The Quest for the Legends (ILCOEp)

The Ouen League – Chapter 48: The Second Preliminary

“He will be fine,” Nurse Joy insisted. “Submersion in water does not fully extinguish the tail flame of a strong Charizard until around half a minute after unconsciousness is induced, and modern health care can easily bring it to full recovery as long as it’s brought back alive.”

“But there has to be some sort of rule against that kind of…” Mark protested.

“It is not considered a potentially lethal tactic by League rules unless there is a clear, demonstrable risk of death or permanent tissue damage within fifteen seconds of unconsciousness,” the nurse said patiently. “As I said, he will be fine. Odds are your opponent knew it was safe, or he would not have risked it. Please calm down and step away. There are other trainers with injured Pokémon here.”

Mark sighed and sat down on one of the couches in the Pokémon Center, partly glad that Charizard would be all right and partly frustrated that the League would just brush it off. He looked towards the entrance, still busy with trainers walking in and out; as if just to rub salt in the wounds, Aaron White appeared in the door and stepped in. To Mark's dismay, he looked around, saw Mark and walked towards him.

“Hey,” the boy said. “Your Charizard okay?”

Mark nodded numbly and wanted to add, “No thanks to you,” but resisted the temptation.

“He’s your starter, isn’t he?” Aaron asked and sat down on the couch opposite Mark’s. He nodded again, vaguely surprised. “Ditto is my first, too,” Aaron went on. “I know I’d be worried sick if somebody did that to him. I’m sorry.”

Mark looked at him, not sure what the other boy expected him to say.

“We only use that tactic when we’re desperate. It’s nasty business, but tell your Charizard we only did it because he was kicking Ditto’s butt. No hard feelings.”

Aaron stood up and extended his hand, and Mark stared at it for a moment before shaking it.

“I’ll see you around,” Aaron said and turned to leave the Pokémon Center. Mark looked after him, feeling only dull frustration that he could no longer feel quite justified in hating him.

Behind Aaron, May made her way into the building, looked around and then hurried towards Mark.

“There you are,” she said. “Lunch? My battle’s not until three.”

They went back to their lodge to eat while May lectured him about every mistake he had made in the battle.

“You really shouldn’t have kept Jolteon out after the Blizzard,” she was saying when they sat down with their plates. “You could have pulled the same thing on him that he pulled on you, with keeping an injured Pokémon back in case of a close call. If you’d done that, you’d probably have won. Even with Ditto’s kamikaze tactic, Jolteon might have managed to beat Glalie when you sent him out again, what with not being stuck in ice. And you really should have used the arena more. He was doing the standard tricks of water arenas – knocking you into the water, freezing parts of the arena and so on – while you were doing nothing. I mean, you didn’t make any particularly bad decisions for the arena you were on, save maybe using Charizard, but you’re not getting any extra points for use of the arena.”

Mark poked the meatballs on his plate with his fork. “Was it that bad?”

May looked at him. “Well, he screwed up too,” she said with a shrug. “Before the suicide attack, Ditto’s strategy made no sense. Scary Face while you were Swords Dancing? Come on. The oversight with Rock Slide was bad. And Lanturn using up all its moves against Jolteon, before he even knew what Pokémon you’d brought, was just stupid. He wasn’t that much better than you. That’s why you could’ve beaten him if you’d just done a couple of things better.”

“Him being almost as bad doesn’t help me qualify, does it?”

“Well,” May replied with a shrug, “you were really not bad compared to some of the kids who come in here with an all-Fire team or wax poetic about how no true trainer wants their Pokémon to evolve and how they will conquer the League with their Rattata. You know that guy I’m up against later? His team reeks of trying to be Ash Ketchum; I almost feel sorry for him. If you need reassurance that you’re not the worst trainer here, just watch my battle.” She paused for a moment, and finally added, “And then there’s the part where you have a Dragonite that you didn’t use.”

That, at least, was a fairly cheerful thought. He shrugged, finally finding the motivation to start eating, and after mulling it over for a minute while chewing, he was starting to dare hope that he had a chance of winning his second battle and possibly qualifying if it went well.

At least he would try his best.


May won her battle, and easily at that. Her opponent, the Ash Ketchum wannabe, was a small, mousey-haired boy who used a Pikachu, a Squirtle and a Pidgeot, and his battling abilities left so much to be desired that it was obvious even to Mark; he did not seem to have grasped the concept of switching, for instance, even when his Pikachu was about to be Earthquaked into oblivion. It really did make Mark feel slightly better about himself, if also kind of bad for the poor kid.

Afterwards, May announced with satisfaction that she felt like taking the rest of the day off, while Mark, remembering that his second preliminary was in just two days, wandered uncertainly off to the library to take notes on Megan Hayfield’s team.

After scrolling through the long list of Pokémon she had for the third time, he sighed and leaned back in the swivel chair in front of the computer. He unfocused his eyes, watching the small Pokémon images blur into the blue background on the screen, and then rubbed them, trying to think. There were just too darned many of them to prepare for in any sensible way. There had to be hundreds of ways she could make a team of three – maybe thousands? Math had never been his strong suit.

There had to be some way to narrow down what she might use even before finding out about the arena theme. He briefly considered taking his Pokémon out to their training spot to work it out with them, but then remembered with an uncomfortable sting in his heart that Charizard was still at the Pokémon Center – it wouldn’t feel right without him. He’d mull it over tomorrow with all of them, but for now, he wanted to try to figure something out on his own to give them a jump start for tomorrow.

What Pokémon would she choose?

On what basis?

Scyther and May’s voices spoke in his head to answer.

If I were a trainer and I knew my opponent had a Dragonite, I’d assume he would use it.

Then there’s the part where you have a Dragonite that you didn’t use.

Mark leaned back towards the computer to scroll through the list again. Did she have any decent Ice Pokémon? Yes, she had a Mamoswine. He could probably assume she’d most likely use that. Which of his Pokémon would be best against it? Charizard, definitely. That was one good team member to have, then.

But what else would she use? What was the most powerful Pokémon she had? Mark scrolled through the list again, remembering – yes, she had a Letaligon. She would be likely to use that, then, unless the arena theme made it completely impossible – especially since Mark had no Fighting Pokémon that would pose a serious threat to it. He did have Sandslash – he should perhaps use him, then, to fight the Letaligon, if just so that he wouldn’t rely on Charizard for both it and Mamoswine.

What might she pick as her third? He really wasn’t sure.

He tried a different approach. If he were her, what would he do?

He considered it. She might figure he would predict Mamoswine and try to counter it with Charizard – so she would probably make sure to have something to use against him. A Water or Rock-type, most likely – what did she have of that? A Lunatone, he found on the page he was already on – immune to Sandslash’s Earthquake, resistant to Charizard’s Flamethrower, and capable of pulling both Rock attacks on Charizard and Psychic attacks on Sandslash. Yes, if he were her, he would definitely use the Lunatone. That possibility needed to be taken care of, then.

Lunatone were weak to what?

He closed his eyes. It was classed as Rock and Psychic. It would be weak to Water, but Gyarados was of course not an option. Grass and Dark, but that was nothing helpful. Bug, but Scyther was really too weak to Rock attacks to risk it.


He broke into a grin. Letal. Of course. And she’d be resistant to both its Rock and Psychic moves! Perfect. She really seemed to want to battle, too.

He leaned back in the chair, thinking over his plan again. Charizard, Sandslash and Letal. Seemed pretty solid. Common weaknesses weren’t a problem – or wait. Water. He frowned. Water was a problem, wasn’t it? Only Letal to deal with it, and her Iron Head wouldn’t do much good. He looked over Megan’s Pokémon again; plenty of Water-types, though none of them were particularly powerful. There was no good reason to suppose she wouldn’t use one of them – in fact, she might easily use a Water-type rather than Lunatone as a Charizard counter.

And then, as he was considering how he could combat that possibility, he realized that again, he had somehow managed to neglect his most powerful Pokémon by far. He chuckled lightly to himself at the thought. If there was anything that gave him a possible edge at the League, it was Dragonite – he pretty much had to be on the team, whether Megan was expecting it or not.

Considering it, the only logical option seemed to be to leave Sandslash out and use Charizard, Dragonite and Letal. Dragonite could beat a Letaligon, couldn’t he? He knew Fire Punch, after all. And Thunderpunch – he could handle a Water-type too, even. So long as it didn’t know a powerful Ice attack that would beat him first… but then again Letal could back him up on that if the situation looked dire.

It seemed like a plan, at least if the arena didn’t screw things up too much.

Mark looked over Megan’s Pokémon again to satisfy himself that the combination of Charizard, Dragonite and Letal should be able to handle most of them. Finally, reasonably confident about his deductions, he logged off the computer and left the library to find May.


Mark craned his neck over the heads of the crowd by the announcement screen, feeling a little disgruntled to note that May, being taller, was having a much easier time of it. “Can you see what it says about the main stadium?” he asked, half-shouting over the chatter.

“It’s… Flying, I think it says. Yeah, flying.”

Mark blinked. “Flying? What are flying arenas like?”

“Small, hovering platforms at different heights,” she replied. “Any Pokémon that falls onto the ground is out. You’ve probably seen one.”

“Right,” he muttered, vaguely recalling some match he had seen on TV once. “Hey, that’s not bad.”

“Not bad at all,” she agreed. “You’ve always had too many Flying-types, anyway.”

They separated soon after. May was apparently going to watch one of Taylor’s preliminary matches, which was to start at noon; Mark, however, had insisted on getting Charizard from the Pokémon Center first thing in the morning, and so they could go straight to their usual training spot from the trainer lodges, where Mark sent out the others.

“Flying,” he said. “The arena theme’s flying. It’s an arena with hovering platforms where you’re considered fainted if you fall.”

He briefly explained his thoughts on Megan’s Pokémon from the day before, but finished with, “But since we’re on a flying arena, it would probably be better to use Scyther than Letal so you can all fly.”

“No, no, no,” Letal said in agitation just as he had said the last word. “That is stupid. Short-sighted. She could bring in any Rock-type and wipe them out.”

“Well, they’d be able to do all sorts of things against a Rock-type on this arena,” Mark argued. “Knocking them down would make them helpless. Well, except Lunatone, but I guess Scyther could…”

“Anything with a Rock attack.”

“Fine. What about Jolteon? It’ll be hard for a Ground-type to do much up there, so he should be pretty well off. And he’s agile enough that he’d do well on the arena.”

“There are more Ground moves than Earthquake.”

Mark turned towards Letal in irritation. “You’re weak to Ground moves too, you know,” he said. “I know you want to battle, but we’re never going to qualify if we don’t try to pick a team that makes some sense on the arena. You don’t really have any ranged attacks besides Tri Attack, and your armor could make it kind of hard for you to manage any feats of acrobatics, couldn’t it?”

Letal turned and then lay down on the ground a few paces away, her back turned towards Mark. “Fine,” she muttered, laying her head down on her forepaws and pretending to sleep.

He sighed and waited a few moments. Part of him kind of wanted to just put her on the team to please her, but he shut that part firmly away; he didn’t want to let her boss him around. “Dragonite, Charizard and Jolteon, then? Any ideas?”

They spent the rest of the day considering Megan’s Pokémon one by one, mulling over possible strategies to employ against them on a flying arena and the odds she would use each of them, save for sometime in the early afternoon when they took a break to eat (Mark met May in the trainer lodge dining hall and spent his lunch listening to her ranting about how cheap and talentless Taylor was). Finally, in the evening, when it was about the time that he’d agreed to meet May for dinner, they had just about worked out how they would handle the battle, and Mark was fairly confident when he recalled the Pokémon and climbed onto Charizard’s back to return to the lodge.

Mark felt it only moments after they had taken off, having become sensitive enough to Charizard’s muscle movements to tell that his wingbeats were heavier than usual: something was wrong. His mind jumped to overworkedness, strain – why was he having him fly him around just after that battle with Aaron White? He felt a sting of pain in his gut at the thought.

“Are you okay?” he asked, leaning carefully forward.

“It’s probably nothing,” Charizard mumbled. “It’s not far, anyway.”

The very fact Charizard acknowledged there was an ‘it’ only confirmed Mark’s suspicions. “What’s probably nothing?”

“I’ve just been feeling a bit nauseous today. It’s gotten worse over the day, but I’ll probably sleep it off.”

Mark’s heart skipped a beat – an overreaction to what was probably just a minor illness, his rational mind tried to tell him, but having a second scare about Charizard’s wellbeing in just two days was making him paranoid. “No, really, we should land,” he said, and despite the Pokémon’s nonchalant attitude, something seemed to relax gratefully in Charizard’s muscles as he dived and landed clumsily on the ground not far outside the League HQ area. As Mark climbed from his back, the dragon sneezed violently, sending flames licking the ground a few meters in front of him.

“I’ll get you to the Pokémon Center,” Mark murmured, fumbling for the right Pokéball with trembling fingers. In the ball, he won’t get worse. Nurse Joy will know what to do. “Don’t worry.” The beam absorbed him. Oh, God, what if it’s serious?

He clutched the minimized ball in the palm of his hand and ran towards the gate.

It probably isn’t. Why would it be?

His mind made up some crazy conspiracy theory about Taylor trying to get them out of the way.

That’s stupid. It’s what you thought yesterday too.

But he couldn’t be sure, could he?

He was getting ready to fling open the doors of the Pokémon Center, half-throwing himself against the doorway, before he remembered that it was an automatic door. He stumbled inside while various trainers looked disinterestedly up. Standing behind the counter was the same nurse who had treated Charizard yesterday; he hurried towards her.

“It’s… It’s my Charizard again,” he said, panting. “I think he’s sick or something…”

“Sick how?”

“Well, he’s… sort of weak and dizzy, I guess…”

The nurse stepped around the counter. “Why don’t you come with me to the back and send him out so I can see him?”

Mark complied, following her into the back room. Injured Pokémon lay sleeping or unconscious on variously sized beds along the walls, the steady pulses of heart monitors a background noise that barely registered in his mind. He maximized the ball that was still clutched in his hand and released Charizard onto a particular bed that the nurse indicated to him; she immediately picked his tail up and draped it over a stirrup to keep it off the floor and mattress and then scuttled into a storage room while the dragon lay shakily down and looked at Mark.

“Feeling any different?” Mark asked quietly. Charizard shook his head.

The nurse returned with a device that she pressed against Charizard’s side for a few seconds before reading something off it. “Just as I thought,” she muttered.


“Pokérus. There’s been an epidemic of it here lately – it seems that Rick Lancaster’s brother, that Taylor kid, brought it with his Pokémon. No,” she added upon seeing the look on Mark’s face, “it’s not dangerous in the least.”


“Quite the opposite, actually. Normally they fight it off on their own by producing antibodies that in the long run make them end up stronger. The little dip in water yesterday must have weakened his immune system sufficiently to make the actual disease get the chance to rear its ugly head. I should have thought to test him then.”

“So is he going to be okay?”

“Sure. With an antibody injection and a good night’s sleep, he’ll be in perfect shape by tomorrow morning. But even without it, it’s not severe and would have gone away in a couple of days, once the immune system got back on track.”

Mark took a deep breath and let it out in a sigh.

Charizard smiled weakly up at him. “You see? It was nothing to worry about.”

“No, it wasn’t.” Though Taylor was behind it, in a sense, after all. He chuckled inwardly at the thought.

“Just leave him here. You can come get him tomorrow.”

“Thanks. Good night, Charizard.”

“Good night, Mark.”

He left, breathing another sigh of relief as he exited the building into the cool night.


Mark slept a lot better that night than he had before the previous match, and longer too, since this battle was to be at noon. After having breakfast with May and spending some idle time drawing until eleven thirty, he headed towards the League office building to retrieve his Pokémon from the drug trials.

“Which three are you going to use for your battle?” asked the lady at the reception desk when he had given her his name tag.

“Charizard, Dragonite and Jolteon.”

She nodded and turned to her computer, but then peered at the screen. “I’m sorry, but it appears you did not turn your Charizard in for examination yesterday.”

Mark was puzzled for a brief moment before realizing why. “Right. He’s still at the Pokémon Center. I’ll go get him.”

“I’m afraid we can’t let you do that,” said the woman. “No Pokémon can participate in a League match unless it comes straight from the examination and drug trials. If your Charizard wasn’t here last night, you can’t use him in your battle. I’m sorry.”

Mark stared at her, dumbfounded. “What? Can’t I just get him and you test him before the battle begins?”

“Getting the full results takes several hours,” she said, shaking her head. “The judges will be notified of the mistake and take it into account when judging your performance, but you will have to select some other Pokémon in his stead.”

Of course. Something always had to go wrong.

“Give me a minute,” he muttered and sat down on a nearby waiting chair to think it over.

No Charizard. That meant he direly needed something that could take on Megan’s Mamoswine to support Dragonite and Jolteon, and his choices were limited – Sandslash and Scyther were both weak to Ice attacks and Letal to Ground ones. Sandslash was pretty much out of the picture; his attacking capabilities were limited on the arena. The best attack he could use on it was Gyro Ball, which was most effective if the opponent was particularly fast, and Mamoswine was not. Both Scyther and Letal could pull a super effective attack on it – Letal with Iron Head and Scyther with Brick Break – but Scyther was of course the one who could fly and had Pursuit and U-turn. The Mamoswine’s capacity for using Ground moves would be severely limited by the arena, on the other hand, and Letal’s Iron Head could take advantage of her natural type affiliations, which Scyther’s Brick Break could not. What he needed most of all was just something he could send out reasonably safely against Mamoswine – and that was probably Letal. However, Scyther was undeniably more generally useful, being both able to fly and having Pursuit and U-turn – he would probably be the better choice.

But what if he used them both? Without Charizard, there was no longer any Water vulnerability on the team, lessening the need for Jolteon. Having Electric attacks handy was nice when seeing more Flying-types than usual was to be expected, but not exactly necessary, besides that Dragonite did know Thunderpunch if he came to need it. And having both would provide the most solid support for Dragonite, in case Mamoswine beat one of them.

Well. It appeared Letal would get to battle after all.

“Okay,” he said to the receptionist woman, “then I’m taking Dragonite, Scyther and Letal.”

She disappeared into a back room and came back with the three Pokéballs. “Come on, then.”

He walked with her to the main stadium, a lot bigger and more intimidating than the one he had had his first preliminary in. There she let him in through the door to the trainer stand, wished him luck and closed it behind him.

Mark took a deep breath, feeling the three Pokéballs at his belt with his fingers, and walked up the stairs.

He was stunned by the sight of the arena as he stepped through the final doorway out onto the trainer stand. The floor had been lowered, so below the metal railing around the trainer stand, there was a considerable fall down. Flat, circular platforms at various heights and sizes hovered unsupported in the air all around. Two platforms, one of them normal and the other consisting of a miniature pool for Water Pokémon, were nearest to him at around the same height as the trainer stand, while the rest looked just about accessible from there through a series of jumps for a reasonably agile Pokémon.

Was Letal a reasonably agile Pokémon? He wasn’t sure. What good would Letal be in the battle if she couldn’t even get across to where Mamoswine was? He really should have thought this through better.

Megan Hayfield emerged on the other side of the arena, so far away that he had to look at the status screen close-up to recognize her. She shook her head, her long, dark brown hair swishing behind her with deliberate grace, and winked at the camera before looking over towards Mark.

They waited. The chattering of the spectators made him uncomfortably aware of their presence. May was there somewhere, but at this distance he couldn’t tell one blue-haired girl from another, and even if it wasn’t the most common of hair colors, there were quite a few of them in the audience. He wasn’t even really sure he wanted to find her. It would only make him more nervous to be aware of her sitting there, watching and probably shaking her head over everything he did wrong.

“Trainers, ready Pokéballs,” came a voice on the speakers after what seemed like an eternity. Mark jumped, not quite certain which Pokémon he should send out first; his hand drifted over the three Pokéballs at his belt.

He considered Letal, but what if she turned out to be unable to move around well on the arena and Megan happened to open with something that had long-ranged moves?


Megan had to be expecting him to use Dragonite. If she started with an Ice-type, he’d rather have Scyther out.


But Dragonite was more powerful and had a wider variety of moves that could be employed against a wider variety of Pokémon. Scyther had more weaknesses, fewer resistances.

His hand moved to Dragonite’s ball.


What was he doing? Of course she’d be anticipating Dragonite. He clumsily jerked his hand back to Scyther’s ball and grabbed it in a panic, throwing it as fast as he could. He noted with relief that Megan’s ball didn’t pop open until a fraction of a second later: throwing too late would be cause for a hefty penalty even in the preliminaries.

Then he realized that the white light from Megan’s ball was materializing into Lunatone, and his heart sank again.

“Scyther, U-turn!” he said quickly, jerking his head back to his own Pokémon as the mantis was emerging in mid-air.

“Lunatone, Ancientpower!” ordered Megan.

Scyther might have been faster, but Lunatone had the advantage of having already fully formed, and it did not need to move. While Scyther was zooming across the arena with his scythes raised, Lunatone closed its eyes and glowed with a bright blue aura. At first, nothing happened, and Mark thought Scyther would make it to the other side before the attack hit; then a wave of large chunks of rock, bathed in the same blue aura, rose up through the platforms as if insubstantial, and then smashed very substantially into the mantis. Scyther was thrown sideways and narrowly avoided crashing into a platform, but quickly regained his directions, smacked his body into Lunatone’s and then dissolved into red energy that shot back across the arena and into his Pokéball.

Mark placed the ball back on his belt and considered what to do – he had brought Letal largely for the purpose of taking on Lunatone, but he was beginning to regret that decision more with every passing moment. On the other hand, it would not be wise to subject Dragonite to unnecessary injuries, and he could always recall Letal if worse came to worst. If there was any member of Megan’s team she could beat, Lunatone was it.

“Go, Letal!” he shouted, aiming for a moment before he threw the ball – having Letal emerge in mid-air would not be a good idea.

The ball opened and released a white shape on the nearest platform. As the light faded from Letal’s form, she looked quickly around, throwing a vaguely surprised glance towards Mark before facing her opponent. Of course, she hadn’t expected to take part in this battle, but at least she did not seem about to complain.

“Okay, Letal, hit it with Iron Head!” Mark called.

“Lunatone, use Cosmic Power!” Megan ordered.

Letal darted to the edge of the platform and leapt; Mark’s heart jumped for some reason. He held the ball ready to recall her if she began to fall.

But she didn’t fall. She landed neatly on the next platform, a bit higher than the one she had been on, and immediately raced towards the other edge of that platform to jump up from there to the next. In the meantime, Lunatone had closed its eyes and begun to gather defensive energy from the air, silvery dust swirling around its crescent-shaped body.

Mark watched in astonishment as Letal made her way from platform to platform without so much as hesitating before a leap. Surely she couldn’t have a lot of experience fighting in an uneven landscape where jumping was an important skill – they’d trained precise jumping at one point in the mountains, but she had never really seemed that particularly good at it then. Then again, that was at the time when she was at her most dull and expended the least effort in whatever they were doing.

Letal made the final jump onto Lunatone’s platform, her entire body took on a metallic sheen, and she smashed her head into the Psychic Pokémon’s body. Lunatone rebounded backwards before bouncing to its former location; Mark thought it looked kind of cracked, but he could have been imagining it.

“Lunatone, Earth Power!”

Mark’s stomach fluttered in panic at the realization that he had overlooked a Ground move that Lunatone knew that might be possible to use on a flying arena. “Iron Head it again!” he blurted out.

Letal’s body turned metallic again before she smashed her head into the Rock Pokémon a second time. Lunatone was thrown back by the impact, little pebbles of rock falling loose from its body, and closed its eyes to concentrate for its attack.

Without really thinking, Mark took out Letal’s ball and pressed the recall button. “Come back!” he shouted as the red Pokéball beam zoomed across the arena and dissolved Letal just as the platform underneath her exploded with the raw power of the Earth itself. He knew it was frowned upon to time a recall so that the opponent’s attack hit thin air, but he hoped it wouldn’t hurt his score too much to do it once. It was only after he thought this that he actually realized that switching to begin with had been a terrible move – Lunatone could pull a super effective move on all of his Pokémon, but Letal was in the least danger from it, since it didn’t have a native Ground type to boost Earth Power’s potency.

But it was too late to change his mind now. He reattached Letal’s ball to his belt, taking out Dragonite’s instead.

“Dragonite, use Aqua Tail!” he shouted as he threw it.

“Lunatone, Ancientpower!” Megan countered.

Dragonite materialized in the air and began to thrust himself forward while Lunatone took on a blue glow. Rocks rose through the platforms and smashed into Dragonite from below, sending him bouncing upwards, but he quickly turned down towards Lunatone again, disintegrated his tail into water and took a dive. The tail smacked into Lunatone, throwing it back, but it rebounded quickly to its former place.

Worse, Lunatone was still glowing with a steady throb of blue light. The attack was powering it up.

“Dragonite, use a Dragon Dance!” Mark called.

“Heal Block!” shouted Megan.

Dragonite pulled back from Lunatone and began to spin around in the air, increasing his speed gradually as he powered his muscles. Meanwhile, Lunatone closed its eyes to focus, and Dragonite was wrapped in a pink aura. Mark recalled that Heal Block prevented his body from healing itself: he would not be able to Roost now. He winced; he’d been hoping to use that to make Dragonite last as long as possible. But switching him out would hardly help; Lunatone had gotten its powers sufficiently boosted to make giving it the time to prepare an extra attack a potentially fatal mistake.

“Ancientpower!” Megan ordered.

“Aqua Tail!” Mark yelled quickly as Dragonite’s dance began to slow.

The dragon Pokémon zoomed downwards, faster now after the Dragon Dance, his tail transforming immediately into water before hitting the Lunatone with a splash. The Rock Pokémon shuddered but sent an Ancientpower flying up at Dragonite anyway, and the dragon was knocked almost half of the way back across the arena, a rock crushing one of his wings as he went. He cried out in pain and wobbled disconcertingly in the air as he righted himself. Mark bit his lip: the blue glow was lingering on Lunatone’s body again, and now it had powered itself up sufficiently to make him doubt that Dragonite could reach it again, particularly now that he had injured himself. And he doubted he could knock it out with a single ranged attack.

All he could do was make sure his next Pokémon would get the chance to beat it.

“Thunder Wave!” he called just as Megan opened her mouth to order a final Ancientpower.

Dragonite lifted his head with difficulty, focusing on the Lunatone even as it began to take on a blue glow. A shower of sparks erupted from his mouth and shot across the arena while ancient rocks ascended through the platforms below him, and he took a last strained look down before the rocks crashed into him. Dragonite slipped into unconsciousness and began to fall; Mark silently took out his Pokéball and recalled him. But he had succeeded: Lunatone’s body was sparkling with paralyzing electricity.

He wasn’t sure if that slowed it down enough to let Letal reach it before it could strike, but Scyther definitely could.

“Go!” he shouted, throwing the mantis’s ball into the arena. “X-Scissor!”

Scyther emerged from the ball and immediately zoomed across towards Lunatone.

“One more Ancientpower!” yelled Megan, but Scyther had reached Lunatone by the time she finished the command. He slashed both of his scythes powerfully across Lunatone’s body, the power of his Bug type allowing him to slice into the rock, and the Psychic Pokémon let out a peculiar groan before its levitation faltered and it fell onto the platform like a lump of stone.

Megan frowned momentarily in disappointment, but called, “Come back, Lunatone! You did great!”

The red Pokéball beam absorbed her Pokémon as Scyther retreated towards the center of the arena, watching the platform in front of Megan warily.

The girl thought for a moment and then pulled out her next ball. “Delibird, go!” she shouted.

Mark watched the small penguin materialize, surprised. Delibird? When he’d looked over her Pokémon, he’d skipped right over the Delibird – he hadn’t imagined it was the sort of Pokémon anyone would really use in the League, especially when she also had a Mamoswine. Perhaps she’d decided to use as many Ice-types as she could? In any case, Letal would be able to deal with it quicker.

“Scyther, retu–”

“Ice Shard!”

Mark was still reaching for the Pokéball when the Delibird tossed a small shard of ice straight at Scyther. It hit him squarely in the torso, throwing him backwards by the impact. Scyther growled in pain and glared at the Delibird for a quick second but then faced Mark again. He raised the ball up, the force field already down, and let the beam absorb the bug Pokémon, silently irritated at Megan for attacking while he was recalling his Pokémon even though he reminded himself that it was no worse than recalling a Pokémon just before a hit. Technically, this had just made them even, and something in Megan’s smugly satisfied expression on the status screen told him that was precisely why she had done it.

He placed Scyther’s ball back on his belt and took out Letal’s. “Go!” he shouted. “Use Iron Head!”

“Delibird, Brick Break!”

Oh, crap.

Letal made her way across the arena, leaping nimbly from platform to platform as she had before; the Delibird took off in awkward flight on its flipperlike wings, let out a shrill battle cry and dived straight down towards her.

Mark couldn’t really change his mind after giving a clear command, but watched desperately as the two Pokémon approached each other, Letal’s body completely metallic, the end of Delibird’s stubby wing drawn back into a fist around the bag of food it was holding.

Letal smacked her head into the Delibird’s belly, causing it to let out a strangled squeak; the penguin’s food bag thwacked her upside the head, making her grunt in pain.

“Letal, come back,” Mark said quickly, already holding the ball forward so as to recall Letal before the Delibird got the chance to pull another quick move. She was absorbed into the beam.

He sighed. Scyther was weak to Ice attacks, which also put him at a disadvantage against the Delibird, but at least he was quicker and could attack it while it was flying, and he was not as vulnerable against its Ice moves as Letal was to Brick Break. However, he had also been worn down more in the battle, and he had no super effective moves to use. Mark wasn’t entirely sure if switching was the right choice here. But again, there was little he could do about it now.

“Scyther, go!” he called. “Use Aerial Ace!”

“Ice Punch!” ordered Megan.

Scyther emerged from the ball and darted towards the Delibird. It took awkward flight again, curling the tip of its wing into a fist while icicles formed around it, and thrust it towards Scyther as the mantis reached it.

It missed. Mark watched in puzzlement as its fist hit thin air without Scyther even having made any great effort to dodge; he passed above the penguin and delivered a precisely aimed slash to its back that made it caw in annoyance, its flight faltering. It landed on a platform below it and shook its fist towards the mantis Pokémon.

It suddenly came to Mark: it had to be using that one ability, the one that let it focus its power to strengthen its attacks at the expense of its accuracy. And that meant he had to be able to exploit it somehow.

“Scyther, use Agility!” he called. Scyther glanced at him with a nod and then built up speed with his wings, zooming across the arena and back within a few seconds.

“Another Ice Punch, Delibird!” Megan shouted.

“Dodge and use Aerial Ace!” Mark countered, his heart thumping in his chest. Normally just being fast could only marginally improve the ability to evade attacks, but if the Delibird’s accuracy was already compromised...

Megan’s Delibird took flight again and thrust towards where Scyther was hovering in mid-air with ice crystals circling its fist, but a split second before it threw the punch, Scyther had darted to the left and raised his scythe for another attack. He struck at its back again with a satisfied grin, and Mark grinned with him: he’d actually figured out a strategy that worked!

“Keep that up, Scyther!”

The mantis zoomed towards the Delibird again; it tried to strike back at him but yet again he dodged and managed to take a swipe at it instead.

“Aerial Ace, Delibird!” Megan ordered, and Mark saw his strategy crumble before his eyes as the Delibird darted towards Scyther with greater speed than before and slashed across his right arm and wing with its beak. Scyther growled and gave it one more slash to the back with his left scythe, but Mark could tell he was getting weak – he held his other scythe awkwardly and his right wing had been torn a little, in addition to all the previous cuts and bruises he had suffered in the battle. The Delibird was not in top shape either, though, its feathers ruffled and its flight uneven and rickety.

“Just get one more Aerial Ace in!” Mark called. He wasn’t sure it would do the trick, but he had to try.

“Hit it first!” Megan shouted.

But even though he was weakened, Scyther was still faster than Delibird, and Mark had been the first to speak. Before the penguin could respond to her order, Scyther spun around to its back and slashed at one of its flipper-wings. White feathers tore off the Delibird and it squawked as it began to lose its already limited flying ability.

Scyther used the last of his strength to knock the falling Delibird aside so that it missed the platform below them and began to plunge down towards the ground. It screeched in panic, desperately flapping its uninjured wing to no avail. Mark saw one of the judges raise a red flag: Delibird was considered fainted according to the rules of the arena.

Megan pursed her lips sourly as she recalled her Pokémon and prepared to take out her final ball.

Scyther had landed on the platform and was hunched over, supporting his body with his left scythe as he panted; he slowly straightened himself, took a quick glance back at his trainer, and then turned back to watch Megan’s end of the arena.

Mark understood the meaning of that exhausted glance: Scyther could still fight, but only barely, and he would likely not survive so much as a single attack on top of this. However, being still just barely able to fight meant that he was not yet considered fainted: Mark could keep him back to secure himself against a draw, just like Aaron White had done in the previous battle.

“Return!” he called just as Megan threw her own ball forward. While Scyther gratefully disintegrated into red energy, a large, white shape emerged on Megan’s platform: four long legs, a slender body, a long neck, a small head with three blades extending backwards from the metallic mask on its head…

A Letaligon.

The glow faded from the Pokémon and Mark looked at it with a strange feeling of detachment. Its red eyes were focused upon him, its powerful claws scratching impatiently at the floor of the platform as it shook its head, the sun flashing off its metallic blades. He’d almost forgotten Megan had a Letaligon and to see it now when his only real remaining Pokémon was Letal felt bizarre.

He almost laughed.

“Go!” he called as he hurled his final Pokéball into the arena. On the status screen, Megan watched the Pokémon form with a confident smirk on her face.

Mark could somehow see the tension in Letal the moment she set eyes upon her opponent: something in her stance changed, her neck tightened. For her, of course, she wasn’t just battling her evolved form while already at a disadvantage due to having taken a couple of hits in the battle before: she was about to battle what she’d always wanted but would probably never become.

He felt sorry for her for a moment, but then realized that she looked more satisfied than she had in weeks; excited, even. Mark remembered her plans about her father: perhaps she just wanted to see if she had the ability to defeat a Letaligon even as a Letal?

“Letaligon, use Agility!” came Megan’s command, snapping him back to reality.

He couldn’t remember Letal knowing any moves that would be any good against Letaligon. This would probably be a slow, lengthy battle where they’d do little damage in each hit until they’d worn themselves out, then: there was little point in going for an all-out offensive.

“Iron Defense, Letal!” Mark yelled. She began to concentrate, turning even her non-armored parts into metal, while Megan’s Letaligon leapt from platform to platform on her side, building up speed as it went.

“Letaligon, Swords Dance!”

The Letaligon stopped and began to perform a series of complex moves, swishing its blades this way and that. Mark watched it hopelessly: no matter how much Letal boosted her defensive abilities, it could match it by boosting its own offensive abilities. There didn’t seem to be any way to get an advantage this way.

Perhaps she could just put it to sleep with Hypnosis? He hesitated; it didn’t seem like the best way to waste her third move when she would never be able to hurt it very much in the time that it was asleep even if the move did succeed.

He suddenly realized that Letal was giving him a meaningful look from where she was standing on the nearest platform. He turned toward her and she motioned oddly with her head, as if to bash it against an invisible wall.

Everything suddenly clicked into place. Rock Smash. He’d taught her that move just to clear some boulders away from the place where they trained. He hadn’t thought it would ever actually be useful in battle – but it definitely was now.

“Letaligon, use Iron Tail!” called Megan.

“Letal, Rock Smash!” Mark countered with newfound confidence.

The Letaligon growled and took a leap to a nearby platform, its metallic tail glowing. Letal lowered her head and leapt to the next platform and then to the next with a grace that at least in Mark’s biased opinion far surpassed that of her opponent.

The two Pokémon met on one of the larger platforms closer to Mark’s side. The Letaligon turned around and smacked its tail into Letal’s side; she grunted and retaliated by smashing her head into the Letaligon’s vulnerable underbelly. It screeched in pain.

“Letaligon, Tri Attack!” Megan shouted. Her Pokémon reacted immediately, its three blades glowing red, yellow and blue before it bowed its head quickly and sent three beams shooting into Letal’s body. She was thrown backwards, dangerously close to the edge of the platform, but turned quickly around and jumped to a smaller platform below on the right while she regained her balance. She looked back up towards the Letaligon with fierce determination in her eyes.

“Another Rock Smash!” Mark called.

Letal crouched to jump – and stopped. For a heartbeat, she was puzzlingly still, the Letaligon looking down at her with a glint of superiority; then a sparkle of electricity passed over her back.

“No!” Mark blurted out in disbelief. One Tri Attack and she was paralyzed – one! It just wasn’t fair. He gritted his teeth in frustration as Letal tried to move. He could have sworn he saw the Letaligon grin even through the metal mask.

“Letaligon, push it off the platform with another Iron Tail!”

“Metal Burst!” Mark countered quickly, hoping Letal would regain her mobility in time.

The Letaligon jumped down to Letal’s platform and swished its glowing tail at her still crouching form. It hit her forcefully and her body was thrown like a ragdoll towards the edge...

She suddenly threw out her legs and extended her claws, grasping desperately at the floor of the platform. One of her hind legs was already off the edge; the other just barely managed to hold on by a toe or two. It was enough for her to throw herself back onto the platform, her entire body taking on a metallic sheen as she replicated the Letaligon’s movements with greater force: her entire hindquarters smashed into its body like an iron fist and threw it straight off the edge of the platform.

The metal sheen of her body vanished as quickly as it had appeared; she ran towards that edge of the platform and saw the Letaligon managing to climb onto a lower platform off to the left.

“Letaligon, get it with Iron Tail again!”

“Letal, get to a bigger platform where it can’t throw you off!” Mark called desperately, worried her paralysis might cause that scenario to repeat itself with less happy consequences. “And then try to meet it with Rock Smash!”

She leapt across a few platforms to get back to the larger one where they had been before while the Letaligon jumped across the lower platforms to get up there. It had to take a zigzag route of gradually rising ones that gave Letal a few seconds to examine where it would arrive from and prepare herself near the middle of the platform, ready to face it. She lowered her head, narrowing her eyes towards her ascending opponent.

The Letaligon let out a piercing, metallic cry as it took the final leap onto the large platform, its tail raised and shining with a bright white light. Letal was ready to meet it, crouched low to the ground.

The Letaligon smashed its tail down on her back, and Letal was immobile again. Mark groaned as a flurry of sparks scattered across her body and she was limply tossed aside. Megan looked at her Letaligon with a triumphant grin.

“One more Iron Tail!”

Letal’s paw twitched as she strained to move it, still lying helpless on her side. The Pokémon status screen showed a close-up of her, the desperate rage in her eyes almost painful to watch as the Letaligon’s tail glowed and smashed down on her head. Mark thought he heard something crack, but he must have been imagining it; Letal raised her head back up with difficulty and began to try to rise to her feet.

“Iron Tail it again, Letaligon.”

It obediently smacked her down again with another strike of its tail. She tried to rise again, her legs shaking at the effort; Mark bit his lip. Was it over? Should he recall her?

The Letaligon’s tail began to glow again even without a command, and it swung it, only to narrowly miss as Letal suddenly jumped onto the small lower platform she had been on before. Without even stopping to rest, she leapt back up towards the larger platform, where the Letaligon was waiting; she dodged a strike with its tail to deliver another Rock Smash to its soft underbelly. It roared and fired a Tri Attack at her, which threw her back by a little but was countered by a metallic mirror image of the attack that hit it back. The Letaligon shook its head angrily, beginning to circle Letal like prey while she crouched low, ready to strike.

“Letal...” Mark began, but she was a step ahead of him: as the Letaligon’s attention momentarily shifted to listen to Mark’s command, she bounded up to it, crashed her head into its armor and then bounded off towards another platform before it recovered sufficiently from the blow to strike back.

“Catch up with it!” Megan shouted.

The Letaligon jumped to follow Letal while she seemed to be racing as fast as she could between the platforms, taking a lot of daring leaps that Mark presumed were intended to make the Letaligon’s pursuit more difficult. In that department she was fairly successful – more than once, the Letaligon resorted to an alternative route and had to waste time to get back on track, somewhat making up for its clear advantage in speed. Mark figured she must be trying to tire it somehow, but she had been under far more strain in the battle so far – wouldn’t she be worn out first? The Letaligon was still slowly catching up, now only a few platforms behind. What was she thinking? He looked at the close-up on the status screen, trying to read something from her. Her muscles were straining to run as fast as she could, her breathing rapid as she leapt more and more platforms in a rough circle around the arena. There was some sort of frantic glee in her eyes.

It suddenly came to him with a creeping feeling of dread. She wasn’t trying to tire the Letaligon. She was trying to tire herself – it was the same trick from the gym battle in Acaria City, a last desperate attempt to trigger evolution through an adrenaline rush.

It was a stupid, dangerous thing to do. The Acaria City nurse’s angry words echoed in his head. This time he knew better. He had to recall her. His hand touched her Pokéball and stayed there.

He had no other Pokémon left to use. The Letaligon would beat Scyther in a single strike if he sent him out. He’d have to send Letal out again and let her continue her crazy little plan – except the Letaligon would have time to catch up with her while she was rematerializing – or forfeit the battle.

He couldn’t. He had wanted to take part in the League since he was little. He couldn’t just voluntarily throw away his last chance to qualify from the preliminaries in order to try to be smart for Letal.

He looked hopelessly at his Pokémon, still jumping frantically between platforms with the Letaligon following closely behind her. “Letal, stop!” he shouted desperately. “It won’t work! Use Rock Smash! Please!”

Except it did work.

Mark stared as Letal’s body was enveloped in a white glow. She jumped onto the platform next to Mark and stopped there, legs shaking as her form disappeared into blinding white light and began to grow. The Letaligon came to an abrupt halt behind her while the crowd in the audience stand exploded into wild cheering.

Letal’s whole body expanded, legs and neck lengthening and paws bulging out to make room for oversized claws; the other Pokémon watched it as if mesmerized, unable to attack her while she was protected by the evolutionary glow. She lowered her head as new blades began to grow out of the sides of her mask to match the new length of the top blade.

The white light faded, and she was a Letaligon just like Megan’s.

Mark realized his mouth was open and closed it.

“Letaligon,” Megan yelled over the still-deafening cheering of the audience, “use Iron Tail!”

“Counter it with Metal Burst!” Mark called, his heart beating wildly. Megan’s Letaligon leapt towards the former Letal, its tail glowing as it smacked into her body, but with her renewed strength after evolution, she only staggered slightly before turning into pure metal to counter the attack –

She froze, the metallic sheen fading. Sparks leapt across her armor as the other Letaligon swung its tail again with a gleam of victory in its eyes, and she was knocked back, now dangerously close to the edge. She still couldn’t move.

“One more time!” Megan shouted, and her Pokémon smashed its glowing tail into her one last time, sending her hind legs skirting off the edge.

Her front claws dug into the floor of the platform, forming three parallel scratches as she slipped further down –

“You can do it!” Mark blurted out. “You could do it earlier!”

Whether his words had anything to do with it or not (probably not), she regained her mobility a split second later and began to claw at the air with her hind legs, reaching forward with her right front paw. The other Letaligon walked towards her, the blades of its mask beginning to glow in bright colors now as it prepared a final attack to make her fall.

“Come on,” Mark whispered as he watched, his knuckles tightening on the railing around the trainer stand. “You could do it earlier.”

Letal – no, Letaligon – suddenly released her hold on the platform, the Tri Attack narrowly missing her as she fell. Mark’s heart took a lurch in his chest until he saw her claw her way onto a lower platform and begin to make her way back up. Megan’s Pokémon growled angrily and turned towards her.

“Letaligon, stay there and use a Swords Dance, quick!” Megan ordered sharply, and it stopped to begin the same peculiar dance as when it had first been sent out, swinging its blades in a series of rhythmic movements.

“Letaligon, use Rock Smash!” Mark called. It felt bizarre to say the new name, somehow.

She jumped up to the platform where the other Letaligon turned toward her to growl threateningly. Its tail glowed, and without warning, it leapt at her, striking a blow to her side. She stumbled and seemed momentarily to be paralyzed again – then she rammed her head at full force into her opponent.

Megan’s Letaligon didn’t anticipate the full power of the attack now that she had evolved, and it was knocked a few feet backwards, stumbling as it tried to regain its balance. That was when one hind paw stepped on air, and the creature let out a cry of surprise as it tumbled over itself, plunging over the left side of the leftmost platform on the arena.

The audience erupted into thunderous applause as a red flag was waved in the judge panel and a Pokéball beam absorbed Megan’s falling Pokémon. “The winner is Mark Greenlet!” said the announcer’s voice as the status screen changed to cross out Megan’s Letaligon with a red X.

Mark was stunned for a moment; it took a second for his brain to register his victory – a 2-0 victory, no less, thanks to Scyther – but once it had, he found himself grinning like an idiot. They were all cheering for him – him and Letaligon.

She’d gotten him his first win at the League. And with a bit of luck, it might not have to be the last, either.

He was still holding her Pokéball in his palm; he raised it numbly to recall her. The newly evolved Letaligon stood alone on the platform and slowly straightened herself, raising her head high and joining the crowd in a roar of victory before she was absorbed back into the ball.

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