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Old 02-01-2015, 02:20 PM   #28
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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.


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.


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 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 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.


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.


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.
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