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-   -   The Marble Garden (http://forums.upnetwork.net/showthread.php?t=4576)

MarbleZone 11-15-2012 09:04 AM

The Marble Garden
 
A simple Treetop House on the Sapphire Islands, modest in size, for a not-so-modest Trainer and his Pokémon.


http://i72.photobucket.com/albums/i1...bbles/base.png


Feel free to stop by and say hello; Levin isn't guaranteed to like you, but he'll try his best to pretend!



Base not open to RPing yet!

MarbleZone 11-15-2012 09:07 AM

Decoration
 
Desks:
1x Black Square Table
1x Cloth Table


Chairs:
1x Red Settee
2x Comfort Chair


Mats:
1x Spikes Mat
1x Fissure Mat


Miscellaneous:
1x Laptop
1x Fridge Freezer
1x TV + Stand
1x Bin
1x Blue Bed
1x Clock
1x Blue Tall Bookcase



Insurance
Paid on 20/12/2013



Total Base Worth (plot, base, insurance & items)
32,360 coins

MarbleZone 11-15-2012 09:23 AM

Mailbox
 
http://www.upnetwork.net/fb/sprites/...nquirymail.gif Dear Sir and/or Madam - From Arnold on December 5, 2012

MarbleZone 11-15-2012 09:53 AM

Calendar
 
Levin is forgetful; here's a list of relevant dates that he may or may not pay attention to...


January 15: http://www.upnetwork.net/fb/sprites/pn593m.gif Birthday
January 20: http://www.upnetwork.net/fb/sprites/pn473.gif Birthday
February 11: http://www.upnetwork.net/fb/sprites/pn376.gif Birthday
February 23: http://www.upnetwork.net/fb/sprites/pn035.gif Birthday
April 3: http://www.upnetwork.net/fb/sprites/pn206.gif Birthday
April 4: http://www.upnetwork.net/fb/sprites/pn573.gif Birthday
April 8: http://www.upnetwork.net/fb/sprites/pn475.gif Birthday
April 13: http://www.upnetwork.net/fb/sprites/pn454.gif Birthday
May 22: http://www.upnetwork.net/fb/sprites/pn212.gif Birthday
June 25: http://www.upnetwork.net/fb/sprites/pn059.gif Birthday
June 29: http://www.upnetwork.net/fb/sprites/pn003.gif Birthday
July 22: http://www.upnetwork.net/fb/sprites/pn181.gif Birthday
July 30: http://www.upnetwork.net/fb/sprites/pn448.gif Birthday
August 4: http://www.upnetwork.net/fb/sprites/pn464.gif Birthday
August 21: http://www.upnetwork.net/fb/sprites/pn612.gif Birthday
August 27: http://www.upnetwork.net/fb/sprites/sp208.gif Birthday
September 15: http://www.upnetwork.net/fb/sprites/pn452.gif Birthday
September 23: http://www.upnetwork.net/fb/sprites/pn662.gif Birthday
September 26: http://www.upnetwork.net/fb/sprites/pn635.gif Birthday
September 30: http://www.upnetwork.net/fb/sprites/pn330.gif Birthday
October 3: http://www.upnetwork.net/fb/sprites/pn004.gif Birthday
November 29: http://www.upnetwork.net/fb/sprites/pn637.gif Birthday
December 5: http://www.upnetwork.net/fb/sprites/pn680.gif Birthday
December 12: http://www.upnetwork.net/fb/sprites/pn130.gif Birthday

MarbleZone 11-15-2012 10:13 AM

Journal
 


We've been travelling throughout Fizzy Bubbles for a while now. At first, it was only me and my Minccino... How far we've come. It's been an unbelievable journey, and even knowing that I will remember it forever, I've decided to write these adventures down just the same - all the mistakes I've made, so that I'll never make them again, and all the blissful memories, so that they'll keep me company long after I settle down.


---

Glacier Island: I arrived at Crystal City, eager to start my first adventure. Back then, it was only me and Min...

[1]




Cloud Garden: Having set out to look for the legendary Rainbow Road by Min's request, I somehow got lost in the nearby Cloud Forest; after battling and capturing my very first wild Pokémon, a female Seedot, I was awoken by a Growlithe in the middle of the night who led me to its Trainer, a boy named Christian. He'd fallen into a trap hole set by a gang of poachers, who stole the boy's belongings. I gave chase to their Pokémon, the three elemental monkeys, and engaged them with my Gible and Minccino, failing to win the battle against Panpour, but succeeding in scaring them off and retrieving the boy's bag - however, his Pokeballs were still missing. After managing to bring him out of the hole, we tried to follow the thieves with his Growlithe's Odor Sleuth, but moved slowly since Christian's ankle was broken. Somewhere along the way we found a lone farmhouse and decided to ask the people inside - a man and an old lady - for help. As the lady tended to Chris, I spotted their Mareep corral under attack by two Mightyena and rushed to help with my Heracross, Buster, who insisted on taking them on alone.

[1] [2] [3] [4] [5] [6] [7] [8] [9] [10] [11] [12] [13] [14] [15] [16] [17] [18] [19] [20] [21] [22] [23] [24] [25]




Whale Island: This was my third adventure already, and it started out peacefully at Pielie Harbour... until I found myself impersonating a Public Order League Trainer to deal with a mysterious Grimer outbreak in an ice-cream storage room!

[1] [2] [3] [4] [5] [6] [7] [8]




Astoria: I was no longer inexperienced in the world of Pokemon, so I decided to explore the well-known Magus Falls, walking the forest trail in anticipation of whatever fate may bring.

[1]




Phantom Isle: I was very reluctant about exploring Phantom Isle. Not because I don't believe in the supernatural, like I always tell everyone... but because I am uncomfortable with what I don't understand. Still, as a fear to overcome, I forced myself to brave the dark land, repeatedly telling myself that making it out alive would be one of my biggest claims to fame. After checking into the Hotel, I met a very peculiar pair... a beautiful young woman named Calandra, whose singing voice was fatal to any living person who listened for too long, and a ghostly gentleman, who was preparing her for a Talent Show that would take place later in the night. Enthralled by Calandra's beauty, and encouraged by my brave Elekid Crix, I offered to help out with the preparations and serve as butler for the customers during the show. After being introduced to the manager, a male Mismagius named Ruby, and surviving his onslaught of questions with satisfactory answers, I was tasked with serving a group of eccentric Jellicent with the help of a long-dead butler who showed me the ropes. Bearing in mind the constant threat of a swift death should I so much as slightly upset the Ghost-Types, I maneuvered my way through their demands and riddles as best I could, until I was tasked with fetching their beverages from the kitchen, where I met an obese man destined to serve as the Jellicent's dinner. Only by Crix's insistence did I even try to save the man, in a plan that backfired and lead to a confrontation with the hungry Jellicent. However, we were not alone, as Crix had still managed to release the man earlier and he joined the fight, while urging us to rescue Calandra who might turn out to be in grave danger! Calandra's uncle joined the battle with his Exploud, and Crix finally evolved into Electabuzz while struggling to keep the Jellicent down...

[1] [2] [3] [4] [5] [6] [7] [8] [9] [10] [11] [12] CANCELLED




Cortoza: By the time I decided to explore Cortoza, I was already confident enough in my abilities both as a Trainer and explorer. The harsh, dangerous conditions of the Volcanic Island were the perfect place to get stronger... I made my way to the very Peak of Mt. Infernus, the second largest mountain in Cortoza, where the forest had remained largely untouched by humans over the centuries. After an argument with Min, she decided to prove her strength by luring the local Pokémon with my White Flute, but seemingly nothing happened... until the following morning, when I found out she'd be kidnapped while I slept, with nothing but a bone in her place to mark the crime! I will admit I panicked for once, and recruited my Pokémon to help me look for Min...
As Opal, Dolce and myself searched the forest for any trace of Min, we realized that the center of the forest had been turned into a huge crater! As we came to grips with what'd happened, Dolce was attacked by a Skarmory that came out of nowhere. With my battle choices severely limited at the time, I had to resort to Hebi, who miraculously obeyed and blasted the metal bird away. We proceeded with Opal's guidance, and I began to piece things together - the massive Draco Meteor and Crunch attacks that had ravaged the mountain peak could only have been caused by one of two species of Pokemon: Hydreigon or Salamence. As I tried to narrow it down further, we bumped straight into a ferocious Magmortar!
Magnus emerged from his Pokeball to take on the beast himself, and while severely outmatched, the thrill of fire and battle alone triggered his evolution!


[1] [2] [3] [4] [5] [6] CANCELLED




SPECIAL CAMPAIGN - "The Lost City of Alph - Find the Unown!" This was my very first Campaign; it came at a period in which my self-confidence was at an all-time high, and being given the opportunity to join the expedition to capture the rare Unown further reassured me that my work wasn't going unnoticed. All of the participants were asked to enter a mysterious ruin uncovered by a recent string of violent sandstorms, and capture as many Unown as we could to stop the psychic anomalies in the area. Shortly after entering the ancient city, accompanied by my Beldum, I ran into one of the creatures - a Unown I. I tried to reason with it and convince it to join us willingly...

[1] [2]




Arcane Realm: Even after a whole year of adventuring, the overseers of Fizzytopia insisted that I completed a traditional journey originally meant for newcomers, as an oversight in the Trainer Registration process had allowed me to prematurely venture out into the world without formal preparation. While I scoffed at the idea of such a late introduction, I decided to play along, expecting an easy trip. I brought along my most difficult Pokemon in hopes of bonding with them, but what followed was anything but simple.
I found myself trapped in a lucid dream I had very little control of, and was lead to wander the imaginary rules of Mediville while bumping into several familiar faces... until a complete stranger asked for my help tracking down a Ralts, a young boy looking to capture the elusive Psychic-Type and add it to his family's ranch.
The feisty Psychic-Type proved to be a hassle to pin down indeed, Teleporting away at the slightest provocation; however, as it fled, it deliberately seemed to be luring us toward an old apothecary for some reason... I tasked Spike the Mankey with looking after Raz and cautiously tried to enter the abandoned-looking building...


[1] [2] [3] [4] [5]

MarbleZone 11-16-2012 07:11 PM

And you'll never be like me.

Levin woke up panting, in a cold sweat, his heart racing. For the third night in a row... That dream again.

He got up; maybe some water would calm him down. He looked over at his Pokemon, his chosen sixteen. All of them were sleeping - good, at least someone was resting up.

He leaned over the kitchen sink, turned on the faucet, cupped his hands and took a couple of sips. Then he washed his face and his hair; there was no way he going back to sleep, anyway. He looked at the clock on the wall; 4 a.m.

He crossed the hall to the other side of the house and sat down on the couch, head between his hands. What was the meaning of these dreams, if any? He used to shun the paranormal, dismiss all that spiritual bullshit that some people make a living off of. But that journey to Phantom Isle had changed him, and he became a bit more tolerant of the idea that not everything can or needs to be rationally explained. This was one such case.

For three nights in a row now, he'd had the same dream. Standing at the very top of Cortoza's Mt. Infernus - a climb he'd indeed made at one point in his life -, he overlooked the entire archipelago on a rainy night. Suddenly, someone would touch his shoulder; turning around, he'd come face to face with a man he hadn't seen since he was a child: Ivan Sanders, his older brother. And no matter what he told him, what he asked him (and he'd ask him something different in every dream), Ivan's answer was always the same: "You haven't forgotten me, you never will. And you'll never be like me."

Why?! He'd gotten over it, it'd been years since he gave it any thought at all... so why now?

- Rio? Riolu?

Levin looked back up. In front of him, looking more curious than concerned, was Mazo. That's right... he can read me.
He invited him to sit next to him on the couch. The Riolu wasn't the most likeable company he could've asked for, so aloof was he, but it could be worse; at least it wasn't Magnus.

- Sorry if I woke you up. I've been... having some weird dreams lately. But you already know that, don't you?

Mazo nodded. For all his detachment and cold demeanour, he was still wise beyond his age and someone Levin could trust completely - even if the Riolu wasn't all that good at comforting people.

- It's about my brother. He... he left home on his journey when I was just a kid. Man, he was something. A complete prick, always full of himself, but the bastard always backed it up and it pissed me off.

Mazo raised his eyebrow at the remark, but said nothing.

- Heard he took the Kanto region by storm, with his team of then-unclassified Steel-Types. He generated quite the buzz back then, and a lot of people credit him with being the one responsible for introducing the Steel Type to the mainstream public... but we never heard from him again after he sent us a letter saying he was gonna cross Victory Road to reach the Indigo Plateau. And we never got word from a new Champion either... so he either got his ass handed to him and disappeared out of embarrassment, or...

The Riolu put his hand on Levin's shoulder and shook his head with conviction.

- I don't know what happened. Mom and Dad fell into a depression and sheltered me even more. Why do you think I only managed to go on my own journey when I was twenty? It broke their hearts, seeing me leave with no guarantees of ever coming back. They'd lost one son already, I was the only one they had. But we keep in touch. I won't abandon them, I can't do that to them. I'll never be like him.

At the utterance of those last words, he stopped abruptly, startled. His every dream had been ending with that same sentence.
Mazo, again, could read him like an open book. He knew what troubled Levin perhaps better than himself, but what could he do?

- I'd put the past behind me, the memory of my brother and the trouble he caused for us. I promised myself I'd be better than him; every bit as good a Trainer and more; vowed I'd achieve success where he found none... Vowed that I'd find out if... if he's still...

He got up. Talking about it wouldn't change anything; he would continue to do things like he'd always done, regardless of his legacy, expectations, memories. He was his own man now, and he'd be a better man than Ivan ever was. Now if only the conceited asshole would stop haunting his dreams!

- Thanks for listening, Mazo. Go back to sleep, it's still early, and you have a long day of training ahead.

He patted him on the head - something Mazo loathed, but now wasn't the best time to argue - and went to bed as well. Maybe the rest of the night would be calmer now that he'd let off some steam...

The Riolu went back to his corner, but didn't fall back asleep. There was one way to confirm what happened to his Trainer's brother, and one Pokemon in particular who could help. Now if only Levin would allow himself to be helped...

MarbleZone 02-03-2013 05:49 PM

It had been an eventful day. Gaius's birthday had passed, and it saw the young dragon train harder than he ever had before; the Gible had mastered three different attacks in one day, further distancing himself from his peers in power and skill - something Gaius was very well aware of. Still, Levin had begun noticing subtle signs of change in the dragon's behaviour; while still arrogant and stubborn, the more childish, prankster side of Gaius was dying down, giving rise to a more serious and noble personality that stemmed from its dragonic nature. While still believing himself to be the best there is, he understood that as Levin's strongest companion and majestic dragon, he was akin to nobility and should behave as such. While this strong sense of entitlement would likely never go away, it was a welcome change that forebode the rise of a more mature and dependable partner.

Still, the day was behind them... it was nighttime now, and Levin sighed as he returned to the Treehouse. He was sure to be haunted by the same dreams again, they'd been recurrent for the past two weeks now. Reluctantly, he wished his Pokemon goodnight (though there was the question if Ymir ever slept) and went to bed. He just sat on it for a long while, looking at the wooden floor, not wanting to go to sleep. He had to figure this out, or he'd go insane... Why this, why now? Why Ivan? He was just a distant memory... Still, he had to sleep eventually.

Lying down, Levin closed his eyes slowly. The last thing he saw before falling asleep was a single red orb of light floating in front of him...

---

Mt. Infernus. He remembered that journey, when Min was abducted and he searched all over the mountain peak for her... It was quieter now. He overlooked most of the archipelago from where he stood; the view over Cortoza was magnificent. But he'd been here enough times to know what happened next.

- Long time no see, Levin.

What? That's not how it goes... He turned around, startled. In front of him was just the man he expected to find - Ivan Sanders, his older brother. Shoulder-long silver hair, wearing a white shirt and a brown leather jacket, dark gray cargo pants and boots. And that smug grin...

- What are you talking about? You've been harassing me for the past two weeks, Ivan.

His reply could have been anything. Warm, surprised, confused... instead, the only words he could say were filled with resentment. Then he wondered why this dream was being different... he never talked to his brother in any of the previous ones.

- Have I, little bro? Or have you been haunting yourself? See... all this while, you've been dreaming about meeting me again. About what I'd say. You've been doing this to yourself, because whether you like it or not... you're still trying to be me. But this time, it ain't just a dream, Lev.

What did he mean by that? Was he messing with him again? What the hell was going on?!

- Explain, Ivan. You know full well I'm not getting any of this, and you're getting a kick out of it.

- Heh, that I am. Let me tell you though... for such a prick, you managed to surround yourself with some pretty awesome friends. Almost makes me jealous!

Behind Ivan, someting happened. A crack appeared out of thin air, a rift of some sort, emitting light... and then it closed.

- I see, you don't get it yet... This is a passage, a door. A door that leads somewhere you can't follow, and from where I wouldn't normally be able to leave. But one of your friends has made it possible; one of your Pokemon wants you to know the truth.

From the ground in front of Levin's feet, a small black shadow appeared, then rose to take a familiar shape. Faust.

- Wait, that red light before I fell asleep... It was you? Then all of this is?...

The Duskull nodded in silence. The line between dream and reality was much too blurred for Levin's understanding, and Ivan picked up on it.

- I'll explain, Lev. But you were always a smart kid, you'll get it halfway through. You're asleep, and this is really a dream. It's when you're dreaming that you're the farthest away from your own reality and closest to others... one in particular is your Duskull's homeworld. You know their species special ability, don't you?

He was beginning to understand, but it'd take a while to accept.

- The... Spirit World.

- Exactly. Faust wanted you to know... he wanted you to understand. And he wanted you to have some closure on this, so you'll stop being haunted by dreams. But for that to happen, I gotta open your eyes a little more, and you're not gonna like it. Same way you always hated it when I proved you wrong when we argued.

Ivan came to his dream from the Spirit World thanks to Faust's connection. But that meant...

- What happened to you? Why did you vanish? Why did you stop writing all of a sudden? Do you know how miserable mom and dad became, how you shattered our home with your silence?!

Ivan smiled; not his usually cocky smirk, but a sad smile. Condescending son of a bitch.

- Lev... that's the thing. You're gonna have to figure it out and accept it yourself. When you're capable of telling yourself what happened, when you've come to terms with reality, you'll be rid of all this; the anxiety, the dreams, the need to beat me...

- What?!

- Oh yes. See, that's the whole problem... you refuse to acknowledge where you're headed! I know what you've been up to, your entire journey. And although I have to admit I'm impressed, I think you're blinded by your own resolve to realize that what you've actually set out to do... isn't to be the best trainer in the world, it's simply to be better than me!

- You self-centered, egomaniacal moron! Why does everything have to be about you all the time? It's my journey, my story! Just because you failed doesn't mean I have to carry the torch for you! I'm my own man, nobody tel...

- Wrong again. Levin, why do you think you were drawn to the Fighting Type?

The question caught him completely off-guard. First off, how did he know? It was only recently that... Unless he truly was...

- I've made a name for myself with my Steel-Types. I was one of the hottest things in Kanto back when the type was still largely unknown, remember? "Iron Ivan", the fans called me. And I know it ate you up, it made you roll your eyes while you told yourself I was overrated. And even then, you could never beat me, not once. Sure, you didn't have your own Pokemon until you found Min, I remember her. But you would borrow just about anybody's Pokemon to try and take me down, and you never could. So when you realized you were poised to make a name for yourself in Fizzy Bubbles, much like I did in Kanto, of course you were drawn to the Fighting Type! It was the feeling that your team, your Pokemon, would never lose to the greatest trainer you'd ever faced, thus validating your beliefs that you were improving far and above what I'd accomplished.

- No... no, that's not true! I had forgotten about you, you were a memory, you were in the past!

- The past is the only thing you haven't tamed yet, Levin. You're two thirds of a great trainer, which means you're just okay. Decent at best. Because you lack something... You lack peace of mind, the true understanding and acceptance of your past, in order to move on.

That was the final drop.

- "Decent at best"?! Even after all these years, after all the adventures I've been through, the Pokemon I've assembled and the battles I've won, in your eyes, I'm still just "decent"?!

- Care to prove me wrong, little brother?

Ivan reached for a Blue Cyberball in his belt and tossed it in the air. From it emerged... a Magneton. But how? If he came from the Spirit World, how could he still have his Pokemon? For that to happen, it had to mean they too had...
He looked at his own belt. 15 Pokeballs were attached to it; he could feel each of his Pokemon's presence with him, except for Ymir's. Was this the extent of Faust's power?

- Is it beginning to make sense, Levin? Why I suddenly stopped writing, why you never heard of my accomplishments at the Indigo League? You know I would've steamrolled through them all, I could've been the Champion. Even you believed it, as much as it made you jealous. And now here I am, along with my Pokemon. It's easy to piece everything together, but I want you to do it. Acknowledge it.

It really was true, then. It had to be... How else would they be talking like this? How else could Faust have found him? But if that's what had happened, at least... at the very least, he could take solace in knowing Ivan hadn't just abandoned them, hadn't just been beaten and given up.

- How... how did it happen, Ivan? How did you... how... did you die?

His brother smiled again; but this time, he was relieved. Proud.

MarbleZone 02-07-2013 06:11 PM

The truth... how he'd yearned for it, even if he didn't realize it. The nightmares, the inexplicable need to be the best, the preference of Pokemon types; was all of that because of his subconscious need to know the truth? And now, just like that, there it was. The man he'd tried so hard to forget but could never cease to hate, the brother he thought had abandoned him and his family... had died.

- Finally, Levin. You understand now... or rather, you've finally accepted it. I never made it out of Victory Road, never laid eyes on the Indigo Plateau... never fulfilled my destiny. But I never abandoned you either.

- Liar! You think that makes everything okay? You died, so our family being shattered by your disappearance is suddenly alright?!

He wasn't thinking straight, but he didn't care. To him, Ivan was still guilty of everything. Of disappearing, emotionally destroying his parents, of... of dying on him. Of never coming back.

- Brother, listen to yourself. You... you really hate me so much that you'll still blame me? I died, Levin. I didn't choose to! I never meant to leave you guys, never wanted to make you worry!

Levin didn't know how to feel. Should he be relieved that Ivan didn't really want to disappear, like he thought he did? Should he be sad to know that he was gone forever regardless? After his outburst, Levin was now silent, almost apathetic; it was too much for him to process, all of this... for some reason, his only reaction was to grab a Pokeball from his belt.

- I never meant to harm any of you... Levin, my family was the most valuable thing in my life! The success, the talent, the relative fame, all the supporters and fans, the Badges... All of that took a back seat to your pride in me, to your love. All of my victories... they would've meant nothing if you weren't there to cheer me on, if I didn't have you to feel proud of me. Abandoning you, traumatizing mom and dad like that.. I would never do something like that intentionally!

The Pokeball in Levin's hand expanded to cover his palm. He remained silent as Ivan kept going. His brother's tone suddenly changed, becoming heavier.

- The fact that you've been thinking that I deserted you for all these years.. is a testament to how hard I failed as a brother. You're only a boy back then, and the only memories you have of me are those of an arrogant prick, the older brother that belittled you at every chance, uncompromising, inflexible... I'm so sorry.

Sorry? Since when did Ivan Sanders apologize, least of all to him?! Why would it change anything now that he was dead, wasn't he the same person Levin had been trying to forget and surpass at the same time? Why would he be nice now? This was all... so confusing...

-... How?

Levin's voice was coarse, almost imperceptible.

- How what, Levin?

- I asked you before, you didn't answer... How did it happen?

He wasn't even sure he wanted to know, because that meant he'd have to believe. But he'd spent enough time doubting Ivan, blaming him... if there was a chance to make peace with himself, he'd take it.
Ivan hesitated, then sighed. He looked ashamed.

- I was an idiot. Actually, I.... I was myself, exactly as you'd describe me, but nobody else. Maybe you were the only one that really saw me for who I was... I was battling this kid on the lower floors of Victory Road. Guy called himself an "Ace Trainer", so of course I had to humble him, humiliate him. It was a three-on-three match, standard stuff. I can't recall what Pokemon he had, it was all over too quickly, but I do remember that I only needed one of mine: Steelix.

Levin remembered that one well. Perhaps Ivan's strongest Pokemon, he already owned it as an Onix before leaving on his journey... arrogant as his owner. Ivan probably arranged for a trade at some point to make it a colossal Steel-Type...

- So I smacked his first two Pokemon around for a while with some Earth Powers, eventually knocked 'em out after turning the field to rubble. Then on his last Pokemon.. that one I remember. It was a Raticate, and it was terrified. The kid was ready to concede and throw the match away...

- But you didn't let him. You never did.

-... Yes. I did the same with you all the time. It didn't feel like a true victory until all of his Pokemon were down. So I kept punishing the poor rat... Rock Throws, Rock Slides, Steelix was wrecking the cave around him to hurl more stones at the opponent. And when I finally had enough, I ordered an Earthquake...

He'd pieced it together by then. All of it. The memories were coming back too, no longer repressed. His mother crying in the living room in front of the TV, telling him to go back to his room when he approached her. The headline on the morning TV news saying "Victory Road closed indefinitely due to tragedy"; the Indigo League being suspended for a month, causing a number of irate Trainers to set sail for Hoenn and Sinnoh...

- You died in the cave-in. You caused that cave-in, the interruption of the League... you and that other Trainer were the casualties...

- Yes. I was a self-important idiot, a bully, and it cost me my life. I threw everything away in that match with my attitude, that I didn't even notice the ceiling starting to crack after all the damage I caused to the surroundings. Last thing I remember was the noise, the kid looking up in panic... and nothing more. My Pokemon were crushed inside their Pokeballs, and not even Steelix could dig his way out on time before starving...

He'd never have guessed it; his perfect brother, the supreme analyst and future Champion... killed by his own recklessness?

- You allowed yourself to die and leave us all alone because of you ego?! You goddamn IDIOT! Do you have any idea of the mess you left behind? You destroyed your own family, that kid's family, the journeys of countless Trainers and the League itself!! You fuc...

- I KNOW THAT! And I've had to deal with it every single day since, watching from the Spirit World as mom and dad went into depression, as you harbored even darker feelings about me, as you put together your own version of the events and antagonized me subconsciously. I've watched you grow under the vow that you'd never be like me, only to become dangerously similar; the arrogance, the goals, the self-centered mindset... But Levin, you can't keep following in my footsteps. You have to be your own man, like you claimed to be. Look where I ended up, look what my attitude did to me!
I know I have very little right to give you lectures, so take them as heartfelt advice: it's not all about you. The journey, the travels, they're meant for more than improving your skills. They're a lesson for life, they change you... if you let them. Remember when you allowed your Elekid to convince you to save that man on Phantom Isle? He would've died otherwise. He would've died if you'd been your usual self, if you'd been... like me. You can become more than I ever was, bigger than I could ever be! Not because you choose certain Pokemon that could beat mine, not because you try to erase my existence from memory; but because you can learn from my mistakes, and succeed where I failed: be a better person. Have the character I never had, the clarity of mind to know that your own interests don't always come before others'... please, take the wisdom I only earned when it was too late!


- You... you've been watching me all along?

- Every step of the way, little brother. Where I am I can't help you, I can only watch... and it anguished me to see you become so much like me, while trying so hard to become the opposite. But thanks to your Duskull I was given this chance: the chance to warn you, to guide you - whether you like it or not -, and above all... to apologize. I said it before Levin, and I mean it: I'm so sorry. So sorry that the only memories you kept of me were those of a jerk, sorry that I gave you enough reason to believe I'd abandoned you. Sorry for not being the older brother you deserved; if I could go back... I'd fix everything. If only I could...

If only he could... Levin found himself smiling. So this was Ivan too; not just the prick, the best, the greatest. But the humbled, matured, regretful person he never thought he could be. He should have tried to look past his faults to, rather than instantly antagonize him; but now that they'd been reunited, he began to believe he could turn over a new page. Maybe even forgive Ivan, rather than just forget... But there was something that still needed to be done.

- Ivan... thanks. And I have to apologize as well. I should have never assumed anything about you; you always were an asshole, but I could tell how much we meant to you; mom and dad, anyway. I neglected to remember that and blamed you for disappearing... but I'm glad. I'm glad we got the chance to talk. And believe it or not... I think I'm glad to know that you're watching. But...

-... Heh. I was wondering when you'd get to that. Magneton's been waiting... It's itching to see for itself how much you've grown.

- Three on three, Ivan. Like old times.

- Bring it, Lev!


He hurled the Pokeball he'd been holding all this time. From it emerged a violent Magby, hungry for fire and destruction. Grinning, Magnus realized he was about to get some action.

Hate to rely on this guy, but Magneton's got nothing to hurt him. Now if only he feels like obeying..

- Magnus, Flamethrower!

- Magneton, disrupt him with Metal Sound.

The Steel-Type reacted faster, its magnets vibrating at a special frequency; just as Magnus prepared to attack, the sound waves reached him, inducing a head-splitting headache; completely unable to focus, the Magby released his Flamethrower aimlessly, completely missing his opponent.

- Lock-On and Zap Cannon. Sorry Lev.

Magneton's eyes glowed red for a brief moment, taking aim as Magnus clenched his head in his hands; finally, it unleashed a huge ball of electricity at the Magby, creating a large explosion on contact. When the dust settled on the peak of Mt. Infernus, Magnus was knocked out.

- No way...

Levin recalled his Pokemon; beaten before landing a single blow...

- Your Magby represents the first part of your journey; the Levin that had set out on his own journey, mindless of the events of before and carefree about future ones; a Levin that could live in the present.

Ivan recalled Magneton, and chose his second Pokemon; from a Steel Ball emerged another familiar sight, a voracious Aggron.

- Wondered when I'd see that one again. But this time I'm prepared.

Paying no mind to Ivan's speech, Levin chose a second Pokeball. He called forth Buster the Heracross, who excitedly fluttered his wings, ready for battle - his single greatest pleasure in life.
Ivan smiled.

- Ah, a Fighting-Type. Let's see how he holds up then... Aggron, Metal Claw, then mow him down with Iron Tail!

- Buster, counter his Metal Claw with Rock Smash, then side step his Iron Tail!

The two Pokemon bolted forward, Metal Claw and Rock Smash colliding as the two punched, nullifying each other's offense; Aggron then turned around and swept his Tail in vertical motion, but just as Levin had anticipated, Buster managed to dodge to the side, the steel tail hitting the ground so hard that it got stuck temporarily.

- Aggron always used his Iron Tail like that, never as a side sweep. Sorry brother, I remember everything now. Go Buster, there's your opening! Focus Punch!

The Heracross charged up his fist for a moment, capitalizing on Aggron trying to unstuck his tail, then let loose with the fiercest punch Levin had ever seen, sending the megaton beast flying some feet back before crashing down with a large thud. But just as he was about to congratulate Buster... Aggron rose back to his feet, his eyes glowing an ominous blue.

- Impressive work, Levin. You could've never pulled that off before. But you're still missing something... Aggron, Metal Burst!

- What?!

The Steel-Type roared and released a massive ball of silver energy, twice the power of Buster's Focus Punch concentrated into one blast, and as it made contact with the awe-struck Heracross, the ensuing explosion almost made Levin fall down himself. After that, it came as no surprise when Buster was unable to get back up. He'd lost... again.

- Good going, Lev. And I mean it; I didn't expect you to be any more trouble than you were back in the day... but in only one year of adventuring, you already evolved far more than I had in the same amount of time. Heracross represents just that: your road toward the future, your desire to be better than me, to become something I couldn't; and that makes you, like I said, two.thirds of a great Trainer: one who can live in the present, simply capturing the Pokemon he likes, and who simultaneously looks to the future, training other Pokemon he feels he needs in order to overcome an obstacle. But you're still not over your past, and that's the third you're missing: peace of mind with what is left behind. Now... there's one more to go! Unless you wanna call it a day?

That question wasn't innocent; Ivan already knew his answer. Smiling back - a genuine smile, one he'd never granted his brother in all the years he'd been alive -, Levin's eyes revealed no intention of dropping the last fight; no matter the outcome.

- Heh. Figures. Well then... If this is my chance to apologize, to put all our differences aside and get rid of all the skeletons in our closets, then I think it's only fitting that I use this as my last Pokemon.

Tossing a Premier Ball in the air, Ivan called forth his last fighter, and Levin already knew which one before it materialized. The Steelix stood imposing and ominous, but Levin didn't care. It wasn't about the result anymore.
Before he could choose his own partner, the Luxury Ball in his belt clicked open, the Pokemon inside coming out on its own: Mazo, the Riolu.

- Hah, I was wondering when you'd come out. Levin, meet the one responsible for us meeting here like this.

- Wh-what? But wasn't it... Faust?

- When Faust summoned me, he told me he came on behalf of another one of your Pokemon, who believed this reunion to be fundamental for your future well-being. Now that I see him, I'm certain it was this one... Hello there, little one.

The Riolu bowed his head in respect, before assuming a battle stance. He had to know he was completely outmatched... so why?

Without waiting for instructions, Mazo dashed forward, almost too fast to track, and hit the massive Steelix with a Quick Attack. The titan, of course, barely felt the hit, but unlike Levin expected, he didn't swat the tiny Pokemon, instead humbly awaiting instructions. The burden of the horrible events clearly weighed on the once-boisterous Steel-Type... in a way, he was also responsible for his Trainer's death.

- Steelix, use Dragonbreath then Stone Edge.

The iron snake immediately fired a stream of blue flames directly at Mazo, who was still recovering from having bumped his body directly against his huge opponent.

- Mazo, no!! Wait... quick, use a Hi Jump Kick!

The Riolu quickly realized the point of the command, obeying without hesitation. Using his powerful legs, he leaped as high in the air as he could, in the process dodging the Dragonbreath at the last possible second, and plunged down driving his knee with immense force against Steelix... making him wobble and almost fall down in an unbelievable display of strength! Still, the opponent recovered, and just as Mazo returned to the ground, Steelix shot dozens of sharp rocks, the Stone Edge hitting its mark and sending the Riolu tumbling down to the floor.

- Mazo!! Get up, quick!!

He's not holding back anymore... not being condescending, not an ounce of arrogance in his orders. Ivan is taking this battle seriously; taking ME seriously! Ivan... Brother... thanks.

Levin smiled yet again; he was at peace. He would forgive his brother, and acknowledge that he was much more than the memories he'd kept. And he'd make the world remember Ivan again through his own journey; no longer one to set him apart from his brother, but maybe to continue his legacy, not the legacy of Ivan or Levin, but the Sanders legacy.

- Thanks, Levin. Thanks for believing, for accepting, and above all, for forgiving me. Let's end this then... Steelix, Hyper Beam!

The monstrous Pokemon arched his head back and unleashed the stream of destruction that no Pokemon in Mazo's condition could resist. It was the ultimate proof of respect, ending the battle with his most powerful move. The beam ravaged the field as it traveled toward Mazo, kicking up a massive dust cloud as it hit the still downed target. It was over.

- Great job, friend. We almost had him... I couldn't have asked for a bett... what?!

- How the hell?...

As the dust settled, something unbelievable awaited. Mazo was standing, arms crossed in front of his face, having somehow Endured the hit. And then, he started glowing.

- Your Riolu... he's...

A bright light enveloped his body as it began to change, to grow... and soon thereafter, Mazo was no longer a Riolu. Before Levin's eyes stood a magnificent Lucario.

- His bond with you... it's stronger than any other I've ever seen! It's the only way he could have gotten back up, and now this proves it. Mazo cares deeply about you Levin, and the only reason we were able to finally set aside our differences was his devotion. He's proven his worth and dedication, and he looks exhausted. Let's end this for now, brother.

Levin nodded; Mazo had been magnificent. The Lucario turned to face his Trainer, the solemn look on his face still present from when he was a Riolu - but then he smiled, for the first time in his life, before collapsing at Levin's feet. Recalling him into his Luxury Ball, Levin whispered a "Thank you" and placed the ball in his belt.

Ivan walked over to him, Faust floating closely behind.

- I would offer a hand, or a hug, but you passing right through me could be unsettling - he joked. - Levin, once again... thank you. I never expected you to forgive me, not really, but you've proven to be more of a man than I ever was. Don't neglect that side of you, that kind side, the one I was never really able to show you. With it, with the love and care that allowed Mazo to evolve, along with your skill, you can go anywhere and accomplish anything you want. Now... now you're a great Trainer. And you've always been a great brother.

- Ivan, I... thanks. I think we've said it all by now; I'll train as hard as I can, and who knows, maybe one day Faust can provide a way for a rematch. I think I'd like to kick your ass one day.

- Some day you might... you know I'll be waiting. It's not like I'm going anywhere... Heh, just kidding. Lev... when you're with Mazo, remember me, remember this encounter. Have him be my way of reminding you that I'll always be watching over you. The Steel-Type Sanders and the Fighting-Type Sanders... I'd say Lucario embodies both of us perfectly. We both owe a great deal to him.

- I'll honour your memory, Ivan. I'll walk my own path, but through me people will be forced to remember the greatest Trainer in the history of Kanto, the Champion that never got his moment. I'll carry the Sanders name to the top, and I'll count on your Steel Type to help me. Levin and Ivan will be one single legacy. Turns out, when you're not a colossal prick, you're apparently a guy worth being a fan of. Who would've known?

Levin and Ivan laughed together, and finally nodded simultaneously - there was no need for any more words. The two brothers had mended their friendship, and Levin could finally put his ghosts to rest, as his Ghost returned him to his own sleep.

MarbleZone 03-18-2013 07:01 PM

As he exited the Cable Club, Levin Sanders was a happy man. Twirling a Pokeball in his fingers, he smiled as yet another of his long-time dreams had been fulfilled - he was now the proud owner of a Druddigon.

Not long after the doors had closed behind him and he'd bid farewell to Stark, Levin decided to formally introduce himself to his new partner. He hurled the Pokeball in the air and from within the dragon hatchling materialized. Letting out a powerful roar, it stood in front of its new owner, just barely smaller than him. Impressive for a newborn.

The Druddigon locked eyes with Levin - cold yellow eyes, that didn't blink once. Undeterred, the young man stepped forward and introduced himself with a warm smile.

- Hey there little one! I'm Levin, your new Trainer! I hope you and I will get alon...

A second frightening roar interrupted him, as the Druddigon spread his wings and clawed the air repeatedly, before lunging toward Levin, tackling him and sending him crashing down to the floor! Then he turned around and started running away, as the young man clinged to his ribs in pain, unable to even aim the Pokeball at the fleeing dragon to recall him. Levin could do nothing except watch as the dragon rampaged and fled, running through the now-empty streets in the dead of the night.

- Wait! Druddigon, come back!!

It was, of course, to no avail. He was gone. Holding the vacant Pokeball in his hand, Levin cussed, not wanting to imagine the repercussions of a stray Druddigon running around in a rage. He had to get him back, he just had to! But how long would that even take?...

MarbleZone 04-01-2013 06:40 PM

"Reports of the mysterious predator that has been ravaging livestock all over Pompas Gaseosas continue to emerge. In its most recent attack, the creature killed and fed on over twenty Mareep in a matter of minutes, attacking them inside their own corral - before the owner even realized what was happening. This is in line with the new MO it has been using for the past two weeks, since in the beginning, it only used to strike the occasional wandering sheep.
Locals grow restless, concerned about both their livelihood and their own lives. Many believe it's just a matter of time before "El Rojo", as they call it, turns its attention toward humans instead of just cattle."


Levin cursed and turned off the TV. It could well be him - his missing Druddigon. How the dragon wound up in a place as remote as Pompas Gaseosas was anybody's guess, but it had indeed been a while since he had fled...

The young man looked outside, from the window of his Treetop House. Baal the Aerodactyl roamed freely through the sky, the one place that had remained the same since he was last alive. If only the dinosaur would allow him to Fly on his back, they could make it to Pompas fast enough to recapture Druddigon and prevent further attacks... but Baal wouldn't let a mere human command him, let alone ride him. Not yet, anyway.

He was snapped out of his troubled thoughts by the doorbell ringing. He wasn't expecting visitors - ever - so who could that be? He walked over to the front door and opened it to reveal a middle-aged gentleman, dressed in fine clothes and wearing a top hat, with a look of terror on his face that was best described as... incredibly amusing, actually.

- H-hello good sir... I... hum, I'm here to deliver a... letter, yes. Indeed. Say, are you aware that there is a... a... living Aerodactyl flying around your house?

---

After Levin managed to calm the man down and convince him to come inside and take a seat, things took a turn for the better; an unexpected turn, nonetheless.
He sat down in front of him, by the living room table, and handed the older man a cup of tea.

- So, what brings you here, Mister?....

- Apologies sir, I was asked not to disclose my name. All you need to know is that I serve the Lords of this land. I come with a message for you.

With that, he handed Levin an impeccably-kept envelope. What could that be? Running his finger through the folded paper, he opened the letter and started reading.
The gentleman looked on as the young Trainer's eyes widened after each sentence. By the end of the letter, Levin had a look of complete disbelief on his face, that soon turned to his usual cocky grin.

- My commendations sir. On your very first try too, unless I'm mistaken.

He wasn't. Lengthy and convoluted with protocol as it was, only two parts of the letter truly mattered: the word "Approved", and the handwritten signature of one of the Elite Three at the end.

I made it. They've noticed - no, they've accepted me. With this letter, I have gained both the recognition and the authority I deserve!

He shook hands with the gentleman and walked him to the door.

- Tell them I am deeply grateful for this opportunity, and that I'll do my very best to live up to their expectations. And thank you for delivering this to me in person. Now, like I said... Baal won't harm you. He has more on his mind than the concerns of us petty humans...

They said their goodbyes, and Levin closed the door behind him. He ran his eyes through the letter once more, to make sure it was for real. And there it was indeed, the one word that made all the difference...

Approved.

MarbleZone 04-28-2013 05:47 AM

It was almost nighttime. Levin returned to his home, fondly named the Marble Garden, clutching a tiny metal ball in his hand: his latest acquisition, a Shellder. Zion floated closely behind him, as always, and hadn’t let the Pokeball out of its sight the entire journey. Levin knew why, even if the Beldum lacked the Psychic power to express itself – it had been an awkward choice for his team.

Throughout his travels, he’d always preferred – subconsciously or not – to raise mostly stronger and rarer Pokemon than the small shellfish. There was apparently nothing remarkable about such a widespread Pokemon that would elicit Levin’s interest, so Zion was no doubt wondering why. He smirked; they’d see.

Boo the Bibarel was the first to notice the return of his Trainer; running to meet him, falling twice along the way, the beaver hopped around him excitedly. Levin patted him on the hand, thanking him for the warm welcome, but decided to say nothing about the new teammate. Something told him the Shellder wouldn’t exactly get along with someone of such… selective intelligence.

- Hey Boo! How you doing buddy, missed me? Hey, I got a job for you. Could you go find out where Mazo is and call him back? It’s almost dinner time.

Boo nodded vigorously and ran off to accomplish the all-important mission. Levin smiled as he wandered off, then called over the rest of his Pokemon; many had already noticed him and were approaching, and those that hadn’t did soon after Boo passed them by, running as fast as he could. Other than Mazo the Lucario, who had a habit of wandering by himself most of the day, as well as Cygna and Atla, left in the Daycare Centre, only Hebi was missing – and Baal, but that one would be off flying somewhere, and wouldn’t draw close even if he’d heard his Trainer.

- Hey guys! Got someone I want you all to meet. Say hi to Krem!

He released Shellder from his Pokeball, and the tiny shellfish looked around with curiosity. Why were all these Pokemon looking at him and welcoming him like they’d known him forever?

- Hope you’ll make him feel at home, everyone. Now, does anybody know where Hebi is?

Min pointed over to the nearby lake. Sure enough, there was the Dunsparce, deeply immersed in the fascinating activity that was looking at his own reflection. Levin shook his head

- Go on inside guys, I’ll catch up and get dinner ready.

He walked over to Hebi before something happened; the lake was remarkably deep, and there was no way the silly land snake would make it out if he fell in. Krem followed him, hopping to keep up the pace; he probably wanted to introduce himself to the Dunsparce.

Just as he was about to pick up Hebi, who hadn’t even noticed them approach, Levin heard something and turned around.

- Biiiiiiiiiiiiiiii!!!!

Boo was running over to him with a radiant look on his face. Seems he’d found Mazo and delivered the message. Oh well, time to amp up the achievement and send him home happy.

- Well done Boo, I knew you had it in you! Here, I got something for you.

He set his backpack on the ground, opened it and pulled out a handful of Pokeblocks.

- These are for you, but make sure to share with the others, okay? I’ll be right over, let me just get Hebi.

The Bibarel jumped in joy and took the Pokeblocks, munching on one as he left on yet another important mission: delivering the remaining sweets to the others. Levin watched him go and turned back around to fetch the Dunsparce, when Krem nudged him on the leg and pointed at the lake with his tongue, visibly alarmed. Where was Hebi?!

He rushed to the margin, only to find the snake flapping and splashing about in the water helplessly, almost at the center of the lake, and soon he started to drown! Damnit Hebi, you idiot!!

What could he do? He could dive in and look for him, but it was already dark and the odds of finding such a small Pokemon in the depths of the lake were little. Cygna wasn’t available to Dive in and recover him either, and all the others were already inside the house! He turned around; maybe something in his bag would help, perhaps his Escape Rope? That’s when he saw it.

Krem emerged from within the Bag holding something on the tip of his tongue; a Water Stone. How did he know?... He must have spotted it while I fetched the Pokeblocks for Boo… He wants to use it already?!
Things were starting to make sense. Hebi didn’t just happen to fall inside the lake while he was talking to Boo at all… Krem must have Tackled him inside, it was the only way the Dunsparce could have ended up in the middle of the lake! He just wanted an excuse to use the Water Stone...
Levin clenched his fist; he hated being outsmarted, and now he had no choice but to play along; Krem was his best shot at rescuing Hebi anyway.

- You scheming little prick… What kind of… Fine, do it already! Just save Hebi!

The Shellder immediately pulled the Water Stone inside its shell and snapped it shut, and soon afterwards, the already-familiar glow enveloped his body. Several sharp protrusions emerged as the shell grew to almost-human size, and as the light subsided, Krem had evolved. The http://www.upnetwork.net/fb/sprites/pn091.gif stood imposing , with a grin that said “You just got played”.
He hopped inside the lake and submerged. Levin held his breath, much like he hoped Hebi was doing down there. But after a short while, Krem resurfaced, carrying the tiny snake gasping for air on top of his shell.

- Hebi!! Thank God… Come here boy, I’m sorry I let you out of my sight! I’ll fix you right up buddy.

He recalled Hebi to his Pokeball, and exchanged a glare with the Cloyster.

- Don’t ever try something like that again. If you want to pull my strings, make sure you pull the right ones... Otherwise you’re in for a very difficult life under my command.

Krem said nothing, but smiled back; a smile that meant he believed the threat, but it wouldn’t stop him from messing with Levin’s head. A smile that said he knew, deep down inside, Levin was impressed and eager to measure his wits against him in the future. But the Cloyster said nothing, as he too was recalled inside his Pokeball.

MarbleZone 07-02-2013 04:55 PM

Thank you, John. In other news, the infamous “El Rojo” continues to spread panic throughout Pompas Gaseosas. Entire farms fall to the rogue Druddigon’s hunger as it decimates whole flocks of Mareep . Furthermore, the dragon now seems to have developed an appetite for Miltank as well, with several reports of herds being viciously attacked over the last few days. Authorities are aware of the problem and have already dispatched units to track down and neutralize the threat, before “El Rojo” starts claiming human victims.

Levin clenched his fist and turned off the TV. Druddigon probably didn’t even remember his existence, but to the young man, the dragon was still his responsibility. More importantly, it was registered under his name and was thus uncatchable, as the local authorities would be quick to find out if they tried to capture it. And that meant they could trace Druddigon’s ownership back to him… Then, he’d be in serious trouble.

He went outside to catch some fresh air and clear his head. He needed a way to cross half the world without leaving a trail if things got messy; he had to get to Pompas, recapture Druddigon and leave as fast and as silently as he could. But how?...

The sound of battling snapped him out of his trance. It was commonplace in a home where over twenty Pokemon lived together, but the combatants were a pair he’d never seen fight before: Albion, his Taillow, was sparring with Cygna, his Ducklett.
The Water-Type seemed to be going easy on the smaller bird, and rather than a full-on battle, it seemed she was instead helping him train a particular move. And judging by their worn-out look, they’d been at it for a while.

Cygna took flight, followed closely by Albion; the blue bird’s wing began glowing white, and she turned mid-air for a dive straight at the still-ascending Taillow; his own wing, however, started to glow as well, and as both birds were about to collide, they swung their respective wings against one another. A bright flash of light and metallic sound ensued, and Cygna fell to the ground, while Albion remained airborne. He’d perfected Steel Wing!

For some reason, witnessing the clash made Levin's heart lighter. Cygna continued to prove herself a precious member of the team, selflessly putting her own well-being on the line to help others improve. First she'd triggered Boo's evolution, and now this - and she wasn't even aware that he was watching. That was the purest form of dedication.

As for Albion, the little bird's courage surprised him every day. For a Pokemon of such small stature, his perseverance and heart were second to none, and Levin was sure the Taillow was destined for great things.


Albion spotted Levin and immediately flew down, landing on his shoulder has he so often did and chirping happily. The young man smiled back, congratulating him on his most recent achievement; around Pokemon like Boo, he often had to be condescending and over-hype any small accomplishment, but for such a young Taillow to master Steel Wing this quickly was a genuine victory.
Cygna walked over to them as well, as graciously as her stubby duck feet allowed, and bowed in front of Levin. A true lady, she was; Min could learn a thing or two from her. Albion hopped down from his perch and onto the floor, nudging against Cygna as a way of saying thanks; visibly flustered but not all-too-upset, the slightly larger bird patted him on the head with her wing.


Suddenly, a loud, familiar roar was heard, and soon after a large shadow fell over them. Looking up, Levin saw Baal the Aerodactyl circling them, before descending and landing right in front of Cygna and Albion. Baal never mixed with others willingly, and it filled Levin with apprehension to see the way the prehistoric dragon glared at the small birds. Was that... defiance in his eyes?

Sensing hostility, Albion immediately hopped in front of Cygna, as if to protect her, swelling his chest to let Baal know he wasn't scared. He never was.
The Aerodactyl took exception to this, however, and swung his large wing in a quick motion, swiping the unsuspecting Albion while Cygna managed to just barely avoid it by taking flight. The Taillow was sent tumbling several feet across the floor as Baal roared once again. Ridiculous as it was, it was clear to Levin that the Sky Ruler felt the need to impose his dominance before the ever-growing Albion. And although common sense (and Cygna) yelled at him to intervene, he found himself unable - or unwilling - to do so; deep down, he was dying to see how things unfolded.

Albion slowly but surely recovered from the hit, spread his wings and took flight; eyes locked on the gargantuan opponent, the Taillow wouldn't take it lying down. Outmatched as he was, he refused to be underestimated, and lunged at Baal ready to Peck. Levin's fist instinctively closed.

Baal didn't move; he stood motionless as the tiny Taillow drilled his beak against his rock-hard skin; its growl resembling laughter, the Aerodactyl simply slammed his wing against Albion once more, the Wing Attack again too much for the swallow to withstand; it was propelled several feet in the air, but to Levin's surprise, Albion spread his wings in mid-air and regained balance without crashing down. Cygna was about to step in, but Levin told her to stand still.

- Believe in him. I won't let things get out of hand, but Alby won't forgive us if we stop this now.

Baal decided it was time to take it to the air, his realm. The single flap of his wings that brought him airborne almost knocked Levin off balance, and when the dinosaur roared even louder than before, he knew things were only now getting serious. Albion realized this as well and went on the offensive.
His wings started to glow, and with a single flap, countless golden stars flew towards the much larger opponent. Again, Baal didn't even bother to dodge; the Aerodactyl allowed the unavoidable attack to strike him, practically unfazed; if swelling his chest was Albion's way to stand up to an opponent, this was seemingly his. And then, it was his turn.

For such a massive Pokemon, Baal's speed was downright frightening. His razor-sharp fangs began crackling with polarized energy, and in a split-second he'd already lunged himself at Albion. Levin had studied Aerodactyl properly before striking a deal for Baal, but it was one thing to read about how the species was one of the fastest known to man, but another altogether to actually behold the rock dragon in action. It was almost as if it was physically impossible for something so huge to move that fast!

And still, Albion dodged the charge. Flapping his wings to the side, the Taillow narrowly evaded the deadly Thunder Fang, leaving Baal in disbelief. Clearly, he wasn't expecting the minuscule opponent to match his speed. Turning around, enraged, he dashed forward once more, this time with flames surrounding his teeth.

He's not thinking clearly; Fire Fang is the worst choice of the three against Albion... but he's letting pride take the best of him.

Mouth agape, Baal closed in on the Taillow. This time it was Albion who stayed still, but at the last second his wings glowed once more and a Swift was released, fired straight at Baal's wide-open jaws. The force of the move was only barely enough to temporarily stagger the Aerodactyl, but that meant all the time in the world for the equally-fast Albion. Flying up at the last possible second, the swallow escaped the flaming bite and put some distance between him and Baal once more. But Levin sensed he was at a loss.

Albion flapped his wings to remain at a considerably higher altitude than his opponent, but nothing more. He couldn't quite tell from where he stood, but Levin had a feeling the Taillow was weighing his sparse options and finding none of them helpful. Only one in his arsenal could put a dent on Baal: the freshly-mastered Steel Wing. Levin understood Albion's reluctance; even if he landed it successfully, it probably wouldn't be enough to defeat the Sky Ruler, and with the energy it would take to pull off, he'd be easy pickings afterwards.

Wasting no time, Baal picked up on his opponent's hesitation, and with another mighty flap of his wings ascended to bring the fight to Albion once more. His jaws now shimmering with ice-cold energy, he was intent on finishing this in one strike. Albion reacted quickly and once again did the only thing it could do: dodge. But Baal anticipated it, and just as Albion moved sideways, the Aerodactyl's wing moved to meet him, slamming him upside the head with incredible violence and sending him free-falling to the ground! The impact alone would do serious damage to such a small bird when it hit the ground, but Baal wasn't about to settle for that. Once again charging up for an Ice Fang, the ancient predator flew down in pursuit, a very steep high-speed dive no doubt intended to reach Albion before he crashed.

This was too much. It was evident that Baal would settle for nothing less than to destroy the tiny bird who'd stood up to him, and this is where Levin drew the line. But how could he possibly help Albion in such a desperate situation? Regardless of how it ended, both the fall and the Ice Fang would be equally deadly. Was there any way to avoid both?!

Albion kept falling at alarming speed, seemingly knocked out, but midway through his eyes opened once again; he wasn't out yet! Levin looked on in horror as the collision was imminent , Baal was only inches away and his brain refused to come up with a solution. If only it was as simple as aiming his Pokeball at the swallow and returning it...

Return?... Wait... Swallow Return! "Tsubame Gaeshi"!

He dashed forward to make sure Albion could hear him. He was about to hit the ground... This was the only way!

- Alby, spread your wings.... NOW!

The Taillow instinctively reacted to the command, spreading its tiny wings inches away from both the floor and the Aerodactyl's fangs... and as they picked up wind, Albion found himself gliding just briefly just above the ground and looping back up to the air with a 180º turn, while the astonished Baal crashed and burned with tremendous force!

What we have grown used to calling "Aerial Ace", the Swallow Return technique... He pulled it off!

It was true; albeit unknowingly, Albion had just partially performed the technique, even if not in the conventional fashion. And while a visibly hurt Baal struggled to break free from the rubble that covered him after the collision, it was now Albion who dove down... straight at his opponent, with his wings gaining a metallic glow!

Could it be?

All Baal could do was look up helplessly and watch the Taillow close in on him. And when he was finally in range, it was Albion's turn to swing his wing down with full force on the Aerodactyl's head! A very brief flash of light was released, and Levin stared in sheer amazement as... Baal collapsed!

Cygna herself was in a state of shock. And for good reason... Alby had just defeated an Aerodactyl! And that wasn't all; he'd also pulled off his very first Aerial Ace, although incomplete, and that Steel Wing had been picture-perfect. In a matter of minutes, Albion had achieved more than anybody could have ever expected of him... Levin included.

The Taillow erratically tried to make his way over to the young man, but tumbled to the ground in utter exhaustion midway. Levin smiled as he picked up the tiny swallow.

- You were simply amazing, Alby. I... I really didn't know you had it in you. But I promise I'll never, ever doubt you again. You more than deserve a rest.

He recalled Albion to his Pokeball, but there was something else that needed to be done; a window of opportunity he couldn't afford to miss. He walked over to the fallen giant, who was just now coming back to his senses, and stood directly in front of him.

- Welcome to the new world, Baal.

The Aerodactyl growled. He knew what the human meant.

- Do you know why you just lost in absolutely embarrassing fashion? Why a 1' tall Pokemon managed to defeat the Sky Ruler?

Baal turned his face away and stared at the ground. But Levin wasn't going to stop now. He was going to rub as much salt in that gaping wound as he could - a king's hurt pride.

- You were humbled by a Taillow. Do you know why, Baal? Because this really is a new world. It might not have been that way in your era, but we have long discovered that a Pokemon's true power only manifests with a human partner's help. That's why we're called Trainers: we bring out the full potential in our Pokemon companions. You can continue behaving like you have until now, but you've been discredited. As of now, nobody will ever regard you as king of the skies again! But..

The Aerodactyl looked like he was about to snap. The repeated insults were about to bring the giant dragon to his breaking point, but at the same time, he continued to listen. He desperately needed to recover from this humiliation, and liked it or not, Levin was the one that held the key.

- ... I can help you, Baal. I can unlock your potential and help you reclaim your honour; if you let me, I can make you Sky Ruler of the modern era. But for that to happen, you need to remember one fundamental truth: you are my Pokemon, and I am your Trainer. That means you must trust me implicitly and set aside your overgrown pride. Start seeing me as your equal and I will help you, just like I helped Albion do the impossible; if you don't, well, you better to get used to living in shame, because I won't do a damn thing to change that.

Baal pondered on those words. Levin knew they were drilling a hole in whatever pride he had left, but it was the only way to fully break his shell. And after a long while, the Aerodactyl nodded in agreement.

- Thank you. Thank you, Baal. I'll see to it that you regain your former glory. But for now...

This is it.

- There's a rogue Pokemon out there that I'm personally responsible for, and I have to catch it again before it does something terrible. I... need you to take me to where it is, Baal. Please.

Another long moment of silence followed, and for a moment Levin wondered if he'd lost his touch. He realized it was a request that the old Baal would have found demeaning beyond words, but now he couldn't help to have a glimmer of hope... And when the dinosaur lowered his head and motioned for him to climb, Levin knew he had him. Baal was finally truly his.

He hopped on the beast's back and hung on tight as it flapped its powerful wings once again; the sudden movement almost made him lose his grip, but before he knew it, they were in the air... and on their way to Pompas Gaseosas.

Let's end this, Druddigon!

MarbleZone 08-13-2013 08:22 PM

Finally.

It had been almost a week of flying. Baal had requested an impressively sparse number of stops along the way, but Levin insisted they rest every night – it didn’t feel right to ride such a proud Pokemon for so long as if he was little more than a means of transportation. Even if he had acknowledged Levin as his Trainer, Baal still valued his own dignity above all else, so the least the young man could do was to show some manner of respect.

After several days of enduring increasingly higher temperatures and many nights spent in the wilderness, far from civilization, they had finally made it to the southern land of Pompas Gaseosas, one of the hottest places on Fizzy Bubbles save, perhaps, for Cortoza’s active volcanoes.

The bird’s eye view of the land below was unbelievable. Lush green woods to the east contrasted with the sandy landscape in the south, and the northern part of Pompas consisted of imposing ridges whose peaks pierced the clouds. To the west stands a vast plains with several tiny specks you assume to be houses – quite possibly the farmers whose livestock has been attacked over the last months, the victims of his rampant Druddigon… the reason he was here now.

- Baal, over there is where we’ll mostly likely find what we’re looking for. But don’t land, I just need you to hover over the houses for now.

He had a semblance of a plan. He had no idea how powerful Druddigon had grown while he roamed the wild, but he’d heard about several attacks on trainers by a Dragon-Type which, by description and location of the attacks, could only have come from El Rojo. And in that case, he couldn’t just charge in blindly and challenge him; he needed to assure the upper hand.

After a long while of flying to the west, Baal began to lower his altitude until he was mere feet away from the farmers’ houses. Fortunately the sun had just set, so most of them were already indoors and he attracted little attention. It also meant that Druddigon should be showing up to feast on the unsuspecting Mareep and Miltank.

- Keep it steady now.

His fingers grazed through the six Pokeballs he’d brought with him. One of them, a Timer Ball, belonged to Baal. The one he was looking for was a regular Ball, housing a much smaller, but equally invaluable Pokemon. He pressed the device’s central button and released the creature inside: Opal the Venonat.

Other than the cattle in the corrals, I don’t expect any other Pokemon to be near the settlement… except for one. It’s a long shot, but if it works he’s as good as mine.

He tapped the sleepy little furball on the head and whispered.

- Love, I need you to use your Sweet Scent, there’s someone I need to catch. Can you do that for me?

The shy Venonat nods vigorously, eager to help as always, and her fur starts to undulate and then vibrate as it releases countless pink spores that rain down on the ground below. After a short while she stops and looks at Levin expectantly.

- That was perfect, sweetie, now all we have to do is wait. But it’s getting late, you go get your rest, we’ll handle it from here.

He recalled the Poison-Type and asked Baal to take fly up again; he didn’t want Druddigon to catch sight of them if he was indeed lured. The sky was dark by now, and the air was getting chilly. After a while of waiting, a roar was heard.

Could that be?...

It was hard to make out, but suddenly a dark spot on the grass could be seen. Squinting, he began to make out what it was. Moving silently on all fours, uncharacteristic of the species, was a large spiky dragon. He took the bait.

Long time no see, Druddigon. Now, step two of the plan…

This was the trickiest part. It involved relying on the unreliable, and Levin was rarely comfortable in this kind of situation. Still, it had to be done. He unclipped a Chocolate Ball from his belt, brought it close to his lips and whispered a simple set of instructions.

- Look up and follow the Aerodactyl. Whatever happens, just keep running.

He tossed the Ball all the way down to the ground below. As it opened, a very confused Bibarel looked around nervously, before remembering the first part of Levin’s orders. Boo looked up, spotted Baal and waved excitedly at his Trainer. It was only when a second roar was heard, coming from behind the plump beaver, that Boo stopped and turned around. Dangerously near and closing in was Druddigon, eyes set on a meal he’d never tried before.

- Baal, to the beach, now!

The Aerodactly turned around and flapped his wings vigorously, flying south as fast as he could. Levin couldn’t afford to stay around to find out, but he prayed that Boo remembered the second part of his instructions like he did the first.

- BIIIiiiiiiIIIIIiiiiIIIIiiiiIIIIIiiiIIII!!!

He did. The Bibarel instinctively ran away in fear in a random direction at first, before Levin’s words echoed in his underdeveloped brain. ”Follow the Aerodactyl.” He looked up again just in time to see Baal speed away, clumsily changed direction mid-dash and took after the dinosaur. Druddigon hungrily gave chase, and the second part of Levin’s plan was set into motion.

----

The sound of the waves was both soothing and nerve-wrecking; this would be the stage for Druddigon’s capture, so long as everything kept going as he predicted.

- We’re here Baal, let’s land over there by the water.

The Sky Ruler growled in agreement. He dove down and landed gracefully, then lowered his head to allow Levin to dismount. Taming you was one of my biggest accomplishments. How hard it must have been for you to cast aside your pride and lower yourself to my level. Thank you friend.

The young Trainer hopped to the floor, soft and inviting. The sand always reminded him of the holidays spent with his family when he was a child, before Ivan’s tragedy. Those were peaceful times, but Levin couldn’t help but feel more freedom now than he did back then. Maybe it made him a terrible person, but living outside of his brother’s shadow and away from his chronically depressed parents felt better than any childhood memory. His moment, his life, was now. Still, he looked off into the distance with a heart heavy with anticipation.

Boo, don’t you dare die on me…

The adorably dumb Bibarel was one of his dearest friends; the fact that he practically fed him to a feral dragon was driving him mad with guilt, but only he could pull this off! No other Pokemon in his team would remotely interest the Druddigon as far as a tasty-looking meal went, and practically nobody ran faster than a panicking Boo. It was the only sure-fire way of luring the Druddigon over without raising the cunning beast’s suspicion; a constant downpour of Sweet Scent or the melody of his White Flute would certainly make the dragon suspicious, he wouldn’t underestimate the intelligence of a Pokemon who had eluded capture for so long, even by the authorities.

It was time for the fourth element in his elaborate plot to come into play. Levin walked to the shore, retrieved yet another Pokeball from his belt and tossed it over to the water. From within emerged the devious mind known as Krem the Cloyster.

- You're my failsafe. If the next events get out of hand, I'll need you to step in as subtly as you can. If you interfere, you'll have to do so unnoticed, or we'll lose what little advantage we've built up. We're up against a smart one this time, and I can't afford to let him flee a second time.

Krem nodded silently and submerged, grinning all the while. Unsettling as it may be to most, Levin learned to be reassured by the Cloyster's smirk; it meant he knew exactly what to do.

He clenched his fist; it was almost time, as long as Boo didn't get himself caught. The waiting game was something he thoroughly enjoyed when he was firmly in control of a situation, but this time, it was agonizing. He turned to Baal.

- Ready to fight?

The Aerodactly roared with determination and set eyes on the horizon just as his Trainer did. And fortunately, not long after, a familiar sound echoed through the night, disrupting the sound of the ocean.

-... biiiiiiiiiIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIII!!!!

You awesome silly furball!

Boo ran in a straight line right toward his Trainer, his face lighting up at the sight of Levin. Right behind him was the ravenous Druddigon, who luckily hadn't given up the chase midway, or it'd all have been for nothing.

- Great job Boo, return!

He recalled the Bibarel into his Chocolate Ball as soon as he was in range. That had unquestionably been Boo's crowning moment. The dragon stopped dead in his tracks at the sight of Levin, looking surprised and enraged immediately afterwards.

- So you do remember me. I'm here to take you back; you've done enough damage already!

Druddigon growled and quickly turned around, ready to flee back the way he came, but Baal was one step ahead and dove down from above, cutting his path.

Not this time.
The only way the dragon could escape was by Surfing away through the sea behind Levin, but he had Krem waiting for him there. Either way, Druddigon didn't seem to contemplate this choice, instead adopting a fighting stance, opting to run through Baal instead. It was on!

- Baal, let's do this! Let's start with a Bite to put him in his place!

There was a glaring problem with Baal's offense at this moment; all of his moves were short-ranged. And going into a melee fight with an opponent he didn't know made him uncomfortable.
Baal lunged forward, jaws agape, ready to rip the dragon's head off if need be; if bad came to worse they might need to do just that, but for now, Levin would rather just recapture El Rojo.

Druddigon stood his ground, motionless, until the very last second, suddenly ducking under the charging opponent and striking him square in the gut from below with a Sucker Punch. He learned that kind of move on his own?! Baal roared in pain and took to the skies, looking to create some distance after the failed first strike. But no matter what, you'll have to close in again...

Druddigon slammed his fists in the sand, getting noticeably pumped up. Levin reckoned this was the dragon's first taste of a real battle in a long time, and he was clearly enjoying it; up until now, his prey probably never put up much of a fight.

- Alright, let's try again! Fly circles around him just above the ground, then strike with Ice Fang as soon as you spot an opening!

Baal swoop down and obeyed his intructions flawlessly, skillfully manoeuvering just slightly above the sand in a circular motion around Druddigon. The dragon followed with his eyes, biding his time, until he leapt forward in a split-second, looking to land a Crush Claw but just barely missing; seeing the opening he was aiming for, Baal charged his jaws with freezing energy and delivered a powerful Ice Fang that sent El Rojo reeling. This time it was Druddigon's time to create distance, leaping back to recover from the vicious hit. The Aerodactyl was relentless however, and lunged forward in pursuit, striking with a Wing Attack of his own initiative that sent the dragon tumbling back several steps, landing close to the water. Levin looked on expectantly, but Krem was nowhere to be found... what was he waiting for?!

Druddigon got up slowly, eyes locked on Baal all the time. The Sky Ruler, possibly innebriated with his earlier success, jolted forward to charge once more, heedless of new instructions; Levin should have expected some of the old habits to have remained...

- Baal, wait! Don't just...

Too late. Druddigon, as if expecting Baal's behaviour, stared the beast directly in the eye as it charged. The draon's yellow eyes started to glow ominously, emitting an aura of sheer terror that somehow froze Baal in place, filled with hesitation, interrupting his attack. Glare...
Spotting his own opening this time, El Rojo ran straight towards the stunned Aerodactyl, tail glowing with a familiar light; however, the Iron Tail he'd grown accustomed to see used by so many of his own teammates looked somehow different on Druddigon, shining brighter than usual... and as it connected, the impact was much harder than any other he'd ever witnessed, flooring Baal in one strike... knocking him out!

What the hell was that? Where did so much power come from? Such sheer... wait. Sheer Force?!

If that was the case, then El Rojo was even more dangerous than he'd anticipated; many of his moves would be much stronger than usual, at the expense of their side effects, which rarely triggered anyway... it was a scary Ability, on a very scary Pokemon.

The Aerodactyl had been defeated twice in two fights now. While it did not bode well for Baal's spirit, maybe it would finally make him understand that he needed Levin's guidance. He sighed and recalled the prehistoric beast into his Timer Ball; this was the first setback in his plan. He'd have to play his trump card now...

- Alright Druddingon, let's find you a proper opponent, shall we?

He unclipped a Premier Ball from his belt, housing one of his oldest and strongest friends; the first one to join him after Min. If he couldn't get the job done, there was no way the rest of the Pokemon he'd brought along could beat the dragon... It was all riding on him!

- Don't let me down... Your turn, Gaius!

The Gible materialized on the soft sand, his native environment, and looked at the much larger opponent with interest. Levin could only hope Gaius's ego wouldn't get the better of him like what happened with Baal, but he knew his little dragon - he had no shortage of self-confidence.

El Rojo and Gaius locked eyes, ready to clash. The Druddigon showed no outward signs of fatigue, even with the Ice Fang from before, but Levin knew the damage had been done; there was no way he was at a hundred percent. They just had to keep the pressure up!

- Let's start off strong! Trap him in a Sand Tomb and let loose with a flurry of Slashes while he's stuck!

Happy to comply, Gaius buried his claws on the ground; suddenly, the sand around Druddigon's feet began to swirl, and the dragon started to sink until he was buried chest-high! Seizing the moment, Gaius dashed forward and hit Rojo with a combination of Slash attacks, not letting up, each strike making the opponent roar in pain. It was only when the Gible stopped for a breather that Levin took a good look at their foe - battered and bleeding from a couple of deeper cuts, but grinning just like Gaius was. Sick bastard. I'll wipe that smug look off your face!

- Gaius, he's got nowhere to run! Finish him off with your Dragon Rush!

It was one of the Gible's strongest moves, one that he had just recently mastered in a sparring session with Buster the Heracross. If he managed to connect with it, not even Druddigon would be able to withstand it, not in his current state!
Gaius jumped up, blue energy surrounding his tiny frame and suddenly propelling it forward at incredible speed, the aura changing its shape to that of a dragon's head ready to snap its ethereal jaws around the target. But at the last second, El Rojo raised his head and began to spin, sinking himself even deeper until he vanished completely under the ground, Gible narrowly missing him and crashing down hard.

It knows Dig as well?! The realization that this Pokemon had learned more moves on his own than many of Levin's teammates under his tutelage was deeply disturbing. Either he was a terrible Trainer, or Druddigon was a prodigy... which was all the more reason why he absolutely had to recapture him!

- Gaius, hang in there! Follow him with your own Dig and force him back up, then blast with a Dragon Pulse when you resurface!

Struggling to get back to his feet after the missed Dragon Rush, Gaius growled after realizing what had happened. Quickly giving chase, he buried himself deep underground after his opponent, and for a moment, everything went silent once again.

Even though things have stopped moving according to plan, even though I hate that, and even though Druddigon is humiliating me and my skills as a Pokemon Trainer, somehow, I'm still enjoying this... The challenge, the need to adapt, the risk of failure and the value of the reward... and above all, the battle! It's been a while since my last match, since Ivan thrashed me utterly and completely in that dream. So this battle will be the stepping stone in my road to redemption, my quest to challenge him one more time and surpass him, as he expects me to do! And I will absolutely not let Druddigon get the better of me a second time!

The sand beneath his feet started to shake slightly, the intensity of the tremors increasing progressively until the two dragons reemerged simultaneously, and each fired a Dragon Pulse at the other, precisely at the same time!
The two orbs collided and expanded, followed by a tremendous explosion that kicked up so much sand, Levin had to cover his eyes and mouth, losing sight of the battle for a moment. When he looked again, the Gible was lying on the floor several feet away from him, while Druddigon stood firmly near the shore... Rojo shot him a glance of triumph before starting to walk toward the fallen Gaius to deliver the last strike. No...

After the first couple of steps, Druddigon let out a small growl of pain, stammering briefly as something seemed to hurt his foot. The pain apparently subsided quickly, probably a scratch from a broken shell buried in the sand, and he quickly dismissed it, resuming his march toward his downed opponent. He picked Gaius up with one of his huge claws, lifted him off the ground and prepared to land the final blow, the claws on his free hand glowing ominously as he charged his Crush Claw. And just then, the Gible opened his eyes.

What's this? Could it be?!

Gaius's body began to glow, startling Druddigon who instinctively let go of him. His frame grew, sharp edges protruding from the expanding mass of light, and when the glow subsided, the http://www.upnetwork.net/fb/sprites/pn444.gif let out a powerful, imposing roar.

- Gaius, you... You did it! You evolved!!

The dragon admired his fins and claws for a brief moment, nodded and grinned right back at El Rojo, was wasn't smiling anymore. But that wasn't a look of fear either... Both dragons were filled with fierce determination. The real battle started now! And we still have a fighting chance after all!

- Alright, show him your new power! Blast him with Stone Edge!

Several sharp rocks materialized around Gaius, orbiting around him before flying toward Druddigon. In response, the dragon gathered water energy around his tail and swung it in a swift motion, the Aqua Tail blocking and shattering most of the projectiles, nullifying Stone Edge. But then...

- Gaius, now!!

The Gabite dashed forward just as El Rojo was done defending from the earlier move, and struck at point-blank with a powerful Dragon Claw with such force that it sent the opponent crashing down and tumbling several feet back! With increased power and agility, Gaius is a proper match for Druddigon now... and Baal did his share too, we're almost there!

Rojo struggled back to his feet, looking to mount a comeback; he was seething at the sudden turn of events, the rage inside him having reached boiling point! His eyes turned from yellow to red and his whole body adopted a white-blue aura that lifted countless grains of sand around his feet slightly above the ground... and he jolted forward at alarming speed, delivering a punch to Gaius's gut that was almost too fast to see, followed by another, and another, and another, quick and powerful strikes in succession that could only mean one thing: Outrage!

- There's only one way to counter this now... Gaius, Outrage!

One of the benefits of having trained together for so long was that the land shark could tap into almost any move at will by now, including this state of draconic fury. The Gabite's own eyes changed from yellow to red as well, and he immediately started to retaliate with vicious strikes of his own. Soon, both dragons were clawing, punching and biting one another so fast that it was impossible for Levin to keep track of their moves, but one thing was clear: there was no stopping either of them now until the opponent fell. He instinctively clenched his fists and watched in silence.

Progressively, their strikes became slower as fatigue set in, but neither was letting up; until finally, Gaius went for a claw strike while Rojo spun around for a tail swing, the latter connecting first and sending the Gabite to the floor, exhausted. Druddigon towered over him, still in trance, and raised his right claw to put an end to things. And as the claw went down... it suddenly stopped, and the dragon bent over, clutching his heart!

What?!

Something from within was causing El Rojo a great deal of pain, to the point where he fell to a knee and growled weakly; his eyes were their regular yellow once again. Gaius, in the meantime, struggled back to his feet, the red glow also gone from his eyes. He looked around in confusion, lost, as per usual after a burst of Outrage, feeling light-headed on top of the extreme fatigue.

Damnit Gaius, focus! Come on, just a little longer!

The pain burning Druddigon from within was beginning to subside, but his breath was still faint... it was now or never! Whatever that was, it had provided them a precious opening, they couldn't let it slip now!

- Gaius, pull yourself together! You're one move away, one strike! Focus, you can do it!!

It was all up to chance and Gaius's spirit now. Did he have the clarity to fight out of confusion? The Gabite brought his claws to his head and closed his eyes, as if haunted by one of Kamui's headaches... and when he reopened them, they were clear and filled with purpose. Gathering the very last remnants of power left inside him, he formed another blue orb of energy in front of his mouth, and fired it straight at the recovering Druddigon. The Dragon Pulse flew straight at his target and found its mark, exploding with a bright flash, and when the dust settled... El Rojo was knocked out!

We... we did it! We won!

Gaius smiled weakly before collapsing himself. Levin rushed over to him, whispered his thanks and recalled the dragon to his Premier Ball. He then walked over to the fallen Druddigon.

Even after a battle with Baal and Gaius's evolution, you were still stronger than him. So why? What happened? Why couldn't you finish it? It's as if you were sick, as if something was eating away at you from inside! But you were fine until... wait...

He recalled the moment Rojo moved in to finish the Gible, and how he seemed bothered by something in the sand that hurt his foot momentarily. It had been the only odd thing about the whole match... Come to think of it, Druddigon did seem to move slightly slower afterwards, although it was hard to tell during the Outrage. But there was no doubt about it, something went wrong in Druddigon's system at the critical juncture, as if he'd been... Poisoned?

- Son of a bitch...

His eyes turned from the dragon to the sea to his left. Floating, his head barely above the water, was Krem with his usual smile. You set a layer of Toxic Spikes while they were fighting...

A purple aura surrounded Krem and he Teleported out of sight, no doubt back to the Base as he'd been told. Could've waited a little longer and taken me with him, the prick... Levin smiled. Gaius was going to be pissed when he realized it wasn't a clean win, but that was a problem for a later date. Right now, all that mattered was that Levin's planned had worked out, and Druddigon was his once again.

He retrieved an empty Pokeball from his bag and tapped the dragon with it, pulling it inside. At long last, the Druddigon entrusted to him by Stark of the Elite Five was back in his possession, and the people of Pompas Gaseosas would have nothing to fear from here on out.

But you, you're something else. Perhaps the most naturally talented Pokemon I've ever seen... You've grown into a formidable fighter with no help from any human, and you've even earned yourself a name. I won't be the one to take that away from you... so welcome back, El Rojo.

He smiled again as he put the Pokeball away. It was time to go back home and start anew, this time with no guilt and no lose ends to hold him back.

MarbleZone 10-04-2013 08:32 PM

Wicca, Noah, Panzer, Eva, Mellow, Ymir, Ryker, Hazel.

Levin wrote down each name, the pen moving slowly across the paper as he recalled, one by one, the Seedot, Wailmer, Aron, Ekans, Trapinch, Cryogonal, Skarmory and Eevee he’d once owned; all the Pokemon he’d named and welcomed into the family, only to let them go at some point.

He wasn’t this kind of man at heart. But after recent events, he figured he at least owed them this: a rare exercise in humility, a tribute. After all, how could he ever justify having parted ways with such good companions while still keeping monsters like Magnus and Veiss? The most devoted protectors of the team, Atla and Gram in particular, had been very vocal about the latter’s acquisition, but Levin hadn’t listened; all ever cared about was a Pokemon’s usefulness.

It’s who I am. No matter how much I try to deny it, there was a reason why all of them were let go. Wicca was resilient, but unremarkable; Noah was unreliable with his size and lack of mobility; Panzer was more trouble than he was worth, lazy and gluttonous to the core where Zion proved more reliable and just as sturdy. Eva didn’t offer me anything that Opal and Hebi didn’t, but I miss her the most… she thought just like me. Heard she’s in good hands now, under the care of that Hyrem guy… Mellow was great to have around, but Gaius was already several steps ahead of him, making him redundant. I regret not having raised him well enough to let him fly, but Melissa will take care of him and help him achieve his dream, I’m sure. Ymir was too complicated to understand, and the novelty wore off fast. Ryker resented me since he was born, and made several Pokemon on the team nervous after they were attacked by an equally unsociable Skarmory in Cortoza; he was too much of a liability. Finally, Hazel was a victim of circumstance; I craved the power of an Onix, and the only way to get Gram was to let go of the Eevee, so I did.

He looked outside. Who was he trying to fool? “Ryker was a liability”? So was Magnus, but he raised the Magmar intensively without hesitation, which only made him even more dangerous! That was an excuse; he just didn’t like Skarmory. So what kind of man was he really? The kind of guy that releases a Pokemon because the species is unfavourable, regardless of the creature’s feelings?!

I guess I am. Dammit Levin…

Through the window of his Treetop Home, he saw Mazo sparring with Crix. The Lucario, aloof and with an unshakeable sense of justice, had willingly accepted his Trainer’s flaws and bonded with him enough to trigger the miraculous evolution. He tolerated Levin unlike he would ever tolerate another person remotely similar to him; that spoke volumes about the Lucario’s loyalty, misplaced and undeserved, but so very welcomed.

In reality, he was blessed. Almost every one of his twenty five partners cared about him enough that they wouldn’t just dump him the same way he dumped so many of their friends. All of them, not just Mazo, agreed to stay with him for a reason, regardless of whether or not they liked him as a person – they liked him as their Trainer, their caretaker, their provider. And for that he owed each and every single one of them; as much as he hated to admit it, the merit for his current position in the Fizzy Bubbles region was theirs, not his. The letter of acknowledgement recruiting him for the Unown hunt, the recognition of his adequacy to referee Official League Battles… all that he was and the person he became, he owed it to his team. He was a nobody, a loser before he went on his journey, as Ivan would be quick to agree. But since then, he got to travel all around the world, from polar regions to volcanic areas, and he did so with the help of Pokemon who didn’t shun him, even if they could have chosen a better Trainer or none at all.

He got up, closed his journal and walked outside. There were things he needed to do.

---

Several of his Pokemon enjoyed sparring in their free time – something he probably instilled in them with his training regimens, come to think of it. Fortunately, some others remained blissfully uninterested in the art of battling; Boo and Hebi were playing tag with each other, Dolce was enjoying a brief moment of her own, now that Min wasn’t requesting her services, and was happily Singing where nobody else could hear her. Min herself was taking a bath in the lake, and Kamui was rolling in the grass, clutching his head in pain. Levin always felt helpless when he was like this; his constant migraine was already unusually intense, but it still had periods of exacerbation, and they looked excruciating. He knew he had to evolve the poor thing as soon as possible, but he was so hard to train…

Still, right now he was looking for one Pokemon in particular. He was pretty easy to find; the largest of them all, Gram, who was reluctantly battling a very eager Buster. The Heracross repeatedly lunged himself at the giant rock snake, looking to perfect his Megahorn, only to be repelled by Gram’s gargantuan frame. The Onix, in turn, made no motion to strike back, as he was notoriously uninterested in battling “for fun”. An impeccable guardian indeed, but he lacked the fire within to make the most of his immense power, which often frustrated Levin. He’d subconsciously held a grudge against Gram for the simple reason that his older brother Ivan’s Steelix was responsible for his death, during a battle inside Victory Road, and the memory alone stirred bitterness within the young man – even if his Onix had absolutely nothing to do with the events and didn’t even like fighting in the first place. But it was time to put that behind him and appreciate Gram for who he was and what he brought to his team – to his family.

Levin approached the fighting duo and motioned for Buster to stop, which he reluctantly did, pouting. The young man turned to the Onix and faced up, looking him in the eye.

- Gram, listen. I… I apologize for the way I’ve treated you so far. You’ve done nothing to earn my resentment, and in all honesty, I couldn’t ask for a better protector, a better father figure for the team. I’m thankful for your dedication, and I’m glad you didn’t leave us on account of my behaviour. Please forgive me.

Gram stood silent for what felt like hours, but finally lowered his head all the way down to his Trainer’s level… and lightly nudged him with a satisfied growl, smiling for what Levin knew was the first time since he’d joined the group.

As he patted the Onix on the head, he felt something touching his elbow. Looking to the side, he saw Mazo, who’d approached them without making a sound. He could be damn creepy sometimes.

- Hey there. Done sparring with Crix?

Mazo nodded silently, then looked at Gram. Levin reasoned that the Lucario had sensed a change in their auras as they reconciled, and was naturally drawn to them. The wolf then placed one paw over Levin’s hand and the other on Onix’s head, then closed his eyes.

What is this?...

It was as if he could feel Gram’s warmth, his… his heart? Was that what Auras felt like? But Mazo’s powers went deeper; suddenly, an image began to take shape in his head, which he interpreted as the Onix’s thoughts, perhaps his desires; it was hard to tell… but when the picture became clearer, so did Gram’s intentions. With his mind’s eye, Levin saw a Metal Coat.

I... I understand. You want to become stronger, to protect all of us even better. More than a wall, you want to be our fortress, a shield as well as a sword. For us…

Mazo released Levin’s hand, and the picture faded, as did the inexplicable connection to Gram. But he saw everything he needed to - the Onix cared about all of them even more then he’d imagined. To think that he’d shunned a Pokemon with such a wonderful heart for no rational reason…

- I saw how you felt Gram… and I’m sure you also saw into my own heart. I'm so sorry for having kept you at bay like that! But it’s all in the past if you’re willing to forgive me... And I’ll see to it that you become even stronger, I promise. Let’s show Ivan what a real Steelix looks like, what do you say?

Gram roared in contentment and laid his head on the floor, motioning for Levin to climb. The young man hesitated at first, but remembering he’d already flown on an Aerodactyl’s back for hours straight not that long ago, he smiled and did as the Onix asked. As Gram raised its entire body the air, Levin looked down on his entire property, catching a glimpse of all of his Pokemon like the Onix always saw them – from high up, like a watchman in a tower… a true guardian.
From up there, he witnessed Gaius the Gabite battling Jules the Bouffalant, with Rojo looking on from a distance.

Damn, I forgot …

After a while, Gram put him back down, before going back to sparring with Buster with renewed determination. Levin once again glanced at the confrontation between Gaius and Jules, the former having little troubled against the buffalo in his evolved state. Ever since he’d become Gabite, Gaius had been undefeated in battle, which only further increased inflated his pride. But Levin never told him how his victory against El Rojo had been tainted due to a timely interference by his Cloyster, Krem… How would the immensely proud dragon react to that? He had a personal code of permanently moving on to the next challenge after defeating an opponent… How would he handle the truth? Should he tell him and risk breaking his spirit? Right now, Gaius was unstoppable…

No. I have to tell him. I owe it to him, to Rojo and to myself; I won’t let Gaius live a lie, he needs to have a clean match with Rojo, for his own sake.

He took a deep breath and slowly walked over to the land shark...

MarbleZone 10-06-2013 08:37 PM

The two powerhouses were still battling. On one side was Jules, the Bouffalant he’d gotten from none other than Tess of the Elite Five, a remarkable specimen in his own right and one of Levin’s most precious Pokemon. His greatest attribute was his charm, but he was a fierce battler in his own right, and was even able to perform one of the strongest moves known to this day – Giga Impact. On the other side was Gaius, the very first Pokemon Levin obtained since embarking on his journey with Min. Ever since hatching from a special Egg during an Easter event, raising the dragon had been anything but easy: at first he was childish and utterly careless, and as he grew, his personality changed to become proud, arrogant and self-centered… much like Levin himself. And since he became powerful enough to transform into Gabite, on that fateful day when he battled Rojo for the first time, Gaius’s ego had only grown larger, in proportion to his substantial power gain.

Although the fight had been going on for a while, Jules charged forward once more showing no signs of fatigue, gathering as much Strength as possible to try and finally knock Gaius out. The land shark remained motionless until the very last second, before swiftly grazing his claw against the ground and kicking up dirt and sand right into the Bouffalant’s eyes; the Sand Attack caught the rampaging Jules off guard, making him change his course slightly and narrowly miss Gaius. When the buffalo was forced to stop to try and clear his vision, the Gabite saw his opening and lunged forward, slashing away at Jules with Dragon Claw and forcing it to move out of range to regroup.

Apparently having had enough of his opponent’s tactics, Jules then turned around to face Gaius dead in the eye, Leering at him to let him know he’s serious now. Gaius flinched slightly at the sight of the angered Bouffalant, but quickly regained his composure and took a step forward, accepting Jules’s challenge for a head-on attack. The quadruped huffed and began to gallop right in Gaius’s direction once more, picking up speed as it gathered all of his remaining energy for his final strike; an impressive aura of translucent energy began to surround him as he sped up, making the ground tremble beneath his hooves: Giga Impact was coming!
Gaius, in turn, started to focus on his own move, summoning his native energy to create an ethereal blue glow around him, before dashing right at the incoming Jules! The energy surrounding him soon took the shape of a massive dragon’s head, signifying thatDragon Rush was the maneuver chosen by Gaius to counter the Bouffalant’s ultimate technique.

Levin couldn’t react fast enough; when the two opponents collided, the resulting shockwave was strong enough to young man off his feet, making him land hard on his back. While he forced himself to shrug off the pain and get back to his feet, he looked at the aftermath of the collision – all grass in the surrounding area had been incinerated, the ground below filled with cracks and small fissures; Gaius lied on the ground panting, while Jules remained standing. Refusing to stay down, the Gabite stabbed its claws in the soil and slowly pulled himself back up; seeing the opponent wide open for one last attack, Jules reared his head and prepared to ram once again… but his legs were wobbly and unresponsive, the well-known side effect of the devastating Giga Impact. Unable to move, the Bouffalant could only watch as Gaius grinned, before arching his head back and belching a stream of blue flames that engulfed him; the Dragon Rage proved too much for Jules to withstand as, when the fire subsided, the herbivore collapsed to the side, knocked out.

Incredible. He withstood a point-blank Giga Impact and still won the match…

Levin felt terribly conflicted. Gaius had become unstoppable since evolving into Gabite all that time ago, and although his arrogance had reached new heights, his pride was precisely the fuel that made him invincible. What would happen if Levin suddenly told him that the very match that brought about his transformation had been rigged? Would his spirit crumble? Would he even forgive him?...

No, I have to do this. No matter what happens, even if he loses his drive, I owe him and Rojo the truth… And if he really is as similar to me as I think, he’ll bounce back and become even more fierce, I know he will!

He approached the combatants, patted Jules on his impeccable afro and recalled him into his ball. Min would have some work to do later… He then turned to Gaius and motioned for him to come close. They’d been together for so long now that most interactions between them no longer required words… But this would.

- Well done, that was a great fight! You really… no, who am I kidding, you know this isn’t me. Look Gaius, there’s something I need to tell you. It’s about… your battle with Rojo at Pompas that one night.

The Gabite had been standing in silence, head slightly tilted to the side as he feigned interest – it was scary how he’d even picked up Levin’s mannerisms. But at the mention of the greatest battle in his life, his yellow eyes widened and he stood straight.

- It was an amazing confrontation, and I know it changed your life; you became what you are today because of that battle. But… you have to understand, my priority was recapturing Rojo…

He was staggering; Gaius would see right through him anyway. He had to get to the point with a straight face if he still hoped to preserve any fraction of respect the dragon might still have for him in the end.

- It wasn’t a clean victory Gaius. I’m so sorry... Krem was my failsafe that day, and he secretly laid a number of Toxic Spikes in the sand during the struggle… When you found that last opening to put Rojo away, he was under the effect of a powerful poison.

Gaius said nothing, but Levin knew exactly what he was thinking. The only question was what effect this revelation would have on the dragon’s loyalty. After a long while, none of them uttering a word, the Gabite walked right past him in silence, a raging fire in his eyes that Levin hadn’t seen since the upset draw he’d suffered against a Panpour at Cloud Garden, well over a year ago.

Levin followed his dragon at a safe distance; the harm had been done, and he realized Gaius needed time to mull it over, but at the same time he feared for what the Gabite would do in this angered state. But much to his surprise, all the land shark did was walk over to the lone Druddigon, sharpening his claws on a large tree trunk, and stood right in front of him, immobile. Rojo, surprised at first, glanced at Levin and soon realized what’d happened. For the briefest of moments, the young man felt as if Rojo smiled at him in acknowledgement for his decision, but the dragon turned back around so quickly to face Gaius that it might’ve been merely an illusion. Considering Rojo’s particular character, it’d probably been just that.

Gaius just wants to set the record straight… Even if he just battled Jules. Not knowing if he can defeat Rojo in a clean fight would eat him up otherwise…

He kneeled down and opened his backpack. Rummaging through its contents, few as they were (as he tended to keep most of his belongings in a trunk inside the house), he pulled out a can of Lemonade and tossed it at Gaius. The dragon looked at the offer with disdain, but reasoned it was the best way to make sure neither of them started with an unfair advantage - Rojo would also prefer to fight him at full strength if this was to settle the score for good. He consumed the beverage and, feeling refreshed, adopted his usual fighting stance.

El Rojo growled and prepared to battle as well. Levin knew he’d been seething for the opportunity to clash with Gaius again and make things right, and not even the Saffron City-native, with his innate ability to gauge potential, could tell who was truly the strongest at this point. Though if their previous encounter was any indication, where Rojo held the upper hand even after Gaius evolved only to be conquered by Krem’s poison, then perhaps the Druddigon was still a notch above the Gabite.

Being the most feral and less-disciplined of the two, Rojo wasted no time making the first move: gathering energy in his recently-sharpened claws, he charged right at Gaius, looking to hit a Sheer Force-boosted Crush Claw. The Gabite, in turn, lunged at Rojo with his own claws glowing bright blue. The two attacks clashed, claws connecting with one another and nullifying the opponent’s strike, but Gaius was quicker on the follow-up and breathed a close-range Dragon Rage blast that hit Rojo dead-on, making him roar in pain. Relentless, the land shark looked to keep up the pressure and lunged forward with an Iron Head, but the tough-skinned Druddigon recovered too quickly and countered with a lightning-fast Sucker Punch, knocking Gaius back a couple of feet.

Like I thought, they’re evenly matched when in peak condition. Last time, on top of the poison, Rojo had already gone through a fight with Baal…

Gaius smirked. After the initial frustration of having been lied to, he was now too caught up in the heat of battle to care anymore; Rojo was the only one that could get him fired up like that, possibly because, other than Mazo (who had serious reservations about ever fighting at full strength), nobody else on the team could come close to the Gabite’s level of strength at the moment.

The two dragons charged at each other again; Rojo spun around looking to hit Gaius with Aqua Tail, but the nimbler opponent leaped over and Slashed the Druddigon across the face. Angered, Rojo grabbed the smaller dragon with his huge claws and fired a point-blank Dragon Pulse that exploded on impact; when he let go, Gaius tumbled to the ground, writhing in pain. Now towering over his fallen opponent, the prodigious Druddigon wasted little time in putting his deadliest weapons to use again, paying Gaius back for the earlier Slash with a vicious flurry of Cuts, striking the downed Gabite repeatedly and opening him up in several places before finally letting go. Then, in a surprising decision, he stepped away from Gaius and simply waited for him to get back up.

Wrong move, Rojo…

The absolute worst thing one could do to Gaius was be condescending toward him. It infuriated him more than anything else, the humiliation of someone going easy on him out pity or mockery; again, a feeling Levin knew all too well and despised just as much as his partner.

Battered and bloodied, but far from beaten, Gaius struggled back to his feet and threw Rojo a stare so filled with murderous intent that one could mistake it for an actual Glare attack. Pupils narrowed, he roared as the yellow of his iris glowed brightly, followed by a rumbling… and the splitting of earth all around him! Fissures spread from the place where Gaius stood, and spikes of rock and soil protruded from the ground in a straight line toward Rojo, the Earth Power summoned by Gaius reshaping the battlefield as it grew in intensity. Surprised, and seeing no other means of escape, the Druddigon clawed his way underground and hopefully out of range with Dig, narrowly dodging the stalagmites that threatened to impale him. Gaius, however, refused to give Rojo the same breathing room he’d afforded him moments ago, and immediately Dug after him as well. And for a moment, everything went strangely quiet while the two dragons took their fight to the depths of the earth.

Suddenly, Levin felt something bump against his leg. Looking down, he saw Syre. Usually reserved and preferring to watch the grown-up dragons from afar, after their initial rejection that scarred him deeply, it must’ve taken him every ounce of courage to put aside his hurt pride, walk over to his Trainer and request to watch the battle.

- Hey buddy. Stay close to me, alright? These two aren’t playing games anymore. Think you’ll be able to beat them one day?

Syre looked offended at the question, but quickly realized Levin was simply trying to motivate him. He nodded vigorously and eagerly waited to see Rojo and Gaius resurface. So did Levin.
They didn’t have to wait much longer. The ground beneath their feet began to shake again, and soon afterwards, in a deafening explosion of stone and dirt, the fighters reappeared, mindlessly clawing at each other, their eyes glowing blue as opposed to their usual yellow. They went into Outrage while underground?!

Rojo and Gaius were fully immersed in the struggle, slashing away at the opponent, neither bothering to dodge; being the bulkier of the two, the Druddigon seemed to be in better shape, while Gaius sported even more cuts and gashes than before, but they didn’t seem to be slowing him down at all. They continued their barrage of unguarded strikes for an incredible amount of time, until finally, the expected backlash occurred – almost simultaneously, each dragon stopped fighting, dropped his arms panting and seemingly went into a sort of trance. Powerful as it was, Outrage had the inconvenient side effect of exhausting the user so much, he was temporarily unable to focus back on the match. And right now, the winner would most likely be the one that got back to his senses faster.

Just then, one more spectator came to join Levin and Syre. Landing on her Trainer’s head, Dolce the Swablu looked on, concerned for her good friend Gaius’s well-being. It was no secret the tiny blue dragon-to-be nurtured special feelings for the Gabite, and to see him in such a state couldn’t be easy. Levin reassured Dolce as best he could, but in his heart, he doubted Gaius would pull through; Rojo was still the superior fighter, if only by a narrow margin.

And, confirming his suspicions, the Druddigon was indeed the first to snap out of his confusion. Grabbing the still-entranced Gaius by the throat and lifting him off the ground, El Rojo was determined to put an end to the battle and rivalry once and for all. The claws on his free hand glowed ominously and grew in size, signaling one last Crush Claw to put the opponent away for good. But just as he started to swing, the haze vanished from Gaius’s eyes, and they once more shone with a familiar fire; quickly opening his mouth, the Gabite released a blue orb of energy inches away from Druddigon’s face, much like the opponent had done in the early goings of the match, and the ensuing blast sent both dragons flying in opposite directions and crashing down to the floor. This time however, Rojo got the worst of it, and it was Gaius that got back to his feet first.

No way…

Something felt different about the land shark. Naturally, he was still bleeding, most likely hurting, but he was no longer breathing heavily, panting like before; instead, he seemed to be completely at peace, as if no harm had been inflicted on him, all inner conflicts resolved; he stood straight, stoic, unreadable for the briefest of moments, until finally his body was engulfed in a familiar light.
Rojo, still on the ground, could only watch as the miracle happened once again in front of his eyes. He’d bore witnessed to Gaius’s first transformation that night when they first fought, and now…

The dragon’s frame, glowing brightly, grew to become taller than Levin’s; his fins became sharper, deadlier, and his body slimmer and more agile. When the wondrous light faded, the Gabite was gone; in his place, a majestic http://www.upnetwork.net/fb/sprites/pn445.gif roared triumphantly.

Syre’s eyes widened and Dolce cheered her dearest friend on; Levin said nothing, this time out of sheer disbelief. After so long, after all the hardships, losses, arguments and roadblocks, Gaius had become a Garchomp and the cornerstone of his team.

The Druddigon, refusing to take it lying down, found his way back to his feet, tapping into the last shreds of energy he had left. Growling defiantly, he dashed towards the opponent, looking to close the distance between them and fight at close range, where he felt the most comfortable; flames surrounding his fist, he took a swing at Gaius… who dodged effortlessly.
The Garchomp then let out a mighty scream, and as if possessed by an eerie spell, the dirt and debris all across the battlefield began to float and then spin around the two dragons; breaking into progressively smaller fragments due to the centrifugal force, the swirling winds became filled with sand-like particles, effectively transforming into a Sandstorm that pelted away at Rojo’s skin, hard as it was, causing him added discomfort. Sensing the urgency in ending the fight, the spiky dragon moved in for an Iron Tail, then another, and another… not a single one finding its mark, as Gaius seemed to vanish through each swing, practically an illusion in the storm.

Sand Veil…

Exhausted, frustrated and without a single ounce of energy left, Rojo fell to his knees, breathing heavily, unable to fight off the nagging sands and with no way to secure a single hit on his opponent. Gaius slowly approached; this time, it was him towering over his foe. Rojo cast him one last defiant glare, and the Garchomp decided to finish things with a move worthy of his opponent. Focusing his native draconian energy from within, he fired a single golden sphere high into the air. Soon after, an explosion of orange light filled the sky, and a multitude of energy bolts came crashing down, homing in on the defenseless Rojo. Blast after blast, the Draco Meteor shower forced Levin to run for cover, taking Syre and Dolce with him as the entire field was razed. And when the dust settled and Levin turned around again, he saw the Druddigon collapsed on the crater-filled ground, motionless, and Gaius standing over him unharmed. A fitting end for a phenomenal opponent indeed, and at long last, the score was settled.

Trainer and Pokemon met at the center of the battlefield, and Levin held out his hand.

- Congratulations Gaius. You finally made it… I’m so sorry I had to put you through all this. For once, this wasn’t part of any intricate plan at all, it was just… poor judgment on my part. Can you forgive me?

Gaius the Garchomp, for the first time in his life standing taller than his Trainer, looked down at Levin with his deep, imposing golden eyes, saying nothing… but finally touched Levin’s hand with his own claw, agreeing to making amends. After all, despite having kept the truth from him for so long, Levin was still ultimately the reason he was able to have grown this much. He owed Levin just as much as Levin owed him, and they’d been together for so long that there was no way he couldn’t forgive him. Levin didn’t need words, telepathy or auras to know that this was how the Garchomp felt, and smiled at the dragon as he held his claw.

- Thank you so much, my friend. Now… I think we need to find you your next challenge!

Gaius and Levin grinned simultaneously. The young man and his Garchomp, both filled with unbridled ambition since they could remember, were just getting started. And with a new pecking order established, it meant that everyone else in the team would have to work that much harder to knock the new champion off his hard-earned throne. Interesting times were ahead for sure.

MarbleZone 10-21-2013 06:38 PM

Levin looked at his calendar once more, then at his watch, and smiled. It was that time of the year again, when trainers from all over the land got together to celebrate. It was the Fizzy Bubbles Anniversary, the eleventh one since the region had been found and inhabited.
He'd never been much of a people person, but that was one of the things he'd promised himself he would try to change. People were what made these events meaningful in the first place.

Gotta start somewhere...

He went outside and gathered his Pokemon, all twenty six of them.

- Come on everyone, let's join the festivities!

MarbleZone 10-30-2013 06:00 PM

The clock on the wall would strike midnight soon. Unlike the week before, when everyone in Fizzy Bubbles celebrated the momentous occasion that was the eleventh anniversary of the land, in a few moments it'd be... just Halloween. He sighed.

His family never had the habit of participating in the holiday's traditional events. Levin was glad for that; knocking on people's doors and begging them for candy was something he'd always found demeaning, even as a kid. The theme of the holiday itself was no more appealing, either; he'd never been half as attracted to the mysteries of death as he was to the certainties of life. Even now, his very team reflected that: the complete lack of Ghost and Dark-Types was a testament to his indifference toward the occult. He'd gone so far as to sever the last remaining tie he had with Ivan's spirit, Faust the Duskull, not that long ago; he'd made peace with his demons and his brother, and he'd moved on.

But still... this was a highly anticipated moment for a lot of Trainers in Fizzy Bubbles. And he couldn't deny that the land was in dire need of excitement lately. He'd enjoyed himself in the anniversary celebrations, not to mention he'd made a profit even Corvus the Honchkrow would find impressive. Maybe he'd give this event a shot, for the sake of social development... He'd told himself he needed to get off his high horse a while back and mingle with the crowd; healthy interpersonal relationships were a necessary step toward the global recognition he'd sought for so long; if playing along with silly holidays was what it took, he'd give it a spin. What was the worse that could happen?

He pulled a Gold Pokeblock from his Bag, a memento of Mellow the Trapinch's finest moment under his care.

Yeah... everything will be just fine.

MarbleZone 11-21-2013 06:42 PM

He woke up panting, sweaty, tired. Another one of those dreams... He thought he'd gotten rid of them after he solved his issues with Ivan. But here they were again: dreams so vivid they couldn't be normal. They meant something, he knew it. For two weeks now he’d been revisiting his childhood in his sleep, a time so far back he shouldn't even be able to remember it at all. How could he? He was a newborn in these dreams. But everything he saw and felt was crystal clear. He saw, with his very own eyes, the miracle his mother always told him about - the Saffron Sun.

- This is ridiculous... Why can't I get some rest? Especially now with everything that's going on! I feel exhausted...

He got up, washed his face and headed to the living room. The couch had been turned into a makeshift bed to provide as much comfort as possible to its single occupant: Kamui.

The Daycare Center attendants had warned him some time ago that the Psyduck's migraines were worsening every week. It reached a point where he was forced to remove Kamui from the facility altogether; he could barely stand anymore, plagued by massive headaches that showed no signs of letting up. But what could he do? He'd reasoned that the only way of curing the Water Type was to make it evolve; it was widely known that Golduck didn't suffer from the same predicament as their unevolved form. But in Kamui's case, the stronger he got, the worse he felt! It was as if there was too much power inside for him to handle already, and further training only aggravated the issue...

For the last couple of days, Kamui had been in so much pain that nothing seemed to help. And storing him away in his Ball felt inhuman; he looked after the Psyduck as best he could, but he knew everything he tried was ultimately inconsequential - in his current state, even one last attempt at gaining enough experience to evolve would be impossible. Bed-ridden, unable to get up or fall asleep, Kamui's hours were spent in heart-wrenching agony. Levin cursed; what right did he have to complain about some silly dreams?

He kneeled down next to the platypus. His eyes were wide open, locked on the ceiling, unmoving. But the constant, low-pitched moaning (something he'd never done before, not even when his typical headache would worsen) reflected just how much he was suffering. Levin reached for two of his Pokemon, fast asleep on the carpet: Min and Dolce. Maybe they could help? The Minccino and Swablu were already well aware of Kamui's condition, so little explaining was necessary. The young man stepped back and watched as the two healers of his team tried to work their magic.

Min was up first; bringing her tiny hands together, she focused her energy on the unnatural talent she had developed - unlike any other Minccino, she’d learned how to perform Softboiled. However, being a technique foreign to her species meant that the effort to pull it off took a greater toll on her than the move itself usually required. After a little while, an oval-shaped orb of light materialized, and Min placed it over Kamui's chest. The energy poured into Psyduck's body, but when the egg faded, nothing happened. The low murmur of pain still filled the room and Kamui showed no signs of improvement.

Meanwhile, Levin spotted a shy little Venonat standing by the door, looking on in concern. He approached Opal and picked her up in his arms.

- He'll be okay girl. Don't worry.

He knew worry wasn't the only thing on her mind. She felt helpless, much like he did; but she always took her own uselessness to heart. Watching the other girls' skills always brought her down, as it reminded her of how little she could actually do for her friends. Min had Softboiled, Dolce had Heal Bell... she had nothing. Levin knew she needed comforting, but right now, Kamui needed saving.

It was Dolce's turn. The Swablu perched herself on the couch and began to sing. It was the most soothing melody Levin had ever heard; Dolce's favorite tune was her lullaby, but this song was different. It filled the air with a sense of peace and tranquility, an acoustic panacea that aimed to relieve Kamui of his torment. However, his migraine was far from a regular ailment susceptible to being cured by the magic of Heal Bell. Ultimately, it too failed to help the Psyduck.

This is out of our hands... Damn it! I promised I'd help him!

It was inevitable. He thought back to every partner he'd failed in the past: he couldn't make Mellow fly, he couldn't make Ryker feel loved, he couldn't get through to Ymir, he couldn't even keep Eva around. And now, he couldn't heal Kamui.

But who can? This isn't a regular injury, it's not a disease, it's almost... mystical in nature! Wait...

Maybe there was someone who could help. Someone who didn't carry a single restorative move, but whose knowledge of life's mysteries was unparalleled. Mazo.

Levin rushed outside. It was dawn, the air was chilly and most of his larger Pokemon - who naturally couldn't stay indoors - were still sleeping. Only two were awake; in the distance, blue flashes of light could be spotted in quick bursts - another one of Mazo the Lucario and Cygna the Ducklett's training sessions. The former had been trying to master his control over Aura, and Cygna had offered to aid him. In turn, she could further improve her own agility, which she considered her strongest point.

He approached the duo. Mazo's technique was still imperfect, but he was closer than ever; at the moment, he could form and release Focus Blasts at will; but only once he fine-tuned his reading of auras, manipulating them at will, would he be able to convert those Blasts into unavoidable strikes, finally mastering Aura Sphere.
Still, he'd been perfecting this single technique for months now; when Levin suggested that he might be lacking something other than strictly practice, he seemed to agree... but continued training nonetheless.
It annoyed him; as unspeakably powerful as Mazo was, both of them knew he was far from reaching his full potential. Legendary Lucario like that of Sir Aaron were said to have even mastered human speech (and such fact was alluded to in the species' Pokedex entry), and to have transcended the laws of physics in a way that their movements became faster than any other creature could keep up with. It could well be that those were myths more than legends, but... what if they weren't? What if Mazo could actually become such a godly being? What was he lacking?

Focus you idiot! Remember why you came!

Mazo stopped before he said anything. Actually, Levin practically only ever talked to him out of courtesy; the Lucario always seemed to know exactly what he wanted to say before he said it, which often made him wonder if emotions were all Mazo could really read.

- I guess you know why I'm here. Kamui's gotten worse... We can't nurse him back to health no matter what we try. Maybe you...

Mazo nodded and dashed toward the Treetop Base. Levin followed him, barely keeping up, and entered the house after him. Min and Dolce continued their efforts, now attempting to use their techniques simultaneously, as Opal looked on from a distance, disheartened. Everyone stopped and fell silent when Mazo entered the living room; his presence alone commanded respect from the other Pokemon. Min had always been particularly fascinated by the lycan... but now wasn't the time.

The Lucario approached Kamui and place a hand on his head, then closed his eyes. Suddenly, he was propelled several feet back by a Psyshock, nearly crashing against the far wall, but managed to withstand the blow. What the hell was that?
Levin stared at Mazo, who for once looked just as surprised. He tried again; it took longer, but after a brief moment of concentration with his hand on the Psyduck's forehead, another Psyshock pushed Mazo away. This time however, the Lucario looked unfazed. Was any of this starting to make sense to him?

When he approached Kamui a third time, he looked at Levin and urged him to get closer. The young man reluctantly complied; Mazo placed one hand on the Water-Type's forehead like before, and the other one on Levin's shoulder, then closed his eyes... and when he opened them, they were no longer inside the Base. They were...

Within Kamui.

Wait, what was this? Startled, he looked around. They were surrounded by a bluish mist, completely alone. So was that?...

Yes master. You can hear me. This comes as a surprise to me also.

- Mazo?! Since when can you talk? What the hell's happening?!

I am unsure. My mastery of Aura is still insufficient to allow this sort of communcation... Perhaps this is Kamui's own power at work. It has created a bridge between us, amplifying my own abilities. I fear this is temporary.

- I... thought you could only read hearts.

You underestimate the extent of Aura's influence. Aura is what makes each living creature unique, it’s their life force; it transcends the concepts of "heart" or "mind"... if anything, it describes the soul. More so than Psychic power, it is the definitive gateway to one's true essence. What you see... Is Kamui's soul.

Levin was at a loss for words. How he hated the paranormal.

You were correct. His affliction is not organic in nature; dedicated as they were, there was nothing neither Min nor Dolce could have done. Kamui's pain is his own doing; in a way, his own choice.

- What do you mean? He's putting himself through all this on purpose?!

Unlikely. Observe.

The fog lifted slightly, revealing a massive stone door, several feet tall, with its doors closed and wrapped in chains.

When you first laid eyes on Jessica's hatchling, you felt something that inclined you to obtain it. You weren't wrong; this Psyduck's potential is nothing short of remarkable... perhaps peerless. But Kamui doesn't understand it, and so he fears it. He has willingly locked away this power, but the more you train him to become stronger, the harder he has to strain to contain it. By refusing to embrace it, this repressed power manifests itself through pain - in a sense, it is screaming to get out. And the more it grows, the more it hurts to keep it locked. You should not blame him.

In short... this meant that, in order to cure Kamui, they'd have to go against his wishes and unleash his potential... How would he feel about that? Would he be grateful... or resentful?

- Mazo... what do we do?

I will do what you tell me to. You will do what you think is right.

- That's helpful... Can you at least tell me if Kamui wants to be healed?

That is irrelevant, master. Even if Kamui is opposed to it, how long will you endure the sight of his suffering? Sooner or later, you will break and ask me to force the cure on him. Best to do it now.

- Don't ever read me again. At least not out loud. But yes… you're right; I can't stand watching him like this. Screw it, he's a platypus, what does he know? Let's just fix him up and be done with it; I trust him to handle his newfound powers once they're released. And if he struggles, you can always give him a hand. He... Kamui deserves to be free of this!

Mazo nodded and approached the gate. It was at least five times as tall as Levin, locked tightly and wrapped in chains of unreal proportions.

- And one last thing. You could kill me on a whim with at least ten different moves; stop degrading yourself by calling me "master".

The Lucario let slip a rare smile as he touched one of the chains.

Levin it is.

Mazo closed his eyes, trying to understand the powers at work. Levin didn't even bother trying; as someone who loathed the supernatural, this was already way out of his league. He just wanted to solve the problem and get back to his pleasantly logical reality. The Lucario stepped back after a while, shaking his head.

This is not regular Psychic energy. It's... different. Foreign to me...

- Meaning?...

I force it open.

Placing both hands to the side of his body, like Levin had seen him do over and over again, Mazo charged energy between his palms and unleashed a powerful Focus Blast straight at the gate. The blue orb exploded on contact with the chain, but... it didn't break?!

It will.

Once again, and again, and again, a flurry of Focus Blasts was fired in quick succession, flawlessly aimed at the same iron link repeatedly. After seven attempts, it started to crack!

- Mazo, hang in there! Are you okay, can you keep it up?

Definitely not. But one more is all I need.

Concentrating every last ounce of strength remaining in his body, the Aura Pokemon gave form to one last orb of Fighting-Type energy, much larger than all the previous ones. He then propelled the Focus Blast forward before collapsing; Levin watched as the attack made contact with the chain yet again, followed by a booming sound and a flash of blinding light...

---

Levin slowly opened his eyes; the clarity hurt at first, everything was a blur. For some reason he couldn't move his arms... he couldn't move at all, yet he was standing. No, not quite standing...

Floating?

His surroundings became progressively clearer: he was back in his home's living room. He could spot Mazo through the corner of his eye, also suspended a few inches above the ground, unable to move as well. He immediately remembered what had happened. Did that last explosion knock out the Lucario, severing their link to Kamui's soul? Wait... Kamui!

His eyes scanned the room, still disoriented. There were Min, freaking out, and Dolce and Opal, trying to calm her down. The Psyduck's moaning could no longer be heard, nor was the yellow platypus anywhere in sight! In its place, hovering slightly above the couch with arms spread wide...

- K-Kamui?! Is that you?!

In a way, it was. Staring back at him with strangely soothing red eyes however, was a completely different creature. All traces of pain gone from its features, replaced by a look of complete harmony, the http://www.upnetwork.net/fb/sprites/pn055.gif floated closer to him. The gem on his forehead started glowing red and two words echoed in Levin's mind.

Thank you.

The shine faded, Kamui fell to the floor in exhaustion, landing on his knees, and his psychokinetic hold loosened; as a result, Levin and Mazo tumbled to the ground as well; fortunately it was a short way down. Finally able to move, the young man got back up and helped Mazo to his feet. The Lucario had just regained consciousness, and just like he'd predicted, he could no longer talk to Levin. Maybe all you need is someone to open your own gate...

Kamui stood up as well, just as silent, and exchanged a long, meaningful look with Mazo, who nodded in response. Something told Levin that a very strong bond had been formed that day. The Golduck then turned his attention back to him and cast him the same look. Levin smiled.

- You're free now... It's all over.

Kamui pondered on those words and closed his eyes in relief, as if the weight of the world had been lifted off his shoulders. And finally he turned around, lay down on the couch once more and immediately fell asleep... possibly for the first time in his life.

MarbleZone 12-24-2013 06:50 PM

He sat on the bed and read the text one more time. The document's layout was familiar; it was identical to the diploma he received after being accepted as a Pokemon Battle Referee. This time, it certified him as manager of two Fizzy Bubbles' Rare Candy Banks. Corvus would be so proud.

It was, nonetheless, an unfortunate situation - he was now an adventure overseer at the Arcane Realm and Cascadia, a League Official and a banker, but it still felt like he'd achieved so little of actual importance since the start of his journey! Owning the land's first Minccino, Garchomp, Ducklett and Bouffalant didn't help put him on the map either, so what else was there? As hard as he tried, the name Levin Sanders still meant nothing to most. He lacked one big score...
He sighed and placed the paper in his archive, along with his other certificates and official letters. If anything, they'd serve as a manner of gratification when he was old and useless.

Up until now, Fizzy Bubbles had been living quiet, uneventful days. However, Christmas was just around the corner and many Trainers were tending to the preparations for the festive season. Unlike most other holidays, Levin rather enjoyed this one - it was one of the few his family ever celebrated back home in Saffron.

I wonder how they're doing. After Ivan died, they pretty much stopped paying attention to festivities altogether...

He was grateful for everything his parents had done for him previously, but ever since his brother passed away they were never the same, falling into a serious depression. Levin put up with being ignored for little over a year before taking Min and starting his own journey, against their will. If they were going to neglect him while he was there, he might as well not be.

Yeah, I was harsh. But it was their fault for not giving a damn.

He told himself the same thing whenever these unwanted thoughts resurfaced. That leaving was the right thing to do because they were in no condition to raise him properly. Part of him was also bitter about how obvious it was that Ivan had been their favourite son; he often wondered if their depression would have been half as severe if he'd been the one to die. Yeah, right.

He suddenly got up from the bed and whistled at Basker. The Growlithe, who'd been taking a nap by his Trainer's feet,woke up instantly and wagged his tail in excitement.

- Enough of this crap. I've moved on with my life, they should do the same. Come on Baskie, let's see how everyone's doing with the Christmas Tree.

The Government had decided to freely distribute Sparkly Christmas Trees this year, ornaments in place and all. But Levin made a point to decorate the tree his own way, so here they were on Christmas Eve night, redoing the whole thing from the ground up

They entered the living room, where several of his partners were busy with the decorations. He couldn't help but smile at the effort they put in the task - this was shaping up to be the first cheerful Christmas he'd had in a long time. Last year's event had a very welcome giveaway of Egg House Passes, and as nice as it was, the holiday spirit itself had been the last thing on Levin's mind.

Dolce and Albion flew around a small pine tree, carefully placed next to the living room's TV, carrying silver tinsel garlands. Atla and Spike (muttering to himself) were busy dangling glass balls on several branches. Boo ran frantically across the room holding an exaggerated number of ornament boxes, eager to help somehow. Zion watched. And Min - who else? - directed traffic without actually doing much of anything herself.

Where's Opal? She was so excited about decorating the tree yesterday...

Basker nudged his leg and pointed to the couch where Kamui once laid in pain. Sitting on it, looking heartbroken and about to cry, was his beloved Venonat. Levin approached her, and upon closer inspection he noticed something on her tiny hands - a shattered yellow glass ball. Putting two and two together wasn't hard at all, especially since Min started yelling at Albion for dropping a garland at that precise moment.

- Opal... did Min get mad at you for breaking that ball?

The gnat looked at her Trainer with teary red eyes and lowered her head in silence. She'd never been one to point fingers, but she didn't have to.

Okay, that does it.

Reaching boiling point, Levin turned around and returned to the group minding the decorations. He grabbed the Minccino by her ears and dragged her over to the couch.

- Did you shoo Opal away?

Min looked confused at first, then alarmed as everything fell into place. She shook her head vigorously.

- Are you lying to me?...

Min looked poised to deny it again, but in an uncharacteristic gesture, it was Opal nodded in confirmation. Seems she'd finally had enough of Min's antics as well.

- Goddamnit Min, look at you! What kind of jerk did you grow into? You weren't like this... if you were, I would've left you in the Cold Storage. Had I known you'd turn into this prissy, egotistical, spoiled little brat, I would've never taken you home! And right now... I don't want you here. Not anymore.

Min's eyes widened in horror at Levin's words. The young man reached for a Pokeball in his belt and released Magnus, the Magmortar. Puzzled as to why he was allowed indoors, the arsonist smiled ominously as he awaited an explanation.

- Take Min and Teleport into the forest, anywhere will do. Leave her there and return.

Magnus laughed audibly at the diabolical instructions. Levin was disposing of his very first partner? How delightfully cruel! Quick to comply, before Min could even attempt to run, he scooped her in his arms and, in the blink of an eye, vanished from sight. Opal looked equally horrified - she never liked Min, but this was way too much! And it was all her fault for turning her in! She tried to plead with Levin, but he said nothing in return. Mere seconds later, Magnus reappeared with a wicked grin of pure satisfaction. These were the kind of orders he had no problem obeying.

- Thank you Magnus. Now Opal, go help them out with the tree like you wanted! And don't worry about Min, she won't be a problem anymore.

He recalled the Fire-Type and walked outside to catch some air, Basker following suite with a puzzled look on his face.

-----

Opal watched motionless as Levin and Basker left. Help out with the tree? How could he expect her to just carry on like nothing had happened? Min was abandoned because of her!! And at this hour, what kind of Pokemon could be roaming the the deepest woods?...

The very thought of Min alone in the forest surrounded by hunters made Opal jump in panic. She'd always resented the Minccino for the way she'd treated her since her adoption, for making her feel useless and ugly - so, so ugly - at every chance she got... but they were both part of the group, and Min was Levin's closest friend! Letting her go and leaving her at the mercy of wild Pokemon was wrong, and she had to fix it! If only she hadn't nodded, if she'd kept quiet, Levin wouldn't have done this...

She hopped to the open window in the living room (so as not to run into Levin at the entrance) and jumped outside.

It was nighttime already, and the Winter wind felt chilly, even with all her fur. Now, where could Magnus have left Min? Opal closed her eyes. She may be the ugliest, weakest and clumsiest Pokemon of all, but Levin had always relied on her for one thing - tracking. So that meant she wasn't bad at it, right?
She focused her hardest and tried to use her trusty Foresight. Her surroundings turned red, a thermal vision of sorts, and everything became visible even through the darkness. However... there were no footprints to follow, because Magnus had Teleported, not walked into the woods! Which meant she had nothing to go on... Disheartened, she sat down on the grass like she always did when at a loss.

This wasn't the first time she looked for Min. Some time ago, the Minccino had been kidnapped by a giant dragon at the peak of Mt Infernus, and back then Opal's Foresight had proven invaluable. But there did come a time when they lost track of the kidnapper, and they were equally stumped. She suddenly recalled something Levin had said back then...

"If only you could pinpoint her location by sound, but you don't know the move yet..."

By sound... wait, that was it! She became much stronger since then, and she did learn another helpful trick! Reinvigorated, the tiny Poison-Type ran straight into the woods that could be seen from the Treetop House, suddenly brimming with confidence. Her Foresight improving her visibility, she entered the forest without hesitation (for the first time in her life) and released a Supersonic wave that resonated through the trees and everything else in a wide radius. Stillness all around... except for one area! It was hard to pinpoint exactly where, but something was on the move to the North! Venturing further in, emitting repeated Supersonics to guide her, Opal closed in on the target. What if it wasn't Min at all? It could well be a nocturnal predator, a Gliscor for all she knew! But she had to take that chance... Despite all the history between them, Min was worth it!

The target was now closer than ever. It was moving slowly and seemingly in circles, and as Opal closed the distance, the Supersonic readings became clear enough to tell her it was something relatively small. It could well be Min! But just then... she picked up another movement. Something else was around, much larger and faster than the first creature, and closing in on it! Opal rushed - she had to warn Min, or whoever the smaller one was!
After a short while, she ended up in a small clearing - and nervously walking about, too afraid to wander blindly back into the thick of the woods, was none other than Min! It worked! Opal ran over to the dumbfounded Minccino, who was too scared and confused to even react. The Poison-Type hastily tried to tell her about the large Pokemon making its way toward them, urging her to run, but just as she was about to finish... a massive Liepard, several times the size of either of them, leaped from the foliage and blocked their path! Gracious but deadly, the feline growled before lowering its head and extending its claws... ready to pounce!

-----

- Thank you Crix. Return

Levin recalled his trusty Electivire and knelt down to peak at the clearing through the bushes. Detecting Opal and Min's location was easy enough for Mazo (as if Magnus would ever tell him...), and Crix provided transportation through his Teleport. He felt terrible for doing what he did to Min, but she needed a wake-up call. Now it was time to see if his gamble paid off...

One Liepard... seems manageable.

Even so, his hand instinctively reached for the Fighting Ball in his belt. If bad came to worse, Spike would be a good equalizer.

Min squealed at the sight of the opponent. Battling wasn't her primary calling, and neither was Opal's, who simply froze in fear. The sight broke Levin's heart, but intervening now would undermine the entire plan... Come on girls, snap out of it!

The Liepard wasted little time itself; seeing both of its prey staggered, it took the opening to Hone its Claws, making it even more dangerous. Then, with lightning-fast motions, it lunged forward and Slashed away at Min, knocking her to the ground!

Opal rushed over to her fallen partner. Min struggled back to her feet, angered and finally in the mood to fight. She shoved the Venonat aside, apparently still deeming her worthless, and fiercely approached the Dark-Type leopard. Intent on making use of her speed, her most valuable asset in battle, the chinchilla tried to close in with her patented Tail Slap; however, the opponent had the edge in terms of quickness, and effortlessly dodged the strike, immediately retaliating with another strike of its claws, this time imbued with evil energy... a Night Slash at point-blank! Min was once again propelled backwards and landed with a nasty thud.

Opal cried in fear as she watched the brutal blow connect with her friend's tiny frame. And when Min was unable to get back up, the Venonat feared the worst... she ran over to her side again; fortunately, the Minccino was still breathing, but unable to get back to her feet, much less keep on fighting!

It's all on you now Opal, come on... wait, what was that?

Rustling nearby... above? He spotted movement in the trees from the corner of his eye. And not a second later, one more Liepard leaped into the clearing!

A second one?! I thought Liepard were lone hunters! Unless it's a family... Argh, who cares, it's trouble!

He was about to step into action when Opal did something he'd never expect. Placing herself between Min and the two leopards, the usually shy Pokemon released a wave of dust into the air that immediately forced both Dark-Types to switch focus from the downed, easier target to Opal herself!

Rage Powder? Is she insane?!

The Liepard growled in a low tone, extended their claws again and prepared to strike together. For once, Opal didn't flinch; she stayed put and awaited their strike! The two felines attacked simultaneously, exactly as she'd hoped; as soon as they closed in on her, she shot one more Supersonic wave catching both of them off guard! Stopping dead in their tracks, pain coursing through their delicate ears, the sonic wave confused them temporarily, buying both Opal and Min some time. Far from done, Opal spun around and released another cloud of dust, this time purple in color, that covered both opponents, making them cringe in discomfort and cough uncontrollably as if overtaken by a sudden illness.

Poison Powder... she lacks proper offensive moves, and the few Psychic attacks she knows are worthless here! She's sticking to the only thing she can do...

If Opal was in any way concerned about her limited attack choices, she didn't show it. Caught in the heat of battle and determined to keep the unconscious Min from being caught by the enemy, she kept the pressure up: carrying on with her strategy, she gathered energy in the form of a violet orb and launched it at one of the poisoned Liepard. The sphere enlarged and exploded on impact as the Venoshock's power increased exponentially in contact with the venom, sending the opponent flying back! One of them...

The second Liepard, seeing Opal hurt its partner, lunged forward in retaliation, way too fast for the Venonat to even react! It ran its claw across Opal's fur and flesh, once more going for a Slash that knocked the much smaller foe off her feet, helpless. Helpless as always... useless. Liepard's raised paw became enveloped in black energy again, and when it came down...

Opal opened her eyes when the final blow never came. In front of her was... Min! Bracing herself, she'd jumped in the middle of the two combatants and selflessly Endured the incoming Night Slash! She... saved her!
Min, panting and bleeding from the attack, turned her head to Opal and winked at her. She was smiling at her for the first time in her life... acknowledging her effort! But at what cost?...

Min, finally... Finally you realize just how much Opal is worth! You see her for who she really is - your equal... just like everyone else on the team. That's what you needed to understand!

Opal watched on the floor as Liepard nonchalantly swiped the weakened Min aside. With the Rage Powder still fully in effect, the predator had no problem forgoing the easier prey and instead focus its anger on the one that poisoned it. But something stirred up inside the quiet, timid Venonat - a rage of her own, mixed with a sense of responsibility for Min's condition and an unprecedented feeling of acceptance. For one moment in time, it didn't matter that she was weak, ugly and useless - Min appreciated her effort and put her own life on the line for her! Min, of all Pokemon! And now she needed her again, she was in pain because of her and she had to make it right! No matter what, she had to get Min out of this forest safely and back home to Levin where they both belonged! For once in her life, she felt without a shadow of a doubt... that she was good enough!

Opal?...

The Liepard froze in sheer surprise. A powerful shine enveloped Opal's entire body, which began to rise in the air. From it, two wings of light sprouted, her frame changed, the process now thoroughly familiar to Levin. She was evolving!
After a brief moment, the glow began to fade. In its place stood Opal in its final form, airborne, as a fully-grown...

What on earth is that?!

Levin had expected a regular Venomoth; he'd seen a fair number of them, and he'd have been content to witness Opal become such a delicate Pokemon. But this was far from an ordinary evolution - in fact, he'd never seen one like it! Common Venomoth were well known for their purple wings, covered in poisonous dust that filled the air with each flap. The much rarer Shiny specimens were a pretty tone of blue instead, but Opal wasn't Shiny herself... And what she turned into could only be described as the single most beautiful Pokemon Levin had ever laid eyes on.

Her body now a soothing light pink with a faint yellow marking on her forehead, and wings of a million colors that continuously shifted under the moonlight, as if made of opal themselves, the http://www.upnetwork.net/fb/sprites/custom/opal.gif was nothing short of a miracle evolution with a color pattern unheard of in the entire world! Levin was both fascinated and at an utter loss for words. What could have possibly triggered such a transformation?! A genetic anomaly made manifest when the evolution gene was transcripted? Or perhaps Opal's undying desire to become more than she was destined to be? Going from a despised, undesired Pokemon abandoned at the Adoption Centre, to being ostracized by her own teammates for her looks and weakness... to now standing before them in impossible splendor! For once in his life Levin couldn't explain what he was seeing, but he didn't care to either. All that mattered was that Opal, his dear, sweet Opal, had shattered the bonds of her own shortcomings and transcended her limits in a way nobody could have predicted.

The Liepard seemed just as shaken. All it could muster was watch as Opal took to the air in all her glory, ready to put her new powers to the test. Wasting no time, she summoned her soul's energy and blasted the staggered opponent with Hidden Power Ground, sending it reeling! It instinctively retreated over to where the other Liepard was still recovering from the earlier Venoshock, and the two assumed positions to strike in tandem.

Suddenly, Levin stepped out of the shadows to join his Pokemon. He'd had enough of watching. Opal flickered her gorgeous wings and rushed over to his side, proudly showing her achievement.

- I saw the whole thing, Opal. You were magnificent. You are magnificent! All you've done for Min, and what you accomplished for yourself; those are things I'll never forget. But you've had to endure this on your own for long enough. Let's put an end to this together!

Opal nodded in excitement and turned to face the Dark-Type duo, who were about to attack at any moment.

- Alright Opal, fly circles around them with your Agility and slow them down with Sleep Spore!

Quick to comply, the Venomoth loosened her muscles and dashed forward at unbelievable speed, straight at the two Liepard. Then, at the last second, she flew upwards and released a cloud of emerald dust over her foes; immediately upon inhaling it, the felines became groggy and unable to carry though their combined assault. Taking advantage of the opportunity, Levin ran over to the still-fallen Min. He'd finally made up his mind... a year and a half later. He cradled her in his arms and picked her up.

- Min, are you alright? Hang in there! I'm proud of you girl, I really am. For the first time in a very long time... I would never abandon you. But you needed to open your eyes. You had to see Opal's worth for yourself! And look at her. Look at the miracle she achieved through her perseverance, her heart!

The Minccino nodded faintly and showed him an honest smile. She was just as proud of Opal as he was.

- But she wouldn't be there fighting for you if you hadn't saved her first. You went farther than I could have imagined, you risked your own life for someone you've always despised! Just like the old Min... or maybe you were always the same, but lost sight of it during our journeys. I'm to blame for that too... I'm no better than you when it comes to having an ego. But you proved me wrong tonight, and I'm unspeakably proud of you. So Min... what do you say we help Opal finish this?

He reached for something in his pocket and showed it to his friend. The item, previously an unremarkable rock, glowed brightly in his hand when close to Min. The Shiny Stone he'd held on for so long, always unsure of whether to sell it for a profit or put it to use... His head was clear now. She deserved it, now more than she ever did.
Min's eyes widened as the realization set in. After all the time they spent together, Levin was finally letting her evolve? What if she wasn't ready? What if she wasn't as good as Opal anymore?

- Let's do this together, like we've been doing for 16 years! Trust me Min, please...

He was right. They'd been together for almost two decades; if Levin believed she was ready, then so did she! Min nodded and took the Shiny Stone in her hands. Both the Pokemon and the rock began to glow, brighter and brighter, until the stone itself vanished and the Minccino absorbed its energy, transforming as it did. When the light dispersed, Levin held an entirely different creature in his arms: spotless white fur shaped like an elegant écharpe, smooth to the touch and with a distinctively pleasant scent emanating from it - after so long, Min was finally a http://www.upnetwork.net/fb/sprites/pn573.gif!

- You're... perfect!

Briefly overwhelmed by emotion, the Cinccino hugged her Trainer and cried. Her lifelong dream had come true at last, and so what if Opal had also evolved? It was all the more special that it happened on the same night - on Christmas no less! It wa sa sign that they were meant to be something she'd never allowed them to be. But she'd be different from now on, not just in looks or strength: she would be worthy of Levin's, Opal's and everyone else's trust and be the friend that they all deserved!

Min leaped from Levin's arms ready to battle alongside Opal, the two newly-evolved Pokemon more confident than ever under their Trainer's guidance.

- Alright girls, let's end this! Opal, blast those Liepard with your Silver Wind and then Baton Pass your Agility over to Min! Min, use your speed to hand out a Wake-Up Slap apiece and wrap it up with your Hyper Voice!

Sleep having almost completely set in, the opponents could do little to counter the instructions. Opal flapped her wings at high speed and sent a gust of sparkly wind at the two predators, who yelled in pain. The Venomoth then danced in the air with inspiring grace as its body took on a faint pink glow, which shortly afterwards enveloped Min as well. Feeling lighter than ever, the Cinccino dashed straight towards her wobbly foes and, nimbly dodging their attempts to Slash her down, slapped each of them as hard as she could, making each of them fall to the ground again!

- Now Min, let them have it!

Min arched her head back and unleashed a devastating sound wave with enough force to propel both Liepard back several feet, tumbling across the floor under the sheer force of the move! And when they finally got back on their feet, realizing how their prey ended up vastly overpowering them, the hunters opted to limp back to the darkness of the woods in retreat. They'd done it!

Opal and Min returned to Levin, exhausted but exhilarated at their resounding success. Levin himself could do nothing but show them his widest smile, and hugged them tightly. Everything had fallen into place so perfectly he could hardly believe it - even the events he hadn't planned!

- You girls are amazing, both of you. I am so lucky to be your Trainer, you know? You made me very, very proud today. Now let's get back, everyone must be worried sick by now. Besides, do you know what day it is already?

He looked at both of them and smiled again.

- Merry Christmas girls... This will be one to remember!

MarbleZone 01-20-2014 07:12 PM

It’d been such a long time... Levin sat on the bed twirling a coin in his fingers, then flipping it over and over, lost in thought. No matter how hard he tried to forget about it, the nagging thought just wouldn’t go away. That “what if” that stays and refuses to leave until a man caves in… And he was just about to.

But what good is it now? I let Faust go because I thought I was over it. He was my only link…

One year ago, he’d made peace with his past. Faust the Duskull had carried him over to the Spirit World in his sleep and arranged for a reunion between Levin and Ivan. Everything was explained, forgiven and settled for good. Everything except…

I lost.

Just like every other battle they had in life, Ivan’s spirit had trounced him in their final match as well, without a single casualty on his side. But Levin wasn’t the same rookie anymore. Back then, he was only one year into his journey, and so much had changed since then! He was no longer a mere Trainer on a journey; he was an expert battle with an army. Formally recognized as a Pokemon Battle Official and adventure overseer, he was now arguably as accomplished as Ivan in his prime, if not more! That’s why…

We’ve all grown so much since then! What if…

“What if” - that was his problem. He couldn’t drop it; he could no longer ignore the conviction that he was finally as good as Ivan. But with Faust gone… Suddenly, the coin he flipped didn’t return to his hand, and he snapped out of his trance.

Floating mere inches above his palm, Ivan’s coin was surrounded by a faint pink glow. Levin raised his eyes; watching from the room’s entrance was Kamui the Golduck, silent and all-seeing as always.

- Hey there. No need to tell you anything, I assume?

Promise as he may, Levin knew Kamui’s powers were too vast to fully contain. As such, he could read the minds of all those around him unwillingly. Levin learned not to mind the intrusion; Kamui didn’t seem to mind what he read either. And right now, he seemed to have an idea…

Soon afterwards, another Pokemon walked in behind Kamui. One with a bond so strong with Levin that the young man had already felt his approach minutes in advance. Mazo stopped next to Kamui, his closest friend, and Levin knew the Lucario had his feelings all figured out.

A mind reader and a soul reader. I might as well be naked.

He could swear Kamui smirked. The two Pokemon approached Levin and grabbed the floating coin. He was beginning to piece it together… Kamui could put him to sleep and tap into his mind; Mazo was powerful enough to tap into the coin’s power – essentially, a manifestation of Faust left behind as the ghost’s memento. Using the coin, maybe Mazo could reach the Spirit World and bring Ivan’s soul into Kamui’s dream…

Levin smiled and nodded. Faust knew what he was doing when he materialized Ivan’s lucky coin… he knew Levin would want a reunion that he wouldn’t be around to provide. So he left him a key… And now, through his own work of raising Mazo and Kamui, he’d unknowingly gathered all the necessary pieces to see his brother one last time! He had to try, he needed to put this last issue to rest!

- Let’s do this guys. Please, I’m counting on you!

Allowing someone to tap into his innermost sanctums – his mind and his heart – at the same time… Two years ago, he would never have allowed himself to even be near something with that kind of power. Now, he found himself trusting these two so completely that he was eager to let it happen. He’d never dreamed of one day forming bonds like these, but now that he had, everything was falling into place. Soon, he’d be all out of ghosts, no more loose ends. All he needed to do was something he was never capable of – defeating Ivan.

Kamui looked him dead in the eye, and the last thing Levin saw before falling into a deep slumber was the Golduck’s forehead glow red…

---

A gentle breeze and the sun’s warmth told him he was no longer home. The fact that he was perfectly aware of this, that he knew he was dreaming, felt remarkably similar to the one time Faust had infiltrated his sleep; this was an unnatural dream, no doubt created by Kamui’s Hypnosis.

He looked around. Kamui went to the trouble of selecting a particularly nice location for his dream… but still, his surroundings looked awfully familiar. That would be Mazo’s doing, most certainly. The trees, the lake in the distance, the ledges in front of him alternating with patches of tall grass, the gatehouse behind him… He’d known this location all his life.

Route 6…

To the north and through the gate was his hometown of Saffron City. This Route was where he spent most of his free time with Ivan, playing tag at when they were little, then football, then Pokemon battles…

- And then I left.

The familiar voice made Levin turn around. From the gate behind him emerged Ivan, looking exactly like he did since their last meeting.

- What did you expect? There’s not much to change in my current condition. You on the other hand… It’s nice to see you again, Lev. But I thought you’d come to terms with everything… Why did you bring me back here?

Levin’s heart was racing with joy. It worked! And the sudden realization that he could do this at will from now on, as long as he had Mazo, Kamui and the coin, lifted an old weight off his heart – he’d be able to see his brother whenever he needed! But if things went well, this would be the last time he’d need to do so.

- Hey Ivan. I’m glad we could meet again… After I let Faust go, I thought I’d cut off contact for good. But he left me something of yours, and I found a way back here. Remember your lucky coin? Guess it’s bringing me luck now.

- And since when did you ever chalk your achievements up to luck? Either way, don’t you dare lose that coin. Only thing it couldn’t protect me from was a cave-in I caused myself.

- Well, it does bring luck, not brains. Either way Iv, I’m here for a reason other than missing you. I can’t get over our last match…

- Levin, the point of that battle wasn’t to…

- It doesn’t matter! I don’t know about you, but I was giving it my all. And you still trounced me, like you always did. Mazo evolved, and even then it couldn’t keep up. Sure, we made amends; I forgave you, I made peace with my past… but you were still better than me. I need to know if that’s changed. I can’t move on until I’m stronger than you Ivan!

The older Sanders chuckled, approached Levin and placed a hand on his shoulder – not his head, like he used to do when they were younger; Levin hated it.

- I don’t see everything where I am now, but I do know some of what goes on with you. I’d be lying if I said you weren’t stronger, and I’d be lying if I said I’m not proud of what you accomplished since our last meeting. You’re taking the Sanders name to new heights! But kid… you’re not better than me. Not now, not ever.

There was a time when those words would have sent Levin into a rage. But not anymore; he knew this was Ivan’s way of saying he accepted the challenge. He placed his own hand on Ivan’s shoulder and smirked.

- As humble in death as you were in life, heh? I intend to finish this today, Ivan… I have no love for these weird dreams, and this is the last loose end in my life. When I beat you, I can finally put everything behind me.

- Then prepare to have a lot more of these weird dreams until you do.

They put some distance between them and prepared to fight. This was it; everything that Levin had done in the past year, all the hard work into raising his team, it was all for this moment. He realized that now… he’d been training to surpass Ivan, no more and no less. What would be left to do when he did?...

- This time, I want a full battle. Six on six, all on the line!

- I got the time. Let’s hope it goes better for you this time, shall we?

Like they did when they were kids, they both chose a Pokemon at the exact same time. A Blue Cyberball materialized in Ivan’s hand just as Levin picked a Pokeball from his belt. Both Trainers tossed them in the air and the contents emerged… Ivan chose his Magneton, whereas Levin brought out Magnus the Magmortar.

- Just like last time… and all others before that. You always start with Magneton, Ivan!

- The fact that I can still kick your ass while being predictable should bother you Lev, not me. I see Magnus is all grown up now; does that mean he can land a move now?

This first match-up was exactly the same as their last battle. Back then, Magnus didn’t manage to hit a single attack on Magneton… But things will be different this time! We won’t make the same mistakes.

Magnus’s usual grin grew to scary proportions at the sight of his opponent. After all this time, he could finally get a measure of sweet revenge! Back then he was a nothing but a weak Magby… but right now, he was at the pinnacle of his skills, a Magmortar in his prime and fueled by the fire of vengeance.

- Alright Magnus, make quick work of him with a Flamethrower!

- Really Lev? Again? Magneton, disrupt him with Metal Sound!

Levin smirked. He saw it coming a mile away; this time, he was ready. Magnus covered his ears in pain as Magneton released the dreaded sound waves, breaking his concentration and rendering as helpless as last time…

- Now put him down. Lock-On and Zap Cannon! Sorry again Lev.

Magneton’s three eyes took on a red glow as it took aim. But just as it began to charge up for the move that had knocked out Magnus in their first battle…

- Now Magnus, Mach Punch!

Almost too fast to see, the Fire-Type leaped forward and struck the still-charging Magneton dead-on with a lightning-fast punch! The Steel-Type was sent back reeling, unable to release the Zap Cannon, and Magnus wasted no time with the follow-up. Ivan looked genuinely shocked.

- There’s your opening! Flame Charge!

Magnus nodded, more than content to follow Levin’s orders for a change, and slammed into Magneton with its whole body covered in flames – which in turn fueled his body and made it even faster! The metallic opponent winced from yet another highly effective attack and wobbled backwards to create some separation. But Levin wouldn’t have any of that.

- Put an end to this! Magnus, Flare Blitz!

The fire from the Flame Charge changed from bright orange to an intense blue and the Magmortar leaped high in the air, then came crashing down at high speed right towards Magneton. However, having recovered from the earlier surprise and ready to fight back, Ivan had the move scouted and urged his precious Steel-Type to counter.

- Magneton, Teleport out of the way now!!

Mere seconds before impact, Magneton suddenly vanished from sight, causing Magnus to miss and hit the ground with tremendous force, setting the tall grass ablaze and taking some serious damage from the collision. As he struggled back to his feet, Magneton materialized directly above him, and it was Levin’s turn to be shocked speechless as Ivan smiled.

- Almost had me there kid. Too bad. Magneton, put him away with Thunder!

Magnets spinning progressively faster and sparkling with energy, the Steel-Type unleashed a massive bolt of electricity right at the downed Magnus, who was helpless to defend himself. All out of last-minute tactics, Levin could only watch, but there was no mistake – the Magmortar was laughing as the attack came his way!
The pillar of lightning hit, covering the area in a bright light and kicking up even the dirt and ash from than the earlier Flare Blitz. When it settled… Magnus had vanished!

- But… how?

Just then, out of nowhere, the Magmortar appeared behind Magneton, who remained oblivious to his opponent’s presence. He grinned ominously as he raised both of his arms cannons…

He Teleported away at the last second… on his own!

- No way… Magneton, look out!

Unable to react quickly enough, Magneton took too long to turn around. By then, Magnus had already gathered all the energy he needed… and released the single most immense cloud of flames Levin had ever seen, an Overheat at point-blank range! When he stopped, Magneton remained hovering for only a couple of seconds more, before tumbling to the ground unable to continue.

- Lev… that was something else. Didn’t think you had it in you! Things just got interesting…

I did it… I knocked Magneton out! I’d never beaten a single Pokemon of his in my entire life! Though to be honest, Magnus pulled it off on his own there at the end…

He looked at the Magmortar; having found redemption, his smile wasn’t a dark and wicked grin for a change; but that Flare Blitz and Overheat took a lot out of him, and he was panting heavily. He’d be easy pickings for whatever came next…

- Ready? Here we go, Empoleon!

What?! Since when did he own a Sinnoh Starter?! Did his influence really reach that far while he was adventuring that he managed to get his hands on one of these?

Ivan’s skill and fame must have been even bigger than he’d imagined if someone had brought him a Piplup all the way from Sinnoh. And it was also a testament to his unrivaled knowledge of the Steel-Type, as the species itself was virtually unheard of in Kanto at that time. Regardless, he now had to contend against a very driven-looking Empoleon, and that was all that mattered.

- Nice one, Iv. Seems you pulled some strings while you were away… Still, that’s a widespread Pokemon nowadays; it has no secrets to me.

He reached for Magnus’s Pokeball and recalled the Fire-Type.

- This isn’t your fight Magnus. Get some rest, I’ll need you again soon. For this one, I have someone else in mind.

A Thunder Ball grew in his hand and he called out his second Pokemon. A large Electivire emerged, bumping his fists together, eager to upstage his eternal rival.

- Magnus was nothing short of remarkable. Think you can keep up Crix?

The Electric-Type didn’t bother replying; he’d let his actions do the talking for him. Empoleon was equally silent, facing its opponent without a hint of worry. Levin got the feeling the two Pokemon weren’t all that different from one another, and that would make for an interesting clash.

- I’m sorry to disappoint you Levin, but you won’t be taking advantage of my Pokemon’s type again. Empoleon, use Mud Sport, then loosen up for an Agility!

The penguin spat a stream of mud upwards, and as it landed on it, it became covered with a thin layer of dirt that would buffer any electrical attacks… nullifying Crix’s only edge! The Empoleon smiled at Levin’s frustrated expression, and began to run circles around Crix, progressively speeding up…

- No you don’t! Crix, stop it with an Electroweb!

Crix moved his fingers quickly, weaving a web of electricity almost as quickly as a Galvantula, but when he hurled it at Empoleon, the bird effortlessly dodged the move with his enhanced reflexes, and took a sharp turn straight at him!

- Now, Double Hit!

Empoleon struck twice, each hit of his bladed wings causing Crix to take a step back in pain. Both strikes were too fast to dodge and found their mark, and even before Crix could so much as regroup, Empoleon was already leaping back preparing for another attack. Levin knew this had to be a routine Ivan and Empoleon had practiced to perfection.

- Dizzy yet? Let’s really shift gears now… yours! Icy Wind!

Empoleon blew a cold airwave straight at Crix, chilling him to the bone and hampering his moves. The speed difference was now abyssal! What could he do? Even his long-range lighting attacks would be useless…

- Put him away with a Steel Wing Empoleon!

The Water Starter was happy to oblige, as it hardened its wing and once more closed in on Crix, eyes locked on him… Wait, the eyes! Levin suddenly remembered Crix’s battle with Kaisap’s Elmira the Luxio, where one move was pivotal in keeping them in the fight despite their poor luck…

- Now Crix, Flash!!

Immediately catching up to Levin’s idea, Crix unleashed a blinding Flash of light that made Empoleon cry in pain, close its eyes… and thoroughly miss the Steel Wing, hitting nothing but air inches away from the Electivire’s face! As the bird struggled to regain its eyesight, Levin and Crix both saw their opening, and the Electivire quickly crossed his arms in front of his chest…

We’re thinking the same thing. Electric attacks will do little more than regular moves thanks to that Mud Sport, but there is one attack we can definitely use!

Crix jumped straight at Empoleon and slammed his forearms right into his back, fully connecting with a Cross Chop that sent the opponent reeling! Empoleon almost fell over face-first but managed to keep its footing, and although its eyes were still adjusting, it swiftly turned around and this time managed to retaliate with a second Steel Wing that almost knocked Crix over!

With both Pokemon still feeling the effects of each other’s attack, wobbly on their feet, Levin and Ivan shouted their orders at the same time.

- Crix, go for a Wild Charge now!

- Empoleon, Mud Slap!

With the undeniable speed advantage, Empoleon reacted first and ran his wing across the ground, kicking up dirt right into Crix’s eyes as he prepared to ram the opponent! Forced to stop in his tracks to clear his eyes, the Electivire was easy pickings and there was nothing Levin could do; Ivan had outmaneuvered him this time, plain and simple…

- Let’s go all out, it’s now or never! Hydro Cannon!!

Empoleon arched its head back before expelling a massive sphere of concentrated water energy; and even though Crix should in theory resist the move, the ensuing explosion of super-compressed water caused the very earth to shatter and fissure beneath his feet… and when it was over, so was Crix, who laid motionless on the ravaged floor!

N-no way… what power!

He reluctantly recalled Crix, commending him on the valiant effort, before eyeing the opponent. The move had taken its toll on Empoleon, who was still recovering, and that immediately gave Levin an idea!

- Back out you go, Magnus!

- What? Have you lost it?!

Levin grinned as Magnus once again reemerged from his Ball, still panting but always smirking.

- You might’ve beaten Crix, but you left yourself wide open! One direct hit and Empoleon won’t withstand it! Magnus, quick, put it away with your Mach Punch!

- You really think you’ll get me twice with the same move? Empoleon, snap out of it and counter with Aqua Jet!

A high-speed move of his own?!

Magnus took a little longer than usual to get going, but soon dashed forward and prepared to hit his supersonic punch to put away the foe… but Empoleon managed to somehow recover in time and charged ahead covered in pressurized water, meeting Magnus’s fist with its head! A powerful shockwave signaled the collision, both Pokemon were propelled backwards… and after almost successfully struggling back to their feet, neither of them managed to stand up, instead collapsing to the floor in exhaustion! A double knockout!

Levin and Ivan were equally stunned. The older Sanders was astonished by his brother matching him blow for blow, and the younger one was amazed at how his opponent’s Empoleon had essentially shrugged off the side effects of its ultimate move… Ivan really was something!

But no matter how incredible he may be… I’m going toe to toe with him for the first time in my life! We can do this!

Route 6 was starting to look more like a wasteland than the lush, grassy path he’d known since he was little. Fortunately this was only a dream… but it still bothered him to see this place ravaged because of his desire to beat his brother. Still, he couldn’t stop now!

- I wish I could say I was holding back, but I’m not. Don’t you dare slow down now! Here’s another old friend for you!

Clutching a Steel Ball, Ivan released a familiar face – a fierce-looking Aggron, who clearly still remembered Levin! Last time they fought, it had managed to defeat Buster, his Heracross, despite the massive disadvantage…

My mistake was trying to match its strength… Aggron is Ivan’s powerhouse, but I got just the counter this time!

Picking a Pokeball from his belt, he called out one of the Pokemon that made all of this possible – Kamui the Golduck. Aggron scoffed at such a scrawny opponent, but Kamui’s expression remained unreadable.

- Let’s hope that duck is a bigger challenge than your Heracross was. It certainly knows how to keep its cool, unlike Buster… Just remember, Aggron knows moves to knock out every type of Pokemon, so don’t count on Water giving you any edge. Case in point… Aggron, Thunderbolt!

The towering foe charged up briefly and released a powerful bolt of lightning straight at Kamui, who didn’t move a muscle. At the last second, the beam bent and turned 90 degrees to the side, completely missing its target!

- What?!

- Sorry Ivan, but you underestimated Kamui’s powers. I didn’t choose him because of his Water type… but because you won’t land a single move on him!

Aggron slammed its tail on the ground in frustration. Ivan clenched his fist and Levin could tell his mind was already at work to overcome Kamui’s Psychic proficiency… Things always took a turn for the worse when Ivan’s mind was at work. The older Sanders then smiled and began to unravel his plan.

- Guess you won’t mind if we take our time then. No point in trying to hit something that can’t be hit… Aggron, Stealth Rock!

The hulking Steel-Type stomped the ground once, causing several small fissures to sprout all over the battlefield… but that was all that happened. Levin knew that beneath those cracks were sharp stones ready to fly at any Pokemon he sent after Kamui… but so what?

- Seems you’re under the impression that I’ll need anyone else in this match… Why would I, when Kamui is untouchable? Let’s go then, Let loose a Water Pulse!

- Okay, there’s the opening! Aggron, Protect and blast him with a Dark Pulse!

A green dome flashed around Aggron a split-second before Kamui’s Water Pulse made contact, nullifying the attack completely. Then, opening its huge mouth, the Steel-Type released a string of black rings at its opponent, who prepared to counter in the same fashion as before…

- No Kamui, wait! Psychic won’t work on that!

It was too late. Powerful as he was, Kamui had never been exposed to Dark-Type Pokemon or attacks, and the nature of the move was entirely foreign to him. Try as he may, he failed to deflect the Pulse with his mind, and the attack hit the mark! The Golduck fell back and looked shocked, unable to comprehend what had happened. Fortunately, his ability to keep his Psychic power locked away at will meant the Dark move didn’t cause too much damage, but it left Kamui dumbfounded, as he’d never been hit by anything before!

- You talk a big game Lev, but it seems to me I knocked your “untouchable” Pokemon flat on his ass! Aggron, we found its weakness, Dark Pulse him again!

Grinning wildly, Aggron was happy to comply. It arched its head back, but when it prepared to unleash another Pulse, nothing happened! It tried again, to no avail, until it realized what had happened! Kamui’s eyes were glowing blue as he rose back to his feet, and soon Ivan caught on to their plan as well.

- You… Disabled it?!

- And now your only weapon against us is gone! Tough break, Ivan. Kamui, trap it in a Whirlpool and blast him with a Water Pulse!

After moving his hands in an intricate pattern, Kamui raised them to the air at the same time two water currents burst from the ground around Aggron and began to spin, dancing progressively closer to each other, threatening to crush the Steel-Type. Ivan, however, was quick to counter.

- Dig your way out and keep hidden so he can’t read you, then hit him with a Thunder Punch when you resurface!

Aggron smashed his arms into the wet ground and dug a hole with ease, disappearing from sight just as the two pillars of water crashed into one another. Kamui looked around in distress; if he couldn’t see the opponent, he couldn’t read it! In that regard, Mazo was miles ahead of him…
The ground suddenly caved in right behind the Golduck, and Aggron emerged with his fist crackling with electricity. He took a swing at the stunned Kamui and hit him square in the face, making him fall back hard!

- Kamui, no!

- He’s all yours Aggron, time for some Payback and to put him away for good!

[i]Another Dark move… Kamui can’t block that! Unless…

The idea that crossed his mind was immediately read by the Golduck without need for a single word. Aggron raised both of its hands, covered with black energy, but when it prepared to bring them down on Kamui, it found itself completely unable to move!

- What… what is that?!

The Water-Type got back to his feet; floating above one of his hands was a miniature Aggron doll, with a purple-glowing pin stabbed through the chest. The real Aggron couldn’t move a single muscle, and Kamui didn’t even need to keep it in place with Psychic – the Voodoo Bugaloo didn’t require focus to be maintained, staying in effect for as long as the magic needle didn’t fade.

- Ten seconds. That’s how long this move lasts, all the time in the world for us! Kamui, blast Aggron with as many Mud Bombs as you need to put him away!

Ivan looked on as the Golduck fired three Mud Bombs in quick succession, each explosion making Aggron roar in pain, and when the last one struck, Aggron’s body went limp, still suspended by the Voodoo Bugaloo, but already out cold. They’d done it!

Ivan recalled his tank, put away the Pokeball and clapped his hands.

- You really did put together a fantastic team in a year’s time. Not just that, you grew so much as a Trainer yourself! I’m proud of you Lev, I really am… but you know I can’t pull any punches, especially not at this stage. Kamui is a formidable Pokemon, but he can be stopped… with this!

A Dark Ball materialized in Ivan’s hand and from it he released a deadly-looking… Bisharp! The blades on its arms and torso looked dangerously sharp as they glistened under the sun. The Pokemon itself looked to be out for blood, assuming a battle stance as soon as it laid eyes on his already-tired opponent…

This is bad… Aggron had a couple of Dark moves, but Bisharp itself is a Dark-Type! Kamui’s best moves will do nothing against it!

Kamui himself seemed to come to that same realization. He looked in pure shock at the very first creature in the world he was thoroughly unable to read! Its mind was a complete mystery, locked away and for some reason inaccessible to him… what kind of foe was that?

- Your Golduck seems a little troubled, Levin… and so do you! Bisharp, Feint Attack and Slash!

The Dark-Type took a running start, but just as Kamui prepared to guard, it suddenly shifted its direction and dodged to the side, then back around to the other side, each movement completely unpredictable… for the first time in his life, Kamui couldn’t tell what his opponent was about to do! The Bisharp changed his direction one final time and slammed hard into the Golduck, then nimbly spun around and Slashed him right in the torso! Kamui was forced to jump back to create some separation, while Levin scrambled his head for a strategy…

- Dammit, we’ll have to fight up close if we hope to win! Kamui, disrupt him with your Aqua Jet then knock him out with a point-blank Cross Chop!

The Water-Type nodded; its body became enveloped in water armor and it was propelled forward at immense speed, a move that always hit first and would allow him to follow up with a super effective attack!

- Figured you’d go for that! Bisharp, Quick Guard!

Scouting the Aqua Jet, Bisharp somehow braced itself even harder, causing Kamui to crash into an invisible shield that completely nullified his attack and stunned him badly!

- Right there! Finish him with Guillotine!

In another obviously-practiced combination, Bisharp immediately closed in on the stunned opponent while its arm swords tripled in size… and in one swift, elegant motion, ran the ethereal blades right through the Golduck, draining all the remaining energy out of him in a single strike! Kamui collapsed to the ground, fainted… Ivan had outmaneuvered him this time.

- Nice going… nobody had ever knocked Kamui out. To be honest, part of me knew you’d find a way! But in doing so, you played right into my hands.

- Like I said, you talk a big game brother. Let’s see you back it up, because Bisharp is raring to go!

- With pleasure. Kamui’s only weakness is someone else’s greatest strength! See if you remember this one… Let’s go, Mazo!!

From his Luxury Ball emerged the imposing Lucario, who met his foe with a stern expression that gave nothing away. Ivan smiled at the sight of Mazo, who he was particularly fond of…

- I was wondering when you’d send him out. He’s looking stronger than ever! Thought you’d save him for last though… Granted, this isn’t a good match-up for me. Bisharp, return!

- Oh no you don’t! Mazo, Vacuum Wave right now!

Without even giving Ivan time to reach for Bisharp’s Ball, Mazo blasted the Dark-Type with a gale of wind from his fist, sending it flying back several feet! Taken by surprise, the opponent was just beginning to get back up when Mazo leaped up and came crashing down on it, drilling it into the ground with a massive High Jump Kick that Levin didn’t even have to order out loud!

- And now the finish!

Flames engulfed Mazo’s other foot; the Lucario raised his leg and delivered a violent Blaze Kick to the partially buried Bisharp, beating the senses out of it and knocking it out in brutal fashion!

- Count to a hundred.

Ivan was speechless. It was clear nobody had ever manhandled one of his Pokemon like that before… he didn’t get a single chance to fight back! Still in shock, he recalled Bisharp and went over his remaining options. With only two left, he picked a familiar-looking Premier Ball…

That one?!

Levin knew what was coming. Ivan’s expression was soothing, nostalgic even. Without waiting for the Pokemon to be summoned, Levin recalled Mazo and chose a different partner as well.

- Don’t resent him, Lev. I brought my fate on myself, not him.

- I know. I’ve forgiven him and you – which is why I’m using someone else for this battle.

Both Trainers released their Pokemon simultaneously – and within moments, two might Steelix roared in unison.

- You raised one of your own after all? Levin…

- I had to get over it Ivan. I blamed you for many years, and after I learned the truth, I resented Steelix for causing the landslide. But I knew I had to come to terms with reality, and that he wasn’t to blame… I loved playing with him when I was still a kid, and he was still an Onix. Remember how I swore I’d have one of my own someday? I do now… And it seems to me mine’s slightly larger.

- You’re delusional, Lev. Mine’s clearly bigger. But you know what they say… it’s what you do with it. So bring it on!

The two colossi prepared to clash, measuring their opponent. Just then, several sharp boulders fired off from the ground, pelting Gram’s body, who shrugged them off mildly annoyed – Aggron’s Stealth Rocks were lurking... Still, it was Gram and Levin who took initiative, going on the offense from the start.

- Gram, Bind it and give him a taste of your Fire Fang!

Levin’s Steelix closed in on Ivan’s, started to coil himself around it preparing to restrain it… but the opponent was ready for a close-quarters approach and immediately retaliated.

- Rock Polish to slide out of his Bind, then counter with Earth Power!

Just as Gram began to constrict Steelix, fragments of its body shattered and fall off, allowing it to slither out of the hold with its heightened speed. Then, the ground beneath their feet began to rumble, and large pillars of earth sprouted from under Gram, skewering him for terrible damage! The iron snake roared in pain, and Ivan saw the chance to keep up the pressure.

- Gram still has a lot to grow, Levin. I’ve been with my Steelix since I was a child… it’s one of my very strongest Pokemon, and now you’ll see for yourself. Steelix, hold him in place with your Fire Fang and mow him down with Aqua Tail while he’s in your jaws!

With incredible agility, made possible by the earlier Rock Polish, Ivan’s Steelix lunged forward and buried its flaming fangs in Gram’s body, breaking and melting through its iron plates. Gram yelled once again, struggling to break free, but Steelix held him firmly in place… before swinging a water-enveloped tail that hit Gram right in the midsection! When the opponent finally let go, Gram’s gargantuan frame collapsed to the floor, almost making both brothers lose their footing, and no longer moved.

This is the second time I lose to Steelix… But Ivan’s right, Gram hasn’t been with me as long as he’s had his. I couldn’t ask for more… Although I hoped I could have dealt some damage!

He recalled Gram and reached for the Luxury Ball for the second time in the match. Last time they fought, Steelix helped trigger Mazo’s evolution but still beat him; this time things would be different!
The Lucario emerged from his Ball for the second time in the match. He’d curbstomped Ivan’s Bisharp, but Steelix was a whole different challenge. Not to mention it was his chance at redemption… Pointy rocks again homed in on Mazo, who braced and seemed to barely feel them. He then clenched his fists and waited for Levin’s instructions.

- Mazo… He’s the one we have to thank for being able to reunite in the first place. Remember we said he represented our bond? My Steel-Type and your Fighting-Type in one Pokemon… and he seems better than ever! Looking forward to this, as is Steelix.

The titan nodded in response, manifesting its respect for the much smaller opponent. Levin smiled and said nothing in return – Mazo’s greatest asset was his absolute synchrony with his Trainer’s feelings, rendering words all but meaningless. And if Ivan didn’t hear his orders, he couldn’t prepare against them!

- Steelix, let’s go! Earth Power again!

The ground trembled once more, light emanated from beneath Mazo’s feet and the Lucario didn’t budge. However, the second the terrifying earthen spikes sprouted, Mazo nimbly dodged each and every one of the, jumping in between them and landing without a scratch. He’d Detected he attack to perfection, much to Ivan’s shock.
The jackal didn’t stay idle; a second after landing, it brought its palms together and released a wave of pressurized air at supersonic speed, blasting Steelix with a Vacuum Wave that almost knocked it over!

- Unbelievable… how can you have grown this much in just a year?! Not just Mazo… all of you!

- My entire journey, from the very beginning, has been about becoming better than you, whether I realized it or not. If I beat you here, I’ll have achieved my one true goal… until I do, I won’t be able to move on with my career. I only realized the importance of surpassing you after you beat me in my first dream… Ever since that day, I doubled my efforts of raising my team for this single purpose! So brace yourself, I’m far from done!

Mazo nodded and closed in on Steelix, who was ready for him. It growled, determined to beat the Lucario a second time, and raised its tail covered in water just like it had done against Gram before.

- Don’t let him get any closer, smash him with your Aqua Tail!

In a wide sweeping motion, Steelix ran its tail across the ground, but Mazo saw it coming and leaped high enough to avoid the attack… and kept going higher, and higher, and higher!

- What the?!...

His fist glowing, Mazo punched upwards and connected with a massive Sky Uppercut square on Steelix’s prominent jaw, this time succeeding in knocking it over! The snake tumbled backwards just as hard as Gram had, and squirmed helplessly with Mazo still high in the air above it. The Lucario gathered energy in his knee, took a dive straight at the downed foe and smashed into Steelix’s head with a High Jump Kick so powerful that the ground around it became a labyrinth of cracks and fissures! After that, Steelix stopped moving, having lost consciousness completely.

- Alright! Way to go, friend!

Ivan tapped Steelix’s body with his Premier Ball, pulling it back inside. He turned to Levin and held his last partner’s Pokeball high in the air. A Cherish Ball…

- I didn’t stand a chance. Not only did Mazo’s power grow way beyond my expectations, you’ve reached a point where you don’t even need to talk anymore… You’ve brought me down to my last Pokemon, one I share a similar bond with. It knows everything I’m thinking and acts accordingly, just like your Lucario… I think you’ll find it a worthy opponent. My strongest partner, a gift from Hoenn region’s most talented Trainer!

Ivan tossed the Cherish Ball to the air, and it snapped open to reveal… a Metagross?!

Indeed, the four-legged nightmare that had shattered the dreams of so many Trainers after the Elite Four challenge now stood before him. A gift from Steven Stone, who awarded Hoenn League winners with his own Beldum hatchlings, there was no doubt in Levin’s mind that this Metagross was one of the strongest out there. Perhaps one day Zion could be as powerful…

Mazo adopted his battle stance and flames covered his right leg. Reading his Trainer’s feelings, he rushed ahead to deliver a Blaze Kick, but Ivan seemed to see it coming.

- Aura power versus mind power. Let’s see who comes out on top! Metagross, use Gravity!!

In a fraction of a second, an unnatural force pulled Mazo down, grounding him and threatening to crush him – the Lucario was completely incapable of moving a limb, let alone carry on with the attack! Metagross slowly approached his prey and stopped a mere couple of feet away. Gravity isn’t supposed to be nearly this strong! What the hell am I fighting here?!

- Mazo looks uncomfortable. Here, we’ll make it all better.

Suddenly, the effect of Gravity was reversed and Mazo found himself floating, suspended in the air by an equally intense Psychic hold that restrained his movements just the same. This time, Metagross had him trapped in its Telekinesis… They were toying with him!

- Your Lucario has been around long enough. Time to put him away! Metagross, he’s helpless in your grasp, so let loose a Dynamic Punch!

The Psychic-Type raised one of its claws and jumped with the other three; when it reached the suspended Lucario, it prepared to drill him with a brutal punch… but Mazo knocked it right back down with a single blast of Dark Pulse, repelling the attack and dealing some serious damage to the unsuspecting Metagross!

- You can restrain his body all you want; his powers go well beyond the physical realm! Manipulating the power of Pulses is one such skill. Think twice before trying to play me again, Iv.

- Heh. You’re right Lev, I did underestimate you and Mazo again… last mistake. Metagross, his mind is yours to own! Break him with Psychic!

Happy to comply, the four-legged Pokemon’s eyes began to glow and Mazo’s body was once again under Metagross’s control. This time however, instead of simply being suspended in the air, he was tossed around and slammed repeatedly on the ground like a ragdoll, hopeless and with no chance to retaliate! Over and over again his body met the floor, until he was all but knocked out. And then…

- Once more and he’s done! Do it Metagross!

Mazo was raised several feet above the air, and then sent plummeting down one final time. The impact kicked up a cloud of dust, and when it settled… Mazo somehow got back up, ever so slowly, legs almost giving out under his own weight… he Endured the hit!

Thanks Mazo… Thanks for hanging in there! You did great, you really did.

The Lucario smiled briefly, fighting through the pain, and with the last of his strength put his arms forwards, releasing one final Vacuum Wave that pelted Metagross, causing it to wince. After that, Mazo fell to the ground, passed out.

- Brilliant effort Levin, Mazo. To think that we’d come to this… we’re both down to our last Pokemon! You’re one step away from achieving your dream… But neither I nor Metagross will step aside. I’m your brother after all; I have just as much pride as you do. I refuse to believe that you’ve surpassed me until I see it with my own eyes! Come on, let’s finish this!

His last Pokemon… What partner other than Mazo could keep up with an opponent like that? He couldn’t even emulate Ivan’s earlier strategy, nullifying Kamui’s mental powers with a Dark-Type Pokemon, because he didn’t have any. And every other Pokemon would just fall prey to Metagross’s Psychic attacks!

His hands hovered over several of the Pokeballs in his belt, unable to decide. Whoever he chose would be his last hope of beating Ivan… but would have to go through a seemingly invincible opponent to do so. Was that how Ivan felt when facing Kamui? Now that he thought about it… Like the world-class Trainer he was, Ivan did find a way to go around the Golduck’s mental powers, even before calling out Bisharp! He was the first one to do so… Wait, that’s it! Kamui only failed to defend against Aggron when he couldn’t see him! What if…

He finally took his pick. He pulled a Premier Ball from his belt and summoned the Pokemon within. With a mighty roar, the blue dragon spread his arms and fearlessly faced the opponent in front of him... Gaius the Garchomp was ready for battle!

- It’s all in your hands Gaius! Let’s break Metagross and beat Ivan once and for all!

You were the first Pokemon to join me and Min after we left Saffron. I’ve taught you everything I could and raised you to the best of my abilities… I’m positive you’re one of the strongest Dragon-Type Pokemon in the world, and all this fighting practically turned Route 6 into a wasteland, so you’re right at home! Do me proud, Gaius… Please!

- A Garchomp? I can tell it’s been raised with care, but is it any stronger than Mazo? If not, how do you expect to win? Its mind isn’t safe from Metagross… Still, you’ve proven me wrong many times during this match. I hope you don’t disappoint in the final stretch either. Ready Levin?

- Ready Ivan! Here we go!

The Stealth Rock emerged again, striking Gaius and making him growl in pain. When it was over, the dragon looked around the battlefield and grinned. Having been with Levin since the very beginning, he knew what his Trainer’s plan was and why he chose him to end it all. The ground bore the scars of many struggles, rock, dust and sand composing most of the field where once there was grass.

- I didn’t choose Gaius just because he’s one of the best. If there’s anyone I can learn from Ivan, it’s you. And just a while ago, you showed me how to work around Pokemon with Psychic powers! How do you think Metagross will do… if he can’t even spot his target? Gaius, whip up a Sandstorm!

- Levin, Metagross is a Steel-Type! You should know it… oh, I see. Hah, well played Lev, very good!

The sand, dust and debris caused by the previous struggles began to swirl around Gaius, accumulating progressively more, until a veritable storm settled in, forcing both Levin and Ivan to cover their eyes and mouth. In a matter of seconds, the Garchomp was little more than a mirage in the sand, moving so fast that it was almost untraceable thanks to his Sand Veil Ability. The same strategy had helped Levin recapture El Rojo at Pompas Gaseosas, and it seemed to be working again! Metagross frantically tried to spot Gaius in the sandstorm to no avail, unable to focus on his mind and exert its Psychic effects… much like Kamui was unable to detect and stop Aggron when it hid underground!

- Alright Gaius, we’ve even the playing field, now let’s play! Use Earth Power!

- Think again! Metagross, Magnet Rise quick!

Neither Trainer could clearly see what was happening through the storm, but it was clear that, by the time the pillars of rock erupted from the ground, Metagross’s frame was already afloat, narrowly avoiding the super-effective hit. But Levin had expected it to dodge the attack from below, and had already planned a second one… from above!

- It’s right where you want him! Dragon Rush and send it to the floor again!

Nimble like a shadow, a blue shine glowed from above Metagross for a split second, shimmering through the swirling sands, after which the quadruped’s body was sent crashing back down, landing on the Earth Power pillars and shattering them; their debris joined the million particles in the air, further strengthening the sandstorm.

- Perfect! Now put it in a Sand Tomb while he’s grounded!

- I’ve had enough of this! I’ll force your Garchomp to be still! Metagross, Gravity with everything you’ve got!!

Particles of sand from the storm began to encase themselves around the Steel-Type, but before they could trap it, a massive forcefield pulled every single rock fragment to the ground, along with Gaius, Levin and Ivan – a colossal increase in the gravitational force of the entire area floored them all, cancelled the sandstorm and left the Garchomp at the automaton’s mercy!

Goddammit… such… power!...

- Hng… That’s it Metagross… Now, use… Flash Cannon!...

Gaius was right in Metagross’s sights. Ivan’s instruction made sense to Levin; it wasn’t a terribly powerful move, but it was reliable and allowed his Pokemon to conserve energy. That meant he knew Levin could still find a counter – which in turn meant he respected his skills. If Ivan were confident Gaius was as good as done, he’d have aimed for a one-hit kill. Well… he’d prove him right!

- You want Gaius… on the ground?... Fine, we oblige! Gaius, use the extra pressure to Dig underground quick!

The field had been reduced to rubble, and most of it had settled back down after the sandstorm. It made for a softer soil, easier to dig through, especially with the downward force exerted by Metagross’s own Gravity! Using his head and claws, Gaius swiftly dug a hole as Metagross charged its Flash Cannon, and managed to narrowly avoid the beam when it was fired!

- Dammit, we lost him again!

Fatigue beginning to set in, Metagross lifted the gravitational field. There was no point in grounding a Pokemon that was already underground, and it calculated that its remaining energy would be better spent trying to counter the dragon when it resurfaced. Levin and Ivan got back up, also free from the increased gravity, and all three waited in silence for Gaius to make his next move.

With its innate ability to maneuver underground, Gaius found its way back up so that it reemerged… directly beneath Metagross! The Garchomp hit the Steel-Type right from below, lifting it off the ground and flipping it over, temporarily leaving it helpless. It was now or never!

- Gaius! Put an end to this right now! Earth Power!!!

- No… never! Metagross, Explosion!!!

What?!

Sand and rubble coalesced around the upside-down Metagross as its body began to shake ominously. Fragments of stone and dust rose from the ground and gathered to form spikes, and the ground around and beneath the opponent started to glow, signifying the sprouting of earth pillars that had been so thoroughly used during the whole match-up. But just then, Metagross itself began to glow as well, and what followed was a blast so strong that the shockwave sent both Trainers flying several feet back, just as a frighteningly loud ”Booooom!” filled the air!

---

Ugh… Wh-what happened?... That’s right, the Explosion… Gaius!

His body ached all over. He forced himself to get back up, head still spinning, and as he looked up he saw Ivan doing exact same thing on the other side of the field-turned-wasteland. In the center of a wide, smoking crater were Metagross, still upside down, with its four legs limp and unmoving, and Gaius, laid out on the ground and just barely breathing. Was this how it ended?...

- Seems… it’s a draw. Sorry Lev, I told you… I wouldn’t let… What?!

A blue fin rose in the air before falling back down and burying the claw on the ground. Levin and Ivan watched in silent awe as Gaius, somehow, came back to life and struggled, with every fiber of his being, to get back on his feet. A second claw pierced the ground, follow by his arms lifting the whole weight of his torso off the ground; then its tail began to lift, then one leg, then slowly the other one, and the dragon was on his knees… one foot on the floor, claws still in the ground, then the other foot, and after what felt like an hour, the Garchomp was back up; panting, legs shaking and about to give out… but Gaius remained standing, against all odds!

We… we did it! I won!!

- No way… he withstood a point-blank Explosion?! H-how?!...

- I’ve seen Gaius, as a Gabite, withstand a Giga Impact and go on to defeat two opponents in a row one day… It’s what he does. And with that…

Ivan smiled, a genuinely proud and happy smile that filled Levin with inexplicable emotion.

- You beat me, Levin. I gave it my all and you still won. As of now, you’re the strongest of us… you finally did it!

After more than two years of training and travelling… this was the culmination of his journey. His lifelong goal of one day surpassing his brother had finally come, and it felt every bit as glorious as he had dreamed! All the adventures, battles and dangers he’d lived until this point had brought him here, tempered him and his team and made him, at long last, the better Sanders. He walked up to Ivan and, instead of the usual handshake, hugged him tight.

- Thank you Iv… Thank you so much. No matter how much of a prick you were, no matter that you died on me… You came back, even if only in a dream, and you made this possible. I can move on now… I can go on to achieve other goals and carry our name even further!

- I’m always here, Levin. But for you to truly move on, we can no longer meet again… this isn’t the way of the world. I am eternally grateful to you and your Pokemon for letting me see you again and explain what happened, putting both our souls to rest. And my gratitude extends to this battle, and for the chance to see you achieve your full potential. Our family name is yours to carry to greatness, knowing you’re not living under my shadow anymore. You’ve stepped out of it and proven yourself as the better Trainer, so go out there and show them all what we can do! Goodbye Levin… I’ll always be watching and rooting for you all the way, no matter where your adventures lead you from here on out.

Ivan’s body began to fade, then their surroundings, until everything around him was pitch-black…

---

He woke up. Next to him were neither Golduck nor Mazo… he looked at his belt, and sure enough, there were their Pokeballs. This hadn’t been just a dream… It was as real as his first encounter with Ivan. He opened his hand… to reveal Ivan’s lucky coin, glistening under the morning sun that filled his room.

His heart felt lighter than it did in years... maybe ever. He went to sleep hoping to put a nagging concern to rest, and woke up having fulfilled his life’s dream. It was surreal, wonderful… deserved.

He got out of bed, tapped each of the six Pokeballs with him in way of thanks, and whispered the undeniable truth under his breath, reminding himself that it was finally real…

I am the best of the Sanders.

He smiled, then let out a chuckle… and then started to laugh audibly all by himself, waking up Basker who came to check on him with a confused expression. It was over… it was finally over! And so… what was next for him? He’d never even considered a future without this goal… but now that he’d achieved it, what else was there?

I’ve trained most of my Pokemon to the best of their abilities. I have nothing else to teach or show them… Consciously or not, they were all raised for the sole purpose of beating Ivan. But they deserve to keep on journeying, seeing new things and facing new challenges… It might be over for me, but it doesn’t have to be for them. The right thing to do… is allowing them to keep travelling with Trainers whose own goals are still unfulfilled.
I’ll keep those who still need me to reach their own goals, those who can’t make it on their own. But those who’ve already achieved everything they could under my care, or whose happiness doesn’t lie in the journey I now have ahead, they all deserve a different fate, a chance to keep going.

I lost sight of my passion along the way. No matter how hard or how many Pokemon I trained, nothing compared to the joy and challenge of raising Buster, Mazo, Spike… My calling is the Fighting-Type. I strayed from it in my quest to raise a varied army to beat Ivan, but now… now I can pursue that passion, and who knows, I might even make it to Gottfried at the Pokemon League! Yes… that’s what I should do.

A fresh start for all of us… Our journeys start now!

MarbleZone 03-23-2014 04:34 PM

Life had been quiet – the good kind of quiet – ever since his final battle with Ivan. He’d found an unprecedented peace of mind that allowed him to finally look toward a goal of his choice, rather than the one he’d been subconsciously aiming for his entire life up until recently. With his victory over Ivan, Levin had put his ghosts to rest, and his true journey could now begin.

He looked out the window and gazed at the meadow around his house. Once filled with almost thirty Pokemon, less than half now roamed the vicinities of the Base. He missed each and every one of his former partners, and not a day went by that he didn’t think about them. But with each passing day he felt more certain about the call he’d made. If he was going to move on, they should too; they had destinies of their own that he couldn’t provide. His path led to the Pokemon League and the World Championship, to Gottfried and Johan, and he knew those who’d be happiest travelling with him down that road.

Ivan carried our name with his Steel-Types; I’ll do the same with my own calling.

Outside, Aya the Mienfoo perfected her palm thrusts against the much bulkier Buster the Heracross, who was always eager to fight, even if he seemed unfamiliar with the concept of “sparring”; each time Aya struck, he fought back with double the strength, overwhelmed with excitement. The resilient Mienfoo said nothing, and always got back up to resume her practice. That was the biggest virtue of Levin’s preferred Type – all they had, everything they were, was born out of effort and dedication. Fighting-Type Pokemon weren’t born in flames, frost or lightning, clad in armor or knowing how to brave skies and oceans. Their power came solely from a drive and passion unmatched by any other Type – they were handed nothing, much like Levin himself.

But only a fool would have an entire team consisting of a single kind of Pokemon. The others I kept, I love just as much – they became the only family I have, all of them, regardless of their Type. And I’ll see them all to the greatest accomplishments a Trainer and his team can hope to attain!

He still had a long way to go; most of his remaining partners were still young, and he had no chance of defeating most Gyms in his current state, let alone challenge Gottfried or his apprentice. But slowly, he was getting there; he still sought a few remaining Pokemon to add to his team, some unspeakably hard to find, but he had the time and the will – sooner or later, he’d be ready.

Levin walked outside, followed by Basker as always, and sat on the porch petting his faithful Growlithe while he watched Aya and Buster still going at it – the latter was tireless, and the former was an incorrigible perfectionist, so Levin knew their practice session would likely go on for hours. Good for them.

Suddenly, Basker barked and began wagging his tail, looking happily in the distance. Levin followed its gaze until he saw him: emerging from the woods after weeks of absence, Syre the Bagon had returned!

How long has it been again? He does this all the time, but he really pushed it this time around…

Syre was the most anti-social Pokemon of the bunch, refusing to spar with anyone or even take advice from his peers or Levin himself. Perpetually bitter after getting the cold shoulder from the other Dragons, Gaius and Rojo, in his youth, Syre had since vowed he’d surpass them all on his own, no matter how hard it was or how long it took him. He’d often disappear into the forest to train on his own for days on end, but he’d never been gone this long. And now that he was back, Levin could tell something was different in the Bagon – a fire in his eyes that burned even brighter than usual, filled with more than just his usual anger.

Greeting nobody as he walked through the meadow, Syre headed straight toward Aya (who Levin believed he’d never even met) and Buster. When neither noticed his presence, due to being so caught up in their training, Syre arched his head back and released a massive Flamethrower right between the two combatants, narrowly missing them both and immediately capturing their undivided attention, if not for the best of reasons.

What are you doing?...

Aya looked puzzled, unaware of who this Bagon was and why it wanted to pick a fight. Buster on the other hand, was quick to pick up on Syre’s intentions, and seemed ecstatic to oblige. The dragon looked them both in the eye and growled… was he looking to take them both on at once?!

But why this? He has never willingly approached the others before, so why would he start a fight with these two all of a sudden? It’s not like him!

The Heracross made the first move, needing no further incentive. He lunged forward, aiming for a Horn Attack… but Syre effortlessly dodged to the side as Buster just kept going! Aya realized the Bagon was serious about this, so she should make the most of the opportunity; it wasn’t often that she got to face a new Pokemon. Making full use of her speed, she closed in on Syre just as he evaded Buster’s assault, and struck him on the chest with a flawless Dual Chop!

Syre winced but didn’t flinch. Although the move was particularly effective against his Type, the Bagon seemed to shrug off the double strike like it was nothing… Then, locking anger-filled eyes with the Mienfoo, he blasted her at point-blank range with a Dragon Breath so strong it sent Aya flying! Her body, covered in blue flames, crashed against the side of the Treetop House, not far from the entrance where Levin was watching, and the Fighting-Type was unable to get back up. Syre had knocked out Aya with a single move.

Levin looked on in shock; Since when had Syre become this powerful?! Had he been so oblivious to the dragon’s growth that he’d missed the signs? Or was did the Bagon deliberately conceal his power by training in isolation? Either way, Levin felt guilty for not realizing his own Pokemon’s strength – it was what he yearned for the most, and yet somehow he failed to see it in Syre. That was the very reason why the young drake had grown bitter and distant in the first place: being ignored and cast aside by those around him, forgotten in favor of the stronger dragons… But now, as the battle went on, one thought lingered in the back of Levin’s mind… Gaius was never this strong as a Gible.

Paying no more attention to the fallen Aya, Syre once again turned his sights to Buster, who was preparing to strike again. The beetle again tried to ram the Bagon with his horn, to which Syre countered by lunging himself at Buster as well, his head covered in Psychic energy. The Horn Attack and Zen Headbutt collided, cancelling each other out and propelling the opponents a couple of feet away from one another.

Buster seemed incredibly excited; he shook off the damage and prepared to strike again, eager to keep going against someone who didn’t hold back. Syre, on the other hand, also got back up but remained in place, waiting for Buster to charge, his expression as dead-serious as always. The Heracross rushed forward, charging power in his horn as he did. When the energy took shape, effectively doubling the size of Buster’s horn, Levin knew what was coming: the Bug-Type was aiming for his signature move, Megahorn!

Aya, meanwhile, had recovered. However, she stood back and watched instead of getting back into the fight – she realized she had lost, and her dignity prevented her from interfering. Levin smiled at the Mienfoo and wondered if he’d have done the same in her shoes.

As soon as Buster made his intentions clear, Syre decided it was time to go all-out. If the Heracross was going to tap into his strongest moves, then there was no reason to hold back anymore. Leaping into the air, the drake’s whole body was enveloped in blue energy; then, as he propelled himself downwards, the aura took the shape of a massive dragon head, as if ready to devour the opponent! Likewise, Buster spread his wings and charged upwards, his massive Megahorn looking to pierce right through Syre’s Dragon Rush, unafraid of the Bagon’s display of power!

This is it.

The two forces collided once again, and the resulting shockwave was incomparably stronger this time; Levin found himself struggling to keep his footing, while the smaller Aya was knocked down! Green and blue energy streams spiraled into the sky as a cloud of dust filled the area. And when it finally settled, Syre was standing over an unconscious Buster!

Unbelievable…

Syre growled and turned his eyes to Levin. They were filled with defiance and bitterness, as if telling his Trainer that he’d bet on the wrong horses when he cast him aside in favor of Gaius and Rojo. Levin clenched his fists; Syre didn’t get it! The Bagon was the only dragon Levin kept for a reason…

- Please Syre, think! If I didn’t want you around, if I didn’t see anything in you, why didn’t I let you go like all the others?! Come on, let me help you get even stronger! You have all the potential in the world, but if you continue to…

Suddenly, Syre roared, cutting Levin off. He wasn’t having any of it. He’d gotten this strong on his own, and he’d continue to do so without anybody’s help! One day he’d fly and rule over all other dragons, but he couldn’t rely on Levin to carry him there, he couldn’t rely on anyone but himself! He looked at the foes he’d just conquered, to validate his convictions, then glared at Levin one final time before making his final point: his small frame was engulfed in a bright light and began to change and expand.

He’s evolving?!

When the light subsided, Syre was no longer a Bagon. Instead, a creature covered in armor stood in his place, a heavy quadruped whose facial features were invisible, aside from a pair of bright yellow eyes. Giving physical form to the emotional shell he’d built around him, the http://www.upnetwork.net/fb/sprites/pn372.gif growled and turned around slowly, making his way back to the forest to resume his training. Levin watched Syre go, struggling to adjust to his massive shell, visibly uncomfortable in his new skin, but much too proud to ever admit it.

You still don’t get it… You’ll regret this, Syre. You’ll hit a glass ceiling on your own and be stuck in this form forever… I promise I won’t give up on you though. Like it or not, I’ll be there to help you! But you’ll have to let me in someday…

MarbleZone 04-18-2014 05:22 PM

Levin couldn’t forget the events that had transpired months ago. Against his own expectations, he felt concerned… which was ridiculous, when he thought about it objectively. Why should he be worried? He was one of his strongest partners, and he’d dwelled alone in the woods for a long time, even before evolving. So why now? Why couldn’t he stop worrying about Syre, now that he was a Shelgon, the embodiment of self-preservation?

Because right now, he must be feeling miserable, and I can’t do anything about it.

Ignoring it would be lying to himself. Syre had always refused Levin’s assistance, having grown strong enough to evolve on his own. But now that he’d reached the next stage, the dragon became heavy, condemned to walking on all fours and doomed to remain in that lumbering form – after all, no amount of fighting in the wild on his own, against untrained Pokemon, would ever give Syre what he needed to grow past the Shelgon stage. Perhaps Syre himself didn’t realize that before, but Levin was sure he did by now, after all the time that had passed. He was equally sure that Syre would never admit it.

Lost in thought, he was suddenly yanked out of his trance by a warm feeling in his hand. Looking down, he saw Basker licking it to get Levin’s attention. The young man smiled; the Growlithe must have been concerned by his prolonged silence. Petting the dog behind its ears, Levin couldn’t help but notice how much Basker had already grown. Time really did fly…

- Hey boy. Sorry if I worried you, it’s noth… No actually, there is something.

There was no point in lying to his most loyal companion; if he couldn’t be honest with Basker, who would he ever open up to? No matter what, the hound was on his side; the least he could do was trust Basker as much as the Growlithe trusted him.

- I’m concerned about Syre. When he beat Buster and Aya and evolved, he became even more confident in his own independence… But he won’t be satisfied with living as a Shelgon, no Bagon is, and especially not one like Syre! He’ll live in torment for the rest of his life if he’s stuck in that body, unable to move properly, let alone fly. For someone so proud, I know it has to be eating him up, but he keeps refusing my help…

Basker stood in silence for a moment, looking conflicted, but finally looked at Levin with resolve and barked. Then, running to the door, he motioned for the Trainer to follow him. Levin complied, but didn’t understand what the Growlithe intended to do until they were halfway across the fields outside the Treetop base and approaching the woodland. He’s going after Syre.

---

- Basker, stop!

The pup froze in his tracks and looked at Levin, confused. The young man struggled to catch his breath; since when did it become so hard to keep up with the Growlithe’s pace? He looked around and assessed their surroundings. There were large, old trees all around them, and not a sound to be heard aside from the occasional Spearow chirping. They were right in the middle of the forest.

- He’ll come to us. Syre’s roamed these woods for almost a year now; we won’t find him unless he wants to be found.

Basker nodded and returned to his Trainer, affectionately rubbing against his leg for a moment – the next, he was leaping out of harm’s way as a blue bolt of energy struck the ground right next to the Growlithe!

He’s here.

Basker barked, looking around in distress. He prepared for another surprise attack, when Syre slowly emerged from behind a nearby tree; that hadn’t been a preemptive strike at all, it was a warning shot. The Growlithe locked eyes with the dragon and growled, making his intentions clear. Behind that heavy, oversized armor, it was hard to tell what Syre’s expression was, but Levin knew he relished the challenge and yet another opportunity to prove his point to the young Trainer.

- Basker, are you sure about this? You don’t have to do it…

The faithful hound cut him off with a bark, reassuring him. Basker was well aware of Syre’s power – he’d witnessed first-hand how he defeated Buster and Aya at once, while still just a Bagon. But this wasn’t about winning; it was about opening the dragon’s eyes to something he refused to realize…

Syre grazed the ground with a claw, urging Basker on, daring him to attack. If the massive shell was a burden in any way, he did a pretty good job of concealing his annoyance; instead, it seemed to welcome the foe’s attack, showing great confidence in his defense.

I can’t order Basker to assault a teammate… No matter how badly I want to gain Syre’s trust, what kind of Trainer would I be if I instructed someone to attack my own Pokemon?!

Basker seemed to foresee Levin’s internal struggle and didn’t waste a second waiting for commands that wouldn’t come. Lunging forward, it prepared to Bite down on Syre’s shell, but the latter didn’t move a muscle in retaliation. Biding his time, he waited until the hound was close enough before instantly raising a green wall all around him. Basker crashed into the unexpected Protective barrier and was promptly repelled back. As he struggled back to his feet, Syre’s body took on a metallic glow that lasted mere seconds; when the shine faded, his shell seemed even harder than before, rendered almost impenetrable by the Iron Defense!

For such a combative Pokemon, he truly learned to make the most of this new form… perhaps I was wrong in thinking he’d never adapt. Maybe he really doesn’t need anybody’s help, not even my own…

Basker got back to his feet, just as Syre prepared to take the fight to the Fire-Type! Blue energy surrounded the Shelgon’s body, taking the form of a dragon’s head with its jaw agape; Syre dashed toward Basker, ready to strike with his trademark Dragon Rush! However, the sheer weight of the hardened shell took its toll, as Syre struggled to reach even average speed. By the time he’d finally closed in on Basker, the hound was more than ready, effortlessly dodging the powerful move and causing Syre to waste precious energy!

Levin watched as the Shelgon struggled to even turn around to face Basker again after the failed attempt; every move was cumbersome, every action took a toll on Syre’s body; no matter how invincible his new armor was, he’d lost something just as important, if not more – mobility. His strongest attacks are close to useless after all… I wonder how this makes the great and proud Syre feel.

Undeterred, the dragon prepared to attack again, this time from a distance. Briefly glowing with a bluish aura, Syre unleashed a stream of sapphire flames that struck Basker and knocked him to the ground – the Dragon Breath that had defeated Aya in one hit! The Growlithe, however, managed to get back on his feet unlike the much younger Mienfoo back then. Annoyed, Syre prepared to blast him with a second Dragon Breath, but Basker had been angered and was ready to get serious; he let out an ear-piercing Roar that filled the clearing, momentarily staggering Syre who clearly didn’t expect such an imposing presence.
Taking advantage of Syre’s hesitation, Basker ran straight towards the Shelgon and Crunched his armor! Levin watched in awe as several cracks formed across the shell from the spot where Basker carved his fangs – even after the Iron Defense -, amazed by the hound’s sudden burst of strength! Syre roared in pain and tried to shake off Basker, but the Growlithe’s fangs remained firmly buried in the dragon’s armor; capitalizing on the proximity, Basker unleashed a flurry of blows with its front and hind paws on the helpless Shelgon, battering him mercilessly with Close Combat until Syre finally managed to hurl the Fire-Type aside and create some separation. Wincing in pain and gasping for air, it was evident that Syre was at a loss – how could a pup be dominating him so completely?!

He’s not a pup anymore. He’s grown infinitely more than any of us had realized…

Suddenly, white swirling energy danced around Syre from the ground up, as the dragon himself performed a clumsy twirl; when he was finished, the bright aura engulfed him, and his muscles tensed up. Catching Basker off-guard, the Shelgon rushed straight at him with doubled speed and slammed into the Growlithe with a vicious Headbutt, stronger than Levin had ever seen! He quickly realized that the sudden burst of power and speed had come from a technique only Syre knew how to perform – Dragon Dance! He’d found a way to offset his reduced mobility and increase his strength all at once, and just like that, the tide of the battle turned completely… Consecutively ramming into Basker, over and over again, before the dog had time to recover, Syre knocked Basker around effortlessly to a point where Levin feared for his companion’s well-being. If Syre kept up the relentless assault, he might have to carry Basker back home!

He’s still untouchable after all… how do prove my worth to someone this impossibly strong?! He’s more convinced than ever that he doesn’t need me! And if this keeps going, Basker will…

All of a sudden, unnatural warmth washed over him, pulsing on his back. Immediately removing his Backpack, he saw light emanating from within, and quickly removed the object in question – the Fire Stone felt hotter than ever and shone brightly with an intense orange glow. Looking over his shoulder, Levin saw Basker once again get back on his feet after an immense struggle, wincing in pain but with eyes burning with fierce determination. Could the Stone be somehow reacting to the Growlithe’s fighting spirit?...

- Basker… is this what you want?

Fighting through the pain, the Growlithe barked faintly in acknowledgment. Levin hesitated; Basker had never manifested interest in evolving before, even though Levin had owned the Stone longer than he did the pup himself. But if these were the lengths that Basker was willing to go to in order to help Syre and Levin reunite, he couldn’t deny him the chance! Finally making up his mind, the Trainer held the Fire Stone high in the air; its glow intensified at the same time that Basker’s body became enveloped in a light of its own. His frame grew to become taller than Levin himself, until the glow faded and the Stone vanished from Levin’s hand. In their place, a new creature stood tall, proud... Magnificent.

For the first time since Opal’s miracle evolution, Levin found himself speechless, overwhelmed by a sight he wasn’t prepared to see. Where once was a battered Growlithe now stood a regal http://www.upnetwork.net/fb/sprites/pn059.gif! A creature of legendary status, Basker was now a fully-grown Arcanine, his presence so imposing that Syre himself felt humbled for the first time in his life.

Despite the dragon finally relenting, Basker refused to do the same; he’d come all this way to prove to Syre that Levin could bring out unimaginable power in his Pokemon – and he would show him just that! His mane stood up, every hair in his body flickering orange as embers were released; suddenly, his entire body was enveloped in wicked flames, first red, then bright-blue, and the Arcanine lunged himself at Syre at unbelievable speed! Even in his boosted state, the Shelgon was too slow to react as the blazing hound rammed into him with its Flare Blitz, causing a fiery explosion so violent that Levin worried it’d start a forest fire!

When the dust and burnt grass settled, Syre was stunned but still standing! The cracks on his shell were now even more noticeable, and likely wouldn’t be healing any time soon… but somehow, he was still standing. Unbelievable…

Realizing the severity of his situation, Syre knew he had to hit Basker with everything he had immediately. Stepping back and spreading its four legs to establish a wide base, he charged up energy within the confines of his armor while the Arcanine recovered from the strenuous move. Then, taking aim, the Shelgon released a massive pillar of water right at Basker, hitting him at point-blank with Hydro Pump! The pressurized water jet sent the foe flying back several feet and tumbling across the floor, and when the blast subsided, Syre was about to pass out from exhaustion… but he’d done it! Basker was lying on the ground, seemingly out cold!

No way… it can’t be! After everything he risked to prove my point, does it really end like this? Right back where we started?!

Levin knew he shouldn’t, but he found himself taking sides; his fists clenched, he finally stepped forward and shouted at the fallen hound.

- Basker, come on! You can do it! I believe in you, I raised you the best way I knew how and I know you still have something left! Show him what our teamwork can do, the boundaries we can shatter! Please!!

Syre looked at Levin, stunned by his passion. Did he really want to prove him wrong that much, even in the face of obvious defeat? There was no way Basker could…

A low-pitched growl was heard, breaking the deafening silence that followed Levin’s plea. Against all odds, the fallen Basker raised one paw, then another, willing himself back to his feet, wobbly but somehow still able to continue! More than that… his eyes were glowing an ominous red, and the ground seemed to tremble and shatter beneath his feet!

What the hell’s going on now?!

Letting out a booming roar, Basker was covered by a bluish white aura that made the air around him crackle with pure energy. Overwhelmed by draconic fury, the Arcanine took a running start, his body moving on its own as he made his way toward the impotent Syre, who’d been left completely drained by the earlier Hydro Pump. Pouncing on the Shelgon, Basker unleashed a flurry of strikes from his dragon energy-filled paws and tail, racking up hits faster than Levin’s eyes could follow, pummeling Syre into submission with a frightening Outrage! And when the imperial fury finally subsided and Basker calmed down, the result was the Shelgon’s broken and incapacitated body at the center of a small crater in the ravaged clearing.

He… he did it! He defeated Syre!!

Running over to Basker, Levin hugged the Arcanine tightly, who was now slightly taller than himself.

- You were amazing! Thank you Basker… thank you for doing this, I never imagined you’d go this far for me. I’ll never forget this!

The Fire-Type nodded and smiled, affectionately licking Levin’s face in response. They turned to Syre, who was just now coming back to his senses. He stared up at Levin and Basker, filled with bitterness; it’d take him a long time to digest his first loss. Levin walked up to the Shelgon and kneeled down next to him; Syre refused to look him in the eye, facing the ground instead.

- You overcame the limitations of this form and went toe-to-toe with an Arcanine entirely on your own. I understand you, I always did! Nobody gave you any attention, myself included, when Gaius and Rojo were around; I should have spent just as much time training you as I did them, and I’m sorry for neglecting you, I really am! If I could go back, I’d have done it all differently. But you grew into a phenomenal fighter by yourself all the same, without any help… No other Pokemon I’ve ever met could have accomplished what you did. But Syre… I still want to help! I chose to keep you when I let everyone else go; I saw a potential in you that I didn’t know how to bring out, but I couldn’t part ways with you after the way I’d treated you before. A Shelgon isn’t all you’re destined to be! Look at Basker, look at what he became with my help. Look what we accomplished together – we overcame the odds and defeated you, when you were absolutely confident Basker would be no match for you. I know now that I can bring out the same power in you, I can make you reach new heights… literally! Neither of us is the same than when we first met; you’ve become stronger than I could’ve dreamed, and I shattered my own glass ceiling. So please Syre… give me one last chance. Please! Let me help you become what you’re destined to be!

Syre couldn’t bring himself to face Levin during his entire speech. But when the young man finished, the Shelgon turned around and finally looked up to his Trainer. After a long moment of silence, Syre nodded and approached Levin, letting him place his arms around him in an embrace, for the very first time.

- Thank you Syre. I promise I’ll never let you down again! One day you’ll break free of that shell for good and the skies will be yours – I’ll make sure of it! Now let’s get back and let Min take a look at those wounds…

He took Syre in his arms and picked him up with considerable effort. Basker approached the two, bent down and motioned for Levin to climb up. Thankful for the offer, the Trainer hopped on the Arcanine’s back, never letting go of the hurt Shelgon. He could’ve easily just recalled both Pokemon into their Pokeballs and rushed back home… but this moment was too precious to let go of.

MarbleZone 06-14-2014 10:20 PM

- Slow down Bjorn, it's not like we're getting there faster if we run...

A blue-haired man followed an excited Squirtle across Sapphire Island. Fizzy Bubbles wasn't their destination, just a stop along the way to Asbel to get supplies.

Good thing I don't need TMs.

Kayl Kessler, battling prodigy from Illa, was on a journey to find his love for battle. Undefeated throughout his entire career, he'd forfeited the match against Champion Gottfried out of complete disinterest, having lost the drive to fight. His father, ashamed by his son's lack of passion, kicked him out of home with nothing but the family's Squirtle to keep him company, and sent him to the land of Asbel, where the best of the best are said to gather, in hopes Kay would regain his fighting spirit.

The youngster didn't protest; he was certain nobody in that new world would be able to beat him either, defeating the purpose of this journey, but he had nothing better to do anyway. Might was well knock around some of Asbel's best to prove his point and go back home to show his father.

His Squirtle was far more enthusiastic. Whereas Kayl spent most of his time in utter apathy these days, Bjorn was smug, boisterous and loved nothing more than to fight - something he didn't get to do often as the family's pet since the days of patriarch Bjorn Kessler (who he got his name from). When he was told to accompany Kayl to Asbel, the Land of Battles, he was naturally ecstatic.

How'd we end up here? We were supposed to be in Cloud Island, not Sapphire Island dammit. Incompetent Fizzyan Airlines...

As much as he hated to go out of his way, they'd have to ask for directions. And since the only house in sight was a Treetop Base not far to the North, that's where they were going.

---

Levin sat at home deep in thought. Life had been great lately - outbidding Corvus for ownership of Oro, all the Fighting-Type Pokemon ripe qwith potential he'd been hatching at the Egg House... His dream team was close to completion! Only targets missing were an elusive Meditite, the incredibly rare Chimchar and Deino and a bird Pokemon from the far-away region of Kalos - but according to his research, Fletchling sightings had been reported in Fizzy Bubbles very recently, leading experts to believe that a slight change in their migration routes might bring the species to the region permanently.

However, his recent successes had brought about a problem: he couldn't train all of his new partners at an acceptable rate. There was a massive gap in ability between Pokemon like Syre or Mazo and ones like Rook or Aya, who he barely found time to raise! Cygna the Swanna was a great help in those cases, tirelessly training the newer members of the team to partially offset the recent lack of fighting opportunities. She'd been especially devoted to educating Rook, a Rhyhorn with immense thrist for knowledge who lived tormented by his own intellectual limitations. But no matter how much mental training a Pokemon received, nothing came close to the experience attained in battles, and those had been alarmingly scarce as of late...

A familiar sound snapped him out of his trance - Basker, his beloved Arcanine, was barking by the window, something he rarely did since evolving. Something had roused his curiosity. Levin got up and looked outside; there was someone approaching the house.

- Come on boy, let's go see who it is.

Man and hound left the house and approached the strangers. As they drew closer, Levin began started to wonder... Where have I seen that face before?
A blue-haired man around his age, accompanied by a rare Pokemon - a Squirtle, an unusual sight in Fizzy Bubbles. Levin was sure this was the first time they met, and somehow... he looked familiar...

- Hello there. You lost?

Kayl took a while to reply. He'd already spotted Levin when he walked out of the house, but couldn't be bothered to approach him; turned out the blonde man came to him instead.

- I guess... I'm not from around these parts. I could use pointers to the nearest port.

Levin raised an eyebrow. Was this guy fresh out of bed or what?...

- It's a ways from here, friend. Where you headed?

- ... Asbel.

Something clicked in the Saffron-native 's head. If this guy was headed to the Land of Battle, it could only mean one thing...

- You're a Trainer then? No reason to head there for anything else really... Not much else to do over there, from what I hear.

---

This guy was already getting on his nerves. What business was it of his? Three minutes into this conversation and he was already tired of him.

- If you're not going to tell me the way, I can find it myself.

He walked past the blonde man and motioned for Bjorn to follow... but the Squirtle didn't move. Kayl turned around, surprised; Bjorn was facing Levin with that glimmer in his eyes... this wasn't good.

Don't take the bait, you idiot... I'm not in the mood for this...

---

The Squirtle was looking straight at him; he got it. If only his Trainer was half as passionate...

- You know where I'm going with this, don't you?

He turned to Kayl with a smirk.

- A few of my Pokemon could use some experience in battle. If you're headed to Asbel yourself, maybe some sparring will do you some good as well. Tell you what... if you beat me, I'll point you in the right direction.

Kayl stood in silence for a moment, and finally smiled back.

- Might as well... But please go easy on me, my journey's only just started.

---

This one, anyway. You have no idea what you're up against.

Since the blonde Trainer still hadn't recognized him, the guy was about to make the biggest mistake of his career. Kayl just wanted to get this over with, so he'd have to trounce him and hit the road; they'd wasted enough time as it was already.

- One on one then?

- That's amateur stuff. If you wanna make it in the big leagues out there in Asbel, nothing short of 3 on 3 will do. Ready to begin?

Kayl smirked. "Make it in the big leagues"... This man really had no clue.

---

Levin picked a Premier Ball from his belt. If he was going up against a newbie, all the better; he was free to give his less-used Pokemon a spin. This one would do fine for starters.

- Let's do this, Aya!

The Mienfoo emerged from her Ball and adopted her preferred stance, ready to put together another work of art.

Kayl watched, thoroughly unimpressed, and nonchalantly picked his Pokemon in response.

- Scyther.

A green mantis with razor sharp sickles materialized in front of the Illa-native, ready to fight. Levin frowned; a terrible match-up from the get-go. At least his opponent had some knowledge of Type effectiveness.

- Good to see you know your way around! Never did get your name though...

---

The only shred of fun he was having from all of this was how his opponent failed to recognize him. If he gave away his identity now, there'd been nothing else to keep him amused.

- Bryan.

- I'm Levin Sanders. I don't expect you to know me, being an outsider, but I hope I can teach you a couple of things.

Kayl couldn't hold back a faint grin at those words. He raised a hand; enough talking.

- Double Team, Air Slash, Swords Dance if it's still up.

What?!

Before either Levin or Aya could react, they found themselves facing not one but four Scyther, surrounding the startled Mienfoo. The combination of Double Team with the move that followed proved deadly, as invisible blades of air slashed Mienfoo from unseen angles, again and again, unable to be traced back to the original Scyther. When the wind died down, Aya fell to her knees, barely conscious.

- Ugh, still breathing.

Dutifully, Scyther and his three clones waved their sword arms about, spinning in place and channeling extra power into the blades. Levin could only watch as the three-move combo all but sealed the fate of the match, before he could so much as issue a single instruction.

There's no way... no way this guy's a rookie!

- Aya, hang in there! We're not beat yet, I know you can do it! Remember what Mazo taught you, it's not just about what you can see. You can sense him, can't you? Go get him, Dual Chop as they're dancing, get the real one!

Struggling to regain her footing, Aya winced in pain but nodded. Taking advantage of the opening provided by the Swords Dance, she closed her eyes for a moment and quickly dashed to her left; each of her paws covered in blue energy, she hit a palm thrust with her right hand, causing a clone to fade, and grinned as she drove her left palm right into the abdomen of the real Scyther!

She's sensitive to Aura, and Mazo's training has taken her gift a step further...

Before she could follow up the successful hit with another move, Scyther flew above her head and landed directly behind her. Kayl issued a new string of commands and hoped this would be it, he was growing bored of this Mienfoo.

- Run circles around it, Slash on every opening.

A famous strategy best employed by swift swordsmen, Scyther dashed around Aya almost too quickly for her eyes to follow; the deadly green blur kept running in circles around her until she started to feel dizzy, and the second her guard lowered Scyther was onto her like a predator; swinging his arm, he Slashed her in the shoulder and resumed its running, biding his time for another opening.

If this keeps up she's as good as gone! Dammit, it won't stand still! Unless...

There was one way to stop the mantis, one move that would force it to stop or take terrible damage. If they succeeded in trapping it, maybe Aya could land a powerful hit to put Scyther away! This was the moment for her special move...

- Aya, it's time! Lock him in place with your Fire Spin!

The second his words reached her ears, Aya smiled and clapped her palms together. Immediately a tower of flames erupted from the ground beneath Scyther, spiraling ominously and forcing him to stop dead in his tracks, afraid of the fire!

Kayl was left in absolute shock, for the first time since he could remember. He was a battling prodigy and knew by heart every move of every species of Pokemon in existence... this was a natural impossibility!

- B-but how?! Mienfoo can't learn Fire Spin!

Levin grinned; it seemed his opponent wasn't completely emotionless.

- You're not the only one with tricks up your sleeve. You're clearly not the upstart rookie you claimed to be, but I'm no pushover either. So how about we stop pulling punches?

Kayl shrugged, but Levin could see past that false disinterest - he'd peaked his curiosity.

- Might as well... But you'll regret it. Razor Wind with spin opposite to the flames, then Aerial Ace.

What kind of crazy orders are those?!

Levin felt even more apprehension as Kay'ls instructions became more elaborate; it wasn't so much the unorthodox orders but the absolute confidence with which the opponent issued them, like he'd been doing this for decades... What kind of foe was he really dealing with here?...

- Aya, get him while he's trapped! Dual Chop!

The Mienfoo nodded. Scyther was definitely fast, but she was just as agile - that was her biggest strength. Leaping elegantly into the air, she dove inside the tower of flames with fists glowing, and disappeared from Levin's sight.

---

Kayl watched as Levin struggled to keep up with his Scyther. That Fire Spin however... how could this completely unremarkable Trainer surpass the very laws of nature? He'd heard of Masters so skilled, they could teach entirely new moves to their Pokemon - but weren't those Trainers all residing in Asbel? Fizzy Bubbles was a tourist attraction at best... this didn't make any sense! But it didn't matter, not anymore.

I'm sick of this place. Let's get this over with already...

The pillar of fire suddenly vanished, replaced by a column of spiraling wind. The flames dispersed, and as the sharp blades of wind rose the sky, the opponent's Mienfoo was caught by the twister and slashed repeatedly. When Scyther stopped spinning so did the wind, and the foe tumbled to the floor, nearly unconscious.

About time.

Scyther grinned, took to the sky and swooped down on the grounded opponent.

---

Levin could only watch as the mantis suddenly changed direction mere inches above the ground and struck Aya with an undodgeable move. In the blink of an eye, his partner stopped moving, knocked out cold by the highly effective move. She'd put up a good fight, but realistically Aya never stood a chance...

- Great job dear, you're growing stronger by the minute! Have a rest, I'll take it from here.

He recalled the Mienfoo to her Premier Ball and looked Kayl straight in the eye.

- Bryan, was it? Who are you really? You don't battle like regular people. It's normal for a Scyther to beat a Mienfoo, but the way you did it...

Kayl didn't smile, but the swiftness of his reply gave away the glimpse of a dormant ego Levin hadn't noticed before.

- You won't get off my case until I come clean, will you? Fine... I'm Kayl Kessler. People called me the "Wonder of Illa". You won't win this match.

Levin was left speechless. Of course this guy looked familiar... he was the child prodigy of the North! Kayl of Illa, the Trainer who'd gone undefeated until his forfeit against Champion Gottfried... this man was a living legend! It all made sense now... the immense skill coupled with extreme apathy, everything people said about him was true. The magnificent Trainer who'd lost his passion during the greatest match of his career...

If this guy really is Kayl Kessler, then... he may be right. I can't win this match...

His confidence began to falter, now that he knew the truth: he was up against a Champion-caliber Trainer! He hesitated as he went to pick his next partner; the only way to win against Kayl was to use his very strongest partners!

... No. I can't! The purpose of this match was to give experience to my weaker Pokemon - it was never about winning or losing. I can't lose sight of my goals, I can't let my pride take over again. This isn't about me, it's about them!

That was often his mistake - victory had been, for the longest time, his sole purpose in life. But he had to remember he was beyond that now... he'd do things right from now on, now that Ivan had been beaten and that shadow had been put to rest. So why worry? Kayl was a better Trainer than him; all the better! He'd give his Pokemon the experience they needed - and that would be much more valuable than any lone "W" in his column.

- I can't beat your Scyther in speed, so here's something else... Let's do this, Rook!

A Pokemon he'd never used in battle emerged from its container - a large Rhyhorn who roared in excitement at his very first match. He'd owned Rook for a year now and the Rock-Type had fully dedicated himself to learning from Zion and Cygna, honing his scarce intellect in a seemingly futile attempt to be bright. But Levin knew his partner's patience was bearing fruits, no matter how slowly - Rook's hatred of his own limitations was an unmatched driving force, and Levin knew he was about to see the results of Rhyhorn's tireless devotion. He already had plenty of power... Levin could only imagine how incredible Rook could be with a matching intelligence!

---

A Rhyhorn? Seriously, how slow does he want this match to go?...

Kayl was hardly impressed with Levin's choice; there was no way that Pokemon could keep up with Scyther, and most Trainers worth their salt knew speed was quite possibly the most critical aspect of a battle - the faster Pokemon almost always held a distinct advantage. He'd just have to show him.

Levin raised his hand and issued his orders to the lumbering Rock-Type.

- Rook, put him away with Rock Blast!

A ranged attack... probably his only hope of scoring a hit. Not a bad thought, but he saw it coming a mile away.

- Rock Smash through and Brick Break.

Scyther nodded; just as Rook unleashed a barrage of stones at him, the mantis dashed forward and slashed every single boulder in half with incredible swiftness; no matter how many rocks the Rhyhorn spit out, Scyther sliced all of them and kept coming closer and closer...

---

Levin watched as Scyther effortlessly evaded the move, but remained calm. And the second his the opponent stopped raised his swords for the incoming Brick Break, he grinned.

- Now, Ice Beam!

In the split second Scyther's guard was left open, Rook took his chance and let out a freezing energy ray at point-blank range that hit the foe square in the chest! A thick layer of ice covered the bug's torso, and Levin's plan went into motion.

- Flamethrower on the frozen area, then Thunderbolt when the ice melts!

Kayl was powerless to counter the unrelenting combo; he watched in shock as Levin outsmarted him and took advantage of three of Scyther's weaknesses in a row.

The stream of flames hit the still-recovering mantis, scorching him and causing the ice on his body to melt away, leaving Scyther's chest covered in water droplets. And when the last move hit home, a Thunderbolt made stronger by the foe's wet torso, both Kayl and Levin knew the winner was determined. Scyther collapsed to the floor, motionless after the beating, and Rook stood tall over his foe.

- You did it! That was perfect!

The Rhyhorn smiled and panted - it might've been his crowning achievement, but it had taken a lot out of him. It didn't matter; he'd never have been able to pull off that combination if not for all the practice. And now that he'd felt the taste of actual battle, he could feel pride and strength swelling within... an overwhelming sensation of accomplishment - his hard work had paid off, he was no longer just a one-track-minded rhino whose only perception of world was to charge ahead with his horn and see what happened. He was more than that already, and he could be much more! Starting with...

Rook?...

The Rhyhorn pulled himself up, briefly standing only on his hind legs - but when Levin expected to see him land back on all fours, he didn't. Instead, a bright light enveloped him; he grew taller than his Trainer, his horn grew larger, his whole frame did. And when the light faded, Rook revealed himself to have become a huge http://www.upnetwork.net/fb/sprites/pn112.gif!

- Rook... you made it! Look at you, you're amazing!

Finally a Rhydon, at long last, after months of relentless training and learning under Cygna and Zion's tutelage... Rook was free from the shackles of his basic form's limitations. With untapped physical and now intellectual potential, he felt better than ever! The effects of the previous match still weighed on him however, as evidence by a slight shortness of breath, but there was no way he'd back out now.

Kayl had had one too many surprises in this match; he rolled his eyes, looked at Bjorn and the Squirtle gladly got the hint. Taking center stage, the small Water-Type faced the much larger opponent with a smirk, while Kayl - visibly annoyed by how long it was taking to dispose of Levin - issued a new set of orders in his typical fashion.

- Aqua Jet until told otherwise.

Bjorn nodded in agreement, and Levin wouldn't be fooled this time - he was certain Kayl had used this approach before, as evidenced by the absolute confidence of his command.

Before he knew it, Rook was being pelted by Bjorn from every conceivable angle, like water bullets piercing his body over and over again. Even for a super-fast move like that, it was even faster than any other Aqua Jet he'd ever seen, and no matter what he did Rook couldn't fight back. With one of his dreaded weaknesses exploited and abused over and over and over again, Rook fell to one knee in obvious pain and hopelessness.

Damn it... That Squirtle's unstoppable! If this keeps up, Rook won't land a single hit... but that Aqua Jet is unbelievable! With no way to even target Bjorn...

That's when it dawned on him... maybe he didn't have to target! That's it... he'd take a page right out of Kayl's book of crazy orders!

- Rook, get your horn spinning and shoot Thunderbolt through it!

Where once Rook would've stood there in absolute confusion, the Rhydon instead grinned with Levin's plan instantly becoming obvious, thanks to his newfound clarity. His horn began to spin like a drill, and as Rook conducted a surge of electricity into the rotating horn, lightning bolts shot out in every direction, forming a wide circle of electricity all around the Rhydon. It wasn't long until Bjorn was caught by one of the stray bolts and knocked right out of his Aqua Jet, stunned and seriously hurt by the effective move!

Kayl placed two fingers on his temples. He didn't have time for this, and when he glared at Levin, the Saffron-native knew the match was about to change - Kayl was looking to put an end to it, showing a much different drive than before!

- I've had enough of you! Disrupt him with a quick Mud Slap... then Hydro Pump as needed.

The dreaded orders came like Levin expected - Rook's glaring weakness to water made the match-up highly unfavorable, regardless of size difference. Besides, this was clearly no regular young Squirtle...
Bjorn kicked up some dirt with his hands and simultaneously spat out a sprinkle of water; the two mixed and a blob of mud hit Rook square in the eyes, temporarily blinding him; then, with almost no time in between, the Squirtle arched his head back and unleashed a massive stream of pressurized water that easily found its mark! Rook dug his feet into the ground and remained standing, barely conscious... but just as instructed, a second Hydro Pump was released with almost no let-up and there was nothing the brave Rhydon could do. Collapsing with a loud thud, Rook was knocked out.

That Squirtle... what kind of monster is he?...

Levin recalled Rook, thanking him for his tremendous performance. His last Pokemon had been subconsciously picked the second Bjorn entered the fray... it just felt right. Without a shadow of hesitation, his hand landed on a Christmas Ball, and from it emerged Bud the Bulbasaur.

- Hey there! Ready to put on a show?

Bud, apprehensive and insecure as always, glanced at Levin with hesitation. His one-hit loss against that Gardevoir in Mediville was still fresh on the Bulbasaur's mind, yet another scar for his already-frail ego. Now he was being sent out against the prodigy's strongest Pokemon?!

- Relax... I just want you to have a good time. That's what battles are all about! The second you start having fun, it won't matter if you win or lose anymore... All that matters is that you gave it your all and let the chips fall where they may. Let's give it a try?

Bud nodded half-heartedly and faced his opponent who, despite his type disadvantage, looked like this was no challenge at all. The difference in posture between Bud and Bjorn was striking - the former looking nervous beyond reason and the latter manifesting an overabundance of confidence.

Maybe Bjorn gets it... this is like a past-time for him! If only Bud could lighten up, his potential is begging to explode but his attitude won't let him!

- Alright Bud, start out with Magical Leaf so he can't dodge with Aqua Jet again, then follow up with a [b]Power Whip[7b] the second you find and opening!

- Rapid Spin the leaves away, Icy Wind, Ice Beam.

Both Pokemon were swift to obey; Bud released countless rainbow leaves at Bjorn... but an undodgeable move is only any good if the opponent tries to dodge. Bjorn took the move head on, retreating into his shell and spinning at high speed toward Bud while the Magical Leaves bounced of his shell harmlessly. Still inside his shell, Bjorn unleashed a blast of chilly wind through the five holes in the carapace, the frigid gale taking Bud by surprise (who expected Bjorn to expose himself for the move) and was overwhelmed by the breeze that almost froze his joints in place. Struggling to regain mobility, he failed to notice Bjorn emerging from his cover, and the Squirtle gladly made him pay with an Ice Beam that hit Bud with tremendous force!

- Damn! Bud, you alright? Hang in there!

Levin's words of encouragement did little to cheer the Bulbasaur up; Kayl took the opportunity to issue a new set of commands, intent on putting an end to everything this round.

- Close in with Skull Bash, follow up with as many Ice Punches as you need to put him away.

Even Levin could tell Kayl was being careless now. Either he placed absolute trust in Bjorn or he was getting sloppy with his approach - which, considering his historic forfeit against Gottfried, wouldn't surprise Levin in the least. Still, he couldn't let a chance like that slide!

- Trap him with Vine Whip as he approaches, then pelt him with Bullet Seed for as long as you need to knock him out!

Bjorn's charge-up time for Skull Bash was so short Levin could have missed it. In a matter or seconds the Squirtle was flying across the field at such speed that a trail of dust kicked up in his wake. Bud released two vines that wrapped themselves around Bjorn... but could only hold him in place for half a second before the grip was overcome!
Bjorn's head made contact with Bud in a frightening bump, but Levin noticed a cloud of purple powder rising on impact that he instantly recognized as a move he hadn't ordered... Bud had used Poison Powder on his own! The Bulbasaur was sent back several steps, while Bjorn was left coughing repeatedly as the poison entered his system... that was some quick thinking by Bud!

- Way to go, that was brilliant! Now, Venosh... What?!

Somehow, Bjorn was already on top of Bud again, fighting through the poison and delivering a flurry of Ice Punches that the Bulbasaur simply couldn't guard against... What kind of training did that Squirtle go through? It had no weaknesses!

Bjorn pulled its hand back to deliver one final punch to the groggy Bud, but Levin, refusing to let Bud be humiliated yet again, shouted out of pure instinct.

- Giga Drain right now!

For the brief moment where Bjorn was unprotected, gearing up for that last punch, Bud fought through the pain and shot a green orb of Grass energy right at the Squirtle's abdomen, disrupting his move and making double over in pain! The orb then returned to Bud and he seem mildly relieved; at this point both Starters were gasping for air, and both Kayl and Levin knew what this meant.

- Well Kayl, you get your wish. Let's put an end to this! Bud!

- Might as well; I've wasted enough time as it is! Bjorn!

The Bulbasaur and Squirtle looked each other in the eye, smiled and prepared to unleash one final move.

- Leaf Storm!!

- Blizzard!!

A tremendous dome-shaped blast of energy swept across the field, almost making both Trainers fall over, causing the very ground to shake! And when both men looked back at the field, they saw both Pokemon still standing groggily, barely conscious, breathing hard... until Bud tumbled to the side, drained of its remaining energy!

That's it....

Kayl suddenly spoke up, breaking the deafening silence with an unexpected comment...

- A draw. Didn't see that coming.

What's he talking about?...

It didn't make sense, Bjorn was still standing... But upon closer inspection, he got it. The Squirtle's eyes were glazed over while a faint purple mist emanated from his breath. Two seconds later and Bjorn too collapsed from the effects of the intoxication caused by that previous Poison Powder!

Kayl recalled Bjorn and approached Levin. The match was over, as Kayl still had one Pokemon left while Levin had none. But the blue-haired man extended a hand to the Saffron-native in a sign of respect.

- Not bad. I hope to find more Trainers like you in Asbel; you're wasting your talent here.

Levin smiled, even if Kayl did not, and shook the man's hand.

- Thanks for the match and the compliment, but I'm staying right here. Best of lucks in Asbel... which is that way for another two hours on foot until you reach the port.

Kayl faked a smile and thanked Levin, turned around and left without another word. But none were needed anymore; the match had lit a fire underneath Levin, Rook and Bud, and none of them came out of that battle the same was when they walked in. Facing Kayl reminded him that he still had a long way to go before being ready to face a Champion... but he and his Pokemon were more determined than ever, and it'd only be a matter of time!

Looks like I found a new rival... we'll meet again Kayl, you can be sure of that!

MarbleZone 10-12-2014 05:32 PM

Levin put down the book and yawned. Nighttime approached, which made it harder to read outside; the tree he was leaning on provided ample shading too, which was welcome during the afternoon hours but a further hindrance to his studies at the moment. Zion the Beldum hovered just above him, reading and absorbing every tiny bit of knowledge its eye captured.

If I'm to raise a Chimchar one day, I need to know what I can expect. They're known to be mischievous and notoriously hard to train properly, and an unruly Infernape is the last thing I need; my days of dealing with Magnus and his like are over, and getting Ryker to to even acknowledge my presence is troublesome enough as it is.

Originally found in the far away Eastern regions, both Chimchar and Tepig were thought to have come from the same land.
This book described two warring tribes of Emboar and Infernape who battled for generations over control of the territory - which would be nothing unusual in that era, save for the fact that both tribes, and all of their descendants since, were rumored to possess an incredible skill: a Blaze ability so disproportionately intense that it sent the user into a destructive frenzy while increasing its power to dangerous levels. A berserker rage that throughout the times became known colloquially as "Hellfire", a rough translation of the original term used by the ancients that witnessed the conflict...

"Baimon”.

This was little more than trivia. He’d never heard of this ability before, and it was safe to assume that, even if Baimon did exist at some point in History, it was a long-lost skill by now. All that mattered was that he was still to find a Chimchar of his own, and that quest was proving to be one of the hardest of his journey.

Ah yes, Baimon… That caused quite the fuss back in the day.

Nyx the Gastly emerged from the ground, grinning as usual. Levin smiled, used to her sudden appearances by now. She retained traces of her “Girl” persona, but was becoming more mature as she grew stronger, as well slightly… darker.

- You’ve heard of it? So it’s not a myth?

Levin, I do wish you’d give me more credit. I haven’t “heard” about it, I was there! It was a sight to behold… from afar, that is.

Levin stopped listening halfway. She was there? How could that be?...

Hm? You seem surprised. I suppose I should come clean then… After what you did for me, it’s not right to keep secrets from you anymore. It’s true, I was there when the Baimon tribes of Infernape and Emboar clashed. That was practically a millennium ago… and I’ve been around for longer than that. Not in this body, of course.

Levin and Zion listened intently. Who was Nyx after all? All this time he’d thought of her as a regular Gastly…

A history lesson seems to be in order. In the beginning there was nothing. An Egg formed in the void, and from it Arceus was born. Surrounded by silence and nothingness, Arceus gave them a name, and thus an identity. My father was born as the Eternal Darkness that surrounded God. To balance this darkness, soon after bringing Dialga and Palkia to life, Arceus created light; since then, countless civilizations have called the original light by many names – Ulgamen, Old Sun, First Dawn -, but its Arceus-given name was simply “Eld”. As Eld was born, it weakened my father; darkness no longer ruled supreme, and so he gave birth to me to serve as the counterpart to Eld. While it ruled during the day, I rose at dusk, and thus became known as the First Night. I embodied the shadows in my father’s stead as he withdrew into a deep slumber – and that is why I witnessed all of this world’s events since its inception, including the snippet of history you just read.

Nyx giggled at Levin’s astonished face.

You were right all along; “Girl” was hardly a fitting name. I took on many forms as time went by, and eventually found this species to best suit what I represent. But it’s incomplete, imperfect, and that’s why my father had to awaken from his sleep one final time when that demon Gardevoir became a threat. I couldn’t beat her alone, but as it turned out, neither could my father. When he was defeated, he finally realized that “eternal darkness” no longer has a place in this world, as Eld’s light shines too bright; he entrusted the last of his powers to me before vanishing forever, and now I alone represent the darkness of the world. Still, I am in your debt – I would have met the same fate as my father had you not intervened that day.

Levin was speechless. Was he supposed to believe this Gastly, so similar to all others, was somehow a creature that had been around almost as long as Arceus?!

Well, yes. It’s the truth. How else do you explain my mastery of your language, my knowledge of your past, of Baimon and so much more that you never bothered to ask? I told you repeatedly not to underestimate me, Levin… but I understand it’s difficult to accept. You’ll grow to believe it in time. For now… I propose a deal.

The last sentence was once again uttered in her childish, excited tone. She was having a blast at his expense, he could tell… but despite the unbelievable tale, one thing was certain: he was very, very fortunate that Nyx was on his side instead of against him. He should always remember that.

As you know, this body’s birthday is arriving, and it coincides with your Halloween festivities. My power has grown considerably since I joined you, and for that too I’m in your debt. But because of that, I feel this form is far too small to contain my strength; I think it’d be fitting to have it transform into its perfect self on its birthday, wouldn’t you? I would finally have an appropriate vessel, and you would benefit from the full extent of my powers as well.

Levin saw where she was going with this. She wanted to become Gengar already, and her peculiar sense of humor had her choose Halloween to do so. But for all her formidable might, she still needed him to unlock the final stage of her transformation.

Do this for me, and I’ll help you with something that has troubled you for the past two years. Something floating just above your shoulder, for that matter.

Levin looked to his left, finding Zion’s gaze fixated on Nyx, fascinated by her tale. Zion the Beldum… always Beldum. Could it be she was offering to change that?

Your dear partner has an unparalleled mind, but much like myself, is stuck in a helpless body… Its woes are different from my own, though. It constantly studies its surrounding for all the knowledge it can get, and in doing so it has found that this world no longer hold any mysteries. It has grown disillusioned and is now stuck in a vicious cycle, where it hunts down new things to learn but finds nothing of interest. Until that issue is overcome, it cannot progress. Whereas I hold knowledge of millennia, and all that I have seen, heard and experienced would amply satisfy Zion’s needs. I can share with it all the truths of this universe, aeons of history it could never find anywhere else. And once that’s done and it achieves a new form, only one final fragment of knowledge will remain, one I cannot give myself but somebody else might: the secrets behind emotions, the gateway to the soul.

He instantly realized what she meant. Nyx could help Zion surpass his current limitations, and the one who could force that last gate of knowledge open afterwards… would be Mazo. Then, there would be no secrets left for Zion – through his own studies, Nyx’s and Mazo’s knowledge, it would become omniscient. The thought was both exhilarating and terrifying at the same time.

- … Deal. Help Zion evolve, and I’ll do the same for you.

Nyx giggled, knowing what Levin’s answer would be long before she’d even asked the question. Shadowy tendrils extended from her gaseous form and enveloped the Steel-Type. Nyx closed her eyes and everything fell silent for a minute; Zion’s single eye remained open but took on a faint blue glow until the shadows released it, and with Nyx’s proclamation, it was done.

Uncomfortable as it might be for me to admit it… Zion now knows everything I do. There are no secrets left for it to unravel… so behold.

A burst of light suddenly emanated from Zion’s body, a blinding explosion of latent power that had been screaming to get out for almost two years. The Steel-Type’s frame increased in size until the glow faded, leaving behind not the familiar Beldum, but at long last a http://www.upnetwork.net/fb/sprites/pn375.gif!

- Zion! You… you finally made it!

YES. EVOLUTION WAS ACHIEVED.

- Is… that you Zion? Nyx, what happened?!

THE GASTLY HAS IMPARTED ITS KNOWLEDGE. NO SECRETS LEFT. YOUR LANGUAGE IS NOW FAMILIAR.

As I said, it knows everything I do. It should come as no surprise that it has learned your language. What is still left to learn, I cannot teach; Mazo will have to be the one to unravel the last mystery to it. Maybe then, it will develop a personality of its own. I look forward to seeing that.

Zion lowered itself to Levin’s level, taking a long look at its Trainer. The Saffron-native peered back into the Pokemon’s red eyes and saw nothing; a complete absence of emotion, just like he’d grown accustomed to seeing in Zion when it was a Beldum. For all the knowledge in the universe, that was the one thing it still lacked… but maybe he too could help with that. In due time, he and Mazo could teach Zion what it was like to feel.

Well, I trust you to uphold your end of the bargain. Come this form’s birthday, you’ll help me unlock my true power, and who knows? Maybe then I can help you even further in return. The future is looking bright for us both, wouldn’t you say? Oh, and speaking of bright…

Again she giggled, which made Levin instinctively raise an eyebrow. Something strange always followed when she giggled like that.

Remember Ulgamen, the Old Sun? The ancients took to calling its descendants “Ulgamoth”, or “Volcarona” in the western lands. But you, you’ve seen the original. You’ve seen Eld. Do you remember that?

He froze for a moment as vivid memory flashed in his mind. A memory of his mother bragging about how, on the day he was born, the “Saffron Sun” arrived and shone over the city for a whole year. She always told that tale, gloating about her son being special because of the strange coincidence. Years later he found there was some truth to her story, as a Volcarona had indeed flown across the skies of Saffron when he was born. Could it be?...

- I… I still don’t know what to think. None of this sounds remotely plausible… I’m sorry, I need time to dwell on everything you told me. But for the sake of discussion, let’s say that everything is true; if Arceus named the first light “Eld”… what did It name you?

Nyx giggled one last time before vanishing into thin air, leaving Levin with nothing more than a teasing reply.

I don’t answer to Arceus anymore. Why, Nyx is the only name I seem to remember!

MarbleZone 11-10-2014 01:26 PM

He'd do it. He had to, or he was going to die of boredom.

Dux the Machop had escaped home in the middle of the night and ventured off into the nearby woods. He couldn't take it anymore; he felt his power increasing by leaps and bounds every day, but something was missing - ordinary training wasn't cutting it anymore. He'd studied every other fighter extensively and sparred with them all on multiple occasions; he knew everything that there was to know about each of their styles and was confident he could put up a good fight against any of them. And yet, none of them presented the challenge he desired, even those who were clearly stronger than him - they held back out of friendship, afraid to actually go all the way.

Except for one.

The foe he sought was a different kind of Pokemon. One who felt nothing for his fellow teammates and refused to acknowledge their existence. One who used to belong to a different trainer and despised the idea of being Levin's Pokemon. Ryker the Luxray led the life of a loner, choosing to stay away from the Treetop Base and instead reside in the surrounding forest. The oldest member of Levin's team and a creature of great power, courtesy of the extensive training he received under his previous owner, the rogue Electric-Type surely wouldn't think twice about going all out... provided Dux provoked him enough. That could well be the challenge he needed to surpass his limitations!

Dux knew he didn't need to look very hard. The second he trespassed Ryker's territory, the Luxray would come to him. He cracked his knuckles in anticipation, going over all the techniques he'd just recently perfected. Fighting and mastering new moves came naturally to him, but it was rare for him to be able to put them all to use. Levin had told him time and again that he was a prodigy, and as such he should try always try to fight on par with his weaker teammates. He understood his Trainer's reasoning, but sometimes he really felt like breaking the rules... fortunately he wouldn't have to worry about that this time.

Suddenly, he stopped. Startled at first, he froze in place as two golden eyes gleamed in the darkness above, accompanied by a low-pitched growl. The look of surprise quickly turned into a grin as the realization set in - Ryker had found him. Sure enough, the lean figure of the electric lynx leaped down from the nearby tree and landed right in front of Dux, towering over the smaller Fighting-Type. The Luxray's commanding stare caused the usually fearless Dux to instinctively take a step back and assume a battle stance; those eyes were one of Ryker's greatest weapons, allowing him to see perfectly in all environments, and even through objects. But one thing reassured the Machop: no matter how exceptional they were, Ryker's eyes would give him no advantage here, because Dux never dodged.

It was a matter of pride and, in a way. his unique fighting style. Dux was born with the ability to read movements and strike from any angle accordingly, effectively ensuring that he never missed a single strike. To make up for that fact, refusing to let his genetic superiority dictate the flow of his battles, he swore to himself never to evade any of his opponent's moves either, in an attempt to even the playing field. This in turn made him extremely durable, having grown used to withstanding moves most other Pokemon would attempt to dodge.

Ryker's growl intensified; he grew weary of the Machop's presence, and his tolerance was quick to run out. Mustering up his courage, Dux took a step forward and beat his own chest in defiance. Realizing he was being challenged, Ryker snarled and blasted Dux with a Thunderbolt out of nowhere, sending the smaller Pokemon flying back several feet! The black feline turned around, visibly annoyed, and prepared to return to his perch and get back to sleep. However, just as he leaped onto the branch, a pulse of energy sliced it, causing Ryker to temporarily lose his footing and land back on the ground gracefully. Turning around, he saw Dux still up with both palms thrown forward, and realizing the small fighter had just struck back with a Vacuum Wave, his whole body became surrounded in a yellow aura crackling with electricity, anger taking over at the sight of Machop's nerve.

Dux was grinning, despite the obvious injuries sustained after a single Thunderbolt. This was everything he'd hoped for - Ryker wasn't going to pull any punches, which meant he'd finally get the battle he was craving! He took a running start and dashed straight at the Luxray, who responded with another Thunderbolt; the force of the move knocked Dux back again, but not down. He kept his footing and pressed forward again, receiving a third Thunderbolt for his efforts, which this time brought him to his knees. Smoke rose from his smitten body, the repeated lighting strikes taking their toll on him. He was short of breath for the first time in his life; he'd been on the receiving end of this move before, courtesy of Rook and Min, but never like this. Ryker's attacks were violent, intense and more powerful than anything he'd ever experienced... and he was loving it.

The Luxray's eyes widened at the sight of Dux getting back up one more time, heedless of consequence. When the Machop lunged forward once more, Ryker found himself hesitating for once; he could easily strike him down with a stronger bolt, but something about Dux's resolve made him stop. For some reason, he wanted to see what the little one could do... if only for the briefest of moments, he cared. Doing nothing, he allowed Dux to close in and deliver a jaw-rattling Mega Punch that almost knocked him on his side! But the brawler wasn't done; relishing the opportunity to fight up-close, he charged energy in his fists and unleashed a barrage of strikes so fast that nobody besides Ryker could have kept track of each blow. Dux's Close Combat flurry continued until the Luxray had enough and unleashed yet another Thunderbolt at point-blank range, a pillar of lighting rising to the sky and fading shortly afterwards. In its wake, Dux's body lay on the ground, motionless.

Ryker lept back, gasping for air, astonished by Dux's latent power. He was glad he let the fighter's power shine through, it had been an entertaining display, but enough was enough. He turned around to leave, until an unexpected white light engulfed the forest around them. Turning his head in disbelief, he realized the familiar light emanated from none other than Dux, whose frame grew larger and radiated an intense aura. When the glow subsided, the once tiny brawler was no more, and in his place stood an imposing http://www.upnetwork.net/fb/sprites/pn067.gif, apparently rejuvenated and ready to fight!

Dux stared at his own hands in awe. He felt nothing; no pain, no fatigue, no shortness of breath. It was as if he hadn't even begun fighting. Not only that - the power coursing through his body was unlike anything he'd ever experienced, even after the most strenuous of training sessions. He smiled as he realized how right he'd been all along - no amount of regular exercise could have broken the chains that held him down. What he needed was this: an opponent so far out of his league and so ruthless that he was forced to evolve or perish. He glared at Ryker, who stared right back with a smirk. Contrary to his nature, the Luxray was growing excited himself; he couldn't remember the last time he had to work for a victory.

In his typical fashion, the Machoke dashed straight at Ryker once again, who responded with another Thunderbolt; this time however, the discharge wasn't enough to slow Dux down. Pulling his fist back and ramming it forward with all his might, Dux blasted the stunned Ryker with a bone-shattering Dynamic Punch! This time it was the lynx who was sent flying, and didn't stop until his body collided with a large tree!

The Luxray struggled to get back to his feet, dazed and hurting all over. His vision was still blurry from the devastating hit; in the time him took to refocus, Dux unleashed another Vacuum Wave that pelted the Electric-Type on the torso, making him growl in pain.
Infuriated by the turn of events, Ryker released yet another bolt of lightning; this time however, Dux created a barrier around him, causing most of the electricity to disperse along the Light Screen, much to the opponent's shock. It turned out Dux wasn't all brawn after all...

Incensed by the emergence of a worthy adversary, Ryker was taking things seriously now. Opting to shift his strategy, now that Dux was protected from his Thunderbolt strikes, the Luxray gathered lighting energy in his fur, glowing yellow as he did, and rushed toward the foe at full speed, realizing by now that he refused to dodge. Indeed, Dux stood his ground, but grinned as Ryker ran in his direction; closing his eyes and bringing his palms together, his body took on a faint purple glow briefly. Ryker rammed into the Machoke, only to find it was like hitting a stone wall - Dux didn't even flinch!

With Ryker again at close range, Machoke quickly brought his hands together again and reversed the effects of his previous Power Trick, before quickly driving a fist into the foe's abdomen with a powerful Bullet Punch! Ryker bent over in pain, helpless in front of the dominant fighter. Determined to show no mercy, out of respect for his opponent, Dux prepared to hit a final Dynamic Punch... but just as he prepared to deliver it, Ryker nimbly sank his teeth into the Machoke's fist, subsequently delivering a powerful electric shock with his Thunder Fang, bypassing the Light Screen!

Taking his opening, Ryker jumped away from Dux's range to catch his breath. Meanwhile, Dux felt his muscles locking up, cramps rendering his arms and legs unresponsive due to paralysis! The Luxray grinned, catching on to the opponent's predicament and what it meant for the flow of the match. Dux himself understood it too, and both Pokemon nodded, agreeing that the next blow would be the last.

Ryker's fur began to stand on end as he Charged as much electricity as possible, while Dux closed his eyes and focused his strength through Meditation. The Luxray and Machoke dashed forward at the same time, the former's body covered in lighting energy and the latter's fist glowing with ki. Dux pulled his arm back for one last focused Dynamic Punch while Ryker's Spark crackled with twice the usual power... But as Dux prepared to deliver the last blow, his shoulder muscles tensed up for the briefest of moments, slowing down the movement and creating a precious opening! Ryker's exceptional eyes quickly picked up on the split-second delay, and the Luxray leaped upward driving his whole lighting-covered frame into Dux!

A powerful shockwave emanated from the point of contact, kicking up grass and leaves all around them. Ryker and Dux landed on opposite sides of the field, exhausted and breathing heavily... until the Machoke's body gave out and he collapsed, unconscious. The Luxray roared, glanced at the fallen warrior one last time and took his leave, proud of the outcome but shaken to the core: somehow, such a young Pokemon was able to stand toe-to-toe and almost defeat him... a Pokemon trained by Levin, to make matters worse.

Long after Ryker had left, Dux regained his senses. In front of him was Mazo the Lucario, looking concerned but proud at the same time. He must have sensed the commotion; after all, emotions ran high in the match. Hurting badly, Dux nonetheless mustered a smile and a thumbs-up; no explanations were needed when dealing with Mazo, nor did he feel like giving one - after all, despite the danger he placed himself in, it really was the right thing to do. There was no doubt in his mind that Levin would be delighted with his accomplishment, which made the inevitable reprimand he was in for all but irrelevant.



Returning to a tall branch to get some rest in the welcome stillness of the night, Ryker replayed the events of the match over and over in his head until sleep overpowered him. Formidable as Dux was in his own right, maybe, just maybe, there was also something to that Trainer after all...

MarbleZone 12-24-2014 07:18 AM

Basker the Arcanine looked through the window, to the vast forest surrounding the Treetop Home his Trainer called Marble Garden. His Trainer... who was currently half-way across the known world, training in the wilderness of Kanjohto to elevate himself to new heights. Basker had graciously accepted the responsibility of tending to the usual chores in his place, but he missed his dear Trainer terribly. He wished he could have gone with everyone else, but he knew many of his friends needed this training more than him.

He remembered Levin's resolve as he prepared to leave...

"I need to figure out what I really want to become. "Stronger" doesn't mean anything in itself, it's not enough... Respect, recognition, fame, power; I crave all of those, but looking back at our journey so far, have I really accomplished anything of note? Some managerial roles at the Bank and Cascadia's adventure routes, a referee degree, but who really knows me within the professional circuit?
That Kayl guy and his Squirtle wiped the floor with me, the Elite Four probably don't even know I can battle, I beat Ivan and nobody even realized it. I call myself a Fighting-Type expert, but shouldn't someone else bestow that title upon me for it to actually mean something? Maybe... I've been wasting my time for the past two years and a half.
So Basker, I need to leave for a while. Fizzy Bubbles is my home, but the level I need to reach demands different hardships. And although some of the best Trainers in the world can be found here and in Asbel, these are well-monitored environments where someone always knows where you are... There's a land out there ravaged by nature, lawless and dangerous, where nobody would be able to find me or watch my progress. I think that's where I need to go. I trust you the most to keep everything running in my absence... I'm sorry, but I won't be home in time for Christmas."


Basker feared for Levin's well-being out there in Kanjohto; still, he trusted his friends to keep the young man safe. Mazo and Nyx were with him, so there should be no reason to worry... but he did. Basker could more than hold his own against the usual threats surrounding Marble Garden; it was not knowing what Levin was facing right now that made him anxious. But just as his Trainer trusted him, so too should he trust in Levin to see his training through to the end and return, stronger than ever, ready to reach the heights he always dreamed of.

He couldn't wait to see what all his friends would become... but for now, lonely as he felt, he had to see all the Christmas activities through on their behalf.

MarbleZone 01-02-2015 08:06 PM

A hooded figure approached the Marble Garden, gazing at the Treetop House from a distance, shrouded by the trees of the surrounding forest. Pulling the hood of his dusty old coat, Levin took a deep breath; Arceus, he'd missed this.

I'm back. But please wait a little longer Basker... I have matters to attend to before I return home.

He'd acquired some very valuable things during his absence.
First and foremost, an incalculable amount of experience, owing to the various near-death situations he'd lived through and all the rabid foes he'd faced during his time in Kanjohto. Thanks to them, he could finally consider himself worthy of being a referee in Fizzy Bubbles, and there were people waiting on him. To them, it'd be like he never left... but there was a world of difference between this Levin Sanders and the Trainer from three months ago.
Second, the precious rewards he'd gained for helping desperate victims of the disasters needed to be put to use, now that his Pokemon were powerful enough to make the most of them. He gripped a leather bag in his hand tightly; the two items inside clanked together, as the young man mentally recalled the way to a particular shop...

MarbleZone 02-01-2015 02:20 PM

The joint sounds of steps and scuttling approaching Marble Garden go by unheard even in the silence of the night. The forest is asleep, and not a soul notices the long-haired figure and the creature that accompanies him heading straight for the Treetop Home.

- Found you.

---

It was the dead of the night. A large hound lay motionless by the entrance to the Treetop Home. Basker the Arcanine couldn't bring himself to sleep inside, all by himself, where Levin once slept alongside him, so he opted to stay outside instead; the once-lively and happy Base had become silent and cold ever since the Trainer and all of Basker's friends had left for Kanjohto to become stronger. The sight of that empty house filled the Arcanine with sadness and concern, and even the midnight chill felt more welcoming.

He'd promised Levin and himself that he'd do everything he could to keep the house safe. But in carrying out every chore in Levin's absence, as well as frequently engaging wild Pokemon in the woods to get some training done on his own, Basker felt exhausted. And despite his competence, he never saw it coming this time...
Something woke him up all of a sudden, as if a sharp needle had just penetrated his hind leg. Then, he felt nauseous and his vision, still blurry and adjusting to the lack of sunlight, could only spot a human figure and a large purple insect by his side... both grinning. He realized then that he'd been poisoned in his sleep, and just as he leaped forward to ward off the attackers, a vicious Venoshock wave hit him with tremendous force, sending him flying back into the Base wall and knocking him out cold.

The person smirked and headed for the front door, followed closely by his Pokemon. But just as his hand touched the handle, something caused them to stop. A soundless voice.

YOUR PRESENCE IS UNAUTHORIZED.


The assailants instinctively turned back, alarmed. Behind them stands a blond Trainer dressed in a ragged overcoat, alongside a Metang. Levin Sanders looked at the fallen Basker, then turned to face the duo that attacked the hound. Fierce determination was quickly replaced by a look of disbelief as the Saffron-native recognized the man by the door.

- What are you doing here...


-... Vesper?!

Startled at first, the emerald-haired man suddenly burst into a fit of laughter. He stepped away from the porch and toward Levin, and as he drew closer his grin widened. Levin couldn't help but notice how much he'd grown since back then...
The man called Vesper stood about as tall as Levin himself, and roughly the same age as well. When he finally spoke, his voice was low-pitched and raspy, much like it used to be.

- Look at that. I thought I'd find you inside, but here you are ganging up on me. How's that for hilarious?

His eyes told a different story than Levin remembered. When he last saw Vesper, he was a shy kid with no friends, who kept to himself at all times. This man sounded confident, amused, even leaning towards crazy...

- Long time no see Vesper. Last I heard of you, you were scared of walking into your own house. That doesn't seem to be an issue anymore. How'd you find me, and why did you come here?

- Last I of you, people didn't let you within ten feet of their Pokemon for fear you'd mess something up, and that doesn't seem to be an issue anymore either. Times change, Levin. And so did we. See, there's been talk going on that there was another Sanders walking around making a name for himself. People back home were starting to whisper about Ivan's little brother, and you know me, I had to come see for myself. Oh wait, you don't know me... the current me, at least. Do you?

He was right. Levin had memories of a boy named Vesper, the one kid in class with less friends than him. Much like his own, Vesper's father (his only living relative) didn't let him get a Pokemon until he was older, so the boy spent most of his time alone. Bullied at school and rumored to suffer occasional beatings at the hands of his father, Vesper had it rough during his entire childhood, but was powerless to change any of it. It wasn't until he turned 18 that he fled from home, leaving Saffron City not to be heard from again until a some years later...

- I know who you were. And that Vesper wouldn't dare approach someone else's front door, let alone force his way in. Then again, that Vesper couldn't raise a Drapion or stand up to an Arcanine, even in that cowardly fashion. I remember you went on to have a surprisingly successful Trainer career after you ran away, but never heard from you again for a while after that. And here you are now.

It was true. Years after his disappearance, Vesper had resurfaced on the professional circuit with considerable success, to the surpise of all those who used to know him. He even reached the Pokemon League in Kanto, but for the life of him, Levin couldn't remember what had happened afterwards...

- Oh, I guarantee you've heard from me... it just didn't click. No matter, you'll remember soon enough, and when you do you'll understand why I came all the way to see you! Say, wanna have some fun? I learned how to party hard while I was away... Lemme show you!!

There was an intensity, an eagerness in Vesper's raspy voice that Levin had never heard before. In fact, this was probably the longest he'd ever talked to his old schoolmate, but he was sure this man before him now had nothing to do with that boy from school. Drapion grew restless but Vesper had other plans and reached for a Pokeball in his belt, of which Levin noticed he carried six.

- No, not you, not now. He can't handle you, and I want to savor this moment!

He tossed the device in the air, and after it snapped open, an imposing Ferrothorn materialized. Its armor was full of dents and cracks, indicating it'd endured countless battles, and the way it stared at Levin was discomforting for some reason he couldn't quite pinpoint...

- Still not clicking? No problem, I'll make you remember soon!

Levin didn't expect things to go this way at all. He'd left Fizzy Bubbles on purpose, aiming to become stronger elsewhere, away from prying eyes and the routine he'd grown to in the land he grew to call home. He'd done so with the purpose of being good enough to challenge and defeat the Elite Four, to be the rightful Champion of the land and stand on the same level as legendary Trainers like Red, Steven, Cynthia or Gottfried. He'd done so to beat Kayl Kessler the same way he'd crushed him on his way to Asbel, a defeat so brutal it haunted him to this day. And now it seemed his efforts had finally been noticed, for the first time in his life, on the one moment he wanted to stay off the radar. But Vesper's timing was actually perfect, now that he thought of it - he'd just returned to Fizzy Bubbles, eager to test his newfound power, and this man was raring to see it for himself...

You have no idea what I've become. But I won't keep you waiting either... Zion, you sit this one out too; there are some things he doesn't need to witness.

UNDERSTOOD.

A smile crossed his lips as he realized he could show, and witness, the results of his training. Vesper was right... he did change. He picked a Ball from his belt and tossed it onto the field, In a flash of light his own partner emerged, and seeing it now, Levin immediately remembered everything it had endured during their time in Kanjohto.

- You'll understand me better than anyone when I say this, Vesper: I don't like people. We're selfish and ego-driven, and trust me, I know what I'm talking about. Whether we realize it or not, we're looking out for ourselves first and foremost at all times. We're needy and frail. And worst of all, most of us are every bit as power-hungry as we are powerless. Power and recognition are things I crave with every fiber of my being and have fought for my entire life, and in doing so I came to realize something - by myself, I'm nobody. The ones who fight my battles, who put my name on the map, who offer lend me their strength and protect me, they're the ones that made "Levin Sanders". They're my only true friends, the Pokemon who have accepted to live and journey with me, grow strong by my side and walk my selfish path. And I'm fortunate to have twenty one friends willing to travel down that road with me. This is one of them.

As he spoke, the Pokemon stepped boldly, if slightly groggily, toward Ferrothorn. Red claws up in a unique battle stance, Levin's partner awaited dutifully awaited instructions, clearly eager to let loose the second the order was issued.

- I overlooked him for quite a while. For someone who wanted to be a fighter like the rest, he couldn't stand out in the slightest. He was physically incapable of throwing a punch and had a hard time even walking a straight line. But we saw and experienced things on the other side of the world that would've claimed the lives of many, and our only choice was to endure and fight back. In his incredible resolve to keep everyone safe, he found the ability to transcend past his crippling limitations; no headache and no lack of limbs were enough to keep him down in our daily struggle, and here he is now: my Breloom, Melo!

The http://www.upnetwork.net/fb/sprites/pn286.gif grinned as he remembered. Levin was right; it had taken him every ounce of dedication, every last drop of fighting spirit to get here. He knew from the start that he was easily the weakest of the entire team, especially with the curse of being affected by his own spores. It wasn't until Opal took him under her wing, and practiced with him extensively in the art of resisting the toxins, that he became practically immune to their effects. And with that renewed focus, he was able to train harder than ever, until he found himself warding off groups of poachers by himself. Before he knew it, he'd become strong enough to surpass the limits of his own frail Shroomish body, and all it took was one more fight for the miracle to happen. Now he was a true fighter like the rest, able to hold his own against every other Fighting-Type on the team.

- Fine speech. Don't remember you being so talkative... that ego part's probably right. Let's fix that, shall we Ferrothorn?

The steel pod buried its claws in the ground and started to glow, the armor taking on a brilliant shine as a luminescent sphere formed in front of it. As it readied the Mirror Shot, Melo just smiled. And too fast for anyone who blinked, his arm extended like a whip, delivering a lightspeed Mach Punch square between Ferrothorn's eyes, causing it to lose focus and shoot the Mirror Shot wide into the sky!

As he retracted his claw, Melo winced. Powerful as his punch had been, it had connected with one of his foes Iron Barbs; punching it into submission was going to be painful for both sides, but clearly, Ferrothorn had it worse. Its eyes were briefly glazed over, stunned by the unexpected hit, and the way it wobbled was the image that finally pieced everything together in Levin's mind. Vesper picked up on his shocked expression and burst into another fit of laughter.

- Do you see now? Is it all coming back to you?! Yes, I am that guy!

Levin finally remembered. How could he have forgotten at all...

Vesper had reappeared in the pro leagues around two years after he left Saffron. He was still very much the same shy kid as before, but just like Levin, he'd found the benefits of befriending and raising Pokemon. Where he tried his very hardest to stay away from the spotlight, his Pokemon shone through and carried him to several victories against some of Kanto's finest. He became progressively bolder in his success, and in his later years, he wouldn't just win - he was putting on a show with spectacular performances that had people buzzing. With the abuse he'd suffered as a child, to see someone like him climb the ranks was an inspiration to many spectators, and the once-quiet Vesper gained a strong following. Meanwhile, Levin was starting out in Fizzy Bubbles, so he missed most of his former schoolmate's meteoric ascension.
What he did witness some time later, but had failed to remember until now, was the end of Vesper's career.

- That Ferrothorn... it's the same one from back then, isn't it?

- Oh, absolutely. Glad to see you're picking up on where this leads, Levin!

It was the annual Indigo League. Vesper had made it to the Top 16, and it was him and Ferrothorn against a mysterious man and his Xatu, who would go on to win the whole Tournament.
The crowd was hot for Vesper, who they labelled an eternal underdog. But the opponent was hardly fazed, and disaster struck at one point in the match. Xatu unleashed a Confuse Ray that found its mark, and within seconds, Ferrothorn was pacing groggily around the arena... just like he was after Melo's punch. Vesper, grown confident by the immense support from the Kanto crowds everywhere he went, decided to go all-out regardless and knock out Xatu as soon as possible; in his eagerness to win, "whatever it took", he ordered a Pin Missile, and what followed was nothing short of a catastrophe.
A barrage of spikes rose from Ferrothorn's armor, thousands of needles flying high across the air... but in its confusion, it didn't bother to aim. Like a storm of arrows, the pins flew in all directions, raining down on the panicking crowd. That day, countless people were injured, including the referee. As a result, Vesper was immediately disqualified and kicked out of the League for reckless behavior.
He didn't take it well. With his progressively inflated ego came certain expectations, and he never got over the incident. Both guilt-ridden and frustrated, he quit the professional scene, claiming it was the League's own faulty security measures that cost him his dream. That Levin could recall, nobody ever heard from Vesper again after that, which was why it came as such a shock to see him now, so eager to fight.

- They ruined my dream that day. They took it away, stole my destiny from me when it was their fault to begin with! This was all I had. Battling, winning... It's all I was ever good at. But if I can't have that, if I'm not allowed to go as far as I could... I'll crush your dreams like they crushed mine!

That last oath, that last venomous promise, made Levin's eyes widen as he finally saw everything clearly. He'd heard that claim before; he'd seen this all before. A Trainer whose sole purpose in life was to defeat and humiliate the hottest prospects of every League and official Tournament, only to immediately withdraw from the competition himself. A man whose single greatest joy was to rob promising battlers of their dreams, more so than actually winning any tournaments of his own. The dream crusher... "Career Killer" Gant?!

Levin's heart was racing. The green-haired in front of him, once little more than an afterthought and the butt of all jokes, turned phenomenal Trainer with a tragic ending... could he really have changed into that terrifying man that haunted Professional Leagues the world over?

- There you go, now you're seeing it! So now, for the sake of clarification... Say my name.

- ... Vesper Gant.

- You're goddamn right.

With that, Ferrothorn suddenly shifted its focus, ready to engage again, but aiming somewhere Melo took a while to realize. When the iron pod unleashed a barrage of Pin Missiles into the sky, it was obvious it wasn't aiming for the Breloom at all... and it wasn't until the wave arched and came crashing down that Levin understood: those hundreds of needles were intended for him!

It all happened too fast. The Saffron-native could do nothing but instinctively shield his face with his arms, futile as that would be. But when only a couple of pins pierced his pants, grazing the skin underneath, he mustered the courage to open his eyes, intrigued by his unlikely survival... only to find Melo selflessly shielding him, his body stabbed by countless needles. And a couple of seconds later, the Breloom lost his balance and landed flat on his face, completely unconscious.

- First blood. Now, please tell me that wasn't the best you got, it was hardly worth the trip!

Levin stood in shock, gazing at Melo lying motionless on the ground. He... saved him! If the Breloom hadn't stepped in at the last second, was Vesper really willing to go all the way with his attack? Or did he lure Melo in on purpose? Either way... what kind of monster did Vesper turn into?!

And Zion... it didn't even try to protect me, it just stood there! It doesn't care at all, it can't care. For all the knowledge in the world, he still knows nothing of emotions...

- Come on Lev, best of three then. Here, I'll even let you see my next Pokemon beforehand... well, kinda like the first time, but that didn't seem to help.

Grinning all the while, Vesper recalled his Ferrothorn and replaced it with a second Pokemon from his belt - this time, the creature that materialized... was a red-eyed Glalie!

A shiny Pokemon?!

Levin, still stunned by the sudden turn of events, returned the heavily-injured Melo to his Ball and addressed his opponent before making his choice. He'd started the battle off full of confidence in his newfound skills, but right now, continuing this match was the last thing he wanted.

- Why me Vesper? Of all the world-class Trainers in Fizzy Bubbles and Asbel... why come after me?!

- Because you, like every other punk kid in Saffron back then, didn't give a damn about me. Just like all of them, you didn't think I could hang, you thought I was a pitiful, lonely boy who would never amount to anything in life. You stood by and watched me suffer, so you get special treatment! I didn't get to your brother in time... but your dreams are mine to crush.

Levin understood. Not Vesper's deranged logic, but his motivation anyway. And although the Career Killer's spotlight of choice was always the big tournaments, he was quick to realize that Vesper was just looking to halt his rise to the top, putting a hamper on his growing motivation. This was Vesper's way of letting Levin know he'd be watching... but he wouldn't take this lying down!

- You resent me for not helping you back then? But you're right. You were a worthless piece of crap, and the only person I've ever looked out for is myself. I made it on my own, and so did you, but picking a fight with me is not something you want to do... not anymore, not at my current level!

His hand reached for a Christmas Ball, which he tossed into the air.

- I faced my own share of adversities over the last years. I grew into someone very different from back in the day, just like you. Just recently, I found myself in more near-death experiences than I could count, lost in a land without hope or morals. I almost caved, but I had someone to pick me back up every time I fell - a dear friend of mine, who was once so scared of failing he couldn't even move without my reassurance. But he came through for me and everyone else, and through those hardships he became the anchor that held all of us in place. And in keeping all of us safe and level-headed, when everyone else was about to give up, he finally achieved his own potential! I don't know if you can say that about any of yours, but I'd trust my very life to this Pokemon.

The Ball snapped open, and the Pokemon within materialized in front of Vesper's Glalie. Four large, heavy paws landed on the grassy floor supporting a huge frame while a familiar soothing scent filled the clearing.

- My partner for this battle: Bud!

At that moment, Basker started to come to. His eyes took a while to regain full focus and his body ached all over, but he still managed to glance over to the battlefield trying to realize what happened. And in doing so, he laid eyes on his Trainer! Levin was back! But for some reason, he was battling a green-haired man's Glalie in front of their home... And his partner, was that Bud?! He looked so different than before! Lush grass seemed to sprout everywhere he stepped, his body was much larger and more imposing, and the flower on his back had blossomed! More importantly, despite the foe he was about to face, he'd never seen the Grass-Type exude such tranquility, as if his own absolute peace of mind radiated onto those around him... was this the result of their training?

The http://www.upnetwork.net/fb/sprites/pn003.gif just smiled lazily as he stared Glalie dead in the eye, unfazed by the enemy's innate advantage. Whatever it could do, they'd faced worse in Kanjohto and made it out fine; this would be no different. Levin could only smile himself as he contemplated the drastic transformation from the Bud of old; back when he was a Bulbasaur, he lived tormented by the idea of letting his Trainer down after the crazy investment Levin made to get him; it wasn't until he realized Levin's true feelings, during a battle with Solair at the Friend Safari, that Bud was able to partially let go of his anguish... and now here he was, a beacon of hope and serenity who guided them all through their training in Kanjohto - a creature so completely at peace with himself and the world that he radiated an almost contagious sense of tranquility. Levin could've easily chosen a Fighting-Type to handle Vesper's Glalie, but right now, it was his time to show something to the Career Killer!

- That whole speech and you send out that one? If you're trying to prove a point, I'll have to cut you off right there. Glalie, put it to rest with a Blizzard, whatever it takes!

Again the familiar phrase, which all but meant Vesper's Pokemon had permission to do whatever it wanted, so long as it won. Regardless of who they injured in the process... And sure enough, a tree-bending, blood-chilling gale started blowing instantly, carrying millions of ice crystals that pelted Levin's skin and burned on touch from the intense cold.
A particularly strong mass of freezing air then emanated from the shiny Glalie, heading straight for Bud and Levin, causing the latter to close his eyes instinctively. But when freezing death didn't come, he gazed at the field of battle once more, to find Bud mostly unharmed behind the light pink shielding of Light Screen!

- Way to go Bud! Our turn now...

Bud grinned, buried his claws in the grassy field and roared as hundreds of leaves materialized and swirled around him.

- Leaf Storm!

The leaves gathered and spiraled forward, creating a hurricane-like mass of grass energy that went crashing right into Glalie, knocking it to the ground hard! The red-eyed Ice-Type floated back up, hovering precariously above the floor, heavily wounded. Rage began to take over and blades of grass beneath it suddenly turned into icy crystals, frozen completely by the energy it began to emanate.

- Big mistake Levin! You went and made it mad! Now I can't be held accountable when it kills your Venusaur with, say... Sheer Cold!!

The entire field was suddenly covered in frost, as if they'd been transported to Cascadia's Glacier Island. And in the blink of an eye, an icy prison emerged from the ground and swallowed Bud whole, trapping him in a gigantic crystal, threatening to freeze him to the core!

Saw that coming a mile away Vesper. I got you all figured out by now.

Vesper's grin widened each second Bud remained frozen inside Glalie's death trap. The absolute-zero cold could kill anything subjected to it long enough... but Levin wasn't the least bit worried.

- Nice try, but you don't know who you're dealing with here... I'll show you!

A loud shattering sound filled the clearing and a million ice shards flew in all directions. Bud stood smiling among the crystal shower, eyes locked firmly on Glalie's blood-red ones.

- W-what?!

- No amount of cold can freeze his resolve. Think I chose my partner poorly? It's the best one I could've picked.

Six thick vines emerged from Bud's large frame and shot forward, wrapping around Glalie and binding it helplessly. They'd trained this move a hundred times, but Vesper would only get to see it once.

- Pull it in for Double Edge!

The Venusaur retracted his Vine Whip, dragging Glalie along, and took a running start at the same time; when the foe was in range, he unwrapped it and rammed into it with all his strength, resulting in most of Glalie's ice armor to crack loudly and sending it flying back into a tree! After colliding with the trunk, the shiny Pokemon tumbled to the ground, unconscious, causing Vesper to curse under his breath and recall it.

- That makes us even. I hope you see now, I'm not going to let you break me. Now leave!

- Leave?! Oh, that won't do at all. See, I heard about a proud Trainer who took after his brother and burned with the desire to surpass everyone! Would that man really settle for a draw? Come on now Levin...

- What you do isn't battle. Beating someone like you proves nothing.

- And yet losing to someone like me would mean everything! Just imagine, a Sanders beaten at the hands of the lawless Career Killer! You'd cease to be relevant, you'd be nothing more than a number in my book. And yet you already lost one fight... Tell me that hint of doubt isn't eating away at you! Come on, put it to rest once and for all!

He's right. I trained harder than ever in Kanjohto; when I came back, I felt like I could take on the world! My next goal was to fight the Elite Four and cement my legacy. But Vesper, of all people, is giving me trouble?! Granted, Melo could beat his Ferrothorn in a clean fight, but it doesn't change the fact that we lost. And if I back out now... what does that make of me?

- ... Let's end this. Bud, great job, take a rest. Ready to show me what your Drapion can do?

Vesper again burst into a fit of laughter, much more high-pitched than his usual raspy tone. He was loving every second of it, and Levin knew he was playing into the Career Killer's hands, but he had a point to prove. Bud had shown the man wasn't unbeatable, and one more victory was all he needed to move on with his life.

- Excellent! One more round of fun. Things went well for you just now, so because you were nice enough to humor me, I'll even let you pick against me one more time! But no, not Drapion... not this time.

Vesper tossed a Fast Ball, and the creature inside took its place on the battlefield upon emerging, flying above the frozen grass. Levin couldn't help but raise an eyebrow at his opponent's last choice: a Beedrill?

Is this a joke? Even my mother could raise a Beedrill. What's he up to?...

He brought two fingers to his lips and whistled; after a short while, the sound of wings flapping was heard.

- This one's been dying to show what he can do in a real match. He grew the most out of all my partners while we were gone, so don't bother to hold back when you see him. Your turn, Solair!

The tiny Fletchling landed on Levin's shoulders, chirping happily at the chance to finally show the result of his training. Ever since Bud had beaten him, he'd devoted his time to honing his skills - Solair valued honor above all else, and felt the obligation to redeem himself after his defeat against a Grass-Type.

Vesper looked genuinely curious while he gazed at the robin.

- Look at that... a Kalos Pokemon! I wonder whose boots you had lick for that one. It's something you've always been good at.

Levin didn't answer but smiled as he remembered Chantelle and their journey across the Friend Safari. It was quite the experience to travel with the Kalosian, especially by the end, but he wouldn't grace Vesper with the details.

- Solair isn't just a Kalos Pokemon. He was the first Fletchling brave enough to migrate to Fizzy Bubbles, and much more than your average bird. I'll show you!

- Oh, I got something to show you as well... if you last that long! This'll be fun. Beedrill, rip its wings to shreds with Twineedle!

Not even gonna wait until he flies off my shoulder? You're becoming predictable.

Solair immediately dashed forward at unbelievable speed, no more than a red blur to the human eye, and Pecked Beedrill's abdomen before it could even react. He flew upwards and dove back down, pelting Beedrill once more, then a third time, flying circles around it all the while.

- Catch up to him with Agility to match his speed, then stab him until he stops moving!!

With a sudden burst of speed, Beedrill almost vanished from sight itself, and now all that could be seen was a red speckle battling a yellow one in the night sky.

- Solair, time to get serious. Use your own Agility and strike it down with Flame Charge!!

A burst of flames briefly lit up the darkness as the Fletchling rammed into Beedrill. The wasp came crashing down to the floor while Solair stood above it, both fighters visible for the first time since the match started as they finally slowed down the pace. Beedrill struggled to get back up, but Solair had his sights on the insect; the second it even thought of taking flight again, he'd smite it with another Flame Charge for good - despite their size difference, the robin was in complete control.

- That's pretty good! Never seen a bird fight like that. Damn fine luck of yours to have caught it. You've earned the right to see what we can do!

Vesper reached for the inside of his shirt and pulled out a necklace. Its pendant was a multicolored crystal, a sphere of some sort. It suddenly started to glow, and so did something strapped to the Beedrill's abdomen that Levin had failed to notice before in the dark of the night. On closer inspection, he realized it was a similar sphere attached to a leather belt... and as it shone, Beedrill began to change!

- What the...?!

The wasp grew larger, as did its needle arms; its stinger became longer and sharper, and the whole creature mutated slightly to become more aerodynamic and a hell of a lot scarier.

- Oh, you've never heard of this? This is priceless! The look on your face... why else did you think I'd send out a Beedrill?

As if sensing Levin's utter confusion, Zion was quick to provide an explanation. A concept Levin had never heard of before.

MEGA EVOLUTION. THE ULTIMATE FORM A POKEMON CAN ACHIEVE.

A new form of evolution?! How did he miss this? This... changed everything!

- Rip it apart!

Mega Beedrill suddenly vanished from sight; not even the yellow blur from before could be seen - this new form moved faster than the human eye could track. All that was left to see was Fletchling be struck out of the sky and plunge into the ground below after a lightspeed hit from behind. And with Solair still trying to pick himself back up, the foe reappeared, hovering right in front of it... and pierced each of the bird's wings with its Twineedle, drilling a hole in each of them as the stingers buried into the ground beneath.

The gruesome sight was too much for Levin to bear; Solair screamed in pain while blood stained Beedrill's iron needles as it kept the Fletchling pinned to the ground. The foe's larger drill was raised, a Fell Stinger aimed straight at Solair's torso... until the Saffron-native recalled his partner in a hurry, sheltering him in the safety of his Safari Ball.

- I give up! Enough... You win.

Again the maddening laughter filled the clearing. Beedrill somehow returned to its previous form, unlike a normal evolution would, and was soon recalled as well while Vesper struggled to catch his breath after his latest hysterical fit.

- That was glorious, wasn't it? Don't worry though, I'm pretty sure it'll heal up... some day!

Levin felt a thirst for revenge he'd never experience before. And not even for the loss itself, tainted as it was, but the unprecedented harm done to his dear friends.

-... He will. And next time we meet... he'll burn you to ashes!

- Oh, you're completely right, we will meet again! This time all I did was wound you so you wouldn't soar too high - a reminder that I'm out there, waiting to prey on you. Remember this: neither of us went all out this time, but when we see each other again it'll be in the venues where I do business - the Pro League - and I will kill your career permanently. And that time, I'll take special enjoyment out of it too - crushing the dreams of a childhood acquaintance has such a special taste! Meanwhile wear this scar, and whenever you feel elated about a victory...remember who did this to you.

He walked by Levin, Drapion following close behind, and mockingly tapped the Saffron-native on the shoulder, grinning all the while. Levin said nothing, but the sight of Solair's pierced wings burned vividly in his mind, as it would for years to come.

Next time, I'll make you suffer. I won't forget this Vesper... I'll be the one preying on you!

As the pair disappeared into the woods, Levin walked over to Basker, ran a hand through his fur and apologized for the prolonged absence.

- I'm sorry I didn't get here sooner... But I'm here now. I'll make it up to you, I promise! I just... wish I could've shown you how much we've all grown. This... I wasn't ready for this.

Just like I wasn't ready for Kayl that one time. But I'll beat them both, I have to! I'll harness the power of this Mega Evolution myself... and I'll surpass them all!

He gazed at the Safari Ball in his hand, guilt-ridden for having put Solair in harm's way like that. Not even Min's Softboiled would be able to mend his wings... only specialized care at a Pokemon Center would nurse him back to full health. A trip back to the city was in order... for a number of reasons.

I'm not holding back anymore. From now on, there will be no pulling punches, no secret weapons; Solair and Melo were injured because I was overconfident. It's time to show everyone what we're really all about! Vesper, Kayl, Elite Four... I'm coming for you.

He called out three Pokemon from the confines of their Balls: Dux the Machoke, Rook the Rhydon and the massive Oro, the Shiny Onix. They all knew what this meant - they just didn't know Levin was making his move so soon.

- We're taking the world by storm guys. No hiding anymore; we'll let them all see what you can become. Let's get going!

He recalled Basker, also in need of medical attention, and turned to head back into town, Zion floating close by. Not two steps later, a voice echoed in his head, but this time it wasn't the Metang's.

Master.

Levin stopped immediately. When this one spoke, it was always worth listening. He reached for his Luxury Ball and summoned the resident within; in a matter of moments, Mazo the Lucario appeared.

- Mazo... what is it?

Before we go... This loss. What does it mean to you?

- Not now... please. Mazo, I was crushed on my first match back. Melo and Solair are severely injured. What do you think it meant to me?!

The turning point. Much more than any amount of training - this defeat changes everything.

Levin found himself reminiscing. The first time he ever heard Mazo speak was due to Kamui's incredible power - inside the Golduck's mind, the Lucario was temporarily able to reach his full potential and talk to Levin. And it wasn't until years later, after days on end of strenuous training in the Kanjohto wastelands, that Levin would hear from Mazo again. But when he finally spoke to him through his own unlocked powers, Levin knew Mazo had finally transcended into an incredibly powerful being. That enlightenment came with the full mastery of Aura, and from then on the two of them grew even closer.

- You mean because I found myself an enemy?

Because you found yourself a fire that wasn't burning before. Ambition alone never took you very far... but you learned a lesson today. You learned what can happen if you're anything less than the best you can be. Solair and Melo paid a price you will never let them, or anyone else, ever pay again. Consider this your own awakening.

He was right. He wasn't just feeling angry or guilty - he felt wiser. Through his deranged antics, the Career Killer actually showed him something he'd been blind to all this time - no matter how fun it could be, battling wasn't a game, certainly not just a contest. In battle, both people and Pokemon could get injured or worse, and it was his obligation to make sure that didn't happen. He saw everything clearly for the first time since the start of his journey - along with his lofty ambitions came a growing responsibility of protecting those he depended on to realize his dream.

You're about ready now. When you've fulfilled your tasks in town, I'll show you something - I sense the aura of several powerful Pokemon you should be able to raise now, with your newfound power and wisdom. They will prove challenging, sometimes dangerous, but their Auras are not something to be ignored. Your new life as a Trainer begins now, in the wake of this defeat. Let's make the most of it... all of us.

Levin just smiled and nodded. He'd welcome these new challenges; if it meant more capable fighters for his team, he'd do whatever it took. Especially since some failures were still fresh in his mind - he was close to redemption with Ryker, but creatures he could never control, like the dreaded Veiss, still represented failures in his path to greatness. He took to the city, with all this in mind, and determined to show all of Fizzy Bubbles a Levin Sanders they'd never seen before. And when the day came, that one man would be the first to crumble under the full extent of his power.


Vesper Gant... you won't have to wait long.

MarbleZone 03-22-2015 04:16 PM

It was almost lunch time and Levin was still in his room. He hadn’t even changed yet; he sat on the edge of the bed, lost in thought after a particularly touching dream.

I thought I got over them.

He’d dreamed of his parents. It had been three years since he last saw them after he left home to pursue his dream. Both had been adamantly against his decision, having already lost Ivan during his own journey, but Levin refused to listen – the longer he and Min stayed in that broken home, the more oppressed he felt.

He resented his mother and father alike for the way they reacted to Ivan’s death. Sadness, mourning, he understood all of that – to this day, he couldn’t put into words what his elder’s brother’s passing had meant to him. But in their sorrow, they failed to remember they still had a son who needed them; they weren’t the pillars of strength he needed the most as a child – if anything, it was a still-infant Levin who tried his best to snap his parents out of their profound depression. And when they finally realized they’d been neglecting their only remaining child, it was much too late. By then, Levin had already packed his things and was on his way out, and no amount of begging or crying would change his mind.

They should’ve been there for me. I needed them when Ivan died, and they gave in to their own anguish instead. Had it been the other way around, had it been me in that cave-in at Victory Road, I wonder how they’d have reacted – it’s no secret they cared for Ivan the most.

So why is was that he’d dream about them, the mother and father he’d long left behind, three years later? It was as clear a dream as he’d ever had, not the usual deep-slumber nonsense he could hardly ever remember the following morning. This was different, coherent… nostalgic.

It had portrayed mostly his youth; an amalgam of memories from his early years spent in Saffron City, where he’d been born and lived all of his infancy. But his complexion wasn’t that of a regular Kanto native – his blonde hair and hazel eyes were a typical northern trait, because that’s where his mother’s family hailed from. His mother was a renowned Berry Farmer from the coldest land in the Pokemon world, the Heiml Region. Located far to the north of Kanto, it was a land of hardy, stubborn men and women, and his mother fit the mold to perfection. She was able to maintain berry fields during terrible hailstorms like it was nothing, and often credited her mentor, Mr. Vaughn Roth, with teaching her everything she knew about agriculture.
She met his would-be father in her hometown, while the latter was carrying out a POLT assignment in Heiml to gather intel on a gemstone traffic baron. As a result, Ivan was born in Heiml shortly before the end of the mission; the family took residence in Heiml for a few years before being forced to move back to his father’s homeland of Saffron City, Kanto, where Levin would be born, on the day of Volcarona’s arrival in the morning sky.

His father had been mostly absent during his childhood, constantly being assigned to missions abroad. Most of his time was spent with Ivan and their mother, hearing stories about Heiml and its people. Ivan told him everything he knew about the incredible northern Trainers and how he planned to return to Heiml after winning the Kanto League. Levin once thought of heading there himself, but after realizing how far behind Ivan he was, eventually dropped the thought. This dream reawakened that lingering idea.

Not until I’ve beaten Tess, Arnold, Stacey and Stark. But once I do…

His mother had actually met some of Heiml’s Elite Four, who were close friends with her teacher Vaughn. She often talked about the Champion, Gottfried, an imposing man with no sense of humor but a heart of gold hidden between layers of stoicism and strictness. She also talked about Elite Four’s Drago, an equally sullen man of few words who only Vaughn had managed to befriend; of Drago, Ivan described a Trainer who had only ever been defeated once, by Gottfried himself – to the point where he became known as “God’s Gatekeeper”, through whom nobody passed except with Gottfried’s permission. It made no sense to Levin back then; if nobody could defeat the Elite Four, why would the Champion agree to face them anyway? Overtime he realized that skill goes hand-in-hand with respect, and that the best Trainers aren’t necessarily the ones that win all the time, but those that everyone admires. Gottfried must have understood that a long time ago.

It’s almost inconceivable that monsters like those exist. Pros who cannot be defeated…

The dream stirred a number of feelings inside the young man’s soul. Seeing his parents again, reliving all the happy moments he’d spent with his family, forced him to remember the dark times that followed, and the disdain he felt for his parents since then. But the storytelling sessions of his infant years also reminded him of the fascination he felt every time he heard about the legends of Heiml’s League – Gottfried’s Royal Six, Drago ‘s “War Axe” Jaeger, Bernhardt’s fire mastery, Brunhilde’s warriors and Harold’s heavenly companions.

He finally mustered the will to get up and head outside. Fresh air would do him some good. He was grateful for some of the memories he’d just unearthed, but some others should have remained buried. He didn’t want to miss home or the parents who’d neglected him; above all, he didn’t want to miss Ivan again, now that he’d finally come to terms with everything that happened.

As soon as he stepped outside into the morning sunlight, he noticed something was amiss, snapping him back to reality. Contrary to every morning since he left the Friend Safari, there was no chirping and no familiar red speckle in the sky, basking in the Sun’s warmth. Solair was missing.

-----

Blessed sunlight shone through the leaves, but the forest itself was still mostly cold and unwelcoming. This was darkness’s realm, and he was a lone servant of the light. But he had something to prove – both to Levin and, above all, to himself.

Solair the Fletchling had left Marble Garden at the break of dawn. He couldn’t sleep for several days now, haunted by memories of his battle against Vesper’s Mega Beedrill and the ultimate humiliation he’d endured at their hands. Wings pierced and will shattered, the bird had been left scarred and traumatized since – and although his wings had been fixed by the Pokemon Center’s miraculous healing contraptions, not even that kind of technology had managed to erase the pain he felt each time he relived those moments.

Since meeting Levin, he’d been embarrassed twice – first against Bud in the Friend Safari, and then against Vesper. He’d accumulated victories over all kinds of foes during their training in Kanjohto, but with such pitiful displays at such critical moments… what did Levin really think of him? He’d sworn fealty to the man, holding him in almost as high regard as he did the Sun itself… but he’d brought Levin nothing but shame and loss when he needed him the most.

The Fletchling braved the dangerous woods surrounding the Secret Base with a very clear goal in mind – face his fears and conquer them, so that he’d never let Levin down again. So that next time he faced Vesper’s Mega Pokemon, the outcome would be different.
He scoured his surroundings as he went, flying for hours across the forest, until he finally found what he’d been looking for. Dangling from a nearby branch, a huge hollowed nest tilted in the morning breeze. A Beedrill hive.

Solair had to find a place to land and catch his breath – not that he was tired, but the idea of coming face-to-face with another one of those wasps made him tremble in fear. Memories of the two cold needles piercing his flesh and pinning him to the ground kept surfacing, like he was going through it over and over again. But that’s what he came here to overcome, the weakness he had to conquer, or he’d never be of any use to Levin again.
Just as he was struggling to take flight again, a familiar buzzing sound came from within the nest. A yellow and black-striped body emerged from the hive, and Solair found two angry red eyes staring straight at him… Beedrill in this forest were highly territorial and aggressive, and when it raised its two needles and dashed toward him, the Fletchling was certain this one was no exception.

But no matter how hard he tried, his body wouldn’t move. Paralyzed by fear, he passively stood by and let Beedrill’s left needle slash the outside of his wing, causing him to lose his footing and fall from his perch, crashing into several branches on the way down until his body met the floor. But the pain was welcome – it surpassed fear, and in turn transformed into thirst for revenge. Solair glared up at the attacker, briefly forgetting the reason for his earlier panic; it was an enemy of his cause, and had to go!
Fighting spirit renewed, flames engulfed his body and Solair rose like a phoenix into the air once again. His blistering speed caught the Beedrill off-guard, allowing Solair to strike with a powerful Flame Chargeto the wasp’s chest!

Solair watched while the Beedrill’s body was engulfed in fire and it fell from the sky, much like it’d happened to him seconds earlier. But before the Fletchling could capitalize, louder buzzing was heard coming from the hive, before two more Beedrill emerged to join the fight
The pair rushed at the bird, but his increased speed allowed him to nimbly dodge their charge and rise even higher, almost past the trees themselves. As he did, he pondered on his situation. He’d come into this forest expecting to surpass his recent fear of Beedrill, but couldn’t bring himself to react when faced with a real one. And yet, all it took was mild damage to fuel his resolve… and now he was battling a whole swarm without a hint of fear. He’d been constructing the image of a savage killer in his mind all this time, wondering if he’d ever be able to face another one of these wasps again… but now he understood. The Beedrill that almost crippled him permanently was different, and much stronger, but even then not the one he should seek revenge on. It was Vesper.

The Career Killer was single-handedly responsible for shattering Levin’s confidence and piercing Solair’s wings; Mega Beedrill was a pawn in his hands. The one to suffer should be Vesper – and all the time he spent twisting the image of a regular opponent into a terrifying creature, he should have been focusing on getting stronger to destroy the man that had caused so much harm! And these Beedrill before him now… would be no more than stepping stones toward that purpose!

All three Beedrill homed in on Solair once again, tackling him at the same time, needles glowing in the morning sunlight that pierced through the leaves. But the Fletchling’s determination was unwavering – he refused to be beaten here, or to lose to the same Pokemon twice. Never again would a Beedrill defeat him! Cloaked in fire once more, he dove down like a flaming meteor to meet the Beedrill, and easily powered through them, setting each one ablaze in his wake.
He turned around in midair, preparing to strike again… but suddenly the flames were replaced by a powerful glow! Solair remained oblivious to the ongoing phenomenon, picking up speed once more and rising to meet his weakened foes. As the light shone brighter, his body grew in size as well, and it kept climbing faster and faster. When the glimmer subsided, the red arrow flying across the air at break-neck speed was no longer a small Fletchling, but an elegant http://www.upnetwork.net/fb/sprites/pn662.gif leaving behind a trail of embers!

Bright-colored flames once again erupted around Solair at the last second, and when the phoenix-fire clashed with the three Beedrill, it exploded in a spectacle of light. The unconscious bodies of the three wasps tumbled to the ground, and it was only when his enemies were vanquished that Solair realized the miraculous transformation that had occurred. He smiled, looking down upon the three Beedrill as they scurried back inside their hive. Today he’d been the ray of light in the darkness that Levin deserved to see more often – but thanks to this new form, his light would be able to shine on the man he swore to serve much more brightly.
The battle had served its purpose – he’d conquered his fears, refocused his drive to beat the true enemy, and attained a new level of power for Levin to command. No doubt Vesper would also be stronger the next time they fought, so it’d be Solair’s obligation to aim even higher from now on; there was still one more step towards enlightenment, and under the Sun’s watchful gaze, he was sure he’d attain it soon.

From the shadows, a black lion watched in silence with a faint smile. Ryker the Luxray, who lived away from the rest of the team, patrolled the forest grounds often – and despite his insistence otherwise, he grew to care about the Pokemon who ventured inside in their quest to become stronger for Levin’s sake. This time, his aid hadn’t been necessary, so he quietly returned to the darkness of the woods.

MarbleZone 04-21-2015 07:56 PM

Levin opened the bag he'd just received earlier from Stark of the Elite Four. The contents fell on the grassy floor by the entrance to his Treetop Base, a glimmering rock radiating flame energy... a rare, elusive Fire Stone.

How appropriate that it came from someone so skilled in the art of Fire. I intend to make the most of this...

He couldn't really explain it though. Why he was so adamant about getting such an item, no matter the cost, when he'd usually be much more conservative about his investments. Something compelled him to do it, but more importantly, to do it regardless of Nyx's vehement protests. The Gengar's apprehension was palpable, and he should know better than to ignore a millennia-old creature, but for some reason he did...

I can't explain it, but it feels like it's something I just have to do... much as I hate to put it this way, something I was destined to do. I can't fight this feeling, no matter how much Nyx begs me to stop!

He knew exactly what to do. And when his hand touched the Pokeball on his belt, he also realized exactly who led him to do it. The one whose Aura was a perfect match for his own, intertwined in his, as Mazo said... Katsune
In a flash of light, the cheerful-looking Vulpix emerged and immediately nudged Levin's leg affectionately. But as soon as it sensed the magic radiating from the nearby Fire Stone, it shifted its attention to the rock and instinctively approached it, intrigued.

Just then, the Daughter of the First Night emerged from the ground and pleaded with the Saffron-native yet again. The Gengar was no longer just apprehensive - Nyx was downright terrified, for the first time since Levin met her, and it just didn't suit her character at all...

Levin, you have to stop this right now! Please, I beg you!! Keep that dreadful creature away from the stone! You... you can't do this to me! Please don't let him come back, or I'll be -

Nyx's final attempt was cut short. The second Katsune approached the Fire Stone, the latter exploded in a blinding burst of light which engulfed the small Vulpix and caused the Gengar to shriek and cover her eyes. The glow from the shards and that of Katsune's own transforming body became one, a mass of light that swirled and grew until finally stabilized and subsided. The Fire Stone was gone, and in Vulpix's stead, at the center of a circle of burning grass, was Katsune in his new glorious form - a golden http://www.upnetwork.net/fb/sprites/pn038.gif!

The Ninetales slowly turned his deep red eyes to Levin, and a calm, soothing, almost melodic voice rang in his head. Was this part of Katsune's new power?!

Levin Sanders... Eld's Chosen One. The human bearing the blessing of the First Dawn, protegé of the Old Sun. I am the harbinger of Eld; I prepare its return, purging away the darkness of this world... you and I are intertwined by our common fates - both children of Light, worthy of Eld's trust. You have awakened my dormant powers... now I must do what is expected of me.

Katsune howled, and the clouds above vanished. Intense sunlight filled the clearing, and Levin was forced to watch the following events unravel beyond his control. A Pokeball and Snow Ball detached from his belt on their own and hovered toward Katsune; they snapped open, causing the Pokemon within to materialize - Wicca the Seedot and Skuld the Snorunt.

This is the Age of Light; there is no place on this Earth for servants of the arcane Darkness. With the passing of the First Night, the primordial shadow embodied as Gengar, the Age of Dark ended and Eld's rule was unopposed. You are remnants of that era, creatures unwelcome in the light of day - old lost souls of a time long past. I am tasked with preparing the return of the Lord Eld, the First Dawn, and it is my duty to smite the darkness from this land. Seeds of the Age of Dark... begone, by the will of the Light I serve!

Nyx's pleas, her desperate attempts to prevent him from getting Katsune back, and then begging him to stop seeking the Fire Stone... it all made sense now. She knew Katsune as servant of the Volcarona from his youth! She knew he could find her one day... and Levin led him straight to her.

White, cleansing flames swirled from the ground up, holy Fire Spins that engulfed each of the three Pokemon individually. Nyx was the aeon-old daughter of the First Night, Skuld an ancient spirit of ice and death, burdened with the curse of freezing all life around her, and Wicca was even older than her, having cheated death countless times by manipulating darkness and light to allow him to revive eternally. All three of them abominations of the realm of shadows in the eyes of Katsune, Harbinger of Eld and apparently his paladin...

The Fire Spins swallowed their victims, the white flames burning them away until only three glimmering orbs remained in their place, hovering above the ground. There was a deafening silence that told Levin what he already suspected - there was no life in those fire spheres anymore... Nyx was gone, as were Skuld and Wicca. Katsune single-handedly saw to their execution...
He'd failed to notice before, but when the white orbs traveled toward Katsune, Levin realized the Ninetales only had six tails, just as the Vulpix did before evolving. But only for a minute - the Fire-Type swallowed the three orbs in succession, and with each one he devoured, a new tail sprouted! And when all the spheres were consumed, Katsune's tails... were finally nine.

Of their characters I know not. But this is a world of life, a land for Man and Pokemon to coexist under the watchful eye of Arceus and with the blessing of the Sun. These three souls should never have lasted past the age when darkness ruled. It is my duty to cleanse the world of stray souls who Giratina has yet to reclaim, leaving this world free for the living to roam. But such a task is mine alone, Chosen One of Eld... this particular burden does not weigh on your shoulders, even if our fates are linked. Your duty is different altogether - all I ask is that you welcome Eld into your family once destiny deems it appropriate that you should find one another again. Raise the First Dawn again, restore the glory it once had and reap the benefits of power that comes with the deed... Please Levin Sanders, the world needs Eld's light once more.

The Saffron-native couldn't bring himself to speak. He just witnessed three of his dear friends disappear forever, and he led this "harbinger of Eld" to them... But how could he have known? More importantly, why did he, in the deep recesses of his soul... actually agree with Katsune?

Because he's right... some creatures have no place in the world of the living. Nyx was trapped in that Gardevoir's Dream World, fighting her for all eternity, until I brought her out; Skuld's instincts drove her away from society until her curse led her to freeze herself away, but I forced her into the human world, intent on "curing" her, "changing" her; Wicca had been cheating death for generations by manipulating dark magic. But did they really have to be destroyed?...

In stunned silence, he recalled the Ninetales he unwittingly brought into existence. It'd be a long time before he truly came to terms with what just happened... three of his friends were now gone, apparently by will of the one Pokemon he'd been seeking out for years now - Eld the Volcarona. Was it worth the price?...

MarbleZone 04-26-2015 06:28 PM

Levin absent-mindedly gazed at the Ninetales taking in the warmth of sunlight by the clearing in front of his Base. Ever since absorbing the essences of Nyx, Skuld and Wicca, Katsune's mental voice was never heard again, and it instead behaved like a regular Pokemon - docile, obedient, devoted. Not that it wasn't the case before... but the fox made it exceedingly clear that it served Eld and the sun, which made it impossible for him to coexist with darkness, and the way he effectively got rid of three of his friends without a second thought was still a very vivid memory.

I know I can trust him, he and I share an identical Aura; Katsune would never let me down, and yet I can't seem to place my full trust in him... He killed Nyx. It might have been his destiny to do so, but even so! I... I despise the occult, Ghosts and Dark-Types were never my interest to own or understand, and maybe in a way, Katsune's soul resonates with my own in that aspect, but...

He felt exceedingly conflicted. Despite never truly understanding them or their nature, he grew fond of Nyx, Skuld and Wicca each in their own way. Perhaps he blamed himself for knowing that, deep down, he'd never be able to connect with them as he did with the others, possibly a side effect of being exposed to Eld's light for so long as a newborn - maybe, just maybe, he would never be in tune with darkness of any kind. Maybe he really was a soul of light, like Katsune implied...

He was snapped out of his musings by the unmistakable touch of his signature Pokemon. Mazo the Lucario bowed apologetically for interrupting his train of thought, but revealed he carried an important message.

The Emperor's Aura is shifting.

While at first he didn't understand the meaning, he soon picked up on Mazo's urgency; only one Pokemon peaked the Lucario's interest like this. Haou the Meditite, who Mazo always theorized would become his greatest rival upon reaching his full potential. Could it be?...

He walked outside and called out to Leon, his kindhearted Ralts. The Psychic-Type materialized next to him, and Levin dropped to one knee to deliver the news.

- Something special might be about to happen, and I think you'll enjoy watching it. I need you to take us to where Haou is training... could you do that for me, Leon?

Confused but excited at the same time, the Ralts acquiesced. Levin placed a hand on Leon's head and the other on Mazo's shoulder... and in the blink of an eye, they were in a completely different place, far away from Marble Garden.
The distinct sound of a waterfall could be heard nearby; this was definitely Haou's favourite spot. It didn't take long for the trio to find the large cascade, where large volumes of water crashed down on the rocky lake below. Standing on one of the boulders, balanced on a single foot, was the Meditite with his eyes closed. But more interestingly than that, two creatures suddenly leaped out from the depths of the lake and charged at Haou - two identical copies of itself!

This mastery of the Copycat skill is unprecedented...

- He can make them act independently from one another!

The mysterious attack allowed the user to sacrifice his own health to create flesh-and-bone doppelgangers of itself, but these clones usually mimicked the original one's actions at every turn. To see the Copycat homunculi moving and attacking on their own was something he never thought possible!

Haou nimbly dodged each strike, evading both foes simultaneously as he leaped from rock to rock, not once losing his footing on the slippery surface of the uneven stones. When one of the doppelgangers went for a Low Sweep Haou jumped up, avoiding it, while the second clone dashed forward simultaneously to strike the airborne Meditite, only to be met with a Force Palm! The gust of wind produced on contact sent the Copycat flying back and crashing into the tree right next to the spot where Levin, Mazo and Leon were watching the fight from, before vanishing in a cloud of smoke.

He knows we're here.

The remaining copy recovered and moved in for a Force Palm of its own, but found itself unable to move and instead being lifted off the ground by an effortless Telekinesis. Haou gazed over to Levin, staring him in the eyes all the way across the lake, before summoning a Shadow Ball and launching it at the trapped clone, causing it to fade away in the ensuing blast.

Levin stepped out of the shadows, followed by a smiling Mazo and an awe-struck Leon. It wasn't just the Lucario who could feel what he previously described as Haou's "aura shifting"... there was something in the air here, almost palpable power, a repressed strength he last felt when delving into Kamui's mind all that time ago.

He's more than ready, but it seems as if...

- I know.

He didn't need an explanation this time around. Despite being absent most of the time, training in the depths of the forest on his own, Haou held Levin's authority in the highest regard. He wouldn't embrace the greatest change of all without his consent. The Meditite looked at Levin without saying a word, his expression the same as always, but it was clear as day to him that Haou awaited his verdict.

-... Go on. You've never been more ready than this.

With a silent nod, Haou brought his hands together in one last act of meditation. A massive burst of energy suddenly emanated from his body, all the pent-up energy he'd been holding back finally unleashed; pulse after pulse of intense chakra caused the waterfall to split, nearby trees to bend and every rock on the lake's surface to shatter. The Psychic-Type's body took on a familiar glow and his body began to change as it shone brighter. When the light faded everything quieted down, and in a moment of absolute stillness, Haou hovered above the lake motionlessly in his new form: an incomprehensibly powerful http://www.upnetwork.net/fb/sprites/pn308.gif, just as Mazo had predicted almost a year before.

At last... Haou, this is your true self!

The Medicham stared blankly at his own hands for a moment, then turned his attention to Mazo and nodded. He continued to float above the lake, so effortlessly he might not even had noticed he was doing it, before dropping to walk across the water and approach Levin and the Lucario.

Such insane degree of control... What is the real extent of his power?

Haou stopped right in front of him, and in a rare moment of emotion, bowed down to his Trainer in heartfelt gratitude. Levin was sure he could communicate mentally as easily as Mazo or Zion did, but had learned not to expect words out of Haou - the Emperor had been silent from the day of his birth.

- I can't wait to see how far you can go, and how far you will take me on the road I've chosen to travel... but I'm so very grateful you decided to walk down that path along with me and all the others.

First Zion, and now Haou. I cannot afford to fall behind - these are interesting times to serve under you, Master. I long to see where you will lead us all.

Hopefully to victory, Mazo. To the ultimate victory, with you, Haou and the others right there beside me when that day comes!

MarbleZone 05-25-2015 03:53 PM

Levin sat outside, by the pond next to his Base, with a carefree smile on his face. Next to him, bending over the water's edge, was Min feeding Reina one last Pokeblock.

She made these herself. I can't remember the last time she was this focused on anything, but she's really taken a liking to that ugly fish... Good for the two of them. Reina doesn't get to make a lot of friends looking like that, and Min hasn't had a close one since Opal left... These two need each other.

His gaze then shifted to the other Pokemon inside the lake - Nylus, the Magikarp he'd gotten from Liza. Despite their daily proximity, the orange fish made no effort to interact with Reina at all... or anyone else that approached the pond for that matter. The only thing he did, from morning to nightfall, was repeatedly leap out of the lake as high as he could, as if desperately trying to get out... to be something he wasn't. The pond was indeed small, but he was no big fish - the tiny body of water suited him perfectly, but Nylus wasn't having it. The Magikarp was perpetually restless, as if trapped in a place (or perhaps a body) that didn't suit him at all.

He watched in silence as Nylus continuously jumped out of the water, each attempt reaching slightly higher than the last. In hindsight, the Magikarp had done some great progress in the short amount of time that he'd been under Levin's care; he still remembered the days all Nylus could muster was to surface briefly in futile attempts to catch small insects... Now, he could probably jump clean over Baroque.

He was snapped out of his reverie by a sudden blue blur leaping across the lake and grabbing Nylus mid-jump. Vlad the Skorupi, who'd been lying in wait for Arceus knew how long, had claimed its prey and was preparing to feast on the helpless fish!

- Vlad, stop at once!

The Poison-Type froze in place at Levin's command. Despite his mostly instinctive behavior, Vlad obeyed the Saffron-native's every order, regarding him as a father figure and the only authority he should respect - and that's what set him apart from Levin's previous unhinged Skorupi, Veiss. Embarrassed for having made Levin angry, Vlad immediately released Nylus, allowing the young man to throw the Magikarp back inside the lake before it suffocated.

- I know it's in your nature to do this, but the rules we talked about apply to all Pokemon under my care, not just Hebi! And seriously, stop hunting Hebi.

The Skorupi hid his face behind his claws, ashamed, but Levin patted him on the head affectionately.

- I'm not mad. I understand your need to do this; Im just asking you to try a bit harder. That way you might even make some more friends instead of scaring everybody away! Nylus is defenseless, he doesn't have it in him to fight back. Please try to keep your instincts in check around the rest of the team...

Vlad nodded but scoffed at the notion of "making friends". Levin was the only friend he cared about, the only one whose opinion mattered. Everyone else he simply had to live with... but for Levin, he'd stay away from the weak ones.

Just then, Min let out a startled cry. Levin turned back, alarmed, to find the water rippling; at first, he didn't realize what was wrong, until he saw the Cincinno forcefully pull Reina out of the water... while Nylus flailed about incessantly in a rage inside the pond! Vlad's assault must have made him angry at his own powerlessness... and maybe Levin's own words only served to make things worse! The Magikarp whipped his fins violently, kicking up water all around him, and leapt outside once more, higher than ever, before starting to glow brightly!

- Oh no... not now. Not like this...

Levin had seen it happen enough times to understand immediately - Nylus was undergoing a transformation, but the circumstances this time around made it much too dangerous!

If Nylus evolves in the middle of a fit of rage... what's going to happen?!

He'd longed after a Gyarados of his own for years. Owning such incredibly destructive power was a childhood fantasy of him, thinking that such a powerful creature under his control would ensure victory against any opponent, even the Elite. But he never considered the possibility that such a power could ever be out of his control!

The glowing Nylus grew to unimaginable proportions - how could such a small creature become almost as huge as Oro?!
The shining mass towered above Vlad, Levin and finally even the Treetop Base. When it was all over, Nylus was far from the helpless little Magikarp he'd been... a roaring, massive http://www.upnetwork.net/fb/sprites/pn130.gif now stood in front of them... above them all. It was one thing to watch Gyarados from afar at the Lake of Rage... up close, this was a terrifying sight. The water dragon's eyes glimmered with fury and hatred, overwhelmed by the intense desire to exact revenge on those who mistreated him - the creature who hunted him down, the human who belittled him, the filthy Feebas who shared his lake and would leave him the hell alone!

Blinded by rage, the Gyarados began flailing about like he'd done earlier as a practically harmless Magikarp; now, a mere swing of his tail ravaged several of the trees that grew closest to the lake. Thrashing wildly, Nylus's rampage threatened to destroy the entirety of Marble Garden, and it was Levin's fault!

I... I underestimated him; how could I know he'd evolve so soon? He's not ready for this kind of power... I shouldn't have talked about him like that, and I should've kept a better eye on Vlad! Damn it, now what?!

Mazo and Haou were far away, training together at the waterfall that had served as the Medicham's favourite meditation spot. Syre was also away, flying around freely as he so often needed to do to avoid pent-up frustration. Baroque and Basker were terrible match-ups against a Gyarados and he couldn't risk their safety...

Before Levin could settle on a partner to stop the madness, Nylus swung his tail right in his direction! Immediately Min and Vlad reacted, almost simultaneously, and leaped forward in front of their Trainer. The dragon's tail rammed into the small Pokemon and sent them flying several feet away, knocking them out cold in one hit, and leaving Reina helplessly splashing about on the grass - there was no way he could throw her back inside the lake, now fully occupied by Nylus's gigantic frame... so what could he do?!

The Gyarados once again raised his tail, and this time his rage-filled eyes were locked on the helpless Feebas. The tail came crashing down, but at the last second, a tiny Pokemon Teleported out of thin air and held up a Protect barrier between Reina and Nylus, blocking the killing move!

- Leon!! Thank you so much!

This was his opening; he reached for his belt and prepared to send out his....

*ROOOOOOOAAAAAHHH!!!*

Nylus lunged at Levin with his huge jaws agape, looking to devour the defiant human, moving so fast for his size that Levin froze in place, dominated by sheer horror, unable to call out a partner. The deadly fangs drew closer and closer.... until another Pokemon came to his aid!
Emerging from the ground below, having Dug his way over to make it in time, El Rojo jumped in front of Nylus at the last minute.... and Levin was forced to watched, hopelessly and in complete disbelief, as the Gyarados's jaws closed around the prodigious Druddigon's body and his fangs sank into the drake's flesh. The sound of scales and muscle ripping, followed by bones shattering, made Levin's body go numb...

No... NO!!

Rojo's eyes glazed over, his breath became shallow. Nylus released his grip and shifted his attention to another target, anyone would do, so long as the place was laid to waste. Levin rushed over to the mangled dragon, as did a very scared-looking Ajax, the young Axew Rojo had taken up as apprentice...

- Rojo... why? You... you and I... we were supposed to win the League together!!

Ajax was crying. So was Levin. Of all the Pokemon he'd met, the several he'd raised, none had been as tough or as remarkable as El Rojo. A legend in his own right, and the only one to ever get through to Ajax following his abandonment. The driving force behind Gaius's, and later Syre's growth... above all, one of his dearest friends.
Rojo muttered something to Ajax, looking at Levin - one final explanation to the tiny drake he'd agreed to tutor, but couldn't any longer. One final request, that Ajax serve and protect the man he'd chosen to die for, because he deserved it. With his last breath, El Rojo the Druddigon let out a faint warrior's cry, gave Levin one last customary grin... and passed away.

Levin and Ajax were left in a stunned silence, even while Nylus rampaged mere feet away from them. To each of them, and to each in his own way, Rojo had meant the world. He'd given his life to protect Marble Garden, and above all Levin, a gesture that would never have crossed his mind when Stark first traded him over to the younger, eager Trainer... Levin now lived because Rojo died, and he'd take that sacrifice with him forever. Ajax, in turn, promised to himself he'd protect Levin with equal dedication, for his mentor's sake, to honor the memory of the only creature he'd ever respected or cared for. He would become stronger than Syre, stronger than Rojo... and most of all, stronger than the murderous Gyarados who ruined his life!

The Axew bolted forward, blinded by revenge, hitting Nylus with Night Slash after Night Slash to no effect whatsoever. The Gyarados shrugged him off with another tail swing, sending Ajax tumbling back several steps, and proceeded to slither toward the Treetop Base, intent on burning it down... Levin didn't move an inch. He stayed by Rojo's body, contemplating on the catastrophe around him, his role on his beloved friend's death and the impending deaths of everyone else at this rate. His mind was clouded by grief, preventing him from doing anything, including calling out Zion or Bud to stop the menace as he'd previously intended...

Nylus towered over the Treetop Base, casting an ominous shadow on the structure Levin had built from the ground up three years before. He let out another roar, as if triumphantly declaring victory over the man, but before he could ravage the Base a massive lightning bolt came crashing down from the skies and struck the water dragon, electrocuting the beast and stopping it in its tracks!

From the forest's edge Ryker the Luxray emerged. His golden eyes were locked on the Gyarados, and his body crackled with electricity. He'd anticipated this before anyone else, watching on in disapproval while Levin closed the trade with Liza. Years of experience had taught him what nobody else on the team had yet realized - that Gyarados cannot be controlled like normal Pokemon. He let loose a second Thunder, further damaging the dragon, but Nylus kept standing and growing even angrier!

This won't do... he won't fall. He'll destroy everything I have... that monster can't be stopped!

Ryker stepped in front of Levin and gave him a light shock to snap him out of his trance. This was the first time he willingly addressed his new Trainer since leaving Zak's ownership... The Luxray made sure to get Levin's attention before pointing at the flopping Feebas, who could barely hang on anymore. Leon, meanwhile, had already been knocked out during the onslaught, unable to raise a second Protect in time.

- R-Reina... I... I can still...

He took the Premier Ball from his belt and moved to recall the Feebas to safety, but Ryker blocked the path. That wasn't what he meant...

- Why? What do you mean? She's going to die at this rate, she can't breathe! I've seen enough death and destruction, I... I just want peace!!

Wait... peace?

Ryker growled, relieved that Levin finally seemed to get it. Yes... Gyarados embodied destruction, while Feebas held a very different ability within - the dormant power to soothe souls and stop conflict. But in order for that power to awaken...

- So must Reina. Ryker, please, take me to her!

He hopped on the black lion's back and the two dashed towards Reina; Levin held out his hand and picked up the small fish while Ryker kept running towards the Gyarados, nimbly dodging his tail strikes the second they came thanks to his unmatched eyesight.

- Reina, hang in there! Please dear, I... I need you. Rojo... Rojo died to protect me, he sacrificed himself so that we can continue our journey, but if Nylus isn't stopped we have no future! Just look at what he did to Min, she... she's barely breathing after his attack, she also got in the way to keep me safe! But she also needs you now. Please, for all the time she spent with you, all the effort she put into making you the most beautiful Feebas in the world... remember that? She's your best friend, your only friend. And if Nylus isn't stopped, if he can't be tamed, she'll die along with the rest of us!

Reina, struggling to hold her breath, clinging on to what little oxygen she had left in her system, listened intently but looked dejected. It's not like she didn't already know, but there was nothing she could do in this state!
Before Levin could say anything else, Ryker was caught by an unexpected swing from a strange angle, Nylus's tail catching the Luxray's hind leg and causing the three of them to fall and tumble across the floor painfully. Levin, wincing, looked around for Reina, finding her near the Base's front door, out of his reach. She seemed about to pass out from the pain and lack of water, but it was then that Min, limping, caught up to them again. Visibly hurt, she nonetheless winked reassuringly at Levin, approached Reina and, holding her in her arms, healed her with her special Softboiled.

The Feebas, reinvigorated and deeply touched by her dearest friend's gesture, faced the titan with renewed confidence. Levin had made it clear - she was the only one who could stop Nylus and secure a future for the survivors. She hadn't been strong enough to keep Rojo safe, but she had to find it in herself to grow, go past her limitations... for everyone's sake!

Her scales glistened in the sunlight, and for a brief moment, Levin thought she almost seemed... pretty. Her body took on the same glow as Nylus's, and so too did her body begin to grow, multiplying in length until her form was no longer that of a deformed Feebas - shining brightly, Reina unlocked her hidden potential after all, and where once there was a helpless little fish, now stood a gorgeous http://www.upnetwork.net/fb/sprites/pn350.gif!

- Reina... y-you did it! Please dear, please stop Nylus!!

Her presence alone exuded tranquility, and it was with a thoroughly peaceful smile that Reina took her Trainer's plea. Turning to face the rampaging dragon, who was now waging battle with an injured Ryker, she let out a stream of boiling water that drenched Nylus, despite dishing no discernible damage to the colossus. But Levin immediately realized her intention and issued one final order to the exhausted Luxray.

- He's soaked! Now Ryker, put everything you got into a Wild Charge!

Enveloped in lightning, Ryker dashed forward on command, rammed its full body weight into Nylus and watched as the electricity spread across the dragon's entire body, dealing severe damage! Stunned and heavily injured, Nylus faltered for the first time, staggering and looking around for the one who interfered in his battle with the puny Luxray. His murderous stare found Reina's angelic gaze, and it was the opportunity the Milotic needed - her soothing aura washed over him, clashed with Nylus's destructive spirit and left the dragon numb, briefly calmed down just enough for Levin to hurl a Pokeball at him, finally trapping him inside again.

- It's over...

He was too drained, too sad and empty to get back up and retrieve the device. His mind kept racing between almost letting Reina suffocate, to his home almost being destroyed... to Rojo. The haunting images just kept coming back - the dragon's body breaking and crumbling between Nylus's jaws, his final plea to Ajax, his last cocky grin before dying. El Rojo, the legendary rogue Druddigon... was dead.

The price of my lust for power... I'm sorry buddy. I'm so sorry!...

Laying wounded on the grass in front of his home, he cried himself to sleep, overpowered by exhaustion. But he'd wake up eventually... El Rojo wouldn't.

MarbleZone 06-09-2015 06:57 PM

The images still haunted him. No matter how hard he tried, the mekories of El Rojo being crushed by Nylus's jaws and his lifeless body in his arms always came back. The crying of Ajax still echoed in his ears, as did his own.

Because I was negligent...

In his mind, that's what it came down to. He failed to realize the danger Nylus posed, even as a worthless Magikarp. If he'd taken proper precautions, or tried to warm up to the Water-Type before he evolved, maybe it'd have been different... maybe Rojo would still be alive.

How can I do it without you here? Even if I make it... even if I win the League, what will it be like when you're not there? You were supposed to see me become Champion!

Tears came back for the millionth time, but this time he wasn't alone with his thoughts. Basker, Min, Reina and the young Lumi were all there with him, as he sat outside by the Treetop Base's shade. They'd always been the more affectionate members of his team, and could sense his sadness a mile away. Leon had also intended to stay behind and try to cheer Levin up, but Baroque - effectively the leader of the whole group - decreed the small Ralts needed to become stronger, in case disaster ever struck again. Much to the pacifist Psychic-Type's dismay, the Rhyperior's word was absolute.

- How... how is Ajax doing?

The Axew, to whom Rojo had always served as mentor, had it worst than anyone else. Disillusioned and frustrated by nature, after a prolonged period of abandonment in the Adoption Centre, the Son of the War Axe had never opened up to anyone other than the Druddigon he idolized. Rojo's death meant Ajax was alone again, despite the dragon's dying wish that his apprentice take care of Levin in his stead. Ajax was still coming to terms with all of it, and spent most of his time on his own, off training sowewhere in the woods that surrounded Marble Garden.

- I'm sure Ryker is looking after him from a distance... right?

Basker growled at the mention of Luxray's name, but was forced to agree. Despite his personal feelings towards the rebellious Ryker, there was no denying the Electric-Type had been a critical ally in stopping Nylus. Maybe they could trust Ryker after all, although Basker would always have trouble admitting it.

- Hey Lumi... sorry to have dragged you into this. You weren't even with us when it happened...

The Mareep smiled in his usual carefree manner and curled up closer to the young man, reassuringly. He might not have witnessed the events nor met Rojo personally, but he couldn't allow Levin to give in to sadness and lose sight of his dreams... if anything, he should press on to make the Druddigon proud!

The time is near.

Levin was startled by the sudden voice ringing in his head; a familiar one he hadn't heard in a while. Katsune's voice.
The Ninetales was standing idly by the field not far from where Levin was resting. He'd been there for several hours, silently gazing at the sun, but now seemed to have reached some sort of conclusion...

The Old Sun is near. Eld is looking for you master, albeit unknowingly.

- Wait... what do you mean? How can you tell?

Eld will be reborn soon. The exact moment is not known to me, but the First Light's rebirth is indeed at hand. A new cycle is about to begin; but in its newborn state, Eld's memories will be locked away... it falls on you to awaken them.

This was much too sudden. He needed time to grieve one death, and here Katsune was talking to him about rebirth... It made very little sense to him, but he had a feeling Katsune couldn't tell him much more either.

I came to prepare the path for the Old Sun. I have done so by cleansing your home of the ancient dark spirits that inhabited it... I am but a servant. The designs of Eld are not known to me - I serve as a mere link between you and the First Light. My role is all but fulfilled, only one thing remains to be done. Please listen carefully master...

The Ninetales approached Levin, Basker, Lumi, the sleeping Min and Reina. Locking eyes with the Saffron-native, Katsune delivered a final message, much to the young man's dismay...

When you took me in, years after letting me go, it was because fate deemed it so. You might not have known then, but hopefully you realize now... I am no more than a conduit that leads you to your destiny. I am your link to Eld, the one that has eluded you for twenty four years. But now that the moment approaches, I leave you with one final gift.

- Wait, what do you mean "you leave me"?! What are you talking about? Katsune, please...

It all led up to this moment. The cleansing of your spirit allies, which made me strong enough to achieve my current form, which in turn allows me to close the cycle now. Eld will return to the world with no memory of it; use this to open the Old Sun's eyes. Levin Sanders, Eld's Chosen... you have faced loss, and will continue to face it as long as you walk this path; but know always that light shines upon you, and your dreams will become reality if you embrace it. Be strong, and aim ever higher... as high as the Sun itself.

Each of Katsune's tails began to glow, until his entire body was engulfed in light and flames. The brightness was so intense that it forced Levin to cover his tear-filled eyes.

Thank you for all the moments, however brief. Your future is bright, you have my word... Goodbye Levin, Eld's Chosen.

When the light faded, Katsune was gone. The Ninetales vanished in the same manner that Skuld, Wicca and Nyx had mere months before. In his place, a small item floated in the air briefly before falling on the grass.

Why? Why is everyone leaving? I... I can't take it anymore, I... can't bear to lose anyone else! Katsune, you could have stayed! At least until we got to see Eld together...

He reached for the tiny object, all that remained of his dear Ninetales. The item was warm to the touch and seemed to radiate a faint light when Levin picked it up. The Saffron-native stared blankly at his partner's parting gift, and finally put http://i72.photobucket.com/albums/i1...psmvo48jsq.gif Katsune's Ring on.

Basker and Lumi drew closer to him once again; coping with Rojo's death was already hard enough, but now with Katsune gone as well, Levin was going to need all the company and cheerfulness they could give him.
The young man stared into the distance, lost in thought.

In two months I lost more friends than I made in my entire childhood. I never wanted this... I just wanted to be good at what I did. I wanted people to notice me. Is this path of mine going to lead to even more losses? And if so... is it even worth it?

As if sensing the Trainer's doubts, Katsune's Ring emitted a stronger glow. Levin tried to smile, but couldn't.

- It's the only path I know. You're right Katsune, I will aim as high as I can. I just wonder how many of my friends will remain when I reach those heights...

MarbleZone 06-13-2015 08:17 PM

- Are you sure about that Dartz?

The Croagunk grinned with absolute confidence. As Mazo had just relayed to him, the Poison-Type intended to challenge Baroque to a battle - something the Croagunk had never done before, and something the Rhyperior had never lost at since evolving.

- Baroque is the team's leader and one of my strongest partners, short of maybe Zion. I'm not underestimating you, but you're smart enough to realize the odds right?...

Mazo nodded. It was a fact, even with his and Haou's incredible powers, they still struggled to keep up with Baroque when he went all out. His combination of unparalleled strength and the wisdom passed down to him by Zion and Cygna made the Rhyperior, quite simply, the epitome of the perfect fighter. For Dartz to believe he could topple such a giant... it was uncharacteristic of such a brilliant mind to be so delusional.

But Dartz was adamant. He smirked at Levin and walked outside, ready to confront Baroque. The Saffron-native followed him, concerned about the outcome - the Rhyperior was a conqueror, and wouldn't hesitate to crush insurgents to teach them a lesson. An advocate of tough love, Baroque never held back and expected nothing less of those who challenged him.

Dartz wouldn't do this if he didn't have both a plan and a purpose. He needs to prove something to you and to himself; I share your concern, but we should place some faith on our young friend.

- Dartz fights in the shadows, outsmarting his foes and striking unseen. A head-on confrontation is something he's not trained to do... Mazo, please don't hesitate to step in if things get out of hand.

The Lucario said nothing, but the message was, of course, perfectly understood.

---

Sunlight filled the wide clearing of Marble Garden's entrance, where so many stories had already unfolded - the meeting with Vesper, Nylus's rampage, the death of Rojo and so much more.
This time however, everything was peaceful. Several of Levin's Pokemon wandered around, minding their own business. Not far from the Treetop Base's front door, Baroque trained Leon in the art of combat, something the Ralts openly despised; the Psychic-Type was a pacifist at heart, but Baroque's will was final. Truth be told, the Rhyperior was right - after the disaster that went down upon the evolution of Nylus, every member of the team had the obligation to become as strong as they could, so that such events would never happen again; according to Baroque, it was their collective duty, as Levin's Pokemon, to protect their home and their master.

Dartz kept moving, unflinching, and stepped right between Baroque and Leon with arms spread wide and just as wide a grin. Baroque looked on, visibly annoyed and puzzled by the Croagunk's interruption. When he realized the reason, the Ground-Type muttered something to himself and finally acquiesced with a silent nod; where many others of comparable strength would have laughed in Dartz's face, Baroque tempered his own emotions. If the Rhyperior felt either amused or insulted, none could tell, other than Mazo if he so wished.

- Dammit Dartz, what the hell are you doing?...

Baroque dismissed Leon, who hurried towards Levin with a relieved expression, although visibly fearful for Dartz at the same time. Baroque assumed his customary stance, intentionally dropping his guard to test his foe's mettle - he always allowed the challenger to strike first before riposting.

Dartz welcomed the opening and charged ahead; this was the first time Levin ever saw the Croagunk engage an opponent like that.
His glowing fist connected with Baroque's abdomen, barely leaving a mark on the foe's Solid Rock body, but Dartz himself seemed invigorated after the Power-Up Punch and immediately followed up the first hit with a lighting-fast Bullet Punch to round out the one-two combo.

If Baroque was in any way affected, it didn't seem to be the case. He simply raised one of his arm-cannons and unleashed a Rock Blast barrage at point-blank range, which sent Dartz flying back several feet and tumbling down hard!

He's not holding back at all...

It was just as he'd feared: Baroque had no problem going easy on Pokemon he personally trained, but if challenged to a battle, it was a whole different story. Then again, Dartz already knew this, so... why?

Fighting in the shadows is proof of intellect; Dartz needs to know the limits of his actual strength. At first, I believed he might have laid a trap beforehand... but there is nothing more to this match than meets the eye, for once. Dartz's plan was quite simply to see if he could measure up...

Levin cursed under his breath and watched as Baroque Bulldozed the still-downed Croagunk, steamrolling the poor frog without a hint of pity and kicking up a large amount of dust and grass as he went. He finally stopped, only to raise his arm again, this time mere inches away from the battered Poison-Type's face, and pausing.

This is the closest thing to mercy Dartz is going to get out of Baroque...

The Rhyperior and Croagunk's staredown was brief - the former's eyes revealing both respect and sadness, while the latter's glimmered with defiance and confidence, even in the current predicament. Baroque shook his head and unleashed a Zap Cannon right in front of his helpless foe, with the ensuing explosion ravaging about a third of the entire clearing!

Dartz... not you too! Please be alright!!

Levin had dealt with too much loss recently to face the unavoidable truth... but how could Dartz possibly have endured such a hit? What was Baroque thinking?!

... Suddenly, amidst the smoke, Dartz leapt up and grabbed hold of Baroque's horn! He was okay!! But how on earth could he still move like that?!

Double Team... he tricked Baroque into blasting a doppelganger! He must have multiplied after the Bulldoze kicked up all that dust and Baroque never realized it.

Grinning triumphantly, Dartz stared Baroque dead in the eye, drilling home the fact that he'd just outmaneuvered the conqueror and caused him to expend a massive amount of energy for nothing. Baroque, in turn, wouldn't give Dartz the satisfaction of falling for his mind games, and caused his horn to start spinning furiously!
Dartz hung on for dear life, spinning wildly but knowing full well that the second he let go, Baroque would crush him underfoot without a second thought! He had to hang on and somehow, some way, find a way to fight back! Because he was a fighter at heart, not just a venomous creature! He knew he could be just as strong as Mazo, Haou, Dux or Buster... now it was time everyone else realized it as well!!

Fueled by his resolve, Dartz's body took on a progressively brighter glow and his frame started to expand, until a hand could be seen still holding Baroque's horn but two feet now rested firmly on the ground - when the shine faded, Dartz was no longer at the mercy of Baroque's horn, but the newfound grip strength of his http://www.upnetwork.net/fb/sprites/pn454.gif form had become powerful enough to stop its spinning altogether with one arm!

If any was needed, there is the proof.

Baroque looked genuinely shocked for the first time in the match, and for the first time in a very long time. Dartz channeled frost energy into his free hand and delivered a crushing Ice Punch to Baroque's jaw while still holding his horn, then another, then another, and finished by charging up his fighting spirit into a sphere and drilling the Focus Blast right into the Rock-Type's chest!

Master, did you notice?...

The shockwave triggered a huge explosion, but the impact still wasn't enough to knock Baroque down! Battered and gasping for air, the Rhyperior's gaze became wild, filled with nothing but pure warrior's instinct. Levin had failed to notice it before, but Mazo called it - Baroque's body had been glowing a faint red during Dartz's onslaught, and now it made sense!
The Rhyperior brought his cannons together and unleashed a massive Bide pulse, grinding the surrounding area to dust as the beam traveled towards the recovering Dartz. Unlike Levin, the sharp Toxicroak had indeed noticed Baroque's setup, and looked to Dig out of the way... but the blast was so intense that Dartz failed to burrow deep enough and was washed over by the energy wave!

When the beam subsided, Dartz was kneeling in a crater, gasping for air with his eyes glazed over. Baroque, equally exhausted, walked over to his opponent, towering over him. Dartz grinned one last time, which was met with Baroque's earnest smile, after which the Toxicroak passed out from his injuries. The Rhyperior picked his fallen comrade up and placed him at Levin's feet.

Dartz earned Baroque's respect today. And hopefully he will have earned yours as well; he proved his strength matches his brilliance. One can only wonder if the outcome would have been the same had Dartz played to his strengths; that was quite the display of bravery.

- Dartz had my admiration from the start. But today he showed everyone who thought he couldn't handle himself in a fight wrong. He went out of his comfort zone to test himself - and we can all learn something from his actions here today.

Baroque, Mazo and Leon nodded simultaneously. They all needed to surpass themselves just like Dartz had just done. When they all went beyond their limitations, nobody would be able to stop them as a team - not Kayl, not Vesper, not the Elite Four... and certainly not Nylus.

When will I find the guts to let you out again? And when I do... will we all be prepared?

MarbleZone 08-17-2015 12:40 PM

Levin twirled the Pass in his fingers, pondering on its significance. The ticket itself opened a world of possibilities, allowing him direct access to the rarest Pokemon in the Egg House. But it was more than that - it was validation. The item wasn't available to everyone, but only to those whose contributions to the land had been officially recognized. And for over three years he toiled in search of that recognition. No, the Egg House Pass wasn't just a chance to fulfill his dream team at long last - it embodied the acknowledgement of his efforts in the eyes of the ruling authority.

Damn right.

He wasn't going to lie, he felt exceedingly proud of himself. Not so much because he could realistically aim for the few Pokemon he still craved, but because of how long he'd waited for the chance to do it! It felt so sweet and so richly deserved that part of him felt conflicted about ever redeeming the Pass. Admittedly, a very small part of him.

Master, the King requests your presence.

Mazo the Lucario was by the door with a knowing grin on his face, uncharacteristic of the usually reserved fighter. Immediately Levin knew who the Aura Pokemon referred to - he'd taken an inkling to addressing Baroque as royalty for his immense presence and stoic demeanor, partly humorously, but the rest of the team were quick to follow. Before they knew it, the Rhyperior effectively became known as the leader of the team, whose authority rested only behind Levin's. That being the case, if the Rock-Type ruler asked to see his Trainer, Levin felt naturally compelled to oblige - especially since the last time he saw Baroque was in his battle against Dartz, after which he disappeared into the nearby woods with a very reluctant Leon to continue the Psychic-Type's training.

---

It was sunny outside, much to Solair's delight. The Fletchinder landed on Levin's shoulder the minute he stepped out of the house, chirping happily. Basker and Lumi also rushed to meet the Saffron-native, and joined him while he made his way towards the towering figure at the edge of the clearing.

Baroque stood, imposing as always, under the shade of a huge oak. He stepped out into the sunlight upon spotting Levin, and greeted his Trainer with a grunt. The Arcanine by Levin's side growled amicably at the Rhyperior he considered his equal, and was met with a similar show of respect. Levin considered Baroque the stronger of the two by a narrow margin, but the truth was they never clashed, and held mutual admiration for one another. Levin patted Basker in the head and addressed the silent rhino.

- It's been a while Baroque! You wanted to see me, right?

The Rhyperior acquiesced, smiling. Much like Mazo, it was rare for the Rock-Type to do so, which left Levin all the more intrigued. It was then that he felt a second presence - no, one he'd sensed earlier, but mirrored his own so completely he instinctively dismissed it. But it was there, like a mirror behind Baroque, a creature whose heart reflected his every feeling. A familiar, albeit decidedly different Pokemon from the one he remembered.

- L-Leon?...

Shyly stepping out from behind his mentor, the Psychic-Type stared at the ground the entire time, unable to face any of those who stared at him. He'd left as a Ralts, unwillingly, to train under the King himself... to become strong enough to protect Levin and the others, the family he loved so very much. But at the same time, he despised battle, avoided confrontation whenever possible, and as such had a very hard time learning under the warrior king. Still, he was back now, Baroque having deemed him ready - despite of how he looked now. No longer bearing the same form as before, decidedly male Leon now sported a particularly feminine appearance; long gone was his Ralts stage, and the Psychic-Type had grown into a http://www.upnetwork.net/fb/sprites/pn281.gif who felt unquestionably upset about his new look...

- See Lumi? He had it worse.

Levin chuckled, remembering how deeply uncomfortable his Flaaffy had felt ever since evolving, due to the pink coloring his body took. Lumi laughed sheepishly (quite literally) at the undeniable evidence - Leon was in a much more embarrassing situation. Feeling his pain, the Electric-Type approached the crestfallen Kirlia and patted him on the shoulder, speaking brilliant words of encouragement like only he knew. Uplifted by the heartfelt advice, Leon looked at Levin for reassurance, finding just that in the young man's carefree smile.

- It just means you've gotten stronger. You know what you can do, don't let anyone judge you by appearances - odds are those who dare to mock you can't hold a candle to you when things get rough!

Baroque nodded in agreement and spoke in his deep, roaring voice, instantly translated by Zion from within his Cyber Ball. Such were the perks of owning a near-omnipotent Metagross.

- I know you think he's ready; you wouldn't have returned otherwise. But what do you mean with "he's also deserving"?

The Rhyperior lifted one of his massive arms and pointed at Levin's bag. Though confused at first, having completely forgotten about the item he carried for years with no real purpose, he soon realized what Baroque was talking about.

- You're right, I do have one of those... Ever since I journeyed to Mediville. Do you really think he's grown to that point?

Baroque confirmed his absolute faith in Leon's progress. He could handle the exposure to Levin's Dawn Stone and was ready to awaken his true power.

If anybody knows how to judge potential, it's Baroque. He's the wisest and most battle-tuned Pokemon I own. If he thinks Leon is ready, even though he despises combat, who am I to disagree? And besides, I think he'll welcome the change too...

Levin dropped to one knee next to Lumi and Leon, addressing the former first.

- Hey, wanna see something cool?

He turned to Leon and held out an item wrapped in a piece of cloth.

- Baroque believes in you, and so do I. And the same way you can sense my every feeling, so too can I guess yours with no effort at all - this strange bond we share works both ways. I know what fighting represents to you, but I can also tell how much you crave the power to protect me. I've sensed that desire ever since Nylus rampaged and you couldn't stop him; I felt that need grow while you witnessed Dartz's battle with your mentor. You're finally strong enough to embrace that power, though what you do with it - or how often you can bring yourself to use it - is your call alone. This is a Dawn Stone. It'll unlock your true potential and trigger your evolution. Leon... do you want to go through with it?

The Psychic-Type didn't need to answer; Levin could feel what he felt. He sensed the turmoil, the conflict between attaining a form strong enough to protect and having the responisbility to use it. Leon saw no point in fighting, no fun in battling and despised all forms of pain. On the other hand, Levin was his mirror image, his soul-partner in a way, and he felt compelled to guard him with his life. He had no choice - if he turned his back to this power now, he would be failing his Trainer and his entire family.

The Kirlia nodded with resolve and unwrapped the Dawn Stone. Immediately it took on a powerful glow, one that grew to envelop Leon as well. A pillar of light rose to the sky, Lumi watching in wide-eyed amazement, and when the glimmer faded, the Kirlia was no more. In his place stood a silent knight whose mere presence commanded respect.

Leon, now a http://www.upnetwork.net/fb/sprites/pn475.gif, gazed at his new form with the same apprehension he felt about the evolutionary stone moments before. He could feel it - power to preserve or destroy what he saw fit. A level of strength he never thought he could have... and an immense weight on his shoulders to put it to use. This was everything he wanted and all he feared - immense power at Levin's disposal, and the lingering doubt of how his Trainer would have him wield it...

- I know you're scared, but please Leon... trust me as much as I trust you. Allow yourself a moment to enjoy what you've become! Just look at how far you've come since you started training with Baroque!

The Gallade paused and nodded, turning to Rhyperior. He held out his hands in appreciation, thanking his mentor for teaching him everything he needed to know to grow into this form. Baroque, in turn, praised the Psychic-Type for his perseverance and, above all, his drive for continuing his training in the interest of Levin and everyone else. It was obvious Baroque had taken a liking, and no small amount of respect, towards Leon and his righteous cause.

- There's a human saying that reminds us how with great power comes great responsibility... I understand if you need time to let this all sink in. Time to rediscover yourself... I needed time of my own for just that not too long ago.

Their hearts connected by a special bond, both knew exactly how the other felt at all times; on occasion, it was almost as if one's feelings were mirrored by the other. So it came as no shock to Leon that Levin knew exactly what troubled him. Bowing in gratitude, and with more questions than answers regarding his new purpose on the team and in life, he needed time and space to figure it all out... and Levin was granting him just that. He would take him up on the offer and return as soon as his mind was clear.

- I understand. It's the best thing to do; just know that I will never pressure you into doing anything that's against your principles. Take as long as you need out there! And Leon... thank you so much for this for me.

The Gallade smile, waved at Levin and the group and Teleported away, to parts unknown, in search of his true self. And that, in turn, was the one thing that gave Levin some solace - no matter how far he needed to go, home was just a Teleport away.

MarbleZone 09-04-2015 10:49 AM

- Come on guys, we should get back. The others are probably waiting.

Levin had taken Brimir and Hebi on a walk around the outskirts of Marble Garden, through the familiar woods where so many adventures had already unfolded - and where miracles such as Opal's evolution had taken place before his eyes. But today, he wasn't in search of a new story to tell; the simple company of his Swinub and Dunsparce was comforting and soothing, owing to their distinctly peaceful personalities, and he needed some of that right now - peace.

But it was almost noon, and the rest of the crew were probably waiting on them. They'd all been training particularly hard during the last month, at the expense of exploring the land like they all preferred; but the team knew of Levin's lingering ambition and that, without putting in the work, they'd never be strong enough to surpass the challenges required for their Trainer to achieve the status he craved. Working in almost perfect unison, the entire team came together to train and became stronger than even Levin could have predicted - but with such herculean effort came hunger, and it fell on Levin to fix that; it was only fair.

They're giving it everything they got for me, to see me succeed. I never thought I'd gather so many friends, so many who cared... Despite the colossal prick I've been all these years, I was lucky; not many Pokemon would agree to stay with the kind of guy I was. I changed for them, now I have to repay their efforts.

As they prepared to return home, a familiar growl reached their ears. Looking to the distance, Levin saw a huge black lion dashing towards them, but didn't so much as flinch - that was one of his own. Ryker the Luxray stopped in front of the group, looking terribly distressed, a sight uncharacteristic of the usually serious and aloof predator. He hastily motioned for Levin to jump on his back (even stranger of him to do so!) and turned to the direction of the Treetop Base. Something was very wrong...

Levin recalled both Hebi and Brimir into their Pokeballs and did as Ryker told him. Before he knew it, they were blitzing past trees and low branches at incredible speed, the Luxray nimbly dodging every single obstacle thanks to his perfect vision and innate agility. As they approached home, a dreadful smell filled his nostrils - the scent of something burning.

---

The sight before his eyes made him go weak and left him speechless. The entire Marble Garden, both the large clearing and the Treetop Base, were a pure battlefield. The wooden house had a huge hole on the side wall from which flames erupted, with Loffley dutifully trying to put them out as quick as he could. Lying on the grass were several of his dear friends who no doubt tried to stop Nylus's progress, while Min and the pacifist Leon tended to their wounds with Softboiled and Heal Pulse respectively. The remaining Pokemon formed a small army that waged war against a massive, common enemy.

Nylus...

The water dragon, jaws fuming while the air around them sizzled with embers, seemed to be in his usual state of blind rage. It headed for the lake, where a helpless Reina cowered in fear. The only real obstacle betweent he Gyarados and the Milotic was the towering Oro, who clashed with Nylus blocking his progress, but struggled heavily to do so. And despite the pain and destruction before him, Levin still struggled to pull himself together and fight back - he was overcome with guilt.

I should never have left without taking his Ball, dammit! Nylus is a constant threat. What was I thinking?!

He'd let his guard down, and the Gyarados had managed to escape his Pokeball in the Saffron-native's absence. Now it fell on him to pick up the pieces and stop the leviathan before more damage was done. And yet something was wrong about all this...

When he evolved, that rampage was a berserker state devoid of reason or purpose - a primal need to destroy. But this time...

He gazed at the path of destruction left behind by Nylus as he went. From the hole on the wall to the Pokemon he'd ran over, and even the way he clashed with Oro - Nylus moved with purpose this time, with a goal... a target.

The Gyarados moves to kill the Milotic. It was bested and humiliated by it. It is moved by one of you favorite feelings.

Zion's metallic voiced ringing in his head was unmistakable. The Metagross was no expert on feelings, but had come a long way since Mazo helped him. The Steel-Type meant it was about pride this time... It was easy to see why Zion would call it was Levin's "favourite" feeling. For years was the proudest egomaniac on the land.

Ryker growled again, snapping him back to reality. He was right - he couldn't stand by and watch things unfold anymore, he had to move.

- Reina isn't safe. She managed to pacify Nylus last time, but she's the victim now - and Nylus isn't rampaging now, he wants simple revenge. There's nothing her powers can do right now, it falls on us to protect her!

He prepared to send Ryker into battle, but hesitated at the last minute.

No. I'll need him later. Besides, there's someone else who wants revenge.

He chose a Pokeball from his belt and tossed it hard over to where Nylus had just toppled Oro with a Fire Blast. The Shiny Steelix collapsed next to the lake, fortunately missing Reina but sending a tremor across the field that almost caused Levin to lose his footing. Just as Nylus prepared to lunge at Reina, the Pokeball snapped open and another obstacle stood in the Gyarados's path.

- It's your chance to avenge Rojo! For both of us, show him how much you've grown Ajax!

Much like Lumi had become stronger in his time off from journeying across Fizzy Bubbles, another of his partners had achieved a new level of power. Fueled by his intense desire to bring justice to his mentor's murderer, Ajax trained harder than anyone during the team's absence and now stood face to face with the culprit bearing a new form. Blood-red tusks emerging from each side of a teeth-filled mouth, crimson eyes locked on their gargantuan target, the http://www.upnetwork.net/fb/sprites/pn611.gif roared loudly as if issuing a challenge to the one who took everything away from him.
Nylus stared down the new threat with disdain, remembering nothing of the once-tiny Axew he mauled in his previous rampage.

The Gyarados let loose a wicked flame of pure Dragon Rage that engulfed the Fraxure, but when the fire subsided he stood tall, defiant as ever, prepared to seek retribution! Blades coated in darkness, Ajax jumped forward and hit a vicous Payback, following it up with a powerful X-Scissor that caused Nylus to roar in pain. However, just as he lunged again for a Night Slash on the same spot, the Gyarados caught him with a merciless Dragon Tail so strong, it sent Ajax flying dozens of feet back before crashing into a large tree and passing out from the sudden impact.

- Ajax!!

The Fraxure didn't respond; despite his considerable increase in power, the Fraxure was still no match for what was, essentially, one of the absolute strongest Pokemon on the team. Nylus continued forward, eyes locked on Reina, and was unfazed even by her desperate attempt to Scald him. He arched his head back and prepared to dive in for a murderous Bite, the same attack that claimed Rojo's life... until a sudden sharp pain from out of nowhere caused him to stop and flail about instead!

It took Levin a while to figure it out, but when he spotted the small blue creature digging his way out from beneath Nylus, he understood. Vlad had been lying in wait, as he always did, and took the opening to inject his Toxic right on the Gyarados's underbelly, badly Poisoning him!

That's right... you have a debt of your own, don't you?

He remembered the events of that day and how Vlad was the one to trigger Nylus's evolution after pouncing on him with the intention of eating the then-Magikarp. Ever since that day, the Skorupi grew progressively more restless, and although the Poison-Type lived too much on instinct to realize it, Levin knew Vlad felt guilty.

- Well done Vlad! Don't let up, follow that Toxic with a Venoshock!

It was precisely what the Skorupi wanted to hear. He unleashed a pulse of purple energy that crashed into the vulnerable dragon and exploded violently, causing the Gyarados to bend over in agony and stopping his progress toward Reina altogether!

Having had enough, Nylus suddenly rose and let out a mighty bellow; fueled by pain and growing fury over the repeated obstacles put in his path, the Gyarados let loose all of his Frustration on small scorpion, pummeling him into the ground repeatedly with his tail, with such force and so many times over that when he was done, the Poison-Type laid unconscious at the bottom of a deep crater.

No... not another one! Enough. We end this now!!

He didn't care anymore; Nylus was his Pokemon, but he was also, and above all, a threat. One he intended to deal with, no matter what it took. He had been weakened substantially but Reina was still in danger, and he was still strong enough to destroy or otherwise escape his Pokeball if he tossed it now.
Reaching over to a Pokeball and Cyber Ball simultaneously, he summoned two more partners to the fray; Haou the Medicham and Zion the Metagross rushed to stand directly in front of Reina; Levin was going to go all out.

- Haou, Zion, bind him as hard as you can in your Psychic grip!

He jumped off Ryker's back and called out one more partner, Lumi the Flaaffy, who looked at him in obvious confusion before quickly realizing the severity of the situation.

- Come on guys, it's now or never. We have to knock Nylus out now, we can't fail!

Nodding simultaneously, the rogue lion and friendly sheep dashed together to stand by Haou and Zion. The Metagross and Medicham focused and took on a faint blue glow, which soon enveloped Nylus as well. At first it seemed to do nothing, but at peak concentration Haou and Zion were finally able to restrict the Gyarados's furious movements, although not bind him completely, such was his immense physical strength. But when Vlad's poison became strong enough to further debilitate the water dragon, his flailing slowed down enough to be contained by the two Psychics, and that was the opening - Ryker and Lumi looked at each other, nodded decisively and unleashed two simultaneous Thunders, creating a pillar of lightning that engulfed Nylus! And when the dust settled, the Gyarados panted heavily, bound completely in the Psychic hold, and his body finally gave out, going limp.

This is it!!

Levin immediately tossed Nylus's Pokeball at the fainted behemoth; the device snapped open and drew the creature inside, successfully locking afterwards and trapping him within! For now...

- It's done... we did it. Reina, are you alright?!

The Saffron-native dashed over to the still-frightened Milotic, held her in his arms and comforted her. They'd managed to avoid the worst this time, but for how long?...
A tug at his leg made him look down; Min gazed at him with concern and deep sadness in her eyes. They'd been together almost a lifetime and words were of little use here - Levin knew what the Cinccino was thinking, and found himself agreeing with her, despite how painful it felt.

- I know... it's not safe for her anymore. Not here, not with us...

He could easily dispose of Nylus, trade him over, release him somewhere. But he couldn't bring himself to do any of those - imposing the deadly creature on some other unsuspecting Trainer would be criminal, as would be returning such a demon into the wild - especially when he was responsible for bringing it into this world. Not only that - taming Nylus was a matter of pride, something he promised himself he'd do ever since Rojo died. Perhaps Zion was right in that regard, pride was often the driving force in his life. So no, getting rid of Nylus wasn't an option... but as long as Reina remained close by, she'd never be safe, and Nylus would never rest. Only one option remained, and judging by the way the Milotic now looked at him, it seemed the Water-Type had already reached that same conclusion before he did...

- I'm sorry dear. I really am... but think of the opportunities it'll bring. You can live peacefully again, you can pursue your true passion of performing, you can enjoy life the way you should! Leave Nylus to me. I promise I'll tame him one day, and when I do, I hope... I hope you come visit...

The last words hurt the most. He recalled Reina into her Premier Ball and looked back at the destruction that his irresponsibility had brought about.

I'll make things right. No matter what it costs, or how long it takes... I'll never, ever be weak or careless again! Not as long as they're depending on me...

MarbleZone 09-27-2015 04:33 PM

Levin sat in his room, in the company of Mazo and Haou, whom he requested join him to discuss an important matter.

- … but there’s no way I can be certain. I need your help with this.

Haou, as usual, said nothing, but a simple touch of his hand on Levin’s shoulder caused a flurry of images to flash before his eyes, conveying everything the Medicham thought on the matter without a word. He saw glimpses of a golden and black dragon standing victorious over its elder, and a meek yellow herbivore triumphing over its natural predator.

- Is this… what’s bound to happen?

Mazo shook his head.

I do not know what Haou sees, but I’ve learned to accept it as a likely outcome. We share the same belief – neither is ready to move on without passing the torch; without knowing that you’re left in good hands.

- But you also think they have to go?

I believe both have destinies that diverge from yours, powerful allies as they would be to your cause. One seeks something you cannot give him, and the other something that cannot be repaired. They are, each in their own way, loyal to you… but if you did truly change as I believe you to have, you already know the answer to your question.

Haou nodded in reassurance, while Levin merely stared out the window. This was becoming a theme – he rose a family, only to see his “children” move on to happier futures without him. Made him wonder just how cut out for training he really was…

Why do I hesitate? It’s for the best, it’s what they need. I shouldn’t let my own feelings get in the way, but what it comes down to is… I’m scared. These guys are the closest thing I’ve ever had to friends. We grew alongside one another… why do they all leave, sooner or later?

Mazo and Haou sensed the Saffron-native’s concern and each placed a hand on his. They weren’t going anywhere. And deep down, Levin knew exactly who the Pokemon who would be with him forever were. All he had to do was watch them all from afar, each tending to their own daily routines, to know how he felt about every single one of them – and who was in it to the end with him. For one reason or another, some wouldn’t make it, and fate would have other plans in store for them. But he welcomed them all regardless and let Arceus decide what he couldn’t. In this case, keeping either Pokemon around would do nothing but bring them misery… He couldn’t be selfish like that, as much as he loved having them around.

He stepped out of the house and whistled. Basker the Arcanine came running to him, recognizing his master’s calling.

- I know how much you’ll dislike this request, but there’s someone I need you to fetch for me.

----

The clearing in front of his Treetop Base was bathed by the morning sunlight. Levin stood at the center and faced two of his strongest partners: the imposing, rogue black lion, Ryker the Luxray, and the dragon who’d been at his side in each of his most career-defining adventures, Syre the Salamence.

- I called you here to… ask you a favor. Each of you are the strongest Pokemon of your respective Types and your knowledge… your power, you should share it.

He was having trouble finding the words. He knew how each of them felt, things neither of them would readily admit to their Trainer, and he wasn’t going to be the one to press the matter. But if he found a way to show them they’d be well-represented, that they would leave behind worthy successors, maybe then they’d be more at ease. Maybe then… parting ways wouldn’t be so painful.

- Ryker. I know you still harbor negative feelings toward me. I took you away from Zak, I took away your old name, all for the sake of owning a powerful Pokemon. Considering everything that’s happened recently, I don’t think you’ll ever think of me as a worthy replacement. Fact is, I tried to change you from Silas, Zak’s Luxray, into Ryker, my own Pokemon… but maybe I was wrong the whole time. I wonder... if that resentment might be holding you back. I wonder if you can hold your own against a younger Pokemon – I challenge you to fight Lumi.

Mazo, stunned by Levin’s choice, turned his head to face him but didn’t protest. Lumi? The sheep wouldn’t hurt a fly, and the Lucario still remembered the way Ryker manhandled Dux, a pure Fighting-Type, in their forest duel. Surely he knew the Flaaffy would be in danger?

The black lion growled. Levin’s words hit a nerve, and were punctuated by calling his strength into question. He’d show the human… he’d hurt the Flaaffy if that’s what it took, just like he hurt that insolent Machoke. But maybe… maybe Lumi would hurt him back. And maybe, in doing so, he’d awaken a power strong enough to… to succeed him. Maybe then he could leave afterwards without compromising his honor. Did the human know of his feelings?...

Levin turned his attention to Syre, his beloved dragon, the humble hero who let him fly on his back without so much as a complaint, the strongest of his kin Levin had ever met. The only Pokemon of his ever to claim a life – that of Mediville’s Gardevoir, who threatened to kill them all otherwise. He owed more to Syre than just about any of his other friends. And that’s why he couldn’t ignore the obvious any longer.

A family… that’s what you crave the most at this point in your life. Not the battling or flying around… you have your eyes on a certain someone. It’s my obligation to give you that chance, at the very least, after everything you’ve done for me. But just like Ryker, you’re a proud warrior – I’ll show you we will all be in good hands. Trust me Syre…

- Ajax lost his mentor to Nylus and I failed to do anything about it. I know you aren’t keen on the idea of having a pupil, nor do I ask that of you… but just one battle. Please Syre, do what you can to test his limits. See what Rojo did for him and the brilliant fighter he can become. Only you can do it – short of Nylus, you’re the only one he is motivated to fighting. Will you do that for me?

Again, he couldn’t reveal his true intentions. But perhaps if, by some miracle, Ajax could topple one of his very best fighters, Syre would be more comfortable in pursuing his own dreams, knowing Levin and the team would be in good hands. He believed Ajax could one day surpass Syre; question was… did that day arrive already?
Syre, ever obedient, nodded without hesitation. He too wanted to test the Fraxure’s true potential – he owed it to his late friend Rojo, at the very least. And maybe, just maybe, there was a chance Ajax could even surprise him and, who knows surpass him. Just this once, he’d gladly accept that defeat, because his heart and mind were already focused elsewhere. Could Levin somehow know of that?...

Ajax the Fraxure and Lumi the Flaaffy both emerged from simultaneous flashes of light. While the former instantly locked eyes with Syre, the one colossus he had to beat before getting his revenge on Nylus, the latter wasn’t comfortable with so much as glancing at Ryker – they had only joined forces once, and the meek sheep had always been wary of the lone predator.

- Ajax, Lumi, are you ready for the training session of your lives?

Levin’s jovial tone hid a torrent of conflicting feelings. They didn’t need to know any more than this; training was, after all, their daily routine. Only difference this time around was that this wouldn’t be a lighthearted sparring, but actual battles. Ajax, as expected, was raring to go, eager to test himself against the dragon he considered disgraced for bowing so easily to a human. Lumi was mostly apprehensive, but his natural penchant for always seeing the good side of things told him Levin would watch out for him if Ryker got too violent… right?

You should watch from afar. This is a story they have to tell on their own.

- I know. All four of them need this, whether they realize it or not. My only regret is having taken this long to make up my mind…

They’re family. You want them close to you… it is only natural. If anything, you deserve praise – the Levin I first knew would never willingly part ways with a powerful ally, no matter what it took to keep it.

Ajax lunged at Syre, who merely took flight and avoided the charge. Believing himself out of harm’s way, and with little desire to hurt his younger kin, the Salamence merely released a wave of Embers to warn him off… something Ajax took exception to. If Syre wasn’t going to take this seriously, he’d make him!

Channeling his fury, the Fraxure unleashed a sudden burst of energy in the form of Dragon Rage. The blue flames enveloped the airborne Syre, who stopped momentarily to douse the fire that engulfed his wings. Taking advantage of the opportunity, the smaller dragon summoned a barrage of stones that came crashing down on his foe, dragging him back down to the floor and trapping him in a Rock Tomb!

Using his Strength, Syre was quick to remove the debris, but the relentless Ajax had him in his sights – the super-aggressive warrior lunged forward and slashed the Salamence with a vicious Dual Chop, leapt up and came crashing down on his foe with a X-Scissor that left a nasty cut on one of Syre’s wings… rendering him unable to take flight again!

Ajax… you’re not pulling back at all. Did you want this fight that badly?...

Growling in pain and annoyance, Syre’s look changed. Levin instantly knew what it meant – the dragon wasn’t going to take it easy any longer. Taking advantage of Ajax’s proximity, he slammed his massive Dragon Tail against the Fraxure’s torso, propelling him back several feet. Ajax landed on his feet, but was immediately blasted with a powerful Dragon Breath that caused him to lose his balance and fall hard on his back! And then, Syre’s belly took on an ominous red glow…

Meanwhile, Ryker had already engaged the apprehensive Lumi. The black hunter’s body crackled with excess electricity as he charged ahead, reminding Levin of just how much raw power the creature possessed. There was no doubt in his mind that, despite his limited arsenal, Ryker’s lightning attacks were far stronger than Lumi’s, or even Crix’s, could ever become in their prime.
The easygoing sheep watched in stunned disbelief while Ryker lunged at him without holding anything back, ready to Crunch his bones between his fangs. It wasn’t until the very last second that Lumi managed to react, creating a large Cotton Guard shield that completely halted the Luxray’s momentum, much to his irritation. The predator leapt back to create some separation and devise a new approach, while the Flaaffy wondered just what exactly Levin expected him to do – surely not try to hurt Ryker in return?...

He did. And deep down, Lumi knew it – an actual battle, with actual danger, was the only way to really become stronger. Ryker had been through so many of those already… now it was his time to step up! With renewed confidence, and always telling himelf that Levin would keep him safe, the Flaaffy prepared to fight back, much to Ryker’s amusement. It wasn’t until Lumi released a Power Gem blast, which Ryker narrowly avoided, that the Luxray realized his foe really intended to fight back. So be it…

A massive pillar of lightning shot upwards from Ryker’s body and into the sky above. Clouds gathered over the clearing instantly and a twice-as-large Thunder strike came crashing down on Lumi, engulfing him completely in its destructive light. When it faded, the Flaaffy was on the ground, writhing in pain, much like Ajax some feet away.

And here it comes…

Syre had finished charging up, and shot a crimson sphere of energy into the cloudy sky. The orb vanished, and shortly afterwards a deafening noise filled the clearing, as if the world’s most violent storm was just above their heads, announcing its arrival. The clouds took on an orange glow, and one by one, flaming meteors began to fall, homing in on the clearing and, more specifically, on the downed Fraxure. But a move of that magnitude could lay waste to the entire Marble Garden, no matter who Syre’s intended target was…

Suddenly, out of nowhere, a white creature materialized directly in front of Levin, Mazo and Haou, and proceeded to erected a Protective green dome around them all.

- Leon!

This was something the Gallade would never hesitate to do – his sworn duty was to keep his soul twin, Levin, safe at all costs, no matter how far apart they were. And right now, faced with the incoming Draco Meteor Syre had summoned, they needed all the protection they could get. But Ajax and Lumi would have to fend for themselves…

Each comet struck the earth with incredible violence, sending a powerful shockwave on impact. One after the other, the Draco Meteors ravaged the clearing, creating untold devastation. Not even Nylus’s last rampage had been this damaging… Levin clenched his fists, fearing the attack might have been too much for the Flaaffy and Fraxure to withstand. And if that was the case…

After what seemed like an eternity, the onslaught was over, and Leon removed his shield. All around them, smoke and embers were all they could see. When the dust began to settle, the first thing they noticed were the countless desolate craters where once stood a lush green field. And then, something odd – a large round boulder, perfectly severed in two, a meteor that didn’t disintegrate. And scattered all around the large two halves, several small pebbles that should by all accounts have been incinerated on impact, but instead sparked occasionally with electricity.

Incredible…

Mazo stood in place, visibly stunned by something he picked up before Levin, as usual. Haou, in turn, stepped forward and, with a spreading motion of his hands, caused the remaining smoke to vanish from the clearing with his psychic power, revealing the truth of the events.

Where Levin feared to find the charred corpses of Lumi and Ajax, instead were two magnificent creatures, standing proudly and brimming with power. Triggered by their survival instinct, the sheep and dragon joined forces to ward off the deadly barrage, and as a result, the Flaaffy and Fraxure were no more – in their place were a http://www.upnetwork.net/fb/sprites/pn181.gif and http://www.upnetwork.net/fb/sprites/pn612.gif, staring their respective opponents with confidence and defiance!

A simultaneous evolution. Your household truly is full of surprises…

Syre stared directly at his foe, revealing little emotion but burning inside – finally, this was the true Ajax, and potential successor to his throne. But he had to be sure his power was real, that he could carry Levin to the ultimate victory in his absence. The winged dragon roared and lunged at the Haxorus, coated in glimmering blue energy. The Dragon Rush took the form of a giant dragon’s head and came crashing down on Ajax, ready to engulf him, but the golden warrior didn’t flinch.

A fierce, violent aura enveloped Ajax, empowering him both in strength and speed; the Dragon Dance perfected his body for combat, as Syre drew ever closer, ready to seal the match with his favorite move. The Haxorus stared at the oncoming Salamence and grinned before leaping up directly into the glowing shape that surrounded Syre, as if purposefully allowing himself to be swallowed by the ethereal fangs. Channeling dragon energy of his own into one of his claws, Ajax met Syre mid-air, and the two collided in a flash of light followed by a massive burst of energy.

The expected outcome. Did it go the way you predicted, master?

Mazo, and likely Haou as well, already knew the result. Levin had to wait for the dust to settle and the light to fade; then, he saw one of the dragons land on his feet, and the other tumble to the ground, unconscious. When the golden armor glistened under the sunlight and its wielder let out a triumphant roar, the Trainer realized the torch had indeed been passed – Ajax had just bested Syre!

Ryker saw everything through the corner of his eye, a luxury his unrivaled eyesight allowed. At the same time, he kept his attention on his newly-evolved opponent: Lumi gazed at his own hands, half-confused as to what had just happened, but quickly adjusting to the pleasant reality that he was no longer an effeminate-looking Flaaffy. Empowered by his newfound confidence, the Ampharos found himself able to control powers he never knew he had – he lunged forward, channeling fire into his fist, and prepared to deliver a powerful Fire Punch!
However, the Luxray had his opponent perfectly scouted. Each muscle contraction was effortlessly picked up by Ryker’s prodigious vision, so that he could effectively predict Lumi’s movements the second he began to carry them out. The black lion dodged Lumi’s strike, leaping to the side at the last moment, and fought back with a powerful Take Down that knocked down the Light Pokemon!

Ryker towered over his fallen opponent, intent on putting an end to the battle. Part of him felt disappointed – Lumi wasn’t the replacement he’d hoped, unlike Ajax. Flames escaped his mouth, and the Luxray moved to finish things with a Fire Fang. However, at the last second, Lumi smiled and carried out the plan he’d been aiming for since the start! Ryker’s eyesight was indeed incredible, but at the same time, his most exploitable weakness – and having realized as much, Lumi did what he knew best, unleashing a Flash of light so strong even Levin’s eyes hurt all the way from where he stood watching!
Ryker growled in intense pain and leapt back, eyes shut and burning intensely. His vision was as perfect as it was delicate and more than anyone else, the Flash did a number on him for that very reason. All he could see was a white screen punctuated by stubborn speckles of light. The hunter paced around the ravaged battlefield, trying to shake off the blindness to no avail, and Lumi had the perfect opportunity to strike back! He tapped into a new energy reserve he never knew he had, his body taking on a blue glow as he did. And then, with a ferocious roar resembling Syre or Ajax, Lumi unleashed a beam of draconic energy straight at the vulnerable Ryker! The Dragon Pulse found its mark, exploding in a myriad colors, and to Levin’s profound amazement, the Luxray fell and didn’t get back up!

- Lumi… you did it!!

The ampharos panted heavily but smiled as warmly as he ever did; if Levin were a betting man, he’d wager the Ampharos was as surprised about the outcome as he was. Ajax, equally tired, stood over the fallen Syre with a look of fulfillment on his face – for the first time in his life, the Haxorus radiated inner peace rather than frustration or anger.

Mazo and Leon approached the fainted combatants and revived them with their Heal Pulses. Syre and Ryker, aware that their respective rivals had finally surpassed them, both looked at their Trainer with eyes that told the entire story – it was time to go.
The Luxray moved first; he approached Lumi and nodded in approval, growling his satisfaction and relief. Then he walked over to Mazo and bowed respectfully; though he never admitted it openly, he considered the Lucario the strongest warrior he’d ever met. And at last, Levin. The Saffron-native whispered his apologies to Ryker, for everything – forcefully separating him from Zak, the only Trainer he’d ever loved; failing to bond with him; letting the predator roam the nearby forests rather than welcoming him in his home. Ryker shook his head in disagreement; overtime, he’d come to hold some measure of respect for the Trainer he once loathed. And while it was true he felt lonely and sad beyond repair after leaving Zak’s side, he would leave Levin with fonder memories than he thought possible. But his old heart cried out for freedom, the chance to explore the world on his own after so many years under the care of humans – he was one of the older Pokemon in Fizzy Bubbles at this point, and battling didn’t call out to him as strongly as it once did. It was time for a new generation to take his place and for him to live a new life with the years he had left.

Levin smiled, ran a hand over the lion’s head (the first sign of affection between the two since the day they met) and remembered there was one final thing he had to do. Reaching for a Pokeball, he called out Basker, and the second the Arcanine’s eyes met Ryker’s, he knew the time had come. They’d been bitter enemies for the duration of Ryker’s stay, but held mutual respect for one another as fighters. They said their short but heartfelt goodbyes, wondering if they’d ever get the chance to fight one another in the future. With no loose ends, Ryker waved his tail in one final goodbye, and without looking back, ran off into the forest and the world beyond to start the final chapter of his own story.

Be well, Ryker… I hope we meet each other again some day.

A low-pitched growl brought him back to reality. Syre too should be getting ready to say his goodbyes, but neither him nor Levin felt the story was complete. Ryker’s desire was about to be fulfilled, but Syre’s calling was different and one Levin couldn’t provide on his own. Until he found a way, the dragon would linger. But just then, in a curious twist of fate, it seemed the final chapter of Syre’s story was indeed about to be written - commotion by the entrance of the Treetop Base alerted the group, and Syre was the first to react. Spreading his wings and eagerly approaching Marble Garden’s very first visitors, the Salamence roared a challenge to the woman who’d just arrived.

Levin smiled, counting himself fortunate that everything had fallen into place the way it did. In the woman’s possession was a Pokemon that could change Syre’s life forever, and that was the reason he invited her over in the first place.

- Glad you could make it, Pest.

Pest 10-02-2015 10:30 PM

Pest was pretty sure this was the right place. Granted, she didn’t know much about secret bases — she was something of a wanderer, at least for the time being — but Levin had been specific about the base’s location. In this particular forest, this many miles off … her path zigzagged as she came across clearing after clearing, looking for some sign that this was the place. Wherever the base was, he’d hidden it well.

By her side walked a Charmeleon, her oldest and most trusted friend. Vesta was alert, keeping an eye out for any wayward bugs that might choose to attack. The flame on the tip of her tail flickered, swaying a little as she walked, though years of being raised in a forest much like this one had taught her how to avoid accidentally setting things on fire. Every once in a while her claws would twitch as she imagined a silent, stalking predator ambushing them in a sudden flurry of claws and teeth. Not that she was worried — she, too, was carnivorous, and she knew a thing or two about getting into a fight. She was Pest’s strongest Pokemon, after all. This wasn’t a boast, but rather simple fact; Trivia might try to push her around occasionally, but a Crunch in response would send the Dusknoir running off. Still, she knew better than to be careless about this upcoming encounter. If what Pest had told her was true, then this trainer would be raising Pokemon who at the very least would give her a run for her money. And there had to have been a reason that she had been particularly requested to accompany her trainer to this far-off site.

For her part, her trainer wasn’t much more in the know. After acting as a referee for a hard-fought battle between her and a trainer named Chad, Levin had taken Pest aside and asked if she would come visit his secret base, bringing Vesta along with her. According to him, there was someone he wanted Vesta to meet. She’d accepted, and now they were making their way to Levin’s hideaway. Hopefully this was a good time. She’d hate to catch him by surprise, but she figured that he’d be expecting her in any case.

Up ahead, the canopy cleared a little, signaling that they were drawing close to another clearing. She hoped they were getting close; they’d been walking for the better part of the day, and on a bad day she’d have suspected that they were lost. If they could see some sign … but then again, it wouldn’t be much of a secret base if they did—

A roar startled her from her thoughts. She scrambled back as a huge winged shape loomed in the clearing ahead, challenging the strangers who’d intruded on his domain. Part of Pest was confused at what a Salamence was doing in a forest like this; the other part was too busy trying to reel in her initial fear, forcing her to move forward rather than backward despite what instinct told her. It’s nothing to worry about, she told herself. It’s probably one of Levin’s Pokemon. You have a Steelix, you know your way around big Pokemon. Then again, dealing with a Pokemon who she knew well to be gentle and protective was one thing; dealing with an imposing dragon she’d never seen before was something else entirely.

Vesta seemed to be of the same opinion, though she handled it differently. While her trainer was stumbling in surprise, she jumped forward to answer the dragon’s challenge, tail flame swelling to show that she was no pushover. Hackles raised, she let loose a growl of her own, lifting her chin to glare up at the Salamence. Eyes narrowed as she prepared her defense—

“Glad you could make it, Pest.”

The trainer blinked. Cautiously, she looked beyond the dragon, and there was Levin, smiling at the sight of them. She felt relief at not being a bother by showing up so suddenly, followed by the much more rational relief that the Salamance probably wasn’t going to eat her. Gently, she put a hand on Vesta’s shoulder; the Charmeleon tensed a little, but then relaxed in equal measure, though she didn’t take her eyes off her could-be opponent.

“Hi, Levin.” She took a deep breath, willing her heart to slow to its usual rate. “Glad to be here. Vesta’s glad to be here, too.” There was a moment when Vesta was tempted to roll her eyes. “And the welcoming committee is impressive, that’s for sure.” Vesta chose to indulge herself this time. “Well, is there anything we can help you with? You were pretty interested in us having us visit. What’s the occasion?”

MarbleZone 10-03-2015 06:26 PM

He smiled back at the first Trainer to walk into Marble Garden with his permission - more than that, his invitation. The only other two people to ever approach his base were Kayl and Vesper, and neither had left fond memories. He'd repay them both in due time, but this took priority.

- I'm afraid the welcoming committee wasn't my doing. Syre's happy you made it, in his own way.

He recalled the day he asked Pest to pay him a visit. It was at the end of her match with Chad McBrennan, of which she'd walked out victorious. Levin knew her oldest partner was one Syre could possibly bond with; in Pest and her Vesta could lie the answers to Syre's recent anxieties, the shortcomings that haunted the elder dragon in his adulthood - lacking a family of his own.

- How's Kam... I mean, Fons doing? Anyway, if you remember our chat back at Silver Lake, I have a favor to ask you. I'm afraid that's why I asked you to come all the way here.

He might as well come clean now. No point in keeping secrets from the person you're depending on.

- Syre, the Salamence before you, has a problem I can't fix on my own. I'm not sure anyone can, but if anyone has a chance at helping him, it's you... Syre's been around for a long time, he's done his share of battling and flying me around the world. He's even had to... kill at one point. But he's past that stage of his life, and he isn't happy with me anymore. He needs a family of his own, you see...

The dragon huffed, annoyed. Levin was never one to open up like that; who gave the human the right to reveal his troubles to a stranger?!

- I could tell you I was just looking for a battle to pass time. But I'd be lying, and I see little reason to do that. Syre needs someone by his side, but that someone has to be a Pokemon he deems worthy; only someone he respects can be his partner. I understand the magnitude of what I'm asking here but... I think Vesta could light that spark in him.

Syre growled. Now Levin was crossing the line. He would be the one to choose his partner, and when to look for one! He appreciated the human's effort, and above all that he could anticipate his needs like that, but to assume this Charmeleon was good enough for him... He would be the judge of that! The Salamence stepped forward, fangs glistening in the sunlight, but found himself moving slower than usual - his muscles were still sore from the battle with Ajax. Ah, now that had been a glorious clash!

- I realize this is all a bit sudden, but I want to see if Vesta can take Syre to the limit. If she succeeds, maybe she'll earn his affection... and maybe he'll be complete at last. What do you say? He's a bit banged up from a fight he just had, but you'll find he's more than a capable opponent.

Syre wasn't going to wait around for two humans to decide his fate. The Charmeleon before him looked defiant and ready to go - what need was there for their Trainers' approval? He roared and unleashed a powerful Dragon Breath straight at Vesta, ready to test the female.

Levin looked on. There was nothing else he could say to persuade Pest; she was in her right to recall her Charmeleon and walk away now. If she didn't, Syre would pursue this to the end. But despite having potentially found the solution to his dragon's problems, he couldn't bring himself to smile or feel happy.

Regardless of how this ends... he can't stay.

Pest 10-14-2015 08:21 PM

To say Pest was surprised at this proposition would have been an understatement. As she listened to Levin, old ideas imploded and new ideas flared from the ashes. She’d always considered Vesta as a friend, a little sister, and sometimes a big sister if the day was off enough. A fighter, a thinker, a snarker … but never had the idea of the Charmeleon starting a family crossed her mind. She looked to Vesta, a little nervous as to what her reaction might be, and took note of her wide, unbelieving eyes. Never before had she seen Vesta so utterly stunned.

“I … wow,” she finally managed to say. “That’s not what I expected to hear at all. Not that it’d be a bad thing necessarily! I’m sure Vesta would also be happy to have a family of her own, even if she’d never admit it.” She paused, thinking of the team’s junior members playfighting, and of the little smiles the Charmeleon would wear when she thought no one was looking. “But I can’t choose for her. If she takes him on for size, then great! But I don’t know how she’d agree …”

While Pest was musing over this, Vesta’s confused daze dissipated at the sound of Syre’s growl. The Salamence had taken a menacing step forward, clearly no more comfortable with this topic than she was. But his aggression was also clear: he was ready to pick a fight, even though he already seemed a little banged up, and even though his trainer hadn’t given him any orders. Vesta glanced back at Pest, who was still tripping over her own words — she’d have to make her own strategies, then. Much as she didn’t want to antagonize him, she’d rather play his game than risk her trainer getting hurt.

How to go about this, then … As she pondered, Syre rushed forward, expelling a noxious cloud of Dragon Breath. She stood her ground as the chemicals seeped into her scales, nearly to the point of cramping her muscles uncomfortably. Still, she stood her ground, mind racing. He hadn’t used a very powerful attack. Probably trying her on for size. A good deal of her attacks wouldn’t do much against him, so she’d have to resort to less familiar types. First off: keeping his attention off her trainer. She thought of Pest, of the years they’d spent together, bonding and growing as close as could be — certainly not something this Salamence could replicate with her! Focusing her loyalty into power, she launched herself at him, tearing into his scales with considerable force. He cast a shadow over her, but she wouldn’t let his size intimidate her. Not when she was so busy Returning Pest’s friendship, fending off the would-be aggressor.

Her move complete, she skipped back, just out of reach. Now that she’d made her mark, she’d have to keep him from retaliating. He’d probably favor physical moves, despite his opening move; there was no way he’d resist getting his claws dirty. What with him apparently killing someone … suppressing a growl, she instead summoned thin whips of Fire that soon roared to life, Spining around Syre and stirring themselves up to crackling heights. It probably wouldn’t hold him for long, but she wasn’t looking for a huge chunk of time. Just enough to figure out what to do next. Regardless of their similar levels of strength, this wasn’t going to be an easy battle.


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