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Old 01-20-2014, 07:12 PM   #20
MarbleZone
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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!
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