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The Quest for the Legends (ILCOE)

Chapter 37: Carl

“I have to hand it to you,” Chaletwo said grumpily, “that story was pretty good, but could you really not have, you know, antagonized me a little bit less?”

Oh, shut up, Mark replied. It’s not like they didn’t think you were evil and murderous already. Why do you even care what they think of you? It’s not like it matters.

It had turned out that one of the citizens owned an Abra, and it was now teleporting the inhabitants of Crater Town, family by family, to safety with friends and relatives. The townspeople stood in a line, looking worriedly at their watches every now and then. The Abra’s trainer, Carl, and Mark by the Gym Leader’s side watched the procedure from a distance.

In his head, Chaletwo sighed. “Look, Mark…” he said, his telepathic voice pained. “I… I know we haven’t been on the best terms for the past couple of days. You don’t like me. I’ve snapped a little at you. I know. But…” Mark could almost see him wince. “I… I hope you realize that I… really appreciate what you’ve done for our cause so far, and… I must hope you didn’t mean that thing about resigning. We need you. You can’t go on being all rebellious like this. It won’t help anyone. Please just… be reasonable.”

Mark sighed. Part of him wanted to just say okay and amen and continue being nice-Mark who was a good boy and did everything Chaletwo told him to. No responsibility, no need to think. Definitely comfortable.

On the other hand the past evening had made him feel better about himself than he ever remembered feeling in his life. Standing up to Chaletwo, supposedly the most powerful Pokémon in the world, and making up some silly story with him as the villain that everybody believed every word of – it seemed almost hilarious. Certainly not like the wimp he had pretty much always been now that he thought about it, what with whining about everything being his teacher’s fault all the time. He was liking it.

“I’m… I’m sorry about what happened to Suicune,” Chaletwo muttered at last. “I’m every bit as puzzled as you are, believe me. I don’t know what happened out there or what Suicune was thinking, but there’s nothing we can do about it now. We have to move on.” He paused. “It wasn’t my fault,” he added bitterly. “Stop acting like it is. How should I have known Gyarados would kill him? I hate to sound whiny, but blaming me for it is not fair at all.”

Stop making excuses and try to make yourself sound like you actually care, Mark thought resentfully.

“I do care!” Chaletwo’s voice shouted in frustration. “But it’s still not my fault! Look, Mark, I know human teenagers supposedly like to rebel and something like that, but…”

I’m not rebelling, Mark thought, irritated. I’m just finally thinking for myself for once. I’m tired of having you boss me around in my head. From now on, I’m going to make my own decisions.

There was a short pause. “Mark, you are being ridiculous. You don’t know…”

I’m not going to sit here refusing to do anything you say or anything. I’m just going to make the final decisions for myself. You can give me information, but you can’t boss me around. No more yelling at me for not looking at the right thing during battles, okay? If you don’t want to see what I want to look at, then for the love of God just come out of your Pokéball and use your own eyes! Mark felt the rant appearing in his head without him really deciding to think it. You know, that’s what gets me the most. You’re always sitting on the sidelines bossing us around, but you’ve never once done anything to deserve it. You’re just making us do all the dirty work for you. That’s not very legendarylike of you, is it?

“Oh, kind of like Pokémon trainers who sit on the sidelines ordering their Pokémon around?” Chaletwo replied coldly.

That’s different. Trainers don’t constantly yell at their Pokémon if they do something not quite the way they want it, and the trainers have done something to deserve it, since they defeated the Pokémon in battle when they caught them and that’s all part of the game. I mean, you know things, sure, but… you don’t really have any more of a clue what you’re doing than we do. And… how is that relevant, anyway? If you do something wrong, you’re not suddenly right when you point out somebody else doing it too.

There was another pause. Finally Chaletwo sighed. “Okay, look, we mustn’t fight. I’ll… try to let you figure things out for yourself more in the future, okay? Let’s just… be friends.”

Mark nodded grimly to himself, but if Chaletwo was going to reply, he didn’t get the chance because now Carl turned to Mark.

“Well,” he said, “how do you suggest we go about this tomorrow? Surely you had some sort of a plan?”

“Eh…” Mark racked his brain quickly. “Well, Chaletwo is going to release Volcaryu at seven o’clock tomorrow morning. Since we can’t really stand on the volcano while it’s erupting and Volcaryu can fly, or so Mew told me – I guess we would be best off in the air, maybe riding some Pokémon with Fly if poss…”

He stopped abruptly. Speak of the devil.

In the left side of Mark’s field of vision, he had spotted an all-too-familiar blue-haired girl sitting on the back of her Skarmory as it ascended above the edge of the crater, shortly followed by Alan riding Charlie in Charizard form.

Carl looked in that direction too upon realizing where Mark was staring. May and Alan spotted them, landed on the wooden floor of Crater Town, recalled their Pokémon, and hurried towards Mark and the Gym leader.

“Hey, Mark!” Alan called on the way. “We are idiots! We only realized after you left that it would be much quicker to…”

“I… I’m not who you think I am,” Mark said quickly and loudly, silencing Alan and turning his relieved expression into one of puzzlement. May raised an eyebrow.

“Do you know them?” Carl asked, his tone of voice somewhere midway between suspicious and conversational so that it was impossible to tell what his real intention was. Mark’s mind raced.

“I… I lied to you,” he continued, what he hoped was not too soon and not too late, ignoring Carl’s comment. “I… I’m really Mark Greenlet, the guy who was killed by Chaletwo on May 25th.”

Alan just stood there and blinked.

“Mark, what the hell are you…” May began, but Mark quickly cut her off, desperately hoping she’d get the hint.

“No, it’s true,” he babbled. “I’m sorry, I really am. It’s… I’m really resurrected and working for Mew trying to stop Chaletwo from releasing an evil dragon named Volcaryu that’s going to make this volcano erupt tomorrow and… I’ve been undercover so Chaletwo wouldn’t hear that I’m alive and take precautions. All I told you was… just to prevent the news from getting out to where he could hear it. I’m sorry.”

Mark could almost see the light of understanding flash on in Alan’s face as he caught on. May was still staring at him like some sort of a lunatic, but one elbowing from Alan made her close her mouth and give an ever-so-slight nod to indicate that she got it.

“So, Carl… do you maybe think they could help tomorrow?” he asked, trying his best to act natural. “I’ve been travelling with them, and they’ve got some good Pokémon that would help when we battle Volcaryu. Actually I… I intended to try to get them to help from the get-go, but I had to come warn you first. So guys, would you mind helping, if… if you can forgive me for lying?”

“Sure.”

“Of course.”

It didn’t sound at all believable in Mark’s opinion, but Carl made no comment.

“Thanks,” Mark just continued. “I didn’t think I’d be able to defeat it all on my own, and…”

Carl looked at him out of the corner of his eye. “You wouldn’t have needed to be all on your own anyway. Obviously I will help.”

For a moment Mark wasn’t sure if that would be overkill. The next moment he wondered why the heck that would be a bad thing. Then he realized that it wouldn’t be overkill at all.

“Wait,” he said, glancing at May and Alan. “This would have to be pretty much entirely a battle in the air. We can’t have our Pokémon on the volcano while it’s erupting. So all we can do is…” He winced. “We can only use Pokémon that can fly. Or maybe Fire Pokémon that don’t mind the lava and heat. Depends on how Mount Fever erupts…”

He quickly evaluated this in his mind. He would have Charizard, Scyther and Dragonair. May would have Skarmory, Butterfree and possibly Spirit. Alan would have Charlie and maybe Diamond – and Vicky, of course. They would need whatever backup Carl might have.

“Well,” Carl said simply, “since I specialize in Fire Pokémon, that will not be a problem on my part.”

“It will be on ours,” Alan answered, looking back at Mark. “That changes things,” he said anxiously. “That’s… not a lot of Pokémon. It’s like at most ten between the three of us. How are we going to defeat Volcaryu with ten Pokémon?”

“I have a team of six that would be fine in the battle,” Carl repeated. “That makes sixteen, and my Pokémon are fairly powerful if I do say so myself.”

“Okay,” Mark began, “I’ll probably ride Charizard, then, and…”

“Wait a moment,” Carl interrupted. “Let’s discuss this in private.” He turned towards Mayor Daniels, who was standing a short distance away assisting a family with the teleportation.

“How is the evacuation going?” Carl called.

“Fine,” the Mayor called back.

“Would you mind if I took these kids over to the Gym to talk about tomorrow?”

“I can handle this,” the Mayor said and smiled as he made sure that a little girl was definitely holding the Abra’s hand before it teleported.

“Good,” Carl simply replied and motioned towards the kids to follow him into the Gym building. They went in through automatic doors into a clean room the size of a small battle arena but lacking the standard floor markings; the floor was all polished white. Mark looked questioningly up at Carl.

“I never liked the traditional way of handling Gyms,” Carl said without looking at him. “It’s always the same standard battle arena. They’re not interesting to work on. Today we only use this room as an… entrance hall, if you will.”

Carl led them to the far left corner of the room, where a metallic spiral staircase took them down through the floor. The smell of sulphur that had been consistently present in the town now intensified greatly as they stepped onto bare rock in a cavernous space lit by the glow of molten magma below. Mark looked around; they were in the crater, below the town. Maybe twenty meters above them was the wooden floor they had been standing on only minutes earlier, held up by an elaborate system of support beams, with the evening sky visible through the round hole in the middle of it.

The town looked a lot more fragile seen from below.

Tomorrow, Mark thought, his stomach lurching uncomfortably, this will all be gone. Burned.

An entire town wiped out of existence. The very idea felt absurd and insane. Towns weren’t supposed to be the sort of thing that just ceased to exist one day. And all the inhabitants would be homeless. He shuddered at the thought. He had lived in the same house his whole life; he couldn’t imagine it just suddenly being gone.

“This is where I hold my Gym battles,” Carl said, snapping Mark out of his thoughts. “Quite a bit more dramatic than that silly old building, don’t you think?”

Mark couldn’t shake off the feeling that as far as challengers were concerned, it was a great deal less dramatic than it was simply intimidating: the boiling heat, the smell, the uncomfortable knowledge that it was quite possible to fall to one’s death, and the feeling of being far out of one’s home field no doubt made this Gym considerably more of a challenge than it would otherwise be. But he nodded and muttered some words of agreement anyway.

“So,” Carl then began. “Why don’t you three kids show me what Pokémon you’ve got so we can do some planning and training?”

They reached for their Pokéballs and Pokémon cries soon filled the crater. Carl looked at each of them in turn, stroking his bearded chin as some of the more heat-sensitive Pokémon whimpered.

“Could be worse,” he finally concluded. “Mark, you will be able to ride your Charizard, your Dragonair can fight, and your Scyther may be able to battle for a limited amount of time, but being a Bug Pokémon he will not last very long. You, boy…”

“Alan,” Alan corrected. “And her name’s May.”

“Yes, Alan, you have a Charizard too, and your Rapidash may perhaps be able to make herself useful, as well as your Misdreavus. Girl – May – your Ninetales can probably fight, and your Skarmory can carry you, but your Butterfree won’t last long. How strong is the shell of your Pupitar?”

She blinked. “I don’t know.”

“How well can it resist magma?”

She shrugged in a manner that failed to be as casual as she intended. “I don’t know.”

“Only one way to find out,” Carl said, walked straight up to the blue cocoon Pokémon near the edge of the rock they were standing on and pushed him roughly over with his foot so that Pupitar tumbled down towards the red flow of the magma below.

Mark and Alan stared.

“What the hell do you think you’re doing?” May shouted heatedly, running pointlessly over to the edge to see her Pokémon fall, motionless, into the lava. Carl ignored her and simply plucked a Pokéball off his own belt.

“Get the Pupitar, Charizard,” he said calmly as he threw it.

The Pokéball split open and a blob of white light quickly formed itself into the shape of a slenderly built, golden orange dragon Pokémon – a female, Mark realized as his Charizard and Charlie simultaneously craned their necks in her direction. She glanced at the males with deep green eyes, a hint of a teasing smile around the corners of her mouth, before she took a graceful dive down after Pupitar and picked him up in her arms just as he was about to disappear entirely below the surface of the magma. She swooped back upwards, placing the cocoon Pokémon on the rock in front of a stunned May, and then settled beside her trainer, whipping her tail casually around while looking between Charlie and Charizard in mock disinterest.

Steam was rising from Pupitar’s body and small orange splotches of cooling magma still stuck to his hide, but his rocklike skin did not look hurt and his expression remained the same cold, distant and staring it seemed to have been frozen as ever since his evolution. May looked blankly at him and apparently deduced that since he had no visible injuries and wasn’t complaining, he must be all right.

“Hmm, he’s darned strong from the looks of it,” Carl commented after walking a circle around Pupitar to see him from every angle, sounding as if kicking other people’s Pokémon into molten lava was something he did regularly. “Shouldn’t have any problems using him tomorrow. If I were to guess, I’d say he’s pretty close to evolution. Am I right?”

The angry expression on May’s face had vanished completely and been replaced with a smile of pride. “Yes,” she answered. “He’s around level fifty right now.”

Carl nodded. “If we’re lucky, we’ll get to use a Tyranitar for the battle, which could improve our chances. Now, I expect you want to see what I’ve got?” He gave the boys a calculating look.

“That would be great,” Alan replied.

“Indeed,” Carl agreed, taking his five remaining Pokéballs off his belt. “Come out!”

Five Pokémon formed on the rock around him to join his Charizard: an Arcanine, a Magcargo, a Flareon, a Magmar and a Camerupt. They looked calmly around between the kids and their Pokémon.

“They can all battle tomorrow, obviously,” Carl continued. “I will be flying on Charizard, but the others will fight. To try to make the Pokémon who carry us fight at the same time would be foolish at best; a Pokémon should not have to try to concentrate on keeping a rider steady while trying to fight and dodge. The Charizard and Skarmory can therefore be disregarded while we plan our strategy, but if they foresee getting good moves in without trouble, they can do so.” He looked around as if waiting for complaints or questions before going on.

“Now, I presume that this Volcaryu will be resistant to Fire attacks, and none of the rest of my team can fly, so their usefulness in the battle may be rather limited, as that of the Ninetales and Rapidash. The primary role of responsibility, I would say, goes to May’s Pupitar, who is not only obviously a very well-trained Pokémon,” – he nodded towards May, who beamed with pride – “but can also use Rock attacks and is very resistant to extreme heat, which is something we should expect to be dealing with. Of course, this does not mean that every Pokémon should not do his best. However, they should be ready to take some risks to protect Pupitar and ensure that his attacks hit their target. The Dragonair will most likely be able to be of some help as well, presuming that he knows Dragon moves and that they will be effective against Volcaryu. Any objections to this plan?”

Alan shrugged. “Sounds good to me.”

Carl looked at him out of the corner of his eye. “I was asking your Pokémon, not you.”

“Oh.” There was a chorus of muttered agreement from the Pokémon.

“Great,” Carl replied. “Now we can battle. Recall all the Pokémon you’re not going to be using tomorrow.”

Alan looked at Carl, his expression puzzled. “Battle? Why?”

“Our Pokémon need to get a feel for one another,” the Gym leader answered as if it were obvious. “It will be easier for them to battle together if they’ve had some insight into each other’s battling style. Recall the others, and then it’s you three’s Pokémon against mine, here.”

Mark looked at him. “O…kay?” It made some sense, although he had never really thought of it that way before. He recalled Jolteon, Sandslash and Letal into their Pokéballs. Beside him, six of May and Alan’s Pokémon disappeared into their balls. The rock they were standing on seemed a lot bigger now that half of their Pokémon were gone, but it was still no full-sized battle arena, and if there were going to be many Pokémon on it at once, Mark couldn’t help thinking that it was awfully likely for someone to fall.

“Six on ten?” May asked skeptically.

“Six and home field,” Carl just said.

May frowned. “Are you sure we can’t battle you one at a time? Our Pokémon have already fought together, so they don’t need any introduction if that’s what you thought. Six on ten sounds pretty chaotic, and I’m not sure there’s enough room here.”

“But isn’t it technically better to emulate the atmosphere of the actual Volcaryu battle better?” Alan commented. “It is going to be chaotic, after all.”

“That’s one opponent, though,” May argued. “This is six. I don’t like the idea. I want to be able to focus on taking one Pokémon down without having five others running around and attacking mine while I’m looking elsewhere.”

“Well, tell you what,” Carl said. “How about I battle the lady in a traditional battle first if that’s what she likes, and then you two boys in a six-on-six simultaneous melee? Hm?” He looked between Mark and Alan.

“Eh,” Mark said hesitantly, “I… I don’t know. It sounds a little much to be dealing with six Pokémon at the same time.” He looked doubtfully over at Alan, hoping for some support.

“Fine, fine,” Carl sighed. “I will take on the two of you in two simultaneous three-on-three melees. Three of my Pokémon battle yours, and the other three battle his. Does that sound more manageable to you?”

Mark looked at Alan again, but judging from his expression he really liked that idea. Mark threw his arms in defeat. “Fine, then. Might as well. Are you going to battle May first?”

“Sure,” May said immediately, clearly happy enough with this conclusion not to want it changed. Carl did not object to it.

“It will be six on six, then,” the Gym leader said.

May looked at him. “What? Why?”

“The intention is to introduce all the Pokémon who will fight tomorrow to one another, isn’t it? And I will not battle with a handicap. Least of all against a woman.”

“Is that so?” May asked in an icy voice, giving Carl a glare.

“Yes,” he replied coolly. “Or are you perhaps of the opinion that women should generally be allowed fewer Pokémon in battle than men?”

May opened her mouth to reply, her face flushed, but apparently decided not to get into an argument. “I could beat you easily four on six,” she grumbled.

“No,” Carl just said. “Six on six. You’ve already been the one to decide you will battle alone. Let me then decide the number of Pokémon.”

May glared. “Fine.” She looked at Mark and Alan. “I think you should go upstairs or something so you won’t get in the way.”

Alan shrugged and walked off towards the staircase without objection. Mark followed him up into the original Gym battle arena. They heard a faint echo of Carl’s barking voice from below as he laid out the rules of the battle.

“So,” Alan said after a short silence. “What do we do to pass the time?”

Mark shrugged. “We could continue that battle we started earlier today.”

“Oh, yeah,” Alan replied. “That. Sure.”

There were no floor markings in the room, but Mark just walked to the other end of it, closer to the front door, and faced Alan. “Okay. We start again where we left off, right? Same rules and same Pokémon?”

“Right.”

Alan plucked a Pokéball from his belt and sent out Charlie. Mark watched the Charizard stretch and felt for his own Pokéballs with his hand. There was no pool to send out Gyarados – and he wasn’t sure if he’d have wanted to use Gyarados even if he could. The next best thing he had, then, was electricity.

“Go, Jolteon!” Mark shouted as he threw the Pokéball forward. Jolteon materialized on the floor and looked at Charlie as the dragon Pokémon kicked off the ground.

“Scary Face!” Alan ordered, and Charlie’s draconic face twisted into something demonic: his eyes rolled back into his head, his mouth opened creepily wide, his fangs seemed to lengthen…

Mark saw Jolteon flinch. “Don’t let it get to you,” he muttered to his Pokémon despite himself being uncomfortably reminded of a horror movie he had watched in a burst of rebelliousness sometime when he was little and his parents were out. “Thunderbolt!” he said more loudly.

“Charlie, Fire Spin!” Alan countered. Mark looked down at Jolteon, but the Pokémon hesitated with a quiet whine of fear while the Charizard took a deep breath and flew towards him. Charlie flew in a rapid circle around Jolteon, spinning a wall of flame in his path; Jolteon whimpered somewhere in the middle of the flames.

“Fire Fang!”

The dragon Pokémon began to dive down through the flames, more fire licking his teeth, and Mark quickly took out the empty Pokéball. “Jolteon, return!”

Nothing happened, and Mark looked in confusion between the Pokéball and the two Pokémon, barely visible through the flames; he saw Charlie bite Jolteon’s side with white-hot fangs while the panicking Electric Pokémon yelped. Then the dragon let out a roar of pain, falling backwards and landing harshly on the ground as his muscles convulsed in electric shock.

“Fire Spin blocks the Pokéball beam,” Alan called helpfully. “Are they both all right?”

Oh, yeah. Fire Spin. Those moves. Mark vaguely remembered the class on trapping moves. He hadn’t been listening, but the Moltres he’d been drawing had been great.

Charlie stood up and gave his trainer a nod to indicate that he was fine. Jolteon was still standing inside the ring of fire, although he didn’t look all right at all; he was crouching down in the middle of the ring and tried not to move.

Then, all of a sudden, he let out an electrified cry and sent a bolt of lightning flying straight at the unprepared Charlie. The dragon Pokémon received another powerful shock and roared in pain before shivering and flying back up into the air.

“Nice one, Jolteon,” Mark said and smiled grimly. “I guess you’ll have to stay out for a little while longer.”

“Charlie, use a Slash,” Alan ordered, and the Charizard swooped down through the Fire Spin with his claws raised. Jolteon let out a cry and sent a jagged wave of electricity up towards him. It hit the dragon Pokémon in mid-air and his wings froze; Jolteon leapt out of the way, over the rapidly shrinking wall of flames, and Charlie landed in the middle, paralyzed.

Alan furrowed his brow. “Charlie, that’s enough,” he said and recalled the Pokémon back into his Pokéball. He paused for a moment. “Do it, Racko!”

The Grovyle was in mid-leap as he emerged from his Pokéball, focusing his reptilian eyes on Jolteon.

The Fire Spin had faded down, the last embers sizzling away near the floor, and Jolteon looked like he was in pain. “Come back,” Mark said and recalled him back to the safety of his ball. He thought a bit. Was there any particular reason not to send out Charizard?

Nope.

“Go!” he yelled as his own dragon Pokémon was released from the Pokéball. Racko, despite being faced with a Fire-type much larger than himself, was unfazed; if anything his grin widened.

“Racko, Screech!” Alan ordered, and the Grovyle let out a high-pitched nails-on-chalkboard sound that made Mark wince. Charizard grimaced.

“Flamethrower!” Mark said quickly.

“Racko, come back!” Alan said before Charizard could fire the attack, the red Pokéball beam dissolving the Grass Pokémon and zapping him in. “Go, Mist!”

Charizard fired the Flamethrower anyway, since he’d bothered to prepare for it. As the Vaporeon materialized out of the Pokéball, she was caught in the middle of a column of white-hot flame.

“Aqua Ring!” Alan said as the flames dissolved and the crouching Mist stood up and shook some soot off her body. She breathed out a thin stream of water that began to circle her and douse her burns.

“Charizard, Air Slash!” Mark shouted.

Charizard flew up into the air and made a slashing movement with his wing. A white ripple of energy shot down through the air and hit Mist head-on. She was thrown a little backwards, but resisted it fairly well.

“Hydro Pump,” Alan said, and the Vaporeon raised her head. Without warning, a jet of water hit Charizard straight in his belly and literally smashed him backwards into the ceiling. The dragon gasped for air and then managed to wriggle quickly out of the stream of water and swoop downwards.

“Slash!” Mark blurted out without thinking, and his first Pokémon turned as he neared the floor to head straight towards Mist on the other side of the room. The Vaporeon had stopped firing the Hydro Pump but now opened her mouth for another one…

Charizard pulled up, narrowly escaping the high-pressure jet of water that emerged beneath him. He raised his claws with a growl and raked them across Mist’s body. The Hydro Pump was cut off as she yowled in pain.

Mark was about to pick up Charizard’s Pokéball to recall him when Alan screamed, “Mist, Whirlpool!”

A vortex of water sprang up around the two Pokémon in a similar fashion to the Fire Spin before, and he heard Charizard growl. Mark did remember that Whirlpool was also a trapping move. He sighed. “Charizard, uh… Dragon Rage.” He wasn’t sure whether Charizard had learned that move yet, but he seemed to remember that the Charmander family could use it…

Bingo. Dark red flames erupted out of Charizard’s mouth inside the Whirlpool, enveloping Mist as she cried out in pain. The Vaporeon took a leap through the wall of water, emerging with her wounds doused.

“This is impossible!” Mark complained in frustration as her scratches began to close before their eyes. Alan laughed.

“It’s not impossible. You just have to be quick enough to bring her down before the water heals her.”

Mark racked his brain, trying to think of something Charizard could do while trapped in the Whirlpool. If he flew through it, the water would hurt him, and it would probably dissolve any attempts to use special moves.

“Charizard, uh,” he said as an idea shamelessly stolen from one of the stories he had heard of Ash Ketchum’s Charmander popped into his head, “try a Rage.”

Charizard closed his eyes in brief concentration behind the swirling water and then let out an earth-shaking roar before rushing out through the Whirlpool. He let out another roar, this one of pain as his tail flame was briefly drenched in water, but as soon as it came out it flared up with renewed power. Fire burned in the Pokémon’s eyes as he leapt at Mist, fangs bared.

“Water Pulse!” Alan yelled, and the Vaporeon spat pulsing waves of water from her mouth into Charizard’s face. He scratched at the Water Pokémon for a second, but then stopped, a blank look on his face, and lost his balance, falling clumsily onto the floor.

“Confused,” Mark muttered to himself. “Charizard, snap out of it!”

As the Pokémon stood up and shook his head to clear it, his tail flame flared up again. Then he ran towards Mist again, but the Whirlpool moved into his way.

Mark heard himself let out an awkward yelp as Charizard was sucked back into the watery prison, but the dragon emerged out of the other side with a determined growl, his tail flame burning still brighter, and attacked Mist with tooth and claw.

“Hydro Pump!”

For a moment, Mark thought Mist had fallen unconscious under Charizard’s sudden assault, but then Charizard was thrown harshly backwards by a jet of high-pressure water. He landed on the floor and didn’t stand up again.

“Charizard, return,” Mark said, recalling the Pokémon. “Jolteon, finish this!”

Jolteon didn’t look his best; there was still a bleeding, charred wound on his side from his battle with Charlie, and he came out of the ball in a crouching position.

“You can do it, Jolteon,” Mark muttered to encourage him. “One Thunderbolt ought to do the trick.”

Alan fiddled with his Pokéball belt, but then apparently decided not to recall Mist. “Ice Beam,” he ordered, and the Vaporeon fired a thin beam of ice crystals from her mouth while Jolteon charged up electricity.

Both attacks hit at the same time. Jolteon was struck with freezing cold while Mist was shocked with powerful electricity, and both Eevee evolutions collapsed on the floor, unable to battle.

Mark reached down for a Pokéball and decided, for no particular reason, to send out Letal next. Alan reached for a Pokéball too, and they threw them at the same time.

“Go, Letal!”

“Racko, your turn again!”

The two Pokémon emerged on the battlefield. Letal looked calmly into the Grovyle’s eyes.

“Leaf Blade, Racko!” Alan ordered. “Aim for a spot that’s not armoured!”

“Letal, use… use Iron Defense!” Mark blurted out, remembering the move vaguely from looking at Letal’s stats in the Pokédex sometime recently.

While the leaves on the reptile’s arms began to glow with white energy, Letal closed her eyes in concentration, and miraculously, the fine white hair covering her body smoothly transformed into metal. The Grovyle slashed his sharp leaves at her neck and tiny metallic hairs broke off and flew out from the spot where he had struck, but they took out most of the force. When Letal turned to slash back, Mark only saw a shallow cut on her neck, glistening with blood. Letal’s blade cut across Racko’s belly and he cried out in pain.

“Racko, come back!” Alan yelled. “Go, Diamond!”

The reptile was called back into the Pokéball while Letal growled after him. Diamond the Rapidash emerged instead, towering over Mark’s Pokémon.

Letal didn’t look intimidated, but Mark had his doubts that she could beat a Fire-type, especially now that she had metallized her whole body. He was about to pick up her Pokéball when…

“Diamond, Fire Spin!”

Mark threw his hands in frustration as the Rapidash breathed out a vortex of fire that enveloped Letal in a matter of seconds. “Stop doing that!” he called across the arena. “You don’t give me any time to switch!”

Alan grinned. “They’re League-approved, officially recognized attacks. That’s fair game in my book.”

Mark smiled. He was only pretending to be annoyed, really, and Alan knew it. He hadn’t had this much fun in what felt like a very, very long time – although now that he thought about it, it wasn’t. It gave him a headache to think of all the things that had happened in just the past couple of days.

But here he was now, in the middle of a Pokémon battle with a friend, and he didn’t intend to let worries about legendary Pokémon take over the moment. It wouldn’t help anyone.

“Letal, Hypnosis!” he shouted, and Letal jumped out through the flames, wincing in pain while the column of fire followed. As she landed on the floor, she stared intently into Diamond’s eyes, wagging her tail rhythmically…

“Diamond, Fire Blast!” Alan yelled.

The fiery unicorn neighed in response and reared in preparation for the attack, but then stopped. She dropped down to her feet, a blank look on her face as if she couldn’t remember what she was doing. She was starting to sway from side to side in rhythm with Letal’s tail.

“Aw, come on!” Alan said as the Rapidash’s eyelids steadily closed and her head drooped. Mark smiled in triumph.

“Letal, Headbutt!”

Letal charged, the Fire Spin licking steadily at her body as she did so, and rammed her head into Diamond’s side. The Rapidash swayed on her feet, but did not wake up from her hypnosis-induced sleep, and fell awkwardly over on her side.

“Slash!”

Letal motioned to swing the blade on her head, but Alan had picked up Diamond’s Pokéball. “Return!” he said quickly as the sleeping Rapidash dissolved into red energy and was drawn into the ball.

“Vicky, do it!” Alan said after a moment’s pause, throwing forth a new Pokéball. Mark was ready when the ghost Pokémon began to materialize and recalled Letal. He knew she would lose the defensive bonus of the Iron Defense if she went back into the ball, but he knew well that the Misdreavus knew Mean Look, and he had only the day before been reminded thoroughly that it was also a move that prevented a Pokémon from escaping. And Letal’s main moves wouldn’t affect a Ghost Pokémon.

“Dragonair, go!” Mark yelled as he threw the next Pokéball. The slender dragon Pokémon materialized in mid-air and floated calmly as he watched his opponent.

“Vicky, Confuse Ray!”

Mark groaned as the Misdreavus’s eyes glowed and a small orb of light appeared in the air in front of the Pokémon. As Vicky opened her eyes again, it darted towards Dragonair and began to wave through the air in front of him. Mark could see the dragon’s eyes flick back and forth between the little light and the Ghost Pokémon as Dragonair tried to concentrate.

“Safeguard!” Mark blurted out as he remembered that the dragon knew the move. Dragonair shook his head to clear it and his feathery ears perked up as the faint form of a sparkly white bubble of energy formed around him. The ghostly light of the Confuse Ray bounced against the shield a few times in failed attempts to penetrate it before fading away into nothing.

Alan sighed, thinking for a moment. “Shadow Ball,” he then ordered.

“Dragonair, Dragon Rush!” Mark countered quickly.

Dragonair shot up into the air and flared up in blue flames that gave Mark uncomfortable flashbacks from the battle with Thunderyu. As Vicky finished charging an orb of shadowy material in front of her, the dragon Pokémon dived.

The Shadow Ball rushed upwards. Dragonair’s flaring form rushed downwards.

Mark stared, open-mouthed, as Vicky’s attack collided with Dragonair’s body and didn’t even slow him down. It did, however, cause the blue fire enveloping his body to darken and intensify, as if it had somehow sucked in the Shadow Ball’s power.

Dragonair’s body slammed into the Misdreavus’s ghostly form and caused a momentary explosion of dark blue flames. The Misdreavus screamed in pain, her voice something shrill and inhuman.

When the flame cleared, Dragonair was lying on the floor, shaking his head as he tried to rise, and Vicky was floating weakly in mid-air, letting out pained moans.

“Vicky, are you all right?” Alan asked, his tone concerned. The Pokémon squeezed her eyes shut and tried to steady herself, nodding in a rather unconvincing way. Dragonair got up from the floor and took off into the air again, apparently not hurt too badly.

“Think you have the strength for…” Alan looked at Mark out of the corner of his eye. “For our standard techniques?”

He saw Vicky shake her head.

“Okay, then.” Alan straightened himself. “Pain Split!”

The Misdreavus smiled slyly and her eyes glowed with a hellish red color. Dragonair cried out in pain as small, white orbs of energy ripped themselves loose from his body and rushed towards Vicky instead, smearing across her burns and healing them a little in a matter of seconds.

“Vicky, return,” Alan said quickly before Mark could issue any additional orders. “Pamela, go!”

Mark fiddled with his Pokéball belt while Alan’s Persian materialized on the floor, but decided against switching. Dragonair didn’t seem that hurt, and the Dragon Rush attack, which he had never used before, had thoroughly impressed him; he hadn’t really realized how powerful Dragonair could actually be before. Or rather, he had read plenty about it, but getting one of his own had left him ever-so-slightly disappointed as Dragonair hadn’t quite lived up to Mark’s overblown expectations. Until now.

“Dragonair, use another Dragon Rush!”

“Fake Out!” Alan roared.

Pamela sprang up with an intimidating hiss, startling Dragonair as he was preparing for his attack. The dragon flames died abruptly as the feline Pokémon pounced, slamming her paw and raised claws into the dragon’s head and smashing him down into the floor with practiced accuracy. Dragonair completely lost his concentration for the Dragon Rush attack and shook his head to regain his directions while the Persian retreated to a safe distance.

“Swift,” Alan said with a triumphant grin, and while Dragonair was still heaving himself off the floor, the Persian opened her mouth to release a flurry of spinning, bright white stars of energy that scattered in all directions before centering in on Mark’s Pokémon. Dragonair looked hopelessly up and closed his eyes while the attack bombarded him, and when the last of the stars had smashed into his body, he had already been knocked unconscious.

Pamela responded to Mark’s blank stare with an expression that reeked of superiority complex.

“She’s a Technician, Mark,” Alan said and grinned. “Master of simple moves that people don’t expect to be that powerful.”

Mark sighed momentarily, his hand wandering over his Pokéballs, and then remembered that the Technician ability wasn’t actually anything he was completely unfamiliar with.

“Scyther, go!” he shouted, hurling the mantis’s Pokéball forward.

“Pamela, another Swift!” Alan yelled as Scyther materialized in the air. The Persian fired another flurry of stars that homed in on Mark’s Pokémon as soon as he had fully taken shape. Scyther shielded his head with his scythes, wincing in pain as the stars struck him.

Mark decided to strategize momentarily. Alan’s remaining Pokémon were the paralyzed Charlie, the sleeping Diamond, Racko, Vicky who was pretty severely injured, and of course Pamela herself. None of them were anything Mark would definitely have to switch Scyther out against.

So it wouldn’t be a waste of time to buff him up a little bit.

“Scyther, Swords Dance!”

The mantis Pokémon nodded briefly and spun quickly around in an elaborate dance accented by the fluid motions of his scythes.

“Taunt!” Alan ordered quickly.

Pamela tilted her head with a sly smile. “Come get me, Scizor,” she purred, the gem in her forehead gleaming. Scyther stopped the Swords Dance, something red flashing in his eyes, and in an instant he was leaping towards Pamela, roaring in fury.

“Fury Cutter,” Mark called, not sure if Scyther had the mental capacity to register the order at the moment. The Pokémon’s scythes began to emit a faint, lime green glow as he swung them madly at the Persian, the glow accumulating with each strike while the feline tried to evade him.

“Power Gem!” Alan shouted.

Pamela took a leap just out of Scyther’s reach, and while the mantis was turning around, a beam of energy erupted out of the red gem on her forehead, striking Scyther straight in the chest and throwing him backwards as he cried out in pain. The glow of his scythes faded while he landed and regained his bearings. Pamela was rather badly cut in many spots, but Scyther looked severely weakened.

Mark sighed in defeat, holding out the mantis’s Pokéball. “Scyther, return.”

He knew just who could really kick Pamela’s behind, and mentally slapped himself for not having realized it earlier.

“Letal, go! Use Iron Defense!” he yelled as he threw the next Pokéball and Letal emerged. She had some burns and still that faint cut on her neck, but overall she wasn’t in such a bad state. She immediately began to concentrate and the fine coat of hair on her body turned metallic as it had before.

“Return, Pamela,” Alan said, recalling the Persian. “Diamond, go!”

The Rapidash was again lying awkwardly on her side, fast asleep, when she materialized from the Pokéball. Being sent out again didn’t seem to have gotten her one bit closer to waking up.

“Letal, Slash!” Mark called, knowing that recalling her now would only waste time that Diamond could use to wake up. Letal ran towards the Rapidash, readying the blade on her head, and slashed across Diamond’s shoulder with it.

The Fire Pokémon’s eyes popped open.

“Letal, come back!” Mark shouted quickly while Diamond frantically attempted to stand up; he didn’t want to end up trapped by Fire Spin again. He replaced the Pokéball on his belt and didn’t hesitate before picking Sandslash to replace her.

“Do it!” he cried as he threw the ball that contained the first Pokémon he had caught. The pangolin materialized quickly and looked at the Rapidash on the other side of the room. She had now managed to rise fully.

“Sandslash, Earthquake!”

“Bounce!” Alan yelled.

Sandslash leapt into the air and smashed his clawed paws into the floor, but Diamond had already undertaken an impressive leap. Mark watched the Fire Pokémon soar through the air up by the high ceiling, evading the attack entirely while the floor rumbled with powerful but useless ripples.

“Look out!” he cried as the Rapidash began to descend, aiming straight towards Sandslash. The pangolin curled himself quickly into a spiky ball and began to roll out of the way; Diamond quickly changed her direction in the air and landed with her hooves on top of Sandslash’s body. There was a worrying crack, but then the curled Sandslash slipped out from underneath her, rolled a short distance, and finally uncurled. The pangolin shook himself, but didn’t seem too hurt.

“Flare Blitz!” Alan ordered quickly.

“Earthquake again!” Mark countered.

Diamond’s body flared up in bright flames as Sandslash leapt into the air. The Rapidash rushed towards him as he plunged downwards, and just when he had smashed his paws down and produced a further flurry of ripples in the floor, Diamond’s fiery body smashed into him and briefly enveloped him in flames. Sandslash cried out in pain and was thrown a few meters backwards, but as soon as the flames had faded, the Rapidash collapsed, shivering, onto the floor.

Sandslash uncurled from the ball he had assumed for protection while flying through the air, and although he had nasty-looking burn marks, he was still standing.

“Diamond, return,” Alan said, immediately picking his next Pokéball. “Racko, go!”

Mark recalled Sandslash while Alan’s ball was still in the air, knowing he was very hurt and wouldn’t be able to stand a chance against the Grass Pokémon. He replaced the ball on his belt and took out Scyther’s instead.

“You can handle this!” he shouted as he threw the ball. The Grovyle had already materialized on the floor; there was a deep cut across his red belly from where Letal had slashed him earlier, but otherwise he hadn’t been hurt very much. Scyther, on the other hand, had been weakened considerably by the battle with Pamela.

Alan looked between Racko and Scyther for a couple of seconds, but then picked up a Pokéball. “Racko, come back,” he said, holding out the ball, and a red beam shot out from the Pokéball button and began to dissolve the Grovyle into red energy.

Scyther glanced at Mark for a fraction of a second and then darted forward without warning, dark energy circling his scythes. Mark stared, dumbfounded, as the mantis slashed the rapidly dissolving shape of red light – and the Grovyle’s distorted voice actually cried out in pain for a second before he was beamed into the Pokéball.

Alan rubbed his forehead. “Forgot Scyther could use Pursuit. See, this is why I quit training.”

The older boy took out another Pokéball. “Charlie, Flamethrower him and finish this.”

Mark had only a panicked second to consider his options. If he switched Scyther out, he’d have to switch to Letal since Sandslash couldn’t really hurt the flying Charizard, but then Charlie would get an entirely free hit in and his Flamethrower would probably finish Letal off anyway since she was a Steel Pokémon.

So he’d have to keep Scyther out and hope he, weak as he was, would be able to attack at least once before Charlie roasted him.

“Scyther!” he shouted as the white energy from Alan’s Pokéball formed into the shape of a dragon. “Be ready to Slash!”

The mantis charged, raising his scythes. Charlie materialized fully on Alan’s end of the room with flames already licking the corners of his mouth.

The Charizard attempted to throw his neck forward, but it was still stiff and paralyzed after Charlie’s battle with Jolteon. This bought Scyther the extra fraction of a second he needed to slash his scythes across the dragon Pokémon’s belly, just as Charlie, with a roar of effort and pain, released a bright blast of flames.

Scyther was already unconscious by the time the flames cleared. Charlie dropped down to all fours, took a few exhausted breaths, and then collapsed in defeat.

They both recalled their Pokémon. Mark had two Pokémon left; Alan had three. It wasn’t looking very good for him. Alan had Racko, Pamela and Vicky left; if he sent out Racko, Sandslash would certainly be screwed.

So Mark took out Letal’s Pokéball.

“Go!” the two trainers shouted at the same time, hurling their balls forward. While Letal materialized, Mark looked desperately at the shape coming out of Alan’s ball, hoping it was the Grovyle so that Sandslash wouldn’t have to deal with him later – and his wish was granted.

“Letal, Iron Defense!” he yelled as soon as he realized that she was up against Racko. Yet again, the fine hairs of her body stiffened into metal.

“Use an Energy Ball,” Alan said.

The Grovyle jumped up and an orb of pleasant green energy formed in front of him. With simply a flick of his wrist as he landed, it was sent flying towards Letal. She let out a metallic cry of pain as it smashed into her body.

“Hypnosis!” Mark blurted out.

“Detect!” Alan yelled. As Letal began to stare intently at Racko, his eyes flashed and he jumped skilfully to the side, out of her hypnotic gaze. Before she had even fully turned, he had jumped out of the way again. Letal growled in annoyance.

Mark was fairly sure he could remember that nothing could strike the Grovyle now unless he were to be distracted with another command from his own trainer. “It’s no use, Letal,” he said to his Pokémon. “Use Agility.”

Letal turned to run, accelerating with unnatural speed as she darted across the room. Alan looked quickly at her and then issued the next order: “Okay, Racko, another Energy Ball.”

“Iron Tail!” Mark shouted.

The Agility had made Letal faster. She zoomed towards the Grovyle, her body almost a blur, and swung her tail at her opponent.

Mark didn’t know if it was just luck or if her aim was really that astoundingly good – he had seen her accurately predict where a diving Pidgeot would land after being hypnotized to sleep, after all – but her tail sliced right into the previous cut from when she had slashed him with the blade on her head.

The reptilian Pokémon screeched in horrible pain as blood gushed out of the deep wound. He lost his concentration for his planned Energy Ball completely, and Letal happily used the opportunity to slash once more at his chest. His eyes rolled backwards into his head as he began to fall limply to the ground.

“Racko, return,” Alan said hastily, recalling the Pokémon before he ever fully hit the floor. He gave Letal a freaked glance as he put the Pokéball back on his belt.

Well. Incredibly enough, the battle was now even. So to speak. At least they both had two Pokémon left.

“Go, Pamela.”

The Persian emerged from her Pokéball. Letal faced her, shivering in exhaustion.

“All right, Letal, you can do this,” Mark murmured. “You’ve got boosted defensive abilities and speed and you’re a Steel Pokémon. Don’t give up on me.”

Letal looked at him strangely, as if the suggestion was something absurd. Mark couldn’t help smiling.

“Okay, Letal!” he shouted. “Use Hypnosis!”

“Fake Out!” Alan yelled.

Again, the Persian jumped at Mark’s Pokémon with blinding speed and a menacing hiss. Letal flinched as Pamela struck her down with heavy paws, but her metallic armor made it significantly less effective than it had been on Dragonair. Letal stood up again after Pamela had retreated to a safe distance and gave the Persian her hypnotic stare.

Pamela snorted, about to turn around to demonstrate how ineffective it was, but seemingly forgot what she was doing in mid-turn.

“Pamela,” Alan groaned as her eyelids sank downwards and she lay down on the floor to announce her newfound happiness with dreamy purring.

Mark broke into a smile, his heart pounding as he eyed a possibility of actually winning the battle. “All right, Letal! Iron Tail!”

Letal rushed towards Pamela, her metallic tail taking on a white glow, and then smashed it into the cat Pokémon’s body. Pamela rolled backwards like a ragdoll, but then her eyes snapped open and she leapt to her feet with a hiss.

“Shock Wave!” Alan yelled.

The Persian crouched down and the red gem on her head turned yellow as she sent an electric pulse straight at Letal.

The Steel Pokémon screeched in pain as the electricity coursed through her body, and Mark could tell she wouldn’t stay conscious for very long. He bit his lip.

Letal opened her eyes, straightened herself and stared straight forward with glazed-over eyes – Mark was sure she was about to collapse in exhaustion – but then she lowered her head, her face mask began to glow, and suddenly three beams of pale energy shot from the three ends of the mask, striking Pamela simultaneously.

The cat shrieked in pain as her body erupted in simultaneous sparks, icicles and flames, and while Letal gave way to unconsciousness, the sparks lingered behind.

Pamela was paralyzed.

“Get a Swift in on Sandslash when he sends him out!” Alan shouted.

Mark quickly recalled Letal. “Go, Sandslash!” he yelled, throwing his last Pokéball. “Use an Earthquake, quickly!”

Sandslash appeared in mid-air and smashed down onto the floor while Pamela struggled to move without success. As liquidlike ripples spread through the arena, the Persian mewled in pain and finally collapsed onto the floor, defeated.

Alan raised his eyebrows. “This would be much better TV material than some trainers getting creamed 3-0 in the League,” he said as he plucked his own last Pokéball off his belt and threw it.

Vicky, still rather weak, appeared in a burst of white light.

And Mark realized that Earthquake and Slash wouldn’t be able to do a thing to her.

“Sandslash, what else do you know?” he asked frantically.

“Gyro Ball,” said Sandslash, curling himself up into a ball that turned strangely metallic, rolling a little backwards and then driving himself forward.

Alan watched as the shiny ball that was Sandslash hurled itself through the air towards the Misdreavus.

“Destiny Bond!” he roared.

Sandslash made contact with Vicky’s clothlike physical body and she screamed eerily in pain as she was thrown backwards in a high arc across the room. And, glowing with a ghostly purple color, Sandslash was thrown in an identical arc in the other direction as well and cried out in the same pain. Vicky bounced back up after falling below a certain point in the air. Sandslash just kept going and crashed pathetically into the floor.

And neither of them moved.

“It’s a draw,” Alan said at last, recalling Vicky. “Whoa. Good game.”

Mark recalled the immobile Sandslash as well. “Destiny Bond? That was just cheap.”

But he grinned as he said it, and Alan grinned back. He hadn’t had this much fun battling since… well, unless his memory failed him, actually, it was the most fun battle he had ever had, period. He didn’t even know entirely why.

“So, should we check on May and Carl?” Alan asked, pointing at the hole behind him with his thumb. Mark nodded and followed him down the ladder.

He almost laughed.

May was standing there with a perfectly serious expression, holding the Pokéball of the Trapinch that was materializing in front of her while Carl’s Charizard, her green eyes twinkling in amusement, stood on the other side of the rock, tilting her head. She had clearly been hurt by whatever May had had out before, judging by her bruises. Behind Carl stood his other five Pokémon, watching; all of them were slightly cut and bruised, but a supply of Potion bottles beside them and a few empty ones lying around indicated that May’s Pokémon had left them far worse than they looked now. It took a moment for Mark to realize that of course, without Lapras, any six-on-six battle she had must include her Trapinch. She’d given Carl that handicap after all.

“Last Pokémon,” May said, glancing at the boys before looking back at Trapinch. “Now, use a Sand-Attack.”

She looked very strangely calm for someone left with a weak, freshly caught, unevolved Pokémon against a strong, loyal, evolved one, and just that tipped Mark off that she had to have something up her sleeve. Carl, on the other hand, didn’t know May well enough to be able to jump to such conclusions, and simply raised his eyebrows before giving his Charizard a command:

“Flamethrower.”

The Trapinch was already preparing for his attack and quickly kicked a cloud of previously nonexistent sand straight into the Charizard’s eyes before she had time to move. Blinded, she growled in annoyance, but then breathed out a blast of flames which, despite her lack of sight, hit Trapinch head-on.

The antlion Pokémon screeched in pain and emerged when the fire cleared covered in soot. He looked miserably at May.

“Come on,” she muttered. “I checked you in my Pokédex earlier.”

And as if in response to her words, the Pokémon took on a bright white glow. Trapinch doubled in size in a matter of seconds, growing a leaner body, smaller head and diamond-shaped wings as he did, and finally the glow faded from the newly-evolved Vibrava. He shook the remaining soot off his wings and looked at May with a questioning gaze. Mark stared open-mouthed at him.

“Charizard, finish it off with Heat Wave,” Carl ordered calmly.

“Sonicboom!” May said sharply.

It was first now that Mark noticed Carl’s Charizard was paralyzed. She grunted as she strained to move her stiff muscles, and meanwhile May’s Vibrava took off the ground, his wings buzzing as he tried them out for the first time. The Charizard took a deep breath, but while she did, Vibrava’s wings broke the sound barrier with a deafening crack and a sonic shockwave was sent straight at Carl’s Pokémon.

“Follow up with a Dragonbreath!” May shouted while the Charizard roared in pain, spluttering flames from her mouth and in the process losing her concentration for her own attack. Vibrava opened his mouth and breathed a cloud of sparkly fire at his opponent. The Charizard’s paralysis intensified and she turned her gaze towards her trainer with a soft growl.

Carl nodded. “I forfeit. Good battle. I guess we have an eleventh Pokémon for tomorrow now.”

His Magmar had already picked up a few potion bottles and Carl took them without words, roughly spraying the Charizard’s entire body with a Paralyz Heal and a Hyper Potion. “Use the time to heal your Pokémon,” he said to the kids while his Charizard stretched her wings so he could give them a nice dose of anti-paralysis agent. “I’ve got enough supplies, and the Pokémon Center is being evacuated so you won’t get any help there.”

Mark and Alan sent out their unconscious Pokémon, picked up some of the bottles and began to work on reviving them. None had sustained any terrible injuries, so it was a fairly quick job. Meanwhile Carl finished healing his Charizard and applied some final potions to his other Pokémon’s wounds.

“All right,” he said, standing up after spraying an injury on his Arcanine’s paw, “let’s get started.”

Alan raised his eyebrows. “Already?”

Carl glanced at him out of the corner of his eye. “Why not? Unless your Pokémon have any objections?” He looked questioningly at Alan’s Pokémon, but they collectively shook their heads. Mark couldn’t help finding the thought of them not being tired kind of bizarre, but it was undeniable that Elixirs did their job well.

“Great,” Carl just said. May had walked up to the wall of the volcano after recalling Vibrava and stood there with folded arms, watching. The Gym leader walked to one side of the rock, followed by his Pokémon.

“Well,” he said, looking at Mark and Alan. “Keep your three each and recall the others so we can get started.”

Mark recalled Letal, Sandslash and Jolteon, leaving Scyther, Charizard and Dragonair out in front of him while Racko, Mist and Pamela were sucked into their balls as well.

Carl paused thoughtfully. “Magmar, Charizard and Magcargo, you can deal with Mark’s team. Arcanine, Flareon and Camerupt, get ready to fight Alan’s.”

His Pokémon did as he instructed, three of them settling opposite Mark’s Pokémon. He tried desperately to form some sort of strategy in his head, but no matter how he thought about it, Carl’s Pokémon inevitably had the offensive advantage.

“Camerupt, use Earth Power on the Rapidash!” Carl barked. “Magcargo, hit the Charizard with Ancientpower! Arcanine, Crunch the Misdreavus! Charizard, Dragon Claw on Dragonair! Everyone else, use fire! Go!”

Carl’s Pokémon swooped into action before Mark had time to think. Thankfully his Pokémon were more focused than he was. Charizard raised his claws, swooping down towards Carl’s Magmar just as the ducklike Pokémon took a deep breath and fired a Flamethrower towards Scyther. The mantis dodged out of the way, helped by Charizard’s Slash which prevented the Magmar from keeping up and reaiming the attack. Meanwhile, blue flames formed around the female Charizard’s curled fist and she dove gracefully towards Dragonair while he waved his tail in a threatening manner.

“Dragonair, what are you…” Mark began, but was cut off as the Charizard went for it, lunged down as dragon flames circled her razor-sharp claws and raked them sharply across Dragonair’s belly. In retaliation, Dragonair’s entire tail turned liquid and he slammed it into the other dragon’s body. Droplets of water were sprayed all around, and Carl’s Pokémon flinched as the minute amount of water hit them. The warm rock they were standing on hissed as drops landed on it and evaporated as if to remind them that they were inside a volcano.

“Mag!” cried the Magcargo’s deep voice as large chunks of lava tore themselves out of the rock they were standing on and hurled themselves at Charizard. He froze for a second, but then tried to throw himself to the side. With a simple movement of his head, Magcargo made them follow him.

Mark was startled by a cry of pain and quickly looked towards the source of it: Scyther, being roasted by a combined Flamethrower from Carl’s Magmar and Charizard. The golden dragon had a large, bleeding cut across her stomach that looked like Scyther had inflicted it while Mark was looking elsewhere. It was far too confusing to keep track of three opponents at once. He was vaguely aware of Carl barking commands to his Pokémon on Alan’s side as Scyther dropped down onto the rock, unconscious.

Mark took out his Pokéball, thinking frantically. “Dragonair, use another Aqua Tail!” he blurted out. “On... Magcargo.” As he remembered the lava snail Pokémon again, he jerked his head around to see where Charizard was and at first couldn’t see him, but then he emerged, battered and bruised, from below the rock. “Charizard, attack Magcargo too, maybe use Dragon Rage…”

He recalled Scyther’s unconscious body just as he saw Carl turn around. “Magcargo, use a Lava Plume on Dragonair!” the Gym leader ordered sharply. “Magmar, get Dragonair with a Confuse Ray. And Charizard, stop the male.”

Magmar, to Mark’s great dismay, was faster than Dragonair. The duck-billed Fire Pokémon breathed out a small, bright, bluish-white flame, which began to dance around Dragonair’s head, trying to distract him. While Charizard took in a breath, aiming towards Magcargo, the female growled and flew straight at his back, forcing his head down so that the blast of crimson flames that he released from his mouth only hit the lava. She locked her jaws around the horns on his head, forcing his mouth to point away from her as she lodged her claws into his shoulders; he roared in pain and could no longer stay aloft. The two dragons tumbled down past the edge of the rock, snarling and growling as they plunged towards the magma below.

Mark’s heart jumped in panic before he reminded himself frantically that Charizard could stand that kind of heat. Dragonair cried out in pain and Mark turned quickly towards him to see him enveloped in a fountain of molten lava that had risen from the lake of magma below. Carl’s Magcargo looked weak and was in a puddle of water, meaning Dragonair had managed to use Aqua Tail once, but it was not enough.

“Dragonair, try to get Magcargo again with Aqua Tail!” Mark called quickly before hurrying closer to the edge of the rock so that he could see Charizard.

Far below, the golden female was trying to push Charizard into the lava. Her claws still dug into his shoulders while he flapped his wings in feeble attempts to shake her off. His fiery tail lashed around, beating against her back, but she countered it by wrapping her own tightly around it and wrestling it down while his body sank slowly further into the magma. Charizard wrenched his horns free from her jaws with a jerk of his head, turned his neck and then blasted a Dragon Rage into her face. The female jerked in pain and surprise, giving him an opportunity to slam one of his wings into her and push her off his back. He attempted to get out of the magma, but it took him only a second to realize that he couldn’t get out without any support.

Charizard looked quickly to his side, seeing where Carl’s Charizard was seemingly trying to somehow swim towards the rock the trainers were standing on, and dug his claws into her tail, pulling himself closer to her. She jerked, sinking a little deeper into the lava as she turned quickly onto her back while dark flames formed in her mouth, but meanwhile Charizard had climbed on top of her, pushing her body down into the magma just as she had done to him.

She breathed the Dragon Rage into his face with a roar, but he was ready for it and persisted in pushing her down. She slammed her tail into his wing, causing him to growl in pain, but he wrapped his own around hers. She glared at him in a manner that suggested she found it extremely cheap of him to steal her techniques, and the corners of his mouth curled up into a grin in response. He was bigger and heavier than her; he could almost certainly keep her down more easily than she had him.

The female raised her neck out of the lava, suspiciously slowly. Charizard seemed too surprised to realize he could take advantage of this until she had already reached up to his neck and… licked it?

Mark stared. Yes, she was actually licking him… and curling her tail all-too-lovingly around his… and running her claws lightly around his shoulders…

He felt himself blushing furiously and quickly turned around. Dragonair was no longer being chased by the Confuse Ray, but his skin looked badly charred and his flight was weak; Carl seemed to have recalled Magcargo and was now apparently about to issue an order to Magmar.

“Um,” Mark said, pointing vaguely down. Carl looked at him and raised his eyebrows in mock surprise, seeming extremely amused.

Alan looked at Mark and then to where he was pointing, and immediately burst out laughing. May walked curiously towards the edge. Something made Mark look again too.

He had looked just in time, because the moment he did so, Carl’s Charizard suddenly rolled over in the magma, throwing the male off her now that she had gotten him to almost completely relax his hold on her and let his guard down. Charizard grunted in surprise as she quickly made her way towards the bottom of the rock and climbed into its side, blasting a cone of crimson dragon fire down towards where he was still struggling in the magma. Charizard roared in pain, coughing and spluttering, while Carl’s Charizard prepared for another Dragon Rage.

“Stop,” Mark said, shaking his head. He took out Charizard’s Pokéball and recalled him. A dragon-shaped hole in the lava was left, filling up in a couple of seconds.

Mark replaced the Pokéball on his belt, feeling a bit embarrassed on Charizard’s behalf, before looking quickly back towards his battle. His heart sank when he saw that Dragonair was already lying unconscious on the rock with Magmar still standing and felt a little guilty for having one of his Pokémon faint without him even noticing it.

“Dragonair, return,” he muttered while Carl’s Charizard landed on top of the rock. He had not only been beaten, but beaten badly: his team had only taken down one of Carl’s Pokémon, and the weakest of them to boot. Alan’s battle, on the other hand, was still ongoing, and he quietly moved to the wall of the crater where May stood to watch it.

Alan’s Pokémon had apparently brought down Carl’s Flareon and Camerupt, but they had taken out both Diamond and Vicky, leaving Charlie facing Carl’s Arcanine. Neither of them seemed particularly injured so far, but Charlie was swooping down with his claws raised to rake them across the Arcanine’s face.

“Thunder Fang!”

The fiery dog growled and sparks circled his fangs before he jumped and sank his teeth into Charlie’s tail. Electricity coursed through the dragon’s body and he fell harshly down onto the rock. Carl’s Arcanine took a leap backwards, allowing Charlie to stand up, and then sped towards him again and tackled him powerfully back to the ground.

“Charlie, Air Slash!” Alan yelled desperately.

“Extremespeed,” Carl said calmly, and before Charlie had the time to fly up again, Arcanine had in a blur of motion tackled him down again. Charlie attempted weakly to get up again, but then fell back down, unconscious.

“Good battle,” Carl said simply, taking out all his Pokéballs again. “Let’s all heal up and then go to bed, shall we? Big day tomorrow, and the Pokémon Center has plenty of empty rooms.”

Mark muttered something in agreement and sent Charizard, Dragonair and Scyther out again while Alan brought him a few potion bottles. Charizard looked with embarrassment at Carl’s female, who winked with a teasing grin before turning around to let Carl spray some Potion on the cut on her belly.

“Well, that battle was… interesting.” Mark coughed, not sure how to finish the thought.

“Awkward,” Charizard agreed, and Mark could have sworn he saw the dragon’s face slightly reddening.

“Very.”

“Although at the same time, it was… kind of nice.”

Mark couldn’t help snickering. “Charizard in love.”

“I hate you sometimes,” the Pokémon muttered.

It didn’t take very long to finish healing all of the Pokémon, and everyone agreed that it would be smart to let them sleep outside their balls before the big battle. Carl’s Pokémon, apparently, always slept down on that rock in the crater where they’d just been battling, but the kids let theirs out to sleep in the actual Gym building, where it turned out Carl had a few old mattresses that they could use to make themselves comfortable. Only Spirit refused to sleep in the Gym, insisting that she sleep in May’s room.

When they stepped out of the Gym building, having left the other Pokémon, it was dark. Only a few people remained in the evacuation line as the Abra reappeared and the Mayor ushered a young couple towards the Pokémon.

“How goes the evacuation?” Carl called.

“Fine, fine,” Mayor Daniels replied distractedly. “We’re nearly done, as you can see. Will you stay until we finish?”

“No,” Carl said. “We have to wake up early tomorrow. We’d best get to bed.”

The Mayor nodded as the Abra teleported off with the couple. “All right. Good night, then.”

“Good night to you too, Mayor.”

“Well,” Alan said. “So don’t we just go to the Pokémon Center, and you go home?”

“Yes,” Carl replied, but when Mark prepared to go after May and Alan, he put a hand on his shoulder. “Not you. I said I’d keep an eye on you, and I will. You can sleep on my couch.”

Mark shrugged. “Okay, then,” he said to May and Alan. “Good night.”

“Good night.” They looked at him, clearly puzzled, but just shrugged and turned away.

Mark hurried after Carl, who took him to the building beside the Gym. It was a rather small house, and for some reason he noticed when they stepped in and Carl turned on the lights that there were no photos or pictures on the walls anywhere. The living room consisted of one old couch and a television in front of it, with one end of the room and a table seeming to serve as the kitchen. There were two doors on the left wall, one to a small bathroom and one to a bedroom, but otherwise the house had only that one room.

“That’s the couch,” Carl said, pointing at the old one in front of them. The upholstery was a kind of sickly grayish-yellowish-green color, but it did look soft. Mark shrugged and put his backpack beside it.

“Let me tell you one thing,” Carl then said, his voice harsh. “I’m not buying it. Your story makes little sense, I never much believed in legendary Pokémon, and it’s blatantly obvious that your friends know more than they say they do. I don’t like liars. I’d have thrown you out on the spot but for that you happened to come here the very day after our scientists picked up something fishy with the volcano. If this is your idea of a sick joke, you are one very, very lucky prankster… for now.” Carl made a point of locking the door very carefully, removing the key and putting it in his pocket. “But any responsible man who cares for his hometown would have it evacuated if anything seems to suggest it might be destroyed. I don’t know how you could have found out about the volcano stirring, but at least it grants your explanation some benefit of doubt, and that is the only reason why I’m playing along with it. The evacuation would have happened even if you hadn’t come. Don’t think you’ve fooled anyone with this just because appropriate precautions for the situation are being taken. And I swear that if your Volcaryu does not burst out of the mountain tomorrow, the consequences for you will not be amusing in the slightest. Do you understand?”

Mark shivered. “Yes.”

“Good,” Carl said, went into the bedroom and closed the door. Mark stared after him, still unnerved by the speech and how easily something could go wrong.


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