barely graze his cheek. Then the older man's hand snapped out.

    With cold efficiency, and not a single verbal word, Alastair flipped Ash over, slamming him to the ground. Then he kicked out, and Serena was forced to break off, somersaulting away to avoid the hit. Ash groaned, but wasn't done. He looked to Decidueye and Pikachu in the distance. The former disappeared, vanishing into the air above Aegislash while preparing his arrow. Pikachu, meanwhile, dropped to the ground and began spinning while outputting electricity. Seeing that, Ash spun on the ground, himself, knocking his legs right into Alastair. The man let go of his legs, allowing him the chance to flip up. Ash slammed his head right into Alastair's own, sending his opponent falling back, right next to the meteonite.

    "Hm…You kept up with it," came the almost surprised comment. Ash blinked, while Serena came close. It was obvious she felt it, too: more than an expert Pokémon trainer, this man seemed to be deadly at his own hand-to-hand combat as well. "You're good. No wonder Deirdre decided to pull out all the stops…a flame that burns so brightly it could eclipse her own."

    "What are you talking about?" Ash demanded. There was a slight skidding noise, and Ash saw Pikachu joining him. The Pokémon seemed to have stopped attacking for a moment, save for Aegislash, who sliced upwards. As Alastair spoke, Ash felt his body coiling and tightening.

    "You're a fire: warm, inviting, flares all the brighter. Deirdre's own flame, however, is cold, unforgiving and harsh. It burns with nothing but rage," Alastair explained. He once more turned his body, keeping the two of them in his sights while providing a lower area to be hit. Decidueye's arrow fired, slamming into Aegislash and holding it in place while the blade's own attack slammed into Decidueye. "I have to wonder, if your flames came into contact, which would be snuffed out? I believe she'd be worried hers. However, I like to place my bets with her. I'd rather you be snuffed out, no matter your worth in the new world. I don't want to keep my promise, even if I must."

    "New world…" Serena breathed out, and Ash somehow understood what she was getting at. Not that it was hard, given all their encounters in the past. This alone made him sigh liberally.

    "Not that whole thing again. Toll mentioned it, too," Ash snapped. Alastair gave no reply, and no explanation to his enigmatic statements. Ash snapped a finger forward, pointing right at Alastair while his foot stamped on the ground angrily. "What is with people and wanting to make a 'new world'? The one we've got is good enough!"

    "Perhaps for you," Alastair said. His hand reached up, fumbling around behind him until he touched to the meteonite, as if feeling its surface. There was another color emerging upon it, a bright blue forming the final ribbon that surrounded the small fragment. "I beg to differ."

    "Of course you would, working for Team Rocket!" Ash yelled out. Serena came closer to him, touching a hand to his back. For some reason, it made him see Alastair sharper, and he knew: this man didn't hold the ideals of Team Rocket. There was something else in his mind, driving him forward. Though, it made Ash wonder why he had worked for Team Rocket at all. The raven-haired trainer sighed out. "That doesn't matter at all, though. We've been at peace. Why would you want to destroy all of that for some new world? !"

    "Peace?" Alastair asked, the muscles on his face twitching rapidly. His body turned yet again, now facing fully forward as his hands dropped from the meteonite. There was a loud rumbling, and Ash saw flames exploding into the sky from the direction of Team Rocket's base. "Is this peace? Is Team Rocket? Are you really telling me that with scum like them around, you actually have the peace we all fought so hard to secure?"

    "We?" Ash asked, confusion fully settling in once again. However, his question was drowned out by the rumbling increasing tenfold, and the flames shooting out across the sky. Ash raised his voice again. "Is that what you're after then? The peace you think we don't have?"

    "I have no desire for peace. None of us do," Alastair said, spreading his arms out wide. The moon above suddenly became obscured, but Ash didn't look to see what was doing it, focusing intently on Alastair. "Nothing is gained but through war and defending with your very blood. What we desire, instead, is perfection. Nothing more. Nothing less."

    "Nothing's perfect," Serena countered. Alastair said nothing, but he turned his gaze to look upon Decidueye and Aegislash. The former was descending with a bright blue glow upon the locked Aegislash, only his foe employed King's Shield, forcing him to bounce away. Ash reached up, gripping his wife's hand.

    "I don't think reason will work with them," he pointed out. She clearly knew that, the sharpness in her eyes conveying it quite clearly, as the explosions reached their peak. Ash couldn't figure Alastair out, though, his actions contradictory in every single way. Perhaps that was the best way to describe it: try to capture him, but destroy the town; try for perfection, but kill the people around them. It was an enigma, and one that Ash couldn't figure out. What was driving them? Alastair offered no clues but a cold, cruel stare as Aegislash returned to his side and the Pokémon around them grew restless. The Pillar's hand raised up, but not to touch the meteorite; it was only to snap his fingers.

    "Pikachu, Decidueye!" Ash yelled out. Pikachu's tail stiffened and fired out an Electro Ball upwards that then came sailing swiftly back down, picking up velocity. Braixen crouched, aiming her wand and firing out a powerful Hidden Power that collided with the Pokémon attacking. The sea of foes was simply making Alastair now seem further away.

    "Kuuuuu!" The sharp cry echoed around the canyon, and Ash found a grin on his face. The shadow that had been obscuring the moon shot downward, and Ash could see Latias approaching, a purple glow evident on her claws. She fired, sending them outwards swiftly. The purple streaks zipped and twirled through the air, slamming into some of the Pokémon and providing Ash and Serena some breathing room while her rider dropped down.

    "Seamus! Do you know where they're heading?" Ash asked, the second that the blond had straightened, Zoroark popping out of her pokeball. He shook his head.

    "Sorry, I lost her," the man replied. Zoroark was snarling, Ash noticed, and he looked at his friend with a taut frown. Seamus looked at him, seeming apologetic in the moment, and Ash also noticed Serena quickly catching up with what they were talking about, as he'd explained earlier. "The helicopter and stuff was too far away to track the trajectory with everything going on, while she just vanished from right in front of me. We lost some light from the moon, and then she was gone into the night. Decided to turn back and help out when that happened."

    "Well, we tried," Ash admitted. Pikachu leapt up from his shoulder, now no longer needing to attack. Serena seemed to wave to Seamus, who nodded back to her. "Right now, we've got some more immediate issues."

    "Yeah, and he could probably give us some answers, huh?" Seamus asked. A smirk crossed over the blond's face and Ash couldn't help but join him. Serena shook her head as the three moved to face across from Alastair. "You mentioned Deirdre, right? How do you know Travis' mother?"

    "So, she is his mother," Serena noted. Seamus nodded once more. Ash didn't look away, continuing to stare Alastair down carefully. The man's own face, as per usual, provided no clues as to whether they were right or not, but Ash was fairly certain that Seamus' earlier deluded guesses and Serena's own confirmation rendered it rather moot.

    "As far as I know…didn't even know she was still alive," Seamus remarked. His foot shifted on the stone surface, and Ash could tell he was getting ready to take action. "But seeing her face in Nova Town…it was like seeing a ghost, in more ways than seeing Dalton had been. I barely even remembered her from my childhood. She was just Travis' mom, until he came back, with just that piece of crap dad, who vanished right before we left."

    "Some family tree," Ash scoffed out. Here, Alastair reacted, his eyes flashing like he was offended by such a statement.

    "Yeah, turns out the berry doesn't fall far from it," Seamus snapped. "So, I'm assuming you know her and why she vanished. It probably has something to do with whatever you have planned, and we're gonna make you talk!"

    "Braixen, Flamethrower!"

    "Power-Up Punch!" Seamus yelled. Ash didn't feel the need to issue a command. Pikachu and Decidueye were already moving right for Alastair and his ever-hovering Aegislash. The latter drew his green blades while Zoroark transformed into the form of Emboar, fist glowing a bright orange.

    "King's Shield," Alastair said, yet again turning his body and throwing his palm out. Pikachu looked back, and Ash nodded, just in time for Pikachu to slide across the ground. Behind them, Latias seemed to be ramming through the marauding Pokémon with Giga Impact. Decidueye, the transformed Zoroark and Braixen's Flamethrower all made contact with the shield, rebounding off of it. Pikachu, however, was right underneath the meteonite, now.

    "Iron Tail!" Ash yelled. Pikachu's tail glowed brightly, and swung up, heading right for the meteonite. "If that's what you and Team Rocket are trying to make use of, we'll just break it."

    Pikachu swung upwards with his fierce cutting, and for the first time, Alastair's eyes looked to widen. It was as if, in that single frozen moment, he was conveying that no matter what, he would not let that meteonite be destroyed. He stepped forward, his singular, loud footstep echoing across the canyon, even with the remaining explosions and groaning of the base in the distance. Ash stepped forward, too, but suddenly felt his mind going blank. His vision was drooping and he tried to focus, but found it difficult, with his knees buckling for just a second.

    He wasn't alone. Serena and Seamus both faltered, actually reaching for one another to prevent themselves from falling over in their own sudden fit of exhaustion. Decidueye's blades faltered, while Zoroark dropped her form of Emboar and Braixen leaned on her stick. Pikachu was affected as well, eyes drooping, the gleam dropping off of his tail as he fell to the ground.

    "Merry…hold…on…" Seamus was grunting out. Ash reached out, slapping his cheeks violently in an effort to keep himself awake and stave off the effects of whatever was going on here. The Pokémon surrounding them seemed to stutter, almost drawing to a complete hold now, and even Latias was struggling to stay in place.

    "Grrrr…" growled the voice of Merry, shuffling her feet in exhaustion and moving to stand in front of Seamus like a protector. Despite the wave of exhaustion, Ash noticed that one thing amongst all others: they could move. It wasn't like the moment in Nova Town where, for all of that second, they had been impossibly frozen. Perhaps it was the lack of Deirdre, or maybe Alastair didn't think it was necessary. It did say something, however, and it was that they could strike back.

    "Pik…Pikachu, use Electro Ball, wake yourself up…" Ash groaned out, screwing his face around to keep himself awake. Pikachu, teetering and tottering on the ground, still stuck his tail upwards, summoning a sharp ball of electricity to it before firing the attack upwards. Ash counted in his head. There was little time left. The Electro Ball fell downwards and slammed upon Pikachu. "Now…Thunder…bolt…"

    "PiiiikaaaaaaCHUUUUUUU!" Pikachu cried out. Ash's knees gave out, sending him to the ground with his friend and wife. Zoroark remained standing, just in time for the electricity to burst about all over the area. Zoroark seemed to feel the sparks in the air, perking up at it and running right for Alastair, claws wreathed with shadow. Pikachu, now woken up himself, sprang towards the man with a Quick Attack.

    Both attacked simultaneously, but Alastair didn't engage. He just moved a little bit, keeping his right side to them as he patted his leg. Aegislash came wheeling in, slashing at both of its opponents as its trainer grabbed a pokeball, tossing it upwards. Ash looked up, trying to push to his feet, and he caught sight of the shining meteonite, and a shape flying down towards Alastair: an Aerodactyl.

    "No way…an ancient Pokémon like that…?" Seamus gasped out. Ash shook his head. The haze was clearing. While an Aerodactyl wasn't all that unusual, it still wasn't common, and from the collar around its neck, shining with the power of a Mega Stone, Ash knew it was a force to be reckoned with. Aerodactyl landed next to its trainer while Aegislash sheathed itself. Alastair gave their group a look, his emotion indiscernible. Then he mounted Aerodactyl, reaching for the meteonite.

    "Everything is clear, then? Good, Toll, Louise. Move on to the next location. We need to ensure that everything is in order," Alastair spoke. Ash finally got on to his knees, teeth clenching from the exertion of fighting through the Hypnosis. It was evident who Alastair was talking to as Aerodactyl rose upwards. "Yes, she'll be on site. It should go just fine, on my honor as the Defense. Alola's point is already beginning to shine. I'll be in transit soon."

    "Don't you…dare…" Ash grunted out, pushing himself to his feet with all of his conviction. Alastair looked down at him, his Aerodactyl looking proud in the moon and firelight.

    "This is out of your hands now. We'll have to take other avenues. Goodbye." Alastair's words put a close to his conversation. Aerodactyl gave a large beating of its wings and began to rise. Ash finished pushing up, pausing for a second at the sight of red eyes, moving in the shadows before they disappeared, vanishing upwards with Alastair. In seconds, they were gone, and Ash was attempting to turn back to Latias, who was struggling to get up. The rest of the Pokémon seemed to have gone silent, almost inert. Some seemed to shudder, as if waking from a long dream. It seemed that whatever battle they were having with those Pokémon was now over.

    Until they heard the creaking, cracking and groaning. Ash looked up.

    "Everyone, get to Latias, now!" he yelled. His limbs still felt sluggish, shaking off the lingering effects of the Hypnosis, and even Serena, Seamus and their Pokémon struggled to stand. Finally bringing himself to unsteady footing in his standing, Ash looked upwards, noticing that the Team Rocket base was falling downward, the top floors splitting away from the main base and aiming right for them in all its flaming glory. "Decidueye, return!"

    "You, too, Merry!" Seamus called. He seemed to have recovered as well. Only Serena appeared to take a longer time, her clear exhaustion from the day truly setting into her. She did have enough energy to call back Braixen, but Ash quickly walked to her, hoisting her on his shoulder. Once she was there, though, she seemed better. Seamus just pulled Merry's pokeball closer to him. "No sense in you getting hurt."

    "Pika pika!" Pikachu called, running over to Latias with all the speed he could muster. Ash gripped to Serena still as they ran forward. Heat began to fill the canyon and Ash tossed his gaze back. The building was falling faster than Ash would have ever expected, and there was no way, even with Latias' speed, that they'd be able to escape unscathed. The wild Pokémon around them were all scrambling away at the impending doom upon them.

    "Sylveon, Protect," Serena called, her Intertwining Pokémon appearing behind them, snapping out its turquoise shield. Seamus kept pace.

    "I don't think one Protect will be enough against that," Seamus snapped out. Ash could feel Serena swallow next to him, showing her trepidation in the moment. He looked up one more time…they were already out of that time. Debris and other chunks were beginning to fall, colliding with the shield that Sylveon already seemed to struggle to maintain over such a wide area. It wouldn't hold for much longer.

    "Pyroar, Protect!" Astrid's call snapped Ash's gaze upwards one more time. Through the smoke and haze of the falling building, Ash could see Team Rocket's balloon, almost withering in the blaze, but holding strong. Pyroar had leapt down, aiding Sylveon in erecting a shield to hold off the building's collapse. At the edge was an exhausted Piplup, firing a Hydro Pump at the raging flames to stem the tide of it. Dawn waved from the balloon basket. They had bought a few seconds.

    "Latias!" Ash cried out. The Eon Pokémon finally shook her head, recovering fully with a loud "kuuuu". As she finished, the three of them and Pikachu had reached her and jumped upon her back. Ash took the front, with Serena clinging to him as Seamus held on behind her. Serena quickly returned Sylveon. "Go!"

    "Ku!" she barked out, and the second Sylveon and Pyroar were safely called back, she shot off. Her movement carried her right past Team Rocket's eternal Meowth balloon, nearly knocking them aside from the turbulence. They recovered quickly, however, and followed suit. Ash turned on Latias, seeing the remnants of the base crashing down into the canyon, exploding with a blaze that sent a wave of heat over all of them. Seeing it burn and smolder, Ash looked over to Team Rocket, the three of them seeming almost heartbroken.

    "Are you all okay?" he called out. Their sniffles confirmed they would be, which lightened his heart, but he looked more particularly to Dawn. Latias pulled closer to the balloon now that they were far enough away. The bluenette raised her hand up and Ash slapped his against hers.

    "No need to worry…though my other arm is broken…" Dawn commented with a pained chuckle. Pikachu shared a quick hug with Piplup before Astrid leaned over the side.

    "What now? Did you manage to catch her, Seamus?" the blonde asked seriously. Seamus shook his head in disgust.

    "No, she slipped away, and we have no idea where that Alastair creep took the meteonite to."

    "Mount Lanakila," Dawn breathed out. She certainly sounded like she was in pain, and Ash knew she was probably at her limit, despite her immense strength. This was as far as some of them would be going in the first place. He breathed out, Pikachu returning to his place on his shoulder. "That's where they're going."

    "Makes sense," Serena commented. "Alastair said something about Alola, so it's fitting that their next location would be Mount Lanakila, right?"

    "What's next, then, twerps?" James asked. Ash looked down to the destroyed Team Rocket base, sighing out as his hand felt through his backpack for the communication device that Clemont had given him before departure. He had no idea what was going on elsewhere, but knowing what would be happening in Alola, on Mount Lanakila, soon, gave him enough reason.

    "Hold on…" he muttered, with only Serena seeming to have heard him. However, the others seemed to see just what he was doing as he expanded the device and punched in the code that Clemont had given him, Pikachu helping him with the one digit he'd forgotten. It took a second, and finally, the screen lit up with a large view of a big room in the League Hub.

    "Well, it's about time," Diantha seemed to sigh out from the screen, and Ash could only grin in the Champion's direction. Behind her were numerous others, from Gladion to Paul, and there was even Tau standing there. In the background, distorted by the picture, it seemed like even Clemont and the others were there, making Ash glad that he seemed to have done whatever he needed to in the hours since they'd separated. "And where have you all been?"

    "Busy," Ash admitted with a laugh, even if it wasn't for humor.

    "Are you all right?" Sawyer's voice asked instantly. It seemed there were a great number of others there, each clamoring to get a view in of Ash, and those behind him that were displayed. Serena leaned over his shoulder.

    "Sorry about our departure, Tau, but it was necessary," Serena told the older man. He smiled at her and nodded, clearly feeling that it wasn't worth squabbling over whatsoever. "Coming to Team Rocket's base was the right choice."

    "Though it's completely destroyed now…" Seamus scoffed out, but he also leaned in. "And how's Nova Town?" To that, Diantha appeared to be a little more pleased.

    "Recovering. I've heard from Chi that Christopher has awoken," the Champion answered. Seamus seemed relieved at that. Ash was, as well.

    "Rocky didn't," called a rather tremulous voice over the line. Ash waited as Bonnie approached, wringing her hands together. Astrid nearly pitched over the side of the balloon to get a better look at the screen. "We fought together at Mount Chimney and…he battled that Toll guy for us to get away…He…he didn't make it…I'm sorry…"

    "No way…" Seamus breathed out. Ash could feel almost all of the fight leaving Seamus' body at this particular announcement. Astrid was no different, as Ash looked to her, eyes wide and skin going pale from the words. Ash's own hand shook; after so many close calls himself, to know that someone they knew…their friend…had died fighting Team Rocket…it stung deeper than expected. "Not him. He's…he's Rocky. He can't be…"

    "Toll, you said?" Astrid asked, and from his periphery, he could see Astrid gripping the balloon basket until her knuckles went whiter than the rest of her body. "That bastard…"

    "This isn't the time," Diantha cut across. Ash took in a breath; she was absolutely right. They may have escaped the destruction of the base, but now a greater battle was looming ahead, still with more questions than answers. Diantha apparently knew that as well as he did. "What did you discover?"

    "Team Rocket is heading for Mount Lanakila," Ash decided to answer. Dawn, Astrid and Seamus seemed to be in no current condition to answer anything, so he just took the reins in informing Diantha regarding everything that he could possibly could. "They have something called the meteonite in their possession, and they're planning to use it for…something. A new world maybe? The details kind of don't matter."

    "Pikapi…" Pikachu sighed in complete exasperation. Ash shrugged at that; they really didn't matter at this stage, so long as they were able to stop Team Rocket. To the side, Meowth was working on keeping their balloon afloat, while Latias remained hovering. The flames in the distance seemed to be dying down a bit, no doubt revealing the charred husk of Team Rocket's former base. Diantha seemed to look focused for a second, clearly contemplating what to say about the situation when there was a loud beeping noise. She seemed surprised at that; Ash was just confused. The beeping was coming from his own device, as well, but he didn't know from where, at least until Serena leaned over and pressed a button, bringing up another screen, and yet another familiar face.

    "Maka? !" his wife gasped in surprise, however, the black-haired girl on the front of the screen didn't seem to see her at all. In fact, it seemed to be a pre-recorded message, especially with how the girl appeared to have toned down her bubbly self.

    "Greetings, trainers, this is your most beloved filmmaker and director, Maka!" she called to the screen, sending a smile in all of their directions. Her Oricorio were at her side, and from Ash's judgment and experience, she had filmed this all by herself, though perhaps not at her own suggestion. "I'm sorry to interrupt your time at home, but this is a request from a very special friend of mine. No doubt, from the news, you've heard all about the attacks on different locations around the regions. It's not a secret."

    "Not anymore," Jessie scoffed out, but her comment hardly mattered in the face of Maka continuing.

    "Well, that's the reason I'm calling," Maka stated. Her full serious face was on, Ash could tell, and he listened to every word. "There's a battle that's about to start, like the one in Alola eight years ago, and we need everyone on deck. I know, I'm just a small part of everyone out there, and my words and films might not count for much…but with what's about to happen, I hope you'll listen to this message.

    "Everyone, it's time to gather for war!" The screen blinked out, revealing just Diantha's stunned face, blinking rapidly. If she had been attempting to hide what was going on from the people at large, Maka's impromptu message had just blown that out of the water. Ash, however, wasn't surprised; that girl always had a way of making things lively.

    "Well, looks like we'll be getting some help," Ash said to the Kalos Champion. Diantha looked at him with exasperation. He just delivered a stern one right back to her. "Look, having help isn't a bad thing, especially with Dawn down for the count right now."

    "I'm just fine! There's no need to worr…aah…" Dawn huffed out, clearly touching to her broken arm.

    "You are most definitely not fine, Dawn" Serena chastised the bluenette. "You need medical attention right away, okay? They'll have you completely patched up in no time at the Hub. Maybe Team Rocket…"

    "Yeah, we'll take this twerpette to the League," Jessie huffed out in annoyance. Ash could tell she was just putting on a show. They had turned on their organization, but entering into another battle against them, and against their own boss, was a different story entirely. "The blonde twerpette will help out, too, in case we get ambushed on the way…but only if you deliver a message to the ex-boss from us."

    "Tell him we officially quit, and he can suck on that!" James said, wearing a maddening grin on his face that hid the clear fear beneath his veneer. Ash gave them a thumbs up and turned back to Diantha, who was frowning.

    "We'll be fine, Diantha. Me, Seamus and Serena will head for Mount Lanakila and stop Team Rocket before anything happens. You'll have to wait for all those trainers to start arriving and coordinating all that," Ash said to her. That made the Champion scowl even further from the implication.

    "That's what I don't want to happen," Diantha snapped out, sounding thoroughly annoyed. "I'm well aware of Miss Maka's pull as a public figure, but alerting the enemy to our location is not a smart idea. We're exposed enough as it is right now. Who even gave her the idea to send such a message out, calling for war? The amount of panic that will result-"

    "Will be nothing compared to what will happen if she hadn't made that message, Champion Diantha," a gravelly voice came over the line. Ash blinked; he'd not even noticed the other screen that had appeared during the conversation, revealing Nanu on the other end of the line. The man wasn't alone, joined by Lance and what seemed like Looker and Keoni in the background, the latter looking at his own device and talking with who Ash supposed was Maka. It was at least all fitting together. Diantha raised an eyebrow, looking at Nanu as he smirked a bit. "Trust me, the enemy already knows, and has known, where your base is since the beginning. The only reason they haven't attacked it is because it isn't strategically viable to them. But a large enough trainer force poses a threat enough to make them move the way we want them to. Why do you think I had that young woman send that message out in the first place?"

    "How would Team Rocket know the location of the League Hub?" Diantha demanded of the man. Ash watched as Nanu's smirk grew wider, and something clicked inside his brain. He looked to Serena, who appeared to be sharing the same thought as him. "Why would gathering trainers make them move? Why make Maka call trainers now?"

    "Because Nanu thinks we're going to war. He's trying to move the pieces, just like he did eight years ago," Ash said quietly, but loud enough to be heard. Everyone was listening over the silence of the line. "This isn't about Team Rocket, is it? It's about that woman, Deirdre."

    Nanu, Lance and Looker all shared a glance with one another. It confirmed what Ash was already thinking. Nanu was grinning, but he still responded, after a small time had passed, with a revelation that sent all of them, especially Diantha, reeling with its contents. "It's never been about Team Rocket from the very moment this kicked off…no, even before then.

    "From the beginning, this was always a plan from the very team that helped make the League and the world into the peaceful one it is today: IDEAL."


    Author's Note: IDEAL. Another acronym? Or something else? Of course, I know just what Nanu's revelation is all about. However, the big point of this is that it's a team that clearly worked for the League and helped to make the peaceful times, as Alastair suggested. Though it makes one wonder why they're doing what they're doing now. Hopefully you're on the edge of your seat wondering as well. Other than that, a rather action-packed chapter that is about to lead into the battle on Mount Lanakila. We're not stopping down yet!

    Over halfway and we're getting into some fun territory; I hope you'll enjoy! Until that comes, Review and Dare to Be Silly.

  4. #29
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    Hopefully Fanfiction has resolved its problems here. Anyway, to clear an issue: Diantha was trying to prevent mass panic over the attacks. Her wish to not have it in the open is not a bad one, if irrelevant now. That said, I hope everyone enjoys and leaves some comments for me. Chapter 15 time!


    Chapter 15

    A Boss

    "IDEAL? What's that?" Ash asked. The air around him felt tense, buzzing with an electricity that most certainly was not a result of Pikachu. He didn't think it was from the collapsed base in the distance, either. Hearing Nanu's words had simply set everyone on edge from the whole thing, even if they didn't know what it meant. This seemed to be most evident in Diantha, who seemed to be one of the few to actually, vaguely recognize the name. Nanu didn't answer right away, as if allowing the Champion to process just what he was saying.

    "No…that's not possible…" she whispered out, barely heard over the rushing wind in the ears of those floating in the sky. "I thought they were broken up, or had died."

    "So had I, and I was directly involved with them," Lance spoke up, drawing even with Nanu as he spoke. "However, what had happened to ARC…That deadly accuracy showed me that we were very much wrong."

    "You guys aren't really making a lot of sense here," Ash spoke up, drawing the Champions from their conversation. They blinked, and the raven-haired trainer was certain that he now had their full attention for the moment. Huffing out a breath, Ash sat back, leaning into Serena while he picked up the thread of conversation. "What is IDEAL?"

    "It's a team. The best of the best," Nanu spoke. His tone was sterner now, less forgiving or joking than it had ever been. The only time Ash could remember hearing it as such was when he talked about changing Alola all that time ago, even if that particular mission was long since done with. Either way, it was enough to let him know that Nanu was taking this whole thing far more seriously than almost anything he'd ever taken before. "You kids have fought for years against these 'tipping points', making sure they went the right way. Long before then, were these guys."

    "But…that makes no sense," Seamus spoke. Ash felt his body being pressed as Seamus leaned against Serena and thus himself in order to be seen on the screen. "Dalton's whole idea was changing a world because the League never did anything to prevent the death of children."

    "Because IDEAL wasn't founded for that," Lance sighed out. "At the time, we three were far lower than we are now. I wasn't yet Champion when IDEAL was formed, but I was assigned as a liaison to them. So was Nanu, and with Looker as his protégé, we are the three that know about them the best."

    "You still haven't answered what IDEAL is, Champion people!" Jessie screeched from inside the balloon. James and Meowth grabbed her back, like they wanted to chastise her, but Ash had to agree. For saying all these things, they were ultimately not even discussing the question that had been asked in the first place.

    "IDEAL was a joint operational task force," Nanu decided to go ahead with answering. He was still leaning back, as if acting like he didn't care, but Ash could see the glint in his eyes: he wanted a battle, and knew he was about to get one. "We took the best of the best from the International Police and the G-Men, gave them autonomy, and they even chose their own name as time went on…which was fine and fitting. I mean, who would want to call themselves the International Espionage and League Task Force? I wouldn't…though I doubt the name still holds the same meaning as it did then, if it truly meant anything back then at all…But, in any case, when it came to them, each member specialized in things, which is what made them so effective in their autonomy. This was about twenty years ago now, I'd imagine…perhaps earlier. I don't really care."

    "We sent them in on the most dangerous missions," Lance admitted. Ash flicked his eyes over to Diantha on the screen, seeing her scowl with what looked like anger. He had to wonder just why she was looking so infuriated in a way he'd never seen her before. "Regions that were unruly, we infiltrated to gain League presence. Countries affiliated with the League but faced pockets of public unrest? They took care of it. Dangerous locations? That was left to IDEAL. They were better than either organization could stand on their own. They helped build the League into what it became."

    "Michael. Did they have any contact with Michael?" Serena demanded. Nanu shrugged, providing enough of an answer, though Lance continued on.

    "It's possible, considering ties with the League. I'm not going to bother asking why you want to know, though" the Champion said. He raised a hand upwards, running it through his hair while he sighed profusely. "Either way, this one team was the crux of the League. We didn't send them after criminal organizations all that often. There was no need back then, with everything in the shadows. Instead, we had them help to build things up, in their own way."

    "We ran point sometimes, but really it was just our way of playing goody two-shoes with the League and all of our organizations," Nanu said, yawning lightly, as if bored. "They didn't really need us there, except for accountability…for all the bodies."

    "What?" Ash asked, feeling his stomach drop a little. He wasn't alone, the others all voicing the same thing in the night air. The coldness seeped around him, clenching at his heart and making his breath shorten itself. You don't know the horrible parts of the world. Lysandre's words, ones he hadn't thought on in forever, came straight back to him at what Nanu was saying. The man now looked to grin, like he was getting excited. Diantha breathed out loudly.

    "He isn't wrong, even if I wish he was," the Kalos Champion spoke. From the background, Clemont looked to have officially approached, nodding to Ash through the screen. He seemed slightly patched up better than before (though not fully, given the obvious rush), and Charizard and Brock were in the background, the former looking happy as he was fully checked over by the doctor. Others were also milling about, such as Bonnie retreating towards Mairin, but all seemed to be listening in on the conversation. Ash, however, kept his gaze solely on Diantha, waiting for her continued explanation. "I wasn't fully aware of the details, as it was only the tail end of the taskforce for me, but as a newly inducted Champion, I was made slight privy to their existence. Although, I was excluded from the more sensitive information."

    "Are you telling me…?" Serena breathed in Ash's ear, her hot breath tickling it. "I think I'm going to be sick…"

    "IDEAL was responsible for some of the more…reprehensible actions of the League," Lance admitted, seeming ashamed. "We were liaisons to reduce the body count as much as possible, but in some of the lawless regions out there, it just wouldn't fly. Dalton's thoughts of the League being responsible for much wasn't all that far off…They worked to make the world we live in."

    "Doesn't look like it to me," Paul scoffed out from the other side of the screen. Ash looked to his rival, leaning against a table with his arms folded. The usual scowl was on his face as he addressed the situation. "You seriously think blowing places up and killing a bunch of people is the right way?"

    "No one's saying that," Nanu said. "But there's no denying their actions have helped secure a greater peace in small ways. And anyway, that's not the point. The point is what a threat they are."

    "If they worked for the League," Astrid began to ask, leaning over the edge of the balloon with a twitching lip, "then how are they able to do all this now? Did you send them in to infiltrate Team Rocket, feeding information about the League itself?"

    "And that's where the problem comes in," Lance told them. Diantha appeared to have nothing more to say, but Ash felt his body tensing. Hearing about the League's shady past, regardless of necessity, was making him on edge. Combining the new information with the battle that was descending upon Lanakila at that very moment, and Ash wasn't sure what was making him more nervous. "We're not asking you to condone the past; goodness knows the world isn't a perfect place, but we tried to make it a little better. You all know as well as anyone that sometimes that means not everyone can be happy about it."

    "Of course," Serena sighed out. Lance's words had an immediate effect upon all of them. Ash closed his eyes, realizing that he couldn't hold it against them all that much. People had died on their own road to peace; people like Reeree, his father, and even a villain in the truest sense like Lusamine. They weren't perfect…but it was no reason to make things worse.

    "So, what made them who they are now?" Ash decided to ask, the expression on his and Pikachu's faces indicating that he wasn't joking around in this highly tense moment.

    "They disappeared," Nanu was the one to answer this time. "There was a mission one day, and something must have happened there, because they started taking on less missions. A few, like good ol' Deirdre, tried to start or raise a family, like she wanted to prove something; all while others went back to their own organizations. They still had missions as a team, though…and then they disappeared. There was one mission, and something went wrong. At the time, we believed there were no survivors. To this day, I'm not sure if they faked it to get out or if something truly horrific happened with them. Maybe they lost some members, even. Who knows?"

    "In hindsight," Lance commented, "that last mission was from the League, itself. Probably from Michael…One has to wonder just what he had planned with them."

    "Hmm…" Ash hummed out. It was all interesting, in a rather morbid way, but his mind was turning towards something far more important. The past was interesting and all, and it definitely informed them of who their enemy was, but what Ash looked more towards was the present and future. "It doesn't matter what Michael planned. Time and time again, we've gone up against him and whatever he tried, and whether he was responsible for this or not doesn't matter. What does is that Team Rocket is attacking Mount Lanakila, and they'll be there, too. That's what we need to stop. Nothing else matters!"

    "Ash is right! They have a lead on us, and we can't let this IDEAL or Team Rocket take any more lives," Serena insisted. Nanu was smirking again, as if it was the answer he wanted. Ash wasn't surprised by that at all.

    "Ever the same," he snarked out with a barking laughter. "You're right. We can't."

    "Guzma is on the ground at Mount Lanakila," Gladion spoke out over the line, approaching to come and stand right next to Diantha. Clemont had joined him, his glasses shining as he looked at them all seriously. "I sent him and a few Aether employees to help Burnet, especially since conditions on Lanakila have been less favorable as of late."

    "Well…his strength will be helpful, I guess," Ash commented, but he had little more than that to say about the man. His fingers were twitching, and he could feel Pikachu was just as nervous to get moving towards Alola.

    "You'll want to be careful," Clemont pointed out over the line, bringing everyone's attention to him. "It's all well and good to bring in a few people, but if, like we've suggested, IDEAL and Team Rocket's goal is to kill a lot of people, the more we bring, the easier it is for them. Plus, you'll want to be on the lookout for those drones. Their controller doesn't even need to be on site to do maximum damage."

    "Not to mention all the Pokémon," Seamus pointed out. Ash nodded sharply. If Alastair was heading for the site of battle, then there was no doubt they'd have contend with a lot of the local Pokémon being controlled by him somehow. "A little help wouldn't hurt, though."

    "Yeah. I'll contact…ahh, I'll contact Hau," Gladion sighed out, bringing a hand to his face. Ash had to laugh as Serena released a giggle behind him. His dislike of the current Kahuna of Melemele was always well known, especially when his sister visited her boyfriend. "Lillie's with him, too. And I'll get in touch with the other Kahunas, see if any are available. That should be enough firepower to call upon Lanakila without bringing too many people out."

    "Yeah, I'll bet Kahili's there, too," Ash pointed out. Gladion nodded sharply. Diantha finally let her scowl drop, returning to her usual elegant features with a mere frown.

    "Steven and Gary are already on site. They should help to hold things off until you all arrive," Diantha made sure to note. "I can't pull out forces, not in the length of time that we have left to us, understand? That means you have to deal with them on your own."

    "Got it! We know how dangerous they are," Ash noted. Diantha seemed glad that he understood that as his eyes narrowed. They weren't going to let IDEAL get the drop on them, or Team Rocket. It was a tense three-way battle they were about to enter themselves into, Ash knew, but they only had one objective. "We'll stop them from using the meteonite on Mount Lanakila, no matter what!"

    "I'll head there myself with these two, even if it takes some time to get movin'. Been lookin' for a good fight, and I've got some questions for Deirdre; things to confirm with my own eyes before I can say anything more definitive. That last mission really pissed me off back in the day, not knowin' what happened," Nanu grumbled out. Ash had to figure that this was before the man had become so apathetic to everything but his own nebulous goals. Not that it mattered; he liked having a powerful ally like Nanu on his side.

    "Great. Diantha, Clemont, Gladion and everyone, hold down the fort. Serena, Seamus and I will continue for Lanakila like planned. Team Rocket…er…well, Jessie, James, Meowth, get Dawn and Astrid back to base!" Ash ordered out. Diantha and Lance seemed almost surprised on the other end. He didn't dwell on it, figuring they were just surprised to hear him tossing orders out to them of all people.

    "We're on it, twerp!" James said, saluting. The salute was held for merely a moment before dropping off. He looked over to his partners and they all snapped into a ramrod straight position. "Before you go, we just want to say, though…"

    "Stop our old boss and make it back alive! Life isn't worth living without you in it, twerp," Jessie explained. Ash blinked, surprised at such honesty and heartfelt sentiments from the trio. Meowth was nodding quickly alongside Wobbuffet. Ash smiled and raised a hand to his heart.

    "I will," he answered. His eyes continued along to Dawn and Astrid, the two women watching their trio on Latias for a moment. Astrid leaned a little more over.

    "Kick their asses…for him," the blonde said. Nothing else needed to be said. Behind him, he felt Serena and Seamus also placing their fists over their hearts. No words were spoken, but none were required. That was their promise to make sure that IDEAL, Team Rocket, or anyone else looking to harm their world wouldn't succeed. Intentions be damned or unknown, Ash planned on keeping it.

    "We'll see you when we get back," Ash insisted. Then he closed the communication device, cutting off any talks with the Champions, and shoving the device inside his bag. He looked to Team Rocket one more time, their balloon turning in the direction of their destination. Ash leaned down, Serena still gripping to him, and he patted Latias. "Let's go."

    "Ku," Latias called out. There was a brief second in the air, as all three riding her made sure they were secure. Then she blasted forward, straight in the direction of Alola. The wind blasted against Ash's head, nearly blowing his cap off until Pikachu crawled atop him and tamped it down. A slight look to the side showed they were about to pass over Pallet Town on their way out of Kanto, and brief look back saw the embers of the Rocket base in the distance beginning to glitter with many colors. Serena gripped him tighter, obviously understanding the feelings he was experiencing. That made him swallow, closing his eyes and calling out to his Pokémon with his heart. He was certain they all felt his sentiments, preparing themselves for a battle in mind and spirit.

    "Seamus," Ash called back, once they'd finally cleared the borders of Pallet Town and were heading out for the ocean. He cast his eyes backwards, noting the blond staring at him. "When we hit the ground on Lanakila, you find her."

    "I planned to…" Seamus spat out. Serena gripped tighter, holding fast to Ash's hands. "She has a lot to answer for…For Nova, Travis…and Rocky…"

    "I can't believe he…" Serena breathed out. Ash could feel all of his muscles clenching. Hearing that someone he'd known for years had just…He shook his head fiercely, shaking the oppressive thoughts from closing in upon him. "We'll have to fight extra hard."

    "Right. So, Seamus will find Deirdre and the rest of IDEAL. We'll head right for Giovanni, Serena," Ash spoke sharply. He felt Serena nodding.

    "Pikachupika!" Pikachu cried out, and Ash could feel the determination flowing through his partner's veins. That was all they needed to begin steeling themselves for the battle that was ahead, clipping along the ocean swiftly as they aimed for Alola. Had it been with any other Pokémon or source of transportation, Ash knew they would have taken forever, but true to her strength and speed, Latias was ferrying them to Alola with all sense of speed. Seamus seemed to still be dealing with becoming accustomed to the great burst of speed, but Serena was more than used to it. Before long, Alola was very much on the horizon, the peaks of Mount Hokulani and Mount Lanakila jutting upwards majestically.

    "The second we hit, be on the lookout for any drones or members of IDEAL. I'm not worried about Team Rocket, themselves. If we take Giovanni out and find Deirdre, we win," Ash stated confidently. Serena squeezed his hand again, like she understood that he was highly apprehensive in that moment. He squeezed back. They were ready.

    There was a loud sound from the highest peak, echoing across the skies over Ula'ula, and Ash felt the air growing colder around him. It was starting to snow, decreasing the visibility somewhat, but not enough to obscure what was occurring on the peak they were nearing. Three large ships were there, though one had yet to touchdown, and there seemed to be a black swirl of people and Pokémon writhing atop the summit. There was no mistake about the location, especially when Ash noticed a helicopter descending near the castle that was atop the mountain.

    "Take us down!" Ash yelled over the loud sounds of battle and wind, both. Latias cried out, angling her sleek body downward and shooting off for the top of the mountain. A Flash Cannon seemed to fire out, slamming into the transport that had yet to land. Its engine smoked and sparked, sputtering with flames. It careened off, unintentionally aiming for the stadium with all the Team Rocket agents still aboard. The sound of another jet engine was entering Ash's ears, and he turned to see some approaching from the west.

    "Alola, Ash!" cried the voice of Hau from the jet that was approaching, swiftly drawing even with Latias. Ash briefly grinned at Hau, hanging outside the vehicle, before taking a look down below to see that Nanu and Lance hadn't arrived yet, as predicted. He glanced back to Hau, seeing Lillie come up from right behind him. "Boy, this is a real situation, isn't it? Never thought Alola'd get attacked again."

    "Yeah, well, we're used to it," Ash laughed out. "Hey, Lillie. Doing well?"

    "Well enough," Lillie said, nodding to both Ash and Serena. Hau grinned back at her, offering a quick high five that she took. "My brother informed us about what's going on here…kind of. And he wasn't being very nice to Hau."

    "No surprise there," Serena said between her teeth, making Ash laugh a little bit. "Oh well, at least you know what's going on."

    "Right! Komala, get ready!" Lillie called to her partner. Komala yawned lightly on his trainer's shoulder, and soon, their group of five was approaching the mountaintop. With the snow lighter than before, Ash could more clearly see the Team Rocket members that were there on the ground, and the Aether Foundation employees that were opposing them, framed by the light of all the buildings and the trainer village there. Ash scanned his eyes around.

    "Look out!" Seamus shouted. It was a second later than needed, Latias breaking off to the side as a Hyper Beam just barely missed them. Latias righted herself quickly enough, but the jet carrying Hau and Lillie seemed to have been clipped by it, struggling to land properly.

    "New plan! Hold on!" Ash cried out. He clasped tightly to Serena's hand while she reached for Seamus'. Once Ash was sure they were all secure, and Latias was close enough to the ground for them to be safe, Ash stood, feeling the wind whip at his features. Making one last check to see that everyone, including Pikachu, was secure, he jumped, carrying the other two with him. "Get Lillie and Hau, Latias! And Infernape, Krookodile, I choose you! Dig!"

    "I-i-infernape!" Infernape howled out as he emerged alongside Krookodile. Both of the Pokémon headed straight for the ground like a javelin, about to break it apart. Ash felt like his hand was being gripped to death from how tightly Serena was holding to it, clearly worried they weren't going to survive the fall. Latias was pulling alongside the broken jet, securing it for Hau, Lillie and the pilot to scramble out and jump upon her. Once they were secure, Latias shot back for the bottom, but it would already be too late for them.

    Infernape and Krookodile made impact with the ground and began churning through it, kicking up dirt into a large pile. Serena started to scream, as did Seamus, while Pikachu remained clinging to his hat. The dirt was close, growing bigger by the second, though Ash wasn't sure if it would be enough to cushion his fall. He looked to his wife, but she was already acting…if one could call yelling as taking action.

    "Sylveon, Fairy Wind!" she screamed. A light appeared from her waist, and Sylveon popped out into midair with a cry. She whipped her ribbons outwards and the breeze from Fairy Wind shot out. It buffered them a little bit, slowing their descent to the mound of dirt that the three quickly landed upon. Sylveon was caught by an emerging Infernape, who grinned and placed her down to the ground while the three of them scrambled up. Ash could hear the sound of footsteps clomping along the ground.

    "Infernape, Flamethrower! Krookodile, Stone Edge!" Ash yelled out, still dragging himself out from the dirt. He wasn't the only one calling commands as Zoroark emerged from her pokeball to attack one of the encroaching grunts. At the same time, Infernape roared out a powerful flame in one direction while Krookodile sent his stones hurtling in another. Sylveon joined the trifecta with a blast of golden stars. It provided enough distraction to help Ash to stand, pulling Serena to her feet.

    "Incineroar, Darkest Lariat!"

    "Komala, Wood Hammer!" Lillie and Hau's commands were acted upon, their Pokémon slamming into another set of grunts that were surrounding them. Serena reached down and helped Seamus up, while Ash took a moment to survey the entire area.

    It was madness packed onto that small summit. Team Rocket operatives were everywhere, their own Pokémon combating those of the Aether Foundation. Both sides appeared to have already lost some members, the fallen members sprawled on the summit's surface. Some small distance away, Ash could see Steven and Gary defending Burnet as she seemed to run numbers on a computer, while further away were Kahili and Guzma. Ash wasn't focusing on them, though, his eyes trying to find the helicopter that held Giovanni, but in the darkness and falling snow, combined with the number of people there, it seemed almost impossible. Seamus was finally recovered, Zoroark drawing closer.

    "Merry, can you smell her? Deirdre?" Zoroark's vision narrowed and her snout moved upwards, sniffing at the air. Ash looked to Pikachu, shaking the dirt loose from his fur. His partner seemed to understand just what he was getting at, because he sniffed at the air as well, while the operatives around them fell away.

    "Grrrowr!" Zoroark seemed to bark, raising a claw in the direction of somewhere in the mess of people. Seamus walked over and slapped her on the back with a smile, the Pokémon seeming to appreciate the praise.

    "We'll all go that way," Ash said, pumping his fist. "We can't find Giovanni here with all these guys, so following you might make it easier."

    "She'll probably want to be close to him," Serena pointed out. Seamus nodded, drawing himself further up. Zoroark hunkered down, claws brimming with shadow, and Pikachu joined at her side, cheeks sparking angrily. Ash flashed a determined smirk to his friend and wife. Infernape and Krookodile closed ranks, the latter holding two of his stones like stakes. "Sylveon, stick close, and Protect us as needed."

    "Sylvie!" she called. Ash breathed in once and then ran forward, leading all of them there like a giant surging force forward. A few Team Rocket operatives moved in place to block them, and Ash nodded to Infernape, not even giving an order. His brave Pokémon struck forward with a Mach Punch, hitting all of them at once and driving them backwards. Krookodile dove forward, burrowing under the ground quickly.

    "Incineroar, Pipi, get 'em!" Hau called out. A group of Team Rocket operatives were quickly clustering, as if to create a wall, but the current Kahuna of Melemele wasn't giving them the chance to truly muster their forces. Pipi sent a raging Thunderbolt into the crowd that Incineroar soon slammed down upon. "Go on! Lillie and I can handle the crowd here! I think Kiawe and the others should be here soon, too, 'kay?"

    "On it!" Ash and Serena yelled together. Zoroark was already rushing ahead, clearly following up on the scent of Deirdre, her bloodlust, or perhaps just her Altaria. Either way, it meant they had a destination quickly approaching in mind. "Pikachu, Quick Attack!"

    "Pika!" Pikachu yelled out, shuddering a bit before speeding off with bright light. He slammed into a group of Team Rocket members, sending them sprawling backwards and into a state of recovery, joining some of their fallen comrades on the ground. Ash ran onwards, Serena by his side while Seamus was moving too quickly catch up with Zoroark in that moment.

    "Duck!" Serena called, reaching up to push Ash's head down as a Flash Cannon fired overhead. It was the only distraction they needed in order to be separated from Seamus, who rushed on ahead. Zoroark was clearly making good time. Ash looked up, noticing that he was, indeed, heading for the castle, the ancient structure looking as majestic as ever.

    "Are you okay?" Steven's voice called out over the sounds of battle. Ash and Serena both looked over, Metagross drawing back. Numerous Rocket grunts were on the ground, gripping at some part of their bodies from the Champion's attack. "I wasn't aware you all would be coming!"

    "State of emergency!" Serena shouted back. "Team Rocket…no…IDEAL plans to use the meteonite for some unknown purpose here."

    "Here?" Burnet called out. She seemed to still be collating facts and figures on her laptop, eyes flicking up to them only occasionally. "That doesn't seem quite right…This is just a point."

    "A point?" Ash asked. He ducked again, while Gary fired out a Hydro Pump from his Blastoise. It slammed into one of the Rocket grunts, sending him sprawling against the wall of a house in the trainer's village.

    "Just a theory we're working with," his friend explained, scratching behind his head. "The meteorites and all that…if they're looking to use this meteonite with it, it seems odd, because there's nothing flowing into this place. That's what we're starting to suspect."

    "Reading what's on my charts and the seismic readings, which the battle is ironically good for, yeah," Burnet responded. Ash creased his brow, avoiding yet another attack. He couldn't figure out what Burnet was quite saying, except that Team Rocket's plan here wasn't making much sense. Not that he thought any of it would make sense at all, but he really didn't understand all of the science jargon. "Not much I can gather with the current state of attack, but this seems more about a point than any actual final action."

    "Doesn't matter," Ash called out, finally drawing to his full height once again. "What matters now is putting a stop to Giovanni. You can do your research then!"

    "Yeah, we got it, Ashy boy! Now, go!" Gary shouted loudly, his voice echoing over the summit. Ash needed no further encouragement to do so. He turned in the direction that he'd last seen Seamus running for and took off, Serena keeping pace right behind him. The sounds of battle continued on behind him and around him, though there was still a great glut of grunts in front of him and his wife, bolstering up their defenses, even as a spot further ahead was being beaten back by two other familiar faces.

    "Now, Krookodile! Infernape, Flare Blitz!" Infernape leapt back, his body beginning to blaze with heat. The flames surrounding his body turned a bright blue, unlike any other Flare Blitz, and it blasted forward, slamming into the first round of grunts before transitioning right into a Mach Punch that knocked them out of the way quickly. He threw a cheeky grin over at Ash as Krookodile erupted from the ground behind them, tossing more Rocket operatives into the air before slashing them with his Stone Edge. "Aerial Ace!"

    "Drones incoming," Serena huffed out, pointing just ahead to the sight of the floating machines that looked almost like they were phasing in and out of the snow with their cloaking. Ash grinned. They were here, after all. It made things a little easier…and just as dangerous. "Sylveon, Swift!"

    "Pikachu, Electro Ball!" Their two partners didn't stop moving. Sylveon flicked her ribbons outward, sending the stars cascading towards the drones that were incoming. Pikachu joined right in, blasting off one orb of sparking electricity after another. Their attacks weren't alone, Krookodile zipping through the air to knock down some of the drones. "Come on!"

    Ash reached back to take Serena's hand, and the two ran right for the separated row of grunts, dashing through them as quickly as possible. Krookodile and Infernape rejoined them as they passed the groaning operatives, making their way quickly to the next set of enemies. Looking ahead, Ash squinted and felt he could finally see Giovanni's helicopter, and two figures next to it. In the air was something familiar and glowing brightly. Ash pushed his heels in, beginning to move quicker than before.

    "That's the guy the boss wanted, isn't it?"

    "Get hi-" Ash didn't give the grunt a chance to give the command. He reached forward and slammed his fist into the man's face, sending him falling backwards, right into another cluster of their enemies. Those enemies parted, finally showing Kahili there. The woman turned, offering a smirk on her face.

    "I was wondering when you'd show up, Ash. You're not one to let a measly thing like death stop you," his old mentor called out. Ash smirked right back at her, while to the side, Guzma and his Golisopod were manhandling some grunts (the former with his bare hands, naturally). The white-haired man jerked his head in Ash's direction before continuing with his beatdown. "Cutting it a little close, yeah?"

    "Had some things to deal with," Ash noted. He finally drew close enough to his sister-figure, and the two placed their backs together. "The boss up ahead? And Seamus?"

    "We saw him," Kahili noted. "He looked ready to kill, if I'm honest. And I'm pretty sure that the boss of Team Rocket is ahead. We've been more focused on defending Burnet and figuring out what Team Rocket wants here than we have anything else. Why? You plan to kick his ***?"
    "That's the idea," Ash grinned out. There was an explosion in the distance, but Ash couldn't be sure as to exactly what it was that had caused it. It could have been the drones, one of their own forces, or even Toll, himself. Either way, it was a sign that the battle needed to be ended as soon as possible. "We just need to make sure this ends now, before we lose too many on our side. It's a little more complicated than just Team Rocket."

    "Tch…of course it is," Kahili scoffed out in annoyance. "Well, I guess I'll let you at him, then. Toucannon, Bullet Seed, rapid fire!"

    "Toucah!" Toucannon screeched out, flapping up from where they stood and sailing down in a direct path for their location. His beak opened, remaining in suspension for just a second, and then he fired. The green seeds fired so swiftly, as expected from Kahili, that the Team Rocket operatives providing protection on the road to their boss didn't know what was coming. Ash did, however, and he once more grabbed to Serena's wrist and began bringing her forward.

    "Thanks for the help, Kahili! Hold the fort for just a little long-" Ash jumped to the side, hearing the swishing of the blade before seeing it. He tumbled to the ground, his wife landing atop him. Toucannon flew in and blocked Aegislash with its talons. Looking up, Ash grimaced, seeing Alastair above, regarding him with his right eye from atop his Aerodactyl. They had gotten here swiftly; no doubt their plans had offered an emergency vehicle on hand. Kahili noticed the opposing man's presence, and she turned her head over to Ash.

    "Go!" she shouted. Ash didn't need telling twice. He sprang up, bringing Serena with him, and kept on the course ahead. He didn't look back; Kahili was always one to handle herself, no matter the opponent. It was proven by what sounded like Toucannon colliding with Aerodactyl in a fierce aerial battle. Knowing that, Ash focused on his own opponent, quickly approaching. Pikachu ran point ahead as Krookodile and Infernape remained close. Ash's eyes flicked over to the side and he saw Seamus and Zoroark running for the side of the castle that Giovanni and his assistant weren't on. As he turned his head back, two shadows suddenly flitted out, revealing familiar and annoying faces.

    "Prepare for trou-"

    "Out of the way!" Ash yelled. The second Butch and Cassidy had appeared (which seemed to make Serena's face wrinkle with disgust), Infernape and Pikachu had blitzed forward, knocking them both aside, straight into the holes that Krookodile had quickly dug up. They screamed, flying into them, and Ash kept running forward, right for the sight of Giovanni.

    The castle now loomed above them, and Ash could see its base thrumming with a strange blue light in the nighttime, as though it had been built on the meteorites that were suspected to be an embedded part of the mountain, now finally active after all this time. It was still just faint, however, showing how far beneath the bedrock it truly was, like it was a part of the foundation. A Dragon Pulse fired out from the side of the castle, and Ash saw Seamus leap back, with Zoroark transformed into Alakazam. His attention focused back on Giovanni, however, the sharply dressed man leaning down and touching something to the base of the castle. The meteonite floating above began to shine brightly.

    "Giovanni, sir, everything seems to be ready," his assistant, Matori, said. Ash moved faster, and decided on just a singular move to buy time. The boss of Team Rocket stood, his Persian swirling between his legs, and Ash struck, Pikachu at his side with his tail glowing white.

    "GIOVANNI!" he roared loudly. The leader of Team Rocket now turned, his eyes almost widening in interest, before a smirk passed across his features. Ash was within range finally, and he leapt forward to sink a fist into the man's face. "I have a message from Jessie, James and Meowth: they quit!"
    *Chapter to be continued in the next post...

  5. #30
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    Chapter continued from last post.

    "Do they? Good riddance," Giovanni spoke smugly. Ash's face twisted into one of anger, his veins throbbing with that same emotion as he finally made to complete his punch…until it was blocked by a shadow. Pikachu's Iron Tail was blocked as well and they broke off, right before Persian slashed across the area they had been at. "I have no issue with you protecting yourself on a mission, of course, but that was unnecessary, Matori."

    "My apologies, sir," his assistant spoke, fiddling with her glasses as she stowed a pokeball in her pocket. The shadowy paling dropped, with the form of a Sableye appearing and leaping back towards its trainer. Ash flicked his eyes over to the woman, standing there with cold and discerning eyes behind her glasses. She seemed to have reacted with the utmost disdain upon hearing of Jessie, James and Meowth. Serena was up against his side, now, Sylveon growling as she crouched.

    "So, you survived…which means she's also around here, no doubt," Giovanni spoke, his eyes resting on Serena for a mere second. His protective instincts flaring, Ash threw his arm out to protect his wife while Pikachu remained on all fours, cheeks sparking. "But I see you've brought your husband…Ash Ketchum."

    "From what everyone keeps saying, you've been looking for me, is that right?" Ash said, eyebrows crunching in as he stared down the man that had caused him no end of trouble over the years. Giovanni regarded him with cold eyes, similar to those of his assistant's, though they looked less calculating, in the moment, and more feral. "Well, here I am."

    "So, you are," scoffed the leader of Team Rocket. He placed his hands in his pockets, as though he regarded Ash as insignificant; something that did not escape the trainer's notice. Ash's foot shifted, and all of his Pokémon grew tense. "To be honest, with all of that woman's lies, I'm still not sure whether to believe that you were needed or not. Perhaps you were a mere distraction, considering I never took note of you before, unless one counts Unova, a decade ago now."

    "Yeah, I remember," Ash snapped loudly. Sylveon hissed loudly, facing down Sableye as Matori watched the situation unfolding before her, jowls clearly clenching with dislike at her own potential need to fight. "You tried to control those Legendary Pokémon back then for your whole 'take over the world' thing. You haven't changed much."

    "You speak as if one such as I needs to," Giovanni now chuckled out. His right hand removed itself from his pocket, clasping to the thing he had been holding before. It looked like a thin shard of meteorite…or perhaps it was from the meteonite, itself. Whatever it was, he tossed it back towards Matori. "Protect the Alpha Shard."

    "Yes, sir," Matori spoke, bowing. Her eyes seemed to flash as she straightened, as if indicating that she wouldn't let go of the shard unless one pried it from her dead hands. The earlier indecisiveness in the assistant's eyes wavered.

    "Serena, I don't know what that is, but if he wants to protect it…" Ash muttered out, not letting his eyes stray from Giovanni, the man wearing an inviting smirk. There was another explosion behind them and Ash caught sight of the transformed Zoroark attacking with a Shock Wave from the sides. More drones were moving in.

    "Then we need to get it back," Serena responded in kind, her own gaze laser-focused upon Matori. Above them, the fake meteonite remained suspended, still glowing with the same colors as the other one, the blue ribbon becoming evident. Ash had to wonder if the "Alpha Shard" was from that, though it didn't quite look like it was. "I'll take care of it."

    "In the meantime, you're mine, Giovanni. Infernape, Krookodile, keep a look out for those drones!" Ash called out. His two trusty Pokémon nodded, each moving to intercept the drones with long-range moves as Pikachu faced down Persian. The leader of Team Rocket gave a nod, and Persian sprang forward with a growl, its paw gleaming with shadows amidst the white falling snow. The sky was beginning to lighten with the coming daybreak. "Iron Tail!"

    "Chu pika!" Pikachu cried out. Persian was upon him, slashing downward with the shadowy claw. Pikachu's tail glowed white and swung upwards to block the strike. They strained against one another for a moment, while Serena sent a roaring Fairy Wind out towards Matori's Sableye, who disappeared into the shadows. Pikachu was reacting, instantly knowing what Ash wanted. "Pika pika pika pika pika pika chu PI!"

    The Electro Ball fired right into Persian's face, breaking off the strike and sending it flying away. Giovanni seemed surprised, but not enough to actually shake him. More, it seemed that Giovanni didn't expect Ash to put up a challenge, which was exactly what the raven-haired trainer had hoped for. Their last battle years ago had ended in a flash; now, however, things were different. Finally, Giovanni reacted. "Power Gem."

    "Merrrowr!" Persian hissed, its red gem glowing before firing out for Pikachu. Ash looked to his eternal partner, and Pikachu rolled out of the way, only for Persian to jet across the ground, claws gleaming a bright white.

    "Quick Attack! Meet it head on!" Ash yelled out. Pikachu blasted forward even quicker than Persian, his body glowing a blinding white. Serena was still engaging Matori's Sableye, and Ash moved for the distraction. He knew Serena could get the item back, but Giovanni was still the head of everything. Pikachu slammed into Persian, who slashed at him and knocked him backwards. "Thunderbolt!"

    "Block it with the dirt," Giovanni barked sharply. Ash finally reached the man, bringing his body low and then swiping upwards with a fierce uppercut. The man snapped his head back, his eyes wide. He certainly hadn't expected that. Persian slashed sharply at the ground, causing the dirt to fly up. Pikachu let loose the Thunderbolt, the electricity arching through the air to slam into the dirt, which blocked it entirely. "Bite it."

    "Perrrrr…" the cat purred out, leaping forward and sailing through the dirt to reach Pikachu. Its jaw opened wide and clasped around Pikachu's midsection, sinking in. Pikachu cried out in pain. Ash swept his leg out, knocking Giovanni to the side. The man stumbled, but gained his footing.

    "We won't let you hurt anyone else! Iron Tail!" Ash cried out, steadying his own stance. Giovanni watched him, clearly resizing him now that Ash wasn't proving to be the weak opponent he had anticipated or remembered. Pikachu's tail glowed brightly and swung down, slamming into Persian's own midsection. The jaw released, and his partner fell away from the entrapment. "So, we'll just take you down. Electro Ball!"

    "Power Gem!" Giovanni called, his voice raising upwards. He was no longer underestimating Ash, which meant he did think losing here would be a threat. "Take me down…? At the cusp of glory for Team Rocket? You're still just a child."

    "And if I am, who cares?" Ash yelled out. Pikachu fired out his crackling orb of electricity, right for the red beam from Persian's gem. The two attacks met in midair, colliding and holding for a second before blasting outwards. It was joined by another explosion as Infernape used a Flare Blitz to cut through another collection of encroaching drones. "At least I wouldn't be someone like you. I'm working for a better future for everyone, not just myself. I'm not blind, either. Quick Attack."

    "Slash," Giovanni countered. Pikachu blasted forward with his white aura, aiming straight for Persian as the dust billowed around them. Persian also sailed forward, claws gleaming that deadly white. Ash grimaced; he knew which attack would land first, which was proven when Persian's claws struck against Pikachu, tossing him backwards. His partner skidded back along the ground. "And I'm not blind. Team Rocket has prepared for years to enter its new world. There were some setbacks, I'll admit, mostly on account of yourself and…other situations, but those three buffoons proved useful in the end."

    "Thunderbolt!" Ash ordered. As Pikachu continued skidding backwards, his body was surrounded by lightning that flew out, straight for Persian. Without a command, Pikachu's tail stiffened with a bright glow and he blasted off for the Classy Cat Pokémon. "So, you're proud of the fact that you used them, but you didn't even realize you were being used, yourself!"

    "Quiet, boy," Giovanni stated coldly. Ash ran at him, punching forward, only for his hand to be caught. Ash wasn't one to be trapped by that, however, not after all his years of training with his Pokémon. His other hand flew upwards, grabbing hold of Giovanni's wrist and twisting it. The man scowled with pain, and it allowed Ash a chance to kick upwards, his knee slamming into the leader's stomach. Pikachu was swinging his Iron Tail around. "I am Giovanni, leader of Team Rocket. I have operatives all over the world, sowing the seeds of domination. Surely you must have realized that by now. My world is nigh. And with the power of the meteonite, the power of the sun, we will enter a new age of Team Rocket. Bite its tail."

    "Pika? !" Pikachu cried, unable to stop his own attack. Persian's jaw snapped forward, biting upon Pikachu's tail. Then its gem glowed bright red. Ash wanted to turn back, to call for his partner, but it was already too late, the Power Gem blasting forth. Giovanni reached out, grabbing hold of Ash's hair in a second before punching for his stomach. The first punch held a considerable amount of weight to it, but Ash held fast.

    "If that's true…then what about your base?" Ash coughed out. Pikachu went flying, slamming onto the ground and rolling along it. Behind him, Seamus had come back into view, along with the smirking sight of Deirdre, keeping close to the castle, like she was waiting for a reaction from all the others near her. Giovanni seemed to see her as well, scowling at the sight, but otherwise saying nothing. "It's gone! They killed all your members! And it probably wasn't the only place, either!"

    "And what does it matter? They died for my new world," Giovanni remarked callously. Ash felt his lips twitching, his whole body beginning to pulse with anger in that moment. His new world. Their deaths for his new world. It was the most selfish thing he'd heard in a long time. Pikachu stood up once more, straining and shaking his head in recovery. "Each pawn has a role to play. All of us a part. Mine is the king."

    "Is that so, Giovanni?" Ash's leg kicked out at the interrupting voice. It nailed Giovanni in the side, allowing Ash to break free from the hated boss' grip. The raven-haired trainer looked to Pikachu, who was once more coming under attack by Persian. The cat's shadowy claw was sailing down, but at the single glance, Pikachu was emboldened. His body blazed white and he shot forward, nailing Persian in the stomach and sending it flying backwards. "Interesting that you believe you're the king."

    "You believe I'm not, Deirdre?" Giovanni asked with a smirk. Even in his surprise, he was retaining his confidence. A small distance away, Sylveon had created multiple copies that were sending Swifts to the ground, obscuring the area. "Worthless as your life is, and will be once I'm done with you here, surely you can see that I am superior."

    "Electro Ball!" Ash called, taking advantage of the conversation to get another attack on Giovanni's Pokémon. Pikachu's tail shot upwards, the orb sparking around it violently. Then Pikachu fired it at Persian, one after another. The cat acted on instinct, batting its claws at each individual orb, knocking them away or into the ground. As it did so, Zoroark (still in the form of Alakazam) ran at Altaria, fist glowing a bright and swirling green.

    "I believe you think you are. And we were but your Pillars: myself as a queen, Alastair the Bishop, Toll the Knight, Louise the Rook. We all served our 'roles' to you in the capacity that you, in your oh-so-infinite wisdom, felt best…and you served your role to us."

    "Chu pi!" Pikachu cried, firing out a final Electro Ball. Persian, clearly exhausted from the exertion of beating the rest away, missed it entirely, the electricity blasting into it and causing it to convulse slightly.

    "Now, Pikachu, let's end this!" Ash yelled. Pikachu seemed to understand, because he ran for the shuddering Persian. As his body and tail glowed a bright white in combination with one another, Deirdre and Giovanni continued to speak. Ash shifted his gaze between the two, wondering which to move upon once Persian would be defeated.

    "You act as if I completely trusted you, but I've already told you that I didn't," Giovanni stated, hand slipping into his pocket. Pikachu used the momentum of his Quick Attack to leap into the air, spinning around with Iron Tail. Persian recovered, mouth opening wide and biting forward, just in time to catch Pikachu's tail. Ash looked at his partner, and nodded.

    "Piiiikaaaaachuuuuu!" his partner cried, pulsing with electricity that soon consumed Persian. The cat's jaw slackened, letting Pikachu go free, and his tail whipped around, slamming into it. Persian flew back, between all of them, and slammed into the nearby helicopter before collapsing entirely on the cold mountaintop. "Piiika…"

    "Yes! Giovanni…you're done!" Ash yelled. In the moment of distraction, Ash kicked outward, his foot making hard contact with the man's chest. He was pushed backwards, up against the walls of the castle, and his hand was expelled from his pocket. The blue glow shined outward, if still dimmed by normal standards, highlighting Giovanni's scowling face as he righted himself.

    "You were never trustworthy. Your information was good, and I set you on tasks to further Team Rocket, but there was always something you were hiding," Giovanni spoke. He straightened himself. "I named you Pillars, in the hopes you'd believe that I actually trusted you, but I trust nobody. I did my own research on the meteonite, as I said."

    "Oh, you did? Draco Meteor," Deirdre called, as if the command was inconsequential. Ash looked up, seeing Altaria fly high, the orange glow burgeoning from its beak. Then it fired upwards, blasting about. Something about it seemed different, though, more indiscriminate. She didn't care about who she hit.

    "Serena!" Ash yelled out to his wife. Sylveon finished a Fairy Wind that buffeted Sableye, the Ghost type shaking its head yet seeming unfettered but for a falling knee, and pulled back, whipping her feelers around. Serena didn't give a single command, but the copies of Sylveon appeared all over the area, providing a shield to cover them all. Ash whirred his eyes around, attempting to keep track of all the meteors, before realizing that just one was on a set course…straight for the meteonite.

    "A useless effort. The stage has been set, Deirdre! Team Rocket's time is nigh!" Giovanni called out. His face was looking manic, even as the Draco Meteor was falling all around them. Zoroark transformed to her usual state, moving to protect Seamus as they were both blasted backwards from the attack. Ash wondered for a moment if he had gotten any questions answered, but it seemed that Deirdre cared very little for him. "We have Ash Ketchum here, and we can subdue him if we need him. We have the Alpha Shard. The meteonite has activated thanks to all of our fallen comrades. Now, we will use the blood spilt to harness the power of the sun that rests inside the meteonite, the power of this world itself. Our research has borne fruit. Perhaps many of your lies were just lies, but they held some truth to it: about the meteonite, its connection with this world, and the ability to control its very sense of being! It's very existence! And now that the points are activated, we can complete our final mission!"

    "Like we'd let you!" Ash roared. This time, he didn't aim for Giovanni. He just pointed for the meteonite. Pikachu, recovering from his slight exhaustion, raced forward, jumping for Ash's shoulder. Even knowing that it was fake, he wasn't going to let Giovanni even try. Giovanni, too, began to move, himself reaching for the brightly glowing object. It was a close one…and then the Draco Meteor hit.

    "Oh, Giovanni, so close, but so dumb," Deirdre spoke, her vapid eyes almost twinkling in the shadows of the castle. The meteor broke off, tumbling on to the shields as Pikachu and the leader of Team Rocket were both blown backwards. The man recovered faster than the mouse, looking up at the meteonite. It was flickering, and a crack was appearing down its very center. "Always being used, even before Unova. That's what happens when you lack an actual vision, though. After all, Michael was a shrewd man, able to manipulate even people like you, and he made his points, I suppose. But now, he's gone, and we're making ours. Did you seriously think you could use even a part of the Alpha without the Omega? Did you think the meteonite could so easily be destroyed, without the power comparable to a legendary?"

    Ash's head was swirling. Michael. Alpha. Omega. They were words that somehow sounded so very familiar to him, but he couldn't make sense of how they all connected together. All he could do was watch on in horror as the meteonite, the fake one, shattered to pieces. Giovanni turned, facing Deirdre, yet still with a confident smirk.

    "You switched them…well played," the man chuckled out. Deirdre, in full view now that the light under the castle was starting to shine brightly, began to walk closer. Seamus moved to recover, scrambling on the ground with Zoroark. "But irrelevant. I don't know exactly how you did it, of course, but that's of little consequence now. You've played all your cards. All I need now is to extract the information from you using less pleasurable means."

    "Oh?" Deirdre questioned, raising an eyebrow in amusement. Ash felt a shiver race down his spine as he watched the woman. Serena drew back to him once again, while Giovanni's assistant returned to his own side, fiddling with her glasses as she stared the opposing auburn-haired woman down. "I've played all my cards? How very foolish of you to assume…

    "You say you didn't trust us, yes? You used us? I suppose that's true, especially since we used you, until now, when you and your Team Rocket have become irrelevant. It was a careful game, one played with precision, even knowing we would never be fully trusted. Not the Intelligence. Not the Defense. Not the Explosion. Not even myself, the Leader."

    "The Four Pillars of Team Rocket," Giovanni said, his face smirking, hands nonchalantly back into his pockets. Serena pressed against Ash, feeding her warmth into him, but he couldn't stop the chill settling into his bones. Something was wrong. Something was off. He couldn't figure it out, especially with the murderous intents of the two before him flaring out, keeping everyone from moving. Almost like…it was hiding the one thing they'd overlooked; the one thing that was wrong. Then, Seamus croaked it out.

    "But if those letters spell IDEAL…that's only four. The word 'ideal' has five," the blonde spoke, the light behind his eyes showing his brain's workings. Ash felt his heart pounding in his ears, drowning out all of the sounds around Mount Lanakila except for those directly with him.

    "You're absolutely right, Giovanni, sir, you never trusted the Four Pillars, and who would? We certainly never expected you to," Deirdre spoke. Her face was wide with a grin, as if she took some perverse pleasure in revealing this to her old boss. Giovanni's face began to change, as if some horrific realization was upon him all too late, his hands slightly emerging from their placement in his suit. "But there was always one you implicitly trusted above all others, and over all these years, she played her part but to perfection.

    "Isn't that right, Matori?"

    And before Ash could hear his next heartbeat, his eyes had turned and saw the woman that had dutifully stood by Team Rocket's side for so long remove her glasses with a cold glance at her boss. Then, with a momentary flash of killing intent that exceeded all others there, her Sableye's shadowy claw jutted upward and impaled Giovanni through the chest.


    Author's Note: The big reveal. You know I always have one. Yes, Matori, that assistant of Giovanni's from canon, is the last member of IDEAL. I'll admit, the hints on this one were extremely subtle, to the point that one may try to claim they're nonexistent (twitching fingers, lateness mentioned, glances with Deirdre). But they are there, and she is a part of them. I hope this shocked you.

    As for the rest of the chapter, a bit more is filled in about IDEAL, our main villains, if this chapter's ending isn't obvious enough. They worked for the League but something happened, and given what Deirdre's said, it very much has to do with Michael, because when does it not? However, it may not be the way you all expect. Also, I hope the Giovanni battle was good. I know, this all seems weird because, gasp, a Team Rocket villain story without Team Rocket as the actual villains! Might be a bit…anti-climactic for them, but necessary. I mean, I don't know if this is novel or whatnot, but I simply felt Giovanni was not a compelling enough villain on his own for the Ancienverse; he's too one note to be one. Plus it's all been done before with him. This way, I think makes it unpredictable!

    The battle on Mount Lanakila is reaching a fever pitch with this newest reveal, and you can be sure it's about to get absolutely crazy here! But, until it does, please Review and Dare to Be Silly.

  6. #31
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    Hmm…I feel almost certain of people not caring for this final story given a rather lukewarm reaction last chapter to the big reveal. Well, hopefully the story stepping up its game towards its final phase will garner more reactions from more people! Time for Chapter 16!


    Chapter 16

    An Alpha

    Giovanni's eyes were rolled back for a second, his mouth making noises that Ash didn't think humans were even possible of making whatsoever. His body was twitching in an absolutely horrific sight before them all. Ash's hand was shaking as the Sableye quickly retracted its shadowy claw, and the man fell to the cold ground, almost continually twitching now. His head turned with that last bit of life left in him, gazing up at the sight of his killer. Next to Ash, Serena was breathing heavily, as though visiting a piece of the past through her retinas. He reached out and took her hand while Matori stepped forward. Now that her glasses were removed, Ash could see the cold expression in her eyes. He hadn't mistaken it before: she was a woman utterly devoid of any feeling, replaced with a calculating, murderous presence that exuded from her very air.

    "Ma…tori…" Giovanni coughed out. For a brief second, Ash found himself pitying the man, betrayed by his closest confidant. However, the feeling was all too fleeting, because that cold sensation of dread had returned. His legs were screaming for them to get away, knowing their lives were in danger and wanting to flee at the first chance that he got. However, that dread was soon replaced, flooding with rage. "You…when…?"

    "Me," Matori spoke, her voice as cold as ever, yet sounding different, now. It was harder; more in control and less subservient. "From the beginning."

    "Matori was our Assassin," Deirdre explained. Ash snapped his gaze over to the auburn-haired woman, wearing an all too familiar and sinisterly smug expression upon her face. She seemed to be genuinely happy about what she had revealed, and the anger continued coursing through Ash's veins. He took a step forward, but Serena grabbed to his arm. He looked back, noticing that she was shaking her head.

    "A job I took rather willingly," Matori stated. Sableye seemed to chatter next to her and she patted its head kindly, tossing her old pair of glasses off to the side. Once she had, she reached up and tied her hair back into a small bun. It made her look even more cruel and efficient, all too accentuated the moment she leaned down by Giovanni's face, her old clipboard clattering at his side. She reached down, touching her hand to the man. "I won't deny it was a pleasure serving you, though."

    "But…why…?" Giovanni coughed out. It almost sounded like this sudden and shocking betrayal had forced his mind to completely break down in Ash's ears. "I don't…"

    "Because it was part of the plan. Nothing more. Nothing less," Matori spoke. She seemed to smile softly in the man's direction, but Ash's hairs stood up on end. He shook his head. The woman's smile was empty, lacking all but malice in it. "The Pillars, or rather IDEAL, came to infiltrate you, so abandoned by the League. You took them in, using their skills, all while not trusting them. Then came along the mousy secretary who was diligent, silently working her way up through the ranks until you took notice of her around the time you sent those three idiots to Sinnoh."

    "It was…a plant…" Giovanni coughed again. His hand seemed to be scrabbling for something, like his pokeball, Persian still passed out on the ground. That attempt was short lived as Matori soon placed her foot down upon his hand and held fast with a sneer.

    "It was. Though I had to work far harder than I anticipated to conceal myself from your discerning gaze, especially when it came to my bloodlust. Alastair always said I had a hard time controlling it when my target was in sight. Though, Deirdre believed you were rather dumb, but I always saw a man with intelligence, which meant I needed to be extra careful," the assassin spoke. An explosion went off behind them yet again, and another one to the side sent Infernape and Krookodile leaping back, closer to their intersecting parties. Ash couldn't take his eyes away from what was playing out in front of him. "I cut myself from my comrades, only interacting with them when you requested it of me. It's been difficult, these last few weeks as we prepared for the mission, but now, you're no longer needed. As you would say, you've played your part for us. You're…how should I put it…irrelevant.

    "Goodbye, Giovanni, sir."

    They were Matori's final words to her boss, slipping something out from within her suit, gleaming in the blue light from around the castle. Then she bent over, and with a swift movement, Giovanni had stopped moving entirely, an entirely mundane end to such a frightening figure. Serena's hands flew to her mouth, like she wanted to stop herself from vomiting in that moment. Ash looked to his wife, and could see the horrible memories flashing from behind her eyes. Matori straightened, looking to Deirdre, her cold, killing waves locking most of them in place from unbidden fear.

    "It's good to speak again, Deirdre. Have things gotten better?" the woman asked, stowing away her weapon as her Sableye approached with a mad grin. It was like a contrast to its trainer, who was so cold and efficient, with its leering expression that seemed to betray its bloodlust.

    "They will soon. You did an excellent job, Matori. Without you, I'm not all that sure of how far we would have gotten, if at all," Deirdre said. There was a definite familiarity there. It wasn't an act, or a horrible dream, as Ash had hoped for it to be. These two women were affiliated, the members of IDEAL all revealed at long last. Seamus finally managed to get himself to stand.

    "You…I don't…" he was spluttering out. Merry was at his side, helping him up as though he was wounded. Deirdre looked at him, a small smirk on her face. Ash watched the woman that was the leader of them all, remaining wary of Matori. Her eyes were empty as she stared at Seamus, looking at him as inconsequential, but it seemed so odd, at the same time. However, Ash couldn't put a finger on any of it before the leading woman began speaking.

    "Everything was a plan from the beginning," Deirdre answered. Ash swallowed. He hated it when villains explained their plans, or what happened in the past. It usually meant those listening were expendable in the worst of ways. "We joined Team Rocket. We manipulated them from within. Having knowledge of the organization that could have destroyed them helps. How else do you think Team Rocket managed to remain the sole surviving organization after all these years, even with Michael's untimely machinations? We were helping them, but in reality, pushing them for our own ends."

    "Not that it was hard," Matori commented. The woman was walking forward again, moving to remove her suitcoat, showing a combat suit ready underneath. "Once I was in Giovanni's confidence, subtly leading things in the direction needed wasn't difficult. I sent the agents out, suggested a return to Unova after Operation Tempest, and trips to both Kalos and Alola. At the time, I was trying to sniff out ARC, wondering if they were a threat, and until the plan began, they weren't."

    "But in reality, we were finding the points," Deirdre pointed out. Seamus was now fully standing, snarling at the woman as her Altaria floated down to her level. She took no notice of it as Matori stopped, her cold eyes leveled straight at Ash. "Then Ancien City happened, and we knew Michael was behind that little debacle."

    "You knew Michael?" Serena spat out. Her question went unanswered in favor of the continued explanation.

    "That was the tipoff at long last, even if he didn't know it. We'd found our points, but had to spend years verifying them in secret. Louise's technology was helpful for that. Over time, IDEAL discovered so many ancient things, and our own plan was set. Then we simply used Team Rocket to enact the plan; easy enough once a glorious new world was promised to them!" Deirdre seemed to cackle at the end, continuing to take that perverse pleasure in it all. In fact, she soon seemed to laugh raucously, finding the whole thing amusing, the sound echoing across the mountaintop. "Ahahahahahaha!"

    Ash snapped.

    "You think it's funny? You want to laugh?" he said, his voice low, but trembling across the mountainside. "You're all just alike…Michael, Lusamine, Giovanni…using people and Pokémon like they're things; tossing them aside like garbage, and for what? !"

    Deirdre blinked, looking down to Ash. Her amused expression of enjoyment was gone, now replaced with the cold efficiency that made IDEAL work so well. Matori came closer to her, standing like a guardian of some sort. "A perfect world."

    Perfection…Alastair's words returned to Ash, and he forced himself to steady his shaking breath. Deirdre had so easily said it, like it didn't matter one whit. Ash stepped forward again. "There's no such thing."

    "So, let's make one," the woman said. Seamus shuffled over, supported by Zoroark as he stood tall next to Ash and Serena. Deirdre raised a hand to the sky, as if grasping for something. "Let's take the best of everything and toss out the bad. Start over. No more sacrifice. No more destruction…no more grief, or pain. Wouldn't you like that?"

    "No, we wouldn't!" Ash, Serena and Seamus yelled simultaneously. Deirdre blinked again, and her coy smiled returned yet once more. She seemed to like hearing that kind of answer, in its own way.

    "Of course not," she breathed, but her hand never dropped. It remained suspended there for a moment, and then there was a loud cry. Altaria shot upwards, wreathed in a golden flame, like a beacon of sorts. "To be honest, once upon a time, neither would we…but things change…or rather, the world remains ever unchanging. So, why not make an ideal one?"

    "Yeah, and how to you expect to do that?" Ash demanded, stepping forward with his fist thrown up. Pikachu sparked as well, sharing his feelings with his trainer. "Because from here, there's a lot of blood you'll have to wash away before your perfect world is ever clean!"

    There was silence following his statement, even the explosions having ceased across the battlefield. Deirdre's eyes sank for a moment, a brief expression of sadness flitting across her face. However, when she looked up, it had completely vanished. "I think that's enough of a lesson for today."

    "Yeah? Pretty crappy one. I wouldn't hire you as a teacher," Seamus snapped at her. She didn't seem to take offense to that whatsoever. Ash's body tensed, and he could tell that Matori was doing the same, gearing up for a fight. "In fact, I think your lesson sucks. You're the one that needs to be schooled! Night Daze!"

    "Pikachu, Thunderbolt!" Ash yelled alongside his friend. Both Pikachu and Zoroark struck into action, one sending a bolt of lightning out for Deirdre, while the other sent a sickening wave of darkness pulsing out from her body. Matori moved, Sableye with her, traveling beneath the ground and popping up. The assassin clasped the blade she held in her pocket, holding to a keystone, and Sableye transformed. Its jewel grew large, enough so as to block the incoming attacks, protecting Deirdre from the strike that had been incoming towards her. "Infernape, Krookodile, Dig!"

    "I don't think so! Eruption!" The cry came so quickly, that Ash didn't have time to cancel the order. Both Infernape and Krookodile dove underground, only for a turret of flame to erupt from beneath it, tossing them both in the air. Something was flying towards them from the air, and it wasn't a drone. Acting quickly, Ash returned the two, in time for two people to drop from the sky and do a combat roll for an upright position.

    "Toll…" Ash breathed out. Next to him, Serena was breathing out the last, known name.

    "Louise…" The two operatives of IDEAL straightened up, standing side by side with their leader. Now, Ash understood: Altaria's golden body had been a sign for them all to gather, and that still meant…

    "Ash, duck if you don't want to die!" he heard Kahili yell loudly. He knew better than to think it was an over-exaggeration on her part, and he acted in seconds. His hands grabbed hold of Serena and Seamus, dragging them to the ground. In the brightening sky, a large shadow passed overhead, spiraling through the air and slamming into the castle, bricks crumbling off the structure. The sound of quickly crunching footsteps was heard, and Ash looked back to see that Kahili and Guzma had both joined them. Swiveling his view, he saw that Aerodactyl had hit the castle, but had already recovered. More stones fell away, revealing the blue stones beneath.

    "Alastair, it's not like you to be hit so easily, considering all things," Deirdre commented. There was a slight swooshing noise, and as Ash pulled himself up yet again, he saw Alastair returning to Deirdre's side, bowing a little to her.

    "I was attempting to not shed her blood," the clear second-in-command said. For that, she almost seemed to give him a rather grateful smile. "As far as I was aware, keeping people alive for the new world was wanted, within reason."

    "You seem to have no problem with killing, though," Serena yelled out. Sylveon seemed to cry out angrily as well, while Alastair turned to be directly facing them.

    "So, this is IDEAL…" Ash noted. Kahili and Guzma had finished approaching, their prize Pokémon alongside them, with nasty scowls on both of their faces. As for Ash, he found himself looking straight at the entire opposing group, five strong and standing tall. Each one had their Pokémon in front of them, all but Altaria and Aerodactyl Mega Evolved. At first glance, they seemed almost like a family, each sharing the same goal for the same exact reasons as one another.

    But Ash knew better: they were twisted, and they weren't here for any benevolent purpose. No true family would do that. Deirdre stepped forward.

    "So, are we ready then, Ash? Because this is what's come to. A war for which world is better: our perfection, or yours which is flawed," Deirdre said proudly, arms stretching out for all of a second. Ash stepped forward, himself, the others flanking him in the same manner as the rest of IDEAL did for Deirdre.

    "We already know which one we'd choose. So stand down, or we'll make you!" Ash ordered. The woman's eyes flashed, like that was exactly what she expected to be answered. Toll and Louise chuckled to themselves, while Alastair and Matori remained as stoic as ever. "One last time! We've pushed our way through everything too many times to let you take that future from us, even if you think it's the best one there is."

    "Just what we hoped you'd say. Well, guys, it's all out in the open now, I guess. Time for the final phase. Activate the final point. Do we have it confirmed, Alastair?" the auburn-haired woman asked sharply. Alastair dug into the pockets of his trench coat and now pulled out the brightly shining meteonite, glowing with the same brilliancy as the last, though it appeared less so in the brightening sky.

    "It would seem it's finally about to activate. Guess it's time to complete the final mission we set for ourselves as members of Team Rocket," Alastair said, tossing the object into the air. Matori also reached out, holding the Alpha Shard before tossing it over to the man. He caught it, and stowed it away without it ever touching the meteonite.

    "Good riddance, I say," Toll commented. "That scum had absolutely no problem with their deplorable actions. I'll be glad to finally get rid of them."

    "Now, now, Toll, their technology base was quite helpful," Louise corrected him. He huffed, but seemed to smile, accepting the woman's observation. Ash and the others all tensed further, knowing that the second they stopped talking, everything would explode further. Other noises were heard behind them, spelling out to Ash that the forces on their side were marshalling. "Without it, I never would have perfected the synchronization system or found the ore needed to imitate the meteonite and trick them."

    "You have a point, as usual, Louise. It's what makes you the Intelligence," Toll chuckled out one more time. His Camerupt puffed smoke out from its nostrils, and Ash could feel the countdown ticking on, about to finally reach zero. There was a breath sucked in.

    Their forces against IDEAL.

    Five on five.

    Flaws versus perfection.

    Ash moved his foot once more, and looked to Pikachu, his partner moving his own tiny feet just a little to prove that he was ready. There was one more bated breath; the calm before the storm. Then the snow above Mount Lanakila broke.

    "Quick Attack!" Ash ordered, plunging his hand forward. He wasn't the only one to give a command, but everything was lost in the chaos of screaming forces. Pikachu ran forward, becoming little more than a streaking ball of white light, aiming straight for Altaria. Serena aimed right for Matori, Sylveon flicking her golden stars out to obscure the Darkness Pokémon's vision. Up above, Toucannon shot straight for Aerodactyl with a burning beak, the two flying types colliding in midair. Meanwhile, Golisopod and Zoroark aimed for Beedrill and Camerupt respectively.

    Their war was beginning, just as Pikachu slammed into Altaria and let loose a Thunderbolt. It was the spark that sent the end in motion.

    "Let's go!" Ash called. Leaving his allies to handle fighting the other members of IDEAL, Ash kicked against the snow and ran right for Deirdre. Altaria descended, colored with that bright golden flame again, and aimed straight for him. Pikachu wasn't letting that happen. "Iron Tail!"

    "Chuuuu pika!" Pikachu cried, snapping his tail straight up, and beating right into Altaria's neck. Its trajectory altered, Altaria went wheeling off. Ash reached Deirdre, punching at her. She cocked her head to the side, dodging it completely. Failing that, Ash aimed his other fist right at her, but she dodged that, as well. Then her leg came whipping around. It moved so fast that Ash didn't even feel the physical strike, itself, but it hardly mattered, as the moment it was close enough, the force from her kick flew out and he was pushed backwards, coughing a bit from it.

    "That hurt…" he commented under his breath. Ash straightened up, looking at Deirdre, who continued to wear her taunting smirk, urging him to battle further with her. A Flash Cannon fired out, impacting with a spot that Sableye had been just moments before, the Pokémon cackling a bit. Loud footsteps indicated Deirdre was coming for him once again.

    "Hah!" she called as she now punched like a prize fighter. Ash barely avoided the blow, but even from that, her fist carried such force that he felt it graze his cheek a little, and he leapt back. Altaria was firing a Dragon Pulse right out for Pikachu, who rolled to the side to dodge it.

    "Electro Ball!" Ash called. As he did so, he looked to the sky, trying to catch a sight of Latias, but she wasn't there. He turned back and saw her with Hau and Lillie, slamming through some of the Team Rocket operatives that had yet to realize their boss was dead. If he took a moment to squint, he felt he could also see Kiawe atop a Charizard, aiding the young Kahuna in mowing them down after having clearly arrived late to the battle. Deirdre was on the attack again, kicking out now. Ash swung his own leg outward, aiming to block hers, but she broke off, pivoting and slamming her other leg out. That quick force of the attack sent him stumbling to the side, as Pikachu sent his crackling ball of electricity for Altaria, who angled her wings to avoid it. Ash whipped around to face Deirdre. "I can see how you guys were ace operatives for the League."

    "Why thank you," Deirdre commented, though it was obvious she cared little for the compliment. Golisopod was meeting with Beedrill in a head on collision while Zoroark brought a Shadow Claw slamming upon Camerupt. "We've trained our bodies to be weapons of destruction, really, capable of things most would only dream of. Although, you're not too bad either."

    "But I still don't get it! You were working to make a better world, but you threw it all away for this stuff. Why?" Ash demanded of her. The woman's eyes went blank a second before sparkling, taunting him. "Is it because of your son? Because of Travis? Or your husband?"

    "Those two…I threw them away long ago. I told your wife as much," Deirdre responded. She held up a finger, wagging it, like she was remonstrating him for asking such a question. "I no longer feel anything for that piece of trash. Even if he was still alive, he'd be utterly useless. A parasite, feeding on the world, just like Team Rocket. He was the total proof of what Michael believed about this world, and if he were around, I'd see it as my mother's duty to end his life."

    "What is wrong with you people? !" Ash demanded, fist clenching, the sight of his once-loving and living father flashing through his eyes. He rushed at her again, this time kicking for her legs. She leapt upwards, avoiding the swipe entirely before twisting her legs around in a spiraling kick whose rapid force sent Ash reeling backwards. He landed against someone who had also seemed to have been forced back in that interim.

    "You okay, kid?" Guzma's voice asked with a groan. Ash held a thumbs up for the man, pushing himself up before helping him up. He faced back towards Deirdre, but Guzma was right with him, scowling with fury in his every twitching muscle. "You know, ya gotta be some sick freak to talk about killin' yer kid like that…"

    "Travis was never a child. He was a monster, through and through. One of the things wrong with this world, really," Deirdre answered with a shrug. Guzma stepped forward, his body radiating with rage. Ash could understand; his own past with family, both blood and bond, gave him more reason than most to hate someone who would toss that away.

    "Yer gonna regret those words! Golisopod, Razor Shell!"

    "Pikachu, Iron Tail!" Ash yelled out in tandem. Pikachu changed direction, aiming for Altaria again, while Golisopod ran right for Deirdre, slicing down with his watery blade. The woman dodged, and again kicked out. Golisopod shuddered from the force, skidding back a few inches. Guzma seemed surprised by that.

    "Ooh, you're a bulky one. That kind of strike usually does a little more…but I guess that's what happens when it's held back," Deirdre commented. Ash crinkled his brow at the comment, but then decided to press his advantage. Breaking away from Guzma, Ash made a sharp circle around, aiming for the auburn-haired woman's back this time. Once he got within range, he swung his leg out…only to find it frozen, a bright orange light flashing out while Deirdre turned.

    "Can't…move…Pikachu…?" Ash called out, but he soon saw that Pikachu was in the same position, dropping to the ground, like he was glued upon it. Deirdre turned. "What did you do to me?"

    "It's a secret," she said, holding a finger to her lips, shushing him. Ash wriggled, trying to break free, but found he truly couldn't. His eyes took to scanning Deirdre's appearance, trying to see if it was some new technology she had pulled out, but the woman's smile was, as ever, infuriatingly inscrutable. "Let's just say, sometimes you can unearth many ancient things in the search for a better world. Surely ARC knew all that."

    "Is that why you killed Lionel? Is that why you destroyed them? !" Ash demanded. Guzma was no longer engaging Deirdre, with Louise's Beedrill honing in on him. The mint green-haired woman seemed to be playing around on a remote control nonchalantly. Ash struggled again, wondering if her actions were what was causing it, but nothing in the surroundings provided a definitive answer.

    "Yes. It. Was," Deirdre admitted. "If ARC was still on the playing field, they would have figured out the plan too quickly, especially tricking Team Rocket with the fake meteonite. We couldn't have that. Too much planning and precision in order to ensure the exact events that happened would happen was needed, especially once we had aligned everything perfectly. And once we had made sure it, and it alone, would be called, we couldn't have ARC alter the playing field."

    "It?" Ash asked, but his question wasn't being answered. Deirdre merely replied with a rather enigmatic statement.

    "The beginning, the ending, and one the rests over the Omega and Alpha both, rather than just one," Deirdre said. "Call it forth with death. Call it forth with pulsing life. Call it forth with those who have seen its light!" With her words spoken, Deirdre kicked out, aiming right for Ash's frozen chest, moving closer every single second.

    "Altaaaa!" Altaria cried, and Deirdre broke off her attack. It became quickly obvious as to why, with the sound of yet another helicopter filling the air. Ash, able to move his head, looked up to see a figure dropping down, a Pokémon emerging from his pokeball as he fell. Deirdre recognized him instantly, spitting to the ground, even if there was no spit.

    "Nanu!" she barked, and then the Kahuna had dropped. The second he dropped to the ground, a grin was being borne on his face. Wordlessly, he struck forward, showing more dexterity than Ash thought the older man was capable of. So, too, did his Persian. Altaria shot right off for the Classy Cat, glowing golden, but Persian intercepted, grabbing hold of the fluffy wings and tossing it to the ground. Nanu reached Deirdre with a grin, punching forward. The woman dodged it, only needing to move quicker with a duck to avoid the next attack. Nanu's leg soared out, and she spun away, narrowly avoiding it. "I should have known you'd come here once we targeted Lanakila. It's the reason we did this last."
    *Chapter to be continued in the next post...

  7. #32
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    Chapter continued from last post.

    "You always were shrewd, Deirdre," Nanu commented with a chuckle, straightening up. Ash felt his body slacken suddenly, sending him to his knees. Pikachu did the same, having a more violent reaction due to the attack he'd been released from. The raven-haired trainer looked upward, noticing that Lance appeared to be rappelling down from the helicopter while the battle raged around them. Serena and Steven seemed to have joined up against Matori, who was using the shadows to her advantage. "But I came here for only two reasons."

    "You always do," Deirdre noted, smiling a bit in his direction. Ash pushed up, looking to Pikachu in order to make sure he was okay. Once he had, he glanced to the woman, her smile empty and taunting. "Mind if I ask what they are?"

    "Just a wonder, but why did you fake your deaths?" Nanu asked. He was now shoving his hands in his pockets. Even with the sounds of battle raging, the man didn't seem to be interested in anything other than talking. Lance finally hit the ground, his Dragonite emerging as he came over towards Ash. "I always wanted to know what happened the day you disappeared."

    "Maybe we just didn't like working for the League anymore," Deirdre said, tossing her arms up like she was sighing. Nanu chuckled, a grin splitting his face as he did so.

    "Nah…you're too altruistic for that," he stated. His hands were slowly being removed from his pockets, Ash realized, showing he was about to get ready to fight once again. "It must have been something personal for IDEAL…you're so transparent."

    "Shut it," Deirdre's voice snapped angrily. Ash blinked, the coldness in the woman's words surprising him. "You were always annoying, Nanu. Now, get your second reason out of the way, you pest."

    "I just came here to kick your ***," he answered, shrugging his shoulders. Like a snap of the fingers, Nanu's hands came out of his pockets entirely and he dashed forward, aiming right for Deirdre, his grin growing wider. "Nothing better than a good fight, eh?"

    "Nanu!" Lance yelled from his placement, now next to Ash. Nanu wasn't listening, however. His arm swung out in a haymaker, aiming straight for Deirdre, who pivoted to avoid the blow. Her own leg swept out, causing Nanu to jump back, though the residual force clearly hit his chest. Not that it stopped his grin, and Ash could only derive that he was used to this kind of fight from Deirdre, in some way. "That man's insane…"

    "If he's insane, I don't want to imagine what IDEAL is like, then," Ash commented. Lance nodded, turning towards the recovering Altaria, with Persian staring it down carefully, the Alolan form almost licking its lips menacingly. Lance reached out, as though to clasp Ash's shoulder, but decided against it.

    "Well, whatever their insanity is here, we're going to stop it, then," the Champion said. Ash nodded, slamming his fist into his palm as Nanu made for another punch. Once more, Deirdre twisted away from the blow.

    "Well, those are some fancy moves you've picked up, huh? Learned some new tricks to hit foes while barely touching them, I see," Nanu commented with a smirking grin. Persian leapt upwards for Altaria, sending a scorching Dark Pulse at the Humming Pokémon, who altered its wings to dodge the attack. "Not the same, rough, almost scrappy style you used to use, even if the level of force is the same…well, increased, I guess, from your ability to hit me so hard and fast while barely making contact. Surely you remember those days, right? We'd have it out for training when it suited us. The fancy stuff was almost always left to Alastair and Matori…or whatever her name was back then; always changed, just like her face."

    "People change, Nanu," Deirdre commented, but she wasn't taunting or humored. Her tone had turned cold, as though she no longer wanted to play around anymore. "We are not the same IDEAL we were when we worked for a system so broken as the League."

    "But the League has changed!" Lance shouted out to her. She seemed to barely acknowledge his existence. Ash tensed his body, readying himself to join back in the fight, with Pikachu bristling next to him. "Look around you! Former members of Team Skull, fighting alongside the League. You've said that people change, but it can be for the better."

    "Except change is also impermanence," Deirdre remarked. A blast exploded overhead, rocks and seeds raining down from a clash between Toucannon and Aerodactyl. "The League can change. The world can change. But at its core, it is broken. Nothing can fix that."

    "Neither can you!" Ash cried. He dashed right for her, while Pikachu slipped to the side, his tail glowing white as he did so. However, the woman's focus was entirely on Ash as he ran for her. Nanu slipped back, watching the whole thing, clearly trying to discern her methods and motives. "But who cares?"

    "Clearly, we do," Deirdre spoke. Ash punched at her, but she moved out of the way. Pikachu shot up from behind her, his tail in a prime attacking position. "From what I know, Dalton tried to reset things, but it would have only been a stopgap. We're looking for something more permanent, more perfect."

    "More ideal?" Ash asked. His eyes looked up, locking with Pikachu, already spinning downwards. "World's plenty good as it is. It's people like you that are the problem. Now!"

    "Pika!" Pikachu swung down, his glowing tail aiming right for Deirdre, herself, attempting to put her out of commission. She seemed to realize this, sliding away as Pikachu seemed to clip her shoulder. Her footsteps stumbled, and her lips changed into a scowl. It was the first time she seemed to have little control over her expression, reaching up clasp her shoulder, as if hiding the wound. Pikachu dropped to the ground. "Pika? !"

    "We were so close…" Ash gritted out, clenching his fist. Lance and Nanu came near him, Dragonite banging its fists together. Deirdre continued clutching to her shoulder, before she tipped her head backwards.

    "Tolbert! Louise! Activate the KB Protocol on Mount Lanakila!" Deirdre shouted angrily. Ash's eyes narrowed. He didn't know what that meant, but it clearly wasn't good. Lance confirmed it seconds later.

    "The Kill Box? ! Are you mad, Deirdre?" Lance demanded, swinging his arm out. Dragonite took it as orders to move forward, sailing forward as its body glowed a bright red. Ash took that chance and also rushed the woman. Deirdre snapped her look down, the scowl twisting her face, taking on the appearance of someone who cared little for the targets before her.

    "Mad? No, I'm not," she answered evenly. There was a sharp cry, and Altaria shot upwards, avoiding Persian's grasp and moving right for its trainer. The Humming Pokémon descended, holding for Deirdre to climb aboard, the Flying type not wavering in the slightest from its trainer stepping upon it, the shadows dancing under their figures from the glowing blue light. "I'm enraged."

    "Go, Dragonite!" Lance called. Dragonite swooped in, its fist crackling with the power of thunder. The Dragon type aimed right for Altaria, nearly there, when it was forced to a stop. Yet again, Ash found himself frozen, as well.

    This time, however, he wasn't alone. Everyone on their side suddenly froze as the snow cleared away, the sun shining brightly in a brilliant sunrise that crested over the peaks of Mount Lanakila. Pokémon stopped their attacks. Humans stopped their movements. Even those Team Rocket operatives that had not been knocked out were stuck in place.

    "Yo! What's goin' on here?" Guzma shouted out, but Ash couldn't explain it. Alastair came over by Deirdre, his Aerodactyl returning to flap silently by his side, as though it would ferry each and every one of them.

    "Deirdre, this is too far," the man commented to his comrade. Ash scrunched his face. "Anymore, and…"

    "I know. I always appreciate your care, Alastair, but we planned this far ahead. Even if some things were unanticipated." Ash continued to strain, watching helplessly as IDEAL marshalled their forces once more, Matori and Sableye joining with Alastair and Deirdre. However, while they joined, Toll and Louise seemed to be acting.

    With a press of a button, Ash could only watch in horror while a fleet of drones rose upwards. Some had Pokémon attached to them, local wildlife, made to put out a Protect. They swirled in the air before shooting off for the edges of the mountain, like they were making a box that would prevent any escape. One by one, like an unending army, they began to stack, as if trying to create a dome that would seal them in. Along with them was Camerupt, slamming forward with every footstep to reach what Ash presumed was the center of the summit.

    "Deirdre, Alastair is right. It's enough. You won't hold out much longer," Matori said, stepping in front of her leader as a protector. "Go. Toll and Louise have this already settled. The Alpha should be reacting soon, once we've secured this place. It's time to prepare for the final phase, and you'll need your strength."

    "Please, Deirdre," Louise called out, still controlling the drones with every micro movement of her control panel. Even Toll looked back and grinned at their leader.

    "We've got it taken care of, boss," he called back. Ash strained, and finally felt his muscles helping him to move forward. Whether it was because the effect was weaker than before or because of the sheer number of them trapped there, Ash couldn't say, but he was finally starting to pull forward, one inch at a time. However, what made him nearly falter was the look of affection on all of IDEAL's faces. It was different, he noted, from DARC's tenuous agreements, Team Neo's different reasons, the Draconid's "follow-the-leader" mentality, and especially Lusamine's view of all others as tools. Deirdre looked to them all with a sad smile.

    "Thank you, friends. You know what must be done," she spoke. Then Altaria began lifting upwards, right for the sky, where the dome that was now enclosing Mount Lanakila had yet to be fully covered up. There was a brief second of straining, and then all their bodies broke free. Ash, knowing it was coming, instantly began running forward.

    "Latias!" he screamed out, not waiting for anyone else. He looked back, locking eyes with Serena, who had fallen to the ground. She pushed up, staring at him, and then nodded. "Serena, get the others out! Everyone you can!"

    "I'm on it!" she shouted confidently. "Lillie, Hau, Champion Steven and Lance!"

    "Kuu!" Latias cried out, now zipping across the summit's surface, coming right for Ash once she was freed. Above, Deirdre still seemed to be fleeing atop Altaria. Meanwhile, Alastair and Matori drew close to one another, Sableye chittering excitedly as shadows consumed their group. Ash didn't bother with them, and nor did the others. Aerodactyl reached Louise and Toll, allowing the two to get out of reach from those on the ground, the man grabbing for the still suspended meteonite.

    Latias finally reached Ash, and he jumped upwards, landing perfectly on her back while Pikachu joined him, hanging tightly. The Eon Pokémon angled upwards and then shot off for the slowly closing dome. Whether his allies would try to take out the rest of IDEAL or not, Ash didn't know, but he figured they'd think the same as him: it was a waste of time when they could spend it saving civilians. Latias pushed faster.

    The wind stream beat against Ash, gripping tightly to Latias as he chased after Deirdre in the sky. He wasn't too worried about catching up to her, not with Latias' speed, and he didn't think any of those below would be able to catch him either. In less than a minute, he was already bearing down upon the woman, flapping over the skies of Ula'ula. "Psyshock!"

    "Kuu!" Latias called, her small claws shining with a bright purple that then fired out for Altaria. Deirdre turned her gaze back, and Altaria turned to the side, but not enough to knock its trainer off. They weaved through the colliding and coalescing purple beams that impacted and exploded around them. Once they'd escaped the Psyshock's grasp, Altaria faced straight forward, a purple glow at its beak.

    "Dragon Breath!" Latias pulled back a bit, now opening her own mouth and sending a green flame roaring out. The purple dragon met with the flames and exploded powerfully in midair, nearly sending Ash off of his ride. Deirdre remained unfettered. "It's over! We won't let you hurt anyone else!"

    "I'm not asking permission, Ash," Deirdre spoke. For a woman who was stated to "not have much time" she seemed perfectly fine as she regarded him. Ash moved to sit up straighter upon Latias. "This has long been decided, since long before you or I was involved."

    "I don't believe that!" Ash insisted. Altaria and Latias faced down, each ready to act on any orders that were needed. "Fate, destiny, predetermined stuff…I don't believe in any of it! The world is what we make it!"

    "Of course," Deirdre spoke. Her eyes were empty as she did so, though, and yet, Ash could tell there was resignation there, as well as a conviction: perhaps it wasn't the cleanest path, but it was what they had chosen and what they had wanted. That, Ash felt, was what made them the most dangerous out of all. "We have a chance to fix things, but before long this world will kill itself. What is it you always say? Never give up until the end?

    "What if it is the end?"

    "Then we push harder!" Ash challenged her. She shook her head.

    "No. We're past that point. He pushed it that far, to the point of breaking. He wanted to prove it, after all: this world doesn't deserve to live. Maybe he had a point, but I don't believe that," Deirdre spoke. Once more, the contradiction of herself arose. "I believe we can live again, by returning from the end to the beginning. The Omega and the Alpha. Together. There's just one piece of the puzzle remains."

    "Is that what you needed me for? Or was that a lie you told Giovanni, too?" Ash demanded. He could feel the pressure about to break and bubble over. Deirdre smiled yet one more time, still looking as sad as before.

    "Let us meet there, Ash. Past, present, future. The end. The beginning of a new world. Let the golden rainbow flame wash over this world. We will meet there…and bring this game to an end at long last."

    "This isn't a game, Deirdre! This is our world! Mist Ball!" Ash ordered. Latias once more acted, the large orb of pulsing mist forming near her mouth. She fired, and Altaria acted as well, the orange glow coalescing through her entire body and then firing upwards. It split apart into numerous meteors that cascaded downwards, raining atop the mountaintop. Latias moved, avoiding them.

    "Let us meet…meet where our history truly began. Where the world began to die those thousands of years ago, and bring closure at last, Ash. I'm looking forward to meeting you." Altaria began to back up amidst the haze of the Draco Meteor, vanishing into the sky beyond. Latias still flitted around the sky, attempting to keep her gaze on their retreating opponent, until the final meteor struck her back and caused her to cry out.

    "Latias, are you all right?" Ash called out. She nodded, but seemed to have suffered from the strike. Ash frowned, looking at where Deirdre had vanished on the horizon, causing him to sigh out. Knowing he wouldn't be able to catch her in Latias' injured state, he decided to put his mind towards below, where the others were running, the shield that would enclose them slowly closing. Ash patted the faithful legendary with him. "It's okay. Let's help the others!"

    "Kuu…" Latias whimpered out. She definitely sounded pained and apologetic, but he just continued to pat her kindly. She got the message, turning back for the surface of Mount Lanakila and shooting down, though it was definitely slower than before. He placed a hand to her, urging her onward in the hopes of her safety despite the wound. Pikachu gripped tighter to Ash's clothing as they descended swiftly, through the gap in the shield (which looked to be about three-quarters closed). The farther they went, the more Ash got a glimpse of just what was going on atop the summit.

    IDEAL seemed to be gone, or at least out of reach. Perhaps it had happened while he was chasing after Deirdre, but there seemed to be no sign of Alastair, Matori, Louise or Toll anywhere. However, what he was able to see were the massing allies of his, running around in clumps of people.

    "Pikapi! Pipika! Pipi!" Pikachu pointed out, his little fingers extending forward. While he knew his best partner was pointing out Serena and Lillie below, his eyes were failing to locate them. Latias had almost approached the ground, and he finally heard the voice of his wife calling out.

    "Everyone, get to the Aether jets!" Serena was calling, helping Ash to locate her, standing alongside Lillie.

    "Professor Burnet, please hurry up!" the younger woman cried. Burnet seemed to be bent down by the castle, as though taking some final readings. Ash snapped his gaze between the two when Lillie appeared to have finally caught sight of him. "Ash! Please, get the professor! We're nearly boarded here!"

    "Gary, hurry up!" called Steven's voice, hand placed on a helicopter of his own. Ash turned once again for a minute to see his brunet friend running from the nearly bombed out Pokémon Center, clutching to a laptop and a few other research items for where Steven was. Nanu and Lance already seemed to be aboard that particular ship.

    "Latias, we need to get Professor Burnet, okay?" Ash told her. She nodded, clearly feeling fatigue. "Just a little more and I promise that we'll get Brock to look at you, okay?"

    "Ku…" she mewled out, sounding exhausted from all of the day's work. With Ash's words, she urged herself forward, flying over to the castle and the form of Professor Burnet. The professor heard his approach and looked up.

    "Time to go!" Ash called out. The woman turned away for a second, looking to finish compiling her data. Ash looked up. There was only the topmost part of the dome left to be covered, numerous Snorunt and Sneasel being controlled by the drones, erecting their Protects. Ash wondered if, perhaps, they could just break through the shield. "Professor!"

    "I got it! I got it!" Burnet cried, saving her work and snapping her laptop shut to board Latias. The sound of helicopter rotors beat at the air, as did the engines on the Aether jets. Ash cast his gaze that way, seeing Hau helping Seamus aboard while Lillie and Serena jumped on afterwards. From next to the jet, Kiawe was taking off with some citizens, offering a nod to Ash, though he focused on the words of the professor behind him. "Take us away!"

    "Latias, one last push! For the top!" Latias cried out at Ash's command, turning back up to the closing shield. The jets and helicopters were aiming upwards, for the same exact spot as Latias. From aboard the helicopter, Dragonite was firing a Hyper Beam while Metagross let loose a Flash Cannon towards the still open spot. It broke some of the drones, sending them down to the ground. Ash quickly looked to the mountaintop, seeing that all of their forces were cleared out…though the Rocket operatives were still left behind, including Giovanni's fallen body. Ash clenched; they were horrible people, but for it to happen this way…

    "Sorry, I just needed to finish my research in connection to the world's veins," Burnet called in his ear as Latias shot upwards. More drones were refilling the spaces that Dragonite and Metagross had broken. It wouldn't be enough. "I have an idea of what's going on, I think, but I'll compare notes with Gary back at the Hub."

    "Great! Let's get there first…" Ash called out. The drones were very quickly closing in, filling in their final gaps before either the helicopter or the jet could get there. Down below, there was a rumbling and a palpable feeling of dread that filled the air. Camerupt was glowing brightly, protected for a moment by some whirling drones, prepared to take the entire mountain down as the Rocket operatives scrambled. Ash bit at his lip and reached into his bag to pull out the flute. "Latias! Mega Evolve! Mist Ball!"

    "KUUUUUUUU!" Latias cried, her entire body glowing. Ash and Burnet hung on tightly as they continued straight up for the center of the dome. They were running out of time, and Ash knew all too well the destructive force of Toll's Camerupt. After a moment, the glow faded, giving Latias her Mega Evolved form, a giant Mist Ball forming. Then she fired right upwards. It slammed against the completed and interlocked dome, straining against it. Ash grit his teeth, wondering if it would break through or leave them all trapped. Then it exploded through, giving them their gap.

    "GO NOW!" Ash screamed in the direction of the others. Latias, having an extra bit of speed on her side, pushed for the gap with the others. Just like before, it was filling back in, leaving little room for escape. Lance's helicopter broke out right alongside Kiawe's Charizard, and his Dragonite moved in with a Dragon Rush to break away more of the opening for them to get through, even if it was a temporary measure. The jet began slipping through, nearly out of there when the shield threatened to cut off its tail. "Psyshock! Pikachu, hit it with Thunderbolt! Hold on, professor!"

    "Chuuuuuu!" Pikachu called, sending his volt of electricity for that area, just as Latias sent her Psyshock soaring outwards. They blasted into the shield, holding it off for all of a second to allow the Aether jet to slip through. That done, Latias blasted forward, aiming for the hole that was rapidly closing, Burnet gripped to him tighter; he held his breath. There was a moment of silence…then he broke through, Latias whipping around in the air in time to see the dome close.

    "We made it…" he breathed, looking over to the Aether jet, where Guzma appeared to have collapsed in relief alongside Hau. Latias pulled alongside the ship, and Ash reached out, taking Serena's hand as they could do nothing but watch, slowly putting distance between themselves and Lanakila.

    A bright light formed inside of the shield, obscuring all from vision inside the dome. It grew and grew and eventually burst. Like a column of exploding flame, it ripped apart the mountainside. The shield broke, scattering the Pokémon all over the place, and Ash could feel their pain, a twinging in his heart. The flames and smoke peppered the mountainside, making it impossible to see anything below from the inferno, including the now charred forms of all the Team Rocket operatives that had been there; not even Camerupt seemed to remain.

    It had been an out and out massacre: the blazing end of Team Rocket. Naught remained but complete and total destruction.

    Latias pulled away, mewling in pain and sadness, as if remembering all her fallen comrades from years past. Ash patted at her while she turned, following the jet and helicopter to their Hub. Before she truly took off, her Mega Evolved form fading away, his hand slipping from Serena's, Ash looked back at the smoking remains of Mount Lanakila's summit. His heart wept, and yet, as he saw the rainbow formed by the snow and the rising sun, hearing the sharp and shrill cry on the air, he knew there was still hope.

    They had one more chance. Flaws versus imperfection. The real world versus a new one. Ash felt he was finally close to understanding IDEAL and Deidre. That would just be decided when next they met. I'm looking forward to meeting you.

    "So am I, Deirdre. Let's end this." Then he took off with the others, only looking back once more to see the golden flame that hovered above the mountain for but a second. The final tipping point was at last calling to them. Their final battle was nearly here.


    Author's Note: So, the war with Team Rocket is over, but the war with IDEAL is just beginning. The final battle is soon, however, and I hope this shed a bit of light as to all their intentions. How and why what is about to happen is about to happen will definitely be discussed soon, but for now, I hope this action was immensely pleasing and intense for all of you. The best is yet to come!

    We're about to get very intense, so hold on to your seats as the Ancienverse heads for its explosive ending. Until next we meet, please Review and Dare to Be Silly.

  8. #33
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    Fanfiction is having problems (thankfully not here), so hopefully this is all okay for you and you can read and review it. Oh well, get ready to clear up most of what remains. Let's read Chapter 17!


    Chapter 17

    A Return

    The trip to the Hub was a solemn one, marked by a tremendous silence across the ocean waters, far away from Alola. The only thing to break up that silence (other than the droning noise of the jet engines) was Burnet clacking away on her keyboard once she had safely been delivered to the Aether jet, needing a more stable surface to work upon. Whatever she'd found, though, she certainly didn't share it. Ash didn't say anything, either. He just kept mulling over the events from Mount Lanakila, Pikachu falling asleep in his lap while he did so.

    Even Serena was silent, though that was probably because she'd fallen asleep aboard the jet. Ash remarked in his head that she had seemed rather exhausted from all the events, and he hoped she'd take care of herself when they got to the Hub, though at the moment, he didn't bother waking her. This was especially so with Lillie resting her head in his wife's lap. Only when the League Hub was appearing on the horizon in the ocean did Ash finally engage in conversation with another person.

    "That was some pretty nasty stuff, yeah?" Hau said, his voice low and his tone serious in the moment. Ash grunted a bit, nodding in the moment. Hau leaned against the side of the jet, exhaling loudly. "At least the people on the mountain got off okay."

    "Barely," Kahili commented with a scoff, herself joining Hau and leaning against the other side. "If it hadn't been the dead of night, there would have been a lot more trainers and civilians that would have fallen there. Almost makes me wonder if that particular timing was part of their plan all along, considering all of Team Rocket seems to have officially been wiped out; not an operative left. Meanwhile, everyone else seems to have turned out perfectly fine."

    "I'm pretty sure it was their plan," Ash exhaled, tilting his head back to feel the sea breeze while looking at the approaching Hub. He held his arms tighter around Pikachu, focusing his eyes straight ahead with a steely fire. "They set everything up perfectly, apparently…"

    "Hmm…" Kahili hummed out, but said nothing more. Either way, the thoughts were frightening, Ash felt. If it hadn't been planned that way, then IDEAL seemed rather willing to kill a lot of innocents just to get at their goal. However, if it had actually been planned that way, then the reality was far more disconcerting: that they were tricky individuals who knew how to play them like violins.

    "Ash," called the voice of Steven from the front helicopter, guiding the way to the League Hub. "When we touch down, everyone should get checked out by the medical staff we have on call. Once that's done, I want you to meet us in the main meeting room. I'm sure you know where it is."

    "I got it," Ash answered, exhaling once more. Feeling satisfied, Steven withdrew his head as they began their final approach to the large base sitting on the ocean. Ash now leaned forward, Pikachu stirring in his lap, and the two looked out to the humongous fortress. From where he was, Ash could see the place where the stadium likely sat, though no other contents of the Hub were quite so visible. Just a seaborne fortress that was inviting to some, and forbidding to others. Thankfully, Ash found himself being part of the former. "Almost there, Latias. We'll get you treated in no time."

    "Pika!" Pikachu agreed, patting his partner. Finally, Ash saw them all beginning to descend and Latias followed suit. Whoever was operating things must have known they were coming, because the walls extended outward into landing pads for them to enter into the base. They weren't alone, either, as it seemed some other helicopters and jets were arriving. In particular, Ash could swear he saw one from Unova containing Iris and Cilan, both of whom caught sight of him and waved. He gave a tired wave back, but couldn't do any more to greet them. Clearly, though, Maka's message had reached a great many people, now making their way to the Hub.

    He needn't have worried, though, as he soon touched down, hopping off of Latias. His feet wavered from exhaustion for a moment, and he pitched to the side, soon supported by Guzma. The older man gave a jerky nod, placing him steady on his feet before shoving his hands in his pockets and walking off towards the doors to the Hub. "Come on, bros! Let's get y'all patched up!"

    "You got it, boss!" the employees inside the jet said before scrambling out of it. Ash watched them go with a rather bemused expression. Kahili chuckled as she followed them out of the jet, clearly not alone with Serena, Lillie and Hau right behind her.

    "They never change," the blue-haired woman spoke. She reached over, punching Ash on the shoulder. "Get yourself checked out, yeah? I'll meet you inside and we can fully catch up."

    "Yeah, you, too. Looks like he cut you," Ash pointed out, finally realizing the torn fabric on Kahili's shoulder that had escaped his notice in the heat of battle. She laughed it off, slapping him on the back and walking away. As she did so, she crossed paths with Brock, running out with as much first aid equipment as was necessary. His first stop was Latias. Ash turned to his oldest and best friend and watched him a moment before speaking. "Brock, will she be good?"

    "It's just standard damage," Brock said almost immediately upon inspection. It proved how skilled he was at his work that he was able to point it out after mere seconds. The doctor dug into his bag, pulling out a potion and some herbs. Latias cooed out, with Ash reaching down to pat her on the head, as the doctor sprayed the potion. The second Brock applied the herbs, it must have stung, however, because she hissed and thrashed about a little. However, when she settled down, Latias seemed at a far better state of peace than before. "Just a little bit of rest and she'll be fine in no time."

    "That's a relief, huh, Pikachu?" Ash asked of his partner. Pikachu nodded, seeming grateful. Ash bent back down to Latias again and patted her on the head. "You go find somewhere nice to relax, 'kay?"

    Latias gave off a soft cry, and both Ash and Brock stepped back, allowing the Eon Pokémon to take off for the skies, and towards an area where it seemed plenty of bird Pokémon were resting. Ash breathed out a little, watching as Hau and Lillie made their way off for the door, clasping hands together rather tentatively. Even after dating for a couple years, they always seemed to be in a touch and go phase; though it no doubt had to do with Lillie's surly brother that was walking over to greet them, having already spoken with Guzma. At this point, Seamus and Zoroark were also making their way out of the jet, supporting one another.

    "I'm fine, Merry, really," Seamus spoke to her. She growled out a little, but Seamus shook his head. "I'm not lying. It's just as important to me that you're okay."

    "The same should go for all of you," Brock said sternly. Ash looked to him as the doctor packed his things up. He looked to both Ash and Serena with an unyielding expression, causing Ash to sigh. "Because I know you'll ask, Dawn is fine. Technology has come far enough that the League doctors on hand treated her arm in no time. Another day or two and it'll be fully healed, even if it's recommended to not put too much strain on it. May and Misty are watching over her right now; something about both of them having hopped a quick ride over the second the message went out."

    "So they're here, then?" Ash asked. Brock nodded, walking forward a bit. Serena stepped closer to Ash, taking his hand as they followed the doctor into the Hub. Ash knew the location well enough, having visited it once upon a time ago. "I guess a lot of people are coming here."

    "After Maka's message, a lot of people have been arriving. Even my lovely bride to be, Aria!" Brock proclaimed. There was a loud noise and Croagunk appeared threateningly.

    "Don't you have to ask her out, first?" Serena asked. Brock ignored it, like that particular detail didn't actually matter in the long run. Ash just shrugged, chuckling under his breath. Their group, the last of those that had come from Mount Lanakila, finally passed through the door. In seconds, that door closed behind them and Brock turned, clearly guiding them to the white-lined medical rooms. Others had split off, some going for the meeting room while others appeared to be going for some other gathering area. Brock chose to address this issue.

    "I'm fairly sure that Diantha wants you to get to the meeting room as soon as you've been checked out. Obviously, there's a lot to talk about." Ash now took his turn to nod as they fully entered the medical hallway. Some doors were closed, while others were wide open. In particular, Ash saw the door open for where Dawn was, sitting in a bed. Serena got there first.

    "Dawn, I've heard you're okay," Ash's wife said, sounding worried. The bluenette looked up, as Misty and May quickly moved out of the small room.

    "I'm definitely okay! No need to worry, like always!" Dawn responded with her usual brand of cheeriness. Part of it sounded forced to Ash, knowing Dawn as well as he did, but he also guessed it was likely from the recovery process. Though, Ash was glad to note that her arm didn't look like a limp noodle anymore, wrapped in a glowing device. "At least you're okay! Astrid couldn't stop pacing before she heard the people and Performers from Nova Town were here!"

    "So, Christopher and Bethany showed up?" Ash asked of May as the Coordinator moved out of the room. The brunette shrugged, like she didn't really know the answer.

    "We just got here a little bit ago ourselves. If it wasn't for Maka's message, I'd hate to think how much we'd miss." Ash hummed out at May's statement, thinking to what remained of Team Nova, instead, the group likely reuniting here at the Hub. He had to wonder how they'd take the news of Rocky's death. If Seamus and Astrid's reactions were anything to go by, it wouldn't be well. Ash looked up at the glaring lights on the ceiling, his mind now drawn elsewhere as it reflected on all the death that had visited them.

    Lionel…His father's best friend was gone, and now was the first chance he truly had to reflect on that since learning so. Aidan was likely still out there somewhere, but after so long, that seemed irrelevant. The man that had been almost something of a father figure to him at the tip end of his teenage years was dead, and he could finally feel the pang of that in his heart. It made him burn inside with grief…His hands started to shake. Then he felt a sharp slap on the back of his head.

    "Speaking of missing things, where the hell did you go?" Misty snapped at him angrily. Ash turned to her with a scowl. Here he was, finally processing the death of a friend, and she just had to go and ruin that. "Rumor had it that you disappeared when all this other stuff was going on. What's up with that? Not like you to run away!"

    "I didn't run away!" Ash contested, glaring at Misty. The ginger-haired woman leaned in, sparks flying between the two of them while May laughed nervously. "I didn't have a choice with Clemont and Seamus hurt. Second they were better I got right back into the battle!"

    "Uh-huh…putting Pikachu in danger like that…What were you thinking?"

    "Chuu…" Pikachu said in embarrassment. Sweat seemed to drip from his fur, and before Ash could stop him, his partner had dropped to the ground and went to join Piplup, away from the feuding friends.

    "I didn't 'put him in danger'. This was a fight we all had to do, or are you telling me you're just heading back to your Gym? Because that doesn't seem like you," Ash snapped right back at her. Misty withdrew, her face growing a little softer as she shook her head. Once more, Ash breathed out, and he felt a calming touch on his hand, Serena having returned to him.

    "No, we'll be standing and fighting whatever fight needs to be had," Misty told him, now affixing a smile to her face. "In the meantime, you go get yourselves taken care of. I don't want to worry any more than I already have."

    "Yeah, okay, Misty," Ash said, turning away. He was still happy to know that his friends cared for him, though, and he and Serena moved further down the hall. Another door was open, where Seamus seemed to be sitting with Merry. Brock was looking over the both of them there, particularly the cut on Seamus' chest. In another room was Max, seeming to be sleeping as his leg was contained in the same thing as Dawn's arm. Ash moved on, and Serena stopped outside one of the rooms.

    "I'll get myself checked up in here. Meet up in the briefing room?" she asked. Ash blinked at her, wondering why she didn't just suggest meeting up right outside, but he nodded. He leaned forward and offered her a kiss, which she accepted, before they parted. His wife slid inside the doctor's room, closing the door behind her while Ash moved on to another room with a Nurse Joy waiting, Pikachu joining him in the process.

    He left the door open, holding his pokeballs out to the woman, who took them with a smile before she moved to examine himself. The entire space was silent, leaving Ash inside his thoughts. Part of him was considering Deirdre and her words, the other part was hoping Serena would be okay from how tired she looked. Then his thoughts slipped away: Lionel, Rocky…they had both given their lives, intentionally or not, for building their better world, yet Deirdre would make it so that their sacrifices meant nothing. His fist clenched.

    "Ash, your Pokémon are all in fighting fit shape," Nurse Joy said, breaking him from his thoughts far sooner than he had expected. Pikachu returned to his shoulder as Ash took all of his pokeballs back, reflecting on all of his partners with him and their own burning desire to fight. Holding to that thought, he stepped back out into the hallway. Shoving his hands into his pockets, Ash walked back down the corridor, deciding to head straight for the meeting room. His eyes strayed to the door that Serena was behind and he could see her talking with the doctor in the room, nodding as she looked at something on a screen. He hoped she was okay, but turned his mind elsewhere.

    People filled the hallways, some of them greeting him, but others moving to greet one another while Ash just strode down the corridors for the room he was trying to get to. Around the time he reached those large doors, he stopped, staring up at them. More disturbed thoughts swirled around in his head, but he pushed them aside, and the door with them.

    "Rawwwwr!" roared a loud voice, and Ash instantly knew who was greeting him. Said roar also announced his presence to everyone there, each turning to see him striding through the doors. The Champions, Cynthia, Alder and even Kukui now included, faced him, watching him. Near the head of the table were also Paul and Alain, nodding to him. Before Ash could answer them, he felt Charizard nuzzling him happily, glad to see him returned. He reached up to pat his Pokémon on the snout before looking up, in time for the blur that was Bonnie to collide with him in a hug.

    "About time…" she said, her voice muffled into his shirt. While she reached up to his chin, Ash still allowed himself the moment to pat the girl on her head. Then she drew away, Dedenne communicating with Pikachu for a second, before she stepped back towards her father and Korrina, who were also there. Ash breathed out.

    "I'm back!" he announced, grinning at all of them. Paul was the first to react, scoffing and rolling his eyes. With that particularly warm welcome, Ash stepped further into the room and up to the table, placing his hands upon it. "So, what's going on, everyone?"

    "Theorizing!" Burnet yelled out from her place at the table, her husband at a different part of the room (which surprised Ash that he'd gotten there so quickly, in some way). Ash wasn't surprised to catch sight of either professor there, however, Burnet spreading her papers out wide, laptops cluttering the surface of the table. To clear some of the room, Ash returned Charizard to his pokeball at last. Gary, Steven and Cynthia were leaning over the table with Burnet while she pored over the charts. From the other side of the room, Kukui soon approached, handing his wife some coffee.

    "It's really quite fascinating stuff," Clemont pointed out, adjusting his glasses on his face. He looked better, Ash noted, but there was no doubt that the burn would trouble him for some time, even if he powered through it without distraction. Bonnie seemed to think so, too, frowning. "The recent research into the meteorites and dimensions that we've been progressing the last decade is absolutely thrilling!"

    "Just like you to get excited over all that science stuff," Ash laughed out. He made his way over to the lemon blond and slung his arm around him while the doors opened again, this time the arrival being Seamus and Zoroark emerging through it, tossing a salute to them all. At his side was Astrid, her brow furrowed. She jerked her head in Ash's direction, but said nothing. He had the feeling she'd just delivered the somber news to Team Nova.

    "Be excited all you want," Nanu's voice grumbled out from where near the refreshments were. He was stirring some noodles inside a carton while everyone looked to the older man. Hau and Gladion, in particular, were focusing on him, though both in entirely different ways. "Rest assured, while you all are scrambling around, trying to do all these studies, IDEAL's already figured everything out. They're probably busy amassing forces for war, instead. Though I'd imagine it'll take a couple days, but we don't even know where they're going to strike."

    "Amassing forces is something we've been taking care of, ourselves, thanks to Maka, here," Diantha spoke coolly. Maka, somewhere along the table, looked pretty pleased with herself, waving over to Ash. Nanu just shrugged, disinterested. "As for where, how long do you suppose we have before they strike? Will it be immediate?"

    "Could be…" Lance commented, folding his arms as he leaned against the table. "Though, before each mission, there would usually be a three-day leave. Like clockwork. If they're still working on that schedule, as I'd expect they are given today, they'll wait three days before striking."

    "I think they'll wait to strike no matter what," Ash said to all of them, his own thoughts triggered at Lance's words. Yet again, the raven-haired trainer's words drew attention from those in the room, save for the researchers all huddled together over the table. Ash separated from Clemont now and shoved his hands in his pockets as Pikachu hopped on to the table. "I don't know if it's a lie, but it seems like they wanted me for something. Even more, Deirdre mentioned wanting to meet me wherever this all was supposed to take place. They want us there."

    "But why?" Cynthia asked, looking up from her placement. Ash almost shrugged, but he gave it all serious thought. From the words Deirdre had spoken, she had very explicitly mentioned one person, one individual; one that they should have considered from the beginning. He wasn't the one to answer, however, as the doors opened once more, and Ash saw Serena walking in, looking a little better, but still tired.

    "Because of Michael," she answered, coming to stand next to Ash's side. Her proclamation had sent the room atwitter, but for a few there. Maka called out to Serena, and she offered her ex-rival a kindly wave. The younger woman's movement seemed to reveal the last remnants of Team Rocket, being Jessie, James and Meowth, gorging their faces on food in the room.

    "You all right?" Ash asked of his wife. She smiled her usual brilliant smile at him, glowing a little more than usual.

    "Fighting fit, it seems! Just need some rest," Serena promised, reaching her hand up and trailing it down his arm. Ash nodded, glad that she was okay, and they both faced those waiting for them to continue. "I think…they're trying to prove something, because of him."

    "That fits," Ash answered, nodding. "Deirdre mentioned something about wanting to prove something. I don't know what she was talking about, but she most definitely wants to meet us in battle, and they won't take no for an answer. I think it's the only way they feel justified."

    "You're saying we can't avoid one, then…" Kukui murmured out, sipping on his own coffee mug. "They've purposely brought in a situation where we can't afford to not to."

    "Then the only answer is deciding just where they want to battle," Lance sighed out tiredly, reaching up to rub at his temples. No one had an answer, so Ash returned to trying to think about it. His mind ran through everything Deirdre had said, his face screwing up in concentration. It took a moment of that intense thought, but he soon figured it out.

    "'Where the Alpha and the Omega meet'," he spoke aloud. This time, it was Gary and Burnet who looked upwards. They shared their own set of glances and then stood, making everyone begin to pay attention to them. "What does it mean, Gary?"

    "It means we might be able to figure it out," Gary said, smirking at the information that they had now been given. Ash quirked an eyebrow and waited for them to explain. Meanwhile, Burnet leaned forward and clacked away on her computer until images appeared on the screen usually used for the IRCS, representing squiggly diagrams that made very little sense to Ash. "Burnet and I have theorized that the world has been getting sicker."

    "Yeah, that's what Squishy said!" Bonnie exclaimed, bouncing forward to say so. Burnet was nodding, as if logging that newest information into her brain.

    "Right, so…" Burnet drew out, sipping on her coffee before she began clicking around. "The world has been getting sicker because it no longer has the support system of the other worlds connected to it, since we closed that…er…you all did, rather. Normally, I don't think this would be a problem, especially since the tipping points have been prevented, even with the Ultra Space closing."

    "The bigger issue we see is all this destruction caused," Gary noted. Ash tilted his head to the side, Pikachu right with him, showing how confused he was about all the scientific stuff around him. Clemont seemed to laugh out while Gary continued with his explanation. "With no way of sharing power, the blood and devastation of the land is causing the world to break at the seams, crying out in its final moments, which I want to think is IDEAL's intentions."

    "You mentioned the Alpha and Omega, right? Well, the meteonite is definitely the Alpha," Burnet stated, and she finally began using the images on the screen. Everyone there was raptly focused on what was being shown there, even if they didn't all understand it well. Ash was among them, but he just chose to go with the flow of things, only recognizing the rock that represented the meteonite, itself. "The only reason we know this is because it's absorbing power from the points. It's storing energy from the destruction wrought across the land. A beginning point, as it were."

    "And the Omega is the ending point," Clemont noted, tapping his foot. It seemed to make sense to him, no matter how over Ash's head it was. "But that can't be the only reason. What do they gain by making the world so sick?"

    "Perhaps they force other Legendaries to act," Tau pointed out, sitting at a chair around the table. No one really looked at him, but he went on regardless. "I mean, when Kalos' course of nature was thrown out of balance, Zygarde acted. When our Team Neo's actions, along with DARC's, nearly threw the balance of life and death out of order, Xerneas and Yveltal acted. Likewise, with Solgaleo and Lunala in Alola. You can even follow the thread for the rest of the tipping points. Perhaps, the reason the legendary Pokémon are involved with every tipping point is because they react when something threatens the world's ability to sustain itself."

    "Then what is IDEAL trying to summon by tipping this balance?" Ash asked, setting the whole room into a rather contemplative mood. Clemont was the first one quick enough to come up with an answer.

    "Ho-oh." Ash whipped his gaze to his friend at that, eyes wide with the very thought of it. "It's just a guess, though."

    "One that would make sense," Tau confirmed. "Think about it. Like I said, nearly every legendary has been involved with a tipping point: Orange Islands involved Zapdos, Moltres, Articuno and Lugia; Hoenn involved Groudon and Kyogre; Sinnoh with Dialga and Palkia; Unova was an odd duck, but given the work of both Team Rocket and Team Plasma, their own native legendaries affected things. Then, in this case, they caused the devastation seven regions to alter things…"

    "And then this is to do with the world itself…brilliant! Absolutely brilliant!" Burnet cried. "By systematically eliminating the legendaries' connection to the tipping points over the years, there're very little left tied to the world's flow. Or if they are, they're in no position to do anything. Though, I know very little of Ho-oh…"

    "All I know is that I haven't seen it in over a decade," Ash admitted.

    "Then it also explains why IDEAL didn't act or force Team Rocket to act until now!" Clemont shouted out. It was like seeing all of the most brilliant and brightest minds in the world colliding against one another and coming up with theories that Ash would have never guessed at in his lifetime. "They had to wait for all of the other chances of tipping points to happen so no other legendary could interfere with what they were trying…whatever it is…"

    "That's exactly what they were doing," called a voice at the sound of the doors opening. Ash, and everyone else, turned to face the newcomer, or newcomers as Seamus and Serena's voices quickly indicated.

    "Dad? !" they both called out. Tau stood from his chair rapidly at the sight of Aidan, staring across to him with widened eyes. Though, Ash was more transfixed upon his partner, being that of Serena's father. It was less surprising that he had shown up to help out at this point, so much as it was surprising to see him with Aidan of all people. Serena kept speaking onward. "What are you doing here?"

    "World's in danger, right? I believe that's when the hero steps in, yes?" Y suggested, winking at his daughter. She continued staring, looking almost flabbergasted by his suggestion of that. Ash didn't know what to say at all, but kept his eyes transfixed upon Aidan, who nodded to Tau. Diantha was also looking at him, lips pursed with disapproval.

    "Where have you been, Aidan? The situation has worsened since you vanished after contacting us in Nova Town," she told him. He gave no reaction to that, other than pushing up on his bent glasses while he surveyed her and the room at large.

    "I went to visit Olympia," he answered, though it didn't receive the utterly shocked reaction he might have been looking for. He continued on, regardless of if it had netted him his desired result. "Her words and what everyone is suggesting here all but confirms it: the world is heading for the final tipping point."

    "So that's what you meant, Squishy?" Bonnie asked, holding up the green blob to the air. "The world is sick because of all the tipping points and destruction as stuff, which means if we don't stop them from doing all those horrible things…"

    "The world will meet its incontrovertible end."

    "I don't think that's what they want to happen," Ash said. His own words drew the attention of Aidan now, staring at him sideways with a cold fury that was directed elsewhere. "Or at least, that's not exactly what they want. Deirdre said they wanted to create a 'new and perfect world'. Maybe their intention wasn't to destroy this one."

    "But it will, regardless," Y informed them all. He didn't join them at the table, but addressed them from the place near the doors, keeping distance. "All of this destruction is sickening the world, has been since the first destructive event many millennia ago, with the meteor that split in two. They're going to try to create their own new world all right, but it will be explicitly tied to the demise of this one. That may be why you suspect they're calling Ho-oh, thanks to its regenerative properties. From there, it may just be about gaining control of it at its fullest strength to enact their plans."

    "That sounds way too confusing," Ash commented, folding his arms. There were a few chuckles scattered around the room. None, however, was louder than Nanu, who seemed to find Ash's comment the best kind of the year.

    "That's the way to do it, Ketchum," Nanu finished laughing out. People finally stopped their own laughing or embarrassed staring to look right at Nanu, who began to grin as he continued leaning, tossing his carton of noodles to the side. No one moved to clean it up. "Who cares about the complications? This is a battle you're all facing, not a science fair. I'm sure more than a few of you will agree with me."

    "Hell yeah," Guzma yelled out, slamming his fists together. He wasn't alone, with Seamus and Alain particularly joining in with their own cries of agreement towards the man. Nanu's grin didn't drop, even as Clemont chose to address him.

    "Then if the battle is what matters, what can you tell us about IDEAL? You know them the best," the blond inventor said. Nanu now dropped the grin, like he was considering what he actually wanted to share, his sight meeting with Lance's a couple times.

    "Hm…well, that's a complicated issue," the man spoke. He once more leaned against the counter, tapping his foot with consideration. "Let's put it this way: this group gathered here at the Hub is a bunch of ragtag trainers from all different regions with no experience of truly working together outside of a few crises."

    "Pretty sure this qualifies as one," Paul scoffed out. Nanu inclined his head, indicating that he'd be correct. "So, are you going to keep screwing with us or actually tell us what we need to know in order to stop the pathetic idiots that think it's a good idea to destroy the world for their own 'perfect' one?"

    "Fine," Nanu snapped out, looking annoyed now. Though, Ash figured he could only tell that because he knew Nanu's default expressions were "bored" and "even more bored". The man sighed. "Up to this point, you've all fought relatively unorganized groups. From what I know, the most organized group you've dealt with would either be that Team Flare or DARC or whatever they're called; I don't care."

    "IDEAL is different," Lance pointed out with a heavy sigh. Ash didn't take his eyes away from Nanu while the Champion was speaking. "They're not people who were slapped together because they believed in some vision, or because they're under the command of one person, or anything like that. They are a team, through and through, with Deirdre as their leader."

    "Why didn't you tell us this before the battle at Mount Lanakila?" Seamus demanded, sounding rather angry about the whole thing. "That could have seriously helped before the entire place was blown up!"

    "Because there was no time, and I wasn't aware of the extent of their plan. Now there is. And now I do, so shut up," Nanu insisted. Seamus scowled, but didn't argue back, while Nanu went on with his own explanation. "These five went through everything together. Their loyalty is unquestioning; their convictions unwavering. Believe me, I would know. There wasn't a single mission they failed…except for the last one they disappeared on."

    "Do you think that's what made them decide to do this?" Serena asked. Nanu shrugged, indicating that he didn't have the answer whatsoever.

    "No idea. I just know that they never had problems, except for the hiccup where they toned down the number of missions taken. In hindsight, that mission might have changed something inside them, but like their final mission, those details have long since been lost," Nanu explained. He sighed at the end and moved his gaze carefully around the room like a cat, staring at each of them while beginning to smirk. "But it's not their convictions that make them dangerous. Your opponents before were dangerous because of their ability to get in your head, or perhaps because what they wanted to accomplish was so crazy that it made them a threat.

    "And sure, that probably applies to IDEAL just as well. But what you have to worry about more with them is their sheer level of skill. Their teamwork, their individual strengths, their cunning, and their willingness to do whatever is necessary to achieve what they want."

    "A new world…" Diantha breathed out, sounding almost sickened by the concept of it. Ash had to agree with that particular notion regarding it. IDEAL seemed to think it was okay to completely kill off anyone they could, because they could just start anew, like those lives didn't even matter in any single way. It made Ash pissed.

    "They'll do whatever it is to reach that thing, and they'll bring every single ability of theirs to bear; ones they've cultivated in silence the last decade or two," Nanu grinned out to all of them. The man's body seemed to be twitching, like he was getting ready for the big battle ahead. "You wonder why they waited until now? Maybe it was because of needing to wait to use Ho-oh or some other nonsensical reason, but the truth is, they're getting ready. Louise, the Intelligence, with her army of drones, along with both engineering and medical expertise makes her a force that can take control in seconds, even if her strength is lacking to the others. Alastair, the Defense, is an expert at controlling wild Pokémon to do his bidding. He and Louise are the two biggest threats on IDEAL's team in terms of the early sway of the battlefield."

    "Then you have Tolbert, the Explosion," Lance continued with the description of the foes they'd be facing. "Ash, you've no doubt experienced his fiery intensity long before Lanakila. While Louise and Alastair are the linchpin of a defensive strategy that can change and be fluid, Tolbert has the highest record of just wiping out the enemy. Meanwhile, Matori the Assassin is someone you just have to be on the lookout for. Hiding in plain sight, you've seen the damage she can do, especially as she changes as needed for the mission: name, looks, manner. All of it. She's someone of infinite patience, and the ability to blend in like a shadow. She will kill you before you blink."

    "And Deirdre is obvious…the leader," Ash said. His fingers reached down and began to drum upon the table rapidly, deep in thought. "So, if we take her out, does IDEAL go down, too?"

    "Don't count on it," Nanu barked out. "They're a team through and through, five men strong. If one falls, the others just pick up the slack. Cut off the head of the Ekans, the body will move on its own, but be enraged."

    "Yeah, well, that's no problem for us!" Ash said, reaching his foot up to a chair and slamming the appendage down upon it with a grin. The others gravitated to him, even Paul, who scoffed with a light smile. "We're just the same. Where one of us falls down, the other is there to pick them back up! But we don't want to sacrifice anyone. That's how we're different from them! We won't just fight harder for the fallen, but take the fallen by the hand and pull them back up again!"

    "And if you want to do that, taking them on one by one won't offer you a snowball's chance in hell of succeeding," Nanu pointed out briskly. To that, Ash decided to listen to what he had to say. "You take IDEAL on at the same time and do whatever you can to take each and every one out simultaneously. Don't let them tag team you. Don't give them the chance to lick their wounds. Take out their entire damn army and show them not to screw with our world!"

    Silence rang around the room at Nanu's definitive statement, and Ash found himself sharing a grin across the table with the man. He wasn't the only one there enjoying the declaration that Nanu had just laid down. Kahili slammed her own golf club (Ash having no idea where it had come from) on to the floor, while Alain and Sawyer looked to each other with a smirk. Astrid slammed her fist into her open palm, and Ash noticed that even Paul couldn't help the pleased smirk stretching his face. They were more than ready for their battle.

    "Having a battle strategy is all well and good," Diantha sighed out, "but the issue now becomes finding where this battle will take place to begin with, and how Ho-oh ties into this and the meteonite."

    "Well, Ho-oh is a phoenix, right?" Gary suggested. "It has the power to return to life the things that have died. If they're hoping to create a new world, maybe they need to combine its power with the meteonite or something. I mean, in some way, Ho-oh could be seen as the sun and the meteonite, being the Alpha, is known as the beginning: the sun."

    "It's a solid conjecture, but nothing concrete," Clemont noted. Ash looked to his friend, deep in contemplation. He had to wonder if Clemont was perturbed by the information regarding those drones; he never did take misuse of technology lightly. "I can definitely see it, if not how Ash could tie in.…but now we have to figure out how they plan to call Ho-oh there."

    "That part's easy," Y insisted from his place against the door. He was waving his hand as they all listened to what he had to say. "They shifted the power. Professor Burnet, you mentioned how the events have made the world sick, which means it's worked harder to repair itself since the portals to other dimensions have been closed. It stands to make sense, then, that with the Alpha and the Omega having determined the course with their impact so very long ago, they want to make use of that connection. From there, it's just the principle the Draconids employed with Rayquaza: cause enough death and destruction to call the one now bound to the meteorite."

    "Ooh, that sounds very plausible," Burnet commented, clacking away at her computer. The diagram on the screen changed once again. Now there were lines, and the diagram was moving, showing flowing arrows that ran inwards. "The Alpha stands as the beginning, and they've drawn power into it, and now, to complete the cycle of the world energy, they connect it to the same space of the Omega. That makes it so one spot is drawn to as the ills of all the world. They might just need a trigger once they get it there…"

    "The Omega…" Ash spoke in a near whisper, causing Serena to turn to him and look at him in confusion. "Like she said…where the Alpha and the Omega meet."

    "Which is what we've been trying to figure out for ourselves," Aidan said. His glasses slid down his face as he stared across. His eyes swept along everyone there, lingering on his son for a second before snapping back around to Ash and Serena. "It was a theory to look into, but if it was all involved, we looked into locating the Omega, and we believe we found it. After all, it was the beginning of the end. The end of the path we began walking together. We just didn't know it then."

    "Ancien City."

    The air in the room took on a very palpable change at Y's announcement, and that came as no surprise to anyone. Ancien City. Ash looked to Serena. It was where everything had changed for the two of them; where he had realized that he loved the woman next to him. Where they had fought tooth and nail for that scrabble of hope against Zinnia. Now, it was to be the site of their final battle.

    "But the meteorites were gone," Serena commented. "They vanished after our battle with the Draconids. I wished it. We all saw it."

    "And Rayquaza destroyed the one of them to begin with," Clemont pointed out. Y nodded, folding his arms, and soon decided to address their concerns. To do so, he stood up straight and walked closer. Across the table, Diantha was clearing Burnet's diagrams off and telling the IRCS to search for someone, but Ash didn't hear the name.

    "Yes, but the Omega was such a catastrophic event in the history of the world. It's such lost knowledge that I don't blame anyone for not knowing. I never even cared until I had nothing left to research in Alola," Y explained. "In fact, it's doubtful that anyone could know that while the meteorites there vanished, the effects lingered on beneath the ground. Those that you saw, those that disappeared were mere artifacts. Fragments like the meteonite is of the Alpha. But the Omega…it's ingrained into Ancien City. You could excavate all you want and still not find it all."

    "So, that's what they want to take advantage of, is it? The two meteorites and the destruction associated with them, just as the Draconids attempted, hmm?" Diantha asked. It caused Y to nod in acknowledgement. That seemed just in time, as a pair of all too familiar faces soon appeared on the screen in front of them, both seeming surprised, though neither reacting much more. "My apologies for the intrusion, Mayor Chrissy, Former Mayor Aston."

    "What a surprise! In all my years, I never thought I'd be speaking with Champion Diantha, of all people," Aston chuckled out, his eyes twinkling kindly. However, while his eyes were kind, Ash noticed that they soon hardened, showing that he was more than aware this was not a social call. "But from the expression, this isn't to report anything good, or the winner of the Champion Tournament."

    "I would say you know full well what's going on," Diantha said sharply. The current mayor leaned in, adjusting her glasses and nodding. Maka's message had more than done its job of informing the public to be on edge. However, despite being the mayor, she allowed Aston to take the reins of conversation.

    "Hmm, I have an idea, yes," he confessed. "That you're contacting me only tells me it was for a reason."

    "Yes," was Diantha's curt response. Ash took his foot down from the chair and began moving along the table's surface. Serena reached for him, clasping to him as he made his way to the front. Both Diantha and Aston caught sight of him, the latter smiling toothily at his approach while Diantha sighed, like she expected it.

    "Ancien City is about to be attacked, and the people doing it aren't interested in talking it out," Ash stated definitively. "They're going to make sure people are hurt no matter what, whether it's the citizens or anyone in their way. No choice about it." Aston's lips moved a little bit, but he eventually focused his own stern expression and leaned forward.

    "When?" was the first response.

    "We're guessing at three days," Serena answered him. Aston's fingers now laced together, contemplating it. "Is that enough time to move the citizens out?"

    "No…not to go anywhere; not with how much the city's grown. Although, I guess there are the maintenance halls in the stadium. They're easy enough to access since we redesigned to add another, higher hall for safety after the Debacle…If not that, there should be enough cellars beneath the castle…" Aston looked over to Chrissy, who was already walking out of the room. The older man sat back now, still wearing the intense expression upon his face. "You're sure, though? Absolutely?"

    "Yes," Ash said. He walked forward a little bit, and before anyone knew it, he had pressed to a button. The Champions all acted in surprise as the IRCS was connected to everyone that was at the Hub, and across the world. It was an act of impulse, but speaking to Aston, he knew the words needed to be spoken. "Ancien City is about to be attacked by IDEAL. They're going to attack in the hopes of wiping out everything we hold dear to us, no matter who has to fall to do it. Friends, Family, Pokémon. If we allow them to get the meteonite into the city and give them the time and chance to attempt what they want to; if we allow them even an inch, the world we've all fought for the last decade won't be our world.

    "So, we need to stand together! One more time! How many times have we stood against that darkness? How many times have we come out on the other side, scarred but victorious? Let's do it again, one more time!"

    "This is the final tipping point," Serena said, looking straight at Aston. The man nodded, understanding at last what needed to be done. "If we win here…if we hold the line here, then everything we've fought for will be worth it."

    "So, everyone! Get ready, because we're heading into a battle we can't escape, not only for our world, but for our very selves. Because we're not like them, and we'll prove it by holding on to and protecting everything we hold dear!" At Ash's words, he lifted his fist high into the air. It wasn't the biggest speech in the world, but Serena was by his side, raising her own fist. All around the room, determined smiles and grins were put on everyone's faces, each of them raising their arms, from the youngest in Bonnie, to even the former Team Rocket members that were standing proudly. Even Pikachu scampered over and raised his own. The Champions watched each other, and then joined him. Once again, they were united.

    The details of Ancien City and moving the citizens to safety within its confines would come. The battle plan would be figured out. Everything would be set for them. That would all come in time, Ash knew. The others were no doubt already figuring all of that out. But none of that mattered with the enormity of what Ash had said, and particularly what he was about to say; because they were the words that mattered most and had always driven everyone forward. That was all they needed to be ready for the battle to come in three days' time at Ancien City.

    "Everyone, this is our final battle! Let's make it the best we've ever fought together. For our world, we're never giving up until the very end! Let's go!"
    *Chapter to be continued in the next post...

  9. #34
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    Chapter continued from last post.

    "Such a lonely place." Deirdre's solemn voice echoed across the great scorched plains, long abandoned by civilization. Weeds had grown upwards, covering the dead rocks, hiding all the blood that had once been shed that day. Behind her, the crunching of her comrades' feet was heard and she couldn't help but smile. "It's hard to believe that so long ago, this was believed to be an innocuous plain."

    "This is where his own sin finally bore fruit," Toll commented, leaning against one of the rocks. He seemed to get a dirty look from Alastair, by Deirdre's estimations in the moonlight, but neither said a word. Louise walked over to one of the broken rocks, touching it, like she was examining its substance.

    "How I wish I could have been there that day," the mint-green haired woman said, running her hand along the surface. No one commented on the action, though Deirdre could see Alastair throwing his gaze back, where the shadows gathered in the darkness, gathering the Pokémon for war. "Unfortunately, we'd already decided to play the long game and infiltrate Team Rocket by then."

    "It worked out in the end, yeah? Or do you have regrets, Matori?" Toll asked, tucking some of his shaggy hair behind his ear with a smile. Matori regarded him with cold eyes, standing straight.

    "My mission and allegiances have remained as the same forever. No other room for sympathy." Matori turned away following her statement, while Toll shrugged. Louise bumped her shoulder against his before moving to lean against the dead rock alongside him.

    "You know Matori; always the mission first, and this is our biggest."

    "Yes, it is…IDEAL's final mission…for real this time," Deirdre chuckled out. The others all silenced themselves and looked over to her. She looked forward, towards the last remaining remnants of the husk of that battle. She walked forward, silently, over the grass. When she reached that giant base, her gaze was drawn downwards, staring at the spot of scorched grass, the only area where the weeds had been forbidden to grow. She couldn't help but laugh once more.

    Where death touched, nothing could rebuild. Not on its own.

    "Everything is almost ready, Deirdre," Alastair spoke. "The Alpha is active, and all that's needed is the connection, and our special catalyst."

    "Yes," Deirdre agreed, her shadow rippling slightly in the moonlight and the breeze. "But there's no doubt they'll stand in our way, just as expected. That man was a fool for not seeing it coming all that time ago. Thankfully, in the end, we really did make the right choice, staking things this far on them. But no longer."

    "How long do you need, Alastair?" Matori asked, gazing over to the man. Alastair turned his head back, and large footsteps began to shake the entire hilltop they were upon. Emerging from the shadows were the lumbering forms of Pokémon, hulking, ready to do their bidding for the battle that was about to explode.

    "This takes some time, especially doing so in transit…I'd estimate three days, on schedule," the man answered her. Matori nodded, seemingly pleased with that answer. "Then, we move on Ancien City."

    "Sweet, leave time," Toll grinned out. Deirdre shook her head. After so many years together, they were ever the same people, and she adored that about them. "It's been such a long time. Louise, mind sharpening the old explosive enhancers."

    "Ever the workaholic, though I have no reason to complain," Louise agreed, tossing her arms up. The two seemed nearly bored with the proceedings, interacting amongst themselves while Matori remained silent. Alastair, however, approached.

    "Yes, I know. No need to say anything, Alastair," Deirdre breathed out under her breath. "I have no current intentions of you keeping your promise to me, believe me. In the end, I am resolved that our own convictions will win out. We've spent years tempering them in that raging inferno. Ash Ketchum, all the Champions, those trainers that will attempt to stop us…they will not. No matter how much we'd like them for the new world. No matter that blood we need for the final stage…we will succeed."

    "I have no fear of that," Alastair stated, his hand reaching up to grip at the left side of his face, like the moon reflecting off the rocks was blinding him. "Just…we'll finally…we've waited so long."

    "Yes. Yes, we have," she breathed, staring down to her legs, a small tuft of pollen traveling between them. She laughed once more and leaned down, reaching to touch the grass, but thinking better of it.

    "Just three more days," Alastair confirmed. Deirdre smiled, and spoke to the one that wasn't there.

    "Well, it's come this far, Michael," she said, the soft smile turning into a rather lopsided smirk. "Your rules against ours. You fell here for all your troubles, but now we'll end the game. You're in checkmate thanks to our new world. All that's left is battling with the one who proved your vision wrong; drawing out all of their power in that one great moment to tie it all together in conclusion to our long, long conflict. Once that happens…

    "The curtain will close for this world and reach a new world at long last."


    Author's Note: Heavy, heavy dialogue chapter. Probably the last heavy dialogue chapter. A lot of stuff thrown at you here from final tipping points, to the Alpha, to the Omega to Ho-oh, it's really just a lot of craziness! More than that, the site of the final battle is here: Ancien City, where the entire series began. I think it's only fitting, don't you? That said, get ready for the action that won't stop, because that's right where we're heading. The lore is given. The stage is set. Time for battle!

    We're heading into the final stretch of the story now, so I hope you'll enjoy it more than ever. Until that time, please Review and Dare to Be Silly.

  10. #35
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    Here begins the climax of this fic, and of the Ancienverse. There's a been a lot of work put into this one, so I hope you enjoy the riveting ride. Let's read Chapter 18!


    Chapter 18

    A Siege

    Knock knock.

    Serena jolted awake at the loud noise of knuckles rapping on the door. Sitting up abruptly and feeling the blood rush to her head, she realized that she'd hardly noticed herself having fallen asleep at all. There was the sound of water running in the room, that of a shower in the connected bathroom, and Serena rubbed at her temples. There was another knock at the door.

    "Just a second!" the honey blonde called up, moving to stand and collect her blouse from the floor. Right next to them were Ash's pair of pants, something she also picked up and folded, bringing it over to the closed bathroom door and slipping them inside. That done, Serena slipped her blouse back on, making sure it didn't look too disheveled. As she strode back to the door, Serena's gaze slipped out of the window, high in the air and looking out over the city, the signs of preparatory activity and a mass exodus evident from sight. She sighed; it had been a long two days. Running a hand through her hair, Serena turned away from the window, smoothed her skirt and opened the door, revealing Astrid, hand raised, as if about to knock again.

    "I was starting to wonder if you'd ever wake up," the blonde said, her tone stiff and rigid. Serena smiled apologetically as she let Astrid into the room. The water shut off.

    "I fell asleep…must have needed the rest after the last two days of work," she told her friend. Astrid nodded, walking forward into the hotel room and staring out through the large window, herself. Serena made to join her, adjusting her clothes a little more.

    When they reached the window, both of the women were silent, though Serena felt she could detect Astrid's sense of determination as the dawn rose over Ancien City. The honey blonde looked out, getting a glimpse of the large city that was before them. They had spent all of the last couple days, since their meeting at the League Hub, moving the civilians to the castle and the cellars beneath, per Aston's orders. On top of it, they also planned other protection measures, with the scientists putting their heads together to find a way to protect the castle, though struggling to find something peerless. Not to mention, people like Ash taking the time to contact those who held their Pokémon, summoning them there for the battle in droves. In that time, numerous others had joined up, flocking to the city where the battle would take place, all sensing with anticipation what would drop that morning. The Champions and other battle experts had all begun to craft their plans and strategies, and while Serena had begun to know them all by heart, it still left her uneasy and on edge.

    Thankfully, Diantha had given them twelve hours of leave. While some spent their time working on fortifying the city, like Clemont and Korrina, others sought to have a bit more fun, or train themselves up for the upcoming battle. Ash had done a bit of both, but the woman standing next to her had poured all of her time into preparing for the upcoming battle. It certainly made her prickly in the now early morning hours.

    "Astrid, is everything all right?" Serena spoke, reaching out and touching her shoulder. The blonde didn't react, continuing to stare at the city before heaving a sigh.

    "He won't be battling today," she exhaled out tiredly. Serena knew in seconds who she was talking about. "I'll do my part, then, and take out the one who prevented that. It just…scares me, a bit."

    "Yes," Serena said. She wasn't sure what else to say. She hadn't been particularly close with Rocky, but the loss of him on Mount Chimney had no less palpable of an effect, especially among the members of Team Nova. Not that that was any surprise, especially given their current position of Ancien City. Even with little Thea remaining at the League Hub with some sitters (a fact Serena found amusing in an almost dark sense), Christopher and Bethany were prepared for battle here in the city. "We're all scared, because these people want to destroy everything we've worked so hard to build; everything Rocky sacrificed himself for. They're willing to do whatever they need to in order to make that happen."

    "So, you're scared, too?" Astrid asked, still not looking to her. Serena nodded, but she still continued smiling. She was absolutely frightened; something that even the night with Ash had been unable to resolve inside her. She knew he was frightened, too. Could feel it in his body, like a manuscript that was written upon him. But she also knew that for all of them, it wasn't a fear for themselves, but a fear for the future to come if IDEAL succeeded. "Well, that's a relief, then. I'm glad I'm not alone."

    "You never are," Serena insisted. The door to the bathroom opened, Ash walking out, fully clothed (to Serena's great relief). "We're all so scared, our fingers are trembling with fear and fury. But that's why we keep moving forward and support each other, like Ash said."

    "What did I say now?" Ash asked, finishing with drying his hair and tossing his towel onto one of the beds of the Ancien Grand Hotel. Astrid finally turned away from the window to look at the married couple, a tinge of sadness in her eyes.

    "Never giving up, Ash," Astrid said to him, smirking in his direction. "What is it now? Ancien Warriors and the Nova Nine, or most of them, all teaming up for one final rumble? Better survive. I plan to."

    "Definitely," Ash said, still wearing a rather confused expression upon his face. Serena had to giggle at her husband's expression, but chose to say nothing more as Astrid walked from the room. Before she left entirely, she turned back, looking towards all of them.

    "Diantha says the briefing is in half an hour; best to hurry," she delivered to them, and then she was gone. Ash reached upward, stretching a bit while his wife came towards him. The moment he stopped, they intertwined hands again, making their way from the room. Once more, Serena could feel the anticipation within her husband, no doubt mingled with her own. They knew everything that was on the line as they stepped into the hallway and headed for the elevator.

    "You're ready?" she chose to voice once the elevator started going down, leaving them in relative silence with each other. Ash looked to her, a confident grin splayed on his face.

    "Of course!" Ash insisted, pointing at his chest. "Tracey and Professor Oak already sent over all of my big guns to help defend the city, and Pikachu will be right alongside me. Not to mention mom's giving all her support from Pallet Town, just like yours. How about you?"

    "More than ready," Serena answered, her free hand going towards her own pokeballs that were there, each rustling for action. The elevator hit the ground floor, and the couple stepped out to the lobby.

    To neither of their surprises, it was absolutely packed, nearly every major space taken up by a trainer. Not wanting to be crushed by anyone else moving into the lobby, the two surged into the crowd, hoping to find any of their friends. Up front, by where some Nurse Joys were treating Pokémon, readying them for the battle ahead, were the Champions and Aston, each set up by large screens that would no doubt be used to relay the battle plans, and further techs (like Kenneth and Conway) operating the screens. Neither Ash nor Serena took any real notice of that, choosing instead to keep moving through the crowd.

    As they both did so, Serena could catch sight of so many old friends and allies. From Miette and Sawyer, who were discussing matters with the solemn-faced Shauna, Tierno and Trevor, to the equally battle-ready Alain and Mairin. To the sides looked to be Professor Sycamore and Meyer, both seeming almost jovial with some other Gym Leaders and Elite Four members, as the scores of trainer-owned Pokémon could be seen gathered behind them, out in the streets, including Ash's own. Paul was somewhere in the crowd, standing silently by Gladion, who kept a watch on Guzma, Plumeria, and the rest of the organization that had come to battle. He had just as much attention split towards Lillie and Hau, the former resting her head on the latter's shoulder, like she hadn't quite gotten the sleep she wanted (Hau was definitely the early riser of the two). Even more strange (or less, depending on one's point of view) were Brock and Aria, though the former wasn't flirting at all, but seemingly describing some sense of medical corps strategies.

    "We'll want to keep them mostly near the hub here at the hotel, since it's relatively at the center of the city," Brock was suggesting. Aria nodded her head.

    "Yes, that sounds best," the pinkette agreed, reaching out to touch Brock's shoulder and offer him a kiss on the cheek. "You always know just what to do in situations like this. The Champions have their battle strategies, but we have to be ready to adapt on the fly."

    "Yes, ma'am!" Brock called, saluting her. He only stopped when Croagunk raised a purple-glowing fist and chuckled menacingly. Serena shook her head while Ash chuckled nervously, and they passed by another trio that she swore to herself she hadn't seen in forever (even if they looked not a day older), finally remembering correctly as Bruce, Trent and Portia…or she believed those were their names.

    "Man, can't believe he got so lucky with the Kalos Queen," Bruce snapped angrily, his gaze looking at Brock and Aria with a rather jealous expression. Trent slapped him on the back comfortingly while Portia regarded them with rolling eyes.

    "Don't worry about a thing, bro," Trent told to him. "When we go back to Unova, you'll see all the women way better than Aria."

    "Tch," Portia scoffed out, turning away. For a second, Serena felt she looked almost somewhat familiar, reminding her of an old acquaintance of sorts, just younger, but she pushed that away at the sight of them all finally approaching the rest of their friends. They were all standing together in a large huddle that took up the whole center of the room.

    "Pikapi!" Pikachu called, hopping onto his shoulder from Dawn's (which he had shared with Piplup).

    "Everyone ready?" Ash asked as he reached them all. The majority of the responses he received from that were nods, mostly from Kahili, Clemont, Korrina and others. Only Dawn and Bonnie reacted any differently.

    "No need to worry!" they said together, slapping their hands together. Some other small distance away, Seamus also offered a curt nod at the statement, with Christopher and Bethany right next to him, alongside Merry, each of them with a soured expression. Max just rolled his eyes at Bonnie's exuberance, his foot already healed, though not in a prime position for running. Ash seemed to like hearing that, because he exhaled in relief, just as Diantha's voice began to boom across the lobby.

    "Everyone, it's time!" she yelled out. Ash was the first to turn towards Diantha as the Champion stepped on to the stage, finally calling them all to attention. Everyone, however, quieted down almost instantly. Once they had, Diantha turned to the screen, where a diagram of Ancien City appeared, mapping the entire place out. Each of them paid attention, even though they had spent all their time coming up with the battle strategy the last two days, and were more than intimately familiar with it in the first place. Diantha waited and continued on. "IDEAL is about strike any time today, and we must be ready.

    "To prepare ourselves for the upcoming battle, we'll go over the battle plan one last time in preparation for it. There are three major areas of the city we've chosen to defend. With the aid of former Mayor Aston and current Mayor Chrissy, we've managed a successful evacuation of the citizens to Ancien Castle and the cellars there, packed as it may be. To keep them safe, we'll be sending a small but technologically equipped force to deal with the defenses there, regardless of whether their plans are foolproof. Molayne, you'll be in charge of the force that will contain Clemont, Korrina, Bonnie, Max, Lillie, Hau and Sophocles for the defense, alongside Plumeria and Aether Foundation employees. I'm sure you've already worked out your own micromanaging system. This defense is very important, especially if IDEAL needs to shed yet more blood to activate what they wish, so keeping the citizenry safe is vital."

    "Following that, others, such as myself, Lance and Alder will defend the stadium and the surrounding squares," Cynthia spoke. "Like the defense of Ancien Castle, this is just as vital. With such a wide-open space of the stadium, we hope to make it seem like we are defending the populace with a show of force there to try and divert them away from the castle. Mayor Aston's rather public announcement regarding the stadium's mechanical safety redesign since the Debacle should help in convincing our enemy that the populace could be gathered there beneath the coliseum. Assisting us will be ARC and various other trainers. Naturally, we still hope that not too many of the enemy's forces get there, but we also realize it's inevitable, given ARC's skills."

    "No worries about that!" Ash yelled from the crowd. Some still looked at him while others remained watching the diagrams. Serena, however, looked at her husband while he spoke, Pikachu appearing ready on his shoulder. "Latias is going to be guarding the air, along with our own aerial forces. Charizard and Talonflame have been looking for a good fight, and they know what's at stake here."

    "We'll rely on that compilation of you trainers' aerial Pokémon to defend the air," Diantha picked back up. The reassurance that they wouldn't just be relegated to fighting on the ground certainly seemed to have bolstered them, especially Alain, who was gripping his wrist with the readiness for battle. "As for the rest of the city, we need to take equal care in defending it. We'll scatter others throughout the city at strategic points like City Hall and the Meteorite Square, while our base will remain here at the Ancien Grand for the ease of communicating."

    "Everyone, make sure you hold on to your walkies!" Clemont shouted out now from his position, raising his hand into the air that was holding to the walkies and displaying them all. Ash took one from him, nodding sharply. "This'll be vital if the plan ever changes."

    "On top of it," Diantha continued on, once more riveting the attention fully back upon her, "we'll need to keep the command center here safe, not only for a rallying point, but also to protect the medical corps so they can carry out their duties. To that effect, we'll keep some of our strongest trainers near to here, such as Paul, Kahili, Seamus and the like. You already have your orders. Other strong trainers will be leading the forces on other sections of the city, including the border. We want to secure that meteonite no matter what. One of IDEAL likely has the meteonite on their person, so the obvious goal is to defeat them and take it from them. We cannot allow them to use it in tandem with the Omega at all costs. As for Ash…"

    "Me and Serena will stay on the move," Ash announced to everyone. At this point, everyone actually did turn towards them, and Serena smiled at all of them, continuing to offer that reassurance for them. For the younger trainers that had gathered there, it bolstered them immensely, while the older trainers that knew her all seemed to be reminded of past events. "We don't know if what Deirdre told Giovanni about me is actually a lie, so I need to be careful. In the meantime, we'll keep our eyes out for Deirdre, as well. She targeted us before so maybe we can engage her then. Team Rocket…er…Jessie, James and Meowth, you guys'll keep watch on us from the air."

    "You got it, twoip!" Meowth stated, sharpening his claws with a malicious expression. Even James and Jessie joined in, looking like they were ready to kick it into high gear.

    "We've always got your back, twerp!" James proclaimed and Jessie finished it off with cackling loudly alongside Wobbuffet. Ash grinned at the three of them while Serena looked to Jessie, nodding at her past rival. Now that the three were fully free from Team Rocket, they truly looked to be striking out in a new direction, even if Serena wasn't sure of what that direction would be quite yet. Knowing they'd be working actively to protect them, oddly enough, seemed more than reassuring. Ash stepped forward.

    "All right, then! We all know what we're doing, right, Diantha? Defending Ancien City and taking on all of IDEAL at the same time?" Ash asked of the Champion above. The actress nodded her head. "Then let's not waste any more time. This is the fight for our world! Everyone, you and your Pokémon, both, give it your all!"

    "YEAH!" came the combined cry of everyone there, raising their fists into the air alongside Ash. It felt almost ironic, repeating it all in the place that it first originated. As soon as they lowered, that feeling of the breath before the plunge settled in once more.

    The battle wouldn't begin when IDEAL arrived; it was beginning right now, moving out to their assignments.

    Ash didn't move out right away, however, looking over to the rest of his friends. Brock joined them there, holding to his medical equipment for the field. He stared at all of them, and they stared right back. From May to Dawn, looking fierce, and then Iris, Cilan and Misty, each determined. Lillie and Hau, ready to battle together; Bonnie and Max, offering each other a fistbump; and even Clemont stood tall, his glasses shining in the light of the pristine hotel as his hand came away from Korrina's. Ash watched them all and breathed in. Outside, his own collection of Pokémon, alongside those of his friends and rivals, could be seen even clearer, some looking in, as though sensing his intentions. Serena smiled and placed a hand to her stomach, closing her eyes as if in a moment of prayer.

    "Everyone…I know this is a lot to ask, but…" Ash breathed out, staring squarely at each of them in turn. "Please journey with me, one more time."

    There was silence following his request, and then Misty was the one to step forward, offering her hand into the center of their large group. Some, like Maka and Keoni (the former dragging the latter), stuck around to watch, but most of the lobby cleared itself out before Misty spoke. "Until the very end."

    And with her words, they all threw their hands in as a promise: a promise for each of them to move forward and survive until the end of the battle. No matter what happened, each of them would be there and do that. When Serena put her hand in, she felt that strength flowing through all of them, smiling to each and every one of them. That emboldened them, and when their hands separated, they all walked away, feeling as though they were grasping to a piece of each other. Following that, all but Ash and Serena turned away, aiming to leave the hotel and heading for their destined places, with Korrina dragging Clemont the most. Kahili tossed a look back to Ash, as if insisting he not die. Ash seemed to smirk and held a fist up in challenge. That was good enough for his sister-figure.

    "Well, how about you, Serena? Ready?" Ash asked. Serena nodded, gripping two pokeballs and calling them out. Braixen and Sylveon appeared, each ready for the battle ahead while Pikachu hopped to the ground, cheeks sparking. Seeing that, Ash and Serena took each other's hand, and after a final look back to the Champions, made to leave the hotel, themselves.

    Perhaps it was the strangeness of having no milling civilians around, but the town seemed so empty. Or not empty, but as though it was holding a breath it was waiting to exhale. Trainers were taking position around the large tower that was the hotel, while others were moving off to various parts of the city. Each was calling a Pokémon out, standing strong in front of them and ready to fight. Amongst them all, Serena noticed Paul's Torterra and Electivire, along with Nanu's Persian. Most notable of all, however, were Ash's own Pokémon, called en masse from Tracey and Professor Oak at his lab. They all came forward or circled around in the air to greet him.

    "Everyone, I'm glad you could make it and fight with me. I know it took a lot of work to get you all here, but I know we can pull it off," Ash spoke to them all, walking along the cobblestone streets to wherever the couple would take their first destination. Bayleef was the only one to call out at Serena's presence, greeting her happily and nuzzling her, which Serena did back. "So, my only commands as your trainer and friend are these: don't die, and protect everyone! Don't worry about me, because Serena will have my back. So, take care of as many as you can."

    "RAWWWWR!" Charizard roared, a column of fire splitting the air in a brilliant blaze of glory. Serena drew inspiration and courage from that. Ash and all of his Pokémon were ready to fight, and now the rest was up to them. With Charizard's signal, it seemed to be a note for everyone to finish getting themselves into position, all of Ash's Pokémon scattering, some on their own, others (like Snivy and Oshawott) in groups.

    "Ash, where do we plan to go first?" the honey blonde asked of her husband once they'd all split off in numerous directions. Pikachu remained on Ash's shoulder, staring up at the sky, his ears twitching slightly. It felt like proof that the battle was closer to than farther from.

    "Okay, got it!" Ash said, throwing his fist on top of his palm. Serena looked at him, but he reached over to grab her hand and began pulling her towards the site of battle…or wherever he was taking her. Around the entire city, screens began to activate, like they had on the final day of the Kalos Team Tournament. On most of them seemed to be Conway and Gladion's faces before they started shifting over, showcasing different areas of the town via the camera on the buildings.

    "Testing, this is Conway…Dawn, can you see my face? Heh heh heh," Conway chuckled out. It wasn't very long before they heard Dawn's response coming through the screens, showing that she, May, Misty and Iris were stationed at the City Hall.

    "More than I'd like to!" she shouted. It only took a moment for Conway's face to be pushed back, revealing Diantha and Steven's faces as the leaders of the battle, both Champions looking rather regal, even though they were dressed as normal. Behind them seemed to be the medical crops, including Aria, and the technological crew, led by Conway and supported by the once familiar Kenneth. However, Serena also looked to see who was stationed elsewhere before the couple finally came to a stop, only briefly noting those by the stadium, and trainers like Gary, Cilan and Sawyer in one of the squares. Alain seemed to have taken to the air alongside Team Rocket (Serena really couldn't help but call them that), while Maka and Keoni had taken point in Meteorite Square with Acerola and what looked like Ilima, Kukui and the surprising Miss Akela, each saluting at the screens.

    "So, you decided to come here for a vantage point?" called the ever-familiar voice of Serena's father, causing her to turn and do a double take. At last, she realized just where Ash had taken her to: the bridge he had once fought Sawyer and…Rocky…upon. "It's a good spot. We'll just have to be wary of any water Pokémon."

    "We'll make it work," Ash told his father-in-law, grinning at the man. Y stepped forward and the two clasped hands like they were longtime partners. Beyond them, Serena could see the remainder of the Kalosian Gym Leaders, led by Malva and her Houndoom, defending the border with other, younger trainers. "The bridge is slightly higher I think, so it'll work. Now we just have to wait. Ready, Pikachu?"

    "Picha!" Pikachu agreed, flexing his muscles. Serena looked to Braixen and Sylveon both, the two of them nodding and ready for battle. Even her father's Hydreigon looked ready to let loose. The three of them moved forward to stand in the middle of the bridge. To the sides, Serena could see other trainers preparing, and those in the forest ahead of them standing still.

    The air grew quiet. The sun rose over the trees entirely, signaling the true start of the new day. Serena breathed in, drawing closer to her husband, while her father placed his foot forward. The anticipation was killing her inside as Ancien City began to glow with the sunlight, the light reflecting off the screens that showed their different positions. Y's brow furrowed tightly.

    "They're here," he said shortly, face growing hard.

    "How can you tell?" Serena breathed out. Ash squeezed her hand and let go of it.

    "The air is changing," Ash insisted, all while Pikachu's cheeks sparked. Her husband reached for the pokeballs at his side. "Greninja and Decidueye can feel it, too."

    "KUUUUUUUUU!" Latias shouted over the air, all but confirming what the two men with her had already said. Serena waited, pricking her ears, and soon she heard the noises and felt the rumblings, like a stampede across the city. Her eyes went upwards and she saw them, like an ominous cloud that reminded her of that night when dragons had swarmed across the city. Only these weren't dragons: they were Skarmory, Pidgeot, Braviary and all manner of fliers blitzing through the air, while numerous drones were mixed in. Latias gave another cry and she flashed forward, firing off a Mist Ball.

    "Leave them to handle the air!" Y shouted, Hydreigon's mouths glowing while the sound of the stampeding, incoming army became louder. Serena felt she could see them, along with the attacks that the trainers at the fore were throwing out. "Hydreigon, Dragon Pulse!"

    "Drei!" Hydreigon growled out angrily, the purple glow finally coalescing at its jaws before firing outward for the forest. It was perfectly timed, as a group of Tauros came stampeding out, eyes glowing red; they definitely weren't the friendly ones on Ash's team. The three-headed dragon slammed into the group of Tauros and sent them flying off, some of them landing in the water. That seemed to just stir what was beneath.

    "Get ready!" Ash shouted. At his call, a large Mantine emerged from the depths of the water, sending a steaming Scald right for them.

    "Protect!" Serena shouted. Sylveon acted without a second's delay, throwing up the shield that the water slammed into. It heated some of the air around them, but Pikachu was already in action, hurling a Thunderbolt at Mantine that caused it to fall back into the water. "It looks like they're not just taking Pokémon native to the area."

    "They spent just as much time preparing as we did," Y confirmed as a Tauros broke through. One of Hydreigon's heads fired off a Dark Pulse that knocked it backwards. It was soon finished by a Flamethrower from Malva's Houndoom, the woman striding forward. "They're going to have a veritable army…which is why we need to find them and take them out as quickly as we can, so that the meteonite doesn't touch down here to connect with the Omega in even the slightest way."

    "Indeed," called Malva's tones. Her Houndoom hit another surfacing Mantine with Dark Pulse as she stood near Y, cocking her hips. "I'm sure you can deal with that, yes? If anyone's capable of building that future, it's you, Ash. You can leave everything here to us."

    "Yeah, I got it! We're on it!" Ash yelled out with a confident grin. "Pikachu, into the water and use Thunderbolt at max power!"

    "Pi!" Pikachu called, dashing for the edge of the bridge. As he did so, Ash grabbed two of his pokeballs and tossed them forward, calling forth both Decidueye and Greninja, two of Ash's loyal Pokémon bringing their backs against one another as other ornery Tauros barreled down. Without a single command from Ash, the two slashed forward, green and white lights cutting along the group of Pokémon and causing them to fall. Pikachu landed in the water, beginning to spark. "Chuuuuuuu!"

    The lightning exploded from the river, tingling along it and popping with bursting power that was sent up in jets of electricity. Pokémon resurfaced, knocked out, but eliminating the river as a means of attacking. Serena breathed out, and looked up to see the Skarmory that hadn't been hit moving in their direction. With them were an assortment of drones, claws extended from some, and missiles from others.

    "Look out! Flamethrower!" Serena called. Braixen snapped her wand upwards, sending the jet of flame out. It slammed into Skarmory, causing it to fall back through the river while the drones moved in. "Psyshock!"

    "Water Shuriken!" Ash yelled out. Serena watched the drones carefully as their Pokémon attacked, tossing out watery throwing stars alongside purple energy blades. The machines seemed to be moving in a very deliberate fashion, as if aiming for a target. It confirmed Serena's own fears in her mind: they really were targeting Ash. The attacks made contact, blasting at the drones and causing them to explode. One evaded, zipping under the bridge and rising up behind Ash.

    "Hydreigon!" Y shouted, and the Brutal Pokémon acted without remorse. Three orbs of blue, red, and yellow shot out from Hydreigon's maw, slamming into the final drone and causing it to explode. At the same moment, Pikachu had climbed back up to the bridge, rejoining his comrades. The sounds of battle continued on elsewhere, and deeper into the city, near the marketplace, Serena could see explosions going off. "Time to make good on your promises, Ash. Get moving! We'll hold the bridge!"

    "Agh…all right!" Ash said, though it sounded rather reluctant. Serena was fine with it; her father would be more than enough to hold the bridge and beat back anything along the ground, especially with the smirking Malva at his side. "You be safe! Greninja, Decidueye, let's go!"

    "Nin!" Greninja agreed, dashing ahead alongside his fellow partner to provide a vanguard for Ash. More drones were descending, looking all too much like a veritable storm. It brought a foreboding feeling into Serena, like it was there for more than just a show of force, but she continued running with Ash, back into the city. Pikachu rapidly caught up to them as they ran.

    "Guess that vantage point didn't last for long, did it?" Serena questioned. Ash laughed out as another drone swirled in. Pikachu was having none of it, whipping his tail around and slicing straight through it. "I get the feeling they really are after you…"

    "Let 'em," Ash grinned out, slamming his fist into his palm. "If they want to come at me, I've got no problems with any of that. Pikachu, Electro Ball! Decidueye, Spirit Shackle!"

    "Kooroo!" Decidueye hooted out, drawing his ghostly bow and aiming upwards towards the swiftly descending drones. He fired as Pikachu sent his own orbs of crackling electricity in that direction. They impacted, exploding and creating a layer of dust as some windows cracked and shattered.

    "Skareee!" The sudden and shrill cry notified them of the Pokémon now divebombing them. Braixen took immediate precedence, sending a Fire Blast outward without a single command that blasted into the Pokémon.

    "Now, I get it…" Ash said, the look on his face filling with worry at what seemed to be his revelation. He drew closer to Serena, his eyes scanning the skies above. Even in the bright sunlight, it was impossible to see anything other than the black cloud of Pokémon and drones above, meeting their aerial forces in combat. "They're not just attacking us, but using the drones for cover to get themselves into the city!"

    "Are you saying Deirdre could be making her way in right now?" Serena asked before ordering another Fairy Wind. Sylveon blasted the floating drones backwards, slamming them into each other and causing them to explode against the screens on the buildings, damaging them. Elsewhere, another brief explosion went off.

    "It's possible," came the answer. She didn't like that, but already, she had a solution.

    "We need to get some air, right now," she told him. Ash nodded and looked to his best partner. Pikachu got the message, and as soon as he'd tackled another drone into a building with Quick Attack, he skidded back and sent a short burst of electricity flying into the air. "Until then, we'll need to hold these things off!"

    "We'll handle that!" shouted a voice, and Serena turned to see Kiawe there, riding low to the ground on his Charizard, Mallow hanging tightly to him while Lana stood on Charizard's back, her Araquanid lunging forward. Charizard opened its maw and sent flames rocketing out. They weren't alone, as Serena was sure she saw Ash's Sceptile slashing and slicing through any Pokémon or drone that got close. "We've been surveying the city…which is unusual to us."

    "How's it doing?" Ash asked, a drone getting too close for comfort. Ash kicked out, sending it spiraling into a building before it exploded, caving the area in.

    "For now, we're holding, but that airborne army is the real annoyance here," Mallow said, her Tsareena leaping and sending a Trop Kick to one of the other drones. "The borders seem to be okay with those Gym Leaders defending them, but I'm not sure how long that will last, especially if you think they're coming by air with the ground as a distraction."

    "We're about to find out," Ash muttered as another roar pierced the air. He grinned as he looked up, seeing his own Charizard aiming for the both of them. The Flame Pokémon didn't stop, the glint in his eyes shining bright, while both Ash and Serena leapt atop him, Pikachu clinging to them as Serena gripped Sylveon. Greninja and Decidueye didn't accept the invitation, both leaping up to the tops of the nearby buildings. "You take care down here! Let's go, Charizard!"

    "Rawwr!" Charizard bellowed and he shot off for the thick cloud of enemies in the sky. Despite his rising altitude and speed, Greninja and Decidueye kept up, leaping to successively higher buildings as they went.

    "Break through! Flamethrower!" Charizard snapped his jaw open, while at the same time, Braixen fired from atop Charizard, herself. Their flames mixed and mingled, aiming for that spot in the sky before colliding. An explosion burst forth, opening a hole in the drones and Pokémon army, which Charizard shot through and above. Ash twisted around, looking for any confirmation of his theory. "Come on…"

    "There!" Serena shouted, pointing in the direction of the square. Nearly lost amidst the army before them was a hovercraft, containing two of their foes in the form of Louise and Toll. It didn't seem to last long, however, as Toll quickly jumped off the side, aiming for the city below. "You were right!"

    "After them, Charizar-" Before Ash could finish calling out the command for pursuit, a Water Shuriken fired from Greninja's position, aiming for something unseen. It was only a second, but it soon slammed into a rock that was heading straight for them, breaking it apart. Charizard pulled back, looking miffed at the interruption that was now flapping in front of them.

    "You're smarter than most give you credit for," called the voice of Alastair, his large Aerodactyl visible before he was. That didn't take long, however, as behind them, his form appeared, standing atop Aerodactyl like it was the easiest thing in the world. Numerous Flying Pokémon blasted past him, from Braviary to Pidgeot to Altaria, but Alastair remained unfettered. "Then again, this is a battle. However, I can't have you getting in the way."

    "Look who's talking," Ash pointed out. Charizard whipped around, facing front to the enemy they were about to face. Alastair regarded them with little emotion in his eyes; Serena thought that, perhaps, she saw a flash of contempt, but nothing else Alastair did conveyed that. "Steel Wing, let's go!"

    "Dragon Claw!" Alastair shouted out over the whirring of the drones. Aerodactyl's claws glowed green, and with a horrific roar, the beast soared right at Charizard. Likewise, Charizard aimed for it, wings glowing a bright white. The two made to clash, and Serena held to Ash tightly while Braixen hunkered down. Soon, the wings made contact with the claws, sending out sputtering green sparks in midair. Charizard and Aerodactyl strained against one another. "Sky Drop."

    "Seismic Toss! Decidueye!" Ash shouted. With that command, Ash grabbed hold of Serena and let go of Charizard. It was a surprising move in that moment, but one Serena leaned into, making sure she was gripping her husband tightly as they jumped off. From below, Decidueye fired his ghostly arrow, slamming right into Aerodactyl and managing to hold it in place as Charizard grabbed hold of it and began to spin around.

    "Fairy Wind, like usual!" Serena called as Sylveon also dropped. She sent the wind plummeting beneath them, creating a light gust for them to ride down to the ground, through the drones, before touching down to those cobblestone lanes. Pikachu and Greninja returned to Ash's side, while in the air, Charizard whirled around before aiming straight for the ground. It took only a few seconds before Aerodactyl was slammed into the surface by the attack, causing the road to shudder, and even the hotel quite a ways behind them to shake a little. Charizard flew back while Ash remained on edge.

    "Yes, Deirdre was right to consider you a threat…" Alastair spoke, even as the dust obscured him from view. Serena turned her own body, ready for the enemy that was about to challenge them. It took a second before the snapping of wings was heard, and the dust was blown away, into their eyes. When it cleared, Alastair was standing there, nary a scratch on him as Aerodactyl fluttered behind him, snarling as it stared down its prey. "It's the reason I made you top priority. In every mission, each player has their own role to play. Louise and Toll have theirs, Matori has hers, and mine is to support our leader…in this case, that means taking care of you."

    "Not a chance!" Ash yelled. Decidueye had now returned, and four of Ash's strongest were in front of him, ready to play defense. Even Braixen and Sylveon seemed ready to rumble. Alastair stopped, and began to laugh.

    "Not a choice," the man finally spoke, eyes sharpening into daggers. "Now, shall we begin?"

    "You can start with me, old man!" Kahili's sudden interjection made Serena look around and then upwards. Toucannon was streaking down, beak blazing with fire as Kahili fell before their foe, dropping to the ground and rolling along. Toucannon slammed into Aerodactyl, pushing it into a nearby building before it exploded around them from the Beak Blast. The building crumbled. Alastair made no reaction, watching the golfer with a somewhat annoyed expression. "Get your *** moving, Ash. You need to find Deirdre. I can handle tall, dark and stupid here."

    "Kahili…" Ash said with warning, but the woman turned her head with a grin.

    "The others have got sectors of the city covered, understood," she said, tilting her cap up a bit. "Remember, we can't engage them just one at a time. Find Deirdre, and get going."

    "What the bird lady said," croaked another bored voice. This time, Alastair did react, as Nanu came bursting down another end of the street, his Persian firing a Dark Pulse that the man barely dodged. "About time I found a good fight…and it just happens to be you, Alastair."

    "Nanu…what a pest," Alastair spoke, lip twitching. Serena wasn't sure how to move in the moment, even with Kahili incredulously mouthing "bird lady? !". She waited, looking to Ash, who seemed just as conflicted. "Then again, only fitting that this world ends on a fight with someone who knew me before."

    "Heh, I just want a good battle…try not to die so easily this time, Alastair," Nanu grinned out, his Persian sharing the same expression. At Nanu's words, Ash seemed to have finally made his decision, gripping back on to Charizard. Knowing he had decided, Serena went with him, calling back Braixen while he did so for Decidueye. They mounted Charizard. "I want to keep going as long as we can, after all!"

    "You must be a glutton for punishment, then, Nanu!" Alastair shouted. Charizard flapped his wings, taking to the air, but hovering a moment.

    "No, he's just an idiot who likes battling until every ounce of blood is drained," Kahili commented, walking over to confront Alastair and slamming her golf club to the ground. Toucannon was glaring menacingly from her front. "Can't say I'm blame him. After all, that's what I want from you, too. Now, get going, Ash! You won't want to be here when the battle starts."

    "That's for sure. I'm not holding back this time," Nanu commented, still with his feral grin. While his eyes remained tired, they flickered with a near malevolent intent, ready to destroy the enemy before them. Charizard rose. For Alastair, however, the veneer broke and a light appeared from his waist, Aegislash manifesting.

    "I would have it no other way, Nanu," Alastair spoke. Aegislash unsheathed itself, whirling around in the air for its trainer. With his own matching grin, the first time Serena had ever seen it from the man, Alastair grabbed hold of Aegislash's hilt and shield, slashing it downward before touching to a keystone. "I want to see you bleed before the new world. Mega Evolve!"

    As the light of Mega Evolution burst forth, neither Ash nor Serena looked back. They just took to the skies, leaving the battle behind to Kahili and Nanu. Their war was truly here.
    *Chapter to be continued in the next post...

  11. #36
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    Chapter continued from last post.

    Explosions shuddered the ground, and shouts were heard from the city, but Clemont didn't pay attention. Much as he wanted to help his friends in the city down the hill, he stayed focused alongside Molayne, pulling out a third computer next to Sophocles. Nearby, the others stayed on high alert, with Lillie pacing back and forth worriedly. While he wanted to offer the young woman some words of wisdom, Molayne was also speaking, indicating a matter far more important.

    "Over the years, we've managed to enhance the general properties and understandings of Z-Crystals thanks to Gary," Molayne told him, holding up a fragment of a Z-Ring in his hands. On the other side, Sophocles was rapidly typing into his programming computer, the whole thing attached to the doors. "Combined with Mr. Y's stock of these pieces that he'd gathered, we've got enough to set up a barrier for this entire castle, similar to the trial sites."

    "Big Mo, instead of talking, can we get set up? The doors are fully computer-operated now," Sophocles spoke. He stood on his short legs, belly jiggling a bit as he scratched at his beard. Clemont ignored that, checking the architectural design of the castle, searching for the key points that Molayne had marked on.

    "Whatever you're going to do, hurry it up," Plumeria snapped, rolling her shoulders as her boys and girls stood around her. Korrina and Hau stepped forward, as though they anticipated the battle to come. Clemont nodded.

    "Buy us whatever time is needed," he insisted to the woman. She scoffed, like whatever was going to happen there was unnecessary. It still baffled Clemont's mind to be working together with the woman after all this time, but it was also something he knew needed to be done. A whirring noise was heard, but Clemont didn't turn away at the sound of it. Now was the time to finish girding the castle.

    "So, any ideas about how to get them all in quickly? The science is sound, after all," Molayne pointed out, indicating the screen that was before them. Clemont agreed, his mind working at rapid pace. The invention to embed the Z-Ring materials in the castle would be fine to create quickly; the real issue was actually doing so in a swift manner. If they hadn't needed to move all the civilians in before doing this, their minds could have already…

    "Incoming!" Bonnie shouted. Clemont could easily hear that. More accurately, he heard the squealing noise of the missile aiming right for them. "Dedenne, Parabolic Charge!"

    "Dene!" Dedenne called out, bounding forward from Clemont's peripheral vision. The missile made contact with a turret of the castle. Bricks blew outward, and the dust and gravel rained upon Clemont as he thought. The battle had clearly begun in the city and headed straight for them at the same time. There was no more time left to think. A bright glow of electricity showed Dedenne already getting into the action.

    "Aerial Ace!" Bonnie shouted out now, and Clemont watched as Dedenne moved with swift speed to appear behind the drone and slam it down to the ground. Clemont's eyes widened; he'd figured it out.

    "There'll be more," Max commented, remaining rooted where he stood to avoid putting more pressure on his foot. Clemont agreed, but he turned to face them all. The army of drones was definitely sailing for them, Pokémon attached to a large number of them. They needed to work quickly if there were any other missiles on hand to deal with.

    "Everyone, hold them off. Don't let a single missile or Pokémon get to this castle!" Clemont yelled, gripping at his pokeball and tossing it out. Vikavolt appeared in a bright light. "Hold tight, Vikavolt; we'll need your help in a moment."

    "You've got an idea?" Molayne asked. The castle doors began to shut, Sophocles only leaving a slight gap open for them to slip inside when they were ready, the forms of frightened civilians visible through the crack. Clemont knew he wouldn't be joining, however. He straightened up, grinning at the man he had once admired.

    "The future is now thanks to science, you know," Clemont commented, unable to stop the smirk from stretching his face. "We'll make a drill and attach it to Vikavolt. If we hadn't been so busy setting everything else up with the doors and in the city, I would have thought of it earlier, but as it stands, here we are. The drill won't take long, but you'll need to guide us from within the castle by using electric pulses at the spots needed."

    "From within…? Clemont, you don't mean to-" Molayne's thoughts went unfinished. The inventor looked up and over to all of his friends, sister and fiancée. Lucario was punching forward, already Mega Evolved for the battle ahead, and sending an Aura Sphere colliding into one of the drones, ripping through it. Korrina looked back, and offered him a smile. They were prepared.

    "Get going! We'll start closest to the doors!" Clemont ordered the older man. Molayne sighed out, but eventually clapped Clemont on the shoulder and began to head into the castle. Clemont moved closer. "If we don't make it out here, you're all that's between IDEAL and the citizens. Okay?"

    Molayne said nothing, but nothing needed to be said. Another missile fired out.

    "Pipi! Thunderbolt!" Hau shouted. Pipi sailed right into the air, making sure to keep up the aerial defense as she aimed the bolt of lightning for the missile, causing it to explode in midair. "Electric Terrain! Let's keep that speed up!"

    "Nice job, Hau! Rollout!"

    "Launch him, Gallade!" Max and Lillie's commands seemed to come out seamlessly. Gallade punched forward, a bright, white light at the end of its arm before he slammed into Komala, and sent the Drowsing Pokémon rolling through the air and colliding with a set of drones. Hau cheered as the electric sparks tingled around the area, providing it with more energy for the multitude of Electric types there. Vikavolt seemed to bask in it, as well.

    "Hurry up, Clemont!" Plumeria snapped angrily. "I think we're about to have bigger problems than drones on the horizon."

    "I got it, I got it!" Clemont yelled. The doors finally slammed shut, locking swiftly with Sophocles' program. There was no way in or out now; it was down to them to make a stand in keeping the civilians safe. He hoped Ash and the other trainers were okay down below, but couldn't worry about them. Instead, he turned towards the backpack he had brought and dumped it out, depositing all of his materials to the ground. "Let's do this!"

    "Maaaah!" a loud roar sounded out, and a shudder soon filled the air. Clemont glanced back, seeing a trio of Salamence land. Only, they weren't just normal Salamence: they were flaring and pulsing with an orange aura. This was going to be a lot more difficult. Technology really had come too far.

    "Totem Pokémon!" Lillie called out, digging her foot into the ground. "No turning back! Hau, you and me!"

    "Take them in groups!" Plumeria yelled out, and her brothers and sisters leapt into action, Gumshoos and Raticate alike leaping at one of the Salamence. A green tail came whipping outwards, slamming into them and tossing them aside like rag dolls. "Keep ganging up! We have numbers, so take those three down!"

    "Wood Hammer!" Lillie yelled. Komala spun through the air and slammed on to one of the Salamence's head with his green glowing chunk of wood. Incineroar finished up, slashing across that same spot with a Shadow Claw. Bonnie and Max were attacking together on the other side, combining Aerial Ace with a Psycho Cut. Meanwhile, Plumeria was continually ordering the others to take on the drones while Lucario sailed into a raging Dragon Breath with a Power-Up Punch.

    Clemont returned to his task at hand. He had to believe in all of them to succeed in their works. He gathered up his materials, beginning to piece together the pieces for a drill that would attach to Vikavolt, all while keeping his hands steady. It was far more difficult in light of the shaking caused by the battle a few feet away. Nevertheless, he remained focused on his task, completing the drill and harness, only needing to work on the holding system in a matter of minutes. His gaze looked back, watching as Dedenne slammed on to one of the Salamence with a Play Rough, the puffs of white smoke allowing Gallade the chance to deliver a crushing blow that Clemont looked away from.

    "Keep going, Bonnie," he breathed out.

    "Lucario, Metal Sound, then beat it with Bone Rush!" Korrina called out. Lucario growled loudly, showing that he was getting into the battle. The high-pitched keening sounded out, making all of the Salamence cry out in pain.

    "Yo, let's get in it!" one of the trainers there called as Clemont finished his assembly and lunged for his box, quickly tossing in all of the fragments inside the apparatus. "Hit 'em with Super Fang, yo!"

    "Yawn!" Lillie called, taking Hau's hand as she did so. Plumeria's Salazzle remained on sharp alert, a gushing Flamethrower followed by a soaring Dragon Pulse colliding with the drones and sending them away. One of the stray missiles soared past, aiming for the bulk of the castle.

    "Vikavolt, Charge Beam!" Clemont called. Vikavolt flitted right upwards, speed supported by the Electric Terrain as it fired the shocking beam into the missile, causing it to explode before making contact. "Okay, come on back."

    "Vik," Vikavolt called, fluttering back down to face Clemont, looking pleased. Clemont smiled at his partner and slid the apparatus around his mandibles. Behind him, it seemed like Pipi had landed a swift Brick Break to one of the Salamence's heads, before a Dragon Pulse slammed into her and sent her careening off with a cry from Hau. Clemont promised to not let himself get distracted.

    "Vikavolt, Molayne will send those electrical impulses through the castle. You find them, drill in just a little until it stops and send your own charge to drop the Z-Crystal in, all right?" he told to the Stag Beetle Pokémon with him. Vikavolt nodded, allowing Clemont a chance to pat his trusted partner before the Bug type took off for the first point. Clemont slid over to the computer, reading out all the points as it synched with Sophocles.

    "Clemont! Heading your way!" Korrina called out. Clemont whipped around just in time to see Salamence take a fiery chomp of Lucario, who used his energy to build up another Power-Up Punch and send the creature to the ground, knocking it out. The Aether employees cheered, just as another timed attack between Dedenne and Gallade sent the other Salamence flying back. However, Clemont was able to see just what the last Salamence was doing, and what his fiancée had meant: Draco Meteor.

    "Stay still!" Plumeria ordered as the sound of the drill going into the castle was heard. The inventor looked to Plumeria, the woman's arms crossing in the pose for a Z-Move, Salazzle's body glowing along with it. Clemont didn't need to see the result of that, the meteors streaking down towards them. Incineroar was blazing with fire, aiming right for Salamence with Komala atop him, the two slamming into the final opponent before Komala finished it off with a Wood Hammer. Vikavolt was moving on swiftly, having finished a side of the castle while he'd been distracted.

    "Nice!" Hau cried out, slapping hands with Lillie. She seemed to stare up at him, clearly wanting to say something, but decided against it, turning to the acid downpour that corroded the meteors falling. Those that weren't broken up into naught but debris were otherwise intercepted.

    "Aerial Ace!" Bonnie had cried. Once more, Clemont grinned, knowing he didn't need to worry further. Dedenne was on the way for a rescue, likely for the promise of sleep when he was finished. Clemont just turned to his monitor, watching the rest of the progress. His plan to use Vikavolt had been a smart one, and as the meteors broke to pieces all around him, turning into naught but dust while the remaining attacking drones all fell, Clemont watched Vikavolt putting the last of the Z-Crystals into position.

    "NOW! Activate!" Clemont roared, pressing a button on the computer, knowing Sophocles was doing the same on the other side. He looked up, watching as the air around the castle began to shimmer, like a metal shield wrapping around the entire stone building. They had succeeded in making a near impenetrable barrier.

    A massive explosion sounded out from the city, causing Clemont to whip that way as Vikavolt returned to him. His hands moved to finally remove the drill as he looked at the explosions near the stadium in the distance, visible from their hill. Things seemed to be crumbling away, as though an attempt to keep their own forces from protecting the citizens, fires breaking out upon the stone streets. It seemed that their bait had been taken.

    It seemed that way…until Vikavolt shouted out in warning.

    "VIKSHA!" it screeched out, and Clemont's body pivoted, eyes widening. He caught sight of the fleet of missiles aiming for all of them. Everyone moved at once. Incineroar grabbed hold of Lillie and Hau, while Bonnie and Max grabbed to each other, reaching for their Pokémon. Lucario and Korrina dove to the side, but were caught as the first missile hit the ground. Clemont wanted to scream, seeing his fiancée fly through the air and slam upon the ground, unmoving, her chest barely rising and falling, if it was at all. Plumeria was slow to react, but her boys and girls weren't, each of them constructing themselves like a massive wall to protect her. Vikavolt flew outward, pulsing out with red soundwaves.

    "Bonnie!" Clemont shouted for his sister, knowing his fiancée already couldn't hear him in her state. But no one could. Vikavolt's Bug Buzz was blocking any sounds. It destroyed some of the missiles around Clemont, leaving him untouched, but the sheer number of them made it impossible to destroy them all. They slammed into the ground, chewing up the dirt with explosions. Bonnie and Max flew back, separated from Gallade and Dedenne, with Squishy flopping out of Bonnie's bag but remaining inactive, as if saving its strength. Hau and Lillie were pitched to the side, showered in dirt with Incineroar on top of them, unmoving. The Aether employees took the worst of it, hit directly by the blast to protect their Big Sister, who watched with wide eyes.

    "Guys…what're you…?" she questioned, hand shaking as Salazzle dashed to the closest fallen one, pressing to her worriedly.

    "Yer our…big sis…we ain't lettin' some…missiles…" Clemont stood up properly, just in time to see the woman expire, her eyes wide, but her limbs unmoving next to her likewise fallen Raticate. He felt the breath catch in his throat…and then the rage set in. Technology, missiles, drones…used to hurt and kill people. They may not have been close to him, but they were to Plumeria, who was beginning to shake with her own rage.

    "Still two standing," chortled a feminine voice, but laced with an almost taunting glee. "Shame. I thought I could take you and the castle down with a single blow, but I underestimated your expertise, Clemont, and the stupidity of those fools."

    "Shut your mouth, you b*tch," Plumeria snapped. She walked forward, reaching up to pull her bandanna and her hair ties off, letting it flow freely in the wind. Clemont ran forward to join her, seeing Bonnie and Max groaning at their attempts to move, while Hau failed to remove a fainted Incineroar from off of him. What he saw most clearly, however, was the form of Louise, her mint-green hair in a simple ponytail as she pushed her glasses up while she approached slowly. "You hurt my siblings. You hurt my friends. I will damn you to hell for touching any of them!"

    "Go ahead and make me try," Louise spoke, not wasting any time in flicking a remote that caused yet more drones to rise in the air, joined by a rather nasty looking Beedrill. "But I'll need the key into there, and if you won't give it to me so I can fulfill my mission in obliterating the populace here, I'll just take your life instead."

    "Yeah?" Clemont called out, his voice joined by Plumeria's as the two former foes stood together. "Why don't you just try it?"


    Author's Note: The climax has begun in a big fashion! Hell, they're already facing off against IDEAL, too! Nanu and Kahili against Alastair! Clemont and Plumeria against Louise! Really, this is just the beginning of this intensity, and there's already been some death here, so you know it'll just get darker from here, with three other members to contend with. I hope you're ready, because this climax won't stop until the end.

    With only so long to go, we'll get to the thick of it. Who will live? Who will die? Find out. And until then, please Review and Dare to Be Silly.

  12. #37
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    Well, now it's time for some explosive action in Chapter 19!


    Chapter 19

    An Explosion

    "Pikachuuuuuu!" Ash kept his head low, the searing bolt of electricity colliding with some more incoming drones and flying Crobat, scorching them with its voltage. Charizard immediately followed up with a blistering Flamethrower that cleared the path ahead.

    "Swift!" Serena called from behind him, still gripping tightly. Using one ribbon to hang on to her trainer's wrist, Sylveon flicked her other one from Charizard's side, sending golden stars out to collide with those sneaking up from behind. It didn't do much to clear them away, but it did allow for a distraction that was covered up by Alain and Mairin roaring through on his own Charizard, dropping their attackers down to the ground.

    "It's getting thick up here!" Alain yelled over to them. Ash looked up at his old rival, the man pausing for a moment as his Charizard flapped in the air, nodding at Ash's own. "You haven't found Deirdre yet?"

    "Nothing so far!" Ash yelled out. A loud popping noise was heard, and it forced all of them to swivel their heads in its direction, seeing a line of drones firing missiles out for them.

    "Seed Bomb!" screamed the voice of Jessie from above. Before either Ash or Alain could react, a barrage of green-glowing seeds fired out, mixed with a Psybeam that intercepted all of the missiles. They exploded in midair, sending the drones with them. Ash looked up to see the Team Rocket balloon floating above them, the magenta haired woman leaning over the side.

    "Get your head in the game, twerp!" she screeched over at him. "And twerpette, I expected more from you! If you love him, you keep protecting him! Now's not the time to get distracted!"

    "What Jessie said!" James agreed wholeheartedly. Ash couldn't help the chuckle that escaped from his lips, reaching up and rubbing at his nose. They were right; he couldn't afford any manner of distraction at that moment. Knowing that, he gave them a thumbs up, while Pikachu grinned over at Meowth.

    "Alain, keep watch on the skies up here! We're heading for the hotel," Ash told him. The black-haired man looked at him with a slight confusion in his eyes, not quite understanding what Ash was planning to do. Not bothering with that, Ash took out his walkie talkie, patting Charizard to have him head for the Ancien Grand. "Better vantage point!"

    "Got it! Charizard, Dragon Claw!" Alain roared out, holding fast to his own Flame Pokémon while Mairin and Chespie clung to him. His Charizard's claws glowed a bright green and soared into the mess of Crobat, slashing powerfully and knocking them to the ground. Ash's own turned around and headed right for the hotel that sat in the center of the city.

    "You're going to tell them about the others?" Serena asked, leaning over to speak into his ear. Ash nodded quickly, giving that as the simplest answer. He raised the walkie and fiddled with it to the specified channel, even if he was unsure whether anyone would be paying attention in the heat of battle.

    "Everyone, this is Ash! IDEAL is definitely here! Kahili and Nanu are fighting Alastair somewhere on the ground, and I'm pretty sure we saw Louise and Toll somewhere else in the city, flying off towards the castle or stadium. Not really sure which," Ash communicated over the lines. While he waited for a response from the command center they were heading towards, Ash looked to the screens around the town, noticing the shots of different areas of the city. Dawn and Misty looked to be putting up a hard fight at City Hall, while those battling it out in the square (still including Maka, Keoni, Kukui and the ever-graceful Miss Akela), seemed almost overwhelmed, some trainers having already fallen.

    "Thanks for the update, Ash," Diantha's voice finally crackled out over the lines. Ash nodded, even knowing she couldn't see him. "We'll be on the lookout for both of them and leave Alastair to those two; goodness knows they should be able to handle it. Any location on Deirdre?"

    "Not yet," Ash responded. His eyes flicked over to the stadium, where he could see Alpha Squad standing together with Christopher and Bethany, beating back the Pokémon that were attacking them, as well as a large amount of Gabite and Dugtrio churning the ground to get to them. "Y and Malva are defending the bridge, but we're heading for the top of the hotel to get a better view of things."

    "Understood. Keep on alert, everyone, and find that meteonite! Kukui, protect the square. That may be an area they'll try to connect the Alpha and the Omega," Diantha shouted over the lines. There was a mix of agreements and understandings, but Ash ignored them, tucking the walkie back in his pockets as Charizard finished closing in on top of the hotel. The wind roared in his ears, blocking out all other sounds until they landed atop the roof with a loud shudder. Greninja had been the first to reach the top from a climb, though, summoning his blade in a defensive mode.

    "Now, let's see…" Ash muttered out. Serena moved to the opposite side, also glancing out over the city. There wasn't much to see, other than rising smoke and the numerous fights that had broken out over the city. With a pang, Ash could already see that some people had fallen, unmoving amidst the rubble of the buildings. There was a large explosion of dust from where he'd left Kahili, moving slowly closer towards the hotel. It made Ash's hand twitch, wanting to help out with at least one of his Pokémon. Some of his Flying types whipped through the air, with Noivern leading them all with a Boomburst. From atop his brother, Hawlucha leapt off, flexing his muscles to Ash before landing atop a drone, beating it into submission. In moments, he'd practically begun to commandeer it. It would have made Ash laugh as Hawlucha gained control of the machine he didn't understand and steered it off, but he had a mission to do.

    "Gren," Greninja croaked out. Ash looked to his partner, the frog nodding at him. The choice was obvious, and Ash crossed his arm over his chest, his companion doing the same. Serena turned to look at them as the water burst around Greninja, swirling and coalescing into the shuriken upon his back. Instantly, Ash felt himself see through Greninja's eyes, his senses heightened to a state they never could have been before. With that, he closed his eyes, trying to sense the location of Deirdre somewhere in the chaos.

    His brow furrowed, beginning to sweat as he scanned along the city. There were so many people and Pokémon there, clashing with all their might, to the point that Ash could hardly feel or discern anything in the middle of it all. The most he could sense with Greninja was the interactions between the two sides, particularly between Kahili and Alastair. That was the easiest to spot: three forces of great power clashing with one another. Ash's eyes snapped open.

    "Okay…power…" He continued scanning the city carefully. There was power in two other directions: towards the castle and…towards the stadium. It could have been Louise and Toll, but for the moment, Ash couldn't find much else, and there was still Matori to be wary of. His eyes closed again. The feeling of power remained…but it seemed larger towards the stadium, like perhaps there was more than one there, or a higher sense of murderous intent akin to Matori's, or even the meteonite, itself, with Deirdre in possession. "The stadium, Serena, let's go!"

    "Got it!" Serena called out, all of them once more running for Charizard as swiftly as they could. He was ready for them, and the second they were on his back, he was shooting off to the skies, streaking right along for the stadium. A Hyper Beam fired out, showing Lance doing his own job of keeping the enemy occupied. Charizard angled lower, anticipating that they didn't know where at the stadium to look.

    The closer they drew to the ground, flitting through streets between buildings, the more Ash could see of the battle unfolding around the stadium in its entirety. Various agents of ARC were battling the Gabite there, with Aidan's Samurott slamming around into them with an Aqua Jet. At his side was Lionel's Banette. Astrid was also nearby, her Absol slamming into an opponent with Megahorn. Ash could even see his own Goodra and Lycanroc below. Combined with members of the International Police, and someone who looked vaguely like Trip, they seemed to have the ground covered, leaving Ash set to continue for the stadium. His eyes narrowed in on it, when he saw the ground near it beginning to churn, and a Darumaka popped out, supported by a Graveler.

    "That's not good," Serena pointed out, her finger indicating the entire width of the stadium. Ash followed it, and noticed that that particular pairing of Pokémon was not the sole one. Multiple pairs of Darumaka and Graveler were popping up, with the Graveler glowing a bright white. That action was obvious.

    "Lycanroc, Stone Edge! Goodra, I need you to use Bide!" Ash screamed out, hoping his message could get to his Pokémon fast enough. It seemed to, Lycanroc bolting forward with an Accelerock to reach close enough that she could slam her paws down, stones racing out for the Darumaka. Goodra also ran, though he was far slower until he got in position and his body started glowing red. Ash's shout also seemed to have alerted others in the area to the impending explosion, with Aidan and Alder acting the fastest, Banette and Bouffalant moving into position with a Protect as swiftly as they could. "Charizard, pull back! Serena, hold tigh-"

    He couldn't finish. Charizard jerked away, trying to gain distance from the stadium's edge, causing Ash and Serena to jerk with him. The Stone Edge split into multiple directions, slamming into the Darumaka and Graveler, but not enough to hit all of them. The glow reached its zenith.

    BOOM! BOOM! BOOM!

    Like a chain, one after the other, the explosions went off. The road was broken up, and the force of one of the explosions slammed into Charizard, sending them flying through the air, right for a nearby building. Charizard barely managed to flap his wings enough to stop them from the collision, though their entire group dropped to the ground, Ash rolling off of his partner. The explosions continued, causing the ground to rumble beneath him. Chunks of stone were thrown everywhere, and Ash looked up to see the fire spreading to the trees and bushes that surrounded the stadium, painting the area in the wicked light.

    "Pika…pi…" Pikachu groaned out, extricating himself from underneath Charizard. Ash groaned, feeling the effect of the blast as he peered through the swirling dust. Serena coughed next to him, reaching for Sylveon, but he cursed under his breath at the current sight.

    The road ahead was entirely destroyed, including the stairs that led into the stadium, becoming more akin to a hilly cliff that one needed to climb, with the drones in the area now moving to swirl in. Further, the area in front of the stadium was sunken from the explosions, causing a chasm that would need to be flown over to get anywhere close to the venerated coliseum, the new feature of Ancien City being far too wide and deep to cross via conventional means. Ash groaned again, turning over to see Serena sitting up. Beyond her figure were numerous trainers, including the familiar face of Derek, face down on the ground and not moving. His Gengar was at his side, shaking him with a horrified expression, but getting no answer. Ash clenched his fist.

    "Head count!" Aidan was shouting, having protected himself and those near him effectively enough. There were some coughing replies, mainly from Alpha Squad and the Champions, but it seemed to Ash that there were far less replies than there should have been (though he was grateful to have heard Christopher and Bethany's voices). He pushed up, catching sight of Goodra, slumped over, having barely resisted the attacks before he slumped down. Lycanroc supported him, looking just as exhausted, herself. Ash was grateful for that, right as a pillar of flame erupted in front of them.

    "You need to move! Greninja, Water Shuriken!" Ash shouted, finally bringing himself to stand. Greninja acted, leaping from the nearby building to toss his giant shuriken for the erupting pillar and slamming into it, shutting it down. That bought enough time for both Goodra and Lycanroc to move back, Ash patting them both as they went. Greninja landed at Ash's side, body in a battle-ready stance. The flames dissipated, revealing the all too obvious form of Toll and Camerupt on their side of the chasm, having arrived through the smoke and debris. Greninja and Pikachu came to his side while Charizard recovered.

    "So, there you are…" Toll stated, grinning at Ash. The raven-haired trainer shifted himself, ready for Toll to make the next move as the blond looked around. "Well, it would seem this was easier than expected, so it's just up to Louise to get rid of the civilians at the castle. Then we can end this sooner than later, I would hope."

    "What are you…talking about…?" Serena grunted out, shuffling over to stand by Ash's side as she gripped a bruised arm. Ash understood what she was really asking without revealing anything: how did they know the civilians were in the castle? He had attacked the stadium, taken the bait, so how could he have known that fact? Toll's grin didn't give the answer, the man raising his hand, as if to order a wide and sweeping explosion.

    "Sol!" came a sharp cry from the direction of ARC's remaining forces, and Ash saw Astrid's Absol soar in with a Megahorn, nailing Toll's side and sending him off to the side, near the edge of the chasm, but not falling in. Camerupt turned slowly, only for Absol to knock it towards its trainer with a Shadow Claw. Astrid stepped forward, her coat practically hanging from her shirt, all of it ripped as her blonde hair flowed around her in the wind.

    "So…Nova Town…Team Rocket…Mount Lanakila…they're still not enough for you?" Astrid gasped out, seeming almost enraged. The survivors of the area were slowly gathering themselves up, with Bethany and Christopher noticing Toll, beginning to make moves towards him. "Rocky wasn't enough for you!"

    "So, he's the one who killed Rocky? !" Christopher demanded, his Crawdaunt clicking its claws angrily. The young man stepped forward, but someone else intercepted him, harsh lines on his face that mirrored Astrid's. Toll recovered, looking almost annoyed, but seemed to hold some recognition at the name.

    "Rocky? I remember him…he gave everything he had to make sure I didn't make it alive. It didn't work, though," Toll admitted, shaking his head, as though lamentable. "Is that what you've come here for, girl? Revenge?"

    "She may or may not," Aidan spoke, Banette with him as he approached their target. Samurott remained back, as if helping the others to recover from the blast. "But I am. For taking Lionel's life. For killing my best friend. Hurting my son."

    "Ho?" Aidan reached up, removing his glasses and tossing them to the side, his look of fury so palpable, Ash could feel it on the air. The enemy Pokémon and drones were recovering from the explosion.

    "I'm going to eviscerate you." Toll grinned once more, and then Aidan began. "Banette, Pursuit!"

    "Net-te-te!" Banette cackled out and it blitzed through the air for Toll and Camerupt, nailing them both with its shadowy arms. Ash moved the second it had moved.

    "Bethany, Christopher, you heard him!" Ash yelled. Banette's contact was interrupted as Toll raised his wrist and Mega Evolved his Camerupt. The light burst forth, blowing Banette away, but not harming it. Astrid and Aidan closed ranks, and Ash kept on with his commands. "Everyone, pull yourselves together! There are more on their way!"

    "Absol, Mega Evolve!" Astrid cried, touching to her earring. As Camerupt finished transforming, so, too, did both Absol and Banette, each shining with the light of their own Mega Evolution. Ash looked away, seeing Cynthia supporting Lance as the Pokémon fully recovered. More than that, more drones were swooping in, each of them arming themselves with missiles.

    "Speon!" mewled out the sound of an Espeon. Ash looked in time to see a Psybeam collide with the first drone, sending it crashing into a building. Espeon landed, and its trainer ran up, Ash grinning over to the young woman. Behind him, Serena had called out Primarina to help douse the fires before they could spread further through the city and make their job harder.

    "Rock Polish!" Toll cried out, still grinning, from Ash's knowledge. Camerupt's body shined brightly, blue sparks covering its entire body while the familiar woman finished reaching Ash. "Eruption!"

    "Protect!" Aidan shouted, flinging a hand out with a scowl resting on his lips. Banette soared forth, large arms snapping out to erect a honeycomb shield. The fires erupted from the ground, pushing Banette back, but preventing the flames from hurting either itself or Absol.

    "Ash, been a while!" Anabel spoke as Espeon prowled along the ground, waiting for more of the drones to arrive. "Haven't seen you since the wedding."

    "Yeah, looks like you've been doing well, Anabel," Ash grinned out. His eyes flicked back and forth, watching as Pikachu sent a sharp bolt of lightning to another incoming foe. Meanwhile, Absol raced forward, its large horn glowing a bright white before he slammed into Camerupt's side.

    "Shadow Claw!" Astrid shouted. Absol, still pushing against Camerupt, had his claw erupt with shadow before slashing viscerally across the Eruption Pokémon and causing it to howl loudly. Toll didn't seem to care for that. Astrid stood her ground, however, looking over to Aidan. Banette vanished. "You're not taking another step past this point, Toll."

    "Neither are you! Earth Power!" Toll shouted out. Ash jumped back, grabbing hold of both Serena and Anabel as the ground glowed a bright golden hue. Power erupted from the crackling seams, more of the road beginning to fall away into the chasm. The golden burst consumed Absol, flinging him away, rolling around the ground with a slightly smoking body. In seconds, however, he was back on all fours and growling. Banette, meanwhile, reappeared behind Camerupt and slammed into its back.

    "Camaaaah!" the creature roared, making Toll switch his eyes to Aidan.

    "They're sharing in their anger," Anabel mentioned. "Absol and Astrid; Mr. Aidan and Banette. Both of them are sharing their want to defeat this man. It's the reason Mr. Aidan can Mega Evolve a Pokémon that isn't is. It's what's keeping them going. That should continue to give them extra strength."

    "Yeah?" Serena questioned, getting only a nod in response. "Well, let's hope so. In the meantime, I don't think we should fight here, so close to that kind of battle."

    "Agreed," Ash insisted. He whipped back around as Camerupt was skidding along the ground, space now between their battle and the new chasm. More drones were incoming, each of them aiming for Ash with claws extended. Pikachu and Greninja hopped to the front, prepared to defend him, while Espeon was doing much the same alongside Sylveon, the latter's feelers joining with Espeon's tail in greeting. "Let's go, guys! Electro Ball! Water Shuriken! Charizard, run air support!"

    "Eruption!" Toll cackled out. Ash looked back in time to see a series of fiery pillars blow upwards from the ground. They split off, aiming for Banette and Absol both. Banette flitted around at Aidan's command, while Astrid did a different move.

    "Psycho Cut!" Astrid called. Absol's large horn glowed purple and then he whipped his head forward, sending the purple-colored crescent of energy right for the ground where the fire was exploding from. It made contact, continuing along as it left a gouge in the road, cutting it deeply. Upon hitting the second pillar, it exploded. "Now, Dark Pulse!"

    "Ab-sol!" Absol cried, now leaping into the air, maw opening wide. Toll didn't look too worried, as an inky black spiral fired from Absol's mouth. It slammed into the ground first, cutting along it before making contact with Camerupt. Some of the road gave way, causing the Fire type's hindlegs to dip a bit.

    "More coming! Espeon!" Anabel called, no doubt communicating with her Pokémon. To the side, the others were finally back in action, with Bethany's Vanilluxe freezing the rogue Pokémon in order for Crawdaunt to use a Guillotine right through them. Espeon's eyes glowed blue, stopping some of the drones before whirling them around and flinging them into a building. More were right behind them.

    "Earth Power!" Ash grimaced, hoping that they and the others would be out of range from the all-too devastating attack that was starting to consume the ground. More of it crumbled away, making Camerupt rather even-footed on the stone and dirt, while Absol was flung back once again. Aidan seemed sharper.

    "Protect!" he snapped out. Banette acted without a single delay, the shield wrapping around its body. The golden bursts of power passed by it harmlessly. A missile fired from some of the drones.

    "Hacha!" Ash looked up, eyes widening in almost amusement. Another missile soared out, this one impacting with the one aiming for them. It collided in midair, exploding, and Ash had to laugh at the sight of two drones sailing into battle, one commanded by Hawlucha, and the other by Oshawott and Snivy of all Pokémon!

    "Oshaaa!" Oshawott cried cheerfully, tapping on his chest proudly, while Snivy seemed to have found a way to make the drone work, firing off missiles from them and joining in with her own whipping vines. Oshawott slammed on to something, and more missiles fired out, slamming into the other drones. Hawlucha seemed more effective, though, zipping through the group of drones on his own, all while knocking each of them away with Karate Chop.

    "Pursuit!" Aidan shouted, the Earth Power having ended by then. Ash breathed out, glad that they had avoided the attack. Banette's shield broke and it flashed forward, snapping into Camerupt's head with a shadowy pulse of its arms, before floating above and slamming it right into the ground with a vengeance. The volcano on Camerupt's back glowed a bright red.

    "Eruption!" Toll called out, grinning madly. The red glow turned orange, like lava that was about to overflow. Banette had no time to move, the fires exploding from Camerupt's back and consuming Banette, who cried out with excruciating pain. Ash twitched, wanting to join in, even as his Pokémon continued to make short work of the drones that were descending upon them. However, Banette's eyes flashed in his direction, telling him to not interfere as it took the Eruption strike. Absol was back in the battle, a shadowy claw descending through the fire; a vengeful black against an angry red that collided with the volcano. The attack burst, exploding around the three of the opposing trainers and causing all three Pokémon to separate from one another.

    "I told you…not one…more…step!" Astrid said. Absol skidded back to her side and she pet her Disaster Pokémon's fur. Ash looked up, seeing Hawlucha jump off of his drone and use a High Jump Kick into it before spinning into a Flying Press. He slammed into a cluster of drones, his previous machine taking care of the rest of those in the air while Charizard flapped upwards towards the sky. Behind them, Ash could see Astrid and Aidan facing Toll down, the man looking relatively nonplussed. "Tell me, do you even remember them? All the people you hurt? All those you killed? All the people that will never be able to speak to their loved ones?"

    "Or were they just the mission to you? Did their existence mean nothing to you? !" Aidan demanded harshly. He was closest to Toll, both men looking like they were ready to throw fisticuffs at each other if it meant getting the job done. "Well? !"

    "I remember everyone…every face…every scream…every tear," Toll admitted in his gravelly voice, but what sent a chill down Ash's spine was the sheer, unadulterated glee as he said it. This was the true Toll. "You grow used to it, when lives no longer matter. I took every single one of their sins and obliterated it from this world. Like Lionel's, and Rocky's. I attempted to destroy your son's, too, but he's just too tenacious."

    "You…you dare speak Lionel's name in vain like that," Aidan growled, his fist twitching. Ash looked away for just a second, seeing Hawlucha land with both Oshawott and Snivy in his arms, nodding to Ash before running back off into the city with the adventurous pair. "ARC may have used some unscrupulous methods in the past…but to do so for my friend…to speak ill of the dead…I'll make you regret everything! Phantom Force!"

    "Sunny Day!" Toll called, tossing a pokeball into the air. Banette wasn't aiming for Camerupt, though. It was aiming right for Toll, himself, disappearing and reappearing behind to slash the man in the side. He howled as his Darmanitan hit the ground, sending a bright orb of heated light into the air. It burst, and the sunlight grew strong, the heat of it almost blistering around Ash's skin. For the first time, Toll truly scowled. "Eruption."

    "Cammmmeruuuuuuuuup!" Camerupt cried loudly, and Ash could feel the entire ground trembling again, feel the heat starting to rise upwards from beneath the ground. Greninja leapt forward, tossing his large shuriken into the crackling, burning ground. Others made to beat a swift retreat from the center of what was about to occur.

    Then the flames exploded from underneath the ground. Charizard dived down, opening his arms to grab hold of all of them standing there to take them just outside of the zones of flames. Ash watched on in horror as it exploded around the whole area, leaving it steaming and smoking, Banette and Absol tossed down to the ground with smoking bodies. Charizard dropped them a fair distance from the clash, but within seconds, Ash was pelting down the road for the site of the battle, Pikachu with him as Greninja scanned the streets around them. People had gained distance, a large circumference of leveled buildings and broken road remaining where Toll and his opponents were, some of them (such as Bethany and Christopher) like spectators watching on. Ash pulled to a stop at the sight of Toll approaching Aidan and Astrid, their clothes smoking and nearly burning off their figures, Astrid's shirt naught but rags as she struggled to stand.

    "Is that…what you did to him…?" she demanded, pushing upward, but causing her fingers to slip. Ash swallowed, Pikachu joining him by running ahead as he made a move to help her. However, she sent a glare right to him.

    "Of course," Toll spoke, reaching Aidan now. He reached down, grabbing the blond by the collar and hoisting him up into the air. There was blood trickling down Aidan's face as he coughed, looking doomed in the charred area around them that had claimed some of the buildings. "He had sins to pay for."

    "Then you should've let him pay in his own time!" Astrid shouted. Absol began to stir, shakily rising, just as his trainer was. "Who are you to decide his worth? Who are you to decide what his future was? !"

    "I'm a sin eater," Tolbert spoke, and his grin dropped away. "Always have been. The E doesn't just stand for Explosion, but for the Eater. I take those sins that've been committed, swallow them whole…and I wash them away. I did it to those who harmed them. I did it to Team Rocket. Yours seem to be next."

    "Is that…so?" Aidan coughed out again, and Toll looked at him, quirking an eyebrow. Ash could do nothing but watch, waiting to see what would happen, his chest rising and falling with the anticipation. Banette twitched, and Ash could finally see what was going on. Aidan wasn't someone who would be so easily defeated. "Just remember, boy, that old sins cast long shadows. And the longer the shadow, the easier you are to spot. So, why don't you get rid of some of your own sins? Here, I'll…help!"

    With Aidan's final word, his fist raised up, and slammed against Tolbert's cheek. The man flinched, letting go of Aidan. The two blonds kicked at each other, matching their legs against one another. Toll seemed to have the upper hand, whipping around to nail Aidan in the chest, but Seamus' father anticipated it, and grabbed Toll's leg. Finally, Astrid and Absol came to stand, the former ripping away what remained of her shirt and jacket, and tossing it aside. Serena ran up to Ash's side.

    "Absol, nooooooow!" Astrid screamed. As if like Anabel, the two communicated without speaking. Aidan swung Toll's leg around, tossing him right into his Camerupt as Absol struck.

    "Sol! Sol! Sol! Sol!" With a quick whipping of his head, a purple glow blossomed forth from his horn and sliced out in a crescent shape. It slammed into the breaking ground, and Ash watched as it made a box around Camerupt. The ground rumbled and cracked, and under the weight of Camerupt's body, it fell inside, Toll along with it.

    "Now, hold them in with Pursuit!" Aidan called. Banette sprung back up, quickly closing the gap between itself and Toll. Absol also struck, sending a Dark Pulse cascading onto both trainer and Pokémon within the hole with little remorse. As the sound of more drones pierced the air, signaling that their own side battle wasn't finished, Banette swiped through Toll and Camerupt. The man fell back, a large gash on his chest, while Camerupt impacted with its newfound walls.

    "Get us out! Earth Power!" The earth once more began to crumble and glow golden, even as Absol touched down upon it. Ash stepped forward, ready to truly intervene this time, but Astrid ran forward for Absol, just the same as Aidan did. They placed their backs against one another, while Banette appeared in front of Absol, snapping a shield around them. The ground exploded with its power, but the quartet inside the shield remained unharmed, even as the earth made a path for Camerupt to escape, crumbling away like another chasm was forming. Before long, the golden glow receded. "Now, speed up with Rock Polish and blow them away with Eruption! They're not getting any closer!"

    "Cama!" Camerupt growled out, its volcano once more glowing red hot. At the same time, blue sparks were going around its body. Ash looked over, seeing the Champions had likewise recovered from the earlier blast, with Cynthia's Garchomp using a Giga Impact on a set of drones and causing them to explode. Then he saw the shield lower.

    "Snatch!" Aidan shouted. He looked at Astrid, and the younger blonde understood exactly what he wanted. Banette snapped forwards, phasing right through Camerupt before its latest attack could be unleashed. The blue sparks vanished, traveling instead around Banette's body, making it faster than before. "Now, go!"

    "Megahorn!" Fire exploded from underneath, but Absol was on the move, jumping to the side to avoid the incoming blast. Another one burst out in front of him, but Absol charged right through it as though gliding with its wings, the flames clinging to his fur as his horn glowed a bright white, especially shiny in the brighter sun. Darmanitan, still on the field, leapt in front of Absol, but it wouldn't be denied.

    "Absooooool!" Absol roared and plunged into the Darmanitan with his Megahorn, carrying it forward as he reached Toll and Camerupt, leaping straight through the final pillar of flame, giving him the air needed.

    "Explosion!" Toll called out. Absol reached his mark, just as Camerupt began to blow an even brighter sheen than Absol's horn. The Disaster Pokémon dug in, and rammed Darmanitan into Toll and Camerupt before heaving his head high. With a great, strained cry, all three enemies were tossed into the air.

    "Phantom Pursuit!" Before Toll could right himself, Banette vanished, moving even faster than usual to appear right below the flung-up enemies. It plunged its shadowy hands forward with an eerie grin, the force colliding with all three and pushing them further into the air. "Now! Chi! Alder! Protect this area with everything you've got!"

    "Absol, one more! Psycho Cut!" Astrid called, barely looking to stand. Next to Ash, Sylveon bounded forward alongside Espeon, whipping out their own shields. Banette zipped back down to protect both Aidan and Astrid. Ash looked up to Toll, noticing him right himself and try to land back on the ground. Then the light peaked, and the man's eyes grew wide. Toll kicked out, gaining some distance from his Camerupt.

    BOOOOOOOOOM!

    Camerupt exploded, the force rippling through the air, pushing all of their protection back as it consumed what remained of the road to the stadium. Ash gripped to Serena, making sure she didn't fall over while a great orb of fire appeared in the air, turning the heat up a notch. Behind them, Pikachu, Greninja and Primarina appeared to be monitoring the streets.

    It lasted only a few seconds, but when it was over, the air had seemed to have gone quiet. That silence lasted just a couple seconds more before Camerupt slammed upon the ground, fainted completely. Toll landed next to it, body smoking as he coughed and twitched, unable to move.

    "It's done…Lionel…"

    "Guess we can…take a rest, yeah?" Astrid breathed out with a light chuckle. She and Aidan fell forward, their bodies hitting upon the ground. Sylveon dropped her shield and Ash and Serena ran forward to grab the two of them, while Banette and Absol nearly passed out from exhaustion. Christopher and Bethany joined in on the running, pulling to a stop before Toll's smoking body, staring down at the man. They seemed to exhale deeply, as though Rocky's death had finally not been in vain, gripping to one another with a burdened smile of relief. Astrid turned her head towards Serena. "Can I…leave the rest…to you?"

    "We're on it, Astrid," Serena said, Sylveon's feelers wrapping around the woman's body and holding her up. Ash bent down and grabbed hold of Aidan while Lance moved forward. "You just rest. We'll get you some medical attention…and some clothes."

    "Ha ha…thanks…" Astrid said, before she finally finished passing out. Ash heaved Aidan over his shoulders while Banette looked to him and nodded. Lance reached Toll, snapping out a pair of handcuffs before dragging him over to a surprisingly remaining lamppost and attaching him to it.

    "Let's get them to the medical guys," Ash suggested. "Lance, you and Anabel can handle things here?"

    "We'll regroup and head for the square. They're unlikely to attack here after falling here already. Be careful," Lance spoke, Anabel and her Espeon brushing past the married couple to join the Champion. Serena nodded, while Ash gave him a thumbs up, and the couple began to move off, sparing only the slightest of glimpses at the downed Camerupt and Darmanitan, the latter's sunlight losing its harshness. Before they were out of earshot, they saw Lance search Toll's body, and then take out his own walkie. "This is Lance. Tolbert is down. He did not have the meteonite on him, not that I thought he would. The stadium is secure. Aidan and Astrid are en route to the command center for medical attention."

    "Well, that's some good news, huh?" Ash laughed out to Serena. She laughed, turning her own gaze skyward. Charizard was back in the air, though looking tired from all the close saves, while Greninja and Pikachu kept on with Ash, and Serena returned Primarina. The sounds of battle could still be heard in the city, though their particular section as they quickly trudged their way back to the hotel while crossing over a small bridge, was quiet. The remains of drones and knocked out Pokémon littered the streets, making it feel almost like a graveyard. Ash didn't let it bother him (or tried not to), instead keeping on until he heard the clomping of multiple footsteps.

    "Ash!" Brock cried out, rounding a corner with a group of other doctors and Aria, as well. "We heard you were bringing them back."

    "Yeah," Ash noted as Brock came near. He was flanked by two doctors that took Aidan from him. Others took Astrid. "I don't think they're too hurt, but you'll want to make sure they're taken care of…and no ogling, Brock."

    "Wouldn't dream of it with the lovely Aria, my soulmate, here," Brock added with a wink. Ash rolled his eyes while Aria giggled. That was all that needed to be said, the medical group taking hold and backing up towards the hotel, a couple streets over. Banette and Absol followed with their partners, Brock making sure to look over those two in particular. When they were gone, Ash exhaled.

    "Still gotta find Deirdre. Anything, Greninja?" Ash asked of the amphibian. He shook his head, and Ash kicked at some of the rubble littering the road. Serena walked forward, putting a hand on his shoulder.

    "We'll find her. There are less places for her to hide now, with Tolbert down," Serena told him. He took her encouragement and smiled at her, reaching over to give her a fistbump. She readily agreed to it.

    "Ninja!" Greninja cried out, and even Pikachu was bristling with electricity. Ash's senses heightened along with Greninja, knowing something was wrong, but not quite where or what, like the threat was literally all around them. He pulled Serena closer. Then came the identifying shout.

    "Right under you, twerp!" Jessie screamed. Ash looked up for a single second to see that Team Rocket was on yet another run around the skies of Ancien City, clearly keeping watch on him, as promised. However, his gaze upwards didn't last long, soon looking down to see the swirling shadow beneath.

    "Move!" Ash shouted, pushing Serena away from him while he jumped to the side. The wicked Shadow Claw emerged from the ground seconds later, barely avoiding his own body. Pikachu moved on instinct, dashing forward and whipping around with an Iron Tail to slam on to the ground. However, the shadow avoided the blow and soon manifested in the form of Sableye. "Matori…"

    "Those three are such nuisances…"

    "Say that to my face, you ugly old hag!" Jessie shouted from up above. The balloon lowered a bit, like they wanted to fight, but Ash changed his body language, throwing a hand out to tell them to not. As he did so, Matori emerged from an alleyway between two houses. She was dressed in her skintight outfit from before, glasses abandoned, and behind her seemed to be a trail of bodies hidden in the shadows. He swallowed thickly at the sight of the fallen trainers and their Pokémon; they probably hadn't even seen it coming. In the distance, Ash could see more plumes of dust; the battle with Alastair was clearly still raging on.

    "Jessie, let's not antagonize the assassin," James suggested.

    "Though I wouldn't mind rearrangin' her face…" Meowth said with a nasty grin. Matori ignored them, something which didn't sit well with the trio. "Hey, dat broad is ignorin' us."

    "I've assassinated many in my lifetime," Matori spoke, her voice indicating that she didn't care one whit about Team Rocket's complaints. "Corrupt presidents of corrupt regions, gang leaders, and people who didn't deserve to live, like Giovanni. Yet, none have proven more troublesome to kill than you, Ash Ketchum. Not that I ever tried, of course, but your ability to escape from so many situations is an annoyance. That ends now. You're not wriggling away."

    "I'm not 'wriggling' anywhere," Ash said, tossing a fist up. "I'm not running. I'm not hiding. We don't play like you, working in the shadows."

    "That's what made you so easy to manipulate," Matori spoke. She reached into her pockets, taking out the same knives she had used to kill Giovanni with. "But that manipulation is over. My target is crystal clear now, and easy to take out."

    "If you think that, you've never met Ash," Serena snapped out. Matori didn't look at her at all. She did, however, raise a knife, and with frightening speed, threw it right at his wife. Ash didn't even have the chance to call out to her, hoping she'd be able to dodge it, no matter how swiftly it was moving. His own feet began to move, though, and Matori aimed her next knife at him.

    "Pikapi!" Pikachu called. Ash moved to duck, but the knife was too close. There was a cracking underneath his feet, one Ash glanced to for a tenth of a second, and then giant roots erupted from the ground, slamming into the knives and knocking them aside. There were two more loud slams in the dust caused by the Frenzy Plants swirling around.

    "Next time, you'd best not underestimate us," Paul's voice barked. The dust cleared, revealing both Electivire and Sceptile there, looking ready for battle. Above, Team Rocket seemed to have fired a flare, if the streaking red light was anything to go by. Matori stepped back, regarding both Paul and the now arriving Sawyer, the two men standing together. Serena seemed to consider it an ironically amusing sight, but Ash saw it as a welcome one. That was only furthered by another familiar roar piercing the air, Alain's Charizard streaking down.

    "Nuisances, all. Sableye, time for the assassination. Mega Evolve." Matori pressed to a knife clasped at her side, gleaming with the light of a keystone. Sableye grinned, showing more emotion than its trainer as it began to glow. It wasn't alone, Sawyer grabbing hold of his own keystone from his pocket, causing Sceptile to transform. By the time Alain's Charizard had landed, his trainer hopping off, all three of those Pokémon able to Mega Evolve had done so. Behind Alain, Mairin could be seen running towards the hotel to likely help the medical corps. Sawyer, however, looked to Ash.

    "That's all four encountered. Now, find the leader, Ash," Sawyer spoke. Alain cracked his knuckles while Paul smirked, like he was about to appreciate a good fight. It scarily reminded Ash of Nanu, but became irrelevant in the light of Sawyer's words.

    "We're on it! Charizard, we need air again!" Ash yelled. His command was instantly heeded as he and Serena ran down the opposite end of the street from the fight, their Pokémon alongside them. Sableye vanished into the pavement, but Sceptile was already on duty, blocking off traveling ability with a Frenzy Plant. With Sableye seemingly trapped in the battle, Alain's Charizard plunged his fist to the ground with a devastating Blast Burn, ripping Sableye out of the burning ground in time for Electivire to punch it with a crackling Thunder Punch.

    Matori looked unworried.

    "Rawr!" Ash's own Charizard snorted out, back at ground level. Ash grabbed hold of Serena's hand and jumped on to the Flame Pokémon. Taking one more look as Sableye vanished, reappearing to slice at Alain's Charizard with a Shadow Claw and forcing it to stagger, Ash urged Charizard on. He just had to trust they'd all be okay. His objective was Deirdre.
    *Chapter to be continued in the next post...

  13. #38
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    Chapter continued from last post.

    "Pin Missile Barrage!" Clemont moved his foot, a snarl appearing on his face as he pushed his glasses up on the bridge of his nose. Beedrill was buzzing forward, its needles both glowing a bright green before firing the offensive force. It wasn't alone, not that Clemont was surprised. The machines spinning around and flanking it also launched what seemed like missiles up into the air, though they matched the colors of the Pin Missile. The Pin Missile streaked through the air like rockets. "Now, Beedrill, let's up the offense. Mega Evolve!"

    "Vikavolt, dodge right through it and power up a Charge Beam!" Clemont ordered, ignoring Louise's command and punching his arm through the air. Vikavolt's wings buzzed a bit, and then he shot forward. The Pin Missile shot all around, but Vikavolt flipped over, zipping back and forth to avoid the projectiles that were raining down, colliding with one another in a green puff of smoke. Bonnie cried out as one landed near her and Max, but the duo remained unable to do anything. Another slammed into the castle, shaking it, but preventing any damage from being inflicted on the barrier.

    "Vikavika!" Vikavolt cried out, circumventing the Pin Missile as a yellow orb formed between his mandibles. Beedrill was shining, its legs becoming another set of needles, while its other needles became larger; its whole body now seemed outfitted for deadly destruction. Louise twirled her control device, the keystone shining on it. Vikavolt fired the Charge Beam off, the beam of electricity aiming for the bug.

    "Twineedle Drill!" Louise said. Beedrill gave a spluttering buzz, its needles all glowing white before it began to spin rapidly, picking up in its rotations before shooting forward like a drill, straight into the Charge Beam. It was unlike anything Clemont had ever seen before. As Beedrill soared forward, the drones also changed shape, forming their own drills.

    "So…you're the one who created these drones…?" Clemont questioned. Beedrill slammed into Vikavolt, causing him to spin through the air, but quickly right himself. The drones also drilled forward, but Plumeria was already in the action, ordering a Flamethrower. Salazzle opened its mouth and sent the roaring flame loose to consume the drones. "You're the one who did such sick things with them, all to hurt people?"

    "I've always been a technical wizard," Louise admitted, shrugging a bit as she flicked her mint hair behind her, like the details were unimportant. "Even when I worked for the G-Men, I oversaw a lot of technology, equipping our agents there. Team Rocket just…expanded my operations. Getting ahold of proprietary technology like the Totem Enhancer was especially helpful."

    "That was scrapped when Gladion took over the Foundation!" Plumeria snapped. Clemont looked to the woman, his former enemy joining eyes with him. They nodded, forming a battle strategy as quickly as they could without speaking. Beedrill was coming back to Louise's side already. "There was a reason for that! Dragon Pulse!"

    "Sala!" Salazzle hissed, rearing back, and firing out the draconic form from her mouth. It soared through the air, roaring on its own. Clemont shifted his glasses.

    "Bug Buzz!" Vikavolt responded instantaneously, zipping forward. A loud buzzing sound emerged from him, red pulses of the soundwaves coming off of his body while he soared right for Beedrill. Some of the drones were too close, hit by the loud and high frequency, making them drop to the ground, out of commission. Louise hit a button on the remote she was holding.

    "Did he now? To cover up the sins of the past?" Louise asked. The drones once more docked a set of missiles and fired them right for the Dragon Pulse. Within moments, they collided, ripping across the air with an explosion. Korrina's skirt ruffled, her body still unmoving, and Clemont started to fear the worst, his rageful expression upon Louise as the woman smirked with enjoyment. "You cannot cover up sins. I did your friends a favor by excusing them. I did the world a favor by excluding them from the new one. Fell Stinger!"

    "Shut your damn mouth!" Plumeria roared. Even Clemont found himself shaking from the words. Once upon a time, Team Skull and Plumeria had been enemies, but not once did he ever believe they didn't matter, or that them not being in the world meant it was better off.

    "Spark!" Clemont spluttered out angrily. Bonnie was hurt. Korrina was possibly dead. And now the woman who had inadvertently pushed him to grow stronger was being told her life didn't matter. Vikavolt's body was wreathed in electricity and he shot for the blood red stinger that Beedrill was aiming at him. The two Bug types collided, red sparks of electricity showering down on to the ground. Clemont didn't know what took hold of him, but as they collided, he ran for Louise. "You think people don't matter because they've made mistakes? ! That they shouldn't be allowed a future? !"

    "Of course not," Louise spoke. The drones parted as Clemont reached her, punching at her. Louise's expression went cold and she grabbed hold of Clemont's hand before twirling his body around to flip him on to his back. Vikavolt and Beedrill continued to strain, the former having a more difficult time. "People who will only be a poison to the new world prevent perfection; we'd have to spend time rewriting them before joining it all together. Not worth the hassle."

    "So we're not worth the hassle now?" Plumeria shouted. The woman's leg came sailing out, hitting Louise in the face and sending her flying back on to the grass. As she tumbled back, she snapped her fingers. Plumeria's hand reached down to help Clemont up, and as she did, the red-glowing needle turned a dark purple. As Clemont was hauled to his feet, Beedrill fired the Hyper Beam out, consuming Vikavolt. "You're more twisted than we were. At least we held on to family! We turned away from that life, put ourselves into good honest work! You want to take that away from us after we all worked so hard? You've got another thing coming! Flamethrower!"

    "Saasaa!" Salazzle hissed once more, aiming upwards for the momentarily immobile Beedrill. She gushed forth with the flames, the red-hot fire soon wrapping around Beedrill and consuming it. Louise sat up, rubbing her cheek as some blood dribbled down from her nose. She rubbed against it with a scowl, pressing a button on her controls. The drones stopped and seemed to reconfigure their formation, forming a wall as the woman stood.

    "We never turned from family. Twineedle!" Louise called. From within the fire, Beedrill's needles glowed a bright and blinding white. It slashed forward, slicing the flame down the center and obliterating it. It was all the true power of a Mega Evolution, and without Plumeria's Z-Move, Clemont knew they'd have to rely on a much smarter strategy to get out of it alive and well. "Family is not borne by blood…well…not the blood inside one's veins. It's built by something shed, something given freely! You say you held on to family? No, you used your own crimes to build yourself as a family!"

    "How is that any different from what you're doing?" Clemont demanded. Louise regarded him with contempt, taking her control panel and placing it on her wrist. The device seemed to mutate and morph into a bracelet, which she pressed to. "You're killing how many, claiming it's for the future? ! For a new world? ! Well, you're wrong!"

    "The future is something stronger than that!" Plumeria snapped out. The drones moved into a new position, locking their missiles in place. Then they fired upwards, streaking through the air. Beedrill, with perfect precision, acted on that, all four of its needles glowing a bright green before firing out the Pin Missile to mix with it. They joined in the air, breaking apart like a cascade of meteors.

    "Ahhhhh!" Bonnie screamed. She grabbed to Max, rolling on the ground to ensure they weren't hit by the attack. The missile and the attack peppered the ground, leaving deep gouges in the grass as dirt flew everywhere. Clemont and Plumeria didn't flinch, however, the latter moving into action before the offense finished itself.

    "The future is something built by accepting your crimes and atoning for them!" Plumeria shouted, sliding her foot along the ground gracefully, as her former profession suggested. "Salazzle, Smog!"

    "Spark right through it," Clemont followed up with, punching forward. Louise quirked an eyebrow, as though she found their thoughts and sentiments rather ridiculous. Salazzle hunkered down and sent a thick purple fog out, covering the top of the hill and obscuring everyone's vision. Vikavolt recovered, zipping through the remaining explosions around them, his body buzzing with electrical power. Clemont couldn't see his partner, but chose to believe in him, aiming for Beedrill. "And it's our job to help that! We can't grow if we don't accept that!"

    "No, the world has already stagnated, Clemont," Louise said. Clemont still couldn't see her, just the yellow blur in the smoke that was Vikavolt. Some small pops indicated that some of the drones were being taken out. "Criminals have made a true future impossible. People who accept that will not help the new world. Not when they're the ones who took everything! Target! Hyper Beam!"

    "Target?" Clemont questioned, his mind whirling through the possibilities in a split second before deciding on a single one: the drones were capable of finding targets. And they didn't need visual confirmation. The inventor took a chance in the thick smoke. "Charge Beam! Protect yourself, Vikavolt!"

    "Vika!" Vikavolt shouted out. The yellow blur faded, reduced to a small pinprick that built itself up before firing in a far more visible beam. It wasn't the only visible thing in the clearing smog, a black beam barreling for the Charge Beam like a total, all-consuming abyss. Clemont reached over to Plumeria, pulling her back as the beams collided and exploded. Dust flew into the air.

    "A good guess," Louise spoke. The crunch of her feet over gravel told Clemont that she was walking forward now, dust replacing the smog for obscuring their vision. "Yes, my drones and machinery have many things. My time with Team Rocket and the League allowed me to create many marvelous machines: autonomous beings, synching systems ranging from movement to sound, peerless communications, and a visionless targeting system. When that was done, my mind turned to more medically oriented studies, though that was more out of necessity than want."

    "Oh, really?" Clemont questioned. His gaze shifted along the broken battlefield before them. Bonnie was straining to get up, while Lillie had managed to push Incineroar off of her and Hau. However, Clemont sought the form of his fiancée, who seemed to give a light cough. That was all he needed. "Then let's see how things go when your precious machines are gone! Vikavolt, String Shot! Plumeria, you're up!"

    "Vikavoltvolt!" Vikavolt blasted out of the dust for a second before diving back in, firing a thick string from between his mandibles. Plumeria smirked, the two former enemies bumping fists with one another.

    "I want to believe you once created things for noble intentions, but if you just want to use them to make your decision on the future, then they have no place in ours!" Clemont roared out, slamming his foot upon the ground. Plumeria mimicked him. "And a targeting system is no good when all they'll do is take themselves out!"

    "Sludge Wave!" Salazzle leapt forward, a large and undulating orb of poison surrounding her body. That orb broke, washing out in a powerful purple wave. Gallade, having seemingly recovered enough strength, leapt to grab Bonnie and Max to move them out of the way. The wave crashed over the ground, rising upwards and cresting at a height far taller than all of them.

    "Bezzz!" Beedrill cried out, caught up in the tidal wave of poison that washed over the hill, drying the grass out and leaving it deadened. The wave broke at last, depositing Beedrill on to the grass, along with the smoking heaps of all of Louise's drones. The woman looked untouched by the attack, but her scowl gave it all away. This was no longer a battle she was taking flippantly. In the distance, a loud explosion went off, and Clemont looked to see a fiery orb in the air, by the stadium. He hoped everyone was okay, but Louise was done playing.

    "Pin Missile. Smoke them," she snapped coldly. Beedrill shot back up, all four needles and its stinger glowing green. Its red eyes flashed angrily, no doubt sharing the emotions with its trainer, and Clemont turned, his mind figuring out a way to take Louise out quickly. Beedrill fired, over fifty projectiles making their way into the air.

    "Burn them up with Flamethrower!" Plumeria ordered. Salazzle straightened back up, and let the furnace of flames gush forth. She moved her head in a sweeping motion as her own back was set ablaze with flames, aiming for all of the Pin Missile projectiles. Many of them made it through, impacting with Vikavolt and Salazzle with explosions that peppered their bodies. Clemont didn't give up, though, knowing he was ready to fight on.

    "Bug Buzz! Keep Beedrill pinned!" Vikavolt zipped off, vanishing for a second before aiming at their foe from behind, matching the frequency of its blood red soundwaves to the beating of Beedrill's own wings, nearly imperceptible but for the topmost needles raising to Beedrill's head. Vikavolt twisted and turned, avoiding the remaining projectiles. One hit him, but he refused to be turned off course. "Now Spark!"

    "Vol!" Vikavolt shouted, ramming into Beedrill with the electricity surrounding his body. The Spear Pokémon went tumbling through the air, towards Louise, who snapped her arm out, looking ready to call more drones to the battlefield. Beedrill righted itself as swiftly as it could.

    "Hyper Beam!"

    "Block it with Charge Beam!" Clemont wasn't alone in his call, Plumeria calling for a Dragon Pulse. As the great purple beam emerged from Salazzle's mouth in the form of a dragon, Vikavolt fired his own beam of electricity. A dark beam coalesced between Beedrill's pincers, and then it fired forward, barreling through the air, cutting it apart, before it slammed into the Dragon Pulse and Charge Beam. Each of the attacks strained, neither one wanting to give in.

    "Twineedle!" The Hyper Beam seemed to change shape as Beedrill began to spin with it, its needles glowing a bright white. It shot forward, the Hyper Beam turning into a sharply pointed drill that broke through the attacks and kept blasting forward. The move was so swift that even though Vikavolt and Salazzle's attacks had ended, they had no time to dodge before the drill impaled the former and swung it into the latter. Clemont's eyes sparked with an idea.

    "Plumeria, cover!" he yelled out. Louise stalked forward, looking fired of them.

    "Not this again…" the green-haired woman spoke with a scowl on her lips. Salazzle shook her head while Vikavolt fluttered back up into the air, seeming unsteady after all the attacks. The Toxic Lizard Pokémon looked no better, but she still seemed to have the prescience to attack, the thick purple smoke bellowing forth and obscuring the air surrounding the opponents. "You've delayed me long enough. We don't want to take out trainers like yourselves that are worth keeping for the new world, Clemont. Just sacrifice the citizenry, along with people like her, and this will all be over."

    "That will never happen!" Clemont shouted. Plumeria ran forward, deep into the thick smog. He had no idea if his idea would be successful, but knew the former Team Skull admin could pull it off. Her hair flicked out from the side of the cloud, and Clemont saw Louise flip back, only for Plumeria to cartwheel forward and kick the woman in the face. It was the distraction he needed, enough to stop the wicked inventor's attacks for just a second. "We'll never let you take their future! Not you or anyone else! Vikavolt, wrap up Beedrill and toss it straight into Louise!"

    "Get ready, Salazzle! For our friends, both here and on Mount Chimney, we're ending this complication!" Plumeria snapped, looking angrier than ever before. Clemont waited, just for a second, as he saw Vikavolt's string fly out. The Stag Beetle Pokémon zipped around quickly to wrap it up before sending it flying right into Louise, the Mega Evolved Pokémon striking her control system by accident. "Now, Flamethrower!"

    "Charge Beam!" Vikavolt didn't bother releasing its string, instead creating an instant electrical current that fired out along it, sparking with the smog that still hung in the air. Likewise, Salazzle sent a final Flamethrower rocketing out that slammed into the continually present smog. There was a second where Louise's eyes widened, like she didn't calculate this particular mistake. Clemont and Plumeria turned around, giving another fistbump. "Complication resolved."

    Then the cloud exploded, ripping up the dirt and grass all around them. Beedrill was consumed by the explosion, sending it flying through the air, helpless, before it hit the ground and reverted to its base form. Louise also flew through the air in the opposite direction, hitting upon the ground with a loud groan, her wrist with the remote luckily hitting upon a loosened rock from the battle, cracking the device completely with a sharp hiss. Clemont ran forward.

    "Korrina!" he shouted in concern. Plumeria made her way over to Louise, her voice well within earshot. Clemont just dropped to his knees and held Korrina up, shaking her lightly. "Come on, Korrina! Tell me you're okay!"

    "Cle…mont…" came the groan from her lips, her blonde hair unfurling out of her ponytail and into her eyes. "Did you…win…?"

    "We did," Clemont spoke. She seemed to smile at that, and he reached down to kiss her. That made her eyes pop open. "Don't scare me like that! Only Bonnie should be allowed to do that, because she's reckless! I love you, okay, so don't make me calculate the possibility that you won't be around."

    "I promise," she said, finally allowing Clemont to help her sit up. Around the castle grounds, the others were recovering. Bonnie and Max were sitting up, while Lillie helped Hau from the ground, the battle over. The surviving Aether members were also finally stopping their act of playing dead, moving to weep over their fallen comrades. Plumeria stood above Louise, leaning down to search her.

    "No meteonite," the woman spoke before looking down on Louise with utter contempt. "Looks like you underestimated us 'criminals'. Maybe the world isn't as bad off as you thought, huh?"

    Plumeria ended her statement by stamping her foot upon Louise's face, knocking her out and leaving her lying there. Clemont breathed out. Their part of the battle was over, and as soon as the reality set in, Bonnie threw her hands into the air and flung them around Max, the two of them jumping up and down together. Lillie and Hau were no different, though both moved their faces in at the same time, causing their noses to collide and their foreheads to bounce off each other, laughing from the failed attempt at what was clearly a kiss.

    Clemont fell back on to his butt, contemplating taking his walkie out to communicate the bust of finding the meteonite there. His hand reached for it, but then he stopped. Louise didn't have the meteonite. And worse than that, she'd known they moved the civilians into the castle, so there was no reason for her to come here other than them. It couldn't have been simply a lucky guess. Even if they had seen through the stadium ruse…how could they have…? Clemont's mouth parted in disbelief. "How did they know…?"

    "Know what?" Korrina questioned. Clemont looked to his fiancée and pecked her on the cheek before tossing his walkie towards her. "Clemont, what's on your mind?"

    "Let Diantha know what happened here, all right. Defend this place at all costs!" Clemont shouted to her, springing to his feet. He whipped his pokeball out, calling back Vikavolt, and immediately set off for the city below, the theory in his head disconcerting him.

    "Big brother!" Bonnie shouted, but Clemont wasn't listening. They knew. They knew of their plan to protect the civilians, but now that was denied to them. This wasn't something for speaking over the walkie. No…there was something else on the edge of Clemont's mind that worried him about Louise's statements. To that end, his feet were pelting down the broken-up path to the main part of the city.

    Downed drones filled the sides and the center of the path, proving that taking Louise out had eliminated half of the problem all at once. That, at least, was a relief, but something was all too wrong. There was no way IDEAL could have guessed at their plans. Finally, the square was approaching, and Clemont saw Maka's crew of Oricorio riding an Ice Shard from Keoni's Ninetales into a grouping of Golbat. Likewise, Kukui and Akela seemed to be commanding their Pokémon with the same grace he had always expected of them. The inventor reached down to grab for Luxray's pokeball, hoping to help out those in the square on his path, but his feet pulled to a stop as he felt a pulsing beneath his feet and looked down.

    Clemont couldn't help but gasp: the ground was certainly pulsing, but it wasn't just with one color. It was multiple colors. And as Clemont looked skyward, he could see the ground wasn't alone: the entire sky was painted like a rainbow. It almost looked like a rift, just like nine years ago, if certainly not quite the same. The meteonite was certainly in the city, and they were running out of time.


    Author's Note: This was a big action-packed chapter, though certainly revealed some of the motivations behind IDEAL. Tolbert views himself as a sin eater while Louise believes reformed criminals don't deserve a place in the new world, since they'd merely taint it. Not that it matters, with the two of them taken out of commission, leaving only three more, including the hidden Deirdre. Needless to say, unlike past villains, these are views that every member of IDEAL believes. It's important to note this, because it really does inform their actions and reasons and sets the conflict between them in motion.

    Hopefully the action sequences were satisfactory, especially with a high number of unusual combatants with some rather blistering and devastating moves. But next time we'll pick up with the battle I held off, so get excited!

    In any case, we're further in as the battle explodes around the characters, so I hope you're enjoying this. But until the next chapter, please Review and Dare to Be Silly.

  14. #39
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    For now, prepare yourselves for a blistering battle the likes of which you haven't seen before! It's now Chapter 20!


    Chapter 20

    A Ruse

    "Whoa now!" Kahili shouted, barely avoiding the blow incoming for her. Alastair slashed with Aegislash, nearly slicing off some of her hair while she bent backwards. Nanu was running forward, a grin on his face, and she was forced to roll her eyes. Not that it was the only battle going on. Aerodactyl had finished transforming, calcification happening on multiple parts of its body, giving it an almost ancient look with the hard rock on its face, and black spikes protruding everywhere else, the creature growing larger in size. The light of Mega Evolution burst with a loud roar. "Steel Wing, Toucannon!"

    "Toucah!" Toucannon squawked and he flashed into the sky, aiming right for Aerodactyl as his wings glowed bright, almost silver in the shining sun. Alastair took Aegislash's blade back whirling it around. Nanu jumped back, and dodged to the side while Alastair turned to keep him in view.

    "Dragon Claw, Aerodactyl," Alastair said. He brandished the Pokémon on his arm outward, and it extended in length, glowing blue. Aerodactyl gave off a screech and its claws glowed a bright green before snapping its wings out, aiming right for Toucannon. Kahili scoffed, noticing how small her Pokémon was in comparison. Not that it was a problem, as she whipped her golf club out and swung it for Alastair. "Aegislash, friend, please be my eyes."

    "Slash!" Aegislash called out, and the Pokémon whipped around. Kahili swung her club upwards just as Toucannon's wings and Aerodactyl's claws collided with each other in midair. The wind pulsed out, blowing away pieces of buildings and other objects, like a nearby fountain. There was a river nearby whose waters churned from the collision, and Alastair blocked Kahili's blow before kicking out, slamming her in the chest. She felt air expel from her lungs with a light "oof".

    "Persian, go," Nanu said. His cat leapt towards one of the destroyed buildings, scaling it quickly before leaping for another and then another before launching himself above Aerodactyl. Once he'd gotten above the Fossil Pokémon, stars surrounded his tail and fired down in a stream of gold. Kahili skidded along the ground in time to see Nanu nail Alastair on the left side of his face. The man stumbled, but slashed out, forcing Nanu to leap back, though his shirt seemed to be cut. "I see you haven't lost your skills…"

    "I already told you. You're a glutton for punishment if you want to take me on, Nanu! Sky Drop!" Aerodactyl cried out once again, snapping its wings out. The damage from that miniscule action alone broke more buildings as its large claws grabbed hold of Persian and shot up into the air. Kahili shook her head and ran right back for Alastair. Her golf club came swinging out as Alastair raised Aegislash's shield to block the strike, a ring resounding outward. Aerodactyl came plummeting down. Nanu kicked low, forcing Kahili to jump as he hit Alastair's knee.

    "Foul Play!"

    "Merow!" Persian called out, and just before the two grappling opponents were about to hit the ground, Persian grabbed hold of Aerodactyl and threw it downwards, forcing the Rock type to slam on to the ground, a plume of dust rising.

    "Bullet Seed!" Kahili shouted. Toucannon whipped around, opening his beak. The seeds shot out like a Gatling, glowing green as they slammed all along Aerodactyl's body, the enemy's Pokémon slowly getting back up with a screech. Its wings flapped out, sending a gust through the air. Kahili swung forward while Nanu punched forward. Alastair smirked, crossing sword and shield across each other. The golf club banged off of the shield while Nanu's hand hit the blade, bleeding from the strike. He seemed to like that, given that the former officer was sporting a wider grin. Alastair whipped around, forcing them back.

    "Rock Slide." Alastair's command was sharp, and Aerodactyl's cry was keening. Large, glowing rocks appeared in midair, and without delay they rained down upon both Toucannon and Persian with impunity.

    "Steel Wing! Cut through them!" Kahili shouted. Toucannon cried out, wings glowing again as he sliced up, breaking one in half with ease. "Stay out of my way, old man."

    "Heh, I was about to say the same thing, bird lady," Nanu snarked out. Kahili frowned at him, but as if on instinct, the two drew closer to one another.

    "Whatever, we can stomach working together once, right? Even if you're an annoying old man past his prime." Nanu smirked. Persian was acting without orders, avoiding the falling rocks with speed before opening his mouth and sending an inky spiral of energy outward to slam into Aerodactyl's head.

    "Just try to keep up," the man replied. They turned at once and aimed right for Alastair, the man continuing to smirk at them. He raised Aegislash upward, the shield facing forward, and charged at them, his body angled to the right slightly.

    "Ancient Power!" their foe called. Having just finished his attack, Persian was unable to move as a bright, silver orb fired off in a quick burst for him. The attack collided, pushing the feline back. Kahili reached Alastair first, and she swung her golf club forward. The blade in Alastair's hand came screaming down, striking upon the club and cutting into it.

    "Crap! Brave Bird!" she shouted. The golf club snapped in two, the broken part flipping through the air. Nanu reached right for it, ever the pragmatist, and the two moved in on Alastair. Toucannon's bright blue blaze erupted around his figure as he soared around, aiming right for Aerodactyl. Alastair gave a call for a Sky Drop, and his own Pokémon shot upwards. Kahili and Nanu simultaneously stabbed downwards. Alastair rose the shield up, blocking Nanu's strike, while slashing up. "No…way!"

    "Hit it!" Alastair shouted. Aerodactyl shot downwards just as quickly as Toucannon aimed upwards. The large claw met with the bright blue beak, and wind blasted around the area. Just before she felt the gust beginning to lift her feet off the ground, red hot pain seared across Kahili's shoulder from the slice that Aegislash had made with a cry, and she plunged forward, managing to stab Alastair in the shoulder with her broken golf club, the jagged edges cutting deep.

    The wind from their attacks blasted through, crumbling away at the buildings, and sending all three of the human combatants tumbling along the ground, down some abandoned streets. Kahili bounced, nearly finding herself at the river's edge. They had moved closer to the hotel. Persian was leaping in again, the blue gem on its head turning to a red color before firing the Power Gem that tracked Aerodactyl. The Fossil Pokémon took to the air, avoiding the blow as it cut away at buildings. The beam followed it, destroying the now useless screens as it went, but Aerodactyl's large body glided on the air as it avoided the attack.

    "Ancient Power," Alastair spoke calmly, standing up. Kahili pushed at the ground, scowling; she would definitely feel those bruises the next day. Overhead, the hotel towered, casting a shadow over them, despite still being a couple streets over. There was a loud explosion over by the stadium, its effects shaking the ground they were standing on, and Kahili had to wonder just what had occurred over there. Aerodactyl snapped its wings in, diving towards Persian and taking the Power Gem that was now hitting it head on. Then it opened its mouth with a screech and sent a silvery orb flying out. That impacted with Persian, blasting rubble all about the area. Kahili saw her chance.

    "Beak Blast! Gather the rubble, Toucannon!" she shouted. Nanu was standing now, the grin still on his face, even as his hand bled. Kahili reached up, touching to her shoulder and grimacing. Now all three of them were wounded, with Alastair ripping the broken golf club out and tossing it aside. Toucannon flapped forward, his beak glowing red hot, the rubble suddenly clinging to it as he flew.

    "Dragon Claw!" Alastair shouted. Kahili took the moment of distraction to run at the man. She whipped her leg out, but the man swung Aegislash at her, causing her to hop away for fear of getting her leg chopped off. Nanu had no such issues, the man running in wildly and tackling Alastair to the ground. Aerodactyl moved to make contact with its glowing green claws as Toucannon's beak reached the apex of its brightness.

    "Go!" Kahili shouted. Toucannon dove below and slammed into Aerodactyl's chest from that point. There was a brief moment of silence, and then the beak exploded, sending the rubble slamming into the Fossil Pokémon's wings. Nanu was atop Alastair, pinning his hand down before his non-bloody fist smashed on the man's face. Aerodactyl screeched with pain, the continuous barrage of rubble throwing it through another row of houses to the street just before the one the hotel was on. Kahili grimaced; they couldn't let the battle move even closer to the command center.

    "Rock Slide," Alastair grunted, right before Nanu could punch directly on his left eye, bashing at his face with Aegislash's shield. Nanu recoiled, and Kahili stamped downward. Alastair whirled around, his legs kicking at the air to make sure they couldn't hit him before righting himself into a standing position with a leering gaze. Aerodactyl shot upwards, bright stones appearing along its wings, almost like it was a part of them, before firing out in a storm of stones.

    "Bullet Seed," Kahili yelled out. Toucannon shot off while Persian was leaping across the ruined buildings, closing the gap between the fliers. The green seeds spewed from Toucannon's mouth as an even louder explosion sounded near the stadium. Kahili grit her teeth as Alastair swiped Aegislash downwards, the cutting visible in the air with the cry of the Royal Sword Pokémon. The rocks slammed down upon the ground and the buildings, more dust pluming upwards while Toucannon avoided them, firing the seeds into Aerodactyl's body. "It just won't go down…"

    "There's a reason they called Alastair the 'Defense' during his days in the IP," Nanu chuckled out. The older man spat on the ground, Kahili noticing some blood there, and a slight staining on his cut shirt. He was clearly getting hit, but not letting on. They needed to try and wrap this battle up as soon as possible. "He's as tough as they come, and stubbornly loyal. Ain't that right, Alastair?"

    "No more stubborn than yourself. Who do you think I got it from?" the man asked, walking closer. Toucannon had broken off from Aerodactyl, flapping down as Persian pawed at the ground, waiting for the chance to attack again. "It's served us well all these years; kept us going through all the problems and the troubles, and now I guess we're two old men, butting heads until one of our skulls breaks."

    "Heh heh…you'd like that," Nanu spoke with a grin. Kahili turned her body as Alastair did the same. The ground was beginning to rumble with a greater ferocity than before, but it was by no means from a show of power between the two men before her. The sky was glowing a bright orange for a moment before fading away. "But it seems like one of your comrades went down first…"

    "Then I'll fill in for him!" Alastair shouted, gripping tightly to Aegislash and dashing forward. Aegislash extended, glowing a bright blue that screamed with killing intent. Kahili grabbed her hat, tossing it to the side as she tied her hair up and ran at Alastair, the man bringing Aegislash down. Aerodactyl screeched, heading further up into the air, towards the army of Pokémon and drones, it claws glowing green and large.

    "Steel Wing!" Kahili shouted, keeping one eye peeled between both of the battles. Toucannon shot forward, wings snapped out and glowing. Kahili waited as Nanu reached up, a rock clasped in his hand as he met Aegislash with it. The Royal Sword Pokémon strained against it, unable to cleave the rock, as it attempted to slice Nanu in two. Toucannon and Aerodactyl were about to clash. "Brave Bird!"

    "Now, you stupid bird lady!" Nanu snapped out. She scowled as Toucannon's body blazed blue and collided with the green Dragon Claw powerfully, sparks shooting out before he managed to overpower the claw and go smashing into Aerodactyl's chest. Toucannon gained distance, flinching a bit from the recoil damage. Kahili made her own move, clasping her hands together and bringing them swinging around into Alastair's face, the man flying back from the heavy blow as Aerodactyl landed on another building, the dust pluming upwards yet again to obscure the air surrounding it.

    "Never call me stupid again, *******," Kahili told Nanu. Neither of their stances changed, knowing this was nowhere near the end of the battle for them. It was proven true seconds later, when an Ancient Power was fired off from within the dust, no warning given and larger than before. "Bullet Seed."

    "Swift." Nanu stated in a statement of boredom. Neither even looked at their Pokémon, knowing that the golden stars and glowing green seeds would be more than enough to destroy the orb that was sailing for the both of them. "I call it like I see it."

    "Shut up; why Ash has any respect for you, I'll never know," Kahili snapped out at him. Nanu seemed to find that amusing, owing to his laugh, while Kahili scowled. This was getting them nowhere. Aerodactyl was still standing (or flying, rather) while Alastair was beginning to stand, cracking his neck a bit as he retained his grip on Aegislash. It didn't help that the Royal Sword had secured itself on his wrist. There was a loud sound, like another building crumbling, and Kahili turned her head, noticing that the ground was heating up, almost like it was melting. The ground was churning, and a shadow was flitting along the ground. When the fires reached the river, steam poured outwards, while the shadow appeared opposite as the attack burst. Then Kahili watched it manifest into the form of a Sableye while vines whipped and cracked around the stone street, whipping around before a Shadow Claw sliced upwards to obliterate them. Another blur appeared, landing nearby, just a few yards away, on their side of the river.

    "Matori, don't tell me you're having trouble," Alastair barked out. The assassin straightened, her Sableye drawing close, clasping to its large red crystal. From where the earlier attacks had come, arrived three large shapes, one flying while the other two dashed along the ground at a quick pace, crossing the river swiftly. Behind them were three comparatively smaller figures, clearly evident from their Pokémon as Alain, Sawyer and Paul.

    "Well, that could work out for us," Kahili muttered under her breath. Aerodactyl was rising, as if pulling itself forward to meet with its trainer. Toucannon and Persian seemed to agree with that as well, the former picking up the latter in order to join up. Not seconds later, Charizard slammed upon the ground, blue flames snorting from its nostrils.

    "I'm not having particular trouble," Matori stated, her voice rising over the tide of the battles around the city. Their own portion seemed relatively abandoned, now that Kahili thought on it. Although, she contemplated, part of that probably had to do with the fact they'd ripped up about three city blocks and houses. The repair business was going to be annoying. "They just seem to like destroying as much of the area as they could; made it difficult for Sableye to move around for any kind of swift ending."

    "You know this area is no better," Alastair stated. Matori shrugged at him and he sighed while Paul finished running up, having crossed the shallow river. Alain and Sawyer skidded to a stop at his side, as well, all five of them facing the two members of IDEAL before them.

    "Well, looks like we screwed up," Paul spat out, not looking particularly happy. "Weren't you the one to say we shouldn't let them team up?"

    "Yeah…" Nanu chuckled out, his eyes alighting with passion. Kahili scowled again; she really hated it when Nanu started to get all kinds of crazy ideas in his head. Sceptile and Electivire came forth, while Matori and Alastair closed ranks, both regarding them with what seemed to be looks of utter disdain. Kahili wasn't too fond of them, either. "But that's all right. Just a better challenge."

    "There's no challenge if you're dead," Matori spoke. She reached up to her head, as though pushing up glasses that weren't there; likely a remnant of when she played her part at Team Rocket. "We've indulged you all long enough. Alastair, shall we team up?"

    "Yes, I think it'd be best. Were it not for Nanu, I'd be in better shape," Alastair admitted, still brandishing Aegislash while holding the shield close to him, protecting his body. "We still need a bit of time."

    "I'm aware," Matori agreed with cold precision. Kahili stepped forward, her foot making a scraping sound along the ground as she did so. Paul stood near her, while Alain and Sawyer looked to their Pokémon. This wasn't going to be an easy battle for them, and she didn't want anyone physically fighting that couldn't hack it. There was a loud noise in the air above, making Kahili blink just a little. It wasn't quite a loud noise, but rather the sudden absence of one: the mechanical whirring had disappeared. "Well, this is just fine. First Toll and now Louise."

    "They did what they needed to," Alastair spoke. There was a crash, as behind their two opponents, the drones started falling down, suddenly inoperative amidst the raging battle. A cheer rose up in the city, their job made easier. The swarming Pokémon yet remained, however. The enemy to take that obstacle out was right in front of them. "We only need a bit more time. Deirdre will see to it."

    "Hm. Then let's take them out swiftly."

    "Not if we take you first," Kahili snapped. Matori looked at her coldly, showing no emotion, but that single movement, not quite lost amidst the raining of drones, was the signal for their now combined battle to begin once more.

    "Flamethrower!" Alain roared, raising his arm up. Sawyer acted along with him, placing his hands together before parting them.

    "Frenzy Plant!" Sceptile cried out, plunging his hands into the ground. Once more, the ground began to stir, giant roots ripping it all up and snapping out for Sableye while Charizard took to the air, opening his maw and letting loose the bright blue torrent of flame. It took Kahili just a moment to notice that Alain's usual partner wasn't with him, meaning she was elsewhere in the city. Paul hung back.

    "Detect," Matori stated calmly. Sableye's crystalline eyes shone brightly with red, a leering grin stretching its face as the first of the roots slammed down. The Ghost type zipped to the side, dodging it in an instant. Kahili felt a shiver up her spine; Matori was clearly the deadlier threat on the field, and with the two of them working in concert, Kahili didn't even want to imagine how much their killing capability had risen. Sableye avoided another one of the vines before leaping up and flipping through the air to avoid another, raising its jewel up as the Flamethrower made contact.

    "Rock Slide," Alastair called, and Kahili snapped her head towards him, having almost forgotten about the man entirely. Aerodactyl rose up, flapping its large wings. Above their own heads appeared the shining, large rocks that began to rapidly descend. Now, Paul made his move, while Kahili decided to engage Alastair once more, alongside Nanu.

    "Thunder on the rocks, use your tails! Let's go!" Paul ordered, throwing a hand out and down. Electivire grinned, leaning over and sending his tails shooting forward, impaling the rocks as rapidly as he could.

    "Vire vire! Electa!" Electivire called out, its whole body consumed with electricity that soon raced up its tails and into the rocks themselves. The voltage increased and exploded, blowing the rocks apart completely, raining down as harmless rubble. Kahili swiped at the ground, grabbing the broken piece of golf club that Alastair had tossed aside, and she chucked it at the man. He slashed outward with a grunt, but it missed, the club slamming him in the chest, enough for Nanu to come snapping his knee into the man's chest.

    A knife came out of nowhere, forcing Kahili to backpedal, the hurtling blade driving itself into Nanu's shoulder. As expected from the older man, Kahili watched as Nanu swiftly withdrew the blade from his own shoulder and held it, prepared to use it. Meanwhile, Sableye seemed to have disappeared from the sight of the battlers there, traveling along as a shadow. Nanu's voice called out, "Dark Pulse!"

    "Rowr!" Persian hissed out, leaping into the air and calling the dark nexus to his mouth, before sending it cutting out along the ground. After a few short seconds, it slammed into the shadow, driving Sableye out of the ground and into the air.

    "Dragon Claw!" yelled three voices at once. Aegislash swiped down with its Sacred Sword, making Kahili jump back while Nanu swiped up with his knife, cutting at Alastair's already wounded arm with a grin. Matori was on the move as well, holding her own knife close to her as she ran at Kahili deftly. The golfer turned to Paul.

    "Find a weapon, and protect us. You're the only one here that can on short notice."

    "Yeah, I noticed," the purple-haired man said dully, his eyes narrowing. Kahili swiped for a rock as Matori reached her, tossing the knife. The blue haired woman turned to the side, avoiding the projectile before punching forward. Only slightly above the ground, Charizard, Aerodactyl and Sceptile were all screaming for each other with their large green claws. They met in midair, the green shockwave emanating from all three of the Mega Evolved Pokémon clashing. Matori twisted her head, but Kahili grazed her cheek with the rock before kicking out and nailing her on the chest. She flew back, but recovered with a crouch.

    "You might be one hell of an assassin…but it does you no good in a straight up fight," Kahili taunted the woman, though she gave no emotion in response. It was obvious that she was truly the consummate assassin. Kahili tossed her rock up and down in the air tauntingly. "Come on. You can do better."

    "We are better," Alastair commented. Just like that, he bashed Nanu in the face with the shield as Aegislash's blade glowed once more before Alastair swiped it out. The Kahuna barely leapt backwards, but from the way he gripped at his chest, Kahili knew he had been hit by the slice yet again. "The world we will create will be better. It just requires sacrifice; one we are willing to pay."

    "That's a load of crap," Kahili snarled out, gripping closer to her rock. Aerodactyl seemed to get the upper hand, slashing up with its Dragon Claw into the two opponents that it was facing. Charizard was hit back alongside Sceptile, the latter looking worse. Sawyer called for a Leaf Storm. Sceptile whipped around, sending its tail out like a rocket to hit into Aerodactyl, who took the momentum of the blast to sail forward and land one more Dragon Claw on Charizard, knocking its head down. "You're willing to pay for a sacrifice? These are people's lives we're talking about, or did you learn nothing from that crazy b*tch in Alola?"

    "I'm pretty sure they just think their ideas are better," Paul noted, folding his arms. It was obvious he had no intention of engaging them physically. "But really, whatever world you're looking to create is plain pathetic. Perfect world? Who needs that? If my world was perfect, I'd have never met him, and my brother would have never lost. But then…I wouldn't be me."

    "So, whatever perfect world you want is one that no one else does," Alain stated. Kahili was now smirking while Alastair turned to look at the black-haired man. "We don't know why you think it's better, but you're wrong. You have to experience failure, mistakes, all to make you better. Perfection makes that worthless. Thinking anything else is just selfish."

    "Selfish? Like a man who once pushed everyone away for his own pursuit of strength? Your hypocrisy makes me laugh!" Alastair barked and he ran right for Alain. Aegislash was at his side, growing larger as its blade glowed a bright blue once more. Alain was ready. "It's people like you that are the reason we need a new world! A chance to start over and make it right!"

    "Thunder Punch!" Alain yelled, and Paul's voice was shouting out right alongside him. Electivire stampeded along the ground towards Sableye, electrical current running between his arms while Charizard flew forward for Aerodactyl. They reached their targets together, slamming the electrified fists into both and slamming them backwards, light, tingling sparks traveling down their opponents' figures. Alastair reached Alain and slashed, making the man move to dodge. Sawyer took his own chance to attack.

    "Starting over is the same as running away!" he shouted, bringing his hands together. Sceptile slammed into the ground, causing the Frenzy Plant to once more emerge. Only this time, Sceptile didn't stay still, dashing through his own whirling plants with the green glow of a Leaf Blade. Alastair slashed down, the long blue blade aiming for Alain. "If you really want the world to get better, for the future to be better, then you don't start over! You earn your mistakes, like a trainer the first time on the road. You gain experience, you level up and you move forward!"

    "That's what he taught us!" Alain roared. The sword came slashing down. "Dragon Claw!"

    "Tile!" Sceptile cried, reaching Alastair and blocking the blow with his leafy blades. Kahili took aim with her rock and tossed it right at the man. It fell short of his head, knocking into his side, but it was enough. He stumbled, his sword hand flailing around. Sceptile leapt back, but the elongated blade sliced into Alain's side. Charizard flew forward with his claws green, aiming right for Aerodactyl. It made contact, slicing upwards into the jaw of Aerodactyl, and snapped its head back.

    "Sky Drop!" Alastair roared out, turning his body as Alain fell back, caught by Sawyer. Matori was running now, and Kahili saw her tossing knives, but Electivire was already there, throwing a Protect up. Nanu came running forward, Persian with him, to tackle the assassin and send her wheeling on to the ground. Aerodactyl roared loudly, aiming for Charizard and grabbing hold of him before zooming upwards. Once it reached a certain height, Aerodactyl dove back down, picking up velocity before tossing Charizard back towards the surface. It impacted, causing the ground to ripple and tiles to fly through the air as little stones. "Ancient Power."

    "Steel Wing!" Kahili shouted, while Electivire's shield dropped. Nanu had pinned Matori, but the assassin kicked upwards into his chest, flinging him off. Kahili bent down to grab another rock, and she ran at the woman. Toucannon aimed right for the Ancient Power and sliced cleanly through it, causing it to explode in midair as Charizard stumbled and struggled to get up.

    "Shadow Combo…" Matori spoke, bringing herself to stand. Kahili swung outward with her rock, but Matori blocked the blow with a snarl on her lips. Kahili grinned at that as Sableye disappeared, racing along the ground towards Sceptile at an alarmingly swift pace.

    "Got you to show emotion," she snarked out. Matori didn't like hearing that, grabbing ahold of Kahili and flinging her away with surprising strength. Paul ran forward, catching her and setting her upright. Sableye emerged from the ground, behind Sceptile. Sawyer called out, but before he could, the Darkness Pokémon plunged its shadowy appendages into its jewel. The jewel refracted the shadows of the move and then bounced through it, emerging with at least ten different Shadow Claws, all of them impaling Sceptile and flinging him into Sawyer, the both of them landing in the river beyond. The light that shone from his body proved that Sceptile had been taken out. Matori was certainly someone to not take lightly. "Now your Sableye is ours. Steel Wing, Toucannon!"

    "Toucah!" Toucannon shouted, fixing its position in the air before clipping along towards Sableye, its wings glowing brightly. Matori straightened as Nanu ran forward again, Persian leaping forth while sending a Power Gem at the woman. She flipped away from the red beam, tossing a command to her Pokémon. Sableye's orbs shined as Toucannon got close and it spun aside, avoiding the blow with a chattering grin.

    "Blast Burn!" Alain roared out, plunging his hand to the ground. Charizard did so, too, his fist brimming with powerful flames.

    "Sucker Punch." Matori's command was unexpected, but clearly not for Sableye, who vanished. Before Charizard's fist could make contact with the ground, Sableye reached him and slammed its jewel down on the Flame Pokémon's back, before proceeding to pummel it with viciously dark fists. The attack continued until the Flame Pokémon was snapped into the air by an uppercut that sent him slamming upon the ground, reverting in form. Alastair now kicked out at an unsuspecting Alain, sending him bouncing along the ground to join Sawyer in the water.

    "Is this your bright future? Is this what moving forward has gotten you? Nothing but death?" Alastair shouted, the scowl on his face making his face ripple, his eyes almost bulging, or at least the left side of his face doing so, almost cloaked in dust and shadow. "That is all you've earned today! Rock Slide!"

    "Protect!" Paul screamed out. Nanu leapt back with Persian, while Toucannon swooped over, falling under the protection of the green, honeycomb shield wrapping around them. The stones from Aerodactyl's attack appeared all around and then rained down, battering the shield with a horrible noise for a moment before it ceased. Kahili couldn't help but look down, noticing how the ground seemed to almost be glowing.

    The rocks finished slamming upon them, and Electivire lowered its shield, allowing Kahili to look up. It wasn't just the ground: the whole sky was being painted with rainbow coloring. It made Kahili's stomach drop. She spoke up. "The meteonite is here, and people are dying. That means…it's either them or Deirdre at this point."

    "The meteonite?" Alastair questioned. For a moment, Aegislash retracted into Shield Forme, allowing the man to reach into his coat's pockets and pull out the stone, slightly larger than his hand. Kahili blinked, seeing the swirling lights around the object. "Is this what you're after? Because you won't take it until all of IDEAL is dead."

    "I'll take you up on that offer, Alastair," Nanu taunted. Kahili looked around. Three of them remained against the two, whose sense of teamwork and exploiting weak spots had taken out a large part of their Mega offensive force. "You've got nothing left to hide behind now. We take you out, we take the meteonite and your little army of Pokémon. So, come on, IDEAL. I can go a little longer, how about you?"

    "Thunder on the field!" Paul yelled out, tossing his arm out to the side. Electivire grinned, sending his tails out to embed themselves within the ground. Electricity coursed through them, blasting apart the street and sending stones flying up through the air. Sableye instantly moved just as Kahili had expected it to, eyes gleaming before moving to either dodge all of the blows and stones, or merely knock them away with its jewel. The golfer's eyes narrowed; they had a target.

    "Swift!" Nanu shouted, twirling the knife he still held in his hands. Persian's tail whipped outward, sending out the cascade of stars for Aerodactyl, battering it relentlessly as the stones from Paul's strategy also slammed upon its wings, finally beginning to tire it out. From the side, Kahili saw Alastair tuck the meteonite away once more, Aegislash retaking its place in his hands. Nanu ran at Matori, and Alastair quickly moved back in.

    "Bullet Seed!" Kahili yelled, pointing right at Alastair. Toucannon shot for the man, beak opening wide to fire the quick Gatling of seeds, strafing along the ground to stop his assault. Alastair held the shield up, blocking the blow, but Toucannon was breaking off, heading for Aerodactyl. "Beak Blast!"

    "Sky Drop," Alastair grunted. Aerodactyl screeched loudly, flapping into the air and aiming straight for Toucannon's burning beak. The claw collided with the beak and Kahili grinned. Flames traveled all along the Fossil Pokémon's body, and Toucannon's move exploded in a great conflagration. Electivire was charging forward along the ground as Aerodactyl lost altitude. His fist was crackling with lightning, and before Aerodactyl knew it, Electivire's fist collided with its wing, sending it crashing into another house.

    "Shadow Sneak," Matori called. Sableye seemed to cackle, diving underneath the field, aiming right for Persian. Nanu slashed at Matori, but the woman blocked it with a blade, wrapping her arm with the man's. Sableye jabbed upwards, throwing Persian into the air. As he was tossed, he looked to Nanu, who nodded with a grin. Persian shook his head, the gem glowing brightly before firing out a Power Gem the blasted into Sableye, flinging it back.

    "Steel Wing! Get the jewel away!" Kahili shouted. Toucannon broke off, wings glowing a bright white as it aimed right for Sableye, still convulsing under the Power Gem that had hit it. With no room to activate a Detect, Toucannon slammed into the jewel, knocking it into the air and spiraling for the water, where it landed with a splash. "Now, get Aerodactyl!"

    "Thunder Punch on Sableye, let's go!" Paul ordered, his face darkening with focus. Electivire and Toucannon swapped places, the former heading for a now nearly defenseless Sableye while Toucannon swooped for Aerodactyl, the beast once more charging forth with a Dragon Claw. The two fliers met in midair, the clash again sending a shockwave across the area while Electivire punched forward, nailing Sableye and sending it flying with sparks around its body. Toucannon and Aerodactyl continued to strain while Sableye sunk into the shadows the second it touched the ground. Alastair came running at them, Aegislash glowing a bright white.

    "Brave Bird!" Kahili shouted. As she did so, she gave her left leg a tremendous heave and slammed it upwards, knocking away Alastair's shield arm, while Paul moved in. Toucannon's entire body spluttered to life with blue flames, granting him an extra burst of power against the fossil he was fighting. Pouring in that extra power, Toucannon blasted the Dragon Claw aside, spinning like a drill to knock into Aerodactyl's chest. Paul reached Alastair and elbowed him fiercely in the stomach. The man grunted with an "oof", but sent Aegislash screaming downward. Kahili grabbed hold of the young man and pushed him out of the way, just in time for the blade to cut into her other shoulder. Alastair brought the sword back around.

    "Protect!" Paul shouted, kicking for Alastair's legs to send him off balance. That bought them a second of time as Electivire pulled back, avoiding Sableye's Shadow Claw slicing upwards at him to grab both Kahili and Paul. The green, honeycomb shield sprung up and Aegislash rebounded off of it, causing Alastair to nearly tumble back. "It's over! Grab him with your tails and give a good Thunder!"

    "Electa!" Electivire cried, shooting his tails out to grab hold of Alastair around his torso and arms, preventing him from moving Aegislash. Electivire grinned. "VIIIIIIIIRE!"

    "Nice idea! Persian, Dark Pulse! Now you're mine, Matori!" Nanu grinned out. He plunged his own knife downward, locking it with the assassin's. Persian pounced towards Sableye, forming the dark nexus at his mouth. Electricity continued to thrum and pulse around Aegislash's body, as well as Alastair's. As Persian sent the darkness pouring out towards Sableye, Electivire ended the assault and retracted his tails, leaving Alastair standing there, smoking. His hand slackened, dropping Aegislash with a loud clang. "You wanna see your world on the other side, I'll send you there myself."

    "Will you? You're such a troublesome man, Nanu!" Matori shouted, her composure breaking once again. Her arm flashed out, this time bringing out a blade that seemed to extend, becoming larger. "Sucker Punch!"

    "Foul Pl-" Nanu's command was cut off, and Kahili's eyes widened. Matori had plunged the blade forward, impaling Nanu on his right side, a snarl on her lips. As the dark beam shot for Sableye, the Darkness Pokémon acted, its shadowy fists ghosting upwards, beginning to rapidly pummel every inch of Persian's body. Aerodactyl screeched in pain, no doubt realizing that Alastair had all but fallen. Nanu began to slip on his feet.

    "No, I don't believe we'll be joining you, Nanu. Go quietly," Matori stated coldly, and she began to bring the blade out. Nanu snapped back up, grinning as madly as ever, his hands gripping to the blade and pulling forward on it. His other hand snapped into Matori's arm, holding her in place.

    "Like I ever would! Foul Play! Bird lady!"

    "On it! Toucannon, get Electivire on to Aerodactyl!" Toucannon gave a shout, flapping away from the writhing Aerodactyl, its body once more wreathed in flames from the earlier Beak Blast, snapping his wings in to reach Electivire quickly. Persian's eyes snapped open and its claws pounced forward, grabbing hold of the shadowy fists with its front claws.

    "Sable?" Sableye questioned, the grin dropping from its face, like it didn't see this coming. Then Persian lifted Sableye from the ground with a haughty expression. Nanu kicked at Matori, forcing her to let go of the blade as he stumbled back. Persian flung Sableye straight into its trainer with a hiss, the assassin too shocked from the blow to avoid it. They continued traveling with Persian's grasp before the Classy Cat let go, causing them to fly right into Aerodactyl. Toucannon was already overhead, dropping Electivire.

    "THUNDER!"

    "STEEL WING AND BEAK BLAST!" Kahili and Paul shouted simultaneously. Electivire landed right on Aerodactyl's back with a feral grin. Nanu began to laugh, as if this was the end. Toucannon began to whirl around, his wings sharp and his beak red hot. He flew in a wide and quick circle, like he was whipping up a cyclone. Electivire restrained Aerodactyl's wings, and then let off the same thunderous fury that had consumed the Fossil Pokémon's trainer. Toucannon aimed right for Matori and Sableye, slamming them both with Steel Wing, carrying them up to the electrocuted body of their comrade, his fiery beak making contact. There was a brief moment where the beak touched Aerodactyl, and Electivire leapt off. Kahili smirked, looking to Paul with a nod, the young man also smirking. The Alolan Elite Four member raised her wrists, crossing them as a sky-blue glow exuded from it and channeled over to Toucannon. She moved her arms as though she were a bird, the smirk still on her face. "Checkmate, losers. SUPERSONIC SKYSTRIKE!

    "Toucaaaahn!" Toucannon squawked out, body shining that same bright blue from her wrist. His forward movement increased in speed, creating a gale, while still retaining his heated beak. Then he rammed all of their enemies forward, right through a row of houses before the red glow reached its zenith. In seconds, the Z-Move's strike pummeled them into the ground the force of a bomb blast.

    BOOOOOM! Toucannon's beak exploded with force, flinging Aerodactyl, Sableye and Matori back through the air, into one more building. Before they even impacted, the two Mega Evolved Pokémon's forms faded away, and then all of them landed, causing the whole building to crumble inward. Dust rose up to the air as a symbol of their victory.

    "Phew…" Kahili called, falling back down on to her butt. Her hands raised up, feeling the twinging cuts she'd been ignoring for the sake of the battle. Paul also fell down, while a clanging noise was heard, Nanu having removed the blade. He certainly looked to be bleeding from that spot, but put a hand over it, for all the good it did with his other wounds. He slid to the ground, Persian walking over to regard him, like he was asking a question. "You okay, there, old man?"

    "Tch, just need a rest, bird lady. That okay with you?" Nanu asked, leaning back. Persian stalked around him, clearly not the comforting kind of cat, but a vigilant one instead. Kahili scoffed. Then she turned back, in time to see Alastair, who'd been standing the whole time, falling backwards.

    "We lost this round…No…" Alastair breathed. His body made a loud noise as it finally hit the ground, breaths coming in gasps. The meteonite tumbled out, hitting the ground as well, its colored lights flickering. "Just a little longer. Hold for her a little longer…a little…longer…"

    "For what?" Paul grunted, but he got no answer. The city began to grow quieter, a large amount of the Pokémon seemingly stopping their attack. Kahili looked down to the fainted Aegislash, thinking that its defeat was causing the army to calm. However, there were still attacking Pokémon in the skies above, and no doubt on the ground. With a groan, Kahili stood, hoping that Ash was doing okay. Sawyer and Alain were finally emerging from the water, while Kahili reached for the meteonite. As she gripped for it, her vision wavered a bit from the blood loss. She almost tipped back, but regained her balance as she saw a black spot flitting, blurring the edge of her vision. Kahili shook her head, and gripped for the meteonite…only for it to begin cracking underneath her fingers.

    "What the…?" She continued pulling it up, only for it to crumble away into large dust particles, as though the last of its energy had been used up. But what concerned Kahili the most was…

    "Why did it break?" Sawyer asked, pulling Alain out of the river, supported by Sceptile. "The meteorite here needed the power of a legendary to do it, so how…?"

    Kahili swallowed, thinking and fearing the worst. Then, there was a watery explosion of electricity from up high near the hotel. Something was very, very wrong.
    *Chapter to be continued in the next post...

  15. #40
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    Chapter continued from last post.

    "What was the flare for, exactly? And get ready to dodge!" Ash's voice yelled out to the balloon that had risen into the air. He was surprised that Team Rocket wasn't facing their former superior. Of course, from the way they were busy staring out with their high-tech binoculars, Ash had to figure that they preferred surveillance to straight up combat, unless one counted Inkay and Gourgeist strafing around the balloon for safety.

    "Since the analytical twerp said she was the last of those IDEAL bozos that needed to be encountered, we figured we'd fire one to confirm for the others we had all four engaged," James said proudly. Ash assumed that he'd been the one to come up with the idea over Jessie.

    "Now, all that's left is the leader!" Jessie cackled out, all but confirming Ash's thoughts on the subject. Either way, the time for discussion was over, and the time for taking action was upon them. Serena gripped tighter as Charizard crunched his body in, prepared to dodge the missiles that were about to fire from the drones right ahead. Team Rocket's basket pulled out their own engines, with Gourgeist and Inkay moving front to ready themselves for defensive action. The first fired, a number of five missiles soaring into the air right for them.

    "Flamethrower!" Ash shouted out. Charizard's jaw snapped open and a torrent of flame exploded from within his mouth as a large and wide burst. It slammed into the missiles and caused them to explode. Ash prepared himself to give the order to evade, but he heard nothing more. At least, not from the drones.

    "Hey, dey've stopped movin'," Meowth commented, like it was strange.

    "Wobba…?" Ash leaned over Charizard, the smoke starting to clear. As it did, Ash saw what they were talking about: all of the drones had ceased in their movements, starting to fall away towards the ground. A cheering was rising up through the city, even as the sounds of battle continued hotly onward. Ash took a breath of relief; Louise had been taken out. Everyone was doing their job, so now they just had to do theirs.

    "Team Rocket…or whatever you want to be called, you guys. Can you find the leader, Deirdre?" he asked. As he did so, Ash looked to Greninja, the amphibian nodding and beginning to scan the area, sensing. Ash could feel that sensation. Another of the stronger individuals seemed to have vanished, leaving only two remaining. It didn't make sense, like he couldn't sense Deirdre at all. The only thing he felt was a strange presence by the stadium, but it still made no sense; she hadn't been there before.

    "Team Rocket Spying System in effect!" Jessie and James claimed simultaneously, peering over opposite sides of their balloon basket, scanning the smoking and destroyed city. Ash continued his own gazing, and he figured that his wife must have clearly been doing the same in that moment. Meowth and Wobbuffet took the remaining sides of the balloon. "Maybe for this service, we should charge!"

    "We could make it large!" James agreed with his magenta-haired companion.

    "Enough ta fill a barge!" Meowth concluded. Wobbuffet agreed by nodding his head, but at that moment, Ash only cared about results, with Pikachu even facepalming. A scratching came over his walkie, calling out that Louise had definitely been taken out, but without the meteonite in possession. Ash scrunched his face, trying to find the source, but his eyes kept swiveling around with the clashing signals.

    "Hey, that crazy lady had like, red hair, right?" James asked. Ash whipped over to him and he pointed away, right towards the Ancien Grand Hotel. "Because she's standing on top of the command center!"

    "She wasn't there before!" Serena cried out. Ash scowled a bit, asking for Greninja to look over in that direction. His synched partner looked over and Ash saw through his eyes, zeroing in on top of the hotel. Sure enough, standing atop there, framed by the streaming sun and now rainbow colors that were beginning to color the sky above, was Deirdre, her Altaria at her side. "How did she…?"

    "Doesn't matter," Ash muttered, placing a hand on his wife's, their wedding bands touching. "Charizard, let's go!"

    "Rawr!" Charizard snorted out and his wings tucked in, snapping forward towards Deirdre's location, the woman clearly surveying the battlefield from where she stood.

    "Team Rocket, tell Diantha we've got her in sight! This ends now!" Ash called out, Charizard speeding up with the emotions now surging within him. Team Rocket gave a salute and seemed to instantly get on their walkies to communicate exclusively with Diantha. Soon, they passed out of earshot as Charizard picked up his speed. The woman's position made sense; she was in a prime location to keep a keen eye on the entire battle. However, she had clearly stayed hidden amongst the drones just long enough before she took her new position, like she knew where their command center was located. "Just drop us there, then help take care of the Pokémon in the air!"

    "Skar!" a Skarmory screeched loudly. Ash looked up to see a fleet of the Armor Bird Pokémon firing metallic beams of Flash Cannon at them. Greninja went into action, gripping his Water Shuriken and tossing it out. Pikachu likewise sent a Thunderbolt roaring outward to collide with Flash Cannons. Charizard didn't waver, but it bought them enough time to get close to the hotel's roof. Deirdre turned, her smile looking up at them coyly.

    "Well, you found me," she spoke. Ash said nothing, his eyes narrowing in, preparing to jump off. In seconds, Charizard pulled in close enough, and Ash grabbed hold of Serena before jumping. Greninja and Pikachu leapt off alongside Sylveon, both hitting the roof safely before Ash and Serena tumbled across it. "Not surprising. What took you so long, though, Ash?"

    "You were hiding, what else?" Ash snapped to her. Serena took a pokeball out and returned Sylveon before calling Braixen out, the fox twirling her wand, ready for battle. Deirdre raised a finger and began to wag it in a scolding fashion. Ash disliked it, but instead readied his stance for battle, just as Greninja did.

    "Now, that's not fair. Perhaps you just weren't looking close enough at the shadows," the auburn-haired woman spoke, adding a light giggle beneath her smirk. That self-assured smirk soon dropped off, giving way to the seemingly callous demeanor beneath. "I see you've hurt my family, you and your friends. Are you truly that opposed to our new world?"

    "Are you really asking that question?" Serena asked, stepping forward, her hair fluttering in the wind around the rooftop. Deirdre looked at her, her own hair unmoving, except for when she turned her head slightly. Ash found it strange, even as her Altaria lowered down. "No world should be built on what you've done to get here."

    "No, it's just built on pain and suffering, right?" Deirdre asked, her lip twitching a bit. Altaria's wings were fluttering, and Ash could tell they were ready to strike. However, his mind wasn't quite there. Something in Deirdre's tone spoke to something inside that wanted to lash out. Some rage, or sorrow. A longing. "We who remained in the shadows, knowing little of the light. Would you deny us our perfection? Our hope?"

    "Don't you dare call what you're doing hope," Ash yelled, stepping forward with his own snarl. "Hope isn't built on blood or sacrifice. Neither is our world. If you want to call what you're doing hope, then you need a reality check!"

    "Pika Pikachu!" Pikachu cried out, his body and fur bristling with electricity. Deirdre nodded her head sadly, as though she feared it would come to this. Their own views were irreconcilable, Ash knew, and now there was nothing left to be said. Nothing except through battle.

    "Draco Meteor!" she cried, raising her hands upwards towards the rainbow-painted sky. Altaria cried out, glowing with a burgeoning orange glow. In the skies by the hotel roof, Ash saw Talonflame and Staraptor blast by with a Brave Bird to hit at some Golbat before diving down towards the square. Latias remained beyond, shooting down other Pokémon as she remained aware. Ash, himself, just remained laser focused on Deirdre as the meteoric orb burst from within Altaria and split apart, beginning to rain down upon the entire city.

    "Pikachu, up into the air and Countershield!"

    "You block them with Hidden Power, Braixen!" Pikachu leapt into Greninja's arms, the frog tossing him upwards towards the cascading meteors. He began to spin, outputting a Thunderbolt that rained sparks everywhere, slamming into the meteors. Altaria was already blasting forward, glowing gold as it aimed for Greninja. Braixen kneeled, aiming her wand upwards and then firing the grouping of silver orbs forth. The meteors that Pikachu didn't hit were taken out by the silver orbs breaking through them.

    "Greninja, block the Sky Attack with your shuriken!" Ash called. While he did so, Ash's own feet were on the move, crossing in front of his body. Greninja grabbed his shuriken from his back, spinning it around before the Humming Pokémon collided with him. The two strained, pushing Greninja back towards the edge of the rooftop, though he held on. "Now, bring it right into Cut!"

    "Greeeeeninja!" the Ninja Pokémon cried, breaking his shuriken into sharp kunai that slashed upwards on Altaria's body, forcing it to back off. Ash reached Deirdre, punching at her. She spun away deftly, not yet making a move to attack. It made Ash recall Nanu's words from Lanakila: she moved differently. That seemed to be true; her actions were all conservative, based in defense than offense. Not something that a "scrappy style" would suggest. Pikachu came falling down, body brimming with electricity that he sent out in a powerful arc. The Thunderbolt soon consumed Altaria's body, shocking every inch of it. In the midst of that distraction, Pikachu managed to land atop Altaria's back, looking triumphant.

    "Dragon Pulse on Braixen," Deirdre called, and Ash ran at her again. Altaria floated backwards, its wings out for it to gain some altitude before its head reared back, the purple beam forming before firing out in a sinister fashion for Braixen.

    "Counter with Fire Blast!" Serena called. Braixen jabbed her wand forward, the fiery star exploding outwards like a blooming flower, closing its petals upon the raging dragon and consuming it. The two attacks exploded in midair while Ash punched at Deirdre. When that failed to make contact, he swept his leg out, causing her to jump. She finally took a movement, punching at him, but like always, it was so swift that he felt like it didn't even make contact. This time, though, he knew what to expect, dropping to his knees and spinning away. The force of the blow rippled against his ear, hitting the door to the stairwell, bending it in. The auburn-haired woman turned her head.

    "Sky Attack! Shake Pikachu loose!" Deirdre called. There was a cry on the horizon, sounding like two of his Pokémon communicating with one another. Altaria glowed golden, picking up speed from the move as it aimed upwards. Pikachu clung tightly, barely holding on amidst the swift movement. Deirdre now kicked out, necessitating Ash to duck, and Serena to flip over to the side to avoid the attack that seemed to split the very air itself.

    "Definitely unusual," Ash muttered, but didn't afford himself the distraction. There was still something he wasn't getting about Deirdre, something hidden behind her vapid eyes. "Aerial Ace! Iron Tail!"

    "Pi!" Pikachu called, letting go of Altaria. The second he had, his tail stiffened, glowing a powerful white before slamming into the Dragon type and knocking it straight towards a jumping Greninja. With a midair flip, Greninja's glowing leg made contact with Altaria. It knocked it down a little, before the momentum of the flip brought Greninja's other leg down on to Altaria, causing it to barrel right for the roof. Ash mimicked his Pokémon's actions, kicking upwards as he stood. Deirdre's eyes widened, like she hadn't seen that particular split-second reaction happening.

    "Psyshock!" Serena ordered behind him. Braixen's claws glowed purple before sending the streaks outward, homing in towards Altaria, soon wrapping around the Pokémon like tendrils before another one collided. Ash continued his upward movement, nicking Deirdre's chest, though it felt like he hadn't hit anything at all as she stepped back.

    "Hyper Beam!" Altaria sang out loudly, flapping its cottoned wings upward, the gale strong enough to make Ash's hat nearly fly off as it coalesced its dark beam towards its beak. Then it fired, cutting along the top of the hotel. The structure rocked, forcing Ash to stand his ground while pain erupted on his chest from Greninja being hit. Serena also looked wobbly, but remained standing. It didn't account for the sight when the Hyper Beam had finished.

    The roof was nearly bisected, a great chasm to the floor below visible along the surface. Greninja was hanging there, gripping to Pikachu, while Braixen was steadying herself on the edge. Ash looked to Deirdre, and a point beyond her, where he could see Talonflame and Staraptor rising, holding to what looked like Clemont. His friend was drawing close, and Ash opted for a separate strategy, focusing on his Z-Ring.

    "Do you see, Ash? This is the conviction we hold," Deirdre was speaking. Some stones crumbled away, and the sound of voices down below showed that people from the lobby were exiting the command center. The Hyper Beam had done far more damage than Ash expected. "I told you our convictions would clash. Now you see the extent of that."

    "You can keep saying that all you want, but we're going to protect our world, even from people who once tried to save it!" Ash called out, hoping it would distract the woman long enough. He slowly stepped back, hoping she wouldn't notice him gaining some distance while Serena stepped forward to join him. "In the end, that doesn't matter! You still worked with Team Rocket, killed innocent people, and are using something that you shouldn't to create a world that'll never exist!"

    "You mean the meteonite?" Deirdre asked. She once more raised a finger in a scold, tsking him rather loudly. "Oh, Ash, in some ways, you're still a naďve, little boy You want to know which of us has it on us. Is that right?"

    "Not really," Ash told her, grinning a bit. "I just wanted to make you think I was. Let's go! Pikachu, Electro Ball! Greninja!"

    "Nin!" Greninja hauled himself up as Ash crossed his fists, the blue glow of a Waterium-Z exploding from the surface. Clemont was now close enough to strike. Altaria seemed to sense what was about to happen and soared in for Deirdre, but Ash already saw that complication before the Humming Pokémon could intervene. Ash's arms uncrossed before flowing like water, the power bursting into Greninja as he became surrounded by a powerful veil of water.

    "If you have the meteonite, we're about to figure it out, because we'll just beat you and take it!" Ash smirked out. Clemont tossed a pokeball, Luxray emerging on their side of the rooftop, padding forward for all of a second before moving in with a Wild Charge that zapped to life on his mane. Braixen was acting, too, firing out another Hidden Power. "Hydro Vortex!"

    Greninja shot off, his speed far higher than normal as he sped around Deirdre's form. It was a bit more brutal than Ash would have liked, but given the smaller space, there was no space to do anything else to achieve the results needed. Greninja whirled around, the cyclone of water forming tightly. Pikachu's Electro Ball and Braixen's Hidden Power hit the Z-Move, merging with it. Altaria bounced into the watery cyclone, rebounding from it as it cried with distress. Luxray was within as Clemont landed on the roof, the three of them watching.

    "Louise didn't have the meteonite," Clemont told them, and Ash nodded as Greninja shot down. Water exploded all over the place, and electricity exploded with it, Luxray's Wild Charge clearly finding its mark as it hit the water and caused the current to burst around with the zaps. "But…I'm worried. They knew to target the castle, somehow; that the civilians were inside it and not the coliseum. It worried me enough that I decided to find you. How could they have known?"

    "We're about to find out," Serena pointed out, all three of them facing the sight of the now fading Z-Move, with Greninja leaping back. His comrades joined him in doing so, ready for another round, in case that hadn't been enough to take Deirdre down. The hotel groaned with its cracking.

    "Well, crap, you just had to use a Z-Move on me, didn't you?" Ash's heartbeat sped up, and he felt his stomach plummet. He had expected something to come out of his planned strike, perfect with the execution of his friends. However, as the steam cleared, he didn't expect to see Deirdre stride out confidently, her body flickering, pieces of her missing. But she wasn't bloody. No…instead, it almost seemed as if she was…

    "An illusion?" Clemont asked, the question leaving his mouth with a gasping breath. Behind Deirdre's body, a shadow rippled, causing Deirdre's body to ripple as well. A crackling sound shouted over the walkies.

    "Everyone!" Kahili shouted, showing she was communicating with everyone in the city. "There was a meteonite in Alastair's possession, but…it's gone. It crumbled in my hands."

    "Because it isn't real," Deirdre taunted. Her body was fading away, a smirk stretching her lips. Horror filled Ash as realization dawned inside him. Her hair never fluttered. Her attacks moved so fast, it was like they never made physical contact. She didn't "move the same", according to Nanu. She could vanish into thin air, like a shadow. And now, even a Z-Move had done nothing but cause her to ripple, vanishing before their eyes. Things began to click into place, and the truth of what Deirdre was…no, not what she was, but what she had presented herself as, caused a sickening ball to form inside Ash. "None of it was ever real, Ash. Not the meteonites you saw, and not this form here."

    Like a snap, her illusory form seemed to fade away, and two shadows split off, traveling in different directions entirely, almost completely invisible to the naked eye, Altaria going after one of them as it was lost in the confusion. Before she faded completely, though, the smirk on her lips the last thing to do so, she spoke the most heinous of truths, and Ash realized just how wrong they were since the battle had started. No…since Team Rocket had begun their own operations.

    "The meteonite and myself have been in Ancien City from the very beginning."


    Author's Note: I'm sorry, did I say there was only one big twist in this story? Because there isn't. The Deirdre they've been fighting the whole story has been naught but an illusion. How was it created? Well, that's a secret I'm not sharing yet, but it will be revealed soon, I can assure you. This has been hinted at very often, actually, though I stopped just short of making it obvious. But now the cat's out of the bag and the "holy crap" moment of the characters has arrived: Deirdre was always in Ancien City. Remember Chapter 1? Yeah, she never left. (Like I'd put in something so random…)

    Other than that, most of IDEAL has been taken out, but with this revelation, how will the battle fare from here on out, and what can it truly mean? What can be believed at all in this battle? Well, hopefully you enjoyed the major fight this chapter, even if the climax has now taken a huge turn.

    The near turning point of the climax is here, so get ready and buckle in! Until that time, please do Review and Dare to Be Silly.

  16. #41
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    I like surprising readers. I may not always do the unexpected, but sometimes I seem to be able to. Last chapter seemed to do that. Lots thought there was a traitor, though that wouldn't have made sense. This twist, however, does, and you'll start seeing just how. Time for Chapter 21!


    Chapter 21

    A Resurgence

    A horrible wrenching noise filled the air, and underneath Ash's feet, he could feel tremors. The roof was giving way beneath him and the others, but all he could do for that moment was look at the spot Deirdre had vanished. No…it was hard to say she had vanished when her form had never been real to begin with. His mind kept asking why. Why hadn't they noticed earlier? Why hadn't they tried to notice earlier?

    "Ash, we need to move!" Serena shouted, gripping at his arm. She had recovered far faster than he, and Ash turned his head, locking eyes with his wife. Hers were just as wide, reflecting his own confusion setting in. She hadn't recovered, but she had enough presence of mind to know that they needed to get off of the building right that instant. There was another loud wrenching, and the sound of rubble falling.

    "I think this whole hotel is about completely collapse…" Clemont observed, kneeling at the edge of the chasm that was a sign of the hotel's splitting. "That Hyper Beam was insane…or was it the Z-Move itself that did it…?"

    "Who cares?" Ash asked. Clemont shrugged sheepishly, clearly realizing that now wasn't the time to be scientifically musing about what was causing their command center to be broken apart. Ash didn't mean to sound so harsh, either, but in light of what had been revealed, he still felt himself slip into a state of shock. Serena's hand on his reminded him that they were in a battle, however. Knowing that, he reached back and pulled out the flute from his bag, blowing once on it. Charizard was too far away, scorching the enemy Pokémon in the air.

    "Altaria's Hyper Beam never seemed that powerful before…" Serena commented while the three of them waited, their Pokémon drawing close. It prompted Serena and Clemont to return their own. The sharp cry of Latias filled the air, and Ash looked up to the rainbow sky. There were less Pokémon than before attacking the city, but still enough to cause problems for the fighters that remained below, especially with so little seeming to be fighting above.

    "She was probably holding back," Ash said. Latias became visible now, shooting right for the three of them. The hotel shuddered, the piece they were on beginning to lean down towards the street. Their feet began to slip, and Ash took a final look around the airspace of the city; like its trainer, Altaria seemed to have vanished, but not in the same sense. "Didn't want us to engage her too closely. So, when we finally became too much of a threat, Altaria turned up the heat to stop us from reaching her, even if it didn't work. I'd hate to see that thing with even more power."

    "Right now, the only power we should think about protecting is our own. I'm not about to die here," Clemont stated, pushing up on his glasses. Ash agreed wholeheartedly, letting a grin plaster itself on to his face. Latias had reached them, and all of them there jumped on to her back, with Pikachu once more clinging to Ash's shirt. Greninja once more leapt from the building with alacrity, while she zoomed away from the falling building, aiming towards the ground, where Ash could see Diantha and a number of others still gathering, having escaped the building. Thankfully, among them were Brock, Aria, and even those that appeared wounded, like Astrid, now wearing a jacket on herself. Another creaking and cracking, and Ash looked to the collapsing building, watching as it was tipping over. Clemont reached for a pokeball. "I know you're tired, Vikavolt, but I need you to use String Shot and hold the hotel together as much as you can!"

    "Vik…" Vikavolt seemed to breathe out heavily, but he still listened to Clemont, spewing a thick string as he zipped around the hotel. Latias finally lowered them to the ground and dropped them off. Diantha was at the front, her Gardevoir holding up a Reflect, while Gladion's Toxapex was out, helping to hold off the crumbling building as much as he could.

    "Latias, use Giga Impact! Help push it into place," Ash called the second they'd touched down to the ground. Latias shot for the hotel, ramming into it with her yellow and purple aura. She strained, crying out, but continued to push.

    "That's a hell of an idea! Yo, Gladion, get yer Honchkrow to bring Golisopod up there!" Guzma ordered. Gladion scowled at him, but nodded. Honchkrow appeared, grabbing hold of Golisopod and bringing him up to the level necessary to push the building further in. Vikavolt continued his rotations, slowly binding the hotel together. Ash looked up and saw some of his fliers, while Seamus called his Emboar out.

    "Guys, bring any physical fighters up to the air! Push it back into place!" Ash yelled. All at once, his Talonflame, Staraptor, Swellow and Unfezant dove downwards. Charizard was right with them, but instead of picking up another Pokémon, he just joined Latias in pushing the hotel back into position. Everyone drew closer to Diantha, her Gardevoir continuing to shield them all while the others pushed. From Serena's side, Primarina appeared, pushing into the hotel with an Aqua Jet. Ash felt his throat constricting, watching as it slowly moved back into position. Then Vikavolt rapidly made moves around the building until he ran out of string, tumbling through the air. The Pokémon stopped pushing. The building stopped moving.

    "Made it…" Seamus sighed out, with even Zoroark patting his back. However, his relief didn't last long as all those on the ground below turned to Ash. He knew what was coming. "What happened up there?"

    "Last I heard was from Team Rocket, telling me that you'd found Deirdre. Was she on the roof?" Diantha asked. Steven was drawing closer now. Ash shook his head.

    "She was, and she wasn't. We were played the entire time, Diantha," Ash informed the Champion. Everyone there didn't seem to understand, but that didn't matter, with Ash planning to explain it all further. "Deirdre…she was never real. At least, not in the sense that we knew her."

    "Now…hold on…a damn second," Nanu's voice suddenly crackled over the walkies. Ash flicked his eyes briefly inside the destroyed lobby of the hotel, noticing that all of their communication devices had been destroyed by the Hyper Beam ripping through the location. Their walkies were all they had left now. "I know Deirdre, and so does dragon champ. She ain't some lie."

    "Oh, she's real, all right," Serena sighed out, breathing a little loudly from exhaustion. "Just…the thing we've been facing wasn't. It was an illusion. Altaria might not have been, but she was."

    "Deirdre's been in the city from the beginning," Ash told them. Diantha's face flashed with fury as Gardevoir lowered her Reflect. "She knew everything: where we were moving civilians, where the command center was. I'm sure they knew our entire battle plan! They planned everything from way before we came here!"

    "And the meteonite with them," Clemont observed.

    "So, it was a fake meteonite?" Kahili questioned over the walkie. "Where's the real one the-aah!" The sound of Kahili's voice getting cut off sent a disturbed chill down Ash's spine, along with all of those with him. He grabbed at his walkie, speaking into it.

    "Kahili? Kahili!" he cried, but got no answer. There seemed to be none of his sister-figure's group to answer. Diantha stepped forward, clasping to her necklace, as if preparing to Mega Evolve and destroy the enemy before them no matter what. "Something happened, and it must have been something unexpected. They had defeated Alastair it seemed."

    "And Matori," Steven commented. "Go and see. Diantha, I suggest we get a count on everything that's going on across the city. If Deirdre is, indeed, in the city, along with the meteonite, then we have far less time than we thought. We'll want to see how many we've lost, and how many remain."

    "It won't be a pretty number, but I agree," Diantha said, jerking her head. She looked to Ash, and he got the message. Whatever had happened with Kahili, it was beginning to become a priority. "There might be confusion settling in, so we need to settle this fast. Remember to hold on to your walkies. With the command center gone, they're all we have. Guzma, Gladion, Seamus, head into the city."

    "There were two shadows," Clemont commented, the inventor clearly having noticed them, as well. His hands were pointing in opposite directions, indicating their general paths. "One headed further into the city, while the other fled towards the exit."

    "We'll head further in, then. It'll give us a visual idea of what's going on around the city, as well," Gladion stated, indicating with his head where the trio was going to head to. Guzma shrugged while Seamus was already way ahead of them, Zoroark taking point for all of them. Ash turned away, and Serena with him. They turned in the direction of where Ash had last seen Kahili and Nanu holding their battle.

    "They're close by, Ash. Head there on foot; I think it'll be quicker. Brock, can you go with them?" Diantha informed him. Ash looked to the woman, seeing her smile at him. There was something resting there, like a resignation for him to do all of the work. Not that he minded, but it seemed strange to him. Regardless, he brushed it off and dashed in the direction of the most ruined of the buildings around the area. Serena took lead while voices began to crackle over their walkies.

    "Sectors, report in right now. And if anyone sees an Altaria, inform us this instant!" Diantha's voice came over the line. Ash grabbed at the walkie, gripping tightly to listen to all of the reports coming in, hoping against hope that their battle hadn't cost more than they'd gained. Serena continued charging ahead, for the river that wended its way through the city. The houses got progressively more destroyed as they continued along.

    "This is Lance. We've pulled back from the stadium to regroup and are further in town, towards fountain square," Lance's voice called over. "We've lost a good number. Derek and almost all of ARC that remained are gone, as are some IP members; only Alpha Squad seems to still be standing."

    "The same here…only three of our brothers and sisters made it," Plumeria's voice crackled out dully, sounding a little choked up over the circumstances. Guzma's voice followed her own before anyone else could report in.

    "Plumeria, what the hell happened? Those are our family…" he said, sounding like his voice was quickly filling with rage at what he'd just heard. Ash swallowed; he'd been so involved in flitting around the battle, finding a Deirdre that wasn't there, that he didn't realize just how many had fallen. Serena stopped walking a moment, looking back at him while his hand was shaking on the walkie.

    "I didn't have the chance to stop those idio-" Plumeria's voice cut off, just the same way that Kahili's had. His fist further tightened, nearly denting the device Clemont had spent time making. What was going on? Was Deirdre enacting some sort of trap from within the city?

    "Y reporting," Serena's father spoke, a small beam of light in the darkness. "We're okay over here, though we've faced some losses as well. If it weren't for the Kalos Gym Leaders and Malva on this side, the losses could have been far higher."

    "The same for us," rumbled the familiar tones of Hala, gruff but okay. "The Kahunas and captains have protected their sector."

    "We're good here!" Dawn and May's voices came over together. Relief was flooding his system, mingled with grief and regret at having not done more. So many people around him and he had done nothing to truly help them, spending time pursuing a phantom.

    "We're…alive…right? We're alive?"

    "Yes, Maka, we're alive," Keoni's voice sighed out. "The square was held…more or less. Took some Pokémon out with a missile barrage, though we tried to protect everyone we could."

    "Ash," Serena's voice cut through his thoughts, making all other things silent to him. He looked to his wife, and she reached up with her hands, cupping his face softly. His breathing slowed, his body calming while he looked at her, smiling at him lovingly. "This isn't anyone's fault. We all knew what we were doing. We all accepted that choice, just like we have again and again and again. Okay?"

    "I know, I just…" Ash felt Brock's hand clap him on the shoulder, having finally caught up. His best friend didn't say a word, just grinning at him. Even Pikachu put a paw up, reminding him. He finally chuckled out. He couldn't take the blame…he just had to stop the ones who were. He needed to keep moving forward. "Right. Thanks."

    "Every time," Serena assured him, offering him a light kiss on the cheek as all three once more moved to proceed forward. This time, Ash pulled ahead as the rest of the reports seemed to have come in. A number of trainers had, indeed, fallen, but it seemed as though all of his friends had managed to make it out okay, even if they had some cuts and bruises on them. Most importantly, Ancien Castle seemed to be secured, and the citizens inside were safe, even if some turrets had taken damage.

    The trio rounded a corner, and found themselves face to face with the most destructive amount of carnage so far: buildings smashed, the ground ripped up, and five people scattered across the cobblestone streets of Ancien City. Instantly, Ash caught sight of Kahili, his sister figure passed out on the road. It seemed unlike her, and worrying, so Ash ran for her. Serena ran to Alain and Sawyer, both passed out on top of each other. Ash and Brock moved together before the former split off to grab hold of Nanu, the older man groaning. Ash slid to the ground, placing his hands behind Kahili and holding her up.

    "Kahili! Wake up! Kahili!" Ash yelled. The woman suddenly punched upward, forcing Ash to dodge as she stirred in his arms. "What happened here?"

    "Don't know…" the blue-haired woman groaned out, fully awakening and beginning to sit up. Ash supported her back, helping her up. Paul twitched a few feet away, his hand gripping at loose stones. "We were…talking…then it was so…sleepy. And Alastair!"

    "He was dragged under," Paul grunted, himself waking up and spitting at the ground distastefully. The two awakening individuals looked at each other, as though they'd shared the same vision. "Before I passed out, he was being dragged under by a shadow with red eyes. Him and Matori both…Damn it! We were pathetic."

    "I don't think there's anything you could've done," Ash admitted, sharing the thoughts and feelings that Serena and Brock had helped him to remember. He breathed out a little. "This was all planned…They were here…well, maybe not Alastair and the rest, but Deirdre was in this city from the start, keeping watch on things, tricking us, no doubt hiding in the shadows. Even taking them out, they must've had a backup plan."

    "The same thing probably happened with Plumeria and the others over by the castle," Serena pointed out. Ash nodded, given that it made the most sense. Louise had been there, so whatever it was must have retrieved her own body, the same as her comrades. He just had to wonder what it was, and why it had waited until now. Was there a new plan to be had, or…?

    "If all of that's the case…we have no time to be sitting around," Kahili grunted. She pushed on Ash's shoulder, forcing herself into a standing position while Paul did the same. It was foolhardy, and Brock's perturbed look told him as such, but Ash didn't bother trying to stop either of them. He would have done the exact same thing if he was in their position. The only one seemingly not pushing themselves up was Nanu, now moved against a still intact wall as Brock finished patching his wounds. The doctor looked mildly annoyed by that. "The meteonite's in the city, and our backs are against the wall…time for us to do what we do best…"

    "Only problem is," Sawyer said, finally moving to stand on his own, with Serena not fully supporting him. Alain was the same, rubbing at his temples furiously. "We don't know where it is. I mean, a big glowing meteor? You'd think someone would notice…"

    "Maybe they did…" Ash mused out, tapping his chin. Before he knew it, Ash grabbed hold of the walkie talkie and instantly yelled into it, rising above all of the other voices. "Aston! Mayor Aston, before all of this began, did you see Deirdre?"

    There was silence, everyone in their small quadrant recovering. Ash waited, looking around to still see the passed-out form of Aerodactyl. Whatever had taken Alastair and Matori away hadn't done so for at least one of their Pokémon. Confused mutters and what seemed like panic began to come over the waves of their devices, Ash's question clearly stirring up less than pleasant feelings inside. After a moment, however, it was Aston's voice that joined in.

    "Yes," was his response. "We had a talk, and then she moved towards the stadium. It was the last I saw of her, though, so I presumed…"

    "The stadium?" James' voice now came over the line, but before he could choose to say any more, Jessie and Meowth's voices drowned him out, confirming all that was beginning to form inside of Ash's mind. They really weren't down and out yet. IDEAL had the upper hand, but Team Rocket's definitive statement screamed that they hadn't lost.

    "We saw that Altaria going right for the stadium, but not in the stadium."

    "It looked like it was goin' ta go underground or sometin'," Meowth finished. Ash couldn't help his face forming a stern expression. He knew the space underneath the stadium better than any of the battlers here. There was plenty of space, secluded from the rest of the city or stadium, enough to hide a person or thing, especially if there was no major event taking place. That they had redesigned and added even more maintenance halls higher up all but confirmed that.

    They'd found her.

    "Wait, are you saying that our target should have been the stadium this entire time?" Alder's voice shouted out, clearly sounding disturbed by the turn of events. "How did they fool us?"

    "But what about everyone who…?" asked the scared voice of a trainer that Ash didn't know. In fact, a multitude of voices were streaming in, panicking and scared. "Did they all die for nothing? !"

    "What's going to happen next? !"

    "What if that thing activates and kills us all?"

    "Shut up! Bunch a sissies…"

    "Guzma, keep moving," Gladion's voice barked in response to the last. From Ash's own speculation, it sounded like their group of three had already heeded the order and turned straight for the stadium as swiftly as they could. However, Lance was waiting to drop the hammer on them.

    "The problem is that the road to the stadium was blasted apart by Toll. There's a massive chasm splitting the entire way there. They really wanted to keep us away," the Kanto Champion informed them. More distressed sounds started coming out of Ash's walkie and he could see Kahili grimacing from the loud noises. Things were clearly turning for the worst.

    Deirdre's revelation had done everything it needed to in a matter of moments. With IDEAL's members being taken from right underneath their noses, the fallen mounting up, and the still glowing rainbow shimmer in the sky, there was no surprise that many people were growing discouraged. They weren't turning on each other, Ash knew, but they were hardly facing forward to the next battle. It was painful to listen to, one that Serena agreed with, going by her expression.

    "Everyone, just calm down!" he yelled into the walkie, but it hardly seemed to do much for those arguing and freaking out over the connection. Ash thought he faintly heard Diantha's voice attempting to intervene, but hers, too, was drowned out by the wave of negativity that was drowning them. They were an army on the verge, ready to collapse now that IDEAL had pushed their pressure point.

    It was almost like this was exactly what they wanted to happen: for them to fall apart, to prove to themselves that they needed a new, perfect world to prevent this very thing. It was disheartening until a single voice broke through the chaos. It was a familiar one, but not one he expected to hear again.

    "SILENCE!" the command barked out. Serena froze, looking over to Ash, recognizing from the single word spoken that it had come from the lips of Merle. Or rather, the Merle that Zoroark had once presented herself as. No other word was spoken from her, but none needed to be. Seamus spoke instead.

    "This isn't the time to be fighting each other, or arguing," he said softly, his voice vibrating, as though it was moving. "If there is any time for us to stand up, it's now. Leave behind everything you were. If you were someone selfish. If you were someone misguided. If you were a criminal. None of it matters now! The only thing that matters now is the fight we're heading into!"

    "So, stand up! Move forward!" Ash yelled, picking up the thread of conversation. Though Seamus and Zoroark were far away, he could tell they appreciated it, beginning to smile as they no doubt ran to their intended destination. "We made a mistake! That's okay! When I started out, I made mistake after mistake, but every time, I picked myself up and walked onwards. I didn't give up on my dream, so you should never give up on yours! Move forward, hope further, and don't you dare give up!

    "I don't care if you're scared. I don't care if you want to run. I want you to find your hope in the person standing next to you, drive them forward and drive yourself forward. Whatever mistake you made in the past, now is the time to leave it behind you. Head for Ancien Stadium! Let's end this here and now! Let's fight until the very end for our future!"

    Silence followed those proclamations, and Ash's hand shook with the walkie in his hold, waiting for a response. Kahili smirked at him. Then, Diantha's voice spoke out.

    "You heard the man. Get moving to the stadium. Champions, it's time we team up!" Diantha spoke, the hard humor in her voice not escaping Ash. If Ash's words hadn't done the trick, then Diantha's single sentence certainly had. For the first time in the entire battle, all of the Champions would be joining together in battle. There was enough cause for celebration at that.

    "Well, guess we should get moving, too," Alain chuckled out, his Charizard roaring with the victory settling in their veins. Kahili tossed a glance back to Nanu.

    "You up for another round, old man?" she asked. Nanu chuckled under his breath, pushing against the wall while Persian remained as a silent sentinel next to him. He got himself into a standing position while Kahili winced from her own wounds. Ash frowned, but chose to not say anything to any of them.

    "I'm always ready if you are, bird lady. Can't have someone whose top Pokémon is a toucan be fighting while I'm not," Nanu snarked out. Brock seemed to take offense with both of them.

    "The both of you look a step away from major blood loss, and your Pokémon are on the brink of exhaustion. I can't, in good conscience as a doctor, allow any of you back on to the battlefield," Brock said sternly. Paul flashed him a glare, rolling his shoulders as they cracked a little. Following that, the doctor gave a sigh, and Ash knew just what was coming. "That said, I know I won't be able to stop any of you, so you better find a doctor or stay with me so you don't get yourselves killed."

    "Fine by me. Electivire, still on standby," Paul said. Electivire grinned, looking over at Pikachu, who nodded. They were ready to move on. Ash walked forward, the others all coming behind him. Greninja stood tall, just as all of the others had their Pokémon stand forward with him. Their allies were no doubt moving towards the stadium, especially with the sounds of movement behind their own group, towards the edge of the city.

    "Everyone! Time for the final battle! Let's win!"

    "Pikachuuuu!"

    "Keep up, old man."

    "Heh." The others remained silent, but all came to flank Ash, Serena standing right by him with twinkling eyes. His hand slipped in hers a moment, giving it a squeeze, thanking her for her words of encouragement. Then, he took a step forward, Pikachu grinning on his shoulder, and they all began to run.

    The ruined streets of the city began to flash by them as they did so, the rubble no object to their progression. Pikachu leapt from Ash's shoulder, down to the ground to join with his fellow Pokémon. In the sky above, Latias and Charizard were in action, attacking the remaining Pokémon that were there. It seemed almost like half of the army was down, but many more were still standing or flying. IDEAL wasn't going to make this easy. A shout from a Skarmory sounded out, two closing in on their sides, but Alain and Sawyer were already snapping into action.

    "Leaf Blade!"

    "Dragon Claw!" Neither stopped their movements, but Sceptile and Charizard leapt forward, the green extensions slicing forward from both of them. The Skarmory fell instantly as two more swooped down from the air.

    "Croagunk!" the Toxic Mouth Pokémon called out, leaping into the air from Brock's side and bringing a powerful Brick Break down upon the Skarmory's head. Up ahead, there appeared to be some Drifblim moving in, like an ominous cloud.

    "Pikachu, Greninja, let's do this!" Ash called, flipping his hat back with a grin. Paul scoffed while Serena giggled. Kahili didn't waste time with any of that, Toucannon sailing forward into the mess of Drifblim. Pikachu kept running, sending a Thunderbolt hurling forward. It collided, sending three of the Drifblim down at once, only for more to rise up, pulsing with an orange aura.

    "Shadow Ball!" Diantha's voice rang out. At the same moment as a large, shadowy orb came flying, a silvery beam shot with it. The two combined, slamming into the mess of Drifblim and exploding. No one stopped running, and neither did the group that was catching up with them. Diantha was right at the lead. "Didn't think you'd catch up with us, but I guess we have a rather large group to coordinate!"

    "Hey, at least we're no longer spread out over the city," Kahili grunted. Diantha nodded in her direction. It didn't take long before she looked back to Ash, who could see others joining with their streaming group. Steven was leading the pack, joined by Aria, Burnet (who didn't have a Pokémon of her own), as well as Mallow and Lana. Kiawe was following behind on his Charizard, with Aston sitting alongside him, Tyranitar keeping up with the pack.

    "That's a silver lining," Paul scoffed once more. Ash had to laugh at that, and Diantha laughed at his side. Serena grinned, Braixen reappearing with her as she did so.

    "That's what we're all about!" she laughed out. They kept moving forward, going into one of the larger streets, where it seemed some thrashing Rhydon were milling about the streets. In Ash's periphery, he could see Brock joining up at Aria's side, the former Kalos Queen taking his hand as she briefly reached up to give him a kiss. Ash laughed a little, letting that faint positivity seep into him as he ran further. Some bodies littered the streets, remnants of an earlier battle, but no one let that stop them. Especially Serena, who kept talking. "Even if it seems impossible. Even if there's no hope…"

    "We find it, and keep going!" Clemont shouted out, joining in with them.

    "So, there's no need to worry!" Dawn's own voice rejoined, a sudden Whirlpool slamming into the streets ahead of them. That was soon met by a great outpouring of water that Ash saw was coming from Misty's Gyarados, slithering through the streets. All four of Ash's past companions were riding atop it, Blaziken and Excadrill atop its head as they went. The Rhydon were all washed away.

    "Heck, yeah!" Ash yelled out with a great grin on his lips. The four women slid down Gyarados' back, joining their entire crowd. Some of their surging forces leapt over the broken houses and the rubble (with, indeed, some hobbling over the mess before them). On the horizon, the stadium was drawing ever closer. Although, it wasn't the only thing doing so.

    "Looks like they won't be letting us through easily," Steven commented, and he raised his hand up to his lapel, taking his stickpin out. Diantha seemed to smile at him, the two Champions sharing an unspoken connection, while she grabbed her necklace. "Mega Evolve!"

    As they continued to run, Ash watched as a number Mandibuzz appeared to swarm ahead like a dark crowd. Light blossomed from within their group as the two Champions moved into action, each Mega Evolving their Pokémon. They didn't seem to be the only ones, however. A bright light was shining from another intersection up ahead. Even behind them, there seemed to be light bursting, and from the smile blossoming on Clemont's face, he knew who it was joining them in the battle. Reaching for his back, Ash knew they weren't alone.

    "Water Shuriken!" Ash cried out, and he made to throw the liquid blade. Greninja acted, doing so in his mimicked movements. The shuriken flew forward, slamming into the Mandibuzz as two Fighting types came charging from the intersection ahead, one with green blades for arms, and another with an orange glowing fist. Scorching electricity blasted out behind the two that landed in front, before an Ice Shard slammed into the Mandibuzz, knocking them off kilter, and revealing the path to the chasm before the stadium. "We're almost there guys, one last push!"

    "Yeah!" The crowd cheered as the area opened up, the chasm nearly upon them. The remaining Mandibuzz dove towards them, firing out a Dark Pulse. From the sides, Ash caught a glimpse of all his own Pokémon coming to join the battle, his Infernape in particular offering Paul's Electivire a cheeky grin.

    "Flash Cannon!" Steven yelled out, not stopping his running. He wasn't alone in attacking. From behind him, numerous Hydro Pumps fired out alongside the lustrous cannon. Ash flicked back to see Piplup working in concert with Gyarados, as well as Gary and Tierno's Blastoise. The Mandibuzz were knocked back while Dugtrio and Golem seemed to be emerging from within the chasm.

    "Blast Burn!" Alain yelled, and to Ash's surprise, he wasn't alone. Trevor's Charizard came roaring in, his own plunging for the ground with the fiery fist. Riding atop it was a Mega Blaziken, leaping off and sailing inwards with a Flare Blitz, which Infernape joined in with, the blue blaze the most noticeable of the group. The fiery forces coalesced and slammed into that group of Pokémon lining the chasm, causing the area to explode further. More of the road crumbled away, but seemed to leave that path clear. Whatever was left was soon cleaned up by Sceptile's own whipping Frenzy Plant, Decidueye appearing from Ash's side and joining Ash's own Sceptile in slicing through the mess of roots. Finally, their group reached the intersection they had been approaching, and what looked like Korrina, Kukui, Maka and Keoni joined them. They were by no means alone.

    "Clemont, you kinda left something behind! Hi, daddy!" Bonnie waved back to her father, but continued running, supporting Clemont's bag between her and Max.

    "This thing is heavy…how do you wear it all the time?" Max groaned out, the duo catching up with Clemont and tossing him the backpack. Ash was surprised to see him so easily slip the bag over himself.

    "Because my brother is awesome!" Bonnie shouted, merging with the stream of the crowd. "Now, time for us to be awesome! Squishy, rested enough?"

    "Blrbl!" Squishy called, leaping out from Bonnie's bag. Green lights shined all around the city and began to stream forward, colliding with Squishy's body as he transformed into the giant green snake that Ash was used to at this point. Two other trainers ran forward, a Braviary carrying a Sawk as they beat away the recovering Mandibuzz, cutting them more of a path.

    "We got this!" called the voice of Bruce, leaping down from a ruined building with a grin.

    "Nothing we can't handle, bro. This is nothing compared to a sinking ship!" Trent agreed. Ash raised an eyebrow, but soon turned his attention to Bonnie's partner. Squishy reared back, and sent a Dragon Pulse flying out, the draconic beam roaring forth with three heads.

    "Speaking of brothers, has anyone seen mine?" Lillie asked. Hau just shrugged with his grin as Pipi floated forward ahead of him, surfing along the ground. She flipped on her tail in greeting to Pikachu. The two joined a Thunderbolt together, matched with Conway's Dusknoir and a familiar Magnezone's Thunder to clear more of the path around Squishy.

    "Last I saw Gladion, Guzma and Seamus, they were getting close to the stadium," Cynthia's cool voice answered. Ash looked to the other side, noticing the group he'd left behind earlier now approaching from their right. The chasm still remained as an obstacle to them. "I have no idea what became of them, but it's irrelevant."

    "Yes," Diantha agreed. "We're all heading for the same spot."

    Then fear not! Squishy's voice called out, his large form reaching the chasm and suddenly extending. I can hold this form as long as is necessary! You must cross me!

    "Thanks, Squishy! You're the best!" Bonnie cheered on, her own face grinning. Diantha and Steven surged ahead, and were soon joined by Kukui, Cynthia, Lance and Alder. The six of them moved to cross the Zygarde bridge first, making it the easiest way to get to the stadium, even as their forces glutted the streets. Ash looked at Greninja, the frog nodding. Their feelings focused inward, trying to sense where Seamus, Gladion and Guzma had fled to. All he could sense, however, was a large conglomeration of pulsing power inside the stadium. Whether it was solely Deirdre or the meteonite, he couldn't know, but it put Ash on his guard and convinced him of the number one space for them to get to posthaste. It may have been covered up by Toll's presence before, but now it was all crystal clear.

    "Watch out for IDEAL!" Serena shouted out. The Champions heeded her words, and she continued on. "If there are still this many Pokémon attacking, it means Aegislash may not have been controlling them, after all…and they're still getting orders."

    "Maybe all of them are still up and fighting," Plumeria stated, herself now joining the surging army. Ash and Clemont looked to her, finally reaching Squishy's body. He silently thanked the noble beast, and began to lead the charge alongside all of them, over towards the hill of the stadium. The stairs were still cracked and gone, but Ash knew that wouldn't be a problem. "That Louise b*tch vanished into the shadows, and before she did, it looked like she was up and moving again. And let me guess? dumb*ss Guzma went right into the thick of it…show off."

    "Well, that's Guzma for you!" Ash laughed out. Plumeria rolled her eyes; he forgot how much she hated complications, and this was certainly one of them. Nevertheless, she plunged further into the thick of the crowd alongside her Salazzle. A roar and cry above showed Ash that all of his airborne Pokémon were joining back into the battle, with some of his smaller ground-based ones gathering on both Charizard and Latias' back. They dropped off, as some of his own larger Pokémon, such as Heracross, Krookodile and Sceptile, came stampeding through the city streets to join with all of them.

    Ash jumped off on the other side of Zygarde, but continued for the stadium. Serena nearly tripped over her feet, but she was caught by Aria and Maka, the two of them grinning at her as they helped her to regain her balance. In fact, as Ash looked back, he saw another, and familiar, younger girl pushing her back, supporting her. A beaming smile came to Ash's face while he looked to Pikachu; Serena was truly loved by so many, inspiring the generation that would come after to push her forward as their growing light. The same seemed to be for Clemont, with Conway and Kenneth, both, huffing and puffing alongside the inventor and some other uniformed Aether individuals. Seeing his friends and his wife being so supported by the trainers that remained, Ash threw his fist into the air, and others did the same alongside him.

    "Pikachu, let's get to that stadium!" Ash yelled out. Pikachu and Greninja called back to him, agreeing, and he felt their own strength and presence surge inside of him. Some of the Pokémon above fired out attacks that slammed behind the army, but none of them stopped moving.

    Ash couldn't see the chaos going on behind him, but he knew enough not to stop. If any had fallen, the army was pushing them back up. If they stumbled, they were dragged along. Lives lost or not, none of them were stopping, because they were still pulling the fallen forward with them. At last, Ash's foot stepped on to the hill that would lead to the stadium's entrance and the lobby beyond. Greninja was leaping upwards, and some of his other Pokémon were charging up the hill. The Champions were already halfway up.

    "Looks like…we have…a little bit…to go…" Clemont breathed out. Ash reached over, locking his friend with his arm and dragging him up. Bonnie gave a loud cheer, reaching her hand out to Clemont, her brother taking it. Then she took Max's hand, who took Hau's and then Lillie's connecting them in a chain that refused to break. Serena gripped Ash's other hand, and then Aria's, and all of their Pokémon went ahead.

    "Incoming!" shouted Cynthia from ahead. Ash looked up, just in time to see a streaking green Pin Missile firing out for them. It confirmed what Plumeria had suspected. The large projectiles fired outward, streaking for their whole group.

    "Psybeam!"

    "Shadow Ball!" Jessie and James' command came swiftly, their two loyal Pokémon zooming forth to fire their beam and projectile at the incoming assault. Ash looked up in time to see their balloon pass over head. Wobbuffet jumped out, sailing right for the center of those projectiles. Inkay and Gourgeist's attacks made contact, exploding around the air. But for those that were missed, Wobbuffet took them head on, shining brightly. The light coalesced together, and then blasted forward, cutting into the stadium. Dust and stone erupted from the top, obscuring the view of the top of that stadium. The Champions were nearly at the top of the hill, while Ash helped continuing to drag everyone atop the incline. Even so, Ash kept his gaze locked upwards, peering through that dust cloud.

    "No further, I'm afraid," a voice rang out before it managed to clear. Ash's eyes narrowed, and each one of them slowed in their steps, even as they proceeded uphill, the entrance to the stadium nearly in sight. Finally, the obscuring dust seemed to clear from the top of the stadium, and standing atop it, watching them all with his right eye, was Alastair. Ash scoffed internally at the sight; he certainly lived up to his title. "You all had a good run of things, but our gloves are off now."
    *Chapter to be continued in the next post...

  17. #42
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    Chapter continued from last post.

    "We're not stopping!" Ash yelled to the man. Kahili spat out loudly as all of their hands disengaged from one another. The raven-haired trainer stepped forward, brandishing a fist up to Alastair. "You played us long enough, but we've figured you out."

    "I seriously doubt that," was the reply.

    "He looks almost unharmed," Kahili commented upon testily, and clearly not glad whatsoever at the sight. Ash could immediately agree with the observation as he watched Alastair. Aegislash was floating there, drooping slightly from clear exhaustion, but despite the wounds that had no doubt been inflicted in the man's earlier battle, he didn't show signs of them at all.

    "Likely just another illusion," Clemont pointed out. Ash nodded, accepting it as the likely explanation. "They seem to be rather adept at them, and they're about as used to giving up as we are, which would mean not at all."

    "Yes, Clemont, we are rather skilled at the art of concealment," Alastair spoke, turning his attentions to all of them there. The Champions had reached the top of the hill, all looking up to Alastair, his trench coat fluttering in the wind. A scowl stretched his face, Ash now saw, along with what seemed to be a grimace of pain. Hidden or not, those wounds most certainly hadn't gone away. "Concealing our presence, our intentions, our pain."

    "Is your own pain really enough cause for you to do so for others?" Diantha asked, her own voice echoing across the area. "We've all suffered some measure of pain, so who are you to cause further pain?"

    "Myself? I'm no one," came the simple answer. Aegislash continued to hover around while the man reached up, grabbing at his left eye. For a moment, just a few feet away from the Champions, Ash stopped, watching just what Deirdre's second-in-command seemed to be trying to do.

    It was a sickening result.

    With what seemed to be a twitch of his fingers, Alastair had reached in, and pulled his left eye forward. Only there was no blood or gore, or anything even remotely organic. Even the eye itself seemed to be made of technology rather than the usual biology, lights surrounding the interior of the artificial substance as it sparked with electricity, clearly having absorbed some of it. Alastair snapped it back in, and began speaking once more. "I'm just a shadow, abandoned by the League. My use to them is and was worth zero. All of us are. So, we're turning that zero into a one in the best way we believe, and sometimes that means putting our own accounts into the negatives. Sometimes that means not stopping, no matter what must be done to ensure it. I'm sorry, Champions, but I…or rather, we, require more of your blood."

    "Everyone, defense, now!" Serena yelled back to the still approaching army. Alastair reached up and snapped. Like that, another volley of Pin Missile shot out, while flames began to erupt from the ground, separating them from the stadium. Protects shot up around the army, peppering them and trying to provide as much of a shield as possible.

    "Head Smash, Bouffalant!" Alder roared out. His Bash Buffalo Pokémon glowed red around its tufts of fur and charged forward, right for the walls of the stadium. His immense force seemed to split the flames in two. Ash looked to Greninja, and the Ninja Pokémon leapt to the air, flinging his Water Shuriken down, joined with a multitude of Hydro Pumps and Water Guns (including his own Buizel's) to put the flames out. Bouffalant continued his charge, slamming into the stadium. It rocked from the force, though Alastair held his balance.

    "Hyper Beam, Dragonite!" Lance ordered. He wasn't alone. Both Dragonite and Metagross aimed up towards Alastair and fired, one with a darkened beam and another with lustrous silver. Aegislash snapped to attention, forming a shield to block the attack. Alastair snapped again, and instead of attacks from within the stadium, more wild, controlled Pokémon went after them.

    "We'll circle from behind," Diantha called, she and Cynthia leaping over the remaining embers to aim for the lobby, leaving the male Champions to battle behind, except for Kukui, who joined the women. Alastair watched them, but his expression remained unchanging.

    "He has something waiting for them inside," Ash realized, looking to all his friends around him. They may have been Champions, but an ambush was still an ambush. Clearly, Alastair wanted to prevent them from getting to Deirdre and the meteonite at all cost. Dragonite flew upwards, pulsing red with an Outrage as he aimed for Alastair. Ash looked back to the elderly Aston. "Mayor Aston, how can someone get below the stadium?"

    "Maintenance door we put in during the redesign to reach the uppermost hall…but that's on the other…side of the stadium," Aston puffed out. He leaned back, resting on a walking stick before Brock propped him up, looking after the old man's health. Ash had no doubt that was where Seamus' group had headed, probably hoping to circumvent the damage or the fight, given they were nowhere to be seen. "Otherwise, the controls in the commentator's box will lower the arena. You know that."

    "Yeah…all too well," Ash agreed. His brain was trying to think of a way to get past Alastair's defense, when Serena reached up and placed a hand on his shoulder. He looked to his wife, and she smiled.

    "The three of us," she insisted. Ash looked to her, almost confused, but she leaned up and kissed him. "Clemont and I will go for Team Rocket and get to the box. You just get ready to fight her."

    "Serena…" Ash said worriedly, but seeing the steel within her eyes, he knew he wouldn't be able to convince her in any other way. He nodded, and clasped her hands, before throwing an arm over Clemont again. "Be safe. Kahili, everyone else, keep fighting! Make Alastair distracted as long as possible! Team Rocket!"

    "We're on it, twerp!" Jessie shouted out, and Ash saw the balloon begin to lower, scooping up Wobbuffet. Giving another squeeze to his wife's hand, Ash split away from the two of them, running right for the entrance to the lobby, the doors now broken in from Cynthia's Garchomp's Dragon Rush. His Pokémon gave an affirmative cry behind him, indicating that they were following his orders.

    "Meteor Mash! Go!" Steven shouted, catching sight of Ash and urging him onward. Ash nodded. Pikachu and Greninja flashed ahead of him, sprinting through the still dying flames. Ash was just feet behind them, aiming for the lobby. Before entering, he looked back once more, seeing Team Rocket's balloon take off, while Kahili seemed to take charge of the others there, still battling. On top of it, he saw Decidueye, Bulbasaur, Bayleef and Sceptile back to back, making a combination on the foes besetting them and protecting a group of trainers including the also back-to-back Maka and Keoni, wearing matching grins as they glanced at each other. Even his fliers, including Latias and Charizard, were pulling their weight in the skies above. A large blast rocked the stadium again, this time from inside.

    "Pikachu, Greninja, get ready to attack!" Ash yelled to his partners. They confirmed receipt of his commands as they finally ran into the lobby. Sure enough, forces were inside there, as if appearing from the shadows, a number of Haxorus and Druddigon appearing, each pulsing with that wicked orange glow. "Thunderbolt! Aerial Ace!"

    "Garchomp, Giga Impact!" Cynthia called. Each struck forward, Pikachu sending his searing lightning bolt to one of the Druddigon, while Greninja aimed for a Haxorus. Ash found himself mimicking Greninja's movements, slamming down on the ground while his Water type forced the Axe Jaw Pokémon's head to slam into the hard surface. Garchomp charged forward, the swirling purple and yellow light around her figure, before breaking through a row of the Totem Pokémon and straight through the walls of the stadium. Ash quirked an eyebrow. In a single movement, Garchomp's attack had broken through to the actual arena itself, now visible…and empty.

    "Sable!" Ash twisted around, hearing Greninja's cry in his head as he saw the shadowy claw shoot out from the ground. His body twisted, barely nicked by the slice, only ripping his jacket a bit while the Sableye emerged from the ground. Ash's eyes flicked all over the place; was Matori nearby? It almost seemed like she was, from Sableye's presence, but she didn't show herself.

    "Moonblast!" Diantha roared out. To that, Ash dove out of the way, pulling off a combat roll to the side to gain ground faster. Diantha's Gardevoir absorbed light quickly, and with a great heave, sent the pulsing, pearlescent orb firing out, growing in size as it slammed into Sableye. The attack continued on, crashing into the walls that framed the entranceway, before exploding all around them. The rocks rained outward, and Ash saw many of the fighters putting up Protects to shield their groups from the rubble. The path, however, was cleared at last. More Dragon Pokémon were emerging from the shadows, only to be sliced by a purple Psycho Cut that damaged more of the walls into the stadium, but left the other two standing.

    "You all best head on! Gallade and I can handle things here and use an expert Beat Up on these guys," Kukui called out as his Mega Gallade pummeled a Haxorus and quickly left it slumped.

    "Right! Thanks, professor!" Ash called. He sprang back to his feet and ran forward with all the haste he could muster, Pikachu and Greninja running right along. Cynthia and Diantha were right at his side, their prize Pokémon joining in on the flight forward. Ash leapt upwards, climbing atop the rubble to get into the stadium. Cynthia's earlier attack had destroyed a portion of the stands, making it a little difficult, but still easy enough to climb over.

    "Dura! Dura! Durarara!" The clicking and creeping noises made Ash turn his head, and with widened eyes, he saw a whole fleet of Durant making their way towards their group from both sides of the halls in the stadium. It was like a metallic swarm that was looking to consume them. Cynthia stopped running, and her reasons didn't need to be spoken. Further back, others had started entering into the lobby.

    "Don't die," Diantha spoke, she and Ash continuing to flee onwards. They climbed upwards, and soon Gardevoir's eyes glowed blue, lifting all but Greninja upwards (though he scaled them in leaps). Before long, they were at the top of the destroyed rubble and began working their way down. Overhead, Ash could see Serena and Clemont dropping from Team Rocket's balloon on to the stands opposite Alastair, running for the commentator's box that they knew so well. "Gardevoir, Shadow Ball!"

    The second they'd skidded into the stadium, Gardevoir made an about face, forming a pulsing Shadow Ball that grew to nearly ten times the size of her usual assault method. Then she sent it flying towards Alastair, the man still dealing with the Champions on the other side. The inky orb shot forward, whizzing through the air, while Alastair turned. He jumped to the side, and the blast blew apart the stands, barely missing him while Aegislash went unharmed. Ash looked to see, and noticed both Camerupt and Beedrill there, though they looked nearly spent from their earlier battles.

    "This ends now, Alastair!" Diantha called out, raising a finger to point up at him. His face tightened.

    "For you, yes," he told her. Then, he sighed, and patted his leg a bit. A shadow rippled between both Beedrill and Camerupt. "And it is for you, and you alone, Champion, that I will make a simple concession in this battle. Gengar, Shadow Ball."

    "Moonblast!" Diantha roared out. Ash nearly dove to the side, not wanting to get involved in their battle. Gardevoir charged up her pearlescent orb, and then fired it upwards. A Gengar materialized, eyes glowing red, and realization began to set into Ash about what had been controlling the army the entire time. The Shadow Ball and the Moonblast collided, sending ripples all across the stadium. Ash almost flew from his feet, but charged headfirst for the stadium's center. Serena and Clemont were at the commentator's box already, looking for a way to lower the arena, while Team Rocket made a turnaround back for the battle. "Shadow Ball!"

    "Double Team, and fire," Alastair spoke. Aegislash remained guarding from behind, consistently changing forms, but Ash didn't focus on that. He just watched his wife and friend working up above. The Gengar split into multiple copies, each forming their own Shadow Ball, and then firing. Gardevoir did the same, all of the orbs launching into the air and slamming into each other. They burst in smoke and shadowy particles, raining downwards. "Pin Missile!"

    "Reflect!" Diantha called. The green projectiles burst from Beedrill, and Ash finally realized that neither Louise nor Toll were anywhere in sight. Alastair was running this all on his own, ragged though he was beginning to seem in the moment, his very breath seeming like a guttural growl. They truly were not stopping for a second; neither side was giving up an inch in the least. The missiles slammed into Gardevoir's blue, circular shield, barely defending her. "Now, Psychic on the stands."

    "Garde!" Gardevoir shouted out, eyes glowing a bright blue, and the stands of Ancien Stadium began to crack, large chunks lifting outwards from the force of it. Ash finally reached the center, and Serena leaned out of the box.

    "We're on it, Ash!" He threw a thumbs up towards his wife, and seconds later, he began to feel his feet shifting, the ground beginning to lower with the stadium pieces there. His gaze traveled up, towards the lobby, where he could see a mess of shapes, and Cynthia battling fiercely. Then, there was Diantha, whose Gardevoir was hurling chunks of stone at Alastair and all of the Pokémon on his side. One slammed into Beedrill, sending it flying into the stands, while another hit Camerupt on the head, causing it to slump, not quite out, but clearly exhausted. Alastair avoided one, but Diantha's fury was not to be denied.

    "MOONBLAST!"

    "VOIR!" Gardevoir chimed out with her trainer, power creeping into her, rushing forth like the Embrace Pokémon was absorbing from a deep, deep well. Her body glowed pink, and then she fired, enough for Ash to get a sight of the giant orb barreling for the stairs. Alastair dove to the side, but the attack hit, consuming Gengar and Beedrill both. Alastair was thrown forward, onto another section of the stands as the stadium began to crumble. From that lone action, more cracks appeared along the stadium floor, even to where he was lowering, causing his own ground to become unstable, but still mobile as it lowered.

    Alastair saw that. He pushed himself up, and looked to Camerupt. Ash's eyes widened.

    "Explosion on that box, Camerupt. Gengar, our combo," the man called out, calmly, but with precision. Greninja tensed, his eyes flinging up towards the box. Ash didn't know what was about to happen, but his own body tightened, ready to do what was necessary to stop it.

    And that was when Ash realized it: Alastair had created a choice. The stands glowed red hot, cracking further, power erupting from Camerupt's body as it dug its feet straight in what remained of the ground it stood on. Gengar split itself into multiple copies, all of its Shadow Balls forming. Explosions started going off around Camerupt, each resulting in a quick chain outward, along the stands. Their destination point was very clearly the commentator's box.

    "Greninja, Water Shuriken! Stop it from-"

    "NO!" Diantha screamed. The air went silent. Ash turned to look, even as the ground beneath him began to crumble. "You need to conserve everything you can, Ash! Fight her! Show her the future we wish to protect! As for me, this is how I will protect our future! Psychic!"

    "Gardevoir!" Gardevoir shouted out, eyes once more glowing blue.

    Serena and Clemont began to scramble, Ash's elevator downward stopping its movement, but still giving Ash enough vision to see what was going on in the stadium up above. He could even see a little bit of down below, and hear mutters and voices. Suddenly, with Gardevoir's glowing eyes, the explosions stopped, contained by the move. She strained, holding them away like a giant ball of flame, just in time for Serena to grab on to Clemont, the latter using his Aipom Arm to pull them to the top of the stadium and away from the blast radius.

    Then, Gardevoir bundled them all up into an even more massive orb of fire before splitting it apart in the air above the stadium, causing it to burst with floating cinders and a great cry. "VOIR!"

    The explosion ripped out, the ground crumbling even more, and Ash saw Serena and Clemont catching their breaths. The Shadow Balls slammed outward, and with no time to move after her efforts, they impacted with Gardevoir, battering her mercilessly until she was flung back into the walls of the arena. Others sprayed outward, forcing Pikachu and Greninja on the defensive to beat them away, Ash turning his body to avoid being hit. Diantha began to run for her fallen Pokémon, and a snap was heard.

    Slash!

    Ash stared up, eyes wide with horror, and his weren't the only ones. Other trainers had begun to near the interior of the stadium, stopping at the sight. There was a gagging noise, and Ash made to climb back up, not wanting it to be real. Wanting to just imagine it all away, but Diantha's words, Aegislash's glowing blue blade impaling the Champion through the chest and ripping through straight on to Gardevoir for a fatal blow, made him stop.

    "This was…all I could d-do…for the future…" she gasped out, her voice strained in a whisper. Along the stands, Alastair was beginning to rise. Diantha coughed, blood spurting from her mouth. Aegislash withdrew from Gardevoir's own lifeless body, and more of the red fluid came from Diantha's chest. She yet remained standing, however. With a shaking body, the Champion's head rose up, smiling her graceful smile to Ash. "A-all…I could ever do…"

    "Diantha…no…" Ash whispered out. Her hands reached forward, as if wanting to touch him, to tell him that everything would be okay. Tears pricked at his eyes, and the sounds of battle almost seemed to die, hope fading with Gardevoir and Diantha's broken bodies. She just continued smiling.

    "I'm sorry…I couldn't do more…but…" She hacked again, and finally, her body began to fall. Ash wanted to reach forward, grab her, as if doing so would make the difference between life and death. "The future…it's…yours now…Ash…

    "So, protect it…"

    Then, Diantha's body hit the surface of the stadium floor, her eyes growing cold with a smile still on her face. To the side, Gardevoir's body shined, reverting form as it slumped and rolled to her trainer's side. Ash's body shook. Color seemed to burst from every orifice of the stadium. A faint cry was heard on the wind. People gasped in shock. Another explosion seemed to be starting, but Ash and everyone else remained in shock.

    Diantha, Champion of Kalos, had died…and hope had seemed to die with her.


    "Guzma, hurry it up!" Gladion called back, Silvally running alongside him. Seamus remained silent, Merry dashing along at his own side while he gripped to another pokeball of his. "We're almost to the maintenance door on the city and stadium schematics. If Ash is right-"

    "Ya don't need to lecture me, Gladion! Your boy Guzma knows what he's gotta do!" Guzma snapped. He was the only one without a Pokémon by his side, though from Seamus' own observation, the man was a force of nature so much, himself, that he hardly needed it outside of the trickier battles. Explosions went off in the distance, and it seemed like their own army was amassing. Nevertheless, the three of them and their Pokémon seemed to almost be out of sight from the enemy, reaching the back of the stadium.

    Sure enough, the door was approaching that Gladion had noted. For a brief second, Seamus wondered if, perhaps, the shadow that Clemont had seen earlier had gone through this very same door. It didn't matter, in any case, because now Guzma had called out his Golisopod, the large bug slashing through the door with a Razor Shell. Seamus tossed him an almost incredulous look.

    "We could have just opened it, you know," the blond pointed out to him. Guzma just shrugged as all six of them ran to the door and towards the service elevator that would take them to the bowels of the stadium maintenance area. Gladion cracked his knuckles, clearly not bothering to give a word of remonstration.

    "What's it matter, yeah? I mean, whole town's gonna need some major work from Guzma and Family, anyway," the white-haired man grinned out. Seamus rolled his eyes, while Gladion snorted before finding the controls to the service elevator and pressing on it for the nearest maintenance hall. It quickly began to lower, making the sounds of battle on the city surface above fade away. "Besides…this b*tch has got somethin' fierce comin' to her for darin' to treat my boys and girls that way. Anyone that makes Plumeria cry has got a fierce Guzma uppercut to her face that needs deliverin'! I'll beat her down and beat her down and-"

    "We all want a chance at that…some more than most," Seamus spat out vehemently. The former leader of Team Skull looked to Seamus, but the blond said nothing. Neither did Gladion, as the elevator continued down, quickly descending to the place they needed to go. Seamus' fist clenched, each of them thinking about the woman they were heading off to clash with. "She needs to pay. Thinking the world would be better off without its flaws, hurting other people to do it. She's just like her son; just like someone who wants to run away from what the real problem is, but she's only masking it in her altruism. At least Dalton didn't hide who he was."

    "Hmm," Gladion mused out, though it sounded as though he agreed. The elevator shuddered to a halt, and they were suddenly deposited in a long hallway, track lighting placed around the edges, leading to where Deirdre no doubt was. Up ahead seemed to be a swirling mess of colors, though its source was not yet visible. "I'd have to agree with you there. I don't know who this Dalton was, but Deirdre has clearly shown herself unwilling to forgive mistakes or advocate the change we've all worked hard to achieve."

    "Don' know if I've changed anythin' much, but I've tried to change myself," Guzma said, looking up towards the light they had left behind them almost wistfully. The hallway suddenly shuddered, some dust and pebbles falling down to the ground.

    "That's the point," Seamus said, walking forward, taking the lead for all of them. They moved a little slower, careful in the darkness. "We don't know much about each other, but what we do know is that all of us made mistakes; mistakes we had to truly make up for to a lot of people. With Ash's help, and all of those fighting out there, we were able to take our step towards the new future and begin to change, creating one we'd be proud of, regardless of our previous nasty path. But they want to take that from us. She wants to take it from us, and for what? Perfection?

    "I won't let her! Even if we're no match; even if the Champions or Ash should be standing here with us, I want to do my part and prevent her from doing this. I promised I would never let another Travis do what he did, but now his origin is right in front of me. I look at this as my responsibility as much as anyone else's."

    "I hear that," Guzma called, slamming his fist into his open palm. Finally, the path widened, and the glow began to shine brighter, all seven colors refracting around the place. The hallways shook again, and the walls almost seemed to crack a bit while the hallway curved, as though into a large, open area that sat almost directly beneath the stadium. The trio rounded the corner and their Pokémon all began to react, growling loudly at the power emanating ahead. Finally, they stopped.

    Seamus looked upwards, his eyes widening at the sight of the meteonite, the true one, suspended above the area. It looked like it was funneling energy, almost, with the ground itself glowing the same rainbow color as the meteonite while it spun. Said object had grown to a considerable size with it, wrapped in a protective cocoon that was caused by something attached to it. It was proof positive that the true meteonite, some chips here and there on its surface as if a shard or two were broken off, had been here the whole time. And if that had been true, then the woman who started it all had to be here, as well, now almost visibly emerging from the concealing shadows. Seamus lowered his eyes, and disgust and fear was suddenly scrawled all over his face.

    "Deirdre…" he breathed out. "No way…"

    "Yes, I'm such an ugly, wretched sight, aren't I?" the woman spoke, her voice a little croaky, as though from disuse, but holding a strength and conviction that ran completely counter to the sight before him. In front of him was the same auburn-haired woman he'd encountered multiple times, but she was nothing like before. Looked nothing like before.

    She was just sitting there, her legs dangling over the edge of a wheelchair, what looked like IV lines attached to her body. They didn't seem to be all that important, though, as the thing that drew Seamus' attention the most were her legs. With one glance, they appeared atrophied from disuse, and looking limp, as though all feeling had been sucked dry from them, now mere unusable appendages that were emphasized by the combat shorts she was wearing. As Seamus continued to stare, he saw the woman look up, still smiling a cold smile, but now with a burning rage smoldering inside; the same rage that had consumed her son.

    "What happened to you…?" Deirdre didn't answer. She just smiled enigmatically, and the meteonite began to pulse. Her head turned up to it, and she turned the wheelchair slightly, placing the missing shard that was revealed in her hand, back on to the meteonite. It flashed with light, as though complete. Seamus rose his voice and tried again. "Deirdre, answer me! What the hell happened to your legs? ! Is that why you're doing all this? !"

    "Does it matter, Seamus?" Deirdre finally spoke. The lights from the Alpha seemed to almost go crazy, and Seamus felt a tight pressure around his chest, like he was stepping into another world, akin to the beginning of time, but it was fleeting. Deirdre reached down, gripping at her legs with a sudden hope shining in her eyes. A shadow, the shadow, flitted around the lights, shooting down to the ground silently. Deirdre began to stand, self-assured. "The last of the blood needed is spilled…well, except for one."

    "How are you movin', lady? ! Yer legs look like they're made of jelly!" Guzma roared out, but Deirdre didn't answer. Seamus had to wonder if it was all a ruse, just like everything before. However, that soon proved to not be the case. Deirdre's legs didn't change, but she was still standing, her shadow now rigid and unwavering in the light, matching her every movement more than perfectly.

    "My dream of an ideal world is here. I've saved every ounce of strength I have left for this. Why would I not move?" Deirdre spoke, the smile stretching her face to wicked proportions. "My legs don't even feel a thing. Haven't for years. But now, I can stand again and do what needs to be done. That, at least, has never changed. Now, will you three boys give me some entertainment before the end of this world? I haven't had a good fight since I lost use of my legs almost two decades ago. Who wants to go first?"

    Yet before anyone could answer, a small sliver of sunlight and rainbow cracked in from above, and beyond that stone, a loud screech could be heard. Deirdre's face grinned, and Seamus knew what the loud cry was: Ho-oh had been summoned, and was hitting the battlefield at long last.



    Author's Note: Deirdre is revealed at last. And, surprise, she's quite the broken woman, relegated to a wheelchair, having lost the use of her legs. Of course, she's standing now, but there's a specific reason for that, and why she never did it before. I hope it informs you quite a bit of her character, and of Alastair's as well. This tells you pretty much everything about why they want a new, perfect world: part-altruism, part-selfishness.

    That said, there was a lot more to this chapter, what with the panic that set in, followed by the heroic surge forward, and then the final, blistering blow to morale in the face of Diantha's death. Yes. Diantha is dead, along with Gardevoir. After all, a lot of the theme of this story has been the current generation handing it to the next, and she made her choice to do the same. How will this fare for the characters now, however? You'll find out next time.

    Clearly, the battle isn't over yet, but it's clearly reaching its zenith. Hopefully this was a range of emotions for you all. And I hope you'll tell me all this in a Review, and remember, Dare to Be Silly.

  18. #43
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    I don't have much to say, heading into this chapter, but I'd like to think it'll be good. Please read Chapter 22!


    Chapter 22

    An Atonement

    Seamus breathed in and out before tossing a pokeball upwards, Alakazam appearing. Every hair on his body was sticking up, every nerve on edge. Despite having seen the woman that had been causing them so much trouble in a wheelchair just moments ago, clearly unable to move without it, he knew this was not going to be a normal fight. Merry and Silvally were both hissing, while Golisopod remained a silent stalker as Guzma scowled. Deirdre walked forward, even as the stadium's maintenance halls shuddered further. With every step, this feeling of self-assuredness emanated from her, as though her mottled legs meant nothing.

    Other than her slow, elegant and rather well-paced steps, Seamus finally noticed that she wasn't dressed the same as before. As the IV tubes came off of her body, left behind, as though she no longer needed them, the blond noticed that she was no longer dressed in the same concealing clothes. Instead, she appeared to be wearing a rather skintight shirt, highlighting her upper figure as her auburn hair flowed around her, while her lighter colored shorts moved slightly with each movement. It was the one thing that had set her apart from her true self, hiding the horrific visage beneath, the veins in her legs pulsing with every step. Yet the woman moved as though her legs had never atrophied at all.

    "Altaria, sweetie, these boys want a battle," she spoke, her tone still cold and burning with rage. Even with this almost childish spark of hope in her eyes, she still held a fierce edge that told Seamus not to take her lightly, no matter what was happening above. From above, in the midst of the lights and shadows of the meteonite, Altaria floated downwards, finally landing peacefully upon the woman's shoulder and nuzzling her. It was proof positive that this Deirdre truly was the real one, even if her actual movement made no sense. "I know, sweetheart, you've had to put up with so many battles without me, but I trust they helped. Alastair's a wonderful partner."

    "Altaar," Altaria chirped, and Seamus almost found it disturbing how sweet she was towards her Humming Pokémon. Perhaps it was a length apart, or something else. Either way, Deirdre seemed to notice the three of them staring at her, each bracing for the battle ahead.

    "Don't look at me with such scorn, boys," the woman said. Seamus stepped forward a bit, Zoroark spitting out loudly, angrily. "Altaria has sometimes been the only one to give me peace. Helps me to sleep. To dream. Since the day I lost the use of my legs through heinous torture, and Alastair lost his eye in my defense, Altaria has helped the both of us to rest and dream of a future without pain. It was the only thing to drive me on instead of wallowing in my pain."

    "But that's exactly what you've done," Gladion stated. Silvally pawed the ground angrily. Altaria wrapped her wings around Deirdre, humming softly as the woman seemed to bask in it, relaxing, calming, before her eyes snapped upwards to look at Gladion. "Just like my mother, you pretend there's no sense of pain or grief in order to justify what you're doing; like it's not inherently selfish."

    "Dalton was the same way, but he at least admitted that he was just as bad as the people he wanted to prevent," Seamus remarked. Deirdre slowly turned her head to him, fixating all that hate she held upon the blond. He stood strong, however. "Instead, you're just like your son. Travis wanted power, wanted to be the best, just like me. Only, he never thought for a single second that he was wrong for anything. He always thought the world was out to get him, could never blame the true root of the problem. Could never take responsibility for himself."

    "You're overlooking a key difference," Deirdre explained, wagging her finger. Seamus' eyes narrowed; she was using all the same mannerisms as her illusory form, and Seamus had to wonder just how it could have mimicked her so perfectly. "I'm well aware that what I'm doing can be seen as horrible. I'm not asking for forgiveness, though, simply because I don't care. I've seen the very worst of humanity when I lost my legs, had them ripped away from me because of that bastard's machinations. Yet at the same time, I've seen the best from all of you. I can acknowledge all of that, something Michael could not; something I wanted to prove to him."

    "Prove how, huh?" Guzma asked, a snarl on his face as he also stepped forward. Deirdre didn't move her eyes from Seamus, but still answered the query.

    "You're all here, aren't you?" she asked, raising her arms up, body looking multi-colored in the refracting meteonite. "You all stood together. You all chose to fight. In my mind, I've already proven to him beyond the grave that this world is what's worth keeping…unfortunately, it just means that things have to change, and we need to remove that which will continue to ail it. We'll do that here and now, though it will take some time."

    "Yeah, so what?" Guzma yelled. Now, Deirdre slid her eyes away from Seamus for a brief second to stare at the towering man. "So, you've proven we're all better. But what's it matter if ya become a monster in the process, yerself?"

    Deirdre blinked, like she couldn't quite comprehend what Guzma was asking of her. Seamus understood it completely, and he walked forward, gripping to his keystone while he approached the woman. She slowly looked back to him, and Altaria took to the air, floating above them silently and watching them all.

    "I don't care if you dream," Seamus shouted out, readying his fingers to touch to his keystone, but hesitating in order to deliver what he wanted to say, "but when your dream starts ignoring everyone else and doesn't truly work to make their lives better, then it's not deserving of being called a dream at all! Mega Evolve!"

    "Alakaza!" Alakazam called, its entire form glowing, bursting with light and beginning to transform. Right alongside him, Gladion lifted up his Z-Ring, touching to its surface.

    "System Change: Fairy," the other blond called. Guzma just scowled, looking ready for a battle as Altaria lowered her altitude, looking like she could spit fire. Deirdre regarded them all with amusement. Silvally's tail fin changed, turning pink and sparkling, even under the rainbow. Golisopod walked forward, and above there was another loud screech. Seamus was unsure of what was happening above, but decided to focus on the here and now. "Tri Attack!"

    "Energy Ball, mass fire!" Seamus commanded. Deirdre didn't move, but Altaria did, practically puffing its wings. Silvally opened its mouth and sent a whirling compilation of three colored orbs flying right for Altaria. At the same time, Seamus' bearded Alakazam waved his arms and a whole grouping of pulsing green Energy Balls appeared. He waved his hands again, and then sent them flying forward. The Tri Attack swirled inside of them upon meeting, like a twisting beam. Deirdre cracked a small grin, and Altaria shot upward. The attack slammed into the ground right in front of the woman, but had completely missed the Dragon type.

    "Dragon Pulse, sweetheart," Deirdre called. Altaria opened her beak, and with a simple snap, the purple beam fired out, growing with a draconic shape to devour the opponents before it.

    "X-Scissor!" Guzma called, but Seamus soon realized he wasn't just calling the command for battle. He was running forward, right for the woman, with a grin upon his face. Out of all of them, he was clearly the one that cared the least for laying into another. Golisopod also charged forward, claws crossed with a purple energy manifesting there. The Dragon Pulse made contact, blasting into and straining against the X-Scissor.

    "Shadow Claw!" Seamus yelled out. Merry zipped forward, her claws blossoming with shadows as they grew larger and aimed for Altaria by leaping into the air. Guzma reached Deirdre and punched. The woman bent backwards, easily avoiding the hit, and then snapped her head forward, slamming into his. Merry reached Altaria and slashed upwards, knocking their opponent backwards, spiraling through the air. Seamus looked to the pulsing meteonite, just as Deirdre did the same.

    "Is that it, Guzma? Sky Attack." Deirdre's body whipped around, her feet flying incredibly fast, despite their state, and nailing him in the side. As she finished spinning, her fist hit onto his head and sent the man flying into one of the nearby walls. The Dragon Pulse exploded against Golisopod, while Altaria began to glow golden, using the momentum of its attack to right itself. It clipped forward, slamming into Merry. She howled out. Altaria was no longer holding back from all of its previous fights. "I want you boys to give me entertainment! Not be a dull! Or do I have to wait for Ash to come here?"

    "You won't touch him! Multi-Attack!" Gladion roared. The auburn-haired woman smirked as Silvally charged forward with its pink, dusting glow. Altaria yet aimed forward and collided with Silvally, pink and gold particles blasting away, lost in the rainbow hue. Seamus looked to Gladion, and both of the trainers nodded.

    "Shock Wave!" Seamus called, and the second his command was given, both he and Gladion ran for Deirdre. Guzma was shaking his head, recovering from the earlier hit. Alakazam's body pulsed blue and then fired the electricity outwards in columns, aiming for Altaria. Seamus and Gladion reached Guzma together while the Shock Wave impacted, voltage tingling all over Altaria's wings. They kicked out, but Deirdre punched forward, knocking their legs away before spinning and slamming them both in their stomachs. They stayed still for a moment, and then flew back. Seamus bounced along the ground, coughing.

    "Gwrror!" Merry growled out in worry, but Seamus pushed up.

    "I'm fine, Merry! Dark Pulse!" Seamus yelled, pushing himself to his feet. She nodded, grinning at the fact he was okay while she called the inky nexus of energy to her claws, swirling around, before firing right for Altaria. Seamus ran forward, Gladion with him, and Guzma soon joined them to converge upon Deirdre.

    "Hyper Beam. Now, this is interesting," Deirdre spoke, her eyes flashing. Altaria once more opened her beak, and sent the dark purple beam firing right at Merry's incoming Dark Pulse. The two beams collided, exploding in the air, but Altaria proved to be the far stronger almost instantly. The Hyper Beam pushed through and slammed upon Merry, leaving a crater in the ground where she stood, heaving. Seamus looked to Alakazam, who flashed forward, fist glowing a swirling green. "Three at once! This is more entertaining!"

    "Brick Break!" Guzma shouted, and he punched forward. They all were, while Deirdre just grinned. Her hands moved swiftly, blocking Guzma's punch before taking both Seamus and Gladion's punches to tie them up together. Her own palms shot outward, impacting with their chests and pushing them backwards with gags. Her legs swung around now, right as Alakazam and Golisopod met Altaria, both swinging their fists into its body, recovering from the Hyper Beam. Seamus was kicked backwards, alongside Guzma. The older man looked towards the pulsing meteonite, and Seamus listened to the sounds of chaos and explosions above.

    "Go, Silvally! Iron Head and Crush Claw!" Gladion roared as he punched for the woman. She grabbed hold of his arm and tossed him off to the side like a rag doll. He landed against a wall, grunting with pain. Silvally thundered forward, zipping behind Altaria before leaping up in the air while the Humming Pokémon was distracted with the attacks from below.

    "Srrrrrr!" Silvally cried out, its head gleaming silver while its claw was blood red. It struck upon Altaria's back, digging into it. However, Altaria's wings snapped back, the cotton there stopping the worst of the blow, before it turned its head and stared at the offending Pokémon with scorn. Seamus saw Merry recovering, and knew that this was finally their chance. She looked to him, claws twitching, and he nodded as he pushed himself up while helping Guzma.

    "Draco Meteor," Deirdre said, still confident. She stepped back, smirking at all three of them while they pushed. Only for a moment did she falter, looking towards the meteonite and the ceiling above their heads. Seamus quirked an eyebrow, the realization of truth settling into him as he did so. She was waiting. This was just a game to her. Until something happened or someone arrived, she was just playing with them…but it also meant she had her one weakness. Altaria rose upwards, an orange glow burgeoning in its chest before firing outward, the meteors scattering about once its zenith had been reached. Yet, the one area it didn't touch was the meteonite.

    "Now, Merry! Guzma, get the meteonite!"

    "Grrah!" Merry roared out gutturally, shooting upwards, practically vanishing into the air to reach Altaria. Her claw extended, the shadowy appendage sharpening before slashing into Altaria's underside. The Humming Pokémon cried out in pain while Guzma flipped on to his feet and ran. The meteors were still falling, colliding with Alakazam, Silvally and Golisopod. Guzma jumped to the side, but continued aiming for the object they wanted to release.

    "Sky Attack!" Deirdre called, a slight snarl coming to her lips. Altaria glowed golden, the flames heating the air, brimming with deadly intent as it slashed forward, right across Merry's midsection. She cried out, falling down to the ground in pain. Deirdre dashed for Guzma, moving much faster than the man as Seamus and Gladion stood, giving chase.

    "Razor Shell!" Guzma yelled back. His command cost him the moment needed to reach the meteonite. Deirdre closed the gap and kicked forward, nailing him in the back. He fell forward, faceplanting into the ground. Gladion and Seamus both reached the woman, but she whipped the same leg around and up, hitting them both on the head, before bringing her fists down onto both and sending them crashing to the ground. Altaria was still shooting forward as Golisopod slashed down with its watery blade. The attack met with the Sky Attack, but it was clear that Altaria was having the advantage, pushing the Hard Scale Pokémon back. The hard water cracked, and Altaria slammed into Golisopod, flinging it back.

    "M-Multi-Attack!" Gladion roared upwards, pulling his head back. Deirdre brought her legs down, and Seamus rolled out of the way, barely avoiding it. Silvally charged forward, this time from behind Altaria, and slammed into their opponent. The Humming Pokémon was pushed forward, but recovered in seconds. "Damn it…that thing is strong…"

    "Oh, you have no idea," Deirdre chuckled out. She kicked again, forcing Seamus to roll backwards and into a standing position to avoid the attack. "You're not giving all that much of a challenge, boys. This is why I expected Ash here well before you. Now that man is a trainer to face. His convictions burn so much brighter than your own, but that's no surprise. He's not like any of you; doesn't have your mistakes. Hyper Beam."

    "Altaaaaaaaariiiiiiiii!" Altaria shouted, rising into the air as the dark beam coalesced at its beak. Seamus looked to Alakazam, even his Mega Evolved Pokémon already looking beyond exhausted. There wouldn't be much left, but Seamus aimed for it.

    "Energy Ball!" he shouted, running yet again at Deirdre. She turned to him, and before he could bring a fist slamming down on her, she'd punched his side with one fist, before slamming his stomach with the other. Alakazam acted, creating the large, green and pulsing orb of power. Altaria fired and Alakazam did the same. The two projectiles clashed while Seamus gagged, feeling bile rise in his throat. Deirdre picked him up and sent him slamming against the wall, his body slumping with pain. Each blow had felt like a heavy sledgehammer. "Maybe…maybe we're not as good as Ash…"

    "Hm?" Deirdre spoke. The Hyper Beam smashed through the Energy Ball, breaking it apart and consuming Alakazam, slamming him right into the ground and leaving him passed out, his form already fading. Altaria was truly no longer fooling around.

    "But…we know the meteonite is part of your plan…so we can…still use every bit of strength we have to stop you by destroying that," Seamus choked out. He could feel bones broken, his head hurting from the pain now emanating through his body. "I promised…promised I'd never let another Travis exist, and if that means stopping you, I'll do everything I can to do it! Night Daze!"

    "Dragon Pulse," Deirdre spoke, and she kicked behind her, this time nailing Gladion, who fell back, gasping while he hit the ground. She was a woman unmatched, even if it made no sense as to how. Altaria sent out her draconic beam, while the sick, dark, pulsing waves emanated around Merry. They flew outwards as the ethereal dragon arched through the air and slammed down upon her, causing her to cry out in pain. That small distraction provided enough for Gladion and Guzma to stand, their Z-Rings shining.

    "System Change: Bug…" Gladion heaved out, though it seemed to be an effort for him to do so. He and Guzma crossed their arms, making movements that Seamus recognized as those belonging to a Bug type Z-Move. Together, as the power surrounded their Pokémon, they cried out, "Savage Spin Out!"

    "Gohhhh!" Golisopod cried out, roaring back into action. From both Silvally and the Hard Scale Pokémon, string shot out, wrapping around Altaria's figure, putting it all on the line for that single move. It surrounded the creature as a cocoon, before Golisopod whipped it around, slamming it to the ground, and Silvally charged for it. Deirdre sighed.

    "You're right, Seamus, my whole plan revolves around the Alpha and the Omega," Deirdre spoke. "But if you think the meteonite will break because I hit it, you're sorely wrong. It will require a force or absorption of energy far greater than you could muster on your own to do that, especially with Louise's protection. We've taken many steps. I'm just not a fool to test the limits of any one thing until the final stage is ready.

    "And that means, I've indulged your fancies and flights of fantasy, searching for your redemption, for long enough. Altaria, Draco Meteor." Seamus' eyes widened, trying to process just what Deirdre had said to him. Was it all hopeless? Or was there still a sliver? The orange glow grew within the cocoon, and then suddenly broke outward, as if in a great explosion that ripped the area. The meteors fell all over the place, striking Silvally and Golisopod, along with Zoroark, knocking her over to the wall. Chunks of the wall fell away and the ceiling weakened as dust covered the hall. Seamus' eyes widened and one of the meteors slammed into him, blowing him back. Pain erupted all over his body, and he found himself unable to move.

    "You still…won't…win…" Seamus grunted out, blearily watching as Guzma and Gladion were likewise impacted by the high-powered assault. They could no longer get up, but their bodies were still moving. Deirdre, however, had turned to face him. "Ash…makes the impossible possible. Winning a League, saving the world, understanding his opponent more than anyone…you'll…never beat him…He'll find a way to stop you, and break…that damn thing…"

    "Oh, I know he could. I know he will. I'm looking forward to all his rage and fury," Deirdre spoke, the unsettlingly familiar, wild and crazy smirk, one full of glee, stretching her face manically. Seamus shivered, but was unable to move. He could feel his body wanting to give out, and he glanced over to Merry, slowly stirring, inching forward, like she wanted to land one last blow upon Altaria. She stopped, however, and looked to him, eyes saddening. "That way, we can be even when we clash. I've been looking forward to meeting him most of all; he who embodies everything Michael detested because it proved him wrong. So, how do you think he'll react at the sight of your dead body, Seamus?"

    "Hey, cut it out, yo!" Guzma grunted out, but Deirdre didn't stop. The meteonite pulsed again, and Deirdre began to laugh, as though everything had gone according to plan at long last. The auburn-haired woman brought her fist back, and Seamus could see it shining as the shadows at her feet danced with the light. Altaria appeared behind her, beak glowing with the power of a forming Hyper Beam. Then both struck, and Seamus could only wait, feeling his body squeeze as the blow that would end his life came soaring right at him.

    I'm sorry…he thought, a tear slipping out as he considered all those he loved. Beth…Chris…Rocky…I'm sorry…everyone…forgive me. It's over.

    Deirdre and Altaria's attacks struck home, and the ceiling above them exploded with rubble.
    *Chapter to be continued in the next post...

  19. #44
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    Chapter continued from last post.

    Serena couldn't believe it. Rather, she didn't want to believe it. Her knees resting against the heated stone of the stadium's top, breathing heavily, the honey blonde could only stare with widened eyes at the form below. Diantha had fallen, her body hitting the stadium with a finality. Serena's breath caught in her throat. Clemont was shaking next to her, his head moving back and forth.

    "No…" he whispered, though it seemed to be absorbed on the wind. The army began to grow quiet, and Serena watched as Cynthia stepped into the stadium, looking ragged with her Garchomp breathing heavily, as well. There was a slew of fallen Durant behind them. Ash was climbing out, gripping to the edge of the lowering arena platform, hoping to get to the fallen Champion.

    "Diantha! Diantha!" he shouted, but Serena felt that she was unable to move, still transfixed on the sight. A hand flew to her mouth; if it hadn't been for the action that had cost the Champion her life, Serena knew that both herself and Clemont would be dead. She resisted the urge to vomit, placing her other hand at her stomach, as if that would hold it down, hoping beyond hope that it wasn't real. Cynthia strode in, grabbing to Ash, their voices reverberating around the stadium in the silence.

    "No, Ash! This was her choice," the blonde spoke, but Serena could tell that even she was barely holding it together. Clemont began to shakily stand, and Serena saw the tears there, threatening to spill over. The rainbow in the sky shined brighter, the ground around them exploding with light and color in so many different ways. "This was her choice…"

    "But…" Ash protested, but he couldn't seem to find the words to speak. His fist had clenched, shaking rapidly. He broke free of Cynthia's hold, glaring upwards, and Serena followed his gaze to Alastair, still standing atop the stands with a rather cold expression. There was blood trickling down one side of his face, quickly being covered up by the illusion of flesh. Otherwise, he made no movement, as if waiting for something.

    To that, Serena chose to turn her gaze, glancing around to the front of the stadium. Much of it seemed to be broken, and Squishy was still providing a bridge for them to cross. Near the front of the line were many familiar battlers, beating back the assault Pokémon and otherwise threatening Totems. The only ones that Serena didn't see there were Team Rocket and Steven. The latter's lack of presence was quickly explained, as the man was riding headlong atop Metagross to blaze through the lobby, barreling aside Pokémon with a Meteor Mash before arriving in the stadium. The Hoenn Champion leapt off with a snarl, and immediately pointed for Alastair.

    "Flash Cannon!" Steven roared out. Metagross fired, the silvery beam striking out. Alastair dove to the side, and his Gengar appeared alongside him. The second in command of IDEAL reached for his Pokémon, grabbing hold and sinking into the shadows. The Flash Cannon struck, blowing apart even more of the stands, or what remained of them. The shadow containing Alastair and Gengar shot off, and Serena tracked it, following it closely as it moved towards the commentator's box.

    A cry pierced the air, off in the distance, but loud enough to keenly penetrate the space around them. It wasn't a familiar one to Serena, but from the way that Ash seemed to react down below, she had to figure that he knew it. The ground continued to pulse more, the color exuding off of it. Another explosion began to go off, though this one wasn't from Camerupt, but from a still recovering Beedrill's strike. Rubble exploded outward, but many in the approaching crowd still remained unmoving, staring at Diantha's fallen form. Serena reached up and slapped her cheeks rapidly.

    "Pull it together! Pull it together!" she shouted to herself, lost in the sounds of war. Steven was whipping around, but Cynthia was reaching for him. Ash walked to Diantha's body and stared down at her, Pikachu touching to his cheek in comfort. The two of them had certainly been close over the years, so Serena had to wonder how her husband was taking it.

    "No!" shouted a voice that sounded oddly like Trevor's. It was high-pitched, and oddly distorted, but definitely him. His one gasp upon the sight of what had happened with Diantha sent a whole cavalcade of them around the crowd.

    "Diantha's dead…that's…that's not possible…"

    "A Champion is dead!" screeched another voice. Some voices of reason tried to rise up within the crowd, like Kahili's, Alain's, Malva's and her father's, but they were drowned by the major wave of negativity that was washing over them. For an army that had barely put itself together with Seamus and Ash's words earlier, they were now on the verge of breaking with Diantha's death. It was quickly filtering through the entire army, too.

    "What can we do? How can we win now? !"

    "We're all gonna die!" screamed another, younger voice, reminding Serena of those there that had never experienced a battle of this level. They had never experienced the same pain and despair each of them had once been afflicted with. Some of them had only basked in the peace that their own fighting had provided…and it meant they were about to collapse.

    Skreeeeeee! The loud screech filled the air, and Serena whipped around, looking out to the distance. The sun was beginning to set, casting an entire golden glow on the horizon now. The rainbow in the sky remained, and Serena could instantly guess just what was going on now. Why Ash was reacting, and what it could portend for their entire force, hanging on to the edge, not even scrabbling for that last thread of hope to hold on to.

    "Ho-oh…" Clemont breathed. He was shaking his head while Serena squinted into that horizon, finding that she could, indeed, see the golden bird in the far distance, approaching swiftly. Although, it wasn't yet at the edge of the distance. It was merely so large that the form of the phoenix was unmistakable. "This isn't good. They're barely hanging on as it is."

    "I know," Serena responded, and she snapped her gaze back, only to do a double take. More shouts were echoing upwards, but they weren't the same ones of fear and panic that had settled in everywhere regarding Diantha's death. Instead, they were shouts of worry, as people seemed to begin collapsing.

    "Max! Max, what's wrong?" Bonnie was shouting, and looking outwards, Serena could see that Max had fallen to his knees. Bonnie was at his side, shaking him. A little further along, Brock and May had done the same, eyes wide as their bodies strained, almost heaving. The reaction seemed odd, and Serena slowly turned to see Ash dropping to his own knees, gripping to his chest with what looked like an even more violent reaction.

    "Hah! Hah!" he was screaming out, like a bright burgeoning fire was practically bursting inside his chest. Cynthia and Steven were looking at him in alarm, while Greninja, too, seemed to be clutching at himself, trainer and Pokémon still synchronized. Ash's voice continued coming in gasps, but as Serena stepped closer to the edge, she could hear what her husband was saying. "It's coming…Ho-oh…it's coming…"

    "How do you…?" Cynthia asked, but it wasn't Ash that was answering. Instead, what answered was the voice of Alastair, far too close for any sort of comfort.

    "Because he and Ho-oh share a connection," the man said. Serena pushed out, hitting Clemont back. Her best friend fell back, off the edge of the stadium, while she and Braixen flipped backwards, barely avoiding the purple-glowing fist that was aiming right for them both. Alastair emerged from the shadows within the stone. Serena flicked her eyes over, noticing that Clemont was pulling himself up slowly with his Aipom Arm, the invention straining.

    "What are you talking about?" Serena snapped out. Alastair walked forward, and Serena watched him, Braixen pointing her wand out threateningly. His face seemed to have taken some damage, and the robotic eye from earlier was bouncing uncomfortably. Serena swallowed, waiting for the answer; she knew that Ash had seen Ho-oh multiple times, of course, but a connection was something she wasn't aware of. Alastair provided the answer to that.

    "The Legendary Pokémon of this world are so tied in with nature, and in some cases, they are tied in with humans," the man said, still walking forward. His Gengar now fully materialized, mouth invisible owing to no grin whatsoever. Serena could feel the power it was holding, and Braixen gripped tighter, her guard remaining up. "That girl and Zygarde, your friend Lillie and Solgaleo are but two examples. Knowing that Ho-oh's power was needed for our own plan, we waited and waited until the time was right that any disturbance to the world's flow of life would cause Ho-oh, and Ho-oh alone, to act."

    "So, we were right!" Clemont yelled out, finally getting his knees back on to the plinth of stone they were standing upon. "You were trying to draw Ho-oh out!"

    "Naturally," came Alastair's all too blunt reply. "Ho-oh holds the power of revival. Not life, mind you. That was Xerneas' purview, which, thankfully, that Pokémon was put out of commission long ago, as you well know. We had no intention of reviving it."

    "What does any of that have to do with Ash? !" Serena demanded angrily. Down below, her husband was still clutching to his chest, breathing out loudly. Another screech sounded out on the air, the Rainbow Pokémon drawing ever closer to the site of battle. "How are they connected, when Ash has never really come in contact with Ho-oh?"

    "Ho-oh is, perhaps, the most elusive of all the legendaries connected with the world. It has been so since the tower first burned down so long ago, maybe even before. Of course, Lugia monitors the currents and the tides of fate, yet its counterpart, Ho-oh, seems to do nothing except fly around, glimpsed very rarely by a trainer of great potential and power; one of a great, pure heart," Alastair spoke. Clemont was standing now, having called out Luxray yet again. "The simple reason: because Ho-oh is tied to the life, death and rebirth of this world. In each era, it forges a connection via sight, so its own legacy is passed down again and again and again. Since the time of the Alpha and the Omega striking this planet, beginning to drain it and bring it to an incontrovertible end, that has been its role. Should Arceus will it, Ho-oh could rebirth the world. That is where it is tied to the meteonite, a source of energy, brilliant like the sun that began the cycles of this world and the tipping points. I suppose, in some way, you could view their impacts as the first tipping point."

    "The first tipping point?" Serena asked. The air began to grow warmer, an odd feeling in the now setting sun as Ho-oh drew closer to the city. However, she didn't let it bother her, choosing instead to wheedle out the information that Alastair so clearly wanted to give. Why, she couldn't know, but the man had chosen to engage the both of them with talk first for a clear reason. "What are you trying to say?"

    "Isn't it obvious? Certainly, Clemont has figured it out," Alastair noted, turning what was clearly his good eye towards the inventor. Clemont's face slipped momentarily into an expression of pensiveness. He reached up, tapping his chin while Luxray hunkered down, growling at Gengar. Then, Clemont's eyes widened.

    "No…The Alpha and the Omega were the start of them…because they ripped the connection to the dimensions wide open," Clemont stated. It was all too familiar to Serena, though nothing she'd thought about in years; all of that was under Gary and Burnet's studies. Clemont, however, had no doubt kept up with the research, aiding in the creation of the inventions to discover these things, and had been able to figure it out far too well. "So, that's what caused it: the impact of the Alpha and the Omega driving straight in with the fate of the world. Reality may have unfurled later with the tipping points, causing greater instability, but that was the origin. That's why Michael believed that every tipping point we passed was another world's death."

    "Whether that hypothesis was true or not is irrelevant," Alastair concurred, inclining his head. "The point is that, yes, the meteonite and the meteor here began to be closely intertwined with the other dimensions and this world's lifeblood itself. And the more blood that is shed, the more a reset is called for. The more this world inches closer to its own doom. Violence begets sickness. That sickness begets Ho-oh itself, looking to revive the world to what it once was. A reset of mythical proportions."

    "You still haven't answered how Ash fits into this," Serena told him. To that, Alastair's head moved upward, a slight smirk inching across his lips as he did so. Gengar once more sank underground as another screech pierced the air. Down below, the Champions were attempting to rally themselves, though the once more surging Pokémon were making that impossible, merely causing further panic. This was especially so with the sight of Ash on his knees, still reacting to the presence of Ho-oh there. It only took a blink, but Gengar resurfaced, Aegislash with it, as the sword and shield of the Pokémon once more slid into Alastair's hands.

    "Because of anyone, Ash has seen Ho-oh the most. Out of any other person out there, that connection is indelibly seared into him because of their meetings. He is Ho-oh's chosen one, for lack of a better term. It's why Ash is reacting, now that Ho-oh has come to fulfill its purpose for the world: to revive it, just the same way your sister did for Zygarde nearly a decade ago." Alastair slashed outwards, rippling at the air around them. "Now, we just need to make it our own. We can't have the world go through any old revival. We need to control it, and use all of Ho-oh's power in a way no one before us would ever think of. For that, we need Ho-oh, ourselves. And that's where you all come in: I'm afraid we'll need your husband's blood."

    "Not a chance. Flamethrower!" Serena shouted, plunging her hand forward swiftly. Braixen snapped her wand out, firing out a gushing flame. Alastair held his shield up, blocking the flames from hitting him, though he didn't quite seem to account for Clemont attacking from behind.

    "Wild Charge!" Luxray's body sparked, and he charged down the length of the stadium they were on. Alastair didn't turn, but Gengar began to float in the air, moving around before clasping its hands. Then it fired out a pulsing ring that shuddered through Luxray. He wobbled, but remained standing, as Alastair slashed outward. Serena bent back.

    "Fire Blast, from your mouth!" she shouted. Braixen struck, opening her mouth wide and letting loose the star of flame. Alastair still held his shield up, blocking the flames while Serena's eyes narrowed. The man looked out to the sky, no doubt to the phoenix that was swiftly approaching the site of the meteonite. At the very least, its presence there finally made sense, but now they had to stop IDEAL before they or Ho-oh, itself, could make use of its powers, or Ash, for whatever their nefarious purposes were. Now, she just had to make sure that Alastair didn't get either of them just to draw Ash into conflict. That meant there was only one way out. "Ash! Get up!"

    Her voice rang across the stadium clearly, but it didn't stop the still mass sense of panic below. People were running over each other, and a Totem Haxorus charged through the crowd with a Giga Impact, stopped only by a combination of Kukui's Gallade and her own father's Hydreigon. Y was looking up at her as she called out, and she watched her father's eyes flick over to the commentator's box.

    There was only one way to calm down the chaotic populace.

    "Clemont, hold him right here!" Serena shouted. Clemont craned his head, looking at her while Luxray growled, pawing at the ground. Gengar continued watching Luxray, not moving. Braixen broke her attack off and Serena ran forward. Alastair turned to intercept her, but she swept her leg out as she ran, slamming him on the knee. Braixen flipped over that. "We can't let them get control of Ho-oh, but right now we're falling apart! I won't let that happen!"

    "I'm on it, then! Ice Fang!" Clemont shouted. Luxray bounded forth, his fangs chilly as he aimed for Gengar, who skidded back. That momentary strike was the exact distraction that Serena needed, blazing past Clemont for the edge of the stone ring they were on. Luxray whipped around, now, claws glowing purple with a Night Slash that was colliding with a Poison Jab. Alastair wasn't giving Clemont a moment to blink, and Serena pushed on. She stared out over the army. More people were falling, the Champions scrambling to pick up the slack. May, Brock and Max seemed to have almost passed out, others around them wearing looks of concern, while Ash remained, still clutching to his chest, beginning to look up to the sky. Serena shook her head; now was the time to face forward, not back. She jumped off, back into the stands with Braixen at her side. They ran along the broken rows of seats, right for the nearly bombed out commentator's box. To that, she scoffed a little, reminded of the night she did this exact same thing, though for very different reasons, or at least under different circumstances.

    An explosion happened near the edge of the stadium, sending Cynthia and Steven flying back into the lobby. Camerupt seemed to slowly be recovering, to Serena's surprise, but she wasn't letting herself be stopped, especially with Clemont giving his all against Alastair. She knew she'd need to return to him soon. Her feet kicked aside stones, and she finally emerged in the commentator's box, finding it to be relatively untouched. Instantly, she scrambled for the intercom system there, remembering how to work it from before, though this time she didn't need to worry about the electricity factor, thanks to Clemont's redundancies. She just flicked the switch, turning the whole entire system on.

    "Ash, get up!" she screamed again, and this time, her voice carried across the whole entire stadium. Everyone seemed to hear her, and she could see them all looking up, even from their prone positions. Battle continued on, but for those that could, they were fixated upon her. Ash's head raised, turning towards her. "I know what you're going through! I know you're feeling pain, but that's no reason to stop moving forward!

    "We've lost Diantha, but how many other people have we lost along the way? ! Did any single one of them cause us to give up? No! They inspired us to move forward. Every single enemy that we faced is no longer haunting us because we just did that. Stand up, hold your head high, and if it falls, you hold it even higher!"

    "Serena…" Ash breathed out below, but even with the sounds of battle, she could yet hear him. She stared right at her husband, eyes insistent towards him. Pikachu seemed to hear her, too, because he whipped his tail around, slapping his trainer right in the face. Ash blinked and looked at his perennial partner before smiling. Then his hands moved away from his chest, pushing at the ground to stand. There must have still been the reaction inside of him, that pure fire burning, but he used it to pick himself up and push all the harder. "I hear you. No giving up. Pikachu, Iron Tail!"

    "Pi!" Pikachu agreed, and he sped away from Ash, right for the center of the stadium, and the cracked arena floor. Ash looked up one more time and threw his fist into the air. "Chu pika!"

    "Thanks for that! We're going to stop Deirdre, so you hold down the fort here!" Ash proclaimed. With every effort he could make, Ash ran forward, joining with Pikachu and Greninja as Pikachu's tail slammed down upon the ground, making the rubble cave in. Seeing him move forward, the lone person left in the stadium proper, seemed to embolden the others all around them, but Serena wasn't done. Ash jumped down with his fellow Pokémon.

    "Everyone else, you don't give up either!" Serena proclaimed, looking out over the crowd. She could see everyone still struggling, some on the verge of tucking their legs in and rocking back and forth. "Nine years ago…nine years ago we stood right here that night. We bickered and we fought and we were on the verge of giving up. Instead, we put everything else aside and focused on what mattered. We pushed on, and moved forward! And no matter what happens next…"

    "We won't give up until the very end!" Her call was not alone, plunging her fist into the air. Around the entire crowd, she saw numerous people raise their hands to the sky, reminding themselves and each other of the victory they all promised to share those years ago, and of the one thing that was pushing them forward. From Brock and May, who were recovering, to Dawn and Lillie, and even to those other, less known faces in the crowd such as Bruce and Trent, battling away a Totem Tyranitar that was charging at them, or Conway and Kenneth. That conviction was imbued no more than in Bethany and Christopher, resolutely standing with their fists in the air, Ash's Pokémon battling around them, carrying Rocky's will for the future he wanted.

    It was everyone standing together, and no matter what would be thrown their way, Serena now knew for absolute certain that they would all have the strength to walk it. All that was left was putting an end to IDEAL's ambitions once and for all, finally ending Michael's own schemes upon the world and taking their first step into a bright new future, the one that those such as Diantha, Lionel and Rocky, and many others had given their lives to protect. Ash would defeat Deirdre, and she knew her goal was to join with Clemont and put a stop to Alastair. Knowing that, she abandoned the broadcasting equipment, and dashed out of the commentator's box.

    There was a definite uptick in the energy down below. And while the attacking Pokémon, no doubt controlled by Alastair's previously well-hidden Gengar, were still preventing them from stepping another foot into the stadium, they still fought on, beating away their foes. An explosion of electricity burst out from the top of the stadium, and Serena looked that way to see Clemont avoiding a slash from Alastair, though with minimal success, falling onto his back. Flicking her gaze to their army, Serena noted Alpha Squad, the Champions and a few others like Nanu and Kahili having made it into the lobby. Beyond them, even the wounded like Astrid and Aidan had taken a strong position outside the building, itself. Finally, though, she was in a close enough range to strike her own opponent.

    "Hidden Power!" Serena yelled, but didn't stop running. Braixen didn't either, brandishing her wand outwards and sending silvery orbs rushing out for Gengar and Alastair. The Shadow Pokémon didn't avoid it, but Alastair did, stepping back as she reached the edge of the stadium walls. Clemont acted without hesitation, pressing a button and sending his Aipom Arm downwards to grab hold of her and pull her up to their level, with Braixen jumping high enough to do so, herself. The second Serena was up, she faced forward to Alastair. "It's over!"

    "Oh?" the man asked, straightening and swiping Aegislash out. Gengar looked back, blinking a little, but seemed to shrug. Then its shadows split, revealing a wide grin, as though Alastair was silently telling him there was no more reason to hold back. Their location was painted in gold and red, and now Serena could fully see the form of Ho-oh arriving, having reached the city. It was a beautiful sight, with feathers of golden rainbows, its plumage perfectly in place as it glided forward, the crest atop its head ruffling only slightly in the breeze as it flew. Alastair looked to it, and grinned. "Hm, perhaps you're right. But not for me."

    "Believe that all you want," Serena spoke, pointing forward, while Braixen held her own wand aloft in the same direction. Clemont, too, stood, and Luxray walked forward, baring his fangs, all four ready to face off. "Ash is with Deirdre, and he'll make sure she won't walk out of there until your plan is stopped. Your hope of crushing all of us is done. We learned long ago what it meant to not stop. Made too many promises to people who cried. We'll keep fighting onward."

    "Yes, I'm well aware, and that won't be the hardest of things to do," Alastair spoke, and a grin began to split his face. He raised his arm up to his keystone, while Serena's eyes narrowed. Kahili had already fought his Mega Aerodactyl, and it didn't seem to be anywhere nearby, so his action seemed almost illogical. "Why do you think we pushed you to this point? Other than summoning Ho-oh by shedding all the blood we could spare, bringing you all here proved that with the best of the best, this world can truly be fixed when we reach perfection. I was never going to hurt you, merely maim, but now that your husband is with Deirdre, I have no more need to threaten you. Instead, I believe I'll move to the next phase of the plan."

    "Next phase?" Clemont questioned. Alastair tapped his keystone, and it blossomed with light. Serena looked down to Gengar, the Pokémon's shadows swirling, before a brightly shining Gengarite emerged from its body, and the Shadow Pokémon began to transform.

    "Don't you know: a keystone can be used on more than one Pokémon. Gengar, Mega Evolve!" Alastair shouted. Gengar's body now burst with light, growing far larger, putting it onto four legs as a wicked grin stretched its face. Serena pointed her hand forward, calling for a Flamethrower before Gengar could transform. "Hypnosis."

    "Geng!" Gengar barked, its eyes flashing a deep red, before shining a deep yellow. The Flamethrower bellowed forward, but the creature dove under the surface of the stadium, into the shadows as the flames arched over and slammed harmlessly into the stone. Then Serena felt her head going soft. Her eyes struggled to stay open, her feet slipping, and the same happened with Braixen and Luxray.

    "Now, Gengar, this is everything we've prepared more. Time for us to come out of the shadows, so we and all our friends can be more than that in perfection!" Alastair shouted, brandishing his sword out, pointing right at Ho-oh. Serena reached a fist out and punched against her thigh, giving her a slight jolt in order to keep herself awake. Ho-oh was utterly close, screeching loudly with flames burgeoning on its feathers, and Gengar faced it with its own leering grin. "Hypnosis!"

    "Gengar Gengar geng!" Gengar cried, like power was storing up in its body. For a moment, below, the opposing army seemed to halt in its movements, confusing those that were fighting around the area. Serena began to regain her consciousness, just barely, but only enough to see Gengar fire out a golden soundwave, almost like a lasso, right for the unsuspecting Ho-oh that had been drawn to the meteonite.

    "Ho-oh, look out!" Serena shouted, and the Rainbow Pokémon began to turn its head. Yet that proved itself folly. Its beak faced the incoming ring that flashed onto its body, and its eyes drooped, going blank. The bird's body descended, looking tired, and Alastair walked forward, drawing out his eye and opening its socket to pull out a small device, while he attached a wireless connector to his arm. Then he placed the first object on Ho-oh, watching it go limp before it could awaken.

    "I'll have to thank Louise for being so prepared," Alastair spoke. Clemont had recovered now, along with all of their Pokémon, but the damage had been done, especially when Mega Gengar turned to them. The inventor next to Serena was gazing at the device on Alastair's arm and the one surrounding Ho-oh, venom snarling on his face. "Now, this may cost you, friend, but it will be worth it. I'll need a Sacred Fire from you!"

    "Fire Blast!"

    "Wild Charge!" Both of the orders snapped out, and Braixen sent her flaming star forward while Luxray charged along the stone. Alastair briefly let go of Aegislash, the Royal Sword Pokémon snapping into its Shield Forme and blocking both attacks entirely. Alastair reached up, petting Ho-oh softly as its body seemed to alight with flames that it had no control over. One raced for them, while another circled around the stadium, the conflagration soon immolating the entire coliseum they were standing upon. "Serena, come close to me!"

    "Yes!" Serena called, placing her back against Clemont as he whipped out an invention. The flames reached them and slammed into the absorber he was now holding, continuing to batter it mercilessly. Through the horrific flames, Serena saw that blaze consume Beedrill, Camerupt, and what looked like the downed form of Sableye. Gengar vanished into the shadows, flitting along the broken stands and towards what seemed to be the waiting rooms. The army was obscured by the flames and shadows, even Team Rocket's balloon seeming to be lost in the haze for that moment, unable to be spotted. In the end, it was only a moment for Gengar to escape, but a moment in which Alastair reached up to pluck a feather from Ho-oh, the rainbow sheen colored brilliantly.

    "My apologies for binding you. You're far too peaceful a Pokémon, but it's how we knew this would work," Alastair spoke, as Gengar's shadow soon returned to the center of the stadium, where the flames licked and then exploded in a great plume around whatever the Shadow Pokémon had deposited there. It soon returned to Alastair's side. "Unfortunately, while under Gengar's control, your power will be focused, and the feather will not wilt. We'll be able to use it at minimal cost to you…we just need the blood of your 'chosen one' to draw it all out. It will not take too long, I promise."

    Ho-oh said nothing, nothing but a small chirp that showed how impossible it was for the creature to move. However, down on the stadium floor, there were three others moving, and Serena knew just who they were as their Pokémon returned to their side. The flames there parted as the three figures, seeming like shadows, walked forward towards the lobby. Only just before they reached there did they look up to their comrade, still battling it out, his own body seeming to regain the energy it had lost, even if his wounds may have remained.

    IDEAL had risen once more to keep fighting; bruised and battered, but never broken.

    "Now, Gengar, keep this under control while I get to Deird"-

    "Psyshock!" Serena shouted. Braixen swiped her claws in an instant, sending the purple streaks out, as the flames from Ho-oh faded. The streaks flew through the air and slammed into the ground near Alastair, causing it to smoke. He looked up with a scowl, and touched upon his control device. Ho-oh's wings snapped outwards, and the large bird took to the sky. Clemont turned to their enemy with Serena, tossing his smoking invention to the side. Then there was an explosion in the lobby, and a loud laugh from Toll. "Now it's our turn to tell you not to take another step."

    Alastair watched the pair, and then he and Gengar grinned. "Very well. I'm sure I can afford a few seconds more to utterly destroy whatever hope you think you have left. Come!"


    Dust filtered in the air. Stones trickled down into the refracting lights, and sounds reached his ears. Seamus coughed, pain wracking his entire body. He couldn't see, and he could barely hear, with those sounds reduced to naught but mere muffles in his auditory receptors. There was a ringing there, too, and a need to resist the urge to vomit, but he held it in. His pain was making that far harder than it should have been, with his chest feeling broken over every inch of it.

    Yet he was alive.

    That alone made Seamus snap open his eyes, witnessing only the dust that had fallen in. There seemed to be some sunlight peeking through in a corner of the room, looking golden like the sunset, but that was all he could see in that moment beyond dark shapes in the shadows. Quickly, his eyes began to adjust in the darkened hallways beneath the stadiums, wondering how Deirdre's major attack had been stopped; how he was still alive. His hand reached out, planting itself on the ground and it gripped at the dust that had fallen there, coating his hand. The blond tried to pull himself forward, but found himself unable to, the pain in his body making him cry out and begin to cough.

    "G-Gladion…Guzma…" he groaned out, his eyes searching through the darkened swirl for his companions, soon finding them. Gladion had been slammed against a wall, his chest barely moving up and down, while even Silvally seemed to barely be moving. Further along was Guzma, passed out underneath the glowing meteonite, still pulsing with energy. He coughed, but was otherwise unmoving, as was his Golisopod, the last strike having done quite the damage. Once more, Seamus attempted to push up, but his arm slipped. It was still dark. Why was it so dark directly in front of him, and so red? Were his eyes bleeding from the blow?

    More sounds returned to his ears, only this time it sounded closer, like a voice that was actually talking. In the corner of Seamus' blurring vision, he thought he could see a shadow of rubble falling from above, but his senses were trying to make more sense of what was in front of him. Soon, the ringing diminished, replaced with a chiding, taunting voice instead.

    "Well, what a shame…" It was Deirdre's voice, he knew it. "Turns out someone thinks you're worth saving after all. It just means I'll need to try to kill you again. We don't need you in the new world."

    "You…won't…touch…him…" a voice breathed out, and Seamus' eyes snapped open further, wide with fear. The black and red faded away, revealing instead the form of a human girl, A human girl with black hair, who was on her knees. Finally, his vision stopped swimming.

    "Merry…" Seamus breathed, sending him into more coughs. He took her in, her entire midsection almost entirely blasted apart from the attack that Deirdre and Altaria had launched, cuts and scrapes covering her body, something that no amount of illusion creating her human form could hide. Tears pricked at Seamus' eyes, and he shook his head. "No…not you, Merry. Not you…"

    "It's okay," Merry said. Her body was flickering in and out, as though trying to hold the illusion of the girl, the one he once thought he would love, for as long as she could, bits of the Zoroark peeking through. Deirdre stood back, almost looking amused, as though she never thought he could care for anyone else.

    "No, it's not okay! Merry!" Seamus shouted. He pushed at the ground, fighting back the pain as he gritted his teeth. "Why would you do this? Why would you…?"

    "Because he loved you," she spoke, voice growing weak, sounding guttural. Seamus finally managed to stand, and he looked at Deirdre, rage growing in his eyes. Merry didn't move, merely holding her position as she seemed to suffer from her pain; pain that Deirdre had caused to her. His fist clenched, and despite the pain in his body, adrenaline rushed through Seamus' veins. "That was…all that…mattered…"

    "No! You mattered! You matter to me! And to Beth and Chris and Thea and…you…" Seamus roared, rounding on Deirdre. He didn't know where his strength came from, but he ran at the woman, aiming a punch right for her. She caught it, and with a swift strike, sunk her own fist into his stomach, causing him to gag, a rib breaking beneath it, blood flinging from his mouth.

    "Seamus, you outlived my son, despite your own pitiful past being the same as his. Why? Why did you get to survive when he didn't? Why did this world choose you when all you were was a leech on it? !"

    "Shut…UP!" Merry roared, and before Seamus knew it, she had run forward, changing back into the form of Zoroark, her claws wreathed in shadows before she slashed onto Deirdre's figure. The woman avoided the blow, but just barely. Her leg swung out, kicking into both Seamus and Zoroark, knocking them back. Seamus skidded along the ground, dropping to his knees.

    "Dragon Pulse," the cold woman commanded. Zoroark opened her mouth, and with a great roar, sent a Dark Pulse raging out. The two pulses collided in midair, straining against one another, until Zoroark's leg slipped from the wounds on her. The Dragon Pulse consumed the Dark Pulse and clamped its jaws upon Zoroark before Altaria sailed back through the darkness, glowing golden. Seamus opened his mouth to scream, but all he could do was lunge forward as Altaria's golden wings sliced straight through Zoroark's body. She cried out, blood flying from her, splattering the walls, and she fell, eyes beginning to grow cold. Seamus reached under his precious friend and caught her, holding her as the blood seeped into his clothing.

    "No. No. No!" he called out, almost screaming, his tears already falling to her darkened fur. Zoroark turned, looking up at Seamus, smiling, before she transformed one more time, into the form of Merle. She looked so happy, and Seamus couldn't help his tears. He was going to lose her again. "Merry, come on! Why'd you do it? Why'd you save me? It's you who needs to live. We promised! We promised! We said…"

    "It's…okay…" she spoke, and her hand reached forward, cupping his face. He cried into it, feeling her skin one last time. "Dalton…believed…in you…"

    "I know, but we said we wouldn't waste any more lives! That's not who we are!" Seamus protested, not wanting to believe it was real. Still, she smiled, and he began to shake. Merry lifted her body up, just enough with what remained of her strength, and kissed Seamus on the crown of his head.

    "Thank you," she spoke, voice going soft. "Live…for his…future..."

    Merry's body went limp, the form of the human fading away to leave naught but the Zoroark. Seamus could feel it, her life completely leaving her, and he snapped his gaze up to the woman who'd done it, pure, unadulterated rage rushing into his veins. He wanted to scream out her name. He wanted to cry out in pain. But all Seamus could do was glare at her, his body unable to move.

    Deirdre scoffed.

    "His future? Dalton was a soft fool, and his Zoroark was clearly softer," the woman spoke. Seamus gripped Merry's body closer. "Thinking people could change, or that the world could change. Hard medicine, he called it? Hah! The only hard medicine is life and death itself, and your precious Merry learned that the hard way. How does it feel, Seamus? Does it feel like your legs have been taken out from under you? Do you feel like you had your heart and soul ripped out from her being such a fool?

    "Shut up…Don't you talk about them like that! Don't you ever make yourself out to be better!" Seamus screamed, still clutching tight to his fallen friend. She was still warm, but quickly growing cold, though it seemed Deirdre could care less.

    "I want you to understand," Deirdre spoke, walking closer with a snarl on her lips, "that same pain I feel every day. If emotional pain from killing her is what does it, then you can live with that for the short time you have left. None of you are needed for perfec-"

    "SHUT YOUR DAMN MOUTH, DEIRDRE!"

    Seamus' eyes widened, and he could see Gladion twitch, his own lips smiling, with even Guzma doing the same. A shadow flew out of nowhere as rubble exploded downward, almost creating a set of stairs from it to the stadium above. Before Deirdre could complete her statement, a fist had socked her across the face, while a glowing appendage struck Altaria, sending it slamming into the wall. The woman slid along, her shadow slowing in the bright lights as she looked up, scowling, before a grin began to adorn Seamus' face. The newcomer to their battle began to speak, and the dust cleared.

    "You think taking lives to cause other people pain is perfect? You think anyone here is unneeded?" Ash spoke, raising his fist up to face the auburn-haired woman, Pikachu and Greninja joining him at his side. "Well, the way I see it, the only one not needed is you. So, why don't you just shut up and leave everyone else alone!"

    "And if I don't?" Deirdre asked, the grin now snapping back on to her face. Shivers of both rage and fear traveled down Seamus' spine, but when he looked to Ash, he could see the man that had changed his life into one worth living still standing for him, not an ounce of trembling across his figure. "Will you take revenge for your fallen friend? For your Champion?"

    "Not at all. We don't do that," Ash said, lowering his fist and slamming it into his palm. The light grew brighter, and heat poured in, as though a great flame was scorching across the entire coliseum. Ash didn't waver, however; he and his Pokémon just did what they always did and took a step forward. "We're just gonna protect our world and kick your ***!"



    Author's Note: Things have gotten worse, huh? From Ho-oh now under IDEAL's control while IDEAL is back in action again, things are getting nasty, even if the army has finally received its second wind enough to finally win the battle at long last. Who knows how it will go? Though the final matchups begin now, especially Ash against Deirdre, the fight that I'm sure you've been waiting for at long last.

    However, we also need to discuss Merry. When I first started this story's planning, I wasn't going to kill Merry, though I knew that Seamus, Gladion and Guzma would team up to fight Deirdre. However, I decided, in the end, that I needed to kill a Pokémon to really make this feel devastating, and to convey the sheer anguish Deirdre has. Merry was the most obvious choice, especially because of her beliefs with Dalton about the future, hoping that Seamus lives on. It's also proof that, contrary to what Deirdre believes, Seamus has become a man, like Ash, that others are willing to die for so that they can live. I think that's a huge thing to bring his story full circle. He was never going to die, because he was always a character that I wanted to stress needed to live for him to own his mistakes. I made that decision way back in Turbulence.

    The final battles have begun, so please don't look away! Thanks for all your support, and I hope you continue to Review and Dare to Be Silly.

  20. #45
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    It is time to break out the XY&Z. That is all that needs to be said. Time for Chapter 23, also.


    Chapter 23

    A Rage

    Ash's feet shifted, scraping along the dust and rubble that now plagued the space beneath the stadium. Deirdre was watching him, a smile across her face, like she'd been looking forward to his arrival all along. It reminded him sharply of the last time he'd been here, below Ancien Stadium, and the loss he'd suffered then. Deirdre was wearing the same look as her, and for a brief second, Ash wondered if she was searching for the same thing: wanting all of this to end. He quickly narrowed his eyes and chose to abandon the notion. He would figure that out with a battle.

    "Seamus, Gladion, Guzma," Ash spoke up, his voice echoing around the space as the dull rumblings of an explosion sounded out above his head. Deirdre didn't even make a movement at them. "You guys did great. Thanks. We'll take it from here."

    "Ya better win, kid," Guzma chuckled out, and Gladion joined him, the three of them acknowledging their past together. Ash nodded, fiddling with his hat a second. Then he looked down to Seamus, clutching to the form of Zoroark. Sadness creeped into him; the Pokémon he'd once fought, understanding her pain, was now gone. The raven-haired trainer breathed out, but he faced forward to Deirdre.

    "Seamus, I'm sorry I wasn't fast enough," he said to his friend, the blond looking up at him. It took a second, but he nodded. His hands lowered, placing his fallen friend down on the ground, but his body didn't move to stand, like he was handing the torch off to him for the fight that was ahead.

    "It's okay…" he spoke, sniffling a bit. "She gave the future, his future, to us…so win. Ash, kick her ***!"

    "Planning on it," Ash spoke, smirking across at Deirdre. "Quick Attack!"

    "Pika!" Pikachu cried and he burst forward, a bright white aura surrounding his entire little body as he ran, right for Altaria. Deirdre cocked an eyebrow, as though surprised he would attack without much else to say. Ash ran right for her, catching sight of her legs, mottled and broken, but she was still standing. Eyes narrowing in wonder, he swung his leg out. Pikachu rammed into Altaria, sending the Humming Pokémon flying back.

    "Greninja, use Cut!" Ash cried. Greninja clasped at his side and drew forth his watery kunai, running for the very same target as Pikachu. Ash crossed his arms alongside his Pokémon, right as his kick seemed to make contact. Deirdre caught it with her hand, smirking, but Ash pushed forward. "So, what's with your legs? Is that why you needed an illusion?"

    "Wouldn't you like to know?" Deirdre said, lips still twisted in a smirk. Ash peered deep into the woman's eyes, scanning for what lay beneath them. They were no longer empty, like every time before, but instead burning with a rage and sadness; it was something he'd only glimpsed before. It was enough to give him a measure of her and start figuring her out. "But it won't matter! Dragon Pulse, rapid fire!"

    "Altar! Tar! Tari!" Altaria cried out, flapping around in the air and rearing her head back, before firing out one dragon after another. All of the purple beams aimed right for Greninja. He didn't stop, brandishing his kunai and bringing them to bear. The Dragon Pulse slammed into Greninja, but he held fast before slicing it apart, causing the ethereal creature to dissipate. As he did so, Ash did the same, knocking his fists out and slamming across Deirdre's midsection, causing them to break off from one another.

    "Iron Tail, go!" Ash called. Pikachu, landing briefly on the ground, swung right back up with his shining tail and whacked it into Altaria's lower body. The Humming Pokémon cried.

    "Sky Attack," Deirdre snapped out. Altaria's body glowed a golden hue once more and it shot forward, before Pikachu's tail even faded its shining glow. Ash backed off, watching Deirdre's movements, as her Pokémon rammed into Pikachu, sending him down to the ground before leveling off and shooting for Greninja. The woman was standing there confidently and gracefully, despite all indications of the way her legs looked saying that it should have been otherwise. There was something there, and he just had to figure out what. The meteonite could wait.

    "Aerial Ace!" Ash shouted. He and Greninja ran forward, moving as one, until they reached their targets, both of which were coming right for them. Greninja's fist glowed, and Ash's punched forward. Before Altaria could make contact with Greninja, he slammed his fist down onto Altaria, stopping the blow and sending a shockwave around them. Ash's own fist was intercepted with Deirdre's fist, the two locking in place before his other fist soared out to slam into her face. There was a momentary waver in the refracting light from Deirdre's shadow. "Electro Ball!"

    "Pika pika pika pika pika pika CHU PI!" Pikachu rose up from behind Altaria, his tail sparking with the pulsating and crackling orb. He sent it hurtling down, right onto Altaria's back, where it exploded. Deirdre's head was turning back, and Ash saw her leg snapping out, while the rest of her body stayed in place. He leapt back, avoiding the kick that sent wind gusting over his body, knocking his hat to the ground.

    "Water Shuriken! Slice it!" Ash called, reaching for his back while Greninja did the same. Pikachu fell, landing atop Altaria with a grin. Greninja slashed upwards, brandishing his giant shuriken and striking Altaria powerfully. Ash made an uppercut. Now, Deirdre's whole body moved, the same rippling shadow moving with her. Ash's eyes narrowed, and he quickly looked to his fallen friends. The woman was punching out. "Slam 'em with Aerial Ace and Thunderbolt!"

    "Ninja!" Greninja flipped into the air, his legs glowing a bright white before bringing them down to collide with Altaria, knocking its head down towards the ground. Pikachu continued grinning, bringing the electricity all around his body before letting it loose, the voltage consuming Altaria's body before Ash's most trusted Pokémon leapt into the air, spinning with an Iron Tail towards Altaria.

    "Dodge it with Sky Attack!" Deirdre said, eyes growing wide with entertainment and enthusiasm. She almost looked to be having fun, but Ash could still see the smoldering rage beneath. Ash's leg kicked out, and she did the same, the two kicks meeting with each other. Ash could feel the force of the kick, far stronger than her legs would have suggested, but she seemed to feel nothing. Her shadow obscured Altaria and Pikachu, while Altaria glowed golden yet again and shot away from Pikachu. His Iron Tail made contact with the ground, and Deirdre jerked back, showing Pikachu to have harmlessly hit it as the shadow of her body slipped away from his landing site. Altaria was making a run around with its attack, aiming right for Greninja.

    "Double Team!" Ash shouted. He straightened up as multiple copies of Greninja appeared and populated the hallway they were battling in. Altaria went soaring for them, twisting and looking through the air, soaring through each and every copy. Ash began to smirk. "Finally…I figured you out…"

    "Oh? I seriously doubt that. I don't think you could ever understand me," Deirdre stated. Ash looked up at her, continuing to wear his confident smirk while his body crouched into a position for battle. "Though, that's what makes you so wonderful. Watching you in your action, and your wife. Your pure-heartedness. It's what drew Ho-oh to you. No wonder your Pokémon, your friends, your army all followed you so willingly into despair without any concern for themselves."

    "Water Shuriken, toss it!" Ash called, not obliging her in the moment. Greninja once more grabbed hold of his shuriken and sent it hurling forward before Altaria could reach his true self. It impacted. "You mean I can't understand your pain and sadness? Maybe. I've had my own fair share of it, but unlike you, I'm clinging to something greater. I'm not just a shadow that refuses to step into the light."

    "Draco Meteor!" Deirdre snapped out, as if not liking the words that Ash was speaking. She jabbed forward rapidly, as though not in control of the swiftness that her body was being carried at. Ash threw up an arm to stop it, but felt a bruise instantly forming on his forearm. Altaria rose upward, the orange glow permeating its body before firing out the orb that split into numerous meteors.

    "Didn't think that would make you even angrier! Those aren't very good emotions for a perfect world, are they? Pikachu, Quick Attack to dodge, char 'em with Thunderbolt!" Ash called, his smirk widening to a grin. Now he really knew what it was. Ash batted Deirdre's fist away and sent another punch right upwards into her stomach. "Maybe next time you should try for a world a little closer to your level. Greninja, Cut through them!"

    "Pi pi pi!" Pikachu called, flitting along the ground with his burst of Quick Attack, sending out sparks that blasted away some of the falling meteors. Greninja soared in to take care of the rest, his kunai shining brightly with the rainbow and leaping up into the air. He began to spin, water surrounding his figure, and he blitzed forward, bouncing from meteor to meteor as he sliced through them all. Each impact carried him to the next, just like their Draco Meteor Climb of the past. The meteors fell to the ground, slamming around the hallway with mini-explosions, but with nowhere near the amount of destructive force they held before. Pikachu looked back to Ash, who nodded. They were still on the same wavelength. Pikachu leapt into the air, spinning through it before he finally got into Deirdre's shadow. His tail glowed again and he slammed downward. This time, the Iron Tail drove into the ground that was concealed by her shadow. She seemed to stop a minute, coughing a bit as she looked back.

    "Thunderbolt, Pikachu! Let it loose!" Ash yelled. Pikachu grinned, his electric sacs lighting up. Then the outpouring of electricity blasted along the area, scorching at the ground, forcing the shadow to light up with an intense burst of light. Ash watched Deirdre, seeing her flinch a moment, her legs almost giving way underneath her, until something suddenly protruded from the shadow and punched forward into Pikachu.

    "Pika? !" Pikachu called out in surprise, flying across the room and into a wall. His collision forced it to crack, but he dropped down to the ground just fine. Ash continued to look, the small shadowy form turning its head, its orange eyes glaring towards Ash, like he hated him for discovering his hiding place, a small, silver crown jiggling on its head. Deirdre scowled as well.

    "What is that…?" Seamus breathed out, but no one had an answer for him. Well, no one but Deirdre.

    "Marshadow, are you all right?" the auburn-haired woman said. The creature in her shadow, clearly named Marshadow, turned and peeked up at her, fist at its mouth, before smiling at her. It sent shivers down Ash's spine, but he was already figuring things out. Focusing and seeing through Greninja's eyes, now that this strange and unfamiliar Pokémon had been revealed, showed a whole new story. There seemed to be thin stitching, impossible to break and invisible to normal eyes, but not Greninja's, that tied Deirdre's body to the shadow on the floor.

    "So, that's how you did it…" Ash commented. "Marshadow, right? It's controlling your body. That's why your shadow sometimes moves faster than it, or your body moves quicker than it should. Heck, you look like you shouldn't be able to walk! It must be moving your body with your shadow…Is that how the illusion was done, too. How your illusion was able to fight? How you were able to hold us in place during battle?"

    "Hmph…you're more perceptive than you let on," Deirdre spoke, a smirk crossing over her features. Marshadow had yet to disappear, but Altaria returned to her side. "Yes, Marshadow was my eyes, and my ears, and my legs. Thank Louise's technology for that. It was roughly the same principle used to replicate the meteonite, but its success couldn't be rivaled. Her ability to synch my upper body movements with Marshadow's and to communicate with him really helped us. Gengar just completed the visual and auditory package. Though, Altaria and he being together was the biggest boon."

    "Mar mar!" Marshadow called out, looking pleased at getting the praise. Ash watched it, before the little one glared at him angrily. He sighed out. It hadn't taken long to expose the true nature of that particular Pokémon.

    "You're a pretty fitting pair," Ash said. Pikachu ran back over, he and Greninja facing forward, all of them sensing that the battle had changed now that Deirdre's method of movement had been exposed. "Two shadows: one that lives in them, the other being one's that become a mere shell. When did it happen, Deirdre? When did you allow yourself to lose hope?"

    "Hope? This ideal world is my hope…Marshadow's hope," she spoke. The Pokémon sunk back down, disappearing back into the shadow, and Deirdre's upper body began to move, punching rapidly and sending a breeze outward, ruffling against Ash's hair. "He had his dream to become a Pokémon given to him in the cruelest of ways, the boy that must have once been this poor sweetheart before life was ripped away from him. Now look at him and his tortured soul that remains. Is it any wonder this is his hope? To be more than a shadow again. To make a world where no one slips through the cracks. Isn't that a world worth fighting for?"

    "No. It isn't," Ash stated simply. He now walked forward, raising his own fist upwards. "I don't know how you became this, but I understand who you are now. If we're going to make a world where people don't slip through the cracks, we'll do it by our own effort, our own hands. And we'll start by beating you!"

    "If you can, boy," Deirdre snarled out, and she raised her wrist. Her long sleeves pulled back, revealing a large Z-Ring beneath, and set on its underside, was a keystone. From within Altaria's fluffy wings, an Altarianite emerged. Then Deirdre touched to her Z-Ring and grinned. "I'm done playing with you. Time for you to experience true despair. Mega Evolve!"


    "Fire Blast, let's go!"

    "Braiiiiiixen!" Braixen shouted, jabbing her wand forward and sending the bright star of flame flying out. Luxray pawed at the ground, as if waiting for the command to strike forward. In the sky above, just beyond the clouds, Serena could see the Rainbow Pokémon, just out of range of any solid attack. Down below, IDEAL was making their moves again, but Serena focused herself on Alastair, who held out Aegislash's shield, hunkering down to block the fire. It was still a strong force, pushing his body back while he slashed with the Royal Sword Pokémon. The flames broke.

    "Gengar, Shadow Ball. Buy me the time needed," Alastair spoke, his gaze seeming focused, sharp and unrelenting. He stepped away while his Gengar grinned, a giant Shadow Ball forming near its mouth before firing off for Braixen. That was Clemont and Luxray's time to move, even as Alastair dropped off the edge of the stadium's top, rolling into the stands below.

    "Ice Fang!" Clemont shouted. Serena tapped Clemont on the shoulder, thanking him, and she decided to jump off, herself. Braixen flipped forward as well, moving to intercept Alastair. She did so quickly, landing almost right in front of him, while Serena took more time to get down to the stands. In the meantime, she watched as Luxray's fangs glowed with an icy chill. Gengar fired, but Luxray stopped it in its tracks, biting into the shadowy orb and freezing the ghostly presence over before breaking it. "Wild Charge! Go, Serena!"

    "Right!" Serena shouted, and she let go, falling the short distance enough to roll forward. She stopped a minute, making sure she was okay, and ran for Braixen, who was sending Flamethrower after Flamethrower towards Alastair, the man dodging each and every one. In his pocket, he seemed to be holding close the shimmering feather, which, if possible, was glowing even brighter than before. "Keep going Braixen!"

    "Brai!" Braixen confirmed. Serena looked back as Luxray went charging for Gengar. The Shadow Pokémon seemed to chuckle, and then it sank beneath the ground, Luxray passing over it without doing a thing. The Gleam Eyes Pokémon whipped around. Clemont ran to the edge of the stone as his Pokémon barked, scanning the area with his X-Ray vision and finding the form of Gengar traveling through. The inventor dropped down, Luxray leaping after him, but Serena gave a shout.

    "Beneath you, Braixen! Move!" she shouted. Braixen looked down and instantly jumped away as Gengar appeared, the grin still leering on its face, menacing all of them as Luxray jumped to be at Braixen's side. Alastair stopped short, looking around at all of them there. For the first time, in the rainbow hued sunset, she could see how empty his left eye looked. Then his lips twitched.

    "Wave Signal, Gengar. Let's stir things up enough," Alastair said. He turned away from them, but Serena knew that there was no way Alastair was opening himself up to attack. That became obvious seconds later.

    "Gar!" Gengar shouted, its eyes shifting between yellow and red rapidly again. Serena felt her head going woozy and she gripped at her stomach, holding it tight, while Braixen dug her stick in upon her toes, keeping herself awake. While they recovered, Gengar fired a large Shadow Ball straight up into the air where it exploded with dark particles. For a moment, in Serena's delirious brain, she wondered what it was for, but got her answer in a moment from a shout in the distance.

    "Eruption! Burn 'em all down!" Toll's voice. Serena bit at her lip, causing herself enough pain to remain awake. She looked in the distance, to where bright flames erupted from within the lobby, blowing apart some of the stands, though nowhere near to where they were currently standing. Another shadow vanished underneath the ground there, racing away. Serena felt her knees giving way, but remained on her feet. Alastair was running again, while Braixen raised her wand and sent a Hidden Power whirling out. The streaks dotted the stairs, stopping Alastair from descending the steps ahead of them.

    "Protect!" yelled the elderly voice of Tau. Serena's vision finally sharpened. Down in the exposed lobby, Serena could see everything clearly enough. Chi's Doublade had snapped into a defensive position, the rest of Alpha Squad forming ranks near him. Toll wasn't alone, either, however, with Louise having joined. All of the others, including the Champions, remained busy fighting off the hordes of Pokémon. Beyond them, the rest of their own forces kept beating back the tide; from Miette and Misty combining attacks that Passimian and Kommo-o aided with to create a large explosion, all the way to Paul and Sawyer's Grass types teaming up. As Serena pulled herself up, a green Pin Missile fired straight from Beedrill, aiming for the members of Alpha Squad.

    "Mothim, Quiver Dance, and Air Slash!" Theta ordered. Behind the woman, Serena could see Christopher and Bethany guiding some people out of the lobby, clearly a dangerous zone with Toll's explosions. Mothim shuddered, glowing red, and then it zipped forward, summoning a blue sphere of air before firing the attack forward. It zipped off to another area and fired another. The small orbs of the Air Slash carried the compressed air forward, meeting with the Pin Missile in the air and exploding. Another orb blasted through, while Serena could see a Dark Pulse fire from Tau's Skuntank, joining with it. The dark nexus swirled around the sphere and slammed into Beedrill, sending it flying backwards.

    The rest of IDEAL may have been revived, but they were still exhausted. Serena realized they still had a chance.

    "Double Team, keep them out of the way," Alastair stated. Serena shook her head, finally getting the clarity needed as multiple Gengar populated the stairs with their grins. Alastair was lost in the middle of it all, while the Shadow Pokémon lifted up, its front legs glowing a bright purple, infused with poison. Serena looked back to Clemont, and both acted, choosing to not let Alastair get away at this point.

    "Psyshock!" Serena cried, and Braixen acted. Her purple streaks flew out, five in a row that split off, each aiming for a different Gengar, and blasted through the copies. It did the job, eliminating the doubles as they twisted and spun through the population.

    "Night Slash!" Clemont shouted. Luxray bounded forward, claws gleaming their own purple glow before aiming for the sole Gengar remaining, whose grin dropped into a face of annoyance that it still had to actively fight. Luxray slashed and sent Gengar tumbling back, straight into Alastair. Serena and Clemont offered each other a high five and gave pursuit. As she did, Serena looked to the ever-closer lobby.

    "Earth Power," Toll was calling, his shaggy blond hair preventing Serena from seeing his eyes. Camerupt's body glowed and the ground underneath churned golden. Even along the stands of the stadium, it was starting to crack from all the earlier damage sustained. Alpha Squad backed up as Beedrill buzzed its way forward, right for Mothim. The glow burst from the earth, right underneath Alpha Squad's feet, knocking them back towards the entrance of the lobby. The Champions had retreated, guarding the army that yet remained beyond, having been pushed back by Toll.

    "You arrogant and insufferable brats never stay down, do you? !" roared a new voice. Instead of a golden ground, stars of gold flew forth, slamming into Camerupt's figure, before a red beam fired from a hallway off the lobby. The red beam struck into Toll, sending him flying back. From that hallway emerged Nanu, still looking banged up, but grinning. "You should stay dead, if I'm honest."

    "Nanu…Thought you kicked the bucket?" Toll asked. Nanu's only answer to that was a grin. A sharp cry was torn from Braixen's lips, and Serena looked to her faithful Pokémon. Her wand was extended, pointing down at her trainer's feet. Before Serena could look, she felt her self being yanked back by Luxray, who growled as a Shadow Claw jutted upwards, tearing off a part of her skirt.

    "Seeeeen!" Braixen roared, sending a rocketing Flamethrower out that consumed the claw, drawing out the Sableye that was beneath it, the new foe seeming angry at having been caught so easily. Its breath was misting from exhaustion, and Serena could tell that it was still recovering from its earlier battle with the others. That gave them an advantage. The heat from the fiery assault began to spread, burning along the stone stands.

    "Sable…" Sableye hissed, sinking beneath the stone again. Serena whipped her head around, looking for Matori, given that the woman was no doubt nearby. Nanu seemed to have engaged Toll, taking him in an armlock, though it was easily broken out of, the two men circling each other. Clemont was running past Serena, for Alastair, who was still moving forward.

    "Keep an eye on it Braixen, and be ready for anything," Serena called. Braixen nodded, both observing the battlefield and looking for the shadow. It didn't take long to catch sight of it, burning along with the heated stones. It suddenly flew up with glowing claws, ready to enact a Sucker Punch upon the Fox Pokémon. "Now!"

    "Brai!" Braixen yelled, whipping her branch out and nailing Sableye before its Sucker Punch could make contact. Sableye was trapped at the end of it, being flung around with every movement, and Braixen grinned while Serena clasped her fist. The Fire type's wand was lit with fire, and then it burst forward, consuming Sableye and tossing it away. They could resume their chase, even as the battle below began to grow more intense.

    "Fell Stinger!" Louise shouted, looking like she had a snarl on her face. Serena continued to chase after Clemont while keeping one eye peeled on that battlefield, hoping to catch sight of Matori along the way. Beedrill shot forward, but Chi ordered a command. Doublade began whirling through the air, both of its blades glowing white. Before long, the two met on their collision course, the blades making contact with the stinger.

    "Now, Mothim!" The quivering of Mothim's wings could be heard even near to them, despite their distance as they chased Alastair. Gengar sunk into the ground, whipping through it with a visible shadow to get ahead of them. Mothim flashed forward, the familiar red waves radiating off of its body to hit Beedrill. The Spear Pokémon wavered from the strike, allowing Doublade the chance to send its free blade whirling up into the body of the Bug type. Skuntank struck.

    "Shadow Ball!" Tau yelled out. Skuntank opened its mouth and fired, the ghostly orb sailing off, painted by the sunset, and then exploding with force against Beedrill's head. Nanu, too, was taking action.

    "Power Gem! Tear it apart, Persian!" Nanu said, and he jumped into the air, right upon Toll's body, pinning him to the ground before raising a fist and punching the man in the face. Yet again, Serena pulled to a stop with Clemont, as Gengar was populating the stairs yet again. Alastair was almost down the stands at this point, while his Gengar was loading ammunition with a Shadow Ball on every copy and firing the artillery of them at the trainers and their Pokémon.

    "Hidden Power!" Serena shouted, ducking low as one of the attacks sailed over her head. She looked over to see Nanu and Toll rolling along the ground until they slammed into Camerupt. Beedrill righted itself. Most important, however, was Braixen's strike, summoning as many orbs of the silvery projectile as she could to her wand, rings of them running up and down her wand before she fired them forward. The silver orbs made a beeline right for the Shadow Balls and made contact with them. They exploded in midair, but left the Gengar still remaining.

    "Wild Charge!" Clemont shouted. Luxray growled loudly, body spluttering to life with electricity, and he rammed through the closest copy of Gengar, not stopping. More and more of the copies vanished. A Shadow Claw jutted upwards from the ground, revealing that Sableye had returned to the battle, but Luxray didn't stop.

    "Raaay!" Luxray roared and slammed into the claw, dragging Sableye out and opening his jaw to clamp down on the Ghost type before tossing it away and skidding to a stop. The recoil wracked his body, shaking his head.

    "Stay down already!" Serena heard Toll's voice shouting, and she finally looked up. Alastair was near to the barricade between the stands and the arena below, but Nanu and Toll were stuck in a gridlock between each other. "Pay for your sins already, old man! You're too stubborn to have in the new world! Explosion, Camerupt! Blow him sky high!"

    "Oh, I'm well aware," Nanu said with a grin, before his knee came up and pummeled Toll's stomach. With surprising strength, the Kahuna lifted Toll up and heaved him over, right on top of his glowing Camerupt, the explosion process having begun. "But I don't want to go there. I'm sick enough of this world, and I've been paying the price for my sins a long time. How about you, Toll?"

    "Merrowr!" Persian screeched loudly. Serena looked to Braixen as the Classy Cat leapt for Camerupt and sent a powerful Dark Pulse at Toll. The man's eyes widened as it pushed into his chest, causing the bomber to go rigid. Persian then licked at his lips, all while Braixen sent a Fire Blast out that consumed the stairs, including Gengar and Sableye both, allowing them the chance to pursue Alastair yet again. Nanu walked forward, even as Toll stood, heaving.

    "When are you going to pay for yours? You consider yourself a sin eater; a ferryman to the other side, right?" Nanu spoke. "Well, I got a big plate for you, but I don't think you can handle this one. Heh, so why don't we eat it together?"

    "Nanu, you crazy bastard, what do you think you're doing?" Even as Serena ran, she could easily identify that as Kahili's voice, and she looked to see the older woman, Acerola and Lance having arrived from the outside, looking ragged from the battles. The Pokémon still battled fiercely against their forces, and Serena could see Ash's Charizard battling back and forth. Nanu began to laugh, as Camerupt nearly reached full brightness.

    "Ahahahahahaha!" he called out, and even Alastair stopped on the steps, looking over to Nanu. The former policeman seemed to have cracked, a wide grin splaying itself on his face. A smog began to fill the lobby from Skuntank's Smokescreen, obscuring Beedrill's recovered path. "Don't try to stop this, bird lady! You, too, pipsqueak! A reckoning is coming for us all, right? Might as well go out the way I want to. Ain't that right, Tolbert?"

    "You're crazy, old man!" Toll cried, leaping off of Camerupt. Nanu was there waiting, as was Persian. With immense strength, the cat grabbed ahold of Camerupt with its front legs, and with a heave, sent it flying upwards, towards the stairs while its body pulsed. "But if that's how you feel, I've got no problem taking your life!"

    "Toll, stop it! Nanu's not-!" Louise began to protest, but she couldn't seem to get the words out in time.

    "Electroweb!" Theta shouted. Doublade pulled back, erecting a protective shield around all of Alpha Squad. Mothim fluttered forward, shooting out the electrified spider web that flew into the smoke cloud, tingling in with sparks around the surface. Serena knew just what was coming, especially as the web seemed to slam into Beedrill and Louise both. "You're not the only ones with experience, you know."

    "And you're not the first to seek a better world," Tau was shouting out. "That is why, on our honor as Alpha Squad, we'll see your ideals laid to rest. That work for you, Kahuna Nanu?"

    "Loving it!" Nanu said, just as Toll reached him. The Kahuna sent his palm flying forward, grabbing ahold of Toll's face, grinning even through whatever pain his body was being subjected to. "Now, bird lady!"

    "Uncle Nani!" Acerola shouted, but she was lost to the din of the next voice.

    "You're crazy, old man…" Kahili said, but she placed her fingers to her lips and whistled. Toucannon soared forward, alongside Kahili's Skarmory. They weren't alone. Camerupt slammed against the wall towards the stands, but in no time, Charizard had reached the beast and held it suspended in the air. Staraptor and Talonflame flew in alongside Skarmory and Toucannon, angling for Louise, Beedrill, Toll and Nanu. Serena kept running, nearly upon Alastair.

    "Hyper Beam!" Louise shouted through the smoke. It was a final call, but then the Hyper Beam fired out. The attack slammed into the Protect shield, while Lance's Dragonite held his own Protect around his trainer and Kahili. The stands were shuddering from that particular blast, and whatever else was going on down below.

    However, that attack was the spark on the fire that was already charged. Serena looked away, knowing that Louise had made a huge folly in her attempt to break free. The air exploded, pushing Alpha Squad back and flinging Louise into the air. Skarmory grabbed hold of her, while Talonflame and Staraptor grabbed hold of Nanu and Toll, lifting them up. The Hyper Beam was still going, cutting along the ground.

    "Foul Play, Persian! We're going out with a bang, buddy!"

    "Growar!" Persian cried out, clearly happy with the result. He leapt into the Hyper Beam, pushing his body through it with the same exact feral expression that Nanu was wearing, his claws glowing black as they seemed to almost absorb the blow of the Hyper Beam. Then, the Classy Cat reached Beedrill and slashed into it, carrying it forward and pinning the both of them to the wall. At the same time, Nanu slammed his other hand forward, and with a maniacal grin, plastered both Toll and Louise against Camerupt's body, the Eruption Pokémon still impending with the Explosion it couldn't stop.

    "All right, Champion, time for my own KB Protocol!" Nanu shouted, holding them tight with Talonflame and Staraptor still keeping them airborne. Alastair reached the end of the stands, about to fling himself over. Serena looked at Clemont, knowing they couldn't let that happen.

    "Psyshock!" Serena yelled, while Clemont called for a Wild Charge. Luxray charged forward, body blazing with electricity, as purple streaks fired from Braixen's claws. They soared out, and before long, impacted with Alastair in the back. It bought them just a little time as the man fell forward, slamming into the edge of the stands. Gengar disappeared and raced for him. Serena turned her gaze to search for Sableye, but saw it seemingly passed out on the stands. That just left. "Ah!"

    "Serena!" Clemont cried out. Hot pain erupted across her arm, blood trickling from a gash on it. She clasped to it, feeling its new, disturbing warmth on her palm as she looked up to the sight of Matori, holding knives. Sableye had just been the distraction while she got in position. However, Serena saw her hands were shaky; the steady assassin wasn't quite so steady anymore, especially with the scowl on her lips. They were caught in a situation.

    "Nanu, you're crazy, you know?" Lance yelled, but he raised a hand up to snap his fingers. Serena briefly looked towards Nanu, seeing the man grinning with the kind of grin only he could wear in battle.

    "Oh, I know! But I'm okay with that. Koa's been waitin' for me a long time," Nanu shouted, his eyes more alive than they'd ever been as he continued pinning Toll and Louise. Just like on Mount Lanakila, countless Pokémon were surrounding the sextet with Protect shields, leaving only the stands exposed. Beedrill seemed to break free of Persian's hold, slamming into the cat with a Twineedle, before buzzing for the gap in the shields.

    "Shadow Ball!" Tau shouted. Skuntank aimed upwards and fired, the Shadow Ball whistling through the air for the gap. Before Beedrill could emerge, it pushed the Spear Pokémon back in, right against Camerupt. At that exact moment, Charizard dropped Camerupt, while the rest of the fliers let go, racing for the exit of the Kill Box. Nanu, however, continued holding the others in place.

    "Any words you want me to pass on to Lionel?"

    "Let us go!" Toll shouted, gripping at Nanu's hands, trying to pull him off. No one answered to the man's grin, through Louise shouted, clearly trying to stop him from doing this, as the Protect shields of all the Pokémon they could muster surrounded them like an inescapable cage, Ash's Pokémon now fully free.

    "Nanu, surely you won't let it go like this!" the woman yelled. "You saw how bad Alola got; saw what needed to be changed. This world needs a medicine! We need to make it right! Need to fix things for everyone…for her…"

    "I don't give a sh*t," Nanu grinned out, holding tight to them. "This world can go to hell for all I care. But you know what I do care for? People. They're what's worth livin' and dyin' for. It's them you're trying to get rid of for your perfect world, and that's something I can't agree with. Those who are left? They've got enough to fix the world the way it is, and guess what, they don't need your perfection to do it.

    "So, say your prayers, Toll, Louise, 'cause this really is the last mission we're ever gonna have together. I'll see you in hell in the meantime."

    "No! No!" Toll shouted, finally losing all composure in the face of his ultimate demise. Nanu laughed loudly, maniacally, over him, but not enough to silence his next, final words. "No, Deirdr-"

    Serena stepped forward.

    Matori threw another knife.

    Alastair began to stand.

    Alpha Squad and all those around them looked on.

    A large beam struck from the middle of the stadium, aiming right upwards and leaving a great hole in the floor.

    Then, the explosion ripped outwards, shaking the stadium to the point that Serena and Clemont were both pitched forward, the knife sailing overhead. Four shapes dropped from the sky, one of them kicking into Matori and sending her tumbling forward, as a larger shape seemed to plummet and impact loudly just outside the structure they were all battling in. That was enough for Serena to grab on to Clemont, pulling him forward as Alastair began to run.

    "Braixen, after him!" Serena shouted, looking over to the site of the explosion and widening her eyes. The entire stadium had been blasted apart, or at least one side of it, almost nothing left but the crumbling skeleton of what used to be stairs. In this case, nothing else was left either. Nanu, Toll, Louise, Persian and Beedrill were all gone, scattered into ashes, with the explosion having claimed all but Camerupt, no longer stirring as it slammed to the ground. Cheers rose up, even as Kahili shook her head at Nanu's crazy sacrifice and Acerola fell to her knees in shock. Either way, it bought them the time they needed.

    "Braixen!" Braixen shouted and she sent a Hidden Power hurtling out. Serena took hold of Clemont's hand and they began to skip down the steps, looking upwards to see that Team Rocket had been the descenders, now grabbing hold of Matori with Leech Seed from Gourgeist. Jessie smirked and held a thumbs up to Serena, urging her onwards. That pushed her forward until she reached the edge of the stands. The silver orbs slammed into Alastair, nearly tripping him up, but he didn't stop running, though Serena heard him mutter.

    "Toll…Louise…we'll finish your will. Let it be reborn in our perfect world."

    "We won't let that happen!" Clemont shouted, he and Serena reaching the edge, and pitching themselves over to tumble into the stadium as yet another Hyper Beam ripped through the surface. The battle wasn't over yet, and they knew it. "We'll stop you, because we don't want your perfection or a new world. And we won't lose anyone else along the way!"

    "Bring it on!" Serena shouted. Gengar materialized as Alastair stopped running, snarling at them. Then all six ran at each other as Ho-oh's screeches of pain and control continued to fill the air.


    *Chapter to be continued in next post...

  21. #46
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    Chapter continued from last post.

    "Aerial Ace, Greninja, let's go!" Ash shouted, running once more at Deirdre. Altaria finished transforming, the glow exuding from its body as it emerged, swathed in even more voluminous clouds of cotton around its body. Greninja blitzed forward, as well. The two were about to reach their targets at the same time, though Ash was there first, snapping his leg out. This time, he moved faster than the woman could anticipate, snapping it into her side.

    "Hyper Beam, sweetheart!" Deirdre called. She had dropped the smile, now her own leg moving outwards, courtesy of Marshadow. Altaria's voice rang out, beautiful to the ear, but deadly, and then it fired the Hyper Beam. However, it wasn't dark like before, but made of pink sparkles that cut through the ground, leaving a great chasm. Greninja dodged to the side, and whipped his leg upwards. Ash did the same, forcing Deirdre to break off and step back. His Pokémon's attack found its mark, slamming Altaria on its belly with the attack.

    "Iron Tail!" Ash yelled, bringing his leg back to whip around and throw his elbow forward. Deirdre charged in and their bodies locked in place. Pikachu bounded into the air, tail shining brightly.

    "Dragon Pulse!" Ash grimaced as Altaria shot forward, its large cloud plumage ruffling as it did so. Its beak opened, shooting out a massive, writhing dragon that arched through the air and chomped upon Pikachu, bringing him down to the ground with an explosion and a cry. Deirdre hit upwards and elbowed Ash in the stomach. He didn't let that deter him from sweeping his leg and causing her to stumble. His eyes flashed, and he felt Greninja get into the air behind Altaria.

    "Water Shuriken!" Ash yelled, Greninja's cry answering. They both reached behind themselves to grab the giant shuriken. However, while Greninja tossed his, letting it collide with Altaria's back, Ash brought his arms swinging around to knock into Deirdre's head. She pitched to the side, but righted herself in moments before leaping forward with a kick. "Quick Attack!"

    "Sky Attack!" the woman countered. Her leg moved extraordinarily fast, making contact with Ash's chest and sending him flying backwards, onto his behind. Altaria glowed golden, seeming almost giant in the darkness and faint rainbow light of the meteonite. It soared forth, making a beeline for Pikachu, whose own body was glowing white as he ran.

    "Pika pika pika…" Pikachu huffed out. Then he leapt forward into the air, making contact with Altaria. The two strained, a golden shockwave rippling out as Ash flipped himself up. Deirdre was already running, her fists bared to make a beatdown upon him. Pikachu looked to Ash, and he grinned, nodding. In seconds, Pikachu took action. "…CHUUUUUUUUUU!"

    The Thunderbolt consumed Altaria's figure, causing its cotton to spark, and Ash's hair went on end from the static in the air. Greninja landed, running forward, and Ash crossed his arms while Deirdre came at him. At the sides of the room, Gladion and Guzma looked to be trying to sit up, watching him fight as numerous blasts and explosions sounded out from above. Greninja clasped at his side, bringing out his sharp, watery kunai. Deirdre reached him, punching out, as she called her command. "Hyper Beam!"

    "Cut!" Ash called in return. Altaria's voice shouted outwards, whirling away from Pikachu and aiming for Greninja, the pink blaze of Hyper Beam shooting outwards with great force. Ash and Greninja both braced themselves as the blast shuddered through their bodies. Deirdre's fists reached Ash's arms, battering against them quickly, Marshadow clearly giving his all in supporting Deirdre's blows. Greninja hunkered down, fighting against the blast of Hyper Beam consuming him.

    "Greeeeeeenin!" Greninja croaked out, and with a powerful slash, he rent the beam apart, fractals of light splitting apart from where the beam was. Ash split his arms, knocking away Deirdre's fists before throwing his own upwards, slamming into her stomach. One of her free fists sailed outwards and nailed him on the face.

    "Iron Tail!"

    "Chuuuu pika!" Pikachu yelled, whipping his glowing tail upwards. This time, he found his mark on Altaria's exposed stomach, its clouds jiggling a bit. Greninja was on the move, populating the area with his doubles.

    "Aerial Ace!" All the Greninja nodded, each making a straight beeline for Altaria, their fists glowing. Ash charged forward, but Deirdre shot her arms out to lock with his, holding him in place with a snarl.

    "Draco Meteor!" Deirdre called. Ash continued to push against her, but the shadow wouldn't budge whatsoever. Marshadow was holding steady, not allowing Deirdre to lose. Meanwhile, Altaria rose into the air. "I have to admit, you're very strong. I never expected you to-"

    "Shut up!" Ash shouted. He lifted his arm up and broke free. He punched forward, but now the shadow gave way, causing his strike to miss.

    "Altaaaaaaaaar!" Altaria cried as its whole cloud plumage glowed orange and sent the meteors flying from its back. They rained outwards, falling upon the ground, even aiming for Ash, himself. He broke off. Pikachu raced along with a Quick Attack, not needing the order to avoid the blow that was coming for him. Greninja's copies began to vanish, and before they knew it, one of the hurtling projectiles struck the amphibian on the chest.

    "Gah!" Ash shouted, feeling the burning blow on his own chest before one of the meteors struck him as well, making Greninja cry out in further pain. He was thrown back, slamming into a wall. Deirdre was running along. "E-Electro Ball!"

    "Chu pi!" Pikachu shouted, the orb of electricity forming at the end of his tail. Having avoided the last of the meteors, he flung the orb upwards. It once more made contact with the cloud, sparks absorbed within it. Ash's mind, fighting through the pain, could already see a strategy forming, but there was no time to enact it, not with Deirdre upon him, raising her leg up to slam down on him. He rolled away.

    "Hyper Beam!"

    "Deflect it with your shuriken!" Ash roared out. He rolled back on to his feet, holding his hands forth like a shield. Greninja did the same, clutching to his giant liquid blade, just as Altaria fired upon him. The pink-tinged beam slammed outwards, churning up the ground on its path to Greninja, catching Pikachu in its wake and tossing him backwards. Deirdre made her assault by beating into Ash's arms, but he didn't give in.

    "Niiiiiin…" Greninja cried, holding the shuriken up as the Hyper Beam slammed into it. He held on, battling against the super-effective attack. Then, he turned the shuriken and the beam shot upwards instead, breaking through the floor of the stadium that was above their heads. Stones scattered all around them, raining down upon their heads. The attack finished, Ash moved his arms, as if to throw the shuriken, and Greninja copied him. His arms came around and caught Deirdre on the side, now causing her to slam into the wall.

    "Troublesome, aren't you?" the auburn-haired woman spoke as the Water Shuriken made contact with Altaria. Her voice was filled with glee. "Sky Attack!"

    "Riia!" Altaria chirped out. Its body blazed with golden light and it shot forward. Before either Ash or Greninja knew it, the Ninja Pokémon was struck by the attack. Ash's eyes widened, feeling the pain flit through his body. Deirdre reached him, making a fierce uppercut to Ash's jaw. His head snapped back, flinching from the pain as he moved backwards.

    "Double Team! Pikachu, your turn!" Ash shouted, moving his jaw to ensure there was no lasting damage. Greninja, recovering from the strike on himself, began to spread his copies around the hallway. Near to one of them, the real one, was Pikachu, who leapt into Greninja's arms. The frog whirled around, and Ash did the same as Deirdre kicked out at him, causing her to miss. Pikachu was flung into the air. "Iron Tail, to the ground!"

    "Chuuuuu pika!" Pikachu cried, getting into the air above Altaria. He spun, tail shining brightly, especially in the darkness, before he brought that tail slashing down. It collided with Altaria's head, and carried it right to the floor, breaking apart the stones there with a grin.

    "Hyper Beam on all of them!" Deirdre commanded. Altaria's head raised from the ground, the sparks still contained in its large cloud plumage. It cried out, and the pink beam blasted forth. Pikachu ducked, rolling under the attack.

    "Converge in with Aerial Ace!" Ash shouted, swinging his fist outwards. All the Greninja copies moved inward. Altaria whipped its head around, the Hyper Beam flying all over the place. Some of the copies were hit by it, vanishing, and the walls were cut away by the fierce attack, making the whole hallway shudder horribly. However, Greninja reached his mark, and with a great glowing fist, slammed onto Altaria's head yet again. The Hyper Beam then found its mark. Greninja flew back while Ash grimaced, his own punch interrupted.

    "How fortunate!" Deirdre said with glee, her fist snapping outwards and hitting Ash on the nose. He felt blood trickle forth from it, though he just sniffed in, eliminating the issue. "I have to admit, I haven't felt my blood racing this much in a while. Not since Marshadow helped me to slaughter the ones that took my legs from me and Alastair's eye. No doubt a personal grudge as well, but we were all in that hellhole together because of him. Either way, thank you."

    "I don't want your thanks," Ash shouted, planting his foot on the ground with a snarl on his lips. "If that's what you think is exhilarating, then I don't even want to look at you, and knowing a Pokémon would help you do that willingly sickens me."

    "Oh? Surely your Pikachu would always remain loyal to you, even if you went to the darkness, right?" Deirdre spoke, the smirk once more appearing on her face. It just made Ash scowl all the more. "Marshadow and Altaria are loyal friends. They know my pain and my purpose, and are willing to drive for perfection; for a world where all is right again, as it should be. Dragon Pulse!"

    "Yeah? Well, there's the big difference," Ash said. Greninja and Pikachu landed next to each other, nodding, while Ash could feel their fighting spirit infusing his own. He raised a fist up. Altaria screeched into the air, and from its beam emerged a multi-headed hydra of a Dragon Pulse, snapping and writhing as it made itself fly into the air. "My Pokémon and friends are loyal, but if I ever lost my way, they'd bring me right back. Letting your trainer go down the path of darkness is no different than betraying the ones you care about most. It's no different than a trainer that leaves his Pokémon on the side of the road to die! And that's something I'd never allow! Cut!"

    "Ninja!" Greninja shouted. The hydra slammed down upon them all, and Greninja sliced forward, his kunai slashing outwards. Almost with a piercing scream, all seven heads of the Dragon Pulse were sliced off, exploding around the area as Greninja and Pikachu dashed into the smoke.

    "Pikachu, hit Altaria's back with as many Electro Balls as you can! Greninja, Water Shuriken!" Ash shouted. Deirdre was already upon him as he whipped his fist outwards, knocking hers away and jabbing upwards, striking her chest. She grimaced, but her hands whipped out to grab his arm and throw him. His back hit the wall, and he cried out, but didn't let himself fall.

    "Pika pika pika pika chu pi! Chu pi! Chu pi!" Pikachu cried, skidding along the ground as the electric orbs formed at his tail and fired upwards. Bit by bit, each Electro Ball made contact with the large cloud on Altaria's back, looking like a buzzing hive of electricity now. Greninja tossed his shuriken, ignoring the pain from previous attacks, to have it slam into Altaria's chest.

    "Now, from above! Aerial Ace, Iron Tail!"

    "Draco Mete-" Ash didn't let her finish her sentence. From his placement on the wall, his leg flew forward, hitting against her face. There was a brief moment where she was held in place, shocked, and then she was flung to the side, bouncing along the ground. Ash dropped his leg, while Greninja and Pikachu got above the Humming Pokémon. It was already glowing orange, but the other two were simply too fast, their fist and tail slamming straight down upon Altaria's head, knocking it once more into the ground, the Pokémon bouncing along to be near its trainer.

    "Yeah, come on, Ash!" Guzma roared. Gladion groaned, each of them clearly recovering from the devastating battle earlier. Seamus looked up.

    "End this!" he roared. Ash raised his wrists up and crossed them, while Deirdre stood, shaking her head with a scowl. She roared something else out, sounding like another command for a Hyper Beam. Altaria rose its head from the ground, pointing straight out at them.

    "Deirdre, you may have faced pain, but your way is never the answer!" Ash shouted, uncrossing them alongside Greninja. "You live for hope, not inflicting despair on others! That's how we build the future! People and Pokémon working together to enrich people's lives, like me, and Pikachu, and Greninja and all my friends. It's for them that we're finishing you together! Scorching Shuriken!"

    "Niiiiiiiiiiiinja!" Ash and Greninja's hands flung outwards, while whirling discs of fire appeared at Greninja's hands before they brought them up into one giant shuriken. Then, with a tremendous heave, they fired the blast of scorching water. Guzma could be heard chuckling, as though he remembered it. It sailed forward as the Hyper Beam blasted into it. However, it didn't stop, merely reflecting the Hyper Beam up through the surface of the ceiling yet again while the whole floor shook. The shuriken continued whirring along, slicing up the walls with great force before finally reaching its target. Ash smirked.

    The fiery shuriken made contact with all of the buzzing electricity surrounding Altaria's figure, just as intended. There was a brief moment of silence, punctuated only by the trickling rubble. Then the air exploded, the heatwave pushing Ash backwards a little while Greninja and Pikachu held on to the ground tightly. The column of scorching water blasted upwards, consuming the air and driving through to the stadium above. Ash just waited until the rumbling finished, his hair fluttering in the breeze of the attack as he waited.

    Finally, the smoke seemed to clear, and Altaria was fallen, its Mega Evolved form fading away.

    Deirdre, however, was still standing. She looked a little roughed up, but was striding forward, as if it didn't matter. It wasn't like her illusory form, but it certainly hadn't been a preferable state regarding her. Ash grimaced.

    "That…was quite a Z-Move," she spoke, almost chuckling with every single syllable spoken. Her hands lifted up and began to clap together. More rubble caved in from chunks of the ceiling breaking away, bouncing off the meteonite behind them all harmlessly. The sunset sky was now pouring in, illuminating all of their figures and the carnage that had taken place down below. Ash looked up for a second, eyes widening at what was just above the clouds: Ho-oh. There were also the sounds of a battle going on close by. "Ash Ketchum, the great Kalos and Alolan Hero! The man with two Z-Moves never before seen! I see why the younger generation was so obsessed with you. Hell, you even got my fire burning brighter for a few moments. I can appreciate that. It's why I knew choosing you was a risky gamble, but the best shot I had to hit two things at once in the best way possible.

    "You see, Ash, there is no living in this world for me or Marshadow. There is no hope. We're both just captives. For but a moment, we can help each other to walk, and be more, but only for a moment. But in a perfect world, everything will be made right. Marshadow will be free to live happily. Michael's plans will have amounted to nothing…and I can walk again."

    "You can still walk now! Just get up and move forward!" Ash shouted, flinging his arm out. Deirdre stopped, right beneath a beam of the sunset filtering in. She looked to him, and Ash could see everything written there on her face: the rage, the pain, the sadness, the resignation. She truly believed this to be the only way forward. There was a blaze of fire up above.

    "No. None of us can. But soon, we will. Alastair!"

    "Deirdre!" Ash shouted, and he and his Pokémon ran right for the woman. She snapped her look to them, and Marshadow popped out, his threaded shadows spreading outwards to lock all of them in place. Ash's body seized up, unable to move with the familiar feeling spreading through his limbs, his theory confirmed. The only thing he found himself able to move was his head, looking up.

    A blaze of electricity followed, and Ash could see the form of Luxray attacking something, like another wisp of shadow. Then a different form leapt down, onto a plinth of stone, and Ash's eyes widened, seeing Alastair standing there, gripping to a large feather from Ho-oh's body. Without a single look to him, the man dropped the feather.

    "Braixen!" Ash could hear Serena shouting, and a rocketing flame slammed outwards, which Alastair moved to avoid. There were footsteps overhead, as though Serena and Clemont were aiming for the second-in-command of IDEAL. Ash could briefly see his wife above, nearly avoiding a slash from Alastair, as the man attempted to gain distance. However, right in front of him, Deirdre grabbed hold of the feather, brimming with a rainbow brilliance as flecks of flame surrounded her clasped hand. It was mesmerizing…yet dooming. Deirdre smiled.

    "But you know…even though I cannot walk much, or for long, and my time is almost up…there is one thing I can do," Deirdre spoke, tucking the feather into her breast pocket, not a single blemish or imperfection upon it. She raised her wrists and crossed them, a ghostly chill coming from the Z-Ring upon her wrist with a smirk. "I can show you my Z-Move."

    "Your Z-Move?" Gladion coughed out, and it became obvious to Ash that none of them could move much either. Her arms uncrossed, raising themselves in the ghostly fashion that Ash was all too familiar with when it came to Decidueye. Her smile reached full bloom as she spread them apart. Z-Power filled the air, lighting up the shadow behind her, and even her body itself.

    "Marshadow's rather unique. You fight as one with your Greninja, do you not?" Deirdre questioned. She vanished, reappearing like a wisp of a shadow right before Ash's immobilized body. "Well, so do we."

    Then she punched outward. The force hit Ash, making him feel his bones cracking. Then came another, well-placed strike, forcing his arm to be useless. Then another on his leg, snapping the bone in two. It was far more powerful than anything Ash had felt before, supported by Marshadow's strength. Two more were placed to his chest, while another struck his head. Six strikes in all. Marshadow let his body go, and he began to crumple.

    "Ahhh ah…" he gasped out, the pain fully radiating down his body. Greninja was reacting, too, feeling the pain right alongside him. Pikachu was whipping around worriedly, before sending a searing Thunderbolt out for the shadows. It scorched along the ground, but did nothing as the shadow coiled up, jumping into the air, and aiming for a final strike with Deirdre's leg.

    "No! Stop it!" Guzma roared out. He could move now, it seemed, but his body held little strength. "He's your boy Guzma's to beat! You leave him alone!"

    "Soul-Stealing Seven-Star Strike!" Deirdre cried, and with that final show of force, impacted with Ash's chest. He froze a moment, eyes wide with pain. Greninja gagged, and then slumped forward, his form fading away. Then Ash was chucked backwards, flying through the air until he slammed upon the meteonite, feeling its red-hot energy beneath him. The paling around it seemed to fall from the strike, but it hardly mattered. Ash collapsed, rolling to the ground as he heaved, feeling wounds open up around his entire body. Once more, Gladion, Guzma and Seamus froze, while Deirdre stalked forward, untucking the still shining feather, resonating with Ho-oh's power.

    "To be honest, as long as the Alpha and Omega were one, we could have used its properties to start restoring the world to what we wanted from the very beginning. The big reset, as it were," Deirdre explained as she approached. Ash coughed, spitting some blood out from the immense damage he'd taken. "However, that's not very perfect, is it? Things went wrong with this world, so why would we want to make it just to go wrong again? No, we decided on a longer but ultimately more efficient plan. One that will take time once the process has begun, but will create perfection for everyone."

    "What…are you…?" Ash couldn't finish the sentence, though it hardly mattered, Deirdre reached him, and pulled him up by the hair, touching the feather to the blood that was coming from him. It shined, reaching all the more with the colors of the rainbow, the fire almost burning around it, like it was indicative of the roiling rage inside of Deirdre.

    "Your blood, Ash. We needed your blood," Deirdre explained. She stood, looking at the meteonite, while Marshadow emerged behind her. "You see, like your friend Bonnie had a connection with Zygarde, or Lillie with that Solgaleo in the Ultra Space, you had a connection with Ho-oh. The blood of many was used to draw it here, to activate the Omega again. It's just the same as how all of the blood shed at the points directed energy to this one place. In the end, its powers joined with the Alpha, the beginning and ending of this world. However, because that blood is merely the indication of all breaking down, we needed your blood, combined with Ho-oh's 'blood', its feather, to convince it that all this is coming to an end. To pull out its true power, just like Zygarde and Solgaleo so long ago. Almost like an anchor, and a remote control.

    "Well, really, we just needed the meteonite for its world altering properties and Ho-oh's feather to restore those ties. Your blood is the trigger to bring out the full power under our command, regardless of our little machines, and only those that reacted to Ho-oh today would have been good enough."

    "Ties…?" Gladion choked out. "You don't mean…" Deirdre's smirk stretched wider.

    "Yes. I. Do," was the response. "What if, in another world, I didn't lose my legs. Or your father didn't die. What if we could join all the universes, once separated, now whole, together. Pick and choose the best parts, and cull the worst. A long process, and one IDEAL has chosen to oversee, but in the end, the result: a perfect world. All we needed was the trigger to open those portals once again."

    "And then what? All that would do is put us right back where we were!" Seamus roared, straining against the shadows that bound him. Deirdre looked at him and smiled, swiftly giving a rather disdainful look to Merry, splayed across the ground.

    "That's what Marshadow is for."

    Then Deirdre plunged the blood-crusted feather towards the meteonite, not wasting a second more. It touched to it, and after a brief second, light burst outwards. It wasn't the same rainbow light, but the green that Ash remembered from so long ago. The ground glowed with it, as well, and Marshadow flitted out of the shadows, aiming for the meteonite itself. Deirdre fell, but no one there had the strength to move or stop it. She just began to laugh.

    "Aha! Aha! Ahahahaha! Just wait and see, boys! Perfection! The ideal world!" Deirdre cried, her eyes widening with madness from her prone position. In her hands, swirling with controlled power, the feather glowed all the brighter. The ground began to rumble and shake, and Ash could see the walls start to disintegrate, and even the ceiling above. Ripples appeared in the now darkening sky outside, leaving nothing but night behind. However, the stars were fading, being replaced with larger portals, created by beams that were firing from the meteonite and the ground. Flames sprouted from the air, reviving the once dead connections.

    "No…"

    "Pikapi!" Pikachu cried, dashing over to Ash and resting up against him. Screams were heard outside at the sight in the skies, and Deirdre kept laughing, even as her legs were bent at disturbing angles.

    "Pikachu…stop…Mar…sha…" Ash couldn't get it out, his strength failing him from the pain erupting around his body. Deirdre looked at him, offering a sad smile.

    "Don't worry…You'll be just fine. I want you for the new world, Ash, and killing you would make all this useless," the woman spoke. Ash's vision was fading, his fingers twitching, and all he could do was continue to stare as the shadowy threads erupted from the meteonite. They tied into the ground, as if pulling up the energy from there, before then shooting for the portals in the sky. "Marshadow will just tie all the universes together, just as the Alpha and Omega had intended long ago, all for us to pick and choose. Realities will blend. Universes will mix and mingle, tying together as one; intersecting. This world will break down in the meantime, more or less, but it'll turn out all right in the end."

    "Chuuu!" Pikachu cried, disagreeing as he sent a Thunderbolt for the meteonite. It did nothing. The shadows attached to the rippling portals, and with a tremendous yank, they seemed to all come falling down, pulling in to that one point that was the meteonite. The feather, and Ho-oh above, shined more brilliantly, consuming the space with a cleansing fire. Ash reached forward, right for Pikachu, and touched to his partner, barely holding on to his strength.

    The portals and the shadows touched, and bright light shined outwards, while Deirdre remained holding to the feather. She held it high, resonating with the meteonite…no, the Alpha, and the Omega below them.

    "Come to us! Our new world! This is the end of everything! And the beginning of all!" she shouted. Then, as if she was controlling the whole process herself, the light ruptured from the feather, ripping outward. Ash felt his consciousness fading, slipping away, as though being dragged into a void that was opening beneath him. Cries were echoing in his brain from the feather, and the space beyond, like so many voices were being consumed by the darkness, tying together, just as she'd said.

    "Yo! The hell you doin'? !" Guzma cried, as though being sucked in, himself. Even Gladion was struggling against it all. "Lemme go!"

    "No…You'll simply sleep, until it is time. Sleep in the shadows of the Alpha's eclipse," Deirdre spoke. The walls continued to disintegrate, and all Ash could see, before he was sucked in with Pikachu entirely, was the shape of Alastair leaping down, a hand scrabbling and grabbing for his flapping trench coat. All he could hear was Deirdre's voice. "I hope we'll meet again, Ash, in the new world. I hope then, you'll understand why this was our only hope. Goodbye."

    Then Ash was sucked into the rift, and the world as he knew it, was eclipsed with a disintegrating light.

    IDEAL had won.


    Author's Note: How's that for a cliffhanger? The bad guys won. I hope the explanation for what was needed wasn't too confusing. To simplify: they wanted Ho-oh to restore the ties that were broken in Tribulations, and since the Alpha and the Omega caused them in the first place, they needed to use them both and activate it. Ash's blood was the trigger, because he was so tied with Ho-oh, to bring out Ho-oh's true power. Then Marshadow stitched the universes together with its shadows and combined them all, which caused everyone but IDEAL to be dragged into the rift.

    However! This is not the end of the story! Oh, no! What will happen now that they've won? That's something you'll just have to figure out and see next time. I think it'll be a most exciting and stunning conclusion for you all! Or, I hope so.

    The climax has nearly reached its end, and I hope you'll see the road through with me. Until that time comes, please Review and Dare to Be Silly.

  22. #47
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    I was in a very Fullmetal Alchemist mood when I wrote this chapter. To that end, there's a certain part here (the fourth section), that more or less goes with the song "Envy Revealed" and after a certain speech is taken over by the opening "Rain" by SID. Trust me, it sets the mood. Time for Chapter 24!


    Chapter 24

    A Reminder

    "IT'S OVER!" boomed the voice across the stadium. The rising cheer of the crowd split the night sky, and the general enthusiasm skyrocketed. Ash felt himself coming to grin, despite how exhausted he was, slight aching settling into his bones. He was pretty sure the screams could be heard all the way into the city with how excited the crowd was. "The winner of this year's Kalos Team Tournament is TEAM KETCHUM!"

    "Yes! Great job, Ash!" he could hear May's voice crying out over the surging crowd. Following her pleasant voice was Dawn's.

    "I told you, May! No need to worry!" He had to let out a laugh at that, seeing the two Coordinators up above in the stands, embracing each other with happiness. Ash just let out a breath, looking to his teammates. They all looked exhausted from the day's activities, as well, but there were jubilant smiles upon their faces, showing that they were still willing to partake in all of the celebrations.

    "Great job, Serena! You won!" Shauna was crying out, leaping onto the field for her best friend and rival. Ash had to smile at that, even though Tierno danced over seconds later to flirt with the girl. To that, Ash's hand twitched, as though recalling the feeling of her hand in his. It had been a nice feeling, and one he couldn't shake. For a moment, he felt like he'd done it many times before.

    "Pikapi!" Pikachu cried, and Ash turned with a grin towards his best partner, leaping through the air. Ash laughed and caught Pikachu, while the rest of his rambunctious teammates moved to join him. Noibat took the longest, but Hawlucha was right at his side, and when they had all reached Ash's location, Hawlucha jumped in with great glee.

    "Hachacha!" Hawlucha cheered, pumping his fist before gliding in for a hug. Talonflame was there, too, crying loudly with spread wings. Before Ash knew it, even Greninja had leapt on to their pile, each of them laughing. Gary seemed to find the sight rather funny, himself, laughing heartily in the moment.

    "Yeah, guys! We won! And it was all thanks to you helping our whole team through the tournament! You're all awesome!" Ash proclaimed, reaching his hand upwards with a fist. They all did the same, suddenly tumbling off of Ash's figure and onto the stadium floor with their loud and boisterous cheers. Yet even with how loud they all were, it was still lost in the overall jubilation.

    "You did a great job, Ash," called the voice of Brock, the breeder-turned-doctor extending a hand to Ash. He grinned at his best friend and reached up, clasping it and allowing himself to be pulled up, Pikachu clinging cheerily to his shoulder. "That Greninja of yours is really something else. And Pikachu, of course."

    "Pika!" Pikachu agreed, raising a paw into the air. Brock reached out with a smile, petting the small electric mouse on the head. Brock soon retracted his hands and shoved them into his pockets.

    "You've come a long way since we battled at the Pewter Gym, and I couldn't be prouder," the doctor said. "A strong trainer and a leader, someone who inspires others. I'm glad to have known you, Ash."

    "Hey, I couldn't have done any of that without all of you!" Ash insisted, his eyes flicking over to Clemont, speaking with his sister and Conway, to his immense surprise. What caught his eyes most of all, however, was Serena, walking over to speak with the defeated Seamus and just speaking calmly with him. He seemed sullen, and disbelieving, but still she spoke with him.

    In Ash's eyes, she was that burst of color in a world of black and white that he'd asked Dawn about. She'd just laughed at it, teasing him about it, but Ash still hadn't been able to figure out what it was that was going on inside of him. Brock, however, seemed to know, because he nudged Ash a little, causing the boy to look at him.

    "She's someone special, too," Brock told him, his narrowed eyes smiling at Ash. The raven-haired trainer tilted his head, trying to make out what he was trying to say to him. Then, Brock's hand came out and clapped him on the back, pushing him towards Serena with a grin. "I might not have found my perfect someone, even if I'd like some more time with Aria, but without her encouraging you, I wonder where you'd be."

    "She…she said she wanted to tell me something," Ash said. Pikachu cocked his head to the side, looking a little confused, but still smiling with the jubilation of victory. Brock gave him another push forward.

    "Then listen to her!" he laughed out. One more push was given, and Ash stumbled forward as Kalas' voice rang out across the stadium to address everyone there.

    "Ladies and gentlemen, let's get our combatants some food and drink. If you'll join me in the reception hall of Ancien Castle!" That seemed to get a very positive response, and Ash finished approaching Serena, who was still looking at Seamus and his Alakazam.

    "Serena," he spoke, and the girl whipped around. Her honey blonde hair framed her beautiful blue eyes along with such a brilliant smile that it drew one straight out of him. "You…said you wanted to tell me something, when it was over?"

    Her eyes seemed to light up, hand flying up to the familiar blue ribbon on her chest, and she stepped forward. Ash swallowed, feeling as breathless as the girl that was about to speak to him. Then she opened her mouth, and he listened. "Ash, I…I'm…

    "I don't…quite know how to put it, Ash, but seeing you battling, inspiring me and others, it makes my heart about to burst." Ash tilted his head now, not quite understanding what she wanted to say to him. However, it didn't take all that long for him to finally understand the meaning, because Serena spoke and acted. "I love you, Ash Ketchum. I've loved you for a while now, and I promised I would tell you what I needed to. It's okay if you don't accept my feelings, but I…I love you."

    Then Serena stepped forward, and before Ash knew it, she'd kissed him. He was shocked, eyes blinking, while a blush spread over Pikachu's face and his ears curled in. He wasn't the only one, but Ash could only stand there as Serena drew back, blushing madly and looking positively mortified. However, he could only stand there in complete awe of her actions, watching her. Now it made a lot more sense. Clarity was entering his mind as he understood what had been burgeoning inside him the last few days…no, the last few months, since he'd asked her to journey with him.

    "Well…uh…" he stammered out, unable to figure out quite how to answer. She seemed to cast her eyes downward, looking nervous as her hands went behind her back. He found it a little cute, but he didn't like her looking so scared, so his hands came out and grabbed to her own. That made him look into her eyes as she lifted her head. "I like you, too. In a weird way. Not like you're weird, or anything like that. It's…hmmm…"

    "Pikapi…" Pikachu chastised him with a shaking head, but he could only laugh with that.

    "I mean like, more than a friend way, if that makes any sense," Ash said, still chuckling out. Serena seemed to look less nervous now. "Uh…if that's love…I don't know…"

    "It's…a step," Serena responded. She now was smiling again, and Ash had to admit that he liked that. Like he'd seen it for his whole life together with her. He gripped her hands tighter and stepped closer, while her face continued to heat up.

    "Well, maybe we can take that kind of step together?" His question was truly heartfelt, and she seemed to notice that. She tiptoed up one more time, filled with as much bravery as she'd shown during the tournament, and kissed him one more time. This time, it made a lot more sense, and as she came back down, she nodded, keeping her hand clasped in his.

    "I'd like that." Ash kept smiling and, holding his hand in hers, the two turned towards their rather flabbergasted friends. They walked forward, but for a moment, Ash stopped, and he looked back.

    Something felt…wrong.

    He stayed there, staring into the crowd of trainers that had gathered in the stadium, and thought, for just a second, that he could see the smoky, shadowy form of a girl wearing a smirk, as though taunting him. Her hand seemed to be outstretched, as if waiting for him to take it and pull him forward. His own hand slackened around Serena's. He knew her. He knew that girl, but she seemed to vanish with a breeze.

    Who was she? His heart started to hurt, as though a piece of him had been indelibly ripped away, but he just didn't realize yet. What had culminated in a perfect day for him, now felt so wholly incomplete. Something was missing, and he had to wonder if it all had to do with that girl who wasn't there. Pain…why is there pain…?

    "Ash?" Serena's voice called him back, and he looked to the girl that had confessed to him. He'd like to think she was his girlfriend, if what Misty had blabbered on about back in the day made any sense. "Is there something wrong?"

    "N-no, it was just…" Ash took one look back, the girl having vanished entirely. He still felt like there was something missing, strange as it was, but he pushed that away to turn to his girlfriend with an ever-brilliant smile. "Everything's just fine. It's perfect."


    The sky was dark.

    The air was silent.

    It was a void in which nothing existed.

    Or almost nothing.

    Large, black orbs surrounded the space, spread out like ominous gravestones that seemed to cover all. Yet, despite that, they also seemed clear, like one could peer deep into its depths and catch sight of what was swirling inside its portents. They were even illuminated as such by the glowing bird high above, held thrall inside the rift that contained those orbs. The only thing left of any true physical substance was the stadium, itself, multiple pieces of it crumbled away, leaving only the remaining stands, also covered in stone and debris. Even the floor itself, though, was cracked and crumbled inward, much of its space disintegrated.

    One of the bubbles pulsed, and Deirdre looked up. Above her head, the meteonite yet shined, and the shadow that had knitted all the universes together with it, each one represented by the globes that were visibly hanging about the space high in the sky, shot out to materialize in front of her. She smiled at the little one, reaching out to pat him on the head.

    "Very good job, Marshadow," she spoke softly. He seemed to like it, his head swaying back and forth. Seeing that, and being proud of the little one, she gripped to the feather in her hand, thinking about the one who had made it possible. It burned with fire; a fire only she could control, matched with the one held in stasis above. The orb in front of her shined a little, as though altering something in a small way. Perhaps a match he might have thought he'd win. "Just a little longer, I suppose."

    "Deirdre," called the calm voice of her closest confidant. She turned on the ground to see that Alastair was there, a small pile of rubble below, broken in from the stadium like stairs to the top. He looked fairly roughed up, as though he'd been through quite a bit more troublesome fighting that she would have expected of him. Still, he walked forward, hands in his pockets. His Gengar was still with him, not seeming to be Mega Evolved, while Aegislash was at his side. "It succeeded?"

    "Yes," was her answer, smiling a bit. She leaned back, looking to her broken legs. Marshadow seemed concerned, wanting to dive back into her shadow, but she shook her head, patting him on the head. It wouldn't take too long yet. "Each universe is tied to the meteonite, which is tied to here. All that's left is making full use of Ho-oh's power to restore the world."

    "Certainly seems broken down enough," Alastair commented, glancing around the space. Deirdre couldn't disagree. The stands were cracked and ruined, with stones having fallen everywhere. In the dark nothingness of the space that they were all standing in, or in her case, sitting, nothing much else could be seen, save for the golden glow of Ho-oh above, still held in thrall by Gengar and the device. Along with them in the still intact hall were five black orbs that were closest to them, each containing someone (or some Pokémon) in their perfect sleep. The sky and space beyond he stadium was naught but a swirling mass of dark, spatial energy. "At least we were smart enough to preserve the stadium as a staging ground."

    "It couldn't be helped," was Deirdre's response to that particular observation. "The Omega is the last remnant of the old world, and thus, the base for the new one. Once we've finished parsing through what should be kept and what should be culled, choosing the best path for perfection, we can remake this space as needed."

    "So long as Ho-oh's power holds out." Deirdre scoffed at that one. Alastair chuckled a little and shook his head, like she shouldn't have bothered to say anything in the first place. Of course, Ho-oh would be able to hold out for as long as necessary, especially with Ash's blood used. So long as he remained tied to that perfection, either one of the two beings, they would be just fine for holding the power to remake the world as needed. And even so, Ho-oh would easily be born again in the new world. Deirdre breathed out, and could already feel a sense of simple life flowing into their new world. Pieces beyond the stadium were beginning to be built upwards.

    "I'm glad I was able to pull you in, Alastair," Deirdre spoke, looking up to the man. He nodded, smiling softly at her prone form. Further down the hallway that still existed was Altaria, though her faithful Pokémon didn't seem to be getting up yet, remaining exhausted from its earlier tussle; clearly Ho-oh's power wasn't all encompassing, and she had to maintain it, besides. "The world would be very lonely without you. What of the others? I tried to focus on keeping them here rather than being sucked in to the void."

    "Toll and Louise are dead," Alastair noted, his voice heavy with a sense of bereavement he was now allowing himself to feel. Deirdre closed her eyes, shaking her head with sadness. Knowing that was rather heartbreaking.

    "That's unfortunate. I really wanted them to see the new world with us," she replied. Her legs twitched, and she looked to them, already noticing them beginning to untwist themselves. Her eyes brightened up and she looked to Alastair. "How did they die?"

    "Nanu. Crazy bastard blew himself up with them," the man noted. Deirdre nodded her head and breathed outwards, blowing some of the dust up into the air. Little stars were starting to populate the void in the sky, showing that the base of the world was beginning to stitch itself back together. That was fine. "Ho-oh can't restore them? It is a phoenix, after all."

    "No, sadly not. It would take too much power to do so, and that would just be a waste," Deirdre responded, shaking her head with a sense of sadness. Those two had been with her for so long: Toll with his zeal to make the new world, and Louise with taking care of her legs, and what remained of her life in the old world. Now, it was hard to believe that the two were gone. "We'd lose what little power we had, and no one out of this space could be restored, I'm afraid. Ho-oh isn't omnipotent. But at least they went down fighting an admirable foe. I can sing their praises for that."

    "Indeed. The man gave me some trouble, after all," Alastair laughed out with a light bark. Deirdre, too, laughed with him, feeling rather light in their victory. Suddenly, Alastair offered a hand to her, while Marshadow continued looking on, hand at its mouth. "Surely, it's better now. Can you stand for me, Deirdre?"

    "Yes, I think I can try," the auburn-haired woman said, and she reached up to clasp her hand in Alastair's. It felt warm from all of the battles, and she prepared herself for searing hot pain. However, as Alastair lifted her up, she found there was none of that. No pain. No lightness. No…nothingness. She could feel again. Better yet, she felt normal again. "Hah! Hahaha!"

    "It worked?" Alastair asked once more, but this time it was a completely different topic. Deirdre took a tentative step forward, but found it easy to do so, her foot clamping down on to the dirt. Tears rose in her eyes. Alastair rose up, touching to his fake eye, and recoiled at the touch. "A new world…Perhaps I won't have to keep that promise after all."

    "I can walk again!" Deirdre cried. She turned on her feet, almost twirling with a smile on her face, before facing the still glowing meteonite, and the orb that was clearly Ash's own dream world beneath it. Marshadow was also there, wearing a smile upon his own face.

    "Mar mar mar mar!" he clapped out happily. She grinned to him and leaned down, patting the ghostly Gloomdweller Pokémon on the head.

    "You must be feeling better, too, yes?" she asked of the little one, and he nodded. Indeed, his body looked more substantial, and of a less smoky quality. They still seemed tied together for a moment but, finally, Deirdre felt whole again. Everything Michael had done was finally for naught. They were righting it in one fell swoop. Without the slightest hesitation, Deirdre walked up to the shining orb with Ash inside and peered into it. The boy there was battling a Gym Leader, Wulfric, effortlessly defeating him. "They must be nice dreams."

    "You think? It will be hard to pick out what will make the world the most perfect," Alastair noted, approaching her, himself. "Until then, you'll need to focus and keep the feather and meteonite safe. If the process is interrupted-"

    "I know, Alastair. You're such a worrywart." He shrugged, as though it was in his job description to worry so much. Deirdre, however, exhaled, finally feeling like she could truly breathe again. "But I always appreciated that. It was that kind of bond that got me through our days in that horrible dungeon that Michael had manipulated us into, before Marshadow arrived. You helped me to keep on this path. It's been a long road, but at last, we've made it. Now, just a little more time. I suppose I should get to wor-"

    Cough!

    Deirdre's body froze a little, and she turned on her renewed feet, still held together by the space they were in, and the feather clasped to her side, her fist smoldering with its flames a little. More of Ancien City seemed to be rebuilding itself, but it was such a slow process that she paid it no mind. Instead, she and Alastair were looking towards the pile of rubble that he had come from. It was an unexpected sound, and not one Deirdre had thought they would hear at all. Not in this empty space where all but she and the rest of her comrades were meant to be. There was another cough that sounded out, and then the rubble suddenly moved, shifting and soon tumbling aside with a plume of dust. More coughing resulted, while both Deirdre and Alastair watched.

    "The…future is now…" coughed out a male voice, straining as something seemed to be pushing aside the stones. It seemed to be a giant hand, holding tightly against a large stone. It was soon helped by two Pokémon, what looked like a Luxray and a Braixen.

    "…thanks to…science," chuckled out an equally hacking female voice. Deirdre's eyes sharpened, a scowl now adorning her features. There was yet another crash, and finally, the figures in the middle of the dust stood upright, framed by the glow of the meteonite in that space. Deirdre glanced at it, making sure it was still holding steady and saw more of the stadium's stands crumble away onto what remained of the stadium floor, now easily accessible. "Thanks for that quick thinking after we were forced to let go of him. That rubble could have killed us!"

    "Well, you know I'm always prepared for these kinds of situations." The Luxray barked, as if chastising his trainer, while Alastair stepped forward. The woman before them chuckled out.

    "Right…now, where are we?"

    "How are you here, is my question?" Alastair shouted out, and finally the dust began to fade away. Gengar swiveled back and forth, almost looking worried as the full forms were revealed. "I left you atop the stadium, Serena, Clemont. You and everyone but IDEAL were supposed to be absorbed inside the rift until the new world was fully formed."

    "Fully…?" Clemont questioned. Serena looked to him with concern, and the inventor seemed to be thinking the whole situation out. Deirdre's lips twisted, feeling rather annoyed. This wasn't supposed to be possible. They had planned it out perfectly. Even Ash, the biggest thorn in their side, was taken out of commission, so how…? Clemont looked up, and then slammed a fist into his palm. "Oh, I get it!"

    "Mind sharing, Clemont?" Serena asked. He turned to her, adjusting his glasses, but Deirdre felt all the more annoyed. They were so close, and now things had to be interrupted by such an issue. Alastair didn't seem to take kindly to it, either, walking forward slowly as Clemont seemed to explain the situation to Serena.

    "Well, I mean, they're making a new world," Clemont explained to her. She nodded her head. "That can't be done in a second. Even Arceus had to spend time doing a lot of stuff. They must have taken everything to a safe space similar to Arceus' own realm in order for things to be held until they could finish the process."

    "That doesn't understand how you're…" Alastair cut himself off, and Deirdre looked to her steadfast friend. Both Serena and Clemont faced forward, their top Pokémon moving to be in front of them defensively. Alastair rose his hand up, and knocked himself on his head. "My apologies, Deirdre, it would appear I made a miscalculation."

    "That's unlike you, Alastair," Deirdre told him. He nodded, his eyes full of apology and asking for forgiveness. "Hmph, must have grabbed hold of you as the process of transferring to the void started. They were just pulled here right alongside you."

    "That would be my guess, as well. However," Alastair spoke. Aegislash once more unsheathed itself, falling back into the man's hands while he pressed to his keystone. Gengar transformed once more, smirking and snarling in the direction of Serena and Clemont. "You can leave them to me, my love. Your focus should be solely on creating the new world. I'll take out this trash."

    "You sound worried," Serena pointed out, and Deirdre could see the smile across her face. Clemont was the same, though he wore a rather confident smirk, instead. Deirdre stepped back, shielding Marshadow. "Like you didn't want us here."

    "And that means…you might have won, but there's still something we can do to stop you from here," Clemont pointed out, snickering a bit. Deirdre's lips twisted again angrily. She…no, they hadn't come this far, sacrificed so much for these upstarts to get in the way. Alastair was still walking forward. Clemont's gaze flicked skyward for a moment. "Maybe like destroying the meteonite, or freeing Ho-oh, or taking the feather back from you. I think any one of those will put a huge dent in your little plan."

    "Is that what you think?" Alastair called, his voice barking. Deirdre continued backwards, sliding underneath the meteonite and holding the feather upwards, still shining as powerfully as before. Above in the air, Ho-oh squawked loudly, while Deirdre focused in on rebuilding the space beyond. The meteonite shined, as did the floor beneath, the connection in a cycle to restore everything. Ash's own orb pulsed as well, in tandem with the burning flames of the phoenix. "Then you can go ahead and try. But for intruding and interfering with our plans, your own lives are forfeit!"

    "Not a chance!" the two yelled, but Deirdre just turned to the orb near her. She peered inside, Ash still contained within, and placed her hand upon it. He was still in his dream, thankfully, choosing from any options of the world available to him, though something seemed almost off. However, she chose not to focus on it. Time was ticking, and it was no longer on their side.




    "Let's go, Alain! WATER SHURIKEN!" Ash cried, raising his fist high into the air. Greninja did so, too, the watery disk beginning to spin as a large torrent covered his entire body. The shuriken heated up, almost like it was on fire, growing in size as it spun above Greninja's head. Ash looked across to the other side, watching as Alain gasped aloud.

    "BLAST BURN!" Alain cried, slamming his fist on to the ground. Charizard did the same, and the entire field began to churn and burn, rippling across the ground, right for Greninja, who sent his steaming Water Shuriken flying forward. The crowd in the stadium seemed to hold their breaths, and then the attacks slammed into their targets, exploding into steam and black smoke that covered the entire field. Ash waited, his breath exhaling for the result.

    Soon, it cleared, and Charizard dropped to a knee. Ash breathed out again, wondering if Greninja would fall…until Charizard slumped forward, slamming to the ground. His form faded, causing him to shrink, and his skin turned to the color of a normal Charizard. The referee stepped forward, holding his hand out to Ash's side, much to the raven-haired trainer's surprise. "Charizard is unable to battle! Therefore, the winner is Ash!"

    The crowd erupted with cheers, and Ash couldn't help the grin that blossomed on his face. They had won! They had won! He ran forward, turning to Greninja, whose form faded away as he heaved from the exhaustion of the fight. "Greninja, we did it!"

    "Nin," Greninja breathed out, clearly unable to support himself for much longer. Ash rushed under his powerful Pokémon, supporting him with his shoulders and a smile. The announcer was calling out Ash's victory, while Pikachu, still tired from the battle, leapt on to Ash's shoulder. From across the field, Alain was coming to greet him, having already returned Charizard. The two quickly met on the opposite side of the field.

    "Congratulations, Ash," Alain said, holding out his hand. Still supporting Greninja with one arm, Ash held his own hand out and joined it with that of his rival's. "I really thought I would defeat you, and prove that I was the strongest, but you managed to beat me in every possible way."

    "Thanks. You gave me a really tough fight! I can't ask for better!" Ash admitted with a grin. He exhaled into the air, aiming towards the sky as he looked back down. "To believe the first League that I'd actually win would be the Alola League."

    "Alola?" Alain questioned, his brow furrowing. Ash stopped, wondering why the older boy was acting like he'd said something almost funny. "You mean the Kalos League, right?"

    "Huh…? Oh, yeah!" Ash laughed out. Pikachu seemed worried, forehead scrunched in some sort of confusion. Ash's smile dropped a moment. Had he really said Alola? "Must've really tired my brain out from that battle."

    "Yeah…make sure you get some rest before the ceremony," Alain insisted, reaching out to pat Ash on the back. He smiled again and nodded, finally returning Greninja to his pokeball and turning back to the stadium. He looked upwards as he did so, seeing his friends all gathered in the stands. At the forefront of them seemed to be Serena, looking at him worriedly. For a moment, before he passed under the tunnel to the stadium hallways, he thought he saw her expression grow cold and questioning, but he ignored it, and soon entered the more silent hallways.

    His footsteps stopped. His hands began to shake. And as he spoke, his voice quivered to Pikachu. "We…we won…right?"

    "Pika…" Pikachu agreed, but he sounded just as full of trepidation as his trainer did. Ash looked up to his partner, eyes full of confusion.

    "Then…why doesn't it feel right?" he asked of his partner. Pikachu shook his head, clearly not having an answer to the question. "Winning the League, it should be perfect for us…but…it's not. It feels…wrong."

    Ash's gaze snapped up, seeing the shadowy figure down the hallways. No, not one, but multiple figures, each of them staring at him, beckoning him. There was something at the edge of his mind, yearning to speak with them. He began running down the hallway, aiming right for them, and he thought he saw Serena, though her hair was longer once again.

    At the front was that girl again, hand still outstretched towards him.

    "Ash!" He pulled to a stop, hearing Serena's voice. The real Serena. Or was she…? He didn't know, and as his body turned back to face the girl that he could now call his girlfriend, his face had disturbed features written all over it. "What's wrong?"

    "Nothing. I just…I thought I saw…you…" Ash questioned. Serena seemed to laugh a little, but it sounded hollow. Pikachu's fur bristled. He tried to shake his head. He'd won the League! This was supposed to be such a perfect moment! Yet…

    "Saw me? I came from behind you," Serena said. Ash's brow knitted itself. That wasn't her. That voice…that laugh…it wasn't hers. It wasn't Serena's. He turned around again, seeing the smoky figures that almost seemed to be calling out to him, like they'd been excised from his life. "But you were amazing! You won the Kalos League, your first one! Greninja was awesome."

    "But…I didn't use him…It was…" Ash's head was hurting. Why was this perfection so complicated? An image flashed across his eyes, one of a great white beast collapsing on a forested field while Pikachu hung on tightly to victory. "Serena…I don't understand…"

    Time seemed to freeze, as though someone was putting a hold on his life. Something was happening somewhere, but he didn't know what. He looked back to Serena, and her gaze had gone cold, disdainful. Only, he knew it wasn't Serena, even though he'd seen the face before. He even knew the question she was going to ask. "Who are you?"

    Ash's eyes widened, and he knew the answer. Knew it was resting on the tip of his tongue. In fact, out of everything, the answer to that seemed to come the clearest. Yet, just as the words reached his lips, he felt like the floor was shattering beneath him and Pikachu. His hand reached outward, hoping to grab for Serena's, but she didn't reach, just watching him fall. Ash sunk down into the abyss, voices ringing in his head as more images that were contradictory and made no sense flitted across his eyes. All he could do was utter two names, as though crying for them to fix what seemed to have gone wrong inside his brain.

    "Clemont…Serena…Help."


    *Chapter to be continued in the next post...

  23. #48
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    Chapter continued from last post.

    Serena flipped back, barely avoiding the slash that Alastair made with his Pokémon. The blade of Aegislash, still as sharp as ever, cut deep into the ground, making her eyes widen. They really were trying to kill them…and that just meant… "Braixen, Flamethrower!"

    "Brai!" Braixen shouted, jabbing her wand forward and sending the flames spurting out in a thick stream. Alastair halted, raising his shield upwards to block the attack streaming for him. It battered mercilessly against the shield, causing the air to heat up and billow around them, fluttering Serena's skirt. Behind the conflagration stood Deirdre and the shining meteonite. That was their goal. From underneath the shield, however, was their opposition, grunting with force.

    "Hypnosis!" Alastair shouted. Braixen pulled back, ending her assault. Gengar's eyes flashed with the leering grin, and the yellow wave pulsed out, threatening to put them all into sleep. Braixen acted quickly, jabbing her feet with her wand, before bringing it up and hitting Serena on the head to stay awake. Clemont seemed to have a different idea.

    "Wild Charge!" Luxray's body sparked to life. Clemont kept shouting, though, bending down to take a piece of rock and jam it against his side, causing enough pain to keep himself awake. "Circulate it through your whole body to stay awake!"

    "Ray!" Luxray barked out. The electricity tingled along his entire figure, and soon, he was blazing forward, every single step taken leaving an imprint of electricity on the ground behind him. Soon, he reached Gengar and slammed into it, small convulsions of the recoil shuddering through his body. Serena felt her mind get less hazy, proving that the wave of Hypnosis had stopped with the attack. Alastair was on the move again, brandishing his sword.

    "Poison Jab!" Alastair shouted. He reached the two humans and slashed swiftly, causing both to duck. Aegislash screamed downward, and Serena grabbed Clemont, pulling him back before any further damage could be done. The blade cut once more into the ground. Meanwhile, Gengar's legs glowed purple, and it seemed to stand before pummeling the limbs forth into Luxray and tossing him back. "Shadow Ball!"

    "Gengar gar!" Gengar cackled out insidiously. At its mouth formed a large orb of shadows, bigger than the ones Serena could remember. In seconds, it fired, while Serena and Clemont skidded back from their dodge. Nevertheless, she snapped out an order.

    "Psyshock!" Braixen's claws swiped outwards, sending the purple streaks firing right from her claws. Four fired in all, two of which aimed right for the Shadow Ball and slammed into it, the two attacks straining against one another. The other two went straight at Alastair, forcing the man to break off. Just as they reached him, he slashed outwards, breaking the Psyshock in two with the blade, while the other purple streaks broke apart the Shadow Ball, causing it to explode. "Hidden Power!"

    "Double Team," Alastair spoke, his voice calm for a moment. Serena wondered if that meant he no longer considered them a threat, but that soon turned out to not be the case. "Now, Shadow Ball! End them with a fleet!"

    "Hit them all!" Serena shouted, but it was all she had time for. Alastair was swinging Aegislash out, the Royal Sword Pokémon glowing a bright blue. He slashed it sideways, and Serena sidestepped the blast, backing up onto the stairs of rubble that led to what remained of the stadium proper. Braixen flashed her wand out, creating over a dozen shining, silvery orbs. She whipped the wand around, and they flew forward. Gengar copied himself all about the place, populating the hallway, with each creating a large Shadow Ball that fired out in a dark and oppressive haze. The Hidden Power flashed outwards and collided with the strike, but Alastair yet continued his offensive.

    "Is that it? Is countering all you'll be able to do? !" Alastair shouted, grabbing Aegislash like a knife and plunging it downwards. Serena let go of Clemont, both rolling away. Alastair's shield arm snapped outwards, hitting Serena on the head and knocking her into the wall. She coughed. "You followed me straight into hell! Surely you must've known you'd need more than your never-give-up attitude to win in the devil's haven!"

    "Ice Fang! Get him!" Clemont screamed. Luxray, shaking his mane in recovery, leapt straight for Alastair, fangs glowing with a chilling intensity. His maw opened wide, and before Alastair could retract his arm, Luxray bit into it, freezing the man's shield arm. With a snarl, the man slashed up, the Sacred Sword of Aegislash cutting into Luxray and sending him flying upwards, past where the ceiling once was. Serena watched a moment, her eyes widening as she realized the positioning of everything; they'd never make it through the hallway. Luxray howled, but righted himself, aiming back downwards. "Night Slash!"

    "Luuuuuuxray!" Luxray howled, angling his body right for the now prone Gengar, and slashing with a sickening purple claw. The Shadow Pokémon was tossed backwards as Luxray landed. Alastair's lips twitched, snarling angrily.

    "I suppose not," he stated, drawing himself to his full height. "You do have more than moxie, but it will not save you! Too long have we fought, and too long have we seen our actions try to save the world, only watching as it became sicker and sicker!" Aegislash came screaming out, and Serena acted, ducking low and pressing her hand to the ground with a cry.

    "Fire Blast! Make it as hot as you can! Clemont, we need cover!" Serena yelled to her best friend. Clemont nodded, and Luxray snapped a look to him. They needed no verbal communication. Luxray's body began to spark, the little rivulets of electricity filtering into the ground. Alastair leapt back, avoiding the sparking battlefield. Braixen plunged her wand down, making the ground as hot as it could be with her star of fire. Combined with Luxray's Electric Terrain hot steam billowed upwards, obscuring the two from Alastair's vision. "We need to get above."

    "Any reason why?" Clemont asked. Luxray leapt back through the steam, moving to be at their sides, while Braixen did the same. A swinging noise nearly interrupted Serena's thought process, but she answered him.

    "He won't let us get through this way, but maybe if we can get above…" Serena suggested, hoping he'd pick up on the thread of the rest of her thoughts.

    "…then we'll strike at the meteonite from up there. Brilliant!" Clemont shouted. "Just one thing: get moving!"

    "Slash!" Clemont pushed Serena out of the way, and just in time. Aegislash came shrieking through, blade glowing blue and extended. No longer was the blade attached to Alastair's hand, zipping through to punish them with impunity. It slammed into one of the remaining walls, blasting it apart. They really did need to move. Serena turned with Braixen and leapt for the stairs of rubble, climbing up it as quickly as she could. Clemont was following as well, and she held a hand up to help him. Luxray was bounding up quicker, growling with every leap. Aegislash came soaring through, just as they finished climbing up, and sliced through the rubble, leaving it and the path below disintegrated entirely.

    "Now, Braixen, let's get that meteoni…" Serena felt her head go woozy, and she knew instantly what was bearing down upon them. Luxray wasn't falling, though, his body circulating the electricity needed to keep himself awake. The sound of footsteps made Serena fight through the sleep, and she saw that Alastair had joined them on the upper level. Aegislash returned to his hand while Gengar, looking roughed up from Luxray's strikes, emerged from the shadows. Nevertheless, Luxray charged forward, and just as Gengar manifested, he struck, slamming into it and forcing it towards the remaining walls of the arena. Serena woke up fully.

    "Shadow Ball…" Alastair stated with a low and menacing voice. Serena swallowed, but brought herself to stand, bringing Clemont up with her. Gengar's eyes snapped open, forming the giant Shadow Ball and firing it before they had a chance to blink. The projectile slammed into Luxray, causing him to hit the ground of the cracked stadium and tumble backwards. Beyond Alastair, Serena could see the meteonite through the gaping chasm in the stadium's floor, and while they had more space to work with than the halls below, his expression made it obvious they weren't getting there without a fight. "Why are you here now? What do you hope to accomplish against our ideal world?"

    "Anything we can!" Serena shouted. Alastair's lips twitched, and he lunged forward, slashing down. The two dodged, watching as Alastair slammed into the ground, causing more of the arena to fall away with the blistering blow. He whipped outwards, and Serena twirled to the side, only for Aegislash to knick her on her arm, blood spurting forth. She cried out from the pain. "We've worked hard for our world."

    "Yes, time and time again," Clemont called. Alastair swung around, plunging forth with his shield arm and slamming Clemont in the stomach. The inventor wheezed, but continued. "Every invention I've built. Every battle I've fought. They've been for saving the world, and helping people and Pokémon! We won't let you take that all away!"

    "You think you're the only ones that have fought for this world? ! That have died for it? As though your own opinions are all that matter!" Alastair slashed outward, creating a great force of a whirlwind that pushed the two backwards. Serena felt the cut on her arm rupture further. "Your hypocrisy is astounding!"

    "Hypocrisy? We're not the ones thinking we can change the world the way we like it, just to heal the pain inside us!" Serena shouted. "We don't live like that."

    "But you're not living at all!" Alastair roared, slashing down towards Serena's feet. She jumped back, but the explosion of rubble suddenly battered her, causing her to fall back. "You think you can change the world with smiles? With inventions? That this world can be fixed?!"

    Another slash came downwards, and Serena skidded back. Clemont came roaring out of nowhere to tackle against Alastair, but the man jabbed Aegislash forth, cutting at Clemont's side and tossing him out of the way, right next to Serena. Gengar created another Shadow Ball, sending it right at Braixen, who held her wand up to defend against it. "Braaaai!"

    "You're nothing but fools!" Alastair shouted, continuing to bear down on them. "This world is broken! Nothing less than perfection will save it! Yet you continue on, acting as if you can change the darkness that festers in it, calling it living! The same darkness that took her legs, that took our very souls!"

    "Gah!" Clemont cried out from the pain now erupting across his side, and Aegislash was swung downward. Serena grabbed Clemont, forcing them to roll out of the way, but receiving a cut on her leg for her troubles. She bit her lip against the pain, wanting to hold against her stomach, hoping to hang on through the agony of pain. Alastair walked forward, standing above them with a snarl.

    "Haven't you experienced that darkness in the depth of your souls? ! Haven't you seen your own hypocrisy?" Aegislash was raised up high above the man's head, prepared for a final blow as both Clemont and Serena laid there, each bleeding onto the arena ground. "You must have known, after all your battles. Deep down you had to have sensed it, after every battle led to more and more pointless struggles, nothing changing. It had to have gripped you in your very souls; your heart of hearts. The same thing that we all saw after our missions amounted to nothing, nothing but our broken bodies!

    "Surely, somewhere in the darkest depths of your heart you began to realize...this world was too broken to let it live after all! It wasn't worth it to save it as it was! Grrrrah!"

    "No, you…don't!" Clemont shouted. Aegislash came soaring down, prepared to bisect Clemont. But he scrabbled behind him, touching to a button. His Aipom Arm shot out with the utmost alacrity, and before Alastair knew it, the blade slammed into the mechanical arm, straining against it. The Aipom Arm only held for a moment before it broke, shattering into pieces everywhere.

    But that moment was all that was needed.

    "Luuuuux!" Luxray barked, barreling down the arena and slamming into Alastair with his electrified body. The man's eyes widened in shock, and then he was tossed back, slamming into one of the walls. Up on the stands, some rubble trickled down, as though there was movement caused by Alastair's attacks and subsequent collision with the wall. He remained standing, however, breath coming out in a feral growl.

    Serena pushed up at the ground, coughing a bit, the pain rippling on her limbs. She was starting to feel that keen sense of exhaustion, her body wanting to just quit. But she wouldn't let it. Nor would Clemont, the both of them bringing themselves to stand. Alastair regarded them with his snarl, while Gengar traveled along the ground as a shadow, reappearing next to its trainer. Serena looked at him, gripping to Braixen for a moment as her blue eyes shined in the darkness.

    "Maybe you're right," she said, huffing out with every breath. Clemont's hands were on his knees, his broken Aipom arm flopping out of his bag, twitching and sparking. "Maybe this world can't be fixed. Maybe we're all just fighting pointlessly. Maybe there is no hope…

    "But I don't care. If there isn't any, we'll make some!"

    "And if this world is broken, we'll try to fix it!" Clemont shouted, raising himself to his full height. He, too, was breathing heavily, and both Braixen and Luxray were the same, moving to still defend them. "But if we can't...then that's okay, too, because it's still ours! We can still live in it! And that future is all of ours, it's not just up to you!"

    "Then, fight! Fight for your future!" Alastair roared. "If you want it, take hold of it! Because I won't let go of our future! Shadow Ball!"

    "Psyshock!" Serena screamed. Braixen and Gengar struck at the same exact time, both flinging out projectiles of different shades of purple. The Shadow Ball struck outwards, while Braixen's Psyshock pierced the air in its streams. The attacks met in midair, holding against each other for a moment, and then exploding outward. Serena's skirt ruffled, along with her hair, and she clasped her wound. "Go!"

    "Brai!" Braixen shouted, flipping through the air and landing upon Luxray, who began to charge forward, right for Alastair and Gengar. Braixen looked back at Serena, and she nodded. Whipping her wand forward, a Flamethrower jetted outwards, slamming into Gengar before they could blink. Alastair was slightly swifter, holding his shield arm up, and the blade of Aegislash at his side.

    "Ice Fang on Aegislash!" Clemont called out. Luxray leapt into the air, his fangs tinkling with their frosty presence. Alastair's eyes widened, but he continued defending against the flames, only for Luxray to arrive and, in a second, sink his teeth into the blade. His fangs dug deeper, beginning to freeze Aegislash up, as if making it brittle.

    "Hypnosis!" Alastair roared, whipping Aegislash outward, and causing Luxray to be thrown to the side. Braixen leapt off, just as Gengar's eyes flashed. Serena stepped forward, driving her fingers into her wound. She further bit her lip, causing more pain, but keeping herself awake.

    "Fire Blast!" she shouted, voice wavering with a slight whimper at the end. Braixen twirled her wand around and jabbed it forward, causing the flaming star to fire out and hit Gengar, pushing it against the wall. The entire air became heated, and Luxray blasted forward with his sparking body. Gengar recovered, waiting for Luxray to approach.

    "Gen…gar!" Gengar shouted, just as the Gleam Eyes Pokémon reached him. The two slammed against each other, holding for a second before falling away. Luxray's body shuddered, clearly afflicted with poison and the recoil. Gengar tumbled backwards, shocks covering its body with a paralysis. Alastair looked to his partner, as if surprised, and Serena took advantage.

    "Flamethrower on Aegislash!" she called, cracking her knuckles, just like Ash would. Braixen ran forward, right for Alastair.

    "Braaaaaaaaaaaixen!" she shouted. Alastair swung Aegislash outwards, but Braixen was faster. All her training for Performances was put to good use as she flipped into the air and touched her wand straight to the frozen, brittle blade. Then she smiled, and fired. The flames roared out, consuming the blade of the Royal Sword Pokémon. A chink appeared on its blade, and Alastair was forced to let go before he was consumed, even dropping the shield, clanking to the ground with a finality. Finally, Serena could see all the wounds on his body, no longer hidden by the illusion; she didn't want to even think about what it would have been like fighting him at full power.

    Nevertheless, Aegislash went spiraling through the air before landing on the ground with a shattering thud, the ice tumbling away and leaving it fainted. Alastair was on his own, now. Still, he kicked out, nailing Braixen and driving her back, the fox letting out a huff of exhaustion. "Double Team! Obliterate them with Shadow Ball!"

    "GEEEEEEEENG…" Gengar began to shout. First one copy appeared, and then another and then another, each of them soon covering the stands and the arena floor, itself. Braixen and Luxray were already too tired to try and eliminate them all, especially when all formed a Shadow Ball by their mouths. They fired them towards the same spot, creating a giant Shadow Ball that seemed large enough to eclipse all of those fighting in the arena. "…GAR!"

    "Block it!" Serena and Clemont shouted at the same time. Braixen moved first, creating a Hidden Power at the end of her wand that was growing larger and larger, before beginning to swirl with the purple of a Psyshock. Then it fired right at the projectile. They collided, straining against each other, the output of energy pushing each of them back. Then Luxray leapt forward, claws shining a bright purple, and he dove into the Shadow Ball. They watched on with anticipation, the attack clearly ripping away at Clemont's faithful Pokémon.

    "Luuuuuuuxraaaaay!" Luxray growled out, his cry piercing the air as he finally slashed his claws apart, breaking the gigantic Shadow Ball and making his way right for Gengar, slashing across its figure and slamming it into the arena wall. Then he landed. "Ray…ray…ray…"

    "We can't hold on much longer…" Clemont gasped out, and Serena nodded. Gengar was still holding on, grinning as much as it could, despite the expression momentarily faltering at times. Alastair was still standing there, too, though it seemed his wounds had had much more of an effect than earlier. Either way, both knew that the battle needed to end soon. Serena stepped forward, and she saw Alastair's expression change: he was grinning.

    "Clemont!" Serena shouted, and she pushed him away once more. Gengar's eyes flashed, and Serena felt her vision wobble, her body falling as she scrabbled at the air. A shadowy claw erupted, all too familiar to Serena, and it pierced her leg, causing her to scream, as a shadowy form made its way for Clemont. The pain made Serena's eyes stay open, and she could see Matori approaching. With a grimace, Serena berated herself internally; she should have known that Matori would be there.

    Yet at the same time, if she was…

    "Leech Seed!"

    "Foul Play, Inkay!" Serena grinned; she thought so. Great roots emerged from the ground, ensnaring Matori's feet before she could even blink, her own wounds making her slower. She slammed to the ground as Inkay sailed forward, grabbing hold of Sableye's claw and throwing the Pokémon outward, causing it to collide with its trainer. "Now, you didn't really think you'd get rid of us that easily, did you?"

    "We're da top cats of dis here world. We got nine lives," Meowth said. Serena looked in their direction, seeing that Team Rocket had interfered at the best of times. Matori, however, didn't look pleased at all. Sableye slashed apart the vines while its trainer looked at Jessie, James and Meowth with the utmost of disdain.

    "You utter annoyances," Matori spoke, her cold expression whipping over to the trio. Serena kept her eyes between both members of IDEAL, trying to quickly think of a way to counter them, but it quickly seemed that Team Rocket already had a plan in mind, at least with the way that Jessie was sauntering forward.

    "Yeah, well so are you!" she snapped to the woman, pointing at her. "Always blabbing on and on about the mission, calling us failures, when the whole time you were a traitor."

    "That doesn't erase what you were. I never understood what that fool Giovanni saw in you. Useless idiots," Matori said, scowling. She was clearly no longer the prime assassin, not with her wounds and her anger towards the three agents before her. "I always hated you three."

    "Right back at ya!" Meowth shouted, and he ran right for her, claws extended with a bright and glinting light. He leapt upwards, and Sableye sent its darkened fists out to meet him. Jessie and James now ran forward, too. "We never liked ya for always talkin' down to us! Probably laughin' about us!"

    "Well, guess who's laughing now? !" James grunted. Inkay sailed forward as Wobbuffet did, as well, jumping through the air to land upon Matori and hug her close, his body glowing. The woman took out one of her blades, but before she could hit Wobbuffet, one of Gourgeist's plants erupted outwards, gripping to her hand. Inkay grabbed ahold of Sableye and brought it smashing into Wobbuffet's glowing body. They all slammed forward, rolling along the ground towards Alastair and Gengar.

    "Now, twerpette and science twerp! We don't have all day, or whatever it is here!" Jessie demanded, running right past Serena and Clemont. The duo watched them go, the former villains almost looking gleeful that they'd be the ones to help take out Matori. Alastair's eye was twitching as he saw his companion unable to move beneath the bulk of Pokémon.

    "So, blast us off one more time with a cheer!"

    "Dis Team Rocket's da best of da year!" Meowth shouted, and the three all leapt forward. Before Matori knew it, Jessie had pinned her arms, while James took to her legs and Meowth landed on her face.

    "Get off, you imbeciles!" she shouted. Serena looked at Clemont, and they both knew. It was time to end this. "Alastair!"

    "Yes, I-"

    "Steam Field!" Serena and Clemont yelled out, pushing their hands forward and punching them. Braixen twirled her wand around and then plunged it into the ground, slamming the fiery star outward that consumed the entire space. Luxray's fur bristled angrily, and electricity shot out to the entire arena space. The powerful shocks traveled up Team Rocket's bodies, but they held on. Alastair stepped forward, but jumped back the second a spark went up his leg. Serena looked around, seeing the meteonite glowing and pulsing with flames. The space beyond the stadium was still being filled in. From the Electric Terrain, steam burst forth, consuming the area, and Serena ran forward. "Psyshock! Trap Gengar!"

    "Brai!" Braixen cried. She couldn't see her beloved Pokémon through the steam, but Serena trusted in her implicitly. Knowing that, the honey blonde ran forward, right for where she knew Alastair was. She wasn't alone, either, with Clemont right at her side, as well as Luxray. The Gleam Eyes Pokémon's claws were glowing a sharp purple as he barreled down for Gengar. The purple streaks were shooting ahead of him rapidly, the attack immediately twisting around Gengar's figure once they'd reached it. Finally, the steam parted enough to see Alastair, and Serena raised her leg out, kicking at the man's side. He moved to block it, but winced, his arm falling to his side while his other arm twitched.

    "Damn…that woman…" Alastair grunted, reaching up for the wound at his shoulder. Then, Serena completed her kick, hitting Alastair for the first time and pitching him to the side. Likewise, Clemont punched outward, nailing him in the face and sending him flying towards the pile of Team Rocket members. Likewise, Gengar's body was wracked with paralysis as Luxray slashed out, batting it aside to join that same pile. Wobbuffet's body glowed.

    "Let's end this!" Clemont yelled, reaching back to completely rip his Aipom Arm out of his bag. It sparked, twitching in his hold, before he chucked it at the pile. Jessie laughed at that. "Wild Charge!"

    "Well, isn't this ironic! You killed our whole former organization, and now you're being taken down by the only three that remain!" Jessie barked. She lifted a hand and high fived James.

    "Looks like we win the game!"

    "Braixen, Flamethrower!" Serena shouted. Gengar was the first to stir, creating a Shadow Ball from atop the massive grouping and firing. Braixen fired out her rush of flames straight for them while Luxray barreled down, his body wreathed in electricity. The Shadow Ball slammed into the flames, Braixen straining. Serena turned and ran for her first Pokémon, getting behind her and holding. "We can do this! For our world! For the future we've striven for together! Braixen, let's do it together!"

    "BraaaaaaaaaaaaaaixEEEEEEEEEN!" Braixen pushed harder, the flames increasing, turning almost golden with intensity. The Shadow Ball began to crack, and then the Flamethrower broke through it, colliding with the group and the sparking Aipom Arm at the same exact time that Luxray made contact. The electricity and flames mingled, and for a moment, Serena saw Alastair and Matori's eyes widen, before the Aipom Arm twitched once more…and exploded upwards.

    "Yes! It ain't no Pikachu…"

    "But IDEAL is definitely through!"

    "And Team Rocket's blasting off one last time!" All three shouted. Wobbuffet called out, firing his own beam of energy that consumed Matori's body below while they all were propelled to the sky by the explosion. Serena watched, falling backwards with Braixen from exhaustion, as Team Rocket continued gripping Matori and Sableye, flying off to the rift beyond. However, Alastair and Gengar took a different trajectory, slamming straight into the enthralled Ho-oh above. There was another spark, and another explosion, one that caused all of those below to be knocked on to their butts.

    "Team Rocket!" Clemont shouted, but the trio was long gone, sailing into the rift of the new world, lost in the abyss with everyone else. If Serena peered closely, she could swear she saw them get swallowed up by the same black orbs that held all the others. However, she soon averted her attention and focused it on Ho-oh, now falling with Alastair, and before long, all three slammed on to the stadium's stands, a bright light shining from Gengar as it reverted form. Dust rose up, and a slight cracking noise was heard before there was silence. Braixen and Luxray collapsed, heaving with panting exhaustion. Serena quickly pushed herself up, battling her pain and exhaustion to crawl to the edge that overlooked the halls below, right down on their original target, and she could see Deirdre.

    Ho-oh gave a soft cry, and there was another cracking noise. Serena's eyes widened. The meteonite was pulsating erratically, no longer stable, and the orb beneath it, Ash's orb, had begun to crack with it.


    Drowning. That's what Ash felt like he was doing. There was nothing around him. Perhaps that was better. He had only felt that stinging insistence that something was very wrong before. The person he missed. The League he shouldn't have won. That cold expression on Serena. Now, he was just falling into endless nothingness, not a spark of light in sight. The only thing that was the constant was Pikachu by his side, still clinging to his shoulder.

    Swirling visions surrounded him, like a life in the shadows, or a life that had gone unlived. He felt like he was seeing everything.

    There was a young man, once an assistant, turning towards the path of getting stronger, but losing himself along the way.

    There was another, wanting that same strength so he could never be hurt, cutting everything along the way in order to protect himself.

    A young girl, lost in her mother's shadow, cowering as nothing.

    His girlfriend, lost in her own dream. One of his best friends, believing himself to be inferior and inadequate.

    There was a woman, flashing past his eyes with auburn hair. She looked familiar, and it was like her soul was crying out, a piece of her swirling all around them. He found himself transfixed by that, seeing her and a man walking into a building, an ambush by people they had been called to eliminate, as orchestrated by a man that looked like Serena. There was an explosion, but the others seemed to use that to escape, and in the process, the woman's body was fractured.

    They were held. Beaten. Battered. And slowly, Ash could see the woman losing hope, drowning in the same abyss that he was sinking into. His heart went out to her, hurting deep inside as he saw. Then, there was a little shadow that seemed to connect with her; seemed to understand. That was when the horror began. Ash could only watch as the woman and her comrades did horrible things, committed atrocities beyond imagining. And all he could hear was "for a world of perfection", even as their bodies slowly degraded, no longer living as people. Even as there were whispers of a promise to not let it end with such a pathetic whimper.

    "No…no!" Ash called, and his hands flew to his head. He didn't like this. He didn't want this. Pain. There was too much pain that all these people were holding on to, but he didn't want to know any of it. Life was supposed to be perfect. Perfect. Perfect! That meant no more pain!

    But that's not true…his mind told him, and he snapped his eyes open wide. His heartbeat was ringing in his ears, pulsating, as though something was trying to break through to him. Don't you remember? You wanted to understand that pain, in a way that only you could. By understanding their pain, you could…

    "…be a Pokémon Master," Ash breathed out. Tears were on his eyelashes. How had he forgotten? A chink of light suddenly broke through the abyss, nearly blinding Ash, and he saw a hand reaching out to him, as if it had been waiting for the right door to open in their newfound connection. For a moment, as he reached towards it, he thought it was Serena's hand, and everything began to come back to him.

    How the young man understood life wasn't all about strength.

    How the other came to believe in being stronger by working with others.

    How the girl had pulled herself out of her mother's shadow, and become her own person.

    How his girlfriend…no, wife, had come to make the world a better place, one smile at a time, instead of taking on the entire world. And Clemont…he had come to accept that perhaps he wasn't the strongest, but he was more than enough.

    They had all stepped forward. Moved on. Lived. They found their hope in themselves for some, and others, as well. And in that, Ash could finally find his. The hand was closer now, and he was reaching for it when the owner spoke; a voice he'd nearly forgotten, but never wanted to again. Because her voice was too important to forget.

    "Don't tell me you forgot your promise," she spoke, still reaching out. He closed the distance and clasped his hand in hers, remembering the woman to whom it belonged. "Never give into despair. Come on, Ash. Keep your promise to me."

    She pulled, and Ash felt himself emerging into the light. It was only a brief flash, Ash being flung forward by the hand, but he could see her, smirking at him, reminding him of the promise they'd made at that place before she'd faded away so long ago. The one promise that had come to matter the most, no matter the pain he'd felt. He smiled.

    "I won't forget," he said, continuing to fly forward. Pikachu gripped to him, and they could see something approaching, like the end of a tunnel, a crack in the sky. "I promised…and I always keep my promises. Deirdre's lost, swallowed up by despair to the point she refuses to even move forward. I don't know what moving forward means to her, but I can understand her at least. Maybe…maybe I can even help her to live and move forward, even if it's just a second. No matter the pain, there's always hope. That's how we achieve our perfection. And that's why…

    "We won't give in."

    "Pika pikachuuu!" Pikachu called, flexing his fists. They reached the edge of the crack, and Ash reached right for it, pulling himself up. There was a cracking sound around him, and the rift felt like it was vanishing, falling away before their very eyes. Flames surrounded him, cleansing his broken body, as if being inside the rift that he was tied to had healed him by the power taken from himself. Then, he could see the woman with auburn hair, standing in the broken hallway, turning at the sound and seeing him emerging. With one look back, Ash said his own returning words.

    "Thank you, Zinnia." Then, he punched forward, watching the black-haired Draconid's smirk fade from view as he emerged from his black globe. The globe shattered, and he flew forward, his fist sailing out and striking Deirdre on the face. She flew back, skidding along the ground as Ash fell forward, his feet landing on the ground while Pikachu hit it in front of him. He looked up, and there he saw his wife, smiling at him, and Ash knew what had happened. Above him, the meteonite was dimming and glowing erratically, while on the stadium above seemed to be Ho-oh, keening with pain. Ash, however, stepped forward to face Deirdre, slamming his foot down. The woman looked at him with shock and a snarl.

    "I know what to do now. Deirdre, let's burn away your pain and finish this. It ends now!"



    Author's Note: Whoo! This was an intense chapter for me to write. I hope it wasn't too confusing, though, with all the scenes. Simply put, everyone was in their perfect worlds, where Zinnia never interrupted the KTT, Ash won the League, etc. But yet…it wasn't perfect, even with all that, because there was no pain, and nothing that made them stronger by experiencing it. While, of course, the base of the new world was there, and Serena, Clemont and TRio managed to hitch a ride, all for one final battle that freed Ho-oh. Tell me, were you surprised by Zinnia's five-second appearance?

    The final battle ends next chapter, and I hope it will be everything you're expecting! Thanks for all your support, everyone, and please remember to Review and Dare to Be Silly.

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